THE FIDDLER

world. Those peculiar social sensibilities nourished by our peculiar
political principles, while they enhance the true dignity of a
prosperous American, do but minister to the added wretchedness of the
unfortunate; first, by prohibiting their acceptance of what little
random relief charity may offer; and, second, by furnishing them with
the keenest appreciation of the smarting distinction between their
ideal of universal equality and their grindstone experience of the
practical misery and infamy of poverty–a misery and infamy which is,
ever has been, and ever will be, precisely the same in India, England,
and America.
Under pretense that my journey called me forthwith, I bade the
dame good-by; shook her cold hand; looked my last into her blue,
resigned eye, and went out into the wet. But cheerless as it was,
and damp, damp, damp–the heavy atmosphere charged with all sorts
of incipiencies–I yet became conscious by the suddenness of the
contrast, that the house air I had quitted was laden down with that
peculiar deleterious quality, the height of which–insufferable to some
visitants–will be found in a poorhouse ward.
This ill-ventilation in winter of the rooms of the poor–a thing,
too, so stubbornly persisted in–is usually charged upon them as
their disgraceful neglect of the most simple means to health. But the
instinct of the poor is wiser than we think. The air which ventilates,
likewise _cools_. And to any shiverer, ill-ventilated warmth is better
than well-ventilated cold. Of all the preposterous assumptions of
humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on
the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.
* * * * *
“Blandmour,” said I that evening, as after tea I sat on his comfortable
sofa, before a blazing fire, with one of his two ruddy little children
on my knee, “you are not what may rightly be called a rich man; you
have a fair competence; no more. Is it not so? Well then, I do not
include _you_, when I say, that if ever a rich man speaks prosperously
to me of a Poor Man, I shall set it down as–I won’t mention the word.”