Chrysalis College Edit
Stillfleet escorted me down to the long, desolate dining-room of my hotel, the Chuzzlewit.
The great Chuzzlewit dined there on his visit to America, and damned his dinner with such fine irony, that the proprietor thought himself complimented, and re-baptized his hotel.
“Here you are,” said my friend, “at a crack house on the American plan. You can breakfast on fried beefsteak, hard eggs, café au delay, soggy toast, flannel cakes, blanket cakes, and wash-leather cakes. You can dine on mock soup, boiled porpoise, beef in the raw or in the chip, watery vegetables, quoit pies, and can have your choice at two dollars a bottle of twelve kinds of wine, all mixed in the same cellar, and labelled in the same shop. You can sup on soused tea, dusty sponge-cake, and Patrick à discrétion. How do you like the bill of fare?”
“Marine appetites are not discriminating. But, Harry,” I continued, when I had ordered my breakfast, “you spoke of going to Washington. I thought only raff — Congressmen, contractors, and tide-waiters — went there.”
“Civilization makes its missionaries acquainted with strange lodgings. They are building a big abortion of a new Capitol. I go, as an architect, to expunge a little of the Goth and the Vandal out of their sham-classic plans.”
“Beware! Reform too soon, and you risk ostracism. But before you go, advise me. Where am I to live? Evidently not here at the Chuzzlewit. Here the prices are large, and the rooms little. I must have a den of my own, where I can swing a cat, a longish cat.”
“Why not take my place off my hands? It is big enough to swing a royal Bengal tiger in. I meant to lock it up, but you shall occupy and enjoy, if you like. It’s a grand chance, old fellow. There’s not such another Rubbish Palace in America.”
“Excellent!” said I. “But will you trust me with your plunder?”
“Will I trust you? Haven’t we been brats together, lads together, men together?”
“Haven’t we been comrades in robbing orchards, mobbing tutors, spoiling the Egyptians of mummies, pillaging the Tuileries in ’48. Haven’t we been the historic friends, Demon and Pythagoras, — no, Damon and Pythias? Answer me that!”
“Well, then, enter my shop, studio, palace, and use and abuse my tools, rubbish, valuables, as you like. Really, Byng, it will be a great favor if you will fill my quarters, and keep down the rats with my rat rifle, while I am in Washington trying to decorate the Representative Chamber so that it will shame blackguards to silence.”
“Now,” said I, after a pause, and a little stern champing over a tough Chuzzlewit chop, “all ready, Harry; conduct me to your den.”
We left the Chuzzlewit by the side door on Mannering Place, and descended from Broadway as far as Ailanthus Square. On the corner, fronting that mean, shabby enclosure, Stillfleet pointed out a huge granite or rough marble building.
“There I live,” said he. “It’s not a jail, as you might suppose from its grimmish aspect. Not an Asylum. Not a Retreat. No lunatics, that I ‘know of, kept there, nor anything mysterious, guilty, or out of the way.”
“Chrysalis College, is it not?”
“You have not forgotten its monastic phiz?”
“No; I remember the sham convent, sham castle, modern-antique affair. But how do you happen to be quartered there? Is the College defunct?”
“Not defunct; only without vitality. The Trustees fancied that, if they built roomy, their college would be populous; if they built marble, it would be permanent; if they built Gothic, it would be scholastic and mediæval in its influences; if they had narrow, mullioned windows, not too much disorganizing modern thought would penetrate.”
“Well, and what was the result?”
“The result is, that the old nickname of Chrysalis sticks to it, and whatever real name it may have is forgotten. There it stands, big, battlemented, buttressed, marble, with windows like crenelles; and inside they keep up the traditional methods of education.”
“But pupils don’t beleaguer it?”
“That is the blunt fact. It stays an ineffectual high-low school. The halls and lecture-rooms would stand vacant, so they let them to lodgers.”
“You are not very grateful to your land-lords.”
“I pay my rent, and have a right to criticise.”
“Who live there besides you?”
“Several artists, a brace of young doctors, one or two quiet men about town, Churm, and myself.”
“Churm! How is that noble old fellow? I count upon reclaiming his friendship.”
“How is Churm? Just the same. Tranquil sage; headlong boy. An aristocratic radical. A Timon without gall. Says the wisest things; does the kindest. Knows everything; and yet is always ready for the new truth that nullifies the old facts. He cannot work inside of the institutions of society. He calls them ‘shingle-cells,’ tight and transitory. He cannot get over his cynical way of putting a subject, though there is no cynic in his heart. So the world votes him odd, and lets him have his own way.”
“Lucky to get liberty at cost of a nickname! Who would not be called odd to be left free?”
“If Churm were poor, he would be howled at as a radical, a destructive, an infidel.”
“I suppose he is too rich and powerful to be harmed, and too intrepid to care.”
“Yes; and then there is something in Churm’s vigor that disarms opposition. His generosity hoists people up to his level. But here we are, Byng, at the grand portal of the grand front.”
“I see the front and the door. Where is the grandeur?”
“Don’t put on airs, stranger! We call this imposing, magnifique, in short, pretty good. Up goes your nose! You have lived too long in Florence. Brunelleschi and Giotto have spoilt you. Well, I will show you something better inside. Follow me!”
We entered the edifice, half college, half lodging-house, through a large doorway, under a pointed arch. The interior was singularly ill- contrived. A lobby opened at the door, communicating with a dim corridor running through the middle of the building, parallel to the front. A fan-tracery vaulting of plaster, peeled and crumbling, ceiled the lobby. A marble stairway, with iron hand-rails, went squarely and clumsily up from the door, nearly filling the lobby.
Stillfleet led the way up-stairs.
He pointed to the fan-tracery.
“This of course reminds you of King’s College Chapel,” said he.
“Entirely,” replied I. “Pity it is deciduous!” and I brushed off from my coat several flakes of its whitewash.
The stairs landed us on the main floor of the building. Another dimly lighted corridor, answering to the one below, but loftier, ran from end to end of the building. This also was paved with marble tiles. Large Gothicish doors opened along on either side. The middle room on the rear of the corridor was two stories high, and served as chapel and lecture-room. On either side of this, a narrow staircase climbed to the upper floors.
By the half-light from the great window over the doorway where we had entered, and from a small single mullioned window at the northern end of the corridor, there was a bastard mediævalism of effect in Chrysalis, rather welcome after the bald red-brick houses without.
“How do you like it?” asked Stillfleet. “It’s not old enough to be romantic. But then it does not smell of new paint, as the rest of America does.”
We turned up the echoing corridor toward the north window. We passed a side staircase and a heavily padlocked door on the right. On the left was a class-room. The door was open. We could see a swarm of collegians buzzing for such drops of the honey of learning as they could get from a lank plant of a professor.
We stopped at. the farther door on the right, adjoining the one so carefully padlocked. It bore my friend’s. plate, —
- H. STILLFLEET,