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The Pelican
by [?]

Our own were happily so near the front that when the curtains at the back of the platform parted, and Mrs. Amyot appeared, I was at once able to establish a comparison between the lady placidly dimpling to the applause of her public and the shrinking drawing-room orator of my earlier recollections.

Mrs. Amyot was as pretty as ever, and there was the same curious discrepancy between the freshness of her aspect and the stateness of her theme, but something was gone of the blushing unsteadiness with which she had fired her first random shots at Greek art. It was not that the shots were less uncertain, but that she now had an air of assuming that, for her purpose, the bull’s-eye was everywhere, so that there was no need to be flustered in taking aim. This assurance had so facilitated the flow of her eloquence that she seemed to be performing a trick analogous to that of the conjuror who pulls hundreds of yards of white paper out of his mouth. From a large assortment of stock adjectives she chose, with unerring deftness and rapidity, the one that taste and discrimination would most surely have rejected, fitting out her subject with a whole wardrobe of slop-shop epithets irrelevant in cut and size. To the invaluable knack of not disturbing the association of ideas in her audience, she added the gift of what may be called a confidential manner–so that her fluent generalizations about Goethe and his place in literature (the lecture was, of course, manufactured out of Lewes’s book) had the flavor of personal experience, of views sympathetically exchanged with her audience on the best way of knitting children’s socks, or of putting up preserves for the winter. It was, I am sure, to this personal accent–the moral equivalent of her dimple–that Mrs. Amyot owed her prodigious, her irrational success. It was her art of transposing second-hand ideas into first-hand emotions that so endeared her to her feminine listeners.

To any one not in search of “documents” Mrs. Amyot’s success was hardly of a kind to make her more interesting, and my curiosity flagged with the growing conviction that the “suffering” entailed on her by public speaking was at most a retrospective pang. I was sure that she had reached the point of measuring and enjoying her effects, of deliberately manipulating her public; and there must indeed have been a certain exhilaration in attaining results so considerable by means involving so little conscious effort. Mrs. Amyot’s art was simply an extension of coquetry: she flirted with her audience.

In this mood of enlightened skepticism I responded but languidly to my hostess’s suggestion that I should go with her that evening to see Mrs. Amyot. The aunt who had translated Euripides was at home on Saturday evenings, and one met “thoughtful” people there, my hostess explained: it was one of the intellectual centres of Boston. My mood remained distinctly resentful of any connection between Mrs. Amyot and intellectuality, and I declined to go; but the next day I met Mrs. Amyot in the street.

She stopped me reproachfully. She had heard I was in Boston; why had I not come last night? She had been told that I was at her lecture, and it had frightened her–yes, really, almost as much as years ago in Hillbridge. She never could get over that stupid shyness, and the whole business was as distasteful to her as ever; but what could she do? There was the baby– he was a big boy now, and boys were so expensive! But did I really think she had improved the least little bit? And why wouldn’t I come home with her now, and see the boy, and tell her frankly what I had thought of the lecture? She had plenty of flattery–people were so kind, and every one knew that she did it for the baby–but what she felt the need of was criticism, severe, discriminating criticism like mine–oh, she knew that I was dreadfully discriminating!