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"Grape-Vine" Erudition
by [?]

You may recall that Mr. Ezra Barkley acquired a great reputation for learning by imparting to the spinsters of Old Chester such astonishing facts as the approximate number of roe contained in a shad. His sister-in-law, in her ignorance, supposed there were only two hundred! Ezra also knew who first kept bees, and many other important things, usually of a statistical nature. I cannot recall that Mrs. Deland has told us where Ezra acquired his erudition, and I used at one time to wonder. But now I know. He read the “grape-vine” in the first editions of our daily papers.

Perhaps you don’t know what “grape-vine” is? I rejoice in my ability to tell you. It is the name given by newspaper men to the jokes and squibs and bits of information clipped by the busy exchange reader, and put into type, making short paragraphs of varying lengths, which are dropped in at the bottom of a column to fill up the vacant space when the need arises. This need most often arises in preparing the first edition, the one which catches the early trains for the country. By the time the city edition goes to press sufficient news of battles, carnage, and sudden death, of politics and stock exchanges, has been prepared to fill every inch of available space. The city reader, therefore, sees little of this “grape-vine.” Thus we have a new argument for country life.

I am now a resident of the country, one hundred and fifty miles removed from New York and as far from Boston; and I am by way of becoming nearly as erudite as Ezra Barkley. I am, indeed, almost bewildered with the mass of information I am acquiring. This morning I read a column about the European war, all of which I have now forgotten. But how can I ever forget the two lines of “grape-vine” at the very bottom which filled out an otherwise vacant quarter inch? I am permanently a wiser man.

“Many Filipino women catch and sell fish for a living.”

Amid a world at war, too, how peaceful and soothing is this tabloid idyl of piscatorial toil!

After the acquisition of this morsel of learning I set diligently to work on the day’s papers, both the morning editions and those “evening” editions which come to us here by a train leaving the city early in the afternoon, to see how much erudition I could accumulate in one sun’s span. I think you of the cities will be astonished. I was myself. In a few weeks I shall read the encyclopaedia advertisements with scorn instead of longing. For instance, I have learned that “A new tooth-brush is cylindrical and is revolved against the teeth by a plunger working through its spirally grooved handle.” Obviously, just the implement for boys interested in motor-cars (as all boys are). They will play they are grinding valves and run joyously to brush their teeth.

I have learned that “In the last five years our national and state lawmaking bodies have passed 62,550 laws.” The surprising thing about this information is that the number is so small!

I have learned that “Russia has ten thousand lepers, taken care of by twenty-one institutions.”

I have acquired these valuable bits of ornithological lore: “The frigate-bird is capable of getting up a speed of ninety-six miles an hour with hardly a movement of its wings. The greater part of its life is spent in the air.” “The swallow has a larger mouth in proportion to its size than any other bird.”

I have, from the bottom of a single column, gleaned these three items of incalculable value: “By harnessing a fly to a tiny wagon an English scientist found it could draw one hundred and seventy times its own weight over smooth surfaces.”

“Missouri last year produced 195,634 tons of lead, a fairly heavy output.”

“The United States has five hundred and seventeen button-factories.”