The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories HTML version

My Boyhood Dreams
The dreams of my boyhood? No, they have not been realised. For all who are old, there is
something infinitely pathetic about the subject which you have chosen, for in no
greyhead's case can it suggest any but one thing--disappointment. Disappointment is its
own reason for its pain: the quality or dignity of the hope that failed is a matter aside. The
dreamer's valuation of the thing lost--not another man's--is the only standard to measure it
by, and his grief for it makes it large and great and fine, and is worthy of our reverence in
all cases. We should carefully remember that. There are sixteen hundred million people
in the world. Of these there is but a trifling number--in fact, only thirty- eight millions--
who can understand why a person should have an ambition to belong to the French army;
and why, belonging to it, he should be proud of that; and why, having got down that far,
he should want to go on down, down, down till he struck the bottom and got on the
General Staff; and why, being stripped of this livery, or set free and reinvested with his
self-respect by any other quick and thorough process, let it be what it might, he should
wish to return to his strange serfage. But no matter: the estimate put upon these things by
the fifteen hundred and sixty millions is no proper measure of their value: the proper
measure, the just measure, is that which is put upon them by Dreyfus, and is cipherable
merely upon the littleness or the vastness of the disappointment which their loss cost him.
There you have it: the measure of the magnitude of a dream-failure is the measure of the
disappointment the failure cost the dreamer; the value, in others' eyes, of the thing lost,
has nothing to do with the matter. With this straightening out and classification of the
dreamer's position to help us, perhaps we can put ourselves in his place and respect his
dream--Dreyfus's, and the dreams our friends have cherished and reveal to us. Some that
I call to mind, some that have been revealed to me, are curious enough; but we may not
smile at them, for they were precious to the dreamers, and their failure has left scars
which give them dignity and pathos. With this theme in my mind, dear heads that were
brown when they and mine were young together rise old and white before me now,
beseeching me to speak for them, and most lovingly will I do it. Howells, Hay, Aldrich,
Matthews, Stockton, Cable, Remus--how their young hopes and ambitions come flooding
back to my memory now, out of the vague far past, the beautiful past, the lamented past! I
remember it so well--that night we met together--it was in Boston, and Mr. Fiends was
there, and Mr. Osgood, Ralph Keeler, and Boyle O'Reilly, lost to us now these many
years--and under the seal of confidence revealed to each other what our boyhood dreams
had been: reams which had not as yet been blighted, but over which was stealing the grey
of the night that was to come--a night which we prophetically felt, and this feeling
oppressed us and made us sad. I remember that Howells's voice broke twice, and it was
only with great difficulty that he was able to go on; in the end he wept. For he had hoped
to be an auctioneer. He told of his early struggles to climb to his goal, and how at last he
attained to within a single step of the coveted summit. But there misfortune after
misfortune assailed him, and he went down, and down, and down, until now at last,
weary and disheartened, he had for the present given up the struggle and become the
editor of the Atlantic Monthly. This was in 1830. Seventy years are gone since, and
where now is his dream? It will never be fulfilled. And it is best so; he is no longer fitted
for the position; no one would take him now; even if he got it, he would not be able to do