Story type: Essay
This world is filled with woe everywhere you go. Sorrow is piled up in the fence corners on every road. Unavailing regret and red-nosed remorse inhabit the cot of the tie-chopper as well as the cut-glass cage of the millionaire. The woods are full of disappointment. The earth is convulsed with a universal sob, and the roads are muddy with tears. But I do not call to mind a more touching picture of unavailing misery and ruin, and hopeless chaos, than the plug hat that has endeavored to keep sober and maintain self-respect while its owner was drunk. A plug hat can stand prosperity, and shine forth joyously while nature smiles. That’s the place where it seems to thrive. A tall silk hat looks well on a thrifty man with a clean collar, but it cannot stand dissipation.
I once knew a plug hat that had been respected by everyone, and had won its way upward by steady endeavor. No one knew aught against it till one evening, in an evil hour, it consented to attend a banquet, and all at once its joyous career ended. It met nothing but distrust and cold neglect everywhere, after that.
Drink seems to make a man temporarily unnaturally exhilarated. During that temporary exhilaration he desires to attract attention by eating lobster salad out of his own hat, and sitting down on his neighbor’s.
The demon rum is bad enough on the coatings of the stomach, but it is even more disastrous to the tall hat. A man may mix up in a crowd and carry off an overdose of valley tan in a soft hat or a cap, but the silk hat will proclaim it upon the house-tops, and advertise it to a gaping, wondering world. It has a way of getting back on the rear elevation of the head, or over the bridge of the nose, or of hanging coquettishly on one ear, that says to the eagle-eyed public: “I am chockfull.”
I cannot call to mind a more powerful lecture on temperance, than the silent pantomime of a man trying to hang his plug hat on an invisible peg in his own hall, after he had been watching the returns, a few years ago. I saw that he was excited and nervously unstrung when he came in, but I did not fully realize it until he began to hang his hat on the smooth wall.
At first he laughed in a good-natured way at his awkwardness, and hung it up again carefully; but at last he became irritated about it, and almost forgot himself enough to swear, but controlled himself. Finding, however, that it refused to hang up, and that it seemed rather restless, anyhow, he put it in the corner of the hall with the crown up, pinned it to the floor with his umbrella, and heaved a sigh of relief. Then he took off his overcoat and, through a clerical error, pulled off his dress-coat also. I showed him his mistake and offered to assist him back into his apparel, but he said he hadn’t got so old and feeble yet that he couldn’t dress himself.
Later on he came into the parlor, wearing a linen ulster with the belt drooping behind him like the broken harness hanging to a shipwrecked and stranded mule. His wife looked at him in a way that froze his blood. This startled him so that he stepped back a pace or two, tangled his feet in his surcingle, clutched wildly at the empty gas-light, but missed it and sat down in a tall majolica cuspidor.
There were three games of whist going on when he fell, and there was a good deal of excitement over the playing, but after he had been pulled out of the American tear jug and led away, everyone of the twelve whist-players had forgotten what the trump was.
They say that he has abandoned politics since then, and that now he don’t care whether we have any more November elections or not. I asked him once if he would be active during the next campaign, as usual, and he said he thought not. He said a man couldn’t afford to be too active in a political campaign. His constitution wouldn’t stand it.
At that time he didn’t care much whether the American people had a president or not. If every public-spirited voter had got to work himself up into a state of nervous excitability and prostration where reason tottered on its throne, he thought that we needed a reform.
Those who wished to furnish reasons to totter on their thrones for the National Central Committee at so much per tot, could do so; he, for one, didn’t propose to farm out his immortal soul and plug hat to the party, if sixty million people had to stand four years under the administration of a setting hen.
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