Letters To Cynthia by Christopher Morley

Story type: Essay


Dear Sir–What is a Boob? Will you please d
iscuss the subject a little? Perhaps I’m a boob
for asking–but I’d like to know.



The Boob, my dear Cynthia, is Nature’s device for mitigating the quaintly blended infelicities of existence. Never be too bitter about the Boob. The Boob is you and me and the man in the elevator.


As long as the Boob ratio remains high, humanity is safe. The Boob is the last repository of the stalwart virtues. The Boob is faith, hope and charity. The Boob is the hope of conservatives, the terror of radicals and the meal check of cynics. If you are run over on Market Street and left groaning under the mailed fist of a flivver, the Bolsheviki and I.W.W. will be watching the shop windows. It will be the Boob who will come to your aid, even before the cop gets there.

1653 BOOBS

If you were to dig a deep and terrible pit in the middle of Chestnut Street, and illuminate it with signs and red lights and placards reading, DO NOT WALK INTO THIS PIT, 1653 Boobs would tumble into it during the course of the day. Boobs have faith. They are eager to plunge in where an angel wouldn’t even show his periscope.


But that does not prove anything creditable to human nature. For though 1653 people would fall into our pit (which any Rapid Transit Company will dig for us free of charge) 26,448 would cautiously and suspiciously and contemptuously avoid it. The Boob ratio is just about 1 to 16.


It does not pay to make fun of the Boob. There is no malice in him, no insolence, no passion to thrive at the expense of his fellows. If he sees some one on a street corner gazing open-mouthed at the sky, he will do likewise, and stand there for half hour with his apple of Adam expectantly vibrating. But is that a shameful trait? May not a Boob expect to see angels in the shimmering blue of heaven? Is he more disreputable than the knave who frisks his watch meanwhile? And suppose he does see an angel, or even only a blue acre of sky–is that not worth as much as the dial in his poke?

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It is the Boob who is always willing to look hopefully for angels who will see them ultimately. And the man who is only looking for the Boob’s timepiece will do time of his own by and by.


The Boob is convinced that the world is conducted on genteel and friendly principles. He feels in his heart that even the law of gravity will do him no harm. That is why he steps unabashed into our pit on Chestnut Street; and finding himself sprawling in the bottom of it, he bears no ill will to Sir Isaac Newton. He simply knows that the law of gravity took him for some one else–a street-cleaning contractor, perhaps.


A small boy once defined a Boob as one who always treats other people better than he does himself.


The Boob is hopeful, cheery, more concerned over other people’s troubles than his own. He goes serenely unsuspicious of the brick under the silk hat, even when the silk hat is on the head of a Mayor or City Councilman. He will pull every trigger he meets, regardless that the whole world is loaded and aimed at him. He will keep on running for the 5:42 train, even though the timetable was changed the day before yesterday. He goes through the revolving doors the wrong way. He forgets that the banks close at noon on Saturdays. He asks for oysters on the first of June. He will wait for hours at the Chestnut Street door, even though his wife told him to meet her at the ribbon counter.

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Yes, he has a wife. But if he was not a Boob before marriage he will never become so after. Women are the natural antidotes of Boobs.


The Boob is not quarrelsome. He is willing to believe that you know more about it than he does. He is always at home for ideas.


Of course, what bothers other people is that the Boob is so happy. He enjoys himself. He falls into that Rapid Transit pit of ours and has more fun out of the tumble than the sneering 26,448 who stand above untumbled. The happy simp prefers a 4 per cent that pays to a 15 per cent investment that returns only engraved prospectuses. He stands on that street corner looking for an imaginary angel parachuting down, and enjoys himself more than the Mephistopheles who is laughing up his sleeve.


Nature must love the Boob, because she is a good deal of a Boob herself. How she has squandered herself upon mountain peaks that are useless except for the Alpenstock Trust; upon violets that can’t be eaten; upon giraffes whose backs slope too steeply to carry a pack! Can it be that the Boob is Nature’s darling, that she intends him to outlive all the rest?


Be sure you’re a Boob, and then go ahead.


But never, dear Cynthia, confuse the Boob with the Poor Fish. The Poor Fish, as an Emersonian thinker has observed, is the Boob gone wrong. The Poor Fish is the cynical, sneering simpleton who, if he did see an angel, would think it was only some one dressed up for the movies. The Poor Fish is Why Boobs Leave Home.


Dear Sir–How can life be simplified? In the office where I work the pressure of affairs is very exacting. Often I do not have a moment to think over my own affairs before 4 p.m. There are a great many matters that puzzle me, and I am afraid that if I go on working so hard the sweetest hours of my youth may pass before I have given them proper consideration. It is very irassible. Can you help me?


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Cynthia, my child: How are you? It is very delightful to hear from you again. During the recent months I have been very lonely indeed without your comradeship and counsel with regard to the great matters which were under consideration.


Well, Cynthia, when your inquiry reached me I propped my feet on the desk, got out the corncob pipe and thought things over. How to simplify life? How, indeed! It is a subject that interests me strangely. Of course, the easiest method is to let one’s ancestors do it for one. If you have been lucky enough to choose a simple-minded, quiet-natured quartet of grandparents, frugal, thrifty and foresighted, who had the good sense to buy property in an improving neighborhood and keep their money compounding at a fair rate of interest, the problem is greatly clarified. If they have hung on to the old farmstead, with its huckleberry pasture and cowbells tankling homeward at sunset and a bright brown brook cascading down over ledges of rock into a swimming hole, then again your problem has possible solutions. Just go out to the farm, with a copy of Matthew Arnold’s “Scholar Gipsy” (you remember the poem, in which he praises the guy who had sense enough to leave town and live in the suburbs where the Bolsheviki wouldn’t bother him), and don’t leave any forwarding address with the postoffice. But if, as I fear from an examination of your pink-scalloped notepaper with its exhalation of lilac essence, the vortex of modern jazz life has swept you in, the crisis is far more intricate.


Of course, my dear Cynthia, it is better to simplify your own life than to have some one else do it for you. The Kaiser, for instance, has had his career greatly simplified, but hardly in a way he himself would have chosen. The first thing to do is to come to a clear understanding of (and to let your employer know you understand) the two principles that underlie modern business. There are only two kinds of affairs that are attended to in an office. First, things that absolutely must be done. These are often numerous; but remember, that since they have to be done, if you don’t do them some one else will. Second, things that don’t have to be done. And since they don’t have to be done, why do them? This will simplify matters a great deal.

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The next thing to do is to stop answering letters. Even the firm’s most persistent customers will cease troubling you by and bye if you persist. Then, stop answering the telephone. A pair of office shears can sever a telephone wire much faster than any mechanician can keep it repaired. If the matter is really urgent, let the other people telegraph. While you are perfecting this scheme look about, in a dignified way, for another job. Don’t take the first thing that offers itself, but wait until something really congenial appears. It is a good thing to choose some occupation that will keep you a great deal in the open air, preferably something that involves looking at shop windows and frequent visits to the receiving teller at the bank. It is nice to have a job in a tall building overlooking the sea, with office hours from 3 to 5 p.m.


Many people, dear Cynthia, are harassed because they do not realize how easy it is to get out of a job which involves severe and concentrated effort. My child, you must not allow yourself to become discouraged. Almost any job can be shaken off in time and with perseverance. Looking out of the window is a great help. There are very few businesses where what goes on in the office is half as interesting as what is happening on the street outside. If your desk does not happen to be near a window, so much the better. You can watch the sunset admirably from the window of the advertising manager’s office. Call his attention to the rosy tints in the afterglow or the glorious pallor of the clouds. Advertising managers are apt to be insufficiently appreciative of these things. Sometimes, when they are closeted with the Boss in conference, open the ground-glass door and say, “I think it is going to rain shortly.” Carry your love of the beautiful into your office life. This will inevitably pave the way to simplification.

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And never open envelopes with little transparent panes of isinglass in their fronts. Never keep copies of your correspondence. For, if your letters are correct, no copy will be necessary. And, if incorrect, it is far better not to have a copy. If you were to tell me the exact nature of your work I could offer many more specific hints.


I am intimately interested in your problem, my child, for I am a great believer in simplification. It is hard to follow out one’s own precepts; but the root of happiness is never to contradict any one and never agree with any one. For if you contradict people, they will try to convince you; and if you agree with them, they will enlarge upon their views until they say something you will feel bound to contradict. Let me hear from you again.

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