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An essay by George William Curtis

Mr. Tibbins's New-Year's Call

Title:     Mr. Tibbins's New-Year's Call
Author: George William Curtis [More Titles by Curtis]

Mr. Tibbins wishes that his experience in making New-Year's calls may be made useful as an illustration of the deceitfulness of appearances. He is one of the gentlemen who do not keep dogs, although he lives in the country, and who decline social visits to persons who do. Mr. Tibbins is, however, just and impartial. "My friends," he says, "shall not complain of any obscurity in my conduct. I simply offer them the alternative, me or your dog--not both. If your tastes and preferences are such that you will have large or small animals lying within your gates, yelping and growling at every person who enters, smelling at ankles, and producing lively apprehensions which are not in the least allayed by calling the beast a good fellow, and remarking that he was never known to bite,--if," says Mr. Tibbins to his friends, "these are your preferences, we will not quarrel. I respect your idiosyncrasies, and I beg you to respect mine, while I embrace this occasion to mention that among the most prominent of mine is an indisposition to have my ankles smelled at by dogs of any breed or of any size, whether they are good fellows or not, and an insuperable disgust with the barking of beasts when I go to make a call. That it is very selfish in you or any person to subject his friends to such ordeals I do not say; that I leave entirely to your own judgment, only remarking that although black snakes and green snakes are not venomous reptiles, and are probably 'good fellows,' I do not think that those who delight in having them coiling and gliding about their parlors ought to be vexed with their neighbors for not calling. The line must be drawn somewhere," says Mr. Tibbins; "you may not draw it until you come to snakes; I draw it at dogs."

When, therefore, you stroll about the delightful country in his neighborhood and mark the abodes of the rich and great, and say to him, "That is a charming place," Mr. Tibbins answers, "Yes, he has dogs; I never go there." Mr. Tibbins was naturally very much exhilarated by the hydrophobia excitement last summer, and hoped at one time that the public feeling might be carefully kindled to a general crusade against dogs. "I lately read in Mr. Warner's letter from the Nile," he said, "of an African king who had never seen a horse until Colonel Long came riding into his capital. Think, oh, my friend, of the happy island valley of Avillon, where never a dog barked loudly or was ever seen." Of course so severe a taste as Tibbins's in a world so largely canine produces inconvenience, as a dislike to butter in a society which holds to a natural and necessary relation between bread and butter will often expose the dissenter to difficulty. Such a man, in a crowded and elegant assembly, who at supper has incautiously bitten a heavily buttered sandwich, in the midst of a bout of badinage with youth and beauty, understands the emotion of those who, with Mr. Tibbins, dislike to have their ankles smelled at by dogs, yet who suddenly, within a neighbor's grounds and far from help, perceive that a dog is actually engaged in that office.

But Mr. Tibbins went out merrily upon New-Year's morning, resolved at least to pay one visit long neglected to a neighbor who had become his neighbor the summer before, who had given no signs of dogs, and who, as Tibbins assured himself, was much too sensible a man to allow them about the house and grounds. Our friend began the day prosperously, finding everybody cordial and gay, and doing, as he thought, his full share towards the enlivenment of each call. At last he came to the new neighbor's, and went humming gayly up the neat plank-walk from the gate, when, turning briskly around the house--putting it, as it were, between himself and retreat--he was advancing rapidly towards the front door when he suddenly stopped, with a sickening sense of betrayal, as it were, in the house of a friend, for directly before him, within easy spring, so to speak, lay a large dog upon the door-mat and directly under the bell. He was asleep, and upon perceiving him Mr. Tibbins, as if upon tiptoe for silence, reconnoitred the situation. To advance and ring the bell was simple madness, for the dog would of course awake the moment a foot struck the step, and in the confusion of sudden awakening and of close quarters with an intruder he would probably be very reckless and sanguinary, and not in the least amenable to the "good fellow" blandishment. Mr. Tibbins, therefore, without moving, looked at the windows, hoping to see somebody looking out whom he might with beaming pantomime summon to the door, and so save himself the contact which seemed to be inevitable. But there was no one looking out, and the closed windows seemed to him to stare with blank indifference, so that he says he had had before no idea how cruel windows can be. It then occurred to him that if he could open communication with the kitchen, and entice some maid or man to the door without ringing, the difficulty would disappear, because the maid or man would pacify the dog. But to reach the kitchen required a lateral movement which would leave the enemy directly across his line of retreat. Moreover, any movement whatever exposed Mr. Tibbins to the risk of making a noise, which would arouse the foe and precipitate the engagement. He therefore maintained his position, looking hopefully towards the kitchen, but, seeing no one, he reluctantly held a further counsel with himself.

The obvious heroic course was to step upon the piazza and ring the bell. But he saw again that it was impossible to touch the bell without bringing himself close to the dog, who would then, of course, awake and snap immediately at the nearest object, which would be Tibbins his leg. And what was the possible use of heroism under such circumstances? He might as well advance and kick the dog. But was the dog asleep? Was he not dead? Was he not--why shouldn't he be--a stuffed dog, an old family favorite, perhaps, now placed upon his familiar resting-place as his own monument? This thought cleared the prospect for a moment, but instant gloom shut down again, as Mr. Tibbins saw a slight breathing motion, and perceived that the beast still lived. One of the advantages, or misfortunes, of New-Year's Day in the country, according to the point of view, is the infrequency of visitors. To our friend this infrequency seemed to be, upon this occasion, a misfortune. Had there only been a merry group turning the corner at the moment, he would have joyously joined it, and so long as he could see other legs between himself and his enemy his soul would have been at rest.

But his position was peculiarly solitary, nor did any other visitor appear, and Mr. Tibbins remained for some time motionless regarding the situation. There was no sign of relief. No visitor came to go in, so none came out. No friendly face shone at the windows, no helping hand opened the door. At any moment the dog might open his eyes, and, in that case, he would certainly not be content with a survey of the situation. Mr. Tibbins, who is no mean classic, remembered Xenophon and various other great and renowned commanders who retired in good order and not in the least demoralized, and reflecting that the sage truly defined prudence as the crown of wisdom, he gently turned and, careful by no rude noise to disturb the peaceful slumbers of an innocent animal which, some poets have suggested, might properly share our heaven, he tiptoed quietly around the house, and rapidly descending the plank-walk, firmly closed the gate behind him, and felt his heart swelling with gratitude for a great mercy.

A few days afterwards he met his neighbor, and said to him that he had designed to call upon him on New-Year's Day, but that he had discovered a dog in the path, and as he never called where dogs were kept, he had been compelled to lose the pleasure of a visit. He then told the story of his attempt, in the midst of which the neighbor broke into the most prolonged and immoderate laughter, and when Mr. Tibbins had ended, said to him, "My dear sir, that dog is immemorially old and superannuated, and he is blind, deaf, and toothless."

"Indeed!" replied Mr. Tibbins. "But he might not have been."

"And yet I will confess," he said to the Easy Chair, later, "that the incident is a very pretty sermon upon the deceitfulness of appearances, which I respectfully offer to your acceptance."

[The end]
George William Curtis's essay: Mr. Tibbins's New-Year's Call