The Confidence-Man Summary
It's April Fools' Day—time to pull some pranks. The Fidèle leaves St. Louis with someone we suspect might be a stowaway on board. He can't hear or speak, but his chalk tablet speaks volumes about the value of charity, complete with quotes from the Bible.
The crowd—and this ship is majorly crowded—isn't into it, and they violently harass the dude into giving up. The messages he writes on his tablet are rejected, but nobody seems to mind when the baker posts a sign saying your credit isn't worth anything in his establishment, so pay in cash.
The crowd starts to break up into smaller units, and we get a few (okay, a ton) more characters. First up is Guinea, who can't walk and who makes money making people laugh. We head into rough waters when a dude with a wooden leg decides to call Guinea out for being a fake. Wait, what? How does he know?
Cue the debate about trusting your fellow man. The country merchant stands up for Guinea (keep an eye on the country merchant because he ends up giving money to loads of people).
In other charity news, there's a guy in a grey-and-white suit running around collecting money for widows and orphans—he picks up some cash from a widow funnily enough.
There's also an herb-doctor on board who gets yelled at by an angry dad and lampooned by Pitch the burly Missourian. The herb-doctor snags some dough though from quite a few characters, including a very sick old man who's been tricked by snake-oil salesmen before, a day-laborer whose legs no longer work because of a freak accident, and a miser with a bad cough.
This miser also gets robbed by a stock broker wearing a cap with a tassel running around the ship flashing his company's ledger. That sneaky move draws the attention of the country merchant, who buys some stock after giving some money to an unfortunate man wearing a weed in his hat. This guy with the sob story weirds out a college student, who also happens to drop some cash with the stock broker. Kind of a knotted mess this.
The next big knot? We'll start with Pitch: after poo-pooing the herb-doc, he gets convinced to hire a farmhand from a man claiming to represent a servant-training program. It dawns on Pitch that this guy might have tricked him, and as he grumbles about it to himself, Frank the cosmopolitan shows up.
Well, hello, Frank—fancy meeting you here. Frank's the character we get to spend the most time with. Lucky us, because he is quite the character. After eavesdropping on Pitch, they have a heated debate about misanthropy. Unclear who wins, but Pitch definitely leaves Frank feeling exasperated. Enter Charlie stage left, who disses Pitch once he leaves. Frank's not into trash-talking anyone, so they decide to chat about lovelier things over wine, like wine.
Charlie tells a complicated tale about backwoodsmen as a backhanded insult to Pitch, and Frank responds with a parable about having confidence in men (same old same old). Charlie gets chased off when Frank asks to borrow money. Things are cool though, because Frank may have used demonic powers to calm Charlie down. Gulp. Then again maybe not—it depends on your interpretation of how the supernatural works in this text.
Moving on—no time to waste on this busy ship! After Charlie scoots away, Mark Winsome shows up. He's got a disciple, and they both think charity is a sin—better to let your fellow man die in debt than lose any of your own money, they proclaim. Frank thinks they're morally gross guys. He goes to get a shave.
He bums a free shave off of the barber we meet at the beginning, after convincing him to try a shave-on-credit experiment. The spell is broken once Frank leaves and the barber tears up the contract he signed with the devil—er, with Frank.
What's Frank up to after his clean shave? He goes to read the bible and finds an old man up late doing the same. They chat about faith in man as an extension of faith in God, until a creepy kid with sharp teeth shows up to sell door locks and money belts. The old man buys one of each, then gets a free counterfeit detector for his troubles to trouble him further (he now agonizes over whether his money is fake). There's a lamp overhead with a devilish design that goes out, and Frank leads the old man to his sleeping quarters, leaving the rest of us in the dark. So metal.
A Mute Goes Aboard a Boat on the Mississippi
- April Fools' Day: it's sunrise on the Mississippi in St. Louis. A dude appears out of nowhere like he's some great Incan legend. (That's Melville's nod to the golden-staff-carrying man of mystery and founder of Cusco. This latter-day Kuzco prob paid homage to the Peruvian leader—part man, part myth.)
- Our guy boards the boat.
- Cue token shot of hair, duds, and doodads: dude's blonde, rocking peach fuzz only (no beard), and wearing a cream suit with white fur cap, but, umm, here's something weird: he's got no bags with him. According to the crowd on board, his look plus lack of luggage and friends means he's a stranger. They don't take kindly to strangers.
- Whatevs, dude's onboard the Fidèle (that's French for "faithful"—special meaning much?) headed to New Orleans with a sense of duty.
- There's a crowd aboard and they stop judging our newbie for five hot seconds while they stare at a sign (it's unclear why this sign is such a thrill, but to each his own).
- Among the crowd are pickpockets and blokes hawking some dubious wares. Some of these are books on criminals and notorious bandits. This is a meta-moment with Melville name-dropping some books that exist IRL. In case we don't get that all of these characters are bad news bears, our narrator dubs them chevaliers. For realsies, that'd mean they would be honored French soldiers; for sarcastic funsies, this means—wink wink, nod nod—these guys are thoroughly up to no good and are definitely not soldiers.
- Back to our guy: he's threaded his way through the crowd up to the captivating placard. We still have no idea what it says, but our stranger decides to stand next to it, pulls out a slate. On it, he scribbles: "Charity thinketh no evil."
- This does not go over well with the crowd, so they give our dude a once-over. Their assessment: he's innocent but annoying. He doesn't belong. They push him to the side, and one dude with a bad attitude squashes his cap flat on his head. Sad.
- Our guy is undeterred. He updates his sign: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind." Crowd is really peeved now. They push him harder, and his lack of resentment upsets them all the more. They're violent types; he's not. According to them, he has got to go.
- Update to slate number three: "Charity endureth all things." The crowd stares at our guy, and he sort of walks in front of them, back and forth, meeting their gaze.
- Update to slate number four: "Charity believeth all things."
- And, finally, the last update: "Charity never faileth."
- It's worth noting that "charity" never gets erased when our guy updates his slate. It stays crisp while the rest of the words are smudged and written anew.
- After this keen observation, we get another this stranger is dif-fer-ent moment with a quick visual contrast: dude is standing there, staring at the audience with his charity slate, and up hops the local barber onto the scene. He's one of many vendors running a little dingy business on the boat. Whereas the stranger is tidy and quiet with a sharp little makeshift sign, the barber is gruff, loud, and props up a cheesy sign for his services.
- Turns out the crowd is cool with the barber's interruption. Weird.
- These folks are so not cool with the stranger's lingering presence; pushes turn into punches until he almost gets run down by two porters carrying luggage.
- This is the first time our guy seems distressed, and in the tussle, it becomes evident that he has a hearing impairment. The crowd continues to be unsympathetic. Shocking (not shocking).
- The stranger goes to sit underneath a ladder in the deck-passage area signaling his station on board the ship. He's tuckered out and promptly checks out. While he snoozes, the narrator clues us in to his look: he's tidy, but worn down. He looks like he's been travelling a long, long way—and this is not his last stop.
Showing That Many Men Have Many Minds
- Kicking chapter two off, we get a rapid-fire list of impressions from the crowd about our sleeping stranger. As the title of the chapter suggests, we're dealing with a plethora of ideas here, and no one seems to be of one mind.
- Opinions about the cream-suited man range from Poor thing to Who dis? to Keep away from him to He just wants attention, so don't give him any.
- Lucky for him, the sleeping stranger has zero idea that this less-than-favorable commentary is going on around him.
- The ship is huge—carrying a dizzying array of passengers that get on and off at various ports.
- Eventually, the massive crowd breaks apart, forming groups, then trios, pairs, and finally individuals.
- The individuals constitute a cosmopolitan mass of people from all walks of life, from all over the world. No joke: Melville spends about a page listing all the different types of people he can think of—different cultures, different types of employment, different religions. All these people gather in a busy tangle of moving parts.
In Which a Variety of Characters Appear
- At the front of the boat is an alms-begging black man without the use of his legs. He's got a makeshift tambourine, and he has a knack for cheering up the gruffest grumpus who might have had the misfortune of waking up on the wrong side of the bed. The narrator problematically compares him to various animals like a sheep and a Newfoundland.
- The tambourine man comes across another man who drives cattle over great distances for a living. This man asks the tambourine man what is his name is and who owns him. Yikes. (As you can probably guess, this novel was first published in 1857. That's about four years before the start of the Civil War in the United States.)
- The tambourine man is called "Black Guinea," and he spends his nights warmed by the heat of the sun trapped in the stones of the streets of St. Louis. That's fairly poetic—we already like this guy.
- Up until now, Guinea hasn't been given too many pennies, but a random sort of game has been struck up: the members of the crowd—in the name of what they think of as charity and fun—toss coins into his open mouth.
- The narrator is careful to note that we have no clue what this man feels in his heart of hearts about this type of treatment, but, as far as his outward appearance is concerned, he's got the look of happiness about him.
- Just when this "game" is really getting into high gear, a party-pooper comes along. Every party needs one, that's why we invited a former customs house officer (that's government dude who works in imports and exports) with a wooden leg to accuse Guinea of faking his injuries. He also accuses him of being a white man in blackface.
- Nobody likes this new guy. The crowd thinks he's ruined their fun—plus, they were riding high on gratuitous pat-yourself-on-the-back feels from tossing their spare change.
- This new guy starts to sway the others, though. He then goes over to the man on the ground and is about to try to reveal what he thinks is a trick (by tearing his clothes off maybe?), when the crowd stops him. Whoa. A crowd that doesn't want to turn into a rabid, murderous mob? Go fig.
- Anyway, the crowd shoos him away because nobody likes stingy, mean jerkiness.
- Then the crowd turns to Guinea. They don't trust him much now, either. They do the, um, logical thing and ask if he has any documentation proving that he is in fact unable to walk.
- Ten cent bet what Guinea's answer is? Yep: it's a big ol' goose egg. Nada. No.
- An Episcopal clergyman asks if there's anyone who can vouch for Guinea at the very least.
- There is. Guinea launches into a litany of randos who can offer themselves as character witnesses. Weirdly, they're solely identified by their outfits or items they may be holding.
- The clergyman runs off to find one or more of these potentially helpful folks, but Black Guinea isn't out of hot water yet. Accusations of a wild goose chase abound while the man with a wooden leg reiterates his suspicions.
- Eventually, the man with the wooden leg gets into a verbal altercation with a Methodist minister. Tension mounts. Violence is threatened. The crowd eggs the Methodist minister on. Things are tricky, but it doesn't come to blows. Phew.
- Instead, the man with a wooden leg leaves with a few parting shots about how these people are all fools.
- The Methodist minister takes this opportunity to bring the pulpit to the proverbial soapbox, and he waxes on about the virtue of faith in one's fellow man. The crowd is spellbound.
- Guinea ventures a quick check-in—You guys agree I'm legit then, yes? All Good?
- Crowd: Nah, brah.
- Guinea: Et tu, Methodist minister? Who promptly scorns him.
- Then, out of the crowd, a dude singled out as the "country merchant" gives a tour de force: he straight up walks up and tells Guinea that he alone believes in him. People are not happy.
- The country merchant gives Guinea a half dollar. In doing so, he drops his business card on the ground. Guinea gratefully accepts the coin, and the business card is covered by his stump.
- The crowd is unhappier still. They say mean things; they demand Guinea go find his own witness.
- Guinea's response is basically: Umm, hello? Can't just head out and find them on my own, remember? Thanks so much. Bye.
- The crowd is then shooed away by a steward reminding everyone to get their tickets for the ship or get gone.
Renewal of Old Acquaintance
- In a balcony on the side of the ship, there's a brief Q&A between our country merchant, apparently named Mr. Roberts, and a man dressed all in black with a long weed pinned to his hat. Weeds, as we'll fondly think of him for now, is certain that he knows Mr. Roberts, but Roberts is pretty sure he'd remember him if they'd met. Besides, even though he doesn't know Weeds, he recalls that Weeds is one of the guys described in the previous chapter by the man who cannot walk as a character witness.
- Turns out, Weeds showed up and vouched for the coin-catching object of ire. Now he wants Mr. Roberts to remember him.
- Weeds tells Mr. Roberts that they met once, that they're both masons, that they drank tea together, and that they had great chats, for Pete's sake. How could Roberts forget him so easily? The tea, man. The tea.
- Mr. Roberts is unconvinced.
- Weeds continues by asking if Mr. Roberts ever had a brain injury that messed with his memory, because, you know, that's a normal how-do-you-do sort of greeting. Kind of. Sort of. Not really.
- Mr. Roberts gives Weeds the old that's cray look, so Weeds talks about his own memories of, umm, memory loss. Apparently he had a farming accident, and his friends had to fill in the pieces.
- Come to think of it, Mr. Roberts decides, there was that brain-fever that one time. Weeds, jumps in—Yes! The brain fever! That's why you forgot all about the tea!
- We're so over this tea.
- Story time: we're not privy to what Weeds says here, but he tells Mr. Roberts all about his misfortune as a fellow mason. Mr. Roberts drops some money to help him out. Weeds goes all stoic and pulls on some self-respect like it's a slick fur coat after pocketing the money. He's dignified, after all. Right.
- Before he leaves, Weeds indulges in a little insider trading and gives Mr. Roberts some secret stock tips on the Black Rapids Coal Company. The country merchant is so down to play the market on the DL, but he wants to know why Weeds didn't just buy some himself if this tip is so great.
- Cold. Ice Cold. 30 below is the temperature of the stare Weeds gives Mr. Roberts for that question.
- When Weeds speaks next, it is one world-class guilt trip about Mr. Roberts's faulty memory—because how could someone down and out capitalize on this secret knowledge?
- This country merchant feels bad.
The Man With the Weed Makes it an Even Question Whether He Be a Great Sage or a Great Simpleton
- Not quite an "I'm king of the world!" moment, but the man with the weed in his hat is standing against the railing on the side of the boat. Just doing his own thing.
- At the moment, doing his own thing means indulging in the goodness of human nature. The narrator takes a minute here to contemplate the nature of showing gratitude, how tricky it can be to look grateful when you've got a sense of pride, and how uncomfortable it can be when people are too enthusiastic in their thanks. Awkward.
- There's another dude leaning against the railing. The narrator has us side-eye him. We learn that he's got a book, he's young, he's probably in college, he's wearing a frou-frou shirt, and he's probably a sophomore.
- Weeds is the first to speak, with a ZOMG, did I mumble so loudly you heard me? OMG how embarrassing, but I can see you're sad, too. Let's be sad friends.
- Schoolboy is too taken aback to say anything, but no need—for the rest of the chapter, Weeds basically takes over the whole conversation. The topic? Why this kid should abandon his book on Tacitus (an ancient Roman historian and senator). Hint: it's because after reading it, the kid will never trust his fellow man again.
- We're sensing a theme here.
- Weeds finally asks if the kid would trust him.
- Confused, the kid walks away.
At the Outset of Which Certain Passengers Prove Deaf to the Call of Charity
- A rich dude decked out in Ruby hues is miffed that the captain lets "begging fellows" on board. He's talking about a man in grey and white—right in front of the dude. Rude.
- Ruby stomps away, and an old gentleman walks by. Grey-and-white asks him if he wants to donate to the Seminole Widow and Orphan Asylum. He does not. Like, at all. Plus, he accuses Grey-and-white of being a fake.
- Grey-and-white stands around looking glum.
- The Episcopal clergyman from way back when pops up. He recognizes Grey-and-white as yet another man that Guinea, the coin-catching man, described when he needed character witnesses.
- Grey-and-white: Yeah, I know that guy.
- Clergyman: He's not a fake?
- Grey-and-white: Not a fake.
- Clergyman: Oh, man, my bad. I feel all the guilt. I should apologize.
- Grey-and-white: Too bad and too late. Guinea's gone.
- Clergyman: I Messed Up.
- The guy with the wooden leg shows up and sort of weirdly laugh-groans. This turns into a whole "You laughing at me?" debate between him and the clergyman. He then tells Grey-and-white and the clergyman a jaded story about a man in New Orleans who was so trusting that he couldn't tell his wife was cheating on him. The other two do not like this guy and his bad attitude one little bit. He walks away.
- The clergyman tells Grey-and-white that this guy is the reason he suspected poor Guinea in the first place—not right away, but the dude's mean-spirited doubts sort of crept up on him.
- First off, Grey-and-white wants to call the mean man back to see if he was just joshing. The clergyman calls him back. You joshing?
- Not joshing.
- He's not joshing, Grey-and-white.
- Grey-and-white is icked out by this type of suspicious mindset.
- The mean man leaves again, and the clergyman promises to shield his own mind from distrust, then gives Grey-and-white a coin to give to Guinea when he next sees him. Grey-and-white totes will do that. In the meantime, will the clergyman donate to the Seminole Widow and Orphan Asylum?
- The clergyman eyes Grey-and-white suspiciously.
- Grey-and-white: Dude, what even? You just said you'd chill out.
- Clergyman: No, no—you got it wrong. I'm trying to show you I'm better. Here's money. But umm, you're not lying, right? You have papers to prove you're working with a charity?
- Grey-and-white: Yeah. I'll write your name down in this here logbook and everything. It's cool.
A Gentleman With Gold Sleeve-Buttons
- While Grey-and-white is telling the clergyman about the history of his charity, he notices a fancy man dressed to the nines. He's got a manservant who does nearly everything for him, so he doesn't ever have to get his hands dirty.
- Grey-and-white pegs this guy as a generous donor and excuses himself to go get it.
- Fancy-pants is a good dude. At least that's his major vibe, though the narrator makes a distinction between being good and being righteous. Basically, people would be willing to die for a good man, but not so much for a righteous one. That's too bad for Grey-and-white, who's described as pretty darn righteous by the narrator.
- Grey-and-white has surmised correctly, at any rate, and the good guy drops some hefty cash money on him. In an offhand comment, he mentions to Grey-and-white that it would just be easier if all the charities teamed up to form one big charity.
- Grey-and-white's response: Shut up. No way. That's totally what I said at the world's fair. They laughed at me, though.
- Good guy: Whoa, really? Why were you there?
- Grey-and-white: I invented a special wheelchair.
- Good guy: That's awesome.
- Grey-and-white: Yeah. I'm really awesome. But when I said we should have a one-world-order kind of tax to raise enough money and pay for all the things—including converting everybody to Christianity—nobody was on my side.
- At this point the good guy gives Grey-and-white his best "What even?" stare and starts with the whole "Let's be logical" thing. He still admires Grey-and-white's enthusiasm, though, and hands him another crisp bill.
A Charitable Lady
- In a somber mood, Grey-and-white heads into the ladies' saloon and sits by a pleasant-looking woman—a widow—in clothes that indicate she's just coming out of mourning. She's been reading the Bible.
- Specifically, this lady's been reading 1 Corinthians 13. This is the uber-famous love is patient, love is kind section that gets used during many a wedding in the U.S.
- Really quick, though: the edition of the Bible that Melville probably has in mind when writing in the 1800s would have had "charity" in place of "love." In fact, the lines our guy wrote on his slate in chapter one about charity are taken straight out of this section. What a coincidence.
- Anyway, the woman notices Grey-and-white but doesn't say anything. Grey-and-white notices her and does say a thing: "May I ask, are you a sister of the church?" (8.5). Smooth.
- The lady stammers because it's an odd question. Grey-and-white jumps into a spiel about how he can't really connect with anyone outside the church, and she seemed like she might be, you know, one of his kind.
- There's more stammering on the lady's part, when Grey-and-white interrupts her again. He goes on and on about whether or not she could believe in him.
- But you're a stranger.
- Grey-and-white guilts the lady into saying she has confidence in him.
- Prove it, Grey-and-white demands. Give me twenty bucks. That amount of money would be close to $365 today. Translation: he's asking a lot. (Source.)
- The lady asks Grey-and-white to at least tell her why he needs the money. He brings up the widows and orphans charity, and she readily hands over the money.
- Grey-and-white quotes a different passage from Corinthians back at the lady. It's about having confidence. Go figure.
Two Business Men Transact a Little Business
- We're back outside on the railing with our college kid.
- A man wearing a travelling cap with a perky little tassel on top asks the kid if he's seen the man with a weed on his hat.
- Oh, man, has college kid seen him? Yeah. And he's none too pleased about it, either.
- Tassel figures Weeds must have disembarked. College kid figures it's good riddance.
- Tassel wishes he could have caught Weeds before he left. His company—the Black Rapids Coal Company, to be exact—made a lot of money recently, and he wants to pay it forward.
- Hold the phone. College kid's interest is piqued. If Tassel is selling, he's buying.
- There's a lot of back and forth here that basically amounts to this: Buying; really? Yes; gimmie.
- The two also talk about gloomy philosophers ruining everything with their downer attitudes. Tassel blames them for the fact that popular opinion has lost confidence in the stock market.
- Eventually, Tassel and the college kid go into a side room, then come back ostensibly having struck a deal. All we can say is, secrets don't make friends.
- When they come back, Tassel tries to get the college kid to invest in a new development called "New Jerusalem." College kid is not interested.
- Tassel brings up Weeds again. College kid says shut it about that guy. Tassel ends with a comment about how as the college kid hardens his heart against others like Weeds, his brain softens.
In the Cabin
- The cabin on the ship—unlike the one in the woods—is where you go to play cards.
- The room is filled with people and papers—pamphlets containing poetry, to be exact. A silent older man passed them out earlier, and then everyone just tossed them on the floor.
- One man is reading the ode written on them about trusting your fellow man. This again?
- Apparently the guy is moved by what he reads there.
- Tassel shows up and asks this guy where the pamphlets came from. The guy has no clue.
- Tassel is a social bunny, and he wants to party. However, his temporary companion here doesn't play cards, drink, smoke, or tell stories.
- Tassel flutters away from that dude.
- Tassel sits down by the country merchant. This is Mr. Roberts, the guy who believed in Guinea and gave him a coin; he also believed in Weeds and gave him money after his sob story.
- Tassel and Mr. Roberts chat about the card players.
- There's a pair of young guys in cream suits each wearing a bright tie, one green and the other red. They're up against a pair of middle-aged guys all in black.
- Mr. Roberts doesn't trust these guys. Tassel thinks he means the young guys, since he's apparently been judging their outfits.
- No, Roberts means the older two. He thinks they must be cardsharps out to hoodwink the younger pair.
- Tassel basically goes, Pssshhhh, nah. Everyone here is playing fair, and they could all win.
- The two of them agree to disagree.
- Tassel puts his ledger down on the seat. Mr. Roberts looks away. A+ for not being a screen-creeper, Robbie.
- Tassel leaves the ledger there and walks away. Being a good dude, Mr. Roberts grabs it and takes it to him. He can't help but note that the binding on the ledger bears the title: Black Rapids Coal Company.
- Mr. Roberts is giddy. Can he has stocks?
- Tassel does not appear amused or forgiving about the fact that Mr. Roberts knows who he is and what he does. He gives him a hard time. Eventually he agrees to sell him some in another backroom deal. Tricksy.
Only a Page or So
- After their backroom deal, Mr. Roberts and Tassel chat.
- Looking back on the gamblers, Mr. Roberts wonders what other secret lives the ship holds. He's a curious guy.
- Mr. Roberts brings up a story of a dying miser he came across maybe an hour or so ago. The miser didn't want to let go of life due to his love of money and his fear of losing it by death or theft.
- Mr. Roberts wants to feel pity for this man; Tassel, not so much.
- Mr. Roberts then brings up Guinea and his difficult life, which is dependent on charity. Tassel counters again. This time it's with an offensive notion that black people just don't get sad or stay sad.
- Mr. Roberts, undaunted in his goal to demonstrate that pitying one's fellow human is a valid thing to do, references the man with the weed on his hat. Reminder: this is the dude that 1) told Mr. Roberts a sob-story about being a down-and-out fellow mason to get moolah; 2) weirded out the college kid; and 3) told Mr. Roberts about the company for which Tassel works.
- Apparently, Grey-and-white, the man collecting money for widows and orphans, told Mr. Roberts more about Weeds. We're going to need a Facebook group or yearbook or something to keep all these peeps straight.
- The narrator then throws some mad shade on Mr. Roberts when he lets us know that while Mr. Roberts can do right by Weeds, he can't really deliver on the story about Weeds. Harsh.
Story of the Unfortunate Man, From Which May Be Gathered Whether or No He Has Been Justly So Entitled
- The narrator tells the story he claims to be able to better relate than Mr. Roberts can. He describes Goneril, the wife of the "unfortunate man" (it's safe to presume that this is Weeds). Heads up: this description is m-e-a-n.
- At first, Goneril's biggest flaws seem to be that she prefers lemons to peaches. She's clearly a monster.
- Goneril's apparently also cold, heartless, scary, and touchy with other men. Not touchy, as in easily irritated, but touchy as in she gently grazes guys' arms, shoulders, hands, etc. Major creep vibe, plus it makes her husband uneasy.
- Goneril's husband Weeds doesn't make a fuss, because he's sort of super terrified of her.
- Real problem #1: Goneril starts to get jealous of Weeds and his attention.
- Real problem #2: This jealousy extends to their daughter.
- Real problem #3: Weeds catches Goneril "tormenting" their daughter (we're not let in on what this entails).
- The unfortunate Weeds takes his daughter and leaves his wife. The townswomen who weren't really keen on Goneril before cry out against this move.
- Pulling no punches, Goneril takes her hubby to court. Weeds reveals everything about Goneril and her weird ways, but she ultimately gets the daughter back and tries to get Weeds committed to an asylum. This is some soap-opera level drama-rama.
- Weeds is now ostracized. He spends his days travelling around with a weed in his cap to remember Goneril, who has apparently died (yeah, we have no idea how).
- Now Weeds is just trying to get his daughter back. Too bad he's broke.
The Man With the Traveling-Cap Evinces Much Humanity, and in a Way Which Would Seem to Show Him to Be One of the Most Logical of Optimists
- We interrupt our narrator's regularly scheduled announcement with an announcement from…our narrator. He says: don't judge. Specifically, don't be like the American scholar in London who prejudged a dude for his fancy duds before he found out that the dude was also a great sage. How embarrassing.
- This is all to remind the reader not to judge Tassel for not being sympathetic earlier, because we'd then unfairly assume he's heartless.
- Apparently, Tassel's got boatloads of compassion for the predicament in which Weeds finds himself. Mr. Roberts and Tassel bond over their shared pity.
- Does Weeds still have faith in his fellow man? Tassel wants to know.
- Mr. Roberts misunderstands and says that Weeds is handling things well and is resigned to his life.
- Tassel's all, Very good, but I hope he doesn't lose confidence in his fellow man. While we're on the subject, it's probably not fair to take the unfortunate Weeds's word for it. After all, husband and wife probably both have their flaws and their good points.
- Mr. Roberts veritably flips out at this suggestion. How could anyone feel anything but sympathy?
- Tassel gets Mr. Roberts to cool off by making the argument that to distrust Goneril to such a degree is to lose faith in Providence (or God) and the goodness that stems from one's belief.
- Besides, Tassel adds, being too compassionate will train your head and your heart to be too easily swayed by emotion, and then you'll just be a fool in public.
- Oh, and another thing: wishing revenge on Goneril is another ding against Providence, because it shows you don't have faith in what God is doing now, but are hoping for something from God in the future. (Sidebar: doing so goes against the belief Providence has got things covered right this very moment, so don't whine.)
- Doubting Providence, Tassel continues, is like putting your faith in the stock market during wartime. Translation: it's risky.
- At this point, Tassel looks sideways at his exchange book. (Remember: this is where he records who bought what stock from his company, including the stock Mr. Roberts bought a few chapters ago, at the start of this blasted conversation.)
- Mr. Roberts is cowed and fully on board with Tassel's survey of things.
- Tassel hopes he wasn't being a bossy know-it-all.
- Mr. Roberts is all, No, I like it. You're better than a preacher. (He's being sincere.)
- This makes Tassel uneasy, because he prefers to just chat like equals. To get back on the same level again, he pokes at Goneril: Weeds is better off without her, anyway—his misfortune is really cause for celebration.
- They men decide to drink to that. A lot, a lot.
- Once fully under the effects of champagne, Mr. Roberts gets weepy about how evil Goneril is all over again.
- Tassel is irritated as all get-out: Aha. The truth comes out. You, sir, have no faith in your fellow man. What's more, I'm cutting you off. So there.
- Mr. Roberts is embarrassed.
Worth the Consideration of Those to Whom It May Prove Worth Considering
- The narrator has a lot to tell us, and in this chapter, the interruption is presented as direct commentary from the author.
- The narrator professes to be concerned with what the reader might see as inconsistency in the character of Mr. Roberts, once so trusting in his fellow man, now so doubtful.
- The narrator argues a few things: 1) Readers expect consistency in order to create the illusion of realism. 2) Inconsistency in a fictional character is more realistic because humans are inconsistent IRL. 3) Really, it's the writer's job to portray this inconsistency as believable.
- The narrator argues that this is a sort of map to human nature, which is as confounding a task as understanding divine nature.
- Even if there are a million ways to be inconsistent, humans have consistently been inconsistent in the same ways for thousands of years.
- Now, it's time to get back to our comedy. Yes, the author calls this a comedy. And so do we.
An Old Miser, Upon Suitable Representations, is Prevailed Upon to Venture an Investment
- After Mr. Roberts leaves, Tassel thinks back over their conversation. He figures that even if Mr. Roberts was his intellectual inferior, Tassel might as well try to glean something useful from him to increase his own virtue and build up his character—you know—be the best Tassel he can be.
- Suddenly remembering something Mr. Roberts said, Tassel runs to the poor quarters on board the ship; he recalls the miser on his deathbed. We're afraid this isn't going to end well.
- Tassel finds the miser coughing and begging for water.
- The miser thanks Tassel for getting him a drink. Tassel promptly asks him if he has confidence in him.
- Miser: Sure.
- Tassel: Give me $100.
- Miser: What? No way, you scoundrel. (Here he coughs uncontrollably.)
- Tassel first offers to call for the herb-doctor to administer some Omni-Balsamic Reinvigorator. What? Then he guilts the miser—yes, guilts him—into giving him money by saying he could get a triple return on his investment.
- Miser: Investment, you say?
- Tassel: Yeah, I do everything for you, babe.
- The miser is uncertain. Tassel does the I'm walking away because I don't need your suspicious money thing.
- Miser calls Tassel back and gives him the $100.
- Tassel is cold. He scoffs at this meek offer of confidence in him and walks away with the money.
- The miser calls Tassel back asking for a receipt. He calls and coughs over and over. No one hears him.
A Sick Man, After Some Impatience, is Induced to Become a Patient
- It's morning, and it is glo-ri-ous. The sun is out. It's beaming its beautiful rays on the whole world and everyone in it.
- Everyone except that guy right over there out on the deck, that is. He looks miserable. Worse, he looks like he's on death's door. He may be. He's clearly feeble and ill.
- Worse still, dude's got an herb-doctor next to him touting the value of natural remedies and decrying the false medical arts of chemists.
- Our ill old man has apparently taken some sort of draught containing iron and maybe a whole host of other chemicals that have degenerated his body.
- The herb-doctor goes through various arguments about why those other doctors are snake-oil salesmen but he's the real McCoy. His main point is that he is on the side of nature, nature is on the side of God, and God can do no wrong. Therefore, everything from nature is good. If everything from God-nature is good, then bam, syllogism complete: he, the herb-doctor, is a man to trust.
- Throughout this one-sided conversation, the old man has remained silent, but when trust is mentioned, he balks. He's done with all doctors.
- The herb-doctor is relentless in offering his Omni-Balsamic Reinvigorator, so the old man asks what's in it. He doesn't get an answer to that question. Instead, the herb-doctor smart-shames him for having the skepticism of a philosopher. He tells the old man that he needs the faith of the uneducated in order for this to work.
- The herb-doctor plays on the very human desire to keep going in order to convince the old man his herbs will work.
- The herb-doctor repeats that the old man must have complete confidence in the herbs, or they won't work.
- The old man ponies up the cash.
- As he's leaving, the herb-doctor says he may never see the old man again, but he should just trust in the herbs while having no expectations for when he might recover.
- The old man freezes because he thinks the herb-doctor meant he'd never see him due to the old man's death. Oops. Foot in mouth.
- The herb-doctor nopes out of that pretty quickly by saying he only meant that the two might not meet again on the ship—or ever.
- Oh. Before he goes, though, the herb-doctor wants the old man to know that if he needs a refill, he should be super wary of counterfeiters. They all want to make money off of the herb-doctor's discovery. Instead, the old man should peel back the label of anything advertised as the Omni-Balsamic Reinvigorator to find a watermark of the word "confidence."
- The old man is dispirited again—he just started to have confidence. Now the herb-doctor is sowing distrust.
- The herb-doctor clarifies: Have confidence in me alone, but above all else, give the credit of my healing you to God.
Towards the End of Which the Herb-Doctor Proves Himself a Forgiver of Injuries
- More people have boarded the ship. This crop of new blood is sitting in a room, kind of shy, and very quiet. We see the herb-doctor hawking another concoction. This time it's the Samaritan Pain Dissuader—good for whatever pains you—mind, body, and soul.
- The crowd just stares at the herb-doctor. They all seem healthy.
- The herb-doctor tries again in an appeal to the women, asking if they have any sick, bedridden friends at home who would appreciate this as a gift.
- Cricket cricket.
- Undeterred by the crowd's apathy, the herb-doctor continues with another tack: You're fine now, but you may have a sudden, terrible pain by noon.
- No response.
- Just then, another new passenger boards the ship and enters the room. We're talking chillingly dramatic entrance here, folks. Imagine the tough, quiet, tall, dark outlaw type walking up to a saloon. He's s man of mystery. He's got a limp and a little girl with bright, dark eyes as deep as eternity. They're no nonsense.
- The herb-doctor goes to these new passengers and makes the number-one wrong move when talking to kids: he acts like a cheery doofus. He takes the girl's hand (way to invade her personal space, brah), sings at her, and tries to get her to sing with him. She gives him a blank stare. Her dad offers him a look of scorn.
- The herb-doctor does the "Don't I know you from the Kentucky ship?" thing. The man says no. The herb-doctor suggests his Samaritan Pain Dissuader as a cure for the guy's limp. The man says no. He goes to sit down with difficulty.
- Another dude arrives—much less dramatically this time. He's not from the shore like this crowd, but from another part of the boat. He buys a bottle of Samaritan Pain Dissuader.
- This seems to signal a go for the others gathered there, and some others buy a few bottles.
- From his seat, the father asks the herb-doctor to repeat what he just said to the crowd. Gladly: This stuff will ease pain in ten minutes.
- Father: Does it make you drowsy or numb?
- Herb-doctor: Nah, you retain your brain game.
- Father: Lies. You're a lying liar who lies.
- The crowd is silent again. Those who have bought some of the meds already feel sheepish.
- The herb-doctor shakes it off and launches into a story about how this concoction will cure mental and emotional pain in addition to physical suffering. He purports to have cured a woman in agony over the death of her husband and child.
- The father can't stand it any longer. He blows up at the herb-doctor, calls him a snake, and leaves the room.
- The herb-doctor pauses and narrates his internal monologue for the audience: he's hurt, no doubt, but he's not going to lower himself to be as wrathful as that man. Instead, he hopes that the audience will see this behavior and have confidence in him.
- The herb-doctor gets only cold stares from the audience.
- In a weirdly Shakespearean exit, the herb-doctor responds to a voice only he hears calling him.
Inquest Into the True Character of The Herb-Doctor
- Two men are discussing the herb-doctor. They disagree over whether it was fair that he was exposed as a fake. One thinks he's a clear charlatan, while the other only accuses him of being a fool.
- Suddenly, the herb-doctor returns, asking for the man collecting money for the Seminole Widow and Orphan Asylum (that's Grey-and-white). The herb-doctor says he always donates half of his sales to charity.
- There's no response from the crowd. Been there, done that.
- The herb-doctor keeps offering the money, saying he'll give to anyone connected with another charity, whether they have a certificate to prove it or not, because he trusts them out of the goodness of his heart.
- People shuffle their feet but don't speak. A woman stands to get the money. The crowd side-eyes her until she sits down.
- Then the herb-doctor says that anyone in need can just have it.
- Another woman in clear mourning garb starts weeping, but she doesn't move to get the cash. Eventually, a man with a bandage across his face goes to claim the money.
- As the man with the bandage heads back to where he was standing, camp-charlatan guy stops him and asks to see the coins. He's surprised that they're real silver.
- Camp-fool guy is not surprised. Now they disagree over whether this was sincere or whether it was part of another bizarre ploy.
- A third guy interjects. Giddy for gossip, he says he knows what's up.
- The crowd asks what's up.
- New guy says he's a Jesuit roaming the land to confound the public.
- The other two give the Jesuit a You're a silly old bear smile. Nothing is resolved.
A Soldier of Fortune
- The herb-doctor, unaware that his reputation is in question, is long gone and chatting up a man with two gnarled legs on crutches wearing a tattered soldier's uniform. He wants to know where the soldier fought and was wounded.
- Turns out the dude didn't fight anywhere. Instead, he happened to be witness to a murder during a political rally. Everyone else present during the debacle made bail, but he didn't have the funds. While everyone else got to live their lives until the trial took place, he had to wait in a damp cell until he was called as a witness. This wet prison mangled his legs. Once at the trial, he testified that he saw the gentlemen kill a man with a sword-cane. The Penguin much?
- This murderer got off scot-free—apparently it's nice to have low friends in high places. After the trial, Thomas Fry (we finally get another name for a character) just gets dumped at a government hospital, where his condition worsens.
- The interaction between the herb-doctor and Tom is frayed because the herb-doctor is all silver-linings, and Tom is just not having it.
- The herb-doctor also says he can't believe something that bad happened. Nobody ever believes, apparently, so Tom lies about being a wounded soldier.
- Tom then gives the herb-doctor an example by begging for change from other passengers. Someone who heard Tom's other story is miffed and wants to expose him as a fake. The herb-doctor sticks up for Tom and dissuades the volunteer whistleblower.
- Tom returns, having collected a lot of cash.
- The herb-doctor tells him to cheer up.
- The herb-doctor says Tom should skip around and be happy.
- Ummm, can't skip: crutches.
- The herb-doctor says that he was thinking about how Tom might fare if he tries some of his herbs and gives him a box free of charge.
- Embarrassed, Tom refuses to accept anything free. Instead, asking for confirmation that this stuff really works, he buys three more boxes. That just happens to be the exact amount that the herb-doctor has left.
Reappearance of One Who May Be Remembered
- The herb-doctor runs into the coughing miser who gave Tassel the $100. The miser is in a panic looking for Tassel.
- When the miser sees the herb-doctor, he realizes this is the guy Tassel had mentioned. The miser verifies his identity, and the herb-doctor is delighted to help search for Tassel—or John Thurman, as he calls him. Another name. Woot.
- The herb-doctor walks the miser around and around on the boat until catching sight of Thurman. The miser doesn't see him, but he follows close behind the herb-doctor as he calls for him.
- According to the herb-doctor's singular perspective, we get this: Oh, no, the boat is docking. Oh, no, Thurman is getting off the ship. Oh, no, the ship is heading back out again. Too bad, so sad.
- The herb-doctor tells the miser he wishes they could have caught Thurman so that the miser could invest. The miser repeats that he already has invested but needs a receipt. The herb-doctor is thrilled and says pish-posh to receipts—Thurman's got your back.
- The herb-doctor leads the miser back to his room, and they discuss the miser's cough. The miser buys a box of herbs, but he tries to cheat the herb-doctor by giving him Spanish coins of low value.
- The herb-doctor accepts the coins but tells the miser he hopes he isn't faking a cough to get discounted medicine.
- Anyway, the herb-doctor has to go now, because he's getting off the ship that night.
A Hard Case
- Once the herb-doctor is gone, a man from Missouri dressed in bearskins and tough as nails mocks the miser for believing in nature, the herbs, and the herb-doctor.
- The men debate about the goodness of nature, with the miser saying it's just peachy and the Missourian arguing that bad weather, hardship, and poisons also come from nature.
- The herb-doctor returns from grabbing his carpetbag in time to hear the tail end of the Missourian's harsh criticism.
- When the tough guy repeats his opinions, the herb-doctor counters with Surely you jest.
- The Missourian does not jest, although he is definitely getting a kick out of ripping apart the miser and the herb-doctor.
- The herb-doctor tries several times and fails to change the Missourian's mind. It eventually devolves into the Missourian harshly telling the miser to give up and die, before the two younger guys have a quick chat about abolitionism.
- The Missourian wants no hired (or slave) hands to help him in his work and is sick of needy people being generally useless.
- Moreover, the Missourian describes the herb-doctor as a type of slave with a master that's running his life and telling him what to do. He sees the herb-doctor as a moderate sort of man whose moderation is easily a tool of evil and of very little benefit to the good.
- The herb-doctor gives the Missourian a condescending look then goes, Oh, look—here's my stop. By-eee.
In the Polite Spirit of the Tusculan Disputations
- The Missourian, who we learn in this chapter is called "Pitch"—if you're keeping count, that's four whole names we've got so far for this novel's cornucopia of characters—is met by a man wearing a brass plate with the initials "P.I.O." inscribed on it.
- It stands for Philosophical Intelligence Office, which is a counterintuitive name for an agency that places servants in jobs. This man in a shabby suit is trying to get Pitch to hire one of his boys.
- Pitch is not into it: he's hired 30 boys from various backgrounds, and they've all been scoundrels of all kinds.
- PIO is horrified that Pitch has such a dismal view of human nature and makes an argument that boys are lily buds with baby teeth who will grow into big plants with perma teeth that can bite through steel (we're exaggerating and mixing PIO's metaphors, but you get the idea). He says he knows this scientifically, as a studier of human nature.
- Pitch is doubtful.
- Pitch is so doubtful that PIO brings out the big guns. He plays the St. Augustine card. (St. Augustine was notorious as a major bad boy of the fourth and fifth centuries who converted to Christianity, became a bishop, wrote famous religious treatises, and basically went from being a defiant triple-decker sinner to noting how guilty he felt when he noticed the beauty of a flower and forgot about God for a hot second. That's a 180 if we ever heard one.)
- Pitch hearts St. Augustine and begins to soften his stance.
- PIO then low-blows an insult to Pitch's animal-skin outfit as an outward example of his disordered mind—and that seems to be enough to break him.
- Pitch agrees to try out one of PIO's boys for a job instead of getting a machine like a cedar mill to do the work.
- Pitch asks about the price, and PIO says his is pricier than other agencies, and he needs to be paid upfront.
- Pitch gives PIO the money and extra for the boy's transportation.
- PIO: Oh, yes, I forgot about that. Very good, thanks.
- Before the transaction is over, though, PIO stops Pitch and says that he'll accept Pitch's money if and only if he declares that he Pitch has 100% confidence in him.
- Pitch: Oh. Heck, yes.
- Just then, the boat pulls up against a bluff that PIO says is called the Devil's Joke. Ha ha.
In Which the Powerful Effect of Natural Scenery is Evinced in the Case of The Missourian, Who, in View of the Region Round-About Cairo, Has a Return of His Chilly Fit
- Taking in the scenery of Cairo, Illinois, Pitch considers it a hotbed of disease and corruption.
- PIO had mentioned this was his stop. This makes Pitch associate disease and corruption with PIO.
- The association makes Pitch suspect that he was swindled.
- Pitch muses over how this occurred and thinks about PIO's threadbare outfit, jovial but slippery words, and sly facial expressions.
- In the throes of these unhappy thoughts, a stranger comes up to Pitch and offers the metaphorical penny to know what his thoughts are.
- Hooooo, we thought the previous chapter was full of philosophical musings. We don't know what hit us with this one, and neither does the cosmopolitan after he encounters Pitch.
- Pitch immediately distrusts the cosmopolitan and mocks his attire, a multi-colored mix of patterns and textures over crisp white pants.
- The cosmopolitan retorts with a sort of pot-kettle response—remember that Pitch is wearing a bunch of animal skins.
- Pitch: Fair, but stop touching me. (The cosmopolitan keeps trying to grab his arm, put his hand on his shoulder, etc.)
- The men engage in a debate over whether it's better to distrust mankind and live a solitary life (Pitch's happy idea) or live in the world, tasting everyone (the cosmopolitan compares people with wine).
- The cosmopolitan tries a few tactics. First, he argues that while not all partying will make you a drunkard, too much sobriety will ruin a person. He then tells a story of a respectable old woman who suddenly didn't want anything to do with anybody, stopped eating, and was generally mopey. She was "cured" by getting tipsy.
- Pitch says if you need alcohol to like people, he'll stick with the truth available in water and be alone.
- The cosmopolitan guilts Pitch: So, you think you're better than everyone, huh? Well, you're like a noble boot in the truth of the sun, but you're warped. I'm like the honest well-worn slipper that walks among the people. Or, you're like the sick chicken that no one wants to hang out with.
- Pitch finds this insulting.
- The cosmopolitan is glad, because if Pitch is insulted, then he must think humans are good after all, since Pitch is also human. See what he did there?
- Pitch accuses the cosmopolitan of being the third crook he's come across today.
- The cosmopolitan tries to get Pitch to go party with him because he sees him as a good wine. Besides, he argues, didn't Diogenes have more fun than Timon of Athens? (Both were famous misanthropes, but Diogenes was also famous for getting his drink on.)
- Pitch is super excited about the Diogenes reference and gives the cosmopolitan a strong handshake. He's so glad the cosmopolitan hates people, too, but was just playing.
- The cosmopolitan freezes up. He's like, No. That's not what I meant at all.
- The cosmopolitan gives up and walks away.
The Cosmopolitan Makes an Acquaintance
- A guy in a bad suit with an even worse pukey violet vest speaks to the now-gloomy cosmopolitan. He comments on Pitch's misanthropy and compares him to the "Indian-hating" Colonel John Moredock of Illinois.
- The cosmopolitan doesn't know who that is, but he's shocked that anyone would hate Indians. He has a moment of fetishizing the other with his Pocahontas was super-cool opinions.
- The new guy says he knows all about Moredock; plus, when he was a kid, he and his dad rested their horses at the dude's cabin once. He peeked into the Colonel's room but only found a squirrel instead of the napping man who was supposed to be there.
- The cosmopolitan agrees to hear more about this Indian-hating man with a rifle. That'll be in the next chapter, though.
Containing the Metaphysics of Indian-Hating, According to the Views of One Evidently Not So Prepossessed as Rousseau in Favor of Savages
- The new guy talks about Judge James Hall, a friend of his father, and his viewpoints on backwoodsmen and American Indians.
- According to Judge Hall, backwoodsmen are "Indian-haters par excellence" with a complicated history as to why.
- At one point, James Hall has a mock Q&A with a fictional backwoodsman and another fictional neutral party to assess why such hatred persists.
- Hall argues that there's a deep-seated distrust among these people. It begins when hatred is passed down through mothers' milk during nursing and is then solidified through community hatred. This is some dark stuff.
- Ultimately, Hall describes two kinds of backwoodsmen: 1) those who are committed to being loners and 2) those who visit towns and cities on occasion.
- Committed loners, Hall claims, often "break" and find a limited kind of friendship with American Indians.
- Non-committed loners get their fix of society, so they remain "Indian-haters par excellence" their whole lives.
- The new guy notes that since we only ever meet the non-committed kind of loners, they're our only example of what committed backwoodsmen might be like, thus our evidence is always flawed.
- Here the cosmopolitan interrupts him: Just a moment please; need to refill my drink.
Some Account of a Man of Questionable Morality, But Who, Nevertheless, Would Seem Entitled to the Esteem of That Eminent English Moralist Who Said He Liked a Good Hater
- The new guy moves from talk of backwoodsmen to describing the main man himself: Colonel John Moredock.
- Moredock's hatred has a somewhat different origin. According to the judge, his mother and eight siblings were killed by American Indians. He vowed to take revenge, killed the renegade group responsible, and then dedicated the rest of his life to tracking and killing others.
- There's a twist: as much as he hated American Indians, that's how much Moredock supposedly loved and cared for everyone else.
- We're not impressed.
- The judge goes on to say that Moredock was a hero in the War of 1812 and was then offered the governorship of Illinois. He turned it down because, well, you can't quite go around killing people if you're a governor, can you?
- At any rate, the new guy continues, that's who Pitch reminds me of. He's just like Colonel Moredock.
Moot Points Touching the Late Colonel John Moredock
- Not cool.
- At least that's the cosmopolitan's response to the new guy's assertion at the end of the last chapter. Don't judge him, dude, he says. You don't know him. He's got a hard shell, but a heart of gold.
- The new guy is glad to hear it.
- On to more important things: the cosmopolitan thinks the story of Colonel Moredock is a tall tale. How could a guy with so much hate love the rest of humanity? That's just not sound reasoning, bro.
- The cosmopolitan also makes a case for misanthropy being akin to atheism: one denies kindness in humans just like the other denies love as something ordering the world.
- The two men bond over not having a frame of reference for determining what it means to be a misanthrope. They both just love humanity oh so much.
- The new guy wants to shake hands with the cosmopolitan because they're, like, so much alike.
- The men shake hands.
- The new guy says that now that they're besties, he and the cosmopolitan have to do what besties do best: drink together.
- The cosmopolitan would love to do that, totally, yeah, but he can't, because he already had too much while catching up with his other friends.
- Hold the phone. New guy is totally jealous that the cosmopolitan has other friends. But he tries to shake it off and act cool.
- You can have a little wine, the new guy says. Just a little.
- New guy is such an enabler.
- The cosmopolitan gets up and caves. He's so down.
The Boon Companions
- The new guy comes on super strong by asking the cosmopolitan: We're friends at first sight, right? Right?
- But the cosmopolitan is into it. Feeling encouraged, the new guy proposes they exchange names. We are so grateful.
- The cosmopolitan is Francis Goodman (Frank).
- New guy is Charles Arnold Noble (Charlie).
- What conveniently friendly sounding names these two fast friends have.
- Frank then bemoans how some people look down on wine when they argue that it is poorly made in the United States. He feels this faithlessness is like having no faith in mankind. Charlie's buying what he's selling.
- Frank shakes himself out of his wine thoughts and says that Charlie should toast to him. Charlie toasts Frank. Frank then toasts Charlie. #lushes #bffs #blessed
- Frank then shares an instance when a man argued that even if your wine is fake, it's better to have fake wine and be happy.
- Charlie thinks this is too much drunkenness.
- Frank's like, No, it's just a fable some grim dude laid out in order to still think of the world as bad: the wine is mankind, while getting tipsy is the fun you get from being around people. You risk the fake wine (the crudeness of mankind) for the tipsiness (society). This line of thinking is bad, though, because people are good, Charlie; they are good.
- Charlie's like, Yeah, Frank. It's bad thinking, just like you say.
- Frank: But it actually gets a pass because it's funny, Charlie. Jokes and laughter are great and good, Charlie.
- Charlie then laughs really loudly at a poor boy in their line of sight. Apparently he's laughing at the boy's shoes. They clearly are shoes he found and that are way too big for him. Is it just us, or is Charlie a majorly jerky dude?
- Frank notices the boy. I get why you're laughing, he says. It's an icky thing to do that, but you prove my point. Namely, laughter excuses an icky thing.
- We are not on board with this either. What is wrong with these dudes?
- All of a sudden, Frank and Charlie have one of those beautiful best-friend moments when they say the same thing at the same time. It would be beautiful except there's a hiccup: they—gasp—say different things.
- Basically, after Frank tells a story about a tyrant who beheaded a guy who laughed like a horse, Frank's all boo, while Charlie goes yay. Awkward.
- The guys just stare at each other for a bit until Frank breaks the silence with another observation about confidence. Shocker.
- Then Frank notices that Charlie hasn't been drinking. He comments on it. Charlie picks up his glass, but he doesn't drink.
- Instead, Charlie launches into a spiel about a panegyric (that's formal speech in praise of something) he heard and memorized about the press. Does Frank want to hear it?
- Yes. A thousand times yes.
- But first Frank complains about how some people don't trust the press. He sees it as a beacon of truth.
- Frank kind of gets carried away, but he asks Charlie to let him know when he's ready to deliver the panegyric. Frank wants to stand and raise a glass for Charlie when he starts.
- Frank tells Charlie to stand now.
Opening With a Poetical Eulogy of the Press and Continuing With Talk Inspired By the Same
- Charlie dives right into praising the press, but it's not any old press—it's Noah's red press. Say what?
- Yeah, so, right about now, Charlie is dropping a somewhat obscure reference to this one moment in the Bible—specifically in Genesis 9:20-27—when Noah got tipsy, got naked, and then got sleepy. Scandalous.
- The cosmopolitan comments on this bait and switch, since he was expecting some cheerleading about newspapers.
- Charlie goes on about how wine is super duper cool.
- Frank's like, That's great, but you aren't drinking any, actually. Charlie takes a sip and pushes Frank to drink more.
- Frank: I already told you that I had too much earlier.
- Charlie: Oh, but this is the light stuff. Drink.
- Frank: Okay, but I hate to drink alone.
- Charlie takes another tiny sip, then orders cigars. They're way fancy, and they come with ornate ashtrays. Things are swank right now.
- Frank starts smoking while Charlie talks about how cool smoking is. Frank's like, that's great, but you're not smoking.
- Charlie avoids this and tries to refill Frank's glass. He keeps talking about how much he loves tobacco. Again, Frank comments on how Charlie isn't smoking.
- Charlie tries to brush past this, too, but Frank interrupts. Real talk: do you think smoking plus drinking makes you more of a dumb dumb in the moment than just drinking would, Charlie?
- Charlie: If I thought that, then that would make me suspicious, wouldn't it? Anyway, we're having so much fun drinking and smoking—wouldn't Pitch be so jelly? He's missing out.
- Frank is so not cool with making fun of Pitch, and he's really irritated that Charlie has brought up negative talk about him again.
- Charlie gives in to his dark feelings. Apparently, he doesn't trust Pitch, because he's from east of the Mississippi.
- The two then launch into a long conversation about the nature of, um, human nature, as seen through Shakespeare's characters—specifically, Polonius and Autolycus. Results are inconclusive at this point.
- Frank notices again that Charlie isn't drinking and jokes that if someone had a goal of getting his friend drunk then it would be super cheap to do so if that friend drank like Charlie.
- We get it. It's not that funny, but we get it.
- Charlie gets it, too, but he really does not think it's funny. He is seriously miffed.
- Frank tells Charlie not to be a baby. Charlie says he's only a baby because he's been drinking so much.
- Frank's like, But…you…haven't…
- Charlie does his talk-a-bunch-all-at-once thing. This time, it's about how friendly humans are and how much fun they're having.
- The conversation turns to how much friendlier the world is now versus in the past. Each day just gets friendlier and friendlier, until one day, even the hangman will be friendly. Ha ha ha. Charlie is losing it at this point.
- Frank hopes what Charlie's just said is true and that things will get so friendly that we won't need hangmen and even misanthropes will be cheery. The first step to not being a jerky-jerk who hates everyone is to be a fun-jerk who tries to hide that inner hate, he says. Eventually, everyone will learn to love.
- These dudes are both a little loopy.
- Charlie hasn't signed on to this theory, but he's just happy to party. He wants Frank to drink more.
- Frank gets a major case of the feels here. He wants to unburden his heart to Charlie.
- Charlie: Yes. Tell me your secrets.
- Frank: I need money.
A Metamorphosis More Surprising Than Any in Ovid
- You need money?
- Charlie pushes his chair away from Frank like he's poison.
- Frank gives Charlie the puppy-dog eyes. Yes, I need money, and you're going to give me $50 because we're friends and you love me!
- Charlie flips out, jumps up, and tells Frank to go to you know where. Ouch.
Showing That the Age of Magic And Magicians is Not Yet Over
- The narrator describes the unexpected shift in the previous chapter as if Charlie had been transformed into a snake. He's not wrong.
- But the honeymoon isn't quite over yet, because something really weird happens. While Charlie is saying mean angry things to Frank, Frank takes out ten coins and places them in a circle around Charlie.
- Frank steps back, waves his pipe like a wand, and says some mysterious magic words. Inside the circle, Charlie is in a honest-to-goodness trance.
- Frank commands that the old happy Charlie return when he says the words "my dear Frank."
- Frank concludes the spell, and Charlie says a lot of things. What else is new?
- Apparently, Charlie is under the impression that Frank was just joking about needing money and says that being a mean jerk-face when he asked for it was all a joke. These guys—such tricksters.
- Charlie says they should keep drinking, and Frank is up for it.
- Frank says Charlie was so clever in how he played along and pretended to be angry about the money.
- Charlie: Well, I used to do theater. So kinda got this acting thing down.
- Frank: You're a gem. Want to hear about Charlemont?
- Charlie: Oh, yeah, for sure—who?
Which May Pass for Whatever it May Prove to be Worth
- The narrator interrupts with another meta-chapter and gives us some of his thoughts real-talk style.
- Look, guys—you can't have realism all the time, okay?
- Just back off and enjoy fiction the way you would a play.
- And if you think that Frank is an inconsistent character because he was so peppy when talking to Pitch but is super careful when talking to Charlie, well, just shut up and go read what I said before about inconsistency in characters.
- That is all. Thanks.
In Which the Cosmopolitan Tells the Story of the Gentleman Madman
- Charlemont was young. He was French. He was well-off. He was cool.
- Everybody loved Charlemont, and Charlemont loved everybody.
- Then one day something happened.
- Nobody knows what happened, but all of a sudden, out of the blue, without warning, Charlemont…stopped…loving…people. Oh, no.
- Charlemont ditched all his casual friends, and he straight-up burned all his bridges with his good friends.
- Charlemont disappeared.
- Some said Charlemont went into debt.
- Then, just as randomly as before, Charlemont was back.
- Charlemont made up with everybody and bought them gifts, and they all loved him again. No one ever asked what happened when he went all emo.
- One day…
- The last guest at one of Charlemont's parties worked up the nerve, after drinking a lot of wine, to ask: What's your damage, Heather?
- Charlemont got quiet. He called for more wine but gave a mystifying response basically amounting to: You wouldn't get it. You weren't there.
- Charlemont's guest then just left, knowing that even if his outside was happy, Charlemont still had some dark stuff going on inside.
In Which the Cosmopolitan Strikingly Evinces the Artlessness of His Nature
- Charlie: Is this a true story?
- Frank: Nope. It's a good one, though. Makes you wonder about people's souls. For instance, would you abandon a friend who needed money?
- Charlie: That's a mean gross question because it assumes I might be a mean gross person. I'm not mean or gross. I have a headache from the wine and want to go to bed.
- Frank: Night night. See you tomorrow.
In Which the Cosmopolitan is Accosted By a Mystic, Whereupon Ensues Pretty Much Such Talk as Might Be Expected
- After Charlie heads out, a man who we'll just call the Puritan for now sidles up to Frank and goes, I don't trust that guy.
- Frank isn't into the trash-talking, but he invites the Puritan to finish up the wine with him.
- The Puritan accepts and looks Frank over. He tells Frank he is beautiful and must also have a beautiful soul.
- Frank riffs on the idea that outward and inner beauty match and argues that the rattlesnake must have some good in it because it's so pretty.
- Two creepy descriptions are offered up by our narrator: 1) Frank seems to embody beautiful snakeness here; and 2) the Puritan asks him if he ever wonders what it be like to be a snake. You know, free and allowed to kill whatever. Yikes.
- Frank: Nah.
- The Puritan: Bet you kind of want to now, though, huh?
- Frank: Nah. I like people, and no offense to the snake, but if I were one, then people wouldn't want to hang out with me. Sad.
- The dudes talk about the rattler some more. The Puritan makes a victim-blame-y comment about how people who get bitten by rattlesnakes deserve it because they should know better, what with the rattling warning and all. Frank doesn't agree.
- The dudes sit down to drink, and Frank asks why the Puritan said he doesn't trust Charlie.
- It takes the Puritan fo-re-ver to get to the point because his answers are all semi-riddling riffs on this: Can anyone really trust anyone? Who is who? What is the what?
- At one point, the Puritan gives Frank a reason. Charlie, according to the Puritan, is what the Egyptians call "—." Yeah, that's not a typo. Melville really does just give us a blank line. It's kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure moment.
- Since the Puritan doesn't drink wine, ice water is brought out.
- Frank still tries to get a straight answer from the Puritan when a very poor man with some sort of mental illness walks by. He's offering to sing people songs that he's written.
- Frank buys one of the pamphlets the poor man's got with the lyrics, but tells the poor man he'll read it later and that he doesn't need to sing for them.
- The Puritan gives the poor man a death-glare. This scares the poor man away.
- Frank asks the Puritan what his problem is.
- The Puritan thinks the poor man is a fake with just enough sense to pretend to be mentally ill. For proof, the Puritan relies on the fact that he could scare the poor man off.
- Frank asks about the Puritan's distrust of Charlie again and demands there be no more mad libs. He just wants a reason in plain English.
- The Puritan: Charlie's a Mississippi operator.
- The guys have different views of what this term means, but the Puritan ultimately just reiterates that Charlie is untrustworthy.
- Frank: Let's just change the subject.
The Mystical Master Introduces the Practical Disciple
- The Puritan swaps subjects and taps in a new conversation partner.
- The Puritan calls over Egbert, a thirty-something businessman who doesn't seem like the type to be travelling with the Puritan.
- The Puritan, who we now learn is named Mark Winsome, is heading out, but Egbert is his disciple.
- Oh, yeah—turns out Winsome has developed a philosophy. He's leaving Egbert behind to tell Frank about it.
- Frank is surprised, because Winsome seems pie-in-the-sky but is talking like his philosophy has practical applications. Which is it?
- Winsome: My philosophy is super practical. Egbert will tell you everything.
The Disciple Unbends, and Consents to Act a Social Part
- Once Winsome is gone, Egbert looks less like a lost puppy and more like he's got his life together.
- Egbert confidently sits down at the table, praises Winsome, and asks if Frank thinks he's great, too.
- Frank does a little fancy footwork in getting away with not saying that Winsome is the best thing since sliced bread. He still really wants to know about the dude's philosophy, though.
- Egbert is eager to begin, but Frank stops him: I don't want a lecture, I want a lesson.
- The guys agree to role-play a case of Frank's invention.
- Frank will be Frank, and Egbert will play a guy named Charlie.
- Stop us if you've heard this one before, but Frank and Charlie in this scenario are longtime friends since childhood, and Frank needs to borrow money. Yeah.
The Hypothetical Friends
- Frank: Can I put my confidence in you?
- Egbert (as Charlie): Totes.
- Frank: I can has $100 now?
- Egbert: No. If I gave you monies as a freebie that's like giving to the poor, which would make us not equals. If we couldn't be on the same footing, we wouldn't be heart-mind friends.
- Frank: I'll pay you back.
- Egbert: Nah. I don't loan to friends. If I loaned to you, we'd stop being friends and would be business associates instead.
- Frank: Let's do that.
- Egbert: Okay. I'm going to charge you crazy high interest and demand a lot of proof backing you up and saying you have enough money to pay me back.
- Frank: I can't prove that, but can't you trust me as your friend? I'm going to pay you back, but I came to you because I can't go to the banks.
- Egbert: Tough. Besides, I picked you as a friend way back when because it looked like you were rich. I'd never pick a poor friend (since I'd never give money to a friend), but you losing your fortune and asking me for money is a kind of fraud, because I picked a not-poor friend and you ended up poor. This really sucks for me.
- Frank: That's gross, 'Charlie.' What if you needed the money? I'd help you.
- Egbert: Ew. First off, I wouldn't ask. Secondly, I would accept if you offered. I know about China Aster.
- Frank: Um, what?
- Egbert: I'll tell you, but not in my own words—I'll repeat the story exactly as I heard it. It's not my style of storytelling, but this version is seared in my brain.
In Which the Story of China Aster is at Second-Hand Told By One Who, While Not Disapproving the Moral, Disclaims the Spirit of the Style
- China Aster is a poor candle maker.
- China's formerly poor friend Orchis is a shoemaker who won the lottery.
- Orchis forces China to accept a check for $1,000 to invest in a different kind of candle material.
- China thinks this is a bad idea. His dad's old friends, nicknamed Plain Talk and Old Prudence, think this is a bad idea.
- Orchis makes China accept the money, anyway.
- China plans to return the money, but he dreams that an angel tells him it's okay to accept the check.
- Plain Talk and Old Prudence tell China this doesn't mean an actual angel told him anything; it just means he dreamed of an angel. China accepts the money anyway.
- Before Orchis leaves on a flashy trip to Europe, he tells China not to worry about the loan that's due in four years, because he's not even going to accept repayment.
- China cashes the check and tries the new candle material Orchis suggested. It bombs.
- China tries two other business moves to improve his sales. They bomb.
- China's been paying a lawyer working for Orchis interest on the loan (even though the two men never discussed interest payments), but it's clear he's not going to have the money when the loan period is up.
- China takes out another loan from a farmer. This one is way worse, because China promises the inheritance his wife will get from her rich uncle if the repayment fails.
- To make money, China sells his shop, becomes a journeyman, gets into more debt, opens a new shop, mortgages that shop to partially pay Orchis back (he's still been paying interest payments but doesn't have enough), then dies.
- China dies by falling down and hitting his head after Orchis has given him a guilt trip about being a bad friend. Why a bad friend? Because China doesn't have the money to pay Orchis back (Orchis is broke again), that's why.
- At the spot where China fell, Plain Talk and Old Prudence find China's wallet. In it, he had written his own premature epitaph. Super grim.
- It's basically a bleak warning about going against your better judgment to have giddy confidence in others.
- The incident causes a stir among the people in town who have profited off of China's debt and death.
- Afterwards, Plain Talk and Old Prudence add a line about how this all started with a friendly loan. Dark.
Ending With a Rupture of the Hypothesis
- The tale does not sit well with Frank, and he erupts at Egbert-as-Charlie. He argues that this story undermines one's confidence in one's fellow man.
- Confidence? "Charlie" is startled. This isn't about confidence; it's about the folly of lending to friends.
- "Charlie" reiterates that giving a loan to a friend ends the friendship by making one friend a creditor. Plus, how can you even trust your friend as a lender? He might start off as a friend but then turn on you. Friends to foes is an easy-peasy change.
- Frank doesn't buy it. He also accuses "Charlie" of just repeating Mark Winsome's philosophy without thinking for himself.
- Egbert is riled up by the accusation of not having his own mind, but he stands by his beliefs.
- Frank: Forget it, but look, "Charlie," look: China needed a loan for his business; I need a need a loan for life stuffs.
- "Charlie": You look healthy enough.
- Frank: Gah, okay. What if I don't come to you as a friend, but just as a human in need?
- "Charlie": Go ahead. Here's the thing, though—take off your hat, get on your knees, and beg me.
- What is this dude's problem? No really. He's got issues.
- "Charlie": If you beg me, though, I'll hear your plea not as a friend, but as a stranger.
- Frank blows up and tells "Charlie" enough is enough. He gives Egbert some money and says to use it to buy wood to burn so that he and Winsome can warm up their cold hearts.
- Egbert is startled. He then pulls a get-out-of-jail-guilt-free card and chalks up the outburst to Shakespeare's line: "All the world's a stage."
Upon the Heel of the Last Scene the Cosmopolitan Enters the Barber's Shop, a Benediction On His Lips
- Frank the cosmopolitan enters a barber shop. He greets the barber with a cheery "Bless you!"
- The barber has been dozing off and dreaming, so at first he thinks that Frank is an angel or other kind of spirit.
- Frank's like, Um, what's your deal? Then the barber turns around and sees a real human and is a little bummed, but the world makes more sense this way.
- Next, the barber suspects something amiss about Frank. It's late, Frank's staring, the barber starts to worry.
- Frank realizes what the barber is thinking and reassures him: Just want a shave, dude.
- The barber's like, Phew. He knows the terms of their interaction now, so he gets down to business.
- Frank starts bugging the barber about why he doesn't have confidence in his fellow man when he sees the "No Trust" sign that we saw the barber put up in chapter one.
- Frank: But don't you trust people?
- Barber: No.
- The barber is not cool with somebody accusing him of not having faith in his fellow man. Nevertheless, he asserts his right to protect his interests from the tomfoolery of strangers.
- The conversation and shave continue.
- The barber doesn't want to distrust people, but his line of work has taught him to.
- Frank counters that lawyers, politicians, and editors all argue the same. He wonders how everyone thinks their particular field is the one to provide insights into human nature.
- The barber has been thinking about this off and on for years, and Frank's got it wrong. It's not unique insight; it's equal insight. That is, anybody who's got a job dealing with the public gets to see the public's secrets. Some aren't pretty.
- For instance, the barber knows everyone on the boat who's bald and pretends that wigs are real. Let that sink in. They're liars. All of them.
- Frank then offers to strike a curious bargain with the barber. If he takes down the "No Trust" sign and doesn't try to scare off customers who might not have the cash up front to pay for a shave or a haircut, then Frank will pay the barber back for any money lost on the experiment.
- The barber says no at first, but then a sort of magical fascination overtakes him. This experiment is intriguing to him, and he agrees.
- Frank and the barber draw up a contract.
- The barber wants to take the contract to the captain as an impartial third party.
- Frank: No, you keep it. I trust you.
- The barber: Okay, then there's just the matter of the cash.
- The narrator notes that usually when it's time to pony up, people are shocked or grim. Not so with Frank. He's cool as a sea cucumber.
- Frank: Cash?
- The barber: I want cash in advance for the insurance you say you'll grant me.
- The barber goes on to quote a line from the Bible about not trusting people with honeyed words.
- Frank says this goes against the agreement, since it's all about building trust. Don't distrust me yet, man.
- The barber: Fine, but pay me what you owe for this shave.
- Frank: No can do. No cash on me, buddy, but I'm good for it. See you when the contract period ends.
- When Frank leaves, it's like the spell is broken.
- Barber: That guy's not coming back, is he?
- Voice inside the barber's head: No.
- The barber puts the sign back. He tears up the letter. He tells all his friends about Frank. They all agree that Frank is "Quite an original."
In Which the Last Three Words of the Last Chapter Are Made the Text of Discourse, Which Will Be Sure of Receiving More or Less Attention From Those Readers Who Do Not Skip It
- Melville loves these meta-moments.
- This chapter suggests that the only folks who think of anyone as "quite an original" are babies, the uneducated, or people who don't get out and travel. That is, they have no experience of the world and others.
- There are few originals in literature, and the narrator lists some: Hamlet, Milton's Satan, and Don Quixote.
- You can't have more than one original character in a text—that would be madness.
- Most of the time, the original is simply singular.
- More important, though, the original in literature is a stroke of luck. The author doesn't create it; it just happens.
The Cosmopolitan Increases in Seriousness
- In the cabin rooms, there's only one lamp still burning. The steward has told people not to let it go out until daylight for safety—you could trip; people could try to rob or kill you; you know, the usual.
- The lamp's design is a death metal band cover knock-off of a glowing horned altar surrounded by flames with a dark hooded figure graced with a halo.
- Sitting beneath the lamp is a wholesome-looking old man. He gives off the well-to-do farmer vibe, so he's got money but none of the baggage of being a rich dude (in this case, that's a city person with city temptations).
- The old dude is reading the Bible when Frank walks in. Frank wants to read the Bible really badly, but he doesn't mean to rush the old man.
- Old man: It's not a thing. Here, knock yourself out.
- Frank reads. He starts to look like someone kicked his dog. The old man wants to know: Why so sad, panda bear?
- Frank tells the old man about the line from the Bible that the barber mentioned. He's upset that there are lines in the Bible that shake one's confidence in one's fellow man.
- The old man gets it. If you don't have confidence in your fellow man, then it's like not having confidence in the creator of man.
- Frank: Yes. Exactly.
- The old man tells Frank not to fret, since the part he was reading was from the Apocrypha, a section of the Bible not officially part of the canon selected by church leaders and considered to the word of God.
- Frank: Phew, really dodged an existential bullet there. Thanks.
- Suddenly, a young boy appears in the room. He surprises the dudes because, um, creepy much, you quiet little sneak?
- The boy wears rags, but he's noted for his sharp mind and world-wise expressions.
- The boy's got things to sell.
- Boy: Do either of you want a lock attachment for your private cabins?
- Old man: Super yes.
- Frank loves and trusts his fellow man.
- Boy: Do either of you want a money-belt for the safekeeping of your cash?
- Old man: Super yes.
- Frank loves and trusts his fellow man.
- The boy teases Frank for his trust and gives the old man a free gift with his purchase: a how-to guide for detecting counterfeit bills.
- The boy leaves.
- The old man starts checking his money. He gets stressed out: the directions are complicated, and he's got serious doubts about his money.
- Frank tries to convince the old man the money is fine. No dice.
- The old man gets up to go to bed, but he's looking for a life preserver. Frank says his seat is one.
- Grabbing his new lock, money belt, and life preserver, the old man gets ready to go. He's all, God will keep me safe, right?
- Frank: God will keep you safe.
- The lamp starts emitting smoke.
- Old man: Oh, it's getting hard to see.
- Frank: I'll help you. I'll just put out this dying flame completely.
- The light revealing the demonic image goes out.