Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Tuesday, June 29, 2021


 "The Man who Vanished" by J. A. Mitchell (from That First Affair and Other Sketches, 1896; any previous publication unknown)

Here's another animal story, a fable about "[a] certain hunter, clad in appropriate raiment, and armed with a fowling-piece of costly mechanism, [who] sought diversion in a forest."

Our intrepid hunter spies a squirrel, takes aim,  fires...and misses.  this indicated a want of consideration on the part of the squirrel.  "[T]hat one of the lower animals should thus take upon himself to to oppose the will of man, created in God's image, brought a shock to his higher nature, and, for the time being, shook his faith in Providence."

Nonetheless, he soldiered on, soon spying a woodpecker.  He had much better luck this time, blowing the bird's head nearly off.  He lay down his weapon and, with pride, admired the beauty of the creature he had just killed.  Then her herd a noice behind him.  It was a large bear standing on its hind legs.

The bear remarked on how good the shot was.  Did the hunter have a grudge against the bird?  No?  Maybe the bird was just noisy?  The bear told the hunter that he had known the woodpecker -- "a good enough fellow."  The bird's wife will be lonely now, the bear supposed.  The bear reiterted that it was a good shot, although taken at a disadvantage.

The hunter was very nervous as the bear continued to question him.  Perhaps the hunter was empty?  (A look at the hunter's ample waist belied this.)  Perhaps he sot the bird for the good of the world, it being perhaps better without the woodpecker?  Or, perhaps, he shot the bird just for fun?  The hunter fesrfully acknowledged this to be true.

"Well. it's good sport.  That is, of course, for the chap who holds the gun."

The gun, by the way, was out of the hunter's reach.  The bear was now between the hunter and his gun.  The bear began to muse.  If the gun had been within the hunter's reach, perhaps the hunter's family would feed on bear meat and a bearskin rug would decorate their home.  Was the hunter's family starving?  The hunter acknowledged they were not.

The bear explains his family is starving and he had promised to bring back food for his wife and three daughters.  The bear then invites the hunter back to his den for a meal.  Hooking its massive claws onto the hunter's jacket, the bear leads him off into the woods.

"This tale is not a sad one, even from the human point of view."  The man was very wealthy, so his family did not want.  "Moreover, he was a bully at home and used to open his wife's letters,."

Short effective, and told with a wry sense of humor.

John Ames Mitchell (1845-1948), a publisher, architect, artist, and novelist, was the co-founder, editor, and publisher of the original Life magazine.  Mitchell, born in Ridgefield, Connecticut, was president of the magazine from its founding in 1883 to his death in 1918.  Another Ridgefield native, Henry Luce, purchased the magazine in 1936, turning it into a p[icture-oriented magazine.  Under Mitchell, Life may have been best known for discovering Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the Gibson girl.  Mirchell and fellow journalist Horace Greeley were founders of the Fresh Air Fund, which operated a camp for city kids in Ridgefield.

Mitchell trained as an architect at the Ecole des Beaux-Artes in Paris.  He wroked as an architect in Boston for several years and returned to Paris in 1876 to study painting and developed an interest in studies in black and white.  He returned to America in 1880.  He lamented there was no printed outlet in America for black and white line drawings, which led to his founding of Life.  He returned to architecture briefly, designing the Unity Church of North Easton for his uncle in 1885.

With the magazine established as a success, Mitchell turned to writing, turning out six novels and a number of sketches.  Amos Judd (1895) was probably hjis most famous novel while he was alive.  It was turned into a Rudolph Valentino film, The Young Rajah, in 1923.  Today, Mitchell may be better known for The Last American (1889), a fictional journal of a Persian admiral who rediscovers Americas in 2951.

Although quiet and humble in his personal life, Mitchell held strong opinions and expressed them in his magazine.  He stronlgy distrusted modern medicine and was a fervent anti-vaxxer.  A great lover of dogs, he opposed vivisection.  Following the sinking of the Luisitania, he became bitterly anti-German.  He collected mote than $200,000 in a campaign to support French war orphans.  He had a genius for anticipating American trends and for using humor to express them; the humor could be effectively biting -- it's been said that politicians were more afraid of Life's cartoons than of its editorials.  He was married to Mary Mott Mitchell; they had no children.  He died suddenly of apolexy at his summer home in Ridgefield.

That First Affair and Other Sketches can be read online.


  1. Where do you come up with these collections, Jerry. Are they family heirlooms? I never see collections this old.

  2. Patti, I'm convinced Jerry time-travels to pick up these books!

  3. John Ames Mitchell seems to have been a very interesting person.

    I had the same question as Patti. Where do you find all these collections?

  4. Patti & Traci, I troll the internet. I try to find stories that many have not heard of, and I include only short stories that can be read free online -- which severely limit most modern stories. In my search I am also aided by an old reference book from 1977, Donald H. Tuck's ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY, even though most of those stories do not fall in those categories.