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Metaphors of Time: 1850

Whilst pondering metaphors of time, I happened upon a novel published in 1850 with the title, The Mistake of a Life-Time: or, the Robber of the Rhine Valley. A Story of The Mysteries of the Shore, and The Vicissitudes of The Sea. The author, Waldo Howard, promised “a truthful panorama of the events of a stirring and romantic period.” I don’t know anything about Waldo Howard. If you do, please tell me.

Let us jump to Chapter 13, “Lady Gustine and the Jew.” Lady Gustine is a dignified and high-toned beauty of 18 years (“summers”), while her companion for the evening (not the Jew, obviously) is an equally dignified and beautiful 20-year-old. They have been dancing. She is fatigued. “I fear you are fatigued,” says the gentleman.

“Oh, no,” said the lady, panting to regain the breath she had expended in the waltz.”

Their balcony overlooks a convenient river. They gaze upon it awhile. Finally dialogue ensues:

“Are you dreaming?”

Mistakes of a Life-Time title page

“O, no, lady. I—I was thinking how truly the passage of yonder tiny craft resembles that of our own life bark on the tide of time.”

“And how?”

“See you not how quietly its hull is borne along with the current … [etc., etc.]

“Well.” [He’s boring her, but his aspect pleases.]

“Thus we are moving now, lady, rapidly, with silent, but steady, and never ceasing motion, down the swift river of time, that sets through the valley of life; all unconsciously we glide on, nodding like this same helmsman, indifferently, as we hold the rudder that guides our own fate—while we swiftly approach the ocean of eternity.”

And more like that. Pretty soon he “dwells upon the beauties of her native valley” but we needn’t follow him there.


  1. Eric S. Smith says

    The last quotation brings to mind the end of The Great Gatsby, doesn’t it?

  2. Stephen Sakellarios says

    There is a satire on it in the Boston Weekly Museum of May 18, 1850, written, as I believe, by satirist Mathew Franklin Whittier. He indicates that Cyrus Redding panned it.

      • I’ve since determined that Mathew Franklin Whittier was actually the author, signing with a one-off pseudonym, “Waldo Howard.” If you look up the meaning of those two names, you can see that they are symbolic for the type of persons he was portraying in the novel. This is also why you never seen anything else ever published by Howard. In a newspaper called “The Odd Fellow,” Mathew writes a glowing review of the same book, under his long-time secret pseudonym, a single asterisk or “star.” If you write me at ssake@goldthread.com, I’ll provide you a copy. That same text, from the review, was used verbatim in an advertisement in a NY publication, by a book distributor, for the book. I have a lot of adventure stories written by MFW (including under pseudonyms, and under his own name) which match this story by style; and there are also a lot of embedded autobiographical references in it.

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