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It’s effectively July 2017 in the world of decentralized finance (DeFi), and as in the heady days of the initial coin offering (ICO) boom, the numbers are only trending up.
According to DeFi Pulse, there is $1.9 billion in crypto assets locked in DeFi right now. According to the CoinDesk ICO Tracker, the ICO market started chugging past $1 billion in July 2017, just a few months before token sales started getting talked about on TV.
Debate juxtaposing these numbers if you like, but what no one can question is this: Crypto users are putting more and more value to work in DeFi applications, driven largely by the introduction of a whole new yield-generating pasture, Compound’s COMP governance token.
Governance tokens enable users to vote on the future of decentralized protocols, sure, but they also present fresh ways for DeFi founders to entice assets onto their platforms.
That said, it’s the crypto liquidity providers who are the stars of the present moment. They even have a meme-worthy name: yield farmers.
Where it startedEthereum-based credit market Compound started distributing its governance token, COMP, to the protocol’s users this past June 15. Demand for the token (heightened by the way its automatic distribution was structured) kicked off the present craze and moved Compound into the leading position in DeFi.
The hot new term in crypto is “yield farming,” a shorthand for clever strategies where putting crypto temporarily at the disposal of some startup’s application earns its owner more cryptocurrency.
Another term floating about is “liquidity mining.”
The buzz around these concepts has evolved into a low rumble as more and more people get interested.
The casual crypto observer who only pops into the market when activity heats up might be starting to get faint vibes that something is happening right now. Take our word for it: Yield farming is the source of those vibes.
But if all these terms (“DeFi,” “liquidity mining,” “yield farming”) are so much Greek to you, fear not. We’re here to catch you up. We’ll get into all of them.
We’re going to go from very basic to more advanced, so feel free to skip ahead.
What are tokens?Most CoinDesk readers probably know this, but just in case: Tokens are like the money video-game players earn while fighting monsters, money they can use to buy gear or weapons in the universe of their favorite game.
But with blockchains, tokens aren’t limited to only one massively multiplayer online money game. They can be earned in one and used in lots of others. They usually represent either ownership in something (like a piece of a Uniswap liquidity pool, which we will get into later) or access to some service. For example, in the Brave browser, ads can only be bought using basic attention token (BAT).
If tokens are worth money, then you can bank with them or at least do things that look very much like banking. Thus: decentralized finance.
Tokens proved to be the big use case for Ethereum, the second-biggest blockchain in the world. The term of art here is “ERC-20 tokens,” which refers to a software standard that allows token creators to write rules for them. Tokens can be used a few ways. Often, they are used as a form of money within a set of applications. So the idea for Kin was to create a token that web users could spend with each other at such tiny amounts that it would almost feel like they weren’t spending anything; that is, money for the internet.
Governance tokens are different. They are not like a token at a video-game arcade, as so many tokens were described in the past. They work more like certificates to serve in an ever-changing legislature in that they give holders the right to vote on changes to a protocol.
So on the platform that proved DeFi could fly, MakerDAO, holders of its governance token, MKR, vote almost every week on small changes to parameters that govern how much it costs to borrow and how much savers earn, and so on.
Read more: Why DeFi’s Billion-Dollar Milestone Matters
One thing all crypto tokens have in common, though, is they are tradable and they have a price. So, if tokens are worth money, then you can bank with them or at least do things that look very much like banking. Thus: decentralized finance.
What is DeFi?Fair question. For folks who tuned out for a bit in 2018, we used to call this “open finance.” That construction seems to have faded, though, and “DeFi” is the new lingo.
In case that doesn’t jog your memory, DeFi is all the things that let you play with money, and the only identification you need is a crypto wallet.
On the normal web, you can’t buy a blender without giving the site owner enough data to learn your whole life history. In DeFi, you can borrow money without anyone even asking for your name.
I can explain this but nothing really brings it home like trying one of these applications. If you have an Ethereum wallet that has even $20 worth of crypto in it, go do something on one of these products. Pop over to Uniswap and buy yourself some FUN (a token for gambling apps) or WBTC (wrapped bitcoin). Go to MakerDAO and create $5 worth of DAI (a stablecoin that tends to be worth $1) out of the digital ether. Go to Compound and borrow $10 in USDC.
(Notice the very small amounts I’m suggesting. The old crypto saying “don’t put in more than you can afford to lose” goes double for DeFi. This stuff is uber-complex and a lot can go wrong. These may be “savings” products but they’re not for your retirement savings.)
Immature and experimental though it may be, the technology’s implications are staggering. On the normal web, you can’t buy a blender without giving the site owner enough data to learn your whole life history. In DeFi, you can borrow money without anyone even asking for your name.
DeFi applications don’t worry about trusting you because they have the collateral you put up to back your debt (on Compound, for instance, a $10 debt will require around $20 in collateral).
Read more: There Are More DAI on Compound Now Than There Are DAI in the World
If you do take this advice and try something, note that you can swap all these things back as soon as you’ve taken them out. Open the loan and close it 10 minutes later. It’s fine. Fair warning: It might cost you a tiny bit in fees, and the cost of using Ethereum itself right now is much higher than usual, in part due to this fresh new activity. But it’s nothing that should ruin a crypto user.
So what’s the point of borrowing for people who already have the money? Most people do it for some kind of trade. The most obvious example, to short a token (the act of profiting if its price falls). It’s also good for someone who wants to hold onto a token but still play the market.
Doesn’t running a bank take a lot of money up front?It does, and in DeFi that money is largely provided by strangers on the internet. That’s why the startups behind these decentralized banking applications come up with clever ways to attract HODLers with idle assets.
Liquidity is the chief concern of all these different products. That is: How much money do they have locked in their smart contracts?
“In some types of products, the product experience gets much better if you have liquidity. Instead of borrowing from VCs or debt investors, you borrow from your users,” said Electric Capital managing partner Avichal Garg.
Let’s take Uniswap as an example. Uniswap is an “automated market maker,” or AMM (another DeFi term of art). This means Uniswap is a robot on the internet that is always willing to buy and it’s also always willing to sell any cryptocurrency for which it has a market.
On Uniswap, there is at least one market pair for almost any token on Ethereum. Behind the scenes, this means Uniswap can make it look like it is making a direct trade for any two tokens, which makes it easy for users, but it’s all built around pools of two tokens. And all these market pairs work better with bigger pools.
Why do I keep hearing about ‘pools’?To illustrate why more money helps, let’s break down how Uniswap works.
Let’s say there was a market for USDC and DAI. These are two tokens (both stablecoins but with different mechanisms for retaining their value) that are meant to be worth $1 each all the time, and that generally tends to be true for both.
The price Uniswap shows for each token in any pooled market pair is based on the balance of each in the pool. So, simplifying this a lot for illustration’s sake, if someone were to set up a USDC/DAI pool, they should deposit equal amounts of both. In a pool with only 2 USDC and 2 DAI it would offer a price of 1 USDC for 1 DAI. But then imagine that someone put in 1 DAI and took out 1 USDC. Then the pool would have 1 USDC and 3 DAI. The pool would be very out of whack. A savvy investor could make an easy $0.50 profit by putting in 1 USDC and receiving 1.5 DAI. That’s a 50% arbitrage profit, and that’s the problem with limited liquidity.
(Incidentally, this is why Uniswap’s prices tend to be accurate, because traders watch it for small discrepancies from the wider market and trade them away for arbitrage profits very quickly.)
Read more: Uniswap V2 Launches With More Token-Swap Pairs, Oracle Service, Flash Loans
However, if there were 500,000 USDC and 500,000 DAI in the pool, a trade of 1 DAI for 1 USDC would have a negligible impact on the relative price. That’s why liquidity is helpful.
You can stick your assets on Compound and earn a little yield. But that’s not very creative. Users who look for angles to maximize that yield: those are the yield farmers.
Similar effects hold across DeFi, so markets want more liquidity. Uniswap solves this by charging a tiny fee on every trade. It does this by shaving off a little bit from each trade and leaving that in the pool (so one DAI would actually trade for 0.997 USDC, after the fee, growing the overall pool by 0.003 USDC). This benefits liquidity providers because when someone puts liquidity in the pool they own a share of the pool. If there has been lots of trading in that pool, it has earned a lot of fees, and the value of each share will grow.
And this brings us back to tokens.
Liquidity added to Uniswap is represented by a token, not an account. So there’s no ledger saying, “Bob owns 0.000000678% of the DAI/USDC pool.” Bob just has a token in his wallet. And Bob doesn’t have to keep that token. He could sell it. Or use it in another product. We’ll circle back to this, but it helps to explain why people like to talk about DeFi products as “money Legos.”
So how much money do people make by putting money into these products?It can be a lot more lucrative than putting money in a traditional bank, and that’s before startups started handing out governance tokens.
Compound is the current darling of this space, so let’s use it as an illustration. As of this writing, a person can put USDC into Compound and earn 2.72% on it. They can put tether (USDT) into it and earn 2.11%. Most U.S. bank accounts earn less than 0.1% these days, which is close enough to nothing.
However, there are some caveats. First, there’s a reason the interest rates are so much juicier: DeFi is a far riskier place to park your money. There’s no Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) protecting these funds. If there were a run on Compound, users could find themselves unable to withdraw their funds when they wanted.
Plus, the interest is quite variable. You don’t know what you’ll earn over the course of a year. USDC’s rate is high right now. It was low last week. Usually, it hovers somewhere in the 1% range.
Similarly, a user might get tempted by assets with more lucrative yields like USDT, which typically has a much higher interest rate than USDC. (Monday morning, the reverse was true, for unclear reasons; this is crypto, remember.) The trade-off here is USDT’s transparency about the real-world dollars it’s supposed to hold in a real-world bank is not nearly up to par with USDC’s. A difference in interest rates is often the market’s way of telling you the one instrument is viewed as dicier than another.
Users making big bets on these products turn to companies Opyn and Nexus Mutual to insure their positions because there’s no government protections in this nascent space – more on the ample risks later on.
So users can stick their assets in Compound or Uniswap and earn a little yield. But that’s not very creative. Users who look for angles to maximize that yield: those are the yield farmers.
OK, I already knew all of that. What is yield farming?Broadly, yield farming is any effort to put crypto assets to work and generate the most returns possible on those assets.
At the simplest level, a yield farmer might move assets around within Compound, constantly chasing whichever pool is offering the best APY from week to week. This might mean moving into riskier pools from time to time, but a yield farmer can handle risk.
“Farming opens up new price arbs [arbitrage] that can spill over to other protocols whose tokens are in the pool,” said Maya Zehavi, a blockchain consultant.
Because these positions are tokenized, though, they can go further.
This was a brand-new kind of yield on a deposit. In fact, it was a way to earn a yield on a loan. Who has ever heard of a borrower earning a return on a debt from their lender?
In a simple example, a yield farmer might put 100,000 USDT into Compound. They will get a token back for that stake, called cUSDT. Let’s say they get 100,000 cUSDT back (the formula on Compound is crazy so it’s not 1:1 like that but it doesn’t matter for our purposes here).
They can then take that cUSDT and put it into a liquidity pool that takes cUSDT on Balancer, an AMM that allows users to set up self-rebalancing crypto index funds. In normal times, this could earn a small amount more in transaction fees. This is the basic idea of yield farming. The user looks for edge cases in the system to eke out as much yield as they can across as many products as it will work on.
Right now, however, things are not normal, and they probably won’t be for a while.
Why is yield farming so hot right now?Because of liquidity mining. Liquidity mining supercharges yield farming.
Liquidity mining is when a yield farmer gets a new token as well as the usual return (that’s the “mining” part) in exchange for the farmer’s liquidity.
“The idea is that stimulating usage of the platform increases the value of the token, thereby creating a positive usage loop to attract users,” said Richard Ma of smart-contract auditor Quantstamp.
The yield farming examples above are only farming yield off the normal operations of different platforms. Supply liquidity to Compound or Uniswap and get a little cut of the business that runs over the protocols – very vanilla.
But Compound announced earlier this year it wanted to truly decentralize the product and it wanted to give a good amount of ownership to the people who made it popular by using it. That ownership would take the form of the COMP token.
Lest this sound too altruistic, keep in mind that the people who created it (the team and the investors) owned more than half of the equity. By giving away a healthy proportion to users, that was very likely to make it a much more popular place for lending. In turn, that would make everyone’s stake worth much more.
So, Compound announced this four-year period where the protocol would give out COMP tokens to users, a fixed amount every day until it was gone. These COMP tokens control the protocol, just as shareholders ultimately control publicly traded companies.
Every day, the Compound protocol looks at everyone who had lent money to the application and who had borrowed from it and gives them COMP proportional to their share of the day’s total business.
The results were very surprising, even to Compound’s biggest promoters.
COMP’s value will likely go down, and that’s why some investors are rushing to earn as much of it as they can right now.
This was a brand-new kind of yield on a deposit into Compound. In fact, it was a way to earn a yield on a loan, as well, which is very weird: Who has ever heard of a borrower earning a return on a debt from their lender?
COMP’s value has consistently been well over $200 since it started distributing on June 15. We did the math elsewhere but long story short: investors with fairly deep pockets can make a strong gain maximizing their daily returns in COMP. It is, in a way, free money.
It’s possible to lend to Compound, borrow from it, deposit what you borrowed and so on. This can be done multiple times and DeFi startup Instadapp even built a tool to make it as capital-efficient as possible.
“Yield farmers are extremely creative. They find ways to ‘stack’ yields and even earn multiple governance tokens at once,” said Spencer Noon of DTC Capital.
COMP’s value spike is a temporary situation. The COMP distribution will only last four years and then there won’t be any more. Further, most people agree that the high price now is driven by the low float (that is, how much COMP is actually free to trade on the market – it will never be this low again). So the value will probably gradually go down, and that’s why savvy investors are trying to earn as much as they can now.
Appealing to the speculative instincts of diehard crypto traders has proven to be a great way to increase liquidity on Compound. This fattens some pockets but also improves the user experience for all kinds of Compound users, including those who would use it whether they were going to earn COMP or not.
As usual in crypto, when entrepreneurs see something successful, they imitate it. Balancer was the next protocol to start distributing a governance token, BAL, to liquidity providers. Flash loan provider bZx has announced a plan. Ren, Curve and Synthetix also teamed up to promote a liquidity pool on Curve.
It is a fair bet many of the more well-known DeFi projects will announce some kind of coin that can be mined by providing liquidity.
The case to watch here is Uniswap versus Balancer. Balancer can do the same thing Uniswap does, but most users who want to do a quick token trade through their wallet use Uniswap. It will be interesting to see if Balancer’s BAL token convinces Uniswap’s liquidity providers to defect.
So far, though, more liquidity has gone into Uniswap since the BAL announcement, according to its data site. That said, even more has gone into Balancer.
Did liquidity mining start with COMP?No, but it was the most-used protocol with the most carefully designed liquidity mining scheme.
This point is debated but the origins of liquidity mining probably date back to Fcoin, a Chinese exchange that created a token in 2018 that rewarded people for making trades. You won’t believe what happened next! Just kidding, you will: People just started running bots to do pointless trades with themselves to earn the token.
Similarly, EOS is a blockchain where transactions are basically free, but since nothing is really free the absence of friction was an invitation for spam. Some malicious hacker who didn’t like EOS created a token called EIDOS on the network in late 2019. It rewarded people for tons of pointless transactions and somehow got an exchange listing.
These initiatives illustrated how quickly crypto users respond to incentives.
Read more: Compound Changes COMP Distribution Rules Following ‘Yield Farming’ Frenzy
Fcoin aside, liquidity mining as we now know it first showed up on Ethereum when the marketplace for synthetic tokens, Synthetix, announced in July 2019 an award in its SNX token for users who helped add liquidity to the sETH/ETH pool on Uniswap. By October, that was one of Uniswap’s biggest pools.
When Compound Labs, the company that launched the Compound protocol, decided to create COMP, the governance token, the firm took months designing just what kind of behavior it wanted and how to incentivize it. Even still, Compound Labs was surprised by the response. It led to unintended consequences such as crowding into a previously unpopular market (lending and borrowing BAT) in order to mine as much COMP as possible.
Just last week, 115 different COMP wallet addresses – senators in Compound’s ever-changing legislature – voted to change the distribution mechanism in hopes of spreading liquidity out across the markets again.
Is there DeFi for bitcoin?Yes, on Ethereum.
Nothing has beaten bitcoin over time for returns, but there’s one thing bitcoin can’t do on its own: create more bitcoin.
A smart trader can get in and out of bitcoin and dollars in a way that will earn them more bitcoin, but this is tedious and risky. It takes a certain kind of person.
DeFi, however, offers ways to grow one’s bitcoin holdings – though somewhat indirectly.
A long HODLer is happy to gain fresh BTC off their counterparty’s short-term win. That’s the game.
For example, a user can create a simulated bitcoin on Ethereum using BitGo’s WBTC system. They put BTC in and get the same amount back out in freshly minted WBTC. WBTC can be traded back for BTC at any time, so it tends to be worth the same as BTC.
Then the user can take that WBTC, stake it on Compound and earn a few percent each year in yield on their BTC. Odds are, the people who borrow that WBTC are probably doing it to short BTC (that is, they will sell it immediately, buy it back when the price goes down, close the loan and keep the difference).
A long HODLer is happy to gain fresh BTC off their counterparty’s short-term win. That’s the game.
How risky is it?Enough.
“DeFi, with the combination of an assortment of digital funds, automation of key processes, and more complex incentive structures that work across protocols – each with their own rapidly changing tech and governance practices – make for new types of security risks,” said Liz Steininger of Least Authority, a crypto security auditor. “Yet, despite these risks, the high yields are undeniably attractive to draw more users.”
We’ve seen big failures in DeFi products. MakerDAO had one so bad this year it’s called “Black Thursday.” There was also the exploit against flash loan provider bZx. These things do break and when they do money gets taken.
As this sector gets more robust, we could see token holders greenlighting more ways for investors to profit from DeFi niches.
Right now, the deal is too good for certain funds to resist, so they are moving a lot of money into these protocols to liquidity mine all the new governance tokens they can. But the funds – entities that pool the resources of typically well-to-do crypto investors – are also hedging. Nexus Mutual, a DeFi insurance provider of sorts, told CoinDesk it has maxed out its available coverage on these liquidity applications. Opyn, the trustless derivatives maker, created a way to short COMP, just in case this game comes to naught.
And weird things have arisen. For example, there’s currently more DAI on Compound than have been minted in the world. This makes sense once unpacked but it still feels dicey to everyone.
That said, distributing governance tokens might make things a lot less risky for startups, at least with regard to the money cops.
“Protocols distributing their tokens to the public, meaning that there’s a new secondary listing for SAFT tokens, [gives] plausible deniability from any security accusation,” Zehavi wrote. (The Simple Agreement for Future Tokens was a legal structure favored by many token issuers during the ICO craze.)
Whether a cryptocurrency is adequately decentralized has been a key feature of ICO settlements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
What’s next for yield farming? (A prediction)COMP turned out to be a bit of a surprise to the DeFi world, in technical ways and others. It has inspired a wave of new thinking.
“Other projects are working on similar things,” said Nexus Mutual founder Hugh Karp. In fact, informed sources tell CoinDesk brand-new projects will launch with these models.
We might soon see more prosaic yield farming applications. For example, forms of profit-sharing that reward certain kinds of behavior.
Imagine if COMP holders decided, for example, that the protocol needed more people to put money in and leave it there longer. The community could create a proposal that shaved off a little of each token’s yield and paid that portion out only to the tokens that were older than six months. It probably wouldn’t be much, but an investor with the right time horizon and risk profile might take it into consideration before making a withdrawal.
(There are precedents for this in traditional finance: A 10-year Treasury bond normally yields more than a one-month T-bill even though they’re both backed by the full faith and credit of Uncle Sam, a 12-month certificate of deposit pays higher interest than a checking account at the same bank, and so on.)
As this sector gets more robust, its architects will come up with ever more robust ways to optimize liquidity incentives in increasingly refined ways. We could see token holders greenlighting more ways for investors to profit from DeFi niches.
Questions abound for this nascent industry: What will MakerDAO do to restore its spot as the king of DeFi? Will Uniswap join the liquidity mining trend? Will anyone stick all these governance tokens into a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO)? Or would that be a yield farmers co-op?
Whatever happens, crypto’s yield farmers will keep moving fast. Some fresh fields may open and some may soon bear much less luscious fruit.
But that’s the nice thing about farming in DeFi: It is very easy to switch fields.
By Herman Melville I AND MY CHIMNEY (i.) I and my chimney, two grey-headed old smokers, reside in the country. We are, I may say, old settlers here; particularly my old chimney, which settles more and more every day. Though I always say, I and my chimney, as Cardinal Wol- sey used to say, I and my King, yet this egotistic way of speak- ing, wherein I take precedence of my chimney, is hardly borne out by the facts; in everything, except the above phrase, my chimney taking precedence of me. Within thirty feet of the turf-sided road, my chimney——a huge, corpulent old Harry VIII of a chimney——rises full in front of me and all my possessions. Standing well up a hill-side, my chimney, like Lord Rosse's monster telescope, swung verti- cal to hit the meridian moon, is the first object to greet the ap- proaching traveler's eye; nor is it the last which the sun salutes. My chimney, too, is before me in receiving the first-fruits of the seasons. The snow is on its head ere on my hat; and every spring, as in a hollow beech tree, the first swallows build their nests in it. But it is within doors that the pre-eminence of y chimney is most manifest. When in the rear room, set apart for that ob- ject, I stand to receive my guests (who, by the way, call more, I suspect, to see my chimney than me), I then stand, not so much before, as, strictly speaking, behind my chimney, which is, indeed, the true host. Not that I demur. In the presence of my betters, I hope I know my place. From this habitual precedence of my chimney over me, some even think that I have got into a sad rearward way altogether; in short, from standing behind my old-fashioned chimney so much, I have got to be quite behind the age too, as well as running behindhand in everything else. But to tell the truth, I never was a very forward old fellow, nor what my farming neighbors call and forehanded one. Indeed, those rumors about my behindhandedness are so far correct, that I have an odd sauntering way with me sometimes of going about with my hands behind my back. As for my belonging to the rear-guard in general, certain it is, I bring up the rear of my chimney—— which, by the way, is this moment before me——and that, too, both in fancy and fact. In brief, my chimney is my superior; my superior by I know not how many heads and shoulders; my superior, too, in that humbly bowing over with shovel and tongs, I must minister to it; yet never does it minister, or in- cline over to me; but, if anything, in its settlings, rather leans the other way. My chimney is grand seignior here——the one great dom- ineering object, not more of the landscape, than of the house; all the rest of which house, in each architectural arrangement, as may shortly appear, is, in the most marked manner, accom- modated, not to my wants, but to the chimney's, which, among other things, has the centre of the house to itself, leaving but the odd holes and corners to me. But I and my chimney must explain; and, as we are both rather obese, we may have to expatiate. In those houses which are strictly double houses——that is, where the hall is in the middle——the fireplaces usually are pon opposite sides; so that while one member of the household is warming himself at a fire built into a recess of the north wall, say another member, the former owner's brother, perhaps, may be holding his feet to the blaze before a hearth in the south wall——the two thus fairly sitting back to back. Is this well? Be it put to any man who has a proper fraternal feeling. Has it not a sort of sulky appearance? But very probably this style of chimney building originated with some architect afflicted with a quarrelsome family. Then again, almost every modern fireplace has its separate flue——separate throughout, from hearth to chimney-top. At least such an arrangement is deemed desirable. Does this not look egotistical, selfish? But still more, all these separate flues, instead of having independent masonry establishments of their own, or instead of being grouped together in one federal stock in the middle of the house——instead of this, I say, each flue is surreptitiously honey-combed into the walls; so that these last are here and there, or indeed almost anywhere, treacherously hollow, and, in consequence, more or less weak. Of course, the main reason of this style of chimney building is to economize room. In cities, where lots are sold by the inch, small space is to spare for a chimney constructed on magnani- mous principles; and, as with most thin men, who are generally tall, so with such houses, what is lacking in breadth must be made up in height. This remark holds true even with regard to many very stylish abodes, built by the most stylish of gentle- men. And yet, when that stylish gentleman, Louis le Grand of France, would build a palace for his lady friend, Madame de Maintenon, he built it but one story high——in fact, in the cot- tage style. But then, how uncommonly quadrangular, spacious, and broad——horizontal acres, not vertical one. Such is the pal- ace which, in all its one-storied magnificence of Languedoc marble, in the garden of Versailles, still remains to this day. Any man can buy a square foot of land and plant a liberty- pole upon it; but it takes a king to set apart whole acres for a Grand Trianon. But nowadays it is different; and furthermore, what origi- nated in a necessity has been mounted into a vaunt. In towns there is a large rivalry in building tall houses. If one gentleman builds his house four stories high, and another gentleman comes next door and builds five stories high, then the former, not to be looked down upon that way, immediately sends for his architect and claps a fifth and a sixth story on top of his pre- vious four. And, not til the gentleman has achieved his aspira- tion, not till he has stolen over the way by twilight and observed how the sixth story soars beyond his neighbor's fifth——not till then does he retire to rest with satisfaction. Such folks, it seems to me, need mountains for neighbors, to take this emulous conceit of soaring out of them. If, considering that mine is a very wide house, and by no means lofty, aught in the above may appear like interested pleading, as if I did but fold myself about in the cloak of a gen- eral proposition, cunningly to tickle my individual vanity be- neath it, such misconceptions must vanish upon my frankly conceding that land adjoining my alder swamp was sold last month for ten dollars an acre, and thought a rash purchase at that; so that for wide houses hereabouts there is plenty of room, and cheap. Indeed, so cheap——dirt cheap——is the soil, that our elms thrust out their roots in it, and hang their great boughs over it, in the most lavish and reckless way. Almost all our crops, too, are sown broadcast, even peas and turnips. A farmer among us, who should go about his twenty-acre field, poking his finger into it here and there, and dropping down a mustard seed, would be thought a penurious, narrow-minded husbandman. The dandelions in the river-meadows, and the forget-me-nots along the mountain roads, you see at once they are put to no economy in space. Some seasons, too, our rye comes up, here and there a spear sole and single like a church- spire. It doesn't care to crowd itself where it knows there is such a deal of room. The world is wide, the world is all before us, says the rye. Wees, too, it is amazing how they spread. No such thing as arresting them——some of out pastures being a sort of Alsatia for the weeds. As for the grass, every spring it is like Kossuth's rising of what he calls the peoples. Mountains, too, a regular camp-meeting of them. For the same reason, the same all-sufficiency of room, our shadows march and countermarch, going through their various drills and masterly evolutions, like the old imperial guard on the Champs de Mars. As for the hills, especially where the roads cross them, the supervisors of our various towns have given notice to all concerned, that they can come and dig them down and cart them off and never a cent to pay, no more than for the privilege of picking blackberries. The stranger who is buried here, what liberal-hearted landed proprietor among us grudges him his six feet of rocky pasture? Nevertheless, cheap, after all, as our land is, and much as it is trodden under foot, I, for one, am proud of it for what it bears; and chiefly for its three great lions——the Great Oak, Ogg Mountain, and my chimney. Most houses are are but one and a half stories high; few exceed two. That in which I and my chimney dwell, is in width nearly twice its height, from sill to eaves——which accounts for the magnitude of its main content——besides showing that in this house, as in this country at large, there is abundance of space, and to spare, for both of us. The frame of the old house is of wood——which but the more sets forth the solidity of the chimney, which is of brick. And as the great wrought nails, binding the clapboards, are unknown in these degenerate days, so are the huge bricks in the chimney walls. The architect of the chimney must have had the pyramid of Cheops before him; for after that famous structure it seems modeled, only its rate of decrease towards the summit is con- siderably less, and it is truncated. From the exact middle of the mansion it soars from the cellar, right up through each suc- cessive floor, till, four feet square, it breaks water from the ridge-pole of the roof, like an anvil-headed whale, through the crest of a billow. Most people, though, liken it, in that part, to a razeed observatory, masoned up. The reason for its peculiar appearance above the roof touches upon rather delicate ground. How shall I reveal that, foras- much as many years ago the original gable roof of the old house had become very leaky, a temporary proprietor hired a band of woodmen, with their huge, crosscut saws, and went to saw- ing the old gable roof clean off. Off it went, with all its birds' nests, and dormer windows. It was replaced with a modern roof, more fit for a railway wood-house than an old country gentleman's abode. This operation——razeeing the structure some fifteen feet——was, in effect upon the chimney, something like the falling of the great spring tides. It left uncommon low water all about the chimney——to abate which appearance, the same person now proceeds to slice fifteen feet off the chimney itself, actualyl beheading my royal old chimney——a regicidal act which, were it not for the palliating fact that he was a poulterer by trade, and, therefore, hardened to such neck- wringings, should send that former proprietor down to pos- terity in the same cart with Cromwell. Owing to its pyramidal shape, the reduction of the chimney inordinately widened its razeed summit. Inordinately, I say, but only in the estimation of such as have no eye to the pic- turesque. What care I, if, unaware that my chimney, as a free citizen of this free land, stands upon an independent basis of its own, people passing it wondering how such a brick-kiln, as they call it, is supported upon mere joists and rafters? What care I? I will give a traveler a cup of switchel, if he ants it; but am I bound to supply him with a sweet taste? Men of cultivated minds see, in my old house and chimney, a goodly old elephant- and-castle. All feeling hearts will sympathize with me in what I am now about to add. The surgical operation, above referred to, nec- essarily brought into the open air a part of the chimney previously under cover, and intended to remain so and, there- fore, not built of what are called weather-bricks. In con- sequence, the chimney, though of a vigorous constitution, suffered not a little from so naked an exposure; and, unable to acclimate itself, ere long began to fail——showing blotchy symp- toms akin to those in the measles. Whereupon travelers, passing my way, would wag their heads, laughing: "See that wax nose ——how it melts off!" But what cared I? The same travelers would travel across the sea to view Kenilworth peeling away, and for a very good reason: that of all artists of the picturesque, decay wears the palm——I would say, the ivy. In fact, I've often thought that the proper place for my old chimney is ivied old England. In vain my wife——with what probable ulterior intent will, ere long, appear——solemnly warned me, that unless something were done, and speedily, we should be burnt to the ground, owing to the holes crumbling through the aforesaid blotchy parts, where the chimney joined the roof. "Wife," said I, "far better that my house should burn down, than my chimney should be pulled down, though but a few feet. They call it a wax nose; very good; not for me to tweak the nose of my superior." But at last the man who has a mortgage on the house dropped me a note, reminding me that, if my chimney was allowed to stand in that invalid condition, my policy of insurance would be void. This was a sort of hint not to be neglected. All the world over, the picturesque yields to the pocketesque. The mort- gagor cared not, but the mortgagee did. So another operation was performed. The wax nose was taken off, and a new one fitted on. Unfortunately for the expression ——being put up buy a squint-eyed mason who, at the time, had a bad stitch in the same side——the new nose stands a little awry, in the same direction. Of one thing, however, I am proud. The horizontal dimen- sions of the new part are unreduced. Large as the chimney appears upon the roof, that is nothing to its spaciousness below. At its base in the cellar, it is precisely twelve feet square; and hence covers precisely one hundred and fourty-four superficial feet. What an appropriation of terra firma for a chimney, and what a huge load for this earth! In fact, it was only because I and my chimney formed no part of his an- cient burden, that that stout peddler, Atlas of old, was enabled to stand up so bravely under his pack. The dimensions given may, perhaps, seem fabulous. But, like those stones at Gilgal, which Joshua set up for a memorial of having passed over Jor- dan, does not my chimney remain, even unto this day? Very often I go down into my cellar, and attentively survey the vast square of masonry. I stand long, and ponder over, and wonder at it. It has a druidical look, away down in the umbrageous cellar there, whose numerous vaulted passages, and far glens of gloom, resemble he dark, damp depths of primeval woods. So strongly did this conceit steal over me, so deeply was I penetrated with wonder at the chimney, that one day——when I was a little out of my mind, I now think——get- ting a spade from the garden, I set to work, digging round the foundation, especially at the corners thereof, obscurely prompted by dreams of striking upon some old, earthen-worn memorial of that bygone day when, into all this gloom, the light of heaven entered, as the masons laid the foundation-stones, peradventure sweltering under the August sun, or pelted by a March storm. Plying my blunted spade, how vexed was I by that ungracious interruption of a neighbor, who, calling to see me upon some business, and being informed that I was below, said I need not be troubled to come up, but he would go down to me; and so, without ceremony, and without my having been forewarned, suddenly discovered me, digging in my cellar. "Gold-digging, sir?" "Nay, sir," answered I, starting, "I was merely——ahem! merely ——I say merely digging——round my chimney." "Ah, loosening the soil, to make it grow. Your chimney, sir, you regard as too small, I suppose; needing further develop- ment, especially at the top?" "Sir!" said I, throwing down the spade, "do not be personal. I and my chimney——" "Personal?" "Sir, I look upon this chimney less as a pile of masonry than as a personage. It is the king of the house. I am but a suffered and inferior subject." In fact, I would permit no gibes to be cast at either myself or my chimney; and never did my visitor refer to it in my hearing, without coupling some compliment with the mention. It deserves a respectful consideration. There it stands, solitary and alone——not a council -of-ten flues, but, like his sa- cred majesty of Russia, a unit of an autocrat. Even to me, its dimensions, at times, seem incredible. It does not look so big——no, not even in the cellar. By the mere eye, its magnitude can be but imperfectly comprehended, because only one side can be received at one time; and said side can only present twelve feet, linear measure. But then, each other side also is twelve feet long; and the whole obviously forms a square; and twelve times twelve is one hundred and forty-four. And so, and adequate conception of the magnitude of this chim- ney is only to be got at by a sort of process in the higher math- ematics, by a method somewhat akin to those whereby the surprising distances of fixed stars are computed. It need hardly be said that the walls of my house are entirely free from fireplaces. These all congregate in the middle——in the one grand central chimney, upon all four sides of which are hearths——two tiers of hearths——so that when, in the various chambers, my family and guests are warming themselves of a cold winter's night, just before retiring, then, though at the time they may not be thinking so, all their faces mutually look towards each other, yea, all their feet point to one centre; and, when they go to sleep in their beds, they all sleep round one warm chimney, like so many Iroquois Indians, in the woods, round their one heap of embers. And just as the Indians' fire serves, not only to keep them comfortable, but also to keep off wolves, and other savage monsters, so my chimney, by its ob- vious smoke at he top, keeps off prowling burglars from the towns ——for what burglar or murderer would dare break into an abode from whose chimney issues such a continual smoke_— betokening that if the inmates are not stirring, at least fires are, and in case of an alarm, candles may be lighted, to say nothing of muskets. But stately as is the chimney——yea, grand high altar as it is, right worthy for the celebration of High Mass before the Pope of Rome, and all his cardinals——yet what is there perfect in this world? Caius Julius Caesar, had he not been so inordinately great, they say that Brutus, Cassius, Antony, and the rest, had been greater. My chimney, were it not so mighty in its magni- tude, my chambers had been larger. How often has my wife ruefully told me, that my chimney, like all English aristocracy, casts a contracting shade all round it. She avers that endless domestic inconveniences arise——more particularly from the chimney's stubborn central locality. The grand objection with her is that it stands midway in the place where a fine entrance- hall ought to be. In truth, there is no hall whatever to the house ——nothing but a sort of square landing-place, as you enter from the wide front door. A roomy enough landing-place, I admit, but not attaining to the dignity of a hall. Now, as the front door is precisely in the middle of the front of the house, inwards it faces the chimney. In fact, the opposite wall of the landing- place is formed solely by the chimney; and hence——owing to the gradual tapering of the chimney——is a little less than twelve feet in width. Climbing the chimney in this part, is the princi- pal staircase——which, by three abrupt turns, and three minor landing-places, mounts to the second floor, where, over the front door, runs a sort of narrow gallery, something less than twelve feet long, leading to chambers on either hand. This gallery, of course, is railed; and so, looking down upon the stairs, and all those landing-places together, with the main one at bottom, resembles not a little a balcony for musicians, in some jolly old abode, in times Elizabethan. Shall I tell a weak- ness? I cherish the cobwebs there, and many a time arrest Biddy in the act of brushing them with her broom, and have many a quarrel with my wife and daughters about it. Now the ceiling, so to speak, of the place where you enter the house, that ceiling is, in fact, the ceiling of the second floor, not the first. The two floors are made one here, so that ascend- ing this turning stairs, you seem to go up into a kind of soar- ing tower, or light-house. At the second landing, midway up the chimney, is a mysterious door, entering to a mysterious closet; and here I keep mysterious cordials, of a choice, mys- terious flavor, made so by the constant nurturing and subtle ripening of the chimney's gentle heat, distilled through that warm mass of masonry. Better for wines is it than voyages to the Indies; my chimney itself a tropic. A chair by my chimney in a November day is as good for an invalid as a long season spent in Cuba. Often I think how grapes might ripen against my chimney. How my wife's geraniums bud there! Bud in December. Her eggs, too——can't keep them near the chimney, on account of hatching. Ah, a warm heart has my chimney. How often my wife was at me about that projected grand entrance-hall of hers, which was to be knocked clean through the chimney, from one end of the house to the other, and as- tonish all guests by its generous amplitude. "But, wife," said I, "the chimney——consider the chimney: if you demolish the foundation, what is to support the superstructure?" "Oh, that will rest on the second floor." The truth is, women know next to nothing about the realities of architecture. However, my wife still talked of running her entries and partitions. She spent many long nights elaborating her plans; in imagination build- ing her boasted hall through the chimney, as though its high mightiness were a mere spear of sorrel-top. At last, I gently reminded her that, little as she might fancy it, the chimney was a fact——a sober, substantial fact, which, in all her plannings, it would be well to take into full consideration. But this was not of much avail. And here, specially craving her permission, I must say a few words about this enterprising wife of mine. Though in years nearly as old as myself, in spirit she is young as my little sorrel mare, Trigger, that threw me last fall. What is extraordi- nary, though she comes of a rheumatic family, she is straight as a pine, never has any aches; while for me with the sciatica, I am sometimes as crippled up as any old apple tree. But she has not so much as a toothache. As for her hearing——let me en- ter the house in my dusty boots, and she away up in the attic. And for her sight——Biddy, the housemaid, tells other people's housemaids, that her mistress will spy a spot on the dresser straight through the pewter platter, put up on purpose to hide it. Her faculties are alert as her limbs and her senses. No danger of my spouse dying of torpor. The longest night in the year I've known her to lie awake, planning her campaign for the mor- row. She is a natural projector. The maxim, "Whatever is, is right," is not hers. Her maxim is, Whatever is, is wrong; and what is more, must be altered; and what is still more, must be altered right away. Dreadful maxim for the wife of a dozy old dreamer like me, who dotes on seventh days as days of rest, and, out of sabbatical horror of industry, will, on a week-day, go out of my road a quarter of a mile, to avoid the sight of a man at work. That matches are made in heaven, may be, but my wife would have been just the wife for Peter the Great, or Peter the Piper. How she would have set in order that huge littered em- pire of the one, and with indefatigable painstaking picked the peck of pickled peppers for the other. But the most wonderful thing is, my wife never thinks of her end. Her youthful incredulity, as to the plain theory, and still plainer fact of death, hardly seems Christian. Advanced in years, as she knows she must be, my wife seems to think that she is to teem on, and be inexhaustible forever. She doesn't believe in old age. At that strange promise in the plain of Mamre, my old wife, unlike old Abraham's, would not have jeeringly laughed within herself. Judge how to me, who, sitting in the comfortable shadow of my chimney, smoking my comfortable pipe, with ashes not unwelcome at my feet, and ashes not unwelcome all but in my mouth; and who am thus in a comfortable sort of not unwel- come, though, indeed, ashy enough way, reminded of the ul- timate exhaustion even of the most fiery life; judge how to me this unwarrantable vitality in my wife must come, sometimes, it is true, with a moral and a calm, but oftener with a breeze and a ruffle. If the doctrine be true, that in wedlock contraries attract, but how cogent a fatality must I have been drawn to my wife! While spicily impatient of present and past, like a glass of gin- ger-beer she overflows with her schemes; and, with like energy as she puts down her foot, puts down her preserves and her pickles, and lives with them in a continual future; or ever full of expectations both from time and space, is ever restless for newspapers, and ravenous for letters. Content with the years that are gone, taking no thought for the morrow, and looking for no new thing from any person or quarter whatever, I have not a single scheme or expectation on earth, save in unequal resistance of the undue encroachment of hers. Old myself, I take to oldness in things; for that cause mainly loving old Montaigne, and old cheese, and old wine; and eschewing young people, hot rolls, new book, and early potatoes, and very fond of my old claw-footed chair, and old club-footed Deacon White, my neighbor, and that still nigher old neighbor, my betwisted grape-vine, that of a summer evening leans in his elbow for cosy company at my window- sill, while I, within doors, lean over mine to meet his; and above all, high above all, am fond of my highmanteled old chimney. But she, out of that infatuate juvenility of hers, takes to nothing but newness; for that cause mainly, loving new cider in autumn, and in spring, as if she were own daughter of Nebuchadnezzar, fairly raving after all sorts of salads and spin- aches, and more particularly green cucumbers (though all the time nature rebukes such unsuitable young hankerings in so elderly a person, by never permitting such things to agree with her), and has an itch after recently-discovered fine pros- pects (so no grave-yard be in the background), and also after Swedenborgianism, and the Spirit Rapping philosophy, with other new views, alike in things natural and unnatural; and immortally hopeful, is forever making new flower-beds even on the north side of the house, where the bleak mountain wind would scarce allow the wiry weed called hard-hack to gain a thorough footing; and on the road-side sets out mere pipestems of young elms; though there is no hope of any shade from them, except over the ruins of her great granddaughters' grave-stones; and won't wear caps, but plaits her gray hair; and takes the Ladies' Magazine for the fashions; and always buys her new almanac a month before the new year; and rises at dawn; and to the warmest sunset turns a cold shoulder; and still goes on at odd hours with her new course of history, and her French, and her music; and likes young company; and offers to ride young colts; and sets out young suckers in the orchard; and has a spite against my elbowed old grape-vine, and my club-footed old neighbor, and my claw-footed old chair, and above all, high above all, would fain persecute, unto death, my high- manteled old chimney. By what perverse magic, I a thousand times think, does such a very autumnal old lady have such a very vernal young soul? When I would remonstrate at times, she spins round on me with, "Oh, don't you grumble, old man (she always calls me old man), it's I, young I, that keep you from stagnating." Well, I suppose it is so. Yea, after all, these things are well ordered. My wife, as one of her poor relations, good soul, intimates, is the salt of the earth, and none the less the salt of my sea, which otherwise were unwholesome. She is its monsoon, too blowing a brisk gale over it, in the one steady direction of my chimney. Not insensible of her superior energies, my wife has fre- quently made me propositions to take upon herself all the responsibilities of my affairs. She is desirous that, domestically, I should abdicate; that, renouncing further rule, like the vener- able Charles V, I should retire into some sort of monastery. But indeed, the chimney excepted, I have little authority to lay down. My wife's ingenious application of the principle that certain things belong to right to female jurisdiction, I find myself, through my easy compliances, insensibly stripped by de- grees of one masculine prerogative after another. In a dream I go about my fields, a sort of lazy, happy-go-lucky, good-for- nothing, loafing old Lear. Only by some sudden revelation am I reminded who is over me; as year before last, one day seeing in one corner of the premises fresh deposits of mysterious boards and timbers, the oddity of the incident at length begat serious meditation. "Wife," said I, "whose boards and timbers are those I see near the orchard there? Do you know anything about them, wife? Who put them there? You know I do not like the neighbors to use my land that way; they should ask per- mission first." She regarded me with a pitying smile. "Why, old man, don't you know I am building a new barn? Didn't you know that, old man?" This is the poor old lady that was accusing me of tyrannizing over her. To return now to the chimney. Upon being assured of the futility of her proposed hall, so long as the obstacle remained, for a time my wife was for a modified project. But I could never exactly comprehend it. As far as I could see through it, it seemed to involve the general idea of a sort of irregular arch- way, or elbowed tunnel, which was to penetrate the chimney at some convenient point under the stair-case, and carefully avoiding dangerous contact with fireplaces, and particu- larly steering clear of the great interior flue, was to conduct the enterprising traveler from the front door all the way into the dining-room in the remote rear of the mansion. Doubtless it was a bold stroke of genius, that plan of hers, and so was Nero's when he schemed his grand canal through the Isthmus of Corinth. Nor will I take oath, that, had her project been ac- complished, then, by help of lights hung at judicious intervals through the tunnel, some Belzoni or other might have suc- ceeded in future ages to penetrate through the masonry, and actually emerging into the dining-room, and once there, it would have been inhospitable treatment of such a traveler to have denied him a recruiting meal. But my bustling wife did not restrict her objections, nor in the end confine her proposed alterations to the first floor. Her ambition was of the mounting order. She ascended with her schemes to the second floor, and so to the attic. Perhaps there was some small ground for her discontent with things as they were. The truth is, there was no regular passage-way up stairs or down, unless we again except that little orchestra-gallery before mentioned. And all this was owing to the chimney, which my gamesome spouse seemed despitefully to regard as the bully of the house. On all its four sides, nearly all the cham- bers sidled up to the chimney for the benefit of a fireplace. The chimney would not go to them; they must needs go to it. The consequence was, almost every room, like a philosophical sys- tem, was in itself an entry, or passage-way to other rooms, and systems of rooms——a whole suite of entries, in fact. Going through the house, you seem to be forever going somewhere, and getting nowhere. It is like losing one's self in the woods; round and round the chimney you go, and if you arrive at all, it is just where you started, and so you begin again, and again get nowhere. Indeed——though I say it not in the way of fault- finding at all——never was there so labyrinthine an abode. Guests will tarry with me several weeks and every now and then, be anew astonished at some unforeseen apartment.
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