If it could be established that the conduct of Henry VIII. toward his people, his church, his nobles, and his wives was regulated solely with reference to the succession question, and by his desire to preserve the peace of his kingdom, we believe that few men would be disposed to condemn most of those of his acts that have been long admitted to blacken his memory, and which have placed him almost at the very head of the long roll of heartless tyrants. That the end justifies the means is a doctrine which everybody condemns by word of mouth, but the practice founded upon which almost all men approve in their hearts, whenever it applies to their own schemes, or to schemes the success of which promises to benefit them, either individually or in the mass. As the apologists of the French Jacobins have argued that their favorites were cruel as the grave against Frenchmen only that they might preserve France from destruction, so might the admirers of Henry plead that he was vindictively cruel only that the English masses might live in peace, and be protected in quietly tilling their fields, manuring them after their own fashion, and not having them turned up and fertilized after the fashion of Bosworth and Towton and Barnet. Surely Henry Tudor, second of that name, is entitled to the same grace that is extended to Maximilien Robespierre, supposing the facts to be in his favor.
But are the facts, when fairly stated, in his favor? They are not. His advocates must find themselves terribly puzzled to reconcile his practice with their theory. They prove beyond all dispute that the succession question was the grand thought of England in Henry's time; but they do not prove, because they cannot prove, that the King's action was such as to show that he was ready, we will not say to make important sacrifices to lessen the probabilities of the occurrence of a succession war, but to do anything in that way that required him to control any one of the gross passions or grosser appetites of which he was throughout his loathsome life the slave and the victim. He seems to have passed the last twenty years of his reign in doing deeds that give flat contradiction to the theory set up by his good-natured admirers of after-times, that he was the victim of circumstances, and that, though one of the mildest and most merciful of men in fact, those villanous circumstances did compel him to become a tyrant, a murderer, a repudiator of sacramental and pecuniary and diplomatic obligations, a savage on a throne, and a Nebuchadnezzar for pride and arrogance, only that, unfortunately for his subjects in general, and for his wives in particular, he was not turned out to grass. A beast in fact, he did not become a beast in form. Scarcely one of his acts, after the divorce of Catharine of Aragon, was of a character to favor the continuance of peace in England, while many of them were admirably calculated to bring about a war for the regal succession. Grant that he was justified in putting away his Spanish wife,—a most excellent and eminently disagreeable woman, a combination of qualities by no means uncommon,—where was the necessity of his taking Anne Boleyn to wife? Why could he not have given his hand to some foreign princess, and so have atoned to his subjects for breaking up the Spanish alliance, in the continuance of which the English people had no common political interest, and an extraordinary commercial interest? Why could he not have sent to Germany for some fair-haired princess, as he did years later, and got Anne of Cleves for his pains, whose ugly face cost poor Cromwell his head, which was giving the wisest head in England for the worst one out of it? Henry, Mr. Froude would have us believe, divorced Catharine of Aragon because he desired to have sons, as one way to avoid the breaking out of a civil war; and yet it was a sure way to bring Charles V. into an English dispute for the regal succession, as the supporter of any pretender, to repudiate the aunt of that powerful imperial and royal personage. The English nation, Mr. Froude truly tells us, was at that time "sincerely attached to Spain. The alliance with the House of Burgundy" (of which Charles V. was the head) "was of old date; the commercial intercourse with Flanders was enormous,—Flanders, in fact, absorbing all the English exports; and as many as fifteen thousand Flemings were settled in London. Charles himself was personally popular; he had been the ally of England in the late French war; and when, in his supposed character of leader of the anti-Papal party in Europe, he allowed a Lutheran army to desecrate Rome, he had won the sympathy of all the latent discontent which was fomenting in the population." Was it not a strange way to proceed for the preservation of peace in England to offend a foreign sovereign who stood in so strong and influential a position to the English people? Charles was not merely displeased because of the divorce of his relative, his mother's sister, a daughter of the renowned Isabella, who had wrought such great things for Christendom,—promoting the discovery of America, and conquering Granada,—but he was incensed at the mere thought of preferring to her place a private gentlewoman, who would never have been heard of, if Henry had not seen fit to raise her from common life, first to the throne, and then to the scaffold. That was an insult to the whole Austro-Burgundian family, whose dominions rivalled those of the Roman Caesars, and whose chief had just held a King of France captive and a Pope of Rome besieged. The Emperor might, perhaps, have been sooted, had his relative's place been bestowed upon some lady of corresponding blueness of blood; but it offended his pride, when he reflected on her being supplanted by Mrs. Boleyn. The aristocratical morgue was too strong in him to bear such an insult with fortitude. Yet none other than Mrs. Boleyn would Henry have, notwithstanding the certainty of enraging Charles, and with the equal certainty of disgusting a majority of his own subjects. If it had been simply a wife that he desired, and if he was thinking merely of the succession, and so sought only for an opportunity to beget legitimate children, why did he so pertinaciously insist upon having no one but "Mistress Anne" for the partner of his throne and bed?
When he married Jane Seymour on the 20th of May, 1536, having had Anne's head cut off on the 19th, Mr. Froude sees in that infamous proceeding—a proceeding without parallel in the annals of villany, and which would have disgraced the worst members of Sawney Bean's unpromising family—nothing but a simple business-transaction. The Privy Council and the peers, troubled about the succession, asked Henry to marry again without any delay, when Anne had been prepared for condemnation. The King was graciously pleased to comply with this request, which was probably made in compliance with suggestions from himself,—the marriage with Jane Seymour having been resolved upon long before it took place, and the desire to effect it being the cause of the legal assassination of Anne Boleyn, which could be brought about only through the "cooking" of a series of charges that could have originated nowhere out of her husband's vile mind, and which led to the deaths of six innocent persons. "The indecent haste" of the King's marriage with the Seymour, Mr. Froude says, "is usually considered a proof entirely conclusive of the cause of Anne Boleyn's ruin. To myself the haste is an evidence of something very different. Henry, who waited seven years for Anne Boleyn, was not without some control over his passions; and if appetite had been the moving influence with him, he would scarcely, with the eyes of all the world fixed upon his conduct, have passed so extravagant an insult upon the nation of which he was the sovereign. The precipitancy with which he acted is to me a proof that he looked on matrimony as an indifferent official act which his duty required at the moment. This was the interpretation which was given to his conduct by the Lords and Commons of England. In the absence of any evidence, or shadow of evidence, that among contemporaries who had means of knowing the truth another judgment was passed upon it, the deliberate assertion of an Act of Parliament must be considered a safer guide than modern unsupported conjecture." [Footnote: Mr. Froude mentions that a request that the King would marry, similar to that which he received after the fall of Anne Boleyn, was urged by the Council on the death of Jane Seymour; but, as he allowed more than two years to elapse between the date of Jane's death and the date of his marriage with Anne of Cleves, which marriage he refused to consummate, is not the inference unavoidable that he wedded Jane Seymour so hurriedly merely to gratify his desire to possess her person, and that in 1537-39 he was singularly indifferent to the claims of a question upon his attention?]
We submit that the approving action of men who were partakers of Henry's guilt is no proof of his innocence. Their conduct throughout the Boleyn business simply proves that they were slaves, and that the slaves were as brutal as their master. If Henry was so indifferent in the matter of matrimony as to look upon all women with the same feelings, if he married officially as the King, and not lovingly as a man, how came it to pass that he was thrown into such an agony of rage, when, being nearly fifty years old, ugly Anne of Cleves was provided for him? His disappointment and mortification were then so great that they hastened that political change which led to Cromwell's fall and execution. When Henry first saw the German lady, he was as much affected as George, Prince of Wales, was when he first saw Caroline of Brunswick, but he behaved better than George in the lady's presence. Much as he desired children, he never consummated his marriage with Anne of Cleves, though he must have known that the world would be but ill-peopled, if none but beautiful women were to be married. Had he fulfilled the contract made with her, he might have had many sons and daughters, and the House of Tudor might have been reigning over England at this day. Both his fifth and sixth wives, Catharine Howard and Catharine Parr, were fine women; and if he had lived long enough to get rid of the latter, he would, beyond all question, have given her place to the most beautiful woman whom he could have prevailed upon to risk his perilous embraces preliminarily to those of the hangman.
If Henry had married solely for the purpose of begetting children, he never would have divorced and slaughtered Anne Boleyn. During her brief connection with him, she gave birth to two children, one a still-born son, and the other the future Queen Elizabeth, who lived to her seventieth year, and whose enormous vitality and intellectual energy speak well for the physical excellence of her mother. The miscarriage that Anne experienced in February, 1536, was probably the occasion of her repudiation and murder in the following May, as Henry was always inclined to attribute disappointments of this kind to his wives, who ever dwelt in the valley of the shadow of death.[Footnote: Henry thought of divorcing Catharine of Aragon some years before she had become too old to bear children. She was born in the last month of 1485, and the "King's secret matter," as the divorce question was called, was in agitation as early as the first half of 1527, and probably at an earlier period. Catharine was the mother of five children, but one of whom lived, namely, the Princess Mary, afterward Mary I.] The most charitable view that can be taken of Henry's abominable treatment of his second wife is, that he was led by his superstitious feelings, which he called religion, to sacrifice her to the manes of his first wife, whom Anne had badly treated, and who died on the 7th of January, 1536. Henry, after his fashion, was much moved by Catharine's death, and by perusal of the letter which she wrote him from her dying bed; and so he resolved to make the only atonement of which his savage nature was capable, and one, too, which the bigoted Spanish woman would have been satisfied with, could she have foreseen it. As the alliance between the royal houses of England and Spain was sealed with the blood of the innocent Warwick, who was sent to the scaffold by Henry VII. to satisfy Catharine's father, Ferdinand of Aragon, so were the wrongs of Catharine to be acknowledged by shedding the innocent blood of Anne Boleyn. The connection, as it were, began with the butchery of a boy, reduced to idiocy by ill-treatment, on Tower Hill, and it ended with the butchery of a woman, who had been reduced almost to imbecility by cruelty, on the Tower Green. Heaven's judgement would seem to have been openly pronounced against that blood-cemented alliance, formed by two of the greatest of those royal ruffians who figured in the fifteenth century, and destined to lead to nothing but misery to all who were brought together in consequence of it's having been made. If one were seeking for proofs of the direct and immediate interposition of a Higher Power in the ordering of human affairs, it would be no difficult matter to discover them in the history of the royal houses of England during the existence of the Lancastrian, the York, and the Tudor families. Crime leads to crime therein in regular sequence, the guiltless suffering with the guilty, and because of their connection with the guilty, until the palaces of the Henries and the Edwards become as haunted with horrors as were the halls of the Atridae. The "pale nurslings that had perished by kindred hands," seen by Cassandra when she passed the threshold of Agamemnon's abode, might have been paralleled by similar "phantom dreams," had another Cassandra accompanied Henry VII. when he came from Bosworth Field to take possession of the royal abodes at London. She, too, might have spoken, taking the Tower for her place of denunciation, of "that human shamble-house, that bloody floor, that dwelling abhorred by Heaven, privy to so many horrors against the most sacred ties." And she might have seen in advance the yet greater horrors that were to come, and that hung "over the inexpiable threshold; the curse passing from generation to generation."
Mr. Froude thinks that Catharine Howard, the fifth of Henry's wives, was not only guilty of antenuptial slips, but of unfaithfulness to the royal bed. It is so necessary to establish the fact of her infidelity, in order to save the King's reputation,—for he could not with any justice have punished her for the irregularities of her unmarried life, and not even in this age, when we have organized divorce, could such slips be brought forward against a wife of whom a husband had become weary,—that we should be careful how we attach credit to what is called the evidence against Catharine Howard; and her contemporaries, who had means of weighing and criticizing that evidence, did not agree in believing her guilty. Mr. Froude, who would, to use a saying of Henry's time, find Abel guilty of murder of Cain, were that necessary to support his royal favorite's hideous cause, not only declares that the unhappy girl was guilty throughout, but lugs God into the tragedy, and makes Him responsible for what was, perhaps, the cruellest and most devilish of all the many murders perpetrated by Henry VIII. The luckless lady was but a child at the time she was devoured by "the jaws of darkness." At most she was but in her twentieth year, and probably she was a year or two younger than that age. Any other king than Henry would have pardoned her, if for no other reason, then for this, that he had coupled her youth with his age, and so placed her in an unnatural position, in which the temptation to error was all the greater, and the less likely to be resisted, because of the girl's evil training,—a training that could not have been unknown to the King, and on the incidents of which the Protestant plot for her ruin, and that of the political party of which she was the instrument, had been founded. But of Henry VIII., far more truly than of James II., could it have been said by any one of his innumerable victims, that, though it was in his power to forgive an offender, it was not in his nature to do so.
No tyrant ever was preceded to the tomb by such an array of victims as Henry VIII. If Shakspeare had chosen to bring the highest of those victims around the last bed that Henry was to press on earth, after the fashion in which he sent the real or supposed victims of Richard III. to haunt the last earthly sleep of the last royal Plantagenet, he would have had to bring them up by sections, and not individually, in battalions, and not as single spies. Buckingham, Wolsey, More, Fisher, Catharine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Rocheford, Cromwell, Catharine Howard, Exeter, Montague, Lambert, Aske, Lady Salisbury, Surrey,—these, and hundreds of others, selected principally from the patrician order, or from the officers of the old church, might have led the ghostly array which should have told the monarch to die and to despair of redemption; while an innumerable host of victims of lower rank might have followed these more conspicuous sufferers from the King's "jealous rage." Undoubtedly some of these persons had justly incurred death, but it is beyond belief that they were all guilty of the crimes laid to their charge; yet Mr. Froude can find as little good in any of them as of evil in Henry's treatment of them. He would have us believe that Henry was scrupulously observant of the law! and that he allowed Cromwell to perish because he had violated the laws of England, and sought to carry out that "higher law" which politicians out of power are so fond of appealing to, but which politicians in power seldom heed. And such stuff we are expected to receive as historical criticism, and the philosophy of history! And pray, of what breach of the law had the Countess of Salisbury been guilty, that she should be sent to execution when she had arrived at so advanced an age that she must soon have passed away in the course of Nature? She was one of Cromwell's victims, and as he had been deemed unfit to live because of his violations of the laws of the realm, it would follow that one whose attainder had been procured through his devices could not be fairly put to death. She suffered ten months after Cromwell, and could have committed no fresh offence in the interval, as she was a prisoner in the Tower at the time of her persecutor's fall, and so remained until the day of her murder. The causes of her death, however, are not far to seek: she was the daughter of George Plantagenet, Duke of Clarence, brother of Edward IV., and Henry hated every member of that royal race which the Tudors had supplanted; and she was the mother of Reginald Pole, whom the King detested both for his Plantagenet blood and for the expositions which he made of the despot's crimes.
One of the victims sacrificed by Mr. Froude on the altar of his Moloch even he must have reluctantly brought to the temple, and have offered up with a pang, but whose character he has blackened beyond all redemption, as if he had used upon it all the dirt he has so assiduously taken from the character of his royal favorite. There are few names or titles of higher consideration than that of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. It is sufficient to name Surrey to be reminded of the high-born scholar, the gallant soldier, one of the founders of English literature, and a poet of equal vigor of thought and melodiousness of expression. His early and violent death, at the behest of a tyrant, who himself had not ten days to live when he stamped—for he could no longer write—the death-warrant of his noblest subject, has helped to endear his memory for three centuries; and many a man whose sympathies are entirely with the Reformation and the "new men" of 1546, regrets the untimely death of the Byron of those days, though the noble poet was at the head of the reactionary party, and desired nothing so much as to have it in his power to dispose of the "new men," in which case he would have had the heads of Hertford and his friends chopped off as summarily as his own head fell before the mandate of the King. Everything else is forgotten in the recollection of the Earl's youth, his lofty origin, his brilliant talents, his rank as a man of letters, and his prompt consignment to a bloody grave, the last of the legion of patricians sent by Henry to the block or the gallows. Yet it is Surrey upon whom Mr. Froude makes his last attack, and whom he puts down as a dirty dog, in order that Henry VIII may not be seen devoting what were all but his very latest hours to the task of completing the judicial murder of one whom he hated because he was so wonderfully elevated above all the rest of his subjects as to be believed capable of snatching at the crown, though three of the King's children were then alive, and there were several descendants of two of his sisters in both Scotland and England. Because, of all men who were then living, Surrey most deserved to reign over England, the jealous tyrant supposed there could be no safety for his youthful son until the House of Howard had been humiliated, and both its present head and its prospective head ceased to exist. Not satisfied with attributing to him political offences that do not necessarily imply baseness in the offender, Mr. Froude indorses the most odious charges that have been brought against Surrey, and which, if well founded, utterly destroy all his claims to be considered, we will not say a man of honor, but a man of common decency. Without having stated much that is absolutely new, Mr. Froude has so used his materials as to create the impression that Surrey, the man honored for three centuries as one of the most chivalrous of Englishmen, and as imbued with the elevating spirit of poetry, was a foul fellow, who sought to engage his sister in one of the vilest intrigues ever concocted by courtier, in order that she might be made a useful instrument in the work of changing the political condition of England. Henry's illegitimate son, Henry Fitz-Roy, Duke of Richmond, whom he had at one time thought of declaring his successor, died, leaving a widow, who was Surrey's sister. This lady told Sir Gawin Carew that her brother had advised her so to bear herself toward the King that possibly "his Majesty might cast some love unto her, whereby in process she should bear as great a stroke about him as Madame d'Estampes did about the French king." Madame d'Estampes was the most notorious and influential of Francis I.'s many mistresses; and if Carew's evidence is to be depended upon, we see what was the part assigned by Surrey to his sister in the political game the old aristocracy and the Catholics were playing. She, the widow of the King's son, was to seduce the King, and to become his mistress! Carew's story was confirmed by another witness, and Lady Richmond had complained of Surrey's "language to her with abhorrence and disgust, and had added, 'that she defied her brother, and said that they should all perish, and she would cut her own throat, rather than she would consent to such villany.'" On Surrey's trial, Lady Richmond also confirmed the story, and "revealed his deep hate of the 'new men,' who, 'when the King was dead,' he had sworn 'should smart for it.'" Such is the tale, and such is the evidence upon which it rests. Its truth at first appears to be beyond dispute, but it is possible that all the witnesses lied, and that the whole process was a made-up thing to aid in reconciling the public to the summary destruction of so illustrious a man as Surrey; and it was well adapted to that end,—the English people having exceeded all others in their regard for domestic decencies and in reverence for the family relations of the sexes. Should it be said that it is more probable that Surrey was guilty of the moral offence charged upon him than that his sister could be guilty of inventing the story and then of perjuring herself to support it, we can but reply, that Lady Rocheford, wife of Anne Boleyn's brother, testified that Anne had been guilty of incest with that brother, and afterward, when about to die, admitted that she had perjured herself. Of the two offences, supposing Lady Richmond to have sworn away her brother's life, that of Lady Rocheford was by far the more criminal, and it is beyond all doubt. So long as there is room for doubting Surrey's guilt, we shall follow the teaching of the charitable maxim of our law, and give him the benefit of the doubt which is his due.
The question of the guilt or innocence of Anne Boleyn is a tempting one, in connection with Henry VIII.'s history; but we have not now the space that is necessary to treat it justly. We may take it up another time, and follow Mr. Froude through his ingenious attempts to show that Anne must have been guilty of incest and adultery, or else—dreadful alternative!—we must come to the conclusion that Henry VIII. was not the just man made perfect on earth.
* * * * *
WHY THEIR CREEDS DIFFERED.
Bedded in stone, a toad lived well, Cold and content as toad could be; As safe from harm as monk in cell, Almost as safe from good was he
And "What is life?" he said, and dozed; Then, waking, "Life is rest," quoth he: "Each creature God in stone hath closed, That each may have tranquillity.
"And God Himself lies coiled in stone, Nor wakes nor moves to any call; Each lives unto himself alone, And cold and night envelop all."
He said, and slept. With curious ear Close to the stone, a serpent lay. "'T is false," he hissed with crafty sneer, "For well I know God wakes alway.
"And what is life but wakefulness, To glide through snares, alert and wise,— With plans too deep for neighbors' guess, And haunts too close for neighbors' eyes?
"For all the earth is thronged with foes, And dark with fraud, and set with toils: Each lies in wait, on each to close, And God is bribed with share of spoils."
High in the boughs a small bird sang, And marvelled such a creed should be. "How strange and false!" his comment rang; "For well I know that life is glee.
"For all the plain is flushed with bloom, And all the wood with music rings, And in the air is scarcely room To wave our myriad flashing wings.
"And God, amid His angels high, Spreads over all in brooding joy; On great wings borne, entranced they lie, And all is bliss without alloy."
"Ah, careless birdling, say'st thou so?" Thus mused a man, the trees among: "Thy creed is wrong; for well I know That life must not be spent in song.
"For what is life, but toil of brain, And toil of hand, and strife of will,— To dig and forge, with loss and pain, The truth from lies, the good from ill,—
"And ever out of self to rise Toward love and law and constancy? But with sweet love comes sacrifice, And with great law comes penalty.
"And God, who asks a constant soul, His creatures tries both sore and long: Steep is the way, and far the goal, And time is small to waste in song."
He sighed. From heaven an angel yearned: With equal love his glances fell Upon the man with soul upturned, Upon the toad within its cell.
And, strange! upon that wondrous face Shone pure all natures, well allied: There subtlety was turned to grace, And slow content was glorified;
And labor, love, and constancy Put off their dross and mortal guise, And with the look that is to be They looked from those immortal eyes.
To the faint man the angel strong Beached down from heaven, and shared his pain: The one in tears, the one in song, The cross was borne betwixt them twain.
He sang the careless bliss that lies In wood-bird's heart, without alloy; He sang the joy of sacrifice; And still he sang, "All life is joy."
But how, while yet he clasped the pain, Thrilled through with bliss the angel smiled, I know not, with my human brain, Nor how the two he reconciled.
* * * * *
It was a long and terrible conflict,—I will not say where, because that fact has nothing to do with my story. The Revolutionists were no match in numbers for the mercenaries of the Dictator, but they fought with the stormy desperation of the ancient Scythians, and they won, as they deserved to win: for this was another revolt of freedom against oppression, of conscience against tyranny, of an exasperated people against a foreign despot. Every eye shone with the sublimity of a great principle, and every arm was nerved with a strength grander and more enduring than that imparted by the fierceness of passion or the sternness of pride. As I flew from one part of the field to another, in execution of the orders of my superior officer, I wondered whether blood as brave and good dyed the heather at Bannockburn, or streamed down the mountain-gorge where Tell met the Austrians at Morgarten, or stained with crimson glare the narrow pass held by the Spartan three hundred.
Suddenly my horse, struck by a well-aimed ball, plunged forward in the death-struggle, and fell with me, leaving me stunned for a little time, though not seriously hurt. With returning consciousness came the quickened perception which sometimes follows a slight concussion of the brain, daguerreotyping upon my mind each individual of these fiery ranks, in vivid, even painful clearness. As I watched with intensified interest the hurrying panorama, the fine figure and face of my friend Vilalba flashed before me. I noted at once the long wavy masses of brown hair falling beneath the martial cap; the mouth, a feature seldom beautiful in men, blending sweetness and firmness in rare degree, now compressed and almost colorless; but the eyes! the "empty, melancholy eyes"! what strange, glassy, introspective fixedness! what inexplicable fascination, as if they were riveted on some object unseen by other mortals! A glance sufficed to show to myself, at least, that he was in a state of tense nervous excitation, similar to that of a subject of mesmerism. A preternatural power seemed to possess him. He moved and spoke like a somnambulist, with the same insulation from surrounding minds and superiority to material obstacles. I had long known him as a brave officer; but here was something more than bravery, more than the fierce energy of the hour. His mien, always commanding, was now imperial. In utter fearlessness of peril, he assumed the most exposed positions, dashed through the strongest defences, accomplished with marvellous dexterity a wellnigh impossible coup-de-main, and all with the unrecognizing, changeless countenance of one who has no choice, no volition, but is the passive slave of some resistless inspiration.
After the conflict was over, I sought Vilalba, and congratulated him on his brilliant achievement, jestingly adding that I knew he was leagued with sorcery and helped on by diabolical arts. The cold evasiveness of his reply confirmed my belief that the condition I have described was abnormal, and that he was himself conscious of the fact.
Many years passed away, during which I met him rarely, though our relations were always those of friendship. I heard of him as actively, even arduously employed in public affairs, and rewarded by fortune and position. The prestige of fame, unusual personal graces, and high mental endowments gave him favor in social life; and women avowed that the mingled truth and tenderness of his genial and generous nature were all but irresistible. Nevertheless they were chagrined by his singular indifference to their allurements; and many a fair one, even more interested than inquisitive, vainly sought to break the unconquerable reticence which, under apparent frankness, he relentlessly maintained. He had, indeed, once been married, for a few years only; but his wife was not of those who can concentrate and absorb the fulness of another soul, wedding memory with immortal longing. Thus the problem of my friend's life-long reserve continued to provoke curiosity until its solution was granted to me alone, and, with it, the explanation of his mesmeric entrancement on the occasion to which I have alluded. I repeat the story because it is literally true, and because some of its incidents may be classed among those psychological phenomena which form the most occult, the most interesting, and the least understood of all departments of human knowledge.
During a period of summer recreation I induced Vilalba to renew our interrupted acquaintance by passing a month with me in my country home. The moonlight of many years had blended its silver with his still abundant locks, and the lines of thought were deepened in his face, but I found him in other respects unchanged. He had the same deep, metallic voice, so musical that to hear him say the slightest things was a pleasure, the same graceful courtesy and happy elasticity of temperament; and was full as ever of noble purposes, and the Roman self-conviction of power to live them out. One of those nights that "are not made for slumber" found us lingering beneath the odorous vines which interlocked their gay blossoms around the slight columns of the veranda, until even the gray surprise of dawn,—the "soft, guileless consolations" of our cigars, as Aeschylus says of certain other incense, the cool, fragrant breezes, gentle as remembered kisses upon the brow, the tremulous tenderness of the star-beams, the listening hush of midnight, having swayed us to a mood of pensiveness which found a reflex in our conversation. From the warning glare of sunlight the heart shuts close its secrets; but hours like these beguile from its inmost depths those subtile emotions, and vague, dreamy, delicious thoughts, which, like plants, waken to life only beneath the protecting shadows of darkness. "Why is it," says Richter, "that the night puts warmer love in our hearts? Is it the nightly pressure of helplessness, or is it the exalting separation from the turmoils of life,—that veiling of the world in which for the soul nothing then remains but souls,—that causes the letters in which loved names are written to appear like phosphorus-writing by night, on fire, while day, in their cloudy traces, they but smoke?"
Insensibly we wandered into one of those weird passages of psychological speculation, the border territory where reason and illusion hold contested sway,—where the relations between spirit and matter seem so incomprehensibly involved and complicated that we can only feel, without being able to analyze them, and even the old words created for our coarse material needs seem no more suitable than would a sparrow's wings for the flight of an eagle.
"It is emphatically true of these themes," I remarked, after a long rambling talk, half reverie, half reason, "that language conceals the ideas, or, rather, the imaginations they evolve; for the word idea implies something more tangible than vagaries which the Greek poet would have called 'the dream of the shadow of smoke.' But yet more unsatisfactory than the impotence of the type is the obscurity of the thing typified. We can lay down no premises, because no basis can be found for them,—and establish no axioms, because we have no mathematical certainties. Objects which present the assurance of palpable facts to-day may vanish as meteors to-morrow. The effort to crystallize into a creed one's articles of faith in these mental phantasmagoria is like carving a cathedral from sunset clouds, or creating salient and retreating lines of armed hosts in the northern lights. Though willing dupes to the pretty fancy, we know that before the light of science the architecture is resolved into mist, and the battalions into a stream of electricity."
"Not so," replied Vilalba. "Your sky-visions are a deceit, and you know it while you enjoy them. But the torch of science is by no means incendiary to the system of psychology. Arago himself admits that it may one day obtain a place among the exact sciences, and speaks of the actual power which one human being may exert over another without the intervention of any known physical agent; while Cuvier and other noted scientists concede even more than this."
"Do you, then, believe," I asked, "that there is between the silent grave and the silent stars an answer to this problem we have discussed to-night, of the inter-relation between spirit and matter, between soul and soul? To me it seems hopelessly inscrutable, and all effort to elucidate it, like the language of the Son of Maia, 'by night bringeth darkness before the eyes, and in the daytime nought clearer.' I shall as soon expect to wrest her buried secrets from the Sphinx, or to revive the lost mysteries of the Egyptian priesthood."
"And yet, most of those marvels," answered my friend, "as well as the later oracles of Greece, and the clairvoyance, mesmerism, etc., of modern times, were probably the result of a certain power of the mind to shake off for a time its fetters in defiance of physical impediments, and even to exert its control over the senses and will and perception of another. I do not doubt that in certain conditions of the mind there arise potentialities wonderful as any ever conceived by fiction, and that these are guided by laws unannounced as yet, but which will be found in some future archives, inducted in symmetrical clearness through the proper process of phenomena, classification, and generalized statement. My own experience suffices to myself for both assurance and prophecy. Although the loftiest, sweetest music of the soul is yet unwritten, its faint articulations interblend with the jangling discords of life, as the chimes of distant bells float through the roar of winds and waves, and chant to imperilled hearts the songs of hope and gladness."
His voice fell to the low, earnest tone of one who has found in life a pearl of truth unseen by others; and as his eye gleamed in the starlight, I saw that it wore the same speculative expression as on the battle-field twenty years before. A slight tremor fled through his frame, as though he had been touched by an invisible hand, and a faint smile of recognition brightened his features.
"How can we explain," continued he, after a brief pause, "this mystery of PRESENCE? Are you not often conscious of being actually nearer to a mind a thousand miles distant than to one whose outer vestments you can touch? We certainly feel, on the approach of a person repulsive, not necessarily to our senses, but to our instincts,—which in this case are notes of warning from the remote depths of the soul,—as if our entire being intrenched itself behind a vitally repellent barrier, in absolute security that no power in the universe can break through it, in opposition to our will. For the will does not seem to create the barrier, but to guard it; and, thus defended, material contact with the individual affects us no more than the touch of a plaster statue. We are each, and must remain, mutually unknowing and unknown. On the other hand, does not fixed and earnest thought upon one we love seem to bring the companion-spirit within the sacred temple of our own being, infolded as a welcome guest in our warm charities and gentle joys, and imparting in return the lustre of a serene and living beauty? If, then, those whom we do not recognize as kindred are repelled, even though they approach us through the aid and interpretation of the senses, why may not the loved be brought near without that aid, through the more subtile and more potent attraction of sympathy? I do not mean nearness in the sense of memory or imagination, but that actual propinquity of spirit which I suppose implied in the recognition of Presence. Nor do I refer to any volition which is dependent on the known action of the brain, but to a hidden faculty, the germ perhaps of some higher faculty, now folded within the present life like the wings of a chrysalis, which looks through or beyond the material existence, and obtains a truer and finer perception of the spiritual than can be filtered through the coarser organs of sight and hearing."
"Vilalba, you are evidently a disciple of Des Cartes. Your theory is based on the idealistic principle, 'I think, therefore I am.' I confess that I could never be satisfied with mere subjective consciousness on a point which involves the cooperation of another mind. Nothing less than the most positive and luminous testimony of the senses could ever persuade me that two minds could meet and commune, apart from material intervention."
"I know," answered Vilalba, "that it is easier to feel than to reason about things which lie without the pale of mathematical demonstration. But some day, my friend, you will learn that beyond the arid abstractions of the schoolmen, beyond the golden dreams of the poets, there is a truth in this matter, faintly discerned now as the most dim of yonder stars, but as surely a link in the chain which suspends the Universe to the throne of God. However, your incredulity is commendable, for doubt is the avenue to knowledge. I admit that no testimony is conclusive save that of the senses, and such witness I have received.
"You speak perpetual enigmas, and I suspect you—for the second time—of tampering with the black arts. Do you mean to say that you are a believer in the doctrine of palpable spiritual manifestation?"
"I might say in its favor," was the reply, "that apart from the pretences and the plausibilities of to-day, many of which result from the independent action of the mind through clairvoyance, and others from mere excitation of the nervous sensibilities, the truth of that theory is possibly implied in the wants of the soul; for a want proves the existence of an antidote as effectually as a positive and negative interchangeably bear witness to each other's existence. But if you will have patience to listen to a story of my own life, I can better explain how my convictions have been beguiled into the credence which appears to you unphilosophical, if not absurd."
"I will listen with pleasure,—first lighting another cigar to dispel the weird shapes which will probably respond to your incantation."
Vilalba smiled slightly.
"Do not be disturbed. The phantoms will not visit you, not, I fear, myself either. But you must promise faith in my veracity; for I am about to tell you a tale of fact, and not of fancy.
"It happened to me many years ago,—how flatteringly that little phrase seems to extend the scale of one's being!—when I had just entered on the active duties of manhood, that some affairs called me to New Orleans, and detained me there several months. Letters of friendship gave me admission into some of the most agreeable French families of that quasi Parisian city, and in the reception of their hospitality I soon lost the feeling of isolation which attends a stranger in a crowded mart. My life at that time was without shadows. I had health, friends, education, position,—youth, as well, which then seemed a blessing, though I would not now exchange for it my crown of years and experience. Fortune only I then had not; and because I had it not, I am telling you, to-night, this story.
"It chanced, one day, that I was invited to dine at the house of an aristocratic subject of the old French rgime. I did not know the family, and a previous engagement tempted me to decline the invitation; but one of those mysterious impulses which are in fact the messengers of Destiny compelled me to go, and I went. Thus slight may be the thread which changes the entire web of the future! After greeting my host, and the party assembled in the drawing-room, my attention was arrested by a portrait suspended in a recess, and partly veiled by purple curtains, like Isis within her shrine. The lovely, living eyes beamed upon me out of the shrine, radiant with an internal light I had never before seen on canvas. The features were harmonious, the complexion pure and clear, and the whole picture wore an air of graceful, gentle girlhood, glowing, like Undine, with the flush of 'the coming soul.' I hardly knew whether the face was strictly beautiful according to the canons of Art; for only a Shakspeare can be at the same time critical and sympathetic, and my criticism was baffled and blinded by the fascination of those wondrous eyes. They reminded me of what a materialist said of the portraits of Prudhon,—that they were enough to make one believe in the immortality of the soul. Life multiplied by feeling into a limitless dream of past and future was mirrored in their clear depths; the questful gaze seemed reading the significance of the one through the symbols of the other, and pondering the lesson with sweetness of assent and ever-earnest longing for fuller revelation.
"As I lingered before this fair shadow, I heard my name pronounced, and, turning, beheld the not less fair original, the daughter of my host. Now do not fear a catalogue of feminine graces, or a lengthened romance of the heart, tedious with such platitudes as have been Elysium to the actors, and weariness to the audience, ever since the world began. The Enchanted Isles wear no enchantment to unanointed vision; their skies of Paradise are fog, their angels Harpies, perchance, or harsh-throated Sirens. Besides, we can never describe correctly those whom we love, because we see them through the heart; and the heart's optics have no technology. It is enough to say, that, from almost the first time I looked upon Blanche, I felt that I had at last found the gift rarely accorded to us here,—the fulfilment of a promise hidden in every heart, but often waited for in vain. Hitherto my all-sufficing self-hood had never been stirred by the mighty touch of Love. I had been amused by trivial and superficial affections, like the gay triflers of whom Rasselas says, 'They fancied they were in love, when in truth they were only idle.' But that sentiment which is never twice inspired, that new birth of
'A soul within the soul, evolving it sublimely,'
had never until now wakened my pulses and opened my eyes to the higher and holier heritage. Perhaps you doubt that Psychal fetters may be forged in a moment's heat; but I believe that the love which is deepest and most sacred, and which Plato calls the memory of divine beings whom we knew in some anterior life, that recognition of kindred natures which precedes reason and asks no leave of the understanding, is not a gradual and cautious attraction, like the growth of a coral reef, but sudden and magnetic as the coalescence of two drops of mercury.
"During several following weeks we met many times, and yet, in looking back to that dream of heaven, I cannot tell how often, nor for how long. Time is merely the measure given to past emotions, and those emotions flowed over me in a tidal sweep which merged all details in one continuous memory. The lone hemisphere of my life was rounded into completeness, and its feverish unrest changed to deep tranquillity, as if a faint, tremulous star were transmuted into a calm, full-orbed planet. Do you remember that story of Plato's—I recall the air-woven subtilties of the delightful idealist, to illustrate, not to prove—that story of the banquet where the ripe wines of the Aegean Isles unchained the tongues of such talkers as Pausanias and Socrates and others as witty and wise, until they fell into a discourse on the origin of Love, and, whirling away on the sparkling eddies of fancy, were borne to that prexistent sphere which, in Plato's opinion, furnished the key to all the enigmas of this? There they beheld the complete and original souls, the compound of male and female, dual and yet one, so happy and so haughty in their perfection of beauty and of power that Jupiter could not tolerate his godlike rivals, and therefore cut them asunder, sending the dissevered halves tumbling down to earth, bewildered and melancholy enough, until some good fortune might restore to each the alter ego which constituted the divine unity. 'And thus,' says Plato, 'whenever it happens that a man meets with his other half, the very counterpart of himself, they are both smitten with strong love; they recognize their ancient union; they are powerfully attracted by the consciousness that they belong to each other; and they are unwilling to be again parted, even for a short time. And if Vulcan were to stand over them with his fire and forge, and offer to melt them down and run them together, and of two to make them one again, they would both say that this was just what they desired!'
"I dare say you have read—unless your partiality for the soft Southern tongues has chased away your Teutonic taste—that exquisite poem of Schiller's, 'Das Geheimnitz der Reminiscenz,' the happiest possible crystallization of the same theory. I recall a few lines from Bulwer's fine translation:—
"'Why from its lord doth thus my soul depart? Is it because its native home thou art? Or were they brothers in the days of yore, Twin-bound both souls, and in the links they bore Sigh to be bound once more?
"'Were once our beings blent and intertwining, And therefore still my heart for thine is pining? Knew we the light of some extinguished sun,— The joys remote of some bright realm undone, Where once our souls were ONE?
"'Yes, it is so! And thou wert bound to me In the long-vanished eld eternally! In the dark troubled tablets which enroll The past my Muse beheld this blessed scroll,— 'One with thy love, my soul'!"
"Now the Athenian dreamer builded better than he knew. That phantom which perpetually attends and perpetually evades us,—the inevitable guest whose silence maddens and whose sweetness consoles,—whose filmy radiance eclipses all beauty,—whose voiceless eloquence subdues all sound,—ever beckoning, ever inspiring, patient, pleading, and unchanging,—this is the Ideal which Plato called the dearer self, because, when its craving sympathies find reflex and response in a living form, its rapturous welcome ignores the old imperfect being, and the union only is recognized as Self indeed, complete and undivided. And that fulness of human love becomes a faint type and interpreter of the Infinite, as through it we glide into grander harmonies and enlarged relations with the Universe, urged on forever by insatiable desires and far-reaching aspirations which testify our celestial origin and intimate our immortal destiny.
"'Lo! arm in arm, through every upward grade, From the rude Mongol to the starry Greek, everywhere we seek Union and bond, till in one sea sublime Of love be merged all measure and all time!"
"I never disclosed in words my love to Blanche. Through the lucid transparency of Presence, I believed that she knew all and comprehended all, without the aid of those blundering symbols. We never even spoke of the future; for all time, past and to come, seemed to converge and centre and repose in that radiant present. In the enchantment of my new life, I feared lest a breath should disturb the spell, and send me back to darkness and solitude.
"Of course, this could not last forever. There came a time when I found that my affairs would compel me to leave New Orleans for a year, or perhaps a little longer. With the discovery my dream was broken. The golden web which had been woven around me shrank beneath the iron hand of necessity, and fell in fragments at my feet. I knew that it was useless to speak to Blanch of marriage, for her father, a stern and exacting man in his domestic relations, had often declared that he would never give his daughter to a husband who had no fortune. If I sought his permission to address her now, my fate was fixed. There was no alternative, therefore, but to wait until my return, when I hoped to have secured, in sufficient measure, the material passport to his favor. Our parting was necessarily sudden, and, strange as it may seem, some fatal repression sealed my lips, and withheld me from uttering the few words which would have made the future wholly ours, and sculptured my dream of love in monumental permanance. Ah! with what narrow and trembling planks do we bridge the abyss of misery and despair! But be patient while I linger for a moment here. The evening before my departure, I went to take leave of her. There were other guests in the drawing-room, the atmosphere was heated and oppressive, and after a little time I proposed to her to retreat with me, for a few moments, to the fragrant coolness of the garden. We walked slowly along through clustering flowers and under arching orange-trees, which infolded us tenderly within their shining arms, as in tremulous silence we waited for words that should say enough and yet not too much. The glories of all summer evenings seemed concentred in this one. The moon now silvered leaf and blossom, and then suddenly fled behind a shadowing cloud, while the stars shone out with gladness brief and bright as the promises of my heart. Skilful artists in the music-room thrilled the air with some of those exquisite compositions of Mendelssohn which dissolve the soul in sweetness or ravish it with delight, until it seems as if all past emotions of joy were melted in one rapid and comprehensive rexperience, and all future inheritance gleamed in promise before our enraptured vision, and we are hurried on with electric speed to hitherto unsealed heights of feeling, whence we catch faint glimpses of the unutterable mysteries of our being, and foreshadowings of a far-off, glorified existence. The eloquence of earth and sky and air breathed more than language could have uttered, and, as my eyes met the eyes of Blanche, the question of my heart was asked and answered, once for all. I recognized the treasured ideal of my restless, vagrant heart, and I seemed to hear it murmuring gently, as if to a long-lost mate, 'Where hast thou stayed so long?' I felt that henceforth there was for us no real parting. Our material forms might be severed, but our spirits were one and inseparate.
"'On the fountains of our life a seal was set To keep their waters clear and bright Forever.'
"And thus, with scarce a word beside, I said the 'God be with you!' and went out into the world alone, yet henceforth not alone.
"Two years passed away. They had been years of success in my worldly affairs, and were blessed by memories and hopes which grew brighter with each day. I had not heard of Blanche, save indirectly through a friend in New Orleans, but I never doubted that the past was as sacred, the future as secure, in her eyes as in my own. I was now ready to return, and to repeat in words the vows which my heart had sworn long before. I fixed the time, and wrote to my friend to herald my coming. Before that letter reached him, there came tidings which, like a storm of desolation, swept me to the dust. Blanche was in France, and married,—how or when or to whom, I knew not, cared not. The relentless fact was sufficient. The very foundations of the earth seemed to tremble and slide from beneath me. The sounds of day tortured, the silence of night maddened me. I sought forgetfulness in travel, in wild adventure, in reckless dissipation. With that strange fatality which often leads us to seek happiness or repose where we have least chance of finding it, I, too, married. But I committed no perjury. I offered friendship, and it sufficed. Love I never professed to give, and the wife whom I merely esteemed had not the mental or the magnetic ascendancy which might have triumphed for a time over the image shrined in my inmost heart. I sought every avenue through which I might fly from that and from myself. I tried mental occupation, and explored literature and science, with feverish ardor and some reward. I think it is Coleridge who recommends to those who are suffering from extreme sorrow the study of a new language. But to a mind of deep feeling diversion is not relief. If we fly from memory, we are pursued and overtaken like fugitive slaves, and punished with redoubled tortures. The only sure remedy for grief is self-evolved. We must accept sorrow as a guest, not shun it as a foe, and, receiving it into close companionship, let the mournful face haunt our daily paths, even though it shut out all friends and dim the light of earth and heaven. And when we have learned the lesson which it came to teach, the fearful phantom brightens into beauty, and reveals an 'angel unawares,' who gently leads us to heights of purer atmosphere and more extended vision, and strengthens us for the battle which demands unfaltering heart and hope.
"Do you remember the remark of the child Goethe, when his young reason was perplexed by attempting to reconcile the terrible earthquake at Lisbon with the idea of infinite goodness? 'God knows very well that an immortal soul cannot suffer from mortal accident.' With similar faith there came to me tranquil restoration. The deluge of passion rolled back, and from the wreck of my Eden arose a new and more spiritual creation. But forgetfulness was never possible. In the maddening turbulence of my grief and the ghastly stillness of its reaction, the lovely spirit which had become a part of my life seemed to have fled to the inner temple of my soul, breaking the solitude with glimmering ray and faint melodious murmur. And when I could bear to look and listen, it grew brighter and more palpable, until at last it attended me omnipresently, consoling, cheering, and stimulating to nobler thought and action.
"Nor was it a ghost summoned by memory, or the airy creation of fancy. One evening an incident occurred which will test your credulity, or make you doubt my sanity. I sat alone, and reading,—nothing more exciting, however, than a daily newspaper. My health was perfect, my mind unperturbed. Suddenly my eye was arrested by a cloud passing slowly back and forth several times before me, not projected upon the wall, but floating in the atmosphere. I looked around for the cause, but the doors and windows were closed, and nothing stirred in the apartment. Then I saw a point of light, small as a star at first, but gradually enlarging into a luminous cloud which filled the centre of the room. I shivered with strange coldness, and every nerve tingled as if touched by a galvanic battery. From the tremulous waves of the cloud arose, like figures in a dissolving view, the form and features of my lost love,—not radiant as when I last looked upon them, but pale and anguish-stricken, with clasped hands and tearful eyes; and upon my ears fell, like arrows of fire, the words, You have been the cause of all this; oh, why did you not'—The question was unfinished, and from my riveted gaze, half terror, half delight, the vision faded, and I was alone.
"Of course you will pronounce this mere nervous excitement, but, I pray you, await the sequel. Those burning words told the story of that mistake which had draped in despair our earthly lives. They were no reflection from my own mind. In the self-concentration of my disappointment, I had never dreamed that I alone was in fault,—that I should have anchored my hope on somewhat more defined than the voiceless intelligence of sympathy. But the very reproach of the mysterious visitor brought with it a conviction, positive and indubitable, that the spiritual portion of our being possesses the power to act upon the material perception of another, without aid from material elements. From time to time I have known, beyond the possibility of deception, that the kindred spirit was still my companion, my own inalienable possession, in spite of all factitious ties, of all physical intervention.
"Have you heard that among certain tribes of the North-American Indians are men who possess an art which enables them to endure torture and actual death without apparent suffering or even consciousness? I once chanced to fall in with one of these tribes, then living in Louisiana, now removed to the far West, and was permitted to witness some fantastic rites, half warlike, half religious, in which, however, there was nothing noticeable except this trance-like condition, which some of the warriors seemed to command at pleasure, manifested by a tense rigidity of the features and muscles, and a mental exaltation which proved to be both clairvoyant and clairoyant: a state analogous to that of hypnotism, or the artificial sleep produced by gazing fixedly on a near, bright object, and differing only in degree from the nervous or imaginative control which has been known to arrest and cure disease, which chained St. Simeon Stylites to his pillar, and sustains the Hindoo fakirs in their apparently superhuman vigils. These children of Nature had probed with direct simplicity some of the deep secrets which men of science often fail to discern through tortuous devices. I was assured that this trance was merely the result of a concentrative energy of the will, which riveted the faculties upon a single purpose or idea, and held every nerve and sense in absolute abeyance. We are so little accustomed to test the potency of the will out of the ordinary plane of its operation, that we have little conception how mighty a lever it may be made, or to what new exercise it may be directed; and yet we are all conscious of periods in our lives when, like a vast rock in ocean, it has suddenly loomed up firm and defiant amid our petty purposes and fretful indecisions, waxing grander and stronger under opposition, a something apart from, yet a conscious portion of ourselves,—a master, though a slave,—another revelation of the divinity within.
"I will confess that curiosity led me long ago to slight experiments in the direction in which you say the diabolic lies, but my mind was never concentrated on any one idea of sufficient interest to command success, until, in some periods of mingled peril and excitement, the memory of Blanche, and the conscious, even startling nearness of that sweet presence, have lent to my will unwonted energy and inspiration.
"Twenty years passed slowly away. It is common to speak of the flight of time. For me, time has no wings. The days and years are faltering and tardy-footed, laden with the experiences of the outer and the problems of the inner world, which seem perpetually multiplied by reflection, like figures in a room mirrored on all sides. Meanwhile, my wife had died. I have never since sought women beyond the formal pale of the drawing-room: not from insensibility to loveliness, but because the memory, 'dearer far than bliss,' of one irretrievable affection shut out all inferior approach,—like a solitary planet, admitting no dance of satellites within its orbit.
"At last the long silence was broken. I heard that Blanche was free, and, with mingled haste and hesitation, I prepared to seek her. The ideal should be tested, I said to myself, by the actual, and if proved a deceit, then was all faith a mockery, all promise and premonition a glittering lie. As soon as winds and waves could carry me, I was in Louisiana, and in the very dwelling and at the same hour which had witnessed our parting. Again was it a soft summer evening. The same faint golden rays painted the sun's farewell, and the same silver moon looked eloquent response, as on the evening breeze floated sweet remembered odors of jessamine and orange. Again the ideal beauty of the lovely portrait met my gaze and seemed to melt into my heart; and once more, softly, lightly, fell a footstep, and the Presence by which I had never been forsaken, which I could never forsake, stood before me in 'palpable array of sense.' It was indeed the living Blanche, calm and stately as of old,—no longer radiant with the flush of youth, but serene in tenderest grace and sweet reserve, and beautiful through the lustre of the inner light of soul. She uttered a faint cry of joy, and placing her trembling hand in mine, we stood transfixed and silent, with riveted gaze, reading in each other's eyes feelings too sacred for speech, too deep for smiles or tears. In that long, burning look, it seemed as if the emotions of each were imparted to the other, not in slow succession as through words and sentences, but daguerreotyped or electrotyped in perfected form upon the conscious understanding. No language could have made so clear and comprehensible the revelation of that all-centring, unconquerable love which thrilled our inmost being, and pervaded the atmosphere around us with subtile and tremulous vibrations. In that moment all time was fused and forgotten. There was for us no Past, no Future; there was only the long-waited, all-embracing Now. I could willingly have died then and there, for I knew that all life could bring but one such moment. My heart spoke truly. A change passed over the countenance of Blanche,—an expression of unutterable grief, like Eve's retrospective look at Eden. Quivering with strange tremor, again she stood before me, with clasped hands and tearful eyes, in the very attitude of that memorable apparition, and again fell upon my ears the mysterious plaint and the uncompleted question,—'You have been the cause of all this; oh, why did you not'—
"Now, my friend, can your philosophy explain this startling verification, this reflex action of the vision, or the fantasy, or whatever else you may please to term it, whose prophetic shadow fell upon my astonished senses long years before? In all the intervening time, we were separated by great distance, no word or sign passed between us, nor did we even hear of each other except indefinitely and through chance. Is there, then, any explanation of that vision more rational than that the spirit thus closely affined with my own was enabled, through its innate potencies, or through some agency of which we are ignorant, to impress upon my bodily perceptions its uncontrollable emotions? That this manifestation was made through what physiologists call the unconscious or involuntary action of the mind was proved by the incredulity and surprise of Blanche when I told her of the wonderful coincidence.
"I need not relate, even if I could do so, the outpouring of long-pent emotions which relieved the yearning love and haunting memories of sad, silent, lingering years. It is enough to tell you briefly of the story which was repeated in fragments through many hours of unfamiliar bliss. Soon after my departure from New Orleans, the father of Blanche, with the stern authority which many parents exercise over the matrimonial affairs of their daughters, insisted upon her forming an alliance to which the opposition of her own heart was the only objection. So trifling an impediment was decisively put aside by him, and Blanche, having delayed the marriage as long as possible, until the time fixed for my return was past, and unable to plead any open acknowledgment on my part which could justify her refusal, had no alternative but to obey. 'I confess,' said she, in faltering tones, 'that, after my fate was fixed, and I was parted from you, as I believed for life, I tried to believe that the love which had given so slight witness in words to its truth and fervor must have faded entirely away, and that I was forgotten, and perhaps supplanted. And therefore, in the varied pursuits and pleasures of my new sphere, and in the indulgence and kindness which ministered to the outer, but, alas! never to the inner life, I sought happiness, and I, too, like yourself, strove to forget. Ah! that art of forgetting, which the Athenian coveted as the best of boons,—when was it ever found through effort or desire? In all scenes of beauty or of excitement, in the allurements of society, in solitude and in sorrow, my heart still turned to you with ceaseless longing, as if you alone could touch its master-chord, and waken the harmonies which were struggling for expression. By slow degrees, as I learned to dissever you from the material world, there came a conviction of the nearness of your spirit, sometimes so positive that I would waken from a reverie, in which I was lost to sights and sounds around me, with a sense of having been in your actual presence. I was aware of an effect rather than of an immediate consciousness,—as if the magnetism of your touch had swept over me, cooling the fever of my brain, and charming to deep tranquillity my troubled heart. And thus I learned, through similar experience, the same belief as yours. I have felt the continuous nearness, the inseparable union of our spirits, as plainly as I feel it now, with my hand clasped in yours, and reading in your eyes the unutterable things which we can never hope to speak, because they are foreshadowings of another existence.
"What I possess I see afar off lying, And what I lost is real and undying."
The material presence is indeed very dear, but I believe that it is not essential to the perpetuity of that love which is nurtured through mutual and perfect understanding.'
"'It is not essential,' I replied, 'but it is, as you say, very, very dear, because it is an exponent and participant of the hidden life which it was designed to aid and to enframe. Blanche, it was you who first wakened my soul to the glorious revelation, the heavenly heritage of love. It was you who opened to me the world which lies beyond the mere external, who gently allured me from the coarse and clouding elements of sense, and infolded me in the holy purity of that marriage of kindred natures which alone is hallowed by the laws of God, and which no accidents of time or place can rend asunder. Apart from the bitterness of this long separation, the lesson might not have been learned; but now that it is ineffaceably engraven on both our hearts, and confirmed in the assurance of this blessed reunion, may I not hope that for the remainder of our earthly lives we may study together in visible companionship such further lessons as may be held in reserve for us?'
"Her face glowed with a soft crimson flush, and again her eyes were suffused with tears, through which beamed a look of sweet, heavenly sorrow,—such as might have shone in the orbs of the angel who enforced upon Adam the sentence of expulsion from Paradise, and who, while sharing the exile's grief, beheld in the remote horizon, far beyond the tangled wilderness of Earth, another gate, wide opening to welcome him to the Immortal Land. She was silent for a little time, and then she murmured, lingering gently on the words, 'No, it must not be. We are, indeed, inalienably one, in a nearer and dearer sense than can be expressed by any transient symbol. Let us not seek to quit the spiritual sphere in which we have long dwelt and communed together, for one liable to discord and misinterpretation. I have an irresistible impression that my life here will be very brief. While I remain, come to me when you will, let me be the Egeria of your hours of leisure, and a consoler in your cares,—but let us await, for another and a higher life, the more perfect consummation of our love. For, oh, believe, as I believe, faith is no mockery, nor is the heart's prophecy a lie. We were not born to be the dupes of dreams or the sport of chance. The voice which whispered to me long ago the promise fulfilled in this hour tells me that in a bright Hereafter we shall find compensation for every sorrow, reality for every ideal, and that there at last shall be resolved in luminous perception the veiled and troubled mystery of PRESENCE!'"
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CHIEFLY ABOUT WAR-MATTERS.
BY A PEACEABLE MAN.
There is no remoteness of life and thought, no hermetically sealed seclusion, except, possibly, that of the grave, into which the disturbing influences of this war do not penetrate. Of course, the general heart-quake of the country long ago knocked at my cottage-door, and compelled me, reluctantly, to suspend the contemplation of certain fantasies, to which, according to my harmless custom, I was endeavoring to give a sufficiently life-like aspect to admit of their figuring in a romance. As I make no pretensions to state-craft or soldiership, and could promote the common weal neither by valor nor counsel, it seemed, at first, a pity that I should be debarred from such unsubstantial business as I had contrived for myself, since nothing more genuine was to be substituted for it. But I magnanimously considered that there is a kind of treason in insulating one's self from the universal fear and sorrow, and thinking one's idle thoughts in the dread time of civil war; and could a man be so cold and hard-hearted, he would better deserve to be sent to Fort Warren than many who have found their way thither on the score of violent, but misdirected sympathies. I remembered the touching rebuke administered by King Charles to that rural squire the echo of whose hunting-horn came to the poor monarch's ear on the morning before a battle, where the sovereignty and constitution of England were to be set at stake. So I gave myself up to reading newspapers and listening to the click of the telegraph, like other people; until, after a great many months of such pastime, it grew so abominably irksome that I determined to look a little more closely at matters with my own eyes.
Accordingly we set out—a friend and myself—towards Washington, while it was still the long, dreary January of our Northern year, though March in name; nor were we unwilling to clip a little margin off the five months' winter, during which there is nothing genial in New England save the fireside. It was a clear, frosty morning, when we started. The sun shone brightly on snow-covered hills in the neighborhood of Boston, and burnished the surface of frozen ponds; and the wintry weather kept along with us while we trundled through Worcester and Springfield, and all those old, familiar towns, and through the village-cities of Connecticut. In New York the streets were afloat with liquid mud and slosh. Over New Jersey there was still a thin covering of snow, with the face of Nature visible through the rents in her white shroud, though with little or no symptom of reviving life. But when we reached Philadelphia, the air was mild and balmy; there was but a patch or two of dingy winter here and there, and the bare, brown fields about the city were ready to be green. We had met the Spring half-way, in her slow progress from the South; and if we kept onward at the same pace, and could get through the Rebel lines, we should soon come to fresh grass, fruit-blossoms, green peas, strawberries, and all such delights of early summer.
On our way, we heard many rumors of the war, but saw few signs of it. The people were staid and decorous, according to their ordinary fashion; and business seemed about as brisk as usual,—though, I suppose, it was considerably diverted from its customary channels into warlike ones. In the cities, especially in New York, there was a rather prominent display of military goods at the shopwindows,—such as swords with gilded scabbards and trappings, epaulets, carabines, revolvers, and sometimes a great iron cannon at the edge of the pavement, as if Mars had dropped one of his pocket-pistols there, while hurrying to the field. As railway-companions, we had now and then a volunteer in his French-gray great-coat, returning from furlough, or a new-made officer travelling to join his regiment, in his new-made uniform, which was perhaps all of the military character that he had about him,—but proud of his eagle-buttons, and likely enough to do them honor before the gilt should be wholly dimmed. The country, in short, so far as bustle and movement went, was more quiet than in ordinary times, because so large a proportion of its restless elements had been drawn towards the seat of conflict. But the air was full of a vague disturbance. To me, at least, it seemed so, emerging from such a solitude as has been hinted at, and the more impressible by rumors and indefinable presentiments, since I had not lived, like other men, in an atmosphere of continual talk about the war. A battle was momentarily expected on the Potomac; for, though our army was still on the hither side of the river, all of us were looking towards the mysterious and terrible Manassas, with the idea that somewhere in its neighborhood lay a ghastly battlefield, yet to be fought, but foredoomed of old to be bloodier than the one where we had reaped such shame. Of all haunted places, methinks such a destined field should be thickest thronged with ugly phantoms, ominous of mischief through ages beforehand.
Beyond Philadelphia there was a much greater abundance of military people. Between Baltimore and Washington a guard seemed to hold every station along the railroad; and frequently, on the hill-sides, we saw a collection of weather-beaten tents, the peaks of which, blackened with smoke, indicated that they had been made comfortable by stove-heat throughout the winter. At several commanding positions we saw fortifications, with the muzzles of cannon protruding from the ramparts, the slopes of which were made of the yellow earth of that region, and still unsodded; whereas, till these troublous times, there have been no forts but what were grass-grown with the lapse of at least a lifetime of peace. Our stopping-places were thronged with soldiers, some of whom came through the cars, asking for newspapers that contained accounts of the battle between the Merrimack and Monitor, which had been fought the day before. A railway-train met us, conveying a regiment out of Washington to some unknown point; and reaching the capital, we filed out of the station between lines of soldiers, with shouldered muskets, putting us in mind of similar spectacles at the gates of European cities. It was not without sorrow that we saw the free circulation of the nation's life-blood (at the very heart, moreover) clogged with such strictures as these, which have caused chronic diseases in almost all countries save our own. Will the time ever come again, in America, when we may live half a score of years without once seeing the likeness of a soldier, except it be in the festal march of a company on its summer tour? Not in this generation, I fear, nor in the next, nor till the Millennium; and even that blessed epoch, as the prophecies seem to intimate, will advance to the sound of the trumpet.
One terrible idea occurs, in reference to this matter. Even supposing the war should end to-morrow, and the army melt into the mass of the population within the year, what an incalculable preponderance will there be of military titles and pretensions for at least half a century to come! Every country-neighborhood will have its general or two, its three or four colonels, half a dozen majors, and captains without end,—besides non-commissioned officers and privates, more than the recruiting-offices ever knew of,—all with their campaign-stories, which will become the staple of fireside-talk forevermore. Military merit, or rather, since that is not so readily estimated, military notoriety, will be the measure of all claims to civil distinction. One bullet-headed general will succeed another in the Presidential chair; and veterans will hold the offices at home and abroad, and sit in Congress and the State legislatures, and fill all the avenues of public life. And yet I do not speak of this deprecatingly, since, very likely, it may substitute something more real and genuine, instead of the many shams on which men have heretofore founded their claims to public regard; but it behooves civilians to consider their wretched prospects in the future, and assume the military button before it is too late.
We were not in time to see Washington as a camp. On the very day of our arrival sixty thousand men had crossed the Potomac on their march towards Manassas; and almost with their first step into the Virginia mud, the phantasmagory of a countless host and impregnable ramparts, before which they had so long remained quiescent, dissolved quite away. It was as if General McClellan had thrust his sword into a gigantic enemy, and, beholding him suddenly collapse, had discovered to himself and the world that he had merely punctured an enormously swollen bladder. There are instances of a similar character in old romances, where great armies are long kept at bay by the arts of necromancers, who build airy towers and battlements, and muster warriors of terrible aspect, and thus feign a defence of seeming impregnability, until some bolder champion of the besiegers dashes forward to try an encounter with the foremost foeman, and finds him melt away in the death-grapple. With such heroic adventures let the march upon Manassas be hereafter reckoned. The whole business, though connected with the destinies of a nation, takes inevitably a tinge of the ludicrous. The vast preparation of men and warlike material,—the majestic patience and docility with which the people waited through those weary and dreary months,—the martial skill, courage, and caution, with which our movement was ultimately made,—and, at last, the tremendous shock with which we were brought suddenly up against nothing at all! The Southerners show little sense of humor nowadays, but I think they must have meant to provoke a laugh at our expense, when they planted those Quaker guns. At all events, no other Rebel artillery has played upon us with such overwhelming effect.
The troops being gone, we had the better leisure and opportunity to look into other matters. It is natural enough to suppose that the centre and heart of Washington is the Capitol; and certainly, in its outward aspect, the world has not many statelier or more beautiful edifices, nor any, I should suppose, more skilfully adapted to legislative purposes, and to all accompanying needs. But, etc., etc. [Footnote: We omit several paragraphs here, in which the author speaks of some prominent Members of Congress with a freedom that seems to have been not unkindly meant, but might be liable to misconstruction. As he admits that he never listened to an important debate, we can hardly recognize his qualification to estimate these gentlemen, in their legislative and oratorical capacities.]
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We found one man, however, at the Capitol, who was satisfactorily adequate to the business which brought him thither. In quest of him, we went through halls, galleries, and corridors, and ascended a noble staircase, balustraded with a dark and beautifully variegated marble from Tennessee, the richness of which is quite a sufficient cause for objecting to the secession of that State. At last we came to a barrier of pine boards, built right across the stairs. Knocking at a rough, temporary door, we thrust a card beneath; and in a minute or two it was opened by a person in his shirt-sleeves, a middle-aged figure, neither tall nor short, of Teutonic build and aspect, with an ample beard of a ruddy tinge and chestnut hair. He looked at us, in the first place, with keen and somewhat guarded eyes, as if it were not his practice to vouchsafe any great warmth of greeting, except upon sure ground of observation. Soon, however, his look grew kindly and genial, (not that it had ever been in the least degree repulsive, but only reserved,) and Leutze allowed us to gaze at the cartoon of his great fresco, and talked about it unaffectedly, as only a man of true genius can speak of his own works. Meanwhile the noble design spoke for itself upon the wall. A sketch in color, which we saw afterwards, helped us to form some distant and flickering notion of what the picture will be, a few months hence, when these bare outlines, already so rich in thought and suggestiveness, shall glow with a fire of their own,—a fire which, I truly believe, will consume every other pictorial decoration of the Capitol, or, at least, will compel us to banish those stiff and respectable productions to some less conspicuous gallery. The work will be emphatically original and American, embracing characteristics that neither art nor literature have yet dealt with, and producing new forms of artistic beauty from the natural features of the Rocky-Mountain region, which Leutze seems to have studied broadly and minutely. The garb of the hunters and wanderers of those deserts, too, under his free and natural management, is shown as the most picturesque of costumes. But it would be doing this admirable painter no kind office to overlay his picture with any more of my colorless and uncertain words; so I shall merely add that it looked full of energy, hope, progress, irrepressible movement onward, all represented in a momentary pause of triumph; and it was most cheering to feel its good augury at this dismal time, when our country might seem to have arrived at such a deadly stand-still.