"Voi, donne, che pietoso atto mostrate,"
and Sonnet xlvii.,—
"Onde venite voi, cosi pensose?" ]
It happened not long after this time that Dante was seized with grievous illness, which reduced him to such a state of weakness that he lay as one unable to move. And on the ninth day, suffering greatly, he thought of his lady, and, reflecting on the frailty of life even at its best, the thought struck him that even the most gentle Beatrice must at some time die. And upon this, such consternation seized him that his fancy began to wander, and, he says, "It seemed to me that I saw ladies, with hair dishevelled, and marvellously sad, pass weeping by, and that I saw the sun grow dark, so that the stars showed themselves of such a color as to make me deem they wept. And it appeared to me that the birds as they flew fell dead, and that there were great earthquakes. And struck with wonder at this fantasy, and greatly alarmed, I imagined that a friend came to me, who said, 'Dost thou not know? Thy admirable lady has departed from this world.' Then I began to weep very piteously, and wept not only in imagination, but with my eyes shedding real tears. Then I imagined that I looked toward heaven, and it seemed to me that I saw a multitude of angels who were returning upwards, having before them a little cloud of exceeding whiteness. It seemed to me that these angels sang gloriously, and that the words of their song were these: 'Osanna in excelsis!'—and other than these I did not hear.[S]
[Footnote S: In the Divina Commedia frequent reference is made to the singing of Osanna by the Angels. See Purgat. xi. 11; xxix. 51; Par. vii. 1; xxviii. 94, 118; xxxii. 135; and especially viii. 28.]
"Then the heart in which abode such great love seemed to say to me, 'It is true that our lady lies dead.' And thereupon I seemed to go to behold the body in which that most noble and blessed soul had been. And the erring fancy was so powerful that it showed to me this lady dead, and it appeared to me that ladies were covering her head with a white veil, and that her face had such an aspect of humility that it seemed to say, 'I behold the beginning of peace.'"
Then Dante called upon Death to come to him; and when he had beheld in his imagination the sad mysteries which are performed for the dead, he seemed to return to his own chamber. And so strong was his imagining, that, weeping, he said with his true voice, "O most beautiful soul! how is he blessed who beholds thee!" Upon this, a young and gentle lady, who was watching by his bed, thinking that he was grieving for his own pain, began to weep; whereon other ladies who were in the chamber drew near and roused him from his dream. Then they asked him by what he had been troubled; and he told all that he had seen in fancy, keeping silence only with regard to the name of Beatrice; and when, some time after, he recovered from his illness, he wrote a poem which related his vision.
The next incident of his new life which Dante tells is one of a different nature, and of pleasant character. One day he saw Love coming to him full of joy; and his own heart became so joyful that it seemed to him it could not be his heart, so changed was its condition. Then he saw approaching him a lady of famous beauty, who had been the lady of his first friend. Her name was Giovanna, but on account of her beauty she was called Primavera, which means Spring. And with her was Beatrice. Then Love, after they had passed, explained the hidden meaning of the name Primavera, and said, that, by one considering subtilely, Beatrice would be called Love, on account of the great resemblance she bore to him. Then Dante, thinking over these things, wrote this sonnet to his friend, believing that he still admired the beauty of this gentle Primavera:—
"An amorous spirit in my heart who lay I felt awaken from his slumber there; And then I saw Love come from far away, But scarce I knew him for his joyous air.
"'Honor to me,' he said, 'think now to pay,' And all his words with smiles companioned were. Then as my lord awhile with me did stay, Along the way whence he appeared whilere
"The Lady Joan and Lady Bice I see, Coming toward the place wherein I was; And the two marvels side by side did move.
"Then, as my mind now tells it unto me, Love said, 'This one is Spring, and this, because She so resembleth me, is named Love.'"[T]
[Footnote T: See the charming Sonnet lii.:—
"Guido vorrei che tu, e Lappo, ed io." ]
After this sonnet, Dante enters on a long and fanciful discourse on the use of figurative language, to explain how he speaks of Love as if it were not a mere notion of the intellect, but as if it had a corporeal existence. There is much curious matter in this dissertation, and it is one of the most striking examples that could be found of the youthful character of the literature at the time in which Dante was writing, and of the little familiarity which those in whose hands his book was likely to fall possessed of the common forms of poetry, and of the style of the ancient Latin poets.
Returning from this digression, he says: "This most gentle lady, of whom there has been discourse in what precedes, reached such favor among the people, that when she passed along the way persons ran to see her, which gave me wonderful delight. And when she was near any one, such modesty took possession of his heart, that he did not dare to raise his eyes or to return her salutation; and to this, should any one doubt it, many, as having experienced it, could bear witness for me. She, crowned and clothed with humility, took her way, displaying no pride in that which she saw and heard. Many, when she had passed, said, 'This is not a woman; rather is she one of the most beautiful angels of heaven.' Others said, 'She is a miracle. Blessed be the Lord who can perform such a marvel!' I say that she showed herself so gentle and so full of all beauties, that those who looked on her felt within themselves a delight so pure and sweet that they could not smile; nor was there any who could look at her and not feel need at first to sigh. These and more wonderful things proceeded from her, marvellously and in reality. Wherefore I, thinking on all this, proposed to say some words, in which I would exhibit her marvellous and excellent influences, to the end that not only those who might actually behold her, but also others, might know of her whatever words could tell. Then I wrote this sonnet:—
"So gentle and so modest doth appear My lady when she giveth her salute, That every tongue becometh trembling mute, Nor do the eyes to look upon her dare.
"And though she hears her praises, she doth go Benignly clothed with humility, And like a thing come down she seems to be From heaven to earth, a miracle to show.
"So pleaseth she whoever cometh nigh, She gives the heart a sweetness through the eyes, Which none can understand who doth not prove.
"And from her lip there seems indeed to move A spirit sweet and in Love's very guise, Which goeth saying to the soul, 'Ah, sigh!'"[U]
[Footnote U: Perhaps the spirit of the latter part of this sonnet may be better conveyed by rendering thus:—
"So pleaseth she all those approaching nigh her, * * * * * Which goeth saying to the soul, 'Aspire!'"
Compare the very beautiful Ballata vi. and Sonnet xlviii., beginning,
"Di donne io vidi una gentile schiera." ]
With this incomparable sonnet we close that part of the "Vita Nuova" which relates to the life of Beatrice. It fitly completes the golden record of youth. Its tender lines are the epitaph of happy days, and in them is found that mingled sweetness and sadness which in this world are always the final expression of love. Its tone is that of the wind of autumn sighing among the leaves of spring. Beneath its outward meaning lies a prophecy of joy,—but that joy is to be reached only through the gates of death.
* * * * *
"A draught of water, maiden fair," I said to the girl beside the well. Oh, sweet was the smile on her face of guile, As she gave me to drink,—that witch of hell!
I drank, and sweet was the draught I drank, And thanked the giver, and still she smiled; And her smile like a curse on my spirit sank, Till my face grew wan, and my heart grew wild.
And lo! the light from the day was gone, And gone was maiden, and gone was well: The dark instead, like a wall of stone, And rivers that roared through the dark, and fell.
Was it the draught, or was it the smile, Or my own false heart? Ah, who shall tell? But the black waves beat at my weary feet, And sits at my side the witch of hell.
Wheels rolled away in the distance; the corner of a gray cloak fluttered where the drive turns down hill. From under the fore-wheel of Juggernaut I struggled back to life with a great sob, that died before it sounded. I looked about the library for some staff to help me to my feet again. The porphyry vases were filled with gorgeous boughs, leaves of deep scarlet, speckled, flushed, gold-spotted, rimmed with green, dashed with orange, tawny and crimson, blood-sprinkled, faint clear amber; all hues and combinations of color rioted and revelled in the crowded clusters. To what hand but hers could so much beauty have gathered? to what eye but hers did the magnificent secrets of Nature reveal themselves, so that out of a whole forest her careless straying hand should bring only its culminating glories, its most perfect results, whether of leaf or flower or fruit. For in an urn of tintless alabaster, that had lain centuries in the breathless dust and gloom of an Egyptian tomb, that hand had set a sheaf of gentians, every fringed cup blue as the wild river when a noon sky tints it, or as the vaulted azure of a June midnight on the edge of the Milky Way,—a sheaf no Ceres owned, no foodfull garner coveted, but the satiating aliment of beauty, fresh as if God that hour had pronounced them good, and set his sign-manual upon each delicate tremulous petal, that might have been sapphire, save for its wistful translucence. And on the teapoy in the window stood two dainty baskets of clean willow, in which we had that day brought home chestnuts from the wood;—mine was full of nuts, but they were small and angular and worm-eaten, as the fruitage of a wet season might well be; hers scantily freighted, but every nut round, full, and glossy, perfect from its cruel husk, a specimen, a type of its kind. And on the handle of the basket hung a little kid glove. I looked at it closely; the tiny finger-tops and oval nails had left light creases on the delicate leather, and an indescribable perfume, in which violet predominated, drove away the vile animal scent that pervades such gloves. I flung it on the fire.
All about the room lay books that were not of my culling, from the oak cases, whose every door stood ajar,—novels innumerable,—"The Arabian Nights," Vaughan's "Silex Scintillans," with a scarlet leaf laid in against "Peace," and "Tennyson" turned on its face at "Fatima," a heavy volume of French moral philosophy, a Methodist hymn-book, Sir Thomas Browne's "Hydriotaphia," and a gilded red-bound history of "Five Little Pigs."
I rang the bell, and ordered all the books to be gathered up and put into an old bookcase, long banished to a dark attic. I walked to the fire and leaned my head against the mantel. The embers were all dead; in the gray ashes was the print of a little foot, whose arched instep had left no trace between the light track of the small heel and the deeper impression that the slender toe had left. That footprint told the secret of her airy motion,—that step so akin to flight, that on an overhanging mountain-ledge I had more than once held my breath, looking to see her extended wings float over the silent tree-tops below, or longed to grasp her carelessly trailed shawl, that I might detain her upon earth. To me the track had yet another language. An hour before, as I stood there beside her, the bitter passion of a man solitary and desperate shaking every faculty before the level rays of her scornful eye, she had set her embroidered slipper in the ashes, and said,—"Look! I leave a print there which the first breath of air shall dissipate; all fire becomes ashes, and ashes blow away,"—and so left me. I stood before the fire, that had been, still looking at that foot-mark; my brain was stunned and stupid, my heart beat slow and loud; I knew nothing, I felt nothing. I was nothing. Presently a bell rang.
The world is full of magicians, transformations, magnetic miracles, juggling, chemical astonishments, moral gymnastics, hypocrisies, lies of wonder,—but what is so strange, so marvellous, so inexplicable, as the power of conventions? One minute found me tempting the blackness of darkness, every idea astray and reeling, every emotion benumbed; the next, a bell rang, and I went to the tea-table, sat in my own place, answered my mother's questions, resumed the politenesses and habits of daily life, seemed to be myself to those who had known me always,—ate, drank, jested,—was a man,—no more the trodden ashes under a girl's foot, no longer the sport of a girl's cool eye, no slave, no writhing idolater under the car-wheel; and this lasted-half an hour! You have seen the horses of Pharaoh following the glittering sand-track of the Judaean host, walled in with curling beryl battlements, over whose crests the white sea-foam dares no more laugh and threaten? You know those curved necks clothed with strength, the bent head whose nostrils flare with pride, the tossed and waving mane, the magnificent grace of the nervous shoulder, the great, intelligent, expectant eyes? Suddenly the roar of waves at the farther shore! Look at that head! strong and quiet no more; terror erects the quivering ears; the nostril sinks and contracts with fear; the eye glares and glances from side to side, mad with prescient instinct; the corded veins that twist forkedly from the lip upward swell to the utmost tension of the fine skin; that sweeping mane rises in rough undulations, the forelock is tossed back, the shoulder grows rigid with horror, the chest rises with a long indrawn breath of dismay. Horrible beyond all horrid sounds, the yell of a horse in mortal fear. Do you hear it? No,—it is a picture,—the picture of a moment between one animal that sees the impending fate, and another that has not yet caught it;—it is human that such moments interpose between two oceans of agony, that man can momentarily control the rush of a sea which the brute must yield to.—So the sea rushed back.
All night long, all the long night!—long as lifetimes are, measured with slow-dropping arteries that drip away living blood. Once I watched by a dying woman; wild October rains poured without, but all unheard; in the dim-lit room, scented with quaint odors of lackered cases and chests of camphor-wood, heavy with perfumes that failed to revive, and hushed with whispers of hopeless comment, that delicate frame and angelic face, which the innumerable lines of age could only exalt and sweeten, shivered with the frosts of death; every breath was a sob; every sigh, anguish; the terrible restlessness of the struggle between soul and body in their parting writhed in every limb;—but there were no words other than broken cries of prayer, only half-heard on earth, till at length the tender, wistful eyes unclosed, and in a hoarse whisper, plaintive beyond expression, full of a desolate and immortal weariness, bearing a conviction of eternity and exhaustion that words cannot hope to utter, she said, "Will it never be morning?" And so this night stayed its pace; my room grew narrow and low; the ceiling pressed on my head; the walls forever clasped me, yet receded ever as I paced the floor; the floor fell in strange waves under me,—yet I walked steadily, up and down, up and down! Still the night stayed. Fever set its hurried pulses fleeting like wild-fire through every vein; a band of hot iron pressed above my eyes;—but these were adjuncts; the curse consumed me within. In every moment I heard those calm and fatal words, "I do not love you," sounding clear and sweet through the dull leaden air of night,—an air full of ghostly sounds, sighs about the casements, creaking stairs, taps at the window, light sounds of feet in the long hall below; all falling heedless on my ear, for my ghost walked and talked with me, a ghastly reality, the galvanized corpse of a murdered life.
Still the night stayed. A weight of lead pressed on my brain and concentrated it to frantic power; the months in which I had known her, the only months I could call life, came back to me inch by inch, grain by grain. I recalled our first meeting,—the sudden springing into acquaintance,—the sympathetic power that had transfused those cold blue eyes into depths of tenderness and pity,—the gay and genial manner that aroused and charmed me,—the scornful lip that curled at the world for its worldliness,—that fresh imagination, which, like the spirit of frost, decked the commonest things with beauty; and I recalled those early letters that had passed between us,—mine, insipid enough,—hers, piquant, graphic, refined, tender, delicately passionate, sparkling, full of lofty thought and profound feeling. Good God! could she not have taken my heart, and wrung it, and thrown it away, under some more commonplace pretext than the profaned name of Friendship? Her friend! It is true I had called myself her friend; I had been strenuous in the nomenclature to quiet my own conscience,—to satisfy her conventional scruples; but had she no instinct to interpret the pretence? What friend ever lived on every look, studied every phrase, watched every action and expression, was so torn with jealousy and racked with doubt, bore so humbly with caprices, and forgave every offence so instantly and utterly,—nay, was scarce conscious that anything her soul entertained could be an offence, could be wrong? Friendship!—ah, that deity is calm and serene; that firm lip and pale cheek do not flush with apprehension or quiver with passion; that tranquil eye does not shine with anything but quiet tears. Rather call the dusky and dark-haired Twilight, whose pensive face is limned against the western hills, by the name of that fierce and fervid Noon that stands erect under the hot zenith, instinct with the red blood of a thousand summers, casting her glittering tresses abroad upon the south-wind, and holding in her hands the all-unfolded rose of life. And if I was only her friend, was that a reason why she should permit in me the thousand intimacies of look and caress that are the novitiate of love? Was it a friend's calm duty to give me her tiny hand to hold in mine, that I might fold and unfold the rosy fingers, and explore the white dimples that were its ornamenting gems,—to rest her tired head against my shoulder, even,—watching all day by the chair where pain, life-long ministrant, held me on the rack?—was it only friendly that she should press her soft little mouth to mine, and soothe me into quiet as a mother soothes her last, her dearest child? No! no! no! never could that be! She knew, she had known, that I loved her! Deliberate cruelty outlined those lovely lips; every statue-like moulding of that proud face told the hard and unrelenting nature of the soul within. God forgive her!—the exclamation escaped me unaware, and recoiled in a savage exultation that such treachery had no forgiveness in heaven or on earth,—one gleam of desperate satisfaction in that black night. But in its light, what new madness seized me? I had held her stainless and holy, intact of evil or deceit; what was she now? My whole brain reeled; the foundations were taken away; earth and heaven met; even as when the West forges tempest and lightning-bolts upon its melancholy hills, brooding and muttering hour by hour, till at length the livid gloom rushes upward against sun and stars, and the blackening sky shuts down upon the blackened earth, cowering at the shock, and the torrents and flames are let loose upon their prey,—so an accumulated storm of unutterable agony flung wave on wave above me, wrecked and alone.
Still the night stayed; the black mass of forest that swept up the hill-side stood in mystical gloom, in silence that could be felt; when at once,—not suddenly,—as if the night could forbear no more, but must utter some chord with the culmination of midnight horrors, a bird uttered one sharp cry, desolate utterly, hopeless, concentred, as if a keen blade parted its heart and the outraged life within remonstrated and despaired,—despaired not of life, for still the note repeated its monotone, but of death, of period to its pangs. That cry entered into my brain; it was unjust of Nature so to taunt me, so to express where I was speechless; yet I could not shut it out. A pitiful chill of flesh and sense seized me; I was cold,—oh, how cold!—the fevered veins crept now in sluggish ice; sharp thrills of shivering rigor racked me from head to foot; pain had dulled its own capacity; wrapped in every covering my room afforded, with blunted perceptions, and a dreadful consciousness of lost vitality, which, even when I longed to die, appalled me with the touch of death's likeness, I sunk on the floor,—and it was morning!
Morning! "a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains!" A pale sun lit the earth, but earth and sky were black,—no sun touched me in heart or eye; I saw nothing, felt nothing, but heavy and impenetrable gloom. Yet again the ceremonies of life prevailed, and my real life slept undiscovered. Whatever pallor or shadow lined my face was no stranger there at that hour. The gray morning passed away; the village on the hill sent down busy sounds of labor and cheer; flies buzzed on the sunny pane, doors clicked and slammed in the house, fires crackled behind the shining fire-dogs. I went to the library,—the first breath of air had—dissipated it! What a mockery! I went away,—out of the house,—on, anywhere. Dry leaves rustled in my path and sent up a faint aromatic breath as they were crushed in the undried dew; squirrels chattered in the wood; here and there a dropping nut stirred the silence with deliberate fall, or an unseen grouse whirred through the birches at my approaching step. The way was trodden and led me by gradual slope and native windings through the dull red oaks downward to the river. Once on the path, a low cluster of sweet fern attracted me;—strange assertion of human personality, that in the deepest grief a man knows and notices the trivial features of Nature with microscopic fidelity! that the veining of a leaf or the pencilling of a blossom will attract the eye that no majesty or beauty of unwonted manifestation could light with one appreciative spark! Is it that the injured and indignant soul so vindicates its own essential and divine strength, and says, unconsciously, to the most uncontrolled anguish, "There is in me a life no mortal accident can invade; the breath of God is not altogether extinct in any blast of man's devising; shake, torture, assault the outer tenement,—darken its avenues with fire to stifle, and drench its approaches with seas to drown,—there is that within that God alone can vanquish,—yours is but a finite terror"? Half-crazed as I was, the fern-bed attracted me, as I said, and I flung myself wearily down on the leaves, whose healing and soothing odor stole up like a cloud all about me; and I lay there in the sun, noting with pertinacious accuracy every leaf or bloom that was within the range of sight,—the dark green leaves of the wax-flower springing from their red stem, veined and threaded with creamy white, stiff and quaint in form and growth,—the bending sprays of goldenrod that bowed their light and brittle stems over me, swaying gently to and fro in the gentle wind,—the tiny scarlet cups of moss that held a little drop of dew brimming over their rims of fire, a spark in the ashy gray moss-beds where they stood,—the shrinking and wan wood-asters, branched out widely, but set with meagre bloom,—every half-tint of the lichens, that scantily fed from the relentless granite rock, yet clung to its stern face with fearless persistence,—the rough seams and velvet green moss-tufts of the oak-trunks,—the light that pierced the dingy hue of oak-leaves with vivid and informing crimson: all these stamped themselves on my mind with inevitable minuteness; the great wheel of Fate rolled over me, and I bore the marks even of its ornamental rim; the grooves in its tire left traces of its track.
At length the minuteness of Nature oppressed me. The thousand odors, spicy, acrid, aromatic, honeyed, that an autumnal dew expressed from every herb, through that sense that is the slave of association, recalled my youth, my boyhood, the free and careless hours I knew no more, when, on just such mornings of hazy and splendid autumns, I had just so lain on the fern-beds, heedless of every beauty that haunted the woods, full of fresh life, rejoicing in dog and gun and rod as no man ever rejoices in title-deeds or stocks or hoarded gold. The reminiscence stung me to the quick; I could endure no more. Rising, I went on, and through the oak-wood came to the brink of the river, and in a vague weariness sat down upon the massive water-wall, and looked over into the dark brown stream. It was deep below me; a little above were clear shallows, where the water-spider pursued its toil of no result, and cast upon the yellow sand beneath a shadow that was not a shadow, but, refracted from the broken surface, spots of glittering light, clustered like the diamonds of a brooch, separate, yet linked, and tremulously bright. This, also, did I note; but below my feet the river flowed darker and more deeply, darkness and depth broken only by the glancing fins of little fishes, that slanted downward, catching a gleam as they went. No other light pierced the sullen, apprehensive flood that rolled past in tranquil gloom, leaden from the skies above, and without ripple or fall to break its glassy quiet. Beside the wall grew a witch-hazel; in my vague grasp at outside objects I saw it, full of wrinkled and weird bloom, as if the golden fleece had strayed thereby, and caught upon the ungainly twigs of the scragged bush, and left glittering curled threads in flecked bunches scattered on every branch; the strange spell-sweet odor of the flowers struck me before I saw them, and the whole expression of their growth affected me with helpless admiration, so brave as it was!—defying all Autumn to daunt the immortal Spring ever surviving in its soul,—here, on October's edge, putting out its freshness and perfume, as if seasons were an accident, and circumstance a chimera,—as if will, good-will, will to be of strength and cheer, were potent enough to laugh at Nature, and trust the God-given consciousness within, whatever adverse fate ruled and triumphed without. Not that all these ideas came to me then, else perhaps I had been spared that morning's experience; but they entered my brain as lightning is sometimes said to enter a tree and stamp some image from without upon its heart, thereafter to be revealed by the hewing axe and the persistent saw. No! I sat by the river and looked down into its dark serenity, and again the horror of the past day swept over me with fresh force. Could I live? The unswerving river lay before me; in its bed nothing stirred; neither pang nor passion in those chill depths could utter a cry; there she could not come; there was rest. I did not yield; oh, no, I did not yield! I resisted,—passively. I laid hold upon the eternal fact that there was a God; the blind and blank universe spun about me; its pillars of support wavered like waterspouts; all that I had ever believed or loved whirled up and down in one howling chaos, and circled through all space in clouds of dust and floating atoms; but through all I knew there was a God,—feel it I could not, neither did I see nor did one of Nature's tongues spell me the lesson,—I only knew it. And I did not, no, I did not rush before Him; but I lay at the bottom of the river.
I have heard it said that drowning persons recall, as by a sudden omniscience, all their past lives, as soon as the water closes above them and the first shock of horror is past. It was not so with me. I remembered nothing beyond the events of the past week; but, by some strange action of the mind, as soon as the gasping sense of an unnatural element passed away, my thoughts went forward. I became, as it were, another man; and above me on the bank I saw calmly the stone where my living double had left his cripple's cane, and thought to myself for one sharp moment, "Fool!"—for I looked forward. If I had not drowned, that was the key-note of the theme. Something that was me and was not me rose up from the water-wall and went away,—a man racked and broken by a great sorrow, it is true, but a man conscious of God. Life had turned its darkest page for him, but there was the impassable fact that it was the darkest; no further depths remained to dread; the worst had come, and he looked it in the face and studied it; suffer he might, but with full knowledge of every agony. Life had been wrecked, but living remained. Calmly he took up the cripple's cane and went home; the birds sang no song,—after tempests they do not sing until the sun shines,—neither did the blossoms give him any greeting. Nature wastes no trivialities on such grief; the mother, whose child comes in to her broken-limbed and wounded, does not give it sugar-plums and kisses, but waits in silence till the surgeon has done his kindly and appalling office,—then, it may be, she sings her boy to sleep!
But this man took up life again and conquered it. Home grew about him into serenity and cheer; as from the roots of a felled tree a thousand verdant offshoots spring, tiny in stature, but fresh and vivid in foliage, so out of this beheaded love arose a crowd of sweet affections and tender services that made the fraternity of man seem possible, and illustrated the pervasive care of God. He went out into life, and from a heart wrung with all man can endure, and a brain tested in the fire, spoke burning and fluent words of strength and consolation to hundreds who, like him, had suffered, but were sinking under what he had borne. And these words carried in them a reviving virtue. Men blessed him silently, and women sang him in their hearts as they sing hymns of prayer. Honors clustered about him as mosses to a rock; Fame relented, and gave him an aureole in place of a crown; and Love, late, but sweeter than sweet, like the last sun-ripened fruit of autumn, made honors and fame alike endurable. This man conquered, and triumphed in the victory.
I held out my hand in that water and touched—a skeleton! What! had any other man preceded me? I looked at it; it was the water-washed frame of a horse,—brutes together! And death was at hand; the grasp tightened on my breast with that acrid sense of weight and suffocation that the redundant blood suffusing the lungs must needs produce. "The soul of the brute goeth downward." Coward! what might not life have been? and I had lost it!—lost it for the sting of a honey-bee!—for the contempt of a woman! Every magnificent possibility, every immortal power, every hope of a future, tantalizing in its grand mystery, all lost! What if that sweeping star-seraph that men call a comet, speeding through heaven in its lonely splendor, with nitent head, and pinions trailing with the very swiftness and strength of its onward flight, should shudder from its orbit, fling into star-strewn space its calm and awful glory, and go crashing down into the fury and blackness of chaos, carrying with it wrecks of horror, and the yelling fragments of spheres no longer choral, but smitten with the lawless stroke of a creature regardless of its Creator, an orb that made its solitary fate, and carried across the order and the law of God ruin and wreck embodied?
And I had a soul;—I had flung it away; I had set my will up for my destiny, and the one had worked out the other. But had I? When that devilish suggestion came to me on the bank, did I entertain it? Have I not said how I grasped at the great idea of a God, and held it with a death-gripe in the midst of assault? How did I come in the water? I did not plunge nor fall. No shock of horror chilled me; no remembrance of a voluntary assent to the Tempter could I recall. I was there, it was true; but was I guilty? Did I, in the eyes of any watching angel, consciously cast my life, brittle and blind as it was, away in that fashion? In the water, helpless now for any effort after upper air, side by side with the fleshless anatomy of a brute, over-sailed by gray fishes with speckled sides, whose broad, unwinking eyes glared at me with maddening shine and stare,—oppressed, and almost struggling, yet all unable to achieve the struggle with the curdling blood that gorged every vein and air-cell with the hurried rush of death,—did I go out of this life red with the sin of murder? Did I commit suicide?
* * * * *
THE MINISTER'S WOOING.
It is seldom that man and woman come together in intimate association, unless influences are at work more subtile and mysterious than the subjects of them dream. Even in cases where the strongest ruling force of the two sexes seems out of the question, there is still something peculiar and insidious in their relationship. A fatherly old gentleman, who undertakes the care of a sprightly young girl, finds, to his astonishment, that little Miss spins all sorts of cobwebs round him. Grave professors and teachers cannot give lessons to their female pupils just as they give them to the coarser sex, and more than once has the fable of "Cadenus and Vanessa" been acted over by the most unlikely performers.
The Doctor was a philosopher, a metaphysician, a philanthropist, and in the highest and most earnest sense a minister of good on earth. The New England clergy had no sentimental affectation of sanctity that segregated them from wholesome human relations; and consequently our good Doctor had always resolved, in a grave and thoughtful spirit, at a suitable time in his worldly affairs, to choose unto himself a helpmeet. Love, as treated of in romances, he held to be a foolish and profane matter, unworthy the attention of a serious and reasonable creature. All the language of poetry on this subject was to him an unknown tongue. He contemplated the entrance on married life somewhat in this wise:—That at a time and place suiting, he should look out unto himself a woman of a pleasant countenance and of good repute, a zealous, earnest Christian, and well skilled in the items of household management, whom accosting as a stranger and pilgrim to a better life, he should loyally and lovingly entreat, as Isaac did Rebekah, to come under the shadow of his tent and be a helpmeet unto him in what yet remained of this mortal journey. But straitened circumstances, and the unsettled times of the Revolution, in which he had taken an earnest and zealous part, had delayed to a late bachelorhood the fulfilment of this resolution.
When once received under the shadow of Mrs. Scudder's roof, and within the provident sphere of her unfailing housekeeping, all material necessity for an immediate choice was taken away; for he was exactly in that situation dearest to every scholarly and thoughtful man, in which all that pertained to the outward life appeared to rise under his hand at the moment he wished for it without his knowing how or why.
He was not at the head of a prosperous church and society, rich and well-to-do in the world,—but, as the pioneer leader of a new theology, in a country where theology was the all-absorbing interest, he had to breast the reaction that ever attends the advent of new ideas. His pulpit talents, too, were unattractive. His early training had been all logical, not in the least aesthetic; for, like the ministry of his country generally, he had been trained always to think more of what he should say than of how he should say it. Consequently, his style, though not without a certain massive greatness, which always comes from largeness of nature, had none of those attractions by which the common masses are beguiled into thinking. He gave only the results of thought, not its incipient processes; and the consequence was, that few could follow him. In like manner, his religious teachings were characterized by an ideality so high as quite to discourage ordinary virtue.
There is a ladder to heaven, whose base God has placed in human affections, tender instincts, symbolic feelings, sacraments of love, through which the soul rises higher and higher, refining as she goes, till she outgrows the human, and changes, as she rises, into the image of the divine. At the very top of this ladder, at the threshold of paradise, blazes dazzling and crystalline that celestial grade where the soul knows self no more, having learned, through a long experience of devotion, how blest it is to lose herself in that eternal Love and Beauty of which all earthly fairness and grandeur are but the dim type, the distant shadow. This highest step, this saintly elevation, which but few selectest spirits ever on earth attain, to raise the soul to which the Eternal Father organized every relation of human existence and strung every chord of human love, for which this world is one long discipline, for which the soul's human education is constantly varied, for which it is now torn by sorrow, now flooded by joy, to which all its multiplied powers tend with upward hands of dumb and ignorant aspiration,—this Ultima Thule of virtue had been seized upon by our sage as the all of religion. He knocked out every round of the ladder but the highest, and then, pointing to its hopeless splendor, said to the world, "Go up thither and be saved!"
Short of that absolute self-abnegation, that unconditional surrender to the Infinite, there was nothing meritorious,—because, if that were commanded, every moment of refusal was rebellion. Every prayer, not based on such consecration, he held to be an insult to the Divine Majesty;—the reading of the Word, the conscientious conduct of life, the performance of the duties of man to man, being, without this, the deeds of a creature in conscious rebellion to its Eternal Sovereign, were all vitiated and made void. Nothing was to be preached to the sinner, but his ability and obligation to rise immediately to this height.
It is not wonderful that teaching of this sort should seem to many unendurable, and that the multitude should desert the preacher with the cry, "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" The young and gay were wearied by the dryness of metaphysical discussions which to them were as unintelligible as a statement of the last results of the mathematician to the child commencing the multiplication-table. There remained around him only a select circle,—shrewd, hard thinkers, who delighted in metaphysical subtilties,—deep-hearted, devoted natures, who sympathized with the unworldly purity of his life, his active philanthropy and untiring benevolence,—courageous men, who admired his independence of thought and freedom in breasting received opinion,—and those unperceiving, dull, good people who are content to go to church anywhere as convenience and circumstance may drift them,—people who serve, among the keen feeling and thinking portion of the world, much the same purpose as adipose matter in the human system, as a soft cushion between the nerves of feeling and the muscles of activity.
There was something affecting in the pertinacity with which the good Doctor persevered in saying his say to his discouraging minority of hearers. His salary was small; his meeting-house, damaged during the Revolutionary struggle, was dilapidated and forlorn,—fireless in winter, and in summer admitting a flood of sun and dust through those great windows which formed so principal a feature in those first efforts of Puritan architecture.
Still, grand in his humility, he preached on,—and as a soldier never asks why, but stands at apparently the most useless post, so he went on from Sunday to Sunday, comforting himself with the reflection that no one could think more meanly of his ministrations than he did himself. "I am like Moses only in not being eloquent," he said, in his simplicity. "My preaching is barren and dull, my voice is hard and harsh; but then the Lord is a Sovereign, and may work through me. He fed Elijah once through a raven, and he may feed some poor wandering soul through me."
The only mistake made by the good man was that of supposing that the elaboration of theology was preaching the gospel. The gospel he was preaching constantly, by his pure, unworldly living, by his visitations to homes of poverty and sorrow, by his searching out of the lowly African slaves, his teaching of those whom no one else in those days had thought of teaching, and by the grand humanity, outrunning his age, in which he protested against the then admitted system of slavery and the slave-trade. But when, rising in the pulpit, he followed trains of thought suited only to the desk of the theological lecture-room, he did it blindly, following that law of self-development by which minds of a certain amount of fervor must utter what is in them, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear.
But the place where our Doctor was happiest was his study. There he explored, and wandered, and read, and thought, and lived a life as wholly ideal and intellectual as heart could conceive.
And could Love enter a reverend doctor's study, and find his way into a heart empty and swept of all those shreds of poetry and romance in which he usually finds the material of his incantations?
Even so;—but he came so thoughtfully, so reverently, with so wise and cautious a footfall, that the good Doctor never even raised his spectacles to see who was there. The first that he knew, poor man, he was breathing an air of strange and subtile sweetness,—from what paradise he never stopped his studies to inquire. He was like a great, rugged elm, with all its lacings and archings of boughs and twigs, which has stood cold and frozen against the metallic blue of winter sky, forgetful of leaves, and patient in its bareness, calmly content in its naked strength and crystalline definiteness of outline. But in April there is a rising and stirring within the grand old monster,—a whispering of knotted buds, a mounting of sap coursing ethereally from bough to bough with a warm and gentle life; and though the old elm knows it not, a new creation is at hand. Just so, ever since the good man had lived at Mrs. Scudder's, and had the gentle Mary for his catechumen, a richer life seemed to have colored his thoughts,—his mind seemed to work with a pleasure as never before.
Whoever looked on the forehead of the good Doctor must have seen the squareness of ideality giving marked effect to its outline. As yet ideality had dealt only with the intellectual and invisible, leading to subtile refinements of argument and exalted ideas of morals. But there was lying in him, crude and unworked, a whole mine of those artistic feelings and perceptions which are awakened and developed only by the touch of beauty. Had he been born beneath the shadow of the great Duomo of Florence, where Giotto's Campanile rises like the slender stalk of a celestial lily, where varied marbles and rainbow-glass and gorgeous paintings and lofty statuary call forth, even from childhood, the soul's reminiscences of the bygone glories of its pristine state, his would have been a soul as rounded and full in its sphere of faculties as that of Da Vinci or Michel Angelo. But of all that he was as ignorant as a child; and the first revelation of his dormant nature was to come to him through the face of woman,—that work of the Mighty Master which is to be found in all lands and ages.
What makes the love of a great mind something fearful in its inception is that it is often the unsealing of a hitherto undeveloped portion of a large and powerful being; the woman may or may not seem to other eyes adequate to the effect produced, but the man cannot forget her, because with her came a change which makes him forever a different being. So it was with our friend. A woman it was that was destined to awaken in him all that consciousness which music, painting, poetry awaken in more evenly developed minds; and it is the silent breathing of her creative presence that is even now creating him anew, while as yet he knows it not.
He never thought, this good old soul, whether Mary were beautiful or not; he never even knew that he looked at her; nor did he know why it was that the truths of his theology, when uttered by her tongue, had such a wondrous beauty as he never felt before. He did not know why it was, that, when she silently sat by him, copying tangled manuscript for the press, as she sometimes did, his whole study seemed so full of some divine influence, as if, like St. Dorothea, she had worn in her bosom, invisibly, the celestial roses of paradise. He recorded honestly in his diary what marvellous freshness of spirit the Lord had given him, and how he seemed to be uplifted in his communings with heaven, without once thinking from the robes of what angel this sweetness had exhaled.
On Sundays, when he saw good Mrs. Jones asleep, and Simon Brown's hard, sharp eyes, and Deacon Twitchel mournfully rocking to and fro, and his wife handing fennel to keep the children awake, his eye glanced across to the front gallery, where one earnest young face, ever kindling with feeling and bright with intellect, followed on his way, and he felt uplifted and comforted. On Sunday mornings, when Mary came out of her little room, in clean white dress, with her singing-book and psalm-book in her hands, her deep eyes solemn from recent prayer, he thought of that fair and mystical bride, the Lamb's wife, whose union with her Divine Redeemer in a future millennial age was a frequent and favorite subject of his musings; yet he knew not that this celestial bride, clothed in fine linen, clean and white, veiled in humility and meekness, bore in his mind those earthly features. No, he never had dreamed of that! But only after she had passed by, that mystical vision seemed to him more radiant, more easy to be conceived.
It is said, that, if a grape-vine be planted in the neighborhood of a well, its roots, running silently underground, wreathe themselves in a net-work around the cold, clear waters, and the vine's putting on outward greenness and unwonted clusters and fruit is all that tells where every root and fibre of its being has been silently stealing. So those loves are most fatal, most absorbing, in which, with unheeded quietness, every thought and fibre of our life twines gradually around some human soul, to us the unsuspected wellspring of our being. Fearful it is, because so often the vine must be uprooted, and all its fibres wrenched away; but till the hour of discovery comes, how is it transfigured by a new and beautiful life!
There is nothing in life more beautiful than that trancelike quiet dawn which precedes the rising of love in the soul. When the whole being is pervaded imperceptibly and tranquilly by another being, and we are happy, we know not and ask not why, the soul is then receiving all and asking nothing. At a later day she becomes self-conscious, and then come craving exactions, endless questions,—the whole world of the material comes in with its hard counsels and consultations, and the beautiful trance fades forever.
Of course, all this is not so to you, my good friends, who read it without the most distant idea what it can mean; but there are people in the world to whom it has meant and will mean much, and who will see in the present happiness of our respectable friend something even ominous and sorrowful.
It had not escaped the keen eye of the mother how quickly and innocently the good Doctor was absorbed by her daughter, and thereupon had come long trains of practical reflections.
The Doctor, though not popular indeed as a preacher, was a noted man in his age. Her deceased husband had regarded him with something of the same veneration which might have been accorded to a divine messenger, and Mrs. Scudder had received and kept this veneration as a precious legacy. Then, although not handsome, the Doctor had decidedly a grand and imposing appearance. There was nothing common or insignificant about him. Indeed, it had been said, that, when, just after the declaration of peace, he walked through the town in the commemorative procession side by side with General Washington, the minister, in the majesty of his gown, bands, cocked hat, and full flowing wig, was thought by many to be the more majestic and personable figure of the two.
In those days, the minister united in himself all those ideas of superior position and cultivation with which the theocratic system of the New England community had invested him. Mrs. Scudder's notions of social rank could reach no higher than to place her daughter on the throne of such preeminence.
Her Mary, she pondered, was no common girl. In those days, it was a rare thing for young persons to devote themselves to religion or make any professions of devout life. The church, or that body of people who professed to have passed through a divine regeneration, was almost entirely confined to middle-aged and elderly people, and it was looked upon as a singular and unwonted call of divine grace when young persons came forward to attach themselves to it. When Mary, therefore, at quite an early age, in all the bloom of her youthful beauty, arose, according to the simple and impressive New England rite, to consecrate herself publicly to a religious life, and to join the company of professing Christians, she was regarded with a species of deference amounting even to awe. Had it not been for the childlike, unconscious simplicity of her manners, the young people of her age would have shrunk away from her, as from one entirely out of their line of thought and feeling; but a certain natural and innocent playfulness and amiable self-forgetfulness made her a general favorite.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Scudder knew no young man whom she deemed worthy to have and hold a heart which she priced so highly. As to James, he stood at double disadvantage, because, as her cousin's son, he had grown up from childhood under her eye, and all those sins and iniquities into which gay and adventurous youngsters will be falling had come to her knowledge. She felt kindly to the youth; she wished him well; but as to giving him her Mary!—the very suggestion made her dislike him. She was quite sure he must have tried to beguile her,—he must have tampered with her feelings, to arouse in her pure and well-ordered mind so much emotion and devotedness as she had witnessed.
How encouraging a Providence, then, was it that he was gone to sea for three years!—how fortunate that Mary had been prevented in any way from committing herself with him!—how encouraging that the only man in those parts, in the least fitted to appreciate her, seemed so greatly pleased and absorbed in her society!—how easily might Mary's dutiful reverence be changed to a warmer sentiment, when she should find that so great a man could descend from his lofty thoughts to think of her!
In fact, before Mrs. Scudder had gone to sleep the first night after James's departure, she had settled upon the house where the minister and his young wife were to live, had reviewed the window-curtains and bed-quilts for each room, and glanced complacently at an improved receipt for wedding-cake which might be brought out to glorify a certain occasion!
THE FRIENDS AND RELATIONS OF JAMES.
Mr. Zebedee Marvyn, the father of James, was the sample of an individuality so purely the result of New England society and education, that he must be embodied in our story as a representative man of the times.
He owned a large farm in the immediate vicinity of Newport, which he worked with his own hands and kept under the most careful cultivation. He was a man past the middle of life, with a white head, a keen blue eye, and a face graven deeply with the lines of energy and thought. His was one of those clearly-cut minds which New England forms among her farmers, as she forms quartz crystals in her mountains, by a sort of gradual influence flowing through every pore of her soil and system.
His education, properly so called, had been merely that of those common schools and academies with which the States are thickly sown, and which are the springs of so much intellectual activity. Here he had learned to think and to inquire,—a process which had not ceased with his school-days. Though toiling daily with his sons and hired man in all the minutiae of a farmer's life, he kept an observant eye on the field of literature, and there was not a new publication heard of that he did not immediately find means to add it to his yearly increasing stock of books. In particular was he a well-read and careful theologian, and all the controversial tracts, sermons, and books, with which then, as ever since, New England has abounded, not only lay on his shelves, but had his pencilled annotations, queries, and comments thickly scattered along their margins. There was scarce an office of public trust which had not at one time or another been filled by him. He was deacon of the church, chairman of the school-committee, justice of the peace, had been twice representative in the State legislature, and was in permanence a sort of adviser-general in all cases between neighbor and neighbor. Among other acquisitions, he had gained some knowledge of the general forms of law, and his advice was often asked in preference to that of the regular practitioners.
His dwelling was one of those large, square, white, green-blinded mansions, cool, clean, and roomy, wherein the respectability of New England in those days rejoiced. The windows were shaded by clumps of lilacs; the deep yard with its white fence inclosed a sweep of clean, short grass, and a few fruit-trees. Opposite the house was a small blacksmith's-shed, which, of a wet day, was sparkling and lively with bellows and ringing forge, while Mr. Zebedee and his sons were hammering and pounding and putting in order anything that was out of the way in farming-tools or establishments. Not unfrequently the latest scientific work or the last tractate of theology lay open by his side, the contents of which would be discussed with a neighbor or two as they entered; for, to say the truth, many a neighbor, less forehanded and thrifty, felt the benefit of this arrangement of Mr. Zebedee, and would drop in to see if he "wouldn't just tighten that rivet," or "kind o' ease out that 'ere brace," or "let a feller have a turn with his bellows, or a stroke or two on his anvil,"—to all which the good man consented with a grave obligingness. The fact was, that, as nothing in the establishment of Mr. Marvyn was often broken or lost or out of place, he had frequent applications to lend to those less fortunate persons, always to be found, who supply their own lack of considerateness from the abundance of their neighbors.
He who is known always to be in hand, and always obliging, in a neighborhood, stands the chance sometimes of having nothing for himself. Mr. Zebedee reflected quietly on this subject, taking it, as he did all others, into grave and orderly consideration, and finally provided a complete set of tools, which he kept for the purpose of lending; and when any of these were lent, he told the next applicant quietly, that the axe or the hoe was already out, and thus he reconciled the Scripture which commanded him to "do good and lend" with that law of order which was written in his nature.
Early in life Mr. Marvyn had married one of the handsomest girls of his acquaintance, who had brought him a thriving and healthy family of children, of whom James was the youngest. Mrs. Marvyn was, at this time, a tall, sad-eyed, gentle-mannered woman, thoughtful, earnest, deep-natured, though sparing in the matter of words. In all her household arrangements, she had the same thrift and order which characterized her husband; but hers was a mind of a finer and higher stamp than his.
In her bed-room, near by her work-basket, stood a table covered with books,—and so systematic were her household arrangements, that she never any day missed her regular hours for reading. One who should have looked over this table would have seen there how eager and hungry a mind was hid behind the silent eyes of this quiet woman. History, biography, mathematics, volumes of the encyclopaedia, poetry, novels, all alike found their time and place there,—and while she pursued her household labors, the busy, active soul within travelled cycles and cycles of thought, few of which ever found expression in words. What might be that marvellous music of the Miserere, of which she read, that it convulsed crowds and drew groans and tears from the most obdurate? What might be those wondrous pictures of Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci? What would it be to see the Apollo, the Venus? What was the charm that enchanted the old marbles,—charm untold and inconceivable to one who had never seen even the slightest approach to a work of art? Then those glaciers of Switzerland, that grand, unapproachable mixture of beauty and sublimity in her mountains!—what would it be to one who could see it? Then what were all those harmonies of which she read,—masses, fugues, symphonies? Oh, could she once hear the Miserere of Mozart, just to know what music was like! And the cathedrals, what were they? How wonderful they must be, with their forests of arches, many-colored as autumn-woods with painted glass, and the chants and anthems rolling down their long aisles! On all these things she pondered quietly, as she sat often on Sundays in the old staring, rattle-windowed meeting-house, and looked at the uncouth old pulpit, and heard the choir faw-sol-la-ing or singing fuguing tunes; but of all this she said nothing.
Sometimes, for days, her thoughts would turn from these subjects and be absorbed in mathematical or metaphysical studies. "I have been following that treatise on Optics for a week, and never understood it till to-day," she once said to her husband. "I have found now that there has been a mistake in drawing the diagrams. I have corrected it, and now the demonstration is complete.—Dinah, take care, that wood is hickory, and it takes only seven sticks of that size to heat the oven."
It is not to be supposed that a woman of this sort was an inattentive listener to preaching so stimulating to the intellect as that of Dr. H. No pair of eyes followed the web of his reasonings with a keener and more anxious watchfulness than those sad, deep-set, hazel ones; and as she was drawn along the train of its inevitable logic, a close observer might have seen how the shadows deepened over them. For, while others listened for the clearness of the thought, for the acuteness of the argument, she listened as a soul wide, fine-strung, acute, repressed, whose every fibre is a nerve, listens to the problem of its own destiny,—listened as the mother of a family listens, to know what were the possibilities, the probabilities, of this mysterious existence of ours to herself and those dearer to her than herself.
The consequence of all her listening was a history of deep inward sadness. That exultant joy, or that entire submission, with which others seemed to view the scheme of the universe, as thus unfolded, did not visit her mind. Everything to her seemed shrouded in gloom and mystery; and that darkness she received as a token of unregeneracy, as a sign that she was one of those who are destined, by a mysterious decree, never to receive the light of the glorious gospel of Christ. Hence, while her husband was a deacon of the church, she, for years, had sat in her pew while the sacramental elements were distributed, a mournful spectator. Punctilious in every duty, exact, reverential, she still regarded herself as a child of wrath, an enemy to God, and an heir of perdition; nor could she see any hope of remedy, except in the sovereign, mysterious decree of an Infinite and Unknown Power, a mercy for which she waited with the sickness of hope deferred.
Her children had grown up successively around her, intelligent and exemplary. Her eldest son was mathematical professor in one of the leading colleges of New England. Her second son, who jointly with his father superintended the farm, was a man of wide literary culture and of fine mathematical genius; and not unfrequently, on winter evenings, the son, father, and mother worked together, by their kitchen fireside, over the calculations for the almanac for the ensuing year, which the son had been appointed to edit.
Everything in the family arrangements was marked by a sober precision, a grave and quiet self-possession. There was little demonstrativeness of affection between parents and children, brothers and sisters, though great mutual affection and confidence. It was not pride, nor sternness, but a sort of habitual shamefacedness, that kept far back in each soul those feelings which are the most beautiful in their outcome; but after a while, the habit became so fixed a nature, that a caressing or affectionate expression could not have passed the lips of one to another without a painful awkwardness. Love was understood, once for all, to be the basis on which their life was built. Once for all, they loved each other, and after that, the less said, the better. It had cost the woman's heart of Mrs. Marvyn some pangs, in the earlier part of her wedlock, to accept of this once for all, in place of those daily outgushings which every woman desires should be like God's loving-kindness, "new every morning"; but hers, too, was a nature strongly inclining inward, and, after a few tremulous movements, the needle of her soul settled, and her life-lot was accepted,—not as what she would like or could conceive, but as a reasonable and good one. Life was a picture painted in low, cool tones, but in perfect keeping; and though another and brighter style might have pleased better, she did not quarrel with this.
Into this steady, decorous, highly-respectable circle the youngest child, James, made a formidable irruption. One sometimes sees launched into a family-circle a child of so different a nature from all the rest, that it might seem as if, like an aerolite, he had fallen out of another sphere. All the other babies of the Marvyn family had been of that orderly, contented sort who sleep till it is convenient to take them up, and while awake suck their thumbs contentedly and look up with large, round eyes at the ceiling when it is not convenient for their elders and betters that they should do anything else. In farther advanced childhood, they had been quiet and decorous children, who could be all dressed and set up in chairs, like so many dolls, of a Sunday morning, patiently awaiting the stroke of the church-bell to be carried out and put into the wagon which took them over the two-miles' road to church. Possessed of such tranquil, orderly, and exemplary young offshoots, Mrs. Marvyn had been considered eminent for her "faculty" in bringing up children.
But James was destined to put "faculty," and every other talent which his mother possessed, to rout. He was an infant of moods and tenses, and those not of any regular verb. He would cry of nights, and he would be taken up of mornings, and he would not suck his thumb, nor a bundle of caraway-seed tied in a rag and dipped in sweet milk, with which the good gossips in vain endeavored to pacify him. He fought manfully with his two great fat fists the battle of babyhood, utterly reversed all nursery maxims, and reigned as baby over the whole prostrate household. When old enough to run alone, his splendid black eyes and glossy rings of hair were seen flashing and bobbing in every forbidden place and occupation. Now trailing on his mother's gown, he assisted her in salting her butter by throwing in small contributions of snuff or sugar, as the case might be; and again, after one of those mysterious periods of silence which are of most ominous significance in nursery experience, he would rise from the demolition of her indigo-bag, showing a face ghastly with blue streaks, and looking more like a gnome than the son of a respectable mother. There was not a pitcher of any description of contents left within reach of his little tiptoes and busy fingers that was not pulled over upon his giddy head without in the least seeming to improve its steadiness. In short, his mother remarked that she was thankful every night when she had fairly gotten him into bed and asleep; James had really got through one more day and killed neither himself nor any one else. As a boy, the case was little better. He did not take to study,—yawned over books, and cut out moulds for running anchors when he should have been thinking of his columns of words in four syllables. No mortal knew how he learned to read, for he never seemed to stop running long enough to learn anything; and yet he did learn, and used the talent in conning over travels, sea-voyages, and lives of heroes and naval commanders. Spite of father, mother, and brother, he seemed to possess the most extraordinary faculty of running up unsavory acquaintances. He was hail-fellow well-met with every Tom and Jack and Jim and Ben and Dick that strolled on the wharves, and astonished his father with minutest particulars of every ship, schooner, and brig in the harbor, together with biographical notes of the different Toms, Dicks, and Harrys by whom they were worked.
There was but one member of the family that seemed to know at all what to make of James, and that was their negro servant, Candace.
In those days, when domestic slavery prevailed in New England, it was quite a different thing in its aspects from the same institution in more southern latitudes. The hard soil, unyielding to any but the most considerate culture, the thrifty, close, shrewd habits of the people, and their untiring activity and industry, prevented, among the mass of the people, any great reliance on slave labor. It was something foreign, grotesque, and picturesque in a life of the most matter-of-fact sameness; it was even as if one should see clusters of palm-trees scattered here and there among Yankee wooden meeting-houses, or open one's eyes on clumps of yellow-striped aloes growing among hardhack and huckleberry bushes in the pastures.
Added to this, there were from the very first, in New England, serious doubts in the minds of thoughtful and conscientious people in reference to the lawfulness of slavery; and this scruple prevented many from availing themselves of it, and proved a restraint on all, so that nothing like plantation-life existed, and what servants were owned were scattered among different families, of which they came to be regarded and to regard themselves as a legitimate part and portion,—Mr. Marvyn, as a man of substance, numbering two or three in his establishment, among whom Candace reigned chief. The presence of these tropical specimens of humanity, with their wide, joyous, rich physical abundance of nature and their hearty abandon of outward expression, was a relief to the still clear-cut lines in which the picture of New England life was drawn, which an artist must appreciate.
No race has ever shown such infinite and rich capabilities of adaptation to varying soil and circumstances as the negro. Alike to them the snows of Canada, the hard, rocky land of New England, with its set lines and orderly ways, or the gorgeous profusion and loose abundance of the Southern States. Sambo and Cuffy expand under them all. New England yet preserves among her hills and valleys the lingering echoes of the jokes and jollities of various sable worthies, who saw alike in orthodoxy and heterodoxy, in Dr. This-side and Dr. That-side, only food for more abundant merriment;—in fact, the minister of those days not unfrequently had his black shadow, a sort of African Boswell, who powdered his wig, brushed his boots, defended and patronized his sermons, and strutted complacently about as if through virtue of his blackness he had absorbed every ray of his master's dignity and wisdom. In families, the presence of these exotics was a godsend to the children, supplying from the abundant outwardness and demonstrativeness of their nature that aliment of sympathy so dear to childhood, which the repressed and quiet habits of New England education denied. Many and many a New Englander counts among his pleasantest early recollections the memory of some of these genial creatures, who by their warmth of nature were the first and most potent mesmerisers of his childish mind.
Candace was a powerfully built, majestic black woman, corpulent, heavy, with a swinging majesty of motion like that of a ship in a ground-swell. Her shining black skin and glistening white teeth were indications of perfect physical vigor which had never known a day's sickness; her turban, of broad red and yellow bandanna stripes, had even a warm tropical glow; and her ample skirts were always ready to be spread over every childish transgression of her youngest pet and favorite, James.
She used to hold him entranced long winter-evenings, while she sat knitting in the chimney-corner, and crooned to him strange, wild African legends of the things that she had seen in her childhood and early days,—for she had been stolen when about fifteen years of age; and these weird, dreamy talks increased the fervor of his roving imagination, and his desire to explore the wonders of the wide and unknown world. When rebuked or chastised, it was she who had secret bowels of mercy for him, and hid doughnuts in her ample bosom to be secretly administered to him in mitigation of the sentence that sent him supperless to bed; and many a triangle of pie, many a wedge of cake, had conveyed to him surreptitious consolations which his more conscientious mother longed, but dared not, to impart. In fact, these ministrations, if suspected, were winked at by Mrs. Marvyn, for two reasons: first, that mothers are generally glad of any loving-kindness to an erring boy, which they are not responsible for; and second, that Candace was so set in her ways and opinions that one might as well come in front of a ship under full sail as endeavor to stop her in a matter where her heart was engaged.
To be sure, she had her own private and special quarrels with "Massa James" when he disputed any of her sovereign orders in the kitchen, and would sometimes pursue him with uplifted rolling-pin and floury hands when he had snatched a gingernut or cooky without suitable deference or supplication, and would declare, roundly, that there "never was sich an aggravatin' young un." But if, on the strength of this, any one else ventured a reproof, Candace was immediately round on the other side:—"Dat ar' chile gwin' to be spiled, 'cause dey's allers a-pickin' on him;—he's well enough, on'y let him alone."
Well, under this miscellaneous assortment of influences,—through the order and gravity and solemn monotone of life at home, with the unceasing tick-tack of the clock forever resounding through clean, empty-seeming rooms,—through the sea, ever shining, ever smiling, dimpling, soliciting, like a magical charger who comes saddled and bridled and offers to take you to fairyland,—through acquaintance with all sorts of foreign, outlandish ragamuffins among the ships in the harbor,—from disgust of slow-moving oxen, and long-drawn, endless furrows round the fifteen-acre lot,—from misunderstandings with grave elder brothers, and feeling somehow as if, he knew not why, he grieved his mother all the time just by being what he was and couldn't help being,—and, finally, by a bitter break with his father, in which came that last wrench for an individual existence which some time or other the young growing mind will give to old authority,—by all these united, was the lot at length cast; for one evening James was missing at supper, missing by the fireside, gone all night, not at home to breakfast,—till, finally, a strange, weird, most heathenish-looking cabin-boy, who had often been forbidden the premises by Mr. Marvyn, brought in a letter, half-defiant, half-penitent, which announced that James had sailed in the "Ariel" the evening before.
Mr. Zebedee Marvyn set his face as a flint, and said, "He went out from us because he was not of us,"—whereat old Candace lifted her great floury fist from the kneading-trough, and, shaking it like a large snowball, said, "Oh, you go 'long, Massa Marvyn; ye'll live to count dat ar' boy for de staff o' your old age yet, now I tell ye; got de makin' o' ten or'nary men in him; kittles dat's full allers will bile over; good yeast will blow out de cork,—lucky ef it don't bust de bottle. Tell ye, der's angels has der hooks in sich, and when de Lord wants him dey'll haul him in safe and sound." And Candace concluded her speech by giving a lift to her whole batch of dough and flinging it down in the trough with an emphasis that made the pewter on the dresser rattle.
This apparently irreverent way of expressing her mind, so contrary to the deferential habits studiously inculcated in family discipline, had grown to be so much a matter of course to all the family that nobody ever thought of rebuking it. There was a sort of savage freedom about her which they excused in right of her having been born and bred a heathen, and of course not to be expected to come at once under the yoke of civilization. In fact, you must all have noticed, my dear readers, that there are some sorts of people for whom everybody turns out as they would for a railroad-car, without stopping to ask why, and Candace was one of them.
Moreover, Mr. Marvyn was not displeased with this defence of James, as might be inferred from his mentioning it four or five times in the course of the morning, to say how foolish it was,—wondering why it was that Candace and everybody else got so infatuated with that boy,—and ending, at last, after a long period of thought, with the remark, that these poor African creatures often seemed to have a great deal of shrewdness in them, and that he was often astonished at the penetration that Candace showed.
At the end of the year James came home, more quiet and manly than he had ever been known before,—so handsome with his sunburnt face, and his keen, dark eyes, and glossy curls, that half the girls in the front gallery lost their hearts the first Sunday he appeared in church. He was tender as a woman to his mother, and followed her with his eyes, like a lover, wherever she went; he made due and manly acknowledgments to his father, but declared his fixed and settled intention to abide by the profession he had chosen; and he brought home all sorts of strange foreign gifts for every member of the household. Candace was glorified with a flaming red and yellow turban of Moorish stuff, from Mogadore, together with a pair of gorgeous yellow morocco slippers with peaked toes, which, though there appeared no call to wear them in her common course of life, she would put on her fat feet and contemplate with daily satisfaction. She became increasingly strengthened thereby in the conviction that the angels who had their hooks in Massa James's jacket were already beginning to shorten the line.
[To be continued.]
THE PALM AND THE PINE.
When Peter led the First Crusade, A Norseman wooed an Arab maid.
He loved her lithe and palmy grace, And the dark beauty of her face:
She loved his cheeks, so ruddy fair, His sunny eyes and yellow hair.
He called: she left her father's tent; She followed whereso'er he went.
She left the palms of Palestine To sit beneath the Norland pine.
She sang the musky Orient strains Where Winter swept the snowy plains.
Their natures met like night and morn What time the morning-star is born.
The child that from their meeting grew Hung, like that star, between the two.
The glossy night his mother shed From her long hair was on his head:
But in its shade they saw arise The morning of his father's eyes.
Beneath the Orient's tawny stain Wandered the Norseman's crimson vein:
Beneath the Northern force was seen The Arab sense, alert and keen.
His were the Viking's sinewy hands, The arching foot of Eastern lands.
And in his soul conflicting strove Northern indifference, Southern love;
The chastity of temperate blood, Impetuous passion's fiery flood;
The settled faith that nothing shakes, The jealousy a breath awakes;
The planning Reason's sober gaze, And Fancy's meteoric blaze.
And stronger, as he grew to man, The contradicting natures ran,—
As mingled streams from Etna flow, One born of fire, and one of snow.
And one impelled, and one withheld, And one obeyed, and one rebelled.
One gave him force, the other fire; This self-control, and that desire.
One filled his heart with fierce unrest; With peace serene the other blessed.
He knew the depth and knew the height, The bounds of darkness and of light;
And who these far extremes has seen Must needs know all that lies between.
So, with untaught, instinctive art, He read the myriad-natured heart.
He met the men of many a land; They gave their souls into his hand;
And none of them was long unknown: The hardest lesson was his own.
But how he lived, and where, and when, It matters not to other men;
For, as a fountain disappears, To gush again in later years,
So natures lost again may rise After the lapse of centuries,—
May track the hidden course of blood Through many a generation's flood,
Till, on some unsuspected field, The latent lineage is revealed.
The hearts that met in Palestine, And mingled 'neath the Norland pine. Still beat with double pulse in mine.
THE PROFESSOR AT THE BREAKFAST-TABLE.
WHAT HE SAID, WHAT HE HEARD, AND WHAT HE SAW.
Back again!—A turtle—which means a tortoise—is fond of his shell; but if you put a live coal on his back, he crawls out of it. So the boys say.
It is a libel on the turtle. He grows to his shell, and his shell is in his body as much as his body is in his shell.—I don't think there is one of our boarders quite so testudinous as I am. Nothing but a combination of motives, more peremptory than the coal on the turtle's back, could have got me to leave the shelter of my carapace; and after memorable interviews, and kindest hospitalities, and grand sights, and huge influx of patriotic pride,—for every American owns all America,—
"Creation's heir,—the world, the world is"
his, if anybody's,—I come back with the feeling which a boned turkey might experience, if, retaining his consciousness, he were allowed to resume his skeleton.
Welcome, O Fighting Gladiator, and Recumbent Cleopatra, and Dying Warrior, whose classic outlines (reproduced in the calcined mineral of Lutetia) crown my loaded shelves! Welcome, ye triumphs of pictorial art (repeated by the magic graver) that look down upon me from the walls of my sacred cell! Vesalius, as Titian drew him, high-fronted, still-eyed, thick-bearded, with signet-ring, as beseems a gentleman, with book and carelessly-held eyeglass, marking him a scholar; thou, too, Jan Kuyper, commonly called Jan Praktiseer, old man of a century and seven years besides, father of twenty sons and two daughters cut in copper by Houbraken, bought from a portfolio on one of the Paris quais; and ye Three Trees of Rembrandt, black in shadow against the blaze of sunlight; and thou Rosy Cottager of Sir Joshua,—thy roses hinted by the peppery burin of Bartolozzi; ye, too, of lower grades in nature, yet not unlovely nor unrenowned, Young Bull of Paulus Potter, and Sleeping Cat of Cornelius Visscher; welcome once more to my eyes! The old books look out from the shelves, and I seem to read on their backs something besides their titles,—a kind of solemn greeting. The crimson carpet flushes warm under my feet. The arm-chair hugs me; the swivel-chair spins round with me, as if it were giddy with pleasure; the vast recumbent fauteuil stretches itself out under my weight, as one joyous with food and wine stretches in after-dinner laughter.
The boarders were pleased to say that they were glad to get me back. One of them ventured a compliment, namely,—that I talked as if I believed what I said.—This was apparently considered something unusual, by its being mentioned.
One who means to talk with entire sincerity,—I said,—always feels himself in danger of two things, namely,—an affectation of bluntness, like that of which Cornwall accuses Kent in "Lear," and actual rudeness. What a man wants to do, in talking with a stranger, is to get and to give as much of the best and most real life that belongs to the two talkers as the time will let him. Life is short, and conversation apt to run to mere words. Mr. Hue I think it is, who tells us some very good stories about the way in which two Chinese gentlemen contrive to keep up a long talk without saying a word which has any meaning in it. Something like this is occasionally heard on this side of the Great Wall. The best Chinese talkers I know are some pretty women whom I meet from time to time. Pleasant, airy, complimentary, the little flakes of flattery glimmering in their talk like the bits of gold-leaf in eau-de-vie de Dantzic; their accents flowing on in a soft ripple,—never a wave, and never a calm; words nicely fitted, but never a colored phrase or a high-flavored epithet; they turn air into syllables so gracefully, that we find meaning for the music they make as we find faces in the coals and fairy palaces in the clouds. There is something very odd, though, about this mechanical talk.
You have sometimes been in a train on the railroad when the engine was detached a long way from the station you were approaching? Well, you have noticed how quietly and rapidly the cars kept on, just as if the locomotive were drawing them? Indeed, you would not have suspected that you were travelling on the strength of a dead fact, if you had not seen the engine running away from you on a side-track. Upon my conscience, I believe some of these pretty women detach their minds entirely, sometimes, from their talk,—and, what is more, that we never know the difference. Their lips let off the fluty syllables just as their fingers would sprinkle the music-drops from their pianos; unconscious habit turns the phrase of thought into words just as it does that of music into notes.—Well, they govern the world, for all that,—these sweet-lipped women,—because beauty is the index of a larger fact than wisdom.
——The Bombazine wanted an explanation.
Madam,—said I,—wisdom is the abstract of the past, but beauty is the promise of the future.
——All this, however, is not what I was going to say. Here am I, suppose, sealed—we will say at a dinner-table—alongside of an intelligent Englishman. We look in each other's faces,—we exchange a dozen words. One thing is settled: we mean not to offend each other,—to be perfectly courteous,—more than courteous; for we are the entertainer and the entertained, and cherish particularly amiable feelings to each other. The claret is good; and if our blood reddens a little with its warm crimson, we are none the less kind for it.
——I don't think people that talk over their victuals are like to say anything very great, especially if they get their heads muddled with strong drink before they begin jabberin'.
The Bombazine uttered this with a sugary sourness, as if the words had been steeped in a solution of acetate of lead.—The boys of my time used to call a hit like this a "side-winder."
——I must finish this woman.—
Madam,—I said,—the Great Teacher seems to have been fond of talking as he sat at meat. Because this was a good while ago, in a far-off place, you forget what the true fact of it was,—that those were real dinners, where people were hungry and thirsty, and where you met a very miscellaneous company. Probably there was a great deal of loose talk among the guests; at any rate, there was always wine, we may believe.
Whatever may be the hygienic advantages or disadvantages of wine,—and I for one, except for certain particular ends, believe in water, and, I blush to say it, in black tea,—there is no doubt about its being the grand specific against dull dinners. A score of people come together in all moods of mind and body. The problem is, in the space of one hour, more or less, to bring them all into the same condition of slightly exalted life. Food alone is enough for one person, perhaps,—talk, alone, for another; but the grand equalizer and fraternizer, which works up the radiators to their maximum radiation, and the absorbents to their maximum receptivity, is now just where it was when
"The conscious water saw its Lord and blushed,"
—when six great vessels containing water, which seems to have been carefully purified, so as to be ready for the marriage-feast, were changed into the best of wine. I once wrote a song about wine, in which I spoke so warmly of it, that I was afraid some would think it was written inter pocula; whereas it was composed in the bosom of my family, under the most tranquillizing domestic influences.
——The divinity-student turned towards me, looking mischievous.—Can you tell me,—he said,—who wrote a song for a temperance celebration once, of which the following is a verse?—
Alas for the loved one, too gentle and fair The joys of the banquet to chasten and share! Her eye lost its light that his goblet might shine, And the rose of her cheek was dissolved in his wine!
I did,—I answered.—What are you going to do about it?—I will tell you another line I wrote long ago:—
Don't be "consistent,"—but be simply true.
The longer I live, the more I am satisfied of two things: first, that the truest lives are those that are cut rose-diamond-fashion, with many facets answering to the many-planed aspects of the world about them; secondly, that society is always trying in some way or other to grind us down to a single flat surface. It is hard work to resist this grinding-down action.—Now give me a chance. Better eternal and universal abstinence than the brutalities of those days that made wives and mothers and daughters and sisters blush for those whom they should have honored, as they came reeling home from their debauches! Yet better even excess than lying and hypocrisy; and if wine is upon all our tables, let us praise it for its color and fragrance and social tendency, so far as it deserves, and not hug a bottle in the closet and pretend not to know the use of a wine-glass at a public dinner! I think you will find that people who honestly mean to be true really contradict themselves much more rarely than those who try to be "consistent." But a great many things we say can be made to appear contradictory, simply because they are partial views of a truth, and may often look unlike at first, as a front view of a face and its profile often do.
Here is a distinguished divine, for whom I have great respect, for I owe him a charming hour at one of our literary anniversaries, and he has often spoken noble words; but he holds up a remark of my friend the "Autocrat,"—which I grieve to say he twice misquotes, by omitting the very word which gives it its significance,—the word fluid, intended to typify the mobility of the restricted will,—holds it up, I say, as if it attacked the reality of the self-determining principle, instead of illustrating its limitations by an image. Now I will not explain any farther, still less defend, and least of all attack, but simply quote a few lines from one of my friend's poems, printed more than ten years ago, and ask the distinguished gentleman where he has ever asserted more strongly or absolutely the independent will of the "subcreative centre," as my heretical friend has elsewhere called man.
—Thought, conscience, will, to make them all thy own He rent a pillar from the eternal throne! —Made in His image, thou must nobly dare The thorny crown of sovereignty to share. —Think not too meanly of thy low estate; Thou hast a choice; to choose is to create!
If he will look a little closely, he will see that the profile and the full-face views of the will are both true and perfectly consistent.
Now let us come back, after this long digression, to the conversation with the intelligent Englishman. We begin skirmishing with a few light ideas,—testing for thoughts,—as our electro-chemical friend, De Sauty, if there were such a person, would test for his current; trying a little litmus-paper for acids, and then a slip of turmeric-paper for alkalies, as chemists do with unknown compounds; flinging the lead, and looking at the shells and sands it brings up to find out whether we are like to keep in shallow water, or shall have to drop the deep-sea line;—in short, seeing what we have to deal with. If the Englishman gets his Hs pretty well placed, he comes from one of the higher grades of the British social order, and we shall find him a good companion.
But, after all, here is a great fact between us. We belong to two different civilizations, and, until we recognize what separates us, we are talking like Pyramus and Thisbe,—without any hole in the wall to talk through. Therefore, on the whole, if he were a superior fellow, incapable of mistaking it for personal conceit, I think I would let out the fact of the real American feeling about Old-World folks. They are children to us in certain points of view. They are playing with toys we have done with for whole generations. That silly little drum they are always beating on, and the trumpet and the feather they make so much noise and cut such a figure with, we have not quite outgrown, but play with much less seriously and constantly than they do. Then there is a whole museum of wigs, and masks, and lace-coats, and gold-sticks, and grimaces, and phrases, which we laugh at, honestly, without affectation, that are still used in the Old-World puppet-shows. I don't think we on our part ever understand the Englishman's concentrated loyalty and specialized reverence. But then we do think more of a man, as such, (barring some little difficulties about race and complexion which the Englishman will touch us on presently,) than any people that ever lived did think of him. Our reverence is a great deal wider, if it is less intense. We have caste among us, to some extent, it is true; but there is never a collar on the American wolf-dog such as you often see on the English mastiff, notwithstanding his robust, hearty individuality.
This confronting of two civilizations is always a grand sensation to me; it is like cutting through the isthmus and letting the two oceans swim into each other's laps. The trouble is, it is so difficult to let out the whole American nature without its self-assertion seeming to take a personal character. But I never enjoy the Englishman so much as when he talks of church and king like Manco Capac among the Peruvians. Then you get the real British flavor, which the cosmopolite Englishman loses. The best conversation I have had with one of them for a long time, lively, fluent, courteous, delightful, was a variation and illustrative development in elegant phrases of the following short sentences.
Englishman.—Sir, your New-World civilization is barbarism.
American.—Sir, your Old-World development is infancy.
How much better this thorough interpenetration of ideas than a barren interchange of courtesies, or a bush-fighting argument, in which each man tries to cover as much of himself and expose as much of his opponent as the tangled thicket of the disputed ground will let him!
——My thoughts flow in layers or strata, at least three deep. I follow a slow person's talk, and keep a perfectly clear under-current of my own beneath it. My friend the Autocrat has already made a similar remark. Under both runs obscurely a consciousness belonging to a third train of reflections, independent of the two others. I will try to write out a mental movement in three parts.
A.—First part, or Mental Soprano,—thought follows a woman talking.
B.—Second part, or Mental Barytone,—my running accompaniment.
C.—Third part, or Mental Basso,—low grumble of an importunate self-repeating idea.
A.—White lace, three skirts, looped with flowers, wreath of apple-blossoms, gold bracelets, diamond pin and earrings, the most delicious berthe you ever saw, white satin slippers——
B.—Deuse take her! What a fool she is! Hear her chatter! (Look out of window just here.—Two pages and a half of description, if it were all written out, in one tenth of a second.)—Go ahead, old lady! (Eye catches picture over fireplace.) There's that infernal family nose! Came over in the "Mayflower" on the first old fool's face. Why don't they wear a ring in it?
C.—You'll be late at lecture,—late at lecture,—late,—late,—late——
I observe that a deep layer of thought sometimes makes itself felt through the superincumbent strata, thus:—The usual single or double currents shall flow on, but there shall be an influence blending with them, disturbing them in an obscure way, until all at once I say,—Oh, there! I knew there was something troubling me,—and the thought which had been working through comes up to the surface clear, definite, and articulates itself,—a disagreeable duty, perhaps, or an unpleasant recollection.
The inner world of thought and the outer world of events are alike in this, that they are both brimful. There is no space between consecutive thoughts or between the never-ending series of actions. All pack tight, and mould their surfaces against each other, so that in the long run there is a wonderful average uniformity in the forms of both thoughts and actions,—just as you find that cylinders crowded all become hexagonal prisms, and spheres pressed together are formed into regular polyhedra.
Every event that a man would master must be mounted on the run, and no man ever caught the reins of a thought except as it galloped by him. So, to carry out, with another comparison, my remark about the layers of thought, we may consider the mind, as it moves among thoughts or events, like a circus-rider whirling round with a great troop of horses. He can mount a fact or an idea, and guide it more or less completely, but he cannot stop it. So, as I said in another way at the beginning, he can stride two or three thoughts at once, but not break their steady walk, trot, or gallop. He can only take his foot from the saddle of one thought and put it on that of another.
——What is the saddle of a thought? Why, a word, of course.—Twenty years after you have dismissed a thought, it suddenly wedges up to you through the press, as if it had been steadily galloping round and round all that time without a rider.
The will does not act in the interspaces of thought, for there are no such interspaces, but simply steps from the back of one moving thought upon that of another.
——I should like to ask,—said the divinity-student,—since we are getting into metaphysics, how you can admit space, if all things are in contact, and how you can admit time, if it is always now to something.
—I will thank you for the dry toast,—was my answer.
——I wonder if you know this class of philosophers in books or elsewhere. One of them makes his bow to the public, and exhibits an unfortunate truth bandaged up so that it cannot stir hand or foot,—as helpless, apparently, and unable to take care of itself, as an Egyptian mummy. He then proceeds, with the air and method of a master, to take off the bandages. Nothing can be neater than the way in which he does it. But as he takes off layer after layer, the truth seems to grow smaller and smaller, and some of its outlines begin to look like something we have seen before. At last, when he has got them all off, and the truth struts out naked, we recognize it as a diminutive and familiar acquaintance whom we have known in the streets all our lives. The fact is, the philosopher has coaxed the truth into his study and put all those bandages on; of course it is not very hard for him to take them off. Still, a great many people like to watch the process,—he does it so neatly!
Dear! dear! I am ashamed to write and talk, sometimes, when I see how those functions of the large-brained, thumb-opposing plantigrade are abused by my fellow-vertebrates,—perhaps by myself. How they spar for wind, instead of hitting from the shoulder!
——The young fellow called John arose and placed himself in a neat fighting attitude.—Fetch on the fellah that makes them long words!—he said,—and planted a straight hit with the right fist in the concave palm of the left hand with a click like a cup and ball.—You small boy there, hurry up that "Webster's Unabridged!"
The little gentleman with the malformation, before described, shocked the propriety of the breakfast-table by a loud utterance of three words, of which the two last were "Webster's Unabridged," and the first was an emphatic monosyllable.—Beg pardon,—he added,—forgot myself. But let us have an English dictionary, if we are to have any. I don't believe in clipping the coin of the realm, Sir! If I put a weathercock on my house, Sir, I want it to tell which way the wind blows up aloft,—off from the prairies to the ocean, or off from the ocean to the prairies, or any way it wants to blow! I don't want a weathercock with a winch in an old gentleman's study that he can take hold of and turn, so that the vane shall point west when the great wind overhead is blowing east with all its might, Sir! Wait till we give you a dictionary, Sir! It takes Boston to do that thing, Sir!