MISS WIMPLE'S HOOP. [Concluded.]
A year had passed since Maddy's flitting. The skimped delaine was sadly rusty,—Miss Wimple very poor. The profits of the Hendrik Athenaeum and Circulating Library accrued in slow and slender pittances. A package of envelopes now and then, a few lead pencils, a box of steel pens, a slate pencil to a school-boy, were all its sales. Almost the last regular customer had seceded to the "Hendrik Book Bazaar and Periodical Emporium,"—a pert rival, that, with multifarious new-fangled tricks of attractiveness, flashed its plate-glass eyes and turned up its gilded nose at Miss Wimple from the other side of the way.
But Miss Wimple's proud and honorable fund for the relief of the shop, by no means fell off. As she had anticipated, her expert and nimble needle was in steady demand by all the folks of Hendrik who had fine sewing to give out. Her earnings from this source were considerable; and, severely stinting herself in the very necessaries of life by a strained ingenuity of economy, to which the skimped delaine—turned and altered to the utter exhaustion of the cleverest dressmaker's invention, and magically rejuvenated, as though again and again dipped in the fountain of perpetual youth—bore conclusive testimony, she bravely reinforced her fund from time to time.
Miss Wimple's repasts were neither frequent nor sumptuous; "all the delicacies of the season" hardly found their way to her table; and in her bleak little nest, for it was now winter, a thin and scanty shawl but coldly did the office of a blanket.
But Miss Wimple partook of her tea and dry toast with a cheerful heart, and shivered in her nest with illustrious patience,—regaled by satisfied honor, and warmed by the smiles of courage and of hope.
Between Simon and herself negotiations rested where we left them last; only there was now a heartier welcome for him when he came, and often a sparkling smile, that seemed to say, he had waited well, and not in vain, she hoped,—a smile that, to the eye of his healthy spirit, was an earnest of the rose-star's reappearance; it was only behind the rusty skimped delaine, as behind a cloud. His visits were not so rare as before, nor always "upon business"; he lingered sometimes, and sometimes had his way.
One night, Simon was outrageously rebellious; he had cheated Sally of half an hour, and spent it in rank mutiny; he compared the rose-star to the remotest of the asteroids, as seen through Lord Rosse's telescope, and instituted facetious comparisons between Miss Wimple's honorable fund and the national debt of England. It was near closing-time; Miss Wimple said, "Now, Simon, will you go?" —she had said that three times already. Some one entered. O, ho! Miss Wimple snatched away her hand:—"Now go, or never come again!" Simon glanced at the visitor,—a woman,—a stranger evidently, and poor,—a beggar, most likely, or one of those Wandering Jews of womankind, who, homeless, goalless, hopeless, tramp, tramp, tramp, unresting, till they die. She had almost burst in, quite startling Miss Wimple; but now she stood by the glass case, with averted face, and shabby shawl drawn suspiciously about her, and waited to be noticed, peering, meanwhile, through the little window into the dark street.
"Good-night, little Sally!" said Simon; "put up your bars, and so put up my bars. Now there's a fine speech for you!—if my name were Philip Withers, you'd call it poetry."
The strange woman actually stamped with her foot twice, and moved a step nearer to the window. Miss Wimple took it for a gesture of impatience, and at once arose to accost her. Simon eyed her curiously, and somewhat suspiciously, as he passed; but, taking her attire for his clue, he thought he recognized one of a class with whom Miss Wimple was accustomed to cope successfully; so he took his leave unconcerned.
Miss Wimple approached the stranger. "What will you have?" she asked. But the woman only followed Simon with her eyes, not heeding the question.
"Do you hear me?" repeated she; "I say, what will you have, Madam?"
By that time, Simon had disappeared among the distant shadows of the street. The woman turned suddenly and confronted Miss Wimple.
"Look at me," she said.
Miss Wimple looked, and saw a pale and haggard, almost fierce, face, that had once been fair,—one that she might, she fancied, have met somewhere before.
"You seem to have suffered,—to suffer now. What can I do for you?"
"Look at me!"
"I see; you are very wretched, and you were not always as you are now. You are cold; are you hungry also? I, too, am very poor; but I will do all I can. I will warm you and give you food."
The woman walked to where the bright camphene lamp hung, and stood under it.
"Now look at me, Miss Wimple."
"I have looked enough; desperation on a young woman's face is not a pleasant sight to see. If you have a secret, best keep it. I have to deal only with your weariness, your hunger, and your half-frozen limbs. If I can do nothing for those, you must go.—Merciful Heaven! Miss Madeline Splurge!"
"Yes!—Now hide me, quick, or some one will be coming; and warm me, and feed me, or I shall surely die on your hands."
Not another word said Miss Wimple,—asked no question, uttered no exclamation of surprise; but straightway ran and closed the windows, put up the bars, adjusted the shutters in the glass door, and screwed them down. Next she took Madeline's hand and led her up the narrow staircase to the nest, seated her in the little Yankee rocking-chair, and wrapped her in the scanty, faded shawl that served for a coverlet. Then she ran quickly down into the cellar, and, with a hammer, broke in pieces an old packing-box;—it was a brave achievement for her tender hands. Back to the nest again with the sticks;—Madeline slept in the chair, poor heart!
Miss Wimple made a fire in her little stove, and when some water was hot, she roused her guest with a kiss. Silently, languidly, and with closed eyes, Madeline yielded herself to the kind offices of her gentle nurse, who bathed her face and neck, her hands and feet, and dressed her hair; and when that was done, she placed a pillow under the wanderer's head, and, with another kiss, dismissed her to sleep again.
Then she prepared tea and toast, and, running down to the street, returned quickly with some fresh eggs and a morsel of golden butter, wherefrom she prepared a toothsome supper, the fragrance of which presently aroused the famished sufferer, so that she opened her eyes feebly, and smiled, and kissed Miss Wimple's hand when she came to draw her nearer to the table. Then Madeline ate,—not heartily, but enough to comfort her; and very soon her head fell back upon the pillow, and she would have slept in the chair again, holding Miss Wimple's hand. But Miss Wimple arose and took the sheets from the cot, and, having warmed them by the fire, made up the bed afresh,—a most smooth, sweet, and comfortable nest; and, raising Madeline in her arms, supporting her still sleeping head upon her shoulder, she very tenderly and skilfully removed her garments, all coarse and torn, soiled and damp, and clad her afresh in pure night-clothes of her own. But first—for Madeline began to shiver, and her teeth had chattered slightly—Miss Wimple untied her own warm petticoat of quilted silk, that for comfort and for decency had been her best friend through the hard winter,—wherefore it was most dearly prized and ingeniously saved,—and put it upon Madeline, whom then she led, almost carrying her, as one may lead a worn-out and already slumbering child, to the nest, and laid her gently there, drawing the covering snugly about her, and spreading the faithful shawl over all. And all the while, not a word had been spoken by either;—with one, it was the silence of pious carefulness, —with the other, of newly-found safety and perfect rest. Then Miss Wimple placed the lamp on the floor behind the door, fed the stove with fresh sticks, and with her feet on the little iron hearth, and her head resting on her knees, thought there all night.
All night poor Madeline's slumber was broken by incoherent mutterings, convulsive starts, and, more than once, a fearful cry; and when the day dawned, she suddenly sat erect, stared wildly about her, and raved. A fierce, though brief, fever had seized her; she was delirious, and knew not where she was. When Miss Wimple would have soothed her, tenderly caressing, and promising her a sister's kindness and protection,—a home safely guarded from intrusion,— Madeline assailed her savagely, bidding her be off, with her smooth treachery, her pretty lies.
"'Sister!'—devil! Do I not know what a hell your 'home' is?—and as for 'safety,' shall I seek that among snakes? Oh, I am sick of all of you!—have I not told you so a hundred times?—sick with the contempt I feel for you, and weary of your stupid tricks."
"Madeline," said Miss Wimple, "look at me! Here,—touch my face, my dress! Do you not know me now? Do you not see that I am not your mother, nor Josephine, nor Adelaide, but only Sally Wimple, little Miss Wimple, of the bookstore? What harm could I do you?—how could I offend or hurt you? Look me in the eyes, I say, and know me, and be calm. See! this is my chamber,—this is my bed; below is the little shop,—the Athenaeum, you remember. We are alone in the house; there is no one to hear or see. You came to me,—did you not?—over the long, weary road, through the darkness and the bitter cold, for warmth and food, for rest and safety; and I have hidden you away, and watched by you. Look around you,—look through that window; do you not know those trees, the mulberries by the Athenaeum?—they are bare now; but you have seen them so before, a dozen winters. Look at this face,—look at this dress,—look at this dress!—Ah! now you know all about it,—'little Miss Wimple,' of course; and this shall be your home, and you are safe here."
When Miss Wimple began to speak, she stood somewhat off from the bed; for Madeline, with a gesture full of hate, and close-set lips that looked dangerous, had thrust her back. But as she proceeded with her calm and clear appeal, Madeline was arrested, in the very movement of springing from the bed, in an attitude "worth a painter's eye," half-sitting, half-reclining, supported by her right arm, which, rigidly extended, was planted pillar-like in the bed,—with her left hand tossing aside the bed-clothes,—her knees drawn up, as for the instant of stepping out upon the floor,—her right shoulder, bare, round, and white, thrust from the night-dress, which in the restlessness of her distraction had burst its chaste fastenings, bestowing a chance glimpse of a most proud and beauteous bosom,—a glimpse but dimly caught through the thick brown meshes of her dishevelled hair. So, now, with impatient eyes and eager lips, she rested and listened. And when Miss Wimple said,—"I have hidden you away and watched by you," the fierce look was softened to one of pitiful reflection and recollection; and at the words, "Look at this dress! Ah! now you know all about it,—'little Miss Wimple,' of course!" she sat up and stretched forth her arms beseechingly, and in a moment was sobbing helplessly on Sally's neck.
A little while Miss Wimple, still and thoughtful, held her so, that her soul's bitterness might pour itself out in wholesome tears; then she gently stroked the tangled brown hair, and said,—"Sit close beside me now, and lean upon my bosom, and tell me all,—where you have been, and how you have fared, and what you would have me do."
With a brave effort, Madeline controlled herself, and replied, firmly, though with averted face,
"You remember, dear Miss Wimple, our last interview. I insulted you then."
Miss Wimple made no sign. Madeline blushed,—brow, neck, and bosom, —crimson.
"And then I told you that I believed in you as I believed in little else, in this world or the next; and I said, that, if in my hour of shame and outcasting, I could implore the help of any human being, I would come to you before all others. I have come. You thought me raving then, and pitied me, because you did not understand. Presently you will understand, and you will still pity me,—but with a difference.
"I fled away that very night, you recollect,—fled from my self-contempt, from the sickening scorn I felt for them,—for him."
There was agony in the effort with which she uttered that last word. She named no names, but, with a sort of desperation, raised her head and looked Miss Wimple in the face; in the quick, sensitive glances they interchanged at that moment the omission was supplied.
"Though my flight was premeditated, I took with me no clothes save those I wore; but I had concealed on my person every jewel and trinket I possessed. With these,—for I readily converted them into money,—I purchased a safe asylum in an obscure but decent family, whose poverty did not afford them the indulgence of a scrupulous fastidiousness or impertinent curiosity; it was enough for their straitened conscience that I had the manners and the purse of a lady, —they asked no questions which might cost them a profitable boarder, the only one they could accommodate in their poor way. I had no fear that any hue-and-cry would be raised for me; I had left behind me two who would prevent that,—in that, my worst foes were my best friends. If I had any relatives who cared for me enough to pursue me, I rejoiced in at least one sister on whose cunning, if not good sense, I could rely, to convince them of the futility of such efforts,—one friend whose fears would be ingenious and busy to put the best-laid chase at fault.
"So I lay concealed and safe till the time came when I had to purchase pity, help, and precious secrecy. My discreet hosts could furnish those extras; but they were poor, and such luxuries are expensive in New York;—it was not long before my last dollar was gone. I had been ill,—ill, Miss Wimple,—and every way crippled; I could not, if the work had offered itself to me, have earned more then. My last trinket was gone; I had pawned whatever I could spare from the hard exigencies of living; for I am no coward,—I did not wish to die,—I had challenged my fate, and would meet it. I had even changed with the women of the house the silk dress I wore, and my fine linen, for the mean rags you cleansed me of last night, —that they might pay themselves so; and when all was expended, and the last trick tried that pride, honor, and modesty could wink at, I came away in the night, leaving no unsettled scores behind me. But I saw my own resources sinking fast; I knew I must presently be debtor to some one for protection, aid, and counsel. I remembered you,—and that I had said I could beg of none but you; therefore I am here.
"And now, Miss Wimple,"—and as she spoke, Madeline arose, and, standing before her companion, said her say slowly, proudly, with head erect and unflinching eyes,—"I told you I believed in you, as I believed in nothing then, on earth or in heaven,—as I believe only in God's mercy now. I will prove that that was no merely pretty phrase, meant cunningly to cheat you of your forgiveness for a coarse insult. Since I saw you last, I have been—a mother; I have brought forth a child in shame and sin and blasphemous defiance, —and God has been merciful to it and to me, and has taken it unto Himself. I think you also will be merciful; you will help me to save myself from the pit that yawns just now at my feet; you will help me to prove it false, that a woman who has strayed off so far in her wilful way may not, if she be strong and truly proud, retrace her steps, to fall in at last—though last of all the stragglers—with the happy procession of honored women,—of women who have done the best they could, and borne their burden bravely."
Miss Wimple sat on the side of the bed, her chin resting on her clasped hands, her gaze fixed vacantly on the floor,—"Poor baby! Dead,—thank God!" was all she said.
"Miss Wimple," said Madeline, "I have addressed myself to your heart, rather than to your understanding, your education. I had no right to do so. If my presence is, in your opinion, an outrage to your house, I am ready to go now. I can face the street, the town; no one will dare to stop me, if any were inclined."
"Be seated, Miss Splurge,—you are very welcome here. My appreciation of the difference between your education and mine is as kind as you could wish. This is a question of hearts,—and our hearts have been always right, I hope; we are as woman to woman, and the womanly part of either of us may still be trusted. Be seated,—I have a word to say for myself"; and, as she spoke, Miss Wimple went to her little bureau, and, unlocking a drawer, drew from it a miniature rosewood cabinet; unlocking that, again, she took something out, which, as she returned to resume her seat beside Madeline, was hidden in her hand.
"Miss Splurge," said Miss Wimple, "the night on which you disappeared so strangely from this place, I had been visiting a sick friend on the other side of the river, and returned home at a late hour,—that is, about nine o'clock, perhaps. As I entered the covered bridge, I heard the voices of a lady and a gentleman in excited conversation."
Madeline became deadly pale; but she did not speak, uttered no exclamation,—only a slight movement of her eyebrows expressed eagerness, as she turned more attentively to Miss Wimple, who proceeded as though unconscious of any trace of emotion in her companion.
"The voice of the gentleman was familiar to me; the lady's I did not, at first, recognize,—something had changed its quality. Supposing themselves alone,—for it was plain they had not heard me approach and enter the bridge,—they were incautious; their words reached me distinctly. I might have retraced my steps and waited till they had gone; but the moon was shining brightly, and the night was very still, —in a pause of their conversation they might have heard or seen me; I chose to spare them that. So I fell back into a corner, where the shadows were deepest, and remained quite quiet until they went away. I have told you that I heard their words; but I did not understand them then;—now, I do."
Madeline bowed her head. Miss Wimple seemed not to observe that, but continued in the same quiet, even tone:—
"When they had gone, I found, lying in the moonlight near the bridge—this."
Miss Wimple held out the little pocket-book. Madeline started, made a quick movement, as though to snatch the book, but checked herself with an effort, and said, with stern composure,—
"Well," said Miss Wimple, "there it is, and it is yours. It contains a card, for the safety of which you were once concerned. It has remained as safe, from that hour to this,—not only from my curiosity, but that of all others, be they friends or foes of yours,—as though you had kept it hidden in your bosom, and defended it with your teeth and nails; on my honor!"
In these last words, and only then, Miss Wimple showed that she could remember an insult, and avenge it—in her own way. She dropped the pocket-book into the lap of Madeline, who, without a word, placed it in her bosom.
"And now, my poor Madeline," said Miss Wimple, "we will speak no more of these things. I beg you to understand me clearly,"—and Miss Wimple suddenly altered her tone,—"we must not recur to this subject. You will remain with me until we shall have decided what is best for us to do. You are quite safe in this house; that you were ever here need not be known hereafter, unless your honor or your happiness should require that we divulge it. I must go now and open the shop; and when I return to you, we will speak, if you please, of other things."
"But Miss Wimple's Hoop,—will you never come to that? Or is it your intention to 'omit the part of Hamlet by particular request?'"
Slowly and fairly,—we come to it now.
When the neat and modest little mistress of the Hendrik Athenaeum and Circulating Library descended to open the shop and take down the bars, all her sense of delicacy was shocked, and she was brought to shame; for her meek skirts, missing the generous support of the quilted silk petticoat, clung about her mortified extremities in thin and limp dejection. It was plain to Miss Wimple that she looked poverty-stricken,—an aspect most dreadful to the poor, and upon which the brothers and sisters of penury who by hook or by crook contrive to keep up appearances for the nonce have no mercy. "Today," she thought, "callers will delight me not, nor customers neither." But Miss Wimple was in a peculiarly provoking predicament, and for such there is ever a malignant star;—callers and customers dropped in, one after another, all day, as they had rarely come before,—as though, indeed, her most spiteful enemy had got wind of the petticoat affair, and sent them to plague her.
That day, Miss Wimple had recourse to as much painfully ingenious dodging behind the low counters as though she had a cloven foot to hide. When evening came, she could have sat down—if she had been any other plagued woman in the world but Sally Wimple—and had a good cry. It was bitter weather, and she had shivered much;—she did not mind that; but to look poverty-stricken! No, she did not cry outside, but it was a narrow escape. In her trouble, her eyes wandered around the shop beseechingly; and lo! she beheld in the window a timely hooped skirt,—a daring speculation wherein she had lately invested, in consideration of the growing importance of her millinery department; and straightway Miss Wimple went and took the hoop, and offered it up for a pride-offering in the stead of her delicacy, that was so dear to her. It was a thing of touching artlessness to do; only so cunning-simple a soul as Sally Wimple could ever have thought of it. She sat up late that night, engaged in compromising with her prejudices, by drawing out the whalebones, one by one, from the "Alboni," shaving them down with a piece of glass, very thin, and tucking them,—until all their loud defiance was subdued, and for Miss Wimple's Hoop it might be tenderly deprecated that it was nothing to speak of, "such a leetle one."
The sacrifice was made, and, let us hope, not merely figuratively accepted by Him to whom prejudices may arise today an offering not less honored than was the blood of rams in the hour when Abraham laid his first-born on an altar in the thicket of Jehovah-jireh.
If any challenge the probabilities of this incident, and cavil at the chance that Miss Wimple's necessity could, under any circumstances, bring forth such an invention, I hope I have only to remind them that that brave angel had become straitened to a point whereat she had neither material from which to erect another quilted petticoat, nor the means of procuring it, even if she could spare the time necessary to the making of one,—which she could not, being now closely occupied between the engagements of her hired needle and the newly-found cares that Charity had imposed upon her.
But, however the probabilities may appear, Miss Wimple's Hoop was a shaved-whalebone fact; and the quilted petticoat would never have been missed, but for the officious scrutiny of the eyes, and the provoking prating of the tongues, of a sophisticated few who marvelled greatly at the pliancy and the "perfect set" of Miss Wimple's Alboni,—"and that demure little prig, too! who'd have thought it?"
As for Simon Blount, he was quick to perceive the new experience to which the skimped delaine had been introduced, and at first it disturbed and embarrassed him; but his light, elastic temper soon recovered its careless buoyancy, with a sly smile at what he considered an oddity, newly discovered, in the character of his prim sweetheart. "Oh! it's all right, of course," he thought; "Sally knows what she's about; but it's very funny!"
And so, if this strange disturbing of the established order of "things" in the kingdom of Wimple had rested with the exaltation of the Hoop, that body politic would presently have been reduced to tranquillity, no doubt, and the all-agogness of Hendrik would have come quietly to nought, like any other popular flutter following upon a new thing under the sun. But in a romantic cause the conscientiousness of Miss Wimple, for all her seeming matter-of-fact, took on a quality of chivalry; and she displayed a Quixotism most tiltfully disposed toward any windmill of conventional proprieties that might plant itself in the way by which her beauteous and distressed damsel was to escape. So, before all the decencies of Hendrik had recovered from the shock of the Hoop, she threw them into a new and worse "conniption" by an even more daring innovation upon their good, easy notions of her; for the next thing she did was—a basque and flounces. Thus it happened:—
Madeline had become quite another Madeline,—say a Magdalen, rather, —under the gentle discipline of her admirable angel. Her wonted distraction had subsided into a pensive sadness, which manifested itself in many a grateful, graceful tenderness toward that glorifier of the skimped delaine. She had observed the Hoop at once, and greeted it with a solitary smile, accepting it for a happy sign and a token; for she had recognized Simon Blount when she turned into the shop, that night, out of the darkness and the cold, and, with the alert intelligence of a woman, even so self-absorbed as she was then, had construed his gallant "good-night." She thought she understood Miss Wimple's Hoop, because she had not discovered the poetry in Miss Wimple's quilted petticoat. They had not spoken of those things again. Delicacy was the law for those two; and to do their best, and thankfully, bravely, accept the first deliverance Heaven might send them, was their religion. Like two Micawbers of Faith, Hope, and Charity, they waited for something to "turn up."
Miss Wimple invested a daily three-cent piece in a New York paper, and diligently conned the "Wants" before the Marriages and Deaths, —extraordinary woman! An "opening" had but to show itself, and Miss Wimple was ready to fling her character into the breach for the benefit of her Magdalen. Strong-minded woman!
At last it came. A gentleman who had recently lost his wife wanted a house-keeper and governess for his two little girls,—the offices to be united in the person of "a lady by birth, education, and associations"; to such a liberal salary would be given; and in case she should be in straitened circumstances, a reasonable advance would be made, "to enable the lady to assume at once the position of a respected member of his family." The very place!
Now what did that dashing Miss Wimple-Quixote—of such is the Kingdom of Heaven!—but sit down and pour her enormous little heart out in a letter to a person she had never seen or heard of,—telling him everything but names and localities, and appealing, with an inspiration, to his divine spark. There is no doubt that, "for that occasion only," Providence sent an advertiser to the "Tribune" to justify the large faith of Pity in skimped delaine; for the word of Hope and Love that Miss Wimple let fall, unstudied, from the heart, fell upon a genial mind, and lo!—
"It raised a sister from the dust, It saved a soul from death!"
The gentleman—the nobleman!—thanked his unknown correspondent, whose hand he would esteem it an honor to touch, for the opportunity she had afforded him to do good in a graceful way. Mrs. Morris (Miss Wimple had written: "Let us know this poor lady as 'Mrs. Morris,' a childless widow") should be most welcome to his house; she need never be aware that the sad passages of her history had come to his knowledge, and by all over whom he exercised authority or influence her sorrows should be reverenced. He took the liberty to inclose a check, which Mrs. Morris would have the goodness to regard as a small advance on her salary; she would make whatever preparation she might deem necessary, at her perfect leisure; he would be happy to see her as soon as it should be quite agreeable to her to come. Once more, with all his heart, he thanked the admirable lady who had in so remarkable a manner distinguished him by her noble impulse of confidence. It would be his dearest duty hereafter to deserve it. And he gave his address: "Lawrence Osgood, Fourteenth St., New York."
It was evident that the "necessary preparations" for Madeline's appearance in this new role could not be made in Hendrik. Miss Wimple was distressingly sensitive for the safety of her protegee from scandalous discovery. Even she herself could not expend any considerable portion of Mr. Osgood's advance without arousing surmise and provoking dangerous prying. Besides, how should she get the money for the check?—to whom dare she confess herself in possession of it? Of course, there was a conclusive impossibility. Nevertheless, something must be done at once to put Madeline at least in travelling trim; for the things of which—to use her own sensitive expression—Miss Wimple had "cleansed" her when she came were out of the question. It was as true of this poor young lady in her trunkless plight, as of any dishevelled Marius in crinoline, who sits down and weeps among the brand-new ruins of a Carthage of satin, lawns, and laces, that she had Nothing to Wear. So Miss Wimple, encouraged by the happy success of the Hoop stratagem, forthwith began to cast about her; and for the present Mr. Osgood's letter and the check were hushed up in her bosom.
Now Miss Wimple and Madeline Splurge were examples of how much our views of a person's character have to do with our notions of his or her stature or carriage. All Hendrik spoke of the demure heroine of the skimped delaine as "Little Miss Wimple"; and Madeline, though the youngest of the sisters, was universally known as "Miss Splurge," —as it were, awfully. Yet Miss Wimple and Madeline were almost exactly "of a size," by any measurement, and Miss Wimple's clothes were a sweet fit for Madeline; the petticoat experiment had discovered that. So the skimped delaine, Miss Wimple thought, must be promoted to the proud person of the handsome Madeline, and something must be found to take its place.
Now, among store of respectable family-rubbish, scrupulously saved by half a graveyard-full of female relations,—for the women-folk of the Wimples had been ever noted for their thrift,—a certain quaint garment had come down to Sally from her great-grandmother. It was a black "silken wonder," wherewith, no doubt, that traditionally dear, delightful creature was wont to astonish the streets, in the days of her vanity and frivolous vexation of spirit.
A generous expanse of cape pertained to it, and it was cut much shorter behind than before, in order to display to advantage the pert red heels whereon that antique Wimple aforetime exalted herself. "With some trifling alterations," said Miss Wimple to herself, "this will do nicely for me; and my delaine—which is not so very bad, after all—a little cleaning will do wonders for it—will look sweetly appropriate on the Widow Morris, while her outfit is making in New York."
So Miss Wimple let down the dress behind, by piecing it in the back just below the waist; and from the generous cape she made a basque to hide the alteration; and some stains, like iron-mould, on the skirt, she covered with three flounces, made of some fine crape that was left from her mother's funeral.
"But, by your leave, where was this 'silken wonder' when your unhandy heroine was casting about her for a substitute for the quilted petticoat?"
Anywhere but in her mind. Of the round-aboutness of her directness you have had examples enough already; nothing could be more romantic than her simplest realities, and that which would seem most out-of-the-way to another woman was often "handiest" to her. So, when you ask me, Why did not Sally Wimple sooner think of her great-grandmother's dress? my easiest answer is, Because she was Sally Wimple.
When Miss Wimple first put on the new dress, in Madeline's presence, Madeline smiled again, for she thought she understood; and Miss Wimple smiled also, for she knew no one could understand.
Then Miss Wimple broke the news to Madeline, by telling her that "an old friend of her father's," a wealthy Mr. Osgood, of New York, was in want of a governess for his two daughters, and had written to her on the subject;—(a not very improbable story; for Madeline could not but be aware that in the conscientious and proud little bookseller was the making of a very respectable "Jane Eyre," under favorable circumstances;)—whereupon she had taken the liberty to recommend a clever and accomplished friend of her own, one Mrs. Morris, a widow,—"of course, that's you, Madeline,"—and Mr. Osgood had accordingly done her the honor to offer the place to Mrs. Morris, and, "with characteristic consideration and delicacy," had inclosed a check, by way of an advance on her salary, which would be liberal, to defray the expense of an outfit,—"and there it was." His writing to her, Miss Wimple said, was a circumstance as strange as it was fortunate; for, in fact, she had, personally, but a very slight acquaintance with him, and was "quite sure she should not recognize him, if she were to see him now";—as for his little girls, she had never seen them, nor even heard their names. But Mr. Osgood's character was of the very highest, and she rejoiced that Madeline would have so honorable, influential, and generous a protector, who had given his word that she should be received and entertained with the consideration due to a superior and esteemed friend.
[Never mind Miss Wimple's white lies, my dear; there is no danger that they will be found filling the blank place in the Recording Angel's book, left where his tear blotted out My Uncle Toby's oath. And in a purely worldly point of view, too, those touching offerings to Mercy were safe enough; for when Miss Wimple promised Madeline that she would find Mr. Osgood "a singularly discreet person, who would be sure not to annoy her with impertinent curiosity," it was not said by way of a hint;—she well knew, that, from the moment the proud and jealous Madeline departed across the threshold of the Hendrik Athenaeum and Circulating Library, she would set a close and solemn seal upon her heart and upon her lips, and the "old familiar faces" and places would be to her as the things that Memory is a silent widow for. Nevertheless, in writing to Mr. Osgood, to acknowledge the receipt of the check, and to thank him, that cunning Miss Wimple took the precaution to put him in possession of as much of her personality as would serve his purpose in case of accident, and provide for the chance of a shock to his suspicious and vigilant governess.]
Madeline received Miss Wimple's extraordinary good news with the silence of one bewildered. Nor even when she had come fully to appreciate all the beauty and the joy of it, did she give audible expression to her gratitude; she was too proud—or rather say, too religious—to subject the divine emotion to the vulgar ordeal of words; she only kissed Miss Wimple's hands, and mutely laid them on her bosom.
Then Miss Wimple arrayed her protegee in the skimped delaine, for which the "trifling alterations" and the "little cleaning" had done wonders,—and Madeline was, as it were, "clothed on with chastity." And Miss Wimple was jubilant over the charming effect, and "went on" in a manner surprising to behold. First she kissed Madeline, and then she kissed the dress; and she told Madeline, in a small torrent of triumph, what a tremendous fellow of a skimped delaine it was,—how cheap, and how dear it was,—what remarkable powers of endurance it had displayed, and with what force and versatility of character it had adapted itself to every new alteration or trimming,—and how she was so used to its ways, and it to hers, that she was almost ready to believe it could "get on her by itself,"—and how she felt sure it was expressly manufactured to do good in the world,—until she had so glorified the lowly skimped delaine, that Madeline began to feel in it like a queen, whose benignant star has forever exalted her above the vulgar sensation of having Nothing to Wear.
Now Madeline was quite ready to depart on her pilgrimage of penitence. But almost at the parting hour a circumstance occurred which grievously alarmed Miss Wimple, and so roused the devil whereof Madeline had been but just now possessed, that it stirred within her.
The "nest" looked out upon the street by two front windows, that were immediately over the sign of the Hendrik Athenaeum and Circulating Library. There was also a small side-window, affording a view of a bit of yard, quite private, and pleasant in its season, with an oval patch of grass, some hollyhocks, a grape-vine trained over a pretty structure of lattice to form a sort of summer-house, and a martin-box, in a decidedly original church-pattern, mounted on a tall, white pole. Of course the scene was cheerless and unsightly now; lumpy brown patches of earth showed through the unequally melting snow, where the grass-plot should have been; a few naked and ugly sticks were all the promise of the hollyhocks' yellow glory; the bare grape-vine showed on the dingy lattice like a tangled mesh of weather-stained ropes; and "there were no birds in last year's nest" to make the martin-box look social.
This little window was Madeline's chosen seat; and hither she brought, sometimes a book, but more frequently a portion of Miss Wimple's work from the millinery department, and wholesomely employed her mind, skilfully her fingers. Here she could look out upon the earth and sky, and enjoy, unspied, the sympathy of their desolation,—never daring to think of all the maddening memories that lay under the front windows: those she had never once approached, never even turned her eyes towards; Miss Wimple had observed that.
But on the day of the installation of the basque and the flounces, and the promotion of the skimped delaine, late in the afternoon, the twilight (falling, as Madeline sat at the side-window, gazing vacantly down upon the forlornness of the little yard, and Miss Wimple stood at the front window, gazing as abstractedly down upon the hard, pitiless coldness of the street),—the thoughts of both intent on the must of their parting on the morrow, and the how of Madeline's going,—suddenly Madeline left her safe seat, and came and leaned upon Miss Wimple's shoulder, looking over it into the street. Only a minute, half a minute, but—surely the Enemy tempted her!—too long; for ere Miss Wimple, quick as she was to take the alarm, could turn and lead her away, Madeline's vigilant, fierce glance had caught sight of him, (alack! Philip Withers!) and, ashen-pale, with parted lips and suspended breath, and wide, blazing eyes, she stood, rooted there, and stared at him. But Miss Wimple dragged her away just in time,—no, he had not seen her,—and for a brief space the two women stood together, near the bed, in the corner farthest from the window; and Miss Wimple held Madeline's face close down upon her own shoulder, and pressed her hand commandingly, and whispered, "Hush!"
So they stood in silence,—no cry, no word, escaped. And when, presently, Madeline, with a long heart-heaved sigh, raised her head and looked Miss Wimple in the face, there was blood on her lips. And blood was on Miss Wimple's dress. Yea! the basqued and flounced disguise was raggedly rent at the shoulder.
Then Madeline went and lay down upon the bed, and turned her face to the wall,—and there was no noise. And Miss Wimple covered the blood and the rents on her shoulder with her mother's lace cape,—the familiar companion of the skimped delaine,—and went down into the shop.
When Miss Wimple, having put up the bars, ascended to the nest to join Madeline in the little cot,—Madeline slept quietly enough; but a trace of blood, with all its sad story, was on her lips, and a lingering frown of pain on her brow. Very carefully, not to disturb her, Miss Wimple lay down by her side, but not to sleep;—her thoughts were anxiously busy with the morrow.
In the morning, when Miss Wimple awoke, her eyes met the eyes of Madeline, no longer fierce and wild, but full of patience and tender gratitude. The brave Magdalen, leaning on her elbow in the bed, had been watching Miss Wimple as she slept, her poor heart fairly oppressed with its thankfulness to God, and to his saving minister. When, Miss Wimple opened her eyes, Madeline bent over her and kissed her on the forehead, and Miss Wimple smiled. Then both arose and put on their garments,—Madeline the skimped delaine, and Miss Wimple the flounces. Oh! the grotesque pathos of that exchange!—and Madeline did not remark with what haste, and a certain awkward bashfulness, Miss Wimple retired to a far corner and covered her shoulders with the lace cape.
All that day the two women were very still;—the approaching hour of parting was not adverted to between them, but the low tone in which they spake of other and lesser things showed that it was first of all in their thoughts and on their hearts. To the latest moment they merely understood each other. The cars went from the branch station at ten o'clock. It was nine when Miss Wimple released from its old-fashioned bandbox—as naturally as if it had been all along agreed upon between them, and not, as was truly the case, utterly forgotten until then—her well-saved and but little used bonnet of black straw, and put it on Madeline's head, kissing her, as a mother does her child, as she tied the bow under her chin; and she took from the bed the faithful shawl, and drew it snugly, tenderly, around Madeline's shoulders,—Madeline only blushing; to resist, to remonstrate, she well knew, had been in vain. There had been some exchanging of characters, you perceive, no less than of costumes.
"And now where shall we put those?" asked Miss Wimple, holding in her hand Mr. Osgood's check, and a trifle of ready money for the immediate needs of the journey.
Madeline replied by silently drawing from her bosom the little pocket-book, and handing it to her friend, who opened it in a matter-of-course way that was full of delicacy; and—no doubt accidentally, and innocently, as to any trick of pretty sentiment— deposited the check and the bank-note beside that card.
And now it was time to part. Miss Wimple took up the dim chamber-lamp, and led Madeline down the stairs,—both silent, calm: those were not crying women. As they entered the shop, Miss Wimple immediately set down the lamp on the nearest end of the counter, and went with Madeline straight to the door, whither its slender ray hardly reached, and where the blood-spots and the rents on her shoulder might not be noticed,—or, at least, not clearly defined. Then, with a business-like "Ah! I had forgotten,"—admirably feigned,—she hastily removed the shawl from Madeline's shoulders, and the lace cape from her own; and she put the lace cape on Madeline, and covered it with the shawl. This time Madeline shrank, and would have forbidden the charitable surprise; but Miss Wimple moved as though to open the door, and said,—
"Madeline, in mind, and heart, and soul, do you feel ready?"
"Then go!—Believe in God and yourself, and do the best you can."
And Madeline said,—
"And you, also, must believe in me, and pray for me; be patient with me, and wait. If the time should ever come when I can comfort you, with God's help I will hasten to you, wherever you may be."
And they kissed each other, and both said, "God bless you!"
So Madeline departed quickly, and presently was lost in the shadows beyond the shop-lamps.
[Next morning, when Sally Wimple went to take down the bars, her neighbors were astonished; for it was already reported and believed that she had been seen going from the Athenaeum to the ten o'clock train the night before.]
Then Miss Wimple closed the door and went back to her room, where she sat down on the bed and had a good cry, which was a great comfort. When, after that, she arose, and, standing before the glass to undress herself, perceived the blood-stains and the rents, she straightway went and brought her work-basket, and, seating herself under the dim lamp, without fear or hesitation cut down the dress, low-neck—There!—Then she lay down in the bed and slept sweetly, with a smile on her face.
Ah! cunning, artless Sally Wimple! No wonder the dashing directness of your character had ever by your neighbors been mistaken for simplicity. The thing which was easiest for you to do was ever the hardest thing for you to bear. In the morning, this new Godiva of Hendrik—not less to be honored than she of Coventry, in all she underwent and overcame—descended to her shop, "clothed on with chastity"; and then her dreadful trial began. I claim for her even more merit than the pure heart of the world has accorded to her namesake who:
"took the tax away, And built herself an everlasting name,"
by as much as her task was harder, herself more helpless, and her reward less. Like her of Coventry,
"left alone, the passions of her mind, As winds from all the compass shift and blow, Made war upon each other for an hour, Till Pity won."
She said to the World,—"If this woman pay your tax, she dies."
And the World mocked,—"You would not let your little finger ache for such as this!"
"But I would die," said she,—"and more,—I will bear your mocking and your hisses!"
"Oh! ay, ay, ay! you talk!" said the World.
But we have seen already. She had no herald to send forth and "bid him cry, with sound of trumpet, all the hard condition." No palfrey awaited her, "wrapt in purple, blazoned with armorial gold." For her, indeed,
"The little wide-mouthed heads upon the spout, Had cunning eyes to see..."
"...the blind walls Were full of chinks and holes; and, overhead, Fantastic gables stared."
She had her low churls, her Peeping Toms,—"compact of thankless earth," who bored moral auger-holes in fear, and spied. Her nudeness was more complete than hers of Coventry, by as much as ridicule is more ruthless than coarse curiosity.
Not merely the delicacy of her "inmost bower," but all the protection of her forlornness, she exposed naked to the town, to take that tax away; and when it was removed, she could not hope to build herself "an everlasting name." Ah, no! Godiva of Hendrik may not live in any "city's ancient legend." This poor story must be all her monument; let us lay the cap-stone, then.
* * * * *
All the angers of scorn in Hendrik were pointed at Miss Wimple; all the sharp tongues of Hendrik hissed at her; and her good name fell at once into the portion of the vilest weeds. Simon Blount saw and heard, and his soul was sorely troubled. Like all true love, loyal and vigilant, his love for Sally was clear-sighted and sagacious. Infatuation is either gross passion or pretence,—the flash and bogus jewelry of the heart; but true love, though its eyes may ache with the seeing, sees ever sharply. All beautiful examples teach that the blindness of Love is not a parable, but an imposture; and Simon saw that Sally was in a false position,—false to herself and to him; for she denied him that confidence which he had a right to share, sharing, as he did, all the scandal and the scorn; and in that, she was unconsciously unjust. She denied herself the aid and comfort of his tender counsel and his approbation, the protection of his understanding and believing, when for him to understand and believe was for her to be safe and bold. For even the pride of Sally Wimple, overdone, could become arrogance; even her disinterestedness, intemperately indulged in, could take on the form of selfishness.
Simon went to Sally, and said: "Tell me what all this means." But Sally, weak now in her very strength, said: "Nothing! Let my ways be my own ways still; I alone am answerable for them. Is 'believing and waiting' so hard to do? I did not send for you."
Then Simon conceived a tremendous coup de coeur, a daring one enough, as women go,—women of such stuff as the Sally Wimples of this world are made of. He said, "I will try the old trick, the foolish old trick that I always despised, but which must have something sound in it, after all, since it has served the turn, through all time, of people in my predicament." So Simon went over (not with his heart,—trust him!—but with his legs) to Adelaide Splurge. Miss Wimple, never guessing, saw him go, and made no sign, though her heart fairly cracked: "He will return one day," she thought; "if it be too late then, so much the better for him, perhaps."
Of Adelaide, the town had begun, some time since, to say, that she had tired of Philip Withers,—that she did not appreciate him, could not understand him,—he was too deep for her. Foolish town! She had only found him out, and learned to hate him as fiercely as she despised him unutterably. She had truly loved the man, and her shrewd heart had played the detective for his Madeline secret.
For such a Fouche a slighter clue would have sufficed to lead to the conviction of so besotted a traitor, than many an incautious hint of his, and many a tale-telling vaunt of his irresistible egotism, afforded her; for, like all the weak wretches of his sort, there was not a more bungling lout, to try the patience of a clever man, than Philip Withers, when his game lay between his safety and his vanity.
To Adelaide's hand Simon Blount came timely and well-trained. At once she set him on Withers, as one would hie on a good dog at a thief; and it was not long before she had the pleasure of seeing the chase brought to the ground.
Withers had heard of a graceful neck, and white, dimpled shoulders, at the Athenaeum; so accomplished a connoisseur as he must not let them pass unappreciated. So he hastened to discharge his duty to aesthetic society by honoring them with his admiration and exalting patronage. On any transparent pretext,—the more transparent the better, he thought, for the proprietress of the white shoulders and the bewitching shape, who "no doubt understood,"—he dropped in often at the little bookstore, to begin with a "how-do?" and conclude with an "au revoir,"—the ineffable puppy! upon whose vicious vanity the cold, still, statuesque scorn of Miss Wimple was grandly lost. At last, at the Splurge house one evening, in the presence of Adelaide and Simon, he was betrayed by his egotism into boasting, by insinuation, of certain successes at the Circulating Library most damaging to Miss Wimple's reputation for understanding and good taste; he was "in her books," he said.
An accordant glance passed between Adelaide and Simon. When Withers retired, Simon followed him, and under Adelaide's window, and under her eyes, he boxed the ears of Philip, the Debonair. After that, Mr. Withers was discreeter.
But Miss Wimple's trial was not yet at its worst. The low-necked dress had been as unseasonable as the substitution of the hooped skirt for the quilted petticoat was imprudent. Before Madeline had been gone a week, she contracted, as was to be feared, a heavy cold, which within a month assumed a chronic bronchial form, attended with alarming symptoms. The extreme dejection of spirits, consequent upon her persecuted loneliness, had predisposed her to disease in the first place, and aggravated its character when it came.
At last she fell dangerously ill, and with the closing of the shop—for she could hire no one to attend in it—came poverty in its most dreadful form. But for the charity of her kind physician, who sent a servant-girl, a mere child, to nurse her, and daily kept her supplied with proper nourishment from his own house, she would, so it seemed to her, have died of neglect and starvation. Yet better, she thought, to depart even so, than linger on, when such lingering taxed the patience and the faith beyond the loftiest examples of religion. Miss Wimple was too stout-hearted to cry for death, though she felt, that, having lived with heroism, she could at least die with presence of mind. She waited, with a composure that had a strange quality of pride.
In her New York home, Mrs. Morris, the governess, was as happy as she dared to feel. In Mr. Osgood's family she had found all things as Miss Wimple had promised. Treated with studious deference and consideration, not unmixed with affection, she enjoyed for her secret thoughts the most privileged privacy. Her brave gratitude was superior to the distress a weaker woman might have suffered from the necessity of making Mr. Osgood unreservedly acquainted with her story, in order to enlist his aid to procure tidings of Miss Wimple, whose safety, health, and happiness were now far dearer to her than her own.
She did tell him all, and had reason to thank God for the courage that made it a possible, even an easy, thing for her to do. Her truly noble benefactor and protector, receiving her communication as if he then heard it for the first time, assured her that in thus confiding in the freedom of his mind, and in his honor, she had set up a new and stronger claim to his interest and friendly care. She had but enlarged his obligation to his until then unknown correspondent for having given his children, to whom their governess had already truly endeared herself, so admirable a teacher, so precious a friend.
["But why," you will ask, "did not Madeline write to Miss Wimple?" Because that provident angel had, without explanation, exacted from her a promise that she would in no case write first. In truth, Miss Wimple foresaw her own various suffering, and sought to spare Madeline some cruel pangs, and herself the hard trial of disingenuous correspondence.]
And Mr. Osgood would have started at once for Hendrik, where he was not personally known to any one, to procure tidings of Miss Wimple and allay the anxiety of Mrs. Morris, had Madeline not found, that very day, her name in the Herald's list of letters waiting to be called for in the New York Post-Office. That letter was, indeed, for Madeline, and its contents were as follows:—
"To Miss MADELINE SPLURGE,—Miss Wimple, of Hendrik, is very ill, and poor, and friendless. It has been suggested to the writer of this that you can help her. If you can, and will, there is no time to lose. A FRIEND."
The "friend" was Simon Blount. Ever since the Athenaeum was closed, he had hung anxiously about the place, frequently dropping in upon the neighbors to ask—quite by-the-byishly, and by chance, it seemed to them—after the health of Miss Wimple; and sometimes he waylaid the little servant, as she passed to and fro between the bookstore and the doctor's residence, and plied her with questions. On such occasions he was sure to make the little maid the depository of certain silver secrets, which forthwith she revealed to Miss Wimple in the shape of whole basketfuls of comfortable stuff, "from the Doctor." Adelaide had given the hint for this letter. Calling at the Athenaeum one day, about a fortnight after Madeline's departure, her quick eye caught sight of a bit of paper lying on the counter, whereon was freshly written, "Madeline Splurge." Miss Wimple had been entering some trifling charge in the course of her small book-keeping, and, still dallying with the pen, a passing thought, less idle than anxious, had traced the name. On that slight foundation Adelaide had built a happy guess, though Simon knew it not,—and though he accepted her suggestion, it amazed him.
Let us lift the curtain now, on the last, an extraordinary, tableau. In the Wimple nest a strange company are met at the bidding of Madeline Splurge, who couches a flashing lance for the life and the honor of her benefactress.
Proudly, condescendingly, haughtily superior to the least sparing of herself,—as one who stooped at the bidding of Duty,—she had told her story, from first to last, omitting nothing; with head erect, pale lips, and flashing eyes,—with a passing flush, perhaps, at the more shameful passages, but with no faltering, no dodging, no self-excusing, no beseeching,—scornfully when she spoke of home, and the beginning of the end,—redly, hatefully, wickedly dangerous, when Philip Withers came on the scene,—with tremulous lips and the low tones of Gratitude's most moving eloquence for the story of Miss Wimple and her sublimely simple sacrifice,—modestly and with grateful deference, at the mention of Mr. Osgood and his rare chivalry.
Then, taking from her bosom a small morocco pocket-book, and from the pocket-book a card, she said,—
"And now to toss that thing to the geese of Hendrik! Read that, slowly, distinctly, that all may hear!"—and she placed the card in Simon's hand, who ran his eye over it for a moment, then stood up, and read:—
"MADELINE,—For God's sake be merciful, be reasonable! I will comply with your hardest terms,—I will share all I possess with you, [Adelaide smiled,]—I will even marry you after a time; but do not, I implore you, in your recklessness, involve me in your unnecessary ruin; do not fling me under the playful feet of that ingenious shrew Adelaide. Meet me at the bridge tonight, in memory of our dear old love."
When Simon had read the card, he let it fall on the floor, with a gesture of disgust, and, without looking at Withers, who slunk, pitifully wilted, into a corner, returned to his place on a low stool, where he resumed his former attitude, holding the hand of Sally Wimple, who now, with closed eyes, reclined on Madeline's bosom, —that bosom that was, for her weariness, the type of the complete rest that crowns and blesses a brave struggle,—of that all-for-the-best-ness that comes of the heart's clearings-up. Only Adelaide broke the silence; with her gaze fixed full on Withers, and a triumphant sneer crowning her happy lips, she uttered one word by way of chorus,—"Joseph!"
At that word a faint flush flitted athwart the cheeks of Madeline, and she moved as if uneasy; but she did not speak again, nor turn her eyes to any face but Miss Wimple's.
Josephine Splurge was there; but, perceiving no opening that she could fill to advantage with a delightful quotation, and having no pickle at hand whereto she might give all her mind, she supported a graceful silence with back hair and an attitude.
Mrs. Splurge was there,—and that was all. Not clearly understanding what she was called upon to say or do under the circumstances, nor prepared to take the responsibility of saying or doing anything without being called upon, she said and did nothing at all. Mrs. Splurge, who had had some experience in that wise, had never been of so little consequence before.
Near the head of the bed, his looks directed toward Miss Wimple with an expression of benevolent solicitude, sat a gentleman of middle age, rather handsome, his hair inclined to gray, his attire fine, but studiously simple.
"Mrs. Morris," he said, "may I be permitted to speak a word here?"
"Surely, Mr. Osgood."
"Then, ladies and gentlemen, since doubtless we understand each other by this time, I think it advisable that we retire, and leave Miss Wimple to much-needed repose."
All arose and passed out, Mrs. Splurge leading the way, Mr. Osgood holding the door. Last of all, and with a pitiful shyness, as if dodging some fresh discomfiture and exposure, came Philip Withers.
"The door is at your service, Sir," said Mr. Osgood, as he passed; "to be sure, the window were more appropriate for your passage; but to attach importance to your existence by suddenly endangering it is an honor I am not prepared to pay you."
Madeline remained with Miss Wimple.
Now Miss Wimple is Simon Blount's wife, and they live with his mother. The debt of the Athenaeum is paid.
Adelaide abides at the Splurge house,—a reserved, bitter, forbidding woman.
Mrs. Splurge still lives; but that is of as little consequence as ever.
I assert it for an astonishing fact,—Philip Withers married Josephine! Truly, the ways of Providence are as just as they are inscrutable. The meanness of Withers, mated to the selfish, helpless, peevish stupidity of Josephine, made an ingenious retribution.
When I was at the opera, a few nights since, I saw in a private box a benevolent-looking gentleman of middle age, evidently well-born and accustomed to wealth. He was accompanied by a lady in elegant mourning,—a lady of decided beauty and distinguished appearance.
Miss Flora McFlimsey was there:—"That," said she, "is Mrs. Morris, of Fourteenth Street,—a mysterious governess in the family of Mr. Osgood; and the gentleman is Mr. Osgood."
NATURE AND THE PHILOSOPHER.
What dost thou here, pale chemist, with thy brow Knotted with pains of thought, nigh hump-backed o'er Thy alembics and thy stills? These garden-flowers, Whose perfumes spice the balmy summer-air, Teach us as well as thee. Thou dost condense Healthy aromas into poison-drops, Narcotic drugs of dangerous strength and power,— And wines of paradise to thee become Intoxicating essences of hell. Cold crystallizer of the warm heaven's gold! Thou rigorous analyst! thou subtile brain! Gathering thought's sunshine to a focus heat That blinds and burns and maddens! What, my friend! Are we, then, salamanders? Do we live A charmed life? Do gases feed like air? Pray you, pack up your crucibles and go! Your statements are too awfully abstract; Your logic strikes too near our warm tap-roots: We shall breathe freer in our natural air Of common sense. What are your gallipots And Latin labels to this fresh bouquet?— Friend, 'tis a pure June morning. Ask the bees, The butterflies, the birds, the little girls. We are after flowers. You are after—what? Aconite, hellebore, pulsatilla, rheum. Take them and go! and take your burning lens! We dare not bask in the sun's genial beams Drawn to that spear-like point. Truth comes and goes, Life-giving in diffusion. Nature flows, extends, And veils us with herself,—herself God's veil. But you persist in opening your bladders, And the three gases that compose the air You bid us take a breath of, one by one. For Mother Nature you should have respect: She does not like these teasings and these jokes. Philosopher you seem; you'd state all fair; You would go deep and broad. You're right; but then Forget not there's an outer to your inner,— A whole that binds your parts,—a truth for man As well as chemist,—and your lecture-room, With magic vials and quaint essences And odors strange, may teach your students less Than this June morning, with the sun and flowers.
The biography before us is so voluminous that it can hardly maintain the popularity to which its subject entitles it. He must be a bold man, and to some degree forgetful of the brevity of life, who, for any ordinary purpose of information or amusement, undertakes to read these huge octavos. True, the theme is somewhat extended; Jefferson's life was a protracted and busy one; he took a leading part in complicated transactions, and promulgated doctrines which cannot be summarily discussed. But the author's prolixity has not grown out of the extent of his theme alone. He is both diffuse and digressive. He introduces much irrelevant matter, and tells everything in a round-about-way. By a judicious exercise of the arts of elimination and compression, we think that all which illustrates the subject might have been comprised in one volume much smaller than the smallest of these.
But Mr. Randall's most serious fault arises from his desire to be thought a fine writer. Without making long extracts, it is impossible to give any conception of the absurdities into which this childish ambition has led him. The tropes and metaphors, the tawdry tinsel, the common tricks of feeble rhetoricians are reproduced here as if they were the highest results of rhetorical art. The display is often amusing. Thus, in describing Mrs. John Adams, Mr. Randall says: "Her lofty lineaments carried a trace of the Puritan severity. They were those of the helmed Minerva, and not of the cestus-girdled Venus." We do not mention this in order to justify a strain of captious criticism, but to ask Mr. Randall, in all seriousness, how it was possible for him to associate a staid and sensible New England matron with Venus and Minerva? What would he say of a writer who should gravely tell us that Washington's features were those of the cloud-compelling Jupiter, not of Mars, slayer of men,—and that Franklin's countenance resembled that of the wily Ulysses, not that of the far-ruling Agamemnon? We might fill this paper with passages like the one we have quoted. What is the use of this kind of writing? It does not convey any meaning; there is no beauty in it; it increases the size and price of books; it corrupts the taste of the young, is offensive to persons of good sense, and mortifying to those who take pride in the literary reputation of their country. It is the bane of our literature. Many of our prose-writers constantly put language upon paper the use of which in ordinary life would be received by a court as evidence of insanity. If they do so for display, they take the readiest course to defeat their purpose. There is nothing so fascinating as simplicity and earnestness. A writer who has an object, and goes right on to accomplish it, will compel the attention of his readers. But it seems, that in art, as well as in morals and politics, the plainest truths are the last to be understood.
We make these strictures with reluctance. This biography, in many respects, is valuable, and Mr. Randall might easily have made it interesting. He had a subject worthy of any pen, and an abundance of new material. He does not lack skill. His unstudied passages, though never elegant, are well enough. He is industrious. Though we must dissent from some of his conclusions, he is entitled to the praise of being accurate, and is free from prejudice,—except that amiable prejudice which has been well called the lues Boswelliana. His delineations of famous personages, though marked by the faults of which we have spoken, show quite unusual perception of character. He has a thorough appreciation of Jefferson's noblest characteristics, and an honorable sympathy with the philosophy of which Jefferson was a teacher.
[Footnote 1: The Life of Thomas Jefferson. By HENRY S. RANDALL, LL. D. In three volumes. New York: Derby & Jackson. 1858.]
With resources and qualifications like these, he might have produced a biography which the country would have received with gratitude, and which would have conferred an enviable reputation upon him; as it is, through his neglect of a few wholesome rules which he must have learned when a school-boy, the years of labor he has spent over this book will go for nothing, and the hopes he has built upon it will be disappointed.
There is much conflict of opinion as to the character of Jefferson, and the value of his services. We doubt whether there is another person in our history, as to whom there still exists so strong a feeling of dislike on the one hand, and of admiration on the other. By some he is regarded as a theorist and a demagogue, who, for selfish purposes, opposed the purest patriots, and disseminated doctrines which will pervert our institutions and destroy our social fabric; by others he is revered as the philosopher who first asserted the rights of man, and the statesman who first defined the functions of our government and demonstrated the principles upon which it should he administered. His detractors and admirers both bear witness to the extent and permanency of his influence. He saw all the phases of our national life. He assisted in the struggle for liberty, and in the contest which gave form to that liberty,—while it was his happy fortune to inaugurate the system by which, with occasional deviations, the republic, for more than fifty years, has been governed. He heard the discussion of the Stamp Act, and the debate on the admission of Missouri. He shared in the dispute which the establishment of the Constitution produced, and lived to witness the outbreak of the quarrel which now threatens the existence of the Constitution. His influence was felt through the whole of this long period. Nor was it confined to affairs alone. He took part in all the intellectual action of his countrymen. He was an adept in science, an ingenious mechanic, and a contributor to literature. He stimulated adventure, and was the judicious patron of architecture and the fine arts. More than any man of his day, to the labors of a practical statesman he brought a mind disciplined by a liberal philosophy; and he adorned the most exalted stations with the graceful fame of learning and polite accomplishments. It is impossible for us to touch every point of his great career. It is difficult to dwell upon a single point without being seduced into a discussion too extended for these pages. We may, however, be permitted, in a rapid manner, to present Mr. Jefferson in some of those relations which seem to us to throw the strongest light upon his character and teachings.
Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas, was a notable man. His parents were poor, and in early life he went into the backwoods of Virginia as a surveyor. He is described as a person of great stature and strength. His mind was equally robust. He was a natural mathematician, and was remarkable for hardihood and perseverance. His temper was equable, but his passions were strong and his anger terrible. In youth his education had been neglected; but, by the wise employment of his leisure, he obtained considerable reputation for learning throughout the rude region where he lived. This huge man, with gigantic strength and fierce passions, is said to have been endowed with tender sympathies, and to have had a scholar's love for Shakspeare and Addison.
Social distinctions were strictly observed at that day, but Peter Jefferson broke through them and married a daughter of the Randolph family.
Thomas, the third child and oldest son of this marriage, was born at Shadwell, his father's estate, on the 2d of April, 1743. The characteristics of the sire descended to the son, the physical attributes in milder, and the intellectual in more active forms. Like many men of his class, Peter Jefferson had perhaps an undue sense of the obstacles he had encountered through lack of education, and was careful to provide for that of his children. As soon as possible, Thomas was sent to school, and when nine years old, under the tuition of a Scottish clergyman, he was introduced to the study of Latin, Greek, and French. His father died when he was fourteen years old, leaving a considerable estate, and particular directions that Thomas should receive a thorough classical training. The executor had some doubt as to whether it would be prudent to send the lad to college in obedience to the paternal request; whereupon Thomas addressed him in a little argument, which is a curious exhibition of the proclivities of his mind. In the mathematical manner which afterwards became common with him, he urged that at home he would lose one fourth of his time on account of the company which was attracted by his presence, and that entertaining so many guests would be a heavier charge upon the estate than the expense of his residence at Williamsburg.
The young disputant prevailed, and, in 1760, he was sent to William and Mary College. He remained there two years. His acquirements, during this time, though probably not so great as Mr. Randall would have us believe, must have been large. He had equal aptitude for the classics and mathematics. In the latter his proficiency was remarkable, and he always retained his taste for it. Though never a critical classical scholar, he could read Latin with ease. He was conversant with French, and had some familiarity with Greek. In later life he studied Anglo-Saxon and Italian. But Jefferson terminated his collegiate course with a possession far more valuable than all the learning he could gather in the narrow curriculum of a colonial college; study had excited in him that eager thirst for knowledge which is an appetite of the mind almost as unconquerable as the appetites of the body.
After leaving college, he remained at Williamsburg, and entered the office of Mr. Wyeth, a leader at the Virginia bar. Williamsburg was the capital and the centre of the most refined society of the province. Francis Fauquier was governor. He was an Englishman, of distinguished family, who had lost a large property in a single night's play, and had taken the appointment to Virginia to repair his fortunes. To some of the vices and most of the accomplishments of a man of the world he added fine talents and many solid attainments. He was, withal, a skilful musician and a fascinating conversationist. Mr. Wyeth, and Dr. Small, professor of mathematics at the college, were in the habit of dining with the governor at stated times, for the purpose of conversation. Jefferson, though not yet twenty years old, was admitted to these parties. Fauquier organized a musical society, and Jefferson, who played upon the violin, belonged to this likewise. In these associations, the young student acquired the easy courtesy and conversational art which afterwards greatly contributed to his success, and distinguished him even among the gentlemen of Paris.
His life, between twenty and thirty, was judiciously employed. A closer student could hardly have been found at Edinburgh or Heidelberg. He pursued his profession persistently, and, in addition, made incursions into the fields of belles-lettres and political and physical science. He early conceived a prejudice against metaphysical speculation, which was never removed. We cannot believe that his partiality for romance was much greater. He undoubtedly had that appreciation of the value of this department of letters which every man of sense has, and included it within the circle of his reading because it contains much desirable knowledge. The severest criticism which can be made upon his taste for poetry is conveyed by the statement, that, when young, he admired Ossian, and, when old, admired Moore.
His summers were spent at Shadwell. The responsible charge of a large estate rested upon him, and he introduced into his affairs and studies the extraordinary system which, through life, he carried into all matters, great or small. He commenced keeping a garden-book, which, with interruptions caused by absence, was continued until he was eighty-one years old. It contains memoranda of vegetable phenomena, and statements of all kinds of information, in any way affecting the economy of horticulture. He likewise kept a farm-book. His accounts were noted, without the loss of a day, through his entire life, and every item of personal expense was separately stated. We often find entries like these: "11 d. paid to the barber,"—"4 d. for whetting penknife,"—and "1s. put in the church-box." On the 4th of July, 1776, we find:—"pd. Sparhawk, for a thermometer, L3 15s.—pd. for 7 prs. women's gloves, 27s.—gave, in charity, 1s. 6d." His meteorological register informs us, that, at 6 o'clock, A.M., of the same memorable day, the mercury stood 68 deg. above; at noon, at 76 deg.; and at 9, P.M., at 73-1/2 deg.. Entries were regularly made in this register, three times a day. Separate books were kept for special accounts, like the expenses of the Presidential mansion. In addition, he made minute records of observation in natural history, and a curious "Statement of the Vegetable Market of Washington, during a Period of Eight Years, wherein the Earliest and Latest Appearance of each Article, within the whole Eight Years, is noted." This table mentions thirty-seven different articles, and was compiled during his Presidency. He made a collection of the vocabularies of fifty Indian languages, and two collocations of those passages in the New Testament which contain the doctrines of Jesus. One of these, entitled, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," is an octavo volume, with a complete index. The texts are written out in Greek, Latin, French, and English, and placed in parallel columns.
Mr. Randall makes a long argument to defend Jefferson from the common imputation, that a man who was so fond of detail could not have had much capacity for higher effort. It was hardly worth while to expose a delusion which is so apparent, especially in the case of Jefferson. Men are often seen with great aptitude for the accumulation of facts, and none for the comprehension of principles. Such men, though never great, are always useful. But the most useless and unfortunate organization is that quite common one, where a speculative mind is found which has not sufficient energy to lay hold of details. These philosophers, as the foolish call them, are the ingenious contrivers of the impracticable reforms, the crazy enterprises, and the numberless panaceas for all human ills, which are constantly urged upon the public, and which, under the name of progress, are the most serious obstacles to progress. Both faculties are necessary to one who undertakes high and useful action. Mr. Jefferson was a philosopher because he was a constant and accurate observer; he was correct in his generalizations because he was so in matters of detail.
His career at the bar was short. The acquisition of a science like the law was an easy task for a mind so ingenious and active as his. He had no talent as an advocate, but was at once successful in the more retired and not less difficult departments of the profession. During seven years' practice, his income averaged three thousand dollars a year;—a large sum then, and no mean reward at the present day.
When twenty-nine years old, he married Mrs. Martha Skelton, a young and childless widow, of great beauty. In relation to this affair a pleasant anecdote is told. Mr. Jefferson had a number of rivals. Two of these gentlemen met, one evening, in the drawing-room of Mrs. Skelton's house. While waiting for her to enter, they heard her singing in an adjoining room, and Jefferson playing an accompaniment upon the violin. There was something in the burden of the air, and in the expression with which the performers rendered it, which conveyed unpleasant suggestions; and the two suitors, after listening awhile, departed without seeing the lady. The inevitable account-book mentions the sums paid to the clergyman, fiddlers, and servants, on the occasion of the marriage.
His wife's fortune, as he informs us, doubled his own, and placed him in a position of pecuniary independence. He soon abandoned his profession, and thenceforward his career was a public one. He entered political life at the time when it first became evident that a war with England must occur, and threw himself into the extreme party. He was admirably fitted for success in a legislative body. His talents were deliberative, rather than executive. He had no power in debate, but he possessed qualities which we believe are more uniformly influential in a public assemblage,—tact, industry, a conciliatory disposition, and systematic habits of thought. He was always familiar with the details of legislation. The majority of the members of a legislature can seldom know much about its business. Those questions which excite popular attention and become party tests are inquired into; but most matters attract no attention and are not party tests. Only a few men of great industry and rare powers are familiar with these. In the British House of Commons, it is said, there are not more than thirty or forty such members. In either branch of our Congress the proportion is no larger. It is a great power to know that which others find it necessary to know; and if to this information one adds good judgment and a persuasive intellect, his influence will be almost unbounded. Young as he was, no one could approach Jefferson without seeing that he had read and thought much. While most of his comrades in Virginia had been wasting their youth in horse-racing and cock-fighting, he had been an enthusiastic student of books and Nature. Upon all subjects likely to excite inquiry his knowledge was full and precise, and his opinions those of a sagacious and philosophic mind. His manners were attractive; he never engaged in dispute; he expressed himself freely to those who sought his society for information or an intelligent comparison of opinion; but his lips were closed in the presence of a disputant. The patience with which he listened to others, and the modest candor with which he expressed himself, usually disarmed the contentions; when they did not, he went no farther. If his views were false, he did not wish them to prevail; if they were true, he felt certain that sooner or later they would prevail. A temperament like this might have placed a less firm man under the imputation of disingenuousness; but such an imputation could not rest upon him. No one was in doubt as to his opinions. He generally anticipated inquiry, and selected his ground before others saw that action would be necessary. There were capable lawyers and men of wide experience in our Revolutionary legislatures, but there was no one whose influence was more powerful and felt upon a greater variety of subjects than that of Jefferson.
He might, however, have possessed all of these characteristics, and enjoyed the consideration among his fellow-legislators which they confer, without being well known to the public, if he had not united to them the ability to write elegant and forcible English. The circumstances of the time made literary talents unusually valuable. The daily press has driven the essayist out of the political field. But for several generations elaborate disquisitions upon politics had been usual in England; in this regard pamphlets then occupied the place of our newspapers. Bolingbroke, Swift, Johnson, and Burke, all the serious and some of the gay writers, acquired repute by this kind of effort. Neither were the speeches of leading men circulated then as at present. At the time of the Revolution, an oration never reached those who did not hear it. This gave a great advantage to the writer. The pamphlets of Otis and Thomas Paine were read by multitudes who never heard a word of the eloquence of Henry and Adams. A high standard of taste had been created, and success in political dissertation was difficult, but, when obtained, it was of proportionate value, and the source of wide and permanent influence. Jefferson found a function requiring much the same talents with that of the pamphleteer, but possessing some advantages over it. The only means which the Continental Congress and the colonial legislatures had of communicating with their constituents and the mother country was by formal addresses. These documents were arguments upon public questions, possessing the force which an argument always has when it is the expression of great numbers of minds. An audience was certain. At home they were sure to be read, and in England they attracted the attention of every one connected with affairs. Jefferson's literary talents were soon discovered. One successful performance in the Virginia House of Delegates established a reputation which the Declaration of Independence has made immortal.
In every point of view, Jefferson is entitled to a high place in American literature. As a mere rhetorician, he has few equals; as a political writer, not more than two or three. An adherence to logical forms and the use of mathematical illustrations are his most noticeable faults. But they are not found in his more elaborate performances. He has the supreme merit of perfect clearness, naturalness, and grace of expression. Though never eloquent, he sometimes rises to an earnest and dignified declamation. Not infrequently he has achieved the highest success, and clothed valuable thought in language so appropriate, that the phrases have passed into the national vocabulary and become popular catchwords. His first inaugural address contains more of those expressions which are daily heard in our political discussions than any other American composition. There has been some speculation as to how it was possible for a gentleman, with no other discipline than that afforded by a colonial establishment, to obtain a mastery over so difficult an art. There is little reason for surprise. Jefferson's training had been good; he was familiar with the best models; above all, Nature had given him the qualities which, with the requisite knowledge, insure literary success,—good sense, good taste, and an ear sensitive to the melody of prose.
We do not propose to follow Jefferson throughout his political career. As to his Revolutionary services there is little difference of opinion. His course during the administrations of Washington and Adams has given occasion to most of the criticism which he has encountered. We will direct our attention chiefly to that period of his life. He appeared then as the leader of a party which was intent upon carrying certain principles into operation, and for a comprehension of his conduct an examination of those principles is necessary.
Mr. Randall would have done a good service, if he had made a brief analysis of Jefferson's political system. It affords a fine theme and is much needed, because Jefferson himself left no systematic exposition of his doctrines. They must be sought for through a large number of state papers and a voluminous correspondence. Like all public men, he has been misrepresented both by opponents and adherents. There is a vague impression abroad that he enunciated certain liberal theories, that he was an ardent philanthropist, and that his opinions were those which have prevailed among the modern French philosophers; but the boundaries of his system do not seem to be well defined in the public mind. His theory of politics may, with sufficient accuracy, be said to be embraced in the following propositions:—First. All men are politically equal. Second. A representative government upon the basis of universal suffrage is the direct result of that equality, and the surest means of preserving it. Third. The sphere of government is limited, and its action must be confined to that sphere.
The first proposition is contained in the statement which occurs in the Declaration of Independence, "that all men are created equal." This remark has been severely criticized, and we think there has been much confusion as to its meaning. Jefferson could not have intended to say that all men are equal in the sense of being alike. Such an assertion would be absurd. Undoubtedly he recognized, as every one must, the infinite diversity and disparity of intellectual and physical qualities. He was speaking of man in his social relations, and in the same sentence he qualified the general assertion by particularizing the respects as to which the quality exists,—saying, that men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The equality of which he spoke does not consist in equal endowments, but in equal rights,—in the right of each man to the enjoyment of his individual gifts, whatever they may be.
The proposition, that a representative government upon the basis of universal suffrage is the direct result of man's equality and the surest means of preserving it, opens a wide field for discussion, into which we will not enter. It is not peculiar to Jefferson. We must, however, remark, that he did not hold the extreme opinions upon this subject which have been attributed to him. He thought that popular institutions could be established, and the elective franchise safely made universal, only in an intelligent and virtuous community. In France he advised La Fayette and Barnave to be contented with a constitutional monarchy. When the South American States rebelled, and Clay and many other statesmen were enraptured with the prospect of a Continent of Republics, Jefferson declared that they were not prepared for republican governments, and could not maintain them. At the same time, he was very far from thinking, as some of our modern writers do, that men can become fit for freedom by remaining slaves.
The third proposition, that the sphere of government is limited and its action should be confined to that sphere, is the one to the illustration of which Mr. Jefferson specially devoted himself. Upon his services in this respect rest his claims to consideration as a political philosopher.
It has been the custom to think that the government was the only source of honor; it is still looked upon as the source of the highest honor. By barbarians the monarch is deified. In many civilized countries of our own time kings are said to rule by special favor of the Deity; no one stands erect, no loud word is spoken in their presence; and, indeed, everywhere they are approached with a reverence so great that more could hardly be shown to God himself. This homage is not given on account of eminent personal attributes. These persons are well understood to be often mean in mind and meaner in morals. The same feeling is shown towards other high officials. To be in the public service is eagerly coveted; such employment attracts the finest minds, and is most munificently rewarded. It is so in this country. We are accustomed to confer upon official characters honors which we would refuse to a Shakspeare or a Newton. Yet it is well known, that, while the comprehension and elucidation of the great laws which govern society are a labor which will task the strength of the strongest, in ordinary times affairs may be, and generally are, quite acceptably administered by men of no marked intellectual superiority. It is not necessary to say that the sentiment must be wrong which leads us to such strange errors, —which obliterates the broadest distinctions, and persuades us to give to feebleness and vice rewards which should be given to genius and virtue alone.
For the wisest purposes, the Creator has planted within us an instinctive disposition to revere the illustrious of our kind. To win that admiration is the most powerful incentive to action,—it is the ardent desire of passionate natures. The sweet incense of popular applause is more delicious than wine to the senses of man. Deservedly obtained, it heals every wound, and soothes all pain; nay, the mere hope of it will steel him against every danger, and sustain him amidst disease, penury, neglect, and oppression. To bestow this reverence is a pleasure hardly less exquisite. While we commune with the intellects and contemplate the virtues of the great, some portion of their exceeding light descends upon us, their aspiring spirits enter our breasts and raise us to higher levels. But to yield our homage to those who do not deserve it is to pervert a pure and noble instinct. We cannot worship the degraded, except by sinking to lower depths of degradation.
When one considers that the admitted functions of government have been almost without limit, this mistaken sentiment is not to be wondered at. Why should not they who are able to provide for every want of the body or soul be revered as Superior beings? Governments have established creeds, and set bounds to science; they have been the censors of literature, and held men in slavery; they have told the citizen how many meals to eat, how many prayers to say, how to wear his beard, and in what manner to educate his children; there is no action so trivial, no concern so important, nor any sentiment so secret, that the governing power has not interfered with and sought to control it. This system has invariably failed; constantly coming in contact with each man's sense of individuality, it has been the prolific source of revolutions, despotisms, the ruin of states, the extirpation of races,—and in its mildest forms, where life has been preserved, everything which makes life desirable has been destroyed. In most countries this system still exists to a great degree, nor is there any country whence it is entirely eradicated.
Seeing the constant and uniform occurrence of these evils, Mr. Jefferson was led to believe that they were not caused by a remediable imperfection in the existing system, but by radical defects. He concluded that they were produced by an attempt on the part of government to do what it could not,—that the power of government was limited by absolute and inherent laws, like those which limit the strength of man,—and that there were certain functions belonging to government, in going beyond which it not only failed of its purpose, but did positive harm. In this view, the definition of these functions becomes a task of great difficulty and involves the whole science of politics. We cannot follow his entire line of argument, and without detail there is danger that our statement will not be sufficiently qualified. His general theory, however, is simple, and is drawn from his first proposition as to the equal rights of man. He held that the object of society is the preservation of these great rights. Since experience teaches us, that, however incompetent we may be to decide upon the interests of others, we are able to regulate our own, this social purpose will be best accomplished by leaving to each one all the liberty consistent with the general safety. Security, being the only common object, should be the sole duty of the common agent. The government being confined to the performance of this negative duty, it must not exercise its power except when necessary. The inquiry, Is it necessary? not, Is it advantageous? is the test to be applied to every measure. The rigid application of this rule excludes the state from any interference with commerce and industry,—from all matters of religion and opinion,—and limits its financial operations to providing in the most direct manner for its own support. But it is to be noticed, that it is consistent with this scheme, and indeed the fruit of it, that, in the sphere which it does occupy, the government should be absolute.
Mr. Jefferson formed the governmental machinery in strict accordance with this principle. As many measures are necessary for one portion of a community and not for another, he insisted that local affairs should be placed in the hands of local authorities. The integrity of his system depends not only upon the limitation of the governing power, in a general sense, but as well upon the division and dispersion of it.
The principal exception which Jefferson made was in respect of education. But, according to his view, this can hardly be regarded as an exception. The general safety depends so directly upon that recognition of mutual rights which is not to be found except among intelligent men, that he advised the establishment, not only of common schools, but likewise of colleges and schools of Art.
To those who objected, that this system would limit the action and decrease the splendor of a nation, Jefferson replied, that its effects were quite the reverse. In proportion as a government assumes the duties which ought to be performed by the citizen, it acts as a check upon individual and national development. Under a despotism, culture must be confined to a few, nor can there be much variety of effort and production. Under a government which is confined to its proper field, the talents of each man may be freely used, and he will not be forced into relations for which he is unsuited. The absurd prejudice, that public employment is the most honorable, will pass away. The man of letters and the man of science, the poet, the artist, and the inventor, the financier, the navigator, the merchant, every one who performs beneficial service and displays great qualities, will be rewarded. Every one who is conscious that he possesses such qualities will be stimulated to strive for that reward. This universal action will give birth to all the things which adorn a state. Social disturbances will excite investigation, and evils which governments have never been able to reach may be removed. Competition will make the accumulation of large estates difficult, property will be equalized, but no motive to effort destroyed. Science will be encouraged. Every day will add to the number of those contrivances which facilitate labor, increase production, lessen distance, and raise man from the degradation of an existence wholly occupied with providing for his physical wants. Under these elastic laws, religion, philanthropy, art, learning, the social amenities, the domestic influences, all humanizing agents, will have opportunity and work harmoniously for the advancement of the race.