"I should think the deepest possible wrong done me," said James, "if, when I thought I had married a wife with a whole heart, I found that the greater part of it had been before that given to another. If you tell him, or if I tell him, or your mother,—who is the proper person, and he chooses to hold you to your promise, then, Mary, I have no more to say. I shall sail in a few weeks again, and carry your image forever in my heart;—nobody can take that away; that dear shadow will be the only wife I shall ever know."
At this moment Miss Prissy came rattling along towards the door, talking—we suspect designedly—on quite a high key. Mary hastily said,—
"Wait, James,—let me think,—tomorrow is the Sabbath-day. Monday I will send you word, or see you."
And when Miss Prissy returned into the best room, James was sitting at one window and Mary at another,—he making remarks, in a style of most admirable commonplace, on a copy of Milton's "Paradise Lost," which he had picked up in the confusion of the moment, and which, at the time Mrs. Katy Scudder entered, he was declaring to be a most excellent book,—a really, truly, valuable work.
Mrs. Scudder looked keenly from one to the other, and saw that Mary's cheek was glowing like the deepest heart of a pink shell, while, in all other respects, she was as cold and calm. On the whole, she felt satisfied that no mischief had been done.
We hope our readers will do Mrs. Scudder justice. It is true that she yet wore on her third finger the marriage-ring of a sailor lover, and his memory was yet fresh in her heart; but even mothers who have married for love themselves somehow so blend a daughter's existence with their own as to conceive that she must marry their love, and not her own. Besides this, Mrs. Scudder was an Old Testament woman, brought up with that scrupulous exactitude of fidelity in relation to promises which would naturally come from familiarity with a book in which covenant-keeping is represented as one of the highest attributes of Deity, and covenant-breaking as one of the vilest sins of humanity. To break the word that had gone forth out of one's mouth was to lose self-respect, and all claim to the respect of others, and to sin against eternal rectitude.
As we have said before, it is almost impossible to make our light-minded times comprehend the earnestness with which those people lived. It was, in the beginning, no vulgar nor mercenary ambition that made her seek the Doctor as a husband for her daughter. He was poor, and she had had offers from richer men. He was often unpopular; but he of all the world was the man she most revered, the man she believed in with the most implicit faith, the man who embodied her highest ideas of the good; and therefore it was that she was willing to resign her child to him.
As to James, she had felt truly sympathetic with his mother, and with Mary, in the dreadful hour when they supposed him lost; and had it not been for the great perplexity occasioned by his return, she would have received him, as a relative, with open arms. But now she felt it her duty to be on the defensive,—an attitude not the most favorable for cherishing pleasing associations in regard to another. She had read the letter giving an account of his spiritual experience with very sincere pleasure, as a good woman should, but not without an internal perception how very much it endangered her favorite plans. When Mary, however, had calmly reiterated her determination, she felt sure of her; for had she ever known her to say a thing she did not do?
The uneasiness she felt at present, was not the doubt of her daughter's steadiness, but the fear that she might have been unsuitably harassed or annoyed.
The next morning rose calm and fair. It was the Sabbath-day,—the last Sabbath in Mary's maiden life, if her promises and plans were fulfilled.
Mary dressed herself in white,—her hands trembling with unusual agitation, her sensitive nature divided between two opposing consciences and two opposing affections. Her devoted filial love toward the Doctor made her feel the keenest sensitiveness at the thought of giving him pain. At the same time, the questions which James had proposed to her had raised serious doubts in her mind whether it was altogether right to suffer him blindly to enter into this union. So, after she was all prepared, she bolted the door of her chamber, and, opening her Bible, read, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him"; and then, kneeling down by the bedside, she asked that God would give her some immediate light in her present perplexity. So praying, her mind grew calm and steady, and she rose up at the sound of the bell which marked that it was time to set forward for church.
Everybody noticed, as she came into church that morning, how beautiful Mary Scudder looked. It was no longer the beauty of the carved statue, the pale alabaster shrine, the sainted virgin, but a warm, bright, living light, that spoke of some summer breath breathing within her soul.
When she took her place in the singers' seat, she knew, without turning her head, that he was in his old place, not far from her side; and those whose eyes followed her to the gallery marvelled at her face there,—
"her pure and eloquent blood Spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought That you might almost say her body thought";
for a thousand delicate nerves were becoming vital once more,—the holy mystery of womanhood had wrought within her.
When they rose to sing, the tune must needs be one which they had often sung together, out of the same book, at the singing-school,—one of those wild, pleading tunes, dear to the heart of New England,—born, if we may credit the report, in the rocky hollows of its mountains, and whose notes have a kind of grand and mournful triumph in their warbling wail, and in which different parts of the harmony, set contrary to all the canons of musical Pharisaism, had still a singular and romantic effect, which a true musical genius would not have failed to recognize. The four parts, tenor, treble, bass, and counter, as they were then called, rose and swelled and wildly mingled, with the fitful strangeness of Aeolian harp, or of winds in mountain-hollows, or the vague moanings of the sea on lone, forsaken shores. And Mary, while her voice rose over the waves of the treble, and trembled with a pathetic richness, felt, to her inmost heart, the deep accord of that other voice which rose to meet hers, so wildly melancholy, as if the soul in that manly breast had come to meet her soul in the disembodied, shadowy verity of eternity. The grand old tune, called by our fathers "China," never, with its dirge-like melody, drew two souls more out of themselves, and entwined them more nearly with each other.
The last verse of the hymn spoke of the resurrection of the saints with Christ:
"Then let the last dread trumpet sound And bid the dead arise; Awake, ye nations under ground! Ye saints, ascend the skies!"
And as Mary sang, she felt sublimely upborne with the idea that life is but a moment and love is immortal, and seemed, in a shadowy trance, to feel herself and him past this mortal fane, far over on the shores of that other life, ascending with Christ, all-glorified, all tears wiped away, and with full permission to love and to be loved forever. And as she sang, the Doctor looked upward, and marvelled at the light in her eyes and the rich bloom on her cheek,—for where she stood, a sunbeam, streaming aslant through the dusty panes of the window, touched her head with a kind of glory,—and the thought he then received outbreathed itself in the yet more fervent adoration of his prayer.
THE ICE BROKEN.
Our fathers believed in special answers to prayer. They were not stumbled by the objection about the inflexibility of the laws of Nature; because they had the idea, that, when the Creator of the world promised to answer human prayers, He probably understood the laws of Nature as well as they did. At any rate, the laws of Nature were His affair, and not theirs. They were men, very apt, as the Duke of Wellington said, to "look to their marching-orders,"—which, being found to read, "Be careful for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God," they did it. "They looked unto Him and were lightened, and their faces were not ashamed." One reads, in the Memoirs of Dr. Hopkins, of Newport Gardner, one of his African catechumens, a negro of singular genius and ability, who, being desirous of his freedom, that he might be a missionary to Africa, and having long worked without being able to raise the amount required, was counselled by Dr. Hopkins that it might be a shorter way to seek his freedom from the Lord, by a day of solemn fasting and prayer. The historical fact is, that, on the evening of a day so consecrated, his master returned from church, called Newport to him, and presented him with his freedom. Is it not possible that He who made the world may have established laws for prayer as invariable as those for the sowing of seed and raising of grain? Is it not as legitimate a subject of inquiry, when petitions are not answered, which of these laws has been neglected?
But be that as it may, certain it is, that Candace, who on this morning in church sat where she could see Mary and James in the singers' seat, had certain thoughts planted in her mind which bore fruit afterwards in a solemn and select consultation held with Miss Prissy at the end of the horse-shed by the meeting-house, during the intermission between the morning and afternoon services.
Candace sat on a fragment of granite boulder which lay there, her black face relieved against a clump of yellow mulleins, then in majestic altitude. On her lap was spread a checked pocket-handkerchief, containing rich slices of cheese, and a store of her favorite brown doughnuts.
"Now, Miss Prissy," she said, "dar's reason in all tings, an' a good deal more in some tings dan dar is in oders. Dar's a good deal more reason in two young, handsome folks comin' togeder dan dar is in"——
Candace finished the sentence by an emphatic flourish of her doughnut.
"Now, as long as eberybody thought Jim Marvyn was dead, dar wa'n't nothin' else in de world to be done but marry de Doctor. But, good lan! I hearn him a-talkin' to Miss Marvyn las' night; it kinder' mos' broke my heart. Why, dem two poor creeturs, dey's jest as onhappy's dey can be! An' she's got too much feelin' for de Doctor to say a word; an' I say he oughter be told on't! dat's what I say," said Candace, giving a decisive bite to her doughnut.
"I say so, too," said Miss Prissy. "Why, I never had such bad feelings in my life as I did yesterday, when that young man came down to our house. He was just as pale as a cloth. I tried to say a word to Miss Scudder, but she snapped me up so! She's an awful decided woman when her mind's made up. I was telling Cerinthy Ann Twitchel,—she came round me this noon,—that it didn't exactly seem to me right that things should go on as they are going. And says I, 'Cerinthy Ann, I don't know anything what to do.' And says she, 'If I was you, I know what I'd do,—I'd tell the Doctor,' says she. 'Nobody ever takes offence at anything you do, Miss Prissy.' To be sure," added Miss Prissy, "I have talked to people about a good many things that it's rather strange I should; 'cause I a'n't one, somehow, that can let things go that seem to want doing. I always told folks that I should spoil a novel before it got half-way through the first volume, by blurting out some of those things that they let go trailing on so, till everybody gets so mixed up they don't know what they're doing."
"Well, now, honey," said Candace, authoritatively, "ef you's got any notions o' dat kind, I tink it mus' come from de good Lord, an' I 'dvise you to be 'tendin' to't, right away. You jes' go 'long an' tell de Doctor yourself all you know, an' den le's see what'll come on't. I tell you, I b'liebe it'll be one o' de bes' day's works you eber did in your life!"
"Well," said Miss Prissy, "I guess tonight, before I go to bed, I'll make a dive at him. When a thing's once out, it's out, and can't be got in again, even if people don't like it; and that's a mercy, anyhow. It really makes me feel 'most wicked to think of it, for he is the most blessedest man!"
"Dat's what he is" said Candace. "But de blessedest man in de world oughter know de truth; dat's what I tink!"
"Yes,—true enough!" said Miss Prissy. "I'll tell him, anyway."
Miss Prissy was as good as her word; for that evening, when the Doctor had retired to his study, she took her life in her hand, and, walking swiftly as a cat, tapped rather timidly at the study-door, which the Doctor opening said, benignantly,—
"Ah, Miss Prissy!"
"If you please, Sir," said Miss Prissy, "I'd like a little conversation."
The Doctor was well enough used to such requests from the female members of his church, which, generally, were the prelude to some disclosures of internal difficulties or spiritual experiences. He therefore graciously motioned her to a chair.
"I thought I must come in," she began, busily twirling a bit of her Sunday gown. "I thought—that is—I felt it my duty—I thought— perhaps—I ought to tell you—that perhaps you ought to know."
The Doctor looked civilly concerned. He did not know but Miss Prissy's wits were taking leave of her. He replied, however, with his usual honest stateliness,—
"I trust, dear Madam, that you will feel perfect freedom to open to me any exercises of mind that you may have."
"It isn't about myself," said Miss Prissy. "If you please, it's about you and Mary!"
The Doctor now looked awake in right earnest, and very much astonished besides; and he looked eagerly at Miss Prissy, to have her go on.
"I don't know how you would view such a matter," said Miss Prissy; "but the fact is, that James Marvyn and Mary always did love each other, ever since they were children."
Still the Doctor was unawakened to the real meaning of the words, and he answered, simply,—
"I should be far from wishing to interfere with so very natural and universal a sentiment, which, I make no doubt, is all quite as it should be."
"No,—but," said Miss Prissy, "you don't understand what I mean. I mean that James Marvyn wanted to marry Mary, and that she was—well—she wasn't engaged to him, but"——
"Madam!" said the Doctor, in a voice that frightened Miss Prissy out of her chair, while a blaze like sheet-lightning shot from his eyes, and his face flushed crimson.
"Mercy on us! Doctor, I hope you'll excuse me; but there the fact is,—I've said it out,—the fact is, they wa'n't engaged; but that Mary loved him ever since he was a boy, as she never will and never can love any man again in this world, is what I'm just as sure of as that I'm standing here; and I've felt you ought to know it: 'cause I'm quite sure, that, if he'd been alive, she'd never given the promise she has,—the promise that she means to keep, if her heart breaks, and his too. They wouldn't anybody tell you, and I thought I must tell you; 'cause I thought you'd know what was right to do about it."
During all this latter speech the Doctor was standing with his back to Miss Prissy, and his face to the window, just as he did some time before, when Mrs. Scudder came to tell him of Mary's consent. He made a gesture backward, without speaking, that she should leave the apartment; and Miss Prissy left, with a guilty kind of feeling, as if she had been striking a knife into her pastor, and, rushing distractedly across the entry into Mary's little bedroom, she bolted the door, threw herself on the bed, and began to cry.
"Well, I've done it!" she said to herself. "He's a very strong, hearty man," she soliloquized, "so I hope it won't put him in a consumption;—men do go into a consumption about such things sometimes. I remember Abner Seaforth did; but then he was always narrow-chested, and had the liver-complaint, or something. I don't know what Miss Scudder will say;—but I've done it. Poor man! such a good man, too! I declare, I feel just like Herod taking off John the Baptist's head. Well, well! it's done, and can't be helped."
Just at this moment Miss Prissy heard a gentle tap at the door, and started, as if it had been a ghost,—not being able to rid herself of the impression, that, somehow, she had committed a great crime, for which retribution was knocking at the door.
It was Mary, who said, in her sweetest and most natural tones, "Miss Prissy, the Doctor would like to see you."
Mary was much astonished at the frightened, discomposed manner with which Miss Prissy received this announcement, and said,—
"I'm afraid I've waked you up out of sleep, I don't think there's the least hurry."
Miss Prissy didn't, either; but she reflected afterwards that she might as well get through with it at once; and therefore, smoothing her tumbled cap-border, she went to the Doctor's study. This time he was quite composed, and received her with a mournful gravity, and requested her to be seated.
"I beg, Madam," he said, "you will excuse the abruptness of my manner in our late interview. I was so little prepared for the communication you had to make, that I was, perhaps, unsuitably discomposed. Will you allow me to ask whether you were requested by any of the parties to communicate to me what you did?"
"No, Sir," said Miss Prissy.
"Have any of the parties ever communicated with you on the subject at all?" said the Doctor.
"No, Sir," said Miss Prissy.
"That is all," said the Doctor. "I will not detain you. I am very much obliged to you, Madam."
He rose, and opened the door for her to pass out, and Miss Prissy, overawed by the stately gravity of his manner, went out in silence.
When Miss Prissy left the room, the Doctor sat down by the table and covered his face with his hands. He had a large, passionate, determined nature; and he had just come to one of those cruel crises in life in which it is apt to seem to us that the whole force of our being, all that we can hope, wish, feel, enjoy, has been suffered to gather itself into one great wave, only to break upon some cold rock of inevitable fate, and go back, moaning, into emptiness.
In such hours men and women have cursed God and life, and thrown violently down and trampled under their feet what yet was left of life's blessings, in the fierce bitterness of despair. "This, or nothing!" the soul shrieks, in her frenzy. At just such points as these, men have plunged into intemperance and wild excess,—they have gone to be shot down in battle,—they have broken life, and thrown it away, like an empty goblet, and gone, like wailing ghosts, out into the dread unknown.
The possibility of all this lay in that heart which had just received that stunning blow. Exercised and disciplined as he had been, by years of sacrifice, by constant, unsleeping self-vigilance, there was rising there, in that great heart, an ocean-tempest of passion, and for a while his cries unto God seemed as empty and as vague as the screams of birds tossed and buffeted in the clouds of mighty tempests.
The will that he thought wholly subdued seemed to rise under him as a rebellious giant. A few hours before, he thought himself established in an invincible submission to God's will that nothing could shake. Now he looked into himself as into a seething vortex of rebellion, and against all the passionate cries of his lower nature could, in the language of an old saint, cling to God only by the naked force of his will. That will rested unmelted amid the boiling sea of passion, waiting its hour of renewed sway. He walked the room for hours, and then sat down to his Bible, and roused once or twice to find his head leaning on its pages, and his mind far gone in thoughts from which he woke with a bitter throb. Then he determined to set himself to some definite work, and, taking his Concordance, began busily tracing out and numbering all the proof-texts for one of the chapters of his theological system! till, at last, he worked himself down to such calmness that he could pray; and then he schooled and reasoned with himself, in a style not unlike, in its spirit, to that in which a great modern author has addressed suffering humanity:—
"What is it that thou art fretting and self-tormenting about? Is it because thou art not happy? Who told thee that thou wast to be happy? Is there any ordinance of the universe that thou shouldst be happy? Art thou nothing but a vulture screaming for prey? Canst thou not do without happiness? Yea, thou canst do without happiness, and, instead thereof, find blessedness."
The Doctor came, lastly, to the conclusion, that blessedness, which was all the portion his Master had on earth, might do for him also; and therefore he kissed and blessed that silver dove of happiness, which he saw was weary of sailing in his clumsy old ark, and let it go out of his hand without a tear.
He slept little that night; but when he came to breakfast, all noticed an unusual gentleness and benignity of manner, and Mary, she knew not why, saw tears rising in his eyes when he looked at her.
After breakfast he requested Mrs. Scudder to step with him into his study, and Miss Prissy shook in her little shoes as she saw the matron entering. The door was shut for a long time, and two voices could be heard in earnest conversation.
Meanwhile James Marvyn entered the cottage, prompt to remind Mary of her promise that she would talk with him again this morning.
They had talked with each other but a few moments, by the sweetbrier-shaded window in the best room, when Mrs. Scudder appeared at the door of the apartment, with traces of tears upon her cheeks.
"Good morning, James," she said. "The Doctor wishes to see you and Mary a moment, together."
Both looked sufficiently astonished, knowing, from Mrs. Scudder's looks, that something was impending. They followed her, scarcely feeling the ground they trod on.
The Doctor was sitting at his table, with his favorite large-print Bible open before him. He rose to receive them, with a manner at once gentle and grave.
There was a pause of some minutes, during which he sat with his head leaning upon his hand.
"You all know," he said, turning toward Mary, who sat very near him, "the near and dear relation in which I have been expected to stand towards this friend. I should not have been worthy of that relation, if I had not felt in my heart the true love of a husband, as set forth in the New Testament,—who should love his wife even as Christ loved the Church and gave himself for it; and in case any peril or danger threatened this dear soul, and I could not give myself for her, I had never been worthy the honor she has done me. For, I take it, whenever there is a cross or burden to be borne by one or the other, that the man, who is made in the image of God as to strength and endurance, should take it upon himself, and not lay it upon her that is weaker; for he is therefore strong, not that he may tyrannize over the weak, but bear their burdens for them, even as Christ for his Church.
"I have just discovered," he added, looking kindly upon Mary, "that there is a great cross and burden which must come, either on this dear child or on myself, through no fault of either of us, but through God's good providence; and therefore let me bear it.
"Mary, my dear child," he said, "I will be to thee as a father, but I will not force thy heart."
At this moment, Mary, by a sudden, impulsive movement, threw her arms around his neck and kissed him, and lay sobbing on his shoulder.
"No! no!" she said,—"I will marry you, as I said!"
"Not, if I will not," he replied, with a benign smile. "Come here, young man," he said, with some authority, to James. "I give thee this maiden to wife." And he lifted her from his shoulder, and placed her gently in the arms of the young man, who, overawed and overcome, pressed her silently to his heart.
"There, children, it is over," he said. "God bless you!"
"Take her away," he added; "she will be more composed soon."
Before James left, he grasped the Doctor's hand in his, and said,—
"Sir, this tells on my heart more than any sermon you ever preached. I shall never forget it. God bless you, Sir!"
The Doctor saw them slowly quit the apartment, and, following them, closed the door; and thus ended THE MINISTER'S WOOING.
Of the events which followed this scene we are happy to give our readers more minute and graphic details than we ourselves could furnish, by transcribing for their edification an autograph letter of Miss Prissy's, still preserved in a black oaken cabinet of our great-grandmother's; and with which we take no further liberties than the correction of a somewhat peculiar orthography. It is written to that sister "Lizabeth," in Boston, of whom she made such frequent mention, and whom, it appears, it was her custom to keep well-informed in all the gossip of her immediate sphere.
"My DEAR SISTER:—
"You wonder, I s'pose, why I haven't written you; but the fact is, I've been run just off my feet, and worked till the flesh aches so it seems as if it would drop off my bones, with this wedding of Mary Scudder's. And, after all, you'll be astonished to hear that she ha'n't married the Doctor, but that Jim Marvyn that I told you about. You see, he came home a week before the wedding was to be, and Mary, she was so conscientious she thought 'twa'n't right to break off with the Doctor, and so she was for going right on with it; and Mrs. Scudder, she was for going on more yet; and the poor young man, he couldn't get a word in edgeways, and there wouldn't anybody tell the Doctor a word about it, and there 'twas drifting along, and both on 'em feeling dreadful, and so I thought to myself, 'I'll just take my life in my hand, like Queen Esther, and go in and tell the Doctor all about it.' And so I did. I'm scared to death always when I think of it. But that dear blessed man, he took it like a saint. He just gave her up as serene and calm as a psalm-book, and called Jim in and told him to take her.
"Jim was fairly overcrowed,—it really made him feel small,—and he says he'll agree that there is more in the Doctor's religion than most men's: which shows how important it is for professing Christians to bear testimony in their works,—as I was telling Cerinthy Ann Twitchel: and she said there wa'n't anything made her want to be a Christian so much, if that was what religion would do for people.
"Well, you see, when this came out, it wanted just three days of the wedding, which was to be Thursday, and that wedding-dress I told you about, that had lilies-of-the-valley on a white ground, was pretty much made, except puffing the gauze round the neck, which I do with white satin piping-cord, and it looks beautiful too; and so Mrs. Scudder and I, we were thinking 'twould do just as well, when in come Jim Marvyn, bringing the sweetest thing you ever saw, that he had got in China, and I think I never did see anything lovelier. It was a white silk, as thick as a board, and so stiff that it would stand alone, and overshot with little fine dots of silver, so that it shone, when you moved it, just like frostwork; and when I saw it, I just clapped my hands, and jumped up from the floor, and says I, 'If I have to sit up all night, that dress shall be made, and made well, too.' For, you know, I thought I could get Miss Olladine Hocum to run the breadths and do such parts, so that I could devote myself to the fine work. And that French woman I told you about, she said she'd help, and she's a master hand for touching things up. There seems to be work provided for all kinds of people, and French people seem to have a gift in all sorts of dressy things, and 'tisn't a bad gift either.
"Well, as I was saying, we agreed that this was to be cut open with a train, and a petticoat of just the palest, sweetest, loveliest blue that ever you saw, and gauze puffings down the edgings each side, fastened in, every once in a while, with lilies-of-the-valley; and 'twas cut square in the neck, with puffings and flowers to match, and then tight sleeves, with full ruffles of that old Mechlin lace that you remember Mrs. Katy Scudder showed you once in that great camphor-wood trunk.
"Well, you see, come to get all things together that were to be done, we concluded to put off the wedding till Tuesday; and Madame de Frontignac, she would dress the best room for it herself, and she spent nobody knows what time in going round and getting evergreens and making wreaths, and putting up green boughs over the pictures, so that the room looked just like the Episcopal church at Christmas. In fact, Mrs. Scudder said, if it had been Christmas, she shouldn't have felt it right, but, as it was, she didn't think anybody would think it any harm.
"Well, Tuesday night, I and Madame de Frontignac, we dressed Mary ourselves, and, I tell you, the dress fitted as if it was grown on her; and Madame de Frontignac, she dressed her hair; and she had on a wreath of lilies-of-the-valley, and a gauze veil that came almost down to her feet, and came all around her like a cloud, and you could see her white shining dress through it every time she moved, and she looked just as white as a snow-berry; but there were two little pink spots that came coming and going in her cheeks, that kind of lightened up when she smiled, and then faded down again. And the French lady put a string of real pearls round her neck, with a cross of pearls, which went down and lay hid in her bosom.
"She was mighty calm-like while she was being dressed; but just as I was putting in the last pin, she heard the rumbling of a coach down-stairs, for Jim Marvyn had got a real elegant carriage to carry her over to his father's in, and so she knew he was come. And pretty soon Mrs. Marvyn came in the room, and when she saw Mary, her brown eyes kind of danced, and she lifted up both hands, to see how beautiful she looked. And Jim Marvyn, he was standing at the door, and they told him it wasn't proper that he should see till the time come; but he begged so hard that he might just have one peep, that I let him come in, and he looked at her as if she was something he wouldn't dare to touch; and he said to me softly, says he, 'I'm 'most afraid she has got wings somewhere that will fly away from me, or that I shall wake up and find it is a dream.'
"Well, Cerinthy Ann Twitchel was the bridesmaid, and she came next with that young man she is engaged to. It is all out now, that she is engaged, and she don't deny it. And Cerinthy, she looked handsomer than I ever saw her, in a white brocade, with rosebuds on it, which I guess she got in reference to the future, for they say she is going to be married next month.
"Well, we all filled up the room pretty well, till Mrs. Scudder came in to tell us that the company were all together; and then they took hold of arms, and they had a little time practising how they must stand, and Cerinthy Ann's beau would always get her on the wrong side, 'cause he's rather bashful, and don't know very well what he's about; and Cerinthy Ann declared she was afraid that she should laugh out in prayer-time, 'cause she always did laugh when she knew she mus'n't. But finally Mrs. Scudder told us we must go in, and looked so reproving at Cerinthy that she had to hold her mouth with her pocket-handkerchief.
"Well, the old Doctor was standing there in the very silk gown that the ladies gave him to be married in himself,—poor, dear man!—and he smiled kind of peaceful on 'em when they came in, and walked up to a kind of bower of evergreens and flowers that Madame de Frontignac had fixed for them to stand in. Mary grew rather white, as if she was going to faint; but Jim Marvyn stood up just as firm, and looked as proud and handsome as a prince, and he kind of looked down at her,—'cause, you know, he is a great deal taller,—kind of wondering, as if he wanted to know if it was really so. Well, when they got all placed, they let the doors stand open, and Cato and Candace came and stood in the door. And Candace had on her great splendid Mogadore turban, and a crimson and yellow shawl, that she seemed to take comfort in wearing, although it was pretty hot.
"Well, so when they were all fixed, the Doctor, he begun his prayer,—and as 'most all of us knew what a great sacrifice he had made, I don't believe there was a dry eye in the room; and when he had done, there was a great time,—people blowing their noses and wiping their eyes, as if it had been a funeral. Then Cerinthy Ann, she pulled off Mary's glove pretty quick; but that poor beau of hers, he made such work of James's that he had to pull it off himself, after all, and Cerinthy Ann, she liked to have laughed out loud. And so when the Doctor told them to join hands, Jim took hold of Mary's hand as if he didn't mean to let go very soon, and so they were married.
"I was the first one that kissed the bride after Mrs. Scudder;—I got that promise out of Mary when I was making the dress. And Jim Marvyn, he insisted upon kissing me,—''Cause,' says he, 'Miss Prissy, you are as young and handsome as any of 'em'; and I told him he was a saucy fellow, and I'd box his ears, if I could reach them.
"That French lady looked lovely, dressed in pale pink silk, with long pink wreaths of flowers in her hair; and she came up and kissed Mary, and said something to her in French.
"And after a while old Candace came up, and Mary kissed her; and then Candace put her arms round Jim's neck, and gave him a real hearty smack, so that everybody laughed.
"And then the cake and the wine was passed round, and everybody had good times till we heard the nine-o'clock-bell ring. And then the coach come up to the door, and Mrs. Scudder, she wrapped Mary up, kissing her, and crying over her, while Mrs. Marvyn stood stretching her arms out of the coach after her; and then Cato and Candace went after in the wagon behind, and so they all went off together; and that was the end of the wedding; and ever since then we ha'n't any of us done much but rest, for we were pretty much beat out. So no more at present from your affectionate sister,
"P.S.—I forgot to tell you that Jim Marvyn has come home quite rich. He fell in with a man in China who was at the head of one of their great merchant-houses, whom he nursed through a long fever, and took care of his business, and so, when he got well, nothing would do but he must have him for a partner; and now he is going to live in this country and attend to the business of the firm here. They say he is going to build a house as grand as the Vernons'. And we hope he has experienced religion; and he means to join our church, which is a providence, for he is twice as rich and generous as that old Simeon Brown that snapped me up so about my wages. I never believed in him, for all his talk. I was down to Mrs. Scudder's when the Doctor examined Jim about his evidences. At first the Doctor seemed a little anxious, 'cause he didn't talk in the regular way; for you know Jim always did have his own way of talking, and never could say things in other people's words; and sometimes he makes folks laugh, when he himself don't know what they laugh at, because he hits the nail on the head in some strange way they aren't expecting. If I was to have died, I couldn't help laughing at some things he said; and yet I don't think I ever felt more solemnized. He sat up there in a sort of grand, straightforward, noble way, and told all the way the Lord had been leading of him, and all the exercises of his mind, and all about the dreadful shipwreck, and how he was saved, and the loving-kindness of the Lord, till the Doctor's spectacles got all blinded with tears, and he couldn't see the notes he made to examine him by; and we all cried, Mrs. Scudder, and Mary, and I; and as to Mrs. Marvyn, she just sat with her—hands clasped, looking into her son's eyes, like a picture of the Virgin Mary. And when Jim got through, there wa'n't nothing to be heard for some minutes; and the Doctor; he wiped his eyes, and wiped his glasses, and looked over his papers, but he couldn't bring out a word, and at last says he, "Let us pray,"—for that was all there was to be said; for I think sometimes things so kind of fills folks up that there a'n't nothing to be done but pray, which, the Lord be praised, we are privileged to do always. Between you and I, Martha, I never could understand all the distinctions our dear, blessed Doctor sets up; but when he publishes his system, if I work my fingers to the bone, I mean to buy one and study it out, because he is such a blessed man; though, after all's said, I have come back to my old place, and trust to the loving-kindness of the Lord, who takes care of the sparrow on the house-top, and all small, lone creatures like me; though I can't say I'm lone either, because nobody need say that, so long as there's folks to be done for. So if I don't understand the Doctor's theology, or don't get eyes to read it, on account of the fine stitching on his shirt-ruffles I've been trying to do, still I hope I may be accepted on account of the Lord's great goodness; for if we can't trust that, it's all over with us all."
We know it is fashionable to drop the curtain over a newly married pair, they recede from the altar; but we cannot but hope our readers may by this time have enough of interest in our little history to wish for a few words on the lot of the personages whose acquaintance they have thereby made.
The conjectures of Miss Prissy in regard to the grand house which James was to build for his bride were as speedily as possible realized. On a beautiful elevation, a little out of the town of Newport, rose a fair and stately mansion, whose windows overlooked the harbor, and whose wide, cool rooms were adorned by thy constant presence of the sweet face and form which has been the guiding star of our story. The fair poetic maiden, the seeress, the saint, has passed into that appointed shrine for woman, more holy than cloister, more saintly and pure than church or altar,—a Christian home. Priestess, wife, and mother, there she ministers daily in holy works of household peace, and by faith and prayer and love redeems from grossness and earthliness the common toils and wants of life.
The gentle guiding force that led James Marvyn from the maxims and habits and ways of this world to the higher conception of an heroic and Christ-like manhood was still ever present with him, gently touching the springs of life, brooding peacefully with dovelike wings over his soul, and he grew up under it noble in purpose and strong in spirit. He was one of the most energetic and fearless supporters of the Doctor in his life-long warfare against an inhumanity which was intrenched in all the mercantile interests of the day, and which at last fell before the force of conscience and moral appeal.
Candace in time transferred her allegiance to the growing family of her young master and mistress, and predominated proudly in gorgeous raiment with her butterfly turban over a rising race of young Marvyns. All the care not needed by them was bestowed upon the somewhat querulous old age of Cato, whose never-failing cough furnished occupation for all her spare hours and thought.
As for our friend the Doctor, we trust our readers will appreciate the magnanimity with which he proved a real and disinterested love, in a point where so many men experience only the graspings of a selfish one. A mind so severely trained as his had been brings to a great crisis, involving severe self-denial, an amount of reserved moral force quite inexplicable to those less habituated to self-control. He was like a warrior whose sleep even was in armor, always ready to be roused to the conflict.
In regard to his feelings for Mary, he made the sacrifice of himself to her happiness so wholly and thoroughly that there was not a moment of weak hesitation,—no going back over the past,—no vain regret. Generous and brave souls find a support in such actions, because the very exertion raises them to a higher and purer plane of existence.
His diary records the event only in these very calm and temperate words:—"It was a trial to me,—a very great trial; but as she did not deceive me, I shall never lose my friendship for her."
The Doctor was always a welcome inmate in the house of Mary and James, as a friend revered and dear. Nor did he want in time a hearthstone of his own, where a bright and loving face made him daily welcome; for we find that he married at last a woman of a fair countenance, and that sons and daughters grew up around him.
In time, also, his theological system was published. In that day, it was customary to dedicate new or important works to the patronage of some distinguished or powerful individual. The Doctor had no earthly patron. Four or five simple lines are found in the commencement of his work, in which, in a spirit reverential and affectionate, he dedicates it to our Lord Jesus Christ, praying Him to accept the good, and to overrule the errors to His glory.
Quite unexpectedly to himself, the work proved a success, not only in public acceptance and esteem, but even in a temporal view, bringing to him at last a modest competence, which he accepted with surprise and gratitude. To the last of a very long life, he was the same steady, undiscouraged worker, the same calm witness against popular sins and proclaimer of unpopular truths, ever saying and doing what he saw to be eternally right, without the slightest consultation with worldly expediency or earthly gain; nor did his words cease to work in New England till the evils he opposed were finally done away.
Colonel Burr leaves the scene of our story to pursue those brilliant and unscrupulous political intrigues so well known to the historian of those times, and whose results were so disastrous to himself. His duel with the ill-fated Hamilton, the awful retribution of public opinion that followed, and the slow downward course of a doomed life are all on record. Chased from society, pointed at everywhere by the finger of hatred, so accursed in common esteem that even the publican who lodged him for a night refused to accept his money when he knew his name, heart-stricken in his domestic relations, his only daughter taken by pirates and dying amid untold horrors,—one seems to see in a doom so much above that of other men the power of an avenging Nemesis for sins beyond those of ordinary humanity.
But we who have learned of Christ may humbly hope that these crushing miseries in this life came not because he was a sinner above others,—not in wrath alone,—but that the prayers of the sweet saint who gave him to God even before his birth brought to him those friendly adversities, that thus might be slain in his soul the evil demon of pride, which had been the opposing force to all that was noble within him. Nothing is more affecting than the account of the last hours of this man, whom a woman took in and cherished in his poverty and weakness with that same heroic enthusiasm with which it was his lot to inspire so many women. This humble keeper of lodgings was told, that, if she retained Aaron Burr, all her other lodgers would leave. "Let them do it, then," she said; "but he shall remain." In the same uncomplaining and inscrutable silence in which he had borne the reverses and miseries of his life did this singular being pass through the shades of the dark valley. The New Testament was always under his pillow, and when alone he was often found reading it attentively; but of the result of that communion with Higher Powers he said nothing. Patient, gentle, and grateful, he was, as to all his inner history, entirely silent and impenetrable. He died with the request, which has a touching significance, that he might be buried at the feet of those parents whose lives had finished so differently from his own.
"No farther seek his errors to disclose, Or draw his frailties from their dread abode."
Shortly after Mary's marriage, Madame de Frontignac sailed with her husband for home, where they lived in a very retired way on a large estate in the South of France. An intimate correspondence was kept up between her and Mary for many years, from which we shall give our readers a few extracts. Her first letter is dated shortly after her return to France.
"At last, my sweet Marie, you behold us in peace after our wanderings. I wish you could see our lovely nest in the hills which overlook the Mediterranean, whose blue waters remind me of Newport harbor and our old days there. Ah, my sweet saint, blessed was the day I first learned to know you! for it was you, more than anything else, that kept me back from sin and misery. I call you my Sibyl, dearest, because the Sibyl was a prophetess of divine things out of the Church; and so are you. The Abb says, that all true, devout persons of all persuasions belong to the True Catholic Apostolic Church, and will in the end be enlightened to know it. What do you think of that, ma belle? I fancy I see you look at me with your grave, innocent eyes, just as you used to; but you say nothing.
"I am far happier, ma Marie, than I ever thought I could be. I took your advice, and told my husband all I had felt and suffered. It was a very hard thing to do; but I felt how true it was, as you said, that there could be no real friendship without perfect truth at bottom; so I told him all, and he was very good and noble and helpful to me; and since then he has been so gentle and patient and thoughtful, that no mother could be kinder; and I should be a very bad woman, if I did not love him truly and dearly,—as I do.
"I must confess that there is still a weak, bleeding place in my heart that aches yet, but I try to bear it bravely; and when I am tempted to think myself very miserable, I remember how patiently you used to go about your house-work and spinning, in those sad days when you thought your heart was drowned in the sea; and I try to do like you. I have many duties to my servants and tenants, and mean to be a good chtelaine; and I find, when I nurse the sick and comfort the poor, that my sorrows are lighter. For, after all, Marie, I have lost nothing that ever was mine,—only my foolish heart has grown to something that it should not, and bleeds at being torn away. Nobody but Christ and His dear Mother can tell what this sorrow is; but they know, and that is enough."
The next letter is dated some three years after.
"You see me now, my Marie, a proud and happy woman. I was truly envious, when you wrote me of the birth of your little son; but now the dear good God has sent a sweet little angel to me, to comfort my sorrows and lie close to my heart; and since he came, all pain is gone. Ah, if you could see him! he has black eyes, and lashes like silk, and such little hands!—even his finger-nails are all perfect, like little gems; and when he puts his little hand on my bosom, I tremble with joy. Since he came, I pray always, and the good God seems very near to me. Now I realize, as I never did before, the sublime thought that God revealed Himself in the infant Jesus; and I bow before the manger of Bethlehem where the Holy Babe was laid. What comfort, what adorable condescension for us mothers in that scene!—My husband is so moved, he can scarce stay an hour from the cradle. He seems to look at me with a sort of awe, because I know how to care for this precious treasure that he adores without daring to touch. We are going to call him Henri, which is my husband's name and that of his ancestors for many generations back. I vow for him an eternal friendship with the son of my little Marie; and I shall try and train him up to be a brave man and a true Christian. Ah, Marie, this gives me something to live for! My heart is full,—a whole new life opens before me!"
Somewhat later, another letter announces the birth of a daughter,—and later still, the birth of another son; but we shall add only one more, written some years after, on hearing of the great reverses of popular feeling towards Burr, subsequently to his duel with the ill-fated Hamilton.
"Ma chre Marie,—Your letter has filled me with grief. My noble Henri, who already begins to talk of himself as my protector, (these boys feel their manhood so soon, ma Marie!) saw by my face, when I read your letter, that something pained me, and he would not rest till I told him something about it. Ah, Marie, how thankful I then felt that I had nothing to blush for before my son! how thankful for those dear children whose little hands had healed all the morbid places of my heart, so that I could think of all the past without a pang! I told Henri that the letter brought bad news of an old friend, but that it pained me to speak of it; and you would have thought, by the grave and tender way he talked to his mamma, that the boy was an experienced man of forty, to say the least.
"But, Marie, how unjust is the world! how unjust both in praise and blame! Poor Burr was the petted child of Society; yesterday she doted on him, flattered him, smiled on his faults, and let him do what he would without reproof; to-day she flouts and scorns and scoffs him, and refuses to see the least good in him. I know that man, Marie,—and I know, that, sinful as he may be before Infinite Purity, he is not so much more sinful than all the other men of his time. Have I not been in America? I know Jefferson; I knew poor Hamilton,—peace be with the dead! Neither of them had a life that could bear the sort of trial to which Burr's is subjected. When every secret fault, failing, and sin is dragged out, and held up without mercy, what man can stand?
"But I know what irritates the world is that proud, disdainful calm which will give neither sigh nor tear. It was not that he killed poor Hamilton, but that he never seemed to care! Ah, there is that evil demon of his life,—that cold, stoical pride, which haunts him like a fate! But I know he does feel; I know he is not as hard at heart as he tries to be; I have seen too many real acts of pity to the unfortunate, of tenderness to the weak, of real love to his friends, to believe that. Great have been his sins against our sex, and God forbid that the mothers of children should speak lightly of them I but is not so susceptible a temperament, and so singular a power to charm as he possessed, to be taken into account in estimating his temptations? Because he is a sinning man, it does not follow that he is a demon. If any should have cause to think bitterly of him, I should. He trifled inexcusably with my deepest feelings; he caused me years of conflict and anguish, such as he little knows; I was almost shipwrecked; yet I will still say to the last that what I loved in him was a better self,—something really noble and good, however concealed and perverted by pride, ambition, and self-will. Though all the world reject him, I still have faith in this better nature, and prayers that he may be led right at last. There is at least one heart that will always intercede with God for him."
It is well known, that, for many years after Burr's death, the odium that covered his name was so great that no monument was erected, lest it should become a mark for popular violence. Subsequently, however, in a mysterious manner, a plain granite slab marked his grave; by whom erected has never been known. It was placed in the night by some friendly, unknown hand. A laborer in the vicinity, who first discovered it, found lying near the spot a small porte-monnaie, which had perhaps been used in paying for the workmanship. It contained no papers that could throw any light on the subject, except the fragment of the address of a letter on which was written "Henri de Frontignac."
THE NORTHERN LIGHTS AND THE STARS.
The stars are watching at their posts And raining silence from the sky, And, guarded by the heavenly hosts, Earth closes her day-wearied eye.
A reign of holy quietness Replaces the tumultuous light, And Nature's weary tribes confess The calm beatitude of Night:
When from the Arctic pit up-steams The Boreal fire's portentous glare, And, bursting into arrowy streams, Hurls horrid splendors on the air.
The embattled meteors scale the arch, And toss their lurid banners wide; Heaven reels with their tempestuous march, And quivers in the flashing tide.
Against the everlasting stars, Against the old empyreal Right, They vainly wage their anarch wars, In vain they urge their fatuous light.
The skies may flash and meteors glare, And Hell invade the spheral school; But Law and Love are sovereign there, And Sirius and Orion rule.
The stars are watching at their posts, Again the Silences prevail; The meteor crew, like guilty ghosts, Have slunk to the infernal jail.
The truths of God forever shine, Though Error glare and Falsehood rage; The cause of Order is divine, And Wisdom rules from age to age.
Faith, Hope, and Love, your time abide! Let Hades marshal all his hosts, The heavenly forces with you side, The stars are watching at their posts.
THOMAS PAINE IN ENGLAND AND IN FRANCE.
Paine landed at Havre in May, A.D. 1787, aet. suae 50, with many titles to social success. He brought with him a literary fame which ranks higher in France than elsewhere; and his works were in the fashionable line of the day. He had been an energetic actor in the American Revolution,—a subject of unbounded enthusiasm with Frenchmen, who look upon it, to this day, as an achievement of their own. And he could boast of a scientific spcialit, without which no intelligent gentleman was complete in the last third of the eighteenth century. Philosopher, American, republican, friend of humanity, savant,—he could show every claim to notice. Besides all this, and better than all, he brought letters from Franklin, the charming old man, whose fondness for "that dear nation" which he could not leave without regret was returned a thousand fold by its admiring affection. De Rayneval did not exaggerate when he wrote to him,—"You will carry with you the affection of all France"; and De Chastellux told the simple truth in the graceful compliment he sent to the old sage after his return home,—"When you were here, we had no need to praise the Americans; we had only to say, 'Look! here is their representative.'" Let us devoutly pray that our ambassadors may not be made use of for the same purpose now!
For these reasons, Paine's reception in Paris was cordial; visits and invitations poured in upon him; he dined with Malesherbes; M. Le Roy took him to Buffon's, where he saw some interesting experiments on inflammable air; the Abb Morellet exerted himself to get the model of his bridge, which had been stopped at the custom-house, safely to Paris. Through their influence it was submitted to a committee of the Acadmie des Sciences; their report was, in substance, that the iron bridge of M. Paine was ingnieusement imagin,—that it merited an attempt to execute it, and furnished a new example of the application of a metal which had not yet been sufficiently used on a large scale.
Two other gentlemen from America, who were interested in science and in mechanics, were in Paris at that time. Rumsey was there with his model of a steamboat; and Thomas Jefferson, whose curiosity extended to all things visible or audible, was busily collecting ground-plans and elevations, and preparing to add at least two ugly buildings to a State "over which," as he himself wrote, "the Genius of Architecture had showered his malediction."
Unfortunately for inventors, the times were not favorable for the construction of boats or of bridges. A taste had sprung up in France for constitution-making, one of the most difficult and expensive of public works. A translation of the American State Constitutions attracted more attention in Paris than Paine's iron-work; for these also, the French thought, were ingnieusement imagines, and worthy of an attempt to execute them abroad. The American Revolution, with its brilliant termination of wisdom, liberty, and peace, seemed to promise similar good results to the efforts of reformers elsewhere. Treatises on moral science and on the nature and end of civil government were eagerly read, "Humanit, mot nouveau," as Cousin says, became the watch-word of the Parisians. It was the fashion among all classes, high as well as low, to talk of human rights, to exalt the virtue of the people, hitherto supposed to have none, and to execrate "bloody tyrants," "silly despots," the members of the kingly profession, which fell into such sad disfavor towards the end of the last century. Sgur, after his return from America, heard the whole court applaud these lines at the theatre:—
"Je suis fils de Brutus, et je porte en mon coeur La libert grave et les rois en horreur."
None suspected whither the road would lead which they were pursuing with so much gayety and enlightenment. Philosophers, nobles, and parliaments all clamored for reform—in others; and for the public good, provided their own goods did not suffer. The King meant reform; he, at least, was in earnest. But how to get it? He had sought assistance from the middle classes; had tried Turgot, the political economist, and Necker, the banker, as ministers; but both broke down under the opposition of the nobility. Then Calonne volunteered, witty and reckless, and convoked the notables, or not-ables, as Lafayette called them in one of his American letters, borrowing a bad pun from Thomas Paine. Calonne could do nothing with the notables, who obstinately refused to submit to taxation. Brienne, Archbishop of Toulouse, took his place. This was in April, 1787, a month before Paine's arrival in France. The notables suddenly became manageable under the new minister, and voted all the necessary taxes; but now the parliaments grew restive, refused to register the edicts, declaring that they had not the legal right to consent to taxes, that the States-General alone had authority to impose new ones. Brienne, indignant at this perverseness,—for hitherto they had claimed the sole right of registering taxes,—forced them to register the stamp-tax and the land-tax, and exiled them to Troyes. This took place on the 15th of August. The same day the two brothers of the King went to register the edicts in the Cour des Comptes and the Cour des Aides. Monsieur was received with acclamations; but D'Artois, who belonged to the unpopular Calonne party, was hissed and jostled by the crowd. Alarmed, he ordered his guard to close about him. "I was standing in one of the apartments through which he had to pass," says Paine, "and could not avoid reflecting how wretched is the condition of a disrespected man."
Evidently no bridges to be built here at present. It would be better to try in England, Paine thought, and in September crossed to London. Sir Joseph Banks, a great scientific authority, thought well of his model, and recommended the construction of one on a larger scale. The different parts of the new bridge were cast in a Yorkshire foundry belonging to Thomas Walker, a Whig friend of the inventor, brought by sea to London, and erected in an open field at Faddington, where the structure was inspected by great numbers of people. After standing there a year, it was taken down, and the materials used in building a bridge over the river Wear at Sunderland, of two hundred and thirty-six feet span, with a rise of thirty-four feet. This bridge is still in use.
[Footnote 1: Stephenson says, in rather bad English, (we quote from the Quarterly),—"If we are to consider Paine as its author, his daring in engineering certainly does full justice to the fervor of his political career; for, successful as the result has undoubtedly proved, want of experience and consequent ignorance of the risk could alone have induced so bold an experiment; and we are rather led to wonder at than to admire a structure which, as regards its proportions and the small quantity of material employed in its construction, will probably remain unrivalled,"—thus resembling the spider's web, which furnished; the original suggestion. In 1801, when Paine had exhausted his theory of human rights in France, he offered his plan to Chaptal, the Minister of the Interior, who proposed to build an iron bridge over the Seine. Two years later, after his return to America, he addressed a memorial to Congress on the same subject, offering the nation the invention as a free gift, and his own services to superintend the structure; but neither Chaptal nor Congress thought fit to accept his offer.]
Paine had forgotten his bridge long before it was taken down. His soul was engrossed by the contemplation of the wonderful event which was daily developing itself in France. Bankruptcy had brought on the crisis. In August, 1788, the interest was not paid on the national debt, and Brienne resigned. The States-General met in May of the next year; in June they declared themselves a national assembly, and commenced work upon a constitution under the direction of Siyes, who well merited the epithet, "indefatigable constitution-grinder," applied to Paine by Cobbett. Not long after, the attempted coup d'tat of Louis XVI. failed, the Bastille was demolished, and the political Saturnalia of the French people began.
It is evident, that, in the beginning, Paine did not aspire to be the political Prometheus of England. He rather looked to the Whig party and to Mr. Burke as the leaders in such a movement. As for himself, a veteran reformer from another hemisphere, he was willing to serve as a volunteer in the campaign against the oppressors of mankind. He had adopted for his motto, "Where liberty is not, there is my country,"—a negative variation of Franklin's saying, which suited his tempestuous character. As he flitted to and fro across the Channel, observing with sharp, eager eyes the progress of "principles" in France, gradually there arose in his mind the thought that poor, old, worn-out England might be regenerated by these new methods. "The French are doubling their strength," he wrote, "by allying, if it may be so expressed, (for it is difficult to express a new idea by old terms,) the majesty of the sovereign with the majesty of the nation."
Paris swarmed with enthusiastic "friends of humanity," English, Scotch, and Irish. Among them Paine naturally took a foremost position, being an authority in revolutionary matters, and a man who had principles on the subject of government. In spite of his contempt of titles, he wrote himself, "Secretary for Foreign Affairs to the Congress of the United States," slightly improving upon the office he had actually held, to suit the sound to European capacity,—showing that in this, likewise, he possessed a genuine American element of character. Lafayette thought much of him, used his pen freely, and listened to his advice. The Marquis, warm-hearted, honest, but endowed with little judgment and a womanish vanity, was trying to make himself the Washington of a French federative republic, and felt happy in having secured the experienced services of Mr. Paine. He wrote to his great master,—"'Common Sense' is writing a book for you, and there you will see a part of my adventures. Liberty is springing up around us in the other parts of Europe, and I am encouraging it by all the means in my power." Paine was in Paris when the Bastille was taken. Lafayette placed the key in his hands, to be transmitted to Washington. Paine wrote to the President, "That the principles of America opened the Bastille is not to be doubted, and therefore the key comes to the right place." Washington, returning his thanks to Paine for the key, added,—"It will give you pleasure to learn that the new government answers its purposes as well as could have been reasonably expected." Yes! and still answers reasonable purposes to this day. In the mean while dozens of French constitutions, "perfections of human wisdom," have been invented, set up, and crushed to atoms.
It was a time of revival in politics. Holland was indulging in hope, Germany was anxious, and steady old England began to lend an ear to the new doctrines from the other side of the Channel. The tendency of the human mind to believe in a golden future, until knowledge of the world and reflection teach us that these bright visions always shrink into the ordinary dimensions of the present as they approach it, misled enthusiastic Englishmen, many of them of a high order of intelligence. There was something grand in the idea, that the prejudices and the abuses of twenty centuries had been buried forever in the ruins of the old French monarchy. This was not enough. All governments and all prejudices of society were to be thrown into the melting-pot; out of the fusion was to arise the new era, the millennium. All other evil things would cease to exist, as well as monopolies, titles, places, and pensions. Sickness, even death, perhaps, might be evaded by the skill of a new science. Who could tell? Franklin had suggested this, half in jest, years before; Condorcet believed and asserted it now. Ignorance and misery, at all events, should come to an end. When kings and a wicked self-seeking aristocracy should be swept away, the divine sense of right, which God had implanted in the people, would rule; there could be no wars; armies and fleets would become useless; taxes would amount to nothing. All the nations would form one grand republic, with a universal convention sitting at the world's centre, to watch over the rights of man! Liberty, virtue, happiness, seemed ready to descend upon the earth.
"Jam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto, Ac toto surget gens aurea mundo."
As each week brought the news of some stupendous change, a kind of madness seized upon the minds of men. Fanatics were jubilant. "Revolutions," they said, "can do no wrong; all are for the best." Englishmen, hitherto sane, forgot their nationality, and became violent Frenchmen. So strongly did the current set in this direction, that the massacres of September, the execution of the King, the despotism of the Directory and the Consulship could not turn it, until Napoleon united all France under him and all England against him. As late as 1793, such men as James Watt, Jr., and the poet Wordsworth were in Paris, on intimate terms with Robespierre and his Committee.
Before 1789, there was no particular discontent in England. Some talk there had been of reform in the representation, and the usual complaints of the burden of taxation. The Dissenters had been trying to get the Corporation and Test Acts repealed, without much success. But nothing beyond occasional meetings and petitions to Parliament would have occurred, had it not been for the explosion in France, then, as since, the political powder-magazine of Europe. The Whig party had seen with pleasure the beginning of the French reforms. Paine, who had partaken of Mr. Burke's hospitality at Beaconsfield, wrote to him freely from Paris, assuring him that everything was going on right; that little inconveniences, the necessary consequences of pulling down and building up, might arise; but that these were much less than ought to be expected; and that a national convention in England would be the best plan of regenerating the nation. Christie, a foolish Scotchman, and Baron Clootz (soon to become Anacharsis) also wrote to Burke in the same vein. Their communications affected his mind in a way they little expected. Mr. Burke had lost all faith in any good result from the blind, headlong rush of the Revolution, and was appalled at the toleration, or rather, sympathy, shown in England, for the riots, outrages, and murders of the Parisian rabble. He began writing the "Reflections," as a warning to his countrymen. He was led to enlarge the work by some remarks made by Fox and Sheridan in the House of Commons; and more particularly by some passages in a sermon preached at the Old Jewry by Dr. Price. Eleven years before, this scientific divine, by a resolution of the American Congress, had been invited to consider himself an American citizen, and to furnish the rebellious Colonists with his assistance in regulating their finances. He had disregarded this flattering summons. Full of zeal for "humanity," he eagerly accepted the request of the Revolution Society to deliver their anniversary sermon. In this discourse, the Doctor, the fervor of whose sentiments had increased with age, maintained the right of the nation "to cashier the king," choose a new ruler, and frame a government for itself. The sermon and the congratulatory addresses it provoked were published by the society and industriously circulated.
Mr. Burke's well-known "Reflections" appeared in October, 1790. The book was hailed with delight by the conservatives of England. Thirteen thousand copies were sold and disseminated. It was a sowing of the dragon's teeth. Every copy brought out some radical, armed with speech or pamphlet. Among a vulgar and forgotten crowd of declaimers, the harebrained Lord Stanhope, Mary Wolstonecraft, who afterward wrote a "Vindication of the Rights of Women," and the violent Catharine Macaulay came forward to enter the ring against the great Mr. Burke. Dr. Priestley, Unitarian divine, discoverer of oxygen gas, correspondent of Dr. Franklin, afterward mobbed in Birmingham, and self-exiled to Pennsylvania, fiercely backed Dr. Price, and maintained that the French Revolution would result "in the enlargement of liberty, the melioration of society, and the increase of virtue and happiness." The "Vindiciae Gallicae" brought into notice Mr. Mackintosh, an opponent whom Burke did not consider beneath him. But the champion was Thomas Paine. At the White Bear, Piccadilly, Paine's favorite lounge, where Romney, who painted a good portrait of him, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Colonel Oswald, Horne Tooke, and others of that set of clever, impracticable reformers used to meet, there had been talk of the blow Mr. Burke was preparing to strike, and Paine had promised his friends to ward it off and to return it. He set himself to work in the Red-Lion Tavern, at Islington, and in three months, Part the First of the "Rights of Man" was ready for the press. Here a delay occurred. The printer who had undertaken the job came to a stop before certain treasonable passages, and declined proceeding farther. This caused the loss of a month. At last, Jordan, of Fleet Street, brought it out on the 13th of March, 1791. No publication in Great Britain, not Junius nor Wilkes's No. 45, had produced such an effect. All England was divided into those who, like Cruger of Bristol, said "Ditto to Mr. Burke," and those who swore by Thomas Paine. "It is a false, wicked, and seditious libel," shouted loyal gentlemen. "It abounds in unanswerable truths, and principles of the purest morality and benevolence; it has no object in view but the happiness of mankind," answered the reformers. "He is the scavenger of rebellion and infidelity."—"Say, rather, 'the Apostle of Freedom, whose heart is a perpetual bleeding fountain of philanthropy.'" The friends of the government carried Paine in effigy, with a pair of stays under his arms, and burned the figure in the streets. The friends of humanity added a new verse to the national hymn, and sung,—
"God save great Thomas Paine, His Rights of Man proclaim From pole to pole!"
This pamphlet, which excited Englishmen of seventy years ago to such a pitch of angry and scornful contention, may be read safely now. Time has taken the sting from it. It is written in that popular style which was Paine's extraordinary gift. He practised the maxim of Aristotle,—although probably he had never heard of it,—"Think like the wise, and speak like the common people." Fox said of the "Rights of Man," "It seems as clear and as simple as the first rule in arithmetic." Therein lay its strength. Paine knew exactly what he wanted to say, and exactly how to say it. His positions may be wrong,—no doubt frequently are wrong,—but so clearly, keenly, and above all so boldly stated, and backed by such shrewd arguments and such apposite illustrations, that it is difficult not to yield to his common-sense view of the question he is discussing. His plain and perspicuous style is often elegant. He may sometimes be coarse and rude, but it is in the thought rather than in the expression. It is true, that, in the heat of conflict, he is apt to lose his temper and break out into the bitter violence of his French associates; but even the scientific and reverend Priestley "called names,"—apostate, renegade, scoundrel. This rough energy added to his popularity with the middle and the lower classes, and made him doubly distasteful to his opponents. Paine, who thought all revolutions alike, and all good, could not understand why Burke, who had upheld the Americans, should exert his whole strength against the French, unless he were "a traitor to human nature." Burke did Paine equal injustice. He thought him unworthy of any refutation but the pillory. In public, he never mentioned his name. But his opinion, and, perhaps, a little soreness of feeling, may be seen in this extract from a letter to Sir William Smith:—
"He [Paine] is utterly incapable of comprehending his subject. He has not even a moderate portion of learning of any kind. He has learned the instrumental part of literature, without having ever made a previous preparation of study for the use of it. Paine has nothing more than what a man, whose audacity makes him careless of logical consequences and his total want of honor makes indifferent to political consequences, can very easily write."
The radicals thought otherwise. They drank Mr. Burke's health with "thanks to him for the discussion he had provoked." And the student of history, who may read Paine's opening sketch of the French Revolution, written to refute Burke's narrative of the same events, will not deny Paine's complete success. He will even meet with sentences that Burke might have composed. For instance: Paine ridicules, as Quixotic, the fine passage in the "Reflections on the Decay of Chivalry"; and adds, "Mr. Burke's mind is above the homely sorrows of the vulgar. He can only feel for a king or for a queen. The countless victims of tyranny have no place in his sympathies. He is not affected by the reality of distress touching upon his heart, but by the showy resemblance of it. He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird."
The French constitution,—"a fabric of government which time could not destroy and the latest posterity would admire." This was the boast of the National Assembly, echoed by the English clubs. Even Mr. Fox, as late as April, 1791, misled by his own magniloquence, spoke of it as "the most stupendous and glorious edifice of liberty which had been erected on the foundation of human integrity in any time or country." Paine heartily concurred with him. Such a constitution as this, he said, is needed in England. There is no hope of it from Parliament. Indeed, Parliament, if it desired reforms, could not make them; it has not the legal right. A national convention, fresh from the people, is indispensable. Then, reculant pour mieux sauter, Paine goes back to the origin of man,—a journey often undertaken by the political philosophers of that day. He describes his natural rights,—defines society as a compact,—declares that no generation has a right to bind its successors, (a doctrine which Mr. Jefferson, and some foolish people after him, thought a self-evident truth,)—hence, no family has a right to take possession of a throne. An hereditary rule is as great an absurdity as an hereditary professorship of mathematics,—a place supposed by Dr. Franklin to exist in some German university. Paine grew bolder as he advanced: "If monarchy is a useless thing, why is it kept up anywhere? and if a necessary thing, how can it be dispensed with?" This is a pretty good specimen of one of Paine's dialectical methods. Here is another: The French constitution says, that the right of war and of peace is in the nation. "Where else should it reside, but in those who are to pay the expense? In England, the right is said to reside in a metaphor shown at the Tower for sixpence or a shilling." Dropping the crown, he turned upon the aristocracy and the Church, and tore them. He begged Lafayette's pardon for addressing him as Marquis. Titles are but nicknames. Nobility and no ability are synonymous. "In all the vocabulary of Adam, you will find no such thing as a duke or a count." The French had established universal liberty of conscience, which gave rise to the following Painean statement: "With respect to what are called denominations of religion,—if every one is left to judge of his own religion, there is no such thing as a religion which is wrong; but if they are to judge of each other's religion, there is no such thing as a religion that is right;—and therefore all the world is right or all the world is wrong." The next is better: "Religion is man bringing to his Maker the fruits of his heart; and though these fruits may differ from each other, like the fruits of the earth, the grateful tribute of every one is accepted."
To encounter an antagonist like Burke, and to come off with credit, might stimulate moderate vanity into public self-exposure; but in Paine vanity was the besetting weakness. It was now swollen by success and flattery into magnificent proportions. Franklin says, that, "when we forbear to praise ourselves, we make a sacrifice to the pride or to the envy of others." Paine did not hesitate to mortify both these failings in his fellow-men. He praises himself with the simplicity of an Homeric hero before a fight. He introduces himself, without a misgiving, almost in the words of Pius Aeneas,—
"Sum Thomas Paine, Faun, super aethera notus."
"With all the inconveniences of early life against me, I am proud to say, that, with a perseverance undismayed by difficulties, a disinterestedness that compels respect, I have not only contributed to raise a new empire in the world, founded on a new system of government, but I have arrived at an eminence in political literature, the most difficult of all lines to succeed and excel in, which aristocracy, with all its aids, has not been able to reach or to rival." "I possess," he wrote in the Second Part of the "Rights of Man," "more of what is called consequence in the world than any one of Mr. Burke's catalogue of aristocrats." Paine sincerely believed himself to be an adept who had found in the rights of man the materia prima of politics, by which error and suffering might be transmuted into happiness and truth. A second Columbus, but greater than the Genoese! Christopher had discovered a new world, it is true, but Thomas had discovered the means of making a new world out of the old. About this time, Dumont, the Benthamite, travelled with him from Paris to London. Dumont was irritated with "his incredible amour-propre and his presumptuous self-conceit." "He was mad with vanity." "The man was a caricature of the vainest of Frenchmen. He believed that his book on the 'Rights of Man' might supply the place of all the books that had ever been written. If it was in his power, he would destroy all the libraries in the world without hesitation, in order to root out the errors of which they were the deposit, and so recommence by the 'Rights of Man' a new chain of ideas and principles." Thus Paine and his wild friends had reached the point of folly in the reformer's scale, and, like so many of their class since, made the fatal mistake of supposing that the old world knew nothing.
When Dumont fell in with Paine, he was returning from a flying visit to Paris, invigorated by the bracing air of French freedom. He had seen Pope Pius burned in effigy in the Palais Royal, and the poor King brought back a prisoner from Varennes,—a cheerful spectacle to the friend of humanity. He was on his way to be present at a dinner given in London on the 14th of July, to commemorate the taking of the Bastille; but the managers of the festivity thought it prudent that he should not attend. He wrote, soon after, the address read by Horne Tooke to the meeting of the 20th of August, at the Thatched House tavern. So enlightened were the doctrines set forth in this paper, that the innkeeper declined receiving Mr. Tooke and his friends on any subsequent occasion. On the 4th of November, he assisted at the customary celebration of the Fifth by the Revolution Society, and gave, for his toast, "The Revolution of the World."
Meanwhile, Paine had reloaded his piece, and was now ready for another shot at kings, lords, and commons. A thousand guineas were offered for the copyright and refused. He declined to treat as a merchantable commodity principles of such importance to mankind. His plan was, to publish Part the Second on the day of the opening of Parliament; but Chapman, the printer, became frightened, like his predecessor, at a treasonable paragraph, and refused to go on.
A fortnight passed before work was resumed, and the essay did not appear until the 16th of February, 1792. It combined, according to the author, "principles and practice." Part the First was now fully expounded, and enlarged by a scheme for diminishing the taxes and improving the condition of the poor, by making weekly allowances to young children, aged people, travelling workmen, and disbanded soldiers. This project of Paine, stated with the mathematical accuracy which was a characteristic of his mind, sprang from the same source as the thousand Utopianisms which form the ludicrous side of the terrible French Revolution.
Part the First was dedicated to Washington; Part the Second bore the name of Lafayette. It is evident, from the second dedication, that Paine had kept pace with the railway speed of the Revolution, and had far outstripped the Marquis, who was not born to lead, or even to understand the period he attempted to direct. The foremost men of 1792 had no time to wait;—"Mankind are always ripe enough to understand their true interest," said Paine; adding words which seemed to quiet Englishmen of fearful significance:—
"I do not believe that monarchy and aristocracy will continue seven years longer in any of the enlightened countries of Europe."—"When France shall be surrounded with revolutions, she will be in peace and safety."—"From what we can learn, all Europe may form but one great republic, and man be free of the whole."—"It is only a certain service that any man can perform in the state, and the service of any individual in the routine of office can never exceed the value of ten thousand pounds a year."—"I presume that no man in his sober senses will compare the character of any of the kings of Europe with that of George Washington. Yet in France and in England the expenses of the Civil List only for the support of one man are eight times greater than the whole expense of the Federal government of America."—"The time is not very distant when England will laugh at itself for sending to Holland, Hanover, Zell, or Brunswick, for men, at the expense of a million a year, who understand neither her laws, her language, or her interest, and whose capacities would scarcely have fitted them for the office of a parish constable. If government could be trusted to such hands, it must be some easy and simple thing indeed, and materials fit for all the purposes may be found in every town and village in England."