"But, surely, you cannot believe that she is entitled only to a single fling at the mark?"
"On the contrary, let her change her mark as often as she finds it too easy or too hard to hit. All I insist upon is a temporary concentration upon one pursuit. You wondered just now that I could ever have cared for display, or have thought much of my appearance; but at that time I knew no better, and followed the world with a devotion for which I have now, I trust, a better object."
I began to be quite interested in the sincerity and confidence with which my companion talked to me, and, after a few remarks expressing concurrence, I framed a question that would draw out the motives of her connection with the college, should she care to communicate them.
"It has been fortunate for me," answered Miss Hurribattle, "to have been born with an activity of temperament that has kept me from that maladie des desabuses which, when the freshness of youth has passed, frequently attacks ladies of some intellectual culture who do not marry. A strong principle of self-assertion, that has long been characteristic of my family, has left us unbound by that common propriety of sacrificing our best happiness for the sake of appearing happy to the world. This induced my father to quit Branton in pretty much the same spirit of opposition with which Chatterton quitted Bristol. Disgusted with its local celebrities, and chafing under the petty exactions and petty gossip to which a sudden loss of fortune had exposed him, he left the town without communicating to the neighbors his future destination. But I will not poach upon our friend the Colonel's speciality, and give you a family-history. It is sufficient to say that a year or two ago I was led to interest myself in the Soggimarsh College as a ground unincumbered by the old incredulities of man's best inspirations which grow so thickly in what are called the highest civilizations,—incredulities, indeed, which, in the fine figure of Coleridge, are nothing but credulities after all, only seen from behind, as they bow and nod assent to the habitual and the fashionable. But I see you are wondering at the particular position in the Academy which our catalogue assigns me, and you shall have the explanation. I have for a long time been painfully impressed with the total neglect of physical education by the women of America. It seems to me that no very important moral advance can be achieved while the exquisite organism through which our impressions come, and through which they should go forth again in acts, is so perverted. I was very anxious that the Soggimarsh College should distinctly recognize a correct physical training as being at least as important as any branch of mental discipline. Accordingly, when the titles of the professorships were under discussion, it seemed right not to take my designation from the classes I instruct in history and philosophy, but from the general gymnastic development of the female members of the college, which it is likewise my duty to oversee. I know, of course, that the prejudices of the public would hold me in greater esteem as a teacher of some ancient lore than in the capacity I assume before them; but you see I throw my stone in the womanish fashion, and do not leave enough of myself behind to be troubled about the matter."
I believe I have good Sir Thomas Browne's fancy of rejoicing to find people individual in something beside their proper names; and by this, as well as much more conversation not set down, I had the satisfaction to discover that Miss Hurribattle had something more than her bold patronymic to distinguish her from the Misses Smith and Robinson of my city-acquaintance. I could hardly believe that we had advanced so far to the footing of old friends, before we reached our destination. As our carryall turned into Colonel Prowley's avenue, however, a sudden recollection of the little romance the proprietor had arranged for his arriving guests came over me like a terrible dream. What a pity it is, I thought, that a friendly intercourse which I should highly prize must be disturbed by the awkward consciousness that this old letter-writer and his sister are watching and misinterpreting with all the zeal of match-makers who have baited their trap, and are ready to mistake anything for a nibble!
We drew up before a formal-looking, old-fashioned house, with piazzas to the two stories, each bordered with a good extent of unquestionably modern gutter. The staple growth of the place, in which the house was set, like the centre of an antique breastpin, seemed to lie in the shrub called box. This ornamental vegetable stretched down each side of the gravel walk, hedged in all sorts of ugly geometrical figures that contained flower-beds, and stood sentinel to the lower line of the piazza; farther on, you would see it allowed to grow to the height of three or four feet, to be curiously cut into cubes, pyramids, and miniature arches.
Colonel Prowley, who was soon at the door to receive us, was a much less imposing sort of man than I had imagined him. He appeared short and modest, and showed a kind face set about half-way up the chin in one of the old section-of-stove-pipe stocks that buckle up from behind; there was a little embarrassment in his manner, as if he found it hard to receive with proper cordiality two dear friends whose faces he had never before seen. We were taken to the parlor, stiffly neat in all its appurtenances, introduced to Miss Prowley, and soon after summoned to dinner.
There was much satisfaction in sitting down to such a repast as the Colonel knew how to give, only it made one shudder a little when he told us the names of great people long passed away who had ranged themselves about the same piece of mahogany during the days of his father and grandfather, for fourscore years into the past. However, if such reminiscences make us reflect upon the mutable character of human affairs, and send grave speculations of the "fleeting show" and "man's illusion" concerning which the poet has told us, I find that the best way is to remember that it is well to make our humble department in the show as entertaining as we can, and our little fragment of the illusion as illusive as possible.
At the head of the table sat the sister of our host, arrayed in the lank bombazine skirt, tight sleeves, and muslin cravat, which constituted the old-lady uniform of the past generation, and which in rare instances yet survives in the country. Upon her right hand was placed the clergyman, Mr. Clifton, who came to dine every Monday,—it being a convenient arrangement on account of the washing; and on her left was one Deacon Reyner, who kept the parish records, and was the local antiquary of the town.
One of the pleasantest diversions with which I am acquainted is a dinner among elderly people of character and originality, who are content to toss about the ball of conversation among themselves, and allow me to watch the game. And in this way was I entertained on my arrival at Foxden; for Miss Hurribattle was directly at her ease, and had plenty to say; while the brother and sister were content to offer the best of everything, and did not attempt to draw me out of my silence. I perceived they were thinking what a pity it was that Miss Hurribattle and myself had not the equality of age and temper that they had fancied for us; for I observed how they would follow the streaks of gray that straggled through the lady's locks, and then glance at the neatly turned moustache upon which in those days I prided myself, and realize that their agreeable plans might be destined to disappointment.
I remember the conversation first fell upon a certain general history of the Prowley family that its present masculine representative had in preparation.
"By the way," said Deacon Reyner, addressing the future historian on this head, "I have secured a correct copy of poor Prosody's epitaph, as you asked me the other day."
Miss Hurribattle, who looked as if she had some doubt whether poor Prosody was a man or an animal, returned a non-committal, "Indeed! I am very glad of it," but soon after added, "Was he a favorite dog?"
"A dog!" exclaimed the Colonel, whose family-history, dates and all, seemed to course his veins instead of blood, "he was my many times great uncle! I have surely told you how Noah Prowllie, who came to New England in 1642, and is supposed to have settled at Foxden some years later, married Desire, daughter of the Reverend Jabez Pluck. Being a rigid grammarian,—a character sufficiently rare at that period,—he named his three sons Orthography, Syntax, and Prosody,—a proceeding that is understood to have offended the Reverend Jabez, who was naturally partial to the Scriptural nomenclature then in vogue. His scruples, I regret to say, were more than justified in the conduct of his grandchildren. Poor Orthography Prowllie was an idle fellow, who never got beyond making his mark upon paper, and consequently made none in the world; Syntax could never agree with anybody; while as for Prosody, poor fellow"——
"It is enough to say that neither his verses nor his life would bear scanning!" said the Deacon, desiring to keep the conversation off unpleasant topics.
"But you certainly had a poet in your family?" said Miss Hurribattle, determined to repair her blunder by suggesting a potent cause of congratulation.
"Indeed we had, Madam!" said the Colonel, with creditable emotion; "though unfortunately none of his productions have come down to us. But we have the highest contemporary testimony to his excellence in a copy of verses prefixed to his posthumous discourse entitled 'The New Snare of a Maypole, or Satan's own Trap for a Slippery Church.' The lines were written by his colleague, the Reverend Exaltation Brymm, and are certainly much to the purpose: I generally keep a copy of them in my pocket-book."
"Oh, do read them, brother!" said Miss Prowley, with strong interest.
Thus adjured, the Colonel produced a piece of paper, put on his spectacles, and read to this effect:—
"New Englande! weep: Thy tuncfull Prowllie's gone, Who skillfully his Armour buckled on Agaynst Phyllystine Scorn and Revelrie: His Sword well-furbished was a Sight to see! This littel Booke of his shall still be greene While Sathan's Fangles lorden stand betweene: Now Pet of Sinne boil up thy dolefull Skum! Ye juggelling Quakers laugh: his Inkhorn's dumb. He put XIII Pslames in verse for our Quire, And with XXVII Pastorals witcht Apollo's Lyre."
"Do you recollect John Norton's funeral elegy on Ann Bradstreet, the Eve of our female minstrelsy?" interrogated Miss Hurribattle; "there are two lines in it which are still in my memory:—
'Could Maro's muse but hear her lively strain, He would condemn his works to fire again.'
What a launch upon the sea of fame! and how sad it is that an actual freight of verses should be preserved in the ship's hold!"
"Well, well, my kinsman was perhaps wise in trusting none of his psalms or pastorals to the press, especially as that greatest of poets, Pope, has since been in the world. But I truly regret that he left no portrait, nor even so much as an outline in black from which something might be made up by an imaginative artist. I have judges, majors, and attorneys, all properly labelled, in the other room, who would be much improved by a slight dash of the aesthetic element; however, I suppose it can't be helped now!"
"Not unless you substitute Saint Josselyn for an ancestor, as Mrs. Hunesley did the other day," said Miss Prowley.
"Ha, ha! it might not be a bad plan to follow out the lady's suggestion: but do tell the story of her strange mistake."
"Why, you must know that the other day old Doctor Dastick brought his New-York niece to call upon us. She began to talk to my brother, and when at last topics of conversation failed, turned to look at the picture of Saint Josselyn, which could be seen through the open folding-doors."
"The gentleman whose sole garment consists of some sort of skin thrown over his shoulders: you must all have observed it as we came in to dinner," said our host, in parenthesis.
"Well, immediately below the Saint hangs a small painting of Uncle Joshua, in white stockings, cocked hat, and coat of maroon velvet, the poor gentleman's favorite dress.
"'Ah!' said Mrs. Hunesley, with her eyes fixed upon the Saint, 'quite a fine portrait!'
"'Why, yes,' said my brother, naturally supposing she meant the small picture below, 'a very fine portrait, and a capital likeness of my Uncle Joshua.'
"'Indeed!' said the lady, with a well-bred effort to conceal her surprise; 'he was taken in a—a—fancy dress, I suppose.'
"'On the contrary, it was his ordinary costume,' insisted the Colonel. 'I can remember him walking up the broad-aisle at church, dressed just as you see him there.'
"'I should not have thought it would have been allowed! Did not the deacons turn him out?' exclaimed Mrs. Hunesley, in great astonishment.
"'Turn him out! Why, Madam, he was a deacon himself, and the most popular man in the parish.'
"'Well, I had no idea that such things had ever been permitted in this country! I should have supposed that the fear of such an example on the young would have induced people to keep him in confinement.'
"'Good heavens, Madam!' remonstrated the Colonel, roused to a desperate vindication of the family-honor, 'let me tell you that his excellent influence on the young was the crowning virtue of his character. He used to go about town with his pockets filled with nuts and gingerbread to reward them when they were good.'
"'It is enough,' replied the lady; 'our views of propriety are so totally different that we will not pursue the subject. I will only say that—really—in that dress, I don't see where he could have had any pockets!'"
Deacon Reyner laughed heartily at these strictures upon the proprieties of his predecessor, and said,—
"Of course, the last remark must have brought about an explanation."
"Why, yes," said Colonel Prowley; "but when we see how slight an accident resolved the mystery, we should receive with doubt much of the personal scandal which is tossing about the world."
The clergyman assented very cordially to this proposition, and added, that it was a reflection that those of his flock then present would do well to bear in mind that very evening at Doctor Dastick's bone-party.
I confess to being a little startled at the spectral name of this entertainment, and began to puzzle myself whether the Doctor gave a levee to rapping spirits, or moralized over the skulls in his collection, like Hamlet in the church-yard. Miss Hurribattle seemed wandering in the mazes of a similar perplexity, and finally said,—
"What is a bone-party? Is it given out of compliment to the dead or the living?"
"Nay," said the Deacon, "I don't see how it could be much of a compliment to the dead."
"Except upon the principle, De mortuis nil, nisi bone 'em!" suggested Miss Hurribattle, with such perfect gravity that neither Miss Prowley nor the clergyman suspected the jocular atrocity that was hidden in her speech.
"The bone-parties of old Doctor Dastick," explained the Colonel, "are entertainments peculiar to Foxden; and as there is to be one this evening to which we are all invited, any anticipation of the diversion seems likely to diminish whatever of satisfaction may be in prospect. I will, however, remark, that some of the Doctor's guests are grievously oppressed by somnolence during his scholastic expositions; as a protection against which infirmity of the flesh, I do commend an after-dinner nap. It has been the fashion of the house since the days of my grandfather; and as he lived to a ripe old age, I do not think it could have been deleterious."
Soon after this, Colonel Prowley pushed back his chair from the table as a signal for the dispersal of the party. And I betook myself to my chamber, a sober apartment, with very uneven floor and very small windows, through one of which I peered out upon the box before the house, and thought over the people whose acquaintance I had just made. Once only were these musings interrupted by snatches of a conversation between my host and hostess as they passed across the piazza.
"When this comes about, sister, as I still believe it must, you shall adorn a page of my diary with one of your illustrative drawings. A pair of doves would be appropriate, or perhaps a vine clinging round an oak."
"And which of our guests is to be represented by the oak?" asked Miss Prowley, in a tone which betrayed a woman's perception of matrimonial incongruities.
"Nay, sister, our young friend has a steadiness of character which would be ill-mated with some giddy girl from the nursery. So make your vine a little woody, and the union will be all the firmer."
As there was no chance of taking a nap after this, I presently descended to walk in the garden. And there I encountered Miss Hurribattle, who did not seem to be one of the convenient visitors who can be put to sleep after dinner. The conversation which I had the honor of renewing with the lady, though it did not at all advance the whimsical project of Colonel Prowley, increased my respect for the high instincts of Nature which prompted her concern in the elevation of woman. She showed me how a reform, presenting on its surface much that was meagre and partial, was sustained by those accomplished in the study of the question, no less from the rigorous necessities of logic than from the demonstrations of history and experiment.
And here, perchance, the reader observes that we make but slight progress towards a solution of the inquiry proposed some pages back. Yet let it be remembered that in real experience the novelist's art of foreshadowing the end from the beginning and aiming every petty incident at the final result is very seldom perceptible. "Il ne faut pas voyager pour voir, mais pour ne pas voir," says the proverb; and the journey of life is included in its application. We do our rarest deeds, we take our most important steps, by what seems accident. Instead of forming plans with remote designs, we find it our best policy to seize circumstances as they run past us,—knowing, that, if we have strength and quickness enough, we may take from them all that is required.
Doctor Dastick's bone-party was certainly an entertainment of unique description. A kind old gentleman was its originator, who thought to turn the enthusiasm for lectures, which the Lyceum had developed in Foxden, into a private and pleasant channel. Possessed with this praiseworthy design, the Doctor, who had given up practice by reason of years and competence, remembered a certain cabinet containing fossils, crystals, fragments of Indian implements, small pieces of the skeletons of their proprietors, vertebrae of extinct animals, besides a great amount of miscellaneous rubbish that refused to come to terms and be classified. Thus it seemed good to the proprietor of this medical rag-bag to invite the citizens of Foxden to a series of explanatory lectures upon its varied contents. This would have done well enough, if the Doctor could only have persuaded himself to select his most interesting specimens, and read up upon them, so as to retail a little fluent information after the manner of the lyceum-philosophers. But, unfortunately, the professional pride of the lecturer induced him to speak without preparation or discrimination upon any osteological article which happened to come to hand: which fact, perhaps, accounted for the prevalent somnolence of the auditory, concerning which I had been forewarned.
It is barely possible that these midsummer-night diversions of Doctor Dastick were suggested by the fame of evenings which, during the previous winter, several city physicians (men of eminent scientific attainments) had devoted to the instruction of their friends. And rumor could scarcely have overestimated the privilege of listening to the discursive fireside talk of such accurate observers. Having vividly realized all that was to be known of their subjects of special investigation, these distinguished gentlemen would steam steadily athwart the light winds of conversation and bring their company to a pleasant haven. The Foxden ex-practitioner, however, lacking the metropolitan attrition which keeps the intellectual engine in effective polish, drifted vaguely in a sea of fragmentary information; —occasionally, to be sure, bumping against some encyclopedic argosy, but, for the most part, making very leisurely progress, with much apparent waste in the machinery. A brief extract from my note-book may furnish an idea of these scientific discourses.
"Now, my friends," pursues the Doctor, "let us examine another curiosity,"—here he would take down something that looked like a mottled paving-stone in a very crumbling condition,—"let us examine it carefully through the glass,"—here a pause, during which he performed the operation in question. "What is it? Is it a fossil turtle? No," —with great deliberation,—"I should say it was not a fossil turtle. Is it a mass of twigs taken from the stomach of a mastodon? No, on the whole, it can't be a mass of twigs taken from the stomach of a mastodon. Is it a specimen of the top of Mount Sinai? No, it is not a specimen of the top of Mount Sinai. What is it, then? I—don't—know— what—it—is!"
Having arrived at this satisfactory conclusion, the Doctor would pass on to the next specimen, which, having provoked a similar series of interrogations and negations, would be dismissed with no very different result.
There is sometimes an advantage in not being a notable person; at all events, I thought so, when I saw the Prowleys and their guests of chief consideration, to wit, the clergyman, deacon, and Miss Hurribattle, accommodated on the first row of chairs, with their faces under grand illumination by two camphene-lamps upon the Doctor's table. There they sat, together with Mrs. Hunesley from New York, two or three distinguished visitors from the hotel, and the elders of Foxden, looking wistfully at the bones, as if in envy of their fleshless condition that sultry August evening.
It was with real satisfaction that I perceived I was considered worthy of no more worshipful company than that of the standing stragglers at the dark end of the parlor. And as the evening breeze came freshly through the window at the back of the room, I rejoiced heartily in my lack of title to the consideration of being snugly penned in a more honorable position. As I found it might be done without attracting attention, I obeyed a strong impulse that seized me to pass through the open window to the piazza. Thence I presently descended, and strolled about the precise gravel-walks, puzzling myself to conjecture how much of the rich light was owing to the red glow which lingered in the west, and how much to the full moon just breaking through the trees. My investigations were suddenly interrupted by the advent of a carryall, which drove-with great rapidity to the Doctor's gate. It was the very railway-omnibus that a few hours before had brought Miss Hurribattle and myself from the station.
"Hello, Cap'n," called out the driver, complimenting me with that military title, "can you give a hand to this trunk? I've got to go right slap back after two more fares."
I was near the gate, and of course cheerfully acceded to this request. A heavy trunk was lifted out, and placed just behind the lilac-bushes at the edge of the lawn. The driver jumped into his omnibus and hurried away with all speed, lest his two fares should pay themselves to a rival conveyance. Behind him, however, he had left the proprietress of the trunk,—a lady of about five-and-twenty, in whose countenance I detected that strange sort of familiarity that entire strangers sometimes carry about them.
"This is Doctor Dastick's, is it not? Do you know whether Mrs. Hunesley expected me?" she asked, with a grace of manner that was quite irresistible.
I informed her that I was a stranger in the place, and was only at the Doctor's for a single evening; but that I could not think that Mrs. Hunesley expected anybody, as I had just seen that lady firmly fixed in the front row of chairs before the Doctor's table,—whence, owing to the crowd of sitters behind, she would have some difficulty in extricating herself.
"Oh, I would not have her called for the world!" gayly exclaimed my companion. "She has told me all about the dear old Doctor's lectures; and I would not disturb his learned explanations on any account."
"I do not think that the company in general would regret an interlude of modern life and interest," said I.
"Perhaps not; but nothing seems to me so rude and disagreeable as to interrupt people, or disturb their attention, when assembled for a definite object."
We walked up the gravel-path, and softly entered the hall, where a shawl and bonnet were deposited. The Doctor's discourse was very audible, and the unexpected visitor seemed disposed to establish herself upon one of the hall-chairs, and wait till it was over. There was a graceful confidence in her movement, which is to me more captivating than a pretty face; and when I had opportunity to observe more closely, I was greatly attracted by the sensibility and refinement expressed through a countenance which otherwise would have been plain. As I seemed to be whimsically cast in the part of host, and as I perceived the lady was too well-bred to make my position at all awkward, I proposed the piazza as a pleasanter place of waiting than that she had chosen.
And here let me make one of those weighty observations, derived from a profound experience, which I trust will have a redeeming savor to the judicious, should this tale of mine fail to command that general popularity to which I have begun to suspect its title. I have found that all the fine passages that lighten and enlighten this life of ours seldom run into the traps we set for them, but seem to take a perverse satisfaction in descending upon us when we are least prepared for their reception. I have never been asked out to dine with a gentleman, devoted, we will say, to the same speciality in which I have a humble interest, without being sadly disappointed in the talk that my host had kindly promised me. And when I am going to another country, and a dear friend gives me a letter to some one whom he tells me I shall be glad to meet, and from whom I shall gain great instruction, I accept the letter, knowing very well that the man I shall really be glad to meet, and from whom I shall truly gain instruction, will present himself on the top of a diligence, or take a seat at my table at some cheap cafe or chop-house. Thus it is, that, when there is every reason why people should break through the commonplace rubbish on the surface, and disclose a pure vein of thought and feeling, they rarely contrive to do it, but reserve their best things for the chances that touch them, when self-consciousness is asleep, and the unconstrained humanity within expands to absorb its like. Is it not in every one's experience that there are persons with whom chance has thrown us for a few hours, whom we know better, and who know us better, than the friends with whom we have babbled of green fields, thermometers, and dirty pavements for a score of years? As I confidently expect an affirmative reply to this question, I fear no censure in saying that the evening passed on Doctor Dastick's piazza made me feel there was a possibility of social intercourse resembling the extravagant spirituality of the mystics, when the soul bounds to the height of joyful knowledge, and without process or medium knows complete satisfaction.
How we came to talk of many things, I cannot remember; but we somehow found ourselves speaking of matters of near and deep experience without consciousness of singularity. We admitted those puzzling life-questions that present themselves, on a still summer evening, when we long to escape from the conditions of finite being, and yet contemplate the necessity of working at our tasks shackled by a thousand iron circumstances.
"My plan of life, so far as I have any, seems to point to education," said my companion. "I am thrown in great measure upon my own activity for support, and have an aunt who is very zealous in the work, and who has often asked me to become her fellow-laborer. Until now I could never well leave home; but she has written to me again since"—she stopped, as if distressed, and with a woman's tact glanced at her mourning-dress to tell me the story;—"she has written to me earnestly of late upon the subject. I feel how noble an object it is to live for, and I want an object, Heaven knows; but there are reasons—perhaps I should say feelings, not reasons—why I hesitate. I am asked to bind myself for ten years to the work in a Western college. There are many advantages in a permanent position, both for the teacher and the institution, but"—
Her voice faltered; and I felt that Nature had at times made other suggestions to that fresh young spirit, other possibilities had dawned through the future; perhaps they were certainties,—and the thought passed me with a shudder.
"Teaching is a terrible drudgery," I said; "the labor and devotion of the true teacher are yet unrecognized by the world."
"I am not afraid of the vexations," she replied: "I am very fond of being with young people; yet I have been taught to think it was happier, if our affections could be somewhat more concentrated than—In short, I had better finish an awkward sentence, by saying that I do not feel quite ready to pledge myself to give up all possibilities connected with my New-England home."
It was spoken with such sweet ingenuousness that I was only charmed. The simple sincerity of the confession seemed to me much better than the flippant jest and pert talk with which I had heard such subjects treated while making my observations upon what my city-acquaintances had assured me was good society. Is it not Sterling who exclaims that a luxurious and polished life without a true sense of the beautiful and the great is more barren and sad to see than that of the ignorant and the brutalized? And if this be true, how shall we imagine a greater satisfaction than to find the fresh truth of Nature set in a polished and graceful form? For since it is through form that we take cognizance of all we love and all we believe, it is well that the sign and idea should merge, and come complete and whole to govern us aright.
I should have no objection to meditating after this manner for a page or two, as well as further hinting what important nothings sparkled upon Doctor Dastick's piazza that pleasant summer night. But as I must curtail this biographical fragment in some part or other, it seems best to do it about that portion where I may trust that the experience of every reader will supply the deficiency.
How harshly sounded the creaking of the furniture, and how strangely commercial and matter-of-fact the voices of the people that announced the conclusion of the lecture! Mrs. Hunesley managed to get out among the first, and was heartily glad to see my newly acquired friend, calling her, "My dear Kate,"—which I thought was a very pretty name,—and saying that she had not expected her quite so soon.
I looked into the parlor and saw the Prowley party tumbling over chairs, and scaling settees, in their haste to meet the cooling breezes of the piazza. But when they finally accomplished their purpose, and I was advancing with inquiries and congratulations, I started at seeing the surprise depicted in the countenance of Miss Hurribattle, as she gazed in the direction where I stood.
"Why, Aunt Patience!" exclaimed a voice at my side.
"Why, Kate Hurribattle!" was the response.
"How in the name of wonder did you get to Foxden?"
"How under the sun did you get to Foxden?"
"Why I am here naturally enough as the guest of my friend Colonel Prowley."
"And I am here naturally enough as the guest of my friend Mrs. Hunesley."
Now if I had dramatized the little event I have been trying to relate, I should have reached the precise point where the auditor would button up his coat, put on his hat, let his patent spring-seat go up with a click, and begin to leave the theatre with all expedition. What would it matter to him that I had prepared a circumstantial account of how all petty objections were got over, or that I had elaborated a peculiarly felicitous tag which Colonel Prowley would speak at a few backs as they disappeared into the lobby? The auditor referred to has got an inkling of how things are to end, and can guess out the particulars as he hurries off to his business. And here will be observed our decided advantage in having made sure of the Moral by a vigorous assertion of the same at the commencement of this narrative; for, thus relieved of the necessity of a final flutter into the empyrean of ethics, we may part company in a few easy sentences.
Although the circumstances I have set down, from being awkwardly packed in a small compass, may not appear to fit into each other with all the exactness of a dissecting-map, I am sure, that, as they really occurred spread over a necessary time, they seemed natural and simple enough. Mrs. Hunesley, Doctor Dastick's favorite niece, was the schoolmate of Miss Kate Hurribattle, and what more likely than that she should invite her friend to pass a few weeks with her at her summer-home in the country? And could there be a greater necessity than that, meeting daily as we did through those lovely August weeks, she should become—in short, that I should marry Miss Hurribattle?
And when this foolish little romance, which had taken nebulous outline in the fancy of Colonel Prowley, suddenly fell at his feet a serious indubitability, the dear, delighted old gentleman was the first to declare, that, as our engagement had existed for the last seventy years, it certainly did not seem worth while to wait much longer. At all events, we did not wait longer than the following Thanksgiving; since which period my experience leads me to declare, that, if the Miss Hurribattle of my great-great-uncle's day was at all comparable to the member of her family I met at Foxden, my respected relative made a great mistake in living a bachelor.
You know how a little child of three or four years old kicks and howls, if it do not get its own way. You know how quietly a grown-up man takes it, when ordinary things fall out otherwise than he wished. A letter, a newspaper, a magazine, does not arrive by the post on the morning on which it had been particularly wished for, and counted on with certainty. The day proves rainy, when a fine day was specially desirable. The grown-up man is disappointed; but he soon gets reconciled to the existing state of facts. He did not much expect that things would turn out as he wished them. Yes: there is nothing like the habit of being disappointed, to make a man resigned when disappointment comes, and to enable him to take it quietly. And a habit of practical resignation grows upon most men, as they advance through life.
You have often seen a poor beggar, most probably an old man, with some lingering remains of respectability in his faded appearance, half ask an alms of a passer-by; and you have seen him, at a word of repulse, or even on finding no notice taken of his request, meekly turn away: too beaten and sick at heart for energy; drilled into a dreary resignation by the long custom of finding everything go against him in this world. You may have known a poor cripple, who sits all day by the side of the pavement of a certain street, with a little bundle of tracts in his hand, watching those who pass by, in the hope that they may give him something. I wonder, indeed, how the police suffer him to be there: for, though ostensibly selling the tracts, he is really begging. Hundreds of times in the long day, he must see people approaching, and hope that they may spare him a halfpenny, and find ninety-nine out of each hundred pass without noticing him. It must be a hard school of Resignation. Disappointments without number have subdued that poor creature into bearing one disappointment more with scarce an appreciable stir of heart. But, on the other hand, kings, great nobles, and the like, have been known, even to the close of life, to violently curse and swear, if things went against them; going the length of stamping and blaspheming even at rain and wind, and branches of trees and plashes of mud, which were of course guiltless of any design of giving offence to these eminent individuals. There was a great monarch, who, when any little cross-accident befell him, was wont to fling himself upon the floor, and there to kick and scream and tear his hair. And around him, meanwhile, stood his awe-stricken attendants: all doubtless ready to assure him that there was something noble and graceful in his kicking and screaming, and that no human being had ever before with such dignity and magnanimity torn his hair. My friend Mr. Smith tells me that in his early youth he had a (very slight) acquaintance with a great prince, of elevated rank and of vast estates. That great prince came very early to his greatness; and no one had ever ventured, since he could remember, to tell him he had ever said or done wrong. Accordingly, the prince had never learned to control himself, nor grown accustomed to bear quietly what he did not like. And when any one, in conversation, related to him something which he disapproved, he used to start from his chair, and rush up and down the apartment, furiously flapping his hands together, till he had thus blown off the steam produced by the irritation of his nervous system. That prince was a good man: and so aware was he of his infirmity, that, when in these fits of passion, he never suffered himself to say a single word: being aware that he might say what he would afterwards regret. And though he could not wholly restrain himself, the entire wrath he felt passed off in flapping. And after flapping for a few minutes, he sat down again, a reasonable man once more. All honor to him! For my friend Smith tells me that that prince was surrounded by toadies, who were ready to praise everything he might do, even to his flapping. And in particular, there was one humble retainer, who, whenever his master flapped, was wont to hold up his hands in an ecstasy of admiration, exclaiming, "It is the flapping of a god, and not of a man!"
Now all this lack of Resignation on the part of princes and kings comes of the fact, that they are so far like children that they have not become accustomed to be resisted, and to be obliged to forego what they would like. Resignation comes by the habit of being disappointed, and of finding things go against you. It is, in the case of ordinary human beings, just what they expect. Of course, you remember the adage, "Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed." I have a good deal to say about that adage. Reasonableness of expectation is a great and good thing: despondency is a thing to be discouraged and put down as far as may be. But meanwhile let me say, that the corollary drawn from that dismal beatitude seems to me unfounded in fact. I should say just the contrary. I should say, "Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he will very likely be disappointed." You know, my reader, whether things do not generally happen the opposite way from that which you expected. Did you ever try to keep off an evil you dreaded by interposing this buffer? Did you ever think you might perhaps prevent a trouble from coming by constantly anticipating it,—keeping, meanwhile, an under-thought that things rarely happen as you anticipate them, and thus that your anticipation of the thing might possibly keep it away? Of course you have; for you are a human being. And in all common cases, a watch might as well think to keep a skilful watchmaker in ignorance of the way in which its movements are produced, as a human being think to prevent another human being from knowing exactly how he will think and feel in given circumstances. We have watched the working of our own watches far too closely and long, my friends, to have the least difficulty in understanding the great principles upon which the watches of other men go. I cannot look inside your breast, my reader, and see the machinery that is working there: I mean the machinery of thought and feeling. But I know exactly how it works, nevertheless; for I have long watched a machinery precisely like it.
There are a great many people in this world who feel that things are all wrong, that they have missed stays in life, that they are beaten,—and yet who don't much mind. They are indurated by long use. They do not try to disguise from themselves the facts. There are some men who diligently try to disguise the facts, and who in some measure succeed in doing so. I have known a self-sufficient and disagreeable clergyman who had a church in a large city. Five-sixths of the seats in the church were quite empty; yet the clergyman often talked of what a good congregation he had, with a confidence which would have deceived any one who had not seen it. I have known a church where it was agony to any one with an ear to listen to the noise produced when the people were singing; yet the clergyman often talked of what splendid music he had. I have known an entirely briefless barrister, whose friends gave out that the sole reason why he had no briefs was that he did not want any. I have known students who did not get the prizes for which they competed, but who declared that the reason of their failure was, that, though they competed for the prizes, they did not wish to get them. I have known a fast young woman, after many engagements made and broken, marry as the last resort a brainless and penniless blackguard; yet all her family talk in big terms of what a delightful connection she was making. Now, where all that self-deception is genuine, let us be glad to see it; and let us not, like Mr. Snarling, take a spiteful pleasure in undeceiving those who are so happy to be deceived. In most cases, indeed, such trickery deceives nobody. But where it truly deceives those who practise it, even if it deceive nobody else, you see there is no true Resignation. A man who has made a mess of life has no need to be resigned, if he fancies he has succeeded splendidly. But I look with great interest, and often with deep respect, at the man or woman who feels that life has been a failure,—a failure, that is, as regards this world,—and yet who is quite resigned. Yes: whether it be the un-soured old maid, sweet-tempered, sympathetic in others' joys, God's kind angel in the house of sorrow,—or the unappreciated genius, quiet, subdued, pleased to meet even one who understands him amid a community which does not,—or the kind-hearted clever man to whom eminent success has come too late, when those were gone whom it would have made happy: I reverence and love, more than I can express, the beautiful natures I have known thus subdued and resigned.
Yes: human beings get indurated. When you come to know well the history of a great many people, you will find that it is wonderful what they have passed through. Most people have suffered a very great deal, since they came into this world. Yet in their appearance there is no particular trace of it all. You would not guess, from looking at them, how hard and how various their lot has been. I once knew a woman, rather more than middle-aged. I knew her well, and saw her almost every day, for several years, before I learned that the homely Scotchwoman had seen distant lands, and had passed through very strange ups and downs, before she settled into the quiet, orderly life in which I knew her. Yet when spoken to kindly, by one who expressed surprise that all these trials had left so little trace, the inward feeling, commonly suppressed, burst bitterly out, and she exclaimed, "It's a wonder that I'm living at all!" And it is a wonder that a great many people are living, and looking so cheerful and so well as they do, when you think what fiery passion, what crushing sorrow, what terrible losses, what bitter disappointments, what hard and protracted work they have gone through. Doubtless, great good comes of it. All wisdom, all experience, comes of suffering. I should not care much for the counsel of the man whose life had been one long sunshiny holiday. There is greater depth in the philosophy of Mr. Dickens than a great portion of his readers discern. You are ready to smile at the singular way in which Captain Cuttle commended his friend Jack Bunsby as a man of extraordinary wisdom, whose advice on any point was of inestimable value. "Here's a man," said Captain Cuttle, "who has been more beaten about the head than any other living man!" I hail the words as the recognition of a great principle. To Mr. Bunsby it befell in a literal sense; but we have all been (in a moral sense) a good deal beaten about both the head and the heart before we grew good for much. Out of the travail of his nature, out of the sorrowful history of his past life, the poet or the moralist draws the deep thought and feeling which find so straight a way to the hearts of other men. Do you think Mr. Tennyson would ever have been the great poet he is, if he had not passed through that season of great grief which has left its noble record in "In Memoriam"? And a youthful preacher, of vivid imagination and keen feeling, little fettered by anything in the nature of good taste, may by strong statements and a fiery manner draw a mob of unthinking hearers: but thoughtful men and women will not find anything in all that, that awakens the response of their inner nature in its truest depths; they must have religious instruction into which real experience has been transfused; and the worth of the instruction will be in direct proportion to the amount of real experience which is embodied in it. And after all, it is better to be wise and good than to be gay and happy, if we must choose between the two things; and it is worth while to be severely beaten about the head, if that is the condition on which alone we can gain true wisdom. True wisdom is cheap at almost any price. But it does not follow at all that you will be happy (in the vulgar sense) in direct proportion as you are wise. I suppose most middle-aged people, when they receive the ordinary kind wish at New-Year's time of a Happy New-Year, feel that happy is not quite the word; and feel that, too, though well aware that they have abundant reason for gratitude to a kind Providence. It is not here that we shall ever be happy,—that is, completely and perfectly happy. Something will always be coming to worry and distress. And a hundred sad possibilities hang over us: some of them only too certainly and quickly drawing near. Yet people are content, in a kind of way. They have learnt the great lesson of Resignation.
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There are many worthy people who would be quite fevered and flurried by good fortune, if it were to come to any very great degree. It would injure their heart. As for bad fortune, they can stand it nicely, they have been accustomed to it so long. I have known a very hard-wrought man, who had passed, rather early in life, through very heavy and protracted trials. I have heard him say, that, if any malicious enemy wished to kill him, the course would be to make sure that tidings of some signal piece of prosperity should arrive by post on each of six or seven successive days. It would quite unhinge and unsettle him, he said. His heart would go: his nervous system would break down. People to whom pieces of good-luck come rare and small have a great curiosity to know how a man feels when he is suddenly told that he has drawn one of the greatest prizes in the lottery of life. The kind of feeling, of course, will depend entirely on the kind of man. Yet very great prizes, in the way of dignity and duty, do for the most part fall to men who in some measure deserve them, or who at least are not conspicuously undeserving of them and unfit for them. So that it is almost impossible that the great news should elicit merely some unworthy explosion of gratified self-conceit. The feeling would in almost every case be deeper and worthier. One would like to be sitting at breakfast with a truly good man, when the letter from the Prime-Minister comes in, offering him the Archbishopric of Canterbury. One would like to see how he would take it. Quietly, I have no doubt. Long preparation has fitted the man who reaches that position for taking it quietly. A recent Chancellor publicly stated how he felt, when offered the Great Seal. His first feeling, that good man said, was of gratification that he had fairly reached the highest reward of the profession to which he had given his life; but the feeling which speedily supplanted that was an overwhelming sense of his responsibility and a grave doubt as to his qualifications. I have always believed, and sometimes said, that good fortune—not so great or so sudden as to injure one's nerves or heart, but kindly and equable—has a most wholesome effect upon human character. I believe that the happier a man is, the better and kinder he will be. The greater part of unamiability, ill-temper, impatience, bitterness, and uncharitableness comes out of unhappiness. It is because a man is so miserable that he is such a sour, suspicious, fractious, petted creature. I was amused, this morning, to read in the newspaper an account of a very small incident which befell the new Primate of England on his journey back to London, after being enthroned at Canterbury. The reporter of that small incident takes occasion to record that the Archbishop had quite charmed his travelling-companions in the railway-carriage by the geniality and kindliness of his manner. I have no doubt he did. I am sure he is a truly good Christian man. But think of what a splendid training for producing geniality and kindliness he has been going through for a great number of years! Think of the moral influences which have been bearing on him for the last few weeks! We should all be kindly and genial, if we had the same chance of being so. But if Dr. Longley had a living of a hundred pounds a year, a fretful, ailing wife, a number of half-fed and half-educated little children, a dirty, miserable house, a bleak country round, and a set of wrong-headed and insolent parishioners to keep straight, I venture to say he would have looked, and been, a very different man in that railway-carriage running up to London. Instead of the genial smiles that delighted his fellow-travellers, (according to the newspaper-story,) his face would have been sour, and his speech would have been snappish; he would have leaned back in the corner of a second-class carriage, sadly calculating the cost of his journey, and how part of it might be saved by going without any dinner. Oh, if I found a four-leaved shamrock, I would undertake to make a mighty deal of certain people I know! I would put an end to their weary schemings to make the ends meet. I would cut off all those wretched cares which jar miserably on the shaken nerves. I know the burst of thankfulness and joy that would come, if some dismal load, never to be cast off, were taken away. And I would take it off. I would clear up the horrible muddle. I would make them happy: and in doing that, I know that I should make them good.
* * * * *
But I have sought the four-leaved shamrock for a long time, and never have found it; and so I am growing subdued to the conviction that I never shall. Let us go back to the matter of Resignation, and think a little longer about that.
Resignation, in any human being, means that things are not as you would wish, and yet that you are content.
Who has all he wishes? There are many houses in this world in which Resignation is the best thing that can be felt any more. The bitter blow has fallen; the break has been made; the empty chair is left (perhaps a very little chair); and never more, while Time goes on, can things be as they were fondly wished and hoped. Resignation would need to be cultivated by human beings; for all round us there is a multitude of things very different from what we would wish. Not in your house, not in your family, not in your street, not in your parish, not in your country, and least of all in yourself, can you have things as you would wish. And you have your choice of two alternatives. You must either fret yourself into a nervous fever, or you must cultivate the habit of Resignation. And very often Resignation does not mean that you are at all reconciled to a thing, but just that you feel you can do nothing to mend it. Some friend, to whom you are really attached, and whom you often see, vexes and worries you by some silly and disagreeable habit,—some habit which it is impossible you should ever like, or ever even overlook; yet you try to make up your mind to it, because it cannot be helped, and you would rather submit to it than lose your friend. You hate the east-wind: it withers and pinches you, in body and soul: yet you cannot live in a certain beautiful city without feeling the east-wind many days in the year. And that city's advantages and attractions are so many and great that no sane man with sound lungs would abandon the city merely to escape the east-wind. Yet, though resigned to the east-wind, you are anything but reconciled to it.
Resignation is not always a good thing. Sometimes it is a very bad thing. You should never be resigned to things continuing wrong, when you may rise and set them right. I dare say, in the Romish Church, there were good men before Luther who were keenly alive to the errors and evils that had crept into it, but who, in despair of making things better, tried sadly to fix their thoughts upon other subjects: who took to illuminating missals, or constructing systems of logic, or cultivating vegetables in the garden of the monastery, or improving the music in the chapel: quietly resigned to evils they judged irremediable. Great reformers have not been resigned men. Luther was not resigned; Howard was not resigned; Fowell Buxton was not resigned; George Stephenson was not resigned. And there is hardly a nobler sight than that of a man who determines that he will NOT make up his mind to the continuance of some great evil: who determines that he will give his life to battling with that evil to the last: who determines that either that evil shall extinguish him, or he shall extinguish it. I reverence the strong, sanguine mind, that resolves to work a revolution to better things, and that is not afraid to hope it can work a revolution. And perhaps, my reader, we should both reverence it all the more that we find in ourselves very little like it. It is a curious thing, and a sad thing, to remark in how many people there is too much resignation. It kills out energy. It is a weak, fretful, unhappy thing. People are reconciled, in a sad sort of way, to the fashion in which things go on. You have seen a poor, slatternly mother, in a way-side cottage, who has observed her little children playing in the road before it, in the way of passing carriages, angrily ordering the little things to come away from their dangerous and dirty play; yet, when the children disobey her, and remain where they were, just saying no more, making no farther effort. You have known a master tell his man-servant to do something about stable or garden, yet, when the servant does not do it, taking no notice: seeing that he has been disobeyed, yet wearily resigned, feeling that there is no use in always fighting. And I do not speak of the not unfrequent cases in which the master, after giving his orders, comes to discover that it is best they should not be carried out, and is very glad to see them disregarded: I mean when he is dissatisfied that what he has directed is not done, and wishes that it were done, and feels worried by the whole affair, yet is so devoid of energy as to rest in a fretful resignation. Sometimes there is a sort of sense as if one had discharged his conscience by making a weak effort in the direction of doing a thing, an effort which had not the slightest chance of being successful. When I was a little boy, many years since, I used to think this; and I was led to thinking it by remarking a singular characteristic in the conduct of a school-companion. In those days, if you were chasing some other boy who had injured or offended you, with the design of retaliation, if you found you could not catch him, by reason of his superior speed, you would have recourse to the following expedient. If your companion was within a little space of you, though a space you felt you could not make less, you would suddenly stick out one of your feet, which would hook round his, and he, stumbling over it, would fall. I trust I am not suggesting a mischievous and dangerous trick to any boy of the present generation. Indeed, I have the firmest belief that existing boys know all we used to know, and possibly more. All this is by way of rendering intelligible what I have to say of my old companion. He was not a good runner. And when another boy gave him a sudden flick with a knotted handkerchief, or the like, he had little chance of catching that other boy. Yet I have often seen him, when chasing another, before finally abandoning the pursuit, stick out his foot in the regular way, though the boy he was chasing was yards beyond his reach. Often did the present writer meditate on that phenomenon, in the days of his boyhood. It appeared curious that it should afford some comfort to the evaded pursuer, to make an offer at upsetting the escaping youth,—an offer which could not possibly be successful. But very often, in after-life, have I beheld in the conduct of grown-up men and women the moral likeness of that futile sticking-out of the foot. I have beheld human beings who lived in houses always untidy and disorderly, or whose affairs were in a horrible confusion and entanglement, who now and then seemed roused to a a feeling that this would not do, who querulously bemoaned their miserable lot, and made some faint and futile attempt to set things right, attempts which never had a chance to succeed, and which ended in nothing. Yet it seemed somehow to pacify the querulous heart. I have known a clergyman, in a parish with a bad population, seem suddenly to waken up to a conviction that he must do something to mend matters, and set agoing some weak little machinery, which could produce no appreciable result, and which came to a stop in a few weeks. Yet that faint offer appeared to discharge the claims of conscience, and after it the clergyman remained long time in a comatose state of unhealthy Resignation. But it is a miserable and a wrong kind of Resignation which dwells in that man who sinks down, beaten and hopeless, in the presence of a recognized evil. Such a man may be in a sense resigned, but, he cannot possibly be content.
If you should ever, when you have reached middle age, turn over the diary or the letters you wrote in the hopeful though foolish days when you were eighteen or twenty, you will be aware how quietly and gradually the lesson of Resignation has been taught you. You would have got into a terrible state of excitement, if any one had told you then that you would have to forego your most cherished hopes and wishes of that time; and it would have tried you even more severely to be assured that in not many years you would not care a single straw for the things and the persons who were then uppermost in your mind and heart. What an entirely new set of friends and interests is that which now surrounds you! and how completely the old ones are gone: gone, like the sunsets you remember in the summers of your childhood; gone, like the primroses that grew in the woods where you wandered as a boy! Said my friend Smith to me, a few days ago: "You remember Miss Jones, and all about that? I met her yesterday, after ten years. She is a fat, middle-aged, ordinary-looking woman. What a terrific fool I was!" Smith spoke to me in the confidence of friendship; yet I think he was a little mortified at the heartiness with which I agreed with him on the subject of his former folly. He had got over it completely; and in seeing that he was (at a certain period) a fool, he had come to discern that of which his friends had always been aware. Of course, early interests do not always die out. You remember Dr. Chalmers, and the ridiculous exhibition about the wretched little likeness of an early sweetheart, not seen for forty years, and long since in her grave. You remember the singular way in which he signified his remembrance of her, in his famous and honored age. I don't mean the crying, nor the walking up and down the garden-walk calling her by fine names. I mean the taking out his card: not his carte; you could understand that: but his visiting-card bearing his name, and sticking it behind the portrait with two wafers. Probably it pleased him to do so; and assuredly it did harm to no one else. And we have all heard of the like things. Early affections are sometimes, doubtless, cherished in the memory of the old. But still, more material interests come in, and the old affection is crowded out of its old place in the heart. And so those comparatively fanciful disappointments sit lightly. The romance is gone. The mid-day sun beats down, and there lies the dusty way. When the cantankerous and unamiable mother of Christopher North stopped his marriage with a person at least as respectable as herself, on the ground that the person was not good enough, we are told that the future professor nearly went mad, and that he never quite got over it. But really, judging from his writings and his biography, he bore up under it, after a little, wonderfully well.
But looking back to the days which the old yellow letters bring back, you will think to yourself, Where are the hopes and anticipations of that time? You expected to be a great man, no doubt. Well, you know you are not. You are a small man, and never will be anything else; yet you are quite resigned. If there be an argument which stirs me to indignation at its futility, and to wonder that any mortal ever regarded it as of the slightest force, it is that which is set out in the famous soliloquy in "Cato," as to the Immortality of the Soul. Will any sane man say, that, if in this world you wish for a thing very much, and anticipate it very clearly and confidently, you are therefore sure to get it? If that were so, many a little schoolboy would end by driving his carriage and four, who ends by driving no carriage at all. I have heard of a man whose private papers were found after his death all written over with his signature as he expected it would be when he became Lord Chancellor. Let us say his peerage was to be as Lord Smith. There it was, SMITH, C., SMITH, C., written in every conceivable fashion, so that the signature, when needed, might be easy and imposing. That man had very vividly anticipated the woolsack, the gold robe, and all the rest. It need hardly be said, he attained none of these. The famous argument, you know of course, is, that man has a great longing to be immortal, and that therefore he is sure to be immortal. Rubbish! It is not true that any longing after immortality exists in the heart of a hundredth portion of the race. And if it were true, it would prove immortality no more than the manifold signatures of SMITH, C., proved that Smith was indeed to be Chancellor. No: we cling to the doctrine of a Future Life; we could not live without it; but we believe it, not because of undefined longings within ourselves, not because of reviving plants and flowers, not because of the chrysalis and the butterfly,—but because "our Saviour, Jesus Christ, hath abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel."
There is something very curious, and very touching, in thinking how clear and distinct, and how often recurring, were our early anticipations of things that were never to be. In this world, the fact is for the most part the opposite of what it should be to give force to Plato's (or Cato's) argument: the thing you vividly anticipate is the thing that is least likely to come. The thing you don't much care for, the thing you don't expect, is the likeliest. And even if the event prove what you anticipated, the circumstances, and the feeling of it, will be quite different from what you anticipated. A certain little girl three years old was told that in a little while she was to go with her parents to a certain city, a hundred miles off,—a city which may be called Altenburg as well as anything else. It was a great delight to her to anticipate that journey, and to anticipate it very circumstantially. It was a delight to her to sit down at evening on her father's knee, and to tell him all about how it would be in going to Altenburg. It was always the same thing. Always, first, how sandwiches would be made,—how they would all get into the carriage, (which would come round to the door,) and drive away to a certain railway-station,—how they would get their tickets, and the train would come up, and they would all get into a carriage together, and lean back in corners, and eat the sandwiches, and look out of the windows, and so on. But when the journey was actually made, every single circumstance in the little girl's anticipations proved wrong. Of course, they were not intentionally made wrong. Her parents would have carried out to the letter, if they could, what the little thing had so clearly pictured and so often repeated. But it proved to be needful to go by an entirely different way and in an entirely different fashion. All those little details, dwelt on so much, and with so much interest, were things never to be. It is even so with the anticipations of larger and older children. How distinctly, how fully, my friend, we have pictured out to our minds a mode of life, a home and the country round it, and the multitude of little things which make up the habitude of being, which we long since resigned ourselves to knowing could never prove realities! No doubt, it is all right and well. Even Saint Paul, with all his gift of prophecy, was not allowed to foresee what was to happen to himself. You know how he wrote that he would do a certain thing, "so soon as I shall see how it will go with me."
But our times are in the Best Hand. And the one thing about our lot, my reader, that we may think of with perfect contentment, is that they are so. I know nothing more admirable in spirit, and few things more charmingly expressed, than that little poem by Mrs. Waring which sets out that comfortable thought. You know it, of course. You should have it in your memory; and let it be one of the first things your children learn by heart. It may well come next after, "O God of Bethel": it breathes the self-same tone. And let me close these thoughts with one of its verses:—
"There are briers besetting every path, Which call for patient care: There is a cross in every lot, And an earnest need for prayer: But a lowly heart that leans on Thee Is happy anywhere!"
There's a flag hangs over my threshold, whose folds are more dear to me Than the blood that thrills in my bosom its earnest of liberty; And dear are the stars it harbors in its sunny field of blue As the hope of a further heaven that lights all our dim lives through.
But now should my guests be merry, the house is in holiday guise, Looking out through its burnished windows like a score of welcoming eyes. Come hither, my brothers who wander in saintliness and in sin! Come hither, ye pilgrims of Nature! my heart doth invite you in.
My wine is not of the choicest, yet bears it an honest brand; And the bread that I bid you lighten I break with no sparing hand; But pause, ere you pass to taste it, one act must accomplished be: Salute the flag in its virtue, before ye sit down with me.
The flag of our stately battles, not struggles of wrath and greed: Its stripes were a holy lesson, its spangles a deathless creed; 'T was red with the blood of freemen, and white with the fear of the foe, And the stars that fight in their courses 'gainst tyrants its symbols know.
Come hither, thou son of my mother! we were reared in the self-same arms; Thou hast many a pleasant gesture, thy mind hath its gifts and charms; But my heart is as stern to question as mine eyes are of sorrows full: Salute the flag in its virtue, or pass on where others rule.
Thou lord of a thousand acres, with heaps of uncounted gold, The steeds of thy stall are haughty, thy lackeys cunning and bold: I envy no jot of thy splendor, I rail at thy follies none: Salute the flag in its virtue, or leave my poor house alone.
Fair lady with silken trappings, high waving thy stainless plume, We welcome thee to our numbers, a flower of costliest bloom: Let a hundred maids live widowed to furnish thy bridal bed; But pause where the flag doth question, and bend thy triumphant head.
Take down now your flaunting banner, for a scout comes breathless and pale, With the terror of death upon him; of failure is all his tale: "They have fled while the flag waved o'er them! they've turned to the foe their back! They are scattered, pursued, and slaughtered! the fields are all rout and wrack!"
Pass hence, then, the friends I gathered, a goodly company! All ye that have manhood in you, go, perish for Liberty! But I and the babes God gave me will wait with uplifted hearts, With the firm smile ready to kindle, and the will to perform our parts.
When the last true heart lies bloodless, when the fierce and the false have won, I'll press in turn to my bosom each daughter and either son; Bid them loose the flag from its bearings, and we'll lay us down to rest With the glory of home about us, and its freedom locked in our breast.
BY A FARMER.
It is raining; and being in-doors, I look out from my library-window, across a quiet country-road, so near that I could toss my pen into the middle of it.
A thatched stile is opposite, flanked by a straggling hedge of Osage-orange; and from the stile the ground falls away in green and gradual slope to a great plateau of measured and fenced fields, checkered, a month since, with bluish lines of Swedes, with the ragged purple of mangels, and the feathery emerald-green of carrots. There are umber-colored patches of fresh-turned furrows; here and there the mossy, luxurious verdure of new-springing rye; gray stubble; the ragged brown of discolored, frost-bitten rag-weed; next, a line of tree-tops, thickening as they drop to the near bed of a river, and beyond the river-basin showing again, with tufts of hemlock among naked oaks and maples; then roofs, cupolas; ambitious lookouts of suburban houses, spires, belfries, turrets: all these commingling in a long line of white, brown, and gray, which in sunny weather is backed by purple hills, and flanked one way by a shining streak of water, and the other by a stretch of low, wooded mountains that turn from purple to blue, and so blend with the northern sky.
Is the picture clear? A road; a farm-flat of party-colored checkers; a near wood, that conceals the sunken meadow of a river; a farther wood, that skirts a town,—that seems to overgrow the town, so that only a confused line of roofs, belfries, spires, towers, rise above the wood; and these tallest spires and turrets lying in relief against a purple hill-side, that is as far beyond the town as the town is beyond my window; and the purple hill-side trending southward to a lake-like gleam of water, where a light-house shines upon a point; and northward, as I said, these same purple hills bearing away to paler purple, and then to blue, and then to haze.
Thus much is seen, when I look directly eastward; but by an oblique glance southward (always from my library-window) the checkered farm-land is repeated in long perspective: here and there is a farm-house with its clustered out-buildings; here and there a blotch of wood, or of orcharding; here and there a bright sheen of winter-grain; and the level ends only where a slight fringe of tree-tops, and the iron cordon of a railway that leaps over a marshy creek upon trestle-work, separate it from Long Island Sound.
To the north, under such oblique glance as can be caught, the farm-lands in smaller inclosures stretch half a mile to the skirts of a quiet village. A few tall chimneys smoke there lazily, and below them you see as many quick and repeated puffs of white steam. Two white spires and a tower are in bold relief against the precipitous basaltic cliff, at whose foot the village seems to nestle. Yet the mountain is not wholly precipitous; for the columnar masses been fretted away by a thousand frosts, making a sloping debris below, and leaving above the iron-yellow scars of fresh cleavage, the older blotches of gray, and the still older stain of lichens. Nor is the summit bald, but tufted with dwarf cedars and oaks, which, as they file away on either flank, mingle with a heavier growth of hickories and chest-nuts. A few stunted kalmias and hemlock-spruces have found foothold in the clefts upon the face of the rock, showing a tawny green, that blends prettily with the scars, lichens, and weather-stains of the cliff; all which show under a sunset light richly and changefully as the breast of a dove.
But just now there is no glow of sunset; raining still. Indeed, I do not know why I should have described at such length a mere landscape, (than which I know few fairer,) unless because of a rainy day it is always in my eye, and that now, having invited a few outsiders to such entertainment as may belong to my wet farm-days, I should present to them at once my oldest acquaintance,—the view from my library-window.
But as yet it is only coarsely outlined. We may some day return to it with a fond particularity; for let me warn the reader that I have that love of such scenes, nay, for the very verdure of the lawn, that I could put an ink-mark for every blade of the fresh-springing grass, and yet feel that the tale of its beauty, and of its emerald wealth, were not half told.
This day we spend in-doors, and busy ourselves with the whims, doctrines, and economics of a few
The shelves where they rest in vellum and in dust are only an arm's-length from the window; so that I can relieve the stiff classicism of Flaxman's rendering of the "Works and Days," or the tedious iteration of Columella and Crescenzio, by a glance outside into the rain-cloud, under which lies always the checkered illustration of the farming of to-day, and beyond which the spires stand in sentinel.
Hesiod is currently reckoned one of the oldest farm-writers; but there is not enough in his homely poem ("Works and Days") out of which to conjure a farm-system. He gives good advice, indeed, about the weather, about ploughing when the ground is not too wet, about the proper timber to put to a plough-beam, about building a house, and taking a bride. But, on the other hand, he gives very bad advice, where, as in Book II., (line 244,) he recommends to stint the oxen in winter, and (line 285) to put three parts of water to the Biblian wine.
Mr. Gladstone notes the fact that Homer talks only in a grandiose way of rural life and employments, as if there were no small landholders in his day; but Hesiod, who must have lived within a century of Homer, with his modest homeliness, does not confirm this view. He tells us a farmer should keep two ploughs, and be cautious how he lends either of them. His household stipulations, too, are most moderate, whether on the score of the bride, the maid, or the "forty-year-old" ploughman; and for guardianship of the premises the proprietor is recommended to keep "a sharp-toothed cur."
This reminds us how Ulysses, on his return from voyaging, found seated round his good bailiff Eumaeus four savage watch-dogs, who straightway (and here Homer must have nodded) attack their old master, and are driven off only by a good pelting of stones.
This Eumaeus, by the way, may be regarded as the Homeric representative farmer, as well as bailiff and swineherd,—the great original of Gurth, who might have prepared a supper for Cedric the Saxon very much as Eumaeus extemporized one upon his Greek farm for Ulysses. Pope shall tell of this bit of cookery in rhyme that has a ring of the Rappahannock:—
"His vest succinct then girding round his waist, Forth rushed the swain with hospitable haste, Straight to the lodgements of his herd he run, Where the fat porkers slept beneath the sun; Of two his cutlass launched the spouting blood; These quartered, singed, and fixed on forks of wood, All hasty on the hissing coals he threw; And, smoking, back the tasteful viands drew, Broachers, and all."
This is roast pig: nothing more elegant or digestible. For the credit of Greek farmers, I am sorry that Eumaeus has nothing better to offer his landlord,—the most abominable dish, Charles Lamb and his pleasant fable to the contrary notwithstanding, that was ever set before a Christian.
To return to Hesiod, we suspect that he was only a small farmer—if he had ever farmed at all—in the foggy latitude of Boeotia, and knew nothing of the sunny wealth in the south of the peninsula, or of such princely estates as Eumaeus managed in the Ionian seas. Flaxman has certainly not given him the look of a large proprietor in his outlines: his toilet is severely scant, and the old gentleman appears to have lost two of his fingers in a chaff-cutter. As for Perses, who is represented as listening to the sage,[A] his dress is in the extreme of classic scantiness,—being, in fact, a mere night-shirt, and a tight fit at that.
[Footnote A: Flaxman's Illustrations of "Works and Days," Plate I.]
But we dismiss Hesiod, the first of the heathen farm-writers, with a loving thought of his pretty Pandora, whom the goddesses so bedecked, whom Jove looks on (in Flaxman's picture) with such sharp approval, and whose attributes the poet has compacted into one resonant line, daintily rendered by Cooke,—
"Thus the sex began A lovely mischief to the soul of man."
I next beg to pull from his place on the shelf, and to present to the reader, my friend General Xenophon, a most graceful writer, a capital huntsman, an able strategist, an experienced farmer, and, if we may believe Laertius, "handsome beyond expression."
It is refreshing to find such qualities united in one man at any time, and doubly refreshing to find them in a person so far removed from the charities of today that the malcontents cannot pull his character in pieces. To be sure, he was guilty of a few acts of pillage in the course of his Persian campaign; but he tells the story of it in his "Anabasis" with a brave front: his purse was low, and needed replenishment; there is no cover put up, of disorderly sutlers or camp-followers.
The farming reputation of the General rests upon his "Economics" and his horse-treatise ([Greek: Hippikae]).
Economy has come to have a contorted meaning in our day, as if it were only—saving. Its true gist is better expressed by the word management; and in that old-fashioned sense it forms a significant title for Xenophon's book: management of the household, management of flocks, of servants, of land, of property in general.
At the very outset we find this bit of practical wisdom, which is put into the mouth of Socrates, who is replying to Critobulus:—"Those things should be called goods that are beneficial to the master. Neither can those lands be called goods which by a man's unskilful management put him to more expense than he receives profit by them; nor may those lands be called goods which do not bring a good farmer such a profit as may give him a good living."
Thereafter (sec. vii.) he introduces the good Ischomachus, who, it appears, has a thrifty wife at home, and from that source flow in a great many capital hints upon domestic management. The apartments, the exposure, the cleanliness, the order, are all considered in such an admirably practical, common-sense way as would make the old Greek a good lecturer to the sewing-circles of our time. And when the wife of the wise Ischomachus, in an unfortunate moment, puts on rouge and cosmetics, the grave husband meets her with this complimentary rebuke:—"Can there be anything in Nature more complete than yourself?"
"The science of husbandry," he says, and it might be said of the science in most times, "is extremely profitable to those who understand it; but it brings the greatest trouble and misery upon those farmers who undertake it without knowledge." (sec. xv.)
Where Xenophon comes to speak of the details of farm-labor, of ploughings and fallowings, there is all that precision and particularity of mention, added to a shrewd sagacity, which one might look for in the columns of the "Country Gentleman." He even describes how a field should be thrown into narrow lands, in order to promote a more effectual surface-drainage. In the midst of it, however, we come upon a stereorary maxim, which is, to say the least, of doubtful worth:—"Nor is there any sort of earth which will not make very rich manure, by being laid a due time in standing water, till it is fully impregnated with the virtue of the water." His British translator, Professor Bradley, does, indeed, give a little note of corroborative testimony. But I would not advise any active farmer, on the authority either of General Xenophon or of Professor Bradley, to transport his surface-soil very largely to the nearest frog-pond, in the hope of finding it transmuted into manure. The absorptive and retentive capacity of soils is, to be sure, the bone just now of very particular contention; but whatever that capacity may be, it certainly needs something more palpable than the virtue of standing water for its profitable development.
Here, again, is very neat evidence of how much simple good sense has to do with husbandry: Socrates, who is supposed to have no particular knowledge of the craft, says to his interlocutor,—"You have satisfied me that I am not ignorant in husbandry; and yet I never had any master to instruct me in it."
"It is not," says Xenophon, "difference in knowledge or opportunities of knowledge that makes some farmers rich and others poor; but that which makes some poor and some rich is that the former are negligent and lazy, the latter industrious and thrifty."
Next, we have this masculine ergo:—"Therefore we may know that those who will not learn such sciences as they might get their living by, or do not fall into husbandry, are either downright fools, or else propose to get their living by robbery or by begging." (sec. xx.)
This is a good clean cut at politicians, office-holders, and other such beggar craft, through more than a score of centuries,—clean as classicism can make it: the Attic euphony in it, and all the aroma of age.