"I must see you to-morrow night."
"I can't," was the murmured reply.
"For the last time, Dorcas! come down to the old pear-tree to-morrow, before sunset," he whispered, imploringly.
He was wise to turn suddenly away before her parents could hear him, touching on secular subjects, and before she could herself get up any new objection. Her objections, truly, were very faint and few, and, being tossed about awhile, finally settled out of sight. Henry would, she knew, come to his weekly wooing as soon as the setting sun proclaimed the Sabbath-day over. After that time she was safe. She could slip down the orchard to the pear-tree, and hear what was the important word, and what Swan meant by "the last."
Eight or ten persons, who lived at a distance from "meeting," were in the habit of partaking the hospitality of Colonel Fox, of a Sunday, as the hour's intermission gave them no opportunity to return to their distant homes. After the Puritan fashion, unlike enough to the present, families were restricted on Sunday to two meals, and those were provided with a Jewish regard to the fourth commandment. All labor was scrupulously anticipated or postponed, but such hospitality as consisted with the strict observance of the Sabbath was at the service of their friends.
On coming in at the door of the square room, with its sanded floor, its old desk, its spare bed in the corner, and its cherry table with wavy outlines, which had belonged to Colonel Fox's mother, Dorcas found the cloth already laid, and the bonnets and cardinals of half a dozen old friends on the bed.
In five minutes, early apples, old cider, and a plate of raised doughnuts, flanked by plates of mince- and apple-pie, rewarded the patience and piety of the company. Colonel Fox, solemnly, and as if he were quite accustomed to it, poured from a jug into large tumblers that held at least a pint, dropped three large lumps of loaf-sugar, filled the glass with water, grated some nutmeg on the top, and bade his guests refresh themselves with toddy, unless they preferred flip: if they did, they had only to say so: the poker was hot.
They all ate and drank, and by that time the bell rang again; and then they all went again. And if they heard Father Boardman at all, it was with utterly composed minds, when he told them it was their duty to be contented, even should their condemnation be eternally decreed, since it must, of course, be for the good of the whole, and for the glory of God. Hopkinsianism was in fashion then, and the minds of men in many parts of the country had accepted the logic of its founder, negatived as it was, in its practical application, by the sweetness of his Christian benevolence and his large humanity. Then the toddy helped them to swallow many doctrines that in our cold-water days are sharply and defiantly contested. The head is much clearer; whether hearts are better is doubtful.
After supper, and while yet the sun lingered smilingly over the Great Meadows and on the hills, behind which he sank, Dorcas, who had meanwhile adorned herself with Aunt Dorcas's bequest, broke the long silence, by whispering so low that her father's sleep should not be disturbed,—
"Mother, do you set much by this pin?"
"Of course I do, child! 'T was your Aunt Dorcas's," said Mrs. Fox, "your father's own sister."
"Yes, I know it, mother; but how did she come by it?"
All these years, and this was the first time Dorcas had asked the question! She colored a little, too, as if some secret thought or story were busy about her heart, as she looked at the ring.
"Well,—it was a man she 'xpected to 'a' bed. They was to 'a' ben merried, an' he was to 'a' gi'n up v'yagin'. But he was cast away, an' she never heerd nothin' about neither him nor the ship. He was waitin' to git means, an' he did, privateerin' an' so; but I 'xpect he was drownded," concluded Mrs. Fox, in a suitably plaintive tone.
And that was Aunt Dorcas's story.
If anybody is curious to know why there should be mystery or secrecy connected with Swan Day's meeting with Dorcas, or why they should meet under a pear-tree, instead of her father's roof-tree, in a rational way, it might be a sufficient answer, that there never was and never will be anything direct and straightforward about Cupid or his doings. But the real and more important reason was, that Colonel Fox did not like Swan, and had said, in so many words, that "he wouldn't have Swan Day a-hangin' round, no how!—that he was a poor kind of a shote,—that he wished both him and his clutter well out o' town,—and that he needn't think to make swans out of his geese, no time!"
In the first and last sentence, Colonel Fox indicated the ground of his dislike to the handsome young store-keeper, and his dread that Swan's eyes would somehow interfere with his own cherished plans of a union between the Fox and Mower farms. Whatever Colonel Fox determined on was done or to be done. He had anticipated the French proverb; and the "impossibility" made not the slightest difference. Therefore Dorcas had no notion of disobedience in her head, permanently. She solaced herself by the occasional luxury of departure from set rules, and she intended to depart in that way to-morrow,—for just five minutes,—just to hear what that foolish fellow wanted of her; and what could it be? and why was it the last time?—would he give her up?
Dorcas pondered the matter while the sun still crowned the heights, and glanced at her sleeping father in silence. Why should Colonel Fox dislike Swan so very much because he was a Britisher? All that was done with, long ago, and why not be peaceable? Just then her father drew the breath sharply between his teeth, as if in pain. It was the old wound, that had never been healed since the Battle of Bennington. He had lain on the ground,—Dorcas had often heard him tell the tale,—and had striven to slake his deathly thirst with the blood that he scooped up in the hollow of his hand from the ground about him. So terrible was the carnage where he lay. "A d——d Britisher had shot him,—another had driven his horse over him, and afterwards, while he lay half-dead, had tried to rob him!" Would he ever forget it? He would have continued, on the contrary, to fire and hack till the present day, but for the wound in his knee, which had disabled him for life, long before a peace was patched up with the mother-country. So he had retired to Walton, and before Continental money had depreciated more than half had bought acres by the thousand, and become generalissimo of flocks and herds. Through the admiration of his townsmen for his wounds, he rapidly and easily attained the rank of Colonel, without the discomfort of fighting for it; and from his excellent sense and the executive ability induced by military habits, became, in turn, justice of the peace, deacon of the church, town-clerk, and manager-general of Walton.
Nobody—that is to say, nobody in the family—spoke, when Colonel Fox was in the house, unless first spoken to,—not even Dorcas. Such were the domestic tactics of the last century, and Colonel Fox held fast to old notions.
The social ones were far more liberal,—so very liberal, indeed, so very free and easy, in the rural districts especially, that only a knowledge of the primitive conditions under which such manners grew up could possibly reconcile with them any impressions of purity and discretion. In hearing of manners, therefore, it is always necessary to remember that the children of country Puritans are and were wholly different in the grain from Paris or London society of the same period,—as different, for example, as the Goddess of Reason from our first mother, though at first glance one might think those two similar. New-England parents had the utmost confidence in their daughters, and almost no restraint was laid on social intercourse. Their personal dignity and propriety wore presupposed, as matters of course. Religion and virtue needed only to point, not to restrain.
The Colonel, on his part, took little heed of Dorcas's movements in the way of balls and sleigh-rides. Content that her face showed health and enjoyment, he never thought or cared what passed in her mind. If only the hay-crop proved abundant, and the Davis lot yielded well,—if neither wheat got the blight, nor sheep the rot,—if it were better to buy Buckhorn for milk, or sell the Calico-Trotter,—these thoughts so filled his soul that there was very little room to let in any nonsense about Dorcas, only "to have Swan Day shet up before he begins," for, as he often said, "he wouldn't give the snap of his thumb for as many Swan Days as could stand between this and Jerusalem!"
She had met him twice before, and both times rather accidentally, as she supposed, under the pear-tree,—both times, when she went to the well for water. He had drawn the water, and had talked some with his tongue, but more, far more, with his eyes of Oriental depth and fascination. Dorcas thought and meant no harm in meeting Swan. Even if her nature had been more wakened and conscious,—even if she had had either the habit or the power of analyzing her own sensations,—even if she had seen her soul from without, as she certainly did not within,—she would have recoiled from the thought of deliberate coquetry.
In the nature even of a coquette there is not necessarily either cruelty or hardness. It cannot be a fine nature, and must be deficient in the tact which appreciates the feelings of another, and the sympathy that shrinks from injuring them. It may be called selfishness, which is another term for thoughtlessness or want of consideration or perception, but it is not deliberate selfishness. This last is often found with fine perceptions and intuitive tact. It is rather a natural obtuseness, a want of thought on the subject. Such persons remember and connect their own sensations with the object, thinking little or nothing of the feelings they may themselves excite by the heedlessness of their manner.
If Dorcas had once thought of the value of the hearts she played with, and as it were tossed from hand to hand,—if she had even weighed one against another, she might have had some sorrow in grieving either. But having no standard of delicacy and tenderness in her own nature by which to judge theirs, Dorcas cannot be accused of intentional injustice, which is generally understood by coquetry. On the contrary, if she had been able to express her emotions,—
"How happy could I be with either!"
would have done so. Dorcas was very young in experience.
In those days of freedom there was no such word as "engaged"; least of all, did the parties concerned violate all their own notions of decorum by "announcing an engagement." The lists were free to all to enter, and the bravest won the day. After weeks and months of shy "company-keeping," it was "expected it would be a match" by the keen-sighted or deeply interested. Sometimes the dissolution of an engagement was mentioned as "a shame! after keeping company so many years, and she had got all her quilts made and everything!" But best of all was for the parties to be married outright, by a justice of the peace, without a word of public warning, and then to enjoy the pleasure of outwitting the neighbors, and coming down like a thunderclap on a social sunshine unsuspicious of banns, which had been published on some three literally public days, but when nobody was hearing. That was something worth doing, and very much worth remembering!
The sun set. The Sabbath was done. The Colonel heaved a sigh of relief. The Colonel's wife took her knitting-work; and the Colonel's daughter looked up with a shy smile at Henry Mowers fastening his horse by the corn-barn. It was time Sunday was over, indeed! Such a long supper! but it must end sometime!—and then prayers, and then Dorcas had amused herself with Bel and the Dragon and Tobit awhile. All would not do, and the family had been obliged to resort to the sweet restorer for the last ten minutes. Now they could think their own thoughts in peace, and talk of what interested them,—cattle, people, and the like. Poor Dorcas! what with Father Boardman's preaching, and the Westminster Catechism, she associated religion with all that was dull and inexplicable, though she did not doubt it was good in case of dying. In the Nature and life that surrounded her she had not seen God, but a refuge from Him. In the crimson floods of sunshine, in the brilliant moonrise, or the pulsating stars of a winter night, she found a sort of guilty relief from the dulness of what she supposed was Revelation. But she never thought of questioning or doubting any teachings, in the pulpit or out. A woman cannot, like a man, fight a subject down. Her intellect shrinks from being tossed and pierced on the pricks of doctrine. She is gentle and cowardly. She sets the matter aside, and is contented to wait till she dies to find out. But the men in Walton were all theologians, and sharp at polemics. In the bar-room the spirit of liberty throve, which was crushed in the pulpit. In that small New-England town, where, like a great white sheep, Father Boardman now led his docile flock to the fold, whoever looked long enough would see many new folds and many new shepherds. Every shape of religious thinking will have its exponent, and the widest liberty be claimed and enjoyed. Though he slept through Father Boardman's sermons, it is doubtful if Henry Mowers did not in his dreams lay the corner-stone of the new meeting-house on the hill.
Monday, and the hurly-burly of washing over. Dorcas had nearly finished her "stent" on the little wheel. As she sat by the open door, diligently trotting her foot, and softly pulling the last flax from her distaff, her glance went hastily and often towards the setting sun. She could see beyond the sloping orchard, no longer loaded with fruit, the Great Meadows, extending along the banks of the Connecticut. She could see on the eastern side great white mountains, that went modestly by the name of hills, and that came in after-years to draw pilgrims from the ends of the earth. They were white-capped and solemn-looking, and girdled by majestic forests; while the Green Mountains, that lay along the horizon, not so high as "the Hills," were crowned with verdure to the very top, and flaming with autumn dyes. As far as the eye reached, beyond the immediate view rose an immense solitude of forest that had lasted through centuries.
Dorcas's eyes rested and roamed alternately over these massive natural features. She felt dimly in her heart the effect of the solemn aspect of these great wastes,—these sublime possibilities, concealed and waiting for the energy of man to discover them. A melancholy, sweet and soft, composed partly of the effect of the view, and partly of the languor of the Indian-summer weather, diffused itself over her. She accused herself of various sins,—of levity, vanity, and not knowing her own mind. Soon, however, feeling her unskilfulness to steer, she abandoned the bark, and left it to drift. She must see Swan Day.
"And as to Henry!"—here Dorcas set back the little wheel,—"and as to Henry!"—and here Dorcas threw her apron over her face,—"why, what harm is there? I'm only going to see what he wants."
Under the apron rippled and rushed a thousand warm blushes, that contradicted every word Dorcas said to herself. They made her remember how, only the evening before, Henry had said words to her, which, although she pretended not to understand him, had made her heart beat proudly and tenderly; and how she had thought whoever was chosen to be Henry's wife would be a happy woman! How many times had he said, as they stood parting on the stoop, how sorry he was to go, and she, like Juliet, had whispered, 't was "not yet day"! Yes, of course Henry Mowers would be her husband, and she would tell Swan Day so, if—if——But then, perhaps, there was no such nonsense in Swan's head, after all.
Why could not the gypsy be satisfied with her almost angelic happiness? But no. She shivered a little as the sun went down, and exchanged her working-dress of petticoat and short-gown for something warmer.
Because Cely Temple was cutting apples and pumpkins, and stringing them across the kitchen and pantry to dry, and because black Dinah was making the "bean-porridge" for supper, it came to pass that the daughter of the house was called on to lay the table. Dorcas bit her lip, as she hastily did the duty, and postponed the pleasure.
The laboring-season is nearly over, the eight hired men reduced to two, and the family-table is spread in the kitchen. How is the table spread for supper in the house of Colonel Fox, one of the richest farmers in Walton?
This is the way.
Dorcas brushes a scrap from the long table, scoured as white as snow, but puts no linen on it. On the buttery-shelves, a set of pewter rivals silver in brightness, but Dorcas does not touch them. She places a brown rye-and-Indian loaf, of the size of a half-peck, in the centre of the table,—a pan of milk, with the cream stirred in,—brown earthen bowls, with bright pewter spoons by the dozen,—a delicious cheese, whole, and the table is ready. When Dinah appears, with her bright Madras turban, and says she is ready to dish the "bean-porridge, nine days old," Dorcas tells her she is going down beyond the cider-mill, to bring up the yarn, and, throwing a handkerchief over her head, is out of sight before Dinah has finished blowing the tin horn that summons to supper.
In five minutes, she was beyond the cider-mill, beyond the well, and standing under the old pear-tree. Behind her, hiding her from the house, is the corn-barn, stuffed and laden with the heavy harvest of maize and wheat, and the cider-mill, where twenty bushels of apples lie uncrushed on the ground, ready for the morrow's fate. A long row of barrels already filled from the foaming vat stand ready to be taken to the Colonel's own cellar, for the Colonel's own drinking, and as far as one can see in one direction is the Colonel's own land. The heiress of all would still be sought for herself.
Dorcas stood in the departing light, and leaned against the pear-tree. Not yet come? A flush went up to her forehead, as, dropping her handkerchief, she raised her hand to her eyes and glanced hastily about her. Her chestnut curls were fastened with a blue ribbon on the side of her head, and the floating ends fell on her shoulder.
This was the one departure from the severe simplicity of her dress, for neither bright-hued calicoes nor muslins found their way to Walton. Once in a long while, a print, at five times the present prices, was introduced into the social circles of Walton by an occasional peddler, or possibly by the adventurous spirit of Swan Day. But these were rare instances.
Flannel of domestic manufacture, pressed till you could almost see your face in it, stood instead of the French woollen fabric of modern days. It left the jimp little waist as round and definite as the eye could ask, while the full flow of the skirt exposed the neat foot, deftly incased in stout Jefferson shoes. A plaited lawn, technically termed a "modesty-piece," was folded over the bosom, and concealed all but the upper part of the throat. Above that rose a face full of delicacy and healthy sweetness. Eyes full of sparkles, and dimples all about the cheeks, chin, and rather large mouth. Youth, and the radiance of a happy, unconscious nature, of the capabilities or possibilities of which she was as ignorant as the robin on the branch above her, whose evening song had just closed, and who has just shut his coquettish eyes.
A minute more, and Swan sprang over the stone wall, and with three steps was standing by her. He stood still and looked at her, drawing deep breaths of haste and agitation.
Dorcas spoke first.
"You wanted to see me. What is the matter?"
"Nothing,—but—you know I've got home."
"Why, yes, that is clear," answered Dorcas, mischievously, and entirely easy herself, now that she saw Swan's cheeks aflame, and his voice choking so he could not speak.
"We might as well go towards the house, if that is all," added she, gathering in her hand some skeins of yarn that had been spread out to whiten.
Swan caught the yarn and threw it away with an impatient jerk. Then he took both of Dorcas's hands in his, holding them with a fierce grasp that made her almost scream.
"You know I can't go near the house."
"Yes, I know," said Dorcas, half frightened at his manner. "When did you get back from Boston?"
"Saturday night. And I am going again to-morrow. And then—Dorcas—I shall stay."
"Stay,—till you tell me to come back, maybe!"
"Why, where are you going, Swan?"
"To China, Dorcas."
"I want to know!" exclaimed she.
"Just it,—and no two ways about it. Sold out to Sawtell. Now you have it, Dorcas!"
This curt and abrupt dialogue needed no more words. The rest was made out fully by the bright color on each face, the sparkling interest on the bent brow of Dorcas, and the deep, mellow voice, full of tenderness and hope, mixed with stern decision, on the part of Swan Day.
No wonder Dorcas's eyes had a glamour over them as she listened and looked. What did she see? A slight, erect figure, with Napoleonic features, animated with admiration and sensibility; emotion glorifying the rich, deep eyes, and making them look in the twilight like stars; and over all, the indefinable ease that comes from knowledge of the world, however small that world may be.
Swan had little gift of language. The foregoing short dialogue is a specimen of his ability in that way. But looks are a refinement on speech, and say what words never can say.
"You see, Dorcas, I'm going out for the Perkinses with Orrin Tileston. We each put in five hundred, and have our share of the profits."
"But to China! that's right under our feet! You'll never come back!" murmured the girl.
"Do you ever want I should? Dorcas, if I come back rich, shall you be glad? It will be all for you,—dear!" the last word low and timidly.
The mist went over her eyes again. A vision of Solomon in all his glory swept across her. Even to Walton had spread rumors of the immense fortunes acquired in the China and India trade, and the gold of Cathay seemed to shimmer over the form before her, so strong, so able to contend with, and compel, if need were, Fortune.
As to Swan, he looked over the river of Time that separated him from love and happiness, and saw his idol and ideal standing on the farther bank, dressed in purple and fine linen, with jewels of his own adorning. Like Bunyan's "shining ones," she seemed to him far lifted out of the range of ordinary thought and expression, into the regions of inspired song. Now that he was really going to the East, the image of Dorcas in his heart took on itself, with a graceful readiness, the gold of Ophir, the pomps of Palmyra, and the shining glories of Zion. He longed to "crown her with rose-buds, to fill her with costly wine and ointments,"—to pour over her the measureless bounty of his love, from the cornucopia of Fortune.
"Dorcas," said he,—and his words showed how inadequately thoughts can be represented,—"Dorcas, I know your father thinks nothing at all of me now; but, supposing I come back in two years, with—with—say five thousand dollars!—then, Dorcas!"
The bright, soft eyes looked pleadingly at her.
Truly, in those days of simplicity and scant earnings, five thousand dollars did seem likely to be an overwhelming temptation to the owner of the Fox farm.
"But,—Swan!" said the blushing girl, releasing herself from his grasp, and stepping back.
"Yes, Dorcas!—yes!—once!—only once!"
He came between her and the image of Henry Mowers; he was going away; she might never see him again. A vague sentiment, composed of pleasure, pity, admiration, and ambition, but having the semblance only of timidity in her rosy face and downcast eyes, made her yield her shrinking form, for one moment, to his trembling and passionate caress, and the next, she ran as swiftly as a deer to the house.
Swan's eyes followed her. With his feet, he dared not. His bounding heart half-choked him with pleasant pain. All be had not said,—all he had meant to say to Dorcas, of his well-laid plans, his good-luck, his hopes,—all he had meant to entreat of her constancy, for in the infrequent communications between the two countries there was no hope of a correspondence,—all he had meant to say to her of his fervent love, of his anguish at separation, of the joy of reunion, and that his love would leave him only with his life,—if he could only have told her! But then he never would or could have put it all into words, if Dorcas had stayed with him under the pear-tree till the next morning.
He thought of the Colonel's pride, and how it would come down, at the sight of Swan Day returning to Walton with five thousand dollars in his coat-pocket, and mounted, perhaps, on an elephant! If he had held a foremost social position in Walton, even while selling tape and mop-sticks, molasses and rum, at the country-store, what might not be the impression on the public mind at seeing the glittering plumage of this "bird let loose from Eastern skies, when hastening fondly home"? There was much balm for wounded pride to be gathered in this Oriental project.
Swan collected his energies and his clothes, finished his remaining last words and duties, and took his seat with the mail-carrier, who had the only public conveyance at that period from the town of Walton to the town of Boston. His parents were dead; his immediate relatives were scattered already in different States; and he left Walton with his heart full of one image, that of Dorcas Fox.
"They du say Swan Day's gun off for good!" said Cely Temple, as she returned from the store, with a Dutch-oven in her hand, which she had purchased,—"an' to th' East Injees!"
"I want to know!" rejoined Mrs. Fox.
"I know some'll be sorry!" continued Cely, while Dorcas diligently stirred a five-pail kettle of apple-sauce, that hung stewing over the low fire.
Mrs. Fox looked up quickly at her daughter, but Dorcas continued quietly stirring, and without turning round.
"Mahala Dorr, I guess," said she.
"Wall, M'hala'll be, an' so'll others," answered Cely, prudently. "But I expect likely Swan'll do well, ef he don't die. They say the atemuspere is pison there!—especially for dark-complected folks."
To this hopeful remark Mrs. Fox rejoined, that "old Miss Day come herself from a warm country, and 't was likely her son would settle there for good, and enjoy his health there better than what he would here."
"He'll look out well for Number One, anyhow!" said Cely, lifting the lid of the Dutch-oven from the fire.
Dorcas shot an angry glance at the apple-sauce.
Nothing further passed on the subject, and Dorcas somehow felt, as she stirred, as if Swan were already a long, long way off,—as if the ship had sailed, and would stay sailed, like an enchanted ship, hovering on the horizon, and never come near enough for the passengers to be distinguished,—or else, maybe, go up into the clouds, and rest there with all its masts and spars distinct against the rose-mist, as she had read of once in a book of travels,—or, perhaps, even be inverted, and stand there on its head, as it were, always: but everything must be upside down, of course, in China. Already the thought of Swan Day had mingled with the mists of the past. The outline became indefinite, and softened into a golden splendor, that belonged no more to her, but was essentially of another hemisphere. He had by this time cut loose from home and country. Whether a hundred, or a hundred thousand miles, it mattered not. Since she could not grasp the idea, the distance was as good as infinite to her.
This, you see, is not exactly coquetry. But events drifted her.
When supper was over, and Dinah had gone to sleep, and Cely to visit the neighbors, as usual, Dorcas shyly approached the subject which occupied her thoughts, by getting the little box of jewelry, and looking at it. Her mother called her from the kitchen, out of which the bed-room opened.
"Does mother want me?" asked Dorcas, turning round, with the box in her hand.
"No, no matter," answered the mother; and, possibly with an intuitive feeling of what was in her daughter's thought, she went into the bed-room, and looked with her at the pin and ring of Aunt Dorcas.
"Was it—was it a long time, mother,—I mean, before he came back?" said Dorcas.
"Who? Captain Waterhouse? Bless you! they was as good as merried for ten year, an' he was goin' all the time, an' then, jest at the last minute, to be 'racked! It's 'most always so, when people goes to sea," added she, in a plaintive tone.
Dorcas meditated; she looked wistfully at her mother.
"It's a pretty pin,—dreadful pretty round the edge."
"Yes, 't is! I expect likely them's di'mon's. 'T was made over in foreign parts. He was goin' to bring his picter, too, from there. But he's lost and gone! Your Aunt Dorcas never had no more suitors after that, and she kind o' gin in, and never had no sperits."
Dorcas's eyes filled, and she closed the box.
Henry Mowers would not come to the Fox farm till the next Sunday night. That was as much settled as the new moon. So Dorcas had the whole week to herself, to be thoroughly unhappy in,—all the more so, a thousand times more so, for being utterly incapable of saying or seeing why. An instinctive delicacy kept her from showing to any of the family that she was even depressed; and her voice was heard steadily warbling one of Wesley's hymns, or "Wolfe's Address to his Army," in clear, brilliant tones, that rang up-stairs and down. The general impression of distance and water associated her absent lover with all that was heroic and romantic in song; for of novels she knew nothing,—the Colonel's library being limited, in the imaginative line, to a torn copy of the "Iliad," which had been left at the house by a travelling cobbler.
However, romance is before all rules, and shapes its own adventures. The beauty of Swan Day, which, dark and slight as it was, gleamed with a power for Dorcas's eye and heart before which Buonarotti's would have been only pale stone forever,—that beauty dwelt in her imagination and memory, as only first romantic impressions can. Distance canonized him, enthroned him, glorified him. And when she thought of his setting forth so boldly, so bravely, to tread the wide water, to tempt the hot sun, the foreign exposure, the perpetual dangers of heathen countries, for her unworthy sake, all that was tenderest, most grateful, in her now first wakened nature, rose up in distressful tumult, and agitated the depths that are in all women's souls.
If there had been anybody to whom she could confide the sad wrenching of her spirit, any one who would have cleared her vision, and taught her to look on "this picture and on this," she might not have been so puzzled between her two Hyperions. But as it was, it was a sorrowful struggle. One had the advantage of distance and imagination,—one of presence, and of the magnetism of eye and lip.
"I am a wicked, wicked girl!" said she, as she stood before the glass, and loosened the locks that fell like sunshine over her shoulders. But this confession, with true New-England reticence, was uttered only to one listener,—herself.
Then, she recalled, for it was Monday night once more, the frank and noble nature of Henry: how he had not asked her to promise him, but seemed to take for granted her truth and faith; how he had looked so fondly, so clearly into her eyes, not for what he might find there, but to show the transparent goodness and sincerity of his own; and how he had told her of all his plans and hopes, of his wish and her father's intention that they should be married that very fall; how little he had said of his own overflowing affection, only that "he had never thought of anybody else." Dorcas only felt, without putting the sense into language, that in this life-boat there was safety. But then had she not sent her heart on a venture in the other,—that other which even now was tossing on the waves of a future, full-freighted with hope, and faith in her truth?
She opened the little box again, and looked at the ring and painted pin. How sorrowfully she looked at them now, seen through tears of conscious experience! How mournful seemed the ground hair, and the tints woven of so many broken hopes, sad thoughts, and wrecked expectations! the hair, kissed so many times in the weary years of waiting, and then wept over in the drearier desolation, when the sight could only bring thoughts of the salt waves dashing amongst it in the deep sea! What a life that had been of poor Aunt Dorcas! Then came across her busy thought the words of her mother,—"It's 'most always so!"
Swan sailed very far away, in these tearful reveries, and took hope and life with him.
When the next Sunday evening came, and the next, and the next,—and when Dorcas had ceased to say, blushing and smiling,—"Don't, Henry! you know I should make such a poor kind of a wife for you! and your mother wouldn't think anything of me!"—and when, Henry had had an offer to go to Western New York, where there were nobody knew how many beautiful girls, all waiting to pounce on the tall, fine-looking young farmer,—when Colonel Fox forgot he was a deacon, and swore that Dorcas was undeserving of such a happy lot as was offered to her,—when the tears, and the reveries, and the pictures of far-away lands, and the hopes that might wither with long years of waiting, were all merged and effaced in the healthy happiness of the present,—Dorcas dried her tears, and applied herself diligently to building up her flaxen trousseau, and smothered in her heart the image of dark and brilliant beauty that had for a time occupied it.
"She waited—a long time!—years—and years!" murmured Dorcas, sorrowfully, as she looked at the pin and ring, which in her mind were associated strongly with only one person,—and that one hereafter to be dead to her. As soon as events clearly defined her duties, Dorcas had no further questions with herself. If the box had been Pandora's, not the less resolutely would she have shut it forever, and so crushed the hope that it could never have leaped out.
So, with choking tears, and throbbing pulses, she followed many brilliant fancies and hopes to their last resting-place. Henceforth her path was open and clear, her duties defined, and with daily occupation of hand and thought she strove to displace all that had ever made her other than the cheerful and busy Dorcas. For the last time, she closed and put away the box.
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[Among the imprinted papers of the author of "Charles Auchester" and "Counterparts" was found this poem, addressed to a father on the death of a favorite son, whose noble disposition and intellectual gifts were all enlisted on the side of suffering humanity.]
O mourner by the ever-mourning deep, Full as the sea of tears! imperial heart, King in thy sorrow over all who weep! O wrestler with the darkness set apart
In clouds of woe whose lightnings are the throb Of thy fast-flashing pulses! pause to hear The lullabies of many an alien sob, A storm of alien sighs,—so far! so near!
Oh that our vigils with thy gentle dead Could charm thee from thy night-long agonies, Could steep thy brain in slumber mild, and shed Elysian dreams upon thy closing eyes!
In vain! all vain!—'tis yet the feast of tears; Sorrow for sorrow is the only spell; Nor wanders yet to melt in unspent years The wringing murmur of our fresh farewell!
Thousands bereft strew wide the ashes dim; Rich hearts, poor hands, the lovely, the unlearned, Bemoan the angel of the age in him, A star unto its starlight strength returned,
The City of Delights hath lost its gem, The Sea the changeful glance so like its own, Genius the darling of her diadem, Whose smile made moonlight round her awful throne.
Those elfin steps their music moves no more Beneath light domes to tune the festal train, Nor at the moony eves along the shore To brim with fairy forms that wizard brain.
Cold rocks, wild winds, and ever-changing waves, Sad rains that fret the sea and drown the day, We hail,—well pleased that stricken Autumn raves, Though not with Winter shall our griefs decay.
On lurid mornings, when the lustrous sea Is violet-shadowed from the warm blue air, When the dark grasses brighten over thee, And the winged sunbeams flutter golden there,—
Then to the wild green slope, thy chosen rest, The blossoms of our spirits we will bring, (Again a babe upon thy mother's breast, An infant seed of the eternal Spring,)—
Thoughts bright and dark as violets in their dew, Unfading memories of a smile more sweet Than perfume of pale roses, hopes that strew Ethereal lilies on those silent feet
The ghost of Pain haunts not that garden-land Where Passion's phantom is so softly laid; But Charity beside that earth doth stand, Most lovely left of all, thy sister-shade.
Her baby-loves like trembling snowdrops lean Above thy calm hands and thy quiet head, When morn is fair, or noonday's glory keen Or the white star-fire glistens on thy bed.
Her eyes of heaven upon thy slumbers brood, Her watch is o'er thy pillow, and her breath Tells every breeze that stirs thy solitude How thou didst earn that rest on earth called Death,—
Earned in such quickening youth and brilliant years! For us too early, not too soon for thee!— So may we rest, when Death shall dry our tears, Till everlasting Morning makes us free!
THE UTILITY AND THE FUTILITY OF APHORISMS.
The best aphorisms are pointed expressions of the results of observation, experience, and reflection. They are portable wisdom, the quintessential extracts of thought and feeling. They furnish the largest amount of intellectual stimulus and nutriment in the smallest compass. About every weak point in human nature, or vicious spot in human life, there is deposited a crystallization of warning and protective proverbs. For instance, with what relishing force such sayings as the following touch the evil resident in indolence and delay!—"An unemployed mind is the Devil's workshop"; "The industrious tortoise wins the race from the lagging eagle"; "When God says, To-day, the Devil says, To-morrow." In like manner, another cluster of adages depict the certainty of the detection and punishment of crime:—"Murder will out"; "Justice has feet of wool, but hands of iron"; "God's mills grind slow, but they grind sure." So in relation to every marked exposure of our life, there will be found in the records of the common thought of mankind a set of deprecating aphorisms.
The laconic compactness of these utterances, their constant applicability, the pungent patness with which they hit some fact of experience, principle of human nature, or phenomenon of life, the ease with which their racy sense may be apprehended and remembered, give them a powerful charm for the popular fancy. Accordingly, a multitude of proverbs are afloat in the writings and in the mouths of every civilized people. Groups of national proverbs exist in most of the languages of the world, each family of apothegms revealing the chief traits of the people who gave them birth. In these collective expressions of national mind, we can recognize—if so incomplete a characterization may be ventured—the indrawn meditativeness of the Hindu, the fiery imagination of the Arab, the devout and prudential understanding of the Hebrew, the aesthetic subtilty of the Greek, the legal breadth and sensual recklessness of the Roman, the martial frenzy of the Goth, the chivalric and dark pride of the Spaniard, the treacherous blood of the Italian, the mercurial vanity of the Frenchman, the blunt realism of the Englishman.
It is obvious enough that the masses of moral statements or standing exhortations composing the aphorisms of a language cannot mix in the daily minds of men without deep cause and effect. It will be worth our while to inquire into the bearings of this matter; for, though many a gatherer has carried his basket through these diamond districts of the mind, we do not remember that any one has sharply examined the value of the treasures so often displayed, set forth the methods of their influence and its qualifications, and determined the respective limits of their use and their worthlessness. Undertaking this task, we must, in the outset, divide aphorisms into the two classes of proverbs and maxims, plebeian perceptions and aristocratic conclusions, moral axioms and philosophic rules. This distinction may easily be made clear, and will prove useful.
Popular proverbs are national, or cosmopolitan, and they are anonymous,—rising from among the multitude, and floating on their breath. They are generalizations of the average observation of a people. Undoubtedly, as a general thing, each one was first struck out by some superior mind. But usually this happened so early that the name of the author is lost. Proverbs—as the etymology hints—are words held before the common mind, words in front of the public. Wise maxims, on the contrary, are individual, may more commonly be traced to their origin in the writings of some renowned author, and are more limited in their audience. They are the results of comprehensive insight, the ripened products of searching meditation, the weighty utterances of weighty minds. The proverb, "A burnt child dreads the fire," flies over all climes and alights on every tongue. The maxim, "All true life begins with renunciation," appeals to comparatively few, and tarries only in prepared and thoughtful minds. Proverbs are often mere statements of facts, barren truisms, too obvious to instruct our thought, affect our feeling, or in any way change our conduct, though the accuracy with which the arrow is shot fixes our attention. Notice a few examples of this sort:—"A friend in need is a friend indeed"; "Many a little makes a mickle"; "Anger is a brief madness"; "It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good." Such affirmations are too general and obvious to be provocative awakeners of original reflection, sentiment, or will. Maxims, on the other hand, instead of being general descriptions or condensed common-places, are usually definite directions, discriminative exhortations. Notice such specimens as these:—"Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves"; "When angry, count ten before you speak"; "Do the duty nearest your hand, and the next will already have grown clearer"; "Remember that a thing begun is half done." Proverbs, then, are results of observation, often affirmations of quite evident facts, as, "Necessity is the mother of invention," or, "Who follows the river will arrive at the sea." Maxims, in distinction, are results of reflection. They are experience generalized into rules for the guidance of action, as, "Think twice before you speak once," or, "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." Proverbs are statical; maxims are dynamic. Those are wisdom embalmed; these wisdom vitalized. The former are literary fodder; the latter are literary pemmican.
The commonest application of proverbs is as mental economics, substitutes for thought. They are constantly employed by the ordinary sort of persons as provisions to avoid spiritual exertion, artifices to dispose of a matter with the smallest amount of intellectual trouble, as when one ends a controversy with the adage, "Least said, soonest mended." The majority of people desire to get along with the least possible expenditure of thinking. To many a hard-headed laborer, five minutes of girded and continuous thinking are more exhaustive than a whole day of muscular toil. No fact is more familiar than that illiterate minds are furnished with an abundance of trite sayings which they readily cite on all occasions. They thus hit, or at least fancy they hit, the principle which applies to the exigency, without the trouble of extemporaneously thinking it out for themselves on the spot. Such saws as, "The pot must not call the kettle black," "One swallow does not make a Spring," "Nought is never in danger," "Out of sight, out of mind," often give employment to an otherwise freightless tongue, and serve as excusing makeshifts for a mind incompetent, from ignorance, indolence, or fatigue, to discharge the duty of furnishing its own thought and expression for the occasion.
Proverbs are more frequently used as explanations than as guides of conduct, as the reason why we have acted in a certain manner than as a reason why we should act so. "Look before you leap," is usually said after we have leaped. When a miserly man refuses to give anything in behalf of some distant object, his refusal is not prompted by the remembrance of the proverb, "Charity begins at home"; but the stingy propensity first stirs in the man and actuates him, and then he expresses his motive, or evades the true issue, by quoting the selfish old saw ever ready at his hand. In such cases the axiom is not the forerunning cause of the action, but its justifying explanation. Sometimes, undeniably, an applicable proverb coming to mind does influence a man and decide his conduct. Coming at the right moment, in the wavering of his will, it suggests the principle which determines him, lends the needful balance of impulse for which he waited. An old proverb, indorsed by the usage of generations, strikes on the ear like a voice falling from the heights of antiquity; it is clothed with a kind of authority. Doubtless many a poor boy has received a sound flogging which he would have escaped, had not his father happened to recall the somewhat cruel and questionable aphorism of Solomon, currently abbreviated into "Spare the rod and spoil the child." When Charles IX. was hesitating as to the enactment of the Saint Bartholomew Massacre, his bigoted mother, infuriated with sectarian hate, whispered in his ear, "Clemency is sometimes cruelty, and cruelty clemency,"—and the fatal decree was sealed. But such instances are exceptional, and partly deceptive, too. Man is usually governed by his own passions, his own circumstances, or his own reason, not by any verbal propositions. And when an apt and timely adage seems to determine him, it is, for the most part, because it acts upon responsive feelings preexistent in him and already struggling to express themselves. And thus, upon the whole, it is to be concluded that proverbs are the children of Epimetheus, or afterthought, rather than of Prometheus, or forethought. They are rather products than producers,—intellectual forms rather than intellectual forces. The prevalent notion of their influence is a huge and singular error. One of our wisest authors, himself a great aphorist, says,—"Proverbs are the sanctuaries of the intuitions." But the intuitions, for the very reason that they are intuitive, need no advisory guidance, and admit of no verbal help.
But when we turn from the aphoristic proverbs of the people to the aphoristic maxims of the wise, a deep distinction and contrast confront us. These, so far from being evasions of effort or substitutes for thought, are direct stimulants to thought, provocative summonses to more earnest mental application. Seneca says, "Wouldst thou subject all things to thyself? Subject thyself to reason." A modern writer says, "They are not kings who have thrones, but they who know how to govern." Now any one meeting these maxims, if they have any effect on him, will be set a-thinking to discover the principle contained in them. He will feel that there is a profound significance in them; and his curiosity will be awakened, his intellect fired, to find out the grounds and bearings of the law they denote. In this way the words of the wise are goads to prick and urge the faculties of inferior minds. Pointed expressions of the experience of the sovereign masters of life and the world impel feebler and less agile natures to follow the tracks of light and emulate the choice examples set before them, with swifter movements and with richer results than they could ever have attained, if not thus encouraged. Proverbial axioms flourish copiously in the idiomatic ground and vernacular climate of unlearned, undisciplined, unreflective minds, as thistles on the highway where every ass may gather them. But precious maxims, those "short sentences drawn from a long experience," as Cervantes calls them, are found mostly in the writings of the greatest geniuses, Solomon, Aristotle, Shakspeare, Bacon, Goethe, Richter, Emerson: and they appeal comparatively but to a select class of minds, kindred in some degree to those that originated them.
To appreciate and use correctly a valuable maxim requires a genius, a vital appropriating exercise of mind, closely allied to that which first created it. In order to secure genuine profit here, the disciple must for himself repeat the processes of the teacher, reach the same conclusion, see the same truth. Wisdom cannot be mechanically taken, but must be spiritually assimilated,—cannot be put on as a coat or hat, used as a hammer or a sling, but must be intelligently grasped, digested, and organized into the mental structure and habits. The truth of this is at once so palpable and so important that it has found embodiment in numerous proverbs known to almost every one: "An ounce of mother-wit is worth a pound of school-wit"; "A pennyweight of your own wit is worth a ton of other people's"; "Who cannot work out his salvation by heart will never do it by book."
For the reason just indicated, we think the common estimate of the actual influence of even the costliest preceptive sayings is monstrously exaggerated. That an aphorism should really be of use, it must virtually be reproduced by the faculties of your own soul. But the mental energy and acquirement which thus recreate it in a great degree supersede the necessity of it, render it an expression not of a guidance you need from without, but of an insight and force already working within. Your character determines what maxims you will select or create far more than the maxims you choose or make determine what your character will be. Herbart says, "Characters with ruling plans are energetic; characters with ruling maxims are virtuous." This is true, since a continuous plan subsidizes the forces that would without it run to waste, and a deliberately chosen authority girds and guides the soul from perilous dallying and dissipation. Nevertheless, it is not so much that characters are energetic or virtuous because they have ruling plans or maxims as it is that they have ruling plans or maxims because they are energetic or virtuous. Say to a penurious, hard, grumpy man, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Will you thus make him liberal, sympathetic, affable? No, his character will neutralize your precept, as vinegar receiving the sunshine into its bosom becomes more sour. Some persons seem to imagine that a wise maxim is a sort of fairy's wand, one touch of which will transform the loaded panniers of a donkey into the fiery wings of a Pegasus. Surely, it is a great error. Trench says, with an amusing naivete, "There is scarcely a mistake which in the course of our lives we have committed, but some proverb, had we known and attended to its lesson, might have saved us from it." The two comprehensive conditions, "had we known and attended to its lesson," are discharging conductors, that empty the sentence of all proper meaning, and leave only a rank of hollow words behind. He might as well say, "Had we never been tempted, we had never fallen,—had we possessed all wisdom, we had never committed an error," The best maxim that ever was made cannot directly impart or create knowledge or virtue or spiritual force. It can only give a voice to those qualities where they already exist, and so set in motion a strengthening interchange of action and reaction. Though a fool's mouth be stuffed with proverbs, he still remains as much a fool as before. He is past preaching to who does not care to mend. As the brave Schiller affirms, "Heaven and earth fight in vain against a dunce." Eternal contact with nutritious wisdom can teach no lesson, nor profit at all one who has not a cooeperative and assimilative mind. The anchor is always in the sea, but it never learns to swim. Philosophic precepts address the reason; but the springs of motive and regeneration are in the sentiments. To attempt the reformation of a bad man by means of fine aphorisms is as hopeless as to bombard a fortress with diamonds, or to strive to exhilarate the brain by pelting the forehead with grapes.
And yet, notwithstanding these large limitations and abatements, it is not to be denied that both proverbs and maxims, when habitually recalled, generally have some effect, often are strongly influential, and may, by a faithful observance of the conditions, be made extremely efficacious. What, then, are the conditions of deriving profit from the contemplation of aphorisms? How can we make their futility end, their utility begin? The first, ever indispensable condition is fresh discrimination. There are false, cynical, mean, devilish aphorisms, as well as sound and worthy ones. Each style of character, kind and grade of experience breathes itself out in corresponding expressions. "Self is the man"; "Look out for Number One"; "Devil take the hindmost"; "One for me is as good as two for you"; "Every man has his price"; "Draw the snake from its hole by another man's hand"; "Vengeance is a feast fit for the gods." The fact that such infernal sentiments are proverbs must be no excuse for not trampling them out of sight with disgust and scorn. Discrimination is needed not only to reject bad sayings, but also to correct incomplete or extravagant ones. The maxim, "Never judge by appearances," must be modified, because in reality appearances are all that we have to judge from. Its true rendering is, "Judge cautiously, for appearances are often deceptive." A proverb is almost always partial, presenting one aspect of the matter,—or excessive, making no allowance for exceptions. Here independent insight is requisite, that we may not err. As a general thing, aphorisms are particular truths put into forms of universality, and they must be severely scrutinized, lest a mere characteristic of the individual be mistaken for a normal faculty of the race. For instance, it is said, "A reconciled friend is an enemy in disguise." Not always, by any means; it depends greatly on the character of the man, "Forewarned is forearmed." Generally this is true, but not invariably; as sometimes a man, by being forewarned of danger, is unnerved with terror, and undone. So the two maxims, "Never abandon a certainty for an uncertainty," "Nothing venture, nothing have," destroy each other. Whether you shall give up the one bird in the hand and try for the two in the bush depends on the relative worth of the one and the two, and the probabilities of success in the trial. No abstract maxim can help solve that problem: it requires living intelligence. To follow a foreign rule empirically will often be to fare as the monkey fared, who, undertaking to shave, as he had seen his master do, gashed his face and paws. Fearful incisions of the soul will he get who accepts unqualifyingly the class of impulsive proverbs with their enormously overdrawn inferences: such as that of David, when he said in his haste, "All men are liars"; or that of Moore, when he said in his song, "The world is all a fleeting show, for man's illusion given"; or that maxim of Schopenhauer, so full of deadly misanthropy and melancholy that one would gladly turn his back on a world in which he believed such a rule necessary, "Love no one, hate no one, is the first half of all worldly wisdom; say nothing, believe nothing, is the other half."
The first condition of a profitable use of maxims being a thorough mastery of the rule proposed, with its limits, the next condition is an accurate self-knowledge. Know yourself, your weaknesses, your aptitudes, your exposures, your gifts and strength, in order that you may know what to seek or avoid, what to cherish or spurn, what to spur or curb, what to fortify or assail. For example, if your head is made of butter, it is clear that it will not do for you to be a baker. If you are a coward, you must not volunteer to lead a forlorn hope. The advantage of self-knowledge is that it enables us to prescribe for ourselves the contemplation of such principles and motives as we need. If our thought is narrow and our fancy cold, we should study the maxims that instruct,—as, "Joys are wings, sorrows are spurs." If our heart is faint and our will weak, we should study the maxims that inspire,—as, "The reward of a thing well done is to have done it." The instructive maxim opens a vista of truth to the intellect, as when Goethe said, "A man need not be an architect in order to live in a house." The inspiring maxim strikes a martial chord in the soul, as when Alexander said to his Greeks, shrinking at the sight of the multitudinous host of Persians, "One butcher does not fear many sheep." The evil of self-ignorance is, that it permits men to choose as their favorite and guiding maxims those adages which express and foster their already rampant propensities, leaving their drooping deficiencies to pine and cramp in neglect. The miser pampers his avarice by repeating a hundred times a day, "A penny saved is a penny gained": as if that were the maxim he needed! The spend-thrift comforts and confirms himself in his prodigality by saying, "God loveth a cheerful giver": as if that were not precisely the saying he ought never to recall! Audacity and arrogance constantly say to themselves, "Be bold, be bold, and evermore be bold." Timidity and distrust are ever whispering, "Be not too bold." Thus what would be one man's meat proves another man's poison; whereas, were it rightly distributed, both would be nourished into healthy development. The over-reckless should restrain himself by remembering that "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." The over-cautious should animate himself with the reflection that "The coward dies a thousand deaths, the brave man only one." A man who, with deep self-knowledge, carefully chooses and perseveringly applies maxims adapted to check his excess and arouse his defect may derive unspeakable profit from them.
To do this with full success, however, he must have a discriminating knowledge of the circumstances as well as of the rule, and of himself. "Circumstances alter cases." What applies happily in one exigency may be perfectly absurd or ruinous in a different situation. The mule, loaded with salt, waded through a brook, and, as the salt melted, the burden grew light. The ass, loaded with wool, tried the same experiment; but the wool, saturated with water, was twice as heavy as before. So the Satyr, in AEsop's fable, asked the man coming in from the cold, "Why he blew on his fingers?" and was told, "To warm them." Soon after he asked, "Why he blew in his soup?" and was told, "To cool it." Whereupon he rushed on the man with a club and slew him as a liar. The ramifications of truth in varying emergencies are infinitely subtile and complicated, and often demand the very nicest care in distinguishing. Good advice, when empirically taken and rashly followed, is as an eye in the hand, sure to be put out the first thing on trying to use it. "Advice costs nothing and is good for nothing," it is often said. But that depends on the quality of the advice, on the circumstances, and on what kind of persons impart and receive the counsel. Advice given with earnestness and wisdom, and applied with docility and discrimination, may cost a great deal and be invaluable. Competence and aptness, or folly and heedlessness, make a world of difference. The great difficulty in regard to the fruitfulness of advice is the universal readiness to impart, the usual unwillingness to accept it. We give advice by the bucket, take it by the grain. For these reasons the world is yet surfeited with precept and starving for example: and the applicability is by no means exhausted of the fable of Brabrius, who tells how when an old crab said to her child, "Awkward one, walk not so crookedly!" he replied, "Mother, walk you straight, I will watch and follow." Verbal wisdom would direct us; exemplified wisdom draws us.
The first danger, then, from aphorisms is, that they may enable us to evade, instead of helping us to fulfil, the duty of meeting and solving for ourselves each mental exigency as it arises. In such a case, educative discipline and growth are forfeited. The other danger from them is, that they may be applied mechanically, without a just understanding of them, and thus that grievous mistakes may be made. Their genuine use is to excite our own minds to master the principles which their authors have set forth in them. Fresh honesty of personal thought, aspiration, and patience, is the spiritual talisman wherewith alone we can vivify truisms into truths, and transmute noble maxims into flesh and blood, nay, into immortal mind. The master-thinkers aid us to do this by the quickening power of their suggestions,—the great critic not only giving his readers direction, but also helping them to eyesight.
To traverse the works of some authors is like going through a carefully arranged herbarium, where every specimen is lifeless, shrivelled, dusty, crumbling to the touch. The writings of genuine men of genius are like a conservatory, where every plant of thought and sentiment, whether indigenous or exotic, is alive, full of bloom and fragrance, the sap at work in its veins. Verbal statements which are petrifactions of wisdom can neither stimulate nor nourish; but verbal statements which are vital concentrations of wisdom do both. He has learned one of the most important lessons in human life who understands adequately the difference between formal perception and organic experience, contrasting the futility of detached and deathly proverbs with the utility of nutritious and electrical maxims. A mechanical teacher crowds the ear with mummified precepts and exhortations; an inspired teacher brings surcharged examples and rules into contact with the mind. The distinction is world-wide and inexhaustible.
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BY ONE WHO KNEW HIM.
If photography had existed during the lifetime of Shelley, it alone would have sufficed to correct many a misconception of his character founded upon imperfect portraiture; and even the most boyish recollections of him, matter-of-fact as they are, may help to solve the problem upon which many minds have been engaged without yet having finished the work. For Shelley still remains before the world misconceived because misdescribed; and if society is gradually clearing its ideas of the man, it is not only because the preconceptions of that multitudinous authority are themselves gradually drifting away, but also because substantial facts are slowly coming into view. Their development has been hindered by obstacles which will be understood when I have proceeded a little farther, and even within the compass of this brief sketch I hope that I shall be able to make readers on both sides of the Atlantic work their own way a little closer to the truth.
Shelley is still regarded by the majority, either as a victim of persecution, or a rebel against authority, or both,—his friends probably inclining to hold him up as a philosopher-patriot, whose resistance to intellectual oppression placed him in the condition of a martyr and robbed him of his fair share of life. My own earliest memory presents him very much in that aspect. I first recall him pale and slender, worn with anxiety, openly alluding to the marks of premature age in his own aspect, bursting with aspirations against tyranny of all kinds, and yielding to fits of dreadful despondency under sufferings inflicted by the dignitaries of the land at the instance of his own family. The circumstances by which he was surrounded contributed to this guise of martyrdom.
My own earliest recollections began in prison, where my father[A] was incarcerated for critical remarks which at the present day would scarcely attract attention, and which were put forth in no impulse of personal hostility, but under the strongest sense of duty, with the desire to vindicate the constitutional freedom of England against the perverted control of faction and the influences of a corrupt court. At that time my father was accounted a man prone to mutiny against "the powers that be," although his political opinions belonged to a class which would now be regarded as too moderate for popular liberalism. He has been censured for literary affectation and for personal improvidence, but only by those who do not understand the real elements of his character. The leading ideas of his mind were, first, earnest duty to his country at any cost to himself; next, the sacrifice of any ordinary consideration to personal affection and friendship; and lastly, the cultivation of "the ideal," especially as it is developed in imaginative literature. His life was passed in an absolute devotion to these three principles. A one-sided frankness has blazoned to the world the sacrifices which he accepted from friends, but has whispered nothing of the more than commensurate sacrifices made on his side; and the simplicity that rendered him the creature of the library in which he lived entered into the expression of all his thoughts and feelings.
[Footnote A: Leigh Hunt.]
Although I can remember some of the most eminent men who visited us in prison, Shelley I cannot; but I can well recall my father's description of the young stranger who came to him breathing the classic thoughts of college, ardent with aspirations for the emancipation of man from intellectual slavery, and endowed by Nature with an aspect truly "angelic."
In the interval before his next visit to us, Shelley had passed through the first serious passion of his youth, had married Harriet Westbrooke, had become the father of two children, and had thus to all appearance secured the transmission of the estates strictly entailed with the baronetcy,—but had also been exiled from his family-home, as well as from college, for his revolutionary and infidel principles, had gone through a course of domestic disappointment, had separated from his wife, and was threatened with the removal of his children, on the ground of the impious and "immoral" training to which they were destined under his guardianship. He came to our house for support and consolation; he found in it a home for his intellect as well as for his feelings, and he was as strictly a part of the family as any of our blood-relations, for he came and went at pleasure. I can remember that I performed his bidding equally with that of my father; and as to personal deference or regard, the only distinction which my memory can discover is, that I found in Shelley a companion whom I better understood, and whose country rambles I was more pleased to share. For this there were many reasons, and amongst them that Shelley entered more unreservedly into the sports and even the thoughts of children. I had probably awakened interest in him, not only because I was my father's eldest child, but still more because I had already begun to read with great avidity, and with an especial sense of imaginative wonders and horrors; and, familiarized with the conversation amongst literary men, I had really been able to understand something of his position, insomuch that no doubt he saw the intense interest I took in himself and his sufferings.
The emotions that he underwent were but too manifest in the unconcealed anxiety and the eager recital of newly awakened hopes, with intervals of the deepest depression. He suffered also from physical causes, which I then only in part understood. This suffering was traced to the attack made upon him at Tanyralt, in Wales, when, on the night of February the 26th, 1813, some man who had been prowling about the house in which he lived first fired at him through the window, and then entered the room, escaping when the man-servant was called in by the tumult and the screams of Mrs. Shelley. The whole incident has been doubted,—why, I can hardly understand, unless the reason is that some of the conjectures in which Mrs. Shelley indulged were over-imaginative. She mentions by name a political opponent who had said that "he would drive them out of the country." My own weak recollections point to reasons more personal. But what I do know is, that Shelley himself ascribed the injury from which he suffered to a pressure of the assassin's knee upon him in the struggle. The complaint was of long standing; the attacks were alarmingly severe, and the seizure very sudden. I can remember one day at Hampstead: it was soon after breakfast, and Shelley sat reading, when he suddenly threw up his book and hands, and fell back, the chair sliding sharply from under him, and he poured forth shrieks, loud and continuous, stamping his feet madly on the ground. My father rushed to him, and, while the women looked out for the usual remedies of cold water and hand-rubbing, applied a strong pressure to his side, kneading it with his hands; and the patient seemed gradually to be relieved by that process. This happened about the time when he was most anxious for the result of the trial which was to deprive him of his children. In the intervals he sought relief in reading, in conversation,—which especially turned upon classic literature,—in freedom of thought and action, and in play with the children of the house. I can remember well one day when we were both for some long time engaged in gambols, broken off by my terror at his screwing up his long and curling hair into a horn, and approaching me with rampant paws and frightful gestures as some imaginative monster.
It was at this time that the incident happened which has been mentioned by my father. A poor woman had been attending her son before a criminal court in London. As they were returning home at night, fatigue and anxiety so overcame her that she fell on the ground in convulsions, where she was found by Shelley. He appealed to a very opulent person, who lived on the top of the hill, asking admission for the woman into the house, or the use of the carriage, which had just set the family down at the door. The stranger was repulsed with the cold remark that impostors swarmed everywhere, and that his own conduct was "extraordinary." The good Samaritan, whom the Christian would not help, warned the uncharitable man that such treatment of the poor is sometimes chastised by hard treatment of the rich in days of trouble; and I heard Shelley describe the manner in which the gentleman retreated into his mansion, exclaiming, "God bless me, Sir! dear me, Sir!" In the account of the occurrence given by my father, he has omitted to mention that Shelley and the woman's son, who had already carried her a considerable way up the main hill of Hampstead, brought her on from the inhospitable mansion to our house in their arms; and I believe, that, the son's strength failing, for some way down the hill into the Vale of Health Shelley carried her on his back. I cannot help contrasting this action of the wanderer with the careful self-regard of another friend who often came to see us, though I do not remember that any of us were ever inside his doors. He was, I believe, for some time actually a pensioner on Shelley's generosity, though he ultimately rose to be comparatively wealthy. One night, when he had been visiting us, he was in trouble because no person had been sent from a tavern at the top of the hill to light him up the pathway across the heath. That same self-caring gentleman afterwards became one of the apologists who most powerfully contributed to mislead public opinion in regard to his benefactor.
Shelley often called me for a long ramble on the heath, or into regions which I then thought far distant; and I went with him rather than with my father, because he walked faster, and talked with me while he walked, instead of being lost in his own thoughts and conversing only at intervals. A love of wandering seemed to possess him in the most literal sense; his rambles appeared to be without design, or any limit but my fatigue; and when I was "done up," he carried me home in his arms, on his shoulder, or pickback. Our communion was not always concord; as I have intimated, he took a pleasure in frightening me, though I never really lost my confidence in his protection, if he would only drop the fantastic aspects that he delighted to assume. Sometimes, but much more rarely, he teased me with exasperating banter; and, inheriting from some of my progenitors a vindictive temper, I once retaliated severely. We were in the sitting-room with my father and some others, while I was tortured. The chancery-suit was just then approaching its most critical point, and, to inflict the cruellest stroke I could think of, I looked him in the face, and expressed a hope that he would be beaten in the trial and have his children taken from him. I was sitting on his knee, and as I spoke, he let himself fall listlessly back in his chair, without attempting to conceal the shock I had given him. But presently he folded his arms round me and kissed me; and I perfectly understood that he saw how sorry I was, and was as anxious as I was to be friends again. It was not very long after that we were playing with paper boats on the pond in the Vale of Health, watching the way in which the wind carried some of them over, or swamped most of them before they had surmounted many billows; and Shelley then playfully said how much he should like it, if we could get into one of the boats and be shipwrecked,—it was a death he should like better than any other.
After the death of Harriet, Shelley's life entirely changed; and I think I shall be able to show in the sequel that the change was far greater than any of his biographers, except perhaps one who was most likely to know, have acknowledged. Conventional form and Shelley are almost incompatible ideas; as his admirable wife has said of him, "He lived to idealize reality,—to ally the love of abstract truth, and adoration of abstract good, with the living sympathies. And long as he did this without injury to others, he had the reverse of any respect for the dictates of orthodoxy or convention." As soon, therefore, as the obstacle to a second marriage was removed, he and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin were regularly joined in matrimony, and retired to Great Marlow, in Buckinghamshire. A brief year Shelley passed in the position of a country-gentleman on a small scale. His abode was a rough house in the village, with a garden at the back and nothing beyond but the country. Close to the house there was a small pleasure-ground, with a mound at the farther end of the lawn slightly inclosing the view. Behind the mound there was a kitchen-garden, not unintermixed with flowers and ornamental vegetation; and farther still was a piece of ground traversed by a lane deeply excavated in the chalk soil. At that time Shelley had a thousand a year allowed to him by his father; but although he was in no respect the unreckoning, wasteful person that many have represented him to be, such a sum must have been insufficient for the mode in which he lived. His family comprised himself, Mary, William their eldest son, and Claire Claremont,—the daughter of Godwin's second wife, and therefore the half-sister of Mary Shelley,—a girl of great ability, strong feelings, lively temper, and, though not regularly handsome, of brilliant appearance. They kept three servants, if not a fourth assistant: a cook; Elise, a Swiss gouvernante for the child; and Harry, a man who did the work of gardener and man-servant in general. He kept something like open house; for while I was there with my father and mother, there also came, for a short time, several other friends, some of whom stopped for more than a passing visit. He played the Lord Bountiful among his humbler neighbors, not only helping them with money or money's-worth, but also advising them in sickness; for he had made some study of medicine, in part, I suspect, to be the more useful.
I have already intimated that he had assisted certain of his companions; and I am convinced that these circumstances contributed to the resolution which Shelley formed to leave England for Italy in the year 1818, although he then ascribed his doing so to the score of health,—or rather, as he said, of life. He then believed himself to be laboring under a tendency to consumption, not without medical warnings to that effect, although there were strong reasons for doubting the validity of the belief, which was based upon less precise grounds before the introduction of auscultation and the careful examinations of our day. It was, however, characteristic of Shelley to rest his actions upon the dominant motive; so that, if several inducements operated to the same end, he absolutely discarded the minor considerations, and acted solely upon the grand one. I can well remember, that, when other persons urged upon him cumulative reasons for any course of action, whether in politics, or morality, or trifling personal matters of the day, he indignantly cast aside all such makeweights, and insisted upon the one sufficient motive. I mention this the more explicitly because the opposite course is the most common, and some who did not sympathize with his concentration of purpose afterwards imputed the suppression of all but one, out of several apparent motives, to reserve, or even to a want of candor. The accusation was first made by some of Shelley's false friends,—creatures who gathered round him to get what they could, and afterwards made a market of their connection, to his disadvantage. But I was shocked to find a sanction for the notion under the hand of one of Shelley's first and most faithful friends, and I discovered it, too, when death had barred me from the opportunity of controverting the mistake. It was easily accounted for. The writer to whom I allude was himself a person whose scrupulous conscience and strong mistrust of his own judgment, unless supported on every side, induced him to accumulate and to avow as many motives as possible for each single act. He could scarcely understand or believe the existence of a mind which, although powerful and comprehensive in its grasp, should nevertheless deliberately set aside all motives but one, and actually proceed upon that exclusive ground without regard to the others.
Both Shelley and his friends seem to have underrated his strength, and one little incident will illustrate my meaning. He kept no horse or carriage; but in accordance with his ruling passion he had a boat on the river of sufficient size to carry a numerous party. It was made both for sailing and rowing; and I can remember being one of an expedition which went some distance up the Thames, when Shelley himself towed the boat on the return home, while I walked, by his side. His health had very much improved with the change that had taken place in his mode of life, his more settled condition, and the abatement of anxiety, with the absolute removal of some of its causes. I am well aware that he had suffered severely, and that he continued to be haunted by certain recollections, partly real and partly imaginative, which pursued him like an Orestes. He frequently talked on such subjects; but it has always appeared to me that those who have reported what he said have been guilty of a singular confusion in their interpretations. As I proceed, you will find that certain facts in his life have never yet been distinctly related, and I have a strong reason for believing that some circumstances of which I became accidentally aware were never disclosed at all, except to Mary; while in her writings I can trace allusions to them, that remind me of passages in ancient authors,—in Ovid, for instance,—which would have been absolutely unintelligible, except for accidental references. In spite, however, of the rude trials to which his constitution had been subjected, and of new symptoms supposed to indicate pulmonary weakness, there was a marked improvement in his aspect since he had visited London. He still had that ultra-youthful figure that partook the traits of the hobbledehoy, arrived at man's stature, but not yet possessing the full manly proportions. His extremities were large, his limbs long, his face small, and his thorax very partially developed, especially in girth. An habitual eagerness of mood, thrusting forward his face, made him stoop, with sunken chest and rounded shoulders; and this was even more apparent in the easy costume of the country than in London dress. But in his countenance there was life instead of weariness; melancholy more often yielded to alternations of bright thoughts; and paleness had given way to a certain freshness of color, with something like roses in the cheeks. Notwithstanding the sense of weakness in the chest, which attacked him on any sudden effort, his power of exertion was considerable. Once, returning from a long excursion, and entering the house by the back way, up a precipitous, though not perpendicular bank, the women of the party had to be helped; and Shelley was the most active in rendering that assistance. While others were content to accomplish the feat for one, he, I think, helped three up the bank, sliding in a half-sitting posture when he returned to fetch a new charge. I well remember his shooting past me in a cloud of chalk-dust, as I was slowly climbing up. He had a fit of panting after it, but he made light of the exertion. I can also recollect, that, although he frequently preferred to steer rather than to put forth his strength, yet, if it were necessary, he would take an oar, and could stick to his seat for any time against any force of current or of wind, not only without complaining, but without being compelled to give in until the set task was accomplished, though it should involve some miles of hard pulling. These facts indicate the amount of "grit" that lay under the outward appearance of weakness and excitable nerves.
Shelley's fulness of vitality did not at that time seem to be shared by the partner of his life. Mary's intellectual powers had already been manifested. He must to some extent have known the force of her affection, and the tenderness of her nature; but it is remarkable that her youth was not the period of her greatest beauty, and certainly at that date she did not do justice to herself either in her aspect or in the tone of her conversation. She was singularly pale. With a figure that needed to be set off, she was careless in her dress; and the decision of purpose which ultimately gained her the playful title of "Wilful Woman" then appeared, at least in society, principally in the negative form,—her temper being easily crossed, and her resentments taking a somewhat querulous and peevish tone. Both of the pair were still young, and their ideas of education were adverse to the received doctrines of the day, rather than substantive; and their own principles in this matter were exemplified somewhat perversely by little William. Even at that early age the child called forth frequent and poignant remonstrances from his gouvernante, and occasionally drew perplexed exclamations or desponding looks from his father, who took the child's little perversities seriously to heart, and sometimes vented his embarrassment in generalized remarks on human nature.
Some years elapsed between the night when I saw Shelley pack up his pistols—which he allowed me to examine—for his departure for the South, and the moment when, after our own arrival in Italy, my attention was again called to his presence by the shrill sound of his voice, as he rushed into my father's arms, which he did with an impetuousness and a fervor scarcely to be imagined by any who did not know the intensity of his feelings and the deep nature of his affection for that friend. I remember his crying out that he was "so inexpressibly delighted!—you cannot think how inexpressibly happy it makes me!"
The history of Shelley's brief visit to Pisa has been related by many, and is, I believe, told in his published letters; but it appears to me that those who have recounted it have in some respects fallen short. Excepting Mary Shelley, the best-informed spoke too soon after the event. Shelley's own letters are slightly misleading, from a very intelligible cause. After he had encouraged, if he did not suggest, the enterprise of "The Liberal,"—and I believe it would be nearly impossible for any one of the three men interested in that venture to ascertain exactly who was its author,—his mind misgave him. He knew my father's necessities and his childish capacities for business. With a keen sense of the power displayed in "Don Juan," and even in more melodramatic works, Shelley had acquired a full knowledge of the singularly licentious training from which Byron had then scarcely emerged, and of the vacillating caprice which enfeebled all his actions. His own ability to grapple with practical affairs was very great; but he himself had scarcely formed a sufficient estimate of it. Determined to maintain a thorough equality and freedom with the noble bard in their social relations, he shrank from any position which might raise in Byron's jealous and unstable mind the idea that he was under pressure; yet he was anxious to prevent disappointment for Leigh Hunt. He dreaded failure, and resolved that he would do his best to prevent it; and yet again he scarcely anticipated success.
As early as the end of 1818, he described the way in which Byron spent his life, after he had been partly exiled, partly emancipated from the ordinary restraints of society. At that time, "the Italian women were the most contemptible of all who existed under the moon,—an ordinary Englishman could not approach them"; "but," writes Shelley, "Lord Byron is familiar with the lowest sort of these women,—the people his gondolieri pick up in the streets." Byron's curiosity, indeed, tempted him to learn something of vice in its most revolting aspects. "He has," writes Shelley, "a certain degree of candor, while you talk to him, but unfortunately it does not outlast your departure." I am sure that before 1821 Byron had risen in his friend's estimation, or the "Liberal" scheme would never have been contemplated; and there were excellent reasons for the change. It is only by degrees that men have learned to appreciate at once the extraordinary nature and force of Byron's genius and the equally monstrous and marvellous nature of the evil training by which he was "dragged up." In the midst of extravagant license he gained experiences which might have extinguished his mind, but which, as they did not have that effect, added to his resources. In the process some of his personal qualities as a companion suffered severely. Very few grown men have been so extravagantly sensitive to personal approbation; and he was anxious to conciliate the liking of all who approached him, however foreign to his own set, however humble, or however insignificant. He was as mistrustful as a greedy child. He could be extravagant, but he was not open-handed; and yet he would give up what he coveted for himself, if he were urged by those whose esteem he desired to win. Now, of all persons who came near him, Shelley was the one that combined the greatest number of qualities calculated to influence a creature like Byron. He was of gentle blood; he was as resolute as he was able to maintain what is popularly called an independent position; he was truly sincere; and his way of life displayed a purity which Byron admired, though he fell from it so lamentably. On the other hand, Shelley was at odds with society on the very same questions of morals; he possessed all the philosophy for understanding the complicated perplexities of aberrant genius; did actually make allowances for Byron; estimated his powers more accurately, and therefore more highly, than any other person who came near him; and thus commanded at once his sympathies, his ambition, and his confidence. Everybody knows that in the interval between 1818 and the date of his death at Missolonghi, Byron's discipline of life had undergone a marked and beneficial change, and many agencies have been mentioned as contributing to that result, but I am sure that no one was so all-sufficient as the personal association with Shelley. Nothing of this is gainsaid by the fact that the greater part of this improvement was displayed after Shelley's death. Change of scene, intercourse with others, opportunities for acting upon his new principles, all helped, together, probably, with the graver sense of counsel bequeathed by the friend whom he had lost. Certain it is that Byron never mentioned Shelley in my hearing without a peculiarly emphatic manner. I know that to more than one person he performed acts of kindness and friendly aid as tributes to the memory of Shelley; and if any action were urged upon him as worthy of his own genius and dignity, nothing clenched the appeal like the name of Shelley. But if you will for a moment compare the characters of the two men,—if you will contrast the large self-sacrifice of the one with the self-indulgence of the other, the independence of the one with the craving of the other for approval, the absolute trust in human hope and goodness of Shelley with the blase cynicism of Byron, I think two conclusions must instantly strike you,—first, that Shelley must have possessed almost unequalled power of influence over those who surrounded him, and, secondly, that Byron himself must have been a much better man, or possessing much more in common with Shelley than society or some of his most intellectual companions at all imagined. Part of the facts bearing upon the subject have come out since the death of both. My own attention was drawn to the point by the striking discord between the way in which other people speak of their relations and the manner of Shelley and Byron towards each other, and especially Byron's way in speaking of Shelley. It is not probable that Shelley formed to himself any such idea of his own power; yet you will find hints at it in his letters, you will see, curious traces of it in the letters of others, and nothing else will fully explain the change in Byron's life. Moreover, it reconciles the apparent inconsistencies of Shelley's reservations in talking about Byron with his manifest and practical confidence in the result of their joint working.