When I met Shelley again in Italy, it was easy to see that a grand change had come over his appearance and condition. The Southern climate had suited him, and the boat which caused his death had in the mean while been instrumental in developing his life. His retirement from painful personal conflict had given him greater ease; intercourse with Mary had made his life better; and, not to overlook one important fact, he had grown since he left England. For physiologists attest the truth, that growth continues throughout human existence, even until after decay begins; and Shelley's constitution was of that kind—strong in some of its developments, slow in others—which needed longer time than many to arrive at its full proportions. For instance, in the interval since I had seen him his chest had manifestly become of a larger girth. I am speaking only upon distant recollection; but I should judge it to have been three or four inches larger round, or perhaps more. His voice was stronger, his manner more confident and downright, and, although not less emphatic, yet decidedly less impulsively changeful. I can recall his reading from an ancient author, translating as he went, a passage about the making of the first man; and I remember it from the subject and from the easy flow of his translation, but chiefly from the air of strength and cheerfulness which I noticed in his voice and manner. In nothing, however, does Shelley appear to me to have been so misdescribed as in the outward man,—partly, as usual, from overstatement of peculiarities, and partly because each artist has painted the portrait from his own favorite view. Many, through exaggeration, or imperfect knowledge, have equally misconstrued his moral character, and have omitted to report the real conduct of his understanding as he advanced towards "the middle of the way of life."
From the story of his life after I first saw him, as well as from many things that I have heard him say of his family, and the strange recollections that he had of home, it is easy to understand the general tenor of his early life. Through some caprice in genealogical chemistry, in Percy the Shelley race struck out an entirely new idea: an apparent caprice in the sequence of houses that has often been noticed. For how often may we observe that the union of the most remarkable intellects produces a tertium quid which is the reverse of an equivalent to the combined totals, representing only a fraction of their qualities, and that fraction in its negative aspect; while, on the other hand, rivulets of blood which have gained for themselves no name upon earth may combine to form a river illustrious to the whole world. In the latter case, not an unusual effect is that those who are charged with the infancy of the new type in the family are incompetent to their duty; and accordingly Shelley was regarded merely as "a strange boy," wayward, mutinous, and to be severely chastised into obedience. It has been said that he attracted no particular notice at school; but this is not true. At Eton his resentment of tyrannical authority displayed itself not only against the masters, but against the privileges of young patricians. He refused to be "fag"; and on one occasion he so braved the youthful public-opinion, that, on being dared to the act by the surrounding boys, he pinned a companion's hand to the table with a fork. According to my recollection, the immediate provocative was that he was dared to do it; but the incident arose out of his resistance to the seniors amongst the scholars and to the customs of the school. It was evident that the masters had their eye upon him. Such a youth, with a command of language that was a born faculty and not simply acquired, must have attracted very positive attention on the part of the teachers; but it was certain, that, with the tendencies of those days, they would have thought it discreet to say as little as possible about the slender mutineer. It is equally well known, that, notwithstanding his youth, religious opinions caused his expulsion from college; and when we turn to the earliest of his writings which assumed anything like a complete shape, we discover at once the nature of those powers which could not have been overlooked,—we detect the genius, the revolutionary ideas, and the extraordinary command which he had acquired over the subject-matter of much that is taught in schools and colleges. Amid the orthodox reaction that followed upon the French Revolution, he was struck with the excesses to which despotic power could be carried. He read history with sympathies for the natural impulses and aspirations of the race, as opposed to the small circles which comprise established authorities. He looked upon knowledge as the means of serving, not enslaving the race. And therefore, while he excused the crimes of the Revolution, on the score of the ignorance in which the people had been kept, their sufferings, and the natural revulsion against such painful down-treading, he regarded the counter acts of authority as a treachery to wisdom itself. He says,—
"Hath Nature's soul, That formed this world so beautiful.... And filled the meanest worm that crawls in dust With spirit, thought, and love, on Man alone, Partial in causeless malice, wantonly Heaped ruin, vice, and slavery? Nature?—no! Kings, priests, and statesmen blast the human flower Even in its tender bud; their influence darts Like subtle poison through the bloodless veins Of desolate society."
The pretension of authority to speak with a supernatural warrant provoked him to deny the warrant itself, or the sources from which it was said to emanate.
"Is there a God?—ay, an almighty God, And vengeful as almighty? Once his voice Was heard on earth; earth shuddered at the sound, The fiery-visaged firmament expressed Abhorrence, and the grave of Nature yawned To swallow all the dauntless and the good That dared to hurl defiance at his throne, Girt as it was with power. None but slaves Survived,—cold-blooded slaves, who did the work Of tyrranous omnipotence."
To these superstitious and ambitious pretensions he traced the corruption which disorganized society, leading it down even to the very worst immoralities.
"All things are sold: the very light of heaven Is venal.... Those duties which heart of human love Should urge him to perform instinctively Are bought and sold as in a public mart.
* * * * *
Even love is sold; the solace of all woe Is turned to deadliest agony, old age Shivers in selfish beauty's loathing arms, And youth's corrupted impulses prepare A life of horror from the blighting bane Of commerce; whilst the pestilence that springs From unenjoying sensualism has filled All human life with hydra-headed woes."
"Shelley," says Mary, in her note on the poem, "was eighteen when he wrote 'Queen Mab.' He never published it. When it was written, he had come to the decision that he was too young to be a judge of controversies." The wife-editor refers to a series of articles published in the "New Monthly Magazine" for 1832 by a fellow-collegian, a warm friend of Shelley's, touching upon his school-life, and describing the state of his mind at college. The worst of all these biographical sketches of remarkable men is, that delicacy, discretion, or some other euphemistically named form of hesitancy, induces writers to suppress the incidents which supply the very angles of the form they want to delineate; and it is especially so in Shelley's case. I am sure, that, if Mary, or my father, or any of those with whom Shelley conversed most thoroughly, had related some of the more extravagant incidents of his early life exactly as they occurred, we should better understand the tenor of his thought,—and we should also have the most valuable complement to that part of his intellectual progress which stands in contrast with the earlier portion. Now, as I have said, at school Shelley was a more practical and impracticable mutineer than his friends have generally allowed. They have been anxious to soften his "faults"; and the consequence is, that we miss the force of the boy's logic and the vigor of his Catonian experiments.
Again, accident has made me aware of facts which give me to understand, that, in passing through the usual curriculum of a college life in all its paths, Shelley did not go scathless,—but that, in the tampering with venal pleasures, his health was seriously, and not transiently, injured. The effect was far greater on his mind than on his body; and the intellectual being greater than the physical power, the healthy reaction was greater. But that reaction was also, especially in early youth, principally marked by horror and antagonism. Conscientious, far beyond even the ordinary maximum amongst ordinary men, he felt bound to denounce the mischief from which he saw others suffer more severely than himself, since in them there was no such reaction. I have no doubt that he himself would have spoken even plainer language, though to me his language is perfectly transparent, if he had not been restrained by a superstitious notion of his own, that the true escape from the pestilent and abhorrent brutalities which he detected around him in "real" life is found in "the ideal" form of thought and language. Ardent and romantic, he was eager to discover beauty "beneath" every natural aspect. Of all men living, I am the one most bound to be aware of the inconsistency; but you will see it reconciled a little later.
Shelley left college prone "to fall in love,"—having already, indeed, gone through some very slight experiences of that process. In his wanderings, in a humble position which conciliated rather than repelled him, he met with Harriet Westbrooke, a very comely, pleasing, and simple type of girlhood. She was at some disadvantage, under some kind of domestic oppression; so she served at once as an object for his disengaged affection, and a subject for his liberating theories, and as a substratum for the idealizing process upon which he constructed a fictitious creation of Harriet Westbrooke. His dreams bearing but a faint and controversial resemblance to the Harriet Westbrooke of daily life, the fictitious image prevented him from knowing her, until the reality broke through the poetical vision only to shock him by its inferiority or repulsiveness. As to the poor girl herself, she never had the capacity for learning to know him. In the sequel she proved to be the not unwilling slave of a petty domestic intrigue,—oppression from which he would have rescued her. Married life enabled him to discover that she was the reverse of the being that he had fancied. They were first married in Scotland in 1811. Shelley made acquaintance with the Godwins in 1812, before his eldest child was born. I am not sure whether he was acquainted with Mary at that time; but some circumstances which I cannot verify make me doubt it. Harriet's daughter was born early in the summer of 1813, and it was before the close of that year that the couple began to disagree. The wife was evidently under the dominion of a relative whose influence was injurious to her. I do not find a hint of any imputation upon what is usually called her "fidelity"; but the relative manifestly desired to show her power over both. It is probable that at an early day Shelley's disposition to see "sermons in stones and good in everything" made him think better of that interloping lady than she deserved,—and that consequently he not only gave her encouragement, but committed himself to something which, to Harriet's mind, justified her deference for ill-considered advice. It is very likely that she was counselled to extend her power over Shelley in a manner which her own simple nature would not have suggested; but, being as foolish as it was cunning and vulgar, such conduct could no result but that of repelling a man like Shelley. That he acquired a detestation of the relative is a certain fact. He must have been expecting a second child when he formally remarried Harriet in England on the twenty-fourth of March, 1814; and that ceremony has been mentioned by several writers to prove the most opposite conclusions,—that Shelley was devoted to his first wife, and that he behaved to her with the basest hypocrisy. It proves nothing but his desire to place the hereditary rights of the second child, who might be a boy, beyond doubt; and the precaution was justified by the event. Before the close of the same year Harriet returned to her father's house, and there she gave birth to a son, Charles, who would have inherited the baronetcy, if he had not died in 1826, after his father's death. The parting took place about the twenty-fourth of June, 1814; and at the same time Shelley wrote a poem, of which fragments are given in the recently published "Relics." The verse shows, first, that Shelley was suffering severely from the chronic conflict which he had undergone, and, secondly, that he had found some novel comfort in the intercourse with Mary.
"To sit and curb the soul's mute rage, Which preys upon itself alone; To curse the life which is the cage Of fettered grief that dares not groan, Hiding from many a careless eye The scorned load of agony.
"Upon my heart thy accents sweet Of peace and pity fell like dew On flowers half dead....
"We are not happy, sweet! our state Is strange and full of doubt and fear; More need of words that ills abate;— Reserve or censure come not near Our sacred friendship, lest there be No solace left for thee and me."
It is obvious that considerably after the date of this poem, Harriet remained in amicable correspondence with Shelley; and not only so, but, while she altogether abstained from opposing his new connection, she was actually on friendly terms with Mary. It is easy to understand how a limited nature like Harriet's should be worn out by the exaction and impracticability of one like Shelley; for to her most impracticable would seem his lofty and ideal requirements. On the other hand, it is evident that Shelley regarded the unfortunate girl with feelings of deep commiseration; and I know that he not only pitied her, but felt strong compunctions for the share which his own mistaken conduct at the beginning, even more than at the end, had had in drawing her aside from what would have been her natural course in ordinary life. Mary, I believe, clearly understood the whole case, and felt nothing but compassion for one who was a "victim to circumstances."
The sequel has been alluded to in several publications, but so obscurely as to be more than unintelligible; for the reader is led to conclusions the reverse of the fact. In the "Memorials," at page 63, the subject is barely touched upon. I take the whole passage.
"Towards the close of 1813, estrangements, which for some time had been slowly growing between Mr. and Mrs. Shelley, came to a crisis. Separation ensued; and Mrs. Shelley returned to her father's house. Here she gave birth to her second child,—a son, who died in 1826.
"The occurrences of this painful epoch in Shelley's life, and the causes which led to them, I am spared from relating. In Mary Shelley's own words:—'This is not the time to relate the truth; and I should reject any coloring of the truth.'
* * * * *
"Of those remaining who were intimate with Shelley at this time, each has given us a different version of this sad event, colored by his own views and personal feelings. Evidently, Shelley confided to none of these friends. We, who bear his name and are of his family, have in our possession papers written by his own hand, which, in after-years, may make the story of his life complete, and which few now living, except Shelley's own children, have ever perused.
"One mistake which has gone forth to the world we feel ourselves called upon positively to contradict. Harriet's death has sometimes been ascribed to Shelley. This is entirely false. There was no immediate connection whatever between her tragic end and any conduct on the part of her husband."
At the end of the "Relics" is a memorandum entitled, "Harriet Shelley and Mr. Thomas Love Peacock." Mr. Peacock had been writing in "Fraser's Magazine" a series of articles on Shelley; in "Macmillan's Magazine" for June, 1866, was an article by Mr. Richard Garnet, entitled, "Shelley in Pall-Mall"; to this Mr. Peacock replied in "Percy Bysshe Shelley: Supplementary Notice"; and Mr. Garnet rejoined in the new little volume which he ha; edited. The main purpose of this last notice is, to show that Mr. Peacock was not accurate in his chronology or in his interpretation of the severance between Shelley and Harriet. Alluding either to the discretion which prevented Shelley from making a confidant of Mr. Peacock, or to his grief occasioned by the fate of Harriet, the writer refers to "the proof which exists in a series of letters written by Shelley at this very time to one in whom he had confidence, and at present in possession of his family," and then proceeds thus:—"Nothing more beautiful or characteristic ever proceeded from his pen; and they afford the most unequivocal testimony of the grief and horror occasioned by the tragical incident to which they bear reference. Yet self-reproach formed no element of his sorrow, in the midst of which he could proudly say, '———, ———,' (mentioning two dry, unbiased men of business,) 'every one, does me full justice, bears testimony to the uprightness and liberality of my conduct to her.'"
In the "Memorials" and the "Relics" there is no further allusion to the circumstances which preceded Harriet's suicide; but it appears to me very desirable that the whole story should be brought out much more distinctly, and I can at least show why I say so. The correspondence in question took place in the middle of December, 1816. Shelley was married to Mary about a fortnight later; and in the most emphatic terms he alluded not only to the solace which he derived from the conversation of his host, but to the manner in which my father spoke of Mary. My own recollection goes back to the period, and I have already testified to the state of Shelley's mind. He was just then instituting the process to recover the children, and he caught at an opinion that had been expressed, that, in the event of his again becoming contracted in marriage, there would be no longer any pretence to deprive him of the children.
Let me for a moment pause on this incident, as it establishes two facts of some interest. In the first place, it shows some of the grounds of the very strong and unalterable friendship which subsisted between my father and Mary,—a friendship which stood the test of many vicissitudes, and even of some differences of opinion; both persons being very sensitive in feeling, quick in temper, thoroughly outspoken, and obstinately tenacious of their own convictions. Secondly, it corroborates what I have said with regard to the community of spirit that Shelley found in his real wife,—the woman who became the companion of his fortunes, of his thoughts, of his sufferings, and of his hopes. It will be seen, that, even before marriage with his second wife, he was counting upon Mary's help in preventing his separation from the two children already born to him. She was a woman uniting intellectual faculties with strong ambitions of affection as well as intellect; and esteem thus substantially shown, at that early age, by two such men as Percy Shelley and Leigh Hunt, must have conveyed the deepest gratification.
Throughout these communications Shelley evinced the strong pity that he felt for the unhappy being whom he had known. Circumstances had come to his knowledge which had thrown considerable light upon his relations with Harriet. There can be no doubt that one member of the family had hoped to derive gain from the connection with himself, as a person of rank and property. There seems also reason to suppose, that, about the same time, Harriet's father, an aged man, became so ill that his death might be regarded as approaching, and he had something to leave. Poor, foolish Harriet had undoubtedly formed an attachment to Shelley, whom she had been allowed to marry; but she had then suffered herself to become a tool in the hands of others, and the fact accounted for the idle way in which she importuned him to do things repugnant to his feelings and convictions. She thus exasperated his temper, and lost her own; they quarrelled, in the ordinary conjugal sense, and, from all I have learned, I am induced to guess, that, when she left him, it was not only in the indulgence of self-will, but also in the vain hope that her retreating would induce him to follow her, perhaps in a more obedient spirit. She sought refuge in her father's house, where she might have expected kindness; but, as the old man bent towards the grave, with rapid loss of faculties, he became more severe in his treatment of the poor woman; and she was driven from the paternal roof. This Shelley did not know at the time; nor did he until afterwards learn the process by which she arrived at her fate. Too late she became aware how fatal to her interests had been the intrigues of which she had been the passive instrument; and I suspect that she was debarred from seeking forgiveness and help partly by false shame, and partly by the terrible adaptability of weak natures to the condition of the society in which they find themselves. I have said that there is not a trace of evidence or a whisper of scandal against her before her voluntary departure from Shelley, and I have indicated the most probable motives of that step; but subsequently she forfeited her claim to a return, even in the eye of the law. Shelley had information which made him believe that she fell even to the depth of actual prostitution. If she left him, it would appear that she herself was deserted in turn by a man in a very humble grade of life; and it was in consequence of this desertion that she killed herself.
The change in his personal aspect that showed itself at Marlow appeared also in his writings,—the most typical of his works for this period being naturally the most complete that issued from his pen, the "Revolt of Islam." We find there identically the same doctrine that there is in "Queen Mab,"—a systematic abhorrence of the servility which renders man captive to power, denunciation of the love of gain which blinds his insight and destroys his energy, of the prostitution of religious faith, and, above all, of the slavery of womanhood. But by this time the doctrine has more distinct in its expression, and far more powerful in its utterance.
"Man seeks for gold in mines, that he may weave A lasting chain for his own slavery; In fear and restless care that he may live, He toils for others, who must ever be The joyless thralls of like captivity; He murders, for his chiefs delight in ruin; He builds the altar, that its idol's fee May be his very blood; he is pursuing, O blind and willing wretch! his own obscure undoing.
"Woman!—she is his slave, she has become A thing I weep to speak,—the child of scorn, The outcast of a desolated home. Falsehood and fear and toil, like waves, have worn Channels upon her cheek, which smiles adorn, As calm decks the false ocean. Well ye know What woman is; for none of woman born Can choose but drain the bitter dregs of woe, Which ever from the oppressed to the oppressors flow."
The indignation against the revolting subjugation of womanhood comes out still more distinctly in the preceding canto, where Cythna relates the horrors to which she was subjected.
"One was she among the many there, the thralls Of the cold tyrant's cruel lust; and they Laughed mournfully in those polluted halls; But she was calm and sad, musing alway On loftiest enterprise, till on a day
* * * * *
She told me what a loathsome agony Is that when selfishness mocks love's delight, Foul as in dreams' most fearful imagery To dally with the mowing dead;—that night All torture, fear, or horror made seem light Which the soul dreams or knows."
The poet bears testimony to the spiritual power which rules throughout Nature; the monster recovering his dignity while he is under the higher influence.
"Even when he saw her wondrous loveliness, One moment to great Nature's sacred power He bent and was no longer passionless; But when he bade her to his secret bower Be borne a loveless victim, and she tore Her locks in agony, and her words of flame And mightier looks availed not, then he bore Again his load of slavery, and became A king, a heartless beast, a pageant and a name.
...."When the day Shone on her awful frenzy, from the sight, Where like a spirit in fleshly chains she lay Struggling, aghast and pale the tyrant fled away.
"Her madness was a beam of light, a power Which dawned through the rent soul; and words it gave, Gestures and looks, such as in whirlwinds bore Which might not be withstood."
The doctrine involved in this passage is very clear, and it marks a decided progress since the days of "Queen Mab." It will be observed that Shelley's mind had become familiarized with the idea of a spirit ruling throughout Nature, obedience to which constitutes human power. Most remarkable is the passage in which the tyrant recovers his faculties through his subjection to this spirit; because it indicates Shelley's faithful adhesion to the universal, though oft obscurely formed belief, that the ability to receive influence is the most exalted faculty to which human nature can attain, while the exercise of an arbitrary power centring in self is not only debasing, but is an actual destroyer of human faculty.
There can be no doubt that he had profited greatly in his moral condition, as well as in his bodily health, by the greater tranquillity which he enjoyed in the society of Mary, and also by the sympathy which gave full play to his ideas, instead of diverting and disappointing them. She was, indeed, herself a woman of extraordinary power, of heart as well as head. Many circumstances conspired to conceal some of her natural faculties. She lost her mother very young; her father—speaking with great diffidence, from a very slight and imperfect knowledge—appeared to me a harsh and ungenial man. She inherited from him her thin voice, but not the steel-edged sharpness of his own; and she inherited, not from him, but from her mother, a largeness of heart that entered proportionately into the working of her mind. She had a masculine capacity for study; for, though I suspect her early schooling was irregular, she remained a student all her life, and by painstaking industry made herself acquainted with any subject that she had to handle. Her command of history and her imaginative power are shown in such books as "Valperga" and "Castruccio"; but the daring originality of her mind comes out most distinctly in her earliest published work, "Frankenstein." Its leading idea has been ascribed to her husband, but, I am sure, unduly; and the vividness with which she has brought out the monstrous tale in all its horror, but without coarse or revolting incidents, is a proof of the genius which she inherited alike from both her parents. It is clear, also, that the society of Shelley was to her a great school, which she did not appreciate to the full until most calamitously it was taken away; and yet, of course, she could not fail to learn the greater part of what it had become to her. This again showed itself even in her appearance, after she had spent some years in Italy; for, while she had grown far more comely than she was in her mere youth, she had acquired a deeper insight into many subjects that interested Shelley, and some others; and she had learned to express the force of natural affection, which she was born to feel, but which had somehow been stunted and suppressed in her youth. In the preface to the collected edition of his works, she says: "I have the liveliest recollection of all that was done and said during the period of my knowing him. Every impression is as clear as if stamped yesterday, and I have no apprehension of any mistake in my statements, as far as they go. In other respects I am, indeed, incompetent; but I feel the importance of the task, and regard it as my most sacred duty. I endeavor to fulfil it in a manner he would himself approve; and hope in this publication to lay the first stone of a monument due to Shelley's genius, his sufferings, and his virtues." And in the postscript, written in November, 1839, she says: "At my request, the publisher has restored the omitted passages of 'Queen Mab.' I now present this edition as a complete collection of my husband's poetical works, and I do not foresee that I can hereafter add to or take away a word or line." So writes the wife-editor; and then "The Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley" begin with a dedication to Harriet, restored to its place by Mary. While the biographers of Shelley are chargeable with suppression, the most straightforward and frank of all of them is Mary, who, although not insensible to the passion of jealousy, and carrying with her the painful sense of a life-opportunity not fully used, thus writes the name of Harriet the first on her husband's monument, while she has nobly abstained from telling those things that other persons should have supplied to the narrative. I have heard her accused of an over-anxiety to be admired; and something of the sort was discernible in society: it was a weakness as venial as it was purely superficial. Away from society, she was as truthful and simple a woman as I have ever met,—was as faithful a friend as the world has produced,—using that unreserved directness towards those whom she regarded with affection which is the very crowning glory of friendly intercourse. I suspect that these qualities came out in their greatest force after her calamity; for many things which she said in her regret, and passages in Shelley's own poetry, make me doubt whether little habits of temper, and possibly of a refined and exacting coquettishness, had not prevented him from acquiring so full a knowledge of her as she had of him. This was natural for many reasons, and especially two. Shelley had not the opportunity of retrospectively studying her character, and his mind was by nature more constructed than hers was to be preoccupied. If the reader desires a portrait of Mary, he has one in the well-known antique bust sometimes called "Isis" and sometimes "Clytie": a woman's head and shoulders rising from a lotus-flower. It is most probably the portrait of a Roman lady, is in some degree more elongated and "classic" than Mary; but, on the other hand, it falls short of her, for it gives no idea of her tall and intellectual forehead, nor has it any trace of the bright, animated, and sweet expression that so often lighted up her face.
Attention has often been concentrated on the passage in "Epipsychidion" which appears to relate Shelley's experiences from earliest youth until he met with the noble and unfortunate "Lady Emilia V., now imprisoned in the convent of—," whose own words form the motto to the poem, and a key to the sympathy which the writer felt for her:—"The loving soul launches itself out of the created, and creates in the infinite a world all its own, far different from this dark and fearful abysm." The passage begins,—
"There was a being whom my spirit oft Met on its visioned wanderings, far aloft, In the clear golden prime of my youth's dawn."
And this being was the worshipped object of Shelley's adoring aspirations in extreme youth; but it passed by him as a vision, though—
"And as a man with mighty loss dismayed, I would have followed, though the grave between Yawned like a gulf whose spectres are unseen: When a voice said,—'O thou of hearts the weakest, The phantom is beside thee whom thou seekest.' Then I,—'Where?' The world's echo answered, 'Where'!"
She ever remained the veiled divinity of thoughts that worshipped her, while he went forth into the world with hope and fear,—
"Into the wintry forest of our life; And struggling through its error with vain strife, And stumbling in my weakness and my haste, And half bewildered by new forms, I passed Seeking among those untaught foresters If I could find one form resembling hers In which she might have masked herself from me."
The passage grows more and more intelligible. Hitherto he has been simply a dreamy seeker; but now, at last, he thinks that Fate has answered his questioning exclamation, "Where?"
"There, one whose voice was venomed melody Sat by a well, under the nightshade bowers; The breath of her false mouth was like faint flowers; Her touch was as electric poison; flame Out of her looks into my vitals came; And from her living cheeks and bosom flew A killing air which pierced like honey-dew Into the core of my green heart, and lay Upon its leaves,—until, as hair grown gray O'er a young brow, they hid its unblown prime With ruins of unseasonable time."
This is a plain and only too intelligible reference to the college experiences to which I have alluded. The youth for the moment thought that he had encountered her whom he was seeking, but, instead of the Florimel, he found her venal, hideous, and fatal simulacrum; and he indicates even the material consequences to himself in his injured aspect and hair touched with gray. He continues his search.
"In many mortal forms I rashly sought The shadow of that idol of my thought: And some were fair,—but beauty dies away; Others were wise,—but honeyed words betray; And one was true,—oh! why not true to me? Then, as a hunted deer that could not flee, I turned upon my thoughts and stood at bay."
"Oh! why not true to me?" has been taken by some very few who were cognizant of the facts as constituting an imputation on the one whom he first married; but I am convinced that the interpretation is wrong, although the surmise on which that interpretation is based was partly correct. Nothing is more evident than the fact that Harriet possessed rather an unusual degree of ability, but enormously less than Shelley desired in the being whom he sought, and equally less than his idealizing estimate originally ascribed to her. It is also plain, from her own letters, that she courted his approval in a way far too common with the wives of the artist-tribe, and perhaps with most wives: not being exactly what he wished her to be, and lacking the faculties to become so, she tried to seem it. The desire was partly sincere, partly an affectation, as we discern in such little trifles as her suddenly using the word "thou" in a letter to Hookham where she had previously been using the ordinary colloquial "you." That she was not quite ingenuous we also detect in the fast-and-loose conduct which enabled her, while affecting to become what Shelley deemed her to be, also to play into the hands of very inferior people, who must sometimes have counselled her against him behind his back; and this, I am sure, is what he means by "Oh! why not true to me?" though he may include in the question a fervent regret for the fate which attended her wandering from him. "Then like a hunted deer he turned upon his thoughts and stood at bay," until
"The cold day Trembled, for pity of my strife and pain, When, like a noonday dawn, there shone again Deliverance. One stood on my path who seemed As like the glorious shape that I had dreamed As is the Moon, whose changes ever run Into themselves, to the eternal Sun."
"The cold chaste moon" fails to satisfy the longing of his soul. "At her silver voice came death and life"; hope and despondency, expectation from her noble qualities, disappointment at the failure of response, were feelings that sprang from the exaggerations of his ideal longings.
"What storms then shook the ocean of my sleep, Blotting that Moon whose pale and waning lips Then shrank as in the sickness of eclipse!"
The whole passage is worth perusing; and again wrong interpretation has been given to this portion of his writing. I am still more firmly convinced that in the other case, when he says, "The planet of that hour was quenched," he alludes to nothing more than the partial failure of his own ideal requirements. At length into the obscure forest came
"The vision I had sought through grief and shame.
* * * * *
I stood and felt the dawn of my long night Was penetrating me with living light: I knew it was the vision veiled from me So many years,—that it was Emily."
To grasp the entire meaning of this autobiographical episode, we must remember the extent to which Shelley idealizes. "More popular poets clothe the ideal with familiar and sensible imagery; Shelley loved to idealize the real,—to gift the mechanism of the material universe with a soul and a voice, and to bestow such also on the most delicate and abstract emotions and thoughts of the mind. Sophocles was his great master in this species of imagery." The heroine of the "Epipsychidion" is an imagination; a creature, like Raphael's Galatea, copied from no living model, but from "una certa idea"; a thing originally created by himself, and suggested only by the living portrait, as each one of the admired had previously suggested its ideal counterpart. Emilia, then, was the bride of a dream, and, in the indulgence of disappointed longing for a fuller satisfaction of his soul, Shelley mournfully contrasts this vision, who had so eloquently responded to his idealizing through her convent-bars, with Mary, whose stubborn, independent realism had checked and daunted him.
But the last year of Shelley's life had involved a very considerable progress in the formation of his intellectual character. The "Prometheus Unbound," perhaps at once the most characteristic and the most perfect of all his works, is identical in spirit and tendency even with the earliest, "Queen Mab"; but a re-perusal of it in comparison with the other writings, even the "Revolt of Islam," will show a more distinct presentment of the original ideas, coupled with a much more measured suggestion for acting on them, and a far less bitter allusion to the obstacles; while the charity and love are more all-embracing and apparent than ever. Imperfect as it is for dramatic representation, shortcoming even in the power to trace the working of emotions and ideas in utterly diverse characters, the "Cenci" does indicate a stronger aptitude for sympathy with other creatures on their own terms than any other of the poet's writings. He had, therefore, sobered in judgment, without declining in his inborn genius; but, on the contrary, with a clearer sense of the limits placed upon individual action, he had gained strength; and I feel certain that a corresponding change had taken place in his perception of the true import and value of characters unlike his own. The last few months of his life at Lerici had very materially contributed to this change. Although I cannot recall any distinct statement to that effect by Mary Shelley, her conversation had left that impression on me; it is also suggested by the way in which he himself spoke of it, and is fully confirmed by the tone of the letters addressed to her from Pisa.
All who have attempted to portray Shelley, either intellectually or physically, have done so from some appreciable, almost personal point of view. When many eyes see one object, it presents itself in as many different aspects, and the description given by each bears often a slight resemblance to that of others. So it has been with Shelley. The artistic portraits of him have happened to be particularly imperfect. I remember seeing a miniature by an amateur friend which actually suggested a form broad and square. The ordinarily received miniature is like almost all of its tribe, and resembles Shelley about as much as a lady in a book of fashions resembles real women; and it constitutes evidence all the more detrimental and misleading, since it appears to give as well as to receive a color of verisimilitude from the usual written description, which represents Shelley as "feminine," "almost girlish," "ideal," "angelic," and so forth. The accounts of him by firmer hands are still cramped by the individuality of the authorship.
His school-friend, Hogg, is a gentleman of independent property; Shelley detected the sensitiveness of his nature; and I know that the man has been capable of truly generous conduct. How is it, then, that he has written such utterly unintelligible stuff, and has descended to such evasions as to insert initials, lest people should detect amongst Shelley's correspondents a most admirable friend, who happened, it is supposed, to be of plebeian origin? Mr. Thomas Jefferson Hogg, I surmise, was conscious, somewhat early in life, that his better qualities were not fully appreciated; and his love of ease, his wit, his perception of the ludicrous, made him take refuge in cynicism until he learned almost to forget the origin of the real meaning of the things he talked about. His account of Shelley is like a figure seen through fantastically distorting panes of glass.
Thomas Love Peacock, again, is a man to whose extraordinary powers Shelley did full justice. He has worked through a long official career without losing his very peculiar dry wit; but a dry wit was not the man exactly to discern the form of Shelley's mind, or to portray it with accuracy and distinctness.
Few men knew the poet better than my father; but a mind checked by "over-refinement," excessive conscientiousness, and an irresistible tendency to find out niceties of difference,—a mind, in short, like that of Hamlet, cultivated rather than corrected by the trials of life, was scarcely suited to comprehend the strong instincts, indomitable will, and complete unity of idea which distinguished Shelley. Accordingly we have from my father a very doubtful portrait, seldom advancing beyond details, which are at once exaggerated and explained away by qualifications.
Byron, I suspect, through the natural strength of his perceptive power, was likely to have formed a better design; but the two were separated soon after he had begun to learn that such a man as Shelley might be found on the same earth with himself.
One or two others that have written have been mere tourists or acquaintances. Unquestionably the companion who knew him best of all was Mary; and although she lacked the power of distinct, positive, and absolute portraiture, her writings will be found to contain, together with his own, the best materials for forming an estimate of his natural character.
The real man was reconcilable with all these descriptions. His traits suggested everything that has been said of him; but his aspect, conformation, and personal qualities contained more than any one has ascribed to him, and more indeed than all put together. A few plain matters-of-fact will make this intelligible. Shelley was a tall man,—nearly, if not quite, five feet ten in height. He was peculiarly slender, and, as I have said already, his chest had palpably enlarged after the usual growing period. He retained the same kind of straitness in the perpendicular outline on each side of him; his shoulders were the reverse of broad, but yet they were not sloping, and a certain squareness in them was naturally incompatible with anything feminine in his appearance. To his last days he still suffered his chest to collapse; but it was less a stoop than a peculiar mode of holding the head and shoulders,—the face thrown a little forward, and the shoulders slightly elevated; though the whole attitude below the shoulders, when standing, was unusually upright, and had the appearance of litheness and activity. I have mentioned that bodily vigor which he could display; and from his action when I last saw him, as well as from Mary's account, it is evident that he had not abandoned his exercises, but the reverse. He had an oval face and delicate features, not unlike those given to him in the well-known miniature. His forehead was high. His fine, dark brown hair, when not cut close, disposed itself in playful and very beautiful curls over his brows and round the back of his neck. He had brown eyes, with a color in his cheek "like a girl's"; but as he grew older, his complexion bronzed. So far the reality agrees with the current descriptions; nevertheless they omit material facts. The outline of the features and face possessed a firmness and hardness entirely inconsistent with a feminine character. The outline was sharp and firm; the markings distinct, and indicating an energetic physique. The outline of the bone was distinctly perceptible at the temples, on the bridge of the nose, at the back portion of the cheeks, and in the jaw, and the artist could trace the principal muscles of the face. The beard also, although the reverse of strong, was clearly marked, especially about the chin. Thus, although the general aspect was peculiarly slight, youthful, and delicate, yet, when you looked to "the points" of the animal, you saw well enough the indications of a masculine vigor, in many respects far above the average. And what I say of the physical aspect of course bears upon the countenance. That changed with every feeling. It usually looked earnest,—when joyful, was singularly bright and animated, like that of a gay young girl,—when saddened, had an aspect of sorrow peculiarly touching, and sometimes it fell into a listless weariness still more mournful; but for the most part there was a look of active movement, promptitude, vigor, and decision, which bespoke a manly, and even a commanding character.
The general tendency that all who approached Shelley displayed to yield to his dictate is a practical testimony to these qualities; for his earnestness was apt to take a tone of command so generous, so free, so simple, as to be utterly devoid of offence, and yet to constitute him a sort of tyrant over all who came within his reach.
The weakness ascribed to Shelley's voice was equally taken from exceptional instances, and the account of it usually suggests the idea that he spoke in a falsetto which might almost be mistaken for the "shriek" of a harsh-toned woman. Nothing could be more unlike the reality. The voice was indeed quite peculiar, and I do not know where any parallel to it is likely to be found unless in Lancashire. Shelley had no ear for music,—the words that he wrote for existing airs being, strangely enough, inappropriate in rhythm and even in cadence; and though he had a manifest relish for music and often talked of it, I do not remember that I ever heard him sing even the briefest snatch. I cannot tell, therefore, what was the "register" of his singing voice; but his speaking voice unquestionably was then of a high natural counter-tenor. I should say that he usually spoke at a pitch somewhere about the D natural above the base line; but it was in no respect a falsetto. It was a natural chest-voice, not powerful, but telling, musical, and expressive. In reading aloud, the strain was peculiarly clear, and had a sustained, song-like quality, which came out more strongly when, as he often did, he recited verse. When he called out in pain,—a very rare occurrence,—or sometimes in comic playfulness, you might hear the "shrillness" of which people talk; but it was only because the organ was forced beyond the ordinary effort. His usual speech was clear, and yet with a breath in it, with an especially distinct articulation, a soft, vibrating tone, emphatic, pleasant, and persuasive.
It seems to me that these physical characteristics forcibly illustrate the moral and intellectual genius of the man. The impulsiveness which has been ascribed to him is a wrong expression, for it is usually interpreted to mean the action of sudden motives waywardly, capriciously, or at least intermittingly working; whereas the character which Shelley so constantly displayed was an overbearing strength of conviction and feeling, a species of audacious, but chivalrous readiness to act upon conviction as promptly as possible, and, above all, a zealous disposition to say out all that was in his mind. It is better expressed by the word which some satirist put into the mouth of Coleridge, speaking of himself, and, instead of impulsiveness, it should have been called an "utterancy," coupled with decision and promptitude of action. The physical development of the man with the progress of time may be traced in the advancement of his writings. The physical qualities which are equally to be found in his poetry and prose were quite as manifest in his aspect, and not less so in his conduct of affairs. It must be remembered that his life terminated long before he had arrived half-way, "nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita," when more than one other great intellect has been but commencing its true work. I believe, that, if Shelley had lived, he would himself have been the most potent and useful commentator on his own writings, in the production of other and more complete works. But meanwhile the true measure of his genius is to be found in the influence which he has had, not only over those who have proclaimed their debt to him, but over numbers who have mistrusted and even denounced him.
"Farewell awhile, my bonnie darling! One long, close kiss, and I depart: I hear the angry trumpet snarling, The drum-beat tingles at my heart."
Behind him, softest flutes were breathing Across the vale their sweet recall; Before him burst the battle, seething In flame beneath its thunder-pall.
All sights and sounds to stay invited; The meadows tossed their foam of flowers; The lingering Day beheld, delighted, The dances of his amorous Hours.
He paused: again the fond temptation Assailed his heart, so firm before, And tender dreams, of Love's creation, Persuaded from the peaceful shore.
"But no!" he sternly cried; "I follow The trumpet, not the shepherd's reed: Let idlers pipe in pastoral hollow,— Be mine the sword, and mine the deed!
"Farewell to Love!" he murmured, sighing: "Perchance I lose what most is dear; But better there, struck down and dying, Than be a man and wanton here!"
He went where battle's voice was loudest; He pressed where danger nearest came; His hand advanced, among the proudest, Their banner through the lines of flame.
And there, when wearied Carnage faltered, He, foremost of the fallen, lay, While Night looked down with brow unaltered, And breathed the battle's dust away.
There lying, sore from wounds untended, A vision crossed the starry gleam: The girl he loved beside him bended, And kissed him in his fever-dream.
"Oh, love!" she cried, "you fled, to find me; I left with you the daisied vale; I turned from flutes that wailed behind me, To hear your trumpet's distant hail.
"Your tender vows, your peaceful kisses, They scarce outlived the moment's breath; But now we clasp immortal blisses Of passion proved on brinks of Death!
"No fate henceforward shall estrange her Who finds a heart more brave than fond; For Love, forsook this side of danger, Waits for the man who goes beyond!"
THE PREACHER'S TRIAL.
Sitting in my New-England study, as do so many of my tribe, to peruse the "Atlantic," I wonder whether, like its namesake, hospitable to many persons and things, it will for once let me write as well as read, and launch from my own calling a theme on its bosom. Our cloth has been worn so long in the world, I doubt how far it may suit with new fashions in fine company-parlors; but, seeing room is so cordially made for some of my brethren, as the Reverend Mr. Wilbur and "The Country Parson," to keep up the dignity of the profession, I am emboldened to come for a day with what the editorial piety may accept, "rejected article" as it might be elsewhere.
The pulpit has lost something of its old sacredness in the general mind. There is little popular superstition to endure its former dictation. No exclusive incarnate theocracy in any particular persons is left, Leviticus and the Hebrew priesthood are gone. Church, ministry, and Sabbath are the regular targets taken out by our moral riflemen and archers, though so seldom to hit fair in the centre, that we may find ourselves, like spectators at the match, respecting the old targets more than we do the shots. Yet homilies and exporters are thought fair game. I have even heard splendid lecturers whose wit ran so low or who were so pushed for matter as to talk of what divinity-students wear round their necks, which seems a superficial consideration. The anciently venerated desk has two sharp enemies, the radical and the conservative, aiming their artillery from opposite sides, putting it somewhat in the position of the poor fish who is in danger from diverse classes of its fellow-creatures, one in the air and one in the water, and knows not whether to dive or rise to the surface, till it can conclude which is the more pleasant exit from life, to be hawked at or swallowed outright.
While, however, critics and reformers fail to furnish a fit substitute for the sermon, and the finest essays show not only Bacon's "dry light," but a very cold one too, and the wit and humor of the lyceum fall short of any mark in the conscience of mankind, and philanthropy uses stabbing often instead of surgery, a clerical institution, on whose basis direct admonition can be administered by individuals without egotism or impertinence, maintains an indefeasible claim. Indeed, as was fancied of the innocent in the ordeal by fire, or like the children from the furnace, it comes out the other side of all censure, with some odor of sanctity yet on its unsinged robes and new power in higher quarters in its hands. Defective, indeed, it is. If some of its organs could speak a little more in their natural voice, and could, moreover, wash off the deformity of this Indian war-paint of high-wrought rhetoric,—if they could use a little more of the colloquial earnestness of the street and table in their style, instead of those freaks of eloquence which, among all our associations, there ought to be a society to put down,—they would more honor their vocation, and effect its purpose of saving human souls. Let us not be so loudmouthed, or bluster as we do. Our declamation will have to hush its barbarian noise some time. Nothing but conversation will be left in heaven; and it were well, could we have on earth sober and thoughtful assemblies, at blood-warmth instead of fever-heat, rather than those over-crowded halls from which hundreds go away unable to obtain admission.
But the present design is a plea for justice, not a fresh charge. The pulpit is to teach religion in application to life. But when we reflect what life is, how deep in the soul, how wide in the world, how complicated and delicate in its affairs and ties,—and when, we consider what religion is, the whole truth of heaven respecting all the operations of earth,—a kindly judgment is required for unavoidable short-comings and ministerial mistakes. With different ages, sexes, experiences, states of mind, degrees of intelligence and impressibleness in a congregation, it is a rare felicity for a sermon to reach all its members with equal impressiveness or acceptance. Who ever heard a uniform estimate of any discourse? There seems almost a curse upon the preacher's office from its very greatness, so that it is never finished, and no portion of it can be done perfectly well and secure against all objection. If he try to unfold the deep things of the Spirit, and bring his best thoughts, which he would not throw away, before his audience, though in language clearer than many a chapter of Paul's Epistles, some will call the topic obscure, and complain that their children cannot understand it, quoting, perhaps, the old sentence, that all truth necessary to salvation is so plain that he who runs may read, and the wayfaring man, though a fool, cannot err therein, and commending superficial homilies on other tongues to censure whatever is profound from his. But should the poor occupant of the desk venture to emulate this eulogized sonorous exhortation, exerting himself to come down to the ignorant and the young, there will be some to stigmatize that, too, as a sort of trifling and disrespect to mature minds. He has by a senior now and then been blamed for excessive attention to the lambs of his flock, and annoyed with the menace to stay away, if they were especially to be noticed. If a visitation of special grace or an exaltation of physical strength make the mortal incumbent happy in his exposition, so that he is listened to with edification and delight, it is, by some, not passed over to his credit at the ebb-tide of his power. Half the time the house is not half full, as though the institution which all order to be conducted nobody but he is bound to shoulder. If the preacher labor to express the mysterious relationship between God and Christ, the divine and human nature, he will be considered by some a sectarian, controversialist, or heretic. If he unfold what is above all denominational disputes, he will be fortunate to escape accusations of transcendentalism, pantheism, spiritualism. If, lucky man, he go scot-free of such indictment, a last stunning stroke, in the gantlet he runs, will be sure to fetch him up, in the vague and unanswerable imputation of being very peculiar in his views. If he insist on the miracles as literal facts, he will be laughed at as old-fashioned in one pew; if he slight them, he will be mourned over as unsound in the next. Men grumble at taxes and tolls; alas! nobody is stopped at so many gates and questioned in so many ways as he. If he take in hand the tender matter of consoling stricken hearts, the ecstasy of his visions will not save his topic from being regarded by some as painful, and by others as a mere shining of the moon. He will receive special requests not to harrow up the feelings he only meant to bind up in balm. He may be informed of an aversion, more or less extensive, to naming the grave or coffin and what it contains, though he only puts one foot by pall or bier to plant the other in paradise. If he turn the everlasting verities he is intrusted with to events transpiring on the public stage, though he never sided with any party in his life, and has no more committed himself to men than did his Master, some will be grieved at his preaching politics. His head has throbbed, his heart ached, his eyes were hot and wet once before he uttered himself; but he must suffer and weep worse afterwards, because he went too far for one man and not far enough for another. He is told, one day, that he is too severe on seceders, and the next, ironically, that, with such merciful sentiments towards them, he ought always to wear a cravat completely white. One man is amused at his sermon, and another thinks the same is sad. He will be asked if he cannot give a little less of one thing or more of another, as though he were a dealer in wares or an exhibiter of curious documents for a price, and could take an article from this or that shelf, or a paper from any one of a hundred pigeon-holes, when, if he be a servant of the Lord and organ of the Holy Ghost, he has no choice and is shut up to his errand,—necessity is laid upon him, woe is unto him if he deliver it not, but, like another Jonah, flee to Tarshish when the Lord tells him to go to Nineveh and cry against its wickedness; and he feels through every nerve that truth is not a thing to be carried round as merchandise or peddled out at all to suit particular tastes, to retain old friends or win new ones, hard as it may go, to the anguish of his soul, to lose the good-will of those he loves, and whose distrust is a chronic pang, though they come to love him again all the more for what he has suffered and said. But if, passing by discussions of general interest, and exposing himself to the hint of being behind the times, he grapple with the sins immediately about him, board the false customs of society and trade, and strike with the sword of the Lord at private vices and family faults, he will be blamed as very personal, and be apprised of his insults to those of whom in his delivery he never thought, as he may never preach at anybody, or even to anybody, in his most direct thrusting, more than to himself, reaching others only through his own wounded heart. Meantime, some of his ecclesiastical constituents will suspect him, in his local ethics, of leniency to wide-spread corruption; and professed philanthropists will brand him as a trimmer and coward, recreant, fawning, and dumb,—the term spaniel having been flung at one of the best men and most conscientious ministers that ever lived, simply because he could not vituperate as harshly as some of his neighbors. Some would have him remember only those in bonds; others say they cannot endure from him even the word slavery. Blessed, if, from all these troubles, he can, for solace, and with a sense of its significance, bethink himself of Christ's saying to his disciples, "Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!" Thrice blessed, if he have an assurance and in that inward certificate possess the peace which passeth understanding!
I intend not, by my simple story, which has in it no fiction, to add to the lamentations of the old prophet, nor will allow Jeremiah to represent all my mood. It is perfectly fit the laity should criticize the clergy. The minister,—who is he but one of the people, set apart to particular functions, open to a judgment on the manner of their discharge, from which no sacred mission or supposed apostolic succession can exempt, the Apostles having been subject to it themselves? Under their robes and ordinances, in high-raised desks, priest and bishop are but men, after all. Ministers should be grateful for all the folk's frankness. Only let the criticism be considerate and fair; and in order to its becoming so, let us ascertain the perfect model of their calling. Did not their Master give it, when he said, "The field is the world"? If so, then to everything in the world must the pulpit apply the moral law. What department of it shall be excused? Politics,—because it embraces rival schools in the same worshipping body, and no disinterested justice in alluding to its principles can be expected from a preacher, or because whoever disagrees with his opinions must be silent, there being on Sunday and in the sanctuary no decency allowed of debate or reply, and therefore whatever concerns the civil welfare and salvation of the community is out of the watchman's beat now, though God so expressly bade him warn the city of old? Commerce,—because a minister understands nothing of the elements and necessities of business, and must blunder in pointing to banks and shops or any transactions of the street, though an old preacher, called Solomon, in his Proverbs refers so sharply to the buyer and the seller? Pleasure,—because the servant of the Lord cannot be supposed to sympathize with, but only to denounce, amusement which poor tired humanity employs for its recreation, though Miriam's smiting of her timbrel, which still rings from the borders of the raging Red Sea, and David's dancing in a linen ephod with all his might before the Lord, when the ark on a new cart came into the city, were a sort of refreshment of triumphant sport? The social circle,—because of course he cannot go to parties or comprehend the play of feeling in which the natural affections run to and fro, and should rather be at home reading his Bible, turning over his Concordance, and writing his sermon, letting senate and dance, market and exchange, opera and theatre, fights and negotiations go to the winds, so he only comes duly with his exegesis Sunday morning to his place? In short, is the minister's concern and call of God only, with certain imposing formalities and prearranged dogmas, to greet in their Sunday-clothes his friends who have laid aside their pursuits and delights with the gay garments or working-dress of the week, never reminding them of what, during the six days, they have heard or where they have been? "No!" let him say; "if this is to be a minister, no minister can I be!" For what is left of the field the Lord sends the minister into? It is cut up and fenced off into countless divisions, to every one of which some earthly-agent or interest brings a title-deed. The minister finds the land of the world, like some vast tract of uncivilized territory, seized by wild squatters, owned and settled by other parties, and, as a famous political-economist said in another connection, there is no cover at Nature's table for him. As with the soldier in the play, whose wars were over, his "occupation's gone."
What is the minister, then? A ghost, or a figure like some in the shop-window, all made up of dead cloth and color into an appearance of life? Verily, he comes almost to that. But no such shape, no spectre from extinct animation of thousands of years ago, like the geologist's skeletons reconstructed from lifeless strata of the earth, can answer the vital purposes of the revelation from God. Of no pompous or abstract ritual administration did the Son of God set an example. He had a parable for the steward living when He did; He called King Herod, then reigning, a fox, and the Scribes and Pharisees hypocrites; He declared the prerogatives of His Father beyond Caesar's; He maintained a responsibility of human beings coextensive with the stage and inseparable from the smallest trifle of their existence. He did not limit His marvellous tongue to antiquities and traditions. He used the mustard-seed in the field and the leaven in the lump for His everlasting designs. His finger was stretched out to the cruel stones of self-righteousness flying through the air, and phylacteries of dissimulation worn on the walk. He was so political, He would have saved Jerusalem and Judea from Roman ruin, and wept because He could not, with almost the only tears mentioned of His. Those who teach in His name should copy after His pattern.
"Confine yourselves to the old first Gospel, preach Christianity, early Christianity," we ministers are often told. But what is Christianity, early or late, and what does the Gospel mean, but a rule of holy living in every circumstance now? Grief and offence may come, as Jesus says they must; misapplications and complaints, which are almost always misapprehensions, may be made; but are not these better than indifference and death? No doubt there is a prudence, and still more an impartial candor and equity, in treating every matter, but no beauty in timid flight from any matter there is to treat. The clergyman, like every man, speaks at his peril, and is as accountable as any one for what he says. He ought justly and tenderly to remember the diverse tenets represented among his auditors, to side with no sect as such, to give no individual by his indorsement a mean advantage over any other, nor any one a handle of private persecution by his open anathema. Moreover, he should abstain from that particularity in secular themes which so easily wanders from all sight of spiritual law amid regions of uncertainty and speculative conjecture. He should shun explorations less fit for prophets than for experts. He should lay his finger on no details in which questions of right and wrong are not plainly involved. He must be public-spirited; he cannot be more concerned for his country and his race, that righteousness and liberty and love may prevail, than divine seers have ever been, as their books of record show; but, if he becomes a mere diplomatist, financier, secretary-of-state, or military general, in his counsels or his tone, he evacuates his own position, flees as a craven from his post, and assumes that of other men. Yet it is an extreme still worse for him to resort to lifeless generalities of doctrine and duty, producing as little effect as comes from electric batteries or telegraphic wires when no magnetic current is established and no object reached. What section, of the world should evade or defy the law of God?
O preachers, beware of your sentimental descant on the worth of goodness, the goodness of being good, and the sinfulness of sin, without specifying either! It is a blank cartridge, or one of treacherous sand instead of powder, or a spiked gun, only whose priming explodes without noise or execution. Let nobody dodge the sure direction of that better than lead or iron shot with which from you the conscience is pierced and iniquity slain. Suffer not the statesman to withdraw his policy, nor the broker his funds, nor the captain the cause he fights for, from the sentence of divine truth on the good or evil in all the acts of men.
The preacher, however, as he pronounces or reports that sentence, must never forget the bond he is under in his own temper to the spirit of impartial love. Whatever is vindictive vitiates his announcement all the more that he cannot be rebuked for it, as he ought to be, on the spot. Only let not the hearers mistake earnestness for vindictiveness. If kindly and with intense serenity he communicates what he has struggled long and hard to attain, then for their own sake, if not for his, they should beware of visiting him either with silent distrust or open reproach. He, just like them, must stand or fall according to his fidelity to the oracles of God. Only, once more, let him and let the Church comprehend that those oracles are not summed up in any laborious expounding of verbal texts. "The letter killeth," unless itself enlivened through the immediate Providence.
To be true to God, the preacher must be true to his time, as the Prophets, Jesus, and the Apostles were to theirs. The pulpit dies of its dignity, when it creeps into the exhausted receiver of foregone conclusions, and has nothing to say but of Adam and Pharaoh, Jew and Gentile, Palestine and Tyre so far away. Its decorum of being inoffensive to others is suicidal for itself. It is the sleep of death for all. As the inductive philosopher took all knowledge for his province, it must take all life. We have, indeed, a glorious and venerable charter of inestimable worth in our map of the religious history of mankind through centuries that are gone. We must study the true meaning of the Bible, the book and chief collection of the records of faith, precious above all for the immortal image and photograph, in so many a shifting light and various expression, of the transcendent form of divinity through manhood in Him to be ever reverently and lovingly named, Jesus Christ. But there is a spirit in man. "The word of God," says an Apostle, "is not bound"; nor can it be wholly bound up. The Holy Spirit of God that first descended never died, and never ceased to act on the human soul. The day of miracles is not past,—or, if none precisely like those of Jesus are still wrought, miracles of grace, the principal workings of the supernatural, of which external prodigies are the lowest species, are performed abundantly in the living breast. Jesus Himself, after all the sufficient and summary grandeur of His instructions, assures His followers of the Spirit that would come to lead them, beyond whatsoever He had said, into all truth. In that dispensation of the Spirit we live. Its sphere endures through all change, impregnable. It is "builded far from accident." No progress of earthly science can threat or hurt its eternal proportions. It is the supreme knowledge, and to whoever enters it a whisper comes whose only response is the confession of our noble hymn,—
"True science is to read Thy name."
Much is said of a contradictory relation of science to faith. But the statement is a misnomer. True faith is the lushest science, even the knowledge of God. Putting fishes or birds, shells or flowers, stones or stars, in a circle or a row is a lower science than the sublime intercommunication of the soul by prayer and love with its Father. Mere physical, without spiritual science, has no bottom to hold anything, and no foundation of peace. The king of science is not the naturalist as such, but the saint conversing with Divinity,—not so much Humboldt or La Place as Fenelon or Luther. So far as the progress of outward science saps accredited writings, they must give way, or rather any false conceptions of Nature they imply must yield, leaving whatever spirituality there is in them untouched. But this is from no essential contradiction between science and religious faith. What faith or religion is there in believing the world was made in six days? Less than in calculating, with Agassiz, by the coral reefs of Florida, that to make one bit of it took more than sixty thousand years. Religious faith, what is it? It is the trembling transport with which the soul hearkens and gives itself up to God, in sympathy with all likewise entranced souls. But from such consecrated listening to the voice of Deity, fresh in our bosom or echoed from without by those He has inspired, we verify the rule already affirmed, and fetch advice and command for all the affairs of life. It is emphatically the minister's duty thus to join the vision to the fact, that they may strike through and through one another. Certainly, so the true minister's speech should run. Let him stand up and boldly say, or always imply, "I so construe it; and if the Church interpret it otherwise, the Church is no place for me. If the world will accept no such method, the world is no place for me. I see not why I was born, or what with Church or world I have to do. From Church and world I should beg leave to retire, trusting that God's Universe, somewhere beyond this dingy spot, is true to the persuasion of His mind. I must apply religion universally to life, or not at all. If, when my country is in peril, I cannot bring her to the altar and ask that she may be lifted up in the arms of a common supplication,—if, in the terrible game of honesty with political corruption, when 'Check' is said to the adverse power, I cannot wish and pray that 'Checkmate' may follow,—when some huge evil, sorely wounded, in its fierce throes spreads destruction about, as the dying monster in Northern seas casts up boat-loads of dying men who fall bruised and bleeding among the fragments into the waves with the threshing of its angry tail, if then I cannot hope that the struggle may be short, and the ship of the Republic gather back her crew from prevailing in the conflict to sail prosperous with all her rich cargo of truth and freedom on the voyage over the sea of Time,—if no sound of the news-boy's cry must mix with the echoes of solemn courts, and no reflection of wasting fires in which life and treasure melt can flash through their windows, and no deeds of manly heroism or womanly patriotism are to have applause before God and Christ in the temple,—if nothing but some preexisting scheme of salvation, distinct from all living activity, must absorb the mind,—then I totally misunderstand and am quite out of my place. Then let me go. It is high time I were away. I have stayed too long already." Such should be the speech of the minister, knowing he is not tempted to be a partisan, and is possessed with but an over-kind sensibility to dread any ruffling of others' feelings or discord with those that are dear.
In the first year of a young minister's service, Dr. Channing besought him to let no possible independence of parochial support relax his industry: a needless caution to one not constituted to feel seductions of sloth, in whom active energy is no merit, and who can have no motive but the people's good. What else is there for him to seek? There is no by-end open, and no virtue in a devotedness there is no lure to forego. There is no position he can covet, as politicians are said to bid for the Presidency. But one thing is indispensable: he must tell what he thinks; he is strong only in his convictions; the sacrifice of them he cannot make; it were but his debility, if he did; and the treasury of all the fortunes of the richest parish were no more than a cipher to purchase it from any one who, quick as he may be to human kindness, may have a more tremulous rapture for the approbation of God.
After all, to his profession and parish the preacher is in debt. Exquisite rewards his work yields. If controversy arise on some point with his friends, there may, after a while, be no remnant of hard feeling,—as there are heavy cannonades, and no bit of wadding picked up. Those who have striven with or defamed may come to cherish him all the more for their alienation. Those who could not hear him, or, when they heard, thought him too long, or what they heard did not like, may own with him, out of their discontent, closer and sweeter bonds. His business is expansive in its nature. The seasons of human life in broad representation are always before him. How many moral springs and summers, autumns and winters he sees, till he can hardly tell whether his musing on this curious existence be memory or hope, retrospect of earth or prospect of heaven! and he begins to think the spiritual world abolishes distinctions of spheres and times, as parents, that were his lambs, bring their babes to his arms, and, even in the flesh, his mortal passing into eternal vision, he beholds, as in vivid dreaming, other parents leading their children on other shores, unseen, though hard by. Where, after a score or two of years, is his church? He has several congregations,—one within the dedicated walls, one of emigrants whom his fancy instead of the bell assembles, and a third of elders and little ones gone back through the shadow of mystery whence they came. In what abides of the flock nothing remains as it was. Wondrous transformations snow maturity or decline in the very forms that, to his also changing eye and hand, once wore soft cheeks and silken locks. In his experience, miracle is less than creation and lower than truth. He cannot credit Memory's ever losing her seat, he has such things to remember. The best thereof can never be written down, published, uttered by orators, or blown from the trumpet of Fame, whose "brave instrument" must put up with a meaner message and inferior breath. Out of his affections are born his beliefs; earth is the cradle of his expectancy and persuasion of heaven; and not otherwise than through the glass of his experience could he have sight of a sphere of ineffable glory for better growth than Nature here affords in all her gardens and fields.
So let the preacher stand by his order. But let him be just, also, to the constituency from which it springs. Hearty and cheerful, though obscure worker, let him be. Let him fling his weaver's shuttle still, daily while he lives, through the crossing party-colored threads of human life, till, in his factory too, beauty flows from confusion, contradiction ends in harmony, and the blows with which each one has been stricken form the perfect pattern from all. There is a unity which all faithful labor, through whatever jars, consults and creates. Of all criticisms the resultant is truth; be the conflicts what they may, the issue shall be peace; and one music of affection is yet angelically to flow from the many divided notes of human life. Who is the minister, then? No ordained functionary alone, but every man or woman that has lived and served, loved and lamented, and now, for such ends, suffers and hopes.
THE GHOST OF LITTLE JACQUES.
How quiet the saloon was, that morning, as I groped my way through the little white tables, the light chairs, and the dimness of early dawn to the windows. It was my business to open the windows every morning, finding my way down as best I could; for it was not permitted to light the gas at that hour, and no candles were allowed, lest they should soil the furniture. This morning the glass dome which brightened the ceiling, and helped to lighten the saloon, was of very little effect, so cloudy and dusk was the sky. The high houses which shut in the strip of garden on all sides reflected not a ray of light. A chill struck through me, as I passed along the marble pavement; a saloon-dampness, empty, vault-like, hung about the fireless, sunless place; and the plashing of the fountain which dripped into the marble basin beyond—dropping, dropping, incessantly—struck upon my ear like water trickling down the side of a cave.
It had never occurred to me to think the place lonely or dreary before, or to demur at this morning operation of opening it for the day; a tawdry, gilded, showy hall, it had seemed to me quite a grand affair, compared with those in which I had hitherto found employment. Now I shuddered and shivered, and felt the task, always regarded as a compliment to my honesty, to be indeed hard and heavy enough.
It might have been—yet I was not a coward—that the little coffin in that little room at the end of the saloon had something to do with this uneasiness. On each side of that narrow room (which opened upon a long hall leading to the front of the building) were the small windows looking out upon the garden, which I always unbolted first. I say I do not know that this presence of death had anything to do with my trepidation. The death of a child was no very solemn or very uncommon thing in my master's family. He had many children, and, when death thinned their ranks, took the loss like a philosopher,—as he was,—a French philosopher. He philosophized that his utmost exertions could not do much more for the child than bequeath to him just such a life as he led, and a share in just such a saloon as he owned; and therefore, if a priest and a coffin insured the little innocent admission into heaven without any extra charge, he would not betray such lack of wisdom as to demur at the proposition. Therefore, very quietly, since I had been in his employ, (about a twelvemonth,) three of his children, one by one, had been brought down to that little room at the end of the saloon, and thence through the long hall, through the crowded street out to some unheard-of burying-ground, where a pot of flowers and a painted cross supplied the place of a head-stone. The shop was not shut up on these occasions: that would have been an unnecessary interference with the comfort of customers, and loss of time and money. The necessity of providing for his little living family had quite disenthralled Monsieur C—— from any weakly sentimentality in regard to his little dead family.
So I do not know why I shuddered, being also myself somewhat of a philosopher,—of such cool philosophy as grows out inevitably from the hard and stony strata of an overworked life. The sleeper within was certainly better cared for now than he ever had been in life. Monsieur's purse afforded no holiday-dress but a shroud; three of these in requisition within so short a time quite scanted the wardrobe of the other children. Little Jacques had always been a somewhat restless and unhappy baby, longing for fresh air, and a change which he never got; it seemed likely, so far as the child's promise was concerned, that the "great change" was his only chance of variety, and the very best thing that could have happened to him.
And yet, after all, there was something about his death which individualized it, and hung a certain sadness over its occurrence that does not often belong to the death of children, or at least had not marked the departure of his two stout little brothers. Scarlet-fever and croup and measles are such every-day, red-winged, mottled angels, that no one is appalled at their presence; they take off the little sufferer in such vigorous fashion, clutch him with so hearty a grip, that one is compelled to open the door, let them out, and feel relieved when the exit is made. It is only when some dim-eyed, white-robed shape, scarcely seen, scarcely felt, steps softly in and steals away the little troublesome bundle of life with solemn eye and hushed lip, that we have time to pause, to look, to grieve.