This, then, being admitted, that a vitiated quality of the brain may be transmitted to the offspring with accumulating effect, let us see what are the general characteristics of this effect. We have no reason to suppose that the brain is exempt from the operation of the same organic laws which govern the rest of the animal economy. Observation abundantly shows that its working capacity is diminished, and its activity becomes irregular in one or more of the various degrees of irregularity, ranging from a little eccentricity up to raving mania. Occasionally, such defect is accompanied by remarkable manifestations of mental ability, but it is no part of our doctrine that such conjunctions are incompatible. Byron and Johnson accomplished great things; but who will deny that without that hereditary taint they would have done more and done it better? The latter, it is well known, was much dependent on moods, and spent long periods in mental inactivity. The labors of the other were fitful, and his views of life betray the influence of the same cerebral defect that led to so much domestic woe. The narrow-chested, round-shouldered person, whose lungs barely oxydize blood enough to maintain life, is not expected to walk a thousand miles in a thousand hours, or to excel as a performer on wind-instruments. We impute to him no fault for this sort of incompetence. We should rather charge him with consummate folly, if he undertook a line of exercises for which he is so clearly unfitted. We do not wonder, in fact, when this unfortunate pulmonary constitution sends its possessor to an early grave. Why not apply the same philosophy to the brain, which may partake of all the defects incident to organized matter? Why expect of one among whose progenitors insanity, idiocy, scrofula, rickets, and epilepsy have prevailed in an extraordinary degree all the moral and intellectual excellences displayed by those whose blood through a long line of ancestors has been untainted by any of these affections?
It is chiefly, however, in abnormal activity that the presence of this cerebral depreciation is indicated. And here we find the same disposition to insist on positive and absolute conditions, overlooking those nicer shades of diversity which mark the movements of Nature. It is the common belief that between eccentricity and insanity a great gulf is fixed; and in courts of justice this notion is often used with great effect to overthrow the conclusions of the medical expert, who, while he admits their essential difference, finds it not very easy to avoid the trap which a quick-witted lawyer is sure to make of it. Let him recognize the fact that they are the results of a common agency, differing chiefly in degree, and then his path is clear, though it may not lead to popular confidence in his professional views.
Neither is the cerebral depreciation confined to any particular portion of the organ; and therefore its effects may be witnessed in any of those manifestations which are known to depend upon it. The affective powers, meaning thereby the passions, affections, and emotions, are, like the intellectual, connected with the brain, and, like them too, are shaped, in a great degree, by the quality of that organ. It is curious, however, that, while this fact is admitted in general terms, there is a prevalent reluctance to make the legitimate practical application. It is denied that the moral powers and propensities can be affected by disease, though connected with a material organ. Everybody believes that a man who thinks his legs are made of glass is insane; but if his affections only are disordered,—love and kindness being replaced by jealousy and hate,—an habitual regard for every moral propriety, by unbounded looseness of life and conversation,—the practice of the strictest virtue, by unblushing indulgence of crime, and all without apparent cause or motive,—then the morbid element in the case is overlooked and stoutly repudiated. We admit that a man may be a fool without any fault of his own; but if he fall short of any of the requirements of the moral law, he is regarded as a sinner, and perhaps punished as a criminal. Before we utterly condemn him for failing to recognize all the sharp distinctions between right and wrong, for yielding to temptation, and walking in evil courses, we are bound in justice to inquire whether a higher grade of moral excellence has not been debarred him by the defective quality of his brain, the organ by which all moral graces are manifested,—whether it has not become deteriorated by morbid predispositions, transmitted with steadily accumulating force, to insanity, or other affections which are known to spread their noxious influence over the nervous system.
A scientific fact is supposed to be entitled to credence, when accompanied by proper scientific proof; but, nevertheless, many worthy people cannot resist the conclusion, that, if a man's moral character is determined by the quality of the brain, then there is no such thing as responsibility. And so we are brought up all standing against the old problem of moral liberty, on which oceans of ink have been shed to little purpose. Heaven forbid that we should add another drop! for our object will be served by stating very briefly the scientific view of this phenomenon. Every creature is free, within the limits of the constitution which Nature has given him, to act and to think, each after his kind. The horse rejoices in the liberty of acting like a horse, and not like an ox; and man enjoys the privilege of acting the part of a man, and not of a disembodied spirit. If the limbs of the former are struck by an atrophy, we do not expect him to win the race. If the brain of the latter is blasted by disease or deterioration, we cannot expect the fruits of a sound and vigorous organism. When we say that a person with a brain vitiated by an accumulation of hereditary defects is incapable of that degree of moral excellence which is manifested by men of the soundest brains, we utter a truism as self-evident, apparently, as when we say that the ox is incapable of the fleetness of the horse or the ferocity of the tiger. It is immaterial whether the cerebral condition in question is one of original constitution or of acquired deficiency, because the relation between the physical and the moral must be the same in the one case as in the other. In the toiling masses, who, from childhood, are brought face to face with want and vice, we do not expect to find the moral graces of a Channing or a Cheverus; and we do not hold them to a very strict responsibility for the deficiency. But they are not utterly destitute of a moral sense, and what we have a right to expect is, that they improve, in a reasonable degree, the light and opportunities which have fallen to their lot. The principle is precisely the same as it regards those whose brains have been vitiated by some noxious agency. To make them morally responsible in an equal degree with men more happily endowed would be repugnant to every idea of right and justice. But within the range of their capacity, whatever it may be, they are free, and accountable for the use of their liberty. True, there is often difficulty in making these distinctions, even where the necessity for it is the greatest; but we dissent from the conclusion, that therefore the doctrine can have but little practical value. It is something to have the fact of the intimate connection between organic conditions and moral manifestations distinctly recognized. The advance of knowledge will be steadily widening the practical application of the fact. A judge might not be justified in favoring the acquittal of a criminal on the ground of his having inherited a brain of vitiated quality; but, surely, it would not be repugnant to the testimony of science, or the dictates of common sense and common justice, if he allowed this fact to operate in mitigation of sentence.
A NEW SCULPTOR.
Once to my Fancy's hall a stranger came, Of mien unwonted, And its pale shapes of glory without shame Or speech confronted.
Fair was my hall,—a gallery of Gods Smoothly appointed; With Nymphs and Satyrs from the dewy sods Freshly anointed.
Great Jove sat throned in state, with Hermes near, And fiery Bacchus; Pallas and Pluto, and those powers of Fear Whose visions rack us.
Artemis wore her crescent free of stars, The hunt just scented; Glad Aphrodite met the warrior Mars, The myriad-tented.
Rude was my visitant, of sturdy form, Draped in such clothing As the world's great, whom luxury makes warm, Look on with loathing.
And yet, methought, his service-badge of soil With honor wearing; And in his dexter hand, embossed with toil, A hammer bearing.
But while I waited till his eye should sink, O'ercome of beauty, With heart impatience brimming to the brink Of courteous duty,—
He smote my marbles many a murderous blow, His weapon poising; I, in my wrath and wonderment of woe, No comment voicing.
"Come, sweep this rubbish from the workman's way, Wreck of past ages,— Afford me here a lump of harmless clay, Ye grooms and pages!"
Then, from that voidness of our mother Earth, A frame he builded Of a new feature,—with the power of birth Fashioned and welded.
It had a might mine eyes had never seen, A mien, a stature, As if the centuries that rolled between Had greatened Nature.
It breathed, it moved; above Jove's classic sway A place was won it: The rustic sculptor motioned; then "To-day" He wrote upon it.
"What man art thou?" I cried, "and what this wrong That thou hast wrought me? My marbles lived on symmetry and song; Why hast thou brought me
"A form of all necessities, that asks Nurture and feeding? Not this the burthen of my maidhood's tasks, Nor my high breeding."
"Behold," he said, "Life's great impersonate, Nourished by Labor! Thy Gods are gone with old-time faith and Fate; Here is thy Neighbor."
PLAYS AND PLAY-ACTING.
One evening, after seeing Booth in "Richard III.," three of us fell a-talking about the authorship of the play, and wondering how far Shakespeare was responsible for what we had heard. Everybody knows that Colley Cibber improved upon the text of the old folios and quartos: for what was listened to with delight by Ben Jonson could not satisfy Congreve, and William III. needed better verses than those applauded by Queen Elizabeth. None of us knew how great or how many these improvements were. I doubt whether many of the audience that crowded the theatre that evening were wiser than we. The next day I got an acting copy of "Richard III.," and, with the help of Mrs. Clarke's Concordance, arrived at the following astonishing results.
"Shakspeare's Historical Tragedy of Richard III., adapted to Representation by Colley Cibber," (I quote the full title for its matchless impudence,) makes a pamphlet of fifty-nine small pages. Of these, Cibber was good enough to write twenty-six out of his own head. Then, modestly recognizing Shakespeare's superiority, he took twenty-seven pages from him, (not all from this particular play, to be sure,) remodelled six other pages of the original, and, mixing it all up together, produced a play, and called it Shakespeare.
With Mrs. Clarke's touchstone it is easy to separate the base metal from the fine gold; though you have only to ring most of Cibber's counterfeits to see how flat they are. Would any one take the following for genuine coin, and believe that Shakespeare could make a poor ghost talk thus?
"PRINCE E. Richard, dream on, and see the wandering spirits Of thy young nephews, murdered in the tower: Could not our youth, our innocence, persuade Thy cruel heart to spare our harmless lives? Who, but for thee, alas! might have enjoyed Our many promised years of happiness. No soul, save thine, but pities our misusage. Oh! 'twas a cruel deed! therefore alone, Unpitying, unpitied shalt thou fall."
"K. HENRY. The morning's dawn has summoned me away; And let that wild despair, which now does prey Upon thy mangled thoughts, alarm the world. Awake, Richard, awake! to guilty minds A terrible example!"
No wonder that Gloucester finds it quite hopeless to reply to such ghosts in the words Shakespeare put into his mouth, and so has recourse to Cibber. We are not told what (Cibber's) ghosts say to Richmond; but he declares,— "If dreams should animate a soul resolved, I'm more than pleased with those I've had to-night."
Just after this, it is rather confusing to find him straying off into "Henry V." Still, "In peace there's nothing so becomes a man," seems to promise Shakespeare at least,—so compose yourself to listen and enjoy:—
"In peace there's nothing so becomes a man As mild behavior and humility; But when the blast of war blows in our ears, Let us be tigers in our fierce deportment."
After this outrage, I defy you to help hoping that the comparatively innocent Richard will chop off Richmond's head,—in spite of history and Shakespeare.
It does not follow that all change or omission is unlawful in placing Shakespeare's plays on the stage. Though in the pit or parquet we sit (more or less) at our ease, instead of standing as the groundlings did in old days, yet a tragedy five hours and a half long would be rather too much of a good thing for us. There must have been a real love of the drama in those times. Fancy a fine gentleman, able to pay his shilling and sit with the wits upon the rush-strewn stage, listening for such a length of time to "Hamlet," with no change of scenes to help the illusion or break the monotony, beyond a curtain or two hung across the stage, a wooden gallery at the back whence the court of Denmark might view "The Mouse-Trap," and, perhaps, a wooden tomb pushed on or "discovered" in the graveyard-scene by pulling aside one of these curtains or "traverses." No pretty women, either, dressed in becoming robes, and invested with the mysterious halo of interest which an actress seems to bring with her from the side-scenes. No women at all. Poor Ophelia presented by a great lubberly boy, and the part of the Queen very likely intrusted to him who was last year the "jeune premire," and whose voice is now somewhat cracked within the ring. To be sure, in those days every gentleman took his pipe with him; and the fragrant clouds would be some consolation in the eyes, or rather in the noses, of some of us. But still,—almost six hours of tragedy! It is too much of a good thing for these degenerate days; and we must allow the prompter to use his pencil on the actors' copy of "Hamlet," though he strike out page upon page of immortal philosophy.
But there are certain parts of this play omitted whose loss makes one grieve. Why do the actors leave out the strange half-crazed exclamations wrung from Hamlet by his father's voice repeating "Swear" from beneath his feet?
HAM. Indeed, upon my sword, indeed. GHOST [beneath]. Swear. HAM. Ah, ha, boy! say'st thou so? art thou there, true-penny?— Come on,—you hear this fellow in the cellarage—
* * * * *
Swear by my sword. GHOST [beneath]. Swear. HAM. Hic et ubique? then we'll shift our ground.— Come hither, gentlemen, And lay your hands again upon my sword: Never to speak of this that you have heard, Swear by my sword. GHOST [beneath]. Swear. HAM. Well said, old mole! Canst work i' the ground so fast? A worthy pioneer I.... ... This not to do, So grace and mercy at your most need help you, swear. GHOST [beneath]. Swear. HAM. Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!
The sensitive organization which makes Hamlet what he is has been too rudely handled: the machine, too delicate for the rough work of every-day life, breaks down, under the strain. The horror of the time—beginning with Horatio's story of the apparition, and growing more fearful with every moment of reflection, until Hamlet longs for the coming of the dread hour—reaches a point beyond which human nature has no power to endure. If he could share his burden with his friend Horatio,—but Marcellus thrusts himself forward, and he checks the half-uttered confidence, and struggles to put aside their curiosity with trifling words. Anything, to be alone and free to think on what he has heard and what he has to do. And then,—as he is swearing them to secrecy before escaping from them,—there, from under their feet and out of the solid earth, comes the voice whose adieu is yet ringing in his ears. In terror they hurry to another spot; but the awful voice follows their steps, and its tones shake the ground under them. What wonder, if, broken down by all this, Hamlet utters words which would be irreverent in their levity, were they not terrible in their wildness? Have you never marked what pathos there is in a very trivial phrase used by one so crushed down by grief that he acts and speaks like a little child?
It is wonderful that a great actor should neglect a passage that paints with one touch Hamlet's half-hysterical state. Given as it might be given, it would curdle the blood in your veins. I asked the best Hamlet it has been my fortune to see, why he left out these lines. "I have often thought I would speak them; but I don't know how." That was his answer, and a very honest one it was. But such a reason is not worthy of any man who dares to play Hamlet,—much less of one who plays it as —— does.
It is curious to observe how persistently the players, in making up the stage-travesties of Shakespeare's plays, have followed the uncertain lead of the quartos, where they and the folio differ. It almost seems as if the stage-editors found something more congenial in a text made up from the actors' recollections, plentifully adorned with what we now call "gag." They appear to forget one capital fact: that Shakespeare was at once actor, author, and manager,—that he wrote for the stage exclusively, producing plays for the immediate use of his own company,—and that his plays may therefore be reasonably supposed to be "adapted to representation" in their original state. Does Mr. Crummles know better than Master Shakespeare knew how "Romeo and Juliet" should be ended with the best effect,—not only to the ear in the closet, but theatrically on the stage? The story was not a new one; and the dramatist deliberately followed one of two existing versions rather than the other. In Boisteau's translation of Bandello's novel, Juliet wakes from her trance before Romeo's death; in Brooke's poem, which the great master chose to adopt as his authority, all is over, and she wakes to find her lover dead. Garrick must needs know better than Shakespeare, the actor-author; and no stage Romeo has the grace to die until he has, in elegant phrase, "piled up the agony" with lines like these:—
"JULIET. ... Death's in thy face. ROM. It is indeed. I struggle with him now: The transports that I felt, To hear thee speak, and see thy opening eyes, Stopped, for a moment, his impetuous course, And all my mind was happiness and thee:— But now," etc., "My powers are blasted; 'Twist death and love I'm torn, I am distracted; But death is strongest."
And then, to give a chance for the manoeuvre beloved by dying actors,—that getting up and falling back into the arms of the actress kneeling by him, with a proper amount of gasping and eyes rolling in delirium,—the stage Romeo adds:—
"ROM. She is my wife,—our hearts are twined together:— Capulet, forbear:—Paris, loose your hold:— Pull not our heart-strings thus;—they crack,—they break:— Oh, Juliet, Juliet!" [Dies. Juliet faints on his body.
Is this Garrick or Otway? (for I believe Garrick borrowed some of his improvements from Otway's "Caius Marius.") I don't know, and don't care. It is not Shakespeare. It may "show something of the skill of kindred genius," as the preface to the acting edition says it does. I confess I do not see it. I would have such bombast delivered with the traditional accompaniment of red fire; and the curtain should descend majestically to the sound of slow music. That would be consistent and appropriate.
* * * * *
It has always been a consoling thought to Englishmen that Shakespeare exists for them alone,—or that a Frenchman's nature, at least, makes it hopeless for him to try to understand the great dramatist. They confess that their neighbors know how to construct the plot of a comedy, and prove the honesty of their approval by "borrowing" whatever they can make useful. French tragedies they despise—(though a century ago the new English tragedies were generally Corneille or Racine in disguise). As to Shakespeare, it has time out of mind been an article of faith with the insolent insulars that he is quite above any Frenchman's reach. One by one they are driven from their foolish prejudices, and made to confess that Frenchmen may equal them in some serious things, as well as beat them in all the lighter accomplishments. French iron-clad steamers have been followed by the curious spectacle of a French actor teaching an English audience how Shakespeare should be acted. I would give a good deal to see M. Fechter in Hamlet, Othello, or Iago,—the only parts he has yet attempted; the rather, because the low condition of the stage in England, where Mr. Macready and Mr. Charles Kean are called great actors, makes the English newspaper-criticisms of little value. In default of this, I have been reading M. Fechter's acting edition of "Othello," which a friend kindly sent me from London. It is a curiosity,—not the text, which is incorrect, full of arbitrary changes, and punctuated in a way almost unintelligible to an English eye: colons being scattered about with truly French profusion. The stage-directions are the interest of the book. They are so many and so minute that it seems a wonder why they were printed, if M. Fechter is sincere in declaring that he has no desire to force others to follow in his exact footsteps in this part. But they are generally so judicious, as well as original, that actors born with English tongues in their heads may well be ashamed that a foreigner could find so many new and effective resources on their own ground. For example: when Othello and Iago are first met by the enraged Brabantio, the Moor is standing on the threshold of his house, having just opened the door with a key taken from his girdle. He is going in, when he sees the lights borne by the other party. Observe how Othello's honest frankness is shown by the action:—
"OTH. But look: what lights come yonder? IAGO. These are the raised father and his friends. [Othello shuts the door quickly and takes the key. You were best go in. OTH. [coming forward], Not I: I must be found!"
Again, at the end of this scene, see how thoroughly the editor has studied the legitimate dramatic effect of the situations, preserving to each person his due place and characteristic manner:—
"BRAB. [To his followers]. Bring him away! [They advance to take Othello, who puts them back with a look. Mine's not an idle cause: [Passes before Othello, who bows to him with respect. The Duke himself," etc. [Exit, preceded by the servants of the Senate. His followers are about to pass; Othello stays them, beckons to Cassio, and exit with him. The rest follow, humbly.
The scene wherein Iago first begins to poison the Moor's mind is admirable in the situations and movements of the actors. A great variety is given to the dialogue by the minute directions set down for the guidance of the players. It would be tedious to give them in detail; but I must point out the truth of one action, near the end. The poison is working; but as yet Othello cannot believe he is so wronged,—he is only "perplexed in the extreme,"—not yet transformed quite out of his noble nature.
"OTH. [dismissing Iago with a gesture]. Farewell! farewell! [Stopping him, as he goes to the door on the right. If more thou dost perceive, let me know more: Set on thy wife to observe—— [He stops, suffused with shame, and crosses before Iago, without looking at him. Leave me, Iago. IAGO. My lord, I take my leave."
This is an idea worthy of a great actor; and of M. Fechter's acting here an English critic says,—"Delicate in its conception and marvellous in its close adherence to Nature is the expression that accompanies the words. The actor's face is literally suffused with a burning blush; and, as he buries his face in his hands, we almost fancy we see the scalding tears force their way through the trembling fingers and adorn the shame-reddened cheeks." The same writer goes on to praise "the ingenuity and novelty of the glance at the reflection of his dark face in the mirror, which suggests the words, 'Haply for I am black.'" I cannot agree. Othello had been too often reproached with his swarthy skin and likened to the Devil by Desdemona's father to need any such commonplace reminder of his defects, in his agony of doubt. It is, however, a fair ground for difference of opinion. But when the same artifice is resorted to in the last act to explain the words, "It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul!!"—and Othello is made to take up a toilet-glass which has fallen from Desdemona's hand,—it becomes a vile conceit, unworthy of the situation or of an actor like Fechter. A man does not look in the glass, and talk about his complexion, when he is going to kill what he loves best in life; and if the words are broken and unintelligible, they are all the truer to Nature. The whole of the last act, as arranged by Fechter, is bad. There is no propriety in directing Desdemona to leave her bed and walk about,—to say nothing of the scramble that must ensue when Othello "in mad fury throws her onto the bed" again. But what shall we say of this?
"OTH. What noise is this? [He turns to the side whence the noise comes, and raises the pillow, but, as Desdemona stirs, replaces it abruptly. Not dead! Not yet quite dead! I, that am cruel, am yet merciful; I would not have thee linger in thy pain. [Passing his poignard under the pillow, and turning away his eyes, So,—so."
What, but that it is utterly vile and melodramatic, contrary to Othello's expressed resolve, and quite unnecessary?—for a better effect would be produced, if the actor averted his head and with both hands pressed hard upon the pillow, trembling in every limb at the horrible deed he is forced, in mercy, to bring to a quick end. This idea of stabbing Desdemona at last is not original with Fechter,—who here, and in several other places, has consented to follow our stage-traditions, and has been led astray.
* * * * *
Shakespeare on the stage is a sad falling off from Shakespeare in the closet. (I do not mean on the American stage only: the theatre in England is, if possible, lower than with us.) To a great extent this is unavoidable. Our imaginations are not kept in check by the pitiless limits that make themselves felt in the theatre. An army, when we read of it, seems something far grander than all that can be effected by the best-appointed company of actors. The forest of Ardennes has for us life and motion beyond the reach of the scene-painter's skill. But these necessary shortcomings are no excuse for making no attempt to imitate Nature. Yet hardly any serious effort is made to reach this purpose of playing. The ordinary arrangement of our stage is as bad as bad can be, for it fails to look like the places where the action is supposed to lie. Two rows of narrow screens stretching down from the ends of a broad screen at the back never can be made to look like a room, still less like a grove. Such an arrangement may be convenient for the carpenters or scene-shifters, and is very likely cheaper than a properly designed interior. But it does not look like what it pretends to be, and has been superseded on every stage but ours and the English by properly constructed scenery. Who ever went into a French theatre for the first time without being charmed by the reality of the scene? They take the trouble to build a room, when a room is wanted, with side-walls and doors, and often a ceiling. The consequence is, you can fancy yourself present at a scene taken from real life. The theatre goes no farther than the proscenium. Beyond that, you have a parlor, with one wall removed for your better view. It is Asmodeus's show improved. I went to a Paris theatre with a friend. The play began with half a dozen milliners chattering and sewing round a table. After a few moments, my friend gave a prodigious yawn, and declared he was going home, "for you might as well sit down and see a parcel of real milliners at work as this play." Tastes differ; and I did not find this an objection. But what a compliment that was to the whole corps,—actors, actresses, and scene-painter!—and how impossible it would be to make the same complaint of an English play!
"But," I have been told by theatrical people, "such an arrangement is all very well in French vaudevilles, where one scene lasts through an act; but it will not do for English plays, with their constant scene-shifting." I grant it is less convenient to the stage-manager than the present wretched assembly of screens; but it is not impracticable in any play. Witness the melodramas which are the delight of the patrons of the minor Paris theatres,—pices spectacle en 4 actes et 24 tableaux, that is, twenty-four changes of scene. I remember sitting through one which was so deadly stupid that nothing but the ingenuity of the stage-arrangements made it endurable. Side-scenes dropped down into their places,—"flats" fell through the stage or were drawn up out of sight,—trees and rocks rose out of the earth,—in a word, scenery that looked like reality, and not like canvas, was disposed and cleared away with such marvellous rapidity that I forgot to yawn over the play. Attention to these matters is almost unknown with us: perhaps, in strict justice, I ought to say was unknown until very lately. Within a few years, one or two of our theatres have profited by the example set by stage-managers abroad. At Wallack's, in New York, rooms have to a great extent taken the place of the old screens; and only the other night at the Boston Museum I saw an arrangement of scenery which really helped the illusion.
Let us hope there may be a speedy reform in the matter of the costume of the players,—at least in plays where the dresses are of our own time. You may count on your fingers the actresses in America who dress on the stage as ladies dress in polite society. And as for the actors, I am afraid one hand has too many fingers for the tally. Because people go to the President's Ball in frock-coats is no reason why actors who undertake to look like fashionable gentlemen should outrage all conventional rules. I once saw a play in which a gentleman came to make an informal morning-visit to a lady in the country, in that dress which has received the bitterly ironical name of "full American uniform," that is to say, black dress-coat and trousers and black satin waistcoat; and the costume was made even more complete by a black satin tie, of many plaits, with a huge dull diamond pin in it, and a long steel watch-chain dangling upon the wretched man's stomach. He might have played his part to perfection,—which he did not, but murdered it in cold blood,—but he might have done so in vain; nothing would or could absolve him from such a crime against the god of fashion or propriety. "Little things, these," the critic may say: and so our actors seem to think. But life is made up of little things; and if you would paint life, you must attend to them. Ask any one who has spent (wasted?) evening after evening at the Paris theatres about them; and, ten to one, he begins by praising the details, which, in their sum, conveyed the impression of perfection he brought away with him.
Unless you are a little cracked on the subject of the stage, (as I confess I am,) and have talked with a French actor about it, you have no idea how systematically they train their young actors. I will tell you a few of the odd facts I picked up in long talks with my friend Monsieur D——. of the Thtre Franais.
The Conservatoire, their great school for actors, is, like almost everything else in Paris, more or less under Government control,—the Minister of State being charged with its superintendence. He appoints the professors, who are actors of the Franais, and receive a salary of two thousand francs. The first order a pupil receives, on presenting himself for instruction, is this: "Say rose." Now your Parisian rather prides himself on a peculiar pronunciation of the letter r. He neither rolls it like an Italian, nor does he make anything like the noise standing for r in our conversational English,—something like uhr-ose,—a sound said to be peculiar to our language. A Parisian rolls his r, by making his uvula vibrate, keeping the tongue quite still: producing a peculiar gurgling sound. This is an abomination in the ears of the Conservatoire. "Ne grasseyez donc pas, Monsieur," or "Mademoiselle," says the professor, fiercely,—this peculiar way of saying r being called grasseyement. The pupil tries again, using the tip of his tongue this time. "Ah! I thought so. Your r is pasty (empt). Say tuddah!" (I spell this sound l'Anglaise.) "Tuddah" repeats the wondering candidate. "Thuddah?" the professor repeats, with great disgust: "I did not ask you to say thuddah, but tuddah." The victim tries again and again, and thinks he succeeds; but the master does not agree with him. His delicate ear detects a certain thickness of enunciation,—which our th very imperfectly represents,—a want of crispness, as it were. The tip of the tongue does not strike the front teeth with a single tick, as sharp as a needle-point; and until he can do this, the pupil can do nothing. He is dismissed with the advice to say "tuddah, tuddah, tuddah," as many hours a day as he can without losing his mind. D—— told me he often met young men walking about the streets in all the agonies of this first step in the art of learning to act, and astonishing the passers-by with this mysterious jargon. A pupil of average quickness and nicety of ear learns to say tuddah in about a month. Then he is told to say rose once more. The training his tongue has received enables him to use only its very tip. A great point is gained: he can pronounce the r. Any other defects in pronunciation which he has are next attacked and corrected. Then he is drilled in moving, standing, and carriage. And finally, "a quantity of practice truly prodigious" is given to the ancien rpertoire,—the classic models of French dramatic literature, Corneille, Racine, Molire, Beaumarchais, etc. The first scholar of each year has the right to appear at once at the Thtre Franais,—a right rarely claimed, as most young actors prefer to go through a novitiate elsewhere to braving the most critical audience in the world before they have acquired the confidence that comes only with habit and success. After he has gained a foothold at this classic theatre, an actor still sees prizes held out to stimulate his ambition. If he keeps the promise of his youth, he may hope to be chosen a stockholder (socitaire), and thus obtain a share both in the direction of affairs and in the profits, besides a retiring pension, depending in, amount upon his term of service.
Panem, et circenses is the demand of modern Paris, as it was of old Rome,—and the people expect the Government to see that neither supply fails. While the Opera receives large sums to pay for gorgeous scenery and dresses, the Franais is paid for devoting three nights in the week to the classical school: a real loss to the theatre at times when the fickle public would gladly crowd the house to applaud the success of the hour. The Minister of State interferes as seldom as possible with the management; but when he speaks, his word is law. This was queerly shown in a dispute about Rachel's congs. At first she played during nine months of the year three times a week; later her duties were reduced to six months in the year, playing only twice a week, at a salary of forty thousand francs, with five hundred francs for every extra performance. Spoiled by indulgence, she demanded leave of absence just when the Queen of England was coming to Paris. The manager indignantly refused. The next day the Minister of State politely requested that Mlle. Rachel might have a short cong. "It is not reasonable," said the poor manager. "We have cut down her duties and raised her salary; now the Queen is coming, Paris will be full of English, and they are always crazy after Mlle. Rachel. It is really out of the question, Monsieur le Ministre." The Minister was very sorry, but hoped there would be no real difficulty. The manager was equally sorry, but really he could not think of it. "Monsieur," said the Minister, rising and dismissing the manager, "il le faut," "Oh, il le faut? Then it must;—only you might as well have begun with that." And so Rachel got her leave of absence.
(I must insert here from my note-book a criticism on Rachel,—valuable as coming from a man of talent in her own profession who had worked with her for years, and deserving additional weight, as it was, no doubt, rather the collective judgment of her fellow-actors than the opinion of the speaker alone.)
"Rachel," said M. D——, "was a great genius,—but a genius that ever needed the hand of a master to guide its efforts. Without this, she could do nothing: and Samson was forever behind her, directing her steps. Mme. Allan, who weighed almost three hundred pounds and had an abominable voice, was infinitely her superior in the power of creating a part. But Rachel had the voice of an angel. In the expression of disdain or terror she was unapproachable. In the softer passions she was feeble. We all looked upon her Lady Tartuffe as a failure."
* * * * *
Such a school of acting as the Conservatoire and the Franais form could of course never be seen in America. The idea of our popular practical Government undertaking to direct the amusements of the people is quite ludicrous. In France, the Government does all it can for the people. With us, the people are left to do everything for themselves, with the least possible amount of Government interference. Our play-writers and play-actors could do a great deal to raise the standard of stage-literature and of acting, if they would but try. But they do not try. I went the other evening to see that relic of the Dark Ages, a sterling English comedy. If any one thinks I go too far in saying that there is no attempt on our stage to imitate Nature, and that the writing and acting of English plays are like the landscape-painting of the Chinese,—a wonderfully good copy of the absurdities handed down through generations of artists,—let him go and look at one of these plays. He will see the choleric East-India uncle, with a red face, and a Malacca cane held by the middle, stumping about, and bullying his nephew,—"a young rascal,"—or his niece,—"you baggage, you." When this young person wishes to have a good talk with a friend, they stand up behind the footlights to do it; and the audience is let into secrets essential to the plot by means of long "asides" delivered by one, while the other does nothing and pretends not to hear what is spoken within three feet of him. The waiting-maid behaves in a way that would get her turned out of any respectable house, and is chased off the stage by the old gentleman in a manner that no gentleman ever chases his servants. Something is the matter with the men's legs: they all move by two steps and a hitch. They all speak with an intonation as unlike the English of real life as if they talked Greek. The young people make fools of the old people in a way they would never dream of in life,—and the old people are preternaturally stupid in submitting to be made fools of. After seeing one of these classics, let the spectator sit down and honestly ask himself if this is an attempt to hold the mirror up to Nature, or an effort to reflect the traditional manners and customs of the stage.
If he thinks he has ever seen anything of the sort in real life, we will agree to differ.
[Footnote 1: Are we as grateful as we should be to Mrs. Cowden Clarke? Did you ever try to find anything by the help of Ayscough, when that was the best guide to be had? If you have, you remember your teasing search for the principal word in the passage,—how day seemed a less likely key than jocund, and yet, as this was only an adjective, perhaps tiptoe were better; or, if you pitched upon mountain-tops, it was a problem with which half of the compound to begin the search. Consider that Mrs. Clarke is no dry word-critic, to revel in pulling the soliloquy to pieces, and half inclined to carry the work farther and give you the separate letters and the number of each, but a woman who loves Shakespeare and what he wrote. Think of her sitting down for sixteen years to pick up senseless words one by one, and stow each one away in its own niche, with a ticket hanging to it to guide the search of any one who can bring the smallest sample of the cloth of gold he wants. Think of this, whenever you open her miracle of patient labor, and be grateful.]
Rock, little boat, beneath the quiet sky! Only the stars behold us, where we lie,— Only the stars, and yonder brightening moon.
On the wide sea to-night alone are we: The sweet, bright, summer day dies silently; Its glowing sunset will have faded soon.
Rock softly, little boat, the while I mark The far-off gliding sails, distinct and dark, Across the west pass steadily and slow.
But on the eastern waters sad they change And vanish, dream-like, gray and cold and strange, And no one knoweth whither they may go.
We care not, we, drifting with wind and tide, With glad waves darkening upon every side, Save where the moon sends silver sparkles down,
And yonder slender stream of changing light, Now white, now crimson, tremulously bright, Where dark the light-house stands, with fiery crown.
Thick falls the dew, soundless, on sea and shore; It shines on little boat and idle oar, Wherever moonbeams touch with tranquil glow.
The waves are full of whispers wild and sweet; They call to me; incessantly they beat Along the boat from stem to curvd prow.
Comes the careering wind, blows back my hair All damp with dew, to kiss me unaware,— Murmuring, "Thee I love,"—and passes on.
Sweet sounds on rocky shores the distant rote. Oh, could we float forever, little boat, Under the blissful sky drifting alone!
LIFE IN THE OPEN AIR.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "CECIL DREEME" AND "JOHN BRENT."
KATAHDIN AND THE PENOBSCOT.
Rain ends, as even Noah and the Arkites discovered. The new sensation of tickling frogs could entertain us for one day; bounteous Nature provided other novelties for the next. We were at the Umbagog chain of lakes, and while it rained the damster had purveyed us a boat and crew. At sunrise he despatched us on our voyage. We launched upon the Androscoggin, in a bateau of the old Canadian type. Such light, clincher-built, high-nosed, flat-bottomed boats are in use wherever the fur-traders are or have been. Just such boats navigate the Saskatchawan of the North, or Frazer's River of the Northwest; and in a larger counterpart of our Androscoggin bark I had three years before floated down the magnificent Columbia to Vancouver, bedded on bales of beaver-skins.
As soon as sunrise wrote itself in shadows over the sparkling water, as soon as through the river-side belt of gnarled arbor-vitae sunbeams flickered, we pushed off, rowed up-stream by a pair of stout lumbermen. The river was a beautiful way, admitting us into the penetralia of virgin forests. It was not a rude wilderness: all that Northern woods have of foliage, verdurous, slender, delicate, tremulous, overhung our shadowy path, dense as the vines that drape a tropic stream. Every giant tree, every one of the Pinus oligarchy, had been lumbered away: refined sylvan beauty remained. The dam checked the river's turbulence, making it slow and mirror-like. It merited a more melodious name than harsh Androscoggin.
Five miles of such enchanting voyage brought us to Lake Umbagog. Whiff's of mist had met us in the outlet. Presently we opened chaos, and chaos shut in upon us. There was no Umbagog to be seen,—nothing but a few yards of gray water and a world of gray vapor. Therefore I cannot criticize, nor insult, nor compliment Umbagog. Let us deem it beautiful. The sun tried at the fog, to lift it with leverage of his early level beams. Failing in this attempt to stir and heave away the mass, he climbed, and began to use his beams as wedges, driving them down more perpendicularly. Whenever this industrious craftsman made a successful split, the fog gaped, and we could see for a moment, indefinitely, an expanse of water, hedged with gloomy forest, and owning for its dominant height a wild mountain, Aziscohos, or, briefer, Esquihos.
But the fog was still too dense to be riven by slanting sunbeams. It closed again in solider phalanx. Our gray cell shut close about us. Esquihos and the distance became nowhere. In fact, ourselves would have been nowhere, except that a sluggish damp wind puffed sometimes, and steering into this we could guide our way within a few points of our course.
Any traveller knows that it is no very crushing disappointment not to see what he came to see. Outside sights give something, but inside joys are independent. We enjoyed our dim damp voyage heartily, on that wide loneliness. Nor were our shouts and laughter the only sounds. Loons would sometimes wail to us, as they dived, black dots in the mist. Then we would wait for their bulbous reappearance, and let fly the futile shot with its muffled report,—missing, of course.
No being has ever shot a loon, though several have legends of some one who has. Sound has no power to express a profounder emotion of utter loneliness than the loon's cry. Standing in piny darkness on the lake's bank, or floating in dimness of mist or glimmer of twilight on its surface, you hear this wailing note, and all possibility of human tenancy by the shore or human voyaging is annihilated. You can fancy no response to this signal of solitude disturbed, and again it comes sadly over the water, the despairing plaint of some companionless and incomplete existence, exiled from happiness it has never known, and conscious only of blank and utter want. Loon-skins have a commercial value; so it is reported. The Barabinzians of Siberia, a nation "up beyond the River Ob," tan them into water-proof paletots or aquascutums. How they catch their loon, before they skin their loon, is one of the mysteries of that unknown realm.
Og, Gog, Magog, Memphremagog, all agog, Umbagog,—certainly the American Indians were the Lost Tribes, and conserved the old familiar syllables in their new home.
Rowing into the damp breeze, we by-and-by traversed the lake. We had gained nothing but a fact of distance. But here was to be an interlude of interest. The "thoro'fare" linking Umbagog to its next neighbor is no thoro'fare for a bateau, since a bateau cannot climb through breakers over boulders. We must make a "carry," an actual portage, such as in all chronicles of pioneer voyages strike like the excitement of rapids into the monotonous course of easy descent. Another boat was ready on the next lake, but our chattels must go three miles through the woods. Yes, we now were to achieve a portage. Consider it, blas friend,—was not this sensation alone worth the trip?
The worthy lumbermen, and our supernumerary, the damster's son, staggered along slowly with our traps. Iglesias and I, having nothing to carry, enjoyed the carry. We lounged along through the glades, now sunny for the moment, and dallied with raspberries and blueberries, finer than any ever seen. The latter henceforth began to impurple our blood. Maine is lusciously carpeted with them.
As we oozed along the overgrown trail, dripping still with last night's rain, drops would alight upon our necks and trickle down our backs. A wet spine excites hunger,—if a pedestrian on a portage, after voyaging from sunrise, needs any appetizer when his shadow marks noon. We halted, fired up, and lunched vigorously on toasted pork and trimmings. As pork must be the Omega in forest-fare, it is well to make it the Alpha. Fate thus becomes choice. Citizens uneducated to forest-life with much pains transport into the woods sealed cans of what they deem will dainties be, and scoff at woodsmen frizzling slices of pork on a pointed stick. But Experience does not disdain a Cockney. She broods over him, and will by-and-by hatch him into a full-fledged forester. After such incubation, he will recognize his natural food, and compactest fuel for the lamp of life. He will take to his pork like mother's milk.
Our dessert of raspberries grew all along the path, and lured us on to a log-station by the water, where we found another bateau ready to transport us over Lakes Weelocksebacook, Allegundabagog, and Mollychunkamug. Doubters may smile and smile at these names, but they are geography.
We do not commit ourselves to further judgment upon the first than that it is doubtless worthy of its name. My own opinion is, that the scenery felt that it was dullish, and was ashamed to "exhibit" to Iglesias; if he pronounced a condemnation, Umbagog and its sisters feared that they would be degraded to fish-ponds merely. Therefore they veiled themselves. Mists hung low over the leaden waters, and blacker clouds crushed the pine-dark hills.
A fair curve of sandy beach separates Weelocksebacook from its neighbor. There is buried one Melattach, an Indian chief. Of course there has been found in Maine some one irreverent enough to trot a lame Pegasus over this grave, and accuse the frowzy old red-skin of Christian virtues and delicate romance.
There were no portages this afternoon. We took the three lakes at easy speed, persuading ourselves that scenes fog would not let us see were unscenic. It is well that a man should think what he cannot get unworthy of his getting. As evening came, the sun made another effort, with the aid of west winds, at the mist. The sun cleft, the breeze drove. Suddenly the battle was done, victory easily gained. We were cheered by a gush of level sunlight. Even the dull, gray vapor became a transfigured and beautiful essence. Dull and uniform it had hung over the land; now the plastic winds quarried it, and shaped the whole mass into individuals, each with its character. To the cloud-forms modelled out of formlessness the winds gave life of motion, sunshine gave life of light, and they hastened through the lower atmosphere, or sailed lingering across the blue breadths of mid-heaven, or dwelt peacefully aloft in the region of the cirri; and whether trailing gauzy robes in flight, or moving stately, or dwelling on high where scope of vision makes travel needless, they were still the brightest, the gracefullest, the purest beings that Earth creates for man's most delicate pleasure.
When it cleared,—when it purveyed us a broadening zone of blue sky and a heavenful of brilliant cloud-creatures, we were sailing over Lake Mollychunkamug. Fair Mollychunkamug had not smiled for us until now;—now a sunny grin spread over her smooth cheeks. She was all smiling, and presently, as the breeze dimpled her, all a "snicker" up into the roots of her hair, up among her forest-tresses. Mollychunkamug! Who could be aught but gay, gay even to the farcical, when on such a name? Is it Indian? Bewildered Indian we deem it,—transmogrified somewhat from aboriginal sound by the fond imagination of some lumberman, finding in it a sweet memorial of his Mary far away in the kitchens of the Kennebec, his Mary so rotund of blooming cheek, his Molly of the chunky mug. To him who truly loves, all Nature is filled with Amaryllidian echoes. Every sight and every sound recalls her who need not be recalled, to a heart that has never dislodged her.
We lingered over our interview with Mollychunkamug. She may not be numbered among the great beauties of the world; nevertheless, she is an attractive squaw,—a very honest bit of flat-faced prettiness in the wilderness.
Above Mollychunkamug is Moosetocmaguntic Lake. Another innavigable thoro'fare unites them. A dam of Titanic crib-work, fifteen hundred feet long, confines the upper waters. Near this we disembarked. We balanced ourselves along the timbers of the dam, and reached a huge log-cabin at its farther end.
Mr. Killgrove, the damster, came forth and offered us the freedom of his settlement in a tobacco-box. Tobacco is hospitality in the compactest form. Civilization has determined that tobacco, especially in the shape of smoke, is essential as food, water, or air. The pipe is everywhere the pipe of peace. Peace, then, and anodyne-repose, after a day of travel, were offered us by the friendly damster.
A squad of lumbermen were our new fellow-citizens. These soldiers of the outermost outpost were in the regulation-uniform,—red-flannel shirts, impurpled by wetting, big boots, and old felt-hats. Blood-red is the true soldierly color. All the residents of Damville dwelt in a great log-barrack, the Htel-de-Ville. Its architecture was of the early American style, and possessed the high art of simplicity. It was solid, not gingerbreadesque. Primeval American art has a rude dignity, far better than the sham splendors of our mediaeval and transition period.
Our new friends, luxurious fellows, had been favored by Fate with a French-Canadian cook, himself a Three of Frres Provinciaux. Such was his reputation. We saw by the eye of him, and by his nose, formed for comprehending fragrances, and by the lines of refined taste converging from his whole face toward his mouth, that he was one to detect and sniff gastronomic possibilities in the humblest materials. Joseph Bourgogne looked the cook. His phiz gave us faith in him; eyes small and discriminating; nose upturned, nostrils expanded and receptive; mouth saucy in the literal sense. His voice, moreover, was a cook's,—thick in articulation, dulcet in tone. He spoke as if he deemed that a throat was created for better uses than laboriously manufacturing words,—as if the object of a mouth were to receive tribute, not to give commands,—as if that pink stalactite, his palate, were more used by delicacies entering than by rough words or sorry sighs going out of the inner caverns.
When we find the right man in the right place, our minds are at ease. The future becomes satisfactory as the past. Anticipation is glad certainty, not anxious doubt. Trusting our gastronomic welfare fully to this great artist, we tried for fish below the dam. Only petty fishlings, weighing ounces, took the bit between their teeth. We therefore doffed the fisherman and donned the artist and poet, and chased our own fancies down the dark whirlpooling river, along its dell of evergreens, now lurid with the last glows of twilight. Iglesias and I continued dreamily gazing down the thoro'fare toward Mollychunkamug only a certain length of time. Man keeps up to his highest elations hardly longer than a danseuse can poise in a pose. To be conscious of the highest beauty demands an involuntary intentness of observation so fanatically eager that presently we are prostrated and need stimulants. And just as we sensitively felt this exhaustion and this need, we heard a suggestive voice calling us from the front-door of the mansion-house of Damville, and "Supper" was the cry.
A call to the table may quell and may awaken romance. When, in some abode of poetized luxury, the "silver knell" sounds musically six, and a door opens toward a glitter that is not pewter and Wedgewood, and, with a being fair and changeful as a sunset cloud upon my arm, I move under the archway of blue curtains toward the asphodel and the nectar, then, O Reader! Friend! romance crowds into my heart, as color and fragrance crowd into a rose-bud. Joseph Bourgogne, cook at Damville on Moosetocmaguntic, could not offer us such substitute for aesthetic emotions. But his voice of an artist created a winning picture half veiled with mists, evanescent and affectionate, such as linger fondly over Pork-and-Beans.
Fancied joy soon to become fact. We entered the barrack. Beneath its smoky roof-tree was a pervading aroma; near the centre of that aroma, a table dim with wefts of incense; at the innermost centre of that aroma and that incense, and whence those visible and viewless fountains streamed, was their source,—a Dish of Pork-and-Beans.
Topmostly this. There were lesser viands, buttresses to this towering triumph. Minor smokes from minor censers. A circle of little craterlings about the great crater,—of little fiery cones about that great volcanic dome in the midst, unopened, but bursting with bounty. We sat down, and one of the red-shirted boldly crushed the smoking dome. The brave fellow plunged in with a spoon and heaped our plates.
A priori we had deduced Joseph Bourgogne's results from inspection of Joseph. Now we could reason back from one experimentum crucis cooked by him. Effect and cause were worthy of each other.
The average world must be revenged upon Genius. Greatness must be punished by itself or another. Joseph Bourgogne was no exception to the laws of the misery of Genius. He had a distressing trait, whose exhibition tickled the dura ilia of the reapers of the forest. Joseph, poet-cook, was sensitive to new ideas. This sensitiveness to the peremptory thought made him the slave of the wags of Damville. Whenever he had anything in his hands, at a stern, quick command he would drop it nervously. Did he approach the table with a second dish of pork-and-beans, a yellow dish of beans, browned delicately as a Svres vase, then would some full-fed rogue, waiting until Joseph was bending over some devoted head, say sharply, "Drop that, Joseph!"—whereupon down went dish and contents, emporridging the poll and person of the luckless wight beneath. Always, were his burden pitcher of water, armful of wood, axe dangerous to toes, mirror, or pudding, still followed the same result. And when the poet-cook had done the mischief, he would stand shuddering at his work of ruin, and sigh, and curse his too sensitive nature.
In honor of us, the damster kept order. Joseph disturbed the banquet only by entering with new triumphs of Art. Last came a climax-pie, —contents unknown. And when that dish, fit to set before a king, was opened, the poem of our supper was complete. J. B. sailed to the Parnassus where Ude and Vattel feast, forever cooking immortal banquets in star-lighted spheres.
Then we sat in the picturesque dimness of the lofty cabin, under the void where the roof shut off the stars, and talked of the pine-woods, of logging, measuring, and spring-drives, and of moose-hunting on snow-shoes, until our mouths had a wild flavor more spicy than if we had chewed spruce-gum by the hour. Spruce-gum is the aboriginal quid of these regions. Foresters chew this tenacious morsel as tars nibble at a bit of oakum, grooms at a straw, Southerns at tobacco, or school-girls at a slate-pencil.
The barrack was fitted up with bunks. Iglesias rolled into one of these. I mummied myself in my blankets and did penance upon a bench. Pine-knots in my pallet sought out my tenderest spots. The softer wood was worn away about these projections. Hillocky was the surface, so that I beat about uneasily and awoke often, ready to envy Iglesias. But from him, also, I heard sounds of struggling.
UP THE LAKES.
Mr. Killgrove, slayer of forests, became the pilot of our voyage up Lake Moosetocmaguntic. We shoved off in a bateau, while Joseph Bourgogne, sad at losing us, stood among the stumps, waving adieux with a dish-clout. We had solaced his soul with meed of praise. And now, alas! we left him to the rude jokes and half-sympathies of the lumbermen. The artist-cook saw his appreciators vanish away, and his proud dish-clout drooped like a defeated banner.
"A fine lake," remarked Iglesias, instituting the matutinal conversation in a safe and general way.
"Yes," returned Mr. Killgrove, "when you come to get seven or eight feet more of water atop of this in spring, it is considerable of a puddle."
Our weather seemed to be now bettering with more resolution. Many days had passed since Aurora had shown herself,—many days since the rising sun and the world had seen each other. But yesterday this sulky estrangement ended, and, after the beautiful reconciliation at sunset, the faint mists of doubt in their brief parting for a night had now no power against the ardors of anticipated meeting. As we shot out upon the steaming water, the sun was just looking over the lower ridges of a mountain opposite. Air, blue and quivering, hung under shelter of the mountain-front, as if a film from the dim purple of night were hiding there to see what beauty day had, better than its own. The gray fog, so dreary for three mornings, was utterly vanquished; all was vanished, save where "swimming vapors sloped athwart the glen," and "crept from pine to pine." These had dallied, like spies of a flying army, to watch for chances of its return; but they, too, carried away by the enthusiasms of a world liberated and illumined, changed their allegiance, joined the party of hope and progress, and added the grace of their presence to the fair pageant of a better day.
Lake Moosetocmaguntic is good,—above the average. If its name had but two syllables, and the thing named were near Somewhere, poetry and rhetoric would celebrate it, and the world would be prouder of itself for another "gem." Now nobody sees it, and those who do have had their anticipations lengthened leagues by every syllable of its sesquipedalian title. One expects, perhaps, something more than what he finds. He finds a good average sheet of water, set in a circlet of dark forest,—forests sloping up to wooded hills, and these to wooded mountains. Very good and satisfactory elements, and worth notice,—especially when the artistic eye is also a fisherman's eye, and he detects fishy spots. As to wilderness, there can be none more complete. At the upper end of the lake is a trace of humanity in a deserted cabin on a small clearing. There a hermit pair once lived,—man and wife, utterly alone for fifteen years,—once or twice a year, perhaps, visited by lumbermen. Fifteen years alone with a wife! a trial, certainly,—not necessarily in the desponding sense of the word; not as Yankees have it, making trial a misfortune, but a test.
Mr. Killgrove entertained us with resinous-flavored talk. The voyage was unexcitingly pleasant. We passed an archipelago of scrubby islands, and, turning away from a blue vista of hills northward, entered a lovely curve of river richly overhung with arbor-vitae, a shadowy quiet reach of clear water, crowded below its beautiful surface with reflected forest and reflected sky.
"Iglesias," said I, "we divined how Mollychunkamug had its name; now, as to Moosetocmaguntic,—hence that elongated appellative?"
"It was named," replied Iglesias, "from the adventure of a certain hunter in these regions. He was moose-hunting here in days gone by. His tale runs thus:—'I had been four days without game, and naturally without anything to eat except pine-cones and green chestnuts. There was no game in the forest. The trout would not bite, for I had no tackle and no hook. I was starving. I sat me down, and rested my trusty, but futile rifle against a fallen tree. Suddenly I heard a tread, turned my head, saw a Moose,—took—my—gun,—tick! he was dead. I was saved. I feasted, and in gratitude named the lake Moosetookmyguntick.' Geography has modified it, but the name cannot be misunderstood."
We glided up the fair river, and presently came to the hut of Mr. Smith, fisherman and misogynist. And there is little more to be said about Mr. Smith. He appears in this chronicle because he owned a boat which became our vehicle on Lake Oquossok, Aquessok, Lakewocket, or Rangeley. Mr. Smith guided us across the carry to the next of the chain of lakes, and embarked us in a crazy skiff. It was blowing fresh, and, not to be wrecked, we coasted close to the gnarled arbor-vitae thickets. Smith sogered along, drawling dull legends of trout-fishing.
"Drefful notional critturs traout be," he said,—"olluz bitin' atwhodger hant got. Orful contrairy critturs,—jess like fimmls. Yer can cotch a fimml with a feather, ef she's ter be cotched; ef she hant ter be cotched, yer may scoop ther hul world dry an' yer hant got her. Jess so traout."
The misogynist bored us with his dull philosophy. The buffetings of inland waves were not only insulting, but dangerous, to our leaky punt. At any moment, Iglesias and I might find ourselves floundering together in thin fresh water. Joyfully, therefore, at last, did we discern clearings, culture, and habitations at the lake-head. There was no tavernous village of Rangeley; that would have been too great a contrast, after the forest and the lakes, where loons are the only disturbers of silence,—incongruity enough to overpower utterly the ringing of woodland music in our hearts. Rangeley was a townless township, as the outermost township should be. We had, however, learnt from Killgrove, feller of forests, that there was a certain farmer on the lake, one of the chieftains of that realm, who would hospitably entertain us. Smith, wheedler of trout, landed us in quite an ambitious foamy surf at the foot of a declivity below our future host's farm.
We had now traversed Lakes Umbagog, Weelocksebacook, Allegundabagog, Mollychunkamug, Moosetocmaguntic, and Oquossok.
We had been compelled to pronounce these names constantly. Of course our vocal organs were distorted. Of course our vocal nervous systems were shattered, and we had a chronic lameness of the jaws. We therefore recognized a peculiar appropriateness in the name of our host.
Toothaker was his name. He dwelt upon the lawn-like bank, a hundred feet above the lake. Mr. Toothaker himself was absent, but his wife received us hospitably, disposed us in her guest-chamber, and gratified us with a supper.
This was Rangeley Township, the outer settlement on the west side of Maine. A "squire" from England gave it his name. He bought the tract, named it, inhabited several years, a popular squire-arch, and then returned from the wild to the tame, from pine woods and stumpy fields to the elm-planted hedge-rows and shaven lawns of placid England. The local gossip did not reveal any cause for Mr. Rangeley's fondness for contrasts and exile.
Mr. Toothaker has been a careful dentist to the stumps of his farm. It is beautifully stumpless, and slopes verdantly, or varied with yellow harvest, down to the lake and up to the forest primeval. He has preserved a pretty grove of birch and maple as shelter, ornament, partridge-cover, and perpendicular wood-pile. Below his house and barns is the lovely oval of the lake, seen across the fair fields, bright with wheat, or green with pasture. A road, hedged with briskly-aspiring young spruces, runs for a mile northward, making a faint show at attacking the wilderness. A mile's loneliness is enough for this unsupported pioneer; he runs up a tree, sees nothing but dark woods, thinks of Labrador and the North Pole, and stops.
Next morning, Mr. Toothaker returned from a political meeting below among the towns. It was the Presidential campaign,—stirring days from pines to prairies, stirring days from codfish to cocoanuts. Tonguey men were talking from every stump all over the land. Blatant patriots were heard, wherever a flock of compatriots could be persuaded to listen. The man with one speech containing two stories was making the tour of all the villages. The man with two speeches, each with three stories, one of them very broad indeed, was in request for the towns. The oratorical Stentorian man, with inexhaustible rivers of speech and rafts of stories, was in full torrent at mass-meetings. There was no neighborhood that might not see and hear an M. C. But Rangeley had been the minus town, and by all the speech-makers really neglected; there was danger that its voters must deposit their ballots according to their own judgment, without any advice from strangers. This, of course, would never do. Mr. Toothaker found that we fraternized in politics. He called upon us, as patriots, to become the orators of the day. Why not? Except that these seldom houses do not promise an exhilarating crowd. We promised, however, that, if he would supply hearers, we between us would find a speaker.
Mr. Toothaker called a nephew, and charged him to boot and saddle, and flame it through the country-side that two "Men from New York" were there, and would give a "Lecture on Politics," at the Red School-House, at five, that evening.
And to the Red School-House, at five, crowded the men, ay, and the women and children, of Rangeley and thereabout. They came as the winds and waves come when forests and navies are rended and stranded. Horse, foot, and charioteers, they thronged toward the rubicund fountain of education. From houses that lurked invisible in clearings suddenly burst forth a population, an audience ardent with patriotism, eager for politics even from a Cockney interpreter, and numerous enough to stir electricity in a speaker's mind. Some of the matrons brought bundles of swaddled infants, to be early instructed in good citizenship; but too often these young patriots were found to have but crude notions on the subject of applause, and they were ignominiously removed, fighting violently for their privilege of free speech, doubling their unterrified fists, and getting as red in the face as the school-house.
Mr. Toothaker, in a neat speech, introduced the orator, who took his stand in the schoolmaster's pulpit, and surveyed his stalwart and gentle hearers, filling the sloping benches and overflowing out-of-doors. Gaffer and gammer, man and maiden, were distributed, the ladies to the right of the aisle, the gentlemen to the left. They must not be in contact,—perhaps because gaffer will gossip with gammer, and youth and maid will toy. Dignity demanded that they should be distinct as the conservative Right and radical Left of a French Assembly, Convenient, this, for the orator; since thus his things of beauty, joys forever, he could waft, in dulcet tones, over to the ladies' side, and his things of logic, tough morsels for life-long digestion, he could jerk, like bolts from an arbalist, over at the open mouths of gray gaffer and robust man.
I am not about to report the orator's speech. Stealing another's thunder is an offence punishable condignly ever since the days of Salmoneus. Perhaps, too, he may wish to use the same eloquent bits in the present Olympiad; for American life is measured by Olympiads, signalized by nobler contests than the petty States of Greece ever knew.
The people of Rangeley disappeared as mysteriously as they had emerged from the woods, having had their share of the good or bad talk of that year of freedom. If political harangues educate, the educated class was largely recruited that that summer.
Next day, again, was stormy. We stayed quietly under shelter, preparing for our real journey after so much prelude. The Isaac Newton's steam-whistle had sent up the curtain; the overture had followed with strains Der-Frei-schutzy in the Adirondacks, pastoral in the valleys of Vermont and New Hampshire, funebral and andante in the fogs of Mollychunkamug; now it was to end in an allegretto gallopade, and the drama would open.
At last the sun shone bright upon the silky ripples of the lake. Mr. Toothaker provided two buggies,—one for himself and our traps, one for Iglesias and me. We rattled away across county and county. And so at full speed we drove all day, and, with a few hours' halt, all night,—all a fresh, starry night,—until gay sunrise brought us to Skowhegan, on the road to Moosehead Lake.
As we had travelled all night, breakfast must be our substitute for slumber. Repletion, instead of repose, must restore us. Two files of red-shirted lumbermen, brandishing knives at each other across a long table, only excited us to livelier gymnastics; and when we had thus hastily crammed what they call in Maine beefsteak, and what they infuse down East for coffee, we climbed to the top of a coach of the bounding-billow motion, and went pitching northward.
Two facts we learned from our coachman: one, that we were passing that day through a "pretty sassy country"; also, that the same region was "only meant to hold the world together." Personal "sassiness" is a trait of which every Yankee is proud; Iglesias and I both venture to hope that we appreciate the value of that quality, and have properly cultivated it. Topographical "sassiness," unmodified by culture and control, is a rude, rugged, and unattractive trait; and New England is, on the whole, "sassier" than I could wish. Let the dullish day's drive, then, be passed over dumbly. In the evening, we dismounted at Greenville, at the foot of Moosehead Lake.
The rivers of Maine, as a native observed to me, "olluz spread 'mselves inter bulges." Mollychunkamug and her fellows are the bulges of the Androscoggin; Moosehead, of the Kennebec. Sluggish streams do not need such pauses. Peace is thrown away upon stolidity. The torrents of Maine are hasty young heroes, galloping so hard when they gallop, and charging with such rash enthusiasm when they charge, hurrying with such Achillean ardor toward their eternity of ocean, that they would never know the influence, in their heart of hearts, of blue cloudlessness, or the glory of noonday, or the pageantries of sunset,—they would only tear and rive and shatter carelessly. Nature, therefore, provides valleys for the streams to bulge in, and entertain celestial reflections.
Nature, arranging lake-spots as educational episodes for the Maine rivers, disposes them also with a view to utility. Mr. Killgrove and his fellow-lumbermen treat lakes as log-puddles and raft-depots. Moosehead is the most important of these, and keeps a steamboat for tugging rafts and transporting raftsmen.
Moosehead also provides vessels far dearer to the heart of the adventurous than anything driven by steam. Here, mayhap, will an untravelled traveller make his first acquaintance with the birch-bark canoe, and learn to call it by the affectionate diminutive, "Birch." Earlier in life there was no love lost between him and whatever bore that name. Even now, if the untravelled one's first acquaintance be not distinguished by an unlovely ducking, so much the worse. The ducking must come. Caution must be learnt by catastrophe. No one can ever know how unstable a thing is a birch canoe, unless he has felt it slide away from under his misplaced feet. Novices should take nude practice in empty birches, lest they spill themselves and the load of full ones,—a wondrous easy thing to do.
A birch canoe is the right thing in the right place. Maine's rivers are violently impulsive and spasmodic in their running. Sometimes you have a foamy rapid, sometimes a broad shoal, sometimes a barricade of boulders with gleams of white water springing through or leaping over its rocks. Your boat for voyaging here must be stout enough to buffet the rapid, light enough to skim the shallow, agile enough to vault over, or lithe enough to slip through, the barricade. Besides, sometimes the barricade becomes a compact wall,—a baffler, unless boat and boatmen can circumvent it,—unless the nautical carriage can itself be carried about the obstacle,—can be picked up, shouldered, and made off with.
A birch meets all these demands. It lies, light as a leaf, on whirlpooling surfaces. A tip of the paddle can turn it into the eddy beside the breaker. A check of the setting-pole can hold it steadfast on the brink of wreck. Where there is water enough to varnish the pebbles, there it will glide. A birch thirty feet long, big enough for a trio and their traps, weighs only seventy-five pounds. When the rapid passes into a cataract, when the wall of rock across the stream is impregnable in front, it can be taken in the flank by an amphibious birch. The navigator lifts his canoe out of water, and bonnets himself with it. He wears it on head and shoulders, around the impassable spot. Below the rough water, he gets into his elongated chapeau and floats away. Without such vessel, agile, elastic, imponderable, and transmutable, Androscoggin, Kennebec, and Penobscot would be no thoro'fares for human beings. Musquash might dabble, chips might drift, logs might turn somersets along their lonely currents; but never voyager, gentle or bold, could speed through brilliant perils, gladdening the wilderness with shout and song.
Maine's rivers must have birch canoes; Maine's woods, of course, therefore, provide birches. The white-birch, paper-birch, canoe-birch, grows large in moist spots near the stream where it is needed. Seen by the flicker of a campfire at night, they surround the intrusive traveller like ghosts of giant sentinels. Once, Indian tribes with names that "nobody can speak and nobody can spell" roamed these forests. A stouter second growth of humanity has ousted them, save a few seedy ones who gad about the land, and centre at Oldtown, their village near Bangor. These aborigines are the birch-builders. They detect by the river-side the tree barked with material for canoes. They strip it, and fashion an artistic vessel, which civilization cannot better. Launched in the fairy lightness of this, and speeding over foamy waters between forest-solitudes, one discovers, as if he were the first to know it, the truest poetry of pioneer-life.
Such poetry Iglesias had sung to me, until my life seemed incomplete while I did not know the sentiment by touch, description, even from the most impassioned witness, addressed to the most imaginative hearer, is feeble. We both wanted to be in a birch: Iglesias, because he knew the fresh, inspiring vivacity of such a voyage; I, because I divined it. We both needed to be somewhere near the heart of New England's wildest wilderness. We needed to see Katahdin,—the distinctest mountain to be found on this side of the continent. Katahdin was known to Iglesias. He had scuffled up its eastern land-slides with a squad of lumbermen. He had birched it down to Lake Chesuncook in by-gone summers, to see Katahdin distant. Now, in a birch we would slide down the Penobscot, along its line of lakes, camp at Katahdin, climb it, and speed down the river to tide-water.
That was the great object of all our voyage with its educating preludes,—Katahdin and a breathless dash down the Penobscot. And while we flashed along the gleam of the river, Iglesias fancied he might see the visible, and hear the musical, and be stirred by the beautiful. These, truly, are not far from the daily life of any seer, listener, and perceiver; but there, perhaps, up in the strong wilderness, we might be recreated to a more sensitive vitality. The Antaean treatment is needful for terrestrials, unless they would dwindle. The diviner the power in any artist-soul, the more distinctly is he commanded to get near the divine without him. Fancies pale, that are not fed on facts. It is very easy for any man to be a plagiarist from himself, and present his own reminiscences half disguised, instead of new discoveries. Now, up by Katahdin, there were new discoveries to be made; and that mountain would sternly eye us, to know whether Iglesias were a copyist, or I a Cockney.
Katahdin was always in its place up in the woods. The Penobscot was always buzzing along toward the calm reaches, where it takes the shadow of the mountain. All we needed was the birch.
The birch thrust itself under our noses as we drove into Greenville. It was mounted upon a coach that preceded us, and wabbled oddly along, like a vast hat upon a dwarf. We talked with its owner, as he dismounted it. He proved our very man. He and his amphibious canoe had just made the trip we proposed, with a flotilla. Certain Bostonians had essayed it,—vague Northmen, preceding our Columbus voyage.
Enter now upon the scene a new and important character, Cancut the canoe-man. Mr. Cancut, owner and steerer of a birch, who now became our "guide, philosopher, and friend," is as American as a birch, as the Penobscot, or as Katahdin's self. Cancut was a jolly fatling,—almost too fat, if he will pardon me, for sitting in the stern of the imponderable canoe. Cancut, though for this summer boatman or bircher, had other strings to his bow. He was taking variety now, after employment more monotonous. Last summer, his services had been in request throughout inhabited Maine, to "peddle gravestones and collect bills." The Gravestone-Peddler is an institution of New England. His wares are wanted, or will be wanted, by every one. Without discriminating the bereaved households, he presents himself at any door, with attractive drawings of his wares, and seduces people into paying the late tribute to their great-grandfather, or laying up a monument for themselves against the inevitable day of demand. His customers select from his samples a tasteful "set of stones"; and next summer he drives up and unloads the marble, with the names well spelt, and the cherub's head artistically chiselled by the best workmen of Boston. Cancut told us, as an instance of judicious economy, how, when he called once upon a recent widow to ask what he could do in his line for her deceased husband's tomb, she chose from his patterns neat head- and foot-stones for the dear defunct, and then bargained with him to throw in a small pair for her boy Johnny,—a poor, sick crittur, that would be wanting his monument long before next summer.
This lugubrious business had failed to infect Mr. Cancut with corresponding deportment. Undertakers are always sombre in dreary mockery of woe. Sextons are solemncholy, if not solemn. I fear Cancut was too cheerful for his trade, and therefore had abandoned it.
Such was our guide, the captain, steersman, and ballaster of our vessel. We struck our bargain with him at once, and at once proceeded to make preparations. Chiefly we prepared by stripping ourselves bare of everything except "must-haves." A birch, besides three men, will carry only the simplest baggage of a trio. Passengers who are constantly to make portages will not encumber themselves with what-nots. Man must have clothes for day and night, and must have provisions to keep his clothes properly filled out. These two articles we took in compact form, regretting even the necessity of guarding against a ducking by a change of clothes. Our provision, that unrefined pork and hard tack, presently to be converted into artist and friend, was packed with a few delicacies in a firkin,—a commodious case, as we found.
A little steamer plies upon the lake, doing lumber-jobs, and not disdaining the traveller's dollars. Upon this, one August morning, we embarked ourselves and our frail birch, for our voyage to the upper end of Moosehead. Iglesias, in a red shirt, became a bit of color in the scene. I, in a red shirt, repeated the flame. Cancut, outweighing us both together, in a broader red shirt, outglared us both. When we three met, and our scarlet reflections commingled, there was one spot in the world gorgeous as a conclave of cardinals, as a squad of British grenadiers, as a Vermont maple-wood in autumn.
A sense of the importance of rifle-practice is becoming very generally prevalent. Rifle-clubs are organizing in our country-towns, and target-practice by individuals is increasing to a degree which proves incontestably the interest which is felt in the subject. The chief obstacle to the immediate and extensive practical operation of this interest lies in the difficulty of procuring serviceable guns, except at such a cost as places them beyond the reach of the majority of those who would be glad to make themselves familiar with their use. Except in occasional instances, it is impossible to procure a trustworthy rifle for a less price than forty or fifty dollars. We believe, however, that the competition which has already become very active between rival manufacturers will erelong effect a material reduction of price; and we trust also that our legislators will perceive the necessity of adopting a strict military organization of all the able-bodied men in the State, and providing them with weapons, with whose use they should be encouraged to make themselves familiar—apart from military drill and instruction—by the institution of public shooting-matches for prizes. The absolute necessity of stringent laws, in order to secure the attainment of anything worthy the name of military education and discipline, has been clearly proved by the experience of the drill-clubs which sprang into existence in such numbers last year. To say, that, as a general rule, the moral strength of the community is not sufficient to enable a volunteer association to sustain for any great length of time the severe and irksome details which are inseparable from the attainment of thorough military discipline, is no more a reflection upon the class to which the remark is applied than would be the equally true assertion that their physical strength is not equal to the performance of the work of an ordinary day-laborer. Under the pressure of necessity, both moral and physical strength might be forced and kept up to the required standard; but the mere conviction of expediency is not enough to secure its development, unless enforced by such laws as will insure universal and systematic action. A voluntary association for military instruction may be commenced with a zeal which will carry its members for a time through the daily routine of drilling; but it will not be long before the ranks will begin to diminish, and the observance of discipline become less strict; and if the officers attempt to enforce the laws by which all have agreed to abide, those laws will speedily be rescinded by the majority who find them galling, and the tie by which they are bound together will prove a rope of sand.
With the return of the troops who are now acquiring military knowledge in the best of all possible schools, we shall possess the necessary material for executing whatever system may be decided upon as best for the military education of the people; but meantime we may lay the foundation for it, and take the most efficient means of securing legislative action, by the immediate organization of rifle-clubs for target-practice throughout the State. These clubs may be commenced very informally by a simple agreement among those who are interested and are provided, or will provide themselves, with weapons, to meet together at stated intervals for target-practice, which should be conducted according to the rules which have been found most effectual for securing good marksmanship. The mere interest of competition will be sufficient to insure private practice in the intervals; and if properly and respectably conducted, the interest will increase till it becomes general, and the target-ground will become a central object of attraction.
We earnestly invite the attention not only of all who are impressed with the necessity of inculcating a thorough practical knowledge of the use of weapons, as a measure of national interest, but of all who are interested in the subject of physical, and we may add, moral education, to the field which is here opened, and which, if not improved, as it may be, for noble and useful ends, will certainly be perverted for low and immoral purposes.
The interest which is beginning to be awakened in rifle-practice is the germ of a great movement, which it is the duty of all who have the national welfare at heart to use their influence in guiding and directing, as may easily be done, so that only good may result from it. Let it be countenanced and encouraged by the men, in every community, whose words and example give tone to public opinion, and it will become, as it ought, a means of health-giving and generous rivalry, while it infuses a sense of national power, which we, of all people on earth, ought to derive from the consciousness that it is based upon the physical ability of the people to maintain their own rights. If, however, it is frowned upon and sneered at, as unworthy the attention of a morally and intellectually cultivated people, we shall draw upon ourselves the curse of creating a sin,—of poisoning at its source a fountain whose elements in themselves are not only innocent, but abounding in the best ingredients for the development of manly physical and intellectual character.
We trust, however, that such a caution is unnecessary. If there are any among us who, after the past year's experience, can look with doubt or coldness upon such a movement as we have indicated, we should hardly care to waste words in arguing the point. That such a feeling should have heretofore existed is not, perhaps, surprising. The possibility of such an emergency as has come upon us has seemed so improbable, not to say impossible, that it has appeared like a waste of time and labor to prepare for it; and the result has been, that we had come to look upon military education with much the same feeling as that with which we regard the pugilistic art, as of questionable, if not decidedly disreputable character, and such as a nation of our respectability could by no possibility have occasion for.
From this dream of security we have been unexpectedly and very disagreeably awakened, by finding ourselves engaged in a war whose magnitude we were at first slow to appreciate; and it was not till we found ourselves ominously threatened by a foreign power, while still engaged in a fearful struggle at home, that we seemed to be fully aroused to the necessity of being at all times prepared for defence.
Then there came over us a universal consciousness of undeveloped strength,—the feeling of a powerful man, who knows nothing of "the noble art of self-defence," at finding himself suddenly confronted by a professional boxer, who demands, with an ominous squaring of the shoulders, what he meant by treading on his toes,—to which he, poor man, instead of replying that it was so obviously unintentional that no gentleman would think of demanding an apology, is fain, in order to escape the impending blow, to answer by assuring the bully in the most soothing terms that no insult was intended, that he never will do so again, and hopes that the occasion may serve as a precedent for Mr. Bully himself to avoid the corns of his neighbors for the future.
It is comparatively but few years since the success of Colonel Colt in the application of the repeating principle to fire-arms was regarded as a feat in which every American felt a national pride. It was such a vast improvement upon anything which had previously existed, and the importance of it was so obvious, that it became as much a matter of necessity to the whole civilized world as iron-clad steamers have become since the demonstration of their power which was given by the performances of the Merrimack and the Monitor. And, indeed, the best evidence of the universal acknowledgment of this fact is afforded by the innumerable imitations and attempts at improvement which have since made their appearance at home and abroad.
We have used Colt's 51-inch rifle, and also his rifled carbine, very freely, and tested them thoroughly for range, precision, penetration, and capacity for continued service, and for our own use in hunting are entirely satisfied with the performance of this rifle, and should be at a loss to imagine any possible demand of a hunter's weapon which it would fail to meet.
An able and interesting article on "Rifled Guns" in the "Atlantic Monthly" for October, 1859, has the following passage: "No breech-loading gun is so trustworthy in its execution as a muzzle-loader; for, in spite of all precautions, the bullets will go out irregularly. We have cut out too many balls of Sharpe's rifle from the target, which had entered sidewise, not to be certain on this point; and we know of no other breech-loader so little likely to err in this respect."
We cannot speak of Sharpe's rifle from our own experience, but from one of the best riflemen of our acquaintance we have heard the same report,—that the cones will occasionally turn and strike sidewise. We do not believe, however, that this fault is a necessary consequence of the peculiar method of loading; but, whatever may be the cause, with Colt's rifle the evil does not exist. For the past year we have practised with it at ranges of from fifty to six hundred yards, and have fired something like two thousand rounds; and only three balls have struck the target sidewise, two of which were ricochets, and the third struck a limb of a bush a few feet in front of the target. In no other instance has the shot failed to cut a perfectly true round hole, and these exceptions would of course be equally applicable to any gun. With the latest pattern of Colt's rifle we have never known an instance of a premature discharge of either of the chambers; though, from the repeated inquiries which have been made, it is obvious that such is the general apprehension. In reply to the common assertion, that much of the explosive force must be lost by escape of gas between the chamber and the barrel, we simply state the fact that we have repeatedly shot through nine inches of solid white cedar timber at forty yards. Finally, at two hundred yards, we find no difficulty in making an average of five inches from the centre, in ten successive shots, of which eight inches is the extreme variation. This is good enough for any ordinary purposes of hunting or military service,—for anything, in short, but gambling or fancy work; and for our own use, against either man or beast, we should ask no better weapon. But we should be very far from advocating its general adoption in military service; and, indeed, our own experience with it has brought the conviction that the repeating principle in any form is decidedly objectionable in guns for the use of ordinary troops of the line. We do not extend the objection to pistols in their proper place, but speak now solely of rifles in the hands of infantry.
In action, the time of each soldier must of necessity be divided between the processes of loading and firing; and it is better that these should come in regular alternate succession than that a series of rapid shots should be succeeded by the longer interval required for inserting a number of charges. It would be hard to assign definitely the most important reasons for this conviction, which are based upon, elements that prevail so generally in the moral and physical characters of men, and which we have so often seen developed in the excitement of hunting large game, that we can readily appreciate the motives which have made sagacious military men very shy of trusting miscellaneous bodies of soldiers with a weapon whose possible advantages are more than counterbalanced by the probable mischief that must ensue from the want of such instinctive power of manipulation as could result only from constant and long-continued familiarity, and which even then might be paralyzed in very many instances by nervous excitement.
We would not, however, be understood as condemning breech-loading guns for military service. On the contrary, we are firm in the conviction that they are destined to supersede entirely every species of muzzle-loaders, which will thenceforward be regarded only as curious evidences of the difficulty of making an advance of a single step, which, when taken, seems so simple that it appears incredible that it was not thought of before. The ingenuity of thousands of our most skilful men is now turned in this direction, and stimulated by a demand which will obviously insure a fortune to the successful competitor. The advantages of a breech-loading gun consist in the greater rapidity with which it can be loaded and fired, and the avoidance of the exposure incident to the motions of drawing the ramrod and ramming the cartridge. We are well aware that rapid firing is in itself an evil, and that a common complaint with officers is that the men will not take time enough in aiming to insure efficiency; but granting this, it by no means follows that the evil will be increased by the ability to load rapidly. Its remedy lies in thorough discipline and practical knowledge of the use of the gun; and the soldier will be more likely to take time for aiming, if he knows he can be ready to repeat his shot almost instantly.