The celebrated explorer, Sir John Mandeville, relates in the history of his discoveries that he heard whole groves of trees talking to one another. And when we come down to the present day, R.W. Emerson, of Concord, asseverates that trees have conversed with him,—that they speak Italian, English, German, Basque, Castilian, and several other languages perfectly,—
"Mountain speech to Highlanders, Ocean tongues to islanders,"—
and that he himself was on one occasion transformed into a Pine (Pinus rigida) and talked quite a large volume of philosophy while in that condition. Walter Whitman, Esq., author of "Leaves of Grass," relates similar personal experience. Tennyson, (Alfred,) now the Laureate of England, and upon whom the University of Oxford, a few years ago, conferred the title of Doctor of Laws, gives us a long conversation he once held with an Oak, reporting the exact words it said to him: they are excellent English, and corroborate what I said above respecting the wisdom of trees.
If all this evidence, and I might add much more equally conclusive, did I think it necessary, does not, O skeptic, convince you of the humanity of trees, why, let me say that you hold for true a hundred things not based upon half so good testimony as this,—that I have seen juries persuaded of facts, and bring in verdicts in accordance with them, not nearly so well authenticated as these,—and that I have heard clergymen preach sermons two hours long, constructed out of arguments which they positively persisted you should regard as decisive, that were, to say the least, no better than those here advanced. And now, if these things be so, in the words of the great Grecian, John P., what are you going to do about it?
Trees, like animals, are righteously sacrificed only when required to supply our wants. A man does not go out into the fields and mutilate or destroy his horses and oxen: let him treat the oaks and the elms with the same humanity. I would that enough of the old mythology to which I have alluded, and which our fathers called religion, still lived among us to awaken a virtuous indignation in our breasts when we witnessed the wanton destruction of trees. I once remonstrated with a cruel wretch whom I saw engaged in taking the life of some beautiful elms inhabiting a piece of pasture-land. He replied, that in the hot days of summer the cattle did nothing but lie under them and chew their cud, when they should be at work feeding on the grass,—that his oxen did not get fat fast enough, nor his cows give as much milk as they should give,—"and so," said he, "I'm goin' to fix 'em,"—and down came every one of the hospitable old trees. We are not half so humane in our conduct towards the inferior races and tribes as the old Romans whom we calumniate with the epithet of Pagans. The Roman Senate degraded one of its members for putting to death a bird that had taken refuge in his bosom: would not the Senate of the United States "look pretty," undertaking such a thing? A complete Christian believes not only in the dogmas of the Bible, but also in the mythology, or religion of Nature, which teaches us, no less than it taught our fathers, to regard wanton cruelty towards any vegetable or animal creature which lives in the breath and smile of the Creator, as a sin against Heaven.
Having in the above paragraph got into the parson's private preserve, as I shall be liable anyhow to an action for trespass, I am tempted to commit the additional transgression of poaching, and to give you a few extracts from a sermon a friend of mine once delivered. [It was addressed to a small congregation of Monothelites in a village "out West," just after the annual spring freshet, when half the inhabitants of the place were down with the chills and fever. It was his maiden effort,—he having just left the Seminary,—and did not "take" at all, as he learned the next day, when Deacon Jenners (the pious philanthropist of the place) called to tell him that his style of preaching "would never do," that his thoughts were altogether of too worldly a nature, and his language, decidedly unfit for the sacred "desk." Besides,—though he would not assume the responsibility of deciding that point before he had consulted with the Standing Committee,—he did not think his sentiments exactly orthodox. My friend was disgusted on the spot, and, being seized with a chill shortly afterwards, concluded not to accept the "call," and, packing his trunk, started in quest of a healthier locality and a more enlightened congregation.]
"And here permit me to add a word or two for the purpose of correcting a very prevalent error.
"Most men, I find, suppose that this earth belongs to them,—to the human race alone. It does not,—no more than the United States belong to Rhode Island. Human life is not a ten-thousand-millionth of the life on the planet, nor the race of men more than an infinitesimal fraction of the creatures which it nourishes. A swarm of summer flies on a field of clover, or the grasshoppers in a patch of stubble, outnumber the men that have lived since Adam. And yet we assume the dignity of lords and masters of the globe! Is not this a flagrant delusion of self-conceit? Let a pack of hungry wolves surround you here in the forest, and who is master? Let a cloud of locusts descend upon a hundred square miles of this territory, and what means do you possess to arrest their ravages?...
"As a matter of fact, then, we do not own the world. And now let me say, that, as a matter of right, we ought not: man was the last created of creatures. When our race appeared on the earth, it had been for millions of years in quiet, exclusive, undisputed possession of the birds, beasts, fishes, and insects: it was their world then, and we were intruders and trespassers upon their domain....
"If, then, the other races have a right to exist on the planet as much as we, what follows? Surely, that they have a right to their share and proportion of the ground and its fruits, and the blessings of Heaven by which life here is sustained: man has no right to expect a monopoly of them. If we get a week of sunshine which supplies our wants, we have no reason to complain of the succeeding week of rain which supplies the wants of other races. If we raise a crop of wheat, and the insect foragers take tithes of it, we have no right to find fault: a share of it belongs to them. If you plant a field with corn, and the weeds spring up also along with it, why do you complain? Have not the weeds as much right there as the corn? If you encamp in one of the numberless swamps which surround this settlement, and get assailed by countless millions of robust mosquitoes, why do you rave and swear (as I know most of you would do under such circumstances) and want to know 'what in the —— mosquitoes were made for'? Why, to puncture the skin of blockheads and blasphemers like you, and suck the last drop of blood from their veins. Why, let me ask you, did you go out there? That place belonged to the mosquitoes, not to you; and you knew you were trespassing upon their land. The mosquitoes exist for themselves, and were created for the enjoyment of their own mosquito-life. Why was man created? The Bible does not answer the question directly; the divines in the Catechism say, 'To glorify God.' Now I should like to know if a Westminster Catechism of the mosquitoes would'nt make as good an answer for them?
"And here I am just in the act of annihilating with a logical stroke a multitude of grumblers and croakers. If this world does not belong exclusively to man, and the other races have as much right here as he, and, consequently, a claim to their proportion of land, water, and sky, and their share of food for the sustenance of life, what follows?
"A great many men, taking northeast storms, bleak winds, thunder-showers, flies, mosquitoes, Canada thistles, hot sunshine, cold snows, weeds, briers, thorns, wild beasts, snakes, alligators, and such like things, which they don't happen to like, and putting them all together, attempt to persuade you that this green earth is a complete failure, a wreck and blasted ruin. Don't you believe that, for it's wicked infidelity. I tell you the world is not all so bad as Indiana, and especially that part of the State which you, unfortunately, inhabit. I have seen, my friends, a large portion of the planet, and if there is another spot anywhere quite so infernal as Wabashville, why, I solemnly assure you I never found it.—And now for the point which shall prick your conscience and penetrate your understanding! Do the bears and wolves, the coons and foxes, the owls and wild-geese, find this region unhealthy, and get the chills and fever, and go around grumbling and cursing? Don't they find this climate especially salubrious and suited exactly to their constitutions? Well, then, that's because they belong here, and you don't. This region was never intended for the habitation of man: it belongs exclusively to the wild beasts and the fowls of the air, and you have no business here. [Manifest signs of disapprobation on part of Deacon Taylor, an extensive owner of town-lots.] And if you persist in remaining here, what moral right have you to complain of God?...
"Remember, then, in conclusion, that, for millions of years before our race existed, mosquitoes, weeds, briers, thorns, thistles, snow-storms, and northeast winds prevailed upon this planet, and that during all this time it was pronounced by the Deity himself to be 'very good.' If, then, the earth appears to be evil, is it not because 'thine eye is evil'? We share this world, my friends, with other races, whose wants are different from ours; and we are all of equal importance in the eyes of our Maker, who distributes to each its share of blessings—man and monster both alike—with impartial favor. Is not thus the fallacy of the corruption of Nature exposed, and the lie against our Creator's wisdom, love, and goodness dragged into noonday light?"
* * * * *
But it is time to recommence our rambles through the City of the Dead.
Right here I come across on a tombstone,—"All our children. Emma, aged 1 mo. 23 days. John, 3 years 5 days. Anna, aged 1 year 1 mo." As a physiologist, I might make some very instructive comments upon this; but I forbear.
And here, upon another, a few rods farther on, is an epitaph in verse:—
"Calm be her slumbers near kindred are sighing, A husband deplores in deep anguish of heart, Beneath the cold earth unconsciously lying, No murmur can reach her, no tempest can start."
"Calm be her sleep as the silence of even When hearts unto deep invocation give birth. With a prayer she has _knelt at the portal of heaven_ And found the admission she hoped for on earth_."
Not to speak of the "poetry" just here, how charmingly consistent with each other are the ideas contained in the passages I have italicized! In the first verse, you observe, the inmate is sleeping unconscious beneath the ground: in the second verse, she has ascended to heaven and found admittance to mansions in the skies!—A similar confusion and contradiction of ideas occur in most of the epitaphs I see. Does our theology furnish us with no clear conception of the state of the soul after death? The Catholic Church teaches that the spirit at death descends into the interior of the earth to a place called Hades, where it is detained until the day of judgment, when it is reunited with the dust of the body, and ascends to a heaven in the sky. This doctrine has the merit of being positive, clear, and comprehensible, and, consequently, whenever expressed, it always means something exact and well-defined. Has the Protestant Church equally definite notions on the subject, or, in fact, any fixed opinions respecting it whatever? If not, why, as a matter of good taste, for no weightier reason, in records almost imperishable like these, leave the matter alone! Silence is better than nonsense. Suppose a few thousand years hence our civilization to have become extinct, and that some antiquary from the antipodes should visit this desolate hill to excavate, like Layard at Nineveh, for relics of the old Americans. Suppose, having collected a ship-load of broken tombstones, he should forward them to the Polynesian Museum, and set the savans of the age at work deciphering their inscriptions, what sense would be made out of these epitaphs? How would they interpret our notions of a future state? Taking our own monuments, cut with our own hands, inscribed with our own signs-manual, what would they infer our system of religion to have been? If the Egyptians were as vague and careless as we in this matter, our archaeologists must have made some amusing blunders.
Here are two epitaphs which suggest something else:—
"I loved him in his beauty, A mother boy while here, I knew he was an angel bright Formed for another sphere."
"Farewell my wife and children dear God calls you home to rest. Still Angels wisper in my ear We'll meet in heavenly bliss."
I want to make two annotations upon these. In No. 1 you will notice that a possessive 's is wanting, and in No. 2 that the h is omitted from whisper. A marble-cutter told me once, that a Pennsylvania Dutchman came to him one day to have an inscription cut upon a gravestone for his daughter, whose name was Fanny. The father, upon learning that the price of the inscription would be ten cents a letter, insisted that Fanny should be spelt with one n, as he should thereby save a dime! The marble-cutter, unable to overcome the obstinacy of the frugal Teuton, and unwilling to set up such a monument of his ignorance of spelling, compromised the matter by conforming to the current orthography, and inserted the superfluous consonant for nothing. And my second annotation shall consist of an inquiry: What is there in corrupt and diseased human nature which makes persons prefer such execrable rhyme as that quoted above, and that which I find upon two-thirds of the tombstones here, to decent English prose, which one would suppose might have been produced at a much less expenditure of intellectual effort? But since it is an unquestionable fact that we are thus totally depraved in taste and feeling, why don't some of our bards, to whom the Muse has not been propitious in other departments of metrical composition, and who, to be blunt, are good for nothing else, such as ——, or ——, and many others you know, come out here among the marble-cutters and open an epitaph-shop? Mournful stanzas might then be procured of every size and pattern, composed with decent reverence for the rules of grammar, respect for the feet and limbs of the linear members, and possibly some regard for consistency in the ideas they might chance occasionally to express. Genin the hatter, and Cockroach Lyon, each keeps a poet. Why cannot the marble-cutters procure some of the Heliconian fraternity as partners? Bards would thus serve the cause of education, benefit future antiquaries, and earn more hard dimes ten times over than they do in writing lines for the blank corners of newspapers and the waste spaces between articles in magazines. I throw this hint out of the window of the "Atlantic," in the fervent hope that it will be seen, picked up, and pocketed by some reformer who is now out of business; and I would earnestly urge such individual to agitate the question with all his might, and wake up the community to the vital importance, by making use of "poetic fire" and "inspired frenzy" now going to waste, or some other instrumentality, of a reformation in epitaphic necrology.
Seriously, modern epitaphs are a burlesque upon religion, a caricature of all things holy, divine, and beautiful, and an outrage upon the common sense and culture of the community. A collection of comic churchyard poetry might be made in this place which would eclipse the productions of Mr. K.N. Pepper, and cause a greater "army of readers to explode" than his "Noad to a Whealbarrer" or the "Grek Slaiv" has done.
* * * * *
During our rambles among the tombstones the sun has long since passed the meridian, and the streets and avenues of the cemetery are crowded with carriages and thronged with pedestrians, the tramping of horses' feet, the rumbling of wheels, and the voices of men fill the air, and the place which was so silent and deserted this morning is now as noisy and bustling as the metropolis yonder. And soon begin to arrive thick and fast the funeral trains. Many of the black-plumed hearses are followed by only a single hired coach or omnibus, others by long trails of splendid equipages. Upon the broad slope of a hill, whither the greater number of the processions move, entirely destitute of trees and flooded with sunshine, many thousand graves, mostly unmarked by headstones, lie close together, resembling in appearance a corn-field which has been permitted to run to grass unploughed. Standing upon an elevated point near the summit, and looking down those acres of hillocks to where the busy laborers are engaged in putting bodies into the ground, covering them with earth, and rounding the soil over them, one is perhaps struck for the first time with the full force, meaning, and beauty of the language of Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians:—"That which thou sowest is not that body which shall be, but bare grain. It [the human body] is sown in corruption, is sown in dishonor, is sown in weakness. It is sown a natural body; it is raised [or springs up, to complete the figure] a spiritual body. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven."—I once heard a distinguished botanist dispute the accuracy of this simile, inasmuch, he said, as the seed, when it is sown in the ground, does not die, but in fact then first begins to live and to display the vital force which was previously asleep in it; while the human body decays and is resolved into its primitive gaseous, mineral, and vegetable elements, the particles of which, disseminated everywhere, and transferred through chemical affinities into other and new organisms, lose all traces of their former connection.—In answer to such a finical criticism as this, intended to invalidate the authority of the great Apostolic Theologian, I replied, that Paul was not an inspired botanist,—in fact, that he probably knew nothing whatever about botany as a science,—but an inspired religious teacher, who employed the language of his people and the measure of knowledge to which his age had attained, to expound to his contemporaries the principles of his Master's religion. I am not familiar with the nicer points of strict theological orthodoxy, but, from modern sermons and commentaries, I should infer that few doctors of even the most straitest school of divinity hold to the doctrine of verbal inspiration. That the Prophets and Apostles were acquainted with botany, chemistry, geology, or any other modern science, is a notion as unfounded in truth as it is hostile and foreign to the object and purpose of Revelation, which is strictly confined to religion and ethics. Those persons, therefore, (and they are a numerous class,) who resort to the Bible, assuming that it professes to be an inspired manual of universal knowledge, and then, because they find in its figurative Oriental phraseology, or in its metaphors and illustrations, some inaccuracies of expression or misstatements of scientific facts, would throw discredit upon the essential religious dogmas and doctrines which it is its object to state and unfold, are, to say the least, extremely disingenuous, if not deficient in understanding.
But a much more prolific source of injury to the character of the Bible than that just mentioned is the injudicious and impertinent labors of many who volunteer in its defence. "Oh, save me from my friends!" might the Prophets and Apostles, each and all, too often exclaim of their supporters.—It is said that all men are insane upon some point: so are classes and communities. The popular monomania which at present prevails among a class of persons whose zeal surpasses their prudence and knowledge is a foolish fear and trembling lest the tendencies of science should result in the overthrow of the Bible. They seem, somehow, to be fully persuaded that the inspired word of God has no inherent power to stand alone,—that it has fallen among thieves and robbers,—is being pelted with fossil coprolites, suffocated with fire-mist and primitive gases, or beaten over the head with the shank-bones of Silurian monsters, and is bawling aloud for assistance. Therefore, not stopping to dress, they dash out into the public notice without hat or coat, in such unclothed intellectual condition as they happen to be in,—in their shirt, or stark naked often,—and rush frantically to its aid.
The most melancholy case of this intellectual delirium tremens that probably ever came under the notice of any reader is found in a professed apology for the Scriptures, recently published, under the pompous and bombastic title of "COSMOGONY, OR THE MYSTERIES OF CREATION."—A volume of such puerile trash, such rubbish, twaddle, balderdash, and crazy drivelling[A] as this, was never before vomited from the press of any land, and beside it the "REVELATIONS" of Andrew Jackson Davis, the "Poughkeepsie Seer," rises to the lofty grandeur of the "Novum Organon,"—a sight that makes one who really respects the Bible hang his head for shame.
[Footnote A: As the reader may never have seen this unique volume, and will be amused by a specimen of its grammar, rhetoric, wisdom, and learning, let him take a morceau or two from the commencement of a chapter entitled, "Naturalists.—Their Classification of Man and Beasts."—"We look upon the animal in no different light from that of a vegetable, a plant, or a rock-crystal, which forms under the Creative hand, performs its part for the use of man, dissolves and reproduces by its parts another comfort for him. The animal bears no resemblance to man, not even in his brain."—"One tree may bear apples, and another acorns, but they are not to be compared, the one as bearing a relation to the other, because they have each a body and limbs. They are distinct trees, and one will always produce apples and the other acorns, as long as they produce anything." (Indeed!)—"The usual classification of animals, is that of Vertebrata, Articulata, Mollusca, and Radiata. This is not only offensive to man,—but is impiety towards God." (Why?)—"We are told by these naturalists that man belongs to the class called 'Vertebrata.' So does the snake, the monkey, the lizard and crocodile, and many other low and mean animals.—Have these creatures the reasoning faculties of man? Do they walk erect like man? Have they feet, hands, legs, arms, hair upon their heads, or beards upon their faces? Do they speak languages and congregate and worship at the altar?" (!!)—"Those who are ambitious of such relations, may plant their heraldic coat-of-arms in the serpent, the lizard, the crocodile, or the monkey, but we disclaim such relationship—we do not think it good taste or good morals to place the fair daughters of Eve on a level with horrid and hideous animals, simply from some apparent similarity, which we are certain never existed."]
The belligerent pundit who has flung in the face of peaceful geologists this octavo camouflet of his scientific lucubrations professes to have scoured the surface and ravaged the bottom (in a suit of patent sub-marine Scriptural armor) of a no less abysmal subject than the cryptology of Genesis,—to have undermined with his sapping intellect and blown up with his explosive wisdom the walled secrets of time and eternity, carrying away with him in the shape of plunder a whole cargo of the plans and purposes of the Omnipotent in the Creation. I have not the least doubt, if he were respectfully approached and interrogated upon the subject, he would answer with the greatest ease and accuracy the famous question with which Dean Swift posed the theological tailor. The man who can tell us all about the institution of the law of gravity, how the inspired prophet thought and felt while writing his history, and who knows everything respecting "affinity and attraction when they were in Creation's womb," could not hesitate a moment to measure an arch-angel for a pair of breeches.—But I was talking of funerals.
* * * * *
A friend once assured me that the heartiest laugh of which he was ever guilty on a solemn occasion occurred at a funeral. A trusty Irish servant, who had lived with him for many years, and for whom he had great affection, died suddenly at his house. As he was attending the funeral in the Catholic burial-place, and stood with his wife and children listening to the service which the priest was reading, his heart filled with grief and his eyes moist with tears, the inscription on a gravestone just before him happened to attract his attention. It was this:—"Gloria in Excelsis Deo! Patrick Donahoe died July 12. 18—." Now the exclamation-point after "Deo" and the statement of the fact of Mr. D.'s demise following immediately thereafter made the epitaph to read, "Glory to God in the highest! Patrick is dead." This, which at another time would perhaps have caused no more than a smile, struck him as irresistibly funny, and drove in a moment every trace of sadness from his face and sorrow from his heart,—to give place to violent emotions of another nature, which his utmost exertions could not conceal.
["I beg your pardon! I've been afloat," was the graceful parenthetical apology which a distinguished naval officer used to make, when by mistake he let drop one of "those big words which lie at the bottom of the best man's vocabulary," in conversation with sensitive persons whose ears he feared it might offend. I ought possibly, at the end of the following anecdote, to make some such excuse to the scrupulous reader, whose notions of propriety it will perhaps slightly infringe: "I beg your pardon! I couldn't help telling it."]
An eminent divine once described to me a scene he witnessed at a funeral, which he said nearly caused him to expire with—well, you shall see. An intimate acquaintance of his, who belonged to a neighboring parish, having died, he was naturally induced to assist at the burial-service. The rector of this parish was a man who, though sensitive in the extreme to the absurdities of others,—being, in fact, a regular son of Momus,—was entirely unconscious of his own amusing eccentricities. Among these, numerous and singular, he had the habit of suddenly stopping in the middle of a sentence, while preaching, and calling out to the sexton, across the church, "Dooke, turn on more gas!" or "Dooke, shut that window!" or "Dooke, do"—something else which was pretty sure to be wanting itself done during the delivery of his discourse. Nearly every Sunday, strangers not acquainted with his ways were startled out of their propriety by some such unexpected behavior.
On the occasion referred to, the funeral procession having entered the churchyard, and my informant and the officiating clergyman having taken their places at the head of the grave, the undertaker and his assistants having removed the coffin from the hearse, and the mourners, of whom there was a large crowd, having gathered into a circular audience, the Reverend Doctor —— began the service.
"'Man that is born of a woman'—Oh, stop those carriages! don't you see where they are going to?" (he suddenly broke out, rushing from the place where he stood, frantically, among the bystanders; and then returning to his former position, continued,)—"'hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery. He cometh up'—Oh, don't let that coffin down yet! wait till I tell you to," (addressed to the undertaker, who was anticipating the proper place in the service,)—"'and is cut down like a flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow,'—Please to hold the umbrella a little further over my head," (sotto voce to the man who was endeavoring to protect his head from the sun,)-"'and never continueth in one stay.'—Hold the umbrella a little higher, will you?" (sotto voce again to the man holding the umbrella.)—"'In the midst of life we are in death.'—Stand down from there, boys, and be quiet!" (addressed to some urchins who were crowding and pushing one another about the grave, in their efforts to look at the coffin.) At length he had proceeded without further interruptions as far as the sentence, "'We therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,'"—when Dooke, the sexton,—a queer, impetuous fellow,—who was vainly endeavoring to keep the boys away from the edge of the grave, seized suddenly the rope with which the coffin had just been lowered down, and, stooping forward, laid it like a whip-lash, "cut!" across the shins of a dozen youngsters, making them leap with "Oh! oh! oh!" a foot from the ground, and scatter in short order,—"'looking for the'"—(turning to my friend, as he witnessed the successful exploit of his favorite sexton, and whispering in his ear,) "Dooke made 'em hop that time, didn't he!—'general resurrection in the last day, and the life of the world to come.'"
Dooke's mode of dispersing the boys, and the officiating clergyman's comment upon it, parenthesized into the middle of the most solemn sentence of the burial-service, were too much for the usual stern gravity of my clerical friend, and, under pretence of shedding tears, he buried his face in his handkerchief and his handkerchief in his hat and shook with laughter.
Speaking of funerals reminds me of a congenial subject.—Nothing in New York astonishes visitors from the country so much as the magnificent coffin-shops, rivalling, in the ostentatious and tempting display of their wares, the most elegant stores on Broadway. Model coffins, of the latest style and pattern, are set up on end in long rows and protected by splendid show-cases, with the lids removed to exhibit their rich satin lining. Fancy coffins, decorated with glittering ornaments, are placed seductively in bright plate-glass windows, and put out for baiting advertisements upon the side-walks: as much as to say, "Walk in, walk in, ladies and gentlemen! Now's your chance! here's your fine, nice coffins!"—while in ornamental letters upon extensive placards hung about the doors, "IRON COFFINS," "ROSEWOOD COFFINS," "AIR-TIGHT COFFINS," "MAHOGANY COFFINS," "PATENT SARCOPHAGI," address the eyes and appeal to the purses of the passers-by. And I saw in one of these places, the other day, painted on glass and inclosed in an elegant gilt frame, "ICE COFFINS," which struck me as queer enough. As though it were not sufficiently cool to be dead!
It seems to me, that, in this matter, the undertakers, digging a little too deep below the surface of the present age, have thrown out some of the mystical and grotesque remains of a very antique religious faith, which look as singular just now to the eyes of common people as would an Egyptian temple with its sacred Apis in Broadway, or a Sphinx on Boston Common. To the eyes of an old Egyptian, no object could be more grateful than the sarcophagus in which he was to repose at death. He purchased it as early in life as he could raise the means, and displayed it in his parlor as an attractive and costly ornament. Indeed, I do not know but it was useful as well, and the children kept their playthings in it, or the young ladies their knitting-work and embroidery.
Are we not, in this class of our tastes and feelings, becoming rapidly Egyptianized? Why, I expect in a year or two to see coffins introduced into the parlors of the Fifth Avenue, and to find them, when their owners fail or absquatulate, advertised for sale at auction, with the rest of the household furniture, at a great sacrifice on the original cost.
"—> ONE SUPERB COFFIN OF ELEGANT PATTERN AND SUPERIOR WORKMANSHIP, AS GOOD AS NEW. TWO DITTO, SLIGHTLY DAMAGED."
And then the fashion will become popular with the less aristocratic portion of the community, and you will see crowds of servant-girls and street-loungers around the windows of our magnificent coffin-bazaars, and hear from them such exclamations as these: "Oh! do look here, Matilda! Wouldn't you like to have such a nice coffin as that?" or, "What a dear, sweet sarcophagus that one is there!" or, "Faith, I should like to own that air-tight!"
* * * * *
But the day is now far advanced. The funeral processions have ceased to arrive, and the husbandmen, having sown the immortal seed furnished by the metropolis, with shovels and empty dinner-pails, are on their way, whistling and talking in groups, homeward. The number of loungers and sight-seers is rapidly diminishing as the light in the more thickly shaded walks becomes dim, and the clock at the gateway indicates the near approach of the hour when the portals will be closed.
—Alone with the dead! Alone in the night among tombs and graves! How many readers do not at the sight of these words feel an involuntary soupcon of a shudder? Would not the cause of this indefinable secret dread of the darkness which covers a graveyard be a curious matter of inquiry? Let one ever so cultivated and skeptical, familiar as a physician or a soldier with the spectacle of death, ever so full of mental and physical courage, passing alone late at night through a graveyard, hear the least sound among the graves, or see a moving object of any kind, especially a white one, and he will instantly feel an alloverishness foreign to ordinary experience, and I will not answer for him that his hair does not stand on end and his flesh grow rough as a nutmeg-grater. A company of three or four persons would feel far less disturbed. This proves the emotion to be genuine fear. And with this recognized as a fact, ask the question, Of what are you afraid? What makes your feet stick to the ground so fast, or inspires you to take to your legs and run for your life? "A ridiculous, foolish superstition," reason answers.
I do not intend by this to intimate that you, reader, bold and courageous person that I know you to be, would not dare to go through a graveyard at night. By no means. I only predicate the existence within you of this ridiculous, foolish superstition, and maintain that you would do so under all circumstances with peculiar feelings which you did not possess before you entered it and which you will not possess as soon as you have left it, and under certain circumstances with a trembling of the nerves and a palpitation of the heart, and that the occasion might occur when you would be still more strongly and strangely affected. To illustrate the latter case I have an anecdote a-propos.
A college class-mate, (Poor B——! the shadows of the Pyramids now fall upon his early grave!) a young man easily agitated, to be sure, and possibly timid, on his way home, late one autumn night, from the house of a relative in the country, was hurrying past a dismal old burying-yard in the midst of a gloomy wood, when he was suddenly startled by a strange noise a short distance from the road. Turning his head, alarmed, in the direction whence it proceeded, he was horror-struck at seeing through the darkness a white object on the ground, struggling as if in the grasp of some terrible monster. Instantly the blood froze in his veins; he stood petrified,—the howlings of the wind, clanking of chains, and groans of agony, filling his ears,—with his eyes fixed in terror upon the white shape rolling and plunging and writhing among the tombs. Attempting to run, his feet refused to move, and he swooned and fell senseless in the road. A party of travellers, happening shortly to pass, stumbled over his body. Raising him upon his feet, they succeeded by vigorous shakes in restoring him to a state of consciousness.
While explaining to them the cause of his fright, the noise was renewed. The men, although somewhat alarmed, clubbed their individual courage, climbed the wall, and found—nearly in the centre of the graveyard—an old white horse thrown down by his fetters and struggling violently to regain his feet.
B—— assured me, the explanation of the spectacle instinctively occurring to his mind at the moment as indubitable was that some reprobate had just been buried there, and that the Devil, coming for his body, was engaged in binding his unwilling limbs, preparatory to carrying him away!
The reader may smile at the weakness and folly displayed in this case, but the assertion may nevertheless be safely ventured, that there is not one person in a hundred who would not under the same circumstances have been greatly disturbed, or would have invented a much less frightfully absurd solution of the phenomenon than poor B——'s.
I think the singular feelings associated with graveyard darkness, which the wisest and bravest of men find slumbering beneath all their courage and philosophy, would be found upon investigation to proceed principally from two sources,—a constitutional inclination to religious superstition, and an acquired educational belief in the reality of the dreams and fancies of poets, mingled, of course, with some natural cowardice.
The dryest and hardest men have more poetry in them than they or we begin to suspect. Indeed, if we could take our individual or collective culture to pieces and award to each separate influence its due and just share of results, I should not be surprised at finding that the poet had done more in the way of fashioning our education than the scientist or any other teacher. Milton, to give but a single example, with his speculations concerning the Fall,—its effects upon humanity, the brute creation, and physical nature,—and his imaginary conflicts between the hostile armies of heaven, and his celestial and Satanic personifications, has had so much influence in Anglo-Saxon culture, that nine-tenths of the people believe, without knowing it, as firmly in "Paradise Lost" as in the text of the Bible. The Governor of Texas, citing in his proclamation a familiar passage in Shakspeare as emanating from the inspired pen of the Psalmist, is not to so great extent an example of ignorance as an illustration of the lofty peerage instinctively assigned the great dramatist in the ordinary associations of our thoughts. This faith in the visionary world of poets is instilled into us (and it is for this reason that Rousseau, in his masterly work on education, the "Emile," reprobates the custom as promotive of superstition) in early infancy by our parents and nurses with their stories of nymphs, fairies, elves, dwarfs, giants, witches, hobgoblins, and the like fabulous beings, and, as soon as we are able to read, by the tales of genii, sorcerers, demons, ghouls, enchanted caves and castles, and monsters and monstrosities of every name. The exceedingly impressible and poetical nature of children (for all children are poets and talk poetry as soon as they can lisp) appropriates and absorbs with intense relish these fanciful myths, and for years they believe more firmly in their truth than in the realities of the actual world. And I more than suspect that this child-credulity rather slumbers in the grown man, smothered beneath superimposed skepticisms and cognitions, than is ever eradicated from his mind, and thus, upon the shock of an emergency disturbing him suddenly to the foundation, is ready to burst up through the crevices of his shattered practical experience and appear on the surface of his judgment and understanding.
In addition, then, to an instinctive tendency to religious superstition, (of which I shall here say nothing,) to the fairy mythology of the nursery, and the phantom machinery invented by poets to clothe with the semblance of reality their dreams and fancies, can be traced in a great measure the existence in the mind of the credulity which renders the fear in question possible, opening an introduction for it into the heart excited by inexplicable phenomena or circumstanced where such phenomena might, according to our superstitious beliefs, easily occur.
Without entering into an analysis of the fear itself, beyond the remark that any extraordinary sight or sound not immediately explicable by the eye or ear to the understanding (as a steamboat to the Indians or a comet to our ancestors) is a legitimate cause of the emotion, as well as the possibility of the occurrence of such sights and sounds, for believing which we have seen man prepared, first by natural superstitious inclination, and secondly by a peculiar education,—I will only further add, for the purpose of a brief introduction to an anecdote I wish to relate, that there is another fountain of knowledge, from which we drink at a later period than childhood, as well as then, whose waters are strongly impregnated with this superstitious, fear-provoking credulity: I mean the stories of ghosts which have been seen and heard in all ages and countries, revealing important secrets, pointing out the places where murder has been committed or treasure concealed, foretelling deaths and calamities, and forewarning men of impending dangers. Hundreds of books familiar to all have been written upon this subject and form an extensive department of our literature, especially of our older literature.
The philosopher attempts to account for such phenomena by referring them to optical illusions or a disordered condition of the brain, making them subjective semblances instead of objective realities. But one is continually being puzzled and perplexed with evidence contradicting this hypothesis, which, upon any other subject a priori credible to the reason and judgment, would be received as satisfactory and decisive without a moment's hesitation. In truth, with all the light which science is able to shed upon it, and all the resolute shutting of the eyes at points which no elucidating theory is available to explain, there are facts in this department of supernaturalism which stagger the unbelief of the stoutest skeptic.
It is constantly urged, among other objections to the credibility of supernatural apparitions, that the names of the witnesses have singularly and suspiciously disappeared,—that you find them, upon investigation, substantiated thus: A very worthy gentleman told another very worthy gentleman, who told a very intelligent lady, who told somebody else, who told the individual who finally communicated the incident to the world. There are, however, as just intimated, instances in which such ambiguity is altogether wanting. Among these is one so well authenticated by well-known witnesses of undoubted veracity, that, having never before been published, I venture to relate it here.
My informant was Professor Tholuck, of Halle University, the most eminent living theologian in Germany, and the principal ecclesiarch of the Prussian Church. He prefaced the account by assuring me that it was received from the lips of De Wette himself, immediately after the occurrence,—that De Wette was an intimate personal friend, a plain, practical man, of remarkably clear and vigorous intellect, with no more poetry and imagination in his nature than just sufficient to keep him alive,—in a word, that he would rely upon his coolness of judgment and accuracy of observation, under any possible combination of circumstances, as confidently as upon those of any man in the world.
Dr. De Wette, the famous German Biblical critic, returning home one evening between nine and ten o'clock, was surprised, upon arriving opposite the house in which he resided, to see a bright light burning in his study. In fact, he was rather more than surprised; for he distinctly remembered to have extinguished the candles when he went out, an hour or two previously, locked the door, and put the key in his pocket, which, upon feeling for it, was still there. Pausing a moment to wonder by what means and for what purpose any one could have entered the room, he perceived the shadow of a person apparently occupied about something in a remote corner. Supposing it to be a burglar employed in rifling his trunk, he was upon the point of alarming the police, when the man advanced to the window, into full view, as if for the purpose of looking out into the street. It was De Wette himself!—the scholar, author, professor,—his height, size, figure, stoop,—his head, his face, his features, eyes, mouth, nose, chin, every one,—skullcap, study-gown, neck-tie, all, everything: there was no mistaking him, no deception whatever: there stood Dr. De Wette in his own library, and he out in the street:—why, he must be somebody else! The Doctor instinctively grasped his body with his hands, and tried himself with the psychological tests of self-consciousness and identity, doubtful, if he could believe his senses and black were not white, that he longer existed his former self, and stood, perplexed, bewildered, and confounded, gazing at his other likeness looking out of the window. Upon the person's retiring from the window, which occurred in a few moments, De Wette resolved not to dispute the possession of his study with the other Doctor before morning, and ringing at the door of a house opposite, where an acquaintance resided, he asked permission to remain over night.
The chamber occupied by him commanded a full view of the interior of his library, and from the window he could see his other self engaged in study and meditation, now walking up and down the room, immersed in thought, now sitting down at the desk to write, now rising to search for a volume among the book-shelves, and imitating in all respects the peculiar habits of the great Doctor engaged at work and busy with cogitations. At length, when the cathedral clock had finished striking through first four and then eleven strokes, as German clocks are wont to do an hour before twelve, De Wette Number Two manifested signs of retiring to rest,—took out his watch, the identical large gold one the other Doctor in the other chamber felt sure was at that moment safe in his waistcoat-pocket, and wound it up, removed a portion of his clothing, came to the window, closed the curtains, and in a few moments the light disappeared. De Wette Number One, waiting a little time until convinced that Number Two had disposed himself to sleep, retired also his-self to bed, wondering very much what all this could mean.
Rising the next morning, he crossed the street, and passed up-stairs to his library. The door was fastened; he applied the key, opened it, and entered. No one was there; everything appeared in precisely the same condition in which he had left it the evening before,—his pen lying upon the paper as he had dropped it on going out, the candles on the table and the mantel-piece evidently not having been lighted, the window-curtains drawn aside as he had left them; in fine, there was not a single trace of any person's having been in the room. "Had he been insane the night before? He must have been. He was growing old; something was the matter with his eyes or brain; anyhow, he had been deceived, and it was very foolish of him to have remained away all night." Endeavoring to satisfy his mind with some such reflections as these, he remembered he had not yet examined his bed-room. Almost ashamed to make the search, now convinced it was all an hallucination of the senses, he crossed the narrow passageway and opened the door. He was thunderstruck. The ceiling, a lofty, massive brick arch, had fallen during the night, filling the room with rubbish and crushing his bed into atoms. De Wette the Apparition had saved the life of the great German scholar.
Tholuck, who was walking with me in the fields near Halle when relating the anecdote, added, upon concluding, "I do not pretend to account for the phenomenon; no knowledge, scientific or metaphysical, in my possession, is adequate to explain it; but I have no more doubt it actually, positively, literally did occur, than I have of the existence of the sun im Himmel da."
The word of ambition at the present day is Culture. Whilst all the world is in pursuit of power, and of wealth as a means of power, culture corrects the theory of success. A man is the prisoner of his power. A topical memory makes him an almanac; a talent for debate, a disputant; skill to get money makes him a miser, that is, a beggar. Culture reduces these inflammations by invoking the aid of other powers against the dominant talent, and by appealing to the rank of powers. It watches success. For performance Nature has no mercy, and sacrifices the performer to get it done,—makes a dropsy or a tympany of him. If she wants a thumb, she makes one at the cost of arms and legs, and any excess of power in one part is usually paid for at once by some defect in a contiguous part.
Our efficiency depends so much on our concentration, that Nature usually, in the instances where a marked man is sent into the world, overloads him with bias, sacrificing his symmetry to his working power. It is said, no man can write but one book; and if a man have a defect, it is apt to leave its impression on all his performances. If she create a policeman like Fouche, he is made up of suspicions and of plots to circumvent them. "The air," said Fouche, "is full of poniards." The physician Sanctorius spent his life in a pair of scales, weighing his food. Lord Coke valued Chaucer highly, because the Canon Yeman's Tale illustrates the Statute Hen. V. Chap. 4, against Alchemy. I saw a man who believed the principal mischiefs in the English state were derived from the devotion to musical concerts. A freemason, not long since, set out to explain to this country, that the principal cause of the success of General Washington was the aid he derived from the freemasons.
But, worse than the harping on one string, Nature has secured individualism by giving the private person a high conceit of his weight in the system. The pest of society is egotists. There are dull and bright, sacred and profane, coarse and fine egotists. 'Tis a disease that, like influenza, falls on all constitutions. In the distemper known to physicians as chorea, the patient sometimes turns round and continues to spin slowly on one spot. Is egotism a metaphysical varioloid of this malady? The man runs round a ring formed by his own talent, falls into an admiration of it, and loses relation to the world. It is a tendency in all minds. One of its annoying forms is a craving for sympathy. The sufferers parade their miseries, tear the lint from their bruises, reveal their indictable crimes, that you may pity them. They like sickness, because physical pain will extort some show of interest from the bystanders; as we have seen children, who, finding themselves of no account when grown people come in, will cough till they choke, to draw attention.
This distemper is the scourge of talent,—of artists, inventors, and philosophers. Eminent spiritualists shall have an incapacity of putting their act or word aloof from them, and seeing it bravely for the nothing it is. Beware of the man who says, "I am on the eve of a revelation!" It is speedily punished, inasmuch as this habit invites men to humor it, and, by treating the patient tenderly, to shut him up in a narrower selfism, and exclude him from the great world of God's cheerful fallible men and women. Let us rather be insulted, whilst we are insultable. Religious literature has eminent examples; and if we run over our private list of poets, critics, philanthropists, and philosophers, we shall find them infected with this dropsy and elephantiasis, which we ought to have tapped.
This goitre of egotism is so frequent among notable persons, that we must infer some strong necessity in Nature which it subserves,—such as we see in the sexual attraction. The preservation of the species was a point of such necessity, that Nature has secured it at all hazards by immensely overloading the passion, at the risk of perpetual crime and disorder. So egotism has its root in the cardinal necessity by which each individual persists to be what he is.
This individuality is not only not inconsistent with culture, but is the basis of it. Every valuable nature is there in its own right; and the student we speak to must have a mother-wit invincible by his culture, which uses all books, arts, facilities, and elegancies of intercourse, but is never subdued and lost in them. He only is a well-made man who has a good determination. And the end of culture is, not to destroy this,—God forbid!—but to train away all impediment and mixture, and leave nothing but pure power. Our student must have a style and determination, and be a master in his own specialty. But, having this, he must put it behind him. He must have a catholicity, a power to see with a free and disengaged look every object. Yet is this private interest and self so overcharged, that, if a man seeks a companion who can look at objects for their own sake, and without affection or self-reference, he will find the fewest who will give him that satisfaction; whilst most men are afflicted with a coldness, an incuriosity, as soon as any object does not connect with their self-love. Though they talk of the object before them, they are thinking of themselves, and their vanity is laying little traps for your admiration.
But after a man has discovered that there are limits to the interest which his private history has for mankind, he still converses with his family, or a few companions,—perhaps with half a dozen personalities that are famous in his neighborhood. In Boston, the question of life is the names of some eight or ten men. Have you seen Mr. Allston, Doctor Channing, Mr. Adams, Mr. Webster, Mr. Greenough? Have you heard Everett, Garrison, Father Taylor, Theodore Parker? Have you talked with Messieurs Turbinewheel, Summitlevel, and Lacofrupees? Then you may as well die. In New York, the question is of some other eight, or ten, or twenty. Have you seen a few lawyers, merchants, and brokers,—two or three scholars, two or three capitalists, two or three editors of newspapers? New York is a sucked orange. All conversation is at an end, when we have discharged ourselves of a dozen personalities, domestic or imported, which make up our American existence. Nor do we expect anybody to be other than a faint copy of these heroes.
Life is very narrow. Bring any club or company of intelligent men together again after ten years, and if the presence of some penetrating and calming genius could dispose them to frankness, what a confusion of insanities would come up! The "causes" to which we have sacrificed, Tariff or Democracy, Whiggism or Abolition, Temperance or Socialism, would show like roots of bitterness and dragons of wrath: and our talents are as mischievous as if each had been seized upon by some bird of prey, which had whisked him away from fortune, from truth, from the dear society of the poets, some zeal, some bias, and only when he was now gray and nerveless was it relaxing its claws, and he awaking to sober perceptions.
Culture is the suggestion from certain best thoughts, that a man has a range of affinities, through which he can modulate the violence of any master-tones that have a droning preponderance in his scale, and succor him against himself. Culture redresses his balance, puts him among his equals and superiors, revives the delicious sense of sympathy, and warns him of the dangers of solitude and repulsion.
'Tis not a compliment, but a disparagement, to consult a man only on horses, or on steam, or on theatres, or on eating, or on books, and, whenever he appears, considerately to turn the conversation to the bantling he is known to fondle. In the Norse heaven of our forefathers, Thor's house had five hundred and forty floors: and Man's house has five hundred and forty floors. His excellence is facility of adaptation, and of transition through many related points to wide contrasts and extremes. Culture kills his exaggeration, his conceit of his village or his city. We must leave our pets at home when we go into the street, and meet men on broad grounds of good meaning and good sense. No performance is worth loss of geniality. 'Tis a cruel price we pay for certain fancy goods called fine arts and philosophy. In the Norse legend, Allfadir did not get a drink of Mimir's spring, (the fountain of wisdom,) until he left his eye in pledge. And here is a pedant that cannot unfold his wrinkles, nor conceal his wrath at interruption by the best, if their conversation do not fit his impertinency,—here is he to afflict us with his personalities. 'Tis incident to scholars, that each of them fancies he is pointedly odious in his community. Draw him out of this limbo of irritability. Cleanse with healthy blood his parchment skin. You restore to him his eyes which he left in pledge at Mimir's spring. If you are the victim of your doing, who cares what you do? We can spare your opera, your gazetteer, your chemic analysis, your history, your syllogisms. Your man of genius pays dear for his distinction. His head runs up into a spire, and, instead of a healthy man, merry and wise, he is some mad dominie. Nature is reckless of the individual. When she has points to carry, she carries them. To wade in marshes and sea-margins is the destiny of certain birds; and they are so accurately made for this, that they are imprisoned in those places. Each animal out of its habitat would starve. To the physician, each man, each woman, is an amplification of one organ. A soldier, a locksmith, a bank-clerk, and a dancer could not exchange functions. And thus we are victims of adaptation.
The antidotes against this organic egotism are—the range and variety of attractions, as gained by acquaintance with the world, with men of merit, with classes of society, with travel, with eminent persons, and with the high resources of philosophy, art, and religion: books, travel, society, solitude.
The hardiest skeptic, who has seen a horse broken, a pointer trained, or who has visited a menagerie, or the exhibition of the Industrious Fleas, will not deny the validity of education. "A boy," says Plato, "is the most vicious of all wild beasts"; and, in the same spirit, the old English poet Gascoigne says, "A boy is better unborn than untaught." The city breeds one kind of speech and manners; the back-country a different style; the sea another; the army a fourth. We know that an army which can be confided in may be formed by discipline,—that by systematic discipline all men may be made heroes. Marshal Lannes said to a French officer, "Know, Colonel, that none but a poltroon will boast that he never was afraid." A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before. And, in all human action, those faculties will be strong which are used. Robert Owen said, "Give me a tiger, and I will educate him." 'Tis inhuman to want faith in the power of education, since to meliorate is the law of Nature; and men are valued precisely as they exert onward or meliorating force. On the other hand, poltroonery is the acknowledging an inferiority to be incurable.
Incapacity of melioration is the only mortal distemper. There are people who can never understand a trope, or any second or expanded sense given to your words, or any humor,—but remain literalists, after hearing the music and poetry and rhetoric and wit of seventy or eighty years. They are past the help of surgeon or clergy. But even these can understand pitchforks and the cry of "Fire!"—and I have noticed in some of this class a marked dislike of earthquakes.
Let us make our education brave and preventive. Politics is an after-work, a poor patching. We are always a little late. The evil is done, the law is passed, and we begin the up-hill agitation for repeal of that of which we ought to have prevented the enacting. We shall one day learn to supersede politics by education. What we call our root-and-branch reforms of slavery, war, gambling, intemperance, is only medicating the symptoms. We must begin higher up,—namely, in Education.
Our arts and tools give to him who can handle them much the same advantage over the novice as if you extended his life ten, fifty, or a hundred years. And I think it the part of good sense to provide every fine soul with such culture, that it shall not, at thirty or forty years, have to say, "This which I might do is made hopeless through my want of weapons."
But it is conceded that much of our training fails of effect,—that all success is hazardous and rare,—that a large part of our cost and pains is thrown away. Nature takes the matter into her own hands, and, though we must not omit any jot of our system, we can seldom be sure that it has availed much, or that as much good would not have accrued from a different system.
Books, as containing the finest records of human wit, must always enter into our notion of culture. The best heads that ever existed, Pericles, Plato, Julius Caesar, Shakspeare, Goethe, Milton, were well-read, universally educated men, and quite too wise to undervalue letters. Their opinion has weight, because they had means of knowing the opposite opinion. We look that a great man should be a good reader, or in proportion to the spontaneous power should be the assimilating power. Good criticism is very rare, and always precious. I am always happy to meet persons who perceive the transcendent superiority of Shakspeare over all other writers. I like people who like Plato. Because this love does not consist with self-conceit.
But books are good only as far as a boy is ready for them. He sometimes gets ready very slowly. You send your child to the schoolmaster; but 'tis the schoolboys who educate him. You send him to the Latin class; but much of his tuition comes on his way to school, from the shop-windows. You like the strict rules and the long terms; and he finds his best leading in a by-way of his own, and refuses any companions but of his choosing. He hates the grammar and Gradus, and loves guns, fishing-rods, horses, and boats. Well, the boy is right; and you are not fit to direct his bringing-up, if your theory leaves out his gymnastic training. Archery, cricket, gun and fishing-rod, horse and boat, are all educators, liberalizers; and so are dancing, dress, and the street-talk; and—provided only the boy has resources, and is of a noble and ingenuous strain—these will not serve him less than the books. He learns chess, whist, dancing, and theatricals. The father observes that another boy has learned algebra and geometry in the same time. But the first boy has acquired much more than these poor games along with them. He is infatuated for weeks with whist and chess; but presently will find out, as you did, that, when he rises from the game too long played, he is vacant and forlorn, and despises himself. Thenceforward it takes place with other things, and has its due weight in his experience. These minor skills and accomplishments—for example, dancing—are tickets of admission to the dress-circle of mankind, and the being master of them enables the youth to judge intelligently of much on which otherwise he would give a pedantic squint. Landor said, "I have suffered more from my bad dancing than from all the misfortunes and miseries of my life put together." Provided always the boy is teachable, (for we are not proposing to make a statue out of punk,) football, cricket, archery, swimming, skating, climbing, fencing, riding, are lessons in the art of power, which it is his main business to learn,—riding specially, of which Lord Herbert of Cherbury said, "A good rider on a good horse is as much above himself and others as the world can make him." Besides, the gun, fishing-rod, boat, and horse constitute, among all who use them, secret freemasonries.
They are as if they belonged to one club.
There is also a negative value in these arts. Their chief use to the youth is, not amusement, but to be known for what they are, and not to remain to him occasions of heartburn. We are full of superstitions. Each class fixes its eyes on the advantages it has not: the refined, on rude strength; the democrat, on birth and breeding. One of the benefits of a college-education is, to show the boy its little avail. I knew a leading man in a leading city, who, having set his heart on an education at the university and missed it, could never quite feel himself the equal of his own brothers who had gone thither. His easy superiority to multitudes of professional men could never quite countervail to him this imaginary defect. Balls, riding, wine-parties, and billiards pass to a poor boy for something fine and romantic, which they are not; and a free admission to them on an equal footing, if it were possible, only once or twice, would be worth ten times its cost, by undeceiving him.
I am not much an advocate for travelling, and I observe that men run away to other countries because they are not good in their own, and run back to their own because they pass for nothing in the new places. For the most part, only the light characters travel. Who are you that have no task to keep you at home? I have been quoted as saying captious things about travel; but I mean to do justice. I think there is a restlessness in our people which argues want of character. All educated Americans, first or last, go to Europe,—perhaps because it is their mental home, as the invalid habits of this country might suggest. An eminent teacher of girls said, "The idea of a girl's education is whatever qualifies them for going to Europe." Can we never extract this tape-worm of Europe from the brain of our country-men? One sees very well what their fate must be. He that does not fill a place at home cannot abroad. He only goes there to hide his insignificance in a larger crowd. You do not think you will find anything there which you have not seen at home? The stuff of all countries is just the same. Do you suppose there is any country where they do not scald milkpans, and swaddle the infants, and burn the brushwood, and broil the fish? What is true anywhere is true everywhere. And let him go where he will, he can find only so much beauty or worth as he carries.
Of course, for some men travel may be useful. Naturalists, discoverers, and sailors are born. Some men are made for couriers, exchangers, envoys, missionaries, bearers of despatches, as others are for farmers and working-men. And if the man is of a light and social turn, and Nature has aimed to make a legged and winged creature, framed for locomotion, we must follow her hint, and furnish him with that breeding which gives currency as sedulously as with that which gives worth. But let us not be pedantic, but allow to travel its full effect. The boy grown up on the farm which he has never left is said in the country to have had no chance, and boys and men of that condition look upon work on a railroad or drudgery in a city as opportunity. Poor country-boys of Vermont and Connecticut formerly owed what knowledge they had to their peddling-trips to the Southern States. California and the Pacific Coast are now the university of this class, as Virginia was in old times. "To have some chance" is their word. And the phrase, "to know the world," or to travel, is synonymous with all men's ideas of advantage and superiority. No doubt, to a man of sense travel offers advantages. As many languages as he has, as many friends, as many arts and trades, so many times is he a man. A foreign country is a point of comparison where-from to judge his own. One use of travel is, to recommend the books and works of home; (we go to Europe to be Americanized;) and another, to find men. For as Nature has put fruits apart in latitudes, a new fruit in every degree, so knowledge and fine moral quality she lodges in distant men. And thus, of the six or seven teachers whom each man wants among his contemporaries, it often happens that one or two of them live on the other side of the world.
Moreover, there is in every constitution a certain solstice, when the stars stand still in our inward firmament, and when there is required some foreign force, some diversion or alternative, to prevent stagnation. And, as a medical remedy, travel seems one of the best. Just as a man witnessing the admirable effect of ether to lull pain, and, meditating on the contingencies of wounds, cancers, lockjaws, rejoices in Dr. Jackson's benign discovery, so a man who looks at Paris, at Naples, or at London, says, "If I should be driven from my own home, here, at least, my thoughts can be consoled by the most prodigal amusement and occupation which the human race in ages could contrive and accumulate."
Akin to the benefit of foreign travel, the aesthetic value of railroads is to unite the advantages of town and country life, neither of which we can spare. A man should live in or near a large town, because, let his own genius be what it may, it will repel quite as much of agreeable and valuable talent as it draws, and, in a city, the total attraction of all the citizens is sure to conquer, first or last, every repulsion, and drag the most improbable hermit within its walls some day in the year. In town he can find the swimming-school, the gymnasium, the dancing-master, the shooting-gallery, opera, theatre, and panorama,—the chemist's shop, the museum of natural history, the gallery of fine arts, the national orators in their turn, foreign travellers, the libraries, and his club. In the country he can find solitude and reading, manly labor, cheap living, and his old shoes,—moors for game, hills for geology, and groves for devotion. Aubrey writes, "I have heard Thomas Hobbes say, that, in the Earl of Devon's house, in Derbyshire, there was a good library and books enough for him, and his Lordship stored the library with what books he thought fit to be bought. But the want of good conversation was a very great inconvenience, and, though he conceived he could order his thinking as well as another, yet he found a great defect. In the country, in long time, for want of good conversation, one's understanding and invention contract a moss on them, like an old paling in an orchard."
Cities give us collision. 'Tis said, London and New York take the nonsense out of a man. A great part of our education is sympathetic and social. Boys and girls who have been brought up with well-informed and superior people show in their manners an inestimable grace. Fuller says, that "William, Earl of Nassau, won a subject from the King of Spain every time he put off his hat." You cannot have one well-bred man without a whole society of such. They keep each other up to any high point. Especially women: it requires a great many cultivated women,—saloons of bright, elegant, reading women, accustomed to ease and refinement, to spectacles, pictures, sculpture, poetry, and to elegant society,—in order that you should have one Madame de Stael. The head of a commercial house, or a leading lawyer or politician, is brought into daily contact with troops of men from all parts of the country,—and those, too, the driving-wheels, the business-men of each section,—and one can hardly suggest for an apprehensive man a more searching culture. Besides, we must remember the high social possibilities of a million of men. The best bribe which London offers to-day to the imagination is, that, in such a vast variety of people and conditions, one can believe there is room for persons of romantic character to exist, and that the poet, the mystic, and the hero may hope to confront their counterparts.
I wish cities could teach their best lesson,—of quiet manners. It is the foible especially of American youth,—pretension. The mark of the man of the world is absence of pretension. He does not make a speech; he takes a low business-tone, avoids all brag, is nobody, dresses plainly, promises not at all, performs much, speaks in monosyllables, hugs his fact. He calls his employment by its lowest name, and so takes from evil tongues their sharpest weapon. His conversation clings to the weather and the news, yet he allows himself to be surprised into thought, and the unlocking of his learning and philosophy. How the imagination is piqued by anecdotes of some great man passing incognito, as a king in gray clothes!—of Napoleon affecting a plain suit at his glittering levee!—of Burns, or Scott, or Beethoven, or Wellington, or Goethe, or any container of transcendent power, passing for nobody!—of Epaminondas, "who never says anything, but will listen eternally!"—of Goethe, who preferred trifling subjects and common expressions in intercourse with strangers, worse rather than better clothes, and to appear a little more capricious than he was! There are advantages in the old hat and box-coat. I have heard, that, throughout this country, a certain respect is paid to good broadcloth: but dress makes a little restraint; men will not commit themselves. But the box-coat is like wine; it unlocks the tongue, and men say what they think. An old poet says,—
"Go far and go sparing; For you'll find it certain, The poorer and the baser you appear, The more you'll look through still."[A]
[Footnote A: Beaumont and Fletcher: The Tamer Tamed.]
Not much otherwise Milnes writes, in the "Lay of the Humble":—
"To me men are for what they are, They wear no masks with me."
'Tis odd that our people should have—not water on the brain,—but a little gas there. A shrewd foreigner said of the Americans, that "whatever they say has a little the air of a speech." Yet one of the traits down in the books, as distinguishing the Anglo-Saxon, is a trick of self-disparagement. To be sure, in old, dense countries, among a million of good coats, a fine coat comes to be no distinction, and you find humorists. In an English party, a man with no marked manners or features, with a face like red dough, unexpectedly discloses wit, learning, a wide range of topics, and personal familiarity with good men in all parts of the world, until you think you have fallen upon some illustrious personage. Can it be that the American forest has refreshed some weeds of old Pictish barbarism just ready to die out,—the love of the scarlet feather, of beads, and tinsel? The Italians are fond of red clothes, peacock-plumes, and embroidery; and I remember, one rainy morning in the city of Palermo, the street was in a blaze with scarlet umbrellas. The English have a plain taste. The equipages of the grandees are plain. A gorgeous livery indicates new and awkward city-wealth. Mr. Pitt, like Mr. Pym, thought the title of Mister good against any king in Europe. They have piqued themselves on governing the whole world in the poor, plain, dark committee-room which the House of Commons sat in before the fire.
Whilst we want cities as the centres where the best things are found, cities degrade us by magnifying trifles. The countryman finds the town a chop-house, a barber's shop. He has lost the lines of grandeur of the horizon, hills and plains, and, with them, sobriety and elevation. He has come among a supple, glib-tongued tribe, who live for show, servile to public opinion. Life is dragged down to a fracas of pitiful cares and disasters. You say the gods ought to respect a life whose objects are their own; but in cities they have betrayed you to a cloud of insignificant annoyances:—
"Mirmidons, race feconde, Mirmidons, Enfins nous commandons; Jupiter livre le monde Aux mirmidons, aux mirmidons."[B]
[Footnote B: Beranger.]
'Tis heavy odds Against the gods, When they will match with myrmidons. We spawning, spawning myrmidons, Our turn to-day; we take command: Jove gives the globe into the hand Of myrmidons, of myrmidons.
What is odious but noise, and people who scream and bewail?—people whose vane points always east, who live to dine, who send for the doctor, who raddle themselves, who toast their feet on the register, who intrigue to secure a padded chair and a corner out of the draught? Suffer them once to begin the enumeration of their infirmities, and the sun will go down on the unfinished tale. Let these triflers put us out of conceit with petty comforts. To a man at work, the frost is but a color; the rain, the wind, he forgot them when he came in. Let us learn to live coarsely, dress plainly, and lie hard. The least habit of dominion over the palate has certain good effects not easily estimated. Neither will we be driven into a quiddling abstemiousness. 'Tis a superstition to insist on a special diet. All is made at last of the same chemical atoms.
A man in pursuit of greatness feels no little wants. How can you mind diet, bed, dress, or salutes or compliments, or the figure you make in company, or wealth, or even the bringing things to pass, when you think how paltry are the machinery and the workers? Wordsworth was praised to me, in Westmoreland, for having afforded to his country neighbors an example of a modest household, where comfort and culture were secured without display. And a tender boy who wears his rusty cap and outgrown coat, that he may secure the coveted place in college and the right in the library, is educated to some purpose. There is a great deal of self-denial and manliness in poor and middle-class houses, in town and country, that has not got into literature, and never will, but that keeps the earth sweet,—that saves on superfluities, and spends on essentials,—that goes rusty, and educates the boy,—that sells the horse, but builds the school,—works early and late, takes two looms in the factory, three looms, six looms, but pays off the mortgage on the paternal farm, and then goes back cheerfully to work again.
We can ill spare the commanding social benefits of cities; they must be used,—yet cautiously, and haughtily,—and will yield their best values to him who best can do without them. Keep the town for occasions, but the habits should be formed to retirement. Solitude, the safeguard of mediocrity, is to genius the stern friend, the cold, obscure shelter where moult the wings which will bear it farther than suns and stars. He who should inspire and lead his race must be defended from travelling with the souls of other men,—from living, breathing, reading, and writing in the daily, time-worn yoke of their opinions. "In the morning, solitude," said Pythagoras,—that Nature may speak to the imagination, as she does never in company, and that her favorite may make acquaintance with those divine strengths which disclose themselves to serious and abstracted thought. 'Tis very certain that Plato, Plotinus, Archimedes, Hermes, Newton, Milton, Wordsworth did not live in a crowd, but descended into it from time to time as benefactors: and the wise instructor will press this point of securing to the young soul, in the disposition of time and the arrangements of living, periods and habits of solitude. The high advantage of university-life is often the mere mechanical one, I may call it, of a separate chamber and fire,—which parents will allow the boy without hesitation at Cambridge, but do not think needful at home. We say solitude, to mark the character of the tone of thought; but if it can be shared between two, or more than two, it is happier, and not less noble. "We four," wrote Neander to his sacred friends, "will enjoy at Halle the inward blessedness of a civitas Dei, whose foundations are forever friendship. The more I know you, the more I dissatisfy and must dissatisfy all my wonted companions. Their very presence stupefies me. The common understanding withdraws itself from the one centre of all existence."
Solitude takes off the pressure of present importunities, that more catholic and humane relations may appear. The saint and poet seek privacy to ends the most public and universal: and it is the secret of culture, to interest the man more in his public than in his private quality. Here is a new poem, which elicits a good many comments in the journals and in conversation. From these it is easy, at last, to eliminate the verdict which readers passed upon it; and that is, in the main, unfavorable. The poet, as a craftsman, is interested only in the praise accorded to him, and not in the censure, though it be just; and the poor little poet hearkens only to that, and rejects the censure, as proving incapacity in the critic. But the poet cultivated becomes a stockholder in both companies,—say Mr. Curfew,—in the Curfew stock, and in the humanity stock; and, in the last, exults as much in the demonstration of the unsoundness of Curfew as his interest in the former gives him pleasure in the currency of Curfew. For the depreciation of his Curfew stock only shows the immense values of the humanity stock. As soon as he sides with his critic against himself, with joy, he is a cultivated man.
We must have an intellectual quality in all property and in all action, or they are nought. I must have children, I must have events, I must have a social state and history, or my thinking and speaking want body or basis. But to give these accessories any value, I must know them as contingent and rather showy possessions, which pass for more to the people than to me. We see this abstraction in scholars, as a matter of course: but what a charm it adds when observed in practical men! Bonaparte, like Caesar, was intellectual, and could look at every object for itself, without affection. Though an egotist a l'outrance, he could criticize a play, a building, a character, on universal grounds, and give a just opinion. A man known to us only as a celebrity in politics or in trade gains largely in our esteem, if we discover that he has some intellectual taste or skill: as when we learn of Lord Fairfax, the Long Parliament's general, his passion for antiquarian studies; or of the French regicide Carnot, his sublime genius in mathematics; or of a living banker, his success in poetry; or of a partisan journalist, his devotion to ornithology. So, if, in travelling in the dreary wildernesses of Arkansas or Texas, we should observe on the next seat a man reading Horace, or Martial, or Calderon, we should wish to hug him. In callings that require roughest energy, soldiers, sea-captains, and civil engineers sometimes betray a fine insight, if only through a certain gentleness when off duty: a good-natured admission that there are illusions, and who shall say that he is not their sport? We only vary the phrase, not the doctrine, when we say that culture opens the sense of beauty. A man is a beggar who only lives to the useful, and, however he may serve as a pin or rivet in the social machine, cannot be said to have arrived at self-possession. I suffer, every day, from the want of perception of beauty in people. They do not know the charm with which all moments and objects can be embellished,—the charm of manners, of self-command, of benevolence. Repose and cheerfulness are the badge of the gentleman,—repose in energy. The Greek battle-pieces are calm; the heroes, in whatever violent actions engaged, retain a serene aspect: as we say of Niagara, that it falls without speed. A cheerful, intelligent face is the end of culture, and success enough; for it indicates the purpose of Nature and wisdom attained.
When our higher faculties are in activity, we are domesticated, and awkwardness and discomfort give place to natural and agreeable movements. It is noticed that the consideration of the great periods and spaces of astronomy induces a dignity of mind and an indifference to death. The influence of fine scenery, the presence of mountains, appeases our irritations and elevates our friendships. Even a high dome, and the expansive interior of a cathedral, have a sensible effect on manners. I have heard that stiff people lose something of their awkwardness under high ceilings and in spacious halls. I think sculpture and painting have an effect to teach us manners and abolish hurry.
But, over all, culture must reinforce from higher influx the empirical skills of eloquence, or of politics, or of trade and the useful arts. There is a certain loftiness of thought and power to marshal and adjust particulars, which can come only from an insight of their whole connection. The orator who has once seen things in their divine order will never quite lose sight of this, and will come to affairs as from a higher ground, and, though he will say nothing of philosophy, he will have a certain mastery in dealing with them, and an incapableness of being dazzled or frighted, which will distinguish his handling from that of attorneys and factors. A man who stands on a good footing with the heads of parties at Washington reads the rumors of the newspapers and the guesses of provincial politicians with a key to the right and wrong in each statement, and sees well enough where all this will end. Archimedes will look through your Connecticut machine at a glance, and judge of its fitness. And much more, a wise man who knows not only what Plato, but what Saint John can show him, can easily raise the affair he deals with to a certain majesty. Plato says, Pericles owed this elevation to the lessons of Anaxagoras. Burke descended from a higher sphere when he would influence human affairs. Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Washington, stood on a fine humanity, before which the brawls of modern senates are but pot-house politics.
But there are higher secrets of culture, which are not for the apprentices, but for proficients. These are lessons only for the brave. We must know our friends under ugly masks. The calamities are our friends. Ben Jonson specifies in his address to the Muse:—
"Get him the time's long grudge, the court's ill-will, And, reconciled, keep him suspected still, Make him lose all his friends, and, what is worse, Almost all ways to any better course; With me thou leav'st a better Muse than thee, And which thou brought'st me, blessed Poverty."
We wish to learn philosophy by rote, and play at heroism. But the wiser God says, Take the shame, the poverty, and the penal solitude that belong to truth-speaking. Try the rough water, as well as the smooth. Rough water can teach lessons worth knowing. When the state is unquiet, personal qualities are more than ever decisive. Fear not a revolution which will constrain you to live five years in one. Don't be so tender at making an enemy now and then. Be willing to go to Coventry sometimes, and let the populace bestow on you their coldest contempts. The finished man of the world must eat of every apple once. He must hold his hatreds also at arm's length, and not remember spite. He has neither friends nor enemies, but values men only as channels of power.
He who aims high must dread an easy home and popular manners. Heaven sometimes hedges a rare character about with ungainliness and odium, as the burr that protects the fruit. If there is any great and good thing in store for you, it will not come at the first or the second call, nor in the shape of fashion, ease, and city drawing-rooms. Popularity is for dolls. "Steep and craggy," said Porphyry, "is the path of the gods." Open your Marcus Antoninus. In the opinion of the ancients, he was the great man who scorned to shine, and who contested the frowns of Fortune. They preferred the noble vessel too late for the tide, contending with winds and waves, dismantled and unrigged, to her companion borne into harbor with colors flying and guns firing. There is none of the social goods that may not be purchased too dear, and mere amiableness must not take rank with high aims and self-subsistency.
Bettine replies to Goethe's mother, who chides her disregard of dress,—"If I cannot do as I have a mind, in our poor Frankfort, I shall not carry things far." And the youth must rate at its true mark the inconceivable levity of local opinion. The longer we live, the more we must endure the elementary existence of men and women: and every brave heart must treat society as a child, and never allow it to dictate.
"All that class of the severe and restrictive virtues," said Burke, "are almost too costly for humanity." Who wishes to be severe? Who wishes to resist the eminent and polite, in behalf of the poor and low and impolite? and who that dares do it can keep his temper sweet, his frolic spirits? The high virtues are not debonair, but have their redress in being illustrious at last. What forests of laurel we bring, and the tears of mankind, to those who stood firm against the opinion of their contemporaries! The measure of a master is his success in bringing all men round to his opinion twenty years later.
Let me say here, that culture cannot begin too early. In talking with scholars, I observe that they lost on ruder companions those years of boyhood which alone could give imaginative literature a religious and infinite quality in their esteem. I find, too, that the chance for appreciation is much increased by being the son of an appreciator, and that these boys who now grow up are caught not only years too late, but two or three births too late, to make the best scholars of. And I think it a presentable motive to a scholar, that, as, in an old community, a well-born proprietor is usually found, after the first heats of youth, to be a careful husband, and to feel an habitual desire that the estate shall suffer no harm by his administration, but shall be delivered down to the next heir in as good condition as he received it,—so, a considerate man will reckon himself a subject of that secular melioration by which mankind is mollified, cured, and refined, and will shun every expenditure of his forces on pleasure or gain, which will jeopardize this social and secular accumulation.
The fossil strata show us that Nature began with rudimental forms, and rose to the more complex as fast as the earth was fit for their dwelling-place,—and that the lower perish, as the higher appear. Very few of our race can be said to be yet finished men. We still carry sticking to us some remains of the preceding inferior quadruped organization. We call these millions men; but they are not yet men. Half-engaged in the soil, pawing to get free, man needs all the music that can be brought to disengage him. If Love, red Love, with tears and joy,—if Want with his scourge,—if War with his cannonade,—if Christianity with its charity,—if Trade with its money,—if Art with its portfolios,—if Science with her telegraphs through the deeps of space and time, can set his dull nerves throbbing, and by loud taps on the tough chrysalis can break its walls and let the new creature emerge erect and free,—make way, and sing paean! The age of the quadruped is to go out,—the age of the brain and of the heart is to come in. The time will come when the evil forms we have known can no more be organized. Man's culture can spare nothing, wants all the material. He is to convert all impediments into instruments, all enemies into power. The formidable mischief will only make the more useful slave. And if one shall read the future of the race hinted in the organic effort of Nature to mount and meliorate, and the corresponding impulse to the Better in the human being, we shall dare affirm that there is nothing he will not overcome and convert, until at last culture shall absorb the chaos and gehenna. He will convert the Furies into Muses, and the hells into benefit.
THE CHILDREN'S HOUR.
Between the dark and the daylight, When the night is beginning to lower, Comes a pause in the day's occupations That is known as the Children's Hour.
I hear in the chamber above me The patter of little feet, The sound of a door that is opened, And voices soft and sweet.
From my study I see in the lamplight, Descending the broad hall-stair, Grave Alice, and laughing Allegra, And Edith with golden hair.
A whisper, and then a silence: Yet I know by their merry eyes They are plotting and planning together To take me by surprise.
A sudden rush from the stairway, A sudden raid from the hall! By three doors left unguarded They enter my castle wall!
They climb up into my turret O'er the arms and back of my chair; If I try to escape, they surround me; They seem to be everywhere.
They almost devour me with kisses, Their arms about me entwine, Till I think of the Bishop of Bingen In his Mouse-Tower on the Rhine!
Do you think, O blue-eyed banditti, Because you have scaled the wall, Such an old moustache as I am Is not a match for you all?
I have you fast in my fortress, And will not let you depart, But put you down into the dungeons In the round-tower of my heart.
And there will I keep you forever, Yes, forever and a day, Till the walls shall crumble to ruin, And moulder in dust away!
It seems but yesterday, although more than thirteen years have gone by, since I first opened the little garden-gate and walked up the path leading to Mary Russell Mitford's cottage at Three-Mile Cross. A friend in London had given me his card to the writer of "Our Village," and I had promised to call on my way to Oxford, and have a half-hour's chat over her geraniums with the charming person whose sketches I had read with so much interest in my own country. Her cheerful voice at the head of the stairs, telling her little maid to show me the way to her sitting-room, sounded very musically, and I often observed in later interviews how like a melody her tones always appeared in conversation. Once when she read a lyrical poem, not her own, to a group of friends assembled at her later residence, in Swallowfield, of which number it was my good-fortune to be one, the verses came from her lips like an exquisite chant. Her laugh had a ringing sweetness in it, rippling out sometimes like a beautiful chime of silver bells; and when she told a comic story, which she often did with infinite tact and grace, she joined in with the jollity at the end, her eyes twinkling with delight at the pleasure her narrative was always sure to bring. Her enjoyment of a joke was something delicious, and when she heard a good thing for the first time her exultant mirth was unbounded. As she sat in her easy-chair, listening to a Yankee story which interested her, her "Dear me! dear me! dear me!" (three times repeated always)