"Rang like a golden jewel down a golden stair."
The sunny summer-day was falling full on her honeysuckles, lilies, and roses, when I first saw her face in the snug cottage at Three-Mile Cross. As we sat together at the open casement, looking down on the flowers that sent up their perfumes to her latticed window like fragrant tributes from a fountain of distilled sweet waters, she pointed out, among the neighboring farm-houses and villas, the residences of her friends, in all of whom she seemed to have the most affectionate interest. I noticed, as the village children went by her window, they all stopped to bow and curtsy. One curly-headed urchin made bold to take off his well-worn cap and wait to be recognized as "little Johnny,"—"no great scholar," said the kind-hearted old lady to me, "but a sad rogue among our flock of geese. Only yesterday, the young marauder was detected by my maid with a plump gosling stuffed half-way into his pocket!" While she was thus discoursing of Johnny's peccadilloes, the little fellow looked up with a knowing expression, and very soon caught in his cap a gingerbread dog, which the old lady threw to him from the window. "I wish he loved his book as well as he relishes sweet cake," sighed she, as the boy kicked up his heels and disappeared down the lane.
Full of anecdote, her conversation that afternoon ran on in a perpetual flow of good-humor, until it was time for me to be on my way toward the University City. From that time till she died, our friendship continued, and, during other visits to England, I saw her frequently, driving about the country with her in her pony-chaise, and spending many happy hours under her cottage-roof. She was always the same cheerful spirit, enlivening our intercourse with shrewd and pertinent observations and reminiscences, some of which it may not be out of place to reproduce here. Country life, its scenery and manners, she was never tired of depicting; but not infrequently she loved to talk of those celebrities in literature and art whom she had known intimately, with a vivacity and sweetness of temper never-failing and delightful. I well remember, one autumn evening, when half a dozen friends were sitting in her library after dinner, talking with her of Tom Taylor's Life of Haydon, then lately published, how graphically she described to us the eccentric painter, whose genius she was among the fore-most to recognize. The flavor of her discourse I cannot reproduce; but I was too much interested in what she was saying to forget the main incidents she drew for our edification, during those pleasant hours now far away in the past.
"I am a terrible forgetter of dates," she used to say, when any one asked her of the time when; but for the manner how she was never at a loss. "Poor Haydon!" she began. "He was an old friend of mine, and I am indebted to Sir William Elford, one of my dear father's correspondents during my girlhood, for a suggestion which sent me to look at a picture then on exhibition in London, and thus was brought about my knowledge of the painter's existence. He, Sir William, had taken a fancy to me, and I became his child-correspondent. Few things contribute more to that indirect after-education, which is worth all the formal lessons of the school-room a thousand times told, than such good-humored condescension from a clever man of the world to a girl almost young enough to be his granddaughter. I owe much to that correspondence, and, amongst other debts, the acquaintance of Haydon. Sir William's own letters were most charming,—full of old-fashioned courtesy, of quaint humor, and of pleasant and genial criticism on literature and on art. An amateur-painter himself, painting interested him particularly, and he often spoke much and warmly of the young man from Plymouth, whose picture of the 'Judgment of Solomon' was then on exhibition in London. 'You must see it,' said he, 'even if you come to town on purpose.'"—The reader of Haydon's Life will remember that Sir William Elford, in conjunction with a Plymouth banker named Tingecombe, ultimately purchased the picture. The poor artist was overwhelmed with astonishment and joy when he walked into the exhibition-room and read the label, "Sold," which had been attached to his picture that morning before he arrived. "My first impulse," he says in his Autobiography, "was gratitude to God."
"It so happened," continued Miss Mitford, "that I merely passed through London that season, and, being detained by some of the thousand and one nothings which are so apt to detain women in the great city, I arrived at the exhibition, in company with a still younger friend, so near the period of closing, that more punctual visitors were moving out, and the doorkeeper actually turned us and our money back. I persisted, however, assuring him that I only wished to look at one picture, and promising not to detain him long. Whether my entreaties would have carried the point or not, I cannot tell; but half a crown did; so we stood admiringly before the 'Judgment of Solomon.' I am no great judge of painting; but that picture impressed me then, as it does now, as excellent in composition, in color, and in that great quality of telling a story which appeals at once to every mind. Our delight was sincerely felt, and most enthusiastically expressed, as we kept gazing at the picture, and seemed, unaccountably to us at first, to give much pleasure to the only gentleman who had remained in the room,—a young and very distinguished-looking person, who had watched with evident amusement our negotiation with the doorkeeper. Beyond indicating the best position to look at the picture, he had no conversation with us; but I soon surmised that we were seeing the painter, as well as his painting; and when, two or three years afterwards, a friend took me by appointment to view the 'Entry into Jerusalem,' Haydon's next great picture, then near its completion, I found I had not been mistaken.
"Haydon was, at that period, a remarkable person to look at and listen to. Perhaps your American word bright expresses better than any other his appearance and manner. His figure, short, slight, elastic, and vigorous, looked still more light and youthful from the little sailor's-jacket and snowy trousers which formed his painting costume. His complexion was clear and healthful. His forehead, broad and high, out of all proportion to the lower part of his face, gave an unmistakable character of intellect to the finely placed head. Indeed, he liked to observe that the gods of the Greek sculptors owed much of their elevation to being similarly out of drawing! The lower features were terse, succinct, and powerful,—from the bold, decided jaw, to the large, firm, ugly, good-humored mouth. His very spectacles aided the general expression; they had a look of the man. But how shall I attempt to tell you of his brilliant conversation, of his rapid, energetic manner, of his quick turns of thought, as he flew on from topic to topic, dashing his brush here and there upon the canvas? Slow and quiet persons were a good deal startled by this suddenness and mobility. He left such people far behind, mentally and bodily. But his talk was so rich and varied, so earnest and glowing, his anecdotes so racy, his perception of character so shrewd, and the whole tone so spontaneous and natural, that the want of repose was rather recalled afterwards than felt at the time. The alloy to this charm was a slight coarseness of voice and accent, which contrasted somewhat strangely with his constant courtesy and high breeding. Perhaps this was characteristic. A defect of some sort pervades his pictures. Their great want is equality and congruity,—that perfect union of qualities which we call taste. His apartment, especially at that period when he lived in his painting-room, was in itself a study of the most picturesque kind. Besides the great picture itself, for which there seemed hardly space between the walls, it was crowded with casts, lay figures, arms, tripods, vases, draperies, and costumes of all ages, weapons of all nations, books in all tongues. These cumbered the floor; whilst around hung smaller pictures, sketches, and drawings, replete with originality and force. With chalk he could do what he chose. I remember he once drew for me a head of hair with nine of his sweeping, vigorous strokes! Among the studies I remarked that day in his apartment was one of a mother who had just lost her only child,—a most masterly rendering of an unspeakable grief. A sonnet, which I could not help writing on this sketch, gave rise to our long correspondence, and to a friendship which never flagged. Everybody feels that his life, as told by Mr. Taylor, with its terrible catastrophe, is a stern lesson to young artists, an awful warning that cannot be set aside. Let us not forget that amongst his many faults are qualities which hold out a bright example. His devotion to his noble art, his conscientious pursuit of every study connected with it, his unwearied industry, his love of beauty and of excellence, his warm family affection, his patriotism, his courage, and his piety, will not easily be surpassed. Thinking of them, let us speak tenderly of the ardent spirit whose violence would have been softened by better fortune, and who, if more successful, would have been more gentle and more humble."
And so with her vigilant and appreciative eye she saw, and thus in her own charming way she talked of the man, whose name, says Taylor, as a popularizer of art, stands without a rival among his brethren.
* * * * *
Her passion for the Drama continued through life, and to see a friend's play would take her up to London when nothing else would tempt her to leave her cottage. It was delightful to hear her talk of the old actors, many of whom she had known. She loved to describe John Kemble, Mrs. Siddons, Miss O'Neill, and Edmund Kean, as they were wont to electrify the town. Elliston was a great favorite, and she had as many good things to tell of him as Elia ever had. One autumn afternoon she related all the circumstances attending the "first play" she ever saw,—which, by the way, was a tragedy enacted in a barn somewhere in the little town of Alresford, where she was born. The winking candles dividing the stage from the audience, she used to say, were winking now in her memory, although fifty years had elapsed since her father took her, a child of four years, to see "Othello." Her talent at mimicry made her always most interesting, when she spoke of Munden and his pleasant absurdities on the stage. For Bannister, Johnstone, Fawcett, and Emery she had a most exquisite relish, and she said they had made comedy to her a living art full of laughter and tears. Her passion for the stage, and overclouded prospects for the future, led her in early youth to write a play. She had already written a considerable number of verses which had been printed, and were honored by being severely castigated by Gifford in the "Quarterly."
"I didn't mind the great reviewer's blows at all," she used to say. "My poems had been republished in America; and Coleridge had prophesied that I should one day write a tragedy."
Talfourd was then, though a young man, a most excellent critic, and lent a helping hand to the young authoress. Her anxieties attending the first representation of her play at Covent Garden she was always fond of relating, and in such a manner that we who listened fell into such boisterous merriment with her, that I have known carriages stop in front of her window, and their inmates put out anxiously inquiring heads, to learn, if possible, what it all meant inside the cottage.
She never forgot "the warm grasp of Mrs. Charles Kemble's hand, when she saw her, all life and heartiness, at her house in Soho Square,—or the excellent acting of Young and Kemble and Macready, who did everything actors could do to secure success for her."
"These are the things," she once wrote, "one thinks of, when sitting calm and old by the light of a country fire."
The comic and the grotesque that were mingled up with her first experiences of the stage as a dramatic author were inimitably rendered by herself, whenever she sat down to relate the story of that visit to London for the purpose of bringing out her tragedy. The rehearsals, where "the only grave person present was Mr. Liston!—the tragic heroines sauntering languidly through their parts in bonnets and thick shawls,—the untidy ballet-girls" (there was a dance in "Foscari") "walking through their quadrille to the sound of a solitary fiddle,"—she was never weary of calling up for the amusement of her listeners.
The old dramatists she had grown up to worship,—Shakspeare first, as in all loyalty bound, and after him Fletcher. "Affluent, eloquent, royally grand," she used to call both Beaumont and Fletcher; and whole scenes from favorite plays she knew by heart. Dr. Valpy was her neighbor, he being in the days of her youth headmaster of Reading School. A family intimacy of long standing had existed between her father's household and that of the learned and excellent scholar, so that his well-known taste for the English dramatists had no small influence on Doctor Mitford's studious daughter. "He helped me also," she said, "to enter into the spirit of those mighty masters who dealt forth the stern Tragedies of Destiny."
One of the dearest friends of her youth was Miss Porden, (afterwards married, as his first wife, to Sir John Franklin,) and at her suggestion Miss Mitford wrote "Rienzi." I have heard her say, that, going up to London to bring out that play, she saw her old friend, then Mrs. Franklin, working a flag for the captain's ship, then about to sail on one of his early adventurous voyages. The agitation of parting with her husband was too great for her delicate temperament, and before the expedition was out of the Channel Mrs. Franklin was dead.
* * * * *
Often and often, when the English lanes were white with blossoms, I have sat by her side while her faithful servant guided her low-wheeled pony-chaise among the pleasant roads about Reading and Swallowfield. Once we went to a cricket-ground together, and as we sat under the trees, looking on as the game proceeded, she, who fell in love with Nature when a child, and had studied the landscape till she knew familiarly every flower and leaf that grows on English soil, assembled all that was best in poesy from her memory to illustrate the beautiful scene before us, and to prove how much better and more truly the great end of existence is answered in a rural life than in the vexatious cares of city occupation. As we sat looking at the vast lawn, magnificent in its green apparel, she quoted Irving as one who had understood English country-life perhaps more deeply and fully than any other foreign author who had ever written.
Speaking, one day, of the slowness of poetical fame, she said,—
"It always takes ten years to make a poetical reputation in England; but America is wiser and bolder, and dares say at once, 'This is fine!'"
She rejoiced greatly in several of the American poets, and was never weary of quoting certain ringing couplets which she has celebrated in her "Notes of a Literary Life." "Is there anything under the sun," she exclaims, "that Dr. Holmes cannot paint?"
During the last six years of her life she became a great invalid and moved about only with severe pain. "It is not age," she said, "that has thus prostrated me, but the hard work and increasing anxieties of thirty years of authorship, during which my poor labors were all that my dear father and mother had to look to; besides which, for the greater part of that time I was constantly called upon to attend the sick bed, first of one parent, and then of the other. I have only to be intensely thankful that the power of exertion did not fail until the necessity for such exertion was removed."
"I love poetry and people as well at sixty as I did at sixteen," she said one day, when I gave her a new volume by an American friend, "and can never be sufficiently grateful to God for having permitted me to retain the two joy-giving faculties of admiration and sympathy." The "Ballad of Cassandra Southwick" she esteemed as one of the finest things of our time; and of "Astrea" she said,—"Nobody in England can write the glorious resonant metre of Dryden like that strain, nowadays."
Pope was a great favorite with her, and she took me one morning to an old house where he was a frequent guest, and where Arabella Fermor, the heroine of the "Rape of the Lock," passed her married life. On the way she often quoted the poet, whose works she seemed to know by heart. Returning at sunset, she was very anxious that I should hear my first nightingale among the woody lanes of her pretty country; but we were both disappointed. We listened long, but, although the air was full of birdsongs that evening, the sweet-voiced warbler was not of the choir. She talked much, as we rode along, of Kingsley and Ruskin, both of whom she loved as friends as well as authors. "John Ruskin," she said, "is good and kind, and charming beyond the common lot of mortals, and there are pages of his prose, to my thinking, more eloquent than any thing out of Jeremy Taylor."
Speaking of Humor, she said,—"Between ourselves, I always have a little doubt of genius, when there is none of that quality: certainly, in the very highest poetry, the two go together."
She greatly admired Beranger, and often spoke of him as the beautiful old man, the truest and best type of perfect independence. Hazlitt she ranked highly as an essayist, and she mentioned that she had heard both Charles Lamb and Talfourd praise him as not only the most brilliant, but the soundest of critics.
Among modern romances, those by the author of "The Scarlet Letter" seemed to impress her almost more than any others; and when "The House of the Seven Gables" was translated into Russian, she was filled with delight. Indeed, she was always among the first to cry, "Bravo!" over any good words for American literature.
"Do coax Mr. Hawthorne and Dr. Holmes," she said one day, "into visiting England. I want them to be welcomed as they deserve, and as they are sure to be."
Her interest in the French Emperor's career amounted to enthusiasm, and one day she told us a very pretty story about him which she knew to be true. She said, when he was in England after Strasbourg and before Boulogne, he spent a twelvemonth at Leamington, living in the quietest manner. One of the principal persons in that town, Mr. H., a very liberal and accomplished man, made a point of showing every attention in his power to the Prince; and they very soon became intimate. There was in the town an old officer of the Emperor's Polish Legion, who, compelled to leave France after Waterloo, had taken refuge in England, and, having a natural talent for languages, maintained himself by teaching French, Italian, and German in different families. The old exile and the young one found each other out, and the language-master was soon an habitual guest at the Prince's table, where he was treated with the most affectionate attention. At last Louis Napoleon was obliged to repair to London, but before he went he called on his friend Mr. H. to take leave. After warm thanks to him for all the pleasure he had experienced in his society, the Prince said,—
"I am about to prove to you my entire reliance upon your unfailing kindness by leaving you a legacy. I wish to ask that you would transfer to my poor old friend the goodness you have lavished on me. His health is failing,—his means are small; pray, call upon him sometimes, and see that the lodging-house people do not neglect him. Draw upon me for what may be wanting for his needs or for his comforts."
Mr. H. promised, and faithfully replaced the Prince in his kind attentions to his old friend. The poor old man grew ill at last, and died, Mr. H. defraying all the charges of his illness and of his funeral. "I would willingly have paid them myself," said he, "but I knew that would have offended and grieved the Prince. I found that provision had been made at his banker's to answer my drafts to a much larger amount than the actual debt."
Miss Mitford used to say that she kept this anecdote for non-admirers of the Emperor.
One day she came limping into the room, with her dog Fanchon following in the same lame plight,—she laughing heartily at their similarity of gait, and holding up a letter just in from the post.
"Here," said she, "is an epistle from my dear old friend, Lady M.," (Gibbon's correspondent,) "who at the age of eighty-three is caught by new books, and is as enthusiastic as a girl. She commissions me to inquire of you all about your new authoress, the writer of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin,' who she is, and all you know of her. So let me hear what you have to say about the lady."
During a brief visit to her cottage not long before she died, the chase was started one evening to find, if possible, the origin of the line quoted by Byron,—
"A fellow-feeling makes one wondrous kind."
In vain we searched among the poets, and at last all the party gave up in despair. I went up to London soon after, thinking no more of the lost line. In a few days, however, came a brief note, as follows:—
"Hurrah, dear friend! I have found the line without any other person's aid or suggestion! Last night it occurred to me that it was in some prologue or epilogue; and my little book-room being very rich in the drama, I have looked through many hundreds of those bits of rhyme, and at last made a discovery, which, if it have no other good effect, will at least have 'emptied my head of Corsica,' as Johnson said to Boswell; for never was the great biographer more haunted by the thought of Paoli than I by that line. It occurs in an epilogue by Garrick, on quitting the stage, June, 1776, when the performance was for the benefit of sick and aged actors.
"Not finding it quoted in Johnson convinced me that it would probably have been written after the publication of the Dictionary, and ultimately guided me to the right place. It is singular that epilogues were just dismissed at the first representation of one of my plays, 'Foscari,' and prologues at another, 'Rienzi.'
"Ever most affectionately yours,
"P.S. I am still a close prisoner in my room. But when fine weather comes, I will get down in some way or other, and trust myself to that which never hurts anybody, the honest open air. Spring, and even the approach of spring, sets me dreaming. I see leafy hedges in my sleep, and flowery banks, and then I long to make the vision a reality. I remember that my dog Flush, Fanchon's father, who was a famous sporting-dog, used, at the approach of the covering season, to hunt in his sleep, doubtless by the same instinct that works in me. So, as soon as the sun tells the same story with the primroses, I shall make a descent after some fashion, and, no doubt, aided by Sam's stalwart arm, successfully."
* * * * *
After leaving Three-Mile Cross for Swallowfield, her health, never of late years robust, seemed failing. In one of her letters to me she gives this pleasant picture of her home:—
"Ill as I am, my spirits are as good as ever; and just at this moment I am most comfortably seated under the acacia-tree at the corner of the house,—the beautiful acacia literally loaded with its snowy chains. The flowering-trees this summer, the lilacs, laburnums, and rhododendrons, have been one mass of blossoms, but none are so graceful as this waving acacia. On one side is a syringa, smelling and looking like an orange-tree,—a jar of roses on the table before me,—fresh gathered roses,—the pride of my gardener's heart. Little Fanchon is at my feet, too idle to eat the biscuits with which I am trying to tempt her,—biscuits from Boston, sent to me by kind Mrs. S., and which Fanchon ought to like; but you know her laziness of old, and she improves in it every day."
It was about this period that Walter Savage Landor sent to her these exquisite lines:—
"The hay is carried; and the Hours Snatch, as they pass, the linden-flowers; And children leap to pluck a spray Bent earthward, and then run away. Park-keeper! catch me those grave thieves, About whose frocks the fragrant leaves, Sticking and fluttering here and there, No false nor faltering witness bear.
"I never view such scenes as these In grassy meadow girt with trees, But comes a thought of her who now Sits with serenely patient brow Amid deep sufferings: none hath told More pleasant tales to young and old. Fondest was she of Father Thames, But rambled to Hellenic streams; Nor even there could any tell The country's purer charms so well As Mary Mitford.
"Verse! go forth And breathe o'er gentle hearts her worth. Needless the task: but should she see One hearty wish from you and me, A moment's pain it may assuage,— A rose-leaf on the couch of Age."
In the early days of the year 1855 she sent, in her own handwriting, kind greetings to her old friends only a few hours before she died. Sweetness of temper and brightness of mind, her never-failing characteristics, accompanied her to the last; and she passed on in her usual cheerful and affectionate mood, her sympathies uncontracted by age, narrow fortune, and pain.
THE PROFESSOR'S STORY.
OLD SOPHY CALLS ON THE REVEREND DOCTOR.
The two meeting-houses which faced each other like a pair of fighting-cocks had not flapped their wings or crowed at each other for a considerable time. The Reverend Mr. Fairweather had been dyspeptic and low-spirited of late, and was too languid for controversy. The Reverend Doctor Honeywood had been very busy with his benevolent associations, and had discoursed chiefly on practical matters, to the neglect of special doctrinal subjects. His senior deacon ventured to say to him that some of his people required to be reminded of the great fundamental doctrine of the worthlessness of all human efforts and motives. Some of them were altogether too much pleased with the success of the Temperance Society and the Association for the Relief of the Poor. There was a pestilent heresy about, concerning the satisfaction to be derived from a good conscience,—as if anybody ever did anything which was not to be hated, loathed, despised, and condemned.
The old minister listened gravely, with an inward smile, and told his deacon that he would attend to his suggestion. After the deacon had gone, he tumbled over his manuscripts, until at length he came upon his first-rate old sermon on "Human Nature." He had read a great deal of hard theology, and had at last reached that curious state which is so common in good ministers,—that, namely, in which they contrive to switch off their logical faculties on the narrow side-track of their technical dogmas, while the great freight-train of their substantial human qualities keeps in the main highway of common-sense, in which kindly souls are always found by all who approach them by their human side.
The Doctor read his sermon with a pleasant, paternal interest: it was well argued from his premises. Here and there he dashed his pen through a harsh expression. Now and then he added an explanation or qualified a broad statement. But his mind was on the logical side-track, and he followed the chain of reasoning without fairly perceiving where it would lead him, if he carried it into real life.
He was just touching up the final proposition, when his granddaughter, Letty, once before referred to, came into the room with her smiling face and lively movement. Miss Letty or Letitia Forrester was a city-bred girl of some fifteen or sixteen years old, who was passing the summer with her grandfather for the sake of country air and quiet. It was a sensible arrangement; for, having the promise of figuring as a belle by-and-by, and being a little given to dancing, and having a voice which drew a pretty dense circle around the piano when she sat down to play and sing, it was hard to keep her from being carried into society before her time, by the mere force of mutual attraction. Fortunately, she had some quiet as well as some social tastes, and was willing enough to pass two or three of the summer months in the country, where she was much better bestowed than she would have been at one of those watering-places where so many half-formed girls get prematurely hardened in the vice of self-consciousness.
Miss Letty was altogether too wholesome, hearty, and high-strung a young girl to be a model, according to the flat-chested and cachectic pattern which is the classical type of certain excellent young females, often the subjects of biographical memoirs. But the old minister was proud of his granddaughter for all that. She was so full of life, so graceful, so generous, so vivacious, so ready always to do all she could for him and for everybody, so perfectly frank in her avowed delight in the pleasures which this miserable world offered her in the shape of natural beauty, of poetry, of music, of companionship, of books, of cheerful cooperation in the tasks of those about her, that the Reverend Doctor could not find it in his heart to condemn her because she was deficient in those particular graces and that signal other-worldliness he had sometimes noticed in feeble young persons suffering from various chronic diseases which impaired their vivacity and removed them from the range of temptation.
When Letty, therefore, came bounding into the old minister's study, he glanced up from his manuscript, and, as his eye fell upon her, it flashed across him that there was nothing so very monstrous and unnatural about the specimen of congenital perversion he was looking at, with his features opening into their pleasantest sunshine. Technically, according to the fifth proposition of the sermon on Human Nature, very bad, no doubt. Practically, according to the fact before him, a very pretty piece of the Creator's handiwork, body and soul. Was it not a conceivable thing that the divine grace might show itself in different forms in a fresh young girl like Letitia, and in that poor thing he had visited yesterday, half-grown, half-colored, in bed for the last year with hip-disease? Was it to be supposed that this healthy young girl, with life throbbing all over her, could, without a miracle, be good according to the invalid pattern and formula?
And yet there were mysteries in human nature which pointed to some tremendous perversion of its tendencies,—to some profound, radical vice of moral constitution, native or transmitted, as you will have it, but positive, at any rate, as the leprosy, breaking out in the blood of races, guard them ever so carefully. Did he not know the case of a young lady in Rockland, daughter of one of the first families in the place, a very beautiful and noble creature to look at, for whose bringing-up nothing had been spared,—a girl who had had governesses to teach her at the house, who had been indulged almost too kindly,—a girl whose father had given himself up to her, he being himself a pure and high-souled man?—and yet this girl was accused in whispers of having been on the very verge of committing a fatal crime; she was an object of fear to all who knew the dark hints which had been let fall about her, and there were some that believed—Why, what was this but an instance of the total obliquity and degeneration of the moral principle? and to what could it be owing, but to an innate organic tendency?
"Busy, grandpapa?" said Letty, and without waiting for an answer kissed his cheek with a pair of lips made on purpose for that little function,—fine, but richly turned out, the corners tucked in with a finish of pretty dimples, the rosebud lips of girlhood's June.
The old gentleman looked at his granddaughter. Nature swelled up from his heart in a wave that sent a glow to his cheek and a sparkle to his eye. But it is very hard to be interrupted just as we are winding up a string of propositions with the grand conclusion which is the statement in brief of all that has gone before: our own starting-point, into which we have been trying to back our reader or listener as one backs a horse into the shafts.
"Video meliora, proboque,—I see the better, and approve it; deteriora sequor,—I follow after the worse: 'tis that natural dislike to what is good, pure, holy, and true, that inrooted selfishness, totally insensible to the claims of"—
Here the worthy man was interrupted by Miss Letty.
"Do come, if you can, grandpapa," said the young girl; "here is a poor old black woman wants to see you so much!"
The good minister was as kind-hearted as if he had never groped in the dust and ashes of those cruel old abstractions which have killed out so much of the world's life and happiness, "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness"; a man's love is the measure of his fitness for good or bad company here or elsewhere. Men are tattooed with their special beliefs like so many South-Sea Islanders; but a real human heart, with Divine love in it, beats with the same glow under all the patterns of all earth's thousand tribes!
The Doctor sighed, and folded the sermon, and laid the Quarto Cruden on it. He rose from his desk, and, looking once more at the young girl's face, forgot his logical conclusions, and said to himself that she was a little angel,—which was in violent contradiction to the leading doctrine of his sermon on Human Nature. And so he followed her out of the study into the wide entry of the old-fashioned country-house.
An old black woman sat on the plain oaken settle which humble visitors waiting to see the minister were wont to occupy. She was old, but how old it would be very hard to guess. She might be seventy. She might be ninety. One could not swear she was not a hundred. Black women remain at a stationary age (to the eyes of white people, at least) for thirty years. They do not appear to change during this period any more than so many Trenton trilobites. Bent up, wrinkled, yellow-eyed, with long upper-lip, projecting jaws, retreating chin, still meek features, long arms, large flat hands with uncolored palms and slightly webbed fingers, it was impossible not to see in this old creature a hint of the gradations by which life climbs up through the lower natures to the highest human developments. We cannot tell such old women's ages because we do not understand the physiognomy of a race so unlike our own. No doubt they see a great deal in each other's faces that we cannot,—changes of color and expression as real as our own, blushes and sudden betrayals of feeling,—just as these two canaries know what their single notes and short sentences and full song with this or that variation mean, though it is a mystery to us unplumed mortals.
This particular old black woman was a striking specimen of her class. Old as she looked, her eye was bright and knowing. She wore a red-and-yellow turban, which set off her complexion well, and hoops of gold in her ears, and beads of gold about her neck, and an old funeral ring upon her finger. She had that touching stillness about her which belongs to animals that wait to be spoken to and then look up with a kind of sad humility.
"Why, Sophy!" said the good minister, "is this you?"
She looked up with the still expression on her face. "It's old Sophy," she said.
"Why," said the Doctor, "I did not believe you could walk so far as this to save the Union. Bring Sophy a glass of wine, Letty. Wine's good for old folks like Sophy and me, after walking a good way, or preaching a good while."
The young girl stepped into the back-parlor, where she found the great pewter flagon in which the wine that was left after each communion-service was brought to the minister's house. With much toil she managed to tip it so as to get a couple of glasses filled. The minister tasted his, and made old Sophy finish hers.
"I wan' to see you 'n' talk wi' you all alone," she said presently.
The minister got up and led the way towards his study. "To be sure," he said; he had only waited for her to rest a moment before he asked her into the library. The young girl took her gently by the arm, and helped her feeble steps along the passage. When they reached the study, she smoothed the cushion of a rocking-chair, and made the old woman sit down in it. Then she tripped lightly away, and left her alone with the minister.
Old Sophy was a member of the Reverend Doctor Honeywood's church. She had been put through the necessary confessions in a tolerably satisfactory manner. To be sure, as her grandfather had been a cannibal chief, according to the common story, and, at any rate, a terrible wild savage, and as her mother retained to the last some of the prejudices of her early education, there was a heathen flavor in her Christianity, which had often scandalized the elder of the minister's two deacons. But the good minister had smoothed matters over: had explained that allowances were to be made for those who had been long sitting without the gate of Zion,—that, no doubt, a part of the curse which descended to the children of Ham consisted in "having the understanding darkened," as well as the skin,—and so had brought his suspicious senior deacon to tolerate old Sophy as one of the communion of fellow-sinners.
* * * * *
——Poor things! How little we know the simple notions with which these rudiments of souls are nourished by the Divine Goodness! Did not Mrs. Professor come home this very blessed morning with a story of one of her old black women?
"And how do you feel to-day, Mrs. Robinson?"
"Oh, my dear, I have this singing in my head all the time." (What doctors call tinnitus aurium.)
"She's got a cold in the head," said old Mrs. Rider.
"Oh, no, my dear! Whatever I'm thinking about, it's all this singing, this music. When I'm thinking of the dear Redeemer, it all turns into this singing and music. When the clark came to see me, I asked him if he couldn't cure me, and he said, No,—it was the Holy Spirit in me, singing to me; and all the time I hear this beautiful music, and it's the Holy Spirit a-singing to me."——
* * * * *
The good man waited for Sophy to speak; but she did not open her lips as yet.
"I hope you are not troubled in mind or body," he said to her at length, finding she did not speak.
The poor old woman took out a white handkerchief, and lifted it to her black face. She could not say a word for her tears and sobs.
The minister would have consoled her; he was used to tears, and could in most cases withstand their contagion manfully; but something choked his voice suddenly, and when he called upon it, he got no answer, but a tremulous movement of the muscles, which was worse than silence.
At last she spoke.
"Oh, no, no, no! It's my poor girl, my darling, my beauty, my baby, that's grown up to be a woman; she will come to a bad end; she will do something that will make them kill her or shut her up all her life. Oh, Doctor, Doctor, save her, pray for her! It a'n't her fault. It a'n't her fault. If they knew all that I know, they wouldn't blame that poor child. I must tell you, Doctor: if I should die, perhaps nobody else would tell you. Massa Venner can't talk about it. Doctor Kittredge won't talk about it. Nobody but old Sophy to tell you, Doctor; and old Sophy can't die without telling you."
The kind minister soothed the poor old soul with those gentle, quieting tones which had carried peace and comfort to so many chambers of sickness and sorrow, to so many hearts overburdened by the trials laid upon them.
Old Sophy became quiet in a few minutes, and proceeded to tell her story. She told it in the low half-whisper which is the natural voice of lips oppressed with grief and fears; with quick glances around the apartment from time to time, as if she dreaded lest the dim portraits on the walls and the dark folios on the shelves might overhear her words.
It was not one of those conversations which a third person can report minutely, unless by that miracle of clairvoyance known to the readers of stories made out of authors' brains. Yet its main character can be imparted in a much briefer space than the old black woman took to give all its details.
She went far back to the time when Dudley Venner was born,—she being then a middle-aged woman. The heir and hope of a family which had been narrowing down as if doomed to extinction, he had been surrounded with every care and trained by the best education he could have in New England. He had left college, and was studying the profession which gentlemen of leisure most affect, when he fell in love with a young girl left in the world almost alone, as he was. The old woman told the story of his young love and his joyous bridal with a tenderness which had something more, even, than her family sympathies to account for it. Had she not hanging over her bed a small paper-cutting of a profile—jet black, but not blacker than the face it represented—of one who would have been her own husband in the small years of this century, if the vessel in which he went to sea, like Jamie in the ballad, had not sailed away and never come back to land? Had she not her bits of furniture stowed away which had been got ready for her own wedding,—two rocking-chairs, one worn with long use, one kept for him so long that it had grown a superstition with her never to sit in it,—and might he not come back yet, after all? Had she not her chest of linen ready for her humble house-keeping, with store of serviceable huckaback and piles of neatly folded kerchiefs, wherefrom this one that showed so white against her black face was taken, for that she knew her eyes would betray her in "the presence"?
All the first part of the story the old woman told tenderly, and yet dwelling upon every incident with a loving pleasure. How happy this young couple had been, what plans and projects of improvement they had formed, how they lived in each other, always together, so young and fresh and beautiful as she remembered them in that one early summer when they walked arm in arm through the wilderness of roses that ran riot in the garden,—she told of this as loath to leave it and come to the woe that lay beneath.
She told the whole story;—shall I repeat it? Not now. If, in the course of relating the incidents I have undertaken to report, it tells itself, perhaps this will be better than to run the risk of producing a painful impression on some of those susceptible readers whom it would be ill-advised to disturb or excite, when they rather require to be amused and soothed. In our pictures of life, we must show the flowering-out of terrible growths which have their roots deep, deep underground. Just how far we shall lay bare the unseemly roots themselves is a matter of discretion and taste, in which none of us are infallible.
The old woman told the whole story of Elsie, of her birth, of her peculiarities of person and disposition, of the passionate fears and hopes with which her father had watched the course of her development. She recounted all her strange ways, from the hour when she first tried to crawl across the carpet, and her father shrank from her with an involuntary shudder as she worked her way towards him. With the memory of Juliet's nurse she told the story of her teething, and how, the woman to whose breast she had clung dying suddenly about that time, they had to struggle hard with the child before she would learn the accomplishment of feeding with a spoon. And so of her fierce plays and fiercer disputes with that boy who had been her companion, and the whole scene of the quarrel when she struck him with those sharp white teeth, frightening her, old Sophy, almost to death; for, as she said, the boy would have died, if it hadn't been for the old Doctor's galloping over as fast as he could gallop and burning the places right out of his arm. Then came the story of that other incident, sufficiently alluded to already, which had produced such an ecstasy of fright and left such a nightmare of apprehension in the household. And so the old woman came down to this present time. That boy she never loved nor trusted was grown to a dark, dangerous-looking man, and he was under their roof. He wanted to marry our poor Elsie, and Elsie hated him, and sometimes she would look at him over her shoulder just as she used to look at that woman she hated; and she, old Sophy, couldn't sleep for thinking she should hear a scream from the white chamber some night and find him in spasms such as that woman came so near dying with. And then there was something about Elsie she did not know what to make of: she would sit and hang her head sometimes, and look as if she were dreaming; and she brought home books they said a young gentleman up at the great school lent her; and once she heard her whisper in her sleep, and she talked as young girls do to themselves when they're thinking about somebody they have a liking for and think nobody knows it.
She finished her long story at last. The minister had listened to it in perfect silence. He sat still even when she had done speaking,—still, and lost in thought. It was a very awkward matter for him to have a hand in. Old Sophy was his parishioner, but the Venners had a pew in the Reverend Mr. Fairweather's meeting-house. It would seem that he, Mr. Fairweather, was the natural adviser of the parties most interested. Had he sense and spirit enough to deal with such people? Was there enough capital of humanity in his somewhat limited nature to furnish sympathy and unshrinking service for his friends in an emergency? or was he too busy with his own attacks of spiritual neuralgia, and too much occupied with taking account of stock of his own thin-blooded offences, to forget himself and his personal interests on the small scale and the large, and run a risk of his life, if need were, at any rate give himself up without reserve to the dangerous task of guiding and counselling these distressed and imperilled fellow-creatures?
The good minister thought the best thing to do would be to call and talk over some of these matters with Brother Fairweather,—for so he would call him at times, especially if his senior deacon were not within earshot. Having settled this point, he comforted Sophy with a few words of counsel and a promise of coming to see her very soon. He then called his man to put the old white horse into the chaise and drive Sophy back to the mansion-house.
When the Doctor sat down to his sermon again, it looked very differently from the way it had looked at the moment he left it. When he came to think of it, he did not feel quite so sure practically about that matter of the utter natural selfishness of everybody. There was Letty, now, seemed to take a very unselfish interest in that old black woman, and indeed in poor people generally; perhaps it would not be too much to say that she was always thinking of other people. He thought he had seen other young persons naturally unselfish, thoughtful for others; it seemed to be a family trait in some he had known.
But most of all he was exercised about this poor girl whose story Sophy had been telling. If what the old woman believed was true,—and it had too much semblance of probability,—what became of his theory of ingrained moral obliquity applied to such a case? If by the visitation of God a person receives any injury which impairs the intellect or the moral perceptions, is it not monstrous to judge such a person by our common working standards of right and wrong? Certainly, everybody will answer, in cases where there is a palpable organic change brought about, as when a blow on the head produces insanity. Fools! How long will it be before we shall learn that for every wound which betrays itself to the sight by a scar, there are a thousand unseen mutilations that cripple, each of them, some one or more of our highest faculties? If what Sophy told and believed was the real truth, what prayers could be agonizing enough, what tenderness could be deep enough, for this poor, lost, blighted, hapless, blameless child of misfortune, struck by such a doom as perhaps no living creature in all the sisterhood of humanity shared with her?
The minister thought these matters over until his mind was bewildered with doubts and tossed to and fro on that stormy deep of thought heaving forever beneath the conflict of windy dogmas. He laid by his old sermon. He put back a pile of old commentators with their eyes and mouths and hearts full of the dust of the schools. Then he opened the book of Genesis at the eighteenth chapter and read that remarkable argument of Abraham's with his Maker, in which he boldly appeals to first principles. He took as his text, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" and began to write his sermon, afterwards so famous,—"On the Obligations of an Infinite Creator to a Finite Creature."
It astonished the good people, who had been accustomed so long to repeat mechanically their Oriental hyperboles of self-abasement, to hear their worthy minister maintaining that the dignified attitude of the old Patriarch, insisting on what was reasonable and fair with reference to his fellow-creatures, was really much more respectful to his Maker, and a great deal manlier and more to his credit, than if he had yielded the whole matter, and pretended that men had not rights as well as duties. The same logic which had carried him to certain conclusions with reference to human nature, this same irresistible logic carried him straight on from his text until he arrived at those other results, which not only astonished his people, as was said, but surprised himself. He went so far in defence of the rights of man, that he put his foot into several heresies, for which men had been burned so often, it was time, if ever it could be, to acknowledge the demonstration of the argumentum ad ignem. He did not believe in the responsibility of idiots. He did not believe a new-born infant was morally answerable for other people's acts. He thought a man with a crooked spine would never be called to account for not walking erect. He thought, if the crook was in his brain, instead of his back, he could not fairly be blamed for any consequence of this natural defect, whatever lawyers or divines might call it. He argued, that, if a person inherited a perfect mind, body, and disposition, and had perfect teaching from infancy, that person could do nothing more than keep the moral law perfectly. But supposing that the Creator allows a person to be born with an hereditary or ingrafted organic tendency, and then puts this person into the hands of teachers incompetent or positively bad, is not what is called sin or transgression of the law necessarily involved in the premises? Is not a Creator bound to guard his children against the ruin which inherited ignorance might entail on them? Would it be fair for a parent to put into a child's hands the title-deeds to all its future possessions, and a bunch of matches? And are not men children, nay, babes, in the eye of Omniscience?—The minister grew bold in his questions. Had not he as good right to ask questions as Abraham?
This was the dangerous vein of speculation in which the Reverend Doctor Honeywood found himself involved, as a consequence of the suggestions forced upon him by old Sophy's communication. The truth was, the good man had got so humanized by mixing up with other people in various benevolent schemes, that, the very moment he could escape from his old scholastic abstractions, he took the side of humanity instinctively, just as the Father of the Faithful did,—all honor be to the noble old Patriarch for insisting on the worth of an honest man, and making the best terms he could for a very ill-conditioned metropolis, which might possibly, however, have contained ten righteous people, for whose sake it should be spared!
The consequence of all this was, that he was in a singular and seemingly self-contradictory state of mind when he took his hat and cane and went forth to call on his heretical brother. The old minister took it for granted that the Reverend Mr. Fairweather knew the private history of his parishioner's family. He did not reflect that there are griefs men never put into words,—that there are fears which must not be spoken,—intimate matters of consciousness which must be carried, as bullets that have been driven deep into the living tissues are sometimes carried, for a whole life-time,—encysted griefs, if we may borrow the chirurgeon's term, never to be reached, never to be seen, never to be thrown out, but to go into the dust with the frame that bore them about with it, during long years of anguish, known only to the sufferer and his Maker. Dudley Venner had talked with his minister about this child of his. But he had talked cautiously, feeling his way for sympathy, looking out for those indications of tact and judgment which would warrant him in some partial communication, at least, of the origin of his doubts and fears, and never finding them.
There was something about the Reverend Mr. Fairweather which repressed all attempts at confidential intercourse. What this something was, Dudley Venner could hardly say; but he felt it distinctly, and it sealed his lips. He never got beyond certain generalities connected with education and religious instruction. The minister could not help discovering, however, that there were difficulties connected with this girl's management, and he heard enough outside of the family to convince him that she had manifested tendencies, from an early age, at variance with the theoretical opinions he was in the habit of preaching, and in a dim way of holding for truth, as to the natural dispositions of the human being.
About this terrible fact of congenital obliquity his new beliefs began to cluster as a centre, and to take form as a crystal around its nucleus. Still, he might perhaps have struggled against them, had it not been for the little Roman Catholic chapel he passed every Sunday, on his way to the meeting-house. Such a crowd of worshippers, swarming into the pews like bees, filling all the aisles, running over at the door like berries heaped too full in the measure,—some kneeling on the steps, some standing on the side-walk, hats off, heads down, lips moving, some looking on devoutly from the other side of the street! Oh, could he have followed his own Bridget, maid of all work, into the heart of that steaming throng, and bowed his head while the priests intoned their Latin prayers! could he have snuffed up the cloud of frankincense, and felt that he was in the great ark which holds the better half of the Christian world, while all around it are wretched creatures, some struggling against the waves in leaky boats, and some on ill-connected rafts, and some with their heads just above water, thinking to ride out the flood which is to sweep the earth clean of sinners, upon their own private, individual life-preservers!
Such was the present state of mind of the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather, when his clerical brother called upon him to talk over the questions to which old Sophy had called his attention.
THE REVEREND DOCTOR CALLS ON BROTHER FAIRWEATHER.
For the last few months, while all these various matters were going on in Rockland, the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather had been busy with the records of ancient councils and the writings of the early fathers. The more he read, the more discontented he became with the platform upon which he and his people were standing. They and he were clearly in a minority, and his deep inward longing to be with the majority was growing into an engrossing passion. He yearned especially towards the good old unquestioning, authoritative Mother Church, with her articles of faith which took away the necessity for private judgment, with her traditional forms and ceremonies, and her whole apparatus of stimulants and anodynes.
About this time he procured a breviary and kept it in his desk under the loose papers. He sent to a Catholic bookstore and obtained a small crucifix suspended from a string of beads. He ordered his new coat to be cut very narrow in the collar and to be made single-breasted. He began an informal series of religious conversations with Miss O'Brien, the young person of Irish extraction already referred to as Bridget, maid of all work. These not proving very satisfactory, he managed to fall in with Father McShane, the Catholic priest of the Rockland church. Father McShane encouraged his nibble very scientifically. It would be such a fine thing to bring over one of those Protestant heretics, and a "liberal" one too!—not that there was any real difference between them, but it sounded better to say that one of these rationalizing free-and-equal religionists had been made a convert than any of those half-way Protestants who were the slaves of catechisms instead of councils and of commentators instead of popes. The subtle priest played his disciple with his finest tackle. It was hardly necessary: when anything or anybody wishes to be caught, a bare hook and a coarse line are all that is needed.
If a man has a genuine, sincere, hearty wish to get rid of his liberty, if he is really bent upon becoming a slave, nothing can stop him. And the temptation is to some natures a very great one. Liberty is often a heavy burden on a man. It involves that necessity for perpetual choice which is the kind of labor men have always dreaded. In common life we shirk it by forming habits, which take the place of self-determination. In politics party-organization saves us the pains of much thinking before deciding how to cast our vote. In religious matters there are great multitudes watching us perpetually, each propagandist ready with his bundle of finalities, which having accepted we may be at peace. The more absolute the submission demanded, the stronger the temptation becomes to those who have been long tossed among doubts and conflicts.
So it is that in all the quiet bays which indent the shores of the great ocean of thought, at every sinking wharf, we see moored the hulks and the razees of enslaved or half-enslaved intelligences. They rock peacefully as children in their cradles on the subdued swell that comes feebly in over the bar at the harbor's mouth, slowly crusting with barnacles, pulling at their iron cables as if they really wanted to be free, but better contented to remain bound as they are. For these no more the round unwalled horizon of the open sea, the joyous breeze aloft, the furrow, the foam, the sparkle that track the rushing keel! They have escaped the dangers of the wave, and lie still henceforth, evermore. Happiest of souls, if lethargy is bliss, and palsy the chief beatitude!
America owes its political freedom to religious Protestantism. But political freedom is reacting on religious prescription with still mightier force. We wonder, therefore, when we find a soul which was born to a full sense of individual liberty, an unchallenged right of self-determination on every new alleged truth offered to its intelligence, voluntarily surrendering any portion of its liberty to a spiritual dictatorship which always proves to rest, in the last analysis, on a majority vote, nothing more nor less, commonly an old one, passed in those barbarous times when men cursed and murdered each other for differences of opinion, and of course were not in a condition to settle the beliefs of a comparatively civilized community.
In our disgust, we are liable to be intolerant. We forget that weakness is not in itself a sin. We forget that even cowardice may call for our most lenient judgment, if it spring from innate infirmity. Who of us does not look with great tenderness on the young chieftain in the "Fair Maid of Perth," when he confesses his want of courage? All of us love companionship and sympathy; some of us may love them too much. All of us are more or less imaginative in our theology. Some of us may find the aid of material symbols a comfort, if not a necessity. The boldest thinker may have his moments of languor and discouragement, when he feels as if he could willingly exchange faiths with the old beldame crossing herself at the cathedral-door,—nay, that, if he could drop all coherent thought, and lie in the flowery meadow with the brown-eyed solemnly unthinking cattle, looking up to the sky, and all their simple consciousness staining itself blue, then down to the grass, and life turning to a mere greenness, blended with confused scents of herbs,—no individual mind-movement such as men are teased with, but the great calm cattle-sense of all time and all places that know the milky smell of herds,—if he could be like these, he would be content to be driven home by the cow-boy, and share the grassy banquet of the king of ancient Babylon. Let us be very generous, then, in our judgment of those who leave the front ranks of thought for the company of the meek non-combatants who follow with the baggage and provisions. Age, illness, too much wear and tear, a half-formed paralysis, may bring any of us to this pass. But while we can think and maintain the rights of our own individuality against every human combination, let as not forget to caution all who are disposed to waver that there is a cowardice which is criminal, and a longing for rest which it is baseness to indulge. God help him over whose dead soul in his living body must be uttered the sad supplication, Requiescat in pace!
* * * * *
A knock at the Reverend Mr. Fairweather's study-door called his eyes from the book on which they were intent. He looked up, as if expecting a welcome guest.
The Reverend Pierrepont Honeywood, D.D., entered the study of the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather. He was not the expected guest. Mr. Fairweather slipped the book he was reading into a half-open drawer, and pushed in the drawer. He slid something which rattled under a paper lying on the table. He rose with a slight change of color, and welcomed, a little awkwardly, his unusual visitor.
"Good evening, Brother Fairweather!" said the Reverend Doctor, in a very cordial, good-humored way. "I hope I am not spoiling one of those eloquent sermons I never have a chance to hear."
"Not at all, not at all," the younger clergyman answered, in a languid tone, with a kind of habitual half-querulousness which belonged to it,—the vocal expression which we meet with now and then, and which says as plainly as so many words could say it, "I am a suffering individual. I am persistently undervalued, wronged, and imposed upon by mankind and the powers of the universe generally. But I endure all. I endure you. Speak. I listen. It is a burden to me, but I even approve. I sacrifice myself. Behold this movement of my lips! It is a smile."
The Reverend Doctor knew this forlorn way of Mr. Fairweather's, and was not troubled by it. He proceeded to relate the circumstances of his visit from the old black woman, and the fear she was in about the young girl, who being a parishioner of Mr. Fairweather's, he had thought it best to come over and speak to him about old Sophy's fears and fancies.
In telling the old woman's story, he alluded only vaguely to those peculiar circumstances to which she had attributed so much importance, taking it for granted that the other minister must be familiar with the whole series of incidents she had related. The old minister was mistaken, as we have before seen. Mr. Fairweather had been settled in the place only about ten years, and, if he had heard a strange hint now and then about Elsie, had never considered it as anything more than idle and ignorant, if not malicious, village-gossip. All that he fully understood was that this had been a perverse and unmanageable child, and that the extraordinary care which had been bestowed on her had been so far thrown away that she was a dangerous, self-willed girl, whom all feared and almost all shunned, as if she carried with her some malignant influence.
He replied, therefore, after hearing the story, that Elsie had always given trouble. There seemed to be a kind of natural obliquity about her. Perfectly unaccountable. A very dark case. Never amenable to good influences. Had sent her good books from the Sunday-school library. Remembered that she tore out the frontispiece of one of them, and kept it, and flung the book out of the window. It was a picture of Eve's temptation; and he recollected her saying that Eve was a good woman,—and she'd have done just so, if she'd been there. A very sad child,—very sad; bad from infancy.—He had talked himself bold, and said all at once,—
"Doctor, do you know I am almost ready to accept your doctrine of the congenital sinfulness of human nature? I am afraid that is the only thing which goes to the bottom of the difficulty."
The old minister's face did not open as approvingly as Mr. Fairweather had expected.
"Why, yes,—well,—many find comfort in it,—I believe;—there is much to be said,—there are many bad people,—and bad children,—I can't be so sure about bad babies,—though they cry very malignantly at times,—especially if they have the stomach-ache. But I really don't know how to condemn this poor Elsie; she may have impulses that act in her like instincts in the lower animals, and so not come under the bearing of our ordinary rules of judgment."
"But this depraved tendency, Doctor,—this unaccountable perverseness. My dear Sir, I am afraid your school is in the right about human nature. Oh, those words of the Psalmist, 'shapen in iniquity,' and the rest! What are we to do with them,—we who teach that the soul of a child is an unstained white tablet?"
"King David was very subject to fits of humility, and much given to self-reproaches," said the Doctor, in a rather dry way. "We owe you and your friends a good deal for calling attention to the natural graces, which, after all, may, perhaps, be considered as another form of manifestation of the divine influence. Some of our writers have pressed rather too hard on the tendencies of the human soul toward evil as such. It may be questioned whether these views have not interfered with the sound training of certain young persons, sons of clergymen and others. I am nearer of your mind about the possibility of educating children so that they shall become good Christians without any violent transition. That is what I should hope for from bringing them up 'in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.'"
The younger minister looked puzzled, but presently answered,—
"Possibly we may have called attention to some neglected truths; but, after all, I fear we must go to the old school, if we want to get at the root of the matter. I know there is an outward amiability about many young persons, some young girls especially, that seems like genuine goodness; but I have been disposed of late to lean toward your view, that these human affections, as we see them in our children,—ours, I say, though I have not the fearful responsibility of training any of my own,—are only a kind of disguised and sinful selfishness."
The old minister groaned in spirit. His heart had been softened by the sweet influences of children and grandchildren. He thought of a half-sized grave in the burial-ground, and the fine, brave, noble-hearted boy he laid in it thirty years before,—the sweet, cheerful child who had made his home all sunshine until the day when he was brought home, his long curls dripping, his fresh lips purpled in death,—foolish dear little blessed creature to throw himself into the deep water to save the drowning boy, who clung about him and carried him under! Disguised selfishness! And his granddaughter too, whose disguised selfishness was the light of his household!
"Don't call it my view!" he said, "Abstractly, perhaps, all Nature may be considered vitiated; but practically, as I see it in life, the divine grace keeps pace with the perverted instincts from infancy in many natures. Besides, this perversion itself may often be disease, bad habits transmitted, like drunkenness, or some hereditary misfortune, as with this Elsie we were talking about."
The younger minister was completely mystified. At every step he made towards the Doctor's recognized theological position, the Doctor took just one step towards his. They would cross each other soon at this rate, and might as well exchange pulpits,—as Colonel Sprowle once wished they would, it may be remembered.
The Doctor, though a much clearer-headed man, was almost equally puzzled. He turned the conversation again upon Elsie, and endeavored to make her minister feel the importance of bringing every friendly influence to bear upon her at this critical period of her life. His sympathies did not seem so lively as the Doctor could have wished. Perhaps he had vastly more important objects of solicitude in his own spiritual interests.
A knock at the door interrupted them. The Reverend Mr. Fairweather rose and went towards it. As he passed the table, his coat caught something, which came rattling to the floor. It was a crucifix with a string of beads attached. As he opened the door, the Milesian features of Father McShane presented themselves, and from their centre proceeded the clerical benediction in Irish-sounding Latin, Pax vobiscum!
The Reverend Doctor Honeywood rose and left the priest and his disciple together.
* * * * *
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
Autobiographical Recollections. By the late CHARLES ROBERT LESLIE, R.A. Edited, with a Prefatory Essay on Leslie as an Artist, and Selections from his Correspondence, by TOM TAYLOR, Esq., Editor of the "Autobiography of Haydon." With Portrait. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 1860. pp. lviii., 363.
Those who remember the excellent judgment with which Mr. Taylor selected his material for the Autobiography of Haydon from the papers left by that artist need not be told that this work is executed with spirit and discrimination. It is a delicate task to publish just so much of the letters and reminiscences of a man lately dead as shall consist with good taste and gentlemanly feeling, to discriminate between legitimate anecdote and what at second-hand becomes tale-bearing gossip, and not to break faith with the dead by indiscreet confidences about the living. If the dead have any privilege, it ought to be that of holding their tongues; yet an unseemly fashion has prevailed lately of making them gabble for years in Diaries, Remains, Correspondences, and Recollections, perpetuating in a solid telltale record all they may have said and written thoughtlessly or in a momentary pet, giving to a fleeting whim the printed permanence of a settled opinion, and robbing the grave of what is sometimes its only consoling attribute, the dignity of reserve. We know of no more unsavory calling than this, unless it be that of the Egyptian dealers in mummy, peddling out their grandfathers to be ground into pigment. Obsequious to the last moment, the jackal makes haste to fill his belly from the ribs of his late lion almost before he is cold.
Mr. Taylor is too manly and well-bred to be guilty of any indiscretions, much more of any indecencies. He let Haydon tell his own story, nor assumed the function of a judge. And wisely, as we think; for, commonly, when men take it upon themselves uncalled, their inability to conceive the special weakness that is not theirs, (and which, perhaps, was but the negative of a strength equally alien to them.) their humanly narrow and often professionally back-attic view of character and circumstance, their easy after-dinner superiority to what was perhaps a loathing compromise with famine and the jail, fit them rather for the office of advocatus diaboli than of the justice which must be all-seeing that it may be charitable. It is so hard to see that a sin is sometimes but a thwarted and misdirected virtue! When Burns sighed that "the light that led astray was light from Heaven," he was but unconsciously repeating what a poet who of all men least needed the apology had said centuries before.
We do not admit, that, because a man has published a volume or a picture, he has published himself, excommunicated his soul from the sanctuary of privacy, and made his life as common as a tavern-threshold to every blockhead in the parish,—or that any Pharisee who kept carefully to windward of his virtues, out of the way of infection, has thereby earned the right to mismoralize his failings after he is dumbly defenceless. The moral compasses that are too short for the aberration may be, must be, unequal to the orbit. We would not deny that Burns was a chamberer and a drunkard because he was a great poet; but we would not admit that whiskey and wenches made him any the less the most richly endowed genius of his century, with just title to the love and admiration of men. It is not for us to decide whether he, who, by doubling the suggestive and associative power of any thought, fancy, feeling, or natural object, has so far added permanently to the sum of human happiness, is not as sure of a welcome and a well-done from the Infinite Fatherliness as he that has turned an honest penny by printing a catechism; but we are sure that it is a shallow cant which holds up the errors of men of genius as if they were especial warnings, and proofs of how little the rarest gifts avail. Is it intended to put men on their guard against being geniuses? That is scarcely called for till those who yield to the temptation become more numerous. Do they mean, We, too, might have been geniuses, but we chose rather to be good and dull? Self-denial is always praiseworthy, and we reconcile ourselves to the Ovid lost in consideration of the Deacon gained. But if it be meant that the danger was in the genius, we deny it altogether. Burns's genius was the one good thing he had, and it was always, as it always must be, good, and only good, the leaven of uncontaminate heaven in him that would not let him sink contentedly into the sty of oblivion with the million other tipplers and loose-livers of his century. It was his weakness of character, and not his strength or pride of intellect, that betrayed him; and to call his faults errors of genius is a mischievous fallacy. If they were, then they were no lesson for the rest of us; if they were not, to call them so is to encourage certain gin-and-water philosophers who would fain extenuate their unpleasant vices by the plea that they are the necessary complement of unusual powers,—as if the path to immortality were through the kennel, and fine verses were to be written only at the painful sacrifice of bilking your washerwoman.
We are over-fond of drawing monitory morals from the lives of gifted persons, tacking together our little ten-by-twelve pinfolds to impound breachy human nature in, but it is only because we know more than we have any business to know of the private concerns of such persons that we have the opportunity. We are thankful that the character of Shakspeare is wrapped safely away from us in un-Boswellable night. Samuel Taylor Coleridge the man stood forever in the way of Samuel Taylor Coleridge the poet and metaphysician, and the fault of the poppy-juice in his nature is laid at the door of the laudanum he bought of the apothecary. Yet all the drowsy juices of Circe's garden could not hinder De Quincey from writing his twenty-five volumes. To us nothing is more painful, and nothing seems more cruelly useless, than the parading of mortal weaknesses, especially of those to whom we are indebted for delight and teaching. For an inherent weakness has no lesson of avoidance in it, being helpless from the first, and by the doom of its own nature growing more and more helpless to the last, not more so in the example than in him who is to profit by it, and who is more likely to have his appetite flattered by good company than his fear aroused by the evil consequence. Because the swans have a vile habit of over-eating themselves, shall we nail them to the barn-door as a moral lesson to the crows?
There is, doubtless, a great deal to be taught by biography; but it is by the mistakes of men that we learn, and not by their weaknesses. To see clearly an error of judgment and its consequences may be of positive service to us in the conduct of life, while a vice of temperament concerns us not at all in private men, and only so far in statesmen and rulers as it may have been influential in history as a modifier of action, or is essential to an understanding of it as an explainer of motive.
The Autobiography of Leslie seems to us in some sort the complement of Haydon's, and throws the defiant struggle of that remarkable self-portraiture into stronger relief by the contrast of its equable good-fortune and fireside tranquillity. The causes of the wide difference in the course and the result of these two lives are on the surface and are instructive. Comparing the two men at the outset, we should have said that all the chances were on Haydon's side. If he had not genius, he had at least the temperament and external characteristics that go along with it. He had what is sometimes wanting to it in its more purely aesthetic manifestation, the ambition that spurs and the unflagging energy that seemed a guerdon of unlimited achievement. Yet the ambition fermented into love of notoriety and soured into a fraudulent self-assertion, that grew boastful as it grew distrustful of its claims and could bring less proof in support of them; the energy degenerated into impudence, evading the shame of spendthrift bankruptcy to-day by shifts that were sure to bring a more degrading exposure tomorrow; and the whole ended at last in a suicide whose tragic pang is deadened to us by the feeling that so much of the mixed motive that drove him to it as was not cowardice was a hankering after melodramatic effect, the last throb of a passion for making his name the theme of public talk, and his fate the centre of a London day's sensation. Chatterton makes us lenient to a life of fraud by the dogged and cynical uncomplainingness of the despair that drove him to cut it short; but Haydon continues his self-autopsy to the last moment, and in pulling the trigger seems to be only firing the train for an explosion that shall give him a week longer of posthumous notoriety. The egotism of Pepys was but a suppressed garrulity, which habitual caution, fostered by a period of political confusion and the mystery of office, drove inward to a kind of soliloquy in cipher; that of Montaigne was metaphysical,—in studying his own nature and noting his observations he was studying man, and that with a singular insouciance of public opinion; but Haydon appears to have written his journals with a deliberate intention of their some day advertising himself, and his most private aspirations are uttered with an eye to the world. Yet it was a genuine instinct that led him to the pen, and his lifelong succession of half-successes that are worse than defeats was due to the initial error of mistaking a passion for a power. A fine critic, a vivid sketcher of character, and a writer of singular clearness, point, and eloquence was spoiled to make an artist, sometimes noble in conception, but without sense of color, and utterly inadequate to any but the most confused expression of himself by the pencil. His very sense of the power which he was conscious of somewhere in himself harassed and hampered him, as time after time he refused to see that his failure was due, not to injustice or insensibility on the part of the world, but to his having chosen the wrong means of making his ability felt and acknowledged. His true place would have been that of Professor and Lecturer in the Royal Academy. The world is not insensible or unjust, but it knows what it wants, and will not long be put off with less. There is always a public for success; there never is, and never ought to be, for inadequacy. Haydon was in some respects a first-rate man, but the result of his anxious, restless, and laborious life was almost zero, as far as concerned its definite aims. It does not convey the moral of neglected genius, or of loose notions of money-obligations, ending in suicide, but simply of a mischosen vocation, leading sooner or later to utter and undeniable failure. Pas meme academicien! Plenty of neglected geniuses have found it good to be neglected, plenty of Jeremy Diddlers (in letters and statesmanship as often as in money-matters) have lived to a serene old age, but the man who in any of the unuseful arts insists on doing what Nature never asked him to do has no place in the world. Leslie, a second-rate man in all respects, but with a genuine talent rightly directed, an obscure American, with few friends, no influential patrons, and a modesty that would never let him obtrude his claims, worked steadily forward to competence, to reputation, and the Council of the Academy. The only blunder of his life was his accepting the Professorship of Drawing at West Point, a place for which he was unsuited. But this blunder he had the good sense and courage to correct by the frank acknowledgment of resignation. Altogether his is a career as pleasant as Haydon's is painful to contemplate, the more so as we feel that his success was fairly won by honest effort directed by a contented consciousness of the conditions and limitations of his faculty.
Nothing can be more agreeable than the career of a successful artist. His employment does not force upon him the solitude of an author; it is eminently companionable; from its first design, through all the processes that bring his work to perfection, he is not shut out from the encouragement of sympathy; his success is definite and immediate; he can see it in the crowd around his work at the exhibition; and his very calling brings him into pleasant contact with beauty, taste, and (if a portrait-painter) with eminence in every department of human activity.
Leslie's passage through the world was of that equal temper which is happiest for the man and unhappiest for the biographer. With no dramatic surprises of fortune, and no great sorrows, his life had scarce any other alternation than that it went round with the earth through night and day, and would have been tame but for his necessary labor in an art which he loved wisely and with the untumultuous sentiment of an after-honey-moon constancy. We should say that his leading characteristic was Taste, an external quality, it is true, but one which is often the indication of more valuable ones lying deeper. In the conduct of life it insures tact, and in Art a certain gentlemanlike equipoise, incapable of what is deepest and highest, but secure also from the vulgar, the grotesque, and the extravagant. Leslie, we think, was more at home with Addison than with Cervantes.
His autobiographical reminiscences are very entertaining, especially that part of them which describes a voyage home to America, varied by a winter in Portugal, during the early part of his life. The Scotch captain, who, with his scanty merchant-crew, beats off a Bordeaux privateer, and then, crippled and half-sinking, clears for action with what he supposes to be a French frigate, but which turns out to be English, is a personage whose acquaintance it is pleasant to make. The sketches of life in Lisbon, too, are very lively, and the picture of the decayed Portuguese nobleman's family, for whose pride of birth an imaginary dinner-table was set every day in the parlor with the remains of the hereditary napery and plate, the numerous covers hiding nothing but the naked truth, while their common humanity, squatting on the floor in the kitchen, fished its scanty meal from an earthen pot with pewter spoons, is pathetically humorous and would have delighted Caleb Balderstone. In after-life, Leslie's profession made him acquainted with some of the best London life of his time, and the volume is full of agreeable anecdotes of Scott, Irving, Turner, Rogers, Wilkie, and many more. It contains also several letters of Irving, of no special interest, and some from a sort of Lesmahago of a room-mate of Leslie's, named Peter Powell, so queer, individual, and shrewd, that we are sorry not to have more of them and their writer. Altogether the book is one of the pleasantest we have lately met with.
The Old Battle-Ground. By J.T. TROWBRIDGE, Author of "Father Brighthopes," "Neighbor Jackwood," etc. New York: Sheldon & Company. 1860. pp. 276.
Mr. Trowbridge's previous works have made him known to a large circle of appreciating readers as a writer of originality and promise. His "Father Brighthopes" we have never read, but we have heard it spoken of as one of the most wholesome children's books ever published in America, and our knowledge of the author makes us ready to believe the favorable opinion a just one. Parts of "Neighbor Jackwood" we read with sincere relish and admiration; they showed so true an eye for Nature and so thorough an appreciation of the truly humorous elements of New England character, as distinguished from the vulgar and laughable ones. The domestic interior of the Jackwood family was drawn with remarkable truth and spirit, and all the working characters of the book on a certain average level of well-to-do rusticity were made to think and talk naturally, and were as full of honest human nature as those of the conventional modern novel are empty of it. An author who puts us in the way to form some just notion of the style of thought proper to so large a class as our New England country-people, and of the motives likely to influence their social and political conduct, does us a greater service than we are apt to admit. And the power to conceive the leading qualities that make up an average representative and to keep them always clearly in view, so as to swerve neither toward tameness nor exaggeration, is by no means common. This power, it seems to us, Mr. Trowbridge possesses in an unusual degree. The late Mr. Judd, in his remarkable romance of "Margaret," gave such a picture as has never been equalled for truth of color and poetry of conception, of certain phases of life among a half-gypsy family in the outskirts of a remote village, and growing up in the cold penumbra of our civilization and material prosperity. But his scene and characters were exceptional, or, if typical, only so of a very limited class, and his book, full of fine imagination as it is, is truly a romance, an ideal and artistic representation, rather a poem than a story of manners general and familiar enough to be called real.
Mr. Trowbridge, we think, fails in those elements of (we had almost said creative) power in which Mr. Judd was specially rich. If the latter had possessed the shaping spirit as fully as he certainly did the essential properties of imagination, he would have done for the actual, prosaic life of New England what Mr. Hawthorne has done for the ideal essence that lies behind and beneath it. But, with all his marvellous fidelity of dialect, costume, and landscape, and his firm clutch of certain individual instincts and emotions, his characters are wanting in any dramatic unity of relation to each other, and seem to be "moving about in worlds not realized," each a vivid reality in itself, but a very shadow in respect of any prevailing intention of the story. With the innate sentiments of a kind of aboriginal human nature Mr. Judd was at home; with the practical working of every-day motives he seemed strangely unfamiliar. It is just here that Mr. Trowbridge's strength and originality lie; but, with that not uncommon tendency to overvalue qualities that we do not possess, and to attempt their display, to the neglect, and sometimes at the cost, of others quite as valuable, but which seem cheap, because their exercise is easy and habitual,—and therefore, we may be sure, natural and pleasing,—he insists on being a little metaphysical and over-fine. What he means for his more elevated characters are tiresome with something of that melodramatic sentimentality with which Mr. Dickens has infected so much of the lighter literature of the day. Here and there the style suffers from that overmuchness of unessential detail and that exaggeration of particulars which Mr. Dickens brought into fashion and seems bent on wearing out of it,—a style which is called graphic and poetical by those only who do not see that it is the cheap substitute, in all respects equal to real plate, (till you try to pawn it for lasting fame,) introduced by writers against time, or who forget that to be graphic is to tell most with fewest penstrokes, and to be poetical is to suggest the particular in the universal. We earnestly hope, that, instead of trying to do what no one can do well, Mr. Trowbridge will wisely stick close to what he has shown that no one can do better.
"The Old Battle-Ground," whose name bears but an accidental relation to the story, is an interesting and well-constructed tale, in which Mr. Trowbridge has introduced what we believe is a new element in American fiction, the French Canadian. The plot is simple and not too improbable, and the characters well individualized. Here, also, Mr. Trowbridge is most successful in his treatment of the less ambitiously designed figures. The relation between the dwarf Hercules fiddler and the heroine Marie seems to be a suggestion from Victor Hugo's Quasimodo and Esmeralda, though the treatment is original and touching. Indeed, there is a good deal of pathos in the book, marred here and there with the sentimental extract of Dickens-flowers, unpleasant as patchouli. Generally, however, it has the merit of unobtrusiveness,—a rare piece of self-denial nowadays, when authors have found out, and the public has not, how very easy it is to make the public cry, and how much the simple creature likes it, as if it had not sorrows enough of its own. But it is in his more ordinary characters that Mr. Trowbridge fairly shows himself as an original and delightful author. His boys are always masterly. Nothing could be truer to Nature, more nicely distinguished as to idiosyncrasy, while alike in expression and in limited range of ideas, or more truly comic, than the two that figure in this story. Nick Whickson, too, the good-natured ne'er-do-well, who is in his own and everybody's way till he finds his natural vocation as an aid to a dealer in horses, is a capital sketch. The hypochondriac Squire Plumworthy is very good, also, in his way, though he verges once or twice on the "heavy father," with a genius for the damp handkerchief and long-lost relative line.
We are safe in assigning to Mr. Trowbridge a rank quite above that of our legion of washy novelists; he seems to have a definite purpose and an ambition for literary as well as popular success, and we hope that by study and observation he will be true to a very decided and peculiar talent. We violate no confidence in saying that the graceful poem, "At Sea," which first appeared in the "Atlantic," and which, under the name of now one, now another author, has been deservedly popular, was written by Mr. Trowbridge.
JULY REVIEWED BY SEPTEMBER.
The Editors of the "Atlantic," of course, have universal knowledge (with few exceptions) at their fingers' ends,—that is, they possess an Encyclopaedia, gapped here and there by friends fond of portable information and familiar with that hydrostatic paradox in which the motion of solids up a spout is balanced by a very slender column of the liquidating medium. The once goodly row of quartos looks now like a set of mineral teeth that have essayed too closely to simulate Nature by assaulting a Boston cracker; and the intervals of vacuity among the books, as among the incisors, deprive the owner of his accustomed glibness in pronouncing himself on certain topics. Among the missing volumes is one of those in M, and accordingly our miss-information [A] on all subjects from Mabinogion to Mustard is not to be entirely relied upon. Under these painful circumstances, and with the chance of still further abstractions from our common stock of potential learning, we have engaged a staff of consulting engineers, who contract, for certain considerations, to know every useless thing from A to Z, and every obsolete one from Omega to Alpha. In these gentlemen we repose unlimited confidence in proportion to their salaries; for a considerable experience of mankind has taught us that omniscience is a much commoner and easier thing than science, especially in this favored country and under democratic institutions, which give to every man the inestimable right of knowing as much as he pleases. Everything was going on well when our Man of Science unaccountably disappeared, and our Aesthetic Editor experienced in all its terrors the Scriptural doom of being left to himself. This latter gentleman is tolerably shady in scientific matters, nay, to say sooth, light-proof, or only so far penetrable as to make darkness visible. Between science and nescience the difference seems to his mind little, if n e, and he would accept as perfectly satisfactory a statement that "the ponderability of air in a vitreous table-tipping medium (the abnormal variation being assumed as $ x-b .0000001) is exactly proportioned to the squares of the circumambient distances, provided the perihelia are equal, and the evolution of nituretted carbogen in the boomerang be carefully avoided during evaporation; the power of the parallax being represented, of course, according to the well-known theorem of Rabelais, by H.U.M. Hemsterhuysius seems to have been familiar with this pretty experiment." The above sentence being shown to the Aesthetic Editor aforesaid, he acknowledges that he sees nothing more absurd than common in it, and that the theory seems to him as worthy of trial as Hedgecock's quadrant, which he took with him once on a journey to New York, arriving safely with a single observation of the height of the steamer's funnel.
[Footnote A: MISS-INFORMATION. A higgledy-piggledy want of intelligence acquired by young misses at boarding-schools.—Supplement to Johnson's Dictionary.]
This premised, it naturally follows that the Aesthetic Editor (the July number falling to his turn) must take advantage of the absence of his Guardian Man of Science to publish an article on Meteorology. A condition of things in which the omne scibile was left entirely at his disposal, to be knocked about as he pleased, appeared to him no small omen of a near millennium; and what subject could be more suitable to begin with than the weather, a topic of general interest, (since we have no choice of weather or no,) in which exact knowledge is comfortably impossible, and in which he felt himself at home from his repeated experiments in raising the wind in order to lower the due-point? (See The Weathercock, an Essay on Rotation in Office, by Sir Airy Vane.)
Meanwhile, after the mischief was all done and a Provisional Government of Chaos Redux comfortably established in Physics, the Man of Science turns up suddenly in the following communication. [A council was called on the spot, the Autocrat in the chair, and it was decided, with only one dissenting voice, that the communication should be printed as a lesson to the peccant Editor, who, for the future, was laid under a strict interdict in respect of all and singular the onomies and ologies, and directed to consider the weather a matter altogether unprophetable, except to almanac-makers,—the said Editor to superintend such publication, and to be kept on a diet of corn-cob for the body and Sylvanus Cobb (or his own works, at his option) for the mind, till it be done. The chairman added, that for a second offence he should do penance, according to ancient usage, in a blank sheet of the Magazine, (a contribution of his own being to that end suppressed,)—a form of punishment likely to be as irksome to himself as grateful to the readers of that incomparable miscellany.]
"Abercwmdwddhwm Mine, 28th July, 1860.
"WELL-MEANING, BUT MISGUIDED, FRIEND!
"An unexpected opportunity of personally investigating a highly nauseous kind of mephitic vapor drew me and Jones suddenly hither without time to say farewell or make explanations. I made the journey in—10' by electric telegraph, and am delighted that I came, for anything more unpleasant never met my nostrils, and I am almost sure of adding a new element to the enjoyment of the scientific world.
"I have already secured several bottles-full, and shall exhibit it at the next meeting of the Association: of course you shall have a sniff in advance. I should have returned before this, but unhappily the chain by which we descended gave way a few days ago near the top, in hoisting out the first series of my observations, and as yet there has been no opportunity of replacing it. Communication with the upper world is kept up by means of a small cord, however, and in this way we are supplied with food for body and mind. As good luck would have it, our butter came down wrapped in a half-sheet of your last volume of poems, containing my old favorites, 'Modern Greece,' and the 'Ode to a Deserted Churn.' These I read aloud several times to the miners, and their longing to return sooner to a world where they could get the rest of the volume became so strong, that, as I was about to begin my fifth reading, they consented to an expedient of escape which I had already proposed once or twice in vain. This was to blow us out by means of the fire-damp. The result of the experiment I cannot yet fully report, as some confusion ensued. Jones has disappeared, having been, as I hope and believe, discharged upward, and I have found the remains of only one miner, so that it seems to have been a tolerable success, though I myself was blown inward, owing to the premature explosion of the train. In one respect the result was highly satisfactory to me personally. Jones had all along insisted that the vapor was antiphlogistic. Whichever way he went, I think (fair-minded as he is) he must be by this time convinced of his error, and I shall accordingly enter him in my Report as discharged cured. I may add, as an interesting scientific fact, that his ascent was accompanied by such a sudden and violent fall of the barometer (which he had in his lap) that the instrument was broken. This would seem to prove a considerable decrease in the weight of the atmosphere at the moment of explosion. The darkness was oppressive at first; but a happy thought occurred to me. You know Jones's poodle, and how obese he is? Well, he was shot into my lap, where he lay to all appearance dead. I had some matches in my pocket and at once kindled the end of his tail, which makes a very good candle, quite as good as average dips, tales, quales. By the light of this I proceed to note down my first series of comments as a tail-piece to your meteorological article in the July 'Atlantic,' of which we received a copy in due course, as the magazine has a large circulation among our friars miner down here.