Or, plunged in hollow-rolling brine, In emerald cradles rocked and swung, The sceptre of the sea is mine, And mine his endless song.
For Earth with primal dew is wet, Her long-lost child to rebaptize: Her fresh, immortal Edens yet Their Adam recognize.
Her ancient freedom is his fee; Her ancient beauty is his dower: She bares her ample breasts, that he May suck the milk of power.
Press on, ye hounds of life, that lurk So close, to seize your harried prey! Ye fiends of Custom, Gold, and Work, I hear your distant bay!
And like the Arab, when he bears To the insulted camel's path His garment, which the camel tears, And straight forgets his wrath;
So, yonder badges of your sway, Life's paltry husks, to you I give: Fall on, and in your blindness say, We hold the fugitive!
But leave to me this brief escape To simple manhood, pure and free,— A child of God, in God's own shape, Between the land and sea!
When I state that my name is A. Bratley Chylde, I presume that I am already sufficiently introduced.
My patronymic establishes my fashionable position. Chylde, the distinguished monosyllable, is a card of admission everywhere,— everywhere that is anywhere.
And my matronymic, Bratley, should have established my financial position for life. It should have—allow me a vulgar term—"indorsed" me with the tradesmen who have the honor to supply me with the glove, the boot, the general habiliment, and all the requisites of an elegant appearance upon the carpet or the trottoir.
But, alas! I am not so indorsed—pardon the mercantile aroma of the word—by the name Bratley.
The late Mr. A. Bratley, my grandfather, was indeed one of those rude, laborious, and serviceable persons whose office is to make money—or perhaps I should say to accumulate the means of enjoyment—for the upper classes of society.
But my father, the late Mr. Harold Chylde, had gentlemanly tastes.
How can I blame him? I have the same.
He loved to guide the rapid steed along the avenue.
I also love to guide the rapid steed.
He could not persuade his delicate lungs—pardon my seeming knowledge of anatomy—to tolerate the confined air in offices, counting-houses, banks, or other haunts of persons whose want of refinement of taste impels them to the crude distractions of business-life.
I have the same delicacy of constitution. Indeed, unless the atmosphere I breathe is rendered slightly narcotic by the smoke of Cabanas and slightly stimulating by the savor of heeltaps,—excuse the technical term,—I find myself debilitated to a degree. The open air is extremely offensive to me. I confine myself to clubs and billiard-rooms.
My late father, being a man distinguished for his clear convictions, was accustomed to sustain the statement of those convictions by wagers. The inherent generosity of his nature obliged him often to waive his convictions in behalf of others, and thus to abandon the receipt of considerable sums. He also found the intellectual excitement of games of chance necessary to his mental health.
I cannot blame him for these and similar gentlemanly tastes. My own are the same.
The late Mr. A. Bratley, at that time in his dotage, and recurring to the crude idioms of his homely youth, constantly said to my father,—
"Harold, you are a spendthrift and a rake, and are bringing up your son the same."
I object, of course, to his terms; but since he foresaw that my habits would be expensive, it is to be regretted that he did not make suitable provision for their indulgence.
He did not, however, do so. Persons of low-breeding never can comprehend their duties to the more refined.
The respective dusts of my father and grandfather were consigned to the tomb the same week, and it was found that my mother's property had all melted away, as—allow me a poetical figure—ice-cream melts between the lips of beauty heated after the German.
Yes,—all was gone, except a small pittance in the form of an annuity. I will not state the ridiculously trifling amount. I have seen more than our whole annual income lost by a single turn of a card at the establishment of the late Mr. P. Hearn, and also in private circles.
Something must be done. Otherwise, that deprivation of the luxuries of life which to the aristocratic is starvation.
I stated my plans to my mother. They were based in part upon my well-known pecuniary success at billiards—I need not say that I prefer the push game, as requiring no expenditure of muscular force. They were also based in part upon my intimacy with a distinguished operator in Wall Street. Our capital would infallibly have been quadrupled,—what do I say? decupled, centupled, in a short space of time.
My mother is a good, faithful creature. She looks up to me as a Bratley should to a Chylde. She appreciates the honor my father did her by his marriage, and I by my birth. I have frequently remarked a touching fidelity of these persons of the lower classes of society toward those of higher rank.
"I would make any sacrifice in the world," she said, "to help you, my dear A—-"
"Hush!" I cried.
I have suppressed my first name as unmelodious and connecting me too much with a religious persuasion meritorious for its wealth alone. Need I say that I refer to the faith of the Rothschild?
"All that I have is yours, my dear Bratley," continued my mother.
Quite touching! was it not? I was so charmed, that I mentally promised her a new silk when she went into half-mourning, and asked her to go with me to the opera as soon as she got over that feeble tendency to tears which kept her eyes red and unpresentable.
"I would gladly aid you," the simple-hearted creature said, "in any attempt to make your fortune in an honorable and manly way."
"Brava! brava!" I cried, and I patted applause, as she deserved. "And you had better make over your stocks to me at once," I continued.
"I cannot without your Uncle Bratley's permission. He is my trustee. Go to him, my dear son."
I went to him very unwillingly. My father and I had always as much as possible ignored the Bratley connection. They live in a part of New York where self-respect does not allow me to be seen. They are engaged in avocations connected with the feeding of the lower classes. My father had always required that the females of their families should call on my mother on days when she was not at home to our own set, and at hours when they were not likely to be detected. None of them, I am happy to say, were ever seen at our balls or our dinners.
I nerved myself, and penetrated to that Ultima Thule where Mr. Bratley resides. His house already, at that early hour of two, smelt vigorously of dinner. Nothing but the urgency of my business could have induced me to brave these odors of plain roast and boiled.
A mob of red-faced children rushed to see me as I entered, and I heard one of them shouting up the stairs,—
"Oh, pa! there's a stiffy waiting to see you."
The phrase was new to me. I looked for a mirror, to see whether any inaccuracy in my toilet might have suggested it.
Positively there was no mirror in the salon.
Instead of it, there were nothing but distressingly bright pictures by artists who had had the bad taste to paint raw Nature just as they saw it.
My uncle entered, and quite overwhelmed me with a robust cordiality which seemed to ignore my grief.
"Just in time, my boy," said he, "to take a cut of rare roast beef and a hot potato and a mug of your Uncle Sam's beer with us."
I shuddered, and rebuked him with the intelligence that I had just lunched at the club, and should not dine till six.
Then I stated my business, curtly.
He looked at me with a stare, which I have frequently observed in persons of limited intelligence.
"So you want to gamble away your mother's last dollar," said he.
In vain I stated and restated to him my plans. The fellow, evidently jealous of my superior financial ability, constantly interrupted me with ejaculations of "Pish!" "Bosh!" "Pshaw!" "No go!" and finally, with a loud thump on a table, covered with such costly but valueless objects as books and plates, he cried,
"What a d—d fool!"
I was glad to perceive that he began to admit my wisdom and his stolidity. And so I told him.
"A—-," said he, using my abhorred name in full, "I believe you are a greater ass than your father was."
"Sir," said I, much displeased, "these intemperate ebullitions will necessarily terminate our conference."
"Conference be hanged!" he rejoined. "You may as well give it up. You are not going to get the first red cent out of me."
"Have I referred, Sir," said I, "to the inelegant coin you name?"
The creature grinned. "I shall pay your mother's income quarterly, and do the best I can by her," he continued; "and if you want to make a man of yourself, I'll give you a chance in the bakery with me; or Sam Bratley will take you into his brewery; or Bob into his pork-packery."
I checked my indignation. The vulgarian wished to drag me, a Chylde, down to the Bratley level. But I suppressed my wrath, for fear he might find some pretext for suppressing the quarterly income, and alleged my delicate health as a reason for my refusing his insulting offer.
"Well," said he, "I don't see as there is anything else for you to do, except to find some woman fool enough to marry you, as Betsey did your father. There's a hundred dollars!"
I have seldom seen dirtier bills than those he produced and handed to me. Fortunately I was in deep mourning and my gloves were dark lead color.
"That's right," says he,—"grab 'em and fob 'em. Now go to Newport and try for an heiress, and don't let me see your tallow face inside of my door for a year."
He had bought the right to be despotic and abusive. I withdrew and departed, ruminating on his advice. Singularly, I had not before thought of marrying. I resolved to do so at once.
Newport is the mart where the marriageable meet. I took my departure for Newport next day.
I need hardly say, that, on arriving at Newport, one foggy August morning, I drove at once to the Millard.
The Millard attracted me for three reasons: First, it was new; second, it was fashionable; third, the name would be sure to be in favor with the class I had resolved to seek my spouse among. The term spouse I select as somewhat less familiar than wife, somewhat more permanent than bride, and somewhat less amatory than the partner of my bosom. I wish my style to be elevated, accurate, and decorous. It is my object, as the reader will have already observed, to convey heroic sentiments in the finest possible language.
It was upon some favored individual of the class Southern Heiress that I designed to let fall the embroidered handkerchief of affectionate selection. At the Millard I was sure to find her. That enormously wealthy and highly distinguished gentleman, her father, would naturally avoid the Ocean House. The adjective free, so intimately connected with the substantive ocean, would constantly occur to his mind and wound his sensibilities. The Atlantic House was still more out of the question. The name must perpetually remind the tenants of that hotel of a certain quite objectionable periodical devoted to propagandism. In short, not to pursue this process of elimination farther, and perhaps offend some friend of the class Hotel-Keeper, the Millard was not only about the cheese, per se,—I punningly allude here to the creaminess of its society,—but inevitably the place to seek my charmer.
The clock of the Millard was striking eleven as I entered the salle a manger for a late breakfast after my night-journey from New York by steamboat.
I flatter myself that I produced, as I intended, a distinct impression. My deep mourning gave me a most interesting look, which I heightened by an air of languor and abstraction as of one lost in grief. My shirt-studs were jet. The plaits of my shirt were edged with black. My Clarendon was, of course, black, and from its breast-pocket appeared a handkerchief dotted with spots, not dissimilar to black peppermint-drops on a white paper. In consequence of the extreme heat of the season, I wore waistcoat and trousers of white duck; but they, too, were qualified with sombre contrasts of binding and stripes.
The waiters evidently remarked me. It may have been the hope of pecuniary reward, it may have been merely admiration for my dress and person; but several rushed forward, diffusing that slightly oleaginous perfume peculiar to the waiter, and drew chairs for me.
I had, however, selected my position at the table at the moment of my entrance. It was vis-a-vis a party of four persons,—two of the sterner, two of the softer sex. A back view interpreted them to me. There is much physiognomy in the backs of human heads, because—and here I flatter myself that I enunciate a profound truth—people wear that well-known mask, the human countenance, on the front of the human head alone, and think it necessary to provide such concealment nowhere else.
"A rich Southern planter and his family!" I said to myself, and took my seat opposite them.
"Nothing, Michel," I replied to the waiter's recital of his bill-of-fare. "Nothing but a glass of iced water and bit of dry toast. Only that, thank you, Michel."
My appetite was good, particularly as, in consequence of the agitation of the water opposite Point Judith, my stomach had ceased to be occupied with relics of previous meals. My object in denying myself, and accepting simply hermit fare, was to convey to observers my grief for my bereavement. I have always deemed it proper for persons of distinguished birth to deplore the loss of friends in public. Hunger, if extreme, can always be reduced by furtive supplies from the pastry-cook.
I could not avoid observing that the party opposite had each gone through the whole breakfast bill-of-fare in a desultory, but exhaustive manner.
As I ordered my more delicate meal, the younger of the two gentlemen cast upon me a look of latent truculence, such as I have often remarked among my compatriots of the South. He seemed to detect an unexpressed sarcasm in the contrast between my gentle refection and his robust dejeuner.
I hastened to disarm such a suspicion by a half-articulate sigh. No one, however crass, could have failed to be touched by this token of a grief so bitter as to refuse luxurious nutriment.
As I sighed, I glanced with tender meaning at the young lady. Her feminine heart, I hoped, would interpret and pity me.
I fancied, that, at my look, her cheeks, though swarthy, blushed. She was certainly interested, and somewhat confused, and paused a moment in her mastication. Ham was the viand she was engaged upon, and she (playfully, I have no doubt) ate with her knife. I have remarked the same occasional superiority to what might be called Fourchettism and its prejudices in others of established position in society.
I lavished a little languid and not too condescending civility upon the party by passing them, when Michel was absent, the salt, the butter, the bread, and other commonplace condiments. Presently I withdrew, that my absence might make me desired. Before I did so, however, I took pains, by the exhibition of the "New York Herald" in my hands, to show that my political sentiments were unexceptionable.
I lost no time in consulting the books of the hotel for the names and homes of the strangers.
I read as follows:—
Sachary Mellasys and Lady, } Bayou La Miss Saccharissa Mellasys, } Farouche, Mellasys Plickaman, } La.
Saccharissa Mellasys! I rolled the name like a sweet morsel under my tongue. I forgot that she was not beautiful in form, feature, or complexion. How slight, indeed, is the charm of beauty, when compared with other charms more permanent! Ah, yes!
The complexion of Miss Mellasys announced a diet of alternate pickles and pralines during her adolescent years,—the pickles taken to excite an appetite for the pralines, the pralines absorbed to occupy the interval until pickle-time approached. Neither her form nor her features were statuesque. But the name glorified the person.
Sachary Mellasys was, as I was well aware, the great sugar-planter of Louisiana, and Saccharissa his only child.
I am an imaginative man. I have never doubted, that, if I should ever give my fancies words, they would rank with the great creations of genius. At the dulcet name of Mellasys a fairy scene grew before my eyes. I seemed to see an army of merry negroes cultivating the sugar-cane to the inspiring music of a banjo band. Ever and anon a company of the careless creatures would pause and dance for pure gayety of heart. Then they would recline under the shade of the wild bandanna-tree,—I know this vegetable only through the artless poetry of the negro minstrels,—while sleek and sprightly negresses, decked with innocent finery, served them beakers of iced eau sucre.
As I was shaping this Arcadian vision, Mr. Mellasys passed me on his way to the bar-room. I hastened to follow, without the appearance of intention.
My reader is no doubt aware that at the fashionable bar-room the cigars are all of the same quality, though the prices mount according to the ambition of the purchaser. I found Mr. Mellasys gasping with efforts to light a dime cigar. Between his gasps, profane expressions escaped him.
"Sir," said I, "allow a stranger to offer you a better article."
At the same time I presented my case filled with choice Cabanas,—smuggled. My limited means oblige me to employ these judicious economies.
Mr. Mellasys took a cigar, lighted, whiffed, looked at me, whiffed again,—
"Sir," says he, "dashed if that a'n't the best cigar I've smoked sence I quit Bayou La Farouche!"
"Ah! a Southerner!" said I. "Pray, allow the harmless weed to serve as a token of amity between our respective sections."
Mr. Mellasys grasped my hand.
"Take a drink, Mr. ——?" said he.
"Bratley Chylde," rejoined I, filling the hiatus,—"and I shall be most happy."
The name evidently struck him. It was a combination of all aristocracy and all plutocracy. As I gave my name, I produced and presented my card. I was aware, that, with the uncultured, the possession of a card is a proof of gentility, as the wearing of a coat-of-arms proves a long line of distinguished ancestry.
Mr. Mellasys took my card, studied it, and believed in it with refreshing naivete.
"I'm proud to know you, Mr. Chylde," said he. "I haven't a card; but Mellasys is my name, and I'll show it to you written on the hotel-books."
"We will waive that ceremony," said I. "And allow me to welcome you to Newport and the Millard. Shall we enjoy the breeze upon the piazza?"
Before our second cigar was smoked, the great planter and I were on the friendliest terms. My political sentiments he found precisely in accord with his own. Indeed, our general views of life harmonized.
"I dare say you have heard," said Mellasys, "from some of the bloated aristocrats of my section that I was a slave-dealer once."
"Such a rumor has reached me," rejoined I. "And I was surprised to find, that, in some minds of limited intelligence and without development of the logical faculty, there was a prejudice against the business."
"You think that buyin' and sellin' 'em is just the same as ownin' 'em?"
"Your hand!" said he, fervently.
"Mr. Mellasys," said I, "let me take this opportunity to lay down my platform,—allow me the playful expression. Meeting a gentleman of your intelligence from the sunny South, I desire to express my sentiments as a Christian and a gentleman."
Here I thought it well to pause and spit, to keep myself in harmony with my friend.
"A gentleman," I continued, "I take to be one who confines himself to the cultivation of his tastes, the decoration of his person, and the preparation of his whole being to shine in the salon. Now to such a one the condition of the laboring classes can be of no possible interest. As a gentleman, I cannot recognize either slaves or laborers. But here Christianity comes in. Christianity requires me to read and interpret my Bible. In it I find such touching paragraphs as, 'Cursed be Canaan!' Canaan is of course the negro slave of our Southern States. Curse him! then, I say. Let us have no weak and illogical attempts to elevate his condition. Such sentimentalism is rank irreligion. I view the negro as a man permanently upon the rack, who is to be punished just as much as he will bear without diminishing his pecuniary value. And the allotted method of punishment is hard work, hard fare, the liberal use of the whip, and a general negation of domestic privileges."
"Mr. Chylde," said Mr. Mellasys, rising, "this is truth! this is eloquence! this is being up to snuff! You are a high-toned gentleman! you are an old-fashioned Christian! you should have been my partner in slave-driving! Your hand!"
The quality of the Mellasys hand was an oleaginous clamminess. My only satisfaction, in touching it, was, that it seemed to suggest a deficient circulation of the blood. Mr. Mellasys would probably go off early with an apoplexy, and the husband of Miss Mellasys would inherit without delay.
"And now," continued the planter, "let me introduce you to my daughter."
I felt that my fortune was made.
I knew that she would speedily yield to my fascinations.
And so it proved. In three days she adored me. For three days more I was coy. In a week she was mine.
THE SUNNY SOUTH.
We were betrothed, Saccharissa Mellasys and I.
In vain did Mellasys Plickaman glower along the corridors of the Millard. I pitied him for his defeat too much to notice his attempts to pick a quarrel. Firm in the affection of my Saccharissa and in the confidence of her father, I waived the insults of the aggrieved and truculent cousin. He had lost the heiress. I had won her. I could afford to be generous.
We were to be married in December, at Bayou La Farouche. Then we were to sail at once for Europe. Then, after a proud progress through the principal courts, we were to return and inhabit a stately mansion in New York. How the heart of my Saccharissa throbbed at the thought of bearing the elevated name of Chylde and being admitted to the sacred circles of fashion, as peer of the most elevated in social position!
I found no difficulty in getting a liberal credit from my tailor. Upon the mere mention of my engagement, that worthy artist not only provided me with an abundant supply of raiment, but, with a most charming delicacy, placed bank-notes for a considerable amount in the pockets of my new trousers. I was greatly touched by this attention, and very gladly signed an acknowledgment of debt.
I regret, that, owing to circumstances hereafter to be mentioned, the diary kept jointly by Saccharissa and myself during our journey to the sunny South has passed out of my possession. Its pages overflowed with tenderness. How beautiful were our dreams of the balls and soirees we were to give! How we discussed the style of our furniture, our carriage, and our coachman! How I fed Saccharissa's soul with adulation! She was ugly, she was vulgar, she was jealous, she was base, she had had flirtations of an intimate character with scores; but she was rich, and I made great allowances.
At last we arrived at Bayou La Farouche.
I cannot state that the locality is an attractive one. Its land scenery is composed of alligators and mud in nearly equal proportions.
I never beheld there my fancy realized of a band of gleeful negroes hoeing cane to the music of the banjo. There are no wild bandanna-trees, and no tame ones, either. The slaves of Mr. Mellasys never danced, except under the whip of a very noisome person who acted as overseer. There were no sleek and sprightly negresses in gay turbans, and no iced eau sucre. Canaan was cursed with religious rigor on the Mellasys plantation at Bayou La Farouche.
All this time Mellasys Plickaman had been my bete noir.
I know nothing of politics. Were our country properly constituted, I should be in the House of Peers. The Chylde family is of sublime antiquity, and I am its head in America. But, alas! we have no hereditary legislators; and though I feel myself competent to wear the strawberry-leaves, or even to sit upon a throne, I have not been willing to submit to the unsavory contacts of American political life. Mr. Mellasys Plickaman took advantage of my ignorance.
When several gentlemen of the neighborhood were calling upon me in the absence of Mr. Mellasys, my defeated rival introduced the subject of politics.
"I suppose you are a good Democrat, Mr. Chylde?" said one of the strangers.
"No, I thank you," replied I, sportively,—meaning, of course, that they should understand I was a good Aristocrat.
"Who's your man for President?" my interlocutor continued, rather roughly.
I had heard in conversation, without giving the fact much attention, that an election for President was to take place in a few days. These struggles of commonplace individuals for the privilege of residing in a vulgar town like Washington were without interest to me. So I answered,—
"Oh, any of them. They are all alike to me."
"You don't mean to say," here another of the party loudly broke in, "that Breckenridge and Lincoln are the same to you?"
The young man wore long hair and a black dress-coat, though it was morning. His voice was nasal, and his manner intrusive. I crushed him with a languid "Yes." He was evidently abashed, and covered his confusion by lighting a cigar and smoking it with the lighted end in his mouth. This is a habit of many persons in the South, who hence are called Fire-Eaters.
Mellasys Plickaman here changed the subject to horses, which I do understand, and my visitors presently departed.
"How happily the days of Thalaba went by!"
as the poet has it. My Saccharissa and myself are both persons of a romantic and dreamy nature. Often for hours we would sit and gaze upon each other with only occasional interjections,—"How warm!" "How sleepy!" "Is it not almost time for lunch?" As Saccharissa was not in herself a beautiful object, I accustomed myself to see her merely as a representative of value. Her yellowish complexion helped me in imagining her, as it were, a golden image which might be cut up and melted down. I used to fancy her dresses as made of certificates of stock, and her ribbons as strips of coupons. Thus she was always an agreeable spectacle.
So time flew, and the sun of the sixth of November gleamed across the scaly backs of the alligators of Bayou La Farouche.
In three days I was to be made happy with the possession of one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) on the nail,—excuse the homely expression,—great expectations for the future, and the hand of my Saccharissa.
For these I exchanged the name and social position of a Chylde, and my own, I trust, not unattractive person.
I deemed that I gave myself away dirt-cheap,—excuse again the colloquialism; the transaction seems to require such a phrase,—for there is no doubt that Mr. Mellasys was greatly objectionable. It was certainly very illogical; but his neighbors who owned slaves insisted upon turning up their noses at Mellasys, because he still kept up his slave-pen on Touchpitchalas Street, New Orleans. Besides,—and here again the want of logic seems to culminate into rank absurdity,—he was viewed with a purely sentimental abhorrence by some, because he had precluded a reclaimed fugitive from repeating his evasion by roasting the soles of his feet before a fire until the fellow actually died. The fact, of coarse, was unpleasant, and the loss considerable,—a prime field-hand, with some knowledge of carpentry and a good performer on the violin,—but evasions must be checked, and I cannot see why Mr. Mellasys's method was too severe. Mr. Mellasys was also considered a very unscrupulous person in financial transactions,—indeed, what would be named in some communities a swindler; and I have heard it whispered that the estimable, but somewhat obese and drowsy person who passed as his wife was not a wife, ceremonially speaking. The dusky hues of her complexion were also attributed to an infusion of African blood. There was certainly more curl in her hair than I could have wished; and Saccharissa's wiggy looks waged an irrepressible conflict with the unguents which strove to reduce their crispness.
Indeed, why should I not be candid? Mellasys per se was a pill, Mrs. Mellasys was a dose, and Saccharissa a bolus, to one of my refined and sensitive taste.
But the sugar coated them.
To marry the daughter of the great sugar-planter of Louisiana I would have taken medicines far more unpalatable and assafoetidesque than any thus far offered.
Meanwhile Mr. Mellasys Plickaman, cousin of my betrothed, had changed his tactics and treated me with civility and confidence. We drank together freely, sometimes to the point of inebriation. Indeed, unless he put me to bed, on the evening before the day of the events I am about to describe, I do not know how I got there.
Morning dawned on the sixth of November.
I was awakened, as usual, by the outcries of the refractory negroes receiving their matinal stripes in the whipping-house. Feeling a little languid and tame, I strolled down to witness the spectacle.
It stimulated me quite agreeably. The African cannot avoid being comic. He is the grotesque element in our civilization. He will be droll even under the severest punishment. His contortions of body, his grimaces, his ejaculations of "O Lor'! O Massa!" as the paddle or the lash strikes his flesh, are laughable in the extreme.
I witnessed the flagellation of several pieces of property of either sex. The sight of their beating had the effect of a gentle tickling upon me. The tone of my system was restored. I grew gay and lightsome. I exchanged jokes with the overseer. He appreciated my mood, and gave a farcical turn to the incidents of the occasion.
I enjoyed my breakfast enormously. Saccharissa never looked so sweet; Mr. Mellasys never so little like—pardon the expression—a cross between a hog and a hyena; and I began to fancy that my mother-in-law's general flabbiness of flesh and drapery was not so very offensive.
After breakfast, Mr. Mellasys left us. It was, he said, the day of the election for President. How wretched that America should not be governed by hereditary sovereigns and an order of nobles trained to control!
The day passed. It was afternoon, and I sat reading one of the novels of my favorite De Balzac to my Saccharissa. At the same time my imagination, following the author, strayed to Paris, and recalled to me my bachelor joys in that gay capital. I resolved to repeat them again, on our arrival there, at my bride's expense. How charming to possess a hundred thousand dollars, ($100,000,) even burdened with a wife!
My reading and my reverie were interrupted by the tramp of horses without. Six persons in dress-coats rode up, dismounted, and approached. All were smoking cigars with the lighted ends in their mouths. Mellasys Plickaman led the party. I recognized also the persons who had questioned me as to my politics. They entered the apartment where I sat alone with Saccharissa.
"Thar he is!" said Mellasys Plickaman. "Thar is the d—d Abolitionist!"
Seeing that he indicated me, and that his voice was truculent, I looked to my betrothed for protection. She burst into tears and drew a handkerchief.
An odor of musk combated for an instant with the whiskey reek diffused by Mr. Plickaman and his companions. The balmy odor was, however, quelled by the ruder scent.
"I am surprised, Mr. Plickaman," said I, mildly, but conscious of tremors, "at your use of opprobrious epithets in the presence of a lady."
"Oh, you be blowed!" returned he, with unpardonable rudeness. "You can't skulk behind Saccharissy."
"To what is this change in tone and demeanor owing, Sir?" I asked, with dignity.
"Don't take on airs, you little squirt!" said he.
It will be observed that I quote his very language. His intention was evidently insulting.
"Mr. Chylde," remarked Judge Pyke, one of the gentlemen who had been inquisitive as to my political sentiments, "The Vigilance Committee of Fire-Eaters of Bayou La Farouche have come to the conclusion that you are a spy, an Abolitionist, and a friend of Beecher and Phillips. We intend to give you a fair trial; but I may as well state that we have all made up our minds as to the law, the facts, and the sentence. Therefore, prepare for justice. Colonel Plickaman, have you given directions about the tar?"
"It'll be b'ilin' in about eight minutes," replied my quondam rival, with a boo-hoo of vulgar laughter.
"Culprit!" said Judge Pyke, looking at me with a truly terrible expression, "I have myself heard you avow, with insolent audacity, that you were not a Democrat. Do you not know, Sir, that nothing but Democrats are allowed to breathe the zephyrs of Louisiana? Silence, culprit! Not a word! The court cannot be interrupted. I have also heard you state that the immortal Breckenridge, Kentucky's favorite son, was the same to you as the tiger Lincoln, the deadly foe of Southern institutions. Silence, culprit!"
Here Saccharissa moaned, and wafted a slight flavor of musk to me from her cambric wet with tears.
"Colonel Plickaman," continued the Judge, "produce the letters and papers of the culprit."
I am aware that a rival has rights, and that a defeated suitor may, according to the code, calumniate and slander the more fortunate one. I have done so myself. But it seems to me that there should be limits; and I cannot but think that Mr. Mellasys Plickaman overstepped the limits of fair play, when he took advantage of my last night's inebriety to possess himself of my journal and letters. I will not, however, absolutely commit myself on this point. Perhaps everything is fair in love. Perhaps I may desire to avail myself of the same privilege in future.
I had spoken quite freely in my journal of the barbarians of Bayou La Farouche. Each of the gentlemen now acting upon my jury was alluded to. Colonel Plickaman read each passage in a pointed way, interjecting,—"Do you hear that, Billy Sangaree?" "How do you like yourself now, Major Licklickin?" "Here's something about your white cravat, Parson Butterfut."
The delicacy and wit of my touches of character chafed these gentlemen. Their aspect became truly formidable.
Meantime I began to perceive an odor which forcibly recalled to me the asphaltum-kettles of the lively Boulevards of Paris.
"Wait awhile, Fire-Eaters," said Plickaman, "the tar isn't quite ready yet."
The tar! What had that viscous and unfragrant material to do with the present interview?
"I won't read you what he says of me," resumed the Colonel.
"Yes,—out with it!" exclaimed all.
Suffice it to say that I had spoken of Mr. Mellasys Plickaman as a person so very ill-dressed, so very lavish in expectoration, so entirely destitute of the arts and graces of the higher civilization, merited. His companions required that he should read his own character. He did so. I need not say that I was suffering extremities of apprehension all this time; but still I could not refrain from a slight sympathetic smile of triumph as the others roared with laughter at my accurate analysis of my rival.
"You'll pay for this, Mr. A. Bratley Chylde!" says Plickaman.
So long as my Saccharissa was on my side, I felt no special fear of what my foes might do. I knew the devoted nature of the female sex. "Elles meurent, ou elles s'attachent,"—beautiful thought! These riflers of journals would, I felt confident, be unable to produce anything reflecting my real sentiments about my betrothed. I had spoken of her and her family freely—one must have a vent somewhere—to Mr. Derby Deblore, my other self, my Pylades, my Damon, my fidus Achades in New York; but, unless they found Derby and compelled him to testify, they could not alienate my Saccharissa.
I gave her a touching glance, as Mellasys Plickaman closed his reading of my private papers.
She gave me a touching glance,—or rather, a glance which her amorphous features meant to make touching,—and, waving musk from her handkerchief through the apartment, cried,—
"Never mind, Arthur dear! I don't like you a bit the less for saying what barbarous creatures these men are. They may do what they please,—I'll stand by you. You have my heart, my warm Southern heart, my Arthur!"
"Arthur!" shouted that atrocious Plickaman,—"the loafer's name's Aminadab, after that old Jew, his grandfather."
Saccharissa looked at him and smiled contemptuously.
I tried to smile. I could not. Aminadab was my name. That old dotard, my grandfather, had borne it before me. I had suppressed it carefully.
"Aminadab's his name," repeated the Colonel. "His own mother ought to know what he was baptized, and here is a letter from her which the postmaster and I opened this morning. Look!—'My dear Aminadab.'"
"Don't believe it, Saccharissa," said I, faintly, "It is only one of those tender nicknames, relics of childhood, which the maternal parent alone remembers."
"Silence, culprit!" exclaimed Judge Pyke. "And now, Colonel, read the letter upon which our sentence is principally based,—that traitorous document which you and our patriotic postmaster arrested."
The ruffian, with a triumphant glance at me, took from his pocket a letter from Derby Deblore. He cleared his throat by a plenteous expectoration, and then proceeded to read as follows:—
"Dear Bratley,—Nigger ran like a hound. Marshall and the rest only saw his heels. I'm going on to Toronto to see how he does there. Keep your eyes peeled, when you come through Kentucky. There's more of the same stock there, only waiting for somebody to say, 'Leg it!' and they'll go like mad."
Here the audience interrupted,—"Hang him! hang him! tar and feathers a'n't half bad enough for the dam' nigger-thief!"
I began to comprehend Deblore's innocent reference to his favorite horse Nigger; and a successful race he had made with the well-known racer Marshall—not Rynders—was construed by my jury into a knowledge on my part of the operations of the "Underground Railroad." What could have been more absurd? I endeavored to protest. I endeavored to show them, on general and personal grounds, how utterly devoted I was to the "Peculiar Institution."
"Billy Sangaree," said Judge Pyke, "do you and Major Licklickin stand by the low-lived Abolitionist, and if he says another word, blow out his Black Republican heart."
They did so. I was silent. Saccharissa gave me a glance expressive of continued devotion. So long as I kept her and her hundred thousand dollars, ($100,000,) I little cared for the assaults of these noisy and ill-bred persons.
"Continue, Colonel," said Judge Pyke, severely.
Plickaman resumed the reading of my friend's letter.
"Well, Bratley," Deblore went on, "I hope you'll be able to stand Bayou La Farouche till you're married. I couldn't do it. I roar over your letters. But I swear I respect your powers of humbug. I suppose, if you didn't let out to me, you never could lie so to your dear Saccharissa. Do you know I think you are a little too severe in calling her a mean, spiteful, slipshod, vulgar, dumpy little flirt?"
"Read that again!" shrieked Saccharissa.
"You are beginning to find out your Aminadab!" says Plickaman.
I moved my lips to deny my name; but the pistol of Billy Sangaree was at my right temple, the pistol of Major Licklickin at my left. I was silent, and bore the scornful looks of my persecutors with patience and dignity.
Plickaman repeated the sentence.
"But hear the rest," said he, and read on:—
"From what you say of her tinge of African blood and other charming traits, I have constructed this portrait of the future Mrs. Bratley Chylde, as the Hottentot Venus. Behold it!"
And Mellasys held up a highly colored caricature, covering one whole side of my friend's sheet.
Saccharissa rose from the sofa where she had been sitting during the whole of my trial.
She stood before me,—really I cannot deny it,—a little, ugly, vulgar figure, overloaded with finery, and her laces and ribbons trembled with rage.
She seemed not to be able to speak, and, by way of relieving herself of her overcharge of wrath, smote me several times on either ear with that pudgy hand I had so often pressed in mine or tenderly kissed.
At this exhibition of a resentment I can hardly deem feminine, the Fire-Eaters roared with laughter and cheered her to continue. A circle of negroes also, at the window, expressed their amusement at the scene in the guttural manner of their race.
I could not refrain from tears at these unhappy exhibitions on the part of my betrothed. They augured ill for the harmony of our married life.
"Hit him again, Rissy! he's got no friends," that vulgar Plickaman urged.
She again advanced, seized me by the hair, and shook me with greater muscular force than I should have expected of one of her indolent habits. Delicacy for her sex of course forbade my offering resistance; and besides, there were my two sentries, roaring with vulgar laughter, but holding their pistols with a most unpleasant accuracy of aim at my head.
"Saccharissa, my love," I ventured to say, in a pleading tone, "these momentary ebullitions of a transitory rage will give the bystanders unfavorable impressions of your temper."
"You horrid little wretch!" she screeched, "you sneak! you irreligious infidel! you Black Republican! you Aminadab!"——
Here her unnecessary passion choked her, and she took advantage of the pause to handle my hair with extreme violence. The sensation was unpleasant, but I began to hope that no worse would befall me, and I knew that with a few dulcet words in private I could remove from Saccharissa's mind the asperity induced by my friend's caricature.
"I leave it to you, gentlemen," said she, "whether I am vulgar, as this fellow's correspondence asserts."
"Certainly not," said Judge Pyke. "You are one of the most high-toned beauties in the sunny South, the land of the magnolia and the papaw."
"Your dignity," said Major Licklickin, "is only surpassed by your grace, and both by your queenly calmness."
The others also gave her the best compliments they could, poor fellows! I could have taught them what to say.
Here a grinning negro interrupted with,—
"De tar-kittle's a b'ilin' on de keen jump, Mas'r Mellasys."
"Gentlemen of the Jury," said Judge Pyke, "as you had agreed upon your verdict before the trial, it is not requisite that you should retire to consult. Prisoner at the Bar, rise to receive sentence."
I thought it judicious to fall upon my knees and request forgiveness; but my persecutors were blinded by what no doubt seemed to them a religious zeal.
"Git up!" said Major Licklickin; and I am ashamed, for his sake, to say that there was an application of boot accompanying this remark.
"Prisoner," continued my Rhadamanthus, "you have had a fair trial, and you are found guilty on all the counts of the indictment. First: Of disloyalty to the South. Second: Of indifference to the Democratic candidate for the Presidency. Third: Of maligning the character of Southern patriots in a book intended, no doubt, for universal circulation through the Northern States. Fourth: Of holding correspondence with an agent of the Underground Railroad, who, as he himself avows, has recently run off a nigger to Toronto.—Silence, Sir! Choke him, Billy Sangaree, if he says a word!—Fifth: Of defaming a Southern lady, while at the same time you were endeavoring to win her most attractive property and person from those who should naturally acquire them. Sixth: Of Agrarianism, Abolitionism, Atheism, and Infidelity. Prisoner at the Bar, your sentence is, that you be tarred and cottoned and leave the State. If you are caught again, you will be hung by the neck, and Henry Ward Beecher have mercy on your soul!"
I was now marched along by my two sentries to a huge tree, not of the bandanna species. Beneath it a sugar-kettle filled with ebullient tar was standing.
My persecutors, with tranquil brutality, proceeded to disrobe me. As my nether garments were removed, Mellasys Plickaman succeeded in persuading Saccharissa to retire. She, however, took her station at a window and peered through the blinds at the spectacle. I do not envy her sensations. All her bright visions of fashionable life were destroyed forever. She would now fall into the society from which I had endeavored to lift her. Poor thing! knowing, too, that I, and my friend Derby Deblore, perhaps the most elegant young man in America, regarded her as a Hottentot Venus. Poor thing! I have no doubt that she longed to rush out, fling herself at my feet, and pray me to forgive her and reconsider my verdict of dumpiness and vulgarity.
Meantime I had been reduced to my shirt and drawers,—excuse the nudity of my style in stating this fact. Mellasys Plickaman took a ladle-full of the viscous fluid and poured it over my head.
"Aminadab," said he, "I baptize thee!"
I have experienced few sensations more unpleasant than this application. The tar descended in warm and sluggish streams, trickling over my forehead, dropping from my eyelids, rolling over my cheeks, sealing my mouth, gluing my ears to my skull, identifying itself with my hair, pursuing the path indicated by my spine beneath my shirt,—in short, enveloping me with a close-fitting armor of a glutinous and most unsavory material.
Each of the jury followed the example of my detested rival. In a few moments the tarring was complete. Few can see themselves mentally or physically as others see them; but, judging from the remarks made, I am convinced that I must have afforded an entertaining spectacle to the party. They roared with laughter, and jeered me. I, however, preserved a silence discreet, and, I flatter myself, dignified.
The negroes, particularly those at whose fustigation I had assisted in the morning, joined in the scoffs of their masters, calling me Bobolitionist, Black Republican, Liberator, and other nicknames by which these simple-hearted and contented creatures express dislike and distrust.
"Bring the cotton!" now cried Mellasys Plickaman.
A bag of that regal product was brought.
"Roll him in it!" said Billy Sangaree.
"Let the Colonel work his own tricks," Major Licklickin said. "He's an artist, he is."
I must admit that he was an artist. He fabricated me an elaborate wig of the cotton. He arranged me a pair of bushy white eyebrows. He stuck a venerable beard upon my chin, and a moustache upon my lip. Then he proceeded to indicate my ribs with lines of cotton, and to cap my shoulders with epaulets. It would be long to describe the fantastic tricks he played with me amid the loud laughter of his crew.
Occasionally, also, I heard suppressed giggles from Saccharissa at the window.
I have no doubt that I should have strangled my late fiancee, if such an act had been consistent with my personal safety.
When I was completely cottoned, in the decorative manner I have described, Mellasys took a banjo from an old negro, and, striking it, not without a certain unsophisticated and barbaric grace appropriate to the instrument, commanded me to dance.
I essayed to do so. But my heart was heavy; consequently my heels were not light. My faint attempts at pirouettes were not satisfactory.
"Dance jollier, or we'll hang you," said Plickaman.
"No," says Judge Pyke,—"the sentence of the Court has been executed. In the sacred name of Justice I protest against proceeding farther. Culprit," continued he, in a voice of thunder, "cut for the North Star, and here's passage-money for you."
He stuck a half-eagle into the tarry integument of my person. Billy Sangaree, Major Licklickin, and others of the more inebriated, imitated him. My dignity of bearing had evidently made a favorable impression.
I departed amid cheers, some ironical, some no doubt sincere. But to the last, these chivalric, but prejudiced and misguided gentlemen declined to listen to my explanations. Mellasys Plickaman had completely perverted their judgments against me.
The last object I saw was Saccharissa, looking more like a Hottentot Venus than ever, waving her handkerchief and kissing her hand to me. Did she repent her brief disloyalty? For a moment I thought so, and resolved to lie in wait, return by night, and urge her to fly with me. But while I hesitated, Mellasys Plickaman drew near her. She threw herself into his arms, and there, before all the Committee of Fire-Eaters of Bayou La Farouche, she kissed him with those amorphous lips I had often compelled myself to taste. Faugh!
I deemed this scene a token that my engagement was absolutely terminated.
There was no longer any reason why I should degrade myself by remaining in this vulgar society. I withdrew into the thickets of the adjoining wood and there for a time abandoned myself to melancholy reminiscences.
Presently I heard footsteps. I turned and saw a black approaching, bearing the homely viand known as corn-dodger. He offered it. I accepted it as a tribute from the inferior race to the superior.
I recognized him as one whose fustigation had so revived my crapulous spirits in the morning. He seemed to bear no malice. Malignity is perhaps a mark of more highly developed character. I, for example, possess it to a considerable degree.
The black led me to a lair in the wood. He took my half-eagles from my tar. He scraped and cleansed me by simple methods of which he had the secret. He clothed me in rude garments. Gunny-bag was, I think, the material. He gave me his own shoes. The heels were elongated; but this we remedied by a stuffing of leaves. He conducted me toward the banks of Bayou La Farouche.
On our way, we were compelled to pass not far from the Mellasys mansion. There was a sound of revelry. It was night. I crept cautiously up and peered into the window.
There stood the Reverend Onesimus Butterfut, since a prominent candidate for the archbishopric of the Southern Confederacy. Saccharissa, more over-dressed than usual, and her cousin Mellasys Plickaman, somewhat unsteady with inebriation, stood before him. He was pronouncing them man and wife,—why not ogre and hag?
How fortunate was my escape!
As my negro guide would not listen to my proposal to set the Mellasys establishment on fire while the inmates slept, I followed him to the banks of the Bayou. He provided me with abundant store of the homely food already alluded to. He launched me in a vessel; known to some as a dug-out, to some as a gundalow. His devotion was really touching. It convinced me more profoundly than ever of the canine fidelity and semi-animal characteristics of his race.
I floated down the Bayou. I was picked up by a cotton-ship in the Gulf. I officiated as assistant to the cook on the homeward voyage.
At the urgent solicitation of my mother, I condescended, on my return, to accept a situation in my Uncle Bratley's cracker-bakery. The business is not aristocratic. But what business is? I cannot draw the line between the baker of hard tack—such is the familiar term we employ—and the seller of the material for our product, by the barrel or the cargo. From the point of view of a Chylde, all avocations for the making of money seem degrading, and only the spending is dignified.
As my conduct during the Mellasys affair has been maligned and scoffed at by persons of crude views of what is comme il faut, I have drawn up this statement, confident that it will justify me to all of my order, which I need not state is distinctively that of the Aristocrat and the Gentleman.
MY ODD ADVENTURE WITH JUNIUS BRUTUS BOOTH.
More than twenty years ago, being pastor of a church in one of our Western cities, I was sitting, one evening, meditating over my coal fire, which was cheerfully blazing up and gloomily subsiding again, in the way that Western coal fires in Western coal grates were then very much in the habit of doing. I was a young, and inexperienced minister. I had come to the West, fresh from a New England divinity-school, with magnificent ideas of the vast work which was to be done, and with rather a vague notion of the way in which I was to do it. My views of the West were chiefly derived from two books, both of which are now obsolete. When a child, with the omnivorous reading propensity of children, I had perused a thin, pale octavo, which stood on the shelves of our library, containing the record of a journey by the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, of Dorchester, from Massachusetts to Marietta, Ohio. Allibone, whom nothing escapes, gives the title of the book, "Journal of a Tour into the Territory Northwest of the Allegheny Mountains in 1803, Boston, 1805." That a man should write an octavo volume about a journey to Marietta now strikes us as rather absurd; but in those days the overland journey to Ohio was as difficult as that to California is now. The other book was a more important one, being Timothy Flint's "Ten Years' Recollections of the Mississippi Valley," published in 1826. Mr. Flint was a man of sensibility and fancy, a sharp observer, and an interesting writer. His book opened the West to us in its scenery and in its human interest.
I was sitting in my somewhat lonely position, watching my coal fire, and thinking of the friends I had left on the other side of the mountains. I had not succeeded as I had hoped in my work. I came to the West expecting to meet with opposition, and I found only indifference. I expected infidelity, and found worldliness. I had around me a company of good Christian friends, but they were no converts of mine; they were from New England, like myself, and brought their religion with them. Upon the real Western people I had made no impression, and could not see how I should make any. Those who were religious seemed to be bigots; those who were not religious cared apparently more for making money, for politics, for horseracing, for duelling, than for the difference between Homoousians and Homoiousians. They were very fond of good preaching, but their standard was a little different from that I had been accustomed to. A solid, meditative, carefully written sermon had few attractions for them. They would go to hear our great New England divines on account of their reputation, but they would run in crowds to listen to John Newland Maffit. What they wanted, as one of them expressed it, was "an eloquent divine and no common orator." They liked sentiment run out into sentimentalism, fluency, point, plenty of illustration, and knock-down argument. How could a poor boy, fresh from the groves of our Academy, where Good Taste reigned supreme, and where to learn how to manage one's voice was regarded as a sin against sincerity, how could he meet such demands as these?
I was more discouraged than I need to have been; for, after all, the resemblances in human beings are more than their differences. The differences are superficial,—the resemblances radical. Everywhere men like, in a Christian minister, the same things,—sincerity, earnestness, and living Christianity. Mere words may please, but not long. Men differ in taste about the form of the cup out of which they drink this wine of Divine Truth, but they agree in their thirst for the same wine.
But to my story.
I was sitting, therefore, meditating somewhat sadly, when a knock came at the door. On opening it, a negro boy, with grinning face, presented himself, holding a note. The great fund of good-humor which God has bestowed on the African race often makes them laugh when we see no occasion for laughter. Any event, no matter what it is, seems to them amusing. So this boy laughed merely because he had brought me a note, and not because there was anything peculiarly amusing in the message which the note contained. It is true that you sometimes meet a melancholy negro. But such, I fancy, have some foreign blood in them,—they are not Africans pur sang. The race is so essentially joyful, that centuries of oppression and hardship cannot depress its good spirits. It is cheerful in spite of slavery, and in spite of cruel prejudice.
The note the boy brought me did not seem adapted to furnish much provocation for laughter. It was as follows:—
"United States Hotel, Jan. 4th, 1834.
"SIR,—I hope you will excuse the liberty of a stranger addressing you on a subject he feels great interest in. It is to require a place of interment for his friend[s] in the church-yard, and also the expense attendant on the purchase of such place of temporary repose.
"Your communication on this matter will greatly oblige,
"Your respectful and
It will be observed that after the word "friend" an [s] follows in brackets. In the original the word was followed by a small mark which might or might not give it the plural form. It could be read either "friend" or "friends"; but as we do not usually find ourselves called upon to bury more than one friend at a time, the hasty reader would not notice the mark, but would read it "friend." So did I; and only afterward, in consequence of the denouement, did I notice that it might be read in the other way.
Taking my hat, I stepped into the street. Gas in those days was not; an occasional lantern, swung on a wire across the intersection of the streets, reminded us that the city was once French, and suggested the French Revolution and the cry, "A la lanterne!" First I went to my neighbor, the mayor of the city, in pursuit of the desired information. A jolly mayor was he,—a Yankee melted down into a Western man, thoroughly Westernized by a rough-and-tumble life in Kentucky during many years. Being obliged to hold a mayor's court every day, and knowing very little of law, his chief study was, as he expressed it, "how to choke off the Kentucky lawyers." Mr. Mayor not being at home, I turned next to the office of another naturalized Yankee,—a Yankee naturalized, but never Westernized. He was one of those who do not change their mind with their sky, who, exiled from the dear hills of New England, can never get away from the inborn, inherent Yankee. He was a Plymouth man, and religiously preserved every opinion, habit, and accent which he had brought from Plymouth Rock. When Kentucky was madly Democratic and wept over the dead Jefferson as over her saint, he had expressed the opinion that it would have been well for the country, if he had died long before,—for which expression he came near being lynched. He was the most unpopular and the most indispensable man in the city,—they could live neither with him nor without him. He founded and organized the insurance companies, the public schools, the charitable associations, the great canal, the banking-system,—in short, all Yankee institutions. The city was indebted to him for much of its prosperity, but disliked him while it respected him. For he spared no Western prejudice; he remorselessly criticized everything that was not done as Yankees do it: and the most provoking thing of all was that he never made a mistake; he was always right.
Finding no one at home, and so not being able to learn about the price of lots in the church-yard, I walked on to the hotel, and asked to see Mr. J.B. Booth. I was shown into a private parlor, where he and another gentleman were sitting by a table. On the table were candles, a decanter of wine, and glasses, a plate of bread, cigars, and a book. Mr. Booth rose when I announced myself, and I at once recognized the distinguished actor. I had met him once before, and travelled with him for part of a day. He was a short man, but one of those who seem tall when they choose to do so. He had a clear blue eye and fair complexion. In repose there was nothing to attract attention to him; but when excited, his expression was so animated, his eye was so brilliant, and his figure so full of life, that he became another man.
Having told him that I had not been successful in procuring the information he desired, but would bring it to him on the following morning, he thanked me, and asked me to sit down. It passed through my mind, that, as he had lost a friend and was a stranger in the place, I might be of use to him. Perhaps he needed consolation, and it was my office to sympathize with the bereaved. So I sat down. But it did not appear that he was disposed to seek for such comfort, or engage in such discourse. Once or twice I endeavored, but without success, to turn the conversation to his presumed loss. I asked him if the death of his friend was sudden.
"Very," he replied.
"Was he a relative?"
"Distant," said he, and changed the subject.
It is twenty-seven years since these events took place, and I do not pretend to give the conversation very accurately, but what occurred was very much like this. It was a dialogue between Booth and myself, the third party saying not a word during the evening. Mr. Booth first asked me to take a glass of wine, or a cigar, both of which I declined.
"Well," said he, "let me try to entertain you in another way. When you came in, I was reading aloud to my friend. Perhaps you would like to hear me read."
"I certainly should," said I.
"What shall I read?"
"Whatever you like best. What you like to read I shall like to hear."
"Then suppose I attempt Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner'? Have you time for it? It is long."
"Yes, I should like it much."
So he read aloud the whole of this magnificent poem. I have listened to Macready, to Edmund Kean, to Rachel, to Jenny Lind, to Fanny Kemble,—to Webster, Clay, Everett, Harrison Gray Otis,—to Dr. Channing, Henry Ward Beecher, Wendell Phillips, Father Taylor, Ralph Waldo Emerson,—to Victor Hugo, Coquerel, Lacordaire; but none of them affected me as I was affected by this reading. I forgot the place where I was, the motive of my coming, the reader himself. I knew the poem almost by heart, yet I seemed never to have heard it before. I was by the side of the doomed mariner. I was the wedding-guest, listening to his story, held by his glittering eye. I was with him in the storm, among the ice, beneath the hot and copper sky. Booth became so absorbed in his reading, so identified with the poem, that his tone and manner were saturated with a feeling of reality. He actually thought himself the mariner,—so I am persuaded,—while he was reading. As the poem proceeded, and we plunged deeper and deeper into its mystic horrors, the actual world receded into a dim, indefinable distance. The magnetism of this marvellous interpreter had caught up himself, and me with him, into Dreamland, from which we gently descended at the end of Part VI., and "the spell was snapt."
"And now, all in my own countree, I stood on the firm land,"—
returned from a voyage into the inane. Again I found myself sitting in the little hotel parlor, by the side of a man with glittering eye, with a third somebody on the other side of the table.
I drew a long breath.
Booth turned over the leaves of the volume. It was the collected Works of Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats.
"Did you ever read," said he, "Shelley's argument against the use of animal food, at the end of 'Queen Mab'?"
"Yes, I have read it."
"And what do you think of the argument?"
"Ingenious, but not satisfactory."
"To me it is satisfactory. I have long been convinced that it is wrong to take the life of an animal for our pleasure. I eat no animal food. There is my supper,"—pointing to the plate of bread. "And, indeed," continued he, "I think the Bible favors this view. Have you a Bible with you?"
I had not.
Booth thereupon rang the bell, and when the boy presented himself, called for a Bible. Garcon disappeared, and came back soon with a Bible on a waiter.
Our tragedian took the book, and proceeded to argue his point by means of texts selected skilfully here and there, from Genesis to Revelation. He referred to the fact that it was not till after the Deluge men were allowed, "for the hardness of their hearts," as he maintained, to eat meat. But in the beginning it was not so; only herbs were given to man, at first, for food. He quoted the Psalmist (Psalm civ. 14) to show that man's food came from the earth, and was the green herb; and contended that the reason why Daniel and his friends were fairer and fatter than the children who ate their portion of meat was that they ate only pulse (Daniel i. 12-15). These are all of his Scriptural arguments which I now recall; but I thought them very ingenious at the time.
The argument took some time. Then he recited one or two pieces bearing on the same subject, closing with Byron's Lines to his Newfoundland Dog.
"In connection with that poem," he continued, "a singular event once happened to me. I was acting in Petersburg, Virginia. My theatrical engagement was just concluded, and I dined with a party of friends one afternoon before going away. We sat after dinner, singing songs, reciting poetry, and relating anecdotes. At last I recited those lines of Byron on his dog. I was sitting by the fireplace, my feet resting against the jamb, and a single candle was burning on the mantel. It had become dark. Just as I came to the end of the poem,—
"'To mark a friend's remains these stones arise, I never knew but one, and here he lies,'—
"my foot slipped down the jamb, and struck a dog, who was lying beneath. The dog sprang up, howled, and ran out of the room, and at the same moment the candle went out. I asked whose dog it was. No one knew. No one had seen the dog till that moment. Perhaps you will smile at me, Sir, and think me superstitious,—but I could not but think that the animal was brought there by occult sympathy."
Having uttered these oracular words in a very solemn tone, Booth rose, and, taking one of the candles, said to me, "Would you like to look at the remains?"
I assented. Asking our silent friend to excuse us, he led me into an adjoining chamber. I looked toward a bed in the corner of the room, expecting to see a corpse. There was none there. But Booth went to another corner of the room, where, spread out upon a large sheet, I saw—what do you suppose, dear reader?
About a bushel of Wild Pigeons!
Booth knelt down by the side of the birds, and with every evidence of sincere affliction began to mourn over them. He took them up in his hands tenderly, and pressed them to his heart. For a few moments he seemed to forget my presence. For this I was glad, for it gave me a little time to recover from my astonishment, and to consider rapidly what it might mean. As I look back now, and think of the oddity of the situation, I rather wonder at my own self-possession. It was a sufficiently trying position. At first I thought it was a hoax, an intentional piece of practical fun, of which I was to be the object. But even in the moment allowed me to think, I decided that this could not be. For I recalled the long and elaborate Bible argument against taking the life of animals, which could hardly have been got up for the occasion. I considered also that as a joke it would be too poor in itself, and too unworthy a man like Booth. So I decided that it was a sincere conviction,—an idea, exaggerated perhaps to the borders of monomania, of the sacredness of all life. And I determined to treat the conviction with respect, as all sincere and religious convictions deserve to be treated.
I also saw the motive for this particular course of action. During the week immense quantities of the Wild Pigeon (Passenger Pigeon, Columba Migratoria) had been flying over the city, in their way to and from a roost in the neighborhood. These birds had been slaughtered by myriads, and were for sale by the bushel at the corners of every street in the city. Although all the birds which could be killed by man made the smallest impression on the vast multitude contained in one of these flocks,—computed by Wilson to consist of more than twenty-two hundred millions,—yet to Booth the destruction seemed wasteful, wanton, and from his point of view was a wilful and barbarous murder.
Such a sentiment was perhaps an exaggeration; still I could not but feel a certain sympathy with its humanity. It was an error in a good direction. If an insanity, it was better than the cold, heartless sanity of most men. By the time, therefore, that Booth was ready to speak, I was prepared to answer.
"You see," said he, "these innocent victims of man's barbarity. I wish to testify in some public way against this wanton destruction of life. And I wish you to help me. Will you?"
"Hardly," I replied. "I expected something very different from this, when I received your note. I did not come to see you expecting to be called to assist at the funeral solemnities of birds."
"Nor did I send for you," he answered. "I merely wrote to ask about the lot in the grave-yard. But now you are here, why not help me? Do you fear the laugh of man?"
"No," I returned. "If I agreed with you in regard to this subject, I might, perhaps, have the courage to act out my convictions. But I do not look at it as you do. There is no reason, then, why I should have anything to do with it. I respect your convictions, but do not share them."
"That is fair," he said. "I cannot ask anything more. I am obliged to you for coming to see me. My intention was to purchase a place in the burial-ground, and have them put into a coffin and carried in a hearse. I might do it without any one's knowing that it was not a human body. Would you assist me, then?"
"But if no one knew it," I said, "how would it be a public testimony against the destruction of life?"
"True, it would not. Well, I will consider what to do. Perhaps I may wish to bury them privately in some garden."
"In that case," said I, "I will find you a place in the grounds of some of my friends."
He thanked me, and I took my leave,—exceedingly astonished and amused by the incident, but also interested in the earnestness of conviction of the man.
I heard, in a day or two, that he had actually purchased a lot in the cemetery, two or three miles below the city, that he had had a coffin made, hired a hearse and carriage, and had gone through all the solemnity of a regular funeral. For several days he continued to visit the grave of his little friends, and mourned over them with a grief which did not seem at all theatrical.
Meantime he acted every night at the theatre, and my friends told me that his acting was of unsurpassed excellence. A vein of insanity began, however, to mingle in his conduct. His fellow-actors were afraid of him. He looked terribly in earnest on the stage; and when he went behind the scenes, he spoke to no one, but sat still, looking sternly at the ground. During the day he walked about town, giving apples to the horses, and talked to the drivers, urging them to treat their animals with kindness.
An incident happened, one day, which illustrated still further his sympathy for the humbler races of animals. One of the sudden freshets which come to the Ohio, caused commonly by heavy rains melting the snow in the valleys of its tributary streams, had raised the river to an unusual height. The yellow torrent rushed along its channel, bearing on its surface logs, boards, and the debris of fences, shanties, and lumber-yards. A steamboat, forced by the rapid current against the stone landing, had been stove, and lay a wreck on the bottom, with the water rising rapidly around it. A horse had been left, fastened on the boat, and it looked as if he would be drowned. Booth was on the landing, and he took from his pocket twenty dollars, and offered it to any one who would get to the boat and cut the halter, so that the horse might swim ashore. Some one was found to do it, and the horse's life was saved.
So this golden thread of human sympathy with all creatures whom God had made ran through the darkening moods of his genius. He had well laid to heart the fine moral of his favorite poem,—that
"He prayeth well, who loveth well Both man, and bird, and beast.
"He prayeth best, who loveth best All things, both great and small; For the dear God, who loveth us, He made and loveth all."
In a week or less the tendency to derangement in Booth became more developed. One night, when he was to act, he did not appear; nor could he be found at his lodgings. He did not come home that night. Next morning he was found in the woods, several miles from the city, wandering through the snow. He was taken care of. His derangement proved to be temporary, and his reason returned in a few days. He soon left the city. But before he went away he sent to me the following note, which I copy from the original faded paper, now lying before me:—
"January 18, 1834.
"MY DEAR SIR,
"Allow me to return you my grateful acknowledgments for your prompt and benevolent attention to my request last Wednesday night. Although I am convinced your ideas and mine thoroughly coincide as to the real cause of man's bitter degradation, yet I fear human means to redeem him are now fruitless. The Fire must burn, and Prometheus endure his agony. The Pestilence of Asia must come again, ere the savage will be taught humanity. May you escape! God bless you, Sir!
Certainly I may call this "an odd adventure" for a young minister, less than six months in his profession. But it left in my mind a very pleasant impression of this great tragedian. It may be asked why he came to me, the youngest and newest clergyman in the place. The reason he gave me himself. I was a Unitarian. He said he had more sympathy with me on that account, as he was of Jewish descent, and a Monotheist.
MY OUT-DOOR STUDY.
The noontide of the summer-day is past, when all Nature slumbers, and when the ancients feared to sing, lest the great god Pan should be awakened. Soft changes, the gradual shifting of every shadow on every leaf, begin to show the waning hours. Ineffectual thunder-storms have gathered and gone by, hopelessly defeated. The floating-bridge is trembling and resounding beneath the pressure of one heavy wagon, and the quiet fishermen change their places to avoid the tiny ripple that glides stealthily to their feet above the half-submerged planks. Down the glimmering lake there are miles of silence and still waters and green shores, overhung with a multitudinous and scattered fleet of purple and golden clouds, now furling their idle sails and drifting away into the vast harbor of the South. Voices of birds, hushed first by noon and then by possibilities of tempest, cautiously begin once more, leading on the infinite melodies of the June afternoon. As the freshened air invites them forth, so the smooth and stainless water summons us. "Put your hand upon the oar," says Charon in the old play to Bacchus, "and you shall hear the sweetest songs." The doors of the boathouse swing softly open, and the slender wherry, like a water-snake, steals silently in the wake of the dispersing clouds.
The woods are hazy, as if the warm sunbeams had melted in among the interstices of the foliage and spread a soft film throughout the whole. The sky seems to reflect the water, and the water the sky; both are roseate with color, both are darkened with clouds, and between them both, as the boat recedes, the floating-bridge hangs suspended, with its motionless fishermen and its moving team. The wooded islands are poised upon the lake, each belted with a paler tint of softer wave. The air seems fine and palpitating; the drop of an oar in a distant row-lock, the sound of a hammer on a dismantled boat, pass into some region of mist and shadows, and form a metronome for delicious dreams.
Every summer I launch my boat to seek some realm of enchantment beyond all the sordidness and sorrow of earth, and never yet did I fail to ripple with my prow at least the outskirts of those magic waters. What spell has fame or wealth to enrich this midday blessedness with a joy the more? Yonder barefoot boy, as he drifts silently in his punt beneath the drooping branches of yonder vine-clad bank, has a bliss which no Astor can buy with money, no Seward conquer with votes,—which yet is no monopoly of his, and to which time and experience only add a more subtile and conscious charm. The rich years were given us to increase, not to impair, these cheap felicities. Sad or sinful is the life of that man who finds not the heavens bluer and the waves more musical in maturity than in childhood. Time is a severe alembic of youthful joys, no doubt; we exhaust book after book and leave Shakespeare unopened; we grow fastidious in men and women; all the rhetoric, all the logic, we fancy we have heard before; we have seen the pictures, we have listened to the symphonies: but what has been done by all the art and literature of the world towards describing one summer day? The most exhausting effort brings us no nearer to it than to the blue sky which is its dome; our words are shot up against it like arrows, and fall back helpless. Literary amateurs go the tour of the globe to renew their stock of materials, when they do not yet know a bird or a bee or a blossom beside their homestead-door; and in the hour of their greatest success they have not an horizon to their life so large as that of yon boy in his punt. All that is purchasable in the capitals of the world is not to be weighed in comparison with the simple enjoyment that may be crowded into one hour of sunshine. What can place or power do here? "Who could be before me, though the palace of Caesar cracked and split with emperors, while I, sitting in silence on a cliff of Rhodes, watched the sun as he swung his golden censer athwart the heavens?"
It is pleasant to observe a sort of confused and latent recognition of all this in the instinctive sympathy which is always rendered to any indication of out-door pursuits. How cordially one sees the eyes of all travellers turn to the man who enters the railroad-station with a fowling-piece in hand, or the boy with water-lilies! There is a momentary sensation of the freedom of the woods, a whiff of oxygen for the anxious money-changers. How agreeably sounds the news—to all but his creditors—that the lawyer or the merchant has locked his office-door and gone fishing! The American temperament needs at this moment nothing so much as that wholesome training of semi-rural life which reared Hampden and Cromwell to assume at one grasp the sovereignty of England, and which has ever since served as the foundation of England's greatest ability. The best thoughts and purposes seem ordained to come to human beings beneath the open sky, as the ancients fabled that Pan found the goddess Ceres when he was engaged in the chase, whom no other of the gods could find when seeking seriously. The little I have gained from colleges and libraries has certainly not worn so well as the little I learned in childhood of the habits of plant, bird, and insect. That "weight and sanity of thought," which Coleridge so finely makes the crowning attribute of Wordsworth, is in no way so well matured and cultivated as in the society of Nature.
There may be extremes and affectations, and Mary Lamb declared that Wordsworth held it doubtful if a dweller in towns had a soul to be saved. During the various phases of transcendental idealism among ourselves, in the last twenty years, the love of Nature has at times assumed an exaggerated and even a pathetic aspect, in the morbid attempts of youths and maidens to make it a substitute for vigorous thought and action,—a lion endeavoring to dine on grass and green leaves. In some cases this mental chlorosis reached such a height as almost to nauseate one with Nature, when in the society of the victims; and surfeited companions felt inclined to rush to the treadmill immediately, or get chosen on the Board of Selectmen, or plunge into any conceivable drudgery, in order to feel that there was still work enough in the universe to keep it sound and healthy. But this, after all, was exceptional and transitory, and our American life still needs, beyond all things else, the more habitual cultivation of out-door habits.
Probably the direct ethical influence of natural objects may be overrated. Nature is not didactic, but simply healthy. She helps everything to its legitimate development, but applies no goads, and forces on us no sharp distinctions. Her wonderful calmness, refreshing the whole soul, must aid both conscience and intellect in the end, but sometimes lulls both temporarily, when immediate issues are pending. The waterfall cheers and purifies infinitely, but it marks no moments, has no reproaches for indolence, forces to no immediate decision, offers unbounded to-morrows, and the man of action must tear himself away, when the time comes, since the work will not be done for him. "The natural day is very calm, and will hardly reprove our indolence."
And yet the more bent any man is upon action, the more profoundly he needs the calm lessons of Nature to preserve his equilibrium. The radical himself needs nothing so much as fresh air. The world is called conservative; but it is far easier to impress a plausible thought on the complaisance of others than to retain an unfaltering faith in it for ourselves. The most dogged reformer distrusts himself every little while, and says inwardly, like Luther, "Art thou alone wise?" So he is compelled to exaggerate, in the effort to hold his own. The community is bored by the conceit and egotism of the innovators; so it is by that of poets and artists, orators and statesmen; but if we knew how heavily ballasted all these poor fellows need to be, to keep an even keel amid so many conflicting tempests of blame and praise, we should hardly reproach them. But the simple enjoyments of out-door life, costing next to nothing, tend to equalize all vexations. What matter, if the Governor removes you from office? he cannot remove you from the lake; and if readers or customers will not bite, the pickerel will. We must keep busy, of course; yet we cannot transform the world except very slowly, and we can best preserve our patience in the society of Nature, who does her work almost as imperceptibly as we.
And for literary training, especially, the influence of natural beauty is simply priceless Under the present educational systems, we need grammars and languages far less than a more thorough out-door experience. On this flowery bank, on this ripple-marked shore, are the true literary models. How many living authors have ever attained to writing a single page which could be for one moment compared, for the simplicity and grace of its structure, with this green spray of wild woodbine or yonder white wreath of blossoming clematis? A finely organized sentence should throb and palpitate like the most delicate vibrations of the summer air. We talk of literature as if it were a mere matter of rule and measurement, a series of processes long since brought to mechanical perfection: but it would be less incorrect to say that it all lies in the future; tried by the out-door standard, there is as yet no literature, but only glimpses and guideboards; no writer has yet succeeded in sustaining, through more than some single occasional sentence, that fresh and perfect charm. If by the training of a lifetime one could succeed in producing one continuous page of perfect cadence, it would be a life well spent, and such a literary artist would fall short of Nature's standard in quantity only, not in quality.
It is one sign of our weakness, also, that we commonly assume Nature to be a rather fragile and merely ornamental thing, and suited for a model of the graces only. But her seductive softness is the last climax of magnificent strength. The same mathematical law winds the leaves around the stem and the planets round the sun. The same law of crystallization rules the slight-knit snow-flake and the hard foundations of the earth. The thistle-down floats secure upon the same summer zephyrs that are woven into the tornado. The dew-drop holds within its transparent cell the same electric fire which charges the thunder-cloud. In the softest tree or the airiest waterfall, the fundamental lines are as lithe and muscular as the crouching haunches of a leopard; and without a pencil vigorous enough to render these, no mere mass of foam or foliage, however exquisitely finished, can tell the story. Lightness of touch is the crowning test of power.
Yet Nature does not work by single spasms only. That chestnut spray is not an isolated and exhaustive effort of creative beauty: look upward and see its sisters rise with pile above pile of fresh and stately verdure, till tree meets sky in a dome of glorious blossom, the whole as perfect as the parts, the least part as perfect as the whole. Studying the details, it seems as if Nature were a series of costly fragments with no coherency,—as if she would never encourage us to do anything systematically, would tolerate no method but her own, and yet had none of her own,—were as abrupt in her transitions from oak to maple as the heroine who went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf to make an apple-pie; while yet there is no conceivable human logic so close and inexorable as her connections. How rigid, how flexible are, for instance, the laws of perspective! If one could learn to make his statements as firm and unswerving as the horizon-line,—his continuity of thought as marked, yet as unbroken, as yonder soft gradations by which the eye is lured upward from lake to wood, from wood to hill, from hill to heavens,—what more bracing tonic could literary culture demand? As it is, Art misses the parts, yet does not grasp the whole.
Literature also learns from Nature the use of materials: either to select only the choicest and rarest, or to transmute coarse to fine by skill in using. How perfect is the delicacy with which the woods and fields are kept, throughout the year! All these millions of living creatures born every season, and born to die; yet where are the dead bodies? We never see them. Buried beneath the earth by tiny nightly sextons, sunk beneath the waters, dissolved into the air, or distilled again and again as food for other organizations,—all have had their swift resurrection. Their existence blooms again in these violet-petals, glitters in the burnished beauty of these golden beetles, or enriches the veery's song. It is only out of doors that even death and decay become beautiful. The model farm, the most luxurious house, have their regions of unsightliness; but the fine chemistry of Nature is constantly clearing away all its impurities before our eyes, and yet so delicately that we never suspect the process. The most exquisite work of literary art exhibits a certain crudeness and coarseness, when we turn to it from Nature,—as the smallest cambric needle appears rough and jagged, when compared through the magnifier with the tapering fineness of the insect's sting.
Once separated from Nature, literature recedes into metaphysics, or dwindles into novels. How ignoble seems the current material of London literary life, for instance, compared with the noble simplicity which, a half-century ago, made the Lake Country an enchanted land forever! Is it worth a voyage to England to sup with Thackeray in the Pot Tavern? Compare the "enormity of pleasure" which De Quincey says Wordsworth derived from the simplest natural object with the serious protest of Wilkie Collins against the affectation of caring about Nature at all. "Is it not strange", says this most unhappy man, "to see how little real hold the objects of the natural world amidst which we live can gain on our hearts and minds? We go to Nature for comfort in joy and sympathy in trouble, only in books.... What share have the attractions of Nature ever had in the pleasurable or painful interests and emotions of ourselves or our friends?... There is surely a reason for this want of inborn sympathy between the creature and the creation around it."
Leslie says of "the most original landscape-painter he knew," meaning Constable, that, whenever he sat down in the fields to sketch, he endeavored to forget that he had ever seen a picture. In literature this is easy, the descriptions are so few and so faint. When Wordsworth was fourteen, he stopped one day by the wayside to observe the dark outline of an oak against the western sky; and he says that he was at that moment struck with "the infinite variety of natural appearances which had been unnoticed by the poets of any age or country," so far as he was acquainted with them, and "made a resolution to supply in some degree the deficiency." He spent a long life in studying and telling these beautiful wonders; and yet, so vast is the sum of them, they seem almost as undescribed before, and men to be still as content with vague or conventional representations. On this continent, especially, people fancied that all must be tame and second-hand, everything long since duly analyzed and distributed and put up in appropriate quotations, and nothing left for us poor American children but a preoccupied universe. And yet Thoreau camps down by Walden Pond and shows us that absolutely nothing in Nature has ever yet been described,—not a bird nor a berry of the woods, nor a drop of water, nor a spicula of ice, nor summer, nor winter, nor sun, nor star.
Indeed, no person can portray Nature from any slight or transient acquaintance. A reporter cannot step out between the sessions of a caucus and give a racy abstract of the landscape. It may consume the best hours of many days to certify for one's self the simplest out-door fact, but every such piece of knowledge is intellectually worth the time. Even the driest and barest book of Natural History is good and nutritious, so far as it goes, if it represents genuine acquaintance; one can find summer in January by poring over the Latin catalogues of Massachusetts plants and animals in Hitchcock's Report. The most commonplace out-door society has the same attraction. Every one of those old outlaws who haunt our New England ponds and marshes, water-soaked and soakers of something else,—intimate with the pure fluid in that familiarity which breeds contempt,—has yet a wholesome side when you explore his knowledge of frost and freshet, pickerel and musk-rat, and is exceedingly good company while you can keep him beyond scent of the tavern. Any intelligent farmer's boy can give you some narrative of out-door observation which, so far as it goes, fulfils Milton's definition of poetry, "simple, sensuous, passionate." He may not write sonnets to the lake, but he will walk miles to bathe in it; he may not notice the sunsets, but he knows where to search for the black-bird's nest. How surprised the school-children looked, to be sure, when the Doctor of Divinity from the city tried to sentimentalize, in addressing them, about "the bobolink in the woods"! They knew that the darling of the meadow had no more personal acquaintance with the woods than was exhibited by the preacher.
But the preachers are not much worse than the authors. The prosaic Buckle, to be sure, admits that the poets have in all time been consummate observers, and that their observations have been as valuable as those of the men of science; and yet we look even to the poets for very casual and occasional glimpses of Nature only, not for any continuous reflection of her glory. Thus, Chaucer is perfumed with early spring; Homer resounds like the sea; in the Greek Anthology the sun always shines on the fisherman's cottage by the beach; we associate the Vishnu Purana with lakes and houses, Keats with nightingales in forest dim, while the long grass waving on the lonely heath is the last memorial of the fading fame of Ossian. Of course Shakspeare's omniscience included all natural phenomena; but the rest, great or small, associate themselves with some special aspects, and not with the daily atmosphere. Coming to our own times, one must quarrel with Ruskin as taking rather the artist's view of Nature, selecting the available bits and dealing rather patronizingly with the whole; and one is tempted to charge even Emerson, as he somewhere charges Wordsworth, with not being of a temperament quite liquid and musical enough to admit the full vibration of the great harmonics. The three human foster-children who have been taken nearest into Nature's bosom, perhaps,—an odd triad, surely, for the whimsical nursing mother to select,—are Wordsworth, Bettine Brentano, and Thoreau. Is it yielding to an individual preference too far, to say, that there seems almost a generic difference between these three and any others,—however wide be the specific differences among themselves,—to say that, after all, they in their several paths have attained to an habitual intimacy with Nature, and the rest have not?
Yet what wonderful achievements have some of the fragmentary artists performed! Some of Tennyson's word-pictures, for instance, bear almost as much study as the landscape. One afternoon, last spring, I had been walking through a copse of young white birches,—their leaves scarce yet apparent,—over a ground delicate with wood-anemones, moist and mottled with dog's-tooth-violet leaves, and spangled with the delicate clusters of that shy creature, the Claytonia or Spring Beauty. All this was floored with last year's faded foliage, giving a singular bareness and whiteness to the foreground. Suddenly, as if entering a cavern, I stepped through the edge of all this, into a dark little amphitheatre beneath a hemlock-grove, where the afternoon sunlight struck broadly through the trees upon a tiny stream and a miniature swamp,—this last being intensely and luridly green, yet overlaid with the pale gray of last year's reeds, and absolutely flaming with the gayest yellow light from great clumps of cowslips. The illumination seemed perfectly weird and dazzling; the spirit of the place appeared live, wild, fantastic, almost human. Now open your Tennyson:—