"And the wild marsh-marigold shines like fire in swamps and hollows gray."
Our cowslip is the English marsh-marigold.
History is a grander poetry, and it is often urged that the features of Nature in America must seem tame because they have no legendary wreaths to decorate them. It is perhaps hard for those of us who are untravelled to appreciate how densely even the ruralities of Europe are overgrown with this ivy of associations. Thus, it is fascinating to hear that the great French forests of Fontainebleau and St. Germain are full of historic trees,—the oak of Charlemagne, the oak of Clovis, of Queen Blanche, of Henri Quatre, of Sully,—the alley of Richelieu,—the rendezvous of St. Herem,—the star of Lamballe and of the Princesses, a star being a point where several paths or roads converge. It is said that every topographical work upon these forests has turned out a history of the French monarchy. Yet surely we lose nearly as much as we gain by this subordination of imperishable beauty to the perishable memories of man. It may not be wholly unfortunate, that, in the absence of those influences which come to older nations from ruins and traditions, we must go more directly to Nature. Art may either rest upon other Art, or it may rest directly upon the original foundation; the one is easier, the other more valuable. Direct dependence on Nature leads to deeper thought and affords the promise of far fresher results. Why should I wish to fix my study in Heidelberg Castle, when I possess the unexhausted treasures of this out-door study here?
The walls of my study are of ever-changing verdure, and its roof and floor of ever-varying blue. I never enter it without a new heaven above and new thoughts below. The lake has no lofty shores and no level ones, but a series of undulating hills, fringed with woods from end to end. The profaning axe may sometimes come near the margin, and one may hear the whetting of the scythe; but no cultivated land abuts upon the main lake, though beyond the narrow woods there are here and there glimpses of rye-fields that wave like rolling mist. Graceful islands rise from the quiet waters,—Grape Island, Grass Island, Sharp Pine Island, and the rest, baptized with simple names by departed generations of farmers,—all wooded and bushy and trailing with festoonery of vines. Here and there the banks are indented, and one may pass beneath drooping chestnut-leaves and among alder-branches into some secret sanctuary of stillness. The emerald edges of these silent tarns are starred with dandelions which have strayed here, one scarce knows how, from their foreign home; the buck-bean perchance grows in the water, or the Rhodora fixes here one of its shy camping-places, or there are whole skies of lupine on the sloping banks;—the catbird builds its nest beside us, the yellow-bird above, the wood-thrush sings late and the whippoorwill later, and sometimes the scarlet tanager and his golden-haired bride send a gleam of the tropics through these leafy aisles.
Sometimes I rest in a yet more secluded place amid the waters, where a little wooded island holds a small lagoon in the centre, just wide enough for the wherry to turn round. The entrance lies between two hornbeam trees, which stand close to the brink, spreading over it their thorn-like branches and their shining leaves. Within there is perfect shelter; the island forms a high circular bank, like a coral reef, and shuts out the wind and the passing boats; the surface is paved with leaves of lily and pond-weed, and the boughs above are full of song. No matter what white caps may crest the blue waters of the pond, which here widens out to its broadest reach, there is always quiet here. A few oar-strokes distant lies a dam or water-break, where the whole lake is held under control by certain distant mills, towards which a sluggish stream goes winding on through miles of water-lilies. The old gray timbers of the dam are the natural resort of every boy or boatman within their reach; some come in pursuit of pickerel, some of turtles, some of bull-frogs, some of lilies, some of bathing. It is a good place for the last desideratum, and it is well to leave here the boat tethered to the vines which overhang the cove, and perform a sacred and Oriental ablution beneath the sunny afternoon.
Oh, radiant and divine afternoon! The poets profusely celebrate silver evenings and golden mornings; but what floods on floods of beauty steep the earth and gladden it in the first hours of day's decline! The exuberant rays reflect and multiply themselves from every leaf and blade; the cows lie upon the hill-side, with their broad peaceful backs painted into the landscape; the hum of insects, "tiniest bells on the garment of silence," fills the air; the gorgeous butterflies doze upon the thistle-blooms till they almost fall from the petals; the air is full of warm fragrance from the wild-grape clusters; the grass is burning hot beneath the naked feet in sunshine, and cool as water in the shade. Diving from this overhanging beam,—for Ovid evidently meant that Midas to be cured must dive,—
"Subde caput, corpusque simul, simul elue crinem,"—
one finds as kindly a reception from the water as in childish days, and as safe a shelter in the green dressing-room afterwards; and the patient wherry floats near by, in readiness for a reembarkation.
Here a word seems needed, unprofessionally and non-technically, upon boats,—these being the sole seats provided for occupant or visitor in my out-door study. When wherries first appeared in this peaceful inland community, the novel proportions occasioned remark. Facetious bystanders inquired sarcastically whether that thing were expected to carry more than one,—plainly implying by labored emphasis that it would occasionally be seen tenanted by even less than that number. Transcendental friends inquired, with more refined severity, if the proprietor expected to meditate in that thing? This doubt at least seemed legitimate. Meditation seems to belong to sailing rather than rowing; there is something so gentle and unintrusive in gliding effortless beneath overhanging branches and along the trailing edges of clematis thickets;—what a privilege of fairy-land is this noiseless prow, looking in and out of one flowery cove after another, scarcely stirring the turtle from his log, and leaving no wake behind! It seemed as if all the process of rowing had too much noise and bluster, and as if the sharp slender wherry, in particular, were rather too pert and dapper to win the confidence of the woods and waters. Time has dispelled the fear. As I rest poised upon the oars above some submerged shallow, diamonded with ripple-broken sunbeams, the fantastic Notonecta or water-boatman rests upon his oars below, and I see that his proportions anticipated the wherry, as honeycombs antedated the problem of the hexagonal cell. While one of us rests, so does the other; and when one shoots away rapidly above the water, the other does the same beneath. For the time, as our motions seem the same, so with our motives,—my enjoyment certainly not less, with the conveniences of humanity thrown in.
But the sun is declining low. The club-boats are out, and from island to island in the distance these shafts of youthful life shoot swiftly across. There races some swift Atalanta, with no apple to fall in her path but some soft and spotted oak-apple from an overhanging tree; there the Phantom, with a crew white and ghostlike in the distance, glimmers in and out behind the headlands, while yonder wherry glides lonely across the smooth expanse. The voices of all these oarsmen are dim and almost inaudible, being so far away; but one would scarcely wish that distance should annihilate the ringing laughter of these joyous girls, who come gliding, in a safe and heavy boat, they and some blue dragon-flies together, around yonder wooded point.
Many a summer afternoon have I rowed joyously with these same maidens beneath these steep and garlanded shores; many a time have they pulled the heavy four-oar, with me as coxswain at the helm,—the said patient steersman being oft-times insulted by classical allusions from rival boats, satirically comparing him to an indolent Venus drawn by doves, while the oarswomen in turn were likened to Minerva with her feet upon a tortoise. Many were the disasters in the earlier days of feminine training;—first of toilet, straw hats blowing away, hair coming down, hair-pins strewing the floor of the boat, gloves commonly happening to be off at the precise moment of starting, and trials of speed impaired by somebody's oar catching in somebody's dress-pocket. Then the actual difficulties of handling the long and heavy oars,—the first essays at feathering, with a complicated splash of air and water, as when a wild-duck in rising swims and flies together, and uses neither element handsomely,—the occasional pulling of a particularly vigorous stroke through the atmosphere alone, and at other times the compensating disappearance of nearly the whole oar beneath the liquid surface, as if some Uncle Kuehleborn had grasped it, while our Undine by main strength tugged it from the beguiling wave. But with what triumphant abundance of merriment were these preliminary disasters repaid, and how soon outgrown! What "time" we sometimes made, when nobody happened to be near with a watch, and how successfully we tossed oars in saluting, when the world looked on from a pic-nic! We had our applauses, too. To be sure, owing to the age and dimensions of the original barge, we could not command such a burst of enthusiasm as when the young men shot by us in their race-boat;—but then, as one of the girls justly remarked, we remained longer in sight.
And many a day, since promotion to a swifter craft, have they rowed with patient stroke down the lovely lake, still attended by their guide, philosopher, and coxswain,—along banks where herds of young birch-trees overspread the sloping valley and ran down in a blaze of sunshine to the rippling water,—or through the Narrows, where some breeze rocked the boat till trailing shawls and ribbons were water-soaked, and the bold little foam would even send a daring drop over the gunwale, to play at ocean,—or to Davis's Cottage, where a whole parterre of lupines bloomed to the water's edge, as if relics of some ancient garden-bower of a forgotten race,—or to the dam by Lily Pond, there to hunt among the stones for snakes' eggs, each empty shell cut crosswise, where the young creatures had made their first fierce bite into the universe outside,—or to some island, where white violets bloomed fragrant and lonely, separated by relentless breadths of water from their shore-born sisters, until mingled in their visitors' bouquets,—then up the lake homeward again at nightfall, the boat all decked with clematis, clethra, laurel, azalea, or water-lilies, while purple sunset clouds turned forth their golden linings for drapery above our heads, and then unrolling sent northward long roseate wreaths to outstrip our loitering speed, and reach the floating-bridge before us.
It is nightfall now. One by one the birds grow silent, and the soft dragon-flies, children of the day, are fluttering noiselessly to their rest beneath the under sides of drooping leaves. From shadowy coves the evening air is thrusting forth a thin film of mist to spread a white floor above the waters. The gathering darkness deepens the quiet of the lake, and bids us, at least for this time, to forsake it. "De soir fontaines, de matin montaignes," says the old French proverb,—Morning for labor, evening for repose.
A SERMON IN A STONE.
Harry Jones and Tom Murdock got down from the cars, Near a still country village, and lit their cigars. They had left the hot town for a stroll and a chat, And wandered on looking at this and at that,— Plumed grass with pink clover that waltzed in the breeze, Ruby currants in gardens, and pears on the trees,— Till a green church-yard showed them its sun-checkered gloom, And in they both went and sat down on a tomb. The dead name was mossy; the letters were dim; But they spelled out "James Woodson," and mused upon him, Till Harry said, poring, "I wish I could know What manner of man used the bones down below." Answered Tom,—as he took his cigar from his lip And tapped off the ashes that crusted the tip, His quaint face somewhat shaded with awe and with mystery,— "You shall hear, if you will, the main points in his story."— "You don't mean you knew him? You could not! See here! Why, this, since he died, is the thirtieth year!"— "I never saw him, nor the place where he lay, Nor heard of nor thought of the man, till to-day; But I'll tell you his story, and leave it to you If 'tis not ten to one that my story is true.
"The man whose old mould underneath us is hid Meant a great deal more good and less harm than he did. He knelt in yon church 'mid the worshipping throng, And vowed to do right, but went out to do wrong; For, going up of a Sunday to look at the gate Of Saints' Alley, he stuck there and found it was strait, And slid back of a Monday to walk in the way That is popular, populous, smooth-paved, and gay. The flesh it was strong, but the spirit was faint. He first was too young, then too old, for a saint. He wished well by his neighbors, did well by himself, And hoped for salvation, and struggled for pelf; And easy Tomorrow still promised to pay The still swelling debts of his bankrupt Today, Till, bestriding the deep sudden chasm that is fixed The sunshiny world and the shadowy betwixt, His Today with a pale wond'ring face stood alone, And over the border Tomorrow had flown. So after went he, his accounts as he could To settle and make his loose reckonings good, And left us his tomb and his skeleton under,— Two boons to his race,—to sit down on and ponder. Heaven help him! Yet heaven, I fear, he hath lost. Here lies his poor dust; but where cries his poor ghost? We know not. Perhaps we shall see by-and-by, When out of our coffins we get, you and I."
AGNES OF SORRENTO.
The dreams of Agnes, on the night after her conversation with the monk and her singular momentary interview with the cavalier, were a strange mixture of images, indicating the peculiarities of her education and habits of daily thought.
She dreamed that she was sitting alone in the moonlight, and heard some one rustling in the distant foliage of the orange-groves, and from them came a young man dressed in white of a dazzling clearness like sunlight; large pearly wings fell from his shoulders and seemed to shimmer with a phosphoric radiance; his forehead was broad and grave, and above it floated a thin, tremulous tongue of flame; his eyes had that deep, mysterious gravity which is so well expressed in all the Florentine paintings of celestial beings: and yet, singularly enough, this white-robed, glorified form seemed to have the features and lineaments of the mysterious cavalier of the evening before,—the same deep, mournful, dark eyes, only that in them the light of earthly pride had given place to the calm, strong gravity of an assured peace,—the same broad forehead,—the same delicately chiselled features, but elevated and etherealized, glowing with a kind of interior ecstasy. He seemed to move from the shadow of the orange-trees with a backward floating of his lustrous garments, as if borne on a cloud just along the surface of the ground; and in his hand he held the lily-spray, all radiant with a silvery, living light, just as the monk had suggested to her a divine flower might be. Agnes seemed to herself to hold her breath and marvel with a secret awe, and, as often happens in dreams, she wondered to herself,—"Was this stranger, then, indeed, not even mortal, not even a king's brother, but an angel?—How strange," she said to herself, "that I should never have seen it in his eyes!" Nearer and nearer the vision drew, and touched her forehead with the lily, which seemed dewy and icy cool; and with the contact it seemed to her that a delicious tranquillity, a calm ecstasy, possessed her soul, and the words were impressed in her mind, as if spoken in her ear, "The Lord hath sealed thee for his own!"—and then, with the wild fantasy of dreams, she saw the cavalier in his wonted form and garments, just as he had kneeled to her the night before, and he said, "Oh, Agnes! Agnes! little lamb of Christ, love me and lead me!"—and in her sleep it seemed to her that her heart stirred and throbbed with a strange, new movement in answer to those sad, pleading eyes, and thereafter her dream became more troubled.
The sea was beginning now to brighten with the reflection of the coming dawn in the sky, and the flickering fire of Vesuvius was waxing sickly and pale; and while all the high points of rocks were turning of a rosy purple, in the weird depths of the gorge were yet the unbroken shadows and stillness of night. But at the earliest peep of dawn the monk had risen, and now, as he paced up and down the little garden, his morning hymn mingled with Agnes's dreams,—words strong with all the nerve of the old Latin, which, when they were written, had scarcely ceased to be the spoken tongue of Italy.
Splendor paternae gloriae, De luce lucem proferens, Lux lucis et fons luminis Dies diem illuminans!
"Votis vocemus et Patrem, Patrem potentis gratiae, Patrem perennis gloriae: Culpam releget lubricam!
"Confirmet actus strenuos, Dentes retundat invidi, Casus secundet asperos, Donet gerendi gratiam!
"Christus nobis sit cibus, Potusque noster sit fides: Laeti bibamus sobriam Ebrietatem spiritus!
"Laetus dies hic transeat, Pudor sit ut diluculum, Fides velut meridies, Crepusculum mens nesciat!"[A]
Splendor of the Father's glory, Bringing light with cheering ray, Light of light and fount of brightness, Day, illuminating day!
In our prayers we call thee Father, Father of eternal glory, Father of a mighty grace: Heal our errors, we implore thee!
Form our struggling, vague desires; Power of spiteful spirits break; Help us in life's straits, and give us Grace to suffer for thy sake!
Christ for us shall be our food; Faith in him our drink shall be; Hopeful, joyful, let us drink Soberness of ecstasy!
Joyful shall our day go by, Purity its dawning light, Faith its fervid noontide glow, And for us shall be no night!]
The hymn in every word well expressed the character and habitual pose of mind of the singer, whose views of earthly matters were as different from the views of ordinary working mortals as those of a bird, as he flits and perches and sings, must be from those of the four-footed ox who plods. The "sobriam ebrietatem spiritus" was with him first constitutional, as a child of sunny skies, and then cultivated by every employment and duty of the religious and artistic career to which from childhood he had devoted himself. If perfect, unalloyed happiness has ever existed in this weary, work-day world of ours, it has been in the bosoms of some of those old religious artists of the Middle Ages, whose thoughts grew and flowered in prayerful shadows, bursting into thousands of quaint and fanciful blossoms on the pages of missal and breviary. In them the fine life of color, form, and symmetry, which is the gift of the Italian, formed a rich stock on which to graft the true vine of religious faith, and rare and fervid were the blossoms.
For it must be remarked in justice of the Christian religion, that the Italian people never rose to the honors of originality in the beautiful arts till inspired by Christianity. The Art of ancient Rome was a second-hand copy of the original and airy Greek,—often clever, but never vivid and self-originating. It is to the religious Art of the Middle Ages, to the Umbrian and Florentine schools particularly, that we look for the peculiar and characteristic flowering of the Italian mind. When the old Greek Art revived again in modern Europe, though at first it seemed to add richness and grace to this peculiar development, it smothered and killed it at last, as some brilliant tropical parasite exhausts the life of the tree it seems at first to adorn. Raphael and Michel Angelo mark both the perfected splendor and the commenced decline of original Italian Art; and just in proportion as their ideas grew less Christian and more Greek did the peculiar vividness and intense flavor of Italian nationality pass away from them. They became again like the ancient Romans, gigantic imitators and clever copyists, instead of inspired kings and priests of a national development.
The tones of the monk's morning hymn awakened both Agnes and Elsie, and the latter was on the alert instantly.
"Bless my soul!" she said, "brother Antonio has a marvellous power of lungs; he is at it the first thing in the morning. It always used to be so; when he was a boy, he would wake me up before daylight, singing.
"He is happy, like the birds," said Agnes, "because he flies near heaven."
"Like enough: he was always a pious boy; his prayers and his pencil were ever uppermost: but he was a poor hand at work: he could draw you an olive-tree on paper; but set him to dress it, and any fool would have done better."
The morning rites of devotion and the simple repast being over, Elsie prepared to go to her business. It had occurred to her that the visit of her brother was an admirable pretext for withdrawing Agnes from the scene of her daily traffic, and of course, as she fondly supposed, keeping her from the sight of the suspected admirer.
Neither Agnes nor the monk had disturbed her serenity by recounting the adventure of the evening before. Agnes had been silent from the habitual reserve which a difference of nature ever placed between her and her grandmother,—a difference which made confidence on her side an utter impossibility. There are natures which ever must be silent to other natures, because there is no common language between them. In the same house, at the same board, sharing the same pillow even, are those forever strangers and foreigners whose whole stock of intercourse is limited to a few brief phrases on the commonest material wants of life, and who, as soon as they try to go farther, have no words that are mutually understood.
"Agnes," said her grandmother, "I shall not need you at the stand to-day. There is that new flax to be spun, and you may keep company with your uncle. I'll warrant me, you'll be glad enough of that!"
"Certainly I shall," said Agnes, cheerfully. "Uncle's comings are my holidays."
"I will show you somewhat further on my Breviary," said the monk. "Praised be God, many new ideas sprang up in my mind last night, and seemed to shoot forth in blossoms. Even my dreams have often been made fruitful in this divine work."
"Many a good thought comes in dreams," said Elsie; "but, for my part, I work too hard and sleep too sound to get much that way."
"Well, brother," said Elsie, after breakfast, "you must look well after Agnes to-day; for there be plenty of wolves go round, hunting these little lambs."
"Have no fear, sister," said the monk, tranquilly; "the angels have her in charge. If our eyes were only clear-sighted, we should see that Christ's little ones are never alone."
"All that is fine talk, brother; but I never found that the angels attended to any of my affairs, unless I looked after them pretty sharp myself; and as for girls, the dear Lord knows they need a legion apiece to look after them. What with roystering fellows and smooth-tongued gallants, and with silly, empty-headed hussies like that Giulietta, one has much ado to keep the best of them straight. Agnes is one of the best, too,—a well-brought up, pious, obedient girl, and industrious as a bee. Happy is the husband who gets her. I would I knew a man good enough for her."
This conversation took place while Agnes was in the garden picking oranges and lemons, and filling the basket which her grandmother was to take to the town. The silver ripple of a hymn that she was singing came through the open door; it was part of a sacred ballad in honor of Saint Agnes:—
"Bring me no pearls to bind my hair, No sparkling jewels bring to me! Dearer by far the blood-red rose That speaks of Him who died for me.
"Ah! vanish every earthly love, All earthly dreams forgotten be! My heart is gone beyond the stars, To live with Him who died for me."
"Hear you now, sister," said the monk, "how the Lord keeps the door of this maiden's heart? There is no fear of her; and I much doubt, sister, whether you would do well to interfere with the evident call this child hath to devote herself wholly to the Lord."
"Oh, you talk, brother Antonio, who never had a child in your life, and don't know how a mother's heart warms towards her children and her children's children! The saints, as I said, must be reasonable, and oughtn't to be putting vocations into the head of an old woman's only staff and stay; and if they oughtn't to, why, then, they won't. Agnes is a pious child, and loves her prayers and hymns; and so she will love her husband, one of these days, as an honest woman should."
"But you know, sister, that the highest seats in Paradise are reserved for the virgins who follow the Lamb."
"Maybe so," said Elsie, stiffly; "but the lower seats are good enough for Agnes and me. For my part, I would rather have a little comfort as I go along, and put up with less in Paradise, (may our dear Lady bring us safely there!) say I."
So saying, Elsie raised the large, square basket of golden fruit to her head, and turned her stately figure towards the scene of her daily labors.
The monk seated himself on the garden-wall, with his portfolio by his side, and seemed busily sketching and retouching some of his ideas. Agnes wound some silvery-white flax round her distaff, and seated herself near him under an orange-tree; and while her small fingers were twisting the flax, her large, thoughtful eyes were wandering off on the deep blue sea, pondering over and over the strange events of the day before, and the dreams of the night.
"Dear child," said the monk, "have you thought more of what I said to you?"
A deep blush suffused her cheek as she answered,—
"Yes, uncle; and I had a strange dream last night."
"A dream, my little heart? Come, then, and tell it to its uncle. Dreams are the hushing of the bodily senses, that the eyes of the Spirit may open."
"Well, then," said Agnes, "I dreamed that I sat pondering as I did last evening in the moonlight, and that an angel came forth from the trees"—
"Indeed!" said the monk, looking up with interest; "what form had he?"
"He was a young man, in dazzling white raiment, and his eyes were deep as eternity, and over his forehead was a silver flame, and he bore a lily-stalk in his hand, which was like what you told of, with light in itself."
"That must have been the holy Gabriel," said the monk, "the angel that came to our blessed Mother. Did he say aught?"
"Yes, he touched my forehead with the lily, and a sort of cool rest and peace went all through me, and he said, 'The Lord hath sealed thee for his own!'"
"Even so," said the monk, looking up, and crossing himself devoutly, "by this token I know that my prayers are answered."
"But, dear uncle," said Agnes, hesitating and blushing painfully, "there was one singular thing about my dream,—this holy angel had yet a strange likeness to the young man that came here last night, so that I could not but marvel at it."
"It may be that the holy angel took on him in part this likeness to show how glorious a redeemed soul might become, that you might be encouraged to pray. The holy Saint Monica thus saw the blessed Augustine standing clothed in white among the angels while he was yet a worldling and unbeliever, and thereby received the grace to continue her prayers for thirty years, till she saw him a holy bishop. This is a sure sign that this young man, whoever he may be, shall attain Paradise through your prayers. Tell me, dear little heart, is this the first angel thou hast seen?"
"I never dreamed of them before. I have dreamed of our Lady, and Saint Agnes, and Saint Catharine of Siena; and sometimes it seemed that they sat a long time by my bed, and sometimes it seemed that they took me with them away to some beautiful place where the air was full of music, and sometimes they filled my hands with such lovely flowers that when I waked I was ready to weep that they could no more be found. Why, dear uncle, do you see angels often?"
"Not often, dear child, but sometimes a little glimpse. But you should see the pictures of our holy Father Angelico, to whom the angels appeared constantly; for so blessed was the life he lived, that it was more in heaven than on earth. He would never cumber his mind with the things of this world, and would not paint for money, nor for prince's favor; nor would he take places of power and trust in the Church, or else, so great was his piety, they had made a bishop of him; but he kept ever aloof and walked in the shade. He used to say, 'They that would do Christ's work must walk with Christ.' His pictures of angels are indeed wonderful, and their robes are of all dazzling colors, like the rainbow. It is most surely believed among us that he painted to show forth what he saw in heavenly visions."
"Ah!" said Agnes, "how I wish I could see some of these things!"
"You may well say so, dear child. There is one picture of Paradise painted on gold, and there you may see our Lord in the midst of the heavens crowning his blessed Mother, and all the saints and angels surrounding; and the colors are so bright that they seem like the sunset clouds,—golden, and rosy, and purple, and amethystine, and green like the new, tender leaves of spring: for, you see, the angels are the Lord's flowers and birds that shine and sing to gladden his Paradise, and there is nothing bright on earth that is comparable to them,—so said the blessed Angelico, who saw them. And what seems worthy of note about them is their marvellous lightness, that they seem to float as naturally as the clouds do, and their garments have a divine grace of motion like vapor that curls and wavers in the sun. Their faces, too, are most wonderful; for they seem so full of purity and majesty, and withal humble, with an inexpressible sweetness; for, beyond all others, it was given to the holy Angelico to paint the immortal beauty of the soul."
"It must be a great blessing and favor for you, dear uncle, to see all these things," said Agnes; "I am never tired of hearing you tell of them."
"There is one little picture," said the monk, "wherein he hath painted the death of our dear Lady; and surely no mortal could ever conceive anything like her sweet dying face, so faint and weak and tender that each man sees his own mother dying there, yet so holy that one feels that it can be no other than the mother of our Lord; and around her stand the disciples mourning; but above is our blessed Lord himself, who receives the parting spirit, as a tender new-born babe, into his bosom: for so the holy painters represented the death of saints, as of a birth in which each soul became a little child of heaven."
"How great grace must come from such pictures!" said Agnes. "It seems to me that the making of such holy things is one of the most blessed of good works.—Dear uncle," she said, after a pause, "they say that this deep gorge is haunted by evil spirits, who often waylay and bewilder the unwary, especially in the hours of darkness."
"I should not wonder in the least," said the monk; "for you must know, child, that our beautiful Italy was of old so completely given up and gone over to idolatry that even her very soil casts up fragments of temples and stones that have been polluted. Especially around these shores there is scarcely a spot that hath not been violated in all times by vilenesses and impurities such as the Apostle saith it is a shame even to speak of. These very waters cast up marbles and fragments of colored mosaics from the halls which were polluted with devil-worship and abominable revellings; so that, as the Gospel saith that the evil spirits cast out by Christ walk through waste places, so do they cling to these fragments of their old estate."
"Well, uncle, I have longed to consecrate the gorge to Christ by having a shrine there, where I might keep a lamp burning."
"It is a most pious thought, child."
"And so, dear uncle, I thought that you would undertake the work. There is one Pietro hereabout who is a skilful worker in stone, and was a playfellow of mine,—though of late grandmamma has forbidden me to talk with him,—and I think he would execute it under your direction."
"Indeed, my little heart, it shall be done," said the monk, cheerfully; "and I will engage to paint a fair picture of our Lady to be within; and I think it would be a good thought to have a pinnacle on the outside, where should stand a statue of Saint Michael with his sword. Saint Michael is a brave and wonderful angel, and all the devils and vile spirits are afraid of him. I will set about the devices to-day."
And cheerily the good monk began to intone a verse of an old hymn,—
"Sub tutela Michaelis, Pax in terra, pax in coelis."[B]
"'Neath Saint Michael's watch is given Peace on earth and peace in heaven."]
In such talk and work the day passed away to Agnes; but we will not say that she did not often fall into deep musings on the mysterious visitor of the night before. Often while the good monk was busy at his drawing, the distaff would droop over her knee and her large dark eyes become intently fixed on the ground, as if she were pondering some absorbing subject.
Little could her literal, hard-working grandmother, or her artistic, simple-minded uncle, or the dreamy Mother Theresa, or her austere confessor, know of the strange forcing process which they were all together uniting to carry on in the mind of this sensitive young girl. Absolutely secluded by her grandmother's watchful care from any actual knowledge and experience of real life, she had no practical tests by which to correct the dreams of that inner world in which she delighted to live and move, and which was peopled with martyrs, saints, and angels, whose deeds were possible or probable only in the most exalted regions of devout poetry.
So she gave her heart at once and without reserve to an enthusiastic desire for the salvation of the stranger, whom Heaven, she believed, had directed to seek her intercessions; and when the spindle drooped from her hand, and her eyes became fixed on vacancy, she found herself wondering who he might really be, and longing to know yet a little more of him.
Towards the latter part of the afternoon, a hasty messenger came to summon her uncle to administer the last rites to a man who had just fallen from a building, and who, it was feared, might breathe his last unshriven.
"Dear daughter, I must hasten and carry Christ to this poor sinner," said the monk, hastily putting all his sketches and pencils into her lap. "Have a care of these till I return,—that is my good little one!"
Agnes carefully arranged the sketches and put them into the book, and then, kneeling before the shrine, began prayers for the soul of the dying man.
She prayed long and fervently, and so absorbed did she become, that she neither saw nor heard anything that passed around her.
It was, therefore, with a start of surprise, as she rose from prayer, that she saw the cavalier sitting on one end of the marble sarcophagus, with an air so composed and melancholy that he might have been taken for one of the marble knights that sometimes are found on tombs.
"You are surprised to see me, dear Agnes," he said, with a calm, slow utterance, like a man who has assumed a position he means fully to justify; "but I have watched day and night, ever since I saw you, to find one moment to speak with you alone."
"My Lord," said Agnes, "I humbly wait your pleasure. Anything that a poor maiden may rightly do I will endeavor, in all loving duty."
"Whom do you take me for, Agnes, that you speak thus?" said the cavalier, smiling sadly.
"Are you not the brother of our gracious King?" said Agnes.
"No, dear maiden; and if the kind promise you lately made me is founded on this mistake, it may be retracted."
"No, my Lord," said Agnes,—"though I now know not who you are, yet if in any strait or need you seek such poor prayers as mine, God forbid I should refuse them!"
"I am, indeed, in strait and need, Agnes; the sun does not shine on a more desolate man than I am,—one more utterly alone in the world; there is no one left to love me. Agnes, can you not love me a little?—let it be ever so little, it shall content me."
It was the first time that words of this purport had ever been addressed to Agnes; but they were said so simply, so sadly, so tenderly, that they somehow seemed to her the most natural and proper things in the world to be said; and this poor handsome knight, who looked so earnest and sorrowful,—how could she help answering, "Yes"? From her cradle she had always loved everybody and every thing, and why should an exception be made in behalf of a very handsome, very strong, yet very gentle and submissive human being, who came and knocked so humbly at the door of her heart? Neither Mary nor the saints had taught her to be hard-hearted.
"Yes, my Lord," she said, "you may believe that I will love and pray for you; but now you must leave me, and not come here any more,—because grandmamma would not be willing that I should talk with you, and it would be wrong to disobey her, she is so very good to me."
"But, dear Agnes," began the cavalier, approaching her, "I have many things to say to you,—I have much to tell you."
"But I know grandmamma would not be willing," said Agnes; "indeed, you must not come here any more."
"Well, then," said the stranger, "at least you will meet me at some time,—tell me only where."
"I cannot,—indeed, I cannot," said Agnes, distressed and embarrassed. "Even now, if grandmamma knew you were here, she would be so angry."
"But how can you pray for me, when you know nothing of me?"
"The dear Lord knoweth you," said Agnes; "and when I speak of you, He will know what you need."
"Ah, dear child, how fervent is your faith! Alas for me, I have lost the power of prayer! I have lost the believing heart my mother gave me,—my dear mother who is now in heaven."
"Ah, how can that be?" said Agnes. "Who could lose faith in so dear a Lord as ours, and so loving a mother?"
"Agnes, dear little lamb, you know nothing of the world; and I should be most wicked to disturb your lovely peace of soul with any sinful doubts. Oh, Agnes, Agnes, I am most miserable, most unworthy!"
"Dear Sir, should you not cleanse your soul by the holy sacrament of confession, and receive the living Christ within you? For He says, 'Without me ye can do nothing.'"
"Oh, Agnes, sacrament and prayer are not for such as me! It is only through your pure prayers I can hope for grace."
"Dear Sir, I have an uncle, a most holy man, and gentle as a lamb. He is of the convent San Marco in Florence, where there is a most holy prophet risen up."
"Savonarola?" said the cavalier, with flashing eyes.
"Yes, that is he. You should hear my uncle talk of him, and how blessed his preaching has been to many souls. Dear Sir, come some time to my uncle."
At this moment the sound of Elsie's voice was heard ascending the path to the gorge outside, talking with Father Antonio, who was returning.
Both started, and Agnes looked alarmed.
"Fear nothing, sweet lamb," said the cavalier; "I am gone."
He kneeled and kissed the hand of Agnes, and disappeared at one bound over the parapet on the side opposite that which they were approaching.
Agnes hastily composed herself, struggling with that half-guilty feeling which is apt to weigh on a conscientious nature that has been unwittingly drawn to act a part which would be disapproved by those whose good opinion it habitually seeks. The interview had but the more increased her curiosity to know the history of this handsome stranger. Who, then, could he be? What were his troubles? She wished the interview could have been long enough to satisfy her mind on these points. From the richness of his dress, from his air and manner, from the poetry and the jewel that accompanied it, she felt satisfied, that, if not what she supposed, he was at least nobly born, and had shone in some splendid sphere whose habits and ways were far beyond her simple experiences. She felt towards him somewhat of the awe which a person of her condition in life naturally felt toward that brilliant aristocracy which in those days assumed the state of princes, and the members of which were supposed to look down on common mortals from as great a height as the stars regard the humblest flowers of the field.
"How strange," she thought, "that he should think so much of me! What can he see in me? And how can it be that a great lord, who speaks so gently and is so reverential to a poor girl, and asks prayers so humbly, can be so wicked and unbelieving as he says he is? Dear God, it cannot be that he is an unbeliever; the great Enemy has been permitted to try him, to suggest doubts to him, as he has to holy saints before now. How beautifully he spoke about his mother!—tears glittered in his eyes then,—ah, there must be grace there after all!"
"Well, my little heart," said Elsie, interrupting her reveries, "have you had a pleasant day?"
"Delightful, grandmamma," said Agnes, blushing deeply with consciousness.
"Well," said Elsie, with satisfaction, "one thing I know,—I've frightened off that old hawk of a cavalier with his hooked nose. I haven't seen so much as the tip of his shoe-tie to-day. Yesterday he made himself very busy around our stall; but I made him understand that you never would come there again till the coast was clear."
The monk was busily retouching the sketch of the Virgin of the Annunciation. He looked up, and saw Agnes standing gazing towards the setting sun, the pale olive of her cheek deepening into a crimson flush. His head was too full of his own work to give much heed to the conversation that had passed, but, looking at the glowing face, he said to himself,—
"Truly, sometimes she might pass for the rose of Sharon as well as the lily of the valley!"
The moon that evening rose an hour later than the night before, yet found Agnes still on her knees before the sacred shrine, while Elsie, tired, grumbled at the draft on her sleeping-time.
"Enough is as good as a feast," she remarked between her teeth; still she had, after all, too much secret reverence for her grandchild's piety openly to interrupt her. But in those days, as now, there were the material and the spiritual, the souls who looked only on things that could be seen, touched, and tasted, and souls who looked on the things that were invisible.
Agnes was pouring out her soul in that kind of yearning, passionate prayer possible to intensely sympathetic people, in which the interests and wants of another seem to annihilate for a time personal consciousness, and make the whole of one's being seem to dissolve in an intense solicitude for something beyond one's self. In such hours prayer ceases to be an act of the will, and resembles more some overpowering influence which floods the soul from without, bearing all its faculties away on its resistless tide.
Brought up from infancy to feel herself in a constant circle of invisible spiritual agencies, Agnes received this wave of intense feeling as an impulse inspired and breathed into her by some celestial spirit, that thus she should be made an interceding medium for a soul in some unknown strait or peril. For her faith taught her to believe in an infinite struggle of intercession in which all the Church Visible and Invisible were together engaged, and which bound them in living bonds of sympathy to an interceding Redeemer, so that there was no want or woe of human life that had not somewhere its sympathetic heart, and its never-ceasing prayer before the throne of Eternal Love. Whatever may be thought of the actual truth of this belief, it certainly was far more consoling than that intense individualism of modern philosophy which places every soul alone in its life-battle,—scarce even giving it a God to lean upon.
The reader, if a person of any common knowledge of human nature, will easily see the direction in which a young, inexperienced, and impressible girl would naturally be tending under all the influences which we perceive to have come upon her.
But in the religious faith which Agnes professed there was a modifying force, whose power both for good and evil can scarcely be estimated.
The simple Apostolic direction, "Confess your faults one to another," and the very natural need of personal pastoral guidance and assistance to a soul in its heavenward journey, had in common with many other religious ideas been forced by the volcanic fervor of the Italian nature into a certain exaggerated proposition. Instead of brotherly confession one to another, or the pastoral sympathy of a fatherly elder, the religious mind of the day was instructed in an awful mysterious sacrament of confession, which gave to some human being a divine right to unlock the most secret chambers of the soul, to scrutinize and direct its most veiled and intimate thoughts, and, standing in God's stead, to direct the current of its most sensitive and most mysterious emotions.
Every young aspirant for perfection in the religious life had to commence by an unreserved surrender of the whole being in blind faith at the feet of some such spiritual director, all whose questions must be answered, and all whose injunctions obeyed, as from God himself. Thenceforward was to be no soul-privacy, no retirement, nothing too sacred to be expressed, too delicate to be handled and analyzed. In reading the lives of those ethereally made and moulded women who have come down to our day canonized as saints in the Roman Catholic communion, one too frequently gets the impression of most regal natures, gifted with all the most divine elements of humanity, but subjected to a constant unnatural pressure from the ceaseless scrutiny and ungenial pertinacity of some inferior and uncomprehending person invested with the authority of a Spiritual Director.
That there are advantages attending this species of intimate direction, when wisely and skilfully managed, cannot be doubted. Grovelling and imperfect natures have often thus been lifted up and carried in the arms of superior wisdom and purity. The confession administered by a Fenelon or a Francis de Sales was doubtless a beautiful and most invigorating ordinance; but the difficulty in its actual working is the rarity of such superior natures,—the fact, that the most ignorant and most incapable may be invested with precisely the same authority as the most intelligent and skilful.
He to whom the faith of Agnes obliged her to lay open her whole soul, who had a right with probing-knife and lancet to dissect out all the finest nerves and fibres of her womanly nature, was a man who had been through all the wild and desolating experiences incident to a dissipated and irregular life in those turbulent days.
It is true, that he was now with most stringent and earnest solemnity striving to bring every thought and passion into captivity to the spirit of his sacred vows; but still, when a man has once lost that unconscious soul-purity which exists in a mind unscathed by the fires of passion, no after-tears can weep it back again. No penance, no prayer, no anguish of remorse can give back the simplicity of a soul that has never been stained.
If Padre Francesco had not failed to make those inquiries into the character of Agnes's mysterious lover which he assumed to be necessary as a matter of pastoral faithfulness.
It was not difficult for one possessing the secrets of the confessional to learn the real character of any person in the neighborhood, and it was with a kind of bitter satisfaction which rather surprised himself that the father learned enough ill of the cavalier to justify his using every possible measure to prevent his forming any acquaintance with Agnes. He was captain of a band of brigands, and, of course, in array against the State; he was excommunicated, and, of course, an enemy of the Church. What but the vilest designs could be attributed to such a man? Was he not a wolf prowling round the green, secluded pastures where as yet the Lord's lamb had been folded in unconscious innocence?
Father Francesco, when he next met Agnes at the confessional, put such questions as drew from her the whole account of all that had passed between her and the stranger. The recital on Agnes's part was perfectly translucent and pure, for she had said no word and had had no thought that brought the slightest stain upon her soul. Love and prayer had been the prevailing habit of her life, and in promising to love and pray she had had no worldly or earthly thought. The language of gallantry, or even of sincere passion, had never reached her ear; but it had always been as natural to her to love every human being as for a plant with tendrils to throw them round the next plant, and therefore she entertained the gentle guest who had lately found room in her heart without a question or a scruple.
As Agnes related her childlike story of unconscious faith and love, her listener felt himself strangely and bitterly agitated. It was a vision of ignorant purity and unconsciousness rising before him, airy and glowing as a child's soap-bubble, which one touch might annihilate; but he felt a strange remorseful tenderness, a yearning admiration, at its unsubstantial purity. There is something pleading and pitiful in the simplicity of perfect ignorance,—a rare and delicate beauty in its freshness, like the morning-glory cup, which, once withered by the heat, no second morning can restore. Agnes had imparted to her confessor, by a mysterious sympathy, something like the morning freshness of her own soul; she had redeemed the idea of womanhood from gross associations, and set before him a fair ideal of all that female tenderness and purity may teach to man. Her prayers—well he believed in them,—but be set his teeth with a strange spasm of inward passion,—when he thought of her prayers and love being given to another. He tried to persuade himself that this was only the fervor of pastoral zeal against a vile robber who had seized the fairest lamb of the sheepfold; but there was an intensely bitter, miserable feeling connected with it, that scorched and burned his higher aspirations like a stream of lava running among fresh leaves and flowers.
The conflict of his soul communicated a severity of earnestness to his voice and manner which made Agnes tremble, as he put one probing question after another, designed to awaken some consciousness of sin in her soul. Still, though troubled and distressed by his apparent disapprobation, her answers came always clear, honest, unfaltering, like those of one who could not form an idea of evil.
When the confession was over, he came out of his recess to speak with Agnes a few words face to face. His eyes had a wild and haggard earnestness, and a vivid hectic flush on either cheek told how extreme was his emotion. Agnes lifted her eyes to his with an innocent wondering trouble and an appealing confidence that for a moment wholly unnerved him. He felt a wild impulse to clasp her in his arms; and for a moment it seemed to him he would sacrifice heaven and brave hell, if he could for one moment hold her to his heart, and say that he loved her,—her, the purest, fairest, sweetest revelation of God's love that had ever shone on his soul,—her, the only star, the only flower, the only dew-drop of a burning, barren, weary life. It seemed to him that it was not the longing, gross passion, but the outcry of his whole nature for something noble, sweet, and divine.
But he turned suddenly away with a sort of groan, and, folding his robe over his face, seemed engaged in earnest prayer. Agnes looked at him awe-struck and breathless.
"Oh, my father!" she faltered, "what have I done?"
"Nothing, my poor child," said the father, suddenly turning toward her with recovered calmness and dignity; "but I behold in thee a fair lamb whom the roaring lion is seeking to devour. Know, my daughter, that I have made inquiries concerning this man of whom you speak, and find that he is an outlaw and a robber and a heretic,—a vile wretch stained by crimes that have justly drawn down upon him the sentence of excommunication from our Holy Father the Pope."
Agnes grew deadly pale at this announcement.
"Can it be possible?" she gasped. "Alas! what dreadful temptations have driven him to such sins?"
"Daughter, beware how you think too lightly of them, or suffer his good looks and flattering words to blind you to their horror. You must from your heart detest him as a vile enemy."
"Must I, my father?"
"Indeed you must."
"But if the dear Lord loved us and died for us when we were his enemies, may we not pity and pray for unbelievers? Oh, say, my dear father, is it not allowed to us to pray for all sinners, even the vilest?"
"I do not say that you may not, my daughter," said the monk, too conscientious to resist the force of this direct appeal; "but, daughter," he added, with an energy that alarmed Agnes, "you must watch your heart; you must not suffer your interest to become a worldly love: remember that you are chosen to be the espoused of Christ alone."
While the monk was speaking thus, Agnes fixed on him her eyes with an innocent mixture of surprise and perplexity,—which gradually deepened into a strong gravity of gaze, as if she were looking through him, through all visible things into some far-off depth of mysterious knowledge.
"My Lord will keep me," she said; "my soul is safe in His heart as a little bird in its nest; but while I love Him, I cannot help loving everybody whom He loves, even His enemies: and, father, my heart prays within me for this poor sinner, whether I will or no; something within me continually intercedes for him."
"Oh, Agnes! Agnes! blessed child, pray for me also," said the monk, with a sudden burst of emotion which perfectly confounded his disciple. He hid his face with his hands.
"My blessed father!" said Agnes, "how could I deem that holiness like yours had any need of my prayers?"
"Child! child! you know nothing of me. I am a miserable sinner, tempted of devils, in danger of damnation."
Agnes stood appalled at this sudden burst, so different from the rigid and restrained severity of tone in which the greater part of the conversation had been conducted. She stood silent and troubled; while he, whom she had always regarded with such awful veneration, seemed shaken by some internal whirlwind of emotion whose nature she could not comprehend.
At length Father Francesco raised his head, and recovered his wonted calm severity of expression.
"My daughter," he said, "little do the innocent lambs of the flock know of the dangers and conflicts through which the shepherds must pass who keep the Lord's fold. We have the labors of angels laid upon us, and we are but men. Often we stumble, often we faint, and Satan takes advantage of our weakness. I cannot confer with you now as I would; but, my child, listen to my directions. Shun this young man; let nothing ever lead you to listen to another word from him; you must not even look at him, should you meet, but turn away your head and repeat a prayer. I do not forbid you to practise the holy work of intercession for his soul, but it must be on these conditions.
"My father," said Agnes, "you may rely on my obedience"; and, kneeling, she kissed his hand.
He drew it suddenly away, with a gesture of pain and displeasure.
"Pardon a sinful child this liberty," said Agnes.
"You know not what you do," said the father, hastily. "Go, my daughter,—go, at once; I will confer with you some other time"; and hastily raising his hand in an attitude of benediction, he turned and went into the confessional.
"Wretch! hypocrite! whited sepulchre!" he said to himself,—"to warn this innocent child against a sin that is all the while burning in my own bosom! Yes, I do love her,—I do! I, that warn her against earthly love, I would plunge into hell itself to win hers! And yet, when I know that the care of her soul is only a temptation and a snare to me, I cannot, will not give her up! No, I cannot!—no, I will not! Why should I not love her? Is she not pure as Mary herself? Ah, blessed is he whom such a woman leads! And I—I—have condemned myself to the society of swinish, ignorant, stupid monks,—I must know no such divine souls, no such sweet communion! Help me, blessed Mary!—help a miserable sinner!"
Agnes left the confessional perplexed and sorrowful. The pale, proud, serious face of the cavalier seemed to look at her imploringly, and she thought of him now with the pathetic interest we give to something noble and great exposed to some fatal danger. "Could the sacrifice of my whole life," she thought, "rescue this noble soul from perdition, then I shall not have lived in vain. I am a poor little girl; nobody knows whether I live or die. He is a strong and powerful man, and many must stand or fall with him. Blessed be the Lord that gives to his lowly ones a power to work in secret places! How blessed should I be to meet him in Paradise, all splendid as I saw him in my dream! Oh, that would be worth living for,—worth dying for!"
* * * * *
The sumptuous abode of Licinius Crassus echoes with his sighs and groans. His children and slaves respect his profound sorrow, and leave him with intelligent affection to solitude,—that friend of great grief, so grateful to the afflicted soul, because tears can flow unwitnessed. Alas! the favorite sea-eel of Crassus is dead, and it is uncertain whether Crassus can survive it!
This sensitive Roman caused his beloved fish to be buried with great magnificence: he raised a monument to its memory, and never ceased to mourn for it. So say Macrobius and Aelian.
This man, we are told, who displayed so little tenderness towards his servants, had an extraordinary weakness concerning his fine sea-eels. He passed his life beside the superb fish-pond, where he lovingly fattened them from his own hand. Nor was his fondness for pisciculture exceptional in his times. The fish-pond, to raise and breed the finest varieties of fish, was as necessary an adjunct to a complete establishment as a barn-yard or hen-coop to a modern farmer or rural gentleman. Wherever there was a well-appointed Roman villa, it contained a piscina; while many gardens near the sea could boast also a vivarium, which, in this connection, means an oyster-bed.
Fish-ponds, of course, varied with the wealth, the ingenuity, and the taste of their owners. Many were of vast size and of heterogeneous contents. The costly Muraena, the carp, the turbot, and many other varieties, sported at will in the great inclosures prepared for them. The greater part of the Roman emperors were very fond of sea-eels. The greedy Vitellius, growing tired of this dish, would at last, as Suetonius assures us, eat only the soft roe; and numerous vessels ploughed the seas in order to obtain it for him. The family of Licinius took their surname of Muraena from these fish, in order thus to perpetuate their silly affection for them. The love of fish became a real mania, and the Murcena Helena was worshipped.
Hortensius, who possessed three splendid country-seats, constructed in the grounds of his villa at Bauli a fish-tank so massive that it has endured to the present day, and so vast as to gain for it even then the name of Piscina Mircihilis. It is a subterraneous edifice, vaulted, and divided by four rows of arcades and numerous columns,—some ten feet deep, and of very great extent. Here the largest fishes could be fattened at will; and even the mighty sturgeon, prince of good-cheer, might find ample accommodations.
Lucullus, that most ostentatious of patricians, and autocrat of bons-vivants, had a mountain cut through in the neighborhood of Naples, so as to open a canal, and bring up the sea and its fishes to the centre of the gardens of his sumptuous villa. So Cicero well names him one of the Tritons of fish-pools. His country-seat of Pausilypum resembled a village rather than a villa, and, if of less extent, was more magnificent in luxury than the gigantic villa of Hadrian, near Tivoli. Great masses of stone-work are still visible, glimmering under the blue water, where the marble walls repelled the waves, and ran out in long arcades and corridors far into the sea. Inlets and creeks, which wear even now an artificial air, mark the site of piscinae and refreshing lakes. Here were courts, baths, porticoes, and terraces, in the villa urbana, or residence of the lord,—the villa rustica for the steward and slaves,—the gallinarium for hens,—the apiarium for bees,—the suile for swine,—the villa fructuaria, including the buildings for storing corn, wine, oil, and fruits,—the horius, or garden,—and the park, containing the fish-pond and the vivarium. Statues, groves, and fountains, pleasure-boats, baths, jesters, and even a small theatre, served to vary the amusements of the lovely grounds and of the tempting sea.
But it was not to be supposed that men satiated with the brutal shows of the amphitheatre, even if enervated by their frequentation of the Suburra, could, on leaving the city, be always content with simple pleasures, rural occupations, or pleasure-sails. Habit demanded something more exciting; and the ready tragedy of a fish-pond filled with ravenous eels fed upon human flesh furnished the needed excitement. For men blase with the spectacles of lions and tigers lacerating the bestiarii. It was much more exciting to witness a swarm of sea-eels tearing to pieces an awkward or rebellious slave. Vedius Pollio, a Roman knight of the highest distinction, could find nothing better to do for his dear Muraenae than to throw them slaves alive; and he never failed to have sea-eels served to him after their odious repast, says Tertullian. It is true, these wretched creatures generally deserved this terrible punishment; for instance, Seneca speaks of one who had the awkwardness to break a crystal vase while waiting at supper on the irascible Pollio.
Pisciculture was carried so far that fish-ponds were constructed on the roofs of houses. More practical persons conducted a stream of river-water through their dining-rooms, so that the fish swam under the table, and it "was only necessary to stoop and pick them out the moment before eating them; and as they were often cooked on the table, their perfect freshness was thus insured. Martial (Lib. X., Epigram. XXX., vv. 16-25) alludes to this custom, as well as to the culture and taming of fish in the piscina.
"Nec seta largo quaerit in mari praedam, Sed e cubiclo lectuloque jactatam Spectatus alte lineam trahit piscis. Si quando Nereus sentit Aeoli regnum, Ridet procellas tula de suo mensa. Piscina rhombum pascit et lupos vernas, Nomenculator mugilem citat notum Et adesse jussi prodeunt senes mulli."
It having been remarked that the red mullet passed through many changes of color in dying, like the dolphin, fashion decreed that it should die upon the table. Served alive, inclosed in a glass vessel, it was cooked in the presence of the attentive guests, by a slow fire, in order that they might gloat upon its sufferings and expiring hues, before satisfying their appetites with its flesh.
It will not surprise us to learn that the eminent gourmand Apicius offered a prize to the inventor of a new sauce made of mullets' livers.
But we may remark, that fish, like all other natural objects, were studied by the ancients only to pet or to eat. All their views of Nature were essentially selfish; none were disinterested, reverential, deductive, or scientific. Nature ministered only to their appetites, in her various kinds of food,—to their service, in her beasts of burden,—or to their childish or ferocious amusement, with talking birds, as the starling, with pet fish, or with pugnacious wild beasts. There was no higher thought. The Greeks, though fond of flowers, and employing them for a multitude of adornments and festive occasions entirely unequalled now, yet did not advance to their botanical study or classification. The Roman, if enamored of the fine arts, could see no Art in Nature. There was no experiment, no discovery, and but little observation. The whole science of Natural History, which has assumed such magnitude and influence in our times, was then almost entirely neglected.
And yet what an opportunity there was for the naturalist, had a single enthusiast arisen? All lands, all climes, and all their natural productions were subservient to the will of the Emperor. The orb of the earth was searched for the roe of eels or the fins of mullets to gratify Caesar. And the whole world might have been explored, and specimens deposited in one gigantic museum in the Eternal City, at the nod of a single individual. But the observer, the lover of Nature, was wanting; and the whole world was ransacked merely to consign its living tenants to the vivaria, and thence to the fatal arena of the amphitheatre. Yet even here the naturalist might have pursued his studies on individuals, and even whole species, both living and dead, without quitting Rome. The animal kingdom lay tributary at his feet, but served only to satiate his appetite or his passions, and not to enrich his mind.
So, again, Rome's armies traversed the globe, and her legions were often explorers of hitherto unknown regions. But no men of science, no corps of savans was attached to her cohorts, to march in the footsteps of conquest and gather the fruits of victory to enrich the schools. Provinces were devastated, great cities plundered, nations made captive, and all the masterpieces of Art borne off to adorn Rome. But Nature was never rifled of her secrets; nor was discovery carried beyond the most material things. The military spirit stifled natural science.
There were then, to be sure, no tendencies of thought to anything but war, pleasure, literature, or art. There was comparatively no knowledge of the physical sciences, whose culture Mr. Buckle has shown to have exerted so powerful an influence on civilization. The convex lens—as since developed into the microscope, the giver of a new world to man—was known to Archimedes only as an instrument to burn the enemy's fleet.
* * * * *
Modern pisciculture in some measure imitates, although, it does not rival the ancient. Many methods have been devised in France and England of breeding and nurturing the salmon, the trout, and other valuable fish, which are annually becoming more scarce in all civilized countries. But all this is on a far different principle from that pursued at Rome. We follow pisciculture from necessity or economy, because fish of certain kinds are yearly dying out, and to produce a cheap food; but the Romans followed it as a luxury, or a childish amusement, alone. And although our aldermen may sigh over a missing Chelonian, as Crassus for his deceased eel, or the first salmon of the season bring a fabulous price in the market, yet the time has long passed when the gratification of appetite is alone thought of in connection with Nature. We know that living creatures are to be studied, as well as eaten; and that the faithful and reverent observation of their idiosyncrasies, lives, and habits is as healthful and pleasing to the mind as the consumption of their flesh is wholesome and grateful to the body. The whole science of Zooelogy has arisen, with its simple classifications and its vast details. The vivaria of the Jardin des Plantes rival those of the Colosseum in magnitude, and excel them in object. Nature is ransacked, explored, and hunted down in every field, only that she may add to the general knowledge. Museums collect and arrange all the types of creative wisdom, from the simple cell to man. Science searches out their extinct species and fossil remains, and tells their age by Geology. The microscope pursues organic matter down into an infinity of smallness, proportionately as far as the telescope traces it upwards in the infinity of illimitable space. Last of all, though not till long after the earth and the air had been seemingly exhausted, the desire of knowledge began to push its way into the arcana of the sea,—that hidden half of Nature, where are to be found those wonders described by Milton at the Creation,—where, in obedience to the Divine command,
"Be fruitful, multiply, and in the seas And lakes and running streams the waters fill, ... Forthwith the sounds and seas, each creek and bay, With fry innumerable swarm, and shoals Of fish, that with their fins and shining scales Glide under the green wave in sculls that oft Bank the mid sea: part single or with mate Graze the sea-weed, their pasture, and through groves Of coral stray, or sporting with quick glance Show to the sun their waved coats dropt with gold, Or in their pearly shells at ease attend Moist nutriment, or under rocks their food In jointed armor watch."
But no means were at hand to pursue these unknown creatures to their unknown residences, and to observe their manners when at home. Single, withered, and often mutilated specimens of minute fish, mollusks, or radiata, in the museum, alone illustrated the mysteries of the deep sea. Fish, to be sure, could be kept for longer or shorter periods in globes of glass filled with water; but the more delicate creatures inevitably perished soon after their removal from their mysterious abodes. Such a passionate desire to "search Nature and know her secrets" finally originated the idea of the Aquarium.
The term vivarium was used among the ancients to signify many things,—from the dens of the wild animals which opened under the Colosseum, to an oyster-bed; and so now it may mean any collection of living creatures. Hence it could convey no distinct idea of a marine collection such as we propose to describe. The term aqua was added to express the watery element; but the compound aqua-vivarium was too clumsy for frequent employment, and the abbreviated word aquarium has come into general use.
Thus the real Aquarium is a water-garden and a menagerie combined,—and aims to show life beneath the waters, both animal and vegetable, in all the domestic security of its native home, and in all the beauty, harmony, and nice adaptation of Nature herself. It is no sudden discovery, but the growth of a long and patient research by naturalists.
"What happens, when we put half a dozen gold-fish into a globe? The fishes gulp in water and expel it at the gills. As it passes through the gills, whatever free oxygen the water contains is absorbed, and carbonic acid given off in its place; and in course of time, the free oxygen of the water is exhausted, the water becomes stale, and at last poisonous, from excess of carbonic acid. If the water is not changed, the fishes come to the surface and gulp atmospheric air. But though they naturally breathe air (oxygen) as we do, yet they are formed to extract it from the water; and when compelled to take air from the surface, the gills, or lungs, soon get inflamed, and death at last puts an end to their sufferings.
"Now, if a fish-globe be not overcrowded with fishes, we have only to throw in a goodly handful of some water-weed,—such as the Callitriche, for instance,—and a new set of chemical operations commences at once, and it becomes unnecessary to change the water. The reason of this is easily explained. Plants absorb oxygen as animals do; but they also absorb carbonic acid, and from the carbonic add thus absorbed they remove the pure carbon, and convert it into vegetable tissue, giving out the free oxygen either to the water or the air, as the case may be. Hence, in a vessel containing water-plants in a state of healthy growth, the plants exhale more oxygen than they absorb, and thus replace that which the fishes require for maintaining healthy respiration. Any one who will observe the plants in an aquarium, when the sun shines through the tank, will see the leaves studded with bright beads, some of them sending up continuous streams of minute bubbles. These beads and bubbles are pure oxygen, which the plants distil from the water itself, in order to obtain its hydrogen, and from carbonic acid, in order to obtain its carbon."[A]
[Footnote A:The Book of the Aquarium, by Sidney Hibbert.]
Thus the water, if the due proportion of its animal and vegetable tenants be observed, need never be changed. This is the true Aquarium, which aims to imitate the balance of Nature. By this balance the whole organic world is kept living and healthy. For animals are dependent upon the vegetable kingdom not only for all their food, but also for the purification of the air, which they all breathe, either in the atmosphere or in the water. The divine simplicity of this stupendous scheme may well challenge our admiration. Each living thing, animal or plant, uses what the other rejects, and gives back to the air what the other needs. The balance must be perfect, or all life would expire, and vanish from the earth.
This is the balance which we imitate in the Aquarium. It is the whole law of life, the whole scheme of Nature, the whole equilibrium of our organic world, inclosed in a bottle.
For the rapid evolution of oxygen by plants the action of sunlight is required. That evolution becomes very feeble, or ceases entirely, in the darkness of the night. Some authorities assert even that carbonic acid is given off during the latter period. So, too, they claim that there are two distinct processes carried on by the leaves of plants,—namely, respiration and digestion: that the first is analogous to the same process in animals; and that by it oxygen is absorbed from, and carbonic acid returned to the atmosphere, though to a limited degree: and that digestion consists in the decomposition of carbonic acid by the green tissues of the leaves under the stimulus of the light, the fixation of solid carbon, and the evolution of pure oxygen. The theory of distinct respiration has been somewhat doubted by the highest botanical authority of this country; but the theory of digestion is indisputable. And it is no less certain that all forms of vegetation give to the air much more free oxygen than they take from it, and much less carbonic acid, as their carbonaceous composition shows. If fresh leaves are placed in a bell-glass containing air charged with seven or eight per cent. of carbonic acid, and exposed to the light of the sun, it will be found that a large proportion of the carbonic acid will have disappeared, and will be replaced by pure oxygen. But this change will not be effected in the dark, nor by any degree of artificial light. Under water the oxygen evolved from healthy vegetation can be readily collected as it rises, as has been repeatedly proved.
Why carbonic acid is, to a limited degree, given off by the plant in the night, is merely because the vital process, or the fixation of carbon and evolution of oxygen, ceases when the light is withdrawn. The plant is only in a passive state. Ordinary chemical forces resume their sway, and the oxygen of the air combines with the newly deposited carbon to reproduce a little carbonic acid. But this must be placed to the account of decomposing, not of growing vegetation; for by so much as plants grow, they decompose carbonic acid and give its oxygen to the air, or, in other words, purify the air.
It has been found by experiment, that every six pounds of carbon in existing plants has withdrawn twenty-two pounds of carbonic acid gas from the atmosphere, and replaced it with sixteen pounds of oxygen gas, occupying the same bulk. And when we consider the amount of carbon that is contained in the tissues of living, and of extinct vegetation also, in the form of peat and coal, we may have some idea of the vast body of oxygen which the vegetable kingdom has added to the atmosphere.
And it is also to be considered, that this is the only means we know of whereby free oxygen is given to supply the quantity constantly consumed in respiration, combustion, and other vast and endless oxygen-using processes. It follows, therefore, that animals are dependent upon plants for their pure oxygen, as well as for their food. But the vegetable kingdom might exist independently of the animal; since plants may derive enough carbon from the soil, enriched by the decaying members of their own race.
There is, however, one exception to the law that plants increase the amount of oxygen in the air. During flowering and fruiting, the stores of carbon laid up in the plant are used to support the process, and, combining with the oxygen of the air, both carbonic acid and heat are given off. This has been frequently proved. In large tropical plants, where an immense number of blossoms are crowded together, the temperature has risen twenty to fifty degrees above that of the surrounding air.
As most of the aquatic plants are cryptogamous, or producing by spores, and not by flowers, it seems probable that the evolution of carbonic acid and heat is much less in degree in them, and therefore less in the water than in the air. We may, therefore, venture to lay it down as a general principle, that plants evolve free oxygen in water, when in the sunlight, and remove the carbonic acid added to the water by the respiration of the animals.
But since this is a digestive or nutritive process, it follows that aquatic plants may derive much or all of their food from the water itself, or the carbon in it, in the same manner as the so-called air-plant, which grows without soil, does from the air. It is true, at any rate, that, in the fresh-water aquarium, the river and brook plants need no soil but pebbles; and that the marine plants have no proper root, but are attached by a sort of sucker or foot-stalk to stones and masses of rock. It is very easy to see, then, how the aquarium may be made entirely self-supporting; and that, excepting for the larger carnivorous fish, who exhaust in a longer or shorter period the minute creatures on which they live, no external food is required.
A very simple experiment will prove the theory and practicability of the aquarium. In a glass jar of moderate size was placed a piece of Ulva latissima, or Sea-Lettuce, a broad-leaved, green, aquatic plant, and a small fish. The mouth was closed by a ground glass stopper. The jar was exposed to the light daily; the water was never changed; nor was the glass stopper removed, excepting to feed the fish, once or twice a week, with small fragments of meat. At the end of eight months both remained flourishing: the fish was lively and active; and the plant had more than half filled the bottle with fresh green leaves.
Any vessel that will hold water can, of course, be readily converted into an aquarium. But as we desire a clear view of the contents at all times, glass is the best material. And since glass globes refract the light irregularly and magnify and distort whatever is within them, we shall find an advantage in having the sides of the aquarium parallel and the form rectangular. As the weight of the aquarium, when filled with water, is enormous,—far more than we should at first imagine,—it follows that it must be capable of resisting pressure both from above and from within. The floor and stand, the frame and joints must be strong and compact, and the walls of plate or thick crown glass. The bottom should be of slate; and if it is designed to attach arches of rock-work inside to the ends, they, too, must be of slate, as cement will not stick to glass. The frame should be iron, zinc, or well-turned wood; the joints closed with white-lead putty; the front and back of glass. There is one objection to having the side which faces the light of transparent glass, and that is that it transmits too much glare of sunlight for the health of the animals. In Nature's aquarium the light enters only from above; and the fish and delicate creatures have always, even then, the shady fronds of aquatic plants or the shelter of the rocks,—as well as the power of seeking greater depths of water, where the light is less,—to protect themselves from too intense a sunshine. It is, therefore, sometimes advisable to have the window side of the aquarium made of glass stained of a green color. It is desirable that all aquarial tanks should have a movable glass cover to protect them from dust, impure gases, and smoke.
When we speak of an aquarium, we mean a vessel holding from eight to thirty gallons of water. Mr. Gosse describes his larger tank as being two feet long by eighteen inches wide and eighteen inches deep, and holding some twenty gallons. Smaller and very pretty tanks may be made fifteen inches long by twelve inches wide and twelve deep. Great varieties in form and elegance may be adapted to various situations.
There are two kinds of aquaria, the fresh- and the salt-water: the one fitted for the plants and animals of ponds and rivers; the other for the less known tenants of the sea. They are best described as the River and the Marine Aquarium, and they differ somewhat from each other. We shall speak first of the fresh-water aquarium.
The tank being prepared, and well-seasoned, by being kept several weeks alternately full and empty, and exposed to the sun and air, so that all paint, oil, varnish, tannin, etc., may be wholly removed, the next thing is to arrange the bottom and to plant it. Some rough fragments of rock, free from iron or other metals that stain the water, may be built into an arch with cement, or piled up in any shape to suit the fancy. The bottom should be composed entirely of shingle or small pebbles, well washed. Common silver sand, washed until the water can be poured through it quite clear, is also suitable.
Mould, or soil adapted to ordinary vegetation, is not necessary to the aquatic plants, and is, moreover, worse than useless; since it necessitates the frequent changing of the water for some time, in order to get rid of the soluble vegetable matter, and promotes the growth of Confervae, and other low forms of vegetation, which are obnoxious.
Aquatic plants of all kinds have been found to root freely and flourish in pebbles alone, if their roots be covered. The plants should be carefully cleared of all dead parts; the roots attached to a small stone, or laid on the bottom and covered with a layer of pebbles and sand.
The bottom being planted, the water may be introduced through a watering-pot, or poured against the side of the tank, so as to avoid any violent agitation of the bottom. The water should be pure and bright. River-water is best; spring-water will do, but must be softened by the plants for some days before the fishes are put in.
Sunshine is good for the tank at all seasons of the year. The fresh- requires more than the salt-water aquarium. The amount of oxygen given off by the plants, and hence their growth and the sprightliness of the fishes, are very much increased while the sun is shining on them.
In selecting plants for the aquarium some regard is to be paid to the amount of oxygen they will evolve, and to their hardiness, as well as to their beauty. When it is desired to introduce the fishes without waiting long for the plants to get settled and to have given off a good supply of oxygen, there is no plant more useful than the Callitricke, or Brook Star-wort. It is necessary to get a good supply, and pick off the green heads, with four or six inches only of stem; wash them clean, and throw them into the tank, without planting. They spread over the surface, forming a rich green ceiling, grow freely, and last for months. They are continually throwing out new roots and shoots, and create abundance of oxygen. Whenever desired, they can be got rid of by simply lifting them out.
The Vallisneria, or Tape-Grass, common in all our ponds, is essential to every fresh-water tank. It must be grown as a bottom-plant, and flourishes only when rooted. The Nitella is another pleasing variety. The Ranunculus aquatilis, or Water-Crowfoot, is to be found in almost every pond in bloom by the middle of May, and continues so into the autumn. It is of the buttercup family, and may be known as a white buttercup with a yellow centre. The floating leaves are fleshy; the lower ones finely cut. It must be very carefully washed, and planted from a good joint, allowing length enough of stem to reach the surface. Some of the blossom-heads may also be sprinkled over the surface, where they will live and bloom all through the summer. The Hydrocharis, or Frog's-Bit, and the Alisma, or Water-Plantain, are also easily obtained, hardy and useful, as well as pleasing. Many rarer and more showy varieties may be cultivated; we have given only the most common and essential. All the varieties of Chara are interesting to the microscopist, as showing the phenomenon of the circulation of the sap, or Cyclosis.
Of the living tenants of the aquarium, those most interesting, as well as of the highest organization, are the fishes. And among fishes, the family of the Cyprinidae are the best adapted to our purpose; for we must select those which are both hardy and tamable. Cyprinus gibelio, the Prussian Carp, is one of the best. It will survive, even if the water should accidentally become almost exhausted of oxygen. It may be taught, also, to feed from the hand. None of the carp are very carnivorous. Cyprinus auratus, or the Gold-fish, is one of the most ornamental objects in an aquarium. But the Minnow, C. phoxinus, is the jolliest little fish in the tank. He is the life of the collection, and will survive the severest trials of heat and cold. The Chub, a common tenant of our ponds, is also a good subject for domestication. The Tench and Loach are very interesting, but also very delicate. Among the spiny-finned fishes, the Sticklebacks are the prettiest, but so savage that they often occasion much mischief. For a vessel containing twelve gallons the following selection of live stock is among those recommended: Three Gold Carp, three Prussian Carp, two Perch, four large Loach, a dozen Minnows, six Bleak, and two dozen Planorbis. Some varieties of the Water-Beetles, or Water-Spiders, which the fishes do not eat, may also well be added. The Newt, too, is attractive and harmless.
All may go on well, and the water remain clear; but after the tank has been established several weeks, the inner sides of the glass will show a green tinge, which soon increases and interferes with the view. This is owing to the growth of a minute confervoid vegetation, which must be kept down. For this purpose the Snail is the natural remedy, being the ready scavenger of all such nuisances. Snails cling to the sides, and clean away and consume all this vegetable growth. The Lymnea is among the most efficient, but unfortunately is destructive, by eating holes in the young fronds of the larger plants, and thus injuring their appearance. To this objection some other varieties of snail are not open. The Paludina and Planorbis are the only kinds which are trustworthy. The former is a handsome snail, with a bronze-tinted, globular shell; the latter has a spiral form. These will readily reduce the vegetation. And to preserve the crystal clearness of the water, some Mussels may be allowed to burrow in the sand, where they will perform the office of animated filters. They strain off matters held in suspension in the water, by means of their siphons and ciliated gills. With these precautions, a well-balanced tank will long retain all the pristine purity of Nature.
Specimens for the river aquarium may be readily obtained in almost any brook or pool, by means of the hand-net or dredge. It will be astonishing to see the variety of objects brought up by a successful haul. Small fish, newts, tadpoles, mollusks, water-beetles, worms, spiders, and spawn of all kinds will be visible to the naked eye; while the microscope will bring out thousands more of the most beautiful objects.
A very different style of appearance and of objects distinguishes the Salt-water or Marine Aquarium.
As the greater part of the most curious live stock of the salt-water aquarium live upon or near the bottom, so the marine tank should be more shallow, and allow an uninterrupted view from above. Marine creatures are more delicately constituted than fresh-water ones; and they demand more care, patience, and oversight to render the marine aquarium successful.
Sea-sand and pebbles, washed clean, form the best bottom for the salt-water aquarium. It must be recollected that many of the marine tenants are burrowers, and require a bottom adapted to their habits. Some rock-work is considered essential to afford a grateful shelter and concealment to such creatures as are timid by nature, and require a spot in which to hide: this is true of many fishes. Branches of coral, bedded in cement, may be introduced, and form beautiful and natural objects, on which plants will climb and droop gracefully.
Sea-water dipped from the open sea, away from the mouths of rivers, is, of course, the best for the marine aquarium. If pure, it will bear transportation and loss of time before being put into the tank. It may, however, not always be possible to get sea-water, particularly for the aquarium remote from the seaboard, and it is therefore fortunate that artificial sea-water will answer every purpose.
The composition of natural sea-water is, in a thousand parts, approximately, as follows: Water, 964 parts; Common Salt, 27; Chloride of Magnesium, 3.6; Chloride of Potassium, 0.7; Sulphate of Magnesia, (Epsom Salts,) 2; Sulphate of Lime, 1.4; Bromide of Magnesium, Carbonate of Lime, etc., .02 to .03 parts. Now the Bromide of Magnesium, and Sulphate and Carbonate of Lime, occur in such small quantities, that they can be safely omitted in making artificial seawater; and besides, river and spring water always contain a considerable proportion of lime. Therefore, according to Mr. Gosse, we may use the following formula: In every hundred parts of the solid ingredients, Common Salt, 81 parts; Epsom Salts, 7 parts; Chloride of Magnesium, 10 parts; Chloride of Potassium, 2 parts; and of Water about 2900 parts, although this must be accurately determined by the specific gravity. The mixture had better be allowed to stand several days before filling the tank; for thus the impurities of the chemicals will settle, and the clear liquor can be decanted off. The specific gravity should then be tested with the hydrometer, and may safely range from 1026 to 1028,—fresh water being 1000. If a quart or two of real sea-water can be obtained, it is a very useful addition to the mixture. It may now be introduced into the tank through a filter. But no living creatures must be introduced until the artificial water has been softened and prepared by the growth of the marine plants in it for several weeks. Thus, too, it will be oxygenated, and ready for the oxygen-using tenants.
It is a singular fact, that water which has been thus prepared, with only four ingredients, will, after being a month or more in the aquarium, acquire the other constituents which are normally present in minute quantities in the natural sea-water. It must derive them from the action of the plants or animals, or both. Bromine may come from sponges, or sea-wrack, perhaps. Thus artificial water eventually rights itself.
The tank, having been prepared and seasoned with the same precaution used for the river aquarium, and having a clear bottom and a supply of good water, is now ready for planting. Many beautifully colored and delicately fringed Algae and Sea-Wracks will be found on the rocks at low tide, and will sadly tempt the enthusiast to consign their delicate hues to the aquarium. All such temptations must be resisted. Green is the only color well adapted for healthy and oxygenating growth in the new tank. A small selection of the purple or red varieties may perhaps be introduced and successfully cultivated at a later day, but they are very delicate; while the olives and browns are pretty sure to die and corrupt the water. It must be remembered, too, that the Algae are cryptogamous, and bear no visible flowers to delight the eye or fancy. Of all marine plants, the Ulva latissima, or Sea-Lettuce, is first and best. It has broad, light-green fronds, and is hardy and a rapid grower, and hence a good giver of oxygen. Next to this in looks and usefulness comes the Enteromorpha compressa, a delicate, grass-like Alga. After a while the Chondrus crispus, or common Carrageen Moss, may be chosen and added. These ought to be enough for some months, as it is not safe to add too many at once. Then the green weeds Codium tomentosum and Cladophora may be tried; and, still later, the beautiful Bryopsis plumosa. But it is much better to be content with a few Ulvae, and others of that class, to begin with; for a half dozen of these will support quite a variety of animal life.
After a few hardy plants are well set, and thriving for a week or two, and the water is clear and bubbly with oxygen, it will be time to look about for the live stock of the marine aquarium. Fishes, though most attractive, must be put in last; for as they are of the highest vitality, so they require the most oxygen and food, and hence should not be trusted until everything in the tank is well a-going.
The first tenants should be the hardy varieties of the Sea-Anemones, or Actiniae,—which are Polyps, of the class Radiata. The Actinia mesembryanthemum is the common smooth anemone, abounding on the coast, and often to be found attached to stones on the beach. "When closed," says Mr. Hibbert, "it has much resemblance to a ripe strawberry, being of a deep chocolate color, dotted with small yellow spots. When expanded, a circle of bright blue beads or tubercles is seen within the central opening; and a number of coral-like fingers or tentacles unfold from the centre, and spread out on all sides." It remains expanded for many days together, if the water be kept pure; and, having little desire for locomotion, stays, generally, about where it is placed. It is a carnivorous creature, and seeks its food with its ever-searching tentacles, thus drawing in fishes and mollusks, but, most frequently, the minute Infusoria. Like other polyps, it may be cut in two, and each part becomes a new creature. It is a very pretty and hardy object in the aquarium. There are many varieties, some of which are very delicate, as the Actinia anguicoma, or Snaky-locked Anemone, and the pink and brown Actinia bellis, which so resembles a daisy. Others, as the Actinia parasitica, are obtainable only by deep-sea dredging; "and, as its name implies, it usually inhabits the shell of some defunct mollusk. And more curious still, in the same shell we usually find a pretty crab, who acts as porter to the anemone. He drags the shell about with him like a palanquin, on which sits enthroned a very bloated, but gayly-dressed potentate, destitute of power to move it for himself."[B]
[Footnote B: Hibbert's Book of the Aquarium.]
The Actinia gemmacea, or Gemmed Anemone, the Actinia crassicornis, and the Plumose Anemone are all beautiful, but tender varieties.
The Anemones require but little care; they do not generally need feeding, though the Daisy and Plumose Anemone greedily take minced mutton, or oyster. But, as a rule, there are enough Infusoria for their subsistence; and it is safer not to feed them, as any fragments not consumed will decay, and contaminate the water.
Next in order of usefulness, hardiness, and adaptability to the new aquarium, come the Mollusks. And of these, Snails and Periwinkles claim our respectful attention, as the most faithful, patient, and necessary scavengers of the confervoid growths, which soon obscure the marine aquarium.
"It is interesting," says Mr. Gosse, "to watch the business-like way in which the Periwinkle feeds. At very regular intervals, the proboscis, a tube with thick fleshy walls, is rapidly turned inside out to a certain extent, until a surface is brought into contact with the glass having a silky lustre; this is the tongue; it is moved with a short sweep, and then the tubular proboscis infolds its walls again, the tongue disappearing, and every filament of Conferva being carried up into the interior, from the little area which had been swept. The next instant, the foot meanwhile having made a small advance, the proboscis unfolds again, the makes another sweep, and again the whole is withdrawn; and this proceeds with great regularity. I can compare the action to nothing so well as to the manner in which the tongue of an ox licks up the grass of the field, or to the action of the mower cutting swath after swath."