[Footnote H: General Oglethorpe, who was at this time the victim of unfavorable reports and calumnious stories, that had been spread by disaffected members of the infant settlements in Georgia, and by some of the officers who had served under him in his unsuccessful attempt to reduce the town of Saint Augustine in Florida, "The fort at Saint Augustine," to which the writer of this Journal refers, as having been taken while under the command of Oglethorpe, was Fort Moosa, three miles from Saint Augustine, where a detachment of one hundred and thirty-seven men, under Colonel Palmer of Carolina, had been attacked by a vastly superior force of Spaniards, negroes, and Indians, and had been cut off almost to a man. This misfortune seems to have been due to Colonel Palmer's disregard of Oglethorpe's orders, and Oglethorpe himself was in no way responsible for it, although the popular blame fell on his shoulders.]
Sunday, 2nd. At 1 P.M. we examined the negro, who frankly owned that he was Cap't of a Comp'y as aforesaid, & that his commission was on board the privateer; that he was in the privateer in hopes of getting to the Havanah, & that there he might get a passage to Old Spain to get the reward of his brave actions. We then askt him if it was his comp'y that had used the English so barbarously, when taken at the fort. He denied that it was his compy, but laid that cruel action to the Florida Indians, and nothing more could we get out of him. We then tied him to a gun & made the Doctor come with instruments, seemingly to treat him as they had served the English [prisoners], thinking by that means to get some confession out of him; but he still denied it. We then tried a mulatto, one that was taken with him, to find out if he knew anything about the matter. We gave him a dozen of stripes, but he declared that he knew nothing more than that he [the negro] had been Cap't of a Comp'y all that time. The other fellow on board the sloop, he said, knew all about it. We sent to him, & he declared the whole truth, that it was the Florida Indians who had committed the acts under his [the negro's] command, but did not know if he was consenting to it. However, to make sure, & to make him remember that he bore such a commission, we gave him 200 lashes, & having pickled him, left him to the care of the Doctor. Opened a tierce of bread and killed the 2 hogs.
Monday, 3d. Small breeze of wind. About 10 saw a schooner standing to N'ward. Gave her chase.
Tuesday, 4th. A fine breeze of wind. Still in chase of the schooner. At 5 P.M. gave her a gun, in hopes to bring her to and find out what she was; but she did not mind it, neither hoisted any colors. Then she bore down on us, tacked and bore away. We fired 10 shot, but all did not signify, for she hugged her wind, & it growing dark, and having a good pair of heels, she was soon lost sight of. We imagined she was an eastward schooner both by her build & course; but let her be what she will, she had a brave fellow for a Comr.
Wednesday, 5th. Fine breeze of wind. The man at the mast head about 2 P.M. spied 5 sail of vessels steering to the westward. Gave them chase till 1 A.M. About 2 we could see them at a great distance to leeward of us. Lay to till 4, and then began the chase again, they having got almost out of sight.
Thursday, 6th. Still in chase of the 5 vessels. Set our spritsail, topsail & squaresail, with a fair breeze of wind. One of the ships brought to and fired a gun to wait for a sloop that was in Comp' with her, & to wait for us. We took in all our small sails, bore down on her, & hoisted our pennant. When alongside of her she fired 6 shot at us, but did us no damage. We still hedged upon her, and, having given her our broadside, stood off. The sloop tacked immediately and bore down on us, in hopes to get us between them to pepper us, as we supposed. At sight of this, we gave them three cheers. Our people were all agreed to fight them, & told the Captain, if he would venture his sloop, they would venture their lives; but he seemed unwilling, and gave for reason, that the prize would be of little profit, if taken, and perhaps would not make good a limb, if it was lost. He also said we had not hands sufficient to man them, and to bring them into Providence, & to carry them to the N'ward would be the breaking up of the voyage without profit. Nevertheless we let the sloop come alongside us, & received her shot. In return we gave her a broadside & a volley of small arms with three huzzas, and then bore down on the ship, which all this time had been pelting us with her shot, but to no purpose. As we passed, we gave her a broadside which did some damage, for she bore down to the sloop, and never fired another shot, but careened her over and let some men down the side to stop her holes, & sent some to repair the rigging and sails, which were full of shot holes. All the damage we got was one shot through our main-sail. The ship mounted 6 guns of a side, and the sloop eight. She was a Spanish privateer, bound on a cruize to the N'ward, & had taken 5 ships & the sloop which we had retaken some time before. It grieved us to think that the fellow should go off with those prizes, which he would not have done, had the Captain been as willing to fight as we. This battle took place in the Latitude 29 deg. 26', Long. 74 deg. 30' W. But no blood was shed on our side.
THE ADVANTAGES OF DEFEAT.
When the news flashed over the country, on Monday, the 22d of July, that our army, whose advance into Virginia had been so long expected, and had been watched with such intense interest and satisfaction,—that our army had been defeated, and was flying back in disorder to the intrenchments around Washington, it was but natural that the strong revulsion of feeling and the bitter disappointment should have been accompanied by a sense of dismay, and by alarm as to what was to follow. The panic which had disgraced some of our troops at the close of the fight found its parallel in the panic in our own hearts. But as the smoke of the battle and the dust of the retreat, which overshadowed the land in a cloud of lies and exaggerations, by degrees cleared away, men regained the even balance of their minds, and felt a not unworthy shame at their transient fears.
It is now plain that our defeat at Bull Run was in no true sense a disaster; that we not only deserved it, but needed it; that its ultimate consequences are better than those of a victory would have been. Far from being disheartened by it, it should give us new confidence in our cause, in our strength, in our final success. There are lessons which every great nation must learn which are cheap at any cost, and for some of those lessons the defeat of the 21st of July was a very small price to pay. The essential question now is, Whether this schooling has been sufficient and effectual, or whether we require still further hard discipline to enforce its instructions upon us.
In this moment of pause and compelled reflection, it is for us to examine closely the spirit and motives with which we have engaged in war, and to determine the true end for which the war must be carried on. It is no time for indulging in fallacies of the fancy or in feebleness of counsel. The temper of the Northern people, since the war was forced upon them, has been in large measure noble and magnanimous. The sudden interruption of peace, the prospect of a decline of long continued prosperity, were at once and manfully faced. An eager and emulous zeal in the defence of the imperilled liberties and institutions of the nation showed itself all over the land, and in every condition of life. None who lived through the months of April and May can ever forget the heroic and ideal sublimity of the time. But as the weeks went on, as the immediate alarm that had roused the invincible might of the people passed away, something of the spirit of over-confidence, of excited hope, of satisfied vanity mingled with and corrupted the earlier and purer emotion. The war was to be a short one. Our enemies would speedily yield before the overwhelming force arrayed against them; they would run from Northern troops; we were sure of easy victory. There was little sober foreboding, as our army set out from Washington on its great advance. The troops moved forward with exultation, as if going on a holiday and festive campaign; and the nation that watched them shared in their careless confidence, and prophesied a speedy triumph. But the event showed how far such a spirit was from that befitting a civil war like this. Never were men engaged in a cause which demanded more seriousness of purpose, more modesty and humility of pretension.
The duty before us is honorable in proportion to its difficulty. God has given us work to do not only for ourselves, but for coming generations of men. He has imposed on us a task which, if well performed, will require our most strenuous endeavors and our most patient and unremitting exertions. We are fairly engaged in a war which cannot be a short one, even though our enemies should before long lay down their arms; for it is a war not merely to support and defend the Constitution and to retake the property of the United States, not merely to settle the question of the right of a majority to control an insolent and rebellious minority in the republic, nor to establish the fact of the national existence and historic unity of the United States; but it is also and more essentially a war for the establishment of civilization in that immense portion of our country in which for many years barbarism has been gaining power. It is for the establishment of liberty and justice, of freedom of conscience and liberty of thought, of equal law and of personal rights, throughout the South. If these are not to be secured without the abolition of slavery, it is a war for the abolition of slavery. We are not making war to reestablish an old order of things, but to set up a new one. We are not giving ourselves and our fortunes for the purpose of fighting a few battles, and then making peace, restoring the Southern States to their old place in the Union,—but for the sake of destroying the root from which this war has sprung, and of making another such war impossible. It is not worth while to do only half or a quarter of our work. But if we do it thoroughly, as we ought, the war must be a long one, and will require from us long sacrifices. It is well to face up to the fact at once, that this generation is to be compelled to frugality, and that luxurious expenses upon trifles and superfluities must be changed for the large and liberal costliness of a noble cause. We are not to expect or hope for a speedy return of what is called prosperity; but we are greatly and abundantly prosperous, if we succeed in extending and establishing the principles which alone can give dignity and value to national or individual life, and without which, material abundance, success in trade, and increase of wealth are evidences rather of the decline than of the progress of a state. We, who have so long been eager in the pursuit and accumulation of riches, are now to show more generous energies in the free spending of our means to gain the invaluable objects for which we have gone to war. There is nothing disheartening in this prospect. Our people, accustomed as they have been during late years to the most lavish use of money, and to general extravagance in expense, have not yet lost the tradition of the economies and thrift of earlier times, and will not find it difficult to put them once more into practice. The burden will not fall upon any class; and when each man, whatever be his station in life, is called upon to lower his scale of living, no one person will find it too hard to do what all others are doing.
But if such be the objects and the prospects of the war, it is plain that they require more sober thought and more careful forecasting and more thorough preparation than have thus far been given to them. If we be the generation chosen to accomplish the work that lies ready to our hands, if we be commissioned to so glorious and so weighty an enterprise, there is but one spirit befitting our task. The war, if it is to be successful, must be a religious war: not in the old sense of that phrase, not a war of violent excitement and passionate enthusiasm, not a war in which the crimes of cruel bigots are laid to the charge of divine impulse, bur a war by itself, waged with dignified and solemn strength, with clean hands and pure hearts,—a war calm and inevitable in its processes as the judgments of God. When Cromwell's men went out to win the victory at Winceby Fight, their watchword was "Religion." Can we in our great struggle for liberty and right adopt any other watchword than this? Do we require another defeat and more suffering to bring us to a sense of our responsibility to God for the conduct and the issue of this war?
It is only by taking the highest ground, by raising ourselves to the full conception of what is involved in this contest, that we shall secure success, and prevent ourselves from sinking to the level of those who are fighting against us. The demoralization necessarily attendant upon all wars is to be met and overcome only by simple and manly religious conviction and effort. It will be one of the advantages of defeat to have made it evident that a regiment of bullies and prize-fighters is not the best stuff to compose an army. "Your men are not vindictive enough," Mr. Russell is reported to have said, as he watched the battle. It was the saying of a shrewd observer, but it expresses only an imperfect apprehension of the truth. Vindictiveness is not the spirit our men should have, but a resoluteness of determination, as much more to be relied upon than a vindictive passion as it is founded upon more stable and more enduring qualities of character. The worst characters of our great cities may be the fit equals of Mississippi or Arkansas ruffians, but the mass of our army is not to be brought down to the standard of rowdies or the level of barbarians. The men of New England and of the West do not march under banners with the device of "Booty and Beauty," though General Beauregard has the effrontery to declare it, and Bishop, now General, Polk the ignorance to utter similar slanders. The atrocities committed on our wounded and prisoners by the "chivalry" of the South may excite not only horror, but a wild fury of revenge. But our cause should not be stained with cruelty and crime, even in the name of vengeance. If the war is simply one in which brute force is to prevail, if we are fighting only for lust and pride and domination, then let us have our "Ellsworth Avengers," and let us slay the wounded of our enemy without mercy; let us burn their hospitals, let us justify their, as yet, false charges against us; let us admit the truth of the words of the Bishop of Louisiana, that the North is prosecuting this war "with circumstances of barbarity which it was fondly believed would never more disgrace the annals of a civilized people." But if we, if our brothers in the army, are to lose the proud distinctions of the North, and to be brought down to the level of the tender mercies and the humane counsels of slaveholders and slave-drivers, there would be little use in fighting. If our institutions at the North do not produce better, more humane, and more courageous men than those of the South, when taken in the mass, there is no reason for the sacrifice of blood and treasure in their support. War must be always cruel; it is not to be waged on principles of tenderness; but a just, a religious war can be waged only mercifully, with no excess, with no circumstance of avoidable suffering. Our enemies are our outward consciences, and their reproaches may warn us of our dangers.
The soldiers of the Northern army generally are men capable of understanding the force of moral considerations. They are intelligent, independent, vigorous,—as good material as an army ever was formed from. A large proportion of them have gone to the war from the best motives, and with clear appreciation of the nature and grounds of the contest. But they require to be confirmed in their principles, and to be strengthened against the temptations of life in the camp and in the field, by the voice and support of the communities from which they have come. If the country is careless or indifferent as to their moral standard, they will inevitably become so themselves, and lose the perception of the objects for which they are fighting, forgetting their responsibilities, not only as soldiers, but as good men. It is one of the advantages of defeat to force the thoughts which camp-life may have rendered unfamiliar back into the soldier's mind. The boastfulness of the advance is gone,—and there is chance for sober reflection.
It is especially necessary for our men, unaccustomed to the profession of arms, and entering at once untried upon this great war, to take a just and high view of their new calling: to look at it with the eyes, not of mercenaries, but of men called into their country's service; to regard it as a life which is not less, but more difficult than any other to be discharged with honor. "Our profession," said Washington, "is the chastest of all; even the shadow of a fault tarnishes the lustre of our finest achievements." Our soldiers in Virginia, and in the other Slave States, have not only their own reputation to support, but also that of the communities from which they come. There must be a rivalry in generous efforts among the troops of different States. Shall we not now have our regiments which by their brave and honorable conduct shall win appellations not less noble than that of the Auvergne sans tache, "Auvergne without a stain"? If the praise that Mr. Lincoln bestowed upon our men in his late Message to Congress be not undeserved, they are bound to show qualities such as no other common soldiers have ever been called to exhibit. There are among them more men of character, intelligence, and principle than were ever seen before in the ranks. There should be a higher tone in our service than in that of any other people; and it would be a reproach to our institutions, if our soldiers did not show themselves not only steady and brave in action, undaunted in spirit, unwearied in energy, but patient of discipline, self-controlled, and forbearing. The disgrace to our arms of the defeat at Bull Run was not so great as that of the riotous drunkenness and disorderly conduct of our men during the two or three days that succeeded at Washington. If our men are to be the worthy soldiers of so magnificent a cause as that in which they are engaged, they must raise themselves to its height. Battles may be won by mere human machines, by men serving for eleven dollars a month; but a victory such as we have to gain can be won only by men who know for what and why they are fighting, and who are conscious of the dignity given to them and the responsibility imposed upon them by the sacredness of their cause. The old flag, the stars and stripes, must not only be the symbol in their eyes of past glories and of the country's honor, but its stars must shine before them with the light of liberty, and its stripes must be the emblem of the even and enduring lines of equal justice.
The retreat from Bull Run and the panic that accompanied it were not due to cowardice among our men. During long hours our troops had fought well, and showed their gallantry under the most trying circumstances. They were not afraid to die. It was not strange that raw volunteers, as many of them were, inefficiently supported, and poorly led, should at length give way before superior force, and yield to the weakness induced by exhaustion and hunger. But the lesson of defeat would be imperfectly learned, did not the army and the nation alike gain from it a juster sense than they before possessed of the value of individual life. Never has life been so much prized and so precious as it has become in America. Never before has each individual been of so much worth. It costs more to bring up a man here, and he is worth more when brought up, than elsewhere. The long peace and the extraordinary amount of comfort which the nation has enjoyed have made us (speaking broadly) fond of life and tender of it. We of the North have looked with astonishment at the recklessness of the South concerning it. We have thought it braver to save than to spend it; and a questionable humanity has undoubtedly led us sometimes into feeble sentimentalities, and false estimates of its value. We have been in danger of thinking too much of it, and of being mean-spirited in its use. But the first sacrifice for which war calls is life; and we must revise our estimates of its value, if we would conduct our war to a happy end. To gain that end, no sacrifice can be too precious or too costly. The shudder with which we heard the first report that three thousand of our men were slain was but the sign of the blow that our hearts received. But there must be no shrinking from the prospect of the death of our soldiers. Better than that we should fail that a million men should die on the battle-field. It is not often that men can have the privilege to offer their lives for a principle; and when the opportunity comes, it is only the coward that does not welcome it with gladness. Life is of no value in comparison with the spiritual principles from which it gains its worth. No matter how many lives it costs to defend or secure truth or justice or liberty, truth and justice and liberty must be defended and secured. Self-preservation must yield to Truth's preservation. The little human life is for to-day,—the principle is eternal. To die for truth, to die open-eyed and resolutely for the "good old cause," is not only honor, but reward. "Suffering is a gift not given to every one," said one of the Scotch martyrs in 1684, "and I desire to bless the Lord with my whole heart and soul that He has counted such a poor thing as I am worthy of the gift of suffering."
The little value of the individual in comparison with the principles upon which the progress and happiness of the race depend is a lesson enforced by the analogies of Nature, as well as by the evidence of history and the assurance of faith. Nature is careless of the single life. Her processes seem wasteful, but out of seeming waste she produces her great and durable results. Everywhere in her works are the signs of life cut short for the sake of some effect more permanent than itself. And for the establishing of those immortal foundations upon which the human race is to stand firm in virtue and in hope, for the building of the walls of truth, there will be no scanty expenditure of individual life. Men are nothing in the count,—man is everything.
The spirit of the nation will be shown in its readiness to meet without shrinking such sacrifice of life as may be demanded in gaining our end. We must all suffer and rejoice together,—but let there be no unmanly or unwomanly fear of bloodshed. The deaths of our men from sickness, from camp epidemics, are what we should fear and prevent; death on the battle-field we have no right to dread. The men who die in this cause die well; they could wish for no more honorable end of life.
The honor lost in our recent defeat cannot be regained,—but it is indeed one of the advantages of defeat to teach men the preciousness of honor, the necessity of winning and keeping it at any cost. Honor and duty are but two names for the same thing in war. But the novelty of war is so great to us, we are so unpractised in it, and we have thought so little of it heretofore as concerning ourselves, that there is danger lest we fail at first to appreciate its finer elements, and neglect the opportunities it affords for the practice of virtues rarely called out in civil life. The common boast of the South, that there alone was to be found the chivalry of America, and that among the Southern people was a higher strain of courage and a keener sense of honor than among the people of the North, is now to be brought to the test. There is not need to repeat the commonplaces about bravery and honor. But we and our soldiers should remember that it is not the mere performance of set work that is required of them, but the valiant and generous alacrity of noble minds in deeds of daring and of courtesy. Though the science of war has in modern times changed the relations and the duties of men on the battle-field from what they were in the old days of knighthood, yet there is still room for the display of stainless valor and of manful virtue. Honor and courage are part of our religion; and the coward or the man careless of honor in our army of liberty should fall under heavier shame than ever rested on the disgraced soldier in former times. The sense of honor is finer than the common sense of the world. It counts no cost and reckons no sacrifice great. "Then the king wept, and dried his eyes, and said, 'Your courage had neere hand destroyed you, for I call it folly knights to abide when they be overmatched.' 'Nay,' said Sir Lancelot and the other, 'for once shamed may never be recovered.'" The examples of Bayard,—sans peur et sans reproche,—of Sidney, of the heroes of old or recent days, are for our imitation. We are bound to be no less worthy of praise and remembrance than they. They did nothing too high for us to imitate. And in their glorious company we may hope that some of our names may yet be enrolled, to stand as the inspiring exemplars and the models for coming times. If defeat has brought us shame, it has brought us also firmer resolve. No man can be said to know himself, or to have assurance of his force of principle and character, till he has been tested by the fires of trial in the crucible of defeat. The same is true of a nation. The test of defeat is the test of its national worth. Defeat shows whether it deserves success. We may well be grateful and glad for our defeat of the 21st of July, if we wrest from it the secrets of our weakness, and are thrown back by it to the true sources of strength. If it has done its work thoroughly, if we profit sufficiently by the advantages it has afforded us, we may be well content that so slight a harm has brought us so great a good. But if not, then let us be ready for another and another defeat, till our souls shall be tempered and our forces disciplined for the worthy attainment of victory. For victory we shall in good time have. There is no need to fear or be doubtful of the issue. As soon as we deserve it, victory will be ours; and were we to win it before, it would be but an empty and barren triumph. All history is but the prophecy of our final success,—and Milton has put the prophecy into words: "Go on, O Nation, never to be disunited! Be the praise and the heroic song of all posterity! Merit this, but seek only virtue, not to extend your limits, (for what needs to win a fading triumphant laurel out of the tears of wretched men?) but to settle the pure worship of God in his church, and justice in the state. Then shall the hardest difficulties smooth out themselves before thee; envy shall sink to hell, craft and malice be confounded, whether it be home-bred mischief or outlandish cunning; yea, other nations will then covet to serve thee, for lordship and victory are but the pages of justice and virtue. Use thine invincible might to do worthy and godlike deeds, and then he that seeks to break your union a cleaving curse be his inheritance to all generations!"
* * * * *
ODE TO HAPPINESS.
Spirit, that rarely comest now, And only to contrast my gloom, Like rainbow-feathered birds that bloom A moment on some autumn bough Which, with the spurn of their farewell, Sheds its last leaves,—thou once didst dwell With me year-long, and make intense To boyhood's wisely-vacant days That fleet, but all-sufficing grace Of trustful inexperience, While yet the soul transfigured sense, And thrilled, as with love's first caress, At life's mere unexpectedness.
Those were thy days, blithe spirit, those When a June sunshine could fill up The chalice of a buttercup With such Falernian juice as flows No longer,—for the vine is dead Whence that inspiring drop was shed: Days when my blood would leap and run, As full of morning as a breeze, Or spray tossed up by summer seas That doubts if it be sea or sun; Days that flew swiftly, like the band That in the Grecian games had strife And passed from eager hand to hand The onward-dancing torch of life.
Wing-footed! thou abid'st with him Who asks it not; but he who hath Watched o'er the waves thy fading path Shall nevermore on ocean's rim, At morn or eve, behold returning Thy high-heaped canvas shoreward yearning! Thou first reveal'st to us thy face Turned o'er the shoulder's parting grace, A moment glimpsed, then seen no more,— Thou whose swift footsteps we can trace Away from every mortal door!
Nymph of the unreturning feet, How may I woo thee back? But no, I do thee wrong to call thee so; 'Tis we are changed, not thou art fleet: The man thy presence feels again Not in the blood, but in the brain, Spirit, that lov'st the upper air, Serene and vaporless and rare, Such as on mountain-heights we find And wide-viewed uplands of the mind, Or such as scorns to coil and sing Round any but the eagle's wing Of souls that with long upward beat Have won an undisturbed retreat, Where, poised like winged victories, They mirror in unflinching eyes The life broad-basking 'neath their feet,— Man always with his Now at strife, Pained with first gasps of earthly air, Then begging Death the last to spare, Still fearful of the ampler life.
Not unto them dost thou consent Who, passionless, can lead at ease A life of unalloyed content, A life like that of landlocked seas, That feel no elemental gush Of tidal forces, no fierce rush Of storm deep-grasping, scarcely spent 'Twixt continent and continent: Such quiet souls have never known Thy truer inspiration, thou Who lov'st to feel upon thy brow Spray from the plunging vessel thrown, Grazing the tusked lee shore, the cliff That o'er the abrupt gorge holds its breath, Where the frail hair's-breadth of an If Is all that sunders life and death: These, too, are cared for, and round these Bends her mild crook thy sister Peace; These in unvexed dependence lie Each 'neath his space of household sky; O'er them clouds wander, or the blue Hangs motionless the whole day through; Stars rise for them, and moons grow large And lessen in such tranquil wise As joys and sorrows do that rise Within their nature's sheltered marge; Their hours into each other flit, Like the leaf-shadows of the vine And fig-tree under which they sit; And their still lives to heaven incline With an unconscious habitude, Unhistoried as smokes that rise From happy hearths and sight elude In kindred blue of morning skies.
Wayward! when once we feel thy lack, 'Tis worse than vain to tempt thee back! Yet there is one who seems to be Thine elder sister, in whose eyes A faint, far northern light will rise Sometimes and bring a dream of thee: She is not that for which youth hoped; But she hath blessings all her own, Thoughts pure as lilies newly oped, And faith to sorrow given alone: Almost I deem that it is thou Come back with graver matron brow, With deepened eyes and bated breath, Like one who somewhere had met Death. "But no," she answers, "I am she Whom the gods love, Tranquillity; That other whom you seek forlorn. Half-earthly was; but I am born Of the immortals, and our race Have still some sadness in our face: He wins me late, but keeps me long, Who, dowered with every gift of passion, In that fierce flame can forge and fashion Of sin and self the anchor strong; Can thence compel the driving force Of daily life's mechanic course, Nor less the nobler energies Of needful toil and culture wise: Whose soul is worth the tempter's lure, Who can renounce and yet endure, To him I come, not lightly wooed, And won by silent fortitude."
* * * * *
ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING.
Florence, July 5th, 1861.
"When some beloved voice that was to you Both sound and sweetness faileth suddenly, And silence, against which you dare not cry, Aches round you like a strong disease and new,— What hope? what help? what music will undo That silence to your sense? Not friendship's sigh,— Not reason's subtle count,—not melody Of viols, nor of pipes that Faunus blew,— Not songs of poets, nor of nightingales, Whose hearts leap upward through the cypress-trees To the clear moon,—nor yet the spheric laws Self-chanted,—nor the angels' sweet All-hails, Met in the smile of God. Nay, none of these! Speak THOU, availing Christ, and fill this pause!"
Thus sang the Muse of a great woman years ago; and now, alas! she, who, with constant suffering of her own, was called upon to grieve often for the loss of near and dear ones, has suddenly gone from among us, "and silence, against which we dare not cry, aches round us like a strong disease and new." Her own beautiful words are our words, the world's words,—and though the tears fall faster and thicker, as we search for all that is left of her in the noble poems which she bequeaths to humanity, there follows the sad consolation in feeling assured that she above all others felt the full value of life, the full value of death, and was prepared to meet her God humbly, yet joyfully, whenever He should claim her for His own. Her life was one long, large-souled, large-hearted prayer for the triumph of Right, Justice, Liberty; and she who lived for others was
"poet true, Who died for Beauty, as martyrs do For Truth,—the ends being scarcely two."
Beauty was truth with her, the wife, mother, and poet, three in one, and such an earthly trinity as God had never before blessed the world with.
This day week, at half-past four o'clock in the morning, Mrs. Browning died. A great invalid from girlhood, owing to an unfortunate accident, Mrs. Browning's life was a prolonged combat with disease thereby engendered; and had not God given her extraordinary vitality of spirit, the frail body could never have borne up against the suffering to which it was doomed. Probably there never was a greater instance of the power of genius over the weakness of the flesh. Confined to her room in the country or city home of her father in England, Elizabeth Barrett developed into the great artist and scholar.
From her couch went forth those poems which have crowned her as "the world's greatest poetess"; and on that couch, where she lay almost speechless at times, and seeing none but those friends dearest and nearest, the soul-woman struck deep into the roots of Latin and Greek, and drank of their vital juices. We hold in kindly affection her learned and blind teacher, Hugh Stuart Boyd, who, she tells us, was "enthusiastic for the good and the beautiful, and one of the most simple and upright of human beings." The love of his grateful scholar, when called upon to mourn the good man's death, embalms his memory among her Sonnets, where she addresses him as her
"Beloved friend, who, living many years With sightless eyes raised vainly to the sun, Didst learn to keep thy patient soul in tune To visible Nature's elemental cheers!"
Nor did this "steadfast friend" forget his poet-pupil ere he went to "join the dead":—
"Three gifts the Dying left me,—Aeschylus, And Gregory Nazianzen, and a clock Chiming the gradual hours out like a flock Of stars, whose motion is melodious."
We catch a glimpse of those communings over "our Sophocles the royal," "our Aeschylus the thunderous," "our Euripides the human," and "my Plato the divine one," in her pretty poem of "Wine of Cyprus," addressed to Mr. Boyd. The woman translates the remembrance of those early lessons into her heart's verse:—
"And I think of those long mornings Which my thought goes far to seek, When, betwixt the folio's turnings, Solemn flowed the rhythmic Greek. Past the pane, the mountain spreading, Swept the sheep-bell's tinkling noise, While a girlish voice was reading,— Somewhat low for [Greek: ais] and [Greek: ois]."
These "golden hours" were not without that earnest argument so welcome to candid minds:—
"For we sometimes gently wrangled, Very gently, be it said,— Since our thoughts were disentangled By no breaking of the thread! And I charged you with extortions On the nobler fames of old,— Ay, and sometimes thought your Persons Stained the purple they would fold."
What high honor the scholar did her friend and teacher, and how nobly she could interpret the "rhythmic Greek," let those decide who have read Mrs. Browning's translations of "Prometheus Bound" and Bion's "Lament for Adonis."
Imprisoned within the four walls of her room, with books for her world and large humanity for her thought, the lamp of life burning so low at times that a feather would be placed on her lips to prove that there was still breath, Elizabeth Barrett read and wrote, and "heard the nations praising" her "far off." She loved
"Art for art, And good for God himself, the essential Good,"
until destiny (a destiny with God in it) brought two poets face to face and heart to heart. Mind had met mind and recognized its peer previously to that personal interview which made them one in soul; but it was not until after an acquaintance of two years that Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning were united in marriage for time and for eternity, a marriage the like of which can seldom be recorded. What wealth of love she could give is evidenced in those exquisite sonnets purporting to be from the Portuguese, the author being too modest to christen them by their right name, Sonnets from the Heart. None have failed to read the truth through this slight veil, and to see the woman more than the poet in such lines as these:—
"I yield the grave for thy sake, and exchange My near sweet view of heaven for earth with thee!"
We have only to turn to the concluding poem in "Men and Women," inscribed to E.B.B., to see how reciprocal was this great love.
From their wedding-day Mrs. Browning seemed to be endowed with new life. Her health visibly improved, and she was enabled to make excursions in England prior to her departure for the land of her adoption, Italy, where she found a second and a dearer home. For nearly fifteen years Florence and the Brownings have been one in the thoughts of many English and Americans; and Casa Guidi, which has been immortalized by Mrs. Browning's genius, will be as dear to the Anglo-Saxon traveller as Milton's Florentine residence has been heretofore. Those who now pass by Casa Guidi fancy an additional gloom has settled upon the dark face of the old palace, and grieve to think that those windows from which a spirit-face witnessed two Italian revolutions, and those large mysterious rooms where a spirit-hand translated the great Italian Cause into burning verse, and pleaded the rights of humanity in "Aurora Leigh," are hereafter to be the passing homes of the thoughtless or the unsympathizing.
Those who have known Casa Guidi as it was could hardly enter the loved rooms now and speak above a whisper. They who have been so favored can never forget the square anteroom, with its great picture and piano-forte, at which the boy Browning passed many an hour,—the little dining-room covered with tapestry, and where hung medallions of Tennyson, Carlyle, and Robert Browning,—the long room filled with plaster casts and studies, which was Mr. Browning's retreat,—and, dearest of all, the large drawing-room, where she always sat. It opens upon a balcony filled with plants, and looks out upon the old iron-gray church of Santa Felice. There was something about this room that seemed to make it a proper and especial haunt for poets. The dark shadows and subdued light gave it a dreamy look, which was enhanced by the tapestry-covered walls and the old pictures of saints that looked out sadly from their carved frames of black wood. Large book-cases, constructed of specimens of Florentine carving selected by Mr. Browning, were brimming over with wise-looking books. Tables were covered with more gayly bound volumes, the gifts of brother authors. Dante's grave profile, a cast of Keats's face and brow taken after death, a pen-and-ink sketch of Tennyson, the genial face of John Kenyon, Mrs. Browning's good friend and relative, little paintings of the boy Browning, all attracted the eye in turn, and gave rise to a thousand musings. A quaint mirror, easy-chairs and sofas, and a hundred nothings that always add an indescribable charm, were all massed in this room. But the glory of all, and that which sanctified all, was seated in a low arm-chair near the door. A small table, strewn with writing-materials, books, and newspapers, was always by her side.
To those who loved Mrs. Browning (and to know her was to love her) she was singularly attractive. Hers was not the beauty of feature; it was the loftier beauty of expression. Her slight figure seemed hardly large enough to contain the great heart that beat so fervently within, and the soul that expanded more and more as one year gave place to another. It was difficult to believe that such a fairy hand could pen thoughts of such ponderous weight, or that such a "still small voice" could utter them with equal force. But it was Mrs. Browning's face upon which one loved to gaze,—that face and head which almost lost themselves in the thick curls of her dark brown hair. That jealous hair could not hide the broad, fair forehead, "royal with the truth," as smooth as any girl's, and
"Too large for wreath of modern wont."
Her large brown eyes were beautiful, and were in truth the windows of her soul. They combined the confidingness of a child with the poet-passion of heart and of intellect; and in gazing into them it was easy to read why Mrs. Browning wrote. God's inspiration was her motive power, and in her eyes was the reflection of this higher light.
"And her smile it seemed half holy, As if drawn from thoughts more far Than our common jestings are."
Mrs. Browning's character was wellnigh perfect. Patient in long suffering, she never spoke of herself, except when the subject was forced upon her by others, and then with no complaint. She judged not, saving when great principles were imperilled, and then was ready to sacrifice herself upon the altar of Right. Forgiving as she wished to be forgiven, none approached her with misgivings, knowing her magnanimity. She was ever ready to accord sympathy to all, taking an earnest interest in the most insignificant, and so humble in her greatness that her friends looked upon her as a divinity among women. Thoughtful in the smallest things for others, she seemed to give little thought to herself; and believing in universal goodness, her nature was free from worldly suspicions. The first to see merit, she was the last to censure faults, and gave the praise that she felt with a generous hand. No one so heartily rejoiced at the success of others, no one was so modest in her own triumphs, which she looked upon more as a favor of which she was unworthy than as a right due to her. She loved all who offered her affection, and would solace and advise with any. She watched the progress of the world with tireless eye and beating heart, and, anxious for the good of the whole world, scorned to take an insular view of any political question. With her a political question was a moral question as well. Mrs. Browning belonged to no particular country; the world was inscribed upon the banner under which she fought. Wrong was her enemy; against this she wrestled, in whatever part of the globe it was to be found.
A noble devotion to and faith in the regeneration of Italy was a prominent feature in Mrs. Browning's life. To her, Italy was from the first a living fire, not the bed of dead ashes at which the world was wont to sneer. Her trust in God and the People was supreme; and when the Revolution of 1848 kindled the passion of liberty from the Alps to Sicily, she, in common with many another earnest spirit, believed that the hour for the fulfilment of her hopes had arrived. Her joyful enthusiasm at the Tuscan uprising found vent in the "Eureka" which she sang with so much fervor in Part First of "Casa Guidi Windows."
"But never say 'No more' To Italy's life! Her memories undismayed Still argue 'Evermore'; her graves implore Her future to be strong and not afraid; Her very statues send their looks before."
And even she was ready to believe that a Pope might be a reformer.
"Feet, knees, and sinews, energies divine, Were never yet too much for men who ran In such hard ways as must be this of thine, Deliverer whom we seek, whoe'er thou art, Pope, prince, or peasant! If, indeed, the first, The noblest therefore! since the heroic heart Within thee must be great enough to burst Those trammels buckling to the baser part Thy saintly peers in Rome, who crossed and cursed With the same finger."
The Second Part of "Casa Guidi Windows" is a sad sequel to the First, but Mrs. Browning does not deride. She bows before the inevitable, but is firm in her belief of a future living Italy.
"In the name of Italy Meantime her patriot dead have benison; They only have done well;—and what they did Being perfect, it shall triumph. Let them slumber!"
Her short-lived credence in the good faith of Popes was buried with much bitterness of heart:—
"And peradventure other eyes may see, From Casa Guidi windows, what is done Or undone. Whatsoever deeds they be, Pope Pius will be glorified in none."
It is a matter of great thankfulness that God permitted Mrs. Browning to witness the second Italian revolution before claiming her for heaven. No patriot Italian, of whatever high degree, gave greater sympathy to the aspirations of 1859 than Mrs. Browning, an echo of which the world has read in her "Poems before Congress" and still later contributions to the New York "Independent." Great was the moral courage of this frail woman to publish the "Poems before Congress" at a time when England was most suspicious of Napoleon. Greater were her convictions, when she abased England and exalted France for the cold neutrality of the one and the generous aid of the other in this war of Italian independence. Bravely did she bear up against the angry criticism excited by such anti-English sentiment. Strong in her right, Mrs. Browning was willing to brave the storm, confident that truth would prevail in the end. Apart from certain tours de force in rhythm, there is much that is grand and as much that is beautiful in these Poems, while there is the stamp of power upon every page. It is felt that a great soul is in earnest about vital principles, and earnestness of itself is a giant as rare as forcible. Though there are few now who look upon Napoleon as
"Larger so much by the heart"
than others "who have governed and led," there are many who acknowledge him to be
"Larger so much by the head,"
and regard him as she did,—Italy's best friend in the hour of need. Her disciples are increasing, and soon "Napoleon III. in Italy" will be read with the admiration which it deserves.
Beautiful in its pathos is the poem of "A Court Lady," and there are few satires more biting than "An August Voice," which, as an interpretation of the Napoleonic words, is perfect. Nor did she fail to vindicate the Peace of Villafranca:—
"But He stood sad before the sun (The peoples felt their fate): 'The world is many,—I am one; My great Deed was too great. God's fruit of justice ripens slow: Men's souls are narrow; let them grow. My brothers, we must wait.'"
And truly, what Napoleon then failed, from opposition, to accomplish by the sword, has since been, to a great extent, accomplished by diplomacy.
But though Mrs. Browning wrote her "Tale of Villafranca" in full faith, after many a mile-stone in time lay between her and the fact, her friends remember how the woman bent and was wellnigh crushed, as by a thunderbolt, when the intelligence of this Imperial Treaty was first received. Coming so quickly upon the heels of the victories of Solferino and San Martino, it is no marvel that what stunned Italy should have almost killed Mrs. Browning. That it hastened her into the grave is beyond a doubt, as she never fully shook off the severe attack of illness occasioned by this check upon her life-hopes. The summer of 1859 was a weary, suffering season for her in consequence; and although the following winter, passed in Rome, helped to repair the evil that had been wrought, a heavy cold, caught at the end of the season, (and for the sake of seeing Rome's gift of swords to Napoleon and Victor Emmanuel,) told upon her lungs. The autumn of 1860 brought with it another sorrow in the death of a beloved sister, and this loss seemed more than Mrs. Browning could bear; but by breathing the soft air of Rome again she seemed to revive, and indeed wrote that she was "better in body and soul."
Those who have known Mrs. Browning in later years thought she never looked better than upon her return to Florence in the first days of last June, although the overland journey had been unusually fatiguing to her. But the meeting was a sad one; for Cavour had died, and the national loss was as severe to her as a personal bereavement. Her deep nature regarded Italy's benefactor in the light of a friend; for had he not labored unceasingly for that which was the burden of her song? and could she allow so great a man to pass away without many a heart-ache? It is as sublime as it is rare to see such intense appreciation of great deeds as Mrs. Browning could give. Her fears, too, for Italy, when the patriot pilot was hurried from the helm, gave rise to much anxiety, until quieted by the assuring words of the new minister, Ricasoli.
Nor was Mrs. Browning so much engrossed in the Italian regeneration that she had no thought for other nations and for other wrongs. Her interest in America was very great,—
"For poets, (bear the word!) Half-poets even, are still whole democrats: Oh, not that we're disloyal to the high, But loyal to the low, and cognizant Of the less scrutable majesties."
In Mrs. Browning's poem of "A Curse for a Nation," where she foretold the agony in store for America, and which has fallen upon us with the swiftness of lightning, she was loath to raise her poet's voice against us, pleading,—
"For I am hound by gratitude, By love and blood, To brothers of mine across the sea, Who stretch out kindly hands to me."
And in one of her last letters, addressed to an American friend who had reminded her of her prophecy and of its present fulfilment, she replied,—"Never say that I have 'cursed' your country. I only declared the consequence of the evil in her, and which has since developed itself in thunder and flame. I feel with more pain than many Americans do the sorrow of this transition-time; but I do know that it is transition, that it is crisis, and that you will come out of the fire purified, stainless, having had the angel of a great cause walking with you in the furnace." Are not such burning, hopeful words from such a source—worthy of the grateful memory of the Americans? Our cause has lost an ardent supporter in Mrs. Browning; and did we dare rebel against God's will, we should grieve deeply that she was not permitted to glorify the Right in America as she has glorified it in Italy. Among the last things that she read were Motley's letters on the "American Crisis," and the writer will ever hold in dear memory the all but final conversation had with Mrs. Browning, in which these letters were discussed and warmly approved. In referring to the attitude taken by foreign nations with regard to America, she said,—"Why do you heed what others say? You are strong, and can do without sympathy; and when you have triumphed, your glory will be the greater." Mrs. Browning's most enthusiastic admirers are Americans; and I am sure, that, now she is no longer of earth, they will love her the more for her sympathy in the cause which is nearest to all hearts.
Mrs. Browning's conversation was most interesting. It was not characterized by sallies of wit or brilliant repartee, nor was it of that nature which is most welcome in society. It was frequently intermingled with trenchant, quaint remarks, leavened with a quiet, graceful humor of her own; but it was eminently calculated for a tete-a-tete. Mrs. Browning never made an insignificant remark. All that she said was always worth hearing;—a greater compliment could not be paid her. She was a most conscientious listener, giving you her mind and heart, as well as her magnetic eyes. Though the latter spoke an eager language of their own, she conversed slowly, with a conciseness and point that, added to a matchless earnestness, which was the predominant trait of her conversation as it was of her character, made her a most delightful companion. Persons were never her theme, unless public characters were under discussion, or friends were to be praised,—which kind office she frequently took upon herself. One never dreamed of frivolities in Mrs. Browning's presence, and gossip felt itself out of place. Yourself (not herself) was always a pleasant subject to her, calling out all her best sympathies in joy, and yet more in sorrow. Books and humanity, great deeds, and, above all, politics, which include all the grand questions of the day, were foremost in her thoughts, and therefore oftenest on her lips. I speak not of religion, for with her everything was religion. Her Christianity was not confined to church and rubric: it meant civilization.
Association with the Brownings, even though of the slightest nature, made one better in mind and soul. It was impossible to escape the influence of the magnetic fluid of love and poetry that was constantly passing between husband and wife. The unaffected devotion of one to the other wove an additional charm around the two, and the very contrasts in their natures made the union a more beautiful one. All remember Mrs. Browning's pretty poem on her "Pet Name":—
"I have a name, a little name, Uncadenced for the ear, Unhonored by ancestral claim, Unsanctified by prayer and psalm The solemn font anear.
* * * * *
"My brother gave that name to me, When we were children twain,— When names acquired baptismally Were hard to utter, as to see That life had any pain."
It was this pet name of two small letters lovingly combined that dotted Mr. Browning's spoken thoughts, as moonbeams fleck the ocean, and seemed the pearl-bead that linked conversation together in one harmonious whole. But what was written has now come to pass. The pet name is engraved only in the hearts of a few.
"Though I write books, it will be read Upon the leaves of none; And afterward, when I am dead, Will ne'er be graved, for sight or tread, Across my funeral stone."
Mrs. Browning's letters are masterpieces of their kind. Easy and conversational, they touch upon no subject without leaving an indelible impression of the writer's originality; and the myriad matters of universal interest with which many of them are teeming will render them a precious legacy to the world, when the time shall have arrived for their publication. Of late, Italy has claimed the lion's share in these unrhymed sketches of Mrs. Browning in the negligee of home. Prose has recorded all that poetry threw aside; and thus much political thought, many an anecdote, many a reflection, and much womanly enthusiasm have been stored up for the benefit of more than the persons to whom these letters were addressed. And while we wait patiently for this great pleasure, which must sooner or later be enjoyed and appreciated, we may gather a foretaste of Mrs. Browning's power in prose-writing from her early essays, and from the admirable preface to the "Poems before Congress." The latter is simple in its style, and grand in teachings that find few followers among nations in these enlightened days.
Some are prone to moralize over precious stones, and see in them the petrified souls of men and women. There is no stone so sympathetic as the opal, which one might fancy to be a concentration of Mrs. Browning's genius. It is essentially the woman-stone, giving out a sympathetic warmth, varying its colors from day to day, as though an index of the heart's barometer. There is the topmost purity of white, blended with the delicate, perpetual verdure of hope, and down in the opal's centre lies the deep crimson of love. The red, the white, and the green, forming as they do the colors of Italy, render the opal doubly like Mrs. Browning. It is right that the woman-stone should inclose the symbols of the "Woman Country."
Feeling all these things of Mrs. Browning, it becomes the more painful to place on record an account of those last days that have brought with them so universal a sorrow. Mrs. Browning's illness was only of a week's duration. Having caught a severe cold of a more threatening nature than usual, medical skill was summoned; but, although anxiety in her behalf was necessarily felt, there was no whisper of great danger until the third or fourth night, when those who most loved her said they had never seen her so ill; on the following morning, however, she was better, and from that moment was thought to be improving in health. She herself believed this; and all had such confidence in her wondrous vitality, and the hope was so strong that God would spare her for still greater good, that a dark veil was drawn over what might be. It is often the case, where we are accustomed to associate constant suffering with dear friends, that we calmly look danger in the face without misgivings. So little did Mrs. Browning realize her critical condition, that, until the last day, she did not consider herself sufficiently indisposed to remain in bed, and then the precaution was accidental. So much encouraged did she feel with regard to herself, that, on this final evening, an intimate female friend was admitted to her bedside and found her in good spirits, ready at pleasantry and willing to converse on all the old loved subjects. Her ruling passion had prompted her to glance at the "Athenaeum" and "Nazione"; and when this friend repeated the opinions she had heard expressed by an acquaintance of the new Italian Premier, Ricasoli, to the effect that his policy and Cavour's were identical, Mrs. Browning "smiled like Italy," and thankfully replied,—"I am glad of it; I thought so." Even then her thoughts were not of self. This near friend went away with no suspicion of what was soon to be a terrible reality. Mrs. Browning's own bright boy bade his mother goodnight, cheered by her oft-repeated, "I am better, dear, much better." Inquiring friends were made happy by these assurances.
One only watched her breathing through the night,—he who for fifteen years had ministered to her with all the tenderness of a woman. It was a night devoid of suffering to her. As morning approached, and for two hours previous to the dread moment, she seemed to be in a partial ecstasy; and though not apparently conscious of the coming on of death, she gave her husband all those holy words of love, all the consolation of an oft-repeated blessing, whose value death has made priceless. Such moments are too sacred for the common pen, which pauses as the woman-poet raises herself up to die in the arms of her poet-husband. He knew not that death had robbed him of his treasure, until the drooping form grew chill and froze his heart's blood.
At half-past four, on the morning of the 29th of June, Elizabeth Barrett Browning died of congestion of the lungs. Her last words were, "It is beautiful!" God was merciful to the end, sparing her and hers the agony of a frenzied parting, giving proof to those who were left of the glory and happiness in store for her, by those few words, "It is beautiful!" The spirit could see its future mission even before shaking off the dust of the earth.
Gazing on her peaceful face with its eyes closed on us forever, our cry was her "Cry of the Human."
"We tremble by the harmless bed Of one loved and departed; Our tears drop on the lips that said Last night, 'Be stronger-hearted!' O God! to clasp those fingers close, And yet to feel so lonely! To see a light upon such brows, Which is the daylight only! Be pitiful, O God!"
On the evening of July 1st, the lovely English burying-ground without the walls of Florence opened its gates to receive one more occupant. A band of English, Americans, and Italians, sorrowing men and women, whose faces as well as dress were in mourning, gathered around the bier containing all that was mortal of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Who of those present will forget the solemn scene, made doubly impressive by the grief of the husband and son? "The sting of death is sin," said the clergyman. Sinless in life, her death, then, was without sting; and turning our thoughts inwardly, we murmured her prayers for the dead, and wished that they might have been her burial-service. We heard her poet-voice saying,—
"And friends, dear friends, when it shall be That this low breath is gone from me, And round my bier ye come to weep, Let one most loving of you all Say, 'Not a tear must o'er her fall,— He giveth His beloved sleep.'"
But the tears would fall, as they bore her up the hill, and lowered "His beloved" into her resting-place, the grave. The sun itself was sinking to rest behind the western hills, and sent a farewell smile of love into the east, that it might glance on the lowering bier. The distant mountains hid their faces in a misty veil, and the tall cypress-trees of the cemetery swayed and sighed as Nature's special mourners for her favored child; and there they are to stand keeping watch over her.
"Oh, the little birds sang east, and the little birds sang west, Toll slowly! And I said in under-breath, All our life is mixed with death, And who knoweth which is best?
* * * * *
"Oh, the little birds sang east, and the little birds sang west, Toll slowly! And I 'paused' to think God's greatness flowed around our incompleteness,— Round our restlessness, His rest."
Dust to dust,—and the earth fell with a dull echo on the coffin. We gathered round to take one look, and saw a double grave, too large for her;—may it wait long and patiently for him!
And now a mound of earth marks the spot where sleeps Elizabeth Barrett Browning. A white wreath to mark her woman's purity lies on her head; the laurel wreath of the poet lies at her feet; and friendly hands scatter white flowers over the grave of a week as symbols of the dead.
We feel as she wrote,—
"God keeps a niche In heaven to hold our idols; and albeit He brake them to our faces, and denied That our close kisses should impair their white, I know we shall behold them raised, complete, The dust swept from their beauty, glorified, New Memnons singing in the great God-light."
It is strange that Cavour and Mrs. Browning should have died in the same month, within twenty-three days of each other,—the one the head, the other the heart of Italy. As head and heart made up the perfect life, so death was not complete until Heaven welcomed both. It seemed also strange, that on the night after Mrs. Browning's decease an unexpected comet should glare ominously out of the sky. For the moment we were superstitious, and believed in it as a minister of woe.
Great as is this loss, Mrs. Browning's death is not without a sad consolation. From the shattered condition of her lungs, the physician feels assured that existence could not at the farthest have been prolonged for more than six months. Instead of a sudden call to God, life would have slowly ebbed away; and, too feeble for the slightest exertion, she must have been denied the solace of books, of friends, of writing, perhaps of thought even. God saved her from a living grave, and her husband from protracted misery. Seeking for the shadow of Mrs. Browning's self in her poetry, (for she was a rare instance of an author's superiority to his work,) many an expression is found that welcomes the thought of a change which would free her from the suffering inseparable from her mortality. There is a yearning for a more fully developed life, to be found most frequently in her sonnets. She writes at times as though, through weakness of the body, her wings were tied:—
"When I attain to utter forth in verse Some inward thought, my soul throbs audibly Along my pulses, yearning to be free, And something farther, fuller, higher rehearse, To the individual true, and the universe, In consummation of right harmony! But, like a wind-exposed, distorted tree, We are blown against forever by the curse Which breathes through Nature. Oh, the world is weak; The effluence of each is false to all; Add what we best conceive, we fail to speak! Wait, soul, until thine ashen garments fall, And then resume thy broken strains, and seek Fit peroration without let or thrall!"
The "ashen garments" have fallen,—
"And though we must have and have had Right reason to be earthly sad, Thou Poet-God art great and glad!"
It was meet that Mrs. Browning should come home to die in her Florence, in her Casa Guidi, where she had passed her happy married life, where her boy was born, and where she had watched and rejoiced over the second birth of a great nation. Her heart-strings did not entwine themselves around Rome as around Florence, and it seems as though life had been so eked out that she might find a lasting sleep in Florence. Rome holds fast its Shelley and Keats, to whose lowly graves there is many a reverential pilgrimage; and now Florence, no less honored, has its shrine sacred to the memory of Theodore Parker and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
The present Florence is not the Florence of other days. It can never be the same to those who loved it as much for Mrs. Browning's sake as for its own. Her reflection remains and must ever remain; for,
"while she rests, her songs in troops Walk up and down our earthly slopes, Companioned by diviner hopes."
The Italians have shown much feeling at the loss which they, too, have sustained,—more than might have been expected, when it is considered that few of them are conversant with the English language, and that to those few English poetry (Byron excepted) is unknown.
A battalion of the National Guard was to have followed Mrs. Browning's remains to the grave, had not a misunderstanding as to time frustrated this testimonial of respect. The Florentines have expressed great interest in the young boy, Tuscan-born, and have even requested that he should be educated as an Italian, when any career in the new Italy should be open to him. Though this offer will not be accepted, it was most kindly meant, and shows with what reverence Florence regards the name of Browning. Mrs. Browning's friends are anxious that a tablet to her memory should be placed in the Florentine Pantheon, the Church of Santa Croce. It is true she was not a Romanist, neither was she an Italian,—yet she was Catholic, and more than an Italian. Her genius and what she has done for Italy entitle her to companionship with Galileo, Michel Angelo, Dante, and Alfieri. The friars who have given their permission for the erection of a monument to Cavour in Santa Croce ought willingly to make room for a tablet on which should be inscribed,
SHE SANG THE SONG OF ITALY. SHE WROTE "AURORA LEIGH."
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
Edwin of Deira. By ALEXANDER SMITH. London: Macmillan & Co. Boston: Ticknor & Fields. 16mo.
A third volume of verse by Alexander Smith certainly claims a share of public attention. We should not be at all surprised, if this, his latest venture, turn out his most approved one. The volcanic lines in his earlier pieces drew upon him the wrath of Captain Stab and many younger officers of justice, till then innocent of ink-shed. The old weapons will, no doubt, be drawn upon him profusely enough now. Suffice it for us, this month, if we send to the printer a taste of Alexander's last feast and ask him to "hand it round."
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"So, in the very depth of pleasant May, When every hedge was milky white, the lark A speck against a cape of sunny cloud, Yet heard o'er all the fields, and when his heart Made all the world as happy as itself,— Prince Edwin, with a score of lusty knights, Rode forth a bridegroom to bring home his bride. Brave sight it was to see them on their way, Their long white mantles ruffling in the wind, Their jewelled bridles, horses keen as flame Crushing the flowers to fragrance as they moved! Now flashed they past the solitary crag, Now glimmered through the forest's dewy gloom, Now issued to the sun. The summer night Hung o'er their tents, within the valley pitched, Her transient pomp of stars. When that had paled, And when the peaks of all the region stood Like crimson islands in a sea of dawn, They, yet in shadow, struck their canvas town; For Love shook slumber from him as a foe, And would not be delayed. At height of noon, When, shining from the woods afar in front, The Prince beheld the palace-gates, his heart Was lost in its own beatings, like a sound In echoes. When the cavalcade drew near, To meet it, forth the princely brothers pranced, In plume and golden scale; and when they met, Sudden, from out the palace, trumpets rang Gay wedding music. Bertha, among her maids, Upstarted, as she caught the happy sound, Bright as a star that brightens 'gainst the night. When forth she came, the summer day was dimmed; For all its sunshine sank into her hair, Its azure in her eyes. The princely man Lord of a happiness unknown, unknown, Which cannot all be known for years and years,— Uncomprehended as the shapes of hills When one stands in the midst! A week went by, Deepening from feast to feast; and at the close, The gray priest lifted up his solemn hands, And two fair lives were sweetly blent in one, As stream in stream. Then once again the knights Were gathered fair as flowers upon the sward, While in the distant chambers women wept, And, crowding, blessed the little golden head, So soon to lie upon a stranger's breast, And light that place no more. The gate stood wide: Forth Edwin came enclothed with happiness; She trembled at the murmur and the stir That heaved around,—then, on a sudden, shrank, When through the folds of downcast lids she felt Burn on her face the wide and staring day, And all the curious eyes. Her brothers cried, When she was lifted on the milky steed, 'Ah! little one, 't will soon be dark to-night! A hundred times we'll miss thee in a day, A hundred times we'll rise up to thy call, And want and emptiness will come on us! Now, at the last, our love would hold thee back! Let this kiss snap the cord! Cheer up, my girl! We'll come and see thee when thou hast a boy To toss up proudly to his father's face, To let him hear it crow!' Away they rode; And still the brethren watched them from the door, Till purple distance took them. How she wept, When, looking back, she saw the things she knew— The palace, streak of waterfall, the mead, The gloomy belt of forest—fade away Into the gray of mountains! With a chill The wide strange world swept round her, and she clung Close to her husband's side. A silken tent They spread for her, and for her tiring-girls, Upon the hills at sunset. All was hushed Save Edwin; for the thought that Bertha slept In that wild place,—roofed by the moaning wind, The black blue midnight with its fiery pulse,— So good, so precious, woke a tenderness In which there lived uneasily a fear That kept him still awake. And now, high up, There burned upon the mountain's craggy top Their journey's rosy signal. On they went; And as the day advanced, upon a ridge, They saw their home o'ershadowed by a cloud; And, hanging but a moment on the steep, A sunbeam touched it into dusty rain; And, lo, the town lay gleaming 'mong the woods, And the wet shores were bright. As nigh they drew, The town was emptied to its very babes, And spread as thick as daisies o'er the fields. The wind that swayed a thousand chestnut cones, And sported in the surges of the rye, Forgot its idle play, and, smit with love, Dwelt in her fluttering robe. On every side The people leaped like billows for a sight, And closed behind, like waves behind a ship. Yet, in the very hubbub of the joy, A deepening hush went with her on her way; She was a thing so exquisite, the hind Felt his own rudeness; silent women blessed The lady, as her beauty swam in eyes Sweet with unwonted tears. Through crowds she passed, Distributing a largess of her smiles; And as she entered through the palace-gate, The wondrous sunshine died from out the air, And everything resumed its common look. The sun dropped down into the golden west, Evening drew on apace; and round the fire The people sat and talked of her who came That day to dwell amongst them, and they praised Her sweet face, saying she was good as fair.
"So, while the town hummed on as was its wont, With mill, and wheel, and scythe, and lowing steer In the green field,—while, round a hundred hearths, Brown Labor boasted of the mighty deeds Done in the meadow swaths, and Envy hissed Its poison, that corroded all it touched,— Rusting a neighbor's gold, mildewing wheat, And blistering the pure skin of chastest maid,— Edwin and Bertha sat in marriage joy, From all removed, as heavenly creatures winged, Alit upon a hill-top near the sun, When all the world is reft of man and town By distance, and their hearts the silence fills— Not long: for unto them, as unto all, Down from love's height unto the world of men Occasion called with many a sordid voice. So forth they fared with sweetness in their hearts, That took the sense of sharpness from the thorn. Sweet is love's sun within the heavens alone, But not less sweet when tempered by a cloud Of daily duties! Love's elixir, drained From out the pure and passionate cup of youth, Is sweet; but better, providently used, A few drops sprinkled in each common dish Wherewith the human table is set forth, Leavening all with heaven. Seated high Among his people, on the lofty dais, Dispensing judgment,—making woodlands ring Behind a flying hart with hound and horn,— Talking with workmen on the tawny sands, 'Mid skeletons of ships, how best the prow May slice the big wave and shake off the foam,— Edwin preserved a spirit calm, composed, Still as a river at the full of tide; And in his eye there gathered deeper blue, And beamed a warmer summer. And when sprang The angry blood, at sloth, or fraud, or wrong, Something of Bertha touched him into peace And swayed his voice. Among the people went Queen Bertha, breathing gracious charities, And saw but smiling faces; for the light Aye looks on brightened colors. Like the dawn (Beloved of all the happy, often sought In the slow east by hollow eyes that watch) She seemed to husked find clownish gratitude, That could but kneel and thank. Of industry She was the fair exemplar, us she span Among her maids; and every day she broke Bread to the needy stranger at her gate. All sloth and rudeness fled at her approach; The women blushed and courtesied as she passed, Preserving word and smile like precious gold; And where on pillows clustered children's heads, A shape of light she floated through their dreams."
History, Theory, and Practice of the Electric Telegraph. By GEORGE B. PRESCOTT, Superintendent of Electric Telegraph Lines. Boston: Ticknor and Fields. 1861. 12mo.
It may be safely said that no one of the wonder-working agencies of the nineteenth century, of an importance in any degree equal to that of the Electric Telegraph, is so little understood in its practical details by the world at large. Its results come before us daily, to satisfy our morning and evening appetite for news; but how few have a clear knowledge of even the simplest rules which govern its operation, to say nothing of the vast and complicated system by which these results are made so universal! The general intelligence, at present, doubtless outruns the dull apprehension of the typical Hibernian, who, in earlier telegraphic times, wasted the better part of a day in watching for the passage of a veritable letter over the wires; but even now,—after twenty years of Electric Telegraphy, during which the progress of the magic wire has been so rapid that it has already reached an extent of nearly sixty thousand miles in the United States alone,—even now the ideas of men in general as to the modus operandi of this great agency are, to say the least, extremely vague. Even the chronic and pamphlet-producing quarrel between the managers of our telegraphic system and their Briarean antagonist, the daily-newspaper-press, fails to convey to our general sense anything beyond the impression that the most gigantic benefits may be so abused as to tempt us into an occasional wish that they had never existed.
One reason of this general ignorance has been the absence of any text-book or manual on the subject, giving a clear and thorough exposition of its mysteries. The present is the first American work which takes the subject in hand from the beginning and carries it through the entire process which leads to the results we have spoken of. Its author brings to his work the best possible qualification,—a long familiarity with the subject in the every-day details of its development. His Introduction informs the reader that he has been engaged for thirteen years in the business of practical telegraphing. He is thus sure of his ground, from the best of sources, personal experience.
We shall not criticize the work in detail, but shall rest satisfied with saying that the author has succeeded in his design of making the whole subject clear to any reader who will follow his lucid and systematic exposition. The plan of the work is simple, and the arrangement orderly and proper. A concise statement is given of the fundamental principles of electricity, and of the means of its artificial propagation. This includes, of course, a description of the various batteries used in telegraphing. Then follows a chapter upon electro-magnetism and its application to the telegraph. This prepares the way for a statement of the physical conditions under which the electrical current may be conveyed. The author then describes the instruments necessary for the transmission and recording of intelligible signs, under which general head of "Electric Telegraph Apparatus" the various telegraphic systems are made the subject of careful description. A chapter is given to the history of each system,—the Morse, the Needle, the House, the Bain, the Hughes, the Combination, and others of less note. These chapters are very complete and very interesting, embodying, as they do, the history of each instrument, the details of its use, and a statement of its capabilities. The system most used in America is the Combination system, the printing instrument of which is the result of an ingenious combination of the most desirable qualities of the House and Hughes systems. Of this fine instrument a full-page engraving is given, which, with Mr. Prescott's careful explanation, renders the recording process very clear.
The next division of the work relates to subterranean and submarine telegraphic lines. Of this the greater portion is devoted to the Atlantic cable, the great success and the great failure of our time. The chapter devoted to this unfortunate enterprise gives the completest account of its rise, progress, and decline that we have ever seen. It seems to set at rest, so far as evidence can do it, the mooted question whether any message ever did really pass through the submerged cable,—a point upon which there are many unbelievers, even at the present day. We think these unbelievers would do well to read the account before us. Mr. Prescott informs us, that, from the first laying of the cable to the day when it ceased to work, no less than four hundred messages were actually transmitted: one hundred and twenty-nine from Valentia to Trinity Bay, and two hundred and seventy-one from Trinity Bay to Valentia. The curious reader may find copies of all these messages chronologically set down in this volume. Mr. Prescott expresses entire confidence in the restoration of telegraphic communication between the two hemispheres. It may be reasonably doubted, however, if direct submarine communication will ever be resumed. Two other routes are suggested as more likely to become the course of the international wires. One is that lately examined by Sir Leopold M'Clintock and Captain Young, under the auspices of the British Government. This route, taking the extreme northern coast of Scotland as its point of departure, and touching the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland, strikes our continent upon the coast of Labrador, making the longest submarine section eight hundred miles, about one-third the length of the Atlantic cable. There is not a little doubt, however, as to the practicability of this route; and as the British Government has already expended several hundred thousand pounds in experimenting upon submarine cables, it is not likely that it will venture much more upon any project not holding out a very absolute promise of success. What seems more likely is, that our telegraphic communication with Europe will be made eventually through Asia. Even now the Russian Government is vigorously pushing its telegraphic lines eastward from Moscow; and its own interest affords a strong guaranty that telegraphic communication will soon be established between its commercial metropolis and its military and trading posts on the Pacific border. A project has also recently taken form to establish a line between Quebec and the Hudson Bay Company's posts north of the Columbia River. With the two extremes so near meeting, a submarine wire would soon be laid over Behring's Straits, or crossing at a more southern point and touching the Aleutian Islands in its passage.
Two of the chapters of this work will be recognized by readers of the "Atlantic" as having first appeared in its pages,—a chapter upon the Progress and Present Condition of the Electric Telegraph in the various countries of the world, and a description of the Electrical Influence of the Aurora Borealis upon the Working of the Telegraph. These, with a curiously interesting chapter upon the Various Applications of the Telegraph, and an amusing miscellaneous chapter showing that the Telegraph has a literature of its own, complete the chief popular elements of the volume. The remainder is devoted mainly to a technical treatise on the proper method of constructing telegraphic lines, perfecting insulation, etc. In an Appendix we have a more careful consideration of Galvanism, and a more detailed examination of the qualities and capacities of the various batteries.
As is becoming in any, and especially in an American, treatise upon this great subject, Mr. Prescott devotes some space to a detailed account of the labors of Professor Morse, which have led to his being regarded as the father of our American system of telegraphing. In a chapter entitled "Early Discoveries in Electro-Dynamics," he publishes for the first time some interesting facts elicited during the trial, in the Supreme Court of the United States, of the suit of the Morse patentees against the House Company for alleged infringement of patent. In this chapter we have a resume of the evidence before the Court, and an abstract of the decision of Judge Woodbury. This leads clearly to the conclusion, that, although Professor Morse had no claims to any merit of actual invention, yet he had the purely mechanical merit of having gone beyond all his compeers in the application of discoveries and inventions already made, and that he was the first to contrive and set in operation a thoroughly effective instrument.
Mr. Prescott has produced a very readable and useful book. It has been thoroughly and appropriately illustrated, and is a very elegant specimen of the typographer's art.
Great Expectations. By CHARLES DICKENS. Philadelphia: T.B. Peterson & Brothers. 8vo.
The very title of this book indicates the confidence of conscious genius. In a new aspirant for public favor, such a title might have been a good device to attract attention; but the most famous novelist of the day, watched by jealous rivals and critics, could hardly have selected it, had he not inwardly felt the capacity to meet all the expectations he raised. We have read it, as we have read all Mr. Dickens's previous works, as it appeared in instalments, and can testify to the felicity with which expectation was excited and prolonged, and to the series of surprises which accompanied the unfolding of the plot of the story. In no other of his romances has the author succeeded so perfectly in at once stimulating and baffling the curiosity of his readers. He stirred the dullest minds to guess the secret of his mystery; but, so far as we have learned, the guesses of his most intelligent readers have been almost as wide of the mark as those of the least apprehensive. It has been all the more provoking to the former class, that each surprise was the result of art, and not of trick; for a rapid review of previous chapters has shown that the materials of a strictly logical development of the story were freely given. Even after the first, second, third, and even fourth of these surprises gave their pleasing electric shocks to intelligent curiosity, the denouement was still hidden, though confidentially foretold. The plot of the romance is therefore universally admitted to be the best that Dickens has ever invented. Its leading events are, as we read the story consecutively, artistically necessary, yet, at the same time, the processes are artistically concealed. We follow the movement of a logic of passion and character, the real premises of which we detect only when we are startled by the conclusions.