* * * * *
Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1809-. (Manual, p. 520.)
From "The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table."
211. CONSEQUENCES OF EXPOSING AN OLD ERROR.
Did you never, in walking in the fields, come across a large flat stone which had lain, nobody knows how long, just where you found it, with the grass forming a little hedge, as it were, all round it, close to its edges,—and have you not, in obedience to a kind of feeling that told you it had been lying there long enough, insinuated your stick, or your foot, or your fingers, under its edge, and turned it over as a housewife turns a cake, when she says to herself, "It's done brown enough by this time?" What an odd revelation, and what an unforeseen and unpleasant surprise to a small community, the very existence of which you had not suspected, until the sudden dismay and scattering among its members produced by your turning the old stone over! Blades of grass flattened down, colorless, matted together, as if they had been bleached and ironed; hideous crawling creatures, some of them coleopterous or horny-shelled,—turtle-bugs one wants to call them; some of them softer but cunningly spread out and compressed like Lepine watches; (Nature never loses a crack or a crevice, mind you, or a joint in a tavern bedstead, but she always has one of her flat pattern live timekeepers to slide into it;) black, glossy crickets, with their long filaments sticking out like the whips of four-horse stage-coaches; motionless, slug-like creatures, young larvae, perhaps more horrible in their pulpy stillness than even in the infernal wriggle of maturity. But no sooner is the stone turned and the wholesome light of day let upon this compressed and blinded community of creeping things, than all of them which enjoy the luxury of legs—and some of them have a good many—rush round wildly, butting each other and everything in their way, and end in a general stampede for underground retreats from the region poisoned by sunshine. Next year you will find the grass growing tall and green where the stone lay; the ground-bird builds her nest where the beetle had his hole; the dandelion and the buttercup are growing there, and the broad fans of insect-angels open and shut over their golden disks, as the rhythmic waves of blissful consciousness pulsate through their glorified being.
—The young fellow whom they call John saw fit to say, in his very familiar way,—at which I do not choose to take offence, but which I sometimes think it necessary to repress,—that I was coming it rather strong on the butterflies.
No, I replied; there is meaning in each of those images, the butterfly as well as the others. The stone is ancient error. The grass is human nature borne down and bleached of all its color by it. The shapes which are found beneath are the crafty beings that thrive in darkness, and the weaker organisms kept helpless by it. He who turns the stone over is whosoever puts the staff of truth to the old lying incubus, no matter whether he do it with a serious face or a laughing one. The next year stands for the coming time. Then shall the nature which had lain blanched and broken, rise in its full stature and native hues, in the sunshine. Then shall God's minstrels build their nests in the hearts of a new-born humanity. Then shall beauty—Divinity taking outlines and color—light upon the souls of men as the butterfly, image of the beautified spirit rising from the dust, soars from the shell that held a poor grub, which would never have found wings, had not the stone been lifted.
You never need think you can turn over any old falsehood without a terrible squirming and scattering of the horrid little population that dwells under it.
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212. PLEASURES OF BOATING.
I dare not publicly name the rare joys, the infinite delights, that intoxicate me on some sweet June morning, when the river and bay are smooth as a sheet of beryl-green silk, and I run along ripping it up with my knife-edged shell of a boat, the rent closing after me like those wounds of angels which Milton tells of, but the seam still shining for many a long road behind me. To lie still, over the Flats, where the waters are shallow, and see the crabs crawling and the sculpins gliding busily and silently beneath the boat,—to rustle in through the long harsh grass that leads up some tranquil creek,—to take shelter from the sunbeams under one of the thousand-footed bridges, and look down its interminable colonnades, crusted with green and oozy growths, studded with minute barnacles, and belted with rings of dark muscles, while overhead, streams and thunders that other river, whose every wave is a human soul flowing to eternity as the river below flows to the ocean,—lying there moored unseen, in loneliness so profound that the columns of Tadmoor in the Desert could not seem more remote from life,—the cool breeze on one's forehead, the stream whispering against the half-sunken pillars,—why should I tell of these things, that I should live to see my beloved haunts invaded and the waves blackened with boats as with a swarm of water-beetles? What a city of idiots we must be, not to have covered this glorious bay with gondolas and wherries, as we have just learned to cover the ice in winter with skaters!
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From "The Guardian Angel."
213. THE UNSPOKEN DECLARATION.
Myrtle had, perhaps, never so seriously inclined her ear to the honeyed accents of the young pleader. He flattered her with so much tact, that she thought she heard an unconscious echo through his lips of an admiration which he only shared with all around him. But in him he made it seem discriminating, deliberate, not blind, but very real. This it evidently was which had led him to trust her with his ambitions and his plans,—they might be delusions, but he could never keep them from her, and she was the one woman in the world to whom he thought he could safely give his confidence.
The dread moment was close at had. Myrtle was listening with an instinctive premonition of what was coming,—ten thousand mothers and grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, and so on, had passed through it all in preceding generations, until time readied backwards to the sturdy savage who asked no questions of any kind, but knocked down the primeval great-grandmother of all, and carried her off to his hole in the rock, or into the tree where he had made his nest. Why should not the coming question announce itself by stirring in the pulses, and thrilling in the nerves, of the descendant of all these grandmothers?
She was leaning imperceptibly towards him, drawn by the mere blind elemental force, as the plummet was attracted to the side of Schehallien. Her lips were parted, and she breathed a little faster than so healthy a girl ought to breathe in a state of repose. The steady nerves of William Murray Bradshaw felt unwonted thrills and tremors tingling through them, as he came nearer and nearer the few simple words with which he was to make Myrtle Hazard the mistress of his destiny. His tones were becoming lower and more serious; there were slight breaks once or twice in the conversation; Myrtle had cast down her eyes.
"There is but one word more to add," he murmured softly, as he bent towards her—
A grave voice interrupted him. "Excuse me, Mr. Bradshaw," said Master Byles Gridley, "I wish to present a young gentleman to my friend here. I promised to show him the most charming young person I have the honor to be acquainted with, and I must redeem my pledge. Miss Hazard, I have the pleasure of introducing to your acquaintance my distinguished young friend, Mr. Clement Lindsay."
* * * * *
From "Currents and Counter Currents."
214. MECHANISM OF VITAL ACTION.
But if the student of nature and the student of divinity can once agree that all the forces of the universe, as well as all its power, are immediately dependent upon its Creator,—that He is not only omnipotent but omnimovent,—we have no longer any fear of nebular theories, or doctrines of equivocal generation, or of progressive development....
We begin then by examining the general rules which the Creator seems to have prescribed to His own operations. We ask, in the first place, whether He is wont, so far as we know, to employ a great multitude of materials, patterns, and forces, or whether He has seen fit to accomplish many different ends by the employment of a few of these only.
In all our studies of external nature, the tendency of increasing knowledge has uniformly been to show that the rules of creation are simplicity of material, economy of inventive effort, and thrift in the expenditure of force. All the endless forms in which matter presents itself to us, are resolved by chemistry into some three-score supposed simple substances, some of these perhaps being only modifications of the same element. The shapes of beasts and birds, of reptiles and fishes, vary in every conceivable degree; yet a single vertebra is the pattern and representation of the framework of them all, from eels to elephants. The identity reaches still further,—across a mighty gulf of being,—but bridges it over with a line of logic as straight as a sunbeam, and as indestructible as the scymitar-edge that spanned the chasm, in the fable of the Indian Hades. Strange as it may sound, the tail which the serpent trails after him in the dust, and the head of Plato, were struck in the die of the same primitive conception, and differ only in their special adaptation to particular ends. Again, the study of the movements of the universe has led us, from their complex phenomena, to the few simple forces from which they flow. The falling apple and the rolling planet are shown to obey the same tendency. The stick of sealing-wax which draws a feather to it, is animated by the same impulse that convulses the stormy heavens. These generalizations have simplified our view of the grandest material operations, yet we do not feel that creative power and wisdom have been shorn of any single ray, by the demonstrations of Newton, or of Franklin. On the contrary, the larger the collection of seemingly heterogeneous facts we can bring under the rule of a single formula, the nearer we feel that we have reached towards the source of knowledge, and the more perfectly we trace the little arc of the immeasurable circle which comes within the range of our hasty observations, at first like the broken fragments of a many-sided polygon, but at last as a simple curve which encloses all we know, or can know, of nature. To our own intellectual wealth, the gain is like that of the over-burdened traveller, who should exchange hundred-weights of iron for ounces of gold. Evanescent, formless, unstable, impalpable, a fog of uncondensed experiences hovers over our consciousness like an atmosphere of uncombined gases. One spark of genius shoots through it, and its elements rush together and glitter before us in a single translucent drop. It would hardly be extravagant to call Science the art of packing knowledge.
* * * * *
John William Draper, 1810-.
From the "Human Physiology."
215. TRUTHS IN THE ANCIENT PHILOSOPHIES.
It is not my intention to enter on an examination, or even enumeration, of ancient philosophical opinions, nor to show that many of the doctrines which have been brought forward within the last three centuries existed in embryo in those times. It may, however, be observed that, in the midst of much error, there were those who held just views of the various problems of theology, law, politics, philosophy, and particularly of the fundamental doctrines of natural science, the constitution of the solar system, the geological history of the earth, the nature of chemical forces, the physiological relations of animals and plants.
It is supposed by many, whose attention has been casually drawn to the philosophical opinions of antiquity, that the doctrines which we still retain as true came to the knowledge of the old philosophers, not so much by processes of legitimate investigation as by mere guessing or crude speculation, for which there was an equal chance whether they were right or wrong; but a closer examination will show that many of them must have depended on results previously determined or observed by the Africans or Asiatics, and thus they seem to indicate that the human mind has undergone in twenty centuries but little change in its manner of action, and that, commencing with the same data, it always comes to the same conclusions. Nor is this at all dependent on any inherent logic of truth. Very many of the errors of antiquity have re-appeared in our times. If the Greek schools were infected with materialism, pantheism, and atheism, the later progress of philosophy has shown the same characters. To a certain extent, such doctrines will receive an impression from the prevailing creeds, but the arguments which have been appealed to in their favor have always been the same. The distinction between these heresies in ancient and modern times lies chiefly in the grosser characters which they formerly assumed, arising partly from the reflected influence of the existing mythology, and partly from the imperfections of exact knowledge. Even the errors of early antiquity are venerable. We must judge our predecessors by the rules by which we hope posterity will judge us, making a generous allowance for the imperfections of reason, the infirmities of character, and especially for the prejudices of the times. To have devoutly believed in the existence of a human soul, to have looked forward to its continuing after the death of the body, to have expected a future state of rewards and punishments, and to have drawn therefrom, as a philosophical conclusion, the necessity of leading a virtuous life—these, though they may be enveloped in a cloud of errors, are noble results of the intellect of man.
[Footnote 52: Distinguished as an author in chemistry and physiology, and as a philosophical historian: a native of England, but long a professor in New York University.]
* * * * *
From "Thoughts on the Future Civil Policy of America."
216. PROSPECTIVE INFLUENCES OF THE REPUBLIC.
Now, when, we consider the position of the American continent,—its Atlantic front looking upon Europe, its Pacific front looking upon Asia,—when we reflect how much Nature has done for it in the wonderful river system she has bestowed, and how varied are the mineral and agricultural products it yields, it would seem as if we should be constrained by circumstances to carry out spontaneously in practical life the abstract suggestions of policy.... Great undertakings, such as the construction of the Pacific Railroad, pressed into existence by commercial motives and fostered for military reasons, will indirectly accomplish political objects not yielding in importance to those that are obvious and avowed.
A few years more, and the influence of the great republic will resistlessly extend in a direction that will lead to surprising results.... The stream of Chinese emigration already setting into California is but the precursor of the flood that is to come. Here are the fields, there are the men. The dominant power on the Pacific Ocean must necessarily exert a controlling influence in the affairs of Asia.
The Roman empire is regarded, perhaps not unjustly, as the most imposing of all human political creations. Italy extended her rule across the eastern and western basins of the Mediterranean Sea, from the confines of Parthia to Spain. A similar central, but far grander, position is occupied by the American continent. The partitions of an interior and narrow sea are replaced by the two great oceans. But, since history ever repeats itself, the maxims that guided the policy of Rome in her advance to sovereignty are not without application here. Her mistakes may be monitions to us.
A great, a homogeneous, and yet an active people, having strength and security in its political institutions, may look forward to a career of glory. It may, without offense, seek to render its life memorable in the annals of the human race.
* * * * *
James Russell Lowell, 1810-. (Manual, pp. 503, 520.)
From "Among my Books."
217. NEW ENGLAND TWO CENTURIES AGO.
I have little sympathy with declaimers about the Pilgrim Fathers, who look upon them all as men of grand conceptions and superhuman foresight. An entire ship's company of Columbuses is what the world never saw. It is not wise to form any theory and fit our facts to it, as a man in a hurry is apt to cram his traveling-bag, with a total disregard of shape or texture. But perhaps it may be found that the facts will only fit comfortably together on a single plan, namely, that the fathers did have a conception (which those will call grand who regard simplicity as a necessary element of grandeur) of founding here a commonwealth on those two eternal bases of Faith and Work; that they had, indeed, no revolutionary ideas of universal liberty; but yet, what answered the purpose quite as well, an abiding faith in the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God; and that they did not so much propose to make all things new, as to develop the latent possibilities of English law and English character by clearing away the fences by which the abuse of the one was gradually discommoning the other from the broad fields of natural right. They were not in advance of their age, as it is called, for no one who is so can ever work profitably in it; but they were alive to the highest and most earnest thinking of their time.
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218. From an "Essay on Dryden."
I do not think he added a single word to the language, unless, as I suspect, he first used magnetism in its present sense of moral attraction. What he did in his best writing was, to use the English as if it were a spoken, and not merely an inkhorn language; as if it were his own to do what he pleased with it, as if it need not be ashamed of itself. In this respect, his service to our prose was greater than any other man has ever rendered. He says he formed his style upon Tillotson's (Bossuet on the other hand, formed his upon Corneille's); but I rather think he got it at Will's, for its greatest charm is, that it has the various freedom of talk. In verse, he has a pomp which, excellent in itself, became pompousness in his imitators. But he had nothing of Milton's ear for various rhythm and interwoven harmony. He knew how to give new modulation, sweetness, and force to the pentameter; but in what used to be called pindarics, I am heretic enough to think he generally failed.
* * * * *
From "My Study Windows."
219. LOVE OF BIRDS AND SQUIRRELS.
Wilson's thrush comes every year to remind me of that most poetic of ornithologists. He flits before me through the pine-walk like the very genius of solitude. A pair of pewees have built immemorially on a jutting brick in the arched entrance to the ice-house. Always on the same brick, and never more than a single pair, though two broods of five each are raised there every summer. How do they settle their claim to the homestead? By what right of primogeniture? Once, the children of a man employed about the place ooelogized the nest, and the pewees left us for a year or two. I felt towards those boys as the messmates of the Ancient Mariner did towards him after he had shot the albatross. But the pewees came back at last, and one of them is now on his wonted perch, so near my window that I can hear the click of his bill as he snaps a fly on the wing.... The pewee is the first bird to pipe up in the morning; and, during the early summer he preludes his matutinal ejaculation of pewee with a slender whistle, unheard at any other time. He saddens with the season, and, as summer declines, he changes his note to eheu, pewee! I as if in lamentation. Had he been an Italian bird, Ovid would have had a plaintive tale to tell about him. He is so familiar as often to pursue a fly through the open window into my library.
There is something inexpressibly dear to me in these old friendships of a lifetime. There is scarce a tree of mine but has had, at some time or other, a happy homestead among its boughs, to which I cannot say,
"Many light hearts and wings, Which now be dead, lodged in thy living bowers."
My walk under the pines would lose half its summer charm were I to miss that shy anchorite, the Wilson's thrush, nor hear in haying time the metallic ring of his song, that justifies his rustic name of scythe-whet. I protect my game as jealously as an English squire. If anybody had ooelogized a certain cuckoo's nest I know of (I have a pair in my garden every year), it would have left me a sore place in my mind for weeks. I love to bring these aborigines back to the mansuetude they showed to the early voyagers, and before (forgive the involuntary pun), they had grown accustomed to man and knew his savage ways. And they repay your kindness with a sweet familiarity too delicate ever to breed contempt. I have made a Penn-treaty with them, preferring that to the Puritan way with the native, which converted them to a little Hebraism and a great deal of Medford rum. If they will not come near enough to me (as most of them will), I bring them close with an opera-glass,—a much better weapon than a gun. I would not, if I could, convert them from their pretty pagan ways. The only one I sometimes have savage doubts about, is the red squirrel. I think he ooelogizes; I know he eats cherries, (we counted five of them at one time in a single tree, the stones pattering down like the sparse hail that preludes a storm), and that he knaws off the small end of pears to get at the seeds. He steals the corn from under the noses of my poultry. But what would you have? He will come down upon the limb of the tree I am lying under, till he is within a yard of me. He and his mate will scurry up and down the great black-walnut for my diversion, chattering like monkeys. Can I sign his death-warrant who has tolerated me about his grounds so long? Not I. Let them steal, and welcome, I am sure I should, had I the same bringing up and the same temptation. As for the birds, I do not believe there is one of them but does more good than harm; and of how many featherless bipeds can this be said.
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220. CHAUCER'S LOVE OF NATURE.
He was the first great poet who really loved outward nature as the source of conscious pleasurable emotion. The Troubadour hailed the return of spring, but with him it was a piece of empty ritualism. Chaucer took a true delight in the new green of the leaves, and the return of singing birds—a delight as simple as that of Robin Hood:—
"In summer when the shaws be sheen, And leaves be large and long, It is full merry in fair forest To hear the small birds' song."
He has never so much as heard of the burthen and the mystery of all this unintelligible world. His flowers and trees and birds have never bothered themselves with Spinoza. He himself sings more like a bird than any other poet, because it never occurred to him, as to Goethe, that he ought to do so. He pours himself out in sincere joy and thankfulness. When we compare Spenser's imitations of him with the original passages, we feel that the delight of the later poet was more in the expression than in the thing itself. Nature, with him, is only to be transfigured by art. We walk among Chaucer's sights and sounds; we listen to Spenser's musical reproduction of them. In the same way the pleasure which Chaucer takes in telling his stories, has, in itself, the effect of consummate skill, and makes us follow all the windings of his fancy with sympathetic interest. His best tales run on like one of our inland rivers, sometimes hastening a little and turning upon themselves in eddies, that dimple without retarding the current, sometimes loitering smoothly, while here and there a quiet thought, a tender feeling, a pleasant image, a golden-hearted verse, opens quietly as a water-lily to float on the surface without breaking it into ripple.... Chaucer never shows any signs of effort, and it is a main proof of his excellence that he can be so inadequately sampled by detached passages, by single lines taken away from the connection in which they contribute to the general effect. He has that continuity of thought, that evenly prolonged power, and that delightful equanimity, which characterize the higher orders of mind. There is something in him of the disinterestedness that made the Greeks masters in art. His phrase is never importunate. His simplicity is that of elegance, not of poverty. The quiet unconcern with which he says his best things is peculiar to him among English poets, though Goldsmith, Addison, and Thackeray, have approached it in prose. He prattles inadvertently away, and all the while, like the princess in the story, lets fall a pearl at every other word. It is such a piece of good luck to be natural. It is the good gift which the fairy god-mother brings to her prime favorites in the cradle. If not genius, it is alone what makes genius amiable in the arts. If a man have it not he will never find it; for when it is sought it is gone.
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Edgar Allen Poe, 1811-1849. (Manual, p. 510.)
From "The Masque of the Red Death."
221. CHIMING OF THE CLOCK.
... The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue. But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet—a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and fro, or depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire, that projected its rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamber, the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.
It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when the minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound which was clear and loud and deep, and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows, as if in confused revery or meditation. But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervaded the assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled, as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should produce in them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse of sixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousness and meditation as before.
* * * * *
From his "Essays."
222. The Philosophy of Composition.
There is a radical error, I think, in the usual mode of constructing a story. Either history affords a thesis—or one is suggested by an incident of the day—or, at best, the author sets himself to work in the combination of striking events to form merely the basis of his narrative—designing, generally, to fill in with description, dialogue, or autorial comment, whatever crevices of fact, or action, may, from page to page, render themselves apparent.
I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect, keeping originality always in view—for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest. I say to myself, in the first place, "Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect, or (more generally) the soul, is susceptible, what one shall I, on the present occasion, select?" Having chosen a novel, first, and secondly a vivid, effect, I consider whether it can be best wrought by incident or tone, whether by ordinary incidents and peculiar tone, or the converse, or by peculiarity both of incident and tone—afterward looking about me (or rather within) for such combinations of event, or tone, as shall best aid me in the construction of the effect.
I have often thought how interesting a magazine paper might be written by any author who would—that is to say, who could—detail, step by step, the process by which any one of his compositions attained its ultimate point of completion. Why such a paper has never been given to the world, I am much at a loss to say—but, perhaps, the autorial vanity has had more to do with the omission than any one other cause. Most writers, poets in especial, prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy, an ecstatic intuition, and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes, at the elaborate and vacillating crudities of thought—at the true purposes seized only at the last moment—at the innumerable glimpses of idea that arrived not at the maturity of full view—at the fully matured fancies discarded in despair as unmanageable—at the cautious selections and rejections—at the painful erasures and interpolations—in a word, at the wheels and pinions, the tackle for scene-shifting—the step-ladders and demon-traps—the cock's feathers, the red paint and the black patches, which, in ninety-nine cases out of the hundred, constituted the properties of the literary histrio.
I am aware, on the other hand, that the case is by no means common in which an author is at all in condition to retrace the steps by which his conclusions have been attained. In general, suggestions having arisen pell-mell, are pursued and forgotten in a similar manner.
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Henry T. Tuckerman, 1813-.
From "New England Philosophy," an Essay from "The Optimist."
223. THE HEART SUPERIOR TO THE INTELLECT.
Constant supplies of knowledge to the intellect, and the exclusive cultivation of reason, may, indeed, make a pedant and a logician; but the probability is, these benefits—if such they are—will be gained at the expense of the soul. Sentiment, in its broadest acceptation, is as essential to the true enjoyment and grace of life as mind. Technical information, and that quickness of apprehension which New Englanders call smartness, are not so valuable to a human being as sensibility to the beautiful, and a spontaneous appreciation of the divine influences which fill the realms of vision and of sound, and the world of action and, feeling. The tastes, affections, and sentiments are more absolutely the man than his talents or acquirements. And yet it is by, and through, the latter that we are apt to estimate character, of which they are at best but fragmentary evidences. It is remarkable that in the New Testament, allusions to the intellect are so rare, while the "heart" and the "spirit we are of" are ever appealed to....
To what end are society, popular education, churches, and all the machinery of culture, if no living truth is elicited which fertilizes, as well as enlightens. Shakespeare undoubtedly owed his marvelous insight into the human soul, to his profound sympathy with man. He might have conned whole libraries on the philosophy of the passions, he might have coldly observed facts for years, and never have conceived of jealousy like Othello's,—the remorse of Macbeth, or love like that of Juliet....
Sometimes, in musing upon genius in its simpler manifestations, it seems as if the great art of human culture consisted chiefly in preserving the glow and freshness of the heart. It is certain that, in proportion as its merely mental strength and attainment take the place of natural sentiment, in proportion as we acquire the habit of receiving all impressions through the reason, the teachings of Nature grow indistinct and cold.... It is when we are overcome, and the pride of intellect vanquished before the truth of nature, when instead of coming to a logical decision we are led to bow in profound reverence before the mysteries of life, when we are led back to childhood, or up to God, by some powerful revelation of the sage or minstrel, it is then our natures grow. To this end is all art. Exquisite vocalism, beautiful statuary, and painting, and all true literature, have not for their great object to employ the ingenuity of prying critics, or furnish the world with a set of new ideas, but to move the whole nature by the perfection and truthfulness of their appeal. There is a certain atmosphere exhaled from the inspired page of genius, which gives vitality to the sentiments, and through these, quickens the mental powers. And this is the chief good of books.
* * * * *
H.N. Hudson, 1814-. (Manual, pp. 480, 501.)
From "Preface to the Works of Shakespeare."
224. Shakespeare's Works Instructive.
It is true, he often lays on us burdens of passion that would not be borne in any other writer. But whether he wrings the heart with pity, or freezes the blood with terror, or fires the soul with indignation, the genial reader still rises from his pages refreshed. The reason of which is, instruction keeps pace with excitement: he strengthens the mind in proportion as he loads it. He has been called the great master of passion: doubtless he is so; yet he makes us think as intensely as he requires us to feel; while opening the deepest fountains of the heart, he at the same time unfolds the highest energies of the head. Nay, with such consummate art does he manage the fiercest tempests of our being, that in a healthy mind the witnessing of them is always attended with an overbalance of pleasure. With the very whirlwinds of passion he so blends the softening and alleviating influences of poetry, that they relish of nothing but sweetness and health.... He is not wont to exhibit either utterly worthless or utterly faultless monsters; persons too good, or too bad, to exist; too high to be loved, or too low to be pitied; even his worst characters (unless we should except Goneril and Regan, and even their blood is red like ours) have some slight fragrance of humanity about them, some indefinable touches, which redeem them from utter hatred and execration, and keep them within the pale of human sympathy, or at least of human pity.
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Mary Henderson Eastman, about 1815-.
From "The American Aboriginal Port Folio."
225. Lake Itasca, the Source of the Mississippi.
There it lay—the beautiful lake—swaying its folds of crystal water between the hills that guarded it from its birth. There it lay, placid as a sleeping child, the tall pines on the surrounding summits standing like so many motionless and watchful sentinels for its protection.
There was the sequestered birthplace of that mighty mass of waters, that, leaving the wilderness of beauty where they lived undisturbed and unknown, wound their way through many a desolate prairie, and fiercely lashed the time-worn bluffs, whose sides were as walls to the great city, where lived and died the toiling multitude. The lake was as some fair and pure, maiden, in early youth, so beautiful, so full of repose and truth, that it was impossible to look and not to love.... There was but one landing to the lake, our travellers found. It was on a small island, that they called Schoolcraft's Island. On a tall spruce tree they raised the American flag. There was enough in the novelty of the scenery, and of the event, to interest the white men of the party. There was a solemnity mingled with their pleased emotions; for who had made this grand picture, stretching out in its beauty and majesty before them? What were they, in comparison with the great and good Being upon whose works they were gazing?
[Footnote 53: This lady—a native of Virginia—has written several interesting books, chiefly relating to Indian tradition.]
* * * * *
226. A PLEA FOR THE INDIANS.
The light of the great council-fire—its blaze once illumined the entire country we now call our own—is faintly gleaming out its unsteady and dying rays. Our fathers were guests, and warmed themselves by its hospitable rays; now we are lords, and rule with an iron hand over those who received kindly, and entertained generously, the wanderer who came from afar to worship his God according to his own will. The very hearth where moulder the ashes of this once never-ceasing fire, is becoming desolate, the decaying embers sometimes starting into a brief brilliancy, and then fading into a gloom more sad, more silent, than ever. Soon will be scattered, as by the winds of heaven, the last ashes that remain. Think of it, O legislator! as thou standest in the Capitol, the great council-hall of thy country; plead for them, "upon whose pathway death's dark shadow falls."
* * * * *
Mary E. Moragne, 1815-.
From "The Huguenot Town."
227. RUINS OF THE OLD FRENCH SETTLEMENT.
An ignorance of the common methods of agriculture practised here, as well as strong prejudices in favor of their former habits of living, prevented them from seizing with avidity on large bodies of land, by individual possession; but the site of a town being selected, a lot of four acres was apportioned to every citizen. In a short time a hundred houses had risen, in a regularly compact body, in the square of which stood a building superior in size and construction to the rest....
... The town was soon busy with the industry of its tradesmen; silk and flax were manufactured, whilst the cultivators of the soil were taxed with the supply of corn and wine. The hum of cheerful voices arose during the week, mingled with the interdicted songs of praise; and on the Sabbath the quiet worshippers assembled in their rustic church, listened with fervent response to that faithful pastor, who had been their spiritual leader through perils by sea and land, and who now directed their free, unrestrained devotion to the Lord of the forest.
... The woods still wave on in melancholy grandeur, with the added glory of near a hundred years; but they who once lived and worshipped beneath them—where are they? Shades of my ancestors,—where? No crumbling wreck, no mossy ruin, points the antiquarian research to the place of their sojourn, or to their last resting-places! The traces of a narrow trench, surrounding a square plat of ground, now covered with the interlacing arms of hawthorn and wild honey-suckle, arrest the attention as we are proceeding along a strongly beaten track in the deep woods, and we are assured that this is the site of the "old French town" which has given its name to the portion of country around.
[Footnote 54: One of the best female writers of South Carolina, who has of late years laid aside her pen.]
* * * * *
Richard H. Dana, Jr., 1815-. (Manual, p. 504.)
From "Two years before the Mast."
228. LOSS OF A MAN AT SEA.
Death is at all tunes solemn, but never so much so as at sea. A man dies on shore; his body remains with his friends, and "the mourners go about the streets;" but when a man falls overboard at sea and is lost, there is a suddenness in the event, and a difficulty in realizing it, which give to it an air of awful mystery. A man dies on shore—you follow his body to the grave, and a stone marks the spot. You are often prepared for the event. There is always something which helps you to realize it when it happens, and to recall it when it has passed. A man is shot down by your side in battle, and the mangled body remains an object, and a real evidence; but at sea, the man is near you—at your side—you hear his voice, and in an instant he is gone, and nothing but a vacancy shows his loss. Then too, at sea—to use a homely but expressive phrase—you miss a man so much. A dozen men are shut up together in a little bark, upon the wide, wide sea, and for months and months see no forms and hear no voices but their own, and one is taken suddenly from among them, and they miss him at every turn. It is like losing a limb. There are no new faces or new scenes to fill up the gap. There is always an empty berth in the forecastle, and one man wanting when the small night watch is mustered. There is one less to take the wheel, and one less to lay out with you upon the yard. You miss his form, and the sound of his voice, for habit had made them almost necessary to you, and each of your senses feels the loss.
All these things make such a death peculiarly solemn, and the effect of it remains upon the crew for some time. There is more kindness shown by the officers to the crew, and by the crew to one another. There is more quietness and seriousness. The oath and the loud laugh are gone. The officers are more watchful, and the crew go more carefully aloft. The lost man is seldom mentioned, or is dismissed with a sailor's rude eulogy, "Well, poor George is gone. His cruise is up soon. He knew his work, and did his duty, and was a good shipmate." Then usually follows some allusion to another world, for sailors are almost all believers; but their notions and opinions are unfixed, and at loose ends. They say,—"God won't be hard upon the poor fellow," and seldom get beyond the common phrase which seems to imply that their sufferings and hard treatment here, will excuse them hereafter. To work hard, live hard, die hard, and go to hell after all, would be hard indeed.
Yet a sailor's life is at best but a mixture of a little good with much evil, and a little pleasure with much pain. The beautiful is linked with the revolting, the sublime with the common-place, and the solemn with the ludicrous.
We had hardly returned on board with our sad report, before an auction was held of the poor man's clothes. The captain had first, however, called all hands aft, and asked them if they were satisfied that everything had been done to save the man, and if they thought there was any use in remaining there longer. The crew all said that it was in vain, for the man did not know how to swim, and was very heavily dressed. So we then filled away and kept her off to her course.
* * * * *
Evert A. Duyckinck, 1816—. (Manual, p. 502.)
Essay from "Arcturus."
No one, it has been said, ever takes up a newspaper without interest, or lays it down without regret. There is a deeper truth in this observation than at first thought strikes the mind; it is not the casual disappointment at the loss of fine writing, or the absence of particular topics of news, or the variety of subjects that dispel all deep-settled reflection; but a newspaper is in some measure a picture of human life, and we can no more read its various paragraphs with pleasure, than we can look back upon the events of any single day with, unmingled satisfaction.... A man may learn, sitting by his fireside, more than an angel would desire to know of human life, by reading well a single newspaper. It is an instrument of many tones, running through the whole scale of humanity; from the lightest gayety to the gravest sadness; from the large interests of nations to the humblest affairs of the smallest individual. On its single page we read of Births, Marriages, and Deaths; the daily, almost hourly, register of royalty, how it eat, walked, and laughed; and the single incident the world deems worth recording of the life of poverty—how it died. It is a picture of motley human life; a poet's thought, or an orator's eloquence in one column, and the condemnation of a pickpocket in another....
Doubtless it was a very satisfactory thing for a Roman poet, when the wind was quiet, to get an audience about him, under a portico, and unwind his well-written scroll for an hour or two; but there must have been a vast deal of secret machinery, and influence, and agitation, to keep up his name with the people. The followers of Pythagoras, in another country, we know, said he had a golden leg, and this satisfied the people that his philosophy was divine. Truly were they the dark ages before the invention of newspapers. Besides, what became of literature when the poet's voice in the public bath, or library, where he recited, was drowned by the din of arms?...
What would we not give for a newspaper of the days of Homer, with personal recollections of the contractors and commanders in the siege of Troy; a reminiscence of Helen; the unedited fragments of Nestor; or a traditional saying of Ulysses, who may be supposed too wise to have published? What such a passage of literature would be to us, the journal of to-day may be to some long distant age, when it is disentombed from the crumbling corner-stone of some Astor House, Exchange, or Trinity Church, on the deserted shore of an island, once New York. What matters of curiosity would be poured fourth for the attention of the inquisitive; how many learned theories which had sprung up in the interim, put to rest; what anxiety moralists would be under to know the number of churches, the bookseller's advertisements, and the convictions at the Sessions! Some might be supposed to sigh over our lack of improvement, the infant state of the arts, and our ineffectual attempts at electro-magnetism, while others would dwell upon the old times when Broadway was gayer with life, and the world got along better, than it has ever done since.
* * * * *
Horace Binney Wallace, 1817-1852.
From "Art, Scenery, and Philosophy in Europe."
230. ART AN EMANATION OF RELIGIOUS AFFECTION.
The spirit, conscious of an emotion of reverence for some unseen subject of its own apprehension, desires to substantiate and fix its deity, and to bring the senses into the same adoring attitude; and this can be done only by setting before them a material representation of the divine. This is illustrated in the universal and inveterate tendency of early nations to idolatry....
How and why was it that the sculpture of the Greeks attained a character so exalted that it shines on through our time, with a beam of glory peculiar and inextinguishable? When we enter the chambers of the Vatican, we are presently struck with the mystic influence that rays from those silent forms that stand ranged along the walls. Like the moral prestige that might encircle the vital presence of divine beings, we behold divinities represented in human shapes idealized into a significance altogether irresistible. What constitutes that idealizing modification we know not; but we feel that it imparts to the figures an interest and impressiveness which natural forms possess not. These sculptured images seem directly to address the imagination. They do not suffer the cold and critical survey of the eye, but awaken an instant and vivid mental consideration.
... It has sometimes been suggested that the superiority of the Greeks in delineating the figure, arose from the familiarity with it which they acquired from their frequent opportunities of viewing it nude,—on account of their usages, costumes, climate, &c. This is too superficial an account of that vital faculty of skill and knowledge upon this subject, which was a part of the inherent capacity of the Greek.... The outflow and characteristic exercise of Grecian inspiration in sculpture, was in the representation of their mythology, which included heroes, or deified men, as well as gods of the first rank. Later, it extended to winners at the public games, athletes, runners, boxers;—but this class of persons partook, in the national feeling, of a heroic or half-divine superiority. A particular type of form, highly ideal, became appropriate to them, as to the heroes, and to each of the gods. It may be added, that a capacity thus derived from religious impressibility, extended to a great number of natural forms, which were to the Greeks measurably objects of a divine regard. Many animals as connected with the gods, or with sacrifices, were sacred beings to them, and became subjects of their surpassing gift in sculpture. In general, nature,—the visible, the sensible, the actual, was to the Hellenic soul, Religion; as inward and reflective emotions were and are, to the modern European.
[Footnote 55: A young writer of great cultivation and of uncommon promise. His premature death occurred while on a tour in Europe. A native of Philadelphia.]
* * * * *
Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862. (Manual, p. 532.)
From "Autumnal Tints."
231. DESCRIPTION OF "POKE" OR GARGET, (Phytolacca Decandra.)
Some which stand under our cliffs quite dazzle me with their purple stems now, and early in September. They are as interesting to me as most flowers, and one of the most important fruits of our autumn. Every part is flower, (or fruit,) such is its superfluity of color,—stem, branch, peduncle, pedicel, petiole, and even the at length yellowish purple-veined leaves. Its cylindrical racemes of berries of various hues, from green to dark purple, six or seven inches long, are gracefully drooping on all sides, offering repasts to the birds; and even the sepals from which the birds have picked the berries are a brilliant lake-red, with crimson, flame-like reflections, equal to anything of the kind,—all on fire with ripeness. Hence the lacca, from lac, lake. There are at the same time flower-buds, flowers, green berries, dark purple or ripe ones, and these flower-like sepals, all on the same plant.
We love to see any redness in the vegetation of the temperate zone. It is the color of colors. This plant speaks to our blood. It asks a bright sun on it to make it show to best advantage, and it must be seen at this season of the year. On warm hill-sides its stems are ripe by the twenty-third of August. At that date I walked through a beautiful grove of them, six or seven feet high, on the side of one of our cliffs, where they ripen early. Quite to the ground they were a deep brilliant purple with a bloom, contrasting with the still clear green leaves. It appears a rare triumph of Nature to have produced and perfected such a plant, as if this were enough for a summer. What a perfect maturity it arrives at! It is the emblem of a successful life concluded by a death not premature, which is an ornament to Nature. What if we were to mature as perfectly, root and branch, glowing in the midst of our decay, like the Poke! I confess that it excites me to behold them. I cut one for a cane, for I would fain handle and lean on it. I love to press the berries between my fingers, and see their juice staining my hand. To walk amid these upright, branching casks of purple wine, which retain and diffuse a sunset glow, tasting each one with your eye, instead of counting the pipes on a London dock,—what a privilege! For Nature's vintage is not confined to the vine. Our poets have sung of wine, the product of a foreign plant which commonly they never saw, as if our own plants had no juice in them more than the singers. Indeed, this has been called by some the American grape, and though a native of America, its juices are used in some foreign countries to improve the color of the wine; so that the poetaster maybe celebrating the virtues of the Poke without knowing it. Here are berries enough to paint afresh the western sky, and play the bacchanal with, if you will. And what flutes its ensanguined stems would make, to be used in such a dance! It is truly a royal plant. I could spend the evening of the year musing amid the Poke-stems. And perchance amid these groves might arise at last a new school of philosophy or poetry.
* * * * *
From "Walden, or Life in the Woods."
232. WALDEN POND.
The greatest depth was exactly one hundred and two feet, to which may be added the five feet which it has risen since, making one hundred and seven. This is a remarkable depth for so small an area; yet not an inch of it can be spared by the imagination. What if all ponds were shallow? Would it not react on the minds of men? I am thankful that this pond was made deep and pure for a symbol. While men believe in the infinite, some ponds will be thought to be bottomless.
* * * * *
From "Life without Principle."
233. WANTS OF THE AGE.
I saw, the other day, a vessel which had been wrecked, and many lives lost, and her cargo of rags, juniper-berries, and bitter almonds, was strewn along the shore. It seemed hardly worth the while to tempt the dangers of the sea between Leghorn and New York, for the sake of a cargo of juniper-berries and bitter almonds. America sending to the Old World for her bitters! Is not the sea-brine,—is not shipwreck, bitter enough, to make the cup of life go down here? Yet such, to a great extent, is our boasted commerce; and there are those who style themselves statesmen and philosophers who are so blind as to think that progress and civilization depend on precisely this kind of interchange and activity,—the activity of flies about a molasses-hogshead. Very well, observes one, if men were oysters. And very well, answer I, if men were mosquitoes.
Lieutenant Herndon, whom our Government sent to explore the Amazon, and, it is said, to extend the area of Slavery, observed that there was wanting there "an industrious and active population, who know what the comforts of life are, and who have artificial wants to draw out the great resources of the country." But what are the "artificial wants" to be encouraged? Not the love of luxuries, like the tobacco and slaves of, I believe, his native Virginia, nor the ice and granite and other material wealth of our native New England; nor are "the great resources of a country" that fertility or barrenness of soil which produces these. The chief want, in every State that I have been into, was a high and earnest purpose in its inhabitants. This alone draws out "the great resources" of Nature and at last taxes her beyond her resources; for man naturally dies out of her. When we want culture more than potatoes, and illumination more than sugar-plums, then the great resources of a world are taxed and drawn out, and the result, or staple production, is, not slaves, nor operatives, but men,—those rare fruits called heroes, saints, poets, philosophers, and redeemers.
* * * * *
Elisabeth F. Ellett, 1818-. (Manual, pp. 484, 490.)
From "Pioneer Women of the West"
234. ESCAPE OF MARY BLEDSOE FROM THE INDIANS.
It was not consistent with Spencer's chivalrous character to attempt to save himself by leaving his companion to the mercy of the foe. Bidding her retreat as fast as possible, and encouraging her to keep her seat firmly, he protected her by following more slowly in her rear, with his trusty rifle in his hand. When the Indians in pursuit came too near, he would raise his weapon as if to fire; and as he was known to be an excellent marksman, the savages were not willing to encounter him, but hastened to the shelter of trees, while he continued his retreat. In this manner he kept them at bay for some miles, not firing a single shot—for he knew that his threatening had more effect—until Mrs. Bledsoe reached a station. Her life and his own, were, on this occasion, saved by his prudence and presence of mind; for both would have been lost had he yielded to the temptation to fire....
Bereaved of her husband, sons, and brother-in-law, by the murderous savages, Mrs. Bledsoe was obliged to undertake not only the charge of her husband's estate, but the care of the children, and their education and settlement in life. These duties were discharged with unwavering energy and Christian patience.... The record of her worth, and of what she did and suffered, may win little attention from the careless many, who regard not the memory of our "pilgrim mothers;" but the recollection of her gentle virtues has not yet faded from the hearts of her descendants, and those to whom they tell the story of her life will acknowledge her the worthy companion of those noble men to whom belongs the praise of having originated a new colony, and built up a goodly state in the bosom of the forest. Their patriotic labors, their struggles with the surrounding savages, their efforts in the maintenance of the community they had founded,—sealed, as they finally were, with their own blood, and the blood of their sons and relatives,—will never be forgotten while the apprehension of what is noble, generous, and good, survives in the hearts of their countrymen.
* * * * *
James Jackson Jarves, 1818-. (Manual, p. 531.)
From "Art Hints."
235. THE ART IDEA.
The first duty of art, as we have already intimated, is to make our public buildings and places, as instructive and enjoyable as possible. They should be pleasurable, full of attractive beauty and eloquent teachings. Picturesque groupings of natural objects, architectural surprises, sermons from the sculptor's chisel and the painter's palette, the ravishment of the soul by its superior senses, the refinement of mind and body by the sympathetic power of beauty,—these are a portion of the means which a due estimation of art, as an element of civilization, inspires the ruling will to provide freely for all. If art be kept a rare and tabooed thing, a specialty for the rich and powerful, it excites in the vulgar mind, envy and hate; but proffer it freely to the public, and the public soon learns to delight in and protect it as its rightful inheritance. It also tends to develop a brotherhood of thought and feeling. During the civil strifes of Italy, art flourished and was respected. Indeed, to some extent, it operated as a sort of peace society, and was held sacred when nothing else was. Even rude soldiers, amid the perils and necessities of sieges, turned aside destruction from the walls that sheltered it. The history of art is full of records of its power to soften and elevate the human heart. As soon would man, were it possible, mar one of God's sunsets, as cease to respect what genius has confided to his care, when once his mind has been awakened to its meaning.
The desire for art being awakened, museums to illustrate its technical and historical progress, and galleries to exhibit its master-works, become indispensable. In the light of education, appropriations for such purposes are as much a duty of the government as for any other purpose connected with the true welfare of the people; for its responsibilities extend over the entire social system.
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Edwin P. Whipple, 1819-. (Manual, p. 501.)
From "Literature and Life."
236. WIT AND HUMOR IN LITERATURE.
Every student of English theological literature knows that much of its best portions gleams with wit. Five of the greatest humorists that ever made the world ring with laughter were priests,—Rabelais, Scarron, Swift, Sterne, and Sydney Smith. The prose works of Milton are radiant with satire of the sharpest kind. Sydney Smith, one of the most benevolent, intelligent and influential Englishmen of the nineteenth century, a man of the most accurate insight and extensive information, embodied the large stores of his practical wisdom in almost every form of the ludicrous. Many of the most important reforms in England are directly traceable to him. He really laughed his countrymen out of some of their most cherished stupidities of legislation.
And now let us be just to Mirth. Let us be thankful that we have in Wit a power before which the pride of wealth and the insolence of office are abased; which can transfix bigotry and tyranny with arrows of lightning; which can strike its object over thousands of miles of space, across thousands of years of time; and which, through its sway over an universal weakness of man, is an everlasting instrument to make the bad tremble and the foolish wince. Let us be grateful for the social and humanizing influences of Mirth. Amid the sorrow, disappointment, agony, and anguish of the world,—over dark thoughts and tempestuous passions, the gloomy exaggerations of self-will, the enfeebling illusions of melancholy,—Wit and Humor, light and lightning, shed their soft radiance, or dart their electric flash. See how life is warmed and illumined by Mirth! See how the beings of the mind, with which it has peopled our imaginations, wrestle with the ills of existence,—feeling their way into the harshest or saddest meditations, with looks that defy calamity; relaxing muscles made rigid with pain; hovering o'er the couch of sickness, with sunshine and laughter in their beneficent faces; softening the austerity of thoughts whose awful shadows dim and darken the brain,—loosening the gripe of Misery as it tugs at the heart-strings! Let us court the society of these gamesome, and genial, and sportive, and sparkling beings,—whom Genius has left to us as a priceless bequest; push them not from the daily walks of the world's life: let them scatter some humanities in the sullen marts of business; let them glide in through the open doors of the heart; let their glee lighten up the feast, and gladden the fireside of home:
"That the night may be filled with music, And the cares that infest the day May fold their tents, like the Arabs, And as silently steal away."
* * * * *
Jane T.L. Worthington,-1847. (Manual, p. 524.)
From "Love Sketches."
237. THE SISTERS.
The sisters were together, together for the last time in the happy home of their childhood. The window before them was thrown open, and the shadows of evening were slowly passing from each familiar outline on which the gazers looked. They were both young and fair; and one, the elder, wore that pale wreath the maiden wears but once. The accustomed smile had forsaken her lip now, and the orange-flowers were scarcely whiter than the cheek they shaded. The sister's hands were clasped in each other, and they sat silently watching the gradual brightening of the crescent moon, and the coming forth, one by one, of the stars. Not a cloud was floating in the quiet sky; the light wind hardly stirred the young leaves, and the air was fraught with the fragrance of early spring flowers. It was the hour when reverie is deepest, and fantasies have the earnestness of truth, when memory is melancholy in its vividness, and we feel, "almost like a reality," the presence of those who may bless our pathway no more. The loved, the lost—
"So many, yet how few!"—
gather around us, not as they are, chastened and troubled by battling with trials and disappointments, but as they used to be, in the glow of unwearied expectation. Old fears flit before us altered into pleasures, and old hopes return bathed in tears.
* * * * *
Alice Cary, 1820-1871. (Manual, p. 484.)
238. THE END OF THE HISTORY.
And so with the various seasons of the year. May, with her green lap full of sprouting leaves and bright blossoms, her song-birds making the orchards and meadows vocal, and rippling streams and cultivated gardens; June, with full-blown roses and humming-bees, plenteous meadows and wide cornfields, with embattled lines rising thick and green; August, with reddened orchards and heavy-headed harvests of grain, October, with yellow leaves and swart shadows; December, palaced in snow, and idly whistling through his numb fingers;-all have their various charm; and in the rose-bowers of summer, and as we spread our hands before the torches of winter, we say joyfully, "Thou hast made all things beautiful in their time." We sit around the fireside, and the angel feared and dreaded by us all comes in, and one is taken from our midst. Hands that have caressed us, locks that have fallen over us like a bath of beauty, are hidden beneath shroud-folds. We see the steep edges of the grave, and hear the heavy rumble of the clods; and, in the burst of passionate grief, it seems that we can never still the crying of our hearts. But the days rise and set, dimly at first, and seasons come and go, and, by little and little, the weight rises from the heart, and the shadows drift from before the eyes, till we feel again the spirit of gladness, and see again the old beauty of the world.
* * * * *
Donald G. Mitchell, 1822-. (Manual, pp. 504, 531.)
From "Wayside Hints."
239. A TALK ABOUT PORCHES.
A country house without a porch is like a man without an eyebrow; it gives expression, and gives expression where you most want it. The least office of a porch is that of affording protection against the rain-beat and the sun-beat. It is an interpreter of character; it humanizes bald walls and windows; it emphasizes architectural tone; it gives hint of hospitality; it is a hand stretched out (figuratively and lumberingly, often) from the world within to the world without.
At a church door even, a porch seems to me to be a blessed thing, and a most worthy and patent demonstration of the overflowing Christian charity, and of the wish to give shelter. Of all the images of wayside country churches which keep in my mind, those hang most persistently and agreeably, which show their jutting, defensive rooflets to keep the brunt of the storm from the church-goer while he yet fingers at the latch of entrance.
I doubt if there be not something beguiling in a porch over the door of a country shop—something that relieves the odium of bargaining, and imbues even the small grocer with a flavor of cheap hospitalities. The verandas (which is but a long translation of porch) that stretch along the great river front of the Bellevue Hospital diffuse somehow a gladsome cheer over that prodigious caravansery of the sick; and I never see the poor creatures in their bandaged heads and their flannel gowns, enjoying their convalescence in the sunshine of those exterior corridors, but I reckon the old corridors for as much as the young doctors, in bringing them from convalescence into strength, and a new fight with the bedevilments of the world.
What shall we say, too, of inn porches? Does anybody doubt their fitness? Is there any question of the fact—with any person of reasonably imaginative mood—that Falstaff and Nym and Bardolph, and the rest, once lolled upon the benches of the porch that overhung the door of the Boar's Head Tavern, Eastcheap? Any question about a porch, and a generous one, at the Tabard, Southwark—presided over by that wonderful host who so quickened the story-telling humors of the Canterbury pilgrims of Master Chaucer?
Then again, in our time, if one were to peel away the verandas and the exterior corridors from our vast watering-place hostelries, what an arid baldness of wall and of character would be left! All sentiment, all glowing memories, all the music of girlish footfalls, all echoes of laughter and banter and rollicking mirth, and tenderly uttered vows would be gone.
King David when he gave out to his son Solomon the designs for the building of the Temple, included among the very first of them, (1 Chron. XXVIII. 11) the "pattern of a porch." It is not, however, of porches of shittim-wood and of gold, that I mean to talk just now—nor even of those elaborate architectural features which will belong of necessity to the entrance-way of every complete study of a country house. I plead only for some little mantling hood about every exterior door-way, however humble.
There are hundreds of naked, vulgar-looking dwellings, scattered up and down our country highroads, which only need a little deft and adroit adaptation of the hospitable feature which I have made the subject of this paper, to assume an air of modest grace, in place of the present indecorous exposure of a wanton.
* * * * *
Richard Grant White, 1822-.
From "Memoirs of the Life of William Shakespeare."
240. THE CHARACTER OF SHAKESPEARE'S STYLE.
Writing for the general public, he used such language as would convey his meaning to his auditors,—the common phraseology of his period. But what a language was that! In its capacity for the varied and exact expression of all moods of mind, all forms of thought, all kinds of emotion, a tongue unequaled by any other known to literature! A language of exhaustless variety; strong without ruggedness, and flexible without effeminacy. A manly tongue; yet bending itself gracefully and lovingly to the tenderest and the daintiest needs of woman, and capable of giving utterance to the most awful and impressive thoughts, in homely words that come from the lips, and go to the heart, of childhood. It would seem as if this language had been preparing itself for centuries to be the fit medium of utterance for the world's greatest poet. Hardly more than a generation had passed since the English tongue had reached its perfect maturity; just time enough to have it well worked into the unconscious usage of the people, when Shakespeare appeared, to lay upon it a burden of thought which would test its extremest capability. He found it fully formed and developed, but not yet uniformed and cramped and disciplined by the lexicographers and rhetoricians,—those martinets of language, who seem to have lost for us in force and flexibility as much as they have gained for us in precision. The phraseology of that day was notably large and simple among ordinary writers and speakers. Among the college-bred writers and their imitators, there was too great a fondness for little conceits; but even with them this was an extraneous blemish, like that sometimes found in the ornament upon a noble building. Shakespeare seized this instrument to whose tones all ears were open, and with the touch of a master he brought out all its harmonies. It lay ready to any hand; but his was the first to use it with absolute control; and among all its successors, great as some are, he has had, even in this single respect, no rival. No unimportant condition of his supreme mastery over expression was his entire freedom from restraint—it may almost be said from consciousness—in the choice of language. He was no precisian, no etymologist, no purist. He was not purposely writing literature. The only criticism that he feared was that of his audience, which represented the English people of all grades above the peasantry. These he wished should not find his writing incomprehensible or dull: no more. If we except the translators of the Bible, Shakespeare wrote the best English that has yet been written.
[Footnote 56: A native of New York City; distinguished as a student and editor of Shakespeare, and more recently for his critical articles on the English language and grammar.]
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Thomas Wentworth Higginson, 1823-. (Manual, p. 531).
From "Atlantic Essays."
241. ELEGANCE OF FRENCH STYLE.
In France alone among living nations is literature habitually pursued as an art; and in consequence of this, despite the seeds of decay which imperialism sowed, French prose-writing has no rival in contemporary literature. We cannot fully recognize this fact through translations, because only the most sensational French books appear to be translated. But as French painters and actors now habitually surpass all others even in what are claimed as the English qualities,—simplicity and truth,—so do French prose-writers excel. To be set against the brutality of Carlyle and the shrill screams of Ruskin, there is to be seen across the Channel the extraordinary fact of an actual organization of good writers, the French Academy, whose influence all nations feel. Under their authority we see introduced into literary work an habitual grace and perfection, a clearness and directness, a light and pliable strength, and a fine shading of expression, such as no other tongue can even define. We see the same high standard in their criticism, in their works of research, in the Revue des Deux Mondes, and in short throughout literature. What is there in any other language, for instance, to be compared with the voluminous writings of Sainte-Beuve, ranging over all history and literature, and carrying into all, that incomparable style, so delicate, so brilliant, so equable, so strong,—touching all themes, not with the blacksmith's hand of iron, but with the surgeon's hand of steel.
In the average type of French novels, one feels the superiority to the English in quiet power, in the absence of the sensational and exaggerated, and in keeping close to the level of real human life. They rely for success upon perfection of style, and the most subtle analysis of human character; and therefore they are often painful,—just as Thackeray is painful,—because they look at artificial society, and paint what they see. Thus they dwell often on unhappy marriages, because such things grow naturally from the false social system in France. On the other hand, in France there is very little house-breaking, and bigamy is almost impossible, so that we hear delightfully little about them: whereas, if you subtract these from the current English novels, what is there left?
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Charles Godfrey Leland, 1824.
From "Meister Karl's Sketch-book."
242. ASPECT OF NUREMBERG.
There is a picturesque disorder—a lyrical confusion about the entire place, which is perfectly irresistible. Turrets shoot up in all sorts of ways, on all sorts of occasions, upon all sorts of houses; and little boxes, with delicate Gothic windows, cling to their sides and to one another, like barnacles to a ship; while the houses themselves are turned round and about in so many positions that you wonder that a few are not upside down or lying on their sides by way of completing the original arrangement of no arrangement at all. It always seemed to me as if the buildings in Nuremberg had, like the furniture in Irving's tale, been indulging over night in a very irregular dance, and suddenly stopped in the most complicated part of a confusion worse confounded. Galleries, quaint staircases, and towers with projecting upper stories, as well as eccentric chimneys, demented door-ways, insane weather-vanes, and highly original steeples, form the most common-place materials in building; and it has more than once occurred to me that the architects of this city, even at the present day, must have imbibed their principles; not from the lecture-room, but from the most remarkable inspirations of some romantic scene-painter. During the last two centuries men appear to have striven, with a most uncommendable zeal, all over Christendom, to root out and extirpate every trace of the Gothic. In Nuremberg alone they have religiously preserved what little they originally had in domestic architecture, and added to it....
Nuremberg, like Avignon, is one of the very few cities which have retained in an almost perfect state, the feudal walls and turrets with which they were invested by the middle ages. At regular intervals along these walls occur little towers, for their defence, reminding one of beads strung on a rosary; the great watch-tower at the gate, with its projecting machicolation, forming the pendent cross,—the whole serving to guard the town within from the dangers of war, even as the rosary protects the city of Mansoul from the attacks of Sin and Death—though, sooth to say, since the invention of gunpowder and the Reformation, both the one and the other appear to have lost much of their former efficacy. Directly through the center of the town runs a small stream called the Pegnitz, "dividing the town into two nearly equal halves, named after the two great churches situated within them; the northern being termed St. Sebald's, and the southern, St. Lawrence side."
In the northern part of the division of St. Sebaldus rises a high hill, formed, at the summit, of vast rocks, on which is situated the ancient Reicheveste, or Imperial Castle, whose origin is fairly lost in the dark old days of Heathenesse. From it the traveller can obtain an admirable view of the romantic town below. In regarding it, I was irresistibly reminded of the remarkable resemblance existing between most of its buildings and the children's toys manufactured by the ingenious artisans of Nuremberg and its vicinity.
[Footnote 57: A native of Philadelphia, who has resided much abroad, and pursued a varied literary career; he possesses a familiarity with the German language and character, which he has turned to good account in the comic ballads by Hans Breitman.]
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George William Curtis, 1824-. (Manual, p. 504.)
From "Nile Notes of a Howadji."
243. UNDER THE PALMS.
Thenceforward, in the land of Egypt, palms are perpetual. They are the only foliage of the Nile; for we will not harm the modesty of a few mimosas and sycamores, by foolish claims. They are the shade of the mud villages, marking their site in the landscape, so that the groups of palms are the number of villages. They fringe the shore and the horizon. The sun sets golden behind them, and birds sit swinging upon their boughs and float gloriously among their trunks; on the ground beneath are flowers; the sugar-cane is not harmed by the ghostly shade, nor the tobacco, and the yellow flowers of the cotton-plant star its dusk at evening. The children play under them; the old men crone and smoke; the surly bison and the conceited camels repose. The old Bible-pictures are ceaselessly painted, but with softer, clearer colors, than in the venerable book.
... But the eye never wearies of palms, more than the ear of singing-birds. Solitary they stand upon the sand, or upon the level, fertile land in groups, with a grace and dignity that no tree surpasses. Very soon the eye beholds in their forms the original type of the columns which it will afterwards admire in the temples. Almost the first palm is architecturally suggestive, even in those western gardens—but to artists living among them and seeing only them! men's hands are not delicate in the early ages, and the fountain fairness of the palms is not very flowingly fashioned in the capitals; but in the flowery perfection of the Parthenon the palm triumphs. The forms of those columns came from Egypt, and that which was the suspicion of the earlier workers, was the success of more delicate designing. So is the palm inwound with our art, and poetry, and religion, and of all trees would the Howadji be a palm, wide-waving peace and plenty, and feeling his kin to the Parthenon and Raphael's pictures.
But nature is absolute taste, and has no pure ornament, so that the palm is no less useful than beautiful. The family is infinite, and ill understood. The cocoa-nut, date, and sago, are all palms. Ropes and sponges are wrought of their tough interior fibre. The various fruits are nutritious; the wood, the roots, and the leaves, are all consumed. It is one of nature's great gifts to her spoiled sun-darlings. Whoso is born of the sun is made free of the world. Like the poet Thompson, he may put his hands in his pockets and eat apples at leisure.
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John L. McConnell, 1826-. (Manual, p. 510.)
From "Western Characters."
244. THE EARLY WESTERN POLITICIAN.
He was tall, gaunt, angular, swarthy, active, and athletic. His hair was invariably black as the wing of the raven. Even in that small portion which the cap of raccoon-skin left exposed to the action of sun and rain, the gray was but thinly scattered, imparting to the monotonous darkness only a more iron character.... A stoop in the shoulders indicated that, in times past, he had been in the habit of carrying a heavy rifle, and of closely examining the ground over which he walked; but what the chest thus lost in depth it gained in breadth. His lungs had ample space in which to play. There was nothing pulmonary even in the drooping shoulders....
From shoulders thus bowed hung long, muscular arms, sometimes, perhaps, dangling a little ungracefully, but always under the command of their owner, and ready for any effort, however violent. These were terminated by broad, bony hands, which looked like grapnels; their grasp, indeed, bore no faint resemblance to the hold of those symmetrical instruments. Large feet, whose toes were usually turned in, like those of the Indian, were wielded by limbs whose vigor and activity were in keeping with the figure they supported. Imagine, with these peculiarities, a free, bold, rather swaggering gait, a swarthy complexion, and comformable features and tones of voice, and, excepting his costume, you have before your fancy a complete picture of the early western politician.
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Sarah J. Lippincott, about 1833-. (Manual p. 484.)
From "Records of Five Years."
245. DEATH IN TOWN AND COUNTRY.
Up the long ascent it moved,—that shadow of our mortal sorrow and perishable earthly estate, that shadow of the dead man's hearse, along the way his feet had often trod, past the spring over whose brink he may have often bent with thirsting lip, past lovely green glades, mossy banks, and fairy forests of waving ferns, on which his eye had often dwelt with a vague and soft delight; and so passed out of our view. But its memory went not out of our hearts that day.
In this pure, healthful region, where nature seems so unworn, so youthful and vigorous, where dwell simplicity, humble comfort, and quiet happiness, death has startled us as something strange and unnatural....
How different is it in the city!... There, on many a corner, one is confronted with the black, significant sign of the undertaker's "dreadful trade," or comes upon some marble-yard, filled with a ghastly assemblage of anticipatory gravestones and monuments; graceful broken columns, which are to typify the lovely incompleteness of some young life now full of beauty and promise; melancholy, drooping figures, types of grief forever inconsolable, destined, perhaps, to stand proxy for mourning young widows now happy wives; sculptured lambs, patiently waiting to take their places above the graves of little children whom yet smiling mothers nightly lay to sleep in soft cribs, without the thought of a deeper dark and silence of a night not far away, or of the dreary beds soon to be prepared for their darlings "i' the earth."
[Footnote 58: Originally and very favorably known by the assumed name of "Grace Greenwood."]
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Francis Bret Harte, 1837-.
From "The Luck of Roaring Camp," &c.
246. BIRTH OF A CHILD IN A MINER'S CAMP.
... The camp lay in a triangular valley, between two hills and a river. The only outlet was a steep trail over the summit of a hill that faced the cabin, now illuminated by the rising moon. The suffering woman might have seen it from the rude bunk whereon she lay,—seen it winding like a silver thread until it was lost in the stars above.
A fire of withered pine-boughs added sociability to the gathering. By degrees the natural levity of Roaring Camp returned. Bets were freely offered and taken regarding the result. Three to five that "Sal would get through with it," even, that the child would survive; side bets as to the sex and complexion of the coming stranger....
In the midst of an excited discussion an exclamation came from those nearest the door, and the camp stopped to listen. Above the swaying and moaning of the pines, the swift rush of the river, and the crackling of the fire, rose a sharp, querulous cry. The pines stopped moaning, the river ceased to rush, and the fire to crackle. It seemed as if Nature had stopped to listen too.
The camp rose to its feet as one man! It was proposed to explode a barrel of gunpowder; but, in consideration of the situation of the mother, better counsels prevailed, and only a few revolvers were discharged; for, whether owing to the rude surgery of the camp, or some other reason, Cherokee Sal was sinking fast. Within an hour she had climbed, as it were, the rugged road that led to the stars, and so passed out of Roaring Camp, its sin and shame, forever....
I do not think that the announcement disturbed them much, except in speculation as to the fate of the child, "Can he live now?" was asked of Stumpy. The answer was doubtful. The only other being of Cherokee Sal's sex and maternal condition in the settlement, was an ass. There was some conjecture as to fitness, but the experiment was tried. It was less problematical than the ancient treatment of Romulus and Remus, and apparently as successful.
Strange to say, the child thrived. Perhaps the invigorating climate of the mountain camp was compensation for maternal deficiencies. Nature took the foundling to her broader breast. In that rare atmosphere of the Sierra foot-hills—that air pungent with balsamic odor, that ethereal cordial at once bracing and exhilarating—he may have found food and nourishment, or a subtle chemistry that transmuted asses' milk to lime and phosphorus. Stumpy inclined to the belief that it was the latter and good nursing, "Me and that ass," he would say, "has been father and mother to him! Don't you," he would add, apostrophizing the helpless bundle before him, "never go back on us."
[Footnote 59: Prominent among the more recent American writers; a native of New York, but long resident in California; noted for his vivid portraiture of the early life, and remarkable scenery of that State, in a style uncommonly suggestive.]
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William Dean Howells, 1837-. (Manual, p. 531.)
From "Venetian Life."
247. SNOW IN VENICE.
... The lofty crest of the bell-tower was hidden in the folds of falling snow, and I could no longer see the golden angel upon its summit. But looked at across the Piazza, the beautiful outline of St. Mark's Church was perfectly penciled in the air, and the shifting threads of the snow-fall were woven into a spell of novel enchantment around a structure that always seemed to me too exquisite in its fantastic loveliness to be anything but the creation of magic. The tender snow had compassionated the beautiful edifice for all the wrongs of time, and so hid the stains and ugliness of decay that it looked as if just from the hands of the builder—or, better said, just from the brain of the architect. There was marvellous freshness in the colors of the mosaics in the great arches of the facade; and all that glorious harmony into which the temple rises, of marble scrolls and leafy exuberance airily supporting the statues of the saints, was a hundred times etherialized by the purity and whiteness of the drifting flakes. The snow lay lightly on the golden globes that tremble like peacock-crests above the vast domes, and plumed them with softest white; it robed the saints in ermine; and it danced over all its work as if exulting in its beauty....
Through the wavering snow-fall, the Saint Theodore upon one of the granite pillars of the Piazzetta did not show so grim as his wont is, and the winged lion on the other might have been a winged lamb, so mild and gentle he looked by the tender light of the storm. The towers of the island churches loomed faint and far away in the dimness; the sailors in the rigging of the ships that lay in the Basin, wrought like phantoms among the shrouds; the gondolas stole in and out of the opaque distance, more noiselessly and dreamily than ever; and a silence almost palpable, lay upon the mutest city in the world.
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Mary Abigail Dodge, 1838-.
From "Wool Gathering."
248. SCENERY OF THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI.
Up the broad, cold, steel-blue river we wind steadily to its Northern home. No flutter of its orange groves, no fragrance of its Southern roses, no echo of its summer lands, can penetrate these distances. Only prophecies of the sturdy North are here,—the glitter of the Polar sea, the majesty of Arctic solitudes. The imagination is touched. The eye looks out upon a hemisphere. Vast spaces, lost ages, the unsealed mysteries of cold and darkness and eternal silence, sweep around the central thought, and people the wilderness with their solemn symbolism, Prettiness of gentle slope, wealth, and splendor of hue, are not wanting, but they shine with veiled light. Mountains come down to meet the Great River. The mists of the night lift slowly away, and we are brought suddenly into the presence-chamber. One by one they stand out in all their rugged might, only softened here and there by fleecy clouds still clinging to their sides, and shining pink in the ruddy dawn. Bold bluffs that have come hundreds of miles from their inland home guard the river. They rise on both sides, fronting us, bare and black, layer of solid rock piled on solid rock, defiant fortifications of some giant race, crowned here and there with frowning tower; here and there overborne and overgrown with wild-wood beauty, vine and moss and manifold leafage, gorgeous now with the glory of the vanishing summer. It is as if the everlasting hills had parted to give the Great River entrance to the hidden places of the world. And then the bold bluffs break into sharp cones, lonely mountains rising head and shoulders above their brethren, and keeping watch over the whole country; groups of mountains standing sentinels on the shores, almost leaning over the river, and hushing us to breathless silence as we sail through their awful shadow. And then the earth smiles again, the beetling cliffs recede into distances, and we glide through a pleasant valley. Green levels stretch away to the foot of the far cliffs, level with the river's blue, and as smooth,—sheltered and fertile, and fit for future homes. Nay, already the pioneer has found them, and many a hut and cottage and huddle of houses show whence art and science and all the amenities of human life, shall one day radiate. And even as we greet them we have left them, and the heights clasp us again, the hills overshadow us, the solitude closes around us.
[Footnote 60: Born in Massachusetts, author of numerous magazine articles of merit and earnestness, afterwards republished as books; known to her readers as Gail Hamilton.]
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LATER MISCELLANEOUS WRITERS.
George Washington, 1732-1799.
From a Letter to Sir John Sinclair.
249. NATURAL ADVANTAGES OF VIRGINIA.
The United States, as you well know, are very extensive, more than fifteen hundred miles between the northeastern and southwestern extremities; all parts of which, from the seaboard to the Appalachian Mountains, which divide the eastern from the western waters, are entirely settled; though not as compactly as they are susceptible of; and settlements are progressing rapidly beyond them.
Within so great a space, you are not to be told, that there is a great variety of climates, and you will readily suppose, too, that there are all sorts of land, differently improved, and of various prices, according to the quality of the soil, its contiguity to, or remoteness from, navigation, the nature of the improvements, and other local circumstances....
Notwithstanding these abstracts, and although I may incur the charge of partiality in hazarding such an opinion at this time, I do not hesitate to pronounce, that the lands on the waters of the Potomac will in a few years be in greater demand and in higher estimation, than in any other part of the United States. But, as I ought not to advance this doctrine without assigning reasons for it, I will request you to examine a general map of the United States; and the following facts will strike you at first view; that they lie in the most temperate latitude of the United States, that the main river runs in a direct course to the expanded parts of the western country, and approximates nearer to the principal branches of the Ohio, than any other eastern water, and of course must become a great, if not (under all circumstances), the best highway into that region; that the upper seaport of the Potomac is considerably nearer to a large portion of Pennsylvania, than that portion is to Philadelphia, besides accommodating the settlers thereof with inland navigation for more than two hundred miles; that the amazing extent of tide navigation, afforded by the bay and rivers of the Chesapeake, has scarcely a parallel.
When to these it is added, that a site at the junction of the inland and tide navigations of that river is chosen for the permanent seat of the general government, and is in rapid preparation for its reception; that the inland navigation is nearly completed, to the extent above mentioned; that its lateral branches are capable of great improvement at a small expense, through the most fertile parts of Virginia in a southerly direction, and crossing Maryland and extending into Pennsylvania in a northerly one, through which, independently of what may come from the western country, an immensity of produce will be water-borne, thereby making the Federal City the great emporium of the United States; I say, when these things are taken into consideration, I am under no apprehension of having the opinion I have given, relative to the value of land on the Potomac, controverted by impartial men.