Such suggestions as have been thrown out are too obvious to have escaped any one who has given the subject a moment's thought. But who has time for that? People live too fast, in these days, to pay such attention as should be paid to those who are more valuable as individuals than as parts of the great world. The good offices of friendship, which are the fulfilment of the highest social duties, are poorly performed, and, indeed, little understood. Not many of those who think at all think beyond the line of established custom and routine. They may take pains in their letters to obey the ordinary rules of grammar, to avoid the use of slang phrases and vulgar expressions, to write a clear sentence; but how few seek for the not less imperative rules which are prescribed by politeness and good sense! Of those who should know them, no small proportion habitually, from thoughtlessness or perverseness, neglect their observance.
I know men, distinguished in the walks of literature, famed for a beautiful style of composition, who do not write a tolerable letter nor answer a note of invitation with propriety. Their sentences are slipshod, their punctuation and spelling beyond criticism, and their manuscript repulsive. A lady, to whose politeness such an answer is given, has a right to feel offended, and may very properly ask whether she be not entitled to as choice language as the promiscuous crowd which the "distinguished gentleman" addresses from pulpit or desk.
How the distinguished gentleman would open his eyes at the question! He is sure that what he sent her was well enough for a letter. As though a letter, especially a letter to a lady, should not be as perfect in its kind as a lecture or sermon in its kind! as though one's duties toward an individual were less stringent than one's duties toward an audience! Would the distinguished gentleman be willing to probe his soul in search of the true reason for the difference in his treatment of the two? Is he sure that it is not an outgrowth from a certain "mountainous me," which seeks approbation more ardently from the one source than from the other?
There are those who indite elegant notes to comparative strangers, but, probably upon the principle that familiarity breeds or should breed contempt, send the most villanous scrawls to their intimate friends and those of their own household. They are akin to the numerous wives, who, reserving not only silks and satins, but neatness and courtesy, for company, are always in dishabille in their husbands' houses.
Pericles, according to Walter Savage Landor, once wrote to Aspasia as follows:—
"We should accustom ourselves to think always with propriety in little things as well as in great, and neither be too solicitous of our dress in the parlor nor negligent because we are at home. I think it as improper and indecorous to write a stupid or silly letter to you, as one in a bad hand or upon coarse paper. Familiarity ought to have another and a worse name, when it relaxes in its efforts to please."
The London Pericles, the Athenian gentleman,—and there are a few such as he still extant,—writes to his nearest and dearest friend none but the best letters. It appears to him as ill-bred to say stupid or silly things to her, as to say what he does say clownishly. He cannot conceive of doing what is so frequently done now-a-days. He brings as much of Pericles to the composition of a letter as to the preparation of a speech. We may feel sure, that, unless he acted counter to his own maxims, he never wrote a line more or a line less than he felt an impulse to write, and that he had no "regular correspondents."
It is not every one that can write such letters as are in that delightful book of Walter Savage Landor, or as charmed the friends of Charles Lamb, the poet Gray, and a few famous women, first, and the world afterwards. It is not every one who can, with the utmost and wisest painstaking, produce a thoroughly excellent letter. The power to do that is original and not to be acquired. The charm of it will not, cannot, disclose its secret. Like the charm of the finest manners, of the best conversation, of an exquisite style, of an admirable character, it is felt rather than perceived. But every person, who will be simply true to his or her nature, can write a letter that will be very welcome to a friend, because it will be expressive of the character which that friend esteems and loves. The bunch of flowers, hastily put together by her who gathered them, speaks as plainly of affection, although not in so delicate tones, as the most tastefully-arranged bouquet. But who desires to be presented with a nosegay of artificial flowers? Who can abide dead blossoms or violent discords of color? Freshness, sweetness, and an approach to harmony, that shall bring to mind the living, growing plants, and the bountiful Nature from whose embrace flowers are born, the acceptable gift must have.
To attempt a closer definition of a good letter than has been given would be a fruitless, as well as difficult task. "Complete letter-writers" are chiefly useful for the formulas—notes of invitation, answers to them, and the like—which they contain, and for their lessons in punctuation, spelling, and criticism. Their efforts to instruct upon other points are and must be worse than useless, because their precepts cramp without inspiring. A few good examples are more valuable, but a little practice is worth them all. Letter-writing is, after all, a pas seul, as it were; the novice has no partner to teach him manners, or the figures of the dance, or to set his wits astir. By effort, and through numerous failures, he must teach himself. The difficulties of the medium between him and his distant friend, who is generally in a similar predicament, must be surmounted. Gradually stiffness gives place to ease of composition, roughness to elegance, awkwardness to grace and tact, until his letters at length come to represent his mood, and to interest, if not to delight, his correspondent. A rigid adherence to times and places and ceremonial retards this process of growth and advance, which is slow enough, at best.
But, although most correspondence is, from want of truthfulness, thoughtfulness, life, good judgment, and good breeding, very unsatisfactory, it cannot be denied that many good letters are written every day. Between lovers, parents and children, real and hearty friends, they pass. Young men on the threshold of life, while discussing together the grave questions then encountered, write them. Women, before their time to love and to be loved has come, or after it is passed,—women, who, disappointed in the great hope of every woman's life, turn to one another for support and shelter,—are sending them by every post. Mr. De Quincey somewhere says, that in the letters of English women, almost alone, survive the pure and racy idioms of the language; and the German Wolf is said to have asserted, that in corresponding with his betrothed he learnt the mysteries of style.
Such letters as these are worth one's reading, because the utterance is genuine and genial. The writers feel and express in every line an interest in what they are writing, and do not recognize the conventional rules which obtain where people rely less upon inspirations from within than upon fixed general maxims for their guidance. As in the drawing-room the gentleman or lady behaves naturally, and not according to the dancing-master, so in their correspondence the best-bred people act from nature, and not from instruction.
* * * * *
THE CATACOMBS OF ROME. [Continued.]
Novit etiam pictura tacens in parietibus loqni.
ST. GREGORY OF NYSSA.
Christian art began in the catacombs. Under ground, by the feeble light of lanterns, upon the ceilings of crypts, or in the semicircular spaces left above some of the more conspicuous graves, the first Christian pictures were painted. Imperfect in design, exhibiting often the influence of pagan models, often displaying haste of performance and poverty of means, confined for the most part within a limited circle of ideas, and now faded in color, changed by damp, broken by rude treatment, sometimes blackened by the smoke of lamps,—they still give abundant evidence of the feeling and the spirit which animated those who painted them, a feeling and spirit which unhappily have too seldom found expression in the so-called religious Art of later times. Few of them are of much worth in a purely artistic view. The paintings of the catacombs are rarely to be compared, in point of beauty, with the pictures from Pompeii,— although some of them at least were contemporary works. The artistic skill which created them is of a lower order. But their interest arises mainly from the sentiment which they imperfectly embody, and their chief value is in the light which they throw upon early Christian faith and religious doctrine. They were designed not so much for the delight of the eye and the gratification of the fancy, as for stimulating affectionate imaginations, and affording lessons, easily understood, of faith, hope, and love. They were to give consolation in sorrow, and to suggest sources of strength in trial. "The Art of the first three centuries is entirely subordinate,— restrained partly by persecution and poverty, partly by a high spirituality, which cared more about preaching than painting."
With the uncertain means afforded by the internal character of these mural pictures, or by their position in the catacombs, it is impossible to fix with definiteness the period at which the Christians began to ornament the walls of their burial-places. It was probably, however, as early as the beginning of the second century; and the greater number of the most important pictures which have thus far been discovered within the subterranean cemeteries were probably executed before Christianity had become the established religion of the empire. After that time the decline in painting, as in faith, was rapid; formality took the place of simplicity; and in the course of the fourth and fifth centuries the native fire of Art sank, till nothing was left of it but a few dying embers, which the workmen from the East, who brought in the stiff conventionalisms of Byzantine Art, were unfit and unable to rekindle.
In the pictures of the most interesting period, that is, of the second and third centuries, there is no attempt at literal portraiture or historic accuracy. They were to be understood only by those who had the key to them in their minds, and they mostly arranged themselves in four broad classes. 1st. Representations of personages or scenes from the Old Testament regarded as types of those of the New. 2d. Literal or symbolic representations of personages or scenes from the New Testament. 3d. Miscellaneous figures, chiefly those of persons in the attitude of prayer. 4th. Ornamental designs, often copied from pagan examples, and sometimes with a symbolic meaning attached to them.
It is a noteworthy and affecting circumstance, that, among the immense number of the pictures in the catacombs which may be ascribed to the first three centuries, scarcely one has been found of a painful or sad character. The sufferings of the Saviour, his passion and his death, and the martyrdoms of the saints, had not become, as in after days, the main subjects of the religious Art of Italy. On the contrary, all the early paintings are distinguished by the cheerful and trustful nature of the impressions they were intended to convey. In the midst of external depression, uncertainty of fortune and of life, often in the midst of persecution, the Roman Christians dwelt not on this world, but looked forward to the fulfilment of the promises of their Lord. Their imaginations did not need the stimulus of painted sufferings; suffering was before their eyes too often in its most vivid reality; they had learned to regard it as belonging only to earth, and to look upon it as the gateway to heaven. They did not turn for consolation to the sorrows of their Lord, but to his words of comfort, to his miracles, and to his resurrection. Of all the subjects of pictures in the catacombs, the one, perhaps, more frequently repeated than any other, and under a greater variety of forms and types, is that of the Resurrection. The figure of Jonah thrown out from the body of the whale, as the type that had been used by our Lord himself in regard to his resurrection, is met with constantly; and the raising of Lazarus is one of the commonest scenes chosen for representation from the story of the New Testament. Nor is this strange. The assurance of immortality was to the world of heathen converts the central fact of Christianity, from which all the other truths of religion emanated, like rays. It gave a new and infinitely deeper meaning than it before possessed to all human experience; and in its universal comprehensiveness, it taught the great and new lessons of the equality of men before God, and of the brotherhood of man in the broad promise of eternal life. For us, brought up in familiarity with Christian truth, surrounded by the accumulated and constant, though often unrecognized influences of the Christian faith upon all our modes of thought and feeling, the imagination itself being more or less completely under their control,— for us it is difficult to fancy the change produced in the mind of the early disciples of Christ by the reception of the truths which he revealed. During the first three centuries, while converts were constantly being made from heathenism, brought over by no worldly temptation, but by the pure force of the new doctrine and the glad tidings over their convictions, or by the contagious enthusiasm of example and devotion,—faith in Christ and in his teachings must, among the sincere, have been always connected with a sense of wonder and of joy at the change wrought in their views of life and of eternity. Their thoughts dwelt naturally upon the resurrection of their Lord, as the greatest of the miracles which were the seal of his divine commission, and as the type of the rising of the followers of Him who brought life and immortality to light.
The troubles and contentions in the early Church, the disputes between the Jew and the Gentile convert, the excesses of spiritual excitement, the extravagances of fanciful belief, of which the Epistles themselves furnish abundant evidence, ceased to all appearance at the door of the catacombs. Within them there is nothing to recall the divisions of the faithful; but, on the contrary, the paintings on the walls almost universally relate to the simplest and most undisputed truths. It was fitting that among these the types of the Resurrection should hold a first place.
But the spiritual needs of life were not to be supplied by the promises and hopes of immortality alone. There were wants which craved immediate support, weaknesses that needed present aid, sufferings that cried for present comfort, and sins for which repentance sought the assurance of direct forgiveness. And thus another of the most often-repeated of the pictures in the catacombs is that of the Saviour under the form of the Good Shepherd. No emblem fuller of meaning, or richer in consolation, could have been found. It was very early in common use, not merely in Christian paintings, but on Christian gems, vases, and lamps. Speaking with peculiar distinctness to all who were acquainted with the Gospels, it was at the same time a figure that could be used without exciting suspicion among the heathen, and one which was not exposed to desecration or insult from them; and under emblems of this kind, whose inner meaning was hidden to all but themselves, the first Christians were often forced to conceal the expression of their faith. This figure recalled to them many of the sacred words and most solemn teachings of their Lord: "I am the Good Shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." Often the good shepherd was represented as bearing the sheep upon his shoulders; and the picture addressed itself with touching and effective simplicity to him whom fear of persecution or the force of worldly temptations had led away. When one of his sheep is lost, doth not the shepherd go after it until he find it? "And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing." "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." How often, before this picture, has some saddened soul uttered the words of the Psalm: "I have gone astray like a lost sheep: seek thy servant, for I do not forget thy commandments"! And as if to afford still more direct assurance of the patience and long-suffering tenderness of the Lord, the Good Shepherd is sometimes represented in the catacombs as bearing, not a sheep, but a goat upon his shoulders. It was as if to declare that his forgiveness and his love knew no limit, but were waiting to receive and to embrace even those who had turned farthest from him. In a picture of very early date in the Catacomb of St. Callixtus, the Good Shepherd stands between a goat and a sheep, "as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left." But in this picture the order is reversed,—the goat is on his right hand and the sheep on his left. It was the strongest type that could be given of the mercy of God. Sometimes the Good Shepherd is represented, not bearing the sheep on his shoulders, but leaning on his crook, and with a pipe in his hands, while his flock stand in various attitudes around him. Here again the reference to Scripture is plain: "He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out;... and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice." Thus, under various forms and with various meanings, full of spiritual significance, and suggesting the most invigorating and consoling thoughts, the Good Shepherd appears oftener than any other single figure on the vaults and the walls of the catacombs. It is impossible to look at these paintings, poor in execution and in external expression as they are, without experiencing some sense, faint it may be, of the force with which they must have appealed to the hearts and consciences of those who first looked upon them. It is as if the inmost thoughts and deepest feeling of the Christians of those early times had become dimly visible upon the walls of their graves. The effect is undoubtedly increased by the manner in which these paintings are seen, by the unsteady light of wax tapers, in the solitude of long-deserted passages and chapels. In such a place the dullest imagination is roused, troop on troop of associations and memories pass in review before it, and the fading colors and faint outlines of the paintings possess more power over it than the glow of Titian's canvas, or the firm outline of Michel Angelo's frescoes.
Another symbol of the Saviour which is frequently found in the works of the first three centuries, and which soon afterwards seems to have fallen almost entirely into disuse, is that of the Fish. It is not derived, like that of the Good Shepherd, immediately from the words of Scripture; though its use undoubtedly recalled several familiar narratives. It seems to have been early associated with the well-known Greek formula, [Greek: iaesous christos theon uios sotaer], Jesus Christ the Saviour Son of God, arranged acrostically, so that the first letters of its words formed the word [Greek: ichthus], fish. The first association that its use would suggest was that of Christ's call to Peter and Andrew, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,"—and thus we find, among the early Christian writers, the name of "little fish," pisciculi, applied to the Christian disciples of their times. But it would serve also to bring to memory the miracle that the multitude had witnessed, of the multiplication of the fishes; and it would recall that last solemn and tender farewell meeting between the Apostles and their Lord on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, in the early morning, when their nets were filled with fish,—and "Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise." And with this association was connected, as we learn from the pictures in the catacombs, a still deeper symbolic meaning, in which it represented the body of our Lord as given to his apostles at the Last Supper. In the Cemetery of Callixtus, very near the recently discovered crypt of Pope Cornelius, are two square sepulchral chambers, adorned with pictures of an early date. Those of the first chamber have almost utterly perished, but on the wall of the second may be seen the image of a fish swimming in the water, and bearing on his back a basket filled with loaves of the peculiar shape and color used by the Jews as an offering of the first fruits to their priests; beneath the bread appears a vessel which shows a red color, like a cup filled with wine. "As soon as I saw this picture," says the Cavaliere de Rossi, in his account of the discovery, "the words of St. Jerome came to my mind,— 'None is richer than he who bears the body of the Lord in an osier basket and his blood in a glass.'"
In the same cemetery, very near the crypt of St. Cecilia, there is a passage wider than common, upon whose side is a series of sepulchral cells of similar form, and ornamented with similar pictures. In one of them a table is represented, with four baskets of bread on the ground, on one side, and three on the other, while upon it three loaves and a fish are lying. In another of the chambers is a picture of a single loaf and of a fish upon a plate lying on a table, at one side of which a man stands with his hands stretched out towards it, while on the other side is a woman in the attitude of prayer. It seems no extravagance of interpretation to read in these pictures the symbol of that memorial service which Jesus had established for his followers,—a service which has rarely been celebrated under circumstances more adapted to give to it its full effect, and to awaken in the souls of those who joined in it all the deep and affecting memories of its first institution, than when the bread and wine were partaken of in memory of the Lord within the small and secret chapels of the early catacombs. To the Christians who assembled there in the days when to profess the name of Christ was to venture all things for his sake, his presence was a reality in their hearts, and his voice was heard as it was heard by his immediate followers who sat with him at the table in the upper chamber. 
[Footnote 1: The Cavaliere de Rossi, in his very learned tract, De Christianis Monumentis [Greek: IChThUN] exhibentibus, expresses the belief that these pictures, besides their direct and simple reference to the Lord's Supper, exhibit also the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The bread he considers as the obvious material symbol, the fish the mystical symbol of the transubstantiation. His interpretation is at least doubtful. The bread was to be eaten in remembrance of the Lord, and the fish was represented as the image which recalled his words, that have been perverted by materialistic imaginations so far from their original meaning,—"This is my body which is given for you." But the date of the origin of false opinions is a matter of comparative unimportance.]
There are several instances, among these subterranean pictures, of a symbolic representation of the Saviour, drawn, not from Scripture, but from a heathen original. It is that of Orpheus playing upon his lyre, and drawing all creatures to him by the sweetness of his strains. It was a fiction widely spread soon after the introduction of Christianity among the Gentiles, that Orpheus, like the Sibyls and some other of the characters of mythology, had had some blind revelation of the coming of a saviour of the world, and had uttered indistinct prophecies of the event. Forgeries, similar to those of the Sibylline Verses, professing to be the remains of the poems of Orpheus, were made among the Alexandrian Christians, and for a long period his name was held in popular esteem, as that of a heathen prophet of Christian truth. Whether the paintings in the catacombs took their origin from these fictions must be uncertain; but driven, as the Roman Christians were, to hide the truth under a symbol that should be inoffensive, and should not reveal its meaning to pagan eyes, it was not strange that they should select this of the ancient poet. As he had drawn beasts and trees and stones to listen to the music of his lyre, so Christ, with persuasive sweetness and compelling force, drew men more savage than beasts, more rooted in the earth than trees, more cold than stones, to listen to and follow him. As Orpheus caused even the kingdom of Death to render back the lost, so Christ drew the souls of men from the very gates of hell, and made the grave restore its dead. And thus from the old heathen story the Christian drew new suggestions and fresh meaning, and beheld in it an unconscious setting-forth of many holy truths.
A subject from the Gospels, which is often represented, and which was used with a somewhat obscure symbolic meaning, is that of the man sick of the palsy, cured by the Saviour with the words, "Arise, take up thy bed, and go to thine house." It belongs, according to the ancient interpretation, to the series of subjects that embody the doctrine of the Resurrection. It is thus explained by St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and others of the fathers. They understood the words of Christ as addressed to them with the meaning, "Arise, leave the things of this world, have faith, and go forward to thy abiding home in heaven." Such an interpretation is entirely congruous with the general tone of thought and feeling exhibited in many other common paintings in the catacombs. But later Romanist writers have attempted to connect its interpretation with the doctrine of the Forgiveness of Sins, as embodied in what is called the power of the Church in the holy sacrament of Penance. They lay stress on the words, "Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee," and suppose that the picture expresses the belief that the delegated power of forgiving sins still remained on earth. Undoubtedly the painting may well have recalled to mind these earlier words of the narrative, as well as the later ones, and with the same comforting assurance that was afforded by the emblem of the Good Shepherd; but there seems no just reason for supposing it to have borne any reference to the peculiar doctrine of the Roman Church. The pictures themselves, so far as we are acquainted with them, seem to contradict this assumption; for they, without exception, represent the paralytic in the last act of the narrative, already on his feet and bearing his bed. 
[Footnote 2: One picture of this scene in the Catacombs of St. Hermes is said to be in immediate connection with the sacrament of Penance "represented literally, in the form of a Christian kneeling on both knees before a priest, who is giving him absolution." We have not seen the original of this picture, and we know of no copy of it. It is not given either by Bosio or in Perret's great work. Before accepting it in evidence, its date must be ascertained, and the possibility of a more natural explanation of it excluded. How is one figure known to be that of a priest? and in what manner is the act of giving absolution expressed?]
Among the favorite subjects from the Old Testament are four from the life of Moses,—his taking off his shoes at the command of the Lord, his exhibiting the manna to the people, his receiving the tables of the Law, and his striking the rock in the desert. Of these, the first and the last are most common, and the truths which they were intended to typify seem to have been most dwelt upon. Moses was regarded in the ancient Church as the type, in the old dispensation, of our Saviour in the new. Thus as the narrative of the command to Moses to take off his shoes was immediately connected with the promise of the deliverance of the children of Israel from the land of bondage, so it was regarded as the figure under which was to be seen the promise of the greater deliverance of the world through faith in Jesus Christ, and its freedom from spiritual bondage. Moreover, the shoes were put off, "for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground"; and it is a natural supposition to regard the act as having been considered the symbol of that Holiness to the Lord which was the necessary preparation for the great deliverance. Like so many other of the paintings, it led forward the thoughts and the affections from time to eternity. And this figure was also, we may well suppose, taken as an immediate type of the Resurrection, in connection with the words of Jesus, "Now that the dead are raised even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord" (or, as it should be translated, "when, in telling you of the bush, he says that the Lord called himself") "the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For God is not the God of the dead, but of the living." With this interpretation, it affords another instance of the constancy with which the Christians connected the thought of immortality with the presence of death.
So also the smiting of the rock, so that the water came forth abundantly, was adopted as the sign of the giving forth of the living water springing up into everlasting life. "The rock was Christ," said St. Paul, and it is possible, that, with a secondary interpretation, the smiting of the rock was sometimes regarded as typical of the sufferings of the Saviour. The picture of this miracle is repeated again and again, and one of the noblest figures in the whole range of subterranean Art, a figure of surpassing dignity and grandeur, is that of Moses in this sublime scene in one of the chapels of the Cemetery of St. Agnes. In the performance of this miracle, Moses is represented with a rod in his hand; and a similar rod, apparently as the sign of power, is seen in the hands of Christ, in the paintings which represent his miracles. It is a curious illustration of the gradual progress of the ideas now current in the Roman Church, that upon sarcophagi of the fourth and fifth centuries St. Peter is found sculptured with the same rod in his hands,—emblematic, unquestionably, of the doctrine of his being the Vicegerent of Christ,—and on the bottom of a glass vessel of late date, found in the catacombs, the miracle of the striking of the rock is depicted, but at the side of the figure is the name, not of Moses, but of Peter,—for the Church had by this time advanced far in its assumptions.
The story of Jonah appears also in four different scenes upon the walls of the chapels and burial-chambers. In the first, the prophet appears as being cast into the sea; in the second, swallowed by the great fish; in the third, thrown out upon dry land; and in the fourth, lying under the gourd. They are not found together, or in series; but sometimes one and sometimes another of these scenes was painted, according to the fancy or the thought of the artist. The swallowing of Jonah, and his deliverance from the belly of the whale, has already been referred to as one of the naturally suggested types of the Resurrection. When the prophet is shown as lying under a gourd, (which is painted as a vine climbing over a trellis-work, to represent the booth that Jonah made for himself,) the picture may perhaps have been read as a double lesson. As God "made the gourd to come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief," so he would deliver from their grief those who now trusted in him; but as he also made the gourd to wither, so that "the sun beat upon the head of Jonah that he fainted and wished in himself to die," it was for them to remember their utter dependence on the will of God, to prepare themselves for the sorrows as for the joys of life. Nor was this all; the story of Jonah was one especially fitted to remind the recent convert of the long-suffering and grace of God, and to suggest to those who were enduring the extremities of persecution the rebuke with which the Lord had chastened even his prophet for his desire for vengeance upon those who had long dwelt in evil ways. It recalled to them the new commandment of love to their enemies, and it bade them welcome with rejoicing even the latest and most reluctant listener to the truth. It repressed spiritual pride, and checked too ready anger. Was not Rome even greater "than Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle"? Such were some, at least, of the meanings which the Christians of the catacombs may have seen in these pictures. It would be long to enter into the more subtile and less satisfactory interpretations of their symbolic meanings which are to be found in the works of some of the later fathers, and which afford, as in many other instances, illustrations of the extravagance of symbolism into which the studies of the cell, the darkness of their age, and the insufficiency of their education often led them.
Two subjects are of frequent repetition in the catacombs, which bear a direct reference to the personal circumstances in which the Christians from time to time found themselves. One is that of Daniel in the lions' den,—the other that of the Three Children of Israel in the fiery furnace. Both were types of persecution and of deliverance. "Thy God, whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee." Daniel is uniformly represented in the attitude of prayer,—the attitude adopted by the early Christians, standing with arms outstretched. Very often single figures with no names attached to them are thus represented above or by the side of graves. They were probably intended as figures of those who lay within them, figures of those who had been constant in prayer; and this conjecture is almost established as a certainty by the existence of a few of these figures with names inscribed above them,—as, for instance, "HILARA IN PACE."
Noah in the ark is also one of the repeated subjects from the Old Testament; the ark being represented as a sort of square box, in the middle of which Noah stands, sometimes in prayer, and sometimes with the dove flying towards him, bearing a branch of olive. It was the type of the Church, the whole body of Christians, floating in the midst of storms, but with the promise of peace; or, with wider signification, it was the type of the world saved through the revelation of Christ. It bore reference also to the words of St. Peter, in his First Epistle, concerning the ark, "wherein few, that is eight souls, were saved by water; the like figure whereunto, even baptism, doth also now save us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ." Sometimes, indeed, the act of baptism is represented in a more literal manner, by a naked figure immersed in the water; sometimes, perhaps, by still other types.
Paintings of the temptation and the fall of Adam and Eve, in which the composition often reminds one of that adopted by the later masters, are often seen on the walls; and the sacrifice of Abraham, in which with reverent and just simplicity the interference of the Almighty is represented by a hand issuing from the clouds, is a common subject. Less frequent are pictures of David with his sling, of Tobit with the fish, of Susanna and the elders, treated symbolically, and some few other Old Testament stories. Their typical meaning was plain to the minds of those who frequented the catacombs. From the Gospels many scenes are represented in addition to those we have already mentioned: among the most common are the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves; our Saviour seated, with two or more figures standing near him; and his restoring sight to the blind. Every year's new excavations bring to light some new picture, and our acquaintance with the Art of the catacombs is continually receiving interesting additions.
There appears to have been no definite rule in respect to the combination of subjects in a single chapel. The ceilings are generally divided into various compartments, each filled with a different subject. Thus, for example, we find on one of them the central compartment occupied by a figure of Orpheus; four smaller compartments are filled with sheep or cattle; and four others with Moses striking the rock, Daniel in the lions' den, David with his sling, and Jesus restoring the paralytic. At the angles of the vault are doves with branches of olive; and the ornaments of the ceiling are all of graceful and somewhat elaborate character. The purely ornamental portions of the paintings, though obviously formed on heathen originals, are almost universally of a pleasing and joyful character, and in many cases possess a symbolic meaning. Flowers, crowns of leaves, garlands, vines with clustering grapes, displayed more to the Christian's eyes than mere beauty of form. In these and other similar accessories the symbolism of the early Church delighted to manifest itself. On their terracotta lamps, fixed in the mortar at the head of graves, on their sepulchral tablets, on their rings, on their glass cups and chalices, the Christians put these emblems of their faith, keeping in mind their spiritual significance. Many of these symbols have preserved their inner meaning to the present day, while others have long lost it. Thus, the crown and the laurel were the emblems of victory; the palm, of triumph; the olive, of peace; the vine loaded with grapes, of the joys of heaven. The dove was at once the figure of the Holy Spirit, and the symbol of innocence and purity of heart; the peacock the emblem of immortality. The ship reminded the Christian of the harbor of safety, or recalled to him the Church tossed upon the waves; the anchor was the sign of strength and of hope; the lyre was the symbol of the sweetness of religion; the stag, of the soul thirsting for the Lord; the cock, of watchfulness; the horse, of the course of life; the lamb, of the Saviour himself.
Many of these symbols were, it is plain, derived from the Scripture, but many also had a heathen origin, and were adopted by the Christians with a new or an additional significance. It was not strange that this should be so, for many associations still bound the Christians of the early centuries to the things they had turned away from. Thus, the horse is frequently found upon the funeral vases and marbles of the ancients; the peacock, the bird of Juno, was the emblem of the apotheosis of the Roman empresses; the palm and the crown had long been in use; and the funeral genii of the heathen Romans were in some sort the type of the later Christian angels. But although this adoption of ancient symbols is to be noticed, it is also to be observed that there is in the Christian cemeteries on the whole a remarkable absence of heathen imagery,—less by far than might have been expected in the works of those surrounded by heathen modes of thought and expression. The influence of Christianity, however, so changed the current of ideas, and so affected the feelings of those whom it called to new life, that heathenism became to them, as it were, a dead letter, devoid of all that could rouse the fancy, or affect the inner thought. A great gulf was fixed between them and it,—a gulf which for three centuries, at least, charity alone could bridge over. It was not till near the fourth century that heathenism began, to any marked extent, to modify the character and to corrupt the purity of Christianity.
And with this is connected one of the most important historic facts with regard to the Art of the catacombs. In no one of the pictures of the earlier centuries is support or corroboration to be found of the distinctive dogmas and peculiar claims of the Roman Church. We have already spoken of the pictures that have been supposed to have symbolic reference to the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, and have shown how little they require such an interpretation. The exaltation of St. Peter above the other Apostles is utterly unknown in the works of the first three centuries; in instances in which he is represented, it is as the companion of St. Paul. The Virgin never appears as the subject of any special reverence. Sometimes, as in pictures of the Magi bringing their gifts, she is seen with the child Jesus upon her lap. No attempt to represent the Trinity (an irreverence which did not become familiar till centuries later) exists in the catacombs, and no sign of the existence of the doctrine of the Trinity is to be met with in them, unless in works of a very late period. Of the doctrines of Purgatory and Hell, of Indulgences, of Absolution, no trace is to be found. Of the worship of the saints there are few signs before the fourth century,—and it was not until after this period that figures of the saints, such as those spoken of heretofore, in the account of the crypt of St. Cecilia, became a common adornment of the sepulchral walls. The use of the nimbus, or glory round the head, was not introduced into Christian Art before the end of the fourth century. It was borrowed from Paganism, and was adopted, with many other ideas and forms of representation, from the same source, after Romanism had taken the place of Paganism as the religion of the Western Empire. The faith of the catacombs of the first three centuries was Christianity, not Romanism.
In the later catacombs, the change of belief, which was wrought outside of them, is plainly visible in the change in the style of Art. Byzantine models stiffened, formalized, and gradually destroyed the spirit of the early paintings. Richness of vestment and mannerism of expression took the place of simplicity and straightforwardness. The Art which is still the popular Art in Italy began to exhibit its lower round of subjects. Saints of all kinds were preferred to the personages of Scripture. The time of suffering and trial having passed, men stirred their slow imaginations with pictures of the crucifixion and the passion. Martyrdoms began to be represented; and the series—not even yet, alas! come to an end—of the coarse and bloody atrocities of painting, pictures worthy only of the shambles, beginning here, marked the decline of piety and the absence of feeling. Love and veneration for the older and simpler works disappeared, and through many of the ancient pictures fresh graves were dug, that faithless Christians might be buried near those whom they esteemed able to intercede for and protect them. These graves hollowed out in the wall around the tomb of some saint or martyr became so common, that the term soon arose of a burial intra or retro sanctos, among or behind the saints. One of the most precious pictures in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, precious from its peculiar character, is thus in some of its most important parts utterly destroyed. It represents, so far as is to be seen now, two men in the attitude of preaching to flocks who stand near them,—and if the eye is not deceived by the uncertain light, and by the dimness of the injured colors, a shower of rain, typical of the showers of divine grace, is falling upon the sheep: on one who is listening intently, with head erect, the shower falls abundantly; on another who listens, but with less eagerness, the rain falls in less abundance; on a third who listens, but continues to eat, with head bent downward, the rain falls scantily; while on a fourth, who has turned away to crop the grass, scarcely a drop descends. Into this parable in painting the irreverence of a succeeding century cut its now rifled and forlorn graves.
But the Art of the catacombs, after its first age, was not confined to painting. Many sculptured sarcophagi have been found within the crypts, and in the crypts of the churches connected with the cemeteries. Here was again the adoption of an ancient custom; and in many instances, indeed, the ancient sarcophagi themselves were employed for modern bodies, and the old heathens turned out for the new Christians. Others were obviously the work of heathen artists employed for Christian service; and others exhibit, even more plainly than the later paintings, some of the special doctrines of the Church. The whole character of this sculpture deserves fuller investigation than we can give to it here. The collection of these first Christian works in marble that has recently been made in the Lateran Museum affords opportunity for its careful study,—a study interesting not only in an artistic, but in an historic and doctrinal point of view.
The single undoubted Christian statue of early date that has come down to us is that of St. Hippolytus, Bishop of Porto, which was found in 1551, near the Basilica of St. Lawrence. Unfortunately, it was much mutilated, and has been greatly restored; but it is still of uncommon interest, not only from its excellent qualities as a work of Art, but also from the engraving upon its side of a list of the works of the Saint, and of a double paschal cycle. This, too, is now in the Christian Museum at the Lateran.
Another branch of early Christian Art, which deserves more attention than it has yet received, is that of the mosaics of the catacombs. Their character is widely different from that of those with which a few centuries afterwards the popes splendidly adorned their favorite churches. But we must leave mosaics, gems, lamps, and all the lesser articles of ornament and of common household use that have been found in the graves, and which bring one often into strange familiarity with the ways and near sympathy with the feelings of those who occupied the now empty cells. Most of these trifles seem to have been buried with the dead as the memorials of a love that longed to reach beyond death with the expressions of its constancy and its grief. Among them have been found the toys of little children,— their jointed ivory dolls, their rattles, their little rings, and bells,—full, even now, of the sweet sounds of long-ago household joys, and of the tender recollections of household sorrows. In looking at them, one is reminded of the constant recurrence of the figure of the Good Shepherd bearing his lamb, painted upon the walls of these ancient chapels and crypts.
It was thus that the dawn of Christian Art lighted up the darkness of the catacombs. While the Roman nobles were decorating their villas and summer-houses with gay figures, scenes from the ancient stories, and representations of licentious fancies,—while the emperors were paving the halls of their great baths with mosaic portraits of the famous prize-fighters and gladiators,—the Christians were painting the walls of their obscure cemeteries with imagery which expressed the new lessons of their faith, and which was the type and the beginning of the most beautiful works that the human imagination has conceived, and the promise of still more beautiful works yet to be created for the delight and help of the world.
[To be continued.]
* * * * *
How was I worthy so divine a loss, Deepening my midnights, kindling all my morns? Why waste such precious wood to make my cross, Such far-sought roses for my crown of thorns?
And when she came, how earned I such a gift? Why spend on me, a poor earth-delving mole, The fireside sweetnesses, the heavenward lift, The hourly mercy of a woman's soul?
Ah, did we know to give her all her right, What wonders even in our poor clay were done! It is not Woman leaves us to our night, It is our earth that grovels from her sun.
Our nobler cultured fields and gracious domes We whirl too oft from her who still shines on To light in vain our caves and clefts, the homes Of night-bird instincts pained till she be gone.
Still must this body starve our souls with shade; But when Death makes us what we were before, Then shall her sunshine all our depths invade, And not a shadow stain heaven's crystal floor.
"The sense of the world is short,— Long and various the report,— To love and be beloved: Men and gods have not outlearned it; And how oft soe'er they've turned it, 'Tis not to be improved!"—EMERSON.
Mr. Vane and Mr. Payne both were eagerly describing to me their arrangements for an excursion to the Lake. I did not doubt it would be charming, but neither of these two gentlemen would be endurable on such a drive, and each was determined to ask me first. I stood pushing apart the crushed flowers of my bouquet, in which all the gardener's art vindicated itself by making the airy grace of Nature into a flat, unmeaning mosaic.
In the next room the passionate melancholy of a waltz was mocked and travestied by the frantic and ungrateful whirl that only Americans are capable of executing; the music lived alone in upper air; of men and dancing it was all unaware; the involved cadences rolled away over the lawn, shook the dew-drooped roses on their stems, and went upward into the boundless moonlight to its home. Through all, Messrs. Vane and Payne harangued me about the splendid bowling-alley at the Lake, the mountain-strawberries, the boats, the gravel-walks! At last it became amusing to see how skilfully they each evaded and extinguished the other; it was a game of chess, and he was to be victor who should first ask me; if one verged upon the question, the other quickly interposed some delightful circumstance about the excursion, and called upon the first to corroborate his testimony; neither, in Alexander's place, would have done anything but assure the other that the Gordian knot was very peculiarly tied, and quite tight.
Presently Harry Tempest stood by my side. I became aware that he had heard the discussion. He took my bouquet from my hand, and stood smelling it, while my two acquaintance went on. I was getting troubled and annoyed; Mr. Tempest's presence was not composing. I played with my fan nervously; at length I dropped it. Harry Tempest picked it up, and, as I stooped, our eyes met; he gave me the fan, and, turning from Messrs. Vane and Payne, said, very coolly,—
"The Lake is really a charming place; I think, Miss Willing, you would find a carriage an easier mode of conveyance, so far, than your pony; shall I bring one for you? or do you still prefer to ride?"
This was so quietly done, that it seemed to me really a settled affair of some standing that I was to go to the Lake with Mr. Tempest. Mr. Vane sauntered off to join the waltzers; Mr. Payne suddenly perceived Professor Rust at his elbow and began to talk chemistry. I said, as calmly as I had been asked,—
"I will send you word some time tomorrow; I cannot tell just now."
Here some of my friends came to say good night; my duties as hostess drew me toward the door; Harry Tempest returned my bouquet and whispered, or rather said in that tone of society that only the person addressed can hear,—
"Clara! let it be a drive!"
My head bent forward as he spoke, for I could not look at him; when I raised it, he was gone.
The music still soared and floated on through the windows into the moonlight; one by one the older part of my guests left me; only a few of the gayest and youngest still persevered in that indefatigable waltz, the oval room looking as if a score of bubbles were playing hop and skip,—for in the crinoline expansions the gentlemen's black pen-and-ink outlines were all lost. At length even these went; the music died; its soul went up with a long, broken cry; its body was put piecemeal into several green bags, shouldered by stout Germans, and carried quite out of sight. The servants gathered and set away such things as were most needful to be arranged, put out the lights, locked the doors and windows, and went to bed. Mrs. Reading, my good housekeeper, begged me to go up stairs.
"You look so tired, Miss Clara!"
"So I am, Delia!" said I. "I will rest. Go to bed you, and I shall come presently."
I heard her heavy steps ascend the stairs; I heard the door of her room close, creaking. How could I sleep? I knew very well what the coming day would bring; I knew why Harry Tempest preferred to drive. I had need of something beside rest, for sleep was impossible; I needed calmness, quiet, enough poise to ask myself a momentous question, and be candidly answered. This quiet was not to be found in my room, I well knew; every bit of its furniture, its drapery, was haunted, and in any hour of emotion the latent ghosts came out upon me in swarms; the quaint mandarins with crooked eyes and fat cheeks had eyed me a thousand times when Elsie's arm was clasped over my neck, and with her head upon my shoulder we lay and laughed, when we should have been dressing, at those Chinese chintz curtains. Elsie was gone; if she had been here, I had been at once counselled. Rest there, dead Past!—I could not go to my bedroom.
The green-house opened from the large parlor by a sash-door. At this season of the year the glazed roof and sides were withdrawn or lowered, but at night the lower sashes were drawn up and fastened, lest incursive cats or dogs should destroy my flowers. The great Newfoundland that was our guard slept on the floor here, since it was the weakest spot for any ill-meaning visitors to enter at.
I drew the long skirt of my lace dress up over my hair, and quietly went into the green-house. The lawn and its black firs tempted me, but there was moonlight on the lawn, and moonlight I cannot bear; it burns my head more fiercely than any noon sun; it scorches my eyelids; it exhausts and fevers me; it excites my brain, and now I looked for calm. This the odor of the flowers and their pure expression promised me. A tall, thick-leaved camellia stood half-way down the border, and before it was a garden-chair. The moonlight shed no ray there, but through the sashes above streamed cool and fair over the blooms that clung to the wall and adorned the parterres and vases; for this house was set after a fashion of my own, a winter-garden under glass; no stages filled the centre. It was laid out with no stiff rule, but here and there in urns of stone, or in pyramidal stands, gorgeous or fragrant plants ran at their own wild will, while over all the wall and along the woodwork of the roof trailed passion-flowers, roses, honeysuckles, fragrant clematis, ivy, and those tropic vines whose long dead names belie their fervid luxuriance and fantastic growth; great trees of lemon and orange interspaced the vines in shallow niches of their own, and the languid drooping tresses of a golden acacia flung themselves over and across the deep glittering mass of a broad-leaved myrtle.
As I sat down in the chair, Pan reared his dusky length from his mat, and came for a recognition. It was wont to be something more positive than caresses; but to-night neither sweet biscuit nor savory bit of confectionery appeared in the hand that welcomed him; yet he was as loving as ever, and, with a grim sense of protection, flung himself at my feet, drew a long breath, and slept. I dared not yet think; I rested my head against the chair, and breathed in the odor of the flowers: the delicate scent of tea-roses; the Southern perfume, fiery and sweet, like Greek wine, of profuse heliotropes,—a perfume that gives you thirst, and longing, and regret. I turned my head toward the orange-trees; Southern, also, but sensuous and tropic, was the breath of those thick white stars,—a tasted odor. Not so the cool air that came to me from a diamond-shaped bed of Parma violets, kept back so long from bloom that I might have a succession of them; these were the last, and their perfume told it, for it was at once a caress and a sigh. I breathed the gale of sweetness till every nerve rested and every pulse was tranquil as the air without.
I heard a little stir. I looked up. A stately calla, that reared one marble cup from its gracious cool leaves, was bending earthward with a slow and voluntary motion; from the cup glided a fair woman's shape; snowy, sandalled feet shone from under the long robe; hair of crisped gold crowned the Greek features. It was Hypatia. A little shiver crept through a white tea-rose beside the calla; its delicate leaves fluttered to the ground; a slight figure, a sweet, sad face, with melancholy blue eyes and fair brown hair, parted the petals. La Vallire! She gazed in my eyes.
"Poor little child!" said she. "Have you a treatise against love, Hypatia?"
The Greek of Egypt smiled and looked at me also. "I have discovered that the steps of the gods are upon wool," answered she; "if love had a beginning to sight, should not we also foresee its end?"
"And when one foresees the end, one dies," murmured La Vallire.
"Bah!" exclaimed Marguerite of Valois, from the heart of a rose-red camellia,—"not at all, my dear; one gets a new lover!"
"Or the new lover gets you," said a dulcet tone, tipped with satire, from the red lips of Mary of Scotland,—lips that were just now the petals of a crimson carnation.
"Philosophy hath a less troubled sea wherein to ride than the stormy fluctuance of mortal passion; Plato is diviner than Ovid," said a puritanic, piping voice from a coif that was fashioned out of the white camellia-blooms behind my chair, and circled the prim beauty of Lady Jane Grey.
"Are you a woman, or one of the Sphinx's children?" said a stormy, thrilling, imperious accent, from the wild purple and scarlet flower of the Strelitzia, that gradually shaped itself into gorgeous Oriental robes, rolled in waves of splendor from the lithe waist and slender arms of a dark woman, no more young,—sallow, thin, but more graceful than any bending bough of the desert acacia, and with eyes like midnight, deep, glowing, flashing, melting into dew, as she looked at the sedate lady of England.
"You do not know love!" resumed she. "It is one draught,—a jewel fused in nectar; drink the pearl and bring the asp!"
Her words brought beauty; the sallow face burnt with living scarlet on lip and cheek; the tiny pearl-grains of teeth flashed across the swarth shade above her curving, passionate mouth; the wide nostrils expanded; the great eyes flamed under her low brow and glittering coils of black hair.
"Poor Octavia!" whispered La Vallire. Lady Jane Grey took up her breviary and read.
"After all, you died!" said Hypatia.
"I lived!" retorted Cleopatra.
"Lived and loved," said a dreamy tone from the hundred leaves of a spotless La Marque rose; and the steady, "unhasting, unresting" soul of Thekla looked out from that centreless flower, in true German guise of brown braided tresses, deep blue eyes like forget-me-nots, sedate lips, and a straight nose.
"I have lived, and loved, and cut bread and butter," solemnly pronounced a mountain-daisy, assuming the broad features of a frulein.
Cleopatra used an Egyptian oath. Lady Jane Grey put down her breviary and took up Plato. Marguerite of Valois laughed outright. Hypatia put a green leaf over Charlotte, with the air of a high-priestess, and extinguished her.
"Who does not love cannot lose," mused La Vallire.
"Who does not love neither has nor gains," said Hypatia. "The dilemma hath two sides, and both gain and loss are problematic. It is the ideal of love that enthralls us, not the real."
"Hush! you white-faced Greek! It was not an ideal; it was Mark Antony. By Isis! does a dream fight, and swear, and kiss?"
"The Navarrese did; and France dreamed he was my master,—not I!" laughed Marguerite.
"This is most weak stuff for goodly and noble women to foster," grimly uttered a flame-colored hawk's-bill tulip, that directly assumed a ruff and an aquiline nose.
Mary of Scotland passed her hand about her fair throat. "Where is Leicester's ring?" said she.
The Queen did not hear, but went on. "Truly, you make as if it was the intent of women to be trodden under foot of men. She that ruleth herself shall rule both princes and nobles, I wot. Yet I had done well to marry. Love or no love, I would the house of Hanover had waged war with one of mine own blood; I hate those fair, fat Guelphs!"
"Love hath sometimes the thorn alone, the rose being blasted in bud," uttered a sweet and sonorous voice with a little nasal accent, out of the myrtle-boughs that starred with bloom her hair, and swept the hem of her green dress.
"Sweet soul, wast thou not, then, sated upon sonnets?" said Mary of Scotland, in a stage aside.
"Do not the laurels overgrow the thorn?" said La Vallire, with a wistful, inquiring smile.
Laura looked away. "They are very green at Avignon," said she.
Out of two primroses, side by side, Stella and Vanessa put forth pale and anxious faces, with eyes tear-dimmed.
"Love does not feed on laurels," said Stella; "they are fruitless."
"That the clergy should be celibate is mine own desire," broke in Queen Elizabeth. "Shall every curly fool's-pate of a girl be turning after an anointed bishop? I will have this thing ended, certes! and that with speed."
Vanessa was too deep in a brown study to hear. Presently she spoke. "I believe that love is best founded upon a degree of respect and veneration which it is decent in youth to render unto age and learning."
"Ciel!" muttered Marguerite; "is it, then, that in this miserable England one cherishes a grand passion for one's grandfather?"
The heliotrope-clusters melted into a face of plastic contour, rich full lips, soft interfused outlines, intense purple eyes, and heavy waving hair, dark indeed, but harmonized curiously with the narrow gold fillet that bound it. "It is no pain to die for love," said the low, deep voice, with an echo of rolling gerunds in the tone.
"That depends on how sharp the dagger is," returned Mary of Scotland. "If the axe had been dull"——
From the heart of a red rose Juliet looked out; the golden centre crowned her head with yellow tresses; her tender hazel eyes were calm with intact passion; her mouth was scarlet with fresh kisses, and full of consciousness and repose. "Harder it is to live for love," said she; "hardest of all to have ever lived without it."
"How much do you all help the matter?" said a practical Yankee voice from a pink hollyhock. "If the infinite relations of life assert themselves in marriage, and the infinite I merges its individuality in the personality of another, the superincumbent need of a passional relation passes without question. What the soul of the seeker asks from itself and the universe is, whether the ultimate principle of existent life is passional or philosophic."
"Your dialectic is wanting in purity of expression," calmly said Hypatia; "the tongue of Olympus suits gods and their ministers only."
"Plato hath no question of the matter in hand," observed Lady Jane Grey, with a tone of finishing the subject.
"I know nothing of your questions and philosophies," scornfully stormed Cleopatra. "Fire seeks fire, and clay, clay. Isis send me Antony, and every philosopher in Alexandria may go drown in the Nile! Shall I blind my eyes with scrolls of papyrus when there is a goodly Roman to be looked upon?"
From the deep blue petals of a double English violet came a delicate face, pale, serene, sad, but exceeding tender. "Love liveth when the lover dies," said Lady Rachel Russell. "I have well loved my lord in the prison; shall I cease to affect him when he is become one of the court above?"
"You are cautious of speech, Mesdames," carelessly spoke Marguerite. "Women are the fools of men; you all know it. Every one of you has carried cap and bell."
They all turned toward the hawk's-bill tulip; it was not there.
"Gone to Kenilworth," demurely sneered Mary of Scotland.
A pond-lily, floating in a tiny tank, opened its clasped petals; and with one bare pearly foot upon the green island of leaves, and the other touching the edge of the marble basin, clothed with a rippling, lustrous, golden garment of hair, that rolled downward in glittering masses to her slight ankles, and half hid the wide, innocent, blue eyes and infantile, smiling lips, Eve said, "I was made for Adam," and slipped silently again into the closing flower.
"But we have changed all that!" answered Marguerite, tossing her jewel-clasped curls.
"They whom the saints call upon to do battle for king and country have their nature after the manner of their deeds," came a clear voice from the fleur-de-lis, that clothed itself in armor, and flashed from under a helmet the keen, dark eyes and firm, beardless lips of a woman.
"There have been cloistered nuns," timidly breathed La Vallire.
"There is a monk's-hood in that parterre without," said Marguerite.
The white clematis shivered. It was a veiled shape in long robes, that hid face and figure, who clung to the wall and whispered, "Paraclete!"
"There are tales of saints in my breviary," soliloquized Mary of Scotland; and in the streaming moonlight, as she spoke, a faint outline gathered, lips and eyes of solemn peace, a crown of blood-red roses pressing thorns into the wan temples that dripped sanguine streams, and in the halo above the wreath a legend, partially obscured, that ran, "Utque talis Rosa nulli alteri plant adhreret"——
"But the girl there is no saint; I think, rather, she is of mine own land," said a purple passion-flower, that hid itself under a black mantilla, and glowed with dark beauty. The Spanish face bent over me with ardent eyes and lips of sympathetic passion, and murmured, "Do not fear! Pedro was faithful unto and after death; there are some men"——
Pan growled! I rubbed my eyes! Where was I? Mrs. Reading stood by me in very extempore costume, holding a night-lamp:—
"Goodness me, Miss Clara!" said she, "I never was more scared. I happened to wake up, and I thought I see your west window open across the corner; so I roused up to go and see if you was sick; and you wasn't in bed, nor your frock anywhere. I was frighted to pieces; but when I come down and found the greenhouse door open, I went in just for a chance, and, lo and behold! here you are, sound asleep in the chair, and Pan a-lying close onto that beautiful black lace frock! Do get up, Miss Clara! you'll be sick to-morrow, sure as the world!"
I looked round me. All the flowers were cool and still; the calla breathless and quiet; the pond-lily shut; the roses full of dew and perfume; the clematis languid and luxuriant.
"Delia," said I, "what do you think about matrimony?"
Mrs. Reading stared at me with her honest green eyes. I laughed.
"Well," said she, "marriage is a lottery, Miss Clara. Reading was a pretty good feller; but seein' things was as they was, if I'd had means and knowed what I know now, I shouldn't never have married him."
"May-be you'd have married somebody else, though," suggested I.
"Like enough, Miss Clara; girls are unaccountable perverse when they get in love. But do get up and go to bed. A'n't you goin' to the Lake to-morrow?"
That put my speculation to flight. Up I rose and meekly followed Delia to my room; this time she staid to see me fairly disrobed. But I had had sleep enough. I was also quiet; I could think. The future lay at my feet, to be planned and patterned at my will; or so I thought. I had not permitted myself to think much about Harry Tempest, from an instinctive feeling of danger; I did not know then that
"En songeant qu'il faut oublier On s'en souvient!"
I was young, rich, beautiful, independent; I came and went as I would, without question, and did my own pleasure. If I married, all this power must be given up; possibly I and my husband would tire of each other,—and then what remained but fixed and incurable disgust and pain? I thought over my strange dream. Cleopatra, the enchantress, and the scorn of men: that was not love, it was simple passion of the lowest grade. Lady Jane Grey: she was only proper. Marguerite de Valois: profligate. Elizabeth: a shrewish, selfish old politician. Who of all these had loved? Arria: and Paetus dying, she could not love. Lady Russell: she lived and mourned. I looked but at one side of the argument, and drew my inferences from that, but they satisfied me. Soon I saw the dawn stretch its opal tints over the distant hills, and tinge the tree-tops with bloom. I heard the half-articulate music of birds, stirring in their nests; but before the sounds of higher life began to stir I had gone to sleep, firmly resolved to ride to the Lake, and to give Harry Tempest no opportunity to speak to me alone. But I slept too long; it was noon before I woke, and I had sent no message about my preference of the pony, as I promised, to Mr. Tempest. I had only time to breakfast and dress. At three o'clock he came,—with his carriage, of course. So I rode to the Lake!
It's all very well to make up one's mind to say a certain thing; it is better if you say it; but, somehow or other,—I really was ashamed afterward,—I forgot all my good reasons. I found I had taken a great deal of pains to no purpose. In short, after due time, I married Harry Tempest; and though it is some time since that happened, I am still much of Eve's opinion,—
"I WAS MADE FOR ADAM."
* * * * *
CRAWFORD AND SCULPTURE.
There is as absolute an instinct in the human mind for the definite, the palpable, and the emphatic, as there is for the mysterious, the versatile, and the elusive. With some, method is a law, and taste severe in affairs, costume, exercise, social intercourse, and faith. The simplicity, directness, uniformity, and pure emphasis or grace of Sculpture have analogies in literature and character: the terse despatch of a brave soldier, the concentrated dialogue of Alfieri, some proverbs, aphorisms, and poetic lines, that have become household words, puritanic consistency, silent fortitude, are but so many vigorous outlines, and impress us by virtue of the same colorless intensity as a masterpiece of the statuary. How sculpturesque is Dante, even in metaphor, as when he writes,—
"Ella non ci diceva alcuna cosa; Ma lasciavane gir, solo guardando, A guisa di leon quando si posa."
Nature, too, hints the art, when her landscape tints are covered with snow, and the forms of tree, rock, and mountain are clearly defined by the universal whiteness. Death, in its pale, still, fixed image,—always solemn, sometimes beautiful,—would have inspired primeval humanity to mould and chisel the lineaments of clay. Even New Zealanders elaborately carve their war-clubs; and from the "graven images" prohibited by the Decalogue as objects of worship, through the mysterious granite effigies of ancient Egypt, the brutal anomalies in Chinese porcelain, the gay and gilded figures on a ship's prow,—whether emblems of rude ingenuity, tasteless caprice, retrospective sentiment, or embodiments of the highest physical and mental culture, as in the Greek statues,—there is no art whose origin is more instructive and progress more historically significant. The vases of Etruria are the best evidence of her degree of civilization; the designs of Flaxman on Wedgwood ware redeem the economical art of England; the Bears at Berne and the Wolf in the Roman Capitol are the most venerable local insignia; the carvings of Gibbons, in old English manor-houses, outrival all the luxurious charms of modern upholstery; Phidias is a more familiar element in Grecian history than Pericles; the moral energy of the old Italian republics is more impressively shadowed forth and conserved in the bold and vigorous creations of Michel Angelo than in the political annals of Macchiavelli; and it is the massive, uncouth sculptures, half-buried in sylvan vegetation, which mythically transmit the ancient people of Central America.
We confess a faith in, and a love for, the "testimony of the rocks,"— not only as interpreted by the sagacious Scotchman, as he excavated the "old red sandstone," but as shaped into forms of truth, beauty, and power by the hand of man through all generations. We love to catch a glimpse of these silent memorials of our race, whether as Nymphs half-shaded at noon-day with summer foliage in a garden, or as Heroes gleaming with startling distinctness in the moonlit city-square; as the similitudes of illustrious men gathered in the halls of nations and crowned with a benignant fame, or as prone effigies on sepulchres, forever proclaiming the calm without the respiration of slumber, so as to tempt us to exclaim, with the enamored gazer on the Egyptian queen, when the asp had done its work,—
"She looks like sleep, As she would catch another Antony In her strong toil of grace."
Although Dr. Johnson undervalued sculpture,—partly because of an inadequate sense of the beautiful, and partly from ignorance of its greatest trophies, he expressed unqualified assent to its awe-inspiring influence in "the monumental caves of death," as described by Congreve. Sir Joshua truly declares that "all arts address themselves to the sensibility and imagination"; and no one thus alive to the appeal of sculpture will marvel that the infuriated mob spared the statues of the Tuileries at the bloody climax of the French Revolution,—that a "love of the antique" knit in bonds of life-long friendship Winckelmann and Cardinal Albani,— that among the most salient of childhood's memories should be Memnon's image and the Colossus of Rhodes,—that an imaginative girl of exalted temperament died of love for the Apollo Belvidere,—and that Carrara should win many a pilgrimage because its quarries have peopled earth with grace.
To a sympathetic eye there are few more pleasing tableaux than a gifted sculptor engaged in his work. How absorbed he is!—standing erect by the mass of clay,—with graduated touch, moulding into delicate undulations or expressive lines the inert mass,—now stepping back to see the effect,—now bending forward, almost lovingly, to add a master indentation or detach a thin layer,—and so, hour after hour, working on, every muscle in action, each perception active, oblivious of time, happy in the gradual approximation, under patient and thoughtful manipulation, of what was a dense heap of earth, to a form of vital expression or beauty. When such a man departs from the world, after having thus labored in love and with integrity so as to bequeathe memorable and cherished trophies of this beautiful art,—when he dies in his prime, his character as a man endeared by the ties of friendship, and his fame as an artist made precious by the bond of a common nativity, we feel that the art he loved and illustrated and the fame he won and honored demand a coincident discussion.
Thomas Crawford was born in New York, March 22, 1813, and died in London, October 16, 1857. His lineage, school education, and early facilities indicate no remarkable means or motive for artistic development; they were such as belong to the average positions of the American citizen; although a bit of romance, which highly amused the young sculptor, was the visit of a noble Irish lady to his studio, who ardently demonstrated their common descent from an ancient house. At first contented to experiment as a juvenile draughtsman, to gaze into the windows of print-shops, to collect what he could obtain in the shape of casts, to carve flowers, leaves, and monumental designs in the marble-yard of Launitz,—then adventuring in wood sculptures and portraits, until the encouragement of Thorwaldsen, the nude models of the French Academy at Rome, and copies from the Demosthenes and other antiques in the Vatican disciplined his eye and touch,—thus by a healthful, rigorous process attaining the manual skill and the mature judgment which equipped him to venture wisely in the realm of original conception,—there was a thoroughness and a progressive application in his whole initiatory course, prophetic, to those versed in the history of Art, of the ultimate and secure success so legitimately earned.
If Rome yields the choicest test, in modern times, of individual endowment in sculpture, by virtue of her unequalled treasures and select proficients in Art,—Munich affords the second ordeal in Europe, because of the cultivated taste and superior foundries for which that capital is renowned; and it is remarkable that both the great statues there cast from Crawford's models by Mller inspired those impromptu festivals which give expression to German enthusiasm. The advent of the Beethoven statue was celebrated by the adequate performance, under the auspices of both court and artists, of that peerless composer's grandest music. When, on the evening of his arrival, Crawford went to see, for the first time, his Washington in bronze, he was surprised at the dusky precincts of the vast arena; suddenly torches flashed illumination on the magnificent horse and rider, and simultaneously burst forth from a hundred voices a song of triumph and jubilee: thus the delighted Germans congratulated their gifted brother, and hailed the sublime work,—to them typical at once of American freedom, patriotism, and genius. The king warmly recognized the original merits and consummate effect of the work; the artists would suffer no inferior hands to pack and despatch it to the sea-side; peasants greeted its triumphal progress;—the people of Richmond were emulous to share the task of conveying it from the quay to the Capitol hill; mute admiration, followed by ecstatic cheers, hailed its unveiling, and the most gracious native eloquence inaugurated its erection.
Descriptions of works of Art, especially of statues, are proverbially unsatisfactory; only a vague idea can be given in words, to the unprofessional reader; otherwise we might dwell upon the eager, intent attitude of Orpheus as he seems to glide by the dozing Cerberus, shading his eyes as they peer into the mysterious labyrinth he is about to enter in search of his ravished bride;—we might expatiate on the graceful, dignified aspect of Beethoven, the concentration of his thoughtful brow, and the loving serenity of his expression,—a kind of embodied musical self-absorption, yet an accurate portrait of the man in his inspired mood; so might he have stood when gathering into his serene consciousness the pastoral melodies of Nature, on a summer evening, to be incorporated into immortal combinations of harmonious sound;—we might descant upon the union of majesty and spirit in the figure of Washington and the vital truth of action in the horse, the air of command and of rectitude, the martial vigor and grace, so instantly felt by the popular heart, and so critically praised by the adept in statuary cognizant of the difficulties to be overcome and the impression to be absolutely evolved from such a work, in order to make it at once true to Nature and to character;—we might repeat the declaration, that no figure, ancient or modern, so entirely illustrates the classic definition of oratory, as consisting in action, as the statue of Patrick Henry, which seems instinct with that memorable utterance, "Give me liberty or give me death!" The inventive felicity of the design for one of the pediments of the Capitol might be unfolded as a vivid historic poem; and it requires no imagination to show that Jefferson looks the author of the Declaration of Independence. The union of original expression and skill in statuary and of ingenious constructiveness in monumental designs, which Crawford exhibited, may be regarded as a peculiar excellence and a rare distinction.
Much has been said and written of the limits of sculpture; but it is the sphere, rather than the art itself, which is thus bounded; and one of its most glorious distinctions, like that of the human form and face, which are its highest subject, is the vast possible variety within what seems, at first thought, to be so narrow a field. That the same number and kind of limbs and features should, under the plastic touch of genius, have given birth to so many and totally diverse forms, memorable for ages and endeared to humanity, is in itself an infinite marvel, which vindicates, as a beautiful wonder, the statuary's art from the more Protean rivalry of pictorial skill. If we call to mind even a few of the sculptured creations which are "a joy forever," even to retrospection,—haunting by their pure individuality the temple of memory, permanently enshrined in heartfelt admiration as illustrations of what is noble in man and woman, significant in history, powerful in expression, or irresistible in grace,—we feel what a world of varied interest is hinted by the very name of Sculpture. Through it the most just and clear idea of Grecian culture is revealed to the many. The solemn mystery of Egyptian and the grand scale of Assyrian civilization are best attested by the same trophies. How a Sphinx typifies the land of the Pyramids and all its associations, mythological, scientific, natural, and sacred,—its reverence for the dead, and its dim and portentous traditions! and what a reflex of Nineveh's palmy days are the winged lions exhumed by Layard! What more authentic tokens of Mediaeval piety and patience exist than the elaborate and grotesque carvings of Albert Drer's day? The colossal Brahma in the temple of Elephanta, near Bombay, is the visible acme of Asiatic superstition. And can an illustration of the revival of Art, in the fifteenth century, so exuberant, aspiring, and sublime, be imagined, to surpass the Day and Night, the Moses, and other statues of Angelo?— But such general inferences are less impressive than the personal experience of every European traveller with the least passion for the beautiful or reverence for genius. Is there any sphere of observation and enjoyment to such a one, more prolific of individual suggestions than this so-called limited art? From the soulful glow of expression in the inspired countenance of the Apollo, to the womanly contours, so exquisite, in the armless figure of the Venus de Milo,—from the aerial posture of John of Bologna's Mercury, to the inimitable and firm dignity in the attitude of Aristides in the Museum of Naples,—from the delicate lines which teach how grace can chasten nudity in the Goddess of the Tribune at Florence, to the embodied melancholy of Hamlet in the brooding Lorenzo of the Medici Chapel,—from the stone despair, the frozen tears, as it were, of all bereaved maternity, in the very bend of Niobe's body and yearning gesture, to the abandon gleaming from every muscle of the Dancing Faun,—from the stern brow of the Knife-grinder, and the bleeding frame of the Gladiator, whereon are written forever the inhumanities of ancient civilization, to the triumphant beauty and firm, light, enjoyable aspect of Dannecker's Ariadne,—from the unutterable joy of Cupid and Psyche's embrace, to the grand authority of Moses,—how many separate phases of human emotion "live in stone"! What greater contrast to eye or imagination, in our knowledge of facts and in our consciousness of sentiment, can be exemplified, than those so distinctly, memorably, and gracefully moulded in the apostolic figures of Thorwaldsen, the Hero and Leander of Steinhaser, the lovely funereal monument, inspired by gratitude, which Rauch reared to Louise of Prussia, Chantrey's Sleeping Children, Canova's Lions in St. Peter's, the bas-reliefs of Ghiberti on the Baptistery doors at Florence, and Gibson's Horses of the Sun?
Have you ever strolled from the inn at Lucerne, on a pleasant afternoon, along the Zurich road, to the old General's garden, where stands the colossal lion designed by Thorwaldsen, to keep fresh the brave renown of the Swiss guard who perished in defence of the royal family of France during the massacre of the Revolution? Carved from the massive sandstone, the majestic animal, with the fatal spear in his side, yet loyal in his vigil over the royal shield, is a grand image of fidelity unto death. The stillness, the isolation, the vivid creepers festooning the rocks, the clear mirror of the basin, into which trickle pellucid streams, reflecting the vast proportions of the enormous lion, the veteran Swiss, who acts as cicerone, the adjacent chapel with its altar-cloth wrought by one of the fair descendants of the Bourbon king and queen for whom these victims perished, the hour, the memories, the admixture of Nature and Art, convey a unique impression, in absolute contrast with such white effigies, for instance, as in the dusky precincts of Santa Croce droop over the sepulchre of Alfieri, or with the famous bronze boar in the Mercato Nuevo of Florence, or the ethereal loveliness of that sweet scion of the English nobility, moulded by Chantrey in all the soft and lithe grace of childhood, holding a contented dove to her bosom.
Even as the subject of taste, independently of historical diversities, sculpture presents every degree of the meretricious, the grotesque, and the beautiful,—more emphatically, because more palpably, than is observable in painting. The inimitable Grecian standard is an immortal precedent; the Medival carvings embody the rude Teutonic truthfulness; where Canova provoked comparison with the antique, as in the Perseus and Venus, his more gross ideal is painfully evident. How artificial seems Bernini in contrast with Angelo! How minutely expressive are the terra-cotta images of Spain! What a climax of absurdity teases the eye in the monstrosities in stone which draw travellers in Sicily to the eccentric nobleman's villa, near Palermo! Who does not shrink from the French allegory and horrible melodrama of Roubillac's monument to Miss Nightingale, in Westminster Abbey? How like Horace Walpole to dote on Ann Conway's canine groups! We actually feel sleepy, as we examine the little black marble Somnus of the Florence Gallery, and electrified with the first sight of the Apollo, and won to sweet emotion in the presence of Nymphs, Graces, and the Goddess of Beauty, when, shaped by the hand of genius, they seem the ethereal types of that
——"common clay ta'en from the common earth, Moulded by God and tempered by the tears Of angels to the perfect form of woman."
Yet the distinctive element in the pleasure afforded by sculpture is tranquillity,—a quiet, contemplative delight; somewhat of awe chastens admiration; a feeling of peace hallows sympathy; and we echo the poet's sentiment,—
"I do feel a mighty calmness creep Over my heart, which can no longer borrow Its hues from chance or change,—those children of to-morrow."
It is this fixedness and placidity, conveying the impression of fate, death, repose, or immortality, which render sculpture so congenial as commemorative of the departed. Even quaint wooden effigies, like those in St. Mary's Church at Chester, with the obsolete peaked beards, ruffs, and broadswords, accord with the venerable associations of a Medival tomb; while marble figures, typifying Grief, Poetry, Fame, or Hope, brooding over the lineaments of the illustrious dead, seem, of all sepulchral decorations, the most apt and impressive. We remember, after exploring the plain of Ravenna on an autumn day, and rehearsing the famous battle in which the brave young Gaston de Foix fell, how the associations of the scene and story were defined and deepened as we gazed on the sculptured form of a recumbent knight in armor, preserved in the academy of the old city; it seemed to bring back and stamp with brave renown forever the gallant soldier who so long ago perished there in battle. In Cathedral and Parthenon, under the dome of the Invalides, in the sequestered parish church or the rural cemetery, what image so accords with the sad reality and the serene hope of humanity, as the adequate marble personification on sarcophagus and beneath shrine, in mausoleum or on turf-mound?
"His palms infolded on his breast, There is no other thought express'd But long disquiet merged in rest."
In truth, it is for want of comprehensive perception that we take so readily for granted the limited scope of this glorious art. There is in the Grecian mythology alone a remarkable variety of character and expression, as perpetuated by the statuary; and when to her deities we add the athletes, charioteers, and marble portraits, a realm of diverse creations is opened. Indeed, to the average modern mind, it is the statues of Grecian divinities that constitute the poetic charm of her history; abstractly, we regard them with the poet:—
"Their gods? what were their gods? There's Mars, all bloody-haired; and Hercules, Whose soul was in his sinews; Pluto, blacker Than his own hell; Vulcan, who shook his horns At every limp he took; great Bacchus rode Upon a barrel; and in a cockle-shell Neptune kept state; then Mercury was a thief; Juno a shrew; Pallas a prude, at best; And Venus walked the clouds in search of lovers; Only great Jove, the lord and thunderer, Sat in the circle of his starry power And frowned 'I will!' to all."
Not in their marble beauty do they thus ignobly impress us,—but calm, fair, strong, and immortal. "They seem," wrote Hazlitt, "to have no sympathy with us, and not to want our admiration. In their faultless excellence they appear sufficient to themselves."
In the sculptor's art, more than on the historian's page, lives the most glorious memory of the classic past. A visit to the Vatican by torchlight endears even these poor traditional deities forever.
On lofty ceilings vivid frescoes glow, Auroras beam, The steeds of Neptune through the waters go, Or Sibyls dream.
As in the flickering torchlight shadows weaved Illusions wild, Methought Apollo's bosom slightly heaved And Juno smiled.
Aerial Mercuries in bronze upspring, Dianas fly, And marble Cupids to the Psyches cling Without a sigh.
To this variety in unity, this wealth of antique genius, Crawford brought the keen relish of an observant and the aptitude of a creative mind. His taste in Art was eminently catholic; he loved the fables and the personages of Greece because of this very diversity of character,—the freedom to delineate human instincts and passions under a mythological guise,—just as Keats prized the same themes as giving broad range to his fanciful muse. A list of our prolific sculptor's works is found to include the entire circle of subjects and styles appropriate to his art—first, the usual classic themes, of which his first remarkable achievement was the Orpheus; then a series of Christian or religious illustrations, from Adam and Saul to Christ at the Well of Samaria; next, individual portraits; a series of domestic figures, such as the "Children in the Wood," or "Truant Boys"; and, finally, what may be termed national statuary, of which Beethoven and Washington are eminent exemplars. Like Thorwaldsen, Crawford excelled in basso-rilievo, and was a remarkable pictorial sculptor. Having made early and intense studies of the antique, he as carefully observed Nature; few statuaries have more keenly noted the action of childhood or equestrian feats, so that the limbs and movement of the sweetest of human and the noblest of brute creatures were critically known to him. In sculpture, we believe that a great secret of the highest success lies in an intuitive eclecticism, whereby the faultless graces of the antique are combined with just observation of Nature. Without correct imitative facility, a sculptor wanders from the truth and the fact of visible things; without ideality, he makes but a mechanical transcript; without invention, he but repeats conventional traits. The desirable medium, the effective principle, has been well defined by the author of "Scenes and Thoughts in Europe":— "Art does not merely copy Nature; it coperates with her, it makes palpable her finest essence, it reveals the spiritual source of the corporeal by the perfection of its incarnations." That Crawford invariably kept himself to "the height of this great argument" it were presumptuous to assert; but that he constantly approached such an ideal, and that he sometimes seized its vital principle, the varied and expressive forms yet conserved in his studio at Rome emphatically attest. He had obtained command of the vocabulary of his art; in expressing it, like all men who strive largely, he was unequal. Some of his creations are far more felicitous than others; he sometimes worked too fast, and sometimes undertook what did not greatly inspire him; but when we reflect on the limited period of his artist-life, on the intrepid advancement of its incipient stages under the pressure of narrow means and comparative solitude, on the extraordinary progress, the culminating force, the numerous trophies, and the acknowledged triumphs of a life of labors, so patiently achieved, and suddenly cut off in mid career,—we cannot but recognize a consummate artist and the grandest promise yet vouchsafed to the cause of national Art.