It is not for such people that I write; but there are others,—and to these I address myself,—who recognize in the artist the privileged instrument of a moral and civilizing influence; who appreciate art because they derive from it pure and ennobling inspirations; who respect it because it is the highest expression of human thought, aiming at the absolute ideal; and who love it as we love the friend to whom we confide our joys and sorrows, and in whom we find a faithful response to every movement of the soul.
Lamartine has said, with truth, "Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends." In fact, music is a psycho-physical phenomenon. In its germ, it is a sensation; in its full development, an ideal. It is sufficient not to be deaf to perceive music, at least, if not to appreciate it. Even idiots and maniacs are subject to its influence. Not being restricted to any precise sense, going beyond the mere letter, and expressing only states of the soul, it has this advantage over literature, that every one can assimilate it to his own passions, and adapt it to the sentiments which rule him. Its power, limited in the intellectual order to the imitative passions, is in that of the imagination unlimited. It responds to an interior, indefinable sense possessed by all,—the ideal.
Literature is always objective: it speaks to the understanding, and determines in us impressions in keeping with the determined sense which it expresses. Music, on the contrary, may be, in turn, objective and subjective, according to the disposition in which we find ourselves at the moment of hearing it. It is objective when, affected only by the purely physical sensation of sound, we listen to it passively, and it suggests to us impressions. A march, a waltz, a flute imitating the nightingale, the chromatic scale imitating the murmuring of the wind in the "Pastoral Symphony," may be taken as examples.
It is subjective when, under the empire of a latent impression, we discover in its general character an accordance with our psychological state, and we assimilate it to ourselves; it is then like a mirror in which we see reflected the movements which agitate us, with a fidelity all the more exact from the fact that, without being conscious of it, we ourselves are the painters of the picture which unrolls itself before our imagination.
Let me explain. Play a melancholy air to a proscript thinking of his distant home; to a deserted lover; to a mother mourning the loss of a child; to a vanquished warrior;—and be assured they will all appropriate to themselves the plaintive harmonies, and fancy they detect in them the accents of their own grief.
The fact of music is still a mystery. We know that it is composed of three principles,—air, vibration, and rhythmic symmetry. Strike an object in an exhausted receiver, and it produces no sound, because no air is there; touch a ringing glass, and the sound stops, because there is no vibration; take away the rhythm of the simplest air by changing the duration of the notes that compose it, and you render it obscure and unrecognizable, because you have destroyed its symmetry.
But why, then, do not several hammers striking in cadence produce music? They certainly comply with the three conditions of air, vibration, and rhythm. Why is the accord of a third so pleasing to the ear? Why is the minor mode so suggestive of sadness? There is the mystery,—there the unexplained phenomenon.
We restrict ourselves to saying that music, which, like speech, is perceived through the medium of the ear, does not, like speech, call upon the brain for an explanation of the sensation produced by the vibration on the nerves; it addresses itself to a mysterious agent within us, which is superior to intelligence, since it is independent of it, and makes us feel that which we can neither conceive nor explain.
Let us examine the various attributes of the musical phenomenon.
1. Music is a physical agent. It communicates to the body shocks which agitate the members to their base. In churches the flame of the candles oscillates to the quake of the organ. A powerful orchestra near a sheet of water ruffles its surface. A learned traveller speaks of an iron ring which swings to and fro to the murmur of the Tivoli Falls. In Switzerland I excited at will, in a poor child afflicted with a frightful nervous malady, hysterical and catalyptic crises, by playing in the minor key of E flat. The celebrated Doctor Bertier asserts that the sound of a drum gives him the colic. Certain medical men state that the notes of the trumpet quicken the pulse and induce slight perspiration. The sound of the bassoon is cold; the notes of the French horn at a distance, and of the harp, are voluptuous. The flute played softly in the middle register calms the nerves. The low notes of the piano frighten children. I once had a dog who would generally sleep on hearing music, but the moment I played in the minor key he would bark piteously. The dog of a celebrated singer whom I knew would moan bitterly, and give signs of violent suffering, the instant that his mistress chanted a chromatic gamut. A certain chord produces on my sense of hearing the same effect as the heliotrope on my sense of smell and the pine-apple on my sense of taste. Rachel's voice delighted the ear by its ring before one had time to seize the sense of what was said, or appreciate the purity of her diction.
We may affirm, then, that musical sound, rhythmical or not, agitates the whole physical economy,—quickens the pulse, incites perspiration, and produces a pleasant momentary irritation of the nervous system.
2. Music is a moral agent. Through the medium of the nervous system, the direct interpreter of emotion, it calls into play the higher faculties; its language is that of sentiment Furthermore, the motives which have presided over particular musical combinations establish links between the composer and the listener. We sigh with Bellini in the finale of La Somnambula; we shudder with Weber in the sublime phantasmagoria of Der Freischutz; the mystic inspirations of Palestrina, the masses of Mozart, transport us to the celestial regions, toward which they rise like a melodious incense. Music awakens in us reminiscences, souvenirs, associations. When we have wept over a song, it ever after seems to us bathed in tears.
A celebrated pianist tells me that, in a city where he was giving concerts, he became acquainted with a charming young girl. He was twenty years old, and had all the poetic and generous illusions of that romantic age. She was sixteen. They loved each other without daring to confess it, and perhaps without knowing it themselves. But the hour of separation came: he was passing his last evening at her house. Observed by the family, he could only furtively join hands with her at the moment of parting. The poem was but commenced, to be arrested at the first page: he never saw her again. Disheartened, distracted with grief, he wandered through the dark streets, until at two in the morning he found himself again under her windows. She too was awake. Their thoughts, drawn together by that divine tie which merits the name of love only in the morning of life, met in unison, for she was playing gently in the solitude of her chamber the first notes of a mazurka which they had danced together. "Tears came to my eyes," said my friend, "on hearing this music, which seemed to me sublime; it was the stifled plaint of her heart; it was her grief which exhaled from her fingers; it was the eternal adieu. For years I believed this mazurka to be a marvellous inspiration, and it was not till long after, when age had dispelled my illusions and obliterated the adored image, that I discovered it was only a vulgar and trivial commonplace: the gold was changed to brass."
The old man, chilled by years, may be insensible to the pathetic accents of Rossini, of Mozart: but repeat to him the simple songs of his youth, the present vanishes, and the illusions of the past come back again. I once knew an old Spanish general who detested music. One day I began to play to him my "Siege of Saragossa," in which is introduced the "Marcha Real" (Spanish national air), and he wept like a child. This air recalled to him the immortal defence of the heroic city, behind the falling walls of which he had fought against the French, and sounded to him, he said, like the voice of all the holy affections expressed by the word home. The mercenary Swiss troops, when in France and Naples, could not hear the "Ranz des Vaches" (the shepherd song of old and rude Helvetia) without being overcome by it. When from mountain to mountain the signal of revolt summoned to the cause the three insurgent Cantons, the desertions caused by this air became so frequent that the government prohibited it. The reader will remember the comic effect produced upon the French troops in the Crimea by the Highlanders marching to battle to the sound of the bagpipe, whose harsh, piercing notes inspired these brave mountaineers with valor, by recalling to them their country and its heroic legends. Napoleon III. finds himself compelled to allow the Arab troops incorporated into his army their barbarous tam-tam music, lest they revolt. The measured beat of the drum sustains the soldier in long marches which otherwise would be insupportable. The Marseillaise contributed as much toward the republican victories of 1793, when France was invaded, as the genius of General Dumouriez.
3. Music is a complex agent. It acts at once on life, on the instinct, the forces, the organism. It has a psychological action. The negroes charm serpents by whistling to them; it is said that fawns are captivated by a melodious voice; the bear is aroused with the fife; canaries and sparrows enjoy the flageolet; in the Antilles, lizards are enticed from their retreats by the whistle; spiders have an affection for fiddlers; in Switzerland, the herdsmen attach to the necks of their handsomest cows a large bell, of which they are so proud, that, while they are allowed to wear it, they march at the head of the herd; in Andalusia, the mules lose their spirit and their power of endurance, if deprived of the numerous bells with which it is customary to deck these intelligent animals; in the mountains of Scotland and Switzerland, the herds pasture best to the sound of the bagpipe; and in the Oberland, cattle strayed from the herd are recalled by the notes of the trumpet.
Donizetti, a year before his death, had lost all his faculties, in consequence of a softening of the spinal marrow. Every means was resorted to for reviving a spark of that intellect once so vigorous; but all failed. In a single instance only he exhibited a gleam of intelligence; and that was on hearing one of his friends play the septette of his opera of "Lucia." "Poor Donizetti!" said he; "what a pity he should have died so soon!" And this was all.
In 1848, after the terrible insurrection which made of Paris a vast slaughter-house, to conceal my sadness and my disgust I went to the house of one of my friends, who was superintendent of the immense insane asylum in Clermont-sur-Oise. He had a small organ, and was a tolerably good singer. I composed a mass, to the first performance of which we invited a few artists from Paris and several of the most docile inmates of the asylum. I was struck with the bearing of the latter, and asked my friend to repeat the experiment, and extend the number of invitations. The result was so favorable, that we were soon able to form a choir from among the patients, of both sexes, who rehearsed on Saturdays the hymns and chants they were to sing on Sunday at mass. A raving lunatic, a priest, who was getting more and more intractable every day, and who often had to be put in a strait-jacket, noticed the periodical absence of some of the inmates, and exhibited curiosity to know what they were doing. The following Saturday, seeing some of his companions preparing to go to rehearsal, he expressed a desire to go with them. The doctor told him he might go on condition that he would allow himself to be shaved and decently dressed. This was a thorny point, for he would never attend to his person, and became furious when required to dress; but, to our great astonishment, he consented at once. This day he not only listened to the music quietly, but was detected several times joining his voice with that of the choir. When I left Clermont, my poor old priest was one of the most constant attendants at the rehearsals. He still had his violent periods, but they were less frequent; and when Saturday arrived, he always dressed himself with care, and waited impatiently for the hour to go to chapel.
To resume: Music being a physical agent,—that is to say, acting on the individual without the aid of his intelligence; a moral agent,—that is to say, reviving his memory, exciting his imagination, developing his sentiment; and a complex agent,—that is to say, having a physiological action on the instinct, the organism, the forces, of man,—I deduce from this that it is one of the most powerful means for ennobling the mind, elevating the morals, and, above all, refining the manners. This truth is now so well recognized in Europe that we see choral societies—Orpheons and others—multiplying as by enchantment, under the powerful impulse given them by the state. I speak not simply of Germany, which is a singing nation, whose laborious, peaceful, intelligent people have in all time associated choral music as well with their labors as with their pleasures; but I may cite particularly France, which counts to-day more than eight hundred Orpheon societies, composed of workingmen. How many of these, who formerly dissipated their leisure time at drinking-houses, now find an ennobling recreation in these associations, where the spirit of union and fraternity is engendered and developed! And if we could get at the statistics of crime, who can doubt that they would show it had diminished in proportion to the increase of these societies? In fact, men are better, the heart is in some sort purified, when impregnated with the noble harmonies of a fine chorus; and it is difficult not to treat as a brother one whose voice has mingled with your own, and whose heart has been united to yours in a community of pure and joyful emotions. If Orpheon societies ever become established in America, be assured that bar-rooms, the plague of the country, will cease, with revolvers and bowie-knives, to be popular institutions.
Music, when employed in the service of religion, has always been its most powerful auxiliary. The organ did more for Catholicism in the Middle Ages than all its preaching; and Palestrina and Marcello have reclaimed and still reclaim more infidels than all the doctors of the Church.
We enter a house of worship. Still under the empire of the external world, we carry there our worldly thoughts and occupations; a thousand distractions deter us from religious reflection and meditation. The word of the preacher reaches the ear indeed, but only as a vague sound. The sense of what is said is arrested at the surface, without penetrating the heart. But let the grand voice of the organ be heard, and our whole being is moved; the physical world disappears, the eyes of the soul open; we bow the head, we bend the knee, and our thoughts, disengaged from matter, soar to the eternal regions of the Good, the Beautiful, and the True.
Here or hereafter? In the body here, Or in the soul hereafter do we writhe, Atoning for the malice of our lives? Of the uncounted millions that have died, Not one has slipped the napkin from his chin And loosed the jaw to tell us: even he, The intrepid Captain, who gave life to find A doubtful way through clanging worlds of ice,— A fine inquisitive spirit, you would think, One to cross-question Fate complacently, Less for his own sake than Science's,— Not even he, with his rich gathered lore, Returns from that dark journey down to death. Here or hereafter? Only this I know, That, whatsoever happen afterwards, Some men do penance on this side the grave. Thus Regnald Garnaut for his cruel heart.
Owner and lord was he of Garnaut Hall, A relic of the Norman conquerors,— A quaint, rook-haunted pile of masonry, From whose top battlement, a windy height, Regnald could view his twenty prosperous farms; His creaking mill, that, perched upon a cliff, With outspread wings seemed ever taking flight; The red-roofed cottages, the high-walled park, The noisy aviary, and, nearer by, The snow-white Doric parsonage,—all his own. And all his own were chests of antique plate, Horses and hounds and falcons, curious books, Chain-armor, helmets, Gobelin tapestry, And half a mile of painted ancestors. Lord of these things, he wanted one thing more, Not having which, all else to him was dross.
For Agnes Vail, the curate's only child,— A little Saxon wild-flower that had grown Unheeded into beauty day by day, And much too delicate for this rude world,— With that intuitive wisdom of the pure, Saw that he loved her beauty, not herself, And shrank from him, and when he came to speech Parried his meaning with a woman's wit, Then sobbed an hour when she was all alone. And Regnald's mighty vanity was hurt. "Why, then," snarled he, "if I had asked the Queen To pick me some fair woman from the Court, 'T were but the asking. A blind curate's girl, It seems, is somewhat difficult,—must have, To warm her feet, our coronet withal!" And Agnes evermore avoided him, Clinging more closely to the old man's side; And in the chapel never raised an eye, But knelt there like a medieval saint, Her holiness her buckler and her shield,— That, and the golden floss of her long hair.
And Regnald felt that somehow he was foiled,— Foiled, but not beaten. He would have his way. Had not the Garnauts always had their will These six or seven centuries, more or less? Meanwhile he chafed; but shortly after this Regnald received the sorest hurt of all. For, one eve, lounging idly in the close, Watching the windows of the parsonage, He heard low voices in the alder-trees, Voices he knew, and one that sweetly said, "Thine!" and he paused with choking heart, and saw Eustace, his brother, and fair Agnes Vail In the soft moonrise lingering with clasped hands. The two passed on, and Regnald hid himself Among the brushwood, where his vulpine eyes Dilated in the darkness as they passed. There, in the dark, he lay a bitter hour Gnawing his nails, and then arose unseen And crept away with murder in his soul.
Eustace! curse on him, with his handsome eyes! Regnald had envied Eustace many a day,— Envied his fame, and that exceeding grace And courtliness which he had learned at Court Of Sidney, Raleigh, Essex, and the rest: For when their father, lean Sir Egbert, died, Eustace, whose fortune dangled at his thigh,— A Damask blade,—had hastened to the Court To line his purse, perchance to build a name; And catching there the passion of the time, He, with a score of doughty Devon lads, Sailed with bold Drake into the Spanish seas; Returning whence, with several ugly scars,— Which made him lovelier in women's eyes,— And many a chest of ingots,—not the less These latter made him lovely,—sunned himself, Sometimes at Court, sometimes at Garnaut Hall,— At Court, by favor of the Virgin Queen, For great Elizabeth had smiled on him.
So Regnald, who was neither good nor brave Nor graceful, liked not Eustace from the start, And this night hated him. With angry brows, He sat in a bleak chamber of the Hall, His fingers toying with his poniard's point Abstractedly. Three times the ancient clock, Bolt-upright like a mummy in its case, Doled out the hour: at length the round red moon, Rising above the ghostly poplar-tops, Looked in on Regnald nursing his dark thought, Looked in on the stiff portraits on the wall, And dead Sir Egbert's empty coat-of-mail.
A quick step sounded on the gravel-walk, And then came Eustace, humming a sea-song, Of how the Grace of Devon, with ten guns, And Master Raleigh on the quarter-deck, Bore down and tackled the great galleon, Madre de Dios, raked her fore and aft, And took her bullion,—singing, light at heart, His first love's first kiss warm upon his lip. Straight onward came young Eustace to his death! For hidden behind the arras near the stair Stood Regnald, like the Demon in the play, Grasping his rapier part-way down the blade To strike the foul blow with its heavy hilt. Straight on came Eustace,—blithely ran the song, "Old England's darlings are her hearts of oak." The lights were out, and not a soul astir, Or else the dead man's scabbard, as it clashed Against the marble pavement when he fell, Had brought a witness. Not a breath or sound, Only the sad wind wailing in the tower, Only the mastiff growling in his sleep, Outside the gate, and pawing at his dream.
Now in a wing of that old gallery, Hung with the relics of forgotten feuds, A certain door, which none but Regnald knew, Was fashioned like the panels of the wall, And so concealed by carven grapes and flowers A man could search for it a dozen years And swear it was not, though his touch had been Upon the very panel where it was. The secret spring that opened it unclosed An inner door of iron-studded oak, Guarding a narrow chamber, where, perchance, Some bygone lord of Garnaut Hall had hid His threatened treasure, or, most like, bestowed Some too adventurous antagonist. Sealed in the compass of that stifling room, A man might live, at best, but half an hour.
Hither did Regnald bear his brother's corse And set it down. Perhaps he paused to gaze A moment on the quiet moon-lit face, The face yet beautiful with new-told love! Perhaps his heart misgave him,—or, perhaps—— Now, whether 't was some dark avenging Hand, Or whether 't was some fatal freak of wind, We may not know, but suddenly the door Without slammed to, and there was Regnald shut Beyond escape, for on the inner side Was neither spring nor bolt to set him free!
Mother of Mercy! what were a whole life Of pain and penury and conscience-smart To that half-hour of Regnald's with his Dead?
—The joyous sun rose over the white cliffs Of Devon, sparkled through the poplar-tops, And broke the death-like slumber of the Hall. The keeper fetched their breakfast to the hounds; The smart, young ostler whistled in the stalls; The pretty housemaid tripped from room to room; And grave and grand behind his master's chair, But wroth within to have the partridge spoil, The senile butler waited for his lord. But neither Regnald nor young Eustace came. And when 't was found that neither slept at Hall That night, their couches being still unpressed, The servants stared. And as the day wore on, And evening came, and then another day, And yet another, till a week had gone, The wonder spread, and riders sent in haste Scoured the country, dragged the neighboring streams, Tracked wayward footprints to the great chalk bluffs, But found not Regnald, lord of Garnaut Hall. The place that knew him knew him never more.
The red leaf withered and the green leaf grew. And Agnes Vail, the little Saxon rose, Waxed pale and paler, till the country-folk Half guessed her fate was somehow intertwined With that dark house. When her pure soul had passed,— Just as a perfume floats from out the world,— Wild tales were told of how the brothers loved The self-same maid, whom neither one would wed Because the other loved her as his life; And that the two, at midnight, in despair, From one sheer cliff plunged headlong in the sea. And when, at night, the hoarse east-wind rose high, Rattled the lintels, clamoring at the door, The children huddled closer round the hearth And whispered very softly with themselves, "That's Master Regnald looking for his Bride!"
The red leaf withered and the green leaf grew. Decay and dolor settled on the Hall. The wind went howling in the dismal rooms, Rustling the arras; and the wainscot-mouse Gnawed through the mighty Garnauts on the wall, And made a lodging for her glossy young In dead Sir Egbert's empty coat-of-mail; The griffon dropped from off the blazoned shield; The stables rotted; and a poisonous vine Stretched its rank nets across the lonely lawn. For no one went there,—'t was a haunted spot. A legend killed it for a kindly home,— A grim estate, which every heir in turn Left to the orgies of the wind and rain, The newt, the toad, the spider, and the mouse.
The red leaf withered and the green leaf grew. And once, 't is said, the Queen reached out her hand And let it rest on Cecil's velvet sleeve, And said, "I prithee, Cecil, tell us now, Was 't ever known what happened to those men,— Those Garnauts?—were they never, never found?" The weasel face had fain looked wise for her, But no one of that century ever knew.
The red leaf withered and the green leaf grew. And in that year the good Prince Albert died The land changed owners, and the new-made lord Sent down his workmen to revamp the Hall And make the waste place blossom as the rose. By chance, a workman in the eastern wing, Fitting the cornice, stumbled on a door, Which creaked, and seemed to open of itself; And there within the chamber, on the flags, He saw two figures in outlandish guise Of hose and doublet,—one stretched out full-length, And one half fallen forward on his breast, Holding the other's hand with vice-like grip: One face was calm, the other sad as death, With something in it of a pleading look, As might befall a man that dies at prayer. Amazed, the workman hallooed to his mates To see the wonder; but ere they could come, The figures crumbled and were shapeless dust.
THE PLEIADES OF CONNECTICUT.
In that remote period of history which is especially visited upon us in our school-days, in expiation of the sins of our forefathers, there nourished seven poets at the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus. Royal favor and amiable dispositions united them in a club: public applause and self-appreciation led them to call it The Pleiades. In the middle of the sixteenth century, Pierre Ronsard, emulous of Greek fame, took to him six other poets more wretched than himself, and made up a second Pleiades for France. The third rising of this rhythmical constellation was seen in Connecticut a long time ago.
Connecticut is pleasant, with wooded hills and a beautiful river; plenteous with tobacco and cheese; fruitful of merchants, missionaries, sailors, peddlers, and singlewomen;—but there are no poets known to exist there, unless it be that well-paid band who write the rhymed puffs of cheap garments and cosmetics. The brisk little democratic State has turned its brains upon its machinery. Not a snug valley, with a few drops of water at the bottom of it, but rattles with the manufacture of notions, great and small,—axes and pistols, carriages and clocks, tin pans and toys, hats, garters, combs, buttons, and pins. You see that the enterprising natives can turn out any article on which a profit may be made,—except poetry. That product, you would say, was out of the question. Nevertheless, the species poet, although extinct, did once exist on that soil. The evidence is conclusive that palaeozoic verse-makers wandered over those hills in bygone ages. Their moss-grown remains, still visible here and there, are as unmistakable as the footprints of the huge wading birds in the red sandstone of Middletown and Chatham. Ou la poesie va-t'elle se nicher? How came the Muses to settle in Connecticut?
Dr. Samuel Peters, in his trustworthy history of the Colony, gives no answer to this question; but among the oldest inhabitants of remote Barkhamstead, for whom it is said General Washington and the worthies of his date still have a being in the flesh, there lingers a mythological tradition which may explain this aberration of Connecticut character. The legend runs thus.
In the first half of the eighteenth century, English readers were entertained with elaborate allegories, in which the passions, the vices, and even the habits of mankind were personified. Lighter ethical topics were served up in letters from Philotryphus, Septimius, or others ending in us, and in communications from Flirtilla, Jack Modish, and Co. Eastern tales and apologues, meditations on human life, essays on morality, inquiries as to whether the arts and sciences were serviceable or prejudicial to the human race, dissertations on the wisdom and virtue of the Chinese, were all the fashion in literature. The Genius of authorship, or the Demon, if you prefer it, was so precise, refined, exquisite in manner, and so transcendentally moral in ethics, that he had become almost insufferable to his master, Apollo. The God was a little tired, if the truth were known, with the monotonous chant of Pope, in spite of his wit. He began to think that something more was required, to satisfy the soul than polished periods and abstract didactic morality,—and was not much surprised when he observed that Prior, after dining with Addison and Co., liked to finish the evening with a common soldier and his wife, and refresh his mind over a pipe and a pot of beer. But Pope was dead, and so was Thomson, and Goldsmith not yet heard from. There was a famine of literary invention in England. Out of work and wages for himself and his troupe, "disgusted at the age and clime, barren of every glorious theme," Phoebus Apollo determined to emigrate. Berkeley had reported favorably of the new Western Continent: it was a land of poetical promise to the Bishop.
"There shall be sung another golden age, The rise of empire and of arts; The good and great inspiring epic rage, The wisest heads and noblest hearts."
Trusting in the judgment of a man who had every virtue under heaven, the God of Song shipped with the tuneful Nine for America. Owing, perhaps, to insufficiency of transportation, the Graces were left behind. The vessel sailed past Rhode Island in a fog, and disembarked its precious freight at New Haven, in the Colony of Connecticut. In the pleasant summer weather, the distinguished foreigners travelled northward as far as Litchfield Hill, and thence to Hartford, on the banks of the beautiful river. They found the land well wooded and well watered; the natives good-natured, industrious, and intelligent: but the scenery was monotonous to the Pierian colonists, and the people distasteful. The clipped hair and penitential scowl of the men made heavy the hearts of the Muses; their daughters and wives had a sharp, harsh, pert "tang" in their speech, that grated upon the ears of Apollo, who held with King Lear as to the excellence of a low, soft voice in woman. Each native seemed to the strangers sadly alike in looks, dress, manners, and pursuits, to every other native. Of Art they were absolutely ignorant. They built their temples on the same model as their barns. Poetry meant Psalms sung through their noses to the accompaniment of a bass-viol. Of other musical instruments, they knew only the Jews-harp for home delectation, and the drum and fife for training-days. Doctrinal religion furnished them with a mental relaxation which supplied the place of amusement. Sandemanians, Adamites, Peterites, Bowlists, Davisonians, and Rogereens, though agreeing mainly in essentials, found vast gratification in playing against each other at theological dialectics. On one cardinal point of discipline only—the necessity of administering creature comfort to the sinful body—did all sects zealously unite. They offered copious, though coarse, libations to Bacchus, in the spirit-stirring rum of their native land.[B]
After careful observation, the nine ladies conferred together, and decided that in this part of the world their sphere of usefulness was limited and their mission a failure. Polymnia, Urania, and Clio might get into good society, but Thalia and Terpsichore were sure to be set in the stocks; and what was poor Erato to expect, but a whipping, in a commonwealth that forbade its women to uncover their necks or to expose their arms above the wrists? They made up their minds not to "locate"; packed up barbiton and phorminx, mask and cothurn, took the first ship bound to Europe, and quietly sailed away. Their stay was short, but they left their mark. To this day Phoebes are numerous in Connecticut, and nine women to one man has become the customary proportion of the sexes. As Greece had Parnassus, Helicon, and Pindus, Connecticut had New Haven, Hartford, and Litchfield Hill,—halting-places of the illustrious travellers. There they scattered the seeds of poetry,—seeds which fell upon stony places, but, warmed by the genial influence of the Sun-God, sprang up and brought forth such fruit as we shall see.
John Trumbull was born in Watertown, A.D. 1750; two years later, in Northampton, came Timothy Dwight: both of the best New England breed: Dwight, a grandson of Jonathan Edwards; Trumbull, cousin to kind old Governor Trumbull, (whose pompous manner in transacting the most trifling public business amused Chastellux and the Hussar officers at Windham,) and consequently second cousin to the son of the Governor, Colonel John Trumbull, whose paintings might possibly have added to the amusement of the gay Frenchmen, had they stayed in America long enough to see them. Cowley, Milton, and Pope lisped in numbers; but the precocity of Trumbull was even more surprising. He passed his college examination at the age of eight, in the lap of a Dr. Emmons; but was remanded to the nursery to give his stature time to catch up with his acquirements. Dwight, too, was ready for college at eight, and was actually entered at thirteen.
About this time there were symptoms of an aesthetical thaw in Connecticut. There had been no such word as play in the dictionary of the New-Englanders. They worked hard on their stony soil, and read hard in their stony books of doctrine. That stimulant to the mind, outside of daily routine, which the human race must have under all circumstances, (we call it excitement nowadays,) was found by the better sort in theological quarrels, by the baser in New England rum,—the two things most cheering to the spirit of man, if Byron is to be believed. Education meant solid learning,—that is to say, studies bearing upon divinity, law, medicine, or merchandise; and to peruse works of the imagination was considered an idle waste of time,—indeed, as partaking somewhat of the nature of sin. But the growing taste of Connecticut was no longer satisfied with Dr. Watts's moral lyrics, whose jingle is still so instructive and pleasant to extreme youth. Milton and Dryden, Thomson and Pope, were read and admired; "The Spectator" was quoted as the standard of style and of good manners; and daring spirits even ventured upon Richardson's novels and "Tristram Shandy."
While in this literary revival all Yale was anxious, young Dwight and Trumbull were indulging in hope. Smitten with the love of verse, Dwight announced his rising genius (these are the words of the "Connecticut Magazine and New Haven Gazette") by versions of two odes of Horace, and by "America," a poem after the manner of Pope's "Windsor Forest." At the age of nineteen he invoked the venerable Muse who has been called in as the "Poet's Lucina," since Homer established her professional reputation, and dashed boldly at the epic,—"the greatest work human nature is capable of." His great work was "The Conquest of Canaan." Trumbull, more modest, wrote "The Progress of Dulness," in three cantos. To these young men of genius came later two other nurslings of the Muses,—David Humphreys from Derby, and Joel Barlow from Reading. They caught the poetical distemper. Barlow, fired by Dwight's example, began "The Vision of Columbus." The four friends, young and hopeful, encouraging and praising each other, gained some local reputation by fugitive pieces in imitation of English models, published "Spectator" essays in the New Haven papers, and forestalled all cavillers by damning the critics after the method used by Dryden and Pope against Settle and Cibber.
Trumbull chose the law as a profession, and went to Boston to finish his studies in 1773. A clerk in the office of John Adams, who lodged with Gushing, Speaker of the Massachusetts House, could have read but little law in the midst of that political whirlwind which was driving men of every trade and profession into revolution. Boston stubbornly persevered in the resolution not to consume British goods, notwithstanding the efforts of the Addressers and Protesters and Tories generally, who preached their antiquated doctrines of passive obedience and divine right, and painted in their darkest colors the privation and suffering caused by the blockade. Trumbull joined the Whigs, pen in hand, and laid stoutly about him both in prose and verse. Then came the skirmish at Lexington, and all New England sprang to arms. Dwight joined the army as chaplain. Humphreys volunteered on Putnam's staff. Barlow served in the ranks at the Battle of White Plains; and then, after devoting his mind to theology for six weeks, accepted the position of chaplain in a Massachusetts regiment. The little knot of poets was broken up. One of them asked in mournful numbers,—
"Amid the roar of drums and guns, When meet again the Muses' sons?"
They met again after the thunder and lightning were over, but in another place. New Haven saw the rising of the constellation; its meridian brilliancy shone upon Hartford. At the close of the war, the four poetical luminaries, as they were called by the "Connecticut Magazine and New Haven Gazette," hung up the sword in Hartford and grasped the lyre. The epidemic of verse broke out again. The four added to their number Dr. Lemuel Hopkins, a physician, Richard Alsop, a gentleman of much cultivation, and Theodore Dwight, a younger brother of Timothy. There were now seven stars of the first magnitude. Many other aspirants to a place in the heavens were necessarily excluded; among them, two are worthy of notice,—Noah Webster, who was already then and there meditating his method for teaching the American people to mispel, and Oliver Wolcott, afterward Secretary of the Treasury. Bound by the sweet influences of the Pleiades, Wolcott wrote a poem,—"The Judgment of Paris." His biographer, who has read it, has given his critical opinion that "it would be much worse than Barlow's epic, were it not much shorter."
The year 1783 brought peace with England, but it found matters in a dangerous and unsettled state at home. After seven years of revolution it takes some time to bring a people down to the safe and sober jog-trot of every-day life. The lower classes were demoralized by the license and tumult of war, and by poverty; they were surly and turbulent, and showed a disposition to shake off yokes domestic as well as foreign,—the yoke of taxation in particular: for every man of them believed that he had already done more, suffered more, and paid more, than his fair share. The calamity of a worthless paper legal-tender currency added to the general discontent. Hence any public measure involving further disbursements met with angry opposition. Large arrears of pay were due to soldiers, and bounties had been promised to induce them to disband peacefully, and to compensate them for the depreciation of the currency. Congress had also granted five years' extra pay to officers, in lieu of the half-pay for life which was first voted. The army, in consequence, became very unpopular. A great clamor was raised against the Cincinnati Society, and factious patriots pretended to see in it the foundation of an hereditary aristocracy. The public irritability, excited by pretexts like these, broke out into violence. In Connecticut, mobs collected to prevent the army officers from receiving the certificates for the five years' pay, and a convention was assembled to elect men pledged to non-payment. Shay and Shattuck headed an insurrection in Massachusetts. There were riots at Exeter, in New Hampshire. When Shay's band was defeated and driven out of the State, Rhode Island—then sometimes called Rogue's Island, from her paper-money operations—refused to give up the refugee rebels. The times looked gloomy. The nation, relieved from the foreign pressure which had bound the Colonies together, seemed tumbling to pieces; each State was an independent sovereignty, free to go to ruin in its own way. The necessity for a strong central government to replace English rule became evident to all judicious men; for, as one Pelatiah Webster remarked, "Thirteen staves, and ne'er a hoop, cannot make a barrel." The Hartford Wits had fought out the war against King George; they now took up the pen against King Mob, and placed themselves in rank with the friends of order, good government, and union. Hence the "Anarchiad." An ancient epic on "the Restoration of Chaos and Substantial Blight" was dug up in the ruins of an old Indian fort, where Madoc, the mythical Welsh Columbus, or some of his descendants, had buried it. Colonel Humphreys, who had read the "Rolliad" in England, suggested the plan; Barlow, Hopkins, and Trumbull joined with him in carrying it out. Extracts from the "Anarchiad" were prepared when wanted, and the verses applied fresh to the enfeebled body politic. They chanted the dangers and difficulties of the old Federation and the advantages of the new Constitution. Union was the burden of their song; and they took a prophetic view of the stormy future, if thirteen independent States should divide this territory between them.
"Shall lordly Hudson part contending powers, And broad Potomac lave two hostile shores? Must Alleghany's sacred summits bear The impious bulwarks of perpetual war? His hundred streams receive your heroes slain, And bear your sons inglorious to the main?"
We, miserrimi, have lived to see it, and to see modern Shayites vote to establish such a state of things forever.
When the new government was firmly settled and found to work well, the same class of men who had opposed the Union formed the Anti-Federal, Democratic, or French party. The Hartford school were Federalists, of course. Theodore Dwight and Alsop, assisted by Dr. Hopkins, published in the local papers "The Political Greenhouse" and "The Echo,"—an imitation of "The Anti-Jacobin,"—"to check the progress of false taste in writing, and to stem the torrent of Jacobinism in America and the hideous morality of revolutionary madness." It was a place and time when, in the Hartford vocabulary,
"Patriot stood synonymous with rogue";
and their versified squibs were let off at men rather than at measures. As a specimen of their mode of treatment, let us take Matthew Lyon, first an Irish redemptioner bought by a farmer in Derby, then an Anti-Federal champion and member of Congress from Vermont; once famous for publishing Barlow's letter to Senator Baldwin,—for his trial under the Alien and Sedition Act,—for the personal difficulty when
"He seized the tongs To avenge his wrongs, And Griswold thus engaged."
The Hartford poets notice him thus:—
"This beast within a few short years Was purchased for a yoke of steers; But now the wise Vermonters say He's worth six hundred cents a day."
Other leaders of the Anti-Federal party fare no better. Mr. Jefferson's literary and scientific whims came in for a share of ridicule.
"Great sire of stories past belief; Historian of the Mingo chief; Philosopher of Indians' hair; Inventor of a rocking-chair; The correspondent of Mazzei, And Banneker, less black than he," et seq.
The paper containing this paragraph had the felicity of being quoted in Congress by the Honorable John Nicholas, of Virginia, to prove that Connecticut wished to lead the United States into a war with France. The honorable gentleman read on until he came to the passage,—
"Each Jacobin began to stir, And sat as though on chestnut-burr,"
when he stopped short. Mr. Dana of Connecticut took up the quotation and finished it, to the great amusement of the House.
The last number was published in 1805. As we look over the "Echo," and find nothing in it but doggerel,—generally very dull doggerel,—we might wonder at the applause it obtained, if we did not recollect how fiercely the two great parties engaged each other. In a riot, any stick, stone, or ignoble fragment of household pottery is valuable as a missile weapon.
While the constellation was shining resplendent over Connecticut, each bright star had its own particular twinkle. Trumbull had his "Progress of Dulness," in three cantos,—an imitation, in manner, of Goldsmith's "Double Transformation." The title is happy. The decline of Miss Harriet Simper from bellehood to an autumnal marriage, in Canto III., is more tiresome than the progress of Tom Brainless from the plough-tail to the pulpit, in Canto I. The Reverend Mr. Brainless, when called and settled,—
"On Sunday in his best array Deals forth the dulness of the day."
These two lines, descriptive, unfortunately, of too many ministrations, are all that have survived of the three cantos. Trumbull's chef d'oeuvre is "McFingal," begun before the war and finished soon after the peace. The poem covers the whole Revolutionary period, from the Boston tea-party to the final humiliation of Great Britain: Lord North and General Gage, Hutchinson, Judge Oliver, and Treasurer Gray; Doctors Sam. Peters and Seabury; passive obedience and divine right; no taxation without representation; Rivington the printer, Massachusettensis, and Samuel Adams; Yankee Doodle; who began the war? town-meetings, liberty-poles, mobs, tarring, feathering, and smoking Tories; Tryon, Galloway, Burgoyne, Prescott, Guy Carleton; paper-money, regulation, and tender; in short, all the men and topics which preserve our polyphilosophohistorical societies from lethargic extinction. "McFingal" hit the taste of the times; it was very successful. But although thirty editions were sold in shops or hawked about by peddlers, there was no copyright law in the land, and Trumbull took more praise than solid pudding by his poetry. It was reprinted in England, and found its way to France. The Marquis de Chastellux, an author himself, took an especial interest in American literature. He wrote to congratulate Trumbull upon his excellent poem, and took the opportunity to lay down "the conditions prescribed for burlesque poetry." "These, Sir, you have happily seized and perfectly complied with.... I believe that you have rifled every flower which that kind of poetry could offer.... Nor do I hesitate to assure you that I prefer it to every work of the kind,—even to Hudibras." Notwithstanding the opinion of the pompous Marquis, nobody reads "McFingal." Time has blotted out most of the four cantos. There are left a few lines, often quoted by gentlemen of the press, and invariably ascribed to "Hudibras":—
"For any man with half an eye What stands before him can espy; But optics sharp it needs, I ween, To see what is not to be seen."
"But as some muskets so contrive it As oft to miss the mark they drive at, And though well aimed at duck or plover, Bear wide and kick their owners over."
"No man e'er felt the halter draw With good opinion of the law."
The last two verses have passed into immortality as a proverb. Perhaps a few other grains of corn might be picked out of these hundred and seventy pages of chaff.
Dr. Dwight staked his fame on "The Conquest of Canaan," an attempt to make an Iliad out of the Old Testament. Eleven books; nine thousand six hundred and seventy-two dreary verses, full of battles and thunderstorms; peopled with Irad, Jabin, Hanniel, Hezron, Zimri, and others like them, more colorless and shadowy than the brave Gyas and the brave Cloanthus. Not a line of this epic has survived. Shorter and much better is "Greenfield Hill," a didactic poem, composed, the author said, to amuse and to instruct in economical, political, and moral sentiments. Greenfield was, for a time, the scene of the Doctor's professional labors. His descriptions of New England character, of the prosperity and comfort of New England life, are accurate, but not vivid. The book is full of good sense, but there is little poetry in it. True to the literary instincts of the Pleiads, he shines with reflected light, and works after Thomson and Goldsmith so closely that in many passages imitation passes into parody.
Like Timotheus of Greece, Timothy of Connecticut
"to his breathing flute and sounding lyre Could swell the soul to rage, or kindle soft desire."
He wrote a war chant; he wrote psalms; and there is a song in the "Litchfield Collection" in which he attempts to kindle soft desire. Here is an extract:—
No longer, then, fair maid, delay The promised scenes of bliss, Nor idly give another day The joys assigned to this. "Quit, then, oh, quit, thou lovely maid! Thy bashful virgin pride,"—
and so on sings the Doctor. Who would have thought that
"profound Solomon would tune a jig, Or Nestor play at pushpin with the boys,"
as Shakspeare has it? who would have expected erotic tints and Epicurean morality from the author of "The Conquest of Canaan," and of four volumes of orthodox and weighty theology?
The "Ode to Columbia,"
"Columbia! Columbia! to glory arise, The queen of the world and the child of the skies!"
written when Dwight was a chaplain in the Revolutionary Army, is probably more known to the moderns than any of his poetical efforts. It is a vision of the future greatness of the new-born nation,—short, spirited, and finished with more care than he was in the habit of giving to his verses.
In like manner the brave and burly Colonel
"Humphreys charmed the listening throng; Sweetly he sang amid the clang of arms."
At Washington's head-quarters in Peekskill he composed "An Address to the Armies of the United States." It was recited publicly in London, and translated by Chastellux into French prose. Three years later he published a poem on the "Happiness of America," which ran through ten editions. In it the gallant man-at-rhymes tells the story of his own campaigns:—
"From whom I learnt the martial art; With what high chiefs I played my early part: With Parsons first, whose eye with piercing ken Reads through their hearts the characters of men. Then how I aided in the following scene Death-daring Putnam, then immortal Greene. Then how great Washington my youth approved, In rank preferred and as a parent loved; (For each fine feeling in his bosom blends,— The first of heroes, sages, patriots, friends!) With him what hours on warlike plans I spent Beneath the shadow of th' imperial tent; With him how oft I went the nightly round Through moving hosts, or slept on tented ground; From him how oft (nor far below the first In high behests and confidential trust,)— From him how oft I bore the dread commands Which destined for the fight the eager bands; With him how oft I passed th' eventful day, Rode by his side as down the long array His awful voice the columns taught to form, To point the thunders and to pour the storm."
This extract will give a fair idea of the Colonel's manner. A poem on "The Future Glory of the United States of America," another on "The Industry of the United States of America," and "The Death of General Washington," make up his credentials to a seat on the American Parnassus.
Joel Barlow, "Virgilian Barlow," is the most remarkable of the cluster. He started in the race of life with ten competitors of his own blood, and came in a successful adventurer in both hemispheres. After serving in the army with musket and prayer-book, he practised law, edited a newspaper, kept a book-shop,—and having exhausted the variety of callings offered by Connecticut, went to France as agent for the Scioto Land Company, and opened an office in Paris with a grand flourish of advertisements. "Farms for sale on the banks of the Ohio, la belle riviere; the finest district of the United States! Healthful and delightful climate; scarcely any frost in winter; fertile soil; a boundless inland navigation; magnificent forests of a tree from which sugar flows; excellent fishing and fowling; venison in abundance; no wolves, lions, or tigers; no taxes; no military duty. All these unexampled advantages offered to colonists at five shillings the acre!" The speculation took well. Nothing was talked of but the free and rural life to be led on the banks of the Scioto. Brissot's foolish book on America confirmed the promises of Barlow, and stimulated the ardor of purchasers.
The Scioto Company turned out to be a swindling land-company, the precursor of many that have resembled it. The lands they offered had been bought of the Ohio Company, but were never paid for. When the poor French barbers, fiddlers, and bakers, as they are called in a contemporary narrative, reached the banks of la belle riviere, they found that their title-deeds were good for nothing, and that the woods produced savages instead of sugar. Some died of privation, some were scalped, and some found their way to New Orleans. The few who remained eventually obtained a grant of a few acres from the Ohio Company, by paying for them over again.
In the mean time the French Revolution had broken out, and Barlow saw the visions and dreamed the dreams of the enthusiasts of that day. He dropped the land business, and he dropped his New England prejudices, religious as well as political, and his New England common sense. Connecticut men who wander into other lands and other opinions seem peculiarly subject to such violent transformations. Some of the most ignivorous of our Southern countrymen are the offspring of Connecticut; and, strange as it may appear, the sober land of the pumpkin and onion exports more arbiters of elegance and punctilio, more judges without appeal of horses, wine, and beauty, more gentlemen of the most sensitive and demonstrative honor, than any other Northern State.
Inspired by the instincts of his race, Barlow fancied he saw the approach of a new era of perfection. To hasten its advent in England, he translated Volney's "Ruins," and went to London to publish his translation. There he wrote his "Advice to the Privileged Classes," a political pamphlet, and became an active member of the Constitution Society. The Society commissioned him as delegate to the French Convention, with an address of congratulation and a gift of a thousand pairs of shoes. The Convention rewarded him with the dignity of Citoyen Francais. Barlow adopted the character, and carried it out. He sang at a supper a parody of "God save the King," composed by himself.
"Fame, let thy trumpet sound! Tell all the world around How Capet fell! And when great George's poll Shall in the basket roll, Let mercy then control The Guillotine!
"God save the Guillotine, Till England's King and Queen Her power shall prove; When all the sceptred crew Have paid their homage to The Guillotine!"
A few years before, Barlow had dedicated the "Vision of Columbus" to poor Capet, whose destruction he celebrates so pleasantly,—with many assurances of the gratitude of America, and of his own veneration. "Coelum, non animum," would never have been written, if Horace had properly understood Connecticut character.
Barlow's zeal was pleasing to the rulers of France. They sent him and the Abbe Gregoire to revolutionize Savoy, and to divide it into departments. After his return, he became rich by speculation, and lived handsomely in the Hotel de Clermont-Tonnerre. His reputation extended to his own country. The United States employed him to negotiate with the Barbary pirates,—that is to say, to buy off the wretched cutthroats who infested the Mediterranean. He went to Africa, and made arrangements which were considered advantageous then, and would be hooted at as disgraceful now. In the treaty with Algiers occurred a passage that gave great offence to his friends at home, and to Federalists in general. It was to this effect, if not in these words: "That the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."
In 1805, after seventeen years of absence, Barlow returned to America, built himself a house near Washington, and called it Kalorama. Jefferson and the Democrats received him with open arms; he embraced them with equal warmth, and was a very great man for some time. A new edition of the "Columbiad" completed his fame,—an edition gotten up at his own expense, with engravings by his friend Robert Fulton; the paper, type, illustrations, and binding, far superior to anything as yet produced by American publishers. At the request of the President, Barlow went back to France as Minister, in the place of General Armstrong. It was the winter of the Russian campaign. A personal interview with the Emperor on the subject of the Berlin and Milan Decrees seemed necessary, and Barlow hurried to Wilna to meet him. The weather was unusually severe, the roads rough, and the accommodations wretched. Cold and exposure brought on a violent illness; and Barlow expired in a miserable hut near Cracow. The "Columbiad" is an enlargement, or rather a dilution, of the "Vision of Columbus," by the addition of some two thousand verses. The epic opens with Columbus in prison; to him enters Hesper, an angel. The angel leads Columbus to the Mount of Vision, whence he beholds the panorama of the Western Continent he had discovered. Hesper acts as showman, and explains the tableaux as they roll on. He points out the geographical features of America, not forgetting Connecticut River; relates the history of Mexico and of Peru, and explains the origin of races, cautioning Columbus against the theory of several Adams. Turning north, he describes the settlement of the English colonies, and narrates the old French War of General Wolfe and the American Revolution, with the customary episodes,—Saratoga, Yorktown, Major Andre, Miss McCrea, and the prison-ships. Finally, the angel predicts the glory of the world's future,—perpetual peace, unrestricted commerce, public works, health and longevity, one universal language. The globe, "one confederate, independent sway," shall
"Spread with the sun, and bound the walks of day; One central system, one all-ruling soul, Live through the parts, and regulate the whole."
There is evidently no room for the serpent Secession in Barlow's paradise. This grand federation of the terrestrial ball is governed by a general council of elderly married men, "long rows of reverend sires sublime," presided over by a "sire elect shining in peerless grandeur." The delegates hold their sessions in Mesopotamia, within a "sacred mansion" of high architectural pretensions.
"On rocks of adamant the walls ascend, Tall columns heave, and sky-like arches bend; Bright o'er the golden roof the glittering spires Far in the concave meet the solar fires; Four blazing fronts, with gates unfolding high, Look with immortal splendor round the sky."
In the spacious court of the capitol of the world stands the statue of the Genius of Earth, holding Truth's mighty mirror in his hand. On the pedestal are carved the noblest arts of man. Beneath the footstool of the Genius,
"all destructive things, The mask of priesthood and the mace of kings, Lie trampled in the dust; for here, at last, Fraud, folly, error, all their emblems cast. Each envoy here unloads his weary hand Of some old idol from his native land. One flings a pagod on the mingled heap; One lays a crescent, one a cross to sleep; Swords, sceptres, mitres, crowns and globes and stars, Codes of false fame and stimulants to wars, Sink in the settling mass. Since guile began, These are the agents of the woes of man."
It will be observed that Barlow improved slightly upon the old loyalist cry, "Une loi, un roi, une foi." One government, one reverend sire elect, and no religion, was his theory of the future of mankind.
Few men in these degenerate days have the endurance to read the "Columbiad" through; but "Hasty Pudding," which Barlow celebrated in verse as good sound republican diet, may be read with some pleasure. It belongs to the same class of poems as Philips's "Cider," Dyer's "Fleece," and Grainger's "Sugar-Cane," and is quite as good as most of them.
There is little to be said about Alsop. He was a scholarly gentleman, who published a few mild versions from the Italian and the Scandinavian, and a poem on the "Memory of Washington," and was considerate enough not to publish a poem on the "Charms of Fancy," which still exists, we believe, in manuscript. In some verses extracted from it by the editors of the "Cyclopaedia of American Literature" we recognize with interest that traveller of the future who is to moralize over the ruins of the present,—known to all readers as Macaulay's New-Zealander, although Goldsmith, Kirke White, and others had already introduced him to the public. Alsop brings this Wandering Jew of literature from Nootka Sound to gaze on "many a shattered pile and broken stone," where "fair Bostonia," "York's proud emporium," or Philadelphia, "caught the admiring gaze."
The wild-eyed, excitable Dr. Hopkins had more vigor and originality than his brother stars. There is much rough humor in his burlesque of the essay of Brackenridge of Pittsburg on the Indian War:—
"As if our God One single thought on Indians e'er bestowed; To them his care extends, or even knew, Before Columbus told him, where they grew";
and in his epitaph on the "Victim of a Cancer Quack":—
"The case was this:—a pimple rose Southeast a little of his nose, Which daily reddened and grew bigger, As too much drinking gave it vigor";
and in the "Hypocrite's Hope":—
"Blest is the man who from the womb To saintship him betakes; And when too soon his child shall come, A long confession makes";
and in the squib on Ethan Allen's infidel book:—
"Lo! Allen 'scaped from British jails, His tushes broke by biting nails, Appears in hyperborean skies, To tell the world the Bible lies."
Dr. Hopkins published very little; he might be excused, if he had written more.
Addison said, he never yet knew an author who had not his admirers. The Connecticut authors were no exception to this rule. To begin with, they admired themselves, and they admired one another; each played squire to his gifted friend, and sounded the trumpet of his fame. It was, "See! Trumbull leads the train," or "the ardent throng"; "Trumbull! earliest boast of Fame"; "Lo! Trumbull wakes the lyre."
"Superior poet, in whose classic strain In bright accordance wit and fancy reign; Whose powers of genius in their ample range Comprise each subject and each tuneful change, Each charm of melody to Phoebus dear, The grave, the gay, the tender, the severe."
Barlow is "a Child of Genius"; Columbus owes much of his glory to him.
"In Virgilian Barlow's tuneful lines With added splendor great Columbus shines."
Then we have "Majestic Dwight, sublime in epic strain"; "Blest Dwight"; Dwight of "Homeric fire." Colonel Humphreys is fully up to the regulation standard:—
"In lore of nations skilled and brave in arms, See Humphreys glorious from the field retire, Sheathe the glad sword and string the sounding lyre."
Dwight thought "McFingal" much superior to "Hudibras"; and Hopkinson, the author of "Hail Columbia," mentions, as a melancholy instance of aesthetic hallucination, that Secretary Wolcott, whose taste in literature was otherwise good, had an excessive admiration for "The Conquest of Canaan." A general chorus of neighbors and friends rose in the columns of the "Connecticut Magazine and New Haven Gazette":—"It is with a noble and patriotic pride that America boasts of her Barlow, Dwight, Trumbull, and Humphreys, the poetical luminaries of Connecticut"; and all true New-Englanders preferred their home-made verses to the best imported article. The fame of the Seven extended into the neighboring States; Boston, not yet the Athens of America, confessed "that Pegasus was not backed by better horsemen from any part of the Union." But the glory grew fainter as the distance increased from the centre of illumination. In New York, praise was qualified. The Rev. Samuel Miller of that city, who published in 1800 "A Brief Retrospect of the Literature of the Eighteenth Century," calls Mr. Trumbull a respectable poet, thinks that Dr. Dwight's "Greenfield Hill" is entitled to considerable praise, and finds much poetic merit in Mr. Barlow's "Vision"; but he closes the chapter sadly, with a touch of Johnson's vigor:—"The annals of American literature are short and simple. The history of poverty is usually neither very various nor very interesting." Farther South the voice of the scoffer was heard. Mr. Robert Morris ventured to say in the Assembly of Pennsylvania, that America had not as yet produced a good poet. Great surprise and indignation, when this speech reached the eyes of the Connecticut men! Morris might understand banking, but in taste he was absurdly deficient. No poets! What did he call John Trumbull of Hartford, and Joel Barlow, author of "The Vision of Columbus"? "We appeal to the bar of taste, whether the writings of the poets now living in Connecticut are not equal to anything which the present age can produce in the English language."
Cowper showed excellent sense when he wrote,—"Wherever else I am accounted dull, let me at least pass for a genius at Olney." The Hartford Wits passed for geniuses in Connecticut, which is better, as far as the genius is concerned, than any extent or duration of posthumous fame. Let their shades, then, be satisfied with the good things in the way of praise they received in their lives; for between us and them there is fixed a great gulf of oblivion, into which Time, the merciless critic from whose judgment there is no appeal, has tumbled their works.
In 1793, a volume of "American Poems, Selected and Original," was published in Litchfield by subscription. A second volume was promised, if the first met with "that success which the value of the poems it contained seemed to warrant"; but no second volume appeared. When Hopkins died, in 1801, the constellation was sinking fast to the horizon; a few years later it had set, and only elderly inhabitants remembered when the Down-Eastern sky was made bright by it. Barlow's magnificent edition revived the recollection for a time, and the old defiant cry was raised again, that the "Columbiad" was comparable, not to say superior, to any poem that had appeared in Europe since the independence of the United States. But English reviewers refused to chime in. Their critical remarks were not flattering, although merciful as compared with the jeers of the "Edinburgh" at Byron's "Hours of Idleness," or the angry abuse with which the earlier productions of the Lake School were received. Nevertheless, Paulding, Ingersoll, and Walsh, indignant, sprang to their quills, and attacked the prejudiced British with the argumentum ad hominem, England's "sores and blotches," etc.; the argumentum Tu quoque, "We're as good a poet as you are, and a better, too"; and, lastly, pleaded minority in bar of adverse criticism, "We are a young nation," and so on. This was to yield the point. If a young nation necessarily writes verses similar in quality to those of very young persons, it would always be proper to take Uncle Toby's advice, "and say no more about it." Deaf to Walsh's "Appeal," and to Inchiquin's "Letters," Sydney Smith, as late as January, 1820, asked, in the "Edinburgh," that well-known and stinging question, "In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book?" Even at home, "Hesper" and "The Mount of Vision" soon faded out of sight. At that time, 1808-1810, readers of verse had, not to mention Cowper, "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" and "Marmion," "Gertrude of Wyoming," "Thalaba," Moore's "Anacreon," and two volumes by William Wordsworth,—poems with which the American producer was unable to compete. In 1820 Samuel G. Goodrich of Hartford published a complete edition of Trumbull's works in two volumes, the type large and the paper excellent,—with a portrait of the author, and good engravings of McFingal in the Cellar, and of Abijah Mann bearing the Town Resolves of Marshfield to Boston. The sale did not repay the outlay. When Trumbull died, in 1831, he was as completely forgotten as any Revolutionary colonel or captain.
Humphreys once feeling, that, in spite of all his struggles, he was not doing much, exclaimed,—
"Why, niggard language, dost thou balk my soul?"
He did not see the reason why: his soul had not much to say. This was the trouble with them all. There was not a spark of genuine poetic fire in the Seven. They sang without an ear for music; they strewed their pages with faded artificial flowers which they mistook for Nature, and endeavored to overcome sterility of imagination and want of passion by veneering with magniloquent epithets. They padded their ill-favored Muse, belaced and beruffled her, and covered her with garments stiffened with tawdry embroidery to hide her leanness; they overpowdered and overrouged to give her the beauty Providence had refused. I say their Muse, but they had no Muse of their own; they imported an inferior one from England, and tried her in every style,—Pope's and Dryden's, Goldsmith's and Gray's, and never rose above a poor imitation; producing something which looked like a model, but lacked its flavor: wooden poetry, in short,—a genuine product of the soil.
Judging from their allusions to themselves, no one of the Seven mistrusted his own poetical powers or the gifts of his colleagues. They seem to have died in their error, unrepentant, in the comfortable hope of an hereafter of fame. Their works have faded out of sight like an unfinished photograph. It was a sad waste of human endeavor, a profitless employment of labor, unusual in Connecticut.[C]
But, although thus "wrecked upon the rock of rhyme," these bards of Connecticut were not mere waste-paper of mankind, as Franklin sneeringly called our poets, but sensible, well-educated gentlemen of good English stock, of the best social position, and industrious in their business; for Alsop was the only one who "left no calling for the idle trade." Hopkins stood at the head of his profession. Dwight was beloved and respected as minister, legislator, theologian, and President of Yale College. Trumbull was a member of the State Legislature, State's Attorney, and Judge of the Supreme Court. Humphreys served on Washington's staff, received a sword from Congress for his gallantry at Yorktown, was Secretary of Legation at Paris, Minister to Portugal and Spain, and introduced merino sheep into New England. Barlow, as we have already seen, was Ambassador to France at the time of his death. All of these, except Trumbull, had borne arms, and did not throw away their shields like Archilochus and Horace. They were sincere patriots, who honestly predicted a future of boundless progress in wealth, science, religion, and virtue for the United States,—the exemplar of liberty and justice to the world, "surpassing all nations that have ever existed, in magnitude, felicity, and duration." And on the other hand, every one of them believed in the decline and impending fall of their old enemy, Great Britain. Barlow's "Hesper" even hints that a Columbus from New England may one day rediscover the Old World.
After the peace, when the closer union of the States under one general government was proposed, the Hartford Wits worked hard to argue down and to laugh down the bitter and absurd opposition which sprang up. That great question was settled definitively by the adoption of the new Constitution, and another took its place: How is this document to be interpreted? The Hartford men, excepting, of course, Joel Barlow, the Lost Pleiad of the group, whose head had been turned by the bewildering theories of his French fellow-citizens, were warmly in favor of administering the new government on Federal principles. Were not the Federalists right? More than thirty years ago, De Tocqueville pronounced in their favor; De Witt, in his recent essay on Jefferson, comes to the same decision: both observers who have no party-feelings nor class-prejudices to mislead them. And have not the last few years given us all light enough to see that abstractly, as statesmen, the Federal leaders were right? As politicians, in the degraded American sense of the word, they were unskilful; they accelerated the downfall of their party by injudicious measures and by petty rivalries. But although their ruin might have been adjourned, it could not have been avoided; we now know that their fate was inevitable. The democracy must have run over them and trodden them out by the sheer brute force of numbers; no superiority in wisdom or in virtue could have saved them long.
In those hot and angry days a mania politica raged among the inhabitants of the United States. One could no longer recognize the sensible people who had fought the British stoutly for seven years, without the slightest idea that they were struggling for anything more than independence of foreign rule. Thomas Paine and Joel Barlow, graduates of the great French Revolution University, had come to teach them the new jargon: the virtue and wisdom of the people; the natural rights of man; the natural propensity of rulers and priests to ignore them; and other similar high-sounding words, the shibboleth and the mainstay of the Democratic party to this day. The Anti-Federalists were as much pleased to learn that they had been contending for these beautiful phrases as was Monsieur Jourdain when told he had been speaking de la prose all his life. They assumed the title of Citizen, invented that of Citess to please strong-minded sisters, and became as crazy as Monsieur Jourdain when invested with the dignity of Mamamouchi. They proclaimed that the government of the United States, like all other governments, was naturally hostile to the rights of the people; France was their only hope; if the leagued despotisms succeeded against her, they would soon send their engines of destruction among them. They planted trees of liberty, and danced about them, and sang the Carmagnole with variations from Yankee Doodle; they offered their lives for liberty, which was in no danger, not even from their follies; and swore destruction to tyrants, as if that unpopular class of persons existed in the United States. They were the people,—the wise, the pure,—who could do no wrong. The Federalists were aristocrats, monocrats,—lovers of court ceremonies and levees, chariots and servants and plate. The distinguished chief of the French party, whose "heart was a perpetual bleeding fountain of philanthropy," was not above pretending to believe that his opponents were striving to "establish the hell of monarchy" in this republican paradise, and were "ready to surrender the commerce of the country, and almost every privilege as a free, sovereign, and independent nation, to the British." Even such a man as Samuel Adams, at a dinner on board of a French frigate, could put the bonnet rouge on his venerable head, and pray that "France alone might rule the seas."
The New-Englanders laughed at the charge of monarchical predilections, so absurdly inconsistent with their history, their laws, habits, and feelings. Before the war, leading men in other Colonies had affected to dread their levelling propensities; and General Charles Lee had said of them, with some truth, that they were the only Americans who had a single republican qualification or idea. Freedom was an old fireside acquaintance; they knew that the dishevelled, hysterical creature the Gallo-Democrats worshipped was a delusion, and feared she might prove a snare. Their common sense taught them to pay little attention to a priori disquisitions on natural rights, social compacts, etc.,—metaphysics of politics, nugatory for all practical American purposes,—and to reject as ridiculous the promised millennium of supreme reason and perfected man. From a long experience in the management of public affairs, they learned that our new government was in danger from its weakness rather than from its strength; hence they rejected the fatal doctrine of State rights, the root of the greatest political evil, Secession. In the theories and in the measures of the Democrats, in the very absurdity of the accusations made against themselves, they thought they perceived a reckless purpose to relax authority for the sake of popularity, which would lead to mob-rule, more distasteful to the orderly Yankee than any other form of tyranny. Moreover, in the Eastern States most of the Anti-Federalists belonged to the lowest class of society; and, not content with urging their pernicious public policy, the more turbulent of the party showed a strong inclination to adopt French principles in religion and morals, as well as in government. Robespierre had announced pompously, "L'Atheisme est aristocratique." New England Federalists thought it democratic on this side of the ocean. If they must choose between the Tri-Color and the Cross of St. George, they preferred the Cross. There was no guillotine in Great Britain,—no capering about plaster statues of the Goddess of Reason; people read their Bibles, went to church, and respected the holy sacrament of matrimony. But they wished for neither a France nor an England; they desired to make an America after their own hearts,—religious, just, orderly, and industrious; they believed that on the Federalist plan such a nation could be built up, and on no other; they opposed Jeffersonian politics then as they oppose Jeffersonian-Davis politics now, and they were as heartily abused then as they have been since, and as foolishly.
It must be confessed that the Hartford Wits did ample injustice to their antagonists. Mr. Jefferson was certainly not an Avatar of the enemy of mankind, nor were his followers atheists, anarchists, and rogues. But in 1799 there were no shabbier Democrats than those of Connecticut. If we may judge of the old race by a few surviving specimens, we may pardon our poets, if they added contempt to theoretical disapprobation, and, in their eagerness to
"Confound their politics"
"Expose their knavish tricks,"
allowed their feelings to exaggerate the unpleasant traits of the master and of his disciples.
The Hartford men were on the losing side. Federalism expired with the election of Monroe. Its degenerate successor, Whiggism, had no principles of value, and only lagged in the rear of the Democratic advance. Statesmanship and good sense went hopelessly down before the discipline of party and the hunger for office; and with each year it became easier to catch a well-meaning, but short-sighted public in any trap baited with the usual ad captandum commonplaces. We are very frequently told that "History is philosophy teaching by example,"—one of those copy-book apophthegms which people love to repeat as if they contained important truth. But the teachings of history or of philosophy never reach the ears of the multitude; they are drowned by the din of selfish rogues or of blind enthusiasts. Poor stupid humanity goes round and round like a mill-horse in a dreary ring of political follies. The cast-off sophisms and rhetorical rubbish of a past generation are patched up, scoured, and offered to the credulous present as something novel and excellent. People do not know how often the rotten stuff has been used and thrown away, and accept it readily. After a while, they discover to their cost, as their ancestors did before them, that it is good for nothing. But even if it were possible to have a grand international patent-office for political devices, where the venerable machines, so often reinvented to break down again, could be labelled worthless, and exhibited to all the world, I fear that the newest pet demagogue would persuade the voters of his district, in spite of their eyes, that he had contrived an improvement to make some one of the rickety old things work. No wonder that Dr. Franklin lost patience, when he saw how sadly reason was perverted by ignorance, selfishness, and wickedness, and wished "that mankind had never been endowed with a reasoning faculty, since they know so little how to make use of it, and so often mislead themselves by it, and that they had been furnished with a good sensible instinct instead of it."
Connecticut should be proud of her poets: not as literary luminaries of the first magnitude, but as manly citizens, who sincerely loved justice, order, self-control;—in two words, genuine freedom; as cultivated gentlemen, who belonged to a class no longer numerous.
"This small, this blest secluded State Still meets unmoved the blasts of Fate."
Unmoved, indeed, as in Federal times, but suffering sadly from depletion. The great West and the city of New York have sucked her best blood. There still remain inventive machinists, acute money-changers, acutest peddlers; but the seed of the Muses has run out. No more Pleiades at Hartford; no three "mighties," like Hosmer, Ellsworth, and Johnson; no lawyers of infinite wit, like Tracy and Daggett; no Wolcotts or Shermans: but the small State can boast that she has still within her borders many sons full of the spirit shown by Comfort Sage and by Return Jonathan Meigs, when they marched for Boston at the head of their companies as soon as the news of Lexington reached Connecticut.
[B] It may interest temperance men to learn that somewhat later than the period alluded to above, Connecticut paid excise on 400,000 gallons of rum yearly,—about two gallons to each inhabitant, young and old, male and female.
[C] Philip Freneau, whose Jacobin newspaper was despised by all good Federalists, wrote better verses than the All Connecticut Seven. His "Indian Burying-Ground" is worthy of a place in an anthology. This stanza has often been ascribed to Campbell; it is as good as any one in Schiller's "Nadowessie Death-Lament,"—
"By midnight moons, o'er glistening dews, In vestments for the chase arrayed, The hunter still the deer pursues; The hunter and the deer a shade."
ICE AND ESQUIMAUX.
BIRDS AND BOY'S PLAY.
Our schooner sailed once up and down the coast of Labrador, skirting it for a distance of five hundred miles; but in these papers I sail back and forth as many times as I please. Having, therefore, followed up the ice, I am again at Sleupe Harbor, our first port, and invite thee to go with us in a day's pursuit of Eider-Duck; for among these innumerable islands the eider breeds, and not elsewhere in considerable numbers, so far as we could learn, short of—somewhere in the remote North. Bradford, this morning, June 15th, has hired the two Canadians to take him to the bird-haunts in their own boat, and to shoot for him,—kindly offering a place to the Judge and myself.
The word Eider had long been to me a name to conjure with. At some far-away period in childhood it got imbedded in my fancy, and in process of time had acquired that subtilest, indefinable fascination which belongs only to imaginative reminiscence. In the future, I suppose, all this existence will have become such a childhood, its earth changed to sky, its dulness sharpened to a tender, delicious poignancy of allurement and suggestion. And were it not bliss enough for an immortality, this boundless deepening and refining of experience through memory and imagination? Only to feel thrilling in one's being chords of connection with times immeasurably bygone! only to be fed with ethereal remembrance out of a youth scarcely less ancient than the stars! Pity Tithonus no more; or pity him only because in him age had become the enemy of itself, and spilled the wine from its own cup.
The wind was ahead, and blew freshly down through the wilderness of islands, sweeping between granite shores along many and many a winding channel; the boat careened almost to her gunwale, yielding easily at first, but holding hard when well down, as good boats will; the waves beat saucily against her, now and then also catching up a handful of spray, and flinging it full in our faces, not forbearing once or twice to dash it between the open lips of a talker, salting his speech somewhat too much for his comfort, though not too much for the entertainment of his interlocutors; while overhead the rifted gray was traversed by whited seams, making another wilderness of islands in the clouds. We had gone a mile, and were now sailing smoothly in the lee of an island, when Bradford exclaimed, "See there! What's that? Why, that's a 'sea-goose.' Can you get him for me?" (to the elder Canadian). I had snuggled down in the bottom of the boat, and sprang up, expecting, from the word "goose," to see a large and not handsome bird, when instead appeared the tiniest tid-bit of swimming elegance that eye ever beheld. Reddish about neck and breast, graceful as a swan in form and motion, while not larger than a swallow, light as the lightest feather on the water, turning its curving neck and dainty head to look,—it seemed more like an embodied fancy than a creature inured to the chill of Arctic seas and the savagery of Arctic storms. What goose first gave it the name "sea-goose" passes conjecture. "Sea-fairy" were more appropriate.
This was the Hyperborean Phalarope,—a big name for so tiny a creature. Nuttall says that in 1833 great numbers of them appeared about Chelsea Beach. Ruddy, airy, fairy, feathered Graces, they must seem in our practical Yankee land like a mythology on wings, a flock of exquisite old Grecian fancies, flitting, light, and sweetly strange, and almost impossible, through the atmosphere of modern industries.
Soon a new attraction. It was a bird in the water quite near, about the size of a pigeon, though slenderer, glossy black, save a patch of pure white on the wing, and with an eye that glittered like a black jewel.
"Sea-pigeon," said the artist, and desired his skilful Canadian to secure the prize. The other arose and took deliberate aim. The bird, now not more than ten yards distant, did not offer to fly, and made no attempt to swim away, but kept its paddles well under it, with its head turned from us, while it swung lightly from side to side, glancing backward with its keen, audacious eye, now over this shoulder, now over that. The gun flashed; the shot spattered over the spot where a bird had been; but quicker than a flash that creature was under water and well out of harm's way! The shot could have been scarcely out of the muzzle before he had disappeared. To see such inconceivable celerity reminded one that the wings of gnats, which vibrate fifteen thousand times in a second, and light, that makes (vide Tyndale) twenty and odd millions of undulations in going an inch, are not without their fellow-wonders in Nature. Meanwhile the whole performance was so cool and neat that I could not afterwards help thinking of this creature as a humorist, and picturing it as quietly chuckling to itself under water. With reason, too; for above water was such a prolonged and ludicrous stare of amazement from at least three pairs of eyes as might satisfy the most immoderate appetite for the laughable.
This artful dodger was the Black Guillemot. It cannot be shot, if its eye is on the fowler. Eager for "specimens," I tried my long, powerful ducking-gun upon it an hour or two later, sufficiently to prove this. The birds would wait and watch, all the while glancing from side to side, and dip, dip, dipping their bills in the water with infinite wary quickness of movement, and yet with an air of audacious unconcern; but the pull at the trigger seemed to touch some nerve in them, and by the same act you fired your shot at them and fired them under water.
The curious dipping of the bill just alluded to is mentioned as characteristic of the Phalaropes, though I did not observe it, and is thought to be a snapping-up of minute Crustacea. But in the case of the Black Guillemot, I question if this be its true explanation. The bird makes this movement only when on the alert. Several of them are frolicking together; you show yourself, and instantly their bills begin to dip,—each movement being quick as lightning, but with a second of space between. I thought it partly an escape-valve for their nervous excitement, and partly a keeping in practice of their readiness to dive. To suppose them taking food under such circumstances,—one would fain think himself more formidable in their eyes than that coolness would imply.
In the afternoon, however, of this day—to anticipate a little—my specimen was obtained. While the boat waited at the shore of a low island, the Judge and I sauntered up the smooth, bare granite slope to the ridge, and, looking over a breast-high wall of solid rock, saw a flock of these birds in a cove on the opposite side.
"Shall I fire?" I said.
"You couldn't hit them; they are more than two gun-shots off. However," added the Judge, presently, "your Long Tom will reach one gunshot, and fire one and a half more; it will do no harm to try."
I fired at the farthest; they went under, but when they returned to the surface one had come to grief. I walked leisurely towards them, and stood on the shore, reloading; but they gave me no heed; they were intent on their stricken comrade. Gathering around him, they began pulling at him with their bills, trying to replace him in an upright position. The poor fellow strove to comply, for he was not yet quite dead; but quickly fell over again on the side. They renewed their efforts, assiduously playing Good Samaritan to this brother who had fallen among human thieves. At last they got impatient, and pecked at him sharply, evidently looking on him as wanting in pluck. They had seemed very human before; but when they began to be vexed at him because he would not gratify their benevolence with the sense of success, I really could see no reason why they should be masquerading there in feathers, being as human as anybody!
It was an elegant bird, with its fine shape, its plumage of glossy jet and snow, and its legs of bright scarlet, bright as name. Use it has, too, for its flame-legs in the frigid seas it frequents; for it is found in the uttermost North, and dares all the severities of Polar cold.
But we have got into the afternoon too quickly, and now return to our morning pursuit of eider-duck. It was not long after the above spectacle of magic disappearance that the elder Canadian rose, went forward, and fired his piece. Two large birds, one black and white, the other brown, sprang up from the water and flew briskly away,—flew, as I thought, out of sight; the man meanwhile returning to his seat and the helm, with the same composed silence, and the same attractive, inscrutable face as before. But three hundred yards farther on we came to the male bird, quite dead. I was near firing upon it, being led by its motion on the waves to think it alive, and not in the least connecting it with the bird. I had but just now seen flying off in all apparent health,—when the Canadian, touching Bradford, and pointing, said quietly, "Dead," and the latter shouted to me accordingly. Presently, as the boat swept past, I stooped and drew it in,—a beautiful creature, with velvety violet black accompanied by dark olive-green about the head, while the neck, breast, and back were white as snow, and all the rest a glistening black.
"An eider! King eider!" cried the Artist, joyfully. Then, "Isn't it a king eider?" he said to the Canadian, holding it up.
The other nodded.
"Really a king eider!" murmured the Artist, as he now bent over it with bright eyes.
It was not, but the male of the other species, though I knew no better at the time. The king duck is one of the most Arctic of all Arctic birds, and condescends to Lower Labrador only in winter, nor then frequently. A temperature at the freezing-point is to him a mere oven, which one should be a salamander to live in; with the thermometer thirty or forty degrees lower, he is still sweltered; while his custom of growing his own coat, though it saves him from shoddy, expense, and Paris fashions, has the disadvantage that he cannot strip it off at pleasure, not even when away from the ladies and the dinner-table. He is fain, therefore, to keep well away toward the Polar North, where the climate is more temperate and pleasing, leaving Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to roast themselves, if they will do so.
While the boat sailed on, still seeking the eider-island,—which at first, so the Artist said, was "half a mile off," then "a piece farther," then "right up here," then "just ahead," and now threatened to keep ahead,—I nested myself again in the bottom, and renewed an old boy-custom by studying the elder Canadian's physiognomy. It was strangely attractive, and yet strangely impenetrable, a rare out-door face, clean and firm as naked granite after a rain, healthful as balsam-firs, and so honestly weather-beaten that one could not help regarding it as a feature of natural scenery. All out-of-doors was implied in it, and it belonged as much to the horizon as to the nearest objects. The eye, with its unceasing, imperturbable search, never an instant relaxing its intentness, and never seeming to make an effort any more than the sky in looking blue, asserted this relationship, for by the same glance it seemed to take in equally the farthest and the nearest; only over us in the boat it passed always as over vacant space. Yet any question was answered at once with quiet, willing brevity, not as if he had been interrupted in his thoughts, or was recalled to a recognition of our existence, but just as he would turn the tiller in steering his boat,—while the eye still continued its conversation with that impersonal, elemental company which he seemed to keep. I found it out of my power to relate myself to him as an individual. In most faces you study special character; but in him it was somewhat older and more primitive,—somewhat which seemed to be rather existence itself than any special form of it. One felt in him that same world-old secret which haunts ancient woods, and would have asked him to utter it, were not its presence the only utterance it can have. Alas, he that speaks must use English, French, or some language which is partly conventional; and that pre-Adamite or Saturnian vernacular in which we are all trying to speak has no verbal sign. Poets, indeed, contrive to catch it, one knows not how, in the meshes of ordinary language, and only therefore are poets; but to frame in it any question or answer suited to the wants of the understanding is a feat beyond man's power. It is true that Mr. Herbert Spencer, having, by diligent, heroic self-desiccation, got his mind into the purely adult, dried-beef condition, well freed from all boy-juices of imagination, has discovered that all Fact in this universe, which cannot be verbally formulated and made a scientific dogma, is without significance to man's spirit, however it may be negatively implied as a vacant somewhat by his logic. For which discovery the incomparable man will please accept my profoundest ingratitude.
After "positive philosophy," the croak of ravens, the hoot of owls, anything that has the touch, the charm, and infinite suggestion of Nature and life, will be more than welcome; and in good time we have reached the desired island.
Not to find eiders, though, but only Saddle-Back Gulls, a crowd of which arose on our approach, and hovered about at safe, yet tantalizing distance, keeping up their monotonous, piping scream. The saddle-back, a large, powerful white bird, with a patch of black crossing it like a saddle, is the great enemy of the eider, pillaging its nest and devouring its young at every opportunity, and had probably driven the ducks from this place. It is a pirate of pirates, a Semmes in the air, cowardly toward equals, relentless toward the weak and unweaponed; and the chief care of the mother duck is to protect her little brood from these greedy confederates. One of the coolest, yet wariest rascals in the world, it can scarcely be surprised, but lingers about, just beyond gun-shot range, screaming, as if it said, "Why don't you fire? Fire!—who cares?" I came at length to cherish toward them no little animosity, and would willingly have played Kearsarge upon them, could any challenge have drawn them from port. But during the whole cruise not one of them consoled us with so much as a feather.
The flight of this bird meanwhile is magnificent,—so full of powerful grace, of achieving leisure and ease. Nothing can be more striking than its contrast with the labored propulsion of the duck. A few slow waves of the wing, and there it is high in the air; then a droop, a decline, but so light and soft, so exquisitely graduated, that the downward drift of a feather seems lumpish and leaden in the comparison; then again up it goes with such an ease as if it rose by specific levity, like smoke from a chimney in a day of calm; and aloft it wheels, circles, floats, and at length sails on its broad vans away, passing in a few minutes over wide spaces, and yet, with its leisurely stroke, seeming engaged only in airing its pinions. One might fancy it the very spirit of motion imaged in a picturesque symbol.