At the Spring
The path across the fields is so well worn that one can find his way along its devious course by night almost as easily as by day. I have gone over it at all hours, and have never returned without some fresh and cheering memory for other and less favoured days. The fields across which it leads one, with the unfailing suggestion of something better beyond, are undulating and dotted here and there with browsing cattle. The landscape is full of pastoral repose and charm—the charm of familiar things that are touched with old memories, and upon whose natural beauty there rests the reflected light of days that have become idyllic. No one can walk along a country road over which as a boy he heard the daily invitation of the schoolhouse bell without discovering at every turn some loveliness never revealed save to the glance of unforgotten youth. The path which leads to the spring has this unfailing charm for me, and for many who have long ceased to follow its winding course. At this season it is touched here and there by the autumnal splendour, and fairly riots in the profusion of the golden-rod, whose yellow plumes are lighting the retreating steps of summer across the fields. Great masses of brilliant wood-bine cover the stone walls and hang from the trees along the fences. The corn, cut and stacked in orderly lines, is not without its transforming touch of colour; and while the trees still wait for the coronation of the year Nature seems to have passed along this path and turned it into a royal highway. As it approaches the woods, one gets glimpses of the village spires in the distance, and finds a new charm in this borderland between sunlight and shadow, between solitude and the companionship of human life. A little distance along the edges of the woods, with an occasional detour of the path into the shades of the forest, brings one to the spring. A great, rudely-cut stone marks the place, and makes a kind of background for the cool, limpid pool into which a few leaves fall from the woods, but which belongs to the open sky and fields. There is certainly no more gentle, reposeful scene than this; so secluded from the dust and whirl of cities and thoroughfares, and yet so near to ancient homes, so sweet and life-giving in its service to them, so often and so eagerly sought at all seasons and by men of all conditions. Here oftenest come the restless feet of children, and their shouts are almost the only sounds that ever break this solitude.
To me there is something inexpressibly sweet and refreshing in the familiar and yet unfailing loveliness of this place. The fields are always peaceful, and the slow motions of the cattle grouped here and there under the shadows of solitary trees, or of the sheep browsing in long, irregular lines across the further meadows, give the landscape that touch of pastoral life which unites us with Nature in the oldest and most homelike relations. Here, on still summer afternoons, one seems to have come upon a sleeping world; a world over whose slumber the clouds are passing like peaceful dreams. In such an hour the limpid water of the spring seems to rise out of the very heart of the earth, and to bring with it an unfailing refreshment of spirit. The white sand through which it finds its way makes its transparent clearness more apparent, and the great stone seems to hold back the woods from an approach that would overshadow it. It rises so silently into the visible world from the unseen depths that one cannot but feel some illusion of sentiment thrown over it, some disclosure of truth escaping with it from the darkness beneath. Whence does it flow, and what has its journey been? Did some remote mountain range gather its waters from the clouds and send them down through long and winding channels deep in its heart? Is there far below an invisible stream flowing, like the river Alphaeus, unseen and unheard beneath the earth? The spring is mute when these questions rise to lips which it is always ready to moisten from its cool depths. It is enough that in this quiet place the bounty of Nature never ceases to overflow, and that here she holds out the cup of refreshment with royal indifference to gratitude or neglect. Here she ministers to every comer as if her whole life were a service. One forgets that behind this cup of cold water, held out to the humblest, there sweep sublime powers, and that the same hand which serves him here moves in their courses the planets, whose faint reflections shine in this silent pool by night.
Springs have been natural centres of life from the earliest times. Deep in the solitude of forests, or fringed with foliage in the heart of deserts, they have alike served the needs and appealed to the sentiment of men. Around the wells cluster the most venerable associations of the ancient patriarchal families; the beautiful pastoral life of the Old Testament, full of deep, unwritten poetry, discovers no scenes more characteristic and touching than those which were enacted beside these sources of fertility. Green and fruitful in the memory of the most sacred history repose these cool, refreshing pools under the burning glance of the tropical sun. Here, too, as in those distant lands, life is kept in constant freshness around the borders of the spring. The grass grows green and dense here the whole summer through, and here there is always a breath of cooler air when the fields glow with intense heat. In such places Nature waits to touch the fevered spirit with something of her own peace, and to keep alive forever in the hearts of men that faith in things unseen which rises like a spring from the depths, and makes a centre of fruitful and beautiful life.
On the Heights
Nature creates days for special insights and outlooks—days whose distinctive qualities make them part of the universal revelation of the year. There are days for the deep woods, and for the open fields; days for the beach, and for the inland river; days for solitary musing beside some secluded rivulet, and days for the companionship and movement of the highways. Each day is fitted by some subtle magic of adaptation to the place and the aspect of nature which it is to reveal with a clearness denied to other hours. There came such a day not long ago to me; a day of tonic atmosphere—clear, cloudless, inspiring; there was no audible invitation in the air, but I knew by some instinct that the day and the mountains were parts of one complete whole. The morning itself was a new birth of nature, full of promise and prophecy; one of those hours in which only the greatest and noblest things are credible, in which one rejects unfaith and doubt and all lesser and meaner things as dreams of a night from which there has come an eternal awakening; a day such as Emerson had in thought when he wrote: "The scholar must look long for the right hour for Plato's Timaeus. At last the elect morning arrives, the early dawn—a few lights conspicuous in the heaven, as of a world just created and still becoming—and in its wide leisure we dare open that book. There are days when the great are near us, when there is no frown on their brow, no condescension even; when they take us by the hand, and we share their thought." When such a morning dawns, one demands, by right of his own nature, the pilotage of great thoughts to some height whence the whole world will lie before him; one knows by unclouded insight that life is greater than all his dreams, and that he is heir, not only of the centuries, but of eternity.
Such days belong to the mountains; and when I opened my window on this morning, I was in no doubt as to the invitation held forth by earth and sky. There was exhilaration in the very thought of the long climb, and at an early hour I was fast leaving the village behind me. The road skirted the base of the mountain, and struck at once into the heart of the wilderness, which the clustering peaks have preserved from any but the most fleeting associations with the peopled world around. A barrier of ancient silence and solitude soon separated me even in thought from the familiar scenes I had left. A virginal beauty rested upon the road, and sank deep into my own heart as I passed along; to be silent and open-minded was enough to bring one into fellowship with the hour and the scene. The clear, bracing air, the rustling of leaves slowly sifting down through the lower branches, the solemn quietude, filled the morning with a deep joy that touched the very sources of life, and made them sweet in every thought and emotion. It was like a new beginning in the old, old story of time; the stains of ancient wrong, the blights of sorrow, the wrecks of hope, were gone; sweet with the untrodden freshness of a new day lay the earth, and looked up to the heavens with a gaze as pure and calm as their own. Somehow all life seemed sublimated in that golden sunshine; the grosser elements had vanished, the material had become the transparent medium of the spiritual, the discords had blended into harmony, and one would have heard without surprise the faint, far song of the stars. The whole world was one vast articulate poem, and human life added its own strain of penetrating sweetness. At last, after all these years of struggle and failure, one was really living!
The road, slowly ascending the long wooded slope, wound its way through the forest until it brought me to the mountain path which climbs, with many a halt and pause, to the very summit. Dense foliage overshadows it, a little thinner now that the hand of autumn has begun to disrobe the trees. Great rocks often lie in the course of the path and send it in a narrow curve around them. Sometimes one comes upon a bold ascent up the face of a projecting cliff; sometimes one plunges into the very heart of the shadows as they gather over the rocky channel of the brook that later will run foaming down to the valley. Step by step one widens his horizon, although it is only at intervals that he is able to note his progress upward. At the base of the mountain one saw only a circle of hills, and the long sweep of wooded slopes which converge in the valley; gradually the horizon widens as one climbs beyond the summit lines of the lower hills; at turns in the path, where it crosses some rocky declivity, one looks out upon a landscape into which some new feature enters with every new outlook; one range of hills after another sinks below the level of vision, and discloses another strip of undiscovered country beyond; and so one climbs, step by step, into the glory of a new world. The solitude, the silence, the radiant beauty of the morning, the expanding sweep of hills and valleys at one's feet, fill one with eager longing for the unbroken circle of sky at the summit, and prepare one for the thrill of joy with which the soul answers the outspread vision.
At last only a few rocks interpose between the summit and the last resting-place. I wait a moment longer than I need, as one pushes back for an instant the cup from which he has long desired to drink. I even shun the noble vistas that open on either side, postponing to the moment of perfect achievement the partial successes already won. But the rocks are soon climbed, the summit is reached! The world is at my feet—the mountain ranges like great billows, and the valleys, deep, far, and shadowy, between; and overhead the unbroken arch of sky melting into illimitable space through infinite gradations of blue. The vision which has haunted me so long with illusive hints of range and splendour is mine at last, and I have no greeting for it but the breathless eagerness with which I turn from point to point, as if to drink all in with one compelling glance. But the landscape does not yield its infinite variety to the first nor to the second glance; the agitation of the first outlook gives place to a deep, calm joy; the eager desire to possess on the instant what has been won by long toil and patience is followed by a quiet mood which banishes all thought of self, and waits upon the hour and the scene for the revelation they will make in their own good time. Slowly the noble landscape reveals itself to me in its vast range and its marvellous variety. The sombre groups of mountains to the west become distinct and majestic as I look into their deep recesses; far off to the north the massive bulk and impressive outlines of a solitary peak grow upon me until it seems to dominate the whole country-side. A kingly mountain truly, of whose "night of pines" our saintly poet has sung; from this distance a vast and softened shadow against the stainless sky. To the east one sees the long uplands, with slender spires rising here and there from clustered homes; to the south, a vast stretch of fertile fields, rolling like a fruitful sea to the horizon; within the mighty circle, groups of lower hills, wooded valleys shadowy and mysterious in the distance, villages and scattered homes.
It was a deep saying of Goethe's that "on every height there lies repose." A Sabbath stillness and solemnity reign in this upper sphere, where the sound of human toil never comes and the cry of humanity never penetrates. The boundaries that confine and baffle the vision along the walks of ordinary life have all faded out; great States lie together in this outlook without visible lines of division or separation. The obstacles to sight which hourly baffle and confuse are gone; from horizon to horizon all things are clear and visible, and the world is vast and beautiful to its remotest boundaries. The repose which lies on the heights of life is born of the vast and unclouded vision which looks down upon all obstacles, over all barriers, and takes in at a glance the mighty scope of human activity and the unbroken sky which overhangs it continually like a visible infinity. On such heights it is the blessed reward of a few elect souls to live; but the paths thither are open to every traveller.
Under College Elms
Stretched under the spreading branches of this noble elm, which has seen so many college generations come and go, I have well-nigh forgotten that life has any limitations of space or time; work, anxiety, weariness fade out of thought under a heaven from which every cloud has vanished, and the eye pierces everywhere the infinite depths of the upper firmament. Days are not always radiant here, and the stream of life as it flows through this tranquil valley is flecked with shadows; but all sweet influences have combined to touch this passing hour with unspeakable peace. Here are the old familiar footpaths trodden so often with hurrying feet in other years; here are the well-worn seats about which familiar groups have so often gathered and sent the echoes of their songs flying heavenward; here are the rooms which will never lose the sense of home because of those who have lived in them. The chapel bell tolls as of old, and the crowd comes hurrying along like the generations before them, but the eye sees no familiar faces among them. It is a place of intense and rich living, and yet to-day, and for me, it is a place of memory. The life once lived here is as truly finished as if eternity had placed the impassable gulf between it and this quiet hour. These are the shores through which the river once passed, these the green fields which encircled it, these the mountains which flung their shadows over it, but the river itself has swept leagues onward.
Mr. Higginson has written charmingly about "An Old Latin Text-Book," and there is surely something magical in the power with which these well-worn volumes lay their spell upon us, and carry us back to other scenes and men. I have a copy of Virgil from which all manner of old-time things slip out as I open its pages. The eager enthusiasm of the first dawning appreciation of the undying beauty of the old poet, faintly discerned in the language which embalms it, comes back like a whiff of fragrance from some by-gone summer. The potency of college memories lies in the fact that in those years we made the most memorable discoveries of our lives; the unknown river may widen and deepen beyond our thought, but the most noteworthy moment in all our wanderings with it will always be the moment when we first came upon it, and there dawned upon us the sense of something new and great. To most boys this rich and never-to-be-forgotten experience comes in college. Except in cases of rare good fortune, a boy is not ripe for the literary spirit in the classic literature until the college atmosphere surrounds him. To many it never discovers itself at all, and the languages which were dead at the beginning of study are dead at the end; but to those in whom the instinct of scholarship is developed there comes a day when Virgil lives as truly as he lived in Dante's imagination, and, like Boccaccio, they light a fire at his tomb which years do not quench.
Who that has ever gone through the experience will forget the hour when he discovered the Greeks in Homer's pages, and felt for the first time the grand impulse of that noble race stir his blood and fill his brain with the far-reaching aspiration for a life as rich as theirs in beauty, freedom, and strength! It is told of an English scholar that he devoted his winters to the "Iliad" and his summers to the "Odyssey," reading each several times every year. One could hardly reconcile such self-indulgence with the claims of to-day on every man's time and strength; but I have no doubt all Grecians have a secret envy for such a career. The Old-World charm of the "Odyssey" is one of the priceless possessions of every fresh student, and to feel it for the first time is like discovering the sea anew. It is, indeed, the Epic of the Sea; the only poem in all literature which gives the breadth, the movement, the mighty sweep of sky belted with stars, the unspeakable splendours of sunrise and sunset,—the grand, free life of the sea. I would place the "Odyssey" in every collection of modern books for the tonic quality that is in it. The dash of wave and the roar of wind play havoc with our melancholy, and fill us with shame that we have so much as asked the question, "Is Life Worth Living?"
There is no grander entrance gate to the great world of thought than the Greek Literature. Universities are broadening their courses to meet the multiplied demands of modern knowledge and to fit men for the varied pursuits of modern life, but for those who desire familiarity with human life in its broadest expression, and especially for those who seek familiarity with the literary spirit and mastery of the literary art, Greek must hold its place in the curriculum to the end of time. This implies no disparagement of our own literature—a literature which spreads its dome over a wider world of feeling and knowledge than the Greek ever saw within the horizon of his experience; but the Greek, like the Hebrew, will remain to the latest generation among the great teachers of men. He was born into the first rank among nations; he had an eye quick to see, a mind clear, open, and bold to grasp facts, set them in order, and generalise their law; an instinct for art that turned all his observation and thinking into literature. Whether he looked at the world about him or fixed his gaze upon his own nature, his insight was from the very beginning so direct, so commanding, so perfectly allied with beauty, that his speculations became philosophy and his emotions poetry. There was hardly any aspect of life which he did not see, no question which he did not ask, and few which he failed to answer with more or less of truth. He walked through an untrodden world of sights and sounds, and reproduced the vast circle of his life in a literature to which men will look as long as the world stands for models of sweetness, beauty, and power. Greek literature holds its place, not because scholars have combined to keep alive its traditions and make familiarity with it the bond of the fellowship of culture, but because it is the faithful reflection of the life of a race who faced the world on all sides with masterly intelligence and power. It is a liberal education to have travelled from Aeschylus, with his almost Asiatic splendour of imagination, to Theocritus, under whose exquisite touch the soft outlines of Sicilian life took on idyllic loveliness!
And then there were those unbroken winter evenings, when one began really to know the great modern masters of literature. What would one not give to have them back again, with their undisturbed hours ending only when the fire or the lamp gave out! Those were nights of royal fellowships, of introduction into the noblest society the world has ever known, and it is the recollection of this companionship which gives those days under college roofs a unique and perennial charm. Then first the spirit of our own race was revealed to us in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton; then first we thrilled to that music which has never faltered since Caedmon found his voice in answer to the heavenly vision. There are days which will always have a place by themselves in our memory, nights whose stars have never set, because they brought us face to face with some great soul, and struck into life in an instant some new and mighty meaning. The ferment of soul which Hazlitt describes on the night when he walked home from his first talk with Coleridge is no exceptional experience; it comes to most young men who are susceptible to the influence of great thoughts coming for the first time into consciousness. A lonely country road comes into view as I write these words, and over it the heavens bend with a new and marvellous splendour, because the boy who walked along its winding course had just finished for the first time, and in a perfect tumult of soul, Schiller's "Robbers;" it was the power of a great master, felt through his crudest work, that filled the night with such magical influences.
The hours in which we come in contact with great souls are always memorable in our history, often the crises in our intellectual life; it is the recollection of such hours that gives those bending elms an imperishable charm, and lends to this landscape a deathless interest.
A Summer Morning
I do not understand how any one who has watched the breaking of a summer day can question the noblest faiths of man. William Blake, with that integrity of insight which is often the possession of the true mystic, declared that when he was asked if he saw anything more in a sunset than a round disk of fire, he could only answer that he saw an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty!" The birth of a day is a diviner miracle even than its death. They were true poets who wrote the old Vedic hymns and sang those wonderful adorations when the last stars were fading in the splendour of the dawn. Beside the glory of the sun's announcement all royal progresses are tawdry and mean; beside the beauty of the dawn, slowly unveiling the day while the heavens wait in silent worship, all poetry is idle and empty. It is the divinest of all the visible processes of Nature, and the sublimest of all her marvellous symbolism.
On such a morning as this, twelve years ago, Amiel wrote in his diary: "The whole atmosphere has a luminous serenity, a limpid clearness. The islands are like swans swimming in a golden stream. Peace, splendour, boundless space! . . . I long to catch the wild bird, happiness, and tame it. These mornings impress me indescribably. They intoxicate me, they carry me away. I feel beguiled out of myself, dissolved in sunbeams, breezes, perfumes, and sudden impulses of joy. And yet all the time I pine for I know not what intangible Eden." In these few words this master of poetic meditation suggests without expressing the indescribable impression which a summer carries into every sensitive nature.
Last night the world was sorrowful, worn, and dulled; but lo! the new day has but touched it and all the invisible choirs are heard again; the old hope returns like a tide, and out of the unseen depths a new life breaks soundless upon the unseen shores and sends its hidden currents into every dried and empty channel and pool. The worn old world has been created anew, and God has spoken again the word out of which all living things grow. In the silence and peace and freshness of this morning hour one feels the inspiration of nature as a direct and personal gift; the inbreathing, which has renewed the beauty and fertility about him, renews his spirit also. He responds to the fresh and invigorating atmosphere with a soul sensitive with sudden return of zest to every beautiful sight and sound. No longer an alien in this world which has never known human care and regret, he enters by right of citizenship into all its privileges of unwatched freedom and unclouded serenity. One is not absorbed by the glory of the morning, but set free by it. There are times when Nature permits no rivalry; she claims every thought and gives herself to us only as we give ourselves to her. She effaces us and takes complete possession of our souls. Not so, however, does she usurp the throne of our own personal life in those early hours when the sun, the master artist, whose touch has coloured every leaf and tinted every flower, demands her adoration. Then it is, perhaps, that she turns her thoughts from all lesser companionships and, rapt in universal worship, suffers us to pass and repass as unnoticed as the idlers in the cathedral by those who kneel at the chancel rail.
I confess I never find myself quite unmoved in this sacred hour, announced only by the stars veiling their faces and the birds breaking the silence with their tumultuous song. The universal faith becomes mine also, and from the common worship I am not debarred. My thought rises whither the mists, parted from the unseen censers, are rising: I feel within me the revival of aspirations and faiths that were fast overclouding; the stir of old hopes is in my heart; the thrill of old purposes is in my soul. Once more Nature is serving me in an hour of need; serving me not by drawing me to herself, but by setting me free from a world that was beginning to master and make me its slave.
Now all that insensibly growing servitude slips from me; once more I am free and my own. The inexhaustible life that is behind all visible things, constantly flowing in upon us when we keep the channels open, recreates whatever was noblest and truest in me. With Nature, I believe; and believing, I also share in the universal worship.
Emerson somewhere says, writing about the most difficult of Plato's dialogues, that one must often wait long for the hour when one is strong enough to grapple with and master it, but sooner or later the fitting morning will come. It is the morning which gives us faith in the most arduous achievements, and invigorates us to undertake them. In the morning all things are possible because the heavens and the earth are so visibly united in the fellowship of common life; the one pouring down a measureless and penetrating tide of vitality, the other eagerly, worshipfully receptive. Nature has no more inspiring truth for us than this constant and complete enfolding of our life by a higher and vaster life, this unbroken play of a diviner purpose and force through us. Nothing is lost, nothing really dies; all things are conserved by an energy which transforms, reorganises, and perpetuates in new and finer forms all visible things. The silence of winter counterfeits the repose of death, but it is not even a pause of life; invisibly to us the great movement goes on in the earth under our feet. While we watch by our household fires, the unseen architects are planning the summer, and the sublime march of the stars is noiselessly bringing back the bloom and the perfume that seem to have vanished forever. Every morning restores something we thought lost, recalls some charm that seemed to have escaped.
In all noble natures there is an ineradicable idealism which constantly interprets life in its higher aspects. In the dust of the road the mountains sometimes disappear from our vision, but we know that they still loom in undiminished majesty against the horizon; the gods sometimes hide themselves, but there is something within which affirms that we shall again look on their serene faces, calm amid our turbulence and unchanging amid our vicissitudes. It is this heavenly inheritance of insight and faith which makes Nature so divinely significant to us, and matches all its forms and phenomena with spiritual realities not to be taken from us by time or change or by that mysterious angel of the last great transformation which we call death. The morning is always breaking over the low horizon lines of some sea or continent; voices of birds are always "carolling against the gates of day;" and so, through unbroken light and song, our life is solemnly and sublimely moved onward to the dawn in which all the faint stars of our hope shall melt into the eternal day.
A Summer Noon
The stir of the morning has given place to a silence broken only by the shrill whir of the locust. The distant shore lines that ran clear and white against the low background of green have become dim and indistinct; all things are touched by a soft haze which changes the sentiment of the landscape from movement to repose, from swift and multitudinous activity to the hush of sleep. The intense blue of the morning sky is dimmed and the great masses of trees are motionless. The distant harvest fields where the rhythmic lines of the mowers have moved alert and harmonious through the morning hours are deserted. On earth silence and rest, and in the great arch of the sky a sea of light so full and splendid that it seems almost to dim the fiery effluence of the sun itself. In such an hour one stretches himself under the trees, and in a moment the spell is on him, and he cares neither to think nor act; he rejoices to lose himself in the universal repose with which Nature refreshes herself. The heat of the day is at its height, but for an hour the burden slips from the shoulders of care, and the rest comes in which the gains of work are garnered.
The whir of the locust high overhead, by some earlier association, always recalls that matchless singer, some of whose notes Nature has never regained in all these later years. The whir of the cicada and the white light on the remote country road are real to us today, though one went silent and the other faded out of Sicilian skies two thousand years and more ago, because both are preserved in the verse of Theocritus. The poet was something more than a mere observer of Nature, and the beautiful repose of his art more than the native grace and ease of one to whom life meant nothing more strenuous than a dream of a blue sea and fair sky. He had known the din of the crowded street as well as the silence of the country road, the forms and shows of a royal court as well as the simplicity and sincerity of tangled vines and gnarled olives on the hillside. He had seen, with those eyes which overlooked nothing, the pomps and vanities of power, the fret and fever of ambition, the impotence and barrenness of much of that activity in which multitudes of men spend their lives under the delusion that mere stir and bustle mean progress and achievement. Out of Syracuse, with its petty court about a petty tyrant, Theocritus had come back to the sea and the sky and the hardy pastoral life with a joy which touches some of his lines with penetrating tenderness. Better a thousand times for him and for us the long, tranquil days under the pine and the olive than a great position under Hiero's hand and the weary intrigue and activity which made the melancholy semblance of a successful life for men less wise and genuine. The lines which the hand of Theocritus has left on the past are few and marvellously delicate, but they seem to gain distinctness from the remorseless years that have almost obliterated the features of the age in which he lived. It is better to see clearly one or two things in life than to move confused and blinded in the dust of an impotent activity; it is better to hear one or two notes sung in the overshadowing trees than to spend one's years amid a murmur in which nothing is distinctly audible. Theocritus, shunning courts and cities, sought to assuage the pain of life at the heart of Nature, and did not seek in vain. He gave himself calmly and sincerely to the sweet and natural life which surrounded him, and in his tranquil self-surrender he gained, unsuspecting, the immortality denied his eager and restless cotemporaries [Transcriber's note: contemporaries?]. Life is so vast, so unspeakably rich, that to have reported accurately one swift glimpse, or to have preserved the melody of one rarely heard note, is to have mastered a part of the secret of the Immortals.
Struggle and anguish have their place in every genuine life, but they are the stages through which it advances to a strength which is full of repose. The bursting of the calyx announces the flower; but the beauty of the perfect blossoming obliterated the very memory of its earlier growth. The climb upward is often a long anguish, but the dust and weariness are forgotten when once the eye rests on the vast outlook. "On every height there lies repose" is the sublime declaration of one who had looked into most things deeper than his fellows, and had learned much of the profounder processes of life. Emerson long ago noted that even in action the forms of the Greek heroes are always in repose; the crudity of passion, the distorting agony of half-mastered purpose, are lost in a self-forgetfulness which borrows from Olympus something of the repose of the gods. The sublime calm which imparts to great works of art a hint of eternity is born of complete mastery of life; all the stages of evolution have been accomplished, the whole movement of growth has been fulfilled, before the hand of art sets the seal of perfection on the thing that is done. Shadow and light, heat and cold, tempest and quiet days, have all wrought together before the blooming of the flower which in its perfect grace and beauty gives no hint of its troubled growth. As the consummation of all toil and struggle and anguish, there comes at last that deep repose, born not of idleness and indifference, but of the harmony of all the elements in their last and finest form.
In the unbroken silence of the noon-tide such thoughts come unbidden and almost unnoticed to one who surrenders himself to the hour and the scene. Nature has her tempests, but her harvests are gathered amid the calm of days that often seem filled with the peace of heaven, and the mighty and irresistible movement of her life goes on in unbroken silence. The deepest thoughts are always tranquillising, the greatest minds are always full of calm, the richest lives have always at heart an unshaken repose.
When the shadows lengthen and the landscape becomes indistinct, the common life of men seems to touch the life of Nature most closely and sympathetically. The work of the day is accomplished; the sense of things to be done loses its painful tension; the mind, freed from the cares which engrossed it, opens unconsciously to the sights and sounds of the quiet hour. The fields are given over to silence and the gathering darkness; the roads cease to be thoroughfares of toil; and over all things the peace of night settles like an unspoken benediction. To the most preoccupied there comes a consciousness that the world has changed, and that, while the old framework remains intact, a strange and transforming beauty has touched and spiritualised it. At eventide one feels the soul of Nature as at no other hour. Her labours have ceased, her birds are silent; she, too, rests, and in ceasing to do for us she gives us herself. One by one the silvery points of light break out of the darkness overhead, and the faithful stars look down on the little earth they have watched over these countless years. The very names they bear recall the vanished races who waited for their appearing and counted them friends. Now that the lamps are lighted and the work of the day is done, is it strange that the venerable mother, whose lullabies have soothed so many generations into sleep, should herself appeal to us in some intimate and personal way?
With the fading out of shore and sea and forest line something deeper and more spiritual rises in the soul as the mists rise on the lowlands and over the surface of the waters. We surrender ourselves to it silently, reverently, and a change no less subtle and penetrating is wrought in us. Our personal ambitions, the sharply defined aims of our working hours, the very limitations of our individuality, are gone; we lose ourselves in the larger life of which we are part. After the fret of the day we surrender ourselves to universal life as the bather, worn and spent, gives himself to the sea. There is no loss of personal force, but for an hour the individual activity is blended with the universal movement and the peace and quiet of infinity calm and restore the soul. Meditation comes with eventide as naturally as action with the morning; our soul opens to the soul of Nature, and we discover anew that we are one. In the noblest passage in Latin poetry Lucretius invokes the universal spirit of Nature, and identifies it with the creative force which impels the stars and summons the flowers to strew themselves in the path of the sun. There is nothing so refreshing, so reinvigorating, as fresh contact with the fountain whence all visible life flows, as a renewed sense of oneness with the mighty appearance of things in which we live. Now that all outlines are softened, all distinctive features are lost. Nature loses its materialism, and becomes to our thought the vast, silent, unbroken flow of force which the later science has substituted for an earlier and cruder conception. And this invisible stream leads us back, as our thoughts unconsciously follow it, to One whose thought it is and whose mind shares with our mind something of the unsearchable mystery of its purpose and nature.
Some one has said that a man is great rather by reason of his unconscious thought than by reason of his deliberate and self-directed thinking. Released from meditation on definite and special themes, the thought of a great man instinctively returns to the mystery of life. No poet creates a Hamlet unless he has brooded long and almost unconsciously on the deeper things that make up the inner life; such a figure, forever externalising the profounder and more obscure phases of being, is born of secret and habitual contact with the deepest experiences and the most fundamental problems. The mind of a Shakespeare must often, forsaking the busy world of actuality, meditate in the twilight which seems to release the soul of things seen, and, veiling the actual, reveal the realities of existence.
Revery becomes of the highest importance when it substitutes for definite thinking that deep and silent meditation in which alone the soul comes to know itself and pierces the wonderful movement of things about it to its source and principle. One of Amiel's magical phrases is that in which he describes revery as the Sunday of the soul. Toil over, care banished, the world forgotten, one communes with that which is eternal. In the long course of centuries the forests are as short-lived as the flowers; all visible forms are but momentary expressions of the creative force. In the work of the greatest mind all spoken and written thoughts are but partial and passing utterances of a life of whose volume and movement they afford only half-comprehended hints. After a Shakespeare has written thirty immortal plays he must still feel that what was deepest in him is unuttered. There is that below all expression of life which remains forever unspoken and unspeakable; it is ours, but we cannot share it with others; we drop our plummets into its depths in vain. It is deeper than our thought, and it is only at rare moments, when we surrender ourselves to ourselves, that the sense of what it contains and means fills us with a sudden and overpowering consciousness of immortality. Out of this deeper life all great thoughts rise into consciousness, losing much by imprisonment in any form of speech, but still bringing with them indubitable evidence of their more than royal birth. From time to time, like the elder race of prophets, they enter into our speech and renew the fading sense of the divinity of life, and so, through individual souls, the deeper truths are retold from generation to generation.
As one meditates in this evening hour, the darkness has gathered over the world and folded it out of sight. The few faint stars have become a shining host, and the immeasurable heavens have substituted for the near and familiar beauty of the earth their own sublime and awful commingling of unsearchable darkness and unquenchable light. So in every human life the near and the familiar is overarched by infinity and eternity.
The Turn of the Tide
For days past there have been intangible hints of change in earth and air; the birds are silent, and the universal strident note of insect life makes more musical to memory the melodies of the earlier season. The sense of overflowing vitality which pervaded all things a few days ago, when the tide was at the flood, has gone; the tide has turned, and already one sees the receding movement of the ebb. Through all the vanished months of flower and song, one's thought has travelled fast upon the advancing march of summer, trying to keep pace with it as it pushed its fragrant conquest northward; to-day there is a brief interval of pause before the same thought, following the sunshine, turns south again, and seeks the tropics. A little later the spell of an indescribable peace will rest upon the earth, but a peace that will be but a brief truce between elements soon to close in struggle again. To-day, however, one feels the repose of a finished work before the first mellow touch of decay has come. The full, rich foliage still shelters the paths upon which the leaves have not yet fallen; the meadows are green; the skies soft and benignant. The conquest of summer is still intact, but here and there one sees slight but unmistakable evidence that the garrison, under cover of night, is beginning its long retreat. In such a moment one feels a sudden sense of loneliness, as if a friend were secretly preparing to desert one to his foes.
In this pause of the season one finds the subtle beauty and completeness of the summer growing upon him more and more. While the work was going forward, there was such profound interest in the process that one watched the turn and direction of the chisel rather than the surface of the marble slowly answering, line by line, the overmastering thought; but now that the months of toil are past, and all the implements of labour are cast aside, the finished work absorbs all thought and fills all imaginations. So vast is it, and on such a scale of magnitude, that one hardly saw before the delicacy and exquisite adjustment of parts, the marvellous art that framed the smallest leaf and touched the vagrant wild flower still blooming on the edges of the woodland. It is, after all, when the great festival days are over and the thronging crowds have gone, that the true worshipper finds the temple beautiful with the highest visions of worship, and in the silence of deserted aisles and shrines sees with new wonder the workmanship of the Deity. For all such this is the most solemn of all the recurring Sabbaths of the year; the hush at noonday and at even is itself an unspoken prayer. The moment of completion in the history of any great work is always sacred. When the noise and dust of the working days are gone, the great illuminating thought shines out unobscured; and in the perception of this universal element, which on the instant wins recognition from every mind, the personal element vanishes; the mere skill of the workman is forgotten in the new revelation of soul which it has given the world. For the same reason Nature takes on in these few and peaceful days a spiritual aspect, and the most careless finds himself touched, perhaps saddened, he knows not how or why.
Now again is the old mystery and deep secret of life forced upon thought: "Except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit." When the tide was at the flood it was enough to breathe the air and listen to the magical music of advancing life; but now, when the tide begins to recede and leave the vast shores bare and silent, one must think, whether he will or not. Nature, that was careless poet, flower-crowned and buoyant with the promise of eternal youth, turns teacher, and will not suffer us to escape the deeper truths, the more searching and awful lessons. As the physical falls away the spiritual comes into clear and compelling distinctness. Who that goes abroad in these quiet days, and feels the subtle change from the grosser to the ethereal which pervades the very air, can escape the threefold thought of Life, Death, and Immortality?
The silence that has already fallen upon the jubilant voices of summer will extend and deepen day by day until even the thoughtless babbling of the brooks ceases and the hush becomes universal. The earth, that a little time ago was producing such an endless variety of forms of life and beauty, will give birth to a myriad thoughts, deep, spiritual, and far-reaching; translating into the language of spirit the vast movement of the year, and completing its mysterious cycle with a vision of the sublime ends for which Nature stands, and to the consummation of which all things are borne forward. And when the time is ripe there will come a transformation like the descent of the heavens upon the earth, flooding the dying world with unspeakable splendours; the sunset which closes the long summer day and leaves through the night of winter the fadeless promise of another dawn.
A Memory of Summer
In the pine woods, or floating under overhanging branches on the silent and almost motionless river, I have had visions of my study fire during the summer months, and, now that I find myself once more within the cheerful circle of its glow, the time that has passed since it was lighted for the last time in the spring seems like a long, delightful dream. I recall those charming days, some of them full of silence and repose from dawn to sunset, some of them ripe with effort and adventure, with a keen delight in the feeling of possession which comes with them; they were brief, they have gone, but they are mine forever. The beauty and freshness that touched them morning after morning as the dew touches the flower are henceforth a part of my life; they have entered into my soul as their light and heat entered into the ripening fruits and grains. I have come back to my friendly fire richer and wiser for my absence from its cheer and warmth; my life has been renewed at those ancient sources whence all our knowledge has come; I have felt again the solitude and sanctity of those venerable shades where the voices of the oracles were once heard, and fleeting glimpses of shy divinities made a momentary splendour in the dusky depths.
Wordsworth's sonnets are always within reach of those who never get beyond the compelling voice of nature, and who are continually returning to her with a sense of loss and decline after every wandering. As I take up the little, well-worn book, it opens of itself at a familiar page, and I read once more that sonnet which comes to one at times with an unspeakable pathos in its lines—a sense of permanent alienation and loss:
The world is too much with us; late and soon, Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers; Little we see in Nature that is ours; We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon. This sea that bares her bosom to the moon, The winds that will be howling at all hours, And are up-gathered now like springing flowers— For this, for everything, we are out of tune. It moves us not. Great God! I'd rather be A pagan suckled in a creed outworn, So might I, standing on this pleasant lea, Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn; Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea, Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
Almost unconsciously I repeat these lines aloud, and straightway the fire, breaking into flame where it has been only glowing before, answers them with a sudden outburst of heat and light that make a brief summer in my study. When one goes back to the woods and streams after long separation and absorption in books and affairs, he misses something which once thrilled and inspired him. The meadows are unchanged, but the light that touched them illusively, but with a lasting and incommunicable beauty, is gone; the woodlands are dim and shadowy as of old, but they are vacant of the presence that once filled them. There is something painfully disheartening in coming back to Nature and finding one's self thus unwelcomed and uncared for, and in the first moment of disappointment an unspoken accusation of change and coldness lies in the heart. The change is not in Nature, however; it is in ourselves. "The world is too much with us." Not until its strife and tumult fade into distance and memory will those finer senses, dulled by contact with a meaner life, restore that which we have lost. After a little some such thought as this comes to us, and day after day we haunt the silent streams and the secret places of the forest; waiting, watching, unconsciously bringing ourselves once more into harmony with the great, rich world around us, we forget the tumult out of which we have come, a deep peace possesses us, and in its unbroken quietness the old sights and sounds return again. Youth, faith, hope, and love spring again out of a soil which had begun to deny them sustenance; old dreams mingle with our waking hours; the old-time channels of joy, long silent and bare, overflow with streams that restore a lost world of beauty in our souls. We have come back to Nature, and she has not denied us, in spite of our disloyalty.
I know of nothing more full of deep delight than this return of the old companionship, this restoration of the old intimacy. How much there is to recall, how many confidences there are to be exchanged! The days are not long enough for all we would say and hear. Such hours come in the pine woods; hours so full of the strange silence of the place, so unbroken by customary habits and thoughts, that no dial could divide into fragments a day that was one long unbroken spell of wonder and delight. So remote seemed all human life that even memory turned from it and lost herself in silent meditation; so vast and mysterious was the life of Nature that the past and the future seemed part of the changeless present. The light fell soft and dim through the thickly woven branches and among the densely clustered trunks; underneath, the deep masses of pine needles and the rich moss spread a carpet on which the heaviest footfall left the silence unbroken. It was a place of dreams and mysteries.
Heed the old oracles, Ponder my spells; Song wakes in my pinnacles When the wind swells. Soundeth the prophetic wind, The shadows shake on the rock behind, And the countless leaves of the pine are strings Tuned to the lay the wood-god sings. Hearken! hearken! If thou wouldst know the mystic song Chanted when the sphere was young, Aloft, abroad, the paean swells; O wise man! hear'st thou half it tells?
Sitting there, with the deep peace of the place sinking into the soul, the solitude was full of companionship; the very silence seemed to give Nature a tone more commanding, an accent more thrilling. At intervals the gusts of wind reaching the borders of the wood filled the air with distant murmurs which widened, deepened, approached, until they broke into a great wave of sound overhead, and then, receding, died in fainter and ever fainter sounds. There was something in this sudden and unfamiliar roar of the pines that hinted at its kinship with the roar of the sea; but it had a different tone. Waste and trackless solitudes and death are in the roar of the sea; remoteness, untroubled centuries of silence, the strange alien memories of woodland life, are in the roar of the pines. The forgotten ages of an immemorial past seem to have become audible in it, and to speak of things which had ceased to exist before human speech was born; things which lie at the roots of instinct rather than within the recollection of thought. The pines only murmur, but the secret which they guard so well is mine as well as theirs; I am no alien in this secluded world; my citizenship is here no less than in that other world to which I shall return, but to which I shall never wholly belong. The most solitary moods of Nature are not incommunicable; they may be shared by those who can forget themselves and hold their minds open to the elusive but potent influences of the forest. He who can escape the prison of habit and work and routine can say with Emerson:
When I am stretched beneath the pines, When the evening star so holy shines, I laugh at the lore and the pride of man, At the sophist schools and the learned clan; For what are they all, in their high conceit, When man in the bush with God may meet?
IN THE FOREST OF ARDEN
Go with me: if you like, upon report, The soil, the profit, and this kind of life, I will your very faithful factor be, And buy it with your gold right suddenly.
"AND I FOR ROSALIND"
In the Forest of Arden.
Under the greenwood tree, Who loves to lie with me, And turn his merry note Unto the sweet bird's throat, Come hither, come hither, come hither.
Rosalind had just laid a spray of apple blossoms on the study table.
"Well," I said, "when shall we start?"
Rosalind has a habit of swift decision when she has settled a question in her own mind, and I was not surprised when she replied with a single decisive word. But she also has a habit of making thorough preparation for any undertaking, and now she was quietly proposing to go off for the summer the very next day, and not a trunk was packed, not a seat secured in any train, not a movement made toward any winding up of household affairs. I had great faith in her ability to execute her plans with celerity, but I doubted whether she could be ready to turn the key in the door, bid farewell to the milkman and the butcher, and start the very next day for the Forest of Arden. For several past seasons we had planned this bold excursion into a country which few persons have seemed to know much about since the day when a poet of great fame, familiar with many strange climes and peoples, found his way thither and shared the golden fortune of his journey with all the world. Winter after winter before the study fire, we had made merry plans for this trip into the magical forest; we had discussed the best methods of travelling where no roads led; we had enjoyed in anticipation the surmises of our neighbours concerning our unexplained absence, and the delightful mystery which would always linger about us when we had returned, with memories of a landscape which no eyes but ours had seen these many years, and of rare and original people whose voices had been silent in common speech so many generations that only a few dreamers like ourselves even remembered that they had ever spoken. We had looked along the library shelves for the books we should take with us, until we remembered that in that country there were books in the running streams. Rosalind had gone so far as to lay aside a certain volume of sermons whose aspiring note had more than once made music of the momentary discords of her life; but I reminded her that such a work would be strangely out of place in a forest where there were sermons in stones. Finally we had decided to leave books behind and go free-minded as well as free-hearted. It had been a serious question how much and what apparel we should take with us, and that point was still unsettled when the apple trees came to their blossoming. It is a theory of mine that the chief delight of a vacation from one's usual occupations is freedom from the tyranny of plans and dates, and thus much Rosalind had conceded to me.
There had been an irresistible charm in the very secrecy which protected our adventure from the curious and unsympathetic comment of the world. We found endless pleasure in imagining what this and that good neighbour of ours would say about the folly of leaving a comfortable house, good beds, and a well-stocked larder for the hard fare and uncertain shelter of a strange forest. "For my part," we gleefully heard Mrs. Grundy declare,—"for my part, I cannot understand why two people old enough to know better should make tramps of themselves and go rambling about a piece of woods that nobody ever heard of in the heat of the midsummer." Poor Mrs. Grundy! We could well afford to laugh merrily at her scornful expostulations; for while she was repeating platitudes to overdressed and uninteresting people at Oldport, we should be making sunny play of life with men and women whose thoughts were free as the wind, and whose hearts were fresh as the dew and the stars. And often when our talk had died into silence, and the wind without whistled to the fire within, we had fallen to dreaming of those shadowy aisles arched by the mighty trees, and of the splendid pageant that should make life seem as great and rich as Nature herself. I confess that all my dreams came to one ending; that I should suddenly awake in some golden hour and really know Rosalind. Of course I had been coming through all these years to know something about Rosalind; but in this busy world, with work to be done, and bills to be paid, and people to be seen, and journeys to be made, and friction and worry and fatigue to be borne, how can we really come to know one another? We may meet the vicissitudes and changes side by side; we may work together in the long days of toil; our hearts may repose on a common trust, our thoughts travel a common road; but how rarely do we come to the hour when the pressure of toil is removed, the clouds of anxiety melt into blue sky, and in the whole world nothing remains but the sun on the flower, and the song in the trees, and the unclouded light of love in the eyes?
I dreamed, too, that in finding Rosalind I should also find myself. There were times when I had seemed on the very point of making this discovery, but something had always turned me aside when the quest was most eager and promising; the world pressed into the seclusion for which I had struggled, and when I waited to hear its faintest murmur die in the distance, suddenly the tumult had risen again, and the dream of self-communion and self-knowledge had vanished. To get out of the uproar and confusion of things, I had often fancied, would be like exchanging the dusty midsummer road for the shade of the woods where the brook calms the day with its pellucid note of effortless flow, and the hours hide themselves from the glances of the sun. In the forest of Arden I felt sure I should find the repose, the quietude, the freedom of thought, which would permit me to know myself. There, too, I suspected Nature had certain surprises for me; certain secrets which she has been holding back for the fortunate hour when her spell would be supreme and unbroken. I even hoped that I might come unaware upon that ancient and perennial movement of life upon which I seemed always to happen the very second after it had been suspended; that I might hear the note of the hermit thrush breaking out of the heart of the forest; the soulful melody of the nightingale, pathetic with unappeasable sorrow. In the Forest of Arden, too, there were unspoiled men and women, as indifferent to the fashion of the world and the folly of the hour as the stars to the impalpable mist of the clouds; men and women who spoke the truth, and saw the fact, and lived the right; to whom love and faith and high hopes were more real than the crowns of which they had been despoiled and the kingdoms from which they had been rejected. All this I had dreamed, and I know not how many other brave and beautiful dreams, and I was dreaming them again when Rosalind laid the apple blossoms on the study table, and answered, decisively, "To-morrow."
"To-morrow," I repeated; "to-morrow. But how are you going to get ready? If you sit up all night you cannot get through with the packing. You said only yesterday that your summer dressmaking was shamefully behind. My dear, next week is the earliest possible time for our going."
Rosalind laughed archly, and pushed the apple blossoms over the wofully interlined manuscript of my new article on Egypt. There was in her very attitude a hint of unsuspected buoyancy and strength; there was in her eyes a light which I have never seen under our uncertain skies. The breath of the apple blossoms filled the room, and a bobolink, poised on a branch outside the window, suddenly poured a rapturous song into the silence of the sweet spring day. I laid down my pen, pushed my scattered sheets into the portfolio, covered the inkstand, and laid my hand in hers. "Not to-morrow," I said, "not to-morrow. Let us go now."
Now go we in content To liberty and not to banishment.
I have sometimes entertained myself by trying to imagine the impressions which our modern life would make upon some sensitive mind of a remote age. I have fancied myself rambling about New York with Montaigne, and taking note of his shrewd, satirical comment. I can hardly imagine him expressing any feeling of surprise, much less any sentiment of admiration; but I am confident that under a masque of ironical self-complacency the old Gascon would find it difficult to repress his astonishment, and still more difficult to adjust his mind to evident and impressive changes. I have ventured at times to imagine myself in the company of another more remote and finely organised spirit of the past, and pictured to myself the keen, dispassionate criticism of Pericles on the things of modern habit and creation; I have listened to his luminous interpretations of the changed conditions which he saw about him; I have noted his unconcern toward the merely material advances of society, his penetrative insight into its intellectual and moral developments. A mind so capacious and open, a nature so trained and poised, could not be otherwise than self-contained and calm even in the presence of changes so vast and manifold as those which have transformed society since the days of the great Athenian; but even he could not be quite unmoved if brought face to face with a life so unlike that with which he had been familiar; there must come, even to one who feels the mastery of the soul over all conditions, a certain sense of wonder and awe.
It was with some such feeling that Rosalind and I found ourselves in the Forest of Arden. The journey was so soon accomplished that we had no time to accustom ourselves to the changes between the country we had left and that to which we had come. We had always fancied that the road would be long and hard, and that we should arrive worn and spent with the fatigues of travel. We were astonished and delighted when we suddenly discovered that we were within the boundaries of the Forest long before we had begun to think of the end of our journey. We had said nothing to each other by the way: our thoughts were so busy that we had no time for speech. There were no other travellers; everybody seemed to be going in the opposite direction; and we were left to undisturbed meditation. The route to the Forest is one of those open secrets which whosoever would know must learn for himself; it is impossible to direct those who do not discover for themselves how to make the journey. The Forest is probably the most accessible place on the face of the earth, but it is so rarely visited that one may go half a lifetime without meeting a person who has been there. I have never been able to explain the fact that those who have spent some time in the Forest, as well as those who are later to see it, seem to recognise each other by instinct. Rosalind and I happen to have a large circle of acquaintances, and it has been our good fortune to meet and recognise many who were familiar with the Forest and who were able to tell us much about its localities and charms. It is not generally known, and it is probably wise not to emphasise the fact, that the fortunate few who have access to the Forest form a kind of secret fraternity; a brotherhood of the soul which is secret because those alone who are qualified for membership by nature can understand either its language or its aims. It is a very strange thing that the dwellers in the Forest never make the least attempt at concealment, but that, no matter how frank and explicit their statements may be, nobody outside the brotherhood ever understands where the Forest lies or what one finds when he gets there. One may write what he chooses about life in the Forest, and only those whom Nature has selected and trained will understand what he discloses; to all others it will be an idle tale or a fairy story for the entertainment of people who have no serious business in hand.
I remember well the first time I ever understood that there is a Forest of Arden, and that they who choose may wander through its arched aisles of shade and live at their will in its deep and beautiful solitude; a solitude in which Nature sits like a friend from whose face the veil has been withdrawn, and whose strange and foreign utterance has been exchanged for the most familiar speech. Since that memorable afternoon under the apple trees I have never been far from the Forest, although at times I have lost sight of the line which its foliage makes against the horizon. I have always intended to cross that line some day and to explore the Forest; perhaps even to make a home for myself there. But one's dreams must often wait for their realisation, and so it has come to pass that I have gone all these years without personal familiarity with these beautiful scenes. I have since learned that one never comes to the Forest until he is thoroughly prepared in heart and mind, and I understand now that I could not have come earlier even if I had made the attempt. As it happened, I concerned myself with other things, and never approached very near the Forest, although never very far from it. I was never quite happy unless I caught frequent glimpses of its distant boughs, and I searched more and more eagerly for those who had left some record of their journeys to the Forest, and of their life within its magical boundaries. I discovered, to my great joy, that the libraries were full of books which had much to say about the delights of Arden: its enchanting scenery; the music of its brooks; the sweet and refreshing repose of its recesses; the noble company that frequent it. I soon found that all the greater poets have been there, and that their lines had caught the magical radiance of the sky; and many of the prose writers showed the same familiarity with a country in which they evidently found whatever was sweetest and best in life. I came to know at last those whose knowledge of Arden was most complete, and I put them in a place by themselves; a corner in the study to which Rosalind and I went for the books we read together. I would gladly give a list of these works but for the fact I have already hinted—that those who would understand their references to Arden will come to know them without aid from me, and that those who would not understand could find nothing in them even if I should give page and paragraph. It was a great surprise to me, when I first began to speak of the Forest, to find that most people scouted the very idea of such a country; many did not even understand what I meant. Many a time, at sunset, when the light has lain soft and tender on the distant Forest, I have pointed it out, only to be told that what I thought was the Forest was a splendid pile of clouds, a shining mass of mist. I came to understand at last that Arden exists only for a few, and I ceased to talk about it save to those who shared my faith. Gradually I came to number among my friends many who were in the habit of making frequent journeys to the Forest, and not a few who had spent the greater part of their lives there. I remember the first time I saw Rosalind I saw the light of the Arden sky in her eyes, the buoyancy of the Arden air in her step, the purity and freedom of the Arden life in her nature. We built our home within sight of the Forest, and there was never a day that we did not talk about and plan our long-delayed journey thither.
"After all," said Rosalind, on that first glorious morning in Arden, "as I look back I see that we were always on the way here."
Well, this is the Forest of Arden.
The first sensation that comes to one who finds himself at last within the boundaries of the Forest of Arden is a delicious sense of freedom. I am not sure that there is not a certain sympathy with outlawry in that first exhilarating consciousness of having gotten out of the conventional world—the world whose chief purpose is that all men shall wear the same coat, eat the same dinner, repeat the same polite commonplaces, and be forgotten at last under the same epitaph. Forests have been the natural refuge of outlaws from the earliest time, and among the most respectable persons there has always been an ill-concealed liking for Robin Hood and the whole fraternity of the men of the bow. Truth is above all things characteristic of the dwellers in Arden, and it must be frankly confessed at the beginning, therefore, that the Forest is given over entirely to outlaws; those who have committed some grave offence against the world of conventions, or who have voluntarily gone into exile out of sheer liking for a freer life. These persons are not vulgar law-breakers; they have neither blood on their hands nor ill-gotten gains in their pockets; they are, on the contrary, people of uncommonly honest bearing and frank speech. Their offences evidently impose small burden on their conscience, and they have the air of those who have never known what it is to have the Furies on one's track. Rosalind was struck with the charming naturalness and gaiety of every one we met in our first ramble on that delicious and never-to-be-forgotten morning when we arrived in Arden. There was neither assumption nor diffidence; there was rather an entire absence of any kind of self-consciousness. Rosalind had fancied that we might be quite alone for a time, and we had expected to have a few days to ourselves. We had even planned in our romantic moments—and there is always a good deal of romance among the dwellers in Arden—a continuation of our wedding journey during the first week.
"It will be so much more delightful than before," suggested Rosalind, "because nobody will stare at us, and we shall have the whole world to ourselves." In that last phrase I recognised the ideal wedding journey, and was not at all dismayed at the prospect of having no society but Rosalind's for a time. But all such anticipations were dispelled in an hour. It was not that we met many people—it is one of the delights of the Forest that one finds society enough to take away the sense of isolation, but not enough to destroy the sweetness of solitude; it was rather that the few we met made us feel at once that we had equal claim with themselves on the hospitality of the place. The Forest was not only free to every comer, but it evidently gave peculiar pleasure to those who were living in it to convey a sense of ownership to those who were arriving for the first time. Rosalind declared that she felt as much at home as if she had been born there; and she added that she was glad she had brought only the dress she wore. I was a little puzzled by the last remark; it seemed not entirely logical. But I saw presently that she was expressing the fellowship of the place which forbade that one should possess anything that was not in use, and that, therefore, was not adding constantly to the common stock of pleasure. Concerning the feeling of having been born in Arden, I became convinced later that there was good reason for believing that everybody who loved the place had been born there, and that this fact explained the home feeling which came to one the instant he set foot within the Forest. It is, in fact, the only place I have known which seemed to belong to me and to everybody else at the same time; in which I felt no alien influence. In our own home I had something of the same feeling, but when I looked from a window or set foot from a door I was instantly oppressed with a sense of foreign ownership. In the great world how little could I call my own! Only a few feet of soil out of the measureless landscape; only a few trees and flowers out of all that boundless foliage! I seemed driven out of the heritage to which I was born; cheated out of my birthright in the beauty of the field and the mystery of the Forest; put off with the beggarly portion of a younger son when I ought to have fallen heir to the kingdom. My chief joy was that from the little space I called my own I could see the whole heavens; no man could rob me of that splendid vision.
In Arden, however, the question of ownership never comes into one's thoughts; that the Forest belongs to you gives you a deep joy, but there is a deeper joy in the consciousness that it belongs to everybody else.
The sense of freedom, which comes as strongly to one in Arden as the smell of the sea to one who has made a long journey from the inland, hints, I suppose, at the offence which makes the dwellers within its boundaries outlaws. For one reason or another, they have all revolted against the rule of the world, and the world has cast them out. They have offended smug respectability, with its passionless devotion to deportment; they have outraged conventional usage, that carefully devised system by which small natures attempt to bring great ones down to their own dimensions; they have scandalised the orthodoxy which, like Memnon, has lost the music of its morning, and marvels that the world no longer listens; they have derided venerable prejudices—those ugly relics by which some men keep in remembrance their barbarous ancestry; they have refused to follow flags whose battles were won or lost ages ago; they have scorned to compromise with untruth, to go with the crowd, to acquiesce in evil "for the good of the cause," to speak when they ought to keep silent and to keep silent when they ought to speak. Truly the lists of sins charged to the account of Arden is a long one, and were it not that the memory of the world, concerned chiefly with the things that make for its comfort, is a short one, it would go ill with the lovers of the Forest. More than once it has happened that some offender has suffered so long a banishment that he has taken permanent refuge in Arden, and proved his citizenship there by some act worthy of its glorious privileges. In the Forest one comes constantly upon traces of those who, like Dante and Milton, have found there a refuge from the Philistinism of a world that often hates its children in exact proportion to their ability to give it light. For the most part, however, the outlaws who frequent the Forest suffer no longer banishment than that which they impose on themselves. They come and go at their own sweet will; and their coming, I suspect, is generally a matter of their own choosing. The world still loves darkness more than light; but it rarely nowadays falls upon the lantern-bearer and beats the life out of him, as in "the good old times." The world has grown more decent and polite, although still at heart no doubt the bad old world which stoned the prophets. It sneers where it once stoned; it rejects and scorns where it once beat and burned. And so Arden has become a refuge, not so much from persecution and hatred as from ignorance, indifference, and the small wounds of small minds bent upon stinging that which they cannot destroy.
. . . Fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world.
Rosalind and I have always been planning to do a great many pleasant things when we had more time. During the busy days when we barely found opportunity to speak to each other we were always thinking of the better days when we should be able to sit hours together with no knock at the door and no imperative summons from the kitchen. Some man of sufficient eminence to give his words currency ought to define life as a series of interruptions. There are a good many valuable and inspiring things which can only be done when one is in the mood, and to secure a mood is not always an easy matter; there are moods which are as coy as the most high-spirited woman, and must be wooed with as much patience and tact: and when the illusive prize is gained, one holds it by the frailest tenure. An interruption diverts the current, cuts the golden thread, breaks the exquisite harmony. I have often thought that Dante was far less unfortunate than the world has judged him to be. If he had been courted and crowned instead of rejected and exiled, it might have been that his genius would have missed the conditions which gave it immortal utterance. Left to himself, he had only his own nature to reckon with; the world passed him by, and left him to the companionship of his sublime and awful dreams. To be left alone with one's self is often the highest good fortune. Moreover, I detest being hurried: it seems to me the most offensive way in which we are reminded of our mortality; there is time enough if we know how to use it. People who, like Goethe, never rest and never haste, complete their work and escape the friction of it.
One of the most delightful things about life in Arden is the absence of any sense of haste; life is a matter of being rather than of doing, and one shares the tranquillity of the great trees that silently expand year by year. The fever and restlessness are gone, the long strain of nerve and will relaxed; a delicious feeling of having strength and time enough to live one's life and do one's work fills one with a deep and enduring sense of repose.
Rosalind, who had been busy about so many things that I sometimes almost lost sight of her for days together, found time to take long walks with me, to watch the birds and the clouds, and talk by the hour about all manner of pleasant trifles. I came to feel after a time that just what I anticipated would happen in Arden had happened. I was fast becoming acquainted with her. We spent days together in the most delightful half-vocal and half-silent fellowship; leaving everything to the mood of the hour and the place. Our walks took us sometimes into lovely recesses, where mutual confidences seemed as natural as the air; sometimes into solitudes where talk seemed an impertinence, and we were silent under the spell of rustling leaves and thrilling melodies coming from we knew not what hidden minstrelsy. But whether silent or speaking, we were fast coming to know each other. I saw many traits in her, many characteristic habits and movements which I had never noted before; and I was conscious that she was making similar discoveries in me. These mutual revelations absorbed us during our first days in the Forest; and they confirmed the impression which I brought with me that half the charm of people is lost under the pressure of work and the irritation of haste. We rarely know our best friends on their best side; our vision of their noblest selves is constantly obscured by the mists of preoccupation and weariness.
In Arden life is pitched on the natural key; nobody is ever hurried; nobody is ever interrupted; nobody carries his work like a pack on his back instead of leaving it behind him as the sun leaves the earth when the day is over and the calm stars shine in the unbroken silence of the sky. Rosalind and I were entirely conscious of the transformation going on within us, and were not slow to submit ourselves to its beneficent influence. We felt that Arden would not put all its resources into our hand until we had shaken off the dust and parted from the fret of the world we had left behind.
In those first inspiring days we went oftenest to the heart of the pines, where the moss grew so deep that our movements were noiseless; where the light fell in subdued and gentle tones among the closely clustered trees; and where no sound ever reached us save the organ music of the great boughs when the wind evoked their sublime harmonies. Many a time, as we have sat silent while the tones of that majestic symphony rose and fell about us, we seemed to become a part of the scene itself; we felt the unfathomed depth of a music produced by no conscious thought, wrought out by no conscious toil, but akin, in its spontaneity and naturalness, with the fragrance of the flower. And with these thrilling notes there came to us the thought of the calm, reposeful, irresistible growth of Nature; never hasting, never at rest; the silent spreading of the tree, the steady burning of the star, the noiseless flow of the river! Was not this sublime unconsciousness of time, this glorious appropriation of eternity, something we had missed all our lives, and, in missing it, had lost our birthright of quiet hours, calm thought, sweet fellowship, ripening character? The fever and tumult of the world we had left were discords in a strain, that had never yielded its music before.
For nature beats in perfect tune, And rounds with rhyme her every rune, Whether she work in land or sea, Or hide underground her alchemy. Thou canst not wave thy staff in air, Or dip thy paddle in the lake, But it carves the bow of beauty there, And the ripples in rhymes the oars forsake.