THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. VIII.--OCTOBER, 1861.--NO. XLVIII.
On a fine morning in September, we set out on an excursion to Blenheim,--the sculptor and myself being seated on the box of our four-horse carriage, two more of the party in the dicky, and the others less agreeably accommodated inside. We had no coachman, but two postilions in short scarlet jackets and leather breeches with top-boots, each astride of a horse; so that, all the way along, when not otherwise attracted, we had the interesting spectacle of their up-and-down bobbing in the saddle. It was a sunny and beautiful day, a specimen of the perfect English weather, just warm enough for comfort,--indeed, a little too warm, perhaps, in the noontide sun,--yet retaining a mere spice or suspicion of austerity, which made it all the more enjoyable.
The country between Oxford and Blenheim is not particularly interesting, being almost level, or undulating very slightly; nor is Oxfordshire, agriculturally, a rich part of England. We saw one or two hamlets, and I especially remember a picturesque old gabled house at a turnpike-gate, and, altogether, the wayside scenery had an aspect of old-fashioned English life; but there was nothing very memorable till we reached Woodstock, and stopped to water our horses at the Black Bear. This neighborhood is called New Woodstock, but has by no means the brand-new appearance of an American town, being a large village of stone houses, most of them pretty well time-worn and weather-stained. The Black Bear is an ancient inn, large and respectable, with balustraded staircases, and intricate passages and corridors, and queer old pictures and engravings hanging in the entries and apartments. We ordered a lunch (the most delightful of English institutions, next to dinner) to be ready against our return, and then resumed our drive to Blenheim.
The park-gate of Blenheim stands close to the end of the village-street of Woodstock. Immediately on passing through its portals, we saw the stately palace in the distance, but made a wide circuit of the park before approaching it. This noble park contains three thousand acres of land, and is fourteen miles in circumference. Having been, in part, a royal domain before it was granted to the Marlborough family, it contains many trees of unsurpassed antiquity, and has doubtless been the haunt of game and deer for centuries. We saw pheasants in abundance, feeding in the open lawns and glades; and the stags tossed their antlers and bounded away, not affrighted, but only shy and gamesome, as we drove by. It is a magnificent pleasure-ground, not too tamely kept, nor rigidly subjected within rule, but vast enough to have lapsed back into Nature again, after all the pains that the landscape-gardeners of Queen Anne's time bestowed on it, when the domain of Blenheim was scientifically laid out. The great, knotted, slanting trunks of the old oaks do not now look as if man had much intermeddled with their growth and postures. The trees of later date, that were set out in the Great Duke's time, are arranged on the plan of the order of battle in which the illustrious commander ranked his troops at Blenheim; but the ground covered is so extensive, and the trees now so luxuriant, that the spectator is not disagreeably conscious of their standing in military array, as if Orpheus had summoned them together by beat of drum. The effect must have been very formal a hundred and fifty years ago, but has ceased to be so,--although the trees, I presume, have kept their ranks with even more fidelity than Marlborough's veterans did.
One of the park-keepers, on horseback, rode beside our carriage, pointing out the choice views, and glimpses at the palace, as we drove through the domain. There is a very large artificial lake, (to say the truth, it seemed to me fully worthy of being compared with the Welsh lakes, at least, if not with those of Westmoreland,) which was created by Capability Brown, and fills the basin that he scooped for it, just as if Nature had poured these broad waters into one of her own valleys. It is a most beautiful object at a distance, and not less so on its immediate banks; for the water is very pure, being supplied by a small river, of the choicest transparency, which was turned thitherward for the purpose. And Blenheim owes not merely this water-scenery, but almost all its other beauties, to the contrivance of man. Its natural features are not striking; but Art has effected such wonderful things that the uninstructed visitor would never guess that nearly the whole scene was but the embodied thought of a human mind. A skilful painter hardly does more for his blank sheet of canvas than the landscape-gardener, the planter, the arranges of trees, has done for the monotonous surface of Blenheim,--making the most of every undulation,--flinging down a hillock, a big lump of earth out of a giant's hand, wherever it was needed,--putting in beauty as often as there was a niche for it,--opening vistas to every point that deserved to be seen, and throwing a veil of impenetrable foliage around what ought to be hidden;--and then, to be sure, the lapse of a century has softened the harsh outline of man's labors, and has given the place back to Nature again with the addition of what consummate science could achieve.
After driving a good way, we came to a battlemented tower and adjoining house, which used to be the residence of the Ranger of Woodstock Park, who held charge of the property for the King before the Duke of Marlborough possessed it. The keeper opened the door for us, and in the entrance-hall we found various things that had to do with the chase and woodland sports. We mounted the staircase, through several stories, up to the top of the tower, whence there was a view of the spires of Oxford, and of points much farther off,--very indistinctly seen, however, as is usually the case with the misty distances of England. Returning to the ground-floor, we were ushered into the room in which died Wilmot, the wicked Earl of Rochester, who was Ranger of the Park in Charles II.'s time. It is a low and bare little room, with a window in front, and a smaller one behind; and in the contiguous entrance-room there are the remains of an old bedstead, beneath the canopy of which, perhaps, Rochester may have made the penitent end that Bishop Burnet attributes to him. I hardly know what it is, in this poor fellow's character, which affects us with greater tenderness on his behalf than for all the other profligates of his day, who seem to have been neither better nor worse than himself. I rather suspect that he had a human heart which never quite died out of him, and the warmth of which is still faintly perceptible amid the dissolute trash which he left behind.
Methinks, if such good fortune ever befell a bookish man, I should choose this lodge for my own residence, with the topmost room of the tower for a study, and all the seclusion of cultivated wildness beneath to ramble in. There being no such possibility, we drove on, catching glimpses of the palace in new points of view, and by-and-by came to Rosamond's Well. The particular tradition that connects Fair Rosamond with it is not now in my memory; but if Rosamond ever lived and loved, and ever had her abode in the maze of Woodstock, it may well be believed that she and Henry sometimes sat beside this spring. It gushes out from a bank, through some old stone-work, and dashes its little cascade (about as abundant as one might turn out of a large pitcher) into a pool, whence it steals away towards the lake, which is not far removed. The water is exceedingly cold, and as pure as the legendary Rosamond was not, and is fancied to possess medicinal virtues, like springs at which saints have quenched their thirst. There were two or three old women and some children in attendance with tumblers, which they present to visitors, full of the consecrated water; but most of us filled the tumblers for ourselves, and drank.
Thence we drove to the Triumphal Pillar which was erected in honor of the Great Duke, and on the summit of which he stands, in a Roman garb, holding a winged figure of Victory in his hand, as an ordinary man might hold a bird. The column is I know not how many feet high, but lofty enough, at any rate, to elevate Marlborough far above the rest of the world, and to be visible a long way off: and it is so placed in reference to other objects, that, wherever the hero wandered about his grounds, and especially as he issued from his mansion, he must inevitably have been reminded of his glory. In truth, until I came to Blenheim, I never had so positive and material an idea of what Fame really is--of what the admiration of his country can do for a successful warrior--as I carry away with me and shall always retain. Unless he had the moral force of a thousand men together, his egotism (beholding himself everywhere, imbuing the entire soil, growing in the woods, rippling and gleaming in the water, and pervading the very air with his greatness) must have been swollen within him like the liver of a Strasbourg goose. On the huge tablets inlaid into the pedestal of the column, the entire Act of Parliament, bestowing Blenheim on the Duke of Marlborough and his posterity, is engraved in deep letters, painted black on the marble ground. The pillar stands exactly a mile from the principal front of the palace, in a straight line with the precise centre of its entrance-hall; so that, as already said, it was the Duke's principal object of contemplation.
We now proceeded to the palace-gate, which is a great pillared archway, of wonderful loftiness and state, giving admittance into a spacious quadrangle. A stout, elderly, and rather surly footman in livery appeared at the entrance, and took possession of whatever canes, umbrellas, and parasols he could get hold of, in order to claim sixpence on our departure. This had a somewhat ludicrous effect. There is much public outcry against the meanness of the present Duke in his arrangements for the admission of visitors (chiefly, of course, his native countrymen) to view the magnificent palace which their forefathers bestowed upon his own. In many cases, it seems hard that a private abode should be exposed to the intrusion of the public merely because the proprietor has inherited or created a splendor which attracts general curiosity; insomuch that his home loses its sanctity and seclusion for the very reason that it is better than other men's houses. But in the case of Blenheim, the public have certainly an equitable claim to admission, both because the fame of its first inhabitant is a national possession, and because the mansion was a national gift, one of the purposes of which was to be a token of gratitude and glory to the English people themselves. If a man chooses to be illustrious, he is very likely to incur some little inconveniences himself, and entail them on his posterity. Nevertheless, his present Grace of Marlborough absolutely ignores the public claim above suggested, and (with a thrift of which even the hero of Blenheim himself did not set the example) sells tickets admitting six persons at ten shillings: if only one person enters the gate, he must pay for six; and if there are seven in company, two tickets are required to admit them. The attendants, who meet you everywhere in the park and palace, expect fees on their own private account,--their noble master pocketing the ten shillings. But, to be sure, the visitor gets his money's worth, since it buys him the right to speak just as freely of the Duke of Marlborough as if he were the keeper of the Cremorne Gardens.[A]
[Footnote A: The above was written two or three years ago, or more; and the Duke of that day has since transmitted his coronet to his successor, who, we understand, has adopted much more liberal arrangements. There is seldom anything to criticize or complain of, as regards the facility of obtaining admission to interesting private houses in England.]
Passing through a gateway on the opposite side of the quadrangle, we had before us the noble classic front of the palace, with its two projecting wings. We ascended the lofty steps of the portal, and were admitted into the entrance-hall, the height of which, from floor to ceiling, is not much less than seventy feet, being the entire height of the edifice. The hall is lighted by windows in the upper story, and, it being a clear, bright day, was very radiant with lofty sunshine, amid which a swallow was flitting to and fro. The ceiling was painted by Sir James Thornhill in some allegorical design, (doubtless commemorative of Marlborough's victories,) the purport of which I did not take the trouble to make out,--contenting myself with the general effect, which was most splendidly and effectively ornamental.
We were guided through the showrooms by a very civil person, who allowed us to take pretty much our own time in looking at the pictures. The collection is exceedingly valuable,--many of these works of Art having been presented to the Great Duke by the crowned heads of England or the Continent. One room was all aglow with pictures by Rubens; and there were works of Raphael, and many other famous painters, any one of which would be sufficient to illustrate the meanest house that might contain it. I remember none of them, however, (not being in a picture-seeing mood,) so well as Vandyck's large and familiar picture of Charles I on horseback, with a figure and face of melancholy dignity such as never by any other hand was put on canvas. Yet, on considering this face of Charles, (which I find often repeated in half-lengths,) and translating it from the ideal into literalism, I doubt whether the unfortunate king was really a handsome or impressive-looking man: a high, thin-ridged nose, a meagre, hatchet face, and reddish hair and beard,--these are the literal facts. It is the painter's art that has thrown such pensive and shadowy grace around him.
On our passage through this beautiful suite of apartments, we saw, through the vista of open doorways, a boy of ten or twelve years old coming towards us from the farther rooms. He had on a straw hat, a linen sack that had certainly been washed and re-washed for a summer or two, and gray trousers a good deal worn,--a dress, in short, which an American mother in middle station would have thought too shabby for her darling school-boy's ordinary wear. This urchin's face was rather pale, (as those of English children are apt to be, quite as often as our own,) but he had pleasant eyes, an intelligent look, and an agreeable, boyish manner. It was Lord Sunderland, grandson of the present Duke, and heir-- though not, I think, in the direct line--of the blood of the great Marlborough, and of the title and estate.
After passing through the first suite of rooms, we were conducted through a corresponding suite on the opposite side of the entrance-hall. These latter apartments are most richly adorned with tapestries, wrought and presented to the first Duke by a sisterhood of Flemish nuns; they look like great, glowing pictures, and completely cover the walls of the rooms. The designs purport to represent the Duke's battles and sieges; and everywhere we see the hero himself, as large as life, and as gorgeous in scarlet and gold as the holy sisters could make him, with a three-cornered hat and flowing wig, reining in his horse, and extending his leading-staff in the attitude of command. Next to Marlborough, Prince Eugene is the most prominent figure. In the way of upholstery, there can never have been anything more magnificent than these tapestries; and, considered as works of Art, they have quite as much merit as nine pictures out of ten.
One whole wing of the palace is occupied by the library, a most noble room, with a vast perspective length from end to end. Its atmosphere is brighter and more cheerful than that of most libraries: a wonderful contrast to the old college-libraries of Oxford, and perhaps less sombre and suggestive of thoughtfulness than any large library ought to be; inasmuch as so many studious brains as have left their deposit on the shelves cannot have conspired without producing a very serious and ponderous result. Both walls and ceiling are white, and there are elaborate doorways and fireplaces of white marble. The floor is of oak, so highly polished that our feet slipped upon it as if it had been New-England ice. At one end of the room stands a statue of Queen Anne in her royal robes, which are so admirably designed and exquisitely wrought that the spectator certainly gets a strong conception of her royal dignity; while the face of the statue, fleshy and feeble, doubtless conveys a suitable idea of her personal character. The marble of this work, long as it has stood there, is as white as snow just fallen, and must have required most faithful and religious care to keep it so. As for the volumes of the library, they are wired within the cases and turn their gilded backs upon the visitor, keeping their treasures of wit and wisdom just as intangible as if still in the unwrought mines of human thought.
I remember nothing else in the palace, except the chapel, to which we were conducted last, and where we saw a splendid monument to the first Duke and Duchess, sculptured by Rysbrach, at the cost, it is said, of forty thousand pounds. The design includes the statues of the deceased dignitaries, and various allegorical flourishes, fantasies, and confusions; and beneath sleep the great Duke and his proud wife, their veritable bones and dust, and probably all the Marlboroughs that have since died. It is not quite a comfortable idea, that these mouldy ancestors still inhabit, after their fashion, the house where their successors spend the passing day; but the adulation lavished upon the hero of Blenheim could not have been consummated, unless the palace of his lifetime had become likewise a stately mausoleum over his remains, --and such we felt it all to be, after gazing at his tomb.
The next business was to see the private gardens. An old Scotch under-gardener admitted us and led the way, and seemed to have a fair prospect of earning the fee all by himself; but by-and-by another respectable Scotchman made his appearance and took us in charge, proving to be the head-gardener in person. He was extremely intelligent and agreeable, talking both scientifically and lovingly about trees and plants, of which there is every variety capable of English cultivation. Positively, the Garden of Eden cannot have been more beautiful than this private garden of Blenheim. It contains three hundred acres, and by the artful circumlocution of the paths, and the undulations, and the skilfully interposed clumps of trees, is made to appear limitless. The sylvan delights of a whole country are compressed into this space, as whole fields of Persian roses go to the concoction of an ounce of precious attar. The world within that garden-fence is not the same weary and dusty world with which we outside mortals are conversant; it is a finer, lovelier, more harmonious Nature; and the Great Mother lends herself kindly to the gardener's will, knowing that he will make evident the half-obliterated traits of her pristine and ideal beauty, and allow her to take all the credit and praise to herself. I doubt whether there is ever any winter within that precinct,--any clouds, except the fleecy ones of summer. The sunshine that I saw there rests upon my recollection of it as if it were eternal. The lawns and glades are like the memory of places where one has wandered when first in love.
What a good and happy life might be spent in a paradise like this! And yet, at that very moment, the besotted Duke (ah! I have let out a secret which I meant to keep to myself; but the ten shillings must pay for all) was in that very garden, (for the guide told us so, and cautioned our young people not to be uproarious,) and, if in a condition for arithmetic, was thinking of nothing nobler than how many ten-shilling tickets had that day been sold. Republican as I am, I should still love to think that noblemen lead noble lives, and that all this stately and beautiful environment may serve to elevate them a little way above the rest of us. If it fail to do so, the disgrace falls equally upon the whole race of mortals as on themselves; because it proves that no more favorable conditions of existence would eradicate our vices and weaknesses. How sad, if this be so! Even a herd of swine, eating the acorns under those magnificent oaks of Blenheim, would be cleanlier and of better habits than ordinary swine.
Well, all that I have written is pitifully meagre, as a description of Blenheim; and I hate to leave it without some more adequate expression of the noble edifice, with its rich domain, all as I saw them in that beautiful sunshine; for, if a day had been chosen out of a hundred years, it could not have been a finer one. But I must give up the attempt; only further remarking that the finest trees here were cedars, of which I saw one--and there may have been many such--immense in girth and not less than three centuries old. I likewise saw a vast heap of laurel, two hundred feet in circumference, all growing from one root; and the gardener offered to show us another growth of twice that stupendous size. If the Great Duke himself had been buried in that spot, his heroic heart could not have been the seed of a more plentiful crop of laurels.
We now went back to the Black Bear, and sat down to a cold collation, of which we ate abundantly, and drank (in the good old English fashion) a due proportion of various delightful liquors. A stranger in England, in his rambles to various quarters of the country, may learn little in regard to wines, (for the ordinary English taste is simple, though sound, in that particular,) but he makes acquaintance with more varieties of hop and malt liquor than he previously supposed to exist. I remember a sort of foaming stuff, called hop-champagne, which is very vivacious, and appears to be a hybrid between ale and bottled cider. Another excellent tipple for warm weather is concocted by mixing brown-stout or bitter ale with ginger-beer, the foam of which stirs up the heavier liquor from its depths, forming a compound of singular vivacity and sufficient body. But of all things ever brewed from malt, (unless it be the Trinity Ale of Cambridge, which I drank long afterwards, and which Barry Cornwall has celebrated in immortal verse,) commend me to the Archdeacon, as the Oxford scholars call it, in honor of the jovial dignitary who first taught these erudite worthies how to brew their favorite nectar. John Barleycorn has given his very heart to this admirable liquor; it is a superior kind of ale, the Prince of Ales, with a richer flavor and a mightier spirit than you can find elsewhere in this weary world. Much have we been strengthened and encouraged by the potent blood of the Archdeacon!
A few days after our excursion to Blenheim, the same party set forth, in two flies, on a tour to some other places of interest in the neighborhood of Oxford. It was again a delightful day; and, in truth, every day, of late, had been so pleasant that it seemed as if each must be the very last of such perfect weather; and yet the long succession had given us confidence in as many more to come. The climate of England has been shamefully maligned; its sulkinesses and asperities are not nearly so offensive as Englishmen tell us (their climate being the only attribute of their country which they never overvalue); and the really good summer weather is the very kindest and sweetest that the world knows.
We first drove to the village of Cumnor, about six miles from Oxford, and alighted at the entrance of the church. Here, while waiting for the keys, we looked at an old wall of the churchyard, piled up of loose gray stones which are said to have once formed a portion of Cumnor Hall, celebrated in Mickle's ballad and Scott's romance. The hall must have been in very close vicinity to the church,--not more than twenty yards off; and I waded through the long, dewy grass of the churchyard, and tried to peep over the wall, in hopes to discover some tangible and traceable remains of the edifice. But the wall was just too high to be overlooked, and difficult to clamber over without tumbling down some of the stones; so I took the word of one of our party, who had been here before, that there is nothing interesting on the other side. The churchyard is in rather a neglected state, and seems not to have been mown for the benefit of the parson's cow; it contains a good many gravestones, of which I remember only some upright memorials of slate to individuals of the name of Tabbs.
Soon a woman arrived with the key of the church-door, and we entered the simple old edifice, which has the pavement of lettered tombstones, the sturdy pillars and low arches, and other ordinary characteristics of an English country-church. One or two pews, probably those of the gentlefolk of the neighborhood, were better furnished than the rest, but all in a modest style. Near the high altar, in the holiest place, there is an oblong, angular, ponderous tomb of blue marble, built against the wall, and surmounted by a carved canopy of the same material; and over the tomb, and beneath the canopy, are two monumental brasses, such as we oftener see inlaid into a church-pavement. On these brasses are engraved the figures of a gentleman in armor and a lady in an antique garb, each about a foot high, devoutly kneeling in prayer; and there is a long Latin inscription likewise cut into the enduring brass, bestowing the highest eulogies on the character of Anthony Forster, who, with his virtuous dame, lies buried beneath this tombstone. His is the knightly figure that kneels above; and if Sir Walter Scott ever saw this tomb, he must have had an even greater than common disbelief in laudatory epitaphs, to venture on depicting Anthony Forster in such hues as blacken him in the romance. For my part, I read the inscription in full faith, and believe the poor deceased gentleman to be a much-wronged individual, with good grounds for bringing an action of slander in the courts above.
But the circumstance, lightly as we treat it, has its serious moral. What nonsense it is, this anxiety, which so worries us, about our good fame, or our bad fame, after death! If it were of the slightest real moment, our reputations would have been placed by Providence more in our own power, and less in other people's, than we now find them to be. If poor Anthony Forster happens to have met Sir Walter in the other world, I doubt whether he has ever thought it worth while to complain of the latter's misrepresentations.
We did not remain long in the church, as it contains nothing else of interest; and driving through the village, we passed a pretty large and rather antique-looking inn, bearing the sign of the Bear and Ragged Staff. It could not be so old, however, by at least a hundred years, as Giles Gosling's time; nor is there any other object to remind the visitor of the Elizabethan age, unless it be a few ancient cottages, that are perhaps of still earlier date. Cumnor is not nearly so large a village, nor a place of such mark, as one anticipates from its romantic and legendary fame; but, being still inaccessible by railway, it has retained more of a sylvan character than we often find in English country-towns. In this retired neighborhood the road is narrow and bordered with grass, and sometimes interrupted by gates; the hedges grow in unpruned luxuriance; there is not that close-shaven neatness and trimness that characterize the ordinary English landscape. The whole scene conveys the idea of seclusion and remoteness. We met no travellers, whether on foot or otherwise.
I cannot very distinctly trace out this day's peregrinations; but, after leaving Cumnor a few miles behind us, I think we came to a ferry over the Thames, where an old woman served as ferry-man, and pulled a boat across by means of a rope stretching from shore to shore. Our two vehicles being thus placed on the other side, we resumed our drive,--first glancing, however, at the old woman's antique cottage, with its stone floor, and the circular settle round the kitchen fireplace, which was quite in the mediaeval English style.
We next stopped at Stanton Harcourt, where we were received at the parsonage with a hospitality which we should take delight in describing, if it were allowable to make public acknowledgment of the private and personal kindnesses which we never failed to find ready for our needs. An American in an English house will soon adopt the opinion that the English are the very kindest people on earth, and will retain that idea as long, at least, as he remains on the inner side of the threshold. Their magnetism is of a kind that repels strongly while you keep beyond a certain limit, but attracts as forcibly if you get within the magic line.
It was at this place, if I remember right, that I heard a gentleman ask a friend of mine whether he was the author of "The Red Letter A"; and, after some consideration, (for he did not seem to recognize his own book, at first, under this improved title,) our countryman responded, doubtfully, that he believed so. The gentleman proceeded to inquire whether our friend had spent much time in America,--evidently thinking that he must have been caught young, and have had a tincture of English breeding, at least, if not birth, to speak the language so tolerably, and appear so much like other people. This insular narrowness is exceedingly queer, and of very frequent occurrence, and is quite as much a characteristic of men of education and culture as of clowns.
Stanton Harcourt is a very curious old place. It was formerly the seat of the ancient family of Harcourt, which now has its principal abode at Nuneham Courtney, a few miles off. The parsonage is a relic of the family-mansion, or castle, other portions of which are close at hand; for, across the garden, rise two gray towers, both of them picturesquely venerable, and interesting for more than their antiquity. One of these towers, in its entire capacity, from height to depth, constituted the kitchen of the ancient castle, and is still used for domestic purposes, although it has not, nor ever had, a chimney; or we might rather say, it is itself one vast chimney, with a hearth of thirty feet square, and a flue and aperture of the same size. There are two huge fireplaces within, and the interior walls of the tower are blackened with the smoke that for centuries used to gush forth from them, and climb upward, seeking an exit through some wide air-holes in the conical roof, full seventy feet above. These lofty openings were capable of being so arranged, with reference to the wind, that the cooks are said to have been seldom troubled by the smoke; and here, no doubt, they were accustomed to roast oxen whole, with as little fuss and ado as a modern cook would roast a fowl. The inside of the tower is very dim and sombre, (being nothing but rough stone walls, lighted only from the apertures above mentioned,) and has still a pungent odor of smoke and soot, the reminiscence of the fires and feasts of generations that have passed away. Methinks the extremest range of domestic economy lies between an American cooking-stove and the ancient kitchen, seventy dizzy feet in height, of Stanton Harcourt.
Now--the place being without a parallel in England, and therefore necessarily beyond the experience of an American--it is somewhat remarkable, that, while we stood gazing at this kitchen, I was haunted and perplexed by an idea that somewhere or other I had seen just this strange spectacle before. The height, the blackness, the dismal void, before my eyes, seemed as familiar as the decorous neatness of my grandmother's kitchen; only my unaccountable memory of the scene was lighted up with an image of lurid fires blazing all round the dim interior circuit of the tower. I had never before had so pertinacious an attack, as I could not but suppose it, of that odd state of mind wherein we fitfully and teasingly remember some previous scene or incident, of which the one now passing appears to be but the echo and reduplication. Though the explanation of the mystery did not for some time occur to me, I may as well conclude the matter here. In a letter of Pope's, addressed to the Duke of Buckingham, there is an account of Stanton Harcourt, (as I now find, although the name is not mentioned,) where he resided while translating a part of the "Iliad." It is one of the most admirable pieces of description in the language,--playful and picturesque, with fine touches of humorous pathos,--and conveys as perfect a picture as ever was drawn of a decayed English country-house; and among other rooms, most of which have since crumbled down and disappeared, he dashes off the grim aspect of this kitchen,--which, moreover, he peoples with witches, engaging Satan himself as head-cook, who stirs the infernal caldrons that seethe and bubble over the fires. This letter, and others relative to his abode here, were very familiar to my earlier reading, and, remaining still fresh at the bottom of my memory, caused the weird and ghostly sensation that came over me on beholding the real spectacle that had formerly been made so vivid to my imagination.
Our next visit was to the church, which stands close by, and is quite as ancient as the remnants of the castle. In a chapel or side-aisle, dedicated to the Harcourts, are found some very interesting family-monuments,--and among them, recumbent on a tombstone, the figure of an armed knight of the Lancastrian party, who was slain in the Wars of the Roses. His features, dress, and armor are painted in colors, still wonderfully fresh, and there still blushes the symbol of the Red Rose, denoting the faction for which he fought and died. His head rests on a marble or alabaster helmet; and on the tomb lies the veritable helmet, it is to be presumed, which he wore in battle,--a ponderous iron case, with the visor complete, and remnants of the gilding that once covered it. The crest is a large peacock, not of metal, but of wood. Very possibly, this helmet was but an heraldic adornment of his tomb; and, indeed, it seems strange that it has not been stolen before now, especially in Cromwell's time, when knightly tombs were little respected, and when armor was in request. However, it is needless to dispute with the dead knight about the identity of his iron pot, and we may as well allow it to be the very same that so often gave him the headache in his lifetime. Leaning against the wall, at the foot of the tomb, is the shaft of a spear, with a wofully tattered and utterly faded banner appended to it,--the knightly banner beneath which he marshalled his followers in the field. As it was absolutely falling to pieces, I tore off one little bit, no bigger than a finger-nail, and put it into my waistcoat-pocket; but seeking it subsequently, it was not to be found.
On the opposite side of the little chapel, two or three yards from this tomb, is another, on which lie, side by side, one of the same knightly race of Harcourts, and his lady. The tradition of the family is, that this knight was the standard-bearer of Henry of Richmond in the Battle of Bosworth Field; and a banner, supposed to be the same that he earned, now droops over his effigy. It is just such a colorless silk rag as the one already described. The knight has the order of the Garter on his knee, and the lady wears it on her left arm,--an odd place enough for a garter; but, if worn in its proper locality, it could not be decorously visible. The complete preservation and good condition of these statues, even to the minutest adornment of the sculpture, and their very noses,--the most vulnerable part of a marble man, as of a living one, are miraculous. Except in Westminster Abbey, among the chapels of the kings, I have seen none so well preserved. Perhaps they owe it to the loyalty of Oxfordshire, diffused throughout its neighborhood by the influence of the University, during the great Civil War and the rule of the Parliament. It speaks well, too, for the upright and kindly character of this old family, that the peasantry, among whom they had lived for ages, did not desecrate their tombs, when it might have been done with impunity.
There are other and more recent memorials of the Harcourts, one of which is the tomb of the last lord, who died about a hundred years ago. His figure, like those of his ancestors, lies on the top of his tomb, clad, not in armor, but in his robes as a peer. The title is now extinct, but the family survives in a younger branch, and still holds this patrimonial estate, though they have long since quitted it as a residence.
We next went to see the ancient fish-ponds appertaining to the mansion, and which used to be of vast dietary importance to the family in Catholic times, and when fish was not otherwise attainable. There are two or three, or more, of these reservoirs, one of which is of very respectable size,--large enough, indeed, to be really a picturesque object, with its grass-green borders, and the trees drooping over it, and the towers of the castle and the church reflected within the weed-grown depths of its smooth mirror. A sweet fragrance, as it were, of ancient time and present quiet and seclusion was breathing all around; the sunshine of to-day had a mellow charm of antiquity in its brightness. These ponds are said still to breed abundance of such fish as love deep and quiet waters: but I saw only some minnows, and one or two snakes, which were lying among the weeds on the top of the water, sunning and bathing themselves at once.
I mentioned that there were two towers remaining of the old castle: the one containing the kitchen we have already visited; the other, still more interesting, is next to be described. It is some seventy feet high, gray and reverend, but in excellent repair, though I could not perceive that anything had been done to renovate it. The basement story was once the family-chapel, and is, of course, still a consecrated spot. At one corner of the tower is a circular turret, within which a narrow staircase, with worn steps of stone, winds round and round as it climbs upward, giving access to a chamber on each floor, and finally emerging on the battlemented roof. Ascending this turret-stair, and arriving at the third story, we entered a chamber, not large, though occupying the whole area of the tower, and lighted by a window on each side. It was wainscoted from floor to ceiling with dark oak, and had a little fireplace in one of the corners. The window-panes were small, and set in lead. The curiosity of this room is, that it was once the residence of Pope, and that he here wrote a considerable part of the translation of Homer, and likewise, no doubt, the admirable letters to which I have referred above. The room once contained a record by himself, scratched with a diamond on one of the window-panes, (since removed for safe-keeping to Nuneham Courtney, where it was shown me,) purporting that he had here finished the fifth book of the "Iliad" on such a day.
A poet has a fragrance about him, such as no other human being is gifted withal; it is indestructible, and clings forevermore to everything that he has touched. I was not impressed, at Blenheim, with any sense that the mighty Duke still haunted the palace that was created for him; but here, after a century and a half, we are still conscious of the presence of that decrepit little figure of Queen Anne's time, although he was merely a casual guest in the old tower, during one or two summer months. However brief the time and slight the connection, his spirit cannot be exorcised so long as the tower stands. In my mind, moreover, Pope, or any other person with an available claim, is right in adhering to the spot, dead or alive; for I never saw a chamber that I should like better to inhabit,--so comfortably small, in such a safe and inaccessible seclusion, and with a varied landscape from each window. One of them looks upon the church, close at hand, and down into the green churchyard, extending almost to the foot of the tower; the others have views wide and far, over a gently undulating tract of country. If desirous of a loftier elevation, about a dozen more steps of the turret-stair will bring the occupant to the summit of the tower,--where Pope used to come, no doubt, in the summer evenings, and peep--poor little shrimp that he was!--through the embrasures of the battlement.
From Stanton Harcourt we drove--I forget how far--to a point where a boat was waiting for us upon the Thames, or some other stream; for I am ashamed to confess my ignorance of the precise geographical whereabout. We were, at any rate, some miles above Oxford, and, I should imagine, pretty near one of the sources of England's mighty river. It was little more than wide enough for the boat, with extended oars, to pass,--shallow, too, and bordered with bulrushes and water-weeds, which, in some places, quite overgrew the surface of the river from bank to bank. The shores were flat and meadow-like, and sometimes, the boatman told us, are overflowed by the rise of the stream. The water looked clean and pure, but not particularly transparent, though enough so to show us that the bottom is very much weed-grown; and I was told that the weed is an American production, brought to England with importations of timber, and now threatening to choke up the Thames and other English rivers. I wonder it does not try its obstructive powers upon the Merrimack, the Connecticut, or the Hudson,--not to speak of the St. Lawrence or the Mississippi!
It was an open boat, with cushioned seats astern, comfortably accommodating our party; the day continued sunny and warm, and perfectly still; the boatman, well trained to his business, managed the oars skilfully and vigorously; and we went down the stream quite as swiftly as it was desirable to go, the scene being so pleasant, and the passing hour so thoroughly agreeable. The river grew a little wider and deeper, perhaps, as we glided on, but was still an inconsiderable stream; for it had a good deal more than a hundred miles to meander through before it should bear fleets on its bosom, and reflect palaces and towers and Parliament-houses and dingy and sordid piles of various structure, as it rolled to and fro with the tide, dividing London asunder. Not, in truth, that I ever saw any edifice whatever reflected in its turbid breast, when the sylvan stream, as we beheld it now, is swollen into the Thames at London.
Once, on our voyage, we had to land, while the boatman and some other persons drew our skiff round some rapids, which we could not otherwise have passed; another time, the boat went through a lock. We, meanwhile, stepped ashore to examine the ruins of the old nunnery of Godstowe, where Fair Rosamond secluded herself, after being separated from her royal lover. There is a long line of ruinous wall, and a shattered tower at one of the angles; the whole much ivy-grown,--brimming over, indeed, with clustering ivy, which is rooted inside of the walls. The nunnery is now, I believe, held in lease by the city of Oxford, which has converted its precincts into a barnyard. The gate was under lock and key, so that we could merely look at the outside, and soon resumed our places in the boat.
At three o'clock, or thereabouts, (or sooner or later,--for I took little heed of time, and only wished that these delightful wanderings might last forever,) we reached Folly Bridge, at Oxford. Here we took possession of a spacious barge, with a house in it, and a comfortable dining-room or drawing-room within the house, and a level roof, on which we could sit at ease, or dance, if so inclined. These barges are common at Oxford,--some very splendid ones being owned by the students of the different colleges, or by clubs. They are drawn by horses, like canal-boats; and a horse being attached to our own barge, he trotted off at a reasonable pace, and we slipped through the water behind him, with a gentle and pleasant motion, which, save for the constant vicissitude of cultivated scenery, was like no motion at all. It was life without the trouble of living; nothing was ever more quietly agreeable. In this happy state of mind and body we gazed at Christ-Church meadows, as we passed, and at the receding spires and towers of Oxford, and on a good deal of pleasant variety along the banks: young men rowing or fishing; troops of naked boys bathing, as if this were Arcadia, in the simplicity of the Golden Age; country-houses, cottages, water-side inns, all with something fresh about them, as not being sprinkled with the dust of the highway. We were a large party now; for a number of additional guests had joined us at Folly Bridge, and we comprised poets, novelists, scholars, sculptors, painters, architects, men and women of renown, dear friends, genial, outspoken, open-hearted Englishmen,--all voyaging onward together, like the wise ones of Gotham in a bowl. I remember not a single annoyance, except, indeed, that a swarm of wasps came aboard of us and alighted on the head of one of our young gentlemen, attracted by the scent of the pomatum which he had been rubbing into his hair. He was the only victim, and his small trouble the one little flaw in our day's felicity, to put us in mind that we were mortal.
Meanwhile a table had been laid in the interior of our barge, and spread with cold ham, cold fowl, cold pigeon-pie, cold beef, and other substantial cheer, such as the English love, and Yankees too,--besides tarts, and cakes, and pears, and plums,--not forgetting, of course, a goodly provision of port, sherry, and champagne, and bitter ale, which is like mother's milk to an Englishman, and soon grows equally acceptable to his American cousin. By the time these matters had been properly attended to, we had arrived at that part of the Thames which passes by Nuneham Courtney, a fine estate belonging to the Harcourts, and the present residence of the family. Here we landed, and, climbing a steep slope from the river-side, paused a moment or two to look at an architectural object, called the Carfax, the purport of which I do not well understand. Thence we proceeded onward, through the loveliest park and woodland scenery I ever saw, and under as beautiful a declining sunshine as heaven ever shed over earth, to the stately mansion-house.
As we here cross a private threshold, it is not allowable to pursue my feeble narrative of this delightful day with the same freedom as heretofore; so, perhaps, I may as well bring it to a close. I may mention, however, that I saw the library, a fine, large apartment, hung round with portraits of eminent literary men, principally of the last century, most of whom were familiar guests of the Harcourts. The house itself is about eighty years old, and is built in the classic style, as if the family had been anxious to diverge as far as possible from the Gothic picturesqueness of their old abode at Stanton Harcourt. The grounds were laid out in part by Capability Brown, and seemed to me even more beautiful than those of Blenheim. Mason the poet, a friend of the house, gave the design of a portion of the garden. Of the whole place I will not be niggardly of my rude Transatlantic praise, but be bold to say that it appeared to me as perfect as anything earthly can be,--utterly and entirely finished, as if the years and generations had done all that the hearts and minds of the successive owners could contrive for a spot they dearly loved. Such homes as Nuneham Courtney are among the splendid results of long hereditary possession; and we Republicans, whose households melt away like new-fallen snow in a spring morning, must content ourselves with our many counterbalancing advantages,--for this one, so apparently desirable to the far-projecting selfishness of our nature, we are certain never to attain.
It must not be supposed, nevertheless, that Nuneham Courtney is one of the great show-places of England. It is merely a fair specimen of the better class of country-seats, and has a hundred rivals, and many superiors, in the features of beauty, and expansive, manifold, redundant comfort, which most impressed me. A moderate man might be content with such a home,--that is all.
And now I take leave of Oxford without even an attempt to describe it,--there being no literary faculty, attainable or conceivable by me, which can avail to put it adequately, or even tolerably, upon paper. It must remain its own sole expression; and those whose sad fortune it may be never to behold it have no better resource than to dream about gray, weather-stained, ivy-grown edifices, wrought with quaint Gothic ornament, and standing around grassy quadrangles, where cloistered walks have echoed to the quiet footsteps of twenty generations,--lawns and gardens of luxurious repose, shadowed with canopies of foliage, and lit up with sunny glimpses through archways of great boughs,--spires, towers, and turrets, each with its history and legend,--dimly magnificent chapels, with painted windows of rare beauty and brilliantly diversified hues, creating an atmosphere of richest gloom,--vast college-halls, high-windowed, oaken-panelled, and hung round with portraits of the men, in every age, whom the University has nurtured to be illustrious,--long vistas of alcoved libraries, where the wisdom and learned folly of all time is shelved,--kitchens, (we throw in this feature by way of ballast, and because it would not be English Oxford without its beef and beer,) with huge fireplaces, capable of roasting a hundred joints at once,--and cavernous cellars, where rows of piled-up hogsheads seethe and fume with that mighty malt-liquor which is the true milk of Alma Mater: make all these things vivid in your dream, and you will never know nor believe how inadequate is the result to represent even the merest outside of Oxford.
We feel a genuine reluctance to conclude this article without making our grateful acknowledgements, by name, to a gentleman whose overflowing kindness was the main condition of all our sight-seeings and enjoyments. Delightful as will always be our recollection of Oxford and its neighborhood, we partly suspect that it owes much of its happy coloring to the genial medium through which the objects were presented to us,--to the kindly magic of a hospitality unsurpassed, within our experience, in the quality of making the guest contented with his host, with himself, and everything about him. He has inseparably mingled his image with our remembrance of the Spires of Oxford.
For some reason which it does not concern us now to investigate, Kentucky, under the dominion of the white man, has continued to justify its native name of "Dark and Bloody Ground," in being the scene of a remarkable number of tragedies in real life.
One of these, less known to the public in later times, we think transcends all the others in boldness of conception, regularity of plot, variety of passion and character displayed, and horror and pathos of catastrophe. It might have furnished a worthy subject to the pen of Sophocles or Shakespeare, one that they would have found already cast into a highly dramatic form, requiring only fitting words to convey the passions of the actors. Little invention of situation or incident would have been needed, for neither could be imagined more intensely interesting; nor could the most finished artist have constructed a plot more coherent in all its details, or more strictly in accordance with the rules of composition,--even to the preservation of the Aristotelian unities of time and place. So perfect, indeed, does it seem, that, were it not substantiated in every point by the records of a judicial tribunal, it might well be taken for the invention of some master of human nature and the dramatic art.
Captain Cyril Wilde, the hero, or rather the victim, of the events we are about to narrate, was one of those perfectly happy men whom every one has learned to regard as favorites of Fortune, and on whom no one ever expects disaster to fall, simply because it never has done so. Well descended, at a period when good birth was a positive honor in itself, and connected, either by affinity or friendship, with the best society of Kentucky, he held, by hereditary right, a high position among that old aristocracy which then and for a long time afterward stoutly maintained its own against the encroaching spirit of democratic equality, and whose members still kept in mind many of the traditions, honored in their own persons the dignity, and strove to preserve in their households somewhat of the manners, of the Cavaliers of the Old Dominion. Nor was wealth wanting to complete his happiness,--at least, such wealth as was needed by one of his simple tastes and unostentatious habits. He was rich beyond his disposition to spend, but not beyond his capacity to enjoy,--a capacity multiplied by as many times as he had friends to stimulate it;--summer friends, alas! too many of them proved to be. His character was without reproach; his disposition easy and genial; his mind of that happy middle order which always commands respect, while it feels none of the restless ambition and impotent longing for public recognition that usually attend the possession of superior abilities.
Such was the position of Captain Wilde, and such the character he bore during the first thirty-eight years of his life. Not many have known a more lengthened prosperity,--and few, very few, a more sudden and terrible reverse. Fortune, like a fond mistress, had lavished her gifts on him without stint,--but, like a jealous one, seemed resolved that he should owe everything to her gratuitous bounty, and the moment he sought to win an object of desire by his own exertions turned her face away forever, persecuting her former favorite thenceforth with vindictive malice. Continuing to yield, for a time, with apparent complacency, every boon he sought, she treacherously concealed therein the germs of all his woes.
In the year 17--Captain Wilde was persuaded to better his already happy condition by marriage. The lady he chose, or suffered to be chosen for him, was a Miss M----, a scion of one of those extensive families, not now so common as formerly, which by repeated intermarriage and always settling together develop a spirit of clanship, so exclusive as to make them almost incapable of any feeling of interest outside of their own name and connection, and render them liable to regard any person of different blood, who may happen to intermarry among them, as an intruder. In some parts of the Union these clans may still be found flourishing in considerable purity and vigor,--the same name sometimes prevailing over a district of many miles,--a fact which an observant traveller would surmise from a certain prevailing cast of form and feature.
It was with a family of this kind that Captain Wilde was, in an evil hour, induced to ally himself,--a step which soon proved to be the first in a long career of misfortune. The lady possessed that worst of all tempers, a quick and irritable, but at the same time hard and unforgiving one. And she soon showed, that, in her estimation, the feelings and interests of her husband were as nothing in comparison with those of her family, and that, in any variance, she would leave the former and cleave to the latter. Such variances were, unfortunately, almost inevitable; for the family of Mrs. Wilde differed both in politics and religion from her husband,--a fact, it may here be remarked, which had no small influence on his subsequent fate,--and the narrow, bigoted exclusiveness of the wife was utterly incompatible with the free and open-hearted fellowship with which the husband received his acquaintances, of whatever sect or party. In a very few months, therefore, it began to be whispered abroad that the hitherto happy and joyous bachelor's-hall had become a scene of constant bickerings and heartburnings.
But mere incongruity of tempers and habits was not, as was supposed by their neighbors, the only source of domestic discord. This might in time have entirely disappeared; had conjugal confidence only been allowed its natural growth, all might have been passably well in the end, in spite of such serious drawbacks; for, from the necessity of his nature, the husband would in time have become completely subservient to the sterner spirit of his wife, which, in turn, might have been mollified in some degree amid the peaceful duties of home;--a state of things that has existed in many families, which have, nevertheless, enjoyed a fair share of domestic happiness in spite of this inversion of the natural relations of their heads. But Mrs. Wilde had brought into her husband's house that deadliest foe of domestic peace, an elderly, ill-tempered, suspicious female relative, serving in the capacity of _confidante_. This curse was embodied in the person of a much older sister, who happened to be neither maid, wife, nor widow, and, having once effected an entrance under the pretence of assisting to arrange the disordered household-affairs, easily contrived to render her position a permanent one. So soon as this was achieved, she appears to have begun her hateful work of sowing discord between the new-married pair. Having long since blighted her own hopes of happiness, she seemed to find no consolation so sweet as wrecking that of others;--not that she had no love for her sister; on the contrary, her love, such as it was, was really strong and lasting; and in her fierce grief for that sister's death she met a punishment almost equal to her deserts. Nor was it long before she provided herself with a most effectual means of accomplishing her malicious object, of inflaming the troubles of the household into which she had intruded herself. This was the discovery, real or pretended, of a former illicit connection between her brother-in-law and a pretty and intelligent mulatto girl, about eighteen or nineteen years of age, who was still retained in the family in the capacity of housemaid. Having once struck this jarring chord, she continued to play upon it with diabolical skill. To those who watched the course of her unholy labors, the energy and ingenuity with which this wretched woman wrought at her task, and the completeness of her success, would have seemed a subject of admiration, if the result had not been so deplorable as to merge all other emotions in indignant detestation.
So thoroughly had her design been accomplished in the course of a single year, that the birth of as sweet a child as ever smiled upon fond parents, instead of serving as a point of union between Captain Wilde and his wife, only increased their estrangement by furnishing another subject of contention. Alas! the peace of Eden was not more utterly destroyed by the treacherous wiles of the serpent than that of this ill-starred household by the whispers of this serpent in woman's shape. Under her continual exasperations, Mrs. Wilde's temper, naturally harsh, became at last so outrageous and unbridled as to render her unfortunate husband's life one long course of humiliation and misery. Far from taking any pains to hide their discords from the world, she seemed to court observation by seizing every opportunity of inflicting mortification upon him in public, reckless of the reflections such improprieties might bring upon herself.
But why, it may be asked, did not both parties seek a separation, when affairs had reached such a state as this? First, because Captain Wilde, though advised thereto, naturally shrank from the scandal such a step always occasions; and, on the other side, because his wife was gifted with one of those intolerable tempers that make some women cling to a partner they hate with a jealous tenacity which love could scarcely inspire, simply for the reason that a separation would put an end to their power, so dearly prized, of inflicting pain;--for hatred has its jealousy, as well as love.
Of the perverse ingenuity of these two women in causing the deepest mortification to the unfortunate gentleman, whenever Fate and his own weakness gave them the power, we will notice one instance, on account of the important influence it had in bringing about the denouement of this domestic tragedy.
According to the kindly custom of that time, Captain Wilde had on one occasion requested the assistance of some of his neighbors in treading out his grain; and the party had set to work at dawn, in order to avail themselves of the cooler portion of the day. After waiting with longing ears for the sound of the breakfast-horn, they finally, at a late hour, repaired to the house, uncalled. Here the host, supposing all to be ready, led his friends unceremoniously into the dining-room, where he was astonished, and not a little angered, to find his wife and sister seated composedly at their meal, which they had already nearly finished, with only the three customary plates on the table, and no apparent preparation for a larger number. On his beginning to remonstrate in a rather heated tone, his wife arose, and, remarking that she had not been used to eat in company with common laborers, swept disdainfully from the room, followed by her sister. No more unpardonable insult could have been offered to Kentucky farmers, at the very foundation of whose social creed lay the principle of equality, and of whose character an intense and jealous feeling of personal dignity was the most salient feature: for these were men of independent means, who had come rather to superintend the labors of their negroes than to labor themselves,--such occasions being regarded only as pleasant opportunities for free and unrestrained sociability, far more agreeable than formal and ceremonious visits. On these occasions, the host would conduct his friends over his farm to survey the condition of his crops, or point out to their admiration his fine cattle, or obtain their opinion concerning some contemplated improvement;--a most admirable means of drawing closer the bonds of neighborly feeling and interest. A more bitter mortification, therefore, could hardly have been devised for one who always prided himself on his open-hearted Kentucky hospitality even to strangers. Justly enraged by such foolish and ill-timed rudeness, he flung a knife, which he had idly taken up, violently upon the table, swearing that his friends should, in his house, be treated as gentlemen; at the same time calling to the mulatto, Fanny, he bade her prepare breakfast, and added, in a tone but half-suppressed, "You are the only woman on the place who behaves like a lady." This imprudent remark was overheard by the ever-present sister-in-law, and the use she made of it may be imagined.
In this unpleasant state of his domestic relations, the character of Captain Wilde Seemed to undergo an entire transformation. From being remarkable for his love of quiet retirement, he became restless and dissatisfied; and instead of laughing, as formerly, at public employment as only vanity and vexation, he, now that a greater vexation assailed him in his once peaceful home, eagerly sought relief, not, as a younger or less virtuous man might have done, in dissipation, but in the distractions of public business. But here again his evil fortune granted the desired boon in a shape pregnant with future disaster. The hostility of Mrs. Wilde's family, which had now become deeply excited,--combined with his own political heterodoxy,--forbade any hope of attaining a place by popular choice; and in an evil hour his friends succeeded in procuring him the office of exciseman.
Now there is no peculiarity more marked in all the branches of the Anglo-Saxon race than the extreme impatience with which they submit to any direct interference of the government in the private affairs of the citizens; and no form of such interference has ever been so generally odious as the excise, and, by consequence, no officer so generally detested as the exciseman. This feeling, on account of the very large number of persons engaged in distilling, was then formidably strong in Kentucky,--all the more so that this form of taxation was a favorite measure of the existing Federal Administration. Those who ventured to accept so hateful an office at the hands of so hated a government were sure to make themselves highly unpopular. In time, when the people began to learn their own strength and the weakness of the authorities, the enforcement of the law became dangerous, and at last altogether impossible. The writer has been told, by a gentleman holding a responsible position under our judicial system, that the name of his grandfather--the last Kentucky exciseman--to this day stands charged on the government-books with thousands of dollars arrears, although he was a man of great courage and not at all likely to be deterred from the discharge of his duty by any ordinary obstacle.
Such was the place sought and obtained by the unfortunate Wilde as a refuge from domestic wretchedness. The consequence it was easy to foresee. In a few months, he who had been accustomed to universal good-will became an object of almost as general dislike; and as people are apt to attribute all sorts of evil to one who has by any means incurred their hostility, and are never satisfied until they have blackened the whole character in which they have found one offensive quality, the family difficulties of the unpopular official soon became a theme of common scandal, all the blame, of course, being laid upon him. This state of things, disagreeable in itself, proved most unfortunate in its influence on his subsequent fate; for, had he retained his previous popularity in the county, the last deplorable catastrophe would certainly never have happened: since every lawyer knows full well, that, in capital cases especially, juries are merely the exponents of public sentiment, and that the power of any judge to cause the excited sympathies of a whole community to sink into calm indifference at the railing of a jury-box is about as effective as was the command of the Dane in arresting the in-rolling waters of the ocean. This is peculiarly true in this country, where the people, both in theory and in fact, are so completely sovereign that the institutions of government are only instruments, having little capability of independent, and none at all of antagonistic action. The skilful advocate, therefore, always watches the crowd of eager faces without the bar, with eye as anxious and far more prophetic than that with which he studies the formal countenances of the panel whom he directly addresses.
There was one circumstance, arising indirectly from his public employment, that exercised no trivial influence upon Captain Wilde's fate. On one occasion, while engaged with a brother-official in arranging their books preparatory to the annual settlement, his wife, becoming enraged because he failed to attend instantly to her orders concerning some trifling domestic matter, rushed into his study and caught up an armful of papers, which she attempted to throw into the fire. The documents were of great importance; and to prevent her carrying her childish purpose into execution, her husband was obliged to seize her quickly and violently, and drag her from the hearth. The reader will hardly recognize this incident in the form in which it was afterward detailed from the witness-stand; and it is only on account of the effect which this and other occurrences of like nature had in bringing about the final event of our history, that we take the trouble to narrate matters so trifling and uninteresting; for it appeared that every incident of the kind was carefully registered in the memory of the Erinnys of this devoted household, whence it came out magnified and distorted into a brutal and unprovoked outrage.
Wretched indeed must have been the state of that family in which such scenes were allowed to meet the eyes of strangers; and again it may be asked, Why did not Captain Wilde take measures to dissolve a union that had resulted in so much unhappiness, and in which all hope of improvement must now have disappeared? Such a step would certainly have been wise; nor could the strictest moralist have found aught to censure therein. But it was now too late. No observer of human affairs has failed to notice how surely a stronger character gains ascendency over a weaker with which it is brought into familiar contact. No law of man can abrogate this great law of Nature. Talk as we may about the power of knowledge or intellect or virtue, the whole ordering of society shows that it is strength of character which fixes the relative status of individuals. In whatever community we may live, we need only look around to discover that its real leaders are not the merely intelligent, educated, and good, but the energetic, the self-asserting, the aggressive. Nor will mere passive strength of will prevent subjection; for how often do we see a spirit, whose only prominent characteristic is a restless and tireless pugnacity, hold in complete subserviency those who are far superior in actual strength of mind, purely through the apathy of the latter, and their indisposition to live in a state of constant effort! It is because this petty domineering temper is found much oftener in women than in men, that we see a score of henpecked husbands to one ill-used wife. Woe to the man who falls into this kind of slavery to a wicked woman! for through him she will commit acts she would never dare in her own person; and a double woe to him, if he be not as wicked and hardened as his mistress! The bargain of the old Devil-bought magicians was profitable, compared with his; since he gets nothing whatever for the soul he surrenders up.
In the present case, a couple of years sufficed for the energetic and ever-belligerent temper of the wife to subdue completely the mild and peaceable nature of the husband. At her bidding most of his former acquaintances were discarded; and even his warmest friends and nearest relations, no longer meeting the old hearty welcome, gradually ceased to visit his house. But the bitterest effect of this weak and culpable abdication of his rights was experienced by his slaves. Sad indeed for them was the change from the ease and abundance of the bachelor's-hall, where slavery meant little more than a happy exemption from care, to their present condition, in which it meant hopeless submission to the power of a capricious and cruel mistress. The worst form of female tyranny is that exhibited on a Southern plantation, under the sway of a termagant. Her power to afflict is so complete and all-pervading, that not an hour, nay, hardly a minute of the victim's life is exempt, if the disposition exist to exercise it. Besides, this species of domestic oppression has this in common with all the worst tyrannies which have been most feared and hated by men: the severities are ordered by those who neither execute them nor witness their execution,--that being left to agents, usually hardened to their office, and who dare not be merciful, even if so inclined. It adds two-fold to the bitterness of such tyranny, that the tyrant is able to acquire a sort of exemption from the weakness of pity. It is wisely ordered that few human beings shall feel aught but pain in looking upon the extreme bodily anguish of their fellow-men; and when a monster appears who seems to contradict this benign law, he is embalmed as a monster, and transmitted to future times along with such _rara aves_ as Caligula, Domitian, and Nana Sahib. And here--as a Southern man, brought up in the midst of a household of slaves--let me remark, that the worst feature of our system of slavery is the possibility of the negroes falling into the hands of a brutal owner capable of exercising all the power of inflicting misery which the law gives him.
But the natural law of compensation is universal; and if the most wretched object in existence be a slave subject to the sway of a brutal owner, certainly the next is the humane master who has to do with a sullen, malicious, or dishonest negro,--while for one instance of the former, there are a hundred of the latter who would willingly give up the whole value of their human chattels in order to get rid of the vexations they occasion. And where master and man were equally bad, we have known cases in which it was really hard to say which contrived to inflict most misery: the one might get used to blows and curses so as not much to mind them, but the other could never escape the agonies of rage into which his contumacious chattel was able to throw him at any time.
Captain Wilde's temper was more than usually mild and lenient; and he was probably the most wretched being on his own plantation during the last two years of his life,--a day seldom passing that he was not compelled to inflict some sort of punishment upon his negroes. These, however, never ceased to feel for him the respectful attachment inspired by his kindness during the happy years of his bachelor-life; but, strange as it may seem, that feeling was now mingled with a sort of pity; for they well knew the painful reluctance with which he obeyed the harsh commands of his wife. And of all who mourned the hapless fate of this unfortunate gentleman, none mourned more bitterly, and few cherished his memory so long or so tenderly, as these humble dependants, who best knew his real character.
But it was upon the mulatto girl Fanny, particularly, that the tyrannical cruelty of Mrs. Wilde was poured out in all its severity. From some cause,--whether because her duties rendered her more liable to commit irritating faults, or whether, being always in sight, she was simply the most convenient object of abuse, or whether on account of the alleged former intimacy between this girl and her master,--certain it is that the hatred with which the mistress pursued her had something in it almost diabolical. And she seemed to take a peculiar satisfaction in making her husband the instrument of her persecutions: an ingenious method of punishing both her victims, if the motive were the last of those above suggested. And truly bitter it must have been to both, when the hand that had been only too kind was now forced to the infliction even of stripes; so that one hardly knows which to pity most: though, if the essence of punishment be degradation, certainly the legal slave suffered less of it than the moral one who had fallen so low beneath the dominion of a termagant wife. But let it be ever remembered to the honor of this wretched daughter of bondage, that, in spite of all, she never lost that devoted attachment for her master which in one of a more favored race might be called by a softer name. For, whatever may have been his feelings toward her, there can remain no doubt of the nature of hers for him,--so touchingly displayed at a subsequent period, when she cast away the terror of violent death, so strong in all her race, and sought, by a voluntary confession of guilt never imputed to her, to save him by taking his place upon the scaffold. Surely, such heroic self-sacrifice suffices to
"sublime Her dark despair and plead for its one crime."
It was probably on a discovery of this feeling in the girl that the intermeddling sister-in-law founded her charge against the master.
But there is a point beyond which human endurance cannot go,--at which milder natures turn to voluntary death as a refuge from further suffering, and fiercer ones begin to contemplate crime with savage complacency. Towards this point the ruthless and persevering cruelty of these two women was now rapidly driving their wretched victim, and soon, very soon, they were to learn that they had been hunting, not a lamb, but a tigress, whose single spring, when brought to bay, would be as quick, as sure, and as deadly as was ever made from an Indian jungle. For now, near the end of the third year of Captain Wilde's married life, its wretched scenes of discord and tyranny were about to be closed in a catastrophe that was to overwhelm a great community with consternation and horror, and blot an entire family out of existence almost in a single night,--a catastrophe in which Providence, true to that ideal of perfect justice called poetical, working out the punishment of two of the actors by means of their own inhumanity, at the same time mysteriously involved two others,--one clothed in all the innocence of infancy, and the other guilty only through weakness and as the instrument of another. Seldom has destruction been more sudden or more complete, and never, perhaps, was so annihilating a blow dealt by so weak a hand.
Those who remember the early times of Kentucky know that the place of the agricultural and mechanics' fairs of the present day was supplied by "big meetings," which, under the various names of associations, camp-meetings, and basket-meetings, continued in full popularity to a quite recent period, and were at last partially suppressed on account of the immorality which they occasioned and encouraged. It was to these holy fairs--as now to secular ones--that the wealth and fashion of early Kentucky crowded for the purpose of displaying themselves most conspicuously before the eyes of assembled counties. Mrs. Wilde, like most women of her temper, was passionately fond of such public triumphs, and had determined, at a camp-meeting soon to be held in the vicinity, to outshine all her rural neighbors in splendor. For the full realization of this ambition, a new carriage was, in her opinion, absolutely necessary. This fact she communicated to her husband, and upon some demur on his part, a thing now very rare, her temper, as usual, broke forth in a storm of reproach and abuse, so that the poor man, completely subdued, was glad to purchase peace by acquiescence in what his judgment regarded as a foolish expense; and he prepared immediately to set off for L---- to procure the coveted vehicle. But before he had mounted, his wife, yet hot from their recent altercation, discovered or affected to discover some negligence on the part of the mulatto girl, who was engaged in nursing the child, which was at this time suffering from a dangerous illness. Now the one tender trait of this violent woman was intense love for her offspring; but it was a love that, far from softening her manner toward others, partook, on the contrary, of the fierceness of her general character, and became, like that of a wild animal for its young, a source of constant apprehension to those whose duty compelled them to approach its object. So now, seizing the weeping culprit by the hair, she dragged her to the door, and, after exhausting her own powers of maltreatment, called to her husband and ordered him to bring, on his return, a new cowhide,--"For you shall," cried she, in uncontrollable rage, "give this wretch, in the morning, two hundred lashes!" It was a brutal threat, falling from the lips of one who was called a lady: for, of all tortures, that of the cowhide is for the moment the most intolerable, in its sharp, penetrating agony, as is well known by those who remember even a moderate application of it to their own person in school-boy days. The victim knew that the execution of the barbarous menace would be strict to the letter, and that it would be but little preferable to death itself. Yet, in spite of this, she now, for the first time, failed to cower and tremble, but arose and faced her oppressor, erect and defiant. The last drop had now been dashed into the cup of endurance,--the final blow had been struck, under which the human spirit either falls crushed and prostrated forever, or from which it springs up tempered to adamantine hardness, and incapable thenceforth of feeling either fear for itself or pity for its smiter. That one moment had entirely reversed the relations of the two, making the slave mistress of her mistress's fate, while the latter thenceforward held her very existence at the will of her slave. The cruel woman had raised up for herself that enemy more terrible even to throned tyrants than an army with banners: for there is something truly terrific in the almost omnipotent power of harm possessed by any intelligent being, whom hatred, or fanaticism, or suffering has wound up to that point of desperation where it is willing to throw away its own life in order to reach that of an adversary, --such desperation as inspired the gladiator Maternus, in his romantic expedition from the woods of Transylvania through the marshes of Pannonia and the Alpine passes, to strike the lord of the Roman world in the recesses of his own palace, and in the presence of his thousand guards. He who has provoked such hostility can know no safety, but in the destruction of his enemy,--a fact well understood by the elder Napoleon, who, however he might admire, never pardoned those whose attempts on his person showed them utterly reckless of the safety of their own.
And now, for a few hours, the whole interest of our narrative centres in her whom that moment had so completely transformed and made already a murderess in heart and in purpose. And how thoroughly must that heart have been steeled, and how entire must have been the banishment of all counteracting feelings, when she could for a whole day, in the midst of a household of fellow-servants, and under the watchful eyes of an angry mistress, continue to discharge her usual tasks, bearing this deadly purpose in her breast, yet never, by word, look, or gesture, betray the slightest indication of its dreadful secret,--no, not even so much as to draw suspicion toward herself after the discovery of the crime! There was no time or opportunity for preparation, of which little was indeed necessary; for human life is a frail thing, and a determined hand is always strong. She had already undergone the most effectual preparation for such a task,--that of the soul; and when that is once thoroughly accomplished, not much more is needed: a fact which seems not to be understood by those patriotic assassins--French and Italian--whose elaborately contrived infernal-machines do but betray the anxious precautions taken to insure lives which, according to their own professions, have been rendered valueless by tyranny, and ought therefore to be the more freely risked. Felton and Charlotte Corday understood their business better; but even their preparations may be called elaborate, compared with those of this poor slave-girl.
Captain Wilde returned late in the evening with the coveted coach; and the whole family, white and black, of course, turned out to admire that crowning addition to the family splendor. But among the noisy group of the latter there stood one who gazed upon the object of admiration with thoughts far different from those of her companions; and soon the careless mirth of all was checked and chilled into silent fear, when they saw their master take from beneath one of the seats a new specimen of the well-known green cow-skin, and hand it, with a troubled, deprecating look, to his wife. Ah! they all knew that appealing look well, and the hard, relentless frown by which it was answered, as well as they knew the use of the dreaded instrument itself. But there was only one among them who comprehended its immediate purpose. The glance of cruel meaning which the tyranness, after having examined the lithe, twisted rod critically for an instant, cast upon the object of her malice, probably banished the last lingering hesitation from the breast of the latter,--who turned away ostensibly to the performance of her accustomed duties, but in reality to settle the details of a crime unsurpassed in coolness and resolution by aught recorded of pirate or highwayman. It was probably during the hours immediately succeeding Captain Wilde's return that her deadly purpose shaped itself forth in the plan finally executed; because it was not till then that she became cognizant of all the circumstances which entered into its formation. Seldom have more nicely calculated combinations entered into the plots of criminals, and never was a plot depending on so many chances more completely successful. Yet the pivot of the whole, as often in more extensive schemes of homicide, is to be found in the reckless daring and utter disregard of personal safety manifested throughout. For this alone she seems to have made no calculations and taken no precautions; her whole mind being bent apparently on the solution of one single difficulty,--how to approach her enemy undetected.
As to the details of this affair, let us mention one or two facts, and then the conduct of the murderess will itself explain them. We have already stated that the only child of Captain and Mrs. Wilde, an infant about eighteen months old, was at this time dangerously ill. For a fortnight it had been the custom of the parents to sit up with it on alternate nights, this night it being the father's regular turn to perform that duty; but his trip of twenty-five or thirty miles had fatigued him so much that it was judged best for his wife to relieve him,--his slumbers being usually so profound as to be almost lethargic, so that, when once fairly asleep, the loudest noises even in the same room would fail to arouse him, and it being feared, therefore, that the little patient might suffer, if left to his care in his present state of weariness. In the same room slept a young negro girl, whose duty it was to carry the child into the open air when occasion required,--an office which Fanny herself had more than once performed. The reader will note how ingeniously every one of these circumstances was woven into the girl's scheme of death, and how each was made subservient to the end in view.
* * * * *
At ten o'clock on the night of the 18th of July, 17--, everything had become quiet about that lonely farm-house, so completely isolated in the midst of its wide plantation that the barking of the dogs at the nearest dwellings was barely heard in the profound stillness. A dim light, as if from a deeply shaded candle, shone from one of the casements to the right of the hall-door, showing where the parents watched by the bed of their suffering infant. Along the high-road, which, a few rods in front, stretched white and silent in the moonlight between its long lines of worm-fences, a solitary traveller on horseback was journeying at this hour. This gentleman afterward remembered being more than usually impressed by the air of peace and repose that reigned about the place, as he rode under the tall locust-trees which skirted the yard and cast their dark shadows over into the highway. But he did not see a female form flitting furtively from the negro-quarters in the rear, toward the house; and a shade of suspicion might have crossed his mind, had he glanced back a moment later and beheld that form approach the lighted window with stealthy, cautious steps, and peer long and intently through the partially drawn curtains upon the scene within, then, stooping low, glide along the moonlit wall and disappear beneath the short flight of wooden steps that led up to the front-door.
Here ensconced, safe from observation, the murderess lay listening to every sound in the sick-room above. Ten,--eleven,--twelve,--one,--sounded from the clock in the dining-room on the other side of the hall. For three hours has she crouched there, but the opportunity she expected has not yet come. The moon was setting and deep darkness beginning to envelop the earth, when, just as she was about to steal forth and regain her cabin unobserved, the door above her head opened, and the young negro nurse, still half-asleep, came forth, stood for a moment upon the topmost step to recover her senses, and then, with the wailing infant in her arms, descended and passed round the corner of the house. She had barely disappeared when the murderess crept from her lair, and, swift and noiseless as a serpent or a cat, glided up the steps through the open door, and in another moment had again concealed herself beneath the leaves of a large table that stood in the hall close to the door of the sick-room, which, standing ajar, gave her an opportunity of studying once more the situation of things within. In the corner farthest from her lurking-place stood the bed on which her master was slumbering, concealing with its curtains the front-window against which it was placed. At the foot of this, under the other front-window, was the pallet of the nurse, and midway between it and the door through which she peered was the low trundle-bed of the sick child, on which at this moment lay the mother,--soon to become a mother again; while at the farther end of the room a candle was burning dimly upon the hearth. Thus, for half an hour, the murderess crouched within a few feet of her victim and watched, noting every circumstance with the eye of a beast of prey about to spring. At the end of that time the nurse returned, placed the quieted child beside its mother, and, closing the door, retired to her own pallet, whence her loud breathing almost immediately told that she was asleep. Still with bated breath the mulatto waited, stooping with her ear at the keyhole till the regular respirations of the mother and the softened panting of the little invalid assured her that all was safe. Then, at last, turning the handle of the latch silently and gradually, she glided into the room and stood by the side of her victim.
The whole range of imaginative literature cannot furnish an incident of more absorbing interest; nor can the whole history of the theatre exhibit a situation of more tremendous scenical power than was presented at this moment in that chamber of doom. The four unconscious sleepers with the murderess in the midst of them, bending with hard, glittering eyes over her prey, while around them all the huge shadows cast by the dim, untrimmed light, like uncouth monsters, rose, flitted, and fell, as if in a goblin-dance of joy over the scene of approaching guilt. Sleep, solemn at any time, becomes almost awful when we gaze upon it amid the stillness of night, so mysterious is it, and so near akin to the deeper mystery of death,--so peaceful, with a peace so much like that of the grave: men could scarcely comprehend the idea of the one, if they were not acquainted with the reality of the other. There lay the mother, with her arms around her sleeping child, whose painful breathing showed that it suffered even while it slept. Such a spectacle might have moved the hardest heart to pity; but it possessed no such power over that of the desperate slave, whose vindictive purpose never wavered for an instant. Passing round the bed, she stooped and softly encircled the emaciated little neck with her fingers. One quick, strong gripe,--the poor, weak hands were thrown up, a soft gasp and a slight spasm, and it was done. The frail young life, which had known little except suffering, and which disease would probably have extinguished in a few hours or days, was thus at once and almost painlessly cut short by the hand of violence.
And now at last the way was clear. "I knew," said she afterwards, "the situation of my mistress; and I thought that by jumping upon her with my knees I should kill her at once." Disturbed by the slight struggle of the dying child, Mrs. Wilde moved uneasily for a moment, and again sunk into quietude, lying with her face--that hard, cold face--upward. This was the opportunity for the destroyer. Bounding with all her might from the floor, she came down with bended knees upon the body of her victim. But the shock, though severe, was not fatal; and with a loud cry of "Oh, Captain Wilde, help me!" she, by a convulsive effort, threw her assailant to the floor. Though stunned and bewildered by the suddenness and violence of the attack, the wretched woman in that terrible moment recognized her enemy, and felt the desperate purpose with which she was animated, and so recognizing and so feeling, must have known in that momentary interval all that the human soul can know of despair and terror. But it was only for a moment; for, before she could utter a second cry for help, the baffled assailant was again upon her with the bound of a tigress. A blind and breathless struggle ensued between the desperate ferocity of the slave and the equally desperate terror of the mistress; while faster and wilder went the huge, dim shadows in their goblin-dance, as the yellow flame flared and flickered in the agitated air. For a few moments, indeed, the result of the struggle seemed doubtful, and Mrs. Wilde at length, by a violent effort, raised herself almost upright, with the infuriated slave still hanging to her throat; but the latter converted this into an advantage, by suddenly throwing her whole weight upon the breast of her mistress, thus casting her violently backward across the head-board of the bed, and dislocating the spine. Another half-uttered cry, a convulsive struggle, and the deed was accomplished. One slight shiver crept over the limbs, and then the body hung limp and lifeless where it had fallen,--the head resting upon the floor, on which the long raven hair was spread abroad in a disordered mass. The victor gazed coolly on her work while recovering breath; and then, to make assurance doubly sure, took up, as she thought, a stocking from the bed and deliberately tied it tight round the neck of the corpse. Then, gliding to the door, she quitted the scene of her fearful labors as noiselessly as she had entered, leaving behind her not one trace of her presence,--but leaving, unintentionally, a most fatal false trace, which suspicion continued to follow until it had run an entirely innocent man to his grave. The last act of the drama of woman's passion and woman's revenge was over; the tragedy of man's suffering and endurance still went on.
How or by whom the terrible spectacle in that chamber of death was first discovered we are not told. All we know, from the reports of the negroes, is, that Captain Wilde, who seemed stupefied at first, suddenly passed into a state of excitement little short of distraction,--now raving, as if to an imaginary listener, and then questioning and threatening those about him with incoherent violence. To these simple observers such conduct was entirely incomprehensible; but we may easily suppose that at this moment the unfortunate man first realized the fearful nature of the circumstances which surrounded him, and perceived the abyss which had yawned so suddenly at his feet. And no wonder that he shrank back from the prospect, overwhelmed for the moment with consternation and despair,--not the prospect of death, but of a degradation far worse to the proud spirit of the Kentucky gentleman, on whose good name even political hatred had never been able to fix a stain.
The terrified negroes carried the alarm to the nearest neighbors, and soon the report of this appalling occurrence was flying like lightning toward the utmost bounds of the county. The first stranger who reached the scene of death was Mr. Summers, formerly an intimate friend of Captain Wilde. When he entered the room, he found the poor gentleman on his knees beside the body of his child, with his face buried in the bed-clothes. At the sound of footsteps he raised his wild, tearless eyes, exclaiming, "My God! my God! Mr. Summers, my wife has been murdered here, in my own room, and it will be laid on me!" Shocked by the almost insane excitement of his old friend, and sensible of the imprudence of his words, Summers begged him to compose himself, pointing out the danger of such language. But the terrible thought had mastered his mind with a monomaniacal power, and to every effort at consolation from those who successively came in the only reply was, "Oh, my God, it will all be laid upon me!" Fortunately, those who heard these expressions were old friends, who, although they had been long unfamiliar, knew the native uprightness of the man, and still felt kindly toward one whose estrangement they knew was the effect of weak submission to the dictation of his wife, not the result of any change in his own feelings. They regarded his wild words as only the incoherent utterances of a mind bewildered by horror, and were anxious to put an end to the harrowing scene, and remove the stricken man as soon as possible from the observation of a mixed crowd that was now rapidly assembling from all directions, many of whom knew Captain Wilde only in his unpopular capacity of exciseman, and would therefore be apt to suspect a darker explanation of his strange behavior.
So shocking had been the sight presented to their eyes, on entering the room, that hitherto no one had had sufficient presence of mind to examine the bodies closely; but at last Mr. Summers, cooler than the rest, approached to raise that of Mrs. Wilde, and then, for the first time, perceived the bandage about her neck. It proved to be _a white silk neckerchief_, which Summers removed and began to examine. As he did so, his face was seen to grow suddenly pale as death. All pressed anxiously forward to see, and a silent, but fearfully significant look passed round the circle; for in one corner, embroidered in large letters, was the name of _Cyril Wilde_. As silently every eye sought the devoted man, and on many countenances the look of doubt settled at once into one of conviction, when they saw that he wore no cravat; and to many ears the heart-broken moan of the wretched husband and father, which a moment before seemed only the foreboding of over-sensitive innocence, now sounded like the voice of self-accusing guilt. So great is the power of imagination in modifying our beliefs!
After such a discovery an arrest followed as a matter of course; and a popular feeling adverse to the accused quickly manifested itself in the community. But it is pleasant to know, that, in spite of all appearances, many of Captain Wilde's old friends never lost faith in his innocence, or hesitated to renew in his hour of adversity the kindly relations that had existed before his marriage; while his own kindred stood by him and bravely fought his hopeless battle to the last,--employing as his advocate the celebrated John Breckenridge, who was then almost without a rival at the Kentucky bar. But, on the other hand, his wife's family pursued their unfortunate relative with a savageness of hatred hardly to be paralleled. Having hunted him to the very foot of the scaffold, their persevering malice seemed unsated even by the sight of their victim suspended as a felon before their very eyes; for it was reported, at the time, that two of the murdered woman's brothers were seen upon the ground during the execution.
And now it was that the unpopularity resulting from Captain Wilde's official employment manifested its most baleful effects. Had he possessed at this crisis the same general good-will he had enjoyed four years before, he might have bid defiance to the rage of his enemies, and have escaped, in spite of all the suspicious circumstances by which he stood environed. For the general drift of sentiment in the West has always been against capital penalties, and it is next to impossible to carry such penalties into effect against a popular favorite. In a country like this we might as soon expect to see the hands of a clock move in a direction contrary to the machinery by which it is governed, as a jury to run counter to plainly declared popular feelings. There may now and then be instances of their acquitting contrary to the general sentiment, where that sentiment is unimpassioned; but we much doubt whether there has ever occurred a single example of a jury convicting a person in whose favor the sympathy of a whole community was warmly and earnestly expressed. Of such sympathy Captain Wilde had none; for to the great majority he was known only as the exciseman, and as such was an object of hostility. Not that this hostility at any time took the form of insult and abuse,--for we are proud to say that outside of the large towns such disgraceful exhibitions of feeling are unknown,--but it left the minds of the general mass liable to be operated on by all the suspicious circumstances of the case, and by the slanders of the personal enemies of the accused.
On the 23d of November, an immense crowd of people, both men and women, were assembled in the court-house at ---- to witness a trial which was to fix a dark stain on the judicial annals of Kentucky, and in which, for the thousandth time, a court of justice was to be led fatally astray by the accursed thing called Circumstantial Evidence, and made the instrument of that most deplorable of all human tragedies, a formal, legalized murder. It is one of the most glaring inconsistencies of our law, that it admits, in a trial where the life of a citizen is at stake, a species of testimony which it regards as too inconclusive and too liable to misconstruction to be allowed in a civil suit involving, it may be, less than the value of a single dollar. True, it is a favorite maxim of prosecutors, that "circumstances will not lie"; but it requires little acquaintance with the history of criminal trials to prove that circumstantial evidence has murdered more innocent men than all the false witnesses and informers who ever disgraced courts of justice by their presence; and the slightest reflection will convince us that this shallow sophism contains even less practical truth than the general mass of proverbs and maxims, proverbially false though they be. For not only is the chance of falsehood, on the part of the witness who details the circumstances, greater,--since a false impression can be conveyed with far less risk of detection by distortion and exaggeration of a fact than by the invention of a direct lie,--but there is the additional danger of an honest misconception on his part; and every lawyer knows how hard it is for a dull witness to distinguish between the facts and his impressions of them, and how impossible it often is to make a witness detail the former without interpolating the latter. But the greatest risk of all is that the jury themselves may misconstrue the circumstances, and draw unwarranted conclusions therefrom. It is an awful assumption of responsibility to leap to conclusions in such cases, and the leap too often proves to have been made in the dark. God help the wretch who is arraigned on suspicious appearances before a jury who believe that "circumstances won't lie"! for the Justice that presides at such a trial is apt to prove as blind and capricious as Chance herself. In reviewing the present trial in particular, one may well feel puzzled to decide which of these deities presided over its conduct. A Greek or Roman would have said, Neither,--but a greater than either,--Fate; and we might almost adopt the old heathen notion, as we watch the downward course of the doomed gentleman from this point, and note how invariably every attempt to ward off destruction is defeated, as if by the persevering malice of some superior power. We shall soon see the most popular and influential attorney of the State driven from the case by an awkward misunderstanding; another, hardly inferior, expire almost in the very act of pleading it; and, finally, when the real criminal comes forward, at the last moment, to avert the ruin which she has involuntarily drawn down upon the head of her beloved master, and take his place upon the scaffold, we shall behold her heroic offer of self-sacrifice frustrated by influences the most unexpected,--political influences which--with shame be it told--were sufficient to induce a governor of Kentucky to withhold the exercise of executive clemency, the most glorious prerogative intrusted to our chief magistrates, and which it ought to have been a most pleasing privilege to grant: for, incredible as it may seem, Governor ---- knew, when he signed the death-warrant, that the man he was consigning to an ignominious grave was innocent of the crime for which he was to suffer.
The trial was opened in the presence of a crowded assembly, among whom it was easy to discern that general conviction of the prisoner's guilt so chilling to the spirits of a defendant and his counsel, and so much deprecated by the latter, because he knows too well how far it goes toward a prejudgment of his cause. Several of the most prominent members of the bar had been retained by the family of Mrs. Wilde to assist the State's attorney in the prosecution. In the defence John Breckenridge stood alone, needing no help; for all knew that whatever man could do in behalf of his client would be done by him. The prisoner himself, upon whom all eyes were turned, appeared dejected, but calm, like one who had resigned all hope. The ominous foreboding, which had so overcome him on the fatal morning of the murder, had never left him for a single moment. From that hour he had looked upon himself as doomed, and had yielded only a passive acquiescence in the measures of defence proposed by his friends, awaiting the fate which he regarded as inevitable with a patience almost apathetic. Adversity brought out in bold relief qualities that might have sustained a cause whose victories are martyrdoms, but how useless to one requiring active heroism!
All the damaging facts attending the discovery of the murder--the failure of any signs of a stranger's presence in the apartment, the peculiar behavior of the accused, the finding of his cravat on the neck of the corpse, his acknowledgment of having worn it on the previous day--were fully, but impartially, detailed by the witnesses for the Commonwealth. No one could deny that the circumstances were strongly against the prisoner: and these shadows, at best, and too often mere delusive mirages of truth, the law allows to be weighed against the life of a man. Against these shadows all the powers of Breckenridge were taxed to the uttermost; and he might have succeeded, for his eloquence was most persuasive, and his influence over the minds of the people nearly unlimited, had not a false witness appeared to add strength by deliberate perjuries to a case already strong. It was the ungrateful sister-in-law of the accused, who had owed to him a home and an asylum from the merited scorn of her family and the world, who now came forward to complete the picture of her own detestable character, and put the finishing hand to her unhallowed work, by swearing away that life which her arts had rendered scarcely worth defending, could death have come unaccompanied by disgrace. With a manner betraying suppressed, but ill-concealed eagerness, and in language prompt and fluent, as if reciting by rote a carefully kept journal, she went on to detail every fault or neglect or impatient act of her relative, not sparing exposure of the most delicate domestic events, at the same time carefully suppressing all mention of his provocations. In reply to the question, whether she had ever witnessed any violence that led her to fear personal danger to her sister, she replied, that, on one occasion, Captain Wilde, being displeased at something in relation to the preparation of a meal, seized a large carving-knife and flung it at his wife, who only escaped further outrage by flying from the house. On another occasion, she remembered, he became furiously angry because her sister wished him to see some guests, and, seizing her by the hair, dragged her to the door of his study, and cast her into the hall so violently that she lay senseless upon the floor until accidentally discovered,--her husband not even calling assistance. It is easy to imagine what an effect such exposures of the habitual brutality of the man, narrated by a near relation of the sufferer, and interrupted at proper intervals by sobs and tears, would have upon an impulsive jury, obliged to derive their knowledge of the case wholly from such a source, and already strongly impressed by the circumstantial details with a presumption unfavorable to the defendant. Now, since there were other persons in the court-house who had witnessed these two scenes of alleged maltreatment, it may seem strange that they were not brought forward to contradict this woman on those two points, which would at once have destroyed the effect of her entire testimony,--the maxim, _Falsum in uno, falsum in omnibus_, being always readily applied in such cases. Had this been done, a reaction of popular feeling would almost certainly have followed in favor of the accused, which might have borne him safely through, in spite of all the presumptive proof against him. For nothing is truer than Lord Clarendon's observation, that, "when a man is shown to be less guilty than he is charged, people are very apt to consider him more innocent than he may actually be." But in this case the falsehood was secured from exposure by its very magnitude, until it was too late for such exposure to be of any benefit to the prisoner. The persons who had beheld the scenes as they really occurred never thought of identifying them with brutal outrages, now narrated under oath, at which their hearts grew hard toward the unmanly perpetrator as they listened.
Against the strong array of facts and fictions presented by the prosecution the only circumstance that could be urged by the counsel for the prisoner was, that the child was murdered along with the mother; and this could only avail to strengthen a presumption of innocence, had innocence been otherwise rendered probable; but when a conviction of his guilt had been arrived at already, it merely served to increase the atrocity of his crime, and to insure the enforcement of its penalty.
After a two days' struggle, in which every resource of reason and eloquence was exhausted by the defendant's counsel, the judge proceeded to a summing up which left the jury scarcely an option, even had they been inclined to acquit. The latter withdrew in the midst of a deep and solemn silence, while the respectful demeanor of the spectators showed that at last a feeling of pity was beginning to steal into their hearts for the unhappy gentleman, who still sat, as he had done during those two long days of suspense, with his face buried in his hands, as motionless as a statue. A profound stillness reigned in the hall during the absence of the jury, broken only occasionally by a stifled sob from some of the ladies present. After an absence of less than an hour the jury returned and handed in a written verdict; and as the fatal word "Guilty" fell from the white lips of the agitated clerk, the calmest face in that whole vast assembly was that of him whom it doomed to the ignominious death of a felon. And calm he had been ever since the dreadful morning of his arrest; for the vial of wrath had then been broken upon his head, and he had tasted the whole bitterness of an agony which can be endured but a short while, and can never be felt a second time. For, as intense heat quickly destroys the vitality of the nerves on which it acts, and as flesh once deeply cauterized by fire is thenceforth insensible to impressions of pain, so the soul over which one of the fiery agonies of life has passed can never experience a repetition thereof. Besides, it is well known that the anticipation of an unjust accusation is far more agitating to a virtuous man than the reality, which is sure to arouse that strange martyr-spirit wherewith injustice always arms its victim, and supported by which alone even the most timid men have often suffered with fortitude, and the most unworthy died with dignity.
At that time the judicial arrangements of Kentucky allowed an appeal, in criminal cases, from the Circuit to the District Court; and it was determined to carry this cause before the latter tribunal, Mr. Breckenridge declaring that he believed he should be able to reverse the verdict. On what ground he founded this opinion we do not know: whether he felt convinced that the local prejudice against his client and the influence of his enemies in the County of ---- had mainly contributed to bring about the unfavorable result of the present hearing, and he hoped to escape these adverse agencies by a change of venue,--or whether he counted on a change of public feeling after the first burst of excitement had subsided, to bear him through,--or whether he had discovered the falsehood of the testimony of the sister-in-law,--or, finally, whether it was that he had obtained a clearer and more favorable insight into the case, and recognized grounds of hope therein,--it is impossible now to say. But it is certain, that to the defendant and his friends he declared his confidence of a final acquittal, if the cause were transferred to the appellate court; and John Breckenridge was not a man to boast emptily, or to hold out hopes which he knew could never be realized. But at this crisis occurred a strange misunderstanding, which drove from the support of the wretched victim of Fate the only man who thoroughly understood the case in all its minutest details, and would have been most likely to conduct it to a happy termination. When the preparations for the last struggle were almost completed, and the time set for the final trial drew near, Mr. McC----, who, as Captain Wilde's brother-in-law, had been most active and zealous in his behalf, was informed by some officious intermeddler that Breckenridge had said in confidential conversation among his friends, "that the case was entirely desperate, that he had no hope whatever of altering the verdict by an appeal, and the family would save money by letting the law take its course, there being no doubt of the justice of the sentence." Mr. McC----, believing that he might rely on the word of his informant, unfortunately, without making any inquiry as to the truth of the tale, and without assigning any reason, wrote to Mr. Breckenridge a curt letter of dismissal, and immediately employed George ---- to conduct the further defence. This gentleman, surpassed by no man in Kentucky as a logician, lawyer, and orator, was inferior to the discarded attorney in that great requisite of a jury-lawyer, personal popularity, besides laboring under the disadvantage of being new to the case, and having but a short time to make himself acquainted with its details. Personal pique and professional punctilio, of course, withheld his predecessor from affording any further assistance or advice in a business from which he had been so summarily dismissed. We cannot now measure accurately the effect of this change of counsel; we only know, that, at the time, it was considered most disastrous by those having the best opportunities of judging.
But if Mr. ---- went into the cause under this disadvantage, he was spurred on by the consideration that in his client he was defending a friend: for they had been friends in youth, and, though long separated, the tie had never been interrupted. Hence he threw himself into the case with an ardor which money could never have inspired, and in the course of the few remaining days had succeeded in mastering all its essential points.
The interest excited by this second trial was as deep and far more widely spread than by the first. Few proceedings of the kind in Kentucky ever called together a crowd at once so large and intelligent, a great proportion being lawyers, who had been induced to attend by the desire to witness what it was expected would be one of the most brilliant efforts of an eminent member of their fraternity.
The principal difference between the two trials was, that, on this occasion, the testimony of the sister-in-law was much damaged by the exposure both of her exaggerations and suppressions of important facts touching the incident at the breakfast-table. Having incautiously allowed herself to be drawn into particularizing so minutely as to fix the exact date, and so positively as to render retraction impossible, she was, to her own evident discomfiture, flatly contradicted by more than one of those present on that occasion, who described the scene as it actually occurred. Of course, after such a revelation of untruthfulness, her whole testimony became liable to suspicion, the more violent that the falsehood was plainly intentional. Moreover, the defendant was now provided with evidence of the constant and intolerable provocations to which he had been subjected during the whole of his married life. Of this, however, the most moderate and guarded use was to be made; because, while it was necessary, by exposing the true character and habitual violence of his wife, to relieve the prisoner of that load of public indignation which had been excited against him on account of his alleged brutality, it was even more important that no strong resentment should be supposed to have grown up on his part against his tormentor. This delicate task was managed by the attorney with such consummate skill, that, when the evidence on both sides was closed, public sympathy, if not public conviction, had undergone a very perceptible change. The prosecutors, aware of this, felt the success of their case endangered, and exerted themselves to the utmost to prevent the tide, now almost in equilibrium, from ebbing back with a violence proportionate to that of its flow. But the argument even of their ablest champion, John ----, seemed almost puerile, in comparison with this, the last effort of George ----,--an effort which was long remembered, even less on account of its melancholy termination than for its extraordinary eloquence. The Kentuckians of that day were accustomed to hear Breckenridge, Clay, Talbot, Allen, and Grundy, all men of singular oratorical fame,--but never, we have heard it affirmed, was a more moving appeal poured into the ears of a Kentucky jury. Availing himself of every resource of professional skill, he now demonstrated, to the full satisfaction of many, the utter inadequacy of the circumstantial evidence upon which so much stress had been laid to justify a conviction,--sifting and weighing carefully every fact and detail, and trying the conclusions that had been drawn therefrom by the most rigorous and searching logic,--and then, assailing the credibility of the testimony brought forward to prove the habitual cruelty of his client, he gave utterance to a withering torrent of invective and sarcasm, in which the character of the main hostile witness shrivelled and blackened like paper in a flame. Then--having been eight hours on his feet--he began to avail himself of that last dangerous resource which genius only may use,--the final arrow in the lawyer's quiver, which is so hard to handle rightly, and, failing, may prove worse than useless, but, sped by a strong hand and true aim, often tells decisively on a hesitating jury,--we mean a direct appeal to their feelings. Like a skilful leader who gathers all his exhausted squadrons when he sees the crisis of battle approaching, the great advocate seemed now to summon every overtaxed power of body and spirit to his aid, as he felt that the moment was come when he must wring an acquittal from the hearts of his hearers. Nor did either soul or intellect fail at the call. Higher and stronger surged the tide of passionate eloquence, until every one felt that the icy barrier was beginning to yield,--for tears were already seen on more than one of the faces now leaning breathlessly forward from the jury-box to listen,--when all at once a dead silence fell throughout the hall: the voice whose organ-tones had been filling its remotest nook suddenly died away in a strange gurgle. Several physicians present immediately divined what had happened; nor were the multitude near kept long in doubt; for all saw, at the next moment, a crimson stream welling forth from those lips just now so eloquent,--checking their eloquence, alas, forever! It was quickly reported through the assembly that the speaker had ruptured one of the larger blood-vessels in the lungs. The accident was too dangerous for delay, and George ---- was borne almost insensible from the scene of his struggles and his triumphs, to reënter, as it proved, no more. He lived but three days longer,--long enough, however, to learn that he had sacrificed his life in vain, the jury having, after a lengthened consideration, affirmed the former verdict against his friend and client.
The unfortunate man stood up to receive this second sentence with the same face of impassive misery with which he had listened to the first. To the solemn mockery, "If he had anything to urge why sentence of death should not be passed upon him," he shook his head wearily, and answered, "Nothing." It was evident that his mind was failing fast under the overwhelming weight of calamity. It was sad to see this high-born, but ill-fated gentleman thus bowing humbly to a felon's doom; and the remembrance of that scene must have been a life-long remorse to his judges, when the events of a few weeks revealed to them the terrible truth, that he was innocent of the crime for which they had condemned him.
We will not dwell upon the events alluded to; for even at the distance of nearly three-quarters of a century they are too painful and humiliating. Suffice it to say, that, when the murderess discovered that her beloved master was to suffer for her crime, and that no other chance of salvation remained, she made a full confession of the whole matter. But the sentence had been pronounced, and the power of suspending its execution rested with the Governor; and that dignitary--let his name, in charity, remain unsaid--was about to be a candidate for reelection to the office which he disgraced, while the family of the murdered lady was one of the most extensive and influential in the State, the whole of which influence was thrown into the scale against mercy and justice. With what result was seen, when, on the morning of the ---- of April, 17--, the prison-doors were opened for the last time for his passage, and Cyril Wilde was led forth to the execution of an iniquitous sentence, though, even while the sad cart was moving slowly, very slowly, through the crowded, strangely silent street, some of the very men who had pronounced it were imploring the Governor almost on their knees that it might be stayed. The prisoner alone seemed impatient to hasten the reluctant march, and meet the final catastrophe. He knew of the efforts that were making to save him, and the confession on which they were founded. He had listened to hopeful words and confident predictions; but no expression of hope had thereby been kindled for an instant on his pale, dejected face. The ominous premonition which had come upon him at the moment of that first overpowering realization of his danger continued to gain strength with every successive stroke of untoward Fate, until it had become the ruling idea of his mind, in which there grew up the sort of desperate impatience with which we long for any end we know to be inevitable. The waters of his life had been so mingled with gall, and the bitter draught so long pressed to his lips, that now he seemed only eager to drain at once the last dregs, and cast the hated cup from him forever,--impatient to find peace and rest in the grave, even if it were the grave of a felon, and at the foot of the gallows.
Here let the curtain fall upon the sad closing scene. We will only remark, in conclusion, that the name and family of this ill-fated victim of false and circumstantial evidence have long since disappeared from the land where they had known such disgrace; and but few persons are now living who can recall the foregoing details of the once celebrated "Wilde Tragedy."
CRAWFORD'S STATUES AT RICHMOND.
Long I owe a song, my Brother, to thy dear and deathless claim; Long I've paused before thy ashes, in my poverty and shame: Something stirs me now from silence, with a fixed and awful breath; 'Tis the offspring of thy genius, that was parent to thy death.
They were murderous, these statues; as they left thy teeming brain, Their hurry and their thronging rent the mother-mould in twain: So the world that takes them sorrowful their beauties must deplore; From the portals whence they issued lovely things shall pass no more.
With a ghostly presence wait they in a stern and dark remorse, As the marbles they are watching were sepulchral to thy corse; Nay, one draws his cloak about him, and the other standeth free With his patriot arms uplifted to the grasp of Liberty.
Shall I speak to you, ye silent ones? Your father lies at rest, With the mighty impulse folded, like a banner, to his breast; Ye are crownèd with remembrance, and the glory of men's eyes; But within that heart, low buried, some immortal virtue lies.
When with heavy strain and pressure ye were lifted to your height, Then his passive weight was lowered to the vaults of sorrowing Night: They who lifted struggled sorely, ere your robes on high might wave; They who lowered with a spasm laid such greatness in its grave.
In the moonlight first I saw you,--with the dawn I take my leave; Others come to gaze and wonder,--not, like me, to pause and grieve: Sure, whatever heart doth hasten here, of master or of slave, This aspect of true nobleness makes merciful and brave.
But I know the spot they gave him, with the cool green earth above, Where I saw the torchlight glitter on the tears of widowed love, And we left his garlands fading;--to redeem that moment's pain, Would that ye were yet in chaos, and your master back again!
No! the tears have Nature's passport, but the wish is poor and vain, Since every noblest human work such sacrifice doth gain; God appoints the course of Genius, like the sweep of stars and sun: Honor to the World's rejoicing, and the Will that must be done!
JOURNAL OF A PRIVATEERSMAN.
We left our privateer, the Revenge, Captain Norton, of Newport, Rhode Island, making sail for New Providence, with her lately captured prize. There was an English Court of Admiralty established on this island, and here the prize was to be condemned and sold. The Journal begins again on Monday, 10th August, 1741.
* * * * *
_Monday, 10th._ Fine breeze of wind at N.W., with a large sea. At 5 A.M. saw Hog Island & the island of Providence. Fired a gun & lay to for a pilot to take us in. At 8 a pilot boat came off, & Jeremiah Harman, Master of our prize, in her, having arrived the day before. Passed by the Rose man of war, stationed here. We saluted her with 7 guns, & she returned us 5. Ran aground for'ard & lay some time off of Major Stewart's house, but the man of war sent his boat to carry out an anchor for us, and we got off. The Cap't went ashore to wait on his Excellency, & sent the pinnace off for the prisoners, who were immediately put in jail.
_Thursday, 13th._ Landed all our corn, and made a clear hole of the prize. At 9 P.M. it began to thunder & lighten very hard. Our sloop received great damage from a thunderbolt that struck our mast & shivered it very much, besides tearing a large piece off the hounds. As it fell, it tore up the bitts, broke in the hatch way, and burst through both our sides, starting the planks under her wale, melting several cutlasses & pistols, and firing off several small arms, the bullets of which stuck in her beam. It was some time before we perceived that she leaked, being all thunder struck; but when the Master stepped over the side to examine her, he put his foot on a plank that was started, and all this time the water had been pouring in. We immediately brought all our guns on the other side to give her a heel, & sent the boat ashore for the Doctor, a man having been hurt by the lightning. When we got her on a heel, we tried the pumps, not being able to do it before, for our careful carpenter had ne'er a pump box rigged or fit to work; so, had it not been for the kind assistance of the man of war's people, who came off as soon as they heard of our misfortune, & put our guns on board the prize, we must certainly have sunk, most of our own hands being ashore. This day, James Avery, our boatswain, was turned out for neglect of duty.
_Friday, 14th._ This morning came on board Cap't Frankland to see the misfortune we had suffered the night before, & offered to assist us in all he could. He sent his carpenter, who viewed the mast & said he thought he could make it do again. The Cap't, hearing of a piece of timber for his purpose, waited on his Excellency to desire him to lay his commands on Mr Thompson to spare it him. He sent Mr Scott, Judge of the Admiralty, to get it in his name, promising to make it good to him in case of any trouble arising from the timber not belonging to him. Unloaded all our provisions & put them on board the prize, in order to get ready for the carpenters to repair the sloop.
_Saturday, 15th._ A court was called at 4 o'clock P.M., Cap't Norton's petition read, and an agent appointed for the owners. The Company's Quartermaster & myself were examined, with John Evergin & Samuel Eldridge, the two English prisoners, concerning the prize, and so the court was adjourned till Monday, at 10 of the clock, A.M.
_Monday, 17th._ The court met according to adjournment. Jean Baptiste Domas was examined concerning the freedom of the prisoners, and his deposition taken in writing. All the evidence and depositions were then read in court, sworn to, and signed, after which the court adjourned to Wednesday at 10 of the clock. There are no lawyers in this place, the only blessing that God could bestow on such a litigious people.
_Wednesday, 19th._ At 10 A.M., the court being opened, & the libel read, I begged leave of his Honour to be heard, which being granted, I spoke as follows:[A]--
[Footnote A: The speech of Peter Vezian is characteristic of the times and of the privateering spirit. It gives expression to the popular hatred of the Spaniards and the Romanists, to the common false charges against the brave Oglethorpe, to the general inhuman feeling toward negroes, and to the distrust of the pretenders to religious experience during the "Great Revival" under the preaching of Wesley and Whitefield. Its faults of diction add to its genuine flavor.]
May it please your Honour,--As there is no advocate appointed by this Hon'ble Court to appear in behalf of the Capturers of a sloop taken by Don Pedro Estrado July the 5th, belonging to some of His Majesty's subjects of Great Britain or Ireland, and retaken by Cap't Benj. Norton & Comp'y in a private sloop of war called the Revenge, July the 20th, & brought into this court for condemnation, I, as Captain's Quartermaster, appear in behalf of the owners, Cap't, & Comp'y, to prove that the said sloop & cargo, together with the three mulattoes & one negro, which are all slaves, belonging to some of the vassals or subjects of the King of Spain, ought to be condemned for the benefit & use of the capturers as aforesaid.
I'm certain I'm undertaking a task for which I am no ways qualified. But as I have leave to speak in a court instituted by the laws of England, and before a judge who I am certain is endued with the strictest honour and justice, I don't doubt, that, if, through ignorance, I should omit any proof that would be of advantage to us, your Honour will be so good as to aid & assist me in it.
It will be needless, I believe, Sir, to bring any further proof than what has been already brought & sworn to in Court to prove the right & power we had to seize this sloop & cargo on the high seas, & bring her here for condemnation. There is a late act of parliament, made in the 12th year of his present Majesty's reign, wherein it says, that all vessels belonging to His Majesty's subjects of Great Britain or Ireland, which shall have been taken by the enemy, and have been in their possession the space of 96 hours, if retaken by any private man of war, shall belong one half to the capturers, as salvage, free from all charges. As this has been fully proved in court, that the time the enemy has had her in possession is above 96 hours, I don't doubt but the one half, free of all charges, will be allotted us for salvage. The thing about which there is any dispute is the three mulattoes & one negro, all slaves, taken by the prize, & said to belong to some vassals or subjects of the King of Spain; and it is put upon us by this court to prove that they are so, which I hope to do by several circumstances, and the insufficiency of the evidence in their favour, which amounts to nothing more than hearsay.
The first evidence in their favour is that of John Evergin, a native of N'o Carolina, who professes himself to be a child of the Spirit. In April last, having been taken prisoner by the said Don Pedro Estrado, & brought to S't Augustine, he consented, for the value of a share in the profits, to pilot them in the bowels of his native country, and betrayed his countrymen to that cruel and barbarous nation. Can your Honour confide in a man who has betrayed his countrymen, robbed them of their lives, and what was dearer to them, their liberty? One who has exposed his brethren to imminent danger & reduced them and their families to extreme want by fire & sword, can the evidence, I say, of such a vile wretch, who has forfeited his liege to his King by entering the enemy's service, and unnaturally sold his countrymen, be of any weight in a court of justice? No, I am certain, and I hope it will meet with none to prove that these slaves are freemen; for all that he has said, by his own confession, was only but hearsay. The other evidence is of a villain of another stamp, a French runnagado, Jean Baptiste Domas. His evidence is so contradictory that I hope it will meet the same fate as I think will befall the first. I will own that he has sworn to it. But how? On a piece of stick made in the shape of a thing they name a cross, said to be blest and sanctified by the polluted words & hands of a wretched priest, a spawn of the whore of Babylon, who is a monster of nature & a servant to the Devil, who for a _real_ will pretend to absolve his followers from perjury, incest, or parricide, and canonize them for cruelties committed upon we heretics, as they style us, and even rank them in the number of those cursed saints who by their barbarity have rendered their names immortal & odious to all true believers. By devils such as these they swear, and to them they pray. Can your Honour, then, give credit to such evidence, when there is no doubt that it was agreed between the witnesses to swear that the negroes were free? This they might easily do, for there is no question but they told him so; and to swear it was but a trifle, when absolution can be got so cheap. It does not stand to reason, that slaves, who are in hopes of getting their freedom, would acknowledge themselves to be slaves. Do not their complexion and features tell all the world that they are the blood of negroes, and have sucked slavery & cruelty from their infancy? Can any one think, when we call to mind that barbarous action[B] committed on his Majesty's brave subjects at the retaking of the fort at S't Augustine, which was occasioned by the treachery of their vile General, when he sacrificed them to that barbarous colour, that it was done by any who had the least drop of blood either of liberty or Christianity in them? No, I am confident your Honour can't think so; no, not even of their Gov'r, under whose vile commission this was suffered to be done, and went unpunished. It was headed by this Francisco, that cursed seed of Cain, cursed from the foundation of the world, who has the impudence to come into Court and plead that he is free. Slavery is too good for such a savage; nay, all the cruelty invented by man will never make amends for so vile a proceeding; and if I may be allowed to speak freely, with submission, the torments of the world to come will not suffice. God forgive me, if I judge unjustly! What a miserable state must that man be in, who is under the jurisdiction of that vile & cruel colour! I pity my poor fellow creatures who may have been made prisoners in this war, and especially some that were lately sent to the Havanah, and all by the treachery of that vile fellow, John Evergin, who says he is possessed with the spirit of the inward man, but was possessed with the spirit of Beelzebub, when he piloted the cursed Spaniards over the bar of Obricock, as it has been proved in Court.
[Footnote B: It was reported that the English and American prisoners of war had been barbarously mutilated and tortured.]
I don't doubt but this tragical act, acted at St Augustine, has reached home before now. This case, perhaps, may travel as far; and when they remember the sufferings of their countrymen under the command of this Francisco, whom we have got in possession, together with some of his comp'y who were concerned with him & under his command in that inhuman act, they will agree, no doubt, as I hope your Honour will, that they must be slaves who were concerned in it. I hope, therefore, that by the contradictions which have been shown in Court between this Jean Baptiste Domas, who affirms he never saw them till on board the privateer, and the evidence of Francisco & Augustine, which proves that they knew him some months before, and conversed with him, is proof enough they are slaves; and I hope that by the old law of nations, where it says that all prisoners of war, nay, even their posterity, are slaves, that by that law Pedro Sanche & Andrew Estavie will be deemed such for the use of the capturers. So I rest it with your Honour.
Then the Judge gave his decree, that the sloop & cargo should be sold at vendue, & the one half thereof should be paid the Capturers for salvage, free from all charges; that Jean Baptiste Domas, Pedro Sanche, & Andrew Estavie, according to the laws of England, should remain as prisoners of war till ransomed; and that Augustine & Francisco, according to the laws of the plantations, should be the slaves, & for the use of the Capturers. So the Court broke up.
_Friday, 21st._ This day made an end of selling the cargo of the prize. Sold 55 bush. corn, 41 bb's pork, 6 bb's of beef, 4 bb's of oil, and then set up Signor Cap't Francisco under the name of Don Blass. He was sold to Mr. Stone for 34£ 8s. 8d. Pork & beef very much damnified.
_Thursday, 27th._ Got all our sails & powder from on shore, and took an inventory of the prize's rigging and furniture, as she was to be sold on Saturday next. Capt Frankland came on board to view her, intending to buy her, I believe.
_Saturday, 29th._ To-day the sloop & furniture was sold, & bought by Cap't Frankland.
_Monday, 31st._ The captain settled with everybody, intending to sail to-morrow. He took bills of Exchange of Capt Frankland on his brother, Messrs. Frankland & Lightfoot, merchants in Boston, and endorsed by the Company's Quartermaster, for 540£, New England currency. The first bill he sent to Cap't Freebody by Capt Green, bound to Boston in the prize, with a letter.
_Wednesday, Sept. 2nd._ This morning at 8 A.M. weighed anchor, having a pilot on board. The man of war's barge with their Lieut came on board to search our hold & see that we did not carry any of his hands with us.
_Thursday, 3d._ At 10 A.M. had a vendue at the mast of the plunder taken in the prize, which was sold to the amount of 50£.
_Friday, 4th._ Moderate weather till 4 A.M., when we hauled down our mainsail to get clear of the keys & brought to under our ballast mainsail, the wind blowing a mere hurricane.
_Sunday, 6th._ Out both reefs our mainsail. Hope to God to have fine weather. Got clear of the reefs, and stood out the hurricane, which was terrible. Very few godly enough to return God thanks for their deliverance.
_Sunday, 13th._ The Captain gave the people a case bottle of rum, as a tropick bottle for his pinnace. The people christened her and gave her the name of _The Spaniard's Dread_. At 11 A.M. made the land of Hispaniola & the island of Tortugas. We are now on cruising ground. The Lord send us success against our enemies!
_Monday, 14th._ Hard gales of wind. Brought to off Tortugas under our foresail, and about 5 A.M. saw a sloop bearing down upon us. Got all things ready to receive her, fired our bow chaser, hoisted our jib & mainsail & gave chase, and, as we outsailed her, she was soon brought to. She proved to be a sloop from Philadelphia, bound to Jamaica; and as it blew a mere fret of wind from N.E., we brought to again under our ballast mainsail.
_Thursday, 17th._ Still cruising as above. At 7 P.M. saw 2 sloops, one on our Starboard and the other on our Larboard bow, steering N.W. We fired several shot to bring them to, but one of them was obstinate. Capt. Hubbard, the Com'r of the other, came to at the first shot. He was from Jamaica & bound to York, & informed us that there was a large fleet just arrived from England to join the Admiral; that Admiral Vernon was gone to St. Jago de Cuba; that there was a hot press both by sea & by land; & that the Spanish Admiral was blown up in a large man of war at the Havanah, which we hope may prove true. The other sloop, he said, was one under Cap't Styles, bound also to York, and had sailed in comp'y with him. Styles received some damage for his obstinacy in not bringing to, for our shot hulled him and tore his sails. At 5 A.M. saw a top sail schooner; but the master, while going to the mast head to see what course she steered, had the misfortune to fall & break his arm just above the wrist. Gave the vessel chase as far as Inagua Island, when she came to. We made the Captain come on board with his papers, from which we found that he came from Leogane, and was bound to Nantz in France, loaded with sugars, indigo, and hides, and also 300 pieces of 8/8 sent by the Intendant to the receiver of the customs of Nantz. We went aboard in the Captain's yawl, and found the cargo agreeable to his bills of lading, manifest, and clearance, and so let him pass. He informed us that there was a brig belonging to the Spaniards at Leogane, that came in there in distress, having lost his mast, which gentleman we hope to have the honour of dining or supping with before long.
_Saturday, 19th._ Moderate weather. Saw a sail and gave chase.
_Sunday, 20th._ At 5 P.M. came up with the chase, which proved to be a French ship that had been blown out of Leogane in the hurricane 6 days ago. Her mizzen mast had been cut to get clear of the land; her quarters stove in; her head carried away; and there was neither anchor nor cable aboard. Of 16 hands, which were aboard, there was but one sailor, and he was the master, and they were perishing for want of water. There was on board 30 hhd sugar, 1 hhd & 1 bbl indigo, 13 hhd Bourdeaux wine, & provisions in plenty. We ordered the master on board, and, as soon as he came over the side, he fell on his knees and begged for help. When we heard his deplorable case, we spared him some water, &, as he was an entire stranger on the coast, put one of our hands aboard to navigate his vessel. They kept company with us all night, and in the morning sent us a hhd of wine. At 5 A.M., they being about a league to windward of us, we made in for the Molo by Cape Nicholas, and she steering after us, we brought her in. But the wind coming up ahead, & their ship out of trim, they could not work up so far as we, so they came to an anchor a league below us. The Cap't of the ship is named Doulteau, the ship La Genereuse, Dutch built, and is from Rochelle in France.
_Monday, 21st._ Our Lieu't with two hands went ashore to see if he could kill any cattle. Some others of the people went for water and found 7 wells. The people on board were busy in fishing, of which they caught an abundance; but some of the hands who eat of the fish complained that they were poisoned by them.
_Wednesday, 23d._ At 6 P.M. the master of the ship came on board to return thanks to our Cap't for his kind assistance, & offered him anything he might have occasion for. He gave the people another hhd of claret & some sugar, & to the Cap't a quarter cask of wine for his own drinking, also 6 lengths of old junk. At 6 A.M. left the poor Frenchman in hopes of letting his Cap't know where he was, weighed anchor from the Molo, and, the weather being moderate, got on our cruising ground, the North side of Cuba.
_Saturday, 26th._ About 5 P.M. thought we saw a vessel at anchor under the land. Lay off & on till 5 A.M., when we saw 2 sails, a brigantine & a sloop. Gave them chase, the sloop laying to for us, & the brigantine making the best of her way to the leeward. We presently came up with the sloop, & when in gun shot, hoisted our pennant. The compliment was returned with a Spanish ensign at mast head, and a gun to confirm it. We then went alongside of him & received his broadside, which we cheerfully returned. He then dropped astern, & bore away before the wind, crowding all the sail he could, and we, having tacked and done the like, came again within gun shot. While chasing, we shifted our bow guns to our fore ports, and they had done the like with their after guns, moving them to their cabin windows, from which they polled us with their stern chasers, while we peppered them with our fore guns. At last, after some brisk firing, they struck. We ordered their canoe on board, which was directly manned, and brought their Capt, who delivered his commission & sword to our Cap't, and surrendered himself a prisoner of war. He was desperately wounded in the arm, & had received several small shot in his head & body. Three of his hands were wounded, & one negro boy killed. This vessel had been new fitted out in November last from the Havanah, was on our coast early in the spring, & had taken several vessels and brought them in to the Havanah, where in August she was again fitted out, and had met with good success on the coast of Virginia. She mounted 6 guns & 12 swivels, & had a crew of 30 hands, two of whom were Englishmen, who had been taken prisoners, and had entered their service. We now made all the sail we could crowd after the brigantine, which by this time was almost out of sight. Our damage in the engagement was not much; one man slightly wounded by a splinter, two more by a piece accidentally going off after the fight, upwards of 20 shot in our sails, 2 through our mast, & 1 through our gunwale. This day the Revenge has established her honour, which had almost been lost by letting the other privateer go off with 4 ships, as before mentioned. Still in chase of the brigantine, which is making for the land.
_Sunday, 27th._ At 4 A.M. came up with the chase, fired two guns, & brought her to. She had been taken by the privateer 23 days before, in Lat. 26.° N., while coming from Barbadoes; was loaded with rum, sugar, & some bags of cotton, & was bound to Boston. Her owners are Messrs. Lee & Tyler, Merchants there, Thomas Smith was her commander, & there were 5 Spaniards aboard, whom we took.
_Monday, 28th._ Put the Lieut on board the privateer prize with 7 hands; also put on board the brigantine Capt Tho. Smith, with verbal orders to follow us until we could get letters written to send her to Rhode Island to Cap't Freebody.
_Tuesday, 29th._ Lost sight of both prizes, & lay to the best part of the forenoon to let them come up with us.
_Wednesday, 30th._ Saw our prize, [the sloop,] bore down on her, & ordered her canoe on board. The Quartermaster went on board & brought off her powder & other stores, leaving 7 hands to navigate her, with verbal orders to keep us company. No news of the brigantine; we suppose she is gone to the northward. She has one of our hands on board.
_Thursday, Oct. 1st._ Calm weather, with thunder & rain. Brave living with our people. Punch every day, which makes them dream strange things, which foretells good success in our cruise. They dream of nothing but mad bulls, Spaniards, & bags of gold. Examined the papers of the sloop, & found several in Spanish & French, among which was the condemnation of Cap't Stocking's sloop.
_Friday, 2nd._ At 6 A.M. saw a ship under the land. Stretched in for her, when she hoisted a French pennant & an English ensign. Hoisted our Spanish Jack at mast head, and sent our pinnace aboard to discover what it was. She proved to be a ship that had been taken by Don Francisco Loranzo, our prisoner, off the Capes of Virginia. He had put a Lieu't, 10 hands, & 5 Englishmen to carry her to the Havanah. But the Spaniards ran her ashore on purpose. We brought off the 5 Englishmen, the Spaniards having run for it. We caught one & brought him on board, and sent our prize alongside to save what goods we could, for the ship was bilged.
_Saturday, 3d._ The people busy in getting goods out of the ship, we laying off & on.
_Sunday, 4th._ Sent John Webb as master with 7 mariners on board the prize, & with them a Bermudian negro, who had been taken prisoner in a fishing boat by the Spanish Cap't off the Bermudas, & a mulatto prisoner belonging to the Spaniards, with the instructions which are underneath.
Latitude 22.° 50' N., Oct. 4th, 1741.
MR. JOHN WEBB,
You being appointed master of the sloop Invincible, late a Spanish privateer, commanded by Cap't Don Francisco Loranzo, and taken by me & company, we order you to keep company with us till farther orders. But if, by some unforeseen accident, bad weather, or giving chase, we should chance to part, then we order that you proceed directly with said sloop & cargo to Rhode Island in New England. And if, by the Providence of God, you safe arrive there, you must apply to Mr. John Freebody, Merchant there, & deliver your sloop & cargo to him or his assigns.
You are also ordered to take care that you speak to no vessel, nor suffer any to speak with you, during your passage, nor permit any disorder on board; but you must take a special care of the cargo that none be embezzled, and, if weather permits, you must be diligent in drying the goods, to hinder them from spoiling. Wishing you a good voyage, we remain your friends.
Copy of a letter sent to Capt Freebody per John Webb in the sloop.
SIR,--I hope my sundry letters sent you by different hands are come safe.
This waits upon you with the agreeable news of our taking a Spanish privateer on the 26th Sep't last, off Cape Roman, on the north side of Cuba. She was conveying to the Havanah a brigantine which she had taken, coming from Barbadoes & bound to Boston, & laden with rum, sugar, and some bags of cotton. We had the pleasure of meeting him early in the morning, & gave chase. When within about a mile of him we hoisted our pennant, which compliment he immediately returned with his ensign at mast head and a gun to confirm it. We received several shot from him, & cheerfully returned them. He then made the best of his way off, crowding all the sail he could; and we, doing the like, came again within gun shot, and plied her with our bow chasers, which were shifted to the fore ports for that purpose. They in return kept pelting us with their stern chasers out of their cabin windows, but after some brisk firing they struck. Our rigging, mast, & gunwale received some damage. Upwards of 25 shot went through our sails, 2 through our mast in its weakest part just below where it was fished, 1 cut our fore shroud on the Larboard side, & another went through our Starboard gunwale, port & all. Only one of our men was wounded by the enemy, and he slightly by a splinter. Two others were hurt in the arm by one of the people's pieces going off accidentally after the engagement. The poor Cap't of the privateer was wounded in the arm and the bone fractured, one negro boy killed, & others wounded. He was fitted out last November at the Havanah, proceeded to S't. Augustine, & while on our coast early in the spring took several vessels. In August last he was again fitted out, & had taken several more vessels on our coast. But we had the good fortune to stop his course. His name is Don Francisco Loranzo, & by all report, though an enemy, a brave man, endued with a great deal of clemency, & using his prisoners with a great deal of humanity. The like usage he receives with us, for he justly deserves it.
We have sent you the sloop commanded by John Webb, loaded with sundry goods somewhat damaged, which I must desire you to unload directly & to take care to get them dried. There is also a negro boy that is sickly, a negro man said to have been taken off Bermudas by the privateer as he was a fishing, & a mulatto belonging to some of the subjects or vassals of the King of Spain, all of which we recommend to your care that they may not elope.
The number of Spanish prisoners taken on board, the Captain included, is 48, out of which 11 are of the blood of negroes, for which we don't doubt that we shall have his Majesty's bounty money, which is 5£ sterling per head. We also desire that the vessel may not be condemned till our arrival, but only unloaded & a just account taken of what was on board. As to the brigantine, the Captain of her, whom we put in again out of civility, has used us in a very rascally manner; for he ran away from us in the night with the vessel, & no doubt designed to cheat us out of our salvage, which is the half of brig & cargo, the enemy having had possession of her for 22 days. As she is a vessel of value, I hope you'l do your endeavors to recover our just dues, and apply to the owners, who are, as we are credibly informed, Messrs Lee & Tyler of Boston, both of whom are under the state of conviction since the gospel of Whitfield & Tennant has been propagated in New England. So that we are in hopes they will readily give a just account of her cargo & her true value, & render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, which is the moral preached by Whitefield.
As this will require a lawsuit, I hope you will get the best advice you possibly can, &, if she is at Boston or elsewhere, get her seized & condemned. She was designed to be consigned to you, & the master was sent on board to take possession, & get things in order to sail, while we were writing letters & bills of lading, but he gave us the slip. So, relying on your care, we don't doubt but you will recover her and add her to the privateer prize. The brigantine was called the Sarah, commanded by Tho's Smith, & had on board 11 hhd of rum, 23 hhd of sugar, & 12 bags of cotton. She was well fitted with 4 swivels, one gun, & other stores. She was a new, pink stern vessel, & carried off one of our hands, who, no doubt, will acquaint you of the whole affair. We hope you will show no favour to the Cap't for his ill usage, but get a just account of his venture, one half of which is our due. This affair is recommended to you by all the company, and we hope that you will serve us to the utmost of your power, not doubting in the least of your justice & equity.
Inclosed you will receive Cap't Frankland's 2 Bills of Exchange on his brother for 540£, also a list of the vessels which were taken by Francisco Loranzo since he first went out on his cruise, which you may use at pleasure either to publish or conceal. We are still cruising on the Northern side of Cuba, & are in hopes of getting something worth while in a short time.
We are all in good health; so, having no more to add but my kind remembrances to all friends,
_Monday, 5th._ The company gave the Cap't a night gown, a spencer wig, & 4 pair of thread stockings, & to the Lieut a pair of buck skin breeches. The Doctor bought a suit of broad cloth, which cost him 28 pieces of eight and is carried to his account in the sloop's ledger.
* * * * *
Here Peter Vezian's journal abruptly comes to an end. But we know from other papers, that the "Revenge," after a successful cruise, returned safely to Newport; and thence in the next succeeding years often sailed out against the Spaniards. Queer legends of those privateering days still linger in Newport, and traces of ill-gotten wealth may still be discovered there. The sailors of the old seaport are as bold and adventurous as ever, but they are grown honester, and never again shall a crew be found there to man either slave-trader or privateer. Northern seamen have no liking for such occupation.
CONCERNING PEOPLE OF WHOM MORE MIGHT HAVE BEEN MADE.
It is recorded in history, that at a certain public dinner in America a Methodist preacher was called on to give a toast. It may be supposed that the evening was so far advanced that every person present had been toasted already, and also all the friends of every one present. It thus happened that the Methodist preacher was in considerable perplexity as to the question, What being, or class of beings, should form the subject of his toast. But the good man was a person of large sympathies; and some happy link of association recalled to his mind certain words with which he had a professional familiarity, and which set forth a subject of a most comprehensive character. Arising from his seat, the Methodist preacher said, that, without troubling the assembled company with any preliminary observations, he begged to propose the health of ALL PEOPLE THAT ON EARTH DO DWELL.
Not unnaturally, I have thought of that Methodist preacher and his toast, as I begin to write this essay. For, though its subject was suggested to me by various little things of very small concern to mankind in general, though of great interest to one or two individual beings, I now discern that the subject of this essay is in truth as comprehensive as the subject of that toast. I have something to say _Concerning People of whom More might have been Made_: I see now that the class which I have named includes every human being. More might have been made, in some respects, possibly in many respects, of _All People that on Earth do Dwell_. Physically, intellectually, morally, spiritually, more might have been made of all. Wise and diligent training on the part of others, self-denial, industry, tact, decision, promptitude, on the part of the man himself, might have made something far better than he now is of every man that breathes. No one is made the most of. There have been human beings who have been made the most of as regards some one thing, who have had some single power developed to the utmost; but no one is made the most of, all round; no one is even made the most of as regards the two or three most important things of all. And, indeed, it is curious to observe that the things in which human beings seem to have attained to absolute perfection have for the most part been things comparatively frivolous,--accomplishments which certainly were not worth the labor and the time which it must have cost to master them. Thus, M. Blondin has probably made as much of himself as can be made of mortal, in the respect of walking on a rope stretched at a great height from the ground. Hazlitt makes mention of a man who had cultivated to the very highest degree the art of playing at rackets, and who accordingly played at rackets incomparably better than any one else ever did. A wealthy gentleman, lately deceased, by putting his whole mind to the pursuit, esteemed himself to have reached entire perfection in the matter of killing otters. Various individuals have probably developed the power of turning somersets, of picking pockets, of playing on the piano, jew's-harp, banjo, and penny trumpet, of mental calculation in arithmetic, of insinuating evil about their neighbors without directly asserting anything, to a measure as great as is possible to man. Long practice and great concentration of mind upon these things have sufficed to produce what might seem to tremble on the verge of perfection,--what unquestionably leaves the attainments of ordinary people at an inconceivable distance behind. But I do not call it making the most of a man, to develop, even to perfection, the power of turning somersets and playing at rackets. I call it making the most of a man, when you make the best of his best powers and qualities,--when you take those things about him which are the worthiest and most admirable, and cultivate these up to their highest attainable degree. And it is in this sense that the statement is to be understood, that no one is made the most of. Even in the best, we see no more than the rudiments of good qualities which might have been developed into a great deal more; and in very many human beings, proper management might have brought out qualities essentially different from those which these beings now possess. It is not merely that they are rough diamonds, which might have been polished into blazing ones,--not merely that they are thoroughbred colts drawing coal-carts, which with fair training would have been new Eclipses: it is that they are vinegar which might have been wine, poison which might have been food, wild-cats which might have been harmless lambs, soured miserable wretches who might have been happy and useful, almost devils who might have been but a little lower than the angels. Oh, the unutterable sadness that is in the thought of what might have been!
Not always, indeed. Sometimes, as we look back, it is with deep thankfulness that we see the point at which we were (we cannot say how) inclined to take the right turning, when we were all but resolved to take that which we can now see would have landed us in wreck and ruin. And it is fit that we should correct any morbid tendency to brood upon the fancy of how much better we might have been, by remembering also how much worse we might have been. Sometimes the present state of matters, good or bad, is the result of long training, of influences that were at work through many years, and that produced their effect so gradually that we never remarked the steps of the process, till some day we waken up to a sense of the fact, and find ourselves perhaps a great deal better, probably a great deal worse, than we had been vaguely imagining. But the case is not unfrequently otherwise. Sometimes one testing-time decided whether we should go to the left or to the right. There are in the moral world things analogous to the sudden accident which makes a man blind or lame for life: in an instant there is wrought a permanent deterioration. Perhaps a few minutes before man or woman took the step which can never be retraced, which must banish forever from all they hold dear, and compel to seek in some new country far away a place where to hide their shame and misery, they had just as little thought of taking that miserable step as you, my reader, have of taking one like it. And perhaps there are human beings in this world, held in the highest esteem, and with not a speck on their snow-white reputation, who know within themselves that they have barely escaped the gulf, that the moment has been in which all their future lot was trembling in the balance, and that a grain's weight more in the scale of evil and by this time they might have been reckoned among the most degraded and abandoned of the race. But probably the first deviation, either to right or left, is in most cases a very small one. You know, my friend, what is meant by the _points_ upon a railway. By moving a lever, the rails upon which the train is advancing are, at a certain place, broadened or narrowed by about the eighth of an inch. That little movement decides whether the train shall go north or south. Twenty carriages have come so far together; but here is a junction station, and the train is to be divided. The first ten carriages deviate from the main line by a fraction of an inch at first; but in a few minutes the two portions of the train are flying on, miles apart. You cannot see the one from the other, save by distant puffs of white steam through the clumps of trees. Perhaps already a high hill has intervened, and each train is on its solitary way,--one to end its course, after some hours, amid the roar and smoke and bare ugliness of some huge manufacturing town; and the other to come through green fields to the quaint, quiet, dreamy-looking little city, whose place is marked, across the plain, by the noble spire of the gray cathedral rising into the summer blue. We come to such points in our journey through life,--railway-points, as it were, which decide not merely our lot in life, but even what kind of folk we shall be, morally and intellectually. A hair's breadth may make the deviation at first. Two situations are offered you at once: you think there is hardly anything to choose between them. It does not matter which you accept; and perhaps some slight and fanciful consideration is allowed to turn the scale. But now you look back, and you can see that _there_ was the turning-point in your life; it was because you went there to the right, and not to the left, that you are now a great English prelate, and not a humble Scotch professor. Was there not a time in a certain great man's life, at which the lines of rail diverged, and at which the question was settled, Should he be a minister of the Scotch Kirk, or should he be Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain? I can imagine a stage in the history of a lad in a counting-house, at which the little angle of rail may be pushed in or pushed back that shall send the train to one of two places five hundred miles asunder: it may depend upon whether he shall take or not take that half-crown, whether, thirty years after, he shall be taking the chair, a rubicund baronet, at a missionary society meeting, and receive the commendations of philanthropic peers and earnest bishops, or be laboring in chains at Norfolk Island, a brutalized, cursing, hardened, scourge-scarred, despairing wretch, without a hope for this life or the other. Oh, how much may turn upon a little thing! Because the railway train in which you were coming to a certain place was stopped by a snowstorm, the whole character of your life may have been changed. Because some one was in the drawing-room when you went to see Miss Smith on a certain day, resolved to put to her a certain question, you missed the tide, you lost your chance, you went away to Australia and never saw her more. It fell upon a day that a ship, coming from Melbourne, was weathering a rocky point on an iron-bound coast, and was driven close upon that perilous shore. They tried to put her about; it was the last chance. It was a moment of awful risk and decision. If the wind catches the sails, now shivering as the ship comes up, on the right side, then all on board are safe. If the wind catches the sails on the other side, then all on board must perish. And so it all depends upon which surface of certain square yards of canvas the uncertain breeze shall strike, whether John Smith, who is coming home from the diggings with twenty thousand pounds, shall go down and never be heard of again by his poor mother and sisters away in Scotland,--or whether he shall get safely back, a rich man, to gladden their hearts, and buy a pretty little place, and improve the house on it into the pleasantest picture, and purchase, and ride, and drive various horses, and be seen on market-days sauntering in the High Street of the county-town, and get married, and run about the lawn before his door, chasing his little children, and become a decent elder of the Church, and live quietly and happily for many years. Yes, from what precise point of the compass the next flaw of wind should come would decide the question between the long homely life in Scotland and a nameless burial deep in a foreign sea.
It seems to me to be one of the main characteristics of human beings, not that they actually are much, but that they are something of which much may be made. There are untold potentialities in human nature. The tree cut down, concerning which its heathen owner debated whether he should make it into a god or into a three-legged stool, was positively nothing in its capacity of coming to different ends and developments, when we compare it with each human being born into this world. Man is not so much a thing already, as he is the germ of something. He is, so to speak, material formed to the hand of circumstances. He is essentially a germ, either of good or evil. And he is not like the seed of a plant, in whose development the tether allows no wider range than that between the more or less successful manifestation of its inherent nature. Give a young tree fair play, good soil and abundant air,--tend it carefully, in short, and you will have a noble tree. Treat the young tree unfairly,--give it a bad soil, deprive it of needful air and light, and it will grow up a stunted and poor tree. But in the case of the human being, there is more than this difference in degree. There may be a difference in kind. The human being may grow up to be, as it were, a fair and healthful fruit-tree, or to be a poisonous one. There is something positively awful about the potentialities that are in human nature. The Archbishop of Canterbury might have grown up under influences which would have made him a bloodthirsty pirate or a sneaking pickpocket. The pirate or the pickpocket, taken at the right time, and trained in the right way, might have been made a pious, exemplary man. You remember that good divine, two hundred years since, who, standing in the market-place of a certain town, and seeing a poor wretch led by him to the gallows, said, "There goes myself, but for the grace of God." Of course, it is needful that human laws should hold all men as equally responsible. The punishment of such an offence is such an infliction, no matter who committed the offence. At least the mitigating circumstances which human laws can take into account must be all of a very plain and intelligible character. It would not do to recognize anything like a graduated scale of responsibility. A very bad training in youth would be in a certain limited sense regarded as lessening the guilt of any wrong thing done; and you may remember, accordingly, how that magnanimous monarch, Charles II., urged to the Scotch lords, in extenuation of the wrong things he had done, that his father had given him a very bad education. But though human laws and judges may vainly and clumsily endeavor to fix each wrongdoer's place in the scale of responsibility, and though they must, in a rough way, do what is rough justice in five cases out of six, still we may well believe that in the view of the Supreme Judge the responsibilities of men are most delicately graduated to their opportunities. There is One who will appreciate with entire accuracy the amount of guilt that is in each wrong deed of each wrong-doer, and mercifully allow for such as never had a chance of being anything but wrong-doers. And it will not matter whether it was from original constitution or from unhappy training that these poor creatures never had that chance. I was lately quite astonished to learn that some sincere, but stupid American divines have fallen foul of the eloquent author of "Elsie Venner," and accused him of fearful heresy, because he declared his confident belief that "God would never make a man with a crooked spine and then punish him for not standing upright." Why, that statement of the "Autocrat" appears to me at least as certain as that two and two make four. It may, indeed, contain some recondite and malignant reference which the stupid American divines know, and which I do not; it may be a mystic Shibboleth, indicating far more than it asserts; as at one time in Scotland it was esteemed as proof that a clergyman preached unsound doctrine, if he made use of the Lord's Prayer. But, understanding it simply as meaning that the Judge of all the Earth will do right, it appears to me an axiom beyond all question. And I take it as putting in a compact form the spirit of what I have been arguing for,--to wit, that, though human law must of necessity hold all rational beings as alike responsible, yet in the eye of God the difference may be immense. The graceful vase, that stands in the drawing-room under a glass shade, and never goes to the well, has no great right to despise the rough pitcher that goes often and is broken at last. It is fearful to think what malleable material we are in the hands of circumstances.
And a certain Authority, considerably wiser and incomparably more charitable than the American divines already mentioned, recognized the fact, when He taught us to pray, "Lead us not into temptation!" We shall think, in a little while, of certain influences which may make or mar the human being; but it may be said here that I firmly believe that happiness is one of the best of disciplines. As a general rule, if people were happier, they would be better. When you see a poor cabman on a winter-day, soaked with rain, and fevered with gin, violently thrashing the wretched horse he is driving, and perhaps howling at it, you may be sure that it is just because the poor cabman is so miserable that he is doing all that. It was a sudden glimpse, perhaps, of his bare home and hungry children, and of the dreary future which lay before himself and them, that was the true cause of those two or three furious lashes you saw him deal upon the unhappy screw's ribs. Whenever I read any article in a review, which is manifestly malignant, and intended not to improve an author, but to give him pain, I cannot help immediately wondering what may have been the matter with the man who wrote the malignant article. Something must have been making him very unhappy, I think. I do not allude to playful attacks upon a man, made in pure thoughtlessness and buoyancy of spirit,--but to attacks which indicate a settled, deliberate, calculating rancor. Never be angry with the man who makes such an attack; you ought to be sorry for him. It is out of great misery that malignity for the most part proceeds. To give the ordinary mortal a fair chance, let him be reasonably successful and happy. Do not worry a man into nervous irritability, and he will be amiable. Do not dip a man in water, and he will not be wet.
Of course, my friend, I know who is to you the most interesting of all beings, and whose history is the most interesting of all histories. _You_ are to yourself the centre of this world, and of all the interests of this world. And this is quite right.
There is no selfishness about all this, except that selfishness which forms an essential element in personality,--that selfishness which must go with the fact of one's having a self. You cannot help looking at all things as they appear from your own point of view; and things press themselves upon your attention and your feeling as they affect yourself. And apart from anything like egotism, or like vain self-conceit, it is probable that you may know that a great deal depends upon your exertion and your life. There are those at home who would fare but poorly, if you were just now to die. There are those who must rise with you, if you rise, and sink with you, if you sink. Does it sometimes suddenly strike you, what a little object you are, to have so much depending on you? Vaguely, in your thinking and feeling, you add your circumstances and your lot to your personality; and these make up an object of considerable extension. You do so with other people as well as with yourself. You have all their belongings as a background to the picture of them which you have in your mind; and they look very little when you see them in fact, because you see them without these belongings. I remember, when a boy, how disappointed I was at first seeing the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was Archbishop Howley. There he was, a slender, pale old gentleman, sitting in an arm-chair at a public meeting. I was chiefly disappointed, because there was _so little_ of him. There was just the human being. There was no background of grand accessories. The idea of the Primate of England which I had in some confused manner in my mind included a vision of the venerable towers of Lambeth,--of a long array of solemn predecessors, from Thomas à Becket downwards,--of great historical occasions on which the Archbishop of Canterbury had been a prominent figure; and in some way I fancied, vaguely, that you would see the primate surrounded by all these things. You remember the Highlander in "Waverley," who was much mortified when his chief came to meet an English guest, unattended by any retinue, and who exclaimed, in consternation and sorrow, "He has come without his tail!" Even such was my early feeling. You understand later that associations are not visible, and that they do not add to a man's extension in space. But (to go back) you do, as regards yourself, what you do as regards greater men: you add your lot to your personality, and thus you make up a bigger object. And when you see yourself in your tailor's shop, in a large mirror (one of a series) wherein you see your figure all round, reflected several times, your feeling will probably be, What a little thing you are! If you are a wise man, you will go away somewhat humbled, and possibly somewhat the better for the sight. You have, to a certain extent, done what Burns thought it would do all men much good to do: you have "seen yourself as others see you." And even to do so physically is a step towards a juster and humbler estimate of yourself in more important things. It may here be said, as a further illustration of the principle set forth, that people who stay very much at home feel their stature, bodily and mental, much lessened when they go far away from home, and spend a little time among strange scenes and people. For, going thus away from home, you take only yourself. It is but a small part of your extension that goes. You go; but you leave behind your house, your study, your children, your servants, your horses, your garden. And not only do you leave them behind, but they grow misty and unsubstantial when you are far away from them. And somehow you feel, that, when you make the acquaintance of a new friend some hundreds of miles off, who never saw your home and your family, you present yourself before him only a twentieth part or so of what you feel yourself to be when you have all your belongings about you. Do you not feel all that? And do you not feel, that, if you were to go away to Australia forever, almost as the English coast turned blue and then invisible on the horizon, your life in England would first turn cloud-like, and then melt away?
But without further discussing the philosophy of how it comes to be, I return to the statement that you yourself, as you live in your home, are to yourself the centre of this world,--and that you feel the force of any great principle most deeply, when you feel it in your own case. And though every worthy mortal must be often taken out of himself, especially by seeing the deep sorrows and great failures of other men, still, in thinking of people of whom more might have been made, it touches you most to discern that you are one of these. It is a very sad thing to think of yourself, and to see how much more might have been made of you. Sit down by the fire in winter, or go out now in summer and sit down under a tree, and look back on the moral discipline you have gone through,--look back on what you have done and suffered. Oh, how much better and happier you might have been! And how very near you have often been to what would have made you so much happier and better! If you had taken the other turning when you took the wrong one, after much perplexity,--if you had refrained from saying such a hasty word,--if you had not thoughtlessly made such a man your enemy! Such a little thing may have changed the entire complexion of your life. Ah, it was because the points were turned the wrong way at that junction, that you are now running along a line of railway through wild moorlands, leaving the warm champaign below ever more hopelessly behind. Hastily, or pettedly, or despairingly, you took the wrong turning; or you might have been dwelling now amid verdant fields and silver waters in the country of contentment and success. Many men and women, in the temporary bitterness of some disappointment, have hastily made marriages which will embitter all their future life,--or which at least make it certain that in this world they will never know a joyous heart any more. Men have died as almost briefless barristers, toiling into old age in heartless wrangling, who had their chance of high places on the bench, but ambitiously resolved to wait for something higher, and so missed the tide. Men in the church have taken the wrong path at some critical time, and doomed themselves to all the pangs of disappointed ambition. But I think a sincere man in the church has a great advantage over almost all ordinary disappointed men. He has less temptation, reading affairs by the light of after-time, to look back with bitterness on any mistake he may have made. For, if he be the man I mean, he took the decisive step not without seeking the best of guidance; and the whole training of his mind has fitted him for seeing a higher Hand in the allotment of human conditions. And if a man acted for the best, according to the light he had, and if he truly believes that God puts all in their places in life, he may look back without bitterness upon what may appear the most grievous mistakes. I must be suffered to add, that, if he is able heartily to hold certain great truths and to rest on certain sure promises, hardly any conceivable earthly lot should stamp him a soured or disappointed man. If it be a sober truth, that "all things shall work together for good" to a certain order of mankind, and if the deepest sorrows in this world may serve to prepare us for a better,--why, then, I think that one might hold by a certain ancient philosopher (and something more) who said, "I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."
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You see, reader, that, in thinking of _People of whom More might have been Made_, we are limiting the scope of the subject. I am not thinking how more might have been made of us originally. No doubt, the potter had power over the clay. Give a larger brain, of finer quality, and the commonplace man might have been a Milton. A little change in the chemical composition of the gray matter of that little organ which is unquestionably connected with the mind's working as no other organ of the body is, and, oh, what a different order of thought would have rolled off from your pen, when you sat down and tried to write your best! If we are to believe Robert Burns, some people have been made more of than was originally intended. A certain poem records how that which, in his homely phrase, he calls "stuff to mak' a swine," was ultimately converted into a very poor specimen of a human being. The poet had no irreverent intention, I dare say; but I am not about to go into the field of speculation which is opened up by his words. I know, indeed, that, in the hands of the Creator, each of us might have been made a different man. The pounds of material which were fashioned into Shakspeare might have made a bumpkin with little thought beyond pigs and turnips, or, by some slight difference beyond man's skill to trace, might have made an idiot. A little infusion of energy into the mental constitution might have made the mild, pensive day-dreamer who is wandering listlessly by the river-side, sometimes chancing upon noble thoughts, which he does not carry out into action, and does not even write down on paper, into an active worker, with Arnold's keen look, who would have carved out a great career for himself, and exercised a real influence over the views and conduct of numbers of other men. A very little alteration in feature might have made a plain face into a beautiful one; and some slight change in the position or the contractibility of certain of the muscles might have made the most awkward of manners and gaits into the most dignified and graceful. All _that_ we all understand. But my present subject is the making which is in circumstances after our natural disposition is fixed,--the training, coming from a hundred quarters, which forms the material supplied by Nature into the character which each of us actually bears. And setting apart the case of great genius, whose bent towards the thing in which it will excel is so strong that it will find its own field by inevitable selection, and whose strength is such that no unfavorable circumstances can hold it down, almost any ordinary human being may be formed into almost any development. I know a huge massive beam of rough iron, which supports a great weight. Whenever I pass it, I cannot help giving it a pat with my hand, and saying to it, "You might have been hair-springs for watches." I know an odd-looking little man attached to a certain railway-station, whose business it is, when a train comes in, to go round it with a large box of a yellow concoction and supply grease to the wheels. I have often looked out of the carriage-window at that odd little man and thought to myself, "Now you might have been a chief-justice." And, indeed, I can say from personal observation that the stuff ultimately converted into cabinet-ministers does not at an early stage at all appreciably differ from that which never becomes more than country-parsons. There is a great gulf between the human being who gratefully receives a shilling, and touches his cap as he receives it, and the human being whose income is paid in yearly or half-yearly sums, and to whom a pecuniary tip would appear as an insult; yet, of course, that great gulf is the result of training alone. John Smith the laborer, with twelve shillings a week, and the bishop with eight thousand a year, had, by original constitution, precisely the same kind of feeling towards that much-sought, yet much-abused reality which provides the means of life. Who shall reckon up by what millions of slight touches from the hand of circumstance, extending over many years, the one man is gradually formed into the giving of the shilling, and the other man into the receiving of it with that touch of his hat? Who shall read back the forming influences at work since the days in the cradle, that gradually formed one man into sitting down to dinner, and another man into waiting behind his chair? I think it would be occasionally a comfort, if one could believe, as American planters profess to believe about their slaves, that there is an original and essential difference between men; for, truly, the difference in their positions is often so tremendous that it is painful to think that it is the self-same clay and the self-same common mind that are promoted to dignity and degraded to servitude. And if _you_ sometimes feel _that_,--_you_, in whose favor the arrangement tends,--what do you suppose your servants sometimes think upon the subject? It was no wonder that the millions of Russia were ready to grovel before their Czar, while they believed that he was "an emanation from the Deity." But in countries where it is quite understood that every man is just as much an emanation from the Deity as any other, you will not long have that sort of thing. You remember Goldsmith's noble lines, which Dr. Johnson never could read without tears, concerning the English character. Is it not true that it is just because the humble, but intelligent Englishman understands distinctly that we are all of us _people of whom more might have been made_, that he has "learnt to venerate himself as man"? And thinking of influences which form the character, there is a sad reflection which has often occurred to me. It is, that circumstances often develop a character which it is hard to contemplate without anger and disgust. And yet, in many such cases, it is rather pity that is due. The more disgusting the character formed in some men, the more you should pity them. Yet it is hard to do _that_. You easily pity the man whom circumstances have made poor and miserable; how much more you should pity the man whom circumstances have made bad! You pity the man from whom some terrible accident has taken a limb or a hand; but how much more should you pity the man from whom the influences of years have taken a conscience and a heart! And something is to be said for even the most unamiable and worst of the race. No doubt, it is mainly their own fault that they are so bad; but still it is hard work to be always rowing against wind and tide, and some people could be good only by doing _that_ ceaselessly. I am not thinking now of pirates and pickpockets. But take the case of a sour, backbiting, malicious, wrong-headed, lying old woman, who gives her life to saying disagreeable things and making mischief between friends. There are not many mortals with whom one is less disposed to have patience. But yet, if you knew all, you would not be so severe in what you think and say of her. You do not know the physical irritability of nerve and weakness of constitution which that poor creature may have inherited; you do not know the singular twist of mind which she may have got from Nature and from bad and unkind treatment in youth; you do not know the bitterness of heart she has felt at the polite snubbings and ladylike tortures which in excellent society are often the share of the poor and the dependent. If you knew all these things, you would bear more patiently with my friend Miss Limejuice, though I confess that sometimes you would find it uncommonly hard to do so.
As I wrote that last paragraph, I began dimly to fancy that somewhere I had seen the idea which is its subject treated by an abler hand by far than mine. The idea, you may be sure, was not suggested to me by books, but by what I have seen of men and women. But it is a pleasant thing to find that a thought which at the time is strongly impressing one's self has impressed other men. And a modest person, who knows very nearly what his humble mark is, will be quite pleased to find that another man has not only anticipated his thoughts, but has expressed them much better than he could have done. Yes, let me turn to that incomparable essay of John Foster, "On a Man's writing Memoirs of Himself." Here it is.
"Make the supposition that any given number of persons,--a hundred, for instance,--taken promiscuously, should be able to write memoirs of themselves so clear and perfect as to explain, to your discernment at least, the entire process by which their minds have attained their present state, recounting all the most impressive circumstances. If they should read these memoirs to you in succession, while your benevolence, and the moral principles according to which you felt and estimated, were kept at the highest pitch, you would often, during the disclosure, regret to observe how many things may be the causes of irretrievable mischief. 'Why is the path of life,' you would say, 'so haunted as if with evil spirits of every diversity of noxious agency, some of which may patiently accompany, or others of which may suddenly cross, the unfortunate wanderer?' And you would regret to observe into how many forms of intellectual and moral perversion the human mind readily yields itself to be modified.
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"'I compassionate you,' would, in a very benevolent hour, be your language to the wealthy, unfeeling _tyrant of a family and a neighborhood_, who seeks, in the overawed timidity and unretaliated injuries of the unfortunate beings within his power, the gratification that should have been sought in their affections. Unless you had brought into the world some extraordinary refractoriness to the influence of evil, the process that you have undergone could not easily fail of being efficacious. If your parents idolized their own importance in their son so much that they never opposed your inclinations themselves nor permitted it to be done by any subject to their authority,--if the humble companion, sometimes summoned to the honor of amusing you, bore your caprices and insolence with the meekness without which he had lost his enviable privilege,--if you could despoil the garden of some nameless dependent neighbor of the carefully reared flowers, and torment his little dog or cat, without his daring to punish you or to appeal to your infatuated parents,--if aged men addressed you in a submissive tone, and with the appellation of 'Sir,' and their aged wives uttered their wonder at your condescension, and pushed their grandchildren away from around the fire for your sake, if you happened, though with the strut of pertness, and your hat on your head, to enter one of their cottages, perhaps to express your contempt of the homely dwelling, furniture, and fare,--if, in maturer life, you associated with vile persons, who would forego the contest of equality to be your allies in trampling on inferiors,--and if, both then and since, you have been suffered to deem your wealth the compendium or equivalent of every ability and every good quality,--it would indeed be immensely strange, if you had not become in due time the miscreant who may thank the power of the laws in civilized society that he is not assaulted with clubs and stones, to whom one could cordially wish the opportunity and the consequences of attempting his tyranny among some such people as those _submissive_ sons of Nature in the forests of North America, and whose dependants and domestic relatives may be almost forgiven when they shall one day rejoice at his funeral."
What do you think of _that_, my reader, as a specimen of embittered eloquence and nervous pith? It is something to read massive and energetic sense, in days wherein mystical twaddle, and subtlety which hopelessly defies all logic, are sometimes thought extremely fine, if they are set out in a style which is refined into mere effeminacy.
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I cherish a very strong conviction, (as has been said,) that, at least in the case of educated people, happiness is a grand discipline for bringing out what is amiable and excellent. You understand, of course, what I mean by happiness. We all know, of course, that light-heartedness is not very familiar to grown-up people, who are doing the work of life, who feel its many cares, and who do not forget the many risks which hang over it. I am not thinking of the kind of thing which is suggested to the minds of children, when they read, at the end of a tale, concerning its heroine and hero, that "they lived happily ever after." No, we don't look for that. By happiness I mean freedom from terrible anxiety and from pervading depression of spirits, the consciousness that we are filling our place in life with decent success and approbation, religious principle and character, fair physical health throughout the family, and moderate good temper and good sense. And I hold, with Sydney Smith, and with that keen practical philosopher, Becky Sharpe, that happiness and success tend very greatly to make people passably good. Well, I see an answer to the statement, as I do to most statements; but, at least, the beam is never subjected to the strain which would break it. I have seen the gradual working of what I call happiness and success in ameliorating character. I have known a man who, by necessity, by the pressure of poverty, was driven to write for the magazines,--a kind of work for which he had no special talent or liking, and which he had never intended to attempt. There was no more miserable, nervous, anxious, disappointed being on earth than he was, when he began his writing for the press. And sure enough, his articles were bitter and ill-set to a high degree. They were thoroughly ill-natured and bad. They were not devoid of a certain cleverness; but they were the sour products of a soured nature. But that man gradually got into comfortable circumstances: and with equal step with his lot the tone of his writings mended, till, as a writer, he became conspicuous for the healthful, cheerful, and kindly nature of all he produced. I remember seeing a portrait of an eminent author, taken a good many years ago, at a time when he was struggling into notice, and when he was being very severely handled by the critics. That portrait was really truculent of aspect. It was sour, and even ferocious-looking. Years afterwards I saw that author, at a time when he had attained vast success, and was universally recognized as a great man. How improved that face! All the savage lines were gone; the bitter look was gone; the great man looked quite genial and amiable. And I came to know that he really was all he looked. Bitter judgments of men, imputations of evil motives, disbelief in anything noble or generous, a disposition to repeat tales to the prejudice of others, envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness,--all these things may possibly come out of a bad heart; but they certainly come out of a miserable one. The happier any human being is, the better and more kindly he thinks of all. It is the man who is always worried, whose means are uncertain, whose home is uncomfortable, whose nerves are rasped by some kind friend who daily repeats and enlarges upon everything disagreeable for him to hear,--it is he who thinks hardly of the character and prospects of humankind, and who believes in the essential and unimprovable badness of the race.
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This is not a treatise on the formation of character: it pretends to nothing like completeness. If this essay were to extend to a volume of about three hundred and eighty pages, I might be able to set out and discuss, in something like a full and orderly fashion, the influences under which human beings grow up, and the way in which to make the best of the best of these influences, and to evade or neutralize the worst. And if, after great thought and labor, I had produced such a volume, I am well aware that nobody would read it. So I prefer to briefly glance at a few aspects of a great subject just as they present themselves, leaving the complete discussion of it to solid individuals with more leisure at their command.
* * * * *
Physically, no man is made the most of. Look at an acrobat or a boxer: _there_ is what your limbs might have been made for strength and agility: _that_ is the potential which is in human nature in these respects. I never witnessed a prize-fight, and assuredly I never will witness one: but I am told, that, when the champions appear in the ring, stripped for the combat, (however bestial and blackguard-looking their countenances may be,) the clearness and beauty of their skin testify that by skilful physical discipline a great deal more may be made of that human hide than is usually made of it. Then, if you wish to see what may be made of the human muscles as regards rapid dexterity, look at the Wizard of the North or at an Indian juggler. I am very far, indeed, from saying or thinking that this peculiar preëminence is worth the pains it must cost to acquire it. Not that I have a word to say against the man who maintains his children by bringing some one faculty of the body to absolute perfection: I am ready even to admit that it is a very right and fit thing that one man in five or six millions should devote his life to showing the very utmost that can be made of the human fingers, or the human muscular system as a whole. It is fit that a rare man here and there should cultivate some accomplishment to a perfection that looks magical, just as it is fit that a man here and there should live in a house that cost a million of pounds to build, and round which a wide tract of country shows what may be made of trees and fields where unlimited wealth and exquisite taste have done their best to improve Nature to the fairest forms of which it is capable. But even if it were possible, it would not be desirable that all human beings should live in dwellings like Hamilton Palace or Arundel Castle; and it would serve no good end at all, certainly no end worth the cost, to have all educated men muscular as Tom Sayers, or swift of hand as Robert Houdin. Practical efficiency is what is wanted for the business of this world, not absolute perfection: life is too short to allow any but exceptional individuals, few and far between, to acquire the power of playing at rackets as well as rackets can possibly be played. We are obliged to have a great number of irons in the fire: it is needful that we should do decently well a great number of things; and we must not devote ourselves to one thing, to the exclusion of all the rest. And accordingly, though we may desire to be reasonably muscular and reasonably active, it will not disturb us to think that in both these respects we are people of whom more might have been made. It may here be said that probably there is hardly an influence which tends so powerfully to produce extreme self-complacency as the conviction, that, as regards some one physical accomplishment, one is a person of whom more could not have been made. It is a proud thing to think that you stand decidedly ahead of all mankind: that Eclipse is first, and the rest nowhere; even in the matter of keeping up six balls at once, or of noting and remembering twenty different objects in a shop-window as you walk past it at five miles an hour. I do not think I ever beheld a human being whose aspect was of such unutterable pride as a man I lately saw playing the drum as one of a certain splendid military band. He was playing in a piece in which the drum music was very conspicuous; and even an unskilled observer could remark that his playing was absolute perfection. He had the thorough mastery of his instrument. He did the most difficult things not only with admirable precision, but without the least appearance of effort. He was a great, tall fellow: and it was really a fine sight to see him standing very upright, and immovable save as to his arms, looking fixedly into distance, and his bosom swelling with the lofty belief, that, out of four or five thousand persons who were present, there was not one who, to save his life, could have done what he was doing so easily.
So much of physical dexterity. As for physical grace, it will be admitted that in that respect more might be made of most human beings. It is not merely that they are ugly and awkward naturally, but that they are ugly and awkward artificially. Sir Bulwer Lytton, in his earlier writings, was accustomed to maintain, that, just as it is a man's duty to cultivate his mental powers, so is it his duty to cultivate his bodily appearance. And doubtless all the gifts of Nature are talents committed to us to be improved; they are things intrusted to us to make the best of. It may be difficult to fix the point at which the care of personal appearance in man or woman becomes excessive. It does so unquestionably when it engrosses the mind to the neglect of more important things. But I suppose that all reasonable people now believe that scrupulous attention to personal cleanliness, freshness, and neatness is a Christian duty. The days are past, almost everywhere, in which piety was held to be associated with dirt. Nobody would mention now, as a proof how saintly a human being was, that, for the love of God, he had never washed his face or brushed his hair for thirty years. And even scrupulous neatness need bring with it no suspicion of puppyism. The most trim and tidy of old men was good John Wesley; and he conveyed to the minds of all who saw him the notion of a man whose treasure was laid up beyond this world, quite as much as if he had dressed in such a fashion as to make himself an object of ridicule, or as if he had forsworn the use of soap. Some people fancy that slovenliness of attire indicates a mind above petty details. I have seen an eminent preacher ascend the pulpit with his bands hanging over his right shoulder, his gown apparently put on by being dropped upon him from the vestry ceiling, and his hair apparently unbrushed for several weeks. There was no suspicion of affectation about that good man; yet I regarded his untidiness as a defect, and not as an excellence. He gave a most eloquent sermon; yet I thought it would have been well, had the lofty mind that treated so admirably some of the grandest realities of life and of immortality been able to address itself a little to the care of lesser things. I confess, that, when I heard the Bishop of Oxford preach, I thought the effect of his sermon was increased by the decorous and careful fashion in which he was arrayed in his robes. And it is to be admitted that the grace of the human aspect may be in no small measure enhanced by bestowing a little pains upon it. You, youthful matron, when you take your little children to have their photographs taken, and when their nurse, in contemplation of that event, attired them in their most tasteful dresses and arranged their hair in its prettiest curls, you know that the little things looked a great deal better than they do on common days. It is pure nonsense to say that beauty when unadorned is adorned the most. For that is as much as to say that a pretty young woman, in the matter of physical appearance, is a person of whom no more can be made. Now taste and skill can make more of almost anything. And you will set down Thomson's lines as flatly opposed to fact, when your lively young cousin walks into your room to let you see her before she goes out to an evening party, and when you compare that radiant vision, in her robes of misty texture, and with hair arranged in folds the most complicated, wreathed, and satin-shoed, with the homely figure that took a walk with you that afternoon, russet-gowned, tartan-plaided, and shod with serviceable boots for tramping through country mud. One does not think of loveliness in the case of men, because they have not got any; but their aspect, such as it is, is mainly made by their tailors. And it is a lamentable thought, how very ill the clothes of most men are made. I think that the art of draping the male human body has been brought to much less excellence by the mass of those who practise it than any other of the useful and ornamental arts. Tailors, even in great cities, are generally extremely bad. Or it may be that the providing the human frame with decent and well-fitting garments is so very difficult a thing that (save by a great genius here and there) it can be no more than approximated to. As for tailors in little country villages, their power of distorting and disfiguring is wonderful. When I used to be a country clergyman, I remember how, when I went to the funeral of some simple rustic, I was filled with surprise to see the tall, strapping, fine young country lads, arrayed in their black suits. What awkward figures they looked in those unwonted garments! How different from their easy, natural appearance in their every-day fustian! Here you would see a young fellow with a coat whose huge collar covered half his head when you looked at him from behind; a very common thing was to have sleeves which entirely concealed the hands; and the wrinkled and baggy aspect of the whole suits could be imagined only by such as have seen them. It may be remarked here, that those strong country lads were in another respect people of whom more might have been physically made. Oh for a drill-sergeant to teach them to stand upright, and to turn out their toes, and to get rid of that slouching, hulking gait which gives such a look of clumsiness and stupidity! If you could but have the well-developed muscles and the fresh complexion of the country with the smartness and alertness of the town! You have there the rough material of which a vast deal may be made; you have the water-worn pebble which will take on a beautiful polish. Take from the moorland cottage the shepherd lad of sixteen; send him to a Scotch college for four years; let him be tutor in a good family for a year or two; and if he be an observant fellow, you will find in him the quiet, self-possessed air and the easy address of the gentleman who has seen the world. And it is curious to see one brother of a family thus educated and polished into refinement, while the other three or four, remaining in their father's simple lot, retain its rough manners and its unsophisticated feelings. Well, look at the man who has been made a gentleman,--probably by the hard labor and sore self-denial of the others,--and see in him what each of the others might have been! Look with respect on the diamond which needed only to be polished! Reverence the undeveloped potential which circumstances have held down! Look with interest on these people of whom more might have been made!
Such a sight as this sometimes sets us thinking how many germs of excellence are in this world turned to no account. You see the polished diamond and the rough one side by side. It is too late now; but the dull colorless pebble might have been the bright glancing gem. And you may polish the material diamond at any time; but if you miss your season in the case of the human one, the loss can never be repaired. The bumpkin who is a bumpkin at thirty must remain a bumpkin to threescore and ten. But another thing that makes us think how many fair possibilities are lost is to remark the fortuitous way in which great things have often been done,--and done by people who never dreamt that they had in them the power to do anything particular. These cases, one cannot but think, are samples of millions more. There have been very popular writers who were brought out by mere accident. They did not know what precious vein of thought they had at command, till they stumbled upon it as if by chance, like the Indian at the mines of Potosi. It is not much that we know of Shakspeare, but it seems certain that it was in patching up old plays for acting that he discovered within himself a capacity for producing that which men will not easily let die. When a young military man, disheartened with the service, sought for an appointment as an Irish Commissioner of Excise, and was sadly disappointed because he did not get it, it is probable that he had as little idea as any one else had that he possessed that aptitude for the conduct of war which was to make him the Duke of Wellington. And when a young mathematician, entirely devoid of ambition, desired to settle quietly down and devote all his life to that unexciting study, he was not aware that he was a person of whom more was to be made,--who was to grow into the great Emperor Napoleon. I had other instances in my mind, but after these last it is needless to mention them. But such cases suggest to us that there may have been many Folletts who never held a brief, many Keans who never acted but in barns, many Vandyks who never earned more than sixpence a day, many Goldsmiths who never were better than penny-a-liners, many Michaels who never built their St. Peters,--and perhaps a Shakspeare who held horses at the theatre-door for pence, as the Shakspeare we know of did, and who stopped there.
Let it here be suggested, that it is highly illogical to conclude that you are yourself a person of whom a great deal more might have been made, merely because you are a person of whom it is the fact that very little has actually been made. This suggestion may appear a truism; but it is one of those simple truths of which we all need to be occasionally reminded. After all, the great test of what a man can do must be what a man does. But there are folk who live on the reputation of being pebbles capable of receiving a very high polish, though from circumstances they did not choose to be polished. There are people who stand high in general estimation on the ground of what they might have done, if they had liked. You will find students who took no honors at the university, but who endeavor to impress their friends with the notion, that, if they had chosen, they could have attained to unexampled eminence. And sometimes, no doubt, there are great powers that run to waste. There have been men whose doings, splendid as they were, were no more than a hint of how much more they could have done. In such a case as that of Coleridge, you see how the lack of steady industry and of all sense of responsibility abated the tangible result of the noble intellect God gave him. But as a general rule, and in the case of ordinary people, you need not give a man credit for the possession of any powers beyond those which he has actually exhibited. If a boy is at the bottom of his class, it is probably because he could not attain its top. My friend Mr. Snarling thinks he can write much better articles than those which appear in the "Atlantic Monthly"; but as he has not done so, I am not inclined to give him credit for the achievement. But you can see that this principle of estimating people's abilities, not by what they have done, but by what they think they could do, will be much approved by persons who are stupid and at the same time conceited. It is a pleasing arrangement, that every man should fix his own mental mark, and hold by his estimate of himself. And then, never measuring his strength with others, he can suppose that he could have beat them, if he had tried.
* * * * *
Yes, we are all mainly fashioned by circumstances; and had the circumstances been more propitious, they might have made a great deal more of us. You sometimes think, middle-aged man, who never have passed the limits of Britain, what an effect might have been produced upon your views and character by foreign travel. You think what an indefinite expansion of mind it might have caused,--how many narrow prejudices it might have rubbed away,--how much wiser and better a man it might have made you. Or more society and wider reading in your early youth might have improved you,--might have taken away the shyness and the intrusive individuality which you sometimes feel painfully,--might have called out one cannot say what of greater confidence and larger sympathy. How very little, you think to yourself, you have seen and known! While others skim great libraries, you read the same few books over and over; while others come to know many lands and cities, and the faces and ways of many men, you look, year after year, on the same few square miles of this world, and you have to form your notion of human nature from the study of but few human beings, and these very commonplace. Perhaps it is as well. It is not so certain that more would have been made of you, if you had enjoyed what might seem greater advantages. Perhaps you learned more, by studying the little field before you earnestly and long, than you would have learned, if you had bestowed a cursory glance upon fields more extensive by far. Perhaps there was compensation for the fewness of the cases you had to observe in the keenness with which you were able to observe them. Perhaps the Great Disposer saw that in your case the pebble got nearly all the polishing it would stand,--the man nearly all the chances he could improve.
If there be soundness and justice in this suggestion, it may afford consolation to a considerable class of men and women: I mean those people who, feeling within themselves many defects of character, and discerning in their outward lot much which they would wish other than it is, are ready to think that some one thing would have put them right,--that some one thing would put them right even yet,--but something which they have hopelessly missed, something which can never be. There was just one testing event which stood between them and their being made a vast deal more of. They would have been far better and far happier, they think, had some single malign influence been kept away which has darkened all their life, or had some single blessing been given which would have made it happy. If you had got such a parish, which you did not get,--if you had married such a woman,--if your little child had not died,--if you had always the society and sympathy of such an energetic and hopeful friend,--if the scenery round your dwelling were of a different character,--if the neighboring town were four miles off, instead of fifteen,--if any one of these circumstances had been altered, what a different man you might have been! Probably many people, even of middle age, conscious that the manifold cares and worries of life forbid that it should be evenly joyous, do yet cherish at the bottom of their heart some vague, yet rooted fancy, that, if but one thing were given on which they have set their hearts, or one care removed forever, they would be perfectly happy, even here. Perhaps you overrate the effect which would have been produced on your character by such a single cause. It might not have made you much better; it might not even have made you very different. And assuredly you are wrong in fancying that any such single thing could have made you happy,--that is, entirely happy. Nothing in this world could ever make you _that_. It is not God's purpose that we should be entirely happy here, "This is not our rest." The day will never come which will _not_ bring its worry. And the possibility of terrible misfortune and sorrow hangs over all. There is but One Place where we shall be right; and _that_ is far away.
* * * * *
Yes, more might have been made of all of us; probably, in the case of most, not much more _will_ be made in this world. We are now, if we have reached middle life, very much what we shall be to the end of the chapter. We shall not, in this world, be much better; let us humbly trust that we shall not be worse. Yet, if there be an undefinable sadness in looking at the marred material of which so much more might have been made, there is a sublime hopefulness in the contemplation of material, bodily and mental, of which a great deal more and better will certainly yet be made. Not much more may be made of any of us in life; but who shall estimate what may be made of us in immortality? Think of a "spiritual body"! think of a perfectly pure and happy soul! I thought of this, on a beautiful evening of this summer, walking with a much valued friend through a certain grand ducal domain. In front of a noble sepulchre, where is laid up much aristocratic dust, there are sculptured, by some great artist, three colossal faces, which are meant to represent Life, Death, and Immortality. It was easy to represent Death: the face was one of solemn rest, with closed eyes; and the sculptor's skill was mainly shown in distinguishing Life from Immortality. And he had done it well. _There_ was Life: a care-worn, anxious, weary face, that seemed to look at you earnestly, and with a vague inquiry for something,--the something that is lacking in all things here. And _there_ was Immortality: life-like, but, oh, how different from mortal Life! _There_ was the beautiful face, calm, satisfied, self-possessed, sublime, and with eyes looking far away. I see it yet, the crimson sunset warming the gray stone,--and a great hawthorn-tree, covered with blossoms, standing by. Yes, _there_ was Immortality; and you felt, as you looked at it,--that it was MORE MADE OF LIFE!
* * * * *
MY FRIEND'S LIBRARY.
That exquisite writer, Horae Subsecivae Brown, quotes, (without comment,) as a motto to one of his volumes, an anecdote from Pierce Egan, which I reproduce here:--
"A lady, resident in Devonshire, going into one of her parlors, discovered a young ass, who had found its way into the room, and carefully closed the door upon himself. He had evidently not been long in this situation before he had nibbled a part of Cicero's Orations, and eaten nearly all the index of a folio edition of Seneca in Latin, a large part of a volume of La Bruyère's 'Maxims' in French, and several pages of 'Cecilia.' He had done no other mischief whatever."
Spare your wit, Sir, or Madam! Why should _you_ laugh, and apply the sting in Mr. Egan's story to the case of "Yours Truly"?
* * * * *
I scarcely know a greater pleasure than to be allowed for a whole day to spend the hours unmolested in my friend's library. So much _privilege_ abounds there, I call it _Urbanity Hall_. It is a plain, modestly appointed apartment, overlooking a broad sheet of water; and I can see, from where I like to sit and read, the sail-boats go tilting by, and glancing across the bay. Sometimes, when a rainy day sets in, I run down to my friend's house, and ask leave to browse about the library,--not so much for the sake of reading, as for the intense enjoyment I have in turning over the books that have a personal history as it were. Many of them once belonged to authors whose libraries have been dispersed. My friend has enriched her editions with autographic notes of those fine spirits who wrote the books which illumine her shelves, so that one is constantly coming upon some fresh treasure in the way of a literary curiosity. I am apt to discover something new every time I take down a folio or a miniature volume. As I ramble on from shelf to shelf,
"Straight mine eye hath caught new pleasures,"
and the hours often slip by into the afternoon, and glide noiselessly into twilight, before dinner-time is remembered. Drifting about only a few days ago, I came by accident upon a magic quarto, shabby enough in its exterior, with one of the covers hanging by the eyelids, and otherwise sadly battered, to the great disfigurement of its external aspect. I did not remember even to have seen it in the library before, (it turned out to be a new comer,) and was about to pass it by with an unkind thought as to its pauper condition, when it occurred to me, as the lettering was obliterated from the back, I might as well open to the title-page and learn the name at least of the tattered stranger. And I was amply rewarded for the attention. It turned out to be "The Novels and Tales of the Renowned John Boccacio, The first Refiner of Italian Prose: containing A Hundred Curious Novels, by Seven Honorable Ladies and Three Noble Gentlemen, Framed in Ten Days." It was printed in London in 1684, "for Awnsham Churchill, at the Black Swan at Amen Corner." But what makes this old yellow-leaved book a treasure-volume for all time is the inscription on the first fly-leaf, in the handwriting of a man of genius, who, many years ago, wrote thus on the blank page:
"To MARIANNE HUNT.
"Her Boccacio (_alter et idem_) come back to her after many years' absence, for her good-nature in giving it away in a foreign country to a traveller whose want of books was still worse than her own.
"From her affectionate husband,
"August 23,1839--Chelsea, England."
This record tells a most interesting story, and reveals to us an episode in the life of the poet, well worth the knowing. I hope no accident will ever cancel this old leather-bound veteran from the world's bibliographic treasures. Spare it, Fire, Water, and Worms! for it does the heart good to handle such a quarto.
* * * * *
One does not need to look far among the shelves in my friend's library to find companion-gems of this antiquated tome. Among so many of
"The assembled souls of all that men held wise,"
there is no solitude of the mind. I reach out my hand at random, and, lo! the first edition of Milton's "Paradise Lost"! It is a little brown volume, "Printed by S. Simmons, and to be sold by S. Thomson at the Bishop's-Head in Duck Lane, by H. Mortlack at the White Hart in Westminster Hall, M. Walker under St. Dunstan's Church in Fleet Street, and R. Boulten at the Turk's Head in Bishopsgate Street, 1668." Foolish old Simmons deemed it necessary to insert over his own name the following notice, which heads the Argument to the Poem:--
"THE PRINTER TO THE READER.
"Courteous Reader, There was no Argument at first intended to the Book, but for the satisfaction of many that have desired it, I have procured it, and withall a reason of that which stumbled many others, why the Poem Rimes not."
The "Argument," which Milton omitted in subsequent editions, is very curious throughout; and the reason which the author gives, at the request of Mr. Publisher Simmons, why the poem "Rimes not," is quaint and well worth transcribing an extract here, as it does not always appear in more modern editions. Mr. Simmons's Poet is made to say,--
"The Measure is _English_ Heroic Verse without Rime, as that of _Homers_ in _Greek_, and of _Virgil_ in _Latin_; Rime being no necessary Adjunct or true Ornament of Poem or good Verse, in longer Works especially, but the Invention of a barbarous Age, to set off wretched matter and lame Meeter; grac't indeed since by the use of some famous modern Poets, carried away by Custom, but much to their own vexation, hindrance, and constraint to express many things otherwise, and for the most part worse then else they would have exprest them."
We give the orthography precisely as Milton gave it in this his first edition.
There is a Table of Errata prefixed to this old copy, in which the reader is told,
"for hun_dreds_ read hun_derds_. for _we_ read _wee_."
Master Simmons's proof-reader was no adept in his art, if one may judge from the countless errors which he allowed to creep into this immortal poem when it first appeared in print. One can imagine the identical copy now before us being handed over the counter in Duck Lane to some eager scholar on the look-out for something new, and handed back again to Mr. Thomson as too dull a looking poem for his perusal. Mr. Edmund Waller entertained that idea of it, at any rate.
* * * * *
One of the sturdiest little books in my friend's library is a thick-set, stumpy old copy of Richard Baxter's "Holy Commonwealth," written in 1659, and, as the title-page informs us, "at the invitation of James Harrington Esquire,"--as one would take a glass of Canary,--by _invitation!_ There is a preface addressed "To all those in the Army or elsewhere, that have caused our many and great Eclipses since 1646." The worms have made dagger-holes through and through the "inspired leaves" of this fat little volume, till much strong thinking is now very perforated printing. On the flyleaf is written, in a rough, straggling hand,
The poet seems to have read the old book pretty closely, for there are evident marks of his liking throughout its pages.
* * * * *
Connected with the Bard of the Lakes is another work in my friend's library, which I always handle with a tender interest. It is a copy of Wordsworth's Poetical Works, printed in 1815, with all the alterations afterwards made in the pieces copied in by the poet from the edition published in 1827. Some of the changes are marked improvements, and nearly all make the meaning clearer. Now and then a prosaic phrase gives place to a more poetical expression. The well-known lines,
"Of Him who walked in glory and in joy, Following his plough along the mountain-side,"
read at first,
"_Behind_ his plough _upon_ the mountain-side."
* * * * *
In a well-preserved quarto copy of "Rasselas," with illustrations by Smirke, which my friend picked up in London a few years ago, I found the other day an unpublished autograph letter from Dr. Johnson, so characteristic of the great man that it is worth transcribing. It is addressed
"_To the Reverend Mr. Compton.
"To be sent to Mrs. Williams_."
And it is thus worded:--
"Your business, I suppose, is in a way of as easy progress as such business ever has. It is seldom that event keeps pace with expectation.
"The scheme of your book I cannot say that I fully comprehend. I would not have you ask less than an hundred guineas, for it seems a large octavo.
"Go to Mr. Davis, in Russell Street, show him this letter, and show him the book if he desires to see it. He will tell you what hopes you may form, and to what Bookseller you should apply.
"If you succeed in selling your book, you may do better than by dedicating it to me. You may perhaps obtain permission to dedicate it to the Bishop of London, or to Dr. Vyse, and make way by your book to more advantage than I can procure you.
"Please to tell Mrs. Williams that I grow better, and that I wish to know how she goes on. You, Sir, may write for her to,
"Your most humble Servant,
"Octo. 24, 1782."
Dear kind-hearted old bear! On turning to Boswell's Life of his Ursine Majesty, we learn who Mr. Compton was. When the Doctor visited France in 1775, the Benedictine Monks in Paris entertained him in the most friendly way. One of them, the Rev. James Compton, who had left England at the early age of six to reside on the Continent, questioned him pretty closely about the Protestant faith, and proposed, if at some future time he should go to England to consider the subject more deeply, to call at Bolt Court. In the summer of 1782 he paid the Doctor a visit, and informed him of his desire to be admitted into the Church of England. Johnson managed the matter satisfactorily for him, and he was received into communion in St. James's Parish Church. Till the end of January, 1783, he lived entirely at the Doctor's expense, his own means being very scanty. Through Johnson's kindness he was nominated Chaplain at the French Chapel of St. James's, and in 1802 we hear of him as being quite in favor with the excellent Bishop Porteus and several other distinguished Londoners. Thus, by the friendly hand of the hard-working, earnest old lexicographer, Mr. Compton was led from deep poverty up to a secure competency, and a place among the influential dignitaries of London society. Poor enough himself, Johnson never shrank back, when there was an honest person in distress to be helped on in the battle of life. God's blessing on his memory for all his sympathy with struggling humanity!
* * * * *
My friend has an ardent affection for Walter Scott and Charles Lamb. I find the first edition of "Marmion," printed in 1808, "by J. Ballantyne & Co. for Archibald Constable and Company, Edinburgh," most carefully bound in savory Russia, standing in a pleasant corner of the room. Being in quarto, the type is regal. Of course the copy is enriched with a letter in the handwriting of Sir Walter. It is addressed to a personal friend, and is dated April 17, 1825. The closing passage in it is of especial interest.
"I have seen Sheridan's last letter imploring Rogers to come to his assistance. It stated that he was dying, and concluded abruptly with these words 'they are throwing the things out of window.' The memorialist certainly took pennyworths out of his friend's character.--I sate three hours for my picture to Sir Thomas Lawrence during which the whole conversation was filled up by Rogers with stories of Sheridan, for the least of which if true he deserved the gallows."
Ever Yours, "WALTER SCOTT."
In the April of 1802 Scott was living in a pretty cottage at Lasswade; and while there he sent off the following letter, which I find attached with a wafer to my friend's copy of the Abbotsford edition of his works, and written in a much plainer hand than he afterwards fell into. The address is torn off.
"I esteem myself honored by the polite reception which you have given to the Border Minstrelsy and am particularly flattered that so very good a judge of poetical Antiquities finds any reason to be pleased with the work.--There is no portrait of the _Flower of Yarrow_ in existence, nor do I think it very probable that any was ever taken. Much family anecdote concerning her has been preserved among her descendants of whom I have the honor to be one. The epithet of '_Flower of Yarrow_' was in later times bestowed upon one of her immediate posterity, Miss Mary Lillias Scott, daughter of John Scott Esq. of Harden, and celebrated for her beauty in the pastoral song of Tweedside,--I mean that set of modern words which begins 'What beauty does Flora disclose.' This lady I myself remember very well, and I mention her to you least you should receive any inaccurate information owing to her being called like her predecessor the 'Flower of Yarrow.' There was a portrait of this latter lady in the collection at Hamilton which the present Duke transferred through my hands to Lady Diana Scott relict of the late Walter Scott Esq. of Harden, which picture was vulgarly but inaccurately supposed to have been a resemblance of the original Mary Scott, daughter of Philip Scott of Dryhope, and married to _Auld Wat_ of Harden in the middle of the 16th century.
"I shall be particularly happy if upon any future occasion I can in the slightest degree contribute to advance your valuable and patriotic labours, and I remain, Sir,
"Your very faithful
"and obt. Servant
This letter is worthy to be printed, and the readers of the "Atlantic Monthly" now see it for the first time, I believe, set in type.
* * * * *
Old Bernard Lintott, at the Cross-Keys in Fleet Street, brought out in 1714 "The Rape of the Lock, an Heroi-Comical Poem, in Five Cantos, written by Mr. Pope." He printed certain words in the title-page in red, and other certain words in black ink. His own name and Mr. Pope's he chose to exhibit in sanguinary tint. A copy of this edition, very much thumbed and wanting half a dozen leaves, fell into the hands of Charles Lamb more than a hundred years after it was published. Charles bore it home, and set to work to supply, in his small neat hand, from another edition, what was missing from the text in his stall-bought copy. As he paid only sixpence for his prize, he could well afford the time it took him to write in on blank leaves, which he inserted, the lines from
"Thus far both armies to Belinda yield,"
onward to the couplet,
"And thrice they twitch'd the Diamond in her Ear, Thrice she look'd back, and thrice the Foe drew near."
Besides this autographic addition, enhancing forever the value of this old copy of Pope's immortal poem, I find the following little note, in Lamb's clerkly chirography, addressed to
"Mr. Wainright, on _Thursday_.
"The _Wits_ (as Clare calls us) assemble at my cell (20 Russell Street, Cov. Gar.) this evening at 1/4 before 7. Cold meat at 9. Puns at----a little after. Mr. Cary wants to see you, to scold you. I hope you will not fail.
"Yours &c. &c. &c.
There are two books in my friend's library which once belonged to the author of the "Elegy in a Country Churchyard." One of them is "A Voyage to and from the Island of Borneo, in the East Indies: printed for T. Warner at the Black Boy, and F. Batley at the Dove, in 1718." It has the name of T. Gray, written by himself, in the middle of the title-page, as was his custom always. Before Gray owned this book, it belonged to Mr. Antrobus, his uncle, who wrote many original notes in it. The volume has also this manuscript memorandum on one of the fly-leaves, signed by a well-known naturalist, now living in England:--
"August 28, 1851.
"This book has Gray's autograph on the title page, written in his usual neat hand. It has twice been my fate to witness the sale of Gray's most interesting collection of manuscripts and books, and at the last sale I purchased this volume. I present it to ---- as a little token of affectionate regard by her old friend, now in his 85th year."
Who will not be willing to admit the great good-luck of my friend in having such a donor for an acquaintance?
But one of the chief treasures in the library of which I write is Gray's copy of Milton's "Poems upon several occasions. Both English and Latin. Printed at the _Blew Anchor_ next Mitre Court over against Fetter Lane in Fleet Street." When a boy at school, Gray owned and read this charming old volume, and he has printed his name, school-boy fashion, all over the title-page. Wherever there is a vacant space big enough to hold _Thomas Gray_, there it stands in faded ink, still fading as time rolls on. The Latin poems seem to have been most carefully conned by the youthful Etonian, and we know how much he esteemed them in after-life.
* * * * *
Scholarly Robert Southey once owned a book that now towers aloft in my friend's library. It is a princely copy of Ben Jonson, the Illustrious. Southey lent it, when he possessed the _magnifico_, to Coleridge, who has begemmed it all over with his fine pencillings. As Ben once handled the trowel, and did other honorable work as a bricklayer, Coleridge discourses with much golden gossip about the craft to which the great dramatist once belonged. The editor of this magazine would hardly thank me, if I filled ten of his pages with extracts from the rambling dissertations in S.T.C.'s handwriting which I find in this rare folio, but I could easily pick out that amount of readable matter from the margins. One manuscript anecdote, however, I must transcribe from the last leaf. I think Coleridge got the story from "The Seer."
"An Irish laborer laid a wager with another hod bearer that the latter could not carry him up the ladder to the top of a house in his hod, without letting him fall. The bet is accepted, and up they go. There is peril at every step. At the top of the ladder there is life and the loss of the wager,--death and success below! The highest point is reached in safety; the wagerer looks humbled and disappointed. 'Well,' said he, 'you have won; there is no doubt of that; worse luck to you another time; but at the third story I HAD HOPES.'"
* * * * *
In a quaint old edition of "The Spectator," which seems to have been through many sieges, and must have come to grief very early in its existence, if one may judge anything from the various names which are scrawled upon it in different years, reaching back almost to the date of its publication, I find this note in the handwriting of Addison, sticking fast on the reverse side of his portrait. It is addressed to Ambrose Philips, and there is no doubt that he went where he was bidden, and found the illustrious Joseph all ready to receive him at a well-furnished table.
"If you are at leisure for an hour, your company will be a great obligation to
"Yr. most humble sev't.
That night at the "Fountain," perchance, they discussed that war of words which might then have been raging between the author of the "Pastorals" and Pope, moistening their clay with a frequency to which they were both somewhat notoriously inclined.
My friend rides hard her hobby for choice editions, and she hunts with a will whenever a good old copy of a well-beloved author is up for pursuit. She is not a fop in binding, but she must have _appropriate_ dresses for her favorites. She knows what
"Adds a precious seeing to the eye"
as well as Hayday himself, and never lets her folios shiver when they ought to be warm. Moreover, she _reads_ her books, and, like the scholar in Chaucer, would rather have
"At her beddès head A twenty bokes, clothed in black and red, Of Aristotle and his philosophy, Than robes rich, or fiddle, or psaltrie."
I found her not long ago deep in a volume of "Mr. Welsted's Poems"; and as that author is not particularly lively or inviting to a modern reader, I begged to know why he was thus honored. "I was trying," said she, "to learn, if possible, why Dicky Steele should have made his daughter a birth-day gift of these poems. This copy I found on a stall in Fleet Street many years ago, and it has in Sir Richard's handwriting this inscription on one of the fly-leaves:--
"ELIZABETH STEELE Her Book Giv'n by Her Father RICHARD STEELE. March 20th, 1723.
"Running my eye over the pieces, I find a poem in praise of 'Apple-Pye,' and one of the passages in it is marked, as if to call the attention of young Eliza to something worthy her notice. These are the lines the young lady is charged to remember:--
"'Dear Nelly, learn with Care the Pastry-Art, And mind the easy Precepts I impart: Draw out your Dough elaborately thin. And cease not to fatigue your Rolling-Pin: Of Eggs and Butter see you mix enough; For then the Paste will swell into a Puff, Which will in crumpling Sounds your Praise report, And eat, as Housewives speak, exceeding short.'"
Who was Abou Ben Adhem? Was his existence merely in the poet's brain, or did he walk this planet somewhere,--and when? In a copy of the "Bibliothèque Orientale," which once belonged to the author of that exquisite little gem of poesy beginning with a wish that Abou's tribe might increase, I find (the leaf is lovingly turned down and otherwise noted) the following account of the forever famous dreamer.
"Adhem was the name of a Doctor celebrated for Mussulman traditions. He was the contemporary of Aamarsch, another relater of traditions of the first class. Adhem had a son noted for his doctrine and his piety. The Mussulmans place him among the number of their Saints who have done miracles. He was named Abou-Ishak-Ben-Adhem. It is said he was distinguished for his piety from his earliest youth, and that he joined the Sofis, or the Religious sect in Mecca, under the direction of Fodhail. He went from there to Damas, where he died in the year 166 of the Hegira. He undertook, it is said, to make a pilgrimage from Mecca, and to pass through the desert alone and without provisions, making a thousand genuflexions for every mile of the way. It is added that he was twelve years in making this journey, during which he was often tempted and alarmed by Demons. The Khalife Haroun Raschid, making the same pilgrimage, met him upon the way and inquired after his welfare; the Sofi answered him with an Arabian quatrain, of which this is the meaning:--
"'We mend the rags of this worldly robe with the pieces of the robe of Religion, which we tear apart for this end;
"'And we do our work so thoroughly that nothing remains of the latter,
"'And the garment we mend escapes out of our hands.
"'Happy is the servant who has chosen God for his master, and who employs his present good only to acquire those which he awaits.'
"It is related also of Abou, that he saw in a dream an Angel who wrote, and that having demanded what he was doing, the Angel answered, 'I write the names of those who love God sincerely, those who perform Malek-Ben-Dinár, Thaber-al-Benáni, Aioud-al-Sakhtiáni, etc.' Then said he to the Angel, 'Am I not placed among these?' 'No,' replied the Angel. 'Ah, well,' said he, 'write me, then, I pray you, for love of these, as the friend of all who love the Lord.' It is added, that the same Angel revealed to him soon after that he had received an order from God to place him at the head of all the rest. This is the same Abou who said that he preferred Hell with the will of God to Paradise without it; or, as another writer relates it: 'I love Hell, if I am doing the will of God, better than the enjoyments of Paradise and disobedience.'"
* * * * *
With books printed by "B. Franklin, Philadelphia," my friend's library is richly stored. One of them is "The Charter of Privileges, granted by William Penn Esq: to the Inhabitants of Pennsylvania and Territories." "PRINTED AND SOLD BY B. FRANKLIN" looks odd enough on the dingy title-page of this old volume, and the contents are full of interest. Rough days were those when "Jehu Curtis" was "Speaker of the House," and put his name to such documents as this:--
"And Be it Further Enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any Person shall wilfully or premeditately be guilty of Blasphemy, and shall thereof be legally convicted, the Person so offending shall, for every such Offence, be set in the Pillory for the space of Two Hours, and be branded on his or her Foreshead with the letter B, and be publickly whipt, on his or her bare Back, with Thirty nine Lashes _well laid on_."
* * * * *
But I am rambling on too far and too fast for to-day. Here is one more book, however, that I must say a word about, as it lies open on my knee, the gift of PUIR ROBBIE BURNS to a female friend,--his own poems,--the edition which gave him "so much real happiness to see in print." Laid in this copy of his works is a sad letter, in the poet's handwriting, which perhaps has never been printed. Addressed to Captain Hamilton, Dumfries, it is in itself a touching record of dear Robin's poverty, and _a' that_.
"It is needless to attempt an apology for my remissness to you in money matters; my conduct is beyond all excuse.--Literally, Sir, I had it not. The Distressful state of commerce at this town has this year taken from my otherwise scanty income no less than £20.--That part of my salary depends upon the Imposts, and they are no more for one year. I inclose you three guineas; and shall soon settle all with you. I shall not mention your goodness to me; it is beyond my power to describe either the feelings of my wounded soul at not being able to pay you as I ought; or the grateful respect with which I have the honor to be
"Sir, Your deeply obliged humble servant,
"Dumfries, Jany. 29, 1795."
And so I walk out of my friend's leafy paradise this July afternoon, thinking of the bard who in all his songs and sorrows made
"rustic life and poverty Grow beautiful beneath his touch,"
and whose mission it was
"To weigh the inborn worth of _man_."
THE NAME IN THE BARK.
The self of so long ago, And the self I struggle to know, I sometimes think we are two,--or are we shadows of one? To-day the shadow I am Comes back in the sweet summer calm To trace where the earlier shadow flitted awhile in the sun.
Once more in the dewy morn I trod through the whispering corn, Cool to my fevered cheek soft breezy kisses were blown; The ribboned and tasselled grass Leaned over the flattering glass, And the sunny waters trilled the same low musical tone.
To the gray old birch I came, Where I whittled my school-boy name: The nimble squirrel once more ran skippingly over the rail, The blackbirds down among The alders noisily sung, And under the blackberry-brier whistled the serious quail.
I came, remembering well How my little shadow fell, As I painfully reached and wrote to leave to the future a sign: There, stooping a little, I found A half-healed, curious wound, An ancient scar in the bark, but no initial of mine!
Then the wise old boughs overhead Took counsel together, and said,-- And the buzz of their leafy lips like a murmur of prophecy passed,-- "He is busily carving a name In the tough old wrinkles of fame; But, cut he as deep as he may, the lines will close over at last!"
Sadly I pondered awhile, Then I lifted my soul with a smile, And I said,--"Not cheerful men, but anxious children are we, Still hurting ourselves with the knife, As we toil at the letters of life, Just marring a little the rind, never piercing the heart of the tree."
And now by the rivulet's brink I leisurely saunter, and think How idle this strife will appear when circling ages have run, If then the real I am Descend from the heavenly calm, To trace where the shadow I seem once flitted awhile in the sun.
AGNES OF SORRENTO.
Agnes returned from the confessional with more sadness than her simple life had ever known before. The agitation of her confessor, the tremulous eagerness of his words, the alternations of severity and tenderness in his manner to her, all struck her only as indications of the very grave danger in which she was placed, and the awfulness of the sin and condemnation which oppressed the soul of one for whom she was conscious of a deep and strange interest.
She had the undoubting, uninquiring reverence which a Christianly educated child of those times might entertain for the visible head of the Christian Church, all whose doings were to be regarded with an awful veneration which never even raised a question.
That the Papal throne was now filled by a man who had bought his election with the wages of iniquity, and dispensed its powers and offices with sole reference to the aggrandizement of a family proverbial for brutality and obscenity, was a fact well known to the reasoning and enlightened orders of society at this time; but it did not penetrate into those lowly valleys where the sheep of the Lord humbly pastured, innocently unconscious of the frauds and violence by which their dearest interests were bought and sold.
The Christian faith we now hold, who boast our enlightened Protestantism, has been transmitted to us through the hearts and hands of such,--who, while princes wrangled with Pope, and Pope with princes, knew nothing of it all, but, in lowly ways of prayer and patient labor, were one with us of modern times in the great central belief of the Christian heart, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain."
As Agnes came slowly up the path towards the little garden, she was conscious of a burden and weariness of spirit she had never known before. She passed the little moist grotto, which in former times she never failed to visit to see if there were any new-blown cyclamen, without giving it even a thought. A crimson spray of gladiolus leaned from the rock and seemed softly to kiss her cheek, yet she regarded it not; and once stopping and gazing abstractedly upward on the flower-tapestried walls of the gorge, as they rose in wreath and garland and festoon above her, she felt as if the brilliant yellow of the broom and the crimson of the gillyflowers, and all the fluttering, nodding armies of brightness that were dancing in the sunlight, were too gay for such a world as this, where mortal sins and sorrows made such havoc with all that seemed brightest and best, and she longed to fly away and be at rest.
Just then she heard the cheerful voice of her uncle in the little garden above, as he was singing at his painting. The words were those of that old Latin hymn of Saint Bernard, which, in its English dress, has thrilled many a Methodist class-meeting and many a Puritan conference, telling, in the welcome they meet in each Christian soul, that there is a unity in Christ's Church which is not outward,--a secret, invisible bond, by which, under warring names and badges of opposition, His true followers have yet been one in Him, even though they discerned it not.
"Jesu dulcis memoria, Dans vera cordi gaudia: Sed super mel et omnia Ejus dulcis praesentia.
"Nil canitur suavius, Nil auditur jocundius, Nil cogitatur dulcius, Quam Jesus Dei Filius.
"Jesu, spes poenitentibus, Quam pius es petentibus, Quam bonus te quaerentibus, Sed quis invenientibus! Nec lingua valet dicere, Nec littera exprimere: Expertus potest credere Quid sit Jesum diligere."[A]
Jesus, the very thought of thee With sweetness fills my breast; But sweeter far thy face to see, And in thy presence rest!
Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, Nor can the memory find A sweeter sound than thy blest name, O Saviour of mankind!
O hope of every contrite heart, O joy of all the meek, To those who fall how kind thou art, How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find! Ah, this Nor tongue nor pen can show! The love of Jesus, what it is None but his loved ones know.]
The old monk sang with all his heart; and his voice, which had been a fine one in its day, had still that power which comes from the expression of deep feeling. One often hears this peculiarity in the voices of persons of genius and sensibility, even when destitute of any real critical merit. They seem to be so interfused with the emotions of the soul, that they strike upon the heart almost like the living touch of a spirit.
Agnes was soothed in listening to him. The Latin words, the sentiment of which had been traditional in the Church from time immemorial, had to her a sacred fragrance and odor; they were words apart from all common usage, a sacramental language, never heard but in moments of devotion and aspiration,--and they stilled the child's heart in its tossings and tempest, as when of old the Jesus they spake of walked forth on the stormy sea.
"Yes, He gave His life for us!" she said; "He is ever reigning for us!
"'Jesu dulcissime, e throno gloriae Ovem deperditam venisti quaerere! Jesu suavissime, pastor fidissime, Ad te O trahe me, ut semper sequar te!'"[B]
Jesus most beautiful, from thrones in glory, Seeking thy lost sheep, thou didst descend! Jesus most tender, shepherd most faithful, To thee, oh, draw thou me, that I may follow thee, Follow thee faithfully world without end!]
"What, my little one!" said the monk, looking over the wall; "I thought I heard angels singing. Is it not a beautiful morning?"
"Dear uncle, it is," said Agnes. "And I have been so glad to hear your beautiful hymn!--it comforted me."
"Comforted you, little heart? What a word is that! When you get as far along on your journey as your old uncle, then you may talk of _comfort_. But who thinks of comforting birds or butterflies or young lambs?"
"Ah, dear uncle, I am not so very happy," said Agnes, the tears starting into her eyes.
"Not happy?" said the monk, looking up from his drawing. "Pray, what's the matter now? Has a bee stung your finger? or have you lost your nosegay over a rock? or what dreadful affliction has come upon you?--hey, my little heart?"
Agnes sat down on the corner of the marble fountain, and, covering her face with her apron, sobbed as if her heart would break.
"What has that old priest been saying to her in the confession?" said Father Antonio to himself. "I dare say he cannot understand her. She is as pure as a dew-drop on a cobweb, and as delicate; and these priests, half of them don't know how to handle the Lord's lambs.--Come now, little Agnes," he said, with a coaxing tone, "what is its trouble?--tell its old uncle,--there's a dear!"
"Ah, uncle, I can't!" said Agnes, between her sobs.
"Can't tell its uncle!--there's a pretty go! Perhaps you will tell grandmamma?"
"Oh, no, no, no! not for the world!" said Agnes, sobbing still more bitterly.
"Why, really, little heart of mine, this is getting serious," said the monk; "let your old uncle try to help you."
"It isn't for myself," said Agnes, endeavoring to check her feelings,--"it is not for myself,--it is for another,--for a soul lost. Ah, my Jesus, have mercy!"
"A soul lost? Our Mother forbid!" said the monk, crossing himself. "Lost in this Christian land, so overflowing with the beauty of the Lord?--lost out of this fair sheepfold of Paradise?"
"Yes, lost," said Agnes, despairingly,--"and if somebody do not save him, lost forever; and it is a brave and noble soul, too,--like one of the angels that fell."
"Who is it, dear?--tell me about it," said the monk. "I am one of the shepherds whose place it is to go after that which is lost, even till I find it."
"Dear uncle, you remember the youth who suddenly appeared to us in the moonlight here a few evenings ago?"
"Ah, indeed!" said the monk,--"what of him?"
"Father Francesco has told me dreadful things of him this morning."
"Uncle, he is excommunicated by our Holy Father the Pope."
Father Antonio, as a member of one of the most enlightened and cultivated religious orders of the times, and as an intimate companion and disciple of Savonarola, had a full understanding of the character of the reigning Pope, and therefore had his own private opinion of how much his excommunication was likely to be worth in the invisible world. He knew that the same doom had been threatened towards his saintly master, for opposing and exposing the scandalous vices which disgraced the high places of the Church; so that, on the whole, when he heard that this young man was excommunicated, so far from being impressed with horror towards him, he conceived the idea that he might be a particularly honest fellow and good Christian. But then he did not hold it wise to disturb the faith of the simple-hearted by revealing to them the truth about the head of the Church on earth.
While the disorders in those elevated regions filled the minds of the intelligent classes with apprehension and alarm, they held it unwise to disturb the trustful simplicity of the lower orders, whose faith in Christianity itself they supposed might thus be shaken. In fact, they were themselves somewhat puzzled how to reconcile the patent and manifest fact, that the actual incumbent of the Holy See was not under the guidance of any spirit, unless it were a diabolical one, with the theory which supposed an infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit to attend as a matter of course on that position. Some of the boldest of them did not hesitate to declare that the Holy City had suffered a foul invasion, and that a false usurper reigned in her sacred palaces in place of the Father of Christendom. The greater part did as people now do with the mysteries and discrepancies of a faith which on the whole they revere: they turned their attention from the vexed question, and sighed and longed for better days.
Father Antonio did not, therefore, tell Agnes that the announcement which had filled her with such distress was far less conclusive with himself of the ill desert of the individual to whom it related.
"My little heart," he answered, gravely, "did you learn the sin for which this young man was excommunicated?"
"Ah, me! my dear uncle, I fear he is an infidel,--an unbeliever. Indeed, now I remember it, he confessed as much to me the other day."
"Where did he tell you this?"
"You remember, my uncle, when you were sent for to the dying man? When you were gone, I kneeled down to pray for his soul; and when I rose from prayer, this young cavalier was sitting right here, on this end of the fountain. He was looking fixedly at me, with such sad eyes, so full of longing and pain, that it was quite piteous; and he spoke to me so sadly, I could not but pity him."
"What did he say to you, child?"
"Ah, father, he said that he was all alone in the world, without friends, and utterly desolate, with no one to love him; but worse than that, he said he had lost his faith, that he could not believe."
"What did you say to him?"
"Uncle, I tried, as a poor girl might, to do him some good. I prayed him to confess and take the sacrament; but he looked almost fierce when I said so. And yet I cannot but think, after all, that he has not lost all grace, because he begged me so earnestly to pray for him; he said his prayers could do no good, and wanted mine. And then I began to tell him about you, dear uncle, and how you came from that blessed convent in Florence, and about your master Savonarola; and that seemed to interest him, for he looked quite excited, and spoke the name over, as if it were one he had heard before. I wanted to urge him to come and open his case to you; and I think perhaps I might have succeeded, but that just then you and grandmamma came up the path; and when I heard you coming, I begged him to go, because you know grandmamma would be very angry, if she knew that I had given speech to a man, even for a few moments; she thinks men are so dreadful."
"I must seek this youth," said the monk, in a musing tone; "perhaps I may find out what inward temptation hath driven him away from the fold."
"Oh, do, dear uncle! do!" said Agnes, earnestly. "I am sure that he has been grievously tempted and misled, for he seems to have a noble and gentle nature; and he spoke so feelingly of his mother, who is a saint in heaven; and he seemed so earnestly to long to return to the bosom of the Church."
"The Church is a tender mother to all her erring children," said the monk.
"And don't you think that our dear Holy Father the Pope will forgive him?" said Agnes. "Surely, he will have all the meekness and gentleness of Christ, who would rejoice in one sheep found more than in all the ninety-and-nine who went not astray."
The monk could scarcely repress a smile at imagining Alexander the Sixth in this character of a good shepherd, as Agnes's enthusiastic imagination painted the head of the Church; and then he gave an inward sigh, and said, softly, "Lord, how long?"
"I think," said Agnes, "that this young man is of noble birth, for his words and his bearing and his tones of voice are not those of common men; even though he speaks so humbly and gently, there is yet something princely that looks out of his eyes, as if he were born to command; and he wears strange jewels, the like of which I never saw, on his hands and at the hilt of his dagger,--yet he seems to make nothing of them. But yet, I know not why, he spoke of himself as one utterly desolate and forlorn. Father Francesco told me that he was captain of a band of robbers who live in the mountains. One cannot think it is so."
"Little heart," said the monk, tenderly, "you can scarcely know what things befall men in these distracted times, when faction wages war with faction, and men pillage and burn and imprison, first on this side, then on that. Many a son of a noble house may find himself homeless and landless, and, chased by the enemy, may have no refuge but the fastnesses of the mountains. Thank God, our lovely Italy hath a noble backbone of these same mountains, which afford shelter to her children in their straits."
"Then you think it possible, dear uncle, that this may not be a bad man, after all?"
"Let us hope so, child. I will myself seek him out; and if his mind have been chafed by violence or injustice, I will strive to bring him back into the good ways of the Lord. Take heart, my little one,--all will yet be well. Come now, little darling, wipe your bright eyes, and look at these plans I have been making for the shrine we were talking of, in the gorge. See here, I have drawn a goodly arch with a pinnacle. Under the arch, you see, shall be the picture of our Lady with the blessed Babe. The arch shall be cunningly sculptured with vines of ivy and passion-flower; and on one side of it shall stand Saint Agnes with her lamb,--and on the other, Saint Cecilia, crowned with roses; and on this pinnacle, above all, Saint Michael, all in armor, shall stand leaning,--one hand on his sword, and holding a shield with the cross upon it."
"Ah, that will be beautiful!" said Agnes.
"You can scarcely tell," pursued the monk, "from this faint drawing, what the picture of our Lady is to be; but I shall paint her to the highest of my art, and with many prayers that I may work worthily. You see, she shall be standing on a cloud with a background all of burnished gold, like the streets of the New Jerusalem; and she shall be clothed in a mantle of purest blue from head to foot, to represent the unclouded sky of summer; and on her forehead she shall wear the evening star, which ever shineth when we say the Ave Maria; and all the borders of her blue vesture shall be cunningly wrought with fringes of stars; and the dear Babe shall lean his little cheek to hers so peacefully, and there shall be a clear shining of love through her face, and a heavenly restfulness, that it shall do one's heart good to look at her. Many a blessed hour shall I have over this picture,--many a hymn shall I sing as my work goes on. I must go about to prepare the panels forthwith; and it were well, if there be that young man who works in stone, to have him summoned to our conference."
"I think," said Agnes, "that you will find him in the town; he dwells next to the cathedral."
"I trust he is a youth of pious life and conversation," said the monk. "I must call on him this afternoon; for he ought to be stirring himself up by hymns and prayers, and by meditations on the beauty of saints and angels, for so goodly a work. What higher honor or grace can befall a creature than to be called upon to make visible to men that beauty of invisible things which is divine and eternal? How many holy men have given themselves to this work in Italy, till, from being overrun with heathen temples, it is now full of most curious and wonderful churches, shrines, and cathedrals, every stone of which is a miracle of beauty! I would, dear daughter, you could see our great Duomo in Florence, which is a mountain of precious marbles and many-colored mosaics; and the Campanile that riseth thereby is like a lily of Paradise,--so tall, so stately, with such an infinite grace, and adorned all the way up with holy emblems and images of saints and angels; nor is there any part of it, within or without, that is not finished sacredly with care, as an offering to the most perfect God. Truly, our fair Florence, though she be little, is worthy, by her sacred adornments, to be worn as the lily of our Lady's girdle, even as she hath been dedicated to her."
Agnes seemed pleased with the enthusiastic discourse of her uncle. The tears gradually dried from her eyes as she listened to him, and the hope so natural to the young and untried heart began to reassert itself. God was merciful, the world beautiful; there was a tender Mother, a reigning Saviour, protecting angels and guardian saints: surely, then, there was no need to despair of the recall of any wanderer; and the softest supplication of the most ignorant and unworthy would be taken up by so many sympathetic voices in the invisible world, and borne on in so many waves of brightness to the heavenly throne, that the most timid must have hope in prayer.
In the afternoon, the monk went to the town to seek the young artist, and also to inquire for the stranger for whom his pastoral offices were in requisition, and Agnes remained alone in the little solitary garden.
It was one of those rich slumberous afternoons of spring that seem to bathe earth and heaven with an Elysian softness; and from her little lonely nook shrouded in dusky shadows by its orange-trees, Agnes looked down the sombre gorge to where the open sea lay panting and palpitating in blue and violet waves, while the little white sails of fishing-boats drifted hither and thither, now silvered in the sunshine, now fading away like a dream into the violet vapor bands that mantled the horizon. The weather would have been oppressively sultry but for the gentle breeze which constantly drifted landward with coolness in its wings. The hum of the old town came to her ear softened by distance and mingled with the patter of the fountain and the music of birds singing in the trees overhead. Agnes tried to busy herself with her spinning; but her mind constantly wandered away, and stirred and undulated with a thousand dim and unshaped thoughts and emotions, of which she vaguely questioned in her own mind. Why did Father Francesco warn her so solemnly against an earthly love? Did he not know her vocation? But still he was wisest and must know best; there must be danger, if he said so. But then, this knight had spoken so modestly, so humbly,--so differently from Giulietta's lovers!--for Giulietta had sometimes found a chance to recount to Agnes some of her triumphs. How could it be that a knight so brave and gentle, and so piously brought up, should become an infidel? Ah, uncle Antonio was right,--he must have had some foul wrong, some dreadful injury! When Agnes was a child, in travelling with her grandmother through one of the highest passes of the Apennines, she had chanced to discover a wounded eagle, whom an arrow had pierced, sitting all alone by himself on a rock, with his feathers ruffled, and a film coming over his great, clear, bright eye,--and, ever full of compassion, she had taken him to nurse, and had travelled for a day with him in her arms; and the mournful look of his regal eyes now came into her memory. "Yes," she said to herself, "he is like my poor eagle! The archers have wounded him, so that he is glad to find shelter even with a poor maid like me; but it was easy to see my eagle had been king among birds, even as this knight is among men. Certainly, God must love him,--he is so beautiful and noble! I hope dear uncle will find him this afternoon; he knows how to teach him;--as for me, I can only pray."
Such were the thoughts that Agnes twisted into the shining white flax, while her eyes wandered dreamily over the soft hazy landscape. At last, lulled by the shivering sound of leaves, and the bird-songs, and wearied with the agitations of the morning, her head lay back against the end of the sculptured fountain, the spindle slowly dropped from her hand, and her eyes were closed in sleep, the murmur of the fountain still sounding in her dreams. In her dreams she seemed to be wandering far away among the purple passes of the Apennines, where she had come years ago when she was a little girl; with her grandmother she pushed through old olive-groves, weird and twisted with many a quaint gnarl, and rustling their pale silvery leaves in noonday twilight. Sometimes she seemed to carry in her bosom a wounded eagle, and often she sat down to stroke it and to try to give it food from her hand, and as often it looked upon her with a proud, patient eye, and then her grandmother seemed to shake her roughly by the arm and bid her throw the silly bird away;--but then again the dream changed, and she saw a knight lie bleeding and dying in a lonely hollow,--his garments torn, his sword broken, and his face pale and faintly streaked with blood; and she kneeled by him, trying in vain to stanch a deadly wound in his side, while he said reproachfully, "Agnes, dear Agnes, why would you not save me?" and then she thought he kissed her hand with his cold dying lips; and she shivered and awoke,--to find that her hand was indeed held in that of the cavalier, whose eyes met her own when first she unclosed them, and the same voice that spoke in her dreams said, "Agnes, dear Agnes!"
For a moment she seemed stupefied and confounded, and sat passively regarding the knight, who kneeled at her feet and repeatedly kissed her hand, calling her his saint, his star, his life, and whatever other fair name poetry lends to love. All at once, however, her face flushed crimson red, she drew her hand quickly away, and, rising up, made a motion to retreat, saying, in a voice of alarm,--
"Oh, my Lord, this must not be! I am committing deadly sin to hear you. Please, please go! please leave a poor girl!"
"Agnes, what does this mean?" said the cavalier. "Only two days since, in this place, you promised to love me; and that promise has brought me from utter despair to love of life. Nay, since you told me that, I have been able to pray once more; the whole world seems changed for me: and now will you take it all away,--you, who are all I have on earth?"
"My Lord, I did not know then that I was sinning. Our dear Mother knows I said only what I thought was true and right, but I find it was a sin."
"A sin _to love_, Agnes? Heaven must be full of sin, then; for there they do nothing else."
"Oh, my Lord, I must not argue with you; I am forbidden to listen even for a moment. Please go. I will never forget you, Sir,--never forget to pray for you, and to love you as they love in heaven; but I am forbidden to speak with you. I fear I have sinned in hearing and saying even this much."
"Who forbids you, Agnes? Who has the right to forbid your good, kind heart to love, where love is so deeply needed and so gratefully received?"
"My holy father, whom I am bound to obey as my soul's director," said Agnes; "he has forbidden me so much as to listen to a word, and yet I have listened to many. How could I help it?"
"Ever these priests!" said the cavalier, his brow darkening with an impatient frown; "wolves in sheep's clothing!"
"Alas!" said Agnes, sorrowfully, "why will you"--
"Why will I what?" he said, facing suddenly toward her, and looking down with a fierce, scornful determination.
"Why will you be at war with the Holy Church? Why will you peril your eternal salvation?"
"Is there a Holy Church? Where is it? Would there were one! I am blind and cannot see it. Little Agnes, you promised to lead me; but you drop my hand in the darkness. Who will guide me, if _you_ will not?"
"My Lord, I am most unfit to be your guide. I am a poor girl, without any learning; but there is my uncle I spoke to you of. Oh, my Lord, if you only would go to him, he is wise and gentle both. I must go in now, my Lord,--indeed, I must. I must not sin further. I must do a heavy penance for having listened and spoken to you, after the holy father had forbidden me."
"No, Agnes, you shall _not_ go in," said the cavalier, suddenly stepping before her and placing himself across the doorway; "you _shall_ see me, and hear me too. I take the sin on myself; you cannot help it. How will you avoid me? Will you fly now down the path of the gorge? I will follow you,--I am desperate. I had but one comfort on earth, but one hope of heaven, and that through you; and you, cruel, are so ready to give me up at the first word of your priest!"
"God knows if I do it willingly," said Agnes; "but I know it is best; for I feel I should love you too well, if I saw more of you. My Lord, you are strong and can compel me, but I beg you to leave me."
"Dear Agnes, could you really feel it possible that you might love me too well?" said the cavalier, his whole manner changing. "Ah! could I carry you far away to my home in the mountains, far up in the beautiful blue mountains, where the air is so clear, and the weary, wrangling world lies so far below that one forgets it entirely, you should be my wife, my queen, my empress. You should lead me where you would; your word should be my law. I will go with you wherever you will,--to confession, to sacrament, to prayers, never so often; never will I rebel against your word; if you decree, I will bend my neck to king or priest; I will reconcile me with anybody or anything only for your sweet sake; you shall lead me all my life; and when we die, I ask only that you may lead me to our Mother's throne in heaven, and pray her to tolerate me for your sake. Come, now, dear, is not even one unworthy soul worth saving?"
"My Lord, you have taught me how wise my holy father was in forbidding me to listen to you. He knew better than I how weak was my heart, and how I might be drawn on from step to step till----My Lord, I must be no man's wife. I follow the blessed Saint Agnes. May God give me grace to keep my vows without wavering!--for then I shall gain power to intercede for you and bring down blessings on your soul. Oh, never, never speak to me so again, my Lord!--you will make me very, _very_ unhappy. If there is any truth in your words, my Lord, if you really love me, you will go, and you will never try to speak to me again."
"Never, Agnes? never? Think what you are saying!"
"Oh, I do think! I know it must be best," said Agnes, much agitated; "for, if I should see you often and hear your voice, I should lose all my strength. I could never resist, and I should lose heaven for you and me too. Leave me, and I will never, never forget to pray for you; and go quickly too, for it is time for my grandmother to come home, and she would be so angry,--she would never believe I had not been doing wrong, and perhaps she would make me marry somebody that I do not wish to. She has threatened that many times; but I beg her to leave me free to go to my sweet home in the convent and my dear Mother Theresa."
"They shall never marry you against your will, little Agnes, I pledge you my knightly word. I will protect you from that. Promise me, dear, that, if ever you be man's wife, you will be mine. Only promise me that, and I will go."
"Will you?" said Agnes, in an ecstasy of fear and apprehension, in which there mingled some strange troubled gleams of happiness. "Well, then, I will. Ah! I hope it is no sin."
"Believe me, dearest, it is not," said the knight. "Say it again,--say, that I may hear it,--say, 'If ever I am man's wife, I will be thine,'--say it, and I will go."
"Well, then, my Lord, if ever I am man's wife, I will be thine," said Agnes. "But I will be no man's wife. My heart and hand are promised elsewhere. Come, now, my Lord, your word must be kept."
"Let me put this ring on your finger, lest you forget," said the cavalier. "It was my mother's ring, and never during her lifetime heard anything but prayers and hymns. It is saintly, and worthy of thee."
"No, my Lord, I may not. Grandmother would inquire about it. I cannot keep it; but fear not my forgetting: I shall never forget you."
"Will you ever want to see me, Agnes?"
"I hope not, since it is not best. But you do not go."
"Well, then, farewell, my little wife! farewell, till I claim thee!" said the cavalier, as he kissed her hand, and vaulted over the wall.
"How strange that I _cannot_ make him understand!" said Agnes, when he was gone. "I must have sinned, I must have done wrong; but I have been trying all the while to do right. Why would he stay so and look at me so with those deep eyes? I was very hard with him,--very! I trembled for him, I was so severe; and yet it has not discouraged him enough. How strange that he would call me so, after all, when I explained to him I never could marry!--Must I tell all this to Father Francesco? How dreadful! How he looked at me before! How he trembled and turned away from me! What will he think now? Ah, me! why must I tell _him_? If I could only confess to my mother Theresa, that would be easier. We have a mother in heaven to hear us; why should we not have a mother on earth? Father Francesco frightens me so! His eyes burn me! They seem to burn into my soul, and he seems angry with me sometimes, and sometimes looks at me so strangely! Dear, blessed Mother," she said, kneeling at the shrine, "help thy little child! I do not want to do wrong: I want to do right. Oh that I could come and live with thee!"
Poor Agnes! a new experience had opened in her heretofore tranquil life, and her day was one of conflict. Do what she would, the words that had been spoken to her in the morning would return to her mind, and sometimes she awoke with a shock of guilty surprise at finding she had been dreaming over what the cavalier said to her of living with him alone, in some clear, high, purple solitude of those beautiful mountains which she remembered as an enchanted dream of her childhood. Would he really always love her, then, always go with her to prayers and mass and sacrament, and be reconciled to the Church, and should she indeed have the joy of feeling that this noble soul was led back to heavenly peace through her? Was not this better than a barren life of hymns and prayers in a cold convent? Then the very voice that said these words, that voice of veiled strength and manly daring, that spoke with such a gentle pleading, and yet such an undertone of authority, as if he had a right to claim her for himself,--she seemed to feel the tones of that voice in every nerve;--and then the strange thrilling pleasure of thinking that he loved her so. Why should he, this strange, beautiful knight? Doubtless he had seen splendid high-born ladies,--he had seen even queens and princesses,--and what could he find to like in her, a poor little peasant? Nobody ever thought so much of her before, and he was so unhappy without her;--it was strange he should be; but he said so, and it must be true. After all, Father Francesco might be mistaken about his being wicked. On the whole, she felt sure he was mistaken, at least in part. Uncle Antonio did not seem to be so much shocked at what she told him; he knew the temptations of men better, perhaps, because he did not stay shut up in one convent, but travelled all about, preaching and teaching. If only he could see him, and talk with him, and make him a good Christian,--why, then, there would be no further need of her;--and Agnes was surprised to find what a dreadful, dreary blank appeared before her when she thought of this. Why should she wish him to remember her, since she never could be his?--and yet nothing seemed so dreadful as that he should forget her. So the poor little innocent fly beat and fluttered in the mazes of that enchanted web, where thousands of her frail sex have beat and fluttered before her.
THE MONK AND THE CAVALIER.
Father Antonio had been down through the streets of the old town of Sorrento, searching for the young stonecutter, and, finding him, had spent some time in enlightening him as to the details of the work he wished him to execute.
He found him not so easily kindled into devotional fervors as he had fondly imagined, nor could all his most devout exhortations produce one-quarter of the effect upon him that resulted from the discovery that it was the fair Agnes who originated the design and was interested in its execution. Then did the large black eyes of the youth kindle into something of sympathetic fervor, and he willingly promised to do his very best at the carving.
"I used to know the fair Agnes well, years ago," he said, "but of late she will not even look at me; yet I worship her none the less. Who can help it that sees her? I don't think she is so hard-hearted as she seems; but her grandmother and the priests won't so much as allow her to lift up her eyes when one of us young fellows goes by. Twice these five years past have I seen her eyes, and then it was when I contrived to get near the holy water when there was a press round it of a saint's day, and I reached some to her on my finger, and then she smiled upon me and thanked me. Those two smiles are all I have had to live on for all this time. Perhaps, if I work very well, she will give me another, and perhaps she will say, 'Thank you, my good Pietro!' as she used to, when I brought her birds' eggs or helped her across the ravine, years ago."
"Well, my brave boy, do your best," said the monk, "and let the shrine be of the fairest white marble. I will be answerable for the expense; I will beg it of those who have substance."
"So please you, holy father," said Pietro, "I know of a spot, a little below here on the coast, where was a heathen temple in the old days; and one can dig therefrom long pieces of fair white marble, all covered with heathen images. I know not whether your Reverence would think them fit for Christian purposes."
"So much the better, boy! so much the better!" said the monk, heartily. "Only let the marble be fine and white, and it is as good as converting a heathen any time to baptize it to Christian uses. A few strokes of the chisel will soon demolish their naked nymphs and other such rubbish, and we can carve holy virgins, robed from head to foot in all modesty, as becometh saints."
"I will get my boat and go down this very afternoon," said Pietro; "and, Sir, I hope I am not making too bold in asking you, when you see the fair Agnes, to present unto her this lily, in memorial of her old playfellow."
"That I will, my boy! And now I think of it, she spoke kindly of you as one that had been a companion in her childhood, but said her grandmother would not allow her to speak to you now."
"Ah, that is it!" said Pietro. "Old Elsie is a fierce old kite, with strong beak and long claws, and will not let the poor girl have any good of her youth. Some say she means to marry her to some rich old man, and some say she will shut her up in a convent, which I should say was a sore hurt and loss to the world. There are a plenty of women, whom nobody wants to look at, for that sort of work; and a beautiful face is a kind of psalm which makes one want to be good."
"Well, well, my boy, work well and faithfully for the saints on this shrine, and I dare promise you many a smile from this fair maiden; for her heart is set upon the glory of God and his saints, and she will smile on any one who helps on the good work. I shall look in on you daily for a time, till I see the work well started."
So saying, the old monk took his leave. Just as he was passing out of the house, some one brushed rapidly by him, going down the street. As he passed, the quick eye of the monk recognized the cavalier whom he had seen in the garden but a few evenings before. It was not a face and form easily forgotten, and the monk followed him at a little distance behind, resolving, if he saw him turn in anywhere, to follow and crave an audience of him.
Accordingly, as he saw the cavalier entering under the low arch that led to his hotel, he stepped up and addressed him with a gesture of benediction.
"God bless you, my son!"
"What would you with me, father?" said the cavalier, with a hasty and somewhat suspicious glance.
"I would that you would give me an audience of a few moments on some matters of importance," said the monk, mildly.
The tones of his voice seemed to have excited some vague remembrance in the mind of the cavalier; for he eyed him narrowly, and seemed trying to recollect where he had seen him before. Suddenly a light appeared to flash upon his mind; for his whole manner became at once more cordial.
"My good father," he said, "my poor lodging and leisure are at your service for any communication you may see fit to make."
So saying, he led the way up the damp, ill-smelling stone staircase, and opened the door of the deserted room where we have seen him once before. Closing the door, and seating himself at the one rickety table which the room afforded, he motioned to the monk to be seated also; then taking off his plumed hat, he threw it negligently on the table beside him, and passing his white, finely formed hand through the black curls of his hair, he tossed them carelessly from his forehead, and, leaning his chin in the hollow of his hand, fixed his glittering eyes on the monk in a manner that seemed to demand his errand.
"My Lord," said the monk, in those gentle, conciliating tones which were natural to him, "I would ask a little help of you in regard of a Christian undertaking which I have here in hand. The dear Lord hath put it into the heart of a pious young maid of this vicinity to erect a shrine to the honor of our Lady and her dear Son in this gorge of Sorrento, hard by. It is a gloomy place in the night, and hath been said to be haunted by evil spirits; and my fair niece, who is full of all holy thoughts, desired me to draw the plan for this shrine, and, so far as my poor skill may go, I have done so. See here, my Lord, are the drawings."
The monk laid them down on the table, his pale cheek flushing with a faint glow of artistic enthusiasm and pride, as he explained to the young man the plan and drawings.
The cavalier listened courteously, but without much apparent interest, till the monk drew from his portfolio a paper and said,--
"This, my Lord, is my poor and feeble conception of the most sacred form of our Lady, which I am to paint for the centre of the shrine."
He laid down the paper, and the cavalier, with a sudden exclamation, snatched it up, looking at it eagerly.
"It is she!" he said; "it is her very self!--the divine Agnes,--the lily flower,--the sweet star,--the only one among women!"
"I see you have recognized the likeness," said the monk, blushing. "I know it hath been thought a practice of doubtful edification to represent holy things under the image of aught earthly; but when any mortal seems especially gifted with a heavenly spirit outshining in the face, it may be that our Lady chooses that person to reveal herself in."
The cavalier was gazing so intently on the picture that he scarcely heard the apology of the monk; he held it up, and seemed to study it with a long admiring gaze.
"You have great skill with your pencil, my father," he said; "one would not look for such things from under a monk's hood."
"I belong to the San Marco in Florence, of which you may have heard," said Father Antonio, "and am an unworthy disciple of the traditions of the blessed Angelico, whose visions of heavenly things are ever before us; and no less am I a disciple of the renowned Savonarola, of whose fame all Italy hath heard before now."
"Savonarola?" said the other, with eagerness,--"he that makes these vile miscreants that call themselves Pope and Cardinals tremble? All Italy, all Christendom, is groaning and stretching out the hand to him to free them from these abominations. My father, tell me of Savonarola: how goes he, and what success hath he?"
"My son, it is now many months since I left Florence; since which time I have been sojourning in by-places, repairing shrines and teaching the poor of the Lord's flock, who are scattered and neglected by the idle shepherds, who think only to eat the flesh and warm themselves with the fleece of the sheep for whom the Good Shepherd gave his life. My duties have been humble and quiet; for it is not given to me to wield the sword of rebuke and controversy, like my great master."
"And you have not heard, then," said the cavalier, eagerly, "that they have excommunicated him?"
"I knew that was threatened," said the monk, "but I did not think it possible that it could befall a man of such shining holiness of life, so signally and openly owned of God that the very gifts of the first Apostles seem revived in him."
"Does not Satan always hate the Lord," said the cavalier. "Alexander and his councils are possessed of the Devil, if ever men were,--and are sealed as his children by every abominable wickedness. The Devil sits in Christ's seat, and hath stolen his signet-ring, to seal decrees against the Lord's own followers. What are Christian men to do in such case?"
The monk sighed and looked troubled.
"It is hard to say," he answered. "So much I know,--that before I left Florence our master wrote to the King of France touching the dreadful state of things at Rome, and tried to stir him up to call a general council of the Church. I much fear me this letter may have fallen into the hands of the Pope."
"I tell you, father," said the young man, starting up and laying his hand on his sword, "_we must fight_! It is the sword that must decide this matter! Was not the Holy Sepulchre saved from the Infidels by the sword?--and once more the sword must save the Holy City from worse infidels than the Turks. If such doings as these are allowed in the Holy City, another generation there will be no Christians left on earth. Alexander and Caesar Borgia and the Lady Lucrezia are enough to drive religion from the world. They make us long to go back to the traditions of our Roman fathers,--who were men of cleanly and honorable lives and of heroic deeds, scorning bribery and deceit. They honored God by noble lives, little as they knew of Him. But these men are a shame to the mothers that bore them."
"You speak too truly, my son," said the monk. "Alas! the creation groaneth and travaileth in pain with these things. Many a time and oft have I seen our master groaning and wrestling with God on this account. For it is to small purpose that we have gone through Italy preaching and stirring up the people to more holy lives, when from the very hill of Zion, the height of the sanctuary, come down these streams of pollution. It seems as if the time had come that the world could bear it no longer."
"Well, if it come to the trial of the sword, as come it must," said the cavalier, "say to your master that Agostino Sarelli has a band of one hundred tried men and an impregnable fastness in the mountains, where he may take refuge, and where they will gladly hear the Word of God from pure lips. They call us robbers,--us who have gone out from the assembly of robbers, that we might lead honest and cleanly lives. There is not one among us that hath not lost houses, lands, brothers, parents, children, or friends, through their treacherous cruelty. There be those whose wives and sisters have been forced into the Borgia harem; there be those whose children have been tortured before their eyes,--those who have seen the fairest and dearest slaughtered by these hell-hounds, who yet sit in the seat of the Lord and give decrees in the name of Christ. Is there a God? If there be, why is He silent?"
"Yea, my son, there is a God," said the monk; "but His ways are not as ours. A thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday, as a watch in the night. He shall come, and shall not keep silence."
"Perhaps you do not know, father," said the young man, "that I, too, am excommunicated. I am excommunicated, because, Caesar Borgia having killed my oldest brother, and dishonored and slain my sister, and seized on all our possessions, and the Pope having protected and confirmed him therein, I declare the Pope to be not of God, but of the Devil. I will not submit to him, nor be ruled by him; and I and my fellows will make good our mountains against him and his crew with such right arms as the good Lord hath given us."
"The Lord be with you, my son!" said the monk; "and the Lord bring His Church out of these deep waters! Surely, it is a lovely and beautiful Church, made dear and precious by innumerable saints and martyrs who have given their sweet lives up willingly for it; and it is full of records of righteousness, of prayers and alms and works of mercy that have made even the very dust of our Italy precious and holy. Why hast Thou abandoned this vine of Thy planting, O Lord? The boar out of the wood doth waste it; the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech Thee, and visit this vine of Thy planting!"
The monk clasped his hands and looked upward pleadingly, the tears running down his wasted cheeks. Ah, many such strivings and prayers in those days went up from silent hearts in obscure solitudes, that wrestled and groaned under that mighty burden which Luther at last received strength to heave from the heart of the Church.
"Then, father, you do admit that one may be banned by the Pope, and may utterly refuse and disown him, and yet be a Christian?"
"How can I otherwise?" said the monk. "Do I not see the greatest saint this age or any age has ever seen under the excommunication of the greatest sinner? Only, my son, let me warn you. Become not irreverent to the true Church, because of a false usurper. Reverence the sacraments, the hymns, the prayers all the more for this sad condition in which you stand. What teacher is more faithful in these respects than my master? Who hath more zeal for our blessed Lord Jesus, and a more living faith in Him? Who hath a more filial love and tenderness towards our blessed Mother? Who hath more reverent communion with all the saints than he? Truly, he sometimes seems to me to walk encompassed by all the armies of heaven,--such a power goes forth in his words, and such a holiness in his life."
"Ah," said Agostino, "would I had such a confessor! The sacraments might once more have power for me, and I might cleanse my soul from unbelief."
"Dear son," said the monk, "accept a most unworthy, but sincere follower of this holy prophet, who yearns for thy salvation. Let me have the happiness of granting to thee the sacraments of the Church, which, doubtless, are thine by right as one of the flock of the Lord Jesus. Come to me some day this week in confession, and thereafter thou shalt receive the Lord within thee, and be once more united to Him."
"My good father," said the young man, grasping his hand, and much affected, "I will come. Your words have done me good; but I must think more of them. I will come soon; but these things cannot be done without pondering; it will take some time to bring my heart into charity with all men."
The monk rose up to depart, and began to gather up his drawings.
"For this matter, father," said the cavalier, throwing several gold pieces upon the table, "take these, and as many more as you need ask for your good work. I would willingly pay any sum," he added, while a faint blush rose to his cheek, "if you would give me a copy of this. Gold would be nothing in comparison with it."
"My son," said the monk, smiling, "would it be to thee an image of an earthly or a heavenly love?"
"Of both, father," said the young man. "For that dear face has been more to me than prayer or hymn; it has been even as a sacrament to me, and through it I know not what of holy and heavenly influences have come to me."
"Said I not well," said the monk, exulting, "that there were those on whom our Mother shed such grace that their very beauty led heavenward? Such are they whom the artist looks for, when he would adorn a shrine where the faithful shall worship. Well, my son, I must use my poor art for you; and as for gold, we of our convent take it not except for the adorning of holy things, such as this shrine."
"How soon shall it be done?" said the young man, eagerly.
"Patience, patience, my Lord! Rome was not built in a day, and our art must work by slow touches; but I will do my best. But wherefore, my Lord, cherish this image?"
"Father, are you of near kin to this maid?"
"I am her mother's only brother."
"Then I say to you, as the nearest of her male kin, that I seek this maid in pure and honorable marriage; and she hath given me her promise, that, if ever she be wife of mortal man, she will be mine."
"But she looks not to be wife of any man," said the monk; "so, at least, I have heard her say; though her grandmother would fain marry her to a husband of her choosing. 'Tis a wilful woman, is my sister Elsie, and a worldly,--not easy to persuade, and impossible to drive."
"And she hath chosen for this fair angel some base peasant churl who will have no sense of her exceeding loveliness? By the saints, if it come to this, I will carry her away with the strong arm!"
"That is not to be apprehended just at present. Sister Elsie is dotingly fond of the girl, which hath slept in her bosom since infancy."
"And why should I not demand her in marriage of your sister?" said the young man.
"My Lord, you are an excommunicated man, and she would have horror of you. It is impossible; it would not be to edification to make the common people judges in such matters. It is safest to let their faith rest undisturbed, and that they be not taught to despise ecclesiastical censures. This could not be explained to Elsie; she would drive you from her doors with her distaff, and you would scarce wish to put your sword against it. Besides, my Lord, if you were not excommunicated, you are of noble blood, and this alone would be a fatal objection with my sister, who hath sworn on the holy cross that Agnes shall never love one of your race."
"What is the cause of this hatred?"
"Some foul wrong which a noble did her mother," said the monk; "for Agnes is of gentle blood on her father's side."
"I might have known it," said the cavalier to himself; "her words and ways are unlike anything in her class.--Father," he added, touching his sword, "we soldiers are fond of cutting all Gordian knots, whether of love or religion, with this. The sword, father, is the best theologian, the best casuist. The sword rights wrongs and punishes evil-doers, and some day the sword may cut the way out of this embarrass also."
"Gently, my son! gently!" said the monk; "nothing is lost by patience. See how long it takes the good Lord to make a fair flower out of a little seed; and He does all quietly, without bluster. Wait on Him a little in peacefulness and prayer, and see what He will do for thee."
"Perhaps you are right, my father," said the cavalier, cordially. "Your counsels have done me good, and I shall seek them further. But do not let them terrify my poor Agnes with dreadful stories of the excommunication that hath befallen me. The dear saint is breaking her good little heart for my sins, and her confessor evidently hath forbidden her to speak to me or look at me. If her heart were left to itself, it would fly to me like a little tame bird, and I would cherish it forever; but now she sees sin in every innocent, womanly thought,--poor little dear child-angel that she is!"
"Her confessor is a Franciscan," said the monk, who, good as he was, could not escape entirely from the ruling prejudice of his order,--"and, from what I know of him, I should think might be unskilful in what pertaineth to the nursing of so delicate a lamb. It is not every one to whom is given the gift of rightly directing souls."
"I'd like to carry her off from him!" said the cavalier, between his teeth. "I will, too, if he is not careful!" Then he added aloud, "Father, Agnes is mine,--mine by the right of the truest worship and devotion that man could ever pay to woman,--mine because she loves me. For I know she loves me; I know it far better than she knows it herself, the dear innocent child! and I will not have her torn from me to waste her life in a lonely, barren convent, or to be the wife of a stolid peasant. I am a man of my word, and I will vindicate my right to her in the face of God and man."
"Well, well, my son, as I said before, patience,--one thing at a time. Let us say our prayers and sleep to-night, to begin with, and to-morrow will bring us fresh counsel."
"Well, my father, you will be for me in this matter?" said the young man.
"My son, I wish you all happiness; and if this be for your best good and that of my dear niece, I wish it. But, as I said, there must be time and patience. The way must be made clear. I will see how the case stands; and you may be sure, when I can in good conscience, I will befriend you."
"Thank you, my father, thank you!" said the young man, bending his knee to receive the monk's parting benediction.
"It seems to me not best," said the monk, turning once more, as he was leaving the threshold, "that you should come to me at present where I am,--it would only raise a storm that I could not allay; and so great would be the power of the forces they might bring to bear on the child, that her little heart might break and the saints claim her too soon."
"Well, then, father, come hither to me to-morrow at this same hour, if I be not too unworthy of your pastoral care."
"I shall be too happy, my son," said the monk. "So be it."
And he turned from the door just as the bell of the cathedral struck the Ave Maria, and all in the street bowed in the evening act of worship.
* * * * *
A NIGHT IN A WHERRY.
As the summer vacation drew near, and the closed shutters and comparative quiet of the west end made one for a moment believe in the phrase, "Nobody in town," I had, after some thought, determined to resist the many temptations of a walking tour, and, instead of trusting to shoe-leather, try what virtue lay in a stout pair of oars, and make a trip by water instead of land.
But first, in what direction? The careful search of a huge chart and some knowledge of the Northern and Eastern seaboard led me to mark out a course along the shore of Massachusetts and among the beautiful islands which stud the coast of Maine.
The cruise was at that time a novel one, and many were the doubts expressed as to the seaworthiness of my boat. She was twenty-two feet long, nine inches high, and thirty-two wide,--canvas-covered, except about four feet of the middle section, with sufficient space to stow two days' food and water, and to carry all the baggage necessary for a week's voyage. The oars were made especially strong for the occasion, of spruce, ten feet three inches in length, and nicely balanced. In addition to provision and clothes, a gun, a couple of hundred feet of stout line, and a boat-hook were stowed in the bottom.
The day fixed for departure rose clear. An east wind tempered the heat of the sun; but the tide, which by starting earlier would have been in my favor, was dead low, and would turn before I could round the northern point of the city. After all my traps had been put on board, seating myself carefully, the oars were handed in, and a few strokes sent me ahead of the raft. The tide was low, dead low, in the fullest meaning of the word; the sea-weed slowly circled and eddied round, floating neither up nor down; while the unrippled surface of the Back Bay reflected the city and bridges so perfectly that it was hard to tell where reality ended and seeming began. Passing beneath the Cambridge draw, I turned the boat's head for the next one, and kept close to the northern point of the city. Seven bridges must be passed ere the bay opened before me. The boat had just cleared the last, when, remembering that no matches had been provided, and not knowing where a landing might be made, I decided to lay in a stock before putting to sea. With a narrow shave past the Chelsea ferry-boat, I backed water, and came alongside a raft of ship-timber seasoning near one of the docks, tenanted by a score or more of semi-amphibious urchins, who were running races over the half-sunken logs, and taking all sizes of duckings, from the slight spatter to the complete souse. Engaging the services of one of these water-rats, by a judicious promise of a larger sum as payment than the one intrusted to him for the purchase, I had soon a sufficient supply, and, resting the boat-hook on one of the logs, pushed off. East Boston ferry was quickly passed, my boat lifting and falling gracefully in the swell of the steamer, and I began to feel the flow of the rising tide setting steadily against her. Governor's Island showed rather hazy three miles off; Apple Island, tufted with trees, looked in the shimmering light like one of the palm-crowned Atolls of the Pacific; and, just discernible through the foggy air, Deer Island and the Hospital loomed up. A straight course would have saved at least two miles and avoided the strength of the tide; but, though my boat drew only three inches, and there was water enough and to spare on the flats, the sea-weed, growing thick as grain in the harvest-field, and half floating where the depth was three or four feet, collecting round the sharp bow as a long tress of hay gathers round a tooth of a rake, and burying the oar-blade, impeded all progress, and obliged me to pull almost double the distance against the rapid tide-set of the circuitous channels. I worked through the bends and reaches, till the deep, strong current of Shirley Gut was to be stemmed, where the tide runs with great force,--nearly fifty feet in depth of pure green water, eddying and whirling round, all sorts of ripples and small whirlpools dimpling its surface,--with the rushing sound which deep and swift water makes against its banks. A few moments' tough pulling brought me through, and, once outside Deer Island, nothing lay between me and Nahant. The well-known beach and the sandy headland called "Grover" stood out at the edge of Lynn Bay, and the rise and fall of the white surf, too distant to be heard, marked the long reef stretching seaward. After dining, and allowing the boat to drift while rearranging my provisions, I took my place, and, getting the proper bearings astern, bent on the oars.
To those who have rowed only clumsy country-boats, with their awkward row-locks and wretched oars, slimy, dirty, and leaking, trailing behind tags and streamers of pond-weed, or who have only experimented with that most uncivilized style of digging up the water called paddling, the real pleasure of rowing is unknown.
Grover's Head went astern; Nahant grew more and more distinct. There was but little wind, and the boat went rocking over the long roll of the huge waves, cutting smoothly through their wrinkled surface. In sight to the south and the east were the Brewsters, the outer light, and the sails of vessels of all sizes and shapes which were slowly making their way into the harbor. The afternoon was cloudy; but now and then a brilliant ray of sunshine would fall on islands and vessels, lighting them up for an instant, and then closing over again. My route took me about three miles outside Nahant and in full view of the end of the promontory. There was now a clear course, except that occasionally a huge patch of floating seaweed would suddenly deaden and then stop the boat's headway, compelling me to back water and clear the bow of the long strands. It was at first very startling to be thus checked when running at full speed; the sensation being that some one has grasped the boat and is pushing her back. With the resistance come the rush and ripple, as the sharp stem plunges through the floating mass of weed. The wind, which had been light and baffling all the forenoon, after I had passed Nahant, and was abreast of Egg Rock with its little whitewashed light-house, freshened, and, veering to the southeast, blew across my track. The vessels began to lean to its force, and the waves to rise. I was then outside Swampscott Bay, about eight miles from land. The shore was plainly visible, with the buildings dotted along like specks of white, and the outlying reefs showing by the sparkle of the foam upon them. Phillips's Beach, and the island called by the romantic name of Ram, were now opposite. Half-Way Rock, so named from being half way from Boston to Gloucester, was the point towards which I had been pulling for two hours, and it could now for the first time be seen. It came in sight as the boat was rising on a huge wave which broke under her and went rushing shoreward, roaring savagely, with long streaks of foam down its green back. The elevation of the eyes above the water was so small, that, when my boat sank away in the trough of the sea, nothing could be seen above the top of the advancing wave. I had, therefore, to watch my chance, and when she rose, get my bearings.
Half-Way Rock is a water-washed mass of porphyritic stone, the top about twenty feet above high tide, shaped much like a pyramid, and a few years since was capped with a conical granite beacon, strongly built and riveted down, but which had been two-thirds washed away by the tremendous surf of the easterly storms. The rock stands at the outer edge of a long sand-shoal, and is east of Salem. To the northward, a dim blue line on the horizon, lay Cape Ann, by my reckoning, about eighteen miles distant. I kept on pulling over the swell, which was growing larger, not quite in the trough of the sea,--but when a particularly large wave came easing up a little, so as to take the boat more on the bow, the motion was not a pleasant one. It was a sort of half rolling, half pitching,--very unlike the even, smooth slide of the early part of the afternoon. The rock soon became plainer, and at last I rested on my oars to watch the waves as they broke on its furrowed face. The great rollers, which became higher as the water shoaled toward its foot, fell upon it bursting into foam, and jetting the spray high above the half-broken beacon. It was a beautiful sight as the spray broke under the shadow of the seaward face and was thrown up into the sunlight.
Not heeding whither I was drifting, a nasal hail suddenly roused me to the fact that there were other navigators in those seas. "Bo-oat ahoy! Whar' ye bo-ound?" Giving a stroke with the larboard oar, I saw, hove to, a fishing-schooner,--her whole crew of skipper, three men, and a boy standing at the gangway and looking with all their ten eyes to make out, if possible, what strange kind of sea-monster had turned up. My boat could not have seemed very seaworthy, only seven inches above water, disappearing in the trough of every sea that passed, then lifting its long and slender bow of brilliant crimson above the white foam, and the occupant apparently on a level with the water. The hail was repeated. The answer, "Cape Ann," did not satisfy them; and the question, "Wa-ant any he-elp?" was next bawled out. My only reply was by a shake of the head; and settling back into my place, I gave way on the oars, and left my fishing friends still looking and evidently very uncertain whether it were not better to make an attempt at a rescue.
I now kept on about a mile farther toward the Cape, but found that the time before sundown was too short to reach it. About seven miles distant, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea, was the hospitable mansion of Mr. T., where I was sure of a welcome and a good berth for my boat, and which snug harbor could just be reached by nightfall. The way lay straight across Gooseberry Shoal, on the outside of which stands Half-Way Rock. The sea for my small boat was very heavy; but, having full confidence in her buoyancy, I drove straight on. Upon the shoal the color of the water changed from deep to light green; the sea was shorter, much higher, and broke quicker; the waves washed over the stern of the boat, burying it two feet or more, and coming almost into the seat-room. Then she would lift herself free, and ride high and clear on the backs of the great rollers, which would break and crush down under her, sending her well ahead. The sunlight, falling from behind, shone through the body of each wave, making it of the most transparent brilliant emerald, and tinting the foam with every hue of the rainbow. Pulling with the sea is very easy work, if the boat be long enough to keep from broaching to,--that is, swinging sideways and rolling over, a performance which dories are apt to indulge in. There are on the shoal several reefs, whose black ridges are just awash at high tide; past these the inner edge of the water deepens and the sea becomes smoother. About an hour brought me inside what is called by the dwellers thereabout the "outer island,"--its gray-red rocks tufted here and there with patches of coarse grass, and weather-worn and seamed by surf and storm, with the usual accompaniment of mackerel-gulls screaming and soaring aloft at the approach of a stranger. When within about a quarter of a mile of the shore, I backed round to come upon the beach stern foremost through the surf. If the surf be high, coming ashore is a delicate operation; for, should the boat be turned broadside on, she would be thrown over upon the oarsman, and both washed up the beach in a flood of sandy salt-water; so it requires some little steadiness to sit back to the coming wave, hear the increasing roar, and feel the sudden lift and toss shoreward which each roller gives you as it plunges down upon the sand. Just before coming to the outer edge of the surf, I was seen by my friends, who hastened down the cliff-road to receive me. Resting on my oars, I waited, till, hearing a large roller coming, whose voice gained in strength and depth as it drew nearer to the shore, I looked behind. The crest was already beginning to curl, as it dashed under the boat and swept me in-shore, breaking, as the stern passed, the top of the sea, and carrying me in, full speed, with the flood of foam and spray. After three or four quick strokes I jerked the oars out of the row-locks, jumped into the water knee-deep, and wading dragged the boat backwards as far as she would float, when the receding surf let her gently down upon the sand, and before the next wave the servant had taken the bow and I the stern and lifted her high and dry upon the beach. And so my afternoon's pull of thirty miles was safely and successfully finished, my boat having proved herself thoroughly seaworthy, though my friends could hardly believe that such a craft could be safely trusted. After removing the stores and arranging other matters, we took her up, placed her quietly upon the grass, and left her for the night.
The next morning was rather hazy. About nine o'clock I took my way to the beach, and began to prepare for departure. Mr. T.'s house lies several miles to the south and west of Cape Ann. Eastern Point, on the Cape, was therefore the place to be steered for in a straight line,--perhaps six miles distant. Two miles on, the white light-house on the Point can be plainly seen. The tide was rising, and the two lines of ripple met across the sand-bar which connects a little island with the beach. My boat was now carried down from her night's resting-place and set at the edge of the water. The oars being placed in readiness, two of us waded out with her till she would just float, when, quickly and cautiously stepping in, I met the advancing wave in time to ride over it. The line of surf is hard to cross, unless one can catch the roller before it begins to crest. Once outside the line, I turned and pulled swiftly across the bar, over which the tide had risen a few inches, and, bidding good-morning to my hospitable entertainers, set off for Eastern Point. There was considerable swell, though not much wind. The shore being familiar to me, I was rowing along leisurely, recognizing one well-known cliff after another, as they came in sight, and was between Kettle Island and the main, when a slight dampness in the air caused me to turn my face to the eastward, and I saw coming in from the sea, preceded by an advance guard of feathery mist, a dense bank of fog. It swept in, blotting out sea, shore, everything but the view a few feet around the boat. Fortunately knowing the place, and guided by the sound of the surf, I soon neared the wet, brown rocks at the inner edge of Kettle Island. Backing up into a little cove between two huge sea-weedy boulders I waited, hoping that a turn in the wind might drive the mist seaward and allow me to keep on. There I sat a full hour, watching the star-fish, and the crabs scrambling about among the loose strands of the olive-green and deep purple rock-weed, which looked almost black in the shadow, while here and there, as it waved to and fro with the sea, disclosing patches of yellow sand. Very beautiful was this natural aquarium; but time was flying, and "The Shoals" were more than thirty miles distant. The mist began to drive in long rifts, and a gleam of sunshine came out, but only for a moment. I took advantage of it at once, and pushed out from port.
The opposite shore of the cove, in the mouth of which the island lies, was dimly discernible, and the dense foliage of the willows surrounding the fishermen's houses loomed up in the distance, while at the extreme end of the Point the sea broke heavily on the long protruding reef which slanted eastward. I made rapidly for the Point, and reached the outside line of rollers just in time; for the fog, which had been drifting backwards and forwards and torn in long rents, now closed over again, shutting down darker than ever. It was with the utmost difficulty that I could make out the faint gray line of cliff and surf. On the whole, however, it appeared best to keep on and feel my way along the coast, navigating rather by sound than by sight. The shore grows higher as you go northward towards Gloucester harbor, and is, if possible, more rugged and broken than to the south. The chief danger was from sunken rocks, which every wave submerged three or four feet, and which in the hollow of the sea were wholly above water. I came upon one very suddenly, as the wave was swelling above it, and the rock-weed afloat on its sunken head looked, for the instant, like the hair of a drowning person. My boat went directly over it, and the next moment its black crest rose in the trough of the wave. One such chance of wreck was enough, and so I kept farther out, losing sight almost entirely of the cliffs. The sun, meanwhile, was pouring down an intense heat, making the fog luminous, but not rendering the coast any more visible. I knew that before me, somewhere, lay the reef of Norman's Woe. The huge rock on the inside of the reef, separated from the shore by a narrow strait, I judged must be right ahead, but not knowing how near, I kept on, cautiously looking behind, every few strokes, and began to think I must have passed it in the fog, when suddenly, as if it had stepped in the way, it rose before me, its top lost in the mist, and with the sullen drip and splash of the sea on its almost perpendicular sides. I had to back water with some force, and, skirting the reef, stood on till fairly outside,--when, turning shoreward again, I went on to the edge of the surf.
Resuming my former style of navigation, almost twisting my head off to keep a sharp look-out for rocks and reefs, I came to what seemed to be the mouth of Gloucester harbor, and there stopped for a moment. There was no use in pulling up one side of the harbor and down the other, four miles, while in a straight line to the Point it was only one and a half. I had almost decided on rowing the longer distance, however, when I heard a bell ringing somewhere in the direction of Eastern Point. It was striking in measured time, and the sound came across the water with great distinctness. It puzzled me a little, till I remembered there was a fog-bell as well as a light-house on the Point. Hoping that the tolling would continue, I aimed for the bell as straight as possible. With a couple of strokes the shore vanished, and nothing could be seen but fog. Rowing where there is plenty of light and yet nothing visible is embarrassing business. One must rely wholly upon the sense of hearing, as eyes are of no use in such a case. Fearing that the bell might cease before I got across, I bent with a will upon the oars and went racing through the fog. The sound grew more and more distinct with each peal, when, suddenly as the apparition of Norman's Woe, right before me sprang up the black dripping hull of a fishing-schooner, becalmed, and rocking with the roll of the sea; one turn and I shot beneath her bows, passed her, and was lost in the fog before the fat darkey who was lazily fishing by the bowsprit could shift from one side of the deck to the other to keep me in sight. The creaking of blocks and the heavy flap of wet sails warned me of the neighborhood of other vessels. In a short time I could hear the rusty grating of the pivot as the bell turned; then my boat glided close under the rock on which the light-house stands. At that moment the fog opened half across the bay, showing clearly my track with more than a dozen vessels lying close by it. The lifting was but for a moment; back rolled the cloud and all was invisible again. I rounded the Point, however, and went ahead, pulling along the eastern coast of the Cape in the fog.
It was hard work, this groping through the mist, and made me wish for the Janus power of gazing out of the back of my head to save the trouble of continually turning. The look-out was now necessarily more vigilant than when on the lower shore, as I was entirely ignorant of the coast and could not see twenty feet before me. The sea was calm, save the ever-swinging ground-swell, which does not show its power till it meets with some resistance; and though without crest, the surf on the rocks was very high. There was nothing to deaden the force of the sea, and it came on in huge green masses, sliding bodily up on the rocks with a sound like distant thunder, making one feel that a boat would be shivered to splinters, should she fall into its power. Once the breakers nearly caught me broadside on, as I had begun to pull along the shore, compelling me to keep outside the line of surf and thus follow it till the rocky headland loomed up on the other side of the bay, then past the reefs again till another bay curved inward,--nothing to be seen but fog, dim white surf, and dimmer rocks. Once, when passing an outlying point, I saw, for a moment, a couple of men fishing; they shouted something which the surf rendered inaudible; then rock and fishers melted away into the mist. After rowing in this manner for about an hour, the water shoaled, the fog lightened, and an island appeared to the east, with the sea rippling over the sand-bar which joined it to the shore. I pulled on and found the depth but a few inches, just enough to cross without touching. The island was very picturesque, and the end towards the west was broken into ledges, on which were perched eight or ten small weather-beaten houses. Half floating by the beach under the cliff, or drawn up on it, were a number of dories, while a troop of little children were wading, splashing, and shouting in the shallow water on the bar. They stopped when they saw me, clustered together watching as I passed, and when I was fairly over set up a shout and resumed their play. I rowed on until two in the afternoon, when the fog became thinner, and finding myself between two rocky headlands, in "Milk Island Strait," as I conjectured, and it being dinner-time, I went ashore in a little inlet, took out my provisions, and dined.
The mist, meanwhile, had disappeared, leaving the sky perfectly clear. It was nearly three when dinner was finished. The Isles of Shoals were full twenty-one miles distant, and if they were to be reached before night, there was no time to be lost. So I backed out of the inlet, and, getting the bearings, aimed for a point on the horizon where I supposed the islands to be, and pulled without stopping for three hours. The wind was fresh from the southeast, the sea high, and there was not the least trace of the fog. The hills of Cape Ann, as I went on, changed from green to blue, and the color grew fainter in the distance. The land, which was ten miles inside to the westward, had now come nearer, and the dark line of the woods was just visible.
It was time to see the Shoals. I turned, but the heavy sea tossed the boat about so that it was not at all certain whether they were or were not in sight. The only objects in view were a few small white clouds about the horizon and the distant sails of a schooner; so again bringing the Cape astern, I rowed on till sunset. The hills had then almost sunk below the water, and it was full time to see White Island and the light which would be kindled in a few moments. The boat swung into the trough of the sea, and when on the top of a wave I looked up to the northward. The sight was not a pleasant one for an evening pull: the sky was covered with the dark clouds of a gathering storm rapidly rolling up, and my old friend the fog was again working in, as the wind had shifted to the east and north. In the distance nothing could be seen but black sky and blacker water, while nearer crept on the line of mist, shutting out all prospect. The Shoals were doubtless somewhere in the darkness, but just where I could not determine. Something must be done at once before the fog reached me. Calling a council of war, I debated. There was no certainty of hitting the Shoals, and if I did come on them in any other than the exact spot, my boat would be beaten into chips in five minutes on some of the reefs which abound in that region. It would be entirely dark when I reached the islands, and the wind and sea were rising; it looked very much like the beginning of an easterly gale. So the council concluded to let the Shoals go for that night, and stay out at sea till morning. Should the gale come on, the boat could be beached on the coast to the westward; and if the wind lulled, as it probably would for a few hours on the next day, there was time enough to get ashore. I was from eight to ten miles at sea, and six miles east and south of the Shoals, as nearly as I could reckon. It was necessary to get more to the westward to clear the islands in the night, when the tide set in. Rowing for half an hour brought me far enough in to stop. The fog was again all around me, and the thick clouds made it so dark that it was impossible to see twice my boat's length. Resting on my oars for a moment, I began to stow a few things more closely in the seat-room, when a huge sea broke just ahead, and, striking the bow a little on one side, whirled the boat round and rolled her half over, pitching the crest into the seat-room and filling it with water. I caught her with the oars barely in time to save her, and turned her again head to the sea, keeping a watchful eye to windward. Then baling out the seat-room, I took some crackers and a draught of water, and turned the boat stern foremost to the sea.
It was, by guess, about nine o'clock; and there was no light except the phosphorescence of the water. When a wave came rushing through the fog, its black body invisible in the darkness, the crest glanced like quicksilver and broke into ten thousand coruscations as the boat balanced on the top,--pouring a flood of glittering water past the stern and over the canvas cover, and dripping from the sides in sparkling drops. Wherever a foam-bubble burst or oar dipped, it was like opening a silver-lined casket. The boat left a luminous track, which rose with the waves as they swelled behind her, and disappeared in the night. It required a strong hand to keep her in her course; had she broached to, I should have been rolled out and obliged to swim for it. A quick eye was necessary to watch, lest, in spite of the oars, she might swing round and turn over. The utter darkness and the storm so threatening at sundown had come in full force. It was raining and blowing heavily, and the strong wind driving the rain and mist in sheets across the water deepened the hoarse roar of the sea. I was very wet, and not so fresh, after my forty miles or more of hard, steady pulling, as in the morning; I was also very sleepy, so that it was not easy to keep even one eye open to look out for passing coasters,--the chief danger. My craft was so slender they could have gone over her in the darkness and storm and never have known it. The tide was still setting out, the sea was very high, and there was not a ray of light from White Island. My best course seemed to be to continue pulling slowly and keep the boat stern to the sea till after midnight, when the tide would change and the wind would lull for a short time,--unless it should prove to be the beginning of the gale, and not its forerunner, as I had thought. The hours passed slowly. There was much to do in heading straight and in easing up when the great waves loomed through the fog. Midnight would decide whether at day-dawn I must pull for it, and run, if possible, the line of breakers on Rye Beach, with rather less than an even chance of coming out right-end uppermost, or whether the wind and sea would go down so that I could slip quietly ashore before the gale returned.
Midnight came at last; the rain ceased and the wind began to shift to the south, and I knew that now the probability of going ashore decently was good. The tide having turned, the wind moderated, and the sea, though still high, was longer and did not break so quickly. Still farther to the south veered the wind, and a little after three, as well as I could tell by my watch, the fog thinned, so that, looking up, I caught the faint glimmer of a star; then another peeped through the cloud. The mist broke in several places, then drifted over, then broke again; and, chancing to look seaward, a light flared into full blaze for a moment, swung smaller, then vanished. There was no mistaking it,--White Island light at last!
Backing with one oar, pulling with the other, I rose on the top of a great sea, and caught the light again just as it began to come into sight. Off I went, at a splendid pace, driving along in the trough and over the crest of the waves, steering by a star behind me, for about ten minutes; then light and stars sank back into the mist, and all was black again. I waited a few moments, and again the light shone out; but meantime the boat's bow had veered several points. Turning toward it, I was off full speed this time for about five minutes, before the fog swept in again. Then another rest on my oars. The fog drifted out and drifted in backwards and forwards, now thinning here, then thinning there; but no other glimpse of the light did I get that night. For a moment, a shadowy-looking schooner glided slowly along a few hundred feet ahead of me, and directly across my track,--then melted out into the darkness. After waiting some time longer, finding no chance of another glimpse of the light, I secured my oars, and, as the wind and sea had decreased, got ready to turn in. The seat-room was only four feet long,--two feet short of my length; and the washboard, which was three inches in height, surrounded the seat-room and obliged me to use the boat-sponge as a pillow. But trusting to chance that my craft would come across nothing either fixed or floating, I retreated at once to the land of Nod. What the weather was during the rest of that night, or what might have been seen, I cannot say; for I did not wake till my watch told seven in the morning. Then my eyes opened to, or rather in, as choice a specimen of mist as had yet been met with.
It was perfectly calm; the sea was undulating slightly, and not a breath of wind stirring. I sat up and looked around. Nothing visible but misty atmosphere and leaden-colored water; the phosphorescent sparkle had quite gone out of it. I listened, and with the low dull roar of the surf on Rye Beach on one side came the break of the waves on the Shoals, but so faint that it was doubtful whether it were really audible, when another most unmistakable sound assured me Landlord Laighton was blowing his breakfast-horn on Appledore Island. The familiar notes of that very peculiar performance came clearly through the fog. Had he kept on blowing twenty minutes longer, he would have had another guest; but he stopped before ten strokes could be taken. So, reluctantly turning my boat for the other shore, I pulled for the sound of the surf, which increased as I approached it. The beach was still several miles distant, when the short, quick rap of oars came to my ears. I knew at once the fisherman's stroke, and, supposing that he had put out from the shore and did not mean to stay out long, I gave chase at once, and pulled till he stopped rowing and was apparently near. Then I hailed, and after a twenty minutes' hunt caught a glimpse of his dory and immediately introduced myself. He was fishing with two lines, one on each side of the boat, and was about returning when I came up. He had never before beheld such a craft as mine, and did not know what to make of her as she came through the fog. He soon, however, drew in his lines, and, acting as pilot, set out for the beach, from which we were then three miles distant. After various twistings and circlings through the mist, the row of sandy hillocks which backs Rye Beach appeared, and in a few moments we pulled through the surf and landed, thus ending one part of my summer's cruise.
* * * * *
A STORY OF TO-DAY.
Let me tell you a story of To-Day,--very homely and narrow in its scope and aim. Not of the To-Day whose significance in the history of humanity only those shall read who will live when you and I are dead. Let us bear the pain in silence, if our hearts are strong enough, while the nations of the earth stand far off pitying. I have no word of this To-Day to speak. I write from the border of the battle-field, and I find in it no theme for shallow argument or flimsy rhymes. The shadow of death has fallen on us; it chills the very heaven. No child laughs in my face as I pass down the street. Men have forgotten to hope, forgotten to pray; only in the bitterness of endurance they say "in the morning, 'Would God it were even!' and in the evening, 'Would God it were morning!'" Neither I nor you have the prophet's vision to see the age as its meaning stands written before God. Those who shall live when we are dead may tell their children, perhaps, how, out of anguish and darkness such as the world seldom has borne, the enduring morning evolved of the true world and the true man. It is not clear to us. Hands wet with a brother's blood for the Right, a slavery of intolerance, the hackneyed cant of men or the bloodthirstiness of women, utter no prophecy to us of the great To-Morrow of content and right that holds the world. Yet the To-Morrow is there; if God lives, it is there. The voice of the meek Nazarene, which we have deafened down as ill-timed, unfit to teach the watchword of the hour, renews the quiet promise of its coming in simple, humble things. Let us go down and look for it. There is no need that we should feebly vaunt and madden ourselves over our self-seen lights, whatever they may be, forgetting what broken shadows they are of eternal truths in that calm where He sits and with His quiet hand controls us.
Patriotism and Chivalry are powers in the tranquil, unlimited lives to come, as well as here, I know; but there are less partial truths, higher hierarchies who serve the God-man, that do not speak to us in bayonets and victories,--Humility, Mercy, and Love. Let us not quite neglect them, however humble the voices they use may be. Why, the very low glow of the fire upon the hearth tells me something of recompense coming in the hereafter,--Christmas-days, and heartsome warmth; in these bare hills trampled down by armed men, the yellow clay is quick with pulsing fibres, hints of the great heart of life and love throbbing within; God's slanted sunlight would show me, in these sullen smoke-clouds from the camp, walls of amethyst and jasper, outer ramparts of the Promised Land. Do not call us traitors, then, who choose to be cool and silent through the fever of the hour,--who choose to search in common things for auguries of the hopeful, helpful calm to come, finding even in these poor sweet-peas, thrusting their tendrils through the brown mould, a deeper, more healthful lesson for the eye and soul than warring evils or truths. Do not call me a traitor, if I dare weakly to hint that there are yet other characters besides that of Patriot in which a man may appear creditably in the great masquerade, and not blush when it is over; or if I tell you a story of To-Day, in which there shall be none of the red glare of war,--only those homelier, subtler lights which we have overlooked. If it prove to you that the sun of old times still shines, and the God of old times still lives, is not that enough?
My story is very crude and homely, as I said,--only a rough sketch of one or two of those people whom you see every day, and call "dregs" sometimes,--a dull, plain bit of prose, such as you might pick for yourself out of any of these warehouses or back-streets. I expect you to call it stale and plebeian, for I know the glimpses of life it pleases you best to find here: New England idyls delicately tinted; passion-veined hearts, cut bare for curious eyes; prophetic utterances, concrete and clear; or some word of pathos or fun from the old friends who have indenizened themselves in everybody's home. You want something, in fact, to lift you out of this crowded, tobacco-stained commonplace, to kindle and chafe and glow in you. I want you to dig into this commonplace, this vulgar American life, and see what is in it. Sometimes I think it has a new and awful significance that we do not see.
Your ears are openest to the war-trumpet now. Ha! that is spirit-stirring!--that wakes up the old Revolutionary blood! Your manlier nature had been smothered under drudgery, the poor daily necessity for bread and butter. I want you to go down into this common, every-day drudgery, and consider if there might not be in it also a great warfare. Not a serfish war; not altogether ignoble, though even its only end may appear to be your daily food. A great warfare, I think, with a history as old as the world, and not without its pathos. It has its slain. Men and women, lean-jawed, crippled in the slow, silent battle, are in your alleys, sit beside you at your table; its martyrs sleep under every green hill-side.
You must fight in it; money will buy you no discharge from that war. There is room in it, believe me, whether your post be on a judge's bench, or over a wash-tub, for heroism, for knightly honor, for purer triumph than his who falls foremost in the breach. Your enemy, Self, goes with you from the cradle to the coffin; it is a hand-to-hand struggle all the sad, slow way, fought in solitude,--a battle that began with the first heart-beat, and whose victory will come only when the drops ooze out, and sudden halt in the veins,--a victory, if you can gain it, that will drift you not a little way upon the coasts of the wider, stronger range of being, beyond death.
Let me roughly outline for you one or two lives that I have known, and how they conquered or were worsted in the fight. Very common lives, I know,--such as are swarming in yonder market-place; yet I dare to call them voices of God,--all!
My reason for choosing this story to tell you is simple enough.
An old book, which I happened to find to-day, recalled it. It was a ledger, iron-bound, with the name of the firm on the outside,--Knowles & Co. You may have heard of the firm: they were large woollen manufacturers: supplied the home market in Indiana for several years. This ledger, you see by the writing, has been kept by a woman. That is not unusual in Western trading towns, especially in factories where the operatives are chiefly women. In such establishments, women can fill every post successfully, but that of overseer: they are too hard with the hands for that.
The writing here is curious: concise, square, not flowing,--very legible, however, exactly suited to its purpose. People who profess to read character in chirography would decipher but little from these cramped, quiet lines. Only this, probably: that the woman, whoever she was, had not the usual fancy of her sex for dramatizing her soul in her writing, her dress, her face,--kept it locked up instead, intact; that her words and looks, like her writing, were most likely simple, mere absorbents by which she drew what she needed of the outer world to her, not flaunting helps to fling herself, or the tragedy or comedy that lay within, before careless passers-by. The first page has the date, in red letters, _October 2, 1860_, largely and clearly written. I am sure the woman's hand trembled a little when she took up the pen; but there is no sign of it here; for it was a new, desperate adventure to her, and she was young, with no faith in herself. She did not look desperate, at all,--a quiet, dark girl, coarsely dressed in brown.
There was not much light in the office where she sat; for the factory was in one of the close by-streets of the town, and the office they gave her was only a small square closet in the seventh story. It had but one window, which overlooked a back-yard full of dyeing vats. The sunlight that did contrive to struggle in obliquely through the dusty panes and cobwebs of the window had a sleepy odor of copperas latent in it. You smelt it when you stirred. The manager, Pike, who brought her up, had laid the day-books and this ledger open on the desk for her. As soon as he was gone, she shut the door, listening until his heavy boots had thumped creaking down the rickety ladder leading to the frame-rooms. Then she climbed up on the high office-stool (climbed, I said, for she was a little, little thing) and went to work, opening the books, and copying from one to the other as steadily, monotonously, as if she had been used to it all her life. Here are the first pages: see how sharp the angles are of the blue and black lines, how even the long columns: one would not think, that, as the steel pen traced them out, it seemed to be lining out her life, narrow and black. If any such morbid fancy were in the girl's head, there was no tear to betray it. The sordid, hard figures seemed to her the types of the years coming, but she wrote them down unflinchingly: perhaps life had nothing better for her, so she did not care. She finished soon: they had given her only an hour or two's work for the first day. She closed the books, wiped the pens in a quaint, mechanical fashion, then got down and examined her new home.
It was soon understood. There were the walls with their broken plaster, showing the laths underneath, with here and there, over them, sketches with burnt coal, showing that her predecessor had been an artist in his way,--his name, P. Teagarden, emblazoned on the ceiling with the smoke of a candle; heaps of hanks of yarn in the dusty corners; a half-used broom; other heaps of yarn on the old toppling desk covered with dust; a raisin-box, with P. Teagarden done on the lid in bas-relief, half full of ends of cigars, a pack of cards, and a rotten apple. That was all, except an impalpable sense of dust and worn-outness pervading the whole. One thing more, odd enough there: a wire cage, hung on the wall, and in it a miserable pecking chicken, peering dolefully with suspicious eyes out at her, and then down at the mouldy bit of bread on the floor of his cage,--left there, I suppose, by the departed Teagarden. That was all inside. She looked out of the window. In it, as if set in a square black frame, was the dead brick wall, and the opposite roof, with a cat sitting on the scuttle. Going closer, two or three feet of sky appeared. It looked as if it smelt of copperas, and she drew suddenly back.
She sat down, waiting until it was time to go; quietly taking the dull picture into her slow, unrevealing eyes; a sluggish, hackneyed weariness creeping into her brain; a curious feeling, that all her life before had been a silly dream, and this dust, these desks and ledgers, were real, --all that was real. It was her birthday; she was twenty. As she happened to remember that, another fancy floated up before her, oddly life-like: of the old seat she made for herself under the currant-bushes at home when she was a child, and the plans she laid for herself when she should be a woman, sitting there,--how she would dig down into the middle of the world, and find the kingdom of the griffins, or would go after Mercy and Christiana in their pilgrimage. It was only a little while ago since these things were more alive to her than anything else in the world. The seat was under the currant-bushes still. Very little time ago; but she was a woman now,--and, look here! A chance ray of sunlight slanted in, falling barely on the dust, the hot heaps of wool, waking a stronger smell of copperas; the chicken saw it, and began to chirp a weak, dismal joy, more sorrowful than tears. She went to the cage, and put her finger in for it to peck at. Standing there, if the life coming rose up before her in that hard, vacant blare of sunlight, she looked at it with the same still, waiting eyes, that told nothing.
The door opened at last, and a man came in,--Dr. Knowles, the principal owner of the factory. He nodded shortly to her, and, going to the desk, turned over the books, peering suspiciously at her work. An old man, overgrown, looking like a huge misshapen mass of flesh, as he stood erect, facing her.
"You can go now," he said, gruffly. "To-morrow you must wait for the bell to ring, and go--with the rest of the hands."
A curious smile flickered over her face like a shadow; but she said nothing. He waited a moment.
"So!" he growled, "the Howth blood does not blush to go down into the slime of the gutter? is sufficient to itself?"
A cool, attentive motion,--that was all. Then she stooped to tie her sandals. The old man watched her, irritated. She had been used to the keen scrutiny of his eyes since she was a baby, so was cool under it always. The face watching her was one that repelled most men: dominant, restless, flushing into red gusts of passion, a small, intolerant eye, half hidden in folds of yellow fat,--the eye of a man who would give to his master (whether God or Satan) the last drop of his own blood, and exact the same of other men.
She had tied her bonnet and fastened her shawl, and stood ready to go.
"Is that all you want?" he demanded. "Are you waiting to hear that your work is well done? Women go through life as babies learn to walk,--a mouthful of pap every step, only they take it in praise or love. Pap is better. Which do you want? Praise, I fancy."
"Neither," she said, quietly brushing her shawl. "The work is well done, I know."
The old man's eye glittered for an instant, satisfied; then he turned to the books. He thought she had gone, but, hearing a slight clicking sound, turned round. She was taking the chicken out of the cage.
"Let it alone!" he broke out, sharply. "Where are you going with it?"
"Home," she said, with a queer, quizzical face. "Let it smell the green fields, Doctor. Ledgers and copperas are not good food for a chicken's soul, or body either."
"Let it alone!" he growled. "You take it for a type of yourself, eh? It has another work to do than to grow fat and sleep about the barnyard."
She opened the cage.
"I think I will take it."
"No," he said, quietly. "It has a master here. Not P. Teagarden. Why, Margaret," pushing his stubby finger between the tin bars, "do you think the God you believe in would have sent it here without a work to do?"
She looked up; there was a curious tremor in his flabby face, a shadow in his rough voice.
"If it dies here, its life won't have been lost. Nothing is lost. Let it alone."
"Not lost?" she said, slowly, refastening the cage. "Only I think"----
She glanced furtively at him.
"It's a hard, scraping world where such a thing as that has work to do!"
He vouchsafed no answer. She waited to see his lip curl bitterly, and then, amused, went down the stairs. She had paid him for his sneer.
The steps were but a long ladder set in the wall, not the great staircase used by the hands: that was on the other side of the factory. It was a huge, unwieldy building, such as crowd the suburbs of trading towns. This one went round the four sides of a square, with the yard for the vats in the middle. The ladders and passages she passed down were on the inside, narrow and dimly lighted: she had to grope her way sometimes. The floors shook constantly with the incessant thud of the great looms that filled each story, like heavy, monotonous thunder. It deafened her, made her dizzy, as she went down slowly. It was no short walk to reach the lower hall, but she was down at last. Doors opened from it into the ground-floor ware-rooms; glancing in, she saw vast, dingy recesses of boxes piled up to the dark ceilings. There was a crowd of porters and draymen cracking their whips, and lounging on the trucks by the door, waiting for loads, talking politics, and smoking. The smell of tobacco, copperas, and burning logwood was heavy to clamminess here. She stopped, uncertain. One of the porters, a short, sickly man, who stood aloof from the rest, pushed open a door for her with his staff. Margaret had a quick memory for faces; she thought she had seen this one before, as she passed,--a dark face, sullen, heavy-lipped, the hair cut convict-fashion, close to the head. She thought, too, one of the men muttered "jail-bird," jeering him for his forwardness. "Load for Clinton! Western Railroad!" sung out a sharp voice behind her, and, as she went into the street, a train of cars rushed into the hall to be loaded, and men swarmed out of every corner,--red-faced and pale, whiskey-bloated and heavy-brained, Irish, Dutch, black, with souls half asleep somewhere, and the destiny of a nation in their grasp,--hands, like herself, going through the slow, heavy work, for, as Pike the manager would have told you, "three dollars a week,--good wages these tight times." For nothing more? Some other meaning may have fallen from their faces into this girl's quiet intuition in the instant's glance,--cheerfuller, remoter aims, hidden in the most sensual face,--homeliest home-scenes, low climbing ambitions, some delirium of pleasure to come,--whiskey, if nothing better: aims in life like yours, differing in degree, needing only to make them the same----did you say what?
She had reached the street now,--a back-street, a crooked sort of lane rather, running between endless piles of ware-houses. She hurried down it to gain the suburbs, for she lived out in the country. It was a long, tiresome walk through the outskirts of the town, where the dwelling-houses were,--long rows of two-story bricks drabbled with soot-stains. It was two years since she had been in the town. Remembering this, and the reason why she had shunned it, she quickened her pace, her face growing stiller than before. One might have fancied her a slave putting on a mask, fearing to meet her master. The town, being unfamiliar to her, struck her newly. She saw the expression on its face better. It was a large trading city, compactly built, shut in by hills. It had an anxious, harassed look, like a speculator concluding a keen bargain; the very dwelling-houses smelt of trade, having shops in the lower stories; in the outskirts, where there are cottages in other cities, there were mills here; the trees, which some deluded dreamer had planted on the flat pavements, had all grown up into abrupt Lombardy poplars, knowing their best policy was to keep out of the way; the boys, playing marbles under them, played sharply "for keeps"; the bony old dray-horses, plodding through the dusty crowds, had speculative eyes, that measured their oats at night with a "you-don't-cheat-me" look. Even the churches had not the grave repose of the old brown house yonder in the hills, where the few field-people--Arians, Calvinists, Churchmen-- gathered every Sunday, and air and sunshine and God's charity made the day holy. These churches lifted their hard stone faces insolently, registering their yearly alms in the morning journals. To be sure, the back-seats were free for the poor; but the emblazoned crimson of the windows, the carving of the arches, the very purity of the preacher's style, said plainly that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a man in a red _warm-us_ to enter the kingdom of heaven through that gate.
Nature itself had turned her back on the town: the river turned aside, and but half a river crept reluctant by; the hills were but bare banks of yellow clay. There was a cinder-road leading through these. Margaret climbed it slowly. The low town-hills, as I said, were bare, covered at their bases with dingy stubble-fields. In the sides bordering the road gaped the black mouths of the coal-pits that burrowed under the hills, under the town. Trade everywhere,--on the earth and under it. No wonder the girl called it a hard, scraping world. But when the road had crept through these hills, it suddenly shook off the cinders, and turned into the brown mould of the meadows,--turned its back on trade and the smoky town, and speedily left it out of sight contemptuously, never looking back once. This was the country now in earnest.
Margaret slackened her step, drawing long breaths of the fresh cold air. Far behind her, panting and puffing along, came a black, burly figure, Dr. Knowles. She had seen him behind her all the way, but they did not speak. Between the two there lay that repellant resemblance which made them like close relations,--closer when they were silent. You know such people? When you speak to them, the little sharp points clash. Yet they are the people whom you surely know you will meet in the life beyond death, "saved" or not. The Doctor came slowly along the quiet country-road, watching the woman's figure going as slowly before him. He had a curious interest in the girl,--a secret reason for the interest, which as yet he kept darkly to himself. For this reason he tried to fancy how her new life would seem to her. It should be hard enough, her work,--he was determined on that; her strength and endurance must be tested to the uttermost. He must know what stuff was in the weapon before he used it. He had been reading the slow, cold thing for years,--had not got into its secret yet. But there was power there, and it was the power he wanted. Her history was simple enough: she was going into the mill to support a helpless father and mother; it was a common story; she had given up much for them;--other women did the same. He gave her scanty praise. Two years ago (he had keen, watchful eyes, this man) he had fancied that the poor homely girl had a dream, as most women have, of love and marriage: she had put it aside, he thought, forever; it was too expensive a luxury; she had to begin the life-long battle for bread and butter. Her dream had been real and pure, perhaps; for she accepted no sham love in its place: if it had left an empty hunger in her heart, she had not tried to fill it. Well, well, it was the old story. Yet he looked after her kindly, as he thought of it; as some people look sorrowfully at children, going back to their own childhood. For a moment he half relented in his purpose, thinking, perhaps, her work for life was hard enough. But no: this woman had been planned and kept by God for higher uses than daughter or wife or mother. It was his part to put her work into her hands.
The road was creeping drowsily now between high grass-banks, out through the hills. A sleepy, quiet road. The restless dust of the town never had been heard of out there. It (the road) went wandering lazily through the corn-fields, down by the river, into the very depths of the woods,--the low October sunshine slanting warmly down it all the way, touching the grass-banks and the corn-fields with patches of russet gold. Nobody in such a road could be in a hurry. The quiet was so deep, the free air, the heavy trees, the sunshine, all so full and certain and fixed, one could be sure of finding them the same a hundred years from now. Nobody ever was in a hurry. The brown bees came along there, when their work was over, and hummed into the great purple thistles on the roadside in a voluptuous stupor of delight. The cows sauntered through the clover by the fences, until they wound up by lying down in it and sleeping outright. The country-people, jogging along to the mill, walked their fat old nags through the stillness and warmth so slowly that even Margaret left them far behind. As the road went deeper into the hills, the solitude and quiet grew even more penetrating and certain,--so certain in these grand old mountains that one called them eternal, and, looking up to the peaks fixed in the clear blue, grew surer of a world beyond this where there is neither change nor death.
It was growing late; the evening air grew more motionless and cool; the russet gold of the sunshine mottled only the hill-tops now; in the valleys there was a duskier brown, deepening every moment. Margaret turned from the road and went down the fields. One did not wonder, feeling the silence of these hills and broad sweeps of meadow, that this woman, coming down from among them, should be strangely still, with dark questioning eyes dumb to their own secrets.
Looking into her face now, you could be sure of one thing: that she had left the town, the factory, the dust far away, shaken the thought of them off her brain. No miles could measure the distance between her home and them. At a stile across the field an old man sat waiting. She hurried now, her cheek coloring. Dr. Knowles could see them going to the house beyond, talking earnestly. He sat down in the darkening twilight on the stile, and waited half an hour. He did not care to hear the story of Margaret's first day at the mill, knowing how her father and mother would writhe under it, soften it as she would. It was nothing to her, he knew. So he waited. After a while he heard the old man's laugh, like that of a pleased child, and then went in and took her place beside him. She went out, but came back presently, every grain of dust gone, in her clear dress of pearl gray. The neutral tint suited her well. As she stood by the window, listening gravely to them, the homely face and waiting figure came into full relief. Nature had made this woman in a freak of rare sincerity. There were no reflected lights about her: no gloss on her skin, no glitter in her eyes, no varnish on her soul. Simple and dark and pure, there she was, for God and her master alone to conquer and understand. Her flesh was cold and colorless,--there were no surface tints on it,--it warmed sometimes slowly from far within; her voice was quiet,--out of her heart; her hair, the only beauty of the woman, was lustreless brown, lay in unpolished folds of dark shadow. I saw such hair once, only once. It had been cut from the head of a man, who, quiet and simple as a child, lived out the law of his nature, and set the world at defiance,--Bysshe Shelley.
The Doctor, talking to her father, watched the girl furtively, took in every point, as one might critically survey a Damascus blade which he was going to carry into battle. There was neither love nor scorn in his look,--a mere fixedness of purpose to make use of her some day. He talked, meanwhile, glancing at her now and then, as if the subject they discussed were indirectly linked with his plan for her. If it were, she was unconscious of it. She sat on the wooden step of the porch, looking out on the melancholy sweep of meadow and hill range growing cool and dimmer in the dun twilight, not hearing what they said, until the sharpened, earnest tones roused her.
"You will fail, Knowles."
It was her father who spoke.
"Nothing can save such a scheme from failure. Neither the French nor German Socialists attempted to base their systems on the lowest class, as you design."
"I know," said Knowles. "That accounts for their partial success."
"Let me understand your plan practically," eagerly demanded her father.
She thought Knowles evaded the question,--wished to leave the subject. Perhaps he did not regard the poor old schoolmaster as a practical judge of practical matters. All his life he had called him thriftless and unready.
"It never will do, Knowles," he went on in his slow way. "Any plan, Phalanstery or Community, call it what you please, founded on self-government, is based on a sham, the tawdriest of shams."
The old schoolmaster shook his head as one who knows, and tried to push the thin gray hairs out of his eyes in a groping way. Margaret lifted them back so quietly that he did not feel her.
"You'll call the Republic a sham next!" said the Doctor, coolly aggravating.
"The Republic!" The old man quickened his tone, like a war-horse scenting the battle near at hand. "There never was a thinner-crusted Devil's egg in the world than democracy. I think I've told you that before?"
"I think you have," said the other, dryly.
"You always were a Tory, Mr. Howth," said his wife, in her placid, creamy way. "It is in the blood, I think, Doctor. The Howths fought under Cornwallis, you know."
The schoolmaster waited until his wife had ended.
"Very true, Mrs. Howth," he said, with a grave smile. Then his thin face grew hot again.
"No, Dr. Knowles. Your scheme is but a sign of the mad age we live in. Since the thirteenth century, when the anarchic element sprang full-grown into the history of humanity, that history has been chaos. And this republic is the culmination of chaos."
"Out of chaos came the new-born earth," suggested the Doctor.
"But its foundations were granite," rejoined the old man with nervous eagerness,--"granite, not the slime of yesterday. When you found empires, go to work as God worked."
The Doctor did not answer; sat looking, instead, out into the dark indifferently, as if the heresies which the old man hurled at him were some old worn-out song. Seeing, however, that the schoolmaster's flush of enthusiasm seemed on the point of dying out, he roused himself to gibe it into life.
"Well, Mr. Howth, what will you have? If the trodden rights of the human soul are the slime of yesterday, how shall we found our empire to last? On despotism? Civil or theocratic?"
"Any despotism is better than that of newly enfranchised serfs," replied the schoolmaster.
The Doctor laughed.
"What a successful politician you would have made! You would have had such a winning way to the hearts of the great unwashed!"
Mrs. Howth laid down her knitting.
"My dear," she said, timidly, "I think that is treason."
The angry heat died out of his face instantly, as he turned to her, without the glimmer of a covert smile at her simplicity. She was a woman; and when he spoke to the Doctor, it was in a tone less sharp.
"What is it the boys used to declaim, their Yankee hearts throbbing under their roundabouts? 'Happy, proud America!' Somehow in that way. 'Cursed, abased America!' better if they had said. Look at her, in the warm vigor of her youth, most vigorous in decay! Look at the dregs of nations, creeds, religions, fermenting together! As for the theory of self-government, it will muddle down here, as in the three great archetypes of the experiment, into a puling, miserable failure!"
The Doctor did not hear. Some sharper shadow seemed to haunt him than the downfall of the Republic. What help did he seek in this girl? His keen, deep eyes never left her unconscious face.
"No," Mr. Howth went on, having the field to himself,--"we left Order back there in the ages you call dark, and Progress will trumpet the world into the ditch."
"Comte!" growled the Doctor.
The schoolmaster's cane beat an angry tattoo on the hearth.
"You sneer at Comte? Because, having the clearest eye, the widest sweeping eye ever given to man, he had no more? It was to show how far flesh can go alone. Could he help it, if God refused the prophet's vision?"
"I'm sure, Samuel," interrupted his wife with a sorrowful earnestness, "your own eyes were as strong as a man's could be. It was ten years after I wore spectacles that you began. Only for that miserable fever, you could read short-hand now."
Her own quiet eyes filled with tears. There was a sudden silence. Margaret shivered, as if some pain stung her. Holding her father's bony hand in hers, she patted it on her knee. The hand trembled a little. Knowles's sharp eyes darted from one to the other; then, with a smothered growl, he shook himself, and rushed headlong into the old battle which he and the schoolmaster had been waging now, off and on, some six years. That was a fight, I can tell you! None of your shallow, polite clashing of modern theories,--no talk of your Jeffersonian Democracy, your high-bred Federalism! They took hold of the matter by the roots, clear at the beginning.
Mrs. Howth's breath fairly left her, they went into the soul of the matter in such a dangerous way. What if Joel should hear? No doubt he would report that his master was an infidel,--that would be the next thing they would hear. He was in the kitchen now: he finished his wood-chopping an hour ago. Asleep, doubtless; that was one comfort. Well, if he were awake, he could not understand. That class of people----And Mrs. Howth (into whose kindly brain just enough of her husband's creed had glimmered to make her say, "that class of people," in the tone with which Abraham would _not_ have spoken of Dives over the gulf) went tranquilly back to her knitting, wondering why Dr. Knowles should come ten times now where he used to come once, to provoke Samuel into these wearisome arguments. Ever since their misfortune came on them, he had been there every night, always at it. She should think he might be a little more considerate. Mr. Howth surely had enough to think of, what with his--his misfortune, and the starvation waiting for them, and poor Margaret's degradation, (she sighed here,) without bothering his head about the theocratic principle, or the Battle of Armageddon. She had hinted as much to Dr. Knowles one day, and he had muttered out something about its being "the life of the dog, Ma'am." She wondered what he meant by that! She looked over at his bearish figure, snuff-drabbled waistcoat, and shock of black hair. Well, poor man, he could not help it, if he were coarse, and an Abolitionist, and a Fourierite, and----She was getting a little muddy now, she was conscious, so turned her mind back to the repose of her stocking. Margaret took it very quietly, seeing her father flaming so. But Margaret never had any opinions to express. She was not like the Parnells: they were noted for their clear judgment. Mrs. Howth was a Parnell.
"The combat deepens,--on, ye brave!"
The Doctor's fat, leathery face was quite red now, and his sentences were hurled out in a sarcastic bass, enough to wither the marrow of a weak man. But the schoolmaster was no weak man. His foot was entirely on his native heath, I assure you. He knew every inch of the ground, from the domination of the absolute faith in the ages of Fetichism, to its pseudo-presentment in the tenth century, and its actual subversion in the nineteenth. Every step. Our politicians might have picked up an idea or two there, I should think! Then he was so cool about it, so skilful! He fairly rubbed his hands with glee, enjoying the combat. And he was so sure that the Doctor was savagely in earnest: why, any one with half an ear could hear that! He did not see how, in the very heat of the fray, his eyes would wander off listlessly. But Mr. Howth did not wander; there was nothing careless or two-sided in the making of this man,--no sham about him, or borrowing. They came down gradually, or out,--for, as I told you, they dug into the very heart of the matter at first,--they came out gradually to modern times. Things began to assume a more familiar aspect. Spinoza, Fichte, Saint Simon,--one heard about them now. If you could but have heard the schoolmaster deal with these his enemies! With what tender charity for the man, what relentless vengeance for the belief, he pounced on them, dragging the soul out of their systems, holding it up for slow slaughter! As for Humanity, (how Knowles lingered on that word, with a tenderness curious in so uncouth a mass of flesh!)--as for Humanity, it was a study to see it stripped and flouted and thrown out of doors like a filthy rag by this poor old Howth, a man too child-hearted to kill a spider. It was pleasanter to hear him when he defended the great Past in which his ideal truth had been faintly shadowed. How he caught the salient tints of the feudal life! How the fine womanly nature of the man rose exulting in the free picturesque glow of the day of crusader and heroic deed! How he crowded in traits of perfected manhood in the conqueror, simple trust in the serf, to color and weaken his argument, not seeing that he weakened it! How, when he thought he had cornered the Doctor, he would color and laugh like a boy, then suddenly check himself, lest he might wound him! A curious laugh, genial, cheery,--bubbling out of his weak voice in a way that put you in mind of some old and rare wine. When he would check himself in one of these triumphant glows, he would turn to the Doctor with a deprecatory gravity, and for a few moments be almost submissive in his reply. So earnest and worn it looked then, the poor old face, in the dim light! The black clothes he wore were so threadbare and shining at the knees and elbows, the coarse leather shoes brought to so fine a polish! The Doctor idly wondered who had blacked them, glancing at Margaret's fingers.
There was a flower stuck in the buttonhole of the schoolmaster's coat, a pale tea-rose. If Dr. Knowles had been a man of fine instincts, (which his opaque shining eyes would seem to deny,) he might have thought it was not unapt or ill-placed even in the shabby, scuffed coat. A scholar, a gentleman, though in patched shoes and trousers a world too short. Old and gaunt, hunger-bitten even it may be, with loose-jointed, bony limbs, and yellow face; clinging, loyal and brave, to the knightly honor, to the quaint, delicate fancies of his youth, that were dust and ashes to other men. In the very haggard face you could find the quiet purity of the child he had been, and the old child's smile, fresh and credulous, on the mouth.
The Doctor had not spoken for a moment. It might be that he was careless of the poetic lights with which Mr. Howth tenderly decorated his old faith, or it might be that even he, with the terrible intentness of a real life-purpose in his brain, was touched by the picture of the far old chivalry, dead long ago. The master's voice grew low and lingering now. It was a labor of love, this. Oh, it is so easy to go back out of the broil of dust and meanness and barter into the clear shadow of that old life where love and bravery stand eternal verities,--never to be bought and sold in that dusty town yonder! To go back? To dream back, rather. To drag out of our own hearts, as the hungry old master did, whatever is truest and highest there, and clothe it with name and deed in the dim days of chivalry. Make a poem of it,--so much easier than to make a life!
Knowles shuffled uneasily, watching the girl keenly, to know how the picture touched her. Was, then, she thought, this grand dead Past so shallow to him? These knights, pure, unstained, searching until death for the Holy Greal, could he understand the life-long agony, the triumph of their conflict over Self? These women, content to live in solitude forever because they once had loved, could any man understand that? Or the dead queen, dead that the man she loved might be free and happy,--why, this _was_ life,--this death! But did pain, and martyrdom, and victory lie back in the days of Galahad and Arthur alone? The homely face grew stiller than before, looking out into the dun sweep of moorland,--cold, unrevealing. It baffled the man that looked at it. He shuffled, chewed tobacco vehemently, tilted his chair on two legs, broke out in a thunder-gust at last.
"Dead days for dead men! The world hears a bugle-call to-day more noble than any of your piping troubadours. We have something better to fight for than a vacant tomb."
The old man drew himself up haughtily.
"I know what you would say,--Liberty for the low and vile. It is a good word. That was a better which they hid in their hearts in the old time,--Honor!"
Honor! I think, Calvinist though he was, that word was his religion. Men have had worse. Perhaps the Doctor thought this; for he rose abruptly, and, leaning on the old man's chair, said, gently,--
"It is better, even here. Yet you poison this child's mind. You make her despise To-Day; make honor live for her now."
"It does not," the schoolmaster said, bitterly. "The world's a failure. All the great old dreams are dead. Your own phantom, your Republic, your experiment to prove that all men are born free and equal,--what is it to-day?"
Knowles lifted his head, looking out into the brown twilight. Some word of pregnant meaning flashed in his eye and trembled on his lip; but he kept it back. His face glowed, though, and the glow and strength gave to the huge misshapen features a grand repose.
"You talk of To-Day," the old man continued, querulously. "I am tired of it. Here is its type and history," touching a county newspaper,--"a fair type, with its cant, and bigotry, and weight of uncomprehended fact. Bargain and sale,--it taints our religion, our brains, our flags,--yours and mine, Knowles, with the rest. Did you never hear of those abject spirits who entered neither heaven nor hell, who were neither faithful to God nor rebellious, caring only for themselves?"
He paused, fairly out of breath. Margaret looked up. Knowles was silent. There was a smothered look of pain on the coarse face; the schoolmaster's words were sinking deeper than he knew.
"No, father," said Margaret, hastily ending his quotation, "'_io non averei creduto, che [vita] tanta n' avesse disfatta._'"
Skilful Margaret! The broil must have been turbid in the old man's brain which the grand, slow-stepping music of the Florentine could not calm. She had learned that long ago, and used it as a nurse does some old song to quiet her pettish infant. His face brightened instantly.
"Do not believe, then, child," he said, after a pause. "It is a noble doubt in Dante or in you."
The Doctor had turned away; she could not see his face. The angry scorn was gone from the old master's countenance; it was bent with its usual wistful quiet on the floor. A moment after he looked up with a flickering smile.
"'_Onorate l' altissimo poeta!_'" he said, gently lifting his finger to his forehead in a military fashion. "Where is my cane, Margaret? The Doctor and I will go and walk on the porch before it grows dark."
The sun had gone down long before, and the stars were out; but no one spoke of this. Knowles lighted the schoolmaster's pipe and his own cigar, and then moved the chairs out of their way, stepping softly that the old man might not hear him. Margaret, in the room, watched them as they went, seeing how gentle the rough, burly man was with her father, and how, every time they passed the sweet-brier, he bent the branches aside, that they might not touch his face. Slow, childish tears came into her eyes as she saw it; for the schoolmaster was blind. This had been their regular walk every evening, since it grew too cold for them to go down under the lindens. The Doctor had not missed a night since her father gave up the school, a month ago: at first, under pretence of attending to his eyes; but since the day he had told them there was no hope of cure, he had never spoken of it again. Only, since then, he had grown doubly quarrelsome,--standing ready armed to dispute with the old man every inch of every subject in earth or air, keeping the old man in a state of boyish excitement during the long, idle days, looking forward to this nightly battle.
It was very still; for the house, with its half-dozen acres, lay in an angle of the hills, looking out on the river, which shut out all distant noises. Only the men's footsteps broke the silence, passing and repassing the window. Without, the October starlight lay white and frosty on the moors, the old barn, the sharp, dark hills, and the river, which was half hidden by the orchard. One could hear it, like some huge giant moaning in his sleep, at times, and see broad patches of steel blue glittering through the thick apple-trees and the bushes. Her mother had fallen into a doze. Margaret looked at her, thinking how sallow the plump, fair face had grown, and how faded the kindly blue eyes were now. Dim with crying,--she knew that, though she never saw her shed a tear. Always cheery and quiet, going placidly about the house in her gray dress and Quaker cap, as if there were no such things in the world as debt or blindness. But Margaret knew, though she said nothing. When her mother came in from those wonderful foraging expeditions in search of late pease or corn, she could see the swollen circle round the eyes, and hear her breath like that of a child which has sobbed itself tired. Then, one night, when she had gone late into her mother's room, the blue eyes were set in a wild, hopeless way, as if staring down into years of starvation and misery. The fire on the hearth burned low and clear; the old worn furniture stood out cheerfully in the red glow, and threw a maze of twisted shadow on the floor. But the glow was all that was cheerful. To-morrow, when the hard daylight should jeer away the screening shadows, it would unbare a desolate, shabby home. She knew; struck with the white leprosy of poverty; the blank walls, the faded hangings, the old stone house itself, looking vacantly out on the fields with a pitiful significance of loss. Upon the mantel-shelf there was a small marble figure, one of the Dancing Graces: the other two were gone, gone in pledge. This one was left, twirling her foot, and stretching out her hands in a dreary sort of ecstasy, with no one to respond. For a moment, so empty and bitter seemed her home and her life, that she thought the lonely dancer with her flaunting joy mocked her,--taunted them with the slow, gray desolation that had been creeping on them for years. Only for a moment the morbid fancy hurt her.
The red glow was healthier, suited her temperament better. She chose to fancy the house as it had been once,--should be again, please God. She chose to see the old comfort and the old beauty which the poor schoolmaster had gathered about their home. Gone now. But it should return. It was well, perhaps, that he was blind, he knew so little of what had come on them. There, where the black marks were on the wall, there had hung two pictures. Margaret and her father religiously believed them to be a Tintoret and Copley. Well, they were gone now. He had been used to dust them with a light brush every morning, himself, but now he said,--
"You can clean the pictures to-day, Margaret. Be careful, my child."
And Margaret would remember the greasy Irishman who had tucked them under his arm, and flung them into a cart, her blood growing hotter in her veins.
It was the same through all the house; there was not a niche in the bare rooms that did not recall a something gone,--something that should return. She willed that, that evening, standing by the dim fire. What women will, whose eyes are slow, attentive, still, as this Margaret's, usually comes to pass.
The red fire-glow suited her; another glow, warming her floating fancy, mingled with it, giving her quiet purpose the trait of heroism. The old spirit of the dead chivalry, of succor to the weak, life-long self-denial,--did it need the sand waste of Palestine or a tournament to call it into life? Down in that trading town, in the thick of its mills and drays, it could live, she thought. That very night, perhaps, in some of those fetid cellars or sunken shanties, there were vigils kept of purpose as unselfish, prayer as heaven-commanding, as that of the old aspirants for knighthood. She, too,--her quiet face stirred with a simple, childish smile, like her father's.
"Why, mother!" she said, stroking down the gray hair under the cap, "shall you sleep here all night?" laughing.
A cheery, tender laugh, this woman's was,--seldom heard,--not far from tears.
Mrs. Howth roused herself. Just then, a broad, high-shouldered man, in a gray flannel shirt, and shoes redolent of the stable, appeared at the door. Margaret looked at him as if he were an accusing spirit,--coming down, as every woman must, from heights of self-renunciation or bold resolve, to an undarned stocking or an uncooked meal.
"Kittle's b'ilin'," he announced, flinging in the information as a general gratuity.
"That will do, Joel," said Mrs. Howth.
The tone of stately blandness which Mrs. Howth erected as a shield between herself and "that class of people" was a study: a success, I think; the _résumé_ of her experience in the combat that had devoured half her life, like that of other American housekeepers. "Be gentle, but let them know their place, my dear!" The class having its type and exponent in Joel stopped at the door, and hitched up its suspenders.
"That will _do_, Joel," with a stern suavity.
Some idea was in Joel's head under the brush of red hair,--probably the "anarchic element."
"Uh was wishin' toh read the G'zette." Whereupon he advanced into the teeth of the enemy and bore off the newspaper, going before Margaret, as she went to the kitchen, and seating himself beside a flaring tallow-candle on the table.
Reading, with Joel, was not the idle pastime that more trivial minds find it: a thing, on the contrary, to be gone into with slow spelling, and face knitted up into savage sternness, especially now, when, as he gravely explained to Margaret, "in _his_ opinion the crissis was jest at hand, and ev'ry man must be seein' ef the gover'ment was carryin' out the views of the people."
With which intent, Joel, in company with five thousand other sovereigns, consulted, as definitive oracle, "The Daily Gazette" of Towbridge. The schoolmaster need not have grumbled for the old time: feudality in the days of Warwick and of "The Daily Gazette" was not so widely different as he and Joel thought.
Now and then, partly as an escape-valve for his overcharged conviction, partly in compassion to the ignorance of women in political economics, he threw off to Margaret divers commentaries on the text, as she passed in and out.
If she had risen to the full level of Joel's views, she might have considered these views tinctured with radicalism, as they consisted in the propriety of the immediate "impinging of the President." Besides, (Joel was a good-natured man, too, merciful to his beast,) Nero-like, he wished, with the tiger drop of blood that lies hid in everybody's heart, that the few millions who differed with himself and the "Gazette" had but one neck for their more convenient hanging. "It's all that'll save the kentry," he said, and believed it, too.
If Margaret fell suddenly from the peak of outlook on life to the homely labor of cooking supper, some of the healthy heroic flush of the knightly days and the hearth-fire went down with her, I think. It brightened and reddened the square kitchen with its cracked stove and meagre array of tins; she bustled about in her quaint way, as if it had been filled up and running over with comforts. It brightened and reddened her face when she came in to put the last dish on the table,--a cozy, snug table, set for four. Heroic dreams with poets, I suppose, make them unfit for food other than some feast such as Eve set for the angel. But then Margaret was no poet. So, with the kindling of her hope, its healthful light struck out, and warmed and glorified these common things. Such common things! Only a coarse white cloth, redeemed by neither silver nor china, the amber coffee, (some that Knowles had brought out to her father,--"thrown on his hands; he couldn't use it,--product of slave-labor!--never, Sir!") the delicate brown fish that Joel had caught, the bread her mother had made, the golden butter,--all of them touched her nerves with a quick sense of beauty and pleasure. And more, the gaunt face of the blind old man, his bony hand trembling as he raised the cup to his lips, her mother and the Doctor managing silently to place everything he liked best near his plate. Wasn't it all part of the fresh, hopeful glow burning in her consciousness? It brightened and deepened. It blotted out the hard, dusty path of the future, and showed warm and clear the success at the end. Not much to show, you think. Only the old home as it once was, full of quiet laughter and content; only her mother's eyes clear shining again; only that gaunt old head raised proudly, owing no man anything but courtesy. The glow deepened, as she thought of it. It was strange, too, that, with the deep, slow-moving nature of this girl, she should have striven so eagerly to throw this light over the future. Commoner natures have done more and hoped less. It was a poor gift, you think, this of the labor of a life for so plain a duty; hardly heroic. She knew it. Yet, if there lay in this coming labor any pain, any wearing effort, she clung to it desperately, as if this should banish, it might be, worse loss. She tried desperately, I say, to clutch the far, uncertain hope at the end, to make happiness out of it, to give it to her silent hungry heart to feed on. She thrust out of sight all possible life that might have called her true self into being, and clung to this present shallow duty and shallow reward. Pitiful and vain so to cling! It is the way of women. As if any human soul could bury that which might have been in that which is!
The Doctor, peering into her thought with sharp, suspicious eyes, heeded the transient flush of enthusiasm but little. Even the pleasant cheery talk that pleased her father so was but surface-deep, he knew. The woman he must conquer for his great end lay beneath, dark and cold. It was only for that end he cared for her. Through what cold depths of solitude her soul breathed faintly mattered little. Yet an idle fancy touched him, what a triumph the man had gained, whoever he might be, who had held the master-key to a nature so rare as this, who had the kingly power in his hand to break its silence into electric shivers of laughter and tears,--terrible subtle pain, or joy as terrible. Did he hold the power still, he wondered? Meanwhile she sat there quiet, unread.
The evening came on, slow and cold. Life itself, the Doctor thought, impatiently, was cool and tardy here among the hills. Even he fell into the tranquil tone, and chafed under it. Nowhere else did the evening gray and sombre into the mysterious night impalpably as here. The quiet, wide and deep, folded him in, forced his trivial heat into silence and thought. The world seemed to think there. Quiet in the dead seas of fog, that filled the valleys like restless vapor curdled into silence; quiet in the listening air, stretching gray up to the stars,--in the solemn mountains, that stood motionless, like hoary-headed prophets, waiting with uplifted hands, day and night, to hear the Voice, silent now for centuries; the very air, heavy with the breath of the sleeping pine-forests, moved slowly and cold, like some human voice weary with preaching to unbelieving hearts of a peace on earth. This man's heart was unbelieving; he chafed in the oppressive quiet; it was unfeeling mockery to a sick and hungry world,--a dead torpor of indifference. Years of hot and turbid pain had dulled his eyes to the eternal secret of the night; his soul was too sore with stumbling, stung, inflamed with the needs and suffering of the countless lives that hemmed him in, to accept the great prophetic calm. He was blind to the prophecy written on the earth since the day God first bade it tell thwarted man of the great To-Morrow.
He turned from the night in-doors. Human hearts were his proper study. The old house, he thought, slept with the rest. One did not wonder that the pendulum of the clock swung long and slow. The frantic, nervous haste of town-clocks chorded better with the pulse of human life. Yet life in the veins of these people flowed slow and cool; their sorrows and joys were few and life-long. The slow, enduring air suited this woman, Margaret Howth. Her blood could never ebb or flow with sudden gusts of passion, like his own, throbbing, heating continually: one current, absorbing, deep, would carry its tide from one eternity to the other, one love or one hate. Whatever power was in the tide should be his, in its entirety. It was his right. Was not his aim high, the highest? It was his right.
Margaret, looking up, saw the man's intolerant eye fixed on her. She met it coolly. All her short life, this strange man, so tender to the weak, had watched her with a sort of savage scorn, sneering at her apathy, her childish, dreamy quiet, driving her from effort to effort with a scourge of impatient contempt. What did he want now with her? Her duty was light; she took it up,--she was glad to take it up; what more would he have? She put the whole matter away from her.
It grew late. She sat down by the lamp and began to read to her father, as usual. Her mother put away her knitting; Joel came in half-asleep; the Doctor put out his everlasting cigar, and listened, as he did everything else, intently. It was an old story that she read,--the story of a man who walked the fields and crowded streets of Galilee eighteen hundred years ago. Knowles, with his heated brain, fancied that the silence without in the night grew deeper, that the slow-moving air stopped in its course to listen. Perhaps the simple story carried a deeper meaning to these brooding mountains and this solemn sky than to the purblind hearts within. It was a dim, far-off story to them,--very far off. The old schoolmaster heard it with a lowered head, with the proud obedience with which a cavalier would receive his leader's orders. Was not the leader a knight, the knight of truest courage? All that was high, chivalric in the old man sprang up to own him Lord. That he not only preached to, but ate and drank with publicans and sinners, was a requirement of his mission; nowadays----. Joel heard the "good word" with a bewildered consciousness of certain rules of honesty to be observed the next day, and a maze of crowns and harps shining somewhere beyond. As for any immediate connection between the teachings of this book and "The Daily Gazette," it was pure blasphemy to think of it. The Lord held those old Jews in His hand, of course; but as for the election next month, that was quite another thing. If Joel thrust the history out of the touch of common life, the Doctor brought it down, and held it there on trial. To him it was the story of a Reformer who had served his day. Could he serve this day? Could he? The need was desperate. Was there anything in this Christianity, freed from bigotry, to work out the awful problem which the ages had left for America to solve? People called this old Knowles an infidel, said his brain was as unnatural and distorted as his body. God, looking down into his heart that night, saw the fierce earnestness of the man to know the truth, and judged him with other eyes than ours.
When the girl had finished reading, she went out and stood in the cool air. The Doctor passed her without notice. The story stood alive in his throbbing brain, demanding a hearing; it stood there always, needing but a touch to waken it. All things were real to this man, this uncouth mass of flesh that his companions sneered at; most real of all the unhelped pain of life, the great seething mire of dumb wretchedness in our streets and alleys, the cry for aid from the starved souls of the world. You and I have other work to do than to listen,--pleasanter. But this man, coming out of the mire, his veins thick with the blood of a despised race, had carried up their pain and hunger with him: it was the most real thing on earth to him,--more real than his own share in the unseen heaven or hell. By the reality, the peril of the world's instant need, he tried the offered help from Calvary. It was the work of years, not of this night. Perhaps, if they who preach Christ crucified had first doubted and tried him as this man did, their place in the coming heaven might be higher,--and ours, who hear them.
He went, in his lumbering way, down the hill into the city. He was glad to go back; the trustful, waiting quiet oppressed, taunted him. It sent him back more mad against Destiny, his heart more bitter in its great pity. Let him go back into the great city, with its stifling gambling-hells, its negro-pens, its foul cellars. It is his place and work. If he stumble blindly against unconquerable ills, and die, others have so stumbled and so died. Do you think their work is lost?
* * * * *
Time is a lowly peasant, with whom bred Are sons of kings, of an immortal race. Their garb to their condition they debase, Eat of his fare, make on his straw their bed, Conversing, use his homely dialect, (Giving the words some meaning of their own,) Till, half forgetting purple, sceptre, throne, Themselves his children mere they nigh suspect. And when, divinely moved, one goes away, His royal right and glory to resume, Loss of his rags appears his life's decay, He weeps, and his companions mourn his doom. Yet doth a voice in every bosom say, "So perish buds while bursting into bloom."
WHAT WE ARE COMING TO.
In the year 1745 Charles Edward Stuart landed in the wilds of Moidart and set up the standard of rebellion. The Kingdom of Scotland was then, in nearly all but political rights, an independent nation. A very large part of its population was of different blood from that of the southern portion of the British Island. The Highland clans were as distinct in manners, disposition, and race from their English neighbors as are the Indian tribes remaining in our midst from the men of Massachusetts and New York. They held to the old religion, the cardinal principle of which is to admit the right of no other form, and which never has obtained the upper hand without immediately attempting to put down all rivalry. They were devotedly attached to their chiefs. They represented a patriarchal system. They lived by means of a little agriculture and a great deal of plunder. They were bred to arms, and despised every other calling. The whole country of Scotland was possessed with an inextinguishable spirit of nationality, stronger than that of Hungary or Poland. They were traditional allies of France, the hereditary foe of England. Seven hundred years of fighting had filled the border-land with battle-fields, some of glorious and some of mournful memory, on which the Cross of Saint Andrew had been matched against that of Saint George. Some of the noblest families of the realm had won their knightly spurs and their ancient earldoms by warlike prowess against the Southron. Flodden and Bannockburn were household words, as potent as Agincourt and Cressy. Nor had the conduct of the House of Hanover been such as to conciliate the unwilling people. There was known to be a widespread disaffection even in England to the German princes. These had governed their adopted for the benefit of their native country. The sentiment of many counties was thoroughly Jacobite. A corrupt and venal administration was filled with secret adherents of the king over the water. One great university was in sympathy with the fallen dynasty. A large part of the Church was imbued with doctrines of divine right and passive obedience, of which the only logical conclusion was the return of the Stuarts.
Between the two countries there was an antagonism of customs, of manners, of character, more marked, more offensively displayed, and breeding more rancorous hatred than any which can now exist between the people of Boston and Charleston, between the Knickerbockers of New York and the Creoles of New Orleans. A Scotchman was to the South a comprehensive name for a greedy, beggarly adventurer, knavish and money-loving to the last degree, full of absurd pride of pedigree, clannish and cold-blooded, vindictive as a Corsican, and treacherous as a modern Greek. An Englishman was to the North a bullying, arrogant coward,--purse-proud, yet cringing to rank,--without loyalty and without sentiment,--given over to mere material interests, not comprehending the idea of honor, and believing, as the fortieth of his religious articles, that any injury, even to a blow, could be compensated by money.
Into an island thus divided the heir of the ancient family to whom in undoubted right of legitimacy the crown belonged, a young, gallant, and handsome prince, had thrown himself with a chivalrous confidence that touched every heart. There was every reason to suppose that the interests of England's powerful enemy across the Channel were secretly pledged to sustain his cause. Scotland was soon ablaze with sympathy and devotion. The Prince advanced on Edinburgh. The city opened its gates. He was acknowledged, and held his court in the old Palace of Holyrood, where generation after generation of Stuarts had maintained their state. The castle alone, closely beleaguered, held out like our own Sumter in the centre of rebellion. A battle was fought almost beneath the walls of the Scotch capital, and the first great army upon which the English hope depended was ignominiously routed. A portion of the soldiery fled in disgraceful panic; those who stood were cut to pieces by the charges of a fiery valor against which discipline seemed powerless. The border fortress of Carlisle was soon after taken. Liverpool, not the great commercial port it now is, but of rising importance, and Manchester, were menaced. Even London was in dismay. Men like Horace Walpole wrote to their friends of a retreat to the garrets of Hanover. The funds fell. The leading minister had been a man of eminently pacific policy, whose chief state-maxim was _Quieta non movere_, and was taken by surprise. There are many historians and students of history who now admit, in looking back upon those times, that the fate of the established government hung upon a thread, and that the daring advance of the Pretender followed by another victory might have converted him into a Possessor and Defender. Had any one then asked as to the possibilities of a reconstruction of the severed Union, the answer would probably have been not much unlike the predictions of the croakers of to-day who clamor for acceptance of the Davisian olive-branch and an acknowledgment of the fact of Secession. Yet the strength of numbers, of means, and of public sentiment was altogether on the English side. Though paralyzed somewhat by the sense of private treachery, with the feeling that all branches of the public service were harboring men of doubtful loyalty, and the knowledge that a great body of "submissionists" were ready to acquiesce in the course of events, whatever that might be, the Government prepared for an unconditional resistance. _From the outset they treated it as a rebellion, and the adherents of the Stuarts as rebels_. Time, the ablest of generals and wisest of statesmen, happened to be on their side. The Pretender turned northward from Derby, and on the field of Culloden the last hope of the exiled house was forever broken. Yet it would even then seem as if reconstruction had been rendered impossible. The Chevalier escaped to France, guarded by the fond loyalty of men and women who defied alike torture and temptation. While he lived, or the family remained, the danger continued to threaten England, and the heart of Scotland to be fevered with a secret hope. The old conflict of nationalities had been terribly envenomed by the cruelties of Cumberland and the license of the conquering troops. There was the same temptation ever lurking at the ear of France to whisper new assaults upon England. Ireland was held as a subjugated province, and was in a state of chronic discontent. To either wing of the British empire, alliance with, nay, submission to France, was considered preferable to remaining in the Union.
Thus far we have been looking at probabilities from the stand-point of their times. There is a curious parallelism in the essentials of that conflict with the present attempt to elevate King Cotton to the throne of this Republic. It is close enough to show that the same great rules have hitherto governed human action with unerring fidelity. The Government displayed at the outset the same vacillation; the people were apparently as thoroughly indifferent to the Hanoverian cause as the Northern merchants, before the fall of Sumter, to the prosperity of Lincoln's administration. The Russell of 1745, writing to the French court his views of the public sentiment of England and especially of London, probably gave an account of it not very dissimilar to that which the Russell of 1861 wrote to the London "Times" after his first encounter with the feeling of New York. There were doubtless the same assurances on the part of confident partisans that the whole framework of the British government would crumble at the first attack. There were, too, the same extravagant alarms, the same wild misrepresentations, the same volunteer enthusiasm on the part of loyal subjects a little later on in the history. There was on the part of the rebels the same confidence in the justice of their cause, the same utter blindness to results, as in the devotees of Slavery. There was then, as now, an educated and cultivated set of plotters, moved by personal ambition, swaying with almost absolute power the minds of an ignorant and passionate class. It was the combat so often begun in the world, yet so inevitably ending always in the same way, between misguided enthusiasm and the great public conviction of the value of order, security, and peace.
The enmity seemed hopeless; the insurrection was a smouldering fire, put out in one corner only to be renewed in another. If Virginia is a country in which a guerrilla resistance can be indefinitely prolonged, it is more open than the plains of Holland in comparison with the Highlands of that era. Few Lowlanders had ever penetrated them,--scarcely an Englishman. It was supposed that in those impregnable fastnesses an army of hundreds might defy the thousands of the crown. At Killiecrankie, Dundee and his Highlanders had beaten a well-appointed and superior force. Dundee had himself been repulsed by a handful of Covenanters at Loudoun Heath through the strength of their position. Montrose had carried on a partisan war against apparently hopeless odds. To overrun England might be a mad ambition, but to stand at bay in Scotland was a thing which had been again and again attempted with no inconsiderable success.
The rebellion failed, and there were several causes for the failure: Dissensions among the rebels, the want of efficient aid from France, the want of money, _and the conviction of a large part of the Scots themselves of the value of the Union_. The rebellion failed, and sullen submission to confiscation, military cruelty, and political proscription followed.
On Sunday, the 18th of June, 1815, not quite seventy years after, there charged side by side upon the _élite_ of a French army, with the men of London, the Highlanders and Irish. A descendant of Cameron of Lochiel fell leading them on. The last spark of Jacobite enthusiasm and Scottish hatred of Englishmen had died out years before. Those who witnessed the entry of the Chevalier into Edinburgh lived to see the whole nation devouring with enthusiasm the novel of "Waverley,"--so entirely had the bitterness of what had happened "sixty years since" passed from their minds!
We have thus selected two points of history as the short answer to the cry, "You can never reconstruct the Union," which History, the impartial judge on the bench, pronounces to the wranglers at the bar below. "Never" is a long word to speak, if it be a short one to spell. Events move fast, and the logic of Fate is more convincing than the arguments of daily editors. The "_tout arrive en France_" is true of the world in general, so far as relates to isolated circumstances. The very fact that a threatened disruption of our Union has been possible ought to forbid any one from concluding that reconstruction, or rather restoration, is impossible. Twenty years after the Battle of Culloden, Jacobitism was a dream; fifty years after, it was a memory; a century after, it was an antiquarian study.
The real question we are to ask concerning the present rebellion, and the only one which is of importance, is, What is it based upon? an eternal or an arbitrary principle? An eternal principle renews itself till it succeeds,--if not in one century, then in another. An arbitrary principle makes its fierce fight and then is slain, and men bury it as soon as they can. The Stuarts represented an arbitrary principle. They were the impersonation of unconstitutional power. Hereditary right they had, and the Hanoverians had not. According to Mr. Thackeray, and according to the strictest fact, we suspect the Georges were no more personally estimable than the Jameses, and they were far less kingly-mannered. But they were willing to govern England according to law, and the Stuarts wore determined to govern according to prerogative.
What is the present issue? It is a contest, when reduced to its ultimate terms, between free labor and slavery. It is very true that this secession was planned before slavery considered itself aggrieved, before abolitionism became a word of war. But the antipathy between the slaveholder and the payer or receiver of wages was none the less radical. The systems were just as hostile. We admit that the South can make out its title of legitimacy. It has a slave population it must take care of and is bound to take care of till somebody can tell what better to do with it. It can show a refined condition of its highest society, which contrasts not unfavorably with the tawdry display and vulgar ostentation of the _nouveaux riches_ whom sudden success in trade or invention has made conspicuous at the North. There is a fascination about the Southern life and character which charms those who do not look at it too closely into ardent championship. Even Mr. Russell, so long as he looked into white faces in South Carolina, was fascinated, and only when he came to look into black faces along the Mississippi found the disenchantment. The decisive difference is, that the North is purposing to settle and possess this land according to the law of right, and the South according to the law of might.
We say, therefore, that the issue of the contest need not be doubtful. The events of it may be very uncertain, but, from the parallel we have sketched, we think we can indicate the four chief causes of the Scottish failure as existing in the present crisis.
DISSENSIONS AMONG THE REBELS. These of course are hid from us by the veil of smoke that rises above Bull Run. But as between the party of advance and the party of defence, between the would-be spoilers of New York bank-vaults and Philadelphia mint-coffers, and the more prudent who desire "to be let alone," there is already an issue created. There are State jealousies, and that impatience of control which is inherent in the Southern mind, as it was in that of the Highland chieftains. There will be, as events move on, the same feud developed between the Palmetto of Carolina and the Pride-of-China of the Georgian, as then burned between Glen-Garry of that ilk and Vich Ian Vohr. There are rivalries of interest quite as fierce as those which roused the anti-tariff _furor_ of Mr. Calhoun. Much as Great Britain may covet the cotton of South Carolina, she will not be disposed to encourage Louisiana to a competition in sugar with her own Jamaica. Virginia will hardly brook the opening of a rival Dahomey which shall cheapen into unprofitableness her rearing of slaves. While fighting is to be done, these questions are in abeyance; but so soon as men come to ask what they are fighting for, they revive. There is selfishness inherent in the very idea of secession.
There is a capital story, we think, in the "Gesta Romanorum," of three thieves who have robbed a man of a large sum of gold. They propose a carouse over their booty, and one is sent to the town to buy wine. While he is gone, the two left behind plot to murder him on his return, so as to have a half instead of a third to their shares. He, meanwhile, coveting the whole, buys poison to put into the wine. They cut his throat and sit down to drinking, which soon finishes them. It is an admirable illustration of the probable future of successful secession. Something very like this ruined the cause of James III., and something not unlike it may be even now damaging the cause of H.S.I.M.,--His Sea-Island Majesty, Cotton the First.
THE WANT OF EFFICIENT AID FROM ABROAD. We are not yet quite out of the woods, and it behooveth us not to halloo that we certainly have found the path. But it is more than probable that the Southern hope of English or French aid has failed. Either nation by itself might be won over but for the other. He is a bold and a good charioteer who can drive those two steeds in double harness.
Either without the other is simply an addition of _x--x_ to the equation. If by next November we can get a single cotton-port open, we shall have settled that Uncle Tom and the Duchess of Sutherland may return to the social cabinet of Great Britain,--and that being so, the political cabinet is of small account.
With the want of foreign aid comes the next want, that of MONEY. The Emperor of Austria has a convenient currency in his dominions, which you can carry in sheets and clip off just what you need. But cross a frontier and the very beggars' dogs turn up their noses at the _K.K. Schein-Münze_. The Virginian and other Confederate scrip appears to be at par of exchange with Austrian bank-notes,--in fact, of the same worth as that "Brandon Money" of which Sol. Smith once brought away a hatful from Vicksburg, and was fain to swap it for a box of cigars. The South cannot long hold out under the wastefulness of war, unless relief come. "With bread and gunpowder one may go anywhere," said Napoleon,--but with limited hoecake and _no_ gunpowder, even Governor Wise would wisely retreat.
But most certain of all in the long run is THE CONVICTION OF THE MEN OF THE SOUTH THEMSELVES OF THE VALUE OF THE UNION. It is said that the Union feeling is all gone at the South. That may be, and yet the facts on which it was based remain. Feeling is a thing which comes and goes. The value to the South of Federal care, Federal offices, Federal mail facilities, and the like, is not lessened. The weight of direct taxation is a marvellous corrector of the exciting effects of rhetoric. It is pleasanter to have Federal troops line State Street in Boston to guard the homeward passage of Onesimus to the longing Philemon than to have them receiving without a challenge the fugitive Contrabands. It is pleasanter to have B.F. Butler, Esq., argue in favor of the Dred Scott decision than to have General Butler enforcing the Fortress Monroe doctrine. Better to look up to a whole galaxy of stars, and to live under a baker's dozen of stripes, than to dwell in perpetual fear of choosing between the calaboose and the drill-room of the Louisiana Zouaves. We have noticed that the sympathizers of the North are quoting the sentence from Mr. Lincoln's inaugural to this effect,--What is to be gained after fighting? We have got to negotiate at last, be the war long or short. This is a very potent argument, as Mr. Lincoln meant it. To men who must sooner or later negotiate their way back into the Union, it is a very important consideration how much fighting and how much money they can afford before negotiating. To us who cannot at any cost afford to stop until they are thus ready to negotiate, it is only comparatively a question. He says to the South, as a lawyer sure of a judgment and confident of execution to be thereafter satisfied might say to his adversary's client,--"Don't litigate longer than you can help, for you are only making costs which must come out of your own pocket." To his own client, he says,--"They may delay, but they cannot hinder, our judgment."
Meanwhile what shall we do with the root of bitterness, the real cause of antagonism? That will do for itself. We probably cannot do much to help or hinder now. The negro and the white man will remain on the old ground, but new relations must be established between them. What those shall be will depend on many yet undeveloped contingencies. But--when we reconstruct, it will be with a North stronger than ever before and a government too strong for rebellion ever to touch it again. Under a free government of majorities, such as ours, rebellion is simply the resistance of a minority. Secession has been acted out to the bitter end on a small scale ere now in this country. Daniel Shays tried it in Massachusetts; Thomas Wilson Dorr tried it in Rhode Island. When they had tried it sufficiently, they gave in. We remember the Dorr War, and how bitterly the "Algerines," as they were called, were reviled. We doubt if a remnant of that hostility could be dug up anywhere between Beavertail Light and Woonsocket Falls. We have no doubt that men who then were on the point of fighting with each other fought side by side under Sprague, and fought all the better for having once before faced the possibilities of real war. When the minority are satisfied that they must give in, they do give in.
We do not purpose to debate now the question of the mode of reconstruction. When the seceded States return, though they come back to the old Constitution, they will come under circumstances demanding new conditions. The wisdom of legislation will be needed to establish as rapidly as possible pacification. What the circumstances will be none can now say. But we are better satisfied than ever of the impracticability of permanent secession. The American Revolution is not a parallel case. The only parallel in history that we can now recall is the one we have used so freely in this article. It is one in which the parallel fails chiefly in presenting stronger grounds for a permanent disruption. Scotland struggled against a geographical necessity. She did so under the influence of far more powerful motives than now exist at the South. She had far less binding ties than now are still living between us and our revolted States. A geographical necessity as vast and potent now links the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes. The struggle is a more gigantic one, and in its fierce convulsions men's minds may well lose their present balance, and men's hearts their calm courage.
But everlasting laws are not to be put aside. The tornadoes which sweep the tropic seas seem for a time to reverse the course of Nature. The waters become turbid with the sands of the ocean's bed. The air strikes and smites down with a solid force. The heaviest stones and beams of massy buildings fly like feathers on the blast. Vessels are found far up on the land, with the torn stumps of trees driven through their planking. Life and property are buried in utter ruin. But the storm passes, the sunshine comes back into the darkened skies, and the blue waves sparkle within their ancient limits. The awful tempest passes away into history,--for it is God, and not man, who measures the waters in the hollow of His hand, and sends forth and restrains the breath of the blasting of His displeasure.
* * * * *
In those long-gone days when the gods of Olympus were in all their glory, and when those gods were in the habit of disturbing the domestic peace of worthy men, there was born unto an Arcadian nymph a son, for whom no proper father could be found. The father was Mercury, who was a _Dieu à bonnes fortunes_, and he did not, like some Christian gentlemen in similar circumstances, altogether neglect his boy; for (so goes the story) the child was "such a fright" that his mother was shocked and his nurse ran away (Richard III. did not make a worse first appearance); whereupon Mercury seized him, and bore him to Olympus, where he showed him, with paternal partiality, to all the gods, who were so pleased with the little monster that they named him _Pan_, as evidence that they were _All_ delighted with his charming ugliness,--they being, it should seem, as fond of hideous pets as if they had been mere mortals, and endowed with a liberal share of humanity's bad taste. There are other accounts of the birth of Pan, one of which is, that he was the child of Penelope, born while she was waiting for the return of the crafty Ulysses, and that his fathers were _all_ the aspirants to her favor,--a piece of scandal to be rejected, as reflecting very severely upon the reputation of a lady who is mostly regarded as having been a very model of chastity. It would have astonished the gods, who were so joyous over the consequence of their associate's irregularities, had they been told that their pet was destined to outlast them all, and to affect human affairs, by his action, long after their sway should be over. Jupiter has been dethroned for ages, and exists only in marble or bronze; and Apollo, and Mercury, and Bacchus, and all the rest of the old deities, are but names, or the shadows of names; but Pan is as active to-day as he was, when, nearly four-and-twenty centuries ago, he asked the worship of the Athenians, and intimated that he might be useful to them in return,--which intimation he probably made good but a little later on the immortal field of Marathon. For not only was Pan the god of shepherds, and the protector of bees, and the patron of sportsmen, but to him were attributed those terrors which have decided the event of many battles. He is generally identified with the Faunus of the Latins, and a new interest in the _Fauni_ has been created by the genius of Hawthorne. If it be true that the popular idea of Satan is derived from Pan, we have another evidence therein of the breadth as well as the length of his dominion over human affairs; for Satan, judging from men's conduct, was never more active, more successful, and more grimly joyous than he is in this year of grace (and disgrace) one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one. "The harmless Faun," says Bulwer Lytton, "has been the figuration of the most implacable of fiends." Satan and Pan ought to be one, if we regard the kind of work in which the latter has lately been engaged. The former's sympathies are undoubtedly with the Secessionists, and to his active aid we must attribute their successes, both as thieves and as soldiers.
The number of instances of panic terror in armies is enormous. Panics have taken place in all armies, from that brief campaign in which Abram smote the hosts of the plundering kings, hard by Damascus, to that briefer campaign in which General McDowell did _not_ smite the Secessionists, hard by Washington. The Athenians religiously believed that Pan aided them at Marathon; and it would go far to account for the defeat of the vast Oriental host, in that action, by a handful of Greeks, if we could believe that that host became panic-stricken. At Plataea, the allies of the Persians fell into a panic as soon as the Persians were beaten, and fled without striking a blow. At the Battle of Amphipolis, in the Peloponnesian War, and which was so fatal to the Athenians, the Athenian left wing and centre fled in a panic, without making any resistance. The Battle of Pydna, which placed the Macedonian monarchy in the hands of the Romans, was decided by a panic befalling the Macedonian cavalry after the phalanx had been broken. At Leuctra and at Mantinea, battles so fatal to the Spartan supremacy in Greece, the defeated armies suffered from panics. The decision at Pharsalia was in some measure owing to a panic occurring among the Pompeian cavalry; and at Thapsus, the panic terror that came upon the Pompeians gave to Caesar so easy a victory that it cost him only fifty men, while the other side were not only broken, but butchered. At Munda, the last and most desperate of Caesar's battles, and in which he came very nearly losing all that he had previously gained, a panic occurred in his army, from the effects of which it recovered through admiration of its leader's splendid personal example. The defeat of the Romans at Carrhae by the Parthians was followed by a panic, against the effects of which not even the discipline of the legions was a preventive. At the first Battle of Philippi, the young Octavius came near being killed or captured, in consequence of the success of Brutus's attack, which had the effect of throwing his men into utter confusion, so that they fled in dismay. What a change would have taken place in the ocean-stream of history, had the future Augustus been slain or taken by the Republicans on that field on which the Roman Republic fell forever! But the success of Antonius over Cassius more than compensated for the failure of Octavius, and prepared the way for the close of "the world's debate" at Actium. Actium, by the way, was one of the few sea-fights which have had their decision through the occurrence of panics, water not being so favorable to flight as land. Whether the flight of Cleopatra was the result of terror, or followed from preconcerted action, is still a question for discussion; and one would not readily believe that the most gallant and manly of all the Roman leaders--one of the very few of his race who were capable of generous actions--was also capable of plotting deliberately to abandon his followers, when the chances of battle had not been tried. Whether that memorable flight was planned or not, the imitation of it by Antonius created a panic in at least a portion of his fleet; and the victory of the hard-minded Octavius over the "soft triumvir"--he was "soft" in every sense on that day--was the speedy consequence of the strangest exhibition of cowardice ever made by a brave man.
In modern wars, panics have been as common as ever they were in the contests of antiquity. No people has been exempt from them. It has pleased the English critics on our defeat at Bull Run to speak with much bitterness of the panic that occurred to the Union army on that field, and in some instances to employ language that would leave the impression that never before did it happen to an army to suffer from panic terror. No reflecting American ought to object to severe foreign criticism on our recent military history; for through such criticism, perhaps, our faults may be amended, and so our cause finally be vindicated. The spectacle of soldiers running from a field of battle is a tempting one to the enemies of the country to whom such soldiers may belong, and few critics are able to speak of it in any other than a contemptuous tone. Would Americans have spoken with more justice of Englishmen than Englishmen have spoken of Americans, had the English army failed at the Alma through a panic, as our army failed at Bull Run? Not they! The bitter comments of our countrymen on the inefficiency of the British forces in the Crimea, and the general American tendency to attribute the successes of the Allies in the Russian War to the French, to the Sardinians, or to the Turks,--to anybody and everybody but to the English, who really were the principal actors in it,--are in evidence that we are drinking from a bitter cup the contents of which were brewed by ourselves. It is wicked and it is foolish to accuse our armies of cowardice and inefficiency because they have met with some painful reverses; but the sin and the folly of foreigners in this respect are no greater than the sin and the folly that have characterized most American criticism on the recent military history of England.
The most important fruitful battle mentioned in British history, next to that of Hastings, is the Battle of Bannockburn, the event of which secured the independence and nationality of Scotland, with all the consequences thereof; and that event was the effect of a panic. The day was with Bruce and his brave army; but it was by no means certain that their success would be of that decisive character which endures forever, until the English host became panic-stricken. Brilliant deeds had been done by the Scotch, who had been successful in all their undertakings, when Bruce brought up his reserve, which forced even the bravest of his opponents either to retreat or to think of it; but their retreat might have been conducted with order, and the English army have been saved from utter destruction and for future work, had it not been for the occurrence of one of those events, in which the elements of tragedy and of farce are combined, by which the destinies of nations are often decided, in spite of "the wisdom of the wise and the valor of the brave." The followers of the Scottish camp, anxious to see how the day went, or to obtain a share of the expected spoil, at that moment appeared upon the ridge of an eminence, known as the Gillies' Hill, behind their countrymen's line of battle, displaying horse-cloths and similar articles for ensigns of war. The struggling English, believing that they saw a new Scottish army rising as it were from the earth, were struck with panic, and broke and fled; and all that followed was mere butchery, though perfectly in accordance with the stern laws of the field. The English army was routed even more completely than was the French army, five centuries later, at Waterloo. Scott, with his usual skill, has made use of this incident in "The Lord of the Isles," but he ascribes to patriotic feeling what had a less lofty origin, which was an exercise of his license as a poet.[A]
[Footnote A: An incident closely resembling that which created the English panic at Bannockburn happened, with the same results, in one of the battles won by the Swiss over their invaders; but we cannot call to mind the name of the action in which it occurred.]
"To arms they flew,--axe, club, or spear,-- And mimic ensigns high they rear, And, like a bannered host afar, Bear down on England's wearied war.
"Already scattered o'er the plain, Reproof, command, and counsel vain, The rearward squadrons fled amain, Or made but fearful stay: But when they marked the seeming show Of fresh and fierce and marshalled foe, The boldest broke array."
The last three lines describe almost exactly what, we are told, took place at Bull Run, where our soldiers were beaten, it is asserted, in consequence of the coming up of fresh men to the assistance of the enemy, but who were not camp-followers, but the flower of that enemy's force. The reinforcements, contrary to what was supposed, were not numerous; but a fatigued, worn-out, ill-handled army cannot be expected to be very clever at its arithmetic. Our men greatly overrated the strength of the new column that presented itself,--at least, so we judge from some powerful narratives of the crisis at Manassas that have appeared. The eye of the mind did the counting, not the more trustworthy bodily organ. They "looked, and saw what numbers numberless" "the sacred soil of Virginia" appeared to be sending up to aid in its defence against "the advance," and it cannot be surprising that their hearts failed them at the moment, as has happened to veterans who had grown gray since they had received the baptism of fire. Had there been a couple of trained regiments at the command of General McDowell, at that time, with which to have met the regiments that were restoring the enemy's battle, the day would, perhaps, have remained with the Union army; but, as there was no reserve force, trained or untrained, a retreat became inevitable; and a retreat, in the case of a new army that had become exhausted and alarmed, meant a rout, and could have meant nothing else. We shall never hear the last of it, particularly from our English friends, who are yet jeered and joked about the business at Gladsmuir, in 1745, where and when their army was beaten in five minutes and some odd seconds by Prince Charles Edward's Highlanders, their cavalry running off in a panic, and their General never stopping until he had put twenty miles between himself and the nearest of the plaid-men. Indeed, he did not consider himself safe until he had left even all Scotland behind him, and had got within his Britannic Majesty's town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, which, as it was well fortified, promised him protection for the time. Four months later, at Falkirk, a portion of another English army was thrown into a panic by the sight of "the wild petticoat-men," and made capital time in getting out of their way. Two regiments of cavalry rushed right over a body of infantry lying on the ground, bellowing, as they galloped, "Dear brethren, we shall all be massacred this day!" They did their best to make their prediction true. A third regiment, and that composed of veterans, were so frightened, that, though they ran away with the utmost celerity, they did not have sense enough to run out of danger, but galloped along the Highland line, and received its entire fire. Some of the infantry were literally so swift to follow the example of the cavalry, that the Highlanders believed they were shamming, and so did not follow up their success with sufficient promptitude to reap its proper fruits. One of the regiments that ran was the Scots Royals, seeing which, Lord John Drummond exclaimed, "These men behaved admirably at Fontenoy: surely this is a feint." This suspicion of the enemy's purpose to entrap them actually paralyzed the Highland army for so long a time that the panic-stricken English were enabled for the most part to escape; so that to the completeness of their fright the English owed their power to rally their army, which did not stop in its retreat until it reached Edinburgh, the next day. In the same war, half a dozen MacIntosh Highlanders, commanded by a blacksmith, so acted as to throw fifteen hundred men, under Lord Loudoun, into a panic, which caused them all to fly; and though but one of their number was hurt by the enemy, they did much mischief to themselves. This incident is known as "The Rout of Moy," as Loudoun's force was marching upon Moy Castle, the principal seat of the MacIntoshes, for the purpose of capturing Prince Charles Edward, who was the guest of Lady MacIntosh, whose husband was with Lord Loudoun. To render the mortification of the flying party complete, the affair was suggested by a woman, Lady MacIntosh herself.
"The Races of Castlebar" are very renowned in the military history of Britain. In 1798 _after_ the Irish Rebellion had been suppressed, a small French force was landed at Killala, under command of General Humbert, and soon established itself in that town. A British army, full four thousand strong, was assembled to act against the invader, at the head of which was General Lake, afterward Lord Lake,--elevated to the peerage in reward of services performed in India, and one of the most ruthless of those harsh and brutal proconsuls employed by England to destroy the spirit of the people of Ireland. The two armies met at Castlebar, the French numbering only eight hundred men, with whom were about a thousand raw Irish peasants, most of whom had never had a musket in their hands until within the few days that preceded the battle,--races, we mean. A panic seized the British army, and it fled from the field with the swiftness of the wind, but not with the wind's power of destruction. The French had one small gun,--the British, fourteen guns. Humbert afterward kept the whole British force at bay for more than a fortnight, and did not surrender until his little army had been surrounded by thirty thousand men. It is calculated that the British made the best time from Castlebar that ever was made by a flying army. It was no exaggeration to say that "the speed of thought was in _their_ limbs" for a short time. Bull Run was a slow piece of business compared to Castlebar; and our countrymen did not run from a foe that was not half so strong as themselves, and who had neither position nor artillery. The English have accused the Irish of not always standing well to their work on the battle-field; but it would have required two Irishmen to run half the distance in an hour that was made at Castlebar by one Englishman. The most flagrant cases of panic that happened in the 'Forty-Five affair befell Englishmen, and rarely occurred to Irishmen or to Scotchmen. The conduct of the Scots Royals at Falkirk was the only striking exception to what closely approached to the nature of a general rule.
The civil war which ours most resembles is that which was waged in England a little more than two centuries ago, and which is known in English history as "The Great Civil War," though in fact it was but a small affair, if we compare it with that which took place nearly two centuries earlier than Cromwell's time,--the so-called Wars of the Roses. The resemblance between our contest and that in which the English rose against, fought with, defeated, dethroned, tried, and beheaded their king, is not very strong, we must confess; but the main thing is, that both contests belong to that class of wars in which, to borrow Shakspeare's words, "Civil blood makes civil hands unclean." Were there no exhibitions of fear in that war, no flights, no panics on the _grand scale_? Unless history is as great a liar as Talleyrand said it was, when he declared that it was founded on a general conspiracy against truth,--and who could suppose an English historian capable of lying?--shameful exhibitions of fear, flights of whole bodies of troops, and displays of panic terror were very common things with our English ancestors who fought and flourished _tempore Caroli Primi_. The first battle between the forces of the King and those of the Parliament was that of Edgehill, which was fought on _Sunday_, October 23d, 1642. Prince Rupert led his Cavaliers to the charge, ordering them, like a true soldier, to use only the sword, which is the weapon that horsemen always should employ. "The Roundheads," says Mr. Warburton, "seemed swept away by the very wind of that wild charge. No sword was crossed, no saddle emptied, no trooper waited to abide the shock; they fled with _frantic fear_, but fell fast under the sabres of their pursuers. The cavalry galloped furiously until they reached such shelter as the town could give them; nor did their infantry fare better. No sooner were the Royal horse upon them than they broke and fled; Mandeville and Cholmondely vainly strove to rally their _terror-stricken_ followers; they were swept away by the fiery Cavaliers." If this was not exactly the effect of a panic, then it was something worse: it followed from abject, craven fear. The bravest and best of armies have been known to suffer from panic terror, but none but cowards run away at the first charge that is made upon them. It is said, by way of excuse for the men who thus fled, in spite of the gallant efforts of their officers to rally them, that they were new troops. So were our men at Bull Run new troops; and this much can be said of them, that, if they became panic-stricken, it was not until after they had fought for several hours on a hot day, and that they were not well commanded, the officers setting the example of abandoning the field, and not seeking to encourage the soldiers, as was done by the English Parliamentary commanders at Edgehill. Therefore the English Bull Run was a far more disgraceful affair than was that of America.
We shall not dwell upon the multitudinous panics and flights that happened on both sides in the Great Civil War, but come at once to what took place on the grand field-days of that contest,--Long-Marston Moor and Naseby. At Long-Marston Moor, fought July 2, 1644, English, Irish, and Scotch soldiers were present, so that all the island races were on the field in the persons of some of the best of their number. The Royalists charged the Scotch centre, and were twice repulsed; but their third charge was more successful, and then most of the gallant Scotch force broke in every direction, only some fragments of three regiments standing their ground. "The Earl of Leven in vain hastened from one part of the line to the other," says Mr. Langton Sanford, "endeavoring by words and blows to keep the soldiers in the field, exclaiming, 'Though you run from your enemies, yet leave not your general; though you fly from them, yet forsake not me!' The Earl of Manchester, with great exertions, rallied five hundred of the fugitives, and brought them back to the battle. But these efforts to turn the fate of the day in this quarter were fruitless, and at length the three generals of the Parliament were compelled to seek safety in flight. Leven himself, conceiving the battle utterly lost, in which he was confirmed by the opinion of others then on the place near him, seeing they were fleeing upon all hands toward Tadcaster and Cawood, was persuaded by his attendants to retire and wait his better fortune. He did so, and never drew bridle till he came to Leeds, nearly forty miles distant, having ridden all that night with a cloak of _drap-de-berrie_ about him belonging to the gentleman from whom we derive the information, then in his retinue, with many other officers of good quality. Manchester and Fairfax, carried away in the flight, soon returned to the field, but the centre and right wing of their army were utterly broken. 'It was a sad sight,' exclaims Mr. Ash, [an eye-witness of the affair,] 'to behold many thousands posting away, amazed with _panic fears_!' Many fled without striking a blow; _and multitudes of people that were spectators ran away in such fear as daunted the soldiers still more_, some of the horse never looking back till they got as far as Lincoln, some others toward Hull, and others to Halifax and Wakefield, pursued by the enemy's horse for nearly two miles from the field. Wherever they came, the fugitives carried the news of the utter rout of the Parliament's army."[B] This strong picture of the panic that prevailed in the very army that won the Battle of Long-Marston Moor is confirmed by Sir Walter Scott, who says that the Earl of Leven was driven from the field, and was thirty miles distant, in full flight toward Scotland, when he was overtaken by the news that his party had gained a complete victory. Yet Leven was an experienced soldier, having served in the army of Gustavus Adolphus, in which he rose to very high rank; and the Scottish forces had many soldiers who had been trained in the same admirable school. That there were many spectators of the battle, whose fright "daunted the soldiers still more," shows that people were as fond of witnessing battles in 1644 as they are in 1861, and that their presence on the Moor was productive of almost as much evil to the Roundheads as the presence of Congressmen and other civilians at Manassas was to the Federal troops on the 21st of July. There would seem to be indeed nothing new under the sun, and folly is eternally reproducing itself. One of the names connected with our defeat is that of one of the most gallant of the Parliament's commanders at Long-Marston: Fairfax being named after the sixth Lord Fairfax, whose singular history furnished to Mr. Thackeray the plan for his "Virginians."
[Footnote B: Mr. Sanford quotes from a letter written by a spectator of the panic at Long-Marston Moor, which is so descriptive of what we should expect such a scene to be, that we copy it. "I could not," says the writer, "meet the Prince [Rupert] until after the battle was joined; and in fire, smoke, and confusion of the day I knew not for my soul whither to incline. The runaways on both sides were so many, so breathless, so speechless, so full of fears, that I should not have taken them for men but by their motion, which still served them very well, not a man of them being able to give me the least hope where the Prince was to be found, both armies being mingled, both horse and foot, no side keeping their own posts. In this terrible distraction did I scour the country; here meeting with a shoal of Scots crying out, 'Wae's me! We're a' undone!' and so full of lamentations and mourning, as if their day of doom had overtaken them, and from which they knew not whither to fly. And anon I met with a ragged troop, reduced to four and a cornet; by-and-by, a little foot-officer, without a hat, band, or indeed anything but feet, and so much tongue as would serve to inquire the way to the next garrisons, which, to say truth, were well filled with stragglers on both sides within a few hours, though they lay distant from the place of fight twenty or thirty miles."--See _Studies and Illustrations of the Great Rebellion_, (p. 606,) the best work ever written on the grand constitutional struggle made by the English against the usurpations of the Stuarts. The letter here quoted was written by an English gentleman, Mr. Trevor, to the best of the Royalist leaders, the Marquis (afterward first Duke) of Ormond.]
The panic at Naseby (June 14, 1645) was not of so pronounced a character as that at Long-Marston; but it helps to prove the Englishman's aptitude for running, and shows, that, if we have skill in the use of heels, we have inherited it: it is, in a double sense, matter of race. In spite of the exertions of Ireton, the cavalry of the left wing of the Roundheads was swept out of the field by Prince Rupert's dashing charge; while the foot were as deaf to the entreaties of old Skippon that they would keep their ranks. Later in the day the Cavaliers took their turn at the panic business, their horse flying over the hills, and leaving the infantry and the artillery, the women and the baggage, to the mercy of the Puritans,--and everybody knows what that was. The Cavaliers were even more subject to panics than the Puritans, as was but natural, seeing that they could not or would not be disciplined; and there were many of the leaders of the deboshed, godless crew of whom it could have been sung, as it was of Peveril of the Peak,--
"There was bluff old Sir Geoffrey loved brandy and mum well, And to see a beer-glass turned over the thumb well; But he fled like the wind, before Fairfax and Cromwell, Which nobody can deny!"
Cromwell's last victory but one, that of Dunbar, (September 3, 1650,) was due to the impertinent interference of "outsiders" with the business of the Scotch general, and to the occurrence of a panic in the Scotch army. The priests did for Leslie's army what the politicians are charged with having done for that of General McDowell. The Scotch were mostly raw troops, and soon fell into confusion; and then came one of those scenes of slaughter which were so common after the Cromwellian victories, and which, in spite of Mr. Carlyle's crazy admiration of them, must ever be regarded by sane and humane people as the work of the Devil. It is in dispute whether Cromwell's last great victory, that of Worcester, (September 3, 1651,) was a panic affair or not; for while Cromwell himself wrote that "indeed it was a stiff business," and that the dimensions of the mercy were above his thoughts, he complacently says, "Yet I do not think we have lost above two hundred men." Now, as the English critics on the Battle of Bull Run will have it that it was but a cowardly affair on our side, because but few men were at one time reported to have fallen in it, it follows that Cromwell's army at Worcester must have been an army of cowards, as it lost less than two hundred men, though it had to fight hard for several hours for victory. "As stiff a contest, for four or five hours," said the Lord-General, "as ever I have seen." And what shall we think of the Scotch, who lost fourteen thousand men? Mr. Lodge, whose sympathies are all with the Cavaliers, says that the action is undeservedly called the Battle of Worcester, "for it was in fact the mere rout of a _panic-stricken_ army." Certainly all the circumstances of the day tend to confirm this view of what occurred on it: the heavy loss of the Scotch, the small loss of the English, and the all but total destruction of the Royal army. That Cromwell should make the most of his victory, of the "crowning mercy," as he hoped it might prove, was natural enough. Nothing is more common than for the victor to sound the praises of the vanquished, that being a delicate form of self-praise. If they were so clever and so brave, how much greater must have been the cleverness and bravery of the man who conquered them? The difficulty is in inducing the vanquished to praise the victor. We have no doubt that General Beauregard speaks very handsomely of General McDowell; but how speaks General McDowell of General Beauregard? Wellington often spoke well of Napoleon's conduct in the campaign of 1815; but among the bitterest things ever said by one great man of another great man are Napoleon's criticisms on the conduct of Wellington in that campaign. We are not to suppose that Wellington was a more magnanimous person than Napoleon, which he assuredly was not; but he was praising himself, after an allowable fashion, when he praised Napoleon. There would have been a complete change of words in the mouths of the two men, had the result of Waterloo been, as it should have been, favorable to the French. Napoleon said that he never saw the Prussians behave well but at Jena, where he broke the army of the Great Frederick to pieces. He had not a word to say in praise of the Prussians who fought at the Katzbach, at Dennewitz, and at Waterloo. Human nature is a very small thing even in very great men.
As we see that the Roundheads triumphed in England, notwithstanding the panics from which their armies suffered, subduing the descendants of the conquering chivalry of Normandy, "to whom victory and triumph were traditional, habitual, hereditary things," may we not hope that the American descendants and successors of the Roundheads will be able to subdue the descendants of the conquered chivalry of the South, a chivalry that has as many parents as had the Romans who proceeded from the loins of the "robbers and reivers" who had been assembled, as per proclamation, at the Rogues' Asylum on the Palatine Hill? The bravery of the Southern troops is not to be questioned, and it never has been questioned by sensible men; but their pretensions to Cavalier descent are at the head of the long list of historical false pretences, and tend to destroy all confidence in their words. They may be aristocrats, but they have not the shadow of a claim to aristocratical origin.
Lord Macaulay's brilliant account of the Battle of Landen (July 19, 1693) establishes the fact, that it is possible for an army of veterans, led by some of the best officers of their time, to become panic-stricken while defending intrenchments and a strong position. "A little after four in the afternoon," he says, "the whole line gave way." "Amidst the rout and uproar, while arms and standards were flung away, while multitudes of fugitives were choking up the bridges and fords of the Gette or perishing in its waters, the King, [William III.,] having directed Talmash to superintend the retreat, put himself at the head of a few brave regiments, and by desperate efforts arrested the progress of the enemy." Luxembourg failed to follow up his victory, or all would have been lost. The French behaved as did the Southrons after Bull Run: they gave their formidable foe time to rally, and to recover from the effect of the panic that had covered the country with fugitives; and time was all that was necessary for either the English King or the American General to prevent defeat from being extended into conquest.
Two of Marlborough's greatest victories were largely owing to the occurrence of panic among the veteran troops of France. At Ramillies, the French left, which was partially engaged in covering the retreat of the rest of their army, were struck with a panic, fled, and were pursued for five leagues. At Oudenarde, (July 11, 1708,) the French commander, Vendôme, "urged the Duke of Burgundy and a crowd of panic-struck generals to take advantage of the night, and restore order; but finding his arguments nugatory, he gave the word for a retreat, and generals and privates, horse and foot, instantly hurried in the utmost disorder toward Ghent." The retreat of this crowd, which was a complete flight, he covered by the aid of a few brave men whom he had rallied and formed, and whose firm countenance prevented the entire destruction of the French army. Yet the French soldiers of that time were men of experience, and were accustomed to all the phases of war.
At the Battle of Rossbach, (November 5, 1757,) the troops of France and of the German Empire fell into a panic, and were routed by half their number of Prussians. That defeat was the most disgraceful that ever befell the arms of a military nation. The panic was complete, and no body of terrified militia ever fled more rapidly than did the veteran troops of Germany and France on that eventful day. Napoleon, half a century later, said that Rossbach produced a permanent effect on the French military, and on France, and was one of the causes of the Revolution. The disgrace was laid to the account of the French commander, the Prince de Soubise, who was a profligate, a coward, and a booby, and who neither knew war nor was known by it.
The English army experienced whatever of pleasure there may be in a panic, or rather in a pair of panics, at the grand Battle of Fontenoy, (May 11, 1745,) on which field they were so unutterably thrashed by the French and the Irish. In the first part of the action, the Allies were successful, when suddenly the Dutch troops fell into a panic, and fled as fast as it is ever given to Dutchmen to fly. There is nothing so contagious as panic terror, and the rest of the army, exposed as it was to a tremendous fire, soon caught the disease, and was giving way under it, when their commander, the Duke of Cumberland, who was well seconded by his officers, succeeded in rallying them. They renewed the combat, and their enemy became so alarmed in their turn that even the French King, and his son the Dauphin, were in danger of being swept away in the rout. Again there came a turn in the battle, and, mostly because of the daring and dash of the famous Irish Brigade, the Allies were beaten and forced to retreat. It is stated that the whole body of heroic British Grenadiers who were engaged at Fontenoy gave a strong proof of the effect of the panic upon their minds--and bodies; thus establishing the fact that they had stomachs for something besides the fight. "Not to put too fine a point upon it," they, with a unity of place and time that speaks well for their discipline, did that which was done by the valiant General Sterling Price at the Battle of Boonville, and which has caused them to leave a deep impression on the historic page, though nothing can be said in support of the attractiveness of the illustration which those gallant men contributed to that page.
There was a partial exhibition of panic terror made by the English troops at the Battle of Bunker's Hill. They were twice made to run on that Seventeenth of June of which something has been said during the last six-and-eighty years; and they were brought up to the point of making a third attack only by the greatest exertions of their commanders, and after having been considerably reinforced. This third attack would have been as promptly repulsed as its predecessors had been, but that the American troops had used up all their powder, and few of them had bayonets. The firmness, and skill as marksmen, of a body of militia had caused a larger body of British veterans twice to retreat in great disorder, and under circumstances much resembling those that characterize what is known as a panic. Had a third repulse of the assailants occurred, nothing could have prevented their flight to their boats. But it was written that the Americans should retreat; and it is safe to say that they showed much more steadiness in the retreat than the enemy did alacrity in the pursuit.
Panic terror was no uncommon thing during the Reign of Terror in France, in the armies of the French Republic. The early efforts of the French Republicans in the field sometimes failed because of panics occurring in their armies; and they were not unknown to any of the armies that took part in the long series of wars that began in 1792 and lasted, with brief intervals of peace, down to the summer of 1815. At Marengo, both armies suffered from panics. As early as ten o'clock in the forenoon, a portion of Victor's corps retired in disorder, crying out, "All is lost!" There were, in fact, three Battles of Marengo, the Austrians winning the first and second, and losing the third, which was losing all,--war not exactly resembling whist. When Desaix said, at three o'clock in the afternoon, that the battle was lost, but there was time enough to win another, he spoke the truth, and like a good soldier. The new movements that followed his arrival and advice caused surprise to the Austrians, and surprise soon passed into panic. The panic extended to a portion of the cavalry, no one has ever been able to say why; and it galloped off the field toward the Bormida, shouting, "To the bridges!" The panic then reached to men of all arms, and cavalry, artillery, and infantry were soon crowded together on the banks of the stream which they had crossed in high hopes but a few hours before. The artillery sought to cross by a ford, but failed, and the French made prisoners, and seized guns, horses, baggage, and all the rest of the trophies of victory. Thus a battle which confirmed the Consular government of Bonaparte, which prepared the way for the creation of the French Empire, and which settled the fate of Europe for years, was decided by the panic cries of a few horse-soldiers. The Austrian cavalry has long and justly been reputed second to no other in the world, and in 1800 it was a veteran body, and had been steadily engaged in war, with small interruption, for eight years; but neither its experience, nor its valor, nor regard for the character which it had to maintain, could save it from the common lot of armies. It became terrified, and senselessly fled, and its evil example was swiftly communicated to the other troops: for there is nothing so contagious as a panic, every man that runs thinking, that, while he is himself ignorant of the existence of any peculiar danger, all the others must know of it, and are acting upon their knowledge. That Austrian panic made the conqueror master of Italy, and with France and Italy at his command he could aspire to the dominion of Europe. The man who began the panic at Marengo really opened the way to Vienna to the legions of France, and to Berlin, and (but that brought compensation) to Moscow also.
There were panics in most of the great battles of the French Empire, or those battles were followed by panics. At Austerlitz the Austrians suffered from them; and though the Russian soldiers are among the steadiest of men, and keep up discipline under very extraordinary difficulties, they fared no better than their associates on that terrible field. They had more than one panic, and the confusion was prodigious. It was while flying in terror, that the dense, yet disorderly crowds sought to escape over some ponds, the ice of which broke, and two thousand of them were ingulfed. One of their generals, writing of that day, said,--"I had previously seen some lost battles, but I had no conception of such a defeat." Jena was followed by panics which extended throughout the army and over the monarchy, so that the Prussian army and the Prussian kingdom disappeared in a month, though Napoleon had anticipated a long, difficult, and doubtful contest with so renowned a military organization as that which had been created by the immortal Frederick; and he had remarked, at the beginning of the war, that there would be much use for the spade in the course of it. In the Austrian campaign of 1809, there was the beginning of a panic that might have produced serious consequences. The Archduke John, the Patterson of those days, was at the head of an Austrian army which was expected to take part in the Battle of Wagram; but it was not until after that battle had been gained by the French that that prince arrived near the Marchfeld, in the rear of the victors. A panic broke out among the persons who saw the heads of his columns,--camp-followers, _vivandières_, long lines of soldiers bearing off wounded men, and others. The young soldiers, who were exhausted by their labors and the heat, were conspicuous among the runaways, and there was a general race to "the banks of the dark-rolling Danube." Nay, it is said that the panic was taken up on the other side of the river, and that quite a number of individuals did not stop till they had reached Vienna. Terror prevailed, and the confusion was fast spreading, when Napoleon, who had been roused from an attempt to obtain some rest under a shelter formed of drums, fit materials for a house for him, arrived on the scene. In reply to his questions, Charles Lebrun, one of his officers, answered, "It is nothing, Sire,--merely a few marauders." "What do you call nothing?" exclaimed the Emperor. "Know, Sir, that there are no trifling events in war: nothing endangers an army like an imprudent security. Return and see what is the matter, and come back quickly and render me an account." The Emperor succeeded in restoring order, but not without difficulty, and the Archduke withdrew his forces without molestation. The circumstances of the panic show, that, if he had arrived at his intended place a few hours earlier, the French would have been beaten, and probably the French Empire have fallen at Vienna in 1809, instead of falling at Paris in 1814; and then the House of Austria would have achieved one of those extraordinary triumphs over its most powerful enemies that are so common in its extraordinary history. The incident bears some resemblance to the singular panic that happened the day after the Battle of Solferino, and which was brought on by the appearance of a few Austrian hussars, who came out of their hiding-place to surrender, many thousand men running for miles, and showing that the most successful army of modern days could be converted into a mob by-- nothing.
Seldom has the world seen such a panic as followed the Battle of Vittoria, in which Wellington dealt the French Empire the deadly blow under which it reeled and fell; for, if that battle had not been fought and won, the Allies would probably have made peace with Napoleon, following up the armistice into which they had already entered with him; but Vittoria encouraged them to hope for victory, and not in vain. The French King of Spain there lost his crown and his carriage; the Marshal of France commanding lost his _bâton_, and the honorable fame which he had won nineteen years before at Fleurus; and the French army lost its artillery, all but one piece, and, what was of more consequence, its honor. It was the completest rout ever seen in that age of routs and balls. And yet the defeated army was a veteran army, and most of its officers were men whose skill was as little to be doubted as their bravery.
There were panics at Waterloo, not a few; and, what is remarkable, they happened principally on the side of the victors, the French suffering nothing from them till after the battle was lost, when the pressure of circumstances threw their beaten army into much confusion, and it was not possible that it should be otherwise. Bylandt's Dutch-Belgian brigade ran away from the French about two o'clock in the afternoon, and swept others with them in their rush, much to the rage of the British, some of whom hissed, hooted, and cursed, forgetting that quite as discreditable incidents had occurred in the course of the military history of their own country. One portion of the British troops that desired to fire upon those exhibitors of "Dutch courage" actually belonged to the most conspicuous of the regiments that ran away at Falkirk, seventy years before. At a later hour Trip's Dutch-Belgian cavalry-brigade ran away in such haste and disorder that some squadrons of German hussars experienced great difficulty in maintaining their ground against the dense crowd of fugitives. The Cumberland regiment of Hanoverian hussars was deliberately taken out of the field by its colonel when the shot began to fall about it, and neither orders nor entreaties nor arguments nor execrations could induce it to form under fire. Nay, it refused to form across the high-road, _out_ of fire, but "went altogether to the rear, spreading alarm and confusion all the way to Brussels." Nothing but the coming up of the cavalry-brigades of Vivian and Vandeleur, at a late hour, prevented large numbers of Wellington's infantry from leaving the field. The troops of Nassau fell "back _en masse_ against the horses' heads of the Tenth Hussars, who, keeping their files closed, prevented further retreat." The Tenth belonged to Vivian's command. D'Aubremé's Dutch-Belgian infantry-brigade was prevented from running off when the Imperial Guard began their charge, only because Vandeleur's cavalry-brigade was in their rear, with even the squadron-intervals closed, so that they had to elect between the French bayonet and the English sabre. There was something resembling a temporary panic among Maitland's British Guards, after the repulse of the first column of the Imperial Guard, but order was very promptly restored. It is impossible to read any extended account of the Battle of Waterloo without seeing that it was a desperate business on the part of the Allies, and that, if the Prussians could have been kept out of the action, their English friends would have had an excellent chance to keep the field--as the killed and wounded. Wellington never had the ghost of a chance without the aid of Bülow, Zieten, and Blücher.[C]
[Footnote C: There is no great battle concerning which so much nonsense has been written and spoken as that of Waterloo, which ought to console us for the hundred-and-one accounts that are current concerning the action of the 21st of July, no two of which are more alike than if the one related to Culloden and the other to Arbela. The common belief is, that toward the close of the day Napoleon formed two columns of the _Old_ Guard, and sent them against the Allied line; that they advanced, and were simultaneously repulsed by the weight and precision of the English fire in front; and that, on seeing the columns of the Guard fall into disorder, the French all fled, and Wellington immediately ordered his whole line to advance, which prevented the French from rallying, they flying in a disorderly mass, which was incapable of resistance. So far is this view of the "Crisis of Waterloo" from being correct, that the repulse of the Guard would not have earned with it the loss of the battle, had it not been for a number of circumstances, some of which made as directly in favor of the English as the others worked unfavorably to the French. When Napoleon found that the operations of Bülow's Prussians threatened to compromise his right flank and rear, he determined to make a vigorous attempt to drive the Allies from their position in his front, not merely by employing two columns of his Guard, but by making a general attack on Wellington's line. For this purpose, he formed one column of four battalions of the _Middle_ Guard, and another of four other battalions of the _Middle_ Guard and two battalions of the Old Guard. At the same time the corps of D'Erlon and Reille were to advance, and a severe _tiraillade_ was opened by a great number of skirmishers; and the attack was supported by a tremendous fire from artillery. So animated and effective were the operations of the various bodies of French not belonging to the Guard, that nothing but the arrival of the cavalry brigades of Vandeleur and Vivian, from the extreme left of the Allied line, prevented that line from being pierced in several places. Those brigades had been relieved by the arrival of the advance of Zieten's Prussian corps, and were made available for the support of the points threatened by the French. They were drawn up in rear of bodies of infantry, whom they would not permit to run away, which they sought to do. The first column of the Guard was repulsed by a fire of cannon and musketry, and when disordered it was charged by Maitland's brigade of British Guards. The interval between the advance of that column and that of the second column was from ten to twelve minutes; and the appearance of the second column caused Maitland's Guards to fall into confusion, and the whole body went to the rear. This confusion, we are told, was not consequent upon either defeat or panic, but resulted simply from a misunderstanding of the command. The coming up of the second column led to a panic in a Dutch-Belgian brigade, which would have left the field but for the presence of Vandeleur's cavalry, through which the men could not penetrate; and yet the panic-stricken men could not even see the soldiers before whose shouts they endeavored to fly! The second column was partially supported, at first, by a body of cavalry; but it failed in consequence of a flank attack made by the Fifty-Second Regiment, which was aided by the operations of some other regiments, all belonging to General Adam's brigade. This attack on its left flank was assisted by the fire of a battery in front, and by the musketry of the British Guards on its right flank. Thus assailed, the defeat of the second column was inevitable. Had it been supported by cavalry, so that it could not have been attacked on either flank, it would have succeeded in its purpose. Adam's brigade followed up its success, and Vivian's cavalry was ordered forward by Wellington, to check the French cavalry, should it advance, and to deal generally with the French reserves. Adam and Vivian did their work so well that Wellington ordered his whole line of infantry to advance, supported by cavalry and artillery. The French made considerable resistance after this, but their retreat became inevitable, and soon degenerated into a rout. An exception to the general disorganization was observed by the victors, not unlike to an incident which we have seen mentioned in an account of the Bull Run flight. In the midst of the crowd of fugitives on the 21st of July, and forcing its way through that crowd, was seen a company of infantry, marching as coolly and steadily as if on parade. So it was after Waterloo, when the _grenadiers à cheval_ moved off at a walk, "in close column, and in perfect order, as if disdaining to allow itself to be contaminated by the confusion that prevailed around it." It was unsuccessfully attacked, and the regiment "literally walked from the field in the most orderly manner, moving majestically along the stream, the surface of which was covered with the innumerable wrecks into which the rest of the French army had been scattered." It was supposed that this body of cavalry was engaged in protecting the retreat of the Emperor, and, had all the French been as cool and determined as were those veteran horsemen, the army might have been saved. Troops in retreat, who hold firmly together, and show a bold countenance to the enemy, are seldom made to suffer much.]
The Russian War was not of a nature to afford room for the occurrence of any panic on an extensive scale, but between that contest and ours there is one point of resemblance that may be noted. The failures and losses of the Allies, who had at their command unlimited means, and the bravest of soldiers in the greatest numbers, were all owing to bad management; and our reverses in every instance are owing to the same cause. The disaster at Bull Run, and the inability of our men to keep the ground they had won at Wilson's Creek, in Missouri, (August 10,) were the legitimate consequences of action over which the mass of the soldiers could have no control. It is due to the soldiers to say this, for it is the truth, as every man knows who has observed the course of the contest, and who has seen it proceed from a political squabble to the dimensions of a mighty war, the end of which mortal vision cannot foresee.
It would be no difficult task to add a hundred instances to those we have mentioned of the occurrence of panics in European armies; but it is not necessary to pursue the subject farther. Nothing is better known than that almost every eminent commander has suffered from panic terror having taken control of the minds of his men, and nothing is more unjust than to speak of the American panic of the 21st of July as if it were something quite out of the common way of war. True, its origin has never been fully explained; but in this point it only resembles most other panics, the causes of which never have been explained and never will be. It is characteristic of a panic that its occurrence cannot be accounted for; and therefore it was that the ancients attributed it to the direct interposition of a god, as arising from some cause quite beyond human comprehension. If panics could be clearly explained, some device might be hit upon, perhaps, for their prevention. But we see that they occurred at the very dawn of history, that they have happened repeatedly for five-and-twenty centuries, and that they are as common now in the nineteenth Christian century as they were in those days when Pan was a god. "Great Pan is _not_ dead," but sends armies to pot now as readily as he did when there were hoplites and peltasts on earth. We can console ourselves, though the consolation be but a poor one, with the reflection that all military peoples have suffered from the same cause that has brought so much mortification and so great loss immediately home to us. Our panic is the greatest that ever was known only because it is the latest one that has happened, and because it has happened to ourselves. It is idle, and even laughable, to attempt to argue it out of sight. We should admit its occurrence as freely as it is asserted by the bitterest and most unfair of our critics; and we should recognize the truth of what has been well said on the subject, that the only possible answer to the attacks that have been made on the national character for military capacity and courage is _victory_. If we shall succeed in this war, the rout of Bull Run will no more destroy our character for manliness than the rout of Landen destroyed the character of Englishmen for the same virtue. If we fail, we must submit to be considered cowards: and we shall deserve to be so held, if, with our superior numbers, and still more superior means, we cannot maintain the Republic against the rebels.
On primal rocks she wrote her name; Her towers were reared on holy graves; The golden seed that bore her came Swift-winged with prayer o'er ocean waves.
The Forest bowed his solemn crest, And open flung his sylvan doors; Meek Rivers led the appointed Guest To clasp the wide-embracing shores;
Till, fold by fold, the broidered land To swell her virgin vestments grew, While Sages, strong in heart and hand, Her virtue's fiery girdle drew.
O Exile of the wrath of kings! O Pilgrim Ark of Liberty! The refuge of divinest things, Their record must abide in thee!
First in the glories of thy front Let the crown-jewel, Truth, be found; Thy right hand fling, with generous wont, Love's happy chain to farthest bound!
Let Justice, with the faultless scales, Hold fast the worship of thy sons; Thy Commerce spread her shining sails Where no dark tide of rapine runs!
So link thy ways to those of God, So follow firm the heavenly laws, That stars may greet thee, warrior-browed, And storm-sped Angels hail thy cause!
O Land, the measure of our prayers, Hope of the world in grief and wrong, Be thine the tribute of the years, The gift of Faith, the crown of Song!
THE WORMWOOD CORDIAL OF HISTORY.
WITH A FABLE.
The great war which is upon us is shaking us down into solidity as corn is shaken down in the measure. We were heaped up in our own opinion, and sometimes running over in expressions of it. This rude jostling is showing us the difference between bulk and weight, space and substance.
In one point of view we have a right to be proud of our inexperience, and hardly need to blush for our shortcomings. These are the tributes we are paying to our own past innocence and tranquillity. We have lived a peaceful life so long that the traditional cunning and cruelty of a state of warfare have become almost obsolete among us. No wonder that hard men, bred in foreign camps, find us too good-natured, wanting in hatred towards our enemies. We can readily believe that it is a special Providence which has suffered us to meet with a reverse or two, just enough to sting, without crippling us, only to wake up the slumbering passion which is the legitimate and chosen instrument of the higher powers for working out the ends of justice and the good of man.
There are a few far-seeing persons to whom our present sudden mighty conflict may not have come as a surprise; but to all except these it is a prodigy as startling as it would be, if the farmers of the North should find a ripened harvest of blood-red ears of maize upon the succulent stalks of midsummer. We have lived for peace: as individuals, to get food, comfort, luxuries for ourselves and others; as communities, to insure the best conditions we could for each human being, so that he might become what God meant him to be. The verdict of the world was, that we were succeeding. Many came to us from the old civilizations; few went away from us, and most of these such as we could spare without public loss.
We had almost forgotten the meaning and use of the machinery of destruction. We had come to look upon our fortresses as the ornaments, rather than as the defences of our harbors. Our war-ships were the Government's yacht-squadron, our arsenals museums for the entertainment of peaceful visitors. The roar of cannon has roused us from this Arcadian dream. A ship of the line, we said, reproachfully, costs as much as a college; but we are finding out that its masts are a part of the fence round the college. The Springfield Arsenal inspired a noble poem; but that, as we are learning, was not all it was meant for. What poets would be born to us in the future without the "_placida quies_" which "_sub libertate_" the sword alone can secure for our children?
It is all plain, but it has been an astonishment to us, as our war-comet was to the astronomers. The comet, as some of them say, brushed us with its tail as it passed; yet nobody finds us the worse for it. So, too, we have been brushed lightly by mishap, as we ought to have been, and as we ought to have prayed to be, no doubt, if we had known what was good for us; yet at this very moment we stand stronger, more hopeful, more united than ever before in our history.
Misfortunes are no new things; yet a man suffering from furuncles will often speak as if Job had never known anything about them. We will take up a book lying by us, and find all the evils, or most of those we have been complaining of, described in detail, as they happened eight or ten generations before our time.
It was in "a struggle for NATIONAL independence, liberty of conscience, freedom of the seas, against sacerdotal and _world-absorbing tyranny_." A plotting despot is at the bottom of it. "While the _riches of the Indies_ continue, he thinketh he will be able to weary out all other princes." But England had soldiers and statesmen ready to fight, even though "Indies"--the King Cotton of that day--were declared arbiter of the contest. "I pray God," said one of them, "that I live not to see this enterprise quail, and with it the utter subversion of religion throughout Christendom."--"The war doth defend England. Who is he that will refuse to spend his life and living in it? If her Majesty consume twenty thousand men in the cause, the experimented men that will remain will double that strength to the realm."--_"The freehold of England will be worth but little, if this action quail;_ and therefore I wish no subject to spare his purse towards it."--"God hath stirred up this action to be a school to breed up soldiers to defend the freedom of England, which through these long times of peace and quietness is brought into a most dangerous estate, if it should be attempted. Our delicacy is such that we are already weary; yet this journey is nought in respect to the misery and hardship that soldiers must and do endure."
"There can be no doubt," the historian remarks, "that the organization and discipline of English troops were in anything but a satisfactory state at that period."--"The soldiers required shoes and stockings, bread and meat, and for those articles there were not the necessary funds."--"There came no penny of treasure over."--"There is much still due. They cannot get a penny, their credit is spent, _they perish for want of victuals and clothing_ in great numbers. The whole are ready to mutiny."--"There was no soldier yet able to buy himself _a pair of hose_, and it is too, too great shame to see how they go, and _it kills their hearts to show themselves among men_."--These "poor subjects were no better than abjects," said the Lieutenant-General. "There is but a small number of the first bands left," said another,--"and those so pitiful and unable to serve again as I leave to speak further of them, to avoid grief to your heart. A monstrous fault there hath been somewhere." Of what nature the "monstrous fault" was we may conjecture from the language of the Commander-in-Chief. "There can be no doubt of our driving the enemy out of the country through famine and excessive charges, if every one of us will put our minds to forward, _without making a miserable gain by the wars_." (We give the Italics as we find them in the text.) He believed that much of the work might be speedily done; for he "would undertake to furnish from hence, upon two months' warning, a navy for strong and tall ships, with their furniture and mariners."
In the mean time "there was a whisper of peace-overtures," "rumors which, whether true or false, were most pernicious in their effects"; for "it was war, not peace," that the despot "intended," and the "most trusty counsellors [of England] knew to be inevitable." Worse than this, there was treachery of the most dangerous kind. "Take heed whom you trust," said the brother of the Commander-in-Chief to him; "for that you have some false boys about you." In fact, "many of those nearest his person and of highest credit out of England were his deadly foes, sworn to compass his dishonor, his confusion, and eventually his death, and in correspondence with his most powerful adversaries at home and abroad."
It was a sad state of things. The General "was much disgusted with the raw material out of which he was expected to manufacture serviceable troops." "Swaggering ruffians from the disreputable haunts of London" "were not the men to be intrusted with the honor of England at a momentous crisis." "Our simplest men in show have been our best men, and your _gallant blood and ruffian men the worst of all others_." (The Italics again are the author's.) Yet, said the muster-master, "there is good hope that his Excellency will shortly establish such good order for the government and training of our nation, that these weak, badly furnished, ill-armed, and worse trained bands, thus rawly left unto him, shall within a few months prove as well armed, complete, gallant companies as shall be found elsewhere in Europe."
Very pleasant it must have been to the Commander-in-Chief to report to his Government that in one of the first actions "five hundred Englishmen of the best Flemish training had flatly and shamefully run away." Yet this was the commencement of the struggle which ended with the dispersion and defeat of the great Armada, and destroyed the projects of the Spanish tyrant for introducing religious and political slavery into England! It seems as if Mr. Motley's Seventh Chapter were a prophecy, rather than a history.
* * * * *
An invasion and a conspiracy may always be expected to make head at first. The men who plan such enterprises are not fools, but cunning, managing people. They always have, or think they have, a _primâ facie_ case to start with. They have been preparing just as the highwayman has been preparing for his aggressive movement. They expect to find, and they commonly do find, their victims only half ready, if at all forewarned, and to take them at a disadvantage. If conspirators and invaders do not strike heavy blows at once, their cause is desperate; if they do, it proves very little, because that is the least they expected to do.
It is very easy to run up a score behind the door of a tavern; credit is good, and chalk is cheap. But these little marks have all got to be crossed out by-and-by, and the time will surely come for turning all empty pockets wrong side out. The aggressors begin in a great passion, and are violent and dangerous at first; the nation or community assailed are surprised, dismayed, perhaps, like the good people in the coach, when they see Dick Turpin's pistol thrust in at the window.
The Romans were certainly a genuine fighting people. They kept the state on a perpetual military footing. They were never without veterans, men and leaders bred in camp and experienced in warfare. Yet what a piece of work their African invader cut out for them! It seemed they had to learn everything over again. Thousands upon thousands killed and driven into Lake Trasimenus,--_fifteen thousand_ prisoners taken; total rout again at Cannae,--rings picked from slain gentlemen's fingers by the peck or bushel,--everything lost in battle, and a great revolt through the Southern provinces as a natural consequence. What then? Rome was not to be Africanized as yet. The great leader who had threatened the capital, and scored these portentous victories, had at last to pay for them all in defeat and humiliation on his own soil.
Even the robber Spartacus beat the Roman armies at first, with their consuls at their head, and laid waste a large part of the peninsula. These violent uprisings and incursions are always dangerous at their onset; they are just like new diseases, which the doctors tell us must be studied by themselves, and which are rarely treated with great success until near the period of their natural cessation. After a time Fabius learns how to handle the hot Southern invaders, and Crassus the way of fighting the fierce gladiators with their classical bowie-knives.
Remember, _Rome_ never is beaten,--_Romans_ may be. It is inherent in the very idea of a republic that its peaceful servants shall be liable to be taken at fault. The counsels of the many, which are meant to secure all men's rights in tranquil times, cannot in the nature of things adapt themselves all at once to the sudden exigencies of war. Consequently, a republic must expect to be beaten at first by any concentrated power of nearly equal strength. After a time the commander-in-chief emerges from the confused mass of counsellors, and substitutes the action of one mind and will for the conflict of many. The Romans recognized the Dictatorship as the necessary complement of the Republic; and it is worthy of remark that that high office was never abused so long as the people were worthy to be free. "_Ne quid detrimenti respublica capiat_" was the formula according to which they surrendered their liberty for the sake of their liberty. A great danger, doubtless, for a people not leavened through and through with the spirit of freedom; but not so where the army is only the representative of a self-governing community. This army is not like to enslave itself or the families it comes from, to please the leader whom it trusts for an emergency. The pilot is absolute while the vessel is coming into harbor, but the crew are not afraid of his remaining master of the ship. Washington's reply to Nicola's letter, proposing to make him King, was written at a time when the republican system under the shadow of which three generations have been bred up to manhood was but as a grain of mustard-seed compared to this mighty growth which now spreads over our land. It is not likely that another man will make out so good a claim to supremacy as he; it is pretty certain, that, if he does, he will not have the opportunity of rejecting the insignia of royalty, and if this should happen, he can hardly forget the great example before him.
It is curious to see that the difficulties a general has to contend with now are much the same that were found in the first Revolution: bad food,--the poor surgeon at Valley Forge, whose diary was printed the other day, could not keep it on his stomach at any rate,--insufficient clothing, and no shoes at all, as the bloody snow bore witness,--and among our own New England troops "a spirit of insubordination which they took for independence," as Washington expressed himself. We do not think the New England men have rendered themselves liable to this reproach of late,--and this is a remarkable tribute to the influence of a true republican training. But in various quarters there has been enough of it, and the consequent disorganization of at least one free and easy regiment is no more than might have been expected.
A panic or two, with all the disgrace and suffering that attach to such hysterical paroxysms, or at least a defeat, are the experiences through which half-organized bodies often pass to teach them the meaning of discipline and mechanical habit. An army must go through the annealing process like glass; let a few regiments be cracked to pieces because their leaders did not know how to withdraw them gradually from the furnace of action, and the lesson will be all the better remembered because taught by a costly example. Our early mishaps were all predicted, sometimes in formal shape, as in various letters dated long before the breaking out of hostilities, and very often in the common talk of those about us. But, after all, when the first chastisement from our hard schoolmaster, Experience, comes upon us, it is a kind of surprise, in spite of all our preparation.
A writer in the present number of this magazine shows us that there is a complete literature of panics, not merely as occurring among new levies, but seizing on the best-appointed armies, containing as much individual bravery as any that never ran away from an enemy. The men of Israel gave way before the men of Benjamin, "retired" in the language of Scripture, in order to lead them into ambush. At a given signal they faced about, and the men of Benjamin "were amazed" (panic-struck) and "turned their backs before the men of Israel unto the way of the wilderness,"--took to the woods, as we should say. Their enemies did not lie still or run as fast the other way, like ours at Bull Run, but they "inclosed" them, and "chased them, and trode them down with ease," and "gleaned of them in the highways," and "pursued hard after them." Yet "all these were men of valor."
Not to return to our old classical friends, what modern nation has ever known how to fight that had not learned how to be beaten and how to run? The English ran ninety miles from Bannockburn, seared by the "gillies" and the baggage-wagons. They paid back their debt at Culloden. The Prussian armies were routed at Jena and Auerstädt. They had their revenge in the "_sauve qui peut_" of Waterloo. The great armada, British and French, undertook to bombard Sebastopol, and eight ships of the line were so mauled that they had to go back to Toulon and Portsmouth for repairs. Lord Raglan is said to have so far despaired of success as to have contemplated raising the siege.
Everybody remembers the feeling produced by the repeated fruitless attacks on the fortifications, the three unsuccessful bombardments, the divided counsels, the disappointment and death of Lord Raglan, the complaints of Canrobert of the want of a single commanding intellect, and the relinquishment of his own position to Pelissier, itself a confession of failure. If there ever was a campaign begun with defeat and disaster, it was that which ended with the fall of Sebastopol.
Read the account of the retreat of the advanced force of our own army at the Battle of Monmouth Court-House. Washington could not believe the first story told him. Presently he met one fugitive after another, and then Grayson's and Patton's regiments in disorderly retreat. He did not know what to make of it. There had been no fighting except a successful skirmish with the enemy's cavalry. He met Major Howard; this officer could give no reason for the running,--had never seen the like. Another officer swears they are flying from a shadow. Lee tries to account for it,--troops confused by contradictory intelligence, by disobedience of orders, by the meddling and blundering of individuals,--vague excuses all, the plain truth being that they had given way to a panic. But for Washington's fierce commands and threats, the retreat might have become a total rout.
It is curious to see how the little incidents, even, of our late accelerated retrograde movement recall those of the old Revolutionary story. Mr. Russell speaks thus of the fugitives: "Faces black and dusty, _tongues out in the heat_, eyes staring,--it was a most wonderful sight." If Mr. Russell had ever read Stedman's account of his own countrymen's twenty-mile run from Concord to Bunker's Hill, he would have learned that they "were so much exhausted with fatigue, that they were obliged to lie down for rest on the ground, _their tongues hanging out of their mouths_, like those of dogs after a chase." One rout is as much like another as the scamper of one flock of sheep like that of all others.
A pleasing consequence of this war we are engaged in has hardly been enough thought of. It is a rough way of introducing distant fellow-citizens of the same land to each other's acquaintance. Next to the intimacy of love is that of enmity. Nay,
"Love itself could never pant For all that beauty sighs to grant With half the fervor hate bestows Upon the last embrace of foes, When, grappling in the fight, they fold Those arms that ne'er shall lose their hold."
"We shall learn to respect each other," as one of our conservative friends said long ago. It is a great mistake to try to prove our own countrymen cowards and degenerate from the old stock. It is worth the price of some hard fighting to show the contrary to the satisfaction of both parties. The Scotch and English called each other all possible hard names in the time of their international warfare; but the day has come for them, as it will surely come for us, when the rivals and enemies must stand side by side and shoulder to shoulder, each proud of the other's bravery.
* * * * *
For three-quarters of a century we have been melting our several destinies in one common crucible, to mould a new and mighty empire such as the world has never seen. Our partners cannot expect to be allowed to break the crucible or the mould, or to carry away the once separate portions now flowing in a single incandescent flood. We cannot sell and they cannot buy our past. Our nation has pledged itself to unity by the whole course of its united action. There is one debt alone that all the cotton-fields of the South could never pay: it is the price of our voluntary humiliation for the sake of keeping peace with the slaveholders. We may be robbed of our inalienable nationality, if treason is strong enough, but we are trustees of the life of three generations for the benefit of all that are yet to be. We cannot sell. We dare not break the entail of freedom and disinherit the first-born of half a continent.
When the Plebeians seceded to the Mons Sacer, some five hundred years before the Christian era, the Consul Menenius Agrippa brought them back by his well-known fable of the Belly and the Members. Perhaps it would be too much to expect to call back our seceders with a fable which they will hardly have the opportunity of reading in the present condition of the postal service, but the state of the case may be put with a certain degree of truth in this of
THE FRONT-TEETH AND THE GRINDERS.
Once on a time a mutiny arose among the teeth of a worthy man, in good health and blessed with a sound constitution, commonly known as Uncle Samuel. The cutting-teeth, or _incisors_, and the eye-teeth, or _canines_, though not nearly so many, all counted, nor so large, nor so strong as the grinders, and by no means so white, but, on the contrary, very much discolored, began to find fault with the grinders as not good enough company for them. The eye-teeth, being very sharp and fitted for seizing and tearing, and standing out taller than the rest, claimed to lead them. Presently, one of them complained that it ached very badly, and then another and another. Very soon the cutting-teeth, which pretended they were supplied by the same nerve, and were proud of it, began to ache also. They all agreed that it was the fault of the grinders.
About this time, Uncle Samuel, having used his old tooth-brush (which was never a good one, having no stiffness in the bristles) for four years, took a new one, recommended to him by a great number of people as a homely, but useful article. Thereupon all the front-teeth, one after another, declared that Uncle Samuel meant to scour them white, which was a thing they would never submit to, though the whole civilized world was calling on them to do so. So they all insisted on getting out of the sockets in which they had grown and stood for so many years. But the wisdom-teeth spoke up for the others and said,--
"Nay, there be but twelve of you front-teeth, and there be twenty of us grinders. We are the strongest, and a good deal nearest the muscles and the joint, but we cannot spare you. We have put up with your black stains, your jumping aches, and your snappish looks, and now we are not going to let you go, under the pretence that you are to be scrubbed white, if you stay. You don't work half so hard as we do, but you can bite the food well enough, which we can grind so much better than you. We belong to each other. You must stay."
Thereupon the front-teeth, first the canines or dog-teeth, next the incisors or cutting-teeth, proceeded to declare themselves out of their sockets, and no longer belonging to the jaws of Uncle Samuel.
Then Uncle Samuel arose in his wrath and shut his jaws tightly together, and swore that he would keep them shut till those aching and discolored teeth of his went to pieces in their sockets, if need were, rather than have them drawn, standing, as some of them did, at the very opening of his throat and stomach.
And now, if you will please to observe, all those teeth are beginning to ache worse than ever, and to decay very fast, so that it will take a great deal of gold to stop the holes that are forming in them. But the great white grinders are as sound as ever, and will remain so until Uncle Samuel thinks the time has come for opening his mouth. In the mean time they keep on grinding in a quiet way, though the others have had to stop biting for a long time. When Uncle Samuel opens his mouth, they will be as ready for work as ever; but those poor discolored teeth will be tender for a great while, and never be so strong as they were before they foolishly declared themselves out of their sockets.
* * * * *
The foregoing fable is respectfully dedicated to the Southern Plebs, who, under the lead of their "Patrician" masters, have "seceded," like their predecessors in the days of Menenius Agrippa.