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_A Magazine of Literature, Art, and Politics._
VOL. XVI.--AUGUST, 1865.--NO. XCIV.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1865, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
AMONG THE HONEY-MAKERS.
The luxury of all summer's sweet sensation is to be found when one lies at length in the warm, fragrant grass, soaked with sunshine, aware of regions of blossoming clover and of a high heaven filled with the hum of innumerous bees.
It is that happy hum--which seems to the closed eyes as if the silent sunbeams themselves had found a voice and were brimming the bending blue with music as they went about their busy chemistry--that gives the chief charm to the moment; for it tunes the mind to its own key, the murmuring expression of all pleasant things, the chord of sunshine and perfume and flowers.
And it is, indeed, the sound of a process scarcely less subtile than the sunbeams' own, of that alchemy by which the limpid drop of sweet insipidity at the root of any petal is transformed to the pungent flavor and viscid drip of honey. A beautiful woman, weary of her frivolities, once half in jest envied the fate of Io, dwelling all day in the sun, all night in the starshine and dew, and fed on pasturage of violets; but there is the morning beam, the evening ray, the breeze, the dew, the spirit of the violet and of the cowslip, all gathered like a distillation and sealed into the combs, and this is the tune to which it is harvested. Beyond doubt there is no such eminent sound of gladness in all the world. The cricket seems to speak of more spiritual things than those of this sphere. As to bird-song, poets differ.
"O nightingale, what doth she ail, And is she sad or jolly? Sure ne'er on earth was sound of mirth So like to melancholy,"
exclaims one in compromise with all the others. Every echo is full of a lonesome sadness. The musical baying of a distant dog by night accentuates the depth and darkness and stillness; the crowing of cocks from farm to farm, in their cordon of sentinelship against the invasion of the dawn, tells the hearer how all too well the world is getting on without him; the lowing of kine through the clear noon air comes robbed of roughness, in its deep, mellow sonority, like the oboe and bassoon, full of a penetrating pathos. Let Nature but interpose a sheet of water or a bit of wood, and the merriest joy-bells that ever rang are infused with that melancholy which is the overplus of rapture. But there is no distance to lend that enchantment to the buzzing of a bee: it is close about us, a universal sibilation; the air is made of it; it sings of work, that joy and privilege,--of a home, of plenty, of a world whose color and odor make one giddy with good cheer; it may have many varying elements, but its constant is content.
"When the south wind, in May days, With a net of shining haze, Silvers the horizon wall, And, with softness touching all, Tints the human countenance With a color of romance, And, infusing subtile heats, Turns the sod to violets, Thou, in sunny solitudes, Rover of the underwoods, The green silence dost displace With thy mellow breezy bass."
And although this burly rover is not our little bee of the hive, but his saucy, sonsy country-cousin, the song of the one is scarcely sweeter than that of the other, while they blend into rarest unison. And well may both be sweet, it is such a pleasant thing to live; there is the hive to furnish, there is the dear nest underground; they forget yesterday's rain, to-morrow's frost is but a dim phantasm,--the sun is so warm to-day on their little brown backs, and here is such store of honey. It is true, the humble-bee is much the most dazzling,--he has the prestige of size, moreover; but the other may find some favor in his new bronze and gold armor and his coarse velvet mantle,--there are few creatures that can afford to labor in half such array as that, but when the work is so nice one's dress must correspond: it would never do to rumple round among the rose-leaves, black as a beetle, and expect not only to be heaped with delicates, but to be intrusted with love-tokens. One cannot be so splendid as the moths and sphinxes, who have nothing to do all summer but to lay eggs among the petals that their offspring may devour them; no, there is work to be done. But though one toils, one has a dignity to maintain; one remembers it readily when he has been made the insignia of royalty, when kings have worn his effigy, when popes have put him in their coats-of-arms; one cannot forget that he has himself been called the Winged Pontiff of the Flowers. See him now, as he hovers over the clover, not the red kind,--for him each floret of that is deep as those shafts of the hashish-eater's dream, where the broken tubes of the honeysuckle being planted in the sand, their mouths level with the floor of the desert, they became wells, and the Arab women dropped their buckets therein and drew them up dripping with honey,--it is the small white clover on which he alights, whose sweets are within reach of his little proboscis; or, lost in that great blue-bell, he swings it with his motion and his melody; or he burrows deep in the heart of a rose, never rolling there, as it has erroneously been said, but, collecting the pollen with his pincers, swims over the flower while brushing it into the baskets of his hinder legs, and then lights again for a fresh fare, till, laden and regaled, he loudly issues forth, dusty with treasure; and _les rois fainéans_, the Merovingian kings, who powdered their heads and their beards with gold, were no finer fellows than he. But a few months' wear and tear will suffice to tarnish him; by-and-by the little body will be battered and rusty, the wings will be ragged and worn; one day as he goes home heavily burdened, if no sailing blue-winged swallow have skimmed him up long ago, the flagging flight will fail, a breeze will be too much for him, a rain-drop will dash him down, he will fall, and some garden-toad, the focal length of whose vision is exactly the distance to which he can dart his tongue, will see a tired bee blundering across his sky, and will make a morsel of him, honey-bag, pollen, and all. Yet that is in the future, far outside the focal length of any bee's vision, that fortunate vision which finds creation so fair and himself the centre of it, each rose made for him to rifle, and welcome everywhere. "The docile flower inclines and lends itself to the unquiet movements of the insect. The sanctuary that she had shut from the winds, from the sight, she opens to her dear bee, who, all impregnated with her sweetness, goes carrying off her messages. The delicious precautions that Nature has taken to veil her mysteries from the profane do not for a single moment arrest this venturesome explorer, who makes himself one of the household, and is never afraid of being the third. This flower, for instance, is protected by two petals which join each other in a dome above; it is thus that the flag-flower shelters her delicate little lovers from the rain. Another, such as the pea, coifs itself in a kind of casque, whose visor must be raised. The bee establishes himself at the bottom of these retreats fit for fairies, laid with softest carpets, under fantastical pavilions, with walls of topaz and ceilings of sapphire. But poor comparisons borrowed from dead stones! These things live and they feel, they desire and they await. And if the joyous conqueror of their little hidden kingdom, if the imperious violator of their innocent barriers, mingles and confounds everything there, they give him thanks, heap him with their perfumes, and load him with their honey," says M. Michelet, in a brochure upon the insect, which, however uncertain its statements, would be perfectly charming in tone and spirit but for the inevitable sentimentalisms.
It is a brave companionship to which our tiny adventurer comes, likewise,--a world of opening blossoms, a crowd of shining intimates. There is the Chrysopa, a bright-green thing, with filmy transparent wings wrought like the rarest point-lace, and with eyes redder than rubies are; there is the Rose-Chafer, the little Cetonia of the white rose, with an emerald shield upon its back, and carrying underneath a breastplate of carbuncle; there are the butterflies,--the silver-washed Fritillaries of June,--the Painted Lady, found in every clime, and sometimes out at sea,--the Admiral of the White, peerless in his lofty flight,--the Vanessa Atalanta of August,--the Purple Emperor of the Woods,--the Peacock-tailed butterfly of the autumn; and there are the beautiful, savage dragon-flies, with their gauzy wings of silvery green and blue,--all flying flakes of living splendor, which seem to be only flowers endowed with wings. And in truth the analogies between flowers and insects are noticeable enough, between the egg and the seed, the chrysalis and the bud, the wide-spread wings and the expanded corolla; there is a vital principle enjoyed by both, individuals of both have the power of emitting light, there are ephemera of both; as certain buds always bloom at fixed hours, so certain moths break their coverings to the minute; as there are flowers that part their petals only at dark, so there are insects that fly only by night; there are plants that are miniature barometers, there are insects equally sensitive to every variation of the atmosphere; for fragrance there is the musk-beetle, the tiger-beetle, which affords a scent like that of the attar-of-roses; and whereas some blossoms have fetid odors, there is the little golden-eyed, lace-winged fly to offset them. It is easy to detect the rudimentary flower in the folded bud, thus the lovely little aerial butterfly with its ocellated wings may be found all ready for flight wrapped in the caterpillar that feeds on the wild strawberry,--the one has the freedom of heaven, the other seems bound by the spells of some beautiful enchantment; these Libellulæ are sporting in the air, these sweet-peas are just about to depart; there are locusts which appear to be walking leaves, and finally there is the bee-orchis, which deceives even the bees themselves.
It must fairly seem to this busy, bustling fellow, culling nectar and ambrosia, that all outside is shadow, that the earth is made for him and his kind, and that, let him cull never so tirelessly, he cannot hive half its honey,--so that there will always be a drop or two left over for his little poor relations, the violet-carpenter, the roseleaf-cutter, and the poppy-bee. They have need of it, that drop or two, to sweeten all the anxieties of their solitary lives the span of a summer long, vagabonds at best, and not always allowed what domesticities they have in peace. The pitiful fortunes of a mason-bee, as told in "A Tour round my Garden," are liable to befall one as another.
"Look at her," says the author, "returning home with her provisions; her hind feet are loaded with a yellow dust, which she has taken from the stamens of flowers: she goes into the hole; when she comes out again, there will be no pollen on her feet; with honey which she has brought, she will make a savory paste of it at the bottom of her nest. This is, perhaps, her tenth journey to-day, and she shows no inclination to rest.
"All these cares are for one egg which she has laid,--for a single egg which she will never see hatched; besides, that which will issue from that egg will not be a fly like herself, but a worm, which will not be metamorphosed into a fly for some time afterwards. She has, however, hidden it in that hole, and knows precisely how much nourishment it will require before it arrives at the state which ushers in its transformation into a fly. This nourishment she goes to seek, and she seasons and prepares it. There, she is gone again!
"But what is this other brilliant little fly which is walking up the house-wall? Her breast is green, and her abdomen is of a purple red; but these two colors are so brilliant that I am really at a loss to find words splendid enough to express them, but the names of an emerald and a ruby joined together.
"That pretty fly--that living jewel--is the 'Chrysis.' I scarcely dare breathe, for fear of making it fly away. I should like to take it in my hands, that I might have sufficient time to examine it more closely. This likewise is the mother of a family; she also has an egg to lay, from which will issue a fly like herself, but which she will never see. She also knows how much nourishment her offspring will require; but, more richly clothed than the bee, she does not, like her, know how to gather the pollen from flowers or to make a paste of it with honey.
"She has but one resource, and that resource she is determined to employ; she will recoil neither from roguery nor theft to secure the subsistence of her offspring; she has recognized the solitary bee, and she is going to lay her egg in her nest. It will hatch sooner than that of the true proprietor; then the intruder will eat the provisions so painfully collected for the legitimate child, who, when it is hatched in its turn, will have nothing to do but to die of hunger.
"There she is at the edge of the hole,--she hesitates,--she decides,--she enters.
"This insect interests me, she is so beautiful. The other likewise interests me, she is so industrious. But here she comes back through the air: one would think her a warrior covered with chased armor and a golden cuirass; she buzzes as she comes along. The Chrysis has heard the buzzing, which is for her the terrible sound of a war-trumpet. She wishes to fly; she comes out; but the other, justly irritated, pounces upon the daring intruder, beating it with her head. She bruises and tears the brilliant gauze of her wings, and beats her down to the dust, where she falls stupefied and inanimate.
"The bee then enters into her nest, and deposits and prepares her provisions; but still agitated with her combat and her victory, she sets out again through the air. I follow her with my eyes for a long time, and at last she disappears.
"The poor Chrysis is not, however, dead: she gets up again, shakes herself, flutters, and attempts to fly; but her lacerated wings will no longer support her. What can she do to escape the fury of her enemy? It is not her business to fly away; her business is to deposit her egg in the bee's nest, and to secure future provision for her offspring,--but the bee came back too soon. She ascends, climbing painfully: at times her strength seems to fail her; she is forced to stop, but at last she arrives,--she enters,--she is in! This time the interest is for her. Then she was only beautiful, now she is very unfortunate. I am aware that a long plea might be made for the other. I should not like to be appointed judge between them. Ah! she is out again,--she flies away! But, oh, how happy she is to have succeeded! Now I begin to feel for the bee. The poor bee continues to bring provisions for its young, which, nevertheless, will die of hunger."
Nor is the Chrysis her only tormentor, it may be remarked; there are some frivolous little vagabonds of her own kind that never think of building for themselves, but always appropriate the homes of others in this style, and they are known as cuckoo-bees.
It is no wonder that the happy bee of the community, escaping all such trial, makes blithe murmur to itself over its luscious labor. Perhaps all artisans would sing as cheerfully, were their task as sweet; it can be no such severe duty to fill one's basket with the bountiful store at hand, when one has just banqueted on the very dew of the morning. There are a few secondary products of Nature on which words cannot be wasted. It is pleasant to recall the poetical charms of wine, its tints, its aromas, and its sparkles; yet, with all that fire and fragrance, it seems but poor, thin stuff, when poured out beside the heavy flow of honey with sunbeams dissolved in every plash. The Hungarian huntsman may praise his ropy Cotnar, fine ladies sip cordial Rosolio and Levantine sirups, the fancy warm over African Constantia; but every peasant has honey in his garden, and they buy it of him to enrich their best Muscats. The great globes of the grape on which the wind and weather have breathed a bloom, pulped with rain, and sweetened with sun, the dew-drops slipping down among them as they stir beneath the weight of some bird that springs from the stem into the sky,--these lend their beauty and innocence as a kind of chrism to cover the profanities of wine, which, before it can be used at all, undergoes a kind of decomposition; but the wild wine of the bramble-rose has no need of its youth in apology for its age. It is stainless honey still; the sweet earth-juices stole up the tiny ducts of the flower to secrete it; showers and odors, warmth and balm, distilled together into the nectary to give it wealth and savor; it yet preserves the essence of long summer days, of serene nights, of wandering winds, of mingled blossoms; it is the link between vegetable and animal productions; it has undergone the processes of a higher organization than that of the plant; it is, in fact, the bee himself, and not all the art of all the laboratories can reproduce it. Into all these other secondary products some stain of humanity enters; but little sinless sprites of greenwood and glen alone share the occult science of this with the blossoms. As light and heat are the generative forces of the world, honey seems to be their first result; it is lapped, indeed, in flowers, but it looks like candied sunshine. From the beginning, it has been regarded as a sacred substance; some have supposed it the earliest element of vegetation. The ancients made offering of it to the souls of the departed; they preserved their dead in its incorruptible medium; they sacrificed it to the gods. "With honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee," said the Psalmist, as if earth had nothing more to give. Nor has it to our bee. Let him fill his honey-vesicle, he will regurgitate the deposit into a cell that he closes with a thin waxen pellicle, or into another already partially occupied by the farina of flowers, which he knows to be perishable, and therefore secludes from the air in the same fashion that the Romans used to seal their flasks of Falernian,--with a few drops of honey at the mouth. Give him a grain of pollen, a taste of stagnant water, a drop of honey, and kings could not enrich him. The honey is his food, in the stagnant water he finds salts requisite as remedies; but what the bee wants with the grain of pollen is still a doubtful matter among apiarists. He makes of it a confection for the brood, it is also an ingredient of the royal jelly, he eats it himself, and he elaborates it in scales of wax upon his body, say those who follow Huber; on the other hand, the brood receive no confection or food whatever, there is no such thing as royal jelly, the insect will die sooner than partake of pollen, and there is no wax elaborated in scales upon the body of any bee, say those who oppose Huber. But if the brood are not fed, one may ask, why does the wild bee, the tapestry, or the carder bee, take such pains, before closing the nest where her egg is hidden, to store there the little drop of honey? and what is it that occasions the greater consumption of honey during the brooding period than during any other portion of the year? It is really a pity, when Huber has given us so many interesting relations, that people must needs go prying into their truth. How is it possible that Nature could improve upon them? Kirby, indeed, accepts them all, and hands them down to us; subsequent encyclopedists have profited by his example; and Michelet, who between a true story and a picturesque one never hesitates a moment,--who tells us that the down on the butterfly's wing is a collection of exquisitely minute balloons, and that the silkworm files its way out of the cocoon with its eyes,--leading us to think, that, if his great history partake of the nature of his lesser works, it must be an assemblage of splendid errors,--M. Michelet out-Hubers Huber himself. Contrary to these, Mr. Huish, a British author, declares that a rod ought to be pickled for the man who dared impose such sheer inventions upon the credulity of a weak-minded public; and although he does not say it in so many words, he has evidently pictured to himself the consternation with which Huber's wife and servant must have looked at one another when he announced to them his intention of publishing a book of the fairy stories with which they had amused him, and suffered him to amuse his friend Bonnet. Huber has novelty, romance, and interest, upon his side; Huish has certainly a little logic. The latter's book upon the subject is, nevertheless, as quarrelsome an affair as ever was published; he seems to be as choleric and adust of temperament as the bees themselves; he contradicts every one who has dared to speak upon the matter, and, while insisting that they could by no possibility have seen what they pretend to have done, asserts opposing facts, which he could no more have seen than they.
There is a close classification in Huber's system, the results of which give us several ranks among bees,--those of the queen, the drone, the jelly-maker, the artists in wax, the nurse, the harvester, and a certain little useless black bee. Adversely to this, Mr. Huish, who would carry bee-craft back to a pre-Réaumurite period, reverts to the original observations, and declares there are but three sorts of bee in the hive,--queen, drone, and worker,--which obviously simplifies matters; while as for the little black bee, he regards it as existing nowhere but in the head of its discoverer, so that, if the worthy person had not the traditional maggot in his brain, he might at least be said to have a bee in his bonnet. The sociable caterpillars, we are told, work as each one pleases. John Hunter said that bees did, too; and here Mr. Huish is of the same opinion,--this or that worker scours the fields or fashions the cell according to the fancy that may overcome him. Him? That is exactly the question. Mademoiselle Jurine, following the anatomical researches of her father, promulgated the discovery that the common bee was a decided female, with its organs undeveloped. To counterbalance her statements, M. Epignes published a treatise in which he proved satisfactorily to himself that the common bee is a decided male. Mr. Huish insists that the common bee is a decided neuter. Discarding M. Epignes with a fillip, Mr. Huish stoutly argues, against Mademoiselle Jurine's theory, that the possession of organs destined to no use is an incident out of the course of Nature,--to which, even were the statement quite true, it might be added that the creation of a community of a thousand males and one female is equally out of the course of Nature. Mr. Huish insists, that, if these bees were all females, yet forbidden the functions of their sex, it would be an anomaly; he forgets that the existence of a neuter is already an anomaly. Allowing that Mr. Huish is here in the wrong, as seems probable, it involves a slight trouble of its own; for there would then seem to be need of but two kinds of eggs in the hive, whereas it is well established that three kinds are laid,--that of the male, the female, and the worker, or imperfect female. Huber, however, in such dilemma, adopting the previous hints of Schirach, at once seized upon Mademoiselle Jurine's discovery, and assured us, not only that from the egg of a worker a queen could at any time be produced, but enlightened us as to the manner of conducting the experiment. The queen is dead? It is lamentable, but nothing so easy as to make another. There is only to tear down some dozen cells, to set the youngest embryo afloat in royal jelly, and a queen appears, who, if not in the legitimate line, is capable of performing perfectly all the office of a sovereign. There is a moment of intense despair, great riot, and agitation; work is suspended; the temperature of the hive mounts many degrees. All at once the old art is remembered,--the administration of that delicious medicament, of so astonishingly affluent nature that it can make a queen out of a commoner, the enlargement of the narrow cradle to that ampler space which forbids the atrophy of a single fibre of the body. The preparations are made; and, with tranquillity restored, the people await the event. One day there comes a singular piping sound,--it is the cry of the royal babe,--the hive is filled with rejoicing,--there is no longer any interregnum of the purple,--the queen is born! Perhaps the queen-makers have been too much in earnest, and at nearly the same moment the inmates of two royal cells issue together. Then is the time to try one's mettle,--no shrinking, no bias, nothing but pure patriotism. Let a ring be formed, and she who proves herself victor is worthy of homage. Is one of the two a coward? The impartial circle bring her back to the encounter, bite her, tease her, tumble her, worry her, tell her plainly that life is possible to her on no terms but those of conquest. At length the matter decides itself; the brilliant and victorious Amazon bends her long, slender body, and with her royal poniard pierces the abject pretender through and through. Then these satisfied subjects surround her, load her with endearments, cleanse her, brush her, lick her, offer her honey on the end of their proboscides, and, if there are yet remaining other royal apartments whose tenants give notice of timely appearance, they conduct her on an Elizabethan progress, in which, filled with instinctive dismay, she pauses at every cell, and stabs her young rivals to death with her sting. As the story runs, there are still other conditions to be fulfilled by the aspiring princess,--she must give her people the assurance of a populous empire. Should she fail in this, they have recourse to their old manoeuvres, becoming manifestly insubordinate and unruly. If, however, they at any time wax unbearable in their insolence, the young monarch has it in her power, by assuming a singular attitude, standing erect at a little distance, her wings crossed upon her back and slightly fluttering, while she utters a shrill, slender sound, to strike them dumb, so that they hang their heads for shame.
All this pretty story the later apiarists deem a tissue of fiction and fallacy. If, when a hive is deprived of its queen, there happen to be a royal egg remaining in it, they say, it will shortly produce a queen, as, if it had been a common egg, it would have produced a common bee. They insist that the organism of the creature to be produced is inherent in the egg, and do not believe it in the power of a bee to alter a law of Nature; they deny the statements of Schirach, Huber, Dunbar, Rennie, and others to this effect,--scout the idea of the existence of such a thing as royal jelly at all, with the supposed aristocracy of its compounders,--share with Huber the amazement he says he felt, when, in a time of disturbance, he distinctly heard a queen address her bees in the French language, saying, "_Je suis ici, je suis ici_"--entirely repudiate the royal duels, which the editor of the "Naturalist's Library" himself, an advocate as he is of the Huberian principles, confesses he has never, in all his experience, been able to witness,--and go to the extreme of declaring, that, far from being the truculent and jealous tyrant described, the queen is the most timid of all creatures, flying, at the first intimation of danger, into the depths of the hive, and never using her sting under any circumstances through the whole course of her life, while, should you get one in your hand, you may offer her indignities with impunity; she knows her value to her people, and that, should she sting and be unable to withdraw her barbed weapon, the effort would disembowel her, and prove her own death and the ruin of her kingdom. The royal larvæ, Huber tells us, in spinning their cocoons, leave the lower rings of the body unprotected by the gossamer envelope, that thus,--and it is certainly considerate on their part,--the head being too well shielded by the hard nature of its substances, and the cocoon endangering the safety of her sting by its entangling flimsy threads, their queenly assailant may destroy them without detriment to herself, by stinging that portion left exposed. On the contrary, we are informed by his refuters, that, even were the body destitute of this covering, which is not the case, it would present a horny, scaly surface, from which there would be infinitely greater difficulty in extracting the sting than from the silken meshes of any cocoon,--and that, as no sting could pierce the waxen wall of the cell, and as the royal cell is vertical, and the nymph lies with its head towards the orifice of it, unless the queen, with her sting of the eighth of an inch in length, had the power of darting it through the orifice to the distance of three fourths of an inch, the act would be otherwise an impossibility,--and that, to finish the affair, these infant princesses are destroyed by the bees themselves, who, finding them unnecessary for further swarming, tear them from their cells, and despatch them, not by dart or venom, but, when they are in a sufficiently advanced stage, by an attack of the teeth at the root of the wings, in the same way that they despatch the drone, disabling and dragging them out of the hive, after they have become supernumeraries, where they drop to the ground, and, powerless to fly and escape, perish with cold, or become the prey of bird, mouse, and reptile. It is possible that none of the various tribes of all the tiny arm-bearing people make use of the _coup de grâce_ in their power, except as a last resort. Still, when the bees find it necessary, they use it with Spartan cunning. Bruin can testify to that in his sensitive muzzle; and thus, when he takes a fancy to their conserve of blossoms, he carries off the hive in his hug, and plunges it into the nearest brook or pool till the bees are drowned, and all their riches made his undisturbed possession. The bee that is not irascible betrays a dismal home and a miserable mother; he has nothing worth fighting for. But far from him be malice; unmolested, he does not molest. For one who has lived in an old mansion, with bats' nests under the eaves and wasps' nests everywhere, waking in autumn mornings to count the customary inhabitants of the latter clustered on the cornices by threescores, while observing that they always made themselves sufficiently at home, not only to claim a place at table, but to walk across the cloth and help themselves, pausing sometimes midway to flirt out the purple enamel of a wing for admiration, and never giving offence to one of the house,--for one who has seen this fierce and fell fury so prettily and quietly behaved, it is pardonable to claim an equal amount of moderation for the sweeter and purer nature of the little honey-maker, who has learned his gentler manners of the flowers themselves. There are occasions, moreover, when the bees positively forget they have a sting at all, as when, in swarming, they are so entirely absorbed that they may be lifted in handfuls. M. Lombard states the circumstance of a child's being cured of her fear of the sting by an experience of this season. "A swarm having left a hive, I observed the queen alight by herself, at a little distance from the apiary. I immediately called my little friend, that I might show her this important personage. She was anxious to have a nearer view of Her Majesty; and therefore, having first caused her to draw on her gloves, I gave the queen into her hand. Scarcely had I done so, when we were surrounded by all the bees of the swarm. In this emergency, I encouraged the trembling girl to be steady, and to fear nothing, remaining myself close by her, and covering her head and shoulders with a thin handkerchief. I then made her stretch out the hand that held the queen, and the bees instantly alighted on it, and hung from her fingers as from the branch of a tree. The little girl, experiencing no injury, was delighted above measure at the novel sight, and so entirely freed from all fear that she bade me uncover her face. The spectators were charmed at the interesting spectacle. I at length brought a hive, and, shaking the swarm from the child's hand, it was lodged in safety without inflicting a single sting."
But however greatly opinions may vary in this branch of natural history on one or another topic, the principal dispute is concerning the relations that may subsist between the queen and the drones. Huber had a complicated arrangement in reference to this, which his admirers accepted enthusiastically, while Latreille and other apiarists reject it as a cluster of prurient fancies. The opinion of Huish upon the subject, which would seem to have more probability to support it than others have, is that the queen commences to lay immediately on being established, and that the eggs being in their separate cells, it is the office of the drone to make them fruitful, after the custom of certain fish and of frogs.
"When the population of the hive has been so increased by the opening of the brood-cells that accommodation has become insufficient, and the heat so unendurable that every wing droops wet and flaccid with perspiration, as grand an emigration as those of the early Northern tribes is ordered, scouts are sent out to select the future place of abode, and in some propitious moment of perfect sunshine, honey-pouches full and nothing to delay, the great exodus takes place with a noise as if the whole hive were attacked by vertigo; and Homer himself could find nothing to which to compare his multitudinous Greeks thronging from their ships fitter than these nations of close-swarming bees. That the young queen should lead the departing swarm seems the natural occurrence, being desirous of fulfilling her own destiny and of hastening from a hive hostile to all but one mistress whom they already know and love. Huber, however, will have it that it is the old queen, who, outraged and indignant at her treatment when a rival is allowed to live, sounds the alarm and sallies forth with her adherents. In support of this Mr. Duncan mentions having deprived an old queen of one of her antennæ, and noticing her thereafter at the head of a swarm, although Huber previously makes it known that any bee deprived of one of its antennæ is rendered useless. And in opposition to it may be given the circumstance quoted by Mr. Huish, in which the German apiarian Scopoli asserts, that, having clipped the wings of a queen, he found her still in his hive after an interval of many months, during which two excellent swarms had been thrown, and rather plumes himself on the triumphant fact, as if by any possibility she could have gotten away. A hive will throw off from one to four swarms in a season, but the last two are generally worthless, and should be deprived of their queens and returned to the parent stock. We have an old adage to this purpose,--
A swarm in May Is worth a load of hay, A swarm in June Is worth a silver spoon, But the swarm of July Isn't worth a fly,"--
and any one may verify it who chooses to investigate the condition of such swarms at the conclusion of the harvest, when it will be seen that those which founded their colony at so late an hour have not collected sufficient honey even for their winter provision, and must be fed in order to be saved till spring.
They have dainty appetites, these little people. They will work away with their forceps at a bit of sweetmeat, but they can absorb only liquids through their proboscides. Being in a state of civilization, their food must be administered in a civilized way: it must be boiled for them. They fancy stimulants; and sugar dissolved in ale, old brown October, or, better still, made into a rich sirup with Port wine, they find very delectable. Those authors who regard pollen as a part of their subsistence deem that it is because they require nitrogenized substances; and in order to prove that it is used as food, they remark that the bees continue to harvest it so long as a single flower blows, and that entirely after the formation of the cells has ceased. This, however, may be owing simply to the instinct which prompted them in the first place to bring it home, as instinct is generally in all creatures stronger than reason and overloaded; and that it cannot be any portion of the food of bees seems evident from the fact that whole hives are known to have perished by hunger while still abundantly supplied with bee-bread, as the pollen is often called. It is more probable that pollen is really the chief constituent of wax, although Huber submits that honey has that honor; but that this wax is produced in the manner that Huber states is extremely doubtful. It is his opinion that the wax-workers, having first gorged themselves with honey, suspend themselves in festoons from the flowers, where they remain for twenty-four hours,--which in a chilly spring night would break many a link of the chain,--after which, one detaches herself from the festoon, enters the hive, and takes up her situation, with her forceps detaches a scale of wax from her side where it has recently exuded, works it with her tongue, and fashions it to the required consistency, succeeded in turn by others, artisan and apprentice. But as honey is the normal and established food of bees, it would follow that these scales must be in a state of perpetual exudation, and thus before long the hive would become filled with them, unless bees have a control of their bodily secretions enjoyed by no other order of beings. Anatomical dissection has found pollen only in the second stomach of the bee, of which the mouth is the sole and single opening; it is therefore presumed, that, being taken in a crude condition, and having undergone its due elaboration there, it is disgorged again and becomes the wax of the cells. This was the opinion of Réaumur; and for additional proof, it is stated, that, though the workers are seen to collect large quantities of farina during the season in which the cells are being made, no particle of crude farina is meanwhile to be found in a single cell, the whole of it being used in their composition. All this, however, will long remain in uncertainty; for, till some one is born with eyes of his own, ready to devote his lifelong labor to such observations, and perhaps in the end be stung to death for his pains,--since there are rebellions even in heaven, we learn,--there will be general willingness to accept the most piquant little statements regarding this most peculiar little people.
Wax itself is a substance that has no similitude to any other known. It is now thought, that, as there are three orders of bee, so there are three substances merely in the hive,--honey, farina, and wax. Pliny enumerates three others,--commosis, pissoceros, and propolis. Of these many moderns still retain the last, calling it a resinous matter collected from alders and willows, and used for the more secure foundation of the comb. But upon subjecting a lump of propolis to the boiling process by which wax is purified, it turns out simple wax of nearly its former weight; and it is accordingly presumed to be only wax in a much more crude stage of elaboration. Dr. Bevan, in experimenting with his hives, says that he melted wax and spread it upon a certain place, and, while fluid, attached a slight guide-comb to it, which the bees immediately adopted, suspending their whole comb thereby; from which it is evident, that, wax being strong enough itself for a foundation, propolis is unnecessary, and Nature is not apt to afford superfluities in her economy of construction.
The beautiful geometry of the cells is, after all, the marvel of the whole. Koenig demonstrated, that, in the problem of space and material, the bee had at once arrived at the solution which he himself reached only after infinitesimal calculations; and it furnishes fresh proof of the great mathematical relations of the universe, when even instinct is found to take on the accuracy and method of crystals. This honey-comb, by the way, is a favorite figure in Nature. If one examines microscopically the beautiful and brilliant petal of a gladiolus, it will offer this cellular structure in loose and irregular outlines; but under the same lens, the eye of a dragon-fly, which displays by daylight a jewel-like transparency, will be seen a strict crowd of glittering hexagons, with every alveole so closely arranged and so symmetrically shaped as to afford instant testimony to the superiority of the animal organization. It is by no means the habit of all bees, however, to dispose their affairs with such precision, though many other methods may have an equal grace. Don Felix d'Azara tells us of South American bees which deposit their honey in small waxen cups, and are known as Angelitos, because never using the sting; while the little black stingless bee of Guadaloupe, which inhabits the clefts of hollow rocks by the seaside, stores its honey in cells the size of a pigeon's egg, each sacklet being filled only so far as it will hold without tearing from its fellow, and a pretty piece of color being effected by the amber honey in its receptacles of dark violet-colored wax which never blanches, as the whole hangs together like a great cluster of grapes. This is a species of bee not greatly differing from that which makes the honey of Estabentum, that Clavigero says is taken every two months and is the finest in the world. The Mexicans are reported to attend with care to the culture of these bees, not so much for their rich honey as for the wax, of which large quantities are used in their common church ceremonials.
There are many singular incidents related by Huber, which, if they are not true, one may exclaim, "The more's the pity." When he notes, that, in a time of disorder in the hive, he beheld the queen ascend a royal cell and seat herself upon it as if it were a throne, and, having sympathized for a season, suddenly assume the awful attitude and strike her disloyal people motionless, it interests us like some recital of the haps and heroics of Boadicea and her Britons. It is remembered that in the early days of what are known as spiritual manifestations, while one wit thought our furniture made of Dodonean oak, another regarded the manifestations as a wise provision, in aid of the customary May ramble of city families from their respective domiciles. It is from a similarly provident point of view, with the current price of coal, that we should look at Huber's statement concerning the heat of a hive, when he tells us that twenty hives will warm an apartment comfortably, and twenty-five, occasionally well shaken, will furnish the proper temperature for a conservatory,--which throws Count Rumford's feat of boiling water without the aid of fire far into the shade. But when Huber proceeds to say that the queen is followed on her rounds by a royal guard, who wait on her with obsequious reverence, although it seems to be a pretty custom enough, the actual custom may be found a far prettier one: for the queen attends to her affairs, as others are assured, quite unaccompanied; only as workers at all times cover the comb, when she passes from group to group, each bee for a moment leaves labor, bestows a caress upon its mother, offers her honey, refreshes her, sees her pass to the next group, which hastens to do the same, while the first returns to the business of the moment. The elder Huber taxes the credulity, however, hardly more than his son does, in presenting a drawing of humble-bees hindering a toppling comb from falling by taking acrobatic postures, standing on their heads and supporting it with their hind legs till relieved, converting themselves, in fact, into a kind of flying-buttresses. Indeed, the trouble with all these things is, that naturalists persist in endowing the little creatures with human passions; and having once given the rein to imagination, it runs away with them. Now and then they find themselves in a quagmire; but sometimes the result is simply amusing, as in old Butler's most graphic and entertaining description of the pillage of a weak hive by its rich and powerful neighbor, in the "Feminine Monarchie." Yet these stories have been told ever since the Flood. Aristotle assures us, that, when a bee has a headwind to encounter, he ballasts himself with a little pebble between his feet; and the Abbé della Rocca, who made observations on the bees of the Grecian Archipelago, had the pleasure of witnessing the circumstance in person,--which would cause one to conjecture that the Greek bees, ever since they made honey on Plato's lip, have had habits peculiar to themselves, were it not that the little solitary mason-bee comes to the rescue,--the mason-bee, that, loaded with gravel and material for her nest, both Aristotle and the Abbé della Rocca undoubtedly saw. It is Virgil, however, on whom, in practical matters, apiarists have not yet improved, who has told the most amazing stories about bees, certifying that the body of their people may be bred from decay, and particularizing the blossom on which the king of the bees is born; but Virgil lived, it is to be recollected, nearly two thousand years ago, and two hundred have not yet passed since Redi, sometimes called the father of experimental entomology, first brought discredit on the doctrine of spontaneous generation: having tried the recipe for the manufacture of snakes, by his friend the learned Kircher, he could never witness, he says, "the generation of those blessed snakelets made to hand." M. Michelet, having a kind word for everybody, has a graceful apology also for the errors of Virgil, avowing that this was not Horace, the elegant favorite of Rome, nor the light and indiscreet Ovid, but Virgil, the child of the soil, the noble and candid figure of the old Italian peasant, the religious interpreter of Nature; and though he may have been mistaken as to names, what he said he saw; he was simply deceived, as subsequently Réaumur was for a moment, by the rat-tailed larvæ or sewer-flies, which, having escaped from their cradle of corruption, now shining and adorned, are thereupon brevetted to the rank of noble Virgilian-bees.
Certain superstitions seem to have prevailed in all countries ever since bees were first domesticated. In England they must not be bought, though they may be bartered; but there can be no haggling. In this country they are not even to be bartered. As their homeward flight is supposed to be westerly, it is necessary to obtain them from a place due east of their future residence; and their first swarm is to be hived and returned to the original owner, the bees relying on your good faith and working one summer on credit, so to say: they are not slaves, to be exchanged for silver. At this and all subsequent swarmings, it is requisite that they should be stunned by a confused clatter of bells, pans, pebbles, and cries, although it was long ago explained by Butler that this noise came into custom merely in signal of the ownership of a vagrant swarm. When a death occurs in the household, the hives are to be told of it and dressed in crape, in Switzerland turned topsy-turvy, as without such treatment the bees do not consider themselves used as a part of the family, and will fly away.
Among all the anecdotes given, perhaps the best instance in relation to the intelligence of the bee is that narrative of its stratagems in warfare with the famous Death's-Head Moth. Mr. Huish, to be sure, leaning upon Buffon, laughs at it, believes it on a par with Jack's Beanstalk, and is grimly satisfied that no bees ever erected fortifications of any kind other than as against the effluvium of murdered mouse or snail when they wall up its source in a tomb of wax; but it is impossible to look at the benevolent, bland face in any picture of Huber, with its sweetness of expression, and its innocent, wide, wandering eyes, and not wish to believe every word he says. M. Michelet tells the story so pleasantly that it would be difficult to quote it, especially as it is well to be credulous in good company.
"About the time of the American Revolution, a little before that of the French, there appeared and multiplied a thing unknown to our Europe, a being of frightful shape, a large and powerful moth, marked plainly enough in yellowish gray, with an ugly death's head. This sinister creature, that had never before been seen, alarmed the rural regions, and appeared to be an augury of the greatest misfortunes. In reality, those who were terrified by it had brought it upon themselves. It had entered the country as a caterpillar upon its natal plant, the American potato, the fashionable vegetable of the time, extolled by Parmentier, protected by Louis XVI., and spreading everywhere. The _savans_ christened this stranger by a name not too reassuring,--the Sphinx Atropos.
"This animal was terrible indeed,--but only to honey. Of that it was gluttonous, and capable of everything in order to obtain it. A hive of thirty thousand bees did not appall it. In the depth of midnight, the voracious monster, profiting by that hour when the outskirts of the city are weakly guarded, with a little dull lugubrious noise, muffled as if by the smooth down which covered him, invaded the hive, sought the combs, gorged himself, pillaged, spoiled, overthrew the stores and the brood. In vain might the attacked party awaken, assemble, and riot; stings could not pierce the covering,--the species of soft, elastic mattress with which he was everywhere garnished, like the Mexicans of the time of Cortés in their cotton armor that no Spanish weapon could penetrate.
"Huber took counsel with himself for some means of protecting his bees from this daring robber. Should he make gratings? should he make doors? and how? That was his doubt. The best imagined closure possible had the inconvenience of hindering the great movement of exit and entrance always going on at the sill of the hive. Their impatience rendered these barriers, in which they would entangle themselves and break their wings, intolerable to the bees.
"One morning, the faithful servant who aided him in all his experiments informed him that the bees had already solved the problem for themselves. They had in various hives conceived and carried out divers systems of defence and fortification. Here they had constructed a waxen wall, with narrow windows, through which the huge enemy could not pass; and there, by a more ingenious invention, without stirring anything, they had placed at their gates intersecting arcades or little partitions, one behind another, but alternating, so that opposite the empty spaces between those of the first row stood the partitions of the second row. Thus were contrived numerous openings for the impatient crowd of bees, who could go out and come in as usual, and without any other obstacle than the slight one of going a little zigzag; but limits, absolute obstructions, for the great, clumsy enemy, who could not enter with his unfolded wings, nor even insinuate himself without bruises between the narrow corridors.
"This was the _coup d'état_ of the lower orders, the revolution of insects, executed by the bees, not only against those that robbed them, but against those that denied their intelligence. The theorists who refuse that to them, the Malebranches and the Buffons, must consider themselves conquered. We go back to the reserve of the great students of Nature, the Swammerdams, the Réaumurs, who, far from contesting the genius of insects, give us numberless facts to prove that it is flexible, that it can increase with dangers and with obstacles, that it can quit routine, and in certain circumstances make unexpected progress."
Intelligence among the inferior animals seems always more or less an affair of acute senses; the bee certainly ought to manifest much of it, for his senses are extraordinary. Not to speak of that singular sixth sense of the antennæ, by whose power alone he fashions his cell and seems to make and receive communication, nor of his wonderful eyesight, to which a double kind of eye contributes, one portion of it being for distance and another for vertical objects or for closer work,--although there are naturalists who consider these stemmata as a possible organ of hearing,--he has a sense of smell which must surpass that of any other creature on the wing: it is perhaps to this lively faculty that he owes his marvellous cleanliness. Féburier states that at one time the bees, attracted by the lemon-trees and flowers of Cuba, emigrated thither in a body from the mainland of Florida, a distance of twenty-five leagues,--the fact, however, being that their owners emigrated and took them with them. But they have been positively known to track heath a distance of four miles, and that across water, through an atmosphere in which the faint scent of the heath must have mingled with all the powerful salt odor of the sea. Strong little wings they must be, too, to travel these distances, and yet perform all the other labor allotted them; for every day, while some with their burdens are entering the black hive, and some are darting out again into the glaring sunlight full of business and on new errands, others may always be distinguished stationed by the door and fanning their bits of wings backward and forward in ventilation of the hive. Although disputatious to the last, Mr. Huish insists that this motion is nothing but the expression of intense satisfaction and joy. Either way, it would seem as if an answering rest must be required in order to repair such wear and tear; and on this point an old Spanish writer sets it down that bees sleep during every night and on all fast-days in addition, and a corroborating investigator remarks that he has seen them withdraw into the empty cells, and, composing themselves, their heads towards the bottom, enjoy the deepest slumber, the body gently heaving with the breath, and every little limb relaxed,--to which another person replies, that this is an outrageous statement, for it is a decided fact that sleep is as much a stranger to the eye of a bee as it is to the eye of a herring. Yet in the German countries much of the labor of flight is after all spared them, their owners collecting them into caravans, conducting them gypsy-wise, encamping here and encamping there, through whatever districts linger latest in bloom. They build bee-barges, too, in France, capacious enough for a hundred hives, and drift them down the rivers, so that the bees shall follow the summer as it flits southward. And in Lower Egypt, where the blossoming continues much longer than in the upper regions, Niebuhr saw an assemblage of four thousand hives upon the Nile; anchoring at places of plentiest pasturage: the bees thus float from one end of the land to the other before they return and enrich their proprietors with the honey they have harvested from the orange-flowers and jasmines of the Said and all the wealthy banks of the mighty river. The hunter in America takes advantage of this clear sight and of this strength of wing when, he lines a bee to its nest, by alluring one to a bait of honey within a circle of wet white paint, watching the subsequent flight, letting off another, similarly secured, at right angles to that, and looking for the nest at the intersection of the two white lines. Nor is the hunter their only depredator. At the Cape of Good Hope there lives a bird known as the Honey-Guide, that enters into alliance with man, sounds its shrill note, and, fluttering from spray to spray, leads the way to the sweet resort: it would be sacrilege, if the Hottentot did not leave a portion of the honey to the informer. There, too, is the rattel, a little beast that at sunset shelters its eyes with a paw, for clearer view, spots a bee, and follows it: often these two make fellowship together, the one for the honey, the bird for the brood. But these are not the terrors of a temperate clime; the hives can despatch a field-mouse unassisted; the master who cannot rid them of the wax-moth they will desert without regrets; sounding the slogan for aid, no two bees will hesitate to grapple with the bold butchering wasp that invades them; the humble-bee, making her underground nest, the poppy-bee, fitting her splendid scarlet tapestry, however many each may have, recks of few enemies beyond the rain and storm. What should any one of them all remember about the tomtit that comes and taps outside and snaps each resident up as it appears inquiring at the gate? of the little feathered monster that tears bees to pieces, making shreds of heads and wings for his mere amusement? To them a briefer memory makes brief life blessed. The happy murmurer of our morning knows of little but peace and security, he does not even dream that _savans_ infuriate themselves about him, he buzzes from flower to flower, daringly puts aside the curtain of sacred shrines and makes himself luxurious hermitage in the snowy depths of the lilies, lets the south wind swing him a moment on the golden cradle of kingcups, pursues his pleasures in the purple recesses of the hyacinth, or, gliding into a labyrinth of petals, between the silken linings of perfumed chambers, the tinted sunlight softly sifting through, revels with the gracious nymphs that wait there, that hail him, caress him, and give him their confidence all under the rose; he goes his way, and his music spurns the trail of melancholy that never fails to follow the most delicious warble that ever trilled from throat of bobolink or throstle. As you lie and listen, in the golden tenor of the hive-bee's hum seems diffused the wide whisper of continuous gladness; and giving the innermost note of summer and of noon, the booming bass of the humble-bee blazons abroad all poetry and beauty and sumptuous delight.
"Hot midsummer's petted crone, Sweet to me thy drowsy tone, Tells of countless sunny hours, Long days and solid banks of flowers, Of gulfs of sweetness without bound In Indian wilderness found, Of Syrian peace, immortal leisure, Firmest cheer, and bird-like pleasure."
It was a dreary day in Padua. The Countess Laura, for a single year Fernando's wife, upon her bridal bed, Like an uprooted lily on the snow, The withered outcast of a festival, Lay dead. She died of some uncertain ill, That struck her almost on her wedding-day, And clung to her, and dragged her slowly down, Thinning her cheeks and pinching her full lips, Till, in her chance, it seemed that with a year Full half a century was overpast. In vain had Paracelsus taxed his art, And feigned a knowledge of her malady; In vain had all the doctors, far and near, Gathered around the mystery of her bed, Draining her veins, her husband's treasury, And physic's jargon, in a fruitless quest For causes equal to the dread result. The Countess only smiled, when they were gone, Hugged her fair body with her little hands, And turned upon her pillows wearily, As if she fain would sleep, no common sleep, But the long, breathless slumber of the grave. She hinted nothing. Feeble as she was, The rack could not have wrung her secret out The Bishop, when he shrived her, coming forth, Cried, in a voice of heavenly ecstasy, "O blessed soul! with nothing to confess, Save virtues and good deeds, which she mistakes-- So humble is she--for our human sins!" Praying for death, she tossed upon her bed, Day after day,--as might a shipwrecked bark That rocks upon one billow, and can make No onward motion towards her port of hope. At length, one morn, when those around her said, "Surely the Countess mends, so fresh a light Beams from her eyes and beautifies her face,"-- One morn in spring, when every flower of earth Was opening to the sun, and breathing up Its votive incense, her impatient soul Opened itself, and so exhaled to heaven. When the Count heard it, he reeled back a pace; Then turned with anger on the messenger; Then craved his pardon, and wept out his heart Before the menial: tears, ah, me! such tears As Love sheds only, and Love only once. Then he bethought him, "Shall this wonder die And leave behind no shadow? not a trace Of all the glory that environed her, That mellow nimbus circling round my star?" So, with his sorrow glooming in his face, He paced along his gallery of Art, And strode amongst the painters, where they stood, With Carlo, the Venetian, at their head, Studying the Masters by the dawning light Of his transcendent genius. Through the groups Of gayly vestured artists moved the Count,-- As some lone cloud of thick and leaden hue, Packed with the secret of a coming storm, Moves through the gold and crimson evening mists, Deadening their splendor. In a moment, still Was Carlo's voice, and still the prattling crowd; And a great shadow overran them all, As their white faces and their anxious eyes Pursued Fernando in his moody walk. He paused, as one who balances a doubt, Weighing two courses, then burst out with this: "Ye all have seen the tidings in my face; Or has the dial ceased to register The workings of my heart? Then hear the bell, That almost cracks the frame in utterance: The Countess--she is dead!"--"Dead!" Carlo groaned. And if a bolt from middle heaven had struck His splendid features full upon the brow, He could not have appeared more scathed and blanched. "Dead!--dead!" He staggered to his easel-frame, And clung around it, buffeting the air With one wild arm, as though a drowning man Hung to a spar and fought against the waves.-- The Count resumed: "I came not here to grieve, Nor see my sorrow in another's eyes. Who'll paint the Countess, as she lies to-night In state within the chapel? Shall it be That earth must lose her wholly? that no hint Of her gold tresses, beaming eyes, and lips That talked in silence, and the eager soul That ever seemed outbreaking through her clay, And scattering glory round it,--shall all these Be dull corruption's heritage, and we, Poor beggars, have no legacy to show The love she bore us? That were shame to love, And shame to you, my masters." Carlo stalked Forth from his easel, stiffly as a thing Moved by mechanic impulse. His thin lips, And sharpened nostrils, and wan, sunken cheeks, And the cold glimmer in his dusky eyes, Made him a ghastly sight. The throng drew back, As if they let a spectre through. Then he, Fronting the Count, and speaking in a voice Sounding remote and hollow, made reply: "Count, I shall paint the Countess. 'Tis my fate,-- Not pleasure,--no, nor duty." But the Count, Astray in woe, but understood assent, Not the strange words that bore it; and he flung His arm round Carlo, drew him to his breast, And kissed his forehead. At which Carlo shrank: Perhaps 'twas at the honor. Then the Count, A little reddening at his public state,-- Unseemly to his near and recent loss,-- Withdrew in haste between the downcast eyes That did him reverence as he rustled by.
Night fell on Padua. In the chapel lay The Countess Laura at the altar's foot. Her coronet glittered on her pallid brows; A crimson pall, weighed down with golden work, Sown thick with pearls, and heaped with early flowers, Draped her still body almost to the chin; And over all a thousand candles flamed Against the winking jewels, or streamed down The marble aisle, and flashed along the guard Of men-at-arms that slowly wove their turns, Backward and forward, through the distant gloom. When Carlo entered, his unsteady feet Scarce bore him to the altar, and his head Drooped down so low that all his shining curls Poured on his breast, and veiled his countenance. Upon his easel a half-finished work, The secret labor of his studio, Said from the canvas, so that none might err, "I am the Countess Laura." Carlo kneeled, And gazed upon the picture,--as if thus, Through those clear eyes, he saw the way to heaven. Then he arose; and as a swimmer comes Forth from the waves, he shook his locks aside, Emerging from his dream, and standing firm Upon a purpose with his sovereign will. He took his palette, murmuring, "Not yet!" Confidingly and softly to the corpse; And as the veriest drudge who plies his art Against his fancy, he addressed himself With stolid resolution to his task. Turning his vision on his memory, And shutting out the present, till the dead, The gilded pall, the lights, the pacing guard, And all the meaning of that solemn scene Became as nothing, and creative Art Resolved the whole to chaos, and reformed The elements according to her law,-- So Carlo wrought, as though his eye and hand Were Heaven's unconscious instruments, and worked The settled purpose of Omnipotence. And it was wondrous how the red, the white, The ochre, and the umber, and the blue, From mottled blotches, hazy and opaque, Grew into rounded forms and sensuous lines; How just beneath the lucid skin the blood Glimmered with warmth, the scarlet lips apart Bloomed with the moisture of the dews of life; How the light glittered through and underneath The golden tresses, and the deep, soft eyes Became intelligent with conscious thought, And somewhat troubled underneath the arch Of eyebrows but a little too intense For perfect beauty; how the pose and poise Of the lithe figure on its tiny foot Suggested life just ceased from motion; so That any one might cry, in marvelling joy, "That creature lives,--has senses, mind, a soul To win God's love or dare hell's subtleties!" The artist paused. The ratifying "Good" Trembled upon his lips. He saw no touch To give or soften. "It is done," he cried,-- "My task, my duty! Nothing now on earth Can taunt me with a work left unfulfilled!" The lofty flame which bore him up so long Died in the ashes of humanity; And the mere man rocked to and fro again Upon the centre of his wavering heart. He put aside his palette, as if thus He stepped from sacred vestments, and assumed A mortal function in the common world. "Now for my rights!" he muttered, and approached The noble body. "O lily of the world! So withered, yet so lovely! what wast thou To those who came thus near thee--for I stood Without the pale of thy half-royal rank-- When thou wast budding, and the streams of life Made eager struggles to maintain thy bloom, And gladdened heaven dropped down in gracious dews On its transplanted darling? Hear me now! I say this but in justice, not in pride, Not to insult thy high nobility, But that the poise of things in God's own sight May be adjusted, and hereafter I May urge a claim that all the powers of heaven Shall sanction, and with clarions blow abroad. Laura, you loved me! Look not so severe, With your cold brows, and deadly, close-drawn lips! You proved it, Countess, when you died for it,-- Let it consume you in the wearing strife It fought with duty in your ravaged heart. I knew it ever since that summer-day I painted Lila, the pale beggar's child, At rest beside the fountain; when I felt-- Oh, heaven!--the warmth and moisture of your breath Blow through my hair, as with your eager soul-- Forgetting soul and body go as one-- You leaned across my easel till our cheeks-- Ah, me! 'twas not your purpose--touched, and clung! Well, grant 'twas genius; and is genius nought? I ween it wears as proud a diadem-- Here, in this very world--as that you wear. A king has held my palette, a grand-duke Has picked my brush up, and a pope has begged The favor of my presence in his Rome. I did not go; I put my fortune by. I need not ask you why: you knew too well. It was but natural, it was no way strange, That I should love you. Everything that saw, Or had its other senses, loved you, sweet! And I amongst them. Martyr, holy saint,-- I see the halo curving round your head,-- I loved you once; but now I worship you, For the great deed that held my love aloof, And killed you in the action! I absolve Your soul from any taint. For from the day Of that encounter by the fountain-side Until this moment, never turned on me Those tender eyes, unless they did a wrong To Nature by the cold, defiant glare With which they chilled me. Never heard I word Of softness spoken by those gentle lips; Never received a bounty from that hand Which gave to all the world. I know the cause. You did your duty,--not for honor's sake, Nor to save sin or suffering or remorse, Or all the ghosts that haunt a woman's shame, But for the sake of that pure, loyal love Your husband bore you. Queen, by grace of God, I bow before the lustre of your throne! I kiss the edges of your garment-hem, And hold myself ennobled! Answer me,-- If I had wronged you, you would answer me Out of the dusty porches of the tomb,-- Is this a dream, a falsehood? or have I Spoken the very truth?"--"The very truth!" A voice replied; and at his side he saw A form, half shadow and half substance, stand, Or, rather, rest; for on the solid earth It had no footing, more than some dense mist That wavers o'er the surface of the ground It scarcely touches. With a reverent look, The shadow's waste and wretched face was bent Above the picture,--as if greater awe Subdued its awful being, and appalled, With memories of terrible delight And fearful wonder, its devouring gaze. "You make what God makes,--beauty," said the shape. "And might not this, this second Eve, console The emptiest heart? Will not this thing outlast The fairest creature fashioned in the flesh? Before that figure Time, and Death himself, Stand baffled and disarmed. What would you ask More than God's power, from nothing to create?" The artist gazed upon the boding form, And answered: "Goblin, if you had a heart, That were an idle question. What to me Is my creative power, bereft of love? Or what to God would be that selfsame power, If so bereaved?"--"And yet the love thus mourned You calmly forfeited. For had you said To living Laura--in her burning ears-- One half that you professed to Laura dead, She would have been your own. These contraries Sort not with my intelligence. But say, Were Laura living, would the same stale play Of raging passion, tearing out its heart Upon the rock of duty, be performed?" "The same, O phantom, while the heart I bear Trembled, but turned not its magnetic faith From God's fixed centre." "If I wake for you This Laura,--give her all the bloom and glow Of that midsummer day you hold so dear,-- The smile, the motion, the impulsive heart, The love of genius,--yea, the very love, The mortal, hungry, passionate, hot love, She bore you, flesh to flesh,--would you receive That gift, in all its glory, at my hands?" A cruel smile arched the tempter's scornful lips, And glittered in the caverns of his eyes, Mocking the answer. Carlo paled and shook; A woful spasm went shuddering through his frame, Curdling his blood, and twisting his fair face With nameless torture. But he cried aloud, Out of the clouds of anguish, from the smoke Of very martyrdom, "O God, she is thine! Do with her at thy pleasure!" Something grand, And radiant as a sunbeam, touched the head He bent in awful sorrow. "Mortal, see"---- "Dare not! As Christ was sinless, I abjure These vile abominations! Shall she bear Life's burden twice, and life's temptations twice, While God is justice?" "Who has made you judge Of what you call God's good, and what you think God's evil? One to Him, the Source of both, The God of good and of permitted ill. Have you no dream of days that might have been, Had you and Laura filled another fate? Some cottage on the sloping Apennines, Roses and lilies, and the rest all love? I tell you that this tranquil dream may be Filled to repletion. Speak, and in the shade Of my dark pinions I shall bear you hence, And land you where the mountain goat himself Struggles for footing." He outspread his wings, And all the chapel darkened, as if hell Had swallowed up the tapers; and the air Grew thick, and, like a current sensible, Flowed round the person, with a wash and dash, As of the waters of a nether sea. Slowly and calmly through the dense obscure, Dove-like and gentle, rose the artist's voice: "I dare not bring her spirit to that shame! Know my full meaning,--I that neither fear Your mystic person nor your dreadful power. Nor shall I now invoke God's potent name For my deliverance from your toils. I stand Upon the founded structure of His law, Established from the first, and thence defy Your arts, reposing all my trust in that!" The darkness eddied off; and Carlo saw The figure gathering, as from outer space, Brightness on brightness; and his former shape Fell from him, like the ashes that fall off, And show a core of mellow fire within. Adown his wings there poured a lambent flood, That seemed as molten gold, which plashing fell Upon the floor, enringing him with flame; And o'er the tresses of his beaming head Arose a stream of many-colored light, Like that which crowns the morning. Carlo stood Steadfast, for all the splendor, reaching up The outstretched palms of his untainted soul Towards heaven for strength. A moment thus; then asked, With reverential wonder quivering through His sinking voice, "Who, spirit, and what art thou?" "I am that blessing which men fly from,--Death." "Then take my hand, if so God orders it; For Laura waits me." "But bethink thee, man, What the world loses in the loss of thee! What wondrous Art will suffer with eclipse! What unwon glories are in store for thee! What fame, outreaching time and temporal shocks, Would shine upon the letters of thy name Graven in marble, or the brazen height Of columns wise with memories of thee!" "Take me! If I outlived the Patriarchs, I could but paint those features o'er and o'er; Lo! that is done." A pitying smile o'erran The seraph's features, as he looked to heaven, With deep inquiry in his tender eyes. The mandate came. He touched with downy wing The sufferer lightly on his aching heart; And gently, as the sky-lark settles down Upon the clustered treasures of her nest, So Carlo softly slid along the prop Of his tall easel, nestling at the foot As if he slumbered; and the morning broke In silver whiteness over Padua.
STRATEGY AT THE FIRESIDE.
Was it the fault of poor Barbara Dinwiddie, that, when Sumter fell, and the gallant Anderson saw with anguish the old flag pulled down, she was the most desperate little Rebel in all Dixie? By no means! At school, at home, at church, she had been taught that Slavery was the divinest of all divine institutions; that all those outside barbarians, known as Yankees, who questioned its justice, its policy, its eternal fitness, were worse than infidels; that those favored individuals whose felicity it had been to be born and bred under the patriarchal benignity were the master race of this continent; and that one Southern man could, with perfect ease to himself, and without any risk whatever of any unpleasant consequences, whip and put _hors de combat_ any five of the "homeless and traditionless race" that could be brought against him.
Had not Mr. Jefferson Davis so styled them? and had he not said that he would rather herd with hyenas than with Yankees? Had not Mr. Yancey declared that all the Yankees were cowards? Had not Mr. Walker, Secretary of State of the new Confederacy, predicted that the "stars and bars" would wave over Faneuil Hall in a twelvemonth? Had not the Richmond papers assured the high-born sons of the South, who of course included the whole white population, that it was an utter impossibility for the chivalry to exist under the same government with the mean, intolerable mudsills of the North? The wonder was, that the aforesaid chivalry could live under the same sun, breathe the same atmosphere, with such miscreants.
Was it, then, surprising that poor little Barbara, receiving in her narrow sphere no other political influences than these, should find herself at the age of seventeen the most eager of feminine sympathizers with Secession? She burned to emulate Mrs. Greenhow, Belle Boyd, and other enterprising Amazons who early in the war distinguished themselves as spies or carriers for the Rebels. She almost blamed herself as recreant, because she read with a shudder the account of that Southern damsel who bade her lover bring back, as the most precious gift he could lay at her feet, a Yankee scalp. She tried to persuade herself that those little mementos, carved from Yankee bones, which were so fashionable at one time among the _élite_ of the "Secesh" aristocracy, would not shock her own sensitive heart.
Barbara's mother had done much to encourage these sentiments in her daughter. A match between Barbara and Colonel Pegram of South Carolina was one of that mother's pet projects. Mrs. Dinwiddie was of "one of the first families of Virginia"; in which she was not singular. She had been brought up to regard the Old Dominion as the lawful dictatress of the legislation of the American continent; as sovereign, not only over her own borders, but over the Congress and especially the Treasury of the United States. The tobacco-lands of her father having given out through that sagacious system of culture which Slavery applies, and negro-raising for the supply of the slave-market farther south being in a temporary condition of paralysis, the lady had so far descended from her pedestal of ancestral pride as to encourage the addresses of Mr. Daniel Dinwiddie, a Baltimore merchant, and himself "of excellent family," though he had tarnished his hereditary honors by condescending to engage in trade. Two children were the fruits of the alliance which ensued,--our Barbara, and Mr. Culpepper Dinwiddie, who became eventually a major in the Rebel army.
What a _dies iræ_ it was for poor Mrs. Dinwiddie, that day that "Beast Butler" rode at a slow walk through the streets of Baltimore, smoking his cigar, and swaying to and fro carelessly on his horse! The poor lady was ready to cuff Mr. Dinwiddie's ears, because that worthy citizen sat down to his mutton and claret that day at dinner as coolly as if nothing had happened. Barbara wept, and sang "My Maryland" and the "Bonnie Blue Flag" till she made herself hoarse. She then glanced at a photograph of Colonel Pegram, and thought how well he looked the conquering hero.
Sunday came. It was a blessed satisfaction that at the Church of St. Fortunatus all the communicants were friends of the Rebellion. The Reverend Bogus de Bogus was himself an extremist in his advocacy of Slavery and the Slave Confederacy. But what was the consternation of the whole assembly, at hearing him, on that eventful Sabbath, pray for the President and other authorities of the United States! Had he been tampered with by the Beast? What was the world coming to? How intolerable that the solar system should move on as regularly and indifferently as if nothing had happened!
The fomenters of Rebellion in the Monument City continued hopeful, notwithstanding the defection of the Reverend Bogus de Bogus. Mrs. Dinwiddie almost worried Dinwiddie's life out, teasing him for money with which to buy quinine and percussion-caps to smuggle into Rebeldom. Barbara worked till her taper little forefinger looked like a nutmeg-grater, making shirts and drawers for the "gallant Palmetto Tenth," in which certain sprigs of aristocracy from Baltimore had enlisted. The regiment was commanded by that splendid fellow, Charlie Pegram.
What was Barbara's despair, on learning that all the products of her labors had been intercepted by the "Beast," and were safely stored at "these headquarters"! Mrs. Dinwiddie went into hysterics at the news, but was suddenly restored, on hearing Dinwiddie enter, and inquire in the most cold-blooded manner, "Why isn't dinner ready?" Falling upon that monster in human shape, she crushed him so far into silence by her indignation, that he was glad to make a meal of a few crackers and a glass of ale, and then retire for his afternoon cigar to the repose of his counting-room.
The war (the civil, not the domestic, we mean) went on. Battle succeeded battle, and skirmish skirmish, with alternating successes, when at last came the Emancipation Proclamation, not in the earthquake, nor in the whirlwind, but in the still small voice. "Well, what of it? 'Tis a mere paper bomb!" said Belshazzar at Richmond, looking out on Libby and Belle Isle. Mrs. Dinwiddie read the "Richmond Enquirer," and thought, for the thousandth time, how intolerable life would be, if ever again Yankees were to be suffered to live within a thousand miles of a genuine descendant of the Cavaliers. "Spaniels must be whipped into subservience," said Mr. Jefferson Davis, alluding to the abhorred race north of Mason and Dixon's line.
"Yes, they must be whipped!" echoed Mrs. Dinwiddie; and soon afterwards came news of the capture of New Orleans, of Vicksburg, of Port Hudson, and at last of Atlanta. "These horrid Yankees!" she shrieked. "Why don't we do something, Dinwiddie? If one Southerner can whip five Yankees, why, in the name of common sense, don't we do something? Speak, you stupid, provoking man!"
"Yes, yes, what was it you asked?" meekly interrogated Dinwiddie, who was calculating how much he had made in the recent rise of United States five-twenties.
"What was it? Oh, go to your tobacco-casks, your coupons, and your cotton, you soulless, huckstering old man! You can look on and see Abolitionism getting rampant in this once proud city, and not lift a voice or a finger to save us from ruin! You can see Maryland drifting into the horrible abyss of Yankeeism and Anti-slavery, and keep on doing business and minding the paltry affairs of your counting-room, as if all that gives grace and dignity to this wretched State were not on the verge of destruction! If you'd had the spirit of a hare, you'd have been a brigadier-general in the Confederate army by this time."
Dinwiddie was not a man of words. He had a wholesome horror of strong-minded women; and to that class he discovered, too late for his peace, that his wife belonged. So he simply replied, slightly stuttering, as was his wont, except when excited,--
"If I had joined the army, Madam, I should have--have--ve"----
"I should have what?"
"I should have been deprived of your--ahem--agreeable society; and then you might have been a wid--wid--widow."
"I should have been proud. Sir, to have been your widow under such circumstances."
"Thank you, Mrs. Dinwiddie; but being a mod--mod--modest man myself, I'd rather not make my wife proud."
"There's no danger of your ever doing that, Sir," quoth Madam; "but I thank Heaven we're not wholly disgraced. We have one representative of our family in the Confederate army. My son Culpepper may live to make amends for his sire's degeneracy."
Dinwiddie was beginning to get roused.
"My degeneracy, Madam? Confound it, Madam, where would you and yours have been, if I hadn't saved you all from pau--pau--pauperism, Madam?"
It was rare that Dinwiddie made so long a speech, and the lady was astounded.
"Sir," said she, "do you know it is a Culpepper of whom you speak?"
"Devilish well I know it," said the excited Daniel; "and what you all had but your pride I never could find out; and what were you proud of? Of a dozen or two old family nig--nig--niggers, that were only a bill of expense to that pompous old cove, your father."
Mrs. Dinwiddie began to grow livid with exasperation. Her husband had touched her on a tender point.
"Go on, Sir," said she; "I see your drift. I have suspected for some time that you were going to play the renegade; to desert your order; to prove false to the South; to cooperate with miscreant Yankees in overturning our sacred institutions."
"Confound your sacred institutions, Madam! Slavery is played out."
"Played out, you monstrous blasphemer? An institution for which Scripture vouches; an institution which the Reverend Dr. Palmer says comes right down to us from heaven! Played out? Monster! I thank the Lord my two children have not been corrupted by these detestable Yankee notions that are upsetting all our old landmarks in this once noble city of Baltimore."
"Noble? Ah, yes,--noble, I suppose, when it allowed its ruffians to shoot down a band of Northern soldiers who were marching to the support of Government!"
"You yourself said at the time, Mr. Dinwiddie, that it served them right."
Dinwiddie winced, for this was a blow square on his forehead between his two eyes. He paused, and then, without knowing it, translated the words of a Latin moralist, and replied,--
"Times change, and we change with them."
"You will find, Sir, that a Culpepper doesn't change," said Madam; and, with a gesture of queenly scorn, she swept with expansive crinoline out of the room.
"So the ice is broken at last," muttered Dinwiddie. "I wouldn't have believed I could have faced her so well. After all, I'm not sure that the military is not my true sphere."
His soliloquy was interrupted by the ring of muskets on the sidewalk in front, of his house, and he jumped with a nervous horror. Looking from the window, he saw a file of soldiers, and an officer in the United States uniform, with one arm in a sling, and the hand of the other holding a drawn sword. He was a pale, but handsome youth, and looked up as if to read the name on the door. Then, followed by a sergeant, he ascended the steps and rang the bell.
"What the Deuse is all this for. I wonder?" exclaimed Dinwiddie; and in his curiosity he opened the outside door, anticipating the negro footman, Nero, who exchanged a glance of intelligence with the military man.
"I am Captain Penrose, Sir," said the officer; "this is Sergeant MacFuse; you, I believe, bear the name on the door-plate before us."
Dinwiddie bowed an affirmative.
"I have orders, Sir," resumed the officer, "to search your house; and I will thank you to give me the opportunity with as little delay as possible, and without communicating with any member of your family."
"But, Captain, does anybody doubt my loyalty?"
"No one, Sir, that I am aware of," replied the Captain, with a suavity that reassured and captivated Dinwiddie. "We haven't the slightest doubt, Sir, of your thoroughly loyal and honorable conduct and intentions; but, Sir, there is, nevertheless, a Rebel mail in your house at this moment. I'll thank you to conduct us quietly to the little bathing-room communicating with your wife's apartment on the second story."
Dinwiddie saw through it all. He said not a word, but led the way up stairs.
"We shall have to pass through Madam's room to get at the place," he remarked; "for the door is locked on the inside."
"Yes, but the key is out, and I have a duplicate," replied the officer. "We will enter by the door that opens on this passage-way. I will just give a gentle knock, to learn whether any one is in the bathing-room."
He knocked, and there was no reply.
"I think we may venture in," he said.
He unlocked the door, and they entered,--Captain Penrose, Sergeant MacFuse, Dinwiddie, and Nero. The Captain pointed to a chest of drawers let into the wall, and said,--
"Now, Sir, if you will open that lowest drawer, I think you will find what I am in search of."
Dinwiddie opened the drawer, and a strong smell of tobacco, in which some furs were packed, made him sneeze; but the Captain proved to be correct in his surmise. Nero displayed his ivory in a broad grin, and Dinwiddie lifted a small, but well-stuffed leather mail-bag.
At that moment the door leading into Mrs. Dinwiddie's apartment opened, and that lady, followed by Barbara, made her appearance. Nero's grin was at once transformed into a look of intense solemnity, and the whites of his eyes were lifted in sympathetic amazement.
Madam's first effort was to snatch the mail-bag from her husband; but he handed it to Sergeant MacFuse, who, receiving it, shouldered his musket with military formality.
"But this is an outrage, Sir!" exclaimed Mrs. Dinwiddie, finding words at length for her rage.
"Madam," said Captain Penrose, "a carriage ought to be by this time at the door. Have the goodness, you and your daughter, to make the necessary preparations and accompany me and Sergeant MacFuse to the office of the Provost Marshal."
"I shall do no such thing!" said Madam, with set teeth, trembling with exasperation.
"You will relieve me, I am sure, Madam," said the Captain, "of anything so painful as the exercise of force."
"Force!" cried Madam; "yes, that would be all in the line of you mean and dastardly Yankees, to use force to unprotected women!"
"Oh, mother!" said Barbara, shocked, in spite of her Secession sympathies, at the maternal rudeness, and somewhat touched withal by the pale face and the slung arm of the handsome young officer; "I am sure the gentleman has"--
"Gentleman! Ha, ha, ha! You call him a gentleman, do you?" gasped Mrs. Dinwiddie, as, quite beside herself with passion, she sank into a chair.
"Yes, mother," said Barbara, her heart moved by a thrill as natural as that which stirs the leaves of the embryo bud in May; "yes, mother, I call him a gentleman; and I hope you will do nothing to prevent his calling you a lady."
Captain Penrose looked with a sudden interest on the maiden. Strange that he hadn't noticed it before, but truly she was very, very pretty! Light, not too light, hair; blue eyes; a charming figure; a face radiant with sentiment and with intelligence; verily, in all Baltimore, so justly famed for beautiful women, he had not seen her peer! Barbara dropped her eyes. Decidedly the young officer's admiration was too emphatically expressed in his glance.
Mrs. Dinwiddie began to grow hysterical.
"Madam," said Captain Penrose, "I fear your strength will not be equal to the task it is my painful duty to put you to; and I will venture to break through my instructions so far as to say, that, if you will give me your promise--you and your daughter--to remain at home till you receive permission through me to quit the house, I will waive all further action at present."
"There, mother," quoth Barbara, "what could be more reasonable,--more gentlemanly? Say you consent to his terms."
Mrs. Dinwiddie motioned a negative with her handkerchief, and stamped her feet, as if no power on earth should extort from her the slightest concession.
"There, Sir, she consents, she consents, you see," said Barbara.
"Um--um--um!" shrieked Mrs. Dinwiddie, shaking her head, and stamping her feet with renewed vigor.
"I see," said Captain Penrose; "and I need not ask if you, Miss Dinwiddie, also consent."
"I do, Sir; and I thank you for your consideration," said Barbara.
"I don't--don't--don't!" stormed the elderly lady, quivering in every limb, like a blown ribbon.
It was strange that Captain Penrose did not hear the exclamation, loud and emphatic as it was; but he simply bowed and quitted the room, followed by Dinwiddie, Nero, and Sergeant MacFuse.
No sooner had the military men quitted the house than the dinner-bell rang. Madam refused to make her appearance. Barbara came down and presided. Boys in the street were crying the news of Sherman's capture of Savannah.
"Good for Sherman!" said Dinwiddie. "I'm devilish glad of it."
Little Barbara looked up with consternation. She loved her father, but never before had she heard from his lips a decided expression of sympathy with the loyal cause. True, for the last six months he had said little on either side; but, from the absence of any controversy between him and her mother, Barbara imagined that their political sentiments were harmonious.
She made no reply to her father's remark, but kept up in that little brain of hers an amount of thinking that took away all her appetite for the dessert. Mrs. Dinwiddie entered before the table was cleared. Then there was a ring of the door-bell. It was the postman. Nero brought in a letter. Dinwiddie looked at the address.
"'T is a letter for Anjy," said he. "The handwriting looks like Culpepper's."
Anjy, or Angelina, was an old black cook, one of the few surviving representatives of the vanished glories of the old Culpepper estate. She had taken a lively interest in the course of Maryland towards freedom; and when at length that noble Commonwealth stripped off the last fetter from her limbs, and trampled it under her feet, Anjy was loudest among the colored people with her Hallelujahs. She was no longer a slave, thank the Lord! There was a future of justice, of self-respect, of freedom now dawning upon her abused race.
As Anjy could not read, Barbara had been duly authorized to open all her letters. She did so on this occasion, read, turned pale, and exclaimed,--
"Horrible! Oh, the villain!"
"What's the matter?" asked her father.
The letter was from his son, Culpepper, to the old family servant, and was in these words:--
"DEAR ANJY,--I have very unpleasant news to tell you. Your son Tony has been shot by his master, Colonel Pegram, for refusing to fight against the Yankees, and trying to run away. Tony was much to blame. He had been a good boy till some confounded Abolitionists put it into his head that the Yankee scum were fighting the battles of the black man; when, as you well know, Anjy, the true friends of the black man are those who mean to keep him in that state of slavery for which the Lord plainly intended him. But Tony got this foolish notion of the Abolitionists into his head, and one day frankly told the Colonel that he wouldn't fire a gun at the Yankees to save his own life; whereupon the Colonel very properly had him whipped, and pretty badly, too. The next day Tony was caught trying to make his escape into the Yankee lines. He was brought before the Colonel, who told him, that, for your sake, Anjy, he would forgive him, if he would swear on the Bible not to do so again. Tony refused to swear this, began to rave about his rights, and finally declared that he was free, first under God's law, next under the laws of the United States, and finally under the laws of Maryland. There were other negroes, slaves of officers, near by, listening to all this wicked stuff, and Pegram felt the importance of making an example; so he drew his revolver and shot Tony through the heart. How could he help it, Anjy? You mustn't blame the Colonel. We all felt he couldn't have done otherwise, I saw Tony the minute after he was shot. He died easy. I emptied his pockets. There was nothing in them but a photograph of you, Anjy, a printed proclamation by the wretched Yankee tyrant, Abe Lincoln, and a handkerchief printed as an American flag. I'm very sorry at this affair; but you must seek comfort in religion, and pray that your poor deluded boy may be forgiven for his unfaithfulness and bad conduct. Affectionately,
This letter was read aloud,--not by Barbara, nor by her father, but by Mrs. Dinwiddie, who exclaimed, as she finished it,--
"Here's the result of your Yankee teachings, Mr. Dinwiddie! There wasn't a better boy than Tony in all Maryland, till the Abolitionists got hold of him. Pegram served him just right,--just as I would have done."
Dinwiddie rose, pale, trembling, and all his features convulsed. Barbara covered her face with her hands and groaned. Never before had she seen such an expression on her father's face. Turning to his wife, he said in a husky voice, which with a great effort he seemed to make audible,--
"Pegram was a murderer; and you, Madam, if you commend his act, have in you the stuff out of which murderers are made. Now hear me,--you and Miss Barbara here. Here I repudiate Slavery, and every man, woman, or child who helps by word or deed to uphold such deviltry as that you have just read of. Long enough, Madam, I've allowed my conscience to be juggled, fooled, and blinded by your imperious will and absurd family pride. 'T is ended. This day I subscribe ten thousand dollars to the relief of the Georgia freedmen, made free by Sherman. Utter one syllable against it, and, so help me God, I'll make it twenty thousand. Further: if either you or your daughter shall dare, after this warning, to lift a needle in behalf of this Rebellion,--if I hear of either one of you lending yourself to the smuggling of Rebel mails, or giving aid of any kind to Rebel emissaries,--that moment I give you up to the regular authorities and disown you forever. You know that I am a man of few threats; but you also know that what I say I mean."
Dinwiddie waited a full minute for some reply to this unparalleled outburst, and then left the room with an air of dignity which neither Barbara nor her mother had ever witnessed before.
The mother first broke silence. She began with an hysterical laugh, and then said,--
"If he thinks to involve me in his cowardly treason to the South, he'll find himself mistaken. Don't look so pale and frightened, you foolish girl! Go and put on your things for the Bee."
The Bee was a society of fashionable ladies, of pronounced disloyalty, who met once a week to make up garments for Rebel officers.
"I shall go to the Bee no more, mother," said Barbara; "besides, I have given my promise to keep the house till I have permission to quit it."
"And do you venture to set your father's orders above mine, you presuming girl? Are you, too, going to desert the Southern cause?"
Barbara's reply was interrupted by the entrance of old Anjy. The scene which had just transpired had been faithfully transferred to the memory of the listening and observant Nero, who had communicated it all to the party chiefly interested.
Mrs. Dinwiddie quailed a little as she met Anjy's glance; but Barbara rose and threw her arms about the faithful old creature's neck, and, bursting into tears, exclaimed,--
"Oh, Anjy! 't was the act of a devil! I hate him for it!"
"Mind what you say, Barbara!" said Mrs. Dinwiddie.
Barbara withdrew her arms, and, folding them, looked her mother straight in the face and said,--
"My father did not speak too harshly of it. 'T was a foul and cowardly murder."
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Dinwiddie, again threatening a relapse into hysterics.
"My dear, dear Anjy," said Barbara, her tears flowing afresh, "come up to my room, and I will read you your letter."
With a face tearless and inflexible, Anjy allowed herself to be led out of the dining-hall, and up stairs into Barbara's apartment. The two stayed there a couple of hours, heedless of every summons for them to come forth.
At seventeen the process of conversion is apt to be rapid. Barbara lay awake nearly all that night, thinking, praying, and weeping. With her sudden detestation of Pegram mingled the personal consideration that he knew that Tony was the son of her own favorite Anjy,--the friend of her childhood.
"If he had had one spark of true regard for me," thought Barbara, "not to save the whole Southern Confederacy would he have shot the son of Anjy. Pegram is a brutal ruffian, and Slavery has made him that."
Anjy helped on the work of conversion by her anguish and her solemn adjurations. The old woman had picked up arguments, both moral and economical, enough to have posed even Mr. Alexander H. Stephens himself, the philosophical apostle of that new dispensation whose deity was born of the cotton-gin and sired by the devil Avarice.
Barbara rose and breakfasted late that morning. At eleven o'clock she took her music-lesson. Let us leave her for a few minutes, and fly to another part of the city, where, in one of the rooms of the Provost-Marshal's office, the Rebel mail was being examined. Captain Penrose entered, and Detective Wilkins handed him a letter he had just opened. It was addressed to Colonel Pegram, and was signed by Mrs. Daniel Dinwiddie. We will take the liberty of quoting a portion of it.
"I know, my dear Charlie, that you have been obliged to draw largely on your financial resources in aid of the great cause of Southern independence, and I am not surprised that you should find yourself so severely pushed for money. I sent you five hundred dollars in greenbacks in my last, the savings of Barbara and myself. I hope to send you as much more by the next mail. I regret to say that for the last six months my husband has utterly refused to allow me one cent for what he calls disloyal purposes. I consequently have to practise some finesse in getting what I do. The money he gives us for dresses and for charity is all saved up for you; and then I manage to make our grocer's and butcher's bills appear twice as large as they really are, and thus add to our savings. It is mortifying to have to resort to these shifts; but when I reflect on what it is all for, I feel abundantly justified. Mr. Dinwiddie's income the last two years has been enormous. He is taxed for upwards of a million. A good part of this, my dear Charlie, shall be yours as soon as you change the title of friend for the nearer one of son-in-law. You complain that Barbara wouldn't engage herself the last time you met. Her refusal was merely an act of maiden coyness, and only meant, 'I want to be won, but not too easily.' She sees no young men, and I watch her closely; for I am resolved that your interests shall be as well looked after as if you were on the spot."
As Captain Penrose finished reading the letter, Mr. Dinwiddie walked in, and it was handed to him for perusal. That worthy merchant glanced through it rapidly, and a grim smile overspread his features. "We shall see, Madam," he said, folding up the letter, and handing it to Detective Wilkins for filing. Then, turning to the Captain, he remarked,--
"You are from Maine, I believe, Captain Penrose?"
"Yes, Mr. Dinwiddie,--from the very extremity of Yankeedom."
"Well, Captain, I have this morning seen a friend of your father's, who bade me say to you he is in the city for a day or two, and hopes to see you before he leaves."
"To whom do you refer?"
"To Mr. Calvin Carver, of Montreal."
"Oh, yes; I've often heard my father speak of him as one of the best men in the world."
"A man, Captain Penrose, of whom you may truly say, 'His word is as good as his bond.' I never knew him to overstate a fact, and that is saying a great deal of an active business man. I have not seen him before to-day since my marriage."
"I shall take an early opportunity of calling on him, Mr. Dinwiddie."
"He told me, Captain, of your gallant conduct the other day at Nashville, during Hood's attack. He said I ought to give Stanton no peace till he has you promoted to a colonelcy."
"All in good time, Mr. Dinwiddie. There are hundreds of brave fellows who have a prior claim. And now, Sir, permit me to say, that I have consulted with the Provost-Marshal, and my official duty requires me to call on your wife and daughter, and notify them that they are at liberty to go where they please."
The Captain might have added, had he thought it discreet, that the police authorities had concluded they should learn more of the secrets of the Rebel plotters by allowing Madam to go at large than by keeping her shut up.
Dinwiddie stood nervously playing with his watch-key. An idea had occurred to him,--a glorious, a ravishing idea,--an idea which, if concreted successfully into action, would revenge him triumphantly on his wife for the tricks revealed in the letter he had just read.
"Captain," said he, "if you are going to my house, have you any objection to take a letter for my daughter?"
"I shall be pleased to do so," returned the Captain; but he would have put more warmth into his reply, had it not been for certain chilly misgivings in regard to the preoccupation of Barbara's heart.
Mr. Dinwiddie sat down at a table, and wrote these lines:--
"BARBARA,--Captain Arthur Penrose, of Maine, visits you in pursuance of his yesterday's promise. If you have any regard for your poor, distracted father,--if you would save me from the deepest, the direst mortification,--exert all your powers to conciliate Captain Penrose, and to detain him till I return home and relieve you. I will explain all to you hereafter. My peace of mind depends largely on your being able to do this. Urge him to call again. In haste, your father."
The Captain received this missive, bowed, and walked off in the direction of Dinwiddie's house.
Nero came to the door.
"Is Mrs. Dinwiddie in?"
"No, Cap'n, but Miss Barbara is in," said the conspiring Nero, in a tone of encouragement.
Madam, it should be remarked, was out making calls on a few leading feminine sympathizers; but she did not notice, that, wherever she went, a little man in black, with a postman's big pocket-book in his hands, followed, as if busily employed in delivering letters.
Captain Penrose sent up his card, together with the missive he was charged with. Nero returned the next minute, and ushered him into the drawing-room, assuring him, with overflowing suavity, that Miss Barbara would be down in a minute. It was with profound agitation that that young lady read her father's note. What could be the matter?
She looked in the glass,--combed back her profuse flaxen hair so as to expose her fair temples in the most approved fashion of the hour,--took a little tea-rose from the silver vase on her bureau,--and then, with a beating heart, stepped down the broad, low stairs into the drawing-room.
Captain Penrose was examining an exquisite painting of an iceberg, which hung on the wall over the piano. He turned to Barbara, bowed gravely, and said,--
"I merely came to say, Miss Dinwiddie, that there is no longer any restraint upon your movements. You are at liberty to go where you please. Your mother, I learn, has already anticipated the permission for herself. You may say to her, that, in her case also, the prohibition is removed. I will bid you a very good morning."
He bowed, and had almost reached the door before Barbara could recover her composure sufficiently to say,--
"Sir,--Captain Penrose,--I beg you not to leave me so abruptly. Pray be seated."
The Captain, arch-hypocrite that he was, looked at the clock as if he were closely pushed for time, and replied,--
"My official duties, Miss Dinwiddie, are so pressing--so"----
"But I've something particular to say to you," said Barbara, grown desperate.
"Indeed! Then I'm at your service."
Barbara pointed to an arm-chair; but the Captain wheeled it up to her, and at the same time pushed along an ottoman for himself. As soon as the lady was seated, he, too, sat.
There was a pause, and rather a long one.
"Now, Miss Dinwiddie, I shall be happy to hear your communication."
"Ahem! I noticed, Sir, as I came in, that you were looking at yonder painting."
"Yes; is it not most admirable? 'T is by a Boston artist, I see,--by Curtis."
"Indeed! 'T is a picture my father bought only last week. 'T was recommended to him by Mr. Carver; for father does not pretend to be a connoisseur. You think it good?"
"Good? 'T is exquisite! Look at the atmosphere over that water. You might feel a cool exhalation from it on a hot day. The misty freshness rolling off, and lit up by the cheery sunlight, is Nature itself. It carries me away--far away--once more to the coast of Labrador, where I spent a summer month in my youth. But, Miss Dinwiddie, how happens it that you condescend, in times like these, to patronize a Yankee artist? When Colonel Pegram comes, you must take down that picture and hide it."
Barbara started and blushed.
"What do you know, Sir, of Colonel Pegram?"
"Nothing, except that he is a fortunate man, unless Rumor belies him."
"If you refer, Sir, to that foolish report in regard to myself which was current last winter, I beg to assure you there is no truth in it."
"Not _now_, perhaps."
"_Never_ shall it be true!" exclaimed Barbara, starting up and pacing the floor.
"Excuse me," said the Captain, also rising,--"excuse me, if I have been impertinent on so slight an acquaintance."
He had his hat in his hand, and walked towards the door.
"Deuse take the fellow! can't he stay patiently here five minutes?" thought Barbara. She dropped the rose she had been holding. The Captain picked it up and offered it.
"Keep it, Sir, if you think it worth while," said Barbara,--driven to this incipient impropriety by the vague apprehensions excited by her father's letter.
"Thank you," replied the Captain, so taken by surprise that he forgot his military laurels, and showed a faint heart by a blush.
Barbara esteemed it a very charming symptom; and as the Captain, with his one unwounded arm, tried rather awkwardly to put the flower in the buttonhole of his waistcoat, she stepped up with a "Let me aid you"; and, taking from her own dress a pin, fastened the rose nicely as near as she could to the beating heart of the imperilled soldier. Alas! if his thoughts had been put into words, he would have soliloquized, "Look here, Captain, I'm afraid you are deporting yourself very much like a simpleton. Pluck up a spirit, man!"
"There! I'm sure 't is very becoming," quoth Barbara, mischievously.
"You see how convenient it is to have two hands," returned the Captain. "And your having two hands, Miss Dinwiddie, reminds me that your piano stands open, showing its teeth, as if it, smiling, wanted to say, 'Come, play on me.'"
"What a lucky idea!" thought Barbara. "Now I have him, and will hold him. He shall get enough of it. When will pa come, I wonder?--Are you fond of music, Captain Penrose?"
"Yes; I used to be a performer before I was disabled."
"But your voice is not disabled. You sing?"
"A little; but I'm out of practice."
"No matter. Come! Here's a martial piece, suitable for the times: 'To Greece we give our shining blades.'"
It was one of the Captain's favorites; and as the two voices, resonant and penetrating, rose on the chorus in perfect accord, the singers thought they had never sung so well before, and each attributed it to the excellent time of the other. Nero and another person listened at the aperture of the folding-doors: Nero, who was musical, going through a show of vehement applause, and throwing himself about in a manner that would have made his fortune as an Ethiopian minstrel.
Other songs followed in rapid succession; and when the Captain sang "Annie Lawrie," _con espressione_, accompanying himself on the piano with one hand, Barbara exclaimed, with a frank burst of genuine admiration,--
"Oh, but you sang that superbly!"
She had quite forgotten her anxiety about her father's return.
Then they talked of the popular composers; and from music their conversation glanced on literature; and from literature the Captain ventured on the dangerous ground of politics.
"Are you incorrigibly a Rebel?" he asked.
Barbara looked down. She feared that any confession of change in her notions would seem too much like insincerity.
"Now I'm going to lecture you," he continued. "Are you not rejoiced that Maryland is a Free State? that no longer on this soil a man has power to rob a fellow-man of his labor, and to shoot him down, if he lifts a hand in opposition to brutal oppression? Does not your generous heart tell you that the system under which such injustice is organized is wrong, unchristian, devilish? Are we not well rid of the curse?"
Barbara looked up, and responded in a hearty, emphatic _Yes_.
"But," she added, "my conversion is recent. And who do you suppose converted me?"
"I cannot imagine."
Here a door was thrown open, and Mr. Dinwiddie entered. The perfidious man had been listening. Captain Penrose glanced guiltily at the clock, and saw, to his consternation, that two hours had somehow unaccountably slipped away.
"I have been a loiterer, you see, Mr. Dinwiddie," he said; "but the fault is your daughter's. I will now take my leave."
"We shall be happy to see you again," said Barbara, glancing assent to a nod from her father.
"Yes, Captain Penrose," said Dinwiddie, "I hope you'll not drop our acquaintance, notwithstanding the circumstances under which it was made."
"I shall esteem any circumstances fortunate," replied the Captain, "that have given me so agreeable a visit"; and, bowing, he left the room, and Barbara rang the bell for Nero to open the outer door.
"Saved! saved!" cried Dinwiddie, sinking into a chair, and covering his face with his handkerchief.
"Saved? How saved?" asked Barbara, alarmed.
"But no," exclaimed Dinwiddie, starting up with a very tragic expression. "Perhaps it was but a transient pow--pow--power you exerted over him. Barbara, should you meet again, put forth all your attractions to--to--to bind him as with a sp--sp--spell to keep my fatal secret."
"What secret, father?"
"Hush--sh--sh!" said Dinwiddie, stepping on tiptoe to one door and then to another, and then looking with a cautious air under the sofa. He beckoned to his daughter. She drew near. Once more he looked anxiously around the room, and then whispered, in a hoarse, low tone, in her ear, these words, "You shall know all in due time."
Little Barbara drew a long breath, and resolved that it should not be her fault, if the Captain was not captivated. At that moment there was a ring at the door-bell; and Mrs. Dinwiddie came in from high conference with a select conclave of fashionable ladies, who yet clung with pathetic tenacity to the declining fortunes of Slavery and Secession.
For a fortnight matters seemed to go on swimmingly. Dinwiddie had, as he thought, so managed as to bring the young people repeatedly together without his wife's having a suspicion of what was in the wind; and when Captain Penrose called on him at his counting-room and asked whether he might pay his addresses to Barbara, Dinwiddie whirled round on his office-stool, jumped down, and gave the young soldier a cordial hug.
"Certainly, my dear boy! Win her. She likes you. I like you. Everybody likes you. Go ahead."
"It is proper to inform you, Sir," said the Captain, "that my income is only twelve hundred a year; but"--
"Pshaw! What do I care for your income? There! Go and settle it with Barbara. You'll find her alone, I think. Mrs. Dinwiddie, for the last week, has been as busy as--as--we'll not say who--in a gale of wind. Remember, 'Fortune favors the brave.' I'm obliged to go to Philadelphia this afternoon. Good bye."
In a transport of delight, the Captain darted from the office, took a carriage, and drove to Dinwiddie's.
"Yes, Miss Barbara is in. Walk up, Captain."
"What could be more propitious? Poets are not always in the right. Isn't my love true love, and doesn't it run smooth?"
Wait awhile, my Captain! Perhaps Shakspeare was not so much in error, after all.
Barbara's eyes plainly spoke her pleasure at seeing him. Adjoining the drawing-room was a little boudoir filled with sunshine and flowers. Into that she led him. They sat down on one of those snug contrivances for a _tête-à-tête_, formed like the capital letter S. A fragrance as of spring was shed through the room from the open door of a conservatory, and a canary-bird near by was tuning his voice for a song.
"Barbara, do you know it is a whole fortnight that we have known each other?"
She looked up at him inquiringly, for this was the third time he had called her by her first name. He continued,--
"Barbara, I had a pleasant interview with your father this morning, and what do you suppose I said to him?"
"Said it was a fine day, most like," returned Barbara, intent on spreading out the leaves of a half-blown rose.
"No, I said not a word about the weather. I asked him if he would have any objection to me for a son-in-law."
"And what did he reply?" asked Barbara, after a pause, during which her little heart beat wildly.
"He told me I could settle it all with you."
"Indeed!" said Barbara. "But I never had any genius for settlements. I always hated business."
"But this is a matter of pleasure, not of business," urged the Captain; and then coming round to her side, and falling on one knee, he took her unreluctant little hand, put it to his lips, and said, "May I not have it for my own?"
Before she could reply, approaching steps were heard, and a youth of some nineteen years, wearing the coarse pea-jacket, red baize shirt, and glazed hat of a sailor, made his appearance.
"Culpepper!" exclaimed Barbara, while the Captain resumed his seat,--"is it you?"
"Yes," replied the youth. "Sister, I have a few words to say to this man privately. Please leave the room."
Master Culpepper was one of those nondescripts in social zoölogy, classed by some philosophers as "cubs," and by others as "hobbledehoys,"--"not a man, nor a boy, but a hobbledehoy." At school he had been set down as a hopeless blockhead, and Barbara had severely tasked her patience, trying to insinuate into his brains the little knowledge of the ordinary branches of education which he possessed. Consequently, though she was two years his junior, she had been accustomed to regard herself as several years his senior, and to talk to him as to the inferior he really was in everything but brute strength. The cub's strong points, morally considered, were his family pride and his hatred of "Abolitionism": in these he bade fair to surpass even the maternal proficiency.
"Captain Penrose," said Barbara, "this is my brother Culpepper. Now, Cully, go and play in the stable, that's a good boy."
"Do you know, Miss Barbara, that you are addressing a Major in the Confederate army," replied Cully, folding his arms with a great effort at dignity. "You will accost me hereafter as Major Dinwiddie, if you please."
"Well, Major, this gentleman and myself are engaged, so"----
"Engaged!" howled Cully, with flashing eyes and vociferous speech. "Engaged! And you dare to confess it to me, your brother! Engaged! And to an Abolitionist,--a low-born Yankee! I cancel the engagement."
Barbara was too much roused by the cub's insolence to care to correct the misapprehension which he had blundered into so precipitately, and which she was now disposed to make a verity.
"Do you mean to tell me," demanded the cub, "that you are engaged to be married to this man?"
"Yes, if he'll have me," said Barbara, putting forth her hand, which Penrose eagerly seized, exclaiming,--
"Will I _have_ you, Barbara? Yes, as the best treasure life can offer."
And the first kiss was exchanged.
"Look here," said Cully, "this business must stop where it is. I demand, Sir, that you leave the house with me this instant."
And then, as an amused expression flitted over the Captain's face, the cub asked angrily,--
"Why do you smile, Sir?"
"Sir," said the Captain, "your sister and I have cause for smiling; we are happy."
The cub took from his side-pocket a revolver and cocked it. Penrose stood up, and Barbara threw herself between him and her brother.
"Coward!" cried the cub, "to allow yourself to be shielded by a woman!"
The cub, under the influence of Pro-slavery precedents, had really got it into his thick head, that he, under the circumstances, was the man of chivalry and valor, and that because the unarmed Penrose would not present a fair shot to his revolver, that gentleman was chargeable with an excess of poltroonery of which only a Yankee could be guilty.
The cub's heroics were ignominiously cut short. Suddenly his two arms were seized from behind, while his pistol was wrenched from his grasp. Two armed policemen, followed by Mr. Dinwiddie and Nero, had entered the room.
"Am I betrayed?" exclaimed the cub.
"Blockhead!" said his father, "Fort Warren shall henceforth be your school, till we knock a little common-sense into that obstinate skull of yours."
"Fort Warren!" cried Cully, gnashing his teeth. "But I'm here on a furlough, disguised as a sailor, you perceive. I promised to be back to my regiment by Friday. Fort Warren?"
"Never!" shrieked Mrs. Dinwiddie, entering the room from the conservatory, where she had been hiding. "Kill me, but don't compel my son to break his pledge to the Confederate authority."
"Bah!" said Dinwiddie. "Officers, take the booby away."
Nero almost sank into his boots with excess of enjoyment, but abruptly put on a very agonized face, and showed the whites of his eyes, as Mrs. Dinwiddie looked towards him.
Cully submitted, though with an ill grace, to what was plainly a case of necessity; but he turned, before crossing the threshold, and said to Penrose,--
"I take everybody to witness, Sir, that I prohibit your having anything further to do with my sister. The consequences be on your own head, if you disobey."
"And I, Captain Penrose," said Dinwiddie, "take everybody to witness, that, if, after having paid the court that you have to my daughter, you now refuse to take her as your wife, the consequences, Sir, must be on your own head."
"Sir," said the Captain, "that is the most agreeable threat that I can imagine. I have already committed myself to your daughter."
"Ah! disgraceful!" groaned Mrs. Dinwiddie.
"What do you say to that, Cully?" said the father, as, with no very gentle thrust, he replaced the glazed hat on the youth's head.
Cully kept silent. The recollection of certain debts which could be paid only from the paternal purse inspired a prudent reserve.
"Take him now," said Dinwiddie to the officers; "give him as much gingerbread as he wants, and charge it to me."
Cully and the officers disappeared.
"And now," resumed Dinwiddie, "it is time for me to drive to the cars. Mrs. Dinwiddie, this is Captain Penrose, your future son-in-law. Treat him kindly in my absence. Farewell."
The lady bowed not ungraciously, as Dinwiddie departed. She had been meditating, during the last minute, a new flank movement in favor of Colonel Pegram. She determined to change her base of operations. Barbara was amazed, but, in her inexperience, was wholly unsuspicious of strategy.
"Captain Penrose, you'll stop and take tea with us?" said the wily lady of the house.
"I shall be charmed to," replied the Captain.
"Mother, let me kiss you!" cried the innocent Barbara, delighted at what seemed the vanishing of the only obstacle to the betrothal of herself and the Yankee officer.
There was an ambush in preparation, of which these two did not dream.
Two days afterwards, Barbara and her mother were on their way to Montreal.
This was the flank movement, and it was thus accomplished. The second morning after her husband's departure, Mrs. Dinwiddie burst into Barbara's apartment with the intelligence that she had just received a telegraphic dispatch from Mr. Dinwiddie, bidding her start at once for Montreal to procure certain funds in the hands of a certain party there, which funds were immediately wanted. Barbara, to whom all business matters were mysteries profound as the income-tax or the national debt, received it all without a question. She did not stop to ask, "Why doesn't father send one of his clerks?" or "Why can't he do it all by letter?" She took it for granted that there was a great hurry about something that required an instant journey to Montreal. So she wrote a letter to Captain Penrose, (which Mrs. Dinwiddie took good care to intercept,) and, before another hour had slipped by, mother and daughter were at the Northern railway station.
The old lady had taken the precaution to send Nero on an errand out of the city, and had hired a public hack to convey her to the cars. But as she was attending to her trunk, an officious gentleman in black stepped up to Barbara, and asked for what place she wished to have the baggage checked. Before Mrs. Dinwiddie could interpose, Barbara had answered, "Montreal." Thereupon the gentleman had simply remarked, "I don't think they check baggage so far," and then had walked away in the direction of the telegraph-office,--for what purpose the sequel must suggest. Mrs. Dinwiddie thought nothing more of the matter. They passed through Philadelphia and New York the next day uninterrupted.
At Rutland, Vt., a very civil sort of gentleman accosted them in the car, and, on learning that they were on their way to Canada, asked if they had passports. On Mrs. Dinwiddie's replying in the negative, he informed her, that, by a recent order of the United States Government, persons travelling to and from Canada were required to have passports; and he advised her to stop at Rutland, and he would telegraph to New York and procure them. After some hesitation, she consented to do this. The third day of her detention, her volunteer informant came with the necessary papers, and at the same time introduced Mr. Glide, an obsequious little gentleman, who said he was going to Montreal, and should be happy to render any service in his power to the ladies.
"Surely, Sir, I have seen you before," said Mrs. Dinwiddie. "Are you not from Baltimore?"
"Yes, Madam; and I will tell you where we last met: 't was at the secret gathering of ladies and gentlemen for purchasing a new outfit for Mrs. Jefferson Davis."
"Hush!" said Mrs. Dinwiddie, slightly alarmed.
"Oh, there's no danger," returned Mr. Glide. "I'm discreet. Your devotion to the Confederate cause, Madam, your noble efforts, your sacrifices, have long been known to me; and I rejoice at having this opportunity of expressing my thanks and my admiration. Is there anything I can do for you?"
Mrs. Dinwiddie looked significantly at him, nodded her head by way of warning, and glanced at her daughter.
"I see, Madam," murmured Mr. Glide, in a confidential tone.
"Barbara, go and pack my trunk," said she.
Barbara left the room.
"Now, Sir," resumed Mrs. Dinwiddie, "I will confide to you my troubles. That young girl has recently engaged herself, against my wishes, to a young man,--a captain in the Yankee army."
"Engaged herself to a Yankee? But, oh, Madam, what an affliction! what a humiliation!"
"Yes, Sir, 't is all that."
"I agree with Mr. Davis, Madam, that the Yankees are the scum of the world. Is there no way by which you can avert from your family the threatened disgrace?"
"Well, Sir, I have formed a plan, and, if you will lend me your aid, I think we may manage to put the infatuated girl for a time where she will have an opportunity of recovering her senses."
"My dear Madam, I shall be delighted to serve you in any such good work. To save youth and beauty from the polluting touch of a Yankee captain might well call forth the warmest zeal, the most devoted daring, of any native of the sunny South."
"Sir, your sentiments do you honor. This, then, is my scheme--Is there any chance of our being overheard?"
"By none except the invisibles," said Glide; "and they probably exist only in the imagination of Yankee fanatics."
"My plan," whispered the lady, "is to put my daughter in a convent until the gentleman to whom I have promised her, Colonel Pegram of the Confederate army, can have an opportunity of seeing her. Of course it would not take him five minutes to drive out of her head all thought of this Yankee lover."
"And has your daughter, Madam, no suspicion of this admirable scheme of yours?"
"Not the slightest. She supposes we are going to Montreal on business of her father's."
"Madam, you couldn't have been more fortunate in your confidence. It happens that I am on most intimate terms with Father Basil, the confessor of the nuns, and who, by the rules of the convent, must interrogate your daughter before she can be admitted to its privileges."
"But," said Mrs. Dinwiddie, anxiously, "will Father Basil have the proper sympathy with my maternal motives and my Southern sentiments? Will he be disposed to strain his authority a little in order to put my daughter in durance?"
"I think I may venture to promise," answered Glide, "that, such is my influence with him, he will do in the matter whatever I may request."
"And now, Madam, you must make preparations for your departure. The cars start in ten minutes."
Before seven o'clock that evening the whole party were comfortably disposed in one of the best of the Montreal hotels. The obliging Mr. Glide went forth immediately to make inquiries in Mrs. Dinwiddie's behalf.
After breakfast the next day he presented himself to her and asked,--
"You have said nothing as yet to your daughter?"
"Not a word," she replied.
"Then," said he, "our course will be to drive at once to Father Basil's residence, and get him to broach the whole matter to Miss Barbara. He has a very persuasive tongue, and I think she will at once yield to his exhortations. Should she, however, be disposed to resist forcibly our measures for her benefit, there will be the means at hand to carry them out."
Barbara entered the room, wholly unsuspicious of the plots against her liberty.
"The carriage will soon be at the door," said her mother. "Go and get ready." And after a whispered hint from Mr. Glide, she added, "Put on your pearl silk, Barbara. We shall have to call on certain persons of distinction."
Barbara was soon ready. They all three entered the carriage, and after a drive of about a mile, it stopped before a large and elegant house.
"Our father confessor lives in style," whispered Mrs. Dinwiddie.
"Yes," returned Glide; "one of his wealthy neophytes gives him a home here. If you will wait in this little basement room, Madam, I will conduct your daughter up to his library."
"Go with Mr. Glide, Barbara," said Mrs. Dinwiddie.
Supposing it was merely one of the mysterious forms of business, little Barbara at once took the gentleman's proffered arm and ascended the stairs with him.
Ten minutes,--twenty,--thirty,--Mrs. Dinwiddie waited, and nobody came. She looked at the furniture, the carpets, the paintings, till she had exhausted the curiosities of the apartment. Suddenly there was a sound of music from above,--not sacred music,--it sounded very much like the waltz from "Gustavus." What could it all mean?
At last Mr. Glide made his appearance.
"Now, Madam, 't is all arranged," said he. "I regret to say that we had to use the most stringent measures for reducing your daughter to terms. But she is so bound at last that she can have little hope of regaining her freedom."
"Bound, Sir? Did you have to bind her?" asked Mrs. Dinwiddie, with a throb of maternal solicitude.
"You shall see, Madam."
He threw open the door at the head of the landing, and they entered a stately room, where some thirty or forty ladies and gentlemen seemed to be assembled. Mrs. Dinwiddie drew away her arm and almost swooned with amazement and consternation.
At the front end of the apartment, before a gorgeous mirror, stood Barbara and Captain Penrose. A veil and a bunch of orange-blossoms had been added to the young lady's coiffure. At her side stood a handsome old gentleman, with bright, affectionate eyes, (very much like the Captain's,) who seemed to regard her with a gratified look. On the side of Penrose stood--horrors!--Mr. Dinwiddie himself, a smile of fiendish exultation on his face; while a gentleman with a white cravat and a narrow collar to his coat, evidently an Episcopal clergyman, went up and shook hands with Barbara, and then mingled with the rest of the company.
A middle-aged gentleman, whom the guests accosted as Mr. Carver, drew near to Dinwiddie, and said,--
"Now introduce me to your wife."
Dinwiddie took his arm, and, leading him to where the lady stood, said,--
"Wife, this is my old friend Carver, of whom you have so often heard me speak. Yonder stands your daughter, Mrs. Penrose, waiting for your maternal kiss of congratulation."
Mrs. Dinwiddie debated with herself a moment whether to shriek, to fall into hysterics, to explode in a philippic, or to rush from observation. Her husband, seeing her hesitation, took her by the hand and led her into an unoccupied room. A veil must be dropped upon the connubial interview which then and there took place.
Suffice it to say, that, when she came forth leaning on the arm of Mr. Dinwiddie, it was with the air of one who has made up her mind to make the best of a case of necessity,--an air very much like that, I fancy, with which the South will yet take the arm of its consort, the North. She saw there was no longer any chance for another flank movement.
One vindictive glance she turned on the dapper Mr. Glide, as he stood guzzling Champagne, and looking the picture of meek fidelity; and then she courageously walked up, kissed her daughter, shook hands with the Captain, curtsied condescendingly to old Mr. Penrose, and smothered her astonishment as she best could, on being taken up to a lady of rare elegance of person and demeanor, whom she had set down as the wife of the Governor-General at least, but who, on presentation, she learned was the mother of her new son-in-law.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Mr. Carver,--and at his voice the buzz of conversation was hushed,--"I believe we have none here who will not readily comply with the request I have now to make. Since all's well that ends well, I ask it as a favor, that no person of this company, who may happen to be acquainted with the peculiar circumstances of this marriage, will mention them outside of the circle here present. Will you all say _ay_ to this proposition?"
Amid smiles there rose what sounded like a unanimous assent; but a close observer might have remarked that the Perfidious Mr. Glide, instead of moving his lips affirmatively, simply lifted his Champagne-glass, and in the act raised his forefinger so as to cover the side of his nose. To this individual, no doubt the boon companion of some rascally reporter, we probably owe the circumstance that a garbled and incorrect account of this affair appeared in the Baltimore and Washington papers. The present writer has consequently felt it incumbent on him to place on record a version which, whatever may be said of it, cannot be stigmatized as exaggerated.
The island of Staffa being nearly a mile in length, we have already had a distant external view of the huge grassy mound which constitutes its surface, reared on a steep, craggy base, hear and there exhibiting superb basaltic columns, and everywhere consisting of basaltic pillars more or less broken, irregular, and contorted, and in some instances forming the entrance to caves of great interest, though of less grandeur and magnificence than the giant temple of Nature which is the principal feature and pride of Staffa and the chief object of our visit. Ah, here comes the Bailie, looking as innocent as possible of the pipe! Christie, too, has crept up from the cabin, and, though professing inability to go ashore, is relieved by the sudden cessation of the steamer's motion, and is prepared to witness with cheerfulness the disembarkation of her more fortunate fellow-passengers. It is the office of boatmen from the neighboring island of Ulva, hardy and skilful men, accustomed to these boisterous seas, to row passengers ashore, and in case of calm weather, such as we are blest with, to conduct their boats within the noble archway and up the grand broad aisle of Fingal's Cave: for the floor of this glorious cathedral is the rolling sea, whose green waves surge with a grand swell and fall to the very extremity of the cave, echoing through its vaults with a resonance which gave it its early Gaëlic name of Uaimh Bhinn, the Musical Cave. How and when these boatmen approached unseen and surrounded our steamer as she lies here in the sun, I cannot imagine; so perfect are all the arrangements for our convenience, that they have probably been lying in wait for our approach, and had only to dash our form among the black rocks of the shore; but in view of the power of Nature in this locality, the wonderful architecture, of which we witness as yet the mere _débris_, and the noble palace of the sea which our imagination is already shadowing forth, it is not difficult to believe that these hardy mariners spring up from the depths at the voyager's bidding, and that they are neither more bidding, and that they are neither more nor less than ocean genii, the servants of some ocean king, appointed to wait on and convoy his guests. The Dexterity of these men and the strength of their boats inspire perfect confidence, however; for the latter are fast filling and putting off for the shore. The landing-place mist be near at hand, though as yet out of sight; for "See!" I exclaim to the Bailie, "one or two of the boats have landed their parties and are already returning! Everybody is disappearing from the steamer; had we not better make haste and secure a passage?"
But the Bailie, who is something of a philosopher, has confidence that there is time and accommodation enough for us all; so he and I proceed very leisurely to the step-ladder, and, as everybody else is in a hurry, we fall to the very last boat that leaves the steamer. A few unforeseen claimants and stragglers present themselves just as we are putting off, and, as often happens at the last chance to go ashore, our boat is somewhat overloaded, and I find myself separated from my companion, who is standing upright in the bows, while I am seated in the stern among the elderly Scotch folk, who seem so familiar with all the detail of the place and proceedings I am led to believer them faithful worshipper of Nature who come periodically to pay their vows in the national minster, as members of some parish church go up reverently to the cathedral convocations. An eager, excitable gude-wife next to me is especially anxious and officious, and seems disposed to question the efficiency and prudence of our Ulva boatmen.
"The boat is too full!" she cries, with the emphasis of certainty. "Tell them to put back; she is too full!" and the murmur of alarm echoes in our vicinity. "Don't be afraid, my dear," she adds, in a sort of stage-aside to me, who, though I have observed that the boat's edge is almost on a level with the water, have never dreamed of danger until she put it into my head, "Not a bit of danger," she continues, patting me encouragingly on the shoulder, while in the same breath she reiterates to those in authority her startling warning and her assurance that we shall presently sink by our own weight.
But the Bailie, standing in the bow, still maintains his philosophy, and the smile on his face reassures me. And now, with only just that sense of insecurity which adds to the awe of the occasion, I perceive that we are rounding a cliff, and that the entrance to Fingal's Cave is dawning on our view.
The magnificent proportions and perfect symmetry of the archway which forms the entrance to the cave will be seen to better advantage somewhat later, when the steamer, on leaving the island, sweeps directly past the vestibule purposely to afford their passengers this opportunity; but one is never more impressed with the hugeness and stability of this gigantic structure than when measuring it by gradual approach, and looking up into its lofty Gothic vault as we glide under the enormous archway and out of the dazzling sunshine into the twilight of the deep interior. Those whose imaginations are aided by statistics may form a more real conception of this great natural structure by reflecting that the archway at the entrance is forty-two feet in width, and its height nearly seventy above the level of the sea, and that these vast proportions are preserved to the farther extremity of the cave, as distance of some two hundred and thirty feet. The imposing effect of the portico is still further enhanced by the massive entablature of thirty feet additional which it supports, and by the noble cluster of pillars grouped on each side of the entrance-way. These lofty pillars, or complication of basaltic columns, are in a general sense perpendicular, their departure from the stern lines and angles of human architecture serving only to proclaim them the workmanship of that Architect who alone is independent of artistic rules, and giving new force to what Goethe tells us is understood by genius, namely, "that Art is called Art because it is _not_ Nature." Here with the poet of Nature, we may offer
"Thanks for the lessons of this spot,--fit school For the presumptuous thoughts that would assign Mechanic laws to agency divine, And, measuring heaven by earth, would overrule Infinite Power."
And here, if anywhere, is the place to learn how vainly Art may seek to rival Nature. "How splendid," exclaims a learned prelate, "do the porticos of the ancients appear in our eyes from the ostentatious magnificence of the descriptions we have received of them! And with what admiration are we seized, on seeing the colonnades of our modern edifices! But when we behold the Cave of Fingal, formed by Nature in the Isle of Staffa, it is no longer possible to make a comparison; and we are forced to acknowledge that this piece of Nature's architecture far surpasses that of the Louvre, that of St. Peter's at Rome, all that remains of Palmyra and Pæstum, and all that the genius, taste, and luxury of the Greeks were ever capable of inventing."
So much for a comparison of this ocean cathedral with buildings of human construction; and no less decisive is the verdict of the French author, M. de St. Fond, in contrasting Staffa with other natural edifices. "I have," he says, "seen many ancient volcanoes, and I have given descriptions of several basaltic causeways and delightful caverns in the midst of lavas; but I have never found anything which comes near to this, or can bear any comparison with it, for the admirable regularity of its columns, the height of the arch, the situation, the form, the elegance of this production of Nature or its resemblance to the masterpieces of Art, though Art has had no share in its construction. It is therefore not at all surprising that tradition should have made it the abode of a hero."
These are but general descriptions of this _chef d'oeuvre._ Shall I attempt in my own words, or those of any other, to give even a feeble impression of the grandeur which overarches and surrounds us as our boat glides into the interior? Let Wilson speak; I dare not. Listen to his words while I vouch for their truth.
"How often have we since recalled to mind the regularity, magnitude, and loftiness of those columns, the fine o'er-hanging cliff of small prismatic basalt to which they give support, worn by the murmuring waves of many thousand years into the semblance of some stupendous Gothic arch,
'Where, through the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault,'
the wild waters ever urge their way; and the receding sides of that great temple, running inwards in solemn perspective, yet ever and anon, as ocean heaves and falls, rendered visible in its far sanctuary by the broad and flashing light reflected by the foaming surges sweeping onwards from below! Then the broken and irregular gallery which overhangs that subterranean flood, and from which, looking upwards and around, we behold the rich and varied hues of red, green, and gold, which give such splendid relief to the deep and sombre colored columns,--the clear bright tints which sparkle beneath our feet, from the wavering, yet translucent sea,--the whole accompanied by the wild, yet mellow and sonorous moan of each successive billow which rises up the sides or rolls over the finely formed crowns of the lowlier and disjointed pillars: these are a few of the features of this exquisite and most singular scene, which cannot fail to astonish the beholder."
Up this irregular gallery, which extends to the farther extremity of the cave, most of our steamer's party have already gone, having successively deserted the boats to take advantage of this natural pathway, whereby, stepping carefully along the wet slippery floor, and clinging for security to a rope attached to iron bolts riveted in the solid stone of the wall, they can penetrate to the innermost depths of the cavern. Through the dim religious light of the place we can discern their figures, diminished in the distant perspective, as in long procession they grope their way, the joyous laughter of the younger votaries mingling with the little shrieks of alarm or warning with which the more cautious or timid emphasize every misstep or uncertain footing,--the entire human murmur, fortunately for us, softened by distance, or returned to our ears only in the mellowed form of an echo, so that we are spared in some degree that mockery of mirth and discord, otherwise so inevitable, and always so uncongenial to the spirit of the place,--that tumult of voices, exclamations, and shouts so familiar to the tourist, and which drew from Wordsworth, on occasion of his visit to the spot, the half-bitter reflection,--
"We saw, but surely, in the motley crowd, Not one of us has felt the far-famed-sight: How _could_ we feel it, each the other's blight, Hurried and hurrying, volatile and loud?"
Thus the Bailie's philosophy has not proved in fault. There is an advantage in being the last comers, if it is merely that our fellow-tourists have taken themselves out of our way. Only the harsh vituperations of our boatmen make dissonance with Nature, as, their long poles driven hard now against one side and now the other of the cave, they strive to keep the boat in middle position, and save a collision with the rocks. And even this discord is soon overborne. "Sing!" cried the gude-wife at my elbow, as we passed under the great archway, and her plastic soul, alive as readily to the spirit of praise as to that of fear, caught the inspiration of the place; "all of you, sing!"
There was an earnestness, a fervor, in this woman, which made her every word and thought contagious; and as either she, or some neighbor of hers who shared her emotion and purpose, struck the key-note, voice after voice joined in, until there swelled up from our little boat the almost universal song,--no common trivial melody,--not even a national air,--such would have been sacrilege,--but a grand old song of praise, one of those literal versions of the Psalmist familiar to the ear and lip of every kirk-loving Scot. And so, as the singing chorus went sailing up that broad aisle, heart and voice united in a spontaneous liturgy, an act of devout adoration, which seemed the only fit response to the spirit that whispered to our souls, "Praise ye the Lord!"
The psalm ended, our boat with most of its passengers retraces its course and is rowed back to the steamer,--the Bailie and I, however, having first disembarked and clambered up to the rough gallery, with a view of imitating the parties who are pursuing their explorations on foot. This gallery, or causeway, which runs along the eastern side of the cave, is about two feet in width, and consists of the bases of broken pillars, whose dark purple hexagons, cemented together by crystallizations or a white calcareous deposit, form a rough mosaic flooring. The inequality of its surface, and the fact that the stones are worn smooth and slippery by the action of the sea, render it a very precarious pathway; and as soon as we have proceeded far enough to gratify our curiosity and obtain satisfactory points of view, we are content to abandon the enterprise of penetrating to the remotest depths, preferring to reserve our time for a ramble over the exterior surface of the island.
Emerging from the cavern and skirting its eastern side, we still find ourselves stepping from hexagon to hexagon over a massive bed of refuse material, and gazing upward at the columnar wall on our left which upholds the table-land of the island. No traveller, however ignorant or inappreciative of science, can fail to realize the immense interest which these evidences of some great natural convulsion must possess for the geologist; and a knowledge of the recent geological discoveries in this and other of the Western Islands is not needed to impress us with the conviction that treasures of truth are beneath and around us everywhere, waiting to be revealed. But we have not the key, nor can we pause to pick the lock.
Passing on, then, in our ignorance, but not without an awe of things unknown, we recognize as within the scope of our comprehension two broken pillars so lodged as to constitute the seat and back of a rude chair, which has received the name of Fingal's Chair, and beyond this the Clamshell Cave, so called from the curved form of the mass of basaltic pillars at its entrance; and at length we attain a point where, by scaling a rough staircase constructed for the convenience of tourists, we gain the grassy summit of the island. So perpendicular is the cliff at every point, that, these green slopes once reached, the previous singularity of formation and wildness of scenery at once give place to the pastoral. Rocks, columns, caves, and cliffs are all hid from our view; we have gained Nature's upper story, and around us is a perfect calm. Not even the steamer which brought us hither is visible, so effectually do the bold precipices conceal every near thing in their shadow. The great cavern through which ocean surges with a ceaseless swell lies far beneath us, and no echo of its roar reaches this spot. A few sheep are nibbling the short grass; the golden star-flowers and the pink heather plumes at our feet are the lineal descendants, for aught we can conceive, of star-flowers and heather plumes that flourished here a thousand years ago,--so undisturbed a possession has Nature had In this realm of hers for ages. No change, improvement, growth, has added to or taken from Staffa. Storm-washed in winter, flower-crowned in summer, its history is forever the same. Sitting here among the heather tufts, and looking off on the limitless blue sea and the neighboring islands, it is not hard to dream one's self away into by-gone centuries, to imagine Bruce and his faithful islesmen sailing past as they go forth to rouse the clans, or, diving deeper into legendary days, to picture Fingal himself and his warlike allies bending their white sails towards the ocean-palace that still claims him as its traditionary king.
"O Ossian, Carril, and Ullin! you know of heroes that are no more. Give us the song of other years. Raise, ye bards of other times, raise high the praise of heroes; that my son! may settle on their fame."
"Soon shall my voice be heard no more, and my footsteps cease to be seen," was the prophetic cry of the "first of a thousand heroes," as he learned from "Ullin, the bard of song" that his young son Ryno was "with the awful forms of his fathers." But "the bards will tell of Fingal's name, the stones will talk of me," was the consolatory thought of him, who, grown old in fame, had a foreshadowing of the glory which would hang round his memory, when he exclaimed, "But before I go hence, one beam of fame shall rise, I will remain renowned; the departure of my soul shall be a stream of light."
And who among ancient heroes could better deserve to have his memory embalmed than he whom an honorable foe thus eulogized?--"Blest be thy soul, thou king of shells! In peace thou art the gale of spring; in war, the mountain storm." And what touching interest to us of later times hangs round this legendary champion of the right, when we listen to his mingled strain of triumph, lament, and justification!--"When will Fingal cease to fight? I was born in the midst of battles, and my steps must move in blood to the tomb, But my hand did not injure the weak, my steel did not touch the feeble in arms. I behold thy tempests, O Morven! which will overturn my halls, when my children are dead in battle, and none remains to dwell in Selma. Then will the feeble come, but they will not know my tomb. My renown is only in song, My deeds shall be as a dream to future times!"
Yes, a dream,--and we are the dreamers. The songs of the bards are ringing in our ears, and though no stone marks the tomb of Fingal, the stones talk of him; the great basaltic columns are his memorial pillars, and the sea yet sounds his dirge as its wailing echo sweeps mournfully through Fingal's Cave.
But hark! The bell of the Pioneer is rousing us with the cry, "Wake up, ye dreamers! Come back from the clouds, ye visionaries!" The time for Staffa is up, and the steamer, like a cackling hen who is eager to call her brood together, commences a system of coaxing, warning, and threat, which soon results in the converging of her passengers from every quarter of the island. Most of them are by this time rambling over its upper surface, and all make for the rough stairway where the comparative difficulties of the "ascensus" and "descensus" are in complete contradiction to classical authority: the former having been accomplished with ease, while the latter proves a terrific experience. There is truly something maternal about the Pioneer; for here, as at every other point of difficulty on our excursion, faithful guides are stationed and strong hands outstretched for our assistance. Still it is with a plunge,--half a nightmare and half a miracle,--that we, who are among the earliest to make the experiment, arrive safely at the bottom, and, stepping on board a boat, regain the steamer, where we sit at our leisure and laugh at the absurd figure made by later comers as they scramble down the cliff: Sir Thomas even forgetting his dignity in the difficulties of the operation, and the interjectional phrases of her Ladyship, as she now and then comes to a hopeless stand-still, tickling our ears at the distance where we sit watching them.
Our entire party fairly on board, the Pioneer, now panting to be off, sets her wheels in motion and starts on her further course, not, however, without first skirting the base of the island and affording us, as I have already intimated, one last view of Fingal's Cave, and that the finest. It is an impressive circumstance, that at this moment the attention of the tourist on the steamer's deck is divided between Nature's great cathedral and man's early efforts in the same direction,--that immediately opposite the pillared vestibule of the Staffa minster the Abbey tower of the Blessed Isle looms boldly on our view, the mimic architecture of man paying silent homage to the spot,
"Where, as to shame the temples decked By skill of earthly architect, A minster to her Maker's praise! Not for a meaner use ascend Her columns, or her arches bend; Nor of a theme less solemn tells That mighty surge that ebbs and swells, And still, between each awful pause, From the high vault an answer draws, In varied tone, prolonged and high, That mocks the organ's melody. Nor doth its entrance front in vain To old Iona's holy fane, That Nature's voice might seem to say, 'Well hast thou clone, frail child of clay! Thy humble powers that stately shrine Tasked high and hard,--but witness mine!'"
And so, with a great lesson behind us and before, we sail away on that summer sea and bid farewell to Staffa. The timid seal whom we have disturbed creeps back to her cell, the wild-fowl returns to its nest, the sea-swell rolls in and out in waves unbroken by our keel, and the warm sun holds all in his soft embrace. The winter winds will roar through the cavern erelong, the ocean lash pillar and ceiling with its foam, tempests will beat and rage against its giant columns, the stormy petrel will flap its wings in the archway, and the piercing cry of the sea-gull keep time to the diapason of the deep; but the massive structure whose corner-stone is hid beneath the waters, and which leans upon the Rock of Ages, will still defy the tempest and loom in lonely grandeur, alike in summer's smile and winter's frown the dwelling-place of the Almighty. Iona's walls, reared centuries ago, and dedicated to Him by human tribute, have crumbled or are fast crumbling to decay; but this mighty temple, whose foundations no man laid, has gazed calmly through all these ages at man's feeble work, and will gaze unchanged until He who holds the sea in the hollow of His hand shall uproot its columns.
Now on to Iona, a distance of seven or eight miles, a formidable voyage, perhaps, for early pilgrims to this sacred shrine, to us barely affording time for dinner, a meal of which I have no remembrance of partaking on this eventful day,--though my recollections would doubtless have been more poignant, if I had failed to do so,--and of which I can at least certify that it was sumptuous and well-served, since the luxurious habits of life enjoyed on these floating hotels of the Hutchesons are proverbial, and the flavor of good cheer still clings to my palate, especially that of the daily "salmon so fresh as still to retain its creamy curd."
The approach to Iona, Icolmkill, or Colmeskill, as it is variously termed, has in it nothing imposing, if we except the ancient Abbey, already descried at a distance, and the neighboring ruins, the simple fact of whose presence in this lonely isle is suggestive of all that has given interest and sanctity to this cradle of Christianity in Britain. On landing at the rude pier, formed of masses of gneiss and granite boulders, we find ourselves opposite the modern village, a row of some forty cottages, running parallel with the shore, and, as is the case in nearly all Scotch villages, including both an established and a free church. We have scarcely set foot on the beach before we have a verification of Wordsworth's experience:--
"How sad a welcome! To each voyager Some ragged child holds up for sale a store Of wave-worn pebbles, pleading on the shore Where once came monk and nun with gentle stir, Blessings to give, news ask, or suit prefer."
But I have no heart to find fault with this small fry of the modern fishing-town, whose trade in pressed sea-weeds, shells, and stones is now so extensive that near the ruins they have established rival counters, and are a most clamorous set of persecutors; for I still have pleasure in looking on the really precious and suggestive mementos of the place which they thrust upon me, a willing victim.
A little to the rear of the village, though still nearly on a level with the beach, are the ruins, to which we are guided by Archibald Macdonald, chief boatman, and authorized to act as our cicerone. In setting forth on our explorations, we must premise that little now remains to mark the age of the Culdees and the simple life of St. Columba and those companions of his apostolic zeal who first settled in Iona, and thence, going forth in pilgrim fashion and with the endurance of pilgrim hardships, diffused Christianity through Britain. A huge mound, or cairn, yet marks the place where the missionaries first landed; and there are still, in a remote part of the island, vestiges of the rude dwelling-place or cell in which the Culdees first made their abode and set up the cross as a luminary for the yet uncivilized nations. With the exception of these rude vestiges, the tradition of their virtues and the results of their self-sacrificing labors are their only memorial. But the standard which they planted followers of later ages have continued to maintain; and the monastic buildings, now more or less ruinous, and marking successive eras of Church history, are all of great antiquity, many being of a date so remote that the records of them are merely traditional. But wherever the pilgrim turns his eye or sets his foot, voices whisper to him that this is holy ground. The very silence and mystery which inwrap the place have a tendency to exalt the soul; and although doubts may arise in regard to some of the traditions, and incredulity may condemn others as simply mythical, faith so often becomes sight, and the essence of faith is so triumphant everywhere, as to make us feel, with the great moralist, that "that man is little to be envied whose patriotism would not gain force upon the plain of Marathon, or whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona."
Our first visit is to the Nunnery, of which the chapel only remains standing. The style of its architecture is Norman, and it probably dates no farther back than the beginning of the thirteenth century. The tomb of the Princess Anna, the last prioress, is still preserved, though much defaced by the rude feet of soulless tourists. Her figure is sculptured in bas-relief on the stone, and the mirror and comb which are introduced as symbolic of the female sex suggest that instinct of decoration inherent in woman, and which, if superfluous anywhere, certainly would be so in a nunnery at Iona. There is a sad interest in the remains of this sanctuary, the only refuge for innocence and gentleness in a barbarous age, when many a votary was doubtless driven hither by motives similar to those which actuated the fair maid of Lorn, of whom Sir Walter Scott tells us,--
"The maid has given her maiden heart To Ronald of the Isles; And, fearful lest her brother's word Bestow her on that English lord, She seeks Iona's piles; And wisely deems it best to dwell A vot'ress in the holy cell, Until these feuds, so fierce and fell, The abbot reconciles."
"The cemetery of the nunnery," as we learn on the authority of Dr. Johnson, and at the date of his visit, "was, till very lately, regarded with such reverence that only women were buried in it." And how the burly speech and rugged bluntness characteristic of the old philosopher are softened and atoned for, to my thinking, when he adds, "These relics of veneration always produce some mournful pleasure. I could have forgiven a great injury more easily than the violation of this imaginary sanctity."
Next to its renown as an ancient seat of piety and learning, it is as a burial-place that Iona is chiefly known and venerated. Though it is difficult now to identify the tombs of kings, or to distinguish them from those of the humbler individuals who have found a last resting-place in Reilig Orain, the burial-place of St. Oran, it is unquestionably true that the sanctity of the island gave it a preference over any other spot as a place of sepulture, especially for royalty,--a preference, doubtless, partly due to the belief in an ancient Gaëlic prophecy, which foretold that before the end of the world "the sea at one tide shall cover Ireland and the green-headed Islay, but Columba's Isle shall swim above the flood."
Forty Scottish kings are said to have been interred in Iona, among whom we have Shakspeare's authority for including King Duncan.
"_Rosse._ Where is Duncan's body?
"_Macd._ Carried to Colmeskill, The sacred storehouse of his predecessors, And guardian of their bones."
Among the monuments of Christianity in Iona, none are more conspicuous and eloquent than the numerous crosses, of which the original number is said to have been three hundred and sixty. Most of them have been ruthlessly carried away or demolished. For myself, much as I deplore the Vandalism which has mutilated nearly all these sacred memorials, I can well dispense with the other three hundred and fifty-nine crosses for the sake of the vivid recollection, I may almost say consciousness, I have of one, that of St. Martin, which stands upright and in good preservation just at the entrance of the cathedral inclosure, and produces a solemn effect upon the mind of every reverential beholder. It consists of a solid column of mica schist, fourteen feet in height, fixed in a massive pedestal of red granite, and is of substantial rather than graceful proportions. It is carved in high relief, and on one side is sculptured with emblematic devices, of which the Virgin and Child, surrounded by cherubs, occupy the central place. But its most characteristic feature is its antiquity, enhanced to the eye by the gray lichens and the rust of time, with which it is so incrusted that it presents a hoary and venerable aspect, and seems the embodiment of that ancient faith to which the whole island is consecrated. Here saints and abbots of distant ages have knelt and wept and prayed, and caught the inspiration for their labor of love, and here still, if we listen to the voices in our hearts, we may hear the Spirit's whisper, and he who runs may read the everliving sermon written on the old gray stone.
We have now gained the Cathedral, by far the best preserved and most imposing of the ruined edifices of Iona,--a building which exhibits various styles of architecture, and which is probably of more recent construction than the other monastic or ecclesiastical monuments. It is cruciform, and the square tower at the intersection, about seventy feet in height, remains entire. The building is unroofed: for here, as in the case of every other ancient structure on the island, every particle of wood-work has been carried away, that material being too precious in Iona to escape being converted to utilitarian purposes. The dimensions of the cathedral or abbey church are spacious, and it boasted, even in recent centuries, a noble altar and many other decorations, of which it has been despoiled,--partly, no doubt, by the inhabitants of the island; but tourists and pilgrims to the place are in no slight degree responsible for these depredations, since, in their eagerness for mementos, they have mercilessly robbed and mutilated it, and it is prophesied, that, in spite of every possible precaution, many of the interesting memorials of antiquity in Iona will soon be unrecognizable or will have ceased to exist.
The tomb of Abbot Mackinnon, who died in 1500, though greatly defaced, still exhibits a sculptured figure of its occupant, thought to do much credit to the art of that period; and the largest monument in the island, that of Macleod of Macleod, is still preserved. It is in this church that the celebrated "Black Stones" of Iona were kept, on which the old Highland chieftains were accustomed to take oaths of contract or allegiance, and for which they entertained so sincere a reverence that oaths thus ratified were never broken. Dr. Johnson observes,--"In those days of violence and rapine, it was of great importance to impress upon savage minds the sanctity of an oath, by some particular and extraordinary circumstances. They would not have recourse to the black stones upon small or common occasions; and when they had established their faith by this tremendous sanction, inconstancy and treachery were no longer feared."
Though neither the ancient structures nor the modern village of Iona are situated much above the sea-level, and are so near to the shore as to constitute the foreground of the picture, as seen from the usual landing-place, the island is not without its highlands, which rise to a considerable elevation immediately behind the village, some bold cliffs even obtruding themselves upon our return pathway to the steamer: for I can recall the picturesque effect produced upon the landscape by the figure of one of the Baronet's daughters, seated at her ease upon the summit of a huge, precipitous rock, her sketch-book in her lap, and her pencil busily delineating the prospect in our direction. I scarcely think, however, that, like the travelling photographer, she dreamed of including her fellow-tourists in her sketch-book of reminiscences, any more than I then anticipated the day when I should be tempted to illustrate mine by her own and her sister's portraits.
I believe some rare ferns are to be found in Iona; it includes in its vegetable kingdom one hawthorn, and a species of dwarf-oak is said to occur there sparingly; but I cannot remember seeing even the most inferior specimen of a tree upon the island. Bareness, desolation, is its one characteristic,--a feature from which the meanness and poverty of the row of village huts by no means detracts. As, once more re-embarked on our steamer, we take a final view of Iona, the external impression is meagre and poor indeed. So much the warmer and more animated, then, is the glow of enthusiasm and gratitude with which we dwell on the piety and self-sacrifice of those saints of old with whose memory the Blessed Isle is still fragrant. Nor are the piety and zeal of God's saints perpetuated chiefly by ecclesiastical monuments, or embalmed in human hearts alone; for,
"when, subjected to a common doom Of mutability, those far-famed piles Shall disappear from both the sister Isles, Iona's saints, forgetting not past days, Garlands shall wear of amaranthine bloom, While heaven's vast sea of voices chants their praise."
Is it the weariness of body entailed on us by our pilgrimages among the wonders of Staffa and the ruins of Iona,--is it the mind overtasked by the effort to grasp and comprehend so much of interest and novelty,--or is it the soul tuned to deeper thoughts and holier sympathies than are wont to engage it, which steeps us for the remainder of our voyage in the luxury of repose? A mingling of all, I suspect. And happily the sentiment seems universal. Christie, who, warned by her painful experience of the steamer's oscillations, as she swung like a pendulum on the sea-swell off Staffa, has been only too glad to accompany us on shore at Iona, is not only relieved of her sea-sickness, but insured for the rest of the trip. Somehow she, the Bailie, and I find ourselves among that large proportion of our company who have gradually migrated to the forward part of the boat, where, forgetful of the conventionalities which have hitherto restrained us, we are grouped on the fore-deck in whatever listless or indolent attitude the prevailing mood may suggest. The August afternoon is drawing to a close, and the sun is declining. Our share in the day's labor--though it be but laborious pleasure--is done; the remainder of the task devolves on the Pioneer, and, while she ploughs the waves, we have but to rest, meditate, and congratulate ourselves and one another. There is a hum of merry voices from the knot of gay young Scots, whose spirits are toned down, not damped, by the experiences of the day. Our English girls, with their young brother, are prettily grouped on the deck-floor, the latter stretched at the feet of the youngest girl, and exchanging with her those sweet confidences which always exist between a chivalrous boy and the sister nearest his own age. Their confiding parents have remained aft, as have a majority of the elders of the company; but, though youth, freedom, and high natural spirits preponderate at our end of the boat, peace seems to be brooding over us with dove-like wings.
We are still skirting the bold, precipitous shores of Mull, the central loadstone which has kept us all day to our course, and now and then our attention is especially engrossed by the view of her rugged cliffs, terrible in winter's storms, and her natural arches of basalt, through which the sea washes at high-water, and which betray in every feature a family likeness to great Staffa. But for the most part our hearts and thoughts now are with the past, and gratitude and thanksgiving are welling up within us for a day on which sunshine, fair breezes, and a prosperous voyage have combined with Nature's most glorious revelations and humanity's holiest relics in opening up to us pleasures and privileges beyond compare. Or, if a thought of the future mingles with our meditations, it is the rapturous thought that these gifts of Providence once ours are ours for a life-time.
At length, a softening of the majestic landscape, a contraction from the sea's wide expanse into comparatively still waters, and, bidding farewell to Mull, we have entered the Sound of Kerrera, and the great island is hid from us by its less imposing sister, Kerrera Island, the same that land-locks the Bay of Oban. We have but to make our way through the picturesque channel, whose scenery is already familiar to our eyes, and now Dunolly, the moss-crowned warder of the bay, greets us once more, her friendly face, as we sweep into our little harbor, seeming to hail us with a "Welcome Home!"
Home to the Caledonian, where a "towsy tea," as my Scotch friends would term it, awaits the tired and hungry travellers: a motley, substantial meal: fowls of the daintiest,--fresh herring, never eaten in such perfection as on the Hebridean coast,--honey-comb of the tint of burnt umber,--fragrant, ambrosial honey, the very juice of the heather, the crystallized sun and dew in which these unshadowed hills bask and bathe without let or hindrance.
Then a stroll round the bay and along the white sea-wall, now glistening in the moonlight, and then to bed, to dream perhaps of Ossian's heroes, of storm-swept castles, of old monkish rites, and of the ocean cathedral's eternal chant,--dreams which, however varied and strange, can lull the spirit into no softer illusions, can rouse it to no wilder ecstasies than the reality of our experience in our twelve hours' sail round Mull.
JOHN BRIGHT AND THE ENGLISH RADICALS.
In the June number of this magazine a review of the career of Richard Cobden presented the lifelong activity and loftiness of purpose which distinguished that great man, whom we have so recently been called to mourn. It is our purpose to record something of his friend and ally, Mr. Bright, whose devotion to America has led him for once to raise his voice in vindication of war, as the only method of preserving liberty.
John Bright was born at Greenbank, near the thrifty town of Rochdale, on the 16th of November, 1811. His father was Mr. Jacob Bright, a gentleman who, by his own exertions, had risen from humble means to wealth, in the vocation of a cotton manufacturer. John was the second of eleven children, the oldest of whom died in infancy. The family were devoted members of the Society of Friends, and the subject of this sketch still adheres to the hereditary faith. John's health, during childhood, caused much solicitude to his parents. His constitution was apparently feeble, and it was found that study injured his already delicate system. At the age of fifteen he was taken from school, and placed in his father's counting-room. Mr. Jacob Bright was a shrewd, yet highly honorable man, entirely engrossed in the superintendence of his business, and an adept in the conduct of his manufactory. It was his ambition that his sons should follow in his footsteps, and should become, like himself, influential members of the commercial community. He doubtless underrated, as the class to which he belonged are apt to do in England, the value of a university education; and as soon as the boys reached the suitable age, they were set to work in the mills. Had John Bright received the culture which a residence at Oxford or Cambridge would have afforded him, he would doubtless have occupied a place in the first rank of that group of accomplished statesmen who now grace either House of Parliament, and whose elegant erudition is as conspicuous as their enlightened statecraft. As it was, we find him spending his youth at the desk, learning how to buy and sell, and how to rule the miniature commonwealth which an English manufactory presents. In the discharge of these duties he proved himself skilful, prompt, and energetic.
As he grew to manhood, however, a new interest and a new ambition awoke within him. He had always been more of a thinker than the other members of his family. When scarcely twenty, he had addressed the people of Rochdale in favor of the great Reform of 1832, and with the effect of giving him at that early age a local popularity. He had seemingly thrown his vigorous mind into the study of the complex elements of the Constitution, with especial reference to those parts which affected commerce and manufactures. From such studies he had become the confirmed disciple of those doctrines which, with a narrower view to self-interest, the commercial class almost universally adopted. When the passage of the Reform Bill had quieted for a while the agitation on that score, Mr. Bright, his interest being now thoroughly awakened to the excitements of a public career, turned his attention to the Temperance question, then much mooted in the larger towns. The idea of total abstinence was at that time new to Englishmen, and Mr. Bright was one of the earliest champions of that principle, which has since attracted so many powerful orators, and which has reclaimed so many from the debasement of the cup. In the year 1835, Mr. Bright, with a view to extending his experience, and in order to observe the systems of other nations, made the tour of the Continent, extending his travels to Athens and Palestine. On his return, he was invited to lecture before the local Institute at Rochdale, and he delivered a series of lectures, taking as his subjects the observations he had made abroad. These he followed by another series on questions more nearly connected with the practical interests of his auditors,--putting before them with admirable perspicuity the ideas he had formed on the commercial policy of England. About this time contentions arose respecting the Church Rates, and Mr. Bright took active ground for their abolition.
The sufferings of the manufacturing class now revived that agitation against the Corn-Laws which had once before engaged the earnest attention of the country. Mr. Bright had the patent evidence all around him of the misery which the inequitable adjustment of the tariff had created. The class over whom he had supervision were materially affected by this injustice. With that promptness which is one of his conspicuous qualities, he devoted himself to the study of the science which would open to him the causes, consequences, and remedies of the evils which a legalized monopoly had brought into existence. He found that the landed proprietors, whose influence in Parliament had long continued paramount through the protection of the Tory party, had secured laws which enabled them to enjoy the monopoly of the corn trade, to the practical exclusion of foreign competition. Prices were thus increased to such an extent, as to put it beyond the power of factory hands, with the wages which their employers could afford to pay them, to buy bread.
The distress of the operatives from this cause was already great, and was constantly becoming more serious and more alarming. The lower classes of England have never been patient under unusual pressure. They are prone to take redress by violent resistance to law. Thus the agricultural ascendency threatened to drive the rival element to desperation. The Tories, led by Wellington, already obnoxious from their long opposition to Reform, steadily maintained the existing laws, and continued to be the devoted partisans of the landed interest. The aristocratic Whigs, who were in power under Viscount Melbourne, and who were reaping the fruit of a reform carried by the cooperation of popular leaders, were reluctant to do more than make slight modifications,--modifications which still left the evil great and dangerous. At this juncture, a new force sprang up, which from small beginnings finally effected a total revolution in the economical policy of the Government. This was the Anti-Corn-Law League. It was instituted by a number of liberal noblemen and gentlemen in Parliament, who had the sense to perceive, and the wisdom to provide for, the gloomy crisis which seemed to be impending. Charles Pelham Villiers, a son of the Earl of Clarendon, and one of the ablest of the younger generation of statesmen, was the most prominent leader. The object of the association was to organize a crusade against agricultural tyranny, and to effect the abrogation of the odious laws by which farmers grew rich by starving manufacturers. As usual with all organizations for reform, the League at first met with clamorous denunciation from all quarters, was sneered at in Parliament, and laughed at by the great proprietors. But it grew rapidly. Every day people awakened more and more to the increasing necessity. The champions of the League, spreading among the rural communities, eloquently and convincingly pointed out the great evils which they sought to eradicate. They were untiring in their exertions, and their success was beyond their best hopes.
The great advantage to be gained by keeping their cause in constant agitation before the public made the Leaguers desirous to employ active and eloquent orators. John Bright, in his twenty-seventh year, began to speak in advocacy of commercial reform in his own neighborhood. The League heard of him, called him to their assistance, and he became one of their authorized speakers. This was a triumph not a little flattering to a young merchant whose training had been in a manufactory, and to whom the field of forensic eloquence was entirely new. He was thoroughly convinced, both from observation and from a naturally quick reason, that the principles of which he was now to be a public advocate were just and practical. His whole soul was in the effort to alleviate suffering, and to find a balance between interests which had been, but were not of necessity, conflicting. With that hearty zeal which has ever since marked his public career, he entered the political arena, turned over to his partners the affairs of the firm, and devoted himself to the study and exposition of the new commercial theories. Through the influence of the League, he obtained opportunities to speak in many considerable places; and he every-day increased his reputation as a vigorous reasoner and a pleasing speaker. He went boldly into the agricultural districts, where the hard-headed old Tories who believed in Wellington formed his audiences, and put to them unwelcome truths which they found it hard to swallow. On one occasion he appeared before a large assemblage at Drury-Lane Theatre, when the effect of his eloquence was such that his name became immediately known throughout the kingdom. Copies of the speech were distributed by order of the League, and Bright found himself in demand from all quarters. Working in concert with Villiers, Morpeth, and the other leaders, he assisted in instituting branches of the League in the principal cities. Besides his unquestioned ability as an orator, he had one advantage which most of his co-workers did not possess,--he was emphatically a man of the people. He came out from the busy community in which he was born and reared, to labor for the people. Those who might distrust a Villiers or a Howard,--who might suspect that an agitation set on foot by noblemen was designed for selfish ends,--who might be indifferent to those whom they had been accustomed to regard as political schemers,--would trust and follow one who threw aside his commercial vocation and came forward to sustain that commercial interest in which he himself was concerned. He could gain the ear and reason of many who would not listen to one whose profession was political agitation. Thus his influence became considerable; his origin reassuring his hearers, his eloquence charming them, and his honesty and earnestness commanding their sympathy and approval.
The rapid spread of Free-Trade principles, resulting from the organized efforts of the League, and from the demonstration, which actual occurrences confirmed, that the farming monopoly could not continue, gave the leaders of the League much importance in Parliament. The Whigs, nay, even the more moderate Tories, began to profess conversion to Free-Trade doctrines. When Parliament was dissolved in 1841, both parties went to the country on the issue of Free-Trade or Protection. Sir Robert Peel, who afterward became the patriotic instrument by which the Corn-Laws fell, represented those who adhered to Protection and the agricultural interest. Lord Melbourne came forward as the advocate of those principles which the League had been the first to avow, and which as Premier he had not been anxious to put in practice. Notwithstanding the Reform of 1832, the landed nobility still retained a large control in the composition of the House of Commons. Peel had organized the Conservatives with great tact, and the ministry of Melbourne was suffering from the weakness of internal dissension. The result of the election was, that Peel's candidates were so generally successful that he gained a clear working majority in the House, and he consequently became Prime-Minister.
It was soon after the Conservatives thus attained office that John Bright came forward as a candidate for Parliament in the northern city of Durham. The Free-Traders were wise enough to seek the assistance of the best men their ranks could furnish. Bright, it was universally thought, would be a valuable auxiliary, coming as he did from the mercantile class, and possessing a clear mind and ready tongue. Durham was conservative by tradition. In 1843 the city rejected Bright; but in 1844, so rapid was the growth of Liberalism, that the same constituency returned him to the House of Commons by a handsome majority.
Meanwhile Sir Robert Peel, elected and supported by Protectionists, was gradually turning his steps toward the more liberal policy which his opponents had advocated. Soon after assuming office, he had proposed a modification of the tariff. The Duke of Buckingham, representing the extreme wing of the Protectionists, resigned in alarm. The Premier did not falter, but approached still nearer the Free-Trade standard. Lord Stanley, a stronger man than Buckingham, retired from the council-board. When John Bright entered Parliament, Peel was rapidly coming to the abolition of the Corn-Laws. Bright at once mingled in the debates, which now daily absorbed the attention of the House, on the one question before the country. The little band of Leaguers stood in the front rank of the opposition. They were pressing Sir Robert, by steady and oft-repeated appeals, to make the final concession. To the voices of Villiers, Morpeth, Russell, Gibson, were added the sonorous tones of the merchant-orator, and he maintained the debate with the best, whether of friends or foes. He reasoned with such clearness, he brought the evils of the corn monopoly so vividly before the minds of his auditors, he pressed the necessity and justice of its abrogation with such power of argument, that from that day he took rank as one of the first speakers and logicians in the lower House.
Sir Robert soon threw aside all party and selfish considerations, and did fearlessly what his judgment convinced him was urgently demanded by the interests of the country. He proposed the repeal of the Corn-Laws. He thus exhibited a rare spirit for an English statesman,--a spirit of self-sacrifice for the public good. His old associates assailed him with bitter, powerful eloquence. The Whigs, whose thunder he had stolen, looked with the coldness of partisan selfishness upon his conversion to their views. But in spite of every discouragement, he carried that magnanimous measure through both Houses by his influence as First Lord of the Treasury. Hardly ever during the present century has Parliament been more electrified by stirring and splendid contests of forensic genius than during these debates on the repeal. And in these debates John Bright proved a worthy competitor to Disraeli, whose caustic oratory was justly feared,--and to Stanley, whose excellence in rejoinder made him to be regarded as the equal of Fox in extempore debate.
The fall of Sir Robert Peel, who could not retain power whilst Tories and Whigs were alike arrayed against him, was followed by the elevation of Lord John Russell and his Whig friends to the ministry. Several of the leaders of the League accepted office; but John Bright received no overtures from the new Premier. No thought of personal ambition, indeed, seems to have entered into his views. Possessing that independence and fearlessness which men of his origin are apt to exhibit, and deeply interested in the new field in which he found himself, his sole desire seems to have been to arrive at a knowledge of what would most benefit his country. In this search, he rejected all party creeds. He declined to put himself under a pledge to abide by the will of a caucus. He considered himself bound by no precedent which was unjust, committed to no policy which did not have a present reason. He was ready to act with the party that sustained, in each individual case, the measure which he considered right; nor would he hesitate to vote with those with whom he usually found himself at variance, if they brought forward measures which his judgment approved.
At the time Lord Russell came into power, Mr. Bright was regarded as opposed to the Established Church and to the House of Lords, as favorable to a system of general suffrage, and as decidedly anti-monarchical in political theory. With opinions so radical the aristocratic Whigs were the last to have any sympathy. They were much less likely to encourage that class of politicians than their old antagonists, the Tories. The reason is evident. Radicalism, by startling the masses by the novelty of its doctrines, and thus driving a large majority to seek certain safety under the protection of the Tories, had kept the Whigs out of Whitehall for half a century. John Wilkes and Horne Tooke secured Pitt in his power. Francis Burdett and his confederates faithfully served Liverpool. If Lord Russell should recognize the later Radicals by calling one of their leaders to his counsels, he might well fear a defection far outweighing the acquisition. Thus Mr. Bright, an active participant in the contest for Free Trade, which had just resulted in a complete victory, cheerfully continued to be simply an independent commoner, representing the constituency of Durham,--free to judge, and to speak his honest thought,--at liberty to advocate reforms more thorough than ministers dared to propose,--ready to represent the feelings and wants of that great multitude of Englishmen to whom the timeworn restrictions of the franchise prohibited a voice in the Government,--anxious to keep ideas in agitation which needed stout hearts and steady heads to maintain them in existence.
In 1847, the ministers having caused his defeat as member for Durham, he became the successful contestant for the seat for Manchester. This metropolis of manufacture was then the centre, as it is now, of extreme liberal notions. The fame of Mr. Bright, who had gone forth into public life from its immediate neighborhood, was grateful to a district which sorely needed such an advocate. He continued to represent Manchester through the Parliament which sustained and finally ousted Lord John Russell. In 1852, when the Premier, joining issue with Lord Derby, (formerly Lord Stanley,) went to the country, Mr. Bright again stood for Manchester, and was gratified by receiving a majority of eleven hundred. It was the just reward of labors incessant and courageous, to keep the interests of the constituency always before the legislature, and to bring about that system of equality to which they were thoroughly devoted. Mr. Bright continued to represent Manchester until 1857. During the session of that year, the late Mr. Cobden, the earnest co-worker with Mr. Bright, brought forward a motion condemnatory of the Chinese War, then transpiring under the conduct of Lord Palmerston's Government. The House divided against the minister. The Radicals and Conservatives were in a majority. Palmerston dissolved Parliament, and appealed to the nation. Bright once more went before his constituents, on the issue of war or peace with China. His notions respecting the iniquity of war in general, which resulted from his Quaker education, and his opinion that this attack on the Celestial Empire was especially unjustifiable, were not welcome to the electors of Manchester. His opponent, like himself a radical Whig, but an advocate of the war, was returned by five thousand votes. In 1859 Palmerston being again forced to the expedient of a new election, Mr. Bright was invited to stand as a candidate for the constituency of Birmingham, by whom he was returned to Parliament, where he has since continued to represent them. Here he has been very active in the advocacy of his own peculiar doctrines, some of which have within a few years gained much in public estimation. Independent of all parties, he votes usually with the ministry, but sometimes follows Mr. Disraeli and Lord Stanley below the bar on a division of the House.
This record of eighteen years in the House of Commons is certainly a remarkable one. While constantly opposing both of the great parties, Mr. Bright has won the respect of all. His ability as a logician and as an effective speaker, and his evident honesty and earnestness of purpose, are conceded by every one. The courage and persistency with which he has upheld unpopular doctrines compel the admiration of those who recoil from the changes which he seeks to effect. It is not too much to say that his character has greatly enhanced the influence of those for whom he acts, and of whom he is the unquestioned leader. The Radicals were a mere handful when Bright entered Parliament. They are now beginning to be feared. Several of the largest and most prosperous cities regularly send Radical members to Westminster. Some of the profoundest thinkers in England are inclined to admit that the time is approaching when Radical ideas shall become practical. Many of them already declare these ideas to be abstractly just. The English are getting _accustomed_ to Radical doctrines. In due time they will be ready to pass a fair judgment upon them.
The progressive party in a nation too often possesses leaders who, being low-born, are coarse and lawless, or who seek to foster discontent by an artful demagoguism. A good cause is often discountenanced and rendered futile by reason of the ignorance or wickedness of those who have been prominent in its advocacy. John Wilkes and Thomas Paine scandalized the cause of progress in their time by the profligacy of their lives and the badness of their motives. So did Robespierre and Danton by the cruel ambition which actuated them. The character of such men naturally frightened people of honest intentions from their leadership; while the extremities to which they carried their views deterred men of practical sense from upholding them. The reformers of the present generation, however, exhibit traits which command respect. They pursue a course which, if not altogether moderate or suited to the times, is evidently grounded upon deductions of thoughtful reason.
If we were to compress the description of Mr. Bright's character into a few words, we should say he was honest, earnest, fearless, eloquent. He is honest; for he casts aside the objects of personal ambition in a life devotion to an unpopular cause. He is earnest; for he is constant to his faith, untiring in the effort to instil it into the community. He is fearless,--morally fearless; for he permits no obstacle, no obloquy, no powerful antagonism, to check him in the expression of unwelcome thoughts. He is eloquent; inasmuch as he stands up amid the silence of the most critical and restless legislature in the world, and compels members to listen, without interruption, to ideas which in the opinion of the vast majority are hateful and destructive. His character, as it has been displayed by a consistent public record, bears the stamp of truth and ingenuousness. He is candid, almost to a fault. He has no subtle statecraft; he recognizes no code of expediency. He is impatient of that spirit which actuates statesmen as a class to sacrifice something of good for the practical attainment even of a worthy end,--a spirit which, for our own part, we cannot wholly disapprove. While as a business man his integrity is perfectly unimpeachable, as a legislator his opponents have only to fear his strong and indignant eloquence: they are safe from any thrust which is not open and manly. He was not destined to become a great statesman: he is too rash, too little tolerant of antagonistic opinion, too much inclined to absolute conclusions, too open by nature in giving expression to his thoughts. In the demolishing process which properly precedes, in a long-established polity, the constructing process, he has every quality which would fit him to be a leader. His Quaker blood is of little avail in making him sit in patience whilst deep social wrongs stare him in the face on every side. The uprising of the people, especially that peaceable uprising to which the English people are by nature and precedent inclined to resort, seeking to cure by prompt action what statesmanship has failed to mend, would give him the best of opportunities. Quaker though he is, he would revel in taking the van of a lawful reformation aimed at the abuses he hates so heartily. So far as the expunging of an iniquitous law from the statute-book goes, his work would be well done; but when the time came to fill up the page with a new and just enactment, it would be his part to yield to more deliberate and judicious counsels. Like Lord Brougham, he is great in opposition. He can defend well; he can attack far better. Aggressive warfare is his forte. He is as positive in his theological and social as in his political opinions. He is a practical philanthropist, leads a life of strict probity and temperance, and seeks his pleasure, as well as his duty, in benefiting the human race. He carries the nervousness and enthusiasm of his public displays into the amenities of private life. Hearty in his friendships, and affable in social intercourse, he is liked by most persons and respected by all. He possesses in a remarkable degree that faculty which is considered as the trait of an accomplished gentleman,--the faculty of putting you at once at your ease. In temperament impulsive, he is perhaps too little mindful of the feelings of others, and somewhat careless of his expressions when pursuing a subject in which his attention is engrossed. In his manner there is a blunt sincerity which one who is in his company for the first time is apt to mistake almost for ill-temper. It, however, results from his entirely candid disposition, his rigidly practical and business education, and his carelessness of forms,--by no means from a want of kindliness or an intention to be discourteous.
A first glance gives one a very good impression of Mr. Bright's character. He is of medium height, a little inclined to corpulency, and quick and nervous in his movements. His eye is full of intelligence,--small, bright, and sharp, apparently powerful to read another through the countenance. Its expression is, perhaps, a little hard; it seems to search your thought, and to detect the bent of your mind. His face is a true British face,--round and full, with firmly set mouth, positive chin, and that peculiar sort of _hauteur_ which is a national characteristic. His hair, somewhat gray, is brushed off his forehead, which is broad and admirably proportioned; and he wears whiskers on the side of his face, like most middle-aged Englishmen. His voice is clear, his enunciation rapid, yet distinct, and his choice of words exact,--excellent, indeed, for one self-educated in the correct use of language.
Mr. Bright is very attractive as an orator. When it is known that he is to speak, the galleries are insufficient to hold the multitude which gathers to hear him. His delivery is prompt and easy. He has none of that hesitation and apparent timidity which mark the address of many English orators; but neither, on the other hand, does he possess that rich and fascinating intonation which forces us to concede the forensic palm to Mr. Gladstone of all contemporary Englishmen. He expresses himself with boldness, sometimes almost with rudeness. His declamation is fresh, vigorous, and almost always even. At times he is unable to preserve the moderation of language and manner which retains the mastery over impulse; his indignation carries him away; his denunciation becomes overwhelming; his full voice rings out, trembling with agitation, as he exposes some wrongful or defends some good measure: then his vigorous nature appears, unadorned by cultivated graces, but admirable for its manliness and strength. This impetuosity, which is so prominent a characteristic of his oratory, is in marked contrast with the manner of the late Mr. Cobden, his friend and coöperator. Mr. Cobden was always guarded, cautious, and studiously accurate, in his language. Mr. Bright often says things, in the excitement of controversy, which exaggerate his real sentiments, and which may be used to misrepresent his opinions. Mr. Cobden, whose temperament was more phlegmatic, was careful to avoid any undue heat of speech, and hence often passed, erroneously, for a more moderate thinker than Mr. Bright.
It is with pleasure that we turn for a moment to speak of Mr. Bright's course towards America, and especially while we were suffering under the plague of civil war. Ever since he entered public life, his admiration of our institutions and history has been frequently the subject of his discourse. He has not hesitated to declare that feeling when he must have been aware how unwelcome it was to the greater part of his countrymen. He has, indeed, recognized in our success the practical attainment of those views to which he has so long been devoted, and which his experience as a public man seems only to have confirmed. His magnanimous mind has scornfully rejected that too prevalent English characteristic,--envy at the growing power of a sister nation. He has only seen in our progress a benefit and an example to mankind. As such he has gloried in it, and not the less because we are a kindred race and an offshoot from British civilization. The fact that we have been the inheritors and partakers of the glories of the English nation, which seems to increase the asperity with which many English statesmen now regard us, is to Mr. Bright a greater reason why sympathy should be extended to us. His speeches on America manifest a thorough knowledge of our history and of the spirit of our Constitution. He has studied us in the earnest desire to know and believe the truth, and faithfully to present to others the results of his study. We do not think it extravagant to say that few of our own public men evince a more intelligent knowledge of our record than Mr. Bright: certainly in this respect he is far in advance of the leading English statesmen. When in 1861 the Rebellion broke out, Mr. Bright raised his voice boldly against the non-committal policy of England, in declaring herself neutral. He seemed to comprehend at once the causes of the war. He correctly regarded the North as really on the defensive,--defending the integrity of the nation. He saw the cause of republican liberty trembling in the balance. From that day to this,--at times when public indignation ran so high in England that it was almost dangerous to justify the North,--at times when to avow Northern sentiments was to be met with a howl from Spithead to the Frith of Forth,--at times when his own supporters, the manufacturing and commercial classes, feeling sore over the want of cotton, bitterly complained and pleaded for intervention,--John Bright has been our constant, zealous, and fearless champion, braving all England in our cause, and never silent when we were to be vindicated. In the issue of the war Mr. Bright will see the fruition of the hopes of the lovers of liberty everywhere. He will rejoice in it as the successful assertion by national power of those principles which he has devoted his life to advocating. To his mind the assassination of Lincoln will appear as the legitimate fruit of Southern treason. We may be sure, that, whilst the press of England endeavors to divert the guilt of this atrocity from the heads which gave birth to it, there is one Englishman at least--that Englishman, John Bright--who will be bold to trace it to its proper source.
We can do no better than to close this notice by quoting the conclusion of a speech made by Mr. Bright in December, 1861, to which our attention has been called during the preparation of this article.
"Whether the Union will be restored or not, or the South will achieve an unhonored independence or not, I know not and I predict not. But this I think I know, that in a few years, a very few years, the twenty millions of freemen in the North will be thirty millions or fifty millions,--a population equal to or exceeding that of this kingdom. When that time comes, I pray it may not be said among them, that, in the darkest hour of their country's trials, England, the land of their fathers, looked on with icy coldness, and saw, unmoved, the perils and calamities of her children. As for me, I have but this to say: I am one in this audience, and but one in the citizenship of this country; but if all other tongues are silent, mine shall speak for that policy which gives hope to the bondsmen of the South, and tends to generous thoughts and generous words and generous deeds between the two great nations who speak the English language, and from their origin are alike entitled to the English name."
Let Americans honor the Englishman who spoke thus nobly!
NEEDLE AND GARDEN.
THE STORY OF A SEAMSTRESS WHO LAID DOWN HER NEEDLE AND BECAME A STRAWBERRY-GIRL.
WRITTEN BY HERSELF.
That was a long and dreary winter which succeeded this beginning of my experimental life. The snow fell heavily, and so frequently that my plants were completely hidden from view during a great part of the season. But, so far from doing them an injury, the fleecy mantle protected them from the open exposure to cold under which the strawberry will sometimes perish. It was a privation to me to have them thus entirely shut up from observation; but more than once, when the snow had softened under the influence of an incipient thaw, I could not refrain from plunging my hands into it and uncovering a plant here and there, to see how they were faring. So far from perishing under the continued cold, I found them holding up their heads with wonderful erectness, their leaves crisp and fresh, with an intense greenness that contrasted strongly with the white blanket in which Nature had kindly wrapped them. Thus satisfied that they were well provided for, I endeavored to check my impatience for the coming spring: for really it seemed the longest winter I had ever known.
Both my sister and myself continued our labors at the factory, though we discovered evidences that even at machine-sewing there was likely to be some uncertainty as to continued employment at the usual remunerative prices. We had learned to have entire confidence in its stability; but symptoms were appearing that the business, in some of its branches, was likely to be overdone. The makers of the first machines, having sold immense numbers at high prices, had acquired vast fortunes. This invited competition, and manufactories of rival machines having been established by those who had invented modifications of the original idea, the quantity thrown upon the market was very great, while prices were so reduced that additional thousands were now enabled to obtain machines and set them to work. The competition among the makers thus gave rise to competition among those who used the machines. Prices of work declined in consequence, and of course the sewing-girls were required to bear a large share of this decline, in the shape of a reduction of wages. We could do nothing but submit, for the needle was the only staff we had to lean upon. If we were to continue realizing as much per week as before, we could do so in no other way than by working longer and more industriously. This fell very hard upon us during that long winter. We could afford no holidays, no recreation, not even to be sick. As we felt we had no dependence but the needle, we still clung to the idea, that, if we could purchase machines of our own, we should do much better But though now reduced in price, yet the hope of getting them grew fainter and fainter under the reduction of wages, and hence my growing impatience to achieve some more remunerative employment.
The bright spring at last opened kindly and genially upon us. The snow disappeared, leaving my strawberries in the most healthy condition, and free from the unsightly fringe-work of dead foliage which encircles plants that have been compelled to go through a hard winter without protection. I was exultant at the promise which their vigorous appearance held forth. I even stole a view, through the cracks in the fence, at those of our disagreeable neighbors, to see if they were doing any better, and was gratified by finding that mine were equally thrifty. Fred and I contrived to stir up the ground about them with heavy rakes, though a harrow would have been more effective. April covered the whole bed with a profusion of blossoms that even our experienced neighbors could not exceed. They came often to our gate, and with more impudence than I could muster when stealing an observation through their fence, there they stood, two or three together, inspecting my beautiful rows for an hour at a time. I wondered what they could find to interest them so greatly, as in their eyes the sight could have been no novelty; but I fear, that, if surprised at my success thus far, their wonder must have been tinged with a jealousy that rendered the display as unpleasant to them as it was encouraging to me.
No one ever watched the opening of the blossoms, their dropping off, and the formation of the fruit, more attentively than I did. Every spare hour was passed among them. The bees flew over the beds, dipping into one flower after another, and filling the air with a perpetual humming. Even at the earliest morning hour, when the sun had barely reached the garden, I found them at their honeyed labors. The poet who declared that many a flower was born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air, must have believed that the winged denizens of the air had no inheritance in them,--that their sweets were wasted because no human eye was present to admire them. I cannot agree with him; for here, when our garden was a solitude, with no human eye to admire its wealth of blossoms, they were thick with bees, and surely upon them their sweets were far from being wasted. The flowers must have been created as much for the enjoyment of nameless insects as for the gratification of man.
As May advanced, I could see the fruit forming in clusters that gave token of an ample crop. But as the heat increased I found that other candidates for observation presented themselves in prodigious numbers, not near so interesting, but imperatively demanding attention. The weeds shot up all through and between the rows with a luxuriance that astonished me. The winter reading of my agricultural library had taught me that good strawberries cannot be expected when a rank growth of weeds is permitted to occupy the soil. My father's garden-tools were heavy and clumsy, made only for a strong man to use; but we plied the hoes vigorously in keeping down the interlopers. They were dull tools, with thick handles, unsuitable for women's use, so that the mere weight of the implements fatigued us more than the labor of hoeing. But all the family shared in this work until it was accomplished, and our ground was made as cleanly as that of our neighbors. Besides the extermination of a host of pests that sucked up the nutriment and moisture necessary to the plants, the operation kept the surface of the ground open and mellow, permitting the sun and air to penetrate, and thus stimulate the growing fruit into berries of superior size. I am sure that it is by attention to this single matter of permitting no weeds to grow that most of the success in strawberry-culture may be attributed.
As I watched my fruit-laden plants as attentively as if each one had been an infant, it should not be wondered at that my ever-present eye detected the first tinge of redness that showed itself among them. No one can imagine with how absorbing an interest I hung over this pioneer evidence of complete success. I could tell which row contained it, and on which plant in the row a blushing cheek was held up to the sun. But in a day or two the identity of the ripening berry was lost, for a thousand of its fellows became equally ambitious of notice, changing their delicate green into a softened, but decided scarlet. The hot suns of early June were pouring down upon the sheltered spot where the plants were growing, and it was time for them to ripen their wealth of fruit. I presume that he who boasts the possession of a dozen acres of strawberries has never experienced sensations such as were now the ruling ones of my heart. Here was I--a sewing-girl--breaking through the ordinary routine of female occupations, and standing on the threshold of an enterprise considered by the world unsuited to my sex, unfeminine because uniformly undertaken by men, hazardous because untried by women, but practically within the power of all having taste and courage to venture upon it,--here was I about to realize the dream of a whole year, the reward of untold anxieties, the solution of the great problem whether the garden were better than the needle.
The very day I made the discovery that the first berry had begun to change color, I hastened to my friend the market-woman, intending to tell her how finely I was coming on, and that she must be prepared to sell my crop. As I had no acquaintance with other strawberry-growers, I had little opportunity of ascertaining by comparison with them whether my fruit would come earlier or later into market than that of others, but took it for granted that mine would be first. It was the mistake of an ignorance which subsequent reading and observation have corrected. Thus, when I came up to the widow's stand in the market, I was confounded at seeing her sitting beside a huge wooden tray heaped up with ripe berries. No doubt I had seen the same thing as early in the season, years before, but, having no interest in the subject as a fruit-grower, I had never consulted dates. But now, being deeply interested, the effect of this prematurely early display of fruit was that of astonishment and disappointment. I knew that being early in the market was a vital point, and supposed that I was as early as the earliest; but here was evidence that I had been forestalled. I had hardly courage to inquire where these berries came from, or what price she was getting for them. But the crowd of purchasers around the stand was so great that no one would have noticed my appearance, even if my emotions had been written on my face. They were contending with each other to be served, and at seventy-five cents a quart! This much could be seen and heard without the trouble of inquiry. How I envied the grower of the precious fruit in which so many were indulging at this extravagant price! How the sight dismayed me,--I had been so completely anticipated by some more skilful cultivator! I did not even seek to catch the widow's eye, nor to ask a single question. The spectacle so discouraged me that I moved off with a heavy heart to my accustomed avocations.
It was but dull practice on my sewing-machine during the whole of that day. It is true I thought a thousand times of my own strawberries, but then those of my successful competitor were quite as often in my mind. How this thing could happen, and why one cultivator should thus anticipate all others, and command the market when prices were so enormous, I could not then understand. But I resolved to have the matter explained. Next morning I was up at daybreak and at the widow's stand. She was already there, and was engaged in putting the little fixtures in order on which her daily stock of fruits and vegetables was to be displayed. No customers were yet visible in this early gray of the morning, and there was an opportunity for me to make the momentous inquiries I desired. But there was the same great wooden tray, again up with at least a bushel of strawberries. My first question was as to where they came from.
"From Baltimore, Miss," was the reply. "You know they ripen there two weeks earlier than here. It is farther south, the climate is warmer, and they come here on the railroad until the price falls so low as to make it unprofitable to send them. But they are a small, poor berry, not equal to yours, and will not be in your way. When yours come to market, these will be all gone. People buy these only because they can get no better ones."
Here was a mountain of discouragement removed at once. I had not been forestalled by a neighbor, but only anticipated by some one who had taken advantage of a warmer climate. Besides, the widow repeated her cheering assurance of the year before, that she could readily dispose of all I might have,--not, however, at the high prices she then was getting, because the same sun that was to ripen mine would ripen those of all others around me, and bring them into market at the same time; but if mine should be better than others, she would be able to secure better prices for them.
I went home to breakfast with a lighter heart, and that day at the factory made up for the deficiencies of the preceding. But since then, after the experience of an entire season, I have looked carefully into this matter of the importance of being first in the market, and I find it runs through and influences almost every department of horticulture which is pursued as a source of gain. The struggle everywhere appears to be for precedence. The horticultural world knows that there is a waiting community of consumers who stand impatient for the advent of the first ripened fruits. It knows that with these the price occasions no hesitancy in the purchase: they are able to pay. Hence no resource of art or skill is left unpractised to minister to a craving appetite that yields a reward so golden. One producer erects hot-houses, into which he crowds the plants that otherwise would be hybernating, and, creating an artificial summer, stimulates the strawberry into bloom, then into fruit, even in the depth of winter the ripened berries are seen at some of the most celebrated fruit-stores. They command fabulous prices,--a spoonful of them readily bringing a dollar, without the demand being supplied. The rich always have money to spend; and though the world is never without its poor, yet it seems also to be never without an abundance of those who have more than they can wisely dispose of. This branch of horticulture must be profitable, as it is rapidly extending in the neighborhood of all our large cities. These hot-house fruits are the earliest in the market.
Other growers move off to a warmer climate, within one or two days' ride of the great city by railroad, and, by help of hotter suns, crowd their half-ripened fruits into Northern markets nearly a month in advance of local cultivators. Only those varieties being grown which are naturally earlier than all others, they blush into redness while ours have scarcely reached their full size. Taken from the vines in an unripe condition, they are crisp and firm, and the fast express-train whirls them over hundreds of miles, the ripening process, as well as the decaying one, going on meanwhile. It is costly transportation to the growers, but the impatient public pay with readiness a price so extravagant as to make for these wholesale pioneers a stupendous profit. Thus the warm alluvial lands encircling Norfolk fill the markets from Baltimore to Boston with the earliest fruit. It is unripe, and deficient in the full flavor of the strawberry; but what care the wealthy public for that? It is the first in market,--they have been a year without it,--it has somewhat of the genuine aroma,--and, ripe or unripe, they cannot refrain. Great sums are annually realized by these earliest caterers for the public palate. The hot-house process is comparatively a retail operation; but this traffic reaches to the dignity of a great industrial enterprise, employing hundreds of hands, pouring ample freightage into the coffers of express-companies, and enriching the men by whom it is conducted. It is exclusively the offspring of Northern shrewdness, the sluggish instincts of the Southerner unfitting him for an occupation requiring incessant activity and promptness,--while its apparent littleness, the peddling of strawberries, were unworthy a race whose inheritance is cotton or tobacco.
For a few weeks these cultivators have entire possession of the Northern market. In time, however, our suns become hotter, ripening the fruits of our own fields. Then comes the rivalry among ourselves,--who shall be earliest with the best fruit;--for herein lies an important element of general success.
My berries ripened rapidly, and I knew they must be ready for picking by hearing that our neighbors were about beginning. It was a momentous day when we began. My mother and myself undertook it: for that afternoon I stayed away from the factory, as it was impossible for me to be absent from so interesting a scene. I had no idea what quantity we were to expect, though I had ransacked my agricultural library in hopes of discovering some approximate solution of this question. Crops were found to vary as unaccountably as modes of culture. One grower would obtain more fruit from a few rods of ground than another from a whole acre. These prevailing contrarieties were well calculated to make me doubtful of what my luck was to be. Hence, when we had gone over the whole half-acre, and found that we had gathered ninety quarts, I was entirely satisfied, and more so from noticing, on a survey of the bed, that there was no perceptible diminution of the quantity remaining on the vines.
The fruit was of very superior size, for perhaps few cultivators could have bestowed more labor in keeping the ground in order; and this labor of our own hands was nearly all that the experiment had cost. As I was anxious to follow the directions given by my market friend, we had a great time that evening in assorting the berries, putting them in three lots,--the very largest in one, then the next best, and the smallest in a third. They were placed in nice new baskets as assorted, so as to be handled as little as possible. These were safely stowed in a wheelbarrow, and before daybreak the next morning Fred wheeled them to market. I was with him, of course. It was my first errand,--the first fruits of my long anxiety,--my first appearance as a strawberry-girl.
The streets at that early hour were deserted and silent, for the busy multitudes were not yet stirring. No pedestrians were about but those in some way connected with the markets, whither all were repairing; nor were any vehicles moving except the market carts and wagons coming in from the adjacent country, most of them driven by women, thus early forced from home to be at their daily stands. I confess this freedom from curious public observation was not unpleasant to me. Somehow I had felt no compunction, no pride, at bearing through the streets, even at noonday, the symbol of my calling as a sewing-girl, in the shape of an unsightly bundle; but here, notwithstanding long reflection had familiarized me with what my new duties would necessarily be, yet when I came to the performance of them I felt no ambition to be publicly recognized as a strawberry-girl. My mother, who had been up to see us off, had covered each basket with a cloth, so that really it was impossible for a stranger, seeing the load I had in charge, to know whether it was work for the tailor or fruit for the market-house. I cannot account for this weakness,--why I, who had been so strong and undismayed on occasions really trying, should have been so affected on one that afforded so much reason for exultation. I have sometimes blamed my sister as the cause of this unusual nervousness. She, too, was up to aid us in getting under way, for all hearts were in the enterprise,--and knowing that I had a nervous apprehension of our neighbors, especially of Mrs. Tetchy, and that I would prefer going without any of them seeing me, she cried out suddenly, as we came through the gate,--
"Is that Mrs. Tetchy coming after you?"
It was the veriest trifle in the world; but I was so full of what I had in hand, and so really desirous of avoiding observation in that quarter, that Jane's pleasantry had an unusual effect upon me. I did feel a little ashamed at any of the Tetchys watching my movements; yet somehow, as we went along to market, the feeling insensibly expanded so as to apply to all others. But I have long since mastered it.
The widow was already at her accustomed stand, and had what appeared to me a plentiful supply of strawberries. But I saw directly, for I now had a quick and practised eye, that they were far inferior to mine. All sizes were mixed up together, just as they came from the vines. When I uncovered my best baskets and handed them to her, she was loud in expressions of admiration at their superior excellence. No customers were about, so in a few moments I had handed over my whole stock of ninety quarts, and Fred and I were about departing homeward, when the widow's first customer for the day came up to the stand. We had a natural curiosity to see what would be the result, so moved back a few paces, but were still near enough to see and hear whatever might occur.
The customer was a young man of probably three or four and twenty, dressed so genteelly as particularly to attract my attention, yet, while a model of outward neatness, with not a sign of fashionable glare about him. I think it probable that his really handsome face, and the pleasant smile that played around his mouth as he approached us, had something to do in establishing him thus suddenly in my favor, apart from my anticipating him as my first customer. He glanced a moment at the strawberries, then turned and looked at me so intently, though not at all impertinently, that I felt myself abashed and blushing. All this, however, was the sensation of but a single moment. Immediately turning again to the widow, and courteously touching his hat as he spoke to her,--a civility which was in perfect keeping with his whole demeanor,--his eye fell on my choicest berries. He seemed struck with their superiority, and was so generous in his commendation of them, that, as I heard it all, I turned my face away, as I felt the blood rushing up from my heart and covering my cheeks with deepening crimson. I did not wish him to suspect that he was buying _my_ berries. He inquired of the widow where this beautiful fruit was raised, and by whom I was in terror lest she should point to me, and was moving out of hearing of the reply, when she answered that they were raised just below the city, by a young lady.
"You surprise me, Madam. By a young lady? They are the finest I have ever seen," he replied. "She must understand her business. I am greatly interested in such pursuits, and would like to know more about her. Will you have her fruit all through the season?"
I had turned away before he had made these remarks, and did not observe whether the idea could have occurred to him of connecting me with the lady culturist; but Fred told me, on our way home, that he directed his attention strongly to me, and, as my face was averted, surveyed me with a long and scrutinizing gaze, then raising the cover of quite a large basket which he held in his hand, caused it to be filled with my finest berries.
I did not hear the price, as the strangest thoughts that ever occupied my mind came thronging in with impetuous vehemence. I was unaccountably confused. Here was I with my first little venture surprised by the presence of my first customer, and he a gentleman whose whole outward demeanor seemed to me the embodiment of whatever might be considered agreeable in the other sex. I shrank with instinctive diffidence from having my little secret unfolded in such a presence. It may have been mortification of spirit,--I will not, cannot say,--but somehow I was terrified lest _he_ should know that I was a strawberry-girl.
But Fred was subject to no such useless compunctions, and watched and listened with eager attention. His quick ear had caught the price,--for the purchaser had not ascertained it until after his basket had been filled.
"Did you hear that?" said Fred, in a voice intended for a whisper, but which in my confusion I was sure the young gentleman had overheard. "Half a dollar a quart!"
I moved away instantly toward home, never daring to look back at either the widow or her customer, lest my eyes should encounter those of the latter, as I was sure he must have heard my brother's exclamation, and been satisfied that it was I who raised the berries he had so much admired. It was unaccountable to me that I should be so foolish. But no one, unable to correctly analyze his feelings, can at the moment account for the strange impulses which an unlooked-for emergency will send hurrying through the heart. Time and a succession of events may sometimes unlock the mystery of their origin. I am sure that it required both to solve the problem for me.
Fred trundled his barrow at my side as we returned to breakfast. He was full of exultation at our success, and even began to count up what our profits would be. We had made so capital a beginning that he was sure they must be very large. Alas! he knew little of the world except its sanguine hopes. He reasoned only from the beginning, without knowing the stumbling-blocks that might be encountered before we reached the end. But then what would this world be, if hope were banished from it? Still, though fairly estimating all these contingent disappointments, my spirits were buoyant as his own. That was apparently a short walk to our distant home, for there was abundant conversation and debate to beguile the way. My mother stood in the doorway as we approached the house; but when Fred told her the story of the young gentleman, how he looked and behaved,--I somehow felt unable to do it,--with the crowning incident of the great basketful of berries he had purchased at half a dollar a quart, and that without even asking the price, I think I never knew my dear mother to be so delighted at any event in the quiet history of our little family. Ah, what a happy breakfast it was that we sat down to that morning! I could not repeat the exultations expressed on all hands over my success. My mother seemed so supremely gratified at the prospect now opening before us, that her delight was a bountiful reward for me. She had never manifested so much cheerfulness since we lost our father. Fred insisted on continuing his calculations of what our profits would be; but though he brought out great results on paper, for he was remarkably expert at figures, yet, even with my constitutional enthusiasm, I refused to be unduly set up by his extravagant anticipations. It seemed with him to be as great a happiness to merely calculate the profit as it was for me to produce it.
I know that all these are very trifling matters, at least to others, and that, if the gentler hearts are kind enough to become interested in them, there must be many others that will pass them by as uneventful and dull. Yet the life that all these are living is made up of incidents, which, if they would but reflect upon them, are not more exciting. But they were great affairs to us. They developed the prominent fact, that it was possible for a woman, when favorably situated, to become a successful fruit-grower, and that a new door could be opened through which she might be emancipated from perpetual bondage to the needle, without violating the conventional proprieties of the sex. This was the problem which my imperfect labors were solving for us. All aspirants may not be required to pass through the same experience, while some may be compelled to encounter even a greater diversity than I did.
Thus far my first day's picking had been very encouraging. As in a great city there are a thousand daily wants, so thousands are kept continually employed in ministering to them. When the supply of strawberries begins, the public require it to be maintained. The picking of the day is mostly eaten up before bedtime, and hence the grower must gather daily reinforcements from his vines to meet the public demand. The fruit ripens with a continuous rapidity. The hot sun of a cloudless day brings it to perfection with wonderful uniformity, while the wet and cloudy one retards and injures it. Besides, the price is gradually declining as neighboring growers crowd their products into market; hence it is imperative to pick daily while the price is up, so as to secure the highest return for the longest period. Perfect ripeness no one waits for. The consumer never secures it, because his impatient appetite stimulates the grower to furnish him with fruit which, though tinged with redness, is far from being ripe. Color alone, not flavor, is the guide; for the public taste is not yet sufficiently educated to detect the great difference between an unripe and a ripe strawberry.
I soon learned these peculiarities of my new calling, and hence picked over my beds with daily regularity. As color, not ripeness, was all the public cared for, we carried much immature fruit to market,--though no doubt we lost in bulk by thus picking before it had grown to its full size. The second day we took forty quarts to the widow, and received for the preceding day's consignment nearly forty dollars. It was less than Fred had figured up, but we were, all of us, satisfied. Our care in assorting the fruit had secured for it the highest market price, while the widow was so lavish in her commendation, as well as so full of encouragement to me for what I was doing, that the satisfaction of dealing with her was almost equal to that which attended my success: indeed, I think her kind words went far towards securing it. One day she spoke to me of the young gentleman, my first customer, who, she reminded me, had praised my fruit so highly and bought so liberally. I am sure my cheeks colored as she recalled a circumstance which I had by no means forgotten; but as there were many buyers round her stand, I knew she would not notice it. Though I went at daybreak every morning with my brother to deliver fruit, yet I never met him there but once again. Still, she said, he was as punctual as myself, only coming a little later, buying my berries, always asking if they were the same young lady's fruit, and when told that they were, taking them without inquiring the price. But I never understood why she related these little incidents to me, unless it was to show me how quickly my works had become popular. It may be that her heart melted with sympathetic tenderness toward me; for I had told her all about my condition as a sewing-girl, my hopes, my efforts, my longing to be able to lay down the needle for something that would be less exacting while equally remunerative. She, too, had been a drudge of the slop-shops, and thus understanding all that I might feel, or suffer, or hope for, it was natural that she should enter with interest into my novel enterprise.
Thus my mother and I continued to gather fruit from our little half-acre during the whole of the strawberry-season. I was away from the factory for many afternoons to assist in picking and assorting. I think no miser could have counted his gold more lovingly than we did our gains, when summing up, day by day, the yield of our miniature plantation. There were several afternoons, at the height of the season, when the product ran up surprisingly. There seemed to be a general competition among the berries as to which should ripen first. They enlarged in size, putting on a crimson corpulency into which the sunbeams infused a sweetened juiciness which is the peculiar charm of the perfectly ripened fruit. This was in the hottest days of June, which, in spite of an ample sun-bonnet, tanned me into a perfect brunette. After the general ripening, the quantity picked began to decline, and the remainder was of smaller size. The price, fell off; but then, while the fruit was abundant, we had secured the highest rates, so that the declining prices affected only a diminishing quantity. Hitherto we had treated ourselves to none of the best fruit, but had reserved for home consumption only such as we considered unfit for market. As in former times, we thought ourselves too poor now to eat even our own strawberries. Every quart that we should thus consume would be an average loss of thirty cents. I was sure they were not costing us anything like that, and it seemed a positive hardship to be thus kept to such rigorous self-denial. But we held out until the price declined as the quality depreciated, and then, when we knew the sacrifice was trifling, there was a unanimous and abundant indulgence in this delicious fruit. I think it tasted even sweeter than when it was selling at half a dollar. My mother was sure that not half the sugar was required to make it palatable, and all agreed that in point of flavor it was unexceptionable. I feel certain that none of _that_ crop was lost. Thus our domestic strawberry-season began market only when that of the outer world had passed away; but though late in entering upon it, it may be set down as certain that none enjoyed it with a higher relish than ourselves.
As Fred was wonderfully exact in keeping accounts, he was ready to tell us, the moment our last picking had been made, how much our half-acre had produced. I sometimes thought it a sort of useless trouble, however, this keeping an account, because every one of the family seemed to have the figures by heart from the very day when the first picking occurred. They were talked over so often at table, that we all remembered what they were, nor was there any difficulty in our carrying forward the sum-total from day to day, as the amount ran up after each successive picking. What had we to remember that was half so interesting as this? But as what the sum-total would be was gradually becoming manifest, Fred was compelled to come down from the magnificent calculations as to profit with which he had set out. He had insisted that we were to get the same high prices all through the season, not reflecting that we had many competitors, nor that, though our early pickings were really very superior, yet there must necessarily be many that would be quite otherwise. Still, his persistency had had its effect on all of us; nor was it until we got halfway down the column of our daily receipts, and noticed the perceptibly diminishing figures, that we were thoroughly undeceived. As I had never been over-sanguine, I was not greatly disappointed. My study had been to ascertain whether it was possible for a family of inexperienced sewing-women to produce strawberries for market at a fair profit, the whole labor to be performed by themselves. If our first effort were tolerably successful, I was sure we could do better the next time, as successful horticulturists are not born, but made. Well, the result was, that we had produced a little over four hundred quarts, of which the widow had sold enough to bring us a hundred and thirty dollars, after deducting her commission. It was not much, I confess, but it was a beginning that fully satisfied me. Our half-acre had never before yielded so large a profit.
O willow, why forever weep, As one who mourns an endless wrong? What hidden woe can lie so deep? What utter grief can last so long?
The Spring makes haste with step elate Your life and beauty to renew; She even bids the roses wait, And gives her first sweet care to you.
The welcome redbreast folds his wing To pour for you his freshest strain; To you the earliest bluebirds sing, Till all your light stems thrill again.
The sparrow trills his wedding song And trusts his tender brood to you; Fair flowering vines, the summer long, With clasp and kiss your beauty woo.
The sunshine drapes your limbs with light, The rain braids diamonds in your hair, The breeze makes love to you at night,-- Yet still you droop, and still despair.
Beneath your boughs, at fall of dew, By lovers' lips is softly told The tale that all the ages through Has kept the world from growing old.
But still, though April's buds unfold, Or Summer sets the earth aleaf, Or Autumn pranks your robes with gold, You sway and sigh in graceful grief.
Mourn on forever, unconsoled, And keep your secret, faithful tree! No heart in all the world can hold A sweeter grace than constancy.
MY SECOND CAPTURE.
The Adjutant T---- and myself, not inexperienced in battles, though, perhaps, like most Americans, infants in warfare, were captured in September last, in the Valley of the Shenandoah, Nature's noble art-gallery, on the west side of Opequan Creek, a stream that is a picture at almost any point. In one of the gallant charges which our eager cavalry, under General Sheridan, made before the great charge that captured Winchester and the Valley, our regiment had the right, and gained a fine position in the end. But two or three encounters were very close. The sea of battle surged back and forth, tormented only, however, by the mild breezes of a day like May; and as the waves of our army withdrew from the ridge on which the enemy rested, to gain greater impetus, my poor horse was shot under me, stranded, and left rolling upon the ground, midway between friend and foe. The orderly, my attendant, had another in the rear of the retreating column; but, inasmuch as that was now swept by the swift-receding current far beyond us, he could neither have me mounted nor command other present means whereby to get me off. I reclined, like Adonis, upon a soft bed of meadow-grass studded here and there with wild-flowers, an emerald velvet with silver spangles,--but suffering, unlike him, from bruises, and with my best soulless friend dead at my side. I was somewhat sprained by the fall the dying beast had given me. The enemy was close at hand, following with yells and chaotic eagerness upon our troops.
"We'll take a march to Libby," said my orderly, dropping on his knees to feel my bones.
He drew his arm through his rein, (having had no idea of deserting me in his sound health by the aid of his ready animal,) and continued his examination; whilst his sturdy favorite chopped the short grass within reach of his breathing hitching-post as closely as his long bit would allow. In a very few moments the Rebel foam was surging like wild beyond us,--a private pausing at me for a second, to poke me in the ribs with his piece.
"There's life there, Grayback," growled my attendant; and the Rebel ordered us to the rear.
Indeed, had we remained where we were, we would soon have been in the rear, so impetuously did the foe sweep by us. But private soldiers, the potent keystones of the Rebel arch, built to crush the voice of the many, command the Southern armies in every great engagement; and one of these important atoms had given us our hint to move. You never see anything but the rank and file in the heart of a Rebel corps. Our new commander mounted my orderly's horse, and soon was lost in the distance.
It is not, I have found, a very diverting entertainment to wander free a few moments (a free prisoner) in search of some authority, out of the myriads who have the opportunity, who shall choose to take charge of one. I felt peculiarly as I stood irresolute, now framing one thought, now another, casting about in my mind, weighing the odds with no light fancy-scales, which of the rushing demons on all sides would draw up before me with a curse, and command me to follow him. Our regiment, our corps, our whole army, (this last had not left its works for the little fight,) were far in the distance now; and the ground on which I stood, and which but a short time since was tramped by Northern troops, had, in the mutations of war, become a portion of the Rebel dominions. The September sun shone brightly through the white fleece of the cloud-swans swimming in the morning air; and the early spring breeze that I have mentioned--for Æolus had given freedom to but a tender dove-zephyr--played with the silk fringe of the meadow grass, finding no olive-branch here, venturing its ripple, with the audacity of innocence, under the very heels of the contending forces. Possibly the feeling of loneliness which overwhelms a man at such a time as this is the most acute of all his feelings. I looked my orderly in the face as he supported me on his shoulder. He was gazing coolly before him.
"If we have to march soon, you had better rest," he said, deliberately. "There's a tree you can sit under. And if you have money or a watch, you had better hide them in your armpits."
We went to the tree, and set ourselves against it.
The fresh air that brushed by us, like fine steel points, relieved me of my oozing faintness, and in the ease of my circumstances I could attend somewhat to my bruises. With the aid of my canteen, I relaxed the strained muscles. It was my desire to have my loins girt about and my limbs in good order for the foot-journey that I doubted not was before us. They would march us to Gordonsville, and thence to Libby, carrying us through in an incredibly short time, and without boots at that. I had two objects to labor for, as I began to get myself into condition: first, to be taken in charge by an officer; and then--to escape from him that night, whilst the train was in disorder. I was of opinion that my companion, a taciturn machine, who labored, like the miners, well with his little light, had some such plan of his own, as I saw him buckling his belt beneath his trousers. He was stowing away his watch and a photograph,--which every soldier must have, of some poor maid or other who toils in the shades of obscurity at home,--and making himself ready for a run at any favorable moment. I thought that I would sound him.
"You had better do it, orderly, soon in the day," I said; "since the enemy will march you between two files, and you will then have but little chance."
"So I think," he replied. "I thought no time better than now. But then"----
"But what?" I asked.
"Well, it's rather hard to leave you here. What with your sprain, and your blow on the head, you're pretty sure to halt at Libby."
I had no chance to answer, for the Rebel was before me who was to have the honor of my capture.
He was of the flabby white-flesh species of the genus Rebel, a Quaker scarecrow with matty locks, that many of my brethren in arms have met; harmless in units, but ponderous, as even scarecrows will be, if hurled back and forth in thousands, swarms; lank, cadaverous, and whining; snuff-chewing, and grossly filthy, even under the best of circumstances. His flesh was set dough, and his hair was long and yellow. He spoke through the dirty causeway of his nose. The road-dust and drab of his uniform, so called in satire, have often been described. These gentlemen's faces, to me, who incline to an intelligent expression on the human index, look like tallow-vats or nursery-suet, pliable and swill-fed; and their mien and carriage have never impressed me favorably. I had seen them rush with a wild yell, an army like the Paris mob of intoxicated rags, upon our Gibraltar at Gettysburg; and had myself charged upon their Attila-works (behind which they had their household gods piled up and ready for burning) at Fredericksburg. I had even taken a ball from one of them in the shoulder, whilst skirmishing, in the shiftings of my experience; and they had before had the honor of my capture, in sunny, grape-growing Maryland. Perhaps all these scenes passed in panorama before my mind's eye, as I rose to my captor and eyed his dirty linen. Here was an indignity, indeed. My soul revolted at the thought of a journey southward, and all my instincts warned me against so dire an undertaking. I stood before the Rebel with my determination in my eye.
"A couple of Yanks, lolling under a tree," he screamed to his companions, pointing the finger, and garnishing his speech, in Rebel manner, with an oath.
"P'rhaps you thought you were off," he chuckled.
He was "goin'" to take us to the "Gen'ral." He muttered more oaths with his orders, and directed us to be "right smart," and to "git."
I glanced at my orderly, who was inaugurating an onset upon the weaker side of this mean battery, or ditch-work,--and who evidently counted upon effecting a breach by rapid, electric charges,--by handing over his pistol. It was freely offered, before demanded, and the recipient took it in silence. He then drew out his tobacco, a treasure with which, I well knew, he would not willingly part, and which was the little ewe-lamb of his unjewelled life,--which, also, was taken quickly, but under a nod of acknowledgments from the Rebel. The battery was shaken, but, in truth, continued to draw fire. "Give me your boots," said the critical captor, and the orderly knocked off his leathers in the best good-humor in the world. When we had walked a little farther, the orderly, now marching as the Moslems do on holy ground, asked our guide if he had any grub about him; and accepted a piece of pork. There was a variety of viands in the haversack from which this fragment came,--both pork and bacon,--but the fire-eaters, I have noticed, always prefer the latter meat. I divined at once that my orderly was laying in stores for a solitary tramp, and making a raven in this, to him, strange desert, of the ill-omened bird that had pounced upon us. He would conciliate his enemy, and when the latter was growing careless he would spring into some woods. The pork, with the berries to be found there, would sustain him after he had broken leash,--and would be all that he would eat, no doubt, in the course of two or three suns.
We noticed a great stir on all sides of us, converging streams of stragglers, wounded men, and prisoners, as we made our way, scattering grasshoppers, over the fields, and soon mingled with the throng of troops on the open road to Winchester. It was about three miles from this town that our capture had taken place; and from the immense wagon-trains rumbling along with us, and the excited manner of their officers, I augured not as well for the Rebel cause. Perhaps Fortune had altered her humor, and the white eagles of victory had settled with the opposite side. Other parties of Union prisoners journeyed with us, and through the urgent manner of their guards I thought I could discern a sunlit loop-hole to freedom. In five minutes' time I was assured that the Rebels were preparing to retreat. Their six-horse teams were rushing to the rear, and their outlying bodies of cavalry were being hurriedly dispatched the other way. My mind was very busy upon the new aspect of affairs.
The last I saw of my orderly was when he had divested himself of the workman's incumbrance,--his coat,--and was tramping, bootless, haltingly along in the dustiest part of the road. He had conciliated his watchman into almost indifference, and was spreading himself with the sand, (tossed knee-high in little clouds by his feet,) having then become quite a Rebel in looks. In five minutes I turned upon him; but he had fallen out of the squad. I have never seen him since.
My own plans would keep me in the Rebel lines some hours longer. It was my object to escape; but I had already decided upon the evening, when darkness, and, I hoped, rain, would settle down upon us. I indulged a hasty prayer in behalf of the vanished man, and durst not more than snatch a look at where he should have been, lest the guard should miss him also. At one mile beyond Winchester, which town we had avoided by a branching road, we came to the office of the provost marshal, a very humble shell-work; and those of us who wore shoulder-straps were hustled into his presence. He stood, the central figure in a dun picture, in an atmosphere of smoke, a dirty-looking Georgian in flying coat and high-boots. With hands in pocket he surveyed the objects brought before him, concisely delivering his orders over the stem of his teeth-clasped pipe. His clerk was at a table near, on which lay the papers of his office; and the splintered rafters behind him made the background to a cabinet-picture that should have been done in chocolate.
We were placed in charge of a rather mild-looking officer, who wore his rank upon his sleeve in so elegantly twisted a knot that I could not make out his degree, and who had on a brand-new riding-jacket, of a dark blue, to which the sleeve was attached, adorned with the staff-buttons of our army. It was his duty to command the guard that drove the captives of the Rebel hosts, in which safe branch of the service, as I afterwards learned, he had been engaged since '62. No doubt his many opportunities for demanding what he wanted, and for seizing, like Ahab, what was denied him, had furnished alike the jacket and the buttons; and were it not for his placid countenance, I should have fathered his entire outfit upon the Yankees,--as having fallen to his shoulders by the same easy process. He was directed to drive us to the road at once, and to keep his herd in motion all the time. Hurried orders had come from headquarters, that set all the small bees about this lesser hive in a whirl of confused labors, whereby our departure was delayed for some moments. The provost-marshal's clerk was even then packing up his rattling desk, pigeon-holing papers that would hatch knotty questions in the coop, and making due preparation for the departure of the Georgian magnate himself. I observed that their army-wagons kept trailing southward, like chalk vertebræ, in an unbroken string, and promised for a long while yet to obstruct the road. It was growing a little cloudy, too. It was now three hours after noon, and I hoped nervously for a sullen night.
Just before we set out on our melancholy march, I saw a man make a move towards me, and hastily clap one finger across his firm lips. It was the Adjutant T----, of whom I have spoken, and who did not wish me to recognize him. It was his object to approach me, and to walk as a stranger at my side, so that the guards should not part us,--and, I knew at once, to speak of a project common to both. The old stories of our camp-fires had flitted across his mind, and had blanched his cheek since morning. His blood was just thawing as he signalled me. I took no notice of him till after we had started, a company of men with bent brows, and he had marched on my right some forty rods. I then muttered slowly, "Speak little, and to the point"; whereat he waved his hand. It was singular and sad to ignore thus an old companion in the very hour of need, when surely a bitterness hung upon our souls that more than ever required balm. We were, perforce, to play the stranger, when at no time in life did we more thirst for the tender friend. Doubtless, our hopes of escape depended much upon each other; and we could but communicate those plans in insufficient monosyllables, which, if misunderstood, would lead to disaster. If ever plentiful words, in great ear-measures, are pardonable, it is at such moments as this,--when even half-words--diamonds flashing betrayal--are imprudent The Adjutant edged a little closer.
"Before dark, or after?" he asked.
To which I replied,--
He gradually glided away from me, and for some time marched at the other side of the column.
I had noticed that he was walking without his jacket. The guards were accosting the officers in their neighborhood, and had taken his among other vestments. Most of the party of sad victims were well peeled ere their melancholy was an hour older. A rough boor turned to me and demanded my gauntlets. A basilisk fire shone through his eyes, and the breath which he blew through the grating of his teeth, over his thin, livid lips, and into my face, was freighted heavily with the fumes of whiskey. When I made bold to refuse him, he was dumbfoundered in astonishment, and was pleased to compress his jaws.
"You d----d Yankee!" he screamed, profanely, red with the inspiration of his anger, "if you don't give me your gauntlets, I'll tear your hands from your body."
There was enough energy in his action to have guarantied even a more vehement manoeuvre; and as he made his threat, he raised his arm above me. But I had it in my mind to see myself through the affair in the course that I had chosen; and having noticed our mild officer a few paces in the rear of us, mounted upon his horse, and placidly sitting with his hand upon the pommel, I turned to him at once.
"If you will do me the favor, Sir," I said, with some gravity of manner, "I would like you to accept my gauntlets,--a new pair from the box, that has only seen this day's work."
"They've had an unlucky birthday," he said, not inaptly, and rather courteously, as he took them.
"Yes, my gloves heretofore have all been spoiled by the sabre," I replied, keeping step with his charger. "I don't know but that you have to thank a drunken guard for the pair, Sir; since he threatened to kill me, if I kept them on my hands."
He gave a hasty look for his orderly.
"Point out the man, if you can, Sir," he said to me, and beckoned a trooper to his side.
"I am obliged to you for your interference," I answered. "The man marches third on the left there, and has his piece slung behind him. I hope that some day, Sir, I may do you a favor."
A sense of humor, for which I must be grateful, considering the sombre dejection of my marching mates, filled my breast as I thanked him for putting one under guard for attempting (drunk) what he himself so soberly accomplished,--the capture of my buckskins. He kept the gauntlets very willingly, and ordered a sergeant to accompany me. But there was generosity and magnificence in his action; the acquisition, per duress, of others' property was a daily habit with him,--and to have a sergeant for a guard was a considerable favor.
It was my desire to cultivate the Sergeant thus cast within my reach, who otherwise might be a marplot, and who had good of some sort in him, I judged from his appearance; although, as with his kind, it was evidently very barren winter in his purse, and his summer clothes were apparently too open. His butternut jacket, a poor tweed with a cotton filling, was clasped about his throat with a shred of twine, flying away thence loosely, showing a dirty cotton shirt beneath, and the rough edge of the waistband of his pantaloons. The material of which these last were made was a very impressible jean, and marked the number of his journeys, could one but decipher them, in stains and intricate creases. He had the same face of lifeless suet, and the yellow hair, that I have noticed as very prevalent in the Rebel armies,--but withal an elasticity of carriage that seemed too honest for the cause, an almost openness of countenance, a cast of features tending towards amiability, which imbued me with a trembling hope. I had designs upon the Sergeant, and intended opening upon him with rhetoric, after, perhaps, some amicable skirmishing. His detail to guard my person was a compliment to me which only the initiated--those who have made the same journey--can appreciate. The young provost-officer with the sleeve-knots desired to offer me a delicate attention in return for my hand-furniture, and, perhaps, to impress me in some sort with his sense of right, even though he was of so wrong-headed a company. What a dainty, dew-sipping bunch of violets would be to conscious beauty,--what a quaint volume of old matter, dust-breeding and crumbling, would be to the blinking scholar,--what refined gold, or gold ore, or gold stamped in the mint, would be to a Wall-Street broker,--was this sergeant to myself. He was the gift of a royal potentate who stood not upon little matters. There was no calculation in the largess. I was to have the entire sergeant as all my own. We fell a rod behind the officer, and trudged evenly along.
Although big with an evil design, I did not intend to address my companion at once. The monotony of my walk, as I had at present nought else to think of, I allowed to engage a number of my thoughts. I hazarded conjectures upon many idle points, as my narrative will show. I fell to watching my feet, and to placing them, as far as practicable, in the footmarks of him who marched before me, instituting a sort of comparison between our soles, finding his smaller than mine, as, behind his back, I ventured upon his measure, watched the ruts in the road, made the wagons in advance of us, and wondered if those behind us had axle-trees as wide to an inch,--as they would have, if made by the same contractor;--in which case, I mused, it is just possible the coming train may move in this same rut. It seemed, then, a comfortable sort of place. I saw the clouds of dust that had been provoked rising in anger and rolling away sullenly many a day that weary summer, and that almost buried the wretched company in which we journeyed, hover heavily above the road-side, and choke the pretty weeds blooming there, by way of a mean revenge upon its human tormentors. Thereupon I envied the blue things, not their incubus, but their insignificance: for neither artillery, nor camp wagon, nor passing prisoner was aught to them. I wondered what each man here would say, if each man could tell his thoughts. Primarily, I was convinced, each captive would declare himself sick at heart: that is the only expression which will convey the sinking feeling. Once I heard a bird sing gayly a clear-throated song from a clump of trees; at which my heart grew sick also, to render me as miserable as the rest.
My mind reverted to the Adjutant T----, of the manner of whose capture I knew nothing, and whom I had left that morning in camp, as the regiment set out for the fight. I doubted not but that he would be with me in a moment, to throw another mild projectile, a half-sentence, at me. I had myself a catechism of one question with which to greet him. As some little parley might be necessary between us, which could not go on without the consent of our guardian, I concluded that then was the time to throw a sop to my sergeant, I turned coolly upon him.
"We are marching rather briskly, are we not, Sergeant?" I said, endeavoring to insinuate the independence of unconcern in my bearing.
"Wal,--right smart," he replied.
"I cannot tell by your uniform," I continued, with a half-smile, for the fellow was all beggar's rags and patches, "whether you are in the cavalry or not; but a pair of spurs, at any rate, may not come amiss to you,--and I can have no use for mine for some time yet. They don't allow us, I believe, to kick one another in Libby?"
I took my long spurs from my boots, like fringe from my heart-strings, (of which the officer had directed my sergeant to allow no one to deprive me,--the boots, not the heart-strings, they being inaccessible: I would, possibly, not lose those till I arrived in Richmond,) and handed them over to him.
"I'm of the Thirteenth Virginia Infantry," he said, "but do right smart duty on horseback" (he liked the steel). "I'm detailed to the provost marshal. They do treat a fellow rather hard down there."
I augured ever so much good from the Sergeant's "do," upon which there was an emphasis.
"Were you ever a prisoner, Sergeant?" I asked, always careful to bestow his title.
"Once," he said, laconically.
"Well! it's all one in the end," I said, carelessly turning from him, to show that I had no desire for the conversation, if he did not relish it. "You have a chance now to give me the devil of a time, in revenge for your treatment among my friends. 'T is an ill wind that blows nobody good."
My sang-froid had the savor of a good pickle. It was a very peculiar turn to give the affair, I must own; but I saw that the Sergeant was struck by it. Possibly, that one was my best stroke of the day. I have, at any rate, ever since deemed it so.
I walked along as before, speculating, not lightly, upon the dejected beings about me, who marched, spectre-fashion, in the dust, like the unhappy (would-be) crew on the shores of the Styx, trying to appease Charon. They never would be at rest till he ferried them over to the shades of the world of death,--or (what to them seemed impossible) till they were remanded back to life among the loved ones of their race. I remember particularly one trifle of this momentous march, that threatened towards night to gnaw into my very brain-tissues. Soldiers, it is known, are not over-careful in their dress, when in daily action in the field, nor have they time to grow fastidious during the fighting summer months. They then, perforce, disregard tapes with a loftier indifference to appearances than that which distinguishes the noble cynic of the world. But officers generally use tapes about their ankles (perhaps to keep some garment in place immediately upon the stocking); and I have known them myself, for prudence' sake, to tie them in hard knots. A poor limping lieutenant, a little to the left, and some ten feet in advance of me, had not adopted this precaution, and now, consequently, more as a punishment to me than to him, one of his nursery ties had come undone, and was trailing after his foot in shadow-like persistency. I had here a world of torture in a nutshell. When, unluckily, my eyes fastened upon this appendage, I could not keep them from it. It fascinated me with more than the juggler's success upon the serpent. I fell to conjecturing how long the affair might be,--if four inches or five; and pondered the allowance to be made in the calculation by reason of the man's distance; merging this view of the matter in another, as I watched his heel touch the ground, and noted the time which elapsed between that and the jumping forward of the foot, with the string, ever faithful, behind it. I conjectured how much dust the tape took up at each step, and wondered, if, in a long march, merely by accretion thereof, the end of it would not be a sort of dirt-coil, perhaps a tenth of an inch in diameter,--soaring higher, too, in my delirium of nervousness, till I could imagine the incalculable increase in size which would be insured, should the lieutenant step into a puddle, and get the thing all wet: he would wear a sand rope for ankle-fetter, upon entering Richmond.
But the most provoking of all the phases to which my humor was reduced, and which my dilapidated body had to submit to, by means of this tape, was the almost irresistible desire to spring lightly forward, and to catch the thing beneath my toe. It invoked me to all sorts of gymnastic efforts. The impulse racked my breast, and set up an argument against every reason in favor of a jog-trotting march for the balance of the daylight. I surveyed the poor lieutenant from head to foot, and pictured to myself his surprise, should he find himself hitched to the ground. He would turn, I thought, with open, questioning eyes, and perhaps look flushed by the accident. He might only hop a step farther on, and trust to my not again overreaching him. He might, impelled by the influence that tormented me, fall behind me. I had an unwavering conviction that that tape would never be removed,--and that, consequently, in some way, the lieutenant, who played guide to it, would be my haunting demon all the weary hours of my march.
Soon after I had conferred my tart speech upon the Sergeant, and had so sealed my failure to gain his grace in behalf of my friend and myself, the Adjutant was at my side. A hale, hearty, well-made man, unperturbed usually, he was now almost another person than himself. I thought I knew what causes produced the pallor on his face and the quiver about the loose-hanging under-lip. The good fellow had had in his jacket (before it was stolen) the leave-of-absence which was to have carried him home to be married, and he was to have availed himself of it in a week. Perhaps the thought of his lady gave him the woebegone expression. All sorts of sweet dreams, that had illumined his life for months, and filled up the wide chinks of camp monotony, were now quite bitterly ended,--capped by the reality worse than the dream which is called nightmare. His smiling eyes were hooded only a little sooner than were those milder ones at home, no doubt under traced eyebrows and with far finer lashes. The marriage, perforce, was put off. The view of home was put off. Perhaps the Adjutant's solemn quietus, like an extinguisher of the light of his and his sweetheart's hopes, would drop upon him in loathsome Libby, and cancel the leave forever. This, being the weightier thought, was evidently bearing upon his mind.
I had resolved, in a business way, upon two points,--perchance brought to my decision through some such tender passage as the above: first, that, as we could not escape from the lines together, he must take the earlier, because, as in mortgages, the better risk; and second, that if he did not answer in a satisfactory manner the one question that I had kept for some time uppermost in my brain to propound to him, he must pocket my North Star.
"Have you a compass?" I muttered, as he edged by me.
"No," he replied.
My second resolution, then, was, that he should carry my compass.
"I've been robbed of everything," he said.
"Take--my--compass--quick!" I returned, and pressed it into his hand.
He was not as good an astronomer as I. He looked a hurried remonstrance at me; but was obliged to hide it at once, and could not, I knew, waste any eloquence now. Although, moreover, he was a lover, Nature had never endowed him with the art of speaking through the eye. There were stronger reasons in favor of his escape than of mine,--worldly, if not spiritual,--and he suffered from a dangerous nervousness, in dwelling upon the magnitude of the issue before him, which was not in my way.
"It is now five," I said; "at seven, if in such woods as this, you must watch your chance and double."
"Which way?" he asked.
"Travel north-northeast, seven miles," I whispered.
Then, as if anxious to burst into a flood of eager words, he began,--
I looked at him fixedly, and moved off towards my Sergeant. That cursed tape before me now again made a twist in my brain.
I was astonished at my Sergeant's opening a conversation.
We were travelling (wearily enough) through a piece of woods, overarching and autumn-tinted, the road being cut down, and, consequently, either side of it walled in by upheaving embankments, green-covered and yellow-fringed, over which the declining sun could not dart its rays upon us. The heavy trains of the entire army were making the march along with us, disturbing the modest influences of the spot,--some trundling forward in the van, others toiling after in our rear, the tending angels of all being drowsy, in the shape of the lazy teamsters astride their beasts. Only that peculiar music, made up of the ponderous _thud_ (the birds had all grown still) or tramp of the men for a bass,--of the clink and clatter of the canteens for a treble,--and of a little broken conversation, in the whining, drawling tones of the guard, on their own side of the lines, and so with no quieting weight upon their tongues, for a _viva-voce_ accompaniment,--broke the sweet summer stillness. The shafts of sunlight bridging the road above our heads, making a golden ether-plank for the air-insects to cross upon, and lighting up the veins in the trembling leaves as the breeze put them to confusion, set me to thinking of the eyebrows that the Adjutant was engaged to, and, no doubt, of eyebrows in general. A cool air, smelling of mould and fallen leaves, perhaps a little damp, fell upon us here. The charms of Nature may have loosened the Sergeant's tongue.
"I was captured in Mar'land," he began, looking straight before him, but of course honoring me with his address.
I was grateful to him, a little for companionship's sake, but chiefly for here giving me a chance that I had hoped for, as I deemed it of considerable value,--I mean, a chance to dig down to the mine of good feeling, to the heart of this gray-covered, slumbering crater, that, an hour since, had thrust out that "do"; and also, I was beholden to him for taking my thoughts from the tape.
"How did our boys treat you?" I asked.
"Very fair," he said quickly, with a faint Judas-start, as if it were a matter of conscience, and he had now twitched it out. "They done well by me."
Here was good fortune, indeed! The mine, with all its riches, mine without any digging.
"I am glad of it," I said, briefly; for I saw that laconics were his jewels, perhaps from a sense of expediency as well as of beauty. "We always try to treat you well, whenever we are not firing our guns at you."
This he acknowledged with a nod, but without turning from his look directly front.
"I lay two months in hosp't'l," he began again,--"in Fred'r'k, in Mar'land. I was wounded in the hip."
"In '62, I suppose?" said I.
Here the conversation ended as suddenly as it had opened. It was very clear that the Sergeant had said his last word for some time. But I was convinced in my own mind that at length more good would fall to my lot.
He pondered the matter some ten minutes, and then quite overwhelmed me with his story.
"One of your boys," he began, "lay wounded by me on the field,--of a ball in the lungs,--and wanted some water. Whenever he spoke, he threw out blood, and wasn't likely to live, nohow. I said,----
"'Yank, will you take my tin?'--for there was a drop in it yet, and I rolled on my side and gave it him.
"'I am goin' to die,' he said.
"'Yes,' says I.
"'They'll treat you well,' he said; 'they'll carry you to the hosp't'l, and I hope you'll live to git home.'
"'Thank you,' says I.
"He gave me some 'baccy and a roll of money.
"'The paymaster's been about, and he gave me more 'n I want now. You'll want 'baccy in hosp't'l,--you'll want it all,' he said.
"And he run over in blood and died. He gave me right smart of money. I rolled away from him when he died, and they took me to hosp't'l."
The Sergeant paused for my comment.
Under my peculiar circumstances, I was very much touched by this story.
"Poor fellow! many such a one has gone to his account," I said, sadly.
"And I want to give back some of the money to you," said the Sergeant.
I looked at him in astonishment.
"You'll want it down there, as much as you can git. I have no need of it. It a'n't mine. It's his'n."
The Sergeant had evidently taken it in trust.
"What claim have I to it?" I asked.
"Any poor fellow's got a claim to it. It's meant to help poor fellows, that money is. It's a dead man's work."
I was more than ever touched now, in the presence of the wealth of this mine which I had tapped.
"I will take some of it, Sergeant," I replied; "and I shall do my best to use it as well as you have."
(This incident, strange to say, in its display of human purity, almost tempted me to abandon my scheme of escape, and to go with the Sergeant down to Richmond. But he was no measure of his fellows.)
After that we chatted easily off and on, and had a feeling of confidence in each other which a two or three days' march could not alone have created.
At about half after six that night, (I had made the Sergeant take my watch, which otherwise I should surely be robbed of, I told him; and he gave me the time,)--at about half after six, two officers came riding furiously up to our mild officer and kept along with him for awhile, making three dim figures above our heads (they only were mounted) in the forest shades, in place of the one that, unlike the erl-king, had continued on his way harmlessly from our outset. Their consultation over, the two strangers dashed over snapping weeds and underbrush to the command on ahead, and our mild officer ordered our column (of prisoners) to halt. We were in the woods still, but we had emerged from between those sun-spanned embankments some time since. The ground was ill chosen by our gentle ruler, but he may have depended much upon his men, whose vigilance, no doubt, he had before tried in the fall of day. They seemed to me but a handful, and only a sieve for their charge to dribble through, the latter aided by the time and place in their work of dropping off. I drew closer to the Adjutant.
"Say what you have to say for home, in case we miss," I said,--and in the confusion of the halt I could talk rather freely. "Your time has come now."
"You will write, if I'm not heard from,--and--my love to my"--he gurgled.
"Yes, yes," I said, cheerily. "All right, old fellow,--we'll both laugh over this, some day."
I gave him a moment.
"You'll do me the same favor, if I don't happen to turn up," I said; and we seized each other's hands. "You have the compass,--you know the way. There is nothing more, I believe, Ned?" I said, hastily, and looked into his eyes.
"I shall watch my chance as the wagons pass; there is nothing more," he replied; and we parted immediately.
It was as if we had agreed to toss pennies for the guillotine. I had no time to think further of him, for my own plans were maturing.
It was soon whispered about that we were to let the trains get ahead of us, since it was necessary that they should move faster; and the Rebel authorities, I presume, had decided to save their transportation, at the risk even of their captives. One or other, then, it seemed likely, would be taken. The Yankees were driving us before them, having reversed the fortunes of the day, and, perhaps, might liberate the prisoners who so impeded this retreat. We stood, I presume, for half an hour, drawn up in a compressed mass upon the skirt of the highway, whilst, startled by fear, a powerful task-master over teamsters, the late drowsy drivers urged forward their toil-worn trains. It was seasonable, but I believed that my time had not yet come. The deep shades encouraged me, but I awaited the hour that I had hit upon. I thought for a moment of the Adjutant, perhaps then ducking his head beneath the bushes, and watching, with his heart beating time, the heavy mass by degrees moving on. I trusted that the wheel of Fortune, whilst these other wheels were moving Rebelward, had turned in his favor.
At a little after seven we again fell into line, not having allowed all the teams to pass us; and as the same Fortune would have it, we left the woods behind us, and marched between open meadows. It had now grown quite dark. My face wore a look of anxiety as I noted the wide stretch of open field beyond me.
But there were as anxious faces as mine among the groups of Rebel officers who rode slowly along the lines. This was the chill season of perturbation to the hot-blooded gentlemen. Some communications were passing rapidly between the commander of our detachment and the commander of the army. Things were not working satisfactorily to either. Orderlies were dispatched to the front and to the rear, and the air-blasting bugle was sounded on ahead, as if to chide the teamsters. When we had marched up an ascent, and were on the brow of a low ridge, we were halted, and then turned into an open field. It was decided, apparently, that the rest of the train should pass us.
No doubt I should here have all the graces of a ready pen at my beck, honey-dipped, or Vulcan-forged, in accordance with my humor, whether sad or harsh, in making up the climax of my account; for at this spot the good writer would be most impressive in his language, and set the reader in a tremble. We waited for seventy minutes in this road-side field, the prisoners resignedly huddling together, with the callous guards making a circle about them. Let me enlarge upon our circumstances. The time, about eight o'clock; the atmosphere thick and murky; the sky overcast, promising a warm September night. I asked the Sergeant if it would rain, and said carelessly some other trifles. I feigned an excess of sleepiness. Our detachment lay some thirty yards from the highway, spread into a thin line of no evenness, running parallel with the road, which, in the gloom, our eyes could scarcely find. The exigencies of the service had proved the ruin of the fences; and only here and there in the vague darkness could one make out the black bunch of a shadowy tree. Just beyond us--for my Sergeant and myself stood at the rear extremity, the land's--end of this shoal of prisoners, outside of the ring of guards sparely posted, on the very top of the ridge which we had ascended--was a low clump of bushes, (perhaps neck-high,) squat and opaque, with much the appearance of a ball of garden boxwood. The hill, I thought, rolled away on either side,--taking some comfort to myself in the conjecture; and the inky leaf-globe, only a little more sombre than its background, could not be seen in a hasty glance. This clump, in its innocent blackness, would cover my purposed guilt; and I resolved to confide to it alone the secret crime of my attempted escape.
But there were calculations to be made, which I set about with the eagerness which the occasion required, watching my Sergeant very closely as my head ran over its prospectus. And, first, if he stood by my side, I revolved, I could not by any chance whisper my tale to the silent bushes; although, if, at the favorable moment, when the squad was ordered to march, he but stepped a feather's-throw in advance of me, the confession could be readily made. His presence would frustrate my plans. There was one expedient at my beck, but quite hazardous, by the adoption of which against odds I might compass his death and my freedom,--a thought which I dismissed on the instant, as it savored of murder and ingratitude. I must trust that he would give me his back, in spite of his sense of responsibility, for a breathing-space ere we "fell in." With his fellow watch-dogs my ruminations had nothing to do. The nearest of them, owing to their scarcity, (and they had grown trebly valuable this campaign, as they had grown rarer,) was not within twenty yards of me. My new world was scarce that distance in the rear. The moment of all moments, the crisis, the vision of a life-time, eddying through the brain in the flash of a powder-pan, and stamping red-hot impressions there, (which in some cases bleach men's hair-roots,) was finally upon me. My Sergeant turned from me, and I glided with tiger-tread to the bushes, and laid myself down.
I was, of course, between him and my new friends, and I pretended to sleep, so that, if he found me, he could scarce suppose that I meditated leaving him in so loose a manner; and, moreover, my being asleep would follow naturally upon my reiterated statement that I was sleepy. It would have been madness to have taken the other side, since, if there found, the case against me would have been clear. I depended, as is ever man's wont, upon mere shadows to do much for me where I was.
I have thought often since, however, (then other than the deliberate thought which every man in trying circumstances has experienced, and which centres upon one subject, being so severe a tension of all the faculties as to seem no thought at all, was impossible,) that it would be unwise, and perhaps a stumbling-block to future Union captives in the custody of that horrid host, to ascribe my unbroken rest under those dry, dusty bush-branches simply to the heavy darkness of the evening, excluding all other causes from participation in my affairs. It was unusually cloudy, the sky resting overhead like a hanging pall, and threatening rain with thunder every moment, as is almost always the case after a hotly contested engagement. The fight that morning had been a grand one, (quite a Horace Vernet picture,) and hence the clouds that night. But I must own that I give my Sergeant a place in my memory now with a feeling of gratitude, induced thereto by the strong supposition that he did not allow himself to see me as I glided under cover. I count much upon his heart, as shown in his little proffered narrative. The other guards on the line might readily have failed to notice me, the more so as I had a special attendant to see to my wants; and I should have been very sorry, indeed, had one of them disturbed my rest. But my Sergeant was not three body-lengths from me when I slipped away from his protection; and although he had his back turned, I am inclined to think that he had only fewer eyes than Argus. His general reputation, to be read in his bearing, pronounced him vigilant, and his every act betokened circumspection. Far be it from me, however, to bespatter his character by avowing him negligent in performing his duty in this case, whilst lauding him for his honest devotion to his masters. Perhaps it may have been a part of his care to see the squad "fall in," and he could not abandon that line of his duty to search for a stray officer, smooth-spoken and amiable, to whom he had just shown a kindness. The bustle and unnatural darkness of the moment could not inspire one who was not a demon with a demoniacal desire to set a screeching and rash body of troopers upon my track. The detachment of melancholy mutes was moving off when I tried my fate; and he could have had but little time to think ere the miserable men were in the distance. The farther my Sergeant journeyed, the more likely he was to keep quiet upon my subject.
I experienced very peculiar emotions as I lay there and found myself alone. I even seemed to hear the whine of the soldiery, the ringing of canteens and sabres, and the peculiar sound of the tramping feet, long after they had passed away,--chanting, in my soul's depths, my fluttering song of triumph to that imagined accompaniment. I had an almost accurate idea of where I was, having observed our course quite closely during the day, and proposed going over very nearly the same ground in the next twenty-four hours. I had already decided in my own mind that the Rebel general was making a retreat before the gallant General Sheridan, whose outposts I hoped soon to come upon. But dangers many, and some hidden, lay thick-strewn upon my path, which had not run over roses hither; and I deemed it best to encumber the cold earth for an hour, ere I sallied from my Moses-harbor.
The highway lay within a hundred feet of me; and as I intended taking up my lost stitches of the morning in a peculiar (and, I hoped, original) manner, having no knowledge of the country beyond the line of our late march, I was obliged to count upon keeping within sound of the troops and wagons travelling there, if I desired at all to gain my end. The Adjutant T---- had my compass, and was, I trusted, quite free from danger as I remained supinely within hail of men who would be delighted to shoot me. His image, as I fancied him, cumbersome and crouching, as he hurried along, dodging from tree to tree, reminded me of the hunts which the chivalry indulge in farther south, (near that very horrible Andersonville slaughter-house,) where the bay of the blood-hound rings over the marshes, and the pack is let loose in the clear morning air, crystal-bright and all aglow, to lap up the dew with overhanging tongues, and to run down escaped prisoners. There is no poetical charm attaching to that pack, although Pan never played his reeds in a more poetical country; and its existence and employment are solemnly sober truths. They made me very grave, suggesting, as they did, some other dangers to which I was then liable. After working myself into a nervous state of body, I began pulling off my coat, leaving my shoulder-straps therewith, to play the part of asterisks, and explain who was within. My pantaloons the soil would soon make as white as a gray-back's; and my cap was to stay with the uniform, to grace some indigent discoverer of the other side.
When I had secreted my money in my waistband, (not deeming my orderly's suggestion feasible,) and had strapped my suspenders tightly about my body, I worked my way round the bushes to the other side of the clump. As I had expected, I found an even sweep downwards of meadow-land, stretching parallel with the road, and as far before me as I could see through the darkness.
I got myself flat upon the ground, with my feet, as in Christian burial, pointing towards the east,--for there the highway ran,--and with my handkerchief bound about my head. I then commenced rolling as gently as possible down the grassy declivity.
I should be unable to give any account of my thoughts during the first ten minutes of my novel evolutions. I moved at one time slowly, at another rapidly, as the ideas of prudence and danger by turns reigned in my bosom. I risked much in being obliged to keep in line with the current of life flowing so noisily the other way, the thought of which spurred me onward; and I had far to go, and not very great endurance to fall back upon,--a reflection which counselled a cautious expenditure of effort. I was anon anxious to fly over the hard lumps of earth and pricking straw-blades,--anon, eager to move gently, with deliberate hand upon the brake. I suffered much at my elbows, which were crushed as my body passed over them, (a pulverizing process,) and which, as I had clasped my arms across my breast, were most palpably in the way. It seemed as if they would be unhinged. My feet, too, demonstrated to me the causes of the circular motion of a penholder or a ruler when started down a desk-lid, and had the same influence upon my course as the pin-point has upon the whole pin when in motion. My head and upper members inclined to swing in a circle about my feet. I spent much labor upon this defaulting portion of Æsop's body of sovereign independencies, which threatened the greatest difficulties. My neck, also, in the narrow space between the band of my low woollen shirt and my hair-roots, was harassed at every turn by the needle-bed of short grass that I passed over; and the loose stones, stubble, and gravel, that had irritated the skin, worked their way beneath the garment. I was quite a child's rattle, full of pebbles. I could have endured all this for a long while, however, the spirit then actuating me being one of those unreflecting forces which would (as a last resort) have carried me down the same slope in a Regulus-cask. But after travelling quite a distance, I began to revolve, not any complete remedy for these manifold ills, but some amelioration of the exaggerated violence of their sway. I tore one sleeve from my undershirt and wound that around my neck. I held my arms straight down my side and flat against my body. Nothing short of amputation could have crushed the rebellion in my lower members, and so (with the power to amputate not abandoned) I nursed them into insolence with a compromise.
A psychological history of the uneven progress of that billowy retreat would be as far beyond my reach as of the ten minutes of outset trial. I thought only vaguely of my home, of my regiment, of my moments of danger in past life. I listened during that night till my sense of hearing changed from a passive to an active sense. I got my neck sadly cramped in lifting my head from the ground every time my body rolled face upward to gain some knowledge of the enemy. My imagination started up all sorts of shapes about me. The damp, heavy atmosphere sent a chill through my veins. I apprehended rain. I soon, also, began to think of daylight, (before which I had many hours,) and to wonder how I should secrete myself after sunrise. I did not feel hungry; but I had not gone far before I felt the faint longings of thirst.
The ground, too, over which I travelled, was not all meadow land, and had worse features than grass-swords and gravel bullets. I did not find many fences, but I crossed innumerable small streams and one heavy hedge.
I noticed that by degrees, judging from the sound, the Rebel troops were getting by, only dropping along finally in dish-water driblets,--and that, at last, but scattering bodies of infantry, and at intervals some wagons, occupied the road, moving like dark lobsters in the midnight mists. I could not take to it myself, because of them; and I knew too well how full it would be of stragglers, those worthless gleanings of an army, even after the rear-guard had swept onwards. But I did not hesitate to erect my body from its voluntary abasement and to make walking a branch of my exercise, when convinced that only vagrants could chance to see me. They never capture prisoners on either side. Thus was I enabled for two hours before sunrise to accomplish more than twice as much as my five hours' rolling labors had attained.
The long-expected rain began to fall in a heavy mist at about dawn, and shortly grew in importance, till the windows of heaven were wide open and it became a settled pour. Most fortunately, by that time I had entered some of the first woods we had passed through in the journey of the previous day, and had fair shelter (from Aurora, not Pluvius) within my reach. It was a colossal pepper-box lid, that could keep men from seeing through it, but not the rain from dropping in. My first impulse was to make a fire, so chilled to the very marrow was I in the early morning air, that chilliest of all atmospheres, and so wet was I also in my light summer garments. But of course Prudence had no word in that matter, nor any countenance for a suggestion so reckless, and my soberer senses got to casting about for a fitting retreat ere broad day lay before me. I must reconnoitre, I thought, dripping at every point, like a convict in the marshes, before I continued a tramp here that might expose me to a scouting-party at any moment. That hunger, too, which had not troubled me in the night-hours, came upon me now and urged very suggestive hints. I had made a cup of my hands more than once, and slaked my thirst from the streams in my way, Narcissus-fashion; but nothing solid had passed my lips for seventeen hours. First, logs and leaves for a cover, then food, then a critical examination of my position, were my objects, as I hastily settled my plans. The thought of the intelligent contraband, so beyond ordinary human excellence in the richness of his heart, who might minister to all my wants, (as without question many such had done to my distressed brethren flying from Libby,) and whose homely traits become to us golden virtues in moments of suffering, crossed my brain as the depression of hunger increased. Very dim visions of clean and savory cooking haunted me as I took off my boots and shook the water from them. I could not imagine anything to equal in value a good steak or a hot hash; nor could I check my feeling of discontent, a hopeless feeling, at having many a time and oft partaken of like viands, perhaps, unappreciatively. The slimy dirt of my uppers soiled my hands, as I endeavored to make myself less uncomfortable, and I took the shirtsleeve from my neck as the driest article about me upon which to wipe them, Near by lay the trunk of a large walnut-tree, water-logged and growing sponge-moss; and small bushes, like coral reefs in this sea of troubles, were on all sides of me. I had not accomplished much when I heard distinctly the sound of a bugle.
It was, I supposed, about half a mile distant; but there was no knowing how near the wet horsemen whom it signalled might be to my proposed hiding place; and, accordingly, I got hastily down by the walnut, a good squirrel-cover, without shelter or head-piece. I lay along that side of it which was farthest from the road, and durst not move for fear of capture. The woods were quite thick at that place, and from the hidden pathway (now become scarce a highway) a body of the enemy might emerge at any moment. The unwelcome music of their bugle broke the Sabbath stillness of the morning, and interrupted the harmony of the falling rain-drops as they pattered through the great cathedral branches overhead. I spent, I presume, two hours in this lazy manner, without thought of any food, and scarce daring to look about me. During the first half of that period I heard the bugle thrice send its clear, ringing notes--for it is sometimes lark-throated--through the tree-aisles and under the half-arches above me, the tones lingering in waves on the air, and not failing to startle me. At the first commanding blast I got to watching for the troops that did not come forth at all. Being quite three grasshopper's flights from the road, I could reconnoitre the few rods of it passing near me with comparative ease and safety, and the intentness of my look-out drove thoughts of discomfort from my head. The silence grew oppressive to one who had been perforce so long alone. The thought that at times man has to avoid his fellow-beings in his misery, lest his misery be augmented, was productive of a tender feeling of self-pity in my bosom, which, perhaps, (strange to say,) was a source of some comfort to me. I had, I found, awakened a present sympathy in my case, the passive part of my nature having enlisted its kindly feelings in behalf of the bespattered, dripping gentleman who lay there before it, a sad mass of ooze, soaking on wet leaves. I was growing reflective over my woes, when the second blast broke upon my ear, and I started much as young ladies do at the sudden gun which, on the boards, sends the unholy Caspar to his account.
In a word, I was worn out, wet, and hungry; and had become so unstrung, in the accumulated discomforts of the roll from Rebeldom, and the rain of the last stages of my journey, that I could not control my growing nervousness. Having waited a full hour from the third signal-call of the bugle, I jumped desperately to my feet, with a mind made up to hazard everything. Many unlucky fellows, escaping from their captors, have toiled with a wonderful energy, and have failed, when worthy of immediate success, if we rate them by (the war standard) their bravery and coolness. They succumb to fever, and despair finally, but a few moments ere the object of their toils would drop before them. It is ill-advised ever to cast one's hopes adrift as long as life is in us,--an imprudence of which I myself was guilty, and which might have carried me back to thraldom. The dragging anchor may fasten, spell-bound by some fluke-enamored reef, as the vessel seems on the point of striking. I jumped to my feet in desperation, and walked hastily a few rods nearer home. I allowed no after-thought in the premises, but decided to dodge from tree to tree, like the hunting Indian, as long as my present humor impelled me.
I know not how far I advanced thus, through the most desperate (but to the reader, whom I commiserate, least interesting) stage of my adventure,--nor anything of my thoughts or emotions, after the hot resolve had taken hold of me. I was in a fever, a mad fever, the evidence of cold, and the handiwork of the past night's rolling-mill, and, I doubt not, was entirely unfitted to evade the enemy with presence of mind or skill. I did not pause till I heard the sound of axes, and the confused noises of a body of men.
I then again took the serpent's position upon the earth, after he, like myself, had lost his Eden, and summoned my oft-trusted counsellors, my ears, to their familiar duty of serving for all my senses in one. The sounds were very distinct indeed; I could even hear the men's voices, chopped up by their active tools; and I knew, by the noise of their labors, that they were driving stakes into the ground. It could scarce be the Rebels, I thought, in camp this distance in the rear: it might be our men, I hoped, pushing our advance up the Valley. I drew carefully forward on hands and knees.
In a little while I saw a bending figure, with its back to me, holding something that I could not see over a smoking bundle of fagots. There was a poncho about the neck, that covered it down to the ground, and in the morning gray, the figure, the colonnade of tree-trunks, the lazy smoke, a cabinet picture, wore an India-rubber look.
Presently another came up to my first discovery, as if emerging from the bustle elsewhere, and stood erect before him, seeming almost as wet as myself. There was a tasselled bugle in his hand, covered with a corner of his poncho, under which he had a cavalry sabre. He wore, also, a dripping cavalry cord round his hat. After a few words, the two sat upon their heels before the fire, which they bent over, paternally, to protect, watching the thing that was cooking.
Having drawn myself cautiously nearer, I waited a long while for one of the men to display his colors.
The bugler was burnishing his instrument upon his blouse beneath his rubber, hazarding some chance notes under shelter, as he laughed and chatted with his friend. He would, apparently, consult with him of his performance; and he finally lifted himself upon his feet, with the instrument tight to his lips. He then blew a rasping, grating blast upon the air, ear-splitting and dissonant, that was his own rendition of a few bars of Yankee Doodle.
The blouse, being dark, had given me much hope; the air gave me certainty; and before the bugler could wind his final note, I became one of the group.
My pantaloons showed that I was an officer, but in all other respects I appeared less than a highwayman. Accustomed to roughnesses, however, the men before me would not have divined that I was miserable, had not my appearance been by a few degrees more wretched than that of the most dilapidated of warriors. They gave over, the one his mess, the other his music, for a second, to inquire into my circumstances, and then conducted me to the Major who had command of the detachment some quarter of a mile in the rear.
The eight days' leave-of-absence that was given me, after a full report at headquarters, garnished with less ornament than the present record, afforded me an opportunity to reach my physician in time to have it extended by ten more; and in that period I learned from a letter, written in a thin, peaked hand, that the Adjutant T---- had escaped, but had been shot in the thigh. The compass, that had been his cloud by day and pillar of fire by night during his sad exodus, was returned to me, with his old lady-mother's thanks. Many simple, yet touching, speeches welled up from her rich heart, and shone on the thin white paper; and, no doubt, her great, manly son was tended by another, whilst, at her escritoire, the kindly epistle was made for me. In the subsequent hurry of camp-life, I received a second, that contained all those mournful expressions of resignation, and dependence upon the Higher Power, which broken-hearted Christians so sweetly utter. The Adjutant T----, indeed, had received his solemn quietus in running from the Libby Prison, and the extinguisher of his life was down.
"Doctor, we miss Reuby," said the Tew partners.
And the good old people said it with feeling,--though, over and over, at winter's dusk, the boy had given a sharp rattle to their shop-door, and the warning bell called them away from their snug fire only to see his light pair of heels whisking around the corner of the Eagle Tavern. The mischief in the lad was, indeed, of such elastic, irrepressible temper, that even the gravest of the parishioners were disposed to regard it with a frown in which a comic pardon was always lurking. Perhaps this may have been by reason of the tender recollections of the poor young mother Rachel, who had so suddenly yielded up her life, and taken away the charm of her smiles to another country; or it may have been that the pranks of the parson's boy found greater toleration by reason of their contrast with the sturdy and unyielding gravity of the Doctor; they made up a good average of mirth for the household of the parsonage,--a sort of average which the wicked world craves, and which, it is to be feared, will be craved until we take on a wholly new moral shape. Or, to put the reflection in other form, if the Doctor's immovable serenity was a type of the highest embodiment of good in this world, the playful humors of the boy were reckoned by the good-natured villagers as the most pardonable shape which the inevitable principle of evil that belongs to our heritage could possibly take on; and thus, while the father challenged their admiration, only the more, by reason of the contrast, the boy challenged all their tenderest sympathies.
Even the Tourtelots "quite missed the boy"; though over and over the brindled cow of the Deacon was found to have slipped the bars, (a thing the orderly creature was never known to do of her own head,) and was reported at twilight by the sober-faced Reuben as strolling far down upon the Common.
It is but a small bit of canvas we have chosen for the painting in of these figures of ours; and returning to the old town of Ashfield, as we do now, where the central interest must lie, there is little of change to declare, still less of dramatic incident. A serene quietude, year after year, is the characteristic of most of the interior New England towns. The elections come and go with their fury of previous declamation. The Squire presides over the deliberations of his party, and some leading Adams man presides over the deliberations of the other; even the boys are all Jackson men or Adams men; but when the result is declared, there is an acquiescence on all hands that is beautiful to behold; and in process of time, Mr. Troop, the postmaster, yields up the mail pouches and locks and canvas bags to some active little Jackson partisan with the utmost suavity, and smokes off his discontent upon the porch of the Eagle Tavern, under the very shadow of the tall hickory pole, which for one third of its height is protected by old wagon-tire heavily spiked on, against the axes of zealous political opponents.
The old blear-eyed Boody is not so cheery as we have seen him, although his party has won brilliant success. There is a sad story of domestic grief that has marked a new wrinkle in his forehead and given a droop to his eye, which, had all gone fairly, he might have weathered for ten years more. The glory of the ringleted Suke has indeed gone, as Phil had told; but it has not gone in the way of marriage. God only knows where those pink cheeks are showing their graces now,--not, surely, in any home of hers,--not in any home at all. God only knows what repinings have come, all too late, over the glitter and the triumph of an hour. The elderly, grave ones shake their heads dismally over this fall, and talk of the terribly demoralizing associations amidst which the poor child has lived; but do they ask themselves if they did their best to mend them? Decoyed toward evil fast and frequently enough, without doubt; but were there any decoys, such as kind hands and welcoming words, in the other direction? The meeting-house doors have, indeed, been always open, for the just and for the unjust. But have not the starched, good women of the parish been a little disposed to count the pretty tavern-keeper's daughter as outside the fold--so far as all social influences were concerned--from the beginning? That exuberant life in her which led to the dance at a tavern ball, was there any palliative for it,--any hope for it, except to go on in the way of destruction?
But we would not judge unjustly. Certain it is, that Miss Johns indulged in such scathing condemnation of the poor sinner as made Adèle shiver: with the spinster at least, there would be little hope for a Magdalen, or a child of a Magdalen. Nor could such as she fully understand the measured and subdued tone with which the good Doctor talked of a lapse from virtue which had so shocked the little community. But the parson lived so closely in that spiritual world where all his labor and love centred, that he saw under its ineffable light only two great ranks of people pressing toward the inevitable goal: a lesser rank, which had found favor of God; and a greater, tumultuous one, toward whom his heart yearned, that with wavering and doubt and evil intention pressed on to destruction. What mattered to him the color of the sin, or who was he to judge it? When the secret places of the heart were so full of wickedness, why anathematize above the rest those plague-spots which revealed themselves to mortals? "Fearful above all others," he was wont to say, "will be those sins which, being kept cautiously smouldering through life, will, at the blast of the Archangel's trump, blaze out in inextinguishable fire!"
The Doctor kept himself and his pulpit mostly free of that theological fermentation which in those years was going on throughout New England,--at least of all such forms of it as marked a division in the orthodox churches. If he had a leaning, it was certainly in favor of the utmost severity of Calvinism. He distrusted human philosophy, and would rather have accepted the theory of natural inability in all its harshness than see it explained away by any metaphysic subtilties that should seem to veil or place in doubt the paramount efficiency of the Spirit.
But though slow to accept theological reforms, the Doctor was not slow to advocate those which promised good influence upon public morals. Thus he had entered with zeal into the Temperance movement; and after 1830, or 1832 at the latest, there was no private locker in the parsonage for any black bottle of choice Santa Cruz. His example had its bearing upon others of the parish; and whether by dint of the Doctor's effective preaching, or whether it were by reason of the dilapidated state of the buildings and the leaky condition of the stills, it is certain that about this time Deacon Simmons, of whom casual mention has been made, abandoned his distillery, and invested such spare capital as he chose to keep afloat in the business of his son-in-law, Mr. Bowrigg of New York, who had up to this time sold the Deacon's gin upon commission.
Mr. Bowrigg was a thriving merchant, and continued his wholesale traffic with eminent success. In proof of this success, he astonished the good people of Ashfield by building, in the summer of 1833, at the instigation of his wife, an elegant country residence upon the main street of the town; and the following year, the little Bowriggs--two daughters of blooming girl age--brought such a flutter of city ribbons and silks into the main aisle of the meeting-house as had not been seen in many a day. Anne and Sophia Bowrigg, aged respectively thirteen and fifteen, fell naturally into somewhat intimate associations with our little friends, Adèle and Rose: an association that was not much to the taste of the Doctor, who feared that under it Adèle might launch again into those old coquetries of dress against which Maverick had cautioned him, and which in their quiet country atmosphere had been subdued into a modest homeliness that was certainly very charming.
Miss Sophia, however, the elder of the two Bowrigg daughters, was a young lady not easily balked of her intent; and conceiving a violent fondness for Adèle, whether by reason of the graces of her character, or by reason of her foreign speech, in which she could stammeringly join, to the great mystification of all others, she soon forced herself into a patronizing intimacy with Adèle, and was a frequent visitor at the parsonage. With a great fund of assurance, a rare and unappeasable glibness of tongue, and that lack of refined delicacy which invariably belongs to such noisy demonstrativeness, Miss Sophia had after only one or two interviews ferreted out from Adèle all that the little stranger herself knew respecting her history.
"And not to know your mother, Adèle! that s so very queer!"
Adèle winces at this, but seems--to so coarse an observer--only preoccupied with her work.
"Is'nt it queer?" persists the garrulous creature. "I knew a girl in the city who did not see her mother after she was three,--think of that! But then, you know, she was a bad woman."
The hot Provençal blood mounts to the cheek and brow of Adèle in an instant, and her eye flashes. But it is quite impossible to show anger in view of the stolid face of her companion, with nothing in it but an unthinking, girlish curiosity.
"We will talk of something else, Sophie."
"Oh! then you don't like to speak of it! Dear me! I certainly wont, then."
Yet this rattle-brained girl has no real ill-nature; and it is surprising what a number of such well-meaning people go blundering about society, inflicting cheerful wounds in all directions by mere reason of their bluntness and lack of all delicacy of feeling.
But it is by no means the first time the sensibilities of Adèle have been touched to the quick. She is approaching that age when they ripen with marvellous rapidity. There is never an evening now at that cheerful home of the Elderkins--lighted up as it is with the beaming smiles of that Christian mother, Mrs. Elderkin--but there sweeps over the mind of the poor girl, at some interval in the games or the chat, a terrible sense of some great loss she has suffered, of which she knows not the limits,--a cruel sense of isolation in which she wanders, and on which comes betimes the recollection of a father's kindly face, that in the growing distance makes her isolation seem even more appalling.
Rose, good soul, detects these humors by a keen, girlish instinct, and, gliding up to her, passes her arm around her,--
"What is it now, Adèle, dear?"
And she, looking down at her, (for Adèle was the taller by half a head,) says,--
"What a good mother you have, Rose!"
"Only that!"--and Rose laughs gleefully for a moment, when, bethinking herself where the secret grief lay, her sweet face is overcast in an instant, and reaching up her two hands, she draws down the face of Adèle to hers, and kisses her on either cheek.
Phil, who is at a game of chess with Grace, pretends not to see this side demonstration; but his next move is to sacrifice his only remaining castle in the most needless manner.
Dame Tourtelot, too, has pressed her womanly prerogative of knowing whatever could be known about the French girl who comes occasionally with Miss Eliza to her tea-drinkings, and who, with a native taste for music, is specially interested in the piano of Miss Almira.
"It must be very tedious," says the Dame, "to be so long away from home and from those that love you. Almiry, now, hardly goes for a week to Cousin Jerushy's at Har'ford but she is a-frettin' to be back in her old home. Don't you feel it, Adeel?" (The Dame is not to be driven out of her own notions of pronunciation by any French accents.) "But don't be down-hearted, my child; it's God's providence that's brought you away from a Popish country."
And she pushes her inquiries regarding the previous life of Adèle with an earnestness and an authoritative air which at times do not fail to provoke a passionate retort. To this the old lady is wholly unused; and condemning her straightway as a hot-headed Romanist, it is to be feared that we must regard the Dame henceforth as one disposed to look upon the least favorable lights which may appear, whether in the past history of Adèle or in the developments to come.
The spinster, also, who is mistress of the parsonage, though never giving up her admiring patronage of Adèle, and governing her curiosity with far more tact than belongs to Dame Tourtelot, has yet shown a persistent zeal in pushing her investigations in regard to all that concerned the family history of her little _protégée_. She has lent an eager ear to all the communications which Maverick has addressed to the Doctor; and in moments of what seemed exceptional fondness, when she has toyed with the head-gear of Adèle, has plied the little brain with motherly questions that have somehow widely failed of their intent.
Under all this, Adèle ripens into a certain reserve and individuality of character which might never have belonged to her, had the earlier circumstances of her life been altogether familiar to the circle in which she was placed. The Doctor fastens, perhaps, an undue reliance upon this growing reserve of hers: sure it is that an increasing confidence is establishing itself between them, which it is to be hoped nothing will shake.
And as for Phil, when the Squire teases him with his growing fondness for the little Jesuit of the parsonage, the boy, though past seventeen now, and "with views of his own," (as most young men have at that age,) blushes like a girl.
Rose, seeing it, and her eyes flashing with sisterly pride, says to herself,--
"Oh, I hope it may come true!"
From time to time Maverick had written in reply to the periodical reports of the Doctor, and always with unabating confidence in his discretion and kindness.
"I have remarked what you say" (he had written thus in a letter which had elicited the close attention of Miss Eliza) "in regard to the rosary found among the girlish treasures of Adèle. I am not aware how she can have come by such a trinket from the source named; but I must beg you to take as little notice as possible of the matter, and please allow her possession of it to remain entirely unremarked. I am specially anxious that no factitious importance be given to the relic by opposition to her wishes."
Heavy losses incident to the political changes of the year 1831 in France had kept him fastened at his post; and with the reviving trade under the peaceful _régime_ of Louis Philippe, he had been more actively engaged even than before. Yet there was no interruption to his correspondence with Adèle, and no falling off in its expressions of earnest affection and devotion.
"I fancy you almost a woman grown now, dear Adèle. Those cheeks of yours have, I hope, not lost their roundness or their rosiness. But, however much you may have grown, I am sure that my heart would guide me so truly that I could single you out from a great crowd of the little Puritan people about you. I can fancy you in some simple New England dress,--in which I would rather see you, my child, than in the richest silks of those about me here,----gliding up the pathway that leads to the door of the old parsonage; I can fancy you dropping a word of greeting to the good Doctor within his study (he must be wearing spectacles now); and at evening I seem to see you kneeling in the long back dining-room, as the parson leads in family prayer. Well, well, don't forget to pray for your old father, my child. I shall be all the safer for it, in what the Doctor calls 'this wicked land.' And what of Reuben, whose mischief, you told me, threatened such fearful results? Sobered down, I suppose, long before this, wearing a stout jacket of homespun, driving home the 'keow' at night, and singing in the choir of a Sunday. Don't lose your heart, Adèle, with any of the youngsters about you. I claim the whole of it; and every day and every night mine beats for you, my child."
And Adèle writes back:--
"My heart is all yours, papa,--only why do you never come and take it? So many, many years that I have not seen you!
"Yes, I like Ashfield still; it is almost a home to me now, you know. New Papa is very kind, but just as grave and stiff as at the first. I know he loves me, but he never tells me so. I don't believe he ever told Reuben so. But when I sing some song that he loves to hear, I see a little quirk by his temple, and a glistening in his eye, as he thanks me, that tells it plain enough; and most of all when he prays, as he sometimes does after talking to me very gravely, with his arm tight clasped around me, oh, I am sure that he loves me!--and indeed, and indeed, I love him back again!
"It was funny what you said of Reuben; for you must know that he is living in the city now, and happens upon us here sometimes with a very grand air,--as fine, I dare say, as the people about Marseilles. But I don't think I like him any better; I don't know if I like him as well. Miss Eliza is, of course, very proud of him, as she always was."
As the nicer observing faculties of his child develop,--of which, ample traces appear in her letters,--Maverick begs her to detail to him as fully as she can all the little events of her every-day life. He has an eagerness, which only an absent parent can feel, to know how his pet is received by those about her; and would supply himself, so far as he may, with a full picture of the scenes amid which his child is growing up. Sheet after sheet of this simple, girlish narrative of hers Maverick delights himself with, as he sits upon his balcony, after business hours, looking down upon the harbor of Marseilles.
"After morning prayers, which are very early, you know, Esther places the smoking dishes on the table, and New Papa asks a blessing,--always. Then he says, 'I hope Adaly has not forgotten her text of yesterday.' And I repeat it to him. Such a quantity of texts as I can repeat now! Then Aunt Eliza says, 'I hope, too, that Adèle will make no mistake in her "Paradise Lost" to-day. Are you sure you've not forgotten that lesson in the parsing, child?' Indeed, papa, I can parse almost any page in the book.
"'I think,' says New Papa, appealing to Miss Eliza, 'that Larkin may grease the wheels of the chaise this morning, and, if it should be fair, I will make a visit or two at the north end of the town; and I think Adaly would like to go with me.'
"'Yes, dearly, New Papa,' I say,--which is very true.
"And Miss Eliza says, very gravely, 'I am perfectly willing, Doctor.'
"After breakfast is over, Miss Eliza will sometimes walk with me a short way down the street, and will say to me, 'Hold yourself erect, Adèle; walk trimly.' _She_ walks very trimly. Then we pass by the Hapgood house, which is one of the grand houses; and I know the old Miss Hapgoods are looking through the blinds at us, though they never show themselves until they have taken out their curl-papers in the afternoon.
"Dame Tourtelot isn't so shy; and we see her great, gaunt figure in a broad sun-bonnet, stooping down with her trowel, at work among the flower-patches before her door; and Miss Almira is reading at an upper window, in pink muslin. And when the Dame hears us, she lifts herself straight, sets her old flapping bonnet as square as she can, and stares through her spectacles until she has made us out; then says,--
"'Good mornin', Miss Johns. You're 'arly this mornin'.'
"'Quite early,' says Miss Eliza. 'Your flowers are looking nicely, Mrs. Tourtelot.'
"'Well, the pi'nys is blowed pretty good. Wouldn't Adeel like a pi'ny?'
"It's a great red monster of a flower, papa; but I thank her for it, and put it in my belt. Then the Dame goes on to tell how she has shifted the striped grass, and how the bouncing-Bets are spreading, and where she means to put her nasturtiums the next year, and brandishes her trowel, as the brigands in the story-books brandish their swords.
"And Miss Eliza says, 'Almira is at her reading, I see.'
"'Dear me!' says the Dame, glancing up; 'she's always a-readin'. What with novils and histories, she's injurin' her health, Miss Johns, as sure as you're alive.'
"Then, as we set off again,--the Dame calling out some last word, and brandishing her trowel over the fence,--old Squire Elderkin comes swinging up the street with the 'Courant' in his hand; and he lifts his hat, and says, 'Good morning to you, Miss Johns; and how is the little French lady this morning? Bright as ever, I see,' (for he doesn't wait to be answered,)--'a peony in her belt, and two roses in her cheeks.' Yet my cheeks are not very red, papa; but it's his way....
"After school, I go for the drive with the Doctor, which I enjoy very much. I ask him about all the flowers along the way, and he tells me everything, and I have learned the names of all the birds; and it is much better, I think, than learning at school. And he always says, 'It's God's infinite love, my child, that has given us all these beautiful things, and these songsters that choir His praises.' When I hear him say it, I believe it, papa. I am very sure that the priest who came to see godmother was not a better man than he is.
"Then, very often, he lifts my hand in his, and says, 'Adaly, my dear, God is very good to us, sinners though we are. We cannot tell His meaning always, but we may be very sure that He has only a good meaning. You do not know it, Adaly, but there was once a dear one, whom I loved perhaps too well;--she was the mother of my poor Reuben; God only knows how I loved her! But He took her from me.'--Oh, how the hand of New Papa griped on mine, when he said this!--'He took her from me, my child; He has carried her to His home. He is just. Learn to love Him, Adaly. The love we give to Him we can carry with us always. He does not die and leave us. He is everywhere. The birds are messengers of His, when they sing; the flowers you love come from His bounty: oh, Adaly, can you not, will you not, love Him?'
"'I do! I do!' I said.
"He looked me full in the face, (I shall never forget how he looked,) 'Ah, Adaly, is this a fantasy of yours,' said he, 'or is it true? Could you give up the world and all its charms, could you forego the admiration and the love of all others, if only He who is the Saviour of us all would smile upon you?'
"I felt I could,--I felt I could, papa.
"But then, directly after, he repeated to me some of those dreary things I had been used to hear in the Catechism week after week. I was _so_ sorry he repeated them, for they seemed to give a change to all my thought. I am _sure_ I was trustful before, when he talked to me so earnestly; but when he repeated only what I had learned over and over, every Saturday night, then I am afraid my faith drooped.
_"'Don't_ tell me that, New Papa,' said I, 'it is so old; talk to me as you _were_ talking.'
"And then the Doctor looked at me with the keenest eyes I ever saw, and said,--
"'My child, are you right, and are the Doctors wrong?'
"'Is it the Catechism that you call the Doctors?' said I.
"'Yes,' said he.
"'But were they better men than you, New Papa?'
"'All men alike, Adaly, all struggling toward the truth,--all wearying themselves to interpret it in such way that the world may accept it, and praise God who has given us His Son a sacrifice, by whom, and whom only, we may be saved.' And at this he took my hand and said, 'Adaly, trust Him!'
"By this time" (for Adèle's letter is a true transcript of a day) "we have reached the door of some one of his people to whom he is to pay a visit. The blinds are all closed, and nothing seems to be stirring but a gray cat that is prowling about under the lilac bushes. Dobbins is hitched to the post, and the Doctor pounds away at the big knocker. Presently two or three white-headed children come peeping around the bushes, and rush away to tell who has come. After a little the stout mistress opens the door, and wipes her fingers on her apron, and shakes hands, and bounces into the keeping-room to throw up the window and open the blinds, and dusts off the great rocking-chair for the Doctor, and keeps saying all the while that they are 'very back'ard with the spring work, and she really had no time to slick up,' and asks after Miss Eliza and Reuben, and the Tourtelots, and all the people on the street, so fast that I wonder she can keep her breath; and the Doctor looks so calm, and has no time to say anything yet. Then she looks at me, 'Sissy is looking well,' says she, and dashes out to bring in a great plate of gingerbread, which I never like at all, and say, 'No.' But she says, 'It won't hurt ye; it a'n't p'ison, child.' So I find I must eat a little; and while I sit mumbling it, the Doctor and she talk on about a great deal I don't understand, and I am glad when she bounces up again, and says, 'Sis would like to get some posies, p'raps,' and leads me out of doors. 'There's lalocs, child, and flower-de-luce: pick what you want.'
"So I go wandering among the beds along the garden, with the bees humming round me; and there are great tufts of blue-bell, and spider-wort, and moss-pink; and the white-haired grandchildren come and put their faces to the paling, looking at me through the bars like animals in a cage; and if I beckon to them, they glance at each other, and dash away."
Thus much of Adèle's account. But there are three or four more visits to complete the parson's day. Possibly he comes upon some member of his flock in the field, when he draws up Dobbins to the fence, and his parishioner, spying the old chaise, leaves his team to blow a moment while he strides forward with his long ox-goad in hand, and, seating himself upon a stump within easy earshot, says,--
"Good mornin', Doctor."
And the parson, in his kindly way, "Good morning, Mr. Pettibone. Your family pretty well?"
"Waäl, middlin', Doctor,--only middlin'. Miss Pettibone is a-havin' faint-ish spells along back; complains o' pain in her side."
"Sorry, sorry," says the good man: and then, "Your team is looking pretty well, Mr. Pettibone."
"Waäl, only tol'able, Doctor. That nigh ox, what with spring work an' grass feed is gittin' kind o' thin in the flesh. Any news abaout, Doctor?"
"Not that I learn, Mr. Pettibone. We're having fine growing weather for your crops."
"Waäl, only tol'able, Doctor. You see, arter them heavy spring rains, the sun has kind o' baked the graound; the seed don't seem to start well. I don't know as you remember, but in '29, along in the spring, we had jist sich a spell o' wet, an' corn hung back that season amazin'ly."
"Well, Mr. Pettibone, we must hope for the best: it's all in God's hands."
"Waäl, I s'pose it is, Doctor,--I s'pose it is." And he makes a cut at a clover-head with the lash upon his ox-goad; then--as if in recognition of the change of subject--he says,--
"Any more talk on the street abaout repairin' the ruff o' the meetin'-house, Doctor?"
At sundown, all visits being paid, they go jogging into town again,--the Doctor silent by this time, and thinking of his sermon, Dobbins is tied always at the same post,--always the hitch-rein buckled in the third hole from the end.
After tea, perhaps, Phil and Rose come sauntering by, and ask if Adèle will go up 'to the house'? Which request, if Miss Eliza meet it with a nod of approval, puts Adèle by their side: Rose, with a beautiful recklessness common to New England girls of that day, wearing her hat drooping half down her neck, and baring her clear forehead to the falling night-dews. Phil, with a pebble in his hand, makes a feint of throwing into a flock of goslings that are waddling disturbedly after a pair of staid old geese, but is arrested by Rose's prompt "Behave, Phil!"
The Squire is reading his paper by the evening lamp, but cannot forbear a greeting to Adèle:--
"Ah, here we are again! and how is Madamòizel?" (this is the Squire's style of French,)--"and has she brought me the peony? Phil would have given his head for it,--eh, Phil?"
Rose is so bright, and glowing, and happy!
Mrs. Elderkin in her rocking-chair, with her gray hair carefully plaited under the white lace cap whose broad strings fall on either shoulder, is a picture of motherly dignity. Her pleasant "Good evening, Adèle," would alone have paid the warm-hearted exile for her walk.
Then follow games, chat, and an occasional noisy joke from the Squire, until the nine o'clock town-bell gives warning, and Adèle wends homeward under convoy of the gallant Phil.
"Good night, Adèle!"
"Good night, Phil!"
Only this at the gate. Then the Doctor's evening prayer; and after it,--in the quiet chamber, where her sweet head lay upon the pillow,--dreams. With recollections more barren than those of most of her years, of any early home, Adèle still dreamed as hopefully as any of a home to come.
In the autumn of 1836, Maverick wrote to his friend, the Doctor, that, in view of the settled condition of business, he intended to visit America some time in the course of the following season. He preferred, however, that Adèle should not be made acquainted with his expected coming. He believed that it would be a pleasant surprise for his child; nor did he wish her anticipations of his arrival to divert her from the usual current of her study and every-day life.
"Above all," he writes, "I wish to see her as she is, without any note of preparation. You will therefore, I beg, my dear Johns, keep from her scrupulously all knowledge of my present intentions, (which may possibly miscarry, after all,) and let me see, to the very finest touch, whether of a ribbon or of a ringlet, how far you have New-Englandized my dear girl. I form a hundred pictures in my fancy; but every new letter from her somehow disturbs the old image, and another is conjured up. The only _real_ thing in my mind is, after all, a little child of eight, rosy and piquantly coquettish, who slaps my cheek when I tease her, and who, as I bid her adieu at last upon the ship's deck, looks through her tears at me and waves her little kerchief.
"It is quite possible that I may manage for her return with me, (of this plan, too, I beg you to give no hint,) and in view of it I would suggest that any available occasion be seized upon to revive her knowledge of French, which, I fear, in your staid household she may almost have forgotten. Tell dear Adèle that I am sometimes at Le Pin, where her godmother never fails to inquire after her and call down blessings on the dear child."
Upon this the Doctor and Miss Johns take counsel. Both are not a little disturbed by the anticipation of Adèle's leave. The grave Doctor finds his heart wrapped about by the winning ways of the little stranger in a manner he could hardly have conceived possible on the day when he first greeted her. On the score of her religious beliefs, he is not, indeed, as yet thoroughly satisfied; but he feels sure that she is at least in a safe path. The old idols are broken: God, in His own time, will do the rest.
The spinster, though she has become unconsciously attached to Adèle to a degree of which she hardly believes herself capable, is yet not so much disconcerted by the thought of any violence to her affections,--for all violence of this kind she has schooled herself to regard with cool stoicism,--but the possible interruption of her ambitious schemes with respect to Reuben and Adèle discomposes her sadly. Such a scheme she has never given over for one moment. No plan of hers is ever given over lightly; and she has that persistent faith in her own sagacity and prudence which is not easily shaken. The growing intercourse with the Elderkins, in view of the evident devotion of Phil, has been, indeed, the source of a little uneasiness; but even this intimacy she has moderated to a certain degree by occasional judicious fears in regard to Adèle's exposure to the night air; and has made the most--in her quiet manner--of Phil's exceptional, but somewhat noisy, attentions to that dashing girl, Sophie Bowrigg.
"A very suitable match it would be," she says some evening, casually, to the Doctor; "and I really think that Phil, if there were any seriousness about the lad, would meet his father's wishes in the matter. Adèle, child," (she is sitting by at her worsted,) "are you sure you've the right shade of brown there?"
But, like most cool schemers in what concerns the affections, she makes her errors. Her assurance in regard to the improved habits and character of Reuben, and her iteration of the wonderful attachment which the Brindlocks bear to the lad, have a somewhat strained air to the ear of Adèle. And when the spinster says,--folding up his last letter,--"Good fellow! always some tender little message for you, my dear," Adèle thinks--as most girls of her age would be apt to think--that she would like to see the tender message with her own eyes.
But what of the French? Where is there to be found a competent teacher? Not, surely, in Ashfield. Miss Eliza, with grave doubts, however, suggests a winter in New York with the Brindlocks. The Doctor shakes his head:--
"Not to be thought of, Eliza. It is enough that my boy should undergo the perils of such godless association: Adaly shall not."
The question, however, of the desired opportunity is not confined to the parsonage; it has currency up and down the street; and within a week the buoyant Miss Bowrigg comes to the rescue.
"Delighted above all things to hear it. They have a charming teacher in the city, Madame Arles, who has the best accent. And now, Adèle, dear, you must come down and pass the winter with us. It will be charming."
It is, indeed, a mere girlish proposal at first; but, much to the delight of Miss Eliza, it is abundantly confirmed by a formal invitation from Mrs. Bowrigg, a few weeks after, who, besides being attracted by the manners and character of Adèle, sees in it an admirable opportunity for the accomplishment of her daughters in French. Her demonstrative girls and a son of twenty comprise her family. For these reasons, she will regard it as a favor, if the Doctor will allow Miss Maverick to establish herself with them for the winter.
Miss Eliza is delighted with the scheme, but fears the cool judgment of the Doctor: and she has abundant reason.
"It cannot be," he said, and was quite inexorable.
The truth is, that Mrs. Bowrigg, like a good many educated with a narrow severity, had expanded her views under the city influences in directions that were by no means approved by the good Doctor. Hers was not only a godless household, but given over to the lusts of the eye and the pride of life. It was quite impossible for him to entertain the idea of submitting Adèle to any such worldly associations.
Miss Eliza pleaded the exigencies of the case in vain; and even Adèle, attracted by the novelty of the proposed situation, urged her claim in the cheeriest little manner conceivable.
"Only for the winter, New Papa; please say 'Yes'!"
And the tender hands patted the grave face, as she seated herself with a childish coquetry upon the elbow of his chair.
"Impossible, quite impossible," says the Doctor. "You are too dear to me, Adaly."
"Oh, now, New Papa, you don't mean that,--not _positively_?"--and the winning fingers tap his cheek again.
But for this time, at least, Adèle is to lose her claim; the Doctor well knows that to suffer such endearments were to yield; so he rises brusquely,--
"I must be just, my child, to the charge your father has imposed upon me. It cannot be."
It will not be counted strange, if a little ill-disguised petulance appeared in the face of Adèle that day and the next.
The winter of 1836-7 was a very severe one throughout New England. Perhaps it was in view of its severity, that, on or about New Year's Day, there came to the parsonage a gift from Reuben for Adèle, in the shape of a fur tippet, very much to the gratification of Miss Eliza and to the pleasant surprise of the Doctor.
Rose and Phil, sitting by the fire next day, Rose says, in a timid voice, with less than her usual sprightliness,--
"Do you know who has sent a beautiful fur tippet to Adèle, Phil?"
"No," says Phil, briskly. "Who?"
"Reuben," says Rose,--in a tone as if a blush ran over her face at the utterance.
If there was one, however, Phil could not have seen it; he was looking steadfastly into the fire, and said only,--
"I don't care."
A little after, (nothing having been said, meantime,) he has occasion to rearrange the wood upon the hearth, and does it with such preposterous violence that the timid little voice beside him says,--
"Don't, Phil, be angry with the fire!"
It was a winter, as we have said, for fur tippets and for glowing cheeks; and Adèle had now been long enough under a Northern sky to partake of that exhilaration of spirits which belongs to every true-born New-Englander in presence of one of those old-fashioned snowstorms, which, all through the day and through the night, sifts out from the gray sky its fleecy crystals,--covering the frosted high-roads, covering the withered grasses, covering the whole summer's wreck in one glorious white burial; and after it, keen frosty mornings, the pleasant jingling of scores of bells, jets of white vapor from the nostrils of the prancing horses, and a quick electric tingle to the blood, that makes every pulse beat a thanksgiving. Squire Elderkin never made better jokes, the flame upon his hearth never danced more merrily,--the Doctor never preached better sermons, and the people never listened more patiently than in those weeks of the dead of winter.
But in the midst of them a black shadow fell upon the little town. News came overland, (the river being closed,) that Mrs. Bowrigg, after an illness of three days, was dead; and the body of the poor woman was to come home for burial. She had been reared, as we have said, under a harsh regimen, and had signalized her married escape from the somewhat oppressive formalities of home by a pretty free entertainment of all the indulgences accessible in her new life. Not that she offended against any of the larger or lesser proprieties of society, but she showed a zest for the pleasures of the world, and for a certain measure of display, which had been the occasion of many a sober shake of the head along the streets of Ashfield, and the subject of particular commiseration on the part of the good Doctor.
Now that her brilliant career (as it seemed to many of the staid folk of Ashfield) was so suddenly closed, the Doctor could not forbear taking advantage of the opportunity to press home upon his people, under the influences of this sombre funeral procession, the vanities of the world and the fleeting character of its wealth and pride. "We may build palaces," said he, (and people thought of the elegant Bowrigg mansion,) "but God locks the door and assigns to us a narrower home; we may court the intoxicating air of cities, but its breath, in a day, may blast our strength, and, except He keep us, may blast our souls." Never had the Doctor been more eloquent, and never had he so moved his people. After the evening prayer, Adèle stole into the study of the Doctor, and said,--
"New Papa, it was well I stayed with you."
The old gentleman took her hand in his,--
"Right, I believe, Adaly; but vain, utterly vain, except you be counted among the elect."
The poor girl had no reply, save only to drop a kiss upon his forehead and pass out.
With the opening of the spring the townspeople were busy with the question, if the Bowriggs would come again to occupy their summer residence, that, with its closed doors and windows, was mournfully silent. But soon the gardeners were set to work; it was understood that a housekeeper had been engaged, and the family were to occupy it as usual. Sophie writes to Adèle, confirming it all, and adding,--"Madame Arles had proposed to make us a visit, which papa hearing, and wishing us to keep up our studies, has given her an invitation to pass the summer with us. She says she will. I am so glad! We had told her very much of you, and I know she will be delighted to have you as a scholar."
At this Adèle feels a thrill of satisfaction, and looks longingly forward to the time when she shall hear again from native lips the language of her childhood.
"_Ma fille! ma fille!_"
The voices of her early home seem to ring again in her ear. She basks once more in the delicious flow of the sunshine, and the perfume of the orange-blossoms regales her.
Is it the echo of your voice, good old godmother, that comes rocking over the great reach of sea, and so touches the heart of the exile?
LETTER TO A SILENT FRIEND.
Were you, my friend, one of those who make a merit of their silence, I should have little occasion to write this letter. But as I know you, on the contrary, to have lamented your colloquial deficiencies as sincerely as any one, as I know that you have most earnestly coveted greater fluency of speech and admired most warmly those who possessed it, I venture to hope that I may say something to convince you that your case is not so bad as you think. Yes, I am bold enough to believe that you may aspire to the character which now seems to you so utterly beyond reach,--the character of a talker! Before you smile incredulously, listen to me, a fellow-sufferer. I also have known the misery and weakness of an unready tongue. No poor man ever looked upon a heap of gold coin with more longing eyes than I have looked upon those who could so easily coin their thoughts into words. From a boy I conceived myself doomed to taciturnity. The charge, to "talk more," was a well-meant appeal to awaken my powers of utterance, but its only effect was to shut my mouth closer than ever. Few persons can talk upon compulsion, and boys least of all. As I grew old enough, however, to recognize some responsibility for conversation, I was the more distressed that I could not do what I knew I ought to do. I was beyond measure vexed with myself this incapacity. It stood in the way of my usefulness, it did not make my company desirable, it drove me into morbid and depressing thoughts. And yet--to make a long story short--I have gradually come to be, not a "talker" certainly, but no longer afraid that I "can find nothing to say," no longer trammelled by a false reserve, but presuming, on the contrary, that with most persons whom I meet it will be quite possible to engage in easy and fluent conversation,--a presumption, by the way, always likely to justify itself by the event. I insist, therefore, from my own experience, that conversation is an art as well as a gift; and that where it is not a gift, the deficiency may be more surely supplemented by art than almost any other. You will tell me, perhaps, in common with others who are not talkers, that speech must be natural to be attractive, and that all appearance of effort will spoil its charm. Is not this rather the excuse of indolence than the valid objection of reason? It has been finely argued, that even with children "work" must precede "play." The proverb, too, says that "every beginning is hard." I know that the _appearance_ of effort is not attractive; but after a while there is no such appearance, not merely because "the province of art is to conceal art," but because habit has become a second nature. When you think what a trained and educated thing our life is in its minutest particulars, and how not only the civilized, but the savage man has to _learn_ the use of his senses, his muscles, and his brain, you must admit that it is frivolous to urge against the charm or value of conversation, that it must be studied. It is hardly too much to say, that all the noblest things in the world are the result of study. Why not also study the noble and most desirable art of framing our thoughts, opinions, sentiments, tastes, into free, familiar, and appropriate speech?
But here I fancy you may meet me with a question,--Is it, after all, so desirable an art, and one well worth the learning? I have, it is true, given you credit for coveting earnestly a greater facility of speech; and yet you may have become more reconciled to your deficiency than you like to acknowledge, through the influence of certain popular maxims and fallacies. The one I wish especially to challenge now is expressed in that German proverb which Mr. Carlyle has taken under his peculiar patronage,--"Speech is silver, silence is gold." A great comfort, to be sure, to one who is either too lazy or too diffident to open his lips to get credit so cheaply for superior wisdom! When he does not talk, of course it can only be because he keeps up such an incessant thinking! "Too deep for utterance" is the character of all his meditations! Do you remember Coleridge's amusing experience with one of these reputed sages? But for the appearance of the "dumplings,"--almost as historic now as King George's famous ones,--it might never have been suspected that this empty-headed fellow was not the profoundest of philosophers. Can you or anybody explain the reasons for this singular praise of silence and disparagement of speech? You do not expect to be commended for shutting your eyes instead of keeping them open. The feeble and unused hand is not preferred to the strong cunning one. Nor is there any sense or faculty of our nature of which the simple non-use is better than the use. Why, then, account it a merit to refrain from using this wondrous faculty of speech? I may grant all that you will tell me of the deplorable amount of vapid, idle, bitter, malicious, foul, and profane talk. Silence is better than the _abuse_ of words,--none of us will question that. I am only defending the normal and legitimate exercise of this faculty. And perhaps you will see the matter in still clearer light, if you should undertake to apply the principle of the Carlyle proverb to some other endowments and opportunities, to which in fact many do apply it. If one may say, "I am weary of all this talking, henceforth let there be silence," why may not another, improving upon this hint, say, "I am sick of these miserable daubs, there shall be no more painting," and another, "I am disgusted with politics, I will have nothing more to do with the science or the art of government"? Because there are infelicities of married life, is it so certain that "single blessedness" is the best estate? Because there are some timeservers and worldlings among the clergy, shall we join in denunciation of priests and churches everywhere? I see that you are prepared to answer, that speech is peculiarly liable to abuse. Exactly, and that is true of all the most excellent and valuable gifts of Providence. It is impossible to escape the condition of peril attached to everything under the sun that is most worthy of desire. Have we not learned by this time the folly of every form of asceticism, of every attempt to trample upon God's gifts as evil instead of using them for good?
Now I shall not attempt a dissertation, however tempting the theme, upon the uses of speech in general. I will only ask you to consider that single department of it which we call conversation. Did you ever think how great a power in the world this is? See how early it begins to shape our opinions, our plans, our studies, our tastes, our attachments, etc. I remember that a casual remark, dropped in conversation by a beloved and revered relative long before I had entered my teens, made me for years feel more kindly towards the much-abused natives of the Emerald Isle, though I have no doubt that she whose word I had listened to with so much deference was entirely unsuspicious of having lodged such a fruitful seed in my memory. If you can recall the formative periods of your own life, I have no doubt you also will find hundreds of similar instances, where a new direction was given to your sentiments and purposes by some quite random words of friendly and domestic talk. Consider how large a part of the life of most human beings is spent in society of some sort, and then reflect how that society is bound together and constituted, as it were, by familiar speech, and you will begin to appreciate the extent of the power of conversation. Compare this power with that of written language,--as books, letters, etc.,--or even with more formal spoken language,--such as orations, sermons, and the like,--and I think you will allow that it surpasses them all in its diffusion and its permanence. Were the question solely as to the amount of information imparted, books and deliberate addresses certainly stand higher. But you must not fall into the common error, that the chief object of conversation is or should be to instruct. It has manifold objects, and some of them, to say the least, are quite as desirable as instruction. We talk to keep up good feeling, to enliven the else dull hours, to give expression to our interest in one another, to throw off the burden of too much private care and thought. We have also, in special cases, more serious ends in view, when we talk to reprove or encourage, to console or arouse. Even this partial enumeration of the offices of familiar speech may suffice to show you how desirable it is to wield such a power. Conversation establishes a personal relation between yourself and another soul. It is the open door through which your spiritual treasures are interchanged. For the time, at least, it supposes some degree of equality, some power both to give and receive, in those who take part in the dialogue. I know very well how the cynics like to quote the diplomatist's sarcasm, that "speech is the art of hiding thought." Let this perversion have what force it may. I am speaking now of the higher uses and possibilities of conversation. You can hide your thoughts under your words, if you choose to be a hypocrite; but I am taking for granted that you are a man of truth,--a "man of your word," as the common phrase happily has it. I assume that you would be glad to talk, because you wish to form sincere and friendly relations with your fellow-men. When two or more human beings meet, the rule, the normal condition, is, that they give utterance to some thoughts, feelings, or sentiments in audible words. _Silence is unsocial_: there lies its condemnation. It is true that silence may often be justified, notwithstanding; for social claims must sometimes yield to higher considerations, or even to physical necessity. But most persons, I believe, feel instinctively that a persistent silence is an affront to them,--a denial, in some sort, of their right to be received into your company. "You won't speak to me" is their resentful interpretation of your silence. You ought not to ask so much as "a penny for your thoughts." They should, so far as practicable, be shared freely by those whom you call friends. The limitations and exceptions to this rule we will presently refer to, but the rule is important and clear. True social feeling, true warmth and cordiality, naturally expresses itself in words, and is strengthened by the expression. Will you not admit, that, if we are conscious of having anything to say which might please or profit a friend, it is a reproach to us to keep it back? Yes, it is desirable to talk, were it simply a mark of interest and confidence in those whom you come in contact with. I have noticed that a great deal of taciturnity comes from a very discreditable diffidence, by which I mean a distrust or suspicion that our words may be misconstrued, or that they may not be appreciated, or that they may chance to give serious offence. Now, in my opinion, one had better make innumerable _faux pas_ than indulge such unworthy fears and suspicions. A little less vanity, and vastly more courage and self-forgetfulness,--such is the remedy to be administered to many of the taciturn. You are the best judge whether it would suit your own case.
As an illustration of the value of conversation in its more familiar forms and its daily requirements, consider its service at meal-times. General usage has determined that three times a day we shall assemble with our families for the common purpose of appeasing the demands of hunger and satisfying the fancies or whims of the palate. Moreover, to many men these are the only times of the day when they can have the opportunity to meet all the members of their family in free and unrestrained intercourse. Now to make this occasion something more than mere "feeding," and to elevate it to the dignity of rational intercourse, conversation is indispensable. We must open our mouths for something more than the reception of food. As a mere hygienic rule, I wish that excellent old proverb could be circulated among our countrymen,--"Chatted food is half digested." I would almost pledge myself by this single rule to cure or prevent nearly half the cases of dyspepsia. But for higher reasons chiefly I speak of it now. We ought to insist that everything shall be favorable at meal-times to the truest sociality. No clouded brows, no absent or preoccupied demeanor, should be permitted at our tables. Whoever is not ready to do his part in making it a cheerful hour should be made to feel that he does not belong there. Better the merest nonsense, better anything that is not scandal and detraction, than absolute and freezing silence then. I am sure that the usages of all the most civilized and refined people will bear me out in this,--that the only way to dignify our meals, and make them something better than the indulgence of mere animal appetites, is to intersperse them largely with social talk. There, if not elsewhere, we look for the _soluta lingua_. There all reserve and embarrassment of speech, we trust, will have vanished, and each will feel free to impart to the rest his brightest and most joyous moods. Shall we ever realize this ideal, as long as "bolting" usurps the place of eating?
And what, after all, constitutes the charm and the power of conversation, and makes it so desirable an attainment? Not, certainly, the amount of knowledge one can bring into play; for, as I have already shown you, instruction is a secondary object of conversation; and it is well known also that some of the most learned and best-informed men have been very poor talkers. Indeed, the scholastic habits which learning usually engenders are almost a disqualification for fluent and eloquent speech. The student is one of the last persons who are expected to shine at a social reunion. But neither can you rely upon brilliant talents, or original genius, or even upon wit and humor, to make the most charming converser. The qualities more immediately in requisition for this end are moral and social. Truth, courage, deference, good-nature, cheerfulness, sympathy, courtesy, tact, charity,--these are ingredients of the best conversation, which it would seem that no one need despair of attaining, and without which, in large measure, the most brilliant wit, the liveliest imagination, must soon repel rather than attract. And observe also, in connection with this, that it is not so much the words a man utters as the tones of his voice which express these moral and social qualities. Harsh, rude, blunt, severe tones will spoil the greatest flow of ideas or the utmost elegance of language. But when we are listening to the low, sweet music in which a genial and joyous and tender soul will utter itself, what care we for the wit or genius which are so much envied elsewhere? We did not miss it here. We may have brought away with us from such company no great fund of new ideas, but you may be sure something deeper than thought has been awakened,--the well-spring of purest and tenderest sensibilities has been made to overflow, and our life will be the greener for it hereafter. Perhaps, if you think of this a little more, my friend, you will not find it in your heart to condemn so unsparingly the more ordinary staple of conversation. Some cynical or unsocial character, deeming himself superior to the vulgar vacuity and insipidity, will take no part in the every-day talk which deals so largely in commonplace and truisms. "Absurd waste of time and breath!" he exclaims. "Of what use this incessant harping on the weather, or the renewed inquiries after one's health, or the utterly pointless, if not insincere, exchange of daily civilities? Who is the wiser for it? What possible good can it do anybody?" Let us look a little at this, Mr. Cynic. You think it a waste of breath to greet a friend with a "good morning," or to give your testimony to the beauty of the day? Of course you are right, if one should never open his mouth but to impart a new idea, or to announce some startling fact. But what would you substitute for the morning salutation? Nothing! And would you really have two friends or brothers meet on the threshold of a new day, and interchange--blank silence? I admit, there is no variety in the words,--they are stale, they have been repeated a thousand times over. But it is the heartiness we put into them which gives them their value, and I am sure that you, with all your objections to the form of greeting, would find the world many shades more dreary, were _no_ such forms to welcome us with the rising sun. For myself I can truly say, that, many and many a time, this morning salutation, spoken out with a generous fulness, and not with that grudging curtness which sometimes distinguishes it, has touched my heart as with a happy prophecy which the day was sure to fulfil. As to the dreadfully threadbare topic of the weather, I must confess I often hear it to satiety; but that is when it ceases to be the mere prelude to the dialogue, and occupies one's whole talk. In itself you cannot deny that it is natural and proper enough to invite another's sympathy in a subject which so nearly concerns the physical, if not the moral well-being of most of us. "What a glorious day we have!" when interpreted rationally, means nothing less than this,--"Come, let us enjoy together the lavish bounty of the Creator!" We may be sensible of a new and purer joy for such an appeal. Already we were glad to have the sun shine so brightly; but it seems doubly bright now that our friend has invited us to share his joy. Does it seem to you superfluous, perhaps, to give utterance to a thought which is obviously already in the mind of your companion? Well, let us try this by some familiar test. You have just gone among the mountains to spend a few weeks with an agreeable company. You wake in the morning and find yourself in the midst of a most majestic spectacle. At the very door of the farm-house where you have taken lodgings, your eyes travel upward five thousand feet to admire that cloud-piercing summit which stands there to give you the welcome of the morning. As you watch its coursing shadows and all its wondrous variety of beauty and grandeur, have you nothing to say to the friend who has come with you there to see it all? What would be more unnatural than to repress all words or tokens of admiration,--to meet your friend day after day and interchange no word of recognition amid such scenes? I know that he who feels most in the presence of these sublimities will often say least. But because it is impossible to give expression to one's deepest thoughts, shall one say nothing? You may reasonably be supposed to care something for the sympathy of those whom you have accompanied hither; and sympathy, though not entirely dependent on words, naturally seeks some words to express itself, and is injured when that expression is restrained.
But now I fancy you replying to all this,--"You do not hit my difficulty. I have no trouble in talking with a chosen companion. My friend 'draws me out,' because I am his friend. In his presence my tongue is easily loosed, I have no hesitation in saying exactly what I wish, and there are innumerable things that I wish to say. But the great majority of men 'shut me up.' All my fluency departs when they enter. There is an indescribable awkwardness in our interview. We belong to different spheres, and it is mere pretence to affirm that we have anything to communicate to each other."--Here I am willing to admit that you have touched upon a very important consideration, although it by no means justifies all that you would build upon it. I am myself conscious that with some persons it is an effort to talk, and with others a delight; nor can I always understand whence this difference. It is certainly not owing to the length or shortness of acquaintance. It has been no infrequent experience with me, to meet persons who at the first interview broke down all my natural reserve. And on the other hand, I have known men all my life with whom it is still a study what I shall say when we meet. Who shall tell us what this magic is? Who shall give us the "open sesame" to every heart? We name it "sphere," "organization," "sympathy," or what not, to cover our ignorance: all I insist upon is, that you will not name it _fate_. Pride or indolence is always suggesting that these lines of demarcation are fixed and unalterable. Beware of entertaining that suggestion! Were two of the most uncongenial persons in the world to be thrown together on a desert island, would they have nothing to say to each other? Would they not learn by the necessities of the case to communicate more and more? Would it not probably be a constant discovery, that they had vastly more in common than either had ever dreamed? I think so, at least. Well, if mere external necessity can surmount these natural barriers, may not a determined will, backed by a strong sense of moral obligation, do the same? Let me tell you this also, as one of my experiences: that I have not seldom reversed my first judgments or impressions of men, and have found, that, after a very thin crust was once broken through, there was no further obstacle to easy conversation. You will observe that some persons, at the first encounter, bristle all over with uncongenial points; and yet, if you will quietly ignore these, or boldly rush upon them, you shall gain a true friend. Behind that formidable barrier is a field all your own, and worth cultivating. This needs to be considered, especially under our northern skies, where cultivated society intrenches itself behind a triple wall of reserve. The code of this society seems to assume, that no stranger has a right to our confidence, that every new person may be supposed to have little in common with us, till we learn the contrary. Hence conversation in the saloons is a dexterous tossing about of the most vapid generalities, or a series of desperate attempts at non-committal. I do not wonder that you, my friend, like many other sensible people, infinitely prefer saying nothing to talking on this wise. But, with a little more courage, may not one break boldly through these artificial restraints, and ignore these supposed claims of polite society? Do not call me Quixotic, because I exhort you to show something like independence. Why may you not establish your own claim to confidence by confiding in others? Why not, without affectation, have to some extent your own standard of polite usage,--not, indeed, rashly despising all conventionalisms, but conforming to whatever is essentially refined, courteous, and deferential, yet proving in your manners and language that such conformity does not require one to suppress all that is simple, natural, spontaneous, enthusiastic, and fresh? Do not be afraid, however, that I would have you addicted to superlatives,--though I might object to them for another reason than that given by our American Essayist. He complains of them, that "they put whole drawing-rooms to flight,"--a result which I am almost malicious enough to say might sometimes be by no means undesirable. I do not say it, however. I merely express my impatience at the extremely artificial barriers which society interposes to any genuine, unaffected intercourse of human souls.
To return to the question of spheres and sympathy. I frankly admit, that it is very unreasonable to suppose we can talk equally well and feel equally at ease with all kinds of persons. Not only organization, but habits, occupations, and culture, make inevitable differences between men, such as render it less easy for them to converse together. The scholar and the mechanic, the sailor and the farmer, the mistress and the maid, in most cases will have little to interest each other. Their interview will probably be awkward and brief, their words few and constrained. This, perhaps, cannot be essentially remedied. But I trust you will agree with me, that the true remedy is to be sought in a more hearty recognition of that _common humanity_ which underlies all the shades and diversities of human character. "_Nihil humani alienum_"--we must go back to old Terence still, even to learn how to talk. You happen to be thrown into the same public conveyance with a man of no literary or intellectual tastes. "All his talk is of oxen," or perchance of his speculations and profits in trade. Moreover, he offends your ear by a shocking disregard of grammar, and vulgarisms of pronunciation. Your first reflection is,--"What can I have to say to such a man? How unfortunate to be condemned to such company!" Yet is there not _aliquid humani_ even here? Were it only as an intellectual exercise, why not try to find out the real man beneath all these wrappages? The gold-miner does not grumble at having to crush the quartz, that he may bring to light the few grains of precious metal hidden in it. Infinitely more is it worth all the labor it costs to break through that harder shell in which man hides his intrinsic gold. And besides, it will not reflect much credit on the largeness of your own culture, if you suffer a mere offence against taste and manners to keep you ignorant of your companion's deeper nature. "But how to draw him out? What effectual method to break through this hard or coarse covering?" I have no infallible directions to give you. But you must first have a genuine interest in him as a new specimen of _a man_; and then you must be able to inspire him with confidence in you, confidence that you respect him for his human nature and hold yourself to be on an equality with him, inasmuch as "man measures man the world over." Start some topic which will evidently not be remote from his familiar range, and by a little tact you will easily find other related topics, till at last, as the field continually widens, you will both be amazed to see how many common interests, desires, beliefs you had, and how much unexpected benefit each has received from the other. Were there no other advantage to be sought from the power of general conversation, this alone should be enough to induce us to cultivate it: that so many uncomfortable social distinctions would thereby be removed. Have you not heard it often said, that, if certain classes only "knew each other better," they would be better friends, no longer separated by mutual envies, jealousies, and contempt? Now conversation is the readiest way to this mutual acquaintance, and it specially behooves one of the educated class to make the first advances in conversation. I have in my mind an instance of a man of natural reserve and diffidence, and of scholastic habits, who greatly to his grief had the reputation among some uneducated people of being "proud." But having occasion to do some little service to a woman of this class, he entered her plain dwelling, seated himself at once as if at home, and had no sooner uttered a few words of sympathy, such as the occasion called for, than all that suspicion of pride was most thoroughly dissipated, leaving only the wonder that it could ever have been entertained. My friend, will you not, in this world of frequent misunderstanding, do your part, by _word_ as well as deed, to show others, whom society classes below you, that you are not divided from them in respect to all those great interests which make the true dignity of human nature? Talk of the virtue of silence! I will tell you from my own experience of a thousand cases where the simple failure to speak has kept up a coolness and alienation which one little word would have dispersed forever. Among the many sins and weaknesses which I have to lay at my own door, few give me greater compunction than the cowardice--or whatever else it was--which kept back the timely words that ought to have been uttered, but were not.
Can I make this letter more practically useful by a few rules? It would seem, that, if conversation is an art, like other arts, there must be rules and methods to attain to it. This is true; but I must first remind you that mere facility, propriety, or elegance of speech is but a small part of the discipline required to make an agreeable and profitable talker. You must have something to express, something that you long to utter, something that you feel it would be for the advantage of others to hear. For the furnishing of mind and heart comes before any special power to _bring out_ of one's treasury things new or old. In other words, the power to converse well is not an isolated and independent power; it has a close relation to the entire character, moral and intellectual. An enlightened conscience would make many persons better talkers than they are now, for it would present the matter in the light of a duty. A consciousness of intellectual power or of ample learning makes one more ready to open his mouth before intelligent men; for, whether rightly or not, one does not like to talk before others of subjects on which he knows that they are better informed than he. And yet it is no good reason for maintaining silence in the company of some eminent scholar, that he _knows_ so much more than you. You are naturally shy of expressing your opinion on the "origin of species," or the "antiquity of man," before some great naturalist. But why not come to him as a learner, then? The art of putting questions well is no small part of the art of conversation. You can derive information from him in the most direct and impressive manner, while at the same time you are showing a pleasing deference to his superior knowledge. Or suppose the case reversed, and that you are the more learned of the two, may you not benefit some young scholar by questioning him so skilfully that he shall seem to have imparted all the information evolved, instead of receiving it? The "wisest of mankind" always declared that he merely drew out the sentiments of those he talked with. He assisted in the delivery of their thoughts. He simply helped them to that most valuable knowledge,--the knowledge of themselves. He was forever putting questions to them, with a result which often surprised and sometimes made them angry, but which, at any rate, effectually served the interests of truth. And, upon the whole, I do not know any rule for making a good talker which deserves a more prominent place than this: Put your questions properly, and ask many questions. Observe how naturally nearly all conversation begins with an inquiry. "When did you arrive?" "Are you a stranger here?" "How far did you walk to-day?" "Which view did you most enjoy?" "Did you hear any news from the seat of war?" The simple reason of this method, as already intimated, is, that it puts the questioner in a more modest position. He whom you question has the agreeable consciousness of being able to impart something which you have not. You put yourself in the background, and make him the important person. He is therefore at once amicably disposed towards you, and is not likely to let the conversation languish, so auspiciously begun. He in turn becomes the questioner, and so in not many moments you stand on the footing of equals. But remember, all this is true only on condition that the questions are _properly put_. If they manifest an impertinent curiosity, a mere disposition to pry into affairs which do not belong to one,--if they are of a nature to expose the ignorance of the questioned, even though not intended for such,--if they are incessant, and unrelieved by any affirmations, as though you were unwilling to commit yourself, or grudged to impart your knowledge,--and, finally, if the tone and voice of the questioner imply a feeling of superiority,--then, instead of promoting conversation, you will have done your worst to check it. You will have made the breach wider than if you had said nothing. Again, before putting your questions, consider a little the character of the man or woman whom you would address; for, while some evidently delight in being the objects of interrogation, others are as plainly, beyond a very moderate amount, annoyed by it. You must, of course, take this into account. You will gain nothing by the rudeness of pressing your questions upon unwilling ears. If one obstinately (or not obstinately) refuses to be drawn out, there is no help for it but silence. Conversation implies _some_ reciprocity,--not by any means an equal amount of words on both sides, but at any rate some sign of intelligence, some expression of interest, some listening ear and face to encourage you; else it were better to utter your monologue to the woods and flowers.
Another rule of conversation, as old at least as George Herbert, is, to talk with men on the subjects which belong to their peculiar calling or occupation,--with a farmer about his crops, with a merchant about the markets, with a sailor about the charms and perils of the sea, etc. Let it be only with considerable qualification that you accept this rule. I like Coleridge's comment on it: Talk with a man about his trade or business, if your object is to get information on such points; but if you wish to know the man himself, try him on all other topics sooner. The rule, however, is a convenient one; it is almost instinctively adopted in general society; and if judiciously applied, it may express a friendly feeling, which it is very desirable to commence with. It is not applied judiciously, when you seem to assume by it that your interlocutor is _limited_ to these topics, and that "the cobbler must stick to his last," in word as well as deed. Or, again, if your questions shall have the air of "pumping" him, you will not make much progress towards friendly communication; for that seems an unfair advantage to take of your position, besides that it is making of him a mere convenience, not treating him as an equal. No one likes to be catechized after he has grown to man's estate. I advise you, therefore, to use this rule simply as a convenient introduction to conversation where other methods fail, and to rely more upon a rule which is in some respects the reverse of this: Begin by talking about those things which interest yourself, assuming that your interlocutor is interested in them also. But I must warn you that here even more tact and discretion are required than in the other case. Follow such a rule literally and everywhere, and you would often have no hearer left. Fancy some student, fresh from his Greek or Sanscrit, endeavoring to impart his enthusiasm to a crowd of rustics! It is plain that I must add to my rule, _provided_ your interest does not lie in things too remote from common apprehension and sympathy. Remember what I have already said about our "common humanity." Do not be so absorbed in your favorite study that you shall not also have an eye and a heart for matters pertaining to the general welfare. Then there will be no company in which you need be wholly silent, though there will always be preference for a company which sympathizes with your more decided tastes and pursuits. I cannot, indeed, understand how one should ever arrive at that state in which he has no preference for any particular class or society. Yet the more one cultivates acquaintance with a variety of characters, the more one will enjoy conversation in the favorite circle. Looking upon society simply as the means of developing the power of speech in man, the wider and more intimate our acquaintance with it, the more varied and attractive will be that power. I have somewhere read of two prisoners of state in Europe, who, entire strangers to each other before, were thrown into the same prison-cell to pass years together. One of them, after his release, relates, that, for the first year, they told each other all that they ever did,--every incident that memory could possibly rake up out of their past lives. For the second year, they talked over all their interior life, confiding to each other every phase of thought and affection and spiritual experience. But in the third year, they were _utterly silent_. They had "talked out." And what could more strikingly picture the misery of such a confinement than this entire exhaustion of materials for mutual communication? Yet how could it be otherwise? With absolutely nothing new to flow in, how could anything new be drawn out?
The story impresses upon us the lesson, that, if we would enrich and enliven our conversation, we must always be supplying ourselves with new resources, new studies, new experiences. Let me lay it down, then, as a further rule to help one in the attainment of this valuable art: Make it a point to inform yourself on a variety of topics. One of the greatest hindrances, you will observe, to profitable or entertaining conversation is the extremely limited range of ideas with which most persons are familiar. Take any miscellaneous company, brought together in some public conveyance, or detained at some public house. The chances are, that very few out of the whole number will be conscious of any definite opinions to express on the higher departments of thought. They could doubtless tell you a great many _facts_ which have interested them; but ask them for their _ideas_ upon science, theology, politics, or morals, and they are dumb. They will talk with you of _persons_ as long as you will listen, but of _principles_ they seem to have only the remotest conception. Now I do not quite agree with the "Guesses at Truth," that "personality is the bane of conversation"; for persons come nearer to our every-day sympathies, and one need not, one does not, always bring them forward for gossip and scandal. But does it not denote extreme poverty of thought to introduce personalities into every conversation? Let them rather be illustrations, and thus stepping-stones to something higher and more edifying. Come now and then, at least, fully prepared for something like intellectual gymnastics. Put your whole strength into the conflict. Gather up all your forces of thought and knowledge, and do your best as a man among men, contending not for victory or display, but for the truth and the right. If you ever belonged to a literary club or debating-society of any kind, you will remember what healthy glow and freshness it gave to all your faculties to enter into this intellectual arena. You could read and study with a great deal more interest after that. You knew better what you really believed and thought concerning the great interests of humanity. Your ideas of art, of ethics, of history, of government, of philosophy, were set in clearer order, and made you conscious of greater power. Now I am not pretending that you can make a debating-club out of every mixed company you may chance to meet, but only that you should carry into all society a readiness to discuss the higher topics, whenever they come up naturally to mind. Here it is _tact_ again, and evermore tact, which is required to make the rule efficient,--tact to prevent "lugging in" unseasonable topics,--tact to avoid too long a discussion,--tact to keep out offensive egotism,--tact, in general, to adapt one's self to one's surroundings.
I will not conclude this letter, however imperfectly it may meet your wants, without devoting a few words to the grave question, Shall we talk of a subject so sacred as _religion_ in mixed society? For myself, I must confess to some change of opinion on this point. I have greater respect than I once had for that reserve which keeps one habitually silent on this highest of all themes. I protest against the assumption, that a religious man will feel it his duty to converse often about religion. His duty must be governed by the peculiar circumstances of each case. He certainly must not do violence to his own feelings of reverence; nor ought he to suppose that the mere introduction of religious themes into conversation, anyhow and anywhere, is sure to do good. On the contrary, I believe that an injudicious treatment of this subject has done vastly more harm than good. And yet there is no power, in my opinion, within the whole range of the human faculties, more desirable than that of awakening religious life and thought by means of familiar speech. Whoever would wield such a power must know, as one of the chief requisites, how to seize the _mollia tempora fandi_. The word in season,--the very word to reach and move this individual heart,--find _this_, and you have found the great secret of influence. And be sure there is such a key to every man. Somewhere and sometime, if you watch for it, you shall discover the tender place in the roughest and hardest character. Men arm themselves against you by a thousand assumptions of indifference, stoicism, and irreverence, put on for the occasion, that you may not invade their inner sanctuary. Do not therefore be led into the mistake that for them there is no sanctuary, no citadel to defend. Better take for granted the reverse, and use every lawful art and persuasion to find the entrance to it. Of multitudes it is indeed true, that they have "no religion to speak of"; but that with any intelligent man is no longer a reproach. To sound a trumpet before one has a disagreeable reminder of certain ancient pretenders. Some men, when the heart is fullest, cannot speak; and nothing would be more unjust than to charge with want of feeling for the deepest and highest subjects of thought those who cannot frame a sentence to convey their emotions. Yet, after all these considerations have been fairly weighed, it is still desirable that men should communicate with each other far oftener than they do, on the interests which concern all men alike,--the interests, not of a temporal, but of an eternal state. A wholly unnatural reserve, the result of false education, hedges in the subject of religion. Never,--let this he a sacred and inviolable rule to you,--never, by word, tone, or manner, falsify your own nature and experience, when referring to this subject; never affect in the slightest degree an interest you do not feel; never dare to open your mouth merely because you are expected to do so,--and, my word for it, you will already possess important negative qualifications, to say the least, for conversing on the highest of all topics. I have exalted "tact" in conversation, but here I would exalt simplicity no less. Lay aside the _too many_ folds. Learn the courage to "speak right out," when you know that your heart is charged with no malice or vanity, that you should fear to speak. Have you never envied the courage of children in this respect? I have. And it has seemed to me that to "become as little children" is nowhere more urgently required than here, and that no rule would sooner make talkers out of the silent ones,--you, my friend, included. So with this, my last and best word, I take leave of you, not despairing that you will yet be able to overcome your taciturnity, if you take to heart these counsels of
THE NOBLE ARMY OF MARTYRS.
When the first number of the Chimney-Corner appeared, the snow lay white on the ground, the buds on the trees were closed and frozen, and beneath the hard frost-bound soil lay buried the last year's flower-roots, waiting for a resurrection.
So in our hearts it was winter,--a winter of patient suffering and expectancy,--a winter of suppressed sobs, of inward bleedings,--a cold, choked, compressed anguish of endurance, for how long and how much God only could tell us.
The first paper of the Chimney-Corner, as was most meet and fitting, was given to those homes made sacred and venerable by the cross of martyrdom,--by the chrism of a great sorrow. That Chimney-Corner made bright by home firelight seemed a fitting place for a solemn act of reverent sympathy for the homes by whose darkness our homes had been preserved bright, by whose emptiness our homes had been kept full, by whose losses our homes had been enriched; and so we ventured with trembling to utter these words of sympathy and cheer to those whom God had chosen to this great sacrifice of sorrow.
The winter months passed with silent footsteps, spring returned, and the sun, with ever-waxing power, unsealed the snowy sepulchre of buds and leaves,--birds reappeared, brooks were unchained, flowers filled every desolate dell with blossoms and perfume. And with returning spring, in like manner, the chill frost of our fears and of our dangers melted before the breath of the Lord. The great war, which lay like a mountain of ice upon our hearts, suddenly dissolved and was gone. The fears of the past were as a dream when one awaketh, and now we scarce realize our deliverance. A thousand hopes are springing up everywhere, like spring-flowers in the forest. All is hopefulness, all is bewildering joy.
But this our joy has been ordained to be changed into a wail of sorrow. The kind hard hand, that held the helm so steadily in the desperate tossings of the storm, has been stricken down just as we entered port,--the fatherly heart that bore all our sorrows can take no earthly part in our joys. His were the cares, the watchings, the toils, the agonies of a nation in mortal struggle; and God looking down was so well pleased with his humble faithfulness, his patient continuance in well-doing, that earthly rewards and honors seemed all too poor for him, so He reached down and took him to immortal glories. "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!"
Henceforth the place of Abraham Lincoln is first among that noble army of martyrs who have given their blood to the cause of human freedom. The eyes are yet too dim with tears that would seek calmly to trace out his place in history. He has been a marvel and a phenomenon among statesmen, a new kind of ruler in the earth. There has been something even unearthly about his extreme unselfishness, his utter want of personal ambition, personal self-valuation, personal feeling.
The most unsparing criticism, denunciation, and ridicule never moved him to a single bitter expression, never seemed to awaken in him a single bitter thought. The most exultant hour of party victory brought no exultation to him; he accepted power not as an honor, but as a responsibility; and when, after a severe struggle, that power came a second time into his hands, there was something preternatural in the calmness of his acceptance of it. The first impulse seemed to be a disclaimer of all triumph over the party that had strained their utmost to push him from his seat, and then a sober girding up of his loins to go on with the work to which he was appointed. His last inaugural was characterized by a tone so peculiarly solemn and free from earthly passion, that it seems to us now, who look back on it in the light of what has followed, as if his soul had already parted from earthly things, and felt the powers of the world to come. It was not the formal state-paper of the chief of a party in an hour of victory, so much as the solemn soliloquy of a great soul reviewing its course under a vast responsibility, and appealing from all earthly judgments to the tribunal of Infinite Justice. It was the solemn clearing of his soul for the great sacrament of Death, and the words that he quoted in it with such thrilling power were those of the adoring spirits that veil their faces before the throne: "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of Saints!"
Among the rich treasures which this bitter struggle has brought to our country, not the least is the moral wealth which has come to us in the memory of our martyrs. Thousands of men, women, and children too, in this great conflict, have "endured tortures, not accepting deliverance," counting not their lives dear unto them in the holy cause: and they have done this as understandingly and thoughtfully as the first Christians who sealed their witness with their blood.
Let us in our hour of deliverance and victory record the solemn vow, that our right hand shall forget her cunning before we forget them and their sufferings,--that our tongue shall cleave to the roof of our mouth, if we remember them not above our chief joy.
Least suffering among that noble band were those who laid down their lives on the battle-field, to whom was given a brief and speedy passage to the victor's meed. The mourners who mourn for such as these must give place to another and more august band, who have sounded lower deeps of anguish, and drained bitterer drops out of our great cup of trembling.
The narrative of the lingering tortures, indignities, and sufferings of our soldiers in Rebel prisons has been something so harrowing that we have not dared to dwell upon it. We have been helplessly dumb before it, and have turned away our eyes from what we could not relieve, and therefore could not endure to look upon. But now, when the nation is called to strike the great and solemn balance of justice, and to decide measures of final retribution, it behooves us all that we should at least watch with our brethren for one hour, and take into our account what they have been made to suffer for us.
Sterne said he could realize the miseries of captivity only by setting before him the image of a miserable captive with hollow cheek and wasted eye, notching upon a stick, day after day, the weary record of the flight of time. So we can form a more vivid picture of the sufferings of our martyrs from one simple story than from any general description; and therefore we will speak right on, and tell one story which might stand as a specimen of what has been done and suffered by thousands.
In the town of Andover, Massachusetts, a boy of sixteen, named Walter Raymond, enlisted among our volunteers. He was under the prescribed age, but his eager zeal led him to follow the footsteps of an elder brother who had already enlisted; and the father of the boy, though these two were all the sons he had, instead of availing himself of his legal right to withdraw him, indorsed the act in the following letter addressed to his Captain.
"ANDOVER, MASS., August 15th, 1862.
"CAPTAIN HUNT,--My eldest son has enlisted in your company. I send you his younger brother. He is, and always has been, in perfect health, of more than the ordinary power of endurance, honest, truthful, and courageous. I doubt not you will find him on trial all you can ask, except his age, and that I am sorry to say is only sixteen; yet if our country needs his service, take him.
"Your obedient servant,
The boy went forth to real service, and to successive battles at Kingston, at Whitehall, and at Goldsborough; and in all did his duty bravely and faithfully. He met the temptations and dangers of a soldier's life with the pure-hearted firmness of a Christian child, neither afraid nor ashamed to remember his baptismal vows, his Sunday-school teachings, and his mother's wishes.
He had passed his promise to his mother against drinking and smoking, and held it with a simple, childlike steadiness. When in the midst of malarious swamps, physicians and officers advised the use of tobacco. The boy writes to his mother,--"A great many have begun to smoke, but I shall not do it without your permission, though I think it does a great deal of good."
In his leisure hours, he was found in his tent reading; and before battle he prepared his soul with the beautiful psalms and collects for the day, as appointed by his church, and writes with simplicity to his friends,--
"I prayed God that He would watch over me, and if I fell, receive my soul in heaven; and I also prayed that I might not forget the cause I was fighting for, and turn my back in fear."
After nine months' service, he returned with a soldier's experience, though with a frame weakened by sickness in a malarious region. But no sooner did health and strength return than he again enlisted, in the Massachusetts cavalry service, and passed many months of constant activity and adventure, being in some severe skirmishes and battles with that portion of Sheridan's troops who approached nearest to Richmond, getting within a mile and a half of the city. At the close of this raid, so hard had been the service, that only thirty horses were left out of seventy-four in his company, and Walter and two others were the sole survivors among eight who occupied the same tent.
On the 16th of August, Walter was taken prisoner in a skirmish; and from the time that this news reached his parents, until the 18th of the following March, they could ascertain nothing of his fate. A general exchange of prisoners having been then effected, they learned that he had died on Christmas Day in Salisbury Prison, of hardship and privation.
What these hardships were is, alas! easy to be known from those too well authenticated accounts published by our Government of the treatment experienced by our soldiers in the Rebel prisons.
Robbed of clothing, of money, of the soldier's best friend, his sheltering blanket,--herded in shivering nakedness on the bare ground,--deprived of every implement by which men of energy and spirit had soon bettered their lot,--forbidden to cut in adjacent forests branches for shelter, or fuel to cook their coarse food,--fed on a pint of corn-and-cob-meal per day, with some slight addition of molasses or rancid meat,--denied all mental resources, all letters from home, all writing to friends,--these men were cut off from the land of the living while yet they lived,--they were made to dwell in darkness as those that have been long dead.
By such slow, lingering tortures,--such weary, wasting anguish and sickness of body and soul,--it was the infernal policy of the Rebel government either to wring from them an abjuration of their country, or by slow and steady draining away of the vital forces to render them forever unfit to serve in her armies.
Walter's constitution bore four months of this usage, when death came to his release. A fellow-sufferer, who was with him in his last hours, brought the account to his parents.
Through all his terrible privations, even the lingering pains of slow starvation, Walter preserved his steady simplicity, his faith in God, and unswerving fidelity to the cause for which he was suffering.
When the Rebels had kept the prisoners fasting for days, and then brought in delicacies to tempt their appetite, hoping thereby to induce them to desert their flag, he only answered,--"I would rather be carried out in that dead-cart!"
When told by some that he must steal from his fellow-sufferers, as many did, in order to relieve the pangs of hunger, he answered,--"No, I was not brought up to that!" And so when his weakened system would no longer receive the cob-meal which was his principal allowance, he set his face calmly towards death.
He grew gradually weaker and weaker and fainter and fainter, and at last disease of the lungs set in, and it became apparent that the end was at hand.
On Christmas Day, while thousands among us were bowing in our garlanded churches or surrounding festive tables, this young martyr lay on the cold, damp ground, watched over by his destitute friends, who sought to soothe his last hours with such scanty comforts as their utter poverty afforded,--raising his head on the block of wood which was his only pillow, and moistening his brow and lips with water, while his life ebbed slowly away, until about two o'clock, when he suddenly roused himself, stretched out his hand, and, drawing to him his dearest friend among those around him, said, in a strong, clear voice,--
"I am going to die. Go tell my father I am ready to die, for I die for God and my country,"--and, looking up with a triumphant smile, he passed to the reward of the faithful.
And now, men and brethren, if this story were a single one, it were worthy to be had in remembrance; but Walter Raymond is not the only noble-hearted boy or man that has been slowly tortured and starved and done to death, by the fiendish policy of Jefferson Davis and Robert Edmund Lee.
No,--wherever this simple history shall be read, there will arise hundreds of men and women who will testify,--"Just so died my son!" "So died my brother!" "So died my husband!" "So died my father!"
The numbers who have died in these lingering tortures are to be counted, not by hundreds, or even by thousands, but by tens of thousands.
And is there to be no retribution for a cruelty so vast, so aggravated, so cowardly and base? And if there is retribution, on whose head should it fall? Shall we seize and hang the poor, ignorant, stupid, imbruted semi-barbarians who were set as jailors to keep these hells of torment and inflict these insults and cruelties? or shall we punish the educated, intelligent chiefs who were the head and brain of the iniquity?
If General Lee had been determined _not_ to have prisoners starved or abused, does any one doubt that he could have prevented these things? Nobody doubts it. His raiment is red with the blood of his helpless captives. Does any one doubt that Jefferson Davis, living in ease and luxury in Richmond, knew that men were dying by inches in filth and squalor and privation in the Libby Prison, within bowshot of his own door? Nobody doubts it. It was his will, his deliberate policy, thus to destroy those who fell into his hands. The chief of a so-called Confederacy, who could calmly consider among his official documents incendiary plots for the secret destruction of ships, hotels, and cities full of peaceable people, is a chief well worthy to preside over such cruelties; but his only just title is President of Assassins, and the whole civilized world should make common cause against such a miscreant.
There has been, on both sides of the water, much weak, ill-advised talk of mercy and magnanimity to be extended to these men, whose crimes have produced a misery so vast and incalculable. The wretches who have tortured the weak and the helpless, who have secretly plotted to supplement, by dastardly schemes of murder and arson, that strength which failed them in fair fight, have been commiserated as brave generals and unfortunate patriots, and efforts are made to place them within the comities of war.
It is no feeling of personal vengeance, but a sense of the eternal fitness of things, that makes us rejoice, when criminals, who have so outraged every sentiment of humanity, are arrested and arraigned and awarded due retribution at the bar of their country's justice. There are crimes against God and human nature which it is treason alike to God and man not to punish; and such have been the crimes of the traitors who were banded together in Richmond.
If there be those whose hearts lean to pity, we can show them where all the pity of their hearts may be better bestowed than in deploring the woes of assassins. Let them think of the thousands of fathers, mothers, wives, sisters, whose lives will be forever haunted with memories of the slow tortures in which their best and bravest were done to death.
The sufferings of those brave men are ended. Nearly a hundred thousand are sleeping in those sad, nameless graves,--and may their rest be sweet! "There the wicked cease from troubling, there the weary are at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor." But, O ye who have pity to spare, spare it for the broken-hearted friends, who, to life's end, will suffer over and over all that their dear ones endured. Pity the mothers who hear their sons' faint calls in dreams, who in many a weary night-watch see them pining and wasting, and yearn with a lifelong, unappeasable yearning to have been able to soothe those forsaken, lonely death-beds. Oh, man or woman, if you have pity to spare, spend it not on Lee or Davis,--spend it on their victims, on the thousands of living hearts which these men of sin have doomed to an anguish that will end only with life!
Blessed are the mothers whose sons passed in battle,--a quick, a painless, a glorious death! Blessed in comparison,--yet we weep for them. We rise up and give place at sight of their mourning-garments. We reverence the sanctity of their sorrow. But before this other sorrow we are dumb in awful silence. We find no words with which to console such grief. We feel that our peace, our liberties, have been bought at a fearful price, when we think of the sufferings of our martyred soldiers. Let us think of them. It was for _us_ they bore hunger and cold and nakedness. They might have had food and raiment and comforts, if they would have deserted our cause,--and they did not. Cutoff from all communication with home or friends or brethren,--dragging on the weary months, apparently forgotten,--still they would not yield, they would not fight against us; and so for us at last they died.
What return can we make them? Peace has come, and we take up all our blessings restored and brightened; but if we look, we shall see on every blessing a bloody cross.
When three brave men broke through the ranks of the enemy, to bring to King David a draught from the home-well, for which he longed, the generous-hearted prince would not drink it, but poured it out as an offering before the Lord; for he said, "Is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives?"
Thousands of noble hearts have been slowly consumed to secure to us the blessings we are rejoicing in.
We owe a duty to these our martyrs,--the only one we can pay.
In every place, honored by such a history and example, let a monument be raised at the public expense, on which shall be inscribed the names of those who died for their country, and the manner of their death.
Such monuments will educate our young men in heroic virtue, and keep alive to future ages the flame of patriotism. And thus, too, to the aching heart of bereaved love shall be given the only consolation of which its sorrows admit, in the reverence which is paid to its lost loved ones.
Daybreak upon the hills! Slowly, behind the midnight murk and trail Of the long storm, light brightens, pure and pale, And the horizon fills.
Not bearing swift release,-- Not with quick feet of triumph, but with tread August and solemn, following her dead, Cometh, at last, our Peace.
Over thick graves grown green, Over pale bones that graveless lie and bleach, Over torn human hearts her path doth reach, And Heaven's dear pity lean.
O angel sweet and grand! White-footed, from beside the throne of God, Thou movest, with the palm and olive-rod, And day bespreads the land!
His Day we waited for! With faces to the East, we prayed and fought; And a faint music of the dawning caught, All through the sounds of War.
Our souls are still with praise! It is the dawning; there is work to do: When we have borne the long hours' burden through, Then we will pæans raise.
God give us, with the time, His strength for His large purpose to the world! To bear before Him, in its face unfurled, His gonfalon sublime!
Ay, we _are_ strong! Both sides The misty river stretch His army's wings: Heavenward, with glorious wheel, one flank He flings; And one front still abides!
Strongest where most bereft! His great ones He doth call to more command. For whom He hath prepared it, they shall stand On the Right Hand and Left!
RECONSTRUCTION AND NEGRO SUFFRAGE.
The submission of the Rebel armies and the occupation of the Rebel territory by the forces of the United States are successes which have been purchased at the cost of the lives of half a million of loyal men and a debt of nearly three thousand millions of dollars; but, according to theories of State Rights now springing anew to life, victory has smitten us with impotence. The war, it seems, was waged for the purpose of forcing the sword out of the Rebel's hands, and forcing into them the ballot. At an enormous waste of treasure and blood, we have acquired the territory for which we fought; and lo! it is not ours, but belongs to the people we have been engaged in fighting, in virtue of the constitution we have been fighting for. The Federal government is now, it appears, what Wigfall elegantly styled it four years ago,--nothing but "the one-horse concern at Washington": the real power is in the States it has subdued. We are therefore expected to act like the savage, who, after thrashing his Fetich for disappointing his prayers, falls down again and worships it. Our Fetich is State Rights, as perversely misunderstood. The Rebellion would have been soon put down, had it been merely an insurrectionary outbreak of masses of people without any political organization. Its tremendous force came from its being a revolt of States, with the capacity to employ those powers of taxation and conscription which place the persons and property of all residing in political communities at the service of their governments. And now that characteristic which gave strength to the Rebel communities in war is invoked to shield them from Federal regulation in defeat. We are required to substitute technicalities for facts; to consider the Rebellion--what it notoriously was not--a mere revolt of loose aggregations of men owing allegiance to the United States; and to hold the States, which endowed them with such a perfect organization and poisonous vitality, as innocent of the crime. The verbal dilemma in which this reasoning places us is this: that the Rebel States could not do what they did, and therefore we cannot do what we must. Among other things which it is said we cannot do, the prescribing of the qualifications of voters in the States occupies the most important place; and it is necessary to inquire whether the Rebel communities now held by our military power are States, in the sense that word bears in the Federal Constitution. If they are, we have not only no right to say that negroes shall enjoy in them the privilege of voting, but no right to prescribe any qualifications for white voters.
In the American system, the process by which constitutions are made and governments instituted is by conventions of the people. The State constitutions were ordained by conventions of the people of the several States; the constitution of the United States was made the supreme law of the land by conventions of the people of all the States; and the only method by which a State could be released, with any show of legality, from its obligations to the United States, would be the assent of the same power which created the Federal constitution,--namely, conventions of the people of _all_ the States. The course adopted by the so-called "seceding" States was separate State action by popular conventions in the States seceding. This was an appeal to the original authority from which State governments and constitutions derived their powers, but a violation of solemn faith towards the government and constitution decreed by the people of all the States, and which, by the assent of each State, formed a vital part of each State constitution. No State convention could be called for the purpose of separating from the Union,--of destroying what the officers calling it had sworn to support,--without making official perjury the preliminary condition of State sovereignty. Looked at from the point of view of the State seceding, the act was an assertion of State independence; looked at from the point of view of the constitution of the United States, it was an act of State suicide. The State so acting through a convention of its people was no longer a State, in the meaning that word bears in the Federal constitution; for, whatever it may have been before it was one of the United States, it was transformed into a different political society by making the Federal constitution a part of its own organic law. In cutting that bond, it bled to death as a State, as far as the Federal constitution knows a State, to rise again as a Rebel community, holding a portion of the Federal territory by force of arms. A State, in the meaning of the Federal constitution, is a political community forbidden to exercise sovereign powers, and at once a part of the Federal government and owing allegiance to it. Is South Carolina, which has exercised sovereign powers, which has broken its allegiance to the Federal government, and which at present is certainly not a part of it, such a political society?
It is, we know, contended by some reasoners on the subject, that the Rebel States _could not_ do what they palpably _did_. This course of argument is sustained only by confounding duties with powers. By the constitution a State cannot (that is, has no right to) secede, only as, by the moral law, a man cannot (that is, has no right to) commit murder; nevertheless, States have broken away from their obligations to the Union, as murderers have broken away from their obligations to the moral law. It is folly to claim that criminal acts are impossible because they are unjustifiable. The real question relates to the condition in which the criminal acts of the Rebel States left them as political societies. They cannot claim, as some of their Northern champions do for them, that being _in_ the Union in our view, and _out_ of it in their own, the only result of defeating them as Rebels is to restore them as citizens. This would be playing a political game of "Heads I win, tails you lose," which they must know can hardly succeed with a nation which has made such enormous sacrifices of treasure and blood in putting them down. After having, by a solemn act of their own, through conventions of the people, forsworn their duties to the constitution, they by that act forfeited its privileges. In our view they became Rebel enemies, against whom we had both the rights of sovereignty and the rights of war; in their own view, they became foreigners; and from that moment they had no more "constitutional" control of the area they occupied, were no more "States," than if they had transferred their allegiance to a European power, and the war had been prosecuted to wrest the territory they occupied, and the people they ruled, from the clutch of England or France. Even if we consider the Union a mere partnership of States, the same principle will apply; for partnership implies mutual obligations, and no partner can steal the property of his firm, and abscond with it, and then, after he has been hunted down and arrested, claim the rights in the business he enjoyed before he turned rogue.
But it is sometimes asserted that the small minority of citizens in the Rebel States claiming to be, and to have been, loyal, constitute the States in the constitutional meaning of the term. Now without insisting on the fact that it is so plainly impossible to accurately distinguish these from the disloyal, that an oath, not required by State constitutions, has, in the recent attempt at reconstruction, been imposed by Federal authority on all voters alike, it is plain that no minority in a political society can claim exemption from political evils it had not power to prevent. Had we gone to war with Great Britain, the property of Cobden and Bright on the high seas would have been as liable to capture as that of Lindsay or Laird. No loyal citizens at the South could have been more bitterly opposed to Secession than some of our Northern Copperheads were to the war for the Union; and yet the persons of the Copperheads were as liable to conscription, and their property to taxation, as those of the most enthusiastic Republicans. There would be an end to political societies, if men should refuse to be held responsible for all public acts except those they personally approved. A member of a community whose people, in a convention, broke faith with the United States, and made war against it, the Southern Unionist was forced into complicity with the crime. By the pressure of a power he could not resist he was compelled to pay Confederate taxes, serve in Confederate armies, and become a portion of the Confederate strength. More than this: the property in human beings, which he held by local law, was confiscated by the Federal government's edict of emancipation, equally with the same kind of property held by the most disloyal. And now that the war is over, he and those who sympathized with him are not the State, which was extinguished by its own act when it rebelled. He and his friends may be the objects of sympathy, of honor, of reward; but in the work of reconstruction the interest and safety of the great body of loyal citizens of the United States, of the persons who have bought the territory at such a terrible price, are to be primarily consulted. And not simply because such a course is expedient, but because the Southern Unionists can advance no valid claim to be the political societies which were recognized by the Federal constitution as States before the Rebellion. If they were, they might proceed at once to assume the powers of the States, without any authority from Washington, and without calling any convention to form a _new_ constitution. If, on the breaking out of the Rebellion, they had rallied in defence of the old constitutions within State limits, preserved the organization of the States in all departments, raised and equipped armies, and conducted a war against the Confederates as traitors to their respective States as well as to the United States, they might present some claims to be considered the States; but this they did not do, and they were not powerful enough to do it. The large proportion of them were compelled to form a part of the Rebel power.
And this brings us directly to the heart of the matter. It is asserted that the Acts of Secession, being unconstitutional, were inoperative and void. But they were passed by the people of the several States which seceded, and the persons and property of the whole people were indiscriminately employed in making them effective. The States held by Rebel armies were Rebel States. All the population were necessarily, in the view of the Federal government, Rebel enemies. Consequently the territory of the States was as "void" of citizens of the United States as the Acts of Secession were "void." The only things left, then, were the inoperative ideas of States.
Again, to put the argument in another form, it is asserted, that, though the people of a State may commit treason, the State itself remains unaffected by the crime. A distinction is here made between a State and the people who constitute it,--between the State and the persons who create its constitution and organize its government. The State constitution which existed while it was a State, in the Federal meaning of the word, was destroyed in an essential part by the same authority which created it, namely, a convention of the people of the State; and yet it is said that the State remained unaffected by the deed. By this course of reasoning, a State is defined an abstract essence which can comfortably exist in all its rights and privileges, _in potentia_, apart from all visible embodiment; a State which is the possibility of a State and not the actuality of one; a State which can be brought into the line of real vision only by some such contrivance as that employed by the German playwright, who, in a drama on the subject of the Creation, represented Adam crossing the stage _going_ to be created.
There is, it is true, one method of getting a kind of body to this abstract State, but it is a method which may well frighten the hardiest American reasoner. It was employed by Burke in one of the audacities of his logic directed against the governments established after the French Revolution of 1789. He took the ground, that France was not in the French territory or in the French people, but in the persons who represented its old polity, and who had escaped into England and Germany. These constituted what he called "Moral France," in distinction from "Geographical France"; and Moral France, he said, had emigrated.
But as few or none will be inclined to take the ground that South Carolina and Georgia exist in the persons who left their soil on the breaking out of the Rebellion, we are forced back to the conception of an invisible spiritual soul and essence of a State, surviving its bodily destruction. But even this abstraction must still, from the point of view of the Federal constitution, be conceived of as owing allegiance to the Federal government; and it can confessedly get a new body only by the exercise of Federal authority. Its leading institution has been destroyed by Federal power. Its old legislature and governor, who alone, on State principles, could call a convention of the people, are spotted all over with treason, and might be hanged as traitors, by the law of the United States, while engaged in measures to repair the broken unity of the State life,--a fact which is of itself sufficient to show that the old State is dead beyond all bodily resurrection. The white inhabitants who occupy its old geographical limits are defeated Rebels, and not one can exercise the privilege of voting without taking an oath which no real "State" prescribes. They are all born again into citizens by a Federal fiat; they are "pardoned" into voters; they derive their rights, not from their old charters, but from an act of amnesty. Far from any discrimination being made between loyal and disloyal, the great body of both classes are compelled to submit to Federal terms of citizenship or be disfranchised; and they are called upon, not to revive the old State, but to make a new one, within the old State lines. And all this would result from the necessity of the case, even if it were not made justifiable by the essential sovereignty of the United States, of which the war-power is but an incident. But if the Federal government can thus give the white inhabitants, or any portion of them, the right of suffrage, cannot it confer that right upon the black freedmen? It will not do, at this stage, to say that the Federal government has no right to prescribe the qualifications of voters in the States: because, in the case of the whites, it does and must prescribe them; and President Johnson has just the same right to say that negroes shall vote as to say that pardoned Rebels shall vote. The right of States to decide on the qualifications of its electors applies only to loyal States; it cannot apply to political communities which have lost by Rebellion the Federal character of "States," which notoriously have no legitimate State authority to decide the question of qualification, and which are now taking the preparatory steps of forming themselves into States through the agency of provisional Federal governors, directing voters, constituted such by Federal authority, to elect delegates to a convention of the people. It is a misuse of constitutional language to Call North Carolina and Mississippi "States," in the same sense in which we use the term in speaking of Ohio and Massachusetts. When their conventions have framed State constitutions, when their State governments are organized, and when their senators and representatives have been admitted into the Congress of the United States, then, indeed, they will be States, entitled to all the privileges of Ohio and Massachusetts; and woe be to us, if they are reconstructed on wrong principles!
It is often said, that, although the Federal government may have the right and power to decide who shall be considered "the people" of the Rebel States, in so important a matter as the conversion of them into States of the Federal Union, it is still politic and just to make the qualifications of voters as nearly as possible what they were before the Rebellion. Conceding this, we still have to face the fact, that a large body of men, held before the war as slaves, have been emancipated, and added to the body of the people. They are now as free as the white men. The old constitutions of the Slave States could have no application to the new condition of affairs. The change in the circumstances, by which four years have done the ordinary work of a century, demands a corresponding change in the application of old rules, even admitting that we should take them as a guide. Having converted the loyal blacks from slaves into the condition of citizens of the United States, there can be no reason or justice or policy in allowing them to be made, in localities recently Rebel, the subjects of whites who have but just purged themselves from the guilt of treason.
The question of negro suffrage being thus reduced to a question of expediency, to be decided on its own merits, the first argument brought against it is based on the proposition, that it is inexpedient to give the privilege of voting to the ignorant and unintelligent. This sounds well; but a moment's reflection shows us that the objection is directed simply against deficiencies of education and intelligence which happen to be accompanied with a black skin. Three fifths or three fourths of the poor whites of the South cannot read or write; and they are cruelly belied, if they do not add to their ignorance that more important disqualification for good citizenship,--indisposition or incapacity for work. In general, the American system proceeds on the idea that the best way of qualifying men to vote is voting, as the best way of teaching boys to swim is to let them go into the water. "Our national experience," says Chief-Justice Chase, in a letter to the New Orleans freedmen, "has demonstrated that public order reposes most securely on the broad base of Universal Suffrage. It has proved, also, that universal suffrage is the surest guaranty and most powerful stimulus of individual, social, and political progress." But even if we take the ground, that education and suffrage, though not actually, should properly be, identical, the argument would not apply to the case of the freedmen. What we need primarily at the South is loyal citizens of the United States, and treason there is in inverse proportion to ignorance. If, in reconstructing the Rebel communities, we make suffrage depend on education, we inevitably put the local governments into the hands of a small minority of prominent Confederates whom we have recently defeated; of men physically subdued, but morally rebellious; of men who have used their education simply to destroy the prosperity created by the industry of the ignorant and enslaved, and who, however skilful they may be as "architects of ruin," have shown no capacity for the nobler art which repairs and rebuilds. If, on the other hand, we make suffrage depend on color, we disfranchise the only portion of the population on whose allegiance we can thoroughly rely, and give the States over to white ignorance and idleness led by white intrigue and disloyalty. We are placed by events in that strange condition in which the safety of that "republican form of government" we desire to insure the Southern States has more safeguards in the instincts of the ignorant than in the intelligence of the educated. The right of the freedmen, not merely to the common privileges of citizens, but to _own themselves_, depends on the connection of the States in which they live with the United States being preserved. They must know that Secession and State Independence mean their reënslavement. Saulsbury of Delaware, and Willey of West Virginia, declared in the Senate, in 1862, that the Rebel States, when they came back into the Union, would have the legal power to reënslave any blacks whom the National government might emancipate; and it is only the plighted faith of the United States to the freedmen, which such a proceeding would violate, which can prevent the crime from being perpetrated. It is as citizens of the United States, and not as inhabitants of North Carolina or Mississippi, that their freedom is secure. Their instincts, their interests, and their position will thus be their teachers in the duties of citizenship. They are as sure to vote in accordance with the most advanced ideas of the time as most of the embittered aristocracy are to vote for the most retrograde. They will, though at first ignorant, necessarily be in political sympathy with the most educated voters of New York, Ohio, and Massachusetts; if they were as low in the scale of being as their bitterest revilers assert, they would still be forced by their instincts into intuitions of their interests; and their interests are identical with those of civilization and progress. We suppose that those who think them most degraded would be willing to concede to them the possession of a little selfish cunning; and a little selfish cunning is enough to bring them into harmony with the purposes, if not the spirit, of the largest-minded philanthropy and statesmanship of the North.
It is claimed, we know, by some of the hardiest dealers in assertion, that the freedmen will vote as their former masters shall direct; but as this argument is generally put forward by those whose sympathies are with the former masters rather than with the emancipated bondmen, one finds it difficult to understand why they should object to a policy which will increase the power of those whom they wish to be dominant. The circumstances, however, under which credulous ignorance becomes the prey of unscrupulous intelligence are familiar to all who have observed our elections. An ignorant Irish Catholic may be the victim of a pro-slavery demagogue, because the latter flatters his prejudices; but can he be deceived by a bigoted Know-Nothing, who is the object of them? The only demagogue who could control the negro would be an abolition demagogue, and he could control him to his harm only when the negro was deprived of his rights. The slave-masters were wont to pay considerable attention to zoölogy,--not because they were interested in science, but because in that science they thought they could obtain arguments for expelling blacks from the human species. In their zoölogical studies, did they ever learn that mice instinctively seek the protection of the cat, or that the deer speeds to, instead of from, the hunter? The persons whose votes the late masters would be most likely to control would palpably be those whose votes they always have controlled, namely, the poor whites; for, in the late Slave States, white aristocrat is still bound to white democrat by the strong tie of a common contempt of "the nigger." Meanwhile it is not difficult to believe, that, among four millions of black people, there are enough plantation Hampdens and Adamses to give political organization to their brethren, and make their votes efficient for the protection of their interests.
We think, then, it may be taken for granted, that, while ignorant, the freedmen will vote right by the force of their instincts, and that the education they require will be the result of their possessing the political power to demand it. Free schools are not the creations of private benevolence, but of public taxation; it is useless to expect a system of universal education in a community which does not rest on universal suffrage; and the children of the poor freeman are educated at the public expense, not so much by the pleading of the children's needs as by the power of the father's ballot. To take the ground, that the "superior" race will educate the "inferior" race it has but just held in bondage, that it will humanely set to work to prepare and qualify the "niggers" to be voters, only escapes from being considered the artifice of the knave by charitably referring it to the credulity of the simpleton. We do not send, as Mr. Sumner has happily said, "the child to be nursed by the wolf"; and he might have added, that the only precedent for such a proceeding, the case of Romulus and Remus, has lost all the little force it may once have had by the criticism of Niebuhr.
If the negroes do not get the power of political self-protection in the conventions of the people which are now to be called, it is not reasonable to expect they will ever get it by the consent of the whites. Legal State conventions are called by previous law. There is no previous State law applicable to the Rebel communities, because, revolutionized by rebellion, the very persons who are qualified by the old State laws to call conventions are disqualified by the laws of the United States. The result is, that the people are an unorganized mass, to be reorganized under the lead of the Federal government; and of this mass of people--literally, in this case, "the masses"--the free blacks are as much a part as the free whites. As soon, however, as the machinery of State governments is set in motion by these conventions,--as soon as these governments are recognized by the President and Congress,--no conventions to alter the constitutions agreed upon can be called, except by previous State laws. If negro suffrage is not granted in the election of members to the present conventions, the power will pass permanently into the hands of the whites, and the only opportunity for a peaceful settlement of the question will be lost. At the very time when, abstractly, no party has legal rights, and only one party has claims, we propose to deliberately sacrifice the party that has claims to the party which will soon acquire legal rights to oppress the claimants. For, disguise it as we may, the United States government really holds and exercises the power which gives vitality to the preliminaries of reconstruction, and it is therefore responsible for all evils in the future which shall spring from its neglect or injustice in the present.
The addition, too, of four millions of persons to the people of the South, without any corresponding addition of voters, will increase the political power of the ruling whites to an alarming extent, while it will remove all checks on its mischievous exercise. The constitution declares that "representatives and direct taxes shall be apportioned among the several States, which may be included in this Union, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, including those bound to service for a term of years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other persons." The unanswerable argument presented at the time against the clause relating to the slaves did not prevent its adoption. "If," it was said, "the negroes are property, why is other property not represented? if men, why three fifths?" Still the South has always enjoyed the double privilege of treating the negro as an article of merchandise and of using three fifths of him as political capital. He has thus added to the power by which he was enslaved, and has been represented in Congress by persons who regarded him either as a beast or as "a descendant of Ham." In 1860, when the ratio of representation was about one hundred and twenty-seven thousand, the South had, by the three-fifths rule, the right to eighteen more representatives in Congress, and eighteen more electoral votes, than it would have had, if only free persons had been counted. The emancipation of the slaves will give it twelve more; for the blacks will now no longer be constitutional fractions, but constitutional units. The three-fifths arrangement was a monstrous anomaly; but the five-fifths will be worse, if negro suffrage be denied. Four millions of free people will, by the mere fact of being inhabitants of Southern territory, confer a political power equal to thirty members of Congress, and yet have no voice in their election. It has been computed by the Hon. Robert Dale Owen, in a paper on the subject, published in the New York "Tribune," that in some States, where the blacks and whites are about equal in number, and where two thirds of the whites shall "qualify" as voters, this new condition of things will give the Southern white voter, in a Presidential or Congressional election, three times as much political influence as a Northern voter. And on whom shall we, in many localities, confer this immense privilege? Here is Mr. Owen's description of a specimen of the class of Southern "poor whites" we propose thus to exalt.
"I have often encountered this class. I saw many of them last year, while visiting, as member of a Government commission, some of the Southern States. Labor degraded before their eyes has extinguished within them all respect for industry, all ambition, all honorable exertion to improve their condition. When last I had the pleasure of seeing you at Nashville, I met there, in the office of a gentleman charged with the duty of issuing transportation and rations to indigent persons, black and white, a notable example of this strange class. He was a Rebel deserter,--a rough, dirty, uncouth specimen of humanity,--tall, stout, and wiry-looking, rude and abrupt in speech and bearing, and clothed in tattered homespun. In no civil tone, he demanded rations. When informed that all rations applicable to such a purpose were exhausted, he broke forth,--
"What am I to do, then? How am I to get home?'
"'You can have no difficulty,' was the reply. 'It is but fifteen or eighteen hours down the river' (the Cumberland) 'by steamboat to where you live. I furnished you transportation; you can work your way.'
"'Work my way!' (with a scowl of angry contempt.) 'I never did a stroke of work since I was born; and I never expect to, till my dying day.'
"The agent replied, quietly,--
"'They will give you all you want to eat on board, if you help them to wood.'
"'Carry wood!' he retorted, with an oath. 'Whenever they ask me to carry wood, I'll tell them they may set me on shore; I'd rather starve for a week than work for an hour; I don't want to live in a world that I can't make a living out of without work.'
"Is it for men like that, ignorant, illiterate, vicious, fit for no decent employment on earth except manual labor, and spurning _all_ labor as degradation,--is it in favor of such insolent swaggerers that we are to disfranchise the humble, quiet, hard-working negro? Are the votes of three such men as Stanton or Seward, Sumner or Garrison, Grant or Sherman, to be neutralized by the ballot of one such worthless; barbarian?"
But this great power, wielded by a population imperfectly qualified to vote, in the name of a population which do not vote at all,--a power equivalent to thirty members of Congress and thirty electoral votes,--will be directed as much against Northern interests as against negro interests. Added to the power which the South will derive from its voting population, it will enable that section to control one third of all the votes in the House of Representatives; and, says Professor Parsons, "if they stand together, and vote as a unit, they will need only about one sixth more to get and hold control of our national legislation and all our foreign and domestic policy." Our political experience has unfortunately not been such as to justify us in believing it to be impossible for any party, under a resolute Southern lead, to obtain one sixth of the Northern strength in Congress. What would be the result of such a combination? Why, the National government would be substantially in the hands of those who have been engaged in a desperate struggle to overthrow it; and it would be a government converted into a great military and naval power by the war which resulted in their defeat, and fully competent to enforce its decisions at home and abroad by the strong hand. Nothing is purchased at such a frightful price as the indulgence of a prejudice; the cry against "nigger equality" is a prejudice of the most mischievous kind; and it may be we shall hereafter find cause to deplore, that, when we had to choose between "nigger equality" and Southern predominance, our choice was to keep the "nigger" down, even if we failed to keep ourselves up.
One result of Southern predominance everybody can appreciate. The national debt is so interwoven with every form of the business and industry of the loyal States that its repudiation would be the most appalling of evils. A tax to pay it at once would not produce half the financial derangement and moral disorder which repudiation would cause; for repudiation, as Mirabeau well observed, is nothing but taxation in its most cruel, unequal, iniquitous, and calamitous form. But what reason have we to think that a reconstructed South, dominant in the Federal government, would regard the debt with feelings similar to ours? The negroes would associate it with their freedom, of which it was the price; their late masters would view it as the symbol of their humiliation, which it was incurred to effect. We must remember that the South loses the whole cost of Rebellion, and is at the same time required to pay its share of the cost of suppressing Rebellion. The cost of Rebellion is, in addition to the devastation of property caused by invasion, the whole Southern debt of some two or three thousand millions of dollars, and the market value of the slaves, which, estimating the slaves at five hundred dollars each, is two thousand millions of dollars more. The portion of the cost of suppressing Rebellion which the South will have to pay can be approximately reached by taking a recent calculation made in the Census Office of the Department of the Interior.
Estimating the national debt at twenty-five hundred millions of dollars, and apportioning it according to the number of the white male adults over twenty years of age in the different sections of the country, it has been found that the proportion of the New England States is $308,689,352.07; of the Middle States, $740,195,342.32; of the Western States, $893,288,781.01; of the Southern States, $461,929,846.85; and of the Pacific States, $95,896,677.75. This calculation makes the South responsible for over four hundred and sixty millions of the debt. What amount have the Southerners invested in it? Where both interest and passion furiously impel men to repudiation, can they be trusted with the care of the public credit? "But," the Northern people may exclaim, "in case of such an execrable violation of justice, we would revolt,--we would"----Ah! but in whose hands would then be "the war power"?
From every point of view, then, in which we can survey the subject, negro suffrage is, unless we are destitute of the commonest practical reason, the logical sequence of negro emancipation. It is not more necessary for the protection of the freedmen than for the safety and honor of the nation. Our interests are inextricably bound up with their rights. The highest requirements of abstract justice coincide with the lowest requirements of political prudence. And the largest justice to the loyal blacks is the real condition of the widest clemency to the Rebel whites. If the Southern communities are to be reorganized into Federal States, it is of the first importance that they should be States whose power rests on the proscription or degradation of no class of their population. It would be a great evil, if they were absolutely governed by a faction, even if that faction were a minority of the "loyal" people, whose loyalty consisted in merely taking an oath which the most unscrupulous would be the readiest to take, because the readiest to break. We are bound either to give them a republican form of government, or to hold them in the grasp of the military power of the nation; and we cannot safely give them anything which approaches a republican form of government, unless we allow the great mass of the free people the right to vote. And least of all should we think of proscribing that particular class of the free people who most thoroughly represent in their localities the interests of the United States, and whose ballots would at once do the work and save the expense of an army of occupation.
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
_Life of Horace Mann._ By his Wife. Boston: Walker, Fuller & Co.
The American readers of Mr. Spencer's "Social Statics" have raised their eyes in wholesome wonderment at the condemnation which is there found of all systems of national education. It is unfortunate that a writer who has given effective presentation to many truths should have failed to scrutinize his inductions by the light of certain ascertainable facts. The presumed requirements of a system caused him to prejudge what should have been investigated; and hence, upon the great theme of state education his rare illuminating powers shed a few side-lights of suggestion, and nothing more. The rough common sense of our humblest citizen disperses the philosopher's subtilties of logic with some such decisive sentence as that with which Dr. Johnson cut the meshes of the Fate-argument, or President Lincoln carried the pious defences of man-stealing. "We know we're free, and there's an end on 't." "If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong." If the state has no right to educate, it has no right to protect itself from the assaults of ignorance, and consequently no right to exist at all. This, to be sure, is dogmatism; but with loyal Americans to-day it comes so near being a moral instinct that it may be provisionally assumed and tested at leisure by the experience to which it has conducted us. In the crisis through which the nation has just passed, education as a state expediency has received its fullest vindication. The people whom the state educated up to an appreciation of the republican idea arose to be its saviours. No magnetism of personal leadership was given them. It was the instructed sense of the community which overcame the perils of faction and the incompetence of chiefs. And now, while we gratefully recognize those who at the critical moment fell or suffered or wrought for the Republic, let us not forget the unapplauded heroism which in time past laboriously accumulated the force lately revealed in many manly acts. The Trent Catechism declares that a final judgment is necessary, in order that the bad may be punished for the evil which in future time results from their mortal acts. If it may be held, conversely, that the conduct of the good is entitled to ever-increasing honor, we think it well that the biography of Horace Mann, educator and statesman, has been withheld to this day. It is nobly prophetic of the perfected faith in popular government and universal liberty which fills our hearts. It is in deep accordance with the psalm of victory which rises from loyal lips.
The present volume supplies materials for filling up the admirable outline of Mr. Mann's life which appeared in Livingston's "Law Journal," and was copied in other publications. For it must necessarily be materials for the study of a majestic character, rather than any critical _dicta_ concerning it, that Mrs. Mann can offer us. And this is not to be regretted. The judgments of an impartial biographer would have been dearly purchased at the sacrifice of that sweetest testimony of household reverence which only the most intimate relation can supply. The little glimpses of Horace Mann, with his children about him, are worth many discriminating estimates of services and judicial investigations into the merits of forgotten controversies. We are made fully acquainted with the noble spirit in which he labored, and this is a better bequest to the American people than even the noble results it brought to pass. Poor enough seems any halting, sentimental interest in human well-being in the presence of that sturdy life, throbbing with executive energy, and dignified by thorough disinterestedness.
Horace Mann was born into the narrow circumstances of a small New England farm. His father died when he was still a boy. The educational opportunities offered by the poorest district of the little town of Franklin, Massachusetts, were meagre enough. Knowledge in the husk was thrown before the pupils, who were allowed the privilege of picking out what they might. The training which stimulates memory had not given place to that which encourages thought. In spite of all obstructions, Horace displayed an irrepressible love of learning, and obtained that sort of education which was probably the best possible for the work he had to do. For it was from vividly realizing the hindrances which he had the strength partially to surmount that he was able to adjust the means for their removal. His youth was far from being a happy one. The poverty of his parents subjected him to continual privation, and the remorseless logic of the current theology weighed upon his sensitive spirit. Having obtained the consent of his guardian to prepare for college, he entered Brown University in 1816. His graduating oration was upon the progressive character of the human race,--a subject prophetic of his subsequent mission. A tutorship of the Latin and Greek languages gave the opportunity to perfect himself in classical culture. Afterwards he studied law, and in 1823 was admitted to the Norfolk bar. From this time his life was devoted to the welfare of the ignorant and unfortunate. As a leading member of the State Legislature, both in the House and afterwards as President of the Senate, Mr. Mann took an active part in forwarding measures relating to public charities and education. The establishment of the State Insane Hospital at Worcester was wholly due to his vigorous advocacy. In 1837 he retired from the distinguished professional and political career that was opening before him, and devoted his rare abilities to the service of common schools. As Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, he effected a thorough reform in the school system of the State. Of the unexampled labor and self-denial of eleven successive years his Annual Reports and the "Common School Journal" are noble, though inadequate memorials. In 1848 Mr. Mann was sent to Congress as successor to John Quincy Adams. Here his powers were at once concentrated in resisting the usurpations of Slavery. Two years later came his memorable collision with Mr. Webster. In opposing the doctrines of the famous 7th of March speech, and in his subsequent criticism of its author, Mr. Mann well knew the bitter judgments he would provoke and the social position he must sacrifice. He counted the cost and accepted the duty. Insight lent him the fire with which foresight kindled the prophets. He saw in the slave system those inner depths of cruelty and baseness which Andersonville and Port Hudson have lately revealed. At the ensuing election in November, Mr. Mann's renomination was defeated in the Whig Convention. Appealing to the people as an independent candidate, he was re-elected to Congress, and there served until he was offered the Presidency of Antioch College in 1852. The toil, the perseverance, the self-renunciation which associate Mr. Mann with Antioch are too great for conventional phrases of eulogy. Whether judged by the mighty things he accomplished, or by the harmonious development of the moral, intellectual, and affectional nature which he displayed, there are few human records which show an appreciation of duty so exhaustive united to a performance so heroic.
The life of Horace Mann was full of severe work. Few men have had the grace to return so uncompromising an answer to the question whether their service was to be rendered to God or Mammon. He had the gift of separating religion from its accidental trappings, and of recognizing in the simplest intuition of accountability for our neighbor's welfare the best working hypothesis. Like Theodore Parker, he excelled the common citizen, not in reach of skepticism, but in might of faith. His was never that gentlemanly sort of virtue which devotes unoccupied corners of the being, as it were in decorative fashion, to the interests of humanity. He would toil patiently at the humblest crank-work, content to move puppets who received whatever public credit was to be had. Mr. Mann abandoned a political career that was calculated to satisfy a generous ambition, to take the newly created office of Secretary of the Board of Education, unassociated with dignity or emolument. "If the position is not honorable now," he replied to the remonstrances of a friend, "then it is clearly for me to elevate it; and I would rather be creditor than debtor to the title." He combined in a rare degree the working powers of the enthusiast with the balance of the philosopher. He wrought at high-pressure, yet looked to no immediate or showy success. "If no seed were ever sown save that which would promise the requital of a full harvest, how soon would mankind revert to barbarism!" The exclamation was with him no disregarded truism.
Mr. Mann's views of the true ends to be sought in our systems of education receive daily confirmation. Burying the mind under a heap of ready-made generalizations may give a conceit of knowledge, amusing or dangerous as the case may be, but never gives the "power" promised in the aphorism. When Montaigne said that he would rather forge his mind than furnish it, he suggested the true principle of education. The problem is not to fill the mind from without, but to give the most efficient aid to its efforts to form itself from within. The energies that Mr. Mann put forth for the direction and government of Antioch College, his noble sacrifices far exceeding the requirements that could justly be demanded at his hands, not only show his lofty and resolute nature, but clearly exhibit the substantial _animus_ of the scheme of instruction he had at heart. While fully recognizing the intimate connection between physical organization and mental phenomena, he never doubted our inherent ability to subdue the animal nature, and considered that a recognizable effort so to do should be an essential condition of intellectual culture. The great features of the institution for which he sacrificed his life were, an unsectarian basis, and instruction to woman as well as man. The touching narrative shows how broad and firm was the foundation upon which he built. The glory of Horace Mann the educator culminates in this: he proved that without dogma or formulary the tone of a large body of students might be unusually religious and their conduct unusually moral; and also, that the properly guarded intercourse of young men and young women engaged in the pursuit of knowledge might be elevating and beneficial to both.
The present volume furnishes a just conception of Mr. Mann's remarkable character. We see a human life consistently governed by the highest human instincts. Yet if shortcomings there were, they may be found, or inferred, by those who will look for them. Mr. S. J. May thinks it not judicious to publish certain letters that Mr. Mann addressed to him, lest they should injure their author's fame with some good men. But the controlling sincerity of the biographer will not permit her to withhold them. In the never-ending battle between the theoretically right and what to mortal vision seems the practically expedient, Horace Mann for a moment inclines to the latter. He fears that Mr. May will peril his usefulness as Principal of the Lexington Normal School by an open connection with the Abolitionists. He urges the duty of considering the consequences of our acts: as if we could weigh, or in any manner estimate, the eternal consequences of the least of them; as if all history did not show us that the temporary loss of influence, of usefulness, the sacrifice of life itself, was necessary to the incorporation of a higher truth with the existing intelligence of men and the means of its final triumph in the world. But Mr. Mann's own brave career was never deflected by the sophistries of the timid. He never doubted that he best influenced the whole by fulfilling the highest law of his individual life. What other faith could sustain him, when his exhausting labors were not rewarded by a recognized success in any way commensurate with their desert? Yet no one ever saw him when the luminous quality of his spiritual nature was clouded, or the special stimulus to use his powers to the utmost was withdrawn.
Few recipes for comfortable living are to be gathered from such a story. Vainly we ask for a little repose upon our pilgrimage along those sublime heights of holy exertion whither that example leads us. We examine the chronicle of labor and privation, if haply we may find some paragraph wherein the philanthropist dines out or goes to the theatre. But the solemn claims of humanity are always in his keeping, and we must get inured as we may to his rigorous stewardship. And it is by the grace of such exceptional men that our country is to become less the paradise of charlatanry, and better to deserve the title of Model Republic. They draw the poison from that current philosophy which maintains that the intellect of man has always led the way in social advancement, his moral nature being subordinate thereto. Not as the sum of past forces, but by his own inherent moral life, does Horace Mann fill these pages. It is a sterling biography, which no educated American can afford not to read. It is only partial praise to call the book deeply interesting. It vivifies and inspires.
_The Gentle Life_. Essays in Aid of the Formation of Character. London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston.
The title of this book constitutes its chief, we had almost said its sole, claim to consideration. We open its pleasant-looking pages with pleasant memories of Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt, and pleasant anticipations, not of brilliancy, indeed, nor trenchant truth, but of medicine for our weariness, a moment of quiet in the rush and whirl of things, a breath of repose from over the sea to cool and tranquillize these fervid days of ours. We are tranquillized, indeed! We find ourselves straightway in a desert, stuck full of flowers, it is true, from innumerable gardens, but a desert still: for the unhappy exotics have suffered so severely in the transportation as to be scarcely able to hold up their heads, and, where they still preserve their original beauty, only serve to throw into stronger relief the surrounding sterility. It is a medley of dismal platitudes; truths which have been truisms for at least a century, uttered with all the pomp and circumstance of newly discovered laws; quotations garbled, pointless, or dipped in a feeble venom; shreds of learning pieced together, with or without adaptation, in a nondescript patchwork; the fragments of a thousand feasts huddled into one pot, simmered over a slow fire, and served up as a pretty dish to set before a king.
The uniformity of the book is wonderful. It is always heavy. Its falsehood is insipid. Its very malice has no pungency. It is dull even where it hates. Now and then we stumble on a paragraph which starts up from the dead level around it, glowing with real fire; but at the end we are sure to find that it is translated from Victor Hugo or transferred from Emerson; and generally these borrowed plumes are so torn and bedraggled in their clumsy removal that the very bird they grew on would scarcely recognize them. There is no intentional, no malign maltreatment, to give us the relief of a real indignation; but we are kept in a state of constant irritation by a series of petty encroachments upon the integrities of literature. There is no law compelling a man to garnish his speech with floating verse; but if he choose to do so, he should make a point of presenting it in its true form. At the very least, if he must garble, let him garble rhythmically, and not add splay feet to spoiled force. One may not have a poetic taste or a musical ear; but if he has fingers and toes, he need not say,
"Yet I doubt not through ages one increasing purpose runs."
It is utter demoralization to write "pride in his port and fire in his eye." Indeed, the singular fatality which attends these quotations has something of the sublime. If a sentiment _can_ be reproduced with all its sparkle extinguished, our Gentle Man is the one to do it. Diffuse everywhere else, he is compact in erring, and crowds more mistakes into a paragraph than are often met on a page. He says incidentally, "Lord Byron wrote a very pretty song, conveying the idea in its refrain 'that the day of my destiny _is_ over, the star of my hope has declined.' Now it is not a song, as he uses the word; the idea, if it is an idea, is not in the refrain; there is no refrain in the piece; and there is nothing said in the piece about the star of his hope. Lord Burleigh's fulsome she-fool is euphemized into an irksome female fool, and Lord Byron _jumped up_ one morning and found himself famous. We are informed that nothing
"Can ennoble slaves, or fools, or cowards";
"My days are in the yellow leaf, The flowers and the fruit are gone";
Burton was pleasing himself with _phantasies_ sweet; Addison wedded _misery_ in a noble wife; Wolsey had nothing more pathetic to say than "Had I served my God as I served my King, He would not now have deserted me"; and _King James_, contrary to all historic tradition and all the probabilities of the case, "never said a foolish thing and never did a wise one."
Here is a bit of concentrated history:--
"On one of the last Sundays in December, 1862, in the midst of a dispirited city, and with a perplexed Senate and a beaten army as that city's safeguards, Mr. Henry Ward Beecher asserted in the Puritan Church in New York, that 'Generals were of no use; that God fought against the North for upholding the slaves; that the time was come when wickedness was to be "rooted out"; and, finally, that it was not only the province of the preacher to condemn vice, but that he should "pluck it out by the root," should "slay" wickedness, and that slavery and alcohol should be put down by the arm of flesh and the sword of the preacher.'"
Now, frankly confessing that we have no knowledge whatever of the facts in question and cannot therefore authoritatively deny a single statement, we are yet willing, on "circumstantial evidence," to risk both our intelligence and veracity by declaring our belief, first, that Mr. Beecher did not say this in the Puritan Church, but in the Plymouth Church; secondly, that it was not in New York, but in Brooklyn; and, thirdly, that he never said it at all. We leave out of view the haze which evidently beclouds this Gentle Brain regarding the location of the Senate, and its prevailing impression that the Potomac flows nine times around New York before it empties itself into Lake Pontchartrain.
We do not claim to display any superior learning in pointing out these mistakes. We shall never set ourselves above our contemporaries for corrections which--we will not say every school-boy, but--every school-girl of ordinary literary aptitude is entirely competent to make. There are many things which it is no credit to know, but a serious discredit not to know; and when a man presumes to write a book, we have at least a right to expect that he shall not stumble in the primer. The Gentle Man claims to have been a student of English literature. He has certainly been a very stupid or a very careless one. Indications are not wanting that his proper seat is on both horns of the dilemma.
When he leaves other writers and has recourse to his own pen, matters are but indifferently mended. The slovenliness of his style is extraordinary. "Ought a gentleman," he quotes from Thackeray, "to be a loyal son, a true husband, an honest father? Ought his life to be decent, his bills to be paid, his tastes to be high and elegant, his aims in life to be noble?" "Yes," responds the astute essayist, "he should be all these, and somewhat more; and these all men can be, and women, too." What is the English of this gibberish? "In Miss Thackeray's excellent novel, the 'Story of Elizabeth,' there is a somewhat new point in such books." He tells us that General Blücher "had his disappointments, no doubt, but turned them, like the oyster does the speck of sand which annoys it, to a pearl,"--that in every state people may be cheerful; "the lambs skip, birds sing and fly _joyously_, puppies play, kittens are _full_ of _joyance_, the whole air _full_ of careering and _rejoicing_ insects, _that every_where the good outbalances the bad, and _that every_ evil _that there is_ has its compensating balm." And in face of such slop-work he dares to speak of having "formed his style"!
And, stranger still, a book which indulges in these pranks has gone to a third edition in the land of Addison and Macaulay! Moreover, our copy belongs to this veritable third edition, whose preface informs us that "the Essays have undergone a careful revision." What must have been the glories of the first edition?
The style is not more hopelessly muddled than the sentiment. The man's skull seems to be undergoing a perpetual house-cleaning. His intellectual furniture is always at sixes and sevens. It would be very strange, if so wide a rover and so indefatigable a collector should never by any chance come back with some valuable specimens for his cabinet; but the few curiosities displayed as his own property have so very awkward an air in his wilderness of common pebbles, that we have a deep inward conviction that they are stolen, though the theft may be an unconscious one. Moreover, if he ever lights on a genuine gem, he cannot keep his hands off it, but paws it over and over till it is as lustreless as its companions. He seems to have an organic inaptitude for combination. He lays a fact down and straightway forgets where he put it, what it was for, or what manner of fact it was, and goes serenely on with his argument as if no such fact existed. Some of his facts are of such a nature that the pity is not that he occasionally forgets them, but that he ever remembered them. To show that old truths are "now proved to have been lies," he quotes,--
"Doubt that the stars are fire, Doubt that the sun doth move, Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love,"
and adds this comment,--"Well, we know now that the sun does not move, and that the stars are not fire; that the voices of the learned, who held up these things as immutable truths, were unconsciously lying after all." Yet any astronomical horn-book would have told our philosopher, that, if one scientific theory is firmly founded on truth, it is that the sun does move; and for the matter of the stars, it is as likely to be fire as anything else. "William Penn," he says elsewhere, "is now tainted, and Washington suspected." By whom? and of what?--will this new historian inform us? "Great artists think differently, as witness wondrous Giotto, the shepherd boy, and our own clever, but mediocre Opie." A man may mistake a mediocre painter for a great artist and only err in judgment, but that he should in the same breath proclaim him to be both is a marvel of stultification. "All men are not born equal," he says, presumptuously dabbling in politics and drawing his feeble bow against the Declaration of Independence,--"all men are not equally wise, gifted, clever, strong, handsome, or tall. The brains of one nation and the brains of one man are superior in weight, form, and activity to the brains of another nation or another man." "The framers of the celebrated American Declaration knew just as well as we do that they were preaching a doctrine of romantic falsehood." A moment or two after this fine philosophical distinction and this courteous and eminently Gentle assertion,--but quite long enough for him to have forgotten both,--he makes another affirmation, that equality exists "in the grave and in the church." How, then? Are men equally wise, gifted, clever, strong, handsome, or tall in church? "A hundred years after death we may weigh the dust of the greatest hero, and it is no more than that of the poorest beggar; and the name that remains is as light and useless as the dust." But if the great hero were very strong and tall and the poor beggar a feeble dwarf, the dust of the one would be appreciably more than that of the other, And what means this Daniel come to judgment by teaching that a hero's name is light and useless? We had supposed it was agreed among all civilized people that a nation's heroic memories are her most priceless possessions. We ask the question simply as a rhetorical one. We are perfectly aware that the author means nothing. He seldom does mean anything. And if he did, he is the last person to whom we should apply for any exact definition of his meaning. He uses words with very little comprehension of their ordinary meaning; of the delicacy or the force of language he has no sort of conception. He grasps at the skirts of any notion that flutters through his disorderly mind, fastens to it the word that comes first to hand, and sets it fluttering again. Juxtaposition is his all-sufficient substitute for connection, and "a moment's time, a point of space," between two statements is fatal to his arguments. "We all differ. _Therefore_," is his extraordinary inference, "every individual should live, not for himself, but to be valuable to others; _for_," and here we turn another of his inexplicable corners, "it would be sheer midsummer madness to preach up that all are equally valuable." Consequently we embark on his sentences, paragraphs, and chapters in entire ignorance of the point where they will land us. He takes Mr. Helps to task for bowing the knee to the Moloch of success in writing Mr. Stephenson's life, accuses Mr. Stephenson of borrowing and purloining ideas, yet himself constantly holds him up to admiration as a hero. The putting down of the Slaveholders' Rebellion is to him a mere "blundering into slaughter"; but the Crimean War "showed that heroism is not yet extinct in high life"; and in the Indian Mutinies, we, the English, "were attacked, undermined, betrayed," and that rebellion was quelled with "courage, skill in arms, anything you will, or all things combined, and God's blessing chief of all, which enabled us to preserve a mighty empire." Of these "high people" he advises us to "adopt the polish, suavity, and politeness, one towards another, which, with few exceptions, they all have," only two pages after he has illustrated "vulgar curiosity in high life" by telling us how, "at an entertainment given by the Prince and Princess of Wales, to which, of course, only the very cream of the cream of society was admitted, there was such a pushing and struggling to see the Princess ... that a bust of the Princess Royal was thrown from its pedestal and damaged, and the pedestal upset; the ladies, in their eagerness to view the Princess, coolly took advantage of the overthrown pillar by standing on it." In one place he testifies that "the majority of men's wives in the upper and middle classes fall far short of that which is required of a good wife. They are not made by love, but by the chance of a good match. They are the products of worldly prudence, not of a noble passion.... The consequence is, that after the first novelty has passed away, the chain begins to rub and the collar to gall." A little later in the same essay he gives an ideal wife, and says,--"It is not too much to say that the great majority of wives equal this ideal." "By far the larger portion of marriages are happy ones ... and ... of men's wives we still can write ... 'her voice is sweet music, her smiles his brightest day,' &c., &c." "Women," he says, "differ from men in this respect. They all, very properly, look forward to marriage." So, we suppose, men do not look forward to marriage; or if they do, it is improperly. "Nay, the great majority [of women], even in our factitious state of society, are utterly dependent upon it." That is, if society were not factitious, every woman, without exception, would be utterly dependent upon marriage for a living. "The majority of girls are looking forward to be married at an early age, and are in despair of being left old maids when they are twenty-one." As usual, he means the contrary of what he says,--not that girls hope to be old maids till they are twenty-one and then settle down into the certainty that they must become wives, but that they hope to be wives and are in despair at being old maids by the time they are twenty-one. The difficult task of evolving his meaning from his words is, to be sure, entirely a work of supererogation on our part, as the statement he means and the statement he makes are usually alike baseless. But we choose to free him from the meshes in which he has entangled himself and give him a chance to run for his life.
The brilliancy and originality of his views on social questions appear in such startling announcements as "Woman should be true to herself." "Woman was created to be a wife and a mother." "The accomplished woman in these days of general education is, however, a grand mistake." "Why should lovely woman ever condescend to dabble in political economy? Can a gentleman be a gentleman when logic requires the truth? Will dry dissertation fill up the place of compliment and flowery talk? Will agricultural measures,--Mill on Liberty,--Buckle on Civilization,--High, Low, or Middle Church,--Pleiocene periods,--Hind's new comet, and the division of labor, suffer us to enjoy life as we used, and to amuse ourselves with the innocent prattle of ladies' tongues?" Rosy, posy, pinky, honey, pepper_mint_, and sugar-plummy! "One part of management in husbands lies in a judicious mixture of good-humor, attention, flattery, and compliments." Here, helping him to his meaning, which he flounders after in vain through a page of wish-wash, we may explain that he is not speaking, as would naturally be supposed, of the manner in which husbands manage wives, but, advancing in his usual crab-fashion, of the manner in which wives manage husbands; nor by flattery let it be imagined for a moment that he means flattery, but "an offered flower, a birthday gift, a song when we are weary, a smile when we are sad, a look which no eye but our own will see," in which, if truth is, as has been said, "a fixed central sun," our comet must be considered in its perihelion. And having thus set him on his feet again, let us see whether he can stand by himself a tottering moment or two.
The preventive of these ill-assorted marriages (which for the greater part are never made) is, if the young men "only chose by sense _or_ fancy, _or_ because they saw some good quality in a girl,--if they were not all captivated by the face alone," (Query: What is being captivated by a face but choosing by fancy? and what is choosing by sense but choosing by some good quality?) "every Jill would have her Jack, and pair off happily, like the lovers in a comedy." At the same time he agrees with Swift that the reason why so many marriages are unhappy is because young ladies spend their "time in making nets and not in making cages."
We have said that the Gentle Man is dull even when he hates. It is true, so far as he has anything to do with expressing his hatred; yet the time for the publication of his dulness is so inaptly--or perhaps we should rather say so aptly--chosen, that the incongruity awakens our sense of the ridiculous, while a certain childlike confidingness with which he credits any statement that makes against the objects of his dislike comes nearer to amusing us than anything else in the book. America is his _bête noir_. It points the moral of every sad tale. "Vulgarity, hoydenishness, coarseness, and the contempt which accompanies these qualities, are the effects of bad manner and manners. It may pervade a whole nation, as it has done the Americans." What the particular "it" is which pervades us, we cannot, and the Gentle Man, also, "true to himself," cannot say; but there it is. A nation is exhorted to politeness; for, "sitting with their legs over the chair-back of another, carrying bowie-knives, cutting the furniture, and spitting in a circle around them, are not only national faults, but absolutely sins amongst Americans." Call a spade a spade, and speak not as in "America, where they talk of the 'stands' of the tables, not daring to say 'legs'; and a young lady will be highly offended, if you dare to ask her to take a leg of a fowl or a breast of a turkey. There the latter is called 'bosom'; and a mock modesty, which to us seems highly improper, has altered some round dozen of good, sound English words, which our best and purest girls use without so much as thinking upon them." Avoid exaggeration, for in America "it produces a general decay of truth and a boastful habit of exaggeration, for which the nation has grown famous, and at which its best friends are truly grieved." (Oh!) ... "They have asserted so long that they are the finest and best nation in the world, and they have come out so poorly under trial, that, what with a remembrance of the old story and the presence of the new, the English thinker is completely puzzled.... So general was the falsification, that the best men in the Northern States no longer credited a Government despatch or a general's 'order';... and the sad state into which the great nation has fallen has arisen from the spread of that vile disease, a love of exaggeration." His profound political penetration is evinced by the sagacious remark, that "America, the disciple of Lafayette (!) and French doctrines, determined to propagate liberty by enslaving six millions of brothers." His opinion of the character and career of our late beloved President--a name almost too pure and now too sacred to be mentioned here--is for once succinctly given,--"A cunning attorney sits upon a chair he cannot fill, and is leading a party and country to destruction." "With all his undoubted conceit and endurance, with his keenness for praise and for being talked about, we doubt whether there are many more miserable men in the world than President Abraham Lincoln. The bitter, bitter tears which Louis XVI. ... shed because of his own unfitness have been chronicled; but he, knowing his incompetence, was born to the estate of king; the American President wriggled himself forward into notoriety." "To an American, all the world seemed bound up in his Boston or Philadelphia.... He could whip John Bull, and John Bull could whip all the world. As, since that, he has been 'whipped into a cocked hat' by his own relations, we hope some of the conceit has been taken out of him." Yes, unhappy that we are, the secret is at last revealed. We carry bowie-knives in our breast-pockets (venturing to discard for once, under the protection of our Transatlantic Mentor, the usual term of _bosom-pocket_). We dine off the stands of fowl. We have come out poorly under trial, our finances are deranged, our country bankrupt, our confidence in Government lost, and we have no loyalty, because there is nothing to be loyal to. We are tossing on a sea of anarchy, we are rushing on to ruin, we have been braggart in peace and cowardly in war, and are at this moment whipped by our own relations into such a cocked hat as was never before seen. We do not credit the order to stop recruiting, and we have no belief in the evacuation of Richmond. We are confident that Sherman is gasping in the last ditch, that Jefferson Davis is dictator at Washington, and that General Grant is flying in his wife's gown before the victorious legions of Lee.
In his preface, the writer of this book repels the charge of being like Thackeray and Dickens. We can assure him, that, with an American public, he may spare himself that trouble. He is not in the smallest danger of being mistaken for either of those eminent writers. He is so entirely unlike them that we do not for a moment suspect him of having attempted to imitate them. We do not even reckon him their disciple, nor Bacon's, nor Montaigne's, nor Steele's, nor any other's whose plan he professes himself to have adopted; for a disciple is a learner, which the Gentle Man seems never capable of becoming. Good and bad alike, he is a feeble and confused echo of all men's notions, but the steadfast adherent of none. The snob's soul within him bows down to the authority of great men, yet he produces their great thoughts in disjointed and distorted shape. He does not scruple to sneer where sneers are safe, blind to the glaring fact that sneers are never safe for him. Bold behind his Tory bulwarks, he warns boys against adopting Mr. Bright's opinions, and so becoming "selfish, calculating, cold; as careless of true nobility of purpose and of soul and as worshipful of material success as Mr. Bright himself;" and he has his little fling at Tupper, in common with many another literary drummer-boy who would earn a cheap reputation for valor by attacking what his superiors have already demolished. We should scorn to parry the puny thrust of this Liliputian at the noble name which America delights to honor, or to repel the charge of coldness against that great heart whose burst of anguish over the grave of his friend, and our friend, and humanity's, awoke an answering sob in a thousand homes of this Western World; but we beg to assure this fine old English Gentle Man and scholar, that, reading these essays, we are ready to pronounce Mr. Tupper a master of style and his philosophy a striking and valuable treatise.
We really beg pardon of our readers for covering so much space with this flummery. We intended to despatch it with a thrust or two; but when our pen was once caught in the flimsy stuff, it was difficult to withdraw it again without bringing away considerable portions of the tangle. Moreover, a book of so much pretension is not to be as lightly passed by as its humbler brethren. A book that comes to us in fair type and fine paper, bearing the imprint of a well-known and highly respected publishing house,--a book that invokes the first names in literature and meddles with the higher laws of life, that takes on the airs of a censor and pushes forward into the guild of genius, that by the assumption of its tone and the broadcast scatteration--depend upon it, that is the word--of its odds and ends of learning, or by what hocus-pocus we know not, has attained to a third edition in a country proud of the accuracy and elegance of its scholarship, and that now brings its brazen face to our doors, seeking a welcome at the hearthstones which it has insulted, is not to be dismissed with a simple "Not at home." We have chosen rather to pillory the pretender, pelting him only with such missiles as his own pockets furnished. We now discharge him from custody, bidding him and all his kind bear in mind the assurance, that, while for English genius, English wisdom, English truth, and English love, we have only admiration and gratitude, the time has gone by for English charlatanry to expect from our hands anything but the scourging it deserves.
_Essays in Criticism_. By MATTHEW ARNOLD. Boston: Ticknor & Fields.
A more satisfactory volume of English prose than this has not come into our hands since the first appearance of the famous "Essays and Reviews." Differing widely from that collection in kind and scope, it yet belongs in the main to the same school of liberal thought in which England has made of late such rapid strides.
As a poet, Matthew Arnold had been known among us for a decade or more of years, and, though not celebrated with the wide popularity of Tennyson, had been as cordially cherished as the Laureate himself by all who valued in poetry the indications of profound intellectual experience as well as the singer's native gift. Those who are most familiar with the verses of the Oxford Professor will be least surprised with the critical insight and judicial wisdom of these Essays. For, independently of any question of natural affinity or natural incompatibility between the functions of bard and critic, there is that in Mr. Arnold's poetry which makes the fortune of the essayist,--an intense subjectiveness united to an analytic subtilty, which would mar the beauty of his verse, as it certainly does that of Mr. Browning, were it not compensated by a depth and truth of poetic feeling, in which Arnold far excels Browning, and has no superior among recent English poets. Some of his poems are critical essays, without losing the distinctive character of poetry; and some of his best criticisms are done in verse. What better, for example, than the sentence on Byron in "Memorial Verses"?
"He taught us little: but our soul Had felt him like the thunder's roll. With shivering heart the strife we saw Of Passion with Eternal Law; And yet with reverential awe We watched the fount of fiery life Which served for that Titanic strife."
Or that on Goethe in "Obermann"?
"For he pursued a lonely road, His eye on Nature's plan,-- Neither made man too much a God, Nor God too much a man."
Of living Englishmen, it seems to us that Matthew Arnold combines in the highest degree great wealth of literary culture with the deepest thoughtfulness. This makes the charm of the present volume. Also, to his honor be it said,--and let due commendation be given to that trait,--he is of modern English essayists the least dogmatic. With fixed principles of art and very decided views of his own he combines a tolerance and a flexibility of mind which are very un-English. He is the least insular of his countrymen. It cannot be said of him, as he himself has said of Carlyle, that, with all his genius, he "has for the functions of the critic a little too much of the self-will and eccentricities of a genuine son of Great Britain." And yet, un-British as he is in these respects, Arnold, in one thing, is more national far than Carlyle,--in the manner, namely, in which he chooses to express his thought. Though deeply conversant with German literature, (as he is with French,) he has not suffered himself to be bitten with the Teutomania which infects so unpleasantly the diction of his self-willed countryman,--making his sentences seem like translations from Jean Paul, rather than utterances conceived in an English mind. He unites cosmopolitan liberality with English self-possession.
As a stylist, he is singularly inartificial. Would that our American writers might take a lesson from Arnold's prose, and correct their ambitious rhetoric, affected quaintness, and other varieties of fine writing, by this pure, simple, honest English. The peculiarity of his style, we should say, is its freedom from peculiarity. It is the style of a cultivated, thoughtful man, without the pedantry and mannerism which thoughtful and cultivated men so often contract. Easy, almost careless in its movement, but far from careless in its choice of words, it is neither bookish nor vulgarly colloquial, but maintains a just mean between elaborateness and rudeness. In our young days Macaulay was considered the model writer, and Ruskin has been thought to occupy that place in these latter years; but Macaulay is tumid, and even Ruskin stilted and stiff, in comparison with Matthew Arnold.
For the matter, here are fourteen essays, including the three lectures, "On translating Homer," and the "Last Words," not ponderously and oppressively learned, and not abstrusely and obtrusively philosophical, but as full of wisdom and intellectual stimulus and graceful humor as any we know, and more tolerant and liberal than most,--together with a preface as entertaining as any of the essays. So healthy and nourishing a book, in the way of literary essays, has not for a long while appeared among us. We are far from assenting to all of Professor Arnold's positions. We altogether repudiate the statement, that "on Heine, of all German authors who have survived Goethe, incomparably the largest portion of Goethe's mantle fell"; nor can we adopt all his criticisms and views on the Homeric question; nevertheless, we can with the utmost confidence recommend this volume to the literary men of America to whom the author is yet unknown, or known only by name.
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