Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 11, No. 63, January, 1863
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Joshua Hutchinson, Tonya Allen and PG Distributed
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A MAGAZINE OF
LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. XI.--JANUARY, 1863.--NO. LXIII.
Long ago, when you were a little boy or a little girl,--perhaps not so
very long ago, either,--were you never interrupted in your play by being
called in to have your face washed, your hair combed, and your soiled
apron exchanged for a clean one, preparatory to an introduction to Mrs.
Smith, or Dr. Jones, or Aunt Judkins, your mother's early friend? And
after being ushered in to that august presence, and made to face a
battery of questions which were either above or below your capacity, and
which you consequently despised as trash or resented as insult, did you
not, as you were gleefully vanishing, hear a soft sigh breathed out upon
the air,--"Dear child, he is seeing his happiest days"? In the concrete,
it was Mrs. Smith or Dr. Jones speaking of you. But going back to
general principles, it was Commonplacedom expressing its opinion of
There never was a greater piece of absurdity in the world. I thought so
when I was a child, and now I know it; and I desire here to brand it as
at once a platitude and a falsehood. How ever the idea gained currency
that childhood is the happiest period of life, I cannot conceive. How
ever, once started, it kept afloat is equally incomprehensible. I should
have supposed that the experience of every sane person would have given
the lie to it. I should have supposed that every soul, as it burst into
flower, would have hurled off the vile imputation. I can only account
for it by recurring to Lady Mary Wortley Montague's statistics, and
concluding that the fools _are_ three out of four in every person's
I for one lift up my voice emphatically against the assertion, and do
affirm that I think childhood is the most mean and miserable portion of
human life, and I am thankful to be well out of it. I look upon it as
no better than a mitigated form of slavery. There is not a child in
the land that can call his soul, or his body, or his jacket his own. A
little soft lump of clay he comes into the world, and is moulded into a
vessel of honor or a vessel of dishonor long before he can put in a word
about the matter. He has no voice as to his education or his training,
what he shall eat, what he shall drink, or wherewithal he shall be
clothed. He has to wait upon the wisdom, the whims, and often the
wickedness of other people. Imagine, my six-foot friend, how you would
feel to be obliged to wear your woollen mittens when you desire to bloom
out in straw-colored kids, or to be buttoned into your black waistcoat
when your taste leads you to select your white, or to be forced under
your Kossuth hat when you had set your heart on your black beaver: yet
this is what children are perpetually called on to undergo. Their wills
are just as strong as ours and their tastes are stronger, yet they have
to bend the one and sacrifice the other; and they do it under pressure
of necessity. Their reason is not convinced; they are forced to yield to
superior power; and of all disagreeable things in the world, the most
disagreeable is not to have your own way. When you are grown up, you
wear a print frock because you cannot afford a silk, or because a silk
would be out of place,--you wear India-rubber overshoes because your
polished patent-leather would be ruined by the mud; and your self-denial
is amply compensated by the reflection of superior fitness or economy.
But a child has no such reflection to console him. He puts on his
battered, gray old shoes because you make him; he hangs up his new
trousers and goes back into his detestable girl's-frock because he will
be punished if he does not, and it is intolerable.
It is of no use to say that this is their discipline and is all
necessary to their welfare. I maintain that that is a horrible condition
of life in which such degrading _surveillance_ is necessary. You may
affirm that an absolute despotism is the only government fit for
Dahomey, and I may not disallow it; but when you go on and say that
Dahomey is the happiest country in the world, why, I refer you to
Dogberry. Now the parents of a child are, from the nature of the case,
absolute despots. They may be wise, and gentle, and doting despots, and
the chain may be satin-smooth and golden-strong; but if it be of rusty
iron, parting every now and then and letting the poor prisoner violently
loose, and again suddenly caught hold of, bringing him up with a jerk,
galling his tender limbs and irretrievably ruining his temper,--it is
all the same; there is no help for it. And really, to look around
the world and see the people that are its fathers and mothers is
appalling,--the narrow-minded, prejudiced, ignorant, ill-tempered,
fretful, peevish, passionate, careworn, harassed men and women. Even we
grown people, independent of them and capable of self-defence, have as
much as we can do to keep the peace. Where is there a city, or a town,
or a village, in which are no bickerings, no jealousies, no angers, no
petty or swollen spites? Then fancy yourself, instead of the neighbor
and occasional visitor of these poor human beings, their children,
subject to their absolute control, with no power of protest against
their folly, no refuge from their injustice, but living on through thick
and thin right under their guns.
"Oh!" but you say, "this is a very one-sided view. You leave out
entirely the natural tenderness that comes in to temper the matter.
Without that, a child's situation would of course be intolerable; but
the love that is born with him makes all things smooth."
No, it does not make all things smooth. It does wonders, to be sure, but
it does not make cross people pleasant, nor violent people calm, nor
fretful people easy, nor obstinate people reasonable, nor foolish people
wise,--that is, it may do so spasmodically, but it does not hold them to
it and keep them at it. A great deal of beautiful moonshine is written
about the sanctities of home and the sacraments of marriage and birth. I
do not mean to say that there is no sanctity and no sacrament. Moonshine
is not nothing. It is light,--real, honest light,--just as truly as
the sunshine. It is sunshine at second-hand. It illuminates, but
indistinctly. It beautifies, but it does not vivify or fructify. It
comes indeed from the sun, but in too roundabout a way to do the sun's
work. So, if a woman is pretty nearly sanctified before she is married,
wifehood and motherhood may finish the business; but there is not one
man in ten thousand of the writers aforesaid who would marry a vixen,
trusting to the sanctifying influences of marriage to tone her down to
sweetness. A thoughtful, gentle, pure, and elevated woman, who has been
accustomed to stand face to face with the eternities, will see in her
child a soul. If the circumstances of her life leave her leisure and
adequate repose, that soul will be to her a solemn trust, a sacred
charge, for which she will give her own soul's life in pledge. But, dear
me! how many such women do you suppose there are in your village? Heaven
forbid that I should even appear to be depreciating woman! Do I not know
too well their strength, and their virtue which is their strength? But
stepping out of idyls and novels, and stepping into American kitchens,
is it not true that the larger part of the mothers see in their babies,
or act as if they saw, only babies? And if there are three or four or
half a dozen of them, as there generally are, so much the more do they
see babies whose bodies monopolize the mother's time to the disadvantage
of their souls. She loves them, and she works for them day and night;
but when they are ranting and ramping and quarrelling, and torturing
her over-tense nerves, she forgets the infinite, and applies herself
energetically to the finite, by sending Harry with a round scolding into
one corner and Susy into another, with no light thrown upon the point
in dispute, no principle settled as a guide in future difficulties, and
little discrimination as to the relative guilt of the offenders. But
there is no court of appeal before which Harry and Susy can lay their
case in these charming "happiest days."
Then there are parents who love their children like wild beasts. It is
a passionate, blind, instinctive, unreasoning love. They have no more
intelligent discernment, when an outside difficulty arises with respect
to their children, than a she-bear. They wax furious over the most
richly deserved punishment, if inflicted by a teacher's hand; they take
the part of their child against legal authority; but, observe, this does
not prevent them from laying their own hands heavily on their children.
The same obstinate ignorance and narrowness that are exhibited without
exist within also. Folly is folly, abroad or at home. A man does not
play the fool out-doors and act the sage in the house. When the poor
child becomes obnoxious, the same unreasoning rage falls upon him. The
object of a ferocious love is the object of an equally ferocious anger.
It is only he who loves wisely that loves well.
The manner in which children's tastes are disregarded, their feelings
ignored, and their instincts violated is enough to disaffect one with
childhood. They are expected to kiss all flesh that asks them to do so.
They are jerked up into the laps of people whom they abhor. They say,
"Yes, Ma'am," under pain of bread and water for a week, when their
unerring nature prompts them to hurl out, "I won't, you hideous old
fright!" They are sent out of the room whenever a fascinating bit of
scandal is to be rehearsed, packed off to bed just as everybody is
settled down for a charming evening, bothered about their lessons when
their play is but fairly under way, and hedged and hampered on every
side. It is true that all this may be for their good, but, my dear dolt,
what of that? So everything is for the good of grownup people; but does
that make us contented? It is doubtless for our good in the long run
that we lose our pocketbooks, and break our arms, and catch a fever, and
have our brothers defraud a bank, and our houses burn down, and people
steal our umbrellas, and borrow our books and never return them. In
fact, we know that upon certain conditions all things work together for
our good, but, notwithstanding, we find some things a great bore; and we
may talk to our children of discipline and health by the hour together,
and it will never be anything but an intolerable nuisance to them to be
swooped off to bed by a dingy old nurse just as the people are beginning
to come, and shining silk, and floating lace, and odorous, faint flowers
are taking their ecstatic young souls back into the golden days of the
good Haroun al Raschid.
Even in this very point lies one of the miseries of childhood, that
no philosophy comes to temper their sorrow. We do not know why we are
troubled, but we know that there _is_ some good, grand reason for it.
The poor little children do not know even that. They find trouble
utterly inconsequent and unreasonable. The problem of evil is to them
absolutely incapable of solution. We know that beyond our horizon
stretches the infinite universe. We grasp only one link of a chain
whose beginning and end is eternity. So we readily adjust ourselves to
mystery, and are content. We apply to everything inexplicable the test
of partial view, and maintain our tranquillity. We fall into the ranks,
and march on, acquiescent, if not jubilant. We hear the roar of cannon
and the rattle of musketry. Stalwart forms fall by our side, and brawny
arms are stricken. Our own hopes bite the dust, our own hearts bury
their dead; but we know that law is inexorable. Effect must follow
cause, and there is no happening without causation. So, knowing
ourselves to be only one small brigade of the army of the Lord, we
defile through the passes of this narrow world, bearing aloft on our
banner, and writing ever on our hearts, the divine consolation, "What
thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter." This is an unspeakable
tranquillizer and comforter, of which, woe is me! the little ones know
nothing. They have no underlying generalities on which to stand. Law and
logic and eternity are nothing to them. They only know that it rains,
and they will have to wait another week before they go a-fishing; and
why couldn't it have rained Friday just as well as Saturday? and it
always does rain or something when I want to go anywhere,--so, there!
And the frantic flood of tears comes up from outraged justice as well as
from disappointed hope. It is the flimsiest of all possible arguments to
say that their sorrows are trifling, to talk about their little cares
and trials. These little things are great to little men and women. A
pine bucket full is just as full as a hogshead. The ant has to tug just
as hard to carry a grain of corn as the Irishman does to carry a hod of
bricks. You can see the bran running out of Fanny's doll's arm, or
the cat putting her foot through Tom's new kite, without losing your
equanimity; but their hearts feel the pang of hopeless sorrow, or foiled
ambition, or bitter disappointment,--and the emotion is the thing in
question, not the event that caused it.
It is an additional disadvantage to children in their troubles that they
can never estimate the relations of things. They have no perspective.
All things are at equal distances from the point of sight. Life presents
to them neither foreground nor background, principal figure nor
subordinates, but only a plain spread of canvas on which one thing
stands out just as big and just as black as another. You classify your
_desagrements_. This is a mere temporary annoyance, and receives but a
passing thought. This is a life-long sorrow, but it is superficial; it
will drop off from you at the grave, be folded away with your cerements,
and leave no scar on your spirit. This thrusts its lancet into the
secret place where your soul abideth, but you know that it tortures only
to heal; it is recuperative, not destructive, and you will rise from it
to newness of life. But when little ones see a ripple in the current of
their joy, they do not know, they cannot tell, that it is only a pebble
breaking softly in upon the summer flow to toss a cool spray up into
the white bosom of the lilies, or to bathe the bending violets upon the
green and grateful bank. It seems to them as if the whole strong tide
is thrust fiercely and violently back, and hurled into a new channel,
chasmed in the rough, rent granite. It is impossible to calculate the
waste of grief and pathos which this incapacity causes. Fanny's doll
aforesaid is left too near the fire, and waxy tears roll down her ruddy
cheeks, to the utter ruin of her pretty face and her gay frock; and
anon poor Fanny breaks her little heart in moans and sobs and sore
lamentation. It is Rachel weeping for her children. I went on a tramp
one May morning to buy a tissue-paper wreath of flowers for a little
girl to wear to a May-party, where all the other little girls were
expected to appear similarly crowned. After a long and weary search, I
was forced to return without it. Scarcely had I pulled the bell, when I
heard the quick pattering of little feet in the entry. Never in all my
life shall I lose the memory of those wistful eyes that did not so much
as look up to my face, but levelled themselves to my hand, and filmed
with bitter disappointment to find it empty. _I_ could see that the
wreath was a very insignificant matter. I knew that every little beggar
in the street had garlanded herself with sixpenny roses, and I should
have preferred that my darling should be content with her own silky
brown hair; but my taste availed her nothing, and the iron entered into
her soul. Once a little boy, who could just stretch himself up as high
as his papa's knee, climbed surreptitiously into the store-closet and
upset the milk-pitcher. Terrified, he crept behind the flour-barrel, and
there Nemesis found him, and he looked so charming and so guilty that
two or three others were called to come and enjoy the sight. But he,
unhappy midget, did not know that he looked charming; he did not know
that his guilty consciousness only made him the more interesting; he did
not know that he seemed an epitome of humanity, a Liliputian miniature
of the great world; and his large, blue, solemn eyes were filled with
remorse. As he stood there, silent, with his grave, utterly mournful
face, he had robbed a bank, he had forged a note, he had committed a
murder, he was guilty of treason. All the horror of conscience, all the
shame of discovery, all the unavailing regret of a detected, atrocious,
but not utterly hardened pirate tore his poor little innocent heart. Yet
children are seeing their happiest days!
These people--the aforesaid three-fourths of our acquaintance--lay great
stress on the fact that children are free from care, as if freedom from
care were one of the beatitudes of Paradise; but I should like to know
if freedom from care is any blessing to beings who don't know what care
is. You who are careful and troubled about many things may dwell on it
with great satisfaction, but children don't find it delightful by any
means. On the contrary, they are never so happy as when they can get a
little care, or cheat themselves into the belief that they have it.
You can make them proud for a day by sending them on some responsible
errand. If you will not place care upon them, they will make it for
themselves. You shall see a whole family of dolls stricken down
simultaneously with malignant measles, or a restive horse evoked from a
passive parlor-chair. They are a great deal more eager to assume care
than you are to throw it off. To be sure, they may be quite as eager to
be rid of it after a while; but while this does not prove that care is
delightful, it certainly does prove that freedom from care is not.
Now I should like, Herr Narr, to have you look at the other side for a
moment: for there is a positive and a negative pole. Children not only
have their full share of misery, but they do not have their full share
of happiness; at least, they miss many sources of happiness to which we
have access. They have no consciousness. They have sensations, but no
perceptions. We look longingly upon them, because they are so graceful,
and simple, and natural, and frank, and artless; but though this may
make us happy, it does not make them happy, because they don't know
anything about it. It never occurs to them that they are graceful. No
child is ever artless to himself. The only difference he sees between
you and himself is that you are grown-up and he is little. Sometimes I
think he does have a dim perception that when he is sick it is because
he has eaten too much, and he must take medicine, and feed on heartless
dry toast, while, when you are sick, you have the dyspepsia, and go to
Europe. But the beauty and sweetness of children are entirely wasted on
themselves, and their frankness is a source of infinite annoyance to
each other. A man enjoys _himself_. If he is handsome, or wise, or
witty, he generally knows it, and takes great satisfaction in it; but
a child does not. He loses half his happiness because he does not know
that he is happy. If he ever has any consciousness, it is an isolated,
momentary thing, with no relation to anything antecedent or subsequent.
It lays hold on nothing. Not only have they no perception of themselves,
but they have no perception of anything. They never recognize an
exigency. They do not salute greatness. Has not the Autocrat told us of
some lady who remembered a certain momentous event in our Revolutionary
War, and remembered it only by and because of the regret she experienced
at leaving her doll behind, when her family was forced to fly from home?
What humiliation is this! What an utter failure to appreciate the issues
of life! For her there was no revolution, no upheaval of world-old
theories, no struggle for freedom, no great combat of the heroisms.
All the passion and pain, the mortal throes of error, the glory of
sacrifice, the victory of an idea, the triumph of right, the dawn of a
new era,--all, all were hidden from her behind a lump of wax. And what
was true of her is true of all her class. Having eyes, they see not;
with their ears they do not hear. The din of arms, the waving of
banners, the gleam of swords, fearful sights and great signs in the
heavens, or the still, small voice that thrills when wind and fire and
earthquake have swept by, may proclaim the coming of the Lord, and they
stumble along, munching bread-and-butter. Out in the solitudes Nature
speaks with her many-toned voices, and they are deaf. They have a blind
sensational enjoyment, such as a squirrel or a chicken may have, but
they can in no wise interpret the Mighty Mother, nor even hear her
words. The ocean moans his secret to unheeding ears. The agony of the
underworld finds no speech in the mountain-peaks, bare and grand. The
old oaks stretch out their arms in vain. Grove whispers to grove, and
the robin stops to listen, but the child plays on. He bruises the happy
buttercups, he crushes the quivering anemone, and his cruel fingers are
stained with the harebell's purple blood. Rippling waterfall and rolling
river, the majesty of sombre woods, the wild waste of wilderness, the
fairy spirits of sunshine, the sparkling wine of June, and the golden
languor of October, the child passes by, and a dipper of blackberries,
or a pocketful of chestnuts, fills and satisfies his horrible little
soul. And in face of all this people say--there are people who _dare_ to
say--that childhood's are the "happiest days."
I may have been peculiarly unfortunate in my surroundings, but the
children of poetry and novels were very infrequent in my day. The
innocent cherubs never studied in my school-house, nor played
puss-in-the-corner in our back-yard. Childhood, when I was young, had
rosy cheeks and bright eyes, as I remember, but it was also extremely
given to quarrelling. It used frequently to "get mad." It made nothing
of twitching away books and balls. It often pouted. Sometimes it would
bite. If it wore a fine frock, it would strut. It told lies,--"whoppers"
at that. It took the biggest half of the apple. It was not, as a general
thing, magnanimous, but "aggravating." It may have been fun to you who
looked on, but it was death to us who were in the midst.
This whole way of viewing childhood, this regretful retrospect of
its vanished joys, this infatuated apotheosis of doughiness and rank
unfinish, this fearful looking-for of dread old age, is low, gross,
material, utterly unworthy of a sublime manhood, utterly false to
Christian truth. Childhood is preeminently the animal stage of
existence. The baby is a beast,--a very soft, tender, caressive
beast,--a beast full of promise,--a beast with the germ of an
angel,--but a beast still. A week-old baby gives no more sign of
intelligence, of love, or ambition, or hope, or fear, or passion, or
purpose, than a week-old monkey, and is not half so frisky and funny.
In fact, it is a puling, scowling, wretched, dismal, desperate-looking
animal. It is only as it grows old that the beast gives way and the
angel-wings bud, and all along through infancy and childhood the beast
gives way and gives way and the angel-wings bud and bud; and yet we
entertain our angel so unawares that we look back regretfully to the
time when the angel was in abeyance and the beast raved regnant.
The only advantage which childhood has over manhood is the absence of
foreboding, and this indeed is much. A large part of our suffering is
anticipatory, much of which children are spared. The present happiness
is clouded for them by no shadowy possibility; but for this small
indemnity shall we offset the glory of our manly years? Because their
narrowness cannot take in the contingencies that threaten peace, are
they blessed above all others? Does not the same narrowness cut them
off from the bright certainty that underlies all doubts and fears? If
ignorance is bliss, man stands at the summit of mortal misery, and
the scale of happiness is a descending one. We must go down into the
ocean-depths, where, for the scintillant soul, a dim, twilight instinct
lights up gelatinous lives. If childhood is indeed the happiest period,
then the mysterious God-breathed breath was no boon and the Deity is
cruel. Immortality were well exchanged for the blank of annihilation.
There is infinite talk of the dissipated illusions of youth, the paling
of bright, young dreams. Life, it is said, turns out to be different
from what was pictured. The rosy-hued morning fades away into the gray
and livid evening, the black and ghastly night. In especial cases it may
be so, but I do not believe it is the general experience. It surely need
not be. It should not be. I have found things a great deal better than I
expected. I am but one; but with all my oneness, with all that there is
of me, I protest against such shallow generalities. I think they are
slanderous of Him who ordained life, its processes and its vicissitudes.
He never made our dreams to outstrip our realizations. Every conception,
brain-born, has its execution, hand-wrought. Life is not a paltry
tin cup which the child drains dry, leaving the man to go weary and
hopeless, quaffing at it in vain with black, parched lips. It is a
fountain ever springing. It is a great deep, which the wisest has never
bounded, the grandest never fathomed.
It is not only idle, but stupid, to lament the departure of childhood's
joys. It is as if something precious and valued had been forcibly torn
from us, and we go sorrowing for lost treasure. But these things fall
off from us naturally; we do not give them up. We are never called upon
to give them up. There is no pang, no sorrow, no wrenching away of
a part of our lives. The baby lies in his cradle and plays with his
fingers and toes. There comes an hour when his fingers and toes no
longer afford him amusement. He has attained to the dignity of a rattle,
a whip, a ball. Has he suffered a loss? Has he not rather made a great
gain? When he passed from his toes to his toys, did he do it mournfully?
Does he look at his little feet and hands with a sigh for the joys that
once loitered there, but are now forever gone? Does he not rather feel a
little ashamed, when you remind him of those days? Does he not feel that
it trenches somewhat on his dignity? Yet the regret of maturity for its
past joys amounts to nothing less than this. Such regret is regret that
we cannot lie in the sunshine and play with our toes,--that we are no
longer but one remove, or but few removes, from the idiot. Away with
such folly! Every season of life has its distinctive and appropriate
enjoyments, which bud and blossom and ripen and fall off as the season
glides on to its close, to be succeeded by others better and brighter.
There is no consciousness of loss, for there is no loss. There is only a
growing up, and out of, and beyond.
Life does turn out differently from what was anticipated. It is an
infinitely higher and holier and nobler thing than our childhood
fancied. The world that lay before us then was but a tinsel toy to the
world which our firm feet tread. We have entered into the undiscovered
land. We have explored its ways of pleasantness, its depths of dole, its
mountains of difficulty, its valleys of delight, and, behold! it is very
good. Storms have swept fiercely, but they swept to purify. We have
heard in its thunders the Voice that woke once the echoes of the Garden.
Its lightnings have riven a path for the Angel of Peace.
Manhood discovers what childhood can never divine,--that the sorrows of
life are superficial, and the happinesses of life structural; and this
knowledge alone is enough to give a peace which passeth understanding.
Yes, the dreams of youth were dreams, but the waking was more glorious
than they. They were only dreams,--fitful, flitting, fragmentary visions
of the coming day. The shallow joys, the capricious pleasures, the
wavering sunshine of infancy have deepened into virtues, graces,
heroisms. We have the bold outlook of calm, self-confident courage, the
strong fortitude of endurance, the imperial magnificence of self-denial.
Our hearts expand with benevolence, our lives broaden with beneficence.
We cease our perpetual skirmishing at the outposts, and go inward to the
citadel. Down into the secret places of life we descend. Down among
the beautiful ones in the cool and quiet shadows, on the sunny summer
levels, we walk securely, and the hidden fountains are unsealed.
For those people who do nothing, for those to whom Christianity brings
no revelation, for those who see no eternity in time, no infinity in
life, for those to whom opportunity is but the handmaid of selfishness,
to whom smallness is informed by no greatness, for whom the lowly
is never lifted up by indwelling love to the heights of divine
performance,--for them, indeed, each hurrying year may well be a King of
Terrors. To pass out from the flooding light of the morning, to feel all
the dewiness drunk up by the thirsty, insatiate sun, to see the shadows
slowly and swiftly gathering, and no starlight to break the gloom,
and no home beyond the gloom for the unhoused, startled, shivering
soul,--ah! this indeed is terrible. The "confusions of a wasted youth"
strew thick confusions of a dreary age. Where youth garners up only such
power as beauty or strength may bestow, where youth is but the revel of
physical or frivolous delight, where youth aspires only with paltry and
ignoble ambitions, where youth presses the wine of life into the cup of
variety, there indeed Age comes, a thrice unwelcome guest. Put him off.
Thrust him back. Weep for the early days: you have found no happiness to
replace their joys. Mourn for the trifles that were innocent, since the
trifles of your manhood are heavy with guilt. Fight to the last. Retreat
inch by inch. With every step you lose. Every day robs you of treasure.
Every hour passes you over to insignificance; and at the end stands
Death. The bare and desolate decline drops suddenly into the hopeless,
dreadful grave, the black and yawning grave, the foul and loathsome
But why those who are Christians and not Pagans, who believe that death
is not an eternal sleep, who wrest from life its uses and gather from
life its beauty,--why they should dally along the road, and cling
frantically to the old landmarks, and shrink fearfully from the
approaching future, I cannot tell. You are getting into years. True.
But you are getting out again. The bowed frame, the tottering step, the
unsteady hand, the failing eye, the heavy ear, the tremulous voice, they
will all be yours. The grasshopper will become a burden, and desire
shall fail. The fire shall be smothered in your heart, and for passion
you shall have only peace. This is not pleasant. It is never pleasant to
feel the inevitable passing away of priceless possessions. If this were
to be the culmination of your fate, you might indeed take up the wail
for your lost youth. But this is only for a moment. The infirmities of
age come gradually. Gently we are led down into the valley. Slowly, and
not without a soft loveliness, the shadows lengthen. At the worst these
weaknesses are but the stepping-stones in the river, passing over which
you shall come to immortal vigor, immortal fire, immortal beauty. All
along the western sky flames and glows the auroral light of another
life. The banner of victory waves right over your dungeon of defeat. By
the golden gateway of the sunsetting,
"Through the dear might of Him who walked
you shall pass into the "cloud-land, gorgeous land," whose splendor is
unveiled only to the eyes of the Immortals. Would you loiter to your
You are "getting into years." Yes, but the years are getting into
you,--the ripe, rich years, the genial, mellow years, the lusty,
luscious years. One by one the crudities of your youth are falling off
from you,--the vanity, the egotism, the isolation, the bewilderment, the
uncertainty. Nearer and nearer you are approaching yourself. You are
consolidating your forces. You are becoming master of the situation.
Every wrong road into which you have wandered has brought you, by the
knowledge of that mistake, so much closer to the truth. You no longer
draw your bow at a venture, but shoot straight at the mark. Your
possibilities concentrate, and your path is cleared. On the ruins of
shattered plans you find your vantage-ground. Your broken hopes, your
thwarted purposes, your defeated aspirations become a staff of strength
with which you mount to sublimer heights. With self-possession and
self-command return the possession and the command of all things. The
title-deed of creation, forfeited, is reclaimed. The king has come to
his own again. Earth and sea and sky pour out their largess of love.
All the past crowds down to lay its treasures at your feet. Patriotism
stands once more in the breach at Thermopylae,--bears down the serried
hosts of Bannockburn,--lays its calm hand in the fire, still, as if it
felt the pressure of a mother's lips,--gathers to its heart the points
of opposing spears, to make a way for the avenging feet behind. All that
the ages have of greatness and glory your hand may pluck, and every year
adds to the purple vintage. Every year comes laden with the riches of
the lives that were lavished on it. Every year brings to you softness
and sweetness and strength. Every year evokes order from confusion, till
all things find scope and adjustment. Every year sweeps a broader circle
for your horizon, grooves a deeper channel for your experience. Through
sun and shade and shower you ripen to a large and liberal life.
Yours is the deep joy, the unspoken fervor, the sacred fury of the
fight. Yours is the power to redress wrong, to defend the weak, to
succor the needy, to relieve the suffering, to confound the oppressor.
While vigor leaps in great tidal pulses along your veins, you stand in
the thickest of the fray, and broadsword and battle-axe come crashing
down through helmet and visor. When force has spent itself, you withdraw
from the field, your weapons pass into younger hands, you rest under
your laurels, and your works do follow you. Your badges are the scars
of your honorable wounds. Your life finds its vindication in the deeds
which you have wrought.
The possible to-morrow has become the secure yesterday. Above the tumult
and the turbulence, above the struggle and the doubt, you sit in the
serene evening, awaiting your promotion.
Come, then, O dreaded years! Your brows are awful, but not with frowns.
I hear your resonant tramp far off, but it is sweet as the May-maidens'
song. In your grave prophetic eyes I read a golden promise. I know that
you bear in your bosom the fulness of my life. Veiled monarchs of
the future, shining dim and beautiful, you shall become my vassals,
swift-footed to bear my messages, swift-handed to work my will.
Nourished by the nectar which you will pour in passing from your crystal
cups, Death shall have no dominion over me, but I shall go on from
strength to strength and from glory to glory.
* * * * *
THE PROMISE OF THE DAWN.
A CHRISTMAS STORY.
A winter's evening. Do you know how that comes here among the edges of
the mountains that fence in the great Mississippi valley? The sea-breath
in the New-England States thins the air and bleaches the sky, sucks
the vitality out of Nature, I fancy, to put it into the brains of the
people: but here, the earth every day in the year pulses out through
hill or prairie or creek a full, untamed animal life,--shakes off the
snow too early in spring, in order to put forth untimed and useless
blossoms, wasteful of her infinite strength. So when this winter's
evening came to a lazy town bedded in the hills that skirt Western
Virginia close by the Ohio, it found that the December air, fiercely
as it blew the snow-clouds about the hill-tops, was instinct with a
vigorous, frosty life, and that the sky above the clouds was not wan and
washed-out, as farther North, but massive, holding yet a sensuous yellow
languor, the glow of unforgotten autumn days.
The very sun, quite certain of where he would soonest meet with
gratitude, gave his kindliest good-night smile to the great valley of
the West, asleep under the snow: very kind to-night, just as calm and
loving, though he knew the most plentiful harvest which the States had
yielded that year was one of murdered dead, as he gave to the young,
untainted world, that morning, long ago, when God blessed it, and saw
that it was good. Because, you see, this was the eve of a more helpful,
God-sent day than that, in spite of all the dead: Christmas eve.
To-morrow Christ was coming,--whatever he may be to you,--Christ. The
sun knew that, and glowed as cheerily, steadily, on blood as water. Why,
God had the world! Let them fret, and cut each other's throats, if they
would. God had them: and Christ was coming. But one fancied that the
earth, not quite so secure in the infinite Love that held her, had
learned to doubt, in her six thousand years of hunger, and heard the
tidings with a thrill of relief. Was the Helper coming? Was it the true
Helper? The very hope, even, gave meaning to the tender rose-blush on
the peaks of snow, to the childish sparkle on the grim rivers. They
heard and understood. The whole world answered.
One man, at least, fancied so: Adam Craig, hobbling down the frozen
streets of this old-fashioned town. He thought, rubbing his bony hands
together, that even the wind knew that Christmas was coming, the day
that Christ was born: it went shouting boisterously through the great
mountain-gorges, its very uncouth soul shaken with gladness. The city
itself, he fancied, had caught a new and curious beauty: this winter
its mills were stopped, and it had time to clothe the steep streets in
spotless snow and icicles; its windows glittered red and cheery out into
the early night: it looked just as if the old burgh had done its work,
and sat down, like one of its own mill-men, to enjoy the evening, with
not the cleanest face in the world, to be sure, but with an honest,
jolly old heart under all, beating rough and glad and full. That was
Adam Craig's fancy: but his head was full of queer fancies under the
rusty old brown wig: queer, maybe, yet as pure and childlike as the
prophet John's: coming, you know, from the same kinship. Adam had kept
his fancies to himself these forty years. A lame old chap, cobbling
shoes day by day, fighting the wolf desperately from the door for the
sake of orphan brothers and sisters, has not much time to put the
meanings God and Nature have for his ignorant soul into words, has he?
But the fancies had found utterance for themselves, somehow: in his
hatchet-shaped face, even, with its scraggy gray whiskers; in the quick,
shrewd smile; in the eyes, keen eyes, but childlike, too. In the very
shop out there on the creek-bank you could trace them. Adam had cobbled
there these twenty years, chewing tobacco and taking snuff, (his
mother's habit, that,) but the little shop was pure: people with brains
behind their eyes would know that a clean and delicate soul lived there;
they might have known it in other ways too, if they chose: in his gruff,
sharp talk, even, full of slang and oaths; for Adam, invoke the Devil
often as he might, never took the name of Christ or a woman in vain. So
his foolish fancies, as he called them, cropped out. It must be so, you
know: put on what creed you may, call yourself chevalier or Sambo, the
speech your soul has held with God and the Devil will tell itself in
every turn of your head, and jangle of your laugh: you cannot help that.
But it was Christmas eve. Adam took that in with keener enjoyment, in
every frosty breath he drew. Different from any Christmas eve before:
pulling off his scuffed cap to feel the full strength of the "nor'rer."
Whew! how it blew! straight from the ice-fields of the Pole, he thought.
So few people there were up there to be glad Christ was coming! But
those filthy little dwarfs up there needed Him all the same: every man
of them had a fiend tugging at his soul, like us, was lonely, wanted
a God to help him, and--a wife to love him. Adam stopped short here a
minute, something choking in his throat. "Jinny!" he said, under
his breath, turning to some new hope in his heart, with as tender,
awe-struck a touch as one lays upon a new-born infant. "Jinny!" praying
silently with blurred eyes. I think Christ that moment came very near
to the woman who was so greatly loved, and took her in His arms, and
blessed her. Adam jogged on, trying to begin a whistle, but it ended in
a miserable grunt: his heart was throbbing under his smoke-dried skin,
silly as a woman's, so light it was, and full.
"Get along, Old Dot, and carry one!" shouted the boys, sledding down the
"Yip! you young devils, you!" stopping to give them a helping shove and
a cheer; loving little children always, but never as to-day.
Surely there never was such a Christmas eve before! The frozen air
glistened grayly up into heaven itself, he thought; the snow-covered
streets were alive, noisy,--glad into their very cellars and shanties;
the sun was sorry to go away. No wonder. His heartiest ruby-gleam
lingered about the white Virginia heights behind the town, and across
the river quite glorified the pale stretch of the Ohio hills. Free and
slave. (Adam was an Abolitionist.) Well, let that be. God's hand of
power, like His sunlight, held the master and the slave in loving
company. To-morrow was the sign.
The cobbler stopped on the little swinging foot-bridge that crosses the
creek in the centre of the city. The faint saffron sunset swept from the
west over the distant wooded hills, the river, the stone bridge below
him, whose broad gray piers painted perpetual arches on the sluggish,
sea-colored water. The smoke from one or two far-off foundries hung just
above it, motionless in the gray, in tattered drifts, dyed by the sun,
clear drab and violet. A still picture. A bit of Venice, poor Adam
thought, who never had been fifty miles out of Wheeling. The quaint
American town was his world: he brought the world into it. There were
relics of old Indian forts and mounds, the old times and the new. The
people, too, though the cobbler only dimly saw that, were as much the
deposit and accretion of all dead ages as was the coal that lay bedded
in the fencing hills. Irish, Dutch, whites, blacks, Moors, old John
Bull himself: you can find the dregs of every day of the world in any
mill-town of the States. Adam had a dull perception of this. Christmas
eve came to all the world, coming here.
Leaning on the iron wires, while the unsteady little bridge shook under
him, he watched the stunned beams of the sun urging themselves through
the smoke-clouds. He thought they were like "the voice of one crying
in the wilderness, 'Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths
straight.'" It wakened something in the man's hackneyed heart deeper
even than the thought of the woman he had prayed for. A sudden vision
that a great Peace held the world as did that glow of upper light: he
rested in its calm. Up the street a few steps rose the walls of the old
theatre, used as a prison now for captured Confederates: it was full
now; he could see them looking out from behind the bars, grimy and
tattered. Far to the north, on Mount Woods, the white grave-stones stood
out clear in the darkening evening. His enemies, the busy streets, the
very war itself, the bones and souls of the dead yonder,--the great
Peace held them all. We might call them evil, but they were sent from
God, and went back to God. All things were in Him.
I tell you, that when this one complete Truth got into this poor
cobbler's brain,--in among its vulgar facts of North and South, and
patched shoes, and to-morrow's turkey,--a great poet-insight looked out
of his eyes for the minute. Saint John looked thus as he wrote that
primitive natal word, "God is love." Cobblers, as well as Saint John,
or the dying Herder, need great thoughts, and water from God to refresh
them, believe me.
Trotting on, hardly needing his hickory stick, Adam could see the little
brown shop yonder on the creek-bank. All dark: but did you ever see
anything brighter than the way the light shone in the sitting-room,
behind the Turkey-red curtains? Such a taste that little woman had! Two
years ago the cobbler finished his life-work, he thought: he had been
mother and father both to the orphans left with him, faithful to them,
choking down the hungry gnawing within for something nearer than brother
or sister. Two years ago they had left him, struck out into the world
"Then, you see," Adam used to say, "I was settlin' down into an old man;
dryin' up, d' ye see? thinkin' the Lord had forgotten me, when He said
to other men, 'Come, it's _your_ turn now for home and lovin'.' Them
young ones was dear enough, but a man has a cravin' for somethin' that's
his own. But it was too late, I thought. Bitter; despisin' the Lord's
eyesight; thinkin' He didn't see or care what would keep me from hell. I
believed in God, like most poor men do, thinkin' Him cold-blooded, not
hearin' when we cry out for work, or a wife, or child. _I_ didn't cry.
_I_ never prayed. But look there. Do you see--_her_? Jinny?" It was
to the young Baptist preacher Adam said this, when he came to make a
pastoral visit to Adam's wife. "That's what He did. I'm not ashamed to
pray now. I ask Him every hour to give me a tight grip on her so that
I kin follow her up, and to larn me some more of His ways. That's my
religious 'xperience, Sir."
The young man coughed weakly, and began questioning old Craig as to
his faith in immersion. The cobbler stumped about the kitchen a minute
before answering, holding himself down. His face was blood-red when he
did speak, quite savage, the young speaker said afterward.
"I don't go to church, Sir. My wife does. I don't say _now_, 'Damn the
churches!' or that you, an' the likes of you, an' yer Master, are all
shams an' humbugs. I know Him now. He's 'live to me. So now, when I
see you belie Him, an' keep men from Him with yer hundreds o' wranglin'
creeds, an' that there's as much honest love of truth outside the Church
as in it, I don't put yer bigotry an' foulness on Him. I on'y think
there's an awful mistake: just this: that the Church thinks it is
Christ's body an' us uns is outsiders, an' we think so too, an' despise
Him through you with yer stingy souls an' fights an' squabblins; not
seein' that the Church is jes' an hospital, where some of the sickest of
God's patients is tryin' to get cured."
The preacher never went back; spoke in a church-meeting soon after of
the prevalence of Tom Paine's opinions among the lower classes. Half
of our sham preachers take the vague name of "Paine" to cover all of
Christ's opponents,--not ranking themselves there, of course.
Adam thought he had won a victory. "Ef you'd heard me flabbergast the
parson!" he used to say, with a jealous anxiety to keep Christ out of
the visible Church, to shut his eyes to the true purity in it, to the
fact that the Physician was in His hospital. To-night some more infinite
gospel had touched him. "Good evenin', Mr. Pitts," he said, meeting
the Baptist preacher. "Happy Christmas, Sir!" catching a glance of
his broken boots. "Danged ef I don't send that feller a pair of shoes
unbeknownst, to-morrow! He's workin' hard, an' it's not for money."
The great Peace held even its erring Church, as Adam dully saw. The
streets were darkening, but full even yet of children crowding in and
out of the shops. Not a child among them was more busy or important, or
keener for a laugh than Adam, with his basket on his arm and his hand in
his pocket clutching the money he had to lay out. The way he had worked
for that! Over-jobs, you know, done at night when Jinny and the baby
were asleep. It was carrying him through splendidly, though: the basket
was quite piled up with bundles: as for the turkey, hadn't he been
keeping that in the back-yard for weeks, stuffing it until it hardly
could walk? That turkey, do you know, was the first thing Baby ever took
any notice of, except the candle? Jinny was quite opposed to killing it,
for that reason, and proposed they should have ducks instead; but as old
Jim Farley and Granny Simpson were invited for dinner, and had been told
about the turkey, matters must stay as they were.
"Poor souls, they'll not taste turkey agin this many a day, I'm
thinkin', Janet. When we give an entertainment, it's allus them-like
we'll ask. That's the Master's biddin', ye know."
But the pudding was yet to buy. He had a dirty scrap of paper on which
Jinny had written down the amount. "The hand that woman writes!" He
inspected it anxiously at every street-lamp. Did you ever see anything
finer than that tongue, full of its rich brown juices and golden fat? or
the white, crumbly suet? Jinny said veal: such a saving little body she
was! but we know what a pudding ought to be. Now for the pippins for it,
yellow they are, holding summer yet; and a few drops of that brandy in
the window, every drop shining and warm: that'll put a soul into it,
and--He stopped before the confectioner's: just a moment, to collect
himself; for this was the crowning point, this. There they were, in the
great, gleaming window below: the rich Malaga raisins, bedded in their
cases, cold to the lips, but within all glowing sweetness and passion;
and the cool, tart little currants. If Jinny could see that window! and
Baby. To be sure, Baby mightn't appreciate it, but--White frosted cakes,
built up like fairy palaces, and mountains of golden oranges, and the
light trembling through delicate candies, purple and rose-color. "Let's
have a look, boys!"--and Adam crowded into the swarm outside.
Over the shops there was a high brick building, a concert-hall. You
could hear the soft, dreamy air floating down from it, made vocal into
a wordless love and pathos. Adam forgot the splendors of the window,
listening; his heart throbbed full under his thin coat; it ached with an
infinite tenderness. The poor old cobbler's eyes filled with tears: he
could have taken Jesus and the great world all into his arms then. How
loving and pure it was, the world! Christ's footsteps were heard. The
eternal stars waited above; there was not a face in the crowd about him
that was not clear and joyous. These delicate, pure women flitting past
him up into the lighted hall,--it made his nerves thrill into pleasure
to look at them. Jesus' world! His creatures.
He put his hand into the basket, and shyly took out a bunch of flowers
he had bought,--real flowers, tender, sweet-smelling little things.
Wouldn't Jinny wonder to find them on her bureau in the morning? Their
fragrance, so loving and innocent, filled the frosty air, like a breath
of the purity of this Day coming. Just as he was going to put them back
carefully, a hand out of the crowd caught hold of them, a dirty hand,
with sores on it, and a woman thrust her face from under her blowzy
bonnet into his: a young face, deadly pale, on which some awful passion
had cut the lines; lips dyed scarlet with rank blood, lips, you would
think, that in hell itself would utter a coarse jest.
"Give 'em to me, old cub!" she said, pulling at them. "I want 'em for a
better nor you."
"Go it, Lot!" shouted the boys.
He struck her. A woman? Yes; if it had been a slimy eel standing
upright, it would have been less foul a thing than this.
"Damn you!" she muttered, chafing the hurt arm. Whatever words this girl
spoke came from her teeth out,--seemed to have no meaning to her.
"Let's see, Lot."
She held out her arm, and the boy, a black one, plastered it with grime
from the gutter. The others yelled with delight. Adam hurried off. A
pure air? God help us! He threw the flowers into the gutter with a
bitter loathing. _Her_ fingers would be polluted, if they touched them
now. He would not tell her of this: he would cut off his hand rather
than talk to her of this,--let her know such things were in the world.
So pure and saintly she was, his little wife! a homely little body, but
with the cleanest, most loving heart, doing her Master's will humbly.
The cobbler's own veins were full of Scotch blood, as pure indignant as
any knight's of the Holy Greal. He wiped his hand, as though a leper had
Passing down Church Street, the old bell rang out the hour. All day he
had fancied its tone had gathered a lighter, more delicate sweetness
with every chime. The Christ-child was coming; the world held up its
hands adoring; all that was needed of men was to love Him, and rejoice.
Its tone was different now: there was a brutal cry of pain in the
ponderous voice that shook the air,--a voice saying something to God,
unintelligible to him. He thrust out the thought of that woman with a
curse: he had so wanted to have a good day, to feel how great and glad
the world was, and to come up close to Christ with Jinny and the baby!
He did soon forget the vileness there behind, going down the streets;
they were so cozy and friendly-hearted, the parlor-windows opening out
red and cheerfully, as is the custom in Southern and Western towns; they
said "Happy Christmas" to every passer-by. The owners, going into the
houses, had a hearty word for Adam. "Well, Craig, how goes it?" or,
"Fine, frosty weather, Sir." It quite heartened the cobbler. He made
shoes for most of these people, and whether men are free and equal or
not, any cobbler will have a reverence for the man he has shod.
So Adam trotted on, his face a little redder, and his stooped chest,
especially next the basket, in quite a glow. There she was, clear out in
the snow, waiting for him by the curb-stone. How she took hold of the
basket, and Adam made believe she was carrying the whole weight of it!
How the fire-light struck out furiously through the Turkey-red curtains,
so as to show her to him quicker!--to show him the snug coffee-colored
dress, and the bits of cherry ribbon at her throat,--to show him how the
fair curly hair was tucked back to leave the rosy ears bare he thought
so dainty,--to show him how young she was, how faded and worn and
tired-out she was, how hard the years had been,--to show him how his
great love for her was thickening the thin blood with life, making a
child out of the thwarted woman,--to show him--this more than all, this
that his soul watched for, breathless, day and night--that she loved
him, that she knew nothing better than the ignorant, loving heart, the
horny hands that had taken her hungry fate to hold, and made of it a
color and a fragrance. "Christmas is coming, little woman!" Of course it
was. If it had not taken the whole world into its embrace yet, there it
was compacted into a very glow of love and warmth and coziness in
that snuggest of rooms, and in that very Jinny and Baby,--Christmas
itself,--especially when he kissed her, and she blushed and laughed,
the tears in her eyes, and went fussing for that queer roll of white
Adam took off his coat: he always went at the job of nursing the baby
in his shirt-sleeves. The anxious sweat used to break on his forehead
before he was through. He got its feet to the fire. "I'm dead sure that
much is right," he used to say. Jinny put away the bundles, wishing to
herself Mrs. Perkins would happen in to see them: one didn't like to be
telling what they had for dinner, but if it was known accidentally--You
poets, whose brains have quite snubbed and sent to Coventry your
stomachs, never could perceive how the pudding was a poem to the cobbler
and his wife,--how a very actual sense of the live goodness of Jesus was
in it,--how its spicy steam contained all the cordial cheer and jollity
they had missed in meaningless days of the year. Then she brought her
sewing-chair, and sat down, quite idle.
"No work for to-night! I'll teach you how to keep Christmas, Janet,
It was her first, one might say. Orphan girls that go about from house
to house sewing, as Jinny had done, don't learn Christmas by heart year
by year. It was a new experience: she was taking it in, one would think,
to look at her, with all her might, with the earnest blue eyes, the
shut-up brain behind the narrow forehead, the loving heart: a contracted
tenement, that heart, by-the-by, adapted for single lodgers. She wasn't
quite sure that Christmas was not, after all, a relic of Papistry,--for
Jinny was a thorough Protestant: a Christian, as far as she understood
Him, with a keen interest in the Indian missions. "Let us begin in our
own country," she said, and always prayed for the Sioux just after Adam
and Baby. In fact, if we are all parts of God's temple, Jinny was a
very essential, cohesive bit of mortar. Adam had a wider door for his
charity: it took all the world in, he thought,--though the preachers did
enter with a shove, as we know. However, this was Christmas: the word
took up all common things, the fierce wind without, the clean hearth,
the modest color on her cheek, the very baby, and made of them one
grand, sweet poem, that sang to the man the same story the angels told
eighteen centuries ago: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
peace, good-will toward men."
Sitting there in the evenings, Adam was the talker: such a fund of
anecdote he had! Jinny never could hear the same story too often.
To-night there was a bit of a sigh in them: his heart was tender: about
the Christmases at home, when he and Nelly were little chubs together,
and hung up their stockings regularly every Christmas eve.
"Twins, Nelly an' me was, oldest of all. When I was bound to old Lowe,
it went hard, ef I couldn't scratch together enough for a bit of
ribbon-bow or a ring for Nell, come Christmas. She used to sell the old
flour-barrels an' rags, an' have her gift all ready by my plate that
mornin': never missed. I never hed a sweetheart then."
Jinny laid her hand on his knee.
"Ye 'r' glad o' that, little woman? Well, well! I didn't care for women,
only Ellen. She was the only livin' thing as come near me. I gripped on
to her like death, havin' only her. But she--hed more nor me."
Jinny knew the story well.
"She went away with him?" softly.
"Yes, she did. I don't blame her. She was young, unlarned. No man cared
for our souls. So, when she loved him well, she thort God spoke to her.
So she was tuk from me. She went away."
He patted the baby, his skinny hand all shaking. Jinny took it in hers,
and, leaning over, stroked his hair.
"You've hed hard trouble, to turn it gray like this."
"No trouble like that, woman, when he left her."
"Left her! An' then she was tired of God, an' of livin', or dyin'. So
as she loved him! You know, my husband. As I love you. An' he left her!
What wonder _what_ she did? All alone! So as she loved him still! God
shut His eyes to what she did."
The yellow, shaggy face was suddenly turned from her. The voice choked.
"Did He, little woman? _You_ know."
"So, when she was a-tryin' to forget, the only way she knew, God sent an
angel to bring her up, an' have her soul washed clean."
Adam laughed bitterly.
"That's not the way men told the story, child. I got there six months
after: to New York, you know. I found in an old paper jes' these words:
'The woman, Ellen Myers, found dead yesterday on one of the docks, was
identified. Died of starvation and whiskey.' That was Nelly, as used to
hang up her stockin' with me. Christian people read that. But nobody
cried but me."
"They're tryin' to help them now at the Five Points there."
"God help them as helps others this Christmas night! But it's not for
such as you to talk of the Five Points, Janet," rousing himself. "What
frabbit me to talk of Nelly the night? Someways she's been beside me all
day, as if she was grippin' me by the sleeve, beggin', dumb-like."
The moody frown deepened.
"The baby! See, Adam, it'll waken! Quick, man!"
And Adam, with a start, began hushing it after the fashion of a
chimpanzee. The old bell rang out another hour: how genial and loving it
"Nine o'clock! Let me up, boys!"--and Lot Tyndal hustled them aside from
the steps of the concert-hall. They made way for her: her thin, white
arms could deal furious blows, they knew from experience. Besides, they
had seen her, when provoked, fall in some cellar-door in a livid dead
spasm. They were afraid of her. Her filthy, wet skirt flapped against
her feet, as she went up; she pulled her flaunting bonnet closer over
her head. There was a small room at the top of the stairs, a sort of
greenroom for the performers. Lot shoved the door open and went in.
Madame ---- was there, the prima-donna, if you chose to call her so:
the rankest bloom of fifty summers, in white satin and pearls: a faded
dahlia. Women hinted that the fragrance of the dahlia had not been
healthful in the world; but they crowded to hear her: such a wonderful
contralto! The manager, a thin old man, with a hook-nose, and kindly,
uncertain smile, stood by the stove, with a group of gentlemen about
him. The wretch from the street went up to him, unsteadily.
"Lot's drunk," one door-keeper whispered to another.
"No; the Devil's in her, though, like a tiger, to-night."
Yet there was a certain grace and beauty in her face, as she looked at
the manager, and spoke low and sudden.
"I'm not a beggar. I want money,--honest money. It's Christmas eve. They
say you want a voice for the chorus, in the carols. Put me where I'll be
hid, and I'll sing for you."
The manager's hand fell from his watch-chain. Storrs, a young lawyer of
the place, touched his shoulder.
"Don't look so aghast, Pumphrey. Let her sing a ballad to show you. Her
voice is a real curiosity."
Madame ---- looked dubiously across the room: her black maid had
whispered to her. Lot belonged to an order she had never met face to
face before: one that lives in the suburbs of hell.
"Let her sing, Pumphrey."
"If"----looking anxiously to the lady.
"Certainly," drawled that type of purity. "If it is so curious, her
"Sing, then," nodding to the girl.
There was a strange fierceness under her dead, gray eye.
"Do you mean to employ me to-night?"
Her tones were low, soft, from her teeth out, as I told you. Her soul
was chained, below: a young girl's soul, hardly older than your little
daughter's there, who sings Sunday-school hymns for you in the evenings.
Yet one fancied, if this girl's soul were let loose, it would utter a
madder cry than any fiend in hell.
"Do you mean to employ me?" biting her finger-ends until they bled.
"Don't be foolish, Charlotte," whispered Storrs. "You may be thankful
you're not sent to jail instead. But sing for him. He'll give you
She did not damn him, as he expected, stood quiet a moment, her eyelids
fallen, relaxed with an inexpressible weariness. A black porter came to
throw coals into the stove: he knew "dat debbil, Lot," well: had helped
drag her drunk to the lock-up a day or two before. Now, before the white
folks, he drew his coat aside, loathing to touch her. She followed him
with a glazed look.
"Do you see what I am?" she said to the manager.
Nothing pitiful in her voice. It was too late for that.
"He wouldn't touch me: I'm not fit. I want help. Give me some honest
She stopped and put her hand on his coat-sleeve. The child she might
have been, and never was, looked from her face that moment.
"God made me, I think," she said, humbly.
The manager's thin face reddened.
"God bless my soul! what shall I do, Mr. Storrs?"
The young man's thick lip and thicker eyelid drooped. He laughed, and
whispered a word or two.
"Yes," gruffly, being reassured. "There's a policeman outside. Joe, take
her out, give her in charge to him."
The negro motioned her before him with a billet of wood he held. She
laughed. Her laugh had gained her the name of "Devil Lot."
"Why,"--fires that God never lighted blazing in her eyes,--"I thought
you wanted me to sing! I'll sing. We'll have a hymn. It's Christmas, you
She staggered. Liquor, or some subtler poison, was in her veins. Then,
catching by the lintel, she broke into that most deep of all adoring
"I know that my Redeemer liveth."
A strange voice. The men about her were musical critics: they listened
intently. Low, uncultured, yet full, with childish grace and sparkle;
but now and then a wailing breath of an unutterable pathos.
"Git out wid you," muttered the negro, who had his own religious
notions, "pollutin' de name ob de Lord in _yer_ lips!"
"Just for a joke, Joe. _My_ Redeemer!"
He drove her down the stairs.
"Do you want to go to jail, Lot?" he said, more kindly. "It's orful cold
"No. Let me go."
She went through the crowd out into the vacant street, down to the
wharf, humming some street-song,--from habit, it seemed; sat down on a
pile of lumber, picking the clay out of the holes in her shoes. It
was dark: she did not see that a man had followed her, until his
white-gloved hand touched her. The manager, his uncertain face growing
Lot got up, pushed off her bonnet. He looked at her.
"My God! No older than Susy," he said.
By a gas-lamp she saw his face, the trouble in it.
"Well?" biting her finger-ends again.
"I'm sorry for you, I"--
"Why?" sharply. "There's more like me. Fifteen thousand in the city of
New York. I came from there."
"Not like you, child."
"Yes, like me," with a gulping noise in her throat. "I'm no better than
She sat down and began digging in the snow, holding the sullen look
desperately on her face. The kind word had reached the tortured soul
beneath, and it struggled madly to be free.
"Can I help you?"
"There's something in your face makes me heart-sick. I've a little girl
of your age."
She looked up quickly.
"Who are you, girl?"
She stood up again, her child's face white, the dark river rolling close
by her feet.
"I'm Lot. I always was what you see. My mother drank herself to death in
the Bowery dens. I learned my trade there, slow and sure."
She stretched out her hands into the night, with a wild cry,--
"My God! I had to live!"
What was to be done? Whose place was it to help her? he thought. He
loathed to touch her. But her soul might be as pure and groping as
"I wish I could help you, girl," he said. "But I'm a moral man. I have
to be careful of my reputation. Besides, I couldn't bring you under the
same roof with my child."
She was quiet now.
"I know. There's not one of those Christian women up in the town yonder
'ud take Lot into their kitchens to give her a chance to save herself
from hell. Do you think I care? It's not for myself I'm sorry. It's too
Yet as this child, hardly a woman, gave her soul over forever, she could
not keep her lips from turning white.
"There's thousands more of us. Who cares? Do preachers and them as sits
in the grand churches come into our dens to teach us better?"
Pumphrey grew uneasy.
"Who taught you to sing?" he said.
The girl started. She did not answer for a minute.
"What did you say?" she said.
"Who taught you?"
Her face flushed warm and dewy; her eyes wandered away, moistened and
dreamy; she curled her hair-softly on her finger.
"I'd--I'd rather not speak of that," she said, low. "He's dead now. _He_
called me--Lottie," looking up with a sudden, childish smile. "I was
only fifteen then."
"How old are you now?"
"Four years more. But I tell you I've seen the world in that time."
It was Devil Lot looked over at the dark river now.
He turned away to go up the wharf. No help for so foul a thing as this.
He dared not give it, if there were. She had sunk down with her old,
sullen glare, but she rose and crept after him. Why, this was her only
chance of help from all the creatures God had made!
"Let me tell you," she said, holding by a fire-plug. "It's not for
myself I care. It's for Benny. That's my little brother. I've raised
him. He loves me; _he don't know_. I've kept him alone allays. I don't
pray, you know; but when Ben puts his white little arms about me 't
nights and kisses me, somethin' says to me, 'God loves you, Lot.' So
help me God, that boy shall never know what his sister was! He's gettin'
older now. I want work, before he can know. Now, will you help me?"
"How can I?"
The whole world of society spoke in the poor manager.
"I'll give you money."
Her face hardened.
"Lot, I'll be honest. There's no place for such as you. Those that have
made you what you are hold good stations among us; but when a woman's
once down, there's no raising her up."
She stood, her fair hair pushed back from her face, her eye deadening
every moment, quite quiet.
"Good bye, Lot."
The figure touched him somehow, standing alone in the night there.
"It wasn't my fault at the first," she wandered. "Nobody teached me
"I'm not a church-member, thank God!" said Pumphrey to himself, and so
washed his hands in innocency.
"Well, good bye, girl," kindly. "Try and lead a better life. I wish I
could have given you work."
"It was only for Benny that I cared, Sir."
"You're sick? Or"--
"It'll not last long, now. I only keep myself alive eating opium now and
then. D' ye know? I fell by your hall to-day; had a fit, they said. It
wasn't a fit; it was death, Sir."
"Why didn't you die, then?"
"I wouldn't. Benny would have known then, I said,--'I will not. I must
take care o' him first.' Good bye. You'd best not be seen here."
And so she left him.
One moment she stood uncertain, being alone, looking down into the
seething black water covered with ice.
"There's one chance yet," she muttered. "It's hard; but I'll try,"--with
a shivering sigh; and went dragging herself along the wharf, muttering
still something about Benny.
As she went through the lighted streets, her step grew lighter. She
lifted her head. Why, she was only a child yet, in some ways, you know;
and this was Christmas-time; and it wasn't easy to believe, that, with
the whole world strong and glad, and the True Love coming into it, there
was no chance for her. Was it? She hurried on, keeping in the shadow
of the houses to escape notice, until she came to the more open
streets,--the old "commons." She stopped at the entrance of an alley,
going to a pump, washing her face and hands, then combing her fair,
"I'll try it," she said again.
Some sudden hope had brought a pink flush to her cheek and a moist
brilliance to her eye. You could not help thinking, had society not made
her what she was, how fresh and fair and debonair a little maiden she
would have been.
"He's my mother's brother. He'd a kind face, though he struck me. I'll
kill him, if he strikes me agin," the dark trade-mark coming into her
eyes. "But mebbe," patting her hair, "he'll not. Just call me Charley,
as Ben does: help me to be like his wife: I'll hev a chance for heaven
She turned to a big brick building and ran lightly up the stairs on the
outside. It had been a cotton-factory, but was rented in tenement-rooms
now. On the highest porch was one of Lot's rooms: she had two. The
muslin curtain was undrawn, a red fire-light shone out. She looked in
through the window, smiling. A clean, pure room: the walls she had
whitewashed herself; a white cot-bed in one corner; a glowing fire,
before which a little child sat on a low cricket, building a house out
of blocks. A brave, honest-faced little fellow, with clear, reserved
eyes, and curling golden hair. The girl, Lot, might have looked like
that at his age.
"Benny!" she called, tapping on the pane.
"Yes, Charley!" instantly, coming quickly to the door.
She caught him up in her arms.
"Is my baby tired waiting for sister? I'm finding Christmas for him, you
He put his arms about her neck, kissing her again and again, and laying
his head down on her shoulder.
"I'm so glad you've come, Charley! so glad! so glad!"
"Has my boy his stocking up? Such a big boy to have his stocking up!"
He put his chubby hands over her eyes quickly, laughing.
"Don't look, Charley! don't! Benny's played you a trick now, I tell
you!" pulling her towards the fire. "Now look! Not Benny's stocking:
Charley's, _I_ guess."
The girl sat down on the cricket, holding him on her lap, playing with
the blocks, as much of a child as he.
"Why, Bud! Such an awful lot of candies that stocking'll hold!" laughing
with him. "It'll take all Kriss Kringle's sack."
"_Kriss Kringle_! Oh, Charley! I'm too big; I'm five years now. You
can't cheat me."
The girl's very lips went white. She got up at his childish words, and
put him down.
"No, I'll not cheat you, Benny,--never, any more."
"Where are you going, Charley?"
"Just out a bit," wrapping a plain shawl about her. "To find Christmas,
you know. For you--and me."
He pattered after her to the door.
"You'll come put me to bed, Charley dear? I'm so lonesome!"
"Yes, Bud. Kiss me. One,--two,--three times,--for God's good-luck."
He kissed her. And Lot went out into the wide, dark world,--into
Christmas night, to find a friend.
She came a few minutes later to a low frame-building, painted brown:
Adam Craig's house and shop. The little sitting-room had a light in it:
his wife would be there with the baby. Lot knew them well, though they
never had seen her. She had watched them through the window for hours in
winter nights. Some damned soul might have thus looked wistfully into
heaven: pitying herself, feeling more like God than the blessed within,
because she knew the pain in her heart, the struggle to do right, and
pitied it. She had a reason for the hungry pain in her blood when the
kind-faced old cobbler passed her. She was Nelly's child. She had come
West to find him.
"Never, that he should know _me_! never that! but for Benny's sake."
If Benny could have brought her to him, saying, "See, this is Charley,
my Charley!" But Adam knew her by another name,--Devil Lot.
While she stood there, looking in at the window, the snow drifting on
her head in the night, two passers-by halted an instant.
"Oh, father, look!" It was a young girl spoke. "Let me speak to that
"What does thee mean, Maria?"
She tried to draw her hand from his arm.
"Let me go,--she's dying, I think. Such a young, fair face! She thinks
God has forgotten her. Look!"
The old Quaker hesitated.
"Not thee, Maria. Thy mother shall find her to-morrow. Thee must never
speak to her. Accursed! 'Her house is the way to hell, going down to the
chambers of death.'"
They passed on. Lot heard it all. God had offered the pure young girl a
chance to save a soul from death; but she threw it aside. Lot did not
laugh: looked after them with tearless eyes, until they were out of
sight. She went to the door then. "It's for Benny," she whispered,
swallowing down the choking that made her dumb. She knocked and went in.
Jinny was alone: sitting by the fire, rocking the baby to sleep, singing
some child's hymn: a simple little thing, beginning,--
"Come, let us sing of Jesus,
Who wept our path along:
Come, let us sing of Jesus,
The tempted, and the strong."
Such a warm, happy flush lightened in Charley's heart at that! She did
not know why; but her fear was gone. The baby, too, a white, pure
little thing, was lying in the cradle, cooing softly to itself. The
mother--instinct is nearest the surface in a loving woman; the girl went
up quickly to it, and touched its cheek, with a smile: she could not
"It's so pretty!" she said.
Jinny's eyes glowed.
"_I_ think so," she said, simply. "It's my baby. Did you want me?"
Lot remembered then. She drew back, her face livid and grave.
"Yes. Do you know me? I'm Lot Tyndal. Don't jerk your baby back! Don't!
I'll not touch it. I want to get some honest work. I've a little
There was a dead silence. Jinny's brain, I told you, was narrow, her
natural heart not generous or large in its impulse; the kind of religion
she learned did not provide for anomalies of work like this. (So near at
hand, you know. Lot was neither a Sioux nor a Rebel.)
"I'm Lot,"--desperately. "You know what I am. I want you to take us in,
stop the boys from hooting at me on the streets, make a decent Christian
woman out of me. There's plain words. Will you do it? I'll work for you.
I'll nurse the baby, the dear little baby."
Jinny held her child tighter to her breast, looking at the vile clothes
of the wretch, the black marks which years of crime had left on her
face. Don't blame Jinny. Her baby was God's gift to her: she thought of
that, you know. She did not know those plain, coarse words were the last
cry for help from a drowning soul, going down into depths whereof no
voice has come back to tell the tale. Only Jesus. Do you know what
message He carried to those "spirits in prison"?
"I daren't do it. What would they say of me?" she faltered.
Lot did not speak. After a while she motioned to the shop. Adam was
there. His wife went for him, taking the baby with her. Charley saw
that, though everything looked dim to her; when Adam came in, she knew,
too, that his face was angry and dark.
"It's Christmas eve," she said.
She tried to say more, but could not.
"You must go from here!" speaking sharp, hissing. "I've no faith in the
whinin' cant of such as you. Go out, Janet. This is no place for you or
He opened the street-door for Lot to go out. He had no faith in her. No
shrewd, common-sense man would have had. Besides, this was his Christmas
night: the beginning of his new life, when he was coming near to Christ
in his happy home and great love. Was this foul worm of the gutter to
crawl in and tarnish it all?
She stopped one instant on the threshold. Within was a home, a chance
for heaven; out yonder in the night--what?
"You will put me out?" she said.
"I know your like. There's no help for such as you"; and he closed the
She sat down on the curb-stone. It was snowing hard. For about an hour
she was there, perfectly quiet. The snow lay in warm, fleecy drifts
about her: when it fell on her arm, she shook it off: it was so pure and
clean, and _she_----She could have torn her flesh from the bones, it
seemed so foul to her that night. Poor Charley! If she had only known
how God loved something within her, purer than the snow, which no
foulness of flesh or circumstance could defile! Would you have told her,
if you had been there? She only muttered, "Never," to herself now and
A little boy came along presently, carrying a loaf of bread under
his arm,--a manly, gentle little fellow. She let Benny play with him
"Why, Lot!" he said. "I'll walk part of the way home with you. I'm
She got up and took him by the hand. She could hardly speak. Tired,
worn-out in body and soul; her feet had been passing for years through
water colder than the river of death: but it was nearly over now.
"It's better for Benny it should end this way," she said.
She knew how it would end.
"Rob," she said, when the boy turned to go to his own home, "you
know Adam Craig? I want you to bring him to my room early to-morrow
morning,--by dawn. Tell him he'll find his sister Nelly's child there:
and never to tell that child that his 'Charley' was Lot Tyndal. You'll
"I will. Happy Christmas, Charley!"
She waited a minute, her foot on the steps leading to her room.
"Rob!" she called, weakly, "when you play with Ben, I wish you'd call me
Charley to him, and never--that other name."
"I'll mind," the child said, looking wistfully at her.
She was alone now. How long and steep the stairs were! She crawled up
slowly. At the top she took a lump of something brown from her pocket,
looked at it long and steadily. Then she glanced upward.
"It's the only way to keep Benny from knowing," she said. She ate it,
nearly all, then looked around, below her, with a strange intentness, as
one who says good-bye. The bell tolled the hour. Unutterable pain was in
its voice,--may-be dumb spirits like Lot's crying aloud to God.
"One hour nearer Christmas," said Adam Craig, uneasily. "Christ's coming
would have more meaning, Janet, if this were a better world. If it
wasn't for these social necessities that"----
He stopped. Jinny did not answer.
Lot went into her room, roused Ben with a kiss. "His last remembrance
of me shall be good and pleasant," she said. She took him on her lap,
untying his shoes.
"My baby has been hunting eggs to-day in Rob's stable," shaking the hay
from his stockings.
"Why, Charley! how could you know?" with wide eyes.
"So many things I know! Oh, Charley's wise! To-morrow, Bud will go see
new friends,--such kind friends! Charley knows. A baby, Ben. My boy will
like that: he's a big giant beside that baby. _Ben_ can hold it, and
touch it, and kiss it."
She looked at his pure hands with hungry eyes.
"Go on. What else but the baby?"
"Kind friends for Ben, better and kinder than Charley."
"That's not true. Where are you going, Charley? I hate the kind friends.
I'll stay with you,"--beginning to cry.
Her eyes sparkled, and she laughed childishly.
"Only a little way, Bud, I'm going. You watch for me,--all the time you
watch for me. Some day you and I'll go out to the country, and be good
What dawning of a new hope was this? She did not feel as if she lied.
Some day,--it might be true. Yet the vague gleam died out of her heart,
and when Ben, in his white night-gown, knelt down to say the prayer his
mother had taught him, it was "Devil Lot's" dead, crime-marked face that
bent over him.
"God bless Charley!" he said.
She heard that. She put him into the bed, then quietly bathed herself,
filled his stocking with the candies she had bought, and lay down beside
him,--her limbs growing weaker, but her brain more lifeful, vivid,
"Not long now," she thought. "Love me, Benny. Kiss me good-night."
The child put his arms about her neck, and kissed her forehead.
"Charley's cold," he said. "When we are good children together, let's
live in a tent. Will you, Sis? Let's make a tent now."
She struggled up, and pinned the sheet over him to the head-board; it
was a favorite fancy of Ben's.
"That's a good Charley," sleepily. "Good night. I'll watch for you all
the time, all the time."
He was asleep,--did not waken even when she strained him to her heart,
passionately, with a wild cry.
"Good bye, Benny." Then she lay quiet. "We might have been good children
together, if only----I don't know whose fault it is," throwing her
thin arms out desperately. "I wish--oh, I do wish somebody had been kind
Then the arms fell powerless, and Charley never moved again. But her
soul was clear. In the slow tides of that night, it lived back, hour by
hour, the life gone before. There was a skylight above her; she looked
up into the great silent darkness between earth and heaven,--Devil Lot,
whose soul must go out into that darkness alone. She said that. The
world that had held her under its foul heel did not loathe her as she
loathed herself that night. _Lot_.
The dark hours passed, one by one. Christmas was nearer, nearer,--the
bell tolled. It had no meaning for her: only woke a weak fear that she
should not be dead before morning, that any living eye should be vexed
by her again. Past midnight. The great darkness slowly grayed and
softened. What did she wait for? The vile worm Lot,--who cared in
earth or heaven when she died? _Then the Lord turned, and looked upon
Charley_. Never yet was the soul so loathsome, the wrong so deep, that
the loving Christ has not touched it once with His hands, and said,
"Will you come to me?" Do you know how He came to her? how, while the
unquiet earth needed Him, and the inner deeps of heaven were freshening
their fairest morning light to usher in the birthday of our God, He came
to find poor Charley, and, having died to save her, laid His healing
hands upon her? It was in her weak, ignorant way she saw Him. While she,
Lot, lay there corrupt, rotten in soul and body, it came to her how,
long ago, Magdalene, more vile than Lot, had stood closest to Jesus.
Magdalene loved much, and was forgiven.
So, after a while, Charley, the child that might have been, came to His
feet humbly, with bitter sobs. "Lord, I'm so tired!" she said. "I'd like
to try again, and be a different girl." That was all. She clung close to
His hand as she went through the deep waters.
Benny, stirring in his sleep, leaned over, and kissed her lips. "So
cold!" he whispered, drowsily. "God--bless--Charley!" She smiled, but
her eyes were closed.
The darkness was gone: the gray vault trembled with a coming radiance;
from the East, where the Son of Man was born, a faint flush touched the
earth: it was the promise of the Dawn. Lot's foul body lay dead there
with the Night: but Jesus took the child Charley in His arms, and
Christmas evening. How still and quiet it was! The Helper had come. Not
to the snow-covered old earth, falling asleep in the crimson sunset
mist: it did not need Him. Not an atom of its living body, from the
granite mountain to the dust on the red sea-fern, had failed to perform
its work: taking time, too, to break forth in a wild luxuriance of
beauty as a psalm of thanksgiving. The Holy Spirit you talk of in the
churches had been in the old world since the beginning, since the day it
brooded over the waters, showing itself as the spirit of Life in granite
rock or red sea-fern,--as the spirit of Truth in every heroic deed, in
every true word of poet or prophet,--as the spirit of Love as----Let
your own hungry heart tell how. To-day it came to man as the Helper. We
all saw that dimly, and showed that we were glad, in some weak way. God,
looking down, saw a smile upon the faces of His people.
The fire glowed redder and cheerier in Adam's little cottage; the lamp
was lighted; Jinny had set out a wonderful table, too. Benny had walked
around and around it, rubbing his hands slowly in dumb ecstasy. Such
oranges! and frosted cakes covered with crushed candy! Such a tree in
the middle, hung with soft-burning tapers, and hidden in the branches
the white figure of the loving Christ-child. That was Adam's fancy.
Benny sat in Jinny's lap now, his head upon her breast. She was rocking
him to sleep, singing some cheery song for him, although that baby of
hers lay broad awake in the cradle, aghast and open-mouthed at his
neglect. It had been just "Benny" all day,--Benny that she had followed
about, uneasy lest the wind should blow through the open door on him, or
the fire be too hot, or that every moment should not be full to the brim
with fun and pleasure, touching his head or hand now and then with a
woful tenderness, her throat choked, and her blue eyes wet, crying in
her heart incessantly, "Lord, forgive me!"
"Tell me more of Charley," she said, as they sat there in the evening.
He was awake a long time after that, telling her, ending with,--
"She said, 'You watch for me, Bud, all the time.' That's what she said.
So she'll come. She always does, when she says. Then we're going to the
country to be good children together. I'll watch for her."
So he fell asleep, and Jinny kissed him,--looking at him an instant, her
cheek growing paler.
"That is for you, Benny," she whispered to herself,--"and this,"
stooping to touch his lips again, "this is for Charley. Last night," she
muttered, bitterly, "it would have saved her."
Old Adam sat on the side of the bed where the dead girl lay.
"Nelly's child!" he said, stroking the hand, smoothing the fair hair.
All day he had said only that,--"Nelly's child!"
Very like her she was,--the little Nell who used to save her cents to
buy a Christmas-gift for him, and bring it with flushed cheeks, shyly,
and slip it on his plate. This child's cheeks would have flushed like
hers--at a kind word; the dimpled, innocent smile lay in them,--only a
kind word would have brought it to life. She was dead now, and he--he
had struck her yesterday. She lay dead there with her great loving
heart, her tender, childish beauty,--a harlot,--Devil Lot. No more.
The old man pushed his hair back, with shaking hands, looking up to
the sky. "Lord, lay not this sin to my charge!" he said. His lips were
bloodless. There was not a street in any city where a woman like this
did not stand with foul hand and gnawing heart. They came from God, and
would go back to Him. To-day the Helper came; but who showed Him to
them, to Nelly's child?
Old Adam took the little cold hand in his: he said something under his
breath: I think it was, "Here am I, Lord, and the wife that Thou hast
given," as one who had found his life's work, and took it humbly. A
sworn knight in Christ's order.
Christmas-day had come,--the promise of the Dawn, sometime to broaden
into the full and perfect day. At its close now, a still golden glow,
like a great Peace, filled the earth and heaven, touching the dead Lot
there, and the old man kneeling beside her. He fancied that it broke
from behind the dark bars of cloud in the West, thinking of the old
appeal, "Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and the King of Glory shall
come in." Was He going in, yonder? A weary man, pale, thorn-crowned,
bearing the pain and hunger of men and women vile as Lot, to lay them at
His Father's feet? Was he to go with loving heart, and do likewise? Was
that the meaning of Christmas-day? The quiet glow grew deeper, more
restful; the bell tolled: its sound faded, solemn and low, into the
quiet, as one that says in his heart, Amen.
That night, Benny, sleeping in the still twilight, stirred and smiled
suddenly, as though some one had given him a happy kiss, and, half
waking, cried, "Oh, Charley! Charley!"
IN THE HALF-WAY HOUSE.
At twenty we fancied the blest Middle Ages
A spirited cross of romantic and grand,
All templars and minstrels and ladies and pages,
And love and adventure in Outre-Mer land;
But, ah, where the youth dreamed of building a minster,
The man takes a pew and sits reckoning his pelf,
And the Graces wear fronts, the Muse thins to a spinster,
When Middle-Age stares from one's glass at himself!
Do you twit me with days when I had an Ideal,
And saw the sear future through spectacles green?
Then find me some charm, while I look round and see all
These fat friends of forty, shall keep me nineteen;
Should we go on pining for chaplets of laurel
Who've paid a perruquier for mending our thatch,
Or, our feet swathed in baize, with our fate pick a quarrel,
If, instead of cheap bay-leaves, she sent a dear scratch?
We called it our Eden, that small patent-baker,
When life was half moonshine and half Mary Jane;
But the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker!--
Bid Adam have duns and slip down a back-lane?
Nay, after the Fall did the modiste keep coming
With last styles of fig-leaf to Madam Eve's bower?
Did Jubal, or whoever taught the girls thrumming,
Make the Patriarchs deaf at a dollar the hour?
As I think what I was, I sigh, _Desunt nonnulla_!
Years are creditors Sheridan's self could not bilk;
But then, as my boy says, "What right has a fullah
To ask for the cream, when himself spilled the milk?"
Perhaps when you're older, my lad, you'll discover
The secret with which Auld Lang Syne there is gilt,--
Superstition of old man, maid, poet, and lover,--
That cream rises thickest on milk that was spilt!
We sailed for the moon, but, in sad disillusion,
Snug under Point Comfort are glad to make fast,
And strive (sans our glasses) to make a confusion
'Twixt our rind of green cheese and the moon of the past;
Ah, Might-have-been, Could-have-been, Would-have-been! rascals,
He's a genius or fool whom ye cheat at two-score,
And the man whose boy-promise was likened to Pascal's
Is thankful at forty they don't call him bore!
With what fumes of fame was each confident pate full!
How rates of insurance should rise on the Charles!
And which of us now would not feel wisely grateful,
If his rhymes sold as fast as the Emblems of Quarles?
E'en if won, what's the good of Life's medals and prizes?
The rapture's in what never was or is gone;
That we missed them makes Helens of plain Ann Elizys,
For the goose of To-day still is Memory's swan.
And yet who would change the old dream for new treasure?
Make not youth's sourest grapes the best wine of our life?
Need he reckon his date by the Almanac's measure
Who is twenty life-long in the eyes of his wife?
Ah, Fate, should I live to be nonagenarian,
Let me still take Hope's frail I.O.U.s upon trust,
Still talk of a trip to the Islands Macarian,
And still climb the dream-tree for--ashes and dust!
* * * * *
MR. BUCKLE AS A THINKER.
The recent death of Henry Thomas Buckle calls a new attention to his
published works. Pathetic it will seem to all that he should be cut off
in the midst of labors so large, so assiduous and adventurous; and there
are few who will not feel inclined to make up, as it were, to his memory
for this untimely interruption of his pursuits, by assigning the highest
possible value to his actual performance. Additional strength will
be given to these dispositions by the impressions of his personal
character. This was, indeed, such as to conciliate the utmost good-will.
If we except occasional touches of self-complacency, which betray,
perhaps, a trifling foible, it may be said that everything is pleasing
which is known concerning him. His devotion, wellnigh heroic, to
scholarly aims; his quiet studiousness; his filial virtue; his genial
sociability, graced by, and gracing, the self-supporting habit of his
soul; his intrepidity of intellect, matched by a beautiful boldness
and openness in speech; the absence, too, from works so incisive, of a
single trace of truculence: all this will now be remembered; and those
are unamiable persons, in whom the remembrance does not breed a desire
to believe him as great in thought as he was brave, as prosperous in
labor as he was persevering.
But however it may be with others, certainly he who has undertaken the
duties of a scholar must not yield too readily to these amiable wishes.
He, as a sworn soldier of Truth, stands sacredly bound to be as free
from favor as from fear, and to follow steadily wherever the standards
of his imperial mistress lead him on. And so performing his lawful
service, he may bear in mind that at last the interests of Truth are
those of every soul, be it of them that we number with the dead, or that
are still reckoned among these that we greet as living. Let us not be
petty in our kindness. Over the fresh grave of a scholar let us rise to
that high and large friendliness which respects more the scope of every
man's nature than the limited measure of any man's performance, and
sides bravely with the soul of the departed, even though it be against
his fame. Who would not choose this for himself? Who would not whisper
from his grave, "My personal weaknesses let those spare who can; my work
do not praise, but judge; and never think in behalf of my mortal fame to
lower those stars that my spirit would look up to yet and forever"?
As a man and scholar, Mr. Buckle needs no forbearance; and men must
commend him, were it only in justice to themselves. Such intellectual
courage, such personal purity, such devotion to ideal aims, such a clean
separation of boldness from bitterness,--in thought, no blade more
trenchant, in feeling, no heart more human;--when these miss their honor
and their praise, then will men have forgotten how to estimate fine
Meanwhile, as a thinker, he must be judged according to the laws of
thought. Here we are to forget whether he be living or dead, and whether
his personal traits were delightful or disagreeable. Here there is but
one question, and that is the question of truth.
And as a thinker, I can say nothing less than that Mr. Buckle signally
failed. His fundamental conceptions, upon which reposes the whole
edifice of his labor, are sciolistic assumptions caught up in his youth
from Auguste Comte and other one-eyed seers of modern France; his
generalization, multitudinous and imposing, is often of the card-castle
description, and tumbles at the touch of an inquisitive finger; and
his cobweb logic, spun chiefly out of his wishes rather than his
understanding, is indeed facile and ingenious, but of a strength to hold
only flies. Such, at any rate, is the judgment passed upon him in the
present paper; and if it is stated roundly, the critic can be held all
the better to its justification, and the more freely condemned, should
these charges not be sustained.
But while in the grand topography of thought and in the larger processes
of reasoning the failure of Mr. Buckle, according to the judgment here
given, is complete, it is freely admitted that as a writer and man of
letters he has claims not only to respect, but even to admiration. His
mental fertility is remarkable, his memory marvellous, his reading
immense, his mind discursive and agile, his style pellucid as water and
often vigorous, while his _subordinate_ conceptions are always ingenious
and frequently valuable. Besides this, he is a genuine enthusiast,
and sees before him that El Dorado of the understanding where golden
knowledge shall lie yellow on all the hills and yellow under every
footfall,--where the very peasant shall have princely wealth, and no
man shall need say to another, "Give me of thy wisdom." It is this same
element of romantic expectation which stretches a broad and shining
margin about the spacious page of Bacon; it is this which wreathes a new
fascination around the royal brow of Raleigh; it is this, in part, which
makes light the bulky and antiquated tomes of Hakluyt; and the grace
of it is that which we often miss in coming from ancient to modern
literature. Better it is, too, than much erudition and many
"proprieties" of thought; and one may note it as curious, that Mr.
Buckle, seeking to disparage imagination, should have written a book
whose most winning and enduring charm is the appeal to imagination it
makes. Moreover, he is an enthusiast in behalf of just that which is
distinctively modern: he is a white flame of precisely those heats which
smoulder now in the duller breast of the world in general; he worships
at all the pet shrines; he expresses the peculiar loves and hatreds of
the time. Who is so devout a believer in free speech and free trade and
the let-alone policy in government, and the coming of the Millennium by
steam? Who prostrates himself with such unfeigned adoration before the
great god, "State-of-Society," or so mutters, for a mystic _O'm_, the
word "Law"? Then how delightful it is, when he traces the whole ill of
the world to just those things which we now all agree to detest,--to
theological persecution, bigotry, superstition, and infidelity to Isaac
Newton! In fine, the recent lessons of that great schoolboy, the
world, or those over which the said youth now is poring or idling or
blubbering, Mr. Buckle has not only got by heart, not only recites them
capitally, but believes with assurance that they are the sole lessons
worth learning in any time; and all the inevitable partialities of the
text-book, all the errors and _ad captandum_ statements with which its
truth is associated, he takes with such implicit faith, and believes in
so confidently as part and parcel of our superiority to all other times,
that the effect upon most of us cannot be otherwise than delectable.
Unhappily, the text-book in which he studied these fine lessons chanced
to be the French edition, and, above all, the particular compilation of
Auguste Comte,--Comte, the one-eyed Polyphemus of modern literature,
enormous in stature and strength, but a devourer of the finer races in
thought, feeding his maw upon the beautiful offspring of the highest
intelligence, whom the Olympians love. Therefore it befell that our
eager and credulous scholar unlearned quite as much as he learned,
acquiring the wisdoms of our time in the crudest and most liberal
commixture with its unwisdoms. And thus, though his house is laboriously
put together, yet it is built upon the sand; and though his bark has
much good timber, and is well modelled for speed, yet its keel is wholly
rotten, so that whosoever puts to sea therein will sail far more swiftly
to bottom than to port.
And precisely this, in lieu of all else, it is my present purpose to
show: that the keel of his craft is unsound,--that his fundamental
notions are fundamental falsities, such as no thinker can fall into
without discredit to his powers of thought. Fortunately, he has begun by
stating and arguing these; so that there can be no question either what
they are, or by what considerations he is able to support them.
The foundation-timber of Mr. Buckle's work consists of three pieces, or
propositions, two of which take the form of denial. First, he denies
that there is in man anything of the nature of Free-Will, and attributes
the belief in it to vulgar and childish ignorance. Secondly, and in
support of the primary negation, he denies that there is any oracle in
man's bosom,--that his spirit had any knowledge of itself or of the
relationships it sustains: in other words, denies the validity of
Consciousness. Thirdly and lastly, he attempts to show that all actions
of individuals originate not in themselves, but result from a law
working in the general and indistinguishable _lump_ of society,--from
laws of like nature with that which preserves the balance of the sexes;
so that no man has more to do with his own deed than the mother in
determining whether her child shall be male or female. By the two
former statements man is stripped of all the grander prerogatives and
characteristics of personality; by the last he is placed as freight,
whether dead or alive it were hard to say, in the hold of the
self-steering ship, "Society." These propositions and the reasons, or
unreasons, by which they are supported, we will examine in order.
1. _Free-Will_. The question of free-will has at sundry times and
seasons, and by champions many and furious, been disputed, till the
ground about it is all beaten into blinding dust, wherein no reasonable
man can now desire to cloud his eyes and clog his lungs. It is, indeed,
one of the cheerful signs of our times, that there is a growing relish
for clear air and open skies, a growing indisposition to mingle in old
and profitless controversies. It commonly happens in such controversies,
as it undoubtedly has happened in the dispute about free-will, that both
parties have been trying to pull up Life or Spirit by the roots, and
make a show, _a la_ Barnum, of all its secrets. The enterprise was
zealously prosecuted, but would not prosper. In truth, there are strict
and jealous limits to the degree in which man's mind can become an
object to itself. By silent consciousness, by an action of reason and
imagination sympathetic with pure inward life, man may _feel_ far down
into the sweet, awful depths and mysteries of his being; and the results
of this inward intimation are given in the great poems, the great art
and divine philosophy of all time, and in the commanding beliefs of
mankind; but so soon as one begins to come to his own existence as an
outsider and stranger, and attempts to bear away its secret, so soon he
begins to be balked.
Mr. Buckle, however, has assumed in a summary and authoritative way to
settle this question of free-will; and, without entering into the dust
and suffocation of the old interminable dispute, we may follow him far
enough to see whether he has thrown any light upon the matter, or has
only thrown light upon his own powers as a thinker.
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