Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 4, No. 21, July, 1859
Part 4 out of 5
"Our little Cupid hath _sued livery_
And is no more in his minority."
DONNE'S Eclogues, 1613.
Spenser, too, uses the phrase figuratively in another sense, in the
following passage,--which may be one of those which Chalmers had in
his eye, when, according to Lord Campbell, he "first suggested" that
Shakespeare was once an attorney's clerk:--
"She gladly did of that same Babe accept,
As of her owne by _liverey and seisin_;
And having over it a litle wept,
She bore it thence, and ever as her owne it kept."
_Faerie Queene_, B. VI. C. iv. st. 37.
So, for an instance of the phrase "fee," which Lord Campbell notices as
one of those expressions and allusions which "crop out" in "Hamlet,"
"showing the substratum of law in the author's mind,"--
"We go to gain a little patch of ground,
That hath in it no profit but the name.
To pay five ducats, five, I would not farm it;
Nor will it yield to Norway or the Pole
A ranker rate, should it be sold _in fee_,"--
Act iv. Sc. 2.
and of which Mr. Rushton quotes several instances in its fuller form,
"fee simple,"--we have but to turn back a few stanzas in this same
canto of the "Faerie Queene," to find one in which the term is used with
the completest apprehension of its meaning:--
"So is my lord now _seiz'd of_ all the land,
As _in his fee_, with peaceable _estate_,
And quietly doth hold it in his hand,
Ne any dares with him for it debate."
_Ib_. st. 30.
And in the next canto:--
"Of which the greatest part is due to me,
And heaven itself, by heritage _in fee_."
_Ib._ C. vii. st. 15.
And in the first of these two passages from the "Faerie Queene," we have
two words, "seized" and "estate," intelligently and correctly used
in their purely legal sense, as Shakespeare himself uses them in the
following passages, which our Chief Justice and our barrister have both
passed by, as, indeed, they have passed many others equally worthy of
"Did forfeit with his life all those his lands
Which he stood _seiz'd of_ to the conqueror."
_Hamlet_, Act i. Sc. 1.
"The terms of our _estate_ may not endure
Hazard so near us," etc.--_Ib_. Act iii. Sc. 3.
Among the most important passages cited by both our authors is one that
every reader of Shakespeare will recollect, when it is mentioned to
him,--Hamlet's speech over the skull in the grave-digging scene. But
although this speech is remarkable for the number of law-terms used in
it, only one of them seems to evince any recondite knowledge of the law.
This is the word "statutes," in the following sentence:--
"This fellow might be in's time a buyer of
land, with his statutes, his recognizances, his
fines, his double vouchers, his recoveries."
Act v. Sc. 1.
The general reader supposes, we believe, and very naturally, that here
"statutes" means laws, Acts of Parliament concerning real estate. But,
as Mr. Rushton remarks, (Malone having explained the term before him,)
"The statutes referred to by Hamlet are, doubtless, statutes merchant
and statutes staple." And "a statute merchant (so called from the 13th
Edward I., _De mercatoribus_) was a _bond_ acknowledged before one of
the clerks of the statutes merchant, and the mayor, etc., etc. A statute
staple, properly so called, was a _bond of record_, acknowledged before
the mayor of the staple," etc., etc.
Here we again have a law-term apparently so out of the ken of an
unprofessional writer, that it would seem to favor the Attorney and
Solicitor theory. But let us see if the knowledge which its use implies
was confined to Shakespeare among the dramatists of his time.
In Fletcher's "Noble Gentleman," a comedy, first performed in 1625, we
find a lady, sorely pushed for ready cash, crying out,--
"Take up at any use: give bond, or land,
Or mighty _statutes_, able by their strength
To tie up my Samson, were he now alive."
Act i. Sc. 1.
And in Middleton's "Family of Love," (where, by the way, the Free-Love
folk of our own day may find their peculiar notions set forth and made
the basis of the action, though the play was printed two hundred
and fifty years ago,) we find a female free-loveyer thus teaching a
mercantile brother of the family, that, although she has a sisterly
disregard for some worldly restraints, she yet keeps an eye on the main
"Tut, you are master Dryfab, the merchant; your skill is greater in
cony-skins and woolpacks than in gentlemen. His lands be _in statutes_:
you merchants were wont to be merchant staplers; but now gentlemen have
gotten up the trade; for there is not one gentleman amongst twenty but
his lands be engaged in twenty statutes staple."
Act i. Sc. 3.
And in the very first speech of the first scene of the same play, the
husband of this virtuous and careful dame says of the same "Gerardine,"
(who, as he is poor and a gentleman, it need hardly be said, is about
the only honest man in the piece,)--"His lands be _in statutes_." And
that poor debauchee, Robert Greene, who knew no more of law than he
might have derived from such limited, though authentic information as to
its powers over gentlemen who made debts without the intention of paying
them, as he may have received at frequent unsolicited interviews with a
sergeant or a bum-bailiff, has this passage in his "Quip for an Upstart
"The mercer he followeth the young upstart gentleman that hath no
government of himself and feedeth his humour to go brave; he shall not
want silks, sattins, velvets to pranke abroad in his pompe; but with
this proviso, that he must bind over his land in a _statute merchant or
staple_; and so at last forfeit all unto the merciless mercer, and leave
himself never a foot of land in England."
Very profound legal studies, therefore, cannot be predicated of
Shakespeare on the ground of the knowledge which he has shown of this
peculiar kind of statute.
It is not surprising that both our legal Shakespearean commentators cite
the following passage from "As You Like It" in support of their theory;
for in it the word "extent" is used in a sense so purely technical, that
not one in a thousand of Shakespeare's lay readers now-a-days would
understand it without a note:--
_Duke F._ Well, push him out of doors,
And let my officers of such a nature
_Make an extent_ upon his house and lands."
Act iii. Sc. 1.
"Extent," as Mr. Rushton remarks, is directed to the sheriff to seize
and value lands and goods to the utmost extent; "an _extendi facias_" as
Lord Campbell authoritatively says, "applying to the house and lands
as a _fieri facias_ would apply to goods and chattels, or a _capias ad
satisfaciendum_ to the person." But that John Fletcher knew, as well
as my Lord Chief Justice, or Mr. Barrister Rushton, or even, perhaps,
William Shakespeare, all the woes that followed an extent, the elder
Mr. Weller at least would not have doubted, had he in the course of
his literary leisure fallen upon the following passage in "Wit Without
"_Val_ Mark me, widows
Are long _extents_ in law upon men's livings,
Upon their bodies' winding-sheets; they that enjoy 'em
Lie but with dead men's monuments, and beget
Only their own ill epitaphs."
Act ii. Sc. 2.
George Wilkins, too, the obscure author of "The Miseries of Enforced
Marriage," uses the term with as full an understanding, though not with
so feeling an expression or so scandalous an illustration of it, in the
following passage from the fifth act of that play, which was produced
about 1605 or 1606:--
"They are usurers; they come yawning for money; and the--sheriff with
them is come to serve an _extent_ upon your land, and then seize your
body by force of execution."
Another seemingly recondite law-phrase used by Shakespeare, which Lord
Campbell passes entirely by, though Mr. Rushton quotes three instances
of it, is "taken with the manner." This has nothing to do with good
manners or ill manners; but, in the words of the old law-book before
--"is when a theefe hath stollen and is followed with hue and crie and
taken, having that found about him which he stole;--that is called ye
maynour. And so we commonly use to saye, when wee finde one doing of an
unlawful act, that we tooke him with the maynour or manner."
_Termes de la Ley_, 1595, fol. 126, _b_.
Shakespeare, therefore, uses the phrase with perfect understanding, when
he makes Prince Hal say to Bardolph,--
"O villain, thou stolest a cup of sack eighteen
years ago, and wert _taken with the manner_,
and ever since thou hast blush'd extempore."
1 _Henry IV_.Act ii, Sc. 4.
But so Fletcher uses the same phrase, and as correctly, when he makes
Perez say to Estefania, in "Rule a Wife and Have a Wife,"--
"How like a sheep-biting rogue, _taken i' the manner_,
And ready for the halter, dost thou look
now!"--Act v. Sc. 4.
But both Fletcher and Shakespeare, in their use of this phrase, unusual
as it now seems to us, have only exemplified the custom referred to by
our contemporary legal authority,--"And so we _commonly use to saye_,
when wee finde one doing of an unlawfull act, that we tooke him with the
maynour"; though this must doubtless be understood to refer to persons
of a certain degree of education and knowledge of the world.
It seems, then, that the application of legal phraseology to the
ordinary affairs of life was more common two hundred and fifty years ago
than now; though even now-a-days it is much more generally used in the
rural districts than persons who have not lived in them would suppose.
There law shares with agriculture the function of providing those
phrases of common conversation which, used figuratively at first, and
often with poetic feeling, soon pass into mere thought-saving formulas
of speech, and which in large cities are chiefly drawn from trade
and politics. And if in the use of the law-terms upon which we have
remarked, which are the more especially technical and remote from
the language of unprofessional life among all those which occur in
Shakespeare's works, he was not singular, but, as we have seen,
availed himself only of a knowledge which other contemporary poets and
playwrights possessed, how much more easily might we show that those
commoner legal words and phrases, to remarks upon Shakespeare's use of
which both the books before us (and especially Lord Campbell's) are
mainly devoted, "judgment," "fine," "these presents," "testament,"
"attorney," "arbitrator," "fees," "bond," "lease," "pleading," "arrest,"
"session," "mortgage," "vouchers," "indentures," "assault," "battery,"
"dower," "covenant," "distrain," "bail," "non-suit," etc., etc.,
etc.,--words which everybody understands,--are scattered through all the
literature of Shakespeare's time, and, indeed, of all time since there
were courts and suits at law!
Many of the passages which Lord Campbell cites as evidence of
Shakespeare's "legal acquirements" excite only a smile at the
self-delusion of the critic who could regard them for a moment in that
light. For instance, these lines in that most exquisite song in "Measure
for Measure;"--"Take, oh, take those lips away,"--
"But my kisses bring again
_Seals_ of love, but _seal'd_ in vain";--
and these from "Venus and Adonis,"--
"Pure lips, sweet _seals_ in my soft lips imprinted,
What bargains may I make, still to be _sealing_!"--
to which Mr. Rushton adds from "Hamlet,"--
"A combination and a form, indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his _seal_."
Act iii. Sc. 4.
"Now must your conscience my acquittance
_seal_."--Act iv. Sc. 7.
And because indentures and deeds and covenants are sealed, these
passages must be accepted as part of the evidence that Shakespeare
narrowly escaped being made Lord High Chancellor of England! It requires
all the learning and the logic of a Lord Chief Justice and a London
barrister to establish a connection between such premises and such a
conclusion. And if Shakespeare's lines smell of law, how strong is the
odor of parchment and red tape in these, from Drayton's Fourth Eclogue
"Kindnesse againe with kindnesse was repay'd,
_And with sweet kisses covenants were sealed_."
We ask pardon of the reader for the production of contemporary evidence,
that, in Shakespeare's day, a knowledge of the significance and binding
nature of a seal was not confined to him among poets; for surely a man
must be both a lawyer and a Shakespearean commentator to forget that the
use of seals is as old as the art of writing, and, perhaps, older, and
that the practice has furnished a figure of speech to poets from the
time when it was written, that out of the whirlwind Job heard, "It is
turned as clay to the _seal_," and probably from a period yet more
And is Lord Campbell really in earnest in the following grave and
precisely expressed opinion?
"In the next scene, [of "Othello,"] Shakespeare gives us a _very
distinct proof_ that he was acquainted with Admiralty law, as well as
with the procedure of Westminster Hall. Describing the feat of the Moor
in carrying off Desdemona against her father's consent, which might
either make or mar his fortune, according as the act might be sanctioned
or nullified, Iago observes,--
"'Faith, he to-night hath hoarded a land carack:
If it prove a _lawful prize_, he's made forever';
the trope indicating that _there would be a suit in the High Court of
Admiralty to determine the validity of the capture_"!--p. 91.
"Why did not his Lordship go farther, and decide, that, in the
figurative use of the term, "land carack," Shakespeare gave us very
distinct proof that he was acquainted with maritime life, and especially
with the carrying-trade between Spain and the West Indies? We
respectfully submit to the court the following passage from Middleton
and Rowley's "Changeling,"--first published in 1653, but written many
years before. Jasperino, seeing a lady, calls out,--
"Yonder's another vessel!: Ile _board_ her:
if she be _lawfall prize, down goes her topsail."_
Act i. Sig. B. 2.
And with it we submit the following points, and ask a decision in our
favor. First, That they, the said Middleton and Rowley, have furnished,
in the use of the phrase "lawful prize," in this passage, very distinct
proof that they were acquainted with Admiralty law. Second, That, in
the use of the other phrases, "board," and especially "down goes her
topsail," they have furnished yet stronger evidence that they had been
sailors on board armed vessels, and that the trope indicates, that, had
not the vessel or lady in question lowered her topsail or top-knot, she
would then and there have been put mercilessly to the sword.
But what shall we think of the acumen and the judgment of a Chief
Justice, a man of letters, and a man of the world, who brings forward
such passages as the following as part of the evidence bearing upon the
question of Shakespeare's legal acquirements?--
"Come; fear not you; _good counsellors lack
_Measure for Measure_. Act i. Sc. 2.
"One that _before the judgement_ carries poor
souls to hell."
_Comedy of Errors_. Act iv. Sc. 2.
"Well, Time is the old _Justice_ that examines
all such offenders,--and let Time try."
_As You Like It_. Act iv. Sc. 1.
"And that old common _arbitrator_, Time."
_Troilus and Cressida_. Act iv. Sc. 5.
"No cock of mine; you crow too like a _craven_."
_Taming of the Shrew_. Act ii. Sc. 1.
"Bestial oblivion or some _craven_ scruple."
_Hamlet_. Act iv. Sc. 4.
By which last line, according to Lord Campbell, (p. 55,) "Shakespeare
shows that he was acquainted with _the law for regulating 'trials by
But to proceed with the passages quoted in evidence:--
"Is not this a lamentable thing, that of the
skin of an innocent lamb should be made
_parchment_? that parchment, being _scribbled
o'er_, should undo a man? Some say, the bee
stings: but I say, 'tis the bee's _wax_; for I did
but _seal_ once to a thing, and I was never mine
own man since."--2 _Henry VI_. Act vi. Sc. 2.
Upon citing which, his Lordship exclaims,--
"Surely Shakespeare must have been employed to write _deeds_ on
_parchment_ in _courthand_, and to apply the _wax_ to them in the form
of _seals_. One does not understand how he should, on any other theory
of his bringing-up, have been acquainted _with these details_"!
One does not; but we submit to the court, that, if two were to lay their
heads together after the manner of Sydney Smith's vestrymen, they might
bring it about.
In aid of his Lordship's further studies, we make the following
suggestion. He doubtless knows that one of the earliest among our small
stock of traditions about Shakespeare is that recorded by Aubrey as
being derived from Stratford authority, that his father was a butcher,
and that "when he was a boy he exercised his father's trade, but when he
kill'd a calfe, he wold do it in a high style, and make a speech."
When his Lordship considers this old tradition in connection with the
following passage in one of Shakespeare's earliest plays,--
"Who finds the heifer dead and bleeding fresh,
And sees fast by a butcher with an axe,
But will suspect 'twas he that made the
2 _Henry VI._ Act iii. Sc. 2.
how can he resist the conclusion, that, although the divine Williams may
not have run with "Forty," it is highly probable that he did kill
for Keyser? Let his Lordship also remember that other old tradition,
mentioned by Rowe, that John Shakespeare was "a considerable dealer
in wool," and that William, upon leaving school, "seems to have given
entirely into that way of living which his father proposed to him"; and
remember, also, this passage from another of Shakespeare's earliest
"He is too picked, too spruce, too affected,
too odd, as it were, too peregrinate, as I may
call it...He draweth out the _thread of
his verbosity finer than the staple of his argument."
--_Love's Labor's Lost_. Act v. Sc. 1.
Is there not a goodly part of the wool-stapler's craft, as well as of
the art of rhetoric, compressed into that one sentence by the hydraulic
power of Shakespeare's genius? Does it not show that he was initiated in
the mysteries of long and short staple before he wrote this, perhaps,
his earliest play? But look again at the following passage, also written
when his memory of his boyish days was freshest, and see the evidence
that _both_ these traditions were well founded:--
"So, first, the harmless sheep doth yield _his fleece;_
And, next, _his throat unto the butcher's knife."_
Could these lines have been written by a man who had not been both a
considerable dealer in wool, and a butcher who killed a calf in high
style and made a speech? Who can have a doubt about this matter, when he
appreciates rightly the following passage in "Hamlet," (Act v. Sc. 2,)
and is penetrated with the wisdom of two wise commentators upon it?--
'Our indiscretion sometimes serves us well,
When our deep plots do pall; and that should teach us
There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.'
Dr. Farmer informs me that these words are merely technical. A wool-man,
butcher, and dealer in _skewers_ lately observed to him that his nephew
(an idle lad) could only _assist_ him in making them;--he could _rough
hew_ them, but I was obliged to shape their ends! To shape the ends of
wool-skewers, i.e., to _point_ them, requires a degree of skill; any one
can _rough-hew_ them. Whoever recollects the profession of Shakespeare's
father will admit that his son might be no stranger to such terms. "I have
frequently seen packages of wool pinn'd up with skewers."--STEEVENS.
Lucky wool-man, butcher, and dealer in skewers! to furnish at once a
comment upon the great philosophical tragedy and a proof that its author
and you were both of a trade! Fortunate Farmer, to have heard the story!
and most sagacious Steevens, to have penetrated its hidden meaning,
recollecting felicitously that you had seen packages of wool pinn'd up
with skewers! But, O wisest, highest-and-deepest-minded Shakespeare, to
have remembered, as you were propounding, Hamlet-wise, one of the great
unsolvable mysteries of life, the skewers that you, being an idle lad,
could but rough-hew, leaving to your careful father the skill-requiring
task to shape their ends!--ends without which they could not have bound
together the packages of wool with which you loaded the carts that
backed up to the door in Henley Street, or have penetrated the veal
of the calves that you killed in such a high style and with so much
eloquence, and which loaded the tray that you daily bore on your
shoulder to the kitchen-door of New Place, yet unsuspecting that you
were to become its master!
Yet we would not too strongly insist upon this evidence, that
Shakespeare in his boyhood served both as a butcher's and a
wool-stapler's apprentice; for we venture to think that we have
discovered evidence in his works that their author was a tailor. For, in
the first place, the word "tailor" occurs no less than thirty-five times
in his plays. [The reader is to suppose that we are able to record this
fact by an intimate acquaintance with every line that Shakespeare wrote,
and by a prodigious effort of memory, and not by reference to Mrs.
Clark's Concordance.] "Measures" occurs nearly thrice as often; "shears"
is found no less than six times; "thimble," three times; "goose," no
less than twenty-seven times!--and when we find, that, in all his
thirty-seven plays, the word "cabbage" occurs but once, and then with
the deliberate explanation that it means "worts" and is "good cabbage,"
may we not regard such reticence upon this tender point as a touching
confirmation of the truth of our theory? See, too, the comparison which
Shakespeare uses, when he desires to express the service to which
his favorite hero, Prince Hal, will put the manners of his wild
"So, like gross terms,
The Prince will, in the perfectness of time,
Cast off his followers; and their memory
Shall as a _pattern or a measure_ live
By which his Grace must mete the lives of
2 _Henry IV._, Act iv. Sc. 4.
And in writing one of his earliest plays, Shakespeare's mind seems to
have been still so impressed with memories of his former vocation, that
he made the outraged Valentine, as his severest censure of Proteus,
reproach him with being badly dressed:--
"Ruffian, let go that rude, uncivil touch!
Thou friend _of an ill fashion!_"
Act v. Sc. 4.
Cleopatra, too, who, we may be sure from her conduct, was addicted to
very "low necks," after Antony's death becomes serious, and declares her
intention to have something "after the high Roman fashion." And what but
a reminiscence of the disgust which a tailor of talent has for mending
is it that breaks out in the Barons' defiant message to King John?--
"The King hath dispossess'd himself of us;
We will not line his thin bestained cloak."
_King John_, Act iv. Sc. 3.
A memory, too, of the profuse adornment with which he had been called
upon to decorate some very tender youth's or miss's fashionable suit
intrudes itself even in his most thoughtful tragedy:--
"The canker galls the infants of the Spring
Too oft before their _buttons_ be disclos'd."
_Hamlet_, Act i. Sc. 3.
In "Macbeth," desiring to pay the highest compliment to Macduff's
judgment and knowledge, he makes Lennox say,--
"He is noble, wise, judicious, and best knows
_The fits of the season_."--Act iv. Sc. 2.
Not the last fall or last spring style, be it observed, but that of the
season, which it is most necessary for the fashionable tailor to know.
In writing the first scene of the "Second Part of Henry IV.," his mind
was evidently crossed by the shade of some over-particular dandy,
whose fastidious nicety as to the set of his garments he had failed to
satisfy; for he makes Northumberland compare himself to a man who,
"_Impatient of his fit_, breaks like a fire
Out of his keeper's arms."
And yet we must not rely too much even upon evidence so strong and so
cumulative as this. For it would seem as if Shakespeare must have been
a publisher, and have known the anxiety attendant upon the delay of an
author not in high health to complete a work the first part of which has
been put into the printer's hands. Else, how are we to account for his
feeling use of this beautiful metaphor in "Twelfth Night"?
"Lady, you are the cruell'st she alive,
If you will lead these graces to the grave,
And _leave the world no copy_."
Act i. Sc. 5.
But this part of our subject expands before us, and we must stay our
hand. We merely offer these hints as our modest contribution to the
attempts to decide from phrases used in Shakespeare's works what were
his avocations before he became a playwright, and return to Lord
Campbell and Mr. Rushton.
When Malone, in 1790, broached his theory, that Shakespeare had been an
attorney's clerk, he cited in support of it twenty-four passages. Mr.
Rushton's pamphlet brings forward ninety-five, more or less; Lord
Campbell's book, one hundred and sixty. But, from what he has seen of
it, the reader will not be surprised at learning that a large number of
the passages cited by his Lordship must be thrown aside, as having no
bearing whatever on the question of Shakespeare's legal acquirements.
They evince no more legal knowledge, no greater familiarity with
legal phraseology, than is apparent in the ordinary conversation of
intelligent people generally, even at this day. Mr. Rushton, more
systematic than his Lordship, has been also more careful; and from the
pages of both we suppose that there might be selected a round hundred
of phrases which could be fairly considered as having been used by
Shakespeare with a consciousness of their original technicality and of
their legal purport. This is not quite in the proportion of three to
each of his thirty-seven plays; and if we reckon his sonnets and poems
according to their lines, (and both Mr. Rushton and Lord Campbell cite
from them,) the proportion falls to considerably less than three. But
Malone's twenty-four instances are of nearly as much value in the
consideration of the question as Lord Campbell's and Mr. Rushton's
hundred; for the latter gentlemen have added little to the strength,
though considerably to the number, of the array on the affirmative side
of the point in dispute; and we have seen, that, of the law-phrases
cited by them from Shakespeare's pages, the most recondite, as well
as the most common and simple, are to be found in the works of the
Chroniclers, whose very language Shakespeare used, and in those of the
playwrights his contemporaries.
Our new advocates of the old cause, however, quote two passages which,
from the freedom with which law-phrases are scattered through them, it
is worth while to reproduce here. The first is the well-known speech in
the grave-digging scene of "Hamlet":--
"_Ham_. There's another: Why may not that be the skull of a lawyer?
Where be his quiddits now, his quillets, his _cases_, his _tenures_, and
his tricks? why does he suffer this rude knave, now, to knock him about
the sconce with a dirty shovel, and will not tell him of his _action of
battery_? Humph! This fellow might be in's time a great buyer of land,
with his _statutes_, his _recognizances_, his _fines_, his _double
vouchers_, his _recoveries_: Is this the _fine_ of his _fines_, and the
_recovery_ of his _recoveries_, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt?
will his _vouchers_ vouch him no more of his _purchases_, and _double
ones_, too, than the length and breadth of a pair of _indentures_? The
very _conveyances_ of his lands will hardly lie in this box; and must
the _inheritor_ himself have no more? ha?"--Act v. Sc. 1.
The second is the following Sonnet, (No. 46,) not only the language,
but the very fundamental conceit of which, it will be seen, is purely
"Mine Eye and Heart are at a mortal war
How to divide the conquest of thy sight;
Mine Eye my Heart thy picture's sight would _bar_,
My Heart mine Eye the freedom of that right.
My Heart doth _plead_ that thou in him dost lie
(A closet never pierc'd with crystal eyes);
But the _defendant_ doth that _plea_ deny,
And says in him thy fair appearance lies.
To 'cide this title is _impanelled_
A _quest_ of thoughts, all tenants to the Heart,
And by their _verdict_ is determined
The clear Eye's _moiety_, and the dear Heart's part;
As thus: Mine Eye's due is thine outward part,
And my Heart's right, thine inward love of heart."
It would seem, indeed, as if passages like these must be received as
evidence that Shakespeare had more familiarity with legal phraseology,
if not a greater knowledge of it, than could have been acquired except
by habitual use in the course of professional occupation. But let us see
if he is peculiar even in this crowding of many law-terms into a single
brief passage. We turn to the very play open at our hand, from which
we have quoted before, (and which, by the way, we have not selected as
exceptional in this regard,) "The Miseries of Enforced Marriage," and
find the following passage in Act V.:--
"_Doctor_. Now, Sir, from this your _oath and bond,_
Faith's pledge and _seal_ of conscience, you have run,
Broken all _contracts_, and _forfeiture_
Justice hath now in _suit_ against your soul:
Angels are made the _jurors_, who are _witnesses_
Unto the _oath_ you took; and God himself,
Maker of marriage, He that hath _seal'd the deed_,
As a firm _lease_ unto you during life,
_Sits now as Judge_ of your transgression:
The world _informs against you_ with this voice.--
If such sins reign, what mortals can rejoice?
_Scarborow_. What then ensues to me?
_Doctor_. A heavy _doom_, whose _execution's_
Now _served upon_ your conscience," etc.
p. 91, D.O.P., Ed. 1825.
Indeed, the hunting of a metaphor or a conceit into the ground is a
fault characteristic of Elizabethan literature, and one from which
Shakespeare's boldness, no less than his genius, was required to save
him; and we have seen already how common was the figurative use of
law-phrases among the poets and dramatists of his period. Hamlet's
speech and the Forty-sixth Sonnet cannot, therefore, be accepted as
evidence of his attorneyship, except in so far as they and like passages
may be regarded as giving some support to the opinion that Shakespeare
was but one of many in his time who abandoned law for letters.
For we object not so much to the conclusion at which Lord Campbell
arrives as to his mode of arriving at it. His method of investigation,
which is no method at all, but the mere noting of passages in the order
in which he found them in looking through Shakespeare's works, is the
rudest and least intelligent that could have been adopted; and his
inference, that, because Shakespeare makes Jack Cade lament that the
skin of an innocent lamb should be made parchment, and affirm that it is
not the bee, but the bee's wax, that stings, therefore he must have been
employed to write deeds on parchment and append wax to them in the form
of seals, is a fair specimen both of the acuteness and the logic which
his Lordship displays in this his latest effort to unite Law and
There are, however, very considerable grounds for the opinion that
Shakespeare had more than a layman's acquaintance with the technical
language of the law. For it must be admitted, in the first place, that
he exhibits a remarkable acquaintance with it. That other playwrights
and poets of his day manifest a like familiarity (as we have seen
they do) precludes us, indeed, from regarding the mere occurrence of
law-terms in his works as indications of early training proper to him
alone. But they who, on the strength of the not unfrequent occurrence
of legal phrases in many of the plays and much of the poetry of the
Elizabethan period, would maintain that Shakespeare's use of them
furnishes no basis for the opinion that he acquired his knowledge of
them professionally, must also assume and support the position, that, in
the case of contemporary dramatists and poets, this use of the technical
language of conveyancing and pleading also indicates no more than an
ordinary acquaintance with it, and that, in comparing his works with
theirs in this regard, we may assume the latter to have been produced by
men who had no professional acquaintance with the law; because, if
they had such professional acquaintance with legal phraseology, its
appearance in their works as well as in Shakespeare's would manifestly
strengthen rather than invalidate the conclusion, that his familiarity
with it was acquired as they acquired theirs. This position is, to
say the least, a very difficult one to maintain, and one which any
considerate student of Elizabethan literature would be very unwilling
to assume. For our ignorance of the personal life of Shakespeare is
remarkable only because he was Shakespeare; and we know little, if any,
more about the greater number of his literary contemporaries than we do
about him. It cannot even be safely presumed, for instance, that George
Wilkins, the author of the law-besprinkled passage just above quoted
from the "Miseries of Enforced Marriage," was not a practising attorney
or barrister before or even at the time when he wrote that play. On the
contrary, it is extremely probable, nay, quite certain, that he and many
other dramatic authors of the period when he flourished, (1600-1620,)
and of the whole Elizabethan period, (1575-1625,) were nestling
attorneys or barristers before they became full-fledged dramatists.
We are not without contemporary evidence upon this point. Thomas Nash,
friend to Robert Greene, a playwright, poet, and novelist, whose works
were in vogue just before Shakespeare wrote, in an "Epistle to the
Gentlemen Students of the Two Universities," with which, according to
the fashion of the time, he introduced Greene's "Menaphon" (1587)[D] to
the reader, has the following paragraph:--
[Footnote D: Lord Campbell gives the date 1589; but see Mr. Dyce's
indisputable authority. Greene's Works. Vol. I., pp. xxxvii. and ciii.]
"I will turn my back to my first text of studies of delight, and talk
a little in friendship with a few of our trivial translators. It is a
common practice, now-a-days, amongst a sort of shifting companions
that run through every art and thrive by none, to leave the trade of
Noverint, whereto they were born, and busy themselves with the endeavors
of art, that could scarcely Latinize their neck-verse, if they should
have need; yet English Seneca, read by candlelight, yields many good
sentences, as, _Blood is a beggar_, and so forth; and if you intreat
him fair in a frosty morning, he will afford you whole Hamlets,--I
should say, handfuls of tragical speeches. But, oh grief! _Tempus edax
rerum_,--what is that will last always? The sea, exhaled by drops,
will, in continuance, be dry; and Seneca, let blood line by line and
page by page, at length must needs die to our stage."
It has most unaccountably been assumed that this passage refers to
Shakespeare;[E] and it is even so cited by Lord Campbell himself,--to
our surprise, when we remember his professional training and experience
as a sifter of evidence. But, as far as regards its reference to a
leaving of law for literature, it is clearly of general application.
Nash says, "It is a _common practice_, now-a-days, amongst a sort of
shifting companions, etc., to leave the trade of _Noverint_, whereto
_they_ were born, and busy _themselves,"_ etc. By the trade of
_Noverint_ he meant that of an attorney. The term was not uncommonly
applied to members of that profession, because of the phrase, _Noverint
universi per presentes_, (Know all men by these presents,) with which
deeds, bonds, and many other legal instruments then began. And Nash's
testimony accords with what we know of the social and literary history
of the age. There was no regular army in Elizabeth's time; and the
younger sons of gentlemen and well-to-do yeomen, who received from their
fathers little more than an education and a very small allowance, and
who did not become either military or maritime adventurers, opening
their oyster with a sword, entered the Church or the profession of the
law in its higher or lower grade; and as at that period there was much
more demand for lawyers and much less for clergymen than there is now,
and the Church had ceased to be a stepping-stone to political power and
patronage, while the law had become more than ever before an avenue to
fame, to fortune, and to rank, by far the greater number of these young
gentlemen aspired to the woolsack. But then, as now, the early years of
professional life were seasons of sharp trial and bitter disappointment.
Necessity pressed sorely or pleasure wooed resistlessly, and the slender
purse wasted rapidly away while the young attorney or barrister awaited
the employment that did not come. He knew then, as now he knows, "the
rich man's scorn, the proud man's contumely"; nay, he felt, as now he
sometimes feels, the tooth of hunger gnawing through the principles and
firm resolves that partition a life of honor and self-respect from one
darkened by conscious loss of rectitude, if not by open shame. Happy,--
yet, perhaps, oh, unhappy,--he who now in such a strait can wield the
pen of a ready writer!--for the press, perchance, may afford him a
support which, though temporary and precarious, will hold him up until
he can stand upon more stable ground. But in the reigns of Good Queen
Bess and Gentle Jamie there was no press. There was, however, an
incessant demand for new plays. Play-going was the chief intellectual
recreation of that day for all classes, high and low. It filled the
place of our newspapers, our books, our lectures, our concerts, our
picture-seeing, and, in a great measure, of our social gatherings and
amusements, of whatever nature. It is hardly extravagant to say, that
there were then more new plays produced in London in a month than
there are now in Great Britain and the United States in a year. To
play-writing, then, the needy young attorney or barrister possessed
of literary talent turned his eyes at that day, as he does now to
journalism; and it is almost beyond a doubt, that, of the multitudinous
plays of that period which have survived and the thousands which have
perished, a large proportion were produced by the younger sons of
country gentlemen, who, after taking their degrees at Oxford or
Cambridge, or breaking away from those classic bounds ungraduated,
entered the Inns of Court, according to the custom of their day and
their condition. They wrote plays in Latin, and even in English, for
themselves to act; and they got the professional players to act popular
plays for them on festal days. What more natural, then, than that those
who had the ability and the need should seek to recruit their slender
means by supplying the constant demand for new plays? and how inevitable
that some of them, having been successful in their dramatic efforts,
should give themselves up to play-writing! As do the great, so will the
small. What the Inns-of-Court man did, the attorney would try to do. The
players, though they loved the patronage of a lord, were very democratic
in the matter of play-making. If a play filled the house, they did not
trouble themselves about the social or professional rank of him who
wrote it; and thus came about that "common practice" for "shifting
companions" to "leave the trade of Noverint" and "busy themselves with
the endeavors of art"; and hence it is that the plays of the period of
which we are writing have, in many passages, so strong a tinge of law.
[Footnote E: It seems clear, on the contrary, that Nash's object was to
sneer at Jasper Heywood, Alexander Nevil, John Studley, Thomas Nuce, and
Thomas Newton,--one or more of them,--whose _Seneca, his Tenne Tragedies
translated into Englysh_, was published in 1581. It is a very
grievous performance; and Shakespeare, who had read it thoroughly, made
sport of it in _A Midsummer Night's Dream._]
One reason for the regarding of Nash's sneer as especially directed
against Shakespeare is the occurrence in it of the phrase, "whole
_Hamlets_,--I should say, handfuls of tragical speeches," which has
been looked upon as an allusion to Shakespeare's great tragedy. But the
earliest edition of "Hamlet" known was published in 1603, and even this
is an imperfect and surreptitiously obtained copy of an early sketch of
the play. That Shakespeare had written this tragedy in 1586, when he was
but twenty-two years old, is improbable to the verge of impossibility;
and Nash's allusion, if, indeed, he meant a punning sneer at a play,
(which is not certain.) was, doubtless, to an old lost version of the
Danish tragedy upon which Shakespeare built his "Hamlet."
We have, then, direct contemporary testimony, that, at the period of
Shakespeare's entrance upon London life, it was a common practice for
those lawyers whom want of success or an unstable disposition impelled
to a change in their avocation to devote themselves to writing or
translating plays; and this statement is not only sustained by all that
we know of the customs of the time to which it refers, but is strongly
confirmed by the notably frequent occurrence of legal phrases in the
dramatic literature of that age.
But the question, then, arises,--and it is one which, under the
circumstances, must be answered,--To what must we attribute the fact,
that, of all the plays that have come down to us, written between 1580
and 1620, Shakespeare's are most noteworthy in this respect? For it is
true, that, among all the dramatic writers of that period, whose
works have survived, not one uses the phraseology of the law with the
frequency, the freedom, and the correctness of Shakespeare. Beaumont,
for instance, was a younger son of a Judge of the Common Pleas, and,
following the common routine that we have noticed, after leaving the
University, became an Inns-of-Court man, but soon abandoned law for
literature; his friend and associate, Fletcher, was the son of a bishop,
but had an uncle who was a lawyer and a diplomatist, and is himself
believed to have been of the Inns of Court. Rich gleanings of law-terms
might, therefore, be expected from the plays written by these
dramatists; yet it may safely be asserted, that from Shakespeare's
thirty-seven plays at least twice as many passages marked by legal
phraseology might be produced, as from the fifty-four written by
Beaumont and Fletcher, together or alone! a fact the great significance
of which is heightened by another,--that it is only the vocabulary of
the law to the use of which Shakespeare exhibits this proclivity. He
avails himself, it is true, of the peculiar language of the physician,
the divine, the husbandman, the soldier, and the sailor; but he uses
these only on very rare occasions, by way of description, comparison,
or illustration, when something in the scene or the subject in hand
suggests them. But the technical language of the law runs from his
pen as part of his vocabulary and parcel of his thought. The word
"purchase," for instance, which in ordinary use means to acquire by
giving value, in law applies to all legal modes of obtaining property,
except inheritance of descent. And the word in this peculiar and most
technical sense occurs five times in Shakespeare's thirty-seven plays,
but only in a single passage (if our memory and Mr. Dyce's notes serve
us) in the fifty-four plays of Beaumont and Fletcher. Equal, or greater,
is the comparative frequency with which Shakespeare uses other legal
phrases; and much wider is the disparity, in this regard, between him
and the other dramatic writers of his whole period,--Marlowe, Greene,
Peele, Kyd, Lilly, Chapman, Jonson, Middleton, Marston, Ford, Webster,
Massinger, and the undistinguished crowd.
These facts dispose in great measure of the plausible suggestion,
which has been made,--that, as the courts of law in Shakespeare's time
occupied public attention much more than they do at present, they having
then regulated "the season," as the sittings of Parliament (not then
frequent or stated) do now,[F] they would naturally be frequented by the
restless, inquiring spirits of the time, Shakespeare among them, and
that there he and his fellow-dramatists picked up the law-phrases which
they wove into their plays and poems. But if this view of the case were
the correct one, we should not find that disparity in the use of legal
phrases which we have just remarked. Shakespeare's genius would manifest
itself in the superior effect with which he used knowledge acquired in
this manner; but his _genius_ would not have led him to choose the
dry and affected phraseology of the law as the vehicle of his flowing
thought, and to use it so much oftener than any other of the numerous
dramatists of his time, to all of whom the courts were as open as to
him. And the suggestion which we are now considering fails in two other
most important respects. For we do not find either that Shakespeare's
use of legal phrases increased with his opportunities of frequenting
the courts of law, or that the law-phrases, his use of which is most
noteworthy and of most importance in the consideration of the question
before us, are those which he would have heard oftenest in the course of
the ordinary business of the courts in his day. To look at the latter
point first,--the law-terms used by Shakespeare are generally not those
which he would have heard in ordinary trials at _nisi prius_ or before
the King's Bench, but such as refer to the tenure or transfer of real
property, "fine and recovery," "statutes," "purchase," "indenture,"
"tenure," "double voucher," "fee simple," "fee farm," "remainder,"
"reversion," "dower," "forfeiture," etc., etc.; and it is important to
remember that suits about the title to real estate are very much rarer
in England than they are with us, and in England were very much rarer in
Shakespeare's time than they are now. Here we buy and sell houses and
lands almost as we trade in corn and cotton; but in England the transfer
of the title of a piece of real estate of any consequence is a serious
and comparatively rare occurrence, that makes great work for attorneys
and conveyancing counsel; and two hundred and fifty years ago the
facilities in this respect were very much less than they are now.
Shakespeare could hardly have picked up his conveyancer's jargon by
hanging round the courts of law; and we find,--to return to the first
objection,--that, in his early plays, written just after he arrived in
London, he uses this peculiar phraseology just as freely and with
as exact a knowledge as he displayed in after years, when (on the
supposition in question) he must have become much more familiar with it.
Shakespeare's earliest work that has reached us is, doubtless, to be
found in "King Henry the Sixth," "The Comedy of Errors," and "Love's
Labor's Lost." In the very earliest form of Part II. of the first-named
play, ("The First Part of the Contention betwixt the two Houses of York
and Lancaster," to which Shakespeare was doubtless a contributor, the
part of Cade being among his contributions,) we find him making Cade
declare, (Act iv. Sc. 7,) "Men shall hold of me _in capite_; and we
charge and command that wives be _as free as heart can wish or tongue
can tell_." Both the phrases that we have Italicized express tenures,
and very uncommon tenures of land. In the "Comedy of Errors," when
Dromio of Syracuse says, "There's no time for a man to recover his hair
that grows bald by nature," [Hear, O Rowland! and give ear, O Phalon!]
his master replies, "May he not do it by _fine and recovery?_" Fine and
recovery was a process by which, through a fictitious suit, a transfer
was made of the title in an entailed estate. In "Love's Labor's Lost,"
almost without a doubt the first comedy that Shakespeare wrote, on
Boyet's offering to kiss Maria, (Act ii. Sc. 1,) she declines the
salute, and says, "My lips are no common, though several they be." This
passage--an important one for his purpose--Lord Campbell has passed by,
as he has some others of nearly equal consequence. Maria's allusion is
plainly to tenancy in common by several (i.e., divided, distinct) title.
(See Coke upon Littleton, Lib. iii. Cap. iv. Sec. 292.) She means, that
her lips are several as being two, and (as she says in the next line)
as belonging in common to her fortunes and herself,--yet they were no
[Footnote F: Falstaff, for instance, speaks of "the wearing out of six
fashions, which is four terms or two actions."]
Here, then, is Shakespeare using the technical language of conveyancers
in his earliest works, and before he had had much opportunity to
haunt the courts of law in London, even could he have made such legal
acquirements in those schools. We find, too, that he uses law-terms in
general with frequency notably greater--in an excess of three or four
to one--than any of the other playwrights of his day, when so many
playwrights were or had been Noverints or of the Inns of Court; that
this excess is not observable with regard to his use of the vocabulary
peculiar to any other occupation or profession, even that of the actor,
which we know that he practised for many years; but that, on the
contrary, although he uses other technical language correctly, he avails
himself of that of any single art of occupation with great rarity,
and only upon special occasions. Lord Campbell remarks, as to the
correctness with which Shakespeare uses legal phrases,--and this is a
point upon which his Lordship speaks with authority,--that he is amazed
"by the accuracy and propriety with which they are introduced," and in
another place adds, that Shakespeare "uniformly lays down good law"; and
it is not necessary to be a Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench to know
that his Lordship is fully justified in assuring us that "there is
nothing [of the kind (?)] so dangerous as for one not of the craft to
tamper with our free-masonry." Remembering, then, that genius, though
it reveals general and even particular truths, and facilitates all
acquirement, does not impart facts or the knowledge of technical terms,
in what manner can we answer or set aside the question that we have
partly stated before,--How did it happen, that, in an age when it was
a common practice for young attorneys and barristers to leave their
profession and take to writing plays and poems, one playwright left upon
his works a stronger, clearer, sharper legal stamp than we can detect
upon those of any other, and that he used the very peculiar and, to a
layman, incomprehensible language of the law of real property, as it
then existed, in his very earliest plays, written soon after he, a raw,
rustic youth, bred in a retired village, arrived in London? How did
it happen that this playwright fell into the use of that technical
phraseology, the proper employment of which, more than any other,
demands special training, and that he availed himself of it with
apparent unconsciousness, not only so much oftener than any of his
contemporaries, but with such exact knowledge, that one who has passed
a long life in the professional employment of it, speaking as it
were officially from the eminent position which he has won,--Lord
"While novelists and dramatists are constantly making mistakes as to the
law of marriage, of wills, and of inheritance, to Shakespeare's law,
lavishly as he propounds it, there can neither be demurrer, nor bill of
exceptions, nor writ of error"?
Must we believe, that the man, who, among all the lawyer-playwrights of
his day, showed,--not, be it noticed, (as we are at present regarding
his works,) the profoundest knowledge of the great principles of law and
equity, although he did that too,--but the most complete mastery of
the technical phrases, the jargon, of the law and of its most abstruse
branch,--that relating to real estate,--and who used it very much the
oftenest of them all, and with an air of as entire unconsciousness as
if it were a part of the language of his daily life, making no mistakes
that can be detected by a learned professional critic,--must we believe
that this man was distinguished among those play-writing lawyers, not
only by his genius, but his _lack_ of particular acquaintance with the
law? Or shall we rather believe that the son of the High Bailiff of
Stratford, whose father was well-to-do in the world, and who was a
somewhat clever lad and ambitious withal, was allowed to commence his
studies for a profession for which his cleverness fitted him and by
which he might reasonably hope to rise at least to moderate wealth and
distinction, and that he continued these studies until his father's
loss of property, aided, perhaps, by some of those acts of youthful
indiscretion which clever lads as well as dull ones sometimes will
commit, threw him upon his own resources,--and that then, having
townsmen, perhaps fellow-students and playfellows, among the actors in
London, and having used his pen, as we may be sure he had, for other
purposes than engrossing and drawing precedents, he, like so many others
of his time, left his trade of Noverint and went up to the metropolis to
busy himself with endeavors of art? One of these conclusions is in the
face of reason, probability, and fact; the other in accordance with them
* * * * *
But of how little real importance is it to establish the bare fact, that
Shakespeare was an attorney's clerk before he was an actor! Suppose
it proved, beyond a doubt,--what have we learned? Nothing peculiar to
Shakespeare; but merely what was equally true of thousands of other
young men, his contemporaries, and hundreds of thousands, if not
millions, of those of antecedent and succeeding generations. It has a
naked material relation to the other fact, that he uses legal phrases
oftener than any other dramatist or poet; but with his plastic power
over those grotesque and rugged modes of speech it has nought to do
whatever. That was his inborn mastery. Legal phrases did nothing for
him; but he much for them. Chance cast their uncouth forms around him,
and the golden overflow from the furnace of his glowing thought fell
upon them, glorifying and enshielding them forever. It would have been
the same with the lumber of any other craft; it was the same with that
of many others,--the difference being only of quantity, and not of kind.
How, then, would the certainty that he had been bred to the law help
us to the knowledge of Shakespeare's life, of what he did for himself,
thought for himself, how he joyed, how he suffered, what he was? Would
it help us to know what the Stratford boys thought of him and felt
toward him who was to write "Lear" and "Hamlet," or how the men of
London regarded him who was a-writing them? Not a whit. To prove the
fact would merely satisfy sheer aimless, fruitless curiosity; and it is
a source of some reasonable satisfaction to know that the very
people who would be most interested in the perusal of a biography of
Shakespeare made up of the relation of such facts are they who have
least right to know anything about him. Of the hundreds of thousands
of people who giggled through their senseless hour at the "American
Cousin,"--a play which, in language, in action, in character, presents
no semblance to human life or human creatures, as they are found on any
spot under the canopy, and which seems to have been written on the model
of the Interlude of "Pyramus and Thisbe," "for, in all the play, there
is not one word apt, one player fitted,"--of the people to whom this
play owed its monstrous success, and who, for that very reason, it is
safe to say, think Shakespeare a bore on the stage and off it, a goodly
number would eagerly buy and read a book that told them when he went to
bed and what he had for breakfast, and would pay a ready five-cent
piece for a picture of him as he appeared in the attorney's office, to
preserve as a companion to the equally veritable "portrait of the Hon.
Daniel E. Sickles, as he appeared in prison." Nay, it must be confessed,
that there are some Shakespearean enthusiasts ever dabbling and gabbling
about what they call Shakespeariana, who would give more for the pen
with which he engrossed a deed or wrote "Hamlet," than for the ability
to understand, better than they do or ever can, what he meant by that
mysterious tragedy. Biography has its charms and its uses; but it is not
by what we know of their bare external facts that
"Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And departing leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time."
What the readers of Shakespeare, who are worthy to know aught of him,
long to know, would have been the same, had he been bred lawyer,
physician, soldier, or sailor. It is of his real life, not of its mere
accidents, that they crave a knowledge; and of that life, it is to be
feared, they will remain forever ignorant, unless he himself has written
THE MINISTER'S WOOING.
We suppose the heroine of a novel, among other privileges and
immunities, has a prescriptive right to her own private boudoir, where,
as a French writer has it, "she appears like a lovely picture in its
Well, our little Mary is not without this luxury, and to its sacred
precincts we will give you this morning a ticket of admission. Know,
then, that the garret of this gambrel-roofed cottage had a projecting
window on the seaward side, which opened into an immensely large old
apple-tree, and was a look-out as leafy and secluded as a robin's nest.
Garrets are delicious places in any case, for people of thoughtful,
imaginative temperament. Who has not loved a garret in the twilight days
of childhood, with its endless stores of quaint, cast-off, suggestive
antiquity,--old worm-eaten chests,--rickety chairs,--boxes and casks
full of odd comminglings, out of which, with tiny, childish hands,
we fished wonderful hoards of fairy treasure? What peep-holes, and
hiding-places, and undiscoverable retreats we made to ourselves,--where
we sat rejoicing in our security, and bidding defiance to the vague,
distant cry which summoned us to school, or to some unsavory every-day
task! How deliciously the rain came pattering on the roof over our head,
or the red twilight streamed in at the window, while we sat snugly
ensconced over the delirious pages of some romance, which careful aunts
had packed away at the bottom of all things, to be sure we should never
read it! If you have anything, beloved friends, which you wish your
Charley or your Susie to be sure and read, pack it mysteriously away at
the bottom of a trunk of stimulating rubbish, in the darkest corner of
your garret;--in that case, if the book be at all readable, one that by
any possible chance can make its way into a young mind, you may be sure
that it will not only be read, but remembered to the longest day they
have to live.
Mrs. Katy Scudder's garret was not an exception to the general rule.
Those quaint little people who touch with so airy a grace all the lights
and shadows of great beams, bare rafters, and unplastered walls, had not
failed in their work there. Was there not there a grand easy-chair of
stamped-leather, minus two of its hinder legs, which had genealogical
associations through the Wilcoxes with the Vernons and through the
Vernons quite across the water with Old England? and was there not a
dusky picture, in an old tarnished frame, of a woman of whose tragic end
strange stories were whispered,--one of the sufferers in the time when
witches were unceremoniously helped out of the world, instead of being,
as now-a-days, helped to make their fortune in it by table-turning?
Yes, there were all these things, and many more which we will not stay
to recount, but bring you to the boudoir which Mary has constructed for
herself around the dormer-window which looks into the whispering old
The inclosure was formed by blankets and bed-spreads, which, by reason
of their antiquity, had been pensioned off to an undisturbed old age in
the garret,--not _common_ blankets or bed-spreads, either,--bought,
as you buy yours, out of a shop,--spun or woven by machinery, without
individuality or history. Every one of these curtains had its story. The
one on the right, nearest the window, and already falling into holes,
is a Chinese linen, and even now displays unfaded, quaint patterns of
sleepy-looking Chinamen, in conical hats, standing on the leaves of most
singular herbage, and with hands forever raised in act to strike bells,
which never are struck and never--will be till the end of time. These,
Mrs. Katy Scudder had often instructed Mary, were brought from the
Indies by her great-great-grandfather, and were her grandmother's
wedding-curtains,--the grandmother who had blue eyes like hers and was
just about her height.
The next spread was spun and woven by Mrs. Katy's beloved Aunt
Eunice,--a mythical personage, of whom Mary gathered vague accounts that
she was disappointed in love, and that this very article was part of a
bridal outfit, prepared in vain, against the return of one from sea, who
never came back,--and she heard of how she sat wearily and patiently at
her work, this poor Aunt Eunice, month after month, starting every time
she heard the gate shut, every time she heard the tramp of a horse's
hoof, every time she heard the news of a sail in sight,--her color,
meanwhile, fading and fading as life and hope bled away at an inward
wound,--till at last she found comfort and reunion beyond the veil.
Next to this was a bed-quilt pieced in tiny blocks, none of them bigger
than a sixpence, containing, as Mrs. Katy said, pieces of the gowns of
all her grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and female relatives for years
back,--and mated to it was one of the blankets which had served Mrs.
Scudder's uncle in his bivouac at Valley Forge, when the American
soldiers went on the snows with bleeding feet, and had scarce anything
for daily bread except a morning message of patriotism and hope from
Such were the memories woven into the tapestry of our little boudoir.
Within, fronting the window, stands the large spinning-wheel, one end
adorned with a snowy pile of fleecy rolls,--and beside it, a reel and a
basket of skeins of yarn,--and open, with its face down on the beam of
the wheel, lay always a book, with which the intervals of work were
The dusky picture of which we have spoken hung against the rough wall in
one place, and in another appeared an old engraved head of one of the
Madonnas of Leonardo da Vinci, a picture which to Mary had a mysterious
interest, from the fact of its having been cast on shore after a furious
storm, and found like a waif lying in the sea-weed; and Mrs. Marvyn, who
had deciphered the signature, had not ceased exploring till she found
for her, in an Encyclopaedia, a life of that wonderful man, whose
greatness enlarges our ideas of what is possible to humanity,--and
Mary, pondering thereon, felt the Sea-worn picture as a constant vague
Here our heroine spun for hours and hours,--with intervals, when,
crouched on a low seat in the window, she pored over her book, and then,
returning again to her work, thought of what she had read to the lulling
burr of the sounding wheel.
By chance a robin had built its nest so that from her retreat she could
see the five little blue eggs, whenever the patient brooding mother
left them for a moment uncovered. And sometimes, as she sat in dreamy
reverie, resting her small, round arms on the window-sill, she fancied
that the little feathered watcher gave her familiar nods and winks of a
confidential nature,--cocking the small head first to one side and then
to the other, to get a better view of her gentle human neighbor.
I dare say it seems to you, reader, that we have travelled, in our
story, over a long space of time, because we have talked so much and
introduced so many personages and reflections; but, in fact, it is only
Wednesday week since James sailed, and the eggs which were brooded when
he went are still unhatched in the nest, and the apple-tree has changed
only in having now a majority of white blossoms over the pink buds.
This one week has been a critical one to our Mary;--in it, she has made
the great discovery, that she loves; and she has made her first step
into the gay world; and now she comes back to her retirement to think
the whole over by herself. It seems a dream to her, that she who sits
there now reeling yarn in her stuff petticoat and white short-gown is
the same who took the arm of Colonel Burr amid the blaze of wax-lights
and the sweep of silks and rustle of plumes. She wonders dreamily as
she remembers the dark, lovely face of the foreign Madame, so brilliant
under its powdered hair and flashing gems,--the sweet, foreign accents
of the voice,--the tiny, jewelled fan, with its glancing pictures and
sparkling tassels, whence exhaled vague and floating perfumes; then she
hears again that manly voice, softened to tones so seductive, and sees
those fine eyes with the tears in them, and wonders within herself that
_he_ could have kissed her hand with such veneration, as if she had been
a throned queen.
But here the sound of busy, pattering footsteps is heard on the old,
creaking staircase, and soon the bows of Miss Prissy's bonnet part the
folds of the boudoir drapery, and her merry, May-day face looks in.
"Well, really, Mary, how do you do, to be sure? You wonder to see me,
don't you? but I thought I must just run in, a minute, on my way up to
Miss Marvyn's. I promised her at least a half-a-day, though I didn't see
how I was to spare it,--for I tell Miss Wilcox I just run and run till
it does seem as if my feet would drop off; but I thought I must just
step in to say, that I, for my part, _do admire_ the Doctor more than
ever, and I was telling your mother we mus'n't mind too much what people
say. I 'most made Miss Wilcox angry, standing up for him; but I put it
right to her, and says I, 'Miss Wilcox, you know folks _must_ speak
what's on their mind,--in particular, ministers must; and you know, Miss
Wilcox,' I says, 'that the Doctor _is_ a good man, and lives up to his
teaching, if anybody in this world does, and gives away every dollar he
can lay hands on to those poor negroes, and works over 'em and teaches
'em as if they were his brothers'; and says I, 'Miss Wilcox, you know I
don't spare myself, night nor day, trying to please you and do your work
to give satisfaction; but when it comes to my conscience,' says I, 'Miss
Wilcox, you know I always must speak out, and if it was the last word I
had to say on my dying bed, I'd say that I think the Doctor is right.'
Why! what things he told about the slave-ships, and packing those poor
creatures so that they couldn't move nor breathe!--why, I declare, every
time I turned over and stretched in bed, I thought of it;--and says I,
'Miss Wilcox, I do believe that the judgments of God will come down on
us, if something a'n't done, and I shall always stand by the Doctor,'
says I;--and, if you'll believe me, just then I turned round and saw
the General; and the General, he just haw-hawed right out, and says he,
'Good for you, Miss Prissy! that's real grit,' says he, 'and I like you
better for it.'--Laws," added Miss Prissy, reflectively, "I sha'n't lose
by it, for Miss Wilcox knows she never can get anybody to do the work
for her that I will."
"Do you think," said Mary, "that there are a great many made angry?"
"Why, bless your heart, child, haven't you heard?--Why, there never was
such a talk in all Newport. Why, you know Mr. Simeon Brown is gone clear
off to Dr. Stiles; and Miss Brown, I was making up her plum-colored
satin o' Monday, and you ought to 'a'heard her talk. But, I tell you, I
fought her. She used to talk to me," said Miss Prissy, sinking her voice
to a mysterious whisper, "'cause I never could come to it to say that I
was willin' to be lost, if it was for the glory of God; and she always
told me folks could just bring their minds right up to anything they
knew they must; and I just got the tables turned on her, for they talked
and abused the Doctor till they fairly wore me out, and says I, 'Well,
Miss Brown, I'll give in, that you and Mr. Brown _do_ act up to
your principles; you certainly _act_ as if you were willing to be
damned';--and so do all those folks who will live on the blood and
groans of the poor Africans, as the Doctor said; and I should think, by
the way Newport people are making their money, that they were all pretty
willing to go that way,--though, whether it's for the glory of God, or
not, I'm doubting.--But you see, Mary," said Miss Prissy, sinking her
voice again to a solemn whisper, "I never was _clear_ on that point; it
always did seem to me a dreadful high place to come to, and it didn't
seem to be given to me; but I thought, perhaps, if it _was_ necessary,
it would be given, you know,--for the Lord always has been so good to
me that I've faith to believe that, and so I just say, 'The Lord is my
shepherd, I shall not want'";--and Miss Prissy hastily whisked a little
drop out of her blue eye with her handkerchief.
At this moment, Mrs. Scudder came into the boudoir with a face
expressive of some anxiety.
"I suppose Miss Prissy has told you," she said, "the news about the
Browns. That'll make a great falling off in the Doctor's salary; and I
feel for him, because I know it will come hard to him not to be able to
help and do, especially for these poor negroes, just when he will. But
then we must put everything on the most economical scale we can, and
just try, all of us, to make it up to him. I was speaking to Cousin
Zebedee about it, when he was down here, on Monday, and he is all
clear;--he has made out free papers for Candace and Cato and Dinah, and
they couldn't, one of 'em, be hired to leave him; and he says, from what
he's seen already, he has no doubt but they'll do enough more to pay for
"Well," said Miss Prissy, "I haven't got anybody to care for but myself.
I was telling sister Elizabeth, one time, (she's married and got four
children,) that I could take a storm a good deal easier than she could,
'cause I hadn't near so many sails to pull down; and now, you just look
to me for the Doctor's shirts, 'cause, after this, they shall all come
in ready to put on, if I have to sit up till morning. And I hope, Miss
Scudder, you can trust me to make them; for if I do say it myself,
I a'n't afraid to do fine stitching 'longside of anybody,--and
hemstitching ruffles, too; and I haven't shown you yet that French
stitch I learned of the nuns;--but you just set your heart at rest about
the Doctor's shirts. I always thought," continued Miss Prissy, laughing,
"that I should have made a famous hand about getting up that tabernacle
in the wilderness, with the blue and the purple and fine-twined linen;
it's one of my favorite passages, that is;--different things, you know,
are useful to different people."
"Well," said Mrs. Scudder, "I see that it's our call to be a remnant
small and despised, but I hope we sha'n't shrink from it. I thought,
when I saw all those fashionable people go out Sunday, tossing their
heads and looking so scornful, that I hoped grace would be given me to
"And what does the Doctor say?" said Miss Prissy.
"He hasn't said a word; his mind seems to be very much lifted above all
"La, yes," said Miss Prissy, "that's one comfort; he'll never know where
his shirts come from; and besides that, Miss Scudder," she said, sinking
her voice to a whisper, "as you know, I haven't any children to provide
for,--though I was telling Elizabeth t'other day, when I was making up
frocks for her children, that I believed old maids, first and last, did
more providing for children than married women; but still I do contrive
to slip away a pound-note, now and then, in my little old silver teapot
that was given to me when they settled old Mrs. Simpson's property, (I
nursed her all through her last sickness, and laid her out with my own
hands,) and, as I was saying, if ever the Doctor should want money, you
just let me know."
"Thank you, Miss Prissy," said Mrs. Scudder; "we all know where your
"And now," added Miss Prissy, "what do you suppose they say? Why, they
say Colonel Burr is struck dead in love with our Mary; and you know his
wife's dead, and he's a widower; and they do say that he'll get to be
the next President. Sakes alive! Well, Mary must be careful, if she
don't want to be carried off; for they do say that there can't any woman
resist him, that sees enough of him. Why, there's that poor French
woman, Madame----what do you call her, that's staying with the
Vernons?--they say she's over head and ears in love with him."
"But she's a married woman," said Mary; "it can't be possible!"
Mrs. Scudder looked reprovingly at Miss Prissy, and for a few moments
there was great shaking of heads and a whispered conference between
the two ladies, ending in Miss Prissy's going off, saying, as she went
"Well, if women will do so, I, for my part, can't blame the men."
In a few moments Miss Prissy rushed back as much discomposed as a
clucking hen who has seen a hawk.
"Well, Miss Scudder, what do you think? Here's Colonel Burr come to call
on the ladies!"
Mrs. Scudder's first movement, in common with all middle-aged
gentlewomen, was to put her hand to her head and reflect that she had
not on her best cap; and Mary looked down at her dimpled hands, which
were blue from the contact with mixed yarn she had just been spinning.
"Now I'll tell you what," said Miss Prissy,--"wasn't it lucky you had me
here? for I first saw him coming in at the gate, and I whipped in quick
as a wink and opened the best-room window-shutters, and then I was back
at the door, and he bowed to me as if I'd been a queen, and says he,
'Miss Prissy, how fresh you're looking this morning!' You see, I was in
working at the Vernons', but I never thought as he'd noticed me. And
then he inquired in the handsomest way for the ladies and the Doctor,
and so I took him into the parlor and settled him down, and then I ran
into the study, and you may depend upon it I flew round lively for a few
minutes. I got the Doctor's study-gown off, and got his best coat on,
and put on his wig for him, and started him up kinder lively,--you know
it takes me to get him down into this world,--and so there he's
in talking with him; and so you can just slip down and dress
yourselves,--easy as not."
Meanwhile Colonel Burr was entertaining the simple-minded Doctor with
all the grace of a young neophyte come to sit at the feet of superior
truth. There are some people who receive from Nature as a gift a sort of
graceful facility of sympathy, by which they incline to take on, for
the time being, the sentiments and opinions of those with whom they
converse, as the chameleon was fabled to change its hue with every
surrounding. Such are often supposed to be wilfully acting a part, as
exerting themselves to flatter and deceive, when in fact they are only
framed so sensitive to the sphere of mental emanation which surrounds
others that it would require an exertion not in some measure to
harmonize with it. In approaching others in conversation, they are like
a musician who joins a performer on an instrument,--it is impossible for
them to strike a discord; their very nature urges them to bring into
play faculties according in vibration with those which another is
exerting. It was as natural as possible for Burr to commence talking
with the Doctor on scenes and incidents in the family of President
Edwards, and his old tutor, Dr. Bellamy,--and thence to glide on to
the points of difference and agreement in theology, with a suavity and
deference which acted on the good man like a June sun on a budding
elm-tree. The Doctor was soon wide awake, talking with fervent animation
on the topic of disinterested benevolence,--Burr the mean while studying
him with the quiet interest of an observer of natural history, who sees
a new species developing before him. At all the best possible points he
interposed suggestive questions, and set up objections in the quietest
manner for the Doctor to knock down, smiling ever the while as a man may
who truly and genuinely does not care a you for truth on any subject not
practically connected with his own schemes in life. He therefore gently
guided the Doctor to sail down the stream of his own thoughts till his
bark glided out into the smooth waters of the Millennium, on which, with
great simplicity, he gave his views at length.
It was just in the midst of this that Mary and her mother entered.
Burr interrupted the conversation to pay them the compliments of the
morning,--to inquire for their health, and hope they suffered no
inconvenience from their night-ride from the party; then, seeing the
Doctor still looking eager to go on, he contrived with gentle dexterity
to tie again the broken thread of conversation.
"Our excellent friend," he said, "was explaining to me his views of
a future Millennium. I assure you, ladies, that we sometimes find
ourselves in company which enables us to believe in the perfectibility
of the human species. We see family retreats, so unaffected, so charming
in their simplicity, where industry and piety so go hand in hand! One
has only to suppose all families such, to imagine a Millennium."
There was no disclaiming this compliment, because so delicately worded,
that, while perfectly clear to the internal sense, it was, in a manner,
veiled and unspoken.
Meanwhile, the Doctor, who sat ready to begin where he left off, turned
to his complaisant listener and resumed an exposition of the Apocalypse.
"To my mind, it is certain," he said, "as it is now three hundred years
since the fifth vial was poured out, there is good reason to suppose
that the sixth vial began to be poured out at the beginning of the last
century, and has been running for a hundred years or more, so that it is
run nearly out; the seventh and last vial will begin to run early in the
"You anticipate, then, no rest for the world for some time to come?"
"Certainly not," said the Doctor, definitively; "there will be no rest
from overturnings till He whose right it is shall come.
"The passage," he added, "concerning the drying up of the river
Euphrates, under the sixth vial, has a distinct reference, I think, to
the account in ancient writers of the taking of Babylon, and prefigures,
in like manner, that the resources of that modern Babylon, the Popish
power, shall continue to be drained off, as they have now been drying up
for a century or more, till, at last, there will come a sudden and final
downfall of that power. And after that will come the first triumphs of
truth and righteousness,--the marriage-supper of the Lamb."
"These investigations must undoubtedly possess a deep interest for you.
Sir," said Burr; "the hope of a future as well as the tradition of
a past age of gold seems to have been one of the most cherished
conceptions of the human breast."
"In those times," continued the Doctor, "the whole earth will be of one
"Which language, Sir, do you suppose will be considered worthy of such
preeminence?" inquired his listener.
"That will probably be decided by an amicable conference of all
nations," said the Doctor; "and the one universally considered most
valuable will be adopted; and the literature of all other nations being
translated into it, they will gradually drop all other tongues. Brother
Stiles thinks it will be the Hebrew. I am not clear on that point. The
Hebrew seems to me too inflexible, and not sufficiently copious. I do
not think," he added, after some consideration, "that it will be the
"I am most happy to hear it, Sir," said Burr, gravely; "I never felt
much attracted to that language. But, ladies," he added, starting up
with animation, "I must improve this fine weather to ask you to show
me the view of the sea from this little hill beyond your house, it is
evidently so fine;--I trust I am not intruding too far on your morning?"
"By no means, Sir," said Mrs. Scudder, rising; "we will go with you in a
And soon Colonel Burr, with one on either arm, was to be seen on the top
of the hill beyond the house,--the very one from which Mary, the week
before, had seen the retreating sail we all wot of. Hence, though
her companion contrived, with the adroitness of a practised man of
gallantry, to direct his words and looks as constantly to her as if
they had been in a _tete-a-tete_, and although nothing could be more
graceful, more delicately flattering, more engaging, still the little
heart kept equal poise; for where a true love has once bolted the door,
a false one serenades in vain under the window.
Some fine, instinctive perceptions of the real character of the man
beside her seemed to have dawned on Mary's mind in the conversation of
the morning;--she had felt the covert and subtile irony that lurked
beneath his polished smile, felt the utter want of faith or sympathy in
what she and her revered friend deemed holiest, and therefore there was
a calm dignity in her manner of receiving his attentions which rather
piqued and stimulated his curiosity. He had been wont to boast that he
could subdue any woman, if he could only see enough of her; in the first
interview in the garden, he had made her color come and go and brought
tears to her eyes in a manner that interested his fancy, and he could
not resist the impulse to experiment again. It was a new sensation
to him, to find himself quietly studied and calmly measured by those
thoughtful blue eyes; he felt, with his fine, instinctive tact, that
the soul within was infolded in some crystalline sphere of protection,
transparent, but adamantine, so that he could not touch it. What was
that secret poise, that calm, immutable centre on which she rested, that
made her, in her rustic simplicity, so unapproachable and so strong?
Burr remembered once finding in his grandfather's study, among a mass of
old letters, one in which that great man, in early youth, described his
future wife, then known to him only by distant report. With his keen
natural sense of everything fine and poetic, he had been struck with
this passage, as so beautifully expressing an ideal womanhood, that he
had in his earlier days copied it in his private _recueil_.
"They say," it ran, "that there is a young lady who is beloved of that
Great Being who made and rules the world, and that there are certain
seasons in which this Great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes
to her and fills her mind with such exceeding sweet delight, that she
hardly cares for anything except to meditate on him; that she expects,
after a while, to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the
world and caught up into heaven, being assured that he loves her too
well to let her remain at a distance from him always. Therefore, if you
present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she
disregards it. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular
purity in her affections; and you could not persuade her to do anything
wrong or sinful, if you should give her all the world. She is of a
wonderful sweetness, calmness, and universal benevolence of mind,
especially after this great God has manifested himself to her mind. She
will sometimes go from place to place singing sweetly, and seems to be
always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to
be alone, walking in fields and groves, and seems to have some invisible
one always conversing with her."
A shadowy recollection of this description crossed his mind more than
once, as he looked into those calm and candid eyes. Was there, then, a
truth in that inner union of chosen souls with God, of which his mother
and her mother before her had borne meek witness,--their souls shining
out as sacred lamps through the alabaster walls of a temple?
But then, again, had he not logically met and demonstrated, to his own
satisfaction, the nullity of the religious dogmas on which New England
faith was based? There could be no such inner life, he said to
himself,--he had demonstrated it as an absurdity. What was it,
then,--this charm, so subtile and so strong, by which this fair child,
his inferior in age, cultivation, and knowledge of the world, held him
in a certain awe, and made him feel her spirit so unapproachable? His
curiosity was piqued. He felt stimulated to employ all his powers of
pleasing. He was determined, that, sooner or later, she should feel his
With Mrs. Scudder his success was immediate, she was completely won over
by the deferential manner with which he constantly referred himself
to her matronly judgments, and, on returning to the house, she warmly
pressed him to stay to dinner.
Burr accepted the invitation with a frank and almost boyish _abandon_,
declaring that he had not seen anything, for years, that so reminded him
of old times. He praised everything at table,--the smoking brown-bread,
the baked beans steaming from the oven, where they had been quietly
simmering during the morning walk, and the Indian pudding, with its
gelatinous softness, matured by long and patient brooding in the
motherly old oven. He declared that there was no style of living to be
compared with the simple, dignified order of a true New England home,
where servants were excluded, and everything came direct from the
polished and cultured hand of a lady. It realized the dreams of Arcadian
romance. A man, he declared, must be unworthy the name, who did not rise
to lofty sentiments and heroic deeds, when even his animal wants were
provided for by the ministrations of the most delicate and exalted
portion of the creation.
After dinner he would be taken into all the family interests. Gentle and
pliable as oil, he seemed to penetrate every joint of the _menage_ by a
subtile and seductive sympathy. He was interested in the spinning, in
the weaving,--and in fact, nobody knows how it was done, but, before the
afternoon shadows had turned, he was sitting in the cracked arm-chair of
Mary's garret-boudoir, gravely giving judgment on several specimens of
her spinning, which Mrs. Scudder had presented to his notice.
With that ease with which he could at will glide into the character
of the superior and elder brother, he had, without seeming to ask
questions, drawn from Mary an account of her reading, her studies, her
"You read French, I presume?" he said to her, with easy negligence.
Mary colored deeply, and then, as one who recollects one's self,
"No, Mr. Burr, I know no language but my own."
"But you should learn French, my child," said Burr, with that gentle
dictatorship which he could at times so gracefully assume.
"I should be delighted to learn," said Mary, "but have no opportunity."
"Yes," said Mrs. Scudder,--"Mary has always had a taste for study, and
would be glad to improve in any way."
"Pardon me, Madam, if I take the liberty of making a suggestion. There
is a most excellent man, the Abbe Lefon, now in Newport, driven here
by the political disturbances in France; he is anxious to obtain a few
scholars, and I am interested that he should succeed, for he is a most
"Is he a Roman Catholic?"
"He is, Madam; but there could be no manner of danger with a person so
admirably instructed as your daughter. If you please to see him, Madam,
I will call with him some time."
"Mrs. Marvyn will, perhaps, join me," said Mary. "She has been studying
French by herself for some time, in order to read a treatise on
astronomy, which she found in that language. I will go over to-morrow
and see her about it."
Before Colonel Burr departed, the Doctor requested him to step a moment
with him into his study. Burr, who had had frequent occasions during his
life to experience the sort of paternal freedom which the clergy of his
country took with him in right of his clerical descent, began to summon
together his faculties of address for the avoidance of a kind of
conversation which he was not disposed to meet. He was agreeably
disappointed, however, when, taking a paper from the table, and
presenting it to him, the Doctor said,--
"I feel myself, my dear Sir, under a burden of obligation for benefits
received from your family, so that I never see a member of it without
casting about in my own mind how I may in some measure express
my good-will towards him. You are aware that the papers of your
distinguished grandfather have fallen into my hands, and from them I
have taken the liberty to make a copy of those maxims by which he guided
a life which was a blessing to his country and to the world. May I
ask the favor that you will read them with attention? and if you find
anything contrary to right reason or sober sense, I shall be happy to
hear of it on a future occasion."
"Thank you, Doctor," said Burr, bowing. "I shall always be sensible of
the kindness of the motive which has led you to take this trouble on my
account. Believe me, Sir, I am truly obliged to you for it."
And thus the interview terminated.
That night, the Doctor, before retiring, offered fervent prayers for the
grandson of his revered master and friend, praying that his father's and
mother's God might bless him and make him a living stone in the Eternal
Meanwhile, the object of these prayers was sitting by a table in
dressing-gown and slippers, thinking over the events of the day. The
paper which Dr. H. had handed him contained the celebrated "Resolutions"
by which his ancestor led a life nobler than any mere dogmas
can possibly be. By its side lay a perfumed note from Madame de
Frontignac,--one of those womanly notes, so beautiful, so sacred in
themselves, but so mournful to a right-minded person who sees whither
they are tending. Burr opened and perused it,--laid it by,--opened the
document that the Doctor had given, and thoughtfully read the first of
"Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God's glory,
and my own good profit and pleasure _in the whole of my duration_,
without any consideration of time, whether now or never so many myriad
"Resolved, To do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good
and advantage of mankind in general.
"Resolved, To do this, whatsoever difficulties I meet with, and how many
and how great soever."
Burr read the whole paper through attentively once or twice, and paused
thoughtfully over many parts of it. He sat for some time after, lost in
reflection; the paper dropped from his hand, and then followed one of
those long, deep seasons of fixed reverie, when the soul thinks by
pictures and goes over endless distances in moments. In him, originally,
every moral fatuity and sensibility was as keenly strung as in any
member of that remarkable family from which he was descended, and which
has, whether in good or ill, borne no common stamp. Two possible lives
flashed before his mind at that moment, rapidly as when a train sweeps
by with flashing lamps in the night. The life of worldly expediency, the
life of eternal rectitude,--the life of seventy years, and that life
eternal in which the event of death is no disturbance. Suddenly he
roused himself, picked up the paper, filed and dated it carefully, and
laid it by; and in that moment was renewed again that governing purpose
which sealed him, with all his beautiful capabilities, as the slave of
the fleeting and the temporary, which sent him at last, a shipwrecked
man, to a nameless, dishonored grave.
He took his pen and gave to a friend his own views of the events of the
"Mr. DEAR,----We are still in Newport, conjugating the verb
_s'ennuyer_, which I, for one, have put through all the moods and
tenses. _Pour passer le temps_, however, I have _la belle Francaise_ and
my sweet little Puritan. I visited there this morning. She lives with
her mother, a little walk out toward the seaside, in a cottage quite
prettily sequestered among blossoming apple-trees, and the great
hierarch of modern theology, Dr. H., keeps guard over them. No chance
here for any indiscretions, you see.
"By-the-by, the good Doctor astonished our _monde_ here on Sunday last,
by treating us to a solemn onslaught on slavery and the slave-trade. He
had all the chief captains and counsellors to hear him, and smote them
hip and thigh, and pursued them even unto Shur.
"He is one of those great, honest fellows, without the smallest notion
of the world we live in, who think, in dealing with men, that you must
go to work and prove the right or the wrong of a matter; just as if
anybody cared for that! Supposing he is right,--which appears very
probable to me,--what is he going to do about it? No moral argument,
since the world began, ever prevailed over twenty-five per cent, profit.
"However, he is the spiritual director of _la belle Puritaine_, and was
a resident in my grandfather's family, so I did the agreeable with
him as well as such an uncircumcised Ishmaelite could. I discoursed
theology,--sat with the most docile air possible while he explained to
me all the ins and outs in his system of the universe, past, present,
and future,--heard him dilate calmly on the Millennium, and expound
prophetic symbols, marching out before me his whole apocalyptic
menagerie of beasts and dragons with heads and horns innumerable, to all
which I gave edifying attention, taking occasion now and then to turn a
compliment in favor of the ladies,--never lost, you know.
"Really, he is a worthy old soul, and actually believes all these things
with his whole heart, attaching unheard-of importance to the most
abstract ideas, and embarking his whole being in his ideal view of
a grand Millennial _finale_ to the human race. I look at him and at
myself, and ask, Can human beings be made so unlike?
"My little Mary to-day was in a mood of 'sweet austere composure' quite
becoming to her style of beauty; her _naive nonchalance_ at times
is rather stimulating. What a contrast between her and _la belle
Francaise!_--all the difference that there is between a diamond and
a flower. I find the little thing has a cultivated mind, enriched by
reading, and more by a still, quaint habit of thinking, which is new and
charming. But a truce to this.
"I have seen our friends at last. We have had three or four meetings,
and are waiting to hear from Philadelphia,--matters are getting in
train. If Messrs. T. and S. dare to repeat what they said again, let me
know; they will find in me a man not to be trifled with. I shall be with
you in a week or ten days, at farthest. Meanwhile stand to your guns.
The next morning, before the early dews had yet dried off the grass,
Mary started to go and see her friend Mrs. Marvyn. It was one of those
charming, invigorating days, familiar to those of Newport experience,
when the sea lies shimmering and glittering in deep blue and gold,
and the sky above is firm and cloudless, and every breeze that conies
landward seems to bear health and energy upon its wings.
As Mary approached the house, she heard loud sounds of discussion from
the open kitchen-door, and, looking in, saw a rather original scene
Candace, armed with a long oven-shovel, stood before the open door of
the oven, whence she had just been removing an army of good things which
appeared ranged around on the dresser. Cato, in the undress of a red
flannel shirt and tow-cloth trousers, was cuddled, in a consoled and
protected attitude, in the corner of the wooden settle, with a mug of
flip in his hand, which Candace had prepared, and, calling him in from
his work, authoritatively ordered him to drink, on the showing that he
had kept her awake the night before with his cough, and she was sure he
was going to be sick. Of course, worse things may happen to a man than
to be vigorously taken care of by his wife, and Cato had a salutary
conviction of this fact, so that he resigned himself to his comfortable
corner and his flip with edifying serenity.
Opposite to Candace stood a well-built, corpulent negro man, dressed
with considerable care, and with the air of a person on excellent
terms with himself. This was no other than Digo, the house-servant and
factotum of Dr. Stiles, who considered himself as the guardian of his
master's estate, his title, his honor, his literary character, his
professional position, and his religious creed.
Digo was ready to assert before all the world, that one and all of these
were under his special protection, and that whoever had anything to say
to the contrary of any of these must expect to take issue with him. Digo
not only swallowed all his master's opinions whole, but seemed to have
the stomach of an ostrich in their digestion. He believed everything,
no matter what, the moment he understood that the Doctor held it. He
believed that Hebrew was the language of heaven,--that the ten tribes of
the Jews had reappeared in the North American Indians,--that there was
no such thing as disinterested benevolence, and that the doings of the
unregenerate had some value,--that slavery was a divine ordinance, and
that Dr. H. was a radical, who did more harm than good,--and, finally,
that there never was so great a man as Dr. Stiles; and as Dr. Stiles
belonged to him in the capacity of master, why, he, Digo, owned the
greatest man in America. Of course, as Candace held precisely similar
opinions in regard to Dr. H., the two never could meet without a
discharge of the opposite electricities. Digo had, it is true, come
ostensibly on a mere worldly errand from his mistress to Mrs. Marvyn,
who had promised to send her some turkeys' eggs, but he had inly
resolved with himself that he would give Candace his opinion,--that is,
what Dr. Stiles had said at dinner the day before about Doctor H.'s
Sunday's discourse. Dr. Stiles had not heard it, but Digo had. He had
felt it due to the responsibilities of his position to be present on so
very important an occasion.
Therefore, after receiving his eggs, he opened hostilities by remarking,
in a general way, that he had attended the Doctor's preaching on Sunday,
and that there was quite a crowded house. Candace immediately began
mentally to bristle her feathers like a hen who sees a hawk in the
distance, and responded with decision:--
"Den you _heard_ sometin', for once in your life!"
"I must say," said Digo, with suavity, "dat I can't give my 'proval to
"More shame for you," said Candace, grimly. "_You_ a man, and not stan'
by your color, and flunk under to mean white ways! Ef you was _half_ a
man, your heart would 'a' bounded like a cannon-ball at dat ar' sermon."
"Dr. Stiles and me we talked it over after church," said Digo,--"and de
Doctor was of my 'pinion, dat Providence didn't intend"----
"Oh, you go long wid your Providence! Guess, ef white folks had let us
alone, Providence wouldn't trouble us."
"Well," said Digo, "Dr. Stiles is clear dat dis yer's a-fulfillin' de
prophecies and bringin' in de fulness of de Gentiles."
"Fulness of de fiddlesticks!" said Candace, irreverently. "Now what a
way dat ar' is of talkin'! Go look at one o' dem ships we come
over in,--sweatin' and groanin',--in de dark and dirt,--cryin' and
dyin',--howlin' for breath till de sweat run off us,--livin' and dead
chained together,--prayin' like de rich man in hell for a drop o' water
to cool our tongues! Call dat ar' a-bringin' de fulness of de Gentiles,
do ye? Ugh!"
And Candace ended with a guttural howl, and stood frowning and gloomy
over the top of her long kitchen-shovel, like a black Bellona leaning on
her spear of battle.
Digo recoiled a little, but stood too well in his own esteem to give up;
so he shifted his attack.
"Well, for my part, I must say I never was 'clined to your Doctor's
'pinions. Why, now, Dr. Stiles says, notin' couldn't be more absurd dan
what he says 'bout disinterested benevolence. _My_ Doctor says, dere
a'n't no such ting!"
"I should tink it's likely!" said Candace, drawing herself up with
superb disdain. "_Our_ Doctor knows dere _is_,--and why? 'cause he's got
it IN HERE," said she, giving her ample chest a knock which resounded
like the boom from a barrel.
"Candace," said Cato, gently, "you's gittin' too hot."
"Cato, you shut up!" said Candace, turning sharp round. "What did I make
you dat ar' flip for, 'cept you was so hoarse you oughtn' for to say a
word? Pootty business, you go to agitatin' _your_self wid dese yer! Ef
you wear out your poor old throat talkin', you may get de 'sumption; and
den what'd become o' me?"
Cato, thus lovingly pitched _hors-de-combat_, sipped the sweetened cup
in quietness of soul, while Candace returned to the charge.
"Now, I tell ye what," she said to Digo,--"jest 'cause you wear your
master's old coats and hats, you tink you must go in for all dese yer
old, mean, white 'pinions. A'n't ye 'shamed--you, a black man--to have
no more pluck and make cause wid de Egyptians? Now, 'ta'n't what my
Doctor gives me,--he never giv' me the snip of a finger-nail,--but it's
what he does for _mine;_ and when de poor critturs lands dar, tumbled
out like bales on de wharves, ha'n't dey seen his great cocked hat, like
a lighthouse, and his big eyes lookin' sort o' pitiful at 'em, as ef
he felt o' one blood wid 'em? Why, de very looks of de man is worth
everyting; and who ever thought o' doin' anyting for deir souls, or
cared ef dey had souls, till he begun it?"
"Well, at any rate," said Digo, brightening up, "I don't believe his
doctrine about de doings of de unregenerate,--it's quite clear he's
"Who cares?" said Candace,--"generate or unregenerate, it's all one
to me. I believe a man dat _acts_ as he does. Him as stands up for de
poor,--him as pleads for de weak,--he's my man. I'll believe straight
through anyting he's a mind to put at me."
At this juncture, Mary's fair face appearing at the door put a stop to
"Bress _you_, Miss Mary! comin' here like a fresh June rose! it makes
a body's eyes dance in deir head! Come right in! I got Cato up from de
lot, 'cause he's rader poorly dis mornin'; his cough makes me a sight o'
concern; he's allers a-pullin' off' his jacket de wrong time, or doin'
sometin' I tell him not to,--and it just keeps him hack, hack, hackin',
all de time."
During this speech, Cato stood meekly bowing, feeling that he was
being apologized for in the best possible manner; for long years of
instruction had fixed the idea in his mind, that he was an ignorant
sinner, who had not the smallest notion how to conduct himself in this
world, and that, if it were not for his wife's distinguishing grace, he
would long since have been in the shades of oblivion.
"Missis is spinnin' up in de north chamber," said Candace; "but I'll run
up and fetch her down."
Candace, who was about the size of a puncheon, was fond of this familiar
manner of representing her mode of ascending the stairs; but Mary,
suppressing a smile, said, "Oh, no, Candace! don't for the world disturb
her. I know just where she is." And before Candace could stop her,
Mary's light foot was on the top step of the staircase that led up from
The north room was a large chamber, overlooking a splendid reach of
sea-prospect. A moving panorama of blue water and gliding sails was
unrolled before its three windows, so that stepping into the room gave
one an instant and breezy sense of expansion. Mrs. Marvyn was standing
at the large wheel, spinning wool,--a reel and basket of spools on her
side. Her large brown eyes had an eager joy in them when Mary entered;
but they seemed to calm down again, and she received her only with that
placid, sincere air which was her habit. Everything about this woman
showed an ardent soul, repressed by timidity and by a certain dumbness
in the faculties of outward expression; but her eyes had, at times,
that earnest, appealing language which is so pathetic in the silence of
inferior animals.--One sometimes sees such eyes, and wonders whether
the story they intimate will ever be spoken in mortal language.
Mary began eagerly detailing to her all that had interested her since
they last met:--the party,--her acquaintance with Burr,--his visit to
the cottage,--his inquiries into her education and reading,--and,
finally, the proposal, that they should study French together.
"My dear," said Mrs. Marvyn, "let us begin at once;--such an opportunity
is not to be lost. I studied a little with James, when he was last at
"With James?" said Mary, with an air of timid surprise.
"Yes,--the dear boy has become, what I never expected, quite a student.
He employs all his spare time now in reading and studying;--the second
mate is a Frenchman, and James has got so that he can both speak and
read. He is studying Spanish, too."
Ever since the last conversation with her mother on the subject of
James, Mary had felt a sort of guilty constraint when any one spoke
of him;--instead of answering frankly, as she once did, when anything
brought his name up, she fell at once into a grave, embarrassed silence.
Mrs. Marvyn was so constantly thinking of him, that it was difficult to
begin on any topic that did not in some manner or other knit itself into
the one ever present in her thoughts. None of the peculiar developments
of the female nature have a more exquisite vitality than the sentiment
of a frail, delicate, repressed, timid woman for a strong, manly,
generous son. There is her ideal expressed; there is the out-speaking
and out-acting of all she trembles to think, yet burns to say or do;
here is the hero that shall speak for her, the heart into which she has
poured hers, and that shall give to her tremulous and hidden aspirations
a strong and victorious expression. "I have gotten a _man_ from the
Lord," she says to herself; and each outburst of his manliness, his
vigor, his self-confidence, his superb vitality, fills her with a
strange, wondering pleasure, and she has a secret tenderness and pride
even in his wilfulness and waywardness. "What a creature he is!" she
says, when he flouts at sober argument and pitches all received opinions
hither and thither in the wild capriciousness of youthful paradox. She
looks grave and reproving; but he reads the concealed triumph in her
eyes,--he knows that in her heart she is full of admiration all
the time. First love of womanhood is something wonderful and
mysterious,--but in this second love it rises again, idealized and
refined; she loves the father and herself united and made one in this
young heir of life and hope.
Such was Mrs. Marvyn's still intense, passionate love for her son. Not
a tone of his manly voice, not a flash of his dark eyes, not one of the
deep, shadowy dimples that came and went as he laughed, not a ring of
his glossy black hair, that was not studied, got by heart, and dwelt on
in the inner shrine of her thoughts; he was the romance of her life. His
strong, daring nature carried her with it beyond those narrow, daily
bounds where her soul was weary of treading; and just as his voyages had
given to the trite prose of her _menage_ a poetry of strange, foreign
perfumes, of quaint objects of interest, speaking of many a far-off
shore, so his mind and life were a constant channel of outreach through
which her soul held converse with the active and stirring world. Mrs.
Marvyn had known all the story of her son's love, and to no other woman
would she have been willing to resign him; but her love to Mary was so
deep, that she thought of his union with her more as gaining a daughter
than as losing a son. She would not speak of the subject; she knew the
feelings of Mary's mother; and the name of James fell so often from her
lips, simply because it was so ever-present in her heart that it could
not be helped.
Before Mary left, it was arranged that they should study together, and
that the lessons should be given alternately at each other's houses; and
with this understanding they parted.
[To be continued.]
* * * * *
THE PROFESSOR AT THE BREAKFAST-TABLE.
WHAT HE SAID, WHAT HE HEARD, AND WHAT HE SAW.
Our landlady's daughter is a young lady of some pretensions to
gentility. She wears her bonnet well back on her head, which is known by
all to be a mark of high breeding. She wears her trains very long, as
the great ladies do in Europe. To be sure, their dresses are so made
only to sweep the tapestried doors of chateaux and palaces; as those
odious aristocrats of the other side do not go draggling through the mud
in silks and satins, but, forsooth, must ride in coaches when they are
in full dress. It is true, that, considering various habits of the
American people, also the little accidents which the best-kept sidewalks
are liable to, a lady who has swept a mile of them is not exactly in
such a condition that one would care to be her neighbor. But then there
is no need of being so hard on these slight weaknesses of the poor, dear
women as our little deformed gentleman was the other day.
--There are no such women as the Boston women, Sir,--he said. Forty-two
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