Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 5, No. 27, January, 1860

Part 3 out of 5

attendants may be seen, preceded by their cross and banner, bearing the
holy wafer to the various houses. As they march along, they make the
streets resound with the psalm they sing. Everybody lifts his hat as
they pass, and many among the lower classes kneel upon the pavement.
Frequently the procession is followed by a rout of men, women, and
children, who join in the chanting and responses, pausing with the
priest before the door of the sick person, and accompanying it as it
moves from house to house.

At Christmas, all the Roman world which has a _baiocco_ in its pocket
eats _torone_ and _pan giallo._ The shops of the pastry-cooks and
confectioners are filled with them, mountains of them incumber the
counters, and for days before Christmas crowds of purchasers throng to
buy them. _Torone_ is a sort of hard candy, made of honey and almonds,
and crusted over with crystallized sugar; or in other words, it is a
_nuga_ with a sweet frieze coat;--but _nuga_ is a trifle to it for
consistency. _Pan giallo_ is perhaps so called _quasi lucus,_ it being
neither bread nor yellow. I know no way of giving a clearer notion of
it than by saying that its father is almond-candy and its mother a
plum-pudding. It partakes of the qualities of both its parents. From its
mother it inherits plums and citron, while its father bestows upon it
almonds and consistency. In hardness of character it is half-way between
the two,--having neither the maternal tenderness on the one hand, nor
the paternal stoniness on the other. One does not break one's teeth on
it as over the _torone,_ which is only to be cajoled into masticability
by prolonged suction, and often not then; but the teeth sink into it as
the wagoner's wheels into clayey mire, and every now and then receive a
shock, as from sunken rocks, from the raisin-stones, indurated almonds,
pistachio-nuts, and pine-seeds, which startle the ignorant and innocent
eater with frightful doubts. I carried away one tooth this year over my
first piece; but it was a tooth which had been considerably indebted to
California, and I have forgiven the _pan giallo._ My friend the Conte
Cignale, who partook at the same time of _torone,_ having incautiously
put a large lump into his mouth, found himself compromised thereby to
such an extent as to be at once reduced to silence and retirement behind
his pocket-handkerchief. An unfortunate jest, however, reduced him to
extremities, and, after a vehement struggle for politeness, he was
forced to open the window and give his _torone_ to the pavement--and
the little boys, perhaps. _Chi sa?_ But, despite these dangers and
difficulties, all the world at Rome eats _pan giallo_ and _torone_ at
Christmas,--and a Christmas without them would be an egg without salt.
They are at once a penance and a pleasure. Not content with the _pan
giallo,_ the Romans also import the _pan forte di Siena,_ which is a
blood cousin of the former, and suffers almost nothing from time and

On Christmas and New Year's day all the servants of your friends present
themselves at your door to wish you a _"buona festa,"_ or a _"buon capo
d'anno."_ This generous expression of good feeling is, however, expected
to be responded to by a more substantial expression on your part, in the
shape of four or five pauls, so that one peculiarly feels the value of a
large visiting-list of acquaintances at this season. To such an extent
is this practice carried, that in the houses of the cardinals and
princes places are sought by servants merely for the vails of the
_festas,_ no other wages being demanded. Especially is this the case
with the higher dignitaries of the Church, whose _maestro di casa_, in
hiring domestics, takes pains to point out to them the advantages of
their situation in this respect. Lest the servants should not be aware
of all these advantages, the times when such requisitions may be
gracefully made and the sums which may be levied are carefully
indicated,--not by the cardinal in person, of course, but by his
underlings; and many of the fellows who carry the umbrella and cling
to the back of the cardinal's coach, covered with shabby gold-lace and
carpet-collars, and looking like great beetles, are really paid by
everybody rather than the _padrone_ they serve. But this is not confined
to the _Eminenze,_ many of whom are, I dare say, wholly ignorant that
such practices exist. The servants of the embassies and all the
noble houses also make the circuit of the principal names on the
visiting-list, at stated occasions, with good wishes for the family. If
one rebel, little care will be taken that letters, cards, and messages
arrive promptly at their destination in the palaces of their _padroni;_
so it is a universal habit to thank them for their politeness, and to
request them to do you the favor to accept a piece of silver in order
to purchase a bottle of wine and drink your health. I never knew one of
them refuse; probably they would not consider it polite to do so. It is
curious to observe the care with which at the embassies a new name is
registered by the servants, who scream it from anteroom to _salon,_ and
how considerately a deputation waits on you at Christmas and New
Year's, or, indeed, whenever you are about to leave Rome to take your
_villeggiatura,_ for the purpose of conveying to you the good wishes of
the season or of invoking for you a _"buon viaggio."_ One young Roman,
a teacher of languages, told me that it cost him annually some twenty
_scudi_ or more, to convey to the servants of his pupils and others his
deep sense of the honor they did him in inquiring for his health at
stated times. But this is a rare case, and owing, probably, to his
peculiar position. A physician in Rome, whom I had occasion to call in
for a slight illness, took an opportunity on his first visit to put a
very considerable _buona mano_ into the hands of my servant, in order to
secure future calls. I cannot, however, say that this is customary; on
the contrary, it is the only case I know, though I have had other Roman
physicians; and this man was in his habits and practice peculiarly
un-Roman. I do not believe it, therefore, to be a Roman trait. On the
other hand, I must say, for my servant's credit, that he told me the
fact with a shrug, and added, that he could not, after all, recommend
the gentleman as a _medico,_ though I was _padrone,_ of course, to do as
I liked.

On Christmas Eve, a _Presepio_ is exhibited in several of the churches.
The most splendid is that of the Ara Celi, where the miraculous Bambino
is kept. It lasts from Christmas to Twelfth Night, during which period
crowds of people flock to see it; and it well repays a visit. The simple
meaning of the term _Presepio_ is a manger, but it is also used in the
Church to signify a representation of the birth of Christ. In the Ara
Celi the whole of one of the side-chapels is devoted to this exhibition.
In the foreground is a grotto, in which is seated the Virgin Mary, with
Joseph at her side and the miraculous Bambino in her lap. Immediately
behind are an ass and an ox. On one side kneel the shepherds and kings
in adoration; and above, God the Father is seen surrounded by clouds of
cherubs and angels playing on instruments, as in the early pictures of
Raphael. In the background is a scenic representation of a pastoral
landscape, on which all the skill of the scene-painter is expended.
Shepherds guard their flocks far away, reposing under palm-trees or
standing on green slopes which glow in the sunshine. The distances and
perspective are admirable. In the middle ground is a crystal fountain of
glass, near which sheep, preternaturally white, and made of real wool
and cotton-wool, are feeding, tended by figures of shepherds carved in
wood. Still nearer come women bearing great baskets of real oranges and
other fruits on their heads. All the nearer figures are full-sized,
carved in wood, painted, and dressed in appropriate robes. The
miraculous Bambino is a painted doll swaddled in a white dress, which is
crusted over with magnificent diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. The Virgin
also wears in her ears superb diamond pendants. Joseph has none; but he
is not a person peculiarly respected in the Church. As far as the Virgin
and Child are concerned, they are so richly dressed that the presents of
the kings and wise men seem rather supererogatory,--like carrying coals
to Newcastle,--unless, indeed, Joseph come in for a share, as it is to
be hoped he does. The general effect of this scenic show is admirable,
and crowds flock to it and press about it all day long. Mothers and
fathers are lifting their little children as high as they can, and until
their arms are ready to break; little maids are pushing, whispering,
and staring in great delight; _contadini_ are gaping at it with a mute
wonderment of admiration and devotion; and Englishmen are discussing
loudly the value of the jewels, and wanting to know, by Jove, whether
those in the crown can be real.

While this is taking place on one side of the church, on the other is a
very different and quite as singular an exhibition. Around one of the
antique columns of this basilica--which once beheld the splendors and
crimes of the Caesars' palace--a staging is erected, from which little
maidens are reciting, with every kind of pretty gesticulation, sermons,
dialogues, and speechifications, in explanation of the _Presepio_
opposite. Sometimes two of them are engaged in alternate question and
answer about the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Redemption.
Sometimes the recitation is a piteous description of the agony of the
Saviour and the sufferings of the Madonna,--the greatest stress being,
however, always laid upon the latter. All these little speeches have
been written for them by their priest or some religious friend, been
committed to memory, and practised with the appropriate gestures over
and over again at home. Their little piping voices are sometimes guilty
of such comic breaks and changes, that the crowd about them rustles into
a murmurous laughter. Sometimes also one of the very little preachers
has a _dispitto_, pouts, shakes her shoulders, and refuses to go on with
her part;--another, however, always stands ready on the platform to
supply the vacancy, until friends have coaxed, reasoned, or threatened
the little pouter into obedience. These children are often very
beautiful and graceful, and their comical little gestures and
intonations, their clasping of hands and rolling up of eyes, have a very
amusing and interesting effect. The last time I was there, I was sorry
to see that the French costume had begun to make its appearance. Instead
of the handsome Roman head, with its dark, shining, braided hair, which
is so elegant when uncovered, I saw on two of the children the deforming
bonnet, which could have been invented only to conceal a defect, and
which is never endurable, unless it be perfectly fresh, delicate, and
costly. Nothing is so vulgar as a shabby bonnet. Yet the Romans, despite
their dislike of the French, are beginning to wear it. Ten years ago it
did not exist here among the common people. I know not why it is that
the three ugliest pieces of costume ever invented, the dress-coat, the
trousers, and the bonnet, all of which we owe to the French, have been
accepted all over Europe, to the exclusion of every national costume.
Certainly it is not because they are either useful, elegant, or

[Footnote B: That cultivated gentleman, John Evelyn, two centuries ago
wrote some amusing words on this subject. After quoting the witty saying
of Malvezzi,--"I vestimenti negli animali sono molto securi segni della
loro natura, negli nomini del lor cervello,"--he goes on to say, "Be it
excusable in the French to alter and impose the mode on others, 'tis
no less a weakness and a shame in the rest of the world, who have no
dependence on them, to admit them, at least to that degree of levity as
to turn into all their shapes without discrimination; so as when the
freak takes our Monsieurs to appear like so many farces or Jack Puddings
on the stage, all the world should alter shape and play the pantomimes
with them. Methinks a French tailor, with an ell in his hand, looks like
the enchantress Circe over the companions of Ulysses, and changes them
into as many forms.... Something I would indulge to youth; something to
age and humor. But what have we to do with these foreign butterflies? In
God's name, let the change be our own, not borrowed of others; for why
should I dance after a Monsieur's flageolet, that have a set of English
viols for my concert? We need no French inventions for the stage or for
the back."--From a pamphlet entitled _Tyrannus, or the Mode_.

"Si le costume bourgeois," says George Sand, in _Le Peche de M.
Antoine_, "de notre epoque est le plus triste, le plus incommode et
le plus disgracieux, que la mode ait jamais invente, c'est surtout au
milieu des champs que tous ses inconvenients et toutes ses laideurs
revoltent.... Au milieu de ce cadre austere et grandiose, qui transporte
l'imagination au temps de la poesie primitive, apparaisse cette mouche
parasite, le _monsieur_ aux habits noirs, au menton rase, aux mains
gantees, aux jambes maladroites, et ce roi de la societe n'est plus
qu'un accident ridicule, une tache importune dans le tableau. Votre
costume genant et disparate inspire alors la pitie plus que les haillons
du pauvre, on sent que vous etes deplace au grand air, et que votre
livree vous ecrase."]

If one visit the Ara Celi during the afternoon of one of these _festas_,
the scene is very striking. The flight of one hundred and twenty-four
steps, which once led to the temple of Venus and Rome, is then thronged
by merchants of Madonna wares, who spread them out over the steps and
hang them against the walls and balustrades. Here are to be seen all
sorts of curious little colored prints of the Madonna and Child of the
most ordinary quality, little bags, pewter medals, and crosses stamped
with the same figures and to be worn on the neck,--all offered at once
for the sum of one _baiocco_. Here also are framed pictures of the
Saints, of the Nativity, and, in a word, of all sorts of religious
subjects appertaining to the season. Little wax dolls, clad in
cotton-wool to represent the Saviour, and sheep made of the same
materials, are also sold by the basketful. Children and _contadine_ are
busy buying them, and there is a deafening roar all up and down the
steps of "_Mezzo baiocco, bello colorito, mezzo baiocco, la
Santissima Concezione Incoronata,"--"Diario Romano, Lunario Romano
Nuovo,"--"Ritratto colorito, medaglia e quadruccio, un baiocco tutti,
un baiocco tutti,"--"Bambinelli di cera, un baiocco_."[C] None of
the prices are higher than one _baiocco_, except to strangers,--and
generally several articles are held up together, enumerated, and
proffered with a loud voice for this sum. Meanwhile men, women,
children, priests, beggars, soldiers, and _villani_ are crowding up and
down, and we crowd with them.

[Footnote C: "A half-_baiocco_, beautifully colored,--a half-_baiocco_,
the Holy Conception Crowned." "Roman Diary,--New Roman Almanac."
"Colored portrait, medal, and little picture, one _baiocco_, all."
"Little children in wax, one _baiocco_."]

At last, ascending, we reach the door which faces towards the west.
We lift the great leathern curtain and push into the church. A faint
perfume of incense salutes the nostrils. The golden sunset bursts in as
the curtain sways forward, illuminates the mosaic floor, catches on the
rich golden ceiling, and flashes here and there over the crowd on some
brilliant costume or shaven head. All sorts of people are thronging
there,--some kneeling before the shrine of the Madonna, which gleams
with its hundreds of silver votive hearts, legs, and arms,--some
listening to the preaching,--some crowding round the chapel of the
_Presepio_,--old women, haggard and wrinkled, come tottering along with
their _scaldini_ of coals, drop down on their knees to pray, and, as you
pass, interpolate in their prayers a parenthesis of begging. The church
is not architecturally handsome; but it is eminently picturesque, with
its relics of centuries, its mosaic pulpits and floor, its frescoes of
Pinturicchio and Pesaro, its antique columns, its rich golden ceiling,
its Gothic mausoleum to the Savelli, and its medieval tombs. A dim,
dingy look is over all,--but it is the dimness of faded splendor; and
one cannot stand there, knowing the history of the church, its exceeding
antiquity, and the changes it has undergone since it was a Roman temple,
without a peculiar sense of interest and pleasure.

It was here that Romulus, in the gray dawning of Rome, built the temple
of Jupiter Feretrius. Here the _spolia opima_ were deposited. Here the
triumphal processions of the Emperors and generals ended. Here the
victors paused before making their vows, until the message came from
the Mamertine Prisons below to announce that their noblest prisoner and
victim, while the clang of their triumph and his defeat rose ringing in
his ears as the procession ascended the steps, had expiated with death
the crime of being the enemy of Rome. Over these very steps,--nineteen
centuries ago, the first great Caesar climbed on his knees after his
first triumph. At their base, Rienzi, "last of the Roman tribunes,"
fell. And, if the tradition of the Church is to be trusted, it was on
the site of the present high altar that Augustus erected the "_Ara
primogenito Dei_" to commemorate the Delphic prophecy of the coming of
our Saviour. Standing on a spot so thronged with memories, the dullest
imagination takes fire. The forms and scenes of the past rise from their
graves and pass before us, and the actual and visionary are mingled
together in strange poetic confusion. Truly, as Walpole says, "memory
sees more than our eyes in this country."

And this is one great charm of Rome,--that it animates the dead figures
of its history. On the spot where they lived and acted, the Caesars
change from the manikins of books to living men; and Virgil, Horace, and
Cicero grow to be realities, as we walk down the Sacred Way and over
the very pavement they may once have trod. The conversations "De Claris
Oratoribus" and the "Tusculan Questions" seem like the talk of the last
generation, as we wander on the heights of Tusculum, or over the grounds
of that charming villa on the banks of the Liris, which the great Roman
orator so graphically describes in his treatise "De Legibus." The
landscape of Horace has not changed. Still in the winter you may see
the dazzling peak of the "_gelidus Algidus_" and "_ut alta stet
nive candidum Soracte_"; and wandering at Tivoli in the summer, his

"Domus Albuneae resonantis,
Et praeceps Anio, et Tiburni lucus, et uda
Mobililius pomaria rivis,"

is as true and fresh as if his words were of yesterday. Could one better
his compliment to any Roman Lalage of to-day than to call her "_dulce
ridentem_"? In all its losses, Rome has not lost the sweet smile of its
people. Would you like to know the modern rules for agriculture in Rome,
read the "Georgics"; there is so little to alter, that it is not worth
mentioning. So, too, at Rome, the Emperors become as familiar as the
Popes. Who does not know the curly-headed Marcus Aurelius, with his
lifted brow and projecting eyes, from the full, round beauty of his
youth to the more haggard look of his latest years? Are there any modern
portraits more familiar than the pensive, wedge-like head of Augustus,
with his sharp-cut lips and nose,--or the dull phiz of Hadrian, with his
hair combed down over his low forehead,--or the vain, perking face of
Lucius Verus, with his thin nose, low brow, and profusion of curls,--or
the brutal bull head of Caracalla,--or the bestial, bloated features of

These men, who were but lay-figures to us at school, mere pegs of names
to hang historic robes upon, thus interpreted by the living history of
their portraits, the incidental illustrations of the places where they
lived and moved and died, and the buildings and monuments they erected,
become like the men of yesterday. Art has made them our contemporaries.
They are as near to us as Pius VII. and Napoleon. I never drive out
of the old Nomentan Gate without remembering the ghastly flight of
Nero,--his recognition there by an old centurion,--his damp, drear
hiding-place underground, where, shuddering and quoting Greek, he waited
for his executioners,--and his subsequent terrible and cowardly death,
as narrated by Tacitus and Suetonius; and it seems nearer to me, more
vivid, and more actual, than the death of Rossi in the court of the
Cancelleria. I never drive by the Caesars' palaces, without recalling
the ghastly jest of Tiberius, when he sent for some fifteen of the
Senators at dead of night and commanded their presence; and when they,
trembling with fear, and expecting nothing less than that their heads
were all to fall, had been kept waiting for an hour, the door opened,
and he, nearly naked, appeared with a fiddle in his hand, and, after
fiddling and dancing to his quaking audience for an hour, dismissed them
to their homes uninjured. The air seems to keep a sort of spiritual
scent or trail of these old deeds, and to make them more real here than
elsewhere. The old horrors of the Amphitheatre can be made real to any
person of imaginative mind in the Colosseum. He has but to lend himself
to the contagion of the place, and he will see the circle of ten
thousand eager eyes thirsting for his blood, fill up the ruined benches
and arched tiers as of yore, and hear the savage murmur of human voices,
worse than the dull roar of the beasts below. The past still lives in
these old walls. It is in vain to say that the ghosts of history do not
haunt their ancient habitations. Places, as well as persons, have lives
and influences; and the horror of murder will not away from a spot.
Haunted by its crimes, oppressed and debilitated by the fierce excesses
of its Empire, Rome, silent, grave, and meditative, sighs over its past,
wrapped in the penitent robes of the Church.

Besides, here one feels that the modern Romans are only the children of
their ancient fathers, with the same characteristics,--softened, indeed,
and worn down by time, just as the sharp traits of the old marbles have
worn away; but still the same people,--proud, passionate, lazy, jealous,
vindictive, easy, patient, and able. The Popes are but Church
pictures of the Emperors,--a different robe, but the same nature
beneath;--Alexander the VI. was but a second Tiberius--Pius the VII.,
a modern Augustus. When I speak of the Roman people, I do not mean the
class of hangers-on upon the foreigners, but the Trasteverini and the
inhabitants of the provinces and mountains. No one can go through the
Trastevere when the people are roused, without feeling that they are the
same as those who listened to Marcus Antonius and Brutus, when the bier
of Caesar was brought into the streets,--and as those who fought with
the Colonna and stabbed Rienzi at the foot of the Capitol steps. The
Ciceruacchio of '48 was but an ancient Tribune of the People, in the
primitive sense of that title. I like, too, to parallel the anecdote of
Caius Marius, when, after his ruin, he concealed himself in the marshes,
and astonished his captors, who expected to find him weak of heart, by
the magnificent self-assertion of "I am Caius Marius," with the story
which is told of Stefano Colonna. After this great captain met with his
sad reverses, and, deprived of all his possessions, fled from Rome, an
attendant asked him,--"What fortress have you now?" He placed his hand
on his heart and answered,--"_Eccola!_" The same blood evidently ran in
the veins of both these men; and well might Petrarca call Colonna "a
phoenix risen from the ashes of the ancient Romans."

But, somehow or other, I have wandered strangely from my subject.
_Scusi_,--but what has all this to do with the Bambino?

The Santissimo Bambino is a very round-faced and expressionless doll,
carved, as the legend goes, from a tree on the Mount of Olives, by a
Franciscan pilgrim, and painted by Saint Luke while the pilgrim slept.
It is difficult to say which was the worse artist of the two, the
sculptor or the painter. But Saint Luke's pictures generally do not
give us a high idea of his skill as a painter. The legend is a
charming anachronism, unless, indeed, Saint Luke was only a spiritual
presence;--but, as the whole incident was miraculous, the greater the
anachronism, the greater the miracle. The Bambino, however he came into
existence, is invested, according to the assertions of priests and the
belief of the common people, with wonderful powers in curing the sick;
and his practice is as lucrative as any physician's in Rome. His aid is
in constant requisition in severe cases, and certain it is that a cure
not unfrequently follows upon his visit; but as the regular physicians
always cease their attendance upon his entrance, and blood-letting
and calomel are consequently intermitted, perhaps the cure is not so
miraculous as it might at first seem. He is borne by the priests in
state to his patients; and during the Triumvirate of '49, the Pope's
carriage was given to him and his attendants. I was assured by the
priest who exhibited him to me at the church, that, on one occasion,
having been stolen by some irreverent hand from his ordinary
abiding-place in one of the side-chapels, he returned alone, by himself,
at night, to console his guardians and to resume his functions. Great
honors are paid to him. He wears jewels which a Colonna might envy,
and not a square inch of his body is without a splendid gem. On festal
occasions, like Christmas, he wears a coronet as brilliant as the
triple crown of the Pope, and, lying in the Madonna's arms in the
representation of the Nativity, he is adored by the people until
Epiphany. Then, after the performance of Mass, a procession of priests,
accompanied by a band of music, makes the tour of the church and
proceeds to the chapel of the _Presepio_, where the bishop, with great
solemnity, removes him from his Mother's arms. At this moment, the music
bursts forth into a triumphant march, a jubilant strain over the birth
of Christ, and he is borne through the doors of the church to the great
steps. There the bishop elevates the Holy Bambino before the crowds
who throng the steps, and they fall upon their knees. This is thrice
repeated, and the wonderful image is then conveyed to its original
chapel, and the ceremony is over.

The Eve of Epiphany, or Twelfth-Night, is to the children of Rome what
Christmas Eve is to us. It is then that the _Bifana_ comes with her
presents. This personage is neither merry nor male, like Santa Claus,
nor beautiful and childlike, like Christ-kindchen,--but is described as
a very tall, dark woman, ugly, and rather terrible, "_d' una fisionomia
piuttosto imponente_" who comes down the chimney, on the Eve of
Epiphany, armed with a long _canna_ and shaking a bell, to put
playthings into the stockings of the good children, and bags of ashes
into those of the bad. It is a night of fearful joy for all the little
ones. When they hear her bell ring, they shake in their sheets; for the
Bifana is used as a threat to the wilful, and their hope is tempered by
a wholesome apprehension. It is supposed to be a distorted image of the
visit of the kings and wise men with their presents at the Nativity, as
Santa Claus may be of the shepherds, and the Christ-kindchen of Christ
himself. However this may be, it is curious to observe the different
characters this superstition assumes among different nations and under
different influences.

The great festival of the Bifana (a corruption, undoubtedly, of
_Epifania_) takes place on the Eve of Twelfth-Night, in the Piazza di
San Eustachio,--and a curious spectacle it is. The Piazza itself, (which
is situated in the centre of the city, just beyond the Pantheon,) and
all the adjacent streets, are lined with booths covered with every kind
of plaything for children. Most of these are of Roman make, very rudely
fashioned, and very cheap; but for those who have longer purses, there
are not wanting heaps of German and French toys. These booths are gayly
illuminated with rows of candles and the three-wicked brass _lucerne_
of Rome; and, at intervals, painted posts are set into the pavement,
crowned with pans of grease, with a wisp of tow for wick, which blaze
and flare about. Besides these, numbers of torches carried about by hand
lend a wavering and picturesque light to the scene. By eight o'clock in
the evening, crowds begin to fill the Piazza and the adjacent streets.
Long before one arrives, the squeak of penny-trumpets is heard at
intervals; but in the Piazza itself the mirth is wild and furious, and
the din that salutes one's ears on entering is almost deafening. The
object of every one is to make as much noise as possible, and every kind
of instrument for this purpose is sold at the booths. There are
drums beating, _tamburelli_ thumping and jingling, pipes squeaking,
watchmen's-rattles clacking, penny-trumpets and tin horns shrilling, and
the sharpest whistles shrieking everywhere. Besides this, there are the
din of voices, screams of laughter, and the confused burr and buzz of
a great crowd. On all sides you are saluted by the strangest noises.
Instead of being spoken to, you are whistled at. Companies of people are
marching together in platoons, or piercing through the crowd in long
files, and dancing and blowing like mad on their instruments. It is a
perfect witches' Sabbath. Here, huge dolls dressed as Polichinello or
Pantaloon are borne about for sale,--or over the heads of the crowd
great black-faced jumping-jacks, lifted on a stick, twitch themselves in
fantastic fits,--or, what is more Roman than all, men carry about long
poles strung with rings of hundreds of _giambelli_, (a light cake,
called jumble in English,) which they scream for sale at a _mezzo
baiocco_ each. There is no alternative but to get a drum, whistle, or
trumpet, and join in the racket,--and to fill one's pockets with toys
for the children and absurd presents for one's older friends. The moment
you are once in for it, and making as much noise as you can, you begin
to relish the jest. The toys are very odd,--particularly the Roman
whistles;--some of these are made of pewter, with a little wheel that
whirls as you blow; others are of terra-cotta, very rudely modelled into
every shape of bird, beast, and human deformity, each with a whistle in
its head, breast, or tail, which it is no joke to hear, when blown close
to your ears by a stout pair of lungs. The scene is very picturesque.
Above, the dark vault of night, with its far stars, the blazing and
flaring of lights below, and the great, dark walls of the Sapienza and
Church looking grimly down upon the mirth. Everywhere in the crowd are
the glistening helmets of soldiers, who are mixing in the sport, and the
_chapeaux_ of white-strapped _gendarmes_, standing at intervals to keep
the peace. At about half-past eleven o'clock the theatres are emptied,
and the upper classes flock to the Piazza. I have never been there later
than half-past twelve, but the riotous fun still continued at that hour;
and, for a week afterwards, the squeak of whistles may be heard at
intervals in the streets.

At the two periods of Christmas and Easter, the young Roman girls take
their first communion. The former, however, is generally preferred, as
it is a season of rejoicing in the Church, and the ceremonies are not so
sad as at Easter. In entering upon this religious phase of their life,
it is their custom to retire to a convent, and pass a week in prayer and
reciting the offices of the Church. During this period, no friend, not
even their parents, are allowed to visit them, and information as to
their health and condition is very reluctantly and sparingly given at
the door. In case of illness, the physician of the convent is called;
and even then neither parent is allowed to see them, except, perhaps, in
very severe cases. Of course, during their stay in the convent, every
exertion is made by the sisters to render a monastic life agreeable, and
to stimulate the religious sensibilities of the young communicant. The
pleasures of society and the world are decried, and the charms of
peace, devotion, and spiritual exercises eulogized, until the excited
imagination of the communicant leaves her no rest, before she has
returned to the convent and taken the veil as a nun. The happiness of
families is thus sometimes destroyed; and I knew one very united and
pleasant Roman family which in this way was sadly broken up. Two of
three sisters were so worked upon at their first communion, that the
prayers of family and friends proved unavailing to retain them in their
home. The more they were urged to remain, the more they desired to go,
and the parents, brothers, and remaining sister were forced to yield a
most reluctant consent. They retired into the convent and became nuns.
It was almost as if they had died. From that time forward, the home
was no longer a home. I saw them when they took the veil, and a sadder
spectacle was not easily to be seen. The girls were happy, but the
parents and family wretched, and the parting was very tearful and sad.
They do not seem since to have regretted the step they then took;
but regret would be unavailing--and even if they felt it, they could
scarcely show it. The occupation of the sisters in the monastery they
have joined is prayers, the offices of the Church, and, I believe, a
little instruction of poor children. But gossip among themselves, of the
pettiest kind, must make up for the want of wider worldly interests. In
such limited relations, little jealousies engender great hypocrisies;
a restricted horizon enlarges small objects. The repressed heart and
introverted mind, deprived of their natural scope, consume themselves in
self-consciousness, and duties easily degenerate into routine. We are
not all in all to ourselves; the world has claims upon us, which it is
cowardice to shrink from, and folly to deny. Self-forgetfulness is
a great virtue, and selfishness a great vice. After all, the best
religious service is worthy occupation. Large interests keep the heart
sound; and the best of prayers is the doing of a good act with a pure

"He prayeth best who loveth best
All things, both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."


The compensations of calamity are made apparent after long intervals of
The sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all fact.

Abdel-Hassan o'er the Desert journeyed with his caravan,--
Many a richly laden camel, many a faithful serving-man.

And before the haughty master bowed alike the man and beast;
For the power of Abdel-Hassan was the wonder of the East.

It was now the twelfth day's journey, but its closing did not bring
Abdel-Hassan and his servants to the long-expected spring.

From the ancient line of travel they had wandered far away,
And at evening, faint and weary, on a waste of Desert lay.

Fainting men and famished camels stretched them round the master's tent;
For the water-skins were empty, and the dates were nearly spent.

All the night, as Abdel-Hassan on the Desert lay apart,
Nothing broke the lifeless silence but the throbbing of his heart;

All the night he heard it beating, while his sleepless, anxious eyes
Watched the shining constellations wheeling onward through the skies.

When the glowing orbs, receding, paled before the coming day,
Abdel-Hassan called his servants and devoutly knelt to pray.

Then his words were few and solemn to the leader of his train:--
"Thirty men and eighty camels, Haroun, in thy care remain.

"Keep the beasts and guard the treasure till the needed aid I bring.
God is great! His name is mighty!--I, alone, will seek the spring."

Mounted on his strongest camel, Abdel-Hassan rode away,
While his faithful followers watched him passing, in the blaze of day,

Like a speck upon the Desert, like a moving human hand,
Where the fiery skies were sweeping down to meet the burning sand.

Passed he then their far horizon, and beyond it rode alone;--
They alone, with Arab patience, lay within its flaming zone.

Day by day the servants waited, but the master never came,--
Day by day, in feebler accents, called on Allah's holy name.

One by one they killed the camels, loathing still the proffered food,
But in weakness or in frenzy slaked their burning thirst in blood.

On unheeded heaps of treasure rested each unconscious head;
While, with pious care, the dying struggled to entomb the dead.

So they perished. Gaunt with famine, still did Haroun's trusty hand
For his latest dead companion scoop sepulture in the sand.

Then he died; and pious Nature, where he lay so gaunt and grim,
Moved by her divine compassion, did the same kind thing for him.

Earth upon her burning bosom held him in his final rest,
While the hot winds of the Desert piled the sand above his breast.--

Onward in his fiery travel Abdel-Hassan held his way,
Yielding to the camel's instinct, halting not, by night or day,

'Till the faithful beast, exhausted in her fearful journey, fell,
With her eye upon the palm-trees rising o'er the lonely well:

With a faint, convulsive struggle, and a feeble moan, she died,
While her still surviving master lay unconscious by her side.

So he lay until the evening, when a passing caravan
From the dead incumbering camel brought to life the dying man.

Slowly murmured Abdel-Hassan, as they bathed his fainting head,
"All is lost, for all have perished!--they are numbered with the dead!

"I, who had such power and treasure but a single moon ago,
Now my life and poor subsistence to a stranger's bounty owe.

"God is great! His name is mighty! He is victor in the strife!
Stripped of pride and power and substance, He hath left me faith
and life."--

Sixty years had Abdel-Hassan, since the stranger's friendly hand
Saved him from the burning Desert, lived and prospered in the land;

And his life of peaceful labor, in its pure and simple ways,
For his loss fourfold returned him, and a mighty length of days.

Sixty years of faith and patience gave him wisdom's mural crown;
Sons and daughters brought him honor with his riches and renown.

Men beheld his reverend aspect, and revered his blameless name;
And in peace he dwelt with strangers, in the fulness of his fame.

But the heart of Abdel-Hassan yearned, as yearns the heart of man,
Still to die among his kindred, ending life where it began.

So he summoned all his household, and he gave the brief command,--
"Go and gather all our substance;--we depart from out the land."

Then they journeyed to the Desert with a great and numerous train,
To his old nomadic instinct trusting life and wealth again.

It was now the sixth day's journey, when they met the moving sand,
On the great wind of the Desert, driving o'er that arid land;

And the air was red and fervid with the Simoom's fiery breath;--
None could see his nearest fellow in the stifling blast of death.

Blinded men from prostrate camels piled the stores to windward round,
And within the barrier herded, on the hot, unstable ground.

Two whole days the great wind lasted, when the living of the train
From the hot drifts dug the camels and resumed their way again.

But the lines of care grew deeper on the master's swarthy cheek,
While around the weakest fainted and the strongest waxed weak;

And the water-skins were empty, and a silent murmur ran
From the faint, bewildered servants through the straggling caravan:--

"Let the land we left be blessed!--that to which we go, accurst!--
From our pleasant wells of water came we here to die of thirst?"

But the master stilled the murmur with his steadfast, quiet eye:--
"God is great," he said, devoutly,--"when _He_ wills it, we shall die."

As he spake, he swept the Desert with his vision clear and calm,
And along the far horizon saw the green crest of the palm.

Man and beast, with weak steps quickened, hasted to the lonely well,
And around it, faint and panting, in a grateful tumult fell.

Many days they stayed and rested, and amidst his fervent prayer
Abdel-Hassan pondered deeply that strange bond which held him there.

Then there came an aged stranger, journeying with his caravan;
And when each had each saluted, Abdel-Hassan thus began:--

"Knowest thou this well of water? lies it on the travelled ways?"
And he answered,--"From the highway thou art distant many days.

"Where thou seest this well of water, where these thorns and
palm-trees stand,
Once the Desert swept unbroken in a waste of burning sand;

"There was neither life nor herbage, not a drop of water lay,
All along the arid valley where thou seest this well to-day.

"Sixty years have wrought their changes since a man of wealth
and pride,
With his servants and his camels, here, amidst his riches, died.

"As we journeyed o'er the Desert, dead beneath the blazing sky,
Here I saw them, beasts and masters, in a common burial lie;

"Thirty men and eighty camels did the shrouding sand infold;
And we gathered up their treasure, spices, precious stones, and gold;

"Then we heaped the sand above them, and, beneath the burning sun,
With a friendly care we finished what the winds had well begun.

"Still I hold that master's treasure, and his record, and his name;
Long I waited for his kindred, but no kindred ever came.

"Time, who beareth all things onward, hither bore our steps again,
When around this spot were scattered whitened bones of beasts and men;

"And from out the heaving hillocks of the mingled sand and mould
Lo! the little palms were springing, which to-day are great and old.

"From the shrubs we held the camels; for I felt that life of man,
Breaking to new forms of being, through that tender herbage ran.

"In the graves of men and camels long the dates unheeded lay,
Till their germs of life commanded larger life from that decay;

"And the falling dews, arrested, nourished every tender shoot,
While beneath, the hidden moisture gathered to each wandering root.

"So they grew; and I have watched them, as we journeyed, year by year;
And we digged this well beneath them, where thou seest it, fresh and

"Thus from waste and loss and sorrow still are joy and beauty born,
Like the fruitage of these palm-trees and the blossom of the thorn;

"Life from death, and good from evil!--from that buried caravan
Springs the life to save the living, many a weak, despairing man."

As he ended, Abdel-Hassan, quivering through his aged frame,
Asked, in accents slow and broken, "Knowest thou that master's name?"

"He was known as Abdel-Hassan, famed for wealth and power and pride;
But the proud have often fallen, and, as he, the great have died!"

Then, upon the ground before them, prostrate Abdel-Hassan fell,
With his aged hands extended, trembling, to the lonely well,--

And the sacred soil beneath him cast upon his hoary head,--
Named the servants and the camels,--summoned Haroun from the dead,--

Clutched the unconscious palms around him, as if they were living men,--
And before him, in their order, rose his buried train again.

Moved by pity, spake the stranger, bending o'er him in his grief:--
"What affects the man of sorrow? Speak,--for speaking is relief."

Then he answered, rising slowly to that aged stranger's knee,--
"Thou beholdest Abdel-Hassan! They were mine, and I am he!"

Wondering, stood they all around him, and a reverent silence kept,
While, amidst them, Abdel-Hassan lifted up his voice and wept.

Joy and grief, and faith and triumph, mingled in his flowing tears;
Refluent on his patient spirit rolled the tide of sixty years.

As the past and present blended, lo! his larger vision saw,
In his own life's compensation, Nature's universal law.

"God is good, O reverend stranger! He hath taught me of His ways,
By this great and crowning lesson, in the evening of my days.

"Keep the treasure,--I have plenty,--and am richer that I see
Life ascend, through change and evil, to that perfect life to be,--

"In each woe a blessing folded, from all loss a greater gain,
Joy and hope from fear and sorrow, rest and peace from toil and pain.

"God is great! His name is mighty! He is victor in the strife!
For He bringeth Good from Evil, and from Death commandeth Life!"


When the children of Shem said one to another at Babel,--"Go to, let us
build us a city and a tower whose top shall reach unto heaven," they
typified a remarkable trait of the human mind,--a desire for a tangible
and material exponent of itself in its most heroic moods. In the earlier
ages of the world, when humanity, as it were, was becoming conscious of
itself and its godlike energies, it seems as if this desire could find
no nobler expression than in towers. The same spirit of enterprise which
in our own day stretches forth inquiring hands into unexplored realms of
physical and intellectual being, and acknowledges in the spoils of such
search its noblest and proudest attainments, in more primeval times
appears to have been content with the actual and visible invasion of
high building into that sky which to them was the great type of the
unknown and mysterious.

The birth of these structures was not of the practical necessities of
life, but of that fond desire of the soul which has ever haunted
mankind with intimations of immortality. Towers thus became the boldest
imaginable symbols of energy and power. And when, in the course of time,
they became exigencies of society, and familiarized by the idea of
usefulness, even then they could not but be recognized as expressions of
the more heroic elements of human nature.

Founded in superabundant massiveness, and built in prodigality of
strength, the tower seems to defy the elements and to outlive tradition.
Old age restores it to more than its primeval significance; and when
humbler erections have passed away and crumbled in ruins, it appears
once more to rise above the customary uses of men, and to become a
companion for tempests and clouds. Dismantled, deserted, and bearing,

"Inscribed upon its visionary sides,
This history of many a winter's storm,
And obscure record of the path of fire,"

Nature lays claim to it, and with moss and ivy and eld, with weeds and
flowers, she takes it to her bosom.

"Dying insensibly away
From human thoughts and purposes,"

we at length associate it with no achievements of man, and its masonry
becomes venerable to us, as shaped by mysterious beings,--Ghouls or
Titans,--no fellow-workers of ours.

Let us for a while forget the tedious realisms around us, and eat of the
dreamy Lotos. Let us look eastward over the wide waters, and behold,
along the horizon, the "dim rich cities" printing themselves against the
morning. Let us listen to their mellow chimes that come faintly to us,
and bless those deep-toned utterances so full of the tenderness of
ancient days and the melody of gray traditions. Let us bless them; for,
like lyres of Amphion, at their sound arose the bell-bearing tower,
which made cities beautiful and their people happy. O St. Chrysostom!
there were other golden mouths than thine that preached by the
Bosphorus, and their pulpits were the airy chambers of the first
Christian towers. Where the muezzin every hour from the lofty minaret
now calls the faithful Mahometan to prayer, were first heard those matin
and vesper chimes which since then throughout Catholic Europe have
accompanied the rising and the setting of the sun. Thus the Christian
tower immediately becomes associated with the tenderest and most
poetical ideas of monastic and pastoral religion. It seemed emulous from
the beginning to be the first to catch the beams of morning, and, like
the statue of Memnon, to respond to the golden touch by sounds of music.
Then the fervid heart of Italy took fire, and from her bosom uprose over
all her cities the beautiful campanile. Still and solemn it stood on
the plains of Lombardy, like a sentinel on the outskirts of our faith,
whispering to the vast of space that all was well. Over the lagunes of
Venice the weary toil of two centuries piled up the tower of St. Mark.
Ravenna, with barbaric pride, built her round-cinctured towers to the
glory of the Exarchate. Rome followed with her square campaniles, whose
arcaded chambers looked down on a hundred cloisters. Then there were
La Ghirlandina at Modena, Il Torazzo at Cremona, Torre della Mangia at
Siena, the Garisenda at Bologna, the Leaning Tower at Pisa. Everywhere
they sought the skies with emulous heights, and ere long they arose in
such number as to give a distinctive aspect to the Christian city, and
to warn the traveller from afar that he approached walls within which
religion was a pride and a power. Who has not admired the Giotto
Campanile, called "the Beautiful," at Florence? And who has not wondered
at the splendor of her citizens, whose command was, "to construct an
edifice whose magnificence should be beyond the conception even of
the _cognoscenti_, and whose height and quality of workmanship should
surpass all that has been built in any style, in Greece or Rome, even at
the most florid period of their power!"

But the spiritualization and glory of the tower are yet wanting. There
is a very human expression about it, as it stands in the midst of
those glimmering lands, with its haughty summit commanding far-distant

"Far as the wild swan wings, to where the sky
Dips down to sea and sands,"--

a very human expression of scornful pride and imperious dominion. We
shall see how it outgrew its mere humanities and became an expression
of immortal aspirations, a symbol of our relationship with ethereal

These Italian campaniles had either flat summits, or were crowned with a
low, unimportant roof. But as they approached the North of Lombardy, and
found their way into Germany, France, and Britain, these roofs, through
the necessities of climate, became steeper and sharper. Many of the
little gray mountain-chapels in the South of Switzerland still lift up
these pointed towers amid the hamlets of the valley, having gathered
in the hardy flocks at eventide for seven or eight centuries. The same
early modifications may yet be seen on the banks of the Rhine, where the
conical, stork-haunted caps of the round towers are so picturesquely
associated with that legendary scenery. Those dear, time-worn, rugged,
red-tiled roofs, with their peaks coming in just where they are
needed,--what could the artist do without them? Then the same
necessities made the early French and Norman builders push up into the
air those gaunt, quaint old camelbacks, with spindles or pinnacles
astride. You cannot but love them for their strangeness and the surprise
they make against the quiet sky. In Britain, too, you might have beheld
this tendency, where the lordly curfew quenched the lights in castle and
cot from beneath a very extinguisher of a roof. Now, as, in the natural
growth of the human mind, the heart became more and more impregnated
with the beauty of holiness, and the prayers of men ascended with
somewhat of purer aspiration to heaven, so did they build their
tower-roofs higher and higher into the air, till at length the spire was
born. In one of those quaint antique towers of Normandy, Coutances, it
was first fully developed; and it is curious to see how in this
instance its roof-origin was still remembered: for it has tall, gabled
garret-windows rising from its base, connected by rude cross-bars to the
slope of the spire; and it has a kind of scaly mail, Ruskin says, which
is nothing more than the copying in stone of the common wooden shingles
of the house-roof. Now the proud Italian architects, disdainful though
they were of the arts of the rude Northern builders, could not but admit
the expressiveness of the pointed roof; so they placed a form of it on
some of their campaniles, as on those of Venice and Cremona, in both
these instances making it a third of the whole height. But the spire,
though an effective, was as yet an unambitious structure,--scarcely more
than an exaltation or an apotheosis of the roof. For a long time it
continued to be merely a supplementary addition in wood to the solid
masonry of the tower, and in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth
centuries was often added to substructures of the tenth, eleventh, and

Surely it is very dull in us, out of our present enlightenment, to
continue to distinguish the mediaeval times as the _Dark_ Ages, as if
they were glimmering and ghostly, and men groped about in them blindly,
living in a sort of dusky romance of feudality. Did you ever study De
la Roche's incarnation of Mediaeval Art in his Hemicycle,--that long
saintly robe with its still and serious folds, that fair dreamy face,
those upturned eyes, "the homes of silent prayer," the contemplative
repose? It is truly an exquisite idealization; yet there is something
wanting. I believe the piety of those days was rather a passion than a
sentiment. Their "beauty of holiness" was rather an active emotional
impulse than a passive spiritualization, and was incomplete without a
material expression, a tangible demonstration of itself. Like the fabled
Narcissus, it yearned for its own image. Hence the joy and luxury of the
ecclesiastical buildings of that period. They were the very blossoming
of the tree of knowledge. This was, indeed, an unenlightened, perhaps
a superstitious principle of worship; but it was enthusiastic,
self-sacrificing, and chivalrous. It, indeed, sent the stylite to his
pillar, the hermit to the wilderness, the ascetic to the scourge and
hair-cloth shirt; but it also led the warrior to the Holy Land, the
beggar to the castle-hearth, and the workman to the building of the
House of God. It is no wonder that a religion born thus in childlike
fervor, and seeking expression in outward signs, built upward. It is
no wonder that out of the prosaic elements of the roof it made the
spiritual essence of the spire. If we look through the whole range of
architectural forms in classic or mediaeval times, we shall find no one
so indicative of any human emotion as this simple outline is of the
highest of all emotions,--prayer. It is a significant fact, that the
sentiment of aspiration is nowhere hinted at in Classic Art, and we look
in vain for it in all pagan architectures. This is not surprising.
The worshippers who built in those schools demonstrated there all the
noblest ideas they were capable of,--intellectual beauty, dignity,
power, truth, chastity, courage, and all the other virtues cherished in
their theologies; but their personal relations with any higher sphere of
existence, vague and undefined as they were, called for no expression in
their temples, and obtained none.

The pyramidal form has ever possessed peculiar fascinations for men,
and, from its simplicity, grandeur, and power, has been used in all ages
with innumerable modifications in those structures whose object was to
impress and overawe,--as in the pyramids of Egypt, the temples of India
and Mexico, and in all the earliest funereal monuments. It involved a
rude symbolism, which recommended itself to the barbarous childhood
of nations. But it was not until the pyramid was sharpened and
spiritualized into the spire that it gained its completest triumph over
the secret emotions of men. The Egyptians made the nearest approach
to it in the obelisk. That mysterious people felt very keenly the
suggestiveness of the pyramidal form, and refined the language of
its sentiment into some very beautiful expressions. Yet between the
mausoleums of Gizeh and the hieroglyphic shafts of Luxor and Karnac
there existed a modification, the intensity of whose meaning they
were not prepared to understand. Neither their civilization nor their
religion required such an exponent; so they exhausted themselves with
their mountainous bulks of stone and their pictured monoliths.

We know not how the first view of a Christian spire would affect the
mind of an alien; but so far as our own experiences are concerned,
though perhaps familiar only with the lowliest and most unpretending of
its kind, we are conscious that it deeply impressed even the "unsunned
temper" of our childhood. The wisest among us may not be able to define
precisely these impressions, or trace to their source the admiration
and satisfaction it occasions, yet all are ready to acknowledge its
beautiful fitness to adorn and glorify the Christian temple. But to the
thoughtful mind how suggestive it is of pleasant imagery! It is "the
silent finger" that points to heaven; it is an upward aspiration of the
soul; a prayer from the depths of a troubled heart; a _suspirium de
profundis;_ a hymn of thanksgiving; a pure life, throwing of the worldly
and approaching the ethereal; a finite mind searching, till lost in the
vastness of the unknown and unapproachable; a beautiful attempt; a
voice of praise sent up from the earth, till, like the soaring lark, it
"becomes a sightless song." Indeed, our unbidden thoughts, that wild-ivy
of the mind, are trained upward by the spire, till it is hung round with
the tenderest associations and recollections of all that is sweet and
softening in our natures. Thus, when the painter has represented on his
canvas some wild phase of scenery, where the gadding vine, the tangled
underwood, the troubled brook, the black, frowning rock, the untamed
savage growth of the forest,

"Old plash of rains and refuse patched with moss,"

impress us with awe, and a sad, homeless feeling, as if we were lost
children, how eloquent is that last touch of his pencil that shows us
a simple spire peeping over the tree-tops! How it comforts us! How it
brings us home again, and bestows an air

"Of sweet civility on rustic wilds"!

But even if we were not inclined to be sentimental on the subject, even
if base utilities had crowded out from our hearts the blessed capacity
of shedding rosy light on things about us, the coldest esteem could not
but ripen into affection, when we reflected that the spire never adorned
the shrine of a pagan god, never glorified the mosque of a false
prophet, never, in purity, arose from any unconsecrated ground; but
when, at last, the Church of Christ felt the "beauty of holiness," then
it developed out of that beauty and pointed the way to God. It exhaled
from the growing perfection of the Church, as fragrance from an opening
flower. It is, therefore, peculiarly holy. It is a monitor of especial
grace. "It marshals us the way that we are going," like the visionary
dagger of Macbeth; but the knell that sounds beneath it summons only to

Practically, it is utterly useless; and this is its honor and its
unspeakable dignity. We cannot even climb it, as we could a tower;
for it is nearly as unapproachable as the Oracle of God, save to the
innocent birds, who love to flock and wheel about it in the sunshine,
and build their nests in its "coignes of vantage," or, in the
night-time, to the troops of stars which touch it in their journey
through the skies. It is as beautifully idle as the lilies of the field;
and yet its expressiveness touches us so nearly, the propriety of its
sentiment is so striking, that, when the great test question of this
living age is applied to it, and we are asked, What is its use? what is
it good for? the heart is shocked at the impiety of the question, and
the feelings revolt, as against an insult. Upon the arches of Canterbury
Minster is carved,


Nothing can be simpler than the composition of the pure spire. The
aesthetics of its development and growth are characteristically natural
and apparent. They are like the history of a flower from bud to bloom
under a warm sun. Let us become botanists of Art for a while, and
analyze those flowers of worship, as they opened "in that first garden
of their simpleness."

Considering the growth of the spire from the tower-roof, it might
naturally be supposed that the earliest forms would be square or round,
in plan. But no sooner had the roof passed into this new sphere of
existence, than the fine intelligence of the builders perceived that it
needed refinement. They saw that in a square spire there was so coarse a
distinction between the tapering mass of light and the tapering mass
of shadow, that the delicacy and lightness necessary to express the
sentiment they desired to convey did not exist in the new feature;--in
a round spire, on the other hand, they found that this distinction of
light and shade was too little marked; it was vapid and effeminate, and
quite without that delicious crispiness of effect which they at once
obtained by cutting off the corners of the square spire, and reducing it
to an octagon. With very rare exceptions, as in the southwest spire of
Chartres Cathedral, this form was always used. Now it will be seen that
a difficulty arises in the beginning, how to unite the octagon of the
spire with the square of the tower. There are four triangular spaces at
the summit of the tower left uncovered by the superstructure; and how
best to treat these, simple as the task may seem, constitutes what may
be called the touchstone of architectural genius in spire-building.
There are several general ways of effecting this, each of them subject
to such modifications, in individual instances, as to give them an
ever-varying character.

Perhaps the earliest method was simply to occupy those triangular spaces
with pyramidal masses of masonry, sloping back against the adjacent
faces of the tower,--an expedient which Nature herself might have
suggested in the first snow-storm. Then they boldly cut the Gordian knot
by shaving off the corners of the tower at the top, thus creating there
an octagonal platform, to which the spire would exactly correspond.
Still oftener they chamfered the spire upwards from the corners of the
tower: in other words, they placed, as it were, a square spire on
their tower, occupying the whole of its summit, and then obtained the
necessary octangularity by shaving off the angles of the spire from the
apex to a certain point near the base, where the cutting was continued
obliquely to the corners of the tower. The latest method was to build
pinnacles on the triangular territory. In such cases the spire usually
stood wholly within the outer boundaries, and parapets assisted to
conceal the first springing of the spire.

The first of these methods is usually considered the most perfect and
beautiful, on account of its simplicity and candor. This is called the
broach; and it is the only form thus far spoken of wherein the tapering
surfaces rise directly from the tower-cornice, without mutilating the
tower or violating the pure outlines of the spire. The heavenward
aspiration, as it were, ascends without effort from the solidity of the
tower. It seems to typify a certain fitness and adaptability to heavenly
things even in the gross and earthly nature of man. One cannot fail to
admire its unaffected dignity, its harmonious balance, its graceful

It would be impossible within the limits of this article to give any
idea of the wonderful diversity of treatment these simple generic forms
received at the hands of the early builders. The changes of combination,
proportion, and ornamentation were endless. For the mediaeval spirit was
eminently earnest in its labor, and would not be content with copying an
old shape merely because it was a good shape. It would not be satisfied
with the cold repetition of a written litany of architectural forms; but
its ardent piety, its thoughtful zeal, the _life_ of its love, demanded
an ever-varying expression in these visible prayers. Emerson himself
might find nought to censure there, in the way of undue conformities and
consistencies. Its language was written with the infinite alphabet of

We are speaking now especially of England; and we, her children, may
well be proud that these divine enthusiasms of antiquity, which we
thought so quaint, so rare, so far away from us, nowhere else found
fairer demonstrations. The English spires bear especial witness to the
zeal and aspiration of their builders. They belted them with bands of
ornament, cut at first in imitation of tiles, and afterwards beautifully
panelled with foliations. Moulded ribs began to run up the angles of
the spires, and, when they met at the summit, would exultingly curl
themselves together in the most precious cruciforms. Quaint spire-lights
began to appear. Sometimes curious dormers would project from alternate
sides; and the very ribs, as if, in this spring-time of Art, they felt,
quickening along their lengths, the mysterious movements of a new life,
sprouted out here and there with knots of leafage, timidly at first, and
then with all the wealth and profusion of the harvest. The same impulse
wreathed the crowning cross with a thousand midsummer fancies, till the
circle of Eternity, or the triangle of Trinity, which often mingled
with its arms, scarcely knew itself. The pinnacles, too, blossomed into
crockets and bud-like finials, and began to gather more thickly about
the roots of the spire, and from them often leaped flying-buttresses
against it. During this time the spire itself was growing more and more
acute, its lines becoming more and more eloquent. After the fourteenth
century, the tower began to be crowned with intricate panelled tracery
of parapets and battlements, from behind which the spire, an entirely
separate structure, shot up into the sky. In this, the period of the
perpendicular style, pinnacles, purfled to the last degree, crowded
about the base of the spire, reminding one of the admiring throng
gathered about the base of some old picture of the Ascension. But there
is another English form which perhaps conveys this sentiment even more
impressively: We refer to that whose prototype exists in the steeple of
the Church of St. Nicholas at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This, however, has
four turrets, one on each angle, from which, with great lightness, leap
towards each other four grand flying-buttresses, which join hands over
an empty void and hold in the air a lantern and spirolet of great
elegance. This is a very bold piece of construction. It has been
imitated at St. Giles's, Edinburgh, at Linlithgow, in the college
tower of Aberdeen, and it is especially made known to the world by
Sir Christopher Wren's famous use of it in the steeple of St.
Dunstan's-in-the-East, London.

The most famous spires of England and Normandy are St. Peter's at Caen,
a very early specimen, St. Michael's at Coventry, Louth, that of
the parochial church of Boston in Lincolnshire, that of Chichester
Cathedral, the three that rise from the famous Lichfield Cathedral,
and finally and especially the magnificent spire over the cross of
Salisbury. In the judgment of most English connoisseurs, this is the
finest in the world. It was probably erected during the reign of Edward
III., a very florid period for architecture. It is the highest in
England, its summit rising four hundred and four feet from the pavement
of the church beneath. It is one of the earliest erected in stone, and
is remarkable for skilful construction, the masonry in no part being
more than seven inches thick. This spire is belted with three broad
bands of panelled tracery, and there are eight pinnacles at its base,
two on each corner of the tower. The ribs are fretted throughout the
whole height with elegant crockets, thus imparting to the sky-line an
appearance similar to the gusty spray on the borders of a rain-cloud. An
admirer has said of it, "It seems as though it had drawn down the very
angels to work over its grand and feeling simplicity the gems and
embroidery of Paradise itself!" England once boasted the loftiest spire
in the world, that of old St. Paul's, London, whose summit, five hundred
and twenty feet from the ground, seemed to sail among the highest
clouds; but the great fire of 1666 destroyed it, and Sir Christopher's
stately metropolitan dome now rises in its place.

One could believe in the "merrie" days of Old England, were her abundant
spires their only evidence. The ardent zeal that kindled so many
thousand answering beacons throughout the length and breadth of the land
is the best proof of that concord of souls which is true happiness. We
know that the decision of the Council of Clermont about the Crusades was
believed to have been instantly known through Christendom, and that the
great cry, _God willeth it!_ which shook the council-roof, was echoed
from hill to hill, and at once struck awe and astonishment to the hearts
of remotest lands. So in the birthplaces of our Pilgrim fathers, over
these cherished spots,

"Where the kneeling hamlets drained
The chalice of the grapes of God,"

arose the "star y-pointing" spire, like a voice of adoration; and then
another would be raised in unison in some neighboring village, where
they could see and communicate with each other in their silent language;
and yet another close by among the hills; and presently, in full view
from its summit, twenty more, perhaps,--till the good tidings were known
through the whole country, and from hamlet to hamlet, over the streams
and tree-tops, was thus echoed the great _Te Deum_ of the land. For it
was said among the people, in that antique spirit of worship, as Milton
exhorted the birds in his Hymn of Thanksgiving,--

"Join voices, all ye living souls! ye _spires_,
That singing up to heaven's gate ascend,
Bear on your wings and in your notes His praise!"

It is a beautiful proof of the spirit of sacrifice which actuated the
Masonic builder of the Middle Ages, that his fairest and most precious
works were not confined to the great metropolitan churches and
cathedrals, where they could be seen of men, but were frequently found
in quiet and secluded villages, nestled among pastoral solitudes, far
away from the gaze and admiration of the world. Though the spire of
Salisbury was, perhaps, an epic in Masonic poetry, yet in humble hamlets
of England, beyond her most distant hills, and amid many an unnamed
"sunny spot of greenery," were idyls sung no less exquisite than this.
Many a village-spire, of conception no less beautiful, arose above the
tree-tops among the most untrodden ways. All day long its shadow lingers
in the quiet churchyard, and points among the humble graves, as if, over
this dial of human life, it loved to preach silent homilies on "the
passing away," even to the simplest poor. It must be inexpressibly
touching to meet with these beautiful forms in the lonely wilderness,
where the ivy alone, as it throws its loving arms around them, appears
to recognize their grace and all their tender significance. It is like
the chance discovery of a good deed done in the darkness, or like a
pure life spent in the sweet and serious retirement of a little hamlet,
pointing the way to heaven for its scanty flock of cottagers.

It was the custom in those days, during the celebration of Mass, at the
moment when the Host was raised, to ring a peculiar bell in the tower,
in order that those not gathered beneath the consecrated roof might be
made aware far and wide of the awful ceremony, and be reminded to offer
up their devotion in unison. And we remember what Izaak Walton said of
quaint George Herbert,--how "some of the meaner sort of his parish did
so love and reverence Mr. Herbert, that they would let their plough rest
when his saints'-bell rung to prayer, that they might also offer their
devotion to God with him, and would then return back contented to their
plough." Now it seems to us that the spire is a perpetual elevation
of the Host, a never-ending lifting-up of the Symbol of Redemption, a
consecrating presence to field and cottage, hillside and highway, ever
ready to bless the accidental glance of wayfarer or laborer, and to make
in the desert of his daily life a momentary oasis of sweet and hallowed
thought. Its peaceful influence extends over the whole landscape and
pierces to its remotest corners.

"A gentler life spreads round the holy spires;
Where'er they rise, the sylvan waste retires,
And aery harvests crown the fertile lea."

It may be thought that St. Peter's cock, which so often answers the
sunbeams from the spindly spire, and kindles and glitters there like a
star, is rather empty of emblematic significance and soul-language. But
what saith old Bishop Durandus?--"The cock at the summit of the church
is a type of the preacher. For the cock, ever watchful, even in the
depth of night, giveth notice how the hours pass, waketh the sleepers,
predicteth the approach of day,--but first exciteth himself to crow by
striking his sides with his wings. There is a mystery conveyed in each
of these particulars: the night is the world; the sleepers are the
children of this world, who are asleep in their sins; the cock is the
preacher who preacheth boldly, and exciteth the sleepers to cast away
the works of darkness, exclaiming, Woe to them that sleep! Awake, thou
that sleepest! and then foretell the approach of day, when they speak
of the Day of Judgment and the glory that shall be revealed, and, like
prudent messengers, before they teach others, arouse themselves from the
sleep of sin by mortifying their bodies; and as the weather-cock faces
the wind, they turn themselves boldly to meet the rebellious by threats
and arguments."

But it was on the Continent, especially in France, the Low Countries,
and Germany, that the Gothic flower opened in fullest perfection; and it
is here that we find the loftiest and most luxurious spire-forms. They
were always the last part of the church completed, the finishing-touch,
the last that was needed to perfection. The progress of the building
of a cathedral thus embodied a beautiful symbolism. In most cases,
the choir, or east end, the holiest part of the church, was the first
erected, in order to sanctify and protect the high altar; and then, as
the treasures of the church flowed in, after the expiration of years or
centuries, the builders, tutored by a legendary science, and harmonized
by a wonderful feeling of brotherhood, in the same spirit, perfected the
designs of their predecessors, by leading out westward the long naves
and attendant aisles, completing northward and southward the transepts,
adding a chapel here and a porch there, glorifying the western front
with the touches of divine genius; and when at last every niche was
occupied with its statue of angel, saint, or pious benefactor, and the
holy choir, with its apsis, had been re-adorned with the accumulated art
of centuries, and glowed with the iris-light from painted windows,--when
the mural monuments of bishops, warriors, and kings had thickened
beneath the consecrated roof, and the whole structure had been hallowed
by the prayers and chantings of generations,--then, at last, over the
ancient tower arose the lofty spire; as if an angelic messenger had
spread his wings at its base and mounted upward to heaven, shouting
out the glad tidings of the completion of the House of God, and, as he
arose, the voice grew fainter and fainter, till at length it melted into
the sky!

The finest spires of Europe were erected as late as the fourteenth,
fifteenth, and sixteenth centuries, upon towers prepared for their
reception, usually, in much earlier times. This confidence of the old
builders in the final completion of their structures is remarkable. They
drew without stint on the piety of after ages,--a resource which has not
unfrequently proved too feeble to realize their generous expectations.
There are few cities in Europe which do not bear sad marks of this
misplaced confidence. This is especially witnessed in the unfinished
steeples. And, indeed, when we find that not only one, but two, three,
four, or even five spires were sometimes required to flame upward from
the same building, as in Caen Cathedral, we do not wonder that the
kindling spark is often wanting. It would seem as if another fire must
come down from heaven, as of old it did upon the first offering of Moses
and Aaron, to inflame these censers, rich in frankincense and naphtha.

Now let us see what were the distinguishing attributes of the
Continental spires. We know not why it was, but in the gray old towns
of Belgium and the Low Countries there existed such exuberance of
imagination, such an unbounded luxuriousness of conception, as created
more images of Gothic quaintness and intricacy than elsewhere can be
seen. If any architecture ever expressed the average of human thought,
that of these towns is especially eloquent in its indications that their
inhabitants were very happy and contented. Look at a print of any old
Belgian town or street, and you will at once see our meaning. What a
joyous upspringing of pinnacles and pointed roofs and spires! of no more
earthly use, indeed, than so much pleasant laughter. There is no tower
without its spire, no turret or gable without its pinnacle, no oriel
without its pointed roof, no dormer without some such playful leaping
up into the air. Every salient point attacks the sky with its long iron
spindle, wrought with strange device and bearing a hospitable cup where
the bird makes his nest; and every spindle sings and shrieks with a
shifting vane,--so that the wind never sweeps idly over a Belgian town.
This innocent and happy people did not frown through the ages from grim
battlements, and awe posterity with stern and massive walls. But they
loved old childlike associations and fireside tales. They loved to build
curious fountains in commemoration of pleasant legends. They loved, too,
the huge, delicious-toned bells of their minster-towers, and the sweet
changes of melodious, never-ceasing chimes. They carved their Lares
and Penates on their house-fronts very curiously, with sun-dials and
hatchments, sacred texts and legends of hospitality. The narrow streets
of Ghent, Louvain, Liege, Mechlin, Antwerp, Ypres, Bruges are thus full
of household memories and saintly traditions. So it is not strange that
a people whose daily hours were counted out with the music of belfries
were fond of fretting their towers with workmanship so precious and
delicate that it has been called "the petrifaction of music."

But before we proceed to tell in how florid a manner the Low Countries
interpreted the simpler forms of spires, we shall describe generically
in what manner not only they, but all the other European kingdoms, were
indebted to the old Rhineland towns for some of these forms. When the
bell-tower, in about the seventh or eighth century, began to be used in
Germany, it at once received certain very important modifications on the
earlier Italian campanile. The upper terminations of these latter
were horizontal, on account of their flat roofs. Now in more northern
climates, where the snow falls, these flat roofs would be unsafe and
inconvenient. So we find that the first church-towers that arose in such
Rhenish places as Oberwesel, Gelnhausen, Bacharach, Coblentz, Cologne,
Bingen, "sweet Bingen on the Rhine," no longer ended in these horizontal
lines, but arose in pointed shapes. Indeed, the Germans, who were great
rivals of the Italians in those days, not only in matters pertaining to
architecture, but to literature also, in the same independent spirit
which induced them alone, of all civilized peoples, to retain through
all time the cramped, angular letters of monkish transcribers, in
preference to the fair and square Roman forms, took particular pride in
avoiding horizontal lines entirely at the tops of their towers, as they
did at the tops of their letters. Wherever they so occur, they are
insignificant,--rather ornamental than constructive. Not so with the
English; they kept the square tops to their towers, and contented
themselves with the pointed superstructure. Let us see how Teutonic
stubbornness arranged the matter. Each separate face of their towers,
whether these towers were square or octangular, ended above in a gable;
and from these gables, in various ways, arose the octangular pointed
roof or spire. This circumstance, more than any other, tended to give
a peculiar character to German Gothic. The simplest type of the gabled
spire was magnificently used in the spire of St. Peter's at Hamburg.
This was the finest in North Germany; it was four hundred and sixteen
feet high, and, if still standing, would be the third in height in the
world. But it was destroyed by the great fire of 1842. Many a traveller
can bear witness to the sweet melody of the chimes that used to sound
beneath it every half-hour.

In later times, between the Germans and the French, was invented the
_lantern_,--a feature so often and so superbly used, not only on the
Continent, but more lately in England, that we must needs glance at it.
This consisted in a tall, perpendicular, octangular structure, placed
upon the tower, quite light and open, and pierced with long windows.
Here they used to swing the bells, and the place was called the lantern
or _louvre_; thence the octangular spire arose easily and naturally.
Now, notwithstanding this device, those troublesome triangular spaces
still remained unoccupied at the top of the square tower. The manner
in which this difficulty was remedied was exceedingly ingenious and
beautiful. It was by building on them very delicate pinnacles or
turrets, peopled, perhaps, as at Freiburg, with a silent and serene
concourse of saints in rich niches, or inclosing, as at Strasburg,
spiral open-work stairs. These structures accompanied the tall lantern
through its whole height; thus rendering the entire group a memory,
as it were, of the square tower below, while, at the same time, it
beautifully foreshadowed the octangular character of the sky-seeking
spire above,--a significant symbolism.

Now, when the Belgians and their neighbors received the spire thus from
the fatherland, they at once began to express in it the joy of their
worship by all the embroidery and tender imagery and grotesque conceits
it was capable of receiving. They varied as many changes on it as they
did on their bells. They concealed the first springing of their spires
behind clustering pinnacles, flying-buttresses, canopied niches with
gigantic statues, galleries with battlements and parapets pierced and
mantled in lacework of flamboyant tracery, pointed gables alive with
crockets and finials, and long, quaint dormers,--all with a bewildering
intricacy of enrichment. And they inherited from the Germans a love for
the gargoyle, which haunted the springing of the spire at the corners
with visions of very hideous _diablerie_. It may well be believed that
these florid builders did not suffer the spire to arise serious and
serene from the midst of this delicious tangle of architecture. They
tricked it out with all the frostwork of Gothic genius. Not only did
they use in its decoration spire-lights, crockets, ribs and cinctures,
bands of gablets, and masses of reticulated relief, but, with wonderful
skill, they pierced each face from base to apex in foliated patterns
of great richness, so that the whole spire became a web of delicate
open-work, through which the light was sprinkled in beautiful shapes,
varying with every movement of the beholder. Their plainer spires of
wood they were fond of covering with glazed tiles of various tints
arranged in quaint taste. And they would vary the outline by making it
curve inward, giving a fine sweep thus from the base to an apex of great
slenderness. Sometimes they would give it, with exaggerated refinement,
the _entasis_ of the Greek column. There are instances of this last
treatment both in France and England.

But it was not only in exuberance of enrichment and quaintness of form
that these enthusiastic workmen uttered their inspirations. They built
their spires to a most amazing height. Indeed, the loftiest steeples in
the world arose in level tracts of country, where they could be seen at
immense distances, as not only in Belgium and thereabout, but on the
flat margins of the upper and lower Rhine, as at Strasburg and Cologne.
In these countries, and about the North of France, there was a generous
rivalry as to which city should lift up highest the cross of God. But as
soon as the sacred passion for spire-building was corrupted by this new
element of human emulation, some strange things happened. The people of
Beauvais, for instance, desiring to beat the people of Amiens, set to
work, we are told, to build a tower on their cathedral as high as they
possibly could. The same thing had been done once before on the plains
of Shinar. One foresees the result, of course; "it fell, for it was
founded upon the sand, and great was the fall thereof." And so with the
good people of Louvain. They built three spires to their cathedral, of
which the central one reached the unparalleled height of five hundred
and thirty-three feet, according to Hope, and the side-towers four
hundred and thirty feet. This tremendous group, however, fell, or,
threatening destruction, was taken down, in 1604. We remember what the
Wanderer said so finely in the "Excursion":--

"We must needs confess
That 'tis a thing impossible to frame
Conceptions equal to the soul's desire;
And the most difficult of tasks _to keep_
Heights which the soul is competent to gain."

But we find that ecclesiastical edifices were not the only ones
which were adorned with this high building; for town-halls were not
infrequently distinguished by immensely lofty spires, as at Brussels. It
is curious to see, however, how easily the less exalted impulses which
erected them may be discovered. They do not _soar_, they _climb_ up
panting into the sky, like the famous passage up through Chaos, in
Milton, "with difficulty and labor hard." They have not the light, airy
gliding upward of the religious spire, whose feeling George Herbert had
in his mind, when he sang of prayer:--

"Of what an easy, quick accesse,
My blessed Lord, art thou! how suddenly
May our requests thine eare invade!"

Not so; but it is all human rivalry, a succession of diminishing towers,
steps piled one above another, where the mind every now and then may
stop to breathe, and then fight its way onward again;--not an Ascension,
like that from Bethany; rather the toil of a very human, though very
laudable ambition.

Unfinished spires were in Europe very common legacies from generation to
generation. Descendants were called upon to embody the great conceptions
of their forefathers. But the ancestral spirit too often failed in the
land, the wing of aspiration was broken, the crane rotted in its place,
the great conceptions were forgotten, or lived only as vague and dreamy
inheritances; and the half-completed spires stood like Sphinxes, and
none knew their riddles! They are very melancholy memorials. Like the
broken columns over the graves of the departed, fallen short of their
natural uses, they seem only the funeral monuments of a race that
is dead. The empty air is stilled over them in expectation, and the
imagination makes vain pictures, and fills out their crescent of
splendid purposes. They have been called "broken promises to God." Too
often, perhaps, they were rather monuments of the feebleness of those
who would scale heaven with anything but adoration upon their lips.
There were Ulm, indeed, and Cologne, and Mechlin, as artistic
intentions, eminently grand and beautiful; and in the early part of the
sixteenth century Belgium was famous for designs of open-work spires,
which, if erected, would have surpassed in height and richness all
hitherto existing. But it is worthy of note that at this period the
purity of the Church had become so sullied with priestcraft and the
plenitude of Papal power, that it no longer possessed within its
violated bosom those sacred impulses of piety which whilom sent up the
simple spire, like a pure messenger, to whisper the aspirations of men
to the stars. "Gay religions, full of pomp and gold," could neither feel
nor utter the grave tenderness of the early inspirations. And so, when
the German monk affixed his ninety-five theses to the door of Wittenberg
Church, the spire had ceased to be an utterance of prayerful aspiration.
It had lost its peculiar significance as an involuntary expression of
worship, and had become liable to all the accidents and contingencies
that attend the efforts of a merely human ambition. The whole story is
an architectural version of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican
who went down to the temple to pray.

Of the finished spires, the loftiest in the world are, first, that of
Strasburg Minster, 474 feet; second, that of St. Stephens at Vienna,
469 feet; third, that of Notre Dame at Antwerp, 466 feet; then that of
Salisbury, 404 feet; Freiburg in the Breisgau, 380-1/2 feet; and then
follow the distinguished heights of Landshut, Utrecht, Rouen, Chartres,
Brugrels, Soissons, and others. The highest spire in our own country is
that of Trinity Church, New York, 284 feet. We do not "sweep the cobwebs
from the sky" so effectually as when men built according to the scale
of spiritual exaltation rather than that of practical feet and
inches,--after the stature of the soul, rather than that of the man.

The architects of the revival of classic architecture, with the learned
language of the five orders, with pediments and attics, consoles and
urns, labored to express the childlike sentiment of the spire. But even
the great Sir Christopher Wren, with his sixty steeple-towers, and
all his followers to this day, have not succeeded in a translation so
unnatural. Spirituality and the artless grace of inspiration are wanting
to the spires of the Renaissance, and so they struggle up painfully into
the sky. And it is very rare to find those who have gone back even to
Gothic models building a spire which touches our affections, or claims
affinity with any of our nobler emotions; so sensitive is this unique
structure to the approach of any element foreign to the early conditions
of its existence.

As for the great Strasburg example, that _Jungfrau_ of all spires,
German traditions have very properly babbled many strange stories about
the erection of it. These constitute an episode so characteristic in the
history of spire-building, that this essay would be incomplete, were
they not briefly told here.

In the legendary days of yore, nothing was more common than to meet that
personage known as the Devil walking up and down the earth, in innocent
guise, but ripe for all sorts of mischief, especially where the people
were building up mighty monuments to the glory of the good God. Very
naturally, the sacred spire was a special object of his aversion; and,
for some reason or other, that of Strasburg was honored with peculiar
marks of his hatred. Two ancient churches, which stood on the site
of the present minster, had been successively destroyed by fire; and
although, in the one case, this had been kindled by the torch of an
invading army, and in the other by a thunderbolt, yet the infernal
agency, in both cases, nobody ever thought of doubting. So it was
the effort of Bishop Werner to combat these evil influences; and he
accordingly inflamed the pride and indignation of the people to such
a degree, that throughout the land all concerted to defeat the wicked
designs of the Adversary. In two centuries and a half the whole
cathedral was completed, save the tower, the corner-stone of which was
forthwith laid with great pomp by Bishop Conrad of Lichtenberg, on the
25th of May, 1277. Doubtless the Arch-Fiend laid many cunning schemes to
entrap the illustrious architect, Erwin of Steinbach; but, unlike his
brother in the craft at Cologne, he came out unscathed; so we must
believe that throughout the whole work he was actuated by the most
unselfish spirit of devotion, infernal machinations to the contrary
notwithstanding. Now it must be confessed that the Enemy had a hard time
of it, since we read that the good Bishop Conrad fought against him with
all the powers of the Church, and granted absolution for all sins, past,
present, and future, for forty thousand years, to whatever person should
contribute to the building of the spire by money, material, or labor.
Owing to the scarcity of parchment, these grants of absolution were made
out on asses' skins; and it will be seen, that, in the great struggle,
these instruments retained in a very eminent degree that quality of
stubborn resistance which had cost them in their original state many a
beating from the driver's staff. The greatest enthusiasm was kindled
among rich and poor; year after year, thousands of pilgrims flocked
hither from all Germany to offer their aid, without reward or
recompense, to the building of the tower; and out of the
farthest boundaries, even from Austria, came wagons loaded with
building-materials, the gratuitous offerings of the pious. Rich legacies
were left to the work, and many a cloister devoted a fourth part of its
yearly revenues to the same object So much for asses' skins!

Meanwhile the Devil was not idle. In the night-winds he and his legions
would shriek and yell and rattle among the scaffolding and cranes
in vain. In the latter part of the thirteenth century, he shook the
structure with a frightful earthquake, which terrified all Alsatia,
and, although whole streets were thrown down in Strasburg, yet the
foundations of the _Wunderbau_, as the Germans love to call it, were not
loosened, and no stone was moved from its place. A few years afterward,
in 1289, he once more made use of his favorite element, and laid in
ashes the market-place of Strasburg all around the minster. More
fortunate than its great compeers, St. Paul's of London, and St. Peter's
of Hamburg, it miraculously experienced but trifling damage.

Well, the great Erwin died at last, when he had built the tower as high
as the roof-ridge of the nave. His son succeeded him, finished the tower
to the platform, when he, too, was gathered to his fathers in 1339. John
Hueltz followed as master; and finally his nephew, Hueltz II., in 1439,
finished the grand pyramid, fixed the colossal cross in its place, and
crowned the whole with a gigantic statue of the Virgin. Thus, from the
laying of the foundation-stone till all was completed, were one
hundred and sixty years; yet throughout this time the work was never
discontinued, and five successive generations labored upon its walls.

But the wrath of the Arch-Enemy, as may well be believed, waxed greater
as this prodigious structure gradually developed itself in all its
lordliness and strength, and was not at all appeased at its triumphant
completion. Ever since then he has visited its stately height with
especial marks of his malice. The most furious tempests have raged about
it, and more than sixty times has it been struck by lightning, and five
times have earthquakes shaken its foundations. But in vain. "The Golden
Legend" tells us how Lucifer and the Powers of the Air stormed about the
spire, and how he cried,--

"Hasten! hasten!
O ye spirits!
From its station drag the ponderous
Cross of iron that to mock us
Is uplifted high in air!"

and how the voices replied,--

"Oh, we cannot!
For around it
All the Saints and Guardian Angels
Throng in legions to protect it;
They defeat us everywhere!"

At one point, however, the evil spirits were successful; the colossal
statue of the Virgin, which crowned the dizzy summit, and was familiar
with the secrets of the upper air, and which, like its dread Enemy,

"above the rest,
In shape and gesture proudly eminent,
Stood like a tower,"--

after having for fifty years borne the insults of these airy powers,
till it had lost all its original brightness, and its face

"Deep scars of thunder had intrenched,"--

was taken down, and the present cross put in its place. And there it
stands to this day, high up in the silence of midair, where the voices
of the city below are rendered small and thin by the distance,--four
hundred and seventy-four feet above the heads of the populace, who, in
their littleness, crawl about and traffic at its base. This amazing
summit, "moulded in colossal calm," in its unapproachable grandeur,
seems to forget the city from which it rises, and to hold communion only
with that vast circle of "crowded farms and lessening towers" which
it surveys. It is a worthy companionship; on the one hand, the great
Vosgian chain, the closed gates of France,--on the other, afar off, the
hills of the Black Forest, and, more near, Father Rhine, winding his
silver thread among the villages and vineyards of Germany.

There is (or was) an enormous key suspended just beneath the cross of
Strasburg Cathedral, its use, and why it was placed there, having passed
away from the memory of man. If it were not to open the gates of heaven
for those who built this ladder of light and those who worship in
its shadow, it remains a riddle and a blank. Let us accept the
interpretation, and, made mild-eyed by the lens of tender memories, we
shall behold in every spire a means of grace and a hope of glory.




_Queerangle Building, Nov. '59._

Dr. SR,--

Will you contract to do us a tale or a novel, at the rate of say 10 pp.
per month, with some popular subject, such as philanthropy, or the Broad
Church movement, or fashionable weddings, or the John Brown invasion,
brought in so as to make a taking thing of it? When finished, to come
to a 12mo of 350 pp. more or less. A good article of novel is always
salable about Christmas time, and we can do it up by Dec. 1, 1860.
Our Mr. Goader has been round among the hands that do the light
jobbing,--finds several ready to undertake the contract, at say 75c. @
3.00 per page;--but want the job done in first-rate style, and think
you could furnish us a good article. Our firm has great facilities for
working a novel, tale, or any kind of fancy stuff. What w'd be y'r terms
in cash payment, 1st of every month?

P.S. Would any additional compensation induce you to allow each number
to be illustrated by a colored engraving?

Yr obt serv'ts.



In reply to your polite request, I have to say, that under no
circumstances can I entertain your proposition to write a _fictitious_
narrative. I could, however, relate some very interesting events which
have come to my knowledge, and which, if told in a connected form, might
undoubtedly be taken by the public for a work of fiction. I think my
narrative, with some collateral matter I should introduce, would take up
a reasonable space in about a dozen numbers of the Oceanic Miscellany.
I cannot listen to your proposal about the engraving. If you accept my
offer to write out, in the form of a story, the incidents of real
life to which I have referred, we will arrange the terms at a private
interview. I consider the first day of a month as unobjectionable as any
other in the same month, as a time for receiving payment of any sum that
may be due me under the proposed contract.

Yours truly.



We have had lots of bob-tail stories,--docked short in from one to three
months. Can't you give us a switch-tail one, that will hang on so as
to touch next December? Something imaginary, based on your
recollections,--the incidents of the War of 1812, for instance;--but, at
any rate, a regular "to be continued" "_piece de resistance_"

Yours ever.



I really wouldn't undertake to tell an "imaginary" story, or to write
a romance, or anything of the kind. I might be willing to relate some
curious matters that have come to my knowledge, arranging them in a
collective form, so that they would probably pass with most readers for
fictitious, and perhaps excite very much the same kind of interest they
would if genuine fictions. I don't remember much about the "last war";
but I suppose both of us may recollect the illumination when peace was
declared in 1815.

Ever yours.


(Inclosing a check, in advance, for the first number.)


Finding myself in possession of certain facts which possess interest
sufficient to warrant their publication, I am led to ask myself whether
I shall put them in the form of a narrative. There are, evidently, two
sides to this question. In the first place, I have a number of friends
who write me letters, and tell me openly to my face, that they want me
to go on writing. It doesn't make much difference to them, they say,
what I write about,--only they want me to keep going. They have got used
to seeing me, in one shape or another,--and I am a kind of habit with
them, like a nap after dinner. They tell me not to be frightened about
it,--to begin as dull as I like, and that I shall warm up, by-and-by, as
old _Dutchman_ used to, who could hardly put one leg before the other
when he started, but, after a while, got so limbered and straightened
out by his work, that he dropped down into the forties, and, I think
they say, into the thirties. _L'appetit vient en mangeant_, one of them
said who talks French,--which, you know, means, that eating makes one
hungry. I remember, when I sat down to that last book of mine, which you
may perhaps have read, although I had the facts of the story, of course,
all in my head, it seemed to me that I should never have the patience
to tell them all; and yet, before I was through, I got so full of the
scenes and characters I was talking about, that I had to bolt my door
and lay in an extra bandanna, before I could trust myself to put my
recollections and thoughts on paper. You don't expect a locomotive is
going to start off with a train of thirty or forty thousand passengers,
without straining a little,--do you? That isn't the way; but this is.
_Puff!_ The wheels begin to turn, but very slowly. Papas hold up their
little Johnnys to the car-windows to be kissed. _Puff----Puff!_ People
shake hands from the platform to the cars, walking along by their side.
_Puff--puff--puff!_ Now, then, Ma'am! pass out that tumbler pretty
spry, out of which you have been swallowing that eternal "drink o'
wotter," to which the human female of a certain social grade is so
odiously addicted. _Puff, puff, puff, puff!_ Too late, old gentleman
I unless you can do a mile in a good deal less than three minutes,
carrying weight, in the shape of a valise in one hand and a carpet-bag
in the other. That's the way with anything that's got any freight to
carry. It's slow when it sets out;--but steam is steam,--and what's bred
in the boiler will show in the driving-wheel, sooner or later.

If I had to _make up_ a story, now, it would be a very different matter.
I could never conceive how some of those romancers go to work, in cold
blood, to draw, out of what they call their imagination, a parcel of
impossible events and absurd characters. That is not my trouble; for I
have come into relation with a series of persons and events which will
save me the pains of drawing on my invention, in case I shall see fit to
follow the counsel of my too partial friends. I am only afraid I should
not disguise the circumstances enough, if I were to arrange these facts
in the narrative form. Some of them are of such a nature, that they
cannot be supposed to have happened more than once in the experience
of a generation; and I feel that the greatest caution and delicacy are
necessary in the manner of their presentation, not to offend the living
or wrong the memory of the dead.

It is very easy for you, the Reader, to sit down and run over the pages
of a monthly narrative as a boy "skips" a stone,--and the flatter and
thinner your capacity, the more skips, perhaps, you will make. But I
tell you, for a man who has live people to deal with, and hearts that
are beating even while he handles them,--a man who can go into families
and pull up by the roots all the mysteries of their dead generations and
their living sons' and daughters' secret history,--_responsible_ for
what he says, here and elsewhere,--open to a libel suit, if he isn't
pretty careful in his personalities, or to a visit from a brother or
other relative, wishing to know, Sir, and so forth,--or to a paragraph
in the leading journal of that whispering-gallery of a nation's gossip,
Little Millionville, to the effect that--We understand the personages
alluded to in the tale now publishing in the Oceanic Miscellany are
the Reverend Dr. S---h and his accomplished lady, the distinguished
financier, Mr. B---n,--and so through the whole list of characters;--I
say, for a man who _writes_ the pages you skim over, it is a mighty
different piece of business. Why, if I _do_ tell all I know about some
things that have come to my cognizance, I shall make you open your eyes
and spread your pupils, as if you had been to the Eye Infirmary, and the
doctors there had anointed your lids with the extract of belladonna.
Mark what I tell you! I have happened to become intimately acquainted
with circumstances of a very extraordinary nature,--not, perhaps,
without precedent, but such as very few have been called upon to
witness. Suppose that I should see fit to tell these in connection with
the story of which they form a part? I may render myself obnoxious to
persons whom it is not safe to offend,--persons that won't come out in
the public prints, perhaps, but will poke incendiary letters under your
doors,--that won't step up to you in broad daylight, and lug a Colt out
of their pocket, or draw a bowie-knife from their back, where they had
carried it under their coat, but who will dog you about to do you a
mischief unseen,--who will carry air-guns in the shape of canes, and
hang round the place where you get your provisions, and practise with
long-range rifles out in the lonely fields,--rifles that crack no louder
than a parlor-pistol, but spit a bit of lead out of their mouths half a
mile and more, so that you wait as you do for the sound of the man's axe
who is chopping on the other side of the river, to see the fellow you
have "saved" clap his hand to his breast and stagger over. It makes me
nervous to think of such things. I don't want to be suspicious of every
queer taste in my coffee, and to shiver if I see a little powdered white
sugar on the upper crust of my pastry. I don't want, every time I hear a
door bang, to think it is a ragged slug from an unseen gun-barrel.

If Dick V---- was _not_ killed on the Pampas, as they have always said
he was, I should never sleep easy after telling my story. For such a
fellow as he was would certainly see through all the disguises I could
cover up a real-life story with, and then----. He has learned the use of
the lasso too well for me to want to trust my neck anywhere within a rod
of him, if there were light enough for him to see, and nothing between
us, and nobody near.

And besides, there were a good many opinions handled by some of these
people I should have to talk about. Now, of course, a magazine like the
Oceanic is no place for opinions. Look out for your Mormon subscribers,
if you question the propriety of Solomon's domestic arrangements! And
if you say one word that touches the Sandemanians, be sure their whole
press will be down on you; for, as Sandemanianism is the undoubted and
absolutely true religion, it follows, of course, that it is as sore as a
scalded finger, and must be handled like a broken bone.

Add to this that I have always had the greatest objection to writing
anything which those who were not acquainted with the facts might call
a _romance_ or a _tale._ We think very ill of a man who offers us as a
truth some single statement which we find he knew to be false. Now what
can we think of a man who tells three volumes, or even one, full of just
such lies? Of course the _prima-facie_ aspect of the case is, that he
is guilty of the most monstrous impertinence; and, in point of fact,
I confess the greatest disgust towards any person of whom I hear the
assertion that he has _written a story,_ unless I hear something more
than that. He is bound to show extenuating or justifying circumstances,
as much as the man who writes what he calls "poems." For, as the world
is full of real histories, and every day in every great city begins and
ends a score or half a dozen score of tragic dramas, it is a huge piece
of assumption to undertake to make one out of one's own head. A man
takes refuge under your porch in a rain-storm, and you offer him the use
of your shower-bath!

Also, I cannot help remembering, that, on the whole, I have been more
intensely bored with works of fiction,--beginning with "Gil Blas," and
ending with--on the whole, I won't even mention it,--than I ever was by
the Latin Grammar or Rollin's History. Naturally, therefore, I should
not wish to threaten my friends with the punishment I have endured from
others. But then, as I said before, if I write down the circumstances
that have come to my knowledge, with some account of persons, opinions,
and conversations, no one can accuse me of writing a _novel,_--a thing
which I never meant to do, under any circumstances.

----After having carefully weighed my friends' arguments and my own
objections, I have come to the conclusion to do pretty much as I like
about it. Now the truth is, I have grown to be rather fonder of you, the
Reader, than I have ever been willing to confess. You are such a good,
kind creature,--it takes so little to please you,--you laugh and cry
so very obligingly at just the right time,--you send me such charming
notes, such dear little copies of verses,--nay, (shall I venture to say
it?) such prodigal tokens of kindness, some of you, that I----in short,
I love you very much, and cannot make up my mind to part with you.
Rather than do this, as I could not and would not write a romance, I
have made up my mind to tell you something of some persons and events of
which I have known enough,--of some of them, I might say, too much. Of
course, you must trust wholly to my discretion and sense of propriety,
in dealing with living personages, recent events, and subjects still in
dispute. Trusting that none of my friends will pay any attention to any
idle rumors tending to fix the personages or localities of which I shall
speak, and reminding my readers that the narrative will constitute only
a part of what I have to say, inasmuch as there will be no small amount
of reflections introduced, and perhaps of conversations reported, I
begin this connected statement of facts with an essay on a social
phenomenon not hitherto distinctly recognized.



There is nothing in New England corresponding at all to the feudal
aristocracies of the Old World. Whether it be owing to the stock from
which we were derived, or to the practical working of our institutions,
or to the abrogation of the technical "law of honor," which draws a
sharp line between the personally responsible class of "gentlemen" and
the unnamed multitude of those who are not expected to risk their lives
for an abstraction,--whatever be the cause, we have no such aristocracy
here as that which grew up out of the military systems of the Middle

What our people mean by "aristocracy" is merely the richer part of the
community, that live in the tallest houses, drive real carriages, (not
"kerridges,") kid-glove their hands, and French-bonnet their ladies'
heads, give parties where the persons who call them by the above title
are not invited, and have a provokingly easy way of dressing, walking,
talking, and nodding to people, as if they felt entirely at home, and
would not be embarrassed in the least, if they met the Governor, or even
the President of the United States, face to face. Some of these great
folks are really well-bred, some of them are only purse-proud and
assuming,--but they form a class, and are named as above in the common

It is in the nature of large fortunes to diminish rapidly, when
subdivided and distributed. A million is the unit of wealth, now and
here in America. It splits into four handsome properties; each of these
into four good inheritances; these, again, into scanty competences for
four ancient maidens,--with whom it is best the family should die out,
unless it can begin again as its grandfather did. Now a million is
a kind of golden cheese, which represents in a compendious form the
summer's growth of a fat meadow of craft or commerce; and as this kind
of meadow rarely bears more than one crop, it is pretty certain that
sons and grandsons will not get another golden cheese out of it, whether
they milk the same cows or turn in new ones. In other words, the
millionocracy, considered in a large way, is not at all an affair of
persons and families, but a perpetual fact of money with a variable
human element, which a philosopher might leave out of consideration
without falling into serious error. Of course, this trivial and fugitive
fact of personal wealth does not create a permanent class, unless some
special means are taken to arrest the process of disintegration in the
third generation. This is so rarely done, at least successfully, that
one need not live a very long life to see most of the rich families he
knew in childhood more or less reduced, and the millions shifted into
the hands of the country-boys who were sweeping stores and carrying
parcels when the now decayed gentry were driving their chariots, eating
their venison over silver chafing-dishes, drinking Madeira chilled in
embossed coolers, wearing their hair in powder, and casing their legs in
white-topped boots with silken tassels.

There is, however, in New England, an aristocracy, if you choose to call
it so, which has a far greater character of permanence. It has grown to
be a _caste_,--not in any odious sense,--but, by the repetition of the
same influences, generation after generation, it has acquired a distinct
organization and physiognomy, which not to recognize is mere stupidity,
and not to be willing to describe would show a distrust of the
good-nature and intelligence of our readers, who like to have us see all
we can and tell all we see.

If you will look carefully at any class of students in one of our
colleges, you will have no difficulty in selecting specimens of two
different aspects of youthful manhood. Of course I shall choose extreme
cases to illustrate the contrast between them. In the first, the figure
is perhaps robust, but often otherwise,--inelegant, partly from careless
attitudes, partly from ill-dressing,--the face is uncouth in feature, or
at least common,--the mouth coarse and unformed,--the eye unsympathetic,
even if bright,--the movements of the face clumsy, like those of the
limbs,--the voice unmusical,--and the enunciation as if the words were
coarse castings, instead of fine carvings. The youth of the other aspect
is commonly slender,--his face is smooth, and apt to be pallid,--his
features are regular and of a certain delicacy,--his eye is bright and
quick,--his lips play over the thought he utters as a pianist's fingers
dance over their music,--and his whole air, though it may be timid, and
even awkward, has nothing clownish. If you are a teacher, you know what
to expect from each of these young men. With equal willingness, the
first will be slow at learning; the second will take to his books as a
pointer or a setter to his field-work.

The first youth is the common country-boy, whose race has been bred to
bodily labor. Nature has adapted the family organization to the kind of
life it has lived. The hands and feet by constant use have got more than
their share of development,--the organs of thought and expression less
than their share. The finer instincts are latent and must be developed.
A youth of this kind is raw material in its first stage of elaboration.
You must not expect too much of any such. Many of them have force of
will and character, and become distinguished in practical life; but very
few of them ever become great scholars. A scholar is almost always the
son of scholars or scholarly persons.

That is exactly what the other young man is. He comes of the _Brahmin
caste of New England_. This is the harmless, inoffensive, untitled
aristocracy to which I have referred, and which I am sure you will
at once acknowledge. There are races of scholars among us, in which
aptitude for learning, and all these marks of it I have spoken of,
are congenital and hereditary. Their names are always on some college
catalogue or other. They break out every generation or two in some
learned labor which calls them up after they seem to have died out. At
last some newer name takes their place, it may be,--but you inquire a
little and you find it is the blood of the Edwardses or the Chauncys or
the Ellerys or some of the old historic scholars, disguised under the
altered name of a female descendant.

I suppose there is not an experienced instructor anywhere in our
Northern States who will not recognize at once the truth of this general
distinction. But the reader who has never been a teacher will very
probably object, that some of our most illustrious public men have come
direct from the homespun-clad class of the people,--and he may, perhaps,
even find a noted scholar or two whose parents were masters of the


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