Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 7, No. 43, May, 1861

Part 1 out of 5

Produced by Joshua Hutchinson, Tonya Allen and PG Distributed



VOL. VII.--MAY, 1861.--NO. XLIII.




The setting sunbeams slant over the antique gateway of Sorrento, fusing
into a golden bronze the brown freestone vestments of old Saint Antonio,
who with his heavy stone mitre and upraised hands has for centuries kept
watch thereupon.

A quiet time he has of it up there in the golden Italian air, in
petrified act of blessing, while orange lichens and green mosses from
year to year embroider quaint patterns on the seams of his sacerdotal
vestments, and small tassels of grass volunteer to ornament the folds
of his priestly drapery, and golden showers of blossoms from some more
hardy plant fall from his ample sleeve-cuffs. Little birds perch and
chitter and wipe their beaks unconcernedly, now on the tip of his nose
and now on the point of his mitre, while the world below goes on its way
pretty much as it did when the good saint was alive, and, in despair of
the human brotherhood, took to preaching to the birds and the fishes.

Whoever passed beneath this old arched gateway, thus saint-guarded,
in the year of our Lord's grace--, might have seen under its shadow,
sitting opposite to a stand of golden oranges, the little Agnes.

A very pretty picture was she, reader.--with such a face as you
sometimes see painted in those wayside shrines of sunny Italy, where the
lamp burns pale at evening, and gillyflower and cyclamen are renewed
with every morning.

She might have been fifteen or thereabouts, but was so small of stature
that she seemed yet a child. Her black hair was parted in a white
unbroken seam down to the high forehead, whose serious arch, like that
of a cathedral-door, spoke of thought and prayer. Beneath the shadows of
this brow lay brown, translucent eyes, into whose thoughtful depths one
might look as pilgrims gaze into the waters of some saintly well, cool
and pure down to the unblemished sand at the bottom. The small lips had
a gentle compression which indicated a repressed strength of feeling;
while the straight line of the nose, and the flexible, delicate nostril,
were perfect as in those sculptured fragments of the antique which the
soil of Italy so often gives forth to the day from the sepulchres of the
past. The habitual pose of the head and face had the shy uplooking grace
of a violet; and yet there was a grave tranquillity of expression, which
gave a peculiar degree of character to the whole figure.

At the moment at which we have called your attention, the fair head is
bent, the long eyelashes lie softly down on the pale, smooth cheek; for
the Ave Maria bell is sounding from the Cathedral of Sorrento, and the
child is busy with her beads.

By her side sits a woman of some threescore years, tall, stately, and
squarely formed, with ample breadth of back and size of chest, like the
robust dames of Sorrento. Her strong Roman nose, the firm, determined
outline of her mouth, and a certain energy in every motion, speak the
woman of will and purpose. There is a degree of vigor in the decision
with which she lays down her spindle and bows her head, as a good
Christian of those days would, at the swinging of the evening bell.

But while the soul of the child in its morning freshness, free from
pressure or conscience of earthly care, rose like an illuminated mist
to heaven, the words the white-haired woman repeated were twined with
threads of worldly prudence,--thoughts of how many oranges she had
sold, with a rough guess at the probable amount for the day,--and her
fingers wandered from her beads a moment to see if the last coin had
been swept from the stand into her capacious pocket, and her eyes
wandering after them suddenly made her aware of the fact that a handsome
cavalier was standing in the gate, regarding her pretty grandchild with
looks of undisguised admiration.

"Let him look!" she said to herself, with a grim clasp on her
rosary;--"a fair face draws buyers, and our oranges must be turned into
money; but he who does more than look has an affair with me;--so gaze
away, my master, and take it out in buying oranges!--_Ave, Maria! ora
pro nobis, nunc et,_" etc., etc.

A few moments, and the wave of prayer which had flowed down the quaint
old shadowy street, bowing all heads as the wind bowed the scarlet
tassels of neighboring clover-fields, was passed, and all the world
resumed the work of earth just where they left off when the bell began.

"Good even to you, pretty maiden!" said the cavalier, approaching the
stall of the orange-woman with the easy, confident air of one secure
of a ready welcome, and bending down on the yet prayerful maiden the
glances of a pair of piercing hazel eyes that looked out on each side of
his aquiline nose with the keenness of a falcon's.

"Good even to you, pretty one! We shall take you for a saint, and
worship you in right earnest, if you raise not those eyelashes soon."

"Sir! my lord!" said the girl,--a bright color flushing into her smooth
brown cheeks, and her large dreamy eyes suddenly upraised with a
flutter, as of a bird about to take flight.

"Agnes, bethink yourself!" said the white-haired dame;--"the gentleman
asks the price of your oranges;--be alive, child!"

"Ah, my lord," said the young girl, "here are a dozen fine ones."

"Well, you shall give them me, pretty one," said the young man, throwing
a gold piece down on the stand with a careless ring.

"Here, Agnes, run to the stall of Raphael the poulterer for change,"
said the adroit dame, picking up the gold.

"Nay, good mother, by your leave," said the unabashed cavalier; "I make
my change with youth and beauty thus!" And with the word he stooped down
and kissed the fair forehead between the eyes.

"For shame, Sir!" said the elderly woman, raising her distaff,--her
great glittering eyes flashing beneath her silver hair like tongues of
lightning from a white cloud, "Have a care!--this child is named for
blessed Saint Agnes, and is under her protection."

"The saints must pray for us, when their beauty makes us forget
ourselves," said the young cavalier, with a smile. "Look me in the face,
little one," he added;--"say, wilt thou pray for me?"

The maiden raised her large serious eyes, and surveyed the haughty,
handsome face with that look of sober inquiry which one sometimes sees
in young children, and the blush slowly faded from, her cheek, as a
cloud fades after sunset.

"Yes, my lord," she answered, with a grave simplicity,--"I will pray for

"And hang this upon the shrine of Saint Agnes for my sake," he added,
drawing from his finger a diamond ring, which he dropped into her hand;
and before mother or daughter could add another word or recover from
their surprise, he had thrown the corner of his mantle over his shoulder
and was off down the narrow street, humming the refrain of a gay song.

"You have struck a pretty dove with that bolt," said another cavalier,
who appeared to have been observing the proceeding, and now, stepping
forward, joined him.

"Like enough," said the first, carelessly.

"The old woman keeps her mewed up like a singing-bird," said the second;
"and if a fellow wants speech of her, it's as much as his crown is
worth; for Dame Elsie has a strong arm, and her distaff is known to be

"Upon my word," said the first cavalier, stopping and throwing a glance
backward,--"where do they keep her?"

"Oh, in a sort of pigeon's nest up above the Gorge; but one never sees
her, except under the fire of her grandmother's eyes. The little one
is brought up for a saint, they say, and goes nowhere but to mass,
confession, and the sacrament."

"Humph!" said the other, "she looks like some choice old picture of Our
Lady,--not a drop of human blood in her. When I kissed her forehead, she
looked into my face as grave and innocent as a babe. One is tempted to
try what one can do in such a case."

"Beware the grandmother's distaff!" said the other, laughing.

"I've seen old women before," said the cavalier, as they turned down the
street and were lost to view.

Meanwhile the grandmother and granddaughter were roused from the mute
astonishment in which they were gazing after the young cavalier by a
tittering behind them; and a pair of bright eyes looked out upon, them
from beneath a bundle of long, crimson-headed clover, whose rich carmine
tints were touched to brighter life by setting sunbeams.

There stood Giulietta, the head coquette of the Sorrento girls, with her
broad shoulders, full chest, and great black eyes, rich and heavy as
those of the silver-haired ox for whose benefit she had been cutting
clover. Her bronzed cheek was smooth as that of any statue, and showed a
color like that of an open pomegranate; and the opulent, lazy abundance
of her ample form, with her leisurely movements, spoke an easy and
comfortable nature,--that is to say, when Giulietta was pleased; for it
is to be remarked that there lurked certain sparkles deep down in her
great eyes, which might, on occasion, blaze out into sheet-lightning,
like her own beautiful skies, which, lovely as they are, can thunder
and sulk with terrible earnestness when the fit takes them. At present,
however, her face was running over with mischievous merriment, as she
slyly pinched little Agnes by the ear.

"So you know not yon gay cavalier, little sister?" she said, looking
askance at her from under her long lashes.

"No, indeed! What has an honest girl to do with knowing gay cavaliers?"
said Dame Elsie, bestirring herself with packing the remaining oranges
into a basket, which she covered trimly with a heavy linen towel of her
own weaving. "Girls never come to good who let their eyes go walking
through the earth, and have the names of all the wild gallants on
their tongues. Agnes knows no such nonsense,--blessed be her gracious
patroness, with Our Lady and Saint Michael!"

"I hope there is no harm in knowing what is right before one's eyes,"
said Giulietta. "Anybody must be blind and deaf not to know the Lord
Adrian. All the girls in Sorrento know him. They say he is even greater
than he appears,--that he is brother to the King himself; at any rate, a
handsomer and more gallant gentleman never wore spurs."

"Let him keep to his own kind," said Elsie. "Eagles make bad work in
dovecots. No good comes of such gallants for us."

"Nor any harm, that I ever heard of," said Giulietta. "But let me see,
pretty one,--what did he give you? Holy Mother! what a handsome ring!"

"It is to hang on the shrine of Saint Agnes," said the younger girl,
looking up with simplicity.

A loud laugh was the first answer to this communication. The scarlet
clover-tops shook and quivered with the merriment.

"To hang on the shrine of Saint Agnes!" Giulietta repeated. "That is a
little too good!"

"Go, go, you baggage!" said Elsie, wrathfully brandishing her spindle.
"If ever you get a husband, I hope he'll give you a good beating! You
need it, I warrant! Always stopping on the bridge there, to have cracks
with the young men! Little enough you know of saints, I dare say! So
keep away from my child!--Come, Agnes," she said, as she lifted the
orange-basket on to her head; and, straightening her tall form, she
seized the girl by the hand to lead her away.



The old town of Sorrento is situated on an elevated plateau, which
stretches into the sunny waters of the Mediterranean, guarded on all
sides by a barrier of mountains which defend it from bleak winds and
serve to it the purpose of walls to a garden. Here, groves of oranges
and lemons,--with their almost fabulous coincidence of fruitage with
flowers, fill the air with perfume, which blends with that of roses and
jessamines; and the fields are so starred and enamelled with flowers
that they might have served as the type for those Elysian realms sung by
ancient poets. The fervid air is fanned by continual sea-breezes, which
give a delightful elasticity to the otherwise languid climate. Under
all these cherishing influences, the human being develops a wealth and
luxuriance of physical beauty unknown in less favored regions. In the
region about Sorrento one may be said to have found the land where
beauty is the rule and not the exception. The singularity there is not
to see handsome points of physical proportion, but rather to see those
who are without them. Scarce a man, woman, or child you meet who has not
some personal advantage to be commended, while even striking beauty is
common. Also, under these kindly skies, a native courtesy and gentleness
of manner make themselves felt. It would seem as if humanity, rocked
in this flowery cradle, and soothed by so many daily caresses and
appliances of nursing Nature, grew up with all that is kindliest on the
outward,--not repressed and beat in, as under the inclement atmosphere
and stormy skies of the North.

The town of Sorrento itself overhangs the sea, skirting along rocky
shores, which, hollowed here and there into picturesque grottoes, and
fledged with a wild plumage of brilliant flowers and trailing vines,
descend in steep precipices to the water. Along the shelly beach, at
the bottom, one can wander to look out on the loveliest prospect in the
world. Vesuvius rises with its two peaks softly clouded in blue and
purple mists, which blend with its ascending vapors,--Naples and the
adjoining villages at its base gleaming in the distance like a fringe
of pearls on a regal mantle. Nearer by, the picturesque rocky shores of
the island of Capri seem to pulsate through the dreamy, shifting mists
that veil its sides; and the sea shimmers and glitters like the neck
of a peacock with an iridescent mingling of colors: the whole air is a
glorifying medium, rich in prismatic hues of enchantment.

The town on three sides is severed from the main land by a gorge two
hundred feet in depth and forty or fifty in breadth, crossed by a bridge
resting on double arches, the construction of which dates back to
the time of the ancient Romans. This bridge affords a favorite
lounging-place for the inhabitants, and at evening a motley assemblage
may be seen lolling over its moss-grown sides,--men with their
picturesque knit caps of scarlet or brown falling gracefully on one
shoulder, and women with their shining black hair and the enormous pearl
earrings which are the pride and heirlooms of every family. The present
traveller at Sorrento may remember standing on this bridge and looking
down the gloomy depths of the gorge, to where a fair villa, with its
groves of orange-trees and gardens, overhangs the tremendous depths

Hundreds of years since, where this villa now stands was the simple
dwelling of the two women whose history we have begun to tell you. There
you might have seen a small stone cottage with a two-arched arcade
in front, gleaming brilliantly white out of the dusky foliage of an
orange-orchard. The dwelling was wedged like a bird-box between two
fragments of rock, and behind it the land rose rocky, high, and steep,
so as to form a natural wall. A small ledge or terrace of cultivated
land here hung in air,--below it, a precipice of two hundred feet down
into the Gorge of Sorrento. A couple of dozen orange-trees, straight
and tall, with healthy, shining bark, here shot up from the fine black
volcanic soil, and made with their foliage a twilight shadow on the
ground, so deep that no vegetation, save a fine velvet moss, could
dispute their claim to its entire nutritious offices. These trees were
the sole wealth of the women and the sole ornament of the garden; but,
as they stood there, not only laden with golden fruit, but fragrant with
pearly blossoms, they made the little rocky platform seem a perfect
Garden of the Hesperides. The stone cottage, as we have said, had an
open, whitewashed arcade in front, from which one could look down into
the gloomy depths of the gorge, as into some mysterious underworld.
Strange and weird it seemed, with its fathomless shadows and its wild
grottoes, over which hung, silently waving, long pendants of ivy, while
dusky gray aloes uplifted their horned heads from great rock-rifts, like
elfin spirits struggling upward out of the shade. Nor was wanting the
usual gentle poetry of flowers; for white iris leaned its fairy pavilion
over the black void like a pale-cheeked princess from the window of some
dark enchanted castle, and scarlet geranium and golden broom and crimson
gladiolus waved and glowed in the shifting beams of the sunlight. Also
there was in this little spot what forms the charm of Italian gardens
always,--the sweet song and prattle of waters. A clear mountain-spring
burst through the rock on one side of the little cottage, and fell with
a lulling noise into a quaint moss-grown water-trough, which had been in
former times the sarcophagus of some old Roman sepulchre. Its sides were
richly sculptured with figures and leafy scrolls and arabesques, into
which the sly-footed lichens with quiet growth had so insinuated
themselves as in some places almost to obliterate the original design;
while, round the place where the water fell, a veil of ferns and
maiden's-hair, studded with tremulous silver drops, vibrated to its
soothing murmur. The superfluous waters, drained off by a little channel
on one side, were conducted through the rocky parapet of the garden,
whence they trickled and tinkled from rock to rock, falling with a
continual drip among the swaying ferns and pendent ivy-wreaths, till
they reached the little stream at the bottom of the gorge. This parapet
or garden-wall was formed of blocks or fragments of what had once been
white marble, the probable remains of the ancient tomb from which the
sarcophagus was taken. Here and there a marble acanthus-leaf, or the
capital of an old column, or a fragment of sculpture jutted from under
the mosses, ferns, and grasses with which prodigal Nature had filled
every interstice and carpeted the whole. These sculptured fragments
everywhere in Italy seem to whisper from the dust, of past life and
death, of a cycle of human existence forever gone, over whose tomb the
life of to-day is built.

"Sit down and rest, my dove," said Dame Elsie to her little charge, as
they entered their little inclosure.

Here she saw for the first time, what she had not noticed in the heat
and hurry of her ascent, that the girl was panting and her gentle bosom
rising and falling in thick heart-beats, occasioned by the haste with
which she had drawn her onward.

"Sit down, dearie, and I will get you a bit of supper."

"Yes, grandmother, I will. I must tell my beads once for the soul of the
handsome gentleman that kissed my forehead to-night."

"How did you know that he was handsome, child?" said the old dame, with
some sharpness in her voice.

"He bade me look on him, grandmother, and I saw it."

"You must put such thoughts away, child," said the old dame.

"Why must I?" said the girl, looking up with an eye as clear and
unconscious as that of a three-year old child.

"If she does not think, why should I tell her?" said Dame Elsie, as she
turned to go into the house, and left the child sitting on the mossy
parapet that overlooked the gorge. Thence she could see far off, not
only down the dim, sombre abyss, but out to the blue Mediterranean
beyond, now calmly lying in swathing-bands of purple, gold, and orange,
while the smoky cloud that overhung Vesuvius became silver and rose in
the evening light.

There is always something of elevation and parity that seems to come
over one from being in an elevated region. One feels morally as well as
physically above the world, and from that clearer air able to look down
on it calmly with disengaged freedom. Our little maiden, sat for a few
moments gazing, her large brown eyes dilating with a tremulous lustre,
as if tears were half of a mind to start in them, and her lips apart
with a delicate earnestness, like one who is pursuing some pleasing
inner thought. Suddenly rousing herself, she began by breaking the
freshest orange-blossoms from the golden-fruited trees, and, kissing and
pressing them to her bosom, she proceeded to remove the faded flowers of
the morning from before a little rude shrine in the rock, where, in a
sculptured niche, was a picture of the Madonna and Child, with a locked
glass door in front of it. The picture was a happy transcript of one of
the fairest creations of the religious school of Florence, done by one
of those rustic copyists of whom Italy is full, who appear to possess
the instinct of painting, and to whom we owe many of those sweet
faces which sometimes look down on us by the way-side from rudest and
homeliest shrines.

The poor fellow by whom it had been painted was one to whom years before
Dame Elsie had given food and shelter for many months during a lingering
illness; and he had painted so much of his dying heart and hopes into it
that it had a peculiar and vital vividness in its power of affecting the
feelings. Agnes had been familiar with this picture from early infancy.
No day of her life had the flowers failed to be freshly placed before
it. It had seemed to smile down sympathy on her childish joys, and to
cloud over with her childish sorrows. It was less a picture to her than
a presence; and the whole air of the little orange-garden seemed to be
made sacred by it. When she had arranged her flowers, she kneeled down
and began to say prayers for the soul of the young gallant.

"Holy Jesus," she said, "he is young, rich, handsome, and a king's
brother; and for all these things the Fiend may tempt him to forget his
God and throw away his soul. Holy Mother, give him good counsel!"

"Come, child, to your supper," said Dame Elsie. "I have milked the
goats, and everything is ready."



After her light supper was over, Agnes took her distaff, wound with
shining white flax, and went and seated herself in her favorite place,
on the low parapet that overlooked the gorge.

This ravine, with its dizzy depths, its waving foliage, its dripping
springs, and the low murmur of the little stream that pursued its way
far down at the bottom, was one of those things which stimulated her
impressible imagination, and filled her with a solemn and vague delight.
The ancient Italian tradition made it the home of fauns and dryads, wild
woodland creatures, intermediate links between vegetable life and that
of sentient and reasoning humanity. The more earnest faith that came in
with Christianity, if it had its brighter lights in an immortality of
blessedness, had also its deeper shadows in the intenser perceptions it
awakened of sin and evil, and of the mortal struggle by which the human
spirit must avoid endless woe and rise to endless felicity. The myths
with which the colored Italian air was filled in mediaeval ages no
longer resembled those graceful, floating, cloud-like figures one sees
in the ancient chambers of Pompeii,--the bubbles and rainbows of human
fancy, rising aimless and buoyant, with a mere freshness of animal life,
against a black background of utter and hopeless ignorance as to man's
past or future. They were rather expressed by solemn images of
mournful, majestic angels and of triumphant saints, or fearful, warning
presentations of loathsome fiends. Each lonesome gorge and sombre dell
had tales no more of tricky fauns and dryads, but of those restless,
wandering demons who, having lost their own immortality of blessedness,
constantly lie in wait to betray frail humanity, and cheat it of that
glorious inheritance bought by the Great Redemption.

The education of Agnes had been one which rendered her whole system
peculiarly sensitive and impressible to all influences from the
invisible and unseen. Of this education we shall speak more particularly
hereafter. At present we see her sitting in the twilight on the
moss-grown marble parapet, her distaff, with its silvery flax, lying
idly in her hands, and her widening dark eyes gazing intently into the
gloomy gorge below, from which arose the far-off complaining babble of
the brook at the bottom and the shiver and sigh of evening winds
through the trailing ivy. The white mist was slowly rising, wavering,
undulating, and creeping its slow way up the sides of the gorge. Now it
hid a tuft of foliage, and now it wreathed itself around a horned clump
of aloes, and, streaming far down below it in the dimness, made it seem
like the goblin robe of some strange, supernatural being.

The evening light had almost burned out in the sky: only a band of vivid
red lay low in the horizon out to sea, and the round full moon was just
rising like a great silver lamp, while Vesuvius with its smoky top began
in the obscurity to show its faintly flickering fires. A vague agitation
seemed to oppress the child; for she sighed deeply, and often repeated
with fervor the Ave Maria.

At this moment there began to rise from the very depths of the gorge
below her the sound of a rich tenor voice, with a slow, sad modulation,
and seeming to pulsate upward through the filmy, shifting mists. It was
one of those voices which seem fit to be the outpouring of some spirit
denied all other gifts of expression, and rushing with passionate fervor
through this one gate of utterance. So distinctly were the words spoken,
that they seemed each one to rise as with a separate intelligence out of
the mist, and to knock at the door of the heart.

Sad is my life, and lonely!
No hope for me,
Save thou, my love, my only,
I see!

Where art then, O my fairest?
Where art thou gone?
Dove of the rock, I languish

They say thou art so saintly,
Who dare love thee?
Yet bend thine eyelids holy
On me!

Though heaven alone possess thee,
Thou dwell'st above,
Yet heaven, didst thou but know it,
Is love.

There was such an intense earnestness in these sounds, that large tears
gathered in the wide, dark eyes, and fell one after another upon the
sweet alyssum and maiden's-hair that grew in the crevices of the marble
wall. She shivered and drew away from the parapet, and thought of
stories she had heard the nuns tell of wandering spirits who sometimes
in lonesome places pour forth such entrancing music as bewilders the
brain of the unwary listener, and leads him to some fearful destruction.

"Agnes!" said the sharp voice of old Elsie, appearing at the
door,--"here! where are you?"

"Here, grandmamma."

"Who's that singing this time o' night?"

"I don't know, grandmamma."

Somehow the child felt as if that singing were strangely sacred to
her,--a _rapport_ between her and something vague and invisible, which
might yet become dear.

"Is't down in the gorge?" said the old woman, coming with her heavy,
decided step to the parapet, and looking over, her keen black eyes
gleaming like dagger-blades info the mist. "If there's anybody there,"
she said, "let them go away, and not be troubling honest women with any
of their caterwauling. Come, Agnes," she said, pulling the girl by the
sleeve, "you must be tired, my lamb! and your evening-prayers are always
so long, best be about them, girl, so that old grandmamma may put you to
bed. What ails the girl? Been crying! Your hand is cold as a stone."

"Grandmamma, what if that might be a spirit?" she said. "Sister Rosa
told me stories of singing spirits that have been in this very gorge."

"Likely enough," said Dame Elsie; "but what's that to us? Let 'em sing!
--so long as we don't listen, where's the harm done? We will sprinkle
holy water all round the parapet, and say the office of Saint Agnes, and
let them sing till they are hoarse."

Such was the triumphant view which this energetic good woman took of the
power of the means of grace which her church placed at her disposal.

Nevertheless, while Agnes was kneeling at her evening-prayers, the old
dame consoled herself with a soliloquy, as with a brush she vigorously
besprinkled the premises with holy water.

"Now, here's the plague of a girl! If she's handsome,--and nobody wants
one that isn't,--why, then, it's a purgatory to look after her. This one
is good enough,--none of your hussies, like Giulietta: but the better
they are, the more sure to have fellows after them. A murrain on that
cavalier,--king's brother, or what not!--it was he serenading, I'll be
bound. I must tell Antonio, and have the girl married, for aught I see:
and I don't want to give her to him either; he didn't bring her up.
There's no peace for us mothers. Maybe I'll tell Father Francesco about
it. That's the way poor little Isella was carried away. Singing is of
the Devil, I believe; it always bewitches girls. I'd like to have poured
some hot oil down the rocks: I'd have made him squeak in another tone, I
reckon. Well, well! I hope I shall come in for a good seat in paradise
for all the trouble I've had with her mother, and am like to have with
her,--that's all!"

In an hour more, the large, round, sober moon was shining fixedly on
the little mansion in the rocks, silvering the glossy darkness of the
orange-leaves, while the scent of the blossoms arose like clouds about
the cottage. The moonlight streamed through the unglazed casement, and
made a square of light on the little bed where Agnes was sleeping,
in which square her delicate face was framed, with its tremulous and
spiritual expression most resembling in its sweet plaintive purity some
of the Madonna faces of Fra Angelico,--those tender wild-flowers of
Italian religion and poetry.

By her side lay her grandmother, with those sharp, hard, clearly cut
features, so worn and bronzed by time, so lined with labor and care, as
to resemble one of the Fates in the picture of Michel Angelo; and even
in her sleep she held the delicate lily hand of the child in her own
hard, brown one, with a strong and determined clasp.

While they sleep, we must tell something more of the story of the little
Agnes,--of what she is, and what are the causes which have made her



Old Elsie was not born a peasant. Originally she was the wife of
a steward in one of those great families of Rome whose state and
traditions were princely. Elsie, as her figure and profile and all her
words and movements indicated, was of a strong, shrewd, ambitious, and
courageous character, and well disposed to turn to advantage every gift
with which Nature had endowed her.

Providence made her a present of a daughter whose beauty was wonderful,
even in a country where beauty is no uncommon accident. In addition to
her beauty, the little Isella had quick intelligence, wit, grace, and
spirit. As a child she became the pet and plaything of the Duchess whom
Elsie served. This noble lady, pressed by the _ennui_ which is always
the moth and rust on the purple and gold of rank and wealth, had,
as other noble ladies had in those days, and have now, sundry pets:
greyhounds, white and delicate, that looked as if they were made of
Sevres china; spaniels with long silky ears and fringy paws; apes and
monkeys, that made at times sad devastations in her wardrobe; and a most
charming little dwarf, that was ugly enough to frighten the very owls,
and spiteful as he was ugly. She had, moreover, peacocks, and macaws,
and parrots, and all sorts of singing-birds, and falcons of every breed,
and horses, and hounds,--in short, there is no saying what she did not
have. One day she took it into her head to add the little Isella to the
number of her acquisitions. With the easy grace of aristocracy, she
reached out her jewelled hand and took Elsie's one flower to add to her
conservatory,--and Elsie was only too proud to have it so.

Her daughter was kept constantly about the person of the Duchess, and
instructed in all the wisdom which would have been allowed her, had she
been the Duchess's own daughter, which, to speak the truth, was in
those days nothing very profound,--consisting of a little singing and
instrumentation, a little embroidery and dancing, with the power of
writing her own name and of reading a love-letter.

All the world knows that the very idea of a pet is something to be
spoiled for the amusement of the pet-owner; and Isella was spoiled in
the most particular and circumstantial manner. She had suits of apparel
for every day in the year, and jewels without end,--for the Duchess was
never weary of trying the effect of her beauty in this and that costume;
so that she sported through the great grand halls and down the long
aisles of the garden much like a bright-winged hummingbird, or a
damsel-fly all green and gold. She was a genuine child of Italy,--full
of feeling, spirit, and genius,--alive in every nerve to the
finger-tips; and under the tropical sunshine of her mistress's favor she
grew as an Italian rose-bush does, throwing its branches freakishly over
everything in a wild labyrinth of perfume, brightness, and thorns.

For a while her life was a triumph, and her mother triumphed with her at
an humble distance. The Duchess had no daughter, and was devoted to her
with the blind fatuity with which ladies of rank at times will invest
themselves in a caprice. She arrogated to herself all the praises of her
beauty and wit, allowed her to flirt and make conquests to her heart's
content, and engaged to marry her to some handsome young officer of her
train, when she had done being amused with her.

Now we must not wonder that a young head of fifteen should have been
turned by this giddy elevation, nor that an old head of fifty should
have thought all things were possible in the fortune of such a favorite.
Nor must we wonder that the young coquette, rich in the laurels of a
hundred conquests, should have turned her bright eyes on the son and
heir, when he came home from the University of Bologna. Nor is it to be
wondered at that this same son and heir, being a man as well as a duke's
son, should have done as other men did,--fallen desperately in love with
this dazzling, sparkling, piquant mixture of matter and spirit, which no
university can prepare a young man to comprehend,--which always seemed
to run from him, and yet always threw a Parthian shot behind her as she
fled. Nor is it to be wondered at, if this same duke's son, after a week
or two, did not know whether he was on his head or his heels, or whether
the sun rose in the east or the south, or where he stood, or whither he
was going.

In fact, the youthful pair very soon came into that dream-land where are
no more any points of the compass, no more division of time, no more
latitude and longitude, no more up and down, but only a general
wandering among enchanted groves and singing nightingales.

It was entirely owing to old Elsie's watchful shrewdness and address
that the lovers came into this paradise by the gate of marriage; for the
young man was ready to offer anything at the feet of his divinity, as
the old mother was not slow to perceive.

So they stood at the altar, for the time being a pair of as true lovers
as Romeo and Juliet: but then, what has true love to do with the son of
a hundred generations and heir to a Roman principality?

Of course, the rose of love, having gone through all its stages of bud
and blossom into full flower, must next begin to drop its leaves. Of
course. Who ever heard of an immortal rose?

The time of discovery came. Isella was found to be a mother; and then
the storm burst upon her and drabbled her in the dust as fearlessly as
the summer-wind sweeps down and besmirches the lily it has all summer
been wooing and flattering.

The Duchess was a very pious and moral lady, and of course threw her
favorite out into the street as a vile weed, and virtuously ground her
down under her jewelled high-heeled shoes.

She could have forgiven her any common frailty;--of course it was
natural that the girl should have been seduced by the all-conquering
charms of her son;--but aspire to _marriage_ with their house!--pretend
to be her son's _wife_! Since the time of Judas had such treachery ever
been heard of?

Something was said of the propriety of walling up the culprit alive,--a
mode of disposing of small family-matters somewhat _a la mode_ in those
times. But the Duchess acknowledged herself foolishly tender, and unable
quite to allow this very obvious propriety in the case.

She contented herself with turning mother and daughter into the streets
with every mark of ignominy, which was reduplicated by every one of her
servants, lackeys, and court-companions, who, of course, had always
known just how the thing must end.

As to the young Duke, he acted as a well-instructed young nobleman
should, who understands the great difference there is between the tears
of a duchess and those of low-born women. No sooner did he behold his
conduct in the light of his mother's countenance than he turned his
back on his low marriage with edifying penitence. He did not think it
necessary to convince his mother of the real existence of a union whose
very supposition made her so unhappy, and occasioned such an uncommonly
disagreeable and tempestuous state of things in the well-bred circle
where his birth called him to move. Being, however, a religious youth,
he opened his mind to his family-confessor, by whose advice he sent a
messenger with a large sum of money to Elsie, piously commending her and
her daughter to the Divine protection. He also gave orders for an entire
new suit of raiment for the Virgin Mary in the family-chapel, including
a splendid set of diamonds, and promised unlimited candles to the altar
of a neighboring convent. If all this could not atone for a youthful
error, it was a pity. So he thought, as he drew on his riding-gloves
and went off on a hunting-party, like a gallant and religious young

Elsie, meanwhile, with her forlorn and disgraced daughter, found a
temporary asylum in a neighboring mountain-village, where the poor,
bedrabbled, broken-winged song-bird soon panted and fluttered her little
life away.

When the once beautiful and gay Isella had been hidden in the grave,
cold and lonely, there remained a little wailing infant, which Elsie
gathered to her bosom.

Grim, dauntless, and resolute, she resolved, for the sake of this
hapless one, to look life in the face once more, and try the battle
under other skies.

Taking the infant in her arms, she travelled with her far from the scene
of her birth, and set all her energies at work to make for her a better
destiny than that which had fallen to the lot of her unfortunate mother.

She set about to create her nature and order her fortunes with that sort
of downright energy with which resolute people always attack the problem
of a new human existence. This child _should be happy_; the rocks on
which her mother was wrecked she should never strike upon,--they were
all marked on Elsie's chart. Love had been the root of all poor Isella's
troubles,--and Agnes never should know love, till taught it safely by a
husband of Elsie's own choosing.

The first step of security was in naming her for the chaste Saint Agnes,
and placing her girlhood under her special protection. Secondly, which
was quite as much to the point, she brought her up laboriously in habits
of incessant industry,--never suffering her to be out of her sight, or
to have any connection or friendship, except such as could be carried on
under the immediate supervision of her piercing black eyes. Every night
she put her to bed as if she had been an infant, and, wakening her again
in the morning, took her with her in all her daily toils,--of which, to
do her justice, she performed all the hardest portion, leaving to the
girl just enough to keep her hands employed and her head steady.

The peculiar circumstance which had led her to choose the old town
of Sorrento for her residence, in preference to any of the beautiful
villages which impearl that fertile plain, was the existence there of
a flourishing convent dedicated to Saint Agnes, under whose protecting
shadow her young charge might more securely spend the earlier years of
her life.

With this view, having hired the domicile we have already described,
she lost no time in making the favorable acquaintance of the
sisterhood,--never coming to them empty-handed. The finest oranges of
her garden, the whitest flax of her spinning, were always reserved as
offerings at the shrine of the patroness whom she sought to propitiate
for her grandchild.

In her earliest childhood the little Agnes was led toddling to the
shrine by her zealous relative; and at the sight of her fair, sweet,
awe-struck face, with its viny mantle of encircling curls, the torpid
bosoms of the sisterhood throbbed with a strange, new pleasure, which
they humbly hoped was not sinful,--as agreeable things, they found,
generally were. They loved the echoes of her little feet down the damp,
silent aisles of their chapel, and her small, sweet, slender voice, as
she asked strange baby-questions, which, as usual with baby-questions,
hit all the insoluble points of philosophy and theology exactly on the

The child became a special favorite with the Abbess, Sister Theresa, a
tall, thin, bloodless, sad-eyed woman, who looked as if she might have
been cut out of one of the glaciers of Monte Rosa, but in whose heart
the little fair one had made herself a niche, pushing her way up
through, as you may have seen a lovely blue-fringed gentian standing in
a snow-drift of the Alps with its little ring of melted snow around it.

Sister Theresa offered to take care of the child at any time when the
grandmother wished to be about her labors; and so, during her early
years, the little one was often domesticated for days together at the
Convent. A perfect mythology of wonderful stories encircled her, which
the good sisters were never tired of repeating to each other. They
were the simplest sayings and doings of childhood,--handfuls of such
wild-flowers as bespread the green turf of nursery-life everywhere, but
miraculous blossoms in the eyes of these good women, whom Saint Agnes
had unwittingly deprived of any power of making comparisons or ever
having Christ's sweetest parable of the heavenly kingdom enacted in
homes of their own.

Old Jocunda, the porteress, never failed to make a sensation with her
one stock-story of how she found the child standing on her head and
crying,--having been put into this reversed position in consequence of
climbing up on a high stool to get her little fat hand into the vase of
holy water, failing in which Christian attempt, her heels went up and
her head down, greatly to her dismay.

"Nevertheless," said old Jocunda, gravely, "it showed an edifying turn
in the child; and when I lifted the little thing up, it stopped crying
the minute its little fingers touched the water, and it made a cross on
its forehead as sensible as the oldest among us. Ah, sisters! there's
grace there, or I'm mistaken."

All the signs of an incipient saint were, indeed, manifested in the
little one. She never played the wild and noisy plays of common
children, but busied herself in making altars and shrines, which she
adorned with the prettiest flowers of the gardens, and at which she
worked hour after hour in the quietest and happiest earnestness. Her
dreams were a constant source of wonder and edification in the Convent,
for they were all of angels and saints; and many a time, after hearing
one, the sisterhood crossed themselves, and the Abbess said, _"Ex oribus
parvulorum."_ Always sweet, dutiful, submissive, cradling herself every
night with a lulling of sweet hymns and infant murmur of prayers, and
found sleeping in her little white bed with her crucifix clasped to her
bosom, it was no wonder that the Abbess thought her the special favorite
of her divine patroness, and, like her, the subject of an early vocation
to be the celestial bride of One fairer than the children of men, who
should snatch her away from all earthly things, to be united to Him in a
celestial paradise.

As the child grew older, she often sat at evening, with wide, wondering
eyes, listening over and over again to the story of the fair Saint
Agnes:--How she was a princess, living in her father's palace, of such
exceeding beauty and grace that none saw her but to love her, yet of
such sweetness and humility as passed all comparison; and how, when a
heathen prince would have espoused her to his son, she said, "Away from
me, tempter! for I am betrothed to a lover who is greater and fairer
than any earthly suitor,--he is so fair that the sun and moon are
ravished by his beauty, so mighty that the angels of heaven are his
servants"; how she bore meekly with persecutions and threatenings and
death for the sake of this unearthly love; and when she had poured out
her blood, how she came to her mourning friends in ecstatic vision, all
white and glistening, with a fair lamb by her side, and bade them weep
not for her, because she was reigning with Him whom on earth she had
preferred to all other lovers. There was also the legend of the fair
Cecilia, the lovely musician whom angels had rapt away to their choirs;
the story of that queenly saint, Catharine, who passed through the
courts of heaven, and saw the angels crowned with roses and lilies, and
the Virgin on her throne, who gave her the wedding-ring that espoused
her to be the bride of the King Eternal.

Fed with such legends, it could not be but that a child with a
sensitive, nervous organization and vivid imagination should have grown
up with an unworldly and spiritual character, and that a poetic mist
should have enveloped all her outward perceptions similar to that
palpitating veil of blue and lilac vapor that enshrouds the Italian

Nor is it to be marvelled at, if the results of this system of education
went far beyond what the good old grandmother intended. For, though a
stanch good Christian, after the manner of those times, yet she had not
the slightest mind to see her grand-daughter a nun; on the contrary,
she was working day and night to add to her dowry, and had in her eye
a reputable middle-aged blacksmith, who was a man of substance and
prudence, to be the husband and keeper of her precious treasure. In a
home thus established she hoped to enthrone herself, and provide for the
rearing of a generation of stout-limbed girls and boys who should grow
up to make a flourishing household in the land. This subject she had
not yet broached to her grand-daughter, though daily preparing to do
so,--deferring it, it must be told, from a sort of jealous, yearning
craving to have wholly to herself the child for whom she had lived so
many years.

Antonio, the blacksmith to whom this honor was destined, was one of
those broad-backed, full-chested, long-limbed fellows one shall often
see around Sorrento, with great, kind, black eyes like those of an ox,
and all the attributes of a healthy, kindly, animal nature. Contentedly
he hammered away at his business; and certainly, had not Dame Elsie
of her own providence elected him to be the husband of her fair
grand-daughter, he would never have thought of the matter himself; but,
opening the black eyes aforenamed upon the girl, he perceived that she
was fair, and also received an inner light through Dame Elsie as to the
amount of her dowry; and, putting these matters together, conceived a
kindness for the maiden, and awaited with tranquillity the time when he
should be allowed to commence his wooing.


Motion and Rest are the two feet upon which existence goes. All action
and all definite power result from the intimacy and consent of these
opposite principles. If, therefore, one would construct any serviceable
mechanism, he must incorporate into it, and commonly in a manifold way,
a somewhat passive, a somewhat contrary, and, as it were, inimical to
action, though action be the sole aim and use of his contrivance. Thus,
the human body is penetrated by the passive and powerless skeleton,
which is a mere weight upon the muscles, a part of the burden that,
nevertheless, it enables them to bear. The lever of Archimedes would
push the planet aside, provided only it were supplied with its
indispensable complement, a fulcrum, or fixity: without this it will not
push a pin. The block of the pulley must have its permanent attachment;
the wheel of the locomotive engine requires beneath it the fixed rail;
the foot of the pedestrian, solid earth; the wing of the bird rests upon
the relatively stable air to support his body, and upon his body to gain
power over the air. Nor is it alone of operations mechanical that the
law holds good: it is universal; and its application to pure mental
action may be shown without difficulty. A single act of the mind is
represented by the formation of a simple sentence. The process consists,
first, in the mind's _fixing upon and resting in_ an object, which
thereby becomes the subject of the sentence; and, secondly, in
predication, which is movement, represented by the verb. The reader will
easily supply himself with instances and illustrations of this, and need
not, therefore, be detained.

In the economy of animal and vegetable existence, as in all that Nature
makes, we observe the same inevitable association. Here is perpetual
fixity of form, perpetual flux of constituent,--the ideas of Nature
never changing, the material realization of them never ceasing to
change. A horse is a horse through all the ages; yet the horse of to-day
is changed from the horse of yesterday.

If one of these principles seem to get the start, and to separate
itself, the other quickly follows. No sooner, for example, does any
person perform an initial deed, proceeding purely (let us suppose) from
free will, than Nature in him begins to repose therein, and consequently
inclines to its repetition for the mere reason that it has been once
done. This is Habit, which makes action passive, and is the greatest of
labor-saving inventions. Custom is the habit of society, holding the
same relation to progressive genius. It is the sleeping partner in the
great social firm; it is thought and force laid up and become
fixed capital. Annihilate this,--as in the French Revolution was
attempted,--and society is at once reduced to its bare immediate force,
and must scratch the soil with its fingers.

Sometimes these principles seem to be strictly hostile to each other and
in no respect reciprocal, as where habit in the individual and custom in
society oppose themselves bitterly to free will and advancing thought:
yet even here the special warfare is but the material of a broader and
more subtile alliance. An obstinate fixity in one's bosom often serves
as a rock on which to break the shell of some hard inclosed faculty.
Upon stepping-stones of our _slain_ selves we mount to new altitudes. So
do the antagonisms of these principles in the broader field of society
equally conceal a fundamental reciprocation. By the opposition to
his thought of inert and defiant custom, the thinker is compelled to
interrogate his consciousness more deeply and sacredly; and being
cut off from that sympathy which has its foundation in similarity of
temperaments and traditions, he must fall back with simpler abandonment
upon the pure idea, and must seek responses from that absolute nature of
man which the men of his time are not human enough to afford him. This
absolute nature, this divine identity in man, underrunning times,
temperaments, individualities, is that which poet and prophet must
address: yet to speak _to_ it, they must speak _from_ it; to be heard
by the universal heart, they must use a universal language. But
this marvellous vernacular can be known to him alone whose heart is
universal, in whom even self-love is no longer selfish, but is a pure
respect to his own being as it is Being. Well it is, therefore, that
here and there one man should be so denied all petty and provincial
claim to attention, that only by speaking to Man as Man, and in the
sincerest vernacular of the human soul, he can find audience; for thus
it shall become his need, for the sake of joy no less than of duty, to
know himself purely as man, and to yield himself wholly to his immortal
humanity. Thus does fixed custom force back the most moving souls, until
they touch the springs of inspiration, and are indued with power: then,
at once potent and pure, they gush into history, to be influences, to
make epochs, and to prevail over that through whose agency they first
obtained strength.

Thus, everywhere, through all realms, do the opposite principles of Rest
and Motion depend upon and reciprocally empower each other. In every
act, mechanical, mental, social, must both take part and consent
together; and upon the perfection of this consent depends the quality
of the action. Every progress is conditioned on a permanence; every
permanence _lives_ but in and through progress. Where all, and with
equal and simultaneous impulse, strives to move, nothing can move, but
chaos is come; where all refuses to move, and therefore stagnates, decay
supervenes, which is motion, though a motion downward.

Having made this general statement, we proceed to say that there are two
chief ways in which these universal opposites enter into reciprocation.
The first and more obvious is the method of alternation, or of rest
_from_ motion; the other, that of continuous equality, which may be
called a rest _in_ motion. These two methods, however, are not mutually
exclusive, but may at once occupy the same ground, and apply to the same
objects,--as oxygen and nitrogen severally fill the same space, to the
full capacity of each, as though the other were absent.

Instances of the alternation, either total or approximative, of these
principles are many and familiar. They may be seen in the systole and
diastole of the heart; in the alternate activity and passivity of the
lungs; in the feet of the pedestrian, one pausing while the other
proceeds; in the waving wings of birds; in the undulation of the sea; in
the creation and propagation of sound, and the propagation, at least,
of light; in the alternate acceleration and retardation of the earth's
motion in its orbit, and in the waving of its poles. In all vibrations
and undulations there is a going and returning, between which must exist
minute periods of repose; but in many instances the return is simply a
relaxation or a subsidence, and belongs, therefore, to the department of
rest. Discourse itself, it will be observed, has its pauses, seasons of
repose thickly interspersed in the action of speech; and besides these
has its accented and unaccented syllables, emphatic and unemphatic
words,--illustrating thus in itself the law which it here affirms.
History is full of the same thing; the tides of faith and feeling now
ascend and now subside, through all the ages, in the soul of humanity;
each new affirmation prepares the way for new doubt, each honest doubt
in the end furthers and enlarges belief; the pendulum of destiny swings
to and fro forever, and earth's minutest life and heaven's remotest star
swing with it, rising but to fall, and falling that they may rise again.
So does rhythm go to the very bottom of the world: the heart of Nature
pulses, and the echoing shore and all music and the throbbing heart and
swaying destinies of man but follow and proclaim the law of her inward

The universality and mutual relationship of these primal principles
have, perhaps, been sufficiently set forth; and this may be the place to
emphasize the second chief point,--that the perfection of this mutuality
measures the degree of excellence in all objects and actions. It
will everywhere appear, that, the more regular and symmetrical their
relationship, the more beautiful and acceptable are its results. For
example, sounds proceeding from vibrations wherein the strokes and
pauses are in invariable relation are such sounds as we denominate
_musical._ Accordingly all sounds are musical at a sufficient distance,
since the most irregular undulations are, in a long journey through the
air, wrought to an equality, and made subject to exact law,--as in
this universe all irregularities are sure to be in the end. Thus, the
thunder, which near at hand is a wild crash, or nearer yet a crazy
crackle, is by distance deepened and refined into that marvellous bass
which we all know. And doubtless the jars, the discords, and moral
contradictions of time, however harsh and crazy at the outset, flow
into exact undulation along the ether of eternity, and only as a pure
proclamation of law attain to the ear of Heaven. Nay, whoso among men is
able to plant his ear high enough above this rude clangor may, in like
manner, so hear it, that it shall be to him melody, solace, fruition,
a perpetual harvest of the heart's dearest wishes, a perpetual
corroboration of that which faith affirms.

We may therefore easily understand why musical sounds _are_ musical, why
they are acceptable and moving, while those affront the sense in which
the minute reposes are capricious, and, as it were, upon ill terms with
the movements. The former appeal to what is most universal and cosmical
within us,--to the pure Law, the deep Nature in our breasts; they fall
in with the immortal rhythm of life itself, which the others encounter
and impugn.

It will be seen also that verse differs from prose as musical sounds
from ordinary tones; and having so deep a ground in Nature, rhythmical
speech will be sure to continue, in spite of objection and protest, were
it, if possible, many times more energetic than that of Mr. Carlyle. But
always the best prose has a certain rhythmic emphasis and cadence: in
Milton's grander passages there is a symphony of organs, the bellows of
the mighty North (one might say) filling their pipes; Goldsmith's flute
still breathes through his essays; and in the ampler prose of Bacon
there is the swell of a summer ocean, and you can half fancy you hear
the long soft surge falling on the shore. Also in all good writing,
as in good reading, the pauses suffer no slight; they are treated
handsomely; and each sentence rounds gratefully and clearly into rest.
Sometimes, indeed, an attempt is made to react in an illegitimate way
this force of firm pauses, as in exaggerated French style, wherein the
writer seems never to stride or to run, but always to jump like a frog.

Again, as reciprocal opposites, our two principles should be of equal
dignity and value. To concede, however, the equality of rest with motion
must, for an American, be not easy; and it is therefore in point to
assert and illustrate this in particular. What better method of doing so
than that of taking some one large instance in Nature, if such can
be found, and allowing this, after fair inspection, to stand for all
others? And, as it happens, just what we require is quite at hand;--the
alternation of Day and Night, of sleep and waking, is so broad, obvious,
and familiar, and so mingled with our human interests, that its two
terms are easily subjected to extended and clear comparison; while also
it deserves discussion upon its own account, apart from its relation to
the general subject.

Sleep is now popularly known to be coextensive with Life,--inseparable
from vital existence of whatever grade. The rotation of the earth
is accordingly implied, as was happily suggested by Paley, in the
constitution of every animal and every plant. It is quite evident,
therefore, that this necessity was not laid upon, man through some
inadvertence of Nature; on the contrary, this arrangement must be such
as to her seemed altogether suitable, and, if suitable, economical.
Eager men, however, avaricious of performance, do not always regard it
with entire complacency. Especially have the saints been apt to set up
a controversy with Nature in this particular, submitting with infinite
unwillingness to the law by which they deem themselves, as it were,
defrauded of life and activity in so large measure. In form, to be
sure, their accusation lies solely against themselves; they reproach
themselves with sleeping beyond need, sleeping for the mere luxury and
delight of it; but the venial self-deception is quite obvious,--nothing
plainer than that it is their necessity itself which is repugnant to
them, and that their wills are blamed for not sufficiently withstanding
and thwarting it. Pious William Law, for example, is unable to disparage
sleep enough for his content. "The poorest, dullest refreshment of the
body," he calls it,... "such a dull, stupid state of existence, that
even among animals we despise them most which are most drowsy."
You should therefore, so he urges, "begin the day in the spirit of
renouncing sleep." Baxter, also,--at that moment a walking catalogue
and epitome of all diseases,--thought himself guilty for all sleep he
enjoyed beyond three hours a day. More's Utopians were to rise at very
early hours, and attend scientific lectures before breakfast.

Ambition and cupidity, which, in their way, are no whit less earnest and
self-sacrificing than sanctity, equally look upon sleep as a wasteful
concession to bodily wants, and equally incline to limit such concession
to its mere minimum. Commonplaces accordingly are perpetually
circulating in the newspapers, especially in such as pretend to a
didactic tone, wherein all persons are exhorted to early rising, to
resolute abridgment of the hours of sleep, and the like. That Sir Walter
Raleigh slept but five hours in twenty-four; that John Hunter, Frederick
the Great, and Alexander von Humboldt slept but four; that the Duke of
Wellington made it an invariable rule to "turn out" whenever he felt
inclined to turn over, and John Wesley to arise upon his first awaking:
instances such as these appear on parade with the regularity of militia
troops at muster; and the precept duly follows,--"Whoso would not be
insignificant, let him go and do likewise." "All great men have been
early risers," says my newspaper.

Of late, indeed, a better knowledge of the laws of health, or perhaps
only a keener sense of its value and its instability, begins to
supersede these rash inculcations; and paragraphs due to some discreet
Dr. Hall make the rounds of the press, in which we are reminded that
early rising, in order to prove a benefit, rather than a source of
mischief, must be duly matched with early going to bed. The one, we are
told, will by no means answer without the other. As yet, however, this
is urged upon hygienic grounds alone; it is a mere concession to the
body, a bald necessity that we hampered mortals lie under; which
necessity we are quite at liberty to regret and accuse, though we cannot
with safety resist it. Sleep is still admitted to be a waste of time,
though one with which Nature alone is chargeable. And I own, not without
reluctance, that the great authority of Plato can be pleaded for this
low view of its functions. In the "Laws" he enjoins a due measure
thereof, but for the sake of health alone, and adds, that the sleeper
is, for the time, of no more value than the dead. Clearly, mankind would
sustain some loss of good sense, were all the dullards and fat-wits
taken away; and Sancho Panza, with his hearty, "Blessings on the man
that invented sleep!" here ekes out the scant wisdom of sages. The
talking world, however, of our day takes part with the Athenian against
the Manchegan philosopher, and, while admitting the present necessity of
sleep, does not rejoice in its original invention. If, accordingly, in a
computation of the length of man's life, the hours passed in slumber are
carefully deducted, and considered as forming no part of available time,
not even the medical men dispute the justice of such procedure. They
have but this to say:--"The stream of life is not strong enough to keep
the mill of action always going; we must therefore periodically shut
down the gate and allow the waters to accumulate; and he ever loses more
than he gains who attempts any avoidance of this natural necessity."

As medical men, they are not required, perhaps, to say more; and we will
be grateful to them for faithfully urging this,--especially when we
consider, that, under the sage arrangements now existing, all that the
physician does for the general promotion of health is done in defiance
of his own interests. We, however, have further questions to ask. Why is
not the life-stream more affluent? Sleep _is_ needful,--but _wherefore_?
The physician vindicates the sleeper; but the philosopher must vindicate

It is surely one step toward an elucidation of this matter to observe
that the necessity here accused is not one arbitrarily laid upon us _by_
Nature, but one existing _in_ Nature herself, and appertaining to the
very conception of existence. The elucidation, however, need not pause
at this point. The assumption that sleep is a piece of waste, as being a
mere restorative for the body, and not a service or furtherance to the
mind,--this must be called in question and examined closely; for it is
precisely in this assumption, as I deem, that the popular judgment goes
astray. _Is_ sleep any such arrest and detention of the mind? That it is
a shutting of those outward gates by which impressions flow in upon the
soul is sufficiently obvious; but who can assure us that it is equally
a closing of those inward and skyward gates through which come
the reinforcements of faculty, the strength that masters and uses
impression? I persuade myself, on the contrary, that it is what Homer
called it, _divine_,--able, indeed, to bring the blessing of a god; and
that hours lawfully passed under the pressure of its heavenly palms are
fruitful, not merely negatively, but positively, not only as recruiting
exhausted powers, and enabling us to be awake again, but by direct
contribution to the resources of the soul and the uses of life; that, in
fine, one awakes farther on in _life_, as well as farther on in _time_,
than he was at falling asleep. This deeper function of the night, what
is it?

Sleep is, first of all, a filter, or sieve. It strains off the
impressions that engross, but not enrich us,--that superfluous
_material_ of experience which, either from glutting excess, or from
sheer insignificance, cannot be spiritualized, made human, transmuted
into experience itself. Every man in our day, according to the measure
of his sensibility, and with some respect also to his position, is
_mobbed_ by impressions, and must fight as for his life, if he escape
being taken utterly captive by them. It is our perpetual peril that
our lives shall become so sentient as no longer to be reflective or
artistic,--so beset and infested by the immediate as to lose all
amplitude, all perspective, and to become mere puppets of the present,
mere Chinese pictures, a huddle of foreground without horizon, or
heaven, or even earthly depth and reach. It is easy to illustrate this
miserable possibility. A man, for example, in the act of submitting
to the extraction of a tooth, is, while the process lasts, one of the
poorest poor creatures with whose existence the world might be taunted.
His existence is but skin-deep, and contracted to a mere point at that:
no vision and faculty divine, no thoughts that wander through eternity,
now: a tooth, a jaw, and the iron of the dentist,--these constitute, for
the time being, his universe. Only when this monopolizing, enslaving,
sensualizing impression has gone by, may what had been a point of pained
and quivering animality expand once more to the dimensions of a human
soul. Kant, it is said, could withdraw his attention from the pain of
gout by pure mental engagement, but found the effort dangerous to
his brain, and accordingly was fain to submit, and be no more than
a toe-joint, since evil fate would have it so. These extreme cases
exemplify a process of impoverishment from which we all daily suffer.
The external, the immediate, the idiots of the moment, telling tales
that signify nothing, yet that so overcry the suggestion of our deeper
life as by the sad and weary to be mistaken for the discourse of life
itself,--these obtrude themselves upon us, and multiply and brag and
brawl about us, until we have neither room for better guests, nor
spirits for their entertainment. We are like schoolboys with eyes out at
the windows, drawn by some rattle of drum and squeak of fife, who would
study, were they but deaf. Reproach sleep as a waste, forsooth! It is
this tyrannical attraction to the surface, that indeed robs us of time,
and defrauds us of the uses of life. We cannot hear the gods for the
buzzing of flies. We are driven to an idle industry,--the idlest of all

And to this description of loss men are nowadays peculiarly exposed.
The modern world is all battle-field; the smoke, the dust, the din fill
every eye and ear; and the hill-top of Lucretius, where is it? The
indispensable, terrible newspaper, with its late allies, the Titans and
sprites of steam and electricity,--bringing to each retired nook,
and thrusting in upon each otherwise peaceful household, the crimes,
follies, fears, solicitudes, doubts, problems of all kingdoms and
peoples,--exasperates the former Scotch mist of impressions into a
flooding rain, and almost threatens to swamp the brain of mankind. The
incitement to thought is ever greater; but the possibility of thinking,
especially of thinking in a deep, simple, central way, is ever less.
Problems multiply, but how to attend to them is ever a still greater
problem. Guests of the intellect and imagination accumulate until the
master of the house is pushed out of doors, and hospitality ceases from
the mere excess of its occasion. That must be a greater than Homer who
should now do Homer's work. He, there in his sweet, deep-skied Ionia,
privileged with an experience so simple and yet so salient and powerful,
might well hope to act upon this victoriously by his spirit, might hope
to transmute it, as indeed he did, into melodious and enduring human
suggestion. Would it have been all the same, had he lived in our
type-setting modern world, with its multitudinous knowledges, its
aroused conscience, its spurred and yet thwarted sympathies, its new
incitements to egotism also, and new tools and appliances for egotism
to use,--placed, as it were, in the focus of a vast whispering-gallery,
where all the sounds of heaven and earth came crowding, contending,
incessant upon his ear? One sees at a glance how the serious thought and
poetry of Greece cling to a few master facts, not being compelled to
fight always with the many-headed monster of detail; and this suggests
to me that our literature may fall short of Grecian amplitude, depth,
and simplicity, not wholly from inferiority of power, but from
complications appertaining to our position.

The problem of our time is, How to digest and assimilate the Newspaper?
To complain of it, to desire its abolition, is an anachronism of the
will: it is to complain that time proceeds, and that events follow each
other in due sequence. It is hardly too bold to say that the newspaper
_is_ the modern world, as distinct from the antique and the mediaeval.
It represents, by its advent, that epoch in human history wherein
each man must begin, in proportion to his capability of sympathy and
consideration, to collate his private thoughts, fortunes, interests with
those of the human race at large. We are now in the crude openings of
this epoch, fevered by its incidents and demands; and one of its tokens
is a general exhaustion of the nervous system and failure of health,
both here and in Europe,--those of most sensitive spirit, and least
retired and sheltered from the impressions of the time, suffering most.
All this will end, _must_ end, victoriously. In the mean time can we not
somewhat adjust ourselves to this new condition?

One thing we can and must not fail to do: we can learn to understand and
appreciate Rest. In particular, we should build up and reinforce the
powers of the night to offset this new intensity of the day. Such,
indeed, as the day now is has it ever been, though in a less degree:
always it has cast upon men impressions significant, insignificant, and
of an ill significance, promiscuously and in excess; and always sleep
has been the filter of memory, the purifier of experience, providing a
season that follows closely upon the impressions of the day, ere yet
they are too deeply imbedded, in which our deeper life may pluck away
the adhering burrs from its garments, and arise disburdened, clean, and
free. I make no doubt that Death also performs, though in an ampler and
more thorough way, the same functions. It opposes the tyranny of memory.
For were our experience to go on forever accumulating, unwinnowed,
undiminished, every man would sooner or later break down beneath it;
every man would be crushed by his own traditions, becoming a grave to
himself, and drawing the clods over his own head. To relieve us of these
accidental accretions, to give us back to ourselves, is the use,
in part, of that sleep which rounds each day, and of that other
sleep--brief, but how deep!--which rounds each human life.

Accordingly, he who sleeps well need not die so soon,--even as in the
order of Nature he will not. He has that other and rarer half of a good
memory, namely, a good forgetting. For none remembers so ill as he that
remembers all. "A great German scholar affirmed that he knew not what
it was to forget." Better have been born an idiot! An unwashed
memory,--faugh! To us moderns and Americans, therefore, who need
above all things to forget well,--our one imperative want being a
simplification of experience,--to us, more than to all other men, is
requisite, in large measure of benefit, the winnowing-fan of sleep,
sleep with its choices and exclusions, if we would not need the offices
of death too soon.

But a function of yet greater depth and moment remains to be indicated.
Sleep enables the soul not only to shed away that which is foreign,
but to adopt and assimilate whatever is properly its own. Dr. Edward
Johnson, a man of considerable penetration, though not, perhaps, of a
balanced judgment, has a dictum to the effect that the formation of
blood goes on during our waking hours, but the composition of tissue
during those of sleep. I know not upon what grounds of evidence
this statement is made; but one persuades himself that it must be
approximately true of the body, since it is undoubtedly so of the soul.
Under the eye of the sun the fluid elements of character are supplied;
but the final edification takes place beneath the stars. Awake, we
think, feel, act; sleeping, we _become_. Day feeds our consciousness;
night, out of those stores which action has accumulated, nourishes the
vital unconsciousness, the pure unit of the man. During sleep, the valid
and serviceable experience of the day is drawn inward, wrought upon by
spiritual catalysis, transmitted into conviction, sentiment, character,
life, and made part of that which is to attract and assimilate all
subsequent experience. Who, accordingly, has not awaked to find some
problem already solved with which he had vainly grappled on the
preceding day? It is not merely that in the morning our invigorated
powers work more efficiently, and enable us to reach this solution
immediately _after_ awaking. Often, indeed, this occurs; but there are
also numerous instances--and such alone are in point--wherein the work
is complete _before_ one's awakening: not unfrequently it is by the
energy itself of the new perception that the soft bonds of slumber are
first broken; the soul hails its new dawn with so lusty a cheer,
that its clarion reaches even to the ear of the body, and we are
unconsciously murmuring the echoes of that joyous salute while yet the
iris-hued fragments of our dreams linger about us. The poet in the
morning, if true divine slumber have been vouchsafed him, finds his
mind enriched with sweeter imaginations, the thinker with profounder
principles and wider categories: neither begins the new day where
he left the old, but each during his rest has silently, wondrously,
advanced to fresh positions, commanding the world now from nobler
summits, and beholding around him an horizon beyond that over which
yesterday's sun rose and set. Milton gives us testimony very much in

"My celestial patroness, who deigns
Her nightly visitation unimplored,
And dictates to me slumb'ring."

Thus, in one important sense, is day the servant of night, action the
minister of rest. I fancy, accordingly, that Marcus Antoninus may give
Heraclitus credit for less than his full meaning in saying that "men
asleep are then also laboring"; for he understands him to signify only
that through such the universe is still accomplishing its ends. Perhaps
he meant to indicate what has been here affirmed,--that in sleep one's
personal destiny is still ripening, his true life proceeding.

But if, as the instance which has been under consideration suggests,
these two principles are of equal dignity, it will follow that the
ability to rest profoundly is of no less estimation than the ability to
work powerfully. Indeed, is it not often the condition upon which great
and sustained power of action depends? The medal must have two sides.
"Danton," says Carlyle, "was a great nature that could rest." Were not
the force and terror of his performance the obverse fact? I do not
now mean, however true it would be, to say that without rest physical
resources would fail, and action be enfeebled in consequence; I mean
that the soul which wants the attitude of repose wants the condition of
power. There is a petulant and meddlesome industry which proceeds from
spiritual debility, and causes more; it is like the sleeplessness and
tossing of exhausted nervous patients, which arises from weakness, and
aggravates its occasion. As few things are equally wearisome, so few are
equally wasteful, with a perpetual indistinct sputter of action, whereby
nothing is done and nothing let alone. Half the world _breaks_ out with
action; its performance is cutaneous, of the nature of tetter. Hence is
it that in the world, with such a noise of building, so few edifices are

We require it as a pledge of the sanity of our condition, and consequent
wholesomeness of our action, that we can withhold our hand, and
leave the world in that of its Maker. No man is quite necessary to
Omnipotence; grass grew before we were born, and doubtless will continue
to grow when we are dead. If we act, let it be because our soul has
somewhat to bring forth, and not because our fingers itch. We have in
these days been emphatically instructed that all speech not rooted in
silence, rooted, that is, in pure, vital, silent Nature, is
poor and unworthy; but we should be aware that action equally
requires this solemn and celestial perspective, this issue out of the
never-trodden, noiseless realms of the soul. Only that which comes from
a divine depth can attain to a divine height.

There is a courage of withholding and forbearing greater than any other
courage; and before this Fate itself succumbs. Wellington won the
Battle of Waterloo by heroically standing still; and every hour of that
adventurous waiting was heaping up significance for the moment when at
length he should cry, "Up, Guards, and at them !" What Cecil said of
Raleigh, "He can toil terribly," has been styled "an electric touch";
but the "masterly inactivity" of Sir James Mackintosh, happily
appropriated by Mr. Calhoun, carries an equal appeal to intuitive sense,
and has already become proverbial. He is no sufficient hero who in the
delays of Destiny, when his way is hedged up and his hope deferred,
cannot reserve his strength and bide his time. The power of acting
greatly includes that of greatly abstaining from action. The leader of
an epoch in affairs should therefore be some Alfred, Bruce, Gustavus
Vasa, Cromwell, Washington, Garibaldi, who can wait while the iron of
opportunity heats at the forge of time; and then, in the moment of its
white glow, can so smite as to shape it forever to the uses of mankind.

One should be able not only to wait, but to wait strenuously, sternly,
immovably, rooted in his repose like a mountain oak in the soil; for
it may easily happen that the necessity of refraining shall be most
imperative precisely when, the external pressure toward action is most
vehement. Amid the violent urgency of events, therefore, one should
learn the art of the mariner, who, in time of storm lies to, with sails
mostly furled, until milder gales permit him again to spread sail
and stretch away. With us, as with him, even a fair wind may blow so
fiercely that one cannot safely run before it. There are movements with
whose direction we sympathize, which are yet so ungoverned that we lose
our freedom and the use of our reason in committing ourselves to
them. So the seaman who runs too long before the increasing gale has
thereafter no election; go on he must, for there is death in pausing,
though it be also death to proceed. Learn, therefore, to wait. Is there
not many a one who never arrives at fruit, for no better reason than
that he persists in plucking his own blossoms? Learn to wait. Take time,
with the smith, to raise your arm, if you would deliver a telling blow.

Does it seem wasteful, this waiting? Let us, then, remind ourselves that
excess and precipitation are more than wasteful,--they are directly
destructive. The fire that blazes beyond bounds not warms the house,
but burns it down, and only helps infinitesimally to warm the wide
out-of-doors. Any live snail will out-travel a wrecked locomotive, and
besides will leave no trail of slaughter on its track. Though despatch
be the soul of business, yet he who outruns his own feet comes to the
ground, and makes no despatch,--unless it be of himself. Hurry is the
spouse of Flurry, and the father of Confusion. Extremes meet, and
overaction steadfastly returns to the effect of non-action,--bringing,
however, the seven devils of disaster in its company. The ocean storm
which heaps the waves so high may, by a sufficient increase, blow them
down again; and in no calm is the sea so level as in the extremest

Persistent excess of outward performance works mischief in one of two
directions,--either upon the body or on the soul. If one will not
accommodate himself to this unreasonable quantity by abatement of
quality,--if he be resolute to put love, faith, and imagination into
his labor, and to be alive to the very top of his brain,--then the body
enters a protest, and dyspepsia, palsy, phthisis, insanity, or somewhat
of the kind, ensues. Commonly, however, the tragedy is different from
this, and deeper. Commonly, in these cases, action loses height as it
gains lateral surface; the superior faculties starve, being robbed of
sustenance by this avarice of performance, and consequently of supply,
on the part of the lower,--they sit at second table, and eat of
remainder-crumbs. The delicate and divine sprites, that should bear the
behests of the soul to the will and to the houses of thought in the
brain her intuitions, are crowded out from the streets of the cerebral
cities by the mob and trample of messengers bound upon baser errands;
and thus is the soul deprived of service, and the man of inspiration.
The man becomes, accordingly, a great merchant who values a cent, but
does not value a human sentiment; or a lawyer who can convince a jury
that white is black, but cannot convince himself that white is white,
God God, and the sustaining faiths of great souls more than moonshine.
So if the apple-tree will make too much wood, it can bear no fruit;
during summer it is full of haughty thrift, but the autumn, which brings
grace to so many a dwarfed bush and low shrub, shows it naked and in

How many mistake the crowing of the cock for the rising of the sun,
albeit the cock often crows at midnight, or at the moon's rising, or
only at the advent of a lantern and a tallow candle! And yet what
a bloated, gluttonous devourer of hopes and labors is this same
precipitation! All shores are strown with wrecks of barks that went too
soon to sea. And if you launch even your well-built ship at half-tide,
what will it do but strike bottom, and stick there? The perpetual
tragedy of literary history, in especial, is this. What numbers of young
men, gifted with great imitative quickness, who, having, by virtue of
this, arrived at fine words and figures of speech, set off on their
nimble rhetorical Pegasus, keep well out of the Muse's reach ever
after! How many go conspicuously through life, snapping their smart
percussion-caps upon empty barrels, because, forsooth, powder and ball
do not come of themselves, and it takes time to load!

I know that there is a divine impatience, a rising of the waters of love
and noble pain till they _must_ overflow, with or without the hope of
immediate apparent use, and no matter what swords and revenges impend.
History records a few such defeats which are worth thousands of ordinary
victories. Yet the rule is, that precipitation comes of levity.
Eagerness is shallow. Haste is but half-earnest. If an apple is found
to grow mellow and seemingly ripe much before its fellows on the same
bough, you will probably discover, upon close inspection, that there is
a worm in it.

To be sure, any time is too soon with those who dote upon Never. There
are such as find Nature precipitate and God forward. They would have
effect limp at untraversable distances behind cause; they would keep
destiny carefully abed and feed it upon spoon-victual. They play duenna
to the universe, and are perpetually on the _qui vive_, lest it escape,
despite their care, into improprieties. The year is with them too fast
by so much as it removes itself from the old almanac. The reason is that
_they_ are the old almanac. Or, more distinctly, they are at odds with
universal law, and, knowing that to them it can come only as judgment
and doom, they, not daring to denounce the law itself, fall to the trick
of denouncing its agents as visionaries, and its effects as premature.
The felon always finds the present an unseasonable day on which to be
hanged: the sheriff takes another view of the matter.

But the error of these consists, not in realizing good purposes too
slowly and patiently, but in failing effectually to purpose good at
all. To those who truly are making it the business of their lives to
accomplish worthy aims, this counsel cannot come amiss,--TAKE TIME.
Take a year in which to thread a needle, rather than go dabbing at the
texture with the naked thread. And observe, that there is an excellence
and an efficacy of slowness, no less than of quickness. The armadillo
is equally secure of his prey with the hawk or leopard; and Sir Charles
Bell mentions a class of thieves in India, who, having, through
extreme patience and command of nerve, acquired the power of motion
imperceptibly slow, are the most formidable of all peculators, and
almost defy precaution. And to leave these low instances, slowness
produced by profoundness of feeling and fineness of perception
constitutes that divine patience of genius without which genius does not
exist. Mind lingers where appetite hurries on; it is only the Newtons
who stay to meditate over the fall of an apple, too trivial for the
attention of the clown. It is by this noble slowness that the highest
minds faintly emulate that inconceivable deliberateness and delicacy of
gradation with which solar systems are built and worlds habilitated.

Now haste and intemperance are the Satans that beset virtuous Americans.
And these mischiefs are furthered by those who should guard others
against them. The Rev. Dr. John Todd, in a work, not destitute of merit,
entitled "The Student's Manual," urges those whom he addresses to study,
while about it, with their utmost might, crowding into an hour as much
work as it can possibly be made to contain; so, he says, they will
increase the power of the brain. But this is advice not fit to be given
to a horse, much less to candidates for the graces of scholarly manhood.
I read that race-horses, during the intervals between their public
contests, are permitted only occasionally and rarely to be driven at
their extreme speed, but are assiduously made to _walk_ several hours
each day. By this constancy of _moderate_ exercise they preserve health
and suppleness of limb, without exhaustion of strength. And it appears,
that, were such an animal never to be taken from the stable but to be
pushed to the top of his speed, he would be sure to make still greater
speed toward ruin. Why not be as wise for men as for horses?

And here I desire to lay stress upon one point, which American students
will do well to consider gravely,--_It is a_ PURE, _not a strained and
excited, attention which has signal prosperity._ Distractions, tempests,
and head-winds in the brain, by-ends, the sidelong eyes of vanity, the
overleaping eyes of ambition, the bleared eyes of conceit,--these are
they which thwart study and bring it to nought. Nor these only, but all
impatience, all violent eagerness, all passionate and perturbed feeling,
fill the brain with thick and hot blood, suited to the service of
desire, unfit for the uses of thought. Intellect can be served only by
the finest properties of the blood; and if there be any indocility
of soul, any impurity of purpose, any coldness or carelessness, any
prurience or crude and intemperate heat, then base spirits are sent down
from the seat of the soul to summon the sanguineous forces; and these
gather a crew after their own kind. Purity of attention, then, is the
magic that the scholar may use; and let him know, that, the purer it is,
the more temperate, tranquil, reposeful. Truth is not to be run down
with fox-hounds; she is a divinity, and divinely must he draw nigh who
will gain her presence. Go to, thou bluster-brain! Dost thou think to
learn? Learn docility first, and the manners of the skies. And thou
egotist, thinkest thou that these eyes of thine, smoky with the fires of
diseased self-love, and thronged with deceiving wishes, shall perceive
the essential and eternal? They shall see only silver and gold, houses
and lands, reputes, supremacies, fames, and, as instrumental to these,
the forms of logic and seemings of knowledge. If thou wilt discern the
truth, desire IT, not its accidents and collateral effects. Rest in the
pursuit of it, putting _simplicity of quest_ in the place of either
force or wile; and such quest cannot be unfruitful.

Let the student, then, shun an excited and spasmodic tension of brain,
and he will gain more while expending less. It is not toil, it is morbid
excitement, that kills; and morbid excitement in constant connection
with high mental endeavor is, of all modes and associations of
excitement, the most disastrous. Study as the grass grows, and your old
age--and its laurels--shall be green.

Already, however, we are trenching upon that more intimate relationship
of the great opposites under consideration which has been designated
Rest _in_ Motion. More intimate relationship, I say,--at any rate,
more subtile, recondite, difficult of apprehension and exposition, and
perhaps, by reason of this, more central and suggestive. An example
of this in its physical aspect may be seen in the revolutions of the
planets, and in all orbital or circular motion. For such, it will be
at once perceived, is, in strictness of speech, _fixed and stationary_
motion: it is, as Sir Isaac Newton demonstrated, an exact and equal
obedience, in the same moment, to the law of fixity and the law of
progression. Observe especially, that it is not, like merely retarded
motion, a partial neutralization of each principle by the other, an
imbecile Aristotelian compromise and half-way house between the two;
but it is at once, and in virtue of the same fact, perfect Rest _and_
perfect Motion. A revolving body is not hindered, but the same impulse
which begot its movement causes this perpetually to return into itself.

Now the principles that are seen to govern the material universe are
but a large-lettered display of those that rule in perfect humanity.
Whatsoever makes distinguished order and admirableness in Nature makes
the same in man; and never was there a fine deed that was not begot of
the same impulse and ruled by the same laws to which solar systems are
due. I desire, accordingly, here to take up and emphasize the statement
previously made in a general way,--that the secret of perfection in
all that appertains to man--in morals, manners, art, politics--must
be sought in such a correspondence and reciprocation of these great
opposites as the motions of the planets perfectly exemplify.

It must not, indeed, be overlooked or unacknowledged, that the planets
do not move in exact circles, but diverge slightly into ellipses. The
fact is by no means without significance, and that of an important kind.
Pure circular motion is the type of perfection in the universe as
a _whole_, but each part of the whole will inevitably express its
partiality, will acknowledge its special character, and upon the
frankness of this confession its comeliness will in no small degree
depend; nevertheless, no sooner does the eccentricity, or individuality,
become so great as to suggest disloyalty to the idea of the whole,
than ugliness ensues. Thus, comets are portents, shaking the faith of
nations, not supporting it, like the stars. So among men. Nature is
at pains to secure divergence, magnetic variation, putting into every
personality and every powerful action some element of irregularity
and imperfection; and her reason for doing so is, that irregularity
appertains to the state of growth, and is the avenue of access to higher
planes and broader sympathies; still, as the planets, though not moving
in perfect circles, yet come faithfully round to the same places, and
accomplish _the ends_ of circular motion, so in man, the divergence must
be special, not total, no act being the mere arc of a circle, and yet
_revolution_ being maintained. And to the beauty of characters and
deeds, it is requisite that they should never seem even to imperil
fealty to the universal idea. Revolution perfectly exact expresses only
necessity, not voluntary fidelity; but departure, _still deferential to
the law of the whole_, in evincing freedom elevates its obedience
into fealty and noble faithfulness: by this measure of eccentricity,
centricity is not only emphasized, but immeasurably exalted.

But having made this full and willing concession to the element of
individuality in persons and of special character in actions, we are at
liberty to resume the general thesis,--that orbital rest of movement
furnishes the type of perfect excellence, and suggests accordingly the
proper targe of aspiration and culture.

In applying this law, we will take first a low instance, wherein the
opposite principles stand apart, rather upon terms of outward covenant,
or of mere mixture, than of mutual assimilation. _Man_ is infinite;
_men_ are finite: the purest aspect of great laws never appears in
collections and aggregations, yet the same laws rule here as in the
soul, and such excellence as is possible issues from the same sources.
As an instance, accordingly, of that ruder reciprocation which may
obtain among multitudes, I name the Roman Legion.

It is said that the success of the armies of Rome is not fully accounted
for, until one takes into account the constitution of this military
body. It united, in an incomparable degree, the different advantages
of fixity and fluency. Moderate in size, yet large enough to give the
effect of mass, open in texture, yet compact in form, it afforded to
every man room for individual prowess, while it left no man to his
individual strength. Each soldier leaned and rested upon the Legion,
a body of six thousand men; yet around each was a space in which his
movements might be almost as free, rapid, and individual as though he
had possessed the entire field to himself. The Macedonian Phalanx was a
marvel of mass, but it was mass not penetrated with mobility; it could
move, indeed could be said to have an existence, only as a whole;
its decomposed parts were but _debris_. The Phalanx, therefore, was
terrible, the constituent parts of it imbecile; and the Battle of
Cynocephalae finally demonstrated its inferiority, for the various
possible exigencies of battle, to the conquering Legion. The brave
rabble of Gauls and Goths, on the other hand, illustrated all that
private valor, not reposing upon any vaster and more stable strength,
has power to achieve; but these rushing torrents of prowess dashed
themselves into vain spray upon the coordinated and reposing courage of

The same perpetual opposites must concur to produce the proper form and
uses of the State,--though they here appear in a much more elevated
form. Rest is here known as _Law_, motion as _Liberty_. In the true
commonwealth, these, so far from being mutually destructive or
antagonistic, incessantly beget and vivify each other; so that Law
is the expression and guaranty of Freedom, while Freedom flows
spontaneously into the forms of Justice. Neither of these can exist,
neither can be properly _conceived of_, apart from its correlative
opposite. Nor will any condition of mere truce, or of mere mechanical
equilibrium, suffice. Nothing suffices but a reciprocation so active and
total that each is constantly resolving itself into the other.

The notion of Rousseau, which is countenanced by much of the
phraseology, to say the least, of the present day, was, indeed, quite
contrary to this. He assumed freedom to exist only where law is not,
that is, in the savage state, and to be surrendered, piece for piece,
with every acknowledgment of social obligation. Seldom was ever so
plausible a doctrine equally false. Law is properly _the public
definition of freedom and the affirmation of its sacredness and
inviolability as so defined_; and only in the presence of it, either
express or implicit, does man become free. Duty and privilege are one
and the same, however men may set up a false antagonism between them;
and accordingly social obligation can subtract nothing from the
privilege and prerogative of liberty. Consequently, the freedom which is
defined as the negation of social duty and obligation is not true regal
freedom, but is that worst and basest of all tyrannies, the tyranny of
pure egotism, masked in the semblance of its divine contrary. That,
be it observed, is the freest society, in which the noblest and most
delicate human powers find room and secure respect,--wherein the
loftiest and costliest spiritualities are most invited abroad by
sympathetic attraction. Now among savages little obtains appreciation,
save physical force and its immediate allies: the divine fledglings of
the human soul, instead of being sweetly drawn and tempted forth, are
savagely menaced, rudely repelled; whatsoever is finest in the man,
together with the entire nature of woman, lies, in that low temperature,
enchained and repressed, like seeds in a frozen soil. The harsh,
perpetual contest with want and lawless rivalry, to which all
uncivilized nations are doomed, permits only a few low powers, and those
much the same in all,--lichens, mosses, rude grasses, and other coarse
cryptogamous growths,--to develop themselves; since these alone can
endure the severities of season and treatment to which all that would
clothe the fields of the soul must remain exposed. Meanwhile the utmost
of that wicked and calamitous suppression of faculty, which constitutes
the essence and makes the tragedy of human slavery, is equally effected
by the inevitable isolation and wakeful trampling and consequent
barrenness of savage life. Liberty without law is not liberty; and the
converse may be asserted with like confidence.

Where, then, the fixed term, State, or Law, and the progressive term,
Person, or Freewill, are in relations of reciprocal support and mutual
reproduction, there alone is freedom, there alone public order. We were
able to command this truth from the height of our general proposition,
and closer inspection shows those anticipations to have been correct.

But man is greater than men; and for the finest aspect of high laws, we
must look to individual souls, not to masses.

What is the secret of noble manners? Orbital action, always returning
into and compensating itself. The gentleman, in offering his respect to
others, offers an equal, or rather the same, respect to himself; and his
courtesies may flow without stint or jealous reckoning, because they
feed their source, being not an expenditure, but a circulation.
Submitting to the inward law of honor and the free sense of what befits
a man,--to a law perpetually made and spontaneously executed in his
own bosom, the instant flowering of his own soul,--he commands his own
obedience, and he obeys his own commanding. Though throned above all
nations, a king of kings, yet the faithful humble vassal of his own
heart; though he serve, yet regal, doing imperial service; he escapes
outward constraint by inward anticipation; and all that could he rightly
named as his duty to others, he has, ere demand, already discovered, and
engaged in, as part of his duty to himself. Now it is the expression of
royal freedom in loyal service, of sovereignty in obedience, courage in
concession, and strength in forbearance, which makes manners noble. Low
may he bow, not with loss, but with access of dignity, who bows with an
elevated and ascending heart: there is nothing loftier, nothing less
allied to abject behavior, than this grand lowliness. The worm, because
it is low, cannot be lowly; but man, uplifted in token of supremacy, may
kneel in adoration, bend in courtesy, and stoop in condescension. Only a
great pride, that is, a great and reverential repose in one's own being,
renders possible a noble humility, which is a great and reverential
acknowledgment of the being of others; this humility in turn sustains a
higher self-reverence; this again resolves itself into a more majestic
humility; and so run, in ever enhancing wave, the great circles of
inward honor and outward grace. And without this self-sustaining
return of the action into itself, each quality feeding itself from its
correlative opposite, there can be no high behavior. This is the reason
why qualities loftiest in kind and largest in measure are vulgarly
mistaken, not for their friendly opposites, but for their mere
contraries,--why a very profound sensibility, a sensibility, too,
peculiarly of the spirit, not of nerve only, is sure to be named
coldness, as Mr. Ruskin recently remarks,--why vast wealth of good
pride, in its often meek acceptance of wrong, in its quiet ignoring
of insult, in its silent superiority to provocation, passes with
the superficial and petulant for poverty of pride and mere
mean-spiritedness,--why a courage which is not partial, but _total_,
coexisting, as it always does, with a noble peacefulness, with a noble
inaptness for frivolous hazards, and a noble slowness to take offence,
is, in its delays and forbearances, thought by the half-courageous to
be no better than cowardice;--it is, as we have said, because great
qualities revolve and repose in orbits of reciprocation with their
opposites, which opposites are by coarse and ungentle eyes misdeemed to
be contraries. Feeling transcendently deep and powerful is unimpassioned
and far lower-voiced than indifference and unfeelingness, being wont
to express itself, not by eloquent ebullition, but by extreme
understatement, or even by total silence. Sir Walter Raleigh, when at
length he found himself betrayed to death--and how basely betrayed!--by
Sir Lewis Stukely, only said, "Sir Lewis, these actions will not turn to
your credit." The New Testament tells us of a betrayal yet more quietly
received. These are instances of noble manners.

What actions are absolutely moral is determined by application of the
same law,--those only which repose wholly in themselves, being to
themselves at once motive and reward. "Miserable is he," says the
"Bhagavad Gita," "whose motive to action lies, not in the action itself,
but in its reward." Duty purchased with covenant of special delights is
not duty, but is the most pointed possible denial of it. The just man
looks not beyond justice; the merciful reposes in acts of mercy; and
he who would be bribed to equity and goodness is not only bad, but
shameless. But of this no further words.

Rest is sacred, celestial, and the appreciation of it and longing for
it are mingled with the religious sentiment of all nations. I cannot
remember the time when there was not to me a certain ineffable
suggestion in the apostolic words, "There remaineth, therefore, a rest
for the people of God." But the repose of the godlike must, as that of
God himself, be _infinitely_ removed from mere sluggish inactivity;
since the conception of action is the conception of existence
itself,--that is, of Being in the act of self-manifestation. Celestial
rest is found in action so universal, so purely identical with the great
circulations of Nature, that, like the circulation of the blood and the
act of breathing, it is not a subtraction from vital resource, but is,
on the contrary, part of the very fact of life and all its felicities.
This does not exclude rhythmic or recreative rest; but the need of such
rest detracts nothing from pleasure or perfection. In heaven also, if
such figure of speech be allowable, may be that toil which shall render
grateful the cessation from toil, and give sweetness to sleep; but right
weariness has its own peculiar delight, no less than right exercise;
and as the glories of sunset equal those of dawn, so with equal, though
diverse pleasure, should noble and temperate labor take off its sandals
for evening repose, and put them on to go forth "beneath the opening
eyelids of the morn." Yet, allowing a place for this rhythm in the
detail and close inspection even of heavenly life, it still holds true
on the broad scale, that pure beauty and beatitude are found there only
where life and character sweep in orbits of that complete expression
which is at once divine labor and divine repose.

Observe, now, that this rest-motion, as being without waste or loss, is
a _manifested immortality_, since that which wastes not ends not; and
therefore it puts into every motion the very character and suggestion of
immortal life. Yea, one deed rightly done, and the doer is in heaven,
--is of the company of immortals. One deed so done that in it is _no_
mortality; and in that deed the meaning of man's history,--the meaning,
indeed, and the glory, of existence itself,--are declared. Easy,
therefore, it is to see how any action may be invested with universal
significance and the utmost conceivable charm. The smaller the realm and
the humbler the act into which this amplitude and universality of spirit
are carried, the more are they emphasized and set off; so that, without
opportunity of unusual occasion, or singular opulence of natural power,
a man's life may possess all that majesty which the imagination pictures
in archangels and in gods. Indeed, it is but simple statement of fact to
say, that he who rests _utterly_ in his action shall belittle not only
whatsoever history has recorded, but all which that poet of poets,
Mankind, has ever dreamed or fabled of grace and greatness. He shall
not peer about with curiosity to spy approbation, or with zeal to defy
censure; he shall not know if there be a spectator in the world; his
most public deed shall be done in a divine privacy, on which no eye
intrudes,--his most private in the boundless publicities of Nature; his
deed, when done, falls away from him, like autumn apples from their
boughs, no longer his, but the world's and destiny's; neither the
captive of yesterday nor the propitiator of to-morrow, he abides simply,
majestically, like a god, in being and doing. Meanwhile, blame and
praise whirl but as unrecognized cloudlets of gloom or glitter beneath
his feet, enveloping and often blinding those who utter them, but to him
never attaining.

It is not easy at present to suggest the real measure and significance
of such manhood, because this age has debased its imagination, by the
double trick, first, of confounding man with his body, and next, of
considering the body, not as a symbol of truth, but only as an agent in
the domain of matter,--comparing its size with the sum total of physical
space, and its muscular power with the sum total of physical forces. Yet

"What know we greater than the soul?"

A man is no outlying province, nor does any province lie beyond him.
East, West, North, South, and height and depth are contained in his
bosom, the poles of his being reaching more widely, his zenith and nadir
being more sublime and more profound. We are cheated by nearness and
intimacy. Let us look at man with a telescope, and we shall find no star
or constellation of sweep so grand, no nebulae or star-dust so provoking
and suggestive to fancy. In truth, there are no words to say how either
large or small, how significant or insignificant, men may be. Though
solar and stellar systems amaze by their grandeur of scale, yet is true
manhood the maximum of Nature; though microscopic and sub-microscopic
protophyta amaze by their inconceivable littleness, yet is mock manhood
Nature's minimum. The latter is the only negative quantity known to
Nature; the former the only revelation of her entire heart.

In concluding, need I say that only the pure can repose in his
action,--only he obtain deliverance by his deed, and after deliverance
from it? The egotism, the baseness, the partialities that are in our
performance are hooks and barbs by which it wounds and wearies us in the
passage, and clings to us being past.

Law governs all; no favor is shown; the event is as it must be; only he
who has no blinding partiality toward himself, who is whole and one with
the whole, he who is Nature and Law and divine Necessity, can be blest
with that blessedness which Nature is able to give only by her presence.
There is a labor and a rest that are the same, one fact, one felicity;
in this are power, beauty, immortality; by existence as a whole it is
always perfectly exemplified; to man, as the eye of existence, it is
also possible; but it is possible to him only as he is purely man,--only
as he abandons himself to the divine principles of his life: in other
words, this Sabbath remaineth in very deed to no other than the people
of God.

* * * * *


At the opening of the present century, the Lake District of Cumberland
and Westmoreland was groaned over by some residents as fast losing its
simplicity. The poet Gray had been the first to describe its natural
features in an express manner; and his account of the views above
Keswick and Grasmere was quoted, sixty years since, as evidence of
the spoiling process which had gone on since the introduction of
civilization from the South. Gray remarked on the absence of red roofs,
gentlemen's houses, and garden-walls, and on the uniform character of
the humble farmsteads and gray cottages under their sycamores in the
vales. Wordsworth heard and spoke a good deal of the innovations which
had modified the scene in the course of the thirty years which elapsed
between Gray's visits (in 1767-69) and his own settlement in the Lake
District; but he lived to say more, at the end of half a century, of the
wider and deeper changes which time had wrought in the aspect of the
country and the minds and manners of the people. According to his
testimony, and that of Southey, the barbarism was of a somewhat gross
character at the end of the last century; the magistrates were careless
of the condition of the society in which they bore authority; the clergy
were idle or worse,--"marrying and burying machines," as Southey told
Wilberforce; and the morality of the people, such as it was, was
ascribed by Wordsworth, in those his days of liberalism in politics, to
the state of republican equality in which they lived. Excellent, fussy
Mr. Wilberforce thought, when he came for some weeks into the District,
that the Devil had had quite time enough for sowing tares while the
clergy were asleep; so he set to work to sow a better seed; and we find
in his diary that he went into house after house "to talk religion to
the people." I do not know how he was received; but at this day the
people are puzzled at that kind of domestic intervention, so unsuitable
to their old-fashioned manners,--one old dame telling with wonder, some
little time since, that a young lady had called and sung a hymn to
her, but had given her nothing at the end for listening. The rough
independence of the popular manners even now offends persons of a
conventional habit of mind; and when poets and philosophers first came
from southern parts to live here, the democratic tone of feeling and
behavior was more striking than it is now or will ever be again.

Before the Lake poets began to give the public an interest in the
District, some glimpses of it were opened by the well-known literary
ladies of the last century who grouped themselves round their young
favorite, Elizabeth Smith. I do not know whether her name and fame have
reached America; but in my young days she was the English school-girls'
subject of admiration and emulation. She had marvellous powers of
acquisition, and she translated the Book of Job, and a good deal from
the German,--introducing Klopstock to us at a time when we hardly knew
the most conspicuous names in German literature. Elizabeth Smith was an
accomplished girl in all ways. There is a damp, musty-looking house,
with small windows and low ceilings, at Coniston, where she lived with
her parents and sister, for some years before her death. We know, from
Mrs. Elizabeth Hamilton's and the Bowdlers' letters, how Elizabeth and
her sister lived in the beauty about them, rambling, sketching, and
rowing their guests on the lake. In one of her rambles, Elizabeth sat
too long under a heavy dew. She felt a sharp pain in her chest, which
never left her, and died in rapid decline. Towards the last she was
carried out daily from the close and narrow rooms at home, and laid in a
tent pitched in a field just across the road, whence she could overlook
the lake, and the range of mountains about its head. On that spot now
stands Tent Lodge, the residence of Tennyson and his bride after their
marriage. One of my neighbors, who first saw the Lake District in early
childhood, has a solemn remembrance of the first impression. The tolling
of the bell of Hawkeshead church was heard from afar; and it was tolling
for the funeral of Elizabeth Smith. Her portrait is before me now,--the
ingenuous, child-like face, with the large dark eyes which alone show
that it is not the portrait of a child. It was through her that a large
proportion of the last generation of readers first had any definite
associations with Coniston.

Wordsworth had, however, been in that church many a time, above twenty
years before, when at Hawkeshead school. He used to tell that his mother
had praised him for going into the church, one week-day, to see a woman
do penance in a white sheet. She considered it good for his morals. But
when he declared himself disappointed that nobody had given him a penny
for his attendance, as he had somehow expected, his mother told him he
was served right for going to church from such an inducement. He spoke
with gratitude of an usher at that school, who put him in the way
of learning the Latin, which had been a sore trouble at his native
Cockermouth, from unskilful teaching. Our interest in him at that
school, however, is from his having there first conceived the idea of
writing verse. His master set the boys, as a task, to write a poetical
theme,--"The Summer Vacation"; and Master William chose to add to it
"The Return to School." He was then fourteen; and he was to be double
that age before he returned to the District and took up his abode there.

He had meantime gone through his college course, as described in his
Memoirs, and undergone strange conditions of opinion and feeling in
Paris during the Revolution; had lived in Dorsetshire, with his faithful
sister; had there first seen Coleridge, and had been so impressed by the
mind and discourse of that wonderful young philosopher as to remove to
Somersetshire to be near him; had seen Klopstock in Germany, and lived
there for a time; and had passed through other changes of residence and
places, when we find him again among the Lakes in 1779, still with his
sister by his side, and their brother John, and Coleridge, who had never
been in the District before.

As they stood on the margin of Grasmere, the scene was more like what
Gray saw than what is seen at this day. The churchyard was bare of the
yews which now distinguish it,--for Sir George Beaumont had them planted
at a later time; and where the group of kindred and friends--the
Wordsworths and their relatives--now lie, the turf was level and
untouched. The iron rails and indefensible monuments, which Wordsworth
so reprobated half a century later, did not exist. The villas which stud
the slopes, the great inns which bring a great public, were uncreated;
and there was only the old Roman road where the Wishing-Gate is, or the
short cut by the quarries to arrive by from the South, instead of the
fine mail-road which now winds between the hills and the margin of
the lake. John Wordsworth guided his brother and Coleridge through
Grisedale, over a spur of Helvellyn, to see Ullswater; and Coleridge has
left a characteristic testimony of the effect of the scenery upon him.
It was "a day when light and darkness coexisted in contiguous masses,
and the earth and sky were but one. Nature lived for us in all her
wildest accidents." He tells how his eyes were dim with tears, and
how imagination and reality blended their objects and impressions.
Wordsworth's account of the same excursion is in as admirable contrast
with Coleridge's as their whole mode of life and expression was, from


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