Atlantic Monthly, Volume 10, Number 59, September, 1862
Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. X--SEPTEMBER, 1862.--NO. LIX.
Was ihr den Geist der Zeiten heisst, Das ist im Grund der Herren eigner
What kind of sword, do you think, was that which old Christian had in
that famous fight of his with Apollyon, long ago? He cut the fiend to
the marrow with it, you remember, at last; though the battle went hardly
with him, too, for a time. Some of his blood, Banyan says, is on the
stones of the valley to this day. That is a vague record of the combat
between the man and the dragon in that strange little valley, with its
perpetual evening twilight and calm, its meadows crusted with lilies,
its herd-boy with his quiet song, close upon the precincts of hell. It
fades back, the valley and the battle, dim enough, from the sober
freshness of this summer morning. Look out of the window here, at the
hubbub of the early streets, the freckled children racing past to
school, the dewy shimmer of yonder willows in the sunlight, like drifts
of pale green vapor. Where is Apollyon? does he put himself into flesh
and blood, as then, nowadays? And the sword which Christian used, like a
man, in his deed of derring-do?
Reading the quaint history, just now, I have a mind to tell you a modern
story. It is not long: only how, a few months ago, a poor itinerant, and
a young girl, (like these going by with baskets on their arms,) who
lived up in these Virginia hills, met Evil in their lives, and how it
fared with them: how they thought that they were in the Valley of
Humiliation, that they were Christian, and Rebellion and Infidelity
Apollyon; the different ways they chose to combat him; the weapons they
used. I can tell you that; but you do not know--do you?--what kind of
sword old Christian used, or where it is, or whether its edge is rusted.
I must not stop to ask more, for these war-days are short, and the story
might be cold before you heard it.
* * * * *
A brick house, burrowed into the side of a hill, with red gleams of
light winking out of the windows in a jolly way into the winter's night:
wishing, one might fancy, to cheer up the hearts of the freezing stables
and barn and hen-house that snuggled about the square yard, trying to
keep warm. The broad-backed old hill (Scofield's Hill, a famous place
for papaws in summer) guards them tolerably well; but then, house and
barn and hill lie up among the snowy peaks of the Virginian Alleghanies,
and you know how they would chill and awe the air. People away down
yonder in the river-bottoms see these peaks dim and far-shining, as
though they cut through thick night; but we, up among them here, find
the night wide, filled with a pale starlight that has softened for
itself out of the darkness overhead a great space up towards heaven.
The snow lay deep, on this night of which I tell you,--a night somewhere
near the first of January in this year. Two old men, a white and a
black, who were rooting about the farm-yard from stable to fodder-rack,
waded through deep drifts of it.
"Tell yer, Mars' Joe," said the negro, banging the stable-door, "dat
hoss ort n't ter risk um's bones dis night. Ef yer go ter de Yankee
meetin', Coly kern't tote yer."
"Well, well, Uncle Bone, that's enough," said old Scofield testily,
looking through the stall-window at the horse, with a face anxious
enough to show that the dangers of foundering for Coly and for the Union
were of about equal importance in his mind.
A heavily built old fellow, big-jointed, dull-eyed, with a short, black
pipe in his mouth, going about peering into sheds and out-houses,--the
same routine he and Bone had gone through every night for thirty
years,--joking, snarling, cursing, alternately. The cramped old routine,
dogged, if you choose to call it so, was enough for him: you could tell
that by a glance at his earnest, stolid face; you could see that it need
not take Prospero's Ariel forty minutes to put a girdle about this man's
world: ten would do it, tie up the farm, and the dead and live
Scofields, and the Democratic party, with an ideal reverence for
"Firginya" under all. As for the Otherwhere, outside of Virginia, he
heeded it as much as a Hindoo does the turtle on which the earth rests.
For which you shall not sneer at Joe Scofield, or the Pagan. How wide is
your own "sacred soil"?--the creed, government, bit of truth, other
human heart, self, perhaps, to which your soul roots itself
vitally,--like a cuttle-fish sucking to an inch of rock,--and drifts out
palsied feelers of recognition into the ocean of God's universe, just as
languid as the aforesaid Hindoo's hold upon the Kalpas of emptiness
underneath the turtle?
Joe Scofield sowed the fields and truck-patch,--sold the crops down in
Wheeling; every year he got some little, hardly earned snugness for the
house (he and Bone had been born in it, their grandfathers had lived
there together). Bone was his slave; of course, they thought, how should
it be otherwise? The old man's daughter was Dode Scofield; his negro was
Bone Scofield, in degree. Joe went to the Methodist church on Sundays;
he hurrahed for the Democratic candidate: it was a necessity for Whigs
to be defeated; it was a necessity for Papists to go to hell. He had a
tight grip on these truths, which were born, one might say, with his
blood; his life grew out of them. So much of the world was certain,--but
outside? It was rather vague there: Yankeedom was a mean-soiled country,
whence came clocks, teachers, peddlers, and infidelity; and the
English,--it was an American's birthright to jeer at the English.
We call this a narrow life, prate in the North of our sympathy with the
universal man, don't we? And so we extend a stomachic greeting to our
Spanish brother that sends us wine, and a bow from our organ of ideality
to Italy for beauty incarnate in Art,--see the Georgian slaveholder only
through the eyes of the cowed negro at his feet, and give a dime on
Sunday to send the gospel to the heathen, who will burn forever, we
think, if it never is preached to them. What of your sympathy with the
universal man, when I tell you Scofield was a Rebel?
His syllogisms on this point were clear, to himself. For slavery to
exist in a country where free government was put on trial was a tangible
lie, that had worked a moral divorce between North and South. Slavery
was the vital breath of the South; if she chose to go out and keep it,
had not freemen the right to choose their own government? To bring her
back by carnage was simply the old game of regal tyranny on republican
cards. So his head settled it: as for his heart,--his neighbors' houses
were in ashes, burned by the Yankees; his son lay dead at Manassas. He
died to keep them back, didn't he? "Geordy boy," he used to call
him,--worth a dozen puling girls: since he died, the old man had never
named his name. Scofield was a Rebel in every bitter drop of his heart's
He hurried to the house to prepare to go to the Union meeting. He had a
reason for going. The Federal troops held Romney then, a neighboring
village, and he knew many of the officers would be at this meeting.
There was a party of Confederates in Blue's Gap, a mountain-fastness
near by, and Scofield had heard a rumor that the Unionists would attack
them to-morrow morning: he meant to try and find out the truth of it, so
as to give the boys warning to be ready, and, maybe, lend them a helping
hand. Only for Dode's sake, he would have been in the army long ago.
He stopped on the porch to clean his shoes, for the floor was newly
scrubbed, and Miss Scofield was a tidy housekeeper, and had, besides, a
temper as hot and ready to light as her father's pipe. The old man
stopped now, half chuckling, peeping in at the window to see if all was
clear within. But you must not think for this that Dode's temper was the
bugbear of the house,--though the girl herself thought it was, and shed
some of the bitterest tears of her life over it. Just a feverish blaze
in the blood, caught from some old dead grandfather, that burst out now
Dode, not being a genius, could not christen it morbid sensibility; but
as she had a childish fashion of tracing things to commonplace causes,
whenever she felt her face grow hot easily, or her throat choke up as
men's do when they swear, she concluded that her liver was inactive, and
her soul was tired of sitting at her Master's feet, like Mary. So she
used to take longer walks before breakfast, and cry sharply,
incessantly, in her heart, as the man did who was tainted with leprosy,
"Lord, help me!" And the Lord always did help her.
My story is of Dode; so I must tell you that these passion-fits were the
only events of her life. For the rest, she washed and sewed and ironed.
If her heart and brain needed more than this, she was cheerful in spite
of their hunger. Almost all of God's favorites among women, before their
life-work is given them, pass through such hunger,--seasons of dull, hot
inaction, fierce struggles to tame and bind to some unfitting work the
power within. Generally, they are tried thus in their youth,--just as
the old aspirants for knighthood were condemned to a night of solitude
and prayer before the day of action. This girl was going through her
probation with manly-souled bravery.
She came out on the porch now, to help her father on with his coat, and
to tie his spatterdashes. You could not see her in the dark, of course;
but you would not wonder, if you felt her hand, or heard her speak, that
the old man liked to touch her, as everybody did,--spoke to her gently:
her own voice, did I say? was so earnest and rich,--hinted at unsounded
depths of love and comfort, such as utter themselves in some
unfashionable women's voices and eyes. Theodora, or -dosia, or some such
heavy name, had been hung on her when she was born,--nobody remembered
what: people always called her Dode, so as to bring her closer, as it
were, and to fancy themselves akin to her.
Bone, going in, had left the door ajar, and the red firelight shone out
brightly on her, where she was stooping. Nature had given her a body
white, strong, and womanly,--broad, soft shoulders, for instance, hands
slight and nervous, dark, slow eyes. The Devil never would have had the
courage to tempt Eve, if she had looked at him with eyes as tender and
honest as Dode Scofield's.
Yet, although she had so many friends, she impressed you as being a shy
home-woman. That was the reason her father did not offer to take her to
the meeting, though half the women in the neighborhood would be there.
"She a'n't smart, my Dode," he used to say,--"'s got no public sperrit."
He said as much to young Gaunt, the Methodist preacher, that very day,
knowing that he thought of the girl as a wife, and wishing to be honest
as to her weaknesses and heresies. For Dode, being the only creature in
the United States who thought she came into the world to learn and not
to teach, had an odd habit of trying to pick the good lesson out of
everybody: the Yankees, the Rebels, the Devil himself, she thought, must
have some purpose of good, if she could only get at it. God's creatures
alike. She durst not bring against the foul fiend himself a "railing
accusation," being as timid in judging evil as were her Master and the
archangel Michael. An old-fashioned timidity, of course: people thought
Dode a time-server, or "a bit daft."
"She don't take sides sharp in this war," her father said to Gaunt, "my
little girl; 'n fact, she isn't keen till put her soul intill anythin'
but lovin'. She's a pore Democrat, David, an' not a strong
Methody,--allays got somethin' till say fur t' other side, Papishers an'
all. An' she gets religion quiet. But it's the real thing,"--watching
his hearer's face with an angry suspicion. "It's out of a clean well,
David, I say!"
"I hope so, Brother Scofield,"--doubtfully, shaking his head.
The conversation had taken place just after dinner. Scofield looked upon
Gaunt as one of the saints upon earth, but he "danged him" after that
once or twice to himself for doubting the girl; and when Bone, who had
heard it, "guessed Mist' Dode 'd never fling herself away on sich
whinin' pore-white trash," his master said nothing in reproof.
He rumpled her hair fondly, as she stood by him now on the porch.
"David Gaunt was in the house,--he had been there all the evening," she
said,--a worried heat on her face. "Should not she call him to go to the
"Jest as _you_ please, Dode; jest as you please."
She should not be vexed. And yet--What if Gaunt did not quite appreciate
his girl, see how deep-hearted she was, how heartsome a thing to look at
even when she was asleep? He loved her, David did, as well as so holy a
man could love anything carnal. And it would be better, if Dode were
married; a chance shot might take him off any day, and then--what? She
didn't know enough to teach; the farm was mortgaged; and she had no
other lovers. She was cold-blooded in that sort of liking,--did not
attract the men: thinking, with the scorn coarse-grained men have for
reticent-hearted women, what a contrast she was to her mother. _She_ was
the right sort,--full-lipped, and a cooing voice for everybody, and such
winning blue eyes! But, after all, Dode was the kind of woman to anchor
to; it was "Get out of my way!" with her mother, as with all milky,
The old man fidgeted, lingered, stuffing "old Lynchburg" into his pipe,
(his face was dyed saffron, and smelt of tobacco,) glad to feel, when
Dode tied his fur cap, how quick and loving for him her fingers were,
and that he always had deserved they should be so. He wished the child
had some other protector to turn to than he, these war-times,--thinking
uneasily of the probable fight at Blue's Gap, though of course he knew
he never was born to be killed by a Yankee bullet. He wished she could
fancy Gaunt; but if she didn't,--that was enough.
Just then Gaunt came out of the room on to the porch, and began
loitering, in an uncertain way, up and down. A lean figure, with an
irresolute step: the baggy clothes hung on his lank limbs were
butternut-dyed, and patched besides: a Methodist itinerant in the
mountains,--you know all that means? There was nothing irresolute or
shabby in Gaunt's voice, however, as he greeted the old man,--clear,
thin, nervous. Scofield looked at him wistfully.
"Dunnot drive David off, Dody," he whispered; "I think he's summat on
his mind. What d'ye think's his last whimsey? Told me he's goin' off in
the mornin',--Lord knows where, nor for how long. Dody, d'ye
think?--he'll be wantin' till come back for company, belike? Well, he's
one o' th' Lord's own, ef he is a bit cranky."
An odd tenderness came into the man's jaded old face. Whatever trust in
God had got into his narrow heart among its bigotry, gross likings and
dislikings, had come there through the agency of this David Gaunt. He
felt as if he only had come into the secret place where his Maker and
himself stood face to face; thought of him, therefore, with a reverence
whose roots dug deep down below his coarseness, into his uncouth
gropings after God. Outside of this,--Gaunt had come to the mountains
years before, penniless, untaught, ragged, intent only on the gospel,
which he preached with a keen, breathless fervor. Scofield had given him
a home, clothed him, felt for him after that the condescending, curious
affection which a rough barn-yard hen might feel for its adopted poult,
not yet sure if it will turn out an eagle or a silly gull. It was a
strange affinity between the lank-limbed, cloudy-brained enthusiast at
one end of the porch and the shallow-eyed, tobacco-chewing old Scofield
at the other,--but a real affinity, striking something deeper in their
natures than blood-kinship. Whether Dode shared in it was doubtful; she
echoed the "Poor David" in just the voice with which high-blooded women
pity a weak man. Her father saw it. He had better not tell her his fancy
to-night about Gaunt wishing her to be his wife.
He hallooed to him, bidding him "hap up an' come along till see what the
Yankees were about.--Go in, Dode,--you sha'n't be worrit, child."
Gaunt came closer, fastening his thin coat. A lean face, sharpened by
other conflicts than disease,--poetic, lonesome eyes, not manly.
"I am going," he said, looking at the girl. All the pain and struggle of
years came up in that look. She knew where he was going: did she care?
he thought She knew,--he had told her, not an hour since, that he meant
to lay down the Bible, and bring the kingdom of Jesus nearer in another
fashion: he was going to enlist in the Federal army. It was God's cause,
holy: through its success the golden year of the world would begin on
earth. Gaunt took up his sword, with his eye looking awe-struck straight
to God. The pillar of cloud, he thought, moved, as in the old time,
before the army of freedom. She knew that when he did this, for truth's
sake, he put a gulf between himself and her forever. Did she care? Did
she? Would she let him go, and make no sign?
"Be quick, Gaunt," said Scofield, impatiently. "Bone hearn tell that
Dougl's Palmer was in Romney to-night. He'll be down at Blue's Gap, I
reckon. He's captain now in the Lincolnite army,--one of the hottest of
the hell-hounds,--he is! Ef he comes to the house here, as he'll likely
do, I don't want till meet him."
Gaunt stood silent.
"He was Geordy's friend, father," said the girl, gulping back something
in her throat.
"Geordy? Yes. I know. It's that that hurts me," he muttered,
uncertainly. "Him an' Dougl's was like brothers once, they was!"
He coughed, lit his pipe, looking in the girl's face for a long time,
anxiously, as if to find a likeness in it to some other face he never
should see again. He often had done this lately. At last, stooping, he
kissed her mouth passionately, and shuffled down the hill, trying to
whistle as be went. Kissing, through her, the boy who lay dead at
Manassas: she knew that. She leaned on the railing, looking after him
until a bend in the road took him out of sight. Then she turned into the
house, with no thought to spare for the man watching her all this while
with hungry eyes. The moon, drifting from behind a cloud, threw a sharp
light on her figure, as she stood in the door-way.
"Dode!" he said. "Good bye, Dode!"
She shook hands, saying nothing,--then went in, and shut the door.
Gaunt turned away, and hurried down the hill, his heart throbbing and
aching against his bony side with the breathless pain which women, and
such men as he, know. Her hand was cold, as she gave it to him; some
pain had chilled her blood: was it because she bade him good-bye
forever, then? Was it? He knew it was not: his instincts were keen as
those of the old Pythoness, who read the hearts of men and nations by
surface-trifles. Gaunt joined the old man, and began talking loosely and
vaguely, as was his wont,--of the bad road, and the snow-water oozing
through his boots,--not knowing what he said. She did not care; he would
not cheat himself: when he told her to-night what he meant to do, she
heard it with a cold, passive disapproval,--with that steely look in her
dark eyes that shut him out from her. "You are sincere, I see; but you
are not true to yourself or to God": that was all she said. She would
have said the same, if he had gone with her brother. It was a sudden
stab, but he forgave her: how could she know that God Himself had laid
this blood-work on him, or the deathly fight his soul had waged against
it? She did not know,--nor care. Who did?
The man plodded doggedly through the melting snow, with a keener sense
of the cold biting through his threadbare waistcoat, of the solitude and
wrong that life had given him,--his childish eyes turning to the gray
depth of night, almost fierce in their questioning,--thinking what a
failure his life had been. Thirty-five years of struggle with poverty
and temptation! Ever since that day in the blacksmith's shop in Norfolk,
when he had heard the call of the Lord to go and preach His word, had he
not striven to choke down his carnal nature,--to shut his eyes to all
beauty and love,--to unmake himself, by self-denial, voluntary pain? Of
what use was it? To-night his whole nature rebelled against this carnage
before him,--his duty; scorned it as brutal; cried out for a life as
peaceful and meek as that of Jesus, (as if that were not an absurdity in
a time like this,) for happiness, for this woman's love; demanded it, as
though these things were its right!
The man had a genial, childish temperament, given to woo and bind him,
in a thousand simple, silly ways, into a likeness of that Love that
holds the world, and that gave man no higher hero-model than a trustful,
happy child. It was the birthright of this haggard wretch going down the
hill, to receive quick messages from God through every voice of the
world,--to understand them, as few men did, by his poet's soul,--through
love, or color, or music, or keen healthy pain. Very many openings for
him to know God through the mask of matter. He had shut them; being a
Calvinist, and a dyspeptic, (Dyspepsia is twin-tempter with Satan, you
know,) sold his God-given birthright, like Esau, for a hungry, bitter
mess of man's doctrine. He came to loathe the world, the abode of sin;
loathed himself, the chief of sinners; mapped out a heaven in some
corner of the universe, where he and the souls of his persuasion,
panting with the terror of being scarcely saved, should find refuge. The
God he made out of his own bigoted and sour idea, and foisted on himself
and his hearers as Jesus, would not be as merciful in the Judgment as
Gaunt himself would like to be,--far from it. So He did not satisfy him.
Sometimes, thinking of the pure instincts thwarted in every heart,--of
the noble traits in damned souls, sent hellwards by birth or barred into
temptation by society, a vision flashed before him of some scheme of the
universe where all matter and mind were rising, slowly, through the
ages, to eternal life. "Even so in Christ should all be made alive." All
matter, all mind, rising in degrees towards the Good? made order,
infused by God? And God was Love. Why not trust this Love to underlie
even these social riddles, then? He thrust out the Devil's whisper,
barred the elect into their narrow heaven, and tried to be content.
Douglas Palmer used to say that all Gaunt needed to make him a sound
Christian was education and fresh meat. Gaunt forgave it as a worldly
scoff. And Palmer, just always, thought, that, if Christ was just, He
would remember it was not altogether Gaunt's fault, nor that of other
bigots, if they had not education nor spiritual fresh meat. Creeds are
not always "good providers."
The two men had a two-miles' walk before them. They talked little, as
they went. Gaunt had not told the old man that he was going into the
Northern army: how could he? George's dead face was between them,
whenever he thought of it. Still, Scofield was suspicious as to Gaunt's
politics: he never talked to him on the subject, therefore, and to-night
did not tell him of his intention to go over to Blue's Gap to warn the
boys, and, if they were outnumbered, to stay and take his luck with
them. He nor Dode never told Gaunt a secret: the man's brain was as
leaky as a sponge.
"He don't take enough account o' honor, an' the like, but it's for
tryin' till keep his soul right," he used to say, excusingly, to Dode.
"That's it! He minds me o' th' man that lived up on th' pillar,
"The Lord never made people to live on pillars," Dode said.
The old man looked askance at Gaunt's worn face, as he trotted along
beside him, thinking how pure it was. What had he to do with this foul
slough, we were all mired in? What if the Yankees did come, like
incarnate devils, to thieve and burn and kill? This man would say "that
ye resist not evil." He lived back there, pure and meek, with Jesus, in
the old time. He would not dare to tell him he meant to fight with the
boys in the Gap before morning. He wished he stood as near to Christ as
this young man had got; he wished to God this revenge and
bloodthirstiness were out of him; sometimes he felt as if a devil
possessed him, since George died. The old fellow choked down a groan in
the whiffs of his pipe.
_Was_ the young man back there, in the old time, following the Nazarene?
The work of blood Scofield was taking up for the moment, he took up,
grappled with, tried to put his strength into. Doing this, his true life
lay drained, loathsome, and bare. For the rest, he wished Dode had
cared,--only a little. If one lay stabbed on some of these hills, it
would be hard to think nobody cared: thinking of the old mother he had
buried, years before. Yet Dode suffered: the man was generous to his
heart's core,--forgot his own want in pity for her. What could it have
been that pained her, as he came away? Her father had spoken of Palmer.
_That_? His ruled heart leaped with a savage, healthy throb of jealousy.
Something he saw that moment made him stop short. The road led straight
through the snow-covered hills to the church where the meeting was to be
held. Only one man was in sight, coming towards them, on horseback. A
sudden gleam of light showed him to them clearly. A small, middle-aged
man, lithe, muscular, with fair hair, dressed in some shaggy dark
uniform and a felt hat. Scofield stopped.
"It's Palmer!" he said, with an oath that sounded like a cry.
The sight of the man brought George before him, living enough to wring
his heart He knocked a log off the worm-fence, and stepped over into the
"I'm goin', David. To think o' him turnin' traitor to Old Virginia! I'll
not bide here till meet him."
"Brother!" said Gaunt, reprovingly.
"Don't hold me, Gaunt! Do you want me till curse my boy's old
chum?"--his voice hoarse, choking.
"He is George's friend still"--
"I know, Gaunt, I know. God forgi' me! But--let me go, I say!"
He broke away, and went across the field.
Gaunt waited, watching the man coming slowly towards him. Could it be he
whom Dode loved,--this Palmer? A doubter? an infidel? He had told her
this to-day. A mere flesh-and-brain machine, made for the world, and no
uses in him for heaven!
Poor Gaunt! no wonder he eyed the man with a spiteful hatred, as he
waited for him, leaning against the fence. With his subtle Gallic brain,
his physical spasms of languor and energy, his keen instincts that
uttered themselves to the last syllable always, heedless of all
decencies of custom, no wonder that the man with every feminine, unable
nerve in his body rebelled against this Palmer. It was as natural as for
a delicate animal to rebel against and hate and submit to man. Palmer's
very horse, he thought, had caught the spirit of its master, and put
down its hoofs with calm assurance of power.
Coming up at last, Gaunt listened sullenly, while the other spoke in a
quiet, hearty fashion.
"They tell me you are to be one of us to-night," Palmer said, cordially.
"Dyke showed me your name on the enlistment-roll: your motto after it,
was it? 'For God and my right.' That's the gist of the whole matter,
David, I think, eh?"
"Yes, I'm right. I think I am. God knows I do!"--his vague eyes
wandering off, playing with the horse's mane uncertainly.
Palmer read his face keenly.
"Of course you are," he said, speaking gently as he would to a woman.
"I'll find a place and work for you before morning."
"So soon, Palmer?"
"Don't look at the blood and foulness of the war, boy! Keep the cause in
view, every moment. We secure the right of self-government for all ages:
think of that! 'God,'--His cause, you know?--and 'your right,' Haven't
you warrant to take life to defend your right--from the Christ you
believe in? Eh?"
"No. But I know"--Gaunt held his hand to his forehead as if it
ached--"we have to come to brute force at last to conquer the right.
Christianity is not enough. I've reasoned it over, and"--
"Yet you look troubled. Well, we'll talk it over again. You've worked
your brain too hard to be clear about anything just now,"--looking down
on him with the questioning pity of a surgeon examining a cancer. "I
must go on now, David. I'll meet you at the church in an hour."
"You are going to the house, Palmer?"
"Yes. Good night."
Gaunt drew back his hand, glancing at the cold, tranquil face, the mild
"Good night,"--following him with his eyes as he rode away.
An Anglo-Saxon, with every birthmark of that slow, inflexible race. He
would make love philosophically, Gaunt sneered. A made man. His thoughts
and soul, inscrutable as they were, were as much the accretion of
generations of culture and reserve as was the chalk in his bones or the
glowless courage in his slow blood. It was like coming in contact with
summer water to talk to him; but underneath was--what? Did Dode know?
Had he taken her in, and showed her his unread heart? Dode?
How stinging cold it was!--looking up drearily into the drifting heaps
of gray. What a wretched, paltry balk the world was! What a noble part
he played in it!--taking out his pistol. Well, he could pull a trigger,
and let out some other sinner's life; that was all the work God thought
he was fit for. Thinking of Dode all the time. _He_ knew her! _He_ could
have summered her in love, if she would but have been passive and happy!
He asked no more of her than that. Poor, silent, passionate Dode! No one
knew her as he knew her! What were that man's cold blue eyes telling her
now at the house? It mattered nothing to him.
He went across the cornfield to the church, his thin coat flapping in
the wind, looking at his rusty pistol with a shudder.
* * * * *
Dode shut the door. Outside lay the winter's night, snow, death, the
war. She shivered, shut them out. None of her nerves enjoyed pain, as
some women's do. Inside,--you call it cheap and mean, this room? Yet her
father called it Dode's snuggery; he thought no little nest in the world
was so clean and warm. He never forgot to leave his pipe outside,
(though she coaxed him not to do it,) for fear of "silin' the air."
Every evening he came in after he had put on his green dressing-gown and
slippers, and she read the paper to him. It was quite a different hour
of the day from all of the rest: sitting, looking stealthily around
while she read, delighted to see how cozy he had made his little
girl,--how pure the pearl-stained walls were, how white the matting. He
never went down to Wheeling with the crops without bringing something
back for the room, stinting himself to do it. Her brother had had the
habit, too, since he was a boy, of bringing everything pretty or
pleasant he found to his sister; he had a fancy that he was making her
life bigger and more heartsome by it, and would have it all right after
a while. So it ended, you see, that everything in the room had a meaning
for the girl,--so many mile-stones in her father and Geordy's lives.
Besides, though Dode was no artist, had not what you call taste, other
than in being clean, yet every common thing the girl touched seemed to
catch her strong, soft vitality, and grow alive. Bone had bestowed upon
her the antlers of a deer which he had killed,--the one great trophy of
his life; (she put them over the mantel-shelf, where he could rejoice
his soul over them every time he brought wood to the fire;) last fall
she had hung wreaths of forest-leaves about them, and now they glowed
and flashed back the snow-light, in indignant life, purple and scarlet
and flame, with no thought of dying; the very water in the vases on the
table turned into the silver roots of hyacinths that made the common air
poetic with perfume; the rough wire-baskets filled with mould, which she
hung in the windows, grew living, and welled up, and ran over into
showers of moss, and trailing wreaths of ivy and cypress-vine, and a
brood of the merest flakes of roses, which held the hot crimson of so
many summers gone that they could laugh in the teeth of the winter
outside, and did do it, until it seemed like a perfect sham and a jest.
The wood-fire was clear, just now, when Dode came in; the little room
was fairly alive, palpitated crimson; in the dark corners, under the
tables and chairs, the shadows tried not to be black, and glowed into a
soft maroon; even the pale walls flushed, cordial and friendly. Dode was
glad of it; she hated dead, ungrateful colors: grays and browns belonged
to thin, stingy duty-lives, to people who are patient under life, as a
perpetual imposition, and, as Bone says, "gets into heben by the skin o'
their teeth." Dode's color was dark blue: you know that means in an
earthly life stern truth, and a tenderness as true: she wore it
to-night, as she generally did, to tell God she was alive, and thanked
Him for being alive. Surely the girl was made for to-day; she never
missed the work or joy of a moment here in dreaming of a yet ungiven
life, as sham, lazy women do. You would think that, if you had seen her
standing there in the still light, motionless, yet with latent life in
every limb. There was not a dead atom in her body: something within,
awake, immortal, waited, eager to speak every moment in the coming color
on her cheek, the quiver of her lip, the flashing words or languor of
her eye. Her auburn hair, even, at times, lightened and darkened.
She stood, now, leaning her head on the window, waiting. Was she
keeping, like the fire-glow, a still, warm welcome for somebody? It was
a very homely work she had been about, you will think. She had made a
panful of white cream-crackers, and piled them on a gold-rimmed China
plate, (the only one she had,) and brought down from the cupboard a
bottle of her raspberry-cordial. Douglas Palmer and George used to like
those cakes better than anything else she made: she remembered, when
they were starting out to hunt, how Geordy would put his curly head over
the gate and call out, "Sis! are you in a good-humor? Have some of your
famous cakes for supper, that's a good girl!" Douglas Palmer was coming
to-night, and she had baked them, as usual,--stopping to cry now and
then, thinking of George. She could not help it, when she was alone. Her
father never knew it. She had to be cheerful for herself and him too,
when he was there.
Perhaps Douglas would not remember about the crackers, after all?--with
the blood heating and chilling in her face, as she looked out of the
window, and then at the clock,--her nervous fingers shaking, as she
arranged them on the plate. She wished she had some other way of making
him welcome; but what could poor Dode do? She could not talk to him, had
read nothing but the Bible and Jay's "Meditations"; she could not show
glimpses of herself, as most American women can, in natural, dramatic
words. Palmer sang for her,--sometimes, Schubert's ballads, Mendelssohn:
she could not understand the words, of course; she only knew that his
soul seemed to escape through the music, and come to her own. She had a
strange comprehension of music, inherited from the old grandfather who
left her his temper,--that supernatural gift, belonging to but few souls
among those who love harmony, to understand and accept its meaning. She
could not play or sing; she looked often in the dog's eyes, wondering if
its soul felt as dumb and full as hers; but she could not sing. If she
could, what a story she would have told in a wordless way to this man
who was coming! All she could do to show that he was welcome was to make
crackers. Cooking is a sensual, grovelling utterance of feeling, you
think? Yet, considering the drift of most women's lives, one fancies
that as pure and deep love syllables itself every day in beefsteaks as
once in Sapphic odes. It is a natural expression for our sex, too,
somehow. Your wife may keep step with you in keen sympathy, in brain and
soul; but if she does not know whether you like muffins or toast best
for breakfast, her love is not the kind for this world, nor the best
kind for any.
She waited, looking out at the gray road. He would not come so
late?--her head beginning to ache. The room was too hot. She went into
her chamber, and began to comb her hair back; it fell in rings down her
pale cheeks,--her lips were crimson,--her brown eyes shone soft,
expectant; she leaned her head down, smiling, thanking God for her
beauty, with all her heart. Was that a step?--hurrying back. Only Coly
stamping in the stable. It was eight o'clock. The woman's heart kept
time to the slow ticking of the clock, with a sick thudding, growing
heavier every moment. He had been in the mountains but once since the
war began. It was only George he came to see? She brought out her work
and began to sew. He would not come: only George was fit to be his
friend. Why should he heed her poor old father, or her?--with the
undefinable awe of an unbred mind for his power and wealth of culture.
And yet--something within her at the moment rose up royal--his equal. He
knew her, as she might be! Between them there was something deeper than
the shallow kind greeting they gave the world,--recognition. She stood
nearest to him,--she only! If sometimes she had grown meanly jealous of
the thorough-bred, made women, down in the town yonder, his friends, in
her secret soul she knew she was his peer,--she only! And he knew it.
Not that she was not weak in mind or will beside him, but she loved him,
as a man can be loved but once. She loved him,--that was all!
She hardly knew if he cared for her. He told her once that he loved her;
there was a half-betrothal; but that was long ago. She sat, her work
fallen on her lap, going over, as women will, for the thousandth time,
the simple story, what he said, and how he looked, finding in every
hackneyed phrase some new, divine meaning. The same story; yet Betsey
finds it new by your kitchen-fire to-night, as Gretchen read it in those
wondrous pearls of Faust's!
Surely he loved her that day! though the words were surprised,
half-accident: she was young, and he was poor, so there must be no more
of it then. The troubles began just after, and he went into the army.
She had seen him but once since, and he said nothing then, looked
nothing. It is true they had not been alone, and he thought perhaps she
knew all: a word once uttered for him was fixed in fate. _She_ would not
have thought the story old or certain, if he told it to her forever. But
he was coming to-night!
Dode was one of those women subject to sudden revulsions of feeling. She
remembered now, what in the hurry and glow of preparing his welcome she
had crushed out of sight, that it was better he should not come,--that,
if he did come, loyal and true, she must put him back, show him the
great gulf that lay between them. She had strengthened herself for
months to do it. It must be done to-night. It was not the division the
war made, nor her father's anger, that made the bar between them. Her
love would have borne that down. There was something it could not bear
down. Palmer was a doubter, an infidel. What this meant to the girl, we
cannot tell; her religion was not ours. People build their faith on
Christ, as a rock,--a factitious aid. She found Him in her life, long
ago, when she was a child, and her soul grew out from Him. He was a
living Jesus to her, not a dead one. That was why she had a healthy
soul. Pain was keener to her than to us; the filth, injustice, bafflings
in the world,--they hurt her; she never glossed them over as
"necessity," or shirked them as we do: she cried hot, weak tears, for
instance, over the wrongs of the slaves about her, her old father's
ignorance, her own cramped life; but she never said for these things,
"Does God still live?" She saw, close to the earth, the atmosphere of
the completed work, the next step upward,--the kingdom of that Jesus;
the world lay in it, swathed in bands of pain and wrong and effort,
growing, unconscious, to perfected humanity. She had faith in the
Recompense, she thought faith would bring it right down into earth, and
she tried to do it in a practical way. She did do it: a curious fact for
your theology, which I go out of the way of the story to give you,--a
peculiar power belonging to this hot-tempered girl,--an anomaly in
psychology, but you will find it in the lives of Jung Stilling and St.
John. This was it: she and the people about her needed many things,
temporal and spiritual: her Christ being alive, and not a dead sacrifice
and example alone, whatever was needed she asked for, and it was always
given her. _Always_. I say it in the full strength of meaning. I wish
every human soul could understand the lesson; not many preachers would
dare to teach it to them. It was a commonplace matter with her.
Now do you see what it cost her to know that Palmer was an infidel?
Could she marry him? Was it a sin to love him? And yet, could _she_
enter heaven, he left out? The soul of the girl that God claimed, and
the Devil was scheming for, had taken up this fiery trial, and fought
with it savagely. She thought she had determined; she would give him up.
But--he was coming! he was coming! Why, she forgot everything in that,
as if it were delirium. She hid her face in her hands. It seemed as if
the world, the war, faded back, leaving this one human soul alone with
herself. She sat silent, the fire charring lower into glooming red
shadow. You shall not look into the passion of a woman's heart.
She rose at last, with the truth, as Gaunt had taught it to her, full
before her, that it would be crime to make compact with sin or a sinner.
She went out on the porch, looking no longer to the road, but up to the
uncertain sky. Poor, simple Dode! So long she had hid the thought of
this man in her woman's breast, clung to it for all strength, all
tenderness! It stood up now before her,--Evil. Gaunt told her to-night
that to love him was to turn her back on the cross, to be traitor to
that blood on Calvary. Was it? She found no answer in the deadened sky,
or in her own heart. She would give him up, then? She looked up, her
face slowly whitening. "I love him," she said, as one who had a right to
speak to God. That was all. So, in old times, a soul from out of the
darkness of His judgments faced the Almighty, secure in its own right:
"Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me."
Yet Dode was a weak woman; the trial went home to the very marrow. She
stood by the wooden railing, gathering the snow off of it, putting it to
her hot forehead, not knowing what she did. Her brain was dull,
worn-out, she thought; it ached. She wished she could sleep, with a
vacant glance at the thick snow-clouds, and turning to go in. There was
a sudden step on the path,--he was coming! She would see him once
more,--once! God could not deny her that! her very blood leaping into
"Theodora!" (He never called her the familiar "Dode," as the others
did.) "Why, what ails you, child?"--in his quiet, cordial fashion, "Is
this the welcome you give me? The very blood shivers in your hand! Your
lips are blue!"--opening the door for her to go in, and watching her.
His eye was more that of a physician than a lover, she felt, and cowered
down into a chair he put before the fire for her,--sheltering her face
with her hands, that he might not see how white it was, and despise her.
Palmer stood beside her, looking at her quietly; she had exhausted
herself by some excitement, in her old fashion; he was used to these
spasms of bodily languor,--a something he pitied, but could not
comprehend. It was an odd symptom of the thoroughness with which her
life was welded into his, that he alone knew her as weak, hysteric,
needing help at times. Gaunt or her father would have told you her
nerves were as strong as a ploughman's.
"Have you been in a passion, my child?"
She chafed her hands, loathing herself that she could not deaden down
their shiver or the stinging pain in her head. What were these things at
a time like this? Her physician was taking a different diagnosis of her
disease from his first. He leaned over her, his face flushing, his voice
"Were you disappointed? Did you watch--for me?"
"I watched for you, Douglas,"--trying to rise.
He took her hand and helped her up, then let it fall: he never held
Dode's hand, or touched her hair, as Gaunt did.
"I watched for you,--I have something to say to you,"--steadying her
"Not to-night," with a tenderness that startled one, coming from lips so
thin and critical. "You are not well. You have some hard pain there, and
you want to make it real. Let it sleep. You were watching for me. Let me
have just that silly thought to take with me. Look up, Theodora. I want
the hot color on your cheek again, and the look in your eye I saw there
once,--only once. Do you remember?"
"I remember,"--her face crimson, her eyes flashing with tears. "Douglas,
Douglas, never speak of that to me! I dare not think of it. Let me tell
you what I want to say. It will soon be over."
"I will not, Theodora," he said, coolly. "See now, child! You are not
your healthy self to-night. You have been too much alone. This solitude
down there in your heart is eating itself out in some morbid whim. I saw
it in your eye. Better it had forced itself into anger, as usual."
She did not speak. He took her hand and seated her beside him, talked to
her in the same careless, gentle way, watching her keenly.
"Did you ever know the meaning of your name? I think of it often,--_The
gift of God,--Theodora_. Surely, if there be such an all-embracing Good,
He has no more helpful gift than a woman such as you might be."
She looked up, smiling.
"Might be? That is not"----
"Lover-like? No. Yet, Dode, I think sometimes Eve might have been such a
one as you,--the germ of all life. Think how you loathe death, inaction,
pain; the very stem you thrust into earth catches vitality from your
fingers, and grows, as for no one else."
She knew, through all, that, though his light words were spoken to
soothe her, they masked a strength of feeling that she dared not palter
with, a something that would die out of his nature when his faith in her
died, never to live again.
"Eve fell," she said.
"So would you, alone. You are falling now, morbid, irritable. Wait until
you come into the sunshine. Why, Theodora, you will not know yourself,
the broad, warm, unopened nature."
His voice faltered; he stooped nearer to her, drew her hand into his
"There will be some June days in our lives, little one, for you and
me,"--his tone husky, broken,--"when this blood-work is off my hand,
when I can take you. My years have been hard, bare. You know, child. You
know how my body and brain have been worn out for others. I am free now.
When the war is over, I will conquer a new world for you and me."
She tried to draw away from him.
"I need no more. I am contented. For the future,--God has it, Douglas."
"But my hand is on it!" he said, his eye growing hard. "And you are
He put his hand on her head: he never had touched her before this
evening: he stroked back her hair with an unsteady touch, but as if it
and she belonged to him, inalienable, secure. The hot blood flushed into
her cheeks, resentful. He smiled quietly.
"You will bring life to me," he whispered. "And I will bleach out this
anger, these morbid shadows of the lonesome days,--sun them out
There was a sudden silence. Gaunt felt the intangible calm that hung
about this man: this woman saw beneath it flashes of some depth of
passion, shown reluctant even to her, the slow heat of the gloomy soul
below. It frightened her, but she yielded: her will, her purpose slept,
died into its languor. She loved, and she was loved,--was not that
enough to know? She cared to know no more. Did Gaunt wonder what the
"cold blue eyes" of this man told to the woman to-night? Nothing which
his warped soul would have understood in a thousand years. The room
heated, glowless, crimson: outside, the wind surged slow against the
windows, like the surf of an eternal sea: she only felt that her head
rested on his breast,--that his hand shook, as it traced the blue veins
on her forehead: with a faint pleasure that the face was fair, for his
sake, which his eyes read with a meaning hers could not bear; with a
quick throb of love to her Master for this moment He had given her. Her
Master! Her blood chilled. Was she denying Him? Was she setting her foot
on the outskirts of hell? It mattered not. She shut her eyes wearily,
closed her fingers as for life upon the hand that held hers. All
strength, health for her, lay in its grasp: her own life lay weak,
flaccid, morbid on his. She had chosen: she would hold to her choice.
Yet, below all, the words of Gaunt stung her incessantly. They would
take effect at last. Palmer, watching her face, saw, as the slow minutes
passed, the color fade back, leaving it damp and livid, her lips grow
rigid, her chest heave like some tortured animal. There was some pain
here deeper than her ordinary heats. It would be better to let it have
way. When she raised herself, and looked at him, therefore, he made no
effort to restrain her, but waited, attentive.
"I must speak, Douglas," she said. "I cannot live and bear this doubt."
"Go on," he said, gravely, facing her.
"Yes. Do not treat me as a child. It is no play for me,"--pushing her
hair back from her forehead, calling fiercely in her secret soul for God
to help her to go through with this bitter work He had imposed on her.
"It is for life and death, Douglas."
"Go on,"--watching her.
She looked at him. A keen, practical, continent face, with small mercy
for whims and shallow reasons. Whatever feeling or gloom lay beneath, a
blunt man, a truth-speaker, bewildered by feints or shams. She must give
a reason for what she did. The word she spoke would be written in his
memory, ineffaceable. He waited. She could not speak; she looked at the
small vigilant figure: it meant all that the world held for her of good.
"You must go, Douglas, and never come again."
He was silent,--his eye contracted, keen, piercing.
"There is a great gulf between us, Douglas Palmer. I dare not cross it."
"You mean--the war?--your father?"
She shook her head; the words balked in her throat. Why did not God help
her? Was not she right? She put her hand upon his sleeve,--her face,
from which all joy and color seemed to have fallen forever, upturned to
"Douglas, you do not believe--as I do."
He noted her look curiously, as she said it, with an odd remembrance of
once when she was a child, and they had shown her for the first time a
dead body, that she had turned to the sky the same look of horror and
reproach she gave him now.
"I have prayed, and prayed,"--an appealing cry in every low breath. "It
is of no use,--no use! God never denied me a prayer but that,--only
"I do not understand. You prayed--for me?"
Her eyes, turning to his own, gave answer enough.
"I see! You prayed for me, poor child? that I could find a God in the
world?"--patting the hand resting on his arm pitifully. "And it was of
no use, you think? no use?"--dreamily, his eye fixed on the solemn night
There was a slow silence. She looked awe-struck in his face: he had
"I have not found Him in the world?"--the words dropping slowly from his
lips, as though he questioned with the great Unknown.
She thought she saw in his face hints that his soul had once waged a
direr battle than any she had known,--to know, to be. What was the end?
God, and Life, and Death, what were they to him now?
He looked at her at last, recalled to her. She thought he stifled a
sigh. But he put aside his account with God for another day: now it was
"You think it right to leave me for this, Theodora? You think it a sin
to love an unbeliever?"
"Yes, Douglas,"--but she caught his hand tighter, as she said it.
"The gulf between us is to be the difference between heaven and hell? Is
"_Is_ it true?" she cried suddenly. "It is for you to say. Douglas, it
is you that must choose."
"No man can force belief," he said, dryly. "You will give me up? Poor
child! You cannot, Theodora!"--smoothing her head with an unutterable
"I will give you up, Douglas!"
"Think how dear I have been to you, how far-off you are from everybody
in the world but me. Why, I know no woman so alone or weak as you, if I
should leave you!"
"I know it,"--sobbing silently.
"You will stay with me, Theodora! Is the dull heaven Gaunt prates of,
with its psalms and crowns, better than my love? Will you be happier
there than here?"--holding her close, that she might feel the strong
throb of his heart against her own.
She drew away; stood alone.
"Is it better?"--sharply.
She clutched her hands tightly, then she stood calm. She would not lie.
"It is not better," she said, steadily. "If I know my own heart, nothing
in the coming heaven is so dear as what I lose. But I cannot be your
wife, Douglas Palmer."
His face flashed strangely.
"It is simple selfishness, then? You fear to lose your reward? What is
my poor love to the eternity of happiness you trade it for?"
A proud heat flushed her face.
"You know you do not speak truly. I do not deserve the taunt."
The same curious smile glimmered over his mouth. He was silent for a
"I overrate your sacrifice: it costs you little to say, like the old
Pharisee, 'Stand by, I am holier than thou!' You never loved me,
Theodora. Let me go down--to the land where you think all things are
forgotten. What is it to you? In hell I can lift up my eyes"--
She cried out sharply, as with pain.
"I will not forsake my Master," she said. "He is real, more dear than
you. I give you up."
Palmer caught her hand; there was a vague deadness in her eye that
terrified him; he had not thought the girl suffered so deeply.
"See, now," she gasped quickly, looking up, as if some actual Presence
stood near. "I have given up all for you! Let me die! Put my soul out!
What do I care for heaven?"
Palmer bathed her face, put cordial to her lips, muttering some words to
himself. "Her sins, which are many, should be forgiven; she loves much."
When, long after, she sat on the low settle, quiet, he stood before her.
"I have something to say to you, Theodora. Do you understand me?"
"I am going. It is better I should not stay. I want you to thank God
your love for your Master stood firm. I do. I believe in you: some day,
through you, I may believe in Him. Do you hear me?"
She bent her head, worn-out.
"Theodora, I want to leave you one thought to take on your knees with
you. Your Christ has been painted in false colors to you in this matter.
I am glad that as you understand Him you are true to Him; but you are
She wrung her hands.
"If I could see that, Douglas!"
"You will see it. The selfish care of your own soul which Gaunt has
taught you is a lie; his narrow heaven is a lie: my God inspires other
love, other aims. What is the old tale of Jesus?--that He put His man's
hands on the vilest before He blessed them? So let Him come to
me,--through loving hands. Do you want to preach the gospel, as some
women do, to the Thugs? I think your field is here. You shall preach it
to the heart that loves you."
She shook her head drearily. He looked at her a moment, and then turned
"You are right. There is a great gulf between you and me, Theodora. When
you are ready to cross it, come to me."
And so left her.
The stranger in Paris, exploring its southern suburbs along the
Fontainebleau road, comes upon an ancient pile, extended and renovated
by modern hands, whose simple, unpretending architecture would scarcely
claim a second look. Yet it was once the scene of an experiment of such
momentous consequences that it will ever possess a peculiar interest
both to the philanthropist and the philosopher. It was there, in that
receptacle of the insane, while the storm of the great Revolution was
raging around him, that a physician, learned, ardent, and bold, but
scarcely known beyond the little circle of his friends and patients,
conceived and executed the idea, then no less wonderful than that of
propelling a ship by steam, of striking off the chains of the maniac and
opening the door of his cell. Within a few days, says the record,
fifty-three persons were restored to light and comparative liberty. In
that experiment at the BicÍtre, whose triumphant success won the
admiration even of those ferocious demagogues who had risen to power,
was inaugurated the modern management of the insane, as strongly marked
by kindness and confidence as the old was by severity and distrust. It
was a noble work, whose benefits, reaching down to all future
generations, are beyond the power of estimation; but its remote and
indirect results are scarcely less important than those more immediate
and visible. Here began the true study of mental disease. To the mind of
Pinel, his experiment opened a track of inquiry leading to results
which, like those of the famous discoveries in physical science, will
never cease to be felt. A few collections of cases had been published,
medical scholars, in the midst of their books, had composed elaborate
treatises to show the various ways in which men might possibly become
insane, but no profound, original observer of mental disease had yet
appeared. Trained in that school of exact and laborious inquirers who at
that period were changing the whole face of physical science, he was
well prepared for the work which seemed to be reserved for him, of
laying the foundations of this department of the healing art.
Without following him in the successive stages of his work, it is
sufficient here to say, that the first step--that of showing that the
insane are not necessarily under the dominion of brute instinct,
incapable even of appreciating the arts of kindness and of using a
restricted freedom--was soon succeeded by another of no less importance
considered in its relations to humanity and psychology. Pinel, who began
his investigations at the BicÍtre in the old belief that insanity
implies disorder of the reasoning faculty, discovered, to his surprise,
that many of his patients evinced no intellectual impairment whatever.
They reasoned on all subjects clearly and forcibly; neither
hallucination nor delusion perverted their judgments; and some even
recognized and deplored the impulses and desires which they could not
control. The fact was too common to be misunderstood, and having been
confirmed by subsequent observers, it has taken its place among the
well-settled truths of modern science. Not very cordially welcomed as
yet into the current beliefs of the time, it is steadily making its way
against the opposition of pride, prejudice, ignorance, and self-conceit.
The magnitude of this advance in psychological knowledge can be duly
estimated only by considering how imperfect were the prevalent notions
concerning mental disease. For the most part, our ancestors thought no
man insane, whatever his conduct or conversation, who was not actually
raving. If the person were quiet, taciturn, apathetic, he was supposed
to be melancholy or hypochondriacal. If he were elated and restless,
ready for all sorts of undertakings and projects, his condition was
attributed to a great flow of spirits. If, while talking very sensibly
on many subjects and doing many proper things, he manifested a
propensity to wanton mischief, why, then he was possessed with a devil
and consigned to chains and straw,--unless he had committed some
senseless act of crime, in which case he received from the law the usual
doom of felons.
One of the first fruits of the new method of study introduced by Pinel
was a more philosophical notion of the nature of disease. The various
diseases that afflict mankind had been regarded as so many different
entities that could almost be handled, and many attempts to define and
measure them exactly are on record. They came to be regarded somewhat as
personal foes, to be combated and overcome by the superior prowess of
the physician. It was not until such views were abandoned, and insanity,
as well as every other disease, was considered as an abnormal action or
condition, that true progress could be expected. One of the results of
inquiry into the nature of insanity, starting from this point, has been
a growing conviction that it implies defect and imperfection, as well as
casual disorder. Attention is now directed less to occasional and
exoteric incidents, and more to conditions which inhere in the original
economy of the brain. We are sometimes required to look beyond the
individual, and beyond the nervous system even, if we would discover the
primordial movement which, having passed through one or two generations,
finally culminates in actual disease. We say, in popular phrase, that
the cause of insanity in this person was disappointed love, or reverse
of fortune, and in that, a fever, or a translation of disease; the
popular voice finds an echo in the records of the profession, and it all
passes for very good philosophy. Now, the more we learn, the more reason
have we to believe that the amount of truth in the common statistics
respecting the causes of insanity bears but a very small proportion to
the amount of error. That such things as those just mentioned are often
deeply concerned in the production of insanity cannot be doubted, but
their agency is small in comparison with those which exist in the
original constitution of the patient, and are derived, in greater or
less degree, from progenitors. We would not say that insanity has never
occurred in a person whose brain was not vitiated by hereditary morbid
tendencies, but we do say that the proportion of such cases is
exceedingly small. All the seeming efficiency of the so-called "causes
of insanity" requires that preparation which is produced by the
deteriorating influences of progenitors, and without which they would be
utterly powerless. Let us consider this matter a little more closely by
the light which modern inquiry sheds upon it.
All the conditions of the bodily organs that determine the character of
the function are not known, but all analogy shows that what in popular
phrase is called _quality_ is one of them. Exactly what this is nobody
knows, nor is it necessary for our present purpose that we should know;
but when we talk of the good or bad quality of an organ, we certainly do
not talk without meaning. We have an intelligible idea of the difference
between that constitution, of an organ which insures the highest measure
of excellence in the function and that which admits of only the lowest.
In the brain, as in other organs, size is to some extent a measure of
power. The largest intellectual and moral endowments no one expects to
see in connection with the smallest brain, and _vice vers‚_, setting
aside those instances of large size which are the effect of disease. The
_relative_ size of the different parts of the brain may have something
to do with the character of the function, but this is a contested point.
Education increases the mental efficiency, no doubt, but it is too late
in the day to attribute everything to _that_. So that we are obliged to
resort to that indescribable condition called _quality_, as the chief
source and origin of the differences of mental power observed among men.
It is easier to say what this condition is not than what it is. It is
not manifested to the senses by weight or color, dryness or moisture,
hardness or softness. In these particulars all brains are pretty nearly
alike. When the cerebral action stops and the man dies, we may find
lesions visible enough to the sense,--vessels preternaturally engorged
with blood, effusions of lymph, thickening of the membranes, changes of
color and consistency,--but no one imagines these to be the cause and
origin of the disturbance. Behind and beyond all this, in that intimate
constitution of the organic molecules which no instrument of sense can
bring to light, lies the source of mental activity, both healthy and
morbid. There lies the source of all cerebral dynamics. Of this we are
sure, unable, as we are, to demonstrate the fact to the senses.
Scientific observation has made us acquainted with some of the agencies
which vitiate the quality of the brain, and it is our duty to profit by
its results. The principal of them is morbid action in the brain itself,
producing, more or less directly, disorder and weakness. But its
deteriorating influence does not cease with the individual. In a large
proportion of cases it is transmitted to the offspring; and though it
may not appear in precisely the same form, yet the tokens of its
existence are too obvious to be overlooked.--Another agency scarcely
less efficient is that of _neuropathies_, to use the medical
term,--meaning the various forms of disorder which have their origin in
the brain, and comprising not only epilepsy, hysteria, chorea, and other
convulsive affections, but that habit of body and mind which makes a
person _nervous_. While they may abridge the mental efficiency of the
patient comparatively little or not at all, they may exert this effect,
and often do, in the highest degree, on his offspring. The amount of
insanity in the world attributable to insanity in the progenitors, and
therefore called, _par ťminence_, hereditary, is scarcely greater than
that which originates in this manner, and of which the essential
condition is no less hereditary.--Another agency, acting on a large
scale in some localities, is exerted by those diseases which are
attributed to some disorder of the lymphatic system, as scrofula and
rickets. Though not entirely unknown to the affluent classes, yet it is
chiefly in the dwellings of the poor that these diseases find their
victims. Cold, moisture, bad air, deficient nourishment,--too frequent
accompaniments of poverty,--are peculiarly favorable to their
production. The physical depravation thus induced is frequently
transmitted to the brain in the next generation, and appears in the
shape of mental disorder.--Again, it is now well known that the
qualities of the race are depreciated by the intermarrying of relatives.
The disastrous influence of such unions is exerted on the nervous system
more than any other, and is a prolific source of deaf-mutism, blindness,
idiocy, and insanity. Not, certainly, in all cases do we see these
results, for the legitimate consequences of this violation of an organic
law are often avoided by the help of more controlling influences, but
they are frequent enough to remove any doubt as to their true cause. And
the chances of exemption are greatly lessened where the marriage of
consanguinity is repeated in the next generation. The manner in which
the evil is effected may be conjectured with some approach to
correctness, but to speculate upon it here would lead us astray from our
present purpose. The amount of the evil may be thought to be
comparatively small, but they who have a professional acquaintance with
the subject would hardly undertake to measure the dimensions of all the
physical and mental suffering which it involves. In one State, at least,
in the Union, it has seemed formidable enough to require an act of the
legislature forbidding the marriage of cousins.--The last we shall
mention, among the agencies concerned in vitiating the quality of the
brain, is that of excessive or long-continued intemperance; and for many
years it has been a most fruitful source of mental deterioration: not,
however, in the way which is generally imagined; for, though it may add
some effect to a popular harangue to attribute a very large proportion
of the existing cases of insanity directly to intemperance, yet, as a
matter of fact, very few, probably, can be fairly traced to this cause
solely. And yet, at the present time, it is unquestionably responsible
for a very large share of the mental infirmities which afflict the race.
The germ of the evil requires a second, perhaps a third, generation to
bring it to maturity. And then it may appear in the form of mania, or
idiocy, or intemperance. As a cause of idiocy, its potency has been
placed beyond a doubt. Dr. S.G. Howe, whose thorough investigations
entitle his conclusions to great weight, says, that, "directly or
indirectly, alcohol is productive of a great proportion of the idiocy
which now burdens the Commonwealth." There is this curious feature of
its deteriorating influence, that the primary effect is not always
persistent, but may be removed by removing the cause. In the Report of
the Hospital at Columbus, Ohio, for 1861, the physician, Dr. Hills, says
of one of his patients, that his father, in the first part of his
married life, was strictly temperate, "and had four children, all yet
remaining healthy and sound. From reverses of fortune, he became
discouraged and intemperate for some years, having in this period four
children, two of whom we had now received into the asylum; a third one
was idiotic, and the fourth epileptic. He then reformed in habits, had
three more children, all now grown to maturity, and to this period
remaining sound and healthy." Another similar case follows. An
intemperate parent had four children, two of whom became insane, one was
an idiot, and the fourth died young, in "fits." Four children born
previous to the period of intemperance, and two after the parent's
reformation, are all sound and healthy. Often, it is well known,
intemperance in the child is the hereditary sequel of intemperance in
the parent. The irresistible craving, without the preliminary gradual
indulgence, and in spite of judicious education, generally distinguishes
it from intemperance resulting from other causes.
All these agencies have this trait in common, that their damaging effect
is often felt by the offspring as well as the parent, and, in most
cases, in a far higher degree. The common doctrine of hereditary disease
implies the actual transmission of a specific form of disease fully
developed,--or, at least, of a tendency to it that may or may not be
developed. The range within which it operates is supposed to be the
narrow limits covered by a single specific affection. Daily experience,
however, shows that the deviation from the primitive type is limited
only by some conditions of structure. Any pathological result may be
expected, not incompatible with the structure of the organ. And thus it
is that the cerebral affection which fell upon the parent is represented
in one child by insanity, in another by idiocy, in another by epilepsy,
in another by gross eccentricity, in another by moral perversities, in
another by ill-balanced intellect,--each and all implying a brain more
or less vitiated by the parental infirmity. There is nothing strange in
all this diversity of result. In the healthy state, organic action
proceeds with wonderful regularity and uniformity; but when controlled
by the pathological element, all this is changed, although the change
has its limits. This diversity in the results of hereditary transmission
is as strictly according to law as the similarity of features exhibited
by parent and child. No presumption against the fact can be derived from
this quarter, and therefore, if well-authenticated, it must be admitted.
Many a man, however, who admits the general fact, refuses to make the
application where it has not been usually made. When mania occurs in two
or three successive generations, nobody overlooks the hereditary
element; but when the mania of the parent is followed by great
inequalities of character, or strange impulses to criminal acts, then
the effects of disease are straightway ignored, and we think only of
moral liberty and free-will. It may be difficult, sometimes, to make the
proper distinction between the effects of hereditary physical vitiation
and those of bad education and strong temptations; but the difficulty is
of the kind which stands in the way of all successful inquiry, to be
overcome by patient and profound study.
Some light may be thrown on this deviation from the original type by
considering the forces that are concerned in the hereditary act. The
statement that like produces like is the expression of an obvious law.
But we must bear in mind that the law is only so far observed as is
necessary to maintain the characters of the species. Within that range
there is every possible variety, and for a very obvious reason. Every
individual represents immediately two others, and, indirectly, an
indefinite number. This is done by uniting in himself qualities and
features drawn from each parent, without any obvious principle or law of
selection and combination. One parent may be, apparently, more fully
represented than the other; the defects of the parent may be
transmitted, rather than the excellences; the tendencies to health and
strength may be outnumbered and overborne by the tendencies to disease.
No individual, of course, can receive, entirely and completely, the
features and attributes of both parents, for that would be a sort of
practical absurdity; but in the process of selecting and combining,
Nature exhibits the same inexhaustible variety that appears in all her
operations. Even in the offspring of the same parents, however numerous,
uniformity in this respect is seldom so obvious as diversity. This
cerebral deterioration is subject to the same laws of descent as other
traits, with a few exceptions without much bearing on the present
question. We might as reasonably expect to see the nose or the eyes, the
figure or the motions of either parent transmitted with the exactest
likeness to all the offspring, as to suppose that an hereditary disease
must necessarily be transmitted fully formed, with all the incidents and
conditions which it possessed in the parent. And yet, in the case of
mental disease, the current philosophy can recognize the evidence of
transmission in no shape less demonstrative than delusion or raving.
Contrary to all analogy, and contrary to all fact, it supposes that the
hereditary affection must appear in the offspring in precisely the same
degree of intensity which it had in the parent. If the son is stricken
down with raving mania, like his father before him, then the relation of
cause and effect is obvious enough; but if, on the contrary, the former
exhibits only extraordinary outbreaks of passion, remarkable
inequalities of spirit and disposition, irrelevant and inappropriate
conduct, strange and unaccountable impulses, nothing of this kind is
charged practically to the parental infirmity.
The cerebral defect once established, the modes in which it may be
manifested in subsequent generations present no uniformity whatever.
Insanity in a parent may be followed by any possible form of mental
irregularity in the descendant,--insanity, idiocy, epilepsy,
drunkenness, criminal impulses, eccentricity. And so, too, eccentricity,
even of the least prominent kind, may be followed by grosser
eccentricity, or even overt insanity, in the descendant. The cerebral
defect is not necessarily manifested in an uninterrupted series of
generations, for it often skips over one, and appears with redoubled
energy in the next; and thus, in looking for proof of hereditary disease
or defect, we are not to stop at the next preceding generation. We are
too little acquainted with the laws of hereditary transmission to
explain these things. We know this, however, that, side by side with
that law which decrees the transmission of defects as well as
excellences, there exists another law which restrains deviations from
the normal type, which extinguishes the errant traits, and reestablishes
the primitive characters of the organism. The combined and alternate
action of these two laws may produce some of the inscrutable phenomena
of hereditary transmission.
The transmission of the cerebral defect is often manifested in a manner
exceedingly embarrassing to all who hold to the prevalent notions
respecting sanity and insanity. It is sometimes confined to a very
circumscribed range, beyond which the mind presents no material
impairment. The sound and the unsound coexist, not in a state of fusion,
but side by side, each independent of the other, and both derived from a
common source. And the fact is no more anomalous than that often
witnessed, of some striking feature of one parent associated in the
child with one equally striking of the other. It is not the case exactly
of partial insanity, or any mental defect, super-induced upon a mind
otherwise sound,--for such defect is, in some degree, an accident, and
may disappear; but here is a congenital conjunction of sanity and
insanity, which no medical or moral appliances will ever remove. These
persons may get on very well in their allotted part, and even achieve
distinction, while the insane element is often cropping out in the shape
of extravagances or irregularities in thought or action, which,
according to the stand-point they are viewed from, are regarded either
as gross eccentricity, or undisciplined powers, or downright insanity.
For every manifestation of this kind they may show no lack of plausible
reasons, calculated to mislead the superficial observer; but still the
fact remains, that these traits, which are never witnessed in persons of
well-balanced minds, are a part of their habitual character. When people
of this description possess a high order of intellectual endowments, the
unhealthy element seems to impart force and piquancy to their mental
manifestations, and thus increase the embarrassment touching the true
character of their mental constitution. When the defect appears in the
reflective powers, it is often regarded as insanity, though not more
correctly than if it were confined to the emotions and feelings. The man
who goes through life creditably performing his part, but feeling, all
the while, that everybody with whom he has any relations is endeavoring
to oppose and annoy him, strays as clearly from the track of a healthy
mind as if he believed in imaginary plots and conspiracies against his
property or person. In neither case is he completely overcome by the
force of the strange impression, but passes along, to all appearance,
much like other men. Insane, in the popular acceptation, he certainly is
not; but it is equally certain that his mind is not in a healthy
condition. Lord Byron was one of this class, and the fact gives us a
clew to the anomalies of his character. His mother was subject to
violent outbreaks of passion, not unlike those often witnessed in the
insane. On the paternal side his case was scarcely better. The loose
principles, the wild and reckless conduct of his father procured for him
the nickname of "_Mad Jack Byron_"; and his grand-uncle, who killed his
neighbor in a duel, exhibited traits not very characteristic of a
healthy mind. With such antecedents, it is not strange that he was
subject to wild impulses, violent passions, baseless prejudices,
uncompromising selfishness, irregular mental activity. The morbid
element in his nervous system was also witnessed in the form of
epilepsy, from which he suffered, more or less, during his whole life.
The "vile melancholy" which Dr. Johnson inherited from his father, and
which, to use his own expression, "made him mad all his life, at least
not sober," never perverted nor hampered the exercise of his
intellectual powers. He heard the voice of his distant mother calling
"Sam"; he was bound to touch every post he passed in the streets; he
astonished people by his extraordinary singularities, and much of his
time was spent in the depths of mental distress; yet the march of his
intellect, steady, uniform, and measured, gave no token of confusion or
In common life, among an order of men unknown beyond the circle of their
neighborhood, this sort of mental dualism witnessed with remarkable
frequency, though generally regarded as anomalous and unaccountable,
rather than the result of an organic law. In some, the morbid element,
without affecting the keenness of the intellect, is more active,
intruding itself on all occasions, characterizing the ways and manners,
the demeanor and deportment. Under the influence of peculiarly adverse
circumstances, they are liable to lose occasionally the unsteady balance
between the antagonistic forces of their mental nature, to conduct as if
unquestionably insane, and to be treated accordingly. Of such the remark
is always made by the world, which sees no nice distinctions, "If he is
insane now, he was always insane." According as the one or the other
phasis of their mind is exclusively regarded, they are accounted by some
as always crazy, by others as uncommonly shrewd and capable. The
hereditary origin of this mental defect in some form of nervous
affection will always be discovered, where the means of information are
In some persons the morbid element appears in the shape of insensibility
to nice moral distinctions. Their perception of them at all seems to be
the result of imitation rather than instinct. With them, circumstances
determine everything as to the moral complexion of their career in life.
Whether they leave behind them a reputation for flagrant selfishness,
meanness, and dishonesty, or for a commendable prudence and judicious
regard for self,--whether they always keep within the precincts of a
decent respectability, or run into disreputable courses,--depends mostly
on chance and fortune. This intimate association of the saint and the
sinner in the same individual, common as it is, is a stumbling-block to
moralists and legislators. The abnormal element is entirely overlooked,
or rather is confounded with that kind of moral depravity which comes
from vicious training And, certainly, the distinction is not always very
easily made; for, though sufficient light on this point may often be
derived from the antecedents of the individual, yet it is impossible,
occasionally, to remove the obscurity in which it is involved. However
this may be, it is a warrantable inference from the results of modern
inquiry, that the class of cases is not a small one, where the person
commits a criminal act, or falls into vicious habits, with a full
knowledge of the nature and consequences of his conduct, and prompted,
perhaps, by the ordinary inducements to vice, who, nevertheless, would
have been a shining example of virtue, had the morbid element in his
cerebral organism been left out. In our rough estimates of
responsibility this goes for nothing, like the untoward influences of
education; and it could not well be otherwise, though it cannot be
denied that one element of moral responsibility, namely, the wish and
the power to pursue the right and avoid the wrong, is greatly defective.
There is another phasis of cerebral defect not very unlike the last,
which of late years has been occurring with increasing frequency,
embarrassing our courts, confounding the wise and the simple, and
overwhelming respectable families with shame and sorrow. With an
intellect unwarped by the slightest excitement or delusion, and with
many moral traits, it may be, calculated to please and to charm, its
subjects are irresistibly impelled to some particular form of crime.
With more or less effort they strive against it, and when they yield at
last, their conduct is as much a mystery to themselves as to others.
Ordinary criminals excite some touch of pity, on the score of bad
education or untamed passions; but if, in the common estimation of the
world, there is one criminal more reprehensible than another, it is he
who sins against great light and under the smallest temptations,--and,
of course, the hottest wrath of an incensed community is kindled against
At the bar of yonder courtroom stands a youth with an aspect and manner
indicative of culture and refinement far above those of the common herd
of criminals. He was detected in the very act of committing a grave
criminal offence. He has been educated under good moral influences, and
possessed a patrimony that supplied every reasonable want. No looseness
of living, no violent passion is alleged against him, and no adequate
motive appears for the act. For a year or two past he has been unusually
restless by day and by night, has slept poorly, and his countenance has
worn an expression of distraction and anxiety. Various little details of
conduct are related of him, which, though not morally censurable, were
offensive to good taste and opposed to the ordinary observances of
society. His friends are sure he is not the man he once was, but no
expert ventures to pronounce him insane. Looking behind the scene, the
mystery clears up, and we behold only a simple operation of cerebral
dynamics. A glance at the family-history shows us a great-grandfather,
an aunt, two second-cousins, and a brother unequivocally insane, the
father and many other members widely noted for eccentricities and
irregularities of a kind scarcely compatible with the idea of sanity.
Considering that the brain does not spring out of the ground, but is the
final product of all the influences which for generations have been
working in the cerebral organism, it is not strange that the quality of
his brain became so vitiated as to be incapable of some of its highest
functions.--Looking a little farther back in our forensic experience, we
behold a youth scarcely arrived at the age of legal majority, with a
simple, verdant look, arraigned for trial on the charge of murder. He
was the servant of a farmer, and his victim was an adopted daughter of
the family, and some years younger than himself. One day they were left
together to take care of the house, a little girl in the neighborhood
having come in to keep them company. While engaged in the domestic
services, quietly and pleasantly, he invited his companion to go with
him into another room where he had something to show her, and there,
within a few minutes, he cut her throat from ear to ear. He soon came
down, told what he had done, and made no attempt to escape. They had
always been on good terms; no provocation, no motive whatever for the
act was shown or suspected. When questioned, he replied only,--"I loved
her, no one could tell how much I loved her." He had been drinking cider
during the morning, but his cool and collected manner, both before and
after the act, showed that he was not intoxicated. His employers
testified that they had always found him good-natured and correct, but
considered his intellect somewhat below the average grade. A few months
subsequently he died in jail of consumption. Regarded from the ordinary
moral stand-points, this was a strange, an unaccountable, a monstrous
act, and we are unable to take the first step towards a solution of the
mystery. Looking, however, at the material conditions of his affections,
his propensities, his impulses,--his cerebral dynamics,--we get a clew,
at least, to the secret. His father was an habitual drunkard, and a
frequent inmate of the poor-house. He had two children,--one an idiot,
and the other the prisoner; and the mental deficiency of the former, and
the senseless impulses to crime manifested by the latter, were equally
legitimate effects of the father's vice.--Here, again, is one who might
justly be regarded as a favored son of fortune. Fine talents, a
college-education, high social position, an honorable and lucrative
business in prospect were all his; but before leaving college he had
made considerable proficiency in lying, drinking, forgery, and
hypocrisy, besides evincing a remarkable ingenuity in concealing these
traits. His vices only increased with years, notwithstanding the various
parental expedients to effect reform,--a voyage to sea, establishment in
business, confinement in a hospital for the insane, a residence in the
country, a settlement in a new territory. All this time his intellect
was cool and clear, except when under the influence of drink, and he was
always ready with the most plausible explanations of his conduct. At
last, however, delusions began to appear, and unquestionable and
incurable insanity was established. The philosophy of our times utterly
fails to account for a phenomenon like this. Had the hand of the law
been laid upon him for his offences, he would have been regarded as one
of those examples of depravity which deserve the severest possible
punishment; and when the true nature of his case appeared at last,
doctors only wondered how so much mental disorder could happen to one
whose progenitors were singularly free from mental infirmities. In
noticing the agencies calculated to vitiate the quality of the brain, we
mentioned the neuropathies as among the most efficient, though their
effect is chiefly witnessed in subsequent generations, and the present
case is an illustration of the fact. His mother was a highly nervous
woman, and for many years a confirmed invalid.
This, then, being admitted, that a vitiated quality of the brain may be
transmitted to the offspring with accumulating effect, let us see what
are the general characteristics of this effect. We have no reason to
suppose that the brain is exempt from the operation of the same organic
laws which govern the rest of the animal economy. Observation abundantly
shows that its working capacity is diminished, and its activity becomes
irregular in one or more of the various degrees of irregularity, ranging
from a little eccentricity up to raving mania. Occasionally, such defect
is accompanied by remarkable manifestations of mental ability, but it is
no part of our doctrine that such conjunctions are incompatible. Byron
and Johnson accomplished great things; but who will deny that without
that hereditary taint they would have done more and done it better? The
latter, it is well known, was much dependent on moods, and spent long
periods in mental inactivity. The labors of the other were fitful, and
his views of life betray the influence of the same cerebral defect that
led to so much domestic woe. The narrow-chested, round-shouldered
person, whose lungs barely oxydize blood enough to maintain life, is not
expected to walk a thousand miles in a thousand hours, or to excel as a
performer on wind-instruments. We impute to him no fault for this sort
of incompetence. We should rather charge him with consummate folly, if
he undertook a line of exercises for which he is so clearly unfitted. We
do not wonder, in fact, when this unfortunate pulmonary constitution
sends its possessor to an early grave. Why not apply the same philosophy
to the brain, which may partake of all the defects incident to organized
matter? Why expect of one among whose progenitors insanity, idiocy,
scrofula, rickets, and epilepsy have prevailed in an extraordinary
degree all the moral and intellectual excellences displayed by those
whose blood through a long line of ancestors has been untainted by any
of these affections?
It is chiefly, however, in abnormal activity that the presence of this
cerebral depreciation is indicated. And here we find the same
disposition to insist on positive and absolute conditions, overlooking
those nicer shades of diversity which mark the movements of Nature. It
is the common belief that between eccentricity and insanity a great gulf
is fixed; and in courts of justice this notion is often used with great
effect to overthrow the conclusions of the medical expert, who, while he
admits their essential difference, finds it not very easy to avoid the
trap which a quick-witted lawyer is sure to make of it. Let him
recognize the fact that they are the results of a common agency,
differing chiefly in degree, and then his path is clear, though it may
not lead to popular confidence in his professional views.
Neither is the cerebral depreciation confined to any particular portion
of the organ; and therefore its effects may be witnessed in any of those
manifestations which are known to depend upon it. The affective powers,
meaning thereby the passions, affections, and emotions, are, like the
intellectual, connected with the brain, and, like them too, are shaped,
in a great degree, by the quality of that organ. It is curious, however,
that, while this fact is admitted in general terms, there is a prevalent
reluctance to make the legitimate practical application. It is denied
that the moral powers and propensities can be affected by disease,
though connected with a material organ. Everybody believes that a man
who thinks his legs are made of glass is insane; but if his affections
only are disordered,--love and kindness being replaced by jealousy and
hate,--an habitual regard for every moral propriety, by unbounded
looseness of life and conversation,--the practice of the strictest
virtue, by unblushing indulgence of crime, and all without apparent
cause or motive,--then the morbid element in the case is overlooked and
stoutly repudiated. We admit that a man may be a fool without any fault
of his own; but if he fall short of any of the requirements of the moral
law, he is regarded as a sinner, and perhaps punished as a criminal.
Before we utterly condemn him for failing to recognize all the sharp
distinctions between right and wrong, for yielding to temptation, and
walking in evil courses, we are bound in justice to inquire whether a
higher grade of moral excellence has not been debarred him by the
defective quality of his brain, the organ by which all moral graces are
manifested,--whether it has not become deteriorated by morbid
predispositions, transmitted with steadily accumulating force, to
insanity, or other affections which are known to spread their noxious
influence over the nervous system.
A scientific fact is supposed to be entitled to credence, when
accompanied by proper scientific proof; but, nevertheless, many worthy
people cannot resist the conclusion, that, if a man's moral character is
determined by the quality of the brain, then there is no such thing as
responsibility. And so we are brought up all standing against the old
problem of moral liberty, on which oceans of ink have been shed to
little purpose. Heaven forbid that we should add another drop! for our
object will be served by stating very briefly the scientific view of
this phenomenon. Every creature is free, within the limits of the
constitution which Nature has given him, to act and to think, each after
his kind. The horse rejoices in the liberty of acting like a horse, and
not like an ox; and man enjoys the privilege of acting the part of a
man, and not of a disembodied spirit. If the limbs of the former are
struck by an atrophy, we do not expect him to win the race. If the brain
of the latter is blasted by disease or deterioration, we cannot expect
the fruits of a sound and vigorous organism. When we say that a person
with a brain vitiated by an accumulation of hereditary defects is
incapable of that degree of moral excellence which is manifested by men
of the soundest brains, we utter a truism as self-evident, apparently,
as when we say that the ox is incapable of the fleetness of the horse or
the ferocity of the tiger. It is immaterial whether the cerebral
condition in question is one of original constitution or of acquired
deficiency, because the relation between the physical and the moral must
be the same in the one case as in the other. In the toiling masses, who,
from childhood, are brought face to face with want and vice, we do not
expect to find the moral graces of a Channing or a Cheverus; and we do
not hold them to a very strict responsibility for the deficiency. But
they are not utterly destitute of a moral sense, and what we have a
right to expect is, that they improve, in a reasonable degree, the light
and opportunities which have fallen to their lot. The principle is
precisely the same as it regards those whose brains have been vitiated
by some noxious agency. To make them morally responsible in an equal
degree with men more happily endowed would be repugnant to every idea of
right and justice. But within the range of their capacity, whatever it
may be, they are free, and accountable for the use of their liberty.
True, there is often difficulty in making these distinctions, even where
the necessity for it is the greatest; but we dissent from the
conclusion, that therefore the doctrine can have but little practical
value. It is something to have the fact of the intimate connection
between organic conditions and moral manifestations distinctly
recognized. The advance of knowledge will be steadily widening the
practical application of the fact. A judge might not be justified in
favoring the acquittal of a criminal on the ground of his having
inherited a brain of vitiated quality; but, surely, it would not be
repugnant to the testimony of science, or the dictates of common sense
and common justice, if he allowed this fact to operate in mitigation of
A NEW SCULPTOR.
Once to my Fancy's hall a stranger came,
Of mien unwonted,
And its pale shapes of glory without shame
Or speech confronted.
Fair was my hall,--a gallery of Gods
With Nymphs and Satyrs from the dewy sods
Great Jove sat throned in state, with Hermes near,
And fiery Bacchus;
Pallas and Pluto, and those powers of Fear
Whose visions rack us.
Artemis wore her crescent free of stars,
The hunt just scented;
Glad Aphrodite met the warrior Mars,
Rude was my visitant, of sturdy form,
Draped in such clothing
As the world's great, whom luxury makes warm,
Look on with loathing.
And yet, methought, his service-badge of soil
With honor wearing;
And in his dexter hand, embossed with toil,
A hammer bearing.
But while I waited till his eye should sink,
O'ercome of beauty,
With heart impatience brimming to the brink
Of courteous duty,--
He smote my marbles many a murderous blow,
His weapon poising;
I, in my wrath and wonderment of woe,
No comment voicing.
"Come, sweep this rubbish from the workman's way,
Wreck of past ages,--
Afford me here a lump of harmless clay,
Ye grooms and pages!"
Then, from that voidness of our mother Earth,
A frame he builded
Of a new feature,--with the power of birth
Fashioned and welded.
It had a might mine eyes had never seen,
A mien, a stature,
As if the centuries that rolled between
Had greatened Nature.
It breathed, it moved; above Jove's classic sway
A place was won it:
The rustic sculptor motioned; then "To-day"
He wrote upon it.
"What man art thou?" I cried, "and what this wrong
That thou hast wrought me?
My marbles lived on symmetry and song;
Why hast thou brought me
"A form of all necessities, that asks
Nurture and feeding?
Not this the burthen of my maidhood's tasks,
Nor my high breeding."
"Behold," he said, "Life's great impersonate,
Nourished by Labor!
Thy Gods are gone with old-time faith and Fate;
Here is thy Neighbor."
PLAYS AND PLAY-ACTING.
One evening, after seeing Booth in "Richard III.," three of us fell
a-talking about the authorship of the play, and wondering how far
Shakespeare was responsible for what we had heard. Everybody knows that
Colley Cibber improved upon the text of the old folios and quartos: for
what was listened to with delight by Ben Jonson could not satisfy
Congreve, and William III. needed better verses than those applauded by
Queen Elizabeth. None of us knew how great or how many these
improvements were. I doubt whether many of the audience that crowded the
theatre that evening were wiser than we. The next day I got an acting
copy of "Richard III.," and, with the help of Mrs. Clarke's
Concordance, arrived at the following astonishing results.
"Shakspeare's Historical Tragedy of Richard III., adapted to
Representation by Colley Cibber," (I quote the full title for its
matchless impudence,) makes a pamphlet of fifty-nine small pages. Of
these, Cibber was good enough to write twenty-six out of his own head.
Then, modestly recognizing Shakespeare's superiority, he took
twenty-_seven_ pages from him, (not all from this particular play, to be
sure,) remodelled six other pages of the original, and, mixing it all up
together, produced a play, and called it Shakespeare.
With Mrs. Clarke's touchstone it is easy to separate the base metal from
the fine gold; though you have only to ring most of Cibber's
counterfeits to see how flat they are. Would any one take the following
for genuine coin, and believe that Shakespeare could make a poor ghost
"PRINCE E. Richard, dream on, and see the wandering spirits
Of thy young nephews, murdered in the tower:
Could not our youth, our innocence, persuade
Thy cruel heart to spare our harmless lives?
Who, but for thee, alas! might have enjoyed
Our many promised years of happiness.
No soul, save thine, but pities our misusage.
Oh! 'twas a cruel deed! therefore alone,
Unpitying, unpitied shalt thou fall."
"K. HENRY. The morning's dawn has summoned me away;
And let that wild despair, which now does prey
Upon thy mangled thoughts, alarm the world.
Awake, Richard, awake! to guilty minds
A terrible example!"
No wonder that Gloucester finds it quite hopeless to reply to such
ghosts in the words Shakespeare put into his mouth, and so has recourse
to Cibber. We are not told what (Cibber's) ghosts say to Richmond; but
"If dreams should animate a soul resolved,
_I'm more than pleased with those I've had to-night._"
Just after this, it is rather confusing to find him straying off into
"Henry V." Still, "In peace there's nothing so becomes a man," seems to
promise Shakespeare at least,--so compose yourself to listen and
"In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As _mild behavior_ and humility;
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
_Let us be tigers in our fierce deportment_."
After this outrage, I defy you to help hoping that the comparatively
innocent Richard will chop off Richmond's head,--in spite of history and
It does not follow that all change or omission is unlawful in placing
Shakespeare's plays on the stage. Though in the pit or parquet we sit
(more or less) at our ease, instead of standing as the groundlings did
in old days, yet a tragedy five hours and a half long would be rather
too much of a good thing for us. There must have been a real love of the
drama in those times. Fancy a fine gentleman, able to pay his shilling
and sit with the wits upon the rush-strewn stage, listening for such a
length of time to "Hamlet," with no change of scenes to help the
illusion or break the monotony, beyond a curtain or two hung across the
stage, a wooden gallery at the back whence the court of Denmark might
view "The Mouse-Trap," and, perhaps, a wooden tomb pushed on or
"discovered" in the graveyard-scene by pulling aside one of these
curtains or "traverses." No pretty women, either, dressed in becoming
robes, and invested with the mysterious halo of interest which an
actress seems to bring with her from the side-scenes. No women at all.
Poor Ophelia presented by a great lubberly boy, and the part of the
Queen very likely intrusted to him who was last year the "_jeune
premiŤre_," and whose voice is now somewhat cracked within the ring. To
be sure, in those days every gentleman took his pipe with him; and the
fragrant clouds would be some consolation in the eyes, or rather in the
noses, of some of us. But still,--almost six hours of tragedy! It is too
much of a good thing for these degenerate days; and we must allow the
prompter to use his pencil on the actors' copy of "Hamlet," though he
strike out page upon page of immortal philosophy.
But there are certain parts of this play omitted whose loss makes one
grieve. Why do the actors leave out the strange half-crazed exclamations
wrung from Hamlet by his father's voice repeating "Swear" from beneath
HAM. Indeed, upon my sword, indeed.
GHOST [_beneath_]. Swear.
HAM. Ah, ha, boy! say'st thou so? art thou there, true-penny?--
Come on,--you hear this fellow in the cellarage--
* * * * *
Swear by my sword.
GHOST [_beneath_]. Swear.
HAM. _Hic et ubique_? then we'll shift our ground.--
Come hither, gentlemen,
And lay your hands again upon my sword:
Never to speak of this that you have heard,
Swear by my sword.
GHOST [_beneath_]. Swear.
HAM. Well said, old mole! Canst work i' the ground so fast?
A worthy pioneer I....
... This not to do,
So grace and mercy at your most need help you, swear.
GHOST [_beneath_]. Swear.
HAM. Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!
The sensitive organization which makes Hamlet what he is has been too
rudely handled: the machine, too delicate for the rough work of
every-day life, breaks down, under the strain. The horror of the
time--beginning with Horatio's story of the apparition, and growing more
fearful with every moment of reflection, until Hamlet longs for the
coming of the dread hour--reaches a point beyond which human nature has
no power to endure. If he could share his burden with his friend
Horatio,--but Marcellus thrusts himself forward, and he checks the
half-uttered confidence, and struggles to put aside their curiosity with
trifling words. Anything, to be alone and free to think on what he has
heard and what he has to do. And then,--as he is swearing them to
secrecy before escaping from them,--_there_, from under their feet and
out of the solid earth, comes the voice whose adieu is yet ringing in
his ears. In terror they hurry to another spot; but the awful voice
follows their steps, and its tones shake the ground under them. What
wonder, if, broken down by all this, Hamlet utters words which would be
irreverent in their levity, were they not terrible in their wildness?
Have you never marked what pathos there is in a very trivial phrase used
by one so crushed down by grief that he acts and speaks like a little
It is wonderful that a great actor should neglect a passage that paints
with one touch Hamlet's half-hysterical state. Given as it might be
given, it would curdle the blood in your veins. I asked the best Hamlet
it has been my fortune to see, why he left out these lines. "I have
often thought I would speak them; but I don't know how." That was his
answer, and a very honest one it was. But such a reason is not worthy of
any man who dares to play Hamlet,--much less of one who plays it as ----
It is curious to observe how persistently the players, in making up the
stage-travesties of Shakespeare's plays, have followed the uncertain
lead of the quartos, where they and the folio differ. It almost seems as
if the stage-editors found something more congenial in a text made up
from the actors' recollections, plentifully adorned with what we now
call "gag." They appear to forget one capital fact: that Shakespeare was
at once actor, author, and manager,--that he wrote for the stage
exclusively, producing plays for the immediate use of his own
company,--and that his plays may therefore be reasonably supposed to be
"adapted to representation" in their original state. Does Mr. Crummles
know better than Master Shakespeare knew how "Romeo and Juliet" should
be ended with the best effect,--not only to the ear in the closet, but
theatrically on the stage? The story was not a new one; and the
dramatist deliberately followed one of two existing versions rather than
the other. In Boisteau's translation of Bandello's novel, Juliet wakes
from her trance before Romeo's death; in Brooke's poem, which the great
master chose to adopt as his authority, all is over, and she wakes to
find her lover dead. Garrick must needs know better than Shakespeare,
the actor-author; and no stage Romeo has the grace to die until he has,
in elegant phrase, "piled up the agony" with lines like these:--
"JULIET. ... Death's in thy face.
ROM. _It is indeed_. I struggle with him now:
The transports that I felt,
To hear thee speak, and see thy opening eyes,
Stopped, for a moment, his impetuous course,
And all my mind was happiness and thee:--
But now," etc.,
"My powers are blasted;
'Twist death and love I'm torn, I am distracted;
_But death is strongest_."
And then, to give a chance for the manoeuvre beloved by dying
actors,--that getting up and falling back into the arms of the actress
kneeling by him, with a proper amount of gasping and eyes rolling in
delirium,--the stage Romeo adds:--
"ROM. She is my wife,--our hearts are twined together:--
Capulet, forbear:--Paris, loose your hold:--
Pull not our heart-strings thus;--they crack,--they break:--
Oh, Juliet, Juliet!"
[_Dies. Juliet faints on his body._
Is this Garrick or Otway? (for I believe Garrick borrowed some of his
improvements from Otway's "Caius Marius.") I don't know, and don't care.
It is not Shakespeare. It may "show something of the skill of kindred
genius," as the preface to the acting edition says it does. I confess I
do not see it. I would have such bombast delivered with the traditional
accompaniment of red fire; and the curtain should descend majestically
to the sound of slow music. That would be consistent and appropriate.
* * * * *
It has always been a consoling thought to Englishmen that Shakespeare
exists for them alone,--or that a Frenchman's nature, at least, makes it
hopeless for him to try to understand the great dramatist. They confess
that their neighbors know how to construct the plot of a comedy, and
prove the honesty of their approval by "borrowing" whatever they can
make useful. French tragedies they despise--(though a century ago the
new English tragedies were generally Corneille or Racine in disguise).
As to Shakespeare, it has time out of mind been an article of faith with
the insolent insulars that he is quite above any Frenchman's reach. One
by one they are driven from their foolish prejudices, and made to
confess that Frenchmen _may_ equal them in some serious things, as well
as beat them in all the lighter accomplishments. French iron-clad
steamers have been followed by the curious spectacle of a French actor
teaching an English audience how Shakespeare should be acted. I would
give a good deal to see M. Fechter in Hamlet, Othello, or Iago,--the
only parts he has yet attempted; the rather, because the low condition
of the stage in England, where Mr. Macready and Mr. Charles Kean are
called great actors, makes the English newspaper-criticisms of little
value. In default of this, I have been reading M. Fechter's acting
edition of "Othello," which a friend kindly sent me from London. It is a
curiosity,--not the text, which is incorrect, full of arbitrary changes,
and punctuated in a way almost unintelligible to an English eye: colons
being scattered about with truly French profusion. The stage-directions
are the interest of the book. They are so many and so minute that it
seems a wonder why they were printed, if M. Fechter is sincere in
declaring that he has no desire to force others to follow in his exact
footsteps in this part. But they are generally so judicious, as well as
original, that actors born with English tongues in their heads may well
be ashamed that a foreigner could find so many new and effective
resources on their own ground. For example: when Othello and Iago are
first met by the enraged Brabantio, the Moor is standing on the
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