Atlantic Monthly, Volume 2, Issue 10, August, 1858
Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. II.--AUGUST, 1858.--NO. X.
OR THE ENGLISH LAUREL, FROM CHAUCER TO TENNYSON.
They in thir time did many a noble dede,
And for their worthines full oft have bore
The crown of laurer leaves on the hede,
As ye may in your olde bookes rede:
And how that he that was a conquerour
Had by laurer alway his most honour.
DAN CHAUCER: _The Flowre and the Leaf_.
It is to be lamented that antiquarian zeal is so often diverted from
subjects of real to those of merely fanciful interest. The mercurial
young gentlemen who addict themselves to that exciting department of
letters are open to censure as being too fitful, too prone to flit,
bee-like, from flower to flower, now lighting momentarily upon an
indecipherable tombstone, now perching upon a rusty morion, here
dipping into crumbling palimpsests, there turning up a tattered
reputation from heaps of musty biography, or discovering that the
brightest names have had sad blots and blemishes scoured off by the
attrition of Time's ceaseless current. We can expect little from
investigators so volatile and capricious; else should we expect the
topic we approach in this paper to have been long ago flooded with
light as of Maedler's sun, its dust dissipated, and sundry curves and
angles which still baffle scrutiny and provoke curiosity exposed even
to Gallio-llke wayfarers. It is, in fact, a neglected topic. Its
derivatives are obscure, its facts doubtful. Questions spring from
it, sucker-like, numberless, which none may answer. Why, for
instance, in apportioning his gifts among his posterity, did Phoebus
assign the laurel to his step-progeny, the sons of song, and pour the
rest of the vegetable world into the pharmacopoeia of the favored
AEsculapius? Why was even this wretched legacy divided in aftertimes
with the children of Mars? Was its efficacy as a non-conductor of
lightning as reliable as was held by Tiberius, of guileless memory,
Emperor of Rome? Were its leaves really found green as ever in the
tomb of St. Humbert, a century and a half after the interment of that
holy confessor? In what reign was the first bay-leaf, rewarding the
first poet of English song, authoritatively conferred? These and other
like questions are of so material concern to the matter we have in
hand, that we may fairly stand amazed that they have thus far escaped
the exploration of archaeologists. It is not for us to busy ourselves
with other men's affairs. Time and patience shall develope profounder
mysteries than these. Let us only succeed in delineating in brief
monograph the outlines of a natural history of the British
Laurel,--_Laurea nobilis, sempervirens, florida_,--and in posting
here and there, as we go, a few landmarks that shall facilitate the
surveys of investigators yet unborn, and this our modest enterprise
shall be happily fulfilled.
One portion of it presents no serious difficulty. There is an
uninterrupted canon of the Laureates running as far back as the reign
of James I. Anterior, however, to that epoch, the catalogue fades away
in undistinguishable darkness. Names are there of undoubted splendor,
a splendor, indeed, far more glowing than that of any subsequent
monarch of the bays; but the legal title to the garland falls so far
short of satisfactory demonstration, as to oblige us to dismiss the
first seven Laureates with a dash of that ruthless criticism with
which Niebuhr, the regicide, dispatched the seven kings of Rome. To
mark clearly the bounds between the mythical and the indubitable, a
glance at the following brief of the Laureate _fasti_ will
greatly assist us, speeding us forward at once to the substance of our
I. The MYTHICAL PERIOD, extending from the supposititious coronation
of Laureate CHAUCER, _in temp. Edv. III., 1367_, to that of
Laureate JONSON, _in temp. Caroli I._ To this period belong,
GEOFFREY CHAUCER, 1367-1400
JOHN SCOGAN, 1400-1413
JOHN KAY, 1465-
ANDREW BERNARD, 1486-
JOHN SKELTON, 1509-1529
EDMUND SPENSER, 1590-1599
SAMUEL DANIEL, }
MICHAEL DRAYTON, } 1600-1630
BEN JONSON, }
II. The DRAMATIC, extending from the latter event to the demise of
Laureate SHADWELL, _in temp. Gulielmi III., 1692._ Here we have
BEN JONSON, 1630-1637
WILL DAVENANT, 1637-1668
JOHN DRYDEN, 1670-1689
THOMAS SHADWELL, 1689-1692
III. The LYRIC, from the reign of Laureate TATE, 1693, to the demise
of Laureate PYE, 1813:--
NAHUM TATE, 1693-1714
NICHOLAS ROWE, 1714-1718
LAURENCE EUSDEN, 1719-1730
COLLEY CIBBER, 1730-1757
WILLIAM WHITEHEAD, 1758-1785
THOMAS WARTON, 1785-1790
HENRY JAMES PYE, 1790-1813
IV. The VOLUNTARY, from the accession of Laureate SOUTHEY, 1813, to
the present day:--
ROBERT SOUTHEY, 1813-1843
WILLIAM WORDSWORTH, 1843-1850
ALFRED TENNYSON, 1850-
Have no faith in those followers of vain traditions who assert the
existence of the Laureate office as early as the thirteenth century,
attached to the court of Henry III. Poets there were before
Chaucer,--_vixere fortes ante Agamemnona_,--but search Rymer from
cord to clasp and you shall find no documentary evidence of any one of
them wearing the leaf or receiving the stipend distinctive of the
place. Morbid credulity can go no farther back than to the "Father of
"That renounced Poet,
Dan Chaucer, well of English undefyled,
On Fame's eternall beadroll worthie to be fyled":
"Him that left half-told
The story of Cambuscan bold;
Of Camball, and of Algarsife,
And who had Canace to wife":
"That noble Chaucer, in those former times,
Who first enriched our English with his rhymes,
And was the first of ours that ever broke
Into the Muse's treasures, and first spoke
In mighty numbers."
Tradition here first assumes that semblance of probability which
rendered it current for three centuries. Edward the Third--resplendent
name in the constitutional history of England--is supposed to have
been so deeply impressed with Chaucer's poetical merits, as to have
sought occasion for appropriate recognition. Opportunely came that
high festival at the capital of the world, whereat
"Franccis Petrark, the laureat poete,
... whos rethorike swete
Enlumined all Itaille of poetrie,"
received the laurel crown at the hands of the Senate of Rome, with a
magnificence of ceremonial surpassed only by the triumphs of imperial
victors a thousand years before. Emulous of the gorgeous example, the
English monarch forthwith showered corresponding honors upon Dan
Chaucer, adding the substantial perquisites of a hundred marks and a
tierce of Malvoisie, a year. To this agreeable story, Laureate Warton,
than whom no man was more intimately conversant with the truth there
is in literary history, appears in one of his official odes to yield
"Victorious Edward gave the vernal bough
Of Britain's bay to bloom on Chaucer's brow:
Fired with the gift, he changed to sounds sublime
His Norman minstrelsy's discordant chime."
The legend, however, does not bear inquiry. King Edward, in 1367,
certainly granted an annuity of twenty marks to "his varlet, Geoffrey
Chaucer." Seven years later there was a further grant of a pitcher of
wine daily, together with the controllership of the wool and petty
wine revenues for the port of London. The latter appointment, to which
the pitcher of wine was doubtless incident, was attended with a
requirement that the new functionary should execute all the duties of
his post in person,--a requirement involving as constant and laborious
occupation as that of Charles Lamb, chained to his perch in the India
House. These concessions, varied slightly by subsequent patents from
Richard II. and Henry IV., form the entire foundation to the tale of
Chaucer's Laureateship. There is no reference in grant or patent to
his poetical excellence or fame, no mention whatever of the laurel, no
verse among the countless lines of his poetry indicating the reception
of that crowning glory, no evidence that the third Edward was one whit
more sensitive to the charms of the Muses than the third William,
three hundred years after. Indeed, the condition with which the
appointment of this illustrious custom-house officer was hedged
evinced, if anything, a desire to discourage a profitless wooing of
the Nine, by so confining his mind to the incessant routine of an
uncongenial duty as to leave no hours of poetic idleness. Whatever
laurels Fame may justly garland the temples of Dan Chaucer withal, she
never, we are obliged to believe, employed royal instrument at the
John Scogan, often confounded with an anterior Henry, has been named
as the Laureate of Henry IV., and immediate successor of
Chaucer. Laureate Jonson seems to encourage the notion:--
"_Mere Fool._ Skogan? What was he?
"_Jophiel._ Oh, a fine gentleman, and master of arts Of Henry
the Fourth's time, that made disguises For the King's sons, and writ
in ballad-royal Daintily well.
"_Mere Fool_. But he wrote like a gentleman?
"_Jophiel_. In rhyme, fine, tinkling rhyme, and flowand verse,
With now and then some sense; and he was paid for't, Regarded and
rewarded; which few poets Are nowadays."
But Warton places Scogan in the reign of Edward IV., and reduces him
to the level of Court Jester, his authority being Dr. Andrew Borde,
who, early in the sixteenth century, published a volume of his
platitudes. There is nothing to prove that he was either poet or
Laureate; while, on the other hand, it must be owned, one person might
at the same time fill the offices of Court Poet and Court Fool. It is
but fair to say that Tyrwhitt, who had all the learning and more than
the accuracy of Warton, inclines to Jonson's estimate of Scogan's
character and employment.
One John Kay, of whom we are singularly deficient in information, held
the post of Court Poet under the amorous Edward IV. What were his
functions and appointments we cannot discover.
Andrew Bernard held the office under Henry VII. and Henry VIII. He was
a churchman, royal historiographer, and tutor to Prince Arthur. His
official poems were in Latin. He was living as late as 1522.
John Skelton obtained the distinction of Poet-Laureate at Oxford, a
title afterward confirmed to him by the University of Cambridge: mere
university degrees, however, without royal indorsement. Henry
VIII. made him his "Royal Orator," whatever that may have been, and
otherwise treated him with favor; but we hear nothing of sack or
salary, find nothing among his poems to intimate that his performances
as Orator ever ran into verse, or that his "laurer" was of the regal
A long stride carries us to the latter years of Queen Elizabeth,
where, and in the ensuing reign of James, we find the names of Edmund
Spenser, Samuel Daniel, and Michael Drayton interwoven with the
bays. Spenser's possession of the laurel rests upon no better evidence
than that, when he presented the earlier books of the "Faery Queen" to
Elizabeth, a pension of fifty pounds a year was conferred upon him,
and that the praises of _Gloriana_ ring through his realm of
Faery in unceasing panegyric. But guineas are not laurels, though for
sundry practical uses they are, perhaps, vastly better; nor are the
really earnest and ardent eulogia of the bard of Mulla the same in
kind with the harmonious twaddle of Tate, or the classical quiddities
of Pye. He was of another sphere, the highest heaven of song, who
"Waked his lofty lay
To grace Eliza's golden sway;
And called to life old Uther's elfin-tale,
And roved through many a necromantic vale,
Portraying chiefs who knew to tame
The goblin's ire, the dragon's flame,
To pierce the dark, enchanted hall
Where Virtue sat in lonely thrall.
From fabling Fancy's inmost store
A rich, romantic robe he bore,
A veil with visionary trappings hung,
And o'er his Virgin Queen the fairy-texture flung."
Samuel Daniel was not only a favorite of Queen Elizabeth, but more
decidedly so of her successor in the queendom, Anne of Denmark. In the
household of the latter he held the position of Groom of the Chamber,
a sinecure of handsome endowment, so handsome, indeed, as to warrant
an occasional draft upon his talents for the entertainment of her
Majesty's immediate circle, which held itself as far as possible aloof
from the court, and was disposed to be self-reliant for its
amusements. Daniel had entered upon the vocation of courtier with
flattering auspices. His precocity while at Oxford has found him a
place in the "Bibliotheca Eruditorum Praecocium." Anthony Wood bears
witness to his thorough accomplishments in all kinds, especially in
history and poetry, specimens of which, the antiquary tells us, were
still, in his time, treasured among the archives of Magdalen. He
deported himself so amiably in society, and so inoffensively among his
fellow-bards, and versified his way so tranquilly into the good graces
of his royal mistresses, distending the thread, and diluting the
sense, and sparing the ornaments, of his passionless poetry,--if
poetry, which, by the definition of its highest authority, is "simple,
sensuous, passionate," can ever be unimpassioned,--that he was the
oracle of feminine taste while he lived, and at his death bequeathed a
fame yet dear to the school of Southey and Wordsworth. Daniel was no
otherwise Laureate than his position in the queen's household may
authorize that title. If ever so entitled by contemporaries, it was
quite in a Pickwickian and complimentary sense. His retreat from the
busy vanity of court life, an event which happened several years
before his decease in 1619, was hastened by the consciousness of a
waning reputation, and of the propriety of seeking better shelter than
that of his laurels. His eloquent "Defense of Rhyme" still asserts for
him a place in the hearts of all lovers of stately English prose.
Old Michael Drayton, whose portrait has descended to us, surmounted
with an exuberant twig of bays, is vulgarly classed with the
legitimate Laureates. Southey, pardonably anxious to magnify an office
belittled by some of its occupants, does not scruple to rank Spenser,
Daniel, and Drayton among the Laurelled:--
"That wreath, which, in Eliza's golden days,
My master dear, divinest Spenser, wore,
That which rewarded Drayton's learned lays,
Which thoughtful Ben and gentle Daniel bore," etc.
But in sober prose Southey knew, and later in life taught, that not
one of the three named ever wore the authentic laurel. That Drayton
deserved it, even as a successor of the divinest Spenser, who shall
deny? With enough of patience and pedantry to prompt the composition
of that most laborious, and, upon the whole, most humdrum and
wearisome poem of modern times, the "Polyolbion," he nevertheless
possessed an abounding exuberance of delicate fancy and sound poetical
judgment, traces of which flash not unfrequently even athwart the
dulness of his _magnum opus_, and through the mock-heroism of
"England's Heroical Epistles," while they have full play in his "Court
of Faery." Drayton's great defect was the entire absence of that
dramatic talent so marvellously developed among his contemporaries,--a
defect, as we shall presently see, sufficient of itself to disqualify
him for the duties of Court Poet. But, what was still worse, his mind
was not gifted with facility and versatility of invention, two equally
essential requisites; and to install him in a position where such
faculties were hourly called into play would have been to put the
wrong man in the worst possible place. Drayton was accordingly a
court-pensioner, but not a court-poet. His laurel was the honorary
tribute of admiring friends, in an age when royal pedantry rendered
learning fashionable and a topic of exaggerated regard. Southey's
admission is to this purpose. "He was," he says, "one of the poets to
whom the title of Laureate was given in that age,--not as holding the
office, but as a mark of honor, to which they were entitled." And with
the poetical topographer such honors abounded. Not only was he
gratified with the zealous labors of Selden in illustration of the
"Polyolbion," but his death was lamented in verse of Jonson, upon
marble supplied by the Countess of Dorset:--
"Do, pious marble, let thy readers know
What they and what their children owe
To Drayton's name, whose sacred dust
We recommend unto thy trust.
Protect his memory, and preserve his story;
Remain a lasting monument of his glory:
And when thy ruins shall disclaim
To be the treasurer of his name,
His name, that cannot fade, shall be
An everlasting monument to thee."
The Laureateship, we thus discover, had not, down to the days of
James, become an institution. Our mythical series shrink from close
scrutiny. But in the gayeties of the court of the Stuarts arose
occasion for the continuous and profitable employment of a court-poet,
and there was enough thrift in the king to see the advantage of
securing the service for a certain small annuity, rather than by the
payment of large sums as presents for occasional labors. The masque, a
form of dramatic representation, borrowed from the Italian, had been
introduced into England during the reign of Elizabeth. The interest
depended upon the development of an allegorical subject apposite to
the event which the performance proposed to celebrate, such as a royal
marriage, or birthday, or visit, or progress, or a marriage or other
notable event among the nobility and gentry attached to the court, or
an entertainment in honor of some distinguished personage. To produce
startling and telling stage effects, machinery of the most ingenious
contrivance was devised; scenery, as yet unknown in ordinary
exhibitions of the stage, was painted with elaborate finish; goddesses
in the most attenuated Cyprus lawn, bespangled with jewels, had to
slide down upon invisible wires from a visible Olympus; Tritons had to
rise from the halls of Neptune through waters whose undulations the
nicer resources of recent art could not render more genuinely marine;
fountains disclosed the most bewitching of Naiads; and Druidical oaks,
expanding, surrendered the imprisoned Hamadryad to the air of
heaven. Fairies and Elves, Satyrs and Forsters, Centaurs and Lapithae,
played their parts in these gaudy spectacles with every conventional
requirement of shape, costume, and behavior _point-de-vice_, and were
supplied by the poet, to whom the letter-press of the show had been
confided, with language and a plot, both pregnant with more than
Platonic morality. Some idea of the magnificence of these displays,
which beggared the royal privy-purse, drove household-treasurers mad,
and often left poet and machinist whistling for pay, may be gathered
from the fact that a masque sometimes cost as much as two thousand
pounds in the mechanical getting-up, a sum far more formidable in the
days of exclusively hard money than in these of paper currency. Scott
has described, for the benefit of the general reader, one such pageant
among the "princely pleasures of Kenilworth"; while Milton, in his
"Masque performed at Ludlow Castle," presents the libretto of another,
of the simpler and less expensive sort. During the reign of James, the
passion for masques kindled into a mania. The days and nights of
Inigo Jones were spent in inventing machinery and contriving
stage-effects. Daniel, Middleton, Fletcher, and Jonson were busied
with the composition of the text; and the court ladies and cavaliers
were all from morning till night in the hands of their dancing and
music masters, or at private study, or at rehearsal, preparing for the
pageant, the representation of which fell to their share and won them
enviable applause. Of course the burden of original invention fell
upon the poets; and of the poets, Daniel and Jonson were the most
heavily taxed. In 1616, James I., by patent, granted to Jonson an
annuity for life of one hundred marks, to him in hand not often well
and truly paid. He was not distinctly named as Laureate, but seems to
have been considered such; for Daniel, on his appointment, "withdrew
himself," according to Gifford, "entirely from court." The
strong-boxes of James and Charles seldom overflowed. Sir Robert Pye,
an ancestor of that Laureate Pye whom we shall discuss by-and-by, was
the paymaster, and often and again was the overwrought poet obliged to
"A woful cry
To Sir Robert Pye,"
before some small instalment of long arrearages could be procured. And
when, rarely, very rarely, his Majesty condescended to remember the
necessities of "his and the Muses' servant," and send a present to the
Laureate's lodgings, its proportions were always so small as to excite
the ire of the insulted Ben, who would growl forth to the messenger,
"He would not have sent me this, (_scil._ wretched pittance,) did
I not live in an alley."
We now arrive at the true era of the Laureateship. Charles, in 1630,
became ambitious to signalize his reign by some fitting tribute to
literature. A petition from Ben Jonson pointed out the way. The
Laureate office was made a patentable one, in the gift of the Lord
Chamberlain, as purveyor of the royal amusements. Ben was confirmed
in the office. The salary was raised from one hundred marks to one
hundred pounds, an advance of fifty per cent, to which was added
yearly a tierce of Canary wine,--an appendage appropriate to the
poet's convivial habits, and doubtless suggested by the mistaken
precedent of Chaucer's daily flagon of wine. Ben Jonson was certainly,
of all men living in 1630, the right person to receive this honor,
which then implied, what it afterward ceased to do, the primacy of the
diocese of letters. His learning supplied ballast enough to keep the
lighter bulk of the poet in good trim, while it won that measure of
respect which mere poetical gifts and graces would not have
secured. He was the dean of that group of "poets, poetaccios,
poetasters, and poetillos,"  who beset the court. If a display of
erudition were demanded, Ben was ready with the heavy artillery of the
unities, and all the laws of Aristotle and Horace, Quintilian and
Priscian, exemplified in tragedies of canonical structure, and
comedies whose prim regularity could not extinguish the most
delightful and original humor--Robert Burton's excepted--that
illustrated that brilliant period. But if the graceful lyric or
glittering masque were called for, the boundless wealth of Ben's
genius was most strikingly displayed. It has been the fashion, set by
such presumptuous blunderers as Warburton and such formal prigs as
Gifford, to deny our Laureate the possession of those ethereal
attributes of invention and fancy which play about the creations of
Shakspeare, and constitute their exquisite charm. This arbitrary
comparison of Jonson and Shakspeare has, in fact, been the bane of the
former's reputation. Those who have never read the masques argue,
that, as "very little Latin and less Greek," in truth no learning of
any traceable description, went to the creation of _Ariel_ and
_Caliban_, _Oberon_ and _Puck_, the possession of Latin, Greek, and
learning generally, incapacitates the proprietor for the same happy
exercise of the finer and more gracious faculties of wit and fancy.
Of this nonsense Jonson's masques are the best refutation. Marvels of
ingenuity in plot and construction, they abound in "dainty invention,"
animated dialogue, and some of the finest lyric passages to be found
in dramatic literature. They are the Laureate's true laurels. Had he
left nothing else, the "rare arch-poet" would have held, by virtue of
these alone, the elevated rank which his contemporaries, and our own,
freely assign him. Lamb, whose appreciation of the old dramatists was
extremely acute, remarks,--"A thousand beautiful passages from his
'New Inn,' and from those numerous court masques and entertainments
which he was in the daily habit of furnishing, might be adduced to
show the poetical fancy and elegance of mind of the supposed rugged
old bard."  And in excess of admiration at one of the Laureate's
most successful pageants, Herrick breaks forth,--
"Thou hadst the wreath before, now take the tree,
That henceforth none be laurel-crowned but thee." 
An aspiration fortunately unrealized.
It was not long before the death of Ben, that John Suckling, one of
his boon companions
"At those lyric feasts,
Made at 'The Sun,'
'The Dog,' 'The Triple Tun,'
Where they such clusters had
As made them nobly wild, not mad," 
handed about among the courtiers his "Session of the Poets," where an
imaginary contest for the laurel presented an opportunity for
characterizing the wits of the day in a series of capital strokes, as
remarkable for justice as shrewd wit. Jonson is thus introduced:--
"The first that broke silence was good old Ben,
Prepared with Canary wine,
And he told them plainly he deserved the bays,
For his were called works, while others' were but plays;
"And bid them remember how he had purged the stage
Of errors that had lasted many an age;
And he hoped they did not think 'The Silent Woman,'
'The Fox,' and 'The Alchymist' outdone by no man.
"Apollo stopt him there, and bid him not go on;
'Twas merit, he said, and not presumption,
Must carry it; at which Ben turned about,
And in great choler offered to go out;
"But those who were there thought it not fit
To discontent so ancient a wit,
And therefore Apollo called him back again,
And made him mine host of his own 'New Inn.'"
This _jeu d'esprit_ of Suckling, if of no value otherwise, would
be respectable as an original which the Duke of Buckinghamshire,
Leigh Hunt, and our own Lowell have successfully and happily
In due course, Laureate Jonson shared the fate of all potentates, and
was gathered to the laurelled of Elysium. The fatality occurred in
1637. When his remains were deposited in the Poet's Corner, with the
eloquent laconism above them, "O Rare Ben Jonson!" all the wits of the
day stood by the graveside, and cast in their tribute of bays. The
rite over, all the wits of the day hurried from the aisles of
Westminster to the galleries of Whitehall to urge their several claims
to the successorship. There were, of the elder time, Massinger,
drawing to the close of a successful career,--Ford, with his growing
fame,--Marmion, Heywood, Carlell, Wither. There was Sandys, especially
endeared to the king by his orthodox piety, so becoming the son of an
archbishop, and by his versions of the "Divine Poems," which were next
year given to the press, and which found a place among the half-dozen
volumes which a decade later solaced the last hours of his royal
master. There were the names, in the junior class, of Tom Carew, noted
for his amatory songs and his one brilliant masque,--Tom Killigrew, of
pleasant humor, and no mean writer of tragedy,--Suckling, the wittiest
of courtiers, and the most courtly of wits,--Cartwright, Crashaw,
Davenant, and May. But of all these, the contest soon narrowed down to
the two latter. William Davenant was in all likelihood the son of an
innkeeper at Oxford; he was certainly the son of the innkeeper's
wife. A rumor, which Davenant always countenanced, alleged that
William Shakspeare, a poet of some considerable repute in those times,
being in the habit of passing between Stratford-on-the-Avon and
London, was wont to bait and often lodge at this Oxford hostelry. At
one of these calls the landlady had proved more than ordinarily frail
or the poet more than ordinarily seductive,--who can wonder at even
virtue stooping to folly when the wooer was the Swan of Avon, beside
whom the bird that captivated Leda was as a featherless gosling?--and
the consequence had been Will Davenant, born in the year of our Lord
1605, Shakspeare standing as godfather at the baptism. A boy of lively
parts was Will, and good-fortune brought those parts to the notice of
the grave and philosophic Greville, Lord Brooke, whose dearest boast
was the friendship in early life of Sir Philip Sidney. The result of
this notice was a highly creditable education at school and
university, and an ultimate introduction into the foremost society of
the capital. Davenant, finding the drama supreme in fashionable
regard, devoted himself to the drama. He also devoted himself to the
cultivation of Ben Jonson, then at the summit of renown, assisting in
an amateur way in the preparation of the court pageants, and otherwise
mitigating the Laureate's labors. From 1632 to 1637, these aids were
frequent, and established a very plausible claim to the
succession. Thomas May, who shortly became his sole competitor, was a
man of elevated pretensions. As a writer of English historical poems
and as a translator of Lucan he had earned a prominent position in
British literature; as a continuator of the "Pharsalia" in Latin verse
of exemplary elegance, written in the happiest imitation of the
martyred Stoic's unimpassioned mannerism, he secured for British
scholarship that higher respect among Continental scholars which
Milton's Latin poems and "Defensio pro Populo Anglicano" presently
after confirmed. Of the several English writers of Latin verse, May
stands unquestionably in the front rank, alongside of Milton and
Bourne,--taking precedence easily of Owen, Cowley, and Gray. His
dramatic productions were of a higher order than Davenant's. They have
found a place in Dodsley's and the several subsequent collections of
early dramas, not conceded to the plays of the latter. Masque-making,
however, was not in his line. His invention was not sufficiently
alert, his dialogue not sufficiently lively, for a species of poetry
which it was the principal duty of the Laureate to furnish. Besides,
it is highly probable, his sympathies with rebellious Puritanism were
already so far developed as to make him an object of aversion to the
king. Davenant triumphed. The defeated candidate lived to see the
court dispersed, king and Laureate alike fugitive, and to receive from
the Long Parliament the place of Historiographer, as a compensation
for the lost bays. When, in 1650, he died, Cromwell and his
newly-inaugurated court did honor to his obsequies. The body was
deposited in Westminster Abbey; but the posthumous honor was in
reserve for it, of being torn from the grave after the Restoration,
and flung into a ditch along with the remains of three or four other
Davenant's career in office was unfortunate. There is reason to doubt
whether, even before the rebellion broke out, his salary was regularly
paid him. During the Civil War he exchanged the laurel for a casque,
winning knighthood by his gallant carriage at the siege of Gloucester.
Afterward, he was so far in the confidence of Queen Henrietta Maria,
as to be sent as her envoy to the captive king, beseeching him to save
his head by conceding the demands of Parliament. When, the errand
proving abortive, the royal head was lost, Davenant returned to Paris,
consoled himself by finishing the first two books of his "Gondibert,"
and then, despairing of a restoration, embarked (in 1650) from France
for Virginia, where monarchy and the rights of Charles II were
unimpaired. Fate, however, had not destined him for a colonist and
backwoodsman. His ship, tempest-tossed, was driven into an English
port, and the poet was seized and carried close prisoner to
London. There the intervention of Milton, the Latin Secretary of the
Council, is said to have saved his life. He was kept in the Tower for
at least two years longer, however. The date of his release is
uncertain, but, once at liberty, Davenant returned ardently to his
former pursuits. A license was procured for musical exhibitions, and
the phrase "musical exhibitions" was interpreted, with official
connivance, as including all manner of dramatic performances. To the
Laureate and to this period belongs the credit of introducing scenery,
hitherto restricted to court masques, into the machinery of the
ordinary drama. The substitution of female for male actors, in
feminine characters, was also an innovation of this period. And as an
incident of the Laureateship there is still another novelty to be
noted. There is no crown without its thorns. The laurel renders the
pillow of the wearer as knotty, uneasy, and comfortless as does a
coronal of gold and jewels. Among the receipts of the office have been
the jokes, good and bad, the sneers, the satire of contemporary
wits,--such being the paper currency in which the turbulent subjects
of the laurel crown think proper to pay homage to their
sovereign. From the days of Will Davenant to these of ours, the custom
has been faithfully observed. Davenant's earliest assailants were of
his own political party, followers of the exiled Charles, the men whom
Milton describes as "perditissimus ille peregrinantium aulieorum
grex." These--among them a son of the memorable Donne, Sir John
Denham, and Alan Broderick--united in a volume of mean motive and
insignificant merit, entitled, "Verses written by Several of the
Author's Friends, to be reprinted with the Second Edition of
Gondibert." This was published in 1653. The effect of the onslaught
has not been recorded. We know only that Davenant, surviving it,
continued to prosper in his theatrical business, writing most of the
pieces produced on his stage until the Restoration, when he drew forth
from its hiding-place his wreath of laurel-evergreen, and resumed it
A fair retrospect of Davenant's career enables us to select without
difficulty that one of his labors which is most deserving of
applause. Not his "Gondibert," notwithstanding it abounds in fine
passages,--notwithstanding Gay thought it worth continuation and
completion, and added several cantos,--notwithstanding Lamb eulogized
it with enthusiasm, Southey warmly praised, and Campbell and Hazlitt
coolly commended it. Nor his comedies, which are deservedly forgotten;
nor his improvements in the production of plays, serviceable as they
were to the acting drama. But to his exertions Milton owed impunity
from the vengeance otherwise destined for the apologist of regicide,
and so owed the life and leisure requisite to the composition of
"Paradise Lost." Davenant, grateful for the old kindness of the
ex-secretary, used his influence successfully with Charles to let the
offender escape. This is certainly the greenest of Davenant's
laurels. Without it, the world might not have heard one of the
sublimest expressions of human genius.
Davenant died in 1668. The laurel was hung up unclaimed until 1670,
when John Dryden received it, with patent dated back to the summer
succeeding Davenant's death. Dryden assures us that it was Sir Thomas
Clifford, whose name a year later lent the initial letter to the
"Cabal," who presented him to the king, and procured his
appointment. Masques had now ceased to be the mode. What the
dramatist could do to amuse the _blase_ court of Charles II. he
was obliged to do within the limits of legitimate dramatic
representation, due care being taken to follow French models, and
substitute the idiom of Corneille and Moliere for that of
Shakspeare. Dryden, whose plays are now read only by the curious, was,
in 1670, the greatest of living dramatists. He had expiated his
Cromwellian backslidings by the "Astraea Redux," and the "Annus
Mirabilis." He had risen to high favor with the king. His tragedies
in rhyming couplets were all the vogue. Already his fellow-playwrights
deemed their success as fearfully uncertain, unless they had secured,
price three guineas, a prologue or epilogue from the Laureate. So
fertile was his own invention, that he stood ready to furnish by
contract five plays a year,--a challenge fortunately declined by the
managers of the day. Thus, if the Laureate stipend were not punctually
paid, as was often the case, seeing the necessitous state of the royal
finances and the bevy of fair ladies, whose demands, extravagant as
they were, took precedence of all others, his revenues were adequate
to the maintenance of a family, the matron of which was a Howard,
educated, as a daughter of nobility, to the enjoyment of every
indulgence. These were the Laureate's brightest days. His popularity
was at its height, a fact evinced by the powerful coalitions deemed
necessary to diminish it. Indeed, the laurel had hardly rested upon
Dryden's temples before he experienced the assaults of an organized
literary opposition. The Duke of Buckingham, then the admitted leader
of fashionable prodigacy, borrowed the aid of Samuel Butler, at whose
"Hudibras" the world was still laughing,--of Thomas Sprat, then on the
high-road to those preferments which have given him an important place
in history,--of Martin Clifford, a familiar of the green-room and
coffee-house,--and concocted a farce ridiculing the person and office
of the Laureate. "The Rehearsal" was acted in 1671. The hero,
_Mr. Bayes_, imitated all the personal peculiarities of Dryden,
used his cant phrases, burlesqued his style, and exposed, while
pretending to defend, his ridiculous points, until the laugh of the
town was fairly turned upon the "premier-poet of the realm." The wit
was undoubtedly of the broadest, and the humor at the coffee-room
level; but it was so much the more effective. Dryden affected to be
indifferent to the satire. He jested at the time taken and the
number of hands employed upon the composition. Twenty years later he
was at pains to declare his perfect freedom from rancor in consequence
of the attack.
There, is much reason to suspect, however, that "The Rehearsal" was
not forgotten, when the "Absalom and Achitophel" was written, and that
the character of _Zimri_ gathered much of its intense vigor and depth
of shadow from recollections of the ludicrous _Mr. Bayes_. The
portrait has the look of being designed as a quittance in full of old
scores. "The Rehearsal," though now and then recast and reenacted to
suit other times, is now no otherwise remembered than as the suggester
of Sheridan's "Critic."
Upon the heels of this onslaught others followed rapidly. Rochester,
disposed to singularity of opinion, set up Elkanah Settle, a young
author of some talent, as a rival to the Laureate. Anonymous bardings
lampooned him. _Mr. Bayes_ was a broad target for every shaft, so
that the complaint so feelingly uttered in his latter days, that "no
man living had ever been so severely libelled" as he, had a wide
foundation of fact. Sometimes, it must be owned, the thrusts were the
natural result of controversies into which the Laureate indiscreetly
precipitated himself; sometimes they came of generous partisanship in
behalf of friends, such friends, for example, as Sir Robert Howard,
his brother-in-law, an interminable spinner of intolerable verse, who
afflicted the world in his day with plays worse than plagues, and
poems as worthless as his plays. It was to a quarrel for and a quarrel
against this gentleman that we are indebted for the most trenchant
satire in the language. Sir Robert had fallen out with Dryden about
rhyming tragedies, of which he disapproved; and while it lasted, the
contest was waged with prodigious acrimony. Among the partisans of the
former was Richard Flecknoe, a Triton among the smaller scribbling
fry. Flecknoe--blunderingly classed among the Laureates by the
compiler of "Cibber's Lives of the Poets"--was an Irish priest, who
had cast his cassock, or, as he euphuistically expressed it, "laid
aside the mechanic part of priesthood," in order to fulfil the loftier
mission of literary garreteer in London. He had written poems and
plays without number; of the latter, but one, entitled "Love's
Dominion," had been brought upon the stage, and was summarily hissed
off. Jealousy of Dryden's splendid success brought him to the side of
Dryden's opponent, and a pamphlet, printed in 1668, attacked the
future Laureate so bitterly, and at points so susceptible, as to make
a more than ordinary draft upon the poet's patience, and to leave
venom that rankled fourteen years without finding vent. About the
same time, Thomas Shadwell, who is represented in the satire as
likewise an Irishman, brought Sir Robert on the stage in his "Sullen
Lovers," in the character of _Sir Positive At-all_, a caricature
replete with absurd self-conceit and impudent dogmatism. Shadwell was
of "Norfolcian" family, well-born, well-educated, and fitted for the
bar, but drawn away from serious pursuits by the prevalent rage for
the drama. The offence of laughing at the poet's brother-in-law
Shadwell had aggravated by accepting the capricious patronage of Lord
Rochester, by subsequently siding with the Whigs, and by aiding the
ambitious designs of Shaftesbury in play and pamphlet,--labors the
value of which is not to be measured by the contemptuous estimate of
the satirist. The first outburst of the retributive storm fell upon
the head of Shadwell. The second part of "Absalom and Achitophel,"
which appeared in the autumn of 1682, contains the portrait of
_Og_, cut in outlines so sharp as to remind us of an unrounded
Now stop your noses, readers, all and some,
For here's a tun of midnight work to come,
Og, from a treason-tavern rolling home;
Round as a globe, and liquored every chink,
Goodly and great he sails behind his link.
With all his bulk, there's nothing lost in Og,
For every inch that is not fool is rogue ....
The midwife laid her hand on his thick skull
With this prophetic blessing, Be thou dull!
Drink, swear, and roar, forbear no lewd delight
Fit for thy bulk; do anything but write.
Eat opium, mingle arsenic in thy drink,
Still thou mayst live, avoiding pen and ink.
I see, I see, 'tis counsel given in vain;
For treason botched in rhyme will be thy bane ....
A double noose thou on thy neck dost pull,
For writing treason, and for writing dull...
I will not rake the dunghill of thy crimes,
For who would read thy life who reads thy rhymes?
But of King David's foes be this the doom,
May all be like the young man Absalom!
And for my foes, may this their blessing be,
To talk like Doeg, and to write like thee!
Of the multitudinous rejoinders and counterblasts provoked by this
thunder, Dryden, it is supposed, ascribed the authorship of one of the
keenest to Shadwell. We are to conceive some new and immediate
provocation as added to the old grudge, to call for a second attack so
soon; for it was only a month later that the "MacFlecknoe" appeared;
not in 1689, as Dr. Johnson states, who, mistaking the date, also errs
in assuming the cause of Dryden's wrath to have been the transfer of
the laurel from his own to the brows of Shadwell. "MacFlecknoe" is by
common consent the most perfect and perfectly acrid satire in English
literature. The topics selected, the foibles attacked, the ingenious
and remorseless ridicule with which they are overwhelmed, the
comprehensive vindictiveness which converted every personal
characteristic into an instrument for the more refined torment of the
unhappy victim, conjoin to constitute a masterpiece of this lower form
of poetical composition;--poetry it is not. While Flecknoe's
pretensions as a dramatist were fairly a subject of derision, Shadwell
was eminently popular. He was a pretender to learning, and,
entertaining with Dryden strong convictions of the reality of a
literary metempsychosis, believed himself the heir of Jonson's genius
and erudition. The title of the satire was, therefore, of itself a
biting sarcasm. His claims to sonship were transferred from Jonson,
then held the first of dramatic writers, to Flecknoe, the last and
meanest; and to aggravate the insult, the "Mac" was inserted as an
irritating allusion to the alleged Irish origin of both,--an allusion,
however harmless and senseless now, vastly significant at that era of
Irish degradation. Of the immediate effect of this scarification upon
Shadwell we have no information; how it ultimately affected his
fortunes we shall see presently.
During the closing years of Charles, and through the reign of James,
Dryden added to the duties of Court Poet those of political
pamphleteer and theological controversialist. The strength of his
attachment to the office, his sense of the honor it conferred, and his
appreciation of the salary we may infer from the potent influence such
considerations exercised upon his conversion to Romanism. In the
admirable portrait, too, by Lely, he chose to be represented with the
laurel in his hand. After his dethronement, he sought every occasion
to deplore the loss of the bays, and of the stipend, which in the
increasing infirmity and poverty of his latter days had become
important. The fall of James necessarily involved the fall of his
Laureate and Historiographer. Lord Dorset, the generous but sadly
undiscriminating patron of letters, having become Lord Chamberlain, it
was his duty to remove the reluctant Dryden from the two places,--a
duty not to be postponed, and scarcely to be mitigated, so violent was
the public outcry against the renegade bard. The entire Protestant
feeling of the nation, then at white heat, was especially ardent
against the author of the "Hind and Panther," who, it was said, had
treated the Church of England as the persecutors had treated the
primitive martyr, dressed her in the skin of a wild beast, and exposed
her to the torments of her adversaries. It was not enough to eject him
from office,--his inability to subscribe the test oaths would have
done so much,--but he was to be replaced by that one of his political
and literary antagonists whom he most sincerely disliked, and who
still writhed under his lash. Dorset appears to have executed the
disagreeable task with real kindness. He is said to have settled upon
the poet, out of his own fortune, an annuity equal to the lost
pension,--a statement which Dr. Johnson and Macaulay have repeated
upon the authority of Prior. What Prior said on the subject may be
found in the Dedication of Tonson's noble edition of his works to the
second Earl of Dorset:--"When, as Lord Chamberlain, he was obliged to
take the king's pension from Mr. Dryden, (who had long before put
himself out of a possibility of receiving any favor from the court,)
my Lord allowed him an equivalent out of his own estate. However
displeased with the conduct of his old acquaintance, he relieved his
necessities; and while he gave him his assistance in private, in
public he extenuated and pitied his error." But there is some reason
for thinking this equivalent was only the equivalent of one year's
salary, and this assistance casual, not stated; else we are at a loss
to understand the continual complaints of utter penury which the poet
uttered ever after. Some of these complaints were addressed to his
benefactor himself, as in the Dedication to Juvenal and Persius,
1692:--"Age has overtaken me, and _want_, a more insufferable
evil, through the change of the times, _has wholly disenabled
me_. Though I must ever acknowledge, to the honor of your Lordship,
and the eternal memory of your charity, that, since this revolution,
wherein I have patiently suffered the ruin of my small fortune, and
the loss of that poor subsistence I had from two kings, whom I served
more faithfully than profitably to myself,--then your Lordship was
pleased, out of no other motive than your own nobleness, without any
desert of mine, or the least solicitation from me, to make me a most
bountiful _present_, which, in that time when I was most in want
of it, came most seasonably and unexpectedly to my relief." This
passage was the sole authority, we suspect, Prior had for a story
which was nevertheless sufficiently true to figure in an adulatory
dedication; and, indeed, Prior may have used the word "equivalent"
loosely, and had Dorset's gift been more than a year's income, Dryden
would hardly have called it a "present,"--a phrase scarcely applicable
to the grant of a pension.
Dismissed from office and restored to labors more congenial than the
dull polemics which had recently engaged his mind, Dryden found
himself obliged to work vigorously or starve. He fell into the hands
of the booksellers. The poems, it deserves remark, upon which his fame
with posterity must finally rest, were all produced within the period
bounded by his deposition and his death. The translations from
Juvenal, the versions of Persius and of Virgil, the Fables, and the
"Ode upon St. Cecilia's Day," were the works of this period. He lived
to see his office filled successively by a rival he despised and a
friend who had deserted him, and in its apparently hopeless
degradation perhaps found consolation for its loss.
Thomas Shadwell was the Poet-Laureate after Dryden, assuming the
wreath in 1689. We have referred to his origin; Langbaine gives 1642
as the date of his birth; so that he must have set up as author early
in life, and departed from life shortly past middle-age. Derrick
assures us that he was lusty, ungainly, and coarse in person,--a
description answering to the full-length of _Og_. The commentators
upon "MacFlecknoe" have not made due use of one of Shadwell's habits,
in illustration of the reason why a wreath of poppies was selected for
the crown of its hero. The dramatist, Warburton informs us, was
addicted to the use of opium, and, in fact, died of an overdose of
that drug. Hence
"His temples, last, with poppies were o'er-spread,
That nodding seemed to consecrate his head."
A couplet which Pope echoes in the "Dunciad":--
"Shadwell nods, the poppy on his brows."
A similar allusion may be found in the character of _Og_:--
"Eat opium, mingle arsenic in thy drink," etc.
That the Laureate was heavy-gaited in composition, taking five years
to finish one comedy,--that he was, on the other hand, too swift,
trusting Nature rather than elaborate Art,--that he was dull and
unimaginative,--that he was keen and remarkably sharp-witted,--that he
affected a profundity of learning of which he gave no evidences,--that
his plays were only less numerous than Dryden's, are other particulars
we gather from conflicting witnesses of the period. Certainly, no one
of the Laureates, Cibber excepted, was so mercilessly lampooned. What
Cibber suffered from the "Dunciad" Shadwell suffered from
"MacFlecknoe." Incited by Dryden's example, the poets showered their
missiles at him, and so perseveringly as to render him a traditional
butt of satire for two or three generations. Thus Prior:--
"Thus, without much delight or grief,
I fool away an idle life,
Till Shadwell from the town retires,
Choked up with fame and sea-coal fires,
To bless the wood with peaceful lyric:
Then hey for praise and panegyric;
Justice restored, and nations freed,
And wreaths round William's glorious head."
"But hold! before I close the scene,
The sacred altar should be clean.
Oh, had I Shadwell's second bays,
Or, Tate! thy pert and humble lays,--
Ye pair, forgive me, when I vow
I never missed your works till now,--
I'd tear the leaves to wipe the shrine,
That only way you please the Nine;
But since I chance to want these two,
I'll make the songs of Durfey do."
And in a far more venomous and violent style, the noteless mob of
Shadwell, after all, was very far from being the blockhead these
references imply. His "Third Nights" were probably far more
profitable than Dryden's. By his friends he was classed with the
liveliest wits of a brilliant court. Rochester so classed him:--
"I loathe the rabble: 'tis enough for me,
If Sedley, Shadwell, Shephard, Wycherley,
Godolphin, Butler, Buckhurst, Buckingham,
And some few more, whom I omit to name,
Approve my sense: I count their censure fame."
And compares him elsewhere with Wycherley:--
"Of all our modern wits, none seem to me
Once to have touched upon true comedy,
But hasty Shadwell and slow Wycherley.
Shadwell's unfinished works do yet impart
Great proofs of force of nature, none of art;
With just, bold strokes, he dashes here and there,
Showing great mastery with little care,
Scorning to varnish his good touches o'er
To make the fools and women praise them more.
But Wycherley earns hard whate'er he gains;
He wants no judgment, and he spares no pains," etc.
And, not disrespectfully, Pope:--
"In all debates where critics bear a part,
Not one but nods, and talks of Jonson's art,
Of Shakspeare's nature, and of Cowley's wit;
How Beaumont's judgment checked what Fletcher writ;
How Shadwell hasty, Wycherley was slow;
But for the passions, Southerne, sure, and Rowe!
These, only these, support the crowded stage,
From eldest Heywood down to Cibber's age."
Sedley joined him in the composition of more than one comedy.
Macaulay, in seeking illustrations of the times and occurrences of
which he writes, cites Shadwell five times, where he mentions
Etherege, Wycherley, and Congreve once, From his last play, "The
Stockjobbers," performed in November, 1692, while its author was on
his death-bed, the historian introduces an entire scene into his
text. Any one, indeed, who can clear his mind from the unjust
prejudice produced by Dryden's satire, and read the comedies of
Shadwell with due consideration for the extemporaneous haste of their
composition, as satires upon passing facts and follies, will find,
that, so far from never deviating into sense, sound common-sense and
fluent wit were the Laureate's staple qualities. If his comedies have
not, like those of his contemporaries just named, enjoyed the
good-fortune to be collected and preserved among the dramatic
classics, the fact is primarily owing to the ephemeral interest of the
hits and allusions, and secondarily to "MacFlecknoe."
[To be continued.]
Footnote 1: SPENSER: _Faery Queen_. See also the _Two Cantos
of Mutability,_ Cant. VII.:--
"That old Dan Geffrey, in whose gentle spright
The pure well-head of poesie did dwell."
Footnote 2: MILTON: _II Penseroso._
Footnote 3: WORDSWORTH: _Poems of Later Years_.
Footnote 4: CHAUCER: _Clerke's Tale_, Prologue.
Footnote 5: WARTON: _Ode on his Majesty's Birthday, 1787_.
Footnote 6: Tyrwhitt's Chaucer: _Historical Notes on his Life._
Footnote 7: _Masque of the Fortunate Islands_.
Footnote 8: _History of English, Poetry_, Vol. II. pp. 335-336,
Footnote 9: WARTON: _Birthday Ode_, 1787.
Footnote 10: See his _British Poets, from Chaucer to Jonson_,
Art. _Daniel_. Southey contemplated a continuation of Warton's
_History_, and, in preparing for that labor, learned many things
he had never known of the earlier writers.
Footnote 11: Jonson's classification. See his _Poetaster_.
Footnote 12: _Lamb's Works, and Life_, by Talfourd, Vol. IV. p. 89.
Footnote 13: Hesperides, _Encomiastic Verses_.
Footnote 14: Herrick, _ubi supra._--To the haunts here named
must be added the celebrated _Mermaid_, of which Shakspeare was
the _Magnus Apollo_, and _The Devil_, where Pope imagines
Ben to have gathered peculiar inspiration:--
"And each true Briton is to Ben so civil,
He swears the Muses met him at _The Devil_."
_Imitation of Horace_, Bk. ii. Epist. i.
Footnote 15: _Election of a Poet-Laureate_, 1719, Works, Vol. II.
Footnote 16: _Feast of the Poets_, 1814.
Footnote 17: _Fable for Critics_, 1850.
Footnote 18: This story rests on the authority of Thomas Betterton,
the actor, who received it from Davenant.
Footnote 19: Dedication of the _Pastorals_ of Virgil, to Hugh,
Lord Clifford, the son of Sir Thomas.
Footnote 20: There were some indications that portions of the farce
had been written while Davenant was living and had been intended for
him. _Mr. Bayes_ appears in one place with a plaster on his nose,
an evident allusion to Davenant's loss of that feature. In a lively
satire of the time, by Richard Duke, it is asserted that Villiers was
occupied with the composition of _The Rehearsal_ from the
Restoration down to the day of its production on the stage:--
"But with playhouses, wars, immortal wars,
He waged, and ten years' rage produced a farce.
As many rolling years he did employ,
And hands almost as many, to destroy
Heroic rhyme, as Greece to ruin Troy.
Once more, says Fame, for battle he prepares,
And threatens rhymers with a second farce:
But, if as long for this as that we stay,
He'll finish Clevedon sooner than his play."
Footnote 21: It is little to the credit of Dryden, that, having saved
up his wrath against Flecknoe so long, he had not reserved it
altogether. Flecknoe had been dead at least four years when the
Footnote 22: Macaulay quotes Blackmore's _Prince Arthur_, to
illustrate Dryden's dependence upon Dorset:--
"The poets' nation did obsequious wait
For the kind dole divided at his gate.
Laurus among the meagre crowd appeared,
An old, revolted, unbelieving bard,
Who thronged, and shoved, and pressed, and would be heard.
"Sakil's high roof, the Muse's palace, rung
With endless cries, and endless songs he sung.
To bless good Sakil Laurus would be first;
But Sakil's prince and Sakil's God he curst.
Sakil without distinction threw his bread,
Despised the flatterer, but the poet fed."
_Laurus_, of course, stands for Dryden, and _Sakil_ for
Footnote 23: _The Squire of Alsatia_ is said to have realized him
Footnote 24: _An Allusion to the Tenth Satire of the First Book of
Horace_.--The word "censure" will, of course, be understood to mean
_judgment_, not _condemnation_.
Footnote 25: _Imitation of Horace_, Bk. ii. Epist. i.
Footnote 26: See the _History of England_, Vol. IV., Chapter 17,
for reference to Shadwell's _Volunteers_.
Footnote 27: _History of England_, Chapter 19.
THE ROMANCE OF A GLOVE.
"Halt!" cried my travelling companion. "Property overboard!"
The driver pulled up his horses; and, before I could prevent him,
Westwood leaped down from the vehicle, and ran back for the article
that had been dropped.
It was a glove,--my glove, which I had inadvertently thrown out, in
taking my handkerchief from my pocket.
"Go on, driver!" and he tossed it into my hand as he resumed his seat
in the open stage.
"Take your reward," I said, offering him a cigar; "but beware of
rendering me another such service!"
"If it had been your hat or your handkerchief, be sure I should have
let it lie where it fell. But a glove,--that is different. I once
found a romance in a glove. Since then, gloves are sacred." And
Westwood gravely bit off the end of his cigar.
"A romance? Tell me about that. I am tired of this endless stretch of
sea-like country, these regular ground-swells; and it's a good
two-hours' ride yet to yonder headland, which juts out into the
prairie, between us and the setting sun. Meanwhile, your romance."
"Did I say romance? I fear you would hardly think it worthy of the
name," said my companion, "Every life has its romantic episodes, or,
at least, incidents which appear such to him who experiences them. But
these tender little histories are usually insipid enough when told. I
have a maiden aunt, who once came so near having an offer from a pale
stripling, with dark hair, seven years her junior, that to this day
she often alludes to the circumstance, with the remark, that she
wishes she knew some competent novel-writer in whom she could confide,
feeling sure that the story of that period of her life would make the
groundwork of a magnificent work of fiction. Possibly I inherit my
aunt's tendency to magnify into extraordinary proportions trifles
which I look at through the double convex lens of a personal
interest. So don't expect too much of my romance, and you shall hear
"I said I found it in a glove. It was by no means a remarkable
glove,--middle-sized, straw-colored, and a neat fit for this hand, in
which I now hold your very excellent cigar. Of course, there was a
young lady in the case;--let me see,--I don't believe I can tell you
the story," said Westwood, "after all!"
I gently urged him to proceed.
"Pshaw!" said he, after kindling his cigar with a few vigorous whiffs,
"what's the use of being foolish? My aunt was never diffident about
telling her story, and why should I hesitate to tell mine? The young
lady's name,--we'll call her simply Margaret. She was a blonde, with
hazel eyes and dark hair. Perhaps you never heard of a blonde with
hazel eyes and dark hair? She was the only one I ever saw; and there
was the finest contrast imaginable between her fair, fresh complexion,
and her superb tresses and delicately-traced eyebrows. She was
certainly lovely, if not handsome; and--such eyes! It was an event in
one's life, Sir, just to look through those luminous windows into her
soul. That could not happen every day, be sure! Sometimes for weeks
she kept them turned from me, the ivory shutters half-closed, or the
mystic curtains of reserve drawn within; then, again, when I was
tortured with unsatisfied yearnings, and almost ready to despair, she
would suddenly turn them upon me, the shutters thrown wide, the
curtains away, and a flood of radiance streaming forth, that filled me
so full of light and gladness, that I had no shadowy nook left in me
for a doubt to hide in. She must have been conscious of this power of
expression. She used it so sparingly, and, it seemed to me, artfully!
But I always forgave her when she did use it, and cherished resentment
only when she did not.
"Margaret was shy and proud; I could never completely win her
confidence; but I knew, I knew well at last, that her heart was
mine. And a deep, tender, woman's heart it was, too, despite her
reserve. Without many words, we understood each other, and
so----Pshaw!" said Westwood, "my cigar is out!"
"On with the story!"
"Well, we had our lovers' quarrels, of course. Singular, what foolish
children love makes of us!--rendering us sensitive, jealous, exacting,
in the superlative degree. I am sure, we were both amiable and
forbearing towards all the world besides; but, for the powerful reason
that we loved, we were bound to misinterpret words, looks, and
actions, and wound each other on every convenient occasion. I was
pained by her attentions to others, or perhaps by an apparent
preference of a book or a bouquet to me. Retaliation on my part and
quiet persistence on hers continued to estrange us, until I generally
ended by conceding everything, and pleading for one word of kindness,
to end my misery.
"I was wrong,--too quick to resent, too ready to concede. No doubt, it
was to her a secret gratification to exercise her power over me; and
at last I was convinced that she wounded me purposely, in order to
provoke a temporary estrangement, and enjoy a repetition of her
"It was at a party; the thing she did was to waltz with a man whom she
knew I detested, whom _I_ knew _she_ could not respect, and
whose half-embrace, as he whirled her in the dance, almost put murder
into my thoughts.
"'Margaret,' I said, 'one last word! If you care for me, beware!'
"That was a foolish speech, perhaps. It was certainly
ineffectual. She persisted, looking so calm and composed, that a great
weight fell upon my heart. I walked away; I wandered about the
saloons; I tried to gossip and be gay; but the wound was too deep.
"I accompanied her home, late in the evening. We scarcely spoke by the
way. At the door, she looked me sadly in the face,--she gave me her
hand; I thought it trembled.
"'Good-night!' she said, in a low voice.
"'Good-bye!' I answered, coldly, and hurried from the house.
"It was some consolation to hear her close the door after I had
reached the corner of the street, and to know that she had been
listening to my footsteps. But I was very angry. I made stern
resolutions; I vowed to myself, that I would wring her heart, and
never swerve from my purpose until I had wrung out of it abundant
drops of sorrow and contrition. How I succeeded you shall hear.
"I had previously engaged her to attend a series of concerts with me;
an arrangement which I did not now regret, and for good reasons. Once
a week, with famous punctuality, I called for her, escorted her to the
concert-room, and carefully reconducted her home,--letting no
opportunity pass to show her a true gentleman's deference and
respect,--conversing with her freely about music, books, anything, in
short, except what we both knew to be deepest in each other's
thoughts. Upon other occasions, I avoided her, and even refrained from
going to places where she was expected,--especially where she knew
that I knew she was expected.
"Well," continued Westwood, "my designs upon her heart, which I was
going to wring so unmercifully, did not meet with very brilliant
success. To confess the humiliating truth, I soon found that I was
torturing myself a good deal more than I was torturing her. As a last
and desperate resort, what do you think I did?"
"You probably asked her to ask your forgiveness."
"Not I! I have a will of adamant, as people find, who tear away the
amiable flowers and light soil that cover it; and she had reached the
impenetrable, firm rock. I neither made any advances towards a
reconciliation nor invited any. But I'll tell you what I did do, as a
final trial of her heart. I had, for some time, been meditating a
European tour, and my interest in her had alone kept me at home. Some
friends of mine were to sail early in the spring, and I now resolved
to accompany them. I don't know how much pride and spite there was in
the resolution,--probably a good deal. I confess I wished to make her
suffer,--to show her that she had calculated too much upon my
weakness,--that I could be strong and happy without her. Yet, with all
this bitter and vindictive feeling, I listened to a very sweet and
tender whisper in my heart, which said, 'Now, if her love speaks
out,--now, if she says to me one true, kind, womanly word,--she shall
go with me, and nothing shall ever take her from me again!' The
thought of what _might_ be, if she would but say that word, and
of what _must_ be, irrevocably, if her pride held out, shook me
mightily. But my resolution was taken: I would trust the rest to fate.
"On the day of the last concert, I imparted the secret of my intended
journey to a person who, I felt tolerably sure, would rush at once to
Margaret with the news. Then, in the evening, I went for her; I was
conscious that my manner towards her was a little more tender, or
rather, a little less coldly courteous, that night, than it had
usually been of late; for my feelings were softened, and I had never
seen her so lovely. I had never before known what a treasure I was
about to lose. The subject of my voyage was not mentioned, and if she
had heard of it, she accepted the fact without the least
visible concern. Her quietness under the circumstances chilled
me,--disheartened me quite. I am not one of those who can give much
superfluous love, or cling with unreasonable, blind passion to an
object that yields no affection in return. A quick and effectual
method of curing a fancy in persons of my temperament is to teach them
that it is not reciprocated. Then it expires like a flame cut off from
the air, or a plant removed from the soil. The death-struggle, the
uprooting, is the painful thing; but when the heart is thoroughly
convinced that its love is misplaced, it gives up, with one last sigh
as big as fate, sheds a few tears, says a prayer or two, thanks God
for the experience, and becomes a wiser, calmer,--yes, and a happier
heart than before."
"True," I said; "but our hearts are not thus easily convinced."
"Ay, there's the rub. It is for want of a true perception. There
cannot be a true love without a true perception. Love is for the soul
to know, from its own intuition,--not for the understanding to
believe, from the testimony of those very unreliable witnesses, called
eyes and ears. This seems to have been my case,--my soul was aware of
_her_ love, and all the evidence of my external senses could not
altogether destroy that interior faith. But that evening I said,--'I
believe you now, my senses! I doubt you now, my soul!--she never loved
me!' So I was really very cold towards her--for about twenty minutes.
"I walked home with her;--we were both silent; but at the door she
asked me to go in. Here my calmness deserted me, and I could hardly
hold my heart, while I replied,--
"'If you particularly wish it.'
"'If I did not, I should not ask you,' she said; and I went in.
"I was ashamed and vexed at myself for trembling so,--for I was in a
tremor from head to foot. There was company in the parlors,--some of
Margaret's friends. I took my seat upon a sofa, and soon she came and
sat by my side.
"'I suppose,' said one, 'Mr. Westwood has been telling Margaret all
"'About what?' Margaret inquired,--and here the truth flashed upon
me,--the news of my proposed voyage had not yet reached her! She
looked at me with a troubled, questioning expression, and said,--
"'I felt that something was going to happen. Tell me what it is.'
"I answered,--' Your friend can best explain what she means.'
"Then out came the secret. A shock of surprise sent the color from
Margaret's face; and raising her eyes, she asked, quite calmly, but in
a low and unnatural tone,--
"'Is this so?'
"I said, 'I suppose I cannot deny it.'
"'You are really going?'
"'I am really going.'
"She could not hide her agitation. Her white face betrayed her. Then
I was glad, wickedly glad, in my heart,--and vain enough to be
gratified that others should behold and know I held a power over
her. Well,--but I suffered for that folly.
"'I feel hurt,' she said, after a little while, 'because you have not
told me this. You have no sister,' (this was spoken very quietly,)
'and it would have been a privilege for me to take a sister's place,
and do for you those little things which sisters do for brothers who
are going on long journeys.'
"I was choked;--it was a minute before I could speak. Then I said that
I saw no reason why she should tax her time or thoughts to do anything
"'Oh, you know,' she said, 'you have been kind to me,--so much kinder
than I have deserved!'
"It was unendurable,--the pathos of the words! I was blinded,
stifled,--I almost groaned aloud. If we had been alone, there our
trial would have ended. I should have snatched her to my soul. But
the eyes of others were upon us, and I steeled myself.
"'Besides,' I said, 'I know of nothing that you can do for me.'
"'There must be many little things;--to begin with, there is your
glove, which you are tearing to pieces.'
"True, I was tearing my glove,--she was calm enough to observe it!
That made me angry.
"'Give it to me; I will mend it for you. Haven't you other gloves that
"I, who had triumphed, was humbled.
"My heart was breaking,--and she talked of mending gloves! I did not
omit to thank her. I coldly arose to go.
"Well, I felt now that it was all over. The next day I secured my
passage in the steamer in which my friends were to sail I took pains
that Margaret should hear of that, too. Then came the preparations for
travel,--arranging affairs, writing letters, providing myself with a
compact and comfortable outfit. Europe was in prospect,--Paris,
Switzerland, Italy, lands to which my dreams had long since gone
before me, and to which I now turned my eyes with reawakening
aspirations. A new glory arose upon my life, in the light of which
Margaret became a fading star. It was so much easier than I had
thought, to give her up, to part from her! I found that I could forget
her, in the excitement of a fresh and novel experience; while
she--could she forget me? When lovers part, happy is he who goes! alas
for the one that is left behind!
"One day, when I was busy with the books which I was to take with me,
a small package was handed in. I need not tell you that I experienced
a thrill, when I saw Margaret's handwriting upon the wrapper. I tore
it open,--and what think you I found? My glove! Nothing else. I
smiled bitterly, to see how neatly she had mended it; then I sighed;
then I said, 'It is finished!' and tossed the glove disdainfully into
"On the day before that fixed for the sailing of the steamer, I made
farewell calls upon many of my friends,--among others, upon
Margaret. But, through the perversity of pride and will, I did not go
alone,--I took with me Joseph, a mutual acquaintance, who was to be my
_compagnon de voyage_. I felt some misgivings, to see how
Margaret had changed; she was so softened, and so pale!
"The interview was a painful one, and I cut it short. As we were going
out, she gently detained me, and said,--
"'Did you receive--your glove?'
"'Oh, yes,' I said, and thanked her for mending it.
"'And is this all-all you have to say?' she asked.
"'I have nothing more to say-except good-bye.'
"She held my hand. 'Nothing else?'
"'No,--it is useless to talk of the past, Margaret; and the
future--may you be happy!--Good-bye!'
"I thought she would speak; I could not believe she would let me go;
but she did! I bore up well, until night. Then came a revulsion. I
walked three times past the house, wofully tempted, my love and my
will at cruel warfare; but I did not go in. At midnight I saw the
light in her room extinguished; I knew she had retired, but whether to
sleep, or weep, or pray--how could I tell? I went home. I did not
close my eyes that night. I was glad to see the morning come, after
_such_ a night!
"The steamer was to sail at ten. The bustle of embarkation; strange
scenes and strange faces; parting from friends; the ringing of the
bell; last adieus,--some, who were to go with us, hurrying aboard,
others, who were to stay behind, as hastily going ashore; the
withdrawal of the plank,--sad sight to many eyes! casting off the
lines, the steamer swinging heavily around, the rushing, irregular
motion of the great, slow paddles; the waving of handkerchiefs from
the decks, and the responsive signals from the crowd lining the wharf;
off at last,--the faces of friends, the crowd, the piers, and, lastly,
the city itself, fading from sight; the dash of spray, the freshening
breeze, the novel sight of our little world detaching itself and
floating away; the feeling that America was past, and Europe was
next;--all this filled my mind with animation and excitement, which
shut out thoughts of Margaret. Could I have looked with clairvoyant
vision, and beheld her then, locked in her chamber, should I have been
so happy? Oh, what fools vanity and pride make of us! Even then, with
my heart high-strung with hope and courage, had I known the truth, I
should have abandoned my friends, the voyage, and Europe, and returned
in the pilot's boat, to find something more precious than all the
continents and countries of the globe, in the love of that heart which
I was carelessly flinging away."
Here Westwood took breath. The sun was now almost set. The prairie was
still and cool; the heavy dews were beginning to fall; the shadows of
the green and flowered undulations filled the hollows, like a rising
tide; the headland, seen at first so far and small, was growing
gradually large and near; and the horses moved at a quicker
pace. Westwood lighted his cigar, drew a few whiffs, and proceeded.
"We had a voyage of eleven days. But to me an immense amount of
experience was crowded into that brief period. The fine exhilaration
of the start,--the breeze gradually increasing to a gale; then
horrible sea-sickness, home-sickness, love-sickness; after which, the
weather which sailors love, games, gayety, and flirtation. There is no
such social freedom to be enjoyed anywhere as on board an ocean
steamer. The breaking-up of old associations, the opening of a fresh
existence, the necessity of new relationships,--this fuses the crust
of conventionality, quickens the springs of life, and renders
character sympathetic and fluent. The past is easily put away; we
become plastic to new influences; we are delighted at the discovery of
unexpected affinities, and astonished to find in ourselves so much
wit, eloquence, and fine susceptibility, which we did not before dream
"This freedom is especially provocative of flirtation. We see each
fair brow touched with a halo whose colors are the reflection of our
own beautiful dreams. Loveliness is ten-fold more lovely, bathed in
this atmosphere of romance; and manhood is invested with ideal
graces. The love within us rushes, with swift, sweet heart-beats, to
meet the love responsive in some other. Don't think I am now artfully
preparing your mind to excuse what I am about to confess. Take these
things into consideration, if you will; then think as you please of
the weakness and wild impulse with which I fell in love with----
"We will call her Flora. The most superb, captivating creature that
ever ensnared the hearts of the sons of Adam. A fine olive
complexion; magnificent dark auburn hair; eyes full of fire and
softness; lips that could pout or smile with incomparable fascination;
a figure of surprising symmetry, just voluptuous enough. But, after
all, her great power lay in her freedom from all affectation and
conventionality,--in her spontaneity, her free, sparkling, and
vivacious manners. She was the most daring and dazzling of women,
without ever appearing immodest or repulsive. She walked with such
proud, secure steps over the commonly accepted barriers of social
intercourse, that even those who blamed her and pretended to be
shocked were compelled to admire. She was the belle, the Juno, of the
saloon, the supreme ornament of the upper deck. Just twenty,--not
without wit and culture,--full of poetry and enthusiasm. Do you blame
"Not a whit," I said; "but for Margaret"----
"Ah, Margaret!" said Westwood, with a sigh. "But, you see, I had given
her up. And when one love is lost, there sink such awful chasms into
the soul, that, though they cannot be filled, we must at least bridge
them over with a new affection. The number of marriages built in this
way, upon false foundations of hollowness and despair, is
incomputable. We talk of jilted lovers and disappointed girls
marrying 'out of spite.' No doubt, such petty feeling hurries forward
many premature matches. But it is the heart, left shaken, unsupported,
wretchedly sinking, which reaches out its feelers for sympathy,
catches at the first penetrable point, and clings like a helpless vine
to the sunny-sided wall of the nearest consolation. If you wish to
marry a girl and can't, and are weak enough to desire her still, this
is what you should do: get some capable man to jilt her. Then seize
your chance. All the affections which have gone out to him, unmet,
ready to droop, quivering with the painful, hungry instinct to grasp
some object, may possibly lay hold of you. Let the world sneer; but
God pity such natures, which lack the faith and fortitude to live and
die true to their best love!
"Out of my own mouth do I condemn myself? Very well, I condemn myself;
_peccavi_! I If I had ever loved Margaret, then I did not love
Flora. The same heart cannot find its counterpart indifferently in two
such opposites. What charmed me in one was her purity, softness, and
depth of soul. What fascinated me in the other was her bloom, beauty,
and passion. Which was the true sympathy?
"I did not stop to ask that question when it was most important that
it should be seriously considered. I rushed into the crowd of
competitors for Flora's smiles, and distanced them all. I was pleased
and proud that she took no pains to conceal her preference for me. We
played chess; we read poetry out of the same book; we ate at the same
table; we sat and watched the sea together, for hours, in those clear,
bright days; we promenaded the deck at sunset, her hand upon my arm,
her lips forever turning up tenderly towards me, her eyes pouring
their passion into me. Then those glorious nights, when the ocean was
a vast, wild, fluctuating stream, flashing and sparkling about the
ship, spanned with a quivering bridge of splendor on one side, and
rolling off into awful darkness and mystery, on the other; when the
moon seemed swinging among the shrouds like a ball of white fire; when
the few ships went by like silent ghosts; and Flora and I, in a long
trance of happiness, kept the deck, heedless of the throng of
promenaders, forgetful of the past, reckless of the future, aware only
of our own romance, and the richness of the present hour.
"Joseph, my travelling-companion, looked on, and wrote letters. He
showed me one of these, addressed to a friend of Margaret's. In it he
extolled Flora's beauty, piquancy, and supremacy; related how she made
all the women jealous and all the men mad; and hinted at my triumph. I
knew that that letter would meet Margaret's eyes, and was vain enough
to be pleased.
"At last, one morning, at daybreak, I went on deck, and saw the shores
of England. Only a few days before, we had left America behind us,
brown and leafless, just emerging from the long gloom of winter; and
now the slopes of another world arose green and inviting in the flush
of spring. There was a bracing breeze; the dingy waters of the Mersey
rolled up in wreaths of beauty; the fleets of ships, steamers, sloops,
lighters, pilot-boats, bounding over the waves, meeting, tacking,
plunging, swaying gracefully under the full-swelling canvas, presented
a picture of wonderful animation; and the mingling hues of sunshine
and mist hung over all. I paced the deck, solemnly joyful, swift
thoughts pulsing through me of a dim far-off Margaret, of a near
radiant Flora, of hope and happiness superior to fate. It was one of
those times when the excited soul transfigures the world, and we
marvel how we could ever succumb to a transient sorrow while the whole
universe blooms, and an infinite future waits to open for us its doors
of wonder and joy.
"In this state of mind I was joined by Flora. She laid her hand on my
arm, and we walked up and down together. She was serious, almost sad,
and she viewed the English hills with a pensiveness which became her
better than mirth.
"'So,' she sighed, 'all our little romances come to an end!'
"'Not so,' I said; 'or if one romance ends, it is to give place to
another, still truer and sweeter. Our lives may be all a succession of
romances, if we will make them so. I think now I will never doubt the
future; for I find, that, when I have given up my dearest hopes, my
best-beloved friends, and accepted the gloomy belief that all life
besides is barren,--then comes some new experience, filling my empty
cup with a still more delicious wine.'
"'Don't vex me with your philosophy!' said Flora. 'I don't know
anything about it. All I know is this present,--this sky, this earth,
this sea, and the joy between, which I can't give up quite so easily
as you can, with your beautiful theory, that something better awaits
"'I have told you,' I replied,--for I had been quite frank with
her,--'how I left America,--what a blank life was to me then; and did
I not turn my back upon all that to meet face to face the greatest
happiness which I have ever yet known? Ought not this to give me faith
in the divinity that shapes our ends?'
"'And so,' she answered, 'when I have lost you, I shall have the
satisfaction of thinking that you are enjoying some still more
exquisite consolation for the slight pangs you may have felt at
parting from me! Your philosophy will make it easy for you to say,
"Good-bye! it was a pretty romance; I go to find prettier ones
still"; and then forget me altogether!'
"'And you,' I said, 'will that be easy for you?'
"'Yes,' she cried, with spirit,--'anything is easy to a proud,
impetuous woman, who finds that the brief romance of a ten-days'
acquaintance has already become tiresome to the second party. I am
glad I have enjoyed what I have; that is so much gain, of which you
cannot rob me; and now I can say good-bye as coolly as you, or I can
die of shame, or I can at once walk over this single rail into the
water, and quench this little candle, and so an end!'
"She sprang upon a bench, and, I swear to you, I thought she was going
down! I was so exalted by this passionate demonstration, that I should
certainly have gone over with her, and felt perfectly content to die
in her arms,--at least, until I began to realize what a very
disagreeable bath we had chosen to drown in.
"I drew her away; I walked up and down with that superb creature
panting and palpitating almost upon my heart; I poured into her ear I
know not what extravagant vows; and before the slow-handed sailors had
fastened their cable to the buoy in the channel, we had knotted a more
subtile and difficult noose, not to be so easily undone!
"Now see what strange, variable fools we are! Months of tender
intercourse had failed to bring about anything like a positive
engagement between Margaret and myself; and here behold me irrevocably
pledged to Flora, after a brief ten-days' acquaintance!
"Six mortal hours were exhausted in making the steamer fast,--in
sending off her Majesty's mails, of which the cockney speaks with a
tone of reverence altogether disgusting to us free-minded
Yankees,--and in entertaining the custom-house inspectors, who paid a
long and tedious visit to the saloon and our luggage. Then we were
suffered to land, and enter the noisy, solid streets of Liverpool,
amid the donkeys and beggars and quaint scenes which strike the
American so oddly upon a first visit. All this delay, the weariness
and impatience, the contrast between the morning and the hard, grim
reality of mid-day, brought me down from my elevation. I felt alarmed
to think of what had passed. I seemed to have been doing some wild,
unadvised act in a fit of intoxication. Margaret came up before me,
sad, silent, reproachful; and as I gazed upon Flora's bedimmed face, I
wondered how I had been so charmed.
"We took the first train for London, where we arrived at midnight. Two
weeks in that vast Babel,--then, ho! for Paris! Twelve hours by rail
and steamer carried us out of John Bull's dominions into the brilliant
metropolis of his French neighbor. Joseph accompanied us, and wrote
letters home, filled with gossip which I knew, or hoped, would make
Margaret writhe. I had not found it so easy to forget her as I had
supposed it would be. Flora's power over me was sovereign; but when I
was weary of the dazzle and whirl of the life she led me,--when I
looked into the depths of my heart, and saw what the thin film of
passion and pleasure concealed,--in those serious moments which
would come, and my soul put stern questions to me,--then,
Sir,--then--Margaret had her revenge.
"A month, crowded and glittering with novelty and incident, preceded
our departure for Switzerland. I accompanied Flora's party; Joseph
remained behind. We left Paris about the middle of June, and returned
in September. I have no words to speak of that era in my life. I saw,
enjoyed, suffered, learned so much! Flora was always glad,
magnificent, irresistible. But, as I knew her longer, my moments of
misgiving became more frequent and profound. If I had aspired to
nothing higher than a life of sensuous delights, she would have been
all I could wish. But----
"We were to spend the winter in Italy. Meanwhile, we had another month
in Paris. Here I had found Joseph again, who troubled me a good deal
with certain rumors he had received concerning Margaret. According to
these, she had been in feeble health ever since we left, and her
increasing delicacy was beginning to alarm her friends. 'But,' added
another of Joseph's correspondents, 'don't let Westwood flatter
himself that he is the cause, for she is cured of him; and there is
talk of an engagement between her and a handsome young clergyman, who
is both eloquent and fascinating.'
"This bit of gossip made me very bitter and angry. 'Forget me so
soon?' I said; 'and receive the attentions of another man?' You see
how consistent I was, to condemn her for the very fault I had myself
been so eager to commit!
"Well, the round of rides, excursions, soirees, visits to the operas
and theatres, walks on the Boulevards, and in the galleries of the
Louvre, ended at last. The evening before we were to set out for the
South of France, I was at my lodgings, unpacking and repacking the
luggage which I had left in Joseph's care during my absence among the
Alps; I was melancholy, dissatisfied with the dissipations which had
exhausted my time and energies, and thinking of Margaret. I had not
preserved a single memento of her; and now I wished I had one,--if
only a withered leaf, or a line of her writing. In this mood, I
chanced to cast my eye upon a stray glove, in the bottom of my
trunk. I snatched at it eagerly, and, in the impulse of the
moment,--before I reflected that I was wronging Flora,--pressed it to
my lips. Yes, I found the place where it had been mended, the spot
Margaret's fingers had touched, and gave it a kiss for every
stitch. Then, incensed at myself, I flung it from me, and hurried from
the room. I walked towards the Place de la Concorde, where the
brilliant lamps burned like a constellation. I strolled through the
Elysian Fields, and watched the lights of the carriages swarming like
fire-flies up the long avenue; stopped by the concert gardens, and
listened to the glorified girls singing under rosy and golden
pavilions the last songs of the season; wandered about the
fountains,--by the gardens of the Tuileries, where the trees stood so
shadowy and still, and the statues gleamed so pale,--along the quays
of the Seine, where the waves rolled so dark below,--trying to settle
my thoughts, to master myself, to put Margaret from me.
"Weary at length, I returned to my chamber, seated myself composedly,
and looked down at the glove which lay where I had thrown it, upon the
polished floor. Mechanically I stooped and took up a bit of folded
paper. It was written upon,--I unrolled it, and read. It was as if I
had opened the record of doom! Had the apparition of Margaret herself
risen suddenly before me, I could not have been more astounded. It was
a note from her,--and such a note!--full of love, suffering, and
humility,--poured out of a heart so deep and tender and true, that the
shallowness of my own seemed utterly contemptible, in comparison with
it. I cannot tell you what was written, but it was more than even my
most cruel and exacting pride could have asked. It was what would once
have made me wild with joy,--now it almost maddened me with
despair. I, who had often talked fine philosophy to others, had not a
grain of that article left to physic my own malady. But one course
seemed plain before me, and that was, to go quietly and drown myself
in the Seine, which I had seen flowing so swift and dark under the
bridges, an hour ago, when I stood and mused upon the tragical corpses
its solemn flood had swallowed.
"I am a little given to superstition, and the mystery of the note
excited me. I have no doubt but there was some subtile connection
between it and the near presence of Margaret's spirit, of which I had
that night been conscious. But the note had reached me by no
supernatural method, as I was at first half inclined to believe. It
was, probably, the touch, the atmosphere, the ineffably fine influence
which surrounded it, which had penetrated my unconscious perceptions,
and brought her near. The paper, the glove, were full of
Margaret,--full of something besides what we vaguely call mental
associations,--full of emanations of the very love and suffering which
she had breathed into the writing.
"How the note came there upon the floor was a riddle which I was too
much bewildered to explain by any natural means. Joseph, who burst in
upon me, in my extremity of pain and difficulty, solved it at once. It
had fallen out of the glove, where it had lain folded, silent,
unnoticed, during all this intervening period of folly and vexation of
soul. Margaret had done her duty, in time; I had only myself to blame
for the tangle in which I now found myself. I was thinking of Flora,
upon the deck of the steamship, when, in a moment of chagrin, she had
been so near throwing herself over; wondering to what fate her passion
and impetuosity would hurry her now, if she knew; cursing myself for
my weakness and perfidy; while Joseph kept asking me what I intended
"'Do? do?' I said, furiously,--'I shall kill you, that is what I shall
do, if you drive me mad with questions which neither angels nor fiends
"'I know what you will do,' said Joseph; 'you will go home and marry
"You can have no conception of the effect of these words,--_Go home
and marry Margaret_. I shook as I have seen men shake with the
ague. All that might have been,--what might be still,--the happiness
cast away, and perhaps yet within my reach,--the temptation of the
Devil, who appealed to my cowardice, to fly from Flora, break my vows,
risk my honor and her life, for Margaret,--all this rushed through me
tumultuously. At length I said,--
"'No, Joseph; I shall do no such thing. I can never be worthy of
Margaret; it will be only by fasting and prayer that I can make myself
worthy of Flora.'
"'Will you start for Italy in the morning?' he asked, pitilessly.
"'For Italy in the morning?' I groaned. Meet Flora, travel with her,
play the hypocrite, with smiles on my lips and hell in my heart,--or
thunderstrike her at once with the truth;--what was I to do? To some
men the question would, perhaps, have presented few difficulties. But
for me, Sir, who am not quite devoid of conscience, whatever you may
think,--let me tell you, I'd rather hang by sharp hooks over a
roasting fire than be again suspended as I was betwixt two such
alternatives, and feel the torture of both!
"Having driven Joseph away, I locked myself into my room, and suffered
the torments of the damned in as quiet a manner as possible, until
morning. Then Joseph returned, and looked at me with dismay.
"'For Heaven's sake!' he said, 'you ought not to let this thing kill
you,--and it will, if you keep on.'
"'So much the better,' I said, 'if it kills nobody but me. But don't
be alarmed. Keep perfectly cool, and attend to the commission I am
going to trust to you. I can't see Flora this morning; I must gain a
little time. Go to the station of the Lyons railway, where I have
engaged to meet her party; say to her that I am detained, but that I
will join her on the journey. Give her no time to question you, and be
sure that she does not stay behind.'
"'I'll manage it,--trust me!' said Joseph. And off he started. At the
end of two hours, which seemed twenty, he burst into my room,
"'Good news! she is gone! I told her you had lost your passport, and
would have to get another from our minister.'
"'What!' I exclaimed, 'you lied to her?'
"'Oh! there was no other way!' said Joseph, ingenuously,--'she is so
sharp! They're to wait for you at Marseilles. But I'll manage that,
too. On their arrival at the Hotel d'Orient, they'll find a
telegraphic dispatch from me. I wager a hat, they'll leave in the
first steamer for Naples. Then you can follow at your leisure.'
"'Thank you, Joseph.'
"I felt relieved. Then came a reaction. The next day I was attacked
by fever. I know not how long I struggled against it, but it mastered
me. The last things I remember were the visits of friends, the strange
talk of a French physician, whispers and consultations, which I knew
were about me, yet took no interest in,--and at length Joseph rushing
to my bedside, in a flutter of agitation, and gasping,--
"'What of Flora?' I demanded.
"'I telegraphed, but she wouldn't go; she has come back; she is here!'
"I was sinking back into the stupor from which I had been roused, when
I heard a rustling which seemed afar off, yet was in my chamber; then
a vision appeared to my sickened sight,--a face which I dimly thought
I had seen before,--a flood of curls and a rain of kisses showering
upon me,--sobs and devouring caresses,--Flora's voice calling me
passionate names; and I lying so passive, faintly struggling to
remember, until my soul sank whirling in darkness, and I knew no more.
"One morning, I cannot tell you how long after, I awoke and found
myself in a strange-looking room, filled with strange objects, not the
least strange of which was the thing that seemed myself. At first I
looked with vague and motionless curiosity out of the Lethe from which
my mind slowly emerged; painless, and at peace; listlessly questioning
whether I was alive or dead,--whether the limp weight lying in bed
there was my body,--the meaning of the silence and the closed
curtains. Then, with a succession of painful flashes, as if the pole
of an electrical battery had been applied to my brain, memory
returned,--Margaret, Flora, Paris, delirium. I next remember hearing
myself groan aloud,--then seeing Joseph at my side. I tried to speak,
but could not. Upon my pillow was a glove, and he placed it against my
cheek. An indescribable, excruciating thrill shot through me; still I
could not speak. After that, came a relapse. Like Mrs. Browning's
poet, I lay
''Twixt gloom and gleam,
With Death and Life at each extreme.'
"But one morning I was better. I could talk. Joseph bent over me,
weeping for joy.
"'The danger is past!' he said. 'The doctors say you will get well!'
"'Have I been so ill, then?'
"'Ill?' echoed Joseph. 'Nobody thought you could live. We all gave you
up, except her;--and she '----
"'She!' I said,--'is she here?'
"'From the moment of her arrival,' replied Joseph, 'she has never left
you. Oh, if you don't thank God for her,'--he lowered his
voice,--'and live all the rest of your life just to reward her, you
are the most ungrateful wretch! You would certainly have died but for
her. She has scarcely slept, till this morning, when they said you
"Joseph paused. Every word he spoke went down like a weight of lead
into my soul. I had, indeed, been conscious of a tender hand soothing
my pillow, of a lovely form flitting through my dreams, of a breath
and magnetic touch of love infusing warm, sweet life into me,--but it
had always seemed Margaret, never Flora.
"'The glove?' I asked.
"'Here it is,' said Joseph. 'In your delirium you demanded it; you
would not be without it; you caressed it, and addressed to it the
"'And Flora,--she heard?'
"'Flora?' repeated Joseph. 'Don't you know--haven't you any idea--what
has happened? It has been terrible!'
"'Tell me at once!' I said. 'Keep nothing back!'
"'Immediately on her return from Marseilles,--you remember that?'
"'Yes, yes! go on!'
"'She established herself here. Nobody could come between her and you;
and a brave, true girl she proved herself. Oh, but she was wild about
you! She offered the doctors extravagant sums--she would have bribed
Heaven itself, if she could--not to let you die. But there came a
time,--one night, when you were raving about Margaret,--I tell
you, it was terrible! She would have the truth, and so I told
her,--everything, from the beginning. It makes me shudder now to think
of it,--it struck her so like death!'
"'What did she say?--what did she do?'
"'She didn't say much,--"Oh, my God! my God!"--something like that.
The next morning she showed me a letter which she had written to
"'To Margaret?' I started up, but fell back again, helpless, with a
"'Yes,' said Joseph,--'and it was a letter worthy of the noblest
woman. I wrote another, for I thought Margaret ought to know
everything. It might save her life, and yours, too. In the mean time,
I had got worse news from her still,--that her health continued to
decline, and that her physician saw no hope for her except in a voyage
to Italy. But that she resolutely refused to undertake, until she got
those letters. You know the rest.'
"'The rest?' I said, as a horrible suspicion flashed upon me. 'You
told me something terrible had happened.'
"'Yes,--to Flora. But you have heard the worst. She is gone; she is by
this time in Rome.'
"'Flora gone? But you said she was here.'
"'_She?_ So _she_ is! But did you think I meant Flora? I
supposed you knew. Not Flora,--but Margaret! Margaret!'
"I shrieked out, 'Margaret?' That's the last I remember,--at least,
the last I can tell. She was there,--I was in her arms;--she had
crossed the sea, not to save her own life, but mine. And Flora had
gone, and my dreams were true; and the breath and magnetic touch of
love, which infused warm, sweet life into me, and seemed not Flora's,
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