Atlantic Monthly, Volume 3, Issue 17, March, 1859
Part 2 out of 5
The time that he passed at the desk of the India House was time in which
he did not live; or perhaps, while he autographed the mercantile books,
there was a higher half-conscious life of the fancy which lightly
flitted round and round the steady course of his pen. He thus exults,
after his emancipation from his clerkship upon a pension:--"I came
home FOREVER on Tuesday in last week. The incomprehensibleness of my
condition overwhelmed me. It was like passing from life into eternity.
Every year to be as long as three; that is, to have three times as much
time that is real time--time that is my own--in it. I wandered about
thinking I was happy, but feeling I was not. But the tumultuousness is
passing off, and I begin to understand the nature of the gift." For this
one-third of his waking time, to have and to hold unhampered by any
dependence, he had most willingly consigned the rest to drudgery. The
value which he set upon it appears from the following answer which he
made to Bernard Barton, who thought of abandoning his place in a bank
and of relying upon literary labor for support:--"Throw yourself on the
world without any rational plan of support beyond what the chance employ
of booksellers would afford you! Throw yourself, rather, my dear Sir,
from the steep Tarpeian rock, slap-dash, headlong, upon iron spikes. If
you have but five consolatory minutes between the desk and the bed, make
much of them, and live a century in them, rather than turn slave to the
booksellers. Hitherto you have been at arm's length from them,--come
not within their grasp. I have known many authors want for bread,--some
repining, others enjoying the blessed security of a counting-house,
all agreeing that they would rather have been tailors, weavers,--what
not?--rather than the things they were. I have known some starved, some
go mad, one dear friend literally dying in a madhouse. Oh! you know
not--may you never know!--the miseries of subsisting by authorship."
Thus he esteemed of priceless worth honestly-earned independent time for
the pursuits that were dearest to him.
His literary and social avocations were so intimately blended that they
seem to have been almost the same. He was as thoughtful in his evening
parties as he was in the act of composition, and as gentle and kindly in
writing as he was to his friends. He gathered about him not many of the
most famous, but many of the most original and peculiar men of his time.
His Wednesday-evening parties were assemblies of thinkers. They were
composed in large part of men who were not balanced by a profession, who
were devoted only to wit, fancy, or speculation, who cultivated each a
peculiar field and cherished each peculiar tastes and opinions, who
were interested in different quarters of the heavens, and yet who came
together, prompted by the spirit of sociality and kindliness, to lay
perhaps the backs of their heads together, and to talk always sincerely
and wisely, but in the form of sense or nonsense, as the case might be.
Lamb and his sister were always ready to appreciate every variety of
goodness, and doubtless their guests received an order something like
that which was addressed to the dwellers in Thomson's enchanting
"Ye sons of Indolence! do what you will,
And wander where you list, through hall or glade;
Be no man's pleasure for another stayed:
Let each as likes him best his hours employ,
And cursed be he who minds his neighbor's trade!"
To these parties sometimes came Coleridge, who in conversation seems
to have been a happy mixture of a German philosopher and an Italian
_improvvisatore_. Here Hazlitt learned to utter the philosophic
criticisms which he most passionately believed in; and Lloyd, whose
intellect was one of peculiar refinement, discoursed modestly of
metaphysical problems, analyzing to an extent that Talfourd says was
positively painful. Here the social reformer Leigh Hunt came, and for
the moment forgot that social reforms were needed. Here the Opium-Eater
came, and his cloudy abstract loves and hates and visions were exploded
by the sparks of Elia's wit. Here the philosopher Godwin developed
philosophy out of whist. Here the pensive face of the Quaker poet,
Bernard Barton, shed a mild light upon the scene; and here the lawyer
Thomas Noon Talfourd came to admire the finest characters that he knew
Having thus noticed the painful experience and unfaltering devotion to
noble aims which marked the career of Charles Lamb, we leave him with
his friends, and pass to notice the same elements in the life of his
Sydney Smith preferred the legal profession, and esteemed himself a
victim in entering the Church. His practical wisdom informed him, that,
from the beginning even until then, qualities like his had not found a
happy sphere of action in the pulpit, but, on the contrary, had rusted
or grown ugly in it. He had as much sentiment as Sterne, and perhaps as
much political sagacity as Swift, yet the finest instincts within him
recoiled from following in the path of either the one or the other.
With a subtile and exuberant wit,--he knew that wit touches not sacred
things. With great practical prudence and a brilliant speculative
capacity,--in a clergyman, prudence is less than faith, and brilliancy
of thought than the glow of the heart. In his rich composite character
he had, indeed, the qualities which make the clergyman; his disposition
was religious, his heart was tender and Christian, he could give the
best advice to the people; and though his appearance was not quite
saint-like, it was at least suggestive of a good man who was walking in
the way which he pointed out to others. But these qualities were not
those with which he was most highly endowed. Energy and sterling
common-sense, which he had inherited from his father, an elastic,
mercurial, and passionate nature, which had come to him from his
Huguenot mother,--these were the strong points in his character, and it
belongs to neither of them to take the lead in the Church. Sydney had
scanned the whole field. Having questioned well his desires, examined
well his blood, derived what wisdom he could from history and
observation, he deliberately chose the law. Why, then, did he take
to theology? We read that his father had incurred so much expense in
educating his eldest son for the legal profession, and in fitting out
two others for India, that he could not well furnish the means for
Sydney's education, and strongly recommended him to go into the Church;
and that the son sacrificed his own to his father's inclination.
We may imagine Sydney Smith's reflections. With his versatile talent,
honorable ambition, and consciousness that he could have made a shining
name in political life, his object now was to find a sufficient sphere
for the exercise of all his powers in the Church. It was no fault of his
that he was unwilling to settle as curate and have no aim beyond his
parish except to go to heaven at last. With his superfluity of human
nature, for him to become a saint was out of the question. What then?
Should he enter the realm of dogmatics, and become a learned and
redoubted champion of the faith, passing his life amid exegesis? Should
he renounce thorough thinking, and become a polished and popular pastor,
an ornament of the pulpit and of society? Should he signalize himself
for gravity, orthodoxy, and ability, seek the earthly prizes of his
profession, and perhaps become Archbishop of Canterbury? Should he
become a jolly, vinous, and Friar-Tuck sort of clergyman? God forbid! he
said to each of these queries, and rushed forward into his profession.
Regarding himself as a lamb for the slaughter, yet tremendously in
earnest not to be sacrificed, he went into the Church groping and
fearing, but resolute. Trembling lest he should not do his duty both to
himself and to his sacred office, he yet determined to try. Thus the
thorn which troubled Sydney Smith was not an affliction, but was what he
regarded as a danger; and, though less patent and pointed than that
in the life of Charles Lamb, probably had not less influence in the
discipline of character.
Behold, then, the long and venerable line of the clergy opening to
receive him, and behold him entering it! The clergy, the priesthood,
the holy fathers, the strong bishops, the monks, the ghostly race, the
retired enthusiasts, now melancholy, now rapt, now merry-making, the
consolers of sorrow, the divine heroes in an earthly life,--even one
of this family does Sydney propose to be. At the age of twenty-four
he becomes curate in the little hamlet of Salisbury Plain,--the young
graduate of Oxford sent into the country to be pastor to the inmates of
half-a-dozen hovels! Then he writes his description of a curate:--"The
poor working man of God,--a learned man in a hovel, good and patient,--a
comforter and a teacher,--the first and purest pauper of the hamlet;
yet showing that in the midst of worldly misery he has the heart of a
gentleman, the spirit of a Christian, and the kindness of a pastor."
He regards himself as almost excluded from his kind, and quotes (or
originates) the proverb, that there are three sexes, men, women, and
clergymen. He took long solitary walks over the plains of Salisbury,
reflecting upon the manifold activities of the world, in which he had no
part. The only society that he had was during the occasional visits of
the squire to the neighborhood, who, surprised to find the curate so
interesting a person, gave him frequent invitations to dinner. Thus
passed two years, when the squire consigned his son to the curate to
be educated, and Sydney Smith, starting with the young man for the
Continent, was driven by stress of war to Edinburgh.
There he met Horner, Jeffrey, Brougham, and others, young thinkers and
full of matter,--Horner the philosopher, Jeffrey the critic, Brougham
the statesman, and Sydney Smith the divine,--and the divine was
unsurpassed by any of the others in wit, energy, or decision of
character. While the events with which the times were rife were striking
fire in all their brains, it was the divine who first turned their
thoughts to account by suggesting that they should start a review,
The suggestion was acted upon, and under his editorial care the
first numbers of the "Edinburgh Review" appeared. His prudence and
remonstrances saved it from manifold excesses; for Jeffrey was not a man
to be moderate in times like those. The brilliant critic received not a
few such lectures as the following:--"I certainly, my dear Jeffrey, in
conjunction with the Knight of the Shaggy Eyebrows [Homer], do protest
against your increasing and unprofitable skepticism. I exhort you to
restrain the violent tendency of your nature for analysis, and to
cultivate synthetical propensities. What is virtue? What's the use
of truth? What's the use of honor? What's a guinea but a d--d yellow
circle? The whole effort of your mind is to destroy. Because others
build slightly and eagerly, you employ yourself in kicking down their
houses, and contract a sort of aversion for the more honorable, useful,
and difficult task of building well yourself." It was the boast of
Sydney Smith in old age that he had very little to change in the
opinions which he had at various times advanced,--that he had seen
every important measure which he had advocated passed and become
recognized as beneficent. The variety of the review suited the
versatility of his talent; the problem, What worthy thing shall I employ
myself in doing? was solved; and an ample public career was opened to
him. When, after five years, he passes from Edinburgh to London, he is
not only a poor clergyman, but a famous Edinburgh reviewer. He becomes
popular in society and as a preacher, and delivers pictures on Moral
Philosophy to crowded houses of the _elite_ of the metropolis.
When he is again exiled as a curate, his solitude is not unbroken, but
he receives and returns the visits of the most eminent people. His
neighbors ran to him one day, shortly after his arrival, exclaiming,
--"Please your honor, a coach! a coach! a coach!" Sydney saw in the
distance the equipage of Lord Holland, and challenged the admiration of
his parishioners by boldly answering,--"Well, my good friends, _stand
firm_; never mind, even if there should be a coach; it will do us no
harm;--let us see." A simple pastor and an eminent man, with flashing
energy he approves himself a good man. Sunday he preached, Monday he
doctored the sick, Tuesday Sir James Mackintosh visited him for a week,
Wednesday he read Ariosto, Thursday he began an article, Friday he
reviewed his patients, Saturday he repaired his barn. Now he is laying
down a rule that no day shall pass in which he will not make somebody
happy; now he is fixing a bar whereon it shall be convenient for his
cows to scrape their backs; now he is watching by the side of his
sleeping baby, with a rattle in hand to wake the young spirit into
joyousness the moment its sleep breaks. He goes through the parish as
doctor, wit, and priest, guide, philosopher, and friend, studying the
temper and needs of the simple congregation to which he preaches on
Sunday, while his brain is racking with great thoughts. With these
higher thoughts he has to do as he sits at his desk and writes an
article for the larger parish of the United Kingdom. With a wild play of
wit and fancy and laughter he graces the sturdy column of his virtue
and fidelity. He lived in what was said to be the ugliest and most
comfortable house in England, admired by every visitor for his
independence, manliness, refinement, and liveliness. When he visited
London, as he often did, and when in later years he lived there and was
_lionne_, his simplicity of character remained. To the last he was one
of the sincerest and most active of clergymen and of men.
It is probable that there were not living at the time two more serious
men than the two wits whose careers we have outlined. Indeed, it is
quite a mistake to suppose that wit has anything to do with temper or
sentiment at all. A man may be perpetually sulky, and yet habitually
witty,--may smile, and smile, and smile, and yet be a most melancholy
individual. Wit is simply a form of thought, and is as intellectual as
scientific study. It differs from other thought only in being a little
_outre_,--a little in excess; it overdoes the thing only because it has
so much energy in it. It is what Charles Lamb said a pun was,--"a sole
digest of wisdom." All great thoughts are at first witty, and afterward
come to be common and flat. When Pythagoras discovered the theorem of
the squares erected on the sides of a right-angled triangle, it had the
effect on him of a most preposterous joke. The apple dropping on the
head of Newton struck him like a very far-fetched pun. Show a child the
picture of a wild Tartar, and his first motion will be to laugh at it.
We have seen a man while reading Kant, the dryest of metaphysicians,
slap his knee, leap upon his feet, and swear, in exuberance of mirth,
that Kant had said a good thing. If it were discovered to-morrow to be
a scientific truth that this world is wrong side out, and if inventive
genius should discover a way to put the other side out, we should all of
us think it a funny thing, but our transversed descendants would
regard the matter as a commonplace. New proposals in the arts, and new
discoveries in the sciences are always at first laughed at. Thus wit
is only thought that is beyond the present capacity of the listeners,
thought of whose meaning they can catch only a glimpse; it is the
forerunner of what our very stupid race, which is always a little behind
the times, is wont to call wisdom. If the race should ever become
completely sage, nothing less than a joke would ever be uttered.
The likenesses of Charles Lamb and Sydney Smith make them both very
severe-looking men. Like marble, which in costume takes the appearance
of the finest lace, so that it seems as if it would yield to the touch
of a finger, their delicate fancies and sentiments were but the surface
of a solid and thorough character.
They lived in different spheres, corresponding to the difference in
their genius. Sydney Smith had the more versatile and fruitful mind.
With restless energy he supported various characters, being equally
famous as a wit, Whig, Edinburgh reviewer, eloquent preacher, brilliant
man of society, and canon of Saint Paul's. His biographer well describes
him as a rough rider of subjects, and with surpassing good sense he
overran every problem with which the public mind was occupied. He was a
reformer, but it was after the English and not the French fashion. He
had unbounded respect for existing human blessings, believed in things
substantially as they were, and couldn't have been persuaded to try an
experiment that had much of hazard in it. A Frenchman is always at
home amid earthquakes and volcanoes and hurricanes, and the immediate
prospect of an end to everything that is and a beginning of something
the like of which never has been. The spirit of the great French
Revolution was to exterminate all the results of time up to that point,
and, having made a clear field, to begin over again. Hence heads went
off, religion was proscribed, thrones were burned, the calendar was
changed; even the heavenly bodies should no longer bear down their
freight of old associations, and Orion received the name of Napoleon.
Could the earth have in any way been transformed, could grass possibly
have been made blue and the heavens green, or could man have been done
over into any other sort of animal, there is not the slightest doubt
that those Frenchmen would have undertaken it. In comparison with such
men, Sydney Smith sank into insignificance as a reformer. He lived under
a religion, government, and system of manners, all of which he was
desirous to retain. He did not wish for his children any institutions
very much more comfortable than England offered at the moment. He
regarded the advantages of life with great complacency, thinking,
doubtless, that men had better opportunities than they availed
themselves of; and the chief intensity of his purpose was not to make
better opportunities, but to improve them better. He probably did not
approve of all the men and customs that he saw, was decidedly opposed
both to wickedness and stupidity; but he did not propose, like a
Frenchman, at the first fault, to blot out the heavens and the earth.
He demonstrated in his life how genial, under existing institutions, a
clergyman could be, how discreet a young enthusiast could be, how widely
active a curate could be, how acceptable in society an honest man could
be, how brilliant a plain Englishman could be. A great reformer he was,
--but the spirit of his reform consisted chiefly, not in changing, but
in making better use of the blessings which we already possess. Compared
with this prevailing spirit of personal reform, the reformatory
public measures which he was prominent in advocating were of slight
consequence. Merry on the surface, with an iron core of stubborn
resolution within, he equally delighted his most homely and his most
elegant friends, and while he sympathized with humble life, he had a
profound respect for the technically best society.
Charles Lamb lived within a narrower and peculiar range. With more of
concentration, he had a less abounding energy than Sydney Smith. His
character was an odd and elegant miniature, while that of Sydney Smith
was voluminous. He loved a particular sort of men, and that sort was
honest men; while the merry divine could deal with politicians and even
with Talleyrand himself. Sydney was playing a part in the Whig party,
among the advocates of reforms; the sympathies of Elia went for
the reform of the United Kingdom, and of the universe, too, if
possible,--but he was more interested in a profound thought, brought
forth from the struggling breast of Hazlitt, than in any bill introduced
into Parliament. He was occupied with his old books, his sincere
friends, his beloved sister. He cared little for the _beau monde_, would
rather not look upon a duke or a duchess without a grating between; but,
turning from the current into an eddy, content with the many thoughtful
and original persons whom he had about him, he delighted to fish for the
shyest tenants of the stream and to dive for strange pearls. He loved
remote thoughts, quaint expressions, fantastic ideas. He especially
attached himself to any violent symptoms of human nature. Being in a
picture-gallery, he observed a stout sailor in towering disgust at one
of the old masters, spit his tobacco-juice at it, and swear, with an
expletive, that he could do better himself. The honest opinion honestly
expressed, the truth and vigor of the man, delighted Lamb, and he rushed
up to him to shake hands. Whenever the sailor, after that, wrote to
his friends in London, he wished to be particularly remembered to Mr.
Charles Lamb, who wouldn't be humbugged about that old painting.
It was this strong sympathy with human character which made Elia rather
a contemner of the worship of Nature. He liked things that were as
definite as the works of men, and found great difficulty in sympathizing
with a landscape. There was nothing on Fleet Street for which he did not
feel a personal attachment; all the hurry and majestic order of a great
city, all the little by-ways and hedges of city life, the wealth, the
poverty, the splendor, the rags, the men and women, all acting under
the stern discipline of an immense society, the boys, the beggars, the
chimney-sweeps, the hilarious and the sorrowful, the fine ladies and
noble lords, were all duly appreciated by him. If he had been taken
up to the pinnacle of a mountain, instead of entertaining one of
Wordsworth's sublime contemplations, he would have been very likely to
flap his arms and crow like chanticleer. Indeed, in middle age he was
accustomed to boast that he had never seen a mountain. Born in London,
and always residing in London till the last years of his life, esteeming
man the crown and purpose of the universe, he was much inclined
to regard the love of Nature, which figures so largely in modern
literature, as a popular delusion. He would have sympathized with the
French philosopher who, after accompanying a young lady to the Highlands
of Scotland, surprised her raptures by saying to her,--"_Aimez-vous les
beautes de la nature? Pour moi, je les abhorre_."
The diverse religious character of these two men may be illustrated by
an allusion to their different habits with respect to Art. Sydney Smith,
visiting Paris, satisfied himself by a fifteen-minutes' observation in
the galleries of the Louvre. His mind, almost orbicular in its various
capacity, took in the scene at a glance. There were pictures from almost
every country, statues from almost every age, representations of the
finest imaginations of the mind and of the noblest labors of history. He
was not a barbarian with respect to the Louvre, but understood all about
it, and knew its excellence and value; yet he mingled his sentiment
and common-sense well together, and took a rapid walk from chamber to
chamber. He probably entertained large views of Art during his impetuous
progress through the ages, from battle-field to battle-field, from saint
to saint, from philosopher, poet, and hero, to landscape, shepherdess,
and domestic scene. He took in thought with lightning swiftness, and
lived for fifteen minutes amid statues and paintings which collected
scenes from all the universe. He went forth, satisfied that the Louvre
was a fine gallery of Art, that Art was a very fine thing, that painters
and sculptors ought to be encouraged, and that he had been looking at
many things which were worthy a man's consideration. If he had been
called upon at once to preach a sermon, there is no doubt that he would
have made very judicious reflections upon the spectacle which he had
Charles Lamb, too, visited Paris, and though it is not recorded that he
went into the Louvre, yet we can hardly be mistaken in conjecturing that
he did, and the thoughts with which he went. He would have entered those
galleries with timid ecstasy. He would at first have shrunk away from
the full splendor, and made acquaintance with some modest painting in
a corner. Happy would some friend near him be to hear the half-tender,
half-witty, yet most appreciative conceit which should first come
stammering from his lips. He would have advanced slowly, and only after
much delay would have ventured to stand before the great masters, and
to look up eye to eye at the spirit of the Louvre. After taking his
departure, he would never have thought familiarly of the scene, but it
would have remained in his mind as terrible and sacred an episode as was
the descent into Hades to Virgil's hero.
Not only in the Louvre, but in the world, Charles Lamb was the more
timid worshipper. The whole character of his mind, the intensity of his
thought within a narrow sphere, made him reverent of the Infinite. The
thought of departure from the life which he now lived was to him a very
solemn one. Religious ideas were so sacred to him that he never referred
to them lightly, and seldom at all. When he did mention them, it was
with peculiar impressiveness. No one can read the account of his share
in a conversation on "persons one would like to have seen," without
admiring the energy and pathos with which he alluded to one Person,
whose name, however, he did not utter. Discussions on religious subjects
he never tolerated in anybody but Coleridge. One evening, after he and
Leigh Hunt had returned from a visit to Coleridge, Hunt began to express
his surprise that a man of so much genius as the Highgate sage should
entertain such religious opinions as he did, and mentioned one of his
doctrines for especial reprobation. Lamb, who was preparing the second
bowl of punch, answered, hesitatingly, with a gentle smile,--"Never mind
what Coleridge believes; he is full of fun." He was an humble, sinful
worshipper, and while he bowed his head tremblingly before Heaven, he
poured out the stream of his affections to his sister and his friends.
The religious character of Sydney Smith was less peculiar than that of
Elia. An earnest Christian, with a will too resolute to allow the aid
of the punch-bowl in vanquishing trouble, professionally wielding the
religious and moral ideas, and habitually obeying them, he stood erect
and looked at the life to come with a firm eye. "The beauty of the
Christian religion," he says, "is that it carries the order and
discipline of heaven into our very fancies and conceptions, and, by
hallowing the first shadowy notions of our minds, from which actions
spring, makes our actions themselves good and holy." This central and
vital beauty he had cultivated in a very diversified life, and he looked
with confidence for the prize which is laid up for the well-doer.
Probably, if any successful life were examined, it would be found to
consist of a series of hairbreadth escapes. Every movement would be the
crossing of the Rubicon. That man is of little account who at every step
that he has taken has not been weighing matters as nicely as if he were
matching diamonds. How narrowly did Coleridge escape being the greatest
preacher, philosopher, poet, or author of his time! Almost everything
was possible to him; and one can but marvel how he went through life
avoiding in turn each of his highest possibilities. It is the glory of
Charles Lamb and Sydney Smith, that, as far as it can be said of any
men, they did the best that was possible with their circumstances and
endowments. The old fancy which says of every person, that there is an
ideal character which he can attain, in which he shall be peculiar and
unsurpassed, was in their cases realized.
Their characters were projected into literature, where they remain as
permanent blessings. The style of writing of both of them approaches to
the simplest way of saying things. Elia employed the choicest language
of the seventeenth century, and the divine used the plainest English of
the day. The perpetual danger of literature is of becoming rhetorical;
and hardly fares vigor of thought when long words and periods are
preferred to short ones, and when the native shape and properties of
ideas are less cared for than the abundant drapery. The style of the
"Essays of Elia" is as admirable as their fancy. The author hated a
formal sentence as much as he disliked stately and insipid society.
Unlike Thomas Carlyle, in avoiding the faults of rhetorical culture, he
did not become a literary barbarian. In refusing to comb his hair like a
prig, he did not go to the extreme of making himself horridly uncomely.
His sentences are unsurpassed for neatness, are as graceful as they are
quaint and clear. The writings of Sydney Smith rarely attain the
perfect grace which uniformly distinguishes Elia; yet he never attempts
magnificence, and he so unites brilliancy and plainness as to make his
statements seem equally felicitous to the rude and the scholarly ear.
His Peter Plymley letters are remarkable examples of the way in which
one yeoman speaks to another. His literary bequest, however, is neither
so valuable nor so charming as that of Charles Lamb. His powers were too
various, and he engaged in too many fields of labor, to attain supreme
success in any direction. The best result of his life is his own
exuberant and unresting character, which harmonized all the diversities
in his career; and adequately to behold this there is needed a fuller
and more philosophical biography of him than has yet been written.
BULLS AND BEARS.
On the morning of the day which brought the downfall of Stearine and his
indorsers, Sandford and Fayerweather, with the Vortex, whose funds
they had misappropriated, Monroe came to the counting-room unusually
cheerful. His anxiety respecting his little property was relieved, for
he thought the monetary crisis was past, and that thenceforth affairs
would improve. He had reasoned with himself that such a pressure could
not last always, and that this had certainly reached its limit. The
clear, bracing air of the morning had its full influence over his
sensitive nature. All Nature seemed to rejoice, and he, for the time,
forgot the universal distress, and sympathized with it. But the
thermometer fell rapidly as he caught the expression which the face
of his employer wore. Mr. Lindsay, of the house of Lindsay & Co., was
usually a reserved, silent man.--in business almost a machine, honest
both from instinct and habit, and proud, in his quiet way, of his
position and his stainless name. He had a wife and daughter, and
therefore was presumed to have affections; but those whom he met in the
market never thought of him, save as the systematic merchant. Well as
Monroe knew him, being his confidential clerk, he never had seen more
than the case in which the buying, selling, and note-paying machinery
was inclosed. He respected the evident integrity and worth of the head
of the house, but never dreamed of a different feeling; he could as
easily have persuaded himself into cherishing an affection for the
This morning, Mr. Lindsay's face wore an unusually sleepless, anxious
look. The man of routine was but a man, after all, and, in his distress,
he longed for some intelligent, friendly sympathy. Monroe recognized the
mute appeal, but, from long habits of reticence, he was at a loss how
to approach his stately chief. Determined, however, to give him an
opportunity to speak, if he chose, Monroe asked after the news, the
day's failures, and the prospects of business. The merchant needed only
a word, and broke out at once,--
"Prospect? there is no prospect but ruin. If a whirlwind would bury the
city, or a conflagration leave it a heap of ashes, it would be better
for all of us."
"But don't you think the darkest time has past?"
"Not at all; the pressure will continue until scores more are brought
down. Better fail at once than live in dread of it."
"You surprise me! Why, you are not in danger?"
"Did you ever consider? Look at the bales of goods in our lofts,--goods
which nobody will buy and nobody can pay for. And our acceptances have
been given to the manufacturers for them,--acceptances that are maturing
daily. Up to this time I have taken up all our paper, as it became due;
but God knows how the next payments are to be made."
"I had not thought of that."
"The house of Lindsay & Co. has never known dishonor"--
The merchant wiped his spectacles,--but it was the eyes that were dim,
not the glasses. His lips quivered and his breath came hard, as he
"But the time has come; the house must go down."
"I hope not," said Monroe, fervently. "Can nothing be done?"
"Nothing. Every resource has been used. The banks won't discount; and I
suppose they can't; they are fully as weak as their customers."
"I don't know but the offer may be useless, contemptible, even; but I
have a small sum, in good notes, that may be available."
The merchant shook his head.
"Whatever it is, you are welcome to it. Perhaps ten thousand dollars"--
"Ten thousand dollars!" exclaimed Mr. Lindsay,--"_you_ have that sum?"
"Yes,--the little property that was my father's. Let me go and get the
notes, and see if I can't get some money upon them."
Mr. Lindsay rose and took the clerk's hand with a heartiness that
"God bless you, Monroe," he said. "I may be saved, after all. Ten
thousand dollars will be enough for the present pinch, and before the
next acceptance is due some relief may come."
"Don't speak of thanks. I'll get the notes in a moment."
Tears stole silently down the unaccustomed furrows; the gateway of
feeling was open, but the tremulous lips refused to speak. Before he
could recover his self-possession, Monroe was gone. Mr. Lindsay tried to
read the newspapers, but the print before his eyes conveyed no idea to
his preoccupied brain. Then his thoughts turned to his beautiful villa
in Brookline, and he remembered how that morning his daughter stepped
lightly into the brougham with him at the back piazza, rode down the
winding path between the evergreen-hedges, and, after giving him a kiss,
sprang out when they reached the gate. He knew, that, when he returned
in the evening, he should find her in her place under the great
horse-chestnut, at the foot of the hill, ready to ride to the house. How
could he meet her with the news he would have to carry? how crush the
spirits of his invalid wife? Humiliating as the idea of failure was when
considered in his relations with the mercantile world, the thought of
home, with its changed feelings and circumstances, and the probable
deprivation of habitual indulgences, was far more poignant.
It was not long before Monroe returned, but with a less buoyant air. Mr.
Lindsay's spirits fell instantly. "I see it all," said he, "you can't do
"Perhaps I may, yet. The notes I spoke of, though due to me, are in the
hands of Mr. Sandford, Secretary of the Vortex Insurance Company. I have
been there, and cannot see him. His shutting himself up, I am afraid,
bodes me no good. However, I'll go again an hour hence."
"No harm in trying. Did you indorse the notes to him?"
"No. They were merely left with him for convenience' sake, as he was my
agent in loaning the money."
"Then he can't make way with them,--honestly."
Monroe seemed hurt by the implied suspicion, but did not reply, thinking
it best, if possible, to change the subject of conversation.
Mr. Lindsay sat in silence, a silence that was broken only once or twice
during the morning, and then by some friend or business acquaintance
asking, in hurried or anxious tones, "Anything over to-day?" A mournful
shake of the head was the only answer, and the merchant sunk into a
Again Monroe went to see Mr. Sandford, but with no better success. The
third time he naturally spoke in a peremptory tone, and, giving his name
and business, said, that he must and would see Mr. Sandford, or get the
notes. The weight of his employer's trouble rested on him, and gave an
unwonted force to his usually kind and modest temper. The clerk, not
daring to break his instructions, and seeing that it was not far from
two o'clock, intimated, in a half-confidential tone, that he would
do well to ask Mr. Tonsor, the broker, about them. Nervous with
apprehension, Monroe walked swiftly to Tonsor's office. At the door he
met Fletcher coming out with exultation in every feature. Within stood
Bullion, his legs more astride than usual, his chin more confidently
settled over his collar, and the head of his cane pressed against his
mouth. As Monroe entered, Tonsor ceased the conversation, and, looking
up, said, blandly, "My young friend, can I do anything for you?" Bullion
at the same time turned the eyes that might have been only glittering
petrifactions, and pointed the long eyebrow at him inquiringly.
"I hope so," was the reply. "Have you some notes in your possession
payable to Walter Monroe?"
"Who asks the question?"--very civilly.
"My name is Monroe."
"Ah! Mr. Sandford is your agent, I presume?"
"Yes. I left the notes with him."
"And you wanted to raise some money on them?"
"Yes, that is what I wish."
"Then you'll be pleased to know that Mr. Sandford has anticipated you. I
loaned him eight thousand dollars upon them this morning."
"Loaned _him_ eight thousand dollars?"
"Certainly. Is it extraordinary that your agent has done what you
"I never asked him to borrow for me; and I never authorized him to
transfer the notes."
"He hasn't transferred them; he has only pledged them."
"He couldn't pledge them; he had no legal right in them."
"But he _has_ pledged them, and they are in my safe, subject to the
repayment of the sum I loaned."
"If you have loaned Mr. Sandford money, that is your affair."
"And yours, too, my friend, you will find, if he doesn't pay it."
"You haven't a right to detain the notes a moment."
"I have the possession, which will answer as well as the right. And let
me advise you,--don't get excited and conclude that everything is wrong.
You are not so well posted as you might be. Go and see Mr. Sandford, and
I haven't a doubt you'll find the money ready for you."
"I shall go. But I wish you to understand, that, if I am not 'posted,'
as you say, I do know my rights, and I shall take proper measures to
get possession of my property. You have no more hold upon it than a
pawnbroker has upon a stolen spoon."
Trembling with the unusual excitement, and despairing of being able to
aid his employer, Monroe did not wait for a reply, but rushed to the
Vortex again. Mr. Sandford had gone out on business, was the answer. He
had not gone far, if the truth were known; for his position commanded
the office-door, and he saw every visitor.
Time did not lag that eventful day; the hands seemed to sweep round the
dial on the Old State House as though they had been swords in pursuit
of some dilatory debtor. It now lacked only fifteen minutes of two, and
Monroe, sick at heart, turned his steps towards Milk Street, to announce
the utter failure of his plan. Mr. Lindsay received the intelligence
with more firmness than might have been expected.
"Monroe, my friend,--for I can truly call you so,--you have done what
you could. It was not your fault that your agent deceived and swindled
you. You generously offered me your all. I shall never forget it. I
can't say more now. Please stay and inform the notary, when he comes,
that he must take the usual course. Tell John, when he comes with the
brougham, that he may drive back. I shall take the cars to-day, and
shall not be at home, probably, until after tea. I pray God, Monroe,
that you may never go home as I do now. O Clara, my daisy, my darling!
how can I tell you?"
Still murmuring to himself, Mr. Lindsay slowly walked out of the
It was not strange, that, under the pressure of his own calamity, Mr.
Lindsay had no thought for the losses of others. He forgot that Monroe
was really in a far worse position, since, if the ten thousand dollars
were lost, it was his all. Neither did Monroe, at first, reflect upon
his own impending misfortune; he had been so intent upon preserving the
credit of the house, that his own interest had been lost sight of.
Presently the notary came with the inevitable demand. He was a cheerful
fellow in his sorry business, blithe as an old stager of an undertaker
at a first-class funeral. He chatted about the crisis, and, as a matter
of course, brought all the latest news from State Street. Monroe
listened to one piece of news, but had ears for no more. "Sandford and
Fayerweather had failed, and the old Vortex, which they had managed, was
dead broke, cleaned out."
Mr. Lindsay was not the only heart-stricken man who left the
counting-room that day.
Monroe was walking sorrowfully homeward, when he met Easelmann near the
corner of Summer Street. He was in no humor for conversation, but he
could not civilly avoid the painter, who evidently was waiting to speak
"Glad to see one man that isn't a capitalist. You and I, Monroe, are
independent of banks and brokers."
Monroe faintly smiled.
"This is a deadly time here in Boston,--a horrible stagnation. Every
man avoids his neighbor as though he had the plague; and we have no
Boccaccio to tell us stories while the dead-carts go by."
"The dead-cart went through our street to-day."
"You don't tell me! Who is the lucky corpse that is out of his misery?"
"Mr. Lindsay. Our house is shut up, and I am a vagrant."
"A pair of us! For the last month I have performed the Wandering Jew all
by myself. Now I have company. What shall we do to be jolly?"
"_Jolly!_"--with a tone of melancholy surprise.
"When should a man be jolly, if he can't when he's nothing to do? I
am the slave of gold, you understand. If any rich magician rubs his
double-eagles before me, woe is me, if I don't paint! When the magicians
send their eagles on other errands, I am free from their drudgery.
Meanwhile, I live on air, flattened out and packed away, like a Mexican
horned-frog, or a dreaming toad, in a fissure of a preadamite rock."
"I am sorry I haven't your art of making misfortune comfortable."
"Misfortune? My philosophical friend, there isn't any such thing. The
true man is superior to circumstances or accidents. (Some old fellow, I
believe, has said that; somebody always says my good things before me;
but no matter.) Nothing can happen amiss to the wise and good."
"Then I am neither wise nor good, for I have lost my all, and it comes
confoundedly amiss to me."
"Your all? That's what the shoemaker said; but he bought a new one for
six-pence. But, how happened it?"
"By my folly."
"I knew that, of course; but I wanted to know what folly in particular."
"I trusted it to a man whom I thought not only honest, but my friend,
and he has proved a scoundrel."
"You shouldn't have led him into temptation. You are _particeps
criminis_, and the partaker is as bad as the thief. Don't trust without
taking security, my friend; it's offering a premium to crime. Consider
your guilt now! Think of the family into whose innocent bosom you have
brought sin and remorse! Who is the luckless person?"
"I knew it. I expected it. He was too good by half. I didn't blame him
for his widow-and-orphan business; somebody must do it; but I made up my
mind some time ago that he would come to grief."
"Prophets are always plenty after the event."
"True, my friend. But just think! He passed by my pictures in the
Exhibition, and bought the canvas of my friend Greenleaf,--a man of
genius, doubtless, but young, you understand, young. Can you conceive
of the wickedness? I felt sure from that moment, that, if he were not
totally depraved, he at least had a moral inability, as the preachers
call it, that would be his ruin."
"Well, he is ruined effectually; but the worst of it is, that he has
dragged innocent people down with him."
"'Innocent,'--yes, you have the word. A man that cares for money at all,
and trusts all he has without security to any fair-spoken financier, is
an innocent, truly."
"Well, there is no use in lamenting, and just as little in the
consolation of thinking how the loss might have been avoided."
"I don't know. I don't admit that. I am not to be deprived of the rights
of a freeborn American. The 'I told-you-so' is a fine balm for all sorts
of wounds,--rather more soothing to physician than patient, perhaps.
Combined with the 'You-might-have-known-it,' it gets up a wholesome
blister in the least possible time, especially where 'a raw' has been
"I don't think I was prudent."
"Of course not; if you had been, you wouldn't have lost. There are
no such things as mistakes in the world.--But to look at affairs.
_Imprimis_.--Lindsay smashed, house closed, salary stopped."
"I suppose so."
"_Item_,--private funds gone; owner taken in by the patent-safe game.
"_Item_,--dwelling-house standing; so much gain,--but
"_Item_,--the dweller is not alone, having other mouths to feed.
"But don't be discouraged. I don't doubt you will find something to do
in good time."
"But when is the good time coming? I must earn something at once."
"The danger of being made to work isn't pressing. Ships will have time
to get well rested. Truckmen are actually growing civil with a little
starvation. The beggars don't hold out their hands for coppers; they
make more money by hauling out their old stockings and lending at five
per cent. a month."
"You will laugh me out of my misery in spite of myself."
"I hope so; but I am not sure that a man can be laughed out of a thing
he wasn't laughed into. Now, Monroe, I am going to surprise you. I am
going to bore you, annoy you; for I am to see you every day for the
next week. Can you bear it? I shall be worse than the balm of
Monroe pressed his friend's hand.
"Come, by all means. And now we are near my house; go in and take tea
"No, not to-day. It is _dies nefastus_. Good-bye!"
Twirling his grizzly moustaches and humming to himself, Easelmann turned
back. He did not go to his room, however, but went down a quiet street,
apparently guided by instinct, and rang the bell at a well-known door.
"Is Mr. Holworthy at home?"
The servant-girl nodded and smiled, and Easelmann entered. Mr. Holworthy
was emphatically at home, for he was on all-fours, his three children
riding cock-horse, with merry shouts, varied by harmless tumbles and
laborious clamberings up. Mr. Holworthy rose with a flushed and happy
face, and the children rushed at once to clasp the knees of their
familiar old friend.
"We all have to come down at times, I believe," said Mr. Holworthy,
smoothing the few thin hairs on his handsomely arched crown.
"Certainly; a man that can't be a boy with his children deserves to have
none. Now the reason I am a bachelor is that I feared I could never
unbend, being somewhat remarkable for my perpendic"--
The word was cut off by a sudden movement; the children in their playful
struggles had, in fact, thrown him down. In a moment more they were on
his back and he trotting round the room with the grace of an elephant.
"Come, children," said the father, "that was a rough joke. Get off, now,
and go for your bread and milk."
Rather reluctantly they obeyed, casting wishful glances backward to the
grown-up boy with whom they had hoped to have a frolic.
"Glad to see you," said Mr. Holworthy. "You have been unsocial, lately."
"Yes; all the effect of the panic. I am such a butterfly that I seem out
of place in a work-a-day community. I am constantly advised, like the
volatile person in the fable, to learn wisdom from my aunt; but I can't,
for the soul of me."
"You ought to visit the more, to cheer the wretched and downcast."
"Oh, but it's a fearful waste of magnetism. Five minutes' talk with a
man who has notes to pay draws all the virtue out of me. It lowers my
vital tone like standing in an ice-house. You feel such a man from afar
like a coming iceberg. _You_ don't have notes to pay? I thought not. I
should go at once."
"No, my little shop pays its way. I buy for cash. I pay my hands when
they bring in their work, and I have customers enough who ask me for no
"Happy man! most fortunate of tailors!--I have been thinking,
Holworthy, among your many benevolent projects, why you never devised
some means of relieving people who are supposed to be in good
circumstances,--a society for ameliorating the condition of the rich."
"Bless me! the poor are quite numerous enough, and are in unusual
straits just now."
"I know, and for that reason they are better off than usual. People say,
'How the poor must suffer in these pinching times!' So they double their
"Poverty is an ocean without bottom, my friend. All that is given is
like emptying stones into the sea; the waves swallow them and sweep over
"True, you can't satisfy the beggars till you drown 'em. Wouldn't
a gentle asphyxia by water, now, be the best thing for some of the
"Very likely; but they would probably object to the remedy."
"But to return to my project. I see some forms of distress that seem to
me far more painful than utter poverty. I won't expatiate, but state a
case. I know a man of good sense and culture, able and willing to do
his part in the world. His employer has failed, so that his salary will
stop. He is unmarried, but has a mother, an invalid, who never stirs out
of doors; and besides has some poor relation or other to support. He has
a house, it is true; so they needn't sleep in the street; but how are
the mouths to be fed, the backs to be clothed?"
"Let him sell his house and wait till better times for employment."
"It is easy to say _sell_; but who will buy? A house won't fetch half
its value, and there isn't any money to be had. Besides,--and this is
the hardship,--the pride and the feelings of association cling round a
house that has been consecrated by years of affection and by the memory
of the dead.--I believe I am making an oration; but I despair of
"I understand you perfectly; it is sad, indeed."
"Excuse me, you don't understand me. Some men put off old houses and put
on new ones, like their clothes, without a thought. Others grow into
their habitations and become a part of them. You might as well say to
a lobster, 'Get out of your shell,' when you know that the poor
wretch will die when his naked, quivering members are exposed to the
sharp-edged stones. A delicate nature, proud, but gentle, too sensitive
to accept charity, and doubtful of a friendly service even, suffers more
anguish in one hour, under such circumstances, than your brazen beggar
feels from his dirty cradle to his nameless grave."
Mr. Holworthy mused.
"He has nothing to do, then?"
"Nothing, but to suck his thumbs."
"Is he willing to work, even if the task should appear irksome?"
"I haven't a doubt. He has no _false_ pride. Anything honorable would be
"Perhaps I can find something for him to do; it will be temporary, but
its continuance will depend upon himself."
"And what is it?"
"In visiting the district which has been allotted to me, I have found an
unusual number of ignorant, vicious boys, cared for by no one, growing
up for the prison or the gallows. I have thought of making some effort
to gather them together and start a ragged school. Some friends have
agreed to provide the means. But the pay would necessarily be small, and
the labor and difficulty great."
"A teacher of tatterdemalions! It _isn't_ an inviting field of labor."
"No, to a refined man it must be repulsive. Nothing but the idea of
doing good would make it a pleasure or even endurable."
"I confess myself utterly without any such motive. I hate poor people,
and ragged children, and sick women, the forlorn wives of drunken
brutes. I shut my eyes to all such odious sights. They say, in a hotel
you must never go into the kitchen, if you would keep your appetite; and
I am sure one must avoid these wretches in the cellar, if he would have
a cheerful view of life in his attic."
"You are not so hard-hearted as you would have me believe. Somebody must
relieve their distresses."
"Somebody, too, must cut off legs, and sew up spouting arteries, and
extirpate cancers. Ugh! but I shan't. I leave such jobs to the doctors,
whose ears are familiar with shrieks, and whose appetites are not
disturbed by the sight of blood."
"So the Levite left the wounded man by the wayside, in disgust at his
bruises: but still the good Samaritan who helped him hadn't a doctor's
"Oh, I know. You have me, I acknowledge. But I can't change my temper,
and I shrink from suffering as from death. I would rather bear it than
see it. Society always provides its good Samaritans; and you are one
of them. Don't look modest. I went once through some of those damnable
alleys near Half-Moon Court, the agreeable place where you spend so much
of your leisure. I was looking for a subject to paint. For curiosity, I
asked an urchin if he knew you. He flung his ragged cap twenty feet into
the air, turned a somerset, and came up smiling as well as he could
through the dirt,--'Don't I, though? He brung us meal an' 'taters when
dad broke his leg, and he fetched oranges in his pocket when marm had
the fevers. He's one of 'em, he is.'--Don't interrupt me.--An old
woman, whom I asked, said, 'Do I know Mister 'Olworthy? A blissed saint
in the flesh; my poor ol' bones would 'ave hached many a cold night but
for the blankets he brought me. God in 'eaven reward 'im for that same!'
I spare you the rest of the answers. Oh, you are a saint, without robe
"Hadn't we better come back to the subject," said Mr. Holworthy, in a
mild voice. "We shan't aid your friend in this way."
"Right, my considerate Mentor. But talk is tempting. I believe I should
forget my errand and let a friend hang, if I got into an argument with
the Governor while he was filling out the pardon."
"I hope the gentleman you speak of is not so much afraid of contact with
what is disagreeable as you are?"
"Perhaps not; he has an artistic temperament, and therefore loves what
is comely; but he would go through fire to what he thought his duty."
"And wouldn't you?"
"What a question! Go through fire? No, I should bawl for the engine."
"It's plain, then, that he will answer better than you for the place."
"No doubt. I shouldn't answer at all. I tell you I never talk with these
creatures. I can't. If an old woman stops me, with her dried-apple face
and whining voice, I give her a sixpence and tell her to hush up and
go about her business. I fling coppers to the boys with slit breeches
before they ask me, for I know they will tell me of mothers sick with
consumption. Their devilish tears are contagious; and I can't cry; it
chokes me. So I buy apples and oranges from the imploring-looking
girls; it's the easiest way of getting rid of them. The little change
don't amount to much in a day, and I save my nerves and my digestion at
a cheap rate."
Mr. Holworthy smiled at Easelmann's notion of his own hard-heartedness,
and said, hesitatingly,--
"I am afraid that some professedly charitable persons don't do so much."
"Of course they don't. I don't mean that I do anything. It's pure
selfishness on my part, as I told you. But you may feel pretty sure,
that, if a man's name is always in the papers, as 'our estimable
fellow-citizen, President This, Director That, and Treasurer T'other,'
he 'does not give indiscriminate alms':--I believe that is the phrase.
Perhaps he won't rob, like my friend Sandford; but his 'disinterested
labors' are an economical substitute for substantial charity, and his
desire for a place in the public eye is the mainspring of all his
"Most of the distress in the community is relieved by organized effort;
individual charities, however well meant, would be entirely inadequate.
Besides, you should not be severe upon all because one prominent person
has proved unworthy."
"Sandford is a type of the class. If there is anybody I hate worse than
a sick beggar, it is a man who makes a trade of philanthropy."
"And yet you are consenting to your friend's earning a living by
teaching a ragged school."
"True, one may stop at any place in a storm, just for shelter."
"And you can console yourself further with the assurance that your
friend won't make enough in this place to induce him to take up the
'trade,' as you call it."
"I hope not. Starve him judiciously. If he should come out, after a
year or so, with a white neckcloth, spectacles, and a sanctified face,
soliciting aid for his school, in Pecksniffian tones, I should regret
that I hadn't furnished him with a cord and a bag of stones to drop
himself into the dock with."
"I don't know why a teacher or a street-missionary may not be a
"Sure enough, why not? Whatever Walter Monroe is, he will always be a
"Suppose you bring him to see me to-morrow or next day; we will talk
"I will. Now, good-bye! My regrets to the children that we couldn't
finish our romp."
"Good-bye," said Holworthy. "Come again; the children will be glad to
As Mr. Sandford walked homeward, the streets seemed to close up behind
him; he was shut out from the scenes of his activity, no more to return;
State Street was henceforth for him a thing of memory. He had played his
game there, while admirers and friends watched his far-seeing moves. He
had lost; and now, after checkmate, he must resign his place. How he
struggled against the idea! He could not bring himself to acknowledge
that the past was irretrievable. His spirit seemed in prison, shut in as
by the bars of a dungeon, against which he might tug and rage in vain.
At home, dinner was on the table, waiting for him. As he entered the
hall, he met his sister-in-law. She saw the fatal news in his face, and
with a sinking heart gave him her usual greeting. Marcia took her place
at the table, but with less animation than usual. Charles sat down with
his studied indifference. Each one seemed to be absorbed in separate
spheres of thought, and the courses came on and were removed in painful
silence. At last Mr. Sandford spoke.
"I suppose I need not tell you that it is all over."
"All over!" exclaimed Marcia.
"Yes,--I have failed; so has Fayerweather; so has Stearine."
"Failed?" said Marcia, in an incredulous tone. "I thought it was the
great people,--I mean people in business, or with estates, that failed."
"Well, have I not been in business?"
"Yes,--as secretary, and you have a salary. How can a man with a salary
"Quite easily. Suppose the Vortex fails? My salary would stop."
"That isn't failing, is it? Then Pompey might fail, if he didn't get his
pay for brushing your boots."
Mr. Sandford gave a contemptuous look.
"That shows how much you know about business."
"I never did know about your business; nor does anybody, I believe. I
never could understand how, with your little property, you had these
'transactions,' as you call them, where you owed people and people owed
you so many thousands."
"It is not necessary for you to know. Women can't understand these
"But women feel their effects, and it's a pity they could not learn
about what concerns them."
"Will it change your situation at once?" asked Mrs. Sandford of her
"I can't say; probably not at once; but without some aid, all I have
"What! the house?" exclaimed Marcia.
"Yes,--the house, Marcia, and the furniture. We shall be stripped."
"The deuse!" said Charles.
"Heaven help us! what shall we do?"
"I haven't had time to form any plan. I trust, indeed, that Heaven will
help us, as you rather lightly wished."
His face wore a touching look of faith and resignation, while at the
same time his hand rested with secret satisfaction upon his pocket-book.
The conversation was disagreeable to Charles, and he sauntered off to
Mrs. Sandford inwardly determined to return to her home, or at least
to go elsewhere in the city, so as not to be a burden to her
brother-in-law; but she remained silent. Mr. Sandford balanced his
knife, sliced his bread into figures, then hummed and beat a tattoo upon
the table,--sure indications of forgetfulness in one so scrupulous
as he. At length, with a bland voice, but a sharp, inquiring eye, he
"How is it about this painter, Marcia? Are you going to marry him?"
She looked fixedly, as she replied,--
"Why do you ask? You know I am going to marry him."
"Oh, it's settled, is it? You know, sister, you have had similar
intentions before,--several times, in fact,--intentions that haven't
come to much."
She did not answer further; a flush of anger came, then went, leaving
her pale face with a rather sterner expression.
"While I was prosperous, I was not disposed to be mercenary; though I
did think you were not worldly-wise. Now that I am destitute, you can
see that to marry a man not worth a dollar, and with a precarious
profession, is not what it would have been."
"Mr. Greenleaf earns a good income, doesn't he?"
"He hasn't sold a picture, except to friends whom I persuaded to buy."
"You have friends and influence still?"
"I don't know; a man's friends don't last long after his money is gone.
Besides, nobody wants to buy now. Raphael himself couldn't sell a
picture here till times improve. A painter is a pretty butterfly for
fine weather; what is he to do with his flimsy wings in such a hurricane
"I think I understand you, Brother Henry. You begin afar off; but I
know what you are coming to. You want to bring up that odious Denims
again,--a man whom I hate, and whom you yourself would show out of
doors, like a vagrant, if it were not for his money!"
The effort exhausted her, and she breathed painfully.
"You think yourself quick. I haven't mentioned Denims. In fact, you have
treated him in such a way that I am quite sure he would never trouble
himself to be even civil to you again."
"I am glad of it,--the fool!"
"Sister Marcia, I have borne much from your turbulent temper. You are a
spoiled child. Fortune has let you have your own way hitherto; so much
the worse for you. But circumstances have changed. I can no longer
supply you as though you were a duchess. In fact, I don't know what
may be before us. I hope no actual want. [_Another grip of the
pocket-book_.] But I advise you to consider whether it is for the
interest of a dependent woman to go out of her way to thwart and insult
"You would compel me, then, and threaten starvation as the alternative?"
"What odiously blunt language you use!"
"I only translated your roundabout phrases as I understood them."
"You need not be violent."
"You cannot cajole me by soft words, when your purposes are so obvious.
You think Denims may save the wreck of your fortune; and you are willing
to sacrifice me, if he were ten times the brute he is, to further your
ends. But I shall marry Greenleaf."
"Greenleaf will be a powerful protector! I doubt if he can raise money
enough to pay the clergyman for marrying you! He will be without a
shilling in a month, if he is not now. Go to him, Sister Marcia. I
would, now. You can live in his attic studio, you know. In such a
romantic place you would never be hungry, of course."
Mrs. Sandford interposed,--
"Don't, Henry! This is not the way."
Marcia's eyes flashed through her tears, as she answered,--
"You say _you_ are ruined,--that the house and furniture must go. How
much better off shall I be here?"
"Well, you have your choice."
"And when the time comes, I shall take it."
Sobs and tears followed, but her lips were firm and her hands clenched.
"As you please, sister."
"You come home ill-tempered, and the rage which you could not or dared
not give vent to in the street you pour out here."
"Perhaps you would have been pleased, if I had not come home at all?"
"I'm sure we should have been quite as happy without you."
"Very well. I may leave you, yet."
"I don't care how soon."
New sobs and a firmer pressure of the lips.
Oddly enough, at that moment, Mr. Sandford was summoned to the
drawing-room, where a man was waiting for him. Fearful of the result, he
went to his own room, first, and left the precious pocketbook, and then
descended to the hall.
Notwithstanding the words she had spoken, Marcia waited with breathless
anxiety her brother's return; for the sound of voices, in earnest, if
not angry, conversation, rose through the house. Presently he came back
with a look his face seldom wore,--a fierce look that transformed his
handsome features to a fiend's.
"You have your wish, Sister Marcia,"--and the words were shot out like
fiery arrows,--"I am to leave you, and go to jail."
"To jail?" exclaimed both at once, in terror.
"Yes,--to jail. Gratifying to you, I suppose. 'Tis to me,--very."
"What is the meaning of this?" asked Mrs. Sandford.
"It means, that one of my creditors pretends to believe that I am about
to abscond, and has had me arrested, that I may give bail not to run
away with an empty pocket."
"Can't you get out?"
"Some time, undoubtedly; but not till I give bail."
"For how much?"--
"Twenty thousand dollars."
"Can't you get some one to become security?"
"I don't know. Perhaps I might get Greenleaf!"
Marcia winced, but did not answer the taunt.
"Good-bye, my dear and independent sister!"
Marcia turned her back upon him, confounded between sorrow and
Crowding his hat over his eyes, Mr. Sandford left his house and walked
with the officer towards Cambridge Street.
"Gone to jail!" exclaimed Charles, returning, "How doosid awkward! What
a jolly wow it will make when it gets about town! By gwacious, if you
aren't cwying! Go to bed, both of you; I'll go to the club."
He went accordingly; and the women, who could ill console each other,
were about to go to their own rooms when the door-bell rang again.
"What next, I wonder?" asked Marcia, in despair.
"Please, Ma'am," said the servant, "there's a man at the door, who looks
quare, and says, if he can't see Mr. Sandford, he must see you."
"Tell him I am ill,--and besides, I don't transact my brother's
But she soon returned with a new message. The man would not go. Mrs.
Sandford at once went to the hall to learn what was the matter, leaving
Marcia trembling in every limb. The conversation was not carried on in
whispers; in fact, Marcia heard every word.
"Sorry to disturb you, Ma'am, especially as Mr. Sandford isn't at home;
but duty is duty, and must be 'tended to. My orders is, to 'tach the
furnitur', and stay till I git a receipter."
Mrs. Sandford's reply was inaudible. The voice proceeded:--
"Can't help it, Ma'am. Won't be back to-night, won't he? Bad, cert'in.
But duty is duty, as I said afore. I'll bunk here on the sofy, an'
to-morror we'll see what's to be done."
"Oh, you won't run off 'ith anythin'? I s'pose not. But duty is duty,
as I said afore, and I must mind orders. 'Stick by till you git a
receipter,' sez he. 'I will,' sez I,--an' I must.--Never mind about
bedclose. I c'n sleep jest ez I be. You jest go up-stairs. I'll make
myself 't home."
Glad to be out of the society of the officer, Mrs. Sandford started to
go upstairs, but was recalled by the voice.
"I say, Ma'am! A long night afore a chap, all by himself."
Mrs. Sandford trembled with mingled terror and rage.
"No 'bjection to light the gaas, I 'spose, so's't a feller can read a
paper? Thought o' that, and brought the 'York Herald' and 'Clipper.' If
you don't like tobarker, you c'n shet your doors and the smell won't git
"Do what you like. I can't prevent you."
"Oh, well, no 'fence, I hope? Good-night, Ma'am."
Mrs. Sandford found Marcia walking about the room in great excitement.
"The odious wretch!" exclaimed Marcia. "If Henry were only here, or even
Charles, he should be horsewhipped, pitched out of the house. To sleep
with his dirty clothes on my sofa! I'm glad it's to be sold. I never
could touch the filthy thing again. Then his pipe! Good heavens, what is
to be done? The abominable wretch! I smell the tobacco now, worse than
an Irishman's. The smoke will be all through the house. Faugh! it
suffocates, nauseates me!"
"Be calm, Marcia. We will go to the upper chambers, shut the doors, and
open the windows for fresh air. It's only for one night. We can't go
away, you know; and we can't get the fellow away, of course."
"I wish I had died when I was sick. This disgrace, this infamy, this
shocking barbarity, is worse than death. What are we to do? and where
are we to go? Ruin is a light thing to talk about, I have read of ruin
in the papers, until it has become a matter of course;--I begin to know
what it means."
It was a changeful, terrible beauty that beamed on her face. She looked
like an inspired priestess before the altar,--then like Norma in
her despair,--then like the maddened Medea in Rachel's thrilling
impersonation. Then disgust and fright overcame her, and her sensitive
womanly nature bore sway. It was more than she could bear, this
accumulation of misfortune, disgrace, and insult. Her soul rebelled,
contended desperately with fate, till, overcome, she sank into her
chair, and suffered herself to be led to her room.
Shut up in their retreat, the women waited for the morning with
sleepless eyes, or with only transient lapses of consciousness. Sometime
after midnight, they were startled by the sound of a body falling
heavily in the hall, and, an instant after, by the shout of "Burglars!
thieves!" They rushed to the staircase in extreme fright, and soon
learned the cause. The wary officer evidently did not believe the tale
that had been told him respecting the absence of Mr. Sandford; and, that
nobody should go out or in without his knowledge, he had drawn the sofa
across the hall, completely cutting off all passage. A small jet of gas
was left burning. Charles, returning late from the club in a mild stage
of inebriation, entered the house by means of his latch-key, not without
difficulty, and at once fell headlong over the sofa, and the worthy
official sleeping thereon. When he heard the cry of "Burglars!" it
occurred to him that he must have been knocked down by one of the gang;
and he joined his own voice to the uproar,--
An instant after, there was a grip on his collar.
"Now I got ye, ye vill'in! What ye doin' on here?"
"What _you_ doin' on, you rasc'l, inagen'l'm'n'shouse thistim'o'night?"
"Arnswer me, you scoundrel, breakin' into a peaceful dwellin'!"
"Tha'swhat_I_wan'to know.--How'd _you_com'ere? What'syerbusiness?
Le'gomycollar. I'lsen'forp'lice. Le'go!"
Tipsy as he was, he managed to give his assailant a pretty substantial
token of regard under the ear, with his knuckles.
"Now young'un, you're drunk! I won't hit you back, 'cause a case for
manslaughter might be expensive. How'd you break in here, when you are
so drunk you can't stand? I don't see how you could get in with the door
"Noneo'yerimp'r'ence! Cl'out! Adecen'bugglar'sbad'nough;
yousmokerot'nt'baccah. G'off! youdirtybugg_lar!_"
"Young chap, it's time to stop this nonsense, or I'll have you in the
watch-house in no time. Who are you? and how came you here?"
"Tha'sit; who _are_ you? tha'swhat_I_wan'know."
"Charles!" (_from above_.)
"WhocallsCh'rl's? HereIam. Igott'afellah, the bugg_lar_. Callp'lice!
"Charles!" (_once more_.)
"Do you belong here, young chap?"
"B'long'ere? 'vcourseIdo; wherethedevilsh'dIb'long?"
"You are not Mr. Sandford?"
"Howd'yeknowIa'n't? I _am_ Mis'rr-Sanf'd."
"You are Mr. Sandford's brother, are you?"
"No, Mis'rr Sanf'd's _my_ bro'rr."
"Well, if you've got brains enough to understand, listen to me."
"I'm all 'tensh'n, 's Balaam said to th'ass. G'on, ol' fellah!--an' then
"I am an officer, sent to 'tach your brother's furnitur' and stuff; and
as there's nobody here to go bail, I hed to stay and look arter things."
"H'mushbailyewant? I'llgi'bail. An' I'll plankzemoney.
"Charles!" (_the third time_.)
"They want you to go to bed, where you b'long."
"Gotobed? 'llseeyoudam'f'st! Leave'nofficer'nth'ouse? Guessnot!"
"Young'un, I say, take your hand out of my neckhan'kercher! Hold up!
None o' yer chokin' games! Quit, I say! or, by hokey, I'll settle ye!"
"_Thought_sh'dmakeyesquawk, ol't'bacc'worm! Go'n'tocl'out?
"Ooo-arr-awkk!" said the man, under the pressure of a tightening cravat,
at the same time giving the assailant "a settler," as he had threatened.
The two unfortunate women had hitherto looked down upon the conflict, as
celestial beings might upon the affairs of men, with no small degree of
interest, but clad in robes too ethereal to descend. But when they saw
Charles felled to the floor, and a deathlike silence ensued, they forgot
their fears, and rushed down the stairs. The officer had already raised
Charles up. He was stunned, senseless, and his face was covered with
"You brute! you have murdered him!" exclaimed Marcia.
"Guess not, Ma'am. Wet his head in col' water, put him to bed, an' he'll
sleep it off."
"It's useless to talk to such a fellow," whispered Mrs. Sandford;
"besides, we want his aid to carry Charles upstairs."
"Ye see, I couldn't help it, Ma'am. He nigh about choked me to death,
and I give him fair warnin'."
"Never mind now about the quarrel," said Mrs. Sandford; "you help him
upstairs to his room, and we'll bathe his head."
While the officer was carrying the young man up-stairs, Mrs. Sandford
put on a shawl, and, by the time he had reached the second flight, she
opened a door, and lighted the gas with a taper, saying,--
"In here, if you please. My brother Henry's room is the most
The officer's eyes twinkled.
"So this is Mr. Sandford's room?"
"Yes, but he is absent, as you were told before. Lay Charles on the bed,
if you please. There, that will do. I will attend to him now. You can
return to the lower story."
"In a minit, Ma'am. Duty is duty, and this 'ere accident saves some
trouble," casting sharp glances around the room.
The facts, that Sandford had drawn from the bank, and that he had
borrowed from Tonsor, were known to the creditors. The officer had
determined, therefore, to make what search he could for the money. The
unlooked-for accident had given him the opportunity he wanted.
"What do you mean, Sir? Go back to your place."
"Softly, Ma'am, softly! Duty is duty; an' 'f any damage is done, I'm
His eyes fastened upon a dressing-case that lay on a table near the
mirror,--apparently the last article handled by the occupant of the
"No robbery, Ma'am," said he, opening the case, and taking out its
contents. "Razors and brushes, and such like, is personal, and not
subject to levy; but these, Ma'am, you see, air."
He held up a pocket-book full of bank-notes.
"I'll count 'em before you, Ma'am, if you please, so's there'll be no
mistake. Thirteen thousand! A pretty good haul! I'll go down, now. If
anythin's wantin' for the chap when he comes to, jest le'me know."
With a gleam of intense satisfaction on his sharp and vulgar features,
the officer descended the stairs.
John Fletcher sat by his fireside, reading the evening papers. The
failures of the day, of course, engaged his attention; among them, those
of Sandford and his associates were not unexpected. His little wife sat
by him, fondling the weakly baby.
"Old Sandford has gone by the board, ducky. Good enough for him! He's
come to grief, as he deserved. He'll never trouble me any more."
"I'm afraid a good many more'll come to grief, as you say, before this
panic is over."
"Some, of course; the dead trees, and the worm-eaten, powder-posted
ones, will fall in the high winds, naturally. But old Bullion is
safe. No rotten hollow in his old white-oak trunk;--sound as a ship's
"Is it Bullion who owes you?"
"Yes. I have his notes for ten thousand dollars; and our next
settlement, I calculate, will give me as much more."
"Why don't you get your pay?"
"What should I do with it, my duck? I couldn't lend it to anybody safer.
If I deposit, the bank is as likely to fail as be. As long as he has the
whole capital to swing, he will make the more for us both."
"I would rather have the money."
"That shows how little you know about it."
"I know, if you had it, and didn't lend it nor speculate with it, you
couldn't lose it."
"Now, ducky, don't interfere. You take care of babies nicely. Let me
manage my own affairs."
"You always treat me like a child that has to be petted with
"That's because you are a child. What the devil does a woman know about
The "ducky" cried a little, and was quite sure that John would go on and
risk what he had, till he lost all.
"Little woman, none of your blubbering! It annoys me. Am I to be
harassed by business all day, and have no peace when I come home?"
He settled himself to read the papers, once more, and the wife picked up
the fretful, puny infant, and retreated to the kitchen, where she could
indulge her sorrow without rebuke or interruption.
Presently, Bullion entered, though not unexpected; for he had given
Fletcher an intimation, that, in order to have a private interview, he
would endeavor to see him at home.
"Nice little box," said the capitalist, looking around. "Any babies?"
"One," said Fletcher.
"Boy or girl?"
"Bad. Girls always an expense. Dress, piano, parties, and d--d nonsense.
Boys, you put 'em into harness and work 'em till they're willing to
_eat_ their wild oats; he! he!"
The eyebrow flourished over the jocose idea; the stony eye glittered a
moment like a revolving light, and then relapsed into darkness.
"However, I have but one, and I think I can make her comfortable."
"Yes, my boy, quite comfortable. Let me see, I owe you ten thousand. How
does the new account stand?"
"Here are the figures, taken from Tonsor's book," said Fletcher.
"Seventy-nine thousand eight hundred and forty-three. Ten per cent. to
me is seven thousand nine hundred and eighty-four."
"A big pile of money, Fletcher."
"Yours, you mean? Yes, seventy thousand and odd is a big pile."
"Yours,--I meant yours."
"Why, yes," replied Fletcher, indifferently, "a good fair sum, for a man
that hadn't any before."
"Don't you think, now, Fletcher, that the ten thousand pays you for all
you've done? Isn't it enough for a month or two's work?"
"I think I am paid when I get what was agreed on," replied Fletcher,
The eyebrow was raised with a deprecatory, inquiring look.
"Why, Fletcher, sharp's the word, is it?"
"That's what you said, when we started."
"Suppose I pay you the notes and a thousand or two more, and we call it
square? Then you salt down what you got."
"And you propose to haul off from operating?"
"Well, no, I can't say I do. I may try the bulls another fall or two.
But you haven't anything else. If we lose, you are smashed. I have other
property to fall back on."
"So it's merely to do me a kindness and make me safe and snug that you
propose to keep back the six thousand that belong to me?"
"You put it rather strong, youngster. I didn't agree to pay till the
scheme was carried out. But we've done better than we 'xpected, and, to
take you out of danger, I offered to pay part down. In a business as
ticklish as stocks, you don't expect a man to come down with the ready
without a consideration?"
"You know you could never have kept the run of the market, if it hadn't
been for me; and the ten per cent. is no more than a fair share. This
isn't a matter of dollars altogether, though dollars are useful, but of
information, activity, brains."
"Well, remember, young man, I offer you now twelve thousand. If anything
happens, don't squawk nor play baby."
"Why, you're not going to fail?"
"No,--not if the world don't tip over."
"And you're going on with your operations?"
"Yes,--till the wind shifts. It's due east yet."
"Well, I think the ship that carries you is safe enough for me. Make me
the notes, and let the operations go on another week."
With an increased respect for his agent, when he found that he could
neither humbug nor frighten him, Bullion filled out and signed the
notes. Next they reviewed the stock-market, and decided upon the course
to be pursued. Bullion then fell into a profound meditation, and did not
speak for five minutes, though the busy eyebrow showed that his mind was
not lost in vacancy. At last he started up, saying,--
"I must go. But, Fletcher, any _reason_ why you particularly wanted to
pay Sandford that thousand, to-day?"
Fletcher turned pale, and his heart rose in his mouth.
"No,--no reason,--that is--he wanted it--I--I was willing to oblige"--
"No matter about reasons," said Bullion, with a quiet air. "I never
tread on people's corns. Only when it's wanted let me know. You see he
went by the board. He begged me to save him. How could I? I've done
enough for other people. Must take care of number one, now. Kerbstone,
he begs, too. I shan't help him."
Fletcher felt relieved; at the same time he determined without delay to
make a new effort to get the fatal evidence of his former crime into his
"Oh," said Bullion, as if he had forgotten something, "the wife and
baby, let's see 'em."
Fletcher called his wife, who came in timidly, and shrank from the
fierce look of the man of money.
"How d'e do, Ma'am? Your servant, Ma'am. Glad to see you. But the baby?"
"Fetch the baby, lovey," said Fletcher.
Baby was brought, smiling with as little reason as possible, and winking
very hard in the light.
"Pretty dear!" said Bullion, chucking her under the chin.
"I wonder what the devil this means," thought Fletcher.
How was his surprise increased when, after a moment, Bullion inquired,--
"Teeth cut yet? Some of 'em, I see. More to come. Want something to
bite, little one?"
He pulled out his purse and gave the child three or four large gold
pieces. The little hands could not hold them, and they fell on the
carpet, rolling in different directions. Bullion left hastily, with a
quick nod and a clipped "Good-bye."
"Well, I vow!" said Fletcher, with a long breath. "It's well he didn't
stay to pick 'em up; they'd 'ave stuck to his fingers like wax. He
couldn't have let 'em alone."
"What a good man he is!" said the overjoyed little woman.
"_Good_ man! He's crazy. Old Bullion giving away gold pieces to a baby!
He's lost his wits, sure. He never gave away a sixpence before in his
life. Oh, he's cracked, without a doubt. I must keep watch of him. When
_he_ grows generous, there's something wrong."
[To be continued.]
Down across the green and sunny meadow,
Where the grass hangs thick with glistening dew,--
In the birch-wood's flickering light and shadow,
Where, between green leaves, the sun shines through,--
Plunging deeper in the wood's dark coolness,
Where the path grows rougher and more steep,
Where the trees stand thick in leafy fulness,
And the moss lies green in shadows deep:--
Hark! the wind amid the tree-tops rushing
In a sudden gust along the hills!--
No,--the leaves are still,--'tis water gushing
From some hidden haunt of mountain-rills.
Upward through the rugged pathway struggling,
Loud and louder yet the music grows;
Near and nearer still, the water's gurgling
Guides me where o'er moss-grown rocks it flows.
Breathless, for its welcome coolness thirsting,
On I haste, led by the rushing sound,
Till upon my full sight sudden bursting,
Lo, the forest's hidden treasure found!
See the gathered waters madly leaping,
Plunging from the rocks in headlong chase,
Boiling, eddying, whirling, downward sweeping
All that meets them in their foaming race!
From the broken waters riseth ever,
Fresh and cool, a soft and cloud-like spray;
And where through the boughs slant sunbeams quiver,
On the mist the sudden rainbows play.
On a branch high o'er the torrent swinging
Sits a bird, with joyful-swelling throat;--
Only to the eye and heart he's singing;
Through the roar below I hear no note.
All the forest seems as if enchanted,
Seems to lie in wondrous stillness bound;
Hushed its voices, silenced and supplanted,
Interwoven with this ceaseless sound.
Gazing on the whirl of waters meeting,
Dizzy with its rush, I stand and dream,
Till it almost seems my own heart's beating,
And no more the voice of mountain-stream.
We are prone to set an extraordinary value upon all sources of pleasure
that arrive in a season when they are few and unexpected. Hence the
peculiar charm of the early flowers of spring, and of those equally
delightful flowers that come up to cheer the short and melancholy days
of November. The winter-birds, though they do not sing, are, on the same
account, particularly interesting. The Chicadees and the little speckled
Woodpeckers, that tarry with us in midwinter, and make the still cold
days lively and cheerful by their merry voices, are, in animated nature,
what flowers would be in inanimate nature, if they were found blooming
under the snow. Nature does not permit, at any season, an entire dearth
of those sources of enjoyment that spring from observation of the
external world; and as there are evergreen mosses and ferns that supply
in winter the places of the absent flowers, in like manner there are
chattering birds that linger in the wintry woods; and Nature has
multiplied the echoes at this season, that their few and feeble voices
may be repeated by their lively responses among the hills.
To those who look upon Nature with the feelings of a poet or a painter,
we need not speak of the value of the winter-birds as enliveners of the
landscape. Any circumstance connected with scenery, that exercises our
feelings of benevolence, adds to the picturesque charms of a prospect;
and no man can see a little bird, or any other animal, at this time,
without feeling a lively interest in its welfare. The sight of a flock
of Snow-Buntings descending, like a shower of meteors, upon a field
of grass, and eagerly devouring the seeds contained in its drooping
pannicles that extend above the snow-drifts,--of a company of Crows
rejoicing with noisy sociability over some newly-discovered feast in the
pine-wood,--of the party-colored Woodpeckers winding round the trees
and hammering upon their trunks,--all these, and many other sights
and sounds, are associated with our ideas of the happiness of these
creatures; and while our benevolent feelings are thus agreeably
exercised, the objects that cause our emotions add a positive charm to
the dreary aspects of winter. These reflections have always led me to
regard the birds and other interesting animals as having a value to
mankind not to be estimated in dollars and cents, and which is entirely
independent of any services they may render to the farmer or the
orchardist by preventing the over-multiplication of noxious insects.
The greater number of small birds that remain in northern latitudes
during winter, except the Woodpeckers and their congeners, are such as
subsist chiefly upon seeds. Those insectivorous species that gather
their food chiefly from the ground are under a particular necessity of
migrating. Hence the common Robin, living entirely on insects and a
little fruit, that serves him rather as a dessert than as substantial
fare, a bird that never feeds upon grain or seeds of any kind, but
devours the insects that are found upon the surface of the soil, cannot
subsist in our latitude, except in open winters. During such favorable
seasons, the Robins are able to collect vast quantities of dormant
insects from the open ground. These birds always endeavor to keep on the
outside of extensive snows; and if in any year, very early in November,
a large quantity of snow should fall in the latitude of New Jersey and
Pennsylvania, while north of it the ground remained uncovered, the
Robins would be retarded in their journey and tarry with us in unusual
numbers. A great many of them must perish of hunger, or be reduced to
the necessity of feeding on the berries of the Viburnum and Juniper,
should they be overtaken by an extensive and enduring snow that cuts off
their journey of emigration.
The Woodpeckers and their allied species, though insectivorous, are not
thus affected by the winter. Gathering all their food, consisting of
larvae and insects, from the bark and wood of trees, the snow cannot
conceal it or place it beyond their reach. The quantity of this kind of
food is less than in summer, but the birds can obtain it with about
the same facility at all times, because other species of birds are
diminished, which in summer divide with them this spoil. Hence,
Woodpeckers, Creepers, and Tomtits do not migrate. They simply scatter
more widely over the country, instead of keeping in the woods, and thus
accommodate themselves to their more limited supplies of food. The
Swallow tribes, that catch their food in the air, are the first to
migrate, because the swarms of insects are vastly diminished by the
early frosts of autumn.
It is not often that we are led to reflect upon the extreme loneliness
that would prevail in all solitary places in winter, were all the birds
to migrate at this season to a warmer climate, or to sink into a state
of torpidity, like frogs, dormice, and other small animals. But Nature,
to preserve the pleasantness of this season, has endowed certain
birds with power to endure the severest cold, and with the faculty of
providing for their wants at a time when it would seem that there was
not sustenance enough among the hidden stores of the season to keep them
from starvation. The woodman, however insensible he may be to the charms
of all such objects, is gladdened and encouraged in his toils by the
sight of these sprightly creatures, some of which, like the Jay and the
Woodpecker, are adorned with the most beautiful plumage, and are all
pleasantly garrulous, filling the otherwise silent woods with constant
and vociferous merriment.
In my early days, for the supposed benefit of my health, I passed a
winter in Tennessee, and, being unoccupied, except with my studies, I
spent a great portion of my time in botanical and zooelogical excursions
in the woods adjoining the city of Nashville. It was during that season
I experienced the full power of the winter-birds to give life and beauty
to the scenes of Nature; for, though not one was heard to sing, they
seemed as active and as full of merriment as in the early summer. The
birds that most particularly attracted my attention at this time
were the Woodpeckers, of which several species were very numerous.
Conspicuous among them was the Pileated Woodpecker, (_Picus pilcaius_,)
a bird with rusty-black plumage, a red crest and moustaches, and a white
stripe on each side of the neck,--one of the largest of the tribe. His
loud croaking note was heard at all times in the deep woods, and his
great size and his frequent hammering upon the resounding boles of the
trees attracted every one's attention.
A more beautiful, but smaller species, was the Redheaded Woodpecker,
(_P. erythrocephalus_,) with head, neck, and throat of crimson, and
other parts of his plumage variously marked with white and changeable
blue. This species, though never seen in Eastern Massachusetts, is a
common resident in this latitude, west of the Green-Mountain range. The
birds of this species were very numerous, during my excursions, and the
woods were constantly flushing with their bright colors as they flitted
among the trees. They were sometimes joined by another species, hardly
less beautiful, the Redbreasted Woodpecker (_P. Caroliniensis_).
It is impossible to describe the charm which these birds afforded to
the otherwise solitary woods. The loud croaking of the Log-cock, the
cackling screams of the Redheaded Woodpecker, and the solemn,
tolling note of the Redbreast, blended with the occasional cooing of
Turtle-doves, formed a sylvan charm, that made my winter-rambles, at
this period, as interesting as any I ever pursued in summer or autumn.
In our latitude, after the first flight of snow has covered the ground,
the winter-birds, pressed by hunger, are compelled to make extensive
forages in quest of food. Hence our attention is more closely
attracted to them at this time, as many parties of them will visit our
neighborhood in the course of the day, when if no snow had fallen, they
would have confined themselves to a more limited range. One of the
most attractive sights on such occasions is caused by the flocks of
Snow-Buntings, which are particularly gregarious in their habits. In
Sweden they are called "Bad-Weather-Birds," because they are mostly seen
when the fallen snow has caused them to roam from place to place, in
quest of their subsistence. They are far from being birds of ill-omen,
however, as we see them commonly when the storm is past. Few sights are
more picturesque than these flocks of Snow-Buntings, whirling with the
subsiding winds, and moving as if they were guided by an eddying breeze,
now half-concealed by the direction in which they meet the rays of the
sun, then suddenly flashing with a simultaneous turn they present the
under white side of their wings to the light of heaven. The power which
these diminutive creatures seem to possess, of enduring the cold of
winter, and of contending with the storm, attaches to their appearance
a quality which is allied to sublimity. I cannot look upon them,
therefore, in any other view than as important parts in that
ever-changing picture of light, motion, and beauty, with which Nature
benevolently consoles for those evils which are assigned by fate to all
the inhabitants of the earth.
The common Snow-Birds (_Fringilla nivalis_) are more interesting as
individuals, but they are never seen in compact flocks. They go usually
in scattered parties, and appear in Massachusetts about the middle of
autumn, arriving from Canada and Labrador, where they spend the summer.
They have many of the habits of the common Hair-Bird, (_Fringilla
socialis_,) assembling around our houses and barns, and picking up
crumbs of bread and other fragments of food. They differ entirely
from the Buntings in their appearance, the latter being called
White Snow-Birds, to distinguish them from the others, which are
slate-colored. These birds are quite as remarkable, however, for their
power of enduring the cold, and of sustaining the force of the tempest.
In the midst of a snow-storm, they may often be seen sporting, as it
were, in the very whirlpool of the driving snows, and alighting upon the
tall sedges and weeds, and eagerly gathering the produce. The Hemp-Bird
often joins their parties, and his cheerful and well-known twitter may
be heard, as he hurriedly flits from one bush to another, hunting for
the seeds of the golden-rods and asters.
The cause of the migration of these birds from their native northern
latitudes is not, probably, the severe cold of those regions, but the
deep snows that bury up their cereal stores at a very early period. But
even if the grounds in those cold latitudes were only partially covered,
these birds must scatter themselves over a wide extent of territory, in
proportion as their food becomes less abundant. They live principally
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