Atlantic Monthly, Volume 8, No. 47, September, 1861
Part 2 out of 5
I am an imaginative man. I have never doubted, that, if I should ever
give my fancies words, they would rank with the great creations of
genius. At the dulcet name of Mellasys a fairy scene grew before
my eyes. I seemed to see an army of merry negroes cultivating the
sugar-cane to the inspiring music of a banjo band. Ever and anon a
company of the careless creatures would pause and dance for pure
gayety of heart. Then they would recline under the shade of the wild
bandanna-tree,--I know this vegetable only through the artless poetry of
the negro minstrels,--while sleek and sprightly negresses, decked with
innocent finery, served them beakers of iced _eau sucre_.
As I was shaping this Arcadian vision, Mr. Mellasys passed me on his
way to the bar-room. I hastened to follow, without the appearance of
My reader is no doubt aware that at the fashionable bar-room the cigars
are all of the same quality, though the prices mount according to the
ambition of the purchaser. I found Mr. Mellasys gasping with efforts to
light a dime cigar. Between his gasps, profane expressions escaped him.
"Sir," said I, "allow a stranger to offer you a better article."
At the same time I presented my case filled with choice
Cabanas,--smuggled. My limited means oblige me to employ these judicious
Mr. Mellasys took a cigar, lighted, whiffed, looked at me, whiffed
"Sir," says he, "dashed if that a'n't the best cigar I've smoked sence I
quit Bayou La Farouche!"
"Ah! a Southerner!" said I. "Pray, allow the harmless weed to serve as a
token of amity between our respective sections."
Mr. Mellasys grasped my hand.
"Take a drink, Mr. ----?" said he.
"Bratley Chylde," rejoined I, filling the hiatus,--"and I shall be most
The name evidently struck him. It was a combination of all aristocracy
and all plutocracy. As I gave my name, I produced and presented my card.
I was aware, that, with the uncultured, the possession of a card is a
proof of gentility, as the wearing of a coat-of-arms proves a long line
of distinguished ancestry.
Mr. Mellasys took my card, studied it, and believed in it with
"I'm proud to know you, Mr. Chylde," said he. "I haven't a card;
but Mellasys is my name, and I'll show it to you written on the
"We will waive that ceremony," said I. "And allow me to welcome you to
Newport and the Millard. Shall we enjoy the breeze upon the piazza?"
Before our second cigar was smoked, the great planter and I were on the
friendliest terms. My political sentiments he found precisely in accord
with his own. Indeed, our general views of life harmonized.
"I dare say you have heard," said Mellasys, "from some of the bloated
aristocrats of my section that I was a slave-dealer once."
"Such a rumor has reached me," rejoined I. "And I was surprised to find,
that, in some minds of limited intelligence and without development of
the logical faculty, there was a prejudice against the business."
"You think that buyin' and sellin' 'em is just the same as ownin' 'em?"
"Your hand!" said he, fervently.
"Mr. Mellasys," said I, "let me take this opportunity to lay down my
platform,--allow me the playful expression. Meeting a gentleman of your
intelligence from the sunny South, I desire to express my sentiments as
a Christian and a gentleman."
Here I thought it well to pause and spit, to keep myself in harmony with
"A gentleman," I continued, "I take to be one who confines himself to
the cultivation of his tastes, the decoration of his person, and the
preparation of his whole being to shine in the _salon_. Now to such
a one the condition of the laboring classes can be of no possible
interest. As a gentleman, I cannot recognize either slaves or laborers.
But here Christianity comes in. Christianity requires me to read and
interpret my Bible. In it I find such touching paragraphs as, 'Cursed
be Canaan!' Canaan is of course the negro slave of our Southern States.
Curse him! then, I say. Let us have no weak and illogical attempts to
elevate his condition. Such sentimentalism is rank irreligion. I view
the negro as _a man permanently upon the rack_, who is to be punished
just as much as he will bear without diminishing his pecuniary value.
And the allotted method of punishment is hard work, hard fare, the
liberal use of the whip, and a general negation of domestic privileges."
"Mr. Chylde," said Mr. Mellasys, rising, "this is truth! this is
eloquence! this is being up to snuff! You are a high-toned gentleman!
you are an old-fashioned Christian! you should have been my partner in
slave-driving! Your hand!"
The quality of the Mellasys hand was an oleaginous clamminess. My only
satisfaction, in touching it, was, that it seemed to suggest a deficient
circulation of the blood. Mr. Mellasys would probably go off early with
an apoplexy, and the husband of Miss Mellasys would inherit without
"And now," continued the planter, "let me introduce you to my daughter."
I felt that my fortune was made.
I knew that she would speedily yield to my fascinations.
And so it proved. In three days she adored me. For three days more I was
coy. In a week she was mine.
THE SUNNY SOUTH.
We were betrothed, Saccharissa Mellasys and I.
In vain did Mellasys Plickaman glower along the corridors of the
Millard. I pitied him for his defeat too much to notice his attempts
to pick a quarrel. Firm in the affection of my Saccharissa and in the
confidence of her father, I waived the insults of the aggrieved and
truculent cousin. He had lost the heiress. I had won her. I could afford
to be generous.
We were to be married in December, at Bayou La Farouche. Then we were
to sail at once for Europe. Then, after a proud progress through the
principal courts, we were to return and inhabit a stately mansion in New
York. How the heart of my Saccharissa throbbed at the thought of bearing
the elevated name of Chylde and being admitted to the sacred circles of
fashion, as peer of the most elevated in social position!
I found no difficulty in getting a liberal credit from my tailor. Upon
the mere mention of my engagement, that worthy artist not only provided
me with an abundant supply of raiment, but, with a most charming
delicacy, placed bank-notes for a considerable amount in the pockets
of my new trousers. I was greatly touched by this attention, and very
gladly signed an acknowledgment of debt.
I regret, that, owing to circumstances hereafter to be mentioned, the
diary kept jointly by Saccharissa and myself during our journey to the
sunny South has passed out of my possession. Its pages overflowed with
tenderness. How beautiful were our dreams of the balls and _soirees_ we
were to give! How we discussed the style of our furniture, our carriage,
and our coachman! How I fed Saccharissa's soul with adulation! She
was ugly, she was vulgar, she was jealous, she was base, she had had
flirtations of an intimate character with scores; but she was rich, and
I made great allowances.
At last we arrived at Bayou La Farouche.
I cannot state that the locality is an attractive one. Its land scenery
is composed of alligators and mud in nearly equal proportions.
I never beheld there my fancy realized of a band of gleeful negroes
hoeing cane to the music of the banjo. There are no wild bandanna-trees,
and no tame ones, either. The slaves of Mr. Mellasys never danced,
except under the whip of a very noisome person who acted as overseer.
There were no sleek and sprightly negresses in gay turbans, and no iced
_eau sucre_. Canaan was cursed with religious rigor on the Mellasys
plantation at Bayou La Farouche.
All this time Mellasys Plickaman had been my _bete noir_.
I know nothing of politics. Were our country properly constituted,
I should be in the House of Peers. The Chylde family is of sublime
antiquity, and I am its head in America. But, alas! we have no
hereditary legislators; and though I feel myself competent to wear the
strawberry-leaves, or even to sit upon a throne, I have not been willing
to submit to the unsavory contacts of American political life. Mr.
Mellasys Plickaman took advantage of my ignorance.
When several gentlemen of the neighborhood were calling upon me in the
absence of Mr. Mellasys, my defeated rival introduced the subject of
"I suppose you are a good Democrat, Mr. Chylde?" said one of the
"No, I thank you," replied I, sportively,--meaning, of course, that
they should understand I was a good Aristocrat.
"Who's your man for President?" my interlocutor continued, rather
I had heard in conversation, without giving the fact much attention,
that an election for President was to take place in a few days. These
struggles of commonplace individuals for the privilege of residing in
a vulgar town like Washington were without interest to me. So I
"Oh, any of them. They are all alike to me."
"You don't mean to say," here another of the party loudly broke in,
"that Breckenridge and Lincoln are the same to you?"
The young man wore long hair and a black dress-coat, though it was
morning. His voice was nasal, and his manner intrusive. I crushed
him with a languid "Yes." He was evidently abashed, and covered his
confusion by lighting a cigar and smoking it with the lighted end in
his mouth. This is a habit of many persons in the South, who hence are
Mellasys Plickaman here changed the subject to horses, which I _do_
understand, and my visitors presently departed.
"How happily the days of Thalaba went by!"
as the poet has it. My Saccharissa and myself are both persons of a
romantic and dreamy nature. Often for hours we would sit and gaze
upon each other with only occasional interjections,--"How warm!" "How
sleepy!" "Is it not almost time for lunch?" As Saccharissa was not in
herself a beautiful object, I accustomed myself to see her merely as a
representative of value. Her yellowish complexion helped me in imagining
her, as it were, a golden image which might be cut up and melted down.
I used to fancy her dresses as made of certificates of stock, and
her ribbons as strips of coupons. Thus she was always an agreeable
So time flew, and the sun of the sixth of November gleamed across the
scaly backs of the alligators of Bayou La Farouche.
In three days I was to be made happy with the possession of one
hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) on the nail,--excuse the homely
expression,--great expectations for the future, and the hand of my
For these I exchanged the name and social position of a Chylde, and my
own, I trust, not unattractive person.
I deemed that I gave myself away dirt-cheap,--excuse again the
colloquialism; the transaction seems to require such a phrase,--for
there is no doubt that Mr. Mellasys was greatly objectionable. It was
certainly very illogical; but his neighbors who owned slaves insisted
upon turning up their noses at Mellasys, because he still kept up his
slave-pen on Touchpitchalas Street, New Orleans. Besides,--and here
again the want of logic seems to culminate into rank absurdity,--he was
viewed with a purely sentimental abhorrence by some, because he had
precluded a reclaimed fugitive from repeating his evasion by roasting
the soles of his feet before a fire until the fellow actually died. The
fact, of coarse, was unpleasant, and the loss considerable,--a prime
field-hand, with some knowledge of carpentry and a good performer on
the violin,--but evasions must be checked, and I cannot see why Mr.
Mellasys's method was too severe. Mr. Mellasys was also considered a
very unscrupulous person in financial transactions,--indeed, what would
be named in some communities a swindler; and I have heard it whispered
that the estimable, but somewhat obese and drowsy person who passed as
his wife was not a wife, ceremonially speaking. The dusky hues of her
complexion were also attributed to an infusion of African blood. There
was certainly more curl in her hair than I could have wished; and
Saccharissa's wiggy looks waged an irrepressible conflict with the
unguents which strove to reduce their crispness.
Indeed, why should I not be candid? Mellasys _per se_ was a pill, Mrs.
Mellasys was a dose, and Saccharissa a bolus, to one of my refined and
But the sugar coated them.
To marry the daughter of the great sugar-planter of Louisiana I would
have taken medicines far more unpalatable and assafoetidesque than any
thus far offered.
Meanwhile Mr. Mellasys Plickaman, cousin of my betrothed, had changed
his tactics and treated me with civility and confidence. We drank
together freely, sometimes to the point of inebriation. Indeed, unless
he put me to bed, on the evening before the day of the events I am about
to describe, I do not know how I got there.
Morning dawned on the sixth of November.
I was awakened, as usual, by the outcries of the refractory negroes
receiving their matinal stripes in the whipping-house. Feeling a little
languid and tame, I strolled down to witness the spectacle.
It stimulated me quite agreeably. The African cannot avoid being comic.
He is the grotesque element in our civilization. He will be droll even
under the severest punishment. His contortions of body, his grimaces,
his ejaculations of "O Lor'! O Massa!" as the paddle or the lash strikes
his flesh, are laughable in the extreme.
I witnessed the flagellation of several pieces of property of either
sex. The sight of their beating had the effect of a gentle tickling upon
me. The tone of my system was restored. I grew gay and lightsome. I
exchanged jokes with the overseer. He appreciated my mood, and gave a
farcical turn to the incidents of the occasion.
I enjoyed my breakfast enormously. Saccharissa never looked so sweet;
Mr. Mellasys never so little like--pardon the expression--a cross
between a hog and a hyena; and I began to fancy that my mother-in-law's
general flabbiness of flesh and drapery was not so very offensive.
After breakfast, Mr. Mellasys left us. It was, he said, the day of the
election for President. How wretched that America should not be governed
by hereditary sovereigns and an order of nobles trained to control!
The day passed. It was afternoon, and I sat reading one of the novels
of my favorite De Balzac to my Saccharissa. At the same time my
imagination, following the author, strayed to Paris, and recalled to me
my bachelor joys in that gay capital. I resolved to repeat them again,
on our arrival there, at my bride's expense. How charming to possess a
hundred thousand dollars, ($100,000,) even burdened with a wife!
My reading and my reverie were interrupted by the tramp of horses
without. Six persons in dress-coats rode up, dismounted, and approached.
All were smoking cigars with the lighted ends in their mouths. Mellasys
Plickaman led the party. I recognized also the persons who had
questioned me as to my politics. They entered the apartment where I sat
alone with Saccharissa.
"Thar he is!" said Mellasys Plickaman. "Thar is the d--d Abolitionist!"
Seeing that he indicated me, and that his voice was truculent, I
looked to my betrothed for protection. She burst into tears and drew a
An odor of musk combated for an instant with the whiskey reek diffused
by Mr. Plickaman and his companions. The balmy odor was, however,
quelled by the ruder scent.
"I am surprised, Mr. Plickaman," said I, mildly, but conscious of
tremors, "at your use of opprobrious epithets in the presence of a
"Oh, you be blowed!" returned he, with unpardonable rudeness. "You can't
skulk behind Saccharissy."
"To what is this change in tone and demeanor owing, Sir?" I asked, with
"Don't take on airs, you little squirt!" said he.
It will be observed that I quote his very language. His intention was
"Mr. Chylde," remarked Judge Pyke, one of the gentlemen who had been
inquisitive as to my political sentiments, "The Vigilance Committee of
Fire-Eaters of Bayou La Farouche have come to the conclusion that you
are a spy, an Abolitionist, and a friend of Beecher and Phillips. We
intend to give you a fair trial; but I may as well state that we have
all made up our minds as to the law, the facts, and the sentence.
Therefore, prepare for justice. Colonel Plickaman, have you given
directions about the tar?"
"It'll be b'ilin' in about eight minutes," replied my quondam rival,
with a boo-hoo of vulgar laughter.
"Culprit!" said Judge Pyke, looking at me with a truly terrible
expression, "I have myself heard you avow, with insolent audacity,
that you were not a Democrat. Do you not know, Sir, that nothing but
Democrats are allowed to breathe the zephyrs of Louisiana? Silence,
culprit! Not a word! The court cannot be interrupted. I have also heard
you state that the immortal Breckenridge, Kentucky's favorite son,
was the same to you as the tiger Lincoln, the deadly foe of Southern
institutions. Silence, culprit!"
Here Saccharissa moaned, and wafted a slight flavor of musk to me from
her cambric wet with tears.
"Colonel Plickaman," continued the Judge, "produce the letters and
papers of the culprit."
I am aware that a rival has rights, and that a defeated suitor may,
according to the code, calumniate and slander the more fortunate one. I
have done so myself. But it seems to me that there should be limits; and
I cannot but think that Mr. Mellasys Plickaman overstepped the limits
of fair play, when he took advantage of my last night's inebriety
to possess himself of my journal and letters. I will not, however,
absolutely commit myself on this point. Perhaps everything is fair in
love. Perhaps I may desire to avail myself of the same privilege in
I had spoken quite freely in my journal of the barbarians of Bayou La
Farouche. Each of the gentlemen now acting upon my jury was alluded to.
Colonel Plickaman read each passage in a pointed way, interjecting,--"Do
you hear that, Billy Sangaree?" "How do you like yourself now, Major
Licklickin?" "Here's something about your white cravat, Parson
The delicacy and wit of my touches of character chafed these gentlemen.
Their aspect became truly formidable.
Meantime I began to perceive an odor which forcibly recalled to me the
asphaltum-kettles of the lively Boulevards of Paris.
"Wait awhile, Fire-Eaters," said Plickaman, "the tar isn't quite ready
The tar! What had that viscous and unfragrant material to do with the
"I won't read you what he says of me," resumed the Colonel.
"Yes,--out with it!" exclaimed all.
Suffice it to say that I had spoken of Mr. Mellasys Plickaman as a
person so very ill-dressed, so very lavish in expectoration, so entirely
destitute of the arts and graces of the higher civilization, merited.
His companions required that he should read his own character. He did
so. I need not say that I was suffering extremities of apprehension all
this time; but still I could not refrain from a slight sympathetic smile
of triumph as the others roared with laughter at my accurate analysis of
"You'll pay for this, Mr. A. Bratley Chylde!" says Plickaman.
So long as my Saccharissa was on my side, I felt no special fear of what
my foes might do. I knew the devoted nature of the female sex. "_Elles
meurent, ou elles s'attachent_,"--beautiful thought! These riflers
of journals would, I felt confident, be unable to produce anything
reflecting my real sentiments about my betrothed. I had spoken of her
and her family freely--one must have a vent somewhere--to Mr. Derby
Deblore, my other self, my _Pylades_, my _Damon_, my _fidus Achades_ in
New York; but, unless they found Derby and compelled him to testify,
they could not alienate my Saccharissa.
I gave her a touching glance, as Mellasys Plickaman closed his reading
of my private papers.
She gave me a touching glance,--or rather, a glance which her amorphous
features meant to make touching,--and, waving musk from her handkerchief
through the apartment, cried,--
"Never mind, Arthur dear! I don't like you a bit the less for saying
what barbarous creatures these men are. They may do what they
please,--I'll stand by you. You have my heart, my warm Southern heart,
"Arthur!" shouted that atrocious Plickaman,--"the loafer's name's
Aminadab, after that old Jew, his grandfather."
Saccharissa looked at him and smiled contemptuously.
I tried to smile. I could not. Aminadab _was_ my name. That old dotard,
my grandfather, had borne it before me. I had suppressed it carefully.
"Aminadab's his name," repeated the Colonel. "His own mother ought to
know what he was baptized, and here is a letter from her which the
postmaster and I opened this morning. Look!--'My dear Aminadab.'"
"Don't believe it, Saccharissa," said I, faintly, "It is only one of
those tender nicknames, relics of childhood, which the maternal parent
"Silence, culprit!" exclaimed Judge Pyke. "And now, Colonel, read the
letter upon which our sentence is principally based,--that traitorous
document which you and our patriotic postmaster arrested."
The ruffian, with a triumphant glance at me, took from his pocket
a letter from Derby Deblore. He cleared his throat by a plenteous
expectoration, and then proceeded to read as follows:--
"Dear Bratley,--Nigger ran like a hound. Marshall and the rest only saw
his heels. I'm going on to Toronto to see how he does there. Keep your
eyes peeled, when you come through Kentucky. There's more of the same
stock there, only waiting for somebody to say, 'Leg it!' and they'll go
Here the audience interrupted,--"Hang him! hang him! tar and feathers
a'n't half bad enough for the dam' nigger-thief!"
I began to comprehend Deblore's innocent reference to his favorite horse
Nigger; and a successful race he had made with the well-known racer
Marshall--not Rynders--was construed by my jury into a knowledge on my
part of the operations of the "Underground Railroad." What could have
been more absurd? I endeavored to protest. I endeavored to show them, on
general and personal grounds, how utterly devoted I was to the "Peculiar
"Billy Sangaree," said Judge Pyke, "do you and Major Licklickin stand by
the low-lived Abolitionist, and if he says another word, blow out his
Black Republican heart."
They did so. I was silent. Saccharissa gave me a glance expressive of
continued devotion. So long as I kept her and her hundred thousand
dollars, ($100,000,) I little cared for the assaults of these noisy and
"Continue, Colonel," said Judge Pyke, severely.
Plickaman resumed the reading of my friend's letter.
"Well, Bratley," Deblore went on, "I hope you'll be able to stand Bayou
La Farouche till you're married. I couldn't do it. I roar over your
letters. But I swear I respect your powers of humbug. I suppose, if you
didn't let out to me, you never could lie so to your dear Saccharissa.
Do you know I think you are a little too severe in calling her a mean,
spiteful, slipshod, vulgar, dumpy little flirt?"
"Read that again!" shrieked Saccharissa.
"You are beginning to find out your Aminadab!" says Plickaman.
I moved my lips to deny my name; but the pistol of Billy Sangaree was
at my right temple, the pistol of Major Licklickin at my left. I was
silent, and bore the scornful looks of my persecutors with patience and
Plickaman repeated the sentence.
"But hear the rest," said he, and read on:--
"From what you say of her tinge of African blood and other charming
traits, I have constructed this portrait of the future Mrs. Bratley
Chylde, as the Hottentot Venus. Behold it!"
And Mellasys held up a highly colored caricature, covering one whole
side of my friend's sheet.
Saccharissa rose from the sofa where she had been sitting during the
whole of my trial.
She stood before me,--really I cannot deny it,--a little, ugly, vulgar
figure, overloaded with finery, and her laces and ribbons trembled with
She seemed not to be able to speak, and, by way of relieving herself of
her overcharge of wrath, smote me several times on either ear with that
pudgy hand I had so often pressed in mine or tenderly kissed.
At this exhibition of a resentment I can hardly deem feminine, the
Fire-Eaters roared with laughter and cheered her to continue. A circle
of negroes also, at the window, expressed their amusement at the scene
in the guttural manner of their race.
I could not refrain from tears at these unhappy exhibitions on the part
of my betrothed. They augured ill for the harmony of our married life.
"Hit him again, Rissy! he's got no friends," that vulgar Plickaman
She again advanced, seized me by the hair, and shook me with greater
muscular force than I should have expected of one of her indolent
habits. Delicacy for her sex of course forbade my offering resistance;
and besides, there were my two sentries, roaring with vulgar laughter,
but holding their pistols with a most unpleasant accuracy of aim at my
"Saccharissa, my love," I ventured to say, in a pleading tone, "these
momentary ebullitions of a transitory rage will give the bystanders
unfavorable impressions of your temper."
"You horrid little wretch!" she screeched, "you sneak! you irreligious
infidel! you Black Republican! you Aminadab!"----
Here her unnecessary passion choked her, and she took advantage of
the pause to handle my hair with extreme violence. The sensation was
unpleasant, but I began to hope that no worse would befall me, and
I knew that with a few dulcet words in private I could remove from
Saccharissa's mind the asperity induced by my friend's caricature.
"I leave it to you, gentlemen," said she, "whether I am vulgar, as this
fellow's correspondence asserts."
"Certainly not," said Judge Pyke. "You are one of the most high-toned
beauties in the sunny South, the land of the magnolia and the papaw."
"Your dignity," said Major Licklickin, "is only surpassed by your grace,
and both by your queenly calmness."
The others also gave her the best compliments they could, poor fellows!
I could have taught them what to say.
Here a grinning negro interrupted with,--
"De tar-kittle's a b'ilin' on de keen jump, Mas'r Mellasys."
"Gentlemen of the Jury," said Judge Pyke, "as you had agreed upon your
verdict before the trial, it is not requisite that you should retire to
consult. Prisoner at the Bar, rise to receive sentence."
I thought it judicious to fall upon my knees and request forgiveness;
but my persecutors were blinded by what no doubt seemed to them a
"Git up!" said Major Licklickin; and I am ashamed, for his sake, to say
that there was an application of boot accompanying this remark.
"Prisoner," continued my Rhadamanthus, "you have had a fair trial, and
you are found guilty on all the counts of the indictment. First: Of
disloyalty to the South. Second: Of indifference to the Democratic
candidate for the Presidency. Third: Of maligning the character
of Southern patriots in a book intended, no doubt, for universal
circulation through the Northern States. Fourth: Of holding
correspondence with an agent of the Underground Railroad, who, as he
himself avows, has recently run off a nigger to Toronto.--Silence, Sir!
Choke him, Billy Sangaree, if he says a word!--Fifth: Of defaming a
Southern lady, while at the same time you were endeavoring to win her
most attractive property and person from those who should naturally
acquire them. Sixth: Of Agrarianism, Abolitionism, Atheism, and
Infidelity. Prisoner at the Bar, your sentence is, that you be tarred
and cottoned and leave the State. If you are caught again, you will be
hung by the neck, and Henry Ward Beecher have mercy on your soul!"
I was now marched along by my two sentries to a huge tree, not of the
bandanna species. Beneath it a sugar-kettle filled with ebullient tar
My persecutors, with tranquil brutality, proceeded to disrobe me. As my
nether garments were removed, Mellasys Plickaman succeeded in persuading
Saccharissa to retire. She, however, took her station at a window
and peered through the blinds at the spectacle. I do not envy her
sensations. All her bright visions of fashionable life were destroyed
forever. She would now fall into the society from which I had endeavored
to lift her. Poor thing! knowing, too, that I, and my friend Derby
Deblore, perhaps the most elegant young man in America, regarded her as
a Hottentot Venus. Poor thing! I have no doubt that she longed to rush
out, fling herself at my feet, and pray me to forgive her and reconsider
my verdict of dumpiness and vulgarity.
Meantime I had been reduced to my shirt and drawers,--excuse the nudity
of my style in stating this fact. Mellasys Plickaman took a ladle-full
of the viscous fluid and poured it over my head.
"Aminadab," said he, "I baptize thee!"
I have experienced few sensations more unpleasant than this application.
The tar descended in warm and sluggish streams, trickling over my
forehead, dropping from my eyelids, rolling over my cheeks, sealing my
mouth, gluing my ears to my skull, identifying itself with my hair,
pursuing the path indicated by my spine beneath my shirt,--in short,
enveloping me with a close-fitting armor of a glutinous and most
Each of the jury followed the example of my detested rival. In a few
moments the tarring was complete. Few can see themselves mentally or
physically as others see them; but, judging from the remarks made, I am
convinced that I must have afforded an entertaining spectacle to the
party. They roared with laughter, and jeered me. I, however, preserved a
silence discreet, and, I flatter myself, dignified.
The negroes, particularly those at whose fustigation I had assisted
in the morning, joined in the scoffs of their masters, calling me
Bobolitionist, Black Republican, Liberator, and other nicknames by
which these simple-hearted and contented creatures express dislike and
"Bring the cotton!" now cried Mellasys Plickaman.
A bag of that regal product was brought.
"Roll him in it!" said Billy Sangaree.
"Let the Colonel work his own tricks," Major Licklickin said. "He's an
artist, he is."
I must admit that he was an artist. He fabricated me an elaborate wig of
the cotton. He arranged me a pair of bushy white eyebrows. He stuck
a venerable beard upon my chin, and a moustache upon my lip. Then he
proceeded to indicate my ribs with lines of cotton, and to cap my
shoulders with epaulets. It would be long to describe the fantastic
tricks he played with me amid the loud laughter of his crew.
Occasionally, also, I heard suppressed giggles from Saccharissa at the
I have no doubt that I should have strangled my late _fiancee_, if such
an act had been consistent with my personal safety.
When I was completely cottoned, in the decorative manner I have
described, Mellasys took a banjo from an old negro, and, striking it,
not without a certain unsophisticated and barbaric grace appropriate to
the instrument, commanded me to dance.
I essayed to do so. But my heart was heavy; consequently my heels were
not light. My faint attempts at pirouettes were not satisfactory.
"Dance jollier, or we'll hang you," said Plickaman.
"No," says Judge Pyke,--"the sentence of the Court has been executed.
In the sacred name of Justice I protest against proceeding farther.
Culprit," continued he, in a voice of thunder, "cut for the North Star,
and here's passage-money for you."
He stuck a half-eagle into the tarry integument of my person. Billy
Sangaree, Major Licklickin, and others of the more inebriated, imitated
him. My dignity of bearing had evidently made a favorable impression.
I departed amid cheers, some ironical, some no doubt sincere. But to the
last, these chivalric, but prejudiced and misguided gentlemen declined
to listen to my explanations. Mellasys Plickaman had completely
perverted their judgments against me.
The last object I saw was Saccharissa, looking more like a Hottentot
Venus than ever, waving her handkerchief and kissing her hand to me. Did
she repent her brief disloyalty? For a moment I thought so, and resolved
to lie in wait, return by night, and urge her to fly with me. But while
I hesitated, Mellasys Plickaman drew near her. She threw herself into
his arms, and there, before all the Committee of Fire-Eaters of Bayou La
Farouche, she kissed him with those amorphous lips I had often compelled
myself to taste. Faugh!
I deemed this scene a token that my engagement was absolutely
There was no longer any reason why I should degrade myself by remaining
in this vulgar society. I withdrew into the thickets of the adjoining
wood and there for a time abandoned myself to melancholy reminiscences.
Presently I heard footsteps. I turned and saw a black approaching,
bearing the homely viand known as corn-dodger. He offered it. I accepted
it as a tribute from the inferior race to the superior.
I recognized him as one whose fustigation had so revived my crapulous
spirits in the morning. He seemed to bear no malice. Malignity is
perhaps a mark of more highly developed character. I, for example,
possess it to a considerable degree.
The black led me to a lair in the wood. He took my half-eagles from my
tar. He scraped and cleansed me by simple methods of which he had the
secret. He clothed me in rude garments. Gunny-bag was, I think, the
material. He gave me his own shoes. The heels were elongated; but this
we remedied by a stuffing of leaves. He conducted me toward the banks of
Bayou La Farouche.
On our way, we were compelled to pass not far from the Mellasys mansion.
There was a sound of revelry. It was night. I crept cautiously up and
peered into the window.
There stood the Reverend Onesimus Butterfut, since a prominent candidate
for the archbishopric of the Southern Confederacy. Saccharissa, more
over-dressed than usual, and her cousin Mellasys Plickaman, somewhat
unsteady with inebriation, stood before him. He was pronouncing them man
and wife,--why not ogre and hag?
How fortunate was my escape!
As my negro guide would not listen to my proposal to set the Mellasys
establishment on fire while the inmates slept, I followed him to the
banks of the Bayou. He provided me with abundant store of the homely
food already alluded to. He launched me in a vessel; known to some as
a dug-out, to some as a gundalow. His devotion was really touching.
It convinced me more profoundly than ever of the canine fidelity and
semi-animal characteristics of his race.
I floated down the Bayou. I was picked up by a cotton-ship in the Gulf.
I officiated as assistant to the cook on the homeward voyage.
At the urgent solicitation of my mother, I condescended, on my return,
to accept a situation in my Uncle Bratley's cracker-bakery. The business
is not aristocratic. But what business is? I cannot draw the line
between the baker of hard tack--such is the familiar term we employ--and
the seller of the material for our product, by the barrel or the cargo.
From the point of view of a Chylde, all avocations for the making of
money seem degrading, and only the spending is dignified.
As my conduct during the Mellasys affair has been maligned and scoffed
at by persons of crude views of what is _comme il faut_, I have drawn up
this statement, confident that it will justify me to all of my order,
which I need not state is distinctively that of the Aristocrat and the
MY ODD ADVENTURE WITH JUNIUS BRUTUS BOOTH.
More than twenty years ago, being pastor of a church in one of our
Western cities, I was sitting, one evening, meditating over my coal
fire, which was cheerfully blazing up and gloomily subsiding again, in
the way that Western coal fires in Western coal grates were then very
much in the habit of doing. I was a young, and inexperienced minister.
I had come to the West, fresh from a New England divinity-school, with
magnificent ideas of the vast work which was to be done, and with rather
a vague notion of the way in which I was to do it. My views of the West
were chiefly derived from two books, both of which are now obsolete.
When a child, with the omnivorous reading propensity of children, I had
perused a thin, pale octavo, which stood on the shelves of our library,
containing the record of a journey by the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, of
Dorchester, from Massachusetts to Marietta, Ohio. Allibone, whom nothing
escapes, gives the title of the book, "Journal of a Tour into the
Territory Northwest of the Allegheny Mountains in 1803, Boston, 1805."
That a man should write an octavo volume about a journey to Marietta now
strikes us as rather absurd; but in those days the overland journey to
Ohio was as difficult as that to California is now. The other book was a
more important one, being Timothy Flint's "Ten Years' Recollections
of the Mississippi Valley," published in 1826. Mr. Flint was a man of
sensibility and fancy, a sharp observer, and an interesting writer. His
book opened the West to us in its scenery and in its human interest.
I was sitting in my somewhat lonely position, watching my coal fire, and
thinking of the friends I had left on the other side of the mountains.
I had not succeeded as I had hoped in my work. I came to the West
expecting to meet with opposition, and I found only indifference. I
expected infidelity, and found worldliness. I had around me a company
of good Christian friends, but they were no converts of mine; they were
from New England, like myself, and brought their religion with them.
Upon the real Western people I had made no impression, and could not see
how I should make any. Those who were religious seemed to be bigots;
those who were not religious cared apparently more for making money, for
politics, for horseracing, for duelling, than for the difference between
Homoousians and Homoiousians. They were very fond of good preaching, but
their standard was a little different from that I had been accustomed
to. A solid, meditative, carefully written sermon had few attractions
for them. They would go to hear our great New England divines on account
of their reputation, but they would run in crowds to listen to John
Newland Maffit. What they wanted, as one of them expressed it, was "an
eloquent divine and no common orator." They liked sentiment run out into
sentimentalism, fluency, point, plenty of illustration, and knock-down
argument. How could a poor boy, fresh from the groves of our Academy,
where Good Taste reigned supreme, and where to learn how to manage one's
voice was regarded as a sin against sincerity, how could he meet such
demands as these?
I was more discouraged than I need to have been; for, after all, the
resemblances in human beings are more than their differences. The
differences are superficial,--the resemblances radical. Everywhere men
like, in a Christian minister, the same things,--sincerity, earnestness,
and living Christianity. Mere words may please, but not long. Men differ
in taste about the form of the cup out of which they drink this wine of
Divine Truth, but they agree in their thirst for the same wine.
But to my story.
I was sitting, therefore, meditating somewhat sadly, when a knock came
at the door. On opening it, a negro boy, with grinning face, presented
himself, holding a note. The great fund of good-humor which God has
bestowed on the African race often makes them laugh when we see no
occasion for laughter. Any event, no matter what it is, seems to them
amusing. So this boy laughed merely because he had brought me a note,
and not because there was anything peculiarly amusing in the message
which the note contained. It is true that you sometimes meet a
melancholy negro. But such, I fancy, have some foreign blood in
them,--they are not Africans _pur sang_. The race is so essentially
joyful, that centuries of oppression and hardship cannot depress its
good spirits. It is cheerful in spite of slavery, and in spite of cruel
The note the boy brought me did not seem adapted to furnish much
provocation for laughter. It was as follows:--
"_United States Hotel_, Jan. 4th, 1834.
"SIR,--I hope you will excuse the liberty of a stranger addressing you
on a subject he feels great interest in. It is to require a place of
interment for his friend[s] in the church-yard, and also the expense
attendant on the purchase of such place of temporary repose.
"Your communication on this matter will greatly oblige,
"Your respectful and
It will be observed that after the word "friend" an [s] follows in
brackets. In the original the word was followed by a small mark which
might or might not give it the plural form. It could be read either
"friend" or "friends"; but as we do not usually find ourselves called
upon to bury more than one friend at a time, the hasty reader would
not notice the mark, but would read it "friend." So did I; and only
afterward, in consequence of the _denouement_, did I notice that it
might be read in the other way.
Taking my hat, I stepped into the street. Gas in those days was not;
an occasional lantern, swung on a wire across the intersection of the
streets, reminded us that the city was once French, and suggested the
French Revolution and the cry, "_A la lanterne!_" First I went to my
neighbor, the mayor of the city, in pursuit of the desired information.
A jolly mayor was he,--a Yankee melted down into a Western man,
thoroughly Westernized by a rough-and-tumble life in Kentucky during
many years. Being obliged to hold a mayor's court every day, and knowing
very little of law, his chief study was, as he expressed it, "how to
choke off the Kentucky lawyers." Mr. Mayor not being at home, I turned
next to the office of another naturalized Yankee,--a Yankee naturalized,
but never Westernized. He was one of those who do not change their mind
with their sky, who, exiled from the dear hills of New England, can
never get away from the inborn, inherent Yankee. He was a Plymouth man,
and religiously preserved every opinion, habit, and accent which he had
brought from Plymouth Rock. When Kentucky was madly Democratic and wept
over the dead Jefferson as over her saint, he had expressed the opinion
that it would have been well for the country, if he had died long
before,--for which expression he came near being lynched. He was the
most unpopular and the most indispensable man in the city,--they could
live neither with him nor without him. He founded and organized the
insurance companies, the public schools, the charitable associations,
the great canal, the banking-system,--in short, all Yankee institutions.
The city was indebted to him for much of its prosperity, but disliked
him while it respected him. For he spared no Western prejudice; he
remorselessly criticized everything that was not done as Yankees do it:
and the most provoking thing of all was that he never made a mistake; he
was always right.
Finding no one at home, and so not being able to learn about the price
of lots in the church-yard, I walked on to the hotel, and asked to see
Mr. J.B. Booth. I was shown into a private parlor, where he and another
gentleman were sitting by a table. On the table were candles, a decanter
of wine, and glasses, a plate of bread, cigars, and a book. Mr. Booth
rose when I announced myself, and I at once recognized the distinguished
actor. I had met him once before, and travelled with him for part of a
day. He was a short man, but one of those who seem tall when they choose
to do so. He had a clear blue eye and fair complexion. In repose
there was nothing to attract attention to him; but when excited, his
expression was so animated, his eye was so brilliant, and his figure so
full of life, that he became another man.
Having told him that I had not been successful in procuring the
information he desired, but would bring it to him on the following
morning, he thanked me, and asked me to sit down. It passed through my
mind, that, as he had lost a friend and was a stranger in the place, I
might be of use to him. Perhaps he needed consolation, and it was my
office to sympathize with the bereaved. So I sat down. But it did not
appear that he was disposed to seek for such comfort, or engage in such
discourse. Once or twice I endeavored, but without success, to turn
the conversation to his presumed loss. I asked him if the death of his
friend was sudden.
"Very," he replied.
"Was he a relative?"
"Distant," said he, and changed the subject.
It is twenty-seven years since these events took place, and I do not
pretend to give the conversation very accurately, but what occurred was
very much like this. It was a dialogue between Booth and myself, the
third party saying not a word during the evening. Mr. Booth first asked
me to take a glass of wine, or a cigar, both of which I declined.
"Well," said he, "let me try to entertain you in another way. When you
came in, I was reading aloud to my friend. Perhaps you would like to
hear me read."
"I certainly should," said I.
"What shall I read?"
"Whatever you like best. What you like to read I shall like to hear."
"Then suppose I attempt Coleridge's 'Ancient Mariner'? Have you time for
it? It is long."
"Yes, I should like it much."
So he read aloud the whole of this magnificent poem. I have listened to
Macready, to Edmund Kean, to Rachel, to Jenny Lind, to Fanny Kemble,--to
Webster, Clay, Everett, Harrison Gray Otis,--to Dr. Channing, Henry
Ward Beecher, Wendell Phillips, Father Taylor, Ralph Waldo Emerson,--to
Victor Hugo, Coquerel, Lacordaire; but none of them affected me as I was
affected by this reading. I forgot the place where I was, the motive of
my coming, the reader himself. I knew the poem almost by heart, yet I
seemed never to have heard it before. I was by the side of the doomed
mariner. I was the wedding-guest, listening to his story, held by his
glittering eye. I was with him in the storm, among the ice, beneath
the hot and copper sky. Booth became so absorbed in his reading, so
identified with the poem, that his tone and manner were saturated with
a feeling of reality. He actually thought himself the mariner,--so I am
persuaded,--while he was reading. As the poem proceeded, and we plunged
deeper and deeper into its mystic horrors, the actual world receded
into a dim, indefinable distance. The magnetism of this marvellous
interpreter had caught up himself, and me with him, into Dreamland, from
which we gently descended at the end of Part VI., and "the spell was
"And now, all in my own countree,
I stood on the firm land,"--
returned from a voyage into the inane. Again I found myself sitting in
the little hotel parlor, by the side of a man with glittering eye, with
a third somebody on the other side of the table.
I drew a long breath.
Booth turned over the leaves of the volume. It was the collected Works
of Coleridge, Shelley, and Keats.
"Did you ever read," said he, "Shelley's argument against the use of
animal food, at the end of 'Queen Mab'?"
"Yes, I have read it."
"And what do you think of the argument?"
"Ingenious, but not satisfactory."
"To me it _is_ satisfactory. I have long been convinced that it is wrong
to take the life of an animal for our pleasure. I eat no animal food.
There is my supper,"--pointing to the plate of bread. "And, indeed,"
continued he, "I think the Bible favors this view. Have you a Bible with
I had not.
Booth thereupon rang the bell, and when the boy presented himself,
called for a Bible. _Garcon_ disappeared, and came back soon with a
Bible on a waiter.
Our tragedian took the book, and proceeded to argue his point by means
of texts selected skilfully here and there, from Genesis to Revelation.
He referred to the fact that it was not till after the Deluge men were
allowed, "for the hardness of their hearts," as he maintained, to eat
meat. But in the beginning it was not so; only herbs were given to man,
at first, for food. He quoted the Psalmist (Psalm civ. 14) to show that
man's food came from the earth, and was the green herb; and contended
that the reason why Daniel and his friends were fairer and fatter than
the children who ate their portion of meat was that they ate only pulse
(Daniel i. 12-15). These are all of his Scriptural arguments which I now
recall; but I thought them very ingenious at the time.
The argument took some time. Then he recited one or two pieces bearing
on the same subject, closing with Byron's Lines to his Newfoundland Dog.
"In connection with that poem," he continued, "a singular event once
happened to me. I was acting in Petersburg, Virginia. My theatrical
engagement was just concluded, and I dined with a party of friends
one afternoon before going away. We sat after dinner, singing songs,
reciting poetry, and relating anecdotes. At last I recited those lines
of Byron on his dog. I was sitting by the fireplace, my feet resting
against the jamb, and a single candle was burning on the mantel. It had
become dark. Just as I came to the end of the poem,--
"'To mark a friend's remains these stones arise,
I never knew but one, and here he lies,'--
"my foot slipped down the jamb, and struck a _dog_, who was lying
beneath. The dog sprang up, howled, and ran out of the room, and at the
same moment the candle went out. I asked whose dog it was. No one knew.
No one had seen the dog till that moment. Perhaps you will smile at me,
Sir, and think me superstitious,--but I could not but think that the
animal was brought there by _occult sympathy_."
Having uttered these oracular words in a very solemn tone, Booth rose,
and, taking one of the candles, said to me, "Would you like to look at
I assented. Asking our silent friend to excuse us, he led me into an
adjoining chamber. I looked toward a bed in the corner of the room,
expecting to see a corpse. There was none there. But Booth went to
another corner of the room, where, spread out upon a large sheet, I
saw--what do you suppose, dear reader?
_About a bushel of Wild Pigeons!_
Booth knelt down by the side of the birds, and with every evidence of
sincere affliction began to mourn over them. He took them up in his
hands tenderly, and pressed them to his heart. For a few moments he
seemed to forget my presence. For this I was glad, for it gave me a
little time to recover from my astonishment, and to consider rapidly
what it might mean. As I look back now, and think of the oddity of
the situation, I rather wonder at my own self-possession. It was a
sufficiently trying position. At first I thought it was a hoax, an
intentional piece of practical fun, of which I was to be the object. But
even in the moment allowed me to think, I decided that this could not
be. For I recalled the long and elaborate Bible argument against taking
the life of animals, which could hardly have been got up for the
occasion. I considered also that as a joke it would be too poor in
itself, and too unworthy a man like Booth. So I decided that it was a
sincere conviction,--an idea, exaggerated perhaps to the borders of
monomania, of the sacredness of all life. And I determined to treat
the conviction with respect, as all sincere and religious convictions
deserve to be treated.
I also saw the motive for this particular course of action. During the
week immense quantities of the Wild Pigeon (Passenger Pigeon, _Columba
Migratoria_) had been flying over the city, in their way to and from
a _roost_ in the neighborhood. These birds had been slaughtered by
myriads, and were for sale by the bushel at the corners of every street
in the city. Although all the birds which could be killed by man made
the smallest impression on the vast multitude contained in one of these
flocks,--computed by Wilson to consist of more than twenty-two hundred
millions,--yet to Booth the destruction seemed wasteful, wanton, and
from his point of view was a wilful and barbarous murder.
Such a sentiment was perhaps an exaggeration; still I could not but
feel a certain sympathy with its humanity. It was an error in a good
direction. If an insanity, it was better than the cold, heartless sanity
of most men. By the time, therefore, that Booth was ready to speak, I
was prepared to answer.
"You see," said he, "these innocent victims of man's barbarity. I wish
to testify in some public way against this wanton destruction of life.
And I wish you to help me. Will you?"
"Hardly," I replied. "I expected something very different from this,
when I received your note. I did not come to see you expecting to be
called to assist at the funeral solemnities of birds."
"Nor did I send for you," he answered. "I merely wrote to ask about the
lot in the grave-yard. But now you are here, why not help me? Do you
fear the laugh of man?"
"No," I returned. "If I agreed with you in regard to this subject, I
might, perhaps, have the courage to act out my convictions. But I do
not look at it as you do. There is no reason, then, why I should have
anything to do with it. I respect your convictions, but do not share
"That is fair," he said. "I cannot ask anything more. I am obliged to
you for coming to see me. My intention was to purchase a place in the
burial-ground, and have them put into a coffin and carried in a hearse.
I might do it without any one's knowing that it was not a human body.
Would you assist me, then?"
"But if no one _knew_ it," I said, "how would it be a public testimony
against the destruction of life?"
"True, it would not. Well, I will consider what to do. Perhaps I may
wish to bury them privately in some garden."
"In that case," said I, "I will find you a place in the grounds of some
of my friends."
He thanked me, and I took my leave,--exceedingly astonished and amused
by the incident, but also interested in the earnestness of conviction of
I heard, in a day or two, that he had actually purchased a lot in the
cemetery, two or three miles below the city, that he had had a coffin
made, hired a hearse and carriage, and had gone through all the
solemnity of a regular funeral. For several days he continued to visit
the grave of his little friends, and mourned over them with a grief
which did not seem at all theatrical.
Meantime he acted every night at the theatre, and my friends told me
that his acting was of unsurpassed excellence. A vein of insanity began,
however, to mingle in his conduct. His fellow-actors were afraid of
him. He looked terribly in earnest on the stage; and when he went behind
the scenes, he spoke to no one, but sat still, looking sternly at the
ground. During the day he walked about town, giving apples to the
horses, and talked to the drivers, urging them to treat their animals
An incident happened, one day, which illustrated still further his
sympathy for the humbler races of animals. One of the sudden freshets
which come to the Ohio, caused commonly by heavy rains melting the snow
in the valleys of its tributary streams, had raised the river to an
unusual height. The yellow torrent rushed along its channel, bearing
on its surface logs, boards, and the _debris_ of fences, shanties, and
lumber-yards. A steamboat, forced by the rapid current against the stone
landing, had been stove, and lay a wreck on the bottom, with the water
rising rapidly around it. A horse had been left, fastened on the boat,
and it looked as if he would be drowned. Booth was on the landing, and
he took from his pocket twenty dollars, and offered it to any one who
would get to the boat and cut the halter, so that the horse might swim
ashore. Some one was found to do it, and the horse's life was saved.
So this golden thread of human sympathy with all creatures whom God had
made ran through the darkening moods of his genius. He had well laid to
heart the fine moral of his favorite poem,--that
"He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man, and bird, and beast.
"He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things, both great and small;
For the dear God, who loveth us,
He made and loveth all."
In a week or less the tendency to derangement in Booth became more
developed. One night, when he was to act, he did not appear; nor could
he be found at his lodgings. He did not come home that night. Next
morning he was found in the woods, several miles from the city,
wandering through the snow. He was taken care of. His derangement proved
to be temporary, and his reason returned in a few days. He soon left the
city. But before he went away he sent to me the following note, which I
copy from the original faded paper, now lying before me:--
"January 18, 1834.
"MY DEAR SIR,
"Allow me to return you my grateful acknowledgments for your prompt and
benevolent attention to my request last Wednesday night. Although I am
convinced _your_ ideas and _mine_ thoroughly coincide as to the _real_
cause of man's bitter degradation, yet I fear human means to redeem him
are now fruitless. The Fire must burn, and Prometheus endure his agony.
The Pestilence of Asia must come again, ere the savage will be taught
humanity. May _you_ escape! God bless you, Sir!
Certainly I may call this "an odd adventure" for a young minister,
less than six months in his profession. But it left in my mind a very
pleasant impression of this great tragedian. It may be asked why he came
to me, the youngest and newest clergyman in the place. The reason he
gave me himself. I was a Unitarian. He said he had more sympathy with me
on that account, as he was of Jewish descent, and a Monotheist.
MY OUT-DOOR STUDY.
The noontide of the summer-day is past, when all Nature slumbers, and
when the ancients feared to sing, lest the great god Pan should be
awakened. Soft changes, the gradual shifting of every shadow on every
leaf, begin to show the waning hours. Ineffectual thunder-storms have
gathered and gone by, hopelessly defeated. The floating-bridge is
trembling and resounding beneath the pressure of one heavy wagon, and
the quiet fishermen change their places to avoid the tiny ripple that
glides stealthily to their feet above the half-submerged planks. Down
the glimmering lake there are miles of silence and still waters and
green shores, overhung with a multitudinous and scattered fleet of
purple and golden clouds, now furling their idle sails and drifting away
into the vast harbor of the South. Voices of birds, hushed first by
noon and then by possibilities of tempest, cautiously begin once more,
leading on the infinite melodies of the June afternoon. As the freshened
air invites them forth, so the smooth and stainless water summons us.
"Put your hand upon the oar," says Charon in the old play to Bacchus,
"and you shall hear the sweetest songs." The doors of the boathouse
swing softly open, and the slender wherry, like a water-snake, steals
silently in the wake of the dispersing clouds.
The woods are hazy, as if the warm sunbeams had melted in among the
interstices of the foliage and spread a soft film throughout the whole.
The sky seems to reflect the water, and the water the sky; both are
roseate with color, both are darkened with clouds, and between them
both, as the boat recedes, the floating-bridge hangs suspended, with its
motionless fishermen and its moving team. The wooded islands are poised
upon the lake, each belted with a paler tint of softer wave. The air
seems fine and palpitating; the drop of an oar in a distant row-lock,
the sound of a hammer on a dismantled boat, pass into some region of
mist and shadows, and form a metronome for delicious dreams.
Every summer I launch my boat to seek some realm of enchantment beyond
all the sordidness and sorrow of earth, and never yet did I fail to
ripple with my prow at least the outskirts of those magic waters. What
spell has fame or wealth to enrich this midday blessedness with a joy
the more? Yonder barefoot boy, as he drifts silently in his punt beneath
the drooping branches of yonder vine-clad bank, has a bliss which no
Astor can buy with money, no Seward conquer with votes,--which yet is
no monopoly of his, and to which time and experience only add a more
subtile and conscious charm. The rich years were given us to increase,
not to impair, these cheap felicities. Sad or sinful is the life of
that man who finds not the heavens bluer and the waves more musical in
maturity than in childhood. Time is a severe alembic of youthful joys,
no doubt; we exhaust book after book and leave Shakespeare unopened; we
grow fastidious in men and women; all the rhetoric, all the logic, we
fancy we have heard before; we have seen the pictures, we have listened
to the symphonies: but what has been done by all the art and literature
of the world towards describing one summer day? The most exhausting
effort brings us no nearer to it than to the blue sky which is its dome;
our words are shot up against it like arrows, and fall back helpless.
Literary amateurs go the tour of the globe to renew their stock of
materials, when they do not yet know a bird or a bee or a blossom beside
their homestead-door; and in the hour of their greatest success they
have not an horizon to their life so large as that of yon boy in his
punt. All that is purchasable in the capitals of the world is not to be
weighed in comparison with the simple enjoyment that may be crowded into
one hour of sunshine. What can place or power do here? "Who could be
before me, though the palace of Caesar cracked and split with emperors,
while I, sitting in silence on a cliff of Rhodes, watched the sun as he
swung his golden censer athwart the heavens?"
It is pleasant to observe a sort of confused and latent recognition of
all this in the instinctive sympathy which is always rendered to any
indication of out-door pursuits. How cordially one sees the eyes of
all travellers turn to the man who enters the railroad-station with
a fowling-piece in hand, or the boy with water-lilies! There is a
momentary sensation of the freedom of the woods, a whiff of oxygen for
the anxious money-changers. How agreeably sounds the news--to all
but his creditors--that the lawyer or the merchant has locked his
office-door and gone fishing! The American temperament needs at this
moment nothing so much as that wholesome training of semi-rural life
which reared Hampden and Cromwell to assume at one grasp the sovereignty
of England, and which has ever since served as the foundation of
England's greatest ability. The best thoughts and purposes seem ordained
to come to human beings beneath the open sky, as the ancients fabled
that Pan found the goddess Ceres when he was engaged in the chase, whom
no other of the gods could find when seeking seriously. The little I
have gained from colleges and libraries has certainly not worn so well
as the little I learned in childhood of the habits of plant, bird, and
insect. That "weight and sanity of thought," which Coleridge so finely
makes the crowning attribute of Wordsworth, is in no way so well matured
and cultivated as in the society of Nature.
There may be extremes and affectations, and Mary Lamb declared that
Wordsworth held it doubtful if a dweller in towns had a soul to be
saved. During the various phases of transcendental idealism among
ourselves, in the last twenty years, the love of Nature has at times
assumed an exaggerated and even a pathetic aspect, in the morbid
attempts of youths and maidens to make it a substitute for vigorous
thought and action,--a lion endeavoring to dine on grass and green
leaves. In some cases this mental chlorosis reached such a height as
almost to nauseate one with Nature, when in the society of the victims;
and surfeited companions felt inclined to rush to the treadmill
immediately, or get chosen on the Board of Selectmen, or plunge into any
conceivable drudgery, in order to feel that there was still work enough
in the universe to keep it sound and healthy. But this, after all, was
exceptional and transitory, and our American life still needs, beyond
all things else, the more habitual cultivation of out-door habits.
Probably the direct ethical influence of natural objects may be
overrated. Nature is not didactic, but simply healthy. She helps
everything to its legitimate development, but applies no goads, and
forces on us no sharp distinctions. Her wonderful calmness, refreshing
the whole soul, must aid both conscience and intellect in the end, but
sometimes lulls both temporarily, when immediate issues are pending. The
waterfall cheers and purifies infinitely, but it marks no moments, has
no reproaches for indolence, forces to no immediate decision, offers
unbounded to-morrows, and the man of action must tear himself away, when
the time comes, since the work will not be done for him. "The natural
day is very calm, and will hardly reprove our indolence."
And yet the more bent any man is upon action, the more profoundly he
needs the calm lessons of Nature to preserve his equilibrium. The
radical himself needs nothing so much as fresh air. The world is called
conservative; but it is far easier to impress a plausible thought on the
complaisance of others than to retain an unfaltering faith in it for
ourselves. The most dogged reformer distrusts himself every little
while, and says inwardly, like Luther, "Art thou alone wise?" So he is
compelled to exaggerate, in the effort to hold his own. The community is
bored by the conceit and egotism of the innovators; so it is by that of
poets and artists, orators and statesmen; but if we knew how heavily
ballasted all these poor fellows need to be, to keep an even keel amid
so many conflicting tempests of blame and praise, we should hardly
reproach them. But the simple enjoyments of out-door life, costing next
to nothing, tend to equalize all vexations. What matter, if the Governor
removes you from office? he cannot remove you from the lake; and if
readers or customers will not bite, the pickerel will. We must keep
busy, of course; yet we cannot transform the world except very slowly,
and we can best preserve our patience in the society of Nature, who does
her work almost as imperceptibly as we.
And for literary training, especially, the influence of natural beauty
is simply priceless Under the present educational systems, we need
grammars and languages far less than a more thorough out-door experience.
On this flowery bank, on this ripple-marked shore, are the true literary
models. How many living authors have ever attained to writing a single
page which could be for one moment compared, for the simplicity and
grace of its structure, with this green spray of wild woodbine or yonder
white wreath of blossoming clematis? A finely organized sentence should
throb and palpitate like the most delicate vibrations of the summer
air. We talk of literature as if it were a mere matter of rule and
measurement, a series of processes long since brought to mechanical
perfection: but it would be less incorrect to say that it all lies
in the future; tried by the out-door standard, there is as yet no
literature, but only glimpses and guideboards; no writer has yet
succeeded in sustaining, through more than some single occasional
sentence, that fresh and perfect charm. If by the training of a lifetime
one could succeed in producing one continuous page of perfect cadence,
it would be a life well spent, and such a literary artist would fall
short of Nature's standard in quantity only, not in quality.
It is one sign of our weakness, also, that we commonly assume Nature to
be a rather fragile and merely ornamental thing, and suited for a model
of the graces only. But her seductive softness is the last climax of
magnificent strength. The same mathematical law winds the leaves around
the stem and the planets round the sun. The same law of crystallization
rules the slight-knit snow-flake and the hard foundations of the earth.
The thistle-down floats secure upon the same summer zephyrs that are
woven into the tornado. The dew-drop holds within its transparent cell
the same electric fire which charges the thunder-cloud. In the softest
tree or the airiest waterfall, the fundamental lines are as lithe and
muscular as the crouching haunches of a leopard; and without a pencil
vigorous enough to render these, no mere mass of foam or foliage,
however exquisitely finished, can tell the story. Lightness of touch is
the crowning test of power.
Yet Nature does not work by single spasms only. That chestnut spray is
not an isolated and exhaustive effort of creative beauty: look upward
and see its sisters rise with pile above pile of fresh and stately
verdure, till tree meets sky in a dome of glorious blossom, the whole as
perfect as the parts, the least part as perfect as the whole. Studying
the details, it seems as if Nature were a series of costly fragments
with no coherency,--as if she would never encourage us to do anything
systematically, would tolerate no method but her own, and yet had none
of her own,--were as abrupt in her transitions from oak to maple as
the heroine who went into the garden to cut a cabbage-leaf to make an
apple-pie; while yet there is no conceivable human logic so close
and inexorable as her connections. How rigid, how flexible are, for
instance, the laws of perspective! If one could learn to make his
statements as firm and unswerving as the horizon-line,--his continuity
of thought as marked, yet as unbroken, as yonder soft gradations by
which the eye is lured upward from lake to wood, from wood to hill, from
hill to heavens,--what more bracing tonic could literary culture demand?
As it is, Art misses the parts, yet does not grasp the whole.
Literature also learns from Nature the use of materials: either to
select only the choicest and rarest, or to transmute coarse to fine by
skill in using. How perfect is the delicacy with which the woods and
fields are kept, throughout the year! All these millions of living
creatures born every season, and born to die; yet where are the dead
bodies? We never see them. Buried beneath the earth by tiny nightly
sextons, sunk beneath the waters, dissolved into the air, or distilled
again and again as food for other organizations,--all have had their
swift resurrection. Their existence blooms again in these violet-petals,
glitters in the burnished beauty of these golden beetles, or enriches
the veery's song. It is only out of doors that even death and decay
become beautiful. The model farm, the most luxurious house, have their
regions of unsightliness; but the fine chemistry of Nature is constantly
clearing away all its impurities before our eyes, and yet so delicately
that we never suspect the process. The most exquisite work of literary
art exhibits a certain crudeness and coarseness, when we turn to it from
Nature,--as the smallest cambric needle appears rough and jagged,
when compared through the magnifier with the tapering fineness of the
Once separated from Nature, literature recedes into metaphysics, or
dwindles into novels. How ignoble seems the current material of London
literary life, for instance, compared with the noble simplicity which, a
half-century ago, made the Lake Country an enchanted land forever! Is
it worth a voyage to England to sup with Thackeray in the Pot Tavern?
Compare the "enormity of pleasure" which De Quincey says Wordsworth
derived from the simplest natural object with the serious protest of
Wilkie Collins against the affectation of caring about Nature at all.
"Is it not strange", says this most unhappy man, "to see how little real
hold the objects of the natural world amidst which we live can gain on
our hearts and minds? We go to Nature for comfort in joy and sympathy
in trouble, only in books.... What share have the attractions of Nature
ever had in the pleasurable or painful interests and emotions of
ourselves or our friends?... There is surely a reason for this want of
inborn sympathy between the creature and the creation around it."
Leslie says of "the most original landscape-painter he knew," meaning
Constable, that, whenever he sat down in the fields to sketch, he
endeavored to forget that he had ever seen a picture. In literature this
is easy, the descriptions are so few and so faint. When Wordsworth was
fourteen, he stopped one day by the wayside to observe the dark outline
of an oak against the western sky; and he says that he was at that
moment struck with "the infinite variety of natural appearances which
had been unnoticed by the poets of any age or country," so far as he was
acquainted with them, and "made a resolution to supply in some degree
the deficiency." He spent a long life in studying and telling these
beautiful wonders; and yet, so vast is the sum of them, they seem almost
as undescribed before, and men to be still as content with vague or
conventional representations. On this continent, especially, people
fancied that all must be tame and second-hand, everything long since
duly analyzed and distributed and put up in appropriate quotations, and
nothing left for us poor American children but a preoccupied universe.
And yet Thoreau camps down by Walden Pond and shows us that absolutely
nothing in Nature has ever yet been described,--not a bird nor a berry
of the woods, nor a drop of water, nor a spicula of ice, nor summer, nor
winter, nor sun, nor star.
Indeed, no person can portray Nature from any slight or transient
acquaintance. A reporter cannot step out between the sessions of a
caucus and give a racy abstract of the landscape. It may consume the
best hours of many days to certify for one's self the simplest out-door
fact, but every such piece of knowledge is intellectually worth the
time. Even the driest and barest book of Natural History is good and
nutritious, so far as it goes, if it represents genuine acquaintance;
one can find summer in January by poring over the Latin catalogues
of Massachusetts plants and animals in Hitchcock's Report. The most
commonplace out-door society has the same attraction. Every one of those
old outlaws who haunt our New England ponds and marshes, water-soaked
and soakers of something else,--intimate with the pure fluid in that
familiarity which breeds contempt,--has yet a wholesome side when you
explore his knowledge of frost and freshet, pickerel and musk-rat, and
is exceedingly good company while you can keep him beyond scent of the
tavern. Any intelligent farmer's boy can give you some narrative
of out-door observation which, so far as it goes, fulfils Milton's
definition of poetry, "simple, sensuous, passionate." He may not write
sonnets to the lake, but he will walk miles to bathe in it; he may not
notice the sunsets, but he knows where to search for the black-bird's
nest. How surprised the school-children looked, to be sure, when the
Doctor of Divinity from the city tried to sentimentalize, in addressing
them, about "the bobolink in the woods"! They knew that the darling of
the meadow had no more personal acquaintance with the woods than was
exhibited by the preacher.
But the preachers are not much worse than the authors. The prosaic
Buckle, to be sure, admits that the poets have in all time been
consummate observers, and that their observations have been as valuable
as those of the men of science; and yet we look even to the poets
for very casual and occasional glimpses of Nature only, not for any
continuous reflection of her glory. Thus, Chaucer is perfumed with early
spring; Homer resounds like the sea; in the Greek Anthology the sun
always shines on the fisherman's cottage by the beach; we associate the
Vishnu Purana with lakes and houses, Keats with nightingales in forest
dim, while the long grass waving on the lonely heath is the last
memorial of the fading fame of Ossian. Of course Shakspeare's
omniscience included all natural phenomena; but the rest, great or
small, associate themselves with some special aspects, and not with the
daily atmosphere. Coming to our own times, one must quarrel with Ruskin
as taking rather the artist's view of Nature, selecting the available
bits and dealing rather patronizingly with the whole; and one is tempted
to charge even Emerson, as he somewhere charges Wordsworth, with not
being of a temperament quite liquid and musical enough to admit the full
vibration of the great harmonics. The three human foster-children who
have been taken nearest into Nature's bosom, perhaps,--an odd triad,
surely, for the whimsical nursing mother to select,--are Wordsworth,
Bettine Brentano, and Thoreau. Is it yielding to an individual
preference too far, to say, that there seems almost a generic difference
between these three and any others,--however wide be the specific
differences among themselves,--to say that, after all, they in their
several paths have attained to an habitual intimacy with Nature, and the
rest have not?
Yet what wonderful achievements have some of the fragmentary artists
performed! Some of Tennyson's word-pictures, for instance, bear almost
as much study as the landscape. One afternoon, last spring, I had been
walking through a copse of young white birches,--their leaves scarce yet
apparent,--over a ground delicate with wood-anemones, moist and mottled
with dog's-tooth-violet leaves, and spangled with the delicate clusters
of that shy creature, the Claytonia or Spring Beauty. All this was
floored with last year's faded foliage, giving a singular bareness
and whiteness to the foreground. Suddenly, as if entering a cavern, I
stepped through the edge of all this, into a dark little amphitheatre
beneath a hemlock-grove, where the afternoon sunlight struck broadly
through the trees upon a tiny stream and a miniature swamp,--this last
being intensely and luridly green, yet overlaid with the pale gray of
last year's reeds, and absolutely flaming with the gayest yellow light
from great clumps of cowslips. The illumination seemed perfectly weird
and dazzling; the spirit of the place appeared live, wild, fantastic,
almost human. Now open your Tennyson:--
"_And the wild marsh-marigold shines like fire
in swamps and hollows gray_."
Our cowslip is the English marsh-marigold.
History is a grander poetry, and it is often urged that the features of
Nature in America must seem tame because they have no legendary wreaths
to decorate them. It is perhaps hard for those of us who are untravelled
to appreciate how densely even the ruralities of Europe are overgrown
with this ivy of associations. Thus, it is fascinating to hear that
the great French forests of Fontainebleau and St. Germain are full of
historic trees,--the oak of Charlemagne, the oak of Clovis, of Queen
Blanche, of Henri Quatre, of Sully,--the alley of Richelieu,--the
rendezvous of St. Herem,--the star of Lamballe and of the Princesses,
a star being a point where several paths or roads converge. It is said
that every topographical work upon these forests has turned out a
history of the French monarchy. Yet surely we lose nearly as much as
we gain by this subordination of imperishable beauty to the perishable
memories of man. It may not be wholly unfortunate, that, in the
absence of those influences which come to older nations from ruins and
traditions, we must go more directly to Nature. Art may either rest upon
other Art, or it may rest directly upon the original foundation; the one
is easier, the other more valuable. Direct dependence on Nature leads
to deeper thought and affords the promise of far fresher results. Why
should I wish to fix my study in Heidelberg Castle, when I possess the
unexhausted treasures of this out-door study here?
The walls of my study are of ever-changing verdure, and its roof and
floor of ever-varying blue. I never enter it without a new heaven above
and new thoughts below. The lake has no lofty shores and no level ones,
but a series of undulating hills, fringed with woods from end to end.
The profaning axe may sometimes come near the margin, and one may hear
the whetting of the scythe; but no cultivated land abuts upon the main
lake, though beyond the narrow woods there are here and there glimpses
of rye-fields that wave like rolling mist. Graceful islands rise from
the quiet waters,--Grape Island, Grass Island, Sharp Pine Island,
and the rest, baptized with simple names by departed generations of
farmers,--all wooded and bushy and trailing with festoonery of vines.
Here and there the banks are indented, and one may pass beneath drooping
chestnut-leaves and among alder-branches into some secret sanctuary of
stillness. The emerald edges of these silent tarns are starred with
dandelions which have strayed here, one scarce knows how, from their
foreign home; the buck-bean perchance grows in the water, or the Rhodora
fixes here one of its shy camping-places, or there are whole skies of
lupine on the sloping banks;--the catbird builds its nest beside us,
the yellow-bird above, the wood-thrush sings late and the whippoorwill
later, and sometimes the scarlet tanager and his golden-haired bride
send a gleam of the tropics through these leafy aisles.
Sometimes I rest in a yet more secluded place amid the waters, where
a little wooded island holds a small lagoon in the centre, just wide
enough for the wherry to turn round. The entrance lies between two
hornbeam trees, which stand close to the brink, spreading over it their
thorn-like branches and their shining leaves. Within there is perfect
shelter; the island forms a high circular bank, like a coral reef, and
shuts out the wind and the passing boats; the surface is paved with
leaves of lily and pond-weed, and the boughs above are full of song. No
matter what white caps may crest the blue waters of the pond, which here
widens out to its broadest reach, there is always quiet here. A few
oar-strokes distant lies a dam or water-break, where the whole lake is
held under control by certain distant mills, towards which a sluggish
stream goes winding on through miles of water-lilies. The old gray
timbers of the dam are the natural resort of every boy or boatman within
their reach; some come in pursuit of pickerel, some of turtles, some of
bull-frogs, some of lilies, some of bathing. It is a good place for the
last desideratum, and it is well to leave here the boat tethered to
the vines which overhang the cove, and perform a sacred and Oriental
ablution beneath the sunny afternoon.
Oh, radiant and divine afternoon! The poets profusely celebrate silver
evenings and golden mornings; but what floods on floods of beauty steep
the earth and gladden it in the first hours of day's decline! The
exuberant rays reflect and multiply themselves from every leaf and
blade; the cows lie upon the hill-side, with their broad peaceful backs
painted into the landscape; the hum of insects, "tiniest bells on the
garment of silence," fills the air; the gorgeous butterflies doze upon
the thistle-blooms till they almost fall from the petals; the air is
full of warm fragrance from the wild-grape clusters; the grass is
burning hot beneath the naked feet in sunshine, and cool as water in the
shade. Diving from this overhanging beam,--for Ovid evidently meant that
Midas to be cured must dive,--
"Subde caput, corpusque simul, simul elue
one finds as kindly a reception from the water as in childish days, and
as safe a shelter in the green dressing-room afterwards; and the patient
wherry floats near by, in readiness for a reembarkation.
Here a word seems needed, unprofessionally and non-technically, upon
boats,--these being the sole seats provided for occupant or visitor in
my out-door study. When wherries first appeared in this peaceful inland
community, the novel proportions occasioned remark. Facetious bystanders
inquired sarcastically whether that thing were expected to carry
more than one,--plainly implying by labored emphasis that it would
occasionally be seen tenanted by even less than that number.
Transcendental friends inquired, with more refined severity, if the
proprietor expected to _meditate_ in that thing? This doubt at least
seemed legitimate. Meditation seems to belong to sailing rather than
rowing; there is something so gentle and unintrusive in gliding
effortless beneath overhanging branches and along the trailing edges of
clematis thickets;--what a privilege of fairy-land is this noiseless
prow, looking in and out of one flowery cove after another, scarcely
stirring the turtle from his log, and leaving no wake behind! It seemed
as if all the process of rowing had too much noise and bluster, and as
if the sharp slender wherry, in particular, were rather too pert and
dapper to win the confidence of the woods and waters. Time has dispelled
the fear. As I rest poised upon the oars above some submerged shallow,
diamonded with ripple-broken sunbeams, the fantastic Notonecta or
water-boatman rests upon his oars below, and I see that his proportions
anticipated the wherry, as honeycombs antedated the problem of the
hexagonal cell. While one of us rests, so does the other; and when one
shoots away rapidly above the water, the other does the same beneath.
For the time, as our motions seem the same, so with our motives,--my
enjoyment certainly not less, with the conveniences of humanity thrown
But the sun is declining low. The club-boats are out, and from island
to island in the distance these shafts of youthful life shoot swiftly
across. There races some swift Atalanta, with no apple to fall in her
path but some soft and spotted oak-apple from an overhanging tree; there
the Phantom, with a crew white and ghostlike in the distance, glimmers
in and out behind the headlands, while yonder wherry glides lonely
across the smooth expanse. The voices of all these oarsmen are dim and
almost inaudible, being so far away; but one would scarcely wish that
distance should annihilate the ringing laughter of these joyous
girls, who come gliding, in a safe and heavy boat, they and some blue
dragon-flies together, around yonder wooded point.
Many a summer afternoon have I rowed joyously with these same maidens
beneath these steep and garlanded shores; many a time have they pulled
the heavy four-oar, with me as coxswain at the helm,--the said patient
steersman being oft-times insulted by classical allusions from rival
boats, satirically comparing him to an indolent Venus drawn by doves,
while the oarswomen in turn were likened to Minerva with her feet upon
a tortoise. Many were the disasters in the earlier days of feminine
training;--first of toilet, straw hats blowing away, hair coming down,
hair-pins strewing the floor of the boat, gloves commonly happening to
be off at the precise moment of starting, and trials of speed impaired
by somebody's oar catching in somebody's dress-pocket. Then the actual
difficulties of handling the long and heavy oars,--the first essays
at feathering, with a complicated splash of air and water, as when a
wild-duck in rising swims and flies together, and uses neither element
handsomely,--the occasional pulling of a particularly vigorous stroke
through the atmosphere alone, and at other times the compensating
disappearance of nearly the whole oar beneath the liquid surface, as if
some Uncle Kuehleborn had grasped it, while our Undine by main strength
tugged it from the beguiling wave. But with what triumphant abundance
of merriment were these preliminary disasters repaid, and how soon
outgrown! What "time" we sometimes made, when nobody happened to be near
with a watch, and how successfully we tossed oars in saluting, when the
world looked on from a pic-nic! We had our applauses, too. To be sure,
owing to the age and dimensions of the original barge, we could not
command such a burst of enthusiasm as when the young men shot by us in
their race-boat;--but then, as one of the girls justly remarked, we
remained longer in sight.
And many a day, since promotion to a swifter craft, have they rowed with
patient stroke down the lovely lake, still attended by their guide,
philosopher, and coxswain,--along banks where herds of young birch-trees
overspread the sloping valley and ran down in a blaze of sunshine to the
rippling water,--or through the Narrows, where some breeze rocked the
boat till trailing shawls and ribbons were water-soaked, and the bold
little foam would even send a daring drop over the gunwale, to play at
ocean,--or to Davis's Cottage, where a whole parterre of lupines bloomed
to the water's edge, as if relics of some ancient garden-bower of a
forgotten race,--or to the dam by Lily Pond, there to hunt among the
stones for snakes' eggs, each empty shell cut crosswise, where the
young creatures had made their first fierce bite into the universe
outside,--or to some island, where white violets bloomed fragrant and
lonely, separated by relentless breadths of water from their shore-born
sisters, until mingled in their visitors' bouquets,--then up the lake
homeward again at nightfall, the boat all decked with clematis, clethra,
laurel, azalea, or water-lilies, while purple sunset clouds turned forth
their golden linings for drapery above our heads, and then unrolling
sent northward long roseate wreaths to outstrip our loitering speed, and
reach the floating-bridge before us.
It is nightfall now. One by one the birds grow silent, and the soft
dragon-flies, children of the day, are fluttering noiselessly to their
rest beneath the under sides of drooping leaves. From shadowy coves the
evening air is thrusting forth a thin film of mist to spread a white
floor above the waters. The gathering darkness deepens the quiet of the
lake, and bids us, at least for this time, to forsake it. "_De soir
fontaines, de matin montaignes_," says the old French proverb,--Morning
for labor, evening for repose.
A SERMON IN A STONE.
Harry Jones and Tom Murdock got down from the cars,
Near a still country village, and lit their cigars.
They had left the hot town for a stroll and a chat,
And wandered on looking at this and at that,--
Plumed grass with pink clover that waltzed in the breeze,
Ruby currants in gardens, and pears on the trees,--
Till a green church-yard showed them its sun-checkered gloom,
And in they both went and sat down on a tomb.
The dead name was mossy; the letters were dim;
But they spelled out "James Woodson," and mused upon him,
Till Harry said, poring, "I wish I could know
What manner of man used the bones down below."
Answered Tom,--as he took his cigar from his lip
And tapped off the ashes that crusted the tip,
His quaint face somewhat shaded with awe and with mystery,--
"You shall hear, if you will, the main points in his story."--
"You don't mean you knew him? You could not! See here!
Why, this, since he died, is the thirtieth year!"--
"I never saw him, nor the place where he lay,
Nor heard of nor thought of the man, till to-day;
But I'll tell you his story, and leave it to you
If 'tis not ten to one that my story is true.
"The man whose old mould underneath us is hid
Meant a great deal more good and less harm than he did.
He knelt in yon church 'mid the worshipping throng,
And vowed to do right, but went out to do wrong;
For, going up of a Sunday to look at the gate
Of Saints' Alley, he stuck there and found it was strait,
And slid back of a Monday to walk in the way
That is popular, populous, smooth-paved, and gay.
The flesh it was strong, but the spirit was faint.
He first was too young, then too old, for a saint.
He wished well by his neighbors, did well by himself,
And hoped for salvation, and struggled for pelf;
And easy Tomorrow still promised to pay
The still swelling debts of his bankrupt Today,
Till, bestriding the deep sudden chasm that is fixed
The sunshiny world and the shadowy betwixt,
His Today with a pale wond'ring face stood alone,
And over the border Tomorrow had flown.
So after went he, his accounts as he could
To settle and make his loose reckonings good,
And left us his tomb and his skeleton under,--
Two boons to his race,--to sit down on and ponder.
Heaven help him! Yet heaven, I fear, he hath lost.
Here lies his poor dust; but where cries his poor ghost?
We know not. Perhaps we shall see by-and-by,
When out of our coffins we get, you and I."
AGNES OF SORRENTO.
The dreams of Agnes, on the night after her conversation with the monk
and her singular momentary interview with the cavalier, were a strange
mixture of images, indicating the peculiarities of her education and
habits of daily thought.
She dreamed that she was sitting alone in the moonlight, and heard some
one rustling in the distant foliage of the orange-groves, and from them
came a young man dressed in white of a dazzling clearness like sunlight;
large pearly wings fell from his shoulders and seemed to shimmer with
a phosphoric radiance; his forehead was broad and grave, and above it
floated a thin, tremulous tongue of flame; his eyes had that deep,
mysterious gravity which is so well expressed in all the Florentine
paintings of celestial beings: and yet, singularly enough, this
white-robed, glorified form seemed to have the features and lineaments
of the mysterious cavalier of the evening before,--the same deep,
mournful, dark eyes, only that in them the light of earthly pride had
given place to the calm, strong gravity of an assured peace,--the same
broad forehead,--the same delicately chiselled features, but elevated
and etherealized, glowing with a kind of interior ecstasy. He seemed to
move from the shadow of the orange-trees with a backward floating of his
lustrous garments, as if borne on a cloud just along the surface of
the ground; and in his hand he held the lily-spray, all radiant with a
silvery, living light, just as the monk had suggested to her a divine
flower might be. Agnes seemed to herself to hold her breath and marvel
with a secret awe, and, as often happens in dreams, she wondered to
herself,--"Was this stranger, then, indeed, not even mortal, not even a
king's brother, but an angel?--How strange," she said to herself, "that
I should never have seen it in his eyes!" Nearer and nearer the vision
drew, and touched her forehead with the lily, which seemed dewy and
icy cool; and with the contact it seemed to her that a delicious
tranquillity, a calm ecstasy, possessed her soul, and the words were
impressed in her mind, as if spoken in her ear, "The Lord hath sealed
thee for his own!"--and then, with the wild fantasy of dreams, she saw
the cavalier in his wonted form and garments, just as he had kneeled to
her the night before, and he said, "Oh, Agnes! Agnes! little lamb of
Christ, love me and lead me!"--and in her sleep it seemed to her that
her heart stirred and throbbed with a strange, new movement in answer to
those sad, pleading eyes, and thereafter her dream became more troubled.
The sea was beginning now to brighten with the reflection of the coming
dawn in the sky, and the flickering fire of Vesuvius was waxing sickly
and pale; and while all the high points of rocks were turning of a rosy
purple, in the weird depths of the gorge were yet the unbroken shadows
and stillness of night. But at the earliest peep of dawn the monk had
risen, and now, as he paced up and down the little garden, his morning
hymn mingled with Agnes's dreams,--words strong with all the nerve of
the old Latin, which, when they were written, had scarcely ceased to be
the spoken tongue of Italy.
Splendor paternae gloriae,
De luce lucem proferens,
Lux lucis et fons luminis
Dies diem illuminans!
"Votis vocemus et Patrem,
Patrem potentis gratiae,
Patrem perennis gloriae:
Culpam releget lubricam!
"Confirmet actus strenuos,
Dentes retundat invidi,
Casus secundet asperos,
Donet gerendi gratiam!
"Christus nobis sit cibus,
Potusque noster sit fides:
Laeti bibamus sobriam
"Laetus dies hic transeat,
Pudor sit ut diluculum,
Fides velut meridies,
Crepusculum mens nesciat!"[A]
Splendor of the Father's glory,
Bringing light with cheering ray,
Light of light and fount of brightness,
Day, illuminating day!
In our prayers we call thee Father,
Father of eternal glory,
Father of a mighty grace:
Heal our errors, we implore thee!
Form our struggling, vague desires;
Power of spiteful spirits break;
Help us in life's straits, and give us
Grace to suffer for thy sake!
Christ for us shall be our food;
Faith in him our drink shall be;
Hopeful, joyful, let us drink
Soberness of ecstasy!
Joyful shall our day go by,
Purity its dawning light,
Faith its fervid noontide glow,
And for us shall be no night!]
The hymn in every word well expressed the character and habitual pose
of mind of the singer, whose views of earthly matters were as different
from the views of ordinary working mortals as those of a bird, as he
flits and perches and sings, must be from those of the four-footed
ox who plods. The "_sobriam ebrietatem spiritus_" was with him first
constitutional, as a child of sunny skies, and then cultivated by every
employment and duty of the religious and artistic career to which from
childhood he had devoted himself. If perfect, unalloyed happiness has
ever existed in this weary, work-day world of ours, it has been in the
bosoms of some of those old religious artists of the Middle Ages, whose
thoughts grew and flowered in prayerful shadows, bursting into thousands
of quaint and fanciful blossoms on the pages of missal and breviary. In
them the fine life of color, form, and symmetry, which is the gift of
the Italian, formed a rich stock on which to graft the true vine of
religious faith, and rare and fervid were the blossoms.
For it must be remarked in justice of the Christian religion, that the
Italian people never rose to the honors of originality in the beautiful
arts till inspired by Christianity. The Art of ancient Rome was a
second-hand copy of the original and airy Greek,--often clever, but
never vivid and self-originating. It is to the religious Art of the
Middle Ages, to the Umbrian and Florentine schools particularly, that we
look for the peculiar and characteristic flowering of the Italian mind.
When the old Greek Art revived again in modern Europe, though at first
it seemed to add richness and grace to this peculiar development, it
smothered and killed it at last, as some brilliant tropical parasite
exhausts the life of the tree it seems at first to adorn. Raphael and
Michel Angelo mark both the perfected splendor and the commenced decline
of original Italian Art; and just in proportion as their ideas grew less
Christian and more Greek did the peculiar vividness and intense flavor
of Italian nationality pass away from them. They became again like the
ancient Romans, gigantic imitators and clever copyists, instead of
inspired kings and priests of a national development.
The tones of the monk's morning hymn awakened both Agnes and Elsie, and
the latter was on the alert instantly.
"Bless my soul!" she said, "brother Antonio has a marvellous power of
lungs; he is at it the first thing in the morning. It always used to be
so; when he was a boy, he would wake me up before daylight, singing.
"He is happy, like the birds," said Agnes, "because he flies near
"Like enough: he was always a pious boy; his prayers and his pencil were
ever uppermost: but he was a poor hand at work: he could draw you an
olive-tree on paper; but set him to dress it, and any fool would have
The morning rites of devotion and the simple repast being over, Elsie
prepared to go to her business. It had occurred to her that the visit
of her brother was an admirable pretext for withdrawing Agnes from the
scene of her daily traffic, and of course, as she fondly supposed,
keeping her from the sight of the suspected admirer.
Neither Agnes nor the monk had disturbed her serenity by recounting the
adventure of the evening before. Agnes had been silent from the habitual
reserve which a difference of nature ever placed between her and her
grandmother,--a difference which made confidence on her side an utter
impossibility. There are natures which ever must be silent to other
natures, because there is no common language between them. In the same
house, at the same board, sharing the same pillow even, are those
forever strangers and foreigners whose whole stock of intercourse is
limited to a few brief phrases on the commonest material wants of life,
and who, as soon as they try to go farther, have no words that are
"Agnes," said her grandmother, "I shall not need you at the stand
to-day. There is that new flax to be spun, and you may keep company with
your uncle. I'll warrant me, you'll be glad enough of that!"
"Certainly I shall," said Agnes, cheerfully. "Uncle's comings are my
"I will show you somewhat further on my Breviary," said the monk.
"Praised be God, many new ideas sprang up in my mind last night, and
seemed to shoot forth in blossoms. Even my dreams have often been made
fruitful in this divine work."
"Many a good thought comes in dreams," said Elsie; "but, for my part, I
work too hard and sleep too sound to get much that way."
"Well, brother," said Elsie, after breakfast, "you must look well after
Agnes to-day; for there be plenty of wolves go round, hunting these
"Have no fear, sister," said the monk, tranquilly; "the angels have
her in charge. If our eyes were only clear-sighted, we should see that
Christ's little ones are never alone."
"All that is fine talk, brother; but I never found that the angels
attended to any of my affairs, unless I looked after them pretty sharp
myself; and as for girls, the dear Lord knows they need a legion apiece
to look after them. What with roystering fellows and smooth-tongued
gallants, and with silly, empty-headed hussies like that Giulietta, one
has much ado to keep the best of them straight. Agnes is one of the
best, too,--a well-brought up, pious, obedient girl, and industrious
as a bee. Happy is the husband who gets her. I would I knew a man good
enough for her."
This conversation took place while Agnes was in the garden picking
oranges and lemons, and filling the basket which her grandmother was to
take to the town. The silver ripple of a hymn that she was singing came
through the open door; it was part of a sacred ballad in honor of Saint
"Bring me no pearls to bind my hair,
No sparkling jewels bring to me!
Dearer by far the blood-red rose
That speaks of Him who died for me.
"Ah! vanish every earthly love,
All earthly dreams forgotten be!
My heart is gone beyond the stars,
To live with Him who died for me."
"Hear you now, sister," said the monk, "how the Lord keeps the door of
this maiden's heart? There is no fear of her; and I much doubt, sister,
whether you would do well to interfere with the evident call this child
hath to devote herself wholly to the Lord."
"Oh, you talk, brother Antonio, who never had a child in your life,
and don't know how a mother's heart warms towards her children and her
children's children! The saints, as I said, must be reasonable, and
oughtn't to be putting vocations into the head of an old woman's only
staff and stay; and if they oughtn't to, why, then, they won't. Agnes is
a pious child, and loves her prayers and hymns; and so she will love her
husband, one of these days, as an honest woman should."
"But you know, sister, that the highest seats in Paradise are reserved
for the virgins who follow the Lamb."
"Maybe so," said Elsie, stiffly; "but the lower seats are good enough
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