Atlantic Monthly, Volume 8, No. 47, September, 1861
Part 3 out of 5
for Agnes and me. For my part, I would rather have a little comfort as I
go along, and put up with less in Paradise, (may our dear Lady bring us
safely there!) say I."
So saying, Elsie raised the large, square basket of golden fruit to
her head, and turned her stately figure towards the scene of her daily
The monk seated himself on the garden-wall, with his portfolio by his
side, and seemed busily sketching and retouching some of his ideas.
Agnes wound some silvery-white flax round her distaff, and seated
herself near him under an orange-tree; and while her small fingers were
twisting the flax, her large, thoughtful eyes were wandering off on the
deep blue sea, pondering over and over the strange events of the day
before, and the dreams of the night.
"Dear child," said the monk, "have you thought more of what I said to
A deep blush suffused her cheek as she answered,--
"Yes, uncle; and I had a strange dream last night."
"A dream, my little heart? Come, then, and tell it to its uncle. Dreams
are the hushing of the bodily senses, that the eyes of the Spirit may
"Well, then," said Agnes, "I dreamed that I sat pondering as I did last
evening in the moonlight, and that an angel came forth from the trees"--
"Indeed!" said the monk, looking up with interest; "what form had he?"
"He was a young man, in dazzling white raiment, and his eyes were deep
as eternity, and over his forehead was a silver flame, and he bore a
lily-stalk in his hand, which was like what you told of, with light in
"That must have been the holy Gabriel," said the monk, "the angel that
came to our blessed Mother. Did he say aught?"
"Yes, he touched my forehead with the lily, and a sort of cool rest and
peace went all through me, and he said, 'The Lord hath sealed thee for
"Even so," said the monk, looking up, and crossing himself devoutly, "by
this token I know that my prayers are answered."
"But, dear uncle," said Agnes, hesitating and blushing painfully, "there
was one singular thing about my dream,--this holy angel had yet a
strange likeness to the young man that came here last night, so that I
could not but marvel at it."
"It may be that the holy angel took on him in part this likeness to show
how glorious a redeemed soul might become, that you might be encouraged
to pray. The holy Saint Monica thus saw the blessed Augustine standing
clothed in white among the angels while he was yet a worldling and
unbeliever, and thereby received the grace to continue her prayers for
thirty years, till she saw him a holy bishop. This is a sure sign that
this young man, whoever he may be, shall attain Paradise through your
prayers. Tell me, dear little heart, is this the first angel thou hast
"I never dreamed of them before. I have dreamed of our Lady, and Saint
Agnes, and Saint Catharine of Siena; and sometimes it seemed that they
sat a long time by my bed, and sometimes it seemed that they took me
with them away to some beautiful place where the air was full of music,
and sometimes they filled my hands with such lovely flowers that when I
waked I was ready to weep that they could no more be found. Why, dear
uncle, do _you_ see angels often?"
"Not often, dear child, but sometimes a little glimpse. But you should
see the pictures of our holy Father Angelico, to whom the angels
appeared constantly; for so blessed was the life he lived, that it was
more in heaven than on earth. He would never cumber his mind with the
things of this world, and would not paint for money, nor for prince's
favor; nor would he take places of power and trust in the Church, or
else, so great was his piety, they had made a bishop of him; but he kept
ever aloof and walked in the shade. He used to say, 'They that would do
Christ's work must walk with Christ.' His pictures of angels are indeed
wonderful, and their robes are of all dazzling colors, like the rainbow.
It is most surely believed among us that he painted to show forth what
he saw in heavenly visions."
"Ah!" said Agnes, "how I wish I could see some of these things!"
"You may well say so, dear child. There is one picture of Paradise
painted on gold, and there you may see our Lord in the midst of the
heavens crowning his blessed Mother, and all the saints and angels
surrounding; and the colors are so bright that they seem like the sunset
clouds,--golden, and rosy, and purple, and amethystine, and green like
the new, tender leaves of spring: for, you see, the angels are the
Lord's flowers and birds that shine and sing to gladden his Paradise,
and there is nothing bright on earth that is comparable to them,--so
said the blessed Angelico, who saw them. And what seems worthy of note
about them is their marvellous lightness, that they seem to float as
naturally as the clouds do, and their garments have a divine grace of
motion like vapor that curls and wavers in the sun. Their faces, too,
are most wonderful; for they seem so full of purity and majesty, and
withal humble, with an inexpressible sweetness; for, beyond all others,
it was given to the holy Angelico to paint the immortal beauty of the
"It must be a great blessing and favor for you, dear uncle, to see all
these things," said Agnes; "I am never tired of hearing you tell of
"There is one little picture," said the monk, "wherein he hath painted
the death of our dear Lady; and surely no mortal could ever conceive
anything like her sweet dying face, so faint and weak and tender that
each man sees his own mother dying there, yet so holy that one feels
that it can be no other than the mother of our Lord; and around her
stand the disciples mourning; but above is our blessed Lord himself, who
receives the parting spirit, as a tender new-born babe, into his bosom:
for so the holy painters represented the death of saints, as of a birth
in which each soul became a little child of heaven."
"How great grace must come from such pictures!" said Agnes. "It seems
to me that the making of such holy things is one of the most blessed of
good works.--Dear uncle," she said, after a pause, "they say that this
deep gorge is haunted by evil spirits, who often waylay and bewilder the
unwary, especially in the hours of darkness."
"I should not wonder in the least," said the monk; "for you must know,
child, that our beautiful Italy was of old so completely given up and
gone over to idolatry that even her very soil casts up fragments of
temples and stones that have been polluted. Especially around these
shores there is scarcely a spot that hath not been violated in all times
by vilenesses and impurities such as the Apostle saith it is a shame
even to speak of. These very waters cast up marbles and fragments of
colored mosaics from the halls which were polluted with devil-worship
and abominable revellings; so that, as the Gospel saith that the evil
spirits cast out by Christ walk through waste places, so do they cling
to these fragments of their old estate."
"Well, uncle, I have longed to consecrate the gorge to Christ by having
a shrine there, where I might keep a lamp burning."
"It is a most pious thought, child."
"And so, dear uncle, I thought that you would undertake the work. There
is one Pietro hereabout who is a skilful worker in stone, and was a
playfellow of mine,--though of late grandmamma has forbidden me to talk
with him,--and I think he would execute it under your direction."
"Indeed, my little heart, it shall be done," said the monk, cheerfully;
"and I will engage to paint a fair picture of our Lady to be within; and
I think it would be a good thought to have a pinnacle on the outside,
where should stand a statue of Saint Michael with his sword. Saint
Michael is a brave and wonderful angel, and all the devils and vile
spirits are afraid of him. I will set about the devices to-day."
And cheerily the good monk began to intone a verse of an old hymn,--
"Sub tutela Michaelis,
Pax in terra, pax in coelis."[B]
"'Neath Saint Michael's watch is given
Peace on earth and peace in heaven."]
In such talk and work the day passed away to Agnes; but we will not say
that she did not often fall into deep musings on the mysterious visitor
of the night before. Often while the good monk was busy at his drawing,
the distaff would droop over her knee and her large dark eyes become
intently fixed on the ground, as if she were pondering some absorbing
Little could her literal, hard-working grandmother, or her artistic,
simple-minded uncle, or the dreamy Mother Theresa, or her austere
confessor, know of the strange forcing process which they were all
together uniting to carry on in the mind of this sensitive young girl.
Absolutely secluded by her grandmother's watchful care from any actual
knowledge and experience of real life, she had no practical tests by
which to correct the dreams of that inner world in which she delighted
to live and move, and which was peopled with martyrs, saints, and
angels, whose deeds were possible or probable only in the most exalted
regions of devout poetry.
So she gave her heart at once and without reserve to an enthusiastic
desire for the salvation of the stranger, whom Heaven, she believed, had
directed to seek her intercessions; and when the spindle drooped from
her hand, and her eyes became fixed on vacancy, she found herself
wondering who he might really be, and longing to know yet a little more
Towards the latter part of the afternoon, a hasty messenger came to
summon her uncle to administer the last rites to a man who had just
fallen from a building, and who, it was feared, might breathe his last
"Dear daughter, I must hasten and carry Christ to this poor sinner,"
said the monk, hastily putting all his sketches and pencils into her
lap. "Have a care of these till I return,--that is my good little one!"
Agnes carefully arranged the sketches and put them into the book, and
then, kneeling before the shrine, began prayers for the soul of the
She prayed long and fervently, and so absorbed did she become, that she
neither saw nor heard anything that passed around her.
It was, therefore, with a start of surprise, as she rose from prayer,
that she saw the cavalier sitting on one end of the marble sarcophagus,
with an air so composed and melancholy that he might have been taken for
one of the marble knights that sometimes are found on tombs.
"You are surprised to see me, dear Agnes," he said, with a calm, slow
utterance, like a man who has assumed a position he means fully to
justify; "but I have watched day and night, ever since I saw you, to
find one moment to speak with you alone."
"My Lord," said Agnes, "I humbly wait your pleasure. Anything that a
poor maiden may rightly do I will endeavor, in all loving duty."
"Whom do you take me for, Agnes, that you speak thus?" said the
cavalier, smiling sadly.
"Are you not the brother of our gracious King?" said Agnes.
"No, dear maiden; and if the kind promise you lately made me is founded
on this mistake, it may be retracted."
"No, my Lord," said Agnes,--"though I now know not who you are, yet if
in any strait or need you seek such poor prayers as mine, God forbid I
should refuse them!"
"I am, indeed, in strait and need, Agnes; the sun does not shine on a
more desolate man than I am,--one more utterly alone in the world; there
is no one left to love me. Agnes, can you not love me a little?--let it
be ever so little, it shall content me."
It was the first time that words of this purport had ever been addressed
to Agnes; but they were said so simply, so sadly, so tenderly, that they
somehow seemed to her the most natural and proper things in the world
to be said; and this poor handsome knight, who looked so earnest and
sorrowful,--how could she help answering, "Yes"? From her cradle she had
always loved everybody and every thing, and why should an exception be
made in behalf of a very handsome, very strong, yet very gentle and
submissive human being, who came and knocked so humbly at the door
of her heart? Neither Mary nor the saints had taught her to be
"Yes, my Lord," she said, "you may believe that I will love and pray for
you; but now you must leave me, and not come here any more,--because
grandmamma would not be willing that I should talk with you, and it
would be wrong to disobey her, she is so very good to me."
"But, dear Agnes," began the cavalier, approaching her, "I have many
things to say to you,--I have much to tell you."
"But I know grandmamma would not be willing," said Agnes; "indeed, you
must not come here any more."
"Well, then," said the stranger, "at least you will meet me at some
time,--tell me only where."
"I cannot,--indeed, I cannot," said Agnes, distressed and embarrassed.
"Even now, if grandmamma knew you were here, she would be so angry."
"But how can you pray for me, when you know nothing of me?"
"The dear Lord knoweth you," said Agnes; "and when I speak of you, He
will know what you need."
"Ah, dear child, how fervent is your faith! Alas for me, I have lost the
power of prayer! I have lost the believing heart my mother gave me,--my
dear mother who is now in heaven."
"Ah, how can that be?" said Agnes. "Who could lose faith in so dear a
Lord as ours, and so loving a mother?"
"Agnes, dear little lamb, you know nothing of the world; and I should be
most wicked to disturb your lovely peace of soul with any sinful doubts.
Oh, Agnes, Agnes, I am most miserable, most unworthy!"
"Dear Sir, should you not cleanse your soul by the holy sacrament of
confession, and receive the living Christ within you? For He says,
'Without me ye can do nothing.'"
"Oh, Agnes, sacrament and prayer are not for such as me! It is only
through your pure prayers I can hope for grace."
"Dear Sir, I have an uncle, a most holy man, and gentle as a lamb. He is
of the convent San Marco in Florence, where there is a most holy prophet
"Savonarola?" said the cavalier, with flashing eyes.
"Yes, that is he. You should hear my uncle talk of him, and how blessed
his preaching has been to many souls. Dear Sir, come some time to my
At this moment the sound of Elsie's voice was heard ascending the path
to the gorge outside, talking with Father Antonio, who was returning.
Both started, and Agnes looked alarmed.
"Fear nothing, sweet lamb," said the cavalier; "I am gone."
He kneeled and kissed the hand of Agnes, and disappeared at one bound
over the parapet on the side opposite that which they were approaching.
Agnes hastily composed herself, struggling with that half-guilty
feeling which is apt to weigh on a conscientious nature that has been
unwittingly drawn to act a part which would be disapproved by those
whose good opinion it habitually seeks. The interview had but the more
increased her curiosity to know the history of this handsome stranger.
Who, then, could he be? What were his troubles? She wished the interview
could have been long enough to satisfy her mind on these points. From
the richness of his dress, from his air and manner, from the poetry and
the jewel that accompanied it, she felt satisfied, that, if not what she
supposed, he was at least nobly born, and had shone in some splendid
sphere whose habits and ways were far beyond her simple experiences. She
felt towards him somewhat of the awe which a person of her condition in
life naturally felt toward that brilliant aristocracy which in those
days assumed the state of princes, and the members of which were
supposed to look down on common mortals from as great a height as the
stars regard the humblest flowers of the field.
"How strange," she thought, "that he should think so much of me! What
can he see in me? And how can it be that a great lord, who speaks so
gently and is so reverential to a poor girl, and asks prayers so humbly,
can be so wicked and unbelieving as he says he is? Dear God, it cannot
be that he is an unbeliever; the great Enemy has been permitted to try
him, to suggest doubts to him, as he has to holy saints before now. How
beautifully he spoke about his mother!--tears glittered in his eyes
then,--ah, there must be grace there after all!"
"Well, my little heart," said Elsie, interrupting her reveries, "have
you had a pleasant day?"
"Delightful, grandmamma," said Agnes, blushing deeply with
"Well," said Elsie, with satisfaction, "one thing I know,--I've
frightened off that old hawk of a cavalier with his hooked nose. I
haven't seen so much as the tip of his shoe-tie to-day. Yesterday he
made himself very busy around our stall; but I made him understand that
you never would come there again till the coast was clear."
The monk was busily retouching the sketch of the Virgin of the
Annunciation. He looked up, and saw Agnes standing gazing towards the
setting sun, the pale olive of her cheek deepening into a crimson
flush. His head was too full of his own work to give much heed to the
conversation that had passed, but, looking at the glowing face, he said
"Truly, sometimes she might pass for the rose of Sharon as well as the
lily of the valley!"
The moon that evening rose an hour later than the night before, yet
found Agnes still on her knees before the sacred shrine, while Elsie,
tired, grumbled at the draft on her sleeping-time.
"Enough is as good as a feast," she remarked between her teeth; still
she had, after all, too much secret reverence for her grandchild's piety
openly to interrupt her. But in those days, as now, there were the
material and the spiritual, the souls who looked only on things that
could be seen, touched, and tasted, and souls who looked on the things
that were invisible.
Agnes was pouring out her soul in that kind of yearning, passionate
prayer possible to intensely sympathetic people, in which the
interests and wants of another seem to annihilate for a time personal
consciousness, and make the whole of one's being seem to dissolve in an
intense solicitude for something beyond one's self. In such hours prayer
ceases to be an act of the will, and resembles more some overpowering
influence which floods the soul from without, bearing all its faculties
away on its resistless tide.
Brought up from infancy to feel herself in a constant circle of
invisible spiritual agencies, Agnes received this wave of intense
feeling as an impulse inspired and breathed into her by some celestial
spirit, that thus she should be made an interceding medium for a soul in
some unknown strait or peril. For her faith taught her to believe in an
infinite struggle of intercession in which all the Church Visible and
Invisible were together engaged, and which bound them in living bonds of
sympathy to an interceding Redeemer, so that there was no want or woe
of human life that had not somewhere its sympathetic heart, and its
never-ceasing prayer before the throne of Eternal Love. Whatever may be
thought of the actual truth of this belief, it certainly was far more
consoling than that intense individualism of modern philosophy which
places every soul alone in its life-battle,--scarce even giving it a God
to lean upon.
The reader, if a person of any common knowledge of human nature,
will easily see the direction in which a young, inexperienced, and
impressible girl would naturally be tending under all the influences
which we perceive to have come upon her.
But in the religious faith which Agnes professed there was a modifying
force, whose power both for good and evil can scarcely be estimated.
The simple Apostolic direction, "Confess your faults one to another,"
and the very natural need of personal pastoral guidance and assistance
to a soul in its heavenward journey, had in common with many other
religious ideas been forced by the volcanic fervor of the Italian nature
into a certain exaggerated proposition. Instead of brotherly confession
one to another, or the pastoral sympathy of a fatherly elder, the
religious mind of the day was instructed in an awful mysterious
sacrament of confession, which gave to some human being a divine right
to unlock the most secret chambers of the soul, to scrutinize and direct
its most veiled and intimate thoughts, and, standing in God's stead, to
direct the current of its most sensitive and most mysterious emotions.
Every young aspirant for perfection in the religious life had to
commence by an unreserved surrender of the whole being in blind faith at
the feet of some such spiritual director, all whose questions must
be answered, and all whose injunctions obeyed, as from God himself.
Thenceforward was to be no soul-privacy, no retirement, nothing too
sacred to be expressed, too delicate to be handled and analyzed. In
reading the lives of those ethereally made and moulded women who
have come down to our day canonized as saints in the Roman Catholic
communion, one too frequently gets the impression of most regal natures,
gifted with all the most divine elements of humanity, but subjected to
a constant unnatural pressure from the ceaseless scrutiny and ungenial
pertinacity of some inferior and uncomprehending person invested with
the authority of a Spiritual Director.
That there are advantages attending this species of intimate direction,
when wisely and skilfully managed, cannot be doubted. Grovelling and
imperfect natures have often thus been lifted up and carried in the arms
of superior wisdom and purity. The confession administered by a Fenelon
or a Francis de Sales was doubtless a beautiful and most invigorating
ordinance; but the difficulty in its actual working is the rarity of
such superior natures,--the fact, that the most ignorant and most
incapable may be invested with precisely the same authority as the most
intelligent and skilful.
He to whom the faith of Agnes obliged her to lay open her whole soul,
who had a right with probing-knife and lancet to dissect out all the
finest nerves and fibres of her womanly nature, was a man who had been
through all the wild and desolating experiences incident to a dissipated
and irregular life in those turbulent days.
It is true, that he was now with most stringent and earnest solemnity
striving to bring every thought and passion into captivity to the spirit
of his sacred vows; but still, when a man has once lost that unconscious
soul-purity which exists in a mind unscathed by the fires of passion, no
after-tears can weep it back again. No penance, no prayer, no anguish
of remorse can give back the simplicity of a soul that has never been
If Padre Francesco had not failed to make those inquiries into the
character of Agnes's mysterious lover which he assumed to be necessary
as a matter of pastoral faithfulness.
It was not difficult for one possessing the secrets of the confessional
to learn the real character of any person in the neighborhood, and it
was with a kind of bitter satisfaction which rather surprised himself
that the father learned enough ill of the cavalier to justify his using
every possible measure to prevent his forming any acquaintance with
Agnes. He was captain of a band of brigands, and, of course, in array
against the State; he was excommunicated, and, of course, an enemy of
the Church. What but the vilest designs could be attributed to such a
man? Was he not a wolf prowling round the green, secluded pastures where
as yet the Lord's lamb had been folded in unconscious innocence?
Father Francesco, when he next met Agnes at the confessional, put such
questions as drew from her the whole account of all that had passed
between her and the stranger. The recital on Agnes's part was perfectly
translucent and pure, for she had said no word and had had no thought
that brought the slightest stain upon her soul. Love and prayer had been
the prevailing habit of her life, and in promising to love and pray she
had had no worldly or earthly thought. The language of gallantry, or
even of sincere passion, had never reached her ear; but it had always
been as natural to her to love every human being as for a plant
with tendrils to throw them round the next plant, and therefore she
entertained the gentle guest who had lately found room in her heart
without a question or a scruple.
As Agnes related her childlike story of unconscious faith and love, her
listener felt himself strangely and bitterly agitated. It was a vision
of ignorant purity and unconsciousness rising before him, airy and
glowing as a child's soap-bubble, which one touch might annihilate; but
he felt a strange remorseful tenderness, a yearning admiration, at its
unsubstantial purity. There is something pleading and pitiful in the
simplicity of perfect ignorance,--a rare and delicate beauty in its
freshness, like the morning-glory cup, which, once withered by the heat,
no second morning can restore. Agnes had imparted to her confessor, by
a mysterious sympathy, something like the morning freshness of her own
soul; she had redeemed the idea of womanhood from gross associations,
and set before him a fair ideal of all that female tenderness and purity
may teach to man. Her prayers--well he believed in them,--but be set
his teeth with a strange spasm of inward passion,--when he thought
of her prayers and love being given to another. He tried to persuade
himself that this was only the fervor of pastoral zeal against a vile
robber who had seized the fairest lamb of the sheepfold; but there was
an intensely bitter, miserable feeling connected with it, that scorched
and burned his higher aspirations like a stream of lava running among
fresh leaves and flowers.
The conflict of his soul communicated a severity of earnestness to
his voice and manner which made Agnes tremble, as he put one probing
question after another, designed to awaken some consciousness of sin
in her soul. Still, though troubled and distressed by his apparent
disapprobation, her answers came always clear, honest, unfaltering, like
those of one who _could_ not form an idea of evil.
When the confession was over, he came out of his recess to speak
with Agnes a few words face to face. His eyes had a wild and haggard
earnestness, and a vivid hectic flush on either cheek told how extreme
was his emotion. Agnes lifted her eyes to his with an innocent wondering
trouble and an appealing confidence that for a moment wholly unnerved
him. He felt a wild impulse to clasp her in his arms; and for a moment
it seemed to him he would sacrifice heaven and brave hell, if he could
for one moment hold her to his heart, and say that he loved her,--her,
the purest, fairest, sweetest revelation of God's love that had ever
shone on his soul,--her, the only star, the only flower, the only
dew-drop of a burning, barren, weary life. It seemed to him that it was
not the longing, gross passion, but the outcry of his whole nature for
something noble, sweet, and divine.
But he turned suddenly away with a sort of groan, and, folding his robe
over his face, seemed engaged in earnest prayer. Agnes looked at him
awe-struck and breathless.
"Oh, my father!" she faltered, "what have I done?"
"Nothing, my poor child," said the father, suddenly turning toward her
with recovered calmness and dignity; "but I behold in thee a fair lamb
whom the roaring lion is seeking to devour. Know, my daughter, that I
have made inquiries concerning this man of whom you speak, and find that
he is an outlaw and a robber and a heretic,--a vile wretch stained
by crimes that have justly drawn down upon him the sentence of
excommunication from our Holy Father the Pope."
Agnes grew deadly pale at this announcement.
"Can it be possible?" she gasped. "Alas! what dreadful temptations have
driven him to such sins?"
"Daughter, beware how you think too lightly of them, or suffer his good
looks and flattering words to blind you to their horror. You must from
your heart detest him as a vile enemy."
"Must I, my father?"
"Indeed you must."
"But if the dear Lord loved us and died for us when we were his enemies,
may we not pity and pray for unbelievers? Oh, say, my dear father, is it
not allowed to us to pray for all sinners, even the vilest?"
"I do not say that you may not, my daughter," said the monk, too
conscientious to resist the force of this direct appeal; "but,
daughter," he added, with an energy that alarmed Agnes, "you must watch
your heart; you must not suffer your interest to become a worldly love:
remember that you are chosen to be the espoused of Christ alone."
While the monk was speaking thus, Agnes fixed on him her eyes with an
innocent mixture of surprise and perplexity,--which gradually deepened
into a strong gravity of gaze, as if she were looking through him,
through all visible things into some far-off depth of mysterious
"My Lord will keep me," she said; "my soul is safe in His heart as a
little bird in its nest; but while I love Him, I cannot help loving
everybody whom He loves, even His enemies: and, father, my heart prays
within me for this poor sinner, whether I will or no; something within
me continually intercedes for him."
"Oh, Agnes! Agnes! blessed child, pray for me also," said the monk, with
a sudden burst of emotion which perfectly confounded his disciple. He
hid his face with his hands.
"My blessed father!" said Agnes, "how could I deem that holiness like
yours had any need of my prayers?"
"Child! child! you know nothing of me. I am a miserable sinner, tempted
of devils, in danger of damnation."
Agnes stood appalled at this sudden burst, so different from the rigid
and restrained severity of tone in which the greater part of the
conversation had been conducted. She stood silent and troubled; while
he, whom she had always regarded with such awful veneration, seemed
shaken by some internal whirlwind of emotion whose nature she could not
At length Father Francesco raised his head, and recovered his wonted
calm severity of expression.
"My daughter," he said, "little do the innocent lambs of the flock know
of the dangers and conflicts through which the shepherds must pass who
keep the Lord's fold. We have the labors of angels laid upon us, and we
are but men. Often we stumble, often we faint, and Satan takes advantage
of our weakness. I cannot confer with you now as I would; but, my child,
listen to my directions. Shun this young man; let nothing ever lead
you to listen to another word from him; you must not even look at him,
should you meet, but turn away your head and repeat a prayer. I do not
forbid you to practise the holy work of intercession for his soul, but
it must be on these conditions.
"My father," said Agnes, "you may rely on my obedience"; and, kneeling,
she kissed his hand.
He drew it suddenly away, with a gesture of pain and displeasure.
"Pardon a sinful child this liberty," said Agnes.
"You know not what you do," said the father, hastily. "Go, my
daughter,--go, at once; I will confer with you some other time"; and
hastily raising his hand in an attitude of benediction, he turned and
went into the confessional.
"Wretch! hypocrite! whited sepulchre!" he said to himself,--"to warn
this innocent child against a sin that is all the while burning in my
own bosom! Yes, I do love her,--I do! I, that warn her against earthly
love, I would plunge into hell itself to win hers! And yet, when I know
that the care of her soul is only a temptation and a snare to me, I
cannot, will not give her up! No, I cannot!--no, I will not! Why should
I _not_ love her? Is she not pure as Mary herself? Ah, blessed is he
whom such a woman leads! And I--I--have condemned myself to the society
of swinish, ignorant, stupid monks,--I must know no such divine souls,
no such sweet communion! Help me, blessed Mary!--help a miserable
Agnes left the confessional perplexed and sorrowful. The pale, proud,
serious face of the cavalier seemed to look at her imploringly, and she
thought of him now with the pathetic interest we give to something noble
and great exposed to some fatal danger. "Could the sacrifice of my whole
life," she thought, "rescue this noble soul from perdition, then I shall
not have lived in vain. I am a poor little girl; nobody knows whether
I live or die. He is a strong and powerful man, and many must stand or
fall with him. Blessed be the Lord that gives to his lowly ones a
power to work in secret places! How blessed should I be to meet him in
Paradise, all splendid as I saw him in my dream! Oh, that would be worth
living for,--worth dying for!"
* * * * *
The sumptuous abode of Licinius Crassus echoes with his sighs and
groans. His children and slaves respect his profound sorrow, and leave
him with intelligent affection to solitude,--that friend of great grief,
so grateful to the afflicted soul, because tears can flow unwitnessed.
Alas! the favorite sea-eel of Crassus is dead, and it is uncertain
whether Crassus can survive it!
This sensitive Roman caused his beloved fish to be buried with great
magnificence: he raised a monument to its memory, and never ceased to
mourn for it. So say Macrobius and Aelian.
This man, we are told, who displayed so little tenderness towards his
servants, had an extraordinary weakness concerning his fine sea-eels. He
passed his life beside the superb fish-pond, where he lovingly
fattened them from his own hand. Nor was his fondness for pisciculture
exceptional in his times. The fish-pond, to raise and breed the
finest varieties of fish, was as necessary an adjunct to a complete
establishment as a barn-yard or hen-coop to a modern farmer or rural
gentleman. Wherever there was a well-appointed Roman villa, it contained
a _piscina_; while many gardens near the sea could boast also a
_vivarium_, which, in this connection, means an oyster-bed.
Fish-ponds, of course, varied with the wealth, the ingenuity, and the
taste of their owners. Many were of vast size and of heterogeneous
contents. The costly _Muraena_, the carp, the turbot, and many other
varieties, sported at will in the great inclosures prepared for them.
The greater part of the Roman emperors were very fond of sea-eels.
The greedy Vitellius, growing tired of this dish, would at last, as
Suetonius assures us, eat only the soft roe; and numerous vessels
ploughed the seas in order to obtain it for him. The family of Licinius
took their surname of Muraena from these fish, in order thus to
perpetuate their silly affection for them. The love of fish became a
real mania, and the _Murcena Helena_ was worshipped.
Hortensius, who possessed three splendid country-seats, constructed in
the grounds of his villa at Bauli a fish-tank so massive that it has
endured to the present day, and so vast as to gain for it even then the
name of _Piscina Mircihilis_. It is a subterraneous edifice, vaulted,
and divided by four rows of arcades and numerous columns,--some ten
feet deep, and of very great extent. Here the largest fishes could be
fattened at will; and even the mighty sturgeon, prince of good-cheer,
might find ample accommodations.
Lucullus, that most ostentatious of patricians, and autocrat of
_bons-vivants_, had a mountain cut through in the neighborhood of
Naples, so as to open a canal, and bring up the sea and its fishes to
the centre of the gardens of his sumptuous villa. So Cicero well names
him one of the Tritons of fish-pools. His country-seat of Pausilypum
resembled a village rather than a villa, and, if of less extent, was
more magnificent in luxury than the gigantic villa of Hadrian, near
Tivoli. Great masses of stone-work are still visible, glimmering under
the blue water, where the marble walls repelled the waves, and ran out
in long arcades and corridors far into the sea. Inlets and creeks,
which wear even now an artificial air, mark the site of _piscinae_ and
refreshing lakes. Here were courts, baths, porticoes, and terraces, in
the _villa urbana_, or residence of the lord,--the _villa rustica_ for
the steward and slaves,--the _gallinarium_ for hens,--the _apiarium_ for
bees,--the _suile_ for swine,--the _villa fructuaria_, including the
buildings for storing corn, wine, oil, and fruits,--the _horius_, or
garden,--and the park, containing the fish-pond and the _vivarium_.
Statues, groves, and fountains, pleasure-boats, baths, jesters, and even
a small theatre, served to vary the amusements of the lovely grounds and
of the tempting sea.
But it was not to be supposed that men satiated with the brutal shows
of the amphitheatre, even if enervated by their frequentation of the
Suburra, could, on leaving the city, be always content with simple
pleasures, rural occupations, or pleasure-sails. Habit demanded
something more exciting; and the ready tragedy of a fish-pond filled
with ravenous eels fed upon human flesh furnished the needed excitement.
For men _blase_ with the spectacles of lions and tigers lacerating the
_bestiarii_. It was much more exciting to witness a swarm of sea-eels
tearing to pieces an awkward or rebellious slave. Vedius Pollio, a Roman
knight of the highest distinction, could find nothing better to do for
his dear Muraenae than to throw them slaves alive; and he never
failed to have sea-eels served to him after their odious repast, says
Tertullian. It is true, these wretched creatures generally deserved this
terrible punishment; for instance, Seneca speaks of one who had the
awkwardness to break a crystal vase while waiting at supper on the
Pisciculture was carried so far that fish-ponds were constructed on
the roofs of houses. More practical persons conducted a stream of
river-water through their dining-rooms, so that the fish swam under the
table, and it "was only necessary to stoop and pick them out the moment
before eating them; and as they were often cooked on the table, their
perfect freshness was thus insured. Martial (Lib. X., Epigram. XXX., vv.
16-25) alludes to this custom, as well as to the culture and taming of
fish in the _piscina_.
"Nec seta largo quaerit in mari praedam,
Sed e cubiclo lectuloque jactatam
Spectatus alte lineam trahit piscis.
Si quando Nereus sentit Aeoli regnum,
Ridet procellas tula de suo mensa.
Piscina rhombum pascit et lupos vernas,
Nomenculator mugilem citat notum
Et adesse jussi prodeunt senes mulli."
It having been remarked that the red mullet passed through many changes
of color in dying, like the dolphin, fashion decreed that it should die
upon the table. Served alive, inclosed in a glass vessel, it was cooked
in the presence of the attentive guests, by a slow fire, in order
that they might gloat upon its sufferings and expiring hues, before
satisfying their appetites with its flesh.
It will not surprise us to learn that the eminent _gourmand_ Apicius
offered a prize to the inventor of a new sauce made of mullets' livers.
But we may remark, that fish, like all other natural objects, were
studied by the ancients only to pet or to eat. All their views of
Nature were essentially selfish; none were disinterested, reverential,
deductive, or scientific. Nature ministered only to their appetites,
in her various kinds of food,--to their service, in her beasts of
burden,--or to their childish or ferocious amusement, with talking
birds, as the starling, with pet fish, or with pugnacious wild beasts.
There was no higher thought. The Greeks, though fond of flowers, and
employing them for a multitude of adornments and festive occasions
entirely unequalled now, yet did not advance to their botanical study or
classification. The Roman, if enamored of the fine arts, could see no
Art in Nature. There was no experiment, no discovery, and but little
observation. The whole science of Natural History, which has assumed
such magnitude and influence in our times, was then almost entirely
And yet what an opportunity there was for the naturalist, had a single
enthusiast arisen? All lands, all climes, and all their natural
productions were subservient to the will of the Emperor. The orb of the
earth was searched for the roe of eels or the fins of mullets to gratify
Caesar. And the whole world might have been explored, and specimens
deposited in one gigantic museum in the Eternal City, at the nod of a
single individual. But the observer, the lover of Nature, was wanting;
and the whole world was ransacked merely to consign its living tenants
to the _vivaria_, and thence to the fatal arena of the amphitheatre. Yet
even here the naturalist might have pursued his studies on individuals,
and even whole species, both living and dead, without quitting Rome. The
animal kingdom lay tributary at his feet, but served only to satiate his
appetite or his passions, and not to enrich his mind.
So, again, Rome's armies traversed the globe, and her legions were often
explorers of hitherto unknown regions. But no men of science, no corps
of _savans_ was attached to her cohorts, to march in the footsteps
of conquest and gather the fruits of victory to enrich the schools.
Provinces were devastated, great cities plundered, nations made captive,
and all the masterpieces of Art borne off to adorn Rome. But Nature was
never rifled of her secrets; nor was discovery carried beyond the most
material things. The military spirit stifled natural science.
There were then, to be sure, no tendencies of thought to anything but
war, pleasure, literature, or art. There was comparatively no knowledge
of the physical sciences, whose culture Mr. Buckle has shown to have
exerted so powerful an influence on civilization. The convex lens--as
since developed into the microscope, the giver of a new world to
man--was known to Archimedes only as an instrument to burn the enemy's
* * * * *
Modern pisciculture in some measure imitates, although, it does not
rival the ancient. Many methods have been devised in France and England
of breeding and nurturing the salmon, the trout, and other valuable
fish, which are annually becoming more scarce in all civilized
countries. But all this is on a far different principle from that
pursued at Rome. We follow pisciculture from necessity or economy,
because fish of certain kinds are yearly dying out, and to produce
a cheap food; but the Romans followed it as a luxury, or a childish
amusement, alone. And although our aldermen may sigh over a missing
Chelonian, as Crassus for his deceased eel, or the first salmon of the
season bring a fabulous price in the market, yet the time has long
passed when the gratification of appetite is alone thought of in
connection with Nature. We know that living creatures are to be studied,
as well as eaten; and that the faithful and reverent observation of
their idiosyncrasies, lives, and habits is as healthful and pleasing to
the mind as the consumption of their flesh is wholesome and grateful
to the body. The whole science of Zooelogy has arisen, with its simple
classifications and its vast details. The _vivaria_ of the Jardin des
Plantes rival those of the Colosseum in magnitude, and excel them in
object. Nature is ransacked, explored, and hunted down in every field,
only that she may add to the general knowledge. Museums collect and
arrange all the types of creative wisdom, from the simple cell to man.
Science searches out their extinct species and fossil remains, and tells
their age by Geology. The microscope pursues organic matter down into an
infinity of smallness, proportionately as far as the telescope traces it
upwards in the infinity of illimitable space. Last of all, though not
till long after the earth and the air had been seemingly exhausted,
the desire of knowledge began to push its way into the arcana of the
sea,--that hidden half of Nature, where are to be found those wonders
described by Milton at the Creation,--where, in obedience to the Divine
"Be fruitful, multiply, and in the seas
And lakes and running streams the waters fill, ...
Forthwith the sounds and seas, each creek and bay,
With fry innumerable swarm, and shoals
Of fish, that with their fins and shining scales
Glide under the green wave in sculls that oft
Bank the mid sea: part single or with mate
Graze the sea-weed, their pasture, and through groves
Of coral stray, or sporting with quick glance
Show to the sun their waved coats dropt with gold,
Or in their pearly shells at ease attend
Moist nutriment, or under rocks their food
In jointed armor watch."
But no means were at hand to pursue these unknown creatures to their
unknown residences, and to observe their manners when at home. Single,
withered, and often mutilated specimens of minute fish, mollusks, or
radiata, in the museum, alone illustrated the mysteries of the deep sea.
Fish, to be sure, could be kept for longer or shorter periods in globes
of glass filled with water; but the more delicate creatures inevitably
perished soon after their removal from their mysterious abodes. Such
a passionate desire to "search Nature and know her secrets" finally
originated the idea of the Aquarium.
The term _vivarium_ was used among the ancients to signify many
things,--from the dens of the wild animals which opened under the
Colosseum, to an oyster-bed; and so now it may mean any collection of
living creatures. Hence it could convey no distinct idea of a marine
collection such as we propose to describe. The term _aqua_ was added to
express the watery element; but the compound _aqua-vivarium_ was too
clumsy for frequent employment, and the abbreviated word _aquarium_ has
come into general use.
Thus the real Aquarium is a water-garden and a menagerie combined,--and
aims to show life beneath the waters, both animal and vegetable, in
all the domestic security of its native home, and in all the beauty,
harmony, and nice adaptation of Nature herself. It is no sudden
discovery, but the growth of a long and patient research by naturalists.
"What happens, when we put half a dozen gold-fish into a globe? The
fishes gulp in water and expel it at the gills. As it passes through the
gills, whatever free oxygen the water contains is absorbed, and carbonic
acid given off in its place; and in course of time, the free oxygen of
the water is exhausted, the water becomes stale, and at last poisonous,
from excess of carbonic acid. If the water is not changed, the fishes
come to the surface and gulp atmospheric air. But though they naturally
breathe air (oxygen) as we do, yet they are formed to extract it from
the water; and when compelled to take air from the surface, the gills,
or lungs, soon get inflamed, and death at last puts an end to their
"Now, if a fish-globe be not overcrowded with fishes, we have only
to throw in a goodly handful of some water-weed,--such as the
_Callitriche_, for instance,--and a new set of chemical operations
commences at once, and it becomes unnecessary to change the water. The
reason of this is easily explained. Plants absorb oxygen as animals
do; but they also absorb carbonic acid, and from the carbonic add thus
absorbed they remove the pure carbon, and convert it into vegetable
tissue, giving out the free oxygen either to the water or the air, as
the case may be. Hence, in a vessel containing water-plants in a state
of healthy growth, the plants exhale more oxygen than they absorb, and
thus replace that which the fishes require for maintaining healthy
respiration. Any one who will observe the plants in an aquarium, when
the sun shines through the tank, will see the leaves studded with bright
beads, some of them sending up continuous streams of minute bubbles.
These beads and bubbles are pure oxygen, which the plants distil from
the water itself, in order to obtain its hydrogen, and from carbonic
acid, in order to obtain its carbon."[A]
[Footnote A:_The Book of the Aquarium_, by Sidney Hibbert.]
Thus the water, if the due proportion of its animal and vegetable
tenants be observed, need never be changed. This is the true Aquarium,
which aims to imitate the balance of Nature. By this balance the whole
organic world is kept living and healthy. For animals are dependent upon
the vegetable kingdom not only for all their food, but also for
the purification of the air, which they all breathe, either in the
atmosphere or in the water. The divine simplicity of this stupendous
scheme may well challenge our admiration. Each living thing, animal or
plant, uses what the other rejects, and gives back to the air what the
other needs. The balance must be perfect, or all life would expire, and
vanish from the earth.
This is the balance which we imitate in the Aquarium. It is the whole
law of life, the whole scheme of Nature, the whole equilibrium of our
organic world, inclosed in a bottle.
For the rapid evolution of oxygen by plants the action of sunlight is
required. That evolution becomes very feeble, or ceases entirely, in the
darkness of the night. Some authorities assert even that carbonic acid
is given off during the latter period. So, too, they claim that there
are two distinct processes carried on by the leaves of plants,--namely,
respiration and digestion: that the first is analogous to the same
process in animals; and that by it oxygen is absorbed from, and carbonic
acid returned to the atmosphere, though to a limited degree: and that
digestion consists in _the decomposition of carbonic acid by the green
tissues of the leaves under the stimulus of the light, the fixation of
solid carbon, and the evolution of pure oxygen_. The theory of distinct
respiration has been somewhat doubted by the highest botanical authority
of this country; but the theory of digestion is indisputable. And it is
no less certain that all forms of vegetation give to the air much more
free oxygen than they take from it, and much less carbonic acid, as
their carbonaceous composition shows. If fresh leaves are placed in
a bell-glass containing air charged with seven or eight per cent. of
carbonic acid, and exposed to the light of the sun, it will be found
that a large proportion of the carbonic acid will have disappeared, and
will be replaced by pure oxygen. But this change will not be effected in
the dark, nor by any degree of artificial light. Under water the oxygen
evolved from healthy vegetation can be readily collected as it rises, as
has been repeatedly proved.
Why carbonic acid is, to a limited degree, given off by the plant in the
night, is merely because the vital process, or the fixation of carbon
and evolution of oxygen, ceases when the light is withdrawn. The plant
is only in a passive state. Ordinary chemical forces resume their sway,
and the oxygen of the air combines with the newly deposited carbon to
reproduce a little carbonic acid. But this must be placed to the account
of decomposing, not of growing vegetation; for by so much as plants
grow, they decompose carbonic acid and give its oxygen to the air, or,
in other words, purify the air.
It has been found by experiment, that every six pounds of carbon in
existing plants has withdrawn twenty-two pounds of carbonic acid gas
from the atmosphere, and replaced it with sixteen pounds of oxygen gas,
occupying the same bulk. And when we consider the amount of carbon that
is contained in the tissues of living, and of extinct vegetation also,
in the form of peat and coal, we may have some idea of the vast body of
oxygen which the vegetable kingdom has added to the atmosphere.
And it is also to be considered, that this is the only means we know of
whereby free oxygen is given to supply the quantity constantly consumed
in respiration, combustion, and other vast and endless oxygen-using
processes. It follows, therefore, that animals are dependent upon plants
for their pure oxygen, as well as for their food. But the vegetable
kingdom might exist independently of the animal; since plants may derive
enough carbon from the soil, enriched by the decaying members of their
There is, however, one exception to the law that plants increase the
amount of oxygen in the air. During flowering and fruiting, the stores
of carbon laid up in the plant are used to support the process, and,
combining with the oxygen of the air, both carbonic acid and heat are
given off. This has been frequently proved. In large tropical plants,
where an immense number of blossoms are crowded together, the
temperature has risen twenty to fifty degrees above that of the
As most of the aquatic plants are cryptogamous, or producing by spores,
and not by flowers, it seems probable that the evolution of carbonic
acid and heat is much less in degree in them, and therefore less in the
water than in the air. We may, therefore, venture to lay it down as a
general principle, that plants evolve free oxygen in water, when in
the sunlight, and remove the carbonic acid added to the water by the
respiration of the animals.
But since this is a digestive or nutritive process, it follows that
aquatic plants may derive much or all of their food from the water
itself, or the carbon in it, in the same manner as the so-called
air-plant, which grows without soil, does from the air. It is true, at
any rate, that, in the fresh-water aquarium, the river and brook plants
need no soil but pebbles; and that the marine plants have no proper
root, but are attached by a sort of sucker or foot-stalk to stones and
masses of rock. It is very easy to see, then, how the aquarium may
be made entirely self-supporting; and that, excepting for the larger
carnivorous fish, who exhaust in a longer or shorter period the minute
creatures on which they live, no external food is required.
A very simple experiment will prove the theory and practicability of the
aquarium. In a glass jar of moderate size was placed a piece of _Ulva
latissima_, or Sea-Lettuce, a broad-leaved, green, aquatic plant, and a
small fish. The mouth was closed by a ground glass stopper. The jar was
exposed to the light daily; the water was never changed; nor was the
glass stopper removed, excepting to feed the fish, once or twice a week,
with small fragments of meat. At the end of eight months both remained
flourishing: the fish was lively and active; and the plant had more than
half filled the bottle with fresh green leaves.
Any vessel that will hold water can, of course, be readily converted
into an aquarium. But as we desire a clear view of the contents at all
times, glass is the best material. And since glass globes refract the
light irregularly and magnify and distort whatever is within them, we
shall find an advantage in having the sides of the aquarium parallel and
the form rectangular. As the weight of the aquarium, when filled with
water, is enormous,--far more than we should at first imagine,--it
follows that it must be capable of resisting pressure both from above
and from within. The floor and stand, the frame and joints must be
strong and compact, and the walls of plate or thick crown glass. The
bottom should be of slate; and if it is designed to attach arches of
rock-work inside to the ends, they, too, must be of slate, as cement
will not stick to glass. The frame should be iron, zinc, or well-turned
wood; the joints closed with white-lead putty; the front and back of
glass. There is one objection to having the side which faces the light
of transparent glass, and that is that it transmits too much glare of
sunlight for the health of the animals. In Nature's aquarium the light
enters only from above; and the fish and delicate creatures have always,
even then, the shady fronds of aquatic plants or the shelter of the
rocks,--as well as the power of seeking greater depths of water, where
the light is less,--to protect themselves from too intense a sunshine.
It is, therefore, sometimes advisable to have the window side of the
aquarium made of glass stained of a green color. It is desirable that
all aquarial tanks should have a movable glass cover to protect them
from dust, impure gases, and smoke.
When we speak of an aquarium, we mean a vessel holding from eight to
thirty gallons of water. Mr. Gosse describes his larger tank as being
two feet long by eighteen inches wide and eighteen inches deep, and
holding some twenty gallons. Smaller and very pretty tanks may be
made fifteen inches long by twelve inches wide and twelve deep. Great
varieties in form and elegance may be adapted to various situations.
There are two kinds of aquaria, the fresh- and the salt-water: the one
fitted for the plants and animals of ponds and rivers; the other for the
less known tenants of the sea. They are best described as the River and
the Marine Aquarium, and they differ somewhat from each other. We shall
speak first of the fresh-water aquarium.
The tank being prepared, and well-seasoned, by being kept several weeks
alternately full and empty, and exposed to the sun and air, so that all
paint, oil, varnish, tannin, etc., may be wholly removed, the next thing
is to arrange the bottom and to plant it. Some rough fragments of rock,
free from iron or other metals that stain the water, may be built into
an arch with cement, or piled up in any shape to suit the fancy. The
bottom should be composed entirely of shingle or small pebbles, well
washed. Common silver sand, washed until the water can be poured through
it quite clear, is also suitable.
Mould, or soil adapted to ordinary vegetation, is not necessary to
the aquatic plants, and is, moreover, worse than useless; since it
necessitates the frequent changing of the water for some time, in order
to get rid of the soluble vegetable matter, and promotes the growth of
Confervae, and other low forms of vegetation, which are obnoxious.
Aquatic plants of all kinds have been found to root freely and flourish
in pebbles alone, if their roots be covered. The plants should be
carefully cleared of all dead parts; the roots attached to a small
stone, or laid on the bottom and covered with a layer of pebbles and
The bottom being planted, the water may be introduced through a
watering-pot, or poured against the side of the tank, so as to avoid any
violent agitation of the bottom. The water should be pure and bright.
River-water is best; spring-water will do, but must be softened by the
plants for some days before the fishes are put in.
Sunshine is good for the tank at all seasons of the year. The
fresh- requires more than the salt-water aquarium. The amount of
oxygen given off by the plants, and hence their growth and the
sprightliness of the fishes, are very much increased while the sun
is shining on them.
In selecting plants for the aquarium some regard is to be paid to the
amount of oxygen they will evolve, and to their hardiness, as well as to
their beauty. When it is desired to introduce the fishes without waiting
long for the plants to get settled and to have given off a good supply
of oxygen, there is no plant more useful than the _Callitricke_, or
Brook Star-wort. It is necessary to get a good supply, and pick off the
green heads, with four or six inches only of stem; wash them clean,
and throw them into the tank, without planting. They spread over the
surface, forming a rich green ceiling, grow freely, and last for months.
They are continually throwing out new roots and shoots, and create
abundance of oxygen. Whenever desired, they can be got rid of by simply
lifting them out.
The _Vallisneria_, or Tape-Grass, common in all our ponds, is essential
to every fresh-water tank. It must be grown as a bottom-plant, and
flourishes only when rooted. The _Nitella_ is another pleasing variety.
The _Ranunculus aquatilis_, or Water-Crowfoot, is to be found in almost
every pond in bloom by the middle of May, and continues so into the
autumn. It is of the buttercup family, and may be known as a white
buttercup with a yellow centre. The floating leaves are fleshy; the
lower ones finely cut. It must be very carefully washed, and planted
from a good joint, allowing length enough of stem to reach the surface.
Some of the blossom-heads may also be sprinkled over the surface, where
they will live and bloom all through the summer. The _Hydrocharis_,
or Frog's-Bit, and the _Alisma_, or Water-Plantain, are also easily
obtained, hardy and useful, as well as pleasing. Many rarer and more
showy varieties may be cultivated; we have given only the most common
and essential. All the varieties of _Chara_ are interesting to the
microscopist, as showing the phenomenon of the circulation of the sap,
Of the living tenants of the aquarium, those most interesting, as well
as of the highest organization, are the fishes. And among fishes, the
family of the _Cyprinidae_ are the best adapted to our purpose; for we
must select those which are both hardy and tamable. _Cyprinus gibelio_,
the Prussian Carp, is one of the best. It will survive, even if the
water should accidentally become almost exhausted of oxygen. It may
be taught, also, to feed from the hand. None of the carp are very
carnivorous. _Cyprinus auratus_, or the Gold-fish, is one of the most
ornamental objects in an aquarium. But the Minnow, _C. phoxinus_, is the
jolliest little fish in the tank. He is the life of the collection, and
will survive the severest trials of heat and cold. The Chub, a common
tenant of our ponds, is also a good subject for domestication. The
Tench and Loach are very interesting, but also very delicate. Among the
spiny-finned fishes, the Sticklebacks are the prettiest, but so savage
that they often occasion much mischief. For a vessel containing
twelve gallons the following selection of live stock is among those
recommended: Three Gold Carp, three Prussian Carp, two Perch, four
large Loach, a dozen Minnows, six Bleak, and two dozen Planorbis. Some
varieties of the Water-Beetles, or Water-Spiders, which the fishes
do not eat, may also well be added. The Newt, too, is attractive and
All may go on well, and the water remain clear; but after the tank has
been established several weeks, the inner sides of the glass will show a
green tinge, which soon increases and interferes with the view. This is
owing to the growth of a minute confervoid vegetation, which must be
kept down. For this purpose the Snail is the natural remedy, being the
ready scavenger of all such nuisances. Snails cling to the sides, and
clean away and consume all this vegetable growth. The _Lymnea_ is among
the most efficient, but unfortunately is destructive, by eating holes
in the young fronds of the larger plants, and thus injuring their
appearance. To this objection some other varieties of snail are not
open. The _Paludina_ and _Planorbis_ are the only kinds which are
trustworthy. The former is a handsome snail, with a bronze-tinted,
globular shell; the latter has a spiral form. These will readily reduce
the vegetation. And to preserve the crystal clearness of the water, some
Mussels may be allowed to burrow in the sand, where they will perform
the office of animated filters. They strain off matters held in
suspension in the water, by means of their siphons and ciliated gills.
With these precautions, a well-balanced tank will long retain all the
pristine purity of Nature.
Specimens for the river aquarium may be readily obtained in almost
any brook or pool, by means of the hand-net or dredge. It will be
astonishing to see the variety of objects brought up by a successful
haul. Small fish, newts, tadpoles, mollusks, water-beetles, worms,
spiders, and spawn of all kinds will be visible to the naked eye; while
the microscope will bring out thousands more of the most beautiful
A very different style of appearance and of objects distinguishes the
Salt-water or Marine Aquarium.
As the greater part of the most curious live stock of the salt-water
aquarium live upon or near the bottom, so the marine tank should be more
shallow, and allow an uninterrupted view from above. Marine creatures
are more delicately constituted than fresh-water ones; and they demand
more care, patience, and oversight to render the marine aquarium
Sea-sand and pebbles, washed clean, form the best bottom for the
salt-water aquarium. It must be recollected that many of the marine
tenants are burrowers, and require a bottom adapted to their habits.
Some rock-work is considered essential to afford a grateful shelter and
concealment to such creatures as are timid by nature, and require a spot
in which to hide: this is true of many fishes. Branches of coral, bedded
in cement, may be introduced, and form beautiful and natural objects, on
which plants will climb and droop gracefully.
Sea-water dipped from the open sea, away from the mouths of rivers,
is, of course, the best for the marine aquarium. If pure, it will bear
transportation and loss of time before being put into the tank. It may,
however, not always be possible to get sea-water, particularly for the
aquarium remote from the seaboard, and it is therefore fortunate that
artificial sea-water will answer every purpose.
The composition of natural sea-water is, in a thousand parts,
approximately, as follows: Water, 964 parts; Common Salt, 27; Chloride
of Magnesium, 3.6; Chloride of Potassium, 0.7; Sulphate of Magnesia,
(Epsom Salts,) 2; Sulphate of Lime, 1.4; Bromide of Magnesium, Carbonate
of Lime, etc., .02 to .03 parts. Now the Bromide of Magnesium, and
Sulphate and Carbonate of Lime, occur in such small quantities, that
they can be safely omitted in making artificial seawater; and besides,
river and spring water always contain a considerable proportion of lime.
Therefore, according to Mr. Gosse, we may use the following formula: In
every hundred parts of the solid ingredients, Common Salt, 81 parts;
Epsom Salts, 7 parts; Chloride of Magnesium, 10 parts; Chloride of
Potassium, 2 parts; and of Water about 2900 parts, although this must be
accurately determined by the specific gravity. The mixture had better
be allowed to stand several days before filling the tank; for thus the
impurities of the chemicals will settle, and the clear liquor can be
decanted off. The specific gravity should then be tested with the
hydrometer, and may safely range from 1026 to 1028,--fresh water being
1000. If a quart or two of real sea-water can be obtained, it is a very
useful addition to the mixture. It may now be introduced into the tank
through a filter. But no living creatures must be introduced until the
artificial water has been softened and prepared by the growth of the
marine plants in it for several weeks. Thus, too, it will be oxygenated,
and ready for the oxygen-using tenants.
It is a singular fact, that water which has been thus prepared, with
only four ingredients, will, after being a month or more in the
aquarium, acquire the other constituents which are normally present in
minute quantities in the natural sea-water. It must derive them from the
action of the plants or animals, or both. Bromine may come from sponges,
or sea-wrack, perhaps. Thus artificial water eventually rights itself.
The tank, having been prepared and seasoned with the same precaution
used for the river aquarium, and having a clear bottom and a supply of
good water, is now ready for planting. Many beautifully colored and
delicately fringed Algae and Sea-Wracks will be found on the rocks at
low tide, and will sadly tempt the enthusiast to consign their delicate
hues to the aquarium. All such temptations must be resisted. Green is
the only color well adapted for healthy and oxygenating growth in the
new tank. A small selection of the purple or red varieties may perhaps
be introduced and successfully cultivated at a later day, but they are
very delicate; while the olives and browns are pretty sure to die and
corrupt the water. It must be remembered, too, that the Algae are
cryptogamous, and bear no visible flowers to delight the eye or fancy.
Of all marine plants, the _Ulva latissima_, or Sea-Lettuce, is first and
best. It has broad, light-green fronds, and is hardy and a rapid grower,
and hence a good giver of oxygen. Next to this in looks and usefulness
comes the _Enteromorpha compressa_, a delicate, grass-like Alga. After
a while the _Chondrus crispus_, or common Carrageen Moss, may be chosen
and added. These ought to be enough for some months, as it is not safe
to add too many at once. Then the green weeds _Codium tomentosum_ and
_Cladophora_ may be tried; and, still later, the beautiful _Bryopsis
plumosa_. But it is much better to be content with a few Ulvae, and
others of that class, to begin with; for a half dozen of these will
support quite a variety of animal life.
After a few hardy plants are well set, and thriving for a week or two,
and the water is clear and bubbly with oxygen, it will be time to look
about for the live stock of the marine aquarium. Fishes, though most
attractive, must be put in last; for as they are of the highest
vitality, so they require the most oxygen and food, and hence should not
be trusted until everything in the tank is well a-going.
The first tenants should be the hardy varieties of the Sea-Anemones,
or _Actiniae_,--which are Polyps, of the class Radiata. The _Actinia
mesembryanthemum_ is the common smooth anemone, abounding on the coast,
and often to be found attached to stones on the beach. "When closed,"
says Mr. Hibbert, "it has much resemblance to a ripe strawberry,
being of a deep chocolate color, dotted with small yellow spots. When
expanded, a circle of bright blue beads or tubercles is seen within the
central opening; and a number of coral-like fingers or tentacles unfold
from the centre, and spread out on all sides." It remains expanded for
many days together, if the water be kept pure; and, having little desire
for locomotion, stays, generally, about where it is placed. It is
a carnivorous creature, and seeks its food with its ever-searching
tentacles, thus drawing in fishes and mollusks, but, most frequently,
the minute Infusoria. Like other polyps, it may be cut in two, and each
part becomes a new creature. It is a very pretty and hardy object in the
aquarium. There are many varieties, some of which are very delicate, as
the _Actinia anguicoma_, or Snaky-locked Anemone, and the pink and brown
_Actinia bellis_, which so resembles a daisy. Others, as the _Actinia
parasitica_, are obtainable only by deep-sea dredging; "and, as its name
implies, it usually inhabits the shell of some defunct mollusk. And more
curious still, in the same shell we usually find a pretty crab, who
acts as porter to the anemone. He drags the shell about with him like
a palanquin, on which sits enthroned a very bloated, but gayly-dressed
potentate, destitute of power to move it for himself."[B]
[Footnote B: Hibbert's _Book of the Aquarium_.]
The _Actinia gemmacea_, or Gemmed Anemone, the _Actinia crassicornis_,
and the Plumose Anemone are all beautiful, but tender varieties.
The Anemones require but little care; they do not generally need
feeding, though the Daisy and Plumose Anemone greedily take minced
mutton, or oyster. But, as a rule, there are enough Infusoria for their
subsistence; and it is safer not to feed them, as any fragments not
consumed will decay, and contaminate the water.
Next in order of usefulness, hardiness, and adaptability to the new
aquarium, come the Mollusks. And of these, Snails and Periwinkles claim
our respectful attention, as the most faithful, patient, and necessary
scavengers of the confervoid growths, which soon obscure the marine
"It is interesting," says Mr. Gosse, "to watch the business-like way in
which the Periwinkle feeds. At very regular intervals, the proboscis, a
tube with thick fleshy walls, is rapidly turned inside out to a certain
extent, until a surface is brought into contact with the glass having a
silky lustre; this is the tongue; it is moved with a short sweep,
and then the tubular proboscis infolds its walls again, the tongue
disappearing, and every filament of Conferva being carried up into the
interior, from the little area which had been swept. The next instant,
the foot meanwhile having made a small advance, the proboscis unfolds
again, the makes another sweep, and again the whole is withdrawn; and
this proceeds with great regularity. I can compare the action to nothing
so well as to the manner in which the tongue of an ox licks up the grass
of the field, or to the action of the mower cutting swath after swath."
Of Crustacea, the Prawns and the smaller kinds of Crabs may be
admitted to the aquarium, though but sparingly. They are rude, noisy,
quarrelsome, and somewhat destructive,--but, for the same reason,
amusing tenants of the tank.
All are familiar with the mode in which the Soldier or Hermit Crab takes
possession of and lives in the shells of Whelks and Snails. Poorly
protected behind by Nature, the homeless crab wanders about seeking a
lodging. Presently he meets with an empty shell, and, after probing it
carefully with his claw to be sure it is not tenanted, he pops into it
back foremost in a twinkling, and settles himself in his new house.
Often, too, he may be seen balancing the conveniences of the one he is
in and of another vacant lodging he has found in his travels; and he
even ventures out of his own, and into the other, and back again, before
being satisfied as to their respective merits. In all these manoeuvres,
as well as in his daily battles with his brethren, he is one of the
drollest of creatures.
As we advance in our practice with the aquarium we may venture to
introduce more delicate lodgers. Such are the beautiful family of the
_Annelidae_: the _Serpula_, in his dirty house; and the _Terebella_,
most ancient of masons, who lays the walls of his home in water-proof
The great class of Zooephytes can be introduced, but many varieties of
them will be found already within the aquarium, in the company of their
more bulky neighbors. These peculiar creatures, or things, form the
boundary where the last gleam of animal life is so feeble and flickering
as to render it doubtful whether they belong to the animal or vegetable
kingdom. Agassiz calls them _Protozoa_,--Primary Existences. Some divide
them into two great classes, namely: the _Anthozoa_, or Flower-Life; and
the _Polyzoa_, or Many-Life, in which the individuals are associated in
numbers. They are mostly inhabitants of the water; all are destitute of
joints, nerves, lungs, and proper blood-vessels; but they all possess
an _irritable_ system, in obedience to which they expand or contract at
will. Among the _Anthozoa_ are the Anemones; among the _Polyzoa_,
are the Madrepores, or Coral-Builders, and many others. Many are
microscopic, and belong to the class of animalcules called _Infusoria_.
A very remarkable quality which the Infusoria possess--one very useful
for the aquarium, and one which would seem to settle their place in the
_vegetable_ kingdom--is that they _exhale oxygen_ like plants. This has
been proved by Liebig, who collected several jars of oxygen from tanks
containing Infusoria only.
A piece of honeycomb coral (_Eschara foliacea_) is easily found, and,
when well selected and placed in the aquarium, may continue to grow
there by the labors of its living infusorial tenants: they are not
unworthy rivals of the Madrepores, or deep-sea coral-builders of warmer
latitudes. The walls of its cells are not more than one-thirtieth of an
inch in thickness, and each cell has its occupant. So closely are they
packed, that in an area of one-eighth of an inch square the orifices of
forty-five cells can be counted. As these are all double, this would
give five thousand seven hundred and sixty cells to the square inch. Now
a moderate-sized specimen will afford, with all its convolutions,
at least one hundred square inches of wall, which would contain a
population of five hundred and seventy-six thousand inhabitants,--a very
large city. So says Mr. Gosse. We cannot forbear, with him, from quoting
Montgomery's lines on the labors of the coral-worms, which modern
science has enabled us to study in our parlors.
"Millions on millions thus, from age to age,
With simplest skill, and toil unweariable,
No moment and no movement unimproved,
Laid line on line, on terrace terrace spread,
To swell the heightening, brightening, gradual mound,
By marvellous structure climbing towards the day.
Each wrought alone, yet all together wrought,
Unconscious, not unworthy instruments,
By which a hand invisible was rearing
A new creation in the secret deep.
.....I saw the living pile ascend,
The mausoleum of its architects,
Still dying upwards as their labors closed;
Slime the material, but the slime was turned
To adamant by their petrific touch:
Frail were their frames, ephemeral their lives,
Their masonry imperishable."
The deep-sea soundings taken recently for the Atlantic telegraph have
demonstrated the existence of organic life even at the bottom of the
ocean. Numerous living Infusoria have been brought to the light of day,
from their hidden recesses, by the lead. "Deeper than ever plummet
sounded" before these latter days, there exist myriads of minute
creatures, and of Algae to furnish their food. It is an unanswered
problem, How they can resist the enormous pressure to which they must
be there subjected, amounting, not infrequently, to several tons to the
square inch. And still another point of interest for us springs
from this. It is an inquiry of practical importance to the aquarian
naturalist, How far the diminished pressure which they meet with in the
tank, on being transferred from their lower homes to the aquarium, may
influence their viability. May not some of the numerous deaths in the
marine tank be reasonably attributed to this lack of pressure?
What a difference, too, has Nature established, in the natural power to
resist pressure, between those creatures which float near the surface
and those which haunt the deeper sea! The Jelly-fish can live only near
the top of the water, and, floating softly through a gentle medium, is
yet crushed by a touch; while the Coral-builder bears the superincumbent
weight of worlds on his vaulted cell with perfect impunity.
Another important question is, How far alteration in the amount of light
may affect the more delicate creatures. What fishes do without light has
been solved by the darkness of the Mammoth Cave, the tenants of whose
black pools are eyeless, evidently because there is nothing to see. The
more deeply located Infusoria and Mollusks must dwell in an endless
twilight; for Humboldt has found, by experiment, that at a depth one
hundred and ninety-two feet from the surface the amount of sunlight
which can penetrate is equal only to one-half of the light of an
ordinary candle one foot distant.
Thus ever in gloom, yet in a state of constant safety from storms and
the agitations of the upper air, the thousand forms of low organic life
and cryptogamic vegetation live and thrive in peace and quietness.
"The floor is of sand like the mountain drift,
And the pearl-shells spangle the flinty snow;
From the coral rocks the sea-plants lift
Their boughs, where the tides and billows flow.
* * * * *
"And life in rare and beautiful forms
Is sporting amid those bowers of stone,
And is safe, when the wrathful spirit of storms
Has made the top of the waves his own."[C]
[Footnote C: Percival.]
Upon the bottom, at various depths, lies that brilliant Radiate--type of
his class--the Star-fish. These are quiet and harmless creatures, and
favorites in the aquarium, from the pretty contrast they make with
marine plants and other objects.
The perfect transparency, elegant form, and graceful navigation of the
_Medusae_, or Jelly-fishes, render them much admired in their native
haunts, and prized for the aquarium. But they are very delicate. How
beautiful and remarkable are these headless _Discophori_, as they
float, and propel themselves with involutions of their disks and gently
trailing tentacles, and the central peduncle hanging far below, like the
clapper of a transparent bell! And yet these wonders are but so much
sea-water, inclosed in so slight a tissue that it withers in the sun,
and leaves only a minute spot of dried-up gelatinous substance behind.
Finally come the Fishes, many of which are of similar genera to those
recommended for the fresh-water tank. The Black Goby is familiar,
tamable, but voracious; the Gray Mullet is very hardy, but also rather
savage; the Wrasses are some of the most showy fish,--called in some
parts of the country Cunners,--and of these, the Ancient Wrasse,
(_Labrus maculatus_,) covered with a network of vermilion meshes on a
brown and white ground, is the most elegant.
Some points of general management are so important, and some dangers so
imminent, that we cannot pass them by unnoticed. The aquarian enthusiast
is very apt to be in too great haste to see everything going on, and
commits the common error of trying too many things at once. The aquarium
must be built up slowly and tentatively, object by object: plants first,
and of the simplest kinds; and not until they are well settled, and the
water beaded with oxygen bubbles, should we think of introducing living
creatures,--and even then only the hardier kinds of actinias, mollusks,
and crabs. All delicate animals must be intrusted one by one to their
new home, and carefully watched for deaths and decay, which, whether
arising from dead plants or animals, ruin everything very quickly,
unless they be promptly removed. For sulphuretted hydrogen, even in very
minute quantities, is sure death to all these little creatures.
The emanations from paint and putty are often fatal in new tanks.
Several weeks' exposure to water, air, and sunlight is necessary to
season the new-made aquarium. Of equal consequence is it that the water
be absolutely pure; and if brought from the sea, care must be exercised
about the vessel containing it. Salt acts upon the glazing of earthen
ware of some kinds. Stone or glass jars are safest. New oak casks are
fatal from the tannin which soaks out; fir casks are safe and good. So
delicate and sensitive are the minute creatures which people the sea,
that they have been found dead on opening a cask in which a new oak
bung was the only source of poison. And no wonder; for a very slight
proportion of tannic acid in the water corrugates and stiffens the thin,
smooth skin of the anemone, like the tanning of leather.
A certain natural density of the sea-water must also be preserved,
ranging between no wider limits than 1026 and 1028. And in the open tank
evaporation is constantly deranging this, and must be met by a supply
from without. As the pure water alone evaporates, and the salts and
earthy or mineral constituents are left behind, two things result: the
water remaining becomes constantly more dense; and this can be remedied
only by pure fresh water poured in to restore the equilibrium. Hence the
marine aquarium must be replenished with _fresh water_, until the proper
specific gravity, as indicated by the hydrometer, is restored.
The aquarium may be found some morning with a deep and permanent green
stain discoloring the water. This unsightly appearance is owing to the
simultaneous development of the spores of multitudes of minute Algae and
Confervae, and can be obviated by passing the water through a charcoal
filter. When any of the fishes give signs of sickness or suffocation, by
coming to the surface and gulping air, they may be revived by having the
water aerated by pouring it out repeatedly from a little elevation, or
by a syringe. The fishes are sometimes distressed, also, when the room
gets too warm for them. A temperature of 60 deg. is about what they require.
And they will stand cold, many of them, even to being frozen with the
water into ice, and afterwards revive.
The degree of light should be carefully regulated by a stained glass
side, or a shade. Yet it must be borne in mind that sunlight is
indispensable to the free evolution of oxygen by the plants. And when
the sun is shining on the water, all its occupants appear more lively,
and the fishes seem intoxicated--as they doubtless are--with oxygen.
A novice is apt to overstock his aquarium. Not more than two
moderate-sized fishes to a gallon of water is a safe rule. Care, too,
must be taken to group together those kinds of creatures which are not
natural enemies, or natural food for each other, or a sad scene of
devastation and murder will ensue.
Cleansing cannot be always intrusted to snails. But the sides may be
scrubbed with a soft swab, made of cotton or wick-yarn. Deaths will
occasionally take place; and even suicide is said to be resorted to by
the wicked family of the Echinoderms.
To procure specimens for the aquarium requires some knack and knowledge.
The sea-shore must be haunted, and even the deep sea explored. At the
extreme low-water of new or full moon tides, the rocks and tide-pools
are to be zealously hunted over by the aquarian naturalist. Several
wide-mouthed vials and stone jars are necessary; and we would repeat,
that no plant should be taken, unless its attachment is preserved. It
is often a long and difficult job to get some of the Algae; with their
tender connections unsevered from the hard rock, which must be chipped
away with the chisel, and often with the blows of the hammer deadened by
being struck under water. It is by lifting up the overhanging masses of
slimy fuel, tangles, and sea-grass, that we find the delicate varieties,
as the _Chondrus_ with its metallic lustre, and the red _Algae_, or the
stony _Corallina_, which delights in the obscurity of shaded pools.
The sea-weeds will be found studded with mollusks,--as Snails and
Periwinkles of many queer varieties. Anemones, of the more common kinds,
are found clinging to smooth stones. Crabs on the sand. Prawns, Shrimps,
Medusae, and fishes of many species, in the little pools which the tide
leaves behind, and which it will require a sharp eye and a quick hand
to explore with success. But the rarer forms of Actinias, Star-fishes,
Sepioles, Madrepores, Annelidae, and Zoophytes, of a thousand shapes,
live on the bottom, in deep water, and must be captured there.
For this purpose we must dredge from a boat, under sail. The
naturalist's dredge is an improved oyster-dredge, with each of the two
long sides of the mouth made into a scraping lip of iron. The body is
made of spun-yarn, or fishing-line, netted into a small mesh. Two long
triangles are attached by a hinge to the two short sides of the frame,
and meeting in front, at some distance from the mouth, are connected by
a swivel-joint. To this the dragging rope is bent, which must be three
times as long, in dredging, as the depth of the water. This is fastened
to the stern of a boat under sail, and thus the bottom is raked of
all sorts of objects; among which, on emptying the net, many living
creatures for the aquarium are found. These may be placed temporarily in
jars; though plants, mollusks, Crustacea and Actiniae may be kept and
transmitted long distances packed in layers of moist sea-weed.
For all this detail, labor, and patient care, we may reasonably find
two great objects: first, the cultivation and advancement of natural
science; second, the purest delight and healthiest amusement.
In the aquarium we have a most convenient field for the study of
Natural History: to learn the varieties, nature, names, habits, and
peculiarities of those endless forms of animated existence which dwell
in the hidden depths of the sea, and at the same time to improve our
minds by cultivating our powers of observation.
The pleasure derived from the aquarium comes from the excitement of
finding and collecting specimens, as well as from watching the tank
itself. There can be no more pleasant accompaniment to the sea-side walk
of the casual visitor or summer resident of a watering-place, than to
search for marine plants and animals among the fissures, rocks, and
tide-pools of the sea-washed beach or cape.
Nature is always as varied as beautiful. Thousands of strange forms
sport under the shadow of the brown, waving sea-weeds, or among the
delicate scarlet fronds of the dulse, which is found growing in the
little ponds that the inequalities of the beach have retained. It is
down among the great boulders which the Atlantic piles upon our coast,
that we may find endless varieties of life to fill the aquarium, though
not those more gorgeous hues which distinguish the tenants of the coral
reefs on tropical shores. Yet even here Nature is absolutely infinite;
and we shall find ourselves, day after day, imitating that botanist who,
walking through the same path for a month, found always a new plant
which had escaped his notice before. So, too, in exploring the open sea,
besides the pleasure of sailing along a variegated coast, with sun and
blue water, we have the constant excitement of unexpected discovery:
for, as often as we pull up the dredge, some new wonder is revealed.
Words fail to describe the wonders of the sea. And all that we drag
from the bottom, all that we admire in the aquarium, are but a few
disconnected specimens of that infinite whole which makes up their home.
So, too, in watching the aquarium itself, we shall see endless
repetitions of those "sea-changes" which Shakspeare sang. Ancient
mythology typified the changing wonders of aquatic Nature, as well
as the fickleness of the treacherous sea, in those shifting deities,
Glaucus and Proteus, who tenanted the shore.
The one the fancy of Ovid metamorphosed from a restless man to a fickle
sea-god; the other assumed so many deceptive shapes to those who visited
his cave, that his memory has been preserved in the word Protean. Such
fancies well apply to a part of Nature which shifts like the sands, and
ranges from the hideous Cuttle-fish and ravenous Shark to the delicate
Medusa, whose graceful form and trailing tentacles float among the
waving fronds of colored Algae, like
Under the glassy, cool, translucent wave,
In twisted braids of lilies knitting
The loose train of her amber-dropping hair."
* * * * *
THE YOUNG REPEALER.
About eighteen years ago, when I was confined to two rooms by illness
of long standing, I received a remarkable note by post one day. The
envelope, bearing the Dublin postmark, was addressed in a good, bold,
manly handwriting; but the few lines within showed traces of agitation.
What I am going to relate is a true story,--altogether true, so far as
I can trust my memory,--except the name of the Young Repealer. I might
give his real name without danger of hurting any person's feelings but
one; but, for the sake of that one, who will thus be out of the reach
of my narrative, I speak of him under another name. Having to choose
a name, I will take a thoroughly Irish one, and call my correspondent
The few lines which showed agitation in the handwriting were calm
in language, but very strange. Patrick Monahan told me that he was
extremely unhappy, and that he had reason to believe that I, and I
alone, could do him good. This, with the address,--to a certain number
in a street in Dublin,--was all.
There was little time before the post went out; I was almost unable to
write from illness; but, after a second glance at this note, I felt that
I dared not delay my reply. I did not think that it was money that he
wished to ask. I did not think that he was insane. I could not conceive
why he should apply to me, nor why he did not explain what he wished
from me; but I had a strong impression that it was safest to reply at
once. I did so, in half a dozen lines, promising to write next day,
after a further attempt to discover his meaning, and begging him to
consider how completely in the dark I was as to him and his case. It was
well that I wrote that day. Long after, when he was letting me into all
the facts of his life, he told me that he had made my replying at once
or not the turning-point of his fate. If the post had brought him
nothing, he would have drowned himself in the Liffey.
My second letter was the only sort of letter that it could be,--an
account of my own conjectures about him, and of my regret that I could
see no probability of my being of use to him, except in as far as my
experience of many troubles might enable me to speak suitably to him. I
added some few words on the dangers attending any sort of trouble, when
too keenly felt.
In answer to my first note came a few lines, telling me that the purpose
of his application was mainly answered, and that my reply was of
altogether greater consequence than I could have any idea of. He was
less unhappy now, and believed he should never be so desperately
wretched again. Wild as this might appear, I was still persuaded that he
was not insane.
By the next post came a rather bulky packet. It contained, besides a
letter from him, two or three old parchment documents, which showed that
Patrick's forefathers had filled some chief municipal offices in the
city in which the family had been settled for several generations. I had
divined that Patrick was a gentleman; and he now showed me that he came
of a good and honorable family, and had been well-educated. He was an
orphan, and had not a relation in the world,--if I remember right. It
was evident that he was poor; but he did not ask for money, nor seem to
write on that account. He aspired to a literary life, and believed
he should have done so, even if he had had the means of professional
education. But he did not ask me for aid in trying his powers in
literature. It was very perplexing; and the fact became presently clear
that he expected me to tell him how I could be of use to him,--he being
in no way able to afford me that information. I may as well give here
the key to the mystery, which I had to wait for for some time. When poor
Patrick was in a desperate condition,--very ill, in a lodging of which
he could not pay the rent,--threatened with being turned into the street
as soon as the thing could be done without danger to his life,--galled
with a sense of disgrace, and full of impotent wrath against an
oppressor,--and even suffering under deeper griefs than these,--at such
a time, the worn man fell asleep, and dreamed that I looked kindly upon
him. This happened three times; and on this ground, and this alone, he
applied to me for comfort.
Before I learned this much, I had taken upon me to advise freely
whatever occurred to me as best, finding Patrick entirely docile under
my suggestions. Among other things, I advised him not to take offence,
or assume any reserve, if a gentleman should call on him, with a desire
to be of use to him. A gentleman did call, and was of eminent use to
him. I had written to a benevolent friend of mine, a chief citizen of
Dublin, begging him to obtain for me, through some trusty clerk or other
messenger, some information as to what Patrick was like,--how old he
was, what he was doing, and whether anything effectual could be done for
him. Mr. H. went himself. He found Patrick sitting over a little fire
in a little room, his young face thin and flushed, and his thin hands
showing fever. He had had inflammation of the lungs, and, though he
talked cheerfully, he was yet very far from well. Mr. H. was charmed
with him. He found in him no needless reserves, and not so much
sensitive pride as we had feared. Patrick had great hopes of sufficient
employment, when once he could get out and go and see about it; and he
pointed out two or three directions in which he believed he could obtain
engagements. Two things, however, were plain: that there was some
difficulty about getting out, and that his mind was set upon going
to London at the first possible moment. He had not only the ordinary
provincial ambition to achieve an entrance into the London literary
world, but he had another object: he could serve his country best in
London. Mr. H. easily divined the nature of the obstacle to his going
out into the fresh air which he needed so much; and in a few days
Patrick had a good suit of clothes. This was Mr. H.'s doing; and he also
removed the danger of Patrick's being turned out of his lodging.
The landlord had no wish to do such a thing; the young man was a
gentleman,--regular and self-denying in his habits, and giving no
trouble that he could help: but he had been very ill; and it was so
desolate! Nobody came to see him; no letters arrived for him; no
money was coming in, it was clear; and he could not go on living
there,--starving, in fact.
Once able to go about again, Patrick cheered up; but it was plain that
there was one point on which he would not be ruled. He would not stay
in Dublin, under any inducement whatever; and he would go to London.
I wrote very plainly to him about the risk he was running,--even
describing the desolate condition of the unsuccessful literary
adventurer in the dreary peopled wilderness, in which the friendless may
lie down and die alone, as the starved animal lies down and perishes in
the ravine in the desert. I showed him how impossible it was for me or
anybody to help him, except with a little money, till he had shown what
he could do; and I entreated him to wait two years,--one year,--six
months, before rushing on such a fate. Here, and here alone, he was
self-willed. At first he explained to me that he had one piece of
employment to rely on. He was to be the London correspondent of the
Repeal organ in Dublin,--the "Nation" newspaper. The pay was next to
nothing. He could not live, ever so frugally, on four times the amount:
but it was an engagement; and it would enable him to serve his country.
So, as there was nothing else to be done, Mr. H. started him for London,
with just money enough to carry him there. Once there, he was sure he
should do very well.
I doubted this; and he was met, at the address he gave, (at an Irish
greengrocer's, the only person he knew in London,) by an order for money
enough to carry him over two or three weeks,--money given by two or
three friends to whom I ventured to open the case. I have seldom read
a happier letter than Patrick's first from London; but it was not even
then, nor for some time after, that he told me the main reason of his
horror at remaining in Dublin.
He had hoped to support himself as a tutor while studying and practising
for the literary profession; and he had been engaged to teach the
children of a rich citizen,--not only the boys, but the daughter. He, an
engaging youth of three-and-twenty, with blue eyes and golden hair, an
innocent and noble expression of countenance, an open heart, a glowing
imagination, and an eloquent tongue, was set to teach Latin and literary
composition to a pretty, warm-hearted, romantic girl of twenty; and when
they were in love and engaged, the father considered himself the victim
of the basest treachery that ever man suffered under. In vain the young
people pleaded for leave to love and wait till Patrick could provide a
home for his wife. They asked no favor but to be let alone. Patrick's
family was as good as hers; and he had the education and manners of a
gentleman, without any objectionable habits or tastes, but with every
possible desire to win an honorable home for his beloved. I am not sure,
but I think there was a moment when they thought of eloping some day,
if nothing but the paternal displeasure intervened between them and
happiness; but it was not yet time for this. There was much to be done
first. What the father did first was to turn Patrick out of the house,
under such circumstances of ignominy as he could devise. What he did
next was the blow which broke the poor fellow down. Patrick had written
a letter, in answer to the treatment he had received, in which he
expressed his feelings as strongly as one might expect. This letter was
made the ground of a complaint at the police-office; and Patrick was
arrested, marched before the magistrate, and arraigned as the sender of
a threatening letter to a citizen. In vain he protested that no idea of
threatening anybody had been in his mind. The letter, as commented on by
his employer, was pronounced sufficiently menacing to justify his being
bound over to keep the peace towards this citizen and all his family.
The intention was, no doubt, to disgrace him, and put him out of the
question as a suitor; for no man could pretend to be really afraid of
violence from a candid youth like Patrick, who loved the daughter too
well to lift a finger against any one connected with her. The scheme
succeeded; for he believed it had broken his heart. He supposed himself
utterly disgraced in Dublin; and he could live there no longer. Hence
his self-will about going to London.
In addition to this personal, there was a patriotic view. Very early in
our correspondence, Patrick told me that he was a Repealer. He fancied
himself a very moderate one, and likely on that account to do the more
good. Those were the days of O'Connell's greatest power; or, if it was
on the wane, no one yet recognized any change. Patrick knew one of the
younger O'Connells, and had been flatteringly noticed by the great Dan
himself, who had approved the idea of his going to London, hoped to see
him there some day, and had prophesied that this young friend of his
would do great things for the cause by his pen, and be conspicuous among
the saviours of Ireland. Patrick's head was not quite turned by this;
and he lamented, in his letters to me, the plans proposed and the
language held by the common run of O'Connell's followers. Those were the
days when the Catholic peasantry believed that "Repale" would make every
man the owner of the land he lived on, or of that which he wished to
live on; and the great Dan did not disabuse them. Those were the days
when poor men believed that "Repale" would release every one from the
debts he owed; and Dan did not contradict it. When Dan was dead, the
consequence of his not contradicting it was that a literal-minded fellow
here and there shot the creditor who asked for payment of the coat, or
the pig, or the meal. For all this delusion Patrick was sorry. He was
sorry to hear Protestant shopmen wishing for the day when Dublin streets
would be knee-deep in Catholic blood, and to hear Catholic shopmen
reciprocating the wish in regard to Protestant blood. He was anxious to
make me understand that he had no such notions, and that he even thought
O'Connell mistaken in appearing to countenance such mistakes. But still
he, Patrick, was a Repealer; and he wished me to know precisely what he
meant by that, and what he proposed to do in consequence. He thought it
a sin and shame that Ireland should be trodden under the heel of the
Saxon; he thought the domination of the English Parliament intolerable;
he considered it just that the Irish should make their own laws, own
their own soil, and manage their own affairs. He had no wish to bring in
the French, or any other enemy of England; and he was fully disposed to
be loyal to the Crown, if the Crown would let Ireland entirely alone.
Even the constant persecution inflicted upon Ireland had not destroyed
his loyalty to the Crown. Such were the views on which his letters to
the "Nation" newspaper were to be grounded. In reply, I contented myself
with proposing that he should make sure of his ground as he went along;
for which purpose he should ascertain what proportion of the people of
Ireland wished for a repeal of the Union; and what sort of people they
were who desired Repeal on the one hand, or continued Union on the
other. I hoped he would satisfy himself as to what Repeal could
and could not effect; and that he would study the history of Irish
Parliaments, to learn what the character and bearing of their
legislation had been, and to estimate the chances of good government by
that kind of legislature, in comparison with the Imperial Parliament.
If any foreign reader should suppose it impossible, that, in modern
times, there can have been hopes entertained in Dublin of the streets
being inundated with blood, such reader may be referred to the evidence
afforded of Repeal sentiment five years later than the time of which I
write. When the heroes of that rising of 1848--of whom John Mitchell
is the sample best known in America--were tracked in their plans and
devices, it appeared what their proposed methods of warfare were. Some
of these, detailed in Repeal newspapers, and copied into American
journals, were proposed to the patriotic women of Ireland, as their
peculiar means of serving their country; and three especially. Red-hot
iron hoops, my readers may remember, were to be cast down from
balconies, so as to pin the arms of English soldiers marching in the
street, and scorch their hearts. Vitriol was to be flung into their
eyes. Boiling oil was to be poured upon them from windows. This is
enough. Nobody believes that the thing would ever have been done; but
the lively and repeated discussion of it shows how the feelings of the
ignorant are perverted, and the passions of party-men are stimulated in
Ireland, when unscrupulous leaders arise, proposing irrational projects.
The consequences have been seen in Popish and Protestant fights in
Ulster, and in the midnight drill of Phoenix Clubs in Munster, and in
John Mitchell's passion for fat negroes in the Slave States of America.
In Ireland such notions are regarded now as a delirious dream, except
by a John Mitchell here and there. Smith O'Brien himself declares that
there is nothing to be done while the people of Ireland are satisfied
with the government they live under; and that, if it were otherwise,
nothing can be done for a people which either elects jobbers to
Parliament, or suspects every man of being a traitor who proceeds, when
there, to do the business of his function. I suspected that Patrick
would find out some of these things for himself in London; and I left
him to make his own discoveries, when I had pointed out one or two paths
The process was a more rapid one than I had anticipated. He reported his
first letter to the "Nation" with great satisfaction. He had begun his
work in London. He went to the House of Commons, and came away sorely
perplexed. After having heard and written so much of the wrongs of
Ireland under the domination of the English Parliament, he found that
Ireland actually and practically formed a part of that Parliament,--the
legislature being, not English, but Imperial. He must have known this
before; but he had never felt it. He now saw that Ireland was as well
represented as England or Scotland; that political offices were held in
fair proportion by Irishmen; and that the Irish members engrossed much
more than a fair share of the national time in debate and projects of
legislation. He saw at once that here was an end of all excuse for talk
of oppression by Parliament, and of all complaints which assumed that
Ireland was unrepresented. He was previously aware that Ireland was
more lightly taxed than the rest of the empire. The question remained,
whether a local legislature would or would not be a better thing than a
share in the Imperial Parliament. This was a fair subject of argument;
but he must now dismiss all notions grounded on the mistake of Ireland
being unrepresented, and oppressed by the representatives of other
In the letter which disclosed these new views Patrick reported his visit
to O'Connell. He had reminded his friend, the junior O'Connell, of Dan's
invitation to him to go to see him in London; and he had looked forward
to their levee with delight and expectation. Whether he had candidly
expressed his thoughts about the actual representation of Ireland, I
don't know; but it was plain that he had not much enjoyed the interview.
O'Connell looked very well: the levee was crowded: O'Connell was
surrounded by ardent patriots: the junior O'Connell had led Patrick up
to his father with particular kindness. Still, there was no enthusiasm
in the report; and the next letter showed the reason why. Patrick could
not understand O'Connell at all. It was certain that Dan remembered him;
and he could not have forgotten the encouragement he gave him to write
on behalf of his country; yet now he was cold, even repellent in his
manner; and he tried to pretend that he did not know who Patrick was.
What could this mean?
Again I trusted to Patrick's finding out for himself what it meant. To
be brief about a phase of human experience which has nothing new in it,
Patrick presently saw that the difficulty of governing Ireland by a
local legislature, and executive is this:--that no man is tolerated from
the moment he can do more than talk. Irish members under O'Connell's eye
were for the most part talkers only. Then and since, every Irishman
who accepts the office so vehemently demanded is suspected of a good
understanding with Englishmen, and soon becomes reviled as a traitor
and place-hunter. Between the mere talkers and the proscribed
office-holders, Ireland would get none of her business done, if the
Imperial Government did not undertake affairs, and see that Ireland was
taken care of by somebody or other. Patrick saw that this way of
putting Government in abeyance was a mild copy of what happened when a
Parliament sat in Dublin, perpetrating the most insolent tyranny and the
vilest jobs ever witnessed under any representative system. He told me,
very simply, that the people of Ireland should send to Parliament men
whom they could trust, and should trust them to act when there: the
people should either demand a share of office for their countrymen, or
make up their minds to go without; they ought not first to demand office
for Irishmen, and then call every Irishman a traitor and self-seeker who
took it. In a very short time he told me that he found he had much to
unlearn as well as learn: that many things of which he had been most
sure now turned out to be mistakes, and many very plain matters to be
exceedingly complicated; but that the one thing about which there could
be no mistake was, that, in such a state of opinion, he was no proper
guide for the readers of the "Nation," and he had accordingly sent in
his resignation of his appointment, together with some notices to the
editor of the different light in which Irish matters appear outside the
atmosphere of Repeal meetings.
In thus cutting loose from his only means of pecuniary support, Patrick
forfeited also his patriotic character. He was as thoroughly ruined in
the eyes of Repealers as if he had denounced the "Saxon" one hour and
the next crept into some warm place in the Custom-House on his knees.
Here ended poor Patrick's short political life, after, I think, two
letters to the "Nation," and here ended all hope of aid from his
countrymen in London. His letter was very moving. He knew himself to be
mortified by O'Connell's behavior to him; but he felt that he could not
submit to be regarded with suspicion because he had come to see for
himself how matters stood. He did not give up Repeal yet: he only wanted
to study the case on better knowledge; and in order to have a
perfectly clear conscience and judgment, he gave up his only pecuniary
resource,--his love and a future home being in the distance, and always
in view, all the time. Here, in spite of some lingering of old hopes,
two scenes of his young life had closed. His Irish life was over, and
his hope of political service.
I had before written about him to two or three literary friends in
London; and now I felt bound to see what could be done in opening a way
for him. He had obtained the insertion of a tale in a magazine, for
which he had one guinea in payment. This raised his spirits, and gave
him a hope of independence; for it was a parting of the clouds, and
there was no saying how much sunlight might be let down. He was willing
to apply himself to any drudgery; but his care to undertake nothing that
he was not sure of doing well was very striking. He might have obtained
good work as classical proof-corrector; but he feared, that, though his
classical attainments were good, his training had not qualified him
for the necessary accuracy. He had some employment of the sort, if I
remember right, which defrayed a portion of his small expenses. His
expenses were indeed small. He told me all his little gains and his
weekly outlay; and I was really afraid that he did not allow himself
sufficient food. Yet he knew that there was a little money in my hands,
when he wanted it. His letters became now very gay in spirits. He keenly
relished the society into which he was invited; and, on the other hand,
everybody liked him. It was amusing to me, in my sick room, three
hundred miles off, to hear of the impression he made, with his
innocence, his fresh delight in his new life, his candor, his modesty,
and his bright cleverness,--and then, again, to learn how diligently he
had set about learning what I, his correspondent, was really like. In
his dreams he had seen me very aged,--he thought upwards of eighty; and
he had never doubted of the fact being so. In one letter he told me,
that, finding a brother of mine was then in London, he was going that
afternoon to a public meeting to see him, in order to have some idea of
my aspect. A mutual friend told me afterwards that Patrick had come away
quite bewildered and disappointed. He had expected to see in my brother
a gray-haired ancient; whereas he found a man under forty. I really
believe he was disturbed that his dreams had misled him. Yet I never
observed any other sign of superstition in him.
At last the happy day came when he had a literary task worthy of him,--a
sort of test of his capacity for reviewing. One of the friends to whom
I had introduced him was then sub-editor of the "Athenaeum,"--a weekly
periodical of higher reputation at that time than now. Patrick was
commissioned to review a book of some weight and consequence,--Sir
Robert Kane's "Industrial Resources of Ireland,"--and he did it so well
that the conductors hoped to give him a good deal of employment. What
they gave him would have led to more; and thus he really was justified
in his exultation at having come to London. I remember, that, in the
midst of his joy, he startled me by some light mention of his having
spit blood, after catching cold,--a thing which had happened before in
Ireland. In answer to my inquiries, my friends told me that he certainly
looked very delicate, but made light of it. It happened, unfortunately,
that he was obliged just then to change his lodging. He increased his
cold by going about in bad weather to look for another. He found one,
however, and settled himself, in hope of doing great things there.
Back to Full Books