Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

Part 3 out of 3

pleasant problem which one cannot bear to forego. And there seems
a kind of deity who presides over this union of languages, and
who sometimes silently lays the words in order, after all one's
own poor attempts have failed.


"O passi sparsi; o pensier vaghi e pronti"
O wandering steps! O vague and busy dreams!
O changeless memory! O fierce desire!
O passion strong! heart weak with its own fire;
O eyes of mine! not eyes, but living streams;
O laurel boughs! whose lovely garland seems
The sole reward that glory's deeds require;
O haunted life! delusion sweet and dire,
That all my days from slothful rest redeems;
O beauteous face! where Love has treasured well
His whip and spur, the sluggish heart to move
At his least will; nor can it find relief.
O souls of love and passion! if ye dwell
Yet on this earth, and ye, great Shades of Love!
Linger, and see my passion and my grief.

Yonder flies a kingfisher, and pauses, fluttering like a
butterfly in the air, then dives toward a fish, and, failing,
perches on the projecting wall. Doves from neighboring dove-cotes
alight on the parapet of the fort, fearless of the quiet cattle
who find there a breezy pasture. These doves, in taking flight,
do not rise from the ground at once, but, edging themselves
closer to the brink, with a caution almost ludicrous in such airy
things, trust themselves upon the breeze with a shy little hop,
and at the next moment are securely on the wing.

How the abundant sunlight inundates everything! The great clumps
of grass and clover are imbedded in it to the roots; it flows in
among their stalks, like water; the lilac-bushes bask in it
eagerly; the topmost leaves of the birches are burnished. A
vessel sails by with plash and roar, and all the white spray
along her side is sparkling with sunlight. Yet there is sorrow in
the world, and it reached Petrarch even before Laura died,--when
it reached her. This exquisite sonnet shows it:-
"I' vidi in terra angelici costumi."
I once beheld on earth celestial graces,
And heavenly beauties scarce to mortals known,
Whose memory lends nor joy nor grief alone,
But all things else bewilders and effaces.
I saw how tears had left their weary traces
Within those eyes that once like sunbeams shone,
I heard those lips breathe low and plaintive moan,
Whose spell might once have taught the hills their places.
Love, wisdom, courage, tenderness, and truth,
Made ill their mourning strains more high and dear
Than ever wove sweet sounds for mortal ear;
And heaven seemed listening in such saddest ruth The very
leaves upon the boughs to soothe,
Such passionate sweetness filled the atmosphere.

These sonnets are in Petrarch's earlier manner; but the death of
Laura brought a change. Look at yonder schooner coming down the
bay, straight toward us; she is hauled close to the wind, her jib
is white in the sunlight, her larger sails are touched with the
same snowy lustre, and all the swelling canvas is rounded into
such lines of beauty as scarcely anything else in the
world--hardly even the perfect outlines of the human form--can
give. Now she comes up into the wind, and goes about with a
strong flapping of the sails, smiting on the ear at a half-mile's
distance; then she glides off on the other tack, showing the
shadowed side of her sails, until she reaches the distant zone of
haze. So change the sonnets after Laura's death, growing shadowy
as they recede, until the very last seems to merge itself in the
blue distance.
"Gli occhi di ch' io parlai."
Those eyes, 'neath which my passionate rapture rose,
The arms, hands, feet, the beauty that erewhile
Could my own soul from its own self beguile, And in a separate
world of dreams enclose,
The hair's bright tresses, full of golden glows,
And the soft lightning of the angelic smile
That changed this earth to some celestial isle,
Are now but dust, poor dust, that nothing knows.
And yet I live! Myself I grieve and scorn,
Left dark without the light I loved in vain,
Adrift in tempest on a bark forlorn;
Dead is the source of all my amorous strain,
Dry is the channel of my thoughts outworn,
And my sad harp can sound but notes of pain.

"And yet I live!" What a pause is implied before these words! the
drawing of a long breath, immeasurably long; like that vast
interval of heart-beats that precedes Shakespeare's "Since
Cleopatra died." I can think of no other passage in literature
that has in it the same wide spaces of emotion.

The following sonnet seems to me the most stately and
concentrated in the whole volume. It is the sublimity of a
despair not to be relieved by utterance.
"Soleasi nel mio cor."
She ruled in beauty o'er this heart of mine,
A noble lady in a humble home, And now her time for heavenly
bliss has come,
'T is I am mortal proved, and she divine.
The soul that all its blessings must resign,
And love whose light no more on earth finds room
Might rend the rocks with pity for their doom,
Yet none their sorrows can in words enshrine;
They weep within my heart; and ears are deaf
Save mine alone, and I am crushed with care,
And naught remains to me save mournful breath.
Assuredly but dust and shade we are,
Assuredly desire is blind and brief,
Assuredly its hope but ends in death.

In a later strain he rises to that dream which is more than
earth's realities.
"Levommi il mio pensiero."
Dreams bore my fancy to that region where
She dwells whom here I seek, but cannot see.
'Mid those who in the loftiest heaven be
I looked on her, less haughty and more fair.
She touched my hand, she said, "Within this sphere,
If hope deceive not, thou shalt dwell with me:
I filled thy life with war's wild agony;
Mine own day closed ere evening could appear.
My bliss no human brain can understand;
I wait for thee alone, and that fair veil
Of beauty thou dost love shall wear again."
Why was she silent then, why dropped my hand
Ere those delicious tones could quite avail
To bid my mortal soul in heaven remain?

It vindicates the emphatic reality and pesonality of Petrarch's
love, after all, that when from these heights of vision he
surveys and resurveys his life's long dream, it becomes to him
more and more definite, as well as more poetic, and is farther
and farther from a merely vague sentimentalism. In his later
sonnets, Laura grows more distinctly individual to us; her traits
show themselves as more characteristic, her temperament more
intelligible, her precise influence upon Petrarch clearer. What
delicate accuracy of delineation is seen, for instance, in this
"Dolci durezze e placide repulse."
Gentle severity, repulses mild,
Full of chaste love and pity sorrowing;
Graceful rebukes, that had the power to bring
Back to itself a heart by dreams beguiled;
A soft-toned voice, whose accents undefiled
Held sweet restraints, all duty honoring;
The bloom of virtue; purity's clear spring
To cleanse away base thoughts and passions wild; Divinest eyes
to make a lover's bliss,
Whether to bridle in the wayward mind
Lest its wild wanderings should the pathway miss,
Or else its griefs to soothe, its wounds to bind;
This sweet completeness of thy life it is
That saved my soul; no other peace I find.

In the following sonnet visions multiply upon visions. Would that
one could transfer into English the delicious way in which the
sweet Italian rhymes recur and surround and seem to embrace each
other, and are woven and unwoven and interwoven, like the
heavenly hosts that gathered around Laura.
"Gli angeli eletti."
The holy angels and the spirits blest,
Celestial bands, upon that day serene
When first my love went by in heavenly mien,
Came thronging, wondering at the gracious guest.
"What light is here, in what new beauty drest?"
They said among themselves; "for none has seen
Within this age come wandering such a queen
From darkened earth into immortal rest."
And she, contented with her new-found bliss,
Ranks with the purest in that upper sphere,
Yet ever and anon looks back on this, To watch for me, as if
for me she stayed.
So strive, my thoughts, lest that high path I miss.
I hear her call, and must not be delayed.

These odes and sonnets are all but parts of one symphony, leading
us through a passion strengthened by years and only purified by
death, until at last the graceful lay becomes an anthem and a
Nunc dimittis. In the closing sonnets Petrarch withdraws from the
world, and they seem like voices from a cloister, growing more
and more solemn till the door is closed. This is one of the
"Dicemi spesso il mio fidato speglio."
Oft by my faithful mirror I am told,
And by my mind outworn and altered brow,
My earthly powers impaired and weakened now,
"Deceive thyself no more, for thou art old!"
Who strives with Nature's laws is over-bold,
And Time to his commandments bids us bow.
Like fire that waves have quenched, I calmly vow
In life's long dream no more my sense to fold.
And while I think, our swift existence flies,
And none can live again earth's brief career,
Then in my deepest heart the voice replies
Of one who now has left this mortal sphere,
But walked alone through earthly destinies,
And of all women is to fame most dear.

How true is this concluding line! Who can wonder that women prize
beauty, and are intoxicated by their own fascinations, when these
fragile gifts are yet strong enough to outlast all the memories
of statesmanship and war? Next to the immortality of genius is
that which genius may confer upon the object of its love. Laura,
while she lived, was simply one of a hundred or a thousand
beautiful and gracious Italian women; she had her loves and
aversions, joys and griefs; she cared dutifully for her
household, and embroidered the veil which Petrarch loved; her
memory appeared as fleeting and unsubstantial as that woven
tissue. After five centuries we find that no armor of that iron
age was so enduring. The kings whom she honored, the popes whom
she revered are dust, and their memory is dust, but literature is
still fragrant with her name. An impression which has endured so
long is ineffaceable; it is an earthly immortality.

"Time is the chariot of all ages to carry men away, and beauty
cannot bribe this charioteer." Thus wrote Petrarch in his Latin
essays; but his love had wealth that proved resistless and for
Laura the chariot stayed.


I shall always remember one winter evening, a little before
Christmas-time, when I took a long, solitary walk in the
outskirts of the town. The cold sunset had left a trail of orange
light along the horizon, the dry snow tinkled beneath my feet,
and the early stars had a keen, clear lustre that matched well
with the sharp sound and the frosty sensation. For some time I
had walked toward the gleam of a distant window, and as I
approached, the light showed more and more clearly through the
white curtains of a little cottage by the road. I stopped, on
reaching it, to enjoy the suggestion of domestic cheerfulness in
contrast with the dark outside. I could not see the inmates, nor
they me; but something of human sympathy came from that steadfast

As I looked, a film of shade kept appearing and disappearing with
rhythmic regularity in a corner of the window, as if some one
might be sitting in a low rocking-chair close by. Presently the
motion ceased, and suddenly across the curtain came the shadow of
a woman. She raised in her arms the shadow of a baby, and kissed
it; then both disappeared, and I walked on.

What are Raphael's Madonnas but the shadow of a mother's love, so
traced as to endure forever? In this picture of mine, the group
actually moved upon the canvas. The curtains that hid it revealed
it. The ecstasy of human love passed in brief, intangible
panorama before me. It was something seen, yet unseen; airy, yet
solid; a type, yet a reality; fugitive, yet destined to last in
my memory while I live. It said more to me than would any Madonna
of Raphael's, for his mother never kisses her child. I believe I
have never passed over that road since then, never seen the
house, never heard the names of its occupants. Their character,
their history, their fate, are all unknown. But these two will
always stand for me as disembodied types of humanity,--the Mother
and the Child; they seem nearer to me than my immediate
neighbors, yet they are as ideal and impersonal as the goddesses
of Greece or as Plato's archetypal man.

I know not the parentage of that child, whether black or white,
native or foreign, rich or poor. It makes no difference. The
presence of a baby equalizes all social conditions. On the floor
of some Southern hut, scarcely so comfortable as a dog-kennel, I
have seen a dusky woman look down upon her infant with such an
expression of delight as painter never drew. No social culture
can make a mother's face more than a mother's, as no wealth can
make a nursery more than a place where children dwell. Lavish
thousands of dollars on your baby-clothes, and after all the
child is prettiest when every garment is laid aside. That
becoming nakedness, at least, may adorn the chubby darling of the
poorest home.

I know not what triumph or despair may have come and gone through
that wayside house since then, what jubilant guests may have
entered, what lifeless form passed out. What anguish or what sin
may have come between that woman and that child; through what
worlds they now wander, and whether separate or in each other's
arms,--this is all unknown. Fancy can picture other joys to which
the first happiness was but the prelude, and, on the other hand,
how easy to imagine some special heritage of human woe and call
it theirs!
"I thought of times when Pain might be thy guest,
Lord of thy house and hospitality;
And Grief, uneasy lover, might not rest
Save when he sat within the touch of thee."

Nay, the foretaste of that changed fortune may have been present,
even in the kiss. Who knows what absorbing emotion, besides
love's immediate impulse, may have been uttered in that shadowy
embrace? There may have been some contrition for ill-temper or
neglect, or some triumph over ruinous temptation, or some pledge
of immortal patience, or some heart-breaking prophecy of
bereavement. It may have been simply an act of habitual
tenderness, or it may have been the wild reaction toward a
neglected duty; the renewed self-consecration of the saint, or
the joy of the sinner that repenteth. No matter. She kissed the
baby. The feeling of its soft flesh, the busy struggle of its
little arms between her hands, the impatient pressure of its
little feet against her knees,--these were the same, whatever the
mood or circumstance beside. They did something to equalize joy
and sorrow, honor and shame. Maternal love is love, whether a
woman be a wife or only a mother. Only a mother!

The happiness beneath that roof may, perhaps, have never reached
so high a point as at that precise moment of my passing. In the
coarsest household, the mother of a young child is placed on a
sort of pedestal of care and tenderness, at least for a time. She
resumes something of the sacredness and dignity of the maiden.
Coleridge ranks as the purest of human emotions that of a husband
towards a wife who has a baby at her breast,--"a feeling how free
from sensual desire, yet how different from friendship!" And to
the true mother however cultivated, or however ignorant, this
period of early parentage is happier than all else, in spite of
its exhausting cares. In that delightful book, the "Letters" of
Mrs. Richard Trench (mother of the well-known English writer),
the most agreeable passage is perhaps that in which, after
looking back upon a life spent in the most brilliant society of
Europe, she gives the palm of happiness to the time when she was
a young mother. She writes to her god-daughter: "I believe it is
the happiest time of any woman's life, who has affectionate
feelings, and is blessed with healthy and well-disposed children.
I know at least that neither the gayeties and boundless hopes of
early life, nor the more grave pursuits and deeper affections of
later years, are by any means comparable in my recollection with
the serene, yet lively pleasure of seeing my children playing on
the grass, enjoying their little temperate supper, or repeating
'with holy look' their simple prayers, and undressing for bed,
growing prettier for every part of their dress they took off, and
at last lying down, all freshness and love, in complete
happiness, and an amiable contest for mamma's last kiss."

That kiss welcomed the child into a world where joy predominates.
The vast multitude of human beings enjoy existence and wish to
live. They all have their earthly life under their own control.
Some religions sanction suicide; the Christian Scriptures nowhere
explicitly forbid it; and yet it is a rare thing. Many persons
sigh for death when it seems far off, but the desire vanishes
when the boat upsets, or the locomotive runs off the track, or
the measles set in. A wise physician once said to me: "I observe
that every one wishes to go to heaven, but I observe that most
people are willing to take a great deal of very disagreeable
medicine first. "The lives that one least envies--as of the
Digger Indian or the outcast boy in the city--are yet sweet to
the living. "They have only a pleasure like that of the brutes,"
we say with scorn. But what a racy and substantial pleasure is
that! The flashing speed of the swallow in the air, the cool play
of the minnow in the water, the dance of twin butterflies round a
thistle-blossom, the thundering gallop of the buffalo across the
prairie, nay, the clumsy walk of the grizzly bear; it were
doubtless enough to reward existence, could we have joy like such
as these, and ask no more. This is the hearty physical basis of
animated life, and as step by step the savage creeps up to the
possession of intellectual manhood, each advance brings with it
new sorrow and new joy, with the joy always in excess.

There are many who will utterly disavow this creed that life is
desirable in itself. A fair woman in a ball-room, exquisitely
dressed, and possessed of all that wealth could give, once
declared to me her belief--and I think honestly--that no person
over thirty was consciously happy, or would wish to live, but for
the fear of death. There could not even be pleasure in
contemplating one's children, she asserted, since they were
living in such a world of sorrow. Asking the opinion, within half
an hour, of another woman as fair and as favored by fortune, I
found directly the opposite verdict. "For my part I can truly
say," she answered, "that I enjoy every moment I live." The
varieties of temperament and of physical condition will always
afford us these extremes; but the truth lies between them, and
most persons will endure many sorrows and still find life sweet.

And the mother's kiss welcomes the child into a world where good
predominates as well as joy. What recreants must we be, in an age
that has abolished slavery in America and popularized the
governments of all Europe, if we doubt that the tendency of man
is upward! How much that the world calls selfishness is only
generosity with narrow walls,--a too exclusive solicitude to
maintain a wife in luxury or make one's children rich! In an
audience of rough people a generous sentiment always brings down
the house. In the tumult of war both sides applaud an heroic
deed. A courageous woman, who had traversed alone, on benevolent
errands, the worst parts of New York told me that she never felt
afraid except in the solitudes of the country; wherever there was
a crowd, she found a protector.

A policeman of great experience once spoke to me with admiration
of the fidelity of professional thieves to each other, and the
risks they would run for the women whom they loved; when "Bristol
Bill" was arrested, he said, there was found upon the burglar a
set of false keys, not quite finished, by which he would
certainly, within twenty-four hours, have had his mistress out of
jail. Parent-Duchatelet found always the remains of modesty among
the fallen women of Paris hospitals; and Mayhew, amid the London
outcasts, says that he thinks better of human nature every day.
Even among politicians, whom it is our American fashion to revile
as the chief of sinners, there is less of evil than of good.

In Wilberforce's "Memoirs" there is an account of his having once
asked Mr. Pitt whether his long experience as Prime Minister had
made him think well or ill of his fellow-men. Mr. Pitt answered,
"Well"; and his successor, Lord Melbourne, being asked the same
question, answered, after a little reflection, "My opinion is the
same as that of Mr. Pitt."

Let us have faith. It was a part of the vigor of the old Hebrew
tradition to rejoice when a man-child was born into the world;
and the maturer strength of nobler ages should rejoice over a
woman-child as well. Nothing human is wholly sad, until it is
effete and dying out. Where there is life there is promise.
"Vitality is always hopeful," was the verdict of the most refined
and clear-sighted woman who has yet explored the rough mining
villages of the Rocky Mountains. There is apt to be a certain
coarse virtue in rude health; as the Germanic races were purest
when least civilized, and our American Indians did not unlearn
chastity till they began to decay. But even where vigor and vice
are found together, they still may hold a promise for the next
generation. Out of the strong cometh forth sweetness. Parisian
wickedness is not so discouraging merely because it is wicked, as
from a suspicion that it is draining the life-blood of the
nation. A mob of miners or of New York bullies may be
uncomfortable neighbors, and may make a man of refinement
hesitate whether to stop his ears or to feel for his revolver;
but they hold more promise for the coming generations than the
line which ends in Madame Bovary or the Vicomte de Camors.

But behind that cottage curtain, at any rate, a new and prophetic
life had begun. I cannot foretell that child's future, but I know
something of its past. The boy may grow up into a criminal, the
woman into an outcast, yet the baby was beloved. It came "not in
utter nakedness." It found itself heir of the two prime
essentials of existence,--life and love. Its first possession was
a woman's kiss; and in that heritage the most important need of
its career was guaranteed. "An ounce of mother," says the Spanish
proverb, "is worth a pound of clergy." Jean Paul says that in
life every successive influence affects us less and less, so that
the circumnavigator of the globe is less influenced by all the
nations he has seen than by his nurse. Well may the child imbibe
that reverence for motherhood which is the first need of man.
Where woman is most a slave, she is at least sacred to her son.
The Turkish Sultan must prostrate himself at the door of his
mother's apartments, and were he known to have insulted her, it
would make his throne tremble. Among the savage African
Touaricks, if two parents disagree, it is to the mother that the
child's obedience belongs. Over the greater part of the earth's
surface, the foremost figures in all temples are the Mother and
Child. Christian and Buddhist nations, numbering together two
thirds of the world's population, unite in this worship. Into the
secrets of the ritual that baby in the window had already
received initiation.

And how much spiritual influence may in turn have gone forth from
that little one! The coarsest father gains a new impulse to labor
from the moment of his baby's birth; he scarcely sees it when
awake, and yet it is with him all the time. Every stroke he
strikes is for his child. New social aims, new moral motives,
come vaguely up to him. The London costermonger told Mayhew that
he thought every man would like his son or daughter to have a
better start in the world than his own. After all, there is no
tonic like the affections. Philosophers express wonder that the
divine laws should give to some young girl, almost a child, the
custody of an immortal soul. But what instruction the baby brings
to the mother! She learns patience, self-control, endurance; her
very arm grows strong, so that she can hold the dear burden
longer than the father can. She learns to understand character,
too, by dealing with it. "In training my first children," said a
wise mother to me, "I thought that all were born just the same,
and that I was wholly responsible for what they should become. I
learned by degrees that each had a temperament of its own, which
I must study before I could teach it." And thus, as the little
ones grow older, their dawning instincts guide those of the
parents; their questions suggest new answers, and to have loved
them is a liberal education.

For the height of heights is love. The philosopher dries into a
skeleton like that he investigates, unless love teaches him. He
is blind among his microscopes, unless he sees in the humblest
human soul a revelation that dwarfs all the world beside. While
he grows gray in ignorance among his crucibles, every girlish
mother is being illuminated by every kiss of her child. That
house is so far sacred, which holds within its walls this
new-born heir of eternity. But to dwell on these high mysteries
would take us into depths beyond the present needs of mother or
of infant, and it is better that the greater part of the
baby-life should be that of an animated toy.

Perhaps it is well for all of us that we should live mostly on
the surfaces of things and should play with life, to avoid taking
it too hard. In a nursery the youngest child is a little more
than a doll, and the doll is a little less than a child. What
spell does fancy weave on earth like that which the one of these
small beings performs for the other? This battered and tattered
doll, this shapeless, featureless, possibly legless creature,
whose mission it is to be dragged by one arm, or stood upon its
head in the bathing-tub, until it finally reverts to the rag-bag
whence it came,--what an affluence of breathing life is thrown
around it by one touch of dawning imagination! Its little
mistress will find all joy unavailing without its sympathetic
presence, will confide every emotion to its pen-and-ink ears, and
will weep passionate tears if its extremely soiled person is
pricked when its clothes are mended. What psychologist, what
student of the human heart, has ever applied his subtile analysis
to the emotions of a child toward her doll?

I read lately the charming autobiography of a little girl of
eight years, written literally from her own dictation. Since "Pet
Marjorie" I have seen no such actual self-revelation on the part
of a child. In the course of her narration she describes, with
great precision and correctness, the travels of the family
through Europe in the preceding year, assigning usually the place
of importance to her doll, who appears simply as "My Baby."
Nothing can be more grave, more accurate, more serious than the
whole history, but nothing in it seems quite so real and alive as
the doll. "When we got to Nice, I was sick. The next morning the
doctor came, and he said I had something that was very much like
scarlet fever. Then I had Annie take care of baby, and keep her
away, for I was afraid she would get the fever. She used to cry
to come to me, but I knew it wouldn't be good for her."

What firm judgment is here, what tenderness without weakness,
what discreet motherhood! When Christmas came, it appears that
baby hung up her stocking with the rest. Her devoted parent had
bought for her a slate with a real pencil. Others provided
thimble and scissors and bodkin and a spool of thread, and a
travelling-shawl with a strap, and a cap with tarletan ruffles.
"I found baby with the cap on, early in the morning, and she was
so pleased she almost jumped out of my arms." Thus in the midst
of visits to the Coliseum and St. Peter's, the drama of early
affection goes always on. "I used to take her to hear the band,
in the carriage, and she went everywhere I did." But the love of
all dolls, as of other pets, must end with a tragedy, and here it
comes. "The next place we went to was Lucerne. There was a lovely
lake there, but I had a very sad time. One day I thought I'd take
baby down to breakfast, and, as I was going up stairs, my foot
slipped and baby broke her head. And O, I felt so bad! and I
cried out, and I ran up stairs to Annie, and mamma came, and O,
we were all so sorry! And mamma said she thought I could get
another head, but I said, 'It won't be the same baby.' And mamma
said, maybe we could make it seem so."

At this crisis the elder brother and sister departed for Mount
Righi. "They were going to stay all night, and mamma and I stayed
at home to take care of each other. I felt very bad about baby
and about their going, too. After they went, mamma and I thought
we would go to the little town and see what we could find." After
many difficulties, a waxen head was discovered. "Mamma bought it,
and we took it home and put it on baby; but I said it wasn't like
my real baby, only it was better than having no child at all!"

This crushing bereavement, this reluctant acceptance of a child
by adoption, to fill the vacant heart,--how real and formidable
is all this rehearsal of the tragedies of maturer years! I knew
an instance in which the last impulse of ebbing life was such a
gush of imaginary motherhood.

A dear friend of mine, whose sweet charities prolong into a third
generation the unbounded benevolence of old Isaac Hopper, used to
go at Christmas-time with dolls and other gifts to the poor
children on Randall's Island. Passing the bed of a little girl
whom the physician pronounced to be unconscious and dying, the
kind visitor insisted on putting a doll into her arms. Instantly
the eyes of the little invalid opened, and she pressed the gift
eagerly to her heart, murmuring over it and caressing it. The
matron afterwards wrote that the child died within two hours,
wearing a happy face, and still clinging to her new-found

And beginning with this transfer of all human associations to a
doll, the child's life interfuses itself readily among all the
affairs of the elders. In its presence, formality vanishes, the
most oppressive ceremonial is a little relieved when children
enter. Their influence is pervasive and irresistible, like that
of water, which adapts itself to any landscape,--always takes its
place, welcome or unwelcome,--keeps its own level and seems
always to have its natural and proper margin.

Out of doors how children mingle with nature, and seem to begin
just where birds and butterflies leave off! Leigh Hunt, with his
delicate perceptions, paints this well: "The voices of children
seem as natural to the early morning as the voice of the birds.
The suddenness, the lightness, the loudness, the sweet confusion,
the sparkling gayety, seem alike in both. The sudden little
jangle is now here and now there; and now a single voice calls to
another, and the boy is off like the bird." So Heine, with deeper
thoughtfulness, noticed the "intimacy with the trees" of the
little wood-gatherer in the Hartz Mountains; soon the child
whistled like a linnet, and the other birds all answered him;
then he disappeared in the thicket with his bare feet and his
bundle of brushwood.

"Children," thought Heine, "are younger than we, and can still
remember the time when they were trees or birds, and can
therefore understand and speak their language; but we are grown
old, and have too many cares, and too much jurisprudence and bad
poetry in our heads."

But why go to literature for a recognition of what one may see by
opening one's eyes? Before my window there is a pool, two rods
square, that is haunted all winter by children,--clearing away
the snow of many a storm, if need be, and mining downward till
they strike the ice. I look this morning from the window, and the
pond is bare. In a moment I happen to look again, and it is
covered with a swarm of boys; a great migrating flock has settled
upon it, as if swooping down from parts unknown to scream and
sport themselves here. The air is full of their voices; they have
all tugged on their skates instantaneously, as it were by magic.
Now they are in a confused cluster, now they sweep round and
round in a circle, now it is broken into fragments and as quickly
formed again; games are improvised and abandoned; there seems to
be no plan or leader, but all do as they please, and yet somehow
act in concert, and all chatter all the time. Now they have
alighted, every one, upon the bank of snow that edges the pond,
each scraping a little hollow in which to perch. Now every perch
is vacant again, for they are all in motion; each moment
increases the jangle of shrill voices,--since a boy's outdoor
whisper to his nearest crony is as if he was hailing a ship in
the offing,--and what they are all saying can no more be made out
than if they were a flock of gulls or blackbirds. I look away
from the window once more, and when I glance out again there is
not a boy in sight. They have whirled away like snowbirds, and
the little pool sleeps motionless beneath the cheerful wintry
sun. Who but must see how gradually the joyous life of the animal
rises through childhood into man,--since the soaring gnats, the
glancing fishes, the sliding seals are all represented in this
mob of half-grown boyhood just released from school.

If I were to choose among all gifts and qualities that which, on
the whole, makes life pleasantest, I should select the love of
children. No circumstance can render this world wholly a solitude
to one who has that possession. It is a freemasonry. Wherever one
goes, there are the little brethren and sisters of the mystic
tie. No diversity of race or tongue makes much difference. A
smile speaks the universal language. "If I value myself on
anything," said the lonely Hawthorne, "it is on having a smile
that children love." They are such prompt little beings; they
require so little prelude; hearts are won in two minutes, at that
frank period, and so long as you are true to them they will be
true to you. They need no argument, no bribery. They have a
hearty appetite for gifts, no doubt, but it is not for these that
they love the giver. Take the wealth of the world and lavish it
with counterfeited affection: I will win all the children's
hearts away from you by empty-handed love. The gorgeous toys will
dazzle them for an hour; then their instincts will revert to
their natural friends. In visiting a house where there are
children I do not like to take them presents: it is better to
forego the pleasure of the giving than to divide the welcome
between yourself and the gift. Let that follow after you are

It is an exaggerated compliment to women when we ascribe to them
alone this natural sympathy with childhood. It is an individual,
not a sexual trait, and is stronger in many men than in many
women. It is nowhere better exhibited in literature than where
the happy Wilhelm Meister takes his boy by the hand, to lead him
"into the free and lordly world." Such love is not universal
among the other sex, though men, in that humility which so adorns
their natures, keep up the pleasing fiction that it is. As a
general rule any little girl feels some glimmerings of emotion
towards anything that can pass for a doll, but it does not follow
that, when grown older, she will feel as ready an instinct toward
every child. Try it. Point out to a woman some bundle of
blue-and-white or white-and-scarlet in some one's arms at the
next street corner. Ask her, "Do you love that baby?" Not one
woman in three will say promptly, "Yes." The others will
hesitate, will bid you wait till they are nearer, till they can
personally inspect the little thing and take an inventory of its
traits; it may be dirty, too; it may be diseased. Ah! but this is
not to love children, and you might as well be a man. To love
children is to love childhood, instinctively, at whatever
distance, the first impulse being one of attraction, though it
may be checked by later discoveries. Unless your heart commands
at least as long a range as your eye, it is not worth much. The
dearest saint in my calendar never entered a railway car that she
did not look round for a baby, which, when discovered, must
always be won at once into her arms. If it was dirty, she would
have been glad to bathe it; if ill, to heal it. It would not have
seemed to her anything worthy the name of love, to seek only
those who were wholesome and clean. Like the young girl in
Holmes's most touching poem, she would have claimed as her own
the outcast child whom nurses and physicians had abandoned.
"'Take her, dread Angel! Break in love
This bruised reed and make it thine!'
No voice descended from above,
But Avis answered, 'She is mine!'"

When I think of the self-devotion which the human heart can
contain--of those saintly souls that are in love with sorrow, and
that yearn to shelter all weakness and all grief--it inspires an
unspeakable confidence that there must also be an instinct of
parentage beyond this human race, a heart of hearts, cor cordium.
As we all crave something to protect, so we long to feel
ourselves protected. We are all infants before the Infinite; and
as I turned from that cottage window to the resplendent sky, it
was easy to fancy that mute embrace, that shadowy symbol of
affection, expanding from the narrow lattice till it touched the
stars, gathering every created soul into the armsof Immortal


All round the shores of the island where I dwell there runs a
winding path. It is probably as old as the settlement of the
country, and has been kept open with pertinacious fidelity by the
fishermen whose right of way it represents. In some places, as
between Fort Adams and Castle Hill, it exists in its primitive
form, an irregular track above rough cliffs, whence you look down
upon the entrance to the harbor and watch the white-sailed
schooners that glide beneath. Elsewhere the high-road has usurped
its place, and you have the privilege of the path without its
charm. Along our eastern cliffs it runs for some miles in the
rear of beautiful estates, whose owners have seized on it, and
graded it, and gravelled it, and made stiles for it, and done for
it everything that landscape-gardening could do, while leaving it
a footpath still. You walk there with croquet and roses on the
one side, and with floating loons and wild ducks on the other. In
remoter places the path grows wilder, and has ramifications
striking boldly across the peninsula through rough moorland and
among great ledges of rock, where you may ramble for hours, out
of sight of all but some sportsman with his gun, or some
truant-boy with dripping water-lilies. There is always a charm to
me in the inexplicable windings of these wayward tracks; yet I
like the path best where it is nearest the ocean. There, while
looking upon blue sea and snowy sails and floating gulls, you may
yet hear on the landward side the melodious and plaintive drawl
of the meadow-lark, most patient of summer visitors, and, indeed,
lingering on this island almost the whole year round.

But who cares whither a footpath leads? The charm is in the path
itself, its promise of something that the high-road cannot yield.
Away from habitations, you know that the fisherman, the
geologist, the botanist may have been there, or that the cows
have been driven home and that somewhere there are bars and a
milk-pail. Even in the midst of houses, the path suggests
school-children with their luncheon-baskets, or workmen seeking
eagerly the noonday interval or the twilight rest. A footpath
cannot be quite spoiled, so long as it remains such; you can make
a road a mere avenue for fast horses or showy women, but this
humbler track keeps its simplicity, and if a queen comes walking
through it, she comes but as a village maid. On Sunday, when it
is not etiquette for our fashionables to drive, but only to walk
along the cliffs, they seem to wear a more innocent and wholesome
aspect in that novel position; I have seen a fine lady pause
under such circumstances and pick a wild-flower; she knew how to
do it. A footpath has its own character, while that of the
high-road is imposed upon it by those who dwell beside it or pass
over it; indeed, roads become picturesque only when they are
called lanes and make believe that they are but paths.

The very irregularity of a footpath makes half its charm. So much
of loitering and indolence and impulse have gone to its
formation, that all which is stiff and military has been left
out. I observed that the very dikes of the Southern rice
plantations did not succeed in being rectilinear, though the
general effect was that of Tennyson's "flowery squares." Even the
country road, which is but an enlarged footpath, is never quite
straight, as Thoreau long since observed, noting it with his
surveyor's eye. I read in his unpublished diary: "The law that
plants the rushes in waving lines along the edge of a pond, and
that curves the pond shore itself, incessantly beats against the
straight fences and highways of men, and makes them conform to
the line of beauty at last." It is this unintentional adaptation
that makes a footpath so indestructible. Instead of striking
across the natural lines, it conforms to them, nestles into the
hollow, skirts the precipice, avoids the morass. An unconscious
landscape-gardener, it seeks the most convenient course, never
doubting that grace will follow. Mitchell, at his "Edgewood"
farm, wishing to decide on the most picturesque avenue to his
front door, ordered a heavy load of stone to be hauled across the
field, and bade the driver seek the easiest grades, at whatever
cost of curvature. The avenue followed the path so made.

When a footpath falls thus unobtrusively into its place, all
natural forces seem to sympathize with it, and help it to fulfil
its destiny. Once make a well-defined track through a wood, and
presently the overflowing brooks seek it for a channel, the
obstructed winds draw through it, the fox and woodchuck travel by
it, the catbird and robin build near it, the bee and swallow make
a high-road of its convenient thoroughfare. In winter the first
snows mark it with a white line; as you wander through you hear
the blue-jay's cry, and see the hurrying flight of the sparrow;
the graceful outlines of the leafless bushes are revealed, and
the clinging bird's-nests, "leaves that do not fall," give happy
memories of summer homes. Thus Nature meets man half-way. The
paths of the wild forest and of the rural neighborhood are not at
all the same thing; indeed, a "spotted trail," marked only by the
woodman's axe-marks on the trees, is not a footpath. Thoreau, who
is sometimes foolishly accused of having sought to be a mere
savage, understood this distinction well. "A man changes by his
presence," he says in his unpublished diary, "the very nature of
the trees. The poet's is not a logger's path, but a
woodman's,--the logger and pioneer have preceded him, and
banished decaying wood and the spongy mosses which feed on it,
and built hearths and humanized nature for him. For a permanent
residence, there can be no comparison between this and the
wilderness. Our woods are sylvan, and their inhabitants woodsmen
and rustics; that is, a selvaggia and its inhabitants salvages."
What Thoreau loved, like all men of healthy minds, was the
occasional experience of untamed wildness. "I love to see
occasionally," he adds, "a man from whom the usnea (lichen) hangs
as gracefully as from a spruce."

Footpaths bring us nearer both to nature and to man. No
high-road, not even a lane, conducts to the deeper recesses of
the wood, where you hear the wood-thrush. There are a thousand
concealed fitnesses in nature, rhymed correspondences of bird and
blossom, for which you must seek through hidden paths; as when
you come upon some black brook so palisaded with cardinal-flowers
as to seem "a stream of sunsets"; or trace its shadowy course
till it spreads into some forest-pool, above which that rare and
patrician insect, the Agrion dragon-fly, flits and hovers
perpetually, as if the darkness and the cool had taken wings. The
dark brown pellucid water sleeps between banks of softest moss;
white stars of twin-flowers creep close to the brink, delicate
sprays of dewberry trail over it, and the emerald tips of
drooping leaves forever tantalize the still surface. Above these
the slender, dark-blue insect waves his dusky wings, like a
liberated ripple of the brook, and takes the few stray sunbeams
on his lustrous form. Whence came the correspondence between this
beautiful shy creature and the moist, dark nooks, shot through
with stray and transitory sunlight, where it dwells? The analogy
is as unmistakable as that between the scorching heats of summer
and the shrill cry of the cicada. They suggest questions that no
savant can answer, mysteries that wait, like Goethe's secret of
morphology, till a sufficient poet can be born. And we,
meanwhile, stand helpless in their presence, as one waits beside
the telegraphic wire, while it hums and vibrates, charged with
all fascinating secrets, above the heads of a wondering world.

It is by the presence of pathways on the earth that we know it to
be the habitation of man; in the barest desert, they open to us a
common humanity. It is the absence of these that renders us so
lonely on the ocean, and makes us glad to watch even the track of
our own vessel. But on the mountain-top, how eagerly we trace out
the"road that brings places together," as Schiller says. It is
the first thing we look for; till we have found it, each
scattered village has an isolated and churlish look, but the
glimpse of a furlong of road puts them all in friendly relations.
The narrower the path, the more domestic and familiar it seems.

The railroad may represent the capitalist or the government; the
high-road indicates what the surveyor or the county commissioners
thought best; but the footpath shows what the people needed. Its
associations are with beauty and humble life,--the boy with his
dog, the little girl with her fagots, the pedler with his pack;
cheery companions they are or ought to be.
"Jog on, jog on the footpath way,
And merrily hent the stile-a:
A merry heart goes all the day,
Your sad one tires in a mile-a."

The footpath takes you across the farms and behind the houses;
you are admitted to the family secrets and form a personal
acquaintance. Even if you take the wrong path, it only leads you
"across-lots" to some man ploughing, or some old woman picking
berries,--perhaps a very spicy acquaintance, whom the road would
never have brought to light. If you are led astray in the woods,
that only teaches you to observe landmarks more closely, or to
leave straws and stakes for tokens, like a gypsy's patteran, to
show the ways already traversed. There is a healthy vigor in the
mind of the boy who would like of all things to be lost in the
woods, to build a fire out of doors,and sleep under a tree or in
a haystack. Civilization is tiresome and enfeebling, unless we
occasionally give it the relish of a little outlawry, and
approach, in imagination at least, the zest of a gypsy life. The
records of pedestrian journeys, the Wanderjahre and memoirs of
good-for-noth-ings, and all the delightful German forest
literature,--these belong to the footpath side of our nature. The
passage I best remember in all Bayard Taylor's travels is the
ecstasy of his Thuringian forester, who said: "I recall the time
when just a sunny morning made me so happy that I did not know
what to do with myself. One day in spring, as I went through the
woods and saw the shadows of the young leaves upon the moss, and
smelt the buds of the firs and larches, and thought to myself,
'All thy life is to be spent in the splendid forest,'I actually
threw myself down and rolled in the grass like a dog, over and
over, crazy with joy."

It is the charm of pedestrian journeys that they convert the
grandest avenues to footpaths. Through them alone we gain
intimate knowledge of the people, and of nature, and indeed of
ourselves. It is easy to hurry too fast for our best reflections,
which, as the old monk said of perfection, must be sought not by
flying, but by walking, "Perfectionis via non pervolanda sed
perambulanda." The thoughts that the railway affords us are dusty
thoughts; we ask the news, read the journals, question our
neighbor, and wish to know what is going on because we are a part
of it. It is only in the footpath that our minds, like our
bodies, move slowly, and we traverse thought, like space, with a
patient thoroughness. Rousseau said that he had never experienced
so much, lived so truly, and been so wholly himself, as during
his travels on foot.

What can Hawthorne mean by saying in his English diary that "an
American would never understand the passage in Bunyan about
Christian and Hopeful going astray along a by-path into the
grounds of Giant Despair, from there being no stiles and by-paths
in our country"? So much of the charm of American pedestrianism
lies in the by-paths! For instance, the whole interior of Cape
Ann, beyond Gloucester, is a continuous woodland, with granite
ledges everywhere cropping out, around which the high-road winds,
following the curving and indented line of the sea, and dotted
here and there with fishing hamlets. This whole interior is
traversed by a network of footpaths, rarely passable for a wagon,
and not always for a horse, but enabling the pedestrian to go
from any one of these villages to any other, in a line almost
direct, and always under an agreeable shade. By the longest of
these hidden ways, one may go from Pigeon Cove to Gloucester, ten
miles, without seeing a public road. In the little inn at the
former village there used to hang an old map of this whole forest
region, giving a chart of some of these paths, which were said to
date back to the first settlement of the country. One of them,
for instance, was called on the map "Old Road from Sandy Bay to
Squam Meeting-house through the Woods"; but the road is now
scarcely even a bridle-path, and the most faithful worshipper
could not seek Squam Meeting-house in the family chaise. Those
woods have been lately devastated; but when I first knew that
region, it was as good as any German forest.

Often we stepped almost from the edge of the sea into some gap in
the woods; there seemed hardly more than a rabbit-track, yet
presently we met some wayfarer who had crossed the Cape by it. A
piny dell gave some vista of the broad sea we were leaving, and
an opening in the woods displayed another blue sea-line before;
the encountering breezes interchanged odor of berry-bush and
scent of brine; penetrating farther among oaks and chestnuts, we
came upon some little cottage, quaint and sheltered as any
Spenser drew; it was built on no high-road, and turned its
vine-clad gable away from even the footpath.

Then the ground rose and we were surprised by a breeze from a new
quarter; perhaps we climbed trees to look for landmarks, and saw
only, still farther in the woods, some great cliff of granite or
the derrick of an unseen quarry. Three miles inland, as I
remember, we found the hearthstones of a vanished settlement;
then we passed a swamp with cardinal-flowers; then a cathedral of
noble pines, topped with crow's-nests. If we had not gone astray
by this time, we presently emerged on Dogtown Common, an elevated
table-land, over-spread with great boulders as with houses, and
encircled with a girdle of green woods and an outer girdle of
blue sea. I know of nothing more wild than that gray waste of
boulders; it is a natural Salisbury Plain, of which icebergs and
ocean-currents were the Druidic builders; in that multitude of
couchant monsters there seems a sense of suspended life; you feel
as if they must speak and answer to each other in the silent
nights, but by day only the wandering sea-birds seek them, on
their way across the Cape, and the sweet-bay and green fern embed
them in a softer and deeper setting as the years go by. This is
the "height of ground" of that wild footpath; but as you recede
farther from the outer ocean and approach Gloucester, you come
among still wilder ledges, unsafe without a guide, and you find
in one place a cluster of deserted houses, too difficult of
access to remove even their materials, so that they are left to
moulder alone. I used to wander in those woods, summer after
summer, till I had made my own chart of their devious tracks, and
now when I close my eyes in this Oldport midsummer, the soft
Italian air takes on something of a Scandinavian vigor; for the
incessant roll of carriages I hear the tinkle of the quarryman's
hammer and the veery's song; and I long for those perfumed and
breezy pastures, and for those promontories of granite where the
fresh water is nectar and the salt sea has a regal blue.

I recall another footpath near Worcester, Massachusetts; it leads
up from the low meadows into the wildest region of all that
vicinity, Tatesset Hill. Leaving behind you the open pastures
where the cattle lie beneath the chestnut-trees or drink from the
shallow brook, you pass among the birches and maples, where the
woodsman's shanty stands in the clearing, and the
raspberry-fields are merry with children's voices. The familiar
birds and butterflies linger below with them, and in the upper
and more sacred depths the wood-thrush chants his litany and the
brown mountain butterflies hover among the scented vines. Higher
yet rises the "Rattlesnake Ledge," spreading over one side of the
summit a black avalanche of broken rock, now overgrown with
reindeer-moss and filled with tufts of the smaller wild geranium.
Just below this ledge,--amid a dark, dense track of second-growth
forest, masked here and there with grape-vines, studded with rare
orchises, and pierced by a brook that vanishes suddenly where the
ground sinks away and lets the blue distance in,--there is a
little monument to which the footpath leads, and which always
seemed to me as wild a memorial of forgotten superstition as the
traveller can find amid the forests of Japan.

It was erected by a man called Solomon Pearson (not to give his
name too closely), a quiet, thoughtful farmer, long-bearded,
low-voiced, and with that aspect of refinement which an ideal
life brings forth even in quite uninstructed men. At the height
of the "Second Advent" excitement this man resolved to build for
himself upon these remote rocks a house which should escape the
wrath to come, and should endure even amid a burning and
transformed earth. Thinking, as he had once said to me, that, "if
the First Dispensation had been strong enough to endure, there
would have been no need of a Second," he resolved to build for
his part something which should possess permanence at least. And
there still remains on that high hillside the small beginning
that he made.

There are four low stone walls, three feet thick, built solidly
together without cement, and without the trace of tools. The
end-walls are nine feet high (the sides being lower) and are
firmly united by a strong iron ridge-pole, perhaps fifteen feet
long, which is imbedded at each end in the stone. Other masses of
iron lie around unused, in sheets, bars, and coils, brought with
slow labor by the builder from far below. The whole building was
designed to be made of stone and iron. It is now covered with
creeping vines and the debris of the hillside; but though its
construction had been long discontinued when I saw it, the
interior was still kept scrupulously clean through the care of
this modern Solomon, who often visited his shrine.

An arch in the terminal wall admits the visitor to the small
roofless temple, and he sees before him, imbedded in the centre
of the floor, a large smooth block of white marble, where the
deed of this spot of land was to be recorded, in the hope to
preserve it even after the globe should have been burned and
renewed. But not a stroke of this inscription was ever cut, and
now the young chestnut boughs droop into the uncovered interior,
and shy forest-birds sing fearlessly among them, having learned
that this house belongs to God, not man. As if to reassure them,
and perhaps in allusion to his own vegetarian habits, the
architect has spread some rough plaster at the head of the
apartment and marked on it in bold characters, "Thou shalt not
kill." Two slabs outside, a little way from the walls, bear these
inscriptions, "Peace on Earth," "Good-Will to Men." When I
visited it, the path was rough and so obstructed with bushes that
it was hard to comprehend how it had afforded passage for these
various materials; it seemed more as if some strange
architectural boulder had drifted from some Runic period and been
stranded there. It was as apt a confessional as any of
Wordsworth's nooks among the Trossachs; and when one thinks how
many men are wearing out their souls in trying to conform to the
traditional mythologies of others, it seems nobler in this man to
have reared upon that lonely hill the unfinished memorial of his

I recall another path which leads from the Lower Saranac Lake,
near "Martin's," to what the guides call, or used to call, "The
Philosopher's Camp" at Amperzand. On this oddly named lake, in
the Adirondack region, a tract of land was bought by Professor
Agassiz and his friends, who made there a summer camping-ground,
and with one comrade I once sought the spot. I remember with what
joy we left the boat,-- o delightful at first, so fatiguing at
last; for I cannot, with Mr. Murray, call it a merit in the
Adirondacks that you never have to walk,--and stepped away into
the free forest. We passed tangled swamps, so dense with upturned
trees and trailing mosses that they seemed to give no opening for
any living thing to pass, unless it might be the soft and silent
owl that turned its head almost to dislocation in watching us,
ere it flitted vaguely away. Farther on, the deep, cool forest
was luxurious with plumy ferns; we trod on moss-covered roots,
finding the emerald steps so soft we scarcely knew that we were
ascending; every breath was aromatic; there seemed infinite
healing in every fragrant drop that fell upon our necks from the
cedar boughs. We had what I think the pleasantest guide for a
daylight tramp,--one who has never before passed over that
particular route, and can only pilot you on general principles
till he gladly, at last, allows you to pilot him. When we once
got the lead we took him jubilantly on, and beginning to look for
"The Philosopher's Camp," found ourselves confronted by a large
cedar-tree on the margin of a wooded lake. This was plainly the
end of the path. Was the camp then afloat? Our escort was in that
state of hopeless ignorance of which only lost guides are
capable. We scanned the green horizon and the level water,
without glimpse of human abode. It seemed an enchanted lake, and
we looked about the tree-trunk for some fairy horn, that we might
blow it. That failing, we tried three rifle-shots, and out from
the shadow of an island, on the instant, there glided a boat,
which bore no lady of the lake, but a red-shirted woodsman. The
artist whom we sought was on that very island, it seemed,
sketching patiently while his guides were driving the deer.

This artist was he whose "Procession of the Pines" had identified
his fame with that delightful forest region. He it was who had
laid out with artistic taste "The Philosopher's Camp," and who
was that season still awaiting philosophers as well as deer. He
had been there for a month, alone with the guides, and declared
that Nature was pressing upon him to an extent that almost drove
him wild. His eyes had a certain remote and questioning look that
belongs to imaginative men who dwell alone. It seemed an
impertinence to ask him to come out of his dream and offer us
dinner; but his instincts of hospitality failed not, and the
red-shirted guide was sent to the camp, which was, it seemed, on
the other side of the lake, to prepare our meal, while we bathed.
I am thus particular in speaking of the dinner, not only because
such is the custom of travellers, but also because it was the
occasion of an interlude which I shall never forget. As we were
undressing for our bath upon the lonely island, where the soft,
pale water almost lapped our feet, and the deep, wooded hills
made a great amphitheatre for the lake, our host bethought
himself of something neglected in his instructions.

"Ben!" vociferated he to the guide, now rapidly receding. Ben
paused on his oars.

"Remember to bo-o-oil the venison, Ben!" shouted the pensive
artist, while all the slumbering echoes arose to applaud this
culinary confidence.

"And, Ben!" he added, imploringly, "don't forget the dumplings!"
Upon this, the loons, all down the lake, who had hitherto been
silent, took up the strain with vehemence, hurling their wild
laughter at the presumptuous mortal who thus dared to invade
their solitudes with details as trivial as Mr. Pickwick's
tomato-sauce. They repeated it over and over to each other, till
ten square miles of loons must have heard the news, and all
laughed together; never was there such an audience; they could
not get over it, and two hours after, when we had rowed over to
the camp and dinner had been served, this irreverent and
invisible chorus kept bursting out, at all points of the compass,
with scattered chuckles of delight over this extraordinary bill
of fare. Justice compels me to add that the dumplings were made
of Indian-meal, upon a recipe devised by our artist; the guests
preferred the venison, but the host showed a fidelity to his
invention that proved him to be indeed a dweller in an ideal

Another path that comes back to memory is the bare trail that we
followed over the prairies of Nebraska, in 1856, when the
Missouri River was held by roving bands from the Slave States,
and Freedom had to seek an overland route into Kansas. All day
and all night we rode between distant prairie-fires, pillars of
evening light and of morning cloud, while sometimes the low grass
would burn to the very edge of the trail, so that we had to hold
our breath as we galloped through. Parties of armed Missourians
were sometimes seen over the prairie swells, so that we had to
mount guard at nightfall; Free-State emigrants, fleeing from
persecution, continually met us; and we sometimes saw parties of
wandering Sioux, or passed their great irregular huts and houses
of worship. I remember one desolate prairie summit on which an
Indian boy sat motionless on horseback; his bare red legs clung
closely to the white sides of his horse; a gorgeous sunset was
unrolled behind him, and he might have seemed the last of his
race, just departing for the hunting-grounds of the blest. More
often the horizon showed no human outline, and the sun set
cloudless, and elongated into pear-shaped outlines, as behind
ocean-waves. But I remember best the excitement that filled our
breasts when we approached spots where the contest for a free
soil had already been sealed with blood. In those days, as one
went to Pennsylvania to study coal formations, or to Lake
Superior for copper, so one went to Kansas for men. "Every
footpath on this planet," said a rare thinker, "may lead to the
door of a hero," and that trail into Kansas ended rightly at the
tent-door of John Brown.

And later, who that knew them can forget the picket-paths that
were worn throughout the Sea Islands of South Carolina,-- paths
that wound along the shores of creeks or through the depths of
woods, where the great wild roses tossed their airy festoons
above your head, and the brilliant lizards glanced across your
track, and your horse's ears suddenly pointed forward and his
pace grew uneasy as he snuffed the presence of something you
could not see. At night you had often to ride from picket to
picket in dense darkness, trusting to the horse to find his way,
or sometimes dismounting to feel with your hands for the track,
while the great Southern fire-flies offered their floating
lanterns for guidance, and the hoarse "Chuck-will's-widow"
croaked ominously from the trees, and the great guns of the siege
of Charleston throbbed more faintly than the drumming of a
partridge, far away. Those islands are everywhere so intersected
by dikes and ledges and winding creeks as to form a natural
military region, like La Vendee and yet two plantations that are
twenty miles asunder by the road will sometimes be united by a
footpath which a negro can traverse in two hours. These tracks
are limited in distance by the island formation, but they assume
a greater importance as you penetrate the mainland; they then
join great States instead of mere plantations, and if you ask
whither one of them leads, you are told "To Alabama," or "To

Time would fail to tell of that wandering path which leads to the
Mine Mountain near Brattleborough, where you climb the high peak
at last, and perhaps see the showers come up the Connecticut till
they patter on the leaves beneath you, and then, swerving, pass
up the black ravine and leave you unwet. Or of those among the
White Mountains, gorgeous with great red lilies which presently
seem to take flight in a cloud of butterflies that match their
tints,--paths where the balsamic air caresses you in light
breezes, and masses of alder-berries rise above the waving ferns.
Or of the paths that lead beside many a little New England
stream, whose bank is lost to sight in a smooth green slope of
grape-vine: the lower shoots rest upon the quiet water, but the
upper masses are crowned by a white wreath of alder-blooms;
beside them grow great masses of wild-roses, and the simultaneous
blossoms and berries of the gaudy nightshade. Or of those winding
tracks that lead here and there among the flat stones of peaceful
old graveyards, so entwined with grass and flowers that every
spray of sweetbrier seems to tell more of life than all the
accumulated epitaphs can tell of death.

And when the paths that one has personally traversed are
exhausted, memory holds almost as clearly those which the poets
have trodden for us,--those innumerable by-ways of Shakespeare,
each more real than any high-road in England; or Chaucer's
"Little path I found
Of mintes full and fennell greene";

or Spenser's
"Pathes and alleies wide
With footing worne";

or the path of Browning's "Pippa"
"Down the hillside, up the glen,
Love me as I love!"

or the weary tracks by which "Little Nell" wandered; or the
haunted way in Sydney Dobell's ballad,
"Ravelstone, Ravelstone,
The merry path that leads
Down the golden morning hills,
And through the silver meads";

or the few American paths that genius has yet idealized; that
where Hawthorne's "David Swan" slept, or that which Thoreau found
upon the banks of Walden Pond, or where Whittier parted with his
childhood's playmate on Ramoth Hill. It is not heights, or
depths, or spaces that make the world worth living in; for the
fairest landscape needs still to be garlanded by the
imagination,--to become classic with noble deeds and romantic
with dreams.

Go where we please in nature, we receive in proportion as we
give. Ivo, the old Bishop of Chartres, wrote, that "neither the
secret depth of woods nor the tops of mountains make man blessed,
if he has not with him solitude of mind, the sabbath of the
heart, and tranquillity of conscience." There are many roads, but
one termination; and Plato says, in his "Republic," that the
point where all paths meet is the soul's true resting-place and
the journey's end.

The End.


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