The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 10, No. 58, August, 1862

Part 4 out of 5

clue to this most surprising story, and that these wonderful
conversions were brought about, not by a miracle, as the good man
seems himself to have really imagined, and would almost make us
believe, but by a premium of a dollar a head paid to this worthy
curate for each slave that he baptized!"

We return to Las Casas once more, to state precisely his complicity in
the introduction of the race whose sorrows have been so fearfully
avenged by Nature in every part of the New World. Many of the writers
who have treated of these transactions, as Robertson, for instance,
have accused Las Casas, on the strength of a passage in Herrera, of
having originated the idea that the blacks could be profitably
substituted for the Indians. It is supposed, that, in his eagerness to
save the Indians from destruction, he sought also to save colonial
interests, by procuring still a supply of labor from a hardier and
less interesting race. Thus his indignation at the rapid extinction of
the Indians appears sentimental; to indulge his fancy for an amiable
race, he was willing to subject another, with which he had no graceful
associations, to the same liabilities. We have seen, however, that
the practice of carrying negroes to Hayti was already established,
seven years before Las Casas suggests his policy. The passage from
Herrera has been misunderstood, as Llorente, Schoelcher, the Abbe
Gregoire, and others, conclusively show. That historian says that Las
Casa, disheartened by the difficulties which he met from the colonists
and their political and ecclesiastical friends at home, had recourse
to a new expedient, to solicit leave for the Spaniards to trade in
negroes, "in order that their labor on the plantations and in the
mines might render that of the natives less severe." This proposition,
made in 1517, has been wrongly supposed to signalize the first
introduction of blacks into America. Nor was Las Casas the first to
make this proposition; for another passage of Herrera discloses that
three priests of St. Jerome, who had been despatched to the colony by
Cardinal Ximenes, for the experiment of managing it by a Board instead
of by a Governor, recommended in 1516 that negroes should be sent out
to stock the plantations, in order to diminish the forced labor of the
natives. This was a concession by the Jeromites to the public opinion
which Las Casas had created.[18] Negroes already existed there; the
priests perceived their value, and that the introduction of a greater
number would both improve the colony and diminish the anti-slavery
agitation of the Dominicans. The next year this project was taken up
by Las Casas, borrowed from the Jeromites as the only alternative to
preserve a colony, to relieve the natives, and to keep the people
interested in the wholesome reforms which he was continually urging
upon the colonial administration.

He had no opportunity to become acquainted with the evils of negro
slavery, but it is strange that he did not anticipate them. It was
taken for granted by him that the blacks were enslaved in Africa, and
he accepted too readily the popular idea that their lot was improved
by transferring them from barbarous to Christian masters. Their number
was so small in Hayti, and the island fell so suddenly into decay,
that no formidable oppression of them occurred during his lifetime to
replace his recollections of the horrors of Indian servitude. His plan
did not take root, but it was remembered. Thus the single error of a
noble man, committed in the fulness of his Christian aspirations, and
at the very moment when he was representing to a generation of hard
and avaricious men the divine charity, betrayed their victims to all
the nations that sought wealth and luxury in the West, and pointed out
how they were to be obtained. His compromise has the fatal history of
all compromises which secure to the present a brief advantage, whose
fearful accumulation of interest the future must disgrace, exhaust,
and cripple itself to pay.

In 1519 the colony had already begun to decay, though all the external
marks of luxury and splendor were still maintained. That was the date
of a famous insurrection of the remnant of Indians, who occupied the
mountains, and defended themselves for thirteen years against all the
efforts of the Spaniards to reduce them. It was hardly worth while to
undertake their subjection. Adventurers and emigrants were already
leaving San Domingo to its fate, attracted to different spots of the
Terra Firma, to Mexico and Peru, by the reported treasures. That
portion of the colony which had engaged in agriculture found Indians
scarce and negroes expensive. There was no longer any object in
fitting out expeditions to reinforce the colony, and repair the waste
which it was beginning to suffer from desertion and disease. The war
with the natives was ignominiously ended by Charles V. in 1533, who
found that the colony was growing too poor to pay for it. He
despatched a letter to the cacique who had organized this desperate
and prolonged resistance, flattered him by the designation of Dom
Henri[19] and profuse expressions of admiration, sent a Spanish
general to treat with him, and to assign him a district to inhabit
with his followers. Dom Henri thankfully accepted this pacification,
and soon after received Las Casas himself, who had been commissioned
to assure the sole surviving cacique and representative of two million
natives that Spain was their friend! At last the Protector of the
Indians has the satisfaction of meeting them with authoritative
messages of peace. And this was the first salutation of Dom Henri,
after his forty years' experience of Spanish probity, and thirteen
years of struggle for existence: "During all this war, I have not
failed a day to offer up my prayers, I have fasted strictly every
Friday, I have watched with care over the morals and the conduct of my
subjects, I have taken measures everywhere to prevent all profligate
intercourse between the sexes";[20] thus nobly trying to recommend
himself to the good Bishop, who had always believed in their capacity
for temporal and spiritual elevation. He retired to a place named
Boya, a dozen leagues from the capital. All the Indians who could
prove their descent from the original inhabitants of the island were
allowed to follow him. A few of them still remained in 1750; their
number was only four thousand when Dom Henri led them away from
Spanish rule to die out undisturbed.[21]

After its passionate and blood-thirsty life, the colony was sinking to
sleep, not from satiety nor exhaustion, for the same race was holding
its orgies in other countries, but from inability to gather fuel for
its excesses. A long list of insignificant governors is the history of
the island for another century. They did nothing to improve the
condition of the inhabitants, whose distress was sometimes severe; but
they continued to embellish the capital, which Oviedo described to
Charles V. as rivalling in solidity and beauty any city in Spain. He
wrote in 1538, and possessed a beautiful residence in the plain of
St. John. The private houses were built substantially, in several
stories, of stone, embowered in charming gardens; the public edifices,
including the cathedral, displayed all the strength and rich
ornamentation which had been common for a hundred years in the Spanish
cities. There were several well-endowed convents, and a fine
hospital. When Sir Francis Drake took possession of San Domingo in
1586, he attempted to induce the inhabitants, who had fled into the
country, to pay an enormous ransom for their city, by threatening to
destroy a number of fine houses every day till it was paid. He
undertook the task, but found that his soldiers were scarcely able to
demolish more than one a day, and he eventually left the city not
materially damaged.

Antonio Herrera, in his "Description of the West Indies," gives the
number of inhabitants of the city in 1530 as six hundred, and says
that there were fourteen thousand Castilians, many of them nobles, who
carried on the different interests of the colony. He has a list of
seventeen towns, with brief descriptions of them.

It appears by this that the island had speedily recovered from the ill
reports of the early emigrants, many of whom returned to Spain broken
in purse and person, with excesses of passion and climate chronicled
in their livid faces[22]. There was a period when everybody who could
get away from the colony left it in disgust, and with the expectation
that it would soon become extinct. It was to prevent such a
catastrophe, which would have effectually terminated the explorations
of Columbus, that he proposed to the Government, in 1496, to commute
the punishments of all criminals and large debtors who were at the
time in prison to a perpetual banishment to the island, persons
convicted of treason or heresy being alone excepted. The advice was
instantly adopted, without a thought of the consequences of
reinforcing the malignant ambition of the colony with such
elements. Persons capitally convicted were to serve two years without
wages; all others were to serve on the same terms for one year; and
they went about with the ingenious clog of a threat of arrest for the
old crimes in case they returned to Europe.

The Government improved upon the hint of Columbus by decreeing that
all the courts in Spain should condemn to the mines a portion of the
criminals who would in the course of nature have gone to the
galleys.[23] Thus a new country, which invited the benign organization
of law and religion, and held out to pure spirits an opportunity
richer than all its crops and mines, was poisoned in its cradle. What
wonder that its vigor became the aimless gestures of madness, that a
bloated habit simulated health, and that decrepitude suddenly fell
upon the uneasy life?

At the same time it was expressly forbidden to all commanders of
caravels to receive on board any person who was not a born subject of
the crown of Castile. This was conceived in the exclusive colonial
policy of the time. It was a grotesque idea to preserve nationality by
insisting that even criminals must respect the Spanish birthright.
History counts the fitful pulses of this bluest blood of Europe,
and hesitates to declare that such emigrants misrepresented
the mother-country.

But after the middle of the sixteenth century, the inhabitants were
pillaged by the public enemies of the mother-country, and by private
adventurers of all lands. And yet, in 1587, the year after Drake's
expedition, their fleet carried home 48 quintals of cassia, 50 of
sarsaparilla, 134 of logwood, 893 chests of sugar, each weighing 200
pounds, and 350,444 hides of every kind. There is no account of
indigo, and the cultivation of cotton had not commenced. Coffee was
first introduced at Martinique during the reign of Louis XIV., who
died in 1715. Its cultivation was not commenced in Jamaica till

The negroes whom Hawkins procured on his first voyage to Africa were
carried by him to San Domingo. This was in 1563, the date of England's
first venture in the slave-trade. The English had sent vessels to the
African coast as early as 1551, on private account, for gold and
ivory; but as they had no West-Indian colony, and the trade in slaves
was a monopoly, they had no object to increase the risks of a voyage
which infringed upon the Portuguese right to Africa by carrying
negroes away. Vessels were fitted out in 1552 and 1553 to trade for
ivory and pepper; in the two following years the English interest in
Africa increased, and a negro was occasionally carried away and
brought to England.[25] This appears to have been the first
circumstance which attracted the attention of Queen Elizabeth, and
drew remonstrances from her before it became clear that a good deal of
money could be made out of such transactions. She blamed Captain
Hawkins, who had succeeded by treachery and violence in getting hold
of three hundred negroes whom he carried to San Domingo, and disposed
of in the ports of Isabella, Puerto-de-Plata, and Monte Christi. Her
virtue was proof against this first speculation, although it was an
exceedingly good one, for Hawkins filled his three vessels with hides,
ginger, and a quantity of pearls, and freighted two more with hides
and other articles which he sent to Spain. It was after his third
voyage, in 1567, when he sold his negroes in Havana at a profit
greater than he could derive from the decaying San Domingo, that the
Queen forgot her scruples, and gave Hawkins a crest symbolical of his
wicked success: "a demi-Moor, in his proper color, bound with a cord,"
made plain John a knight.[26]

But the Portuguese jealously watched their privilege to export men
from Africa, so that only about forty thousand negroes were brought
yearly by lawful and contraband channels to the different
islands. Cuba obtained most of these. The greater part of the
Portuguese trade took the direction of Brazil, for the sugar-cane had
been carried from Madeira to Rio Janeiro in 1531. Formidable rivalry
in selfishness was thus sown in every direction by the early splendor
of San Domingo. When the Genoese merchants bought the original
privilege to transport four thousand, they held the price of negroes
at two hundred ducats. Their monopoly ceased in 1539, when a great
market for slaves was opened at Lisbon; Spain could buy them there at
a price varying from ten to fifty ducats a head, but their price
delivered in good condition at San Domingo, including the inevitable
percentage of loss, made them almost as expensive as before.

The capital was shattered by an earthquake in 1684. The people melted
away, and fine houses, which were deserted by their owners, remained
tenantless, and went to ruin. Valverde,[27] a Creole of the island, is
the chronicler of its condition in the middle of the eighteenth
century. He observes that the Spanish Creoles were living in such
poverty that mass was said before daylight, so that mutual scandal at
dilapidated toilets might not interfere with the enjoyment of
religion. The leprosy was common, and two lazarettos were filled with
its victims. The negro blood had found its way into almost every
family; a female slave received her freedom as a legacy of piety or of
lust. She could also purchase it for two hundred and fifty dollars;
and if she was with child, an additional twelve dollars and fifty
cents would purchase for the new-comer all the glories and immunities
of Creole society. These were to doze and smoke in hammocks, and to
cultivate listlessly about twenty-two dilapidated sugar-plantations
and a little coffee. The trade in cattle with the French part of the
island absorbed all the business and enterprise that remained. Still
Valverde will not admit that the Spanish Creole was indolent: it is in
consequence of a deficiency of negroes, he explains, that they cannot
labor more!

A great injury was inflicted upon the colony by the exclusive
commercial spirit of the mother-country. Spain was the first European
government which undertook to interfere with the natural courses of
trade, on the pretence of protecting isolated interests. In the
eleventh century a great commercial competition existed between some
Italian, French, and Spanish cities. To favor the last, when they were
already enjoying their just share of trade, the King of Aragon
prohibited, in 1227, "all foreign vessels from loading for Ceuta,
Alexandria, or other important ports, if a Catalan ship was able and
willing to take the cargo"; the commerce of Barcelona was in
consequence of this navigation act seriously damaged.[28] Spain
treated her colonies afterward in the same spirit; and other
countries, France in particular, pursued this narrow and destructive
policy, wherever colonial success excited commercial jealousy and

"The commerce of the colony was all confined to the unwise arrangement
of a Government counting-house, called the _Casa de la Contratacion_,
(House of Trade,) through which all exports were sent out to the
colonies and all remittances made in return. By this order of things,
the want of free competition blasted all enterprise, and the
exorbitant rates of an exclusive traffic paralyzed industry.
The cultivation of the vine, the olive, and other staple productions
of Spain, was prohibited. All commerce between the colonies was
forbidden; and not only could no foreigner traffic with them, but
death and confiscation of property were decreed to the colonist who
should traffic with a foreigner,--slave-vessels alone being

Thus the policy which ought to have favored the island first settled
by Spaniards, against the attractions of Peru, Mexico, and Cuba,
towards which the mother-colony was rapidly emptying her streams of
life, was not forthcoming. These Spaniards, who were enslaved by the
tenacious fancy that El Dorado still glittered for them in some
distant place, needed to be attached to the soil by generous
advantages, such as premiums for introducing and sustaining the
cultivation of new productions, immunity from imposts either by
Government or by the middle-men of a company, and liberty to exchange
hides, tallow, and crops of every kind with the French, Dutch, and
English, in every port of the island, to convert a precarious illicit
trade with those nations into a natural intercourse, so that different
articles of food, which were often scarce, and sometimes failed
entirely, might be regularly supplied, until by such fostering care
the colony should grow strong enough to protect itself against its own
and foreign adventurers. But if all these measures had been accordant
with the ideas of that age, they would have been defeated by its

Other people now appear upon the scene, to put the finishing touch to
this decay, while they freshen the old crimes and assume the tradition
of excess and horror which is the island's history.

[To be continued.]


1. Herrera says, however, that Las Casas declared them to be
legitimately enslaved, the natives of Trinity Island in
particular. Schoelcher (_Colonies Etrangeres et Haiti_,
Tom. II. p. 59) notices that all the royal edicts in favor of the
people of America, miserably obeyed as they were, related only to
Indians who were supposed to be in a state of peace with Spain; the
Caribs were distinctly excepted. It was convenient to call a great
many Indians Caribs; numerous tribes who were peaceful enough when let
alone, and victims rather than perpetrators of cannibalism, became
slaves by scientific adjudication. "These races," said Cardinal
Ximenes, "are fit for nothing but labor."

2. _Fifth Memoir: Upon the Liberty of the Indians._
Llorente, Tom. II. p. 11.

3. _Cimarron_ was Spanish, meaning _wild:_ applied
to animals, and subsequently to escaped slaves, who lived by hunting
and stealing.

4. "Gimlamo Benzoni, of Milan, who, at the age of
twenty-two, visited Terra Firma, took part in some expeditions in 1542
to the coasts of Bordones, Cariaco, and Paria, to carry off the
unfortunate natives. He relates with simplicity, and often with a
sensibility not common in the historians of that time, the examples of
cruelty of which he was a witness. He saw the slaves dragged to New
Cadiz, to be marked on the forehead and on the arms, and for the
payment of the _quint_ to the officers of the crown. From this
port the Indians were sent to the island of Hayti, after having often
changed masters, not by way of sale, but because the soldiers played
for them at dice."--Humboldt, _Personal Narrative_, Vol. I. p.

5. Schoelcher, _Hayti_, Vol. II. p. 78. The Arabs introduced the
cane, which had been cultivated in the East from the remotest
times, into Sicily in the ninth century, whence it found its
way into Spain, and was taken to the Canaries: Madeira sent sugar to
Antwerp in 1500. See Bridge, _Annals of Jamaica_, Vol.I. p.594,
who, however, makes the mistake of saying that a variety of the
sugar-cane was indigenous to the Antilles. See Humboldt, _Personal
Narrative_, Vol. II. p. 28, who says that negroes were employed in
the cultivation of the sugar-cane in the Canaries from its

6. Schoelcher, _La Traile et son Origine_, in
_Colonies Etrengeres_, Tom. I. p. 364.

7. Upon the subject of changes in the value of money, and
some comparisons between the past and present, see Hallam's _Europe,
during the Middle Ages_, Vol. II. pp. 427--432, and _Supplement_,
p. 406. Dealing in money, banking, bills of exchange, have a very
early date in Europe. The Bank of Venice was founded in 1401.
Florentines dealt in money as early as 1251, and their system
of exchange was in use throughout the North early in the
fifteenth century.--McCullagh's _Industrial History of Free
Nations_ Vol. II. p. 94.

8. See in Hallam's _Supplement to Europe during the Middle
Ages_, p. l33, and in Motley's _Dutch Republic_, Vol. I. pp.
32, 33, various causes mentioned for voluntary and compulsory
servitude in the early European times. See also Summer's _White
Slavery_, p. 11.

9. Moors, living In Spain as subjects, and nominally

10. _La Historia sel Mondo Nuovo_, Venetia, 1565, Book
II. p.65, a duodecimo filled with curious plates representing the
habits of the natives and the Spanish dealings with them. Benozi
elsewhere has a good deal to say about the cruelty exercised towards
the negroes. For a failure to perform a daily stint in the mines, a
negro was usually buried up to his chin, and left to be tormented by
the insects. Wire whips were used in flogging, and hot pitch was
applied to the wounds.

11. _Fifth Memoir: Upon the Liberty of the Indians who
have been reduced to the Condition of Slavery_; Morente,
Tom. II. pp. 34, 35. _Sixth Memoir: Upon the Question whether Kings
have the Power to alienate their Subjects, their Towns and
Jurisdiction_, pp. 64 et seq. _Letter of Las Casas to Miranda,
resident in England with Philip, in 1555_.--The Sixth Memoir is a
remarkable production. Its closing words are these: "The dignity of a
king does not consist in usurping rights of which he is only the
administrator. Invested with all the necessary power to govern well
and to make his kingdom happy, let him fulfil that fine destiny, and
the respect of the people will be his reward."

12. "Ces hommes qui donnent le beau nom de prudence a leur
timidite, et dont la discretion est toujours favorable a
l'injustice."--Hilliard d'Aubertueil, _Considerations sur l'Etat
Present de la Colonie Francoise de St. Domingue_, 1776.

13. _Histoire Generale des Isles de St. Christophe_, etc., 1654,
par Du Tertre.

14. From a letter by the Jesuit father Le Pers, quoted by
Charlevoix, _Histoire de St. Domingue_, Tom. IV. p. 369. Amsterdam,

15. Upon the reputed effects of baptism, and some anecdotes
connected with the administration of this rite, see Humboldt's
_Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain_, London, 1811,
Vol. I. p. 165, note.

16. _Nouveau Voyage aux Isles de l'Amerique_, A la
Haye, 1724, Tom. V. p. 42. Father Labat is delighted because the Dutch
asked him to confess their slaves; and he records that many masters
take great pains to have their Catholic slaves say their prayers
morning and evening, and approach the sacrament; nor do they undertake
to indoctrinate them with Calvinism.

17. _A Sermon preached before the Incorporated Society for
the Propogation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, at their Anniversary
Meeting in the Parish Church of St. Mary-le-Bow, on Friday,
February 18, 1731_.

18. Oviedo says nothing about this Jeromite proposition, but
records the arrival of this priestly commission, (_Hist. Ind._,
Book IV. ch. 3,) and that one object of it was to provide for the
Indians,--"_buen tractamiento e conservecion de los indios_." He
says that all the remedial measures which it undertook increased the
misery and loss of the natives. He was not humane. It seemed absurd
to him that the Indians should kill themselves on the slightest
pretext, or run to the mountains; and he can find no reason for it,
except that their chief purpose in life (and one which they had always
cherished, before the Christians came among them) was to eat, drink,
"_folgar, e luxuriar, e idolatrar, e exercer otras muchas suciedades

19. The priests gave him the name of Henri, when they
baptized him, long previous to his revolt. He was called Henriquillo
by way of Catholic endearment. But the consecrating water could not
wash out of his remembrance that his father and grandfather had been
burnt alive by order of a Spanish governor. What, indeed, can quench
such fires? Yet this dusky Hannibal loved the exercises and pure
restraints of the religion which had laid waste his family.

20. Oviedo, _Hist. Ind._, Book V. ch. 11, who gives the
cacique little credit for some of his prohibitions, but on the whole
praises him, and, after mentioning that he lived little more than a
year from the time of this pacification, and died like a Christian,
commends his soul to God. Oviedo hated the Indians, and wrote about
colonial affairs coldly and in the Spanish interests.

21. _Histoire Politique et Statistique._ Par Placide Justin.

22. "The Indies are not for every one! How many heedless
persons quit Spain, expecting that in the Indies a dinner costs
nothing, and that there is nobody there in want of one; that as they
do not drink wine in every house, why, they give it away! Many,
Father, have been seen to go to the Indies, and to have returned from
them as miserable as when they left their country, having gained from
the journey nought but perpetual pains in the arms and legs, which
refuse in their treatment to yield to sarsaparilla and _palo
santo_, [_lignum vitae_,] and which neither quicksilver nor
sweats will eject from their constitution." From a Spanish novel by
Yanez y Rivera, "_Alonzo, el Donado Hablador_": "Alonzo, the
Talkative Lay-Brother," written in 1624. New York, 1844.

23. Charlevoix, _Histoire de St. Domingue_, 1733,
Tom.I. p.185, who notices the admission of Herrera that the Admiral
made a great mistake, since malefactors should not be selected for the
founders of republics. No, neither in Virginia nor in any virgin

24. Some slips of Mocha fell into the hands of Europeans
first by being carried to Batavia. It was then transplanted to
Amsterdam in the end of the sixteenth century; and a present of some
shrubs was made to Louis XIV., at the Peace of Utrecht. They
flourished in his garden, and three shrubs were taken thence and
shipped to Martinique in the care of a Captain de Cheu. The voyage was
so prolonged that two of them died for want of moisture, and the
captain saved the third by devoting to it his own ration of water.

25. Huene, _Geschichte des Sclavenhandels_, I. 300.

26. When John's son, Richard, was fitting out a vessel for a
voyage into the South Sea, ostensibly to explore, his mother-in-law
had the naming of it at his request; and she called it "The
Repentance." Sir Richard was puzzled at this; but his mother would
give him no other satisfaction "then that repentance was the safest
ship we could sayle in to purchase the haven of Heaven." The Queen
changed the name to "Daintie."--_Observations of Sir Richard
Hawkins, Knight, in his Voyage into the South Sea,_ A. D. 1593.

27. _Idea del Valor,_ etc., Madrid, 1785: _An Idea of
the Value of the Spanish Island,_ etc. By A.S. Valverde.

28. McCullagh's _Industrial History of Free Nations; the
Dutch_, Vol. II. p. 51.

29. _The History and Present Condition of St.
Domingo_, by J. Brown, M. D., 1837, p. 40. Even this exception in
favor of slave-traders appears afterwards to have been withdrawn; for
Charlevoix relates (_Histoire de St. Domingue_, Tom. III. p. 36)
that the Governor of San Domingo got Tortuga away from the French, in
1654, by means of two negroes whom he had purchased cheap from some
Dutchmen, and who showed him a path by which he drew up two cannon to
command the fort. He was recalled, and beheaded at Seville, because he
had bought negroes of foreigners.


I was born in a small town of Virginia. My father was a physician,
more respected than employed; for it was generally supposed, and
justly, that he was more devoted to chemical experiment and
philosophical speculation than to the ordinary routine of his
profession. It was quite natural, that, in course of time, another
physician should come to dash by, with fine turnout, my father's
humble gig; and such, indeed, was the result. It was equally natural,
that, as the dear old man looked his own fate straight in the eyes,
and saw his patients falling away one by one, he should adjourn
practical success to his only son,--myself. Quiet, but unremitting,
were his efforts to make me avoid the rock on which his worldly
fortunes had been wrecked. In vain: to me there was a light in his eye
which lured me on to those visionary shores from which he warned me;
and whilst he was holding out the labors and duties of a regular and
steadfast practitioner as merciful and honorable among the highest,
there was an undertone in his voice, of which he was unconscious,
which told me plainly that the knowledge he most valued in himself was
that apparently most unproductive. My mother had died several years
before; my father's affection, pride, and hope rested utterly upon
me. I knew not then how sad it was to disappoint him. Often, when he
returned to his office, hoping to find me studying the "Materia
Medica," I was discovered poring over some old volumes on the "Human
Humors, or the Planetary Sympathies of the Viscera." A sincere grief
filled his eyes at such times, but I could not help feeling that it
was mingled with respect. The heaviest cross I had to bear was that
the curious old volumes which attracted me were gradually abstracted
from the library.

One day, walking with my father on the outskirts of the town, we found
a merry throng gathered about the car of a travelling daguerrotypist.
Having nothing more entertaining on hand, we entered the car
and sat, whilst the village belles, and the newly affianced,
and the young brides came for their miniatures. This was interesting;
but when they were gone, my father and the artist entered upon a
conversation which was far more absorbing to me, and indeed colored
the whole of my subsequent life. My father made inquiries concerning
the materials used in daguerrotyping, and the progress of the art; and
the artist, finding him an intelligent man, entered with spirit upon
his relation.

"It is, indeed, wonderful," he said, "that more has not been
accomplished through this discovery; and I can attribute this to
nothing but the lack amongst our poor fraternity of the capital
necessary for carrying on and out the many experiments suggested to us
daily in the course of our operations."

"About what point," asked my father, "do these suggestions usually

"That which chiefly excites our speculation is the unfathomed mystery
of the nitrate of silver. The story of this wonderful agent is not
half unfolded; and every artist knows that its power is limited only
by the imperfection of the materials with which it has to act. Its
sensitiveness approaches that of thought itself. I have a very small
quantity of highest quality which I use on rare occasions and
generally for experiments. A few days ago I caught with it this first
flash of sunrise,--see, is it not perfect?"

The picture which he showed us was, indeed, beautiful. A wave of light
bursting upon the plate to a foamy whiteness, almost beyond the power
of the eye to bear. But that which excited me most was the photograph
of a star, which he had fixed after highly magnifying it. What a
fascination there was about that little point of fire!

It turned out to be the star under which I was born: its fatal
influences were already upon me: I returned home to pass a night
sleepless, indeed, but not without dreams.

Why is it that a new idea, taking possession of the young, raising
some new object for their pursuit, does, in the proportion of its
power, foreclose even the most accustomed confidences? My father was
precisely the one man living who would have sympathized in the purpose
which from the time of this visit sucked into its whirl all my desires
and powers; but that purpose seemed at once to turn my heart to
stone. For a week I was acting a part before the kindest and simplest
of men; and I deliberately went forward to reach my object over his
happiness and even life.

When the daguerrotypist left town, I easily found the direction he had
taken; and, after waiting several days to prevent any suspicious
coincidence in the time of our departure, I one night, soon after
midnight, crept from my bed and followed him. I overtook him at a
village some twenty miles distant, where he was remaining a day or
two, and easily procured an engagement with him, since I desired
nothing but to serve him and be taught the mechanical details of his
art. My father had no clue whatever to my direction, for he had not
dreamed of anything unusual in my thoughts or plans. He was now
entirely alone. But I knew that I was helpless against the phantom
which was leading me forth; it also contained a stimulant which was
able to bear me safely through seasons of self-reproach and

For about six months I got along with the artist very well. My desire
to learn made me attentive, prompt, and respectful. But at the end of
that time I had learned all that he could teach me, and, as I had
engaged with him for an ulterior object, the business began to lose
its interest for me, and the inconveniences of wandering about in a
car, hitherto unthought of, were now felt. The relations between my
master and myself had been so agreeable that for a long time this
change in my feelings was not alluded to in words. He was a thrifty
Yankee, and with a Yankee's sense of justice; so he offered me a fair
proportion of the profits. But at the end of the year he told me that
he thought I was "too much of a Virginian" ever to follow this
occupation, and that, having seen my father and known his position, he
was surprised that he had ever favored such a pursuit for me. This
was, indeed, the falsehood I had told him.

It was in a Canadian village that I parted with this gentlemanly and
generous New-Englander. When I left him, I was not penniless, but a
bitter sense of my loneliness was upon me, and a consciousness of the
uncandid and cruel turn I had done my father brought me almost to the
verge of suicide. On Sunday morning I entered a church in Toronto, and
tears flowed down my face as I heard the minister read the parable of
the Prodigal Son. It seemed to me as a voice from home, and I
determined to go to my father. Without hesitating, or stopping an
hour, I took all the money I had to pay my way, and in about six days
afterward, sitting beside the driver on the stage-coach, looked from a
hill upon the house in which I was born. A pang shot through my heart
at that instant. Until that moment I had dreamed of my father's
seeing me whilst I was yet a great way off, of resting my weary head
upon his warm, infolding heart. But now the dream faded, and a pain
as of an undying worm gnawed already on my soul. I paused at the gate,
nearly paralyzed by fear. Was he dead? No; I felt this was not the
case; but I felt that something worse than this was about to befall
me. I gained strength to enter the hall, and sat down there. I heard
several voices. I went on to the well-known chamber. A physician and a
nurse were there. Standing in the door a moment, I heard my father say
in a whisper, "If he ever comes back, let him have all; tell him his
father loved him to the last; but do not tell him more, do not make
_him_ suffer,--mark you!" A moment more, and I was kneeling by
his dying bed. "My father, my father, I have murdered you!" After some
moments it was impressed upon the old man that his penitent son was by
his side. I almost looked for the curse that I deserved; but a
peaceful light was on his face as he said,--"I'm sorry I hid the books
from you, child. I meant well,--I meant well,--I erred. If I can help
you from up there, I will." Life departed with these words.

It will not be wondered that I became a recluse. The recluse is
usually one cast up from such bleak experiences of sin and grief that
he fears to launch upon life again, and only seeks to hide him in any
cavern that may be found along the shore that has received him. Thus
it was with me, at least. I dreaded to look one of my townsmen in the
face,--they knew all: and many years after, when the harsh judgments
which would have received me were softened by my lonely penance and
sadness, and proffers came from society, my solitude had become sacred
to me; and that old star which the daguerrotypist had shown me still

My father had left me enough property to enable me to carry forward
the investigations and experiments to which all voices seemed to call
me. I had an upper room prepared with a skylight and all other
appliances. I purchased an excellent instrument, and some very strong
diameters for magnifying photographs. The trials I had made convinced
me that the minuteness and extent of objects photographed were limited
only by the comparative coarseness of the materials _through_ and
_on_ which the object passed. So I was very particular in
selecting lenses. Further trials, however, led me to believe that the
plate was still more important. Obtaining a steel of perfect grain, I
spent days in giving it the highest polish it would bear, and kept it
ready for any important office. By means of a long and bright tin
reflector, (the best,) my artificial light was ready, in case I should
desire to photograph at night; and, indeed, it was the hope of making
some astronomic discovery that was leading me on.

Calm and clear was the night on which I brought these my treasures
forth. Jupiter was blazing in the heavens, and challenged Art to seize
his majestic lineaments. It turned out a point of fire much like that
which my master had exhibited to me. I mixed a finer nitrate,
repolished my plate, and was this time rewarded by seeing, under all
the diameters which I had, the satellites also. Very much thrilled
even with this degree of success, and taking the picture on paper, I
put my plate away, and set myself to study what I should do next. It
had not yet occurred to me to inquire of myself what definite thing I
really was after. My deepest hope was in the undefinableness of its
object: I knew only that a clear idea (and Plato says all clear ideas
are true) of the subtile susceptibilities of nitrate of silver,
_limited only by materials_, had engendered within me, through
much pondering, an embryo idea, to the development of which my life
was intuitively consecrated. I would not define it to myself, because
I felt (intuitively, also) that it was something illimitable,
therefore indefinable.

I began to experiment now with lenses, placing various kinds and
powers one above another. It occurred to me that I had hitherto
brought their power to bear only upon _whole_, objects. But what
would be the result of magnifying an object daguerrotyped until it
covered the disc of the reflector, then photographing it, and
afterward magnifying a central segment of the picture to its utmost,
and again renewing the experiment on this? An infinite series of
analyses might be carried into the heart of an image; and might not
something therein, invisible not only to the naked eye, but to the
strongest magnifier, be revealed? Following this reflection, I took a
common stereoscopic view and subjected it to my lenses. It was an
ordinary view of a Swiss hamlet, the chief object of which was an inn
with a sign over the door surmounted by a bush. The only objects upon
the sign discernible with a common convex eye-glass were a mug of beer
on one side and a wine-bottle on the other. Their position indicated
that something else was on the sign: the stronger diameters presently
brought out "CARL ELZNERS"; the strongest I had were exhausted in
bringing out "GARTEN UND GASTHAUS." When this, the utmost dimension,
was reached, I photographed it. Then, taking ordinary magnifiers, I
began upon that part of the sign where, if anything remained unevoked,
it would be found. The reader will observe, that, each time that the
result of one enlargement was made the subject for another, the loss
was in the field or range which must be paid for intensity and
minuteness. Thus, in the end, there might appear but one letter of a
long sentence, or a part of a letter. In this case, however, the
result was better than I had expected: I read distinctly, "--EIN,
WEI--"; and Luther's popular lines, "_Wer liebt nicht wein,
weib_," etc., were brought to my mind at once. Thus I had the sign
in full: the powerful agent of the sun on earth had fixed Carl Elzner
and his Protestant beer-garden on the stereoscopic view forever,
whether the dull eyes of men could read them or not.

Thrilled and animated by this success, I hastened to apply the same
plan of magnifying segment by segment to my photograph of
Jupiter. But, alas, although something suggestive did appear, or so I
fancied, the image grew dimmer with each analysis, until, under the
higher powers, it disappeared, and the grainings of the card
superseded the planet. Had I not proved that my principle was good in
the case of the Swiss sign-board, I should now have given it up as the
whim of an over-excited brain. But now I thought only of the assertion
of the daguerrotypist, that "the nitrate was limited in sensitiveness
only by the imperfection of the materials," (i. e. plates, glass,
reflectors, etc.,) and I had heard the same repeated by the paper
which had finally replaced the picture it held. I now determined to
risk on the experiment the elegant steel plate on whose polish I had
spent so much pains and time. I took the portrait of Jupiter thereon,
and fixed it forever. This time I could not be mistaken in supposing
that as the field of vision shrank some strange forms appeared; but I
could be certain of none which were essentially different from those
revealed by the largest telescopes. My narrowing and intensifying
process then began to warn me of another failure: when I had reached
the last point at which the image could be held at all, the grain of
the steel plate was like great ropes, and it was only after resting my
eyes for some time, then suddenly turning them upon it, that I could
see any picture at all. For an instant it would look like an
exceedingly delicate lichen,--then nothing was visible but huge bars
of steel.

Ah, with what despair did I see the grand secret which had so long
hovered before me and led my whole life now threatening to elude and
abandon me forever! "But," I cried, "it shall not go so easily, by
Heaven! If there be a genius in the casket, unsealed it shall be!"

I resolved to give up steel for some metal or substance of finer
grain. I almost impoverished myself in purchasing plates of the finer
metals, before it occurred to me to try glass, and had to laugh at my
own stupidity when I discovered that in the last analysis glass showed
much smoother than any of the rest. I immediately obtained a great
many specimens of glass, and spent much time in subjecting them to my
lenses only to see how much fibrous appearance, or unevenness, could
be brought before the eye from a smooth surface. I found one excellent
specimen, and gave myself up to grinding it to the utmost extent
consistent with its strength.

I felt now that I was about to make a final test. It would be not only
a test of my new plate, but of my own sanity, which I had at various
times doubted. I felt, that, unless my idea should be proved true, I
could no longer trust my reason, which had at every step beckoned me
on to the next. I had studied medicine enough in my father's office
long ago to know that either sanity or insanity may come as a reality
from a mind's determined verdict on itself. When, therefore, I again
sat down to analyze my daguerrotype of the planet, it was with the awe
and fear which might beset one standing on a ledge between a frightful
chasm and a transcendent height, and not knowing which was to receive

From the first burst of the sunlight over the world, I sat at my
task. Each instrument, each lens I used, I spent an hour or hours
over, giving it the finest polish or nicety of adjustment to which it
could be brought. Into that day I had distilled my past; into it I was
willing to distil the eternity that was before me. With each now
application, the field of the planet shrank a thousand leagues, but
each time the light deepened. According to my principle, there was no
doubt that some object would be revealed before the space became too
limited, provided nothing interfered with the distinctness of the
picture. At length I calculated that I was selecting about twenty
square miles from about seven hundred. Forms were distinct, but they
were rigid, and painfully reminded me of the astronomic maps. About
five removes from this, I judged that the space I was looking at must
be about ten feet square. I was sure that the objects really occupying
those ten feet must be in my picture, if I could evoke them.

On this I placed a mild power, and was startled at finding something
new. The picture which had been so full of rigid and sharp outlines
now became a confusion of ever-changing forms. Now it was light,--now
shadow; angles faded into curves; but out of the swarming mass of
shapes I could not, after hours of watching, obtain one that seemed
like any form of life or art that I had ever seen.

Had I, then, come to the end of my line? My eyes so pained me, and had
been so tried, that I strove to persuade myself that the evanescent
forms resulting from my unsatisfactory experiment must be optical
illusions. I determined to let matters rest as they were until the
next day, when my brain would be less heated and my eye calmer and

They will never let a man alone,--they, the herd, who cry "Madman!"
when any worker and his work which they cannot comprehend rise before
them. In the great moment when, after years of climbing, I stood
victorious on the summit, they claimed that I had fallen to the
chasm's depths, and confined me here at Staunton as a hopeless
lunatic. This heart of mine, burning with the grandest discovery ever
made, must throb itself away in a cell, because it could not contain
its high knowledge, but went forth among men once more to mingle ideal
rays with their sunshine, and make every wind, as it passed over the
earth, waft a higher secret than was ever before attained. A lunatic!
I! But next me in array are the prisons of the only sane ones of
history, the cells dug by Inquisitorial Ignorance in every age for its
wisest men. Now I understand them; walls cannot impede the hands we
stretch out to each other across oceans and centuries. One day the
purblind world will invoke in its prayers the holy army of the martyrs
of Thought.

Yes, I was mad,--mad to think that the world's horny eyes could not
receive the severe light of knowledge,--mad as was he who ran through
the streets and cried, "_Eureka!_" The head and front of my
madness have this extent,--no more. And for this I must write the
rest of my story here amid iron gratings, through which, however,
thank God, my familiars, the stars, and the red, blue, and golden
planets, glance kindly, saying, "Courage, brother! soon thou shaft
rise to us, to whom thou belongest!" Yet I will write it: one day men
will read, and say, "Come, let us garnish the sepulchre of one immured
because his stupid age could not understand!" and then, doubtless,
they will go forth to stone the seer on whose tongue lies the noblest
secret of the Universe for that day.

When I left the last experiment mentioned in these pages, in order to
recover steadiness of brain and nerve, and to relieve my overtaxed
eyes, I had no hope of reaching success in any other way than that
pointed out in the principle which I was pressing,--a principle whose
importance is proved in the familiar experiments on stereoscopic
views, whereby things entirely invisible to the naked eye are
disclosed by lenses. But that night I dreamed out the success which
had eluded my waking hours. I have nothing to say here about the
phenomenon of dreaming: I state only the fact. In my dream there
appeared to me my father, bearing in his left hand a plate of glass,
and in his right a phial of bright blue liquid which he seemed to be
pouring on the polished surface. The phial was of singular shape,
having a long slender neck rising from a round globe. When I awoke, I
found myself standing in the middle of the floor with hands stretched
out appealingly to the vacant air.

Acknowledging, as I did, nothing but purely scientific
methods,--convinced that nothing could be reached but through all the
intervening steps fixed by Nature between Reason and Truth,--I should,
at any other than such a weary time, have forgotten the vision in an
hour. But now it took a deeper hold on my imagination. That my father
should be associated in my dream with these experiments was natural;
the glass plate which he had held was the same I was using; as for the
phial, might it not be some old compound that I had known him or the
daguerrotypist use, now casually spun out of the past and woven in
with my present pursuits? Nevertheless, I was glad to shove aside this
rationalistic interpretation: on the verge of drowning, I magnified
the straw to a lifeboat, and caught at it. I pardoned myself for going
to the shelves which still held my father's medicines, and examining
each of the phials there. But when I turned away without finding one
which at all answered to my dream, I felt mean and miserable; deeply
disappointed at not having found the phial, I was ashamed at my
retrogression to ages which dealt with incantations, and luck, and
other impostures. I was shamed to the conclusion that the phial with
its blue liquid was something I had read of in the curious old books
which my father had hidden away from me, and which, strange to say, I
had never been able to find since his death.

Whilst I was meditating thus, there was a knock at my door, and a
drayman entered with a chest, which he said had belonged to my father,
and had been by him deposited several years before with a friend who
lived a few miles from our village. I could scarcely close and bolt
the door after the man had departed; _as he brought in the chest, I
had seen through the lid the phial with the blue liquid_. So
certain was I of this, that before I opened it I went and withdrew my
glass plate, repolished it, and made all ready for a final
experiment. Opening the chest, I found the old books which had been
abstracted, and a small medicine-box, in which was the phial seen in
my dream.

But now the question arose, How was the blue fluid to be applied? I
had not looked closely at the plate which my father held to see
whether it was already prepared for an impression; and so I was at a
loss to know whether this new fluid was to prepare the glass with a
more perfect polish, or to mingle with the subtile nitrate
itself. Unfortunately I tried the last first, and there was no result
at all,--except the destruction of a third of the precious
fluid. Cleaning the plate perfectly, I burnt into it, drop by drop,
the whole of the contents of the phial. As I drained the last drop
from it, it reddened on the glass as if it were the last drop of my
heart's blood poured out.

At the first glance on the star-picture thus taken, I knew that I was
successful. Jupiter shone like the nucleus of a comet, even before a
second power was upon it. As picture after picture was formed, belts
of the most exquisite hues surrounded the luminous planet, which
seemed rolling up to me, hurled from lens to lens, as if wrested from
its orbit by a commanding force. Plainer and plainer grew its surface;
mountain-ranges, without crags or chasms, smooth and undulating,
emerged; it was zoned with a central sunlit sea. On each scene of the
panorama I lingered, and each was retained as well as the poor
materials would allow. I was cautious enough to take two pictures of
each distinct phase,--one to keep, if this happy voyage should be my
last, and the other of course as the subject from which a centre
should be selected for a new expansion.

At last there stood plainly before my eye a tower!--a tower, slender
and high, with curved dome, the work of Art! A cry burst from my
lips,--I fainted with joy. Afraid to touch the instrument with my
trembling hand, I walked the floor, imploring back my nervous
self-possession. Fixing the tower by photograph, I took the centre of
its dome as the next point for expansion. Slowly, slowly, as if the
fate of a solar system depended on each turn of the screw, I drew on
the final view. An instant of gray confusion,--another of tremulous
crystallization,--and, scarcely in contact with the tower's dome, as
if about to float from it, hovered an aerial ship, with two round
balls suspended above it. Again one little point was taken, for I felt
that this was not the culmination of my vision; and now two figures
appeared, manifestly human, but their features and dress as yet

Another turn, and I looked upon the face of a glorious man!

Another, and the illusion, Space, shrank away beneath my feet, my eye
soared over her abysses, and gazed into the eye of an immortal.

But now,--oh, horror!--turning back to earth, I remembered that I had
not analyzed the precious liquid which could so link world with
world. Seized with a sudden agony, I tried to strain one least drop
more; but, alas! the power had perished from the earth!

For this loss I deserve all that has happened to me. My haste to
fulfil my life's object proved me the victim of a mental lust, and I
saw why the highest truth is not revealed: simply, it awaits those who
can receive and not be intoxicated by it. And now the planet which I
had disobeyed for another avenges itself,--seeing, naturally, in
strange results, whose methods are untraceable, nothing but
monomania. The photographs, in which the pollens of two planet-flowers
mingle, lie in my attic, dust-eaten:--"Above all, the patient must not
see anything of _that_ kind," has been the order ever since I
published a card announcing my discovery to my fellow-citizens.

But they were gentle; they did not take away all. The old books are
with me, each a benison from a brother. The best works of ancient
times are, I think, best understood when read by prison-light.

Hist! some visitor comes! Many come from curiosity to see one who
thinks he descried a man in a planet "Distinguished man of science
from Boston to see me,"--ah, indeed! Celebrated paper on tadpoles, I
suppose! But now that I look closer, I like my Boston man-of-science's
eye, and his voice is good. I have not yet exhausted the fingers of
one hand in counting up all the sane people who have visited me since
I have been immured.

How do I test them?

As now I test you.

Here my treasure of treasures I open. It is the old suppressed volume
of John de Sacro Bosco, inscribed to that Castilian Alphonso who dared
to have the tables of Ptolemy corrected. (Had he not been a king, he
had been mad: such men as Bosco were mad after Alphonso died.) And
thus to my curious scientific visitor I read what I ask may go into
his report along with the description of my case.

"John de Sacro Bosco sendeth this book to Alphonso de Castile. A. D.

"They alone are kings who know."

"Ken and Can are twins."

"God will not be hurried."

"Sacred are the fools: God understandeth them."

"Impatient, I cried, 'I will clear the stair that leadeth to God!'
Now sit I at His feet, lame and weak, and men scoff at knowledge,
--'Aha, this cometh of ascending stairways!'"

"The silk-worm span its way up to wings. I am ashamed and dumb, who
would soar ere I had toiled.

"When riseth an Ideal in the concave of some vaulting heart or brain,
it is a new heaven and signeth a new earth."

"Each clear Idea that ascendeth the vault of Pure Reason is a
Bethlehem star; be sure a Messias is born for it on the Earth; the new
sign lit up in the heaven of Vision is a new power set in motion among
men; and, do what the Herods will, Earth's incense, myrrh, yea, even
its gold, must gather to the feet of the Omnipotent Child,--the IDEA."



As they who watch by sick-beds find relief
Unwittingly from the great stress of grief
And anxious care in fantasies outwrought
From the hearth's embers flickering low, or caught
From whispering wind, or tread of passing feet,
Or vagrant memory calling up some sweet
Snatch of old song or romance, whence or why
They scarcely know or ask,--so, thou and I,
Nursed in the faith that Truth alone is strong
In the endurance which outwearies Wrong,
With meek persistence baffling brutal force,
And trusting God against the universe,--
We, doomed to watch a strife we may not share
With other weapons than the patriot's prayer,
Yet owning, with full hearts and moistened eyes,
The awful beauty of self-sacrifice,
And wrung by keenest sympathy for all
Who give their loved ones for the living wall
'Twixt law and treason,--in this evil day
May haply find, through automatic play
Of pen and pencil, solace to our pain,
And hearten others with the strength we gain.
I know it has been said our times require
No play of art, nor dalliance with the lyre,
No weak essay with Fancy's chloroform
To calm the hot, mad pulses of the storm,
But the stern war-blast rather, such as sets
The battle's teeth of serried bayonets,
And pictures grim as Vernet's. Yet with these
Some softer tints may blend, and milder keys
Believe the storm-stunned ear. Let us keep sweet,
If so we may, our hearts, even while we eat
The bitter harvest of our own device
And half a century's moral cowardice.
As Nuernberg sang while Wittenberg defied,
And Kranach painted by his Luther's side,
And through the war-march of the Puritan
The silver stream of Marvell's music ran,
So let the household melodies be sung,
The pleasant pictures on the wall be hung,--
So let us hold against the hosts of Night
And Slavery all our vantage-ground of Light.
Let Treason boast its savagery, and shake
From its flag-folds its symbol rattlesnake,
Nurse its fine arts, lay human skins in tan,
And carve its pipe-bowls from the bones of man,
And make the tale of Fijian banquets dull
By drinking whiskey from a loyal skull,--
But let us guard, till this sad war shall cease,
(God grant it soon!) the graceful arts of peace:
No foes are conquered who the victors teach
Their vandal manners and barbaric speech.

And while, with hearts of thankfulness, we bear
Of the great common burden our full share,
Let none upbraid us that the waves entice
Thy sea-dipped pencil, or some quaint device,
Rhythmic and sweet, beguiles my pen away
From the sharp strifes and sorrows of to-day.
Thus, while the east-wind keen from Labrador
Sings in the leafless elms, and from the shore
Of the great sea comes the monotonous roar
Of the long-breaking surf, and all the sky
Is gray with cloud, home-bound and dull, I try
To time a simple legend to the sounds
Of winds in the woods, and waves on pebbled bounds,--
A song of breeze and billow, such as might
Be sung by tired sea-painters, who at night
Look from their hemlock camps, by quiet cove
Or beach, moon-lighted, on the waves they love.
(So hast thou looked, when level sunset lay
On the calm bosom of some Eastern bay,
And all the spray-moist rocks and waves that rolled
Up the white sand-slopes flashed with ruddy gold.)
Something it has--a flavor of the sea,
And the sea's freedom--which reminds of thee.
Its faded picture, dimly smiling down
From the blurred fresco of the ancient town,
I have not touched with warmer tints in vain,
If, in this dark, sad year, it steals one thought from pain.


Her fingers shame the ivory keys
They dance so light along;
The bloom upon her parted lips
Is sweeter than the song.

O perfumed suitor, spare thy smiles!
Her thoughts are not of thee:
She better loves the salted wind,
The voices of the sea.

Her heart is like an outbound ship
That at its anchor swings;
The murmur of the stranded shell
Is in the song she sings.

She sings, and, smiling, hears her praise,
But dreams the while of one
Who watches from his sea-blown deck
The icebergs in the sun.

She questions all the winds that blow,
And every fog-wreath dim,
And bids the sea-birds flying north
Bear messages to him.

She speeds them with the thanks of men
He perilled life to save,
And grateful prayers like holy oil
To smooth for him the wave.

Brown Viking of the fishing-smack!
Fair toast of all the town!--
The skipper's jerkin ill beseems
The lady's silken gown!

But ne'er shall Amy Wentworth wear
For him the blush of shame
Who dares to set his manly gifts
Against her ancient name.

The stream is brightest at its spring,
And blood is not like wine;
Nor honored less than he who heirs
Is he who founds a line.

Full lightly shall the prize be won,
If love be Fortune's spur;
And never maiden stoops to him
Who lifts himself to her.

Her home is brave in Jaffrey Street,
With stately stair-ways worn
By feet of old Colonial knights
And ladies gentle-born.

Still green about its ample porch
The English ivy twines,
Trained back to show in English oak
The herald's carven signs.

And on her, from the wainscot old,
Ancestral faces frown,--
And this has worn the soldier's sword,
And that the judge's gown.

But, strong of will and proud as they,
She walks the gallery-floor
As if she trod her sailor's deck
By stormy Labrador!

The sweet-brier blooms on Kittery-side,
And green are Elliot's bowers;
Her garden is the pebbled beach,
The mosses are her flowers.

She looks across the harbor-bar
To see the white gulls fly,
His greeting from the Northern sea
Is in their clanging cry.

She hums a song, and dreams that he,
As in its romance old,
Shall homeward ride with silken sails
And masts of beaten gold!

Oh, rank is good, and gold is fair,
And high and low mate ill;
But love has never known a law
Beyond its own sweet will!


Henry David Thoreau was the last male descendant of a French ancestor
who came to this country from the Isle of Guernsey. His character
exhibited occasional traits drawn from this blood in singular
combination with a very strong Saxon genius.

He was born in Concord, Massachusetts, on the 12th of July, 1817. He
was graduated at Harvard College in 1837, but without any literary
distinction. An iconoclast in literature, he seldom thanked colleges
for their service to him, holding them in small esteem, whilst yet his
debt to them was important. After leaving the University, he joined
his brother in teaching a private school, which he soon renounced. His
father was a manufacturer of lead-pencils, and Henry applied himself
for a time to this craft, believing he could make a better pencil than
was then in use. After completing his experiments, he exhibited his
work to chemists and artists in Boston, and having obtained their
certificates to its excellence and to its equality with the best
London manufacture, he returned home contented. His friends
congratulated him that he had now opened his way to fortune. But he
replied, that he should never make another pencil. "Why should I? I
would not do again what I have done once." He resumed his endless
walks and miscellaneous studies, making every day some new
acquaintance with Nature, though as yet never speaking of zoology or
botany, since, though very studious of natural facts, he was incurious
of technical and textual science.

At this time, a strong, healthy youth, fresh from college, whilst all
his companions were choosing their profession, or eager to begin some
lucrative employment, it was inevitable that his thoughts should be
exercised on the same question, and it required rare decision to
refuse all the accustomed paths, and keep his solitary freedom at the
cost of disappointing the natural expectations of his family and
friends: all the more difficult that he had a perfect probity, was
exact in securing his own independence, and in holding every man to
the like duty. But Thoreau never faltered. He was a born
protestant. He declined to give up his large ambition of knowledge and
action for any narrow craft or profession, aiming at a much more
comprehensive calling, the art of living well. If he slighted and
defied the opinions of others, it was only that he was more intent to
reconcile his practice with his own belief. Never idle or
self-indulgent, he preferred, when he wanted money, earning it by some
piece of manual labor agreeable to him, as building a boat or a fence,
planting, grafting, surveying, or other short work, to any long
engagements. With his hardy habits and few wants, his skill in
wood-craft, and his powerful arithmetic, he was very competent to live
in any part of the world. It would cost him less time to supply his
wants than another. He was therefore secure of his leisure.

A natural skill for mensuration, growing out of his mathematical
knowledge, and his habit of ascertaining the measures and distances of
objects which interested him, the size of trees, the depth and extent
of ponds and rivers, the height of mountains, and the air-line
distance of his favorite summits,--this, and his intimate knowledge of
the territory about Concord, made him drift into the profession of
land-surveyor. It had the advantage for him that it led him
continually into new and secluded grounds, and helped his studies of
Nature. His accuracy and skill in this work were readily appreciated,
and he found all the employment he wanted.

He could easily solve the problems of the surveyor, but he was daily
beset with graver questions, which he manfully confronted. He
interrogated every custom, and wished to settle all his practice on an
ideal foundation. He was a protestant _a l'outrance_, and few
lives contain so many renunciations. He was bred to no profession; he
never married; he lived alone; be never went to church; he never
voted; he refused to pay a tax to the State; he ate no flesh, he drank
no wine, he never knew the use of tobacco; and, though a naturalist,
he used neither trap nor gun. He chose, wisely, no doubt, for himself,
to be the bachelor of thought and Nature. He had no talent for wealth,
and knew how to be poor without the least hint of squalor or
inelegance. Perhaps he fell into his way of living without forecasting
it much, but approved it with later wisdom. "I am often reminded," he
wrote in his journal, "that, if I had bestowed on me the wealth of
Croesus, my aims must be still the same, and my means essentially the
same." He had no temptations to fight against,--no appetites, no
passions, no taste for elegant trifles. A fine house, dress, the
manners and talk of highly cultivated people were all thrown away on
him. He much preferred a good Indian, and considered these
refinements as impediments to conversation, wishing to meet his
companion on the simplest terms. He declined invitations to
dinner-parties, because there each was in every one's way, and he
could not meet the individuals to any purpose. "They make their
pride," he said, "in making their dinner cost much; I make my pride in
making my dinner cost little." When asked at table what dish he
preferred, he answered, "The nearest." He did not like the taste of
wine, and never had a vice in his life. He said,--"I have a faint
recollection of pleasure derived from smoking dried lily-stems, before
I was a man. I had commonly a supply of these. I have never smoked
anything more noxious."

He chose to be rich by making his wants few, and supplying them
himself. In his travels, he used the railroad only to get over so
much country as was unimportant to the present purpose, walking
hundreds of miles, avoiding taverns, buying a lodging in farmers' and
fishermen's houses, as cheaper, and more agreeable to him, and because
there he could better find the men and the information he wanted.

There was somewhat military in big nature not to be subdued, always
manly and able, but rarely tender, as if he did not feel himself
except in opposition. He wanted a fallacy to expose, a blunder to
pillory, I may say required a little sense of victory, a roll of the
drum, to call his powers into full exercise. It cost him nothing to
say No; indeed, he found it much easier than to say Yes. It seemed as
if his first instinct on hearing a proposition was to controvert it,
so impatient was he of the limitations of our daily thought. This
habit, of course, is a little chilling to the social affections; and
though the companion would in the end acquit him of any malice or
untruth, yet it mars conversation. Hence, no equal companion stood in
affectionate relations with one so pure and guileless. "I love Henry,"
said one of his friends, "but I cannot like him; and as for taking his
arm, I should as soon think of taking the arm of an elm-tree."

Yet, hermit and stoic as he was, he was really fond of sympathy, and
threw himself heartily and childlike into the company of young people
whom he loved, and whom he delighted to entertain, as he only could,
with the varied and endless anecdotes of his experiences by field and
river. And he was always ready to lead a huckleberry-party or a search
for chestnuts or grapes. Talking, one day, of a public discourse,
Henry remarked, that whatever succeeded with the audience was bad. I
said, "Who would not like to write something which all can read, like
'Robinson Crusoe'? and who does not see with regret that his page is
not solid with a right materialistic treatment, which delights
everybody?" Henry objected, of course, and vaunted the better lectures
which reached only a few persons. But, at supper, a young girl,
understanding that he was to lecture at the Lyceum, sharply asked him,
"whether his lecture would be a nice, interesting story, such as she
wished to hear, or whether it was one of those old philosophical
things that she did not care about." Henry turned to her, and
bethought himself, and, I saw, was trying to believe that he had
matter that might fit her and her brother, who were to sit up and go
to the lecture, if it was a good one for them.

He was a speaker and actor of the truth,--born such,--and was ever
running into dramatic situations from this cause. In any circumstance,
it interested all bystanders to know what part Henry would take, and
what he would say; and he did not disappoint expectation, but used an
original judgment on each emergency. In 1845 he built himself a small
framed house on the shores of Walden Pond, and lived there two years
alone, a life of labor and study. This action was quite native and
fit for him. No one who knew him would tax him with affectation. He
was more unlike his neighbors in his thought than in his action. As
soon as he had exhausted the advantages of that solitude, he abandoned
it. In 1847, not approving some uses to which the public expenditure
was applied, he refused to pay his town tax, and was put in jail. A
friend paid the tax for him, and he was released. The like annoyance
was threatened the next year. But, as his friends paid the tax,
notwithstanding his protest, I believe he ceased to resist. No
opposition or ridicule had any weight with him. He coldly and fully
stated his opinion without affecting to believe that it was the
opinion of the company. It was of no consequence, if every one present
held the opposite opinion. On one occasion he went to the University
Library to procure some books. The librarian refused to lend
them. Mr. Thoreau repaired to the President, who stated to him the
rules and usages, which permitted the loan of books to resident
graduates, to clergymen who were alumni, and to some others resident
within a circle of ten miles' radius from the College. Mr. Thoreau
explained to the President that the railroad had destroyed the old
scale of distances,--that the library was useless, yes, and President
and College useless, on the terms of his rules,--that the one benefit
he owed to the College was its library,--that, at this moment, not
only his want of books was imperative, but he wanted a large number of
books, and assured him that he, Thoreau, and not the librarian, was
the proper custodian of these. In short, the President found the
petitioner so formidable, and the rules getting to look so ridiculous,
that he ended by giving him a privilege which in his hands proved
unlimited thereafter.

No truer American existed than Thoreau. His preference of his country
and condition was genuine, and his aversation from English and
European manners and tastes almost reached contempt. He listened
impatiently to news or _bon mots_ gleaned from London circles;
and though he tried to be civil, these anecdotes fatigued him. The men
were all imitating each other, and on a small mould. Why can they not
live as far apart as possible, and each be a man by himself? What he
sought was the most energetic nature; and he wished to go to Oregon,
not to London. "In every part of Great Britain," he wrote in his
diary, "are discovered traces of the Romans, their funereal urns,
their camps, their roads, their dwellings. But New England, at least,
is not based on any Roman ruins. We have not to lay the foundations of
our houses on the ashes of a former civilization."

But, idealist as he was, standing for abolition of slavery, abolition
of tariffs, almost for abolition of government, it is needless to say
he found himself not only unrepresented in actual politics, but almost
equally opposed to every class of reformers. Yet he paid the tribute
of his uniform respect to the Anti-Slavery party. One man, whose
personal acquaintance he had formed, he honored with exceptional
regard. Before the first friendly word had been spoken for Captain
John Brown, he sent notices to most houses in Concord, that he would
speak in a public hall on the condition and character of John Brown,
on Sunday evening, and invited all people to come. The Republican
Committee, the Abolitionist Committee, sent him word that it was
premature and not advisable. He replied,--"I did not send to you for
advice, but to announce that I am to speak." The hall was filled at
an early hour by people of all parties, and his earnest eulogy of the
hero was heard by all respectfully, by many with a sympathy that
surprised themselves.

It was said of Plotinus that he was ashamed of his body, and it is
very likely he had good reason for it,--that his body was a bad
servant, and he had not skill in dealing with the material world, as
happens often to men of abstract intellect. But Mr. Thoreau was
equipped with a most adapted and serviceable body. He was of short
stature, firmly built, of light complexion, with strong, serious blue
eyes, and a grave aspect,--his face covered in the late years with a
becoming beard. His senses were acute, his frame well-knit and hardy,
his hands strong and skilful in the use of tools. And there was a
wonderful fitness of body and mind. He could pace sixteen rods more
accurately than another man could measure them with rod and chain. He
could find his path in the woods at night, he said, better by his feet
than his eyes. He could estimate the measure of a tree very well by
his eye; he could estimate the weight of a calf or a pig, like a
dealer. From a box containing a bushel or more of loose pencils, he
could take up with his hands fast enough just a dozen pencils at every
grasp. He was a good swimmer, runner, skater, boatman, and would
probably outwalk most countrymen in a day's journey. And the relation
of body to mind was still finer than we have indicated. He said he
wanted every stride his legs made. The length of his walk uniformly
made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not
write at all.

He had a strong common sense, like that which Rose Flammock, the
weaver's daughter, in Scott's romance, commends in her father, as
resembling a yardstick, which, whilst it measures dowlas and diaper,
can equally well measure tapestry and cloth of gold. He had always a
new resource. When I was planting forest-trees, and had procured half
a peck of acorns, he said that only a small portion of them would be
sound, and proceeded to examine them, and select the sound ones. But
finding this took time, he said, "I think, if you put them all into
water, the good ones will sink"; which experiment we tried with
success. He could plan a garden, or a house, or a barn; would have
been competent to lead a "Pacific Exploring Expedition"; could give
judicious counsel in the gravest private or public affairs.

He lived for the day, not cumbered and mortified by his memory. If he
brought you yesterday a new proposition, he would bring you to-day
another not less revolutionary. A very industrious man, and setting,
like all highly organized men, a high value on his time, he seemed the
only man of leisure in town, always ready for any excursion that
promised well, or for conversation prolonged into late hours. His
trenchant sense was never stopped by his rules of daily prudence, but
was always up to the new occasion. He liked and used the simplest
food, yet, when some one urged a vegetable diet, Thoreau thought all
diets a very small matter, saying that "the man who shoots the buffalo
lives better than the man who boards at the Graham House." He
said,--"You can sleep near the railroad, and never be disturbed:
Nature knows very well what sounds are worth attending to, and has
made up her mind not to hear the railroad-whistle. But things respect
the devout mind, and a mental ecstasy was never interrupted." He
noted, what repeatedly befell him, that, after receiving from a
distance a rare plant, he would presently find the same in his own
haunts. And those pieces of luck which happen only to good players
happened to him. One day, walking with a stranger, who inquired where
Indian arrow-heads could be found, he replied, "Everywhere," and,
stooping forward, picked one on the instant from the ground. At Mount
Washington, in Tuckerman's Ravine, Thoreau had a bad fall, and
sprained his foot. As he was in the act of getting up from his fall,
he saw for the first time the leaves of the _Arnica mollis_.

His robust common sense, armed with stout hands, keen perceptions, and
strong will, cannot yet account for the superiority which shone in his
simple and hidden life. I must add the cardinal fact, that there was
an excellent wisdom in him, proper to a rare class of men, which
showed him the material world as a means and symbol. This discovery,
which sometimes yields to poets a certain casual and interrupted
light, serving for the ornament of their writing, was in him an
unsleeping insight; and whatever faults or obstructions of temperament
might cloud it, he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. In his
youth, he said, one day, "The other world is all my art: my pencils
will draw no other; my jack-knife will cut nothing else; I do not use
it as a means." This was the muse and genius that ruled his opinions,
conversation, studies, work, and course of life. This made him a
searching judge of men. At first glance he measured his companion,
and, though insensible to some fine traits of culture, could very well
report his weight and calibre. And this made the impression of genius
which his conversation sometimes gave.

He understood the matter in hand at a glance, and saw the limitations
and poverty of those he talked with, so that nothing seemed concealed
from such terrible eyes. I have repeatedly known young men of
sensibility converted in a moment to the belief that this was the man
they were in search of, the man of men, who could tell them all they
should do. His own dealing with them was never affectionate, but
superior, didactic,--scorning their petty ways,--very slowly
conceding, or not conceding at all, the promise of his society at
their houses, or even at his own. "Would he not walk with them?" He
did not know. There was nothing so important to him as his walk; he
had no walks to throw away on company. Visits were offered him from
respectful parties, but he declined them. Admiring friends offered to
carry him at their own cost to the Yellow-Stone River,--to the West
Indies,--to South America. But though nothing could be more grave or
considered than his refusals, they remind one in quite new relations
of that fop Brummel's reply to the gentleman who offered him his
carriage in a shower, "But where will _you_ ride, then?"--and
what accusing silences, and what searching and irresistible speeches,
battering down all defences, his companions can remember!

Mr. Thoreau dedicated his genius with such entire love to the fields,
hills, and waters of his native town, that he made them known and
interesting to all reading Americans, and to people over the sea. The
river on whose banks he was born and died he knew from its springs to
its confluence with the Merrimack. He had made summer and winter
observations on it for many years, and at every hour of the day and
the night. The result of the recent survey of the Water Commissioners
appointed by the State of Massachusetts he had reached by his private
experiments, several years earlier. Every fact which occurs in the
bed, on the banks, or in the air over it; the fishes, and their
spawning and nests, their manners, their food; the shad-flies which
fill the air on a certain evening once a year, and which are snapped
at by the fishes so ravenously that many of these die of repletion;
the conical heaps of small stones on the river-shallows, one of which
heaps will sometimes overfill a cart,--these heaps the huge nests of
small fishes; the birds which frequent the stream, heron, duck,
sheldrake, loon, osprey; the snake, muskrat, otter, woodchuck, and
fox, on the banks; the turtle, frog, hyla, and cricket, which make the
banks vocal,--were all known to him, and, as it were, townsmen and
fellow-creatures; so that he felt an absurdity or violence in any
narrative of one of these by itself apart, and still more of its
dimensions on an inch-rule, or in the exhibition of its skeleton, or
the specimen of a squirrel or a bird in brandy. He liked to speak of
the manners of the river, as itself a lawful creature, yet with
exactness, and always to an observed fact. As he knew the river, so
the ponds in this region.

One of the weapons he used, more important than microscope or
alcohol-receiver to other investigators, was a whim which grew on him
by indulgence, yet appeared in gravest statement, namely, of extolling
his own town and neighborhood as the most favored centre for natural
observation. He remarked that the Flora of Massachusetts embraced
almost all the important plants of America,--most of the oaks, most
of the willows, the best pines, the ash, the maple, the beech, the
nuts. He returned Kane's "Arctic Voyage" to a friend of whom he had
borrowed it, with the remark, that "most of the phenomena noted might
be observed in Concord." He seemed a little envious of the Pole, for
the coincident sunrise and sunset, or five minutes' day after six
months: a splendid fact, which Annursnuc had never afforded him. He
found red snow in one of his walks, and told me that he expected to
find yet the _Victoria regia_ in Concord. He was the attorney of
the indigenous plants, and owned to a preference of the weeds to the
imported plants, as of the Indian to the civilized man,--and noticed,
with pleasure, that the willow bean-poles of his neighbor had grown
more than his beans. "See these weeds," he said, "which have been
hoed at by a million farmers all spring and summer, and yet have
prevailed, and just now come out triumphant over all lanes, pastures,
fields, and gardens, such is their vigor. We have insulted them with
low names, too,--as Pigweed, Wormwood, Chickweed, Shad-Blossom." He
says, "They have brave names, too,--Ambrosia, Stellaria, Amelanchia,
Amaranth, etc."

I think his fancy for referring everything to the meridian of Concord
did not grow out of any ignorance or depreciation of other longitudes
or latitudes, but was rather a playful expression of his conviction of
the indifferency of all places, and that the best place for each is
where he stands. He expressed it once in this wise:--"I think nothing
is to be hoped from you, if this bit of mould under your feet is not
sweeter to you to eat than any other in this world, or in any world."

The other weapon with which he conquered all obstacles in science was
patience. He knew how to sit immovable, a part of the rock he rested
on, until the bird, the reptile, the fish, which had retired from him,
should come back, and resume its habits, nay, moved by curiosity,
should come to him and watch him.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to walk with him. He knew the
country like a fox or a bird, and passed through it as freely by paths
of his own. He knew every track in the snow or on the ground, and what
creature had taken this path before him. One must submit abjectly to
such a guide, and the reward was great. Under his arm he carried an
old music-book to press plants; in his pocket, his diary and pencil, a
spy-glass for birds, microscope, jack-knife, and twine. He wore straw
hat, stout shoes, strong gray trousers, to brave shrub-oaks and
smilax, and to climb a tree for a hawk's or a squirrel's nest. He
waded into the pool for the water-plants, and his strong legs were no
insignificant part of his armor. On the day I speak of he looked for
the Menyanthes, detected it across the wide pool, and, on examination
of the florets, decided that it had been in flower five days. He drew
out of his breast-pocket his diary, and read the names of all the
plants that should bloom on this day, whereof he kept account as a
banker when his notes fall due. The Cypripedium not due till
to-morrow. He thought, that, if waked up from a trance, in this swamp,
he could tell by the plants what time of the year it was within two
days. The redstart was flying about, and presently the fine grosbeaks,
whose brilliant scarlet makes the rash gazer wipe his eye, and whose
fine clear note Thoreau compared to that of a tanager which has got
rid of its hoarseness. Presently he heard a note which he called that
of the night-warbler, a bird he had never identified, had been in
search of twelve years, which always, when he saw it, was in the act
of diving down into a tree or bush, and which it was vain to seek; the
only bird that sings indifferently by night and by day. I told him he
must beware of finding and booking it, lest life should have nothing
more to show him. He said, "What you seek in vain for, half your life,
one day you come full upon all the family at dinner. You seek it like
a dream, and as soon as you find it you become its prey."

His interest in the flower or the bird lay very deep in his mind, was
connected with Nature,--and the meaning of Nature was never attempted
to be defined by him. He would not offer a memoir of his observations
to the Natural History Society. "Why should I? To detach the
description from its connections in my mind would make it no longer
true or valuable to me: and they do not wish what belongs to it." His
power of observation seemed to indicate additional senses. He saw as
with microscope, heard as with ear-trumpet, and his memory was a
photographic register of all he saw and heard. And yet none knew
better than he that it is not the fact that imports, but the
impression or effect of the fact on your mind. Every fact lay in glory
in his mind, a type of the order and beauty of the whole.

His determination on Natural History was organic. He confessed that he
sometimes felt like a hound or a panther, and, if born among Indians,
would have been a fell hunter. But, restrained by his Massachusetts
culture, he played out the game in this mild form of botany and
ichthyology. His intimacy with animals suggested what Thomas Fuller
records of Butler the apiologist, that "either he had told the bees
things or the bees had told him." Snakes coiled round his leg; the
fishes swam into his hand, and he took them out of the water; he
pulled the woodchuck out of its hole by the tail, and took the foxes
under his protection from the hunters. Our naturalist had perfect
magnanimity; he had no secrets: he would carry you to the heron's
haunt, or even to his most prized botanical swamp,--possibly knowing
that you could never find it again, yet willing to take his risks.

No college ever offered him a diploma, or a professor's chair; no
academy made him its corresponding secretary, its discoverer, or even
its member. Whether these learned bodies feared the satire of his
presence. Yet so much knowledge of Nature's secret and genius few
others possessed, none in a more large and religious synthesis. For
not a particle of respect had he to the opinions of any man or body of
men, but homage solely to the truth itself; and as he discovered
everywhere among doctors some leaning of courtesy, it discredited
them. He grew to be revered and admired by his townsmen, who had at
first known him only as an oddity. The farmers who employed him as a
surveyor soon discovered his rare accuracy and skill, his knowledge of
their lands, of trees, of birds, of Indian remains, and the like,
which enabled him to tell every farmer more than he knew before of his
own farm; so that he began to feel a little as if Mr. Thoreau had
better rights in his land than he. They felt, too, the superiority of
character which addressed all men with a native authority.

Indian relics abound in Concord,--arrow-heads, stone chisels, pestles,
and fragments of pottery; and on the river-bank, large heaps of
clam-shells and ashes mark spots which the savages frequented. These,
and every circumstance touching the Indian, were important in his
eyes. His visits to Maine were chiefly for love of the Indian. He had
the satisfaction of seeing the manufacture of the bark-canoe, as well
as of trying his hand in its management on the rapids. He was
inquisitive about the making of the stone arrow-head, and in his last
days charged a youth setting out for the Rocky Mountains to find an
Indian who could tell him that: "It was well worth a visit to
California to learn it." Occasionally, a small party of Penobscot
Indians would visit Concord, and pitch their tents for a few weeks in
summer on the river-bank. He failed not to make acquaintance with the
best of them; though he well knew that asking questions of Indians is
like catechizing beavers and rabbits. In his last visit to Maine he
had great satisfaction from Joseph Polis, an intelligent Indian of
Oldtown, who was his guide for some weeks.

He was equally interested in every natural fact. The depth of his
perception found likeness of law throughout Nature, and I know not any
genius who so swiftly inferred universal law from the single fact. He
was no pedant of a department. His eye was open to beauty, and his
ear to music. He found these, not in rare conditions, but wheresoever
he went. He thought the best of music was in single strains; and he
found poetic suggestion in the humming of the telegraph-wire.

His poetry might be bad or good; he no doubt wanted a lyric facility
and technical skill; but he had the source of poetry in his spiritual
perception. He was a good reader and critic, and his judgment on
poetry was to the ground of it. He could not be deceived as to the
presence or absence of the poetic element in any composition, and his
thirst for this made him negligent and perhaps scornful of superficial
graces. He would pass by many delicate rhythms, but he would have
detected every live stanza or line in a volume, and knew very well
where to find an equal poetic charm in prose. He was so enamored of
the spiritual beauty that he held all actual written poems in very
light esteem in the comparison. He admired Aeschylus and Pindar; but,
when some one was commending them, he said that "Aeschylus and the
Greeks, in describing Apollo and Orpheus, had given no song, or no
good one. They ought not to have moved trees, but to have chanted to
the gods such a hymn as would have sung all their old ideas out of
their heads, and new ones in." His own verses are often rude and
defective. The gold does not yet run pure, is drossy and crude. The
thyme and marjoram are not yet honey. But if he want lyric fineness
and technical merits, if he have not the poetic temperament, he never
lacks the causal thought, that his genius was better than his
talent. He knew the worth of the Imagination for the uplifting and
consolation of human life, and liked to throw every thought into a
symbol. The fact you tell is of no value, but only the impression.
For this reason his presence was poetic, always piqued the curiosity
to know more deeply the secrets of his mind. He had many reserves, an
unwillingness to exhibit to profane eyes what was still sacred in his
own, and knew well how to throw a poetic veil over his experience.
All readers of "Walden" will remember his mythical record of his

"I long ago lost a hound, a bay horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still
on their trail. Many are the travellers I have spoken concerning them,
describing their tracks, and what calls they answered to. I have met
one or two who had heard the hound, and the tramp of the horse, and
even seen the dove disappear behind a cloud; and they seemed as
anxious to recover them as if they had lost them themselves."
[_Walden_, p. 20.]

His riddles were worth the reading, and I confide, that, if at any
time I do not understand the expression, it is yet just. Such was the
wealth of his truth that it was not worth his while to use words in
vain. His poem entitled "Sympathy" reveals the tenderness under that
triple steel of stoicism, and the intellectual subtilty it could
animate. His classic poem on "Smoke" suggests Simonides, but is better
than any poem of Simonides. His biography is in his verses. His
habitual thought makes all his poetry a hymn to the Cause of causes,

"I hearing get, who had but ears,
And sight, who had but eyes before;
I moments live, who lived but years,
And truth discern, who knew but learning's lore."

And still more in these religious lines:--

"Now chiefly is my natal hour,
And only now my prime of life;
I will not doubt the love untold,
Which not my worth or want hath bought,
Which wooed me young, and wooes me old,
And to this evening hath me brought."

Whilst he used in his writings a certain petulance of remark in
reference to churches or churchmen, he was a person of a rare, tender,
and absolute religion, a person incapable of any profanation, by act
or by thought. Of course, the same isolation which belonged to his
original thinking and living detached him from the social religious
forms. This is neither to be censured nor regretted. Aristotle long
ago explained it, when he said, "One who surpasses his fellow-citizens
in virtue is no longer a part of the city. Their law is not for him,
since he is a law to himself."

Thoreau was sincerity itself, and might fortify the convictions of
prophets in the ethical laws by his holy living. It was an affirmative
experience which refused to be set aside. A truth-speaker he, capable
of the most deep and strict conversation; a physician to the wounds of
any soul; a friend, knowing not only the secret of friendship, but
almost worshipped by those few persons who resorted to him as their
confessor and prophet, and knew the deep value of his mind and great
heart. He thought that without religion or devotion of some kind
nothing great was ever accomplished: and he thought that the bigoted
sectarian had better bear this in mind.

His virtues, of course, sometimes ran into extremes. It was easy to
trace to the inexorable demand on all for exact truth that austerity
which made this willing hermit more solitary even than he
wished. Himself of a perfect probity, he required not less of
others. He had a disgust at crime, and no worldly success would cover
it. He detected paltering as readily in dignified and prosperous
persons as in beggars, and with equal scorn. Such dangerous frankness
was in his dealing that his admirers called him "that terrible
Thoreau," as if he spoke when silent, and was still present when he
had departed. I think the severity of his ideal interfered to deprive
him of a healthy sufficiency of human society.

The habit of a realist to find things the reverse of their appearance
inclined him to put every statement in a paradox. A certain habit of
antagonism defaced his earlier writings,--a trick of rhetoric not
quite outgrown in his later, of substituting for the obvious word and
thought its diametrical opposite. He praised wild mountains and winter
forests for their domestic air, in snow and ice he would find
sultriness, and commended the wilderness for resembling Rome and
Paris. "It was so dry, that you might call it wet."

The tendency to magnify the moment, to read all the laws of Nature in
the one object or one combination under your eye, is of course comic
to those who do not share the philosopher's perception of identity. To
him there was no such thing as size. The pond was a small ocean; the
Atlantic, a large Walden Pond. He referred every minute fact to
cosmical laws. Though he meant to be just, he seemed haunted by a
certain chronic assumption that the science of the day pretended
completeness, and he had just found out that the _savans_ had
neglected to discriminate a particular botanical variety, had failed
to describe the seeds or count the sepals. "That is to say," we
replied, "the blockheads were not born in Concord; but who said they
were? It was their unspeakable misfortune to be born in London, or
Paris, or Rome; but, poor fellows, they did what they could,
considering that they never saw Bateman's Pond, or Nine-Acre Corner,
or Becky-Stow's Swamp. Besides, what were you sent into the world for,
but to add this observation?"

Had his genius been only contemplative, he had been fitted to his
life, but with his energy and practical ability he seemed born for
great enterprise and for command; and I so much regret the loss of his
rare powers of action, that I cannot help counting it a fault in him
that he had no ambition. Wanting this, instead of engineering for all
America, he was the captain of a huckleberry-party. Pounding beans is
good to the end of pounding empires one of these days; but if, at the
end of years, it is still only beans!

But these foibles, real or apparent, were fast vanishing in the
incessant growth of a spirit so robust and wise, and which effaced its
defeats with new triumphs. His study of Nature was a perpetual
ornament to him, and inspired his friends with curiosity to see the
world through his eyes, and to hear his adventures. They possessed
every kind of interest.

He had many elegances of his own, whilst he scoffed at conventional
elegance. Thus, he could not bear to hear the sound of his own steps,
the grit of gravel; and therefore never willingly walked in the road,
but in the grass, on mountains and in woods. His senses were acute,
and he remarked that by night every dwelling-house gives out bad air,
like a slaughter-house. He liked the pure fragrance of melilot. He
honored certain plants with special regard, and, over all, the
pond-lily,--then, the gentian, and the _Mikania scondens_, and
"life-everlasting," and a bass-tree which he visited every year, when
it bloomed, in the middle of July. He thought the scent a more
oracular inquisition than the sight,--more oracular and
trustworthy. The scent, of course, reveals what is concealed from the
other senses. By it he detected earthiness. He delighted in echoes,
and said they were almost the only kind of kindred voices that he
heard. He loved Nature so well, was so happy in her solitude, that he
became very jealous of cities, and the sad work which their
refinements and artifices made with man and his dwelling.

The axe was always destroying his forest. "Thank God," he said, "they
cannot cut down the clouds!" "All kinds of figures are drawn on the
blue ground with this fibrous white paint."

I subjoin a few sentences taken from his unpublished manuscripts, not
only as records of his thought and feeling, but for their power of
description and literary excellence.

"Some circumstantial evidence is very strong, as when you find a trout
in the milk."

"The chub is a soft fish, and tastes like boiled brown paper salted."

"The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon,
or, perchance, a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the
middle-aged man concludes to build a wood-shed with them."

"The locust z-ing."

"Devil's-needles zigzagging along the Nut-Meadow brook."

"Sugar is not so sweet to the palate as sound to the healthy ear."

"I put on some hemlock-boughs, and the rich salt crackling of their
leaves was like mustard to the ear, the crackling of uncountable
regiments. Dead trees love the fire."

"The bluebird carries the sky on his back."

"The tanager flies through the green foliage as if it would ignite the

"If I wish for a horse-hair for my compass-sight, I must go to the
stable; but the hair-bird, with her sharp eyes, goes to the road."

"Immortal water, alive even to the superficies."

"Fire is the most tolerable third party."

"Nature made ferns for pure leaves, to show what she could do in that

"No tree has so fair a bole and so handsome an instep as the beech."

"How did these beautiful rainbow-tints get into the shell of the
fresh-water clam, buried in the mud at the bottom of our dark river?"

"Hard are the times when the infant's shoes are second-foot."

"We are strictly confined to our men to whom we give liberty."

"Nothing is so much to be feared as fear. Atheism may comparatively be
popular with God himself."

"Of what significance the things you can forget? A little thought is
sexton to all the world."

"How can we expect a harvest of thought who have not had a seed-time
of character?"

"Only he can be trusted with gifts who can present a face of bronze to

"I ask to be melted. You can only ask of the metals that they be
tender to the fire that melts them. To nought else can they be

There is a flower known to botanists, one of the same genus with our
summer plant called "Life-Everlasting," a _Gnaphalium_ like that,
which grows on the most inaccessible cliffs of the Tyrolese mountains,
where the chamois dare hardly venture, and which the hunter, tempted
by its beauty, and by his love, (for it is immensely valued by the
Swiss maidens,) climbs the cliffs to gather, and is sometimes found
dead at the foot, with the flower in his hand. It is called by
botanists the _Gnaphalium leontopodium_, but by the Swiss
_Edelweisse_, which signifies _Noble Purity_. Thoreau seemed
to me living in the hope to gather this plant, which belonged to him
of right. The scale on which his studies proceeded was so large as to
require longevity, and we were the less prepared for his sudden
disappearance. The country knows not yet, or in the least part, how
great a son it has lost. It seems an injury that he should leave in
the midst his broken task, which none else can finish,--a kind of
indignity to so noble a soul, that it should depart out of Nature
before yet he has been really shown to his peers for what be is. But
he, at least, is content. His soul was made for the noblest society;
he had in a short life exhausted the capabilities of this world;
wherever there is knowledge, wherever there is virtue, wherever there
is beauty, he will find a home.


At daybreak, in the fresh light, joyfully
The fishermen drew in their laden net;
The shore shone rosy purple, and the sea
Was streaked with violet,

And, pink with sunrise, many a shadowy sail
Lay southward, lighting up the sleeping bay,
And in the west the white moon, still and pale,
Faded before the day.

Silence was everywhere. The rising tide
Slowly filled every cove and inlet small:
A musical low whisper, multiplied,
You heard, and that was all.

No clouds at dawn,--but, as the sun climbed higher,
White columns, thunderous, splendid, up the sky
Floated and stood, heaped in the sun's clear fire,
A stately company.

Stealing along the coast from cape to cape,
The weird mirage crept tremulously on,
In many a magic change and wondrous shape,
Throbbing beneath the sun.

At noon the wind rose,--swept the glassy sea
To sudden ripple,--thrust against the clouds
A strenuous shoulder,--gathering steadily,
Drove them before in crowds,

Till all the west was dark, and inky black
The level ruffled water underneath,
And up the wind-cloud tossed, a ghostly rack,
In many a ragged wreath.

Then sudden roared the thunder, a great peal
Magnificent, that broke and rolled away;
And down the wind plunged, like a furious keel
Cleaving the sea to spray,

And brought the rain, sweeping o'er land and sea.
And then was tumult! Lightning, sharp and keen,
Thunder, wind, rain,--a mighty jubilee
The heaven and earth between!

And loud the ocean sang,--a chorus grand,--
A solemn music sung in undertone
Of waves that broke about, on either hand,
The little island lone,

Where, joyful in His tempest as His calm,
Held in the hollow of that hand of His,
I joined with heart and soul in God's great psalm,
Thrilled with a nameless bliss.

Soon lulled the wind,-the summer storm soon died;
The shattered clouds went eastward, drifting slow;
From the low sun the rain-fringe swept aside,
Bright in his rosy glow,

And wide a splendor streamed through all the sky
O'er land and sea one soft, delicious blush,
That touched the gray rocks lightly, tenderly,
A transitory flush.

Warm, odorous gusts came off the distant land,
With spice of pine-woods, breath of hay new-mown,
O'er miles of waves and sea-scents cool and bland,
Full in our faces blown.

Slow faded the sweet light, and peacefully
The quiet stars came out, one after one,--
The holy twilight deepened silently,
The summer day was done.

Such unalloyed delight its hours had given,
Musing, this thought rose in my grateful mind,
That God, who watches all things, up in heaven,
With patient eyes and kind,

Saw and was pleased, perhaps, one child of His
Dared to be happy like the little birds,
Because He gave His children days like this,
Rejoicing beyond words,--

Dared, lifting up to Him untroubled eyes
In gratitude that worship is, and prayer,
Sing and be glad with ever new surprise
He made His world so fair!


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