The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. I., No. 3, January 1858
Part 3 out of 5
cherished belief. It has been maintained, on the other hand, that
many persons cannot write more than one novel,--that all after that
are likely to be failures.--Life is so much more tremendous a thing
in its heights and depths than any transcript of it can be, that all
records of human experience are as so many bound _herbaria_ to the
innumerable glowing, glistening, rustling, breathing, fragrance-laden,
poison-sucking, life-giving, death-distilling leaves and flowers of
the forest and the prairies. All we can do with books of human
experience is to make them alive again with something borrowed from
our own lives. We can make a book alive for us just in proportion to
its resemblance in essence or in form to our own experience. Now an
author's first novel is naturally drawn, to a great extent, from his
personal experiences; that is, is a literal copy of nature under
various slight disguises. But the moment the author gets out of his
personality, he must have the creative power, as well as the
narrative art and the sentiment, in order to tell a living story;
and this is rare.
Besides, there is great danger that a man's first life-story shall
clean him out, so to speak, of his best thoughts. Most lives, though
their stream is loaded with sand and turbid with alluvial waste, drop
a few golden grains of wisdom as they flow along. Oftentimes a
single _cradling_ gets them all, and after that the poor man's labor
is only rewarded by mud and worn pebbles. All which proves that I,
as an individual of the human family, could write one novel or story
at any rate, if I would.
--Why don't I, then?--Well, there are several reasons against it. In
the first place, I should tell all my secrets, and I maintain that
verse is the proper medium for such revelations. Rhythm and rhyme
and the harmonies of musical language, the play of fancy, the fire of
imagination, the flashes of passion, so hide the nakedness of a
heart laid open, that hardly any confession, transfigured in the
luminous halo of poetry, is reproached as self-exposure. A beauty
shows herself under the chandeliers, protected by the glitter of her
diamonds, with such a broad snowdrift of white arms and shoulders
laid bare, that, were she unadorned and in plain calico, she would
be unendurable--in the opinion of the ladies.
Again, I am terribly afraid I should show up all my friends. I
should like to know if all story-tellers do not do this? Now I am
afraid all my friends would not bear showing up very well; for they
have an average share of the common weakness of humanity, which I am
pretty certain would come out. Of all that have told stones among us
there is hardly one I can recall that has not drawn too faithfully
some living portrait that might better have been spared.
Once more, I have sometimes thought it possible I might be too dull
to write such a story as I should wish to write.
And finally, I think it very likely I _shall_ write a story one of
these days. Don't be surprised at anytime, if you see me coming out
with "The Schoolmistress," or "The Old Gentleman Opposite."
[_Our_ schoolmistress and _our_ old gentleman that sits opposite
had left the table before I said this.] I want my glory for writing
the same discounted now, on the spot, if you please. I will write
when I get ready. How many people live on the reputation of the
reputation they might have made!
----I saw you smiled when I spoke about the possibility of my being
too dull to write a good story. I don't pretend to know what you
meant by it, but I take occasion to make a remark that may hereafter
prove of value to some among you.--When one of us who has been led
by native vanity or senseless flattery to think himself or herself
possessed of talent arrives at the full and final conclusion that he
or she is really dull, it is one of the most tranquillizing and
blessed convictions that can enter a mortal's mind. All our failures,
our short-comings, our strange disappointments in the effect of our
efforts are lifted from our bruised shoulders, and fall, like
Christian's pack, at the feet of that Omnipotence which has seen fit
to deny us the pleasant gift of high intelligence, with which one
look may overflow us in some wider sphere of being.
----How sweetly and honestly one said to me the other day, "I hate
books!" A gentleman,--singularly free from affectations,--not learned,
of course, but of perfect breeding, which is often so much better
than learning,--by no means dull, in the sense of knowledge of the
world and society, but certainly not clever either in the arts or
sciences,--his company is pleasing to all who know him. I did not
recognize in him inferiority of literary taste half so distinctly as
I did simplicity of character and fearless acknowledgment of his
inaptitude for scholarship. In fact, I think there are a great many
gentlemen and others, who read with a mark to keep their place, that
really "hate books," but never had the wit to find it out, or the
manliness to own it.
[_Entre nous_, I always read with a mark.]
We get into a way of thinking as if what we call an "intellectual man"
was, as a matter of course, made up of nine-tenths, or thereabouts,
of book-learning, and one-tenth himself. But even if he is actually
so compounded, he need not read much. Society is a strong solution
of books. It draws the virtue out of what is best worth reading, as
hot water draws the strength of tea-leaves. If I were a prince, I
would hire or buy a private literary tea-pot, in which I would steep
all the leaves of new books that promised well. The infusion would do
for me without the vegetable fibre. You understand me; I would have
a person whose sole business should be to read day and night, and
talk to me whenever I wanted him to. I know the man I would have: a
quick-witted, out-spoken, incisive fellow; knows history, or at any
rate has a shelf full of books about it, which he can use handily,
and the same of all useful arts and sciences; knows all the common
plots of plays and novels, and the stock company of characters that
are continually coming on in new costume; can give you a criticism
of an octavo in an epithet and a wink, and you can depend on it;
cares for nobody except for the virtue there is in what he says;
delights in taking off big wigs and professional gowns, and in the
disembalming and unbandaging of all literary mummies. Yet he is as
tender and reverential to all that bears the mark of genius,--that is;
of a new influx of truth or beauty,--as a nun over her missal. In
short, he is one of those men that know everything except how to
make a living. Him would I keep on the square next my own royal
compartment on life's chessboard. To him I would push up another pawn,
in the shape of a comely and wise young woman, whom he would of
course take--to wife. For all contingencies I would liberally provide.
In a word, I would, in the plebeian, but expressive phrase,
"put him through" all the material part of life; see him sheltered,
warmed, fed, button-mended, and all that, just to be able to lay on
his talk when I liked,--with the privilege of shutting it off at will.
A Club is the next best thing to this, strung like a harp, with
about a dozen ringing intelligences, each answering to some chord of
the macrocosm. They do well to dine together once in a while. A
dinner-party made up of such elements is the last triumph of
civilization over barbarism. Nature and art combine to charm the
senses; the equatorial zone of the system is soothed by well-studied
artifices; the faculties are off duty, and fall into their natural
attitudes; you see wisdom in slippers and science in a short jacket.
The whole force of conversation depends on how much you can take for
granted. Vulgar chess-players have to play their game out; nothing
short of the brutality of an actual checkmate satisfies their dull
apprehensions. But look at two masters of that noble game! White
stands well enough, so far as you can see; but Red says, Mate in six
moves;--White looks,--nods;--the game is over. Just so in talking
with first-rate men; especially when they are good-natured and
expansive, as they are apt to be at table. That blessed clairvoyance
which sees into things without opening them,--that glorious license,
which, having shut the door and driven the reporter from its key-hole,
calls upon Truth, majestic virgin! to get off from her pedestal and
drop her academic poses, and take a festive garland and the vacant
place on the _medius lectus_,--that carnival-shower of questions and
replies and comments, large axioms bowled over the mahogany like
bomb-shells from professional mortars, and explosive wit dropping
its trains of many-colored fire, and the mischief-making rain of
_bon-bons_ pelting everybody that shows himself,--the picture of a
truly intellectual banquet is one that the old Divinities might well
have attempted to reproduce in their----
----"Oh, oh, oh!" cried the young fellow whom they call John,--
"that is from one of your lectures!"
I know it, I replied,--I concede it, I confess it, I proclaim it.
"The trail of the serpent is over them all!"
All lecturers, all professors, all school-masters, have ruts and
grooves in their minds into which their conversation is perpetually
sliding. Did you never, in riding through the woods of a still June
evening, suddenly feel that you had passed into a warm stratum of air,
and in a minute or two strike the chill layer of atmosphere beyond?
Did you never, in cleaving the green waters of the Back Bay,--where
the Provincial blue-noses are in the habit of beating the "Metropolitan"
boat-clubs,--find yourself in a tepid streak, a narrow, local
gulf-stream, a gratuitous warm-bath a little underdone, through
which your glistening shoulders soon flashed, to bring you back
to the cold realities of full-sea temperature? Just so, in talking
with any of the characters above referred to, one not unfrequently
finds a sudden change in the style of the conversation. The
lack-lustre eye, rayless as a Beacon-Street door-plate in August,
all at once fills with light; the face flings itself wide open like
the church-portals when the bride and bridegroom enter; the little
man grows in stature before your eyes, like the small prisoner with
hair on end, beloved yet dreaded of early childhood; you were
talking with a dwarf and an imbecile,--you have a giant and a
trumpet-tongued angel before you!----Nothing but a streak out of a
fifty-dollar lecture.----As when, at some unlooked-for moment, the
mighty fountain-column springs into the air before the astonished
passer-by,--silver-footed, diamond-crowned, rainbow-scarfed,--from
the bosom of that fair sheet, sacred to the hymns of quiet
batrachians at home, and the epigrams of a less amiable and less
elevated order of _reptilia_ in other latitudes.
----Who was that person that was so abused some time since for
saying that in the conflict of two races our sympathies naturally go
with the higher? No matter who he was. Now look at what is going on
in India,--a white, superior "Caucasian" race, against a dark-skinned,
inferior, but still "Caucasian" race,--and where are English and
American sympathies? We can't stop to settle all the doubtful
questions; all we know is, that the brute nature is sure to come out
most strongly in the lower race, and it is the general law that the
human side of humanity should treat the brutal side as it does the
same nature in the inferior animals,--tame it or crush it. The India
mail brings stories of women and children outraged and murdered; the
royal stronghold is in the hands of the babe-killers. England takes
down the Map of the World, which she has girdled with empire, and
makes a correction thus:
[Strike-out: DELHI]. _Dele_.
The civilized world says, Amen.
----Do not think, because I talk to you of many subjects briefly,
that I should not find it much lazier work to take each one of them
and dilute it down to an essay. Borrow some of my old college themes
and water my remarks to suit yourselves, as the Homeric heroes did
with their _melas oinos_,--that black, sweet, syrupy wine (?) which
they used to alloy with three parts or more of the flowing stream.
[Could it have been _melasses_, as Webster and his provincials
spell it,--or _Molossa's_, as dear old smattering, chattering,
would-be-College-President, Cotton Mather, has it in the "Magnalia"?
Ponder thereon, ye small antiquaries, who make barn-door-fowl flights
of learning in "Notes and Queries"!--ye Historical Societies, in one
of whose venerable triremes I, too, ascend the stream of time, while
other hands tug at the oars!--ye Amines of parasitical literature,
who pick up your grains of native-grown food with a bodkin, having
gorged upon less honest fare, until, like the great minds Goethe
speaks of, you have "made a Golgotha" of your pages!--ponder thereon!]
----Before you go, this morning, I want to read you a copy of verses.
You will understand by the title that they are written in an
imaginary character. I don't doubt they will fit some family-man
well enough. I send it forth as "Oak Hall" projects a coat, on
_a priori_ grounds of conviction that it will suit somebody. There
is no loftier illustration of faith than this. It believes that a
soul has been clad in flesh; that tender parents have fed and
nurtured it; that its mysterious _compages_ or frame-work has
survived its myriad exposures and reached the stature of maturity;
that the Man, now self-determining, has given in his adhesion to the
traditions and habits of the race in favor of artificial clothing;
that he will, having all the world to choose from, select the very
locality where this audacious generalization has been acted upon. It
builds a garment cut to the pattern of an Idea, and trusts that
Nature will model a material shape to fit it. There is a prophecy in
every seam, and its pockets are full of inspiration.--Now hear the
THE OLD MAN DREAMS.
O for one hour of youthful joy!
Give back my twentieth spring!
I'd rather laugh a bright-haired boy
Than reign a gray-beard king!
Off with the wrinkled spoils of age!
Away with learning's crown!
Tear out life's wisdom-written page,
And dash its trophies down!
One moment let my life-blood stream
From boyhood's fount of flame!
Give me one giddy, reeling dream
Of life all love and fame!
--My listening angel heard the prayer,
And calmly smiling, said,
"If I but touch thy silvered hair,
Thy hasty wish hath sped."
"But is there nothing in thy track
To bid thee fondly stay,
While the swift seasons hurry back
To find the wished-for day?"
--Ah, truest soul of womankind!
Without thee, what were life?
One bliss I cannot leave behind:
--The angel took a sapphire pen
And wrote in rainbow dew,
"The man would be a boy again,
And be a husband too!"
--"And is there nothing yet unsaid
Before the change appears?
Remember, all their gifts have fled
With those dissolving years!"
Why, yes; for memory would recall
My fond paternal joys;
I could not bear to leave them all:
The smiling angel dropped his pen,--
"Why this will never do;
The man would be a boy again,
And be a father too!"
And so I laughed,--my laughter woke
The household with its noise,--
And wrote my dream, when morning broke,
To please the gray-haired boys.
AGASSIZ'S NATURAL HISTORY.
_Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of
America_. By LOUIS AGASSIZ. Vols. I. and II. Boston: Little,
Brown & Co. London: Truebner & Co. 1857.
The Great Professor has given the first Monograph of his _Magnum Opus_
to the Great Republic and the wider realm of Science. The learned
world resolves itself into committees to consider every important
work; claiming leave to sit for as long a time as they choose,--for
years, or for a whole generation. Every alleged fact is to be
verified or cancelled or qualified, every inference to be measured
over and over again by its premises, every proposition to be tried
by all the tests that can prove its strength or weakness, and the
whole to be marshalled to the place it may claim in the alcoves of
the universal library. No hasty opinion can anticipate this final
and peremptory judgment. Its elements must of necessity be gathered
slowly from many and scattered sources. The accumulated learning of
the great centres of civilization, the patient investigation of
plodding observers, the keen insight of subtile analysts, the
jealous clairvoyance of dissentient theorists, the oblique glances
of suspicious sister-sciences, the random flashes that skepticism
throws from her faithless mirror to dazzle all eyes that seek for
truth; through such a varied and protracted ordeal must every record
that embodies long and profound observation, large and lofty thought,
reach the golden _Imprimatur_ which is its warrant for immortality.
The work of Mr. Agassiz, if we may judge it by the portion now
before us, has a right to challenge such a matured opinion, and to
wait for it. Not the less does a certain duty belong to us as
literary journalists with reference to these stately volumes, which
are in the hands of thousands, learned and unlearned, and of which
there are scores of thousands waiting to hear. Our duty we consider
to be four-fold: first, that of recognition in terms of fitting
courtesy; secondly, of analysis for the general reader; thirdly, of
accentuation, so to speak, of what seems most widely applicable or
interesting; and lastly, of making such comments as so pregnant a
text may suggest.
And first, of recognition. Here are the fruits of ten years of
patient labor, taken out of the heart of life, in the age of vigor,
which is that of ambition,--to use the phrase of another great
observer,--by a man of large endowments and of vast knowledge,
assisted by skilful collaborators, by finished artists, by the
counsels and liberality of the learned few, and the generous
countenance of the intelligent many. Before analysis, before
criticism, there should be uttered a welcome; not grudging, not
envious of an overshadowing reputation, not over-curious in
searching for qualifications to abate its warmth, not carefully
taming down its enthusiasm to tepid formalisms; but full-souled and
free-spoken, such as all noble works and deeds should claim.
The learned men of past centuries have left us an example of this
treatment of authors, in those gratulatory verses with which they
were wont to hail every considerable literary or scientific
performance. They knew human nature well. They knew that the author,
when he quenches the lamp over which he has grown haggard and pale,
and steps from his cell into daylight and the chill outside air,
longs, longs unutterably, for kind words, and the cheering
fellowship of kindred souls; and with instinctive grace they chose
the poetical form of expression, simply because this alone gives
full license to the lips of friendship.
This old folio which stands by us is not precious only because it
contains the quaint wisdom and manifold experience of Ambroise Pare,
mingled with his credulous gossip, and again sweetened by his simple
reverence; not precious alone because it contains the noblest words
ever uttered by one of his profession,--_Ie le pensay et Dieu le
guarit_; but also because PIERRE RONSARD, the "Poet of France," has
left his deathless name thrice inscribed in its earlier pages at the
foot of tributes to its author.
And here in the next century comes Schenck of Grafenberg, staggering
under his monstrous volume of "Casus Rariores,"--ready to fall
fainting by the wayside, when lo! the shining ones meet him too, and
lift him and lighten him with the utterance of these _fifty-one_
distinct poems which we see hung up on so many votive tablets at the
entrance of this miniature Babel of Science.
Even so late as the last century the genial custom survived; for our
worthy Stalpart van der Wiel, whose little pair of volumes was
published in 1727, can boast of twenty-two pages of well-ordered
commendatory verse, much of it in his native Dutch,--a little of
which goes a good way with all except Batavian readers.
But as the "Arundines Cami," musical as they are, have lent no
prelude to these harmonies of science, we must say in a few plain
words of prose our own first thought as to the work the commencement
of which lies before us. We believe, that, if completed according to
its promise, it is to be one of the monumental labors of our century.
Comparisons are not to be lightly instituted, and especially under
circumstances that do not allow a fair survey of the whole field
from which the objects to be compared are to be taken. We suppose,
however, it will be conceded that the sunset continent has never
witnessed anything like the inception of this mighty task in the way
of systematic natural science. And if, since Cuvier, the greatest of
naturalists, as Mr. Agassiz considers him, slept with the fossils to
which he had given life, there has been any other student of Nature
who has attempted a task so immense, with the same union of observing,
reflecting, analyzing, and cooerdinating power, we cannot name him.
Our civilization has a right to be proud of such an accession to its
thinking and laboring constituency; it is also bound to be grateful
for it, and to express its gratitude.
It is just one hundred years since another Swiss, the magnificent
Albert von Haller, gave to the world the first volume of the
"Elementa Physiologiae Corporis Humani." Nine years afterwards, in
1766, the last of the eight volumes appeared; and the vast structure,
which embodied his untiring study of Nature, his world-wide erudition,
his deepest thought, his highest imaginings, his holiest aspirations,
stood, like the Alps whose shadow fell upon its birthplace, the
lovely Lausaune, pride of the Pays de Vaud. The clepsydrae that
measure the centuries as they drop from the dizzy cliffs--the
glaciers, by the descent of which "time is marked out, as by a
shadow on a dial," and which thunder out the high noon of each
revolving year with their frozen tongues, as they crack beneath the
summer's sun--have registered a new centennial circle, and at the
very hour of its completion, Switzerland vindicates her ancient
renown in these fair pages, at once pledge and performance, of
another of her honored children. May the auspicious omen lead to as
happy a conclusion!
Lovingly, then, we lay open the generous quarto and look upon its
broad, bright title-page. It tells us that we have here the first of
a series of "Contributions to the Natural History of the United
States of America." We see that one of its three parts embraces the
largest generalities of Natural Science, under the head of an
"Essay on Classification." We see that the other two parts are
devoted to the description and delineation of a single order of
Reptilia,--the Testudinata, or "Turtles."
If Mr. Agassiz had intentionally chosen the simplest way of proving
that he had naturalized himself in New England, he could not have
selected more fortunately than he has done by adopting our word
_Turtle_ to cover all the Testudinates. To an Englishman a turtle
is a sea-monster, that for a brief space lies on his back and fights
the air with his useless paddles in the bow-window of a
provision-shop, bound eventually to Guildhall, there to feed Gog and
Magog, or his worshippers, known as aldermen. For him a
land-testudinate is a _tortoise_. When his poets and romancers speak
of turtles, again, they commonly mean turtle-_doves_.
"Not half so swift the sailing falcon flies
That drives a turtle through the liquid skies."
The only flight of a testudinate which we remember is that downward
one of the unfortunate tortoise that cracked the bald crown of
Aeschylus. But turtle, as embracing all chelonians, or, as liberal
shepherds call it, "turkle," is unquestionably Cisatlantic. The
distinguished naturalist has made himself an American citizen by
adopting our own expression, and should have the freedom of all our
cities presented to him in the shell of a box-TURTLE.
It is singular to recall the honors which have been bestowed on the
testudinates from all antiquity. It was the sun-dried and
sinew-strung shell of a tortoise that suggested the lyre to Mercury,
as he walked by the shore of Nilus. It was on the back of a tortoise
that the Indian sage placed his elephant which upheld the world.
Under the _testudo_ the Roman legions swarmed into the walled cities
of the _orbis terrarum_. And in that wise old fable which childhood
learns, and age too often remembers, sorrowing, it was the tortoise
that won the race against the swiftest of the smaller tribes, his
And here once more we have his shell strung with vibrating thoughts
that repeat the harmonies of nature. Once more his broad back stoops
to the weighty problems which the planet proposes to its children.
Once more the great cities are stormed--by science--beneath his coat
of mail. Once more he has run the race, not against the hare only,
but the whole animal kingdom, and won it, and with it the new fame
which awaits him, as he leads in the long array of his fellows that
are to come up, one by one, in these enduring records. And so we
turn the leaf, and come to the DEDICATION.
The Dedication of a work like this, destined to preserve all the
names it enrols in the sculpture-like immortality of science,
naturally delays us for a moment. Of the foreign teacher and friend
to whom the author owes some of his earliest lessons, and of that
group of our own citizens, most of them still living, who lent their
united efforts to the enterprise of publication after it was
commenced, we need not speak individually. But we cannot pass over
the name of FRANCIS CALLEY GRAY without a word of grateful
remembrance for one who was the friend and adviser of the author
in planning the publication of the work before us. We who remember
his varied culture, his large and fluent discourse, with its
formidable accuracy of knowledge and gracious suavity of utterance,
his taste in literature and art, which made his home a suite of
princely cabinets, his generous and elegant hospitality, which
scholars and artists knew so well,--counting him as the peer, and in
many points the more than peer of such as the wide world of letters
is proud to claim,--are pleased to see that his cherished name will
be read by the students of unborn generations on the first leaf of
this noble record of the science of our own.
The PREFACE which follows the Dedication is full of grateful
acknowledgments to the many friends of science, in all parts of the
country, who came forward to lend their aid in various forms,
especially in collecting and transmitting specimens from the
most widely remote sections of the continent. The pious zeal of
Mr. Winthrop Sargent, who brought a cargo of living turtles more
than a thousand miles to the head-quarters of testudinous learning
at Cambridge, is only paralleled by the memorable act of the Pisans
in transporting ship-loads of holy soil from Palestine to fill their
Campo Santo. Genius is marked by nothing more distinctly than that
it makes the world its tributary. He from whose lips it speaks has
but to look calmly into the eyes of dull routine, of jaded toil, of
fickle childhood, and utter the words, "Follow me." Custom-house
officials close their books, tired fishermen leave their nets,
riotous boys forsake their play, to do the master's bidding. Is he
making collections for some great purpose of study? Piece by piece
the fragmentary spoils flow in upon him, of all sizes, shapes, and
hues; a chaos of confused riches, perhaps only a wealth of rubbish,
as they lie at his feet. One by one they fall into harmonious
relations, until the meaningless heap has become a vast mosaic,
where nothing is too minute to fill some interstice, nothing too
angular to fit some corner, nothing so dull or brilliant of tint
that it will not furnish its fraction of light or shadow. Such has
been the history of those years of labor the results of which these
volumes present to us. Whatever may have been said of the devotion
of our countrymen to material interests, the wise and winning lips
had only to speak, and such a currency of _plastrons_ and _carapaces_
was set in circulation, that the contemplative stranger who saw the
mighty coinage of Chelonia flowing in upon Cambridge might well have
thought that the national idea was not the Almighty Dollar, but the
Mr. Agassiz places a high estimate on the intelligence as well as
the kind spirit of his adopted countrymen. "There is not a class of
learned men here," he says, "distinct from the other cultivated
members of the community. On the contrary, so general is the desire
for knowledge, that I expect to see my book read by operatives, by
fishermen, by farmers, quite as extensively as by the students of
our colleges, or by the learned professions; and it is but proper
that I should endeavor to make myself understood by all."
The deficiencies of our scientific libraries, and the want of a
class of elementary works upon Natural History, such as are widely
circulated in Europe, are adverted to and alleged as a reason for
entering into details which the professional naturalist might think
We quote one paragraph entire from the Preface, as not susceptible
of being abridged, and as briefly stating those general facts with
regard to the work which all our readers must desire to know.
"I have a few words more to say respecting the two first volumes,
now ready for publication. Considering the uncertainty of human life,
I have wished to bring out at once a work that would exemplify the
nature of the investigations I have been tracing during the last ten
years, and show what is likely to be the character of the whole
series. I have aimed, therefore, in preparing these two volumes, to
combine them in such a manner as that they should form a whole. The
First Part contains an exposition of the general views I have
arrived at thus far, in my studies of Natural History. The Second
Part shows how I have attempted to apply these results to the
special study of Zoology, taking the order of Testudinata as an
example. I believe, that, in America, where turtles are everywhere
common, and greatly diversified, a student could not make a better
beginning than by a careful perusal of this part, specimens in hand,
with constant reference to the second chapter of the First Part. The
Third Part exemplifies the bearing of Embryology upon these general
questions, while it contains the fullest illustration of the
embryonic growth of the Testudinata."
The Preface closes with honorable mention of the gentlemen who have
furnished direct assistance in the preparation of the work, and
especially of Mr. Clark in microscopic observation and illustration,
and of Mr. Sonrel in drawing the zoological figures.
The LIST OF SUBSCRIBERS is not without its special meaning and
interest. If, as has been said, the grade of civilization in any
community can be estimated by the amount of sulphuric acid it
consumes, the extent to which a work like this has been called for
in different sections of the country may to some extent be
considered an index of its intellectual aspirations, if not of its
actual progress. This is especially true of those remoter regions
where personal motives would exercise least influence. But without
instituting any comparisons, we may well be proud of this ample list
of twenty-five hundred subscribers, most of them citizens of the
republic,--"a support such as was never before offered to any
scientific man for purely scientific ends, without any reference to
government objects or direct practical aims."
Our analysis must confine itself mainly to the first of the three
parts into which these two volumes are divided. This first part it
is that contains those large results which every thinker must desire
to learn from one whose life has been devoted to the searching and
contemplative study of Nature. It is in the realm of thought here
explored, that Natural Science, whose figure we are wont to look
down upon, crouching to her task, like him of the muck-rake, as he
painfully gathers together his sticks and straws, rises erect, and
lifts her forehead into the upper atmosphere of philosophy, where
the clouds are indeed thickest, but the stars are nearest. The
second and third parts belong more exclusively to the professed
students of Natural History in its different special departments.
Our notice of these divisions of the work must therefore be
The first chapter of the first part has for its title, "The
fundamental relations of animals to one another and to the world in
which they live, as the basis of the natural system of animals."
Certain general doctrines, the spirit of which runs through all the
scientific works of Mr. Agassiz, are distinctly laid down in the
first section of this chapter. It is headed with the statement,
"The leading features of a natural zoological system are all founded
in nature." The systems named from the great leaders of science are
but translations of the Creator's thoughts into human language.
"If it can be proved that man has not invented, but only traced this
systematic arrangement in nature,--that these relations and
proportions which exist throughout the animal and vegetable world
have an intellectual, an ideal connection in the mind of the Creator,--
that this plan of creation, which so commends itself to our highest
wisdom, has not grown out of the necessary action of physical laws,
but was the free conception of the Almighty Intellect, matured in
his thought, before it was manifested in tangible, external forms,--
if, in short, we can prove premeditation prior to the act of creation,
we have done, once and forever, with the desolate theory which
refers us to the laws of matter as accounting for all the wonders of
the universe, and leaves us with no God but the monotonous, unvarying
action of physical forces, binding all things to their inevitable
One more extract must be given from this section, for it is the key
to the general argument which follows.
"I disclaim every intention of introducing in this work any evidence
irrelevant to my subject, or of supporting any conclusions not
immediately flowing from it; but I cannot overlook nor disregard
here the close connection there is between the facts ascertained by
scientific investigations, and the discussions now carried on
respecting the origin of organized beings. And though I know those
who hold it to be very unscientific to believe that thinking is not
something inherent in matter, and that there is an essential
difference between inorganic and living and thinking beings, I shall
not be prevented by any such pretensions of a false philosophy from
expressing my conviction, that, as long as it cannot be shown that
matter or physical forces do actually reason, I shall consider any
manifestation of thought as evidence of the existence of a thinking
being as the author of such thought, and shall look upon an
intelligent and intelligible connection between the facts of nature
as direct proof of the existence of a thinking God, as certainly as
man exhibits the power of thinking when he recognizes their natural
We must content ourselves with the most general statement of the
nature and bearing of the series of propositions which follow. They
are illustrated by a large survey of the material universe in its
manifestations of life, and of the relations between the various
forms of life to each other and to the inorganic world. These
propositions, thirty-one in number, might be called an analysis of
the qualities of the Infinite Mind exhibited in the realm of
organized and especially of animal being. Nothing but want of space
prevents our reproducing at full length the very careful
recapitulation to be found at the close of the chapter, or the
analysis to be found in the Table of Contents. With something more
of labor than the task of copying would have been, we have attempted
to compress the truths already crowded in these brief and pregnant
sentences into the still narrower compass of a few lines in our
The harmony of the universe is a manifestation of illimitable
intellect, displaying itself in various modes of thought, as these
are shown in the characters and relations of organized beings: unity
of thought, manifesting itself independently of space, of time, of
known material agencies, of special form,--illustrated by repetition
of similar types in different circumstances, by identities, or
partial resemblances, or serial connections, found under varying
conditions of being; power of expressing the same idea in innumerable
forms, as in those instances of essential identity of parts in the
midst of formal differences known as _special homologies_; power of
combination, as in the adjustment of organized beings to each other
and to the inorganic world, or in the harmonious allotment of the
most varied gifts to different beings; definite recognition of time
and space, as in the life of individuals, of species, in the stages
of growth, in the geographical limitation of types; prescience and
omniscience, as shown in the _prophetic_ types of earlier geological
ages; omnipresence, by the adjustment of the whole series of animal
organisms to the various parts of the planet they inhabit.
The final _resume_ of Mr. Agassiz is as follows:--
"We may sum up the results of this discussion, up to this point, in
still fewer words.
"All organized beings exhibit in themselves all those categories of
structure and of existence upon which a natural system may be founded,
in such a manner, that, in tracing it, the human mind is only
translating into human language the Divine thoughts expressed in
Nature in living realities.
"All these beings do not exist in consequence of the continued
agency of physical causes, but have made their successive appearance
upon earth by the immediate intervention of the Creator. As proof, I
may sum up my argument in the following manner:--
"The products of what are commonly called physical agents are
everywhere the same, (that is, upon the whole surface of the globe,)
and have always been the same (that is, during all geological periods);
while organized beings are everywhere different, and have differed
in all ages. Between two such series of phenomena there can be no
causal or genetic connection.
"The combination in time and space of all these thoughtful
conceptions exhibits not only thought, it shows also premeditation,
power, wisdom, greatness, prescience, omniscience, providence. In
one word, all these facts in their natural connection proclaim aloud
the One God, whom man may know, adore, and love; and Natural History
must, in good time, become the analysis of the thoughts of the
Creator of the Universe, as manifested in the animal and vegetable
To this statement we must add two paragraphs from the pages just
preceding, (pp. 130, 131.)
"If I have succeeded, even very imperfectly, in showing that the
various relations observed between animals and the physical world,
as well as between themselves, exhibit thought, it follows that the
whole has an Intelligent Author; and it may not be out of place to
attempt to point out, as far as possible, the difference there may
be between Divine thinking and human thought."
"Taking nature as exhibiting thought for my guide, it appears to me,
that, while human thought is consecutive, Divine thought is
simultaneous, embracing at the same time and forever, in the past,
the present, and the future, the most diversified relations among
hundreds of thousands of organized beings, each of which may present
complications, again, which to study and understand even imperfectly,
as, for instance, man himself, mankind has already spent thousands of
years. And yet, all this has been done by one Mind, must be the work
of one Mind only, of Him before whom man can only bow in grateful
acknowledgment of the prerogatives he is allowed to enjoy in this
world, not to speak of the promises of a future life."
Chapter Second is entitled, "Leading Groups of the existing systems
Its nine sections treat successively of the great types or branches
of the animal kingdom, of classes, orders, families, genera, species,
other natural divisions, successive development of characters, and
close with some very significant conclusions on the importance of
the study of classification.
Mr. Agassiz has attempted to give definiteness to the terms above
enumerated, which have been used with various significance, by
limiting each one of them to covering a single category of natural
_Branches_ or _types_ are characterized by their plan of structure.
_Classes_, by the manner in which that plan is executed, so far as
ways and means are concerned.
_Orders_, by the degrees of complication of that structure.
_Families_, by their form, so far as determined by structure.
_Genera_, by the details of the execution in special parts.
_Species_, by the relations of individuals to one another and to
the world in which they live, as well as by the proportions of their
parts, their ornamentation, etc.
"And yet there are other natural divisions which must be acknowledged
in a natural zooelogical system; but these are not to be traced so
uniformly in all classes as the former,--they are, in reality, only
limitations of the other kinds of divisions."
This chapter must be studied in the original text, the arguments by
which its conclusions are supported hardly admitting of brief analysis.
The most superficial reader will be interested in Mr. Agassiz's
account of the mode in which he sought for the natural boundaries
of the various divisions, by observing the special point of view
in which various eminent naturalists have considered their subject;
as, for instance, Audubon, among the biographers of species,--
Latreille, among the students of genera,--and Cuvier, at the head
of those who have contemplated the higher groups, such as classes
and types. The most indifferent reader will be arrested by the
opinions boldly promulgated with reference to species.
"The evidence that all animals have originated in large numbers is
growing so strong, that the idea that every species existed in the
beginning in single pairs may be said to be given up almost entirely
by naturalists." "If we are led to admit as the beginning of each
species the simultaneous origin of a large number of individuals, if
the same species may originate at the same time in different
localities, these first representatives of each species, at least,
were not connected by sexual derivation; and as this applies equally
to any first pair, this fancied test criterion of specific identity
must at all events be given up, and with it goes also the pretended
real existence of the species, in contradistinction from the mode of
existence of genera, families, orders, elapses, and types; for what
really exists are individuals, not species." (pp. 166-167.)
Chapter Third is headed, "Notice of the principal systems of Zoology."
It is divided into the six following sections: General remarks upon
modern systems; Early attempts to classify animals; Period of Linnaeus;
Period of Cuvier, and Anatomical systems; Physiophilosophical systems;
This chapter is invaluable to the general student, as giving him in
a single view not only a _conspectus_, of the most important
attempts at classification in Zoology, but an examination of the
principles involved in each, by the one among all living men most
fitted to perform the task. No cultivated person who desires to know
anything of Natural Science can pass over this portion of the work
without careful study. Those who are not prepared to follow the
author through the details of the Second Part will yet consider
these volumes as indispensable companions for reference, as
containing this brief but comprehensive encyclopedia and commentary,
covering the whole philosophical machinery of zoological science.
For the first section of this chapter Mr. Agassiz adopts the
fundamental divisions (branches) of Cuvier, introducing such changes
among the classes and orders as the progress of science demands. The
second section gives a short account of the early attempts to
classify animals, more particularly of the divisions established by
Aristotle. The third section embraces the period of Linnaeus, and
gives his classification. The fourth, that of Cuvier, and Anatomical
systems, with the classifications of Cuvier, Lamark, De Blainville,
Ehrenberg, Burmeister, Owen, Milne-Edwards, Von Siebold and Stannius,
Leuckart. The fifth section includes the Physiophilosophical systems,
with diagrams of Oken's and Fitzinger's classifications, and a
special article for the circular groups of McLeay. The sixth and last
section is devoted to Embryological systems, and presents diagrams
of the classifications of Von Baer, Van Beneden, Koelliker, and Vogt.
The second part of the Monograph introduces us to the consideration
of a special subject of Natural History,--the North American
Testudinata. Its three chapters treat successively of this order of
Reptiles,--of its families,--of its North American genera and species.
The THIRD PART, contained in the second volume, is entitled,
"Embryology of the Turtle." It consists of two chapters: "Development
of the Egg, from its first appearance to the formation of the embryo."
"Development of the Embryo, from the time the egg leaves the ovary
to that of the hatching of the young." Then follow the explanation
of the plates and the plates themselves, thirty-four in number.
We need not attempt to give any account of the parts devoted to the
development of these particular subjects. This we must necessarily
leave to the journals devoted to scientific matters, and the class
of students most intimate with these departments of Natural Science.
Yet the American who asks for a model to work by in his
investigations will find a great deal more than the "North American
Testudinata" in the part to which that title is prefixed. The
principles of classification exemplified, the methods of description
illustrated, the rules of nomenclature tested,--what matter is it
whether the _gran maestro_ has chosen this or that string to play
the air upon, when each has compass enough for all its melody?
Still more forcibly does this comment apply to the elaborate and
ample division of the work embracing the Embryology of the Turtle.
He who has mastered the details of this section has at his feet the
whole broad realm of which this province holds one of the
key-fortresses. _Ex testudine naturam_.
We are unwilling to speak of the illustrations comparatively
without more extended means of judgment than we have at hand. But
that they are of superlative excellence, brilliant, delicate,
accurate, life-like, and nature-like, is what none will dispute.
Look at these turtles, models of real-estate owners as they are,
Observe No. 13, Plate IV.,--"Chelydra Serpentina,"--"snapper",
or "snappin' turtle," in the vernacular. He is out collecting
rents from the naked-skinned reptiles, his brethren; in default
thereof, taking the bodies of the aforesaid. Or behold No. 5, Plate
VI. bewailing the wretchedness of those who have no roofs to cover
them. Or No. 2, of the same plate, bestowing in archiepiscopal
benediction on the houseless multitudes, before he retires for the
night to slumber between his tessellated floor and his frescoed
Of the smooth, white eggs, with their rounded reliefs and tenderly
graduated light and shadow, all eyes are judges. But of the
exquisite figures showing the various stages of development and the
details of structural arrangement, the uninitiated must take the
opinions of a microscopic expert: and if they will accept our
testimony as that of one not unfamiliar with the instrument and the
mysteries it reveals, we can assure them that these figures are of
supreme excellence. The hazy semitransparency of the embryonic
tissues, the halos, the granules, the globules, the cell-walls, the
delicate membranous expansions, the vascular webs, are expressed
with purity, softness, freedom, and a conscientiousness which
reminds us of Donne's microscopic daguerreotypes, while in many
points the views are literally truer to nature,--just as a
sculptor's bust of a living person is often more really like him in
character than a cast moulded on his features.
We have attempted to give a slight idea of the contents of these two
volumes, in the compass of a few pages. We have called the reader's
attention to various points of special interest, as we were going
along. It remains to make such comments as suggest themselves to us,
either in our character of "the scholiast," or in our own right as a
freed citizen of the intellectual as well as the political republic.
WHENCE? WHY? WHITHER? These are the three great questions that arise
in the soul of every race and of every thinking being. He who looks
at either of them with the least new light, though he whisper what
he sees ever so softly, has the world to listen to him. No matter
how he got his knowledge nor what he calls it; it belongs to mankind.
But "Science" has been mainly engaged with another question, in
itself of very inferior interest, namely, _How?_
We must be permitted to speak of "Science" in our freest capacity,
and will endeavor not to abuse our liberty. The study of natural
phenomena for the sake of the pleasing variety of aspects they
present, for the delight of collecting curious specimens, for the
exercise of ingenuity in detecting the secret methods of Nature, for
the gratification of arranging facts or objects in regular series, is
an innocent and not a fruitless pursuit. Many persons are born with
a natural instinct for it, and with special aptitudes which may even
constitute a kind of genius. We should do honor to such power
wherever we find it; honor according to its kind and its degree; but
not affix the wrong label to it. Those who possess it acquire
knowledge sometimes so extensive and uncommon that we regard them
with a certain admiration. But knowledge is not wisdom. Unless these
narrow trains of ideas are brought into relation with other and
wider ranges of thought, or with the conduct of life, they cannot
aspire to that loftier name.
We must go farther than this. The study of the _How?_ in Nature, or
the simple observation of phenomena, is often used as an opiate to
quiet the higher faculties. There can be no question of the fact
that many persons pass much of their lives working in the in-door or
out-door laboratories of science, just as old women knit, just as
prisoners carve quaintly elaborate toys in their dungeons. The
product is not absolutely useless in either case; the fingers of the
body or of the mind become swift and cunning, but the soul does not
grow under such culture. We are willing to allow that many of those
who browse in the sleepy meadows of aimless observation,--loving to
keep their heads down as they gaze at and gather their narcotic herbs,
rather than lift them to the horizon beyond or the heaven above,--
act in obedience to the law of their limited natures. Still, let us
recognize the limitation, and not forget that the pursuit which may
be fitting and praiseworthy toil for one class of minds may be
ignoble indolence for another. We must remember, on the other hand,
that, however humble may be the intellectual position of the man of
science or knowledge, in distinction from wisdom, the results of his
labors may be of the highest importance. The most ignorant laborer
may get a stone out of the quarry, and the poorest slave unearth a
diamond. These intellectual artisans come to their daily task with
hypertrophied special organs, fitted to their peculiar craft. Some
of them are all eyes; some, all hands; some are self-recording
microscopes; others, self-registering balances. If a man would watch
a thermometer every hour of the day and night for ten years, and
give a table of his observations, the result would be of interest
and value. But the bulbous extremity of the instrument would
probably contain as much thought at the end of the ten years as that
of the observer.
Clearly, then, "Science" does not properly belong to "scientific" men,
unless they happen also to be wise ones; not more to them than honey
to bees, or books to printers. The bee _may_, certainly, feed on the
honey he has made, and the printer read the books he has put in type.
But _Vos non vobis_ is the rule. "Science" is knowledge, it is true,
but knowledge disarticulated and parcelled out among certain
specialists, like Truth in Milton's glorious comparison. He who can
restore each part to its true position, and orient the lesser whole
in its relations to the universe, he it is to whom science belongs.
He must range through all time and follow Nature to her farthest
bounds. Then he can dissect beetles like Straus Derekheim, without
becoming a myope. But even this is not enough. Let us see what
qualities would go to make up the ideal model of the truly wise
student of Nature.
He must have, in the first place, as the substratum of his faculties,
the power of observation, with the passion that keeps it active and
the skilful hand to serve its needs. Secondly, a quick eye for
resemblances and differences. Thirdly, a wide range of mental vision.
Fourthly, the coordinating or systematizing faculty. Fifthly, a
large scholarship. Lastly, and without which all these gifts fall
short of their ultimate aim, an instinct for the highest forms of
truth,--a centripetal tendency, always seeking the idea behind the
form, the Deity in his manifestations, and thence working outward
again to solve those infinite problems of life and its destinies
which are, in reality, all that the thinking soul most lives for.
It is as easy to find all these qualities separate as it is to turn
beneath the finger one of the letters of a revolving padlock. But
they must all be brought together in line before the grand portals
of Nature's hypaethral temple will open to her chosen student. How
incomplete the man of science is with only one or two of these
endowments may be seen by a few examples.
The power and instinct of observation combined with the most
consummate skill do not necessarily make a great philosophical
naturalist. Leeuwenhoek had all these. They bore admirable fruits,
too. We cannot but read the old man's letters to the Royal Society,
written, if we remember right, after the age of eighty, with delight
and admiration. Those little lenses in their silver mountings, all
ground and set and fashioned by his own hand, showed him the
blood-globules, and the "pipes" of the teeth, which Purkinje and
Retzius found with their achromatic microscopes a century later. We
honor his skill and sagacity as they deserve; but a little trick of
Mr. Dollond's, applied to the microscopic object-glass, has left all
his achievements a mere matter of curious history.
Few have been more remarkable for perceiving resemblances and
differences than Oken. This is the poetical side of the scientific
mind; and he shares with Goethe the honor of that startling and
far-reaching discovery, the vertebral character of the bones of the
cranium. At this very time the four vertebral cranial bones
recognized by Owen are the same Oken has described. But
notwithstanding the generous tribute of Mr. Agassiz to his great
merits, the writer who assigns special colors to the persons in the
Trinity, (red, blue, and green,) and then allots to Satan a
constituent of one of these, (yellow,) has drifted away from the
solid anchorage of observation into the shoreless waste of the inane,
if not amidst the dark abysses of the profane.
If the widest range of mental vision, joined, too, with great
learning, could make a successful student of Nature, Lord Bacon
should have stood by the side of Linnaeus. But open the "Sylva
Sylvarum" anywhere and see what Bacon was as a naturalist. "It was
observed in the _Great Plague_ of the last yeare, that there were
scene in divers _Ditches_ and low _Grounds_ about _London_, many
_Toads_ that had _Tailes_, two or three inches long, at the least:
Whereas _Toads_ (usually) have no Tailes at all. Which argueth a
great disposition to _Putrefaction_ in the _Soile_ and _Aire_." This
in that "great birth of time," the "Instauration of the Sciences"!
The systematizing or coordinating power is worse than nothing,
unless it be supported by the other qualities already mentioned.
Darwin had it, and something of what is called genius with it; but
where is now the "Zooenomia"?
And what is erudition without the power to correct errors by
appealing to Nature, to arrange methodically, to use wisely? It
would be a shame to mention any name in illustration of its
insignificance. Our shelves bend and crack under the load of unwise
and learned authorship. There are two stages in every student's life.
In the first he is afraid of books; in the second books are afraid
of him. For they are a great community of thieves, and one finds the
same stolen patterns in all their pockets. Though often dressed in
sheep's clothing, they have the maw of wolves. When the student has
once found them out, he laughs at the pretensions of erudition, and
strides gayly up and down great libraries, feeling that the most
blustering folio of them all will turn as pale as if it were bound
in law-calf, if he only lay his hand on its shoulder.
Nor, lastly, can any elevation of aim, any thirst for the divine
springs of knowledge, enable a man to dispense with the sober habits
of observation and the positive acquirements that must give him the
stamina to attempt the higher flights of thought. The eagle's wings
are nothing without his pectoral muscles. It is not Swedenborg and
his disciples that legislate for the scientific world; they may
suggest truth, but they rarely prove it, and never bring it into
such systematic forms as narrow-minded Nature will insist on laying
That all these qualities which go to make up our ideal should exist
in absolute perfection in any single man of mortal birth is not to
be expected. But there are names in the history of Science which
recall so imposing a combination of these several gifts, that,
comparing the men who bore them with the civilization of their time,
we can hardly conceive that uninspired intellect should come nearer
the imaginary standard. Such a man was Aristotle. The slender and
close-shaven fop, with the showy mantle on his ungraceful person and
the costly rings on his fingers, who hung on the lips of Plato for
twenty years, and trained the boy of Macedon to whatever wisdom he
possessed,-whose life was set by destiny between the greatest of
thinkers and the greatest of conquerors,--seems to have borrowed the
intellect of the one and the universal aspirations of the other. But
because he invaded every realm of knowledge, it must not be thought
he dealt with Nature at second-hand. He was a collector and a
dissector. He could display the anatomical structure of a fish as
well as write a treatise on the universe or on rhetoric, or
government or logic, or music or mathematics. Dethroned we call him;
and yet Mr. Agassiz quotes his descriptions with respect, and
confesses that the systematic classification of animals makes but
one stride from Aristotle to Linnaeus.
Cuvier was such a man. Alone, and unapproached in his own spheres of
knowledge, his "Report on the Progress of the Natural Sciences" is
only an index to the wide range of his intellect. In one point,
however, we must own that he seems slow of apprehension or limited
by preconceived opinions,--in his reception of the homologies pointed
out by Oken and the Physiophilosophical observers.
In the same range of intellects we should reckon Linnaeus and
Humboldt, and should have reckoned Goethe, had he given himself to
We do not assume to say where in the category of fully equipped
intelligences Mr. Agassiz belongs. But if the union of the most
extraordinary observing powers with an almost poetic perception of
analogies, with a wide compass of thought, the classifying instinct
and habit, large knowledge of books, and personal intimacy with the
leaders in various departments of knowledge, and with this the
upward-looking aspect of mind and heart, which is the crowning gift
of all,--if the union of these qualities can give to the man of
science a claim to the nobler name of wisdom, it is not flattery,
but justice, to award this distinction to Mr. Agassiz.
To him, then, we listen, when, after having sounded every note in
the wide gamut of Nature, after reading the story of life as it
stands written in the long series of records reaching from Cambrian
fossils to ovarian germs, after tracing the divine principle of
order from the starlike flower at his feet to the flower-like circle
of planets which spreads its fiery corolla, in obedience to the same
simple law that disposes the leaves of the growing plant,--as our
eminent mathematician tells us,--he relates in simple and
reverential accents the highest truths he has learned in traversing
God's mighty universe. For him, and such as him,--for us, too, if we
read wisely,--the toiling slaves of science, often working with
little consciousness of the full proportions of the edifice they are
helping to construct, have spent their busy lives. All knowledge
asserts its true dignity when once brought into relation with the
grand end of knowledge,--a wider and deeper view of the significance
of conscious and unconscious created being, and the character of its
We shall close this article with some remarks upon the great
doctrines that dominate all the manifold subordinate thoughts which
fill these crowded pages. The plan of creation, Mr. Agassiz maintains,
"has not grown out of the necessary action of physical laws, but was
the free conception of the Almighty Intellect, matured in his
thought before it was manifested in tangible, external forms."
Before Mr. Agassiz, before Linnaeus, before Aristotle, before Plato,
Timaeus the Locrian spake; the original, together with the version
we cite, is given with the Plato of Ficinus:--"Duas esse rerum
omnium causas: mentem quidem, earum quae ratione quadam nascuntur, et
necessitatem, earum quae existunt vi quadam, secundum corporum
potentias et faculitates. Harrum rerum, id est, Natunae bonorum,
optimum esse quoddam rerum optimarum principium, et Deum vocari....
Esse praeterea in hac Naturae universitate quiddam quod maneat et
intelligible sit, rerum genitarum, quae quidem in perpetuo quodam
mutationum fluxu versantur, exemplar, Ideam dici et mente comprehendi....
Permanet igitur mundus constanter talis qualis est creatus a Deo ...
proponente sibi non exemplaria quaedam manuum opificio edita, sed
illam Ideam intelligibilemque essentiam."--So taught the
half-inspired pagan philosopher whom Plato took as his guide in his
contemplations of Nature.
We trace the thought again in Dante, amidst the various fragments of
ancient wisdom which he has embodied in the "Divina Commedia":
Cio che non muore e cio che puo morire
Non e se non splendor cli quella idea
Che partorisco, amando, il nosfro Sire.
----_Paradiso_, XIII. 52-54.
Two thousand years after the old Greek had written, the Christian
philosopher, Sir Thomas Browne, repeats the same doctrine in a new
phraseology:--"_Before Abraham was, I am_, is the saying of Christ;
yet it is true in some sense, if I say it of myself; for I was not
only before myself, but _Adam_, that is, in the idea of God, and the
decree of that Synod held from all eternity. And in this sense, I say,
the World was before the Creation, and at an end before it had a
beginning; and thus was I dead before I was alive; though my grave be
_England_, my dying place was Paradise; and Eve miscarried of me
before she conceived of Cain."
The slender reed through which Philosophy breathed her first musical
whisperings is laid by, and the sacred lyre of Theology is silent or
little heeded. But the mighty organ of Modern Science with its
hundred stops, each answering to some voice of Nature, takes up the
pausing strain, and as we listen we recognize through all its
mingling harmonies the simple, sublime, eternal melody that came
from the lips of Timaens the Locrian! The same doctrine reappears in
various forms: in the popular works of Derham and Paloy and the
Bridgewater Treatises; in the learned and thoughtful pages of Burdach,
and in the mystical rhapsodies of Oken. But never, we believe, was
it before enforced and illustrated by so imperial a survey of the
whole domain of Natural Science as in the volumes before us.
We are not disposed to discuss at any length the opinion maintained
by Mr. Agassiz, that life has not grown out of the necessary action
of the physical laws. If we accept the customary definitions of the
physical laws, we accede most cordially to his proposition. As
opposed to the fancies of Epicurus and his poet, Lucretius, or to
modern atheistic doctrines of similar character, we have no
qualification or condition to suggest which might change its force
or significance. When we remember that the genius of such a man as
Laplace shared the farthest flight of star-eyed science only to
"waft us back the tidings of despair," we are thankful that so
profound a student of Nature as Mr. Agassiz has tracked the warm
foot-prints of Divinity throughout all the vestiges of creation.
There is danger, however, that, in accepting this doctrine as a truth,
we may be led into an inexact conception of the so-called physical
laws, unless we closely examine the sense in which we use the
expression. The forces which act according to these laws, and the
various forms of the so-called _matter_, or concrete forces, are
often spoken of as if they were blind agencies and existences, acting
by an inherent fate-like power of their own. But if everything
outside of our consciousness resolves itself, in the last analysis,
into force, or something capable of producing change, and if force
existing by the will of an omniscient and omnipresent Being, to whom
time has no absolute significance, is simply God himself in action,
then we shall find it impossible to limit the causal agency of the
physical forces. All we can say is, that commonly they appear to
move in certain rectilinear paths, in which they manifest a degree
of uniformity and precision so amazing that we are lost in the
infinite intelligence they display,--unless we become perfectly
stupid to it, and think, as in the old fable, there is no music in
it because we are made deaf by its continued harmony. No single leaf
ever made a mistake in falling, though in so doing it solved more
problems than were ever held in all the libraries that have changed
or are changing into dust or ashes.
We are willing to accept the belief of Mr. Agassiz, "that matter
does not exist as such, but is everywhere and always a specific thing,
as are all finite beings." But we must extend the same idea to the
physical forces, and believe them to be specific agencies, and their
acts specific acts,--in other words, each one of them a Divine
manifestation. Theology is close upon us in these speculations.
"Perhaps," says Mr. Robertson, in the volume of admirable sermons
just republished, "even the Eternal himself is more closely bound to
his works than our philosophical systems have conceived. Perhaps
matter is only a mode of thought." Looking, then, at our recognized
forms of matter and physical force as expressions of a self-limiting
omnipotence, we concede that the uniform lines of action in which
human observation has hitherto traced them do not, and, so far as we
can see, cannot, shape the curves of the simplest organism.
It is time for us to close these volumes, to which we cannot even
hope to have done justice, and leave them to those graver tribunals
that will in due season award their well-weighed decisions. We have
taken the Master's hand, and followed Nature through all her paths of
life. We have trod with him the shores of old oceans that roll no
more, and traced the Providence that orders the creation of to-day
engraved in every stony feature of their obsolete organisms. We have
broken into that mysterious chamber, the chosen studio of the
Infinite Artist, where, beneath its marble or crystalline dome, he
fashions the embryo from its formless fluids. And as we turn
reluctantly away, the accents we have once already heard linger with
us: "In one word, all these facts in their natural connection
proclaim aloud the One God, whom man may know, adore, and love; and
Natural History must, in good time, become the analysis of the
thoughts of the Creator of the Universe, as manifested in the animal
and vegetable kingdoms."
TACKING SHIP OFF SHORE
The weather leech of the topsail shivers,
The bowlines strain and the lee shrouds slacken,
The braces are taut, the lithe boom quivers,
And the waves with the coming squall-cloud blacken.
Open one point on the weather bow
Is the light-house tall on Fire Island head;
There's a shade of doubt on the captain's brow,
And the pilot watches the heaving lead.
I stand at the wheel and with eager eye
To sea and to sky and to shore I gaze,
Till the muttered order of "FULL AND BY!"
Is suddenly changed to "FULL FOR STAYS!"
The ship bends lower before the breeze,
As her broadside fair to the blast she lays;
And she swifter springs to the rising seas,
As the pilot calls, "STAND BY FOR STAYS!"
It is silence all, as each in his place,
With the gathered coils in his hardened hands,
By tack and bowline, by sheet and brace,
Waiting the watchword impatient stands.
And the light on Fire Island head draws near,
As, trumpet-winged, the pilot's shout
From his post on the bowsprit's heel I hear,
With the welcome call of "READY! ABOUT!"
No time to spare! It is touch and go,
And the captain growls, "DOWN HELM! HARD DOWN!"
As my weight on the whirling spokes I throw,
While heaven grows black with the storm-cloud's frown.
High o'er the knight-heads flies the spray,
As we meet the shock of the plunging sea;
And my shoulder stiff to the wheel I lay,
As I answer, "AYE, AYE, SIR! HA-A-R-D A-LEE!"
With the swerving leap of a startled steed
The ship flies fast in the eye of the wind,
The dangerous shoals on the lee recede,
And the headland white we have left behind.
The topsails flutter, the jibs collapse
And belly and tug at the groaning cleats,
The spanker slats, and the mainsail flaps,
And thunders the order, "TACKS AND SHEETS!"
'Mid the rattle of blocks and the tramp of the crew,
Hisses the rain of the rushing squall;
The sails are aback from clew to clew,
And now is the moment for "MAINSAIL, HAUL!"
And the heavy yards like a baby's toy
By fifty strong arms are swiftly swung;
She holds her way, and I look with joy
For the first white spray o'er the bulwarks flung.
"LET GO AND HAUL!" 'Tis the last command,
And the head-sails fill to the blast once more;
Astern and to leeward lies the land,
With its breakers white on the shingly shore.
What matters the reef, or the rain, or the squall?
I steady the helm for the open sea;
The first mate clamors, "BELAY THERE, ALL!"
And the captain's breath once more comes free.
And so off shore let the good ship fly;
Little care I how the gusts may blow,
In my fo'castle-bunk in a jacket dry,--
Eight bells have struck, and my watch is below
THROUGH THE COSSITOLLAH KALEIDOSCOPE.
Under my window, in the street called Cossitollah, flows all the
motliness of a Calcutta thoroughfare in two counter-setting currents;--
one Chowriagee-ward, in the direction of Nabob magnificence and grace;
the other toward the Cooly squalor and deformity of the Radda Bazaar;--
and as, in the glare of the early forenoon sun, the shadows of the
hither or thither passing throngs fall straight across the way, from
the Parsee's _godown_, over against me, to the gate of the _pucca_
house wherein my look-out is, I watch with interest the frequent
eddies occasioned by the clear-steerings of caste,--Brahmin, Warrior,
and Merchant keeping severely to the Parsee side, so that the foul
shadow of Soodra or Pariah may not pollute their sacred persons. It
is as though my window were a tower of Allahabad, and below me, in
Cossitollah, were the shy meeting of the waters. Thus, looking up or
down, I mark how the limpid Jumna of high caste holds its way in a
common bed, but never mingling with the turbid Ganges of an unclean
Reader, should you ever "do" the City of Palaces, permit me to
commend with especial emphasis to your consideration this same
Cossitollah, as a representative street, wherein the European and
Asiatic elements of the Calcutta panorama are mingled in the most
picturesque proportions; for Cossitollah is the link that most
directly joins the pitiful benightedness of the Black Town to the
imposing splendors of Kumpnee Bahadoor,--the short, but stubborn
chain of responsibility, as it were, whereby the ball of helpless
and infatuated stock-and-stone-worship is fastened to the leg of
British enlightenment and accountability.
From the Midaun, or Parade Ground, with its long-drawn arrays of
Sepoy chivalry, its grand reviews before the _Burra Lard Sahib_,
(as in domestic Bengalee we designate the Governor-General,) its
solemn sham battles, and its welkin-rending regimental bands, by
whose brass and sheepskin God saves the Queen twice a day; from
Government House, with its historic pride, pomp, and circumstance,
and its red tape, its aides-de-camp, and its adjutant-birds, its
stirring associations, and its stupid architecture; from the
pensioned aristocracy of Chowringhee the Magnificent; from the
carnival concourse of the Esplanade, with its kaleidoscopic surprises;
from the grim patronage of Fort William, with its in-every-department
well-regulated fee-faw-fum; in fine, from Clive, and Hastings, and
Wellington, and Gough, and Hardinge, and Napier, and Bentinck, and
Ellenborough, and Dalhousie, and all the John Company that has come
of them; from the tremendous and overwhelming SAHIB, to that most
profoundly abject of human objects, the Hindoo PARIAH, (who
approaches thee, O Awful Being! O Benign Protector of the Poor! O
Writer in the Salt-and-Opium Office! on his hands and knees, and
with a wisp of grass in his mouth, to denote that he is thy beast,)--
from all those to this, the shortest cut is through Cossitollah.
And so, in the current of its passengers, partaking the
characteristics of its contrasted extremities, fantastically blending
the purple and fine linen of Chowringhee with the breech-cloths of
the Black Town, Cossitollah is, as I have said, preeminently the
type street of Calcutta. Other localities have their peculiar throngs,
and certain classes and castes are proper to certain thoroughfares;--
Sepoys and dogboys to the Midaun; _circars_ or clerks, and
_ chowkeydars_ or private police, to Tank Square; a world of
pampered women, fat civil servants, coachmen, _ayahs_ or nurses,
_durwans_ or doorkeepers, _cha-prasseys_ or messengers, _kitmudgars_
or waiters, to Garden Reach; palanquin-bearers, the smaller fry of
_banyans_ or shopkeepers, and _dandees_ or boatmen, to the Ghauts;
together with no end of coolies, and _bheestees_ or water-carriers,
horse-dealers, and _syces_ or grooms, to Durumtollah; sailors,
British and American, Malay and Lascar, to Flag Street, the quarter
of punch-houses;--but in Cossitollah all castes and vocations are met,
whether their talk be of gold mohurs or cowries; here the Sahib gives
the horrid leper a wide berth, and the Baboo walks carefully round the
shadow of Mehtur, the sweeper. Therefore, reader, Cossitollah is by
all means the street for you to draw profound conclusions from.
Come, let us sit in the window and observe; it is but forty puffs of
a No. 3 cheroot, in a lazy palanquin, from one end of Cossitollah to
the other; and from our window, though not exactly midway, but
nearer the Bazaar, we can see from Flag Street wellnigh to the Midaun.
What is this? A close _palkee_, with a passenger; the bearers, with
elbows sharply crooked, and calves all varicose, trotting to a
monotonous, jerking ditty, which the _sirdar_, or leader, is
impudently improvising, to the refrain of _Putterum_, ("Easy now!")
at the expense of their fare's _amour-propre_.
"Out of the way there!
This is a Rajah!
Very small Rajah!
Holes in his elbows!
Son of a sea-cook!
Hush! he will beat us!
Hush! he will kick us!
Kick us and curse us!
Not he, the greenhorn!
Don't understand us!
Don't know the lingo!
Let's shake the palkee!
Rattle the pig's bones!
Set down the palkee!
Call him a great lord!
Ask him for buksheesh!
And the four consummate knaves do set down the palkee, and shift the
pads on their shoulders; while the sirdar slips round to the
sliding-door, and timidly intruding his sweaty phiz, at an opening
sufficiently narrow to guard his nose against assault from within,
but wide enough to give us a glimpse, through an out-bursting cloud
of cheroot-smoke, of a pair of stout legs encased in white duck,
with the neatest of light pumps at the end of them, says:--
"_Buksheesh do, Sahib! buksheesh do_! O favorite slave of the Lord!
O tender shepherd of the poor! O sublime and beautiful Being, upon
whose turban Prosperity dances and Peace makes her bed! Whose mother
is twin-sister to the Sacred Cow, and whose grandmother is the Lotos
of Seven Virtues! _O Khodabund! buksheesh do_! Bestow upon thy
abject and self-despising slave wherewithal to commemorate the
golden hour when, by a blessed dispensation, he was permitted to lay
his trembling forehead against thy victorious feet!"
"_Jou-jehennum, toom sooa_!--Go to Gehenna, you pig! What are you
bothering about, with your 'boxes,' 'boxes,' nothing but 'boxes'?
Insatiable brutes! _Jou_! I tell you,--_jeldie jou_! or by Doorga,
the goddess of awful rows, I'll smash the palkee and outrage all
your religious prejudices! _Jou_!"
Evidently our varicose friends imagine they have caught a Tartar,
and that the white ducks are not so recent an importation as they at
first supposed; for now they catch up the pole of the palkee nimbly,
and _jou jeldie_ (that is, trot up smartly) to quite another song.
"_Jeldie jou, jeldie_!"
Carry him softly!
Swiftly and smoothly!
He is a Rajah!
Rich little Rajah!
Fierce little Rajah!
See how his eyes flash!
Hear how his voice roars!
He is a Tippoo!
Tremble before him!
Serve him and please him!
Please him and serve him!
He will reward us!
He will protect us!
He will enrich us!
Charity Lord Sa'b!
Out of the way there!
Way for the great ...
Rajah of ten crores!
.... Ten crores!..
.... Lard.... ..
.... ... Sa'b!
And so they have turned down Flag Street.
But what now? Here is something more imposing,--a chariot-and-four,--
four spanking Arabs in gold-mounted trappings,--a fat and elaborate
coachman, 'very solemn,--two tall _hurkarus_, or avant-couriers,
supporting the box, one on either side, with studied symmetry, like
Siva and Vishnu upholding the throne of Brahma,--four _syces_ running
at the horses' heads, each with his _chowree_, or fly-flapper, made
from the tail of the Thibet cow,--a fifth before, to clear the way,--
a basket of _Simpkin_, which is as though one should say Champagne,
behind, and our own _banyan_, our man of contracts and ready lakhs,
that shrewd broker and substantial banker, the Baboo Kalidas Ramaya
Mullick, on the back seat.
"_Hi! Cliattak-wallah! Bheestee!--Hi! hi_!--You chap with the
umbrella, you fellow with the water, clear the way! This Baboo comes,
this Baboo rides,--he stops not, he stays not,--he is rich, he is
honored. Shall a pig impede him? Shall a pig delay him? Jump,
And thus, amid much vociferation, and unceremonious dispersing of the
common herd, who dodge with practised agility right and left, the
fat and elaborate coachman pulls up the spanking Arabs at our
_godown_ gate, and the Baboo alights with the air of a gentleman
of thirty lachs, to the manner born; to him all this outcry is but
_Mamoul_,--usage, custom,--and _Mamoul_ is to him as air.
As the Baboo steps through the wide swinging gate and enters the
place that owns him master, let us mark his reception. The _durwan_
first,--our grenadier doorkeeper, the man of proud port and
commanding presence, to whom that portal is a post of honor,--our
Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, in one, of courage, strength, and
address enlisted with fidelity. The loyalty of Ramee Durwan is
threefold, in this order: first, to his caste, next, to his beard,
and then to his post; only for the two first would he abandon the
last; his life he holds of less account than either.
As the Baboo passes, Ramee Durwan, you think, will be ready with
profound and obsequious salaam. Not so; he draws himself up to the
very last of his extraordinary inches, and touches his forehead
lightly with the fingers of his right hand, only slightly inclining
his head,--a not more than affable salute,--almost with a quality
of concession,--gracious as well as graceful; he would do as much
for any puppy of a cadet who might drop in on the Sahib. On the
other hand, lowly louteth the Baboo, with eyes downcast and palm
applied reverentially to his sleek forehead.
How now? This Baboo is a banyan of solid substance, and the Mullicks
all are citizens of credit and renown; while Ramee Durwan gets five
rupees a month, and makes his bed at the gate. Last year, they say,
when little Dwarkanath Mullick, the Baboo's adopted son, nine years
old, was married to the tender child Vinda, old Lulla Seal's darling,
on her fifth birthday, the Baboo Kalidas Raniaya Mullick made the
occasion famous by liberating fifty prisoners-for-debt, of the
Soodra sort, with as many flourishes of his illustrious signature.
Ramee Durwan has not a change of turbans.
And now the Baboo passes into the godown, and receives from a score
of servile _cicars_, glibbest of clerks, their several reports of
the day's business. Presently, from his low desk, in the lowliest
corner, uprises, and comes forward quietly, Mutty Loll Roy, the head
circar, venerable, placid, pensive, every way interesting; but he is
only the Baboo's head circar, an humble accountant, on fifteen
rupees a month. Do you perceive that fact in the style of his
salutation? Hardly; for the Baboo piously raises his joined hands
high above his head, and, louting lower than before, murmurs the
Orthodox salutation, _Namaskarum_! Yet the Baboo contributed two
thousand rupees in fireworks to the last Doorga Fooja, and sent a
hundred goats to the altar; while only with many and trying shifts
of saving could Mutty Loll afford gold leaf for one image, besides
two tomtoms and a horn to march before it in procession. But behold
the lordly beneficence in Mutty Loll'a attitude and gesture,
as with outstretched hands, palms upward, he greets the Baboo
condescendingly with a gift of goodwill!
"_Idhur ano, Sirdar, idhur ano_!--Come hither, Karlee, my gentle
bearer, thou of the good heart and gray moustache! Come hither, and
enlighten this Sahib's ignorance; tell him why the Durwan is
disdainful, as toward the Baboo, and the Circar solemn."'
"_Man, Sahib_! That Durwan _Ksutriye_, Soldier caste, Rider caste,--
feest-i-rat-i-man (first-rate man); that Durwan have got Rajpoot
blood, ver-iproud, all same Sahib. Baboo, Merchant caste,--
ver-i-good caste, plenty rich, but not so proud Durwan caste; Baboo
not have Rajpoot blood, not have i-sharp i-sword, not have musiket.
Durwan arm all same tiger; Durwan beard all same lion; Durwan plenty
i-strong, plenty proud.
"That Circar,--ah! that Mutty Loll, too, high caste; that Circar
Brahmin,--Kooleen Brahmin,--all same _Swamy_ (god); that Circar
foot all same Baboo head; that Circar shoe all same Baboo turban.
'Spose Baboo not make that Circar _bhote-btote salaam_, that Circar
say curse, that Circar ispeak _jou-jehannam_ (go to hell). Master
und-istand i-me? I ispeak Master so Master know?"
"Very clear, Karlee,--and wholesome expounding. But here comes the
Baboo to speak for himself.--Good-day, Baboo! Whither so fast with
the spanking Arabs and the Simpkin?--to the garden-house?"
"To the garden-house, Sahib; and the Simpkin is for two young
English friends of mine, who will do the garden-house the honor to
make it their own for a day or two."
"Take care, Baboo! take care! I have my doubts as to the Simpkin.
They do say the orthodoxy of 'Young Bengal' men is none the better
for beefsteaks and Heidseck; such diet does not become the son of a
strict and straightgoing heathen. Well may the Brahmins groan for
the glaring scandals of the new lights; you'll be marrying widows
next, and dining at clubs with fast ensigns."
"Sahib, Caste is God, and Mamoul is his prophet. The church of the
Churruck post and the orgies of Hooly are in no danger from beef or
Simpkin so long as steak or bottle costs a man his inheritance; and
we of Young Bengal know too well how hard are the ways of the Pariah
to try them for fun. Caste is God, and Mamoul is his prophet. The
'glad tidings of great joy' your missionaries bring fall upon ears
stopped with family pride and the family jewels: you know that
appropriate old saw in our proverbial philosophy, 'What is the news
of the day to a frog in a well?'--_Salaam, Sahib_! I have but a few
minutes to spare, and the supercargo is waiting with the indigo
Presently, as the Cossitollah panorama flows on beneath our window,
with all its bizarreness from the bazaars,--its boxwallahs, and its
pawn-makers, its peddlers of toys, its money-changers and shopmen,
its basket-makers and mat-weavers and chattah-menders, its
perambulating cobblers and tailors, its jugglers, gymnasts, and
match-girls,--its fellows who feed on glass bottles for the
astonishment and delectation of the Sahibs, or who, if you have such
a thing as a sheep about you, will undertake to slaughter and skin
it with their teeth and devour it on the spot,--its conjure-wallahs,
who, for a few pice, will run sharp foils through each other's bodies
without for a moment disturbing either health or cheerfulness, or
will make mangoes grow under table-cloths, "all fair and proper,"
while Master waits,--as the Brahmin still dodges the shadow of the
Soodra, and the Soodra spits upon the footprint of the Pariah, the
Baboo returns to his chariot; the fat and solemn coachman gathers up
the reins, the burkarus assume their symmetrical attitudes on the box,
the syces bawl, and the socas jump.
Just now a _palkee-gharree_, cheapest of one-horse vehicles, with
but one half-naked syce running at the pony's head, and never a
footman near, passes the spanking Arabs; the plain turban of a
respectable accountant in the Honorable Company's coal office at
Garden Reach shows between the Venetian slats of the little window,
and lo! our fine Baboo steps out of his slippers, and standing
barefoot in the common dust of Cossitollah,--dust that has been
churned by all the pigs'-feet that ply that promiscuous thoroughfare,--
humbly touches first the vulgar ground and then his elegant turban,
murmuring a pious _Namaskarum_; for the respectable accountant in the
Honorable Company's coal office is, like Mutty Loll, a Kooleen
Brahmin,--only a little more so. Caste is God, and Mamoul is his
At the gate-lodge of the Baboo's garden-house on the Durumtollah
Road, a gray and withered hag, all crippled and leprosied, sits
What may that be?
Be patient; you shall know.
When the Baboo was as yet a youth, his uncle Rajinda, the pride of
the Mullicks, died of cholera, and the administration of the estate
devolved upon our free-thinking Kalidas. Of course there were
mortgages to foreclose, and delinquent debtors to stir up. A certain
small shopkeeper of the China Bazaar was responsible to the concern
for a few thousand rupees, wherewith he had been accommodated by
Uncle Rajinda as a basis for certain operations in seersuckers and
castor-oil, that had yielded no returns. So our Baboo, in a curt
_chit_, (that is, note, or _sheet_ of paper, as near as a Bengalee
can come to the word,) bade the small speculator of China Bazaar
come down forthwith with the rupees.
But, behold you now, "he had paid," he said. "By the Holy Ganges and
the Blessed Cow! by the turban of his father and the veil of his
mother! restitution had been made long ago," the old man said;
"and the soul of Uncle Rajinda, the pride of the Mullicks, had no
reason to be disquieted for the rupees, though the seersuckers had
been but vanity, and the castor-oil vexation of spirit."
"Produce the documents," said the Baboo, with a business-like
impassibility that in Wall Street would have made him a great bear;--
"where are the receipts?"
"My Lord, I know not. Prostrating my unworthy turban beneath the
lovely lilies of your feet, I swear to my _gureeb purwar_, the
destitute-and-humble-protecting lord, by the Holy Water and the
Blessed Cow, by the beard of my father and the veil of my mother,
that I settled the little account long ago!"
That unhappy speculator in seersuckers and castor-oil died in prison,
and a _gooroo_ (that is, a spiritual teacher) feed by the Baboo,
desolated his last hour with the assurance that he should
transmigrate into the bodies of seven generations of _gharree_-horses,
and drag _feringhee_ sailormen, in a state of beer, from the ghauts
to the punch-houses, all his miserable lives.
Now whether or not the unlucky little speculator had in good faith
discharged the debt will, in all the probabilities of human rights
and wrongs, never appear this side of the last trump; for the Holy
Water and the Sacred Cow, his father's beard and his mother's veil,
were not good in law, the documents not forthcoming.
But it is certain that his widow had faith in his integrity; for at
once, with all her sorrows on her head, she sallied forth in quest
of justice; and from Brahmin post to Sahib pillar she went crying,
"See me righted! Against this hard and arrogant Baboo let my wrongs
be redressed, or fear the evil eye of Dookhee the Sorrowful, of
Haranu the Lost!"
But utterly in vain; for the clamor of the Hindoo widow, however
bitterly aggrieved, is but a nuisance, and her accusation insolence.
So in her pitiful outcasting, in all the forlorn loathsomeness of
leprosy, and the shunned squalor of a cripple, she sat down at the
Baboo's gate, to wait for justice till the gods should bestow it,--
till Siva, the Avenger, should behold her, and ask, "Who has done
And who shall challenge her? Who shall bid her move on? Mamoul has
crowned her Queen of Tears, and her sublime patience and appealing
have made a throne of the wayside stone on which she sits; there is
no power so audacious that it would give the word to depose her; her
matted gray locks and her furrowed cheeks, her sunken eyes and her
hungry lips, are her "sacred ashes" of the high caste of Sorrow.
The Brahmin averts his face as he passes, and mutters, "She is as
the flower which is out of reach,--she is dedicated to God." That
insolent official, the Baboo's pampered durwan, sees in her only
Mamoul; he would as soon think of shaving himself as of driving her
away. So, as the Baboo passes in or out through the great gate, the
solemn coachman whips up the spanking Arabs, and the syces bawl
louder than ever, and Kalidas Ramaya Mullick turns away his eyes.
But for all that, the durhna woman heaps dust upon her head, which
he sees, and mutters a weird warning, which he hears; and though the
lawn is wide, and the banian topes are leafy, and a gilded temple,
the family shrine, stands between, and the marble veranda is spacious,
and the state apartments are remote, they do say the shadow of the
durhna woman falls on the iced Simpkin and the steaks, in spite of
_Mootrib i koosh nuwa bigo,
Tazu bu tazu, nou bu nou!
Badue dil koosha bidoh,
Tazu bu tazu, nou bu nou!
Koosh biu sheen bu kilwule
Chung nuwaz-a sa-ute,
Bosu sitan bu kam uz o,
Tazu bu tazu, nou bu nou!_
"Songster sweet, begin the lay,
Ever sweet and ever gay!
Bring the joy-inspiring wine,
Ever fresh and ever fine!
With a heart-alluring lass
Gayly let the moments pass,
Kisses stealing while you may,
Ever fresh and ever gay!"
Now surely she who thus sings should be beautiful, after the Hindoo
type;--that is, she should have the complexion of chocolate and cream;
"her face should be as the full moon, her nose smooth as a flute;
she should have eyes like unto lotuses, and a neck like a pigeon's;
her voice should be soft as the cuckoo's, and her step as the gait
of a young elephant of pure blood." Let us see.
Alas, no! She entertains a set of lazy bearers, smoking the
hubble-bubble around a palanquin as they wait for a fare; and her
buksheesh may be a cowry or two. By no means is she of the
_nautch_-maidens of Lucknow, who were wont to lighten the hours of
debauched majesty between the tiger-fights and the games of leap-frog;
by no means is she ringed as to her fingers or belled as to her toes;
and though she carries her music wherever she goes, she also carries
a shiny brown baby, slung in a canvas tray between her shoulders.
No excessively voluminous folds of gold-embroidered drapery encumber
her supple limbs; but her skirts are of the scantiest, (what Miss Flora
MacFlimsey would call _skimped_,) and pitifully mean as to quality.
By no means have the imperial looms of Benares contributed to her
professional costume a veil of wondrous fineness and a Nabob's price;
but a narrow red strip of some poor cotton stuff crosses her bosom
like a scarf, and leaves exposed too much of the ruins of once
daintier beauties. A string of glass beads, black and red alternate,
are all her jewels,-save one silver bodkin, all forlorn, in her hair,
and a ring of thin gold wire piercing the right nostril, and, with
an effect completely deforming, encircling the lips. Her teeth and
nails are deeply stained, and the darkness of her eyes is enhanced
by artificial shadows.
And so, while that baby-Tantalus, catching glimpses, over the
unveiled shoulder, of the Micawberian fount he cannot reach,
stretches his little brown arms, bites, kicks, and squalls,-while a
small female apprentice, by way of chorus, in costume and gesture
absurdly caricaturing her _prima donna_, (a sort of Cossitollah
marchioness, indeed, for some Dick Swiveller of the Sahibs,) shuffles
rheumatically with her feet, or impotently dislocates her slender
arms, or pounds insanely on a cracked tomtom, or jangles her clumsy
cymbals, while the squatting bearers cry, "_Wah wah!_" and clap
their sweaty hands,-our poor old glee-maiden of Cossitollah strums
her two-stringed guitar, letting the baby slide, and creaks
corkscrewishly her _Chota, chota natchelee_:--
_Badi suba choo boog zuree,
Bar suri kove an puree,
Qassue Hufiz ush bigo
Tazu bu tazu, nou bu nou!_
"Zephyrs, while you gently move
By the mansion of my love,
Softly Hafiz' strains repeat,
Ever new and ever sweet!"
Heaven save the key!
"_Ka munkta_, Bearer?-What is it, my gentle Karlee?"
"_Chittee, Sahib!--chittee_ for Master."
"Note, hey? from whom? let us see!"
Pink paper,-scented with sandal-wood, pah!-embossed, too, with
cornucopias in the corners,-seal motto, _Qui hi?_ ("Who waits?")--
denoting that the bearer is to bring an answer. Now for the inside:
"DEVOTED AND RESPECTFUL SIR:--"
"Insured of your pitiful conduct, your obsequious suppliant, an
eleemosynary lady of decrepit widowhood, throws herself at your
Excellency's mercy feet with two imbecile childrens of various
denominations. For our Heavenly Father's sake, if not inconvenient,--
which we have been beneficently bereaved of other paternal
description,--we humbly present our implorations to your munificent
Excellency, if any small change, to bestow the same, winch it will
be eternally acceptable to said eleemosynary widow of late Colonel
with distinguished medal in Honorable Service, deceased of cholera,
which it was suddenly attacks, and as pretty near destitute. Therefore,
hoping your munificent and respectable Excellency will not order,
being scornful, your pitiful Excellency's durwan to disperse us; but
five rupees, which nothing to Excellency's regards, and our tenacious
gratitude never forget; but kissing Excellency's hands on
indifferent occasions, and throwing at mercy feet with two imbecile,
offsprings of different denominations, I shall ever pray, &c."
"MRS. DIANA, THEODOSIA, COMFORT, GREEN."
"P.S. If not five rupees, two rupees five annas, in name of
Excellency's exalted mother, if quite convenient."
There now! for an imposing structure in the florid style of
half-caste begging-letters, Mrs. Diana Theodosia Comfort Green
flatters herself that is hard to beat.
"'_Qui hi_?'--Karlee, who is at the gate?"
"_Mem Sahib_! one chee-chee woman wanch look see Master, ispeakee
Master buksheesh give; _paunch butcha_ have got."
"_Paunch butcha!--five_ children! why, Karlee, there are but two here.
But remembering, I suppose, that my Excellency has but two 'mercy
feet,' and with an eye to symmetry in the arrangement of the grand
tableau of which she proposes to make me the central figure, she has
made it two 'imbecile offsprings' for the looks of the thing. Do you
know her, Karlee?"
"_Man, Sahib_! too much quentence have got that chee-chee woman; that
chee-chee woman all same dam iscamp; paunch butcha not have got,--
one butcha not have got. Master not give buksheesh; no good that
woman, Karlee think."
"Very well, old man; send her away; tell the durwan to disperse
Mrs. Diana Theodosia Comfort Green; but let him not insult her
decrepit widowhood, nor alarm her imbecile offsprings of various
denominations. For the 'Eurasian' is a great institution, without
which polkas at Coolee Bazaar were not, nor pic-nics _dansantes_ at
But now to tiffin. I smell a smell of curried prawns, and the first
mangoes of the season are fragrant. Buxsoo, the _khansaman_, has
cooled the _isherry-shrob_, as he calls the "green seal," and the
_kilmudgars_ are crying, "_Tiffin, Sahib_!" The Mamoul of meal-time
knows no caste or country.
_Bur zi hyat ky kooree!
Gur nu moodum, mi kooree!
Badu bi koor bu yadi o,
Tazu bu tazu, nou bu nou_!
"Gentle boy, whose silver feet
Nimbly move to cadence sweet,
Fill us quick the generous wine,
Ever fresh and ever fine!"
* * * * *
It is easy to accuse books, and bad ones are easily found, and the
best are but records, and not the things recorded; and certainly
there is dilettanteism enough, and books that are merely neutral and
do nothing for us. In Plato's "Gorgias," Socrates says, "The
ship-master walks in a modest garb near the sea, after bringing his
passengers from Aegina or from Pontus, not thinking he has done
anything extraordinary, and certainly knowing that his passengers are
the same, and in no respect better than when he took them on board."
So is it with books, for the most part; they work no redemption in us.
The bookseller might certainly know that his customers are in no
respect better for the purchase and consumption of his wares. The
volume is dear at a dollar, and, after reading to weariness the
lettered backs, we leave the shop with a sigh, and learn, as I did,
without surprise, of a surly bank-director, that in bank parlors
they estimate all stocks of this kind as rubbish.
But it is not less true that there are books which are of that
importance in a man's private experience, as to verify for him the
fables of Cornelius Agrippa, of Michael Scott, or of the old Orpheus
of Thrace; books which take rank in our life with parents and lovers
and passionate experiences, so medicinal, so stringent, so
revolutionary, so authoritative; books which are the work and the
proof of faculties so comprehensive, so nearly equal to the world
which they paint, that, though one shuts them with meaner ones, he
feels his exclusion from them to accuse his way of living.
Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library. A company of
the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil
countries, in a thousand years, have set in best order the results
of their learning and wisdom. The men themselves were hid and
inaccessible, solitary, impatient of interruption, fenced by
etiquette; but the thought which they did not uncover to their bosom
friend is here written out in transparent words to us, the strangers
of another age.
We owe to books those general benefits which come from high
intellectual action. Thus, I think, we often owe to them the
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