The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. I., No. 3, January 1858
Part 4 out of 5
perception of immortality. They impart sympathetic activity to the
moral power. Go with mean people, and you think life is mean. Then
read Plutarch, and the world is a proud place, peopled with men of
positive quality, with heroes and demigods standing around us who
will not let us sleep. Then, they address the imagination; only
poetry inspires poetry. They become the organic culture of the time.
College education is the reading of certain books which the common
sense of all scholars agrees will represent the science already
accumulated. If you know that,--for instance, in geometry, if you
have read Euclid and Laplace,--your opinion has some value; if you
do not know these, you are not entitled to give any opinion on the
subject. Whenever any skeptic or bigot claims to be heard on the
questions of intellect and morals, we ask if he is familiar with the
books of Plato, where all his pert objections have once for all been
disposed of. If not, he has no right to our time. Let him go and
find himself answered there.
Meantime, the colleges, whilst they provide us with libraries,
furnish no professor of books; and, I think, no chair is so much
wanted. In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear
friends, but they are imprisoned by an enchanter in these paper and
leathern boxes; and though they know us, and have been waiting two,
ten, or twenty centuries for us,--some of them,--and are eager to
give us a sign, and unbosom themselves, it is the law of their limbo
that they must not speak until spoken to; and as the enchanter has
dressed them like battalions of infantry in coat and jacket of one
cut, by the thousand and ten thousand, your chance of hitting on the
right one is to be computed by the arithmetical rule of Permutation
and Combination,--not a choice out of three caskets, but out of half
a million caskets, all alike. But it happens in our experience, that
in this lottery there are at least fifty or a hundred blanks to a
prize. It seems, then, as if some charitable soul, after losing a
great deal of time among the false books, and alighting upon a few
true ones which made him happy and wise, would do a right act in
naming those which have been bridges or ships to carry him safely
over dark morasses and barren oceans, into the heart of sacred cities,
into palaces and temples. This would be best done by those great
masters of books who from time to time appear,--the Fabricii, the
Seldens, Magliabecchis, Scaligers, Mirandolas, Bayles, Johnsons,
whose eyes sweep the whole horizon of learning. But private readers,
reading purely for love of the book, would serve us by leaving each
the shortest note of what he found.
There are books, and it is practicable to read them, because they
are so few. We look over with a sigh the monumental libraries of
Paris, of the Vatican, and the British Museum. In the Imperial
Library at Paris, it is commonly said, there are six hundred
thousand volumes, and nearly as many manuscripts; and perhaps the
number of extant printed books may be as many as these numbers united,
or exceeding a million. It is easy to count the number of pages
which a diligent man can read in a day, and the number of years
which human life in favorable circumstances allows to reading; and
to demonstrate, that, though he should read from dawn till dark, for
sixty years, he must die in the first alcoves. But nothing can be
more deceptive than this arithmetic, where none but a natural method
is really pertinent. I visit occasionally the Cambridge Library, and
I can seldom go there without renewing the conviction that the best
of it all is already within the four walls of my study at home. The
inspection of the catalogue brings me continually back to the few
standard writers who are on every private shelf; and to these it can
afford only the most slight and casual additions. The crowds and
centuries of books are only commentary and elucidation, echoes and
weakeners of these few great voices of Time.
The best rule of reading will be a method from nature, and not a
mechanical one of hours and pages. It holds each student to a
pursuit of his native aim, instead of a desultory miscellany. Let
him read what is proper to him, and not waste his memory on a crowd
of mediocrities. As whole nations have derived their culture from a
single book,--as the Bible has been the literature as well as the
religion of large portions of Europe,--as Hafiz was the eminent
genius of the Persians, Confucius of the Chinese, Cervantes of the
Spaniards; so, perhaps, the human mind would be a gainer, if all the
secondary writers were lost,--say, in England, all but Shakspeare,
Milton, and Bacon, through the profounder study so drawn to those
wonderful minds. With this pilot of his own genius, let the
student read one, or let him read many, he will read advantageously.
Dr. Johnson said, "Whilst you stand deliberating which book your son
shall read first, another boy has read both: read anything five
hours a day, and you will soon be learned."
Nature is much our friend in this matter. Nature is always
clarifying her water and her wine. No filtration can be so perfect.
She does the same thing by books as by her gases and plants. There
is always a selection in writers, and then a selection from the
selection. In the first place, all books that get fairly into the
vital air of the world were written by the successful class, by the
affirming and advancing class, who utter what tens of thousands feel,
though they cannot say. There has already been a scrutiny and choice
from many hundreds of young pens, before the pamphlet or political
chapter which you read in a fugitive journal comes to your eye. All
these are young adventurers, who produce their performance to the
wise ear of Time, who sits and weighs, and ten years hence out of a
million of pages reprints one. Again it is judged, it is winnowed by
all the winds of opinion, and what terrific selection has not passed
on it, before it can be reprinted after twenty years, and reprinted
after a century!--it is as if Minos and Rhadamanthus had indorsed
the writing. 'Tis therefore an economy of time to read old and famed
books. Nothing can be preserved which is not good; and I know
beforehand that Pindar, Martial, Terence, Galen, Kepler, Galileo,
Bacon, Erasmus, More, will be superior to the average intellect. In
contemporaries, it is not so easy to distinguish betwixt notoriety
Be sure, then, to read no mean books. Shun the spawn of the press on
the gossip of the hour. Do not read what you shall learn without
asking, in the street and the train. Dr. Johnson said, "he always
went into stately shops"; and good travellers stop at the best hotels;
for, though they cost more, they do not cost much more, and there is
the good company and the best information. In like manner, the
scholar knows that the famed books contain, first and last, the best
thoughts and facts. Now and then, by rarest luck, in some foolish
Grub Street is the gem we want. But in the best circles is the best
information. If you should transfer the amount of your reading day
by day in the newspaper to the standard authors,--but who dare speak
of such a thing?
The three practical rules, then, which I have to offer, are,
1. Never read any book that is not a year old.
2. Never read any but famed books.
3. Never read any but what you like; or, in Shakespeare's phrase,
"No profit goes where is no pleasure ta'en;
In brief, Sir, study what you most affect."
Montaigne says, "Books are a languid pleasure"; but I find certain
books vital and spermatic, not leaving the reader what he was; he
shuts the book a richer man. I would never willingly read any others
than such. And I will venture, at the risk of inditing a list of old
primers and grammars, to count the few books which a superficial
reader must thankfully use.
Of the old Greek books, I think there are five which we cannot spare:--
1. Homer, who, in spite of Pope, and all the learned uproar of
centuries, has really the true fire, and is good for simple minds,
is the true and adequate germ of Greece, and occupies that place as
history, which nothing can supply. It holds through all literature,
that our best history is still poetry. It is so in Hebrew, in
Sanscrit, and in Greek. English history is best known through
Shakspeare; how much through Merlin, Robin Hood, and the Scottish
ballads! the German, through the Nibelungen Lied; the Spanish,
through the Cid. Of Homer, George Chapman's is the heroic translation,
though the most literal prose version is the best of all.--2.
Herodotus, whose history contains inestimable anecdotes, which
brought it with the learned into a sort of disesteem; but in these
days, when it is found that what is most memorable of history is a
few anecdotes, and that we need not be alarmed, though we should
find it not dull, it is regaining credit.--3. Aeschylus, the
grandest of the three tragedians, who has given us under a thin veil
the first plantation of Europe. The "Prometheus" is a poem of the
like dignity and scope as the book of Job, or the Norse "Edda."--4.
Of Plato I hesitate to speak, lest there should be no end. You find
in him that which you have already found in Homer, now ripened to
thought,--the poet converted to a philosopher, with loftier strains
of musical wisdom than Homer reached, as if Homer were the youth,
and Plato the finished man; yet with no less security of bold and
perfect song, when he cares to use it, and with some harpstrings
fetched from a higher heaven. He contains the future, as he came out
of the past. In Plato, you explore modern Europe in its causes and
seed,--all that in thought, which the history of Europe embodies or
has yet to embody. The well-informed man finds himself anticipated.
Plato is up with him, too. Nothing has escaped him. Every new crop
in the fertile harvest of reform, every fresh suggestion of modern
humanity is there. If the student wish to see both sides, and
justice done to the man of the world, pitiless exposure of pedants,
and the supremacy of truth and the religious sentiment, he shall be
contented also. Why should not young men be educated on this book?
It would suffice for the tuition of the race,--to test their
understanding, and to express their reason. Here is that which is so
attractive to all men,--the literature of aristocracy shall I call it?--
the picture of the best persons, sentiments, and manners, by the
first master, in the best times,--portraits of Pericles, Alcibiades,
Crito, Prodicus, Protagoras, Anaxagoras, and Socrates, with the
lovely background Of the Athenian and suburban landscape. Or who can
overestimate the images with which he has enriched the minds of men,
and which pass like bullion in the currency of all nations? Read the
"Phaedo," the "Protagoras," the "Phaedrus," the "Timaeus," the
"Republic," and the "Apology of Socrates." 5. Plutarch cannot be
spared from the smallest library: first, because he is so readable,
which is much; then, that he is medicinal and invigorating. The
Lives of Cimon, Lycurgus, Alexander, Demosthenes, Phocion, Marcellus
and the rest, are what history has of best. But this book has taken
care of itself, and the opinion of the world is expressed in the
innumerable cheap editions, which make it as accessible as a
newspaper. But Plutarch's "Morals" is less known, and seldom
reprinted. Yet such a reader as I am writing to can as ill spare it
as the "Lives." He will read in it the essays "On the Daemon of
Socrates," "On Isis and Osiris," "On Progress in Virtue," "On
Garrulity," "On Love," and thank anew the art of printing, and the
cheerful domain of ancient thinking. Plutarch charms by the facility
of his associations; so that it signifies little where you open his
book, you find yourself at the Olympian tables. His memory is like
the Isthmian Games, where all that was excellent in Greece was
assembled, and you are stimulated and recruited by lyric verses, by
philosophic sentiments, by the forms and behavior of heroes, by the
worship of the gods, and by the passing of fillets, parsley and
laurel wreaths, chariots, armor, sacred cups, and utensils of
sacrifice. An inestimable trilogy of ancient social pictures are the
three "Banquets" respectively of Plato, Xenophon, and Plutarch.
Plutarch's has the least claim to historical accuracy; but the
meeting of the Seven Wise Masters is a charming portraiture of
ancient manners and discourse, and is as dear as the voice of a fife,
and entertaining as a French novel. Xenophon's delineation of
Athenian manners is an accessory to Plato, and supplies traits of
Socrates; whilst Plato's has merits of every kind,--being a
repertory of the wisdom of the ancients on the subject of love,--a
picture of a feast of wits, not less descriptive than Aristophanes,--
and, lastly, containing that ironical eulogy of Socrates which is
the source from which all the portraits of that head current in
Europe have been drawn.
Of course, a certain outline should be obtained of Greek history, in
which the important moments and persons can be rightly set down; but
the shortest is the best, and, if one lacks stomach for Mr. Grote's
voluminous annals, the old slight and popular summary of Goldsmith
or Gillies will serve. The valuable part is the age of Pericles, and
the next generation. And here we must read the "Clouds" of
Aristophanes, and what more of that master we gain appetite for, to
learn our way in the streets of Athens, and to know the tyranny of
Aristophanes, requiring more genius and sometimes not less cruelty
than belonged to the official commanders. Aristophanes is now very
accessible, with much valuable commentary, through the labors of
Mitchell and Cartwright. An excellent popular book is J. A. St.
John's "Ancient Greece"; the "Life and Letters" of Niebuhr, even
more than his Lectures, furnish leading views; and Winckelmann, a
Greek born out of due time, has become essential to an intimate
knowledge of the Attic genius. The secret of the recent histories in
German and in English is the discovery, owed first to Wolff, and
later to Boeckh, that the sincere Greek history of that period must
be drawn from Demosthenes, specially from the business orations, and
from the comic poets.
If we come down a little by natural steps from the master to the
disciples, we have, six or seven centuries later, the Platonists,--
who also cannot be skipped,--Plotinus, Porphyry, Proclus, Synesius,
Jamblichus. Of Jamblichus the Emperor Julian said, "that he was
posterior to Plato in time, not in genius." Of Plotinus, we have
eulogies by Porphyry and Longinus, and the favor of the Emperor
Gallienus,--indicating the respect he inspired among his
contemporaries. If any one who had read with interest the "Isis and
Osiris" of Plutarch should then read a chapter called "Providence,"
by Synesius, translated into English by Thomas Taylor, he will find
it one of the majestic remains of literature, and, like one walking
in the noblest of temples, will conceive new gratitude to his
fellowmen, and a new estimate of their nobility. The imaginative
scholar will find few stimulants to his brain like these writers. He
has entered the Elysian Fields; and the grand and pleasing figures
of gods and daemons and demoniacal men, of the "azonic" and the
"aquatic gods," daemons with fulgid eyes, and all the rest of the
Platonic rhetoric, exalted a little under the African sun, sail
before his eyes. The acolyte has mounted the tripod over the cave at
Delphi; his heart dances, his sight is quickened. These guides speak
of the gods with such depth and with such pictorial details, as if
they had been bodily present at the Olympian feasts. The reader of
these books makes new acquaintance with his own mind; new regions of
thought are opened. Jamblichus's "Life of Pythagoras" works more
directly on the will than the others; since Pythagoras was eminently
a practical person, the founder of a school of ascetics and
socialists, a planter of colonies, and nowise a man of abstract
The respectable and sometimes excellent translations of Bohn's
Library have done for literature what railroads have done for
internal intercourse. I do not hesitate to read all the books I have
named, and all good books, in translations. What is really best in
any book is translatable,--any real insight or broad human sentiment.
Nay, I observe, that, in our Bible, and other books of lofty moral
tone, it seems easy and inevitable to render the rhythm and music of
the original into phrases of equal melody. The Italians have a fling
at translators, _i traditori traduttori_, but I thank them. I rarely
read any Latin, Greek, German, Italian, sometimes not a French book
in the original, which I can procure in a good version. I like to be
beholden to the great metropolitan English speech, the sea which
receives tributaries from every region under heaven. I should as
soon think of swimming across Charles River, when I wish to go to
Boston, as of reading all my books in originals, when I have them
rendered for me in my mother tongue.
For history, there is great choice of ways to bring the student
through early Home. If he can read Livy, he has a good book; but one
of the short English compends, some Goldsmith or Ferguson, should be
used, that will place in the cycle the bright stars of Plutarch. The
poet Horace is the eye of the Augustan age; Tacitus, the wisest of
historians; and Martial will give him Roman manners, and some very
bad ones, in the early days of the Empire: but Martial must be read,
if read at all, in his own tongue. These will bring him to Gibbon,
who will take him in charge, and convey him with abundant
entertainment down--with notice of all remarkable objects on the way--
through fourteen hundred years of time. He cannot spare Gibbon, with
his vast reading, with such wit and continuity of mind, that, though
never profound, his book is one of the conveniences of civilization,
like the proposed railroad from New York to the Pacific,--and, I
think, will be sure to send the reader to his "Memoirs of Himself,"
and the "Extracts from my Journal," and "Abstracts of my Readings,"
which will spur the laziest scholar to emulation of his prodigious
Now having our idler safe down as far as the fall of Constantinople
in 1453, he is in very good courses; for here are trusty hands
waiting for him. The cardinal facts of European history are soon
learned. There is Dante's poem, to open the Italian Republics of the
Middle Age; Dante's "Vita Nuova," to explain Dante and Beatrice; and
Boccaccio's "Life of Dante,"--a great man to describe a greater. To
help us, perhaps a volume or two of M. Sismondi's "Italian Republics"
will be as good as the entire sixteen. When we come to Michel Angelo,
his Sonnets and Letters must be read, with his Life by Vasari, or,
in our day, by Mr. Duppa. For the Church, and the Feudal Institution,
Mr. Hallam's "Middle Ages" will furnish, if superficial, yet
readable and conceivable outlines.
The "Life of the Emperor Charles V.," by the useful Robertson, is
still the key of the following age. Ximenes, Columbus, Loyola, Luther,
Erasmus, Melancthon, Francis I., Henry VIII., Elizabeth, and Henry IV.
of France, are his contemporaries. It is a time of seeds and
expansions, whereof our recent civilization is the fruit.
If now the relations of England to European affairs bring him to
British ground, he is arrived at the very moment when modern history
takes new proportions. He can look back for the legends and
mythology to the "Younger Edda" and the "Heimrskringla" of Snorro
Sturleson, to Mallet's "Northern Antiquities," to Ellis's "Metrical
Romances," to Asser's "Life of Alfred," and Venerable Bede, and to
the researches of Sharon Turner and Palgrave. Hume will serve him
for an intelligent guide, and in the Elizabethan era he is at the
richest period of the English mind, with the chief men of action and
of thought which that nation has produced, and with a pregnant
future before him. Here he has Shakspeare, Spenser, Sidney, Raleigh,
Bacon, Chapman, Jonson, Ford, Beaumont and Fletcher, Herbert, Donne,
Herrick; and Milton, Marvell, and Dryden, not long after.
In reading history, he is to prefer the history of individuals. He
will not repent the time he gives to Bacon,--not if he read the
"Advancement of Learning," the "Essays," the "Novum Organon," the
"History of Henry VII.," and then all the "Letters," (especially
those to the Earl of Devonshire, explaining the Essex business,) and
all but his "Apophthegms."
The task is aided by the strong mutual light which these men shed on
each other. Thus, the Works of Ben Jonson are a sort of hoop to bind
all these fine persons together, and to the land to which they belong.
He has written verses to or on all his notable contemporaries; and
what with so many occasional poems, and the portrait sketches in his
"Discoveries," and the gossiping record of his opinions in his
conversations with Drummond of Hawthornden, has really illustrated
the England of his time, if not to the same extent, yet much in the
same way, as Walter Scott has celebrated the persons and places of
Scotland. Walton, Chapman, Herrick, and Sir Henry Wotton write also
to the times.
Among the best books are certain _Autobiographies_: as, St.
Augustine's Confessions; Benvenuto Cellini's Life; Montaigne's Essays;
Lord Herbert of Cherbury's Memoirs; Memoirs of the Cardinal de Retz;
Rousseau's Confessions; Linnaeus's Diary; Gibbon's, Hume's, Franklin's,
Burns's, Alfieri's, Goethe's, and Haydon's Autobiographies.
Another class of books closely allied to these, and of like interest,
are those which may be called _Table-Talks_; of which the best are
Saadi's Gulistan; Luther's Table-Talk; Aubrey's Lives; Spence's
Anecdotes; Selden's Table-Talk; Boswell's Life of Johnson;
Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe; Coleridge's Table-Talk; and
Hazlitt's Life of Northcote.
There is a class whose value I should designate as favorites; such
as Froissart's Chronicles; Southey's Chronicle of the Cid; Cervantes;
Sully's Memoirs; Rabelais; Montaigne; Izaak Walton; Evelyn; Sir
Thomas Browne; Aubrey; Sterne; Horace Walpole; Lord Clarendon;
Doctor Johnson; Burke, shedding floods of light on his times; Lamb;
Landor; and De Quincey;--a list, of course, that may easily be
swelled, as dependent on individual caprice. Many men are as tender
and irritable as lovers in reference to these predilections. Indeed,
a man's library is a sort of harem, and I observe that tender
readers have a great prudencey in showing their books to a stranger.
The annals of bibliography afford many examples of the delirious
extent to which book-fancying can go, when the legitimate delight in
a book is transferred to a rare edition or to a manuscript. This
mania reached its height about the beginning of the present century.
For an autograph of Shakspeare one hundred and fifty-five guineas
were given. In May, 1812, the library of the Duke of Roxburgh was
sold. The sale lasted forty-two days,--we abridge the story from
Dibdin,--and among the many curiosities was a copy of Boccaccio
published by Valdarfer, at Venice, in 1471; the only perfect copy of
this edition. Among the distinguished company which attended the
sale were the Duke of Devonshire, Earl Spencer, and the Duke of
Marlborough, then Marquis of Blandford. The bid stood at five hundred
guineas. "A thousand guineas," said Earl Spencer: "And ten," added
the Marquis. You might hear a pin drop. All eyes were bent on the
bidders. Now they talked apart, now ate a biscuit, now made a bet,
but without the least thought of yielding one to the other.
"Two thousand pounds," said the Marquis. The Earl Spencer bethought
him like a prudent general of useless bloodshed and waste of powder,
and had paused a quarter of a minute, when Lord Althorp with long
steps came to his side, as if to bring his father a fresh lance to
renew the fight. Father and son whispered together, and Earl Spencer
exclaimed, "Two thousand two hundred and fifty pounds!" An electric
shock went through the assembly. "And ten," quietly added the Marquis.
There ended the strife. Ere Evans let the hammer fall, he paused;
the ivory instrument swept the air; the spectators stood dumb, when
the hammer fell. The stroke of its fall sounded on the farthest
shores of Italy. The tap of that hammer was heard in the libraries
of Rome, Milan, and Venice. Boccaccio stirred in his sleep of five
hundred years, and M. Van Praet groped in vain amidst the royal
alcoves in Paris, to detect a copy of the famed Valdarfer Boccaccio.
Another class I distinguish by the term _Vocabularies_. Burton's
"Anatomy of Melancholy" is a book of great learning. To read it is
like reading in a dictionary. 'Tis an inventory to remind us how
many classes and species of facts exist, and, in observing into what
strange and multiplex by-ways learning has strayed, to infer our
opulence. Neither is a dictionary a bad book to read. There is no
cant in it, no excess of explanation, and it is full of suggestion,--
the raw material of possible poems and histories. Nothing is wanting
but a little shuffling, sorting, ligature, and cartilage. Out of a
hundred examples, Cornelius Agrippa "On the Vanity of Arts and
Sciences" is a specimen of that scribatious-ness which grew to be
the habit of the gluttonous readers of his time. Like the modern
Germans, they read a literature, whilst other mortals read a few
books. They read voraciously, and must disburden themselves; so they
take any general topic, as, Melancholy, or Praise of Science, or
Praise of Folly, and write and quote without method or end. Now and
then out of that affluence of their learning comes a fine sentence
from Theophrastus, or Seneca, or Boethius, but no high method, no
inspiring efflux. But one cannot afford to read for a few sentences;
they are good only as strings of suggestive words.
There is another class more needful to the present age, because the
currents of custom run now in another direction, and leave us dry on
this side;--I mean the _Imaginative_. A right metaphysics should do
justice to the cooerdinate powers of Imagination, Insight,
Understanding, and Will. Poetry, with its aids of Mythology and
Romance, must be well allowed for an imaginative creature. Men are
ever lapsing into a beggarly habit, wherein everything that is not
ciphering, that is, which does not serve the tyrannical animal, is
hustled out of sight. Our orators and writers are of the same poverty,
and, in this rag-fair, neither the Imagination, the great awakening
power, nor the Morals, creative of genius and of men, are addressed.
But though orator and poet are of this hunger party, the capacities
remain. We must have symbols. The child asks you for a story, and is
thankful for the poorest. It is not poor to him, but radiant with
meaning. The man asks for a novel,--that is, asks leave, for a few
hours, to be a poet, and to paint things as they ought to be. The
youth asks for a poem. The very dunces wish to go to the theatre.
What private heavens can we not open, by yielding to all the
suggestion of rich music! We must have idolatries, mythologies, some
swing and verge for the creative power lying coiled and cramped here,
driving ardent natures to insanity and crime, if it do not find vent.
Without the great and beautiful arts which speak to the sense of
beauty, a man seems to me a poor, naked, shivering creature. These
are his becoming draperies, which warm and adorn him. Whilst the
prudential and economical tone of society starves the imagination,
affronted Nature gets such indemnity as she may. The novel is that
allowance and frolic the imagination finds. Everything else pins it
down, and men flee for redress to Byron, Scott, Disraeli, Dumas, Sand,
Balzac, Dickens, Thackeray, and Reade. Their education is neglected;
but the circulating library and the theatre, as well as the
trout-fishing, the Notch Mountains, the Adirondac country, the tour
to Mont Blanc, to the White Hills, and the Ghauts, make such amends
as they can.
The imagination infuses a certain volatility and intoxication. It
has a flute which sets the atoms of our frame in a dance, like
planets, and, once so liberated, the whole man reeling drunk to the
music, they never quite subside to their old stony state. But what
is the Imagination? Only an arm or weapon of the interior energy;
only the precursor of the Reason. And books that treat the old
pedantries of the world, our times, places, professions, customs,
opinions, histories, with a certain freedom, and distribute things,
not after the usages of America and Europe, but after the laws of
right reason, and with as daring a freedom as we use in dreams, put
us on our feet again, enable us to form an original judgment of our
duties, and suggest new thoughts for to-morrow.
"Lucrezia Floriani," "Le Peche de M. Antoine," "Jeanne," of George
Sand, are great steps from the novel of one termination, which we
all read twenty years ago. Yet how far off from life and manners and
motives the novel still is! Life lies about us dumb; the day, as we
know it, has not yet found a tongue. These stories are to the plots
of real life what the figures in "La Belle Assemblee," which
represent the fashion of the month, are to portraits. But the novel
will find the way to our interiors one day, and will not always be
the novel of costume merely. I do not think them inoperative now. So
much novel-reading cannot leave the young men and maidens untouched;
and doubtless it gives some ideal dignity to the day. The young
study noble behavior; and as the player in "Consuelo" insists that
he and his colleagues on the boards have taught princes the fine
etiquette and strokes of grace and dignity which they practise with
so much effect in their villas and among their dependents, so I
often see traces of the Scotch or the French novel in the courtesy
and brilliancy of young midshipmen, collegians, and clerks. Indeed,
when one observes how ill and ugly people make their loves and
quarrels, 'tis pity they should not read novels a little more, to
import the fine generosities, and the clear, firm conduct, which are
as becoming in the unions and separations which love effects under
shingle roofs as in palaces and among illustrious personages.
In novels the most serious questions are really beginning to be
discussed. What made the popularity of "Jane Eyre," but that a
central question was answered in some sort? The question there
answered in regard to a vicious marriage will always, be treated
according to the habit of the party. A person of commanding
individualism will answer it as Rochester does,--as Cleopatra, as
Milton, as George Sand do,--magnifying the exception into a rule,
dwarfing the world into an exception. A person of less courage, that
is, of less constitution, will answer as the heroine does,--giving
way to fate, to conventionalism, to the actual state and doings of
men and women.
For the most part, our novel-reading is a passion for results. We
admire parks, and high-born beauties, and the homage of drawing-rooms,
and parliaments. They make us skeptical, by giving prominence to
wealth and social position.
I remember when some peering eyes of boys discovered that the
oranges hanging on the boughs of an orange-tree in a gay piazza were
tied to the twigs by thread. I fear 'tis so with the novelist's
prosperities. Nature has a magic by which she fits the man to his
fortunes, by making them the fruit of his character. But the novelist
plucks this event here, and that fortune there, and ties them rashly
to his figures, to tickle the fancy of his readers with a cloying
success, or scare them with shocks of tragedy. And so, on the whole,
'tis a juggle. We are cheated into laughter or wonder by feats which
only oddly combine acts that we do every day. There is no new element,
no power, no furtherance. 'Tis only confectionery, not the raising
of new corn. Great is the poverty of their inventions. _She was
beautiful, and he fell in love_. Money, and killing, and the
Wandering Jew, and persuading the lover that his mistress is
betrothed to another,--these are the mainsprings; new names, but no
new qualities in the men and women. Hence the vain endeavor to keep
any bit of this fairy gold, which has rolled like a brook through
our hands. A thousand thoughts awoke; great rainbows seemed to span
the sky; a morning among the mountains;--but we close the book, and
not a ray remains in the memory of evening. But this passion for
romance, and this disappointment, show how much we need real
elevations and pure poetry; that which shall show us, in morning and
night, in stars and mountains, and in all the plight and
circumstance of men, the analogons of our own thoughts, and a like
Impression made by a just book and by the face of Nature.
If our times are sterile in genius, we must cheer us with books of
rich and believing men who had atmosphere and amplitude about them.
Every good fable, every mythology, every biography out of a
religious age, every passage of love, and even philosophy and science,
when they proceed from an intellectual integrity, and are not
detached and critical, have the imaginative element. The Greek fables,
the Persian history, (Firdousi,) the "Younger Edda" of the
Scandinavians, the "Chronicle of the Cid," the poem of Dante, the
Sonnets of Michel Angelo, the English drama of Shakspeare, Beaumont
and Fletcher, and Ford, and even the prose of Bacon and Milton,--in
our time, the ode of Wordsworth, and the poems and the prose of
Goethe, have this richness, and leave room for hope and for generous
There is no room left,--and yet I might, as well not have begun as
to leave out a class of books which are the best: I mean the Bibles
of the world, or the sacred books of each nation, which express for
each the supreme result of their experience. After the Hebrew and
Greek Scriptures, which constitute the sacred books of Christendom,
these are, the Desatir of the Persians, and the Zoroastrian Oracles;
the Vedas and Laws of Menu; the Upanishads, the Vishnu Purana, the
Bhagvat Geeta, of the Hindoos; the books of the Buddhists; the
"Chinese Classic," of four books, containing the wisdom of Confucius
and Mencius. Also such other books as have acquired a semi-canonical
authority in the world, as expressing the highest sentiment and hope
of nations. Such are the "Hermes Trismegistus," pretending to be
Egyptian remains; the "Sentences" of Epictetus; of Marcus Antoninus;
the "Vishnu Sarma" of the Hindoos; the "Gulistan" of Saadi; the
"Imitation of Christ," of Thomas a Kempis; and the "Thoughts" of
All these books are the majestic expressions of the universal
conscience, and are more to our daily purpose than this year's
almanac or this day's newspaper. But they are for the closet, and to
be read on the bended knee. Their communications are not to be given
or taken with the lips and the end of the tongue, but out of the
glow of the cheek, and with the throbbing heart. Friendship should
give and take, solitude and time brood and ripen, heroes absorb and
enact them. They are not to be held by letters printed on a page, but
are living characters translatable into every tongue and form of life.
I read them on lichens and bark; I watch them on waves on the beach;
they fly in birds, they creep in worms; I detect them in laughter
and blushes and eye-sparkles of men and women. These are Scriptures
which the missionary might well carry over prairie, desert, and ocean,
to Siberia, Japan, Timbuctoo. Yet he will find that the spirit which
is in them journeys faster than he, and greets him on his arrival,--
was there already long before him. The missionary must be carried by
it, and find it there, or he goes in vain. Is there any geography in
these things? We call them Asiatic, we call them primeval; but
perhaps that is only optical; for Nature is always equal to herself,
and there are as good pairs of eyes and ears now in the planet as
ever were. Only these ejaculations of the soul are uttered one or a
few at a time, at long intervals, and it takes millenniums to make a
These are a few of the books which the old and the later times have
yielded us, which will reward the time spent on them. In comparing
the number of good books with the shortness of life, many might well
be read by proxy, if we had good proxies; and it would be well for
sincere young men to borrow a hint from the French Institute and the
British Association, and, as they divide the whole body into sections,
each of which sit upon and report of certain matters confided to them,
so let each scholar associate himself to such persons as he can rely
on, in a literary club, in which each shall undertake a single work
or series for which he is qualified. For example, how attractive is
the whole literature of the "Roman de la Rose," the "Fabliaux," and
the _gai science_ of the French Troubadours! Yet who in Boston has
time for that? But one of our company shall undertake it, shall
study and master it, and shall report on it, as under oath; shall
give us the sincere result, as it lies in his mind, adding nothing,
keeping nothing back. Another member, meantime, shall as honestly
search, sift, and as truly report on British mythology, the Round
Table, the histories of Brut, Merlin, and Welsh poetry; a third, on
the Saxon Chronicles, Robert of Gloucester, and William of Malmesbury;
a fourth, on Mysteries, Early Drama, "Gesta Romanorum," Collier, and
Dyce, and the Camden Society. Each shall give us his grains of gold,
after the washing; and every other shall then decide whether this is
a book indispensable to him also.
THE DIAMOND LENS.
THE BENDING OF THE TWIG.
From a very early period of my life the entire bent of my
inclinations had been towards microscopic investigations. When I was
not more than ten years old, a distant relative of our family,
hoping to astonish my inexperience, constructed a simple microscope
for me, by drilling in a disk of copper a small hole, in which a
drop of pure water was sustained by capillary attraction. This very
primitive apparatus, magnifying some fifty diameters, presented, it
is true, only indistinct and imperfect forms, but still sufficiently
wonderful to work up my imagination to a preternatural state of
Seeing me so interested in this rude instrument, my cousin explained
to me all that he knew about the principles of the microscope,
related to me a few of the wonders which had been accomplished
through its agency, and ended by promising to send me one regularly
constructed, immediately on his return to the city. I counted the
days, the hours, the minutes, that intervened between that promise
and his departure.
Meantime I was not idle. Every transparent substance that bore the
remotest semblance to a lens I eagerly seized upon and employed in
vain attempts to realize that instrument, the theory of whose
construction I as yet only vaguely comprehended. All panes of glass
containing these oblate spheroidal knots familiarly known as
"bull's eyes" were ruthlessly destroyed, in the hope of obtaining
lenses of marvellous power. I even went so far as to extract the
crystalline humor from the eyes of fishes and animals, and
endeavored to press it into the microscopic service. I plead guilty
to having stolen the glasses from my Aunt Agatha's spectacles, with
a dim idea, of grinding them into lenses of wondrous magnifying
properties,--in which attempt it is scarcely necessary to say that I
At last the promised instrument came. It was of that order known as
Field's simple; microscope, and had cost perhaps about fifteen
dollars. As far as educational purposes went, a better apparatus
could not have been selected. Accompanying it was a small treatise
on the microscope,--its history, uses, and discoveries. I
comprehended then for the first time the "Arabian Nights'
Entertainments." The dull veil of ordinary existence that hung
across the world seemed suddenly to roll away, and to lay bare a
land of enchantments. I felt towards my companions as the seer might
feel towards the ordinary masters of men. I held conversations with
Xanure in a tongue which they could not understand. I was in daily
communication with living wonders, such as they never imagined in
their wildest visions. I penetrated beyond the external portal of
things, and roamed through the sanctuaries. Where they beheld only a
drop of rain slowly rolling down the window-glass, I saw a universe
of beings animated with all the passions common to physical life,
and convulsing their minute sphere with struggles as fierce and
protracted as those of men. In the common spots of mould, which my
mother, good housekeeper that she was, fiercely scooped away from
her jam pots, there abode for me, under the name of mildew,
enchanted gardens, filled with dells and avenues of the densest
foliage and most astonishing verdure, while from the fantastic
boughs of these microscopic forests hung strange fruits glittering
with green and silver and gold.
It was no scientific thirst that at this time filled my mind. It was
the pure enjoyment of a poet to whom a world of wonders has been
disclosed. I talked of my solitary pleasures to none. Alone with my
microscope, I dimmed my sight, day after day and night after night
poring over the marvels which it unfolded to me. I was like one who,
having discovered the ancient Eden still existing in all its
primitive glory, should resolve to enjoy it in solitude, and never
betray to mortal the secret of its locality. The rod of my life was
bent at this moment. I destined myself to be a microscopist.
Of course, like every novice, I fancied myself a discoverer. I was
ignorant at the time of the thousands of acute intellects engaged in
the same pursuit as myself, and with the advantages of instruments a
thousand times more powerful than mine. The names of Leeuwenhoek,
Williamson, Spencer, Ehrenberg, Schultz, Dujardin, Schact, and
Schleiden were then entirely unknown to me, or if known, I was
ignorant of their patient and wonderful researches. In every fresh
specimen of Cryptogamia which I placed beneath my instrument I
believed that I discovered wonders of which the world was as yet
ignorant. I remember well the thrill of delight and admiration that
shot through me the first time that I discovered the common wheel
animalcule (_Rotifera vulgaris_) expanding and contracting its
flexible spokes, and seemingly rotating through the water. Alas! as
I grew older, and obtained some works treating of my favorite study,
I found that I was only on the threshold of a science to the
investigation of which some of the greatest men of the age were
devoting their lives and intellects.
As I grew up, my parents, who saw but little likelihood of anything
practical resulting from the examination of bits of moss and drops
of water through a brass tube and a piece of glass, were anxious
that I should choose a profession. It was their desire that I should
enter the counting-house of my uncle, Ethan Blake, a prosperous
merchant, who carried on business in New York. This suggestion I
decisively combated. I had no taste for trade; I should only make a
failure; in short, I refused to become a merchant.
But it was necessary for me to select some pursuit. My parents were
staid New England people, who insisted on the necessity of labor;
and therefore, although, thanks to the bequest of my poor Aunt Agatha,
I should, on coming of age, inherit a small fortune sufficient to
place me above want, it was decided, that, instead of waiting for
this, I should act the nobler part, and employ the intervening years
in rendering myself independent.
After much cogitation I complied with the wishes of my family, and
selected a profession. I determined to study medicine at the New
York Academy. This disposition of my future suited me. A removal
from my relatives would enable me to dispose of my time as I pleased,
without fear of detection. As long as I paid my Academy fees, I
might shirk attending the lectures, if I chose; and as I never had
the remotest intention of standing an examination, there was no
danger of my being "plucked." Besides, a metropolis was the place
for me. There I could obtain excellent instruments, the newest
publications, intimacy with men of pursuits kindred to my own,--in
short, all things necessary to insure a profitable devotion of my
life to my beloved science. I had an abundance of money, few desires
that were not bounded by my illuminating mirror on one side and my
object-glass on the other; what, therefore, was to prevent my
becoming an illustrious investigator of the veiled worlds? It was
with the most buoyant hopes that I left my New England home and
established myself in New York.
THE LONGING OF A MAN OF SCIENCE.
My first step, of course, was to find suitable apartments. These I
obtained, after a couple of days' search, in Fourth Avenue; a very
pretty second-floor unfurnished, containing sitting-room, bedroom,
and a smaller apartment which I intended to fit up as a laboratory. I
furnished my lodgings simply, but rather elegantly, and then devoted
all my energies to the adornment of the temple of my worship. I
visited Pike, the celebrated optician, and passed in review his
splendid collection of microscopes,--Field's Compound, Higham's,
Spencer's, Nachet's Binocular, (that founded on the principles of
the stereoscope,) and at length fixed upon that form known as
Spencer's Trunnion Microscope, as combining the greatest number of
improvements with an almost perfect freedom from tremor. Along with
this I purchased every possible accessory,--drawtubes, micrometers,
a _camera-lucida_, lever-stage, achromatic condensers, white cloud
illuminators, prisms, parabolic condensers, polarizing apparatus,
forceps, aquatic boxes, fishing-tubes, with a host of other articles,
all of which would have been useful in the hands of an experienced
microscopist, but, as I afterwards discovered, were not of the
slightest present value to me. It takes years of practice to know
how to use a complicated microscope. The optician looked
suspiciously at me as I made these wholesale purchases. He evidently
was uncertain whether to set me down as some scientific celebrity or
a madman. I think he inclined to the latter belief. I suppose I was
mad. Every great genius is mad upon the subject in which he is
greatest. The unsuccessful madman is disgraced, and called a lunatic.
Mad or not, I set myself to work with a zeal which few scientific
students have ever equalled. I had everything to learn relative to
the delicate study upon which I had embarked,--a study involving the
most earnest patience, the most rigid analytic powers, the steadiest
hand, the most untiring eye, the most refined and subtile
For a long time half my apparatus lay inactively on the shelves of
my laboratory, which was now most amply furnished with every
possible contrivance for facilitating my investigations. The fact was
that I did not know how to use some of my scientific accessories,--
never having been taught microscopies,--and those whose use I
understood theoretically were of little avail, until by practice I
could attain the necessary delicacy of handling. Still, such was the
fury of my ambition, such the untiring perseverance of my experiments,
that, difficult of credit as it may be, in the course of one year I
became theoretically and practically an accomplished microscopist.
During this period of my labors, in which I submitted specimens of
every substance that came under my observation to the action of my
lenses, I became a discoverer,--in a small way, it is true, for I
was very young, but still a discoverer. It was I who destroyed
Ehrenberg's theory that the _Volcox globator_ was an animal, and
proved that his "monads" with stomachs and eyes were merely phases
of the formation of a vegetable cell, and were, when they reached
their mature state, incapable of the act of conjugation, or any true
generative act, without which no organism rising to any stage of life
higher than vegetable can be said to be complete. It was I who
resolved the singular problem of rotation in the cells and hairs of
plants into ciliary attraction, in spite of the assertions of
Mr. Wenham and others, that my explanation was the result of an
But notwithstanding these discoveries, laboriously and painfully
made as they were, I felt horribly dissatisfied. At every step I
found myself stopped by the imperfections of my instruments. Like
all active microscopists, I gave my imagination full play. Indeed,
it is a common complaint against many such, that they supply the
defects of their instruments with the creations of their brains. I
imagined depths beyond depths in Nature which the limited power of
my lenses prohibited me from exploring. I lay awake at night
constructing imaginary microscopes of immeasurable power, with which
I seemed to pierce through all the envelopes of matter down to its
original atom. How I cursed those imperfect mediums which necessity
through ignorance compelled me to use! How I longed to discover the
secret of some perfect lens whose magnifying power should be limited
only by the resolvability of the object, and which at the same time
should be free from spherical and chromatic aberrations, in short
from all the obstacles over which the poor microscopist finds
himself continually stumbling! I felt convinced that the simple
microscope, composed of a single lens of such vast yet perfect power,
was possible of construction. To attempt to bring the compound
microscope up to such a pitch would have been commencing at the
wrong end; this latter being simply a partially successful endeavor
to remedy those very defects of the simple instrument, which, if
conquered, would leave nothing to be desired.
It was in this mood of mind that I became a constructive microscopist.
After another year passed in this new pursuit, experimenting on
every imaginable substance,--glass, gems, flints, crystals,
artificial crystals formed of the alloy of various vitreous materials,--
in short, having constructed as many varieties of lenses as Argus
had eyes, I found myself precisely where I started, with nothing
gained save an extensive knowledge of glass-making. I was almost
dead with despair. My parents were surprised at my apparent want of
progress in my medical studies, (I had not attended one lecture
since my arrival in the city,) and the expenses of my mad pursuit
had been so great as to embarrass me very seriously.
I was in this frame of mind one day, experimenting in my laboratory
on a small diamond,--that stone, from its great refracting power,
having always occupied my attention more than any other,--when a
young Frenchman, who lived on the floor above me, and who was in the
habit of occasionally visiting me, entered the room.
I think that Jules Simon was a Jew. He had many traits of the Hebrew
character: a love of jewelry, of dress, and of good living. There
was something mysterious about him. He always had something to sell,
and yet went into excellent society. When I say sell, I should
perhaps have said peddle; for his operations were generally confined
to the disposal of single articles,--a picture, for instance, or a
rare carving in ivory, or a pair of duelling-pistols, or the dress
of a Mexican _caballero_. When I was first furnishing my rooms, he
paid me a visit, which ended in my purchasing an antique silver lamp,
which he assured me was a Cellini,--it was handsome enough even for
that,--and some other knick-knacks for my sitting-room. Why Simon
should pursue this petty trade I never could imagine. He apparently
had plenty of money, and had the _entree_ of the best houses in the
city,--taking care, however, I suppose, to drive no bargains within
the enchanted circle of the Upper Ten. I came at length to the
conclusion that this peddling was but a mask to cover some greater
object, and even went so far as to believe my young acquaintance to
be implicated in the slave-trade. That, however, was none of my
On the present occasion, Simon entered my room in a state of
"_Ah! mon ami_!" he cried, before I could even offer him the
ordinary salutation, "it has occurred to me to be the witness of the
most astonishing things in the world. I promenade myself to the
house of Madame -----. How does the little animal--_le renard_--name
himself in the Latin?"
"Vulpes," I answered.
"Ah! yes, Vulpes. I promenade myself to the house of Madame Vulpes."
"The spirit medium?"
"Yes, the great medium. Great Heavens! what a woman! I write on a
slip of paper many of questions concerning affairs the most secret,--
affairs that conceal themselves in the abysses of my heart the most
profound; and behold! by example! what occurs? This devil of a woman
makes me replies the most truthful to all of them. She talks to me
of things that I do not love to talk of to myself. What am I to think?
I am fixed to the earth!"
"Am I to understand you, M. Simon, that this Mrs. Vulpes replied to
questions secretly written by you, which questions related to events
known only to yourself?"
"Ah! more than that, more than that," he answered, with an air of
some alarm. "She related to me things----But," he added, after a
pause, and suddenly changing his manner, "why occupy ourselves with
these follies? It was all the Biology, without doubt. It goes without
saying that it has not my credence.--But why are we here, _mon ami_?
It has occurred to me to discover the most beautiful thing as you
can imagine.--a vase with green lizards on it composed by the great
Bernard Palissy. It is in my apartment; let us mount. I go to show
it to you."
I followed Simon mechanically; but my thoughts were far from Palissy
and his enamelled ware, although I, like him, was seeking in the
dark after a great discovery. This casual mention of the spiritualist,
Madame Vulpes, set me on a new track. What if this spiritualism
should be really a great fact? What if, through communication with
subtiler organisms than my own, I could reach at a single bound the
goal, which perhaps a life of agonizing mental toil would never
enable me to attain?
While purchasing the Palissy vase from my friend Simon, I was
mentally arranging a visit to Madame Vulpes.
THE SPIRIT OF LEEUWENHOEK.
Two evenings after this, thanks to an arrangement by letter and the
promise of an ample fee, I found Madame Vulpes awaiting me at her
residence alone. She was a coarse-featured woman, with a keen and
rather cruel dark eye, and an exceedingly sensual expression about
her mouth and under jaw. She received me in perfect silence, in an
apartment on the ground floor, very sparely furnished. In the centre
of the room, close to where Mrs. Vulpes sat, there was a common
round mahogany table. If I had come for the purpose of sweeping her
chimney, the woman could not have looked more indifferent to my
appearance. There was no attempt to inspire the visitor with any awe.
Everything bore a simple and practical aspect. This intercourse with
the spiritual world was evidently as familiar an occupation with
Mrs. Vulpes as eating her dinner or riding in an omnibus.
"You come for a communication, Mr. Linley?" said the medium, in a dry,
business-like tone of voice.
"What sort of communication do you want?--a written one?"
"Yes,--I wish for a written one."
"From any particular spirit?"
"Have you ever known this spirit on this earth?"
"Never. He died long before I was born. I wish merely to obtain from
him some information which he ought to be able to give better than
"Will you seat yourself at the table, Mr. Linley," said the medium,
"and place your hands upon it?"
I obeyed,--Mrs. Vulpes being seated opposite me, with her hands also
on the table. We remained thus for about a minute and a half, when a
violent succession of raps came on the table, on the back of my chair,
on the floor immediately under my feet, and even on the window panes.
Mrs. Vulpes smiled composedly.
"They are very strong to-night," she remarked. "You are fortunate."
She then continued, "Will the spirits communicate with this gentleman?"
"Will the particular spirit he desires to speak with communicate?"
A very confused rapping followed this question.
"I know what they mean," said Mrs. Vulpes, addressing herself to me;
"they wish you to write down the name of the particular spirit that
you desire to converse with. Is that so?" she added, speaking to her
Tint it was so was evident from the numerous affirmatory responses.
While this was going on, I tore a slip from my pocket-book, and
scribbled a name under the table.
"Will this spirit communicate in writing with this gentleman?" asked
the medium once more.
After a moment's pause her hand seemed to be seized with a violent
tremor, shaking so forcibly that the table vibrated. She said that a
spirit had seized her hand and would write. I handed her some sheets
of paper that were on the table, and a pencil. The latter she held
loosely in her hand, which presently began to move over the paper
with a singular and seemingly involuntary motion. After a few
moments had elapsed she handed me the paper, on which I found written,
in a large, uncultivated hand, the words, "He is not here, but has
been sent for." A pause of a minute or so now ensued, during which
Mrs. Vulpes remained perfectly silent, but the raps continued at
regular intervals. When the short period I mention had elapsed, the
hand of the medium was again seized with its convulsive tremor, and
she wrote, under this strange influence, a few words on the paper,
which she handed to me. They were as follows:
"I am here. Question me.
I was, astounded. The name was identical with that I had written
beneath the table, and carefully kept concealed. Neither was it at
all probable that an uncultivated woman like Mrs. Vulpes should know
even the name of the great father of microscopies. It may have been
Biology; but this theory was soon doomed to be destroyed. I wrote on
my slip--still concealing it from Mrs. Vulpes--a series of
questions, which, to avoid tediousness, I shall place with the
responses in the order in which they occurred.
I.--Can the microscope be brought to perfection?
I.--Am I destined to accomplish this great task?
I.--I wish to know how to proceed to attain this end. For the love
which you bear to science, help me!
SPIRIT.--A diamond of one hundred and forty carats, submitted to
electro-magnetic currents for a long period, will experience a
rearrangement of its atoms _inter se_, and from that stone you will
form the universal lens.
I.--Will great discoveries result from the use of such a lens?
SPIRIT.--So great, that all that has gone before is as nothing.
I.--But the refractive power of the diamond is so immense, that the
image will be formed within the lens. How is that difficulty to be
SPIRIT.--Pierce the lens through its axis, and the difficulty is
obviated. The image will be formed in the pierced space, which will
itself serve as a tube to look through. Now I am called. Good night!
I cannot at all describe the effect that these extraordinary
communications had upon me. I felt completely bewildered. No
biological theory could account for the _discovery_ of the lens. The
medium might, by means of biological _rapport_ with my mind, have
gone so far as to read my questions, and reply to them coherently.
But Biology could not enable her to discover that magnetic currents
would so alter the crystals of the diamond as to remedy its previous
defects, and admit of its being polished into a perfect lens. Some
such theory may have passed through my head, it is true, but if so,
I had forgotten it. In my excited condition of mind there was no
course left but to become a convert, and it was in a state of the
most painful nervous exultation that I left the medium's house that
evening. She accompanied me to the door, hoping that I was satisfied.
The raps followed us as we went through the hall, sounding on the
balusters, the flooring, and even the lintels of the door. I hastily
expressed my satisfaction, and escaped hurriedly into the cool night
air. I walked home with but one thought possessing me,--how to
obtain a diamond of the immense size required. My entire means
multiplied a hundred times over would have been inadequate to its
purchase. Besides, such stones are rare, and become historical. I
could find such only in the regalia of Eastern or European monarchs.
THE EYE OF MORNING.
There was a light in Simon's room as I entered my house. A vague
impulse urged me to visit him. As I opened the door of his
sitting-room unannounced, he was bending, with his back toward me,
over a carcel lamp, apparently engaged in minutely examining some
object which he held in his hands. As I entered, he started suddenly,
thrust his hand into his breast pocket, and turned to me with a face
crimson with confusion.
"What!" I cried, "poring over the miniature of some fair lady? Well,
don't blush so much; I won't ask to see it."
Simon laughed awkwardly enough, but made none of the negative
protestations usual on such occasions. He asked me to take a seat.
"Simon," said I, "I have just come from Madame Vulpes."
This time Simon turned as white as a sheet, and seemed stupefied, as
if a sudden electric shock had smitten him. He babbled some
incoherent words, and went hastily to a small closet where he usually
kept his liquors. Although astonished at his emotion, I was too
preoccupied with my own idea to pay much attention to anything else.
"You say truly when you call Madame Vulpes a devil of a woman," I
continued, "Simon, she told me wonderful things tonight, or rather
was the means of telling me wonderful things. Ah! if I could only
get a diamond that weighed one hundred and forty carats!"
Scarcely had the sigh with which I uttered this desire died upon my
lips, when Simon, with the aspect of a wild beast, glared at me
savagely, and rushing to the mantel-piece, where some foreign weapons
hung on the wall, caught up a Malay creese, and brandished it
furiously before him.
"No!" he cried in French, into which he always broke when excited.
"No! you shall not have it! You are perfidious! You have consulted
with that demon, and desire my treasure! But I will die first! Me! I
am brave! You cannot make me fear!"
All this, uttered in a loud voice trembling with excitement,
astounded me. I saw at a glance that I had accidentally trodden upon
the edges of Simon's secret, whatever it was. It was necessary to
"My dear Simon," I said, "I am entirely at a loss to know what you
mean. I went to Madame Vulpes to consult with her on a scientific
problem, to the solution of which I discovered that a diamond of the
size I just mentioned was necessary. You were never alluded to during
the evening, nor, so far as I was concerned, even thought of. What
can be the meaning of this outburst? If you happen to have a set of
valuable diamonds in your possession, you need fear nothing from me.
The diamond which I require you could not possess; or if you did
possess it, you would not be living here."
Something in my tone must have completely reassured him; for his
expression immediately changed to a sort of constrained merriment,
combined, however, with a certain suspicious attention to my
movements. He laughed, and said that I must bear with him; that he
was at certain moments subject to a species of vertigo, which
betrayed itself in incoherent speeches, and that the attacks passed
off as rapidly as they came. He put his weapon aside while making
this explanation, and endeavored, with some success, to assume a
more cheerful air.
All this did not impose on me in the least. I was too much
accustomed to analytical labors to be baffled by so flimsy a veil. I
determined to probe the mystery to the bottom.
"Simon," I said, gayly, "let us forget all this over a bottle of
Burgundy. I have a case of Lausseure's _Clos Vongeot_ down-stairs,
fragrant with the odors and ruddy with the sunlight of the Cote d'Or.
Let us have up a couple of bottles. What say you?"
"With all my heart," answered Simon, smilingly.
I produced the wine and we seated ourselves to drink. It was of a
famous vintage, that of 1818, a year when war and wine throve
together, and its pure, but powerful juice seemed to impart renewed
vitality to the system. By the time we had half finished the second
bottle, Simon's head, which I knew was a weak one, had begun to yield,
while I remained calm as ever, only that every draught seemed to
send a flush of vigor through my limbs. Simon's utterance became
more and more indistinct. He took to singing French _chansons_ of a
not very moral tendency. I rose suddenly from the table just at the
conclusion of one of those incoherent verses, and fixing my eyes on
him with a quiet smile, said:
"Simon, I have deceived you. I learned your secret this evening. You
may as well be frank with me. Mrs. Vulpes, or rather, one of her
spirits, told me all."
He started with horror. His intoxication seemed for the moment to
fade away, and he made a movement towards the weapon that he had a
short time before laid down. I stopped him with my hand.
"Monster!" he cried, passionately, "I am ruined! What shall I do? You
shall never have it! I swear by my mother!"
"I don't want it," I said; "rest secure, but be frank with me. Tell
me all about it."
The drunkenness began to return. He protested with maudlin
earnestness that I was entirely mistaken,--that I was intoxicated;
then asked me to swear eternal secrecy, and promised to disclose the
mystery to me. I pledged myself, of course, to all. With an uneasy
look in his eyes, and hands unsteady with drink and nervousness, he
drew a small case from his breast and opened it. Heavens! How the
mild lamp-light was shivered into a thousand prismatic arrows, as it
fell upon a vast rose-diamond that glittered in the case! I was no
judge of diamonds, but I saw at a glance that this was a gem of rare
size and purity. I looked at Simon with wonder, and--must I confess
it?--with envy. How could he have obtained this treasure? In reply
to my questions, I could just gather from his drunken statements
(of which, I fancy, half the incoherence was affected) that he had
been superintending a gang of slaves engaged in diamond-washing in
Brazil; that he had seen one of them secrete a diamond, but, instead
of informing his employers, had quietly watched the negro until he
saw him bury his treasure; that he had dug it up, and fled with it,
but that as yet he was afraid to attempt to dispose of it publicly,--
so valuable a gem being almost certain to attract too much attention
to its owner's antecedents,--and he had not been able to discover
any of those obscure channels by which such matters are conveyed
away safely. He added, that, in accordance with Oriental practice,
he had named his diamond by the fanciful title of "The Eye of Morning."
While Simon was relating this to me, I regarded the great diamond
attentively. Never had I beheld anything so beautiful. All the
glories of light, ever imagined or described, seemed to pulsate in
its crystalline chambers. Its weight, as I learned from Simon, was
exactly one hundred and forty carats. Here was an amazing coincidence.
The hand of Destiny seemed in it. On the very evening when the
spirit of Leeuwenhoek communicates to me the great secret of the
microscope, the priceless means which he directs me to employ start
up within my easy reach! I determined, with the most perfect
deliberation, to possess myself of Simon's diamond.
I sat opposite him while he nodded over his glass, and calmly
revolved the whole affair. I did not for an instant contemplate so
foolish an act as a common theft, which would of course be discovered,
or at least necessitate flight and concealment, all of which must
interfere with my scientific plans. There was but one step to be
taken,--to kill Simon. After all, what was the life of a hide
peddling Jew, in comparison with the interests of science? Human
beings are taken every day from the condemned prisons to be
experimented on by surgeons. This man, Simon, was by his own
confession a criminal, a robber, and I believed on my soul a murderer.
He deserved death quite as much as any felon condemned by the laws;
why should I not, like government, contrive that his punishment
should contribute to the progress of human knowledge?
The means for accomplishing everything I desired lay within my reach.
There stood upon the mantel-piece a bottle half full of French
laudanum. Simon was so occupied with his diamond, which I had just
restored to him, that it was an affair of no difficulty to drug his
glass. In a quarter of an hour he was in a profound sleep.
I now opened his waistcoat, took the diamond from the inner pocket
in which he had placed it, and removed him to the bed, on which I
laid him so that his feet hung down over the edge. I had possessed
myself of the Malay creese, which I held in my right hand, while
with the other I discovered as accurately as I could by pulsation
the exact locality of the heart. It was essential that all the
aspects of his death should lead to the surmise of self-murder. I
calculated the exact angle at which it was probable that the weapon,
if levelled by Simon's own hand, would enter his breast; then with
one powerful blow I thrust it up to the hilt in the very spot which
I desired to penetrate. A convulsive thrill ran through Simon's limbs.
I heard a smothered sound issue from his throat, precisely like the
bursting of a large air-bubble, sent up by a diver, when it reaches
the surface of the water; he turned half round on his side, and as if
to assist my plans more effectually, big right hand, moved by some
more spasmodic impulse, clasped the handle of the creese, which it
remained holding with extraordinary muscular tenacity. Beyond this
there was no apparent struggle. The laudanum, I presume, paralyzed
the usual nervous action. He must have died instantaneously.
There was yet something to be done. To make it certain that all
suspicion of the act should be diverted from any inhabitant of the
house to Simon himself, it was necessary that the door should be
found in the morning _locked on the inside_. How to do this, and
afterwards escape myself? Not by the window; that was a physical
impossibility. Besides, I was determined that the windows also
should he found bolted. The solution was simple enough. I descended
softly to my own room for a peculiar instrument which I had used for
holding small slippery substances, such as minute spheres of glass,
etc. This instrument was nothing more than a long slender hand-vice,
with a very powerful grip, and a considerable leverage, which last
was accidentally owing to the shape of the handle. Nothing was
simpler than, when the key was in the lock, to seize the end of its
stem in this vice, through the keyhole, from the outside, and so lock
the door. Previously, however, to doing this, I burned a number of
papers on Simon's hearth. Suicides almost always burn papers before
they destroy themselves. I also emptied some more laudanum into
Simon's glass,--having first removed from it all traces of wine,--
cleaned the other wine-glass, and brought the bottles away with me.
If traces of two persons drinking had been found in the room, the
question naturally would have arisen, Who was the second? Besides,
the wine-bottles might have been identified as belonging to me. The
laudanum I poured out to account for its presence in his stomach, in
case of _post-mortem_ examination. The theory naturally would be
that he first intended to poison himself, but, after swallowing a
little of the drug, was either disgusted with its taste, or changed
his mind from other motives, and chose, the dagger. These
arrangements made, I walked out, leaving the gas burning, locked the
door with my vice, and went to bed.
Simon's death was not discovered until nearly three in the afternoon.
The servant, astonished at seeing the gas burning,--the light
streaming on the dark landing from under the door, peeped through
the keyhole and saw Simon on the bed. She gave the alarm. The door
was burst open, and the neighborhood was in a fever of excitement.
Every one in the house was arrested, myself included. There was an
inquest; but no clue to his death, beyond that of suicide, could be
obtained. Curiously enough, he had made several speeches to his
friends the preceding week, that seemed to point to self-destruction.
One gentleman swore that Simon had said in his presence that
"he was tired of life." His landlord affirmed, that Simon, when
paying him his last month's rent, remarked that "he would not pay
him rent much longer." All the other evidence corresponded, the door
locked inside, the position of the corpse, the burnt, papers. As I
anticipated, no one knew of the possession of the diamond by Simon,
so that no motive was suggested for his murder. The jury, after a
prolonged examination, brought in the usual verdict, and the
neighborhood once, more settled down into its accustomed quiet.
The three months succeeding Simon's catastrophe I devoted night and
day to my diamond lens. I had constructed a vast, galvanic battery,
composed of nearly two thousand pairs of plates,--a higher power I
dared not use, lest the diamond should be calcined. By means of this
enormous engine I was enabled to send a powerful current of
electricity continually through my great diamond, which it seemed to
me gained in lustre every day. At the expiration of a month I
commenced the grinding and polishing of the lens, a work of intense
toil and exquisite delicacy. The great density of the stone, and the
care required to be taken with the curvatures of the surfaces of the
lens, rendered the labor the severest and most harassing that I had
At last the eventful moment came; the lens was completed. I stood
trembling on the threshold of new worlds. I had the realization of
Alexander's famous wish before me. The lens lay on the table, ready
to be placed upon its platform, my hand fairly shook as I enveloped
a drop of water with a thin coating of oil of turpentine, preparatory
to its examination--a process necessary in order to prevent the
rapid evaporation of the water. I now placed the drop on a thin slip
of glass under the lens, and throwing upon it, by the combined aid
of a prism and a mirror, a powerful stream of light, I approached my
eye to the minute hole drilled through the axis of the lens. For an
instant I saw nothing save what seemed to be an illuminated chaos, a
vast luminous abyss. A pure white light, cloudless and serene, and
seemingly limitless as space itself, was my first impression. Gently,
and with the greatest care, I depressed the lens a few hairs'
breadths. The wondrous illumination still continued, but as the lens
approached the object, a scene of indescribable beauty was unfolded
to my view.
I seemed to gaze upon a vast space, the limits of which extended far
beyond my vision. An atmosphere of magical luminousness permeated
the entire field of view. I was amazed to see no trace of
animalculous life. Not a living thing, apparently, inhabited that
dazzling expanse. I comprehended instantly, that, by the wondrous
power of my lens, I had penetrated beyond the grosser particles of
aqueous matter, beyond the realms of Infusoria and Protozoa, down to
the original gaseous globule, into whose luminous interior I was
gazing, as into an almost boundless dome filled with a supernatural
It was, however, no brilliant void into which I looked. On every
side I beheld beautiful inorganic forms, of unknown texture, and
colored with the most enchanting hues. These forms presented the
appearance of what might be called, for want of a more specific
definition, foliated clouds of the highest rarity; that is, they
undulated and broke into vegetable formations, and were tinged with
splendors compared with which the gilding of our autumn woodlands is
as dross compared with gold. Far away into the illimitable distance
stretched long avenues of these gaseous forests, dimly transparent,
and painted with prismatic hues of unimaginable brilliancy. The
pendent branches waved along the fluid glades until every vista
seemed to break through half-lucent ranks of many-colored drooping
silken pennons. What seemed to be either fruits or flowers, pied
with a thousand hues lustrous and ever varying, bubbled from the
crowns of this fairy foliage. No hills, no lakes, no rivers, no
forms animate or inanimate were to be seen, save those vast auroral
copses that floated serenely in the luminous stillness, with leaves
and fruits and flowers gleaming with unknown fires, unrealizable by
How strange, I thought, that this sphere should be thus condemned to
solitude! I had hoped, at least, to discover some new form of animal
life,--perhaps of a lower class than any with which we are at
present acquainted,--but still, some living organism. I find my
newly discovered world, if I may so speak, a beautiful chromatic
While I was speculating on the singular arrangements of the internal
economy of Nature, with which she so frequently splinters into atoms
our most compact theories, I thought I beheld a form moving slowly
through the glades of one of the prismatic forests. I looked more at
tentively, and found that I was not mistaken. Words cannot depict
the anxiety with which I awaited the nearer approach of this
mysterious object. Was it merely some inanimate substance, held in
suspense in the attenuated atmosphere of the globule? or was it an
animal endowed with vitality and motion? It approached, flitting
behind the gauzy, colored veils of cloud-foliage, for seconds dimly
revealed, then vanishing. At last the violet pennons that trailed
nearest to me vibrated; they were gently pushed aside, and the Form
floated out into the broad light.
It was a female human shape. When I say "human," I mean it possessed
the outlines of humanity,--but there the analogy ends. Its adorable
beauty lifted it inimitable heights beyond the loveliest daughter of
I cannot, I dare not, attempt to inventory the charms of this divine
revelation of perfect beauty. Those eyes of mystic violet, dewy and
serene, evade my words. Her long lustrous hair following her
glorious head in a golden wake, like the track sown, in heaven by a
falling star, seems to quench my most burning phrases with its
splendors. If all the bees of Hybla nestled upon my lips, they would
still sing but hoarsely the wondrous harmonies of outline that
enclosed her form.
She swept out from between the rainbow-curtains of the cloud-trees
into the broad sea of light that lay beyond. Her motions were those
of some graceful Naiad, cleaving, by a mere effort of her will, the
clear, unruffled waters that fill the chambers of the sea. She
floated forth with the serene grace of a frail bubble ascending
through the still atmosphere of a June day. The perfect roundness of
her limbs formed suave and enchanting curves. It was like listening
to the most spiritual symphony of Beethoven the divine, to watch the
harmonious flow of lines. This, indeed, was a pleasure cheaply
purchased at any price. What cared I, if I had waded to the portal
of this wonder through another's blood? I would have given my own to
enjoy one such moment of intoxication and delight.
Breathless with gazing on this lovely wonder, and forgetful for an
instant of everything save her presence, I withdrew my eye from the
microscope eagerly,--alas! As my gaze fell on the thin slide that
lay beneath my instrument, the bright light from mirror and from
prism sparkled on a colorless drop of water! There, in that tiny
bead of dew, this beautiful being was forever imprisoned. The planet
Neptune was not more distant from me than she. I hastened once more
to apply my eye to the microscope.
Animula (let me now call her by that dear name which I subsequently
bestowed on her) had changed her position. She had again approached
the wondrous forest, and was gazing earnestly upwards. Presently one
of the trees--as I must call them--unfolded a long ciliary process,
with which it seized one of the gleaming fruits that glittered on
its summit, and sweeping slowly down, held it within reach of Animula.
The sylph took it in her delicate hand, and began to eat. My
attention was so entirely absorbed by her, that I could not apply
myself to the task of determining whether this singular plant was or
was not instinct with volition.
I watched her, as she made her repast, with the most profound
attention. The suppleness of her motions sent a thrill of delight
through my frame; my heart beat madly as she turned her beautiful
eyes in the direction of the spot in which I stood. What would I not
have given to have had the power to precipitate myself into that
luminous ocean, and float with her through those groves of purple
and gold! While I was thus breathlessly following her every movement,
she suddenly started, seemed to listen for a moment, and then
cleaving the brilliant ether in which she was floating, like a flash
of light, pierced through the opaline forest, and disappeared.
Instantly a series of the most singular sensations attacked me. It
seemed as if I had suddenly gone blind. The luminous sphere was
still before me, but my daylight had vanished. What caused this
sudden disappearance? Had she a lover, or a husband? Yes, that was
the solution! Some signal from a happy fellow-being had vibrated
through the avenues of the forest, and she had obeyed the summons.
The agony of my sensations, as I arrived at this conclusion,
startled me. I tried to reject the conviction that my reason forced
upon me. I battled against the fatal conclusion--but in vain. It was
so. I had no escape from it. I loved an animalcule!
It is true, that, thanks to the marvellous power of my microscope,
she appeared of human proportions. Instead of presenting the
revolting aspect of the coarser creatures, that live and struggle
and die, in the more easily resolvable portions of the water-drop,
she was fair and delicate and of surpassing beauty. But of what
account was all that? Every time that my eye was withdrawn from the
instrument, it fell on a miserable drop of water, within which, I
must be content to know, dwelt all that could make my life lovely.
Could she but see me once! Could I for one moment pierce the
mystical walls that so inexorably rose to separate us, and whisper
all that filled my soul, I might consent to be satisfied for the rest
of my life with the knowledge of her remote sympathy. It would be
something to have established even the faintest personal link to
bind us together--to know that at times, when roaming through those
enchanted glades, she might think of the wonderful stranger, who had
broken the monotony of her life with his presence, and left a gentle
memory in her heart!
But it could not be. No invention, of which human intellect was
capable, could break down the barriers that Nature had erected. I
might feast my soul upon her wondrous beauty, yet she must always
remain ignorant of the adoring eyes that day and night gazed upon her,
and, even when closed, beheld her in dreams. With a bitter cry of
anguish I fled from the room, and, flinging myself on my bed, sobbed
myself to sleep like a child.
THE SPILLING OF THE CUP.
I arose the next morning almost at daybreak, and rushed to my
microscope. I trembled as I sought the luminous world in miniature
that contained my all. Animula was there. I had left the gas-lamp,
surrounded by its moderator's, burning, when I went to bed the night
before. I found the sylph bathing, as it were, with an expression of
pleasure animating her features, in the brilliant light which
surrounded her. She tossed her lustrous golden hair over her
shoulders with innocent coquetry. She lay at full length in the
transparent medium, in which she supported herself with ease, and
gambolled with the enchanting grace that the Nymph Salmacis might
have exhibited when she sought to conquer the modest Hermaphroditus.
I tried an experiment to satisfy myself if her powers of reflection
were developed. I lessened the lamp-light considerably. By the dim
light that remained, I could see an expression of pain flit across
her face. She looked upward suddenly, and her brows contracted. I
flooded the stage of the microscope again with a full stream of light,
and her whole expression changed. She sprang forward like some
substance deprived of all weight. Her eyes sparkled, and her lips
moved. Ah! if science had only the means of conducting and
reduplicating sounds, as it does the rays of light, what carols of
happiness would then have entranced my ears! What jubilant hymns to
Adonais would have thrilled the illumined air!
I now comprehended how it was that the Count de Gabalis peopled his
mystic world with sylphs,--beautiful beings whose breath of life was
lambent fire, and who sported forever in regions of purest ether and
purest light The Rosierucian had anticipated the wonder that I had
How long this worship of my strange divinity went on thus I scarcely
know. I lost all note of time. All day from early dawn, and far into
the night, I was to be found peering through that wonderful lens. I
saw no one, went nowhere, and scarce allowed myself sufficient time
for my meals. My whole life was absorbed in contemplation as rapt as
that of any of the Romish saints. Every hour that I gazed upon the
divine form strengthened my passion,--a passion that was always
overshadowed by the maddening conviction, that, although I could
gaze on her at will, she never, never could behold me!
At length I grew so pale and emaciated, from want of rest, and
continual brooding over my insane love and its cruel conditions,
that I determined to make some effort to wean myself from it
"Come," I said, "this is at best but a fantasy. Your imagination has
bestowed on Animula charms which in reality she does not possess.
Seclusion from female society has produced this morbid condition of
mind. Compare her with the beautiful women of your own world, and
this false enchantment will vanish."
I looked over the newspapers by chance. There I beheld the
advertisement of a celebrated danseuse who appeared nightly at
Niblo's. The Signorina Caradolce had the reputation of being the
most beautiful as well as the most graceful woman in the world. I
instantly dressed and went to the theatre.
The curtain drew up. The usual semi-circle of fairies in white
muslin were standing on the right toe around the enamelled
flower-bank, of green canvas, on which the belated prince was
sleeping. Suddenly a flute is heard. The fairies start. The trees
open, the fairies all stand on the left toe, and the queen enters.
It was the Signorina. She bounded forward amid thunders of applause,
and lighting on one foot remained poised in air. Heavens! was this
the great enchantress that had drawn monarchs at her chariot-wheels?
Those heavy muscular limbs, those thick ankles, those cavernous eyes,
that stereotyped smile, those crudely painted checks! Where were the
vermeil blooms, the liquid expressive eyes, the harmonious limbs of
The Signorina danced. What gross, discordant movements! The play of
her limbs was all false and artificial. Her bounds were painful
athletic efforts; her poses were angular and distressed the eye. I
could bear it no longer; with an exclamation of disgust that drew
every eye upon me, I rose from my seat in the very middle of the
Signorina's _pas-de-fascination_ and abruptly quitted the house.
I hastened home to feast my eyes once more on the lovely form of my
sylph. I felt that henceforth to combat this passion would be
impossible. I applied my eye to the lens. Aninula was there,--but
what could have happened? Some terrible change seemed to have taken
place during my absence. Some secret grief seemed to cloud the
lovely features of her I gazed upon. Her face had grown thin and
haggard; her limbs trailed heavily; the wondrous lustre of her
golden hair had faded. She was ill!--ill, and I could not assist her!
I believe at that moment I would have gladly forfeited all claims to
my human birthright, if I could only have been dwarfed to the size
of an animalcule, and permitted to console her from whom fate had
forever divided me.
I racked my brain for the solution of this mystery. What was it that
afflicted the sylph? She seemed to suffer intense pain. Her features
contracted, and she even writhed, as if with some internal agony.
The wondrous forests appeared also to have lost half their beauty.
Their hues were dim and in some places faded away altogether. I
watched Animula for hours with a breaking heart, and she seemed
absolutely to wither away under my very eye. Suddenly I remembered
that I had not looked at the water-drop for several days. In fact, I
hated to see it; for it reminded me of the natural barrier between
Animula and myself. I hurriedly looked down on the stage of the
microscope. The slide was still there,--but, great heavens! the
water-drop had vanished! The awful truth burst upon me; it had
evaporated, until it had become so minute as to be invisible to the
naked eye; I had been gazing on its last atom, the one that contained
Animula,--and she was dying!
I rushed again to the front of the lens, and looked through. Alas!
the last agony had seized her. The rainbow-hued forests had all
melted away, and Animula lay struggling feebly in what seemed to be
a spot of dim light. Ah! the sight was horrible: the limbs once so
round and lovely shrivelling up into nothings; the eyes--those eyes
that shone like heaven--being quenched into black dust; the lustrous
golden hair now lank and discolored. The last throe came. I beheld
that final struggle of the blackening form--and I fainted.
When I awoke out of a trance of many hours, I found myself lying amid
the wreck of my instrument, myself as shattered in mind and body as
it. I crawled feebly to my bed, from which I did not rise for months.
They say now that I am mad; but they are mistaken. I am poor, for I
have neither the heart nor the will to work; all my money is spent,
and I live on charity. Young men's associations that love a joke
invite me to lecture on Optics before them, for which they pay me,
and laugh at me while I lecture. "Linley, the mad microscopist," is
the name I go by. I suppose that I talk incoherently while I lecture.
Who could talk sense when his brain is haunted by such ghastly
memories, while ever and anon among the shapes of death I behold the
radiant form of my lost Animula!
THE SCULPTOR'S FUNERAL.
Amid the aisle, apart, there stood
A mourner like the rest;
And while the solemn rites were said,
He fashioned into verse his mood,
That would not be repressed.
Why did they bring him home,
Bright jewel set in lead?
Oh, bear the sculptor back to Rome,
And lay him with the mighty dead,--
With Adonais, and the rest
Of all the young and good and fair,
That drew the milk of English breast,
And their last sigh in Latian air!
Lay him with Raphael, unto whom
Was granted Rome's most lasting tomb;
For many a lustre, many an aeon,
He might sleep well in the Pantheon,
Deep in the sacred city's womb,
The smoke and splendor and the stir of Rome.
Lay him 'neath Diocletian's dome,
Blessed Saint Mary of the Angels,
Near to that house in which he dwelt,--
House that to many seemed a home,
So much with him they loved and felt.
We were his guests a hundred times;
We loved him for his genial ways;
He gave me credit for my rhymes,
And made me blush with praise.
Ah! there be many histories
That no historian writes,
And friendship hath its mysteries
And consecrated nights;
Amid the busy days of pain,
Wear of hand, and tear of brain,
Weary midnight, weary morn,
Years of struggle paid with scorn;--
Yet oft amid all this despair,
Long rambles in the Autumn days
O'er Appian or Flaminian Ways,
Bright moments snatched from care,
When loose as buffaloes on the wild Campagna
We roved and dined on crust and curds,
Olives, thin wine, and thinner birds,
And woke the echoes of divine Romagna;
And then returning late,
After long knocking at the Lateran gate,
Suppers and nights of gods; and then
Mornings that made us new-born men;
Rare nights at the Minerva tavern,
With Orvieto from the Cardinal's cavern;
Free nights, but fearless and without reproof,--
For Bayard's word ruled Beppo's roof.
O Rome! what memories awake,
When Crawford's name is said,
Of days and friends for whose dear sake
That path of Hades unto me
Will have no more of dread
Than his own Orpheus felt, seeking Eurydice!
O Crawford! husband, father, brother
Are in that name, that little word!
Let me no more my sorrow smother;
Grief stirs me, and I must be stirred.
O Death, thou teacher true and rough!
Full oft I fear that we have erred,
And have not loved enough;
But oh, ye friends, this side of Acheron,
Who cling to me to-day,
I shall not know my love till ye are gone
And I am gray!
Fair women with your loving eyes,
Old men that once my footsteps led,
Sweet children,--much as all I prize,
Until the sacred dust of death be shed
Upon each dear and venerable head,
I cannot love you as I love the dead!
But now, the natural man being sown,
We can more lucidly behold
The spiritual one;
For we, till time shall end,
Full visibly shall see our friend
In all his hand did mould,--
That worn and patient hand that lies so cold!
When on some blessed studious day
To my loved Library I wend my way,
Amid the forms that give the Gallery grace
His thought in that pale poet I shall trace,--
Keen Orpheus with his eyes
Fixed deep in ruddy hell,
Seeking amid those lurid skies
The wife he loved so well,--
And feel that still therein I see
All that was in my Master's thought,
And, in that constant hand wherewith he wrought,
The eternal type of constancy.
Thou marble husband! might there be
More of flesh and blood like thee!
Or if, in Music's festive hall,
I come to cheat me of my care,
Amid the swell, the dying fall,
His genius greets me there.
O man of bronze! thy solemn air--
Best soother of a troubled brain--
Floods me with memories, and again
As thru stand'st visibly to men,
Beloved musician! so once more
Crawford comes back that did thy form restore.
* * * * *
Well,--_requiescat_! let him pass!
Good mourners, go your several ways!
He needs no further rite, nor mass,
Nor eulogy, who best could praise
Himself in marble and in brass;
Yet his best monument did raise,
Not in those perishable things
That men eternal deem,--
The pride of palaces and kings,--
But in such works as must avail him there,
With Him who, from the extreme
Love that was in his breast,
Said, "Come, all ye that heavy burdens bear,
And I will give you rest!"
THE PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE.
As a mere literary production, the Message of Mr. Buchanan is so
superior to any of the Messages of his immediate predecessor, that
the reader naturally expects to find in it a corresponding
superiority of sentiment and aim. When we meet a man who is
well-dressed, and whose external demeanor is that of a gentleman, we
are prone to infer that he is also a man of upright principles and
honorable feelings. But we are very often mistaken in this inference;
the nice garment proves to be little better than a nice disguise;
and the robe of respectability may cover the heart of a very scurvy
Mr. Buchanan's sentences run smoothly enough; they are for the most
part grammatical; the tone throughout is sedate, if not dignified;
and the general spirit unambitious and moderate. But the doctrine,
in our estimation, is, on the most essential point, atrocious, and
the objects which are sought to be compassed are unworthy of the man,
the office, the country, and the age. We refer, of course, to what
is said of the one vital question with us now, the question of
Slavery in Kansas; but before proceeding to a discussion of that,
let us say a word or two of other parts of this important document.
The President introduces, as the first of his topics, the prevailing
money pressure, which he treats at considerable length, with some
degree of truth, but without originality or comprehensiveness of view.
He profiles to inquire into the causes of the unfortunate disasters
of trade, and into the remedies which may be devised against their
recurrence; but on neither head is he remarkably profound or
instructive. It is merely reiterating the commonplaces of the
newspapers, to talk about "the excessive loans and issues of the
banks," and to ring changes of phraseology on the vices of
speculation, over-trading, and stock-jobbing. All the world is as
familiar with all that as the President can be, and scarcely needed
a reminder on either score; what we wanted of the head of the nation,--
what a real statesman, who understood his subject, would have given
us,--that is, if he had pretended to go at all beyond the simple
statement of the fact of commercial revulsion, into a discussion of
it,--was a comprehensive and philosophic analysis of all the causes
of the phenomenon, a calm and careful review of all its circumstances,
and a rigid deduction of broad general principles from an adequate
study of the entire case. But this the President has not furnished.
In connecting our commercial derangements with the disorders of the
banking system he has unquestionably struck upon a great and
fundamental truth; but it is merely a single truth, and he strikes
it in rather a vague and random way. In considering these reverses,
there are many things to be taken into account besides the
constitution and customs, whether good or bad, of our American banks,--
many things which do not even confine themselves to this continent,
but are spread over the greater part of the civilized world.
Mr. Buchanan is still lamer in his suggestion of remedies than he is
in his inquiry after causes. The Federal Government, he thinks, can
do little or nothing in the premises,--a fatal admission at the
outset,--and we are coolly turned over to the most unsubstantial and
impracticable of all reliances, "the wisdom and patriotism of the
State legislatures"! Why cannot the Federal Government do anything
in the premises? The President tells us that the Constitution has
conferred upon Congress the exclusive right "to coin money _and
regulate the value thereof_," and that it has prohibited the States
from "issuing bills of credit,"--which phrase, if it mean anything,
means making paper-money; and the inference would seem to be
inevitable that Congress has a sovereign authority and power over
the whole matter. It may, moreover, touch the circulation of bills,
by means of its indisputable right to lay a stamp-tax upon paper;
and Mr. Gallatin long ago recommended the exercise of this power, as
an effectual method of restraining the emission of small notes. Upon
what principle, then, can the President assert so dictatorially as
he does, that the Federal Government is concluded from action? If
the excesses of the State Banks are so enormous as he represents,
and so perpetually and so widely disastrous, why should it not
interpose to avert the fearful evil? Why refer us for relief to the
proceedings of thirty-one different legislative bodies, no three of
which, probably, would agree upon any coherent system? We do not
ourselves say that Congress ought to interfere and undertake by main
force to regulate the currency, because we hold to other and, as we
think, better methods of arriving at a sound and stable currency;
but from the stand-point of the President, and with his views of the
efficiency of legislative restrictions upon banks, we do not see how
he could consistently avoid recommending the instant action of
Congress. On the heel of his grandiloquent description of the evils
of redundant paper money,--evils which are felt all over the country,--
it is a lamentably impotent conclusion to say, "After all, we can't
do much to help it! Yes, let us confide piously in 'the wisdom and
patriotism of the State legislatures,'"--which are almost the last
places in the world, as things go, where we should look for either
Not being able to do anything himself, however, what does he urge
upon the wise and patriotic State legislatures? Why, a series of
flimsy restrictions, which would have about as much effect in
preventing the tremendous abuses of banking which he himself depicts,
as a bit of filigree iron-work would have in restraining the
expansion of steam. Restrictions! restrictions! _toujours_
restrictions!--as if that method of correcting the evil had not been
utterly exploded by nearly two centuries of experience! Mr. Buchanan
calls himself a Democrat; he is loud in his protestations of respect
for the sagacity, the good-sense, and the virtue of the people; his
political school takes for its motto the well-known adage, "That
government is best which governs least"; his party, if he does not,
purports to be a great advocate of the emancipation of trade from
all the old-fashioned restraints which take the names of protections,
tariffs, bounties, etc. etc.; and we wonder how it is, that, in his
presumed excursions over the entire domain of free-trade, he should
have got no inkling of a thought as to the benefits of free-trade in
banking. We wonder that so great a subject could be dismissed with
the suggestion of a few petty restraints.
"If the State legislatures," remarks the President, summing up his
entire thought, "afford us a real specie basis for our circulation,
by increasing the denomination of bank-notes, first to twenty, and
afterwards to fifty dollars; if they will require that the banks
shall at all times keep on hand at least one dollar of gold and
silver for every three dollars of their circulation and deposits;
and if they will provide, by a self-executing enactment, which
nothing can arrest, that the moment they suspend they shall go into
liquidation; I believe that such provisions, with a weekly
publication by each bank of a statement of its condition, would go
far to secure us against future suspensions of specie payments."
Singular blindness! Mr. Buchanan lived for several years, as
American ambassador, in England. It is to be presumed that while
there he used his eyes, and possibly his brains. He must have
noticed occasionally, at least, in his walks through "the city," the
immense marble structure in Threadneedle Street, known as the Bank
of England. It is certain that he has read the history of that bank,
inasmuch as it is twice or thrice alluded to in his Message; he
cannot be ignorant, therefore, that the "circulation" of England has
essentially "a specie basis"; that no bank-notes are issued there for
less than the amount of twenty-five dollars; that the banks at all
times keep on hand "one dollar of gold for every three dollars of
their circulation and deposits"; and that the laws of bankruptcy are
alike rigid in regard to institutions and individuals. These are
precisely the provisions which he commends to the adoption of wise
and patriotic State legislatures as an admirable corrective for
suspensions; yet he forgets to explain to us how it happens that the
Bank of England, to which they are all applied, has virtually
suspended payment six times in the course of its existence, having
been saved from open dishonor only by the timely assistance of the
government,--while the trade of England, in spite of the staid and
conservative habits of the people, is quite as liable to those
terrific tarantula-dances, called revulsions, as our own. Before
urging his "restraints," the President ought to have inquired a
little into the history of such restraints; and he would then have
saved himself from the absurdity of patronizing remedies which an
actual trial had proved ludicrously inapt and inefficacious.
With regard to the second topic of the Message,--our foreign
relations,--it may be said that the positions assumed are frank,
manly, and explicit; unless we have reason to suspect, in the
slightly belligerent attitude towards Spain, a return, on the part
of the President, to one of his old and unlawful loves,--the
acquisition of Cuba. In that case, we should deplore his language,
and be inclined to doubt also the sincerity of his just
denunciations of Walker's infamous schemes of piracy and brigandage.
Until events, however, have developed the signs of a sinister policy
of this sort, we must bestow an earnest plaudit upon his decided
rebuke of the filibusters, coupling that praise with a wish that the
"vigilance" of his subordinates may hereafter prove of a more
wide-awake and energetic kind than has yet been manifested.
But for the terms in which the President has disposed of his third
topic,--the Kansas difficulty,--we can scarcely characterize their
disingenuousness and meanings. We have already spoken of the object
of this part of the document as atrocious,--and we repeat the word,
as the most befitting that could be used. That object is nothing
less than an attempt to cover the enormous frauds which have marked
the proceedings of the Pro-Slavery agents in Kansas, from their
initiation, with a varnish of smooth and plausible pretexts.
Adroitly taking up the question at the point which it had reached
when his own administration began, he leaves out of view all the
antecedent crimes, treacheries, and tricks by which the people of
the Territory had been led into civil war, and thus assumes that the
late Lecompton Convention was a legitimate Convention, and that the
Constitution framed by it (or said to have been framed by it,--for
there is no official report of the instrument as yet) was framed in
pursuance of proper authority or law. He does not tell us that the
Territorial legislature which called this Convention was a usurping
legislature, brought together, as the Congressional records show, by
an invading horde from a neighboring State; he does not tell us, that,
even if it had been a properly constituted body in itself, it had no
right to call a Convention for the purpose of superseding the
Territorial organization; he does not tell us that the Convention,
as assembled, represented but one-tenth of the legal voters of the
Territory; nor does he seem to regard the fact, that the other
nine-tenths of the people were virtually disfranchised by that
Convention, so far as their right to determine the provisions of
their organic law is concerned, as at all a vital and important fact.
By a miserable juggle, worthy of the frequenters of the
gambling-house or the race-course, the people of Kansas have been
nominally allowed to decide the question of Slavery, and that
permission, according to Mr. Buchanan, fulfils and completes all that
he ever meant, or his associates ever meant, by the promise of
Now this may be all that the President and his party ever meant by
that phrase, but it is not all that their words expressed or the
country expected. In the course of the last three or four years, and
by a series of high-handed measures, the established principles of
the Federal Government, in regard to its management of the
Territories,--principles sanctioned by every administration from
Washington's down to Fillmore's,--have been overruled for the sake
of a new doctrine, which goes by the name of Popular Sovereignty.
The most sacred and binding compacts of former years were annulled
to make way for it; and the judicial department of the government
was violently hauled from its sacred retreat, into the political
arena, to give a gratuitous _coup-de-grace_ to the old opinions and
the apparent sanction of law to the new dogma, so that Popular
Sovereignty might reign triumphant in the Territories. At the
convention of the party which nominated Mr. Buchanan as a candidate
for his present office,--"a celebrated occasion," as he calls it,--
the members affirmed in the most emphatic manner the right of the
people of all the Territories, including Kansas, to form their own
Constitutions as they pleased, under the single condition that it
should be republican. Mr. Buchanan reiterated that assertion in his
Inaugural address, and in subsequent communications. When he
appointed Mr. Robert J. Walker Governor of the Territory, he
instructed him to assure the people that they should be guarantied
against all "fraud or violence" when they should be called upon
"to vote for or against the Constitution which would be submitted to
them," so that there might be "a fair expression of the popular will."
Nothing, in short, could have been clearer, more direct, more
frequently repeated, than the asseverations of the "Democratic Party,"
made through its official representatives, its newspapers, and its
orators,--to the effect, that its only object, in its Kansas policy,
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