The Atlantic Monthly, Vol. II, No. 8, June 1858
Part 2 out of 5
The naked monad, he says, has perceptions without relief, or
"enhanced flavor"; it is in a state of stupor. Death, he thinks, may
produce this state for a time in animals. The monads completely fill
the world; there is never and nowhere a void, and never complete
inanimateness and inertness. The universe is a _plenum_ of souls.
Wherever we behold an organic whole, (_unum per se_,) there monads
are grouped around a central monad to which they are subordinate,
and which they are constrained to serve so long as that connection
lasts. Masses of inorganic matter are aggregations of monads without
a regent, or sentient soul (_unum per accidens_). There can be no
monad without matter, that is, without society, and no soul without
a body. Not only the human soul is indestructible and immortal, but
also the animal soul. There is no generation out of nothing, and no
absolute death. Birth is expansion, development, growth; and death
is contraction, envelopment, decrease. The monads which are destined
to become human souls have existed from the beginning in organic
matter, but only as sentient or animal souls, without reason. They
remain in this condition until the generation of the human beings to
which they belong, and then develope themselves into rational souls.
The different organs and members of the body are also relatively
souls which collect around them a number of monads for a specific
purpose, and so on _ad infinitum_. Matter is not only infinitely
divisible, but infinitely divided. All matter (so called) is living
and active. "Every particle of matter may be conceived as a garden of
plants, or as a pond full of fishes. But each branch of each plant,
each member of each animal, each drop of their humors, is in turn
another such garden or pond." 
[Footnote 23: _Monadol_.67.]
The connection between monads, consequently the connection between
soul and body, is not composition, but an organic relation,--in some
sort, a spontaneous relation. The soul forms its own body, and
moulds it to its purpose. This hypothesis was afterward embraced and
developed as a physiological principle by Stahl. As all the atoms in
one body are organically related, so all the beings in the universe
are organically related to each other and to the All. One creature,
or one organ of a creature, being given, there is given with it the
world's history from the beginning to the end. _All bodies are
strictly fluid; the universe is in flux_.
The principle of continuity answers the same purpose in Leibnitz's
system that the single substance does in Spinoza's. It vindicates
the essential unity of all being. Yet the two conceptions are
immeasurably different, and constitute an immeasurable difference
between the two systems, considered in their practical and moral
bearings, as well as their ontological aspects. Spinoza 
starts with the idea of the Infinite, or the All-One, from which
there is no logical deduction of the individual. And in Spinoza's
system the individual does not exist except as a modality. But the
existence of the individual is one of the primordial truths of the
human mind, the foremost fact of consciousness. With this, therefore,
Leibnitz begins, and arrives, by logical induction, to the Absolute
and Supreme. Spinoza ends where he begins, in pantheism; the moral
result of his system, Godward, is fatalism,--manward, indifferentism
and negation of moral good and evil. Leibnitz ends in theism; the
moral result of his system, Godward, is optimism,--manward, liberty,
personal responsibility, moral obligation.
[Footnote 24: See Helferich's _Spinoza, und Leibnitz_, p. 76.]
He demonstrates the being of God by the necessity of a sufficient
reason to account for the series of things. Each finite thing
requires an antecedent or contingent cause. But the supposition of
an endless sequence of contingent causes, or finite things, is absurd;
the series must have had a beginning, and that beginning cannot have
been a contingent cause or finite thing. "The final reason of things
must be found in a necessary substance in which the detail of
changes exists eminently, (_ne soit qu'eminemment_,) as in its source;
and this is what we call God." 
[Footnote 25: _Monadol_. 38.]
The idea of God is of such a nature, that the being corresponding to
it, if possible, must be actual. We have the idea; it involves no
bounds, no negation, consequently no contradiction. It is the idea
of a possible, therefore of an actual.
"God is the primitive Unity, or the simple original Substance of
which all the creatures, or original monads, are the products, and
_are generated, so to speak, by continual fulgurations from moment
to moment, bounded by the receptivity of the creature_, of whose
existence limitation is an essential condition." 
[Footnote 26: Ib. 47.]
The philosophic theologian and the Christianizing philosopher will
rejoice to find in this proposition a point of reconciliation between
the extramundane God of pure theism and the cardinal principle of
Spinozism, the immanence of Deity in creation,--a principle as dear
to the philosophic mind as that of the extramundane Divinity is to
the theologian. The universe of Spinoza is a self-existent unit,
divine in itself, but with no Divinity behind it. That of Leibnitz
is an endless series of units from a self-existent and divine source.
The one is an infinite deep, the other an everlasting flood.
The doctrine of the _Preestablished Harmony_, so intimately and
universally associated with the name of Leibnitz, has found little
favor with his critics, or even with his admirers. Feuerbach calls
it his weak side, and thinks that Leibnitz's philosophy, else so
profound, was here, as in other instances, overshadowed by the
popular creed; that he accommodated himself to theology, as a highly
cultivated and intelligent man, conscious of his superiority,
accommodates himself to a lady in his conversation with her,
translating his ideas into her language, and even paraphrasing them.
From this view of Leibnitz, as implying insincerity, we utterly
[Footnote 27: See, in connection with this point, two admirable essays
by Lessing,--the one entitled _Leibnitz on Eternal Punishment_, the
other _Objections of Andreas Wissowatius to the Doctrine of the
Trinity_. Of the latter the real topic is Leibnitz's _Defensio
Trinitatis_. The sharp-sighted Lessing, than whom no one has
expressed a greater reverence for Leibnitz, emphatically asserts and
vigorously defends the philosopher's orthodoxy.]
The author of the "Theodicee" was not more interested in philosophy
than he was in theology. His thoughts and his purpose did equal
justice to both. The deepest wish of his heart was to reconcile them,
not by formal treaty, but in loving and condign union. We do not,
however, object to an esoteric and exoteric view of the doctrine
in question; and we quite agree with Feuerbach that the phrase
_preetablie_ does not express a metaphysical determination.
It is one thing to say, that God, by an arbitrary decree from
everlasting, has so predisposed and predetermined every motion in the
world of matter that each volition of a rational agent finds in the
constant procession of physical forces a concurrent event by which it
is executed, but which would have taken place without his volition,
just as the mail-coach takes our letter, if we have one, but goes
all the same, when we do not write,--this is the gross, exoteric
view,--and a very different thing it is to say, that the monads
composing the human system and the universe of things are so related,
adjusted, accommodated to each other, and to the whole, each being a
representative of all the rest and a mirror of the universe, that each
feels all that passes in the rest, and all conspire in every act, 
more or less effectively, in the ratio of their nearness to the prime
agent. This is Leibnitz's idea of preestablished harmony, which,
perhaps, would be better expressed by the term "necessary consent."
"In the ideas of God, each monad has a right to demand that God, in
regulating the rest from the commencement of things, shall have
regard to it; for since a created monad can have no physical
influence on the interior of another, it is only by this means that
one can be dependent on another."--"The soul follows its own laws
and the body follows its own, and they meet in virtue of the
preestablished harmony which exists between all substances, as
representatives of one and the same universe. Souls act according to
the laws of final causes by appetitions, etc. Bodies act according to
the laws of efficient causes or the laws of motion. And the two
kingdoms, that of efficient causes and that of final causes,
harmonize with each other." 
[Footnote 28: In this connection, Leibnitz quotes the remarkable
saying of Hippocrates, [_Greek: Sumpnoia panta_]. The universe
breathes together, conspires.--_Monadal_. 61.]
[Footnote 29: _Monadol_. 78, 79.]
The Preestablished Harmony, then, is to be regarded as the
philosophic statement of a fact, and not as a theory concerning the
cause of the fact. But, like all philosophic and adequate statements,
it answers the purpose of a theory, and clears up many difficulties.
It is the best solution we know of the old contradiction of
free-will and fate,--individual liberty and a necessary world. This
antithesis disappears in the light of the Leibnitian philosophy,
which resolves freedom and necessity into different points of
view and different stages of development. The principle of the
Preestablished Harmony was designed by Leibnitz to meet the
difficulty, started by Des Cartes, of explaining the conformity between
the perceptions of the mind and the corresponding affections of the
body, since mind and matter, in his view, could have no connection
with, or influence on each other. The Cartesians explained this
correspondence by the theory of _occasional causes_, that is, by
the intervention of the Deity, who was supposed by his arbitrary will to
have decreed a certain perception or sensation in the mind to go
with a certain affection of the body, with which, however, it had no
real connection. "Car il" (that is, M. Bayle) "est persuade avec les
Cartesiens modernes, que les idees des qualites sensibles que Dieu
donne, selon eux, a l'ame, a l'occasion des mouvemens du corps,
n'ont rien qui represente ces mouvemens, ou qui leur ressemble; de
sorte qu'il etoit purement arbitraire que Dieu nous donnat les idees
de la chaleur, du froid, de la lumiere et autres que nous
experimentons, ou qu'il nous en donnat de tout-autres a cette meme
[Footnote 30: _Theodicee_. Partie II. 340.]
If the body was exposed to the flame, there was no more reason,
according to this theory, why the soul should be conscious of pain
than of pleasure, except that God had so ordained. Such a supposition
was shocking to our philosopher, who could tolerate no arbitrariness
in God and no gap or discrepancy in nature, and who, therefore,
sought to explain, by the nature of the soul itself and its kindred
monads, the correspondence for which so violent an hypothesis was
embraced by the Cartesians.
We have left ourselves no room to speak as we would of Leibnitz as
theosopher. It was in this character that he obtained, in the last
century, his widest fame. The work by which he is most commonly known,
by which alone he is known to many, is the "Theodicee,"--an attempt
to vindicate the goodness of God against the cavils of unbelievers.
He was one of the first to apply to this end the cardinal principle
of the Lutheran Reformation,--the liberty of reason. He was one of
the first to treat unbelief, from the side of religion, as an error
of judgment, not as rebellion against rightful authority. The latter
was and is the Romanist view. The former is the Protestant theory,
but was not then, and is not always now, the Protestant practice.
Theology then was not concerned to vindicate the reason or the
goodness of God. It gloried in his physical strength by which he
would finally crush dissenters from orthodoxy. Leibnitz knew no
authority independent of Reason, and no God but the Supreme Reason
directing Almighty Good-will. The philosophic conclusion justly
deducible from this view of God, let cavillers say what they will,
is Optimism. Accordingly, Optimism, or the doctrine of the best
possible world, is the theory of the "Theodicee." Our limits will
not permit us to analyze the argument of this remarkable work. Bunsen
says, "It necessarily failed because it was a not quite honest
compound of speculation and divinity." 
[Footnote 31: _Outlines of the Philos. of Univ. Hist_. Vol. I. Chap. 6.]
Few at the present day will pretend to be entirely satisfied with
its reasoning, but all who are familiar with it know it to be a
treasury of wise and profound thoughts and of noble sentiments and
aspirations. Bonnet, the naturalist, called it his "Manual of
Christian Philosophy"; and Fontenelle, in his eulogy, speaks
enthusiastically of its luminous and sublime views, of its reasonings,
in which the mind of the geometer is always apparent, of its perfect
fairness toward those whom it controverts, and its rich store of
anecdote and illustration. Even Stewart, who was _not_ familiar with
it, and who, as might be expected, strangely misconceives and
misrepresents the author, is compelled to echo the general sentiment.
He pronounces it a work in which are combined together in an
extraordinary degree "the acuteness of the logician, the imagination
of the poet, and the _impenetrable yet sublime darkness_ of the
metaphysical theologian." The Italics are ours. Our reason for
doubting Stewart's familiarity with the "Theodicee," and with
Leibnitz in general, is derived in part from these phrases. We do
not believe that any sincere student of Leibnitz has found him dark
and impenetrable. Be it a merit or a fault, this predicate is
inapplicable. Never was metaphysician more explicit and more
intelligible. Had he been disposed to mysticize and to shroud
himself in "impenetrable darkness," he would have found it difficult
to indulge that propensity in French. Thanks to the strict regime
and happy limitations of that idiom, the French is not a language in
which philosophy can hide itself. It is a tight-fitting coat, which
shows the exact form, or want of form, of the thought it clothes,
without pad or fold to simulate fulness or to veil defects. It was a
Frenchman, we are aware, who discovered that "the use of language is
to conceal thought"; but that use, so far as French is concerned,
has been hitherto monopolized by diplomacy.
Another reason for questioning Stewart's familiarity with Leibnitz
is his misconception of that author, which we choose to impute to
ignorance rather than to wilfulness. This misconception is
strikingly exemplified in a prominent point of Leibnitian philosophy.
Stewart says: "The zeal of Leibnitz in propagating the dogma of
Necessity is not easily reconcilable with the hostility which he
uniformly displays against the congenial doctrine of Materialism." 
[Footnote 32: _General View of the Prog. of Metaph. Eth. and Polit.
Phil_. Boston: 1822. p. 75.]
Now it happens that "the zeal of Leibnitz" was exerted in precisely
the opposite direction. A considerable section of the "Theodicee"
(34-75) is occupied with the illustration and defence of the Freedom
of the Will. It was a doctrine on which he laid great stress, and
which forms an essential part of his system;  in proof of which,
let one declaration stand for many: "Je suis d'opinion que notre
volonte n'est pas seulement exempte de la contrainte, mais encore
de la necessite." How far he succeeded in establishing that doctrine
in accordance with the rest of his system is another question.
That he believed it and taught it is a fact of which there can be
no more doubt with those who have studied his writings, than there
is that he wrote the works ascribed to him. But the freedom of will
maintained by Leibnitz was not indeterminism. It was not the
indifference of the tongue of the balance between equal weights,
or that of the ass between equal bundles of hay. Such an
equilibrium he declares impossible. "Cet equilibre en tout sens
est impossible." Buridan's imaginary case of the ass is a fiction
"qui ne sauroit avoir lieu dans l'univers." 
[Footnote 33: "Numquam Leibnitio in mentem venisse libertatem velle
evertere, in qua defendenda quam maxime fuit occupatus, omnia scripta,
precipue autem Theodicaea ejus, clamitant."--KORTHOLT, Vol. IV. p. 12.]
[Footnote 34: Leibnitz seems to have been of the same mind with
"Intra duo cibi distanti e moventi
D' un modo, prima si morria di fame
Che liber' uomo l'un recasse a' denti."
_Parad_, iv. 1.]
The will is always determined by motives, but not necessarily
constrained by them. This is his doctrine, emphatically stated and
zealously maintained. We doubt if any philosopher, equally profound
and equally sincere, will ever find room in his conclusions for a
greater measure of moral liberty than the "Theodicee" has conceded
to man. "In respect to this matter," says Arthur Schopenhauer,
"the great thinkers of all times are agreed and decided, just as
surely as the mass of mankind will never see and comprehend the
great truth, that the practical operation of liberty is not to be
sought in single acts, but in the being and nature of man." 
[Footnote 35: _Ueber den Willen in der Natur_. FRANKFURT A.M. 1854.
Leibnitz's construction of the idea of a possible liberty consistent
with the preestablished order of the universe is substantially that
of Schelling in his celebrated essay on this subject. We must not
dwell upon it, but hasten to conclude our imperfect sketch.
The ground-idea of the "Theodicee" is expressed in the phrase,
"Best-possible world." Evil is a necessary condition of finite being,
but the end of creation is the realization of the greatest possible
perfection within the limits of the finite. The existing universe is
one of innumerable possible universes, each of which, if actualized,
would have had a different measure of good and evil. The present,
rather than any other, was made actual, as presenting to Divine
Intelligence the smallest measure of evil and the greatest amount of
good. This idea is happily embodied in the closing apologue, designed
to supplement one of Laurentius Valla, a writer of the fifteenth
century, Theodorus, priest of Zeus at Dodona, demands why that god
has permitted to Sextus the evil will which was destined to bring so
much misery on himself and others. Zeus refers him to his daughter
Athene. He goes to Athens, is commanded to lie down in the temple of
Pallas, and is there visited with a dream. The vision takes him to
the Palace of Destinies, which contains the plans of all possible
worlds. He examines one plan after another; in each the same Sextus
plays a different part and experiences a different fate. The plans
improve as he advances, till at last he comes upon one whose
superior excellence enchants him with delight. After revelling awhile
in the contemplation of this perfect world, he is told that this is
the actual world in which he lives. But in this the crime of Sextus
is a necessary constituent; it could not be what it is as a whole,
were it other than it is in its single parts.
Whatever may be thought of Leibnitz's success in demonstrating his
favorite doctrine, the theory of Optimism commends itself to piety
and reason as that view of human and divine things which most
redounds to the glory of God and best expresses the hope of man,--as
the noblest and _therefore_ the truest theory of Divine rule and
We recall at this moment but one English writer of supreme mark who
has held and promulged, in its fullest extent, the theory of Optimism.
That one is a poet. The "Essay on Man," with one or two exceptions,
might almost pass for a paraphrase of the "Theodicee"; and Pope,
with characteristic vigor, has concentrated the meaning of that
treatise in one word, which is none the less true, in the sense
intended, because of its possible perversion,--"Whatever is, is right."
* * * * *
A FEW SCENES FROM A TRUE HISTORY. [Concluded.]
They had lived thus nearly a year, when, one day as they were riding
on horseback, Alfred saw Mr. Grossman approaching. "Drop your veil,"
he said, quickly, to his companion; for he could not bear to have
that Satyr even look upon his hidden flower. The cotton-broker
noticed the action, but silently touched his hat, and passed with a
significant smile on his uncomely countenance. A few days afterward,
when Alfred had gone to his business in the city, Loo Loo strolled
to her favorite recess on the hill-side, and, lounging on the rustic
seat, began to read the second volume of "Thaddeus of Warsaw." She
was so deeply interested in the adventures of the noble Pole, that
she forgot herself and all her surroundings. Masses of glossy dark
hair fell over the delicate hand that supported her head; her
morning-gown, of pink French muslin, fell apart, and revealed a
white embroidered skirt, from beneath which obtruded one small foot,
in an open-work silk stocking; the slipper having fallen to the
ground. Thus absorbed, she took no note of time, and might have
remained until summoned to dinner, had not a slight rustling
disturbed her. She looked up, and saw a coarse face peering at her
between the pine boughs, with a most disgusting expression. She at
once recognized the man they had met during their ride; and starting
to her feet, she ran like a deer before the hunter. It was not till
she came near the house, that she was aware of having left her
slipper. A servant was sent for it, but returned, saying it was not
to be found. She mourned over the loss, for the little pink kid
slippers, embroidered with silver, were a birth-day present from
Alfred. As soon as he returned, she told him the adventure, and went
with him to search the arbor of pines. The incident troubled him
greatly. "What a noxious serpent, to come crawling into our Eden!"
he exclaimed. "Never come here alone again, dearest; and never go
far from the house, unless Madame is with you."
Her circle of enjoyments was already small, excluded as she was from
society by her anomalous position, and educated far above the caste
in which the tyranny of law and custom so absurdly placed her. But
it is one of the blessed laws of compensation, that the human soul
cannot miss that to which it has never been accustomed. Madame's
motherly care, and Alfred's unvarying tenderness, sufficed her
cravings for affection; and for amusement, she took refuge in books,
flowers, birds, and those changes of natural scenery for which her
lover had such quickness of eye. It was a privation to give up her
solitary rambles in the grounds, her inspection of birds' nests, and
her readings in that pleasant alcove of pines. But she more than
acquiesced in Alfred's prohibition. She said at once, that she would
rather be a prisoner within the house all her days than ever see
that odious face again.
Mr. Noble encountered the cotton-broker, in the way of business, a
few days afterward; but his aversion to the unclean conversation of
the man induced him to conceal his vexation under the veil of common
courtesy. He knew what sort of remarks any remonstrance would elicit,
and he shrank from subjecting Loo Loo's name to such pollution. For a
short time, this prudent reserve shielded him from the attacks he
dreaded. But Mr. Grossman soon began to throw out hints about the
sly hypocrisy of Puritan Yankees, and other innuendoes obviously
intended to annoy him. At last, one day, he drew the embroidered
slipper from his pocket, and, with a rakish wink of his eye, said,
"I reckon you have seen this before, Mr. Noble."
Alfred felt an impulse to seize him by the throat, and strangle him
on the spot. But why should he make a scene with such a man, and
thus drag Loo Loo's name into painful notoriety? The old _roue_ was
evidently trying to foment a quarrel with him. Thoroughly animal in
every department of his nature, he was boastful of brute courage,
and prided himself upon having killed several men in duels. Alfred
conjectured his line of policy, and resolved to frustrate it. He
therefore coolly replied, "I have seen such slippers; they are very
pretty"; and turned away, as if the subject were indifferent to him.
"Coward!" muttered Grossman, as he left the counting-house. Mr. Noble
did not hear him; and if he had, it would not have altered his course.
He could see nothing enviable in the reputation of being ever ready
for brawls, and a dead-shot in duels; and he knew that his life was
too important to the friendless Loo Loo to be thus foolishly risked
for the gratification of a villain. This incident renewed his old
feelings of remorse for the false position in which he had placed the
young orphan, who trusted him so entirely. To his generous nature,
the wrong seemed all the greater because the object was so
unconscious of it. "It is I who have subjected her to the insolence
of this vile man," he said within himself. "But I will repair the
wrong. Innocent, confiding soul that she is, I will protect her. The
sanction of marriage shall shield her from such affronts."
Alas for poor human nature! He was sincere in these resolutions, but
he was not quite strong enough to face the prejudices of the society
in which he lived. Their sneers would have fallen harmless. They
could not take from him a single thing he really valued. But he had
not learned to understand that the dreaded power of public opinion
is purely fabulous, when unsustained by the voice of conscience. So
he fell into the old snare of moral compromise. He thought the best
he could do, under the circumstances, was to hasten the period of
his departure for the North, to marry Loo Loo in Philadelphia, and
remove to some part of the country where her private history would
To make money for this purpose, he had more and more extended
his speculations, and they had uniformly proved profitable. If
Mr. Grossman's offensive conduct had not forced upon him a painful
consciousness of his position with regard to the object of his
devoted affection, he would have liked to remain in Mobile a few
years longer, and accumulate more; but, as it was, he determined to
remove as soon as he could arrange his affairs satisfactorily. He
set about this in good earnest. But, alas! the great pecuniary crash
of 1837 was at hand. By every mail came news of failures where he
expected payments. The wealth, which seemed so certain a fact a few
months before, where had it vanished? It had floated away, like a
prismatic bubble on the breeze. He saw that his ruin was inevitable.
All he owned in the world would not cancel his debts. And now he
recalled the horrible recollection that Loo Loo was a part of his
property. Much as he had blamed Mr. Duncan for negligence in not
manumitting her mother, he had fallen into the same snare. In the
fulness of his prosperity and happiness, he did not comprehend the
risk he was running by delay. He rarely thought of the fact that she
was legally his slave; and when it did occur to him, it was always
accompanied with the recollection that the laws of Alabama did not
allow him to emancipate her without sending her away from the State.
But this never troubled him, because there was always present with
him that vision of going to the North and making her his wife. So
time slipped away, without his taking any precautions on the subject;
and now it was too late. Immersed in debt as he was, the law did not
allow him to dispose of anything without consent of creditors; and he
owed ten thousand dollars to Mr. Grossman. Oh, agony! sharp agony!
There was a meeting of the creditors. Mr. Noble rendered an account
of all his property, in which he was compelled to include Loo Loo;
but for her he offered to give a note for fifteen hundred dollars,
with good endorsement, payable with interest in a year. It was known
that his attachment to the orphan he had educated amounted almost to
infatuation; and his proverbial integrity inspired so much respect,
that the creditors were disposed to grant him any indulgence not
incompatible with their own interests. They agreed to accept the
proffered note, all except Mr. Grossman. He insisted that the girl
should be put up at auction. For her sake, the ruined merchant
condescended to plead with him. He represented that the tie between
them was very different from the merely convenient connections which
were so common; that Loo Loo was really good and modest, and so
sensitive by nature, that exposure to public sale would nearly kill
her. The selfish creditor remained inexorable. The very fact that
this delicate flower had been so carefully sheltered from the mud
and dust of the wayside rendered her a more desirable prize. He
coolly declared, that ever since he had seen her in the arbor, he
had been determined to have her; and now that fortune had put the
chance in his power, no money should induce him to relinquish it.
The sale was inevitable; and the only remaining hope was that some
friend might be induced to buy her. There was a gentleman in the
city whom I will call Frank Helper. He was a Kentuckian by birth,
kind and open-hearted,--a slave-holder by habit, not by nature. Warm
feelings of regard had long existed between him and Mr. Noble; and to
him the broken merchant applied for advice in this torturing
emergency. Though Mr. Helper was possessed of but moderate wealth,
he had originally agreed to endorse his friend's note for fifteen
hundred dollars; and he now promised to empower some one to expend
three thousand dollars in the purchase of Loo Loo.
"It is not likely that we shall be obliged to pay so much," said he.
"Bad debts are pouring in upon Grossman, and he hasn't a mint of
money to spare just now, however big he may talk. We will begin with
offering fifteen hundred dollars; and she will probably be bid off
for two thousand."
"Bid off! O my God!" exclaimed the wretched man. He bowed his head
upon his outstretched arms, and the table beneath him shook with his
convulsive sobs. His friend was unprepared for such an overwhelming
outburst of emotion. He did not understand, no one but Alfred
himself _could_ understand, the peculiarity of the ties that bound
him to that dear orphan. Recovering from this unwonted mood, he
inquired whether there was no possible way of avoiding a sale.
"I am sorry to say there is no way, my friend," replied Mr. Helper.
"The laws invest this man with power over you; and there is nothing
left for us but to undermine his projects. It is a hazardous business,
as you well know. _You_ must not appear in it; neither can I; for I
am known to be your intimate friend. But trust the whole affair to me,
and I think I can bring it to a successful issue."
"The hardest thing of all was to apprise the poor girl of her
situation. She had never thought of herself as a slave; and what a
terrible awakening was this from her dream of happy security! Alfred
deemed it most kind and wise to tell her of it himself; but he
dreaded it worse than death. He expected she would swoon; he even
feared it might kill her. But love made her stronger than he thought.
When, after much cautious circumlocution, he arrived at the crisis
of the story, she pressed her hand hard upon her forehead, and
seemed stupefied. Then she threw herself into his arms, and they wept,
wept, wept, till their heads seemed cracking with the agony.
"Oh, the avenging Nemesis!" exclaimed Alfred, at last. "I have
deserved all this. It is all my own fault. I ought to have carried
you away from these wicked laws. I ought to have married you. Truest,
most affectionate of friends, how cruelly I have treated you! you,
who put the welfare of your life so confidingly into my hands!"
She rose up from his bosom, and, looking him lovingly in the face,
"Never say that, dear Alfred! Never have such a thought again! You
have been the best and kindest friend that woman ever had. If
_I_ forgot that I was a slave, is it strange that _you_ should
forget it? But, Alfred, I will never be the slave of any other man,--
never! I will never be put on the auction-stand. I will die first."
"Nay, dearest, you must make no rash resolutions," he replied.
"I have friends who promise to save you, and restore us to each other.
The form of sale is unavoidable. So, for my sake, consent to the
temporary humiliation. Will you, darling?"
He had never before seen such an expression in her face. Her eyes
flashed, her nostrils dilated, and she drew her breath like one in
the agonies of death. Then pressing his hand with a nervous grasp,
"For _your_ sake, dear Alfred, I will."
From that time, she maintained outward calmness, while in his
presence; and her inward uneasiness was indicated only by a fondness
more clinging than ever. Whenever she parted from him, she kept him
lingering, and lingering, on the threshold. She followed him to the
road; she kissed her hand to him till he was out of sight; and then
her tears flowed unrestrained. Her mind was filled with the idea
that she should be carried away from the home of her childhood, as
she had been by the rough Mr. Jackson,--that she should become the
slave of that bad man, and never, never see Alfred again. "But I can
die," she often said to herself; and she revolved in her mind
various means of suicide, in case the worst should happen.
Madame Labasse did not desert her in her misfortunes. She held
frequent consultations with Mr. Helper and his friends, and
continually brought messages to keep up her spirits. A dozen times a
day, she repeated,--
"Tout sera bien arrange. Soyez tranquille, ma chere! Soyez tranquille!"
At last the dreaded day arrived. Mr. Helper had persuaded Alfred to
appear to yield to necessity, and keep completely out of sight. He
consented, because Loo Loo had said she could not go through with
the scene, if he were present; and, moreover, he was afraid to trust
his own nerves and temper. They conveyed her to the auction-room,
where she stood trembling among a group of slaves of all ages and
all colors, from iron-black to the lightest brown. She wore her
simplest dress, without ornament of any kind. When they placed her
on the stand, she held her veil down, with a close, nervous grasp.
"Come, show us your face," said the auctioneer. "Folks don't like to
buy a pig in a poke, you know."
Seeing that she stood perfectly still, with her head lowered upon
her breast, he untied the bonnet, pulled it off rudely, and held up
her face to public view. There was a murmur of applause.
"Show your teeth," said the auctioneer. But she only compressed her
mouth more firmly. After trying in vain to coax her, he exclaimed,--
"Never mind, gentlemen. She's got a string of pearls inside them
coral lips of hern. I can swear to that, for I've seen 'em. No use
tryin' to trot her out. She's a leetle set up, ye see, with bein'
made much of. Look at her, gentlemen! Who can blame her for bein' a
bit proud? She's a fust-rate fancy-article. Who bids?"
Before he had time to repeat the question, Mr. Grossman said, in a
loud voice, "Fifteen hundred dollars."
This was rather a damper upon Mr. Helper's agent, who bid sixteen
A voice from the crowd called out, "Eighteen hundred."
"Two thousand," shouted Mr. Grossman.
"Two thousand two hundred," said another voice.
"Two thousand five hundred," exclaimed Mr. Grossman.
"Two thousand eight hundred," said the incognito agent.
The prize was now completely given up to the two competitors; and
the agent, excited by the contest, went beyond his orders, until he
bid as high as four thousand two hundred dollars.
"Four thousand five hundred," screamed the cotton-broker.
There was no use in contending with him. He was evidently willing to
stake all his fortune upon victory.
"Going! Going! Going!" repeated the auctioneer, slowly. There was a
brief pause, during which every pulsation in Loo Loo's body seemed
to stop. Then she heard the horrible words, "Gone, for four thousand
five hundred dollars! Gone to Mr. Grossman!"
They led her to a bench at the other end of the room. She sat there,
still as a marble statue, and almost as pale. The sudden cessation
of excited hope had so stunned her, that she could not think.
Everything seemed dark and reeling round her. In a few minutes,
Mr. Grossman was at her side.
"Come, my beauty," said he. "The carriage is at the door. If you
behave yourself, you shall be treated like a queen. Come, my love!"
He attempted to take her hand, but his touch roused her from her
lethargy; and springing at him, like a wild-cat, she gave him a blow
in the face that made him stagger,--so powerful was it, in the
vehemence of her disgust and anger.
His coaxing tones changed instantly.
"We don't allow niggers to put on such airs," he said. "I'm your
master. You've got to live with me; and you may as well make up your
mind to it first as last."
He glowered at her savagely for a moment; and drawing from his pocket
an embroidered slipper, he added,--
"Ever since I picked up this pretty thing, I've been determined to
have you. I expected to be obliged to wait till Noble got tired of
you, and wanted to take up with another wench; but I've had better
luck than I expected."
At the sight of that gift of Alfred's in his hated hand, at the
sound of those coarse words, so different from _his_ respectful
tenderness, her pride broke down, and tears welled forth. Looking up
in his stern face, she said, in tones of the deepest pathos,--
"Oh, Sir, have pity on a poor, unfortunate girl! Don't persecute me!"
"Persecute you?" he replied. "No, indeed, my charmer! If you'll be
kind to me, I'll treat you like a princess."
He tried to look loving, but the expression was utterly revolting.
Twelve years of unbridled sensuality had rendered his countenance
even more disgusting than it was when he shocked Alfred's youthful
soul by his talk about "Duncan's handsome wench."
"Come, my beauty," he continued, persuasively, "I'm glad to see you
in a better temper. Come with me, and behave yourself."
She curled her lip scornfully, and repeated,--
"I will never live with you! Never!"
"Well see about that, my wench," said he. "I may as well take you
down a peg, first as last. If you'd rather be in the calaboose with
niggers than to ride in a carriage with me, you may try it, and see
how you like it. I reckon you'll be glad to come to my terms, before
He beckoned to two police-officers, and said, "Take this wench into
custody, and keep her on bread and water, till I give further orders."
The jail to which Loo Loo was conveyed was a wretched place. The
walls were dingy, the floor covered with puddles of tobacco-juice,
the air almost suffocating with the smell of pent-up tobacco-smoke,
unwashed negroes, and dirty garments. She had never seen any place so
loathsome. Mr. Jackson's log-house was a palace in comparison. The
prison was crowded with colored people of all complexions, and
almost every form of human vice and misery was huddled together
there with the poor victims of misfortune. Thieves, murderers, and
shameless girls, decked out with tawdry bits of finery, were mixed
up with modest-looking, heart-broken wives, and mothers mourning for
the children that had been torn from their arms, in the recent sale.
Some were laughing, and singing lewd songs. Others sat still, with
tears trickling down their sable cheeks. Here and there the fierce
expression of some intelligent young man indicated a volcano of
revenge seething within his soul. Some were stretched out drowsily
upon the filthy floor, their natures apparently stupefied to the
level of brutes. When Loo Loo was brought in, most of them were
roused to look at her; and she heard them saying to each other,
"By gum, dat ar an't no nigger!" "What fur dey fotch _her_ here?"
"She be white lady ob quality, _she_ be."
The tenderly-nurtured daughter of the wealthy planter remained in
this miserable place two days. The jailer, touched by her beauty and
extreme dejection, offered her better food than had been prescribed
in his orders. She thanked him, but said she could not eat. When he
invited her to occupy, for the night, a small room apart from the
herd of prisoners, she accepted the offer with gratitude. But she
could not sleep, and she dared not undress. In the morning, the
jailer, afraid of being detected in these acts of indulgence, told
her, apologetically, that he was obliged to request her to return to
the common apartment.
Having recovered somewhat from the stunning effects of the blow that
had fallen on her, she began to take more notice of her companions.
A gang of slaves, just sold, was in keeping there, till it suited
the trader's convenience to take them to New Orleans; and the
parting scenes she witnessed that day made an impression she never
forgot. "Can it be," she said to herself, "that such things have
been going on around me all these years, and I so unconscious of them?
What should I now be, if Alfred had not taken compassion on me, and
prevented my being sent to the New Orleans market, before I was ten
years old?" She thought with a shudder of the auction-scene the day
before, and began to be afraid that her friends could not save her
from that vile man's power.
She was roused from her reverie by the entrance of a white gentleman,
whom she had never seen-before. He came to inspect the trader's gang
of slaves, to see if any one among them would suit him for a
house-servant; and before long, he agreed to purchase a
bright-looking mulatto lad. He stopped before Loo Loo, and said,
"Are you a good sempstress?"
"She's not for sale," answered the jailer. "She belongs to Mr.
Grossman, who put her here for disobedience." The man smiled, as he
spoke, and Loo Loo blushed crimson.
"Ho, ho," rejoined the stranger. "I'm sorry for that. I should like
to buy her, if I could."
He sauntered round the room, and took from his pocket oranges and
candy, which he distributed among the black picaninnies tumbling
over each other on the dirty floor. Coming round again to the place
where she sat, he put an orange on her lap, and said, in low tones,
"When they are not looking at you, remove the peel"; and, touching
his finger to his lip, significantly, he turned away to talk with
As soon as he was gone, she asked permission to go, for a few minutes,
to the room she had occupied during the night. There she examined
the orange, and found that half of the skin had been removed unbroken,
a thin paper inserted, and the peel replaced. On the scrap of paper
was written: "When your master comes, appear to be submissive, and
go with him. Plead weariness, and gain time. You will be rescued.
Destroy this, and don't seem more cheerful than you have been." Under
this was written, in Madame Labasse's hand, "Soyez tranquille, ma chere."
Unaccustomed to act a part, she found it difficult to appear so sad
as she had been before the reception of the note. But she did her
best, and the jailer observed no change.
Late in the afternoon, Mr. Grossman made his appearance. "Well, my
beauty," said he, "are you tired of the calaboose? Don't you think
you should like my house rather better?"
She yawned listlessly, and, without looking up, answered, "I am very
tired of staying here."
"I thought so," rejoined her master, with a chuckling laugh.
"I reckoned I should bring you to terms. So you've made up your mind
not to be cruel to a poor fellow so desperately in love with you,--
She made no answer, and he continued: "You're ready to go home with
"Yes, Sir," she replied, faintly.
"Well, then, look up in my face, and let me have a peep at those
devilish handsome eyes."
He chucked her under the chin, and raised her blushing face. She
wanted to push him from her, he was so hateful; but she remembered
the mysterious orange, and looked him in the eye, with passive
obedience. Overjoyed at his success, he paid the jailer his fee,
drew her arm within his, and hurried to the carriage.
How many humiliations were crowded into that short ride! How she
shrank from the touch of his soft, swabby hand! How she loathed the
gloating looks of the old Satyr! But she remembered the orange, and
endured it all stoically.
Arrived at his stylish house, he escorted her to a large chamber
"I told you I would treat you like a princess," he said; "and I will
keep my word."
He would have seated himself; but she prevented him, saying,
"I have one favor to ask, and I shall be very grateful to you, if
you will please to grant it."
"What is it, my charmer?" he inquired. "I will consent to anything
She answered, "I could not get a wink of sleep in that filthy prison;
and I am extremely tired. Please leave me till to-morrow."
"Ah, why did you compel me to send you to that abominable place? It
grieved me to cast such a pearl among swine. Well, I want to
convince you that I am a kind master; so I suppose I must consent.
But you must reward me with a kiss before I go."
This was the hardest trial of all; but she recollected the danger of
exciting his suspicions, and complied. He returned it with so much
ardor, that she pushed him away impetuously; but softening her
manner immediately, she said, in pleading tones, "I am exceedingly
tired; indeed I am!"
He lingered, and seemed very reluctant to go; but when she again
urged her request, he said, "Good night, my beauty! I will send up
some refreshments for you, before you sleep."
He went away, and she had a very uncomfortable sensation when she
heard him lock the door behind him. A prisoner, with such a jailer!
With a quick movement of disgust, she rushed to the water-basin and
washed her lips and her hands; but she felt that the stain was one
no ablution could remove. The sense of degradation was so cruelly
bitter, that it seemed to her as if she should die for very shame.
In a short time, an elderly mulatto woman, with a pleasant face,
entered, bearing a tray of cakes, ices, and lemonade.
"I don't wish for anything to eat," said Loo Loo, despondingly.
"Oh, don't be givin' up, in dat ar way," said the mulatto, in kind,
motherly tones. "De Lord ain't a-gwine to forsake ye. Ye may jus'
breeve what Aunt Debby tells yer. I'se a poor ole nigger; but I
hab 'sarved dat de darkest time is allers jus afore de light come.
Eat some ob dese yer goodies. Ye oughter keep yoursef strong fur de
sake ob yer friends."
Loo Loo looked at her earnestly, and repeated, "Friends? How do you
know I _have_ any friends?"
"Oh, I'se poor ole nigger," rejoined the mulatto. "I don't knows
The captive looked wistfully after her, as she left the room. She
felt disappointed; for something in the woman's ways and tones had
excited a hope within her. Again the key turned on the outside; but
it was not long before Debby reappeared with a bouquet.
"Massa sent young Missis dese yer fowers," she said.
"Put them down," rejoined Loo Loo, languidly.
"Whar shall I put 'em?" inquired the servant.
"Anywhere, out of my way," was the curt reply.
Debby cautioned her by a shake of her finger, and whispered,
"Massa's out dar, waitin' fur de key. Dar's writin' on dem ar fowers."
She lighted the lamps, and, after inquiring if anything else was
wanted, she went out, saying, "Good night, missis. De Lord send ye
Again the key turned, and the sound of footsteps died away. Loo Loo
eagerly untwisted the paper round the bouquet, and read these words:
"Be ready for travelling. About midnight your door will be unlocked.
Follow Aunt Debby with your shoes in your hand, and speak no word.
Destroy this paper." To this Madame Labasse had added, "Ne craigner
rien, ma chere."
Loo Loo's heart palpitated violently, and the blood rushed to her
cheeks. Weary as she was, she felt no inclination to sleep. As she
sat there, longing for midnight, she had ample leisure to survey the
apartment. It was, indeed, a bower fit for a princess. The chairs,
tables, and French bedstead were all ornamented with roses and
lilies gracefully intertwined on a delicate fawn-colored ground. The
tent-like canopy, that partially veiled the couch, was formed of
pink and white striped muslin, draped on either side in ample folds,
and fastened with garlands of roses. The pillow-cases were
embroidered, perfumed, and edged with frills quilled as neatly as
the petals of a dahlia. In one corner stood a small table, decorated
with a very elegant Parisian tea-service for two. Lamps of cut glass
illumined the face of a large Pscyche mirror, and on the toilet
before it a diamond necklace and ear-rings sparkled in their crimson
velvet case. Loo Loo looked at them with a half-scornful smile, and
repeated to herself:
"He bought me somewhat high;
Since with me came a heart he couldn't buy."
She lowered the lamps to twilight softness, and tried to wait with
patience. How long the hours seemed! Surely it must be past midnight.
What if Aunt Debby had been detected in her plot? What if the master
should come, in her stead? Full of that fear, she tried to open the
windows, and found them fastened on the outside. Her heart sank
within her; for she had resolved, in the last emergency, to leap out
and be crushed on the pavement. Suspense became almost intolerable.
She listened, and listened. There was no sound, except a loud
snoring in the next apartment. Was it her tyrant, who was sleeping so
near? She sat with her shoes in her hand, her eyes fastened on the
door. At last it opened, and Debby's brown face peeped in. They
passed out together,--the mulatto taking the precaution to lock the
door and put the key in her pocket. Softly they went down stairs,
through the kitchen, out into the adjoining alley. Two gentlemen
with a carriage were in attendance. They sprang in, and were whirled
away. After riding some miles, the carriage was stopped; one of the
gentlemen alighted and handed the women out.
"My name is Dinsmore," he said. "I am uncle to your friend, Frank
Helper. You are to pass for my daughter, and Debby is our servant."
"And Alfred,--Mr. Noble, I mean,--where is he?" asked Loo Loo.
"He will follow in good time. Ask no more questions now."
The carriage rolled away; and the party it had conveyed were soon on
their way to the North by an express-train.
It would be impossible to describe the anxiety Alfred had endured
from the time Loo Loo became the property of the cotton-broker until
he heard of her escape. From motives of policy he was kept in
ignorance of the persons employed, and of the measures they intended
to take. In this state of suspense, his reason might have been
endangered, had not Madame Labasse brought cheering messages, from
time to time, assuring him that all was carefully arranged, and
success nearly certain.
When Mr. Grossman, late in the day, discovered that his prey had
escaped, his rage knew no bounds. He offered one thousand dollars
for her apprehension, and another thousand for the detection of any
one who had aided her. He made successive attempts to obtain an
indictment against Mr. Noble; but he was proved to have been distant
from the scene of action, and there was no evidence that he had any
connection with the mysterious affair. Failing in this, the
exasperated cotton-broker swore that he would have his heart's blood,
for he knew the sly, smooth-spoken Yankee was at the bottom of it.
He challenged him; but Mr. Noble, notwithstanding the arguments of
Frank Helper, refused, on the ground that he held New England
opinions on the subject of duelling. The Kentuckian could not
understand that it required a far higher kind of courage to refuse
than it would have done to accept. The bully proclaimed him a coward,
and shot at him in the street, but without inflicting a very serious
wound. Thenceforth he went armed, and his friends kept him in sight.
But he probably owed his life to the fact that Mr. Grossman was
compelled to go to New Orleans suddenly, on urgent business. Before
leaving, the latter sent messengers to Savannah, Charleston,
Louisville, and elsewhere; exact descriptions of the fugitives were
posted in all public places, and the offers of reward were doubled;
but the activity thus excited proved all in vain. The runaways had
travelled night and day, and were in Canada before their pursuers
reached New York. A few lines from Mr. Dinsmore announced this to
Frank Helper, in phraseology that could not be understood, in case
the letter should be inspected at the post-office. He wrote:
"I told you we intended to visit Montreal; and by the date of this
you will see that I have carried my plan into execution. My daughter
likes the place so much that I think I shall leave her here awhile in
charge of our trusty servant, while I go home to look after my
After the excitement had somewhat subsided, Mr. Noble ascertained
the process by which his friends had succeeded in effecting the
rescue. Aunt Debby owed her master a grudge for having repeatedly
sold her children; and just at that time a fresh wound was rankling
in her heart, because her only son, a bright lad of eighteen, of
whom Mr. Grossman was the reputed father, had been sold to a
slave-trader, to help raise the large sum he had given for Loo Loo.
Frank Helper's friends, having discovered this state of affairs,
opened a negotiation with the mulatto woman, promising to send both
her and her son into Canada, if she would assist them in their plans.
Aunt Debby chuckled over the idea of her master's disappointment,
and was eager to seize the opportunity of being reunited to her last
remaining child. The lad was accordingly purchased by the gentleman
who distributed oranges in the prison, and was sent to Canada,
according to promise. Mr. Grossman was addicted to strong drink, and
Aunt Debby had long been in the habit of preparing a potion for him
before he retired to rest. "I mixed it powerful, dat ar night," said
the laughing mulatto; "and I put in someting dat de gemmen guv to me.
I reckon he waked up awful late." Mr. Dinsmore, a maternal uncle of
Frank Helper's, had been visiting the South, and was then about to
return to New York. When the story was told to him, he said nothing
would please him more than to take the fugitives under his own
Mr. Noble arranged the wreck of his affairs as speedily as possible,
eager to be on the way to Montreal. The evening before he started,
Frank Helper waited upon Mr. Grossman, and said: "That handsome
slave you have been trying so hard to catch is doubtless beyond your
reach, and will take good care not to come within your power. Under
these circumstances, she is worth nothing to you; but for the sake
of quieting the uneasiness of my friend Noble, I will give you eight
hundred dollars to relinquish all claim to her."
The broker flew into a violent rage. "I'll see you both damned first,"
he replied. "I shall trip 'em up yet. I'll keep the sword hanging
over their cursed heads as long as I live. I wouldn't mind spending
ten thousand dollars to be revenged on that infernal Yankee."
Mr. Noble reached Montreal in safety, and found his Loo Loo well and
cheerful. Words are inadequate to describe the emotions excited by
reunion, after such dreadful perils and hairbreadth escapes. Their
marriage was solemnized as soon as possible; but the wife being an
article of property, according to American law, they did not venture
to return to the States. Alfred obtained some writing to do for a
commercial while Loo Loo instructed little girls in dancing and
embroidery. Her character had strengthened under the severe ordeals
through which she had passed. She began to question the rightfulness
of living so indolently as she had done. Those painful scenes in the
slave-prison made her reflect that sympathy with the actual miseries
of life was better than weeping over romances. She was rising above
the deleterious influences of her early education, and beginning to
feel the dignity of usefulness. She said to her husband, "I shall
not be sorry, if we are always poor. It is so pleasant to help
_you_, who have done so much for _me_! And Alfred, dear, I want to
give some of my earnings to Aunt Debby. The poor old soul is trying
to lay up money to pay that friend of yours who bought her son and
sent him to Canada. Surely, I, of all people in the world, ought to
be willing to help slaves who have been less fortunate than I have.
Sometimes, when I lie awake in the night, I have very solemn
thoughts come over me. It was truly a wonderful Providence that twice
saved me from the dreadful fate that awaited me. I can never be
grateful enough to God for sending me such a blessed friend as my
They were living thus contented with their humble lot, when a letter
from Frank Helper announced that the extensive house of Grossman & Co.
had stopped payment. Their human chattels had been put up at auction,
and among them was the title to our beautiful fugitive. The chance
of capture was considered so hopeless, that, when Mr. Helper bid
sixty-two dollars, no one bid over him; and she became his property,
until there was time to transfer the legal claim to his friend.
Feeling that they could now be safe under their own vine and fig-tree,
Alfred returned to the United States, where he became first a clerk,
and afterward a prosperous merchant. His natural organization
unfitted him for conflict, and though his peculiar experiences had
imbued him with a thorough abhorrence of slavery, he stood aloof
from the ever-increasing agitation on that subject; but every New
Year's day, one of the Vigilance Committees for the relief of
fugitive slaves received one hundred dollars "from an unknown friend."
As his pecuniary means increased, he purchased several slaves, who
had been in his employ at Mobile, and established them as servants
in Northern hotels. Madame Labasse was invited to spend the remainder
of her days under his roof; but she came only in the summers, being
unable to conquer her shivering dread of snow-storms.
Loo Loo's personal charms attracted attention wherever she made her
appearance. At church, and other public places, people pointed her
out to strangers, saying, "That is the wife of Mr. Alfred Noble.
She was the orphan daughter of a rich planter at the South, and had
a great inheritance left to her; but Mr. Noble lost it all in the
financial crisis of 1837." Her real history remained a secret,
locked within their own breasts. Of their three children, the
youngest was named Loo Loo, and greatly resembled her beautiful
mother. When she was six years old, her portrait was taken in a
gypsy hat garlanded with red berries. She was dancing round a little
white dog, and long streamers of ribbon were floating behind her.
Her father had it framed in an arched environment of vine-work, and
presented it to his wife on her thirtieth birth-day. Her eyes
moistened as she gazed upon it; then kissing his hand, she looked up
in the old way, and said, "I thank you, Sir, for buying me."
A friend, who happens to have an idea or two of his own, is
constantly advising his acquaintances in no case to become parties
to a regular correspondence. He is a great letter-writer himself, but
never answers an epistle, unless it contain queries as to matters of
fact, or be an invitation to a ball or a dinner,--unless, in a word,
real, not what he considers conventional, politeness requires; in
which event, his reply is despatched at once. Under all other
circumstances, he ignores the last missive from him or her to whom
his envelope is addressed. He studiously frames his own
communications in such wise, that they do not call for an answer. He
will totally neglect an intimate friend for months, then let fly at
him epistle after epistle, and then give no sign of life for a long
while again. If asked to exchange letters once a week or once a
fortnight, he solemnly inquires whether the wind goes by machinery,
and is, after a given interval, invariably at such o'clock,--adding,
that it is his aim, not to keep up, but to keep down, correspondence.
If accused of "owing a letter," he repudiates the obligation, and
affirms that he will go to jail sooner than pay it off. If taxed
with heartlessness, he retorts by asking whether it can be the duty
of a moral being to insult a man by writing to him when there is
nothing to say.
That these notions, whether they did or did not originate in an
unfortunate love-affair, which my friend is said to have gone
through in his youth, contain grains of truth may be easily shown.
I drop a letter in the New York post-office to-day; my friend in
Boston receives it to-morrow and pens a reply at once, which finds
me in New York within twenty-four hours. He may have understood and
really answered my epistle. But suppose him to have waited a week.
New matters have, meantime, taken possession of both his mind and
mine; the topics, which were fresh when I wrote, have lost their
interest; the bridge between us is broken down. His reply is worth
little more to me than water to flowers cut a month since, or seed
to a canary that was interred with tears last Saturday.
Correspondence is conversation carried on under certain peculiar
conditions, but subject to the same rules as conversation by word of
mouth, except so far forth as they may be modified by those necessary
conditions. You do not take your partner's bright saying home with
you and bring a repartee to the next ball, by which time she has
forgotten what her _bon mot_ was, and has another, every whit as good,
upon her lips; you do not return a lead in whist at the next rubber;
you do not postpone the laugh over the jokes of the dinner-table, as
is fabulously narrated of Washington, until you have retired for the
night. In social intercourse, minds must meet before one person can
be brought to another's mood or both to a middle ground; it is the
friction of contact, that creates conversation. A remark, not
answered the instant after it has been made, is never answered. The
bores and boors of society, not the gentlemen and ladies, ruminate
upon what has been said, elaborate replies at leisure, and serve
them up unseasonably.
For the purposes of correspondence, one may and must throw himself
back into the immediate past and assume the mood that was his when
he wrote and in which alone a reply can find him. But there is a
limit to this power, which is soon reached. Not many letters will
keep sweet more than two days. A little indulgence may, perhaps, be
shown toward persons who are a week or a fortnight from us by the
post, since otherwise we could never converse together. But even
they should reply to only the weightier matters suggested, since what
they say will probably be stale before it reaches the eyes for which
it was written. For the like reasons, I hold a Californian or
European correspondence to be an impossibility. As for him whose
want of politeness fixes a gulf, a week broad, between himself and
his correspondent, there is no excuse. As one reads a letter, an
answer to whatever worth answering may be in it leaps to the lips;
to give it utterance that moment is the only natural, courteous, and
truthful course. Ten days hence, the reply, which now comes of its
own accord, cannot be found; what might have been a source of
pleasure to two persons will have become a piece of thankless
drudgery. In vain the conscientious correspondent, at the appointed
time, takes the letter which she would answer out of the compartment
of her portfolio, whereon stationers, cunningly humoring a popular
weakness, have gilded,--"UNANSWERED LETTERS." In vain she cons it
with care, comments upon every observation in it, answers all its
questions one by one, and propounds a series of her own, as a basis
for the next epistle. Everything has been done decently and in order;
but the laboriously-produced letter is a letter which killeth, and
contains no infusion of the spirit that giveth life. This is not the
writer's fault. It is and must be all but impossible, after a lapse
of time, to reproduce the natural reply to a remark, or to concoct
one that shall be vital and satisfactory to the other party.
Lovers, of all persons, it would seem, might with least danger
postpone answering each other's missives, since their common topic
of interest is always with them, and the _billet-doux_, after having
been carried in the bosom a week, is as fresh as when taken from the
post-office. What need for "sweet sixteen" to consume the very night
of its reception in essaying a reply, which she might have written
next week as well, since next week they two will stand in
substantially the same relations to one another as now? "Sweet
sixteen" smiles at such coldblooded logic. "To you others," thinks
she to herself, 'all sunsets may be alike; but in our horizon are
constant changes, delicate tones of color, each'
'Shade so finely touched love's sense must
'The mood into which Walter's note put me may never return again.
Now it is correspondent to the mood in which he wrote; now or never
must I reply. In this way alone can we keep up a correspondence
between our natures.'
But the stupid world will not accept, cannot even understand, these
fine sayings. It looks at the question with very different eyes from
those of lovers, boarding-school misses, and persons in the first
moon of a first marriage. The peculiar relations between them may
supply inspiration and vitality to such correspondence. But would
Dean Swift have put the daily record of his life upon paper for
another than Stella to peruse? Would Leander have swum the
Hellespont for the sake of meeting any girl but Hero upon the
distant shore? As it was, he was drowned for his pains. The rest of
us cannot swim Hellespont, keep diaries, nor correspond, as foolish
young people have done and do. We have books to read, business to
attend to, duties to perform, tastes to gratify, ambition to feed.
Who could bear to have his correspondents always upon his hands? Who
could endure such a tax upon his patience as they would become? Who
would send for his letters? Who would not rather run away from the
postmen, for fear of the next discharge?
In the analogy between conversation and correspondence may, perhaps,
be found a key to the problem. Those of us who are not lovers,
school-girls, or spinsters are not desirous of keeping up a colloquy,
day in and day out. Nor are we in the habit of resuming a subject, in
the next interview, at the precise point where we left it. A
"regular" conversation, after the fashion of a regular correspondence,
is, as between two individuals mutually unknown, or as among a number,
invariably a failure. However recently persons may have parted
company, at meeting they commence _de novo_; a new talk grows out of
the circumstances and thoughts of the moment, which ends as
naturally as it began, when the talkers get tired or are obliged to
stop. Sometimes but one of two or three opens her lips, but
conversation, nevertheless, goes on; since an open ear is the most
pointed question, and sympathy is the same, whether or not put into
To conversation carried on at a distance of space and time, through
the pen, not the lips, the simple and obvious principles upon which
people act in the drawing-room or the fireside-circle are easily
applied. Between those who really wish to talk together letters
should fly as rapidly as the post can deliver them. If only one
feels like writing, he should pour forth his heart to his friend,
although that friend remain as silent as the grave. It would be as
absurd to say that either party "owes the letter," as to charge him
who had the penultimate word in a dialogue with the duty of making
the first remark the next time he encounters her who had the last
word. When the topic of immediate interest has been disposed of, a
correspondence is over. It matters as little who contributed the
larger proportion to it, as who contributes the most to a dialogue.
When the end is reached, the story is done. It is for the party who
is first in the mood of writing, after an interval of silence, to
open a new correspondence, in which there shall be no reference to
previous communications, and which may die with the first letter or
be protracted for a week or a month.
Thus we are brought to a position not very far from that taken by my
eccentric friend. General or regular correspondence is useless,
baneful, and in most cases impossible; but special correspondence,
born of the necessities of man as a social being, and circumscribed
by them, may be from time to time possible. There can be no harm in
an occasional exchange of bulletins of health and happiness, like
the "good morning" and "how d'ye do" of the street and the parlor,
or in making new-year's calls, as it were, annually upon one's
distant friends. I know two ladies who have done this as respects
each other for twenty years. But, as a rule, the shorter epistles of
this description are, the better. Some simple formula, which might
be printed for convenience's sake, would answer the purpose, and
complete the analogy with the practice of paying three-minute visits
of ceremony or of leaving a card at the door.
The employment of a printed formula in all cases, indeed, where one
feels not impelled, but obliged to write, would save both time and
temper. We lay down nine out of ten of our letters with feelings of
disappointment. Were we to imitate the Scotch servant who returned
hers to the postmaster, after a glance at the address had assured
her of the writer's health, we should be quite as well off as we are
now. My correspondent often begins with the remark, that he has
nothing to communicate. Then why in the world did he write? Why has
he covered four pages with specimens of poor chirography, which it
cost him an hour to put upon paper, and us almost as much time to
decipher? He sends me news which was in the papers a week ago; or
speculations upon it, which professional journalists have already
surfeited me with; or short treatises, after the fashion of Cicero's
epistolary productions. He talks about the weather, past, present,
and to come. He serves up, with piquant sauce, occurrences which he
would not have thought worthy of mention at his own breakfast-table.
He spins out his two or three facts or ideas into the finest and
flimsiest gossamer; or tucks them into a postscript, which alone,
with the formula, should have been forwarded. He writes in a large
hand, and resorts to every kind of device to fill up his sheet,
instead of taking the manly course of writing only so long as he had
something to say, or, if nothing, of keeping silence. A kindly
sentence or two may redeem the epistle from utter condemnation; for
love, according to Solomon, makes a dinner of herbs palatable. But
"LOVE," written beneath a formula, would have answered as well.
I should not dare to describe the productions of my female
correspondents in detail. Suffice it to say, that most of them
contain a smaller proportion of useless information, and a larger
proportion of sentiment, vague aspiration, and would-be-picturesque
description, than those of the men who pay postage on my behalf.
They are longer, and sometimes crossed; it is therefore a greater
task to read them.
My "fair readers"--as the snobs who write for magazines call women--
have not, I trust, misapprehended my meaning and lost patience with
me. I would not be understood as expressing a preference for one
description of letters over another. Every person to his tastes and
his talents. But a letter, which does not represent the writer's
real mood, reflect what is uppermost in his or her mind, deal with
things and thoughts rather than with words, and express, if not
strengthen, the peculiar ties between the person writing and the
person written to,--a letter which is not genuine,--is no letter,
but a sham and a lie. A real letter, on the other hand, whatever its
topic, cannot fail to be worth reading. Great thoughts, profound
speculations, matters of experience, bits of observation, delicate
fancies, romantic sentiments, humorous criticisms on people and
things, funny stories, dreams of the future, memories of the past,
pictures of the present, the merest gossip, the veriest trifling,
everything, nothing, may form the theme, if naturally spoken of, not
hunted up to fill out a page.
No reason for modifying my conclusions occurs to me. It may be said,
that, after all, a poor letter is better than none, because advices
from distant friends are always welcome. But would not a glance at
the well-known handwriting supply this want as fully as the perusal
of a lengthy epistle, written with the hand, but not with the heart?
Does not our chagrin at finding so little of our friends in their
letters more than counterbalance our gratification that they have
been (presumably) kind and thoughtful enough to write? Would we not
gladly give four of their ordinary letters for one of their best?
But the instant they strike off the shackles of regular
correspondence, and despatch letters only when they feel inclined,
replies only while they are fresh, and formulas at other times, if
need be, we have our wish; the miles between our friends and
ourselves shorten, they are really with us now and then, and we take
solid pleasure in chatting with them.
Am I told, that, until these ideas find general acceptance, it is
dangerous to act upon them? that for an individual here and there to
go out of the common course is only to make himself notorious, a
stranger or a bore to his friends? Were such statements true, they
would still be cowardly. We should be faithful to our convictions of
what is due to truth and manhood and self-respect, be the
consequences what they may. Because a few are so, the world moves.
The general voice always comes in as a chorus to a few particular
voices. As for friends who cannot appreciate independence of
character or of conduct, the fewer one has of them, the better.
Such suggestions as have been thrown out are too obvious to have
escaped any one who has given the subject a moment's thought. But
who has time for that? People live too fast, in these days, to pay
such attention as should be paid to those who are more valuable as
individuals than as parts of the great world. The good offices of
friendship, which are the fulfilment of the highest social duties,
are poorly performed, and, indeed, little understood. Not many of
those who think at all think beyond the line of established custom
and routine. They may take pains in their letters to obey the
ordinary rules of grammar, to avoid the use of slang phrases and
vulgar expressions, to write a clear, sentence; but how few seek for
the not less imperative rules which are prescribed by politeness and
good sense! Of those who should know them, no small proportion
habitually, from thoughtlessness or perverseness, neglect their
I know men, distinguished in the walks of literature, famed for a
beautiful style of composition, who do not write a tolerable letter
nor answer a note of invitation with propriety. Their sentences are
slipshod, their punctuation and spelling beyond criticism, and their
manuscript repulsive. A lady, to whose politeness such an answer is
given, has a right to feel offended, and may very properly ask
whether she be not entitled to as choice language as the promiscuous
crowd which the "distinguished gentleman" addresses from pulpit or
How the distinguished gentleman would open his eyes at the question!
He is sure that what he sent her was well enough for a letter. As
though a letter, especially a letter to a lady, should not be as
perfect in its kind as a lecture or sermon in its kind! as though
one's duties toward an individual were less stringent than one's
duties toward an audience! Would the distinguished gentleman be
willing to probe his soul in search of the true reason for the
difference in his treatment of the two? Is he sure that it is not an
outgrowth from a certain "mountainous me," which seeks approbation
more ardently from the one source than from the other?
There are those who indite elegant notes to comparative strangers,
but, probably upon the principle that familiarity breeds or should
breed contempt, send the most villanous scrawls to their intimate
friends and those of their own household. They are akin to the
numerous wives, who, reserving not only silks and satins, but
neatness and courtesy, for company, are always in dishabille in their
Pericles, according to Walter Savage Landor, once wrote to Aspasia
"We should accustom ourselves to think always with propriety in
little things as well as in great, and neither be too solicitous of
our dress in the parlor nor negligent because we are at home. I
think it as improper and indecorous to write a stupid or silly
letter to you, as one in a bad hand or upon coarse paper.
Familiarity ought to have another and a worse name, when it relaxes
in its efforts to please."
The London Pericles, the Athenian gentleman,--and there are a few
such as he still extant,--writes to his nearest and dearest friend
none but the best letters. It appears to him as ill-bred to say
stupid or silly things to her, as to say what he does say clownishly.
He cannot conceive of doing what is so frequently done now-a-days.
He brings as much of Pericles to the composition of a letter as to
the preparation of a speech. We may feel sure, that, unless he acted
counter to his own maxims, he never wrote a line more or a line less
than he felt an impulse to write, and that he had no "regular
It is not every one that can write such letters as are in that
delightful book of Walter Savage Landor, or as charmed the friends
of Charles Lamb, the poet Gray, and a few famous women, first, and
the world afterwards. It is not every one who can, with the utmost
and wisest painstaking, produce a thoroughly excellent letter. The
power to do that is original and not to be acquired. The charm of it
will not, cannot, disclose its secret. Like the charm of the finest
manners, of the best conversation, of an exquisite style, of an
admirable character, it is felt rather than perceived. But every
person, who will be simply true to his or her nature, can write a
letter that will be very welcome to a friend, because it will be
expressive of the character which that friend esteems and loves. The
bunch of flowers, hastily put together by her who gathered them,
speaks as plainly of affection, although not in so delicate tones,
as the most tastefully-arranged bouquet. But who desires to be
presented with a nosegay of artificial flowers? Who can abide dead
blossoms or violent discords of color? Freshness, sweetness, and an
approach to harmony, that shall bring to mind the living, growing
plants, and the bountiful Nature from whose embrace flowers are born,
the acceptable gift must have.
To attempt a closer definition of a good letter than has been given
would be a fruitless, as well as difficult task. "Complete
letter-writers" are chiefly useful for the formulas--notes of
invitation, answers to them, and the like--which they contain, and
for their lessons in punctuation, spelling, and criticism. Their
efforts to instruct upon other points are and must be worse than
useless, because their precepts cramp without inspiring. A few good
examples are more valuable, but a little practice is worth them all.
Letter-writing is, after all, a _pas seul_, as it were; the novice
has no partner to teach him manners, or the figures of the dance, or
to set his wits astir. By effort, and through numerous failures, he
must teach himself. The difficulties of the medium between him and
his distant friend, who is generally in a similar predicament, must
be surmounted. Gradually stiffness gives place to ease of composition,
roughness to elegance, awkwardness to grace and tact, until his
letters at length come to represent his mood, and to interest, if
not to delight, his correspondent. A rigid adherence to times and
places and ceremonial retards this process of growth and advance,
which is slow enough, at best.
But, although most correspondence is, from want of truthfulness,
thoughtfulness, life, good judgment, and good breeding, very
unsatisfactory, it cannot be denied that many good letters are
written every day. Between lovers, parents and children, real and
hearty friends, they pass. Young men on the threshold of life, while
discussing together the grave questions then encountered, write them.
Women, before their time to love and to be loved has come, or after
it is passed,--women, who, disappointed in the great hope of every
woman's life, turn to one another for support and shelter,--are
sending them by every post. Mr. De Quincey somewhere says, that in
the letters of English women, almost alone, survive the pure and racy
idioms of the language; and the German Wolf is said to have asserted,
that in corresponding with his betrothed he learnt the mysteries of
Such letters as these are worth one's reading, because the utterance
is genuine and genial. The writers feel and express in every line an
interest in what they are writing, and do not recognize the
conventional rules which obtain where people rely less upon
inspirations from within than upon fixed general maxims for their
guidance. As in the drawing-room the gentleman or lady behaves
naturally, and not according to the dancing-master, so in their
correspondence the best-bred people act from nature, and not from
* * * * *
THE CATACOMBS OF ROME. [Continued.]
Novit etiam pictura tacens in parietibus loqni.
ST. GREGORY OF NYSSA.
Christian art began in the catacombs. Under ground, by the feeble
light of lanterns, upon the ceilings of crypts, or in the
semicircular spaces left above some of the more conspicuous graves,
the first Christian pictures were painted. Imperfect in design,
exhibiting often the influence of pagan models, often displaying
haste of performance and poverty of means, confined for the most part
within a limited circle of ideas, and now faded in color, changed by
damp, broken by rude treatment, sometimes blackened by the smoke of
lamps,--they still give abundant evidence of the feeling and the
spirit which animated those who painted them, a feeling and spirit
which unhappily have too seldom found expression in the so-called
religious Art of later times. Few of them are of much worth in a
purely artistic view. The paintings of the catacombs are rarely to
be compared, in point of beauty, with the pictures from Pompeii,--
although some of them at least were contemporary works. The artistic
skill which created them is of a lower order. But their interest
arises mainly from the sentiment which they imperfectly embody, and
their chief value is in the light which they throw upon early
Christian faith and religious doctrine. They were designed not so
much for the delight of the eye and the gratification of the fancy,
as for stimulating affectionate imaginations, and affording lessons,
easily understood, of faith, hope, and love. They were to give
consolation in sorrow, and to suggest sources of strength in trial.
"The Art of the first three centuries is entirely subordinate,--
restrained partly by persecution and poverty, partly by a high
spirituality, which cared more about preaching than painting."
With the uncertain means afforded by the internal character of these
mural pictures, or by their position in the catacombs, it is
impossible to fix with definiteness the period at which the
Christians began to ornament the walls of their burial-places. It
was probably, however, as early as the beginning of the second
century; and the greater number of the most important pictures which
have thus far been discovered within the subterranean cemeteries
were probably executed before Christianity had become the
established religion of the empire. After that time the decline in
painting, as in faith, was rapid; formality took the place of
simplicity; and in the course of the fourth and fifth centuries the
native fire of Art sank, till nothing was left of it but a few dying
embers, which the workmen from the East, who brought in the stiff
conventionalisms of Byzantine Art, were unfit and unable to rekindle.
In the pictures of the most interesting period, that is, of the
second and third centuries, there is no attempt at literal
portraiture or historic accuracy. They were to be understood only by
those who had the key to them in their minds, and they mostly
arranged themselves in four broad classes. 1st. Representations of
personages or scenes from the Old Testament regarded as types of
those of the New. 2d. Literal or symbolic representations of
personages or scenes from the New Testament. 3d. Miscellaneous
figures, chiefly those of persons in the attitude of prayer. 4th.
Ornamental designs, often copied from pagan examples, and sometimes
with a symbolic meaning attached to them.
It is a noteworthy and affecting circumstance, that, among the
immense number of the pictures in the catacombs which may be
ascribed to the first three centuries, scarcely one has been found
of a painful or sad character. The sufferings of the Saviour, his
passion and his death, and the martyrdoms of the saints, had not,
become, as in after days, the main subjects of the religious Art of
Italy. On the contrary, all the early paintings are distinguished by
the cheerful and trustful nature of the impressions they were
intended to convey. In the midst of external depression, uncertainty
of fortune and of life, often in the midst of persecution, the Roman
Christians dwelt not on this world, but looked forward to the
fulfilment of the promises of their Lord. Their imaginations did not
need the stimulus of painted sufferings; suffering was before their
eyes too often in its most vivid reality; they had learned to regard
it as belonging only to earth, and to look upon it as the gateway to
heaven. They did not turn for consolation to the sorrows of their
Lord, but to his words of comfort, to his miracles, and to his
resurrection. Of all the subjects of pictures in the catacombs, the
one, perhaps, more frequently repeated than any other, and under a
greater variety of forms and types, is that of the Resurrection. The
figure of Jonah thrown out from the body of the whale, as the type
that had been used by our Lord himself in regard to his resurrection,
is met with constantly; and the raising of Lazarus is one of the
commonest scenes chosen for representation from the story of the New
Testament. Nor is this strange. The assurance of immortality was to
the world of heathen converts the central fact of Christianity, from
which all the other truths of religion emanated, like rays. It gave
a new and infinitely deeper meaning than it before possessed to all
human experience; and in its universal comprehensiveness, it taught
the great and new lessons of the equality of men before God, and of
the brotherhood of man in the broad promise of eternal life. For us,
brought up in familiarity with Christian truth, surrounded by the
accumulated and constant, though often unrecognized influences of
the Christian faith upon all our modes of thought and feeling, the
imagination itself being more or less completely under their control,--
for us it is difficult to fancy the change produced in the mind of
the early disciples of Christ by the reception of the truths which he
revealed. During the first three centuries, while converts were
constantly being made from heathenism, brought over by no worldly
temptation, but by the pure force of the new doctrine and the glad
tidings over their convictions, or by the contagious enthusiasm of
example and devotion,--faith in Christ and in his teachings must,
among the sincere, have been always connected with a sense of wonder
and of joy at the change wrought in their views of life and of
eternity. Their thoughts dwelt naturally upon the resurrection of
their Lord, as the greatest of the miracles which were the seal of
his divine commission, and as the type of the rising of the
followers of Him who brought life and immortality to light.
The troubles and contentions in the early Church, the disputes
between the Jew and the Gentile convert, the excesses of spiritual
excitement, the extravagances of fanciful belief, of which the
Epistles themselves furnish abundant evidence, ceased to all
appearance at the door of the catacombs. Within them there is
nothing to recall the divisions of the faithful; but, on the contrary,
the paintings on the walls almost universally relate to the simplest
and most undisputed truths. It was fitting that among these the
types of the Resurrection should hold a first place.
But the spiritual needs of life were not to be supplied by the
promises and hopes of immortality alone. There were wants which
craved immediate support, weaknesses that needed present aid,
sufferings that cried for present comfort, and sins for which
repentance sought the assurance of direct forgiveness. And thus
another of the most often-repeated of the pictures in the catacombs
is that of the Saviour under the form of the Good Shepherd. No
emblem fuller of meaning, or richer in consolation, could have been
found. It was very early in common use, not merely in Christian
paintings, but on Christian gems, vases, and lamps. Speaking with
peculiar distinctness to all who were acquainted with the Gospels,
it was at the same time a figure that could be used without exciting
suspicion among the heathen, and one which was not exposed to
desecration or insult from them; and under emblems of this kind,
whose inner meaning was hidden to all but themselves, the first
Christians were often forced to conceal the expression of their faith.
This figure recalled to them many of the sacred words and most
solemn teachings of their Lord: "I am the Good Shepherd; the good
shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." Often the good shepherd was
represented as bearing the sheep upon his shoulders; and the picture
addressed itself with touching and effective simplicity to him whom
fear of persecution or the force of worldly temptations had led away.
When one of his sheep is lost, doth not the shepherd go after it
until he find it? "And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his
shoulders, rejoicing." "There is joy in the presence of the angels of
God over one sinner that repenteth." How often, before this picture,
has some saddened soul uttered the words of the Psalm: "I have gone
astray like a lost sheep: seek thy servant, for I do not forget thy
commandments"! And as it to afford still more direct assurance of the
patience and long-suffering tenderness of the Lord, the Good
Shepherd is sometimes represented in the catacombs as bearing, not a
sheep, but a goat upon his shoulders. It was as if to declare that
his forgiveness and his love knew no limit, but were waiting to
receive and to embrace even those who had turned farthest from him.
In a picture of very early date in the Catacomb of St. Callixtus, the
Good Shepherd stands between a goat and a sheep, "as a shepherd
divideth his sheep from the goats; and he shall set the sheep on his
right hand and the goats on his left." But in this picture the order
is reversed,--the goat is on his right hand and the sheep on his left.
It was the strongest type that could be given of the mercy of God.
Sometimes the Good Shepherd is represented, not bearing the sheep on
his shoulders, but leaning on his crook, and with a pipe in his hands,
while his flock stand in various attitudes around him. Here again
the reference to Scripture is plain: "He calleth his own sheep by
name, and leadeth them out;... and the sheep follow him, for they
know his voice." Thus, under various forms and with various meanings,
full of spiritual significance, and suggesting the most invigorating
and consoling thoughts, the Good Shepherd appears oftener than any
other single figure on the vaults and the walls of the catacombs. It
is impossible to look at these paintings, poor in execution and in
external expression as they are, without experiencing some sense,
faint it may be, of the force with which they must have appealed to
the hearts and consciences of those who first looked upon them. It
is as if the inmost thoughts and deepest feeling of the Christians of
those early times had become dimly visible upon the walls of their
graves. The effect is undoubtedly increased by the manner in which
these paintings are seen, by the unsteady light of wax tapers, in
the solitude of long-deserted passages and chapels. In such a place
the dullest imagination is roused, troop on troop of associations
and memories pass in review before it, and the fading colors and
faint outlines of the paintings possess more power over it than the
glow of Titian's canvas, or the firm outline of Michel Angelo's
Another symbol of the Saviour which is frequently found in the works
of the first three centuries, and which soon afterwards seems to
have fallen almost entirely into disuse, is that of the Fish. It is
not derived, like that of the Good Shepherd, immediately from the
words of Scripture; though its use undoubtedly recalled several
familiar narratives. It seems to have been early associated with the
well-known Greek formula, [Greek: iaesous christos theon uios sotaer],
Jesus Christ the Saviour Son of God, arranged acrostically, so that
the first letters of its words formed the word [Greek: ichthus], fish.
The first association that its use would suggest was that of
Christ's call to Peter and Andrew, "Follow me, and I will make you
fishers of men,"--and thus we find, among the early Christian writers,
the name of "little fish," _pisciculi_, applied to the Christian
disciples of their times. But it would serve also to bring to memory
the miracle that the multitude had witnessed, of the multiplication
of the fishes; and it would recall that last solemn and tender
farewell meeting between the Apostles and their Lord on the shore of
the Sea of Tiberias, in the early morning, when their nets were
filled with fish,--and "Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and
giveth them, and fish likewise." And with this association was
connected, as we learn from the pictures in the catacombs, a still
deeper symbolic meaning, in which it represented the body of our
Lord as given to his apostles at the Last Supper. In the Cemetery of
Callixtus, very near the recently discovered crypt of Pope Cornelius,
are two square sepulchral chambers, adorned with pictures of an
early date. Those of the first chamber have almost utterly perished,
but on the wall of the second may be seen the image of a fish
swimming in the water, and bearing on his back a basket filled with
loaves of the peculiar shape and color used by the Jews as an
offering of the first fruits to their priests; beneath the bread
appears a vessel which shows a red color, like a cup filled with wine.
"As soon as I saw this picture," says the Cavaliere de Rossi, in his
account of the discovery, "the words of St. Jerome came to my mind,--
'None is richer than he who bears the body of the Lord in an osier
basket and his blood in a glass.'"
In the same cemetery, very near the crypt of St. Cecilia, there is a
passage wider than common, upon whose side is a series of sepulchral
cells of similar form, and ornamented with similar pictures. In one
of them a table is represented, with four baskets of bread on the
ground, on one side, and three on the other, while upon it three
loaves and a fish are lying. In another of the chambers is a picture
of a single loaf and of a fish upon a plate lying on a table, at one
side of which a man stands with his hands stretched out towards it,
while on the other side is a woman in the attitude of prayer. It
seems no extravagance of interpretation to read in these pictures
the symbol of that memorial service which Jesus had established for
his followers,--a service which has rarely been celebrated under
circumstances more adapted to give to it its full effect, and to awaken
in the souls of those who joined in it all the deep and affecting
memories of its first institution, than when the bread and wine were
partaken of in memory of the Lord within the small and secret chapels
of the early catacombs. To the Christians who assembled there in the
days when to profess the name of Christ was to venture all things for
his sake, his presence was a reality in their hearts, and his voice
was heard as it was heard by his immediate followers who sat with him
at the table in the upper chamber. 
[Footnote 1: The Cavaliere de Rossi, in his very learned tract,
_De Christianis Monumentis [Greek: IChThUN] exhibentibus_,
expresses the belief that these pictures, besides their direct and
simple reference to the Lord's Supper, exhibit also the Catholic
doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The bread he
considers as the obvious material symbol, the fish the mystical
symbol of the transubstantiation. His interpretation is at least
doubtful. The bread was to be eaten in remembrance of the Lord, and
the fish was represented as the image which recalled his words, that
have been perverted by materialistic imaginations so far from their
original meaning,--"This is my body which is given for you." But the
date of the origin of false opinions is a matter of comparative
There are several instances, among these subterranean pictures, of a
symbolic representation of the Saviour, drawn, not from Scripture,
but from a heathen original. It is that of Orpheus playing upon his
lyre, and drawing all creatures to him by the sweetness of his
strains. It was a fiction widely spread soon after the introduction
of Christianity among the Gentiles, that Orpheus, like the Sibyls and
some other of the characters of mythology, had had some blind
revelation of the coming of a saviour of the world, and had uttered
indistinct prophecies of the event. Forgeries, similar to those of
the Sibylline Verses, professing to be the remains of the poems of
Orpheus, were made among the Alexandrian Christians, and for a long
period his name was held in popular esteem, as that of a heathen
prophet of Christian truth. Whether the paintings in the catacombs
took their origin from these fictions must be uncertain; but driven,
as the Roman Christians were, to hide the truth under a symbol that
should be inoffensive, and should not reveal its meaning to pagan
eyes, it was not strange that they should select this of the ancient
poet. As he had drawn beasts and trees and stones to listen to the
music of his lyre, so Christ, with persuasive sweetness and
compelling force, drew men more savage than beasts, more rooted in
the earth than trees, more cold than stones, to listen to and follow
him. As Orpheus caused even the kingdom of Death to render back the
lost, so Christ drew the souls of men from the very gates of hell,
and made the grave restore its dead. And thus from the old heathen
story the Christian drew new suggestions and fresh meaning, and
beheld in it an unconscious setting-forth of many holy truths.
A subject from the Gospels, which is often represented, and which
was used with a somewhat obscure symbolic meaning, is that of the
man sick of the palsy, cured by the Saviour with the words,
"Arise, take up thy bed, and go to thine house." It belongs,
according to the ancient interpretation, to the series of subjects
that embody the doctrine of the Resurrection. It is thus explained
by St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and others of the fathers. They
understood the words of Christ as addressed to them with the meaning,
"Arise, leave the things of this world, have faith, and go forward
to thy abiding home in heaven." Such an interpretation is entirely
congruous with the general tone of thought and feeling exhibited in
many other common paintings in the catacombs. But later Romanist
writers have attempted to connect its interpretation with the
doctrine of the Forgiveness of Sins, as embodied in what is called
the power of the Church in the holy sacrament of Penance. They lay
stress on the words, "Be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee,"
and suppose that the picture expresses the belief that the delegated
power of forgiving sins still remained on earth. Undoubtedly the
painting may well have recalled to mind these earlier words of the
narrative, as well as the later ones, and with the same comforting
assurance that was afforded by the emblem of the Good Shepherd; but
there seems no just reason for supposing it to have borne any
reference to the peculiar doctrine of the Roman Church. The pictures
themselves, so far as we are acquainted with them, seem to
contradict this assumption; for they, without exception, represent
the paralytic in the last act of the narrative, already on his feet
and bearing his bed. 
[Footnote 2: One picture of this scene in the Catacombs of St. Hermes
is said to be in immediate connection with the sacrament of Penance
"represented literally, in the form of a Christian kneeling on both
knees before a priest, who is giving him absolution." We have not
seen the original of this picture, and we know of no copy of it. It
is not given either by Bosio or in Perret's great work. Before
accepting it in evidence, its date must be ascertained, and the
possibility of a more natural explanation of it excluded. How is one
figure known to be that of a priest? and in what manner is the act
of giving absolution expressed?]
Among the favorite subjects from the Old Testament are four from the
life of Moses,--his taking off his shoes at the command of the Lord,
his exhibiting the manna to the people, his receiving the tables of
the Law, and his striking the rock in the desert. Of these, the first
and the last are most common, and the truths which they were
intended to typify seem to have been most dwelt upon. Moses was
regarded in the ancient Church as the type, in the old dispensation,
of our Saviour in the new. Thus as the narrative of the command to
Moses to take off his shoes was immediately connected with the
promise of the deliverance of the children of Israel from the land
of bondage, so it was regarded as the figure under which was to be
seen the promise of the greater deliverance of the world through
faith in Jesus Christ, and its freedom from spiritual bondage.
Moreover, the shoes were put off, "for the place whereon thou
standest is holy ground"; and it is a natural supposition to regard
the act as having been considered the symbol of that Holiness to the
Lord which was the necessary preparation for the great deliverance.
Like so many other of the paintings, it led forward the thoughts and
the affections from time to eternity. And this figure was also, we
may well suppose, taken as an immediate type of the Resurrection, in
connection with the words of Jesus, "Now that the dead are raised
even Moses showed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord" (or, as it
should be translated, "when, in telling you of the bush, he says
that the Lord called himself") "the God of Abraham, and the God of
Isaac, and the God of Jacob. For God is not the God of the dead, but
of the living." With this interpretation, it affords another
instance of the constancy with which the Christians connected the
thought of immortality with the presence of death.
So also the smiting of the rock, so that the water came forth
abundantly, was adopted as the sign of the giving forth of the
living water springing up into everlasting life. "The rock was Christ,"
said St. Paul, and it is possible, that, with a secondary
interpretation, the smiting of the rock was sometimes regarded as
typical of the sufferings of the Saviour. The picture of this
miracle is repeated again and again, and one of the noblest figures
in the whole range of subterranean Art, a figure of surpassing
dignity and grandeur, is that of Moses in this sublime scene in one
of the chapels of the Cemetery of St. Agnes. In the performance of
this miracle, Moses is represented with a rod in his hand; and a
similar rod, apparently as the sign of power, is seen in the hands
of Christ, in the paintings which represent his miracles. It is a
curious illustration of the gradual progress of the ideas now
current in the Roman Church, that upon sarcophagi of the fourth and
fifth centuries St. Peter is found sculptured with the same rod in
his hands,--emblematic, unquestionably, of the doctrine of his being
the Vicegerent of Christ,--and on the bottom of a glass vessel of
late date, found in the catacombs, the miracle of the striking of
the rock is depicted, but at the side of the figure is the name, not
of Moses, but of Peter,--for the Church had by this time advanced
far in its assumptions.
The story of Jonah appears also in four different scenes upon the
walls of the chapels and burial-chambers. In the first, the prophet
appears as being cast into the sea; in the second, swallowed by the
great fish; in the third, thrown out upon dry land; and in the fourth,
lying under the gourd. They are not found together, or in series;
but sometimes one and sometimes another of these scenes was painted,
according to the fancy or the thought of the artist. The swallowing
of Jonah, and his deliverance from the belly of the whale, has
already been referred to as one of the naturally suggested types of
the Resurrection. When the prophet is shown as lying under a gourd,
(which is painted as a vine climbing over a trellis-work, to
represent the booth that Jonah made for himself,) the picture may
perhaps have been read as a double lesson. As God "made the gourd to
come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to
deliver him from his grief," so he would deliver from their grief
those who now trusted in him; but as he also made the gourd to wither,
so that "the sun beat upon the head of Jonah that he fainted and
wished in himself to die," it was for them to remember their utter
dependence on the will of God, to prepare themselves for the sorrows
as for the joys of life. Nor was this all; the story of Jonah was
one especially fitted to remind the recent convert of the
long-suffering and grace of God, and to suggest to those who were
enduring the extremities of persecution the rebuke with which the
Lord had chastened even his prophet for his desire for vengeance upon
those who had long dwelt in evil ways. It recalled to them the new
commandment of love to their enemies, and it bade them welcome with
rejoicing even the latest and most reluctant listener to the truth.
It repressed spiritual pride, and checked too ready anger. Was not
Rome even greater "than Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more
than six-score thousand persons that cannot discern between their
right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle"? Such were some,
at least, of the meanings which the Christians of the catacombs may
have seen in these pictures. It would be long to enter into the more
subtile and less satisfactory interpretations of their symbolic
meanings which are to be found in the works of some of the later
fathers, and which afford, as in many other instances, illustrations
of the extravagance of symbolism into which the studies of the cell,
the darkness of their age, and the insufficiency of their education
often led them.
Two subjects are of frequent repetition in the catacombs, which bear
a direct reference to the personal circumstances in which the
Christians from time to time found themselves. One is that of Daniel
in the lions' den,--the other that of the Three Children of Israel
in the fiery furnace. Both were types of persecution and of
deliverance. "Thy God, whom thou servest continually, he will
deliver thee." Daniel is uniformly represented in the attitude of
prayer,--the attitude adopted by the early Christians, standing with
arms outstretched. Very often single figures with no names attached
to them are thus represented above or by the side of graves. They
were probably intended as figures of those who lay within them,
figures of those who had been constant in prayer; and this conjecture
is almost established as a certainty by the existence of a few of
these figures with names inscribed above them,--as, for instance,
"HILARA IN PACE."
Noah in the ark is also one of the repeated subjects from the Old
Testament; the ark being represented as a sort of square box, in the
middle of which Noah stands, sometimes in prayer, and sometimes with
the dove flying towards him, bearing a branch of olive. It was the
type of the Church, the whole body of Christians, floating in the
midst of storms, but with the promise of peace; or, with wider
signification, it was the type of the world saved through the
revelation of Christ. It bore reference also to the words of St.
Peter, in his First Epistle, concerning the ark, "wherein few, that
is eight souls, were saved by water; the like figure whereunto, even
baptism, doth also now save us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ."
Sometimes, indeed, the act of baptism is represented in a more
literal manner, by a naked figure immersed in the water; sometimes,
perhaps, by still other types.
Paintings of the temptation and the fall of Adam and Eve, in which
the composition often reminds one of that adopted by the later
masters, are often seen on the walls; and the sacrifice of Abraham,
in which with reverent and just simplicity the interference of the
Almighty is represented by a hand issuing from the clouds, is a
common subject. Less frequent are pictures of David with his sling,
of Tobit with the fish, of Susanna and the elders, treated
symbolically, and some few other Old Testament stories. Their
typical meaning was plain to the minds of those who frequented the
catacombs. From the Gospels many scenes are represented in addition
to those we have already mentioned: among the most common are the
miracle of the multiplication of the loaves; our Saviour seated,
with two or more figures standing near him; and his restoring sight
to the blind. Every year's new excavations bring to light some new
picture, and our acquaintance with the Art of the catacombs is
continually receiving interesting additions.
There appears to have been no definite rule in respect to the
combination of subjects in a single chapel. The ceilings are
generally divided into various compartments, each filled with a
different subject. Thus, for example, we find on one of them the
central compartment occupied by a figure of Orpheus; four smaller
compartments are filled with sheep or cattle; and four others with
Moses striking the rock, Daniel in the lions' den, David with his
sling, and Jesus restoring the paralytic. At the angles of the vault
are doves with branches of olive; and the ornaments of the ceiling
are all of graceful and somewhat elaborate character. The purely
ornamental portions of the paintings, though obviously formed on
heathen originals, are almost universally of a pleasing and joyful
character, and in many cases possess a symbolic meaning. Flowers,
crowns of leaves, garlands, vines with clustering grapes, displayed
more to the Christian's eyes than mere beauty of form. In these and
other similar accessories the symbolism of the early Church
delighted to manifest itself. On their terracotta lamps, fixed in
the mortar at the head of graves, on their sepulchral tablets, on
their rings, on their glass cups and chalices, the Christians put
these emblems of their faith, keeping in mind their spiritual
significance. Many of these symbols have preserved their inner
meaning to the present day, while others have long lost it. Thus,
the crown and the laurel were the emblems of victory; the palm, of
triumph; the olive, of peace; the vine loaded with grapes, of the
joys of heaven. The dove was at once the figure of the Holy Spirit,
and the symbol of innocence and purity of heart; the peacock the
emblem of immortality. The ship reminded the Christian of the harbor
of safety, or recalled to him the Church tossed upon the waves; the
anchor was the sign of strength and of hope; the lyre was the symbol
of the sweetness of religion; the stag, of the soul thirsting for
the Lord; the cock, of watchfulness; the horse, of the course of life;
the lamb, of the Saviour himself.
Many of these symbols were, it is plain, derived from the Scripture,
but many also had a heathen origin, and were adopted by the
Christians with a new or an additional significance. It was not
strange that this should be so, for many associations still bound
the Christians of the early centuries to the things they had turned
away from. Thus, the horse is frequently found upon the funeral vases
and marbles of the ancients; the peacock, the bird of Juno, was the
emblem of the apotheosis of the Roman empresses; the palm and the
crown had long been in use; and the funeral genii of the heathen
Romans were in some sort the type of the later Christian angels. But
although this adoption of ancient symbols is to be noticed, it is
Back to Full Books