The Atlantic Monthly, Volume V, Number 29, March, 1860
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by Joshua Hutchinson, David Widger and PG Distributed Proofreaders
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. V.--MARCH, 1860.--NO. XXIX.
THE FRENCH CHARACTER.
The American character is now generally acknowledged to be the most
cosmopolitan of modern times; and a native of this country, all things
being equal, is likely to form a less prescriptive idea of other nations
than the inhabitants of countries whose neighborhood and history unite
to bequeathe and perpetuate certain fixed notions. Before the frequent
intercourse now existing between Europe and the United States, we
derived our impressions of the French people, as well as of Italian
skies, from English literature. The probability was that our earliest
association with the Gallic race partook largely of the ridiculous.
All the extravagant anecdotes of morbid self-love, miserly epicurism,
strained courtesy, and frivolous absurdity current used to boast a
Frenchman as their hero. It was so in novels, plays, and after-dinner
stories. Our first personal acquaintance often confirmed this prejudice;
for the chance was that the one specimen of the Grand Nation familiar to
our childhood proved a poor _emigre_ who gained a precarious livelihood
as a dancing-master, cook, teacher, or barber, who was profuse of
smiles, shrugs, bows, and compliments, prided himself on _la belle
France_, played the fiddle, and took snuff. A more dignified view
succeeded, when we read "Telemaque," so long an initiatory text-book
in the study of the language, blended as its crystal style was in our
imaginations with the pure and noble character of Fenelon. Perhaps the
next link in the chain of our estimate was supplied by the bust of
Voltaire, whose withered, sneering physiognomy embodies the wit and
indifference, the soulless vagabondage that forms the worst side of
the national mind. As patriotic sentiment awakened, the disinterested
enthusiasm of Lafayette, woven, as it is, into the record of the
struggle which gave birth to our republic, yielded another and more
attractive element to the fancy portrait. Then, as our reading expanded,
came the tragic chronicle of the first French Revolution and the
brilliant and dazzling melodrama of Napoleon, the traditions so pathetic
and sublime of gifted women, the _tableaux_ so exciting to a youthful
temper of military glory. And thus, by degrees, we found ourselves
bewildered by the most vivid contrasts and apparently irreconcilable
traits, until the original idea of a Frenchman expanded to the widest
range of associations, from the ingenious devices of a mysterious
_cuisine_ to the brilliant manoeuvres of the battle-field; infinite
female tact, rare philosophic hardihood, inimitable _bon-mots_,
exquisite millinery, consummate generalship, holy fortitude, refined
profligacy, and intoxicating sentiment,--Ude, Napoleon, Madame Recamier,
Pascal, Ninon de I'Enclos, and Rousseau. Casual associations and
desultory reading thus predispose us to recognize something half comical
and half enchanting in French life; and it depends on accident, when we
first visit Paris, which view is confirmed. The society of one of those
benign _savans_ who attract the sympathy and win the admiration of
young students may yield a delightful and noble association to our
future reminiscences; or an unmodified experience of cynical hearts
joined to scenical manners may leave us nothing to regret, upon our
departure, save the material advantages there enjoyed. But whoever knows
life in Paris, unrelieved by some consistent and individual purpose,
will find it a succession of excitements, temporary, yet varied,--full
of the agreeable, yet barren of consecutive interest and satisfactory
results,--admirable as a recreative hygiene, deplorable as a permanent
resource; their inevitable consequence being a faith in the external, a
dependence on the immediate, and a habit of vagrant pleasure-seeking,
which must at last cloy and harden the manly soul. For this very reason,
however, the scenes, characters, and society there exhibited are
prolific of suggestion to the philosophic mind.
In every phase of life, manners, and action, we see a characteristic
excellence in detail and process, and an equally remarkable deficiency
in grand practical idea and consistent moral sentiment. The French
chemists have the art to extract quinine from Peruvian bark and conserve
the juices of meats; but one of their most patriotic writers calls
attention to the wholly diverse motives addressed by Napoleon and Nelson
to their respective followers. "Soldiers," exclaimed the former, "from
the summit of those Pyramids forty ages are looking down upon you."
"England," said the latter, "expects every man to do his duty." In
Paris, the science of dissection is perfect; in London, that of
nutrition;--Dumas has reduced plagiarism to a fine art; Cobbett made
common-sense a social lever;--a British merchant or statesman attaches
his name to a document in characters of such individuality that the
signature is known at a glance; a French official invents a flourish
so intricate that the forger's ingenuity is baffled in the attempt to
imitate it;--government, on one side of the Channel, employs a taster to
detect adulteration in wine whose sensitive palate is a fortune; on
the other, the hereditary fame of a brewery is the guaranty of the
excellence of ale.
This minute observance of detail has made the French leaders in fashion;
it directs invention to the minutiae of dress, and confirms the sway of
the conventional, so as to give la mode the force of social law to an
extent unknown elsewhere. The tyranny and caprice of fashion were as
characteristic in Montaigne's day as at present. "I find fault with
their especial indiscretion," he says, "in suffering themselves to be so
imposed upon and blinded by the authority of the present custom as
every month to alter their opinion." "In this country," writes Yorick,
"nothing must be spared for the back; and if you dine on an onion, and
lie in a garret seven stories high, you must not betray it in your
The superiority of the French in the minor philosophy of life was
curiously exemplified during our Revolutionary War. The octogenarians of
Rhode Island used to expatiate on the remarkable difference between the
troops of France and those of England when quartered among them. The
former speedily made a series of little arrangements, and fell naturally
into a pleasant routine, making the best of everything, adapting
themselves to the ways and prejudices of the inhabitants, and, in a
word, becoming assimilated at once to a new mode of life and form of
society; their wit, cheerfulness, and gallantry are yet proverbial
in that region. The English, on the other hand, even when in full
possession of the country, made but an awkward use of their privileges,
were ill-at-ease, failed to recognize anything genial in the habits and
manners even of the Tory families. While the French officers introduced
the mysteries of their _cuisine_, and brightened many a rustic
household with song, anecdote, dance, and conversation, the English
complained of the simple viands, regretted London fogs and beer,
and made themselves and their hosts, whether forced or voluntary,
uncomfortable. They exhibited no tact or facility in improving the
resources at hand, and relied only on brute force to win advantage. We
beheld the same contrast recently in the Crimea; while exposure and
impatience thinned the ranks of the brave islanders, their Gallic
allies constructed roads, dug where they could not build a shelter, and
ingeniously prepared various dishes from a meagre larder, fighting off,
meantime, chagrin and _ennui_ with as much alacrity as they did
_Finesse_ characterizes servants not less than courtiers, the
cab-driver as well as the notary, the composition of a dish as well as
the drift of a comedy. This quality seems a result of the conflict of
intelligences in a state of great, material civilization; nowhere is it
more observable than in Paris life. What bullyism is to the English,
shrewdness to the Yankee, and intrigue to the Italian, is _finesse_,
which is a union of insight and address, to the French. This normal
attribute is another proof how the economy of Gallic life is reduced to
an art. It is the expression in manners of Rochefoucauld's maxims,
of Richelieu's policy, of Talleyrand's cunning. It is favored by the
tendency to minuteness of excellence and love of system before noted.
To understand what superior range is afforded to such a principle in
France, it is only requisite to consult the memoirs of a celebrated
woman, or even an old Guide or Picture of Paris, such as in former days
the provincial gentlemen used to study over their breakfast, in order
to learn the _savoir vivre_ of the metropolis. Itineraries of other
cities merely describe streets, public institutions, the fairs,
the courts, and the places of fashionable amusement; one of these
curiosities of literature now before us, published less than a century
ago, describes, as available resources to the stranger, _Gouvernantes,
Emeutes, Reves Politiques, L'Art de Diner, Bureaux d'Esprit_,
--corresponding to our modern blue-stocking coteries, _femmes de
quarante ans_, with their "_deux ressources, la devotion et le bel
esprit"; Contre Poisons_,--indispensable in those days of jealousy
and assassination; _Pots de Fleurs_ form an item of the most limited
establishment; emblems, such as _Rubans_ and _Bonnets Rouges_, are
described as essential to the intelligent conduct of the visitor; and a
chapter is devoted to Gallantry, of which a modern author in the same
department pensively remarks, "_Cette ancienne galanterie qui vivait
d'esprit et d'infidelites est comptletement denaturee_."
It is curious how municipal, economical, and social life are thus
simultaneously daguerreotyped and indicate their mutual and intricate
association in the French capital. Its history involves that of
churches, congresses, academies, prisons, cemeteries, and police, each
of which represents domestic and royal vicissitudes. What other city
furnishes such a work as the Duchess D'Abrantes' "Histoire des Salons
de Paris"? The _salons_ of Madame Necker, Polignac, De Beaumont, De
Mazarin, Roland, De Genlis, of Condorcet, of Malmaison, of Talleyrand,
and of the Hotel Rambouillet, etc., embrace the career of statesmen
and soldiers, the literary celebrities, the schools of philosophy,
the revolutions, the court, the wars, diplomacy, and, in a word, the
veritable annals of France. Society, according to this lively writer, in
the proper acceptation of the term, was born in France in the reign of
the Cardinal de Richelieu; and thenceforth, in its history, we trace
that of the nation.
Throughout the most salient eras of this history, therefore, is visible
female influence. Cousin has just revived the career of Madame de
Longueville, which is identified with the cabals, financial expedients,
and war of the Fronde; tournaments, which formed so striking a feature
in the diversions of Louis XIV.'s court, owed their revival to the whim
of one of his mistresses; Montespan fostered a brood of satirists,
and Maintenon one of devotees, while that extraordinary religious
controversy which initiated the sect of the Quietists had its origin in
the example and agency of Madame Guyon. Even now, although, as a late
writer has quaintly observed, "no lady brings her distaff to the
council-chamber," the influence of the sex on political opinion, in
its operation as a social principle, is recognized. A friend of mine,
returning from a dinner-party, described the free and witty sarcasm with
which a fair Legitimist assailed the Imperial rule; a week afterwards,
meeting her at the same table, she related, that, a few days after her
imprudent conversation, she received a courteous invitation from the
chief of police. "When they were seated alone in his bureau,--Madame,"
said he, "you have position, conversational talent, and wield the pen
effectively; are you disposed to exert this influence, henceforth, in
behalf of, instead of against the government?" Before her indignant
negative was fairly uttered, he opened a drawer that seemed full of
Napoleons, and glanced at them and her significantly. Thus Montesquieu's
observation continues true:--"The individual who would attempt to judge
of the government by the men at the head of affairs, and not by the
women who sway those men, would fall into the same error as he who
judges of a machine by its outward-action, and not by its secret
springs"; and the old base system of espionage is revived under the new
It has become proverbial in France, that the life of woman has three
eras,--in youth a coquette, in middle-life a wit, and in age a
_devote_,--which is but another mode of expressing that economy of
personal gifts, that shrewd use of the most available social power,
which distinguishes the Gallic from the Saxon woman, the worldly from
the domestic instincts. There only can we imagine a royal favorite
admitting her indebtedness to a royal wife. "To her," wrote Madame de
Maintenon of the Queen of Louis; "I owe the King's affection. Picture
a sovereign worn out with state affairs, intrigues, and ceremonies,
possessed of a _confidante_ always the same, always calm, always
rational, equally able to instruct and to soothe, with the intelligence
of a confessor and the winning gentleness of a woman." It is peculiar
to the sex there to escape outward soil, whatever may be their moral
exposure; for one instinctively recognizes a Frenchwoman by her clean
boots, even in the muddiest thoroughfare, her spotless muslin cap,
kerchief, and collar. She retains also her individuality after marriage
better than the fair of other nations, not only in character, but in
name, the maiden appellative being joined to her husband's, so that,
although a Madame, she keeps the world informed that she was _nee_ of a
family whose title, however modest, she will not drop. The maxims, so
prevalent in France, which declare matrimony the tomb of love, are
the legitimate result of a superficial theory of life and the mutual
independence of the sexes thence arising; accordingly we are assured,
"C'est surtout entre mari et femme que l'amour a le moins de chance de
succes. Ils vieillirent ensemble comme deux portraits de famille, sans
aucune intimite, aucun profit pour l'esprit, et arrives au dernier
relais de leur existence, le souvenir n'avait rien a faire entre eux."
It is a curious illustration at once of the mobility and the isolation
of the French mind, that, while it assimilates elements within its
sphere which in other nations are kept comparatively apart, it rejects
the process in regard to foreign material. Thus, in no other capital are
politics and literature so interwoven with society; the love-affairs of
a minister directly influence his policy; the tone of the _salon_
often inspires and moulds the author; the social history of an epoch
necessarily includes the genius of its statesmanship and of its letters,
because they are identified with the intrigues, _the bon-mots_, and the
conversation of the period; more is to be learned at a lady's morning
reception or evening _soiree_ than in the writer's library or the
official's cabinet. On the other hand, how few threads from abroad can
be found in this mingled web of civic, literary, and social life! The
vicinity of England and the influx of Englishmen have scarcely brought
the ideas or the sentiment of that country into nearer recognition at
Paris than was the case a century ago. Notwithstanding an occasional
outbreak of Anglomania, the best French authors spell English proper
names no better, the best French critics appreciate Shakspeare as
little, and the majority of Parisians have no less partial and fixed a
notion of the characteristics of their insular neighbors, than before
the days of journalism and steam. The attempts to represent English
manners and character are as gross caricatures now as in the time of
Montaigne. However apt at fusion within, the national egotism is
as repugnant to assimilation from without as ever. The stock seems
incapable of vital grafting, as has been remarkably evidenced in all the
colonial experiments of France.
The excellence of the French character, intellectually speaking,
consists in routine and detail. How well their authors describe and
their artists depict peculiarities! how exact the evolutions of a French
regiment, and the statements of a French naturalist! how apt is a
Parisian woman in raising gracefully her skirts, throwing on a shawl, or
carrying a basket! In loyalty to a method they are unrivalled, in the
triumph of individualities weak; their artisans can make a glove fit
perfectly, but have yet to learn how to cut out a coat; their authors,
like their soldiers, can be marshalled in groups; means are superior
to ends; manners, the exponent of Nature in other lands, there color,
modify, and characterize the development of intellect; the subordinate
principle in government, in science, and in life, becomes paramount;
drawing, the elemental language of Art, is mastered, while the standard
of expression remains inadequate; the laws of disease are profoundly
studied, while this knowledge bears no proportionate relation to the
practical art of healing; the ancient rules of dramatic literature are
pedantically followed, while the "pity and terror" they were made to
illustrate are unawakened; the programme of republican government is
lucidly announced, its watchwords adopted, its philosophy expounded,
while its spirit and realization continue in abeyance: and thus
everywhere we find a singular disproportion between formula and fact,
profession and practice, specific knowledge and its application. The
citizen of the world finds no armory like that which the institutions,
the taste, and the genius of the French nation afford him, whether he
aspire to be a courtier or a chemist, a soldier or a _savant_, a dancer
or a doctor; and yet, for complete equipment, he must temper each weapon
he there acquires, or it will break in his hand.
In every epoch a word rules or illustrates the dominant spirit:
_citoyen_ in the Revolution, _moustache_ during the Consulate,
_victoire_ under the Empire, to-day _la Bourse_. "To a Frenchman," says
Mrs. Jameson, "the words that express things seem the things themselves,
and he pronounces the words _amour, grace, sensibilite_, etc., with a
relish in his mouth as if he tasted them, as if he possessed them. They
talk of "_le sentiment du metier_"; in travelling, Paris is the eternal
theme. A sagacious observer has remarked in their language the "short,
aphoristic phrase, the frequent absence of the copulative, avoidance of
dependent phrases, and disdain of modifying adverbs. _Naivete, abandon,
ennui_, etc., are specific terms of the language, and designate national
traits. When Beaumarchais ridiculed a provincial expression, the
Dauphiness, we are told, composed a head-dress expressly to give it a
local habitation and a name."
The mania for equality, in the first Revolution, De Tocqueville shows
was not so much the result of political aspiration as the fierce protest
against those exclusive rights once enjoyed by the nobility, (shown by
Arthur Young to have been the primary impulse to revolution,) to hunt,
keep pigeons, grind corn, press grapes, etc. For a long period, the man
of letters was never combined with the statesman, as in England. In
France, speculation in government ran wild, because the thinkers,
suddenly raised to influence in affairs, had enjoyed no ordeal of public
duty. Hence certain imaginary fruits of liberty were sought, and its
absolute worth misunderstood. And now that experience, dearly bought,
has modified visionary and moulded practical theories, how much of the
normal interest of the French character has evaporated! Even the love
of beauty and the love of glory, proverbially its distinctions, are
eclipsed by the sullen orb of Imperialism; the Bourse is more attractive
than the battle-field, material luxury than artistic distinction.
One of their own philosophers has summed up, with justice, the anomalous
elements of the versatile national character:--
"Did there ever appear on the earth another nation so fertile in
contrasts, so extreme in its acts,--more under the dominion of
feeling, less ruled by principle; always better or worse than was
anticipated,--now below the level of humanity, now far above; a people
so unchangeable in its leading features that it may be recognized by
portraits drawn two or three thousand years ago, and yet so fickle in
its daily opinions and tastes that it becomes at last a mystery to
itself, and is as much astonished as strangers at the sight of what it
has done; naturally fond of home and routine, yet, when once driven
forth and forced to adopt new customs, ready to carry principles to
any lengths and to dare anything; indocile by disposition, but better
pleased with the arbitrary and even violent rule of a sovereign than
with a free and regular government under its chief citizens; now fixed
in hostility to subjection of any kind, now so passionately wedded to
servitude that nations made to serve cannot vie with it; led by a thread
so long as no word of resistance is spoken, wholly ungovernable when the
standard of revolt is raised,--thus always deceiving its masters,
who fear it too much or too little; never so free that it cannot be
subjugated, never so kept down that it cannot break the yoke; qualified
for every pursuit, but excelling in nothing but war; more prone to
worship chance, force, success, _eclat_, noise, than real glory; endowed
with more heroism than virtue, more genius than common sense; better
adapted for the conception of grand designs than the accomplishment of
great enterprises; the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation
of Europe, and the one that is surest to inspire admiration, hatred,
terror, or pity, but never indifference?"
What other social sphere could afford room for the vocation so aptly
described in the following sketch of his "ways and means," given in a
recent picture of life in Paris by a sycophant of millionnaires, at
a period when interests, not rights, are the watchwords of the
nation?--"Mon role de familier dans une veritable population d'enrichis
me donnait du credit dans les boudoirs, et mon credit dans les boudoirs
ajoutait a ma faveur pres ces pauvres diables de millionaires, presque
tous vieux et blases, courant toujours en chancelant apres un plaisir
nouveau. Les marchands de vin me font la cour comme les jolies femmes,
pour que je daigne leur indiqner des connaisseurs assez riches pour
payer les bonnes choses le prix qu'elles valent. Mon metier est de tout
savoir,--l'anecdote de la cour, le scandale de la ville, le secret des
coulisses." And this species of adventurer, we are told, has always the
same commencement to his memoirs,--"_Il vint a Paris en sabots._"
[Footnote 1: De Tocqueville.]
The numerous avocations of women in the French capital explain, in a
measure, their superior tact, efficiency, and force of character. This
is especially true of females of the middle class, who have been justly
described as remarkable for good sense and appropriate costumes. The
participation of women in so many departments of art and industry
affects, also, the social tone and the manners. Sterne, long ago,
remarked it of the fair shopkeepers. "The genius of a people," he says,
"where nothing but the monarchy is _Salique_, having ceded this
department totally to the women, by a continual higgling with customers
of all ranks and sizes, from morning to night, like so many rough
pebbles in a bag, by amicable collisions, they have worn down their
asperities and sharp angles, and not only become round and smooth, but
will receive, some of them, a polish like a brilliant."
How distinctly may be read the political vicissitudes of France in her
literature,--classic, highly finished, keen, and formal, when a monarch
was idolized and authors wrote only for courts and scholars: Bossuet,
with his rhetorical graces; La Bruyere, with his gallery of characters,
not one of which was moulded among the people; De la Rochefoucauld's
maxims, drawn from the arcana of fashionable life; Racine, whose heroes
die with an immaculate couplet and speak the faint echoes of Grecian or
Roman sentiment! When politics became common property, and the walls of
a prescriptive and conventional system fell, how wild ran speculation
and sentiment in the copious and superficial Voltaire and the vague
humanities of Rousseau! When an era of military despotism supervened
upon the reign of license, how destitute of lettered genius seemed the
nation, except when the pensive enthusiasm of Chateaubriand breathed
music from American wilds or a London garret, and Madame de Stael gave
utterance to her eloquent philosophy in exile at Geneva! "_Napoleon eut
voulu faire manoeuvrer l'esprit humain comme il faisait manoeuvrer ses
vieux bataillons_." Yet more emphatic is the reaction of political
conditions upon literary development after the Restoration. The tragic
horrors and protracted fever of the Revolution, and the passion for
military glory exaggerated by the victories of Napoleon, legitimately
initiated the intense school, which during the present century has
signalized French literature. The _prestige_ of the scholar revived, and
literary eclipsed warlike fame; but with the revival of letters came
the revolutionary spirit before exhibited on the battle-field and
in cabinets. For the artificial and elegant was substituted the
melodramatic and effective; lyrics from the overwrought heart broke in
dreamy sweetness from Lamartine and in simple energy from Beranger;
fiction the most elaborate, incongruous, and exciting, here quaintly
artistic, there morbidly scientific, revealed the chaos and the
earthquakes that laid bare and upheaved life and society in the
preceding epochs; the journal became an intellectual gymnasium and
Olympic game, where the first minds of the nation sought exercise and
glory; the _feuilleton_ almost necessitated the novelist to concentrate
upon each chapter the amount of interest once diffused through a volume;
criticism, from tedious analysis, became a brilliant ordeal; egotism
inspired a world of new confessions, political questions a new school
of popular writing, the love of effect and the passion for excitement a
multitude of dramatic, narrative, and biographical books, wherein the
serenity of thought, the tranquil beauty of truth, and the healthful
tone of nature were sacrificed, not without dazzling genius, to
immediate fame, pecuniary reward, and the delight _d'eprouver une
sensation_. Even in the history of the fine arts, we find the political
element guiding the pencil and ruling the fortunes of genius. David was
the government painter, and regarded Gros and Girodet as _suspects_.
He effected a revolution in Art by going back to severe anatomical
principles in design. There were conspiracies against him in the
studios, and war was declared between color and design; the palette
and the pencil were in conflict; David, the Napoleon of the
former,--Prud'hon, Gericault, Delacroix, and others, leaders in the
latter faction. Each party was surrounded by its respective corps of
amateurs; and military terms were in vogue in the _atelier_ and academy.
"_S'il est permis_" says Delacroix, speaking of his Sardanapalus,
"de comparer les petites choses aux grandes, ce fut mon Waterloo. Je
devenais l'abomination de la peinture; il fallait me refuser l'eau et
le sel." "If you wish to share the favors of the government," said an
official to another artist, "you must change your manner." From the
tyranny of external influences have arisen the incongruities of the
French schools of painting, and especially what has been well called
"that meretricious breed which continue to depict the Magdalen with
the united attractions of Palestine and the Palais Royal." The large
pictures which Gros painted during the Empire were consigned to
long obscurity at the Restoration. The lives, too, of many of these
cultivators of the arts of peace had a tragic close. Haydon's fate made
a deep impression in England, because it was an exceptional case; while,
of the modern painters of France, whose career was far more harmonious
and successful than his, Gros drowned himself, Robert cut his throat,
Prud'hon died in misery, and Greuze was buried in Potter's Field. The
side of life we naturally associate with tranquillity thus offers, in
this dramatic realm, scenes of excitement and pity. It is the same in
literature. Witness the fierce struggle between the Romantic and Classic
schools,--the early victories of the _enfant sublime_, Victor Hugo.
And we must acknowledge that "_les lettres et les arts ont aussi leurs
emeutes et leurs revolutions_," and accept the inference of one of the
_Parisian literati_,--that "_l'esprit a toujours quelque chose de
satanique_." Every revolution is identified with some musical air: when
Louis XVIII. first appeared at the theatre, after his long exile, he was
greeted with the "Vive Henri IV.," and the new constitution of 1830 was
ushered in by the "Marseillaise." The Vaudeville theatre, we are told,
during the Revolution and under the Empire, was essentially political.
An imaginary resemblance between _la chaste Suzanne_ and Marie
Antoinette caused the prohibition of that drama; and the interest which
Cambaceres took in an actress of this establishment led him to give it
his official protection.
In the family of nations France is the child of illusions, and excites
the sympathy of the magnanimous because her destinies have been marred
through the errors of the imagination rather than of the heart.
Government, religion, and society--the three great elements of civil
life--have nowhere been so modified by the dominion of fancy over fact.
Take the history of French republicanism, of Quietism, of court and
literary circles; what perspicuity in the expression, and vagueness
in the realization of ideas! In each a mania to fascinate, in none a
thorough basis of truth; abundance of talent, but no faith; gayety,
gallantry, wit, devotion, dreams, and epigrams in perfection, without
the solid foundation of principles and the efficient development in
practice, either of polity, a social system, or religious belief,--the
theory and the sentiment of each being at the same time luxuriant,
attractive, and prolific.
The popular writers are eloquent in abstractions, but each seems
inspired by a thorough egotism. Descartes, their philosopher, drew all
his inferences from consciousness; Madame de Sevigne, the epistolary
queen, had for her central motive of all speculation and gossip the love
of her daughter; Madame Guyon eliminated her tenets from the ecstasy of
self-love; Rochefoucauld derived a set of philosophical maxims from the
lessons of mere worldly disappointment; Calvin sought to reform society
through the stern bigotry of a private creed; La Bruyere elaborated
generic characters from the acute, but narrow observation of artificial
society; Boileau established a classical standard of criticism suggested
by personal taste, which ignored the progress of the human mind.
The redeeming grace of the nation is to be found in its wholesome sense
of the enjoyable and the available in ordinary life, in its freedom
from the discontent which elsewhere is born of avarice and unmitigated
materialism. The love of pleasing, the influence of women, and a
frivolous temper everywhere and on all occasions signalize them. "Why,
people laugh at everything here!" naively exclaimed the young Duchess of
Burgundy, on her arrival at the French court.
The amount of commodities taken by French people on a journey, and the
cool self-satisfaction with which they are appropriated as occasion
demands, give a stranger the most vivid idea of sensual egotism. The
_pate_, the long roll of bread, the sour wine, the lap-dog, the snuff,
and the night-cap, which transform the car or carriage into a refectory
and boudoir, with the chatter, snoring, and shifting of legs, make an
interior scene for the novice, especially on a night-jaunt, compared to
which the humblest of Dutch pictures are refined and elegant.
The intrinsic diversity and the national relations between the French
and English are curiously illustrated by their respective history and
literature. Compare, for instance, the plays of Shakspeare, which
dramatize the long wars of the early kings, with the account given in
the journals of the reception of Victoria at Paris and of Louis Napoleon
in London; imagine the royal salutation and the official recognition of
the once anathematized Napoleon dynasty; General Bonaparte becomes in
his tomb Napoleon I. No wonder "Punch" affirmed that the statue of Pitt
shook its bronze head and the bones of Castlereagh stirred in protest.
"The English," says a celebrated writer, "like ancient medals, kept more
apart, preserve the first sharpness which the fair hand of Nature has
given them; they are not so pleasant to feel, but, in return, the legend
is so visible, that, at the first look, you can see whose image and
superscription they bear." This is a delicate way of setting forth
the superior honesty and bluntness and the inferior smoothness and
assimilating instinct of the Anglo-Saxon,--a vital difference, which
no alliance or intercourse with his Gallic neighbors can essentially
A century ago there were few better tests of popular sentiment in
England than the plays in vogue. As indications of the state of the
public mind, they were what the ballads are to earlier times, and the
daily press is to our own,--generalized casual, but emphatic proofs of
the opinions, prejudices, and fancies of the hour. Now a large English
colony is domesticated in France; it is but a few hours' trip from
London to Paris; newspapers and the telegraph in both capitals make
almost simultaneous announcements of news; the soldiers of the two
nations fight side by side; the French shopman declares on his sign that
English is spoken within; the "Times," porter, and tea are obtainable
commodities in Paris; and _fraternite_ is the watchword at Dover and
Calais. Yet the normal idea which obtains in the conservative brain of a
genuine _Anglais_, though doubtless expanded and modified by intercourse
and treaties, may be found still in that once popular drama, Foote's
"Englishman in Paris." "A Frenchman," says one of the characters, "is a
fop. Their taste is trifling, and their politeness pride. What the deuse
brings you to Paris, then? Where's the use? It gives Englishmen a true
relish for their own domestic happiness, a proper veneration for their
national liberties, and an honor for the extended generous commerce of
their country. The men there are all puppies, the women painted dolls."
Monsieur Ragout and Monsieur Rosbif bandy words; the former is said to
"look as if he had not had a piece of beef or pudding in his paunch for
twenty years, and had lived wholly on frogs,"--and the latter pines to
leap a five-barred gate, and is afraid of being entrapped by "a rich
she-Papist." His fair countrywoman is invited by a French marquis to
marry him, with this programme,--"A perpetual residence in this paradise
of pleasures; to be the object of universal adoration; to say what you
please,--go where you will,--do what you like,--form fashions,--hate
your husband, and let him see it,--indulge your gallant,--run in debt,
and oblige the poor devil to pay it."
As a pendant, take the description of one of the last French novels:--"A
Paris tout s'oublie, tout se pardonne. Par convenance, par decence,
quelquefois par crainte, on s'absente, ou fait un entr'acte: puis le
rideau se releve pour le spectacle de nouvelles fautes et de nouvelles
folies; toute la question est de savoir s'y prendre."
Comedy is native to French genius and appreciation; it follows the
changes of social life with marvellous celerity; it is the best school
of the French language; and is refined and subdivided, as an art, both
in degree and kind, in France more than in any other country. The
prolific authors in this department, and the variety and richness of
invention they display, as well as the permanent attraction of the Comic
Muse, are striking peculiarities of the French theatre. No capital
affords the material and the audience requisite for such triumphs like
Paris; and there is always a play of this kind in vogue there, wherein
novelty of combination, significance of dialogue, and artistic
felicities quite unrivalled elsewhere, are exhibited.
It is quite the reverse with the serious drama. In England this is a
form of literature which goes nearest to the normal facts and conditions
of human nature; it teaches the highest and deepest lessons, wins the
most profound sympathy, and is remarkable and interesting through its
subtile and comprehensive truth to Nature: whereas in France the masters
of tragic art are but skilful reproducers of the classical drama. French
tragedy is essentially artificial, grafted on the conventionalities of
a distant age. It gives scope either to mere elocutionary art or
melodramatic invention,--not to the universal and existing passions.
There is but a slender opportunity to identify our sympathies--those of
modern civilization--with what is going on. Figures in Roman togas
or Grecian mantles rehearse the sentiments of fatalism, the creed of
ancient mythology, or Gallic rhetoric in a classic dress; and these
disguises so envelope the love, ambition, despair, hate, or patriotism,
that we are always conscious of the theatrical, and it requires the
extraordinary gifts of a Rachel to enlist other than artistic interest.
The French have manuals for breathing and composing the features
to secure artistic effects; they offer academic prizes for every
conceivable achievement; their very lamp-posts are designed with taste;
a huckster in the street will exhibit dramatic tact and wonderful
mechanical dexterity. "Quand il parait un homme de genie en France,"
says Madame de Stael, "dans quelque carriere que ce soit, il atteint
presque toujours a un degre de perfection sans exemple; car il reunit
l'audace qui fait sortir de la route commune au tact du bon gout." And
yet in vast political interests they are victims,--in the more earnest
developments of the soul, children. A new artificial lake in the Bois de
Boulogne, a grand military reception, news of a victory in some distant
corner of the globe, the distribution of eagles to brave survivors,--in
a word, an appeal to the love of amusement, of display, and of
glory,--quiets the murmur about to rise against interference with human
rights or usurpation of the national will. Political interests of the
gravest character are treated with flippancy: one writer calls the
formation of a new government Talleyrand's table of whist; and another
casually observes that "_tous les gouvernements nouveaux ont leur lune
That great principle of the division of labor, which the English carry
into mechanical and commercial affairs, the French also apply to the
economy of life and to Art; but, as these latter interests are more
spontaneous and unlimited, the result is often a perfection in detail,
and a like deficiency in general effect. Thus, there are schools of
painting in France more distinct and apart than exist elsewhere; usually
the followers of such are distinguished for excellence in the mechanical
aptitudes of their vocation; the figure is admirably drawn, the costume
rightly disposed, and sometimes the degree of finish quite marvellous;
but, usually, this superiority is attained at the expense of the
sentiment of the picture. French historic Art, like French life, is
apt to be extravagant and melodramatic, or over-refined in unimportant
particulars; it often lacks moral harmony,--the grand, simple, true
reflection of Nature in its nicety. Delaroche, who, of all French
painters, rose most above the adventitious, and gave himself to the soul
of Art, to pure expression, was, for this very reason, thought by his
brother artists to be cold and unattractive. There is one sphere,
however, where this exclusiveness of style and partition of labor are
productive of the most felicitous results: namely, the minor drama. In
England and America the same theatre exhibits opera, melodrama, tragedy,
comedy, rope-dancing, and legerdemain; but in Paris, each branch and
element of histrionic art has its separate temple, its special corps of
actors and authors, nay, its particular class of subjects; hence their
unrivalled perfection. Ingenuity, science, and Art are concentrated by
thus assigning free and individual scope to the dramatic niceties and
phases of life, of history, of genius, and of society. At the Opera
Comique you find one kind of musical creation; at the Italiens the
lyrical drama of Southern Europe alone; at the Varietes a unique order
of comic dialogue; and at the Porte St. Martin yet another species of
play. One theatre gives back the identical tone of existing society and
current events; another deals with the classical ideas of the past.
Satire and song, the horrible and the brilliant, the graceful and the
highly artistic, pictorial, elocutionary, pantomimic, tragic, vocal,
statuesque, the past and present, all the elements of Art and of life,
find representation in the plot, the language, the sentiment, the
costume, the music, and the scenery of the many Parisian theatres.
Yet how much of this superiority is fugitive! how little in the whole
dramatic development takes permanent hold upon popular sympathy! Much
of its significance is purely local, and of its interest altogether
temporary. Scholars and the higher classes can talk eloquently of
Corneille and Racine; the beaux and _spirituelle_ women of the day can
repeat and enjoy the last hit of Scribe, or the new _bon-mot_ of
the theatre: but contrast these results with the national love and
appreciation of Shakspeare,--with the permanent reflection of Spanish
life in Lope de Vega,--the patriotic aspirations which the young Italian
broods over in the tragedies of Alfieri. The grace of movement, the
triumph of tact and ingenuity, the devotion to conventionalism, either
pedantry or the genius of the hour, also rules the drama in Paris. With
all its brilliancy, entertainment, grace, wit, and popularity,--there
exists not a permanently vital and universally recognized type of this
greatest department of literature, familiar and endeared alike to
peasant and peer, a representative of humanity for all time,--like the
bard around whose name and words cluster the Anglo-Saxon hearts and
intelligence from generation to generation.
But nowhere do life and the drama so trench upon each other; nowhere is
every incident of experience so dramatic. Miss H.M. Williams told the
poet Rogers that she had seen "men and women, waiting for admission at
the door of the theatre, suddenly leave their station, on the passing of
a set of wretches going to be guillotined, and then, having ascertained
that none of their relations or friends were among them, very
unconcernedly return to the door of the theatre." A child is born at the
Opera Comique during the performance, and it is instantly made an event
of sympathy and effect by the audience; a subscription is raised, the
child named for the dramatic heroine of the moment, and the fortunate
mother sent home in a carriage, amid the plaudits of the crowd. You are
listening to a play; and a copy of the "Entr'acte" is thrust into your
hand, containing a minute account of the death of a statesman two
squares off whose name fills pages of history, or a battle in the East,
where some officer whom you met two months before on the Boulevard has
won immortal fame by prodigies of valor. So do the actualities and the
pastimes, the real and the imaginary drama, miraculously interfuse at
Paris; the comedy of life is patent there, and often the spectator
exclaims, "_Arlequin avait bien arrange les choses, mais Colombine
The Parisian females are "unexceptionably shod,"--but the agricultural
instruments now in use in the rural districts of France are of a form
and mechanism which, to a Yankee farmer, would seem antediluvian; the
cooks, gardeners, and other working-people, have annually the most
graceful festivals,--but the traveller sees in the fields women so
bronzed and wrinkled by toil and exposure that their sex is hardly to be
recognized. When the Gothamite passes along Pearl or Broad Street,
he beholds the daily spectacle of unemployed carmen reading
newspapers;--there may be said to be no such thing as popular literature
in France; mental recreation, such as the German and Scotch peasantry
enjoy, is unknown there. The Art and letters of the kingdom flourished
in her court and were cultivated as an aristocratic element for so long
a period, that neither has become domesticated among the lower classes;
we find in them the sentiment of military glory, of religion in its
superstitious phase, of music perhaps, of rustic festivity,--but not the
enjoyments which spring from or are associated with thought and poetic
sympathies such as national writers like Burns inspired. An exception
comparatively recent may be found in the popular appreciation of
Beranger and Souvestre.
There is not a natural object too beautiful or an occasion too solemn
to arrest the French tendency to the theatrical. Even one of their most
ardent eulogists remarks,--"All that can be said against the French
sublime is this,--that the grandeur is more in the word than in the
thing; the French expression professes more than it performs"; and old
Montaigne declares that "lying is not a vice among the French, _but a
way of speaking_." Both observations admit too much; and indicate an
habitual departure from Nature and simplicity as a national trait.
Who but Frenchmen ever delighted in reducing to artificial shapes the
graceful forms of vegetable life, or can so far lay aside the sentiment
of grief as to engage in rhetorical panegyrics over the fresh graves
of departed friends? Compare the high dead wall with its range of
flower-pots, the porches undecked by woodbines or jessamine, the formal
paths, the proximate kitchen, stables, and ungarnished _salon_ of
a French villa, with the hedges, meadows, woodlands, and trellised
eglantine of an English country-house; and a glance assures us that
to the former nation the country is a _dernier ressort_, and not an
endeared seclusion. Yet they romance, in their way, on rural subjects:
"_A la campagne_," says one of their poets, "_ou chaque feuille qui
tombe est une elegie toute faite_." Through an avenue of scraggy poplars
we approach a dilapidated _chateau_, whose owner is playing dominoes
at the cafe of the nearest provincial town, or exhausting the sparse
revenues of the estate at the theatres, roulette-tables, or balls of
Paris. People leave these for a rural vicinage only to economize, to
hide chagrin, or to die. So recognized is this indifference to Nature
and inaptitude for rural life in France, that, when we desire to
express the opposite of natural tastes, we habitually use the word
"Frenchified." The idea which a Parisian has of a tree is that of a
convenient appendage to a lamp. The traveller never sees artificial
light reflected from green leaves, without thinking of his evening
promenades in the French capital, or a dance in the groves of
Montmorency. The old verbal tyranny of the French Academy, the
painted wreaths sold at cemetery-gates, the colored plates of fashions,
powdered hair, and rouged cheeks, typify and illustrate this irreverent
ambition to pervert Nature and create artificial effects; they are but
so many forms of the theatrical instinct, and proofs of the ascendency
of meretricious taste. It is this want of loyalty to Nature, and
insensibility to her unadulterated charms, which constitute the real
barrier between the Gallic mind and that of England and Italy, and
which explain the fervent protest of such men as Alfieri and Coleridge.
Simplicity and earnestness are the normal traits of efficient character,
whether developed in action or Art, in sentiment or reflection; and
manufactured verse, vegetation, and complexions indicate a faith in
appearances and a divorce from reality, which, in political interests,
tend to compromise, to theory, and to acquiescence in a military
_regime_ and an embellished absolutism.
It is this incompleteness, this comparative untruth, that gives rise to
the dissatisfaction we feel in the last analysis of French character.
It is delusive. The promise of beauty held out by external taste is
unfulfilled; the fascination of manner bears a vastly undue proportion
to the substantial kindness and trust which that immediate charm
suggests. "Just Heaven!" exclaims Yorick, "for what wise reasons hast
thou ordered it, that beggary and urbanity, which are at such variance
in other countries, should find a way to be at unity in this?" The
bearing of an Englishman seldom awakens expectation of courtesy
or entertainment; yet, if vouchsafed, how to be relied on is the
friendship! how generous the hospitality! The urbane salutation with
which a Frenchman greets the female passenger, as she enters a public
conveyance, is not followed by the offer of his seat or a slice of his
reeking _pate_,--while the roughest backwoodsman in America, who never
touched his hat or inclined his body to a stranger, will guard a
woman from insult, and incommode himself to promote her comfort, with
respectful alacrity. It is so in literature. How often we eagerly follow
the clear exposition of a subject in the pages of a French author, to
reach an impotent conclusion! or suffer our sympathies to be enlisted by
the admirable description of an interior or a character in one of their
novels, to find the plot which embodies them an absurd melodrama!
Evanescence is the law of Parisian felicities,--selfishness the
background of French politeness,--sociability flourishes in an inverse
ratio to attachment; we become skeptical almost in proportion as we are
attracted. If we ask the way, we are graciously directed; but if we
demand the least sacrifice, we must accept volubility for service. Thus
the perpetual flowering in manners, in philosophy, in politics, and in
economy, is rarely accompanied by fruit in either. To enjoy Paris, we
must cease to be in earnest;--to pass the time, and not to wrest from it
a blessing or a triumph, is the main object. The badges, the gardens,
the smiles, the agreeable phrase, the keen repartee, the tempting dish,
the ingenious _vaudeville_, the pretty foot, the elegant chair and
becoming curtain, the extravagant gesture, the pointed epigram or
alluring formula, must be taken as so many agreeabilities,--not for
things performed, but imaginatively promised. The folly of war has been
demonstrated to the entire sense of mankind; at best, it is now deemed
a painful necessity; yet the most serious phase of life in France is
military. Depth and refinement of feeling are lonely growths, and can no
more spring up in a gregarious and festal life than trees in quicksands;
citizenship is based on consistent acts, not on verbosity; and
brilliant accompaniments never reconcile strong hearts to the loss of
independence, which some English author has acutely declared the first
essential of a gentleman. The civilization of France is an artistic and
scientific materialism; the spiritual element is wanting. Paris is the
theatre of nations; we must regard it as a continuous spectacle, a
boundless museum, a place of diversion, of study,--not of faith, the
deepest want and most sacred birthright of humanity.
The want of directness, the absence of candor, the non-recognition of
truth in its broad and deep sense, is, indeed, a characteristic phase
of life, of expression, and of manners in France. A lover of his nation
confesses that even in "_galantes aventures l'esprit prenait la place
du coeur, la fantaisie celle du sentiment_." Voltaire's creed was, that
"_le mensonge n'est un vice que quand il fait du mal; c'est une grande
vertu quand il fait du bien_." "_L'exageration_" says De Maistre, "_est
le mensonge des honnetes gens_."
In every aspect the histrionic prevails,--by facility of association and
colloquial aptitude in the common intercourse of life,--by the inventive
element in dress, furniture, and material arrangements, plastic to the
caprice of taste and ingenuity,--by the habitudes of out-of-door life,
giving greater variety and adaptation to manners,--and by a national
temperament, susceptible and demonstrative. The current vocabulary
suggests a perpetual recourse to the casual, a shifting of the
life-scene, a recognition of the temporary and accidental. Such
oft-recurring words as _flaneur_, _liaison_, _badinage_, etc., have no
exact synonymes in other tongues. All that is done, thought, and felt
takes a dramatic expression. Lamartine elaborates a "History of
the Restoration" from two reports,--the one monarchical, the other
republican,--and, by making the facts picturesque and sentimental, wins
countless readers. Comte elaborates a masterly analysis of the sciences,
proclaims a fascinating theory of eras or stages in human development;
but the positive philosophy, of which all this is but the introduction,
to be applied to the individual and society, eludes, at last, direct and
complete application. A popular _savant_ dies, and students drag the
hearse and scatter flowers over the grave; a philosopher lectures, and
immediately his disciples form a school, and advocate his system with
the ardor of partisans; a disappointed soldier commits suicide by
throwing himself from Napoleon's column, while a _grisette_ and her
lover make their exit through a last embrace and the fumes of charcoal;
a wit seeks revenge with a clever repartee instead of his fists or cane.
A lady is the centre of attraction at a reception, and, upon inquiry, we
are gravely informed that the charm lies in the fact, that, though now
fat and more than forty, as well as married to an old noble, in her
youth she was the mistress of a celebrated poet. Notoriety, even when
scandalous, is as good a social distinction as birth, fame, or beauty.
Rousseau wrote a love-story, and sentiment became the rage. An artisan
has a day to spare, and takes his family to a garden or a dance. Human
existence, thus embellished, impulsive, and caricatured, becomes
a continuous melodrama, with an occasional catastrophe induced by
political revolutions. Louis XIV., the most characteristic king France
ever had, is a genuine representative of this theatrical instinct and
Herein may we find a key to the riddle of governmental vicissitudes
in France. People so easily satisfied with illusions, so fertile in
superficial expedients, are like children and savages in their sense of
what is novel and amusing, and their love of excitement,--and make
no such demands upon reality as full-grown men and educated citizens
instinctively crave. Their powers, in this regard, have not been
disciplined,--their wants but vaguely realized. Accustomed to look out
of themselves for a law of action, to consult authority upon every
occasion, to defer to official sources for guidance in every detail of
municipal and personal affairs,--the lesson of self-dependence,
the courage and the knowledge needful for efficiency are wanting.
"_Savez-vous_," asks an epicure, "_ce qui a chasse la gaite? C'est la
politique_." They rally at the voice of command, submit to interference,
and take for granted a prescribed formula, partly because it is
troublesome to think, and partly on account of inexperience in assuming
responsibility. De Tocqueville has remarked, that, in every instance
of attempted colonization, they have adapted themselves to, instead of
elevating savage tribes. They have never gone through the process of
state-education by the inevitable claim of personal duty, like the
Anglo-Saxons. Hence their need of a master, and the feeling of stability
realized among them only under legitimacy and despotism. Shallow
reasoners argue from the mere acknowledgment of this state of things
that it is an ultimate public blessing when the man appears with wit and
will enough to regulate and keep from chaos a society thus destitute of
political training. But those who look deeper know that this political
inefficiency is but the external manifestation or the latent cause of
more serious defects: by impeding healthful development in one way, it
occasions a morbid development in another. If citizenship in its most
free and active privilege were enjoyed, there would be less devotion to
amusement, a more virile national character, and the sanctities of
life would have observance. Public spirit and a political career are
incentives to manly ambition,--to an employment of mind and feeling
that wins men from trifling pursuits and vain diversion; they are the
national basis of private usefulness; to thwart them is to condemn
humanity to perpetual childhood,--to render members of a state machines.
The social evils and kinds of crime in France are referable in no
small degree to the absence of great motives,--the limited spheres and
hopeless routine involved in arbitrary government, unsustained by any
elevated sentiment. Such a rule makes literature servile, enterprise
mercenary, and manners profligate: all history proves this. It is not,
therefore, rational to infer, from the apparent want of ability in the
nation to take care of its own affairs, that a military despotism is
justifiable; when the truth is equally demonstrated, that such a sway,
by indefinitely postponing the chance to acquire the requisite training,
keeps down and throws back the national impulse and destiny. The man who
thus abuses power is none the less a traitor and a parricide.
THE PURSUIT OF KNOWLEDGE UNDER DIFFICULTIES; AND WHAT CAME OF IT.
Mr. Geer was unquestionably asleep.
This certainly did not indicate a sufficiently warm appreciation of Mrs.
Geer's social charms; but the enormity of the offence will be greatly
modified by a brief review of the attending circumstances. If you will
but consider that the crackling of burning wood in a huge Franklin
stove is strongly soporific in its tendencies,--that the cushion of a
capacious arm-chair, constructed and adjusted as if with a single eye
to a delicious dose, nay, to a long succession of doses, is a powerful
temptation to a sleepy soul,--that the regular, and, it must be
confessed, somewhat monotonous _click, click, click_ of Mrs. Geer's
knitting-needles only served to measure, without disturbing the
silence,--and, lastly, that they had been husband and wife for thirty
years,--you will not cease to wonder that Mr. Geer
O'er all the ills of life victorious."
To most men, an interruption at such a time would have been particularly
annoying; but when Mrs. Geer spoke in that way, Mr. Geer, asleep or
awake, always made a point of hearing; so he roused himself, and turned
his round, honest face and placid blue eyes on the partner of his bosom,
who went on,--
"Mr. Geer, our Ivy will be seventeen, come fall."
"Possible?" replied Mr. Geer. "Who'd 'a' thunk it?"
Mr. Geer, as you may infer, was eminently a free-thinker, or rather, a
free-actor, in respect of irregular verbs. In fact, he tyrannized over
all parts of speech: wrested nouns and verbs from their original shape,
till you could hardly recognize their distorted faces; and committed
that next worst sin to murdering one's mother, namely,--murdering one's
mother-tongue, with an _abandon_ that was absolutely fascinating. Having
delivered his opinion thus sententiously, he at once subsided, closed
his placid eyes, and retired into his inner world of--thought, perhaps.
This time he fairly jumped from his seat, and cast about him scared,
"Mr. Geer, how can you sleep away your precious time so?"
"Sleep? I--I--am sure, I was never wider awake in my life."
"Well, then, tell me what I said."
"Said? Eh,--eh,--something about Ivy, wasn't it?"
And Mr. Geer nervously twitched up the skirts of his coat, and replaced
his awry cushion, and began to think that perhaps, after all, he had
been asleep. But Mrs. Geer was too much interested in the subject of her
own cogitations to pursue her victory farther; so she answered,--
"Yes, and what is a-going to become of her?"
"Lud, lud! What's the matter?" asked Mr. Geer, wildly.
"Matter? Why, she'll be seventeen, come fall, and doesn't know a thing."
"O Lud! that all? That a'n't nothin'."
And Mr. Geer settled comfortably down into his arm-chair once more.
He felt decidedly relieved. Visions of smallpox, cholera, and
throat-distemper, the worst evils that he could think of and dread for
his darling, had been conjured up by his wife's words; and when he found
the real state of the case, a great burden, which had suddenly fallen on
his heart, was as suddenly lifted.
"But I tell you it _is_ something," continued Mrs. Geer, energetically.
"Ivy is 'most a woman, and has never been ten miles from home in her
life, and to no school but our little district"----
"And she's as pairk a gal," interrupted Mr. Geer, "as any you'll find in
all the ten miles round, be the other who she will."
"She's well enough in her way," replied Mrs. Geer, in all the humility
of motherly pride; "and so much the more reason why she shouldn't be let
go so. There's Mr. Dingham sending his great logy girls to Miss Porter's
seminary. (I wonder if he expects they'll ever turn out anything.) And
here's our Ivy, bright as a button, and you full well able to maintain
her like a lady, and have done nothing but turn her out to grass all her
life, till she's fairly run wild. I declare it's a shame. She ought to
be sent to school to-morrow."
"Nonsense, Sally! nonsense! I a'n't a-goin' lo have no such doin's.
Sha'n't go off to school. What's the use havin' her, if she can't stay
at home with us? Let Mr. Dingham send his gals to Chiny, if he wants to.
All the book-larnin' in the world won't make 'em equal to our Ivy with
only her own head. I don't want her to go to gettin' up high-falutin'
notions. She's all gold now. She don't need no improvin'. Sha'n't budge
an inch. Sha'n't stir a step."
"But do consider, Mr. Geer, the child has got to leave us some time. We
can't have her always."
"Why can't we?" exclaimed Mr. Geer, almost fiercely.
"Sure enough! Why can't we? There a'n't nobody besides you and me, I
suppose, that thinks she's pairk. What's John Herricks and Dan Norris
hangin' round for all the time?"
"And they may hang round till the cows come home! Nary hair of Ivy's
head shall they touch,--nary one on em!"
Just at this juncture of affairs, the damsel in question bounded into
"Come here, Ivy," said the old man; "your mother's been a-slanderin'
you; says you don't know nothin'."
Ivy knelt before him, rested her arms on his knees, and turned upon him
a pair of palpably roguish eyes.
"Father, it _is_ an awful slander. I do know a sight."
"Lud, child, yes! I knew you did. No more you don't want to marry John
Herricks, do you?"
"Oh, Daddy Geer! O--h--h!"
"Nor Dan Norris? nor none of 'em?"
"Never a one, father."
"Nor don't you ever think of gettin' married and slavin' yourself out
for nobody. I'm plenty well able to take care of you, as long as I live.
You'll never live so happy as you do at home; and you'll break my heart
to go away, Ivy."
"I'll never go, papa." (She pronounced it with the accent on the first
syllable.) "Indeed, I never will. I'll never be married, as long as I
"No more you sha'n't, good child, good child!"
And again Farmer Geer betook himself to the depths of his arm-chair,
with the complacent consciousness of having faithfully discharged his
parental duties. "She should not go to school. She would not be married.
She had said she would not, and of course she would not."
"Of course I shall not," mused Ivy, as she lay in her white bed. "What
could put it into poor papa's head? Marry John Herricks, with his
everlasting smirk, and his diddling walk, and take care of all the
Herricks' sisters and mothers and aunts, and the Herricks' cows and
horses and pigs--and--hens--and--and"----
But Ivy had kept her thoughts on her marriage longer than ever before
in her life; and ere she had finished the inventory of John Herricks's
personal property and real estate, the blue eyes were closed in the
sweet, sound sleep of youth and health.
Mrs. Geer, in her estimate of her daughter's attainments, was partly
right and partly wrong. Ivy had never been "finished" at Mrs. Porter's
seminary, and was consequently in a highly unfinished condition. "Small
Latin and less Greek" jostled each other in her head. German and French,
Italian and Spanish, were strange tongues to Ivy. She could not dance,
nor play, nor draw, nor paint, nor work little dogs on footstools.
What, then, could she do?
_Imprimis_, she could climb a tree like a squirrel. _Secundo_, she could
walk across the great beam in the barn like a year-old kitten. In the
pursuit of hens' eggs she knew no obstacles; from scaffold to scaffold,
from haymow to haymow, she leaped defiant. She pulled out the hay from
under the very noses of the astonished cows, to see if, perchance, some
inexperienced pullet might there have deposited her golden treasure.
With all four-footed beasts she was on the best of terms. The matronly
and lazy old sheep she unceremoniously hustled aside, to administer
consolation and caresses to the timid, quaking lamb in the corner
behind. Without saddle or bridle she could
"Ride a black horse
To Banbury Cross."
(N.B.--I don't say she actually did. I only say she could; and under
sufficiently strong provocation, I have no doubt she would.) She knew
where the purple violets and the white innocence first flecked the
spring turf, and where the ground-sparrows hid their mottled eggs.
All the little waddling, downy goslings, the feeble chickens, and
faint-hearted, desponding turkeys, that broke the shell too soon, and
shivered miserably because the spring sun was not high enough in the
morning to warm them, she fed with pap, and cherished in cotton-wool,
and nursed and watched with eager, happy eyes. O blessed Ivy Geer! True
Sister of Charity! Thrice blessed stepmother of a brood whose name was
From the conjugal and filial conversation which I have faithfully
reported, a casual observer, particularly if young and inexperienced,
might infer that the question of Miss Ivy's education was definitively
settled, and that she was henceforth to remain under the paternal roof.
I should, myself, have fallen into the same error, had not a long and
intimate acquaintance with the female sex generated and cherished
a profound and mournful conviction of the truth of the maxim, that
appearances are deceitful. E.g., a woman has set her heart on something,
and is refused. She pouts and sulks: that is clouds, and will soon blow
over. She scolds, storms, and raves (I speak in a figure; I mean she
does something as much like that as a tender, delicate, angelic woman
can): that is thunder, and only clears the air. She betakes herself to
tears, sobs, and embroidered cambric: that's a shower, and everything
will be greener and fresher after it. You may go your ways,--one to his
farm, another to his merchandise; the world will not wind up its affairs
just yet. But, put the case, she goes on the even tenor of her way
Trust her not; she is fooling thee."
Thus Mrs. Geer, who was a thorough tactician. Like Napoleon, she was
never more elated than after a defeat. Before consulting her husband
at all, she had contemplated the subject in all its bearings, and had
deliberately decided that Ivy was to go to school. The consent of the
senior partner of the firm was a secondary matter, which time
and judicious management would infallibly secure. Consequently,
notwithstanding the unpropitious result of their first colloquy, she the
next day commenced preparations for Ivy's departure, as unhesitatingly,
as calmly, as assiduously, as if the day of that departure had been
Mrs. Geer was right. She knew she was, all the time. She had a sublime
faith in herself. She felt in her soul the divine afflatus, and pressed
forward gloriously to her goal. Mr. Geer had as much firmness, not to
say obstinacy, as falls to the lot of most men; but Mrs. Geer had more;
and as Launce Outram, hard beset, so pathetically moaned, "A woman in
the very house has such deused opportunities!" so Farmer Geer grumbled,
and squirmed, and remonstrated, and--yielded.
Mrs. Geer was _not_ right. She had reckoned without her host. Her
affairs were gliding down the very Appian Way of prosperity in a
chariot-and-four, with footmen and outriders, when, presto! they turned
a sharp and unexpected corner, and over went the whole establishment
into a mirier mire than ever bespattered Dr. Slop.
To speak without a parable. When her expected Hegira was announced to
Miss Mary Ives Geer, that young lady, to the ill-concealed vexation of
her mother, and the not-attempted-to-be-concealed exultation of her
father, expressed decided disapprobation of the whole scheme. As she
was the chief _dramatis persona_, the very Hamlet of the play, this
unlooked-for decision somewhat interfered with Mrs. Geer's plans. All
the eloquence of that estimable woman was brought to bear on this one
point; but this one point was invincible. Expostulation and entreaty
were alike vain. Neither ambition nor pleasure could hold out any
allurements to Ivy. Maternal authority was at length hinted at, only
hinted at, and the spoiled child declared that she had not had her own
will and way for sixteen years to give up quietly in her seventeenth.
One last resort, one forlorn hope,--one expedient, which had never
failed to overcome her childish stubbornness: "Would she grieve her
parents so much as to oppose this their darling wish?" And Ivy burst
into tears, and begged to know if she should show her love to her father
and mother by going away from them. This drove the nail into her old
father's heart, and then the little vixen clenched it by throwing
herself into his arms, and sobbing, "Oh, papa! would you turn your Ivy
out of doors and break her heart?"
Flimsiest of fallacies! Shallowest of sophists! But she was the only and
beloved child of his old age; so the fallacy passed unchallenged; the
strong arms closed around the naughty girl; and the soothing voice
murmured, "There, there, Ivy! don't cry, child! Lud! lud! you sha'n't
be bothered; no more you sha'n't, lovey!" and the _status quo_ was
"It is not in the sea nor in the strife
We feel benumbed and wish to be no more,
But in the after silence on the shore,
When all is lost, except a little life,"
said one who had breasted the stormiest sea and plunged into the
fiercest strife. Ivy, who had never read Byron, and therefore could not
be suspected of any Byronical affectations, felt it, when, having gained
her point, she sat down alone in her own room. When her single self had
been pitted against superior numbers, age, experience, and parental
authority, all her heroism was roused, and she was adequate to the
emergency; but her end gained, the excitement gone, the sense of
disobedience alone remaining, and she was thoroughly uncomfortable, nay,
"Mamma is right; I know I am a little goose," sobbed she. (The words
were mental, intangible, unspoken; the sobs physical, palpable,
decided.) "I never did know anything, and I never shall,--and I don't
care if I don't. I don't see any good in knowing so much. We don't have
a great while to stay in the world any way, and I don't see why we can't
be let alone and have a good time while we are here, and when we get to
heaven we can take a fresh start. Oh, dear! I never shall go to heaven,
if I am so bad and vex mamma. But then papa didn't care. But then he
would have liked me to go to school. But there, I won't! I won't! I
_will not!_ I'll study at home. Oh, dear! I wish papa was a great man,
and knew everything, and could teach me. Well, he is just as happy, and
just as rich, and everybody likes him just as well, as if he knew the
whole world full; and why can't I do so, too? Rebecca Dingham, indeed!
Mercy! I hope I never shall be like her; I would rather not know my A
B C! What _shall_ I do? There's Mr. Brownslow might teach me; he knows
enough. But, dear me! he is as busy as he can be, all day long; and
Squire Merrill goes out of town every day; and there's Dr. Mix, to be
sure, but he smells so strong of paregoric, and I don't believe he knows
much, either; and there's nobody else in town that knows any more than
anybody else; and there's nothing for it but I must go to school, if I
am ever to know anything." (A renewal of sobs, uninterrupted for several
minutes.) "There's Mr. Clerron!" (A sudden cessation.) "I suppose he
knows more than the whole town tumbled into one; and writes books,
and--mercy! there's no end to his knowledge; and he's rich, and does
everything he likes, all day long. Oh, if I only _did_ know him! I would
ask him straight off to teach me. I should be scared to death. I've a
great mind to ask him, as it is. I can tell him who I am. He never will
know any other way, for he isn't acquainted with anybody. They say he is
as proud as Lucifer. If he were ten times prouder, I would rather ask
him than go to school. He might just as well do something as not. I am
sure, if God had made me him, and him me, I should be glad to help him.
I'll go straight to him the first thing to-morrow morning."
Once seeing a possible way out of her difficulties, her sorrow vanished.
Not quite so gayly as usual, it is true, did she sing about the
house that night; for she was summoning all her powers to prepare an
introductory speech to Felix Clerron, Esq., a gentleman and a scholar.
Her elocutionary attempts were not quite satisfactory to herself, but
she was not to be daunted; and when morning came, she took heart of
grace, slung her broadbrimmed hat over her arm, and began her march
"over the hills and far away," in search of her--fate.
"And did her mother really let her roam away, alone, on such an errand,
to a perfect stranger?"
Humanly speaking, nothing was more unlikely than that Mrs. Geer, a
prudent, modest, and sensible woman, should give her consent to such
an--to use the mildest term--unusual undertaking. Nor did she. The fact
is, her consent was not asked. She knew nothing whatever of the plan.
"Worse and worse! Did the wilful girl go off without leave? without even
informing her parents?"
I am sorry to say she did. In writing a story of real life, one
cannot take that liberty with facts which is quite proper, not to say
indispensable, in history, science, and belles-lettres generally. Duty
compels me to adhere closely to the truth; and for whatever of obloquy
may be heaped upon me, or upon my Ivy, I shall find consolation in the
words of the illustrious Harrison; or perhaps it was the illustrious
Taylor; I am not quite sure, however, that it was not the illustrious
Washington:--"Do right, and let the consequences take care of
themselves." I am therefore obliged to say, that Ivy's departure in
pursuit of knowledge was entirely unknown to her respected and beloved
parents. But you must remember that she was an only child, and a spoiled
child,--spoiled as only stern New England Puritan parents, somewhat
advanced in years, can spoil their children. I do not defend Ivy. On
the contrary, notwithstanding my regard for her, I hand her over to the
reprobation of an enlightened community; and I hereby entreat all young
persons into whose hands this memoir may fall to take warning by the
fate of poor Ivy, and never enter upon any important undertaking, until
they have, to say the least, consulted those who are their natural
guides, their warmest friends, and their most experienced counsellors.
While I have been writing this, Ivy Geer, light of heart, fleet of foot,
and firm of will, has passed over hill-side, through wood-path, and
across meadow-land, and drawn near the domains of Felix Clerron,
Esq. Light of heart perhaps I scarcely ought to say. Certainly, that
enterprising organ had never before beat so furious a tattoo in Ivy's
breast, as when she stood, hat in hand, on the steps of the somewhat
stately dwelling. To do her justice, she had intended to do the penance
of wearing her hat when she should have reached her destination; but
in her excitement she quite forgot it. So, as I said, she stood on the
door-step, as a royal maiden stood three hundred years before, (not
in the same place,) with the "wind blowing her fair hair about her
There had come to Ivy from the great, gay world a vague rumor, that,
instead of knocking at a door, like a Christian, with your own good
knuckles, for such case made and provided, modern fashion had introduced
"the ringing and the dinging of the bells." This vague rumor found
a local habitation, when Mr. Clerron came down upon the village and
established himself, his men and women and horses and cattle; but as
Ivy stood on his door-step, looking upward, downward, sidewise, with
earnest, peering gaze, no bell, and no sign of bell, was visible;
nothing unusual, save a little door-knob at the right-hand side of the
door,--a thing which could not be accounted for. After long and serious
deliberation, she came to the conclusion that the bell must be inside,
and that the knob was a screw attached to it. So she tried to twist it,
first one way, then the other; but twist it would not. In despair she
betook herself to her fingers and knocked. Nobody came. Twist again.
No use. Knock again. Ditto. Then she went down to the gravelled path,
selected one of the largest pebbles, took up her station before the
door, and began to pound away. In a moment, a gentleman in dressing-gown
and smoking-cap, with a cigar between his fingers, came round the
corner. Seeing her, he threw away his cigar, lifted his velvet cap,
bowed, and, with a polite "allow me," stepped to the door, pulled the
bell, and again passed out of sight. Ivy was not so confused at being
detected in her assault and battery on the door of a respectable,
peaceable, private gentleman, as not to make the silent reflection,
"Pulled the knob, instead of twisting it. How easy it is to do a
thing, if you only know how!"
The summons was soon answered by a black gnome, and Ivy was ushered into
a large room, which, to her dazzled, sun-weary eyes, seemed delightfully
fresh and _green_-looking. Two minutes more of waiting,--then a step in
the hall, a gently opening door, and Ivy felt rather than saw herself in
the presence of the formidable Mr. Clerron. A single glance showed her
that he was the person who had rung the bell for her, though the gay
dressing-gown had been changed for a soberer suit. Mr. Clerron bowed.
Ivy, hardly knowing what she did, faltered forth, "I am Ivy Geer." A
half-curious, half-sarcastic smile glimmered behind the heavy beard, and
gleamed beneath the heavy eyebrows, as he answered, "I am happy to
make your acquaintance"; but another glance at the trembling form, the
frightened, pale face, and quivering lips, changed the smile into one
that was very good-natured, and even kind; and he added, playfully,--
"I am Felix Clerron, very much at your service."
"You write books and are a very learned man," pursued Ivy, hurriedly,
never lifting her eyes from the floor, and never ceasing to twirl her
There was no possibility of supposing her guilty of committing a little
diplomatic flattery in conveying this succinct bit of information. She
made the assertion with the air of one who has a disagreeable piece of
business on hand, and is determined to go through with it as soon as
possible. He bowed and smiled again; quite unnecessarily,--since, as I
have before remarked, Ivy's eyes were steadfastly fixed on the carpet. A
slight pause for breath and she pitched ahead again.
"I am very ignorant, and I am growing old. I am almost seventeen. I
don't know anything to speak of. Mamma wishes me to go to school. Papa
did not, but now he does. I won't go. I would rather be stupid all my
life long than leave home. But mamma is vexed, and I want to please
her, and I thought,--Mr. Brownslow is so busy,--and you,--if you have
nothing to do,--and know so much,--I thought"------
She stopped short, utterly unable to proceed. Wonderfully different did
this affair seem from the one she had planned the preceding evening. My
dear Sir, Madam,--have not we, too, sometimes found it an easier thing
to fight the battle of life in our own chimney-corner, by the ruddy and
genial firelight, than in broad day on the world's great battle-field?
Mr. Clerron, seeing Ivy's confusion, kindly came to her aid. "And you
thought my superfluous time and wisdom might be transferred to you, thus
making a more equal division of property?"
"If you would be so good,--I,--yes, Sir."
"May I inquire how you propose to effect such an exchange?"
He really did not intend to be anything but kind, but the whole matter
presented itself to him in a very ludicrous light; and in endeavoring to
preserve proper gravity, he became severe. Ivy, all-unused to the world,
still had a secret feeling that he was laughing at her. Tears, that
would not be repressed, glistened in her downcast eyes, gathered on the
long lashes, dropped silently to the floor. He saw that she was entirely
a child, ignorant, artless, and sincere. His better feelings were
roused, and he exclaimed, with real earnestness,--
"My dear young lady, I should rejoice to serve you in any way, I beg you
His words only hastened the catastrophe which seems to be always
impending over the weaker sex. Ivy sobbed outright,--a perfect tempest.
Felix Clerron looked on with a bachelor's dismay. "What in thunder?
Confound the girl!" were his first reflections; but her utter
abandonment to sorrow melted his heart again,--not a very susceptible
heart either; but men, especially bachelors, are so--_green!_ (the word
is found in Cowper.)
He sat down by her side, stroked the hair from her burning forehead, as
if she had been six instead of sixteen, and again and again assured her
of his willingness to assist her.
"I must go home," whispered Ivy, as soon as she could command, or rather
coax her voice.
His hospitality was shocked.
"Indeed you must not, till we have at least had a consultation. Tell me
how much you know. What have you studied?"
"Oh, nothing, Sir. I am very stupid."
"Ah! we must begin with the Alphabet, then. Blocks or a primer?"
Ivy smiled through her tears.
"Not quite so bad as that, Sir."
"You do know your letters? Perhaps you can even count, and spell your
name; maybe write it. Pray, enlighten me."
Ivy grew calm as he became playful.
"I can cipher pretty well. I have been through Greenleaf's Large."
"House or meadow? And the exact dimensions, if you please."
"I understood you to say you had traversed Greenleaf's large. You did
not designate what."
He was laughing at her now, indeed, but it was open and genial, and she
"My Arithmetic, of course. I supposed everybody knew that. Everybody
calls it so."
"Time is short. Yes. We are an abbreviating nation. Do you like
"Pretty well, some parts of it. Fractions and Partial Payments. But I
can't bear Duodecimals, Position, and such things."
"Positions are occasionally embarrassing. And Grammar?"
"I think it's horrid. It's all 'indicative mood, common noun, third
person, singular number, and agrees with John.'"
"_Bravissima!_ A comprehensive sketch! _A multum in parvo!_ A bird's-eye
view, as one may say,--and not entertaining, certainly. What other
branches have you pursued? Drawing, for instance?"
"Oh, no, Sir!"
"Good, my dear! excellent! An overruling Providence has saved you and
your friends from many a pitfall. Shall we proceed to History? Be so
good as to inform me who discovered America."
"I believe Columbus has the credit of it," replied Ivy, demurely.
"Non-committal, I see. Case goes strongly in his favor, but you reserve
your judgment till further evidence."
"I think he was a wise and good and enterprising man."
"But are rather skeptical about that San Salvador story. A wise course.
Never decide till both sides have been fairly presented. 'He that
judgeth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto
him,' said the wise man. Occasionally his after-judgment is
equally discreditable. That is a thousand times worse. Exit Clio.
Enter--well!--Geographia. My young friend, what celebrated city has
the honor of concentrating the laws, learning, and literature of
Massachusetts, to wit, namely, is its capital?"
"My dear, your Geography has evidently been attended to. You have
learned the basis fact. You have discovered the pivot on which the world
turns. You have dug down to the ante-diluvian, ante-pyrean granite,--the
primitive, unfused stratum of society. The force of learning can no
farther go. Armed with that fact, you may march fearlessly forth to do
battle with the world, the flesh, and--the--ahem--the King of Beasts!
Do you think you should like me for a teacher?"
"I can't tell, Sir. I did not like you as anything awhile ago."
"But you like me better now? You think I improve on acquaintance? You
detect signs of a moral reformation?"
"No, Sir, I don't like you now. I only don't dislike you so much as I
"Spoken like a major-general, or, better still, like a brave little
Yankee girl, as you are. I am an enthusiastic admirer of truth. I
foresee we shall get on famously. I was rather premature in sounding the
state of your affections, it must be confessed,--but we shall be rare
friends by-and-by. On the whole, you are not particularly fond of
"I like some books well enough, but not studying-books," said Ivy, with
a sigh, "and I don't see any good in them. If it wasn't for mamma, I
never would open one,--never! I would just as soon be a dunce as not; I
don't see anything very horrid in it."
"An opinion which obtains with a wonderfully large proportion of our
population, and is applied in practice with surprising success. There is
a distinction, however, my dear young lady, which you must immediately
learn to make. The dunce subjective is a very inoffensive animal,
contented, happy, and harmless; and, as you justly remark, inspires no
horror, but rather an amiable and genial self-complacency. The dunce
objective, on the contrary, is of an entirely different species. He is a
bore of the first magnitude,--a poisoned arrow, that not only pierces,
but inflames,--a dull knife, that not only cuts, but tears,--a cowardly
little cur, that snaps occasionally, but snarls unceasingly; whom,
which, and that, it becomes the duty of all good citizens to sweep from
the face of the earth."
"What is the difference between them? How shall one know which is
"The dunce subjective is the dunce from his own point of view,--the
dunce with his eyes turned inward,--confining his duncehood to the bosom
of his family. The dunce objective is the dunce butting against his
neighbor's study-door,--intruding, obtruding, protruding his insipid
folly and still more insipid wisdom at all times and seasons. He is a
creature utterly devoid of shame. He is like Milton's angels, in one
respect at least: you may thrust him through and through with the
two-edged sword of your satire, and at the end he shall be as intact and
integral as at the beginning. Am I sufficiently obvious?"
"It is very obvious that I am both, according to your definition."
"It is very obvious that you are neither, I beg to submit, but a
sensible young girl,--with no great quantity of the manufactured
article, perhaps, but plenty of raw material, capable of being wrought
into fabric of the finest quality."
"Do you really think I can learn?" asked Ivy, with a bright blush of
"As much as if I went to school?"
"My dear miss, as the forest oak, 'cabined, cribbed, confined' with
multitudes of its fellows, grows stunted, scrubby, and dwarfed, but,
brought into the open fields alone, stretches out its arms to the blue
heavens and its roots to the kindly earth, so that the birds of the air
lodge in the branches thereof, and men sit under its shadow with great
delight,--so, in a word, shall you, under my fostering care, flourish
like a green bay-tree; that is, if I am to have the honor."
"Yes, Sir, I mean--I meant--I was thinking as if you were teaching me--I
mean were going to teach me."
"Which I also mean, if time and the favoring gods allow, and your
parents continue to wish it."
"Oh, they won't care!"
"No, Sir, they will be glad, I think. Papa, at least, will be glad to
have me stay at home."
"Did not they direct you to come to me to-day?"
Ivy blushed deeply, and replied, in a low voice, "No, Sir; I knew mamma
would not let me come, if I asked her."
"And to prevent any sudden temptation to disobedience, and a consequent
forfeiture of your peace of mind, you took time by the forelock and came
on your own responsibility?"
"Very ingenious, upon my word! An accomplished casuist! A born Jesuit!
But, my dear Miss Geer, I must confess I have not this happy feminine
knack of keeping out of the way of temptation. I should prefer to
consult your friends, even at the risk of losing the pleasure of your
"Oh, yes, Sir! I don't care, now it is all settled."
And so, over hill-side, along wood-path, and through meadow-land, with
light heart and smiling eyes, tripped Ivy back again. To Mrs. Geer
shelling peas in the shady porch, and to Mr. Geer fanning himself with
his straw hat on the steps beside her, Ivy recounted the story of her
adventures. Mrs. Geer was thunderstruck at Ivy's temerity; Mr. Geer was
lost in admiration of her pluck. Mrs. Geer termed it a wild-goose chase;
Mr. Geer declared Ivy to be as smart as a steel trap. Mrs. Geer vetoed
the whole plan; Mr. Geer didn't know. But when at sunset Mr. Clerron
rode over, and admired Mr. Geer's orchard, and praised the points of his
Durhams, and begged a root of Mrs. Geer's scarlet verbena, and assured
them he should be very glad to refresh his own early studies, and also
to form an acquaintance with the family,--he knew very few in the
village,--and if Mrs. Geer would drive over when Ivy came to recite,--or
perhaps they would rather he should come to their house. Oh, no! Mrs.
Geer could not think of that. Just as they pleased. Mrs. Simm, the
housekeeper, would be very glad of Mrs. Geer's company while Miss Ivy
was reciting, in case Mrs. Geer should not wish to listen; and the house
and grounds would be shown by Mrs. Simm with great pleasure. By the way,
Mrs. Simm was a thrifty and sensible woman, and he was sure they would
be mutually pleased.--When, in short, all this and much more had been
said, it was decided that Ivy should be regularly installed pupil of Mr.
"_Eureka!_" cries the professional novel-reader, that far-sighted and
keen-scented hound that snuffs a _denouement_ afar off; and anon there
rises before his eyes the vision of poor little Stella drinking in love
and learning, especially love, from the divine eyes of the anything but
divine Swift,--of Shirley, the lioness, the pantheress, the leopardess,
the beautiful, fierce creature, sitting, tamed, quiet, meek, by the side
of Louis Moore, her tutor and master,--and of all the legends of all the
ages wherein Beauty has sat at the feet of Wisdom, and Love has crept
in unawares, and spoiled the lesson while as yet half-unlearnt;--so
he cries, "She is going the way of all heroines. The man and the
girl,--they will fall in love, marry, and live happily all the rest of
Of course they will. Is there any reason why they should not? If any man
can show just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, let
him now speak, or else hereafter forever hold his peace.
I repeat it, of course they will. You surely cannot suppose I should,
in cold blood, sit down to write a story in which nobody was to fall
in love or be in love! Sir, scoff as you may, love is the one vital
principle in all romance. Not only does your cheek flush and your eye
sparkle, till "heart, brain, and soul are all on fire," over the burning
words of some Brontean Pythoness, but when you open the last thrilling
work of Maggie Marigold, and are immediately submerged "in a
weak, washy, everlasting flood" of insipidity, twaddle, bosh, and
heart-rending sorrow, you do not shut the book with a jerk. Why not?
Because in the dismal distance you dimly descry two figures swimming,
floating, struggling towards each other, and a languid _soupcon_ of
curiosity detains you till you have ascertained, that, after infinite
distress, Adolphus and Miranda have made
"One of the very best matches,
Both well mated for life:
She's got a fool for her husband,
He's got a fool for his wife."
Sir, scoff as you may, love is the one sunbeam of poetry that gilds
with a softened splendor the hard, bare outline of many a prosaic life.
"Work, work, work, from weary chime to chime"; tramp behind the plough,
hammer on the lapstone, beat the anvil, drive the plane, "from morn till
dewy eve"; but when the dewy eve comes, ah! Hesperus gleams soft and
golden over the far-off pinetrees, but
"The star that lightens your bosom most,
And gives to your weary feet their speed,
Abides in a cottage beyond the mead."
It is useless to assert that the subject is worn threadbare. Threadbare
it may be to you, enervated and _blase_ man of pleasure, worn and
hardened man of the world; but it is not for you I write. The fountain
which leaps up fresh and living in every new life can never be exhausted
till the springs of all life are dry. Tell me, O lover, gazing into
those tender eyes uplifted to yours, twining the silken rings around
your bronzed finger, pressing reverently the warm lips consecrated to
you,--does it abate one jot or tittle of your happiness to know that
eyes just as tender, curls just as silken, lips just as red, have
stirred the hearts of men for a thousand years?
Love, then, is a _sine qua non_ in stories; and if love, why not
marriage? What pleasure can a humane and benevolent man find in
separating two individuals whose chief, perhaps whose sole happiness,
consists in being together? For certain inscrutable reasons, Divine
Benevolence permits evil to exist in the world. All who have a taste for
misery can find it there in exhaustless quantities. Johns are every day
falling in love with Katys, but marrying Isabels, and Isabels the same,
_mutatis mutandis_. We submit to it because there is no alternative; and
we believe that good shall finally be wrought and wrested from evil.
Don't, for heaven's sake, let us in mere wantonness introduce into
our novel-world the work of our own hand, an abridged edition, a
daguerreotype copy of the world without, of which we know so little and
so much. I always do and always shall read the last page of a novel
first; and if I perceive there any indications that matters are not
coming out "shipshape," my reading invariably terminates with the last
For the rest, please to remember that I am not writing about a princess
of the blood, nor of the days of the bold barons, but only the life of
a quiet little girl in a quiet little town in the eastern part of
Massachusetts; and so far as my experience and observation go, men and
women in the eastern part of Massachusetts are not given to thrilling
adventures, hairbreadth escapes, wonderful concatenations of
circumstances, and blood and thunder generally,--but pursue the even
tenor of their way, and of their love, with a sober and delightful
equanimity. If you want a plot, go to the "Children of the Abbey,"
"Consuelo," and myriads of that kin, and help yourself. As for me, I
must confess I hate plots. I see no pleasure in stumbling blindfolded
through a story, unable to see a yard ahead, fancying every turn to be
the last, and the road to go straight on to a glorious goal,--and,
lo! we are in a more hopeless labyrinth than ever. I have a sense of
restraint. I want to breathe freely, and can't. I want to have leisure
to observe the style, the development of character, the author's tone of
thought, and not be galloped through on the back of a breathless desire
to know "how they are coming out."
But, my dear plot-loving friend, be easy. I will not leave you in
the lurch. I am not going to marry my man and woman out of hand. An
obstacle, of which I suppose you have never heard,--an obstacle entirely
new, fresh, and unhackneyed, will arise; so, I pray you, let patience
have her perfect work.
Wonderful was the new world opened to Ivy Geer. It was as if a corpse,
cold, inert, lifeless, had suddenly sprung up, warm, invigorated,
informed with a spirit which led her own spell-bound. Grammar,--Grammar,
which had been a synonyme for all that was dry, irksome, useless,--a
beating of the wind, the crackling of thorns under a pot,--Grammar even
assumed for her a charm, a wonder, a glory. She saw how the great and
wise had shrined in fitting words their purity, and wisdom, and sorrow,
and suffering, and penitence; and how, as this generation passed away,
and another came forth which knew not God, the golden casket became dim,
and the memory of its priceless gem faded away; but how, at the touch of
a mighty wand, the obedient lid flew back, and the long-hidden thought
"sprang full-statured in an hour." She saw how love and beauty and
freedom lay floating vaguely and aimlessly in a million minds till the
poet came and crystallized them into clear-cut, prismatic words, tinged
for each with the color of his own fancy, and wrought into a perfect
mosaic, not for an age, but for all time. Led by a strong hand, she trod
with reverent awe down the dim aisles of the Past, and saw how the soul
of man, bound in its prison-house, had ever struggled to voice itself
in words. Roaming in the dense forest with the stern and bloody
Druid,--bounding over the waves with the fierce pirates who supplanted
them, and in whose blue eyes and beneath whose fair locks gleamed indeed
the ferocity of the savage, but lurked also, though unseen and unknown,
the tender chivalry of the English gentleman,--gazing admiringly on the
barbaric splendor of the cloth-of-gold, whereon trod regally, to the
sound of harp and viol, the beauty and bravery of the old Norman
nobility, she delighted to see how the mother-tongue, our dear
mother-tongue, had laid all the nations under contribution to enrich
her treasury,--gathering from one its strength, from another its
stateliness, from a third its harmony, till the harsh, crude, rugged
dialect of a barbarous horde became worthy to embody, as it does, the
love, the wisdom, and the faith of half a world.
So Grammar taught Ivy to reverence language.
History, in the light of a guiding mind, ceased to be a bare record of
slaughter and crime. Before her eyes filed, in a statelier pageant than
they knew, the long procession of "simple great ones gone for ever and
ever by," and the countless lesser ones whose names are quenched in the
darkness of a night that shall know no dawn. She saw the "great world
spin forever down the ringing grooves of change"; but amid all the
change, the confusion, the chaos, she saw the finger of God ever
pointing, and heard the sublime monotone of the Divine voice ever saying
to the children of men, "This is the way, walk ye in it." And Ivy
thought she saw, and rejoiced in the thought, that, even when this
warning was unheeded,--when on the brow of the mournful Earth "Ichabod,
Ichabod," was forever engraven,--when the First Man with his own hand
put from him the cup of innocence, and went forth from the happy garden,
sin-stained and fallen, the whole head sick, and the whole heart
faint,--even then she saw within him the divine spark, the leaven of
life, which had power to vitalize and vivify what Crime had smitten with
death. Though sea and land teemed with strange perils, though night
and day pursued him with mysterious terrors, though the now unfriendly
elements combined to check his career, still, with unswerving purpose,
undaunted courage, she saw him march constantly forward. Spirits of evil
could not drive from his heart the prescience of greatness; and his soul
dwelt calmly under the foreshadow of a mighty future.
And as Ivy looked, she saw how the children of men became a great
nation, and possessed the land far and wide. They delved into the bosom
of the pleased earth, and brought forth the piled-up treasures of
uncounted cycles. They unfolded the book of the skies, and sought to
read the records thereon. They plunged into the unknown and terrible
ocean, and decked their own brows with the gems they plucked from hers.
And when conquered Nature had laid her hoards at their feet, their
restless longings would not be satisfied. Brave young spirits, with the
dew of their youth fresh upon them, set out in quest of a land beyond
their ken. Over the mountains, across the seas, through the forests,
there came to the ear of the dreaming girl the measured tramp of
marching men, the softer footfalls of loving women, the pattering of the
feet of little children. Many a day and many a night she saw them wander
on towards the setting sun, till the Unseen Hand led them to a fair
and fruitful country that opened its bounteous arms in welcome. Broad
rivers, green fields, laughing valleys wooed them to plant their
household gods,--and the foundations of Europe were laid. Here were sown
the seeds of those heroic virtues which have since leaped into luxuriant
life,--seeds of that irresistible power which fastened its grasp on
Nature and forced her to unfold the secret of her creation,--seeds of
that far-reaching wisdom which in the light of the unveiled past has
read the story of the unseen future.
And still under Ivy's eye they grouped themselves. Some gathered on the
pleasant hills of the sunny South, and the beauty of earth and sea and
sky passed into their souls forever. They caught the evanescent gleam,
the passing shadow, and on unseemly canvas limned it for all time in
forms of unuttered and unutterable loveliness. They shaped into glowing
life the phantoms of grace that were always flitting before their
enchanted eyes, and poured into inanimate marble their rapt and
passionate souls. They struck the lyre to wild and stirring songs whose
tremulous echoes still linger along the corridors of Time. Some sought
the icebound North, and grappled with dangers by field and flood. They
hunted the wild dragon to his mountain-fastnesses, and fought him at
bay, and never quailed. Death, in its most fearful forms, they met with
grim delight, and chanted the glories of the Valhalla waiting for heroes
who should forever quaff the "foaming, pure, and shining mead" from
skulls of foes in battle slain. Some crossed the sea, and on
"that pale, that white-faced shore,
Whose foot spurns back tho ocean's swelling
they reared a sinewy and stalwart race, whose "morning drum-beat
encircles the world."
And History taught Ivy to reverence man.
But there was one respect in which Ivy was both pupil and teacher.
Never a word of Botany had fallen upon her ears; but through all the
unconscious bliss of infancy, childhood, and girlhood, for sixteen happy
years, she had lived among the flowers, and she knew their dear faces
and their wild-wood names. She loved them with an almost human love.
They were to her companions and friends. She knew their likings and
dislikings, their joys and sorrows,--who among them chose the darkest
nooks of the old woods, and who bloomed only to the brightest
sunlight,--who sent their roots deep down among the mosses by the brook,
and who smiled only on the southern hill-side. Around each she wove a
web of beautiful individuality, and more than one had received from her
a new christening. It is true, that, when she came to study from a
book, she made wry faces over the long, barbarous, Latin names which
completely disguised her favorites, and in her heart deemed a great many
of the definitions quite superfluous; but she had strong faith in her
teacher, and when the technical was laid aside for the real, then,
indeed, "her foot was on her native heath, and her name was MacGregor."
A wild and merry chase she led her grave instructor. Morning, noon, or
night, she was always ready. Under the blue sky, breathing the pure air,
treading the green turf familiar from her infancy, she could not be
otherwise than happy; but when was superadded to this the companionship
of a mind vigorous, cultivated, and refined, she enjoyed it with a keen
and intense delight. Nowhere else did her soul so entirely unfold to
the genial light of this new sun which had suddenly mounted above her
horizon. Nowhere else did the freshness and fulness and splendor of life
dilate her whole being with a fine ecstasy.
And what was the end of all this? Just what you would have supposed. She
had led a life of simple, unbounded love and trust,--a buoyant, elastic
gladness,--a dream of sunshine. No gray cloud had ever lowered in her
sky, no thunderbolt smitten her joys, no winter rain chilled her warmth.
Only the white fleeciness of morning mist had flitted sometimes over her
summer-sky, deepening the blue. Little cooling drops had fluttered
down through the leafiness, only to span her with a rainbow in the glory
of the setting sun. But the time had come. From the deep fountains of
her heart the stone was to be rolled away. The secret chord was to be
smitten by a master-hand,--a chord which, once stirred, may never cease
At first Ivy worshipped very far off. Her friend was to her the
embodiment of all knowledge and goodness and greatness. She marvelled to
see him so at home in what was to her so strange. Every word that fell
from his lips was an oracle. She secretly contrasted him with all
the men she had ever met, to the utter discomfiture of the latter.
Washington, the Apostle Paul, and Peter Parley were the only men of the
past or present whom she considered at all worthy to be compared with
him; and in fact, if these three men and Felix Clerron had all stood
before her, and offered each a different opinion on any given subject, I
have scarcely a doubt as to whose would have commended itself to her
as combining the soundest practical wisdom and the highest Christian
So the summer passed on, and her shyness wore off,--and their intimacy
became less and less that of teacher and pupil, and more and more that
of friend and friend. With the sudden awakening of her intellectual
nature, there woke also another power, of whose existence she had never
dreamed. It was natural, that, in ranging the fields of thought so
lately opened to her, she should often revert to him whose hand had
unbarred the gates; she was therefore not startled that the image of
Felix Clerron was with her when she sat down and when she rose up, when
she went out and when she came in. She ceased, indeed, to think _of_
him. She thought _him_. She lived him. Her soul fed on his life. And
so--and so--by a pleasant and flowery path, there came into Ivy's heart
the old, old pain.
Now the thing was on this wise:--
One morning, when she went to recite, she did not find Mr. Clerron in
the library, where he usually awaited her. After spending a few moments
in looking over her lessons, she rose and was about to pass to the door
to ring, when Mrs. Simm looked in, and, seeing Ivy, informed her
that Mr. Clerron was in the garden, and desired her to come out. Ivy
immediately followed Mrs. Simm into the garden. On the south side of the
house was a piazza two stories high. Along the pillars which supported
it a trellis-work had been constructed, reaching several feet above the
roof of the piazza. About this climbed a vigorous grape-vine, which not
only completely screened nearly the whole front of the piazza, but,
reaching the top of the trellis, shot across, by the aid of a few pieces
of fine wire, and overran a part of the roof of the house. Thus the roof
of the piazza was the floor of a beautiful apartment, whose walls and
ceiling were broad, rustling, green leaves, among which drooped now
innumerable heavy clusters of rich purple grapes.
From behind this leafy wall a well-known voice cried, "Hail to thee, my
twining vine!" Ivy turned and looked up, with the uncertain, inquiring
smile we often wear when conscious that, though unseeing, we are not
unseen; and presently two hands parted the leaves far enough for a very
sunshiny smile to gleam down on the upturned face.
"Oh, I wish I could come up there!" cried Ivy, clasping her hands with
"The wish is father to the deed."
"Be sure you may."
"But how shall I get in?"
"Are you afraid to come up the ladder?"
"No, I don't mean that; but how shall I get in where you are, after I am
"Oh, never fear! I'll draw you in safely enough."
"Lorful heart! Miss Ivy, what are you going to do?" cried Mrs. Simm, in
Ivy was already on the third round of the ladder, but she stopped and
answered, hesitatingly,--"He said I might."
"He said you might, yes," continued Mrs. Simm,--talking _to_ Ivy, but
_at_ Mr. Clerron, with whom she hardly dared to remonstrate in a more
direct way. "And if he said you might throw yourself down Vineyard
Cliff, it don't follow that you are bound to do it. He goes into all
sorts of hap-hazard scrapes himself, but you can't follow him."
"But it looks so nice up there," pleaded Ivy, "and I have been twice as
high at home. I don't mind it at all."
"If your father chooses to let you run the risk of your life, it's none
of my look-out, but I a'n't going to have you breaking your neck right
under my nose. If you want to get up there, I'll show you the way in the
house, and you can step right out of the window. Just wait till I've
told Ellen about the dinner."
As Mrs. Simm disappeared, Mr. Clerron said softly to Ivy, "Come!"--and
in a moment Ivy bounded up the ladder and through an opening in the
vine, and stood by his side.
"I'm ready now, Miss Ivy," said Mrs. Simm, reappearing. "Miss Ivy! Where
is the child?"
A merry laugh greeted her.
"Oh, you good-for-nothing!" cried the good-natured old housekeeper,
"you'll never die in your bed."
"Not for a good while, I hope," answered Mr. Clerron.
Then he made Ivy sit down by him, and took from the great basket the
finest cluster of grapes.
"Is that reward enough for coming?"
"Coming into so beautiful a place as this is like what you read
yesterday about poetry to Coleridge, 'its own exceeding great reward.'"
"And you don't want the grapes?"
"I don't know that I have any intrinsic objection to them as a free
gift. It was only the principle that I opposed."
"Very well, we will go shares, then. You may have half for the free
gift, and I will have half for the principle. Little tendril, you look
as fresh as the morning."
"Don't I always?"
"I should say there was a _little_ more dew than usual. Stand up and let
me survey you, if perchance I may discover the cause."
Ivy rose, made a profound curtsy, and then turned slowly around, after
the manner of the revolving fashion-figures in a milliner's window.
"I don't know," continued Mr. Clerron, when Ivy, after a couple of
revolutions, resumed her seat. "You seem to be the same. I think it must
be the frock."
"I don't wear a frock. I don't think it would improve my style of
beauty, if I did. Papa wears one sometimes."
"And what kind of a frock, pray, does 'papa' wear?"
"Oh, a horrid blue thing. Comes about down to his knees. Made of some
kind of woollen stuff. Horrid!"
"And what name do you give to that white thing with blue sprigs in it?"
"This is a dress."
"No. This, and your collar, and hat, and shoes, and sash are your dress.
This is a frock."
Ivy shook her head doubtfully.
"You know a great deal, I know."
"So you informed me once before."
"Oh, don't mention that!" said Ivy, blushing, and quickly added, "Do you
know I have discovered the reason why you like me this morning?"
"And every morning."
"Go on. What is the reason?"
"It is because I clear-starched and ironed it myself with my owny-dony
hands; and that, you know, is the reason it looks nicer than usual."
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