The Complete PG Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (The Physician and Poet)
Part 4 out of 51
the will, - these are the ones that hold the brains which their
owners are so apt to tamper with, by introducing the appliances we
have been talking about. Now, when a gentleman's brain is empty or
ill-regulated, it is, to a great extent, his own fault; and so it
is simple retribution, that, while he lies slothfully sleeping or
aimlessly dreaming, the fatal habit settles on him like a vampyre,
and sucks his blood, fanning him all the while with its hot wings
into deeper slumber or idler dreams! I am not such a hard-souled
being as to apply this to the neglected poor, who have had no
chance to fill their heads with wholesome ideas, and to be taught
the lesson of self-government. I trust the tariff of Heaven has an
AD VALOREM scale for them - and all of us.
But to come back to poets and artists; - if they really are more
prone to the abuse of stimulants, - and I fear that this is true, -
the reason of it is only too clear. A man abandons himself to a
fine frenzy, and the power which flows through him, as I once
explained to you, makes him the medium of a great poem or a great
picture. The creative action is not voluntary at all, but
automatic; we can only put the mind into the proper attitude, and
wait for the wind, that blows where it listeth, to breathe over it.
Thus the true state of creative genius is allied to REVERIE, or
dreaming. If mind and body were both healthy and had food enough
and fair play, I doubt whether any men would be more temperate than
the imaginative classes. But body and mind often flag, - perhaps
they are ill-made to begin with, underfed with bread or ideas,
overworked, or abused in some way. The automatic action, by which
genius wrought its wonders, fails. There is only one thing which
can rouse the machine; not will, - that cannot reach it; nothing
but a ruinous agent, which hurries the wheels awhile and soon eats
out the heart of the mechanism. The dreaming faculties are always
the dangerous ones, because their mode of action can be imitated by
artificial excitement; the reasoning ones are safe, because they
imply continued voluntary effort.
I think you will find it true, that, before any vice can fasten on
a man, body, mind, or moral nature must be debilitated. The mosses
and fungi gather on sickly trees, not thriving ones; and the odious
parasites which fasten on the human frame choose that which is
already enfeebled. Mr. Walker, the hygeian humorist, declared that
he had such a healthy skin it was impossible for any impurity to
stick to it, and maintained that it was an absurdity to wash a face
which was of necessity always clean. I don't know how much fancy
there was in this; but there is no fancy in saying that the
lassitude of tired-out operatives, and the languor of imaginative
natures in their periods of collapse, and the vacuity of minds
untrained to labor and discipline, fit the soul and body for the
germination of the seeds of intemperance.
Whenever the wandering demon of Drunkenness finds a ship adrift, -
no steady wind in its sails, no thoughtful pilot directing its
course, - he steps on board, takes the helm, and steers straight
for the maelstrom.
- I wonder if you know the TERRIBLE SMILE? [The young fellow whom
they call John winked very hard, and made a jocular remark, the
sense of which seemed to depend on some double meaning of the word
SMILE. The company was curious to know what I meant.]
There are persons - I said - who no sooner come within sight of you
than they begin to smile, with an uncertain movement of the mouth,
which conveys the idea that they are thinking about themselves, and
thinking, too, that you are thinking they are thinking about
themselves, - and so look at you with a wretched mixture of self-
consciousness, awkwardness, and attempts to carry off both, which
are betrayed by the cowardly behaviour of the eye and the tell-tale
weakness of the lips that characterize these unfortunate beings.
- Why do you call them unfortunate, Sir? - asked the divinity-
Because it is evident that the consciousness of some imbecility or
other is at the bottom of this extraordinary expression. I don't
think, however, that these persons are commonly fools. I have
known a number, and all of them were intelligent. I think nothing
conveys the idea of UNDERBREEDING more than this self-betraying
smile. Yet I think this peculiar habit as well as that of
MEANINGLESS BLUSHING may be fallen into by very good people who met
often, or sit opposite each other at table. A true gentleman's
face is infinitely removed from all such paltriness, - calm-eyed,
firm-mouthed. I think Titian understood the look of a gentleman as
well as anybody that ever lived. The portrait of a young man
holding a glove in his hand, in the Gallery of the Louvre, if any
of you have seen that collection, will remind you of what I mean.
- Do I think these people know the peculiar look they have? - I
cannot say; I hope not; I am afraid they would never forgive me, if
they did. The worst of it is, the trick is catching; when one
meets one of these fellows, he feels a tendency to the same
manifestation. The Professor tells me there is a muscular slip, a
dependence of the PLATYSMA MYOIDES, which is called the RISORIUS
- Say that once more, - exclaimed the young fellow mentioned above.
The Professor says there is a little fleshy slip called Santorini's
laughing muscle. I would have it cut out of my face, if I were
born with one of those constitutional grins upon it. Perhaps I am
uncharitable in my judgment of those sour-looking people I told you
of the other day, and of these smiling folks. It may be that they
are born with these looks, as other people are with more generally
recognized deformities. Both are bad enough, but I had rather meet
three of the scowlers than one of the smilers.
- There is another unfortunate way of looking, which is peculiar to
that amiable sex we do not like to find fault with. There are some
very pretty, but, unhappily, very ill-bred women, who don't
understand the law of the road with regard to handsome faces.
Nature and custom would, no doubt, agree in conceding to all males
the right of at least two distinct looks at every comely female
countenance, without any infraction of the rules of courtesy or the
sentiment of respect. The first look is necessary to define the
person of the individual one meets so as to avoid it in passing.
Any unusual attraction detected in a first glance is a sufficient
apology for a second, - not a prolonged and impertinent stare, but
an appreciating homage of the eyes, such as a stranger may
inoffensively yield to a passing image. It is astonishing how
morbidly sensitive some vulgar beauties are to the slightest
demonstration of this kind. When a lady walks the streets, she
leaves her virtuous-indignation countenance at home; she knows well
enough that the street is a picture-gallery, where pretty faces
framed in pretty bonnets are meant to be seen, and everybody has a
right to see them.
- When we observe how the same features and style of person and
character descend from generation to generation, we can believe
that some inherited weakness may account for these peculiarities.
Little snapping-turtles snap - so the great naturalist tells us -
before they are out of the egg-shell. I am satisfied, that, much
higher up in the scale of life, character is distinctly shown at
the age of -2 or -3 months.
- My friend, the Professor, has been full of eggs lately. [This
remark excited a burst of hilarity which I did not allow to
interrupt the course of my observations.] He has been reading the
great book where he found the fact about the little snapping-
turtles mentioned above. Some of the things he has told me have
suggested several odd analogies enough.
There are half a dozen men, or so, who carry in their brains the
OVARIAN EGGS of the next generation's or century's civilization.
These eggs are not ready to be laid in the form of books as yet;
some of them are hardly ready to be put into the form of talk. But
as rudimentary ideas or inchoate tendencies, there they are; and
these are what must form the future. A man's general notions are
not good for much, unless he has a crop of these intellectual
ovarian eggs in his own brain, or knows them as they exist in the
minds of others. One must be in the HABIT of talking with such
persons to get at these rudimentary germs of thought; for their
development is necessarily imperfect, and they are moulded on new
patterns, which must be long and closely studied. But these are
the men to talk with. No fresh truth ever gets into a book.
- A good many fresh lies get in, anyhow, - said one of the company.
I proceeded in spite of the interruption. - All uttered thought, my
friend, the Professor, says, is of the nature of an excretion. Its
materials have been taken in, and have acted upon the system, and
been reacted on by it; it has circulated and done its office in one
mind before it is given out for the benefit of others. It may be
milk or venom to other minds; but, in either case, it is something
which the producer has had the use of and can part with. A man
instinctively tries to get rid of his thought in conversation or in
print so soon as it is matured; but it is hard to get at it as it
lies imbedded, a mere potentiality, the germ of a germ, in his
- Where are the brains that are fullest of these ovarian eggs of
thought? - I decline mentioning individuals. The producers of
thought, who are few, the "jobbers" of thought, who are many, and
the retailers of thought, who are numberless, are so mixed up in
the popular apprehension, that it would be hopeless to try to
separate them before opinion has had time to settle. Follow the
course of opinion on the great subjects of human interest for a few
generations or centuries, get its parallax, map out a small arc of
its movement, see where it tends, and then see who is in advance of
it or even with it; the world calls him hard names, probably; but
if you would find the OVA of the future, you must look into the
folds of his cerebral convolutions.
[The divinity-student looked a little puzzled at this suggestion,
as if he did not see exactly where he was to come out, if he
computed his arc too nicely. I think it possible it might cut off
a few corners of his present belief, as it has cut off martyr-
burning and witch-hanging; - but time will show, - time will show,
as the old gentleman opposite says.]
- Oh, - here is that copy of verses I told you about.
SPRING HAS COME.
The sunbeams, lost for half a year,
Slant through my pane their morning rays
For dry Northwesters cold and clear,
The East blows in its thin blue haze.
And first the snowdrop's bells are seen,
Then close against the sheltering wall
The tulip's horn of dusky green,
The peony's dark unfolding ball.
The golden-chaliced crocus burns;
The long narcissus-blades appear;
The cone-beaked hyacinth returns,
And lights her blue-flamed chandelier.
The willow's whistling lashes, wrung
By the wild winds of gusty March,
With sallow leaflets lightly strung,
Are swaying by the tufted larch.
The elms have robed their slender spray
With full-blown flower and embryo leaf;
Wide o'er the clasping arch of day
Soars like a cloud their hoary chief.
- [See the proud tulip's flaunting cup,
That flames in glory for an hour, -
Behold it withering, - then look up, -
How meek the forest-monarch's flower! -
When wake the violets, Winter dies;
When sprout the elm-buds, Spring is near;
When lilacs blossom, Summer cries,
"Bud, little roses! Spring is here!"]
The windows blush with fresh bouquets,
Cut with the May-dew on their lips;
The radish all its bloom displays,
Pink as Aurora's finger-tips.
Nor less the flood of light that showers
On beauty's changed corolla-shades, -
The walks are gay as bridal bowers
With rows of many-petalled maids.
The scarlet shell-fish click and clash
In the blue barrow where they slide;
The horseman, proud of streak and splash,
Creeps homeward from his morning ride.
Here comes the dealer's awkward string,
With neck in rope and tail in knot, -
Rough colts, with careless country-swing,
In lazy walk or slouching trot.
- Wild filly from the mountain-side,
Doomed to the close and chafing thills,
Lend me thy long, untiring stride
To seek with thee thy western hills!
I hear the whispering voice of Spring,
The thrush's trill, the cat-bird's cry,
Like some poor bird with prisoned wing
That sits and sings, but longs to fly.
Oh for one spot of living green, -
One little spot where leaves can grow, -
To love unblamed, to walk unseen,
To dream above, to sleep below!
[AQUI ESTA ENCERRADA EL ALMA DEL LICENCIADO PEDRO GARCIAS.
If I should ever make a little book out of these papers, which I
hope you are not getting tired of, I suppose I ought to save the
above sentence for a motto on the title-page. But I want it now,
and must use it. I need not say to you that the words are Spanish,
nor that they are to be found in the short Introduction to "Gil
Blas," nor that they mean, "Here lies buried the soul of the
licentiate Pedro Garcias."
I warned all young people off the premises when I began my notes
referring to old age. I must be equally fair with old people now.
They are earnestly requested to leave this paper to young persons
from the age of twelve to that of fourscore years and ten, at which
latter period of life I am sure that I shall have at least one
youthful reader. You know well enough what I mean by youth and
age; - something in the soul, which has no more to do with the
color of the hair than the vein of gold in a rock has to do with
the grass a thousand feet above it.
I am growing bolder as I write. I think it requires not only
youth, but genius, to read this paper. I don't mean to imply that
it required any whatsoever to talk what I have here written down.
It did demand a certain amount of memory, and such command of the
English tongue as is given by a common school education. So much I
do claim. But here I have related, at length, a string of
trivialities. You must have the imagination of a poet to
transfigure them. These little colored patches are stains upon the
windows of a human soul; stand on the outside, they are but dull
and meaningless spots of color; seen from within, they are
glorified shapes with empurpled wings and sunbright aureoles.
My hand trembles when I offer you this. Many times I have come
bearing flowers such as my garden grew; but now I offer you this
poor, brown, homely growth, you may cast it away as worthless. And
yet - and yet - it is something better than flowers; it is a SEED-
CAPSULE. Many a gardener will cut you a bouquet of his choicest
blossoms for small fee, but he does not love to let the seeds of
his rarest varieties go out of his own hands.
It is by little things that we know ourselves; a soul would very
probably mistake itself for another, when once disembodied, were it
not for individual experiences which differ from those of others
only in details seemingly trifling. All of us have been thirsty
thousands of times, and felt, with Pindar, that water was the best
of things. I alone, as I think, of all mankind, remember one
particular pailful of water, flavored with the white-pine of which
the pail was made, and the brown mug out of which one Edmund, a
red-faced and curly-haired boy, was averred to have bitten a
fragment in his haste to drink; it being then high summer, and
little full-blooded boys feeling very warm and porous in the low-
"studded" school-room where Dame Prentiss, dead and gone, ruled
over young children, many of whom are old ghosts now, and have
known Abraham for twenty or thirty years of our mortal time.
Thirst belongs to humanity, everywhere, in all ages; but that
white-pine pail, and that brown mug belong to me in particular; and
just so of my special relationships with other things and with my
rice. One could never remember himself in eternity by the mere
fact of having loved or hated any more than by that of having
thirsted; love and hate have no more individuality in them than
single waves in the ocean; - but the accidents or trivial marks
which distinguished those whom we loved or hated make their memory
our own forever, and with it that of our own personality also.
Therefore, my aged friend of five-and-twenty, or thereabouts, pause
at the threshold of this particular record, and ask yourself
seriously whether you are fit to read such revelations as are to
follow. For observe, you have here no splendid array of petals
such as poets offer you, - nothing but a dry shell, containing, if
you will get out what is in it, a few small seeds of poems. You
may laugh at them, if you like. I shall never tell you what I
think of you for so doing. But if you can read into the heart of
these things, in the light of other memories as slight, yet as dear
to your soul, then you are neither more nor less than a POET, and
can afford to write no more verses during the rest of your natural
life, - which abstinence I take to be one of the surest marks of
your meriting the divine name I have just bestowed upon you.
May I beg of you who have begun this paper nobly trusting to your
own imagination and sensibilities to give it the significance which
it does not lay claim to without your kind assistance, - may I beg
of you, I say, to pay particular attention to the BRACKETS which
enclose certain paragraphs? I want my "asides," you see, to
whisper loud to you who read my notes, and sometimes I talk a page
or two to you without pretending that I said a word of it to our
boarders. You will find a very long "aside" to you almost as soon
as you begin to read. And so, dear young friend, fall to at once,
taking such things as I have provided for you; and if you turn
them, by the aid of your powerful imagination, into a fair banquet,
why, then, peace be with you, and a summer by the still waters of
some quiet river, or by some yellow beach, where, as my friend the
Professor, says, you can sit with Nature's wrist in your hand and
count her ocean-pulses.]
I should like to make a few intimate revelations relating
especially to my early life, if I thought you would like to hear
[The schoolmistress turned a little in her chair, and sat with her
face directed partly towards me. - Half-mourning now; - purple
ribbon. That breastpin she wears has GRAY hair in it; her
mother's, no doubt; - I remember our landlady's daughter telling
me, soon after the schoolmistress came to board with us, that she
had lately "buried a payrent." That's what made her look so pale,
- kept the poor dying thing alive with her own blood. Ah! long
illness is the real vampyrism; think of living a year or two after
one is dead, by sucking the life-blood out of a frail young
creature at one's bedside! Well, souls grow white, as well as
cheeks, in these holy duties one that goes in a nurse may come out
an angel. - God bless all good women! - to their soft hands and
pitying hearts we must all come at last! - The schoolmistress has a
better color than when she came. - Too late! "It might have been."
- Amen! - How many thoughts go to a dozen heart-beats, sometimes!
There was no long pause after my remark addressed to the company,
but in that time I had the train of ideas and feelings I have just
given flash through my consciousness sudden and sharp as the
crooked red streak that springs out of its black sheath like the
creese of a Malay in his death-race, and stabs the earth right and
left in its blind rage.
I don't deny that there was a pang in it, - yes, a stab; but there
was a prayer, too, - the "Amen" belonged to that. - Also, a vision
of a four-story brick house, nicely furnished, - I actually saw
many specific articles, - curtains, sofas, tables, and others, and
could draw the patterns of them at this moment, - a brick house, I
say, looking out on the water, with a fair parlor, and books and
busts and pots of flowers and bird-cages, all complete; and at the
window, looking on the water, two of us. - "Male and female created
He them." - These two were standing at the window, when a smaller
shape that was playing near them looked up at me with such a look
that I - - poured out a glass of water, drank it all down, and then
I said I should like to tell you some things, such as people
commonly never tell, about my early recollections. Should you like
to hear them?
Should we LIKE to hear them? - said the schoolmistress; - no, but
we should love to.
[The voice was a sweet one, naturally, and had something very
pleasant in its tone, just then. - The four-story brick house,
which had gone out like a transparency when the light behind it is
quenched, glimmered again for a moment; parlor, books, busts,
flower-pots, bird-cages, all complete, - and the figures as
We are waiting with eagerness, Sir, - said the divinity-student.
[The transparency went out as if a flash of black lightning had
If you want to hear my confessions, the next thing - I said - is to
know whether I can trust you with them. It is only fair to say
that there are a great many people in the world that laugh at such
things. I think they are fools, but perhaps you don't all agree
Here are children of tender age talked to as if they were capable
of understanding Calvin's "Institutes," and nobody has honesty or
sense enough to tell the plain truth about the little wretches:
that they are as superstitious as naked savages, and such miserable
spiritual cowards - that is, if they have any imagination - that
they will believe anything which is taught them, and a great deal
more which they teach themselves.
I was born and bred, as I have told you twenty times, among books
and those who knew what was in books. I was carefully instructed
in things temporal and spiritual. But up to a considerable
maturity of childhood I believed Raphael and Michael Angelo to have
been superhuman beings. The central doctrine of the prevalent
religious faith of Christendom was utterly confused and neutralized
in my mind for years by one of those too common stories of actual
life, which I overheard repeated in a whisper. - Why did I not ask?
you will say. - You don't remember the rosy pudency of sensitive
children. The first instinctive movement of the little creatures
is to make a cache, and bury in it beliefs, doubts, dreams, hopes,
and terrors. I am uncovering one of these CACHES. Do you think I
was necessarily a greater fool and coward than another?
I was afraid of ships. Why, I could never tell. The masts looked
frightfully tall, - but they were not so tall as the steeple of our
old yellow meeting-house. At any rate I used to hide my eyes from
the sloops and schooners that were wont to lie at the end of the
bridge, and I confess that traces of this undefined terror lasted
very long. - One other source of alarm had a still more fearful
significance. There was a great wooden HAND, - a glove-maker's
sign, which used to swing and creak in the blast, as it hung from a
pillar before a certain shop a mile or two outside of the city.
Oh, the dreadful hand! Always hanging there ready to catch up a
little boy, who would come home to supper no more, nor yet to bed,
- whose porringer would be laid away empty thenceforth, and his
half-worn shoes wait until his small brother grew to fit them.
As for all manner of superstitious observances, I used once to
think I must have been peculiar in having such a list of them, but
I now believe that half the children of the same age go through the
same experiences. No Roman soothsayer ever had such a catalogue of
OMENS as I found in the Sibylline leaves of my childhood. That
trick of throwing a stone at a tree and attaching some mighty issue
to hitting or missing, which you will find mentioned in one or more
biographies, I well remember. Stepping on or over certain
particular things or spots - Dr. Johnson's especial weakness I got
the habit of at a very early age. - I won't swear that I have not
some tendency to these not wise practices even at this present
date. [How many of you that read these notes can say the same
With these follies mingled sweet delusions, which I loved so well I
would not outgrow them, even when it required a voluntary effort to
put a momentary trust in them. Here is one which I cannot help
The firing of the great guns at the Navy-yard is easily heard at
the place where I was born and lived. "There is a ship of war come
in," they used to say, when they heard them. Of course, I supposed
that such vessels came in unexpectedly, after indefinite years of
absence, - suddenly as falling stones; and that the great guns
roared in their astonishment and delight at the sight of the old
war-ship splitting the bay with her cutwater. Now, the sloop-of-
war the Wasp, Captain Blakely, after gloriously capturing the
Reindeer and the Avon, had disappeared from the face of the ocean,
and was supposed to be lost. But there was no proof of it, and, of
course, for a time, hopes were entertained that she might be heard
from. Long after the last real chance had utterly vanished, I
pleased myself with the fond illusion that somewhere on the waste
of waters she was still floating, and there were YEARS during which
I never heard the sound of the great guns booming inland from the
Navy-yard without saying to myself, "The Wasp has come!" and almost
thinking I could see her, as she rolled in, crumpling the water
before her, weather-beaten, barnacled, with shattered spars and
threadbare canvas, welcomed by the shouts and tears of thousands.
This was one of those dreams that I nursed and never told. Let me
make a clean breast of it now, and say, that, so late as to have
outgrown childhood, perhaps to have got far on towards manhood,
when the roar of the cannon has struck suddenly on my ear, I have
started with a thrill of vague expectation and tremulous delight,
and the long-unspoken words have articulated themselves in the
mind's dumb whisper, THE WASP HAS COME!
- Yes, children believe plenty of queer things. I suppose all of
you have had the pocket-book fever when you were little? - What do
I mean? Why, ripping up old pocket-books in the firm belief that
bank-bills to an immense amount were hidden in them. - So, too, you
must all remember some splendid unfulfilled promise of somebody or
other, which fed you with hopes perhaps for years, and which left a
blank in your life which nothing has ever filled up. - O. T.
quitted our household carrying with him the passionate regrets of
the more youthful members. He was an ingenious youngster; wrote
wonderful copies, and carved the two initials given above with
great skill on all available surfaces. I thought, by the way, they
were all gone; but the other day I found them on a certain door
which I will show you some time. How it surprised me to find them
so near the ground! I had thought the boy of no trivial
dimensions. Well, O. T., when he went, made a solemn promise to
two of us. I was to have a ship, and the other a marTIN-house
(last syllable pronounced as in the word TIN). Neither ever came;
but, oh, how many and many a time I have stolen to the corner, -
the cars pass close by it at this time, - and looked up that long
avenue, thinking that he must be coming now, almost sure, as I
turned to look northward, that there he would be, trudging toward
me, the ship in one hand and the marTIN-house in the other!
[You must not suppose that all I am going to say, as well as all I
have said, was told to the whole company. The young fellow whom
they call John was in the yard, sitting on a barrel and smoking a
cheroot, the fumes of which came in, not ungrateful, through the
open window. The divinity-student disappeared in the midst of our
talk. The poor relation in black bombazine, who looked and moved
as if all her articulations were elbow-joints, had gone off to her
chamber, after waiting with a look of soul-subduing decorum at the
foot of the stairs until one of the male sort had passed her and
ascended into the upper regions. This is a famous point of
etiquette in our boarding-house; in fact, between ourselves, they
make such an awful fuss about it, that I, for one, had a great deal
rather have them simple enough not to think of such matters at all.
Our landlady's daughter said, the other evening, that she was going
to "retire"; whereupon the young fellow called John took up a lamp
and insisted on lighting her to the foot of the staircase. Nothing
would induce her to pass by him, until the schoolmistress, saying
in good plain English that it was her bed-time, walked straight by
them both, not seeming to trouble herself about either of them.
I have been led away from what I meant the portion included in
these brackets to inform my readers about. I say, then, most of
the boarders had left the table about the time when I began telling
some of these secrets of mine, - all of them, in fact, but the old
gentleman opposite and the schoolmistress. I understand why a
young woman should like to hear these simple but genuine
experiences of early life, which are, as I have said, the little
brown seeds of what may yet grow to be poems with leaves of azure
and gold; but when the old gentleman pushed up his chair nearer to
me, and slanted round his best ear, and once, when I was speaking
of some trifling, tender reminiscence, drew a long breath, with
such a tremor in it that a little more and it would have been a
sob, why, then I felt there must be something of nature in them
which redeemed their seeming insignificance. Tell me, man or woman
with whom I am whispering, have you not a small store of
recollections, such as these I am uncovering, buried beneath the
dead leaves of many summers, perhaps under the unmelting snows of
fast-returning winters, - a few such recollections, which, if you
should write them all out, would be swept into some careless
editor's drawer, and might cost a scanty half-hour's lazy reading
to his subscribers, - and yet, if Death should cheat you of them,
you would not know yourself in eternity?]
- I made three acquaintances at a very early period of life, my
introduction to whom was never forgotten. The first unequivocal
act of wrong that has left its trace in my memory was this:
refusing a small favor asked of me, - nothing more than telling
what had happened at school one morning. No matter who asked it;
but there were circumstances which saddened and awed me. I had no
heart to speak; - I faltered some miserable, perhaps petulant
excuse, stole away, and the first battle of life was lost. What
remorse followed I need not tell. Then and there, to the best of
my knowledge, I first consciously took Sin by the hand and turned
my back on Duty. Time has led me to look upon my offence more
leniently; I do not believe it or any other childish wrong is
infinite, as some have pretended, but infinitely finite. Yet, oh
if I had but won that battle!
The great Destroyer, whose awful shadow it was that had silenced
me, came near me, - but never, so as to be distinctly seen and
remembered, during my tender years. There flits dimly before me
the image of a little girl, whose name even I have forgotten, a
schoolmate, whom we missed one day, and were told that she had
died. But what death was I never had any very distinct idea, until
one day I climbed the low stone wall of the old burial-ground and
mingled with a group that were looking into a very deep, long,
narrow hole, dug down through the green sod, down through the brown
loam, down through the yellow gravel, and there at the bottom was
an oblong red box, and a still, sharp, white face of a young man
seen through an opening at one end of it. When the lid was closed,
and the gravel and stones rattled down pell-mell, and the woman in
black, who was crying and wringing her hands, went off with the
other mourners, and left him, then I felt that I had seen Death,
and should never forget him.
One other acquaintance I made at an earlier period of life than the
habit of romancers authorizes. - Love, of course. - She was a
famous beauty afterwards. - I am satisfied that many children
rehearse their parts in the drama of life before they have shed all
their milk-teeth. - I think I won't tell the story of the golden
blonde. - I suppose everybody has had his childish fancies; but
sometimes they are passionate impulses, which anticipate all the
tremulous emotions belonging to a later period. Most children
remember seeing and adoring an angel before they were a dozen years
[The old gentleman had left his chair opposite and taken a seat by
the schoolmistress and myself, a little way from the table. - It's
true, it's true, - said the old gentleman. - He took hold of a
steel watch-chain, which carried a large, square gold key at one
end and was supposed to have some kind of time-keeper at the other.
With some trouble he dragged up an ancient-looking, thick, silver,
bull's-eye watch. He looked at it for a moment, - hesitated, -
touched the inner corner of his right eye with the pulp of his
middle finger, - looked at the face of the watch, - said it was
getting into the forenoon, - then opened the watch and handed me
the loose outside case without a word. - The watch-paper had been
pink once, and had a faint tinge still, as if all its tender life
had not yet quite faded out. Two little birds, a flower, and, in
small school-girl letters, a date, - 17 . . - no matter. - Before I
was thirteen years old, - said the old gentleman. - I don't know
what was in that young schoolmistress's head, nor why she should
have done it; but she took out the watch-paper and put it softly to
her lips, as if she were kissing the poor thing that made it so
long ago. The old gentleman took the watch-paper carefully from
her, replaced it, turned away and walked out, holding the watch in
his hand. I saw him pass the window a moment after with that
foolish white hat on his head; he couldn't have been thinking what
he was about when he put it on. So the schoolmistress and I were
left alone. I drew my chair a shade nearer to her, and continued.]
And since I am talking of early recollections, I don't know why I
shouldn't mention some others that still cling to me, - not that
you will attach any very particular meaning to these same images so
full of significance to me, but that you will find something
parallel to them in your own memory. You remember, perhaps, what I
said one day about smells. There were certain SOUNDS also which
had a mysterious suggestiveness to me, - not so intense, perhaps,
as that connected with the other sense, but yet peculiar, and never
to be forgotten.
The first was the creaking of the wood-sleds, bringing their loads
of oak and walnut from the country, as the slow-swinging oxen
trailed them along over the complaining snow, in the cold, brown
light of early morning. Lying in bed and listening to their dreary
music had a pleasure in it akin to the Lucretian luxury, or that
which Byron speaks of as to be enjoyed in looking on at a battle by
one "who hath no friend, no brother there."
There was another sound, in itself so sweet, and so connected with
one of those simple and curious superstitions of childhood of which
I have spoken, that I can never cease to cherish a sad sort of love
for it. - Let me tell the superstitious fancy first. The Puritan
"Sabbath," as everybody knows, began at "sundown" on Saturday
evening. To such observance of it I was born and bred. As the
large, round disk of day declined, a stillness, a solemnity, a
somewhat melancholy hush came over us all. It was time for work to
cease, and for playthings to be put away. The world of active life
passed into the shadow of an eclipse, not to emerge until the sun
should sink again beneath the horizon.
It was in this stillness of the world without and of the soul
within that the pulsating lullaby of the evening crickets used to
make itself most distinctly heard, - so that I well remember I used
to think that the purring of these little creatures, which mingled
with the batrachian hymns from the neighboring swamp, WAS PECULIAR
TO SATURDAY EVENINGS. I don't know that anything could give a
clearer idea of the quieting and subduing effect of the old habit
of observance of what was considered holy time, than this strange,
Yes, and there was still another sound which mingled its solemn
cadences with the waking and sleeping dreams of my boyhood. It was
heard only at times, - a deep, muffled roar, which rose and fell,
not loud, but vast, - a whistling boy would have drowned it for his
next neighbor, but it must have been heard over the space of a
hundred square miles. I used to wonder what this might be. Could
it be the roar of the thousand wheels and the ten thousand
footsteps jarring and trampling along the stones of the neighboring
city? That would be continuous; but this, as I have said, rose and
fell in regular rhythm. I remember being told, and I suppose this
to have been the true solution, that it was the sound of the waves,
after a high wind, breaking on the long beaches many miles distant.
I should really like to know whether any observing people living
ten miles, more or less, inland from long beaches, - in such a
town, for instance, as Cantabridge, in the eastern part of the
Territory of the Massachusetts, - have ever observed any such
sound, and whether it was rightly accounted for as above.
Mingling with these inarticulate sounds in the low murmur of
memory, are the echoes of certain voices I have heard at rare
intervals. I grieve to say it, but our people, I think, have not
generally agreeable voices. The marrowy organisms, with skins that
shed water like the backs of ducks, with smooth surfaces neatly
padded beneath, and velvet linings to their singing-pipes, are not
so common among us as that other pattern of humanity with angular
outlines and plane surfaces, and integuments, hair like the fibrous
covering of a cocoa-nut in gloss and suppleness as well as color,
and voices at once thin and strenuous, - acidulous enough to
produce effervescence with alkalis, and stridulous enough to sing
duets with the katydids. I think our conversational soprano, as
sometimes overheard in the cars, arising from a group of young
persons, who may have taken the train at one of our great
industrial centres, for instance, - young persons of the female
sex, we will say, who have bustled in full-dressed, engaged in loud
strident speech, and who, after free discussion, have fixed on two
or more double seats, which having secured, they proceed to eat
apples and hand round daguerreotypes, - I say, I think the
conversational soprano, heard under these circumstances, would not
be among the allurements the old Enemy would put in requisition,
were he getting up a new temptation of St. Anthony.
There are sweet voices among us, we all know, and voices not
musical, it may be, to those who hear them for the first time, yet
sweeter to us than any we shall hear until we listen to some
warbling angel in the overture to that eternity of blissful
harmonies we hope to enjoy. - But why should I tell lies? If my
friends love me, it is because I try to tell the truth. I never
heard but two voices in my life that frightened me by their
- Frightened you? - said the schoolmistress. - Yes, frightened me.
They made me feel as if there might be constituted a creature with
such a chord in her voice to some string in another's soul, that,
if she but spoke, he would leave all and follow her, though it were
into the jaws of Erebus. Our only chance to keep our wits is, that
there are so few natural chords between others' voices and this
string in our souls, and that those which at first may have jarred
a little by and by come into harmony with it. - But I tell you this
is no fiction. You may call the story of Ulysses and the Sirens a
fable, but what will you say to Mario and the poor lady who
- Whose were those two voices that bewitches me so? - They both
belonged to German women. One was a chambermaid, not otherwise
fascinating. The key of my room at a certain great hotel was
missing, and this Teutonic maiden was summoned to give information
respecting it. The simple soul was evidently not long from her
mother-land, and spoke with sweet uncertainty of dialect. But to
hear her wonder and lament and suggest, with soft, liquid
inflexions, and low, sad murmurs, in tones as full of serious
tenderness for the fate of the lost key as if it had been a child
that had strayed from its mother, was so winning, that, had her
features and figure been as delicious as her accents, - if she had
looked like the marble Clytie, for instance, - why, all can say is
[The schoolmistress opened her eyes so wide, that I stopped short.]
I was only going to say that I should have drowned myself. For
Lake Erie was close by, and it is so much better to accept
asphyxia, which takes only three minutes by the watch, than a
MESALLIANCE, that lasts fifty years to begin with, and then passes
along down the line of descent, (breaking out in all manner of
boorish manifestations of feature and manner, which, if men were
only as short-lived as horses, could be readily traced back through
the square-roots and the cube-roots of the family stem on which you
have hung the armorial bearings of the De Champignons or the De la
Morues, until one came to beings that ate with knives and said
"Haow?") that no person of right feeling could have hesitated for a
The second of the ravishing voices I have heard was, as I have
said, that of another German woman. - I suppose I shall ruin myself
by saying that such a voice could not have come from any
Americanized human being.
- What was there in it? - said the schoolmistress, - and, upon my
word, her tones were so very musical, that I almost wished I had
said three voices instead of two, and not made the unpatriotic
remark above reported. - Oh, I said, it had so much WOMAN in it, -
MULIEBRITY, as well as FEMINEITY; - no self-assertion, such as free
suffrage introduces into every word and movement; large, vigorous
nature, running back to those huge-limbed Germans of Tacitus, but
subdued by the reverential training and tuned by the kindly culture
of fifty generations. Sharp business habits, a lean soil,
independence, enterprise, and east winds, are not the best things
for the larynx. Still, you hear noble voices among us, - I have
known families famous for them, - but ask the first person you meet
a question, and ten to one there is a hard, sharp, metallic,
matter-of-business clink in the accents of the answer, that
produces the effect of one of those bells which small trades-people
connect with their shop-doors, and which spring upon your ear with
such vivacity, as you enter, that your first impulse is to retire
at once from the precincts.
- Ah, but I must not forget that dear little child I saw and heard
in a French hospital. Between two and three years old. Fell out
of her chair and snapped both thigh-bones. Lying in bed, patient,
gentle. Rough students round her, some in white aprons, looking
fearfully business-like; but the child placid, perfectly still. I
spoke to her, and the blessed little creature answered me in a
voice of such heavenly sweetness, with that reedy thrill in it
which you have heard in the thrush's even-song, that I hear it at
this moment, while I am writing, so many, many years afterwards. -
C'EST TOUT COMME UN SERIN, said the French student at my side.
These are the voices which struck the key-note of my conceptions as
to what the sounds we are to hear in heaven will be, if we shall
enter through one of the twelve gates of pearl. There must be
other things besides aerolites that wander from their own spheres
to ours; and when we speak of celestial sweetness or beauty, we may
be nearer the literal truth than we dream. If mankind generally
are the shipwrecked survivors of some pre-Adamitic cataclysm, set
adrift in these little open boats of humanity to make one more
trial to reach the shore, - as some grave theologians have
maintained, - if, in plain English, men are the ghosts of dead
devils who have "died into life," (to borrow an expression from
Keats,) and walk the earth in a suit of living rags which lasts
three or four score summers, - why, there must have been a few good
spirits sent to keep them company, and these sweet voices I speak
of must belong to them.
- I wish you could once hear my sister's voice, - said the
If it is like yours, it must be a pleasant one, - said I.
I never thought mine was anything, - said the schoolmistress.
How should you know? - said I. - People never hear their own
voices, - any more than they see their own faces. There is not
even a looking-glass for the voice. Of course, there is something
audible to us when we speak; but that something is not our own
voice as it is known to all our acquaintances. I think, if an
image spoke to us in our own tones, we should not know them in the
least. - How pleasant it would be, if in another state of being we
could have shapes like our former selves for playthings, - we
standing outside or inside of them, as we liked, and they being to
us just what we used to be to others!
- I wonder if there will be nothing like what we call "play," after
our earthly toys are broken, - said the schoolmistress.
Hush, - said I, - what will the divinity-student say?
[I thought she was hit, that time; - but the shot must have gone
over her, or on one side of her; she did not flinch.]
Oh, - said the schoolmistress, - he must look out for my sister's
heresies; I am afraid he will be too busy with them to take care of
Do you mean to say, - said I, - that it is YOUR SISTER whom that
[The young fellow commonly known as John, who had been sitting on
the barrel, smoking, jumped off just then, kicked over the barrel,
gave it a push with his foot that set it rolling, and stuck his
saucy-looking face in at the window so as to cut my question off in
the middle; and the schoolmistress leaving the room a few minutes
afterwards, I did not have a chance to finish it.
The young fellow came in and sat down in a chair, putting his heels
on the top of another.
Pooty girl, - said he.
A fine young lady, - I replied.
Keeps a first-rate school, according to accounts, - said he, -
teaches all sorts of things, - Latin and Italian and music. Folks
rich once, - smashed up. She went right ahead as smart as if she'd
been born to work. That's the kind o' girl I go for. I'd marry
her, only two or three other girls would drown themselves, if I
I think the above is the longest speech of this young fellow's
which I have put on record. I do not like to change his peculiar
expressions, for this is one of those cases in which the style is
the man, as M. de Buffon says. The fact is, the young fellow is a
good-hearted creature enough, only too fond of his jokes, - and if
it were not for those heat-lightning winks on one side of his face,
I should not mind his fun much.]
[Some days after this, when the company were together again, I
talked a little.]
- I don't think I have a genuine hatred for anybody. I am well
aware that I differ herein from the sturdy English moralist and the
stout American tragedian. I don't deny that I hate THE SIGHT of
certain people; but the qualities which make me tend to hate the
man himself are such as I am so much disposed to pity, that, except
under immediate aggravation, I feel kindly enough to the worst of
them. It is such a sad thing to be born a sneaking fellow, so much
worse than to inherit a hump-back or a couple of club-feet, that I
sometimes feel as if we ought to love the crippled souls, if I may
use this expression, with a certain tenderness which we need not
waste on noble natures. One who is born with such congenital
incapacity that nothing can make a gentleman of him is entitled,
not to our wrath, but to our profoundest sympathy. But as we
cannot help hating the sight of these people, just as we do that of
physical deformities, we gradually eliminate them from our society,
- we love them, but open the window and let them go. By the time
decent people reach middle age they have weeded their circle pretty
well of these unfortunates, unless they have a taste for such
animals; in which case, no matter what their position may be, there
is something, you may be sure, in their natures akin to that of
their wretched parasites.
- The divinity-student wished to know what I thought of affinities,
as well as of antipathies; did I believe in love at first sight?
Sir, - said I, - all men love all women. That is the PRIMA-FACIE
aspect of the case. The Court of Nature assumes the law to be,
that all men do so; and the individual man is bound to show cause
why he does not love any particular woman. A man, says one of my
old black-letter law-books, may show divers good reasons, as thus:
He hath not seen the person named in the indictment; she is of
tender age, or the reverse of that; she hath certain personal
disqualifications, - as, for instance, she is a blackamoor, or hath
an ill-favored countenance; or, his capacity of loving being
limited, his affections are engrossed by a previous comer; and so
of other conditions. Not the less is it true that he is bound by
duty and inclined by nature to love each and every woman.
Therefore it is that each woman virtually summons every man to show
cause why he doth not love her. This is not by written document,
or direct speech, for the most part, but by certain signs of silk,
gold, and other materials, which say to all men, - Look on me and
love, as in duty bound. Then the man pleadeth his special
incapacity, whatsoever that may be, - as, for instance,
impecuniosity, or that he hath one or many wives in his household,
or that he is of mean figure, or small capacity; of which reasons
it may be noted, that the first is, according to late decisions, of
chiefest authority. - So far the old law-book. But there is a note
from an older authority, saying that every woman doth also love
each and every man, except there be some good reason to the
contrary; and a very observing friend of mine, a young unmarried
clergyman, tells me, that, so far as his experience goes, he has
reason to think the ancient author had fact to justify his
I'll tell you how it is with the pictures of women we fall in love
with at first sight.
- We a'n't talking about pictures, - said the landlady's daughter,
- we're talking about women.
I understood that we were speaking of love at sight, - I remarked,
mildly. - Now, as all a man knows about a woman whom he looks at is
just what a picture as big as a copper, or a "nickel," rather, at
the bottom of his eye can teach him, I think I am right in saying
we are talking about the pictures of women. - Well, now, the reason
why a man is not desperately in love with ten thousand women at
once is just that which prevents all our portraits being distinctly
seen upon that wall. They all ARE painted there by reflection from
our faces, but because ALL of them are painted on each spot, and
each on the same surface, and many other objects at the same time,
no one is seen as a picture. But darken a chamber and let a single
pencil of rays in through a key-hole, then you have a picture on
the wall. We never fall in love with a woman in distinction from
women, until we can get an image of her through a pin-hole; and
then we can see nothing else, and nobody but ourselves can see the
image in our mental camera-obscura.
- My friend, the Poet, tells me he has to leave town whenever the
anniversaries come round.
What's the difficulty? - Why, they all want him to get up and make
speeches, or songs, or toasts; which is just the very thing he
doesn't want to do. He is an old story, he says, and hates to show
on these occasions. But they tease him, and coax him, and can't do
without him, and feel all over his poor weak head until they get
their fingers on the FONTANELLE, (the Professor will tell you what
this means, - he says the one at the top of the head always remains
open in poets,) until, by gentle pressure on that soft pulsating
spot, they stupefy him to the point of acquiescence.
There are times, though, he says, when it is a pleasure, before
going to some agreeable meeting, to rush out into one's garden and
clutch up a handful of what grows there, - weeds and violets
together, - not cutting them off, but pulling them up by the roots
with the brown earth they grow in sticking to them. That's his
idea of a post-prandial performance. Look here, now. These verses
I am going to read you, he tells me, were pulled up by the roots
just in that way, the other day. - Beautiful entertainment, - names
there on the plates that flow from all English-speaking tongues as
familiarly as AND or THE; entertainers known wherever good poetry
and fair title-pages are held in esteem; guest a kind-hearted,
modest, genial, hopeful poet, who sings to the hearts of his
countrymen, the British people, the songs of good cheer which the
better days to come, as all honest souls trust and believe, will
turn into the prose of common life. My friend, the Poet, says you
must not read such a string of verses too literally. If he trimmed
it nicely below, you wouldn't see the roots, he says, and he likes
to keep them, and a little of the soil clinging to them.
This is the farewell my friend, the Poet, read to his and our
friend, the Poet:-
A GOOD TIME GOING!
BRAVE singer of the coming time,
Sweet minstrel of the joyous present,
Crowned with the noblest wreath of rhyme,
The holly-leaf of Ayrshire's peasant,
Good-bye! Good-bye! - Our hearts and hands,
Our lips in honest Saxon phrases,
Cry, God be with him, till he stands
His feet among the English daisies!
'Tis here we part; - for other eyes
The busy deck, the flattering streamer,
The dripping arms that plunge and rise,
The waves in foam, the ship in tremor,
The kerchiefs waving from the pier,
The cloudy pillar gliding o'er him,
The deep blue desert, lone and drear,
With heaven above and home before him!
His home! - the Western giant smiles,
And twirls the spotty globe to find it; -
This little speck the British Isles?
'Tis but a freckle, - never mind it! -
He laughs, and all his prairies roll,
Each gurgling cataract roars and chuckles,
And ridges stretched from pole to pole
Heave till they crack their iron knuckles!
But memory blushes at the sneer,
And Honor turns with frown defiant,
And Freedom, leaning on her spear,
Laughs louder than the laughing giant:-
"An islet is a world," she said,
"When glory with its dust has blended,
And Britain kept her noble dead
Till earth and seas and skies are rended!"
Beneath each swinging forest-bough
Some arm as stout in death reposes, -
From wave-washed foot to heaven-kissed brow
Her valor's life-blood runs in roses;
Nay, let our brothers of the West
Write smiling in their florid pages,
One-half her soil has walked the rest
In poets, heroes, martyrs, sages!
Hugged in the clinging billow's clasp,
From sea-weed fringe to mountain heather,
The British oak with rooted grasp
Her slender handful holds together; -
With cliffs of white and bowers of green,
And Ocean narrowing to caress her,
And hills and threaded streams between, -
Our little mother isle, God bless her!
In earth's broad temple where we stand,
Fanned by the eastern gales that brought us,
We hold the missal in our hand,
Bright with the lines our Mother taught us;
Where'er its blazoned page betrays
The glistening links of gilded fetters,
Behold, the half-turned leaf displays
Her rubric stained in crimson letters!
Enough! To speed a parting friend
'Tis vain alike to speak and listen; -
Yet stay, - these feeble accents blend
With rays of light from eyes that glisten.
Good-bye! once more, - and kindly tell
In words of peace the young world's story, -
And say, besides, - we love too well
Our mother's soil, our father's glory!
When my friend, the Professor, found that my friend, the Poet, had
been coming out in this full-blown style, he got a little excited,
as you may have seen a canary, sometimes, when another strikes up.
The Professor says he knows he can lecture, and thinks he can write
verses. At any rate, he has often tried, and now he was determined
to try again. So when some professional friends of his called him
up, one day, after a feast of reason and a regular "freshet" of
soul which had lasted two or three hours, he read them these
verses. He introduced them with a few remarks, he told me, of
which the only one he remembered was this: that he had rather
write a single line which one among them should think worth
remembering than set them all laughing with a string of epigrams.
It was all right, I don't doubt; at any rate, that was his fancy
then, and perhaps another time he may be obstinately hilarious;
however, it may be that he is growing graver, for time is a fact so
long as clocks and watches continue to go, and a cat can't be a
kitten always, as the old gentleman opposite said the other day.
You must listen to this seriously, for I think the Professor was
very much in earnest when he wrote it.
THE TWO ARMIES.
As Life's unending column pours,
Two marshalled hosts are seen,-
Two armies on the trampled shores
That Death flows black between.
One marches to the drum-beat's roll,
The wide-mouthed clarion's bray,
And bears upon a crimson scroll,
"Our glory is to slay."
One moves in silence by the stream,
With sad, yet watchful eyes,
Calm as the patient planet's gleam
That walks the clouded skies.
Along its front no sabres shine,
No blood-red pennons wave;
Its banner bears the single line,
"Our duty is to save."
For those no death-bed's lingering shade;
At Honor's trumpet-call,
With knitted brow and lifted blade
In Glory's arms they fall.
For these no clashing falchions bright,
No stirring battle-cry;
The bloodless stabber calls by night, -
Each answers, "Here am I!"
For those the sculptor's laurelled bust,
The builder's marble piles,
The anthems pealing o'er their dust
Through long cathedral aisles.
For these the blossom-sprinkled turf
That floods the lonely graves,
When Spring rolls in her sea-green surf
In flowery-foaming waves.
Two paths lead upward from below,
And angels wait above,
Who count each burning life-drop's flow,
Each falling tear of Love.
Though from the Hero's bleeding breast
Her pulses Freedom drew,
Though the white lilies in her crest
Sprang from that scarlet dew, -
While Valor's haughty champions wait
Till all their scars are shown,
Love walks unchallenged through the gate,
To sit beside the Throne!
[THE schoolmistress came down with a rose in her hair, - a fresh
June rose. She has been walking early; she has brought back two
others, - one on each cheek.
I told her so, in some such pretty phrase as I could muster for the
occasion. Those two blush-roses I just spoke of turned into a
couple of damasks. I suppose all this went through my mind, for
this was what I went on to say:-]
I love the damask rose best of all. The flowers our mothers and
sisters used to love and cherish, those which grow beneath our
eaves and by our doorstep, are the ones we always love best. If
the Houyhnhnms should ever catch me, and, finding me particularly
vicious and unmanageable, send a man-tamer to Rareyfy me, I'll tell
you what drugs he would have to take and how he would have to use
them. Imagine yourself reading a number of the Houyhnhnm Gazette,
giving an account of such an experiment.
"THE soft-hoofed semi-quadruped recently captured was subjected to
the art of our distinguished man-tamer in presence of a numerous
assembly. The animal was led in by two stout ponies, closely
confined by straps to prevent his sudden and dangerous tricks of
shoulder-hitting and foot-striking. His countenance expressed the
utmost degree of ferocity and cunning.
"The operator took a handful of BUDDING LILAC-LEAVES, and crushing
them slightly between his hoofs, so as to bring out their peculiar
fragrance, fastened them to the end of a long pole and held them
towards the creature. Its expression changed in an instant, - it
drew in their fragrance eagerly, and attempted to seize them with
its soft split hoofs. Having thus quieted his suspicious subject,
the operator proceeded to tie a BLUE HYACINTH to the end of the
pole and held it out towards the wild animal. The effect was
magical. Its eyes filled as if with raindrops, and its lips
trembled as it pressed them to the flower. After this it was
perfectly quiet, and brought a measure of corn to the man-tamer,
without showing the least disposition to strike with the feet or
hit from the shoulder."
That will do for the Houyhnhnm Gazette. - Do you ever wonder why
poets talk so much about flowers? Did you ever hear of a poet who
did not talk about them? Don't you think a poem, which, for the
sake of being original, should leave them out, would be like those
verses where the letter A or E or some other is omitted? No, -
they will bloom over and over again in poems as in the summer
fields, to the end of time, always old and always new. Why should
we be more shy of repeating ourselves than the spring be tired of
blossoms or the night of stars? Look at Nature. She never wearies
of saying over her floral pater-noster. In the crevices of
Cyclopean walls, - in the dust where men lie, dust also, - on the
mounds that bury huge cities, the wreck of Nineveh and the Babel-
heap, - still that same sweet prayer and benediction. The Amen! of
Nature is always a flower.
Are you tired of my trivial personalities, - those splashes and
streaks of sentiment, sometimes perhaps of sentimentality, which
you may see when I show you my heart's corolla as if it were a
tulip? Pray, do not give yourself the trouble to fancy me an idiot
whose conceit it is to treat himself as an exceptional being. It
is because you are just like me that I talk and know that you will
listen. We are all splashed and streaked with sentiments, - not
with precisely the same tints, or in exactly the same patterns, but
by the same hand and from the same palette.
I don't believe any of you happen to have just the same passion for
the blue hyacinth which I have, - very certainly not for the
crushed lilac-leaf-buds; many of you do not know how sweet they
are. You love the smell of the sweet-fern and the bayberry-leaves,
I don't doubt; but I hardly think that the last bewitches you with
young memories as it does me. For the same reason I come back to
damask roses, after having raised a good many of the rarer
varieties. I like to go to operas and concerts, but there are
queer little old homely sounds that are better than music to me.
However, I suppose it's foolish to tell such things.
- It is pleasant to be foolish at the right time, - said the
divinity-student; - saying it, however, in one of the dead
languages, which I think are unpopular for summer-reading, and
therefore do not bear quotation as such.
Well, now, - said I, - suppose a good, clean, wholesome-looking
countryman's cart stops opposite my door. - Do I want any
huckleberries? - If I do not, there are those that do. Thereupon
my soft-voiced handmaid bears out a large tin pan, and then the
wholesome countryman, heaping the peck-measure, spreads his broad
hands around its lower arc to confine the wild and frisky berries,
and so they run nimbly along the narrowing channel until they
tumble rustling down in a black cascade and tinkle on the
resounding metal beneath. - I won't say that this rushing
huckleberry hail-storm has not more music for me than the "Anvil
- I wonder how my great trees are coming on this summer.
- Where are your great trees, Sir? - said the divinity-student.
Oh, all round about New England. I call all trees mine that I have
put my wedding-ring on, and I have as many tree-wives as Brigham
Young has human ones.
- One set's as green as the other, - exclaimed a boarder, who has
never been identified.
They're all Bloomers, - said the young fellow called John.
[I should have rebuked this trifling with language, if our
landlady's daughter had not asked me just then what I meant by
putting my wedding-ring on a tree.]
Why, measuring it with my thirty-foot tape, my dear, - said I, - I
have worn a tape almost out on the rough barks of our old New
England elms and other big trees. - Don't you want to hear me talk
trees a little now? That is one of my specialities.
[So they all agreed that they should like to hear me talk about
I want you to understand, in the first place, that I have a most
intense, passionate fondness for trees in general, and have had
several romantic attachments to certain trees in particular. Now,
if you expect me to hold forth in a "scientific" way about my tree-
loves, - to talk, for instance, of the Ulmus Americana, and
describe the ciliated edges of its samara, and all that, - you are
an anserine individual, and I must refer you to a dull friend who
will discourse to you of such matters. What should you think of a
lover who should describe the idol of his heart in the language of
science, thus: Class, Mammalia; Order, Primates; Genus, Homo;
Species, Europeus; Variety, Brown; Individual, Ann Eliza; Dental
2-2 1-1 2-2 3-3
2-2 1-1 2-2 3-3'
and so on?
No, my friends, I shall speak of trees as we see them, love them,
adore them in the fields, where they are alive, holding their green
sun-shades over our heads, talking to us with their hundred
thousand whispering tongues, looking down on us with that sweet
meekness which belongs to huge, but limited organisms, - which one
sees in the brown eyes of oxen, but most in the patient posture,
the outstretched arms, and the heavy-drooping robes of these vast
beings endowed with life, but not with soul, - which outgrow us and
outlive us, but stand helpless, - poor things! - while Nature
dresses and undresses them, like so many full-sized, but under-
Did you ever read old Daddy Gilpin? Slowest of men, even of
English men; yet delicious in his slowness, as is the light of a
sleepy eye in woman. I always supposed "Dr. Syntax" was written to
make fun of him. I have a whole set of his works, and am very
proud of it, with its gray paper, and open type, and long ff, and
orange-juice landscapes. The PERE Gilpin had the kind of science I
like in the study of Nature, - a little less observation than White
of Selborne, but a little more poetry. - Just think of applying the
Linnaean system to an elm! Who cares how many stamens or pistils
that little brown flower, which comes out before the leaf, may have
to classify it by? What we want is the meaning, the character, the
expression of a tree, as a kind and as an individual.
There is a mother-idea in each particular kind of tree, which, if
well marked, is probably embodied in the poetry of every language.
Take the oak, for instance, and we find it always standing as a
type of strength and endurance. I wonder if you ever thought of
the single mark of supremacy which distinguishes this tree from all
our other forest-trees? All the rest of them shirk the work of
resisting gravity; the oak alone defies it. It chooses the
horizontal direction for its limbs, so that their whole weight may
tell, - and then stretches them out fifty or sixty feet, so that
the strain may be mighty enough to be worth resisting. You will
find, that, in passing from the extreme downward droop of the
branches of the weeping-willow to the extreme upward inclination of
those of the poplar, they sweep nearly half a circle. At 90
degrees the oak stops short; to slant upward another degree would
mark infirmity of purpose; to bend downwards, weakness of
organization. The American elm betrays something of both; yet
sometimes, as we shall see, puts on a certain resemblance to its
It won't do to be exclusive in our taste about trees. There is
hardly one of them which has not peculiar beauties in some fitting
place for it. I remember a tall poplar of monumental proportions
and aspect, a vast pillar of glossy green, placed on the summit of
a lofty hill, and a beacon to all the country round. A native of
that region saw fit to build his house very near it, and, having a
fancy that it might blow down some time or other, and exterminate
himself and any incidental relatives who might be "stopping" or
"tarrying" with him, - also laboring under the delusion that human
life is under all circumstances to be preferred to vegetable
existence, - had the great poplar cut down. It is so easy to say,
"It is only a poplar!" and so much harder to replace its living
cone than to build a granite obelisk!
I must tell you about some of my tree-wives. I was at one period
of my life much devoted to the young lady-population of Rhode
Island, a small, but delightful State in the neighborhood of
Pawtucket. The number of inhabitants being not very large, I had
leisure, during my visits to the Providence Plantations, to inspect
the face of the country in the intervals of more fascinating
studies of physiognomy. I heard some talk of a great elm a short
distance from the locality just mentioned. "Let us see the great
elm," - I said, and proceeded to find it, - knowing that it was on
a certain farm in a place called Johnston, if I remember rightly.
I shall never forget my ride and my introduction to the great
I always tremble for a celebrated tree when I approach it for the
first time. Provincialism has no SCALE of excellence in man or
vegetable; it never knows a first-rate article of either kind when
it has it, and is constantly taking second and third rate ones for
Nature's best. I have often fancied the tree was afraid of me, and
that a sort of shiver came over it as over a betrothed maiden when
she first stands before the unknown to whom she has been plighted.
Before the measuring-tape the proudest tree of them all quails and
shrinks into itself. All those stories of four or five men
stretching their arms around it and not touching each other's
fingers, if one's pacing the shadow at noon and making it so many
hundred feet, die upon its leafy lips in the presence of the awful
ribbon which has strangled so many false pretensions.
As I rode along the pleasant way, watching eagerly for the object
of my journey, the rounded tops of the elms rose from time to time
at the road-side. Wherever one looked taller and fuller than the
rest, I asked myself, - "Is this it?" But as I drew nearer, they
grew smaller, - or it proved, perhaps, that two standing in a line
had looked like one, and so deceived me. At last, all at once,
when I was not thinking of it, - I declare to you it makes my flesh
creep when I think of it now, - all at once I saw a great, green
cloud swelling in the horizon, so vast, so symmetrical, of such
Olympian majesty and imperial supremacy among the lesser forest-
growths, that my heart stopped short, then jumped at my ribs as a
hunter springs at a five-barred gate, and I felt all through me,
without need of uttering the words, - "This is it!"
You will find this tree described, with many others, in the
excellent Report upon the Trees and Shrubs of Massachusetts. The
author has given my friend the Professor credit for some of his
measurements, but measured this tree himself, carefully. It is a
grand elm for size of trunk, spread of limbs, and muscular
development, - one of the first, perhaps the first, of the first
class of New England elms.
The largest actual girth I have ever found at five feet from the
ground is in the great elm lying a stone's throw or two north of
the main road (if my points of compass are right) in Springfield.
But this has much the appearance of having been formed by the union
of two trunks growing side by side.
The West-Springfield elm and one upon Northampton meadows, belong
also to the first class of trees.
There is a noble old wreck of an elm at Hatfield, which used to
spread its claws out over a circumference of thirty-five feet or
more before they covered the foot of its bole up with earth. This
is the American elm most like an oak of any I have ever seen.
The Sheffield elm is equally remarkable for size and perfection of
form. I have seen nothing that comes near it in Berkshire County,
and few to compare with it anywhere. I am not sure that I remember
any other first-class elms in New England, but there may be many.
- What makes a first-class elm? - Why, size, in the first place,
and chiefly. Anything over twenty feet of clear girth, five feet
above the ground, and with a spread of branches a hundred feet
across, may claim that title, according to my scale. All of them,
with the questionable exception of the Springfield tree above
referred to, stop, so far as my experience goes, at about twenty-
two or twenty-three feet of girth and a hundred and twenty of
Elms of the second class, generally ranging from fourteen to
eighteen feet, are comparatively common. The queen of them all is
that glorious tree near one of the churches in Springfield.
Beautiful and stately she is beyond all praise. The "great tree"
on Boston Common comes in the second rank, as does the one at
Cohasset, which used to have, and probably has still, a head as
round as an apple-tree, and that at Newburyport, with scores of
others which might be mentioned. These last two have perhaps been
over-celebrated. Both, however, are pleasing vegetables. The poor
old Pittsfield elm lives on its past reputation. A wig of false
leaves is indispensable to make it presentable.
[I don't doubt there may be some monster-elm or other, vegetating
green, but inglorious, in some remote New England village, which
only wants a sacred singer to make it celebrated. Send us your
measurements, - (certified by the postmaster, to avoid possible
imposition,) - circumference five feet from soil, length of line
from bough-end to bough-end, and we will see what can be done for
- I wish somebody would get us up the following work:-
Photographs of New England Elms and other Trees, taken upon the
Same Scale of Magnitude. With Letter-Press Descriptions, by a
Distinguished Literary Gentleman. Boston & Co. 185..
The same camera should be used, - so far as possible, - at a fixed
distance. Our friend, who has given us so many interesting figures
in his "Trees of America," must not think this Prospectus invades
his province; a dozen portraits, with lively descriptions, would be
a pretty complement to his large work, which, so far as published,
I find excellent. If my plan were carried out, and another series
of a dozen English trees photographed on the same scale the
comparison would be charming.
It has always been a favorite idea of mine to bring the life of the
Old and the New World face to face, by an accurate comparison of
their various types of organization. We should begin with man, of
course; institute a large and exact comparison between the
development of LA PIANTA UMANA, as Alfieri called it, in different
sections of each country, in the different callings, at different
ages, estimating height, weigh, force by the dynamometer and the
spirometer, and finishing off with a series of typical photographs,
giving the principal national physiognomies. Mr. Hutchinson has
given us some excellent English data to begin with.
Then I would follow this up by contrasting the various parallel
forms of life in the two continents. Our naturalists have often
referred to this incidentally or expressly; but the ANIMUS of
Nature in the two half globes of the planet is so momentous a point
of interest to our race, that it should be made a subject of
express and elaborate study. Go out with me into that walk which
we call THE MALL, and look at the English and American elms. The
American elm is tall, graceful, slender-sprayed, and drooping as if
from languor. The English elm is compact, robust, holds its
branches up, and carries its leaves for weeks longer than our own
Is this typical of the creative force on the two sides of the
ocean, or not? Nothing but a careful comparison through the whole
realm of life can answer this question.
There is a parallelism without identity in the animal and vegetable
life of the two continents, which favors the task of comparison in
an extraordinary manner. Just as we have two trees alike in many
ways, yet not the same, both elms, yet easily distinguishable, just
so we have a complete flora and a fauna, which, parting from the
same ideal, embody it with various modifications. Inventive power
is the only quality of which the Creative Intelligence seems to be
economical; just as with our largest human minds, that is the
divinest of faculties, and the one that most exhausts the mind
which exercises it. As the same patterns have very commonly been
followed, we can see which is worked out in the largest spirit, and
determine the exact limitations under which the Creator places the
movement of life in all its manifestations in either locality. We
should find ourselves in a very false position, if it should prove
that Anglo-Saxons can't live here, but die out, if not kept up by
fresh supplies, as Dr. Knox and other more or less wise persons
have maintained. It may turn out the other way, as I have heard
one of our literary celebrities argue, - and though I took the
other side, I liked his best, - that the American is the Englishman
- Will you walk out and look at those elms with me after breakfast?
- I said to the schoolmistress.
[I am not going to tell lies about it, and say that she blushed, -
as I suppose she ought to have done, at such a tremendous piece of
gallantry as that was for our boarding-house. On the contrary, she
turned a little pale, - but smiled brightly and said, - Yes, with
pleasure, but she must walk towards her school. - She went for her
bonnet. - The old gentleman opposite followed her with his eyes,
and said he wished he was a young fellow. Presently she came down,
looking very pretty in her half-mourning bonnet, and carrying a
school-book in her hand.]
MY FIRST WALK WITH THE SCHOOLMISTRESS.
This is the shortest way, - she said, as we came to a corner. -
Then we won't take it, - said I. - The schoolmistress laughed a
little, and said she was ten minutes early, so she could go round.
We walked under Mr. Paddock's row of English elms. The gray
squirrels were out looking for their breakfasts, and one of them
came toward us in light, soft, intermittent leaps, until he was
close to the rail of the burial-ground. He was on a grave with a
broad blue-slate-stone at its head, and a shrub growing on it. The
stone said this was the grave of a young man who was the son of an
Honorable gentleman, and who died a hundred years ago and more. -
Oh, yes, DIED, - with a small triangular mark in one breast, and
another smaller opposite, in his back, where another young man's
rapier had slid through his body; and so he lay down out there on
the Common, and was found cold the next morning, with the night-
dews and the death-dews mingled on his forehead.
Let us have one look at poor Benjamin's grave, - said I. - His
bones lie where his body was laid so long ago, and where the stone
says they lie, - which is more than can be said of most of the
tenants of this and several other burial-grounds.
[The most accursed act of Vandalism ever committed within my
knowledge was the uprooting of the ancient gravestones in three at
least of our city burialgrounds, and one at least just outside the
city, and planting them in rows to suit the taste for symmetry of
the perpetrators. Many years ago, when this disgraceful process
was going on under my eyes, I addressed an indignant remonstrance
to a leading journal. I suppose it was deficient in literary
elegance, or too warm in its language; for no notice was taken of
it, and the hyena-horror was allowed to complete itself in the face
of daylight. I have never got over it. The bones of my own
ancestors, being entombed, lie beneath their own tablet; but the
upright stones have been shuffled about like chessmen, and nothing
short of the Day of Judgment will tell whose dust lies beneath any
of those records, meant by affection to mark one small spot as
sacred to some cherished memory. Shame! shame! shame! - that is
all I can say. It was on public thoroughfares, under the eye of
authority, that this infamy was enacted. The red Indians would
have known better; the selectmen of an African kraal-village would
have had more respect for their ancestors. I should like to see
the gravestones which have been disturbed all removed, and the
ground levelled, leaving the flat tombstones; epitaphs were never
famous for truth, but the old reproach of "Here LIES" never had
such a wholesale illustration as in these outraged burial-places,
where the stone does lie above, and the bones do not lie beneath.]
Stop before we turn away, and breathe a woman's sigh over poor
Benjamin's dust. Love killed him, I think. Twenty years old, and
out there fighting another young fellow on the Common, in the cool
of that old July evening; - yes, there must have been love at the
bottom of it.
The schoolmistress dropped a rosebud she had in her hand, through
the rails, upon the grave of Benjamin Woodbridge. That was all her
comment upon what I told her. - How women love Love! said I; - but
she did not speak.
We came opposite the head of a place or court running eastward from
the main street. - Look down there, - I said, - My friend the
Professor lived in that house at the left hand, next the further
corner, for years and years. He died out of it, the other day. -
Died? - said the schoolmistress. - Certainly, - said I. - We die
out of houses, just as we die out of our bodies. A commercial
smash kills a hundred men's houses for them, as a railroad crash
kills their mortal frames and drives out the immortal tenants. Men
sicken of houses until at last they quit them, as the soul leaves
its body when it is tired of its infirmities. The body has been
called "the house we live in"; the house is quite as much the body
we live in. Shall I tell you some things the Professor said the
other day? - Do! - said the schoolmistress.
A man's body, - said the Professor, - is whatever is occupied by
his will and his sensibility. The small room down there, where I
wrote those papers you remember reading, was much more a portion of
my body than a paralytic's senseless and motionless arm or leg is
The soul of a man has a series of concentric envelopes round it,
like the core of an onion, or the innermost of a nest of boxes.
First, he has his natural garment of flesh and blood. Then, his
artificial integuments, with their true skin of solid stuffs, their
cuticle of lighter tissues, and their variously-tinted pigments.
Thirdly, his domicile, be it a single chamber or a stately mansion.
And then, the whole visible world, in which Time buttons him up as
in a loose outside wrapper.
You shall observe, - the Professor said, - for, like Mr. John
Hunter and other great men, he brings in that SHALL with great
effect sometimes, - you shall observe that a man's clothing or
series of envelopes does after a certain time mould itself upon his
individual nature. We know this of our hats, and are always
reminded of it when we happen to put them on wrong side foremost.
We soon find that the beaver is a hollow cast of the skull, with
all its irregular bumps and depressions. Just so all that clothes
a man, even to the blue sky which caps his head, - a little
loosely, - shapes itself to fit each particular being beneath it.
Farmers, sailors, astronomers, poets, lovers, condemned criminals,
all find it different, according to the eyes with which they
But our houses shape themselves palpably on our inner and outer
natures. See a householder breaking up and you will be sure of it.
There is a shell-fish which builds all manner of smaller shells
into the walls of its own. A house is never a home until we have
crusted it with the spoils of a hundred lives besides those of our
own past. See what these are and you can tell what the occupant
I had no idea, - said the Professor, - until I pulled up my
domestic establishment the other day, what an enormous quantity of
roots I had been making during the years I was planted there. Why,
there wasn't a nook or a corner that some fibre had not worked its
way into; and when I gave the last wrench, each of them seemed to
shriek like a mandrake, as it broke its hold and came away.
There is nothing that happens, you know, which must not inevitably,
and which does not actually, photograph itself in every conceivable
aspect and in all dimensions. The infinite galleries of the Past
await but one brief process and all their pictures will be called
out and fixed forever. We had a curious illustration of the great
fact on a very humble scale. When a certain bookcase, long
standing in one place, for which it was built, was removed, there
was the exact image on the wall of the whole, and of many of its
portions. But in the midst of this picture was another, - the
precise outline of a map which had hung on the wall before the
bookcase was built. We had all forgotten everything about the map
until we saw its photograph on the wall. Then we remembered it, as
some day or other we may remember a sin which has been built over
and covered up, when this lower universe is pulled away from before
the wall of Infinity, where the wrong-doing stands self-recorded.
The Professor lived in that house a long time, - not twenty years,
but pretty near it. When he entered that door, two shadows glided
over the threshold; five lingered in the doorway when he passed
through it for the last time, - and one of the shadows was claimed
by its owner to be longer than his own. What changes he saw in
that quiet place! Death rained through every roof but his;
children came into life, grew to maturity, wedded, faded away,
threw themselves away; the whole drama of life was played in that
stock-company's theatre of a dozen houses, one of which was his,
and no deep sorrow or severe calamity ever entered his dwelling.
Peace be to those walls, forever, - the Professor said, - for the
many pleasant years he has passed within them!
The Professor has a friend, now living at a distance, who has been
with him in many of his changes of place, and who follows him in
imagination with tender interest wherever he goes. - In that little
court, where he lived in gay loneliness so long, -
- in his autumnal sojourn by the Connecticut, where it comes
loitering down from its mountain fastnesses like a great lord,
swallowing up the small proprietary rivulets very quietly as it
goes, until it gets proud and swollen and wantons in huge luxurious
oxbows about the fair Northampton meadows, and at last overflows
the oldest inhabitant's memory in profligate freshets at Hartford
and all along its lower shores, - up in that caravansary on the
banks of the stream where Ledyard launched his log canoe, and the
jovial old Colonel used to lead the Commencement processions, -
where blue Ascutney looked down from the far distance, and the
hills of Beulah, as the Professor always called them, rolled up the
opposite horizon in soft climbing masses, so suggestive of the
Pilgrim's Heavenward Path that he used to look through his old
"Dollond" to see if the Shining Ones were not within range of
sight, - sweet visions, sweetest in those Sunday walks which
carried them by the peaceful common, through the solemn village
lying in cataleptic stillness under the shadow of the rod of Moses,
to the terminus of their harmless stroll, - the patulous fage, in
the Professor's classic dialect, - the spreading beech, in more
familiar phrase, - [stop and breathe here a moment, for the
sentence is not done yet, and we have another long journey before
- and again once more up among those other hills that shut in the
amber-flowing Housatonic, - dark stream, but clear, like the lucid
orbs that shine beneath the lids of auburn-haired, sherry-wine-eyed
demi-blondes, - in the home overlooking the winding stream and the
smooth, flat meadow; looked down upon by wild hills, where the
tracks of bears and catamounts may yet sometimes be seen upon the
winter snow; facing the twin summits which rise in the far North,
the highest waves of the great land-storm in all this billowy
region, - suggestive to mad fancies of the breasts of a half-buried
Titaness, stretched out by a stray thunderbolt, and hastily hidden
away beneath the leaves of the forest, - in that home where seven
blessed summers were passed, which stand in memory like the seven
golden candlesticks in the beatific vision of the holy dreamer, -
- in that modest dwelling we were just looking at, not glorious,
yet not unlovely in the youth of its drab and mahogany, - full of
great and little boys' playthings from top to bottom, - in all
these summer or winter nests he was always at home and always
This long articulated sigh of reminiscences, - this calenture which
shows me the maple-shadowed plains of Berkshire and the mountain-
circled green of Grafton beneath the salt waves which come feeling
their way along the wall at my feet, restless and soft-touching as
blind men's busy fingers, - is for that friend of mine who looks
into the waters of the Patapsco and sees beneath them the same
visions which paint themselves for me in the green depths of the
- Did I talk all this off to the schoolmistress? - Why, no, - of
course not. I have been talking with you, the reader, for the last
ten minutes. You don't think I should expect any woman to listen
to such a sentence as that long one, without giving her a chance to
put in a word?
- What did I say to the schoolmistress? - Permit me one moment. I
don't doubt your delicacy and good-breeding; but in this particular
case, as I was allowed the privilege of walking alone with a very
interesting young woman, you must allow me to remark, in the
classic version of a familiar phrase, used by our Master Benjamin
Franklin, it is NULLUM TUI NEGOTII.
When the schoolmistress and I reached the school-room door, the
damask roses I spoke of were so much heightened in color by
exercise that I felt sure it would be useful to her to take a
stroll like this every morning, and made up my mind I would ask her
to let me join her again.
EXTRACT FROM MY PRIVATE JOURNAL.
(TO BE BURNED UNREAD.)
I am afraid I have been a fool; for I have told as much of myself
to this young person as if she were of that ripe and discreet age
which invites confidence and expansive utterance. I have been low-
spirited and listless, lately, - it is coffee, I think, - (I
observe that which is bought READY-GROUND never affects the head,)
- and I notice that I tell my secrets too easily when I am
There are inscriptions on our hearts, which, like that on Dighton
Rock, are never to be seen except at dead-low tide.
There is a woman's footstep on the sand at the side of my deepest
- Oh, no, no, no! a thousand times, no! - Yet what is this which
has been shaping itself in my soul? - Is it a thought? - is it a
dream? - is it a PASSION? - Then I know what comes next.
- The Asylum stands on a bright and breezy hill; those glazed
corridors are pleasant to walk in, in bad weather. But there are
iron bars to all the windows. When it is fair, some of us can
stroll outside that very high fence. But I never see much life in
those groups I sometimes meet; - and then the careful man watches
them so closely! How I remember that sad company I used to pass on
fine mornings, when I was a schoolboy! - B., with his arms full of
yellow weeds, - ore from the gold mines which he discovered long
before we heard of California, - Y., born to millions, crazed by
too much plum-cake, (the boys said,) dogged, explosive, - made a
Polyphemus of my weak-eyed schoolmaster, by a vicious flirt with a
stick, - (the multi-millonnaires sent him a trifle, it was said, to
buy another eye with; but boys are jealous of rich folks, and I
don't doubt the good people made him easy for life,) - how I
remember them all!
I recollect, as all do, the story of the Hall of Eblis, in
"Vathek," and how each shape, as it lifted its hand from its
breast, showed its heart, - a burning coal. The real Hall of Eblis
stands on yonder summit. Go there on the next visiting-day, and
ask that figure crouched in the corner, huddled up like those
Indian mummies and skeletons found buried in the sitting posture,
to lift its hand, - look upon its heart, and behold, not fire, but
ashes. - No, I must not think of such an ending! Dying would be a
much more gentlemanly way of meeting the difficulty. Make a will
and leave her a house or two and some stocks, and other little
financial conveniences, to take away her necessity for keeping
school. - I wonder what nice young man's feet would be in my French
slippers before six months were over! Well, what then? If a man
really loves a woman, of course he wouldn't marry her for the
world, if he were not quite sure that he was the best person she
could by any possibility marry.
- It is odd enough to read over what I have just been writing. - It
is the merest fancy that ever was in the world. I shall never be
married. She will; and if she is as pleasant as she has been so
far, I will give her a silver tea-set, and go and take tea with her
and her husband, sometimes. No coffee, I hope, though, - it
depresses me sadly. I feel very miserably; - they must have been
grinding it at home. - Another morning walk will be good for me,
and I don't doubt the schoolmistress will be glad of a little fresh
air before school.
- The throbbing flushes of the poetical intermittent have been
coming over me from time to time of late. Did you ever see that
electrical experiment which consists in passing a flash through
letters of gold-leaf in a darkened room, whereupon some name or
legend springs out of the darkness in characters of fire?
There are songs all written out in my soul, which I could read, if
the flash might pass through them, - but the fire must come down
from heaven. Ah! but what if the stormy NIMBUS of youthful passion
has blown by, and one asks for lightning from the ragged CIRRUS of
dissolving aspirations, or the silvered CUMULUS of sluggish
satiety? I will call on her whom the dead poets believed in, whom
living ones no longer worship, - the immortal maid, who, name her
what you will, - Goddess, Muse, Spirit of Beauty, - sits by the
pillow of every youthful poet, and bends over his pale forehead
until her tresses lie upon his cheek and rain their gold into his
O MY lost Beauty! - hast thou folded quite
Thy wings of morning light
Beyond those iron gates
Where Life crowds hurrying to the haggard Fates,
And Age upon his mound of ashes waits
To chill our fiery dreams,
Hot from the heart of youth plunged in his icy streams?
Leave me not fading in these weeds of care,
Whose flowers are silvered hair! -
Have I not loved thee long,
Though my young lips have often done thee wrong
And vexed thy heaven-tuned ear with careless song?
Ah, wilt thou yet return,
Bearing thy rose-hued torch, and bid thine altar burn?
Come to me! - I will flood thy silent shine
With my soul's sacred wine,
And heap thy marble floors
As the wild spice-trees waste their fragrant stores
In leafy islands walled with madrepores
And lapped in Orient seas,
When all their feathery palm toss, plume-like, in the breeze.
Come to me! - thou shalt feed on honied words,
Sweeter than song of birds; -
No wailing bulbul's throat,
No melting dulcimer's melodious note,
When o'er the midnight wave its murmurs float,
Thy ravished sense might soothe
With flow so liquid-soft, with strain so velvet-smooth.
Thou shalt be decked with jewels, like a queen,
Sought in those bowers of green
Where loop the clustered vines
And the close-clinging dulcamara twines, -
Pure pearls of Maydew where the moonlight shines,
And Summer's fruited gems,
And coral pendants shorn from Autumn's berried stems.
Sit by me drifting on the sleepy waves, -
Or stretched by grass-grown graves,
Whose gray, high-shouldered stones,
Carved with old names Life's time-worn roll disowns,
Lean, lichen-spotted, o'er the crumbled bones
Still slumbering where they lay
While the sad Pilgrim watched to scare the wolf away.
Spread o'er my couch thy visionary wing!
Still let me dream and sing, -
Dream of that winding shore
Where scarlet cardinals bloom, - for me no more, -
The stream with heaven beneath its liquid floor,
And clustering nenuphars
Sprinkling its mirrored blue like golden-chaliced stars!
Come while their balms the linden-blossoms shed! -
Come while the rose is red, -
While blue-eyed Summer smiles
On the green ripples round you sunken piles
Washed by the moon-wave warm from Indian isles,
And on the sultry air
The chestnuts spread their palms like holy men in prayer!
Oh, for thy burning lips to fire my brain
With thrills of wild sweet pain! -
On life's autumnal blast,
Like shrivelled leaves, youth's, passion-flowers are cast, -
Once loving thee, we love thee to the last! -
Behold thy new-decked shrine,
And hear once more the voice that breathed "Forever thine!"
[THE company looked a little flustered one morning when I came in,
- so much so, that I inquired of my neighbor, the divinity-
student,) what had been going on. It appears that the young fellow
whom they call John had taken advantage of my being a little late
(I having been rather longer than usual dressing that morning) to
circulate several questions involving a quibble or play upon words,
- in short, containing that indignity to the human understanding,
condemned in the passages from the distinguished moralist of the
last century and the illustrious historian of the present, which I
cited on a former occasion, and known as a PUN. After breakfast,
one of the boarders handed me a small roll of paper containing some
of the questions and their answers. I subjoin two or three of
them, to show what a tendency there is to frivolity and meaningless
talk in young persons of a certain sort, when not restrained by the
presence of more reflective natures. - It was asked, "Why tertian
and quartan fevers were like certain short-lived insects." Some
interesting physiological relation would be naturally suggested.
The inquirer blushes to find that the answer is in the paltry
equivocation, that they SKIP a day or two. - "Why an Englishman
must go to the Continent to weaken his grog or punch." The answer
proves to have no relation whatever to the temperance-movement, as
no better reason is given than that island- (or, as it is absurdly
written, ILE AND) water won't mix. - But when I came to the next
question and its answer, I felt that patience ceased to be a
virtue. "Why an onion is like a piano" is a query that a person of
sensibility would be slow to propose; but that in an educated
community an individual could be found to answer it in these words,
- "Because it smell odious," QUASI, it's melodious, - is not
credible, but too true. I can show you the paper.
Dear reader, I beg your pardon for repeating such things. I know
most conversations reported in books are altogether above such
trivial details, but folly will come up at every table as surely as
purslain and chickweed and sorrel will come up in gardens. This
young fellow ought to have talked philosophy, I know perfectly
well; but he didn't, - he made jokes.]
I am willing, - I said, - to exercise your ingenuity in a rational
and contemplative manner. - No, I do not proscribe certain forms of
philosophical speculation which involve an approach to the absurd
or the ludicrous, such as you may find, for example, in the folio
of the Reverend Father Thomas Sanchez, in his famous Disputations,
"De Sancto Matrimonio." I will therefore turn this levity of yours
to profit by reading you a rhymed problem, wrought out by my friend
THE DEACON'S MASTERPIECE:
OR THE WONDERFUL "ONE-HOSS-SHAY."
A LOGICAL STORY.
HAVE you heard of the wonderful one-shay,
That was built in such a logical way
It ran a hundred years to a day,
And then, of a sudden, it - ah, but stay,
I'll tell you what happened without delay,
Scaring the parson into fits,
Frightening people out of their wits, -
Have you ever heard of that, I say?
Seventeen hundred and fifty-five.
GEORGIUS SECUNDUS was then alive, -
Snuffy old drone from the German hive.
That was the year when Lisbon-town
Saw the earth open and gulp her down,
And Braddock's army was done so brown,
Left without a scalp to its crown.
It was on the terrible Earthquake-day
That the Deacon finished the one-hoss-shay.
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