The English Mail-Coach and Joan of Arc
Thomas de Quincey

Part 1 out of 3

Produced by Anne Soulard, Charles Franks
and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.




_Glencairn, Kilmacolm, Scotland June 27, 1905_


Some portions of this Introduction have been taken from the Athenæum
Press _Selections from De Quincey_; many of the notes have also
been transferred from that volume. A number of the new notes I owe to a
review of the _Selections_ by Dr. Lane Cooper, of Cornell University. I
wish also to thank for many favors the Committee and officers of the
Glasgow University Library.

If a word by way of suggestion to teachers be pertinent, I would
venture to remark that the object of the teacher of literature is, of
course, only to fulfill the desire of the author--to make clear his
facts and to bring home his ideas in all their power and beauty.
Introductions and notes are only means to this end. Teachers, I think,
sometimes lose sight of this fact; I know it is fatally easy for
students to forget it. That teacher will have rendered a great service
who has kept his pupils alive to the real aim of their studies,--to
know the author, not to know of him.








Thomas de Quincey was born in Manchester on the 15th of August, 1785.
His father was a man of high character and great taste for literature
as well as a successful man of business; he died, most unfortunately,
when Thomas was quite young. Very soon after our author's birth the
family removed to The Farm, and later to Greenhay, a larger country
place near Manchester. In 1796 De Quincey's mother, now for some years
a widow, removed to Bath and placed him in the grammar school there.

Thomas, the future opium-eater, was a weak and sickly child. His first
years were spent in solitude, and when his elder brother, William, a
real boy, came home, the young author followed in humility mingled with
terror the diversions of that ingenious and pugnacious "son of eternal
racket." De Quincey's mother was a woman of strong character and
emotions, as well as excellent mind, but she was excessively formal,
and she seems to have inspired more awe than affection in her children,
to whom she was for all that deeply devoted. Her notions of conduct in
general and of child rearing in particular were very strict. She took
Thomas out of Bath School, after three years' excellent work there,
because he was too much praised, and kept him for a year at an inferior
school at Winkfield in Wiltshire.

In 1800, at the age of fifteen, De Quincey was ready for Oxford; he had
not been praised without reason, for his scholarship was far in advance
of that of ordinary pupils of his years. "That boy," his master at Bath
School had said, "that boy could harangue an Athenian mob better than
you or I could address an English one." He was sent to Manchester
Grammar School, however, in order that after three years' stay he might
secure a scholarship at Brasenose College, Oxford. He remained there--
strongly protesting against a situation which deprived him "of
_health_, of _society_, of _amusement_, of _liberty_, of _congeniality
of pursuits_"--for nineteen months, and then ran away.

His first plan had been to reach Wordsworth, whose _Lyrical Ballads_
(1798) had solaced him in fits of melancholy and had awakened in him a
deep reverence for the neglected poet. His timidity preventing this, he
made his way to Chester, where his mother then lived, in the hope of
seeing a sister; was apprehended by the older members of the family;
and through the intercession of his uncle, Colonel Penson, received the
promise of a guinea a week to carry out his later project of a solitary
tramp through Wales. From July to November, 1802, De Quincey then led a
wayfarer's life. [Footnote: For a most interesting account of this
period see the _Confessions of an English Opium-Eater_, Athenæum Press
_Selections from De Quincey_, pp. 165-171, and notes.] He soon lost his
guinea, however, by ceasing to keep his family informed of his
whereabouts, and subsisted for a time with great difficulty. Still
apparently fearing pursuit, with a little borrowed money he broke away
entirely from his home by exchanging the solitude of Wales for the
greater wilderness of London. Failing there to raise money on his
expected patrimony, he for some time deliberately clung to a life of
degradation and starvation rather than return to his lawful governors.

Discovered by chance by his friends, De Quincey was brought home and
finally allowed (1803) to go to Worcester College, Oxford, on a reduced
income. Here, we are told, "he came to be looked upon as a strange
being who associated with no one." During this time he learned to take
opium. He left, apparently about 1807, without a degree. In the same
year he made the acquaintance of Coleridge and Wordsworth; Lamb he had
sought out in London several years before.

His acquaintance with Wordsworth led to his settlement in 1809 at
Grasmere, in the beautiful English Lake District; his home for ten
years was Dove Cottage, which Wordsworth had occupied for several years
and which is now held in trust as a memorial of the poet. De Quincey
was married in 1816, and soon after, his patrimony having been
exhausted, he took up literary work in earnest.

In 1821 he went to London to dispose of some translations from German
authors, but was persuaded first to write and publish an account of his
opium experiences, which accordingly appeared in the _London
Magazine_ in that year. This new sensation eclipsed Lamb's _Essays
of Elia_, which were appearing in the same periodical. The
_Confessions of an English Opium-Eater_ was forthwith published in
book form. De Quincey now made literary acquaintances. Tom Hood found
the shrinking author "at home in a German ocean of literature, in a
storm, flooding all the floor, the tables, and the chairs--billows of
books." Richard Woodhouse speaks of the "depth and reality of his
knowledge. ... His conversation appeared like the elaboration of a mine
of results. ... Taylor led him into political economy, into the Greek
and Latin accents, into antiquities, Roman roads, old castles, the
origin and analogy of languages; upon all these he was informed to
considerable minuteness. The same with regard to Shakespeare's sonnets,
Spenser's minor poems, and the great writers and characters of
Elizabeth's age and those of Cromwell's time."

From this time on De Quincey maintained himself by contributing to
various magazines. He soon exchanged London and the Lakes for Edinburgh
and its suburb, Lasswade, where the remainder of his life was spent.
_Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine_ and its rival _Tatt's Magazine_
received a large number of contributions. _The English Mail-Coach_
appeared in 1849 in Blackwood. _Joan of Arc_ had already been published
(1847) in _Tait_. De Quincey continued to drink laudanum throughout his
life,--twice after 1821 in very great excess. During his last years he
nearly completed a collected edition of his works. He died in Edinburgh
on the 8th of December, 1859.


The Opium-Eater had been a weak, lonely, and over-studious child, and
he was a solitary and ill-developed man. His character and his work
present strange contradictions. He is most precise in statement, yet
often very careless of fact; he is most courteous in manner, yet
inexcusably inconsiderate in his behavior. Again, he sets up a high
standard of purity of diction, yet uses slang quite unnecessarily and
inappropriately; and though a great master of style, he is guilty, at
times, of digression within digression until all trace of the original
subject is lost.

De Quincey divides his writings into three groups: first, that class
which "proposes primarily to amuse the reader, but which, in doing so,
may or may not happen occasionally to reach a higher station, at which
the amusement passes into an impassioned interest." To this class would
belong the _Autobiographic Sketches_ and the _Literary Reminiscences_.
As a second class he groups "those papers which address themselves
purely to the understanding as an insulated faculty, or do so
primarily." These essays would include, according to Professor Masson's
subdivision, (a) Biographies, such as _Shakespeare_ or _Pope_--_Joan of
Arc_ falls here, yet has some claim to a place in the first class; (b)
Historical essays, like The _Cæsars_; (c) Speculative and Theological
essays; (d) Essays in Political Economy and Politics; (e) Papers of
Literary Theory and Criticism, such as the brilliant discussions of
_Rhetoric, Style_, and _Conversation_, and the famous _On the Knocking
at the Gate in 'Macbeth_.' As a third and "far higher" class the author
ranks the _Confessions of an English Opium-Eater_, and also (but more
emphatically) the _Suspiria de Profundis_. "On these," he says, "as
modes of impassioned prose ranging under no precedents that I am aware
of in any literature, it is much more difficult to speak justly,
whether in a hostile or a friendly character."

Of De Quincey's essays in general it may be said that they bear witness
alike to the diversity of his knowledge and the penetrative power of
his intellect. The wide range of his subjects, however, deprives his
papers when taken together of the weight which might attach to a series
of related discussions. And, remarkable as is De Quincey's aptitude for
analysis and speculation, more than once we have to regret the lack of
the "saving common-sense" possessed by many far less gifted men. His
erudition and insight are always a little in advance of his good

As to the works of the first class, the _Reminiscences_ are defaced
by the shrewish spirit shown in the accounts of Wordsworth and other
friends; nor can we depend upon them as records of fact. But our author
had had exceptional opportunities to observe these famous men and
women, and he possessed no little insight into literature and
personality. As to the _Autobiographic Sketches_, the handling of
events is hopelessly arbitrary and fragmentary. In truth, De Quincey is
drawing an idealized picture of childhood,--creating a type rather than
re-creating a person; it is a study of a child of talent that we
receive from him, and as such these sketches form one of the most
satisfactory products of his pen.

The _Confessions_ as a narrative is related to the Autobiography,
while its poetical passages range it with the _Suspiria_ and the
_Mail-Coach_. De Quincey seems to have believed that he was
creating in such writings a new literary type of prose poetry or prose
phantasy; he had, with his splendid dreams as subject-matter, lifted
prose to heights hitherto scaled only by the poet. In reality his style
owed much to the seventeenth-century writers, such as Milton and Sir
Thomas Browne. He took part with Coleridge, Lamb, and others in the
general revival of interest in earlier modern English prose, which is a
feature of the Romantic Movement. Still none of his contemporaries
wrote as he did; evidently De Quincey has a distinct quality of his
own. Ruskin, in our own day, is like him, but never the same.

Yet De Quincey's prose poetry is a very small portion of his work, and
it is not in this way only that he excels. Mr. Saintsbury has spoken of
the strong appeal that De Quincey makes to boys. [Footnote: "Probably
more boys have in the last forty years been brought to a love of
literature proper by De Quincy than by any other writer whatever."--
_History of Nineteenth-Century Literature_, p.198.] It is not
without significance that he mentions as especially attractive to the
young only writings with a large narrative element. [Footnote: "To read
the _Essay on Murder_, the _English Mail-Coach_, _The Spanish
Nun_, _The Cæsars_, and half a score other things at the age of
about fifteen or sixteen is, or ought to be, to fall in love with
them."--_Essays in English Literature_, 1780-1860, p.307.] Few boys
read poetry, whether in verse or prose, and fewer still criticism or
philosophy; to every normal boy the gate of good literature is the good
story. It is the narrative skill of De Quincey that has secured for
him, in preference to other writers of his class, the favor of youthful

It would be too much to say that the talent that attracts the young to
him must needs be the Opium-Eater's grand talent, though the notion is
defensible, seeing that only salient qualities in good writing appeal
to inexperienced readers. I believe, however, that this skill in
narration is De Quincey's most persistent quality,--the golden thread
that unites all his most distinguished and most enduring work. And it
is with him a part of his genius for style. Creative power of the kind
that goes to the making of plots De Quincey had not; he has proved that
forever by the mediocrity of _Klosterheim_. Give him Bergmann's
account of the Tartar Migration, or the story of the Fighting Nun,--
give him the matter,--and a brilliant narrative will result. Indeed, De
Quincey loved a story for its own sake; he rejoiced to see it extend
its winding course before him; he delighted to follow it, touch it,
color it, see it grow into body and being under his hand. That this
enthusiasm should now and then tend to endanger the integrity of the
facts need not surprise us; as I have said elsewhere, accuracy in these
matters is hardly to be expected of De Quincey. And we can take our
pleasure in the skillful unfolding of the dramatic narrative of the
Tartar Flight--we can feel the author's joy in the scenic possibilities
of his theme--even if we know that here and there an incident appears
that is quite in its proper place--but is unknown to history.

In his _Confessions_ the same constructive power bears its part in
the author's triumph. A peculiar end was to be reached in that
narrative,--an end in which the writer had a deep personal interest.
What is an opium-eater? Says a character in a recent work of fiction,
of a social wreck: "If it isn't whisky with him, it's opium; if it
isn't opium, it's whisky." This speech establishes the popular category
in which De Quincey's habit had placed him. Our attention was to be
drawn from these degrading connections. And this is done not merely by
the correction of some widespread fallacies as to the effects of the
drug; far more it is the result of narrative skill. As we follow with
ever-increasing sympathy the lonely and sensitive child, the wandering
youth, the neuralgic patient, into the terrible grasp of opium, who
realizes, amid the gorgeous delights and the awful horrors of the tale,
that the writer is after all the victim of the worst of bad habits? We
can hardly praise too highly the art which even as we look beneath it
throws its glamour over us still.

Nor is it only in this constructive power, in the selection and
arrangement of details, that De Quincey excels as a narrator; a score
of minor excellences of his style, such as the fine Latin words or the
sweeping periodic sentences, contribute to the effective progress of
his narrative prose. Mr. Lowell has said that "there are no such vistas
and avenues of verse as Milton's." The comparison is somewhat
hazardous, still I should like to venture the parallel claim that there
are no such streams of prose as De Quincey's. The movement of his
discourse is that of the broad river, not in its weight or force
perhaps, but in its easy flowing progress, in its serene, unhurried
certainty of its end. To be sure, only too often the waters overflow
their banks and run far afield in alien channels. Yet, when great power
over the instrument of language is joined to so much constructive
skill, the result is narrative art of high quality,--an achievement
that must be in no small measure the solid basis of De Quincey's fame.



1. _The Collected Writings of Thomas de Quincey_. New and enlarged
edition by David Masson. Edinburgh: A. and C. Black, 1889-1890. [New
York: The Macmillan Co. 14 vols., with footnotes, a preface to each
volume, and index. Reissued in cheaper form. The standard edition.]

2. _The Works of Thomas de Quincey_. Riverside Edition. Boston:
Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1877. [12 vols., with notes and index.]

3. _Selections from De Quincey._ Edited with an Introduction and
Notes, by M. H. Turk. Athenaeum Press Series. Boston, U.S.A., and
London: Ginn and Company, 1902. ["The largest body of selections from
De Quincey recently published.... The selections are _The affliction
of Childhood, Introduction to the World of Strife, A Meeting with Lamb,
A Meeting with Coleridge, Recollections of Wordsworth, Confessions, A
Portion of Suspiria, The English Mail-Coach, Murder as one of the Fine
Arts, Second Paper, Joan of Arc,_ and _On the Knocking at the Gate
in 'Macbeth.'_"]


4. D. MASSON. _Thomas De Quincey._ English Men of Letters. London.
[New York: Harper. An excellent brief biography. This book, with a
good volume of selections, should go far toward supplying the ordinary
student's needs.]

5. H. S. SALT. DE QUINCEY. Bell's Miniature Series of Great Writers.
London: George Bell and Sons. [A good short life.] 6. A. H. JAPP.
_Thomas De Quincey: His Life and Writings._ London, 1890. [New
York: Scribner. First edition by "H. A. Page," 1877. The standard life
of De Quincey; it contains valuable communications from De Quincey's
daughters, J. Hogg, Rev. F. Jacox, Professor Masson, and others.]

7. A. H. JAPP. _De Quincey Memorials. Being Letters and Other
Records, here first published. With Communications from Coleridge, the
Wordsworths, Hannah More, Professor Wilson, and others._ 2 vols.
London: W. Heinemann, 1891.

8. J. HOGG. _De Quincey and his Friends, Personal Recollections,
Souvenirs, and Anecdotes_ [including Woodhouse's _Conversations_,
Findlay's _Personal Recollections_, Hodgson's _On the Genius of
De Quincey_, and a mass of personal notes from a host of friends].
London: Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1895.

9. E. T. MASON. _Personal Traits of British Authors_. New York,
1885. [4 vols. The volume subtitled _Scott, Hogg,_ etc., contains
some accounts of De Quincey not included by Japp or Hogg.]

10. L. STEPHEN. _Hours in a Library_. Vol. I. New York, 1892.

11. W. MINTO. _Manual of English Prose Literature_. Boston, 1889.
[Contains the best general discussion of De Quincey's style.]

12. L. COOPER. _The Prose Poetry of Thomas De Quincey_. Leipzig,



Some twenty or more years before I matriculated at Oxford, Mr. Palmer,
at that time M.P. for Bath, had accomplished two things, very hard to
do on our little planet, the Earth, however cheap they may be held by
eccentric people in comets: he had invented mail-coaches, and he had
married the daughter of a duke. He was, therefore, just twice as great
a man as Galileo, who did certainly invent (or, which is the same
thing, [Footnote: "_The same thing_":--Thus, in the calendar of the
Church Festivals, the discovery of the true cross (by Helen, the mother
of Constantine) is recorded (and, one might think, with the express
consciousness of sarcasm) as the _Invention_ of the Cross.]
discover) the satellites of Jupiter, those very next things extant to
mail-coaches in the two capital pretensions of speed and keeping time,
but, on the other hand, who did _not_ marry the daughter of a duke.

These mail-coaches, as organised by Mr. Palmer, are entitled to a
circumstantial notice from myself, having had so large a share in
developing the anarchies of my subsequent dreams: an agency which they
accomplished, 1st, through velocity at that time unprecedented--for
they first revealed the glory of motion; 2dly, through grand effects
for the eye between lamplight and the darkness upon solitary roads;
3dly, through animal beauty and power so often displayed in the class
of horses selected for this mail service; 4thly, through the conscious
presence of a central intellect, that, in the midst of vast distances
[Footnote: "Vast distances":--One case was familiar to mail-coach
travellers where two mails in opposite directions, north and south,
starting at the same minute from points six hundred miles apart, met
almost constantly at a particular bridge which bisected the total
distance.]--of storms, of darkness, of danger--overruled all obstacles
into one steady co-operation to a national result. For my own feeling,
this post-office service spoke as by some mighty orchestra, where a
thousand instruments, all disregarding each other, and so far in danger
of discord, yet all obedient as slaves to the supreme _baton_ of
some great leader, terminate in a perfection of harmony like that of
heart, brain, and lungs in a healthy animal organisation. But, finally,
that particular element in this whole combination which most impressed
myself, and through which it is that to this hour Mr. Palmer's mail-
coach system tyrannises over my dreams by terror and terrific beauty,
lay in the awful _political_ mission which at that time it fulfilled.
The mail-coach it was that distributed over the face of the land, like
the opening of apocalyptic vials, the heart-shaking news of Trafalgar,
of Salamanca, of Vittoria, of Waterloo. These were the harvests that,
in the grandeur of their reaping, redeemed the tears and blood in which
they had been sown. Neither was the meanest peasant so much below the
grandeur and the sorrow of the times as to confound battles such as
these, which were gradually moulding the destinies of Christendom, with
the vulgar conflicts of ordinary warfare, so often no more than
gladiatorial trials of national prowess. The victories of England in
this stupendous contest rose of themselves as natural _Te Deums_ to
heaven; and it was felt by the thoughtful that such victories, at such
a crisis of general prostration, were not more beneficial to ourselves
than finally to France, our enemy, and to the nations of all western or
central Europe, through whose pusillanimity it was that the French
domination had prospered.

The mail-coach, as the national organ for publishing these mighty
events, thus diffusively influential, became itself a spiritualised and
glorified object to an impassioned heart; and naturally, in the Oxford
of that day, _all_ hearts were impassioned, as being all (or nearly
all) in _early_ manhood. In most universities there is one single
college; in Oxford there were five-and-twenty, all of which were
peopled by young men, the _élite_ of their own generation; not
boys, but men: none under eighteen. In some of these many colleges the
custom permitted the student to keep what are called "short terms";
that is, the four terms of Michaelmas, Lent, Easter, and Act, were kept
by a residence, in the aggregate, of ninety-one days, or thirteen
weeks. Under this interrupted residence, it was possible that a student
might have a reason for going down to his home four times in the year.
This made eight journeys to and fro. But, as these homes lay dispersed
through all the shires of the island, and most of us disdained all
coaches except his Majesty's mail, no city out of London could pretend
to so extensive a connexion with Mr. Palmer's establishment as Oxford.
Three mails, at the least, I remember as passing every day through
Oxford, and benefiting by my personal patronage--viz., the Worcester,
the Gloucester, and the Holyhead mail. Naturally, therefore, it became
a point of some interest with us, whose journeys revolved every six
weeks on an average, to look a little into the executive details of the
system. With some of these Mr. Palmer had no concern; they rested upon
bye-laws enacted by posting-houses for their own benefit, and upon
other bye-laws, equally stern, enacted by the inside passengers for the
illustration of their own haughty exclusiveness. These last were of a
nature to rouse our scorn; from which the transition was not very long
to systematic mutiny. Up to this time, say 1804, or 1805 (the year of
Trafalgar), it had been the fixed assumption of the four inside people
(as an old tradition of all public carriages derived from the reign of
Charles II) that they, the illustrious quaternion, constituted a
porcelain variety of the human race, whose dignity would have been
compromised by exchanging one word of civility with the three miserable
delf-ware outsides. Even to have kicked an outsider might have been
held to attaint the foot concerned in that operation, so that, perhaps,
it would have required an act of Parliament to restore its purity of
blood. What words, then, could express the horror, and the sense of
treason, in that case, which _had_ happened, where all three
outsides (the trinity of Pariahs) made a vain attempt to sit down at
the same breakfast-table or dinner-table with the consecrated four? I
myself witnessed such an attempt; and on that occasion a benevolent old
gentleman endeavoured to soothe his three holy associates, by
suggesting that, if the outsides were indicted for this criminal
attempt at the next assizes, the court would regard it as a case of
lunacy or _delirium tremens_ rather than of treason. England owes
much of her grandeur to the depth of the aristocratic element in her
social composition, when pulling against her strong democracy. I am not
the man to laugh at it. But sometimes, undoubtedly, it expressed itself
in comic shapes. The course taken with the infatuated outsiders, in the
particular attempt which I have noticed, was that the waiter, beckoning
them away from the privileged _salle-à-manger_, sang out, "This
way, my good men," and then enticed these good men away to the kitchen.
But that plan had not always answered. Sometimes, though rarely, cases
occurred where the intruders, being stronger than usual, or more
vicious than usual, resolutely refused to budge, and so far carried
their point as to have a separate table arranged for themselves in a
corner of the general room. Yet, if an Indian screen could be found
ample enough to plant them out from the very eyes of the high table, or
_dais_, it then became possible to assume as a fiction of law that
the three delf fellows, after all, were not present. They could be
ignored by the porcelain men, under the maxim that objects not
appearing and objects not existing are governed by the same logical
construction. [Footnote: _De non apparentibus_, etc.]

Such being, at that time, the usage of mail-coaches, what was to be
done by us of young Oxford? We, the most aristocratic of people, who
were addicted to the practice of looking down superciliously even upon
the insides themselves as often very questionable characters--were we,
by voluntarily going outside, to court indignities? If our dress and
bearing sheltered us generally from the suspicion of being "raff" (the
name at that period for "snobs" [Footnote: "_Snobs_," and its
antithesis, "_nobs_," arose among the internal factions of shoemakers
perhaps ten years later. Possibly enough, the terms may have existed
much earlier; but they were then first made known, picturesquely and
effectively, by a trial at some assizes which happened to fix the
public attention.]), we really _were_ such constructively by the place
we assumed. If we did not submit to the deep shadow of eclipse, we
entered at least the skirts of its penumbra. And the analogy of
theatres was valid against us,--where no man can complain of the
annoyances incident to the pit or gallery, having his instant remedy in
paying the higher price of the boxes. But the soundness of this analogy
we disputed. In the case of the theatre, it cannot be pretended that
the inferior situations have any separate attractions, unless the pit
may be supposed to have an advantage for the purposes of the critic or
the dramatic reporter. But the critic or reporter is a rarity. For most
people, the sole benefit is in the price. Now, on the contrary, the
outside of the mail had its own incommunicable advantages. These we
could not forego. The higher price we would willingly have paid, but
not the price connected with the condition of riding inside; which
condition we pronounced insufferable. The air, the freedom of prospect,
the proximity to the horses, the elevation of seat: these were what we
required; but, above all, the certain anticipation of purchasing
occasional opportunities of driving.

Such was the difficulty which pressed us; and under the coercion of
this difficulty we instituted a searching inquiry into the true quality
and valuation of the different apartments about the mail. We conducted
this inquiry on metaphysical principles; and it was ascertained
satisfactorily that the roof of the coach, which by some weak men had
been called the attics, and by some the garrets, was in reality the
drawing-room; in which drawing-room the box was the chief ottoman or
sofa; whilst it appeared that the _inside_ which had been
traditionally regarded as the only room tenantable by gentlemen, was,
in fact, the coal-cellar in disguise.

Great wits jump. The very same idea had not long before struck the
celestial intellect of China. Amongst the presents carried out by our
first embassy to that country was a state-coach. It had been specially
selected as a personal gift by George III; but the exact mode of using
it was an intense mystery to Pekin. The ambassador, indeed (Lord
Macartney), had made some imperfect explanations upon this point; but,
as His Excellency communicated these in a diplomatic whisper at the
very moment of his departure, the celestial intellect was very feebly
illuminated, and it became necessary to call a cabinet council on the
grand state question, "Where was the Emperor to sit?" The hammer-cloth
happened to be unusually gorgeous; and, partly on that consideration,
but partly also because the box offered the most elevated seat, was
nearest to the moon, and undeniably went foremost, it was resolved by
acclamation that the box was the imperial throne, and, for the
scoundrel who drove,--he might sit where he could find a perch. The
horses, therefore, being harnessed, solemnly his imperial majesty
ascended his new English throne under a flourish of trumpets, having
the first lord of the treasury on his right hand, and the chief jester
on his left. Pekin gloried in the spectacle; and in the whole flowery
people, constructively present by representation, there was but one
discontented person, and _that_ was the coachman. This mutinous
individual audaciously shouted, "Where am _I_ to sit?" But the
privy council, incensed by his disloyalty, unanimously opened the door,
and kicked him into the inside. He had all the inside places to
himself; but such is the rapacity of ambition that he was still
dissatisfied. "I say," he cried out in an extempore petition addressed
to the Emperor through the window--"I say, how am I to catch hold of
the reins?"--"Anyhow," was the imperial answer; "don't trouble
_me_, man, in my glory. How catch the reins? Why, through the
windows, through the keyholes--_anyhow_." Finally this contumacious
coachman lengthened the check-strings into a sort of jury-reins
communicating with the horses; with these he drove as steadily as Pekin
had any right to expect. The Emperor returned after the briefest of
circuits; he descended in great pomp from his throne, with the severest
resolution never to remount it. A public thanksgiving was ordered for
his majesty's happy escape from the disease of a broken neck; and the
state-coach was dedicated thenceforward as a votive offering to the god
Fo Fo--whom the learned more accurately called Fi Fi.

A revolution of this same Chinese character did young Oxford of that
era effect in the constitution of mail-coach society. It was a perfect
French Revolution; and we had good reason to say, _ça ira_. In
fact, it soon became _too_ popular. The "public"--a well-known
character, particularly disagreeable, though slightly respectable, and
notorious for affecting the chief seats in synagogues--had at first
loudly opposed this revolution; but, when the opposition showed itself
to be ineffectual, our disagreeable friend went into it with headlong
zeal. At first it was a sort of race between us; and, as the public is
usually from thirty to fifty years old, naturally we of young Oxford,
that averaged about twenty, had the advantage. Then the public took to
bribing, giving fees to horse-keepers, &c., who hired out their persons
as warming-pans on the box seat. _That_, you know, was shocking to
all moral sensibilities. Come to bribery, said we, and there is an end
to all morality,--Aristotle's, Zeno's, Cicero's, or anybody's. And,
besides, of what use was it? For _we_ bribed also. And, as our
bribes, to those of the public, were as five shillings to sixpence,
here again young Oxford had the advantage. But the contest was ruinous
to the principles of the stables connected with the mails. This whole
corporation was constantly bribed, rebribed, and often surrebribed; a
mail-coach yard was like the hustings in a contested election; and a
horse-keeper, ostler, or helper, was held by the philosophical at that
time to be the most corrupt character in the nation.

There was an impression upon the public mind, natural enough from the
continually augmenting velocity of the mail, but quite erroneous, that
an outside seat on this class of carriages was a post of danger. On the
contrary, I maintained that, if a man had become nervous from some
gipsy prediction in his childhood, allocating to a particular moon now
approaching some unknown danger, and he should inquire earnestly,
"Whither can I fly for shelter? Is a prison the safest retreat? or a
lunatic hospital? or the British Museum?" I should have replied, "Oh
no; I'll tell you what to do. Take lodgings for the next forty days on
the box of his Majesty's mail. Nobody can touch you there. If it is by
bills at ninety days after date that you are made unhappy--if noters
and protesters are the sort of wretches whose astrological shadows
darken the house of life--then note you what I vehemently protest:
viz., that, no matter though the sheriff and under-sheriff in every
county should be running after you with his _posse_, touch a hair
of your head he cannot whilst you keep house and have your legal
domicile on the box of the mail. It is felony to stop the mail; even
the sheriff cannot do that. And an _extra_ touch of the whip to the
leaders (no great matter if it grazes the sheriff) at any time
guarantees your safety." In fact, a bedroom in a quiet house seems a
safe enough retreat; yet it is liable to its own notorious nuisances--
to robbers by night, to rats, to fire. But the mail laughs at these
terrors. To robbers, the answer is packed up and ready for delivery in
the barrel of the guard's blunderbuss. Rats again! there _are_ none
about mail-coaches any more than snakes in Von Troil's Iceland;
[Footnote: "_Von Troil's Iceland_":--The allusion is to a well-
known chapter in Von Troil's work, entitled, "Concerning the Snakes of
Iceland." The entire chapter consists of these six words--"_There art
no snakes in Iceland_."] except, indeed, now and then a parliamentary
rat, who always hides his shame in what I have shown to be the "coal-
cellar." And, as to fire, I never knew but one in a mail-coach; which
was in the Exeter mail, and caused by an obstinate sailor bound to
Devonport. Jack, making light of the law and the lawgiver that had set
their faces against his offence, insisted on taking up a forbidden seat
[Footnote: "_Forbidden seat_":--The very sternest code of rules was
enforced upon the mails by the Post-office. Throughout England, only
three outsides were allowed, of whom one was to sit on the box, and the
other two immediately behind the box; none, under any pretext, to come
near the guard; an indispensable caution; since else, under the guise
of a passenger, a robber might by any one of a thousand advantages--
which sometimes are created, but always are favoured, by the animation
of frank social intercourse--have disarmed the guard. Beyond the
Scottish border, the regulation was so far relaxed as to allow of
_four_ outsides, but not relaxed at all as to the mode of placing
them. One, as before, was seated on the box, and the other three on the
front of the roof, with a determinate and ample separation from the
little insulated chair of the guard. This relaxation was conceded by
way of compensating to Scotland her disadvantages in point of
population. England, by the superior density of her population, might
always count upon a large fund of profits in the fractional trips of
chance passengers riding for short distances of two or three stages. In
Scotland this chance counted for much less. And therefore, to make good
the deficiency, Scotland was allowed a compensatory profit upon one
_extra_ passenger.] in the rear of the roof, from which he could
exchange his own yarns with those of the guard. No greater offence was
then known to mail-coaches; it was treason, it was _læsa majestas_,
it was by tendency arson; and the ashes of Jack's pipe, falling amongst
the straw of the hinder boot, containing the mail-bags, raised a flame
which (aided by the wind of our motion) threatened a revolution in the
republic of letters. Yet even this left the sanctity of the box
unviolated. In dignified repose, the coachman and myself sat on,
resting with benign composure upon our knowledge that the fire would
have to burn its way through four inside passengers before it could
reach ourselves. I remarked to the coachman, with a quotation from
Virgil's "Æneid" really too hackneyed--

"Jam proximus ardet

But, recollecting that the Virgilian part of the coachman's education
might have been neglected, I interpreted so far as to say that perhaps
at that moment the flames were catching hold of our worthy brother and
inside passenger, Ucalegon. The coachman made no answer,--which is my
own way when a stranger addresses me either in Syriac or in Coptic; but
by his faint sceptical smile he seemed to insinuate that he knew
better,--for that Ucalegon, as it happened, was not in the way-bill,
and therefore could not have been booked.

No dignity is perfect which does not at some point ally itself with the
mysterious. The connexion of the mail with the state and the executive
government--a connexion obvious, but yet not strictly defined--gave to
the whole mail establishment an official grandeur which did us service
on the roads, and invested us with seasonable terrors. Not the less
impressive were those terrors because their legal limits were
imperfectly ascertained. Look at those turnpike gates: with what
deferential hurry, with what an obedient start, they fly open at our
approach! Look at that long line of carts and carters ahead,
audaciously usurping the very crest of the road. Ah! traitors, they do
not hear us as yet; but, as soon as the dreadful blast of our horn
reaches them with proclamation of our approach, see with what frenzy of
trepidation they fly to their horses' heads, and deprecate our wrath by
the precipitation of their crane-neck quarterings. Treason they feel to
be their crime; each individual carter feels himself under the ban of
confiscation and attainder; his blood is attainted through six
generations; and nothing is wanting but the headsman and his axe, the
block and the sawdust, to close up the vista of his horrors. What!
shall it be within benefit of clergy to delay the king's message on the
high road?--to interrupt the great respirations, ebb and flood,
_systole_ and _diastole_, of the national intercourse?--to endanger the
safety of tidings running day and night between all nations and
languages? Or can it be fancied, amongst the weakest of men, that the
bodies of the criminals will be given up to their widows for Christian
burial? Now, the doubts which were raised as to our powers did more to
wrap them in terror, by wrapping them in uncertainty, than could have
been effected by the sharpest definitions of the law from the Quarter
Sessions. We, on our parts (we, the collective mail, I mean), did our
utmost to exalt the idea of our privileges by the insolence with which
we wielded them. Whether this insolence rested upon law that gave it a
sanction, or upon conscious power that haughtily dispensed with that
sanction, equally it spoke from a potential station; and the agent, in
each particular insolence of the moment, was viewed reverentially, as
one having authority.

Sometimes after breakfast his Majesty's mail would become frisky; and,
in its difficult wheelings amongst the intricacies of early markets, it
would upset an apple-cart, a cart loaded with eggs, &c. Huge was the
affliction and dismay, awful was the smash. I, as far as possible,
endeavoured in such a case to represent the conscience and moral
sensibilities of the mail; and, when wildernesses of eggs were lying
poached under our horses' hoofs, then would I stretch forth my hands in
sorrow, saying (in words too celebrated at that time, from the false
echoes [Footnote: "_False echoes_":--Yes, false! for the words
ascribed to Napoleon, as breathed to the memory of Desaix, never were
uttered at all. They stand in the same category of theatrical fictions
as the cry of the foundering line-of-battle ship _Vengeur_, as the
vaunt of General Cambronne at Waterloo, "La Garde meurt, mais ne se
rend pas," or as the repartees of Talleyrand.] of Marengo), "Ah!
wherefore have we not time to weep over you?"--which was evidently
impossible, since, in fact, we had not time to laugh over them. Tied to
post-office allowance in some cases of fifty minutes for eleven miles,
could the royal mail pretend to undertake the offices of sympathy and
condolence? Could it be expected to provide tears for the accidents of
the road? If even it seemed to trample on humanity, it did so, I felt,
in discharge of its own more peremptory duties.

Upholding the morality of the mail, _a fortiori_ I upheld its
rights; as a matter of duty, I stretched to the uttermost its privilege
of imperial precedency, and astonished weak minds by the feudal powers
which I hinted to be lurking constructively in the charters of this
proud establishment. Once I remember being on the box of the Holyhead
mail, between Shrewsbury and Oswestry, when a tawdry thing from
Birmingham, some "Tallyho" or "Highflyer," all flaunting with green and
gold, came up alongside of us. What a contrast to our royal simplicity
of form and colour in this plebeian wretch! The single ornament on our
dark ground of chocolate colour was the mighty shield of the imperial
arms, but emblazoned in proportions as modest as a signet-ring bears to
a seal of office. Even this was displayed only on a single panel,
whispering, rather than proclaiming, our relations to the mighty state;
whilst the beast from Birmingham, our green-and-gold friend from false,
fleeting, perjured Brummagem, had as much writing and painting on its
sprawling flanks as would have puzzled a decipherer from the tombs of
Luxor. For some time this Birmingham machine ran along by our side--a
piece of familiarity that already of itself seemed to me sufficiently
Jacobinical. But all at once a movement of the horses announced a
desperate intention of leaving us behind. "Do you see _that?_" I
said to the coachman.--"I see," was his short answer. He was wide
awake,--yet he waited longer than seemed prudent; for the horses of our
audacious opponent had a disagreeable air of freshness and power. But
his motive was loyal; his wish was that the Birmingham conceit should
be full-blown before he froze it. When _that_ seemed right, he
unloosed, or, to speak by a stronger word, he _sprang_, his known
resources: he slipped our royal horses like cheetahs, or hunting-
leopards, after the affrighted game. How they could retain such a
reserve of fiery power after the work they had accomplished seemed hard
to explain. But on our side, besides the physical superiority, was a
tower of moral strength, namely the king's name, "which they upon the
adverse faction wanted." Passing them without an effort, as it seemed,
we threw them into the rear with so lengthening an interval between us
as proved in itself the bitterest mockery of their presumption; whilst
our guard blew back a shattering blast of triumph that was really too
painfully full of derision.

I mention this little incident for its connexion with what followed. A
Welsh rustic, sitting behind me, asked if I had not felt my heart burn
within me during the progress of the race? I said, with philosophic
calmness, _No_; because we were not racing with a mail, so that no
glory could be gained. In fact, it was sufficiently mortifying that
such a Birmingham thing should dare to challenge us. The Welshman
replied that he didn't see _that_; for that a cat might look at a
king, and a Brummagem coach might lawfully race the Holyhead mail.
"_Race_ us, if you like," I replied, "though even _that_ has an
air of sedition; but not _beat_ us. This would have been treason;
and for its own sake I am glad that the 'Tallyho' was disappointed." So
dissatisfied did the Welshman seem with this opinion that at last I was
obliged to tell him a very fine story from one of our elder dramatists:
viz., that once, in some far Oriental kingdom, when the sultan of all
the land, with his princes, ladies, and chief omrahs, were flying their
falcons, a hawk suddenly flew at a majestic eagle, and, in defiance of
the eagle's natural advantages, in contempt also of the eagle's
traditional royalty, and before the whole assembled field of astonished
spectators from Agra and Lahore, killed the eagle on the spot.
Amazement seized the sultan at the unequal contest, and burning
admiration for its unparalleled result. He commanded that the hawk
should be brought before him; he caressed the bird with enthusiasm; and
he ordered that, for the commemoration of his matchless courage, a
diadem of gold and rubies should be solemnly placed on the hawk's head,
but then that, immediately after this solemn coronation, the bird
should be led off to execution, as the most valiant indeed of traitors,
but not the less a traitor, as having dared to rise rebelliously
against his liege lord and anointed sovereign, the eagle. "Now," said I
to the Welshman, "to you and me, as men of refined sensibilities, how
painful it would have been that this poor Brummagem brute, the
'Tallyho,' in the impossible case of a victory over us, should have
been crowned with Birmingham tinsel, with paste diamonds and Roman
pearls, and then led off to instant execution." The Welshman doubted if
that could be warranted by law. And, when I hinted at the 6th of Edward
Longshanks, chap. 18, for regulating the precedency of coaches, as
being probably the statute relied on for the capital punishment of such
offences, he replied drily that, if the attempt to pass a mail really
were treasonable, it was a pity that the "Tallyho" appeared to have so
imperfect an acquaintance with law.

The modern modes of travelling cannot compare with the old mail-coach
system in grandeur and power. They boast of more velocity,--not,
however, as a consciousness, but as a fact of our lifeless knowledge,
resting upon _alien_ evidence: as, for instance, because somebody
_says_ that we have gone fifty miles in the hour, though we are far
from feeling it as a personal experience; or upon the evidence of a
result, as that actually we find ourselves in York four hours after
leaving London. Apart from such an assertion, or such a result, I
myself am little aware of the pace. But, seated on the old mail-coach,
we needed no evidence out of ourselves to indicate the velocity. On
this system the word was not _magna loquimur_, as upon railways,
but _vivimus_. Yes, "magna _vivimus_"; we do not make verbal
ostentation of our grandeurs, we realise our grandeurs in act, and in
the very experience of life. The vital experience of the glad animal
sensibilities made doubts impossible on the question of our speed; we
heard our speed, we saw it, we felt it as a thrilling; and this speed
was not the product of blind insensate agencies, that had no sympathy
to give, but was incarnated in the fiery eyeballs of the noblest
amongst brutes, in his dilated nostril, spasmodic muscles, and thunder-
beating hoofs. The sensibility of the horse, uttering itself in the
maniac light of his eye, might be the last vibration of such a
movement; the glory of Salamanca might be the first. But the
intervening links that connected them, that spread the earthquake of
battle into the eyeballs of the horse, were the heart of man and its
electric thrillings--kindling in the rapture of the fiery strife, and
then propagating its own tumults by contagious shouts and gestures to
the heart of his servant the horse. But now, on the new system of
travelling, iron tubes and boilers have disconnected man's heart from
the ministers of his locomotion. Nile nor Trafalgar has power to raise
an extra bubble in a steam-kettle. The galvanic cycle is broken up for
ever; man's imperial nature no longer sends itself forward through the
electric sensibility of the horse; the inter-agencies are gone in the
mode of communication between the horse and his master out of which
grew so many aspects of sublimity under accidents of mists that hid, or
sudden blazes that revealed, of mobs that agitated, or midnight
solitudes that awed. Tidings fitted to convulse all nations must
henceforwards travel by culinary process; and the trumpet that once
announced from afar the laurelled mail, heart-shaking when heard
screaming on the wind and proclaiming itself through the darkness to
every village or solitary house on its route, has now given way for
ever to the pot-wallopings of the boiler. Thus have perished multiform
openings for public expressions of interest, scenical yet natural, in
great national tidings,--for revelations of faces and groups that could
not offer themselves amongst the fluctuating mobs of a railway station.
The gatherings of gazers about a laurelled mail had one centre, and
acknowledged one sole interest. But the crowds attending at a railway
station have as little unity as running water, and own as many centres
as there are separate carriages in the train.

How else, for example, than as a constant watcher for the dawn, and for
the London mail that in summer months entered about daybreak amongst
the lawny thickets of Maryborough forest, couldst thou, sweet Fanny of
the Bath road, have become the glorified inmate of my dreams? Yet
Fanny, as the loveliest young woman for face and person that perhaps in
my whole life I have beheld, merited the station which even now, from a
distance of forty years, she holds in my dreams; yes, though by links
of natural association she brings along with her a troop of dreadful
creatures, fabulous and not fabulous, that are more abominable to the
heart than Fanny and the dawn are delightful.

Miss Fanny of the Bath road, strictly speaking, lived at a mile's
distance from that road, but came so continually to meet the mail that
I on my frequent transits rarely missed her, and naturally connected
her image with the great thoroughfare where only I had ever seen her.
Why she came so punctually I do not exactly know; but I believe with
some burden of commissions, to be executed in Bath, which had gathered
to her own residence as a central rendezvous for converging them. The
mail-coachman who drove the Bath mail and wore the royal livery
[Footnote: "Wore the royal livery":--The general impression was that
the royal livery belonged of right to the mail-coachmen as their
professional dress. But that was an error. To the guard it _did_
belong, I believe, and was obviously essential as an official warrant,
and as a means of instant identification for his person, in the
discharge of his important public duties. But the coachman, and
especially if his place in the series did not connect him immediately
with London and the General Post-Office, obtained the scarlet coat only
as an honorary distinction after long (or, if not long, trying and
special) service.] happened to be Fanny's grandfather. A good man he
was, that loved his beautiful granddaughter, and, loving her wisely,
was vigilant over her deportment in any case where young Oxford might
happen to be concerned. Did my vanity then suggest that I myself,
individually, could fall within the line of his terrors? Certainly not,
as regarded any physical pretensions that I could plead; for Fanny (as
a chance passenger from her own neighbourhood once told me) counted in
her train a hundred and ninety-nine professed admirers, if not open
aspirants to her favour; and probably not one of the whole brigade but
excelled myself in personal advantages. Ulysses even, with the unfair
advantage of his accursed bow, could hardly have undertaken that amount
of suitors. So the danger might have seemed slight--only that woman is
universally aristocratic; it is amongst her nobilities of heart that
she _is_ so. Now, the aristocratic distinctions in my favour might
easily with Miss Fanny have compensated my physical deficiencies. Did I
then make love to Fanny? Why, yes; about as much love as one
_could_ make whilst the mail was changing horses--a process which,
ten years later, did not occupy above eighty seconds; but _then_,--
viz., about Waterloo--it occupied five times eighty. Now, four hundred
seconds offer a field quite ample enough for whispering into a young
woman's ear a great deal of truth, and (by way of parenthesis) some
trifle of falsehood. Grandpapa did right, therefore, to watch me. And
yet, as happens too often to the grandpapas of earth in a contest with
the admirers of granddaughters, how vainly would he have watched me had
I meditated any evil whispers to Fanny! She, it is my belief, would
have protected herself against any man's evil suggestions. But he, as
the result showed, could not have intercepted the opportunities for
such suggestions. Yet, why not? Was he not active? Was he not blooming?
Blooming he was as Fanny herself.

"Say, all our praises why should lords----"

Stop, that's not the line.

"Say, all our roses why should girls engross?"

The coachman showed rosy blossoms on his face deeper even than his
granddaughter's--_his_ being drawn from the ale-cask, Fanny's from
the fountains of the dawn. But, in spite of his blooming face, some
infirmities he had; and one particularly in which he too much resembled
a crocodile. This lay in a monstrous inaptitude for turning round. The
crocodile, I presume, owes that inaptitude to the absurd _length_
of his back; but in our grandpapa it arose rather from the absurd
_breadth_ of his back, combined, possibly, with some growing
stiffness in his legs. Now, upon this crocodile infirmity of his I
planted a human advantage for tendering my homage to Miss Fanny. In
defiance of all his honourable vigilance, no sooner had he presented to
us his mighty Jovian back (what a field for displaying to mankind his
royal scarlet!), whilst inspecting professionally the buckles, the
straps, and the silvery turrets [Footnote: "_Turrets_":--As one who
loves and venerates Chaucer for his unrivalled merits of tenderness, of
picturesque characterisation, and of narrative skill, I noticed with
great pleasure that the word _torrettes_ is used by him to designate
the little devices through which the reins are made to pass. This same
word, in the same exact sense, I heard uniformly used by many scores of
illustrious mail-coachmen to whose confidential friendship I had the
honour of being admitted in my younger days.] of his harness, than I
raised Miss Fanny's hand to my lips, and, by the mixed tenderness and
respectfulness of my manner, caused her easily to understand how happy
it would make me to rank upon her list as No. 10 or 12: in which case a
few casualties amongst her lovers (and, observe, they _hanged_
liberally in those days) might have promoted me speedily to the top of
the tree; as, on the other hand, with how much loyalty of submission I
acquiesced by anticipation in her award, supposing that she should
plant me in the very rearward of her favour, as No. 199 + 1. Most truly
I loved this beautiful and ingenuous girl; and, had it not been for the
Bath mail, timing all courtships by post- office allowance, heaven only
knows what might have come of it. People talk of being over head and
ears in love; now, the mail was the cause that I sank only over ears in
love,--which, you know, still left a trifle of brain to overlook the
whole conduct of the affair.

Ah, reader! when I look back upon those days, it seems to me that all
things change--all things perish. "Perish the roses and the palms of
kings": perish even the crowns and trophies of Waterloo: thunder and
lightning are not the thunder and lightning which I remember. Roses are
degenerating. The Fannies of our island--though this I say with
reluctance--are not visibly improving; and the Bath road is notoriously
superannuated. Crocodiles, you will say, are stationary. Mr. Waterton
tells me that the crocodile does _not change_,--that a cayman, in
fact, or an alligator, is just as good for riding upon as he was in the
time of the Pharaohs. _That_ may be; but the reason is that the
crocodile does not live fast--he is a slow coach. I believe it is
generally understood among naturalists that the crocodile is a
blockhead. It is my own impression that the Pharaohs were also
blockheads. Now, as the Pharaohs and the crocodile domineered over
Egyptian society, this accounts for a singular mistake that prevailed
through innumerable generations on the Nile. The crocodile made the
ridiculous blunder of supposing man to be meant chiefly for his own
eating. Man, taking a different view of the subject, naturally met that
mistake by another: he viewed the crocodile as a thing sometimes to
worship, but always to run away from. And this continued till Mr.
Waterton [Footnote: "_Mr. Waterton_":--Had the reader lived through
the last generation, he would not need to be told that, some thirty or
thirty-five years back, Mr. Waterton, a distinguished country gentleman
of ancient family in Northumberland, publicly mounted and rode in top-
boots a savage old crocodile, that was restive and very impertinent,
but all to no purpose. The crocodile jibbed and tried to kick, but
vainly. He was no more able to throw the squire than Sinbad was to
throw the old scoundrel who used his back without paying for it, until
he discovered a mode (slightly immoral, perhaps, though some think not)
of murdering the old fraudulent jockey, and so circuitously of
unhorsing him.] changed the relations between the animals. The mode of
escaping from the reptile he showed to be not by running away, but by
leaping on its back booted and spurred. The two animals had
misunderstood each other. The use of the crocodile has now been cleared
up--viz., to be ridden; and the final cause of man is that he may
improve the health of the crocodile by riding him a-fox-hunting before
breakfast. And it is pretty certain that any crocodile who has been
regularly hunted through the season, and is master of the weight he
carries, will take a six-barred gate now as well as ever he would have
done in the infancy of the pyramids.

If, therefore, the crocodile does _not_ change, all things else
undeniably _do_: even the shadow of the pyramids grows less. And
often the restoration in vision of Fanny and the Bath road makes me too
pathetically sensible of that truth. Out of the darkness, if I happen
to call back the image of Fanny, up rises suddenly from a gulf of forty
years a rose in June; or, if I think for an instant of the rose in
June, up rises the heavenly face of Fanny. One after the other, like
the antiphonies in the choral service, rise Fanny and the rose in June,
then back again the rose in June and Fanny. Then come both together, as
in a chorus--roses and Fannies, Fannies and roses, without end, thick
as blossoms in paradise. Then comes a venerable crocodile, in a royal
livery of scarlet and gold, with sixteen capes; and the crocodile is
driving four-in-hand from the box of the Bath mail. And suddenly we
upon the mail are pulled up by a mighty dial, sculptured with the
hours, that mingle with the heavens and the heavenly host. Then all at
once we are arrived at Marlborough forest, amongst the lovely
households [Footnote: "_Households_":--Roe-deer do not congregate
in herds like the fallow or the red deer, but by separate families,
parents and children; which feature of approximation to the sanctity of
human hearths, added to their comparatively miniature and graceful
proportions, conciliates to them an interest of peculiar tenderness,
supposing even that this beautiful creature is less characteristically
impressed with the grandeurs of savage and forest life.] of the roe-
deer; the deer and their fawns retire into the dewy thickets; the
thickets are rich with roses; once again the roses call up the sweet
countenance of Fanny; and she, being the granddaughter of a crocodile,
awakens a dreadful host of semi-legendary animals--griffins, dragons,
basilisks, sphinxes--till at length the whole vision of fighting images
crowds into one towering armorial shield, a vast emblazonry of human
charities and human loveliness that have perished, but quartered
heraldically with unutterable and demoniac natures, whilst over all
rises, as a surmounting crest, one fair female hand, with the
forefinger pointing, in sweet, sorrowful admonition, upwards to heaven,
where is sculptured the eternal writing which proclaims the frailty of
earth and her children.


But the grandest chapter of our experience within the whole mail-coach
service was on those occasions when we went down from London with the
news of victory. A period of about ten years stretched from Trafalgar
to Waterloo; the second and third years of which period (1806 and 1807)
were comparatively sterile; but the other nine (from 1805 to 1815
inclusively) furnished a long succession of victories, the least of
which, in such a contest of Titans, had an inappreciable value of
position: partly for its absolute interference with the plans of our
enemy, but still more from its keeping alive through central Europe the
sense of a deep-seated vulnerability in France. Even to tease the
coasts of our enemy, to mortify them by continual blockades, to insult
them by capturing if it were but a baubling schooner under the eyes of
their arrogant armies, repeated from time to time a sullen proclamation
of power lodged in one quarter to which the hopes of Christendom turned
in secret. How much more loudly must this proclamation have spoken in
the audacity [Footnote: "_Audacity_":--Such the French accounted
it; and it has struck me that Soult would not have been so popular in
London, at the period of her present Majesty's coronation, or in
Manchester, on occasion of his visit to that town, if they had been
aware of the insolence with which he spoke of us in notes written at
intervals from the field of Waterloo. As though it had been mere felony
in our army to look a French one in the face, he said in more notes
than one, dated from two to four P.M. on the field of Waterloo, "Here
are the English--we have them; they are caught _en flagrant délit_"
Yet no man should have known us better; no man had drunk deeper from
the cup of humiliation than Soult had in 1809, when ejected by us with
headlong violence from Oporto, and pursued through a long line of
wrecks to the frontier of Spain; and subsequently at Albuera, in the
bloodiest of recorded battles, to say nothing of Toulouse, he should
have learned our pretensions.] of having bearded the _élite_ of
their troops, and having beaten them in pitched battles! Five years of
life it was worth paying down for the privilege of an outside place on
a mail-coach, when carrying down the first tidings of any such event.
And it is to be noted that, from our insular situation, and the
multitude of our frigates disposable for the rapid transmission of
intelligence, rarely did any unauthorised rumour steal away a
prelibation from the first aroma of the regular despatches. The
government news was generally the earliest news.

From eight P.M. to fifteen or twenty minutes later imagine the mails
assembled on parade in Lombard Street; where, at that time, [Footnote:
"_At that time_":--I speak of the era previous to Waterloo.] and
not in St. Martin's-le-Grand, was seated the General Post-Office. In
what exact strength we mustered I do not remember; but, from the length
of each separate _attelage_, we filled the street, though a long
one, and though we were drawn up in double file. On _any_ night the
spectacle was beautiful. The absolute perfection of all the
appointments about the carriages and the harness, their strength, their
brilliant cleanliness, their beautiful simplicity--but, more than all,
the royal magnificence of the horses--were what might first have fixed
the attention. Every carriage on every morning in the year was taken
down to an official inspector for examination: wheels, axles,
linchpins, pole, glasses, lamps, were all critically probed and tested.
Every part of every carriage had been cleaned, every horse had been
groomed, with as much rigour as if they belonged to a private
gentleman; and that part of the spectacle offered itself always. But
the night before us is a night of victory; and, behold! to the ordinary
display what a heart-shaking addition!--horses, men, carriages, all are
dressed in laurels and flowers, oak-leaves and ribbons. The guards, as
being officially his Majesty's servants, and of the coachmen such as
are within the privilege of the post-office, wear the royal liveries of
course; and, as it is summer (for all the _land_ victories were
naturally won in summer), they wear, on this fine evening, these
liveries exposed to view, without any covering of upper coats. Such a
costume, and the elaborate arrangement of the laurels in their hats,
dilate their hearts, by giving to them openly a personal connexion with
the great news in which already they have the general interest of
patriotism. That great national sentiment surmounts and quells all
sense of ordinary distinctions. Those passengers who happen to be
gentlemen are now hardly to be distinguished as such except by dress;
for the usual reserve of their manner in speaking to the attendants has
on this night melted away. One heart, one pride, one glory, connects
every man by the transcendent bond of his national blood. The
spectators, who are numerous beyond precedent, express their sympathy
with these fervent feelings by continual hurrahs. Every moment are
shouted aloud by the post-office servants, and summoned to draw up, the
great ancestral names of cities known to history through a thousand
years--Lincoln, Winchester, Portsmouth, Gloucester, Oxford, Bristol,
Manchester, York, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, Stirling,
Aberdeen--expressing the grandeur of the empire by the antiquity of its
towns, and the grandeur of the mail establishment by the diffusive
radiation of its separate missions. Every moment you hear the thunder
of lids locked down upon the mail-bags. That sound to each individual
mail is the signal for drawing off; which process is the finest part of
the entire spectacle. Then come the horses into play. Horses! can these
be horses that bound off with the action and gestures of leopards? What
stir!--what sea-like ferment!--what a thundering of wheels!--what a
trampling of hoofs!--what a sounding of trumpets!--what farewell
cheers--what redoubling peals of brotherly congratulation, connecting
the name of the particular mail--"Liverpool for ever!"--with the name
of the particular victory--"Badajoz for ever!" or "Salamanca for ever!"
The half-slumbering consciousness that all night long, and all the next
day--perhaps for even a longer period--many of these mails, like fire
racing along a train of gunpowder, will be kindling at every instant
new successions of burning joy, has an obscure effect of multiplying
the victory itself, by multiplying to the imagination into infinity the
stages of its progressive diffusion. A fiery arrow seems to be let
loose, which from that moment is destined to travel, without
intermission, westwards for three hundred [Footnote: "_Three
hundred_":--Of necessity, this scale of measurement, to an American,
if he happens to be a thoughtless man, must sound ludicrous.
Accordingly, I remember a case in which an American writer indulges
himself in the luxury of a little fibbing, by ascribing to an
Englishman a pompous account of the Thames, constructed entirely upon
American ideas of grandeur, and concluding in something like these
terms:--"And, sir, arriving at London, this mighty father of rivers
attains a breadth of at least two furlongs, having, in its winding
course, traversed the astonishing distance of one hundred and seventy
miles." And this the candid American thinks it fair to contrast with
the scale of the Mississippi. Now, it is hardly worth while to answer a
pure fiction gravely; else one might say that no Englishman out of
Bedlam ever thought of looking in an island for the rivers of a
continent, nor, consequently, could have thought of looking for the
peculiar grandeur of the Thames in the length of its course, or in the
extent of soil which it drains. Yet, if he _had_ been so absurd,
the American might have recollected that a river, not to be compared
with the Thames even as to volume of water--viz., the Tiber--has
contrived to make itself heard of in this world for twenty-five
centuries to an extent not reached as yet by any river, however
corpulent, of his own land. The glory of the Thames is measured by the
destiny of the population to which it ministers, by the commerce which
it supports, by the grandeur of the empire in which, though far from
the largest, it is the most influential stream. Upon some such scale,
and not by a transfer of Columbian standards, is the course of our
English mails to be valued. The American may fancy the effect of his
own valuations to our English ears by supposing the case of a Siberian
glorifying his country in these terms:--"These wretches, sir, in France
and England, cannot march half a mile in any direction without finding
a house where food can be had and lodging; whereas such is the noble
desolation of our magnificent country that in many a direction for a
thousand miles I will engage that a dog shall not find shelter from a
snow-storm, nor a wren find an apology for breakfast."] miles--
northwards for six hundred; and the sympathy of our Lombard Street
friends at parting is exalted a hundredfold by a sort of visionary
sympathy with the yet slumbering sympathies which in so vast a
succession we are going to awake.

Liberated from the embarrassments of the city, and issuing into the
broad uncrowded avenues of the northern suburbs, we soon begin to enter
upon our natural pace of ten miles an hour. In the broad light of the
summer evening, the sun, perhaps, only just at the point of setting, we
are seen from every storey of every house. Heads of every age crowd to
the windows; young and old understand the language of our victorious
symbols; and rolling volleys of sympathising cheers run along us,
behind us, and before us. The beggar, rearing himself against the wall,
forgets his lameness--real or assumed--thinks not of his whining trade,
but stands erect, with bold exulting smiles, as we pass him. The
victory has healed him, and says, Be thou whole! Women and children,
from garrets alike and cellars, through infinite London, look down or
look up with loving eyes upon our gay ribbons and our martial laurels;
sometimes kiss their hands; sometimes hang out, as signals of
affection, pocket-handkerchiefs, aprons, dusters, anything that, by
catching the summer breezes, will express an aerial jubilation. On the
London side of Barnet, to which we draw near within a few minutes after
nine, observe that private carriage which is approaching us. The
weather being so warm, the glasses are all down; and one may read, as
on the stage of a theatre, everything that goes on within. It contains
three ladies--one likely to be "mamma," and two of seventeen or
eighteen, who are probably her daughters. What lovely animation, what
beautiful unpremeditated pantomime, explaining to us every syllable
that passes, in these ingenuous girls! By the sudden start and raising
of the hands on first discovering our laurelled equipage, by the sudden
movement and appeal to the elder lady from both of them, and by the
heightened colour on their animated countenances, we can almost hear
them saying, "See, see! Look at their laurels! Oh, mamma! there has
been a great battle in Spain; and it has been a great victory." In a
moment we are on the point of passing them. We passengers--I on the
box, and the two on the roof behind me--raise our hats to the ladies;
the coachman makes his professional salute with the whip; the guard
even, though punctilious on the matter of his dignity as an officer
under the crown, touches his hat. The ladies move to us, in return,
with a winning graciousness of gesture; all smile on each side in a way
that nobody could misunderstand, and that nothing short of a grand
national sympathy could so instantaneously prompt. Will these ladies
say that we are nothing to _them_? Oh no; they will not say
_that_. They cannot deny--they do not deny--that for this night
they are our sisters; gentle or simple, scholar or illiterate servant,
for twelve hours to come, we on the outside have the honour to be their
brothers. Those poor women, again, who stop to gaze upon us with
delight at the entrance of Barnet, and seem, by their air of weariness,
to be returning from labour--do you mean to say that they are
washerwomen and charwomen? Oh, my poor friend, you are quite mistaken.
I assure you they stand in a far higher rank; for this one night they
feel themselves by birthright to be daughters of England, and answer to
no humbler title.

Every joy, however, even rapturous joy--such is the sad law of earth--
may carry with it grief, or fear of grief, to some. Three miles beyond
Barnet, we see approaching us another private carriage, nearly
repeating the circumstances of the former case. Here, also, the glasses
are all down; here, also, is an elderly lady seated; but the two
daughters are missing; for the single young person sitting by the
lady's side seems to be an attendant--so I judge from her dress, and
her air of respectful reserve. The lady is in mourning; and her
countenance expresses sorrow. At first she does not look up; so that I
believe she is not aware of our approach, until she hears the measured
beating of our horses' hoofs. Then she raises her eyes to settle them
painfully on our triumphal equipage. Our decorations explain the case
to her at once; but she beholds them with apparent anxiety, or even
with terror. Some time before this, I, finding it difficult to hit a
flying mark when embarrassed by the coachman's person and reins
intervening, had given to the guard a "Courier" evening paper,
containing the gazette, for the next carriage that might pass.
Accordingly he tossed it in, so folded that the huge capitals
expressing some such legend as GLORIOUS VICTORY might catch the eye at
once. To see the paper, however, at all, interpreted as it was by our
ensigns of triumph, explained everything; and, if the guard were right
in thinking the lady to have received it with a gesture of horror, it
could not be doubtful that she had suffered some deep personal
affliction in connexion with this Spanish war.

Here, now, was the case of one who, having formerly suffered, might,
erroneously perhaps, be distressing herself with anticipations of
another similar suffering. That same night, and hardly three hours
later, occurred the reverse case. A poor woman, who too probably would
find herself, in a day or two, to have suffered the heaviest of
afflictions by the battle, blindly allowed herself to express an
exultation so unmeasured in the news and its details as gave to her the
appearance which amongst Celtic Highlanders is called _fey_. This
was at some little town where we changed horses an hour or two after
midnight. Some fair or wake had kept the people up out of their beds,
and had occasioned a partial illumination of the stalls and booths,
presenting an unusual but very impressive effect. We saw many lights
moving about as we drew near; and perhaps the most striking scene on
the whole route was our reception at this place. The flashing of
torches and the beautiful radiance of blue lights (technically, Bengal
lights) upon the heads of our horses; the fine effect of such a showery
and ghostly illumination falling upon our flowers and glittering
laurels [Footnote: "_Glittering laurels_":--I must observe that the
colour of _green_ suffers almost a spiritual change and exaltation
under the effect of Bengal lights.]; whilst all around ourselves, that
formed a centre of light, the darkness gathered on the rear and flanks
in massy blackness: these optical splendours, together with the
prodigious enthusiasm of the people, composed a picture at once
scenical and affecting, theatrical and holy. As we staid for three or
four minutes, I alighted; and immediately from a dismantled stall in
the street, where no doubt she had been presiding through the earlier
part of the night, advanced eagerly a middle-aged woman. The sight of
my newspaper it was that had drawn her attention upon myself. The
victory which we were carrying down to the provinces on _this_
occasion was the imperfect one of Talavera--imperfect for its results,
such was the virtual treachery of the Spanish general, Cuesta, but not
imperfect in its ever-memorable heroism. I told her the main outline of
the battle. The agitation of her enthusiasm had been so conspicuous
when listening, and when first applying for information, that I could
not but ask her if she had not some relative in the Peninsular army. Oh
yes; her only son was there. In what regiment? He was a trooper in the
23d Dragoons. My heart sank within me as she made that answer. This
sublime regiment, which an Englishman should never mention without
raising his hat to their memory, had made the most memorable and
effective charge recorded in military annals. They leaped their horses
--_over_ a trench where they could; _into_ it, and with the result of
death or mutilation, when they could _not_. What proportion cleared the
trench is nowhere stated. Those who _did_ closed up and went down upon
the enemy with such divinity of fervour (I use the word _divinity_ by
design: the inspiration of God must have prompted this movement for
those whom even then He was calling to His presence) that two results
followed. As regarded the enemy, this 23d Dragoons, not, I believe,
originally three hundred and fifty strong, paralysed a French column
six thousand strong, then ascended the hill, and fixed the gaze of the
whole French army. As regarded themselves, the 23d were supposed at
first to have been barely not annihilated; but eventually, I believe,
about one in four survived. And this, then, was the regiment--a
regiment already for some hours glorified and hallowed to the ear of
all London, as lying stretched, by a large majority, upon one bloody
aceldama--in which the young trooper served whose mother was now
talking in a spirit of such joyous enthusiasm. Did I tell her the
truth? Had I the heart to break up her dreams? No. To-morrow, said I to
myself--to-morrow, or the next day, will publish the worst. For one
night more wherefore should she not sleep in peace? After to-morrow the
chances are too many that peace will forsake her pillow. This brief
respite, then, let her owe to _my_ gift and _my_ forbearance. But, if I
told her not of the bloody price that had been paid, not therefore was
I silent on the contributions from her son's regiment to that day's
service and glory. I showed her not the funeral banners under which the
noble regiment was sleeping. I lifted not the overshadowing laurels
from the bloody trench in which horse and rider lay mangled together.
But I told her how these dear children of England, officers and
privates, had leaped their horses over all obstacles as gaily as
hunters to the morning's chase. I told her how they rode their horses
into the midst of death,--saying to myself, but not saying to _her_
"and laid down their young lives for thee, O mother England! as
willingly--poured out their noble blood as cheerfully--as ever, after a
long day's sport, when infants, they had rested their weary heads upon
their mother's knees, or had sunk to sleep in her arms." Strange it is,
yet true, that she seemed to have no fears for her son's safety, even
after this knowledge that the 23d Dragoons had been memorably engaged;
but so much was she enraptured by the knowledge that _his_ regiment,
and therefore that _he_, had rendered conspicuous service in the
dreadful conflict--a service which had actually made them, within the
last twelve hours, the foremost topic of conversation in London--so
absolutely was fear swallowed up in joy--that, in the mere simplicity
of her fervent nature, the poor woman threw her arms round my neck, as
she thought of her son, and gave to _me_ the kiss which secretly was
meant for _him_.


What is to be taken as the predominant opinion of man, reflective and
philosophic, upon SUDDEN DEATH? It is remarkable that, in different
conditions of society, sudden death has been variously regarded as the
consummation of an earthly career most fervently to be desired, or,
again, as that consummation which is with most horror to be deprecated.
Cæsar the Dictator, at his last dinner-party (_coena_), on the very
evening before his assassination, when the minutes of his earthly
career were numbered, being asked what death, in _his_ judgment,
might be pronounced the most eligible, replied "That which should be
most sudden." On the other hand, the divine Litany of our English
Church, when breathing forth supplications, as if in some
representative character, for the whole human race prostrate before
God, places such a death in the very van of horrors: "From lightning
and tempest; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and
murder, and from SUDDEN DEATH--_Good Lord, deliver us_." Sudden
death is here made to crown the climax in a grand ascent of calamities;
it is ranked among the last of curses; and yet by the noblest of Romans
it was ranked as the first of blessings. In that difference most
readers will see little more than the essential difference between
Christianity and Paganism. But this, on consideration, I doubt. The
Christian Church may be right in its estimate of sudden death; and it
is a natural feeling, though after all it may also be an infirm one, to
wish for a quiet dismissal from life, as that which _seems_ most
reconcilable with meditation, with penitential retrospects, and with
the humilities of farewell prayer. There does not, however, occur to me
any direct scriptural warrant for this earnest petition of the English
Litany, unless under a special construction of the word "sudden." It
seems a petition indulged rather and conceded to human infirmity than
exacted from human piety. It is not so much a doctrine built upon the
eternities of the Christian system as a plausible opinion built upon
special varieties of physical temperament. Let that, however, be as it
may, two remarks suggest themselves as prudent restraints upon a
doctrine which else _may_ wander, and _has_ wandered, into an
uncharitable superstition. The first is this: that many people are
likely to exaggerate the horror of a sudden death from the disposition
to lay a false stress upon words or acts simply because by an accident
they have become _final_ words or acts. If a man dies, for
instance, by some sudden death when he happens to be intoxicated, such
a death is falsely regarded with peculiar horror; as though the
intoxication were suddenly exalted into a blasphemy. But _that_ is
unphilosophic. The man was, or he was not, _habitually_ a drunkard.
If not, if his intoxication were a solitary accident, there can be no
reason for allowing special emphasis to this act simply because through
misfortune it became his final act. Nor, on the other hand, if it were
no accident, but one of his _habitual_ transgressions, will it be
the more habitual or the more a transgression because some sudden
calamity, surprising him, has caused this habitual transgression to be
also a final one. Could the man have had any reason even dimly to
foresee his own sudden death, there would have been a new feature in
his act of intemperance--a feature of presumption and irreverence, as
in one that, having known himself drawing near to the presence of God,
should have suited his demeanour to an expectation so awful. But this
is no part of the case supposed. And the only new element in the man's
act is not any element of special immorality, but simply of special

The other remark has reference to the meaning of the word _sudden_.
Very possibly Cæsar and the Christian Church do not differ in the way
supposed,--that is, do not differ by any difference of doctrine as
between Pagan and Christian views of the moral temper appropriate to
death; but perhaps they are contemplating different cases. Both
contemplate a violent death, a _Biathanatos_--death that is
_biaios_, or, in other words, death that is brought about, not by
internal and spontaneous change, but by active force having its origin
from without. In this meaning the two authorities agree. Thus far they
are in harmony. But the difference is that the Roman by the word
"sudden" means _unlingering_, whereas the Christian Litany by
"sudden death" means a death _without warning_, consequently
without any available summons to religious preparation. The poor
mutineer who kneels down to gather into his heart the bullets from
twelve firelocks of his pitying comrades dies by a most sudden death in
Cæsar's sense; one shock, one mighty spasm, one (possibly _not_
one) groan, and all is over. But, in the sense of the Litany, the
mutineer's death is far from sudden: his offence originally, his
imprisonment, his trial, the interval between his sentence and its
execution, having all furnished him with separate warnings of his fate
--having all summoned him to meet it with solemn preparation.

Here at once, in this sharp verbal distinction, we comprehend the
faithful earnestness with which a holy Christian Church pleads on
behalf of her poor departing children that God would vouchsafe to them
the last great privilege and distinction possible on a death-bed, viz.,
the opportunity of untroubled preparation for facing this mighty trial.
Sudden death, as a mere variety in the modes of dying where death in
some shape is inevitable, proposes a question of choice which, equally
in the Roman and the Christian sense, will be variously answered
according to each man's variety of temperament. Meantime, one aspect of
sudden death there is, one modification, upon which no doubt can arise,
that of all martyrdoms it is the most agitating--viz., where it
surprises a man under circumstances which offer (or which seem to
offer) some hurrying, flying, inappreciably minute chance of evading
it. Sudden as the danger which it affronts must be any effort by which
such an evasion can be accomplished. Even _that_, even the sickening
necessity for hurrying in extremity where all hurry seems destined to
be vain,--even that anguish is liable to a hideous exasperation in one
particular case: viz., where the appeal is made not exclusively to the
instinct of self-preservation, but to the conscience, on behalf of some
other life besides your own, accidentally thrown upon _your_
protection. To fail, to collapse in a service merely your own, might
seem comparatively venial; though, in fact, it is far from venial. But
to fail in a case where Providence has suddenly thrown into your hands
the final interests of another,--a fellow creature shuddering between
the gates of life and death: this, to a man of apprehensive conscience,
would mingle the misery of an atrocious criminality with the misery of
a bloody calamity. You are called upon, by the case supposed, possibly
to die, but to die at the very moment when, by any even partial failure
or effeminate collapse of your energies, you will be self-denounced as
a murderer. You had but the twinkling of an eye for your effort, and
that effort might have been unavailing; but to have risen to the level
of such an effort would have rescued you, though not from dying, yet
from dying as a traitor to your final and farewell duty.

The situation here contemplated exposes a dreadful ulcer, lurking far
down in the depths of human nature. It is not that men generally are
summoned to face such awful trials. But potentially, and in shadowy
outline, such a trial is moving subterraneously in perhaps all men's
natures. Upon the secret mirror of our dreams such a trial is darkly
projected, perhaps, to every one of us. That dream, so familiar to
childhood, of meeting a lion, and, through languishing prostration in
hope and the energies of hope, that constant sequel of lying down
before the lion publishes the secret frailty of human nature--reveals
its deep-seated falsehood to itself--records its abysmal treachery.
Perhaps not one of us escapes that dream; perhaps, as by some sorrowful
doom of man, that dream repeats for every one of us, through every
generation, the original temptation in Eden. Every one of us, in this
dream, has a bait offered to the infirm places of his own individual
will; once again a snare is presented for tempting him into captivity
to a luxury of ruin; once again, as in aboriginal Paradise, the man
falls by his own choice; again, by infinite iteration, the ancient
earth groans to Heaven, through her secret caves, over the weakness of
her child. "Nature, from her seat, sighing through all her works,"
again "gives signs of woe that all is lost"; and again the counter-sigh
is repeated to the sorrowing heavens for the endless rebellion against
God. It is not without probability that in the world of dreams every
one of us ratifies for himself the original transgression. In dreams,
perhaps under some secret conflict of the midnight sleeper, lighted up
to the consciousness at the time, but darkened to the memory as soon as
all is finished, each several child of our mysterious race completes
for himself the treason of the aboriginal fall.

The incident, so memorable in itself by its features of horror, and so
scenical by its grouping for the eye, which furnished the text for this
reverie upon _Sudden Death_ occurred to myself in the dead of
night, as a solitary spectator, when seated on the box of the
Manchester and Glasgow mail, in the second or third summer after
Waterloo. I find it necessary to relate the circumstances, because they
are such as could not have occurred unless under a singular combination
of accidents. In those days, the oblique and lateral communications
with many rural post-offices were so arranged, either through necessity
or through defect of system, as to make it requisite for the main
north-western mail (_i.e._, the _down_ mail) on reaching Manchester to
halt for a number of hours; how many, I do not remember; six or seven,
I think; but the result was that, in the ordinary course, the mail
recommenced its journey northwards about midnight. Wearied with the
long detention at a gloomy hotel, I walked out about eleven o'clock at
night for the sake of fresh air; meaning to fall in with the mail and
resume my seat at the post-office. The night, however, being yet dark,
as the moon had scarcely risen, and the streets being at that hour
empty, so as to offer no opportunities for asking the road, I lost my
way, and did not reach the post-office until it was considerably past
midnight; but, to my great relief (as it was important for me to be in
Westmoreland by the morning), I saw in the huge saucer eyes of the
mail, blazing through the gloom, an evidence that my chance was not yet
lost. Past the time it was; but, by some rare accident, the mail was
not even yet ready to start. I ascended to my seat on the box, where my
cloak was still lying as it had lain at the Bridgewater Arms. I had
left it there in imitation of a nautical discoverer, who leaves a bit
of bunting on the shore of his discovery, by way of warning off the
ground the whole human race, and notifying to the Christian and the
heathen worlds, with his best compliments, that he has hoisted his
pocket-handkerchief once and for ever upon that virgin soil:
thenceforward claiming the _jus dominii_ to the top of the atmosphere
above it, and also the right of driving shafts to the centre of the
earth below it; so that all people found after this warning either
aloft in upper chambers of the atmosphere, or groping in subterraneous
shafts, or squatting audaciously on the surface of the soil, will be
treated as trespassers--kicked, that is to say, or decapitated, as
circumstances may suggest, by their very faithful servant, the owner of
the said pocket-handkerchief. In the present case, it is probable that
my cloak might not have been respected, and the _jus gentium_ might
have been cruelly violated in my person--for, in the dark, people
commit deeds of darkness, gas being a great ally of morality; but it so
happened that on this night there was no other outside passenger; and
thus the crime, which else was but too probable, missed fire for want
of a criminal.

Having mounted the box, I took a small quantity of laudanum, having
already travelled two hundred and fifty miles--viz., from a point
seventy miles beyond London. In the taking of laudanum there was
nothing extraordinary. But by accident it drew upon me the special
attention of my assessor on the box, the coachman. And in _that_
also there was nothing extraordinary. But by accident, and with great
delight, it drew my own attention to the fact that this coachman was a
monster in point of bulk, and that he had but one eye. In fact, he had
been foretold by Virgil as

"Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum."

He answered to the conditions in every one of the items:--1, a monster
he was; 2, dreadful; 3, shapeless; 4, huge; 5, who had lost an eye. But
why should _that_ delight me? Had he been one of the Calendars in
the "Arabian Nights," and had paid down his eye as the price of his
criminal curiosity, what right had _I_ to exult in his misfortune?
I did _not_ exult; I delighted in no man's punishment, though it
were even merited. But these personal distinctions (Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)
identified in an instant an old friend of mine whom I had known in the
south for some years as the most masterly of mail-coachmen. He was the
man in all Europe that could (if _any_ could) have driven six-in-
hand full gallop over _Al Sirat_--that dreadful bridge of Mahomet,
with no side battlements, and of _extra_ room not enough for a
razor's edge--leading right across the bottomless gulf. Under this
eminent man, whom in Greek I cognominated Cyclops _Diphrélates_
(Cyclops the Charioteer), I, and others known to me, studied the
diphrelatic art. Excuse, reader, a word too elegant to be pedantic. As
a pupil, though I paid extra fees, it is to be lamented that I did not
stand high in his esteem. It showed his dogged honesty (though,
observe, not his discernment) that he could not see my merits. Let us
excuse his absurdity in this particular by remembering his want of an
eye. Doubtless _that_ made him blind to my merits. In the art of
conversation, however, he admitted that I had the whip-hand of him. On
the present occasion great joy was at our meeting. But what was Cyclops
doing here? Had the medical men recommended northern air, or how? I
collected, from such explanations as he volunteered, that he had an
interest at stake in some suit-at-law now pending at Lancaster; so that
probably he had got himself transferred to this station for the purpose
of connecting with his professional pursuits an instant readiness for
the calls of his lawsuit.

Meantime, what are we stopping for? Surely we have now waited long
enough. Oh, this procrastinating mail, and this procrastinating post-
office! Can't they take a lesson upon that subject from _me_? Some
people have called _me_ procrastinating. Yet you are witness,
reader, that I was here kept waiting for the post-office. Will the
post-office lay its hand on its heart, in its moments of sobriety, and
assert that ever it waited for me? What are they about? The guard tells
me that there is a large extra accumulation of foreign mails this
night, owing to irregularities caused by war, by wind, by weather, in
the packet service, which as yet does not benefit at all by steam. For
an _extra_ hour, it seems, the post-office has been engaged in
threshing out the pure wheaten correspondence of Glasgow, and winnowing
it from the chaff of all baser intermediate towns. But at last all is
finished. Sound your horn, guard! Manchester, good-bye! we've lost an
hour by your criminal conduct at the post-office: which, however,
though I do not mean to part with a serviceable ground of complaint,
and one which really _is_ such for the horses, to me secretly is an
advantage, since it compels us to look sharply for this lost hour
amongst the next eight or nine, and to recover it (if we can) at the
rate of one mile extra per hour. Off we are at last, and at eleven
miles an hour; and for the moment I detect no changes in the energy or
in the skill of Cyclops.

From Manchester to Kendal, which virtually (though not in law) is the
capital of Westmoreland, there were at this time seven stages of eleven
miles each. The first five of these, counting from Manchester,
terminate in Lancaster; which is therefore fifty-five miles north of
Manchester, and the same distance exactly from Liverpool. The first
three stages terminate in Preston (called, by way of distinction from
other towns of that name, _Proud_ Preston); at which place it is
that the separate roads from Liverpool and from Manchester to the north
become confluent. [Footnote: "_Confluent_":--Suppose a capital Y
(the Pythagorean letter): Lancaster is at the foot of this letter;
Liverpool at the top of the _right_ branch; Manchester at the top
of the _left_; Proud Preston at the centre, where the two branches
unite. It is thirty-three miles along either of the two branches; it is
twenty-two miles along the stem,--viz., from Preston in the middle to
Lancaster at the root. There's a lesson in geography for the reader!]
Within these first three stages lay the foundation, the progress, and
termination of our night's adventure. During the first stage, I found
out that Cyclops was mortal: he was liable to the shocking affection of
sleep--a thing which previously I had never suspected. If a man
indulges in the vicious habit of sleeping, all the skill in aurigation
of Apollo himself, with the horses of Aurora to execute his notions,
avails him nothing. "Oh, Cyclops!" I exclaimed, "thou art mortal. My
friend, thou snorest." Through the first eleven miles, however, this
infirmity--which I grieve to say that he shared with the whole Pagan
Pantheon--betrayed itself only by brief snatches. On waking up, he made
an apology for himself which, instead of mending matters, laid open a
gloomy vista of coming disasters. The summer assizes, he reminded me,
were now going on at Lancaster: in consequence of which for three
nights and three days he had not lain down on a bed. During the day he
was waiting for his own summons as a witness on the trial in which he
was interested, or else, lest he should be missing at the critical
moment, was drinking with the other witnesses under the pastoral
surveillance of the attorneys. During the night, or that part of it
which at sea would form the middle watch, he was driving. This
explanation certainly accounted for his drowsiness, but in a way which
made it much more alarming; since now, after several days' resistance
to this infirmity, at length he was steadily giving way. Throughout the
second stage he grew more and more drowsy. In the second mile of the
third stage he surrendered himself finally and without a struggle to
his perilous temptation. All his past resistance had but deepened the
weight of this final oppression. Seven atmospheres of sleep rested upon
him; and, to consummate the case, our worthy guard, after singing "Love
amongst the Roses" for perhaps thirty times, without invitation and
without applause, had in revenge moodily resigned himself to slumber--
not so deep, doubtless, as the coachman's, but deep enough for
mischief. And thus at last, about ten miles from Preston, it came about
that I found myself left in charge of his Majesty's London and Glasgow
mail, then running at the least twelve miles an hour.

What made this negligence less criminal than else it must have been
thought was the condition of the roads at night during the assizes. At
that time, all the law business of populous Liverpool, and also of
populous Manchester, with its vast cincture of populous rural
districts, was called up by ancient usage to the tribunal of
Lilliputian Lancaster. To break up this old traditional usage required,
1, a conflict with powerful established interests, 2, a large system of
new arrangements, and 3, a new parliamentary statute. But as yet this
change was merely in contemplation. As things were at present, twice in
the year [Footnote: "_Twice in the year_":--There were at that time
only two assizes even in the most populous counties--viz., the Lent
Assizes and the Summer Assizes.] so vast a body of business rolled
northwards from the southern quarter of the county that for a fortnight
at least it occupied the severe exertions of two judges in its
despatch. The consequence of this was that every horse available for
such a service, along the whole line of road, was exhausted in carrying
down the multitudes of people who were parties to the different suits.
By sunset, therefore, it usually happened that, through utter
exhaustion amongst men and horses, the road sank into profound silence.
Except the exhaustion in the vast adjacent county of York from a
contested election, no such silence succeeding to no such fiery uproar
was ever witnessed in England.

On this occasion the usual silence and solitude prevailed along the
road. Not a hoof nor a wheel was to be heard. And, to strengthen this
false luxurious confidence in the noiseless roads, it happened also
that the night was one of peculiar solemnity and peace. For my own
part, though slightly alive to the possibilities of peril, I had so far
yielded to the influence of the mighty calm as to sink into a profound
reverie. The month was August; in the middle of which lay my own
birthday--a festival to every thoughtful man suggesting solemn and
often sigh-born [Footnote: "_Sigh-born_":--I owe the suggestion of
this word to an obscure remembrance of a beautiful phrase in "Giraldus
Cambrensis"--viz., _suspiriosæ cogitationes_.] thoughts. The county
was my own native county--upon which, in its southern section, more
than upon any equal area known to man past or present, had descended
the original curse of labour in its heaviest form, not mastering the
bodies only of men, as of slaves, or criminals in mines, but working
through the fiery will. Upon no equal space of earth was, or ever had
been, the same energy of human power put forth daily. At this
particular season also of the assizes, that dreadful hurricane of
flight and pursuit, as it might have seemed to a stranger, which swept
to and from Lancaster all day long, hunting the county up and down, and
regularly subsiding back into silence about sunset, could not fail
(when united with this permanent distinction of Lancashire as the very
metropolis and citadel of labour) to point the thoughts pathetically
upon that counter-vision of rest, of saintly repose from strife and
sorrow, towards which, as to their secret haven, the profounder
aspirations of man's heart are in solitude continually travelling.
Obliquely upon our left we were nearing the sea; which also must, under
the present circumstances, be repeating the general state of halcyon
repose. The sea, the atmosphere, the light, bore each an orchestral
part in this universal lull. Moonlight and the first timid tremblings
of the dawn were by this time blending; and the blendings were brought
into a still more exquisite state of unity by a slight silvery mist,
motionless and dreamy, that covered the woods and fields, but with a
veil of equable transparency. Except the feet of our own horses,--
which, running on a sandy margin of the road, made but little
disturbance,--there was no sound abroad. In the clouds and on the earth
prevailed the same majestic peace; and, in spite of all that the
villain of a schoolmaster has done for the ruin of our sublimer
thoughts, which are the thoughts of our infancy, we still believe in no
such nonsense as a limited atmosphere. Whatever we may swear with our
false feigning lips, in our faithful hearts we still believe, and must
for ever believe, in fields of air traversing the total gulf between
earth and the central heavens. Still, in the confidence of children
that tread without fear every chamber in their father's house, and to
whom no door is closed, we, in that Sabbatic vision which sometimes is
revealed for an hour upon nights like this, ascend with easy steps from
the sorrow-stricken fields of earth upwards to the sandals of God.

Suddenly, from thoughts like these I was awakened to a sullen sound, as
of some motion on the distant road. It stole upon the air for a moment;
I listened in awe; but then it died away. Once roused, however, I could
not but observe with alarm the quickened motion of our horses. Ten
years' experience had made my eye learned in the valuing of motion; and
I saw that we were now running thirteen miles an hour. I pretend to no
presence of mind. On the contrary, my fear is that I am miserably and
shamefully deficient in that quality as regards action. The palsy of
doubt and distraction hangs like some guilty weight of dark unfathomed
remembrances upon my energies when the signal is flying for
_action_. But, on the other hand, this accursed gift I have, as
regards _thought_, that in the first step towards the possibility
of a misfortune I see its total evolution; in the radix of the series I
see too certainly and too instantly its entire expansion; in the first
syllable of the dreadful sentence I read already the last. It was not
that I feared for ourselves. _Us_ our bulk and impetus charmed
against peril in any collision. And I had ridden through too many
hundreds of perils that were frightful to approach, that were matter of
laughter to look back upon, the first face of which was horror, the
parting face a jest--for any anxiety to rest upon _our_ interests.
The mail was not built, I felt assured, nor bespoke, that could betray
_me_ who trusted to its protection. But any carriage that we could
meet would be frail and light in comparison of ourselves. And I
remarked this ominous accident of our situation,--we were on the wrong
side of the road. But then, it may be said, the other party, if other
there was, might also be on the wrong side; and two wrongs might make a
right. _That_ was not likely. The same motive which had drawn
_us_ to the right-hand side of the road--viz., the luxury of the
soft beaten sand as contrasted with the paved centre--would prove
attractive to others. The two adverse carriages would therefore, to a
certainty, be travelling on the same side; and from this side, as not
being ours in law, the crossing over to the other would, of course, be
looked for from _us_. [Footnote: It is true that, according to the
law of the case as established by legal precedents, all carriages were
required to give way before royal equipages, and therefore before the
mail as one of them. But this only increased the danger, as being a
regulation very imperfectly made known, very unequally enforced, and
therefore often embarrassing the movements on both sides.] Our lamps,
still lighted, would give the impression of vigilance on our part. And
every creature that met us would rely upon _us_ for quartering.
[Footnote: "_Quartering_":--This is the technical word, and, I
presume, derived from the French _cartayer_, to evade a rut or any
obstacle.] All this, and if the separate links of the anticipation had
been a thousand times more, I saw, not discursively, or by effort, or
by succession, but by one flash of horrid simultaneous intuition.

Under this steady though rapid anticipation of the evil which
_might_ be gathering ahead, ah! what a sullen mystery of fear, what
a sigh of woe, was that which stole upon the air, as again the far-off
sound of a wheel was heard! A whisper it was--a whisper from, perhaps,
four miles off--secretly announcing a ruin that, being foreseen, was
not the less inevitable; that, being known, was not therefore healed.
What could be done--who was it that could do it--to check the storm-
flight of these maniacal horses? Could I not seize the reins from the
grasp of the slumbering coachman? You, reader, think that it would have
been in _your_ power to do so. And I quarrel not with your estimate
of yourself. But, from the way in which the coachman's hand was viced
between his upper and lower thigh, this was impossible. Easy was it?
See, then, that bronze equestrian statue. The cruel rider has kept the
bit in his horse's mouth for two centuries. Unbridle him for a minute,
if you please, and wash his mouth with water. Easy was it? Unhorse me,
then, that imperial rider; knock me those marble feet from those marble
stirrups of Charlemagne.

The sounds ahead strengthened, and were now too clearly the sounds of
wheels. Who and what could it be? Was it industry in a taxed cart? Was
it youthful gaiety in a gig? Was it sorrow that loitered, or joy that
raced? For as yet the snatches of sound were too intermitting, from
distance, to decipher the character of the motion. Whoever were the
travellers, something must be done to warn them. Upon the other party
rests the active responsibility, but upon _us_--and, woe is me!
that _us_ was reduced to my frail opium-shattered self--rests the
responsibility of warning. Yet, how should this be accomplished? Might
I not sound the guard's horn? Already, on the first thought, I was
making my way over the roof of the guard's seat. But this, from the
accident which I have mentioned, of the foreign mails being piled upon
the roof, was a difficult and even dangerous attempt to one cramped by
nearly three hundred miles of outside travelling. And, fortunately,
before I had lost much time in the attempt, our frantic horses swept
round an angle of the road which opened upon us that final stage where
the collision must be accomplished and the catastrophe sealed. All was
apparently finished. The court was sitting; the case was heard; the
judge had finished; and only the verdict was yet in arrear.

Before us lay an avenue straight as an arrow, six hundred yards,
perhaps, in length; and the umbrageous trees, which rose in a regular
line from either side, meeting high overhead, gave to it the character
of a cathedral aisle. These trees lent a deeper solemnity to the early
light; but there was still light enough to perceive, at the further end
of this Gothic aisle, a frail reedy gig, in which were seated a young
man, and by his side a young lady. Ah, young sir! what are you about?
If it is requisite that you should whisper your communications to this
young lady--though really I see nobody, at an hour and on a road so
solitary, likely to overhear you--is it therefore requisite that you
should carry your lips forward to hers? The little carriage is creeping
on at one mile an hour; and the parties within it, being thus tenderly
engaged, are naturally bending down their heads. Between them and
eternity, to all human calculation, there is but a minute and a half.
Oh heavens! what is it that I shall do? Speaking or acting, what help
can I offer? Strange it is, and to a mere auditor of the tale might
seem laughable, that I should need a suggestion from the "Iliad" to
prompt the sole resource that remained. Yet so it was. Suddenly I
remembered the shout of Achilles, and its effect. But could I pretend
to shout like the son of Peleus, aided by Pallas? No: but then I needed
not the shout that should alarm all Asia militant; such a shout would
suffice as might carry terror into the hearts of two thoughtless young
people and one gig-horse. I shouted--and the young man heard me not. A
second time I shouted--and now he heard me, for now he raised his

Here, then, all had been done that, by me, _could_ be done; more on
_my_ part was not possible. Mine had been the first step; the
second was for the young man; the third was for God. If, said I, this
stranger is a brave man, and if indeed he loves the young girl at his
side--or, loving her not, if he feels the obligation, pressing upon
every man worthy to be called a man, of doing his utmost for a woman
confided to his protection--he will at least make some effort to save
her. If _that_ fails, he will not perish the more, or by a death
more cruel, for having made it; and he will die as a brave man should,
with his face to the danger, and with his arm about the woman that he
sought in vain to save. But, if he makes no effort,--shrinking without
a struggle from his duty,--he himself will not the less certainly
perish for this baseness of poltroonery. He will die no less: and why
not? Wherefore should we grieve that there is one craven less in the
world? No; _let_ him perish, without a pitying thought of ours
wasted upon him; and, in that case, all our grief will be reserved for
the fate of the helpless girl who now, upon the least shadow of failure
in _him_, must by the fiercest of translations--must without time
for a prayer--must within seventy seconds stand before the judgment-
seat of God.

But craven he was not: sudden had been the call upon him, and sudden
was his answer to the call. He saw, he heard, he comprehended, the ruin
that was coming down: already its gloomy shadow darkened above him; and
already he was measuring his strength to deal with it. Ah! what a
vulgar thing does courage seem when we see nations buying it and
selling it for a shilling a-day: ah! what a sublime thing does courage
seem when some fearful summons on the great deeps of life carries a
man, as if running before a hurricane, up to the giddy crest of some
tumultuous crisis from which lie two courses, and a voice says to him
audibly, "One way lies hope; take the other, and mourn for ever!" How
grand a triumph if, even then, amidst the raving of all around him, and
the frenzy of the danger, the man is able to confront his situation--is
able to retire for a moment into solitude with God, and to seek his
counsel from _Him!_

For seven seconds, it might be, of his seventy, the stranger settled
his countenance steadfastly upon us, as if to search and value every
element in the conflict before him. For five seconds more of his
seventy he sat immovably, like one that mused on some great purpose.
For five more, perhaps, he sat with eyes upraised, like one that prayed
in sorrow, under some extremity of doubt, for light that should guide
him to the better choice. Then suddenly he rose; stood upright; and, by
a powerful strain upon the reins, raising his horse's fore-feet from
the ground, he slewed him round on the pivot of his hind-legs, so as to
plant the little equipage in a position nearly at right angles to ours.
Thus far his condition was not improved; except as a first step had
been taken towards the possibility of a second. If no more were done,
nothing was done; for the little carriage still occupied the very
centre of our path, though in an altered direction. Yet even now it may
not be too late: fifteen of the seventy seconds may still be
unexhausted; and one almighty bound may avail to clear the ground.
Hurry, then, hurry! for the flying moments--_they_ hurry. Oh,
hurry, hurry, my brave young man! for the cruel hoofs of our horses--
_they_ also hurry! Fast are the flying moments, faster are the
hoofs of our horses. But fear not for _him_, if human energy can
suffice; faithful was he that drove to his terrific duty; faithful was
the horse to _his_ command. One blow, one impulse given with voice
and hand, by the stranger, one rush from the horse, one bound as if in
the act of rising to a fence, landed the docile creature's forefeet
upon the crown or arching centre of the road. The larger half of the
little equipage had then cleared our over-towering shadow: _that_
was evident even to my own agitated sight. But it mattered little that
one wreck should float off in safety if upon the wreck that perished
were embarked the human freightage. The rear part of the carriage--was
_that_ certainly beyond the line of absolute ruin? What power could
answer the question? Glance of eye, thought of man, wing of angel,
which of these had speed enough to sweep between the question and the
answer, and divide the one from the other? Light does not tread upon
the steps of light more indivisibly than did our all-conquering arrival
upon the escaping efforts of the gig. _That_ must the young man
have felt too plainly. His back was now turned to us; not by sight
could he any longer communicate with the peril; but, by the dreadful
rattle of our harness, too truly had his ear been instructed that all
was finished as regarded any effort of _his_. Already in resignation he
had rested from his struggle; and perhaps in his heart he was
whispering, "Father, which art in heaven, do Thou finish above what I
on earth have attempted." Faster than ever mill-race we ran past them
in our inexorable flight. Oh, raving of hurricanes that must have
sounded in their young ears at the moment of our transit! Even in that
moment the thunder of collision spoke aloud. Either with the swingle-
bar, or with the haunch of our near leader, we had struck the off-wheel
of the little gig; which stood rather obliquely, and not quite so far
advanced as to be accurately parallel with the near-wheel. The blow,
from the fury of our passage, resounded terrifically. I rose in horror,
to gaze upon the ruins we might have caused. From my elevated station I
looked down, and looked back upon the scene; which in a moment told its
own tale, and wrote all its records on my heart for ever.

Here was the map of the passion that now had finished. The horse was
planted immovably, with his fore-feet upon the paved crest of the
central road. He of the whole party might be supposed untouched by the
passion of death. The little cany carriage--partly, perhaps, from the
violent torsion of the wheels in its recent movement, partly from the
thundering blow we had given to it--as if it sympathised with human
horror, was all alive with tremblings and shiverings. The young man
trembled not, nor shivered. He sat like a rock. But _his_ was the
steadiness of agitation frozen into rest by horror. As yet he dared not
to look round; for he knew that, if anything remained to do, by him it
could no longer be done. And as yet he knew not for certain if their
safety were accomplished. But the lady--

But the lady--! Oh, heavens! will that spectacle ever depart from my
dreams, as she rose and sank upon her seat, sank and rose, threw up her
arms wildly to heaven, clutched at some visionary object in the air,
fainting, praying, raving, despairing? Figure to yourself, reader, the
elements of the case; suffer me to recall before your mind the
circumstances of that unparalleled situation. From the silence and deep
peace of this saintly summer night--from the pathetic blending of this
sweet moonlight, dawnlight, dreamlight--from the manly tenderness of
this flattering, whispering, murmuring love--suddenly as from the woods
and fields--suddenly as from the chambers of the air opening in
revelation--suddenly as from the ground yawning at her feet, leaped
upon her, with the flashing of cataracts, Death the crowned phantom,
with all the equipage of his terrors, and the tiger roar of his voice.

The moments were numbered; the strife was finished; the vision was
closed. In the twinkling of an eye, our flying horses had carried us to
the termination of the umbrageous aisle; at the right angles we wheeled
into our former direction; the turn of the road carried the scene out
of my eyes in an instant, and swept it into my dreams for ever.



"Whence the sound
Of instruments, that made melodious chime,
Was heard, of harp and organ; and who moved
Their stops and chords was seen; his volant touch
Instinct through all proportions, low and high,
Fled and pursued transverse the resonant fugue."
_Par. Lost_, Bk. XI.


Passion of sudden death! that once in youth I read and interpreted by
the shadows of thy averted signs [Footnote: "_Averted signs_":--I
read the course and changes of the lady's agony in the succession of
her involuntary gestures; but it must be remembered that I read all
this from the rear, never once catching the lady's full face, and even
her profile imperfectly.]!--rapture of panic taking the shape (which
amongst tombs in churches I have seen) of woman bursting her sepulchral
bonds--of woman's Ionic form bending forward from the ruins of her
grave with arching foot, with eyes upraised, with clasped adoring
hands--waiting, watching, trembling, praying for the trumpet's call to
rise from dust for ever! Ah, vision too fearful of shuddering humanity
on the brink of almighty abysses!--vision that didst start back, that
didst reel away, like a shrivelling scroll from before the wrath of
fire racing on the wings of the wind! Epilepsy so brief of horror,
wherefore is it that thou canst not die? Passing so suddenly into
darkness, wherefore is it that still thou sheddest thy sad funeral
blights upon the gorgeous mosaics of dreams? Fragment of music too
passionate, heard once, and heard no more, what aileth thee, that thy
deep rolling chords come up at intervals through all the worlds of
sleep, and after forty years have lost no element of horror?


Lo, it is summer--almighty summer! The everlasting gates of life and
summer are thrown open wide; and on the ocean, tranquil and verdant as
a savannah, the unknown lady from the dreadful vision and I myself are
floating--she upon a fairy pinnace, and I upon an English three-
decker. Both of us are wooing gales of festal happiness within the
domain of our common country, within that ancient watery park, within
the pathless chase of ocean, where England takes her pleasure as a
huntress through winter and summer, from the rising to the setting sun.


Back to Full Books