Part 3 out of 5
circle that hemmed him in. Muttering still of "ruin," "beggary," and
similar topics, so admirably adapted to cheer the convalescent, he
swallowed his breakfast like an animal, left the room without his usual
bland "good morning," and slammed the street-door after him.
A fit of hysterics was the natural consequence. The kind and sisterly
widow bore, rather than led, Marcia to an upper room, propped her with
pillows in an arm-chair, and employed every tender and womanly art to
soothe her excited nerves. Calmness came, but only with exhaustion.
The door-bell rang. Mrs. Sandford gave an inaudible direction to the
servant. But Marcia exclaimed, "It is George! I heard his step on the
pavement. I must see him. Let him in." Mrs. Sandford remonstrated to no
purpose, and then went to her own room.
It _was_ "George." He entered the room with a pale face, and a look
betokening both suffering and resolution. He was evidently struck by the
appearance of Miss Sandford, rightly judging that she was not able
to bear what he had come to tell her. He would have uttered a few
commonplace courtesies, and deferred his weighty communication to
another time. But Marcia's senses were preternaturally sharpened; weak
as a vine without its trellis, instinct seemed to guide her to clasp
by every tendril the support to which she had been wont to cling. She
noticed a certain uneasiness in Greenleaf's demeanor; ready to give
the worst interpretation to everything, she exclaimed, in a quick,
frightened manner, "George, dear George, what is the matter? You are
cold, you are distant. Are _you_ in trouble, too, like all the world?"
"Deeply in trouble," he answered gravely,--still standing, hat in hand.
"Trouble that I cannot soothe?"
"I am afraid not."
"And you won't tell me?"
"Then you don't love me."
Greenleaf was silent; his lips showing the emotion he strove to control.
Her voice took a more cheerful tone, as if she would assure herself,
and, with a faint smile, she said,--
"You are silent; but I am only childish. You do love me,--don't you,
"As much as I ever did."
A mean subterfuge; for though it was true, perhaps, to him, he knew it
was a falsehood to her. She attempted to rise from her chair; he sprang
to support her.
"You are so gloomy, reserved, to-day!" she continued.
Still Greenleaf was silent. He aided her to resume her seat; but when he
had done so, she detained him, seizing his arm and then his hand. His
heart beat rapidly, and he turned away his head to avoid the fond but
keen scrutiny of her eyes,--at the same time gently, but ineffectually,
attempting to free his hand. Once more he resolved, since the
conversation had taken such a turn, to risk the consequences, and
prepare her mind for a separation. But a sudden thought struck her, and,
before he could frame a sentence, she spoke:--
"You have heard bad news this morning?"
He shook his head.
"No,--I know you are not mercenary; I would not wrong you with the
"What suspicion, pray?" he asked, turning suddenly towards her.
"You have not heard?"
"I have heard nothing."
"Pity my foolishness. But my brother is in difficulty; he may fail;
perhaps has failed even now. Pray, don't chide me for my fears. All the
world goes with the rich and the prosperous."
"The world has very little company just now, then," said Greenleaf, with
a grim smile. "But assure yourself," he continued; "the dowry of my wife
is a matter I have never considered. _With the woman I love_," said he,
with deep emphasis, "honest poverty is what I do not dread."
Interpreting this fervent declaration in the natural way, Marcia reached
forth her arms with sudden fervor, drew him nearer, and covered his
forehead, lips, and cheeks with kisses. Every kiss fell like a spot
of mildew on his flesh; her caresses filled him with shame. Could he
undeceive her? In her feeble condition, the excitement into which she
had been thrown by her brother's danger was all she could bear. False as
his position was, heartless and empty as his soothing words and caresses
were, he must continue to wear the mask, and show himself as he was at
some time when she had no other trouble to weigh her down. Still she
chid his gloomy reserve, his absent air, and mechanical movements. Was
he weak, if under such influences his fixed resolves bent?--if his
nerves felt the old thrill?--if his voice took a softer tone?--and if
he parted from her with something of his former tenderness? He tried to
excuse himself to his conscience by the plea, that the deception once
begun must be kept up until it could be ended with safety. For he saw
that her heart was really bound up in him. She no longer kept up the
brilliant fence of repartee; she had abandoned all coquettish arts, and,
for once at least, was sincerely, fondly, even foolishly, in love. Home
he went, sadder than before, his conscience yet more aroused, and his
resolutions farther than ever from accomplishment.
Poor little Alice!
EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF.
Mr. Sandford walked towards his office, that fine autumn morning, in no
amiable mood. Nature seemed to protest against his angry violence; the
very stones of the pavement seemed to say,--"He need not thump us in
that way; _we_ can't pay his notes." The trees along Mount Vernon Street
rustled their leaves with a shudder, as he passed under them; they
dropped no benison upon a face which even the golden morning could not
lighten. "Let him stride on!" said they; "we shall be more cheerful in
company with the maids washing the sidewalks or taking out the children
(blessed darlings!) for an airing." Canaries ceased their songs in the
windows; urchins stopped their hoops and stood on the curbstones, eyeing
the gloomy man askance. When he passed the Granary Burying-Ground, he
saw a squirrel dart down a tree, and scamper over the old graves in
search of some one of his many stores; then rising on his haunches, he
munched the pea-nut which he had unearthed, (the gift of some schoolboy,
months ago,) as much as to say, "_We_ know how to look out for hard
times; but what have you done with _your_ pea-nuts, old fellow, that you
look so cross? Can't get 'em, eh? You should put 'em where you'll know
where they are." A whisk of his tail and he flew up the tree. The lesson
was lost upon the financier. At the office-door he met Bullion,--his
face a trifle more ruddy, his eye with a colder glitter, and his queer
eyebrow pointing with an odder significance.
"How are you, Sandford?"--A very short nod.--"Cool, this morning."--
Standing with his dumpy legs apart, he nibbled at the ivory head of his
"Mr. Bullion," said Sandford, "you must help me. You must lift that
note. Come, I know you can do it,--and I'll make it worth your while."
"Can't do it; you want a long extension, I s'pose."
"Say three or four months."
"Time is money, as I told you before. In four months, with forty
thousand dollars, I could--do pretty well," ending the sentence in a
lower tone, that indicated a desire to keep his first thought back.
"In a time like this, Mr. Bullion, it is the duty of every man to assist
his neighbor to the extent of his ability. If there is no forbearance,
no brotherly aid, how are the complicated settlements of a mad community
like this to be made? There is not money enough to pay what must be
The eyebrow was stiffly pointed as Bullion answered,--
"I do forbear. I must forbear. Stearine owes me; you indorse; you can't
pay, neither of you. I sha'n't get the money. I must go without."
It was an injured tone.
"Then why do you let it go to protest?"
"Only a form, Sandford. Usage of the mercantile world. Very irregular
not to do it. Sorry, but can't help it."
Mr. Sandford's patience was exhausted.
"It is my turn to-day, Bullion; I have no further resource; I am ruined.
You feel strong and look upon my distress in triumph. But your turn will
come. Mark my words. Within a fortnight I shall see you rushing down
State Street in despair; your property will be swept away with a flood,
and you will be a beggar,--as you deserve to be. Damn your stony heart!"
It was the first outburst of profanity from Mr. Sandford,--too
fastidious, usually, to allow himself the use of such expletives.
"Sorry to see you excited, Sandford. Best to keep temper. Guess you and
Fayerweather will raise the money. Pity Stearine hadn't wick enough in
him to stand alone. Rather a poor candle, he is,--he! he! Morning!"
The gray eyes twinkled, the eyebrow whisked, and the sturdy legs bore
the creditor away.
Entering the office, Mr. Sandford tried to assume a cheerful look. He
looked over the list of failures, in the "Independent," with something
of the interest which a patient in a hospital would feel when
overhearing the report from the dead-house. Was there no one of the bald
or grizzly-haired gentlemen who smiled so benignly whom he could ask for
aid? Not one; he knew their circumstances; they had no money at command;
all their property was locked up in investments. He thought of the many
chairmen and directors in benevolent associations with whom he was
connected. No,--they were either men of moderate means, or had some son
or nephew or brother in business whose credit they must uphold. How
gladly would he barter all his parchment testimonials for one good
"promise to pay"! He groaned almost audibly, and wondered how he could
pass the time till the close of bank-hours. The suspense was a torture
as keen as the calamity itself.
A visitor entered; it was Plotman. He came with a cheerful, even
"Good news, Sandford!"
"News!" exclaimed Sandford, impetuously. "What news? How much?"
In his absent state he forgot that Plotman was not aware of his
thoughts, and associated good news only with an accommodation to serve
his present need. But his fluttering expectations were dashed to the
ground with the reply.
"'How much,' did you say? A clean majority over all. Your name stands at
the head of the ticket."
"I am obliged to you," replied Sandford, sadly, "but I don't think I can
accept the nomination."
"Well, that _is_ rather strong," said Plotman. "You'd best keep your
modesty for the papers; it's thrown away on me."
"I really can't bother with politics."
"Why in the Devil, then, did you lay your corns to get the place, and
make me all this trouble for nothing?"
"I am really sorry, Plotman; but, to tell you just how it is, I am so
much involved in this fearful monetary pressure that I have no time nor
heart for anything else."
"Confounded spooney!" muttered Plotman, between his teeth. "If I'd known
he was so weak in the knees. I'd have gone in for Spreadeagle, who
offered a handsome figure."
"Come in to-morrow, Plotman, and we'll talk about it. I can't think
about it now. I'll make all right with you."
Still muttering, the disappointed politician departed, leaving Sandford
in a deeper abyss than before. To prevent unwelcome visits, the latter
left word with his clerks that he could see no one whatever.
To wile away the time, he took out his cash-book and private papers.
There was about a thousand dollars in bank.
"It will be best to draw that," thought he, "for there's no knowing what
And the office-boy was dispatched with a check for the amount.
"Let us see what other resources. There are Monroe's notes,--ten
thousand dollars. I can raise something on them. I'll borrow from
Tonsor, who seems to have funds enough."
He sent a clerk and succeeded in obtaining eight thousand dollars for
five days, by depositing the notes.
"If worst comes to worst, I have nine thousand to fall back upon. Now,
what next? Fletcher's note for five hundred, with the rather peculiar
admission at the beginning. I wonder, now, what he would give for this
little paper? Possibly he is in funds. He's a scheming devil and hasn't
been idle in this gale of wind. I'll send for him."
Fletcher entered with an air of confidence.
"Well, Mr. Sandford, you don't bear malice, I see. If you didn't want to
get a saucy answer, you shouldn't have threatened, the other day."
"You were hardly civil, Fletcher," said Sandford, gravely, "and rather
forgetful, besides. If I were you, I wouldn't bluster until a certain
piece of paper was safe in my possession."
"Do you suppose I ever forget that paper, or how you bullied it out of
me? But you know that at the time when I used that five hundred dollars,
I had money enough, and felt as sure of returning it the next day as you
do of paying the ten thousand you had of Monroe."
"How did you know whose money I had?"
"Never mind. I hear a great many things. As I was saying, I didn't steal
the money, for you didn't miss it till I told you; and if I hadn't been
a coward and a fool to boot, I should never have signed that cursed
"I have it, though. The law calls it a confession of theft."
"You have told me that often enough before. You needn't touch me on the
raw to make me remember it."
He waited, but Sandford made no reply. Fletcher continued:--
"Well, what is it? You've something on hand, or you wouldn't have sent
"You propose to pay sometime, I believe?"
"Of course, I do. I've offered to pay times enough, you know. I can get
the money in ten minutes."
"Can you! How much?"
"Why, the five hundred and interest."
"I rather think the document is worth more money."
"You'd take my heart's blood for it, I know. But you can't get any more
money than I have got."
"You were very ready in promising five hundred in ten minutes. It seems
to me that in an hour you might raise a larger sum."
"Do you suppose I am a capitalist?--that I own Fogarty, Danforth, and
"I'm sure, I can't tell. Stranger things have happened."
"I wonder if he suspects my connection with old Bullion?" thought
"I'll make you a fair proposition, Fletcher. I need some money, for a
few days. Get me thirty thousand dollars for a week, say; I'll pay a
liberal interest and give up the paper."
"I can't do it. The figure is altogether above me. You don't want me to
rob my employers?"
"'Rob' is a hard word, Fletcher. No, I counsel no crime. You don't want
anything more to think of. But you may know some chance to borrow that
Fletcher mused. "If Sandford comes to a man like me for such a sum, it
must be because he is devilish hard up; and if I get him the money, it
would likely be sunk. I can't do it."
"No, Mr. Sandford, it's out of the question. Everybody that has money
has twenty applications for every dollar."
"Then you'd rather see this paper in an officer's hands?"
Fletcher's face blanched and his knees shook, but he kept his resolution
in spite of his bodily tremor.
"I have been like a mouse cuffed between a cat's paws so long that I
don't care to run. If you mean to pounce up on me and finish me, go
ahead. I may as well die as to be always dreading it. But you'll please
remember what I said about overhauling your accounts."
Sandford found his man firmer than he had expected. He changed his
"Fletcher, as you can't do what I want, how much will you give outright
for the little obligation? You shall have it for fifteen hundred
dollars. Come, now, that's reasonable."
"Reasonable as the fellow who puts a pistol to your head on a dark night
in the middle of Cambridge bridge."
"Tut, tut! Don't talk of highway-robbery! I think I am letting you off
"How do you suppose I can raise fifteen hundred dollars?"
"That is your affair."
"You are as cruel as a bloodhound after a runaway nigger."
"I have once or twice remonstrated against your use of harsh words."
"What's the use of being mealy-mouthed? I owe you five hundred dollars.
Every dollar beyond that you get from me you rob me of; and it doesn't
matter whether it is a pistol or a writ that you threaten me with."
"You persist in a violent tone."
"I can't talk to suit you, and I shall stop. We shall never agree. I'll
tell you, though, what I will do. I'll give you a note, to-morrow, for a
thousand dollars, on short time, with a good name."
"Money, Fletcher!--money! I don't want any note."
"Well, I'll see what I can do. Perhaps I can get the money."
"And, Fletcher, I advise you to settle the affair to-day. It has stood
quite long enough. Just devote to-day to this little matter. Come in
before two,--not later than three, at any rate. Perhaps your employers
might advance it,--that is, rather than have their clerk compromised.
Suppose I lay the matter before them?"
Fletcher's rage broke out afresh. He gnashed his teeth and foamed at
the mouth. If he had had a weapon, it might have fared hard with his
oppressor. But his anger was inarticulate,--too mighty, too tumultuous,
for words. He left the office, his eyes glowing like a cat's, and his
fringy moustache trembling over his white teeth.
Mr. Sandford was somewhat exhilarated, and rubbed his smooth hands with
energy. "I think he'll come back," thought he. "Failure is inevitable.
Let it come! We must bear it as we can. And for a ruined man I don't
know of any consolation like a little ready money. Now to play my last
cards. These shares which I own in the Vortex are worth more to-day than
they are likely to be to-morrow. It would be a shame not to dispose of
them while they will bring something. Fayerweather and the others who
have agreed to buy at ninety per cent. are at the Board. I'll get a new
hand to take them in. They won't suspect, for they think Stearine's note
has been extended."
He called a junior clerk and dispatched the shares to a broker to be
sold for cash on account of whom it might concern. He then locked
himself in the back office to be free from troublesome visitors, keeping
a cautious lookout for Fletcher, whom he expected, and for the clerk
who was to bring the money. His chief anxiety was lest Mr. Fayerweather
should come before the sale was effected; and he was in a fever until
the money was brought to him. Through the window he saw his friends
Monroe, Bullion, and others, who called for him and were denied by his
order; he chose to remain unseen.
Fletcher did not return. In going out he met Bullion, and, telling him
that he had to pay Sandford a thousand dollars, asked for a part of the
money due him.
"Don't be a fool," replied that sturdy financier, "Sandford will fail
to-day, probably. That's the reason for his hurry to get the money. Let
him sweat. Keep your funds. You can pay his assignee any time these six
months to come."
It was near two o'clock. Mr. Sandford had in his pocket the proceeds of
the Vortex shares, the loan from Tensor, and his balance from bank,--a
comfortable sum altogether; and he thought it not prudent to risk the
whole by waiting for Fletcher, who, after all, might not come. So,
seeing the coast clear, he put on his surtout and walked out of the
front door with an unconcerned air.
The notary came with the inevitable protest. Mr. Fayerweather was the
astounded individual who received it. A sudden light broke upon him. He
was swindled. He took out the Vortex shares which he had just bought
by agreement, and, turning to the transfer-book, found that they were
Sandford's. The Secretary had weathered the President with a vengeance.
The lawyer to whom the protested note came happened to hold other claims
against Mr. Fayerweather and the Vortex, and, naturally judging that
the Company might be involved in the difficulties of its officers, he
commenced suit without a moment's delay. Ill news flies fast. In an hour
after the first writs were served, suit was brought by Tonsor and other
creditors, and the office was shut. The safe was found to hold nothing
more valuable than duplicates of policies, the Company's bank-account
was overdrawn, its stocks and bonds were sold or pledged, and its
available assets consisted of the office-furniture, a few reams of
paper, and half a dozen sticks of sealing-wax.
[To be continued.]
* * * * *
"THE NEW LIFE" OF DANTE.
Were the author of the "Vita Nuova" unknown, its story of youth and
love would still possess a charm, as standing in the dawn of modern
literature,--the first book in which modern sentiment finds free
expression. It would be of interest, as contrasted with the later growth
of the sentimental element in literature, which speedily exhibits the
influence of factitious feeling, of self-conscious effort, and of
ambitious display. The sentiment of the "Vita Nuova" is separated by
the wide gulf that lies between simplicity and affectation from the
sentimentality of Petrarch's sonnets. But connected as it is with
Dante's life,--the first of that series of works in which truth,
intensity, and tenderness of feeling are displayed as in the writings of
no other man,--its interest no longer arises merely from itself and from
its place in literature, but becomes indissolubly united with that which
belongs by every claim to the "Divina Commedia" and to the life of
When the "Vita Nuova" was completed, Dante was somewhat less than
twenty-eight years old. Beatrice had died between two and three years
before, in 1290; and he seems to have pleased himself after her loss
by recalling to his memory the sweet incidents of her life, and of her
influence upon himself. He begins with the words:--
"In that part of the book of my memory before which little can be
read is found a rubric which says: _Incipit Vita Nova_ ['The New Life
begins']. Under which rubric I find the words written which it is my
intention to copy into this little book,--if not all of them, at least
This introduction, short as it is, exhibits a characteristic trait of
Dante's mind, in the declaration of his intention to copy from the
book of his memory, or, in other words, to write the true records of
experience. Truth was the chief quality of his intellect, and upon
this, as upon an unshaken foundation, rest the marvellous power and
consistency of his imaginations. His heart spoke clearly, and he
interpreted its speech plainly in his words. His tendency to mysticism
often, indeed, led him into strange fancies; but these, though sometimes
obscure, are never vague. After these few words of preface, the story
"Nine times now, since my birth, the heaven of light had turned almost
to the same point in its gyration, when first appeared before my eyes
the glorious lady of my mind, who was called Beatrice, by many who did
not know why they thus called her.[A] She had now been in this life so
long, that in its time the starred heaven had moved toward the east one
of the twelve parts of a degree;[B] so that about the beginning of her
ninth year she appeared to me, and I near the end of my ninth year saw
her. She appeared to me clothed in a most noble color, a becoming and
modest crimson, and she was girt and adorned in the style that suited
her extreme youth. At that instant, I say truly, the spirit of life,
which dwells in the most secret chamber of the heart, began to tremble
with such violence, that it appeared horribly in the least pulses,
and, trembling, said these words: _Ecce deus fortior me, qui veniens
dominabitur mihi!_ [Behold a god, stronger than I, who, coming, shall
[Footnote A: It may be that Dante here refers to the meaning of the name
Beatrice,--_She who renders happy. She who blesses._]
[Footnote B: According to the astronomy of the times, the sphere of the
stars moved from west to east one degree in a hundred years. The twelfth
of a degree was, therefore, eight and a half years. See the _Convito_,
Tratt. II. c. vi.]
[Footnote C: Compare with this passage Canzone x, st. 5, 6. Especially
"E, se 'l libro non erra,
Lo spirito maggior tremo si forte,
Che parve ben, che morte
Per lui in questo mondo giunta fosse."
"And, if the book errs not, the chief spirit so greatly trembled, that
it plainly appeared that death for him had arrived in this world."
When Dante meets Beatrice in Purgatory, he says, referring to this
time,--and it is pleasant to note these connections between his earliest
and his latest works,--
"Tosto che nella vista mi percosse
L' alta virtu, che gia m' avca trafitto
Prima ch' io fuor di puerizia fosse."
Canto xxx. l. 40-42.
"At that instant, the spirit of the soul, which dwells in the high
chamber to which all the spirits of the senses bring their perceptions,
began to marvel greatly, and, addressing the spirits of the sight, said
these words: _Apparuit jam beatitudo vestra._ [Now hath appeared your
bliss.] At that instant the natural spirit, which dwells in that part
where the nourishment is supplied, began to weep, and, weeping, said
these words: _Heu miser! quia frequenter impeditus ero deinceps._ [Woe
is me wretched! because frequently henceforth shall I be hindered.]
"From this time forward I say that Love lorded over my soul, which had
been thus quickly put at his disposal;[D] and he began to exercise
over me such control and such lordship, through the power which my
imagination gave to him, that I was obliged to perform completely all
his pleasure. He commanded me many times that I should seek to see this
youthful angel, so that I in my boyhood often went seeking her, and saw
her of such noble and praiseworthy deportment, that truly of her might
be said that saying of the poet Homer: 'She does not seem the daughter
of a mortal, but of God.' And it befell that her image, which stayed
constantly with me, inspired boldness in Love to hold lordship over me;
but it was of such noble virtue, that it never suffered that Love should
rule without the faithful counsel of Reason in those matters in which
such counsel could be useful."
[Footnote D: The text of the _Vita Nuova_ is often uncertain. Here, for
example, many authorities concur in the reading, "_la quale fu si tosto
a lui disponsata_," "which had been so quickly betrothed to him." But
we prefer to read "_disposta_," as being more in accordance with the
remainder of the figure concerning Love. Many other various readings
will be passed over without notice,--but a translation might be exposed
to the charge of inaccuracy, if it were judged by the text of any
special edition of the original, without comparison with others. The
text usually followed in these versions is that of Fraticelli.]
Such is the account which Dante gives of the beginning of his love for
Beatrice. The tenderness and purity of his passion are obscured, but not
concealed, by quaintness of expression and formality of learning. In
literary style the passage displays the uncertain hand of youth, and
in a translation something is lost of the charm of simplicity which
pervades the original. But in this passage the keynote of Dante's life
Passing over many things, he says that exactly nine years were completed
after the above-described appearance of this most gentle lady, when it
happened that "she appeared before me clothed in purest white between
two noble ladies, and, passing along the street, she turned her eyes
toward that place where I stood very timidly, and, by her ineffable
courtesy, which is now rewarded in eternity, saluted me with such
virtue, that I seemed to behold all the bounds of bliss. The hour when
her most sweet salutation reached me was exactly the ninth of that day;
and since it was the first time that her words came to my ears, I felt
such great delight, that, as it were intoxicated, I turned away from the
crowd, and, betaking myself to the solitary place of my chamber, sat
myself down to think of this most courteous lady, and, thinking of her,
a sweet slumber came upon me, in which a marvellous vision appeared to
me." After describing this vision, he says, that, thinking of what had
appeared to him, he "proposed to bring it to the knowledge of many who
were famous poets at that time; and since I had already seen in myself
the art of speaking words in rhyme, I proposed to write a sonnet, in
which I would salute all the vassals of Love; and praying them to give
an interpretation of my vision, I wrote to them that which I had seen in
my slumber. And I began then this sonnet:--
"To every captive soul and gentle heart
Before whose sight may come the present
That they may thereupon their thoughts
Be greeting in Love's name, who is their
"Now of those hours wellnigh one third had
In which each star appears in heaven most
When on a sudden Love before me shone,
To think upon whose being gives me fright.
"Joyful seemed Love, and he was keeping
My heart within his hands, while on his arm
He held my Lady, covered o'er and sleeping.
"Then waking her, he with this flaming heart
Did humbly feed her, fearful of some harm.
Sudden I saw him weep, and quick depart."
This sonnet is somewhat obscure in the details of its meaning, and
has little beauty, but it is of interest as being the earliest poetic
composition by Dante that has been preserved for us, and it is curious
as being the account of a vision. In our previous article on the "New
Life," we referred to the fact of this book being in great part composed
of the account of a series of visions, thus connecting itself in the
form of its imaginations with the great work of Dante's later years. As
a description of things unseen except by the inward eye, this sonnet
is bound in poetic connection to the nobler visions of the "Divina
Commedia." The private stamp of Dante's imagination is indelibly
impressed upon it.
He tells us that many answers were made to this sonnet, and "among those
who replied to it was he whom I call the first of my friends, and he
wrote a sonnet which began,
'Thou seest in my opinion every worth.'
This was, as it were, the beginning of our friendship when he knew
that it was I who had sent these verses to him." This first of Dante's
friends was Guido Cavalcanti. Their friendship was of long duration,
beginning thus in Dante's nineteenth year, and ending only with Guido's
death, in 1300, when Dante was thirty-five years old. It may be taken as
a proof of its intimacy and of Dante's high regard for the genius of his
friend, that, when Dante, in his course through Hell, at Easter in 1300,
represents himself as being recognized by the father of Guido, the first
words of the old man to him are,
"If through this blind prison thou goest through loftiness of soul,
where is my son? oh, why is he not with thee?"[E]
[Footnote E: _Inferno_, x. 58-60.]
The sonnet of Guido, in reply to that sent him by Dante, has been
preserved, together with the replies by two other contemporary poets;
but Dante says of them all,--"The true meaning of my sonnet was not then
seen by any one, though now it is plain to the simplest."
After this vision, the poet, whose soul was wholly devoted to his most
gentle lady, was brought by Love into so frail a condition of health,
that his friends became anxious for him, and questioned him about that
which he most wished to conceal. Then he told them that it was Love
which had brought him to this pass. But when they asked him, "For whom
has Love thus wasted thee?" he looked at them smiling, and said nothing.
"One day it happened," he goes on to relate, "that this most gentle lady
sat where words concerning the Queen of Glory are heard, and I was in a
place from which I beheld my bliss. Between her and me in a direct line
sat a gentle lady of most pleasing aspect, who looked at me often,
wondering at my gaze, which seemed to terminate upon her; and many
observed her looks. So great attention, indeed, was paid to this, that
when I went out from the place I heard some one say, 'Behold how that
lady wastes the life of this man!'--and naming her, I heard that they
spoke of her who had been in the path of the straight line which,
parting from my most gentle Beatrice, had ended in my eyes." Then he
says he thought to make this lady serve as a screen for his real love,
and he did this so well that in a short time many persons fancied they
knew his secret. And in order to deceive them still more, he addressed
to this lady many trifles in rhyme, of which he will insert in this
account of his "New Life" only those which bear reference to Beatrice.
Some time after this, "it was the pleasure of the Lord of the Angels to
call to his glory a young and beautiful lady, who had been very lovely
in the city of Florence. And I saw her body lying without its soul,
surrounded by many ladies who wept grievously. Then remembering that I
had formerly seen her in company with that most gentle lady, I could not
restrain some tears; and, weeping, I proposed to say some words about
her death, as a return for that I had seen her sometimes with my lady."
Then, he says, he wrote two poems, of which we give the last, adding to
it his verbal comment, as an example of the style of commentary with
which he has accompanied all the poems of the "Vita Nuova":--
"O villain Death, compassion's foe,
The Mother from of old of woe,
Inexorable judge severe,
Thou givest sorrow for the heart to bear;
Wherefore in grief I go,
And blaming thee my very tongue outwear.
"And if of every grace thou wouldst be
It only needs that I declare
The guilt of this thy sinful blow,
So that all those shall know,
And each shall be thy foe,
Who erst were nurtured with Love's tender
"For thou hast taken from the world the
And virtue which are woman's praise,
And in youth's gayest days
The charm of loveliness thou dost deface.
"Who is this lady is not to be told,
Save as these qualities do make her known.
He who deserves salvation may alone
Have hope companionship with her to hold.
"This sonnet is divided into four parts.[F] In the first I address Death
by certain of her proper names; in the second, speaking to her, I tell
the reason why I am moved to blame her; in the third, I revile her; in
the fourth, I speak to a person undefined, although definite as regards
my intention. The second part begins at _Thou givest_; the third at _And
if of every grace_; the fourth at _He who deserves_."
[Footnote F: Dante calls this little poem a sonnet, although, strictly,
the name does not belong to it.]
After this, Dante tells of a journey he was forced to take, in the
direction of the city to which the lady who had afforded him the means
of disguising his real love had gone. He says, that, on the way, which
he calls the way of sighs, he met Love, who was sad in aspect, and clad
like a pilgrim, and that Love told him the name of another lady who must
thenceforth serve as his screen to conceal his secret. He goes on to
relate, that, after his return,[G] he sought out this lady, and made her
his defence so effectually, that many persons spoke of it beyond the
terms of courtesy, which weighed on him heavily. And on account of this
lying talk which defamed him greatly, he says that Beatrice, "the most
gentle lady, who was the enemy of all the vices, and the queen of
virtue, passing by a certain place, denied me her most sweet salute, in
which consisted all my bliss. And departing a little from the present
subject, I will declare that which her salutation effected within me.
I say, then, that, whenever she appeared, in my hope for her admirable
salutation I no longer had an enemy, for a flame of charity possessed
me which made me pardon every one who had done me wrong; and if at that
time any one had asked anything of me, my only answer would have been
_Love_, and my face would have been clothed with humility. And when she
was near to giving me a salutation, a spirit of Love, destroying all the
other spirits of the senses, drove out the feeble spirits of the sight,
and said to them, 'Go and do honor to your lady,' and he stayed in their
place. And whoever had wished to know Love might have done so by looking
at the trembling of my eyes."
[Footnote G: In his few words of introduction to the _Vita Nuova_, Dante
implies that he shall not copy out into his book all his compositions
relating to its subject. Some of the poems of this period, not included
in the _Vita Nuova_, have been preserved, and we propose to refer to
them in their appropriate places. Compare with this passage Sonnet
lxxix., _Poesie Liriche_, ed. Fraticelli,--
"Se 'l bello aspetto non mi fosse tolto,"--
which was apparently written during Dante's absence from Beatrice.]
After the salutation which had been wont to bring to him a joy almost
beyond his capacity had been refused to him, Dante went weeping to his
chamber, where he could lament without being heard; and there he fell
asleep, crying like a little child who has been beaten. And in his sleep
he had a vision of Love, who entered into talk with him, and bade him
write a poem, adorned with sweet harmony, in which he should set forth
the truth and fidelity of his love for Beatrice, and should sue for her
pardon. Dante awoke at the ninth hour of the day, and at once began the
poem, of which the following is a portion. He personifies his poem, and
he bids it
"Tell her,--'O Lady, this his heart is stayed
On faithfulness so sure and firm,
Save to serve you it has no other care:
Early 'twas yours, and never has it strayed.'
But if she trust not what thou dost affirm,
Tell her to ask of Love, who will the truth declare;
And at the end, beg her, with humble prayer,
That she her pardon of its wrong would give;
Then let her bid that I no longer live,
And she shall see her servant quick obey."[H]
[Footnote H: Compare Canz. x. and xi.]
After this poem was finished, Dante describes what he calls "a battle of
thoughts" concerning Love within his mind, and then goes on to relate
that it happened one day that he was taken, by a friend who thought to
give him pleasure, to a feast at which many ladies were present. "They
were assembled," he says, "to attend a lady who was married that day,
and, according to the custom of the city, they bore her company at her
first sitting at table in the dwelling of her new husband." Dante,
believing thus to do pleasure to his friend, proposed to stand in
waiting upon these ladies. But at the moment of this intention he felt a
sudden tremor, which caused him to lean for support against a painting
which ran round the wall,[I] and, raising his eyes, he beheld Beatrice.
His confusion became apparent; and the ladies, not excepting Beatrice
herself, laughed at his strange appearance. Then his friend took him
from their presence, and having asked him what so ailed him, Dante
replied, "I have set my feet on that edge of life beyond which no man
can go with intent to return." Then leaving him, he went to the chamber
of tears, weeping and ashamed; and in his trouble he wrote a sonnet to
Beatrice, in which he says, that, if she had known the cause of his
trouble, he believes that she would have felt pity for him.[J]
[Footnote I: This is, perhaps, the earliest reference in modern
literature to the use of painting as a decoration for houses. It is
probable that it was a recent application of the art, and resulted from
the revival of interest in its works which accompanied the revival of
the art. We shall have occasion again to note a reference to painting.]
[Footnote J: To this period, apparently, belong Sonnets xxix. and xxx.
of the general collection. The last may not unlikely have been omitted
in the _Vita Nuova_ on account of the tenderness with which the death of
Beatrice had invested every memory of her, preventing the insertion of a
poem which might seem harsh in its expression:--
"I curse the day on which I first beheld
The light of thy betraying eyes."
The foregoing passage, like many others in the "Vita Nuova," is full of
the intense and exaggerated expressions of passionate feeling. But this
feeling is recorded with a frank simplicity which carries conviction
of the sincerity of emotion. It may be laughed at, but it cannot be
doubted. It is possible, though hardly probable, that the scene took
place at the wedding festival of Beatrice herself. She was married
sometime previous to 1287, and unless a reference to this event be
found here, no notice of it is taken by Dante in what he has written
concerning her. That the fact of her marriage changed in no degree the
feeling with which Dante regarded her is plain. His love was of no low
quality, to be altered by earthly circumstance. It was a love of the
soul. No change or separation that left the being untouched could part
him from it. To the marriage of true souls there was no impediment, and
he would admit none, in her being the wife of another. The qualities
which she possessed as a maiden belonged to her no less as a wife.
It was in the same year, probably, as that in which the "Vita Nuova" was
composed and published, that Dante himself was married to Gemma Donati.
There are stories that their married life was unhappy. But these stories
have not the weight of even contemporary gossip. Possibly they arose
from the fact of the long separation between Dante and his wife during
his exile. Boccaccio insinuates more than he asserts, and he concludes
a vague declamation about the miseries of married life with the words,
"Truly I do not affirm that these things happened to Dante, _for I do
not know_." Dante keeps utter silence in his works,--certainly giving no
reason to suppose that domestic trials were added to his other burdens.
One thing is known which deserves remembrance,--that, when, after some
years, a daughter was born to him, the name which she received was
In the next few pages of the "Vita Nuova" Dante describes various
thoughts which came to his mind concerning his appearance when in
presence of his lady; but, passing over these, we come to a passage
which we give in full, as containing a delightful picture from Florence
in its old time, and many sentences of sweet and characteristic feeling.
"Many persons had now learned from my looks the secret of my heart. And
it happened that certain ladies, who well knew my heart, each of them
having witnessed many of my discomfitures, had assembled together,
taking pleasure in each other's company. And I, by chance passing near
them, was addressed by one of these gentle ladies. She who called to me
was very graceful in her speech, so that when I reached them, and saw
well that my most gentle lady was not with them, reassuring myself, I
saluted them, and asked what might be their pleasure. The ladies were
many, and some of them were laughing together, and others looked at me,
waiting for what I might say, while others spoke among themselves, and
one of them, turning her eyes toward me, and calling me by name, said,
'To what end dost thou love this lady, since thou canst not support her
presence? Tell us, for it is certain that the object of such a love must
be a very strange one.' And when she had said these words to me, not
only she, but all the others, began to attend in expectation of my
reply. Then I said to them, 'Ladies, the object of my love was, in
truth, the salutation of that lady of whom perhaps you speak; and in
that dwelt the bliss which was the end of all my desires. But since it
has pleased her to deny it to me, my lord Love, thanks be to him, has
placed all my bliss in that which cannot be taken from me.' Then these
ladies began to speak together, and, as we sometimes see rain falling
mingled with beautiful snow, so, it seemed to me, I saw their words
mingled with sighs. And after they had spoken for some time among
themselves, the same lady who had first spoken to me said to me, 'We
pray thee that thou wouldst tell us in what consists this thy bliss.'
And I, replying to her, said, 'In those words which speak my lady's
praise.' And she answered, 'If thou sayest truth in this, those words
which thou hast spoken concerning thine own condition must have been
written with another intention.'[K] Then I, thinking on these words,
and, as it were, ashamed of myself, departed from them, and went, saying
to myself, 'Since there is such bliss in those words which praise my
lady, why has my speech been of other things?' And I proposed to take
always for my subject, henceforward, the praise of this most gentle
lady. And thinking much on this, I seemed to myself to have taken too
lofty a subject for my power, so that I did not dare to begin. Thus
I delayed some days, with the desire to speak, and with a fear of
[Footnote K: This refers to the sonnets Dante had written about his own
trouble and the conflict of his thoughts. It will be observed that the
words "speak" and "speech" are used in reference to poetic compositions.
In those days the poet was commonly called _il dicitore in rima_, "the
speaker in rhyme," or simply _il dicitore_.]
"Then it happened, that, walking along a road, at the side of which ran
a very clear stream, so great a wish to speak came to me, that I began
to think on the method I should observe; and I thought that to speak of
her would not be becoming, unless I addressed my words to ladies,--and
not to every lady, but only to those who are gentle, and not mere
women.[L] Then I say that my tongue spoke as if moved by its own accord,
and said, 'Ladies who have intelligence of Love.' These words I laid by
in my mind with great joy, thinking to take them for my beginning. And
returning to the city, after some days I began this Canzone:--[M]
[Footnote L: The epithet which Dante constantly applies to Beatrice is
"most gentle," _gentillisima_, while other ladies are called _gentile_,
"gentle." Here he makes the distinction between the _donna_ and the
_donna gentile_. The word is used with a signification similar to that
which it has in our own early literature, and fuller than that which it
now retains. It refers both to race, as in the phrase "of gentle birth,"
and to the qualities of character. "Gentleness means the same as
nobleness," says Dante, in the _Convito_; "and by nobleness is meant the
perfection of its own nature in anything." Tratt. iv. c. 14 16.
The delicacy and the dignity of meaning attaching to the word render it
an epithet especially appropriate to Beatrice, as implying all that is
loveliest in person and character. Its use in the _Vita Nuova_ is the
more to be remarked, as in the _Divina Commedia_ it is never applied to
Beatrice. Its appropriateness ceased with her earthly life, for there
was "another glory of the celestial body."]
[Footnote M: This Canzone is one of the most beautiful of Dante's minor
poems. We have preferred to give it in a literal translation, rather
than to attempt one in which the involved rhyme of the original should
be preserved, fearing lest this could not be done without sacrifice of
the meaning to the form. The original must be read by those who would
understand its grace of expression combined with its depth of feeling.
Dante himself prized this Canzone, and represents Buonagiunta da Lucca
in Purgatory as addressing him,--
"Ma di s' io veggio qui colui che fuore
Trasse le nuove rime, cominciando:
_Donne, ch' avete intelletto d'Amore."
"But tell me if I see him who wrote the new rhymes, beginning, 'Ladies
who have intelligence of Love.'" _Purgat_. c. xxiv. l. 49-51.]
"Ladies who have intelligence of Love,
I of my lady wish with you to speak;
Not that to tell her praise in full I think,
But to discourse that I may ease my mind.
"I say that when I think upon her worth,
So sweet doth Love make himself feel to me,
That if I then did not my courage lose,
Speaking I would enamor all mankind.
I do not wish so loftily to speak,
Lest I should fail and fall through very fear.
But of her gentle nature I will treat
With lightest touch compared with her desert,
Ladies and damsels bound to Love, with you;
For unto others this may not be told.
"An Angel cries aloud in tongue divine,
And says, 'O Sire! in the world is seen
A miracle in action, that proceeds
From out a soul which far as here doth shine.'
The Heavens, which have no other want, indeed,
But that of her, demand her of her Lord,
And every Saint doth for this favor beg;
Only Compassion our part defends.
What sayeth God? what of Madonna means?
'O my delights, now be content in peace
That, while I please, your hope should there remain
Where dwelleth one who loss of her awaits,
And who shall say in Hell to the condemned,
I have beheld the hope of those in bliss.'"[N]
[Footnote N: Note the reference implied in these words
to the journey of Dante through Hell.]
"My lady is desired in high heaven.
Her virtues now will I make known to you.
I say, whoso a gentle lady would appear
Should go with her: for when she passeth by,
Love casts a frost upon all villain hearts,
So that their every thought doth freeze and die;
And whoso bears to stay and look on her
Will nobler thing become or else will die;
And when one finds that he may worthy be
To look on her, he doth his virtue prove:
For then that comes to him which gives him health,
And humbleth him till he forgets all wrong;
And God hath given a still greater grace,
That who hath spoke with her cannot end ill.
"Love says of her, 'How can a mortal thing
Be thus in every part adorned and pure?'
Then, gazing on her, to himself he swears
That God in her a creature new designs.
Color of pearl doth clothe her, as it were,--
Not in excess, but most becomingly.
Whate'er of good Nature can make she is;
And by her model Beauty proves itself.
From out her eyes, wherever they may move,
Spirits inflamed with love do issue forth,
Which strike the eyes of whoso looks on her,
And enter so that every heart they find.
Love you behold depicted on her face,
On which with fixed look no one can gaze.
"I know, Canzone, thou wilt go to speak
With many ladies, when I send thee forth;
And now I bid thee, having bred thee up
Like to a young and simple child of Love,
That where thou goest thou shouldst praying say,
'Teach me which way to go, for I am sent
To her with praise of whom I am adorned.'
And if thou wishest not to go in vain,
Remain not there where villain folk may be;
Endeavor, if thou mayst, to be acquaint
Only with ladies, or with courteous men,
Who thee will guide upon the quickest way.
Love thou wilt find in company with her,
And to them both commend me as thou shouldst."
After explaining, according to his custom, and marking the divisions of
this poem, Dante copies out a sonnet in which he answers the question of
one of his friends, who, he says, perhaps entertaining an expectation of
him beyond what was due, asked him, 'What is Love?' Many of the poets
of that time tried their hands in giving an answer to this difficult
question, and Dante begins his with confirming the opinion expressed by
one of them:--
"Love is but one thing with the gentle heart,
As in the saying of the sage we find."[O]
[Footnote O: it is probable that Dante refers to the first of a Canzone
by Guido Guinicelli, which says,
"Within the gentle heart Love always stays,"
--a verse which he may have had still in his memory when he makes
Francesca da Rimini say, (_Inf_. v. 100,)
"Love which by gentle heart is quickly learned."
For other definitions of Love as understood by the Italian poets of the
trecento, see Guido Cavalcanti's most famous and most obscure Canzone,
_Donna mi priega_; the sonnet (No. xlii.) falsely ascribed to Dante,
_Molti volendo dir che fosse Amore_; the sonnet by Jacopo da Lentino,
_Amore e un desio che vien dal core_; and many others.]
Another sonnet follows upon this, telling how this Love was awakened by
Beatrice and beginning with the exquisite praise,
"Within her eyes my lady beareth Love,
So that who looks on her is gentle made."[P]
[Footnote P: Compare with this Sonnet xl.,--
"Dagli occhi della mia donna si muove."
Not many days after this, the father of Beatrice died.[Q] "And inasmuch
as it is the custom in the above-mentioned city for ladies to assemble
with ladies, and men with men, in such affliction, many ladies assembled
at the house where Beatrice was weeping piteously. And seeing certain of
them returning from her, I heard them speak of this most gentle lady,
how she was lamenting.... When these ladies had passed, I remained in
such grief that tears began to fall, and, putting my hands before my
eyes, I covered my face. And if it had not been that I expected to hear
further of her, for I stood near by where most of the ladies who came
from her passed, I should have hidden myself as soon as the tears
assailed me. While I still delayed, more ladies passed by, talking
together and saying, 'Who of us should ever be joyful after hearing this
lady speak so piteously?' After these others passed, who said, as they
went by, 'This one who is here weeps neither more nor less than if he
had seen her as we have.' And then others said of me, 'See! so overcome
is he, that he seems not himself.' And thus these ladies passing by, I
heard speech of her and of myself." And going away, after this, he wrote
two sonnets, telling of what he had seen and heard.[R]
[Footnote Q: Folco Portinari died December 31, 1289.]
[Footnote R: Compare with this passage Sonnet xlvi., which seems to have
been written on this occasion;--
"Voi, donne, che pietoso atto mostrate,"
and Sonnet xlvii.,--
"Onde venite voi, cosi pensose?"
It happened not long after this time that Dante was seized with grievous
illness, which reduced him to such a state of weakness that he lay as
one unable to move. And on the ninth day, suffering greatly, he thought
of his lady, and, reflecting on the frailty of life even at its best,
the thought struck him that even the most gentle Beatrice must at some
time die. And upon this, such consternation seized him that his fancy
began to wander, and, he says, "It seemed to me that I saw ladies, with
hair dishevelled, and marvellously sad, pass weeping by, and that I saw
the sun grow dark, so that the stars showed themselves of such a color
as to make me deem they wept. And it appeared to me that the birds as
they flew fell dead, and that there were great earthquakes. And struck
with wonder at this fantasy, and greatly alarmed, I imagined that a
friend came to me, who said, 'Dost thou not know? Thy admirable lady has
departed from this world.' Then I began to weep very piteously, and wept
not only in imagination, but with my eyes shedding real tears. Then I
imagined that I looked toward heaven, and it seemed to me that I saw a
multitude of angels who were returning upwards, having before them a
little cloud of exceeding whiteness. It seemed to me that these angels
sang gloriously, and that the words of their song were these: '_Osanna
in excelsis!_'--and other than these I did not hear.[S]
[Footnote S: In the _Divina Commedia_ frequent reference is made to the
singing of Osanna by the Angels. See _Purgat_. xi. 11; xxix. 51; _Par_.
vii. 1; xxviii. 94, 118; xxxii. 135; and especially viii. 28.]
"Then the heart in which abode such great love seemed to say to me, 'It
is true that our lady lies dead.' And thereupon I seemed to go to behold
the body in which that most noble and blessed soul had been. And the
erring fancy was so powerful that it showed to me this lady dead, and it
appeared to me that ladies were covering her head with a white veil, and
that her face had such an aspect of humility that it seemed to say, 'I
behold the beginning of peace.'"
Then Dante called upon Death to come to him; and when he had beheld in
his imagination the sad mysteries which are performed for the dead, he
seemed to return to his own chamber. And so strong was his imagining,
that, weeping, he said with his true voice, "O most beautiful soul! how
is he blessed who beholds thee!" Upon this, a young and gentle lady, who
was watching by his bed, thinking that he was grieving for his own pain,
began to weep; whereon other ladies who were in the chamber drew near
and roused him from his dream. Then they asked him by what he had been
troubled; and he told all that he had seen in fancy, keeping silence
only with regard to the name of Beatrice; and when, some time after, he
recovered from his illness, he wrote a poem which related his vision.
The next incident of his new life which Dante tells is one of a
different nature, and of pleasant character. One day he saw Love coming
to him full of joy; and his own heart became so joyful that it seemed to
him it could not be his heart, so changed was its condition. Then he saw
approaching him a lady of famous beauty, who had been the lady of his
first friend. Her name was Giovanna, but on account of her beauty she
was called Primavera, which means _Spring_. And with her was Beatrice.
Then Love, after they had passed, explained the hidden meaning of the
name Primavera, and said, that, by one considering subtilely, Beatrice
would be called _Love_, on account of the great resemblance she bore to
him. Then Dante, thinking over these things, wrote this sonnet to his
friend, believing that he still admired the beauty of this gentle
"An amorous spirit in my heart who lay
I felt awaken from his slumber there;
And then I saw Love come from far away,
But scarce I knew him for his joyous air.
"'Honor to me,' he said, 'think now to pay,'
And all his words with smiles companioned were.
Then as my lord awhile with me did stay,
Along the way whence he appeared whilere
"The Lady Joan and Lady Bice I see,
Coming toward the place wherein I was;
And the two marvels side by side did move.
"Then, as my mind now tells it unto me,
Love said, 'This one is Spring, and this, because
She so resembleth me, is named Love.'"[T]
[Footnote T: See the charming Sonnet lii.:--
"Guido vorrei che tu, e Lappo, ed io."
After this sonnet, Dante enters on a long and fanciful discourse on the
use of figurative language, to explain how he speaks of Love as if it
were not a mere notion of the intellect, but as if it had a corporeal
existence. There is much curious matter in this dissertation, and it is
one of the most striking examples that could be found of the youthful
character of the literature at the time in which Dante was writing, and
of the little familiarity which those in whose hands his book was likely
to fall possessed of the common forms of poetry, and of the style of the
ancient Latin poets.
Returning from this digression, he says: "This most gentle lady, of whom
there has been discourse in what precedes, reached such favor among the
people, that when she passed along the way persons ran to see her, which
gave me wonderful delight. And when she was near any one, such modesty
took possession of his heart, that he did not dare to raise his eyes or
to return her salutation; and to this, should any one doubt it, many,
as having experienced it, could bear witness for me. She, crowned and
clothed with humility, took her way, displaying no pride in that which
she saw and heard. Many, when she had passed, said, 'This is not a
woman; rather is she one of the most beautiful angels of heaven.' Others
said, 'She is a miracle. Blessed be the Lord who can perform such a
marvel!' I say that she showed herself so gentle and so full of all
beauties, that those who looked on her felt within themselves a delight
so pure and sweet that they could not smile; nor was there any who could
look at her and not feel need at first to sigh. These and more wonderful
things proceeded from her, marvellously and in reality. Wherefore I,
thinking on all this, proposed to say some words, in which I would
exhibit her marvellous and excellent influences, to the end that not
only those who might actually behold her, but also others, might know of
her whatever words could tell. Then I wrote this sonnet:--
"So gentle and so modest doth appear
My lady when she giveth her salute,
That every tongue becometh trembling
Nor do the eyes to look upon her dare.
"And though she hears her praises, she doth
Benignly clothed with humility,
And like a thing come down she seems
From heaven to earth, a miracle to show.
"So pleaseth she whoever cometh nigh,
She gives the heart a sweetness through
Which none can understand who doth
"And from her lip there seems indeed to move
A spirit sweet and in Love's very guise,
Which goeth saying to the soul, 'Ah,
[Footnote U: Perhaps the spirit of the latter part of this sonnet may be
better conveyed by rendering thus:--
"So pleaseth she all those approaching nigh
* * * * *
Which goeth saying to the soul, 'Aspire!'"
Compare the very beautiful Ballata vi. and Sonnet xlviii., beginning,
"Di donne io vidi una gentile schiera."
With this incomparable sonnet we close that part of the "Vita Nuova"
which relates to the life of Beatrice. It fitly completes the golden
record of youth. Its tender lines are the epitaph of happy days, and in
them is found that mingled sweetness and sadness which in this world are
always the final expression of love. Its tone is that of the wind of
autumn sighing among the leaves of spring. Beneath its outward meaning
lies a prophecy of joy,--but that joy is to be reached only through the
gates of death.
* * * * *
"A draught of water, maiden fair,"
I said to the girl beside the well.
Oh, sweet was the smile on her face of guile,
As she gave me to drink,--that witch of hell!
I drank, and sweet was the draught I drank,
And thanked the giver, and still she smiled;
And her smile like a curse on my spirit sank,
Till my face grew wan, and my heart grew wild.
And lo! the light from the day was gone,
And gone was maiden, and gone was well:
The dark instead, like a wall of stone,
And rivers that roared through the dark, and fell.
Was it the draught, or was it the smile,
Or my own false heart? Ah, who shall tell?
But the black waves beat at my weary feet,
And sits at my side the witch of hell.
Wheels rolled away in the distance; the corner of a gray cloak fluttered
where the drive turns down hill. From under the fore-wheel of Juggernaut
I struggled back to life with a great sob, that died before it sounded.
I looked about the library for some staff to help me to my feet again.
The porphyry vases were filled with gorgeous boughs, leaves of deep
scarlet, speckled, flushed, gold-spotted, rimmed with green, dashed with
orange, tawny and crimson, blood-sprinkled, faint clear amber; all hues
and combinations of color rioted and revelled in the crowded clusters.
To what hand but hers could so much beauty have gathered? to what eye
but hers did the magnificent secrets of Nature reveal themselves, so
that out of a whole forest her careless straying hand should bring only
its culminating glories, its most perfect results, whether of leaf or
flower or fruit. For in an urn of tintless alabaster, that had lain
centuries in the breathless dust and gloom of an Egyptian tomb, that
hand had set a sheaf of gentians, every fringed cup blue as the wild
river when a noon sky tints it, or as the vaulted azure of a June
midnight on the edge of the Milky Way,--a sheaf no Ceres owned, no
foodfull garner coveted, but the satiating aliment of beauty, fresh as
if God that hour had pronounced them good, and set his sign-manual upon
each delicate tremulous petal, that might have been sapphire, save for
its wistful translucence. And on the teapoy in the window stood two
dainty baskets of clean willow, in which we had that day brought home
chestnuts from the wood;--mine was full of nuts, but they were small and
angular and worm-eaten, as the fruitage of a wet season might well be;
hers scantily freighted, but every nut round, full, and glossy, perfect
from its cruel husk, a specimen, a type of its kind. And on the handle
of the basket hung a little kid glove. I looked at it closely; the
tiny finger-tops and oval nails had left light creases on the delicate
leather, and an indescribable perfume, in which violet predominated,
drove away the vile animal scent that pervades such gloves. I flung it
on the fire.
All about the room lay books that were not of my culling, from the oak
cases, whose every door stood ajar,--novels innumerable,--"The Arabian
Nights," Vaughan's "Silex Scintillans," with a scarlet leaf laid in
against "Peace," and "Tennyson" turned on its face at "Fatima," a heavy
volume of French moral philosophy, a Methodist hymn-book, Sir Thomas
Browne's "Hydriotaphia," and a gilded red-bound history of "Five Little
I rang the bell, and ordered all the books to be gathered up and put
into an old bookcase, long banished to a dark attic. I walked to the
fire and leaned my head against the mantel. The embers were all dead; in
the gray ashes was the print of a little foot, whose arched instep had
left no trace between the light track of the small heel and the deeper
impression that the slender toe had left. That footprint told the
secret of her airy motion,--that step so akin to flight, that on an
overhanging mountain-ledge I had more than once held my breath, looking
to see her extended wings float over the silent tree-tops below, or
longed to grasp her carelessly trailed shawl, that I might detain her
upon earth. To me the track had yet another language. An hour before,
as I stood there beside her, the bitter passion of a man solitary and
desperate shaking every faculty before the level rays of her scornful
eye, she had set her embroidered slipper in the ashes, and said,--"Look!
I leave a print there which the first breath of air shall dissipate;
all fire becomes ashes, and ashes blow away,"--and so left me. I stood
before the fire, that had been, still looking at that foot-mark; my
brain was stunned and stupid, my heart beat slow and loud; I knew
nothing, I felt nothing. I was nothing. Presently a bell rang.
The world is full of magicians, transformations, magnetic miracles,
juggling, chemical astonishments, moral gymnastics, hypocrisies, lies of
wonder,--but what is so strange, so marvellous, so inexplicable, as the
power of conventions? One minute found me tempting the blackness of
darkness, every idea astray and reeling, every emotion benumbed; the
next, a bell rang, and I went to the tea-table, sat in my own place,
answered my mother's questions, resumed the politenesses and habits of
daily life, seemed to be myself to those who had known me always,--ate,
drank, jested,--was a man,--no more the trodden ashes under a girl's
foot, no longer the sport of a girl's cool eye, no slave, no writhing
idolater under the car-wheel; and this lasted-half an hour! You have
seen the horses of Pharaoh following the glittering sand-track of the
Judaean host, walled in with curling beryl battlements, over whose
crests the white sea-foam dares no more laugh and threaten? You know
those curved necks clothed with strength, the bent head whose nostrils
flare with pride, the tossed and waving mane, the magnificent grace of
the nervous shoulder, the great, intelligent, expectant eyes? Suddenly
the roar of waves at the farther shore! Look at that head! strong and
quiet no more; terror erects the quivering ears; the nostril sinks and
contracts with fear; the eye glares and glances from side to side, mad
with prescient instinct; the corded veins that twist forkedly from the
lip upward swell to the utmost tension of the fine skin; that sweeping
mane rises in rough undulations, the forelock is tossed back, the
shoulder grows rigid with horror, the chest rises with a long indrawn
breath of dismay. Horrible beyond all horrid sounds, the yell of a horse
in mortal fear. Do you hear it? No,--it is a picture,--the picture of a
moment between one animal that sees the impending fate, and another that
has not yet caught it;--it is human that such moments interpose between
two oceans of agony, that man can momentarily control the rush of a sea
which the brute must yield to.--So the sea rushed back.
All night long, all the long night!--long as lifetimes are, measured
with slow-dropping arteries that drip away living blood. Once I watched
by a dying woman; wild October rains poured without, but all unheard; in
the dim-lit room, scented with quaint odors of lackered cases and chests
of camphor-wood, heavy with perfumes that failed to revive, and hushed
with whispers of hopeless comment, that delicate frame and angelic
face, which the innumerable lines of age could only exalt and sweeten,
shivered with the frosts of death; every breath was a sob; every sigh,
anguish; the terrible restlessness of the struggle between soul and body
in their parting writhed in every limb;--but there were no words other
than broken cries of prayer, only half-heard on earth, till at length
the tender, wistful eyes unclosed, and in a hoarse whisper, plaintive
beyond expression, full of a desolate and immortal weariness, bearing a
conviction of eternity and exhaustion that words cannot hope to utter,
she said, "Will it never be morning?" And so this night stayed its pace;
my room grew narrow and low; the ceiling pressed on my head; the walls
forever clasped me, yet receded ever as I paced the floor; the floor
fell in strange waves under me,--yet I walked steadily, up and down, up
and down! Still the night stayed. Fever set its hurried pulses fleeting
like wild-fire through every vein; a band of hot iron pressed above my
eyes;--but these were adjuncts; the curse consumed me within. In every
moment I heard those calm and fatal words, "I do not love you," sounding
clear and sweet through the dull leaden air of night,--an air full of
ghostly sounds, sighs about the casements, creaking stairs, taps at
the window, light sounds of feet in the long hall below; all falling
heedless on my ear, for my ghost walked and talked with me, a ghastly
reality, the galvanized corpse of a murdered life.
Still the night stayed. A weight of lead pressed on my brain and
concentrated it to frantic power; the months in which I had known her,
the only months I could call life, came back to me inch by inch, grain
by grain. I recalled our first meeting,--the sudden springing into
acquaintance,--the sympathetic power that had transfused those cold blue
eyes into depths of tenderness and pity,--the gay and genial manner that
aroused and charmed me,--the scornful lip that curled at the world for
its worldliness,--that fresh imagination, which, like the spirit of
frost, decked the commonest things with beauty; and I recalled those
early letters that had passed between us,--mine, insipid enough,--hers,
piquant, graphic, refined, tender, delicately passionate, sparkling,
full of lofty thought and profound feeling. Good God! could she not
have taken my heart, and wrung it, and thrown it away, under some more
commonplace pretext than the profaned name of Friendship? Her friend!
It is true I had called myself her friend; I had been strenuous in the
nomenclature to quiet my own conscience,--to satisfy her conventional
scruples; but had she no instinct to interpret the pretence? What friend
ever lived on every look, studied every phrase, watched every action and
expression, was so torn with jealousy and racked with doubt, bore
so humbly with caprices, and forgave every offence so instantly and
utterly,--nay, was scarce conscious that anything her soul entertained
could be an offence, could be wrong? Friendship!--ah, that deity is calm
and serene; that firm lip and pale cheek do not flush with apprehension
or quiver with passion; that tranquil eye does not shine with anything
but quiet tears. Rather call the dusky and dark-haired Twilight, whose
pensive face is limned against the western hills, by the name of that
fierce and fervid Noon that stands erect under the hot zenith, instinct
with the red blood of a thousand summers, casting her glittering tresses
abroad upon the south-wind, and holding in her hands the all-unfolded
rose of life. And if I was only her friend, was that a reason why she
should permit in me the thousand intimacies of look and caress that are
the novitiate of love? Was it a friend's calm duty to give me her tiny
hand to hold in mine, that I might fold and unfold the rosy fingers, and
explore the white dimples that were its ornamenting gems,--to rest her
tired head against my shoulder, even,--watching all day by the chair
where pain, life-long ministrant, held me on the rack?--was it only
friendly that she should press her soft little mouth to mine, and soothe
me into quiet as a mother soothes her last, her dearest child? No! no!
no! never could that be! She knew, she had known, that I loved her!
Deliberate cruelty outlined those lovely lips; every statue-like
moulding of that proud face told the hard and unrelenting nature of the
soul within. God forgive her!--the exclamation escaped me unaware, and
recoiled in a savage exultation that such treachery had no forgiveness
in heaven or on earth,--one gleam of desperate satisfaction in that
black night. But in its light, what new madness seized me? I had held
her stainless and holy, intact of evil or deceit; what was she now? My
whole brain reeled; the foundations were taken away; earth and heaven
met; even as when the West forges tempest and lightning-bolts upon its
melancholy hills, brooding and muttering hour by hour, till at length
the livid gloom rushes upward against sun and stars, and the blackening
sky shuts down upon the blackened earth, cowering at the shock, and the
torrents and flames are let loose upon their prey,--so an accumulated
storm of unutterable agony flung wave on wave above me, wrecked and
Still the night stayed; the black mass of forest that swept up the
hill-side stood in mystical gloom, in silence that could be felt; when
at once,--not suddenly,--as if the night could forbear no more, but
must utter some chord with the culmination of midnight horrors, a bird
uttered one sharp cry, desolate utterly, hopeless, concentred, as if a
keen blade parted its heart and the outraged life within remonstrated
and despaired,--despaired not of life, for still the note repeated its
monotone, but of death, of period to its pangs. That cry entered into my
brain; it was unjust of Nature so to taunt me, so to express where I was
speechless; yet I could not shut it out. A pitiful chill of flesh and
sense seized me; I was cold,--oh, how cold!--the fevered veins crept now
in sluggish ice; sharp thrills of shivering rigor racked me from head
to foot; pain had dulled its own capacity; wrapped in every covering my
room afforded, with blunted perceptions, and a dreadful consciousness of
lost vitality, which, even when I longed to die, appalled me with the
touch of death's likeness, I sunk on the floor,--and it was morning!
Morning! "a day of darkness and of gloominess, a day of clouds and of
thick darkness, as the morning spread upon the mountains!" A pale sun
lit the earth, but earth and sky were black,--no sun touched me in heart
or eye; I saw nothing, felt nothing, but heavy and impenetrable gloom.
Yet again the ceremonies of life prevailed, and my real life slept
undiscovered. Whatever pallor or shadow lined my face was no stranger
there at that hour. The gray morning passed away; the village on the
hill sent down busy sounds of labor and cheer; flies buzzed on the sunny
pane, doors clicked and slammed in the house, fires crackled behind the
shining fire-dogs. I went to the library,--_the first breath of
air_ had--_dissipated it_! What a mockery! I went away,--out of the
house,--on, anywhere. Dry leaves rustled in my path and sent up a faint
aromatic breath as they were crushed in the undried dew; squirrels
chattered in the wood; here and there a dropping nut stirred the silence
with deliberate fall, or an unseen grouse whirred through the birches at
my approaching step. The way was trodden and led me by gradual slope and
native windings through the dull red oaks downward to the river. Once on
the path, a low cluster of sweet fern attracted me;--strange assertion
of human personality, that in the deepest grief a man knows and notices
the trivial features of Nature with microscopic fidelity! that the
veining of a leaf or the pencilling of a blossom will attract the eye
that no majesty or beauty of unwonted manifestation could light with
one appreciative spark! Is it that the injured and indignant soul
so vindicates its own essential and divine strength, and says,
unconsciously, to the most uncontrolled anguish, "There is in me a life
no mortal accident can invade; the breath of God is not altogether
extinct in any blast of man's devising; shake, torture, assault the
outer tenement,--darken its avenues with fire to stifle, and drench its
approaches with seas to drown,--there is that within that God alone can
vanquish,--yours is but a finite terror"? Half-crazed as I was, the
fern-bed attracted me, as I said, and I flung myself wearily down on the
leaves, whose healing and soothing odor stole up like a cloud all about
me; and I lay there in the sun, noting with pertinacious accuracy every
leaf or bloom that was within the range of sight,--the dark green leaves
of the wax-flower springing from their red stem, veined and threaded
with creamy white, stiff and quaint in form and growth,--the bending
sprays of goldenrod that bowed their light and brittle stems over me,
swaying gently to and fro in the gentle wind,--the tiny scarlet cups of
moss that held a little drop of dew brimming over their rims of fire, a
spark in the ashy gray moss-beds where they stood,--the shrinking and
wan wood-asters, branched out widely, but set with meagre bloom,--every
half-tint of the lichens, that scantily fed from the relentless granite
rock, yet clung to its stern face with fearless persistence,--the rough
seams and velvet green moss-tufts of the oak-trunks,--the light that
pierced the dingy hue of oak-leaves with vivid and informing crimson:
all these stamped themselves on my mind with inevitable minuteness; the
great wheel of Fate rolled over me, and I bore the marks even of its
ornamental rim; the grooves in its tire left traces of its track.
At length the minuteness of Nature oppressed me. The thousand odors,
spicy, acrid, aromatic, honeyed, that an autumnal dew expressed from
every herb, through that sense that is the slave of association,
recalled my youth, my boyhood, the free and careless hours I knew no
more, when, on just such mornings of hazy and splendid autumns, I had
just so lain on the fern-beds, heedless of every beauty that haunted the
woods, full of fresh life, rejoicing in dog and gun and rod as no man
ever rejoices in title-deeds or stocks or hoarded gold. The reminiscence
stung me to the quick; I could endure no more. Rising, I went on, and
through the oak-wood came to the brink of the river, and in a vague
weariness sat down upon the massive water-wall, and looked over into
the dark brown stream. It was deep below me; a little above were clear
shallows, where the water-spider pursued its toil of no result, and
cast upon the yellow sand beneath a shadow that was not a shadow, but,
refracted from the broken surface, spots of glittering light, clustered
like the diamonds of a brooch, separate, yet linked, and tremulously
bright. This, also, did I note; but below my feet the river flowed
darker and more deeply, darkness and depth broken only by the glancing
fins of little fishes, that slanted downward, catching a gleam as they
went. No other light pierced the sullen, apprehensive flood that rolled
past in tranquil gloom, leaden from the skies above, and without ripple
or fall to break its glassy quiet. Beside the wall grew a witch-hazel;
in my vague grasp at outside objects I saw it, full of wrinkled and
weird bloom, as if the golden fleece had strayed thereby, and caught
upon the ungainly twigs of the scragged bush, and left glittering curled
threads in flecked bunches scattered on every branch; the strange
spell-sweet odor of the flowers struck me before I saw them, and the
whole expression of their growth affected me with helpless admiration,
so brave as it was!--defying all Autumn to daunt the immortal Spring
ever surviving in its soul,--here, on October's edge, putting out its
freshness and perfume, as if seasons were an accident, and circumstance
a chimera,--as if will, good-will, will to be of strength and cheer,
were potent enough to laugh at Nature, and trust the God-given
consciousness within, whatever adverse fate ruled and triumphed without.
Not that all these ideas came to me then, else perhaps I had been spared
that morning's experience; but they entered my brain as lightning is
sometimes said to enter a tree and stamp some image from without
upon its heart, thereafter to be revealed by the hewing axe and the
persistent saw. No! I sat by the river and looked down into its dark
serenity, and again the horror of the past day swept over me with fresh
force. Could I live? The unswerving river lay before me; in its bed
nothing stirred; neither pang nor passion in those chill depths could
utter a cry; there she could not come; there was rest. I did not yield;
oh, no, I did not yield! I resisted,--passively. I laid hold upon the
eternal fact that there was a God; the blind and blank universe spun
about me; its pillars of support wavered like waterspouts; all that I
had ever believed or loved whirled up and down in one howling chaos,
and circled through all space in clouds of dust and floating atoms; but
through all I knew there was a God,--feel it I could not, neither did I
see nor did one of Nature's tongues spell me the lesson,--I only knew
it. And I did not, no, I did not rush before Him; but I lay at the
bottom of the river.
I have heard it said that drowning persons recall, as by a sudden
omniscience, all their past lives, as soon as the water closes above
them and the first shock of horror is past. It was not so with me. I
remembered nothing beyond the events of the past week; but, by some
strange action of the mind, as soon as the gasping sense of an unnatural
element passed away, my thoughts went forward. I became, as it were,
another man; and above me on the bank I saw calmly the stone where my
living double had left his cripple's cane, and thought to myself for one
sharp moment, "Fool!"--for I looked forward. _If I had not drowned_,
that was the key-note of the theme. Something that was me and was not me
rose up from the water-wall and went away,--a man racked and broken by
a great sorrow, it is true, but a man conscious of God. Life had turned
its darkest page for him, but there was the impassable fact that it was
the darkest; no further depths remained to dread; the worst had come,
and he looked it in the face and studied it; suffer he might, but
with full knowledge of every agony. Life had been wrecked, but living
remained. Calmly he took up the cripple's cane and went home; the
birds sang no song,--after tempests they do not sing until the sun
shines,--neither did the blossoms give him any greeting. Nature wastes
no trivialities on such grief; the mother, whose child comes in to her
broken-limbed and wounded, does not give it sugar-plums and kisses, but
waits in silence till the surgeon has done his kindly and appalling
office,--then, it may be, she sings her boy to sleep!
But this man took up life again and conquered it. Home grew about him
into serenity and cheer; as from the roots of a felled tree a thousand
verdant offshoots spring, tiny in stature, but fresh and vivid in
foliage, so out of this beheaded love arose a crowd of sweet affections
and tender services that made the fraternity of man seem possible, and
illustrated the pervasive care of God. He went out into life, and from
a heart wrung with all man can endure, and a brain tested in the fire,
spoke burning and fluent words of strength and consolation to hundreds
who, like him, had suffered, but were sinking under what he had borne.
And these words carried in them a reviving virtue. Men blessed him
silently, and women sang him in their hearts as they sing hymns of
prayer. Honors clustered about him as mosses to a rock; Fame relented,
and gave him an aureole in place of a crown; and Love, late, but sweeter
than sweet, like the last sun-ripened fruit of autumn, made honors and
fame alike endurable. This man conquered, and triumphed in the victory.
I held out my hand in that water and touched--a skeleton! What! had any
other man preceded me? I looked at it; it was the water-washed frame of
a horse,--brutes together! And death was at hand; the grasp tightened
on my breast with that acrid sense of weight and suffocation that the
redundant blood suffusing the lungs must needs produce. "The soul of the
brute goeth downward." Coward! what might not life have been? and I had
lost it!--lost it for the sting of a honey-bee!--for the contempt of a
woman! Every magnificent possibility, every immortal power, every hope
of a future, tantalizing in its grand mystery, all lost! What if that
sweeping star-seraph that men call a comet, speeding through heaven in
its lonely splendor, with nitent head, and pinions trailing with the
very swiftness and strength of its onward flight, should shudder from
its orbit, fling into star-strewn space its calm and awful glory, and
go crashing down into the fury and blackness of chaos, carrying with it
wrecks of horror, and the yelling fragments of spheres no longer choral,
but smitten with the lawless stroke of a creature regardless of its
Creator, an orb that made its solitary fate, and carried across the
order and the law of God ruin and wreck embodied?
And I had a soul;--I had flung it away; I had set my will up for my
destiny, and the one had worked out the other. But had I? When that
devilish suggestion came to me on the bank, did I entertain it? Have I
not said how I grasped at the great idea of a God, and held it with a
death-gripe in the midst of assault? How did I come in the water? I did
not plunge nor fall. No shock of horror chilled me; no remembrance of
a voluntary assent to the Tempter could I recall. I was there, it was
true; but was I guilty? Did I, in the eyes of any watching angel,
consciously cast my life, brittle and blind as it was, away in that
fashion? In the water, helpless now for any effort after upper air,
side by side with the fleshless anatomy of a brute, over-sailed by gray
fishes with speckled sides, whose broad, unwinking eyes glared at me
with maddening shine and stare,--oppressed, and almost struggling, yet
all unable to achieve the struggle with the curdling blood that gorged
every vein and air-cell with the hurried rush of death,--did I go out of
this life red with the sin of murder? Did I commit suicide?
* * * * *
THE MINISTER'S WOOING.
It is seldom that man and woman come together in intimate association,
unless influences are at work more subtile and mysterious than the
subjects of them dream. Even in cases where the strongest ruling force
of the two sexes seems out of the question, there is still something
peculiar and insidious in their relationship. A fatherly old gentleman,
who undertakes the care of a sprightly young girl, finds, to his
astonishment, that little Miss spins all sorts of cobwebs round him.
Grave professors and teachers cannot give lessons to their female pupils
just as they give them to the coarser sex, and more than once has the
fable of "Cadenus and Vanessa" been acted over by the most unlikely
The Doctor was a philosopher, a metaphysician, a philanthropist, and in
the highest and most earnest sense a minister of good on earth. The
New England clergy had no sentimental affectation of sanctity that
segregated them from wholesome human relations; and consequently our
good Doctor had always resolved, in a grave and thoughtful spirit, at a
suitable time in his worldly affairs, to choose unto himself a helpmeet.
Love, as treated of in romances, he held to be a foolish and profane
matter, unworthy the attention of a serious and reasonable creature. All
the language of poetry on this subject was to him an unknown tongue. He
contemplated the entrance on married life somewhat in this wise:--That
at a time and place suiting, he should look out unto himself a woman of
a pleasant countenance and of good repute, a zealous, earnest Christian,
and well skilled in the items of household management, whom accosting as
a stranger and pilgrim to a better life, he should loyally and lovingly
entreat, as Isaac did Rebekah, to come under the shadow of his tent and
be a helpmeet unto him in what yet remained of this mortal journey. But
straitened circumstances, and the unsettled times of the Revolution, in
which he had taken an earnest and zealous part, had delayed to a late
bachelorhood the fulfilment of this resolution.
When once received under the shadow of Mrs. Scudder's roof, and within
the provident sphere of her unfailing housekeeping, all material
necessity for an immediate choice was taken away; for he was exactly in
that situation dearest to every scholarly and thoughtful man, in which
all that pertained to the outward life appeared to rise under his hand
at the moment he wished for it without his knowing how or why.
He was not at the head of a prosperous church and society, rich and
well-to-do in the world,--but, as the pioneer leader of a new theology,
in a country where theology was the all-absorbing interest, he had to
breast the reaction that ever attends the advent of new ideas. His
pulpit talents, too, were unattractive. His early training had been
all logical, not in the least aesthetic; for, like the ministry of his
country generally, he had been trained always to think more of what he
should say than of how he should say it. Consequently, his style,
though not without a certain massive greatness, which always comes from
largeness of nature, had none of those attractions by which the common
masses are beguiled into thinking. He gave only the results of thought,
not its incipient processes; and the consequence was, that few could
follow him. In like manner, his religious teachings were characterized
by an ideality so high as quite to discourage ordinary virtue.
There is a ladder to heaven, whose base God has placed in human
affections, tender instincts, symbolic feelings, sacraments of love,
through which the soul rises higher and higher, refining as she goes,
till she outgrows the human, and changes, as she rises, into the image
of the divine. At the very top of this ladder, at the threshold of
paradise, blazes dazzling and crystalline that celestial grade where the
soul knows self no more, having learned, through a long experience of
devotion, how blest it is to lose herself in that eternal Love and
Beauty of which all earthly fairness and grandeur are but the dim type,
the distant shadow. This highest step, this saintly elevation, which but
few selectest spirits ever on earth attain, to raise the soul to which
the Eternal Father organized every relation of human existence and
strung every chord of human love, for which this world is one long
discipline, for which the soul's human education is constantly varied,
for which it is now torn by sorrow, now flooded by joy, to which all
its multiplied powers tend with upward hands of dumb and ignorant
aspiration,--this Ultima Thule of virtue had been seized upon by our
sage as the _all_ of religion. He knocked out every round of the ladder
but the highest, and then, pointing to its hopeless splendor, said to
the world, "Go up thither and be saved!"
Short of that absolute self-abnegation, that unconditional surrender to
the Infinite, there was nothing meritorious,--because, if _that_ were
commanded, every moment of refusal was rebellion. Every prayer, not
based on such consecration, he held to be an insult to the Divine
Majesty;--the reading of the Word, the conscientious conduct of life,
the performance of the duties of man to man, being, without this, the
deeds of a creature in conscious rebellion to its Eternal Sovereign,
were all vitiated and made void. Nothing was to be preached to the
sinner, but his ability and obligation to rise immediately to this
It is not wonderful that teaching of this sort should seem to many
unendurable, and that the multitude should desert the preacher with the
cry, "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" The young and gay were
wearied by the dryness of metaphysical discussions which to them were as
unintelligible as a statement of the last results of the mathematician
to the child commencing the multiplication-table. There remained around
him only a select circle,--shrewd, hard thinkers, who delighted
in metaphysical subtilties,--deep-hearted, devoted natures, who
sympathized with the unworldly purity of his life, his active
philanthropy and untiring benevolence,--courageous men, who admired his
independence of thought and freedom in breasting received opinion,--and
those unperceiving, dull, good people who are content to go to church
anywhere as convenience and circumstance may drift them,--people who
serve, among the keen feeling and thinking portion of the world, much
the same purpose as adipose matter in the human system, as a soft
cushion between the nerves of feeling and the muscles of activity.
There was something affecting in the pertinacity with which the good
Doctor persevered in saying his say to his discouraging minority of
hearers. His salary was small; his meeting-house, damaged during the
Revolutionary struggle, was dilapidated and forlorn,--fireless in
winter, and in summer admitting a flood of sun and dust through those
great windows which formed so principal a feature in those first efforts
of Puritan architecture.
Still, grand in his humility, he preached on,--and as a soldier never
asks why, but stands at apparently the most useless post, so he went on
from Sunday to Sunday, comforting himself with the reflection that no
one could think more meanly of his ministrations than he did himself. "I
am like Moses only in not being eloquent," he said, in his simplicity.
"My preaching is barren and dull, my voice is hard and harsh; but then
the Lord is a Sovereign, and may work through me. He fed Elijah once
through a raven, and he may feed some poor wandering soul through me."
The only mistake made by the good man was that of supposing that the
elaboration of theology was preaching the gospel. The gospel he was
preaching constantly, by his pure, unworldly living, by his visitations
to homes of poverty and sorrow, by his searching out of the lowly
African slaves, his teaching of those whom no one else in those days had
thought of teaching, and by the grand humanity, outrunning his age, in
which he protested against the then admitted system of slavery and the
slave-trade. But when, rising in the pulpit, he followed trains of
thought suited only to the desk of the theological lecture-room, he did
it blindly, following that law of self-development by which minds of a
certain amount of fervor _must_ utter what is in them, whether men will
hear or whether they will forbear.
But the place where our Doctor was happiest was his study. There he
explored, and wandered, and read, and thought, and lived a life as
wholly ideal and intellectual as heart could conceive.
And could _Love_ enter a reverend doctor's study, and find his way into
a heart empty and swept of all those shreds of poetry and romance in
which he usually finds the material of his incantations?
Even so;--but he came so thoughtfully, so reverently, with so wise
and cautious a footfall, that the good Doctor never even raised his
spectacles to see who was there. The first that he knew, poor man,
he was breathing an air of strange and subtile sweetness,--from what
paradise he never stopped his studies to inquire. He was like a great,
rugged elm, with all its lacings and archings of boughs and twigs, which
has stood cold and frozen against the metallic blue of winter sky,
forgetful of leaves, and patient in its bareness, calmly content in its
naked strength and crystalline definiteness of outline. But in April
there is a rising and stirring within the grand old monster,--a
whispering of knotted buds, a mounting of sap coursing ethereally from
bough to bough with a warm and gentle life; and though the old elm knows
it not, a new creation is at hand. Just so, ever since the good man had
lived at Mrs. Scudder's, and had the gentle Mary for his catechumen, a
richer life seemed to have colored his thoughts,--his mind seemed to
work with a pleasure as never before.
Whoever looked on the forehead of the good Doctor must have seen the
squareness of ideality giving marked effect to its outline. As yet
ideality had dealt only with the intellectual and invisible, leading to
subtile refinements of argument and exalted ideas of morals. But there
was lying in him, crude and unworked, a whole mine of those artistic
feelings and perceptions which are awakened and developed only by the
touch of beauty. Had he been born beneath the shadow of the great Duomo
of Florence, where Giotto's Campanile rises like the slender stalk of
a celestial lily, where varied marbles and rainbow-glass and gorgeous
paintings and lofty statuary call forth, even from childhood, the soul's
reminiscences of the bygone glories of its pristine state, his would
have been a soul as rounded and full in its sphere of faculties as that
of Da Vinci or Michel Angelo. But of all that he was as ignorant as a
child; and the first revelation of his dormant nature was to come to him
through the face of woman,--that work of the Mighty Master which is to
be found in all lands and ages.
What makes the love of a great mind something fearful in its inception
is that it is often the unsealing of a hitherto undeveloped portion of
a large and powerful being; the woman may or may not seem to other eyes
adequate to the effect produced, but the man cannot forget her, because
with her came a change which makes him forever a different being. So it
was with our friend. A woman it was that was destined to awaken in him
all that consciousness which music, painting, poetry awaken in more
evenly developed minds; and it is the silent breathing of her creative
presence that is even now creating him anew, while as yet he knows it
He never thought, this good old soul, whether Mary were beautiful or
not; he never even knew that he looked at her; nor did he know why it
was that the truths of his theology, when uttered by her tongue, had
such a wondrous beauty as he never felt before. He did not know why it
was, that, when she silently sat by him, copying tangled manuscript for
the press, as she sometimes did, his whole study seemed so full of some
divine influence, as if, like St. Dorothea, she had worn in her bosom,
invisibly, the celestial roses of paradise. He recorded honestly in his
diary what marvellous freshness of spirit the Lord had given him, and
how he seemed to be uplifted in his communings with heaven, without once
thinking from the robes of what angel this sweetness had exhaled.
On Sundays, when he saw good Mrs. Jones asleep, and Simon Brown's hard,
sharp eyes, and Deacon Twitchel mournfully rocking to and fro, and his
wife handing fennel to keep the children awake, his eye glanced across
to the front gallery, where one earnest young face, ever kindling with
feeling and bright with intellect, followed on his way, and he felt
uplifted and comforted. On Sunday mornings, when Mary came out of her
little room, in clean white dress, with her singing-book and psalm-book
in her hands, her deep eyes solemn from recent prayer, he thought of
that fair and mystical bride, the Lamb's wife, whose union with her
Divine Redeemer in a future millennial age was a frequent and favorite
subject of his musings; yet he knew not that this celestial bride,
clothed in fine linen, clean and white, veiled in humility and meekness,
bore in his mind those earthly features. No, he never had dreamed of
that! But only after she had passed by, that mystical vision seemed to
him more radiant, more easy to be conceived.
It is said, that, if a grape-vine be planted in the neighborhood of a
well, its roots, running silently underground, wreathe themselves in
a net-work around the cold, clear waters, and the vine's putting on
outward greenness and unwonted clusters and fruit is all that tells
where every root and fibre of its being has been silently stealing. So
those loves are most fatal, most absorbing, in which, with unheeded
quietness, every thought and fibre of our life twines gradually around
some human soul, to us the unsuspected wellspring of our being. Fearful
it is, because so often the vine must be uprooted, and all its fibres
wrenched away; but till the hour of discovery comes, how is it
transfigured by a new and beautiful life!
There is nothing in life more beautiful than that trancelike quiet dawn
which precedes the rising of love in the soul. When the whole being
is pervaded imperceptibly and tranquilly by another being, and we are
happy, we know not and ask not why, the soul is then receiving all and
asking nothing. At a later day she becomes self-conscious, and then come
craving exactions, endless questions,--the whole world of the material
comes in with its hard counsels and consultations, and the beautiful
trance fades forever.
Of course, all this is not so to you, my good friends, who read it
without the most distant idea what it can mean; but there are people in
the world to whom it has meant and will mean much, and who will see in
the present happiness of our respectable friend something even ominous
It had not escaped the keen eye of the mother how quickly and innocently
the good Doctor was absorbed by her daughter, and thereupon had come
long trains of practical reflections.
The Doctor, though not popular indeed as a preacher, was a noted man in
his age. Her deceased husband had regarded him with something of the
same veneration which might have been accorded to a divine messenger,
and Mrs. Scudder had received and kept this veneration as a precious
legacy. Then, although not handsome, the Doctor had decidedly a grand
and imposing appearance. There was nothing common or insignificant about
him. Indeed, it had been said, that, when, just after the declaration of
peace, he walked through the town in the commemorative procession side
by side with General Washington, the minister, in the majesty of his
gown, bands, cocked hat, and full flowing wig, was thought by many to be
the more majestic and personable figure of the two.
In those days, the minister united in himself all those ideas of
superior position and cultivation with which the theocratic system of
the New England community had invested him. Mrs. Scudder's notions of
social rank could reach no higher than to place her daughter on the
throne of such preeminence.
Her Mary, she pondered, was no common girl. In those days, it was a rare
thing for young persons to devote themselves to religion or make any
professions of devout life. The church, or that body of people who
professed to have passed through a divine regeneration, was almost
entirely confined to middle-aged and elderly people, and it was looked
upon as a singular and unwonted call of divine grace when young persons
came forward to attach themselves to it. When Mary, therefore, at quite
an early age, in all the bloom of her youthful beauty, arose, according
to the simple and impressive New England rite, to consecrate herself
publicly to a religious life, and to join the company of professing
Christians, she was regarded with a species of deference amounting even
to awe. Had it not been for the childlike, unconscious simplicity of her
manners, the young people of her age would have shrunk away from her,
as from one entirely out of their line of thought and feeling; but a
certain natural and innocent playfulness and amiable self-forgetfulness
made her a general favorite.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Scudder knew no young man whom she deemed worthy to
have and hold a heart which she priced so highly. As to James, he stood
at double disadvantage, because, as her cousin's son, he had grown up
from childhood under her eye, and all those sins and iniquities into
which gay and adventurous youngsters will be falling had come to her
knowledge. She felt kindly to the youth; she wished him well; but as to
giving him her Mary!--the very suggestion made her dislike him. She was
quite sure he must have tried to beguile her,--he must have tampered
with her feelings, to arouse in her pure and well-ordered mind so much
emotion and devotedness as she had witnessed.
How encouraging a Providence, then, was it that he was gone to sea for
three years!--how fortunate that Mary had been prevented in any way from
committing herself with him!--how encouraging that the only man in those
parts, in the least fitted to appreciate her, seemed so greatly pleased
and absorbed in her society!--how easily might Mary's dutiful reverence
be changed to a warmer sentiment, when she should find that so great a
man could descend from his lofty thoughts to think of her!
In fact, before Mrs. Scudder had gone to sleep the first night after
James's departure, she had settled upon the house where the minister
and his young wife were to live, had reviewed the window-curtains and
bed-quilts for each room, and glanced complacently at an improved
receipt for wedding-cake which might be brought out to glorify a certain
THE FRIENDS AND RELATIONS OF JAMES.