Part 4 out of 5
"I was wantin' to see ye, a minit," continued she; "but Miss Coffin
allers keeps cleaned up so slick, I don't hardly darst to come in."
"Oh, waal," replied Phineas, with a chuckle of satisfaction at the
compliment to his wife. "Ye look nice enough for anybody's folks. Come
right in, this way."
"I dunno how 'tis," continued the visitor, as she followed her host
through the long entry, "that Miss Coffin can allers be so forehanded
with her work, an' do sich a master sight on't, too. She don't never
seem to be in the suds, Monday nor no time."
Mr. Coffin had reached the door of the "keeping-room" as the widow
concluded her last remark; but pausing, with his thumb upon the latch,
he turned, and, looking over his shoulder, whispered, with an emphatic
"Fact is, Miss Janes, there a'n't sich a great many women jest like
"There a'n't no two ways about that," murmured Miss Janes, assentingly,
as the door was thrown open.
"Walk right in. Here, Marthy, the widder Janes has called to see you
A quiet, middle-aged woman turned round from the table, where she was
fitting patches to a pair of pauper trousers. Her face was sweet, her
voice low, and, though she was of middle age, every one agreed that
"Miss Coffin was a real pooty woman, an' a harnsome woman too."
"How does thee do, Keziah Janes? I am glad to see thee. Take a seat by
the fire, and warm thee after thy cold walk."
"I can't stop a minit; but it's as cheap settin' as stannin', I do
suppose," replied the widow, with a nervous little laugh, as she seated
herself in the proffered chair upon the clean red hearth, and commenced
her business by saying,--
"I was wantin' to speak with you, Mr. Coffin, about poor Mr.
"Widdrinton,--who's he?" inquired Phineas.
"Waal," commenced the widow, settling herself in her chair, and
assuming the air of one who has a story to narrate. "You know I have my
thirds in the house my poor husband left. It wa'n't sold, as it had
ought to ben,--for Samooel (that's _his_ brother) never's ben easy that
I should have the rooms I have; but they're what was set off for me,
an' so he can't help himself; on'y he's allers a-thornin.' when he gits
"But that a'n't nyther here nor there. What I was a-comin' to was this.
Ruther better 'n a year ago, a man come to me and wanted to know ef I
used all my rooms. I told him I hadn't no use for the garrit, 'cept to
dry my yarbs in (for I think yarbs are drefful good in case o'
sickness, Miss Coffin,--don't you?) An' then he said he wanted a place
to sleep in, an' his breakfast an' supper, an' wanted to know if I
would take him so.
"Waal, I thought about it a spell, an' I concluded I was too old to
mind the speech o' people, and I hadn't no other objection, so I said
he might come,--an' he did, that very day.
"Waal, at fust he had some kind o' work to do writin', an' he seemed to
git along very comf'table,--at least, fur's I know,--for I was out
tailorin' all day mostly, same as I be now; but last fall the writin'
seemed to gin out all to oncet, an' he begun to kerry off his furnitoor
an' books to sell, an' finally he paid up all he was owin' of me, an'
told me he didn't want no more meals, but would find himself.
"Waal, I told him, that, seein' things wuz as they wuz with him, I
shouldn't take no rent for the garrit, an' I could dry my yarbs there
jest as well as ef he warn't there; an' he looked kind o' red, and held
his head up a minit, an' then he thanked me, an' said, 'God bless you!'
an' said he'd pay me, ef he got any more work.
"Waal, he didn't git no more; an' after the furnitoor an' the books,
his cloze begun to go.
"Then I begun to be afeard he didn't have nothin' to eat, an' oncet in
a while I'd kerry him up a mess o' vittles; but it allers seemed
drefful hard for him to take 'em, an' fin'ly he told me not to do so no
more, an' said suthin' to himself about devourin' widders. So I didn't
darst to go up agin, he looked so kind o' furce an' sharp, till, last
night, I reck'n'd the snow would sift in through the old ruff, an' I
went up to offer him a comf'table for his bed. I knocked; but he didn't
make no answer, so I pushed the door open an' went in. It was a good
while sence I'd seen the inside o' the room,--for when he heerd me
comin' up, he'd open the door a crack an' peek out while he spoke to
me; so when I got inside the room and looked about, I was all took
aback an' gawped round like a fool, an' no wunder nyther; for of all
the good furnitoor and things he'd brought, there wa'n't the fust thing
to be seen, save and 'xcept a kind o' frame covered with cloth stannin'
ag'inst the wall, an' an old straw-bed on the floor, with him on it,
an' a mis'able old comf'table kivered over him."
"And this bitter weather, too! Oh, Keziah, what did thee do?" asked
Mrs. Coffin, in a tearful voice.
"Why, I went up to the bedside, (ef you may call it so,) an' said, sez
I, 'Why, Lor' sakes, Mr. Widdrinton,'----an' then I hild up, for I
ketchcd a sight of his face, an' I thought he wuz gone for sartin. He
wuz as cold an' as white as that 'ere snow, an' it warn't till I'd felt
of his heart an' foun' that it beat a little that I thought of sich a
thing as his comin' to. But as soon as I found he'd got a breath o'
life in him, I didn't waste much time till I'd got him wropped up in a
hot blanket with a jug o' water to his feet, an' some hot tea inside on
him. Then he come to a little, an' said he hadn't eat nor drank for two
days an' nights."
"Oh, Keziah!" sobbed Mrs. Coffin; while her husband, plunging his hands
deep into his breeches-pockets, and elevating his eyebrows till they
were lost in his shaggy hair, exclaimed,--
"Good Je-hosaphat!" which was the nearest approach to an oath in which
he ever indulged.
"An' so," pursued the widow, after enjoying for a moment the
consternation of her audience,--"an' so I thought I had better come an'
see ef he couldn't be took in here; not that I wouldn't do for him, an'
be glad to, fur as I could, but he a'n't in a state to be left alone,
an' you know my trade takes me away consid'able from home,--an' which,
if I don't foller it, why, when I git a little older, I shall have to
come here myself, an' be a burden on your hands an' the town's."
"We would take good care of thee, if thee did come, Keziah," said Mrs.
Coffin, in whom the habitual equanimity of the "Friend" had conquered
the emotion of the woman. "Though I do not deny that it is pleasanter
and better for thee to support thyself, as thee always has done."
"I don't doubt you would be good to me, Miss Coffin, an' thank ye,
Ma'am, kindly for a-sayin' of it; but you know innerpendance is sweet
to all on us."
"Surely, surely, Keziah; and now, Phineas, I suppose thee will see at
once about this poor man, won't thee?"
"Yes, Marthy, yes. I'll go right off and see one of the selectmen; and
I reckon, by the time you git a bed ready for him, we shall be along."
Phineas accordingly bustled out of the room; and Mrs. Janes, after
lingering a few moments, took her leave and returned to her charge,
inwardly congratulating herself on having so new and interesting a
piece of intelligence with which to lighten her next day's "tailoring."
Mrs. Coffin, left alone, stood for a moment considering, and then,
opening a door, called gently,--
"Yes, mother," replied a voice whose soft tones seemed the echo of her
own. A moment after, a slender, dark-eyed girl, about twenty years of
age, entered the room, and said cheerfully,--
"What is it, mother?"
"I have somewhat to tell thee, Faith."
And the Quakeress repeated, in calm, unemphatic language, the story
narrated by Mrs. Janes.
"The poor man will soon be here, Faith," continued she, "and I wanted
to ask what thee thinks should be done with him. Thee knows there is no
room that can have a fire in it, except the one where Polly and Susan
sleep, and they are both too sick to be moved into the cold"--
"He shall have my room, mother," said Faith, quietly.
"Thy room, child?"
"Yes, mother; and I will sleep here on the couch. I should like it very
much indeed; for you know I never have been able to be quite the
orderly and regular girl you have tried to make me."
"Thee is a good girl," said the mother, quietly.
"Not half so good a girl as I ought to be, with so good a mother,"
replied Faith, throwing her arms about her mother's neck and kissing
The elder woman returned the caress with an involuntary warmth, which,
pure and natural though it might be, was yet at variance with the
strict rule of her sect, which had taught her to avoid everything like
compliment or caress, as savoring of the manners of the "world's
She therefore, after one kiss, gently repelled the girl, saying,--
"Nay, Faith, but it sufficeth. Go, then, if thee will, and make ready
thy chamber for this sick man, while I prepare him some broth."
An hour later, a pung or box-sleigh drew up at the poor-house door,
from which was lifted a long, gaunt figure, carefully enveloped in
blankets and cloaks. As he was taken from the sleigh, he feebly
murmured a few words, to which Phineas Coffin replied kindly,--
"Don't be scart,--it's all safe, and Nathaniel will fetch it right in
"What! this 'ere?" queried the youth called Nathaniel, while he lifted
from the sleigh, somewhat contemptuously, a long flat something,
carefully enveloped in a cotton case.
"Yes. Fetch it along this way," replied Phineas; and Nathaniel followed
the chair, in which the sick man was carried, into the pretty little
maiden chamber which Faith had so quietly relinquished to one who she
thought needed it more than herself.
Mother and daughter stood ready to receive their new charge, and see
him comfortable in the warm, soft bed which they had prepared for him.
"Thee will soon get rested now, friend, and go to sleep,--won't thee?"
said Mrs. Coffin, in her gentle voice, as she turned down the sheet a
little more evenly.
"Where is it?" panted the exhausted sufferer, trying to look beyond his
kind nurse into the room.
"What does thee mean, friend?"
"It is this thing, mother," said Faith, bringing it forward, and
leaning it against the wall at the foot of the bed. "He brought it with
him," continued she, in a low voice; "and father says, he didn't seem
to care half so much about his own comfort as to have _that_ safe."
"It is my--property,--all I have--left. I won't be--parted from it.
You--sha'n't take it--away," gasped the sick man, in an excited tone.
"Thee shall not be parted from it, friend," said Mrs. Coffin,
soothingly. "Surely we would not deprive thee of what is thine own, and
what thee seems to value so much. Now if thee will try to go to sleep,
I will stay with thee the while, and when thee wakes give thee some
broth to strengthen thee."
"Let--let _her_ stay.--Go away,--the rest of you," whispered the feeble
voice, while the weary eyes rested upon Faith's grave, sweet face.
"Thee means my daughter? Faith, does thee wish to stay? or had thee
rather I should?"
"I will stay, mother, if he wishes it."
"Very well, daughter. When thee is weary, come down, and I, or one of
the women, will take thy place."
Mrs. Coffin left the room, and Faith, her sewing in her hand, was about
seating herself by the fire, when the voice of the stranger summoned
her to the bedside.
Turning, she found his hollow and gleaming eyes fixed sternly upon her,
while a long, lean finger was pointed alternately at her and the frame
leaning against the wall.
"Can I do something for you?" asked Faith, kindly.
"Don't you look at it--or let any one--else, while I'm--asleep."
"I certainly will not."
"I do promise."
"Nay, friend, that would be wrong," replied the girl, unconsciously
adopting the phraseology of the Quakers, while expressing a sentiment
learned from them; for though Faith had been brought up outwardly in
the creed of her father, she had, without being aware of it, adopted
many of the tenets to which her mother held.
"I will promise you very solemnly, however," continued she, "that I
will neither look at yonder thing nor allow any one else to do so; and
you will be wrong to doubt my word."
"I don't.--What is your name?"
"A good omen. Mine is--Ichabod."
"Ichabod. Call me so,--all of you."
"Very well, if it is your name, we will. Now you must go to sleep."
"Sit there,--where I can see you."
Faith complied with this request, although uncertain whether it was not
prompted by a distrust of her promise. The stranger soon slept, and his
young nurse then made a more attentive survey of his features than she
had yet done. He seemed not over forty years of age, and would, in
health, have been considered a handsome man,--although the fine silky
hair, thin beard, sensitive nostril, and delicate mouth could never
have expressed much of strength or resolution.
The traces of disease and starvation were painfully apparent; but it
seemed to the thoughtful Faith that behind these she could perceive in
the sorrowful, downward curve of the lips, in the lines of the hollow,
throbbing temples, in the gloomy light of the dark eyes, symptoms of a
long corroding care, which, though secretly, had done its work of
devastation more surely and more ruthlessly than the more apparent
"How he must have suffered!" murmured she. It seemed as if the tone of
gentle pity had penetrated the light slumber, and reached the heart of
the sick man,--for, opening his eyes, he smiled upon the girl, a wan,
sad smile, which was at once an assent and a benison.
From that moment, until the welcome end of that sad life, Ichabod would
patiently endure no tendance but Faith's; and she, with the calm and
silent self-abnegation of her order, (for Florence Nightingale is but a
type, and there are those all about us who lack but her opportunities,)
devoted herself to him.
Her mother sometimes remonstrated, and begged her to yield her place in
the sick-chamber to her or to one of the pauper women; but Faith, whose
grave sweetness concealed more determination than a stranger would have
guessed, would simply say,--
"Dear mother, what is a little fatigue to one as well as I am, compared
with the pleasure of making this poor stranger's death-bed happy and
quiet?--which it certainly would not be, if he was crossed in his fancy
for seeing me about him." And the conscientious mind of the mother was
forced to yield assent to this simple logic.
A few weeks thus passed, and then the sick man became a dying man. The
pauper inmates of the house were all willing and anxious to watch
beside him through the long nights, but Ichabod received all their
attentions very ungraciously; nor was it till Faith told him, in her
kind, decided way, that she could not stay with him at night, that he
consented to allow the others to do so.
At last there came the evening when the physician said to Mrs. Coffin,
as he entered the room where she sat with her husband,--
"He won't last till morning,--'tis impossible."
"Then thee had better watch beside him, Phineas. It is not fitting that
Faith should do so."
"Certain. I'll go right up, and send her down," replied Phineas,
But when the arrangements for the night were made known to Ichabod, he
caught hold of Faith's dress, as she stood at his bedside bidding him
good-night, and gasped out,--
"No, no!--you!--I must have--you!--I shall die--die to-night!--And--and
I want to tell--to tell you something.--Stay,--stay, Faith!--it's the
last--last time, and I--I shall never trouble any one--any more."
"Let me stay, mother; father, do!" pleaded Faith, looking from one to
the other. "I should be very unhappy, always, if I was obliged to deny
him this last request. I shall not be afraid, mother; and Betty can
sleep in the chair by the fire, if you wish it, so as to be at hand, if
"Well, child, if thee feels a call to do so, and it will make thee
unhappy to be denied, I will hold my peace. But thee must certainly
have Betty here, and promise to send her to call me, if Ichabod should
be worse,--won't thee?"
Faith gave the required promise, and in a short time the chamber was
prepared for night. The old woman (whose skill in the last awful rites
which man pays to man caused her always to be selected for such
occasions) slept soundly beside the glowing fire, the dying man dozed
uneasily, and Faith, shading the light from his eyes, opened the
large-print Bible, which her mother, careful both for the well-being of
her daughter's immortal soul and temporal eyesight, had recommended for
her night's perusal.
The hours passed slowly on, unmarked by change, until Faith had counted
three solemn strokes from the old clock in the entry, when the sick man
As Faith came to his bedside, to offer him the draught for which he
always asked on awakening, she was struck with a change in his face.
The eyes were at once calmer and brighter, the look of uneasy pain had
disappeared, and the thin lips wore almost a smile.
"Dear Faith," said he, in a gentle voice, which yet was stronger and
more unbroken than any she had heard from him before, "how good you
have been to me! I am dying; but do not call any one yet. I want to
talk to you a little, first. Put another pillow under my head, and
raise me,--so. Now light your other candle, stir the fire to a brighter
blaze, and then uncover--it."
Faith, pale and quiet, did as she was bid, stirred the fire, till its
ruddy glow brightened every nook of the little white-washed chamber,
and made the old crone beside it wince and mutter in her sleep. Having
shielded her from its fierce light, she then, with trembling fingers,
opened a little penknife which lay upon the table, and cut the twine
with which the cover was sewed at the back. The last stitch severed,
the cloth fell with a solemn rustle at her feet, and disclosed--a
Faith examined it with much attention and some curiosity. It was the
full-length figure of a man, dressed in rich robes of office, his
powdered hair put back from his forehead, his left hand resting on the
pommel of his sword, and his right clasping a roll of parchment. The
expression of his face was grave, majestic, and noble; and yet between
those handsome features and the attenuated face of the dying pauper
Faith soon perceived one of those resemblances, strong, yet
indefinable, which are so apparent to some persons, so undiscoverable
"A noble gentleman, Faith,--was he not?" said Ichabod, at length. "And
they say his picture does not do him justice. He was an English
gentleman of property and station,--the heir of a good fortune and
honorable name; but he left all to come here and help found this new
country,--this glorious land of freedom and conscience,--where every
man has perfect liberty--to starve in his own fashion.
"He came and was a great man among them. He built the finest house in
the village of Boston, and then came hither, where they made him
governor and named a bay after him.
"He went home for a visit to England, and there he had this picture
painted by the court-painter of those days, and brought it back with
him as a present to his wife.
"He was father of many children, mostly girls: and finally died in a
very dignified and respectable manner, full of years and honors,--as
they say in storybooks.
"His handsome property, being divided so often, made but rather small
portions for the children, and several of the daughters died unmarried.
"Then the family began to decay, and each succeeding head of the family
found it a harder struggle to keep up the old hospitalities and the
traditional style of living. They died out, too. The lateral branches
of the family-tree never flourished, and one after another came to an
end, till about forty years ago the remnant of the family-blood and the
family-name was centred in two cousins, a young man and a girl. They
met at the funeral of the girl's mother, and found in a short
conversation that they were the sole representatives of the old name,
"They married, gloomily helping on the fate which awaited them, by
uniting their two threads of life in one, that thus she might sever it
more easily. I was their only child, and they named me Ichabod,--'the
glory has departed.'
"It is a sad proof of how deeply the bitterness of life had entered
their souls, that, even in the supreme moment when they clasped their
first-born in their arms, the name which rose from heart to lip, and
which they bestowed upon him, was in itself a cry of anguish and
"The husband soon died. Man breaks, woman bends, beneath the crushing
weight of such a life. My mother lived, a dark and silent woman, till
five years ago. Then she died, too, and I inherited my ancestor's
portrait and the curse of the Withringtons.
"I tried to work, to earn my bread, as men all about me were doing. But
no,--the fate was upon me, the curse pursued me. Everything failed
which I attempted. I sunk lower and lower, until the name and the
picture, which had been my pride, became a shame and a reproach to me.
I abandoned the one and concealed the other, resolved to reveal neither
until the moment arrived when death should wipe out the squalor of
life, conquer fate, and expiate the curse.
"Quick, Faith, quick! The hour has come. Take the knife you just
held,--cut the canvas from its frame,--cut it in fragments,--lay it on
the blazing fire. We will perish together,--the First and--the Last."
"Nay, Ichabod, give it to me," said Faith, shrinking from the proposed
holocaust "I will always keep it, and value it."
"Would you see me fall dead at your feet, while attempting to do for
myself what you refuse to do for me?" asked the dying man, with
feverish ardor, and half rising, as if to leave his bed.
"No, no,--I will do it, since it must be so," exclaimed Faith, eagerly.
"Lie down again and watch me."
Ichabod sunk back upon his pillows, and gazed with eyes of fitful light
upon the girl, while she, opening the keen knife, cut slowly and
laboriously round the margin of the stout canvas, which shrieked
beneath the blade, as if the spirit of the effigy which it bore were
resisting the fearful doom which threatened it.
At last the canvas was entirely released, and Faith silently held it up
before the eyes of the dying man, upon whose face had come a dull,
leaden blankness, and whose eyes were painful to watch as they
struggled to pierce the film which was gathering over them.
"Burn," he hoarsely murmured.
With a sigh, Faith cut the picture into strips, and laid them gently,
reverently, upon the coals heaped in the large fireplace.
The greedy flames leaped up to grasp their prey, and Faith turned sick
and faint as she watched them fasten upon that noble face, which seemed
to contract and shrivel in its anguish as they seized upon it.
She gazed a moment, painfully fascinated, then turned toward the
bed,--but as her eyes fell upon Ichabod's face, she started back, and,
rousing the old woman from her slumber, sent to summon her mother.
Mrs. Coffin came immediately,--but when she entered the little chamber,
the last fragment of the canvas was shrivelling in the flames, the last
sigh of the dying man was parting from his white lips.
They had perished together,--the First--and the Last.
THE PROFESSOR AT THE BREAKFAST-TABLE.
WHAT HE SAID, WHAT HE HEARD, AND WHAT HE SAW.
You will know, perhaps, in the course of half an hour's reading, what
has been haunting my hours of sleep and waking for months. I cannot
tell, of course, whether you are a nervous person or not. If, however,
you are such a person,--if it is late at night,--if all the rest of the
household have gone off to bed,--if the wind is shaking your windows as
if a human hand were rattling the sashes,--if your candle or lamp is
low and will soon burn out,--let me advise you to read the "Critical
Notices" or some other paper contained in this number, if you have not
already devoured them all, and leave this to be read by daylight, with
cheerful voices round, and people near by who would hear you, if you
slid from your chair and came down in a lump on the floor.
I do not say that your heart will beat as mine did, I am willing to
confess, when I entered the dim chamber. Did I not tell you that I was
sensitive and imaginative, and that I had lain awake with thinking what
were the strange movements and sounds which I heard late at night in my
little neighbor's apartment? It had come to that pass that I was truly
unable to separate what I had really heard from what I had dreamed in
these nightmares to which I have been subject, as before mentioned. So,
when I walked into the room, and Bridget, turning back, closed the door
and left me alone with its tenant, I do believe you could have grated a
nutmeg on my skin, such a "goose-flesh" shiver ran over it. It was not
fear, but what I call nervousness,--unreasoning, but irresistible; as
when, for instance, one looking at the sun going down says, "I will
count fifty before it disappears"; and as he goes on and it becomes
doubtful whether he will reach the number, he gets strangely flurried,
and his imagination pictures life and death and heaven and hell as the
issues depending on the completion or non-completion of the fifty he is
counting. Extreme curiosity will excite some people as much as fear, or
what resembles fear, acts on some other less impressible natures.
I may find myself in the midst of strange facts in this little
conjurer's room. Or, again, there may be nothing in this poor invalid's
chamber but some old furniture, such as they say came over in the
Mayflower. All this is just what I mean to find out while I am looking
at the Little Gentleman, who has suddenly become my patient. The
simplest things turn out to be unfathomable mysteries; the most
mysterious appearances prove to be the most commonplace objects in
I wonder whether the boys that live in Roxbury and Dorchester are ever
moved to tears or filled with silent awe as they look upon the rocks
and fragments of "puddingstone" abounding in those localities. I have
my suspicions that those boys "heave a stone" or "fire a brick-bat,"
composed of the conglomerate just mentioned, without any more tearful
or philosophical contemplations than boys of less favored regions
expend on the same performance. Yet a lump of puddingstone is a thing
to look at, to think about, to study over, to dream upon, to go crazy
with, to beat one's brains out against. Look at that pebble in it. From
what cliff was it broken? On what beach rolled by the waves of what
ocean? How and _when_ imbedded in soft ooze, which itself became stone,
and by-and-by was lifted into bald summits and steep cliffs, such as
you may see on Meetinghouse-Hill any day,--yes, and mark the scratches
on their faces left when, the boulder-carrying glaciers planed the
surface of the continent with such rough tools that the storms have not
worn the marks out of it with all the polishing of ever so many
Or as you pass a roadside ditch or pool in spring-time, take from it
any bit of stick or straw which has lain undisturbed for a time. Some
little worm-shaped masses of clear jelly containing specks are fastened
to the stick: eggs of a small snail-like shell-fish. One of these
specks magnified proves to be a crystalline sphere with an opaque mass
in its centre. And while you are looking, the opaque mass begins to
stir, and by-and-by slowly to turn upon its axis like a forming
planet,--life beginning in the microcosm, as in the great worlds of the
firmament, with the revolution that turns the surface in ceaseless
round to the source of life and light.
A pebble and the spawn of a mollusk! Before you have solved their
mysteries, this earth where you first saw them may be a vitrified slag,
or a vapor diffused through the planetary spaces. Mysteries are common
enough, at any rate, whatever the boys in Roxbury and Dorchester think
of "brickbats" and the spawn of creatures that live in roadside
But then a great many seeming mysteries are relatively perfectly plain,
when we can get at them so as to turn them over. How many ghosts that
"thick men's blood with cold" prove to be shirts hung out to dry! How
many mermaids have been made out of seals! How many times have
horse-mackerels been taken for the sea-serpent!
----Let me take the whole matter coolly, while I see what is the matter
with the patient. That is what I say to myself, as I draw a chair to
the bedside.--The bed is an old-fashioned, dark mahogany four-poster.
It was never that which made the noise of something moving. It is too
heavy to be pushed about the room.--The Little Gentleman was sitting,
bolstered up by pillows, with his hands clasped and their united palms
resting on the back of the head,--one of the three or four positions
specially affected by persons whose breathing is difficult from disease
of the heart or other causes.
Sit down, Sir,--he said,--sit down! I have come to the hill Difficulty,
Sir, and am fighting my way up. His speech was laborious and
Don't talk,--I said,--except to answer my questions.--And I proceeded
to "prospect" for the marks of some local mischief, which you know is
at the bottom of all these attacks, though we do not always find it. I
suppose I go to work pretty much like other professional folks of my
Wrist, if you please.--I was on his right side, but he presented his
left wrist, crossing it over the other.--I begin to count, holding
watch in left hand. One, two, three, four,----What a handsome
hand!--wonder if that splendid stone is a carbuncle.--One, two, three,
four, five, six, seven,----Can't see much, it is so dark, except one
white object.--One, two, three, four,----Hang it! eighty or ninety in
the minute, I guess.--Tongue, if you please.--Tongue is put out. Forget
to look at it, or, rather, to take any particular notice of it;--but
what _is_ that white object, with the long arm stretching up as if
pointing to the sky, just as Vesalius and Spigelius and those old
fellows used to put their skeletons? I don't think anything of such
objects, you know; but what should _he_ have it in his chamber for?--As
I had found his pulse irregular and intermittent, I took out a
stethoscope, which is a pocket-spyglass for looking into men's chests
with your ears, and laid it over the place where the heart beats. I
missed the usual beat of the organ.--How is this?--I said,--where is
your heart gone to?--He took the stethoscope and shifted it across to
the right side; there was a displacement of the organ.--I am
ill-packed,--he said;--there was no room for my heart in its place as
it is with other men.--God help him!
It is hard to draw the line between scientific curiosity and the desire
for the patient's sake to learn all the details of his condition. I
must look at this patient's chest, and thump it and listen to it. For
this is a case of _ectopia cordis_, my boy,--displacement of the heart;
and it isn't every day you get a chance to overhaul such an interesting
malformation. And so I managed to do my duty and satisfy my curiosity
at the same time. The torso was slight and deformed; the right arm
attenuated,--the left full, round, and of perfect symmetry. It had run
away with the life of the other limbs,--a common trick enough of
Nature's, as I told you before. If you see a man with legs withered
from childhood, keep out of the way of his arms, if you have a quarrel
with him. He has the strength of four limbs in two; and if he strikes
you, it is an arm-blow _plus_ a kick administered from the shoulder
instead of the haunch, where it should have started from.
Still examining him as a patient, I kept my eyes about me to search all
parts of the chamber, and went on with the double process, as
before.--Heart hits as hard as a fist,--_bellows-sound over mitral
valves_ (professional terms you need not attend to).--What the deuce is
that long case for? Got his witch grandmother mummied in it? And three
big mahogany presses,--hey?--A diabolical suspicion came over me which
I had had once before,--that he might be one of our modern
_alchemists_,--you understand,--make gold, you know, or _what looks
like it_, sometimes with the head of a king or queen or of Liberty to
embellish one side of the piece.--Don't I remember hearing him shut a
door and lock it once? What do you think was kept under that lock?
Let's have another look at his hand, to see if there are any calluses.
One can tell a man's business, if it is a handicraft, very often by
just taking a look at his open hand.--Ah! Four calluses at the end of
the fingers of the right hand. None on those of the left. Ah, ha! What
do those mean?
All this seems longer in the telling, of course, than it was in fact.
While I was making these observations of the objects around me, I was
also forming my opinion as to the kind of case with which I had to
There are three wicks, you know, to the lamp of a man's life: brain,
blood, and breath. Press the brain a little, its light goes out,
followed by both the others. Stop the heart a minute, and out go all
three of the wicks. Choke the air out of the lungs, and presently the
fluid ceases to supply the other centres of flame, and all is soon
stagnation, cold, and darkness. The "tripod of life" a French
physiologist called these three organs. It is all clear enough which
leg of the tripod is going to break down here. I could tell you exactly
what the difficulty is;--which would be as intelligible and amusing as
a watchmaker's description of a diseased timekeeper to a ploughman. It
is enough to say, that I found just what I expected to, and that I
think this attack is only the prelude of more serious consequences,
--which expression means you very well know what.
And now the secrets of this life hanging on a thread must surely come
out. If I have made a mystery where there was none, my suspicions will
be shamed, as they have often been before. If there is anything
strange, my visits will clear it up.
I sat an hour or two by the side of the Little Gentleman's bed, after
giving him some henbane to quiet his brain, and some foxglove, which an
imaginative French professor has called the "Opium of the Heart." Under
their influence he gradually fell into an uneasy, half-waking slumber,
the body fighting hard for every breath, and the mind wandering off in
strange fancies and old recollections, which escaped from his lips in
----The last of 'em,--he said,--the last of 'em all,--thank God! And
the grave he lies in will look just as well as if he had been straight.
Dig it deep, old Martin, dig it deep,--and let it be as long as other
folks' graves. And mind you get the sods flat, old man,--flat as ever a
straight-backed young fellow was laid under. And then, with a good tall
slab at the head, and a footstone six foot away from it, it'll look
just as if there was a man underneath.
A man! Who said he was a man? No more men of that pattern to bear _his_
name!--Used to be a good-looking set enough.--Where's all the manhood
and womanhood gone to since his great-grand-father was the strongest
man that sailed out of the town of Boston, and poor Leah there the
handsomest woman in Essex, if she was a witch?
----Give me some light,--he said,--more light,--I want to see the
He had started either from a dream or a wandering reverie. I was not
unwilling to have more light in the apartment, and presently had
lighted an astral lamp that stood on a table.--He pointed to a portrait
hanging against the wall.--Look at her,--he said,--look, at her!
Wasn't that a pretty neck to slip a hangman's noose over?
The portrait was of a young woman, something more than twenty years
old, perhaps. There were few pictures of any merit painted in New
England before the time of Smibert, and I am at a loss to know what
artist--could have taken this half-length, which was evidently from
life. It was somewhat stiff and flat, but the grace of the figure and
the sweetness of the expression reminded me of the angels of the early
Florentine painters. She must have been of some consideration, for she
was dressed in paduasoy and lace with hanging sleeves, and the old
carved frame showed how the picture had been prized by its former
owners. A proud eye she had, with all her sweetness.--I think it was
that which hanged her, as his strong arm hanged Minister George
Burroughs;--but it may have been a little mole on one cheek, which the
artist had just hinted as a beauty rather than a deformity. You know, I
suppose, that nursling imps addict themselves, after the fashion of
young opossums, to these little excrescences. "Witch-marks" were good
evidence that a young woman was one of the Devil's wet-nurses;--I
should like to have seen you make fun of them in those days!--Then she
had a brooch in her bodice, that might have been taken for some
devilish amulet or other; and she wore a ring upon one of her fingers,
with a red stone in it, that flamed as if the painter had dipped his
pencil in fire;--who knows but that it was given her by a midnight
suitor fresh from that fierce element, and licensed for a season to
leave his couch of flame to tempt the unsanctified hearts of earthly
maidens and brand their cheeks with the print of his scorching kisses?
She and I,--he said, as he looked steadfastly at the canvas,--she and I
are the last of 'em.--She will stay, and I shall go. They never painted
me,--except when the boys used to make pictures of me with chalk on the
board-fences. They said the doctors would want my skeleton when I was
dead.--You are my friend, if you are a doctor,--a'n't you?
I just gave him my hand. I had not the heart to speak. I want to lie
still,--he said,--after I am put to bed upon the hill yonder. Can't you
have a great stone laid over me, as they did over the first settlers in
the old burying-ground at Dorchester, so as to keep the wolves from
digging them up? I never slept easy over the sod;--I should like to lie
quiet under it. And besides,--he said, in a kind of scared whisper,--I
don't want to have my bones stared at, as my body has been. I don't
doubt I was a _remarkable case_; but, for God's sake, oh, for God's
sake, don't let 'em make a show of the cage I have been shut up in and
looked through the bars of for so many years!
I have heard it said that the art of healing makes men hardhearted and
indifferent to human suffering. I am willing to own that there is often
a professional hardness in surgeons, just as there is in
theologians,--only much less in degree than in these last. It does not
commonly improve the sympathies of a man to be in the habit of
thrusting knives into his fellow-creatures and burning them with
red-hot irons, any more than it improves them to hold the
blinding-white cautery of Gehenna by its cool handle and score and
crisp young souls with it until they are scorched into the belief of
--Transubstantiation or the Immaculate Conception. And, to say the
plain truth, I think there are a good many coarse people in both
callings. A delicate nature will not commonly choose a pursuit which
implies the habitual infliction of suffering, so readily as some
gentler office. Yet, while I am writing this paragraph, there passes by
my window, on his daily errand of duty, not seeing me, though I catch a
glimpse of his manly features through the oval glass of his chaise, as
he rides by, a surgeon of skill and standing, so friendly, so modest,
so tender-hearted in all his ways, that, if he had not approved himself
at once adroit and firm, one would have said he was of too kindly a
mould to be the minister of pain, even if it were saving pain. You
may be sure that some men, even among those who have chosen the task of
pruning their fellow-creatures, grow more and more thoughtful and truly
compassionate in the midst of their cruel experience. They become less
nervous, but more sympathetic. They have a truer sensibility for
others' pain, the more they study pain and disease in the light of
science. I have said this without claiming any special growth in
humanity for myself, though I do hope I grow tenderer in my feelings as
I grow older. At any rate, this was not a time in which professional
habits could keep down certain instincts of older date than these.
This poor little man's appeal to my humanity against the supposed
rapacity of Science, which he feared would have her "specimen," if his
ghost should walk restlessly a thousand years, waiting for his bones to
be laid in the dust, touched my heart. But I felt bound to speak
cheerily.--We won't die yet awhile, if we can help it,--I said,--and
I trust we can help it. But don't be afraid; if I live longest, I will
see that your resting-place is kept sacred till the dandelions and
buttercups blow over you. He seemed to have got his wits together by
this time, and to have a vague consciousness that he might have been
saying more than he meant for anybody's ears.--I have been talking a
little wild, Sir, eh?--he said.--There is a great buzzing in my head
with those drops of yours, and I doubt If my tongue has not been a
little looser than I would have it, Sir. But I don't much want to live.
Sir; that's the truth of the matter; and it does rather please me to
think that fifty years from now nobody will know that the place where I
lie doesn't hold as stout and straight a man as the best of 'em that
stretch out as if they were proud of the room they take. You may get me
well, if you can, Sir, if you think it worth while to try; but I tell
you there has been no time for this many a year when the smell of fresh
earth was not sweeter to me than all the flowers that grow out of it.
There's no anodyne like your good clean gravel, Sir. But if you can
keep me about awhile, and it amuses you to try, you may show your skill
upon me, if you like. There is a pleasure or two that I love the
daylight for, and I think the night is not far off, at best.--I believe
I shall sleep now; you may leave me, and come, if you like, in the
morning. Before I passed out, I took one more glance round the
apartment. The beautiful face of the portrait looked at me, as
portraits often do, with a frightful kind of intelligence in its eyes.
The drapery fluttered on the still outstretched arm of the tall object
near the window;--a crack of this was open, no doubt, and some breath
of wind stirred the hanging folds. In my excited state, I seemed to see
something ominous in that arm pointing to the heavens. I thought of the
figures in the Dance of Death at Basle, and that other on the panels of
the covered Bridge at Lucerne; and it seemed to me that the grim mask
who mingles with every crowd and glides over every threshold was
pointing the sick man to his far home, and would soon stretch out his
bony hand and lead him or drag him on the unmeasured journey towards
it. The fancy had possession of me, and I shivered again as when I
first entered the chamber. The picture and the shrouded shape; I saw
only these two objects. They were enough. The house was deadly still,
and the night-wind, blowing through an open window, struck me as from a
field of ice, at the moment I passed into the creaking corridor. As I
turned into the common passage, a white figure, holding a lamp, stood
full before me. I thought at first it was one of those images made to
stand in niches and hold a light in their hands. But the illusion was
momentary, and my eyes speedily recovered from the shock of the bright
flame and snowy drapery to see that the figure was a breathing one. It
was Iris, in one of her statue-trances. She had come down, whether
sleeping or waking, I knew not at first, led by an instinct that told
her she was wanted,--or, possibly, having overheard and interpreted the
sound of our movements,--or, it may be, having learned from the servant
that there was trouble which might ask for a woman's hand. I sometimes
think women have a sixth sense, which tells them that others, whom they
cannot see or hear, are in suffering. How surely we find them at the
bedside of the dying! How strongly does Nature plead for them, that we
should draw our first breath in their arms, as we sigh away our last
upon their faithful breasts!
With white, bare feet, her hair loosely knotted, dressed as the
starlight knew her, and the morning when she rose from slumber, save
that she had twisted a scarf round her long dress, she stood still as a
stone before me, holding in one hand a lighted coil of wax-taper, and
in the other a silver goblet. I held my own lamp close to her, as if
she had been a figure of marble, and she did not stir. There was no
breach of propriety then, to scare the Poor Relation with and breed
scandal out of. She had been "warned in a dream," doubtless suggested
by her waking knowledge and the sounds which had reached her exalted
sense. There was nothing more natural than that she should have risen
and girdled her waist, and lighted her taper, and found the silver
goblet with "_Ex dono pupillorum_" on it, from which she had taken her
milk and possets through all her childish years, and so gone blindly
out to find her place at the bedside,--a Sister of Charity without the
cap and rosary; nay, unknowing whither her feet were leading her, and
with wide, blank eyes seeing nothing but the vision that beckoned her
along.--Well, I must wake her from her slumber or trance. I called her
name, but she did not heed my voice.
The Devil put it into my head that I would kiss one handsome young girl
before I died, and now was my chance. She never would know it, and I
should carry the remembrance of it with me into the grave, and a rose
perhaps grow out of my dust, as out of Lord Lovel's, in memory of that
immortal moment! Would it wake her from her trance? and would she see
me in the flush of my stolen triumph, and hate and despise me ever
after? Or should I carry off my trophy undetected, and always from that
time say to myself, when I looked upon her in the glory of youth and
the splendor of beauty, "My lips have touched those roses and made
their sweetness mine forever"? You think my cheek was flushed, perhaps,
and my eyes were glittering with this midnight flash of opportunity. On
the contrary, I believe I was pale, very pale, and I know that I
trembled. Ah, it is the pale passions that are the fiercest,--it is the
violence of the chill that gives the measure of the fever! The
fighting-boy of our school always turned white when he went out to a
pitched battle with the bully of some neighboring village; but we knew
what his bloodless cheeks meant,--the blood was all in his stout
heart,--he was a slight boy, and there was not enough to redden his
face and fill his heart both at once.
Perhaps it is making a good deal of a slight matter, to tell the
internal conflicts in the heart of a quiet person something more than
juvenile and something less than senile, as to whether he should be
guilty of an impropriety, and, if he were, whether he would get caught
in his indiscretion. And yet the memory of the kiss that Margaret of
Scotland gave to Alain Chartier has lasted four hundred years, and put
it into the head of many an ill-favored poet, whether Victoria or
Eugenie would do as much by him, if she happened to pass him when he
was asleep. And have we ever forgotten that the fresh cheek of the
young John Milton tingled under the lips of some high-born Italian
beauty, who, I believe, did not think to leave her card by the side of
the slumbering youth, but has bequeathed the memory of her pretty deed
to all coming time? The sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a
cannon, but its echo lasts a deal longer.
There is one disadvantage which the man of philosophical habits of mind
suffers, as compared with the man of action. While he is taking an
enlarged and rational view of the matter before him, he lets his chance
slip through his fingers. Iris woke up, of her own accord, before I had
made up my mind what I was going to do about it.
When I remember how charmingly she looked, I don't blame myself at all
for being tempted; but if I had been fool enough to yield to the
impulse, I should certainly have been ashamed to tell of it. She did
not know what to make of it, finding herself there alone, in such
guise, and me staring at her. She looked down at her white robe and
bare feet, and colored,--then at the goblet she held in her hand,--then
at the taper; and at last her thoughts seemed to clear up.
I know it all,--she said.--He is going to die, and I must go and sit by
him. Nobody will care for him as I shall, and I have nobody else to
I assured her that nothing was needed for him that night but rest, and
persuaded her that the excitement of her presence could only do harm.
Let him sleep, and he would very probably awake better in the morning.
There was nothing to be said, for I spoke with authority; and the young
girl glided away with noiseless step and sought her own chamber.
The tremor passed away from my limbs, and the blood began to burn in my
cheeks. The beautiful image which had so bewitched me faded gradually
from my imagination, and I returned to the still perplexing mysteries
of my little neighbor's chamber. All was still there now. No plaintive
sounds, no monotonous murmurs, no shutting of windows and doors at
strange hours, as if something or somebody were coming in or going out,
or there was something to be hidden in those dark mahogany presses. Is
there an inner apartment that I have not seen? The way in which the
house is built might admit of it. As I thought it over, I at once
imagined a Bluebeard's chamber. Suppose, for instance, that the narrow
bookshelves to the right are really only a masked door, such as we
remember leading to the private study of one of our most distinguished
townsmen, who loved to steal away from his stately library to that
little silent cell. If this were lighted from above, a person or
persons might pass their days there without attracting attention from
the household, and wander where they pleased at night,--to Copp's-Hill
burial-ground, if they liked,--I said to myself, laughing, and pulling
the bed-clothes over my head. There is no logic in superstitious
fancies any more than in dreams. A she-ghost wouldn't want an inner
chamber to herself. A live woman, with a valuable soprano voice,
wouldn't start off at night to sprain her ankles over the old graves of
the North-End cemetery.
It is all very easy for you, middle-aged reader, sitting over this page
in the broad daylight, to call me by all manner of asinine and anserine
unchristian names, because I had these fancies running through my head.
I don't care much for your abuse. The question is not, what it is
reasonable for a man to think about, but what he actually does think
about, in the dark, and when he is alone, and his whole body seems but
one great nerve of hearing, and he sees the phosphorescent flashes of
his own eyeballs as they turn suddenly in the direction of the last
strange noise,--what he actually does think about, as he lies and
recalls all the wild stories his head is full of, his fancy hinting the
most alarming conjectures to account for the simplest facts about him,
his common-sense laughing them to scorn the next minute, but his mind
still returning to them, under one shape or another, until he gets very
nervous and foolish, and remembers how pleasant it used to be to have
his mother come and tuck him up and go and sit within call, so that she
could hear him at any minute, if he got very much scared and wanted
her. Old babies that we are!
Daylight will clear up all that lamplight has left doubtful. I longed
for the morning to come, for I was more curious than ever. So, between
my fancies and anticipations, I had but a poor night of it, and came
down tired to the breakfast-table. My visit was not to be made until
after this morning hour;--there was nothing urgent, so the servant was
ordered to tell me.
It was the first breakfast at which the high chair at the side of Iris
had been unoccupied.--You might jest as well take away that
chair,--said our landlady,--he'll never want it again. He acts like a
man that's struck with death, 'n' I don't believe he'll ever come out
of his chamber till he's laid out and brought down a corpse.--These
good women do put things so plainly! There were two or three words in
her short remark that always sober people, and suggest silence or brief
----Life is dreadful uncerting,--said the Poor Relation,--and pulled in
her social tentacles to concentrate her thoughts on this fact of human
----If there was anything a fellah could do,--said the young man John,
so called,--a fellah'd like the chance o' helpin' a little cripple like
that. He looks as if he couldn't turn over any handier than a turtle
that's laid on his back; and I guess there a'n't many people that know
how to lift better than I do. Ask him if he don't want any watchers. I
don't mind settin' up any more 'n' a cat-owl. I was up all night twice
[My private opinion is, that there was no small amount of punch
absorbed on those two occasions, which I think I heard of at the
time;--but the offer is a kind one, and it isn't fair to question how
he would like sitting up without the punch and the company and the
songs and smoking. He means what he says, and it would be a more
considerable achievement for him to sit quietly all night by a sick man
than for a good many other people. I tell you this odd thing: there are
a good many persons, who, through the habit of making other folks
uncomfortable, by finding fault with all their cheerful enjoyments, at
last get up a kind of hostility to comfort in general, even in their
own persons. The correlative to loving our neighbors as ourselves is
hating ourselves as we hate our neighbors. Look at old misers; first
they starve their dependants, and then themselves. So I think it more
for a lively young fellow to be ready to play nurse than for one of
those useful but forlorn martyrs who have taken a spite against
themselves and love to gratify it by fasting and watching.]
----The time came at last for me to make my visit. I found Iris sitting
by the Little Gentleman's pillow. To my disappointment, the room was
darkened. He did not like the light, and would have the shutters kept
nearly closed. It was good enough for me;--what business had I to be
indulging my curiosity, when I had nothing to do but to exercise such
skill as I possessed for the benefit of my patient? There was not much
to be said or done in such a case; but I spoke as encouragingly as I
could, as I think we are always bound to do. He did not seem to pay any
very anxious attention, but the poor girl listened as if her own life
and more than her own life were depending on the words I uttered. She
followed me out of the room, when I had got through my visit.
How long?--she said.
Uncertain. Anytime; to-day,--next week,--next month,--I answered.--One
of those cases where the issue is not doubtful, but may be sudden or
The women of the house were kind, as women always are in trouble. But
Iris pretended that nobody could spare the time as well as she, and
kept her place, hour after hour, until the landlady insisted that she'd
be killin' herself; if she begun at that rate, and haf to give up, if
she didn't want to be clean beat out in less than a week.
At the table we were graver than common. The high chair was set back
against the wall, and a gap left between that of the young girl and her
nearest neighbor's on the right. But the nest morning, to our great
surprise, that good-looking young Marylander had very quietly moved his
own chair to the vacant place. I thought he was creeping down that way,
but I was not prepared for a leap spanning such a tremendous
parenthesis of boarders as this change of position included. There was
no denying that the youth and maiden were a handsome pair, as they sat
side by side. But whatever the young girl may have thought of her new
neighbor, she never seemed for a moment to forget the poor little
friend who had been taken from her side. There are women, and even
girls, with whom it is of no use to talk. One might as well reason with
a bee as to the form of his cell, or with an oriole as to the
construction of his swinging nest, as try to stir these creatures from
their own way of doing their own work. It was not a question with Iris,
whether she was entitled by any special relation or by the fitness of
things to play the part of a nurse. She was a wilful creature that must
have her way in this matter. And it so proved that it called for much
patience and long endurance to carry through the duties, say rather the
kind offices, the painful pleasures, that she had chosen as her share
in the household where accident had thrown her. She had that genius of
ministration which is the special province of certain women, marked
even among their helpful sisters by a soft, low voice, a quiet
footfall, a light hand, a cheering smile, and a ready self-surrender to
the objects of their care, which such trifles as their own food, sleep,
or habits of any kind never presume to interfere with.
Day after day, and too often through the long watches of the night, she
kept her place by the pillow.--That girl will kill herself over me,
Sir,--said the poor Little Gentleman to me, one day,--she will kill
herself, Sir, if you don't call in all the resources of your art to get
me off as soon as may be. I shall wear her out, Sir, with sitting in
this close chamber and watching when she ought to be sleeping, if you
leave me to the care of Nature without dosing me.
This was rather queer pleasantly, under the circumstances. But there
are certain persons whose existence is so out of parallel with the
larger laws in the midst of which it is moving, that life becomes to
them as death and death as life.--How am I getting along?--he said,
another morning. He lifted his shrivelled hand, with the death's-head
ring on it, and looked at it with a sad sort of complacency. By this
one movement, which I have seen repeatedly of late, I know that his
thoughts have gone before to another condition, and that he is, as it
were, looking back on the infirmities of the body as accidents of the
past. For, when he was well, one might see him often looking at the
handsome hand with the flaming jewel on one of its fingers. The single
well-shaped limb was the source of that pleasure which in some form or
other Nature almost always grants to her least richly endowed children.
Handsome hair, eyes, complexion, feature, form, hand, foot, pleasant
voice, strength, grace, agility, intelligence,--how few there are that
have not just enough of one at least of these gifts to show them that
the good Mother, busy with her millions of children, has not quite
forgotten them! But now he was thinking of that other state, where,
free from all mortal impediments, the memory of his sorrowful burden
should be only as that of the case he has shed to the insect whose
"deep-damasked wings" beat off the golden dust of the lily-anthers, as
he flutters in the ecstasy of his new life over their full-blown summer
No human being can rest for any time in a state of equilibrium, where
the desire to live and that to depart just balance each other. If one
has a house, which he has lived and always means to live in, he pleases
himself with the thought of all the conveniences it offers him, and
thinks little of its wants and imperfections. But once having made up
his mind to move to a better, every incommodity starts out upon him
until the very ground-plan of it seems to have changed in his mind, and
his thoughts and affections, each one of them packing up its little
bundle of circumstances, have quitted their several chambers and nooks
and migrated to the new home, long before its apartments are ready to
receive their bodily tenant. It is so with the body. Most persons have
died before they expire,--died to all earthly longings, so that the
last breath is only, as it were, the locking of the door of the already
deserted mansion. The fact of the tranquillity with which the great
majority of dying persons await this locking of those gates of life
through which its airy angels have been going and coming, from the
moment of the first cry, is familiar to those who have been often
called upon to witness the last period of life. Almost always there is
a preparation made by Nature for unearthing a soul, just as on the
smaller scale there is for the removal of a milk-tooth. The roots which
hold human life to earth are absorbed before it is lifted from its
place. Some of the dying are weary and want rest, the idea of which is
almost inseparable in the universal mind from death. Some are in pain,
and want to be rid of it, even though the anodyne be dropped, as in the
legend, from the sword of the Death-Angel. Some are stupid, mercifully
narcotized that they may go to sleep without long tossing about. And
some are strong in faith and hope, so that, as they draw near the next
world, they would fain hurry toward it, as the caravan moves faster
over the sands when the foremost travellers send word along the file
that water is in sight Though each little party that follows in a
foot-track of its own will have it that the water to which others think
they are hastening is a mirage, not the less has it been true in all
ages and for human beings of every creed which recognized a future,
that those who have fallen worn out by their march through the Desert
have dreamed at least of a River of Life, and thought they heard its
murmurs as they lay dying.
The change from the clinging to the present to the welcoming of the
future comes very soon, for the most part, after all hope of life is
extinguished, provided this be left in good degree to Nature, and not
insolently and cruelly forced upon those who are attacked by illness,
on the strength of that odious fore-knowledge often imparted by
science, before the white fruit whose core is ashes, and which we call
_death_, has set beneath the pallid and drooping flower of sickness.
There is a singular sagacity very often shown in a patient's estimate
of his own vital force. His physician knows the state of his material
frame well enough, perhaps,--that this or that organ is more or less
impaired or disintegrated; but the patient has a sense that he can hold
out so much longer,--sometimes that he must and will live for a while,
though by the logic of disease he ought to die without any delay.
The Little Gentleman continued to fail, until it became plain that his
remaining days were few. I told the household what to expect. There was
a good deal of kind feeling expressed among the boarders, in various
modes, according to their characters and style of sympathy. The
landlady was urgent that he should try a certain nostrum which had
saved somebody's life in jest sech a case. The Poor Relation wanted me
to carry, as from her, a copy of "Allein's Alarm," etc. I objected to
the title, reminding her that it offended people of old, so that more
than twice as many of the book were sold when they changed the name to
"A Sure Guide to Heaven." The good old gentleman whom I have mentioned
before has come to the time of life when many old men cry easily, and
forget their tears as children do.--He was a worthy gentleman,--he
said,--a very worthy gentleman, but unfortunate,--very unfortunate.
Sadly deformed about the spine and the feet. Had an impression that the
late Lord Byron had some malformation of this kind. Had heerd there was
something the matter with the ankle-j'ints of that nobleman, but he was
a man of talents. This gentleman seemed to be a man of talents. Could
not always agree with his statements,--thought he was a little
over-partial to this city, and had some free opinions; but was sorry to
lose him,--and if--there was anything--he--could----. In the midst of
these kind expressions, the gentleman with the _diamond_, the
Koh-i-noor, as we called him, asked, in a very unpleasant sort of way,
bow the old boy was likely to cut up,--meaning what money our friend
was going to leave behind.
The young fellow John spoke up, to the effect that this was a diabolish
snobby question, when a man was dying and not dead.--To this the
Koh-i-noor replied, by asking if the other meant to insult
him.--Whereto the young man John rejoined that he had no particul'r
intentions one way or t'other.--The Koh-i-noor then suggested the young
man's stepping out into the yard, that he, the speaker, might "slap his
chops,"--Let 'em alone,--said young Maryland,--it'll soon be over, and
they won't hurt each other much.--So they went out.
The Koh-i-noor entertained the very common idea, that, when one
quarrels with another, the simple thing to do is to _knock the man
down_, and there is the end of it. Now those who have watched such
encounters are aware of two things: first, that it is not so easy to
knock a man down as it is to talk about it; secondly, that, if you do
happen to knock a man down, there is a very good chance that he will be
angry, and get up and give you a thrashing.
So the Koh-i-noor thought he would begin, as soon as they got into the
yard, by knocking his man down, and with this intention swung his arm
round after the fashion of rustics and those unskilled in the noble
art, expecting the young fellow John to drop when his fist, having
completed a quarter of a circle, should come in contact with the side
of that young man's head. Unfortunately for this theory, it happens
that a blow struck out straight is as much shorter, and therefore as
much quicker than the rustic's swinging blow, as the radius is shorter
than the quarter of a circle. The mathematical and mechanical corollary
was, that the Koh-i-noor felt something hard bring up suddenly against
his right eye, which something he could have sworn was a paving-stone,
judging by his sensations; and as this threw his person somewhat
backwards, and the young man, John jerked his own head back a little,
the swinging blow had nothing to stop it; and as the Jewel staggered
between the hit he got and the blow he missed, he tripped and "went to
grass," so far as the back-yard of our boarding-house was provided with
that vegetable. It was a signal illustration of that fatal mistake, so
frequent in young and ardent natures with inconspicuous calves and
negative pectorals, that they can settle most little quarrels on the
spot by "knocking the man down."
We are in the habit of handling our faces so carefully, that a heavy
blow, taking effect on that portion of the surface, produces a most
unpleasant surprise, which is accompanied with odd sensations, as of
seeing sparks, and a kind of electrical or ozone-like odor,
half-sulphurous in character, and which has given rise to a very vulgar
and profane threat sometimes heard from the lips of bullies. A person
not used to pugilistic gestures does not instantly recover from this
surprise. The Koh-i-noor, exasperated by his failure, and still a
little confused by the smart hit he had received, but furious, and
confident of victory over a young fellow a good deal lighter than
himself, made a desperate rush to bear down all before him and finish
the contest at once. That is the way all angry greenhorns and
incompetent persons attempt to settle matters. It doesn't do, if the
other fellow is only cool, moderately quick, and has a very little
science. It didn't do this time; for, as the assailant rushed in with
his arms flying everywhere, like the vans of a windmill, he ran a
prominent feature of his face against a fist which was travelling in
the other direction, and immediately after struck the knuckles of the
young man's other fist a severe blow with the part of his person known
as the _epigastrium_ to one branch of science and the _bread-basket_ to
another. This second round closed the battle. The Koh-i-noor had got
enough, which in such cases is more than as good as a feast. The young
fellow asked him if he was satisfied, and held out his hand. But the
other sulked, and muttered something about revenge.--Jest as y'
like,--said the young man John.--Clap a slice o' raw beefsteak on to
that mouse o' yours 'n' 't'll take down the swellin'. (_Mouse_ is a
technical term for a bluish, oblong, rounded elevation occasioned by
running one's forehead or eyebrow against another's knuckles.) The
young fellow was particularly pleased that he had had an opportunity of
trying his proficiency in the art of self-defence without the gloves.
The Koh-i-noor did not favor us with his company for a day or two,
being confined to his chamber, _it was said_, by a _slight feverish
attack_. He was chop-fallen always after this, and got negligent in his
person. The impression must have been a deep one; for it was observed,
that, when he came down again, his moustache and whiskers had turned
visibly white--_about the roots_. In short, it disgraced him, and
rendered still more conspicuous a tendency to drinking, of which he had
been for some time suspected. This, and the disgust which a young lady
naturally feels at hearing that her lover has been "licked by a fellah
not half his size," induced the landlady's daughter to take that
decided step which produced a change in the programme of her career I
may hereafter allude to.
I never thought he would come to good, when I heard him attempting to
sneer at an unoffending city so respectable as Boston. After a man
begins to attack the State-House, when he gets bitter about the
Frog-Pond, you may be sure there is not much left of him. Poor Edgar
Poe died in the hospital soon after he got into this way of talking;
and so sure as you find an unfortunate fellow reduced to this pass, you
had better begin praying for him, and stop lending him money, for he is
on his last legs. Remember poor Edgar! He is dead and gone; but the
State-House has its cupola fresh-gilded, and the Frog-Pond has got a
fountain that squirts up a hundred feet into the air and glorifies that
humble sheet with a fine display of provincial rainbows.
--I cannot fulfil my promise in this number. I expected to gratify your
curiosity, if you have become at all interested in these puzzles,
doubts, fancies, whims, or whatever you choose to call them, of mine.
Next month you shall hear all about it.
--It was evening, and I was going to the sick-chamber. As I paused at
the door before entering, I heard a sweet voice singing. It was not the
wild melody I had sometimes heard at midnight:--no, this was the voice
of Iris, and I could distinguish every word. I had seen the verses in
her book; the melody was new to me. Let me finish my page with them.
HYMN OF TRUST.
O Love Divine, that stooped to share
Our sharpest pang, our bitterest tear,
On Thee we cast each earthborn care,
We smile at pain while Thou art near!
Though long the weary way we tread,
And sorrow crown each lingering year,
No path we shun, no darkness dread,
Our hearts still whispering, Thou art near!
When drooping pleasure turns to grief,
And trembling faith is changed to fear,
The murmuring wind, the quivering leaf
Shall softly tell us, Thou art near!
On Thee we fling our burdening woe,
O Love Divine, forever dear,
Content to suffer, while we know,
Living and dying, Thou art near!
* * * * *
PICTURES AT SEVILLE AND MADRID.
_Seville, January, 1859_.
I do not know whether I ought not to take you to the Museo on so bright
a morning, although I should like better to stroll with you on the
Paseo by the pretty river across which I look to the faintly seen hills
of Ronda, with the rich palm-trees in the foreground, and a great stone
pine in the middle distance, which would recall to us the Campagna and
Italy. Many people have said to me, "You cannot judge of Murillo till
you see him at Seville,"--they, of course, having been at Seville. This
is so far true, that his best picture is undoubtedly in the Cathedral
here; but in all other ways, Murillo is perfectly to be seen in other
cities. _You_ know, therefore, just what the pictures and the Museo
have to say to you. They speak of a most clever artist, who evidently
consulted Nature conscientiously, and who perceived and understood very
often many phases of her grace and beauty. The most masterly of his
fifteen or twenty pictures in the gallery is the one of Saint Thomas of
Villanueva giving Alms to the Poor; and it is, certainly, charmingly
arranged, with great breadth of effect and clever drawing,--on a cool
scale of color throughout. The Saint is in a black robe, relieved
against a light background of gray wall. The beggar who is receiving
alms is capitally understood, and carries the light broadly through the
picture. A charming little boy leans against his mother in the
left-hand corner, in half shadow, and shows her the coin in his hand. A
few other heads fill up the right-hand of the picture behind the Saint.
A red drapery, of a dull color, and a touch of brown-red here and
there, warm the agreeable grayness of the rest of the canvas. I like
much, also, a "Conception," in many respects like the usual picture
which Murillo repeated so often; but the Virgin in this one is
represented as very young,--about twelve or fourteen years old,--and
the whole effect is most silvery and delicate.
But the Saint Antonio in the Cathedral is, I should say, his great
picture. It is very simple, and full of feeling. The Saint, half
kneeling, stretches forward to the vision of the Christ-Child, which
descends in a glory of cherubim toward him. The great mass of light
falls directly upon the kneeling figure and the upturned face, and
throws strong shadows on the ground. One is reminded, in some of the
angel-figures, of the brilliant light and shadow on the little flying
cherubs in the "Assumption," at Venice. Here all is silvery, where in
Titian all burns with the glory of a Venetian sunset. But this picture
of Murillo seems to me what one must call an eminently "happy" picture.
It gives one the idea that the painter enjoyed painting it, for the
expressive movement of the Saint is most admirably given, and the
extreme simplicity of every part of the picture is most agreeable; so
that we are ready to give great praise to Murillo for what he did, and
to say that he was earnest and tried to represent what he really felt.
And when we say that, we say a great deal; do we not? But we cannot,
for a moment, compare him to the great Venetians. He did not attempt
what they did, because he did not feel it at all; and, as a painter, he
is not comparable to them. One sees that he executed with rapidity and
a sort of dash, as it were. The Venetian concealed his execution, as
Nature does, and attempted to render the most subtile things which he
knew his art alone _could_ give, in their full force and beauty. As a
painter, therefore, he cannot be compared with men who wrought from so
different a principle. And when we think of the lovely elevation and
noble thought in the great Venetians, we must quietly rest grateful for
those great blessings,--grateful and happy that they exist, and that
we, in some measure at least, understand and appreciate their meaning.
Is it not delightful to think of them and know them in their precious
old corners and over their dear old altars?
_Madrid, March, 1859_.
You see that we have at last left Andalusia, and are here in what is
like a bit of Paris,--shops, dress, carriages, and now and then the
smell of asphalt pavement being renewed. Still, mantillas are the
coverings for the female head, and peasants in costumes drive mules and
donkeys through the crowds in the busy streets, and one is still in
Spain. We came, you know, for the gallery, and the first glimpse of it
showed us that we have enough to do to see that, during our proposed
stay of a month. I must tell you just a few things about the pictures,
and give you a peep at Madrid through my eyes, since you are not here
to use your own.
Murillo is here the same as everywhere else. I very much prefer his
pictures in Seville. Velasquez, however, is to be really seen nowhere
so well as here. I do not know how many pictures there are here by him,
but a great quantity, it seems to me: Philips without number, in
childhood, youth, and age; Dons with curled moustaches; Queens with
large hoops and disfigured heads; an actor, full of life and character,
one of his very best. But his greatest picture, and really a wonder, is
his portrait of himself painting the little Infanta, who is in the
foreground of the picture with two young girls, her court ladies, her
dwarf, and a diminutive page. It is quite like a photograph, in clear,
broad effect of light and dark. From the other side of the room, full
of truth and vigor,--as you approach it, you find it is dashed in with
a surety of touch and a breadth truly extraordinary,--no details, no
substance even; painted with one huge brush, it would almost seem, all
is vigorous, dashing, clever, the triumph of _chic_, as shown by a
master hand. The dog in the immediate foreground is capital, the page
pushing him playfully with his foot. The dwarf stands next, full of a
sort of quaint truth, with her big head and heavy chin. The mass of
light falls on the Infanta, who takes a cup of something, chocolate, I
suppose, from one of the kneeling girls, while the other makes a
reverence on the other side. Beyond are a nun and a _guarda-damas_, and
in the mirror at the other end of the room are most cleverly indicated
the portraits of Philip and his wife. Velasquez stands on the left of
the picture, behind the Infanta, painting, with his canvas turned back
toward us as we look into the room. The black figure of an attendant
has passed out of the apartment and is going up a stair against a clear
white wall. The skilful way in which you are led into the picture is
astonishing, and the whole thing is quite by itself as a piece of
painting. There is no attempt at anything subtile or even delicate in
the treatment, speaking from the point of view of a result achieved by
paint on canvas,--no texture, no difference of handling, no imitation;
all is _paint_, admirably put on, for the effect across the room. I
think we must set Velasquez quite by himself as a truthful and surely
most gifted portrait-master. With a peculiar gift,--genius, I think we
might say,--certainly he is like no one else, and nobody else is like
him. Then there is his equestrian portrait of Philip IV., of which you
may remember the sketch in the Pitti Gallery,--also one of the Duke of
Olivarez, fresh, dashing, and spirited. But I prefer the portrait of
--some actor, I am sure,--full of character, against a gray wall
background,--one of those faces one is sure one has seen somewhere in
Spain, and he is declaiming evidently with the most capital action.--So
much for Velasquez.
But I hardly dare attempt to tell you of the glory of the great Titian,
who seems almost newly revealed, in many _perfect_ works. Nothing can
equal the superb style of a portrait of Alfonso of Ferrara; it is like
nothing but Nature,--a splendid, dark, manly face and figure, standing
and looking thoughtfully at you, or rather, beyond you, caressing in an
absent way a little silky dog who puts his paw up to attract his
master's notice. The glowing flesh, the superbly painted dress of deep
blue with fine arabesques of gold,--the delicate hand lying on the
soft, silky hair of the dog, with its turquoise ring on the second
joint of one of the fingers,--you can imagine it, can you not? Next him
stands Philip II., pale, elegant, and repulsive, in gorgeous armor worn
over festal, glittering white satin. Charles V. is on the other side;
and I hardly know which of these portraits is the finest as a work of
Art, for all are _perfect_. Charles is standing, with a noble dog
leaning up against his hand; there is something _simpatica_ in his gray
eyes, his worn face, and even in his protruding jaw, it is so admirably
rendered, and gives such a firm character to the face. His costume is
_elegantisimo_, white satin and gold,--with a tissue-of-gold doublet,
and a cassock of silver-damask, with great black fur collar and lining,
against which is relieved the under-dress; he wears his velvet cap and
plume, and a deep emerald satin curtain hangs on his right hand. These
portraits are just about as wonderful as any you may remember,--in his
best style and in capital condition. But I know you would say that the
great portrait of Charles on horseback is more grand. It is a sort of
heroic poem; he looks like Sir Galahad, or Chivalry itself, going forth
to conquer wrong and violence. His eager, worn face looks out from the
helmet so calmly and so steadily, the flash of his armor, which gleams
like real metal, the coal-black horse, which comes forward out of the
landscape shaking his head-piece of blood-red plumes against the golden
sunset sky and champing the golden bit, the grasp of the lance by the
noble rider: well, painting can do no more than that. It is history,
poetry, and the beauty of Nature recreated by the grand master. An
entirely different phase of his character is seen in his Ariadne Asleep
surrounded by the Bacchanals. This is full of antique Grecian feeling;
and such a subtile, delicious piece of painting! Ariadne is in the
foreground, full of warm, breathing life, her arm thrown over her
lovely head, and her golden hair falling over the vase of gold and onyx
on which she rests; a river of red wine runs through the emerald grass;
two beautiful girls have just put by their music and instruments, and
one turns her exquisite face toward us to speak to the other reclining
on the grass. The one who turns to us is the beauty of the Louvre, or
some one very like her, in full Venetian loveliness. In her bosom are
one or two violets and a paper with _Titianus_ written on it. The bit
of music on the grass has Greek letters. Dancing figures are in the
middle of the picture. The fauns stagger under the dark trees, carrying
great sumptuous vases of agate and gold. Silenus is asleep on a sunny
hill at a distance, and the white sails of the ship with Theseus gleam
on the deep-blue sea. There is another called an Offering to Fecundity.
It is a crowd of most lovely baby boys, wonderfully painted, frolicking
on the green among flowers and fruits. A figure full of action and
passion holds up a glass to the statue of the goddess in one corner.
The children are kissing each other and carrying about baskets of
fruit; these baskets are hung with rich pearls and rubies and gems of
all kinds. The green, fresh trees wave against a summer sky, and the
work is full of tender, sensitive elegance and love. It shows to me an
entirely new side of Titian in its extreme delicacy and sweetness.
Nobody can ever speak of a "want of refinement" in Titian, if they
thought so before, after seeing these pictures. Then there is the
Herodias, the same as the girl in Dresden who holds up the
casket,--wonderfully delicate and beautiful; and several other
portraits and pictures, which I cannot tell you of, even if you are not
already tired. I ought, however, to say that Paul Veronese has a very
fine Venus and Adonis here, full of sunlight and summer beauty, and
Christ Teaching the Doctors, nobly serious in character and admirable
in treatment; also two sketches of Cain and of Vice and Virtue, very
full of feeling for his subject. The Cain has his back toward you. His
wife and child look up at him entreatingly. There is a fine, solemn
horizon with a gleam of twilight. There are several Tintorets, but no
favorable specimens,--a portrait is the best. There is also a Giovanni
Bellini, which brings back the Venetian altar-pieces, quiet and lovely;
and a Giorgione, like the large one in the Louvre, in many ways; a
Madonna and Infant, with a fine female Saint and a noble Saint George.
These are some of the glorious treasures which the Spaniards own. If we
could only have some of these! or if, while we or our country are
committing the sin of coveting the Spanish possessions, we would only
covet something worth the having! I confess, I should delight to take
away one or two fine jewels of pictures that nobody here would miss.
I had almost forgotten to mention the great Raphael, the "Spasimo." It
is in his Roman style, with much that is, to me, forced in the action
and expression. The head of Christ, however, is beautiful, and
exquisitely drawn. Beside the Spasimo, there is a little picture of the
Virgin and Child, with Saint Joseph, in Raphael's early manner, very
lovely, and reminding one of the "Staffa" Madonna, at Perugia. It is
faint in color, and most charming in careful execution.
Then there are the finest Hemmlings I have ever seen,--finer than those
at Munich: lovely Madonnas, meek and saintly; superb adoring Kings, all
glowing with cloth-of-gold and velvets and splendid jewels; beautiful
quiet landscapes, seen through the arches of the stable; and angels,
with wings of dazzling green and crimson. The real love with which
these wonderful pictures are caressed by the careful, thoughtful artist
makes them most precious. Every little flower is delicately and
artistically done, and everything is invested with a sort of sacred
reverence by this earnest Pre-Raphaelite. One or two Van Eycks have the
same splendor and depth of feeling. These pictures look as if they were
painted yesterday, so clear and brilliant are their colors.
It is a pleasant circumstance, that some of the great Venetian pictures
in the gallery here were gained for Spain by the judgment and taste of
Velasquez. When he went to Italy with a commission from Philip IV.,
which it must have delighted him to execute, "to buy whatever pictures
were for sale that he thought worth purchasing," he spent some time in
Venice, and there bought, among other things, the Venus and Adonis of
Paul Veronese, and several of the works of Tintoretto. The Titians had
come to Spain before, and it was from the study of them, perhaps, that
Velasquez learned to paint so well. At any rate, we know what he
thought of Titian; for Mr. Sterling gives an extract from a poem by a
Venetian, Marco Boschini, which was published not long after
Velasquez's journey to Italy, in which part of a conversation is given
between him and Salvator Rosa, who asked him what he thought of
Raphael. You will like to see it, if you have not Sterling by you.
"Lu storse el cao cirimoniosamente,
E disse: 'Rafael (a dirve el vero,
Piasendome esser libero e sinciero)
Stago per dir che nol me piase niente.'
"'Tanto che,' repliche quela persona,
'Co' no ve piase questo gran Pitor,
In Italia nissun ve da in l' umor,
Perche nu ghe donemo la corona.'
"Don Diego repliche con tal maniera:
'A Venetia se trova el bon e 'l belo;
Mi dago el primo luogo a quel penelo;
Tician xe quel che porta la bandiera.'"
Here is a translation:--
The master, with a ceremonious air,
Bowed, and then said, "Raphael, truth to tell,
For to be free and honest suits me well,
Pleases me not at all, I must declare."
"Since, then," replied the other, "you so frown
On this great painter, in Italy is none
By whom, indeed, your favor can be won;
For upon him we all bestow the crown."
Don Diego thereupon to him replies,
"At Venice may be found the good and fair;
I give the first place to the pencil there;
Titian is he who carries off the prize."
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
1. _Dictionary of Americanisms_. A Glossary of Words and Phrases
usually regarded as peculiar to the United States. By JOHN RUSSELL
BARTLETT. Second Edition, greatly improved and enlarged. Boston:
Little, Brown, & Company, 1859. pp. xxxii., 524.
2. _A Glossarial Index to the Printed English Literature of the
Thirteenth Century_. By HERBERT COLERIDGE. London: Truebner & Company.
1859. pp. iv., 104.
3. _Outlines of the History of the English Language_, for the Use of
the Junior Classes in Colleges and the Higher Classes in Schools. By
GEORGE L. CRAIK, Professor of History and of English Literature in
Queen's College, Belfast. Third Edition, revised and improved. London:
Chapman & Hall. 1859. pp. xii., 148.
4. _The Vulgar Tongue_. A Glossary of Slang, Cant, and Flash Phrases,
used in London from 1839 to 1859; Flash Songs, Essays on Flash, and a
Bibliography of Canting and Slang Literature. By DUCANGE ANGLICUS.
Second Edition, improved and much enlarged. London: Bernard Quaritch.
1859. pp. 80.
5. _A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words_, etc., etc.
By a London Antiquary. London: John Camden Holten. 1859. pp. lxxxviii.,
6. _On the English Language, Past and Present_. By RICHARD CHENEVIX
TRENCH, D.D. New Edition, revised and enlarged. New York: Blakeman &
Mason. 1859. pp. 238.
7. _A Select Glossary of English Words used formerly in Senses
different from their present_. By RICHARD CHENEVIX TRENCH, D.D. New
York: Redfield. 1859. pp. xi., 218.
8. _Rambles among Words; their Poetry, History, Wisdom_. By WILLIAM
SWINTON. New York. Scribner. 1859. pp. 302.
The first allusion we know of to an Americanism is that of Gill, in
1621,--"_Sed et ab Americanis nonnulla mutuamur, ut_ MAIZ _et_ KANOA."
Since then, English literature, not without many previous wry faces,
has adopted or taken back many words from this side of the water. The
more the matter is looked into, the more it appears that we have no
peculiar dialect of our own, and that men here, as elsewhere, have
modified language or invented phrases to suit their needs. When Dante
wrote his "De Vulgari Eloquio," he reckoned nearly a thousand distinct
dialects in the Italian peninsula, and, after more than five hundred
years, it is said that by far the greater part survive. In England,
eighty years ago, the county of every member of Parliament was to be
known by his speech; but in "both Englands," as they used to be called,
the tendency is toward uniformity.
In spite of the mingling of races and languages in the United States,
the speech of the people is more uniform than that of any European
nation. This would inevitably follow from our system of common-schools,
and the universal reading of newspapers. This has tended to make the
common language of talk more bookish, and has thus reacted unfavorably
on our literature, giving it sometimes the air of being composed in a
dead tongue rather than written from a living one. It gladdens us, we
confess, to see how goodly a volume of _Americanisms_ Mr. Bartlett has
been enabled to gather, for it shows that our language is alive. It is
only from the roots that a language can be refreshed; a dialect that is
taught grows more and more pedantic, and becomes at last as unfit a
vehicle for living thought as monkish Latin. This is the danger which
our literature has to guard against from the universal Schoolmaster,
who wars upon home-bred phrases, and enslaves the mind and memory of
his victims, as far as may be, to the best models of English
composition,--that is to say, to the writers whose style is faultlessly
correct, but has no blood in it. No language, after it has faded into
_diction_, none that cannot suck up feeding juices from the
mother-earth of a rich common-folk-talk, can bring forth a sound and
lusty book. True vigor of expression does not pass from page to page,
but from man to man, where the brain is kindled and the lips are
limbered by downright living interests and by passions in the very
throe. Language is the soil of thought; and our own especially is a
rich leaf-mould, the slow growth of ages, the shed foliage of feeling,
fancy, and imagination, which has suffered an earth-change, that the
vocal forest, as Howell called it, may clothe itself anew with living
green. There is death in the Dictionary; and where language is limited
by convention, the ground for expression to grow in is straitened also,
and we get a _potted_ literature, Chinese dwarfs instead of healthy
We are thankful to Mr. Bartlett for the onslaught he makes in his
Introduction upon the _highfaluting_ style so common among us. But we
are rather amused to find him falling so easily into that _Anglo-Saxon_
trap which is the common pitfall of those half-learned men among whom
we should be slow to rank him.[A] He says, "The _unfortunate tendency_
to _favor_ the Latin at the _expense_ of the Saxon _element_ of our
_language_, which _social_ and _educational causes_ have long _tended_
to foster in the mother _country_, has with us _received_ an
_additional_ _impulse_ from the great _admixture_ of _foreigners_ in
our _population_." (p. xxxii.) We have underscored the words of Latin
origin, and find that they include _all_ the nouns, all the adjectives
but two, and three out of five verbs,--one of these last (the auxiliary
_have_) being the same in both Latin and Saxon. Speaking of the
Bostonians, Mr. Bartlett says, "The great _extent_ to which the
_scholars_ of New England have carried the _study_ of the _German
language_ and _literature_ for some years back, _added_ to the _very
general neglect_ of the old _master-pieces_ of English _composition_,
have [has] had the _effect_ of giving to the writings of many of them
an _artificial, unidiomatic character_, which has an _inexpressibly
unpleasant effect_ to those who are not _habituated_ to it." (p. xxv.
We again underscore the un-Saxon words.) Now if there be any short cut
to the Anglo-Saxon, it is through the German; and how far the
Bostonians deserve the reproach of a neglect of old English
masterpieces we do not pretend to say, but the first modern reprint of
the best works of Latimer, More, Sidney, Fuller, Selden, Browne, and
Feltham was made in Boston, under the care of the late Dr. Alexander
Young. We have no wish to defend Boston; we mean only to call Mr.
Bartlett's attention to the folly of asking people to write in a
dialect which no longer exists. No man can write off-hand a page of
Saxon English; no man with pains can write one and hope to be commonly
understood. At least let Mr. Bartlett practise what he preaches. When a
deputation of wig-makers waited on George III. to protest against the
hair-powder-tax, the mob, seeing that one of them wore his own hair,
ducked him forthwith in Tower-Ditch,--a very Anglo-Saxon comment on his
inconsistency. We should not have noticed these passages in Mr.
Bartlett's Introduction, had he not, after eleven years' time to weigh
them in, let them remain as they stood in his former edition, of 1848.
In other respects the volume before us greatly betters its forerunner.
That contained many words which were rather vulgarisms than
provincialisms, and more properly English than American. Almost all
these Mr. Bartlett has left out in revising his book. Once or twice,
however, he has retained as Americanisms phrases which are proverbial,
such as "born in the woods to be scared of an owl," "to carry the foot
in the hand," and "hallooing before you're out of the woods." But it
will be easier to follow the alphabetical order in our short list of
_adversaria_ and comments.
ALEWIFE. We doubt if Mr. Bartlett is right in deriving this from a
supposed Indian word _aloof_. At least, Hakluyt speaks of a fish called
"old-wives"; and in some other old book of travels we have seen the
name derived from the likeness of the fish, with its good, round belly,
to the mistress of an alehouse.
BANK-BILL. Is not an Americanism. It is used by Swift, Pope, and
BOGUS. Mr. Bartlett quotes a derivation of this word from the name of a
certain _Borghese_, said to have been a notorious counterfeiter of
bank-notes. But is it not more probably a corruption of _bagasse_,
which, as applied to the pressed sugarcane, means simply something
worthless? The word originally meant a worthless woman, whence our
"baggage" in the same sense.
[Footnote A: This, perhaps, was to be expected; for he calls Dr.
Latham's _English Language_ "unquestionably the most valuable work on
English philology and grammar--which has yet appeared," (p. xxx.,
note,) and refers to the first edition of 1841. If Mr. Bartlett must
allude at all to Dr. Latham, (who is reckoned a great blunderer among
English philologers,) he should at least have referred to the second
edition of his work, in two volumes, 1855.]
CHAINED-LIGHTNING. More commonly chain-lightning, and certainly not a
Western phrase exclusively.
CHEBACCO-BOAT. Mr. Bartlett says, "This word is doubtless a corruption
of _Chedabucto_, the name of a bay in Nova Scotia, from which vessels
are fitted out for fishing." This is going a great way down East for
what could be found nearer. _Chebacco_ is (or was, a century since) the
name of a part of Ipswich, Massachusetts.
TO FALL a tree Mr. Bartlett considers a corruption of to _fell_. But,
as we have commonly heard the words used, to _fell_ means merely to cut
down, while to fall means to make it fall in a given direction.
TO GO UNDER. "To perish. An expression adopted from the figurative
language of the Indians by the Western trappers and residents of the
prairies." Not the first time that the Indians have had undue credit
for poetry. The phrase is undoubtedly a translation of the German
_untergehen_ (fig.), to perish.
HAT. "Our Northern women have almost discarded the word _bonnet_,
except in _sun-bonnet_, and use the term _hat_ instead. A like fate has
befallen the word _gown_, for which both they and their Southern
sisters commonly use _frock_ or _dress_." We do not know where Mr.
Bartlett draws his Northern line; but in Massachusetts we never heard
the word _hat_ or _frock_ used in this sense. They are so used in
England, and _hat_ is certainly, _frock_ probably, nearer Anglo-Saxon
than _bonnet_ and _gown_.
IMPROVE. Mr. Bartlett quotes Dr. Franklin as saying in 1789, "When I
left New England in the year 1723, this word had never been used among
us, as far as I know, but in the sense of _ameliorated_ or _made
better_, except once in a very old book of Dr. Mather's, entitled
_Remarkable Providences_." Dr. Increase Mather's _Providences_ was
published in 1684. In 1679 a synod assembled at Boston, and the result
of its labors was published in the same year by John Foster, under the
title, _Necessity of a Reformation_. On the sixth page we find,
"Taverns being for the entertainment of strangers, which, if they were
_improved_ to that end only," etc. Oddly enough, our copy of this tract
has Dr. Mather's autograph on the title-page. But Mr. Bartlett should
have referred to Richardson, who shows that the word had been in use
long before with the same meaning.
To INHEAVEN. "A word invented by the Boston transcendentalists." And
Mr. Bartlett quotes from Judd's _Margaret_. Mr. Judd was a good
scholar, and the word is legitimately compounded, like _ensphere_ and
_imparadise_; but he did not invent it. Dante uses the word:--
"Perfetta vita ed alto merto _inciela_
Donna piu su."
LADIES' TRESSES. "The popular name, in the Southern States, for an
herb," etc. In the Northern States also. Sometimes _Ladies' Traces_.
LIEFER. "A colloquialism, also used in England." Excellent Anglo-Saxon,
and used wherever English is spoken.
LOAFER. We think there can be no doubt that this word is German.
_Laufen_ in some parts of Germany is pronounced _lofen_, and we once
heard a German student say to his friend, _Ich lauf'_ (lofe) _hier bis
du wiederkehrst_: and he began accordingly to saunter up and down,--in
short, to _loaf_ about.
TO MULL. "To soften, to dispirit." Mr. Bartlett quotes
_Margaret_,--"There has been a pretty considerable _mullin_ going on
among the doctors." But _mullin_ here means stirring, bustling in an
underhand way, and is a metaphor derived from _mulling wine_. _Mull_,
in this sense, is probably a corruption of _mell_, from Old Fr.
_mesler_, to mix.
TO BE NOWHERE (in the sense of failure) is not an Americanism, but
SALLY-LUN, a kind of cake, is English.
TO SAVE, meaning to kill game so as to get it, is not confined to the
Far West, but is common to hunters in all parts of the country.
SHEW, for _showed_. Mr. Bartlett calls this the "shibboleth of
Bostonians." However this may be, it is simply an archaism, not a
vulgarism. _Show_, like _blow, crow, grow,_ seems formerly to have had
what is called a strong preterite. _Shew_ is used by Lord Cromwell and
SLASHES. "Swampy or wet lands overgrown with bushes. Southern and
Western." Used also in New York.
SPAN of horses is Dutch (High or Low).
TO WALK SPANISH; to "walk" a boy out of any place by the waistband of
his trousers, or by any lower part easily prehensible. N.E. This is,
perhaps, as old as Philip and Mary.
TO SPREAD ONE'S SELF is defined by Mr. Bartlett "to exert one's self."
It means rather to exert one's self ostentatiously. It is a capital
metaphor, derived, we fancy, from the turkey-cock or peacock,--like the
Italian _pavoneggiarsi_. We find in the _Tatler_ "spreading her graces
in assemblies." This last, however, may be a Gallicism, from _etaler_.
STRAW BAIL. "Worthless bail, bail given by 'men of straw.'" This is
surely no Americanism, and we have seen its origin very differently
explained, namely, that men willing for a fee to become bail walked in
the neighborhood of the courts with straws stuck in their
shoes,--though Mr. Bartlett's explanation is ingenious.
SUNFISH. Mr. Bartlett thinks this a corruption; but the resemblance of
the fish, as seen in the water, to the ordinary portraits of the sun in
almanacs and on tavern-signs seems to us enough to account for the
A few phrases occur to us that have escaped Mr. Bartlett.
A CARRY: portage. _Passim_.
CAT-NAP: a short doze. New England.
CHOWDER-HEAD: muddle-brain. New England.
COHEES (accent on the last syllable): term applied to the people of
certain settlements in Western Pennsylvania, from their use of the
archaic form, _Quo' he_.
TO COTTON TO.
DON' KNOW AS I KNOW: the nearest your true Yankee ever comes to
GANDER-PARTY: a social gathering of men only. New England.
LAP-TEA: where the guests are too many to sit at table. Massachusetts.
LAST OF PEA-TIME: day after fair.
LOSE-LAID (loose-laid): weaver's term, and probably English; means
MOONGLADE: a beautiful word for the track of moonlight on the water.
OFF-OX: an unmanageable fellow. New England.
OLD DRIVER: } euphemistic for the
OLD SPLIT-FOOT: } Devil.
ONHITCH (unhitch): to pull trigger.
ROTE: sound of the surf before a storm. Used also in England. New
SEEM: I can't _seem_ to see, for I can't see. She couldn't _seem_ to be
suited, for couldn't be suited.
STATE-HOUSE. This seems an Americanism. Did we invent it, or borrow it
from the _Stad-huys_ (town-hall) of New Amsterdam? As an instance of
the tendency to uniformity in American usage, we notice that in
Massachusetts what has always been the _State-House_ is beginning to be
called the _Capitol_. We are sorry for it.
STRIKE: } terms of the game of STRING: } nine-pins.
SWALE: a hollow. New England. English also; see Forby.
TORMENTED: euphemistic, as "not a _tormented_ cent." New England.
We have gone through Mr. Bartlett's book with the attention which a
work so well done deserves, and are thoroughly impressed with the
amount of care and labor to which it bears witness. We have quarrelled
with it wherever we could, because it cannot fail to become the
standard authority in its department. Its value will increase from year
to year. For instance, the Spanish words, in which it is especially
rich, are doomed to undergo strange metamorphoses on Anglo-Saxon lips;
for it is the instinct of the unlearned to naturalize words as fast as
possible, and to compel them to homebred shapes and sounds. There is
often an unwitting humor in these perversions,[A] and they are always
interesting as showing that it is the nature of man to use words with
understanding, however appearances might lead us to an opposite
[Footnote A: We remember once hearing a man say of something, that it
was written in a "very grand delinquent [grandiloquent] style,"--a
phrase certainly not without modern application. We have heard also
Angola-Saxons and Angular-Saxons,--the latter, at least, not an unhappy
The least satisfactory part of Mr. Bartlett's book is the Appendix, in
which he has got together a few proverbs and similes, which, it seems
to us, do no kind of justice to the humor and invention of the people.
Most of them have no characteristic at all, except coarseness. We hope
there is nothing peculiarly American in such examples as these:--"Evil
actions, like crushed rotten eggs, stink in the nostrils of all"; and
"Vice is a skunk that smells awfully rank when stirred up by the pole
of misfortune." These have, beside, an artificial air, and are quite
too long-skirted for working proverbs, in which language always "takes
off its coat to it," if we may use a proverbial phrase, left out by Mr.
Bartlett. We confess, we looked for something racier and of a more
_puckery_ flavor. One hears such now and then, mostly from the
West,--like "Mean enough to steal acorns from a blind hog"; "I take my
tea _bar-foot_," the answer of a backwoodsman, when asked if he would
have cream and sugar. Some are unmistakably Eastern; as, "All deacons
are good,--but there's odds in deacons"; "He's a whole team and the dog
under the wagon"; "That's first-rate and a half"; "Handy as a pocket in
a shirt" (ironical). Almost every county has some good die sinker in
language, who mints phrases that pass into the currency of a whole
neighborhood. We picked up two such the other day, both of the same
coinage. The county-jail (the only stone building where all the
dwellings were of wood) was described as "the house whose underpinning
comes up to the eaves"; while the place unmentionable to ears polite
was "where they don't rake up the fires at night." A man, speaking to
us once of a very rocky clearing, said, "Stone's got a pretty heavy
mortgage on that farm"; and another, wishing to give us a notion of the
thievishness common in a certain village, capped his climax
thus:--"Dishonest! why, they have to take in their stone walls o'
nights." Any one who has driven over a mountain-stream by one of those
bridges made of _slabs_ will feel the force of a term we once heard
applied to a parson so shaky in character that no dependence could be
placed on him,--"A slab-bridged kind o' feller!" During some very cold
weather, a few years ago, we picked a notable saying or two. "The fire
don't seem to git no kind o' _purchase_ on the cold." "They say Cap'n
M'Clure's gone through the Northwest Passage." "Has? Think likely, and
left the door open, too!" Elder Knapp, the once noted itinerant
preacher, had a kind of unwashed poetry in him. We heard him say
once,--"Do you want to know when a Unitarian" (we think it was) "will
get into heaven? When hell's froze over, and he can skate in!" We quote
merely for illustration, and do not mean to compare the Elder with
Taylor or South.
The element of exaggeration has often been remarked on as typical of
American humor. In Dr. Petri's "Compact Handbook of Foreign Words,"[A]
(from which Mr. Bartlett will be surprised to learn that _Hoco-pocos_
is a nickname for the Whig party in the United States,) we are told that
the word _humbug_ "is commonly used for the exaggerations of the
North-Americans." One would think the dream of Columbus half-fulfilled,
and that Europe had found in the West the near way to Orientalism, at
least of diction. But it seems to us that a great deal of what is set
down as mere exaggeration is more fitly to be called intensity and
picturesqueness, symptoms of the imaginative faculty in full health and
strength, though producing, as yet, only the raw material.[B]
By-and-by, perhaps, the world will see it worked up into poem and
picture, and Europe, which will be hard-pushed for originality ere
long, may thank us for a new sensation. The French continue to find
Shakspeare exaggerated, because he treated English just as our folk do
when they speak of "a steep price," or say that they "freeze to" a
thing. The first postulate of an original literature is, that a people
use their language as if they owned it. Even Burns contrived to write
very poor English. Vulgarisms are often only poetry in the egg. The
late Horace Mann, in one of his Addresses, commented at some length on
the beauty of the French phrase _s'orienter_, and called on his young
hearers to practise it in life. There was not a Yankee in his audience
whose problem had not always been to find out what was "_about east_"
and shape his course accordingly. The Germans have a striking proverb;
_Was die Gans gedacht, das der Schwan vollbracht_; What the goose but
thought, that the swan fullbrought; or, to de-Saxonize it a little,
_pace_ Mr. Bartlett, What the goose conceived, that the swan
achieved;--and we cannot help thinking, that the life, invention, and
vigor shown in our popular speech, and the freedom with which it is