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Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 7, No. 44, June, 1861 by Various

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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY

A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.

VOL. VII.--JUNE, 1861.--NO. XLIV.

AGNES OF SORRENTO.

CHAPTER V.

IL PADRE FRANCESCO.

The next morning Elsie awoke, as was her custom,--when the very faintest
hue of dawn streaked the horizon. A hen who has seen a hawk balancing
his wings and cawing in mid-air over her downy family could not have
awakened with her feathers, metaphorically speaking, in a more bristling
state of caution.

"Spirits in the gorge, quotha?" said she to herself, as she vigorously
adjusted her dress. "I believe so,--spirits in good sound bodies,
I believe; and next we shall hear, there will be rope-ladders, and
climbings, and the Lord knows what. I shall go to confession this very
morning, and tell Father Francesco the danger; and instead of taking her
down to sell oranges, suppose I send her to the sisters to carry the
ring and a basket of oranges?"

"Ah, ah!" she said, pausing, after she was dressed, and addressing a
coarse print of Saint Agnes pasted against the wall,--"you look very
meek there, and it was a great thing no doubt to die as you did; but if
you'd lived to be married and bring up a family of girls, you'd have
known something greater. Please, don't take offence with a poor old
woman who has got into the way of speaking her mind freely! I'm foolish,
and don't know much,--so, dear lady, pray for me!" And old Elsie bent
her knee and crossed herself reverently, and then went out, leaving her
young charge still sleeping.

It was yet dusky dawn when she might have been seen kneeling, with her
sharp, clear-cut profile, at the grate of a confession-box in a church
in Sorrento. Within was seated a personage who will have some influence
on our story, and who must therefore be somewhat minutely introduced to
the reader.

Il Padre Francesco had only within the last year arrived in the
neighborhood, having been sent as superior of a brotherhood of
Capuchins, whose convent was perched on a crag in the vicinity. With
this situation came a pastoral care of the district; and Elsie and her
grand-daughter found in him a spiritual pastor very different from the
fat, jolly, easy Brother Girolamo, to whose place he had been appointed.
The latter had been one of those numerous priests taken from the
peasantry, who never rise above the average level of thought of the body
from which they are drawn. Easy, gossipy, fond of good living and good
stories, sympathetic in troubles and in joys, he had been a general
favorite in the neighborhood, without exerting any particularly
spiritualizing influence.

It required but a glance at Father Francesco to see that he was in all
respects the opposite of this. It was evident that he came from one of
the higher classes, by that indefinable air of birth and breeding which
makes itself felt under every change of costume. Who he might be, what
might have been his past history, what rank he might have borne, what
part played in the great warfare of life, was all of course sunk in the
oblivion of his religious profession, where, as at the grave, a man laid
down name and fame and past history and worldly goods, and took up a
coarse garb and a name chosen from the roll of the saints, in sign that
the world that had known him should know hint no more.

Imagine a man between thirty and forty, with that round, full, evenly
developed head, and those chiselled features, which one sees on ancient
busts and coins no less than in the streets of modern Rome. The checks
were sunken and sallow; the large, black, melancholy eyes had a wistful,
anxious, penetrative expression, that spoke a stringent, earnest spirit,
which, however deep might be the grave in which it lay buried, had not
yet found repose. The long, thin, delicately formed hands were emaciated
and bloodless; they clasped with a nervous eagerness a rosary and
crucifix of ebony and silver,--the only mark of luxury that could be
discerned in a costume unusually threadbare and squalid. The whole
picture of the man, as he sat there, had it been painted and hung in a
gallery, was such as must have stopped every person of a certain amount
of sensibility before it with the conviction that behind that strong,
melancholy, earnest figure and face lay one of those hidden histories of
human passion in which the vivid life of medieval Italy was so fertile.

He was listening to Elsie, as she kneeled, with that easy air of
superiority which marks a practised man of the world, yet with a grave
attention which showed that her communication had awakened the deepest
interest in his mind. Every few moments he moved slightly in his seat,
and interrupted the flow of the narrative by an inquiry concisely put,
in tones which, clear and low, had a solemn and severe distinctness,
producing, in the still, dusky twilight of the church, an almost ghostly
effect.

When the communication was over, he stepped out of the confessional and
said to Elsie in parting,--"My daughter, you have done well to take this
in time. The devices of Satan in our corrupt times are numerous and
artful, and they who keep the Lord's sheep must not sleep. Before
many days I will call and examine the child; meanwhile I approve your
course."

It was curious to see the awe-struck, trembling manner in which old
Elsie, generally so intrepid and commanding, stood before this man in
his brown rough woollen gown with his corded waist; but she had an
instinctive perception of the presence of the man of superior birth no
less than a reverence for the man of religion.

After she had departed from the church, the Capuchin stood lost in
thought; and to explain his reverie, we must throw some further light on
his history.

Il Padre Francesco, as his appearance and manner intimated, was in truth
from one of the most distinguished families of Florence. He was one of
those whom an ancient writer characterizes as "men of longing desire."
Born with a nature of restless stringency that seemed to doom him never
to know repose, excessive in all things, he had made early trial
of ambition, of war, and of what the gallants of his time called
love,--plunging into all the dissipated excesses of a most dissolute
age, and outdoing in luxury and extravagance the foremost of his
companions.

The wave of a great religious impulse--which in our times would have
been called a revival--swept over the city of Florence, and bore him,
with multitudes of others, to listen to the fervid preaching of the
Dominican monk, Jerome Savonarola; and amid the crowd that trembled,
wept, and beat their breasts under his awful denunciations, he, too,
felt within himself a heavenly call,--the death of an old life, and the
uprising of a new purpose.

The colder manners and more repressed habits of modern times can give
no idea of the wild fervor of a religious revival among a people so
passionate and susceptible to impressions as the Italians. It swept
society like a spring torrent from the sides of the Apennines, bearing
all before it. Houses were sacked with religious fervor by penitent
owners, and licentious pictures and statuary and books, and all the
thousand temptations and appliances of a luxurious age, were burned in
the great public square. Artists convicted of impure and licentious
designs threw their palettes and brushes into the expiatory flames, and
retired to convents, till called forth by the voice of the preacher,
and bid to turn their art into higher channels. Since the days of Saint
Francis no such profound religious impulse had agitated the Italian
community.

In our times a conversion is signalized by few outward changes, however
deep the inner life; but the life of the Middle Ages was profoundly
symbolical, and always required the help of material images in its
expression.

The gay and dissolute young Lorenzo Sforza took leave of the world with
rites of awful solemnity. He made his will and disposed of all his
worldly property, and assembling his friends, bade them the farewell of
a dying man. Arrayed as for the grave, he was laid in his coffin,
and thus carried from his stately dwelling by the brethren of the
Misericordia, who, in their ghostly costume, with mournful chants and
lighted candles, bore him to the tomb of his ancestors, where the coffin
was deposited in the vault, and its occupant passed the awful hours of
the night in darkness and solitude. Thence he was carried, the next day,
almost in a state of insensibility, to a neighboring convent of the
severest order, where, for some weeks, he observed a penitential retreat
of silence and prayer, neither seeing nor hearing any living being but
his spiritual director.

The effect of all this on an ardent and sensitive temperament can
scarcely be conceived; and it is not to be wondered at that the once
gay and luxurious Lorenzo Sforza, when emerging from this tremendous
discipline, was so wholly lost in the worn and weary Padre Francesco
that it seemed as if in fact he had died and another had stepped into
his place. The face was ploughed deep with haggard furrows, and the eyes
were as those of a man who has seen the fearful secrets of another life.
He voluntarily sought a post as far removed as possible from the scenes
of his early days, so as more completely to destroy his identity
with the past; and he devoted himself with enthusiasm to the task of
awakening to a higher spiritual life the indolent, self-indulgent monks
of his order, and the ignorant peasantry of the vicinity.

But he soon discovered, what every earnest soul learns who has been
baptized into a sense of things invisible, how utterly powerless and
inert any mortal man is to inspire others with his own insights and
convictions. With bitter discouragement and chagrin, he saw that the
spiritual man must forever lift the dead weight of all the indolence and
indifference and animal sensuality that surround him,--that the curse of
Cassandra is upon him, forever to burn and writhe under awful visions of
truths which no one around him will regard. In early life the associate
only of the cultivated and the refined, Father Francesco could not
but experience at times an insupportable _ennui_ in listening to the
confessions of people who had never learned either to think or to feel
with any degree of distinctness, and whom his most fervent exhortations
could not lift above the most trivial interests of a mere animal life.
He was weary of the childish quarrels and bickerings of the monks, of
their puerility, of their selfishness and self-indulgence, of their
hopeless vulgarity of mind, and utterly discouraged with their
inextricable labyrinths of deception. A melancholy deep as the grave
seized on him, and he redoubled his austerities, in the hope that by
making life painful he might make it also short.

But the first time that the clear, sweet tones of Agnes rang ill his
ears at the confessional, and her words, so full of unconscious poetry
and repressed genius, came like a strain of sweet music through the
grate, he felt at his heart a thrill to which it had long been a
stranger, and which seemed to lift the weary, aching load from off his
soul, as if some invisible angel had borne it up on his wings.

In his worldly days he had known women as the gallants in Boccaccio's
romances knew them, and among them one enchantress whose sorceries had
kindled in his heart one of those fatal passions which burn out the
whole of a man's nature, and leave it, like a sacked city, only a
smouldering heap of ashes. Deepest, therefore, among his vows of
renunciation had been those which divided him from all womankind. The
gulf that parted him and them was in his mind deep as hell, and he
thought of the sex only in the light of temptation and danger. For the
first time in his life, an influence serene, natural, healthy, and sweet
breathed over him from the mind of a woman,--an influence so heavenly
and peaceful that he did not challenge or suspect it, but rather opened
his worn heart insensibly to it, as one in a fetid chamber naturally
breathes freer when the fresh air is admitted.

How charming it was to find his most spiritual exhortations seized upon
with the eager comprehension of a nature innately poetic and ideal: Nay,
it sometimes seemed to him as if the suggestions which he gave her dry
and leafless she brought again to him in miraculous clusters of flowers,
like the barren rod of Joseph, which broke into blossoms when he was
betrothed to the spotless Mary; and yet, withal, she was so humbly
unconscious, so absolutely ignorant of the beauty of all she said and
thought, that she impressed him less as a mortal woman than as one of
those divine miracles in feminine form of which he had heard in the
legends of the saints.

Thenceforward his barren, discouraged life began to blossom with wayside
flowers,--and he mistrusted not the miracle, because the flowers were
all heavenly The pious thought or holy admonition that he saw trodden
under the swinish feet of the monks he gathered up again in hope,--she
would understand it; and gradually all his thoughts became like
carrier-doves, which, having once learned the way to a favorite haunt,
are ever fluttering to return thither.

Such is the wonderful power of human sympathy, that the discovery even
of the existence of a soul capable of understanding our inner life often
operates as a perfect charm; every thought, and feeling, and aspiration
carries with it a new value, from the interwoven consciousness that
attends it of the worth it would bear to that other mind; so that, while
that person lives, our existence is doubled in value, even though oceans
divide us.

The cloud of hopeless melancholy which had brooded over the mind of
Father Francesco lifted and sailed away, he knew not why, he knew not
when. A secret joyfulness and alacrity possessed his spirits; his
prayers became more fervent and his praises more frequent. Until now,
his meditations had been most frequently those of fear and wrath,--the
awful majesty of God, the terrible punishment of sinners, which he
conceived with all that haggard, dreadful sincerity of vigor which
characterized the modern Etruscan phase of religion of which the
"Inferno" of Dante was the exponent and the out-come. His preachings
and his exhortations had dwelt on that lurid world seen by the severe
Florentine, at whose threshold hope forever departs, and around whose
eternal circles of living torture the shivering spirit wanders dismayed
and blasted by terror.

He had been, shocked and discouraged to find how utterly vain had been
his most intense efforts to stem the course of sin by presenting these
images of terror: how hard natures had listened to them with only a
coarse and cruel appetite, which seemed to increase their hardness and
brutality; and how timid ones had been withered by them, like flowers
scorched by the blast of a furnace; how, in fact, as in the case of
those cruel executions and bloody tortures then universal in the
jurisprudence of Europe, these pictures of eternal torture seemed to
exert a morbid demoralizing influence which hurried on the growth of
iniquity.

But since his acquaintance with Agnes, without his knowing exactly why,
thoughts of the Divine Love had floated into his soul, filling it with a
golden cloud like that which of old rested over the mercy-seat in that
sacred inner temple where the priest was admitted alone. He became more
affable and tender, more tolerant to the erring, more fond of little
children; would stop sometimes to lay his hand on the head of a child,
or to raise up one who lay overthrown in the street. The song of little
birds and the voices of animal life became to him full of tenderness;
and his prayers by the sick and dying seemed to have a melting power,
such as he had never known before. It was spring in his soul,--soft,
Italian spring,--such as brings out the musky breath of the cyclamen,
and the faint, tender perfume of the primrose, in every moist dell of
the Apennines.

A year passed in this way, perhaps the best and happiest of his troubled
life,--a year in which, insensibly to himself, the weekly interviews
with Agnes at the confessional became the rallying-points around which
the whole of his life was formed, and she the unsuspected spring of his
inner being.

It was his duty, he said to himself, to give more than usual time and
thought to the working and polishing of this wondrous jewel which had
so unexpectedly been intrusted to him for the adorning of his Master's
crown; and so long as he conducted with the strictest circumspection of
his office, what had he to fear in the way of so delightful a duty? He
had never touched her hand; never had even the folds of her passing
drapery brushed against his garments of mortification and renunciation;
never, even in pastoral benediction, had he dared lay his hand on that
beautiful head. It is true, he had not forbidden himself to raise his
glance sometimes when he saw her coming in at the church-door and
gliding up the aisle with downcast eyes, and thoughts evidently so far
above earth, that she seemed, like one of Fra Angelico's angels, to be
moving on a cloud, so encompassed with stillness and sanctity that he
held his breath as she passed.

But in the confession of Dame Elsie that morning he had received a shock
which threw his whole interior being into a passionate agitation which
dismayed and astonished him.

The thought of Agnes, his spotless lamb, exposed to lawless and
licentious pursuit, of whose nature and probabilities his past life
gave him only too clear an idea, was of itself a very natural source of
anxiety. But Elsie had unveiled to him her plans for her marriage, and
consulted him on the propriety of placing Agnes immediately under the
protection of the husband she had chosen for her; and it was this part
of her communication which had awakened the severest internal recoil,
and raised a tumult of passions which the priest vainly sought either to
assuage or understand.

As soon as his morning duties were over, he repaired to his convent,
sought his cell, and, prostrate on his face before the crucifix, began
his internal reckoning with himself. The day passed in fasting and
solitude.

It is now golden evening, and on the square, flat roof of the convent,
which, high-perched on a crag, overlooks the bay, one might observe a
dark figure slowly pacing backward and forward. It is Father Francesco;
and as he walks up and down, one could see by his large, bright, dilated
eye, by the vivid red spot on either sunken cheek, and by the nervous
energy of his movements, that he is in the very height of some mental
crisis,--in that state of placid _extase_ in which the subject supposes
himself perfectly calm, because every nerve is screwed to the highest
point of tension and can vibrate no more.

What oceans had that day rolled over him and swept him, as one may see a
little boat rocked on the capricious surges of the Mediterranean! Were,
then, all his strivings and agonies in vain? Did he love this woman with
any earthly love? Was he jealous of the thought of a future husband?
Was it a tempting demon that said to him, "Lorenzo Sforza might have
shielded this treasure from the profanation of lawless violence, from
the brute grasp of an inappreciative peasant, but Father Francesco
cannot"? There was a moment when his whole being vibrated with a
perception of what a marriage bond might have been that was indeed a
sacrament, and that bound together two pure and loyal souls who gave
life and courage to each other in all holy purposes and heroic deeds;
and he almost feared that he had cursed his vows,--those awful vows, at
whose remembrance his inmost soul shivered through every nerve.

But after hours of prayer and struggle, and wave after wave of agonizing
convulsion, he gained one of those high points in human possibility
where souls can stand a little while at a time, and where all things
seem so transfigured and pure that they fancy themselves thenceforward
forever victorious over evil.

As he walks up and down in the gold-and-purple evening twilight, his
mind seems to him calm as that glowing sea that reflects the purple
shores of Ischia, and the quaint, fantastic grottos and cliff's of
Capri. All is golden and glowing; he sees all clear; he is delivered
from his spiritual enemies; he treads them under his feet.

Yes, he says to himself, he loves Agnes,--loves her all-sacredly as
her guardian angel does, who ever beholdeth the face of her Father in
Heaven. Why, then, does he shrink from her marriage? Is it not evident?
Has that tender soul, that poetic nature, that aspiring genius, anything
in common with the vulgar, coarse details of a peasant's life? Will not
her beauty always draw the eye of the licentious, expose her artless
innocence to solicitation which will annoy her and bring upon her head
the inconsiderate jealousy of her husband? Think of Agnes made subject
to the rude authority, to the stripes and correction, which men of the
lower class, under the promptings of jealousy, do not scruple to inflict
on their wives! What career did society, as then organized, present to
such a nature, so perilously gifted in body and mind? He has the answer.
The Church has opened a career to woman which all the world denies her.

He remembers the story of the dyer's daughter of Siena, the fair Saint
Catharine. In his youth he had often visited the convent where one
of the first artists of Italy has immortalized her conflicts and her
victories, and knelt with his mother at the altar where she now communes
with the faithful. He remembered how, by her sanctity, her humility, and
her holy inspirations of soul, she had risen to the courts of princes,
whither she had been sent as ambassadress to arrange for the interests
of the Church; and then rose before his mind's eye the gorgeous picture
of Pinturicchio, where, borne in celestial repose and purity amid all
the powers and dignitaries of the Church, she is canonized as one of
those that shall reign and intercede with Christ in heaven.

Was it wrong, therefore, in him, though severed from all womankind by a
gulf of irrevocable vows, that he should feel a kind of jealous property
in this gifted and beautiful creature? and though he might not, even in
thought, dream of possessing her himself, was there sin in the vehement
energy with which his whole nature rose up in him to say that no other
man should,--that she should be the bride of Heaven alone?

Certainly, if there were, it lurked far out of sight; and the priest had
a case that might have satisfied a conscience even more fastidious;--and
he felt a sort of triumph in the results of his mental scrutiny.

Yes, she should ascend from glory to glory,--but _his_ should be the
hand that should lead her upward. _He_ would lead her within the
consecrated grate,--he would pronounce the awful words that should make
it sacrilege for all other men to approach her; and yet through life
_he_ should be the guardian and director of her soul, the one being to
whom she should render an obedience as unlimited as that which belongs
to Christ alone.

Such were the thoughts of this victorious hour,--which, alas! were
destined to fade as those purple skies and golden fires gradually went
out, leaving, in place of their light and glory, only the lurid glow of
Vesuvius.

CHAPTER VI.

THE WALK TO THE CONVENT.

Elsie returned from the confessional a little after sunrise, much
relieved and satisfied. Padre Francesco had shown such a deep interest
in her narrative that she was highly gratified. Then he had given her
advice which exactly accorded with her own views; and such advice is
always regarded as an eminent proof of sagacity in the giver.

On the point of the marriage he had recommended delay,--a course quite
in accordance with Elsie's desire, who, curiously enough, ever since her
treaty of marriage with Antonio had been commenced, had cherished the
most whimsical, jealous dislike of him, as if he were about to get away
her grandchild from her; and this rose at times so high that she could
scarcely speak peaceably to him,--a course of things which caused
Antonio to open wide his great soft ox-eyes, and wonder at the ways of
woman-kind; but he waited the event in philosophic tranquillity.

The morning sunbeams were shooting many a golden shaft among the
orange-trees when Elsie returned and found Agnes yet kneeling at her
prayers.

"Now, my little heart," said the old woman, when their morning meal was
done, "I am going to give you a holiday to-day. I will go with you to
the Convent, and you shall spend the day with the sisters, and so carry
Saint Agnes her ring."

"Oh, thank you, grandmamma! how good you are! May I stop a little on the
way, and pick some cyclamen and myrtles and daisies for her shrine?"

"Just as you like, child; but if you are going to do that, we must be
off soon, for I must be at my stand betimes to sell oranges: I had them
all picked this morning while my little darling was asleep."

"You always do everything, grandmamma, and leave me nothing to do: it is
not fair. But, grandmamma, if we are going to get flowers by the
way, let us follow down the stream, through the gorge, out upon the
sea-beach, and so walk along the sands, and go by the back path up the
rocks to the Convent: that walk is so shady and lovely at this time in
the morning, and it is so fresh along by the sea-side!"

"As you please, dearie; but first fill a little basket with our best
oranges for the sisters."

"Trust me for that!" And the girl ran eagerly to the house, and drew
from her treasures a little white wicker basket, which she proceeded
to line curiously with orange-leaves, sticking sprays of blossoms in a
wreath round the border.

"Now for some of our best blood-oranges!" she said;--"old Jocunda says
they put her in mind of pomegranates. And here are some of these little
ones,--see here, grandmamma!" she exclaimed, as she turned and held up
a branch just broken, where five small golden balls grew together with a
pearly spray of white buds just beyond them.

The exercise of springing up for the branch had sent a vivid glow into
her clear brown cheek, and her eyes were dilated with excitement and
pleasure; and as she stood joyously holding the branch, while the
flickering shadows fell on her beautiful face, she seemed more like a
painter's dream than a reality.

Her grandmother stood a moment admiring her.

"She's too good and too pretty for Antonio or any other man: she ought
to be kept to look at," she said to herself. "If I could keep her
always, no man should have her; but death will come, and youth and
beauty go, and so somebody must care for her."

When the basket was filled and trimmed, Agnes took it on her arm. Elsie
raised and poised on her head the great square basket that contained her
merchandise, and began walking erect and straight down the narrow rocky
stairs that led into the gorge, holding her distaff with its white flax
in her hands, and stepping as easily as if she bore no burden.

Agnes followed her with light, irregular movements, glancing aside
from time to time, as a tuft of flowers or a feathery spray of leaves
attracted her fancy. In a few moments her hands were too full, and her
woollen apron of many-colored stripes was raised over one arm to hold
her treasures, while a hymn to Saint Agnes, which she constantly
murmured to herself, came in little ripples of sound, now from behind a
rock, and now out of a tuft of bushes, to show where the wanderer was
hid. The song, like many Italian ones, would be nothing in English,
--only a musical repetition of sweet words to a very simple and
childlike idea, the _bella, bella, bella_ ringing out in every verse
with a tender joyousness that seemed in harmony with the waving ferns
and pendent flowers and long ivy-wreaths from among which its notes
issued. "Beautiful and sweet Agnes," it said, in a thousand tender
repetitions, "make me like thy little white lamb! Beautiful Agnes, take
me to the green fields where Christ's lambs are feeding! Sweeter than
the rose, fairer than the lily, take me where thou art!"

At the bottom of the ravine a little stream tinkles its way among stones
so mossy in their deep, cool shadow as to appear all verdure; for seldom
the light of the sun can reach the darkness where they lie. A little
bridge, hewn from solid rock, throws across the shrunken stream an arch
much wider than its waters seem to demand; for in spring and autumn,
when the torrents wash down from the mountains, its volume is often
suddenly increased.

This bridge was so entirely and evenly grown over with short thick moss
that it might seem cut of some strange kind of living green velvet, and
here and there it was quaintly embroidered with small blossoming tufts
of white alyssum, or feathers of ferns and maiden's-hair which shook
and trembled to every breeze. Nothing could be lovelier than this mossy
bridge, when some stray sunbeam, slanting up the gorge, took a fancy
to light it up with golden hues, and give transparent greenness to the
tremulous thin leaves that waved upon it.

On this spot Elsie paused a moment, and called back after Agnes, who had
disappeared into one of those deep grottos with which the sides of
the gorge are perforated, and which are almost entirely veiled by the
pendent ivy-wreaths.

"Agnes! Agnes! wild girl! come quick!"

Only the sound of "_Bella, bella Agnella_" came out of the ivy-leaves to
answer her; but it sounded so happy and innocent that Elsie could not
forbear a smile, and in a moment Agnes came springing down with a
quantity of the feathery lycopodium in her hands, which grows nowhere so
well as in moist and dripping places.

Out of her apron were hanging festoons of golden broom, crimson
gladiolus, and long, trailing sprays of ivy; while she held aloft in
triumph a handful of the most superb cyclamen, whose rosy crowns rise so
beautifully above their dark quaint leaves in moist and shady places.

"See, see, grandmother, what an offering I have! Saint Agnes will be
pleased with me to-day; for I believe in her heart she loves flowers
better than gems."

"Well, well, wild one,--time flies, we must hurry." And crossing the
bridge quickly, the grandmother struck into a mossy foot-path that led
them, after some walking, under the old Roman bridge at the gateway of
Sorrento. Two hundred feet above their heads rose the mighty arches,
enamelled with moss and feathered with ferns all the way; and below this
bridge the gorge grew somewhat wider, its sides gradually receding
and leaving a beautiful flat tract of land, which was laid out as an
orange-orchard. The golden fruit was shut in by rocky walls on either
side which here formed a perfect hot-bed, and no oranges were earlier or
finer.

Through this beautiful orchard the two at length emerged from the gorge
upon the sea-sands, where lay the blue Mediterranean swathed in bands
of morning mist, its many-colored waters shimmering with a thousand
reflected lights, and old Capri panting through sultry blue mists, and
Vesuvius with his cloud-spotted sides and smoke-wreathed top burst into
view. At a little distance a boatload of bronzed fishermen had just
drawn in a net, from which they were throwing out a quantity of
sardines, which flapped and fluttered in the sunshine like scales of
silver. The wind blowing freshly bore thousands of little purple waves
to break one after another at the foamy line which lay on the sand.

Agnes ran gayly along the beach with her flowers and vines fluttering
from her gay striped apron, and her cheeks flushed with exercise
and pleasure,--sometimes stopping and turning with animation to her
grandmother to point out the various floral treasures that enamelled
every crevice and rift of the steep wall of rock which rose
perpendicularly above their heads in that whole line of the shore which
is crowned with the old city of Sorrento: and surely never did rocky
wall show to the open sea a face more picturesque and flowery. The deep
red cliff was hollowed here and there into fanciful grottos, draped with
every varied hue and form of vegetable beauty. Here a crevice high in
air was all abloom with purple gillyflower, and depending in festoons
above it the golden blossoms of the broom; here a cleft seemed to be a
nestling-place for a colony of gladiolus, with its crimson flowers
and blade-like leaves; here the silver-frosted foliage of the
miller-geranium, or of the wormwood, toned down the extravagant
brightness of other blooms by its cooler tints. In some places it seemed
as if a sort of floral cascade were tumbling confusedly over the rocks,
mingling all hues and all forms in a tangled mass of beauty.

"Well, well," said old Elsie, as Agnes pointed to some superb
gillyflowers which grew nearly half-way up the precipice,--"is the
child possessed? You have all the gorge in your apron already. Stop
looking, and let us hurry on."

After a half-hour's walk, they came to a winding staircase cut in the
rock, which led them a zigzag course up through galleries and grottos
looking out through curious windows and loop-holes upon the sea, till
finally they emerged at the old sculptured portal of a shady garden
which was surrounded by the cloistered arcades of the Convent of Saint
Agnes.

The Convent of Saint Agnes was one of those monuments in which the piety
of the Middle Ages delighted to commemorate the triumphs of the new
Christianity over the old Heathenism.

The balmy climate and paradisiacal charms of Sorrento and the adjacent
shores of Naples had made them favorite resorts during the latter period
of the Roman Empire,--a period when the whole civilized world seemed
to human view about to be dissolved in the corruption of universal
sensuality. The shores of Baiae were witnesses of the orgies and
cruelties of Nero and a court made in his likeness, and the palpitating
loveliness of Capri became the hot-bed of the unnatural vices of
Tiberius. The whole of Southern Italy was sunk in a debasement of
animalism and ferocity which seemed irrecoverable, and would have been
so, had it not been for the handful of salt which a Galilean peasant had
about that time east into the putrid, fermenting mass of human society.

We must not wonder at the zeal which caused the artistic Italian nature
to love to celebrate the passing away of an era of unnatural vice and
demoniac cruelty by visible images of the purity, the tenderness, the
universal benevolence which Jesus had brought into the world.

Some time about the middle of the thirteenth century, it had been a
favorite enterprise of a princess of a royal family in Naples to erect a
convent to Saint Agnes, the guardian of female purity, out of the wrecks
and remains of an ancient temple of Venus, whose white pillars and
graceful acanthus-leaves once crowned a portion of the precipice on
which the town was built, and were reflected from the glassy blue of
the sea at its feet. It was said that this princess was the first lady
abbess. Be that as it may, it proved to be a favorite retreat for many
ladies of rank and religious aspiration, whom ill-fortune in some of its
varying forms led to seek its quiet shades, and it was well and richly
endowed by its royal patrons.

It was built after the manner of conventual buildings generally,--in a
hollow square, with a cloistered walk around the inside looking upon a
garden.

The portal at which Agnes and her grandmother knocked, after ascending
the winding staircase cut in the precipice, opened through an arched
passage into this garden.

As the ponderous door swung open, it was pleasant to hear the lulling
sound of a fountain, which came forth with a gentle patter, like that
of soft summer rain, and to see the waving of rose-bushes and golden
jessamines, and smell the perfumes of orange-blossoms mingling with
those of a thousand other flowers.

The door was opened by an odd-looking portress. She might be
seventy-five or eighty; her cheeks were of the color of very yellow
parchment drawn in dry wrinkles; her eyes were those large, dark,
lustrous ones so common in her country, but seemed, in the general decay
and shrinking of every other part of her face, to have acquired a wild,
unnatural appearance; while the falling away of her teeth left nothing
to impede the meeting of her hooked nose with her chin. Add to this, she
was hump-backed, and twisted in her figure; and one needs all the force
of her very good-natured, kindly smile to redeem the image of poor old
Jocunda from association with that of some Thracian witch, and cause one
to see in her the appropriate portress of a Christian institution.

Nevertheless, Agnes fell upon her neck and imprinted a very fervent kiss
upon what was left of her withered cheek, and was repaid by a shower of
those epithets of endearment which in the language of Italy fly thick
and fast as the petals of the orange-blossom from her groves.

"Well, well," said old Elsie,--"I'm going to leave her here to-day.
You've no objections, I suppose?"

"Bless the sweet lamb, no! She belongs here of good right. I believe
blessed Saint Agnes has adopted her; for I've seen her smile, plain as
could be, when the little one brought her flowers."

"Well, Agnes," said the old woman, "I shall come for you after the Ave
Maria." Saying which, she lifted her basket and departed.

The garden where the two were left was one of the most peaceful retreats
that the imagination of a poet could create.

Around it ran on all sides the Byzantine arches of a cloistered walk,
which, according to the quaint, rich fashion of that style, had been
painted with vermilion, blue, and gold. The vaulted roof was spangled
with gold stars on a blue ground, and along the sides was a series of
fresco pictures representing the various scenes in the life of Saint
Agnes; and as the foundress of the Convent was royal in her means, there
was no lack either of gold or gems or of gorgeous painting.

Full justice was done in the first picture to the princely wealth and
estate of the fair Agnes, who was represented as a pure-looking, pensive
child, standing in a thoughtful attitude, with long ripples of golden
hair flowing down over a simple white tunic, and her small hands
clasping a cross on her bosom, while, kneeling at her feet, obsequious
slaves and tire-women were offering the richest gems and the most
gorgeous robes to her serious and abstracted gaze.

In another, she was represented as walking modestly to school, and
winning the admiration of the son of the Roman Praetor, who fell
sick--so says the legend--for the love of her.

Then there was the demand of her hand in marriage by the princely father
of the young man, and her calm rejection of the gorgeous gifts and
splendid gems which he had brought to purchase her consent.

Then followed in order her accusation before the tribunals as a
Christian, her trial, and the various scenes of her martyrdom.

Although the drawing of the figures and the treatment of the subjects
had the quaint stiffness of the thirteenth century, their general
effect, as seen from the shady bowers of the garden, was of a solemn
brightness, a strange and fanciful richness, which was poetical and
impressive.

In the centre of the garden was a fountain of white marble, which
evidently was the wreck of something that had belonged to the old Greek
temple. The statue of a nymph sat on a green mossy pedestal in the midst
of a sculptured basin, and from a partially reversed urn on which she
was leaning a clear stream of water dashed down from one mossy fragment
to another, till it lost itself in the placid pool.

The figure and face of this nymph, in their classic finish of outline,
formed a striking contract to the drawing of the Byzantine pairings
within the cloisters, and their juxtaposition in the same inclosure
seemed a presentation of the spirit of a past and present era: the past
so graceful in line, so perfect and airy in conception, so utterly
without spiritual aspiration or life; the present limited in artistic
power, but so earnest, so intense, seeming to struggle and burn, amid
its stiff and restricted boundaries, for the expression of some diviner
phase of humanity.

Nevertheless, the nymph of the fountain, different in style and
execution as it was, was so fair a creature, that it was thought best,
after the spirit of those days, to purge her from all heathen and
improper histories by baptizing her in the waters of her own fountain,
and bestowing on her the name of the saint to whose convent she was
devoted. The simple sisterhood, little conversant in nice points of
antiquity, regarded her as Saint Agnes dispensing the waters of purity
to her convent; and marvellous and sacred properties were ascribed to
the water, when taken fasting with a sufficient number of prayers and
other religious exercises. All around the neighborhood of this fountain
the ground was one bed of blue and white violets, whose fragrance filled
the air, and which were deemed by the nuns to have come up there
in especial token of the favor with which Saint Agnes regarded the
conversion of this heathen relic to pious and Christian uses.

This nymph had been an especial favorite of the childhood of Agnes, and
she had always had a pleasure which she could not exactly account for in
gazing upon it. It is seldom that one sees in the antique conception of
the immortals any trace of human feeling. Passionless perfection and
repose seem to be their uniform character. But now and then from the
ruins of Southern Italy fragments have been dug, not only pure in
outline, but invested with a strange pathetic charm, as if the calm,
inviolable circle of divinity had been touched by some sorrowing sense
of that unexplained anguish with which the whole lower creation groans.
One sees this mystery of expression in the face of that strange and
beautiful Psyche which still enchants the Museum of Naples. Something of
this charm of mournful pathos lingered on the beautiful features of this
nymph,--an expression so delicate and shadowy that it seemed to address
itself only to finer natures. It was as if all the silent, patient woe
and discouragement of a dumb antiquity had been congealed into this
memorial. Agnes was often conscious, when a child, of being saddened by
it, and yet drawn towards it with a mysterious attraction.

About this fountain, under the shadow of bending rose-trees and yellow
jessamines, was a circle of garden-seats, adopted also from the ruins
of the past. Here a graceful Corinthian capital, with every white
acanthus-leaf perfect, stood in a mat of acanthus-leaves of Nature's own
making, glossy green and sharply cut; and there was a long portion of a
frieze sculptured with graceful dancing figures; and in another place a
fragment of a fluted column, with lycopodium and colosseum vine hanging
from its fissures in graceful draping. On these seats Agnes had dreamed
away many a tranquil hour, making garlands of violets, and listening to
the marvellous legends of old Jocunda.

In order to understand anything of the true idea of conventual life in
those days, we must consider that books were as yet unknown, except
as literary rarities, and reading and writing were among the rare
accomplishments of the higher classes; and that Italy, from the time
that the great Roman Empire fell and broke into a thousand shivers, had
been subject to a continual series of conflicts and struggles, which
took from life all security. Norman, Dane, Sicilian, Spaniard,
Frenchman, and German mingled and struggled, now up and now down; and
every struggle was attended by the little ceremonies of sacking towns,
burning villages, and routing out entire populations to utter misery and
wretchedness. During these tumultuous ages, those buildings consecrated
by a religion recognized alike by all parties afforded to misfortune the
only inviolable asylum, and to feeble and discouraged spirits the only
home safe from the prospect of reverses.

If the destiny of woman is a problem that calls for grave attention even
in our enlightened times, and if she is too often a sufferer from the
inevitable movements of society, what must have been her position and
needs in those ruder ages, unless the genius of Christianity had opened
refuges for her weakness, made inviolable by the awful sanctions of
religion?

What could they do, all these girls and women together, with the
twenty-four long hours of every day, without reading or writing, and
without the care of children? Enough: with their multiplied diurnal
prayer periods, with each its chants and ritual of observances,--with
the preparation for meals, and the clearing away thereafter,--with the
care of the chapel, shrine, sacred gifts, drapery, and ornaments,--with
embroidering altar-cloths and making sacred tapers,--with preparing
conserves of rose-leaves and curious spiceries,--with mixing drugs for
the sick,--with all those mutual offices and services to each other
which their relations in one family gave rise to,--and with divers
feminine gossipries and harmless chatterings and cooings, one can
conceive that these dove-cots of the Church presented often some of the
most tranquil scenes of those convulsive and disturbed periods.

Human nature probably had its varieties there as otherwhere. There were
there the domineering and the weak, the ignorant and the vulgar and the
patrician and the princess, and though professedly all brought on the
footing of sisterly equality, we are not to suppose any Utopian degree
of perfection among them. The way of pure spirituality was probably, in
the convent as well as out, that strait and narrow one which there be
few to find. There, as elsewhere, the devotee who sought to progress
faster toward heaven than suited the paces of her fellow--travellers was
reckoned a troublesome enthusiast, till she got far enough in advance to
be worshipped as a saint.

Sister Theresa, the abbess of this convent, was the youngest daughter in
a princely Neapolitan family, who from her cradle had been destined to
the cloister, in order that her brother and sister might inherit more
splendid fortunes and form more splendid connections. She had been sent
to this place too early to have much recollection of any other mode of
life; and when the time came to take the irrevocable step, she renounced
with composure a world she had never known.

Her brother had endowed her with a _livre des heures_, illuminated with
all the wealth of blue and gold and divers colors which the art of those
times afforded,--a work executed by a pupil of the celebrated Fra
Angelico; and the possession of this treasure was regarded by her as
a far richer inheritance than that princely state of which she knew
nothing. Her neat little cell had a window that looked down on the
sea,--on Capri, with its fantastic grottos,--on Vesuvius, with its
weird daily and nightly changes. The light that came in from the joint
reflection of sea and sky gave a golden and picturesque coloring to the
simple and bare furniture, and in sunny weather she often sat there,
just as a lizard lies upon a wall, with the simple, warm, delightful
sense of living and being amid, scenes of so much beauty. Of the life
that people lived in the outer world, the struggle, the hope, the fear,
the vivid joy, the bitter sorrow, Sister Theresa knew nothing. She could
form no judgment and give no advice founded on any such experience.

The only life she knew was a certain ideal one, drawn from, the legends
of the saints; and her piety was a calm, pure enthusiasm which had never
been disturbed by a temptation or a struggle. Her rule in the Convent
was even and serene; but those who came to her flock from the real
world, from the trials and temptations of a real experience, were always
enigmas to her, and she could scarcely comprehend or aid them.

In fact, since in the cloister, as everywhere else, character will find
its level, it was old Jocunda who was the real governess of the Convent.
Jocunda was originally a peasant woman, whose husband had been drafted
to some of the wars of his betters, and she had followed his fortunes in
the camp. In the sack of a fortress, she lost her husband and four sons,
all the children she had, and herself received an injury which distorted
her form, and so she took refuge in the Convent. Here her energy and
_savoir-faire_ rendered her indispensable in every department. She made
the bargains, bought the provisions, (being allowed to sally forth for
these purposes,) and formed the medium by which the timid, abstract,
defenceless nuns accomplished those material relations with the world
with which the utmost saintliness cannot afford to dispense. Besides and
above all this, Jocunda's wide experience and endless capabilities of
narrative made her an invaluable resource for enlivening any dull
hours that might be upon the hands of the sisterhood; and all these
recommendations, together with a strong mother-wit and native sense,
soon made her so much the leading spirit in the Convent that Mother
Theresa herself might be said to be under her dominion.

"So, so," she said to Agnes, when she had closed the gate after
Elsie,--"you never come empty-handed. What lovely oranges!--worth double
any that one can buy of anybody else but your grandmother."

"Yes, and these flowers I brought to dress the altar."

"Ah, yes! Saint Agnes has given you a particular grace for that," said
Jocunda.

"And I have brought a ring for her treasury," said Agnes, taking out the
gift of the Cavalier.

"Holy Mother! here is something, to be sure!" said Jocunda, catching it
eagerly. "Why, Agnes, this is a diamond,--and as pretty a one as ever
I saw. How it shines!" she added, holding it up. "That's a prince's
present. How did you get it?"

"I want to tell our mother about it," said Agnes.

"You do?" said Jocunda. "You'd better tell me. I know fifty times as
much about such things as she."

"Dear Jocunda, I will tell you, too; but I love Mother Theresa, and I
ought to give it to her first."

"As you please, then," said Jocunda. "Well, put your flowers here by the
fountain, where the spray will keep them cool, and we will go to her."

* * * * *

GREEK LINES.

Blessed are the shadows of porches and cloisters! Blessed the walls that
shut us out from the dusty, dazzling world, and shed upon us the repose
and consolation of our own serene humanity! We, harassed among the base
utilities of life, made weary and sore by the ceaseless struggles of
emulation and daily warfare, turn wistfully to the Peripatetic among the
shady groves of Athens,--dream of quiet Saracenic courts, echoing with
plashy fountains,--of hooded monks, pacing away their cloistered lives
beneath storied vaults and little patches of sky,--knowing, while we
dream, that out of these came of yore the happiness of the old _eurekas_
and the deep sweetness of ancient knowledge. And then, away from the
city of our toil, the tumult of our ambitions, we gratefully find
Vallombrosas of our own, where we walk not alone, but in the pleasant
companionship of elevated thoughts, and of old sages and masters, long
passed away, but still wise and gentle to those who approach them with
faith and simplicity. Here, like those chimes which wander unheeded over
the house-tops of the roaring town, till they drop down blessed dews of
Heaven into still, grass-grown courts and deserted by-ways, the great
universal human heart beats closer to our own, and our whole being
palpitates with almost ethereal sympathies. Voices of old minstrels,
wandering down to us on loving lips through the generations, murmur in
our ears the dear burden of human, affection for men and things; and
the same tale is poured abundantly into our hearts by all those great
masters who, through their Art, have become to us oracles of Beauty and
eloquent interpreters of the Love of God.

There are few persons so hardened in the practical life as not to have
recognized that in these moments of large and spiritual stillness all
the processes of the mind seem to be instinctively attuned to harmonies
almost celestial. Experience and memory present their pictures softened
and made gentle by some mysterious power. The imagination is swayed by
the sweetest impulses of humanity; and the whole man is changed. The
mere instincts of affinity are purified and deepened into tenderest
affection, and all the external relations of existence

"come apparelled in more precious habit,
More moving delicate and full of life,
Into the eye and prospect of the soul,"

than when they offered themselves to the ordinary waking senses. This is
a wonder and a mystery. I sometimes believe, thinking on these things,
that we have inherited from our father Adam a habit of day-dreaming;
that in this exile of coarse and work-day life our heated brows are
sometimes fanned with breezes from some half-remembered Araby the Blest,
and there instinctively come over us such visions of beatitude that the
Paradise we have lost is recalled to us, and we live once more among the
dreamy and grateful splendors of Eden. These moods come upon us so like
memories! But you, graybeard travellers in the Desert of Life, you are
not to be deceived by the trickery of the elements; you know the moist
_mirage_; you are not to be beguiled by it from your track; let the
unwary dream dreams of bubbling wellsprings and pleasant shade, of palmy
oases and tranquil repose; as for you, you must goad your camels and
press onward for Jerusalem.

But I like to chase phantoms; I hate the plodding of the caravans. I
turn aside and spread my own tent apart. Will you tarry awhile under its
shadow, O serious and gentle stranger, and listen to some poor words of
mine?

These memories of Eden! Let us cherish them, for they are not worthless
or deceitful. We, who, when we can, carry our hearts in our eyes, know
very well, and have often said it before, that Eden is not so many days'
journey away from our feet that we may not inhale its perfumes and press
our brows against its sod whenever we wish. It is not cant, I hope, to
say that Eden is not lost entirely. There stands no angel at its gates
with naming sword; nor did it fade away with all its legendary beauties,
drop its leaves into the melancholy streams, leaving no trace behind of
its glades and winding alleys, its stretches of flowery mead, its sunny
hill-sides, and valleys of happiness and peace. But Eden still blooms
wherever Beauty is in Nature; and Beauty, we know, is everywhere. We
cannot escape from it, if we would. It is ever knocking at the door of
our hearts in sweet and unexpected missions of grace and tenderness. We
are haunted by it in our loneliest walks. Almost unconsciously, out of
flowers and trees, earth and sky, sunrises and sunsets,--out of mosses
under the feet, mosses and pebbles and grasses,--out of the loveliness
of moon and stars, their harmonies and changes,--out of sea-foam, and
what sea-foam reveals to us of the rich and strange things beneath the
waters far down,--out of sweet human eyes,--out of all these things
creeps into our spirits the knowledge that God is Love, and His
handiwork the expression of ineffable tenderness and affection. I
believe, indeed, that the principle of Beauty, philosophically speaking,
pervades all material objects, all motions and sounds in Nature,--that
it enters intimately into the very idea of Creation. But we, poor finite
beings, do not seek for it, as we do for gold and gems. We remain
content with those conventional manifestations of it which are
continually and instinctively touching our senses as we walk the earth.
Fearfully and wonderfully as we are made, there is no quality in our
being so blessed as this sensitiveness to Beauty. All the organs of our
life are attuned by it to that vast universal symphony which, in spite
of the warring elements of passion and prejudice, unites us in friendly
sympathies with all mankind. If

"the meanest flower that blows can bring
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears,"--

if it can so move some of us, who have cared to open the portals of our
hearts to receive and cherish the little waif,--why, verily, the simple
violet that blooms alike under every sky, the passing cloud that floats
changing ever over every land, gathering equal glories from the sunsets
of Italy and Labrador, are more potent missionaries of peace and
good-will to all the earth than the most persuasive accents of human
eloquence.

These are familiar truths. Like

"The stretched metre of an antique song,"

they flow from our grateful lips in ready words. But we do not suspect
how these manifestations of material Beauty are received by the
mysterious alembic of the soul,--how they are worked up there by
exquisite and subtile processes of moral chemistry, humanized,
spiritualized, and appropriated unconsciously to sweet uses of piety and
affection. We do not know how the star, the flower, the dear human face,
the movement of a wave, the song of a bird,--we do not know how these
things enter into the heart, become ideal, mingle with human emotions,
consecrate and are consecrated, and come forth once more into light, but
transfigured into tenderest sympathies and the gentle offices of charity
and grace. There was Wordsworth,--he knew something of this still
machinery, this "kiss of toothed wheels" within the soul of man. Listen
to him,--he had been to Tintern Abbey and heard once more the "soft
inland murmur" of the Wye;--

"These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye:
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind,
With tranquil restoration:--_feelings, too,
Of unremembered pleasure:_ such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love."

And then who that has ever read it can forget his exquisite picture in
the "Education of a little Child"?--

"And she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place,
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
_And beauty burn of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face!_"

The material Beauty of the world, as exhibited in the manifold objects,
sounds, perfumes, motions of Nature, is created for a nobler purpose
than only to delight the senses and please the aesthetic faculties.
I believe it is the distant source whence flow all our dear daily
affections. We know, that, according to the suggestions of our merely
human passions and instincts, we ease our hearts of Love by heaping
treasures and the choicest gifts of fancy in the laps of those whom we
most dearly cherish. We take no credit to ourselves for such precious
prodigalities; for they are the inevitable and disinterested outpourings
of affection. They are received as such. And when we cast our eyes
abroad and behold the loving prodigality of a divine hand, we accept the
manifestation, are made happy in the consciousness of being beloved,
and, constituted as we are in the image and likeness of God, express our
instinctive gratitude in those fine human sympathies which impress the
seal of Truth on the primary idea of our creation.

And so, blessed are the shadows of porches and cloisters! Blessed the
hours of serene meditation, when the "tender grace of days that are
dead," of flowers that have faded, of scenes "gone glimmering through
the dream of things that were," comes back to us with a new meaning,
softening and refining the heart to unexpected capacities of affection.
But how they fade away, these ghostly and unsubstantial pageants, when
they "scent the morning air"! How they leave in our hearts nought but
the dim consciousness that we are capable of an existence ineffably
deeper and vaster than that which we lead in the visible world! Nought
but this? Alas, poor human nature! do we leave the casket of Pandora
open in wanton carelessness, and let all escape but the mere scent of
the roses? Or does there not remain, behind an indefinable presence to
comfort and console us,--the precious _Ideal of Beauty_,--

"The light that never was on sea or land,
The inspiration and the poet's dream"?

The human heart forever yearns _to create_,--this is the pure antique
word for it,--to give expression and life to an evasive loveliness that
haunts the soul in those moments when the body is laid asleep and the
spirit walks. There is a continual and godlike longing to embody these
elusive phantoms of Beauty. But the immortal songs which remain unsung,
the exquisite idyls which gasp for words, the bewildering and restless
imagery which seeks in vain the eternal repose of marble or of
canvas,--while these confess the affectionate and divine desires of
humanity, they prove how few there are to whom it is given to learn the
great lesson of Creation. When one arises among us, who, like Pygmalion,
makes no useless appeal to the Goddess of Beauty for the gift of life
for his Ideal, and who creates as he was created, we cherish him as a
great interpreter of human love. We call him poet, composer, artist, and
speak of him reverently as _Master_. We say that his lips have been wet
with dews of Hybla,--that, like the sage of Crotona, he has heard the
music of the spheres,--that he comes to us, another Numa, radiant and
inspired from the kisses of Egeria.

Thus, as infinite Love begets infinite Beauty, so does infinite Beauty
reflect into finite perceptions that image of its divine parentage which
the antique world worshipped under the personification of Astarte,
Aphrodite, Venus, and recognized as the _great creative principle_ lying
at the root of all high Art.

There is a curious passage in Boehme, which relates how Satan, when
asked the cause of the enmity of God and his own consequent downfall,
replied,--"I wished to be an Artist." So, according to antique
tradition, Prometheus manufactured a man and woman of clay, animated
them with fire stolen from the chariot of the Sun, and was punished for
the crime of Creation; Titans chained him to the rocks of the Indian
Caucasus for thirty thousand years!

This Ideal, this Aphrodite of old mythologies, still reigns over the
world of Art, and every truly noble effort of the artist is saturated
with her spirit, as with a religion. It is impossible for a true work of
Art to exist, unless this great creative principle of Love be present in
its inception, in its execution, in its detail. It must be pervaded with
the warmth of human, passionate affection. The skill which we are so apt
to worship is but the instrument in the hands of Love. It is the means
by which this humanity is transferred to the work, and there idealized
in the forms of Nature. Thus the test of Art is in our own hearts. It
is not something far away from us, throwing into our presence gleaming
reflections from some supernal source of Light and Beauty; but it is
very near to us,--so near, that, like the other blessings which lie
at our feet, we overlook it in our far-reaching searches after the
imaginary good. We, poor underlings, have been taught in the school of
sad experience the mortal agony of Love without Skill,--the power of
perception, without the power of utterance. We know how dumb are the
sweet melodies of our souls,--how fleeting their opulent and dreamy
pageantries. But we have not fully learned the utter emptiness and
desolation of Skill without Love. We accept its sounding brass and
tinkling cymbals for immortal harmonies. We look reverently upon its
tortured marbles and its canvases stained with academic knowledge as
revelations of higher intelligence; forgetting, that, if we go down to
the quiet places of our own souls, we shall find there the universe
reflected, like a microcosm, in the dark well-springs, and that out
of these well-springs in the deep silence rises the beautiful Ideal,
Anadyomene, to compensate and comfort us for the vacancy of Life. If we
know ourselves, it is not to the dogmas of critics, the artificial rules
of aesthetics, that we most wisely resort for judgments concerning works
of Art. Though technical externals and the address of manipulation
naturally take possession of our senses and warp our opinions, there are
depths of immortal Truth within us, rarely sounded, indeed, but which
can afford a standard and a criterion far nobler than the schools can
give us.

The broken statues and columns and traditions and fragmentary classics
which Greece has left us are so still and tranquil to the eye and ear,
that we search in vain for the Delphic wisdom they contain, till we find
it echoed in the sympathetic depths of our souls, and repeated in the
half-impalpable Ideals there. It is to Greece that we must look for
the external type of these Ideals, whose existence we but half suspect
within us. It is not pleasant, perhaps, to think that we were nearly
unconscious of the highest capacities of our humanity, till we
recognized their full expression in the ashes of a distant and dead
civilization,--that we did not know ourselves, till

"The airy tongues that syllable men's names
In pathless wildernesses"

uttered knowledge to us among the ghastly ruins of Hellas. It is good
for us to lend a spiritual ear to these ancient whisperings, and hear
nymph calling to nymph and faun to faun, as they caper merrily with
the god Pan through the silence. It is good for us to listen to that
"inextinguishable laughter" of the happy immortals of Olympus, ever
mingling with all the voices of Nature and setting them to the still
sweet music of humanity,--good, because so we are reminded how close we
are to the outward world, and how all its developments are figurative
expressions of our near relationships with the visible Beauty of things.
Thus it is that the poetic truths of old religions exquisitely vindicate
themselves; thus we find, even we moderns, with our downward eyes and
our wrinkled brows, that we still worship at the mythological altars
of childlike divinities; and when we can get away from the distracting
Bedlam of steam-shrieks and machinery, we behold the secrets of our own
hearts, the Lares and Penates of our own households, reflected in the
"white ideals" on antique vases and medallions.

Abstract lines are the most concentrated expressions of human ideas,
and, as such, are peculiarly sensitive to the critical tests of all
theories of the Beautiful. Distinguished from the more usual and direct
means by which artists express their inspirations and appeal to the
sympathies of men, distinct from the common language of Art, which
contents itself with conveying merely local and individual ideas,
abstract lines are recognized as the grand hieroglyphic symbolism of the
aggregate of human thought, the artistic manifestations of the great
human Cosmos. The natural world, passing through the mind of man, is
immediately interpreted and humanized by his creative power, and assumes
the colors, forms, and harmonies of Painting, Sculpture, and Music. But
abstract lines, as we find them in Architecture and in the ceramic arts,
are the independent developments of this creative power, coming directly
from humanity itself, and obtaining from the outward world only the most
distant motives of composition. Thus it is an inevitable deduction that
Architecture is the most _human_ of all arts, and its lines the most
_human_ of all lines.

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever";

and the affectionate devotion with which this gift is received by
finite intelligences from the hand of God is expressed in Art, when its
infinite depth _can_ be so expressed at all, in a twofold language,--
the one objective, the other subjective; the one recalling the immediate
source of the emotion, and presenting it palpably to the senses, arrayed
in all the ineffable tenderness of Art, which is Love,--the other,
portraying rather the emotion than the cause of it, and by an
instinctive and universal symbolism expressing the deep and serious joy
with which the "thing of beauty" is welcomed to the heart. Hence come
those lines which aesthetic writers term "Lines of Beauty," so eloquent
to us with an uncomprehended meaning,--so near, and yet so far,--so
simple, and yet so mysterious,--so animated with life and thought and
musical motion, and yet so still and serene and spiritual. Links which
bind us fraternally to old intelligences, tendrils by which the soul
climbs up to a wider view of the glimmering landscape, they are grateful
and consoling to us. We look with cognizant eyes at their subtile
affinities with some unexpressed part of human life, and, turning one to
another, are apt to murmur,

"We cannot understand: we love."

The mysteries of orb and cycle, with which old astrologers girded human
life, and sought to define from celestial phenomena the horoscope
of man, have been brought down to modern applications by learned
philosophers and mathematicians. These have labored with a godlike
energy and skill to trace the interior relationships existing between
the recondite revelations of their Geometry, their wonderful laws of
mathematical harmonies and unities, and those lines which by common
consent are understood to be exponential of certain phases of our own
existence. No well-organized intellect can fail to perceive that a
sublime and immortal Truth underlies these speculations. Undoubtedly, in
the straight line, in the conic sections, in the innumerable composite
curves of the mathematician, lie the germs of all these symbolic
expressions. But the artist, whose lines of Beauty vary continually with
the emotions which produce them, who feels in his own human heart the
irresistible impulse which gives an exquisite balance and poise to those
lines, cannot allow that the _spirit_ of his compositions is governed by
the exact and rigid formula; of the philosopher to any greater extent
or in any other manner than as the numbers of the poet are ruled by the
grammar of his language. These formulae may be applied as a curious test
to ascertain what strange sympathies there may be between such lines and
the vast organic harmonies of Nature and the Universe; but they do not
enter into the soul of their creation any more than the limitations of
counterpoint and rhythm laid their incubus on the lyre of Apollo. The
porches where Callicrates, Hermogenes, and Callimachus walked were
guarded by no such Cerberus as the disciples of Plato encountered at the
entrance of the groves of the Academy,--

"[Greek: Oudeis ageometraetos eisito],"

"Let no one ignorant of Geometry enter here";

but the divine Aphrodite welcomed all mankind to the tender teachings of
the Wild Acanthus, the Honeysuckle, and the Sea-Shell, and all the deep
utterances of boundless Beauty.

Truly, it is sad and dispiriting to the artist to find that all modern
aesthetical writings limit and straiten the free walks of highest
Art with strict laws deduced from rigid science, with mathematical
proportions and the formal restrictions of fixed lines and curves,
nicely adapted from the frigidities of Euclid. The line A B must equal
the line C D; somewhere in space must be found the centre or the focus
of every curve; and every angle must subtend a certain arc, to be easily
found on reference to the tables of the text-books. "The melancholy
days have come" for Art, when the meditative student finds his early
footsteps loud among these dry, withered, and sapless leaves, instead of
brushing away the dews by the fountains of perpetual youth. I am aware
of no extant English work on Greek Lines which does not aim to reduce
that magnificent old Hellenic poetry to the cold, hard limitations of
Geometry. Modern Pharisees nail that antique Ideal of loveliness and
purity to a mathematical cross.

Now it is capable of distinct proof, that abstract Lines of Beauty, even
in a greater degree than any other expressions of Art, are born and
baptized in Love. Because parabolic curves frequently _coincide_ with
these lines, it is no proof that they _created_ them.

The Water-Lily, or Lotus, perpetually occurs in Oriental mythology as
the sublime and hallowed symbol of the productive power in Nature,--the
emblem of that great life-giving principle which the Hindu and the
Egyptian and all early nations instinctively elevated to the highest and
most cherished place in their Pantheons. Payne Knight, quoted in Mr.
Squier's work on the "Antiquities of America," ingeniously attributes
the adoption of this symbol to the fact, that the Lotus, instead
of rejecting its seeds from the vessels where they are germinated,
nourishes them in its bosom till they have become perfect plants, when,
arrayed in all the irresistible panoply of grace and beauty, they spring
forth, Minerva-like, float down the current, and take root wherever
deposited. And so it was used by nearly all the early peoples to express
the creative spirit which gives life and vegetation to matter. Lacshmi,
the beautiful Hindu goddess of abundance, corresponding to the Venus
Aphrodite of the Greeks, was called "the Lotus-born," as having
ascended from the ocean in this flower. Here, again, is the inevitable
intermingling of the eternal principles of Beauty, Love, and the
Creative Power in that pure triune medallion image which the ancients so
tenderly cherished and so exquisitely worshipped with vestal fires and
continual sacrifices of Art. Old Father Nile, reflecting in his deep,
mysterious breast the monstrous temples of Nubia and Pylae, bears
eloquent witness to the earnestness and sincerity of the old votive
homage to Isis, "the Lotus-crowned" Venus of Egypt. For the symbolic
Water-Lily, _recreated_ by human Art, blooms forever in the capitals of
Karnac and Thebes, and wherever columns were reared and lintels laid
throughout the length and breadth of the "Land of Bondage." It is the
key-note of all that architecture; and a brief examination into
the principles of this, new birth of the Lotus, of the monumental
straightening and stiffening of its graceful and easy lines, will afford
some insight into the strange processes of the human mind, when it
follows the grandest impulse of Love, and out of the material beauties
of Nature creates a work of Art.

It is well known that the religion of the old Egyptians led them to
regard this life as a mere temporary incident, an unimportant phase of
their progress toward that larger and grander state imaged to them with
mysterious sublimity in the idea of Death or Eternity. In accordance
with this belief, they expressed in their dwellings the sentiment of
transitoriness and vicissitude, and in their tombs the immortality of
calm repose. And so their houses have crumbled into dust ages ago, but
their tombs are eternal. In all the relations of Life the sentiment of
Death was present in some form or other. The hallowed mummies of their
ancestors were the most sacred mortgages of their debts, and to redeem
them speedily was a point of the highest honor. They had corpses at
their feasts to remind them how transitory were the glory and happiness
of the world, how eternal the tranquillity of Death.

Now, how was this prevailing idea expressed in their Art? They looked
around them and saw that all Organic Life was full of movement and wavy
lines; their much-loved Lotus undulated and bent playfully to the solemn
flow of the great Nile; the Ibis fluttered with continual motion; their
own bodies were full of ever-changing curves; and their whole visible
existence was unsteady, like the waves of the sea. But when the
temporary Life was changed, and "this mortal put on immortality," their
eyes and souls were filled with the utter stillness and repose of its
external aspects; its features became rigid and fixed, and were settled
to an everlasting and immutable calm; the vibrating grace of its lines
departed, and their ever-varying complexity became simplified, and
assumed the straightness and stiffness of Death. So the straight line,
the natural expression of eternal repose, in contradistinction to the
wavy line, which represents the animal movements of Life, became the
motive and spirit of their Art. The anomaly of Death in Life was present
in every development of the creative faculty, and no architectural
feature could be so slight and unimportant as not to be thoroughly
permeated with this sentiment. The tender and graceful lines of the
Lotus became sublime and monumental under the religious loyalty of
Egyptian chisels; and these lines, whether grouped or single, in the
severity of their fateful repose, in their stateliness and immobility,
wherever found, are awful with the presence of a grand serious humanity
long passed away from any other contact with living creatures. The
rendering of the human form, under this impulse of Art, produced results
in which the idea of mutability was so overwhelmed in this grandeur of
immortality, that we cry

"O melancholy eyes!
O vacant eyes! from which the soul has gone
To gaze in other lands,"

bend not upon us, living and loving mortals, that stony stare of
death,--lest we too, as smit with the basilisk, be turned into
monumental stone, and all the dear grace and movement of life be lost
forever!

"Solid-set,
And moulded in colossal calm,"

all the lines of this lost Art thus recall the sentiment of endless
repose, and even the necessary curves of its mouldings are dead with
straightness. The Love which produced these lines was not the passionate
Love which we understand and feel; they were not the result of a
sensuous impulse; but the Egyptian artist seemed ever to be standing
alone in the midst of a trackless and limitless desert,--around him
earth and sky meeting with no kiss of affection, no palpitating embrace
of mutual sympathy; he felt himself encircled by a calm and pitiless
Destiny, the cold expression of a Fate from which he could not flee, and
in himself the centre and soul of it all. Oppressed thus with a vast
sense of spiritual loneliness, when he uttered the inspirations of Art,
the memories of playful palms and floating lilies and fluttering wings,
though they came warm to the Love of his heart, were attuned in the
outward expression to the deep, solemn, prevailing monotone of his
humanity. His Love for the Lotus and the Ibis, more profound than the
passion of the senses, dwelt serene in the bottom of his soul, and
thence came forth transfigured and dedicated to the very noblest uses of
Life. And this is the Art of Egypt.

But among all the old nations which have perished with their gods,
Greece appeals to our closest sympathies. She looks upon us with
the smile of childhood, free, contented, and happy, with no ascetic
self-denials to check her wild-flower growth, no stern religion to bind
the liberty of her actions. All her external aspects are in harmony with
the weakness and the strength of human nature. We recognize ourselves
in her, and find all the characteristics of our own humanity there
developed into a theism so divine, clothed with a personification so
exquisite and poetical, that the Hellenic mythology seems still to live
in our hearts, a silent and shadowy religion without ceremonies or
altars or sacrifices. The festive gods of the "Iliad" made man a deity
to himself, and his soul the dwelling-place of Ideal Beauty. In this
Ideal they lived, and moved and had their being, and came forth thence,
bronze, marble, chryselephantine, a statuesque and naked humanity,
chaste in uncomprehended sin and glorified in antique virtue. The Beauty
of this natural Life and the Love of it was the soul of the Greek Ideal;
and the nation continually cherished and cultivated and refined this
Ideal with impulses from groves of Arcadia, vales of Tempe, and flowery
slopes of Attica, from the manliness of Olympic Games and the loveliness
of Spartan Helens. They cherished and cultivated and refined it, because
here they set up their altars to known gods and worshipped attributes
which they could understand. The Ideal was their religion, and the Art
which came from it the expression of their highest aspiration.

Lines of Beauty, produced in such a soil, were not, as might at first
be supposed, tropic growths of wanton and luxurious curves, wild,
spontaneous utterances of superabundant Life. The finely-studied
perception of the Greek artist admitted no merely animal, vegetable,
instinctive, licentious renderings of what Nature was ever giving him
with a liberal hand in the whorls of shells, the veins of leaves, the
life of flames, the convolutions of serpents, the curly tresses of
woman, the lazy grace of clouds, the easy sway of tendrils, flowers, and
human motion. He was no literal interpreter of her whispered secrets.
But the Grace of his Art was a _deliberate grace_,--a grace of
thought and study. His lines were _creations_, and not _instincts_ or
_imitations_. They came from the depth of his Love, and it was his
religion so to nurture and educate his sensitiveness to Beauty and his
power to love and create it, that his works of Art should be deeds of
passionate worship and expressions of a godlike humanity. Unlike the
Egyptian's, there was nothing in _his_ creed to check the sweet excess
of Life, and no grim shadow, "feared of man," scared him in his walks,
or preached to him sermons of mortality in the stones and violets of the
wayside. Life was hallowed and dear to him for its own sake. He saw
it was lovable, and he made it the theme of his noblest poems, his
subtilest philosophies, and his highest Art. Hence the infinite joy and
endless laughter on Olympus, the day-long feasting, _the silver stir of
strings_ in the hollow shell of the exquisite Phoebus, "the soft song of
the Muse with voices sweetly replying."

I believe that all true Lines of Grace and Beauty, in their highest,
_intellectual, human_ significance, may be concentrated and expressed in
one; not a _precise_ and _exact_ line, like a formula of mathematics,
to which the neophyte can refer for deductions of Grace to suit any
premises or conditions. This, of course, is contrary to the spirit
of beautiful design; and the ingenious Hay,--who maintains that his
"composite ellipse" is capable of universal application in the arts
of ornamental composition, and that by its use any desirable lines in
mouldings or vases can be mechanically produced, especially Greek lines,
falls into the grave error of endeavoring to materialize and fix that
_animula vagula, blandula_, that coy and evasive spirit of Art, which
is its peculiar characteristic, and gives to its works inspiration,
harmony, and poetic sentiment. Ideal Beauty can be hatched from no
geometrical eggs. But the line which I refer to, as the expression of
most subtile Grace, pretends to be merely a type of that large language
of forms with which the most refined intellects of antiquity uttered
their Love, and their joyful worship of Aphrodite. This line, of course,
is Greek.

[Illustration]

The three great distinctive eras of Art, in a purely
psychological sense, have been the Egyptian, the Grecian, and the
Romanesque,--including in the latter term both Roman Art itself and all
subsequent Art, whether derived directly or indirectly from Rome, as the
Byzantine, the Moresque, the Mediaeval, and the Renaissance. Selecting
the most characteristic works to which these great eras respectively
gave birth, it is not difficult, by comparison, to ascertain the
master-spirit, or type, to which each of these three families may be
reduced. If we place these types side by side, the result will be as in
the diagram, presenting to the eye, at one view, the concentration
of three civilizations, DESTINY, LOVE, and LIFE;--Destiny, finding
utterance in the stern and inflexible simplicity of the tombs and
obelisks of Egypt; Love, expressing itself in the statuesque and
thoughtful grace of Grecian temples, statues, and urns; Life, in the
sensuous and impulsive change, evident in all the developments of Art,
since Greece became Achaia, a province of the Roman Empire. Here we
behold the perpetual youth, the immortal genius of Hellas, tempering the
solid repose of Egypt with the passion of Life. This intermediate Beauty
is the essence of the age of Pericles; and in it "the capable eye" may
discover the pose of the Cnidian Venus of Praxiteles, of the Jupiter
Olympius of Phidias, and the other lost wonders of ancient chisels, and,
more directly, the tender severity of Doric capitals, and the secret
grace of the shafts of the Parthenon.

You remember Pliny's account of the visit of Apelles to the great
painter Protogenes, at Rhodes;--how, not finding him at home, Apelles
inscribed a line upon a board, assuring the slave that this line would
signify to the master who had been to see him. Whatever the line was,
Protogenes, we hear, recognized in it the hand of the greatest limner of
Greece. It was the signature of that Ideal, known to the antique
world by its wider developments in the famous pictures of the Venus
Anadyomene, and Alexander with the Thunderbolt, hung in the temple of
Diana at Ephesus.

The gravity with which this apparently trifling anecdote is given us
from antiquity evidently proves that it was one of the household tales
of old Greece. It did not seem absurd in those times, when Art was
recognized as a great Unity, an elaborate system of infinite language
founded on the simplest elements of Life, and in its grandest and widest
flowings bearing ever in its bosom, like a great river, the memory
of the little weeping Naiad far up among the mountains with her
"impoverished urn." And so every great national Art, growing up
naturally out of the necessities of an earnest people, expressing the
grand motives of their Life, as that of the Greeks and the Egyptians and
the mediaeval nations of Europe, is founded on the simplest laws. So
long as these laws are obeyed in simplicity and Love, Art is good
and true; so long as it remembers the purity and earnestness of its
childhood, the strength that is ordained out of the mouth of babes is
present in all its expressions; but when it spreads itself abroad in the
fens and marshes of humanity, it has lost the purity of its aim, the
singleness and unity of its action,--it becomes stagnant, and sleeps in
the Death of Idleness.

Therefore I believe in the expressiveness of single lines as symbols of
the grandest phases of human Life. And when one studies Greek Art, the
whole motive of it seems so childlike and so simple that the impulse to
seek for that little Naiad which is the fountain and source of it all is
irresistible. Look at the line I have traced, and see if there is not a
curious humanity about it. It is impossible to produce it with a wanton
flourish of the pencil, as I have done in that wavy, licentious curve,
which Hogarth, in his quaint "Analysis of Beauty," assumes as the line
of true Grace; nor yet are its infinite motions governed by any cold
mathematical laws. In it is the earnest and deliberate labor of Love.
There are thought and tenderness in every instant of it; but this
thought is grave and almost solemn, and this tenderness is chastened and
purified by wise reserve. Measure it by time, and you will find it
no momentary delight, no voluptuous excess which comes and goes in a
breath; but there is a whole cycle of deep human feeling in it. It is
the serene joy of a nation, and not the passionate impulse of a man.
Observe, from beginning to end, its intention is to give expression by
the serpentine line to that sentiment of beautiful Life which was the
worship of the Greeks; but they did not toss it off, like a wine-cup at
a feast. They prolonged it through all the varied emotions of a lifetime
with exquisite art, making it the path of their education in childhood
and of their wider experience as men. All the impulses of humanity they
bent to a kindly parallelism with it. This is that famous principle of
Variety in Unity which St. Augustine and hosts of other philosophers
considered the true Ideal of Beauty. Start with this line from the top
upon its journeying: look at the hesitation of it, ere it launches into
action; how it cherishes its resources, and gathers up its strength!--
with a confidence in its beautiful Destiny, and yet a chaste shrinking
from the full enjoyment of it, how inevitably, but how purely, it yields
itself up to the sudden curve! It does not embrace this curve with
a sensuous sweep, nor does it, like Sappho, throw itself with quick
passion into the tide. It enters with maidenly and dignified reserve
into its new Life; and then how is this new Life spent? As you glance at
it, it seems almost ascetic, and reminds you of the rigid fatalism of
Egypt. Its grace is almost strangled, as those other serpents were in
the grasp of the child Hercules. But if you watch it attentively, you
will find it ever changing, though with subtilest refinement, ever
human, and true to the great laws of emotion. There is no straight
line here,--no Death in Life,--but the severity and composure of
intellectual meditation,--meditation, moving with serious pleasure
along the grooves of happy change,--

"As all the motions of its
Were governed by a strain
Of music, audible to it alone!"

As the eye is cheated out of its rectitude, following this grave
delight, and seems to dilate and grow dreamy in the cool shade of
imaginative cloisters and groves, the wanton joyousness of Life, with
its long waving lily-stems and the luscious pending of vines, comes with
dim recollections into the mind, but modified by a certain habitual
chastity of thought. Follow the line still farther, and you will find
it grateful to the sight, neither fatiguing with excess of monotony nor
cloying the appetite with change. And when the round hour is full and
the end comes, this end is met by a Fate, which does not clip with
the shears of Atropos and leave an aching void, but fulfils itself in
gentleness and peace. The line bends quietly and unconsciously towards
the beautiful consummation, and then dies, because its work is done.

This is the way the Greeks made that Line which represents to "the
capable eye" the true Attic civilization. And when we examine the
innumerable lines of Grecian architecture, we find that they never
for an instant lost sight of this Ideal. The fine humanity of it was
everywhere present, and mingled not only with such grand and heroic
lines as those of the sloping pediments and long-drawn entablatures
of the Parthenon and Theseion, bending them into curves so subtilely
modulated that our coarse perceptions did not perceive the variations
from the dead straight lines till the careful admeasurements of
Penrose and Cockerel and their _confreres_ of France assured us of the
fact,--not only did it make these enormous harp-strings vibrate with
deep human soul-music, but there is not an abstract line in moulding,
column, or vase, belonging to old Greece or the islands of the Aegean or
Ionia or the colonies of Italy, which does not have the same intensity
of meaning, the same statuesque Life of thought. Besides, I very much
doubt if the same line, in all its parts and proportions, is ever
repeated twice,--certainly not with any emphasis; and this is following
out the great law of our existence, which varies the emotion infinitely
with the occasion which produced it. Let us suppose, for example, that a
moulding was needed to crown a column with fitting glory and grace.
Now the capital of a column may fairly be called the throne of Ideal
expression; it is the _cour d'honneur_ of Art. The architect in
this emergency did not set himself at "the antique," and seek for
authorities, and reproduce and copy; for he desired not only an abstract
line of Beauty there, but a line which in every respect should answer
all the requirements of its peculiar position, a line which should have
its individual and essential relationships with the other lines around
it, those of shaft, architrave, frieze, and cornice, should swell its
fitting melody into the great _fugue_. And so, between the summit of the
long shaft and that square block, the abacus, on which reposes the dead
weight of the lintel of Greece, the Doric _echinus_ was fashioned,
crowning the serene Atlas-labor of the column with exquisite glory, and
uniting the upright and horizontal masses of the order with a marriage
ring, whose beauty is its perfect fitness. The profile of this moulding
may be rudely likened to the upper and middle parts of the line assumed
as the representative of the Greek Ideal. But it varied ever with the
exigency of circumstances. Over the short and solid shafts of Paestum,
it became flat and almost horizontal; they needed there an expression
of emphatic and sudden grace; they meet the _abacus_ with a moulding of
passionate energy, in which the soft undulations of Beauty are nearly
lost in a masculine earnestness of purpose. On the other hand, the more
slender and feminine columns of the Parthenon glide into the _echinus_
with gentleness and sweetness, crown themselves with a diadem of
chastity, as if it grew there by Fate, preordained from the base of the
shaft, like a flower from the root. It was created as with "the Dorian
mood of soft recorders." Between these two extremes there is an
infinity of change, everywhere modified and governed by "the study of
imagination."

The same characteristics of nervous grace and severe intellectual
restraint are found wherever the true Greek artist put his hand and his
heart to work. Every moulding bears the impress of utter refinement, and
modulates the light which falls upon it with exquisite and harmonious
gradations of shade. The sun, as it touches it, makes visible music
there, as if it were the harp of Memnon,--now giving us a shadow-line
sharp, strict, and defined, now drawing along a beam of quick and
dazzling light, and now dying away softly and insensibly into cool shade
again. All the phenomena of reflected lights, half lights, and broken
lights are brought in and attuned to the great daedal melody of
the edifice. The antiquities of Attica afford nothing frivolous or
capricious or merely fanciful, no playful extravagances or wanton
meanderings of line; but ever loyal to the purity of a high Ideal, they
present to us, even from their ruins, a wonderful and very evident Unity
of expression, pervading and governing every possible mood and manner of
thought. No phase of Art that ever existed gives us a line so very human
and simple in itself as this Greek type, and so pliable to all the uses
of monumental language. If this type were a mere mathematical type, its
applicability to the expression of human emotions would be limited to a
formalism absolutely fatal to the freedom of thought in Art. But because
it has its birth in intense Love, in refined appreciation of all the
movements of Life and all the utterances of Creation, because it is the
humanized essence of these motions and developments, it becomes thus an
inestimable Unity, containing within itself the germs of a new world of
ever new delight.

When this type in Greek Art was brought to bear on the interpretation of
natural forms into architectural language, we shall curiously discover
that the creative pride of the artist and his reverence for the
integrity of his Ideal were so great, that he not only subjected these
forms to a rigid subservience to the abstract line till Nature was
nearly lost in Art, but the immediate adoption of these forms under any
circumstances was limited to some three or four of the most ordinary
vegetable productions of Greece and to one sea-shell. This wise reserve
and self-restraint, among the boundless riches of a delicious climate
and a soil teeming with fertility, present to us the best proof of the
fastidious purity of artistic intentions. Nature poured out at the feet
of the Greek artist a most plenteous offering, and the lap of Flora
overflowed for him with tempting garlands of Beauty; but he did not
gather these up with any greedy and indiscriminate hand, he did not
intoxicate himself at the harvest of the vineyard. Full of the divinity
of high purpose, and intent upon the nobler aim of creating a pure work
of Art, he considered serenely what were his needs for decoration, took
lovingly a few of the most ordinary forms, and, studying the creative
sentiment of them, breathed a new and immortal life into them, and
tenderly and hesitatingly applied them to the work of illustrating his
grand Ideal. These leaves and flowers were selected not for their own
sake, though he felt them to be beautiful, but for the decorative motive
they suggested, the humanity there was in them, and the harmony they
had with the emergencies of his design. The design was not bent to
accommodate them, but they were translated and lifted up into the sphere
of Art.

A drawing of the Ionic capitals of the temple of Minerva Polias in the
Erechtheum is accessible to nearly everybody. It is well to turn to
it and see what use the Greeks, under such impulses, made of the Wild
Honeysuckle and of Sea-Shells. Perhaps this capital affords one of the
most instructive epitomes of Greek Art, inasmuch as in its composition
use is made of so much that Nature gave, and those gifts are so tenderly
modelled and wrought into such exquisite harmony and eloquent repose.
Examine the volute: this is the nearest approach to a mathematical
result that can be found in Grecian architecture; yet this very
approximation is one of the greatest triumphs of Art. No geometrical
rule has been discovered which can exactly produce the spirals of the
Erechtheum, nor can they be found in shells. In avoiding the exuberance
of the latter and the rigid formalism of the former, a work of human
thought and Love has been evolved. Follow one of these volutes with your
eye from its centre outwards, taking all its congeries of lines into
companionship; you find your sympathies at once strangely engaged. There
is an intoxication in the gradual and melodious expansion of these
curves. They seem to be full of destiny, bearing you along, as upon an
inevitable tide, towards some larger sphere of action. Ere you have
grown weary with the monotony of the spiral, you find that the system
of lines which compose it gradually leave their obedience to the
centrifugal forces of the volute, and, assuming new relationships of
parts, sweep gracefully across the summit of the shaft, and become
presently entangled in the reversed motion of the other volute, at whose
centre Ariadne seems to stand, gathering together all the clues of this
labyrinth of Beauty. This may seem fanciful to one who regards these
things as matters of formalism. But inasmuch as, to the studious eye of
affection, they suggest human action and human sympathies, this is a
proof that they had their birth in some corresponding affection. It is
the inanimate body of Geometry made spiritual and living by the Love of
the human heart. And when a later generation reduced the Ionic volutes
to rule, and endeavored to inscribe them with the gyrations of the
compass, they have no further interest for us, save as a mathematical
problem with an unknown value equal to a mysterious symbol _x_, in which
the soul takes no comfort. But true Art, using the volute, inevitably
makes it eloquent with an intensity of meaning, a delicacy of
expression, which awaken certain very inward and very poetic sentiments,
akin to those from which it was evolved in the process of creation. When
we reasonably regard the printed words of an author, we not only behold
an ingenious collection of alphabetical symbols, but are placed by them
in direct contact with the mind which brought them together, and, for
the moment, our train of thought so entirely coincides with that of the
writer, that, though perhaps he died centuries ago, he may be said to
live again in us. This great work of architectural Art has the same
immortal life; and though it may not so often find a heart capable of
discerning the sentiment and intention of it under the outward lines,
yet that heart, when found, is touched very deeply and very tenderly. We
imbibe the creative impulse of the artist, and the beautiful thing has a
new life in our affections. Studying it, we become artists and poets ere
we are aware. The alphabet becomes a living soul.

Under the volutes of this capital, and belting the top of the shaft, is
a broad band of ornamentation, so happy and effectual in its uses, and
so pure and perfect in its details, that a careful examination of it
will, perhaps, afford us some knowledge of that spiritual essence in the
antique Ideal out of which arose the silent and motionless Beauty of
Greek marbles.

Here are brought together the _sentiments_ of certain vegetable
productions of Greece, but sentiments so entirely subordinated to the
flexure of the abstract line, that their natural significance is almost
lost in a new and more human meaning. Here is the Honeysuckle, the
wildest, the most elastic and undulating of plants, under the severe
discipline of order and artistic symmetry, assuming a strict and chaste
propriety, a formal elegance, which render it at once monumental and
dignified. The harmonious succession and repetition of parts, the
graceful contrasts of curves and the strict poise and balance of them,
their unity in variety, their entire subjection to aesthetic laws, their
serious and emphatic earnestness of purpose,--these qualities combine
in the creation of one of the purest works of Art ever conceived by the
human mind. It is called the Ionic _Anthemion_, and suggests in its
composition all the creative powers of Greece. Its value is not alone in
the sensuous gratification of the eye, as with the Arabesque tangles of
the Alhambra, but it is more especially in its complete intellectual
expression, the evidence there is in it of thoughtfulness and judgment
and deliberate care. The inventor studied not alone the plant, but his
own spiritual relationships with it; and ere he made his interpretation,
he considered how, in mythological traditions, each flower once bore
a human shape, and how Daphne and Syrinx, Narcissus and Philemon, and
those other idyllic beings, were eased of the stress of human emotions
by becoming Laurels and Reeds and Daffodils and sturdy Oaks, and how
human nature was thus diffused through all created things and was
epigrammatically expressed in them.

"And he, with many feelings, many thoughts,
Made up a meditative joy, and found
Religious meanings in the forms of Nature."

Like Faustus, he was permitted to look into her deep bosom, as into the
bosom of a friend,--to find his brothers in the still wood, in the air,
and in the water,--to see himself and the mysterious wonders of his own
breast in the movements of the elements. And so he took Nature as a
figurative exponent of humanity, and extracted the symbolic truths from
her productions, and used them nobly in his Art.

Garbett, an English aesthetical writer, assures us that the _Anthemion_
bears not the slightest resemblance to the Honeysuckle or any other
plant, "being no representation of anything in Nature, but simply the
necessary result of the complete and systematic attempt to combine unity
and variety by the principle of _gradation_." But here he speaks like a
geometer, and not like an artist. He seeks rather for the resemblance of
form than the resemblance of spirit, and, failing to realize the object
of his search, he endeavors to find a cause for this exquisite effect
in pure reason. With equal perversity, Poe endeavored to persuade the
public that his "Raven" was the result of mere aesthetical deductions!

And here the old burden of our song must once again be heard: If we
would know the golden secret of the Greek Ideal, we must ourselves
first learn how to _love_ with the wisdom and chastity of old Hellenic
passion. We must sacrifice Taste and Fancy and Prejudice, whose specious
superficialities are embodied in the errors of modern Art,--we must
sacrifice these at the shrine of the true Aphrodite; else the modern
Procrustes will continue to stretch and torture Greek Lines on
geometrical beds, and the aesthetic Pharisees around us will still
crucify the Greek Ideal.

[To be continued.]

THE ROSE ENTHRONED.

It melts and seethes, the chaos that shall grow
To adamant beneath the house of life:
In hissing hatred atoms clash, and go
To meet intenser strife.

And ere that fever leaves the granite veins,
Down thunders o'er the waste a torrid sea:
Now Flood, now Fire, alternate despot reigns,--
Immortal foes to be.

Built by the warring elements, they rise,
The massive earth-foundations, tier on tier,
Where slimy monsters with unhuman eyes
Their hideous heads uprear.

The building of the world is not for you
That glare upon each other, and devour:
Race floating after race fades out of view,
Till beauty springs from power

Meanwhile from crumbling rocks and shoals of death
Shoots up rank verdure to the hidden sun;
The gulfs are eddying to the vague, sweet breath
Of richer life begun,--

Richer and sweeter far than aught before,
Though rooted in the grave of what has been.
Unnumbered burials yet must heap Earth's floor,
Ere she her heir shall win;

And ever nobler lives and deaths more grand
For nourishment of that which is to come:
While 'mid the ruins of the work she planned
Sits Nature, blind and dumb.

For whom or what she plans, she knows no more
Than any mother of her unborn child;
Yet beautiful forewarnings murmur o'er
Her desolations wild.

Slowly the clamor and the clash subside:
Earth's restlessness her patient hopes subdue:
Mild oceans shoreward heave a pulse-like tide:
The skies are veined with blue.

And life works through the growing quietness
To bring some darling mystery into form:
Beauty her fairest Possible would dress
In colors pure and warm.

Within the depths of palpitating seas
A tender tint;--anon a line of grace
Some lovely thought from its dull atom frees,
The coming joy to trace;--

A pencilled moss on tablets of the sand,
Such as shall veil the unbudded maiden-blush
Of beauty yet to gladden the green land;--
A breathing, through the hush,

Of some sealed perfume longing to burst out
And give its prisoned rapture to the air;--
A brooding hope, a promise through a doubt
Is whispered everywhere.

And, every dawn a shade more clear, the skies
A flush as from the heart of heaven disclose:
Through earth and sea and air a message flies,
Prophetic of the Rose.

At last a morning comes of sunshine still,
When not a dew-drop trembles on the grass;
When all winds sleep, and every pool and rill
Is like a burnished glass

Where a long-looked-for guest may lean to gaze;
When day on earth rests royally,--a crown
Of molten glory, flashing diamond rays,
From heaven let lightly down.

In golden silence, breathless, all things stand.
What answer meets this questioning repose?
A sudden gush of light and odors bland,
And, lo! the Rose! the Rose!

The birds break into canticles around;
The winds lift Jubilate to the skies:
For, twin-born with the rose on Eden-ground,
Love blooms in human eyes.

Life's marvellous queen-flower blossoms only so,
In dust of low ideals rooted fast.
Ever the Beautiful is moulded slow
From truth in errors past.

What fiery fields of Chaos must be won,
What battling Titans rear themselves a tomb,
What births and resurrections greet the sun,
Before the rose can bloom!

And of some wonder-blossom yet we dream,
Whereof the time that is infolds the seed,--
Some flower of light, to which the rose shall seem
A fair and fragile weed.

A BAG OF MEAL.

I often wonder what was the appearance of Saul's mother, when she walked
up the narrow aisle of the meeting-house and presented her boy's brow
for the mystic drops that sealed him with the name of Saul.

Saul isn't a common name. It is well,--for Saul is not an ordinary
man,--and--Saul is my husband.

We came in the cool of an evening upon the brink of the swift river that
flows past the village of Skylight.

The silence of a nearing experience brooded over my spirit; for Saul's
home was a vast unknown to me, and I fain would have delayed awhile its
coming.

I wonder if the primal motion of unknown powers, like electricity, for
instance, is spiral. Have you ever seen it winding out of a pair of
human eyes, knowing that every fresh coil was a spring of the soul, and
felt it fixing itself deeper and deeper in your own, until you knew that
you were held by it?

Perhaps not. I have: as when Saul turned to me in the cool of that
evening, and drew my eyes away, by the power I have spoken of, from the
West, where the orange of sunset was fading into twilight.

I have felt it otherwise. A horse was standing, surrounded by snow; the
biting winds were cutting across the common, and the blanket with which
he had been covered had fallen from him, and lay on the snow. He had
turned his head toward the place where it lay, and his eyes were fixed
upon it with such power, that, if that blanket had been endowed with one
particle of sensation, it would have got up, and folded itself, without
a murmur, around the shivering animal. Such a picture as it was! Just
then, I would have been Rosa Bonheur; but being as I was, I couldn't be
expected to blanket a horse in a crowded street, could I?

We were on the brink of the river. Saul drew my eyes away, and said,--

"You are unhappy, Lucy."

"No," I answered,--"not that."

"That does not content me. May I ask what troubles you?"

I aroused myself to reason. Saul is never satisfied, unless I assign a
reason for any mood I am in.

"Saul!" I questioned, "why do the mortals that we call Poets write,
and why do non-Poets, like ourselves, sigh over the melancholy days of
autumn, and why are we silent and thoughtful every time we think enough
of the setting sun to watch its going down?"

"Simply because the winter coming is cold and dreary, in the one
case,--and in the other, there are several reasons. Some natures dread
the darkness; others have not accomplished the wishes or the work of the
day."

"I don't think you go below the surface," I ventured. "It seems to me
that the entire reason is simple want of faith, a vague uncertainty as
to the coming back of the dried-up leaf and flower, when they perish,
and a fear, though unexpressed, that the sun is going down out of your
sight for the last time, and you would hold it a little longer."

"Would you now to-night, Lucy?"

"If I could."

My husband did not speak again for a long time, and gradually I went
back into my individuality.

We came upon an eminence outside the river-valley, and within sight of
the village.

"Is it well? do you like it?" asked Saul.

The village was nested in among the elms to such a degree that I could
only reply,--

"I am certain that I shall, when I find out what it is."

Saul stayed the impatient horse at the point where we then were, and,
indicating a height above and a depth below, told me the legend of the
naming of his village.

It was given thus:--

"A long time ago, when the soundless tread of the moccason walked
fearlessly over the bed of echoes in this valley, two warriors, Wabausee
and Waubeeneemah, came one day upon the river, at its opposite sides.
Both were, weary with the march; both wore the glory of many scalps.
Their belts were heavy with wampum, their hearts were heavy with hate.
Wabausee was down amid the dark pines that grew beside the river's
brink. Waubeeneemah was upon the high land above the river. With folded
arms and unmoved faces they stood, whilst in successive flashes across
the stream their eyes met, until Wabausee slowly opened out his

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