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A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
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VOL. IX.--MAY, 1862.--NO. LV.
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MAN UNDER SEALED ORDERS.
A vessel of war leaves its port, but no one on board knows for what
object, nor whither it is bound. It is a secret Government expedition.
As it sets out, a number of documents, carefully sealed, are put in
charge of the commander, in which all his instructions are contained.
When far away from his sovereign, these are to be the authority which he
must obey; as he sails on in the dark, these are to be the lights on the
deep by which he must steer. They provide for every stage of the way.
They direct what ports to approach and what ports to avoid, what to do
in different seas, what variation to make in certain contingencies, and
what acts to perform at certain opportunities. Each paper of the series
forbids the opening of the next until its own directions have been
fulfilled; so that no one can see beyond the immediate point for which
he is making.
The wide ocean is before that ship, and a wider mystery. But in the
passage of time, as the strange cruise proceeds, its course begins to
tell upon the chart. The zigzag line, like obscure chirography, has an
intelligible look, and seems to spell out intimations. As order after
order is opened, those sibyl leaves of the cabin commence to prophesy,
glimpses multiply, surmises come quick, and shortly the whole ship's
company more than suspect, from the accumulating _data_ behind them,
what must be their destination, and the mission they have been sent to
People are beginning to imagine that the career of the human race is
something like this. There is a fast-growing conviction that man has
been sent out, from the first, to fulfil some inexplicable purpose, and
that he holds a Divine commission to perform a wonderful work on the
earth. It would seem as if his marvellous brain were the bundle of
mystic scrolls on which it is written, and within which its terms are
hid,--and as if his imperishable soul were the great seal, bearing the
Divine image and superscription, which attests its Almighty original.
This commission is yet obscure. It has so far only gradually opened to
him, for he is sailing under sealed orders. He is still led on from
point to point. But the farther he goes, and the more his past gathers
behind him, the better is he able to imagine what must be before him.
His chart is every day getting more full of amazing indications. He is
beginning to feel about him the increasing press of some Providential
design that has been permeating and moulding age after age, and to
discover that be has been all along unconsciously prosecuting a secret
mission. And so it comes at last that everything new takes that look;
every evolution of mind, every addition to knowledge, every discovery of
truth, every novel achievement appearing like the breaking of seals and
opening of rolls, in the performance of an inexhaustible and mysterious
trust that has been committed to his hands.
It is the purpose of this paper to collect together some of these facts
and incidents of progress, in order to show that this is not a mere
dream, but a stupendous reality. History shall be the inspiration of our
There is a past to be recounted, a present to be described, and a future
to be foretold. An immense review for a magazine article, and it will
require some ingenuity to be brief and graphic at the same time. In the
attempt to get as much as possible into the smallest space, many things
will have to be omitted, and some most profound particulars merely
glanced at; but enough will be furnished, perhaps, to make the point we
have in view.
We may compare human progress to a tall tree which has reared itself,
slowly and imperceptibly, through century after century, hardly more
than a bare trunk, with here and there only the slight outshoot of some
temporary exploit of genius, but which in this age gives the signs of
that immense foliage and fruitage which shall in time embower the whole
earth. We see but its spring-time of leaf,--for it is only within fifty
years that this rich outburst of wonders began. We live in an era when
progress is so new as to be a matter of amazement. A hundred years
hence, perhaps it will have become so much a matter of course to
develop, to expand, and to discover, that it will excite no comment. But
it is yet novel, and we are yet fresh. Therefore we may gaze back at
what has been, and gaze forward at what is promised to be, with more
likelihood of being impressed than if we were a few centuries older.
If we look down at the roots out of which this tree has risen, and then
up at its spreading branches,--omitting its intermediate trunk of ages,
through which its processes have been secretly working,--perhaps we may
realize in a briefer space the wonder of it all.
In the beginning of history, according to received authority, there
was but a little tract of the earth occupied, and that by one family,
speaking but one tongue, and worshipping but one God,--all the rest of
the world being an uninhabited wild. At _this_ stage of history the
whole globe is explored, covered with races of every color, a host of
nations and languages, with every diversity of custom, development of
character, and form of religion. The physical bound from that to this is
equalled only by the leap which the world of mind has made.
Once upon a time a man hollowed a tree, and, launching it upon the
water, found that it would bear him up. After this a few little floats,
creeping cautiously near the land, were all on which men were wont to
venture. _Now_ there are sails fluttering on every sea, prodigious
steamers throbbing like leviathans against wind and wave; harbors are
built, and rocks and shoals removed; lighthouses gleam nightly from ten
thousand stations on the shore; the great deep itself is sounded by
plummet and diving-bell; the submarine world is disclosed; and man
is gathering into his hands the laws of the very winds that toss its
Once the earth had a single rude, mud-built hamlet, in which human
dwellings were first clustered together. _Now_ it is studded with
splendid cities, strewn thick with towns and villages, diversified by
infinite varieties of architecture: sumptuous buildings, unlike in every
clime, each as if sprung from its own soil and made out of its air.
Once there were only the elementary discoveries of the lever, the wedge,
the bended bow, the wheel; Tubal worked in iron and copper, and Naamah
twisted threads. Since then what a jump the mechanical arts have made!
These primitive elements are now so intricately combined that we can
hardly recognize them; new forces have been added, new principles
evolved; ponderous engines, like moving mountains of iron, shake the
very earth; many-windowed factories, filled with complex machinery
driven by water or its vapor, clatter night and day, weaving the plain
garments of the poor man and the rich robes of the prince, the curtains
of the cottage and the upholstery of the palace.
Once there were but the spear and bow and shield, and hand-to-hand
conflicts of brute strength. See now the whole enginery of war, the art
of fortification, the terrific perfection of artillery, the mathematical
transfer of all from the body to the mind, till the battlefield is but
a chess-board, and the battle is really waged in the brains of the
generals. How astonishing was that last European field of Solferino,
ten miles in sweep,--with the balloon floating above it for its spy
and scout,--with the thread-like wire trailing in the grass, and
the lightning coursing back and forth, Napoleon's ubiquitous
aide-de-camp,--with railway-trains, bringing reinforcements into the
midst of the _melee_, and their steam-whistle shrieking amid the
thunders of battle! And what a picture of even greater magnificence, in
some respects, is before us to-day! A field not of ten, but ten
thousand miles in sweep! McClellan, standing on the eminence of present
scientific achievement, is able to overlook half the breadth of a
continent, and the widely scattered detachments of a host of six hundred
thousand men. The rail connects city with city; the wire hangs between
camp and camp, and reaches from army to army. Steam is hurling his
legions from one point to another; electricity brings him intelligence,
and carries his orders; the aeronaut in the sky is his field-glass
searching the horizon. It is practically but one great battle that is
raging beneath him, on the Potomac, in the mountains of Virginia,
down the valley of the Mississippi, in the interiors of Kentucky and
Tennessee, along the seaboard, and on the Gulf coast. The combatants are
hidden from each other, but under the chieftain's eye the dozen armies
are only the squadrons of a single host, their battles only the separate
conflicts of a single field, the movements of the whole campaign only
the evolutions of a prolonged engagement. The spectacle is a good
illustration of the day. Under the magic of progress, war in its essence
and vitality is really diminishing, even while increasing in _materiel_
and grandeur. Neither time nor space will permit the old and tedious
contests of history to be repeated. Military science has entered upon a
new era, nearer than ever to the period when wars shall cease.
But to go on with a few more contrasts of the past with the present.
Once men wrote only in symbols, like wedges and arrow-heads, on
tiles and bricks, or in hieroglyphic pictures on obelisks and
sepulchres,--afterward in crude, but current characters on stone, metal,
wax, and papyrus. In a much later age appeared the farthest perfection
of the invention: books engrossed on illuminated rolls of vellum, and
wound on cylinders of boxwood, ivory, or gold,--and then put away like
richest treasures of art. What a difference between perfection then and
progress now! To-day the steam printing-press throws out its sheets in
clouds, and fills the world with books. Vast libraries are the vaulted
catacombs of modern times, in which the dead past is laid away, and the
living present takes refuge. The glory of costly scrolls is dimmed by
the illustrated and typographical wonders which make the bookstore a
gorgeous dream. Knowledge, no longer rare, no longer lies in precarious
accumulations within the cells of some poor monk's crumbling brain, but
swells up like the ocean, universal and imperishable, pouring into the
vacant recesses of all minds as the ocean pours into the hollows under
its shore. To-day, newspapers multiplied by millions whiten the whole
country every morning, like the hoar-frost; and books, numerous and
brilliant as the stars, seem by a sort of astral influence to unseal the
latent destinies of many an intellect, as by their illumination they
stimulate thought and activity everywhere.
Once art seemed to have reached perfection in the pictures and
sculptures of Greece and Rome. Yet now those master-pieces are not only
equalled on canvas and in fresco, but reproduced by tens of thousands
from graven sheets of copper, steel, and even blocks of wood,--or, if
modelled in marble or bronze, are remodelled by hundreds, and set up in
countless households as the household gods. It is the glory of to-day
that the sun himself has come down to be the rival and teacher of
artists, to work wonders and perform miracles in art. He is the
celestial limner who shall preserve the authentic faces of every
generation from now until the world is no more. He holds the mirror up
to Nature, paralyzes the fleeting phantom, by chemical subtilty, on the
burnished plate,--and there it is fixed forever. He prepares the optical
illusion of the stereoscope, so that through tiny windows we may look as
into fairy-land and find sections of this magnificent world modelled in
Once men imagined the earth to be a flat and limited tract. Now they
realize that it is a ponderous ball floating in infinite ether. Once
they thought the sky was a solid blue concave, studded with blazing
points, an empire of fate, the gold-and-azure floor of the abode of
gods and spirits. Now all that is dissolved away; the wandering planets
become at will broad disks, like sisters of the moon; and countless
millions of stars are now mirrored in the same retina with which the
Magi saw the few thousands of the firmament that were visible from the
plains of Chaldea.
Once men were aware of nothing in the earth beneath its hills and
valleys and teeming soil. Now they walk consciously over the ruins
of old worlds; they can decipher the strange characters and read the
strange history graven on these gigantic tablets. The stony veil is
rent, and they can look inimitable periods back, and see the curious
animals which then moved up and down in the earth.
Once a glass bubble was a wonder for magnifying power. Now the lenses of
the microscope bring an inverted universe to light. Men can look into a
drop and discover an ocean crowded with millions of living creatures,
monsters untypified in the visible world, playing about as in a great
Once a Roman emperor prized a mysterious jewel because it brought the
gladiators contending in the arena closer to the imperial canopy. Now
observatories, with their revolving domes, crown the heights at every
centre of civilization, and the mighty telescope, poised on exquisite
mechanism, turns infinite space into a Coliseum, brings its invisible
luminaries close to the astronomer's seat, and reveals the harmonies and
splendors of those distant works of God.
Once the supposed elements were fire, and water, and earth, and air;
once the amber was unique in its peculiar property, and the loadstone
in its singular power. Now chemistry holds in solution the elements and
secrets of creation; now electricity would seem to be the veil which
hangs before the soul; now the magnetic needle, true to the loadstar,
trembles on the sea, to make the mariner brave and the haven sure.
We have by no means exhausted the wonders that have accumulated upon
man, in being accumulated by man. Their enumeration would be almost
endless. But we leave all to mention one, with which there is nothing of
old time to compare. It had no beginning then,--not even a germ. It is
the peculiar leap and development of the age in which we live. Many
things have combined to bring it to pass.
A spirit that had been hid, since the world began, in a coffer of metal
and acid,--the genie of the lightning,--shut down, as by the seal of
Solomon in the Arabian tale, was let loose but the other day, and
commenced to do the bidding of man. Every one found that he could
transport his thought to the ends of the earth in the twinkling of an
eye. That spirit, with its electric wings, soon flew from city to city,
and whithersoever the magnetic wire could be traced through the air,
till the nations of all Europe stood as face to face, and the States
of this great Union gazed one upon another. It made a continent like a
household,--a cluster of peoples like members of a family,--each within
hearing of the other's voice.
But one achievement remained to be performed before the whole world
could become one. The ocean had hitherto hopelessly severed the globe
into two hemispheres. Could man make it a single sphere? Could man, like
Moses, smite the waves with his electric rod, and lead the legions of
human thought across dry shod? He could,--and he did. We all remember
it well. A range of submarine mountains was discovered, stretching from
America to Europe. Their top formed a plateau, which, lying within two
miles of the surface, offered an undulating shoal within human reach. A
fleet of steamers, wary of storms, one day cautiously assembled midway
over it. They caught the monster asleep, safely uncoiled the wire, and
laid it from shore to shore. The treacherous, dreadful, omnipotent ocean
was conquered and bound!
How the heart of the two worlds leaped when the news came! Then, more
than at any time before, were most of us startled into a conviction of
how _real_ progress was,--how tremendous, and limitless, apparently, the
power which God had put into man. Not that this, in itself, was greater
than that which had preceded it, but it was the climax of all. The
mechanical feat awoke more enthusiasm than even the scientific
achievement which was its living soul,--not because it was more
wonderful, but because it dispelled our last doubt. We all began to form
a more definite idea of something great to come, that was yet lying
stored away in the brain,--laid there from the beginning. Like the
Magian on the heights of Moab, as he saw the tents of Israel and the
tabernacle of God in the distance, we grew big with an involuntary
vision, and were surprised into prophecies.
It was wonderful to see the Queen of England, on one side of that chasm
of three thousand miles, wave a greeting to the President, and the
President wave back a greeting to the Queen. But it was glorious to see
that chord quiver with the music and the truth of the angelic song:--
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth
Good-will toward men!"
Soon, however, came a check to the excitement. For above a score of days
was that mysterious highway kept open from Valentia to Trinity Bay. But
then the spell was lost, the waves flowed back, old ocean rolled on as
before, and the crossing messages perished, like the hosts of Pharaoh in
That the miracle is ended is no indication that it cannot be repeated.
For the very reason that the now dead, inarticulate wire, like an
infant, lisped and stammered once, it is certain that another will
soon be born, which will live to trumpet forth like the angel of
civilization, its minister of flaming fire! No one should abate a jot
from the high hope excited then. No imagination should suffer a cloud on
the picture it then painted. Governments and capitalists have not
been idle, and will not be discouraged. Already Europe and Africa are
connected by an electric tunnel under the sea, five hundred miles in
length; already Malta and Alexandria speak to each other through a tube
lying under thirteen hundred miles of Mediterranean waters; already
Britain bound to Holland and Hanover and Denmark by a triple cord of
sympathy which all the tempests of the German Ocean cannot sever. And if
we come nearer home, we shall find a project matured which will carry a
fiery cordon around the entire coast of our country, linking fortress to
fortress, and providing that last, desperate resource of unity, an outer
girdle and jointed chain of force, to bind together and save a nation
whose inner bonds of peace and love are broken.
Such energy and such success are enough to revive the expectation and to
guaranty the coming of the day when we shall behold the electric light
playing round the world unquenched by the seas, illuminating the land,
revealing nation to nation, and mingling language with language, as if
the "cloven tongues like as of fire" had appeared again, and "sat upon
each of them."
It will be a strange period, and yet we shall see it. The word spoken
here under the sun of mid-day, when it speaks at the antipodes, will be
heard under the stars of midnight. Of the world of commerce it may be
written, "There shall be no night there!" and of the ancient clock of
the sun and stars, "There shall be time no longer!"
When the electric wire shall stretch from Pekin, by successive India
stations, to London, and from India, by leaps from island to island, to
Australia, and from New York westward to San Francisco, (as has been
already accomplished,) and southward to Cape Horn, and across the
Atlantic, or over the Strait to St. Petersburg,--when the endless
circle is formed, and the magic net-work binds continent, and city, and
village, and the isles of the sea, in one,--then who will know the world
we live in, for the change that shall come upon it?
Time no more! Space no more! Mankind brought into one vast neighborhood!
Prophesy the greater union of all hearts in this interblending of all
minds. Prophesy the boundless spread of civilization, when all barriers
are swept away. Prophesy the catholicity of that religion in which as
many phases of a common faith shall be endured as there are climes for
the common human constitution and countries in a common world!
In those days men will carry a watch, not with a single face, as now,
telling only the time of their own region, but a dial-plate subdivided
into the disks of a dozen timepieces, announcing at a glance the hour of
as many meridian stations on the globe. It will be the fair type of
the man who wears it. When human skill shall find itself under this
necessity, and mechanism shall reach this perfection, then the soul
of that man will become also many-disked. He will be alive with the
perpetual consciousness of many zeniths and horizons beside his own, of
many nations far different from his own, of many customs, manners, and
ideas, which he could not share, but is able to account for and respect.
We can peer as far as this into the future; for what we predict is only
a reasonable deduction from certain given circumstances that are nearly
around us now. We do not lay all the stress upon the telegraph, as if to
attribute everything to it, but because that invention, and its recent
crowning event, are the last great leap which the mind has made, and
because in itself, and in its carrying out, it summoned all the previous
discoveries and achievements of man to its aid. It is their last-born
child,--the greater for its many parents. There is hardly a science, or
an art, or an invention, which has not contributed to it, or which is
not deriving sustenance or inspiration from it.
This latter fact makes it particularly suggestive. As it was begotten
itself, and is in its turn begetting, so has it been with everything
else in the world of progress. Every scientific or mechanical idea,
every species of discovery, has been as naturally born of one or more
antecedents of its own kind as men are born of men. There is a kith and
kin among all these extraordinary creatures of the brain. They have
their ancestors and descendants; not one is a Melchizedek, without
father, without mother. Every one is a link in a regular order of
generations. Some became extinct with their age, being superseded or no
longer wanted; while others had the power of immense propagation, and
produced an innumerable offspring, which have a family likeness to this
day. The law of cause and effect has no better illustration than the
history of inventions and discoveries. If there were among us an
intellect sufficiently encyclopedic in knowledge and versatile in
genius, it could take every one of these facts and trace its intricate
lineage of principles and mechanisms, step by step, up to the original
Adam of the first invention and the original Eve of the first necessity.
There is a period between us and these first parents of our present
progress that is strangely obscure. It is a sort of antediluvian age, in
which there were evidently stupendous mechanical powers of some kind,
and an extensive acquaintance with some things. The ruins of Egypt alone
would prove this. But a deluge of oblivion has washed over them, and
left these colossal bones to tell what story they can. The only way to
account for such an extinction is, that they were monstrous contrivances
out of all proportion to their age, spasmodic successes in science,
wonders born out of due time,--deriving no sustenance or support from a
wide and various kindred, and therefore, like the giants which were of
old, dying out with their day.
It is different with what has taken place since. Every work has come in
its right time, just when best prepared for, and most required. There is
not one but is sustained on every side, and fits into its place, as each
new piece of colored stone in a mosaic is sustained by the progressive
picture. Every one is conserved by its connections. Whatever has been
done is sure,--and the past being secure, the future is guarantied.
It is impossible that the present knowledge in the world should be
extinguished. Nothing but a stroke of imbecility upon the race, nothing
but the destruction of its libraries, nothing but the paralysis of
the printing-press, and the annihilation of these means of
intercommunication,--nothing but some such arbitrary intervention
could accomplish it. The facts already in human possession, and the
constitution of the mind, together insure what we have as imperishable,
and what we are to obtain as illimitable.
We come now to another suggestive characteristic of the time,--another
of its promises. So far we find Progress gathering fulness and
strength,--making sure of itself. It has also been gathering impetus. It
has been, all along, accumulating momentum, and now it sweeps on with
breathless _rapidity_. The reason is, that, the farther it has gone, the
more it has multiplied its agents. The present generation is not only
carried forward, but is excited in every quarter. The activity and
versatility of the intellect would appear to be inexhaustible. Instead
of getting overstrained, or becoming lethargic, it never was so
powerful, never had so many resources, never was so wide-awake. Men
are busy turning over every stone in their way, in the hope of finding
something new. Nothing would seem too small for human attention, nothing
too great for human undertaking. The government Patent-Office, with
its countless chambers, is not so large a museum of inventions as the
capacious brain of to-day.
One man is engrossed over an apple-parer; another snatches the needle
from the weary fingers of the seamstress, and offers her in return the
sewing-machine. That man yonder has turned himself into an armory, and
he brings out the deadliest instrument he can produce, something perhaps
that can shoot you at sight, even though you be a speck in the horizon.
His next-door neighbor is an iron workshop, and is forging an armor of
proof for a vessel of war, from which the mightiest balls shall bound
as lightly as the arrows from an old-time breastplate. There is another
searching for that new motive power which shall keep pace with the
telegraph, and hurl the bodies of men through space as fast as their
thoughts are hurled; there is another seeking that electro-magnetic
battery which shall speak instantly and distinctly to the ends of
the earth. The mind of that astronomer is a telescope, through whose
increasing field new worlds float daily by; the mind of that geologist
is a divining-rod, forever bending toward the waters of chaos, and
pointing out new places where a shaft can be sunk into periods of almost
infinite antiquity; the mind of that chemist is a subtile crucible, in
which aboriginal secrets lie disclosed, and within whose depths the true
philosopher's stone will be found; the mind of that mathematician is a
maze of ethereal stair-ways, rising higher and higher toward the heaven
The ambition is everywhere,--in every breast; the power is
everywhere,--in every brain. The giant and the pigmy are alike active
in seeking out and finding out many inventions. And in this very
universality of effort and result we discover another guaranty of the
great future. The river of Progress multiplies its tributaries the
farther it flows, and even now, unknown ages from its mouth, we already
see that magnificent widening of its channel, in which, like the Amazon,
it long anticipates the sea.
Man, the great achiever! the marvellous magician! Look at him! A head
hardly six feet above the ground out of which he was taken. His "dome
of thought and palace of the soul" scarce twenty-two inches in
circumference; and within it, a little, gray, oval mass of "convoluted
albumen and fibre, of some four pounds' weight," and there sits the
intelligence which has worked all these wonders! An intelligence, say,
six thousand years old next century. How many thousand years more will
it think, and think, and wave the wand, and raise new spirits out of
Nature, open her sealed-up mysteries, scale the stars, and uncover a
universe at home? How long will it be before this inherent power, laid
in it at the beginning by the Almighty, shall be exhausted, and reach
its limit? Yes, how long? We cannot begin to know. We cannot imagine
where the stopping-place could be. Perhaps there is none.
To take up the nautical figure which has furnished our title,--we are in
the midst of an infinite sea, sailing on to a destination we know not
of, but of which the vague and splendid fancies we have formed hang
before our prow like illusions in the sky. We are meeting on every hand
great opportunities which must not be lost, new achievements which must
be wrought, and strange adventures which must be undertaken: every day
wondering more to what our commission shall bring us at last, full of
magnificent hopes and a growing faith,--the inscrutable bundle of orders
not nearly exhausted: whole continents of knowledge yet to be discovered
and explored; the gates of yet distant sciences to be sought and
unlocked; the fortresses of yet undreamed necessities to be taken;
Arcadias of beauty to be visited and their treasures garnered by the
imagination; an intricate course to be followed amid all future nations
and governments, and their winding histories, as if threading the
devious channels of endless archipelagoes; the spoils of all ages to
be gathered, and treaties of commerce with all generations to be made,
before the mysterious voyage is done.
And now, before we leave this fascinating theme, or suffer another
dream, let us stop where we are, in order to see where we are. Let us
take our bearings. What says our chart? What do we find in the horizon
of the present, which may give us the wherewithal to hope, to doubt, or
The era in which we live presents some remarkable characteristics,
which have been brought into it by this immense material success. It
is preeminently an age of _reality:_ an age in which a host of
unrealities--queer and strange old notions--have been destroyed forever.
Never were the vaulted spaces in this grand old temple of a world swept
so clean of cobwebs before. The mind has not gone forth working outside
wonders, without effecting equal inside changes. In achieving abroad, it
has been ennobling at home. At no time was it so free from superstition
as now, and from the absurdities which have for centuries beset and
filled it. What numberless delusions, what ghosts, what mysteries, what
fables, what curious ideas, have disappeared before the besom of the
day! The old author long ago foretasted this, who wrote,--"The divine
arts of printing and gunpowder have frightened away Robin Goodfellow,
and all the fairies." It is told of Kepler, that he believed the planets
were borne through the skies in the arms of angels; but science shortly
took a wider sweep, killed off the angels, and showed that the wandering
luminaries had been accustomed from infancy to take care of themselves.
And so has the firmament of all knowledge been cleared of its vapors and
fictions, and been revealed in its solid and shining facts.
Here, then, lies the great distinction of the time: the accumulation of
_Truth_, and the growing appetite for the true and the real. The year
whirls round like the toothed cylinder in a threshing-machine, blowing
out the chaff in clouds, but quietly dropping the rich kernels within
our reach. And it will always be so. Men will sow their notions and reap
harvests, but the inexorable age will winnow out the truth, and scatter
to the winds whatsoever is error.
Now we see how that impalpable something has been produced which we call
the "Spirit of the Age,"--that peculiar atmosphere in which we live,
which fills the lungs of the human spirit, and gives vitality and
character to all that men at present think and say and feel and do. It
is this identical spirit of courageous inquiry, honest reality, and
intense activity, wrought up into a kind of universal inspiration,
moving with the same disposition, the same taste, the same thought,
persons whole regions apart and unknown to each other. We are frequently
surprised by coincidences which prove this novel, yet common _afflatus_.
Two astronomers, with the ocean between them, calculate at the same
moment, in the same direction, and simultaneously light upon the same
new orb. Two inventors, falling in with the same necessity, think of the
same contrivance, and meet for the first time in a newspaper war, or
a duel of pamphlets, for the credit of its authorship. A dozen widely
scattered philosophers as quickly hit upon the self-same idea as if
they were in council together. A more rational development of some old
doctrine in divinity springs up in a hundred places at once, as if a
theological epidemic were abroad, or a synod of all the churches were in
session. It has also another peculiarity. The thought which may occur at
first to but one mind seems to have an affinity to all minds; and if
it be a free and generous thought, it is instantly caught, intuitively
comprehended, and received with acclamations all over the world. Such a
spirit as this is rapidly bringing all sections and classes of mankind
into sympathy with one another, and producing a supreme caste in human
nature, which, as it increases in numbers, will mould the character and
control the destinies of the race.
So far we speak of the upper air of the day. But there is no denying the
prevalence of a lower and baser spirit. We are uncomfortably aware that
there is another extreme to the freaks of the imagination. There are
superstitions of the reason and of realism,--the grotesque fancies,
mysticisms, and vagaries which prevail, and the diseased gusto for
something ultra and outlandish which affects many raw and undisciplined
minds. Yet even these are, in their way, indications of the pervading
disposition,--the unhealthy exhalations to be expected from hitherto
stagnant regions, stirred up by the active and regenerating thought of
the time. There is promise even in them, and they serve to distinguish
the more that purer and higher spirit of honesty and reality, which
clarifies the intellect, and invigorates the faculties that apprehend
and grasp the noble and the true.
We glory in this triumph of the reason over the imagination, and in this
predominance of the real over the ideal. We prefer that common sense
should lead the van, and that mere fancy, like the tinselled conjurer
behind his hollow table and hollow apparatus, should be taken for what
it is, and that its tricks and surprises should cease to bamboozle,
however much they may amuse mankind. Nothing, in the course of
Providence, conveys so much encouragement as this recent and growing
development of reality in thought and pursuit. In its presence the
future of the world looks substantial and sure. We dream of an immense
change in the tone of the human spirit, and in the character of the
civilization which shall in time embower the earth.
But, as it has always been, the greater the good, the nearer the evil;
Satan is next-door neighbor to the saint; Eden had a lurking-hole for
the serpent. Just here the voyaging is most dangerous; just here we drop
the plummet and strike upon a shoal; we lift up our eyes, and discover a
The mind that is not profound enough to perceive and believe even what
it cannot comprehend,--that is the shoal. Unless the reason will permit
the sounding-lead to fall illimitably down into a submarine world
of mystery, too deep for the diver, and yet a true and living
world,--unless there is admitted to be a fathomless gulf, called
_faith_, underlying the surface-sea of demonstration, the race will
surely ground in time, and go to pieces. There is the peril of this
all-prevailing love of the real. It may become such an infatuation that
nothing will appear actual which is not visible or demonstrable, which
the hand cannot handle or the intellect weigh and measure. Even to this
extreme may the reason run. Its vulnerable point is pride. It is easily
encouraged by success, easily incited to conceit, readily inclined to
overestimate its power. It has a Chinese weakness for throwing up a wall
on its involuntary boundary-line, and for despising and defying all
that is beyond its jurisdiction. The reason may be the greatest or the
meanest faculty in the soul. It may be the most wise or the most foolish
of active things. It may be so profound as to acknowledge a whole
infinitude of truth which it cannot comprehend, or it may be so
superficial as to suspect everything it is asked to believe, and refuse
to trust a fact out of its sight. There is the danger of the day. There
is the lee-shore upon which the tendencies of the age are blowing our
bark: a gross and destructive materialism, which is the horrid and
treacherous development of a shallow realism.
In the midst of this splendid era there is a fast-increasing class who
are disposed to make the earth the absolute All,--to deny any outlet
from it,--to deny any capacity in man for another sphere,--to deny any
attribute in God which interests Him in man,--to shut out, therefore,
all faith, all that is mysterious, all that is spiritual, all that is
immortal, all that is Divine.
"There live, alas! of heaven-directed mien,
Of cultured soul, and sapient eye serene,
Who hail thee Man!--the pilgrim of a day,
Spouse of the worm, and brother of the clay,
Frail as the leaf in autumn's yellow bower,
Dust in the wind, or dew upon the flower,
A friendless slave, a child without a sire.
* * * * *
Are these the pompous tidings ye proclaim,
Lights of the world, and demigods of Fame?
Is this your triumph, this your proud applause,
Children of Truth, and champions of her cause?
For this hath Science searched on weary wing,
By shore and sea, each mute and living thing?
Launched with Iberia's pilot from the steep,
To worlds unknown, and isles beyond the deep?
Or round the cope her living chariot driven,
And wheeled in triumph through the signs of heaven?
O star-eyed Science, hast thou wandered there,
To waft us home the message of despair?"
Is shipwreck, after all, to be the end of the mysterious voyage? Yes,
unless there is something else beside materialism in the world. Unless
there is another spirit blowing _off_ that dreadful shore, unless the
chart opens a farther sea, unless the needle points to the same distant
star, unless there are other orders, yet sealed and secret, there is no
further destiny for the race, no further development for the soul. The
intellect, however grand, is not the whole of man. Material progress,
however magnificent, is not the guaranty, not even the cardinal element,
of civilization. And civilization, in the highest possible meaning of
that most expressive word, is that great and final and all-embosoming
harbor toward which all these achievements and changes dimly, but
directly, point. Upon that we have fixed our eyes, but we cannot imagine
how it can be attained by intellectual and material force alone.
In order to indicate this more vividly, let us suppose that there is
no other condition necessary to the glory of human nature and the
world,--let us suppose that no other provision has been made, and that
the age is to go on developing only in this one direction,--what a
dreary grandeur would soon surround us! As icebergs floating in an
Arctic sea are splendid, so would be these ponderous and glistering
works. As the gilded and crimsoned cliffs of snow beautify the Polar
day, so would these achievements beautify the present day. But expect no
life, no joy, no soul, amid such ice-bound circumstances as these. The
tropical heart must congeal and die; its luxuriant fruits can never
spring up. The earth must lie sepulchred under its own magnificence; and
the divinest feelings of the spirit, floating upward in the instinct of
a higher life, but benumbed by the frigid air, and rebuked by the leaden
sky, must fall back like clouds of frozen vapor upon the soul: and "so
shall its thoughts perish."
It would be a gloomy picture to paint, if one could for a moment imagine
that intellectual power and material success were all that enter into
the development of the race. For if there is no other capacity, and no
other field in which at least an equal commission to achieve is given,
and for which equal arrangements have been made by the Providence that
orders all, then the soul must soon be smothered, society dismembered,
and human nature ruined.
But this very fact, which we purposely put in these strong colors,
proves that there must be another and greater element, another and
higher faculty, another and wider department, likewise under express and
secret conditions of success. It shall come to pass, as the development
goes on, that this other will become the foremost and all-important,
--the relation between them will be reversed,--this must increase, that
decrease,--the Material, although the first in time, the first in the
world's interest, and the first in the world's effort, will be found to
be only an ordained forerunner, preparing the way for Something Else,
the latchet of whose shoes it is not worthy to unloose.
There is that in man--also wrapt up and sealed within his inscrutable
brain--which provides for his inner as well as outer life; which
insures his highest development; which shall protect, cherish, warm, and
fertilize his nature now, and perpetuate and exalt his soul forever.
It is a commission which begins, but does not end, in time. It is a
commission which makes him the agent and builder of an immense moral
work on the earth. Under its instructions he shall add improvement to
improvement in that social fabric which is already his shelter and
habitation. He has found it of brick,--he shall leave it of marble. He
shall seek out every contrivance, and perfect every plan, and exhaust
every scheme, which will bring a greater prosperity and a nobler
happiness to mankind. He shall quarry out each human spirit, and carve
it into the beauty and symmetry of a living stone that shall be worthy
to take its place in the rising structure. This is the work which is
given him to do. He must develop those conditions of virtue, and peace,
and faith, and truth, and love, by which the race shall be lifted
nearer its Creator, and the individual ascend into a more conscious
neighborhood and stronger affinity to the world which shall receive him
at last. All this must that other department be, and this other capacity
achieve or there is a fatal disproportion in the progress of man.
The beauty of this as a dream perhaps all men will admit; but they
question its possibility. "It is the old Utopia," they say, "the
impracticable enterprise that has always baffled the world." Some will
doubt whether the Spiritual has an existence at all. Others will doubt,
if it does exist, whether man can accomplish anything in it. It is
invisible, impalpable, unknown. It cannot be substantial, it cannot
be real,--at least to man as at present constituted. Its elements and
conditions cannot be controlled by his spirit. That spirit cannot
control itself,--how much less go forth and work solid wonders in that
phantom realm! There can be no success in this that will be coequal with
the other; nor a coequal grandeur. There is no such thing as keeping
pace with it. The heart cannot grow better, society cannot be built
higher, mankind cannot become happier, God will not draw nearer, the
hidden truth of all that universe will never be more ascertained than
it is,--can never be accumulated and stored away among other human
acquisitions. It is utterly, gloomily impracticable. In this respect we
shall forever remain as we are, and where we are. So they think.
And now we venture to contradict it all, and to assert that there
is, there must be, just such a corresponding field, and just such a
corresponding progress, or else (we say it reverently) God's ways are
not equal. So great is our faith. Like Columbus, therefore, we dream
of the golden Indies, and of that "unknown residue" which must yet be
found, and be taken possession of by mankind.
We look far out to where the horizon dips its vapory veil into the sea,
and beyond which lies that other hemisphere, and ask,--Is there no world
there to be a counterpoise to the world that is here? Has the Creator
made no provision for the equilibrium of the soul? Is all that infinite
area a shoreless waste, over which the fleets of speculation may sail
forever, and discover nothing? Or is there not, rather, a broad
and solid continent of spiritual truth, eternally rooted in that
ocean,--prepared, from the beginning, for the occupation of man, when
the fulness of time shall have come,--ordained to take its place in the
historic evolution of the race, and to give the last and definite shape
to its wondrous destinies?
Is there, or is there not, another region of truth, of enterprise, of
progress,--to finish, to balance, to consummate the world?
Such is the Problem.
* * * * *
I can speak of it calmly now; but there have been moments when the
lightest mention of those words would sway my soul to its profoundest
I am a woman. I nip this fact in the bud of my narrative, because I like
to do as I would be done by, when I can just as well as not. It rasps a
person of my temperament exceedingly to be deceived. When any one tells
a story, we wish to know at the outset whether the story-teller is a man
or a woman. The two sexes awaken two entirely distinct sets of feelings,
and you would no more use the one for the other than you would put
on your tiny teacups at breakfast, or lay the carving-knife by the
butter-plate. Consequently it is very exasperating to sit, open-eyed and
expectant, watching the removal of the successive swathings which hide
from you the dusky glories of an old-time princess, and, when the
unrolling is over, to find it is nothing, after all, but a great
lubberly boy. Equally trying is it to feel your interest clustering
round a narrator's manhood, all your individuality merging in his, till,
of a sudden, by the merest chance, you catch the swell of crinoline,
and there you are. Away with such clumsiness! Let us have everybody
christened before we begin.
I do, therefore, with Spartan firmness depose and say that I am a woman.
I am aware that I place myself at signal disadvantage by the avowal. I
fly in the face of hereditary prejudice. I am thrust at once beyond
the pale of masculine sympathy. Men will neither credit my success nor
lament my failure, because they will consider me poaching on their
manor. If I chronicle a big beet, they will bring forward one twice
as large. If I mourn a deceased squash, they will mutter, "Woman's
farming!" Shunning Scylla, I shall perforce fall into Charybdis. (_Vide_
Classical Dictionary. I have lent mine, but I know one was a rock and
the other a whirlpool, though I cannot state, with any definiteness,
which was which.) I may be as humble and deprecating as I choose, but
it will not avail me. A very agony of self-abasement will be no armor
against the poisoned shafts which assumed superiority will hurl against
me. Yet I press the arrow to my bleeding heart, and calmly reiterate, I
am a woman.
The full magnanimity of which reiteration can be perceived only when I
inform you that I could easily deceive you, if I chose. There is about
my serious style a vigor of thought, a comprehensiveness of view, a
closeness of logic, and a terseness of diction commonly supposed to
pertain only to the stronger sex. Not wanting in a certain fanciful
sprightliness which is the peculiar grace of woman, it possesses also,
in large measure, that concentrativeness which is deemed the peculiar
strength of man. Where an ordinary woman will leave the beaten track,
wandering in a thousand little by ways of her own,--flowery and
beautiful, it is true, and leading her airy feet to "sunny spots of
greenery" and the gleam of golden apples, but keeping her not less
surely from the goal,--I march straight on, turning neither to the
right hand nor to the left, beguiled into no side-issues, discussing no
collateral question, but with keen eye and strong hand aiming right at
the heart of my theme. Judge thus of the stern severity of my virtue.
There is no heroism in denying ourselves the pleasures which we cannot
compass. It is not self-sacrifice, but self-cherishing, that turns the
dyspeptic alderman away from turtle-soup and the _pate de foie gras_ to
mush and milk. The hungry newsboy, regaling his nostrils with the scents
that come up from a subterranean kitchen, does not always know whether
or not he is honest, till the cook turns away for a moment, and a
steaming joint is within reach of his yearning fingers. It is no credit
to a weak-minded woman not to be strong-minded and write poetry. She
couldn't, if she tried; but to feed on locusts and wild honey that the
soul may be in better condition to fight the truth's battles,--to
go with empty stomach for a clear conscience's sake,--to sacrifice
intellectual tastes to womanly duties, when the two conflict,--
"That's the true pathos and sublime,
Of human life."
You will, therefore, no longer withhold your appreciative admiration,
when, in full possession of what theologians call the power of contrary
choice, I make the unmistakable assertion that I am a woman.
Of the circumstances that led me to inchoate a garden it is not
necessary now to speak. Enough that the first and most important step
had been taken, the land was bought,--a few acres, with a smart little
house peeking up, a crazy little barn tumbling down, and a dozen or so
fruit-trees that might do either as opportunity offered, and I set out
on my triumphal march from the city of my birth to the estate of my
adoption. Triumphal indeed! My pathway was strewed with roses. Feathery
asparagus and the crispness of tender lettuce waved dewy greetings from
every railroad-side; green peas crested the racing waves of Long Island
Sound, and unnumbered carrots of gold sprang up in the wake of the
ploughing steamer; till I was wellnigh drunk with the new wine of my own
purple vintage. But I was not ungenerous. In the height of my innocent
exultation, I remembered the dwellers in cities who do all their
gardening at stalls, and in my heart I determined, when the season
should be fully blown, to invite as many as my house could hold to
share with me the delight of plucking strawberries from their stems and
drinking in foaming health from the balmy-breathed cows. Moreover, in
the exuberance of my joy, I determined to go still farther, and despatch
to those doomed ones who cannot purchase even a furlough from burning
pavements baskets of fragrance and sweetness. I pleased myself with
pretty conceits. To one who toils early and late in an official Sahara,
that the home atmosphere may always be redolent of perfume, I would send
a bunch of long-stemmed white and crimson rose-buds, in the midst of
which he should find a dainty note whispering, "Dear Fritz: Drink this
pure glass of my overflowing June to the health of weans and wife, not
forgetting your unforgetful friend." To a pale-browed, sad-eyed woman,
who flits from velvet carpets and broidered flounces to the bedside
of an invalid mother, whom her slender fingers and unslender and most
godlike devotion can scarcely keep this side the pearly gates, I would
heap a basket of summer-hued peaches smiling up from cool, green leaves
into their straitened home, and, with eyes, perchance, tear-dimmed, she
should read, "My good Maria: The peaches are to go to your lips, the
bloom to your cheeks, and the gardener to your heart." Ah me! How much
grace and gladness may bud and blossom in one little garden! Only
three acres of land, but what a crop of sunny surprises, unexpected
tendernesses, grateful joys, hopes, loves, and restful memories!--what
wells of happiness, what sparkles of mirth, what sweeps of summer in the
heart, what glimpses of the Upper Country!
Halicarnassus was there before me (in the garden, I mean, not in the
spot last alluded to). It has been the one misfortune of my life that
Halicarnassus got the start of me at the outset. With a fair field and
no favor I should have been quite adequate to him. As it was, he was
born and began, and there was no resource left to me but to be born and
follow, which I did as fast as possible; but that one false move could
never be redeemed. I know there are shallow thinkers who love to prate
of the supremacy of mind over matter,--who assert that circumstances are
plastic as clay in the hands of the man who knows how to mould them.
They clench their fists, and inflate their lungs, and quote Napoleon's
proud boast,--"Circumstances! I _make_ circumstances!" Vain babblers!
Whither did this Napoleonic Idea lead? To a barren rock in a waste of
waters. Do we need St. Helena and Sir Hudson Lowe to refute it? Control
circumstances! I should like to know if the most important circumstance
that can happen to a man isn't to be born? and if that is under his
control, or in any way affected by his whims and wishes? Would not Louis
XVI. have been the son of a goldsmith, if he could have had his way?
Would Burns have been born a slaving, starving peasant, if he had been
consulted beforehand? Would not the children of vice be the children of
virtue, if they could have had their choice? and would not the whole
tenor of their lives have been changed thereby? Would a good many of
us have been born at all, if we could have helped it? Control
circumstances, forsooth! when a mother's sudden terror brings an idiot
child into the world,--when the restive eye of his great-grandfather,
whom he never saw, looks at you from your two-year-old, and the spirit
of that roving ancestor makes the boy also a fugitive and a vagabond on
the earth! No, no. We may coax circumstances a little, and shove them
about, and make the best of them, but there they are. We may try to get
out of their way; but they will trip us up, not once, but many times.
We may affect to tread them under foot in the daylight, but in the
night-time they will turn again and rend us. All we can do is first to
accept them as facts, and then reason from them as premises. We cannot
control them, but we can control our own use of them. We can make them a
savor of life unto life, or of death unto death.
Application.--If mind could have been supreme over matter, Halicarnassus
should, in the first place, have taken the world at second-hand from
me, and, in the second place, he should not have stood smiling on the
front-door steps when the coach set me down there. As it was, I made the
best of the one case by following in his footsteps,--not meekly, not
acquiescently, but protesting, yet following,--and of the other, by
smiling responsive and asking pleasantly,--
"Are the things planted yet?"
"No," said Halicarnassus.
This was better than I had dared to hope. When I saw him standing there
so complacent and serene, I felt certain that a storm was brewing, or
rather had brewed, and burst over my garden, and blighted its fair
prospects. I was confident that he had gone and planted every square
inch of the soil with some hideous absurdity which would spring up a
hundred-fold in perpetual reminders of the one misfortune to which I
So his ready answer gave me relief, and yet I could not divest myself of
a vague fear, a sense of coming thunder. In spite of my endeavors,
that calm, clear face would lift itself to my view as a mere
"weather-breeder"; but I ate my supper, unpacked my trunks, took out my
papers of precious seeds, and sitting in the flooding sunlight under the
little western porch, I poured them into my lap, and bade Halicarnassus
come to me. He came, I am sorry to say, with a pipe in his mouth.
"Do you wish to see my jewels?" I asked, looking as much like Cornelia
as a little woman, somewhat inclined to dumpiness, can.
Halicarnassus nodded assent.
"There," said I, unrolling a paper, "that is _Lychnidea acuminala_.
Sometimes it flowers in white masses, pure as a baby's soul. Sometimes
it glows in purple, pink, and crimson, intense, but unconsuming, like
Horeb's burning bush. The old Greeks knew it well, and they baptized
its prismatic loveliness with their sunny symbolism, and called it the
Flame-Flower. These very seeds may have sprung centuries ago from the
hearts of heroes who sleep at Marathon; and when their tender petals
quiver in the sunlight of my garden, I shall see the gleam of Attic
armor and the flash of royal souls. Like heroes, too, it is both
beautiful and bold. It does not demand careful cultivation,--no
"I should rather think not," interrupted Halicarnassus. "Pat Curran has
his front-yard full of it."
I collapsed at once, and asked humbly,--
"Where did he get it?"
"Got it anywhere. It grows wild almost. It's nothing but phlox. My
opinion is, that the old Greeks knew no more about it than that brindled
Nothing further occurring to me to be said on the subject, I waived
it and took up another parcel, on which I spelled out, with some
difficulty, "_Delphinium exaltatum_. Its name indicates its nature."
"It's an exalted dolphin, then, I suppose," said Halicarnassus.
"Yes!" I said, dexterously catching up an _argumentum ad hominem_, "It
_is_ an exalted dolphin,--an apotheosized dolphin,--a dolphin made
glorious. For, as the dolphin catches the sunbeams and sends them back
with a thousand added splendors, so this flower opens its quivering
bosom and gathers from the vast laboratory of the sky the purple of a
monarch's robe and the ocean's deep, calm blue. In its gracious cup you
"A fiddlestick!" jerked out Halicarnassus, profanely. "What are you
raving about such a precious bundle of weeds for? There isn't a
shoemaker's apprentice in the village that hasn't his seven-by-nine
garden overrun with them. You might have done better than bring
cartloads of phlox and larkspur a thousand miles. Why didn't you import
a few hollyhocks, or a sunflower or two, and perhaps a dainty slip
of cabbage? A pumpkin-vine, now, would climb over the front-door
deliciously, and a row of burdocks would make a highly entertaining
The reader will bear me witness that I had met my first rebuff with
humility. It was probably this very humility that emboldened him to a
second attack. I determined to change my tactics and give battle.
"Halicarnassus," said I, severely, "you are a hypocrite. You set up for
"Not I," interrupted he; "I voted for Harrison in '40, and for Fremont
in '56, and"--
"Nonsense!" interrupted I, in turn; "I mean a Democrat etymological, not
a Democrat political. You stand by the Declaration of Independence, and
believe in liberty, equality, and fraternity, and that all men are of
one blood; and here you are, ridiculing these innocent flowers, because
their brilliant beauty is not shut up in a conservatory to exhale its
fragrance on a fastidious few, but blooms on all alike, gladdening the
home of exile and lightening the burden of labor."
Halicarnassus saw that I had made a point against him, and preserved a
"But you are wrong," I went on, "even if you are right. You may laugh to
scorn my floral treasures, because they seem to you common and unclean,
but your laughter is premature. It is no ordinary seed that you see
before you. It sprang from no profane soil. It came from the--the--some
kind of an office at WASHINGTON, Sir! It was given me by one whose name
stands high on the scroll of fame,--a statesman whose views are as
broad as his judgment is sound,--an orator who holds all hearts in his
hand,--a man who is always found on the side of the feeble truth against
the strong falsehood,--whose sympathy for all that is good, whose
hostility to all that is bad, and whose boldness in every righteous
cause make him alike the terror and abhorrence of the oppressor, and the
hope and joy and staff of the oppressed."
"What is his name?" said Halicarnassus, phlegmatically.
"And for your miserable pumpkin-vine," I went on, "behold this
morning-glory, that shall open its barbaric splendor to the sun and
mount heavenward on the sparkling chariots of the dew. I took this from
the white hand of a young girl in whose heart poetry and purity have
met, grace and virtue have kissed each other,--whose feet have danced
over lilies and roses, who has known no sterner duty than to give
caresses, and whose gentle, spontaneous, and ever active loveliness
continually remind me that of such is the kingdom of heaven."
"Courted yet?" asked Halicarnassus, with a show of interest.
I transfixed him with a look, and continued,--
"This _Maurandia_, a climber, it may be common or it may be a king's
ransom. I only know that it is rosy-hued, and that I shall look at
life through its pleasant medium. Some fantastic trellis, brown and
benevolent, shall knot supporting arms around it, and day by day it
shall twine daintily up toward my southern window, and whisper softly of
the sweet-voiced, tender-eyed woman from whose fairy bower it came in
rosy wrappings. And this _Nemophila_, 'blue as my brother's eyes,'--the
brave young brother whose heroism and manhood have outstripped his
years, and who looks forth from the dank leafiness of far Australia
lovingly and longingly over the blue waters, as if, floating above them,
he might catch the flutter of white garments and the smile on a sister's
"What are you going to do with 'em?" put in Halicarnassus again.
I hesitated a moment, undecided whether to be amiable or bellicose under
the provocation, but concluded that my ends would stand a better
chance of being gained by adopting the former course, and so answered
seriously, as if I had not been switched off the track, but was going on
with perfect continuity,--
"To-morrow I shall take observations. Then, where the situation seems
most favorable, I shall lay out a garden. I shall plant these seeds in
it, except the vines and such things, which I wish to put near the house
to hide as much as possible its garish white. Then, with every little
tender shoot that appears above the ground, there will blossom also a
pleasant memory or a sunny hope or an admiring thrill."
"What do you expect will be the market-value of that crop?"
"Wealth which an empire could not purchase," I answered, with
enthusiasm. "But I shall not confine my attention to flowers. I shall
make the useful go with the beautiful. I shall plant vegetables,--
lettuce, and asparagus, and--so forth. Our table shall be garnished with
the products of our own soil, and our own works shall praise us."
There was a pause of several minutes, during which I fondled the seeds
and Halicarnassus enveloped himself in clouds of smoke. Presently there
was a cessation of puffs, a rift in the cloud showed that the oracle was
opening his mouth, and directly thereafter he delivered himself of the
"If we don't have any vegetables till we raise 'em, we shall be
carnivorous some time to come."
It was said with that provoking indifference more trying to a sensitive
mind than downright insult. You know it is based on some hidden
obstacle, palpable to your enemy, though hidden from you,--and that he
is calm because he know that the nature of things will work against you,
so that he need not interfere. If I had been less interested, I would
have revenged myself on him by remaining silent; but I was very much
interested, so I strangled my pride and said,--
"Land is too old for such things. Soil isn't mellow enough."
I had always supposed that the greater part of the main-land of our
continent was of equal antiquity, and dated back alike to the alluvial
period; but I suppose our little three acres must have been injected
through the intervening strata by some physical convulsion, from the
drift, or the tertiary formation, perhaps even from the primitive
"What are you going to do?" I ventured to inquire. "I don't suppose the
land will grow any younger by keeping."
"Plant it with corn and potatoes for at least two years before there can
be anything like a garden."
And Halicarnassus put up his pipe and betook himself to the house, and
I was glad of it, the abominable bore! to sit there and listen to my
glowing schemes, knowing all the while that they were soap-bubbles.
"Corn and potatoes," indeed! I didn't believe a word of it.
Halicarnassus always had an insane passion for corn and potatoes. Land
represented to him so many bushels of the one or the other. Now corn
and potatoes are very well in their way, but, like every other innocent
indulgence, carried too far, become a vice; and I more than suspected he
had planned the strategy simply to gratify his own weakness. Corn and
But when Halicarnassus entered the lists against me, he found an
opponent worthy of his steel. A few more such victories would be his
ruin. A grand scheme fired and filled my mind during the silent watches
of the night, and sent me forth in the morning, jubilant with high
resolve. Alexander might weep that he had no more worlds to conquer;
but I would create new. Archimedes might desiderate a place to stand
on before he could bring his lever into play; I would move the world,
self-poised. If Halicarnassus fancied that I was cut up, dispersed, and
annihilated by one disaster, he should weep tears of blood to see me
rise, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of my dead hopes, to a newer and more
glorious life. Here, having exhausted my classics, I took a long sweep
down to modern times, and vowed in my heart never to give up the ship.
Halicarnassus saw that a fell purpose was working in my mind, but a
certain high tragedy in my aspect warned him to silence; so he only
dogged me around the corners of the house, eyed me askance from the
wood-shed, and peeped through the crevices of the demented little barn.
But his vigilance bore no fruit. I but walked moodily "with folded arms
and fixed eyes," or struck out new paths at random, so long as there
were any vestiges of his creation extant. His time and patience being at
length exhausted, he went into the field to immolate himself with ever
new devotion on the shrine of corn and potatoes. Then my scheme came to
a head at once. In my walking, I had observed a box about three feet
long, two broad, and one foot deep, which Halicarnassus, with his usual
disregard of the proprieties of life, had used to block up a gate-way
that was waiting for a gate. It was just what I wanted. I straightway
knocked out the few nails that kept it in place, and, like another
Samson, bore it away on my shoulders. It was not an easy thing to
manage, as any one may find by trying,--nor would I advise young ladies,
as a general thing, to adopt that form of exercise,--but the end, not
the means, was my object, and by skilful diplomacy I got it up the
backstairs and through my window, out upon the roof of the porch
directly below. I then took the ash-pail and the fire-shovel and went
into the field, carefully keeping the lee side of Halicarnassus. "Good,
rich loam" I had observed all the gardening books to recommend; but
wherein the virtue or the richness of loam consisted I did not feel
competent to decide, and I scorned to ask. There seemed to be two kinds:
one black, damp, and dismal; the other fine, yellow, and good-natured.
A little reflection decided me to take the latter. Gold constituted
riches, and this was yellow like gold. Moreover, it seemed to have more
life in it. Night and darkness belonged to the other, while the very
heart of sunshine and summer seemed to be imprisoned in this golden
dust. So I plied my shovel and filled my pail again and again, bearing
it aloft with joyful labor, eager to be through before Halicarnassus
should reappear; but he got on the trail just as I was whisking
up-stairs for the last time, and shouted, astonished,--
"What are you doing?"
"Nothing," I answered, with that well-known accent which says,
"Everything! and I mean to keep doing it."
I have observed, that, in managing parents, husbands, lovers, brothers,
and indeed all classes of inferiors, nothing is so efficacious as to let
them know at the outset that you are going to have your own way. They
may fret a little at first, and interpose a few puny obstacles, but
it will be only a temporary obstruction; whereas, if you parley and
hesitate and suggest, they will but gather courage and strength for a
formidable resistance. It is the first step that costs. Halicarnassus
understood at once from my one small shot that I was in a mood to be let
alone, and he let me alone accordingly.
I remembered he had said that the soil was not mellow enough, and I
determined that my soil should be mellow, to which end I took it up by
handfuls and squeezed it through my fingers, completely pulverizing it.
It was not disagreeable work. Things in their right places are very
seldom disagreeable. A spider on your dress is a horror, but a spider
outdoors is rather interesting. Besides, the loam had a fine, soft feel
that was absolutely pleasant; but a hideous black and yellow reptile
with horns and hoofs, that winked up at me from it, was decidedly
unpleasant and out of place, and I at once concluded that the soil was
sufficiently mellow for my purposes, and smoothed it off directly. Then,
with delighted fingers, in sweeping circles, and fantastic whirls, and
exact triangles, I planted my seeds in generous profusion, determined,
that, if my wilderness did not blossom, it should not be from
niggardliness of seed. But even then my box was full before my basket
was emptied, and I was very reluctantly compelled to bring down from the
garret another box, which had been the property of my great-grandfather.
My great-grandfather was, I regret to say, a barber. I would rather
never have had any. If there is anything in the world besides worth that
I reverence, it is ancestry. My whole life long have I been in search of
a pedigree, and though I ran well at the beginning, I invariably stop
short at the third remove by running my head into a barber's shop. If
he had only been a farmer, now, I should not have minded. There is
something dignified and antique in land, and no one need trouble himself
to ascertain whether "farmer" stood for a close-fisted, narrow-souled
clodhopper, or the smiling, benevolent master of broad acres. Farmer
means both these, I could have chosen the meaning I liked, and it is not
probable that any troublesome facts would have floated down the years to
intercept any theory I might have launched. I would rather he had been
a shoemaker; it would have been so easy to transform him, after his
lamented decease, into a shoe-manufacturer,--and shoe-manufacturers, we
all know, are highly respectable people, often become great men, and
get sent to Congress. An apothecary might have figured as an M.D.
A greengrocer might have been apotheosized into a merchant. A
dancing-master would flourish on the family-records as a professor of
the Terpsichorean art. A taker of daguerreotype portraits would never
be recognized in "my great-grandfather _the artist_." But a barber is
unmitigated and immitigable. It cannot be shaded off nor toned down
nor brushed up. Besides, was greatness ever allied to barbarity?
Shakspeare's father was a wool-driver, Tillotson's a clothier, Barrow's
a linen-draper, Defoe's a butcher, Milton's a scrivener, Richardson's a
joiner, Burns's a farmer; but did any one ever hear of a barber's
having remarkable children? I must say, with all deference to my
great-grandfather, that I do wish he would have been considerate enough
of his descendants' feelings to have been born in the old days when
barbers and doctors were one, or else have chosen some other occupation
than barbering. Barber he did, however; in this very box he kept his
wigs, and, painful as it was to have continually before my eyes this
perpetual reminder of plebeian great-grand-paternity, I consented to it
rather than lose my seeds. Then I folded my hands in sweet, though calm
satisfaction. I had proved myself equal to the emergency, and that
always diffuses a glow of genial complacency through the soul. I had
outwitted Halicarnassus. Exultation number two. He had designed to cheat
me out of my garden by a story about land, and here was my garden ready
to burst forth into blossom under my eyes. He said little, but I knew
he felt deeply. I caught him one day looking out at my window with
corroding envy in every lineament. "You might have got some dust out of
the road; it would have been nearer." That was all he said. Even that
little I did not fully understand.
I watched, and waited, and watered, in silent expectancy, for several
days, but nothing came up, and I began to be anxious. Suddenly I thought
of my vegetable-seeds, and determined to try those. Of course a hanging
kitchen-garden was not to be thought of, and as Halicarnassus was
fortunately absent for a few days, I prospected on the farm. A sunny
little corner on a southern slope smiled up at me, and seemed to offer
itself as a delightful situation for the diminutive garden which mine
must be. The soil, too, seemed as fine and mellow as could be desired.
I at once captured an Englishman from a neighboring plantation, hurried
him into my corner, and bade him dig me and hoe me and plant me a garden
as soon as possible. He looked blankly at me for a moment, and I looked
blankly at him,--wondering what lion he saw in the way.
"Them is planted with potatoes now," he gasped, at length.
"No matter," I returned, with sudden relief to find that nothing but
potatoes interfered. "I want it to be unplanted, and planted with
vegetables,--lettuce and--asparagus--and such."
He stood hesitating.
"Will the master like it?"
"Yes," said Diplomacy, "he will be delighted."
"No matter whether he likes it or not," codiciled Conscience. "You do
"I--don't exactly like--to--take the responsibility," wavered this
"I don't want you to take the responsibility," I ejaculated, with
volcanic vehemence. "I'll take the responsibility. You take the hoe."
These duty-people do infuriate me. They are so afraid to do anything
that isn't laid out in a right-angled triangle. Every path must be
graded and turfed before they dare set their scrupulous feet in it.
I like conscience, but, like corn and potatoes, carried too far, it
becomes a vice. I think I could commit a murder with less hesitation
than some people buy a ninepenny calico. And to see that man stand
there, balancing probabilities over a piece of ground no bigger than a
bed-quilt, as if a nation's fate were at stake, was enough to ruffle a
calmer temper than mine. My impetuosity impressed him, however, and he
began to lay about him vigorously with hoe and rake and lines, and, in
an incredibly short space of time, had a bit of square flatness laid out
with wonderful precision. Meanwhile I had ransacked my vegetable-bag,
and though lettuce and asparagus were not there, plenty of beets and
parsnips and squashes, etc., were. I let him take his choice. He took
the first two. The rest were left on my hands. But I had gone too far to
recede. They burned in my pocket for a few days, and I saw that I must
get them into the ground somewhere. I could not sleep with them in the
room. They were wandering shades craving at my hands a burial, and I
determined to put them where Banquo's ghost would not go,--down. Down
accordingly they went, but not symmetrically nor simultaneously. I faced
Halicarnassus on the subject of the beet-bed, and though I cannot say
that either of us gained a brilliant victory, yet I can say that I
kept possession of the ground; still, I did not care to risk a second
encounter. So I kept my seeds about me continually, and dropped them
surreptitiously as occasion offered. Consequently, my garden, taken as
a whole, was located where the Penobscot Indian was born,--"all along
shore." The squashes were scattered among the corn. The beans were
tucked under the brushwood, in the fond hope that they would climb
up it. Two tomato-plants were lodged in the potato-field, under the
protection of some broken apple-branches dragged thither for the
purpose. The cucumbers went down on the sheltered side of a wood-pile.
The peas took their chances of life under the sink-nose. The sweet-corn
was marked off from the rest by a broomstick,--and all took root alike
in my heart.
May I ask you now, O Friend, who, I would fain believe, have followed me
thus far with no hostile eyes, to glide in tranced forgetfulness through
the white blooms of May and the roses of June, into the warm breath of
July afternoons and the languid pulse of August, perhaps even into
the mild haze of September and the "flying gold" of brown October? In
narrating to you the fruition of my hopes, I shall endeavor to preserve
that calm equanimity which is the birthright of royal minds. I shall
endeavor not to be unduly elated by success nor unduly depressed by
failure, but to state in simple language the result of my experiments,
both for an encouragement and a warning. I shall give the history of the
several ventures separately, as nearly as I can recollect in the
order in which they grew, beginning with the humbler ministers to our
appetites, and soaring gradually into the region of the poetical and the
BEETS.--The beets came up, little red-veined leaves, struggling for
breath among a tangle of Roman wormwood and garlic; and though they
exhibited great tenacity of life, they also exhibited great irregularity
of purpose. In one spot there would be nothing, in an adjacent spot a
whorl of beets, big and little, crowding and jostling and elbowing each
other, like school-boys round the red-hot stove on a winter's morning.
I knew they had been planted in a right line, and I don't, even now,
comprehend why they should not come up in a right line. I weeded them,
and though freedom from foreign growth discovered an intention, of
straightness, the most casual observer could not but see that skewiness
had usurped its place. I repaired to my friend the gardener. He said
they must be thinned out and transplanted. It went to my heart to pull
up the dear things, but I did it, and set them down again tenderly in
the vacant spots. It was evening. The next morning I went to them.
Flatness has a new meaning to me since that morning. You can hardly
conceive that anything could look so utterly forlorn, disconsolate,
disheartened, and collapsed. In fact, they exhibited a degree of
depression so entirely beyond what the circumstances demanded, that I
was enraged. If they had shown any symptoms of trying to live, I could
have sighed and forgiven them; but, on the contrary, they had flopped
and died without a struggle, and I pulled them up without a pang,
comforting myself with the remaining ones, which throve on their
companions' graves, and waxed fat and full and crimson-hearted, in their
soft, brown beds. So delighted was I with their luxuriant rotundity,
that I made an internal resolve that henceforth I would always plant
beets. True, I cannot abide beets. Their fragrance and their flavor are
alike nauseating; but they come up, and a beet that will come up is
better than a cedar of Lebanon that won't. In all the vegetable kingdom
I know of no quality better than this, growth,--nor any quality that
will atone for its absence.
PARSNIPS.--They ran the race with an indescribable vehemence that fairly
threw the beets into the shade. They trod so delicately at first that
I was quite unprepared for such enthusiasm. Lacking the red veining, I
could not distinguish them even from the weeds with any certainty, and
was forced to let both grow together till the harvest. So both grew
together, a perfect jungle. But the parsnips got ahead, and rushed up
gloriously, magnificently, bacchanalianly,--as the winds come when
forests are rended,--as the waves come when navies are stranded. I am,
indeed, troubled with a suspicion that their vitality has all run to
leaves, and that, when I go down into the depths of the earth for
the parsnips, I shall find only bread of emptiness. It is a pleasing
reflection that parsnips cannot be eaten till the second year. I am told
that they must lie in the ground during the winter. Consequently it
cannot be decided whether there are any or not till next spring. I shall
in the mean time assume and assert without hesitation or qualification
that there are as many tubers below the surface as there are leaves
above it. I shall thereby enjoy a pleasant consciousness, and the
respect of all, for the winter; and if disappointment awaits me in the
spring, time will have blunted its keenness for me, and other people
will have forgotten the whole subject. You may be sure I shall not
remind them of it.
CUCUMBERS.--The cucumbers came up so far and stuck. It must have been
innate depravity, for there was no shadow of reason why they should not
keep on as they began. They did not. They stopped growing in the prime
of life. Only three cucumbers developed, and they hid under the vines so
that I did not see them till they were become ripe, yellow, soft, and
worthless. They are an unwholesome fruit at best, and I bore their loss
with great fortitude.
TOMATOES.--Both dead. I had been instructed to protect them from the
frost by night and from the sun by day. I intended to do so ultimately,
but I did not suppose there was any emergency. A frost came the first
night and killed them, and a hot sun the next day burned up all there
was left. When they were both thoroughly dead, I took great pains to
cover them every night and noon. No symptoms of revival appearing to
reward my efforts, I left them to shift for themselves. I did not think
there was any need of their dying, in the first place; and if they would
be so absurd as to die without provocation, I did not see the necessity
of going into a decline about it. Besides, I never did value plants
or animals that have to be nursed, and petted, and coaxed to live.
If things want to die, I think they'd better die. Provoked by my
indifference, one of the tomatoes flared up and took a new start,--put
forth leaves, shot out vines, and covered himself with fruit and glory.
The chickens picked out the heart of all the tomatoes as soon as they
ripened, which was of no consequence, however, as they had wasted
so much time in the beginning that the autumn frosts came upon them
unawares, and there wouldn't have been fruit enough ripe to be of any
account, if no chicken had ever broken a shell.
SQUASHES.--They appeared above-ground, large-lobed and vigorous. Large
and vigorous appeared the bugs, all gleaming in green and gold, like
the wolf on the fold, and stopped up all the stomata and ate up all the
parenchyma, till my squash-leaves looked as if they had grown for the
sole purpose of illustrating net-veined organizations. In consternation
I sought again my neighbor the Englishman. He assured me he had 'em
on his, too,--lots of 'em. This reconciled me to mine. Bugs are not
inherently desirable, but a universal bug does not indicate special want
of skill in any one. So I was comforted. But the Englishman said they
must be killed. He had killed his. Then I said I would kill mine, too.
How should it be done? Oh! put a shingle near the vine at night and they
would crawl upon it to keep dry, and go out early in the morning and
kill 'em. But how to kill them? Why, take 'em right between your thumb
and finger and crush 'em!
As soon as I could recover breath, I informed him confidentially, that,
if the world were one great squash, I wouldn't undertake to save it in
that way. He smiled a little, but I think he was not overmuch pleased. I
asked him why I couldn't take a bucket of water and dip the shingle in
it and drown them. He said, well, I could try it. I did try it,--first
wrapping my hand in a cloth to prevent contact with any stray bug. To
my amazement, the moment they touched the water they all spread unseen
wings and flew away, safe and sound. I should not have been much more
surprised to see Halicarnassus soaring over the ridge-pole. I had not
the slightest idea that they could fly. Of course I gave up the design
of drowning them. I called a council of war. One said I must put a
newspaper over them and fasten it down at the edges; then they couldn't
get in. I timidly suggested that the squashes couldn't get out. Yes,
they could, he said,--they'd grow right through the paper. Another said
I must surround them with round boxes with the bottoms broken out; for,
though they could fly, they couldn't steer, and when they flew up, they
just dropped down anywhere, and as there was on the whole a good deal
more land on the outside of the boxes than on the inside, the chances
were in favor of their dropping on the outside. Another said that ashes
must be sprinkled on them. A fourth said lime was an infallible remedy.
I began with the paper, which I secured with no little difficulty; for
the wind--the same wind, strange to say--kept blowing the dirt at me
and the paper away from me; but I consoled myself by remembering the
numberless rows of squash-pies that should crown my labors, and May took
heart from Thanksgiving. The next day I peeped under the paper and the
bugs were a solid phalanx. I reported at head-quarters, and they asked
me if I killed the bugs before I put the paper down. I said no, I
supposed it would stifle them,--in fact, I didn't think anything about
it, but if I thought anything, that was what I thought. I wasn't pleased
to find I had been cultivating the bugs and furnishing them with free
lodgings. I went home and tried all the remedies in succession. I could
hardly decide which agreed best with the structure and habits of the
bugs, but they throve on all. Then I tried them all at once and all o'er
with a mighty uproar. Presently the bugs went away. I am not sure that
they wouldn't have gone just as soon, if I had let them alone. After
they were gone, the vines scrambled out and put forth some beautiful,
deep golden blossoms. When they fell off, that was the end of them. Not
a squash,--not one,--not a single squash,--not even a pumpkin. They
were all false blossoms.
APPLES.--The trees swelled into masses of pink and white fragrance.
Nothing could exceed their fluttering loveliness or their luxuriant
promise. A few days of fairy beauty, and showers of soft petals floated
noiselessly down, covering the earth with delicate snow; but I knew,
that, though the first blush of beauty was gone, a mighty work was going
on in a million little laboratories, and that the real glory was yet to
come. I was surprised to observe, one day, that the trees seemed to be
turning red. I remarked to Halicarnassus that that was one of Nature's
processes which I did not remember to have seen noticed in any
botanical treatise. I thought such a change did not occur till autumn.
Halicarnassus curved the thumb and forefinger of his right hand into an
arch, the ends of which rested on the wrist of his left coat-sleeve. He
then lifted the forefinger high and brought it forward. Then he lifted
the thumb and brought it up behind the forefinger, and so made them
travel up to his elbow. It seemed to require considerable exertion in
the thumb and forefinger, and I watched the progress with interest. Then
I asked him what he meant by it.
"That's the way they walk," he replied.
"The little fellows that have squatted on our trees."
"What little fellows do you mean?"
"How many are there?"
"About twenty-five decillions, I should think, as near as I can count."
"Why! what are they for? What good do they do?"
"Oh! no end. Keep the children from eating green apples and getting
"How do they do that?"
"Eat 'em themselves."
A frightful idea dawned upon me. I believe I turned a kind of ghastly
"Halicarnassus, do you mean to tell me that the canker-worms are eating
up our apples and that we shan't have any?"
"It looks like that exceedingly."
That was months ago, and it looks a great deal more like it now. I
watched those trees with sadness at my heart. Millions of brown, ugly,
villanous worms gnawed, gnawed, gnawed, at the poor little tender leaves
and buds,--held them in foul embrace,--polluted their sweetness with
hateful breath. I could almost feel the shudder of the trees in that
slimy clasp,--could almost hear the shrieking and moaning of the young
fruit that saw its hope of happy life thus slowly consuming; but I
was powerless to save. For weeks that loathsome army preyed upon the
unhappy, helpless trees, and then spun loathsomely to the ground, and
buried itself in the reluctant, shuddering soil. A few dismal little
apples escaped the common fate, but when they rounded into greenness and
a suspicion of pulp, a boring worm came and bored them, and they,
too, died. No apple-pies at Thanksgiving. No apple-roasting in winter
evenings. No pan-pie with hot brown bread on Sunday mornings.
CHERRIES.--They rivalled the apple-blooms in snowy profusion, and the
branches were covered with tiny balls. The sun mounted warm and high in
the heavens and they blushed under his ardent gaze. I felt an increasing
conviction that here there would be no disappointment; but it soon
became palpable that another class of depredators had marked our trees
for their own. Little brown toes could occasionally be seen peeping from
the foliage, and little bare feet left their print on the garden-soil.
Humanity had evidently deposited its larva in the vicinity. There was a
schoolhouse not very far away, and the children used to draw water from
an old well in a distant part of the garden. It was surprising to see
how thirsty they all became as the cherries ripened. It was as if the
village had simultaneously agreed to breakfast on salt fish. Their
wooden bucket might have been the urn of the Danaides, judging from the
time it took to fill it. The boys were as fleet of foot as young zebras,
and presented upon discovery no apology or justification but their
heels,--which was a wise stroke in them. A troop of rosy-cheeked,
bright-eyed little snips in white pantalets, caught in the act, reasoned
with in a semi-circle, and cajoled with candy, were as sweet as
distilled honey, and promised with all their innocent hearts and hands
not to do so any more. But the real _piece de resistance_ was a mass of
pretty well developed crinoline which an informal walk in the infested
district brought to light, engaged in a systematic raid upon the
tempting fruit. Now, in my country, the presence of unknown individuals
in your own garden, plucking your fruit from your trees, without your
knowledge and against your will, is universally considered as affording
presumptive evidence of--something. In this part of the world, however,
I find they do things differently. It doesn't furnish presumptive
evidence of anything. If you think it does, you do so at your own risk.
I thought it did, and escaped by the skin of my teeth. I hinted my
views, and found myself in a den of lions, and was thankful to come out
second-best. Second? nay, third-best, fourth-best, no best at all, not
even good,--very bad. In short, I was glad to get out with my life. Nor
was my repulse confined to the passing hour. The injured innocents come
no more for water. I am consumed with inward remorse as I see them daily
file majestically past my house to my neighbor's well. I have resolved
to plant a strawberry-bed next year, and offer them the fruit of it by
way of atonement, and never, under any provocation, hereafter, to assert
or insinuate that I have any claim whatever to anything under the sun.
If this course, perseveringly persisted in, does not restore the state
of quo, I am hopeless. I have no further resources.
The one drop of sweetness in the bitter cup was, that the cherries,
being thus let severely alone, were allowed to hang on the trees and
ripen. It took them a great while. If they had been as big as hogsheads,
I should think the sun might have got through them sooner than he did.
They looked ripe long before they were so; and as they were very
plenty, the trees presented a beautiful appearance. I bought a stack of
fantastic little baskets from a travelling Indian tribe, at a fabulous
price, for the sake of fulfilling my long-cherished design of sending
fruit to my city friends. After long waiting, Halicarnassus came in one
morning with a tin pail full, and said that they were ripe at last, for
they were turning purple and falling off; and he was going to have them
gathered at once. He had brought in the first-fruits for breakfast. I
put them in the best preserve-dish, twined it with myrtle, and set it
in the centre of the table. It looked charming,--so ruddy and rural and
Arcadian. I wished we could breakfast out-doors; but the summer was one
of unusual severity, and it was hardly prudent thus to brave its rigor.
We had cup-custards at the close of our breakfast that morning,--very
vulgar, but very delicious. We reached the cherries at the same moment,
and swallowed the first one simultaneously. The effect was instantaneous
and electric. Halicarnassus puckered his face into a perfect wheel,
with his mouth for the hub. I don't know how I looked, but I felt badly
"It was unfortunate that we had custards this morning," I remarked.
"They are so sweet that the cherries seem sour by contrast. We shall
soon get the sweet taste out of our mouths, however."
"That's so!" said Halicarnassus, who _will_ be coarse.
We tried another. He exhibited a similar pantomime, with improvements.
My feelings were also the same, intensified.
"I am not in luck to-day," I said, attempting to smile. "I got hold of a
sour cherry this time."
"I got hold of a bitter one," said Halicarnassus.
"Mine was a little bitter, too," I added.
"Mine was a little sour, too," said Halicarnassus.
"We shall have to try again," said I.
We did try again.
"Mine was a good deal of both this time," said Halicarnassus. "But we
will give them a fair trial."
"Yes," said I, sepulchrally.
We sat there sacrificing ourselves to abstract right for five minutes.
Then I leaned back in my chair, and looked at Halicarnassus. He rested
his right elbow on the table, and looked at me.
"Well," said he, at last, "how are cherries and things?"
"Halicarnassus," said I, solemnly, "it is my firm conviction that
farming is not a lucrative occupation. You have no certain assurance of
return, either for labor or capital invested. Look at it. The bugs eat
up the squashes. The worms eat up the apples. The cucumbers won't grow
at all. The peas have got lost. The cherries are bitter as wormwood and
sour as you in your worst moods. Everything that is good for anything
won't grow, and everything that grows isn't good for anything."
"My Indian corn, though," began Halicarnassus; but I snapped him up
before he was fairly under way. I had no idea of travelling in that
"What am I to do with all those baskets that I bought, I should like to
know?" I asked, sharply.
"What did you buy them for?" he asked in return.
"To send cherries to the Hudsons and the Mavericks and Fred Ashley," I
"Why don't you send 'em, then? There's plenty of them,--more than we
"Because," I answered, "I have not exhausted the pleasures of
friendship. Nor do I perceive the benefit that would accrue from turning
life-long friends into life-long enemies."
"I'll tell you what we can do," said Halicarnassus. "We can give a party
and treat them to cherries. They'll have to eat 'em out of politeness."
"Halicarnassus," said I, "we should be mobbed. We should fall victims to
the fury of a disappointed and enraged populace."
"At any rate," said he, "we can offer them to chance visitors."
The suggestion seemed to me a good one,--at any rate, the only one that
held out any prospect of relief. Thereafter, whenever friends called
singly or in squads,--if the squads were not large enough to be
formidable,--we invariably set cherries before them, and with generous
hospitality pressed them to partake. The varying phases of emotion which
they exhibited were painful to me at first, but I at length came to take
a morbid pleasure in noting them. It was a study for a sculptor. By long
practice I learned to detect the shadow of each coming change, where a
casual observer would see only a serene expanse of placid politeness.
I knew just where the radiance, awakened by the luscious, swelling,
crimson globes, faded into doubt, settled into certainty, glared into
perplexity, fired into rage. I saw the grimace, suppressed as soon as
begun, but not less patent to my preternaturally keen eyes. No one
deceived me by being suddenly seized with admiration of a view. I
knew it was only to relieve his nerves by making faces behind the
I grew to take a fiendish delight in watching the conflict, and the
fierce desperation which marked its violence. On the one side were
the forces of fusion, a reluctant stomach, an unwilling oesophagus, a
loathing palate; on the other, the stern, unconquerable will. A natural
philosopher would have gathered new proofs of the unlimited capacity of
the human race to adapt itself to circumstances, from the _debris_ that
strewed our premises after each fresh departure. Cherries were chucked
under the sofa, into the table-drawers, behind the books, under the
lamp-mats, into the vases, in any and every place where a dexterous hand
could dispose of them without detection. Yet their number seemed to
suffer no abatement. Like Tityus's liver, they were constantly renewed,
though constantly consumed. The small boys seemed to be suffering from a
fit of conscience. In vain we closed the blinds and shut ourselves up in
the house to give them a fair field. Not a cherry was taken. In vain we
went ostentatiously to church all day on Sunday. Not a twig was touched.
Finally I dropped all the curtains on that side of the house, and
avoided that part of the garden in my walks. The cherries may be hanging
there to this day, for aught I know.
But why do I thus linger over the sad recital? _"Ab uno disce omnes."_
(A quotation from Virgil: means, "All of a piece.") There may have been,
there probably was, an abundance of sweet-corn, but the broomstick that
had marked the spot was lost, and I could in no wise recall either spot
or stick. Nor did I ever see or hear of the peas,--or the beans. If our
chickens could be brought to the witness-box, they might throw light on
the subject. As it is, I drop a natural tear, and pass on to
THE FLOWER-GARDEN.--It appeared very much behind time,--chiefly Roman
wormwood. I was grateful even for that. Then two rows of four-o'clocks
became visible to the naked eye. They are cryptogamous, it seems.
Botanists have hitherto classed them among the Phaenogamia. A sweet-pea
and a china-aster dawdled up just in time to get frost-bitten. _"Et
praeterea nihil."_ (Virgil: means, "That's all.") I am sure it was no
fault of mine. I tended my seeds with assiduous care. My devotion was
unwearied. I was a very slave to their caprices. I planted them just
beneath the surface in the first place, so that they might have an easy
passage. In two or three days they all seemed to be lying round loose on
the top, and I planted them an inch deep. Then I didn't see them at
all for so long that I took them up again, and planted them half-way
between. It was of no use. You cannot suit people or plants that are
determined not to be suited.
Yet, sad as my story is, I cannot regret that I came into the country
and attempted a garden. It has been fruitful in lessons, if in nothing
else. I have seen how every evil has its compensating good. When I am
tempted to repine that my squashes did not grow, I reflect, that, if
they had grown, they would probably have all turned into pumpkins, or if
they had stayed squashes, they would have been stolen. When it seems
a mysterious Providence that kept all my young hopes underground, I
reflect how fine an illustration I should otherwise have lost of what
Kossuth calls the solidarity of the human race,--what Paul alludes to,
when he says, if one member suffer, all the members suffer with it. I
recall with grateful tears the sympathy of my neighbors on the right
hand and on the left,--expressed not only by words, but by deeds. In my
mind's eye, Horatio, I see again the baskets of apples, and pears, and
tomatoes, and strawberries,--squashes too heavy to lift,--and corn
sweet as the dews of Hymettus, that bore daily witness of human
brotherhood. I remember, too, the victory which I gained over my own
depraved nature. I saw my neighbor prosper in everything he undertook.
_Nihil tetigit quod non crevit._ Fertility found in his soil its
congenial home, and spanned it with rainbow hues. Every day I walked by
his garden and saw it putting on its strength, its beautiful garments.
I had not even the small satisfaction of reflecting that amid all his
splendid success his life was cold and cheerless, while mine, amid all
its failures, was full of warmth,--a reflection which, I have often
observed, seems to go a great way towards making a person contented with
his lot,--for he had a lovely wife, promising children, and the whole
village for his friends. Yet, notwithstanding all these obstacles, I
learned to look over his garden-wall with sincere joy.
There is one provocation, however, which I cannot yet bear with
equanimity, and which I do not believe I shall ever meet without at
least a spasm of wrath, even if my Christian character shall ever become
strong enough to preclude absolute tetanus; and I do hereby beseech all
persons who would not be guilty of the sin of Jeroboam who made Israel
to sin, who do not wish to have on their hands the burden of my ruined
temper, to let me go quietly down into the valley of humiliation and
oblivion, and not pester me, as they have hitherto done from all parts
of the North-American continent, with the infuriating question, "How did
you get on with your garden?"
* * * * *
LYRICS OF THE STREET.
Bring the hearse to the station,
When one shall demand it, late;
For that dark consummation
The traveller must not wait.
Men say not by what connivance
He slid from his weight of woe,
Whether sickness or weak contrivance,
But we know him glad to go.
On, and on, and ever on!
Nor let the priest be wanting
With his hollow eyes of prayer,
While the sexton wrenches, panting,
The stone from the dismal stair.
But call not the friends who left him,
When Fortune and Pleasure fled;
Mortality hath not bereft him,
That they should confront him, dead.
On, and on, and ever on!
Bid my mother be ready:
We are coming home to-night:
Let my chamber be still and shady,
With the softened nuptial light.
We have travelled so gayly, madly,
No shadow hath crossed our way;
Yet we come back like children, gladly,
Joy-spent with our holiday.
On, and on, and ever on!
Stop the train at the landing,
And search every carriage through;
Let no one escape your handing,
None shiver or shrink from view.
Three blood-stained guests expect him,
Three murders oppress his soul;
Be strained every nerve to detect him
Who feasted, and killed, and stole.
On, and on, and ever on!
Be rid of the notes they scattered;
The great house is down at last;
The image of gold is shattered,
And never can be recast.
The bankrupts show leaden features,
And weary, distracted looks,
While harpy-eyed, wolf-souled creatures
Pry through their dishonored books.
On, and on, and ever on!
Let him hasten, lest worse befall him,
To look on me, ere I die:
I will whisper one curse to appall him,
Ere the black flood carry me by.
His bridal? the friends forbid it;
I have shown them his proofs of guilt:
Let him hear, with my laugh, who did it;
Then hurry, Death, as thou wilt!
On, and on, and ever on!
Thus the living and dying daily
Flash forward their wants and words,
While still on Thought's slender railway
Sit scathless the little birds:
They heed not the sentence dire
By magical hands exprest,
And only the sun's warm fire
Stirs softly their happy breast.
On, and on, and ever on!
THE SOUTH BREAKER.
IN TWO PARTS.
Just a cap-full of wind, and Dan shook loose the linen, and a straight
shining streak with specks of foam shot after us. The mast bent like
eel-grass, and our keel was half out of the water. Faith belied her
name, and clung to the sides with her ten finger-nails; but as for me, I
"Take the stick, Georgie," said Dan, suddenly, his cheeks white. "Head
her up the wind. Steady. Sight the figurehead on Pearson's loft. Here's
too much sail for a frigate."
But before the words were well uttered, the mast doubled up and coiled
like a whip-lash, there was a report like the crack of doom, and half of
the thing crashed short over the bows, dragging the heavy sail in the
Then there came a great laugh of thunder close above, and the black
cloud dropped like a curtain round us: the squall had broken.
"Cut it off, Dan! quick!" I cried. "Let it alone," said he, snapping
together his jack-knife; "it's as good as a best bower-anchor. Now I'll
take the tiller, Georgie. Strong little hand," said he, bending so that
I didn't see his face. "And lucky it's good as strong. It's saved us
all.--My God, Georgie! where's Faith?"
I turned. There was no Faith in the boat. We both sprang to our feet,
and so the tiller swung round and threw us broadside to the wind, and
between the dragging mast and the centre-board drowning seemed too good
"You'll have to cut it off," I cried again; but he had already ripped
half through the canvas and was casting it loose.
At length he gave his arm a toss. With the next moment, I never shall
forget the look of horror that froze Dan's face.
"I've thrown her off!" he exclaimed. "I've thrown her off!"
He reached his whole length over the boat, I ran to his side, and
perhaps our motion impelled it, or perhaps some unseen hand; for he
caught at an end of rope, drew it in a second, let go and clutched at a
handful of the sail, and then I saw how it had twisted round and swept
poor little Faith over, and she had swung there in it like a dead
butterfly in a chrysalis. The lightnings were slipping down into the
water like blades of fire everywhere around us, with short, sharp
volleys of thunder, and the waves were more than I ever rode this side
of the bar before or since, and we took in water every time our hearts
beat; but we never once thought of our own danger while we bent to pull
dear little Faith out of hers; and that done, Dan broke into a great
hearty fit of crying that I'm sure he'd no need to be ashamed of. But it
didn't last long; he just up and dashed off the tears and set himself at
work again, while I was down on the floor rubbing Faith. There she
lay like a broken lily, with no life in her little white face, and no
breath, and maybe a pulse and maybe not. I couldn't hear a word Dan
said, for the wind; and the rain was pouring through us. I saw him take
out the oars, but I knew they'd do no good in such a chop, even if they
didn't break; and pretty soon he found it so, for he drew them in and
began to untie the anchor-rope and wind it round his waist. I sprang to
"What are you doing, Dan?" I exclaimed.
"I can swim, at least," he answered.
"And tow us?--a mile? You know you can't! It's madness!"
"I must try. Little Faith will die, if we don't get ashore."
"She's dead now, Dan."
"What! No, no, she isn't. Faith isn't dead. But we must get ashore."
"Dan," I cried, clinging to his arm, "Faith's only one. But if you die
so,--and you will!--I shall die too."
"Yes; because, if it hadn't been for me, you wouldn't have been here at
"And is that all the reason?" he asked, still at work.
"Reason enough," said I.
"Not quite," said he.
"Dan,--for my sake"----
"I can't, Georgie. Don't ask me. I mustn't"--and here he stopped short,
with the coil of rope in his hand, and fixed me with his eye, and his
look was terrible--"_we_ mustn't let Faith die."
"Well," I said, "try it, if you dare,--and as true as there's a Lord in
heaven, I'll cut the rope!"
He hesitated, for he saw I was resolute; and I would, I declare I would
have done it; for, do you know, at the moment I hated the little dead
thing in the bottom of the boat there.
Just then there came a streak of sunshine through the gloom where we'd
been plunging between wind and water, and then a patch of blue sky, and
the great cloud went blowing down river. Dan threw away the rope and
took out the oars again.
"Give me one, Dan," said I; but he shook his head. "Oh, Dan, because I'm
"See to her, then,--fetch Faith to," he replied, not looking at me, and
making up with great sturdy pulls.
So I busied myself, though I couldn't do a bit of good. The instant we
touched bottom, Dan snatched her, sprang through the water and up the
landing. I stayed behind; as the boat recoiled, pushed in a little,
fastened the anchor and threw it over, and then followed.
Our house was next the landing, and there Dan had carried Faith; and
when I reached it, a great fire was roaring up the chimney, and the
tea-kettle hung over it, and he was rubbing Faith's feet hard enough to
strike sparks. I couldn't understand exactly what made Dan so fiercely
earnest, for I thought I knew just how he felt about Faith; but
suddenly, when nothing seemed to answer, and he stood up and our eyes
met, I saw such a haggard, conscience-stricken face that it all rushed
over me. But now we had done what we could, and then I felt all at once
as if every moment that I effected nothing was drawing out murder.
Something flashed by the window, I tore out of the house and threw up my
arms, I don't know whether I screamed or not, but I caught the doctor's
eye, and he jumped from his gig and followed me in. We had a siege of
it. But at length, with hot blankets, and hot water, and hot brandy
dribbled down her throat, a little pulse began to play upon Faith's
temple and a little pink to beat up and down her cheek, and she opened