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Atlantic Monthly, Volume 11, Issue 67, May, 1863 by Various

Part 3 out of 5

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pearly glint of moonlight. Thinking of Lizzy, and the strong love that
held her; feeling a little lonely, maybe, and quiet, she did not know
why; trying to wrench her thoughts back to the house, and the clothes,
and the spareribs. Why! he could read her thoughts on her face as if
it were a baby's! A homely, silly girl they called her. He thanked God
nobody had found her out before him. Look at the dewy freshness of her
skin! how pure she was! how the world would knock her about, if he did
not keep his hold on her! But he would do that; to-night he meant to lay
his hand upon her life, and never take it off, absorb it in his own. She
moved forward into the clear light: that was right. There was a broken
boll of a beech--tree covered with lichen: she should sit on that,
presently, her face in open light, he in the shadow, while he told
her. "Watching her with hot breath where she stood, then going down to
her:--

"Is Grey waiting to bid her friend good-bye?"

She put her hand in his,--her very lips trembling with the sudden heat,
her untrained eyes wandering restlessly.

"I thought you would come to me, Doctor Blecker."

"Call me Paul," roughly. "I was coarser born and bred than you. I want
to think that matters nothing to you."

She looked up proudly.

"You know it matters nothing. I am not vulgar."

"No, Grey. But--it is curious, but no one ever called me Paul, as boy or
man. It is a sign of equality; and I've always had, in the _melee,_ the
underneath taint about me. You are not vulgar enough to care for it.
Yours is the highest and purest nature I ever knew. Yet I know it is
right for you to call me Paul. Your soul and mine stand on a plane
before God."

The childish flush left her face; the timid woman-look was in it now. He
bent nearer.

"They stand there alone, Grey."

She drew back from him, her hands nervously catching in the thick curls.

"You do not believe that?" his breath clogged and hot. "It is a fancy of
mine? not true?"

"It is true."

He caught the whisper, his face growing pale, his eyes flashing.

"Then you are mine, child! What is the meaning of these paltry
contradictions? Why do you evade me from day to day?"

"You promised me not to speak of this again,"--weakly.

"Pah! You have a man's straightforward, frank instinct, Grey; and this
is cowardly,--paltry, as I said before. I will speak of it again.
To-night is all that is left to me."

He seated her upon the beech-trunk. One could tell by the very touch
and glance of the man how the image of this woman stood solitary in his
coarser thoughts, delicate, pure: a disciple would have laid just such
reverential fingers on the robe of the Madonna. Then he stood off from
her, looking straight into her hazel eyes. Grey, with all her innocent
timidity, was the cooler, stronger, maybe, of the two: the poor Doctor's
passionate nature, buffeted from one anger and cheat to another in the
world, brought very little quiet or tact or aptitude in language for
this one hour. Yet, standing there, his man's sturdy heart throbbing
slow as an hysteric woman's, his eyeballs burning, it seemed to him that
all his life had been but the weak preface to these words he was going
to speak.

"It angers me," he muttered, abruptly, "that, when I come to you with
the thought that a man's or a woman's soul can hold but once in life,
you put me aside with the silly whims of a schoolgirl. It is not worthy
of you, Grey. You are not as other women."

What was this that he had touched? She looked up at him steadily,
her hands clasped about her knees, the childlike rose-glow and light
banished from her face.

"I am not like other women. You speak truer than you know. You call me a
silly, happy child. Maybe I am; but, Paul, once in my life God punished
me. I don't know for what,"--getting up, and stretching out her groping
arms, blindly.

There was a sudden silence. This was not the cheery, healthful Grey
Gurney of a moment before, this woman with the cold terror creeping out
in her face. He caught her hands and held them.

"I don't know for what," she moaned. "He did it. He is good."

He watched the slow change in her face: it made his hands tremble as
they held hers. No longer a child, but a woman whose soul the curse had
touched. Miriam, leprous from God's hand, might have thus looked up to
Him without the camp. Blecker drew her closer. Was she not his own? He
would defend her against even this God, for whom he cared but little.

"What has been done to you, child?"

She shook herself free, speaking in a fast, husky whisper.

"Do not touch me, Dr. Blecker. It was no school-girl's whim that kept me
from you. I am not like other women. I am not worthy of any man's love."

"I think I know what you mean," he said, gravely. "I know your story,
Grey. They made you live a foul lie once. I know it all. You were a
child then."

She had gone still farther from him, holding by the trunk of a dead
tree, her face turned towards the water. The black sough of wind from
it lifted her hair, and dampened her forehead. The man's brain grew
clearer, stronger, somehow, as he looked at her; as thought does in the
few electric moments of life when sham and conventionality crumble down
like ashes, and souls stand bare, face to face. For the every-day,
cheery, unselfish Grey of the coarse life in yonder he cared but little;
it was but the husk that held the woman whose nature grappled with his
own, that some day would take it with her to the Devil or to God. He
knew that. It was this woman that stood before him now: looking back,
out of the inbred force and purity within her, the indignant man's sense
of honor that she had, on the lie they had made her live: daring to face
the truth, that God had suffered this thing, yet clinging, like a simple
child, to her old faith in Him. That childish faith, that worked itself
out in her common life, Paul Blecker set aside, in loving her. She was
ignorant: he knew the world, and, he thought, very plainly saw that the
Power who had charge of it suffered unneeded ills, was a traitor to the
Good his own common sense and kindly feeling could conceive; which is
the honest belief of most of the half-thinkers in America.

"You were but a child," he said again. "It matters nothing to me, Grey.
It left no taint upon you."

"It did," she cried, passionately. "I carry the marks of it to my grave.
I never shall be pure again."

"Why did your God let you go down into such foulness, then?"--the words
broke from his lips irrepressibly. "It was He who put you in the hands
of a selfish woman; it was He who gave you a weak will. It is He who
suffers marriages as false as yours. Why, child! you call it crime, the
vow that bound you for that year to a man you loathed; yet the world
celebrates such vows daily in every church in Christendom."

"I know that";--her voice had gone down into its quiet sob, like a
little child's.

She sat down on the ground, now, the long shore-grass swelling up around
her, thrusting her fingers into the pools of eddying water, with a
far-off sense of quiet and justice and cold beneath there.

"I don't understand," she said. "The world's wrong somehow. I don't
think God does it. There's thousands of young girls married as I was.
Maybe, if I 'd told Him about it, it wouldn't have ended as it did. I
did not think He cared for such things."

Blecker was silent. What did he care for questions like this now? He sat
by her on the broken trunk, his elbows on his knees, his sultry eyes
devouring her face and body. What did it matter, if once she had been
sold to another man? She was free now: he was dead. He only knew that
here was the only creature in earth or heaven that he loved: there was
not a breath in her lungs, a tint of her flesh, that was not dear to
him, allied by some fierce passion to his own sense: there was that
in her soul which he needed, starved for: his life balked blank here,
demanding it,--her,--he knew not what: but that gained, a broader
freedom opened behind, unknown possibilities of honor and truth and
deed. He would take no other step, live no farther, until he gained her.
Holding, too, the sense of her youth, her rare beauty, as it seemed
to him; loving it with keener passion because he alone developed it,
drawing her soul to the light! how like a baby she was: how dainty the
dimpling white flesh of her arms, the soft limbs crouching there! So
pure, the man never came near her without a dull loathing of himself, a
sudden remembrance of places where he had been tainted, made unfit to
touch her,--rows in Bowery dance-houses, waltzes with musk-scented fine
ladies: when this girl put her cool little hand in his sometimes, he
felt tears coming to his eyes, as if the far-off God or the dead mother
had blessed him. She sat there, now, going back to that blot in her
life, her eyes turned every moment up to the Power beyond in whom she
trusted, to know why it had been. He had seen little children, struck
by their mother's hand, turn on them a look just so grieved and so
appealing.

"It was no one's fault altogether, Paul," she said. "My mother was not
selfish, more than other women. There were very many mouths to feed: it
is so in most families like ours."

"I know."

"I am very dull about books,--stupid, they say. I could not teach; and
they would not let me sew for money, because of the disgrace. These are
the only ways a woman has. If I had been a boy"--

"I understand."

"No man can understand,"--her voice growing shrill with pain. "It's not
easy to eat the bread needed for other mouths day after day, with your
hands tied, idle and helpless. A boy can go out and work, in a hundred
ways: a girl must marry; it's her only chance for a livelihood, or a
home, or anything to fill her heart with. Don't blame my mother, Paul.
She had ten of us to work for. From the time I could comprehend, I knew
her only hope was, to live long enough to see her boys educated, and
her daughters in homes of their own. It was the old story, Doctor
Blecker,"--with a shivering laugh more pitiful than a cry. "I've noticed
it since in a thousand other houses. Young girls like me in these
poor-genteel families,--there are none of God's creatures more helpless
or goaded, starving at their souls. I couldn't teach. I had no talent;
but if I had, a woman's a woman: she wants something else in her life
than dog-eared school-books and her wages year after year."

Blecker could hardly repress a smile.

"You are coming to political economy by a woman's road, Grey."

"I don't know what that is. I know what my life was then. I was only a
child; but when that man came and held out his hand to take me, I was
willing when they gave me to him,--when they sold me, Doctor Blecker. It
was like leaving some choking pit, where air was given to me from other
lungs, to go out and find it for my own. What marriage was or ought to
be I did not know; but I wanted, as every human being does want, a place
for my own feet to stand on, not to look forward to the life of an old
maid, living on sufferance, always the one too many in the house."

"That is weak and vulgar argument, child. It should not touch a true
woman, Grey. Any young girl can find work and honorable place for
herself in the world, without the defilement of a false marriage."

"I know that now. But young girls are not taught that. I was only a
child, not strong-willed. And now, when I'm free,"--a curious clearness
coming to her eye,--"I'm glad to think of it all. I never blame other
women. Because, you see,"--looking up with the flickering smile,--"a
woman's so hungry for something of her own to love, for some one to be
kind to her, for a little house and parlor and kitchen of her own; and
if she marries the first man who says he loves her, out of that first
instinct of escape from dependence, and hunger for love, she does not
know she is selling herself, until it's too late. The world's all wrong,
somehow."

She stopped, her troubled face still upturned to his.

"But you,--you are free now?"

"He is dead."

She slowly rose as she spoke, her voice hardening.

"He was my cousin, you know,--the same name as mine. Only a year he was
with me. Then he went to Cuba, where he died. He is dead. But I am not
free,"--lifting her hands fiercely, as she spoke. "Nothing can wipe the
stain of that year off of me."

"You know what man he was," said the Doctor, with a natural thrill of
pleasure that he could say it honestly. "I know, poor child! A vapid,
cruel tyrant, weak, foul. You hated him, Grey? There's a strength of
hatred in your blood. Answer me. You dare speak truth to me."

"He's dead now,"--with a long, choking breath. "We will not speak of
him."

She stood a moment, looking down the stretch of curdling black
water,--then, turning with a sudden gesture, as though she flung
something from her, looked at him with a pitiful effort to smile.

"I don't often think of that time. I cannot bear pain very well. I like
to be happy. When I'm busy now, or playing with little Pen, I hardly
believe I am the woman who was John Gurney's wife. I was so old then! I
was like a hard, tigerish soul, tried and tempted day by day. He made me
that."

She could not bear pain, he saw: remembrance of it, alone, made the
flesh about her lips blue, unsteadied her brain; the well-accented face
grew vacant, dreary; neither nerves nor will of this woman were tough.
Her family were not the stuff out of which voluntary heroes are made.
He saw, too, she was thrusting it back,--out of thought: it was her
temperament to do that.

"So, now, Grey," he said, cheerfully, "the story's told. Shall we lay
that ghost of the old life, and see what these healthful new years have
for us?"

Paul Blecker's voice was never so strong or pure: whatever of coarseness
had clung to him fell off then, as he came nearer to the weak woman
whom God had given to him to care for; whatever of latent manhood, of
chivalry, slept beneath, some day to make him an earnest husband and
father, and helpful servant of the True Man, came out in his eager face
and eye, now. He took her two hands in his: how strong his muscles were!
how the man's full pulse throbbed healthfully against her own! She
looked up with a sudden blush and smile. A minute ago she thought
herself so strong to renounce! She meant, this weak, incomplete woman,
to keep to the shame of that foul old lie of hers, accepting that as her
portion for life. There is a chance comes to some few women, once in
their lives, to escape into the full development of their natures by
contact with the one soul made in the same mould as their own. It came
to this woman to-night. Grey was no theorist about it: all that she knew
was, that, when Paul Blecker stood near her, for the first time in her
life she was not alone,--that, when he spoke, his words were but more
forcible utterances of her own thought,--that, when she thought of
leaving him, it was like drawing the soul from her living body, to leave
it pulseless, dead. Yet she would do it.

"I am not fit to be any man's wife. If you had come to me when I was a
child, it might have been,--it ought to have been,"--with an effort to
draw her hands from him.

Blecker only smiled, and seated her gently on the mossy boll of the
beech-tree.

"Stay. Listen to me," he whispered.

And Grey, being a woman and no philosopher, sat motionless, her hands
folded, nerveless, where he had let them fall, her face upturned, like
that of the dead maiden waiting the touch of infinite love to tremble
and glow back into beautiful life. He did not speak, did not touch her,
only bent nearer. It seemed to him, as the pure moonlight then held them
close in its silent bound, the great world hushed without, the light air
scarce daring to touch her fair, waiting face, the slow-heaving breast,
the kindling glow in her dark hair, that all the dead and impure years
fell from them, and in a fresh new-born life they stood alone, with the
great Power of strength and love for company. What need was there of
words? She knew it all: in the promise and question of his face waited
for her the hope and vigor the time gone had never known: her woman's
nature drooped and leaned on his, content: the languid hazel eye
followed his with such intent, one would have fancied that her soul in
that silence had found its rest and home forever.

He took her hand, and drew from it the old ring that yet bound one of
her fingers, the sign of a lie long dead, and without a word dropped it
in the current below them. The girl looked up suddenly, as it fell:
her eyes were wet: the woman whom Christ loosed from her infirmity of
eighteen years might have thanked him with such a look as Grey's that
night. Then she looked back to her earthly master.

"It is dead now, child, the past,--never to live again. Grey holds a new
life in her hands to-night." He stopped: the words came weak, paltry,
for his meaning. "Is there nothing with which she dares to fill it? no
touch that will make it dear, holy for her?"

There was a heavy silence. Nature rose impatient in the crimson blood
that dyed her lips and cheek, in the brilliance of her eye; but she
forced back the words that would have come, and sat timid and trembling.

"None, Grey? You are strong and cool. I know. The lie dead and gone
from your life, you can control the years alone, with your religion and
cheery strength. Is that what you would say?"--bitterly.

She did not answer. The color began to fade, the eyes to dim.

"You have told me your story; let me tell you mine,"--throwing himself
on the grass beside her. "Look at me, Grey. Other women have despised
me, as rough, callous, uncouth: you never have. I've had no hot-house
usage in the world; the sun and rain hardly fell on me unpaid. I've
earned every inch of this flesh and muscle, worked for it as it grew;
the knowledge that I have, scanty enough, but whatever thought I do have
of God or life, I've had to grapple and struggle for. Other men grow,
inhale their being, like yonder tree God planted and watered. I think
sometimes He forgot me,"--with a curious woman's tremor in his voice,
gone in an instant. "I scrambled up like that scraggy parasite, without
a root. Do you know now why I am sharp, wary, suspicious, doubt if there
be a God? Grey," turning fiercely, "I am tired of this. God did make me.
I want rest. I want love, peace, religion, in my life."

She said nothing. She forgot herself, her timid shyness now, and looked
into his eyes, a noble, helpful woman, sounding the depths of the turbid
soul laid bare for her.

He laid his big, ill-jointed hand on her knee.

"I thought," he said.--great drops of sweat coming out on his sallow
lips,--"God meant you to help me. There is my life, little girl. You may
do what you will with it. It does not value much to me."

And Grey, woman-like, gathered up the despised hand and life, and sobbed
a little as she pressed them to her heart. An hour after, they went
together up the old porch-steps, halting a moment where the grape-vines
clustered thickest about the shingled wall. The house was silent; even
the village slept in the moonlight: no sound of life in the great
sweep of dusky hill and valley, save the wreaths of mist over the
watercourses, foaming and drifting together silently: before morning
they would stretch from base to base of the hills like a Dead Sea, ashy
and motionless. They stood silent a moment, until the chirp of some
robin, frightened by their steps in its nest overhead, had hummed
drowsily down into sleep.

"It is not good-night, but good-bye, that I must bid you, Grey," he
said, stooping to see her face.

"I know. But you will come again. God tells me that."

"I will come. Remember, Grey, I am going to save life, not to take it.
Corrupt as I am, my hands are clean of this butchery for the sake of
interest."

Grey's eyes wandered. She knows nothing about the war, to be candid:
only that it is like a cold pain at her heart, day and night,--sorry
that the slaves are slaves, wondering if they could be worse off than
the free negroes swarming in the back-alleys yonder,--as sorry, being
unpatriotic, for the homeless women in Virginia as for the stolen horses
of Chambersburg. Grey's principles, though mixed, are sound, as far as
they go, you see. Just then thinking only of herself.

"You will come back to me?" clinging to his arm.

"Why, I must come back," cheerfully, choking back whatever stopped
his breath, pushing back the curling hair from her forehead with a
half-reverential touch. "I have so much, to do, little girl! There is
a farm over yonder I mean to earn enough to buy, where you and I shall
rest and study and grow,--stronger and healthier, more helpful every
day. We'll find our work and place in the world yet, poor child! You
shall show me what a pure, earnest life is, Grey, and above us--what
there is there," lowering his voice. "And I,--how much I have to do with
this bit of humanity here on my hands!"--playfully. "An unhewn stone,
with the beautiful statue lying _perdu_ within. Bid you know you were
that, Grey? and I the sculptor?"

She looked up bewildered.

"It is true," passing his fingers over the low, broad, curiously moulded
forehead. "My girl does not know what powers and subtile forces lie
asleep beneath this white skin? I know. I know lights and words and
dramas of meaning these childish eyes hold latent: that I will set free.
I will teach your very silent lips a new language. You never guessed how
like a prison your life has been, how unfinished you are; but I thank
God for it, Grey. You would not have loved me, if it had been different;
I can grow with you now, grow to your height, if--He helps me."

He took off his hat, and stood, looking silently into the deep blue
above,--for the first time in his life coming to his Friend with a
manly, humble look. His eyes were not clear when he spoke again, his
voice very quiet.

"Good bye, Grey! I'm going to try to be a better man than I've ever
been. You are my wife now in His eyes. I need you so: for life and for
eternity, I think. You will remember that?"

And so, holding her to his heart a moment or two, and kissing her lips
passionately once or twice, he left her, trying to smile as he went down
the path, but with a strange clogging weight in his breast, as if his
heart would not beat.

Going in, Grey found the old negro asleep over his knitting, the candle
with a flaring black crust beside him.

"He waited for me," she said; and as she stroked the skinny old hand,
the tears came at the thought of it. Everybody was so kind to her! The
world was so foil of love! God was so good to her to-night!

Oth, waking fully as she helped him to his room-door, looked anxiously
in her face.

"Er' ye well to-night, chile?" he said. "Yer look as yer did when yer
wor a little baby. Peart an' purty yer wor, dat's true. Der good Lord
loved yer, I think."

"He loves me now," she said, softly, to herself, as in her own room she
knelt down and thanked Him, and then, undressed, crept into the white
trundle-bed beside little Pen; and when he woke, and, putting his little
arms about her neck, drew her head close to his to kiss her good-night,
she cried quietly to herself, and fell asleep with the tears upon her
cheek.

Her sister, in the next room to hers, with the same new dream in her
heart, did not creep into any baby's arms for sympathy. Lizzy Gurney
never had a pet, dog or child. She sat by the window waiting, her shawl
about her head in the very folds McKinstry had wrapped it, motionless,
as was her wont. But for the convulsive movement of her lips now and
then, no gutta-percha doll could be more utterly still. As the night
wore down into the intenser sleep of the hours after midnight, her watch
grew more breathless. The moon sank far enough in the west to throw
the beams directly across her into the dark chamber behind. She was a
small-moulded woman, you could see now: her limbs, like those of a cat,
or animals of that tribe, from their power of trance-like quiet, gave
you the idea of an intense vitality: a gentle face,--pretty, the
villagers called it, from its waxy tint and faint coloring,--you wished
to do something for her, seeing it. Paul Blecker never did: the woman
never spoke to him; but he noted often the sudden relaxed droop of the
eyelids, when she sat alone, as if some nerve had grown weary: he had
seen that peculiarity in some women before, and knew all it meant. He
had nothing for her; her hunger lay out of his ken.

It grew later: the moon hung now so low that deep shadows lay heavy over
the whole valley; not a breath broke the sleep of the night; even the
long melancholy howl of the dog down in camp was hushed long since. When
the clock struck two, she got up and went noiselessly out into the open
air. There was no droop in her eyelids now; they were straight, nerved,
the eyes glowing with a light never seen by day beneath them. Down the
long path into the cornfield, slowly, pausing at some places, while her
lips moved as though she repeated words once heard there. What folly was
this? Was this woman's life so bare, so empty of its true food, that she
must needs go back and drag again into life a few poor, happy moments?
distil them slowly, to drink them again drop by drop? I have seen
children so live over in their play the one great holiday of their
lives. Down through the field to the creek-ford, where the stones lay
for crossing, slippery with moss: she could feel the strong grasp of the
hand that had led her over there that night; and so, with slow, and yet
slower step, where the path had been rocky, and she had needed cautious
help. Into the thicket of lilacs, with the old scent of the spring
blossoms yet hanging on their boughs; along the bank, where her foot had
sunk deep into plushy moss, where he had gathered a cluster of fern and
put it into her hand. Its pale feathery green was not more quaint or
pure than the delicate love in the uncouth man beside her,--not nearer
kin to Nature. Did she know that? Had it been like the breath of God
coming into her nostrils to be so loved, appreciated, called home, as
she had been to-night? Was she going back to feel that breath again?
Neither pain nor pleasure was on her face: her breath came heavy and
short, her eyes shone, that was all. Out now into the open road,
stopping and glancing around with every broken twig, being a cowardly
creature, yet never leaving the track of the footsteps in the dust,
where she had gone before. Coming at last to the old-fashioned gabled
house, where she had gone when site was a child, set in among stiff rows
of evergreens. A breathless quiet always hung about the place: a pure,
wholesome atmosphere, because pure and earnest people had acted out
their souls there, and gone home to God. He had led her through the
gate here, given her to drink of the well at the side of the house. "My
mother never would taste any water but this, do you remember, Lizzy?"
They had gone through the rooms, whispering, if they spoke, as though it
were a church. Here was the pure dead sister's face looking down from
the wall; there his mother's worn wicker work-stand. Her work was in it
still. "The needle just where she placed it, Lizzy." The strong man was
weak as a little child with the memory of the old mother who had
nursed and loved him as no other could love. He stood beside her chair
irresolute; forty years ago he had stood there, a little child bringing
all his troubles to be healed: since she died no hand had touched it.
"Will you sit there, Lizzy? You are dearer to me than she. When I come
back, will you take their place here? Only you are pure as they, and
dearer, Lizzy. We will go home to them hand in hand." She sat in the
dead woman's chair. _She_. Looking in at her own heart as she did it.
Yet her love for him would make her fit to sit there: she believed that.
He had not kissed her,--she was too sacred to the simple-hearted man for
that,--had only taken her little hand in both his, saying, "God bless
you, little Lizzy!" in an unsteady voice.

"He may never say it again," the girl said, when she crept home from
her midnight pilgrimage. "I'll come here every day and live it all
over again. It will keep me quiet until he comes. Maybe he'll never
come,"--catching her breast, and tearing it until it grew black. She was
so tired of herself, this child! She would have torn that nerve in her
heart out that sometimes made her sick, if she could. Her life was so
cramped, and selfish, too, and she knew it. Passing by the door of
Grey's room, she saw her asleep with Pen in her arms,--some other little
nightcapped heads in the larger beds. _She_ slept alone. "They tire
me so!" she said; "yet I think," her eye growing fiercer, "if I had
anything all my own, if I had a little baby to make pure and good, I'd
be a better girl. Maybe--_he_ will make me better."

Paul Blecker, heart-anatomist, laughed when this woman, with the aching
brain and the gnawing hunger at heart, seized on the single, Christ-like
love of McKinstry, a common, bigoted man, and made it her master
and helper. Her instinct was wiser than he, being drifted by God's
under-currents of eternal order. That One who knows when the sparrow is
ready for death knows well what things are needed for a tired girl's
soul.

* * * * *

UP THE THAMES.

The upper portion of Greenwich (where my last article left me loitering)
is a cheerful, comely, old-fashioned town, the peculiarities of which,
if there be any, have passed out of my remembrance. As you descend
towards the Thames, the streets get meaner, and the shabby and sunken
houses, elbowing one another for frontage, bear the sign-boards of
beer-shops and eating-rooms, with especial promises of whitebait and
other delicacies in the fishing line. You observe, also, a frequent
announcement of "Tea Gardens" in the rear; although, estimating the
capacity of the premises by their external compass, the entire sylvan
charm and shadowy seclusion of such blissful resorts must be limited
within a small back-yard. These places of cheap sustenance and
recreation depend for support upon the innumerable pleasure-parties who
come from London Bridge by steamer, at a fare of a few pence, and who
get as enjoyable a meal for a shilling a head as the Ship Hotel would
afford a gentleman for a guinea.

The steamers, which are constantly smoking their pipes up and down the
Thames, offer much the most agreeable mode of getting to London. At
least, it might be exceedingly agreeable, except for the myriad floating
particles of soot from the stove-pipe, and the heavy heat of midsummer
sunshine on the unsheltered deck, or the chill, misty air-draught of a
cloudy day, and the spiteful little showers of rain that may spatter
down upon you at any moment, whatever the promise of the sky; besides
which there is some slight inconvenience from the inexhaustible throng
of passengers, who scarcely allow you standing-room, nor so much as a
breath of unappropriated air, and never a chance to sit down. If these
difficulties weigh little with you, the panorama along the shores of the
memorable river, and the incidents and shows of passing life upon its
bosom, render the trip far preferable to the brief, yet tiresome shoot
along the railway-track. On one such voyage, a regatta of wherries raced
past us, and at once involved every soul on board our steamer in the
tremendous excitement of the struggle. The spectacle was but a moment
within our view, and presented nothing more than a few light skiffs, in
each of which sat a single rower, bare-armed, and with little apparel,
save a shirt and drawers, pale, anxious, with every muscle on the
stretch, and plying his oars in such fashion that the boat skimmed along
with the aerial celerity of a swallow. I wondered at myself for so
immediately catching an interest in the affair, which seemed to contain
no very exalted rivalship of manhood; but, whatever the kind of battle
or the prize of victory, it stirs one's sympathy immensely, and is even
awful, to behold the rare sight of a man thoroughly in earnest, doing
his best, putting forth all there is in him, and staking his very soul
(as these rowers appeared willing to do) on the issue of the contest. It
was the seventy-fourth annual regatta of the Free Watermen of Greenwich,
and announced itself as under the patronage of the Lord Mayor and other
distinguished individuals, at whose expense, I suppose, a prize-boat
was offered to the conqueror, and some small amounts of money to the
inferior competitors.

The aspect of London along the Thames, below Bridge, as it is called, is
by no means so impressive as it ought to be, considering what peculiar
advantages are offered for the display of grand and stately architecture
by the passage of a river through the midst of a great city. It seems,
indeed, as if the heart of London had been cleft open for the mere
purpose of showing how rotten and drearily mean it had become. The shore
is lined with the shabbiest, blackest, and ugliest buildings that can be
imagined, decayed warehouses with blind windows, and wharves that
look ruinous; insomuch that, had I known nothing more of the world's
metropolis, I might have fancied that it had already experienced the
down-fall which I have heard commercial and financial prophets predict
for it, within the century. And the muddy tide of the Thames, reflecting
nothing, and hiding a million of unclean secrets within its breast,--a
sort of guilty conscience, as it were, unwholesome with the rivulets of
sin that constantly flow into it,--is just the dismal stream to glide
by such a city. The surface, to be sure, displays no lack of activity,
being fretted by the passage of a hundred steamers and covered with a
good deal of shipping, but mostly of a clumsier build than I had been
accustomed to see in the Mersey: a fact which I complacently attributed
to the smaller number of American clippers in the Thames, and the
less prevalent influence of American example in refining away the
broad-bottomed capacity of the old Dutch or English models. About midway
between Greenwich and London Bridge, at a rude landing-place on the left
bank of the river, the steamer rings its bell and makes a momentary
pause in front of a large circular structure, where it may be worth our
while to scramble ashore. It indicates the locality of one of those
prodigious practical blunders that would supply John Bull with a topic
of inexhaustible ridicule, if his cousin Jonathan had committed
them, but of which he himself perpetrates two to our one in the mere
wantonness of wealth that lacks better employment. The circular building
covers the entrance to the Thames Tunnel, and is surmounted by a dome of
glass, so as to throw daylight down into the great depth at which the
passage of the river commences. Descending a wearisome succession of
staircases, we at last find ourselves, still in the broad noon, standing
before a closed door, on opening which we behold the vista of an arched
corridor that extends into everlasting midnight. In these days, when
glass has been applied to so many new purposes, it is a pity that the
architect had not thought of arching portions of his abortive tunnel
with immense blocks of the lucid substance, over which the dusky Thames
would have flowed like a cloud, making the sub-fluvial avenue only
a little gloomier than a street of upper London. At present, it is
illuminated at regular intervals by jets of gas, not very brilliantly,
yet with lustre enough to show the damp plaster of the ceiling and
walls, and the massive stone pavement, the crevices of which are oozy
with moisture, not from the incumbent river, but from hidden springs in
the earth's deeper heart. There are two parallel corridors, with a
wall between, for the separate accommodation of the double throng of
foot-passengers, equestrians, and vehicles of all kinds, which was
expected to roll and reverberate continually through the Tunnel. Only
one of them has ever been opened, and its echoes are but feebly awakened
by infrequent footfalls.

Yet there seem to be people who spend their lives here, and who probably
blink like owls, when, once or twice a year, perhaps, they happen to
climb into the sunshine. All along the corridor, which I believe to be
a mile in extent, we see stalls or shops in little alcoves, kept
principally by women; they were of a ripe age, I was glad to observe,
and certainly robbed England of none of its very moderate supply of
feminine loveliness by their deeper than tomb-like interment. As you
approach, (and they are so accustomed to the dusky gas-light that they
read all your characteristics afar off,) they assail you with hungry
entreaties to buy some of their merchandise, holding forth views of the
Tunnel put up in cases of Derbyshire spar, with a magnifying-glass at
one end to make the vista more effective. They offer you, besides,
cheap jewelry, sunny topazes and resplendent emeralds for sixpence, and
diamonds as big as the Koh-i-noor at a not much heavier cost, together
with a multifarious trumpery which has died out of the upper world to
reappear in this Tartarean bazaar. That you may fancy yourself still
in the realms of the living, they urge you to partake of cakes, candy,
ginger-beer, and such small refreshment, more suitable, however, for the
shadowy appetite of ghosts than for the sturdy stomachs of Englishmen.
The most capacious of the shops contains a dioramic exhibition of cities
and scenes in the daylight-world, with a dreary glimmer of gas among
them all; so that they serve well enough to represent the dim,
unsatisfactory remembrances that dead people might be supposed to retain
from their past lives, mixing them up with the ghastliness of their
unsubstantial state. I dwell the more upon these trifles, and do my best
to give them a mockery of importance, because, if these are nothing,
then all this elaborate contrivance and mighty piece of work has been
wrought in vain. The Englishman has burrowed under the bed of his great
river, and set ships of two or three thousand tons a-rolling over his
head, only to provide new sites for a few old women to sell cakes and
ginger-beer!

Yet the conception was a grand one; and though it has proved an absolute
failure, swallowing an immensity of toil and money, with annual
returns hardly sufficient to keep the pavement free from the ooze of
subterranean springs, yet it needs, I presume, only an expenditure three
or four (or, for aught I know, twenty) times as large, to make the
enterprise brilliantly successful. The descent is so great from the bank
of the river to its surface, and the Tunnel dips so profoundly under the
river's bed, that the approaches on either side must commence a long way
off, in order to render the entrance accessible to horsemen or vehicles;
so that the larger part of the cost of the whole affair should have been
expended on its margins. It has turned out a sublime piece of folly; and
when the New Zealander of distant ages shall have moralized sufficiently
among the ruins of London Bridge, he will bethink himself that somewhere
thereabout was the marvellous Tunnel, the very existence of which will
seem to him as incredible as that of the hanging-gardens of Babylon.
But the Thames will long ago have broken through the massive arch, and
choked up the corridors with mud and sand and with the large stones of
the structure itself, intermixed with skeletons of drowned people, the
rusty iron-work of sunken vessels, and a great many such precious and
curious things as a river always contrives to hide in its bosom; the
entrance will have been obliterated, and its very site forgotten beyond
the memory of twenty generations of men, and the whole neighborhood
be held a dangerous spot on account of the malaria; insomuch that the
traveller will make but a brief and careless inquisition for the traces
of the old wonder, and will stake his credit before the public, in some
Pacific Monthly of that day, that the story of it is but a myth, though
enriched with a spiritual profundity which he will proceed to unfold.

Yet it is impossible (for a Yankee, at least) to see so much magnificent
ingenuity thrown away, without trying to endow the unfortunate result
with some kind of usefulness, though perhaps widely different from
the purpose of its original conception. In former ages, the mile-long
corridors, with their numerous alcoves, might have been utilized as
a series of dungeons, the fittest of all possible receptacles for
prisoners of state. Dethroned monarchs and fallen statesmen would not
have needed to remonstrate against a domicil so spacious, so deeply
secluded from the world's scorn, and so admirably in accordance with
their thenceforward sunless fortunes. An alcove here might have suited
Sir Walter Raleigh better than that darksome hiding-place communicating
with the great chamber in the Tower, pacing from end to end of which he
meditated upon his "History of the World." His track would here have
been straight and narrow, indeed, and would therefore have lacked
somewhat of the freedom that his intellect demanded; and yet the
length to which his footsteps might have travelled forth and retraced
themselves would partly have harmonized his physical movement with the
grand curves and planetary returns of his thought, through cycles of
majestic periods. Having it in his mind to compose the world's history,
methinks he could have asked no better retirement than such a cloister
as this, insulated from all the seductions of mankind and womankind,
deep beneath their mysteries and motives, down into the heart of things,
full of personal reminiscences in order to the comprehensive measurement
and verification of historic records, seeing into the secrets of human
nature,--secrets that daylight never yet revealed to mortal,--but
detecting their whole scope and purport with the infallible eyes of
unbroken solitude and night. And then the shades of the old mighty men
might have risen from their still profounder abodes and joined him in
the dim corridor, treading beside him with an antique stateliness of
mien, telling him in melancholy tones, grand, but always melancholy, of
the greater ideas and purposes that were so poorly embodied in their
most renowned performances. As Raleigh was a navigator, Noah would have
explained to him the peculiarities of construction that made the ark so
seaworthy; as Raleigh was a statesman, Moses would have discussed with
him the principles of laws and government; as Raleigh was a soldier,
Caesar and Hannibal would have held debate in his presence, with this
martial student for their umpire; as Raleigh was a poet, David, or
whatever most illustrious bard he might call up, would have touched his
harp, and made manifest all the true significance of the past by means
of song and the subtile intelligences of music.

Meanwhile, I had forgotten that Sir Walter Raleigh's century knew
nothing of gas-light, and that it would require a prodigious and
wasteful expenditure of tallow-candles to illuminate the Tunnel
sufficiently to discern even a ghost. On this account, however, it would
be all the more suitable place of confinement for a metaphysician, to
keep him from bewildering mankind with his shadowy speculations; and,
being shut off from external converse, the dark corridor would help
him to make rich discoveries in those cavernous regions and mysterious
by-paths of the intellect, which he had so long accustomed himself to
explore. But how would every successive age rejoice in so secure a
habitation for its reformers, and especially for each best and wisest
man that happened to be then alive! He seeks to burn up our whole system
of society, under pretence of purifying it from its abuses! Away with
him into the Tunnel, and let him begin by setting the Thames on fire, if
he is able!

If not precisely these, yet akin to these were some of the fantasies
that haunted me as I passed under the river: for the place is suggestive
of such idle and irresponsible stuff by its own abortive character, its
lack of whereabout on upper earth, or any solid foundation of realities.
Could I have looked forward a few years, I might have regretted that
American enterprise had not provided a similar tunnel, under the Hudson
or the Potomac, for the convenience of our National Government in times
hardly yet gone by. It would be delightful to clap up all the enemies
of our peace and Union in the dark together, and there let them abide,
listening to the monotonous roll of the river above their heads, or
perhaps in a state of miraculously suspended animation, until,--be it
after months, years, or centuries,--when the turmoil shall be all over,
the Wrong washed away in blood, (since that must needs be the cleansing
fluid,) and the Right firmly rooted in the soil which that blood will
have enriched, they might crawl forth again and catch a single glimpse
at their redeemed country, and feel it to be a better land than they
deserve, and die!

I was not sorry when the daylight reached me after a much briefer
abode in the nether regions than, I fear, would await the troublesome
personages just hinted at. Emerging on the Surrey side of the Thames,
I found myself in Rotherhithe, a neighborhood not unfamiliar to the
readers of old books of maritime adventure. There being a ferry hard by
the mouth of the Tunnel, I recrossed the river in the primitive fashion
of an open boat, which the conflict of wind and tide, together with the
swash and swell of the passing steamers, tossed high and low rather
tumultuously. This inquietude of our frail skiff (which, indeed, bobbed
up and down like a cork) so much alarmed an old lady, the only other
passenger, that the boatmen essayed to comfort her. "Never fear,
mother!" grumbled one of them, "we'll make the river as smooth as we can
for you. We'll get a plane and plane down the waves!" The joke may not
read very brilliantly; but I make bold to record it as the only specimen
that reached my ears of the old, rough water-wit for which the Thames
used to be so celebrated. Passing directly along the line of the sunken
Tunnel, we landed in Wapping, which I should have presupposed to be the
most tarry and pitchy spot on earth, swarming with old salts, and full
of warm, bustling, coarse, homely, and cheerful life. Nevertheless,
it turned out to be a cold and torpid neighborhood, mean, shabby, and
unpicturesque, both as to its buildings and inhabitants: the latter
comprising (so far as was visible to me) not a single unmistakable
sailor, though plenty of land-sharks, who get a half dishonest
livelihood by business connected with the sea. Ale-and-spirit vaults
(as petty drinking-establishments are styled in England, pretending
to contain vast cellars full of liquor within the compass of ten feet
square above-ground) were particularly abundant, together with apples,
oranges, and oysters, the stalls of fishmongers and butchers, and
slop-shops, where blue jackets and duck trousers swung and capered
before the doors. Everything was on the poorest scale, and the place
bore an aspect of unredeemable decay. From this remote point of London,
I strolled leisurely towards the heart of the city; while the streets,
at first but thinly occupied by man or vehicle, got more and more
thronged with foot-passengers, carts, drays, cabs, and the all-pervading
and all-accommodating omnibus. But I lack courage, and feel that I
should lack perseverance, as the gentlest reader would lack patience, to
undertake a descriptive stroll through London streets; more especially
as there would be a volume ready for the printer before we could reach a
midway resting-place at Charing Cross. It will be the easier course
to step aboard another passing steamer, and continue our trip up the
Thames.

The next notable group of objects is an assemblage of ancient walls,
battlements, and turrets, out of the midst of which rises prominently
one great square tower, of a grayish hue, bordered with white stone, and
having a small turret at each corner of the roof. This central structure
is the White Tower, and the whole circuit of ramparts and inclosed
edifices constitutes what is known in English history, and still more
widely and impressively in English poetry, as the Tower. A crowd of
river-craft are generally moored in front of it; but if we look sharply
at the right moment under the base of the rampart, we may catch a
glimpse of an arched water-entrance, half submerged, past which the
Thames glides as indifferently as if it were the mouth of a city-kennel.
Nevertheless, it is the Traitor's Gate, a dreary kind of triumphal
passage-way, (now supposed to be shut up and barred forever,) through
which a multitude of noble and illustrious personages have entered
the Tower, and found it a brief resting-place on their way to heaven.
Passing it many times, I never observed that anybody glanced at this
shadowy and ominous trap-door, save myself. It is well that America
exists, if it were only that her vagrant children may be impressed and
affected by the historical monuments of England in a degree of which
the native inhabitants are evidently incapable. These matters are too
familiar, too real, and too hopelessly built in amongst and mixed up
with the common objects and affairs of life, to be easily susceptible of
imaginative coloring in their minds; and even their poets and romancers
feel it a toil, and almost a delusion, to extract poetic material out of
what seems embodied poetry itself to an American. An Englishman cares
nothing about the Tower, which to us is a haunted castle in dreamland.
That honest and excellent gentleman, the late Mr. G.P.R. James, (whose
mechanical ability, one might have supposed, would nourish itself by
devouring every old stone of such a structure,) once assured me that
he had never in his life set eyes upon the Tower, though for years an
historic novelist in London.

Not to spend a whole summer's day upon the voyage, we will suppose
ourselves to have reached London Bridge, and thence to have taken
another steamer for a farther passage up the river. But here the
memorable objects succeed each other so rapidly that I can spare but
a single sentence even for the great Dome, though I deem it more
picturesque, in that dusky atmosphere, than St. Peter's in its clear
blue sky. I must mention, however, (since everything connected with
royalty is especially interesting to my dear countrymen,) that I once
saw a large and beautiful barge, splendidly gilded and ornamented, and
overspread with a rich covering, lying at the pier nearest to St. Paul's
Cathedral; it had the royal banner of Great Britain displayed, besides
being decorated with a number of other flags; and many footmen (who are
universally the grandest and gaudiest objects to be seen in England
at this day, and these were regal ones, in a bright scarlet livery
bedizened with gold-lace, and white silk stockings) were in attendance.
I know not what festive or ceremonial occasion may have drawn out
this pageant; after all, it might have been merely a city-spectacle,
appertaining to the Lord Mayor; but the sight had its value in bringing
vividly before me the grand old times when the sovereign and nobles were
accustomed to use the Thames as the high street of the metropolis, and
join in pompous processions upon it; whereas, the desuetude of such
customs, nowadays, has caused the whole show of river-life to consist in
a multitude of smoke-begrimed steamers. An analogous change has taken
place in the streets, where cabs and the omnibus have crowded out a rich
variety of vehicles; and thus life gets more monotonous in hue from age
to age, and appears to seize every opportunity to strip off a bit of its
gold-lace among the wealthier classes, and to make itself decent in the
lower ones.

Yonder is Whitefriars, the old rowdy Alsatia, now wearing as decorous a
face as any other portion of London; and, adjoining it, the avenues and
brick squares of the Temple, with that historic garden, close upon the
river-side, and still rich in shrubbery and flowers, where the partisans
of York and Lancaster plucked the fatal roses, and scattered their pale
and bloody petals over so many English battle-fields. Hard by, we see
the long white front or rear of Somerset House, and, farther on, rise
the two new Houses of Parliament, with a huge unfinished tower already
hiding its imperfect summit in the smoky canopy,--the whole vast and
cumbrous edifice a specimen of the best that modern architecture can
effect, elaborately imitating the masterpieces of those simple ages when
men "builded better than they knew." Close by it, we have a glimpse of
the roof and upper towers of the holy Abbey; while that gray, ancestral
pile on the opposite side of the river is Lambeth Palace, a venerable
group of halls and turrets, chiefly built of brick, but with at least
one large tower of stone. In our course, we have passed beneath half a
dozen bridges, and, emerging out of the black heart of London, shall
soon reach a cleanly suburb, where old Father Thames, if I remember,
begins to put on an aspect of unpolluted innocence. And now we look back
upon the mass of innumerable roofs, out of which rise steeples, towers,
columns, and the great crowning Dome,--look back, in short, upon that
mystery of the world's proudest city, amid which a man so longs and
loves to be: not, perhaps, because it contains much that is positively
admirable and enjoyable, but because, at all events, the world has
nothing better. The cream of external life is there; and whatever merely
intellectual or material good we fail to find perfect in London, we may
as well content ourselves to seek that unattainable thing no farther on
this earth.

The steamer terminates its trip at Chelsea, an old town endowed with a
prodigious number of pot-houses, and some famous gardens, called the
Cremorne, for public amusement. The most noticeable thing, however, is
Chelsea Hospital, which, like that of Greenwich, was founded, I believe,
by Charles II., (whose bronze statue, in the guise of an old Roman,
stands in the centre of the quadrangle,) and appropriated as a home for
aged and infirm soldiers of the British army. The edifices are of three
stories with windows in the high roofs, and are built of dark, sombre
brick, with stone edgings and facings. The effect is by no means that
of grandeur, (which is somewhat disagreeably an attribute of Greenwich
Hospital,) but a quiet and venerable neatness. At each extremity of the
street-front there is a spacious and hospitably open gateway, lounging
about which I saw some gray veterans in long scarlet coats of an antique
fashion, and the cocked hats of a century ago, or occasionally a modern
foraging-cap. Almost all of them moved with a rheumatic gait, two or
three stumped on wooden legs, and here and there an arm was missing.
Inquiring of one of these fragmentary heroes whether a stranger could be
admitted to see the establishment, he replied most cordially, "Oh,
yes, Sir,--anywhere! Walk in, and go where you please,--up-stairs,
or anywhere!" So I entered, and, passing along the inner side of the
quadrangle, came to the door of the chapel, which forms a part of the
contiguity of edifices next the street. Here another pensioner, an old
warrior of exceedingly peaceable and Christian demeanor, touched his
three-cornered hat and asked if I wished to see the interior; to which I
assenting, he unlocked the door, and we went in.

The chapel consists of a great hall with a vaulted roof, and over the
altar is a large painting in fresco, the subject of which I did not
trouble myself to make out. More appropriate adornments of the place,
dedicated as well to martial reminiscences as religious worship, are the
long ranges of dusty and tattered banners that hang from their staves
alt round the ceiling of the chapel. They are trophies of battles fought
and won in every quarter of the world, comprising the captured flags of
all the nations with whom the British lion has waged war since James
II's time,--French, Dutch, East-Indian, Prussian, Russian, Chinese, and
American,--collected together in this consecrated spot, not to symbolize
that there shall be no more discord upon earth, but drooping over the
aisle in sullen, though peaceable humiliation. Yes, I said "American"
among the rest; for the good old pensioner mistook me for an Englishman,
and failed not to point out (and, methought, with an especial emphasis
of triumph) some flags that had been taken at Bladensburg and
Washington. I fancied, indeed, that they hung a little higher and
drooped a little lower than any of their companions in disgrace. It is
a comfort, however, that their proud devices are already
indistinguishable, or nearly so, owing to dust and tatters and the kind
offices of the moths, and that they will soon rot from the banner-staves
and be swept out in unrecognized fragments from the chapel-door.

It is a good method of teaching a man how imperfectly cosmopolitan he
is, to show him his country's flag occupying a position of dishonor in a
foreign land. But, in truth, the whole system of a people crowing over
its military triumphs had far better be dispensed with, both on account
of the ill-blood that it helps to keep fermenting among the nations, and
because it operates as an accumulative inducement to future generations
to aim at a kind of glory, the gain of which has generally proved more
ruinous than its loss. I heartily wish that every trophy of victory
might crumble away, and that every reminiscence or tradition of a hero,
from the beginning of the world to this day, could pass out of all men's
memories at once and forever. I might feel very differently, to be sure,
if we Northerners had anything especially valuable to lose by the fading
of those illuminated names.

I gave the pensioner (but I am afraid there may have been a little
affectation in it) a magnificent guerdon of all the silver I had in
my. pocket, to requite him for having unintentionally stirred up my
patriotic susceptibilities. He was a meek-looking, kindly old man, with
a humble freedom and affability of manner that made it pleasant to
converse with him. Old soldiers, I know not why, seem to be more
accostable than old sailors. One is apt to hear a growl beneath the
smoothest courtesy of the latter. The mild veteran, with his peaceful
voice, and gentle, reverend aspect, told me that he had fought at a
cannon all through the Battle of Waterloo, and escaped unhurt; he had
now been in the hospital four or five years, and was married, but
necessarily underwent a separation from his wife, who lived outside of
the gates. To my inquiry whether his fellow-pensioners were comfortable
and happy, he answered, with great alacrity, "Oh, yes, Sir!" qualifying
his evidence, after a moment's consideration, by saying, in an
undertone, "There are some people, your Honor knows, who could not
be comfortable anywhere." I did know it, and fear that the system of
Chelsea Hospital allows too little of that wholesome care and regulation
of their own occupations and interests which might assuage the sting
of life to those naturally uncomfortable individuals by giving them
something external to think about. But my old friend here was happy in
the hospital, and by this time, very likely, is happy in heaven, in
spite of the bloodshed that he may have caused by touching off a cannon
at Waterloo.

Crossing Battersea Bridge, in the neighborhood of Chelsea, I remember
seeing a distant gleam of the Crystal Palace, glimmering afar in the
afternoon sunshine like an imaginary structure,--an air-castle by chance
descended upon earth, and resting there one instant before it vanished,
as we sometimes see a soap-bubble touch unharmed on the carpet,--a
thing of only momentary visibility and no substance, destined to be
overburdened and crushed down by the first cloud-shadow that might fall
upon that spot. Even as I looked, it disappeared. Shall I attempt 'a
picture of this exhalation of modern ingenuity, or what else shall I
try to paint? Everything in London and its vicinity has been depleted
innumerable times, but never once translated into intelligible images;
it is an "old, old story," never yet told, nor to be told. While writing
these reminiscences, I am continually impressed with the futility of the
effort to give any creative truth to my sketch, so that it might produce
such pictures in the reader's mind as would cause the original scenes
to appear familiar when afterwards beheld. Nor have other writers often
been more successful in representing definite objects prophetically to
my own mind. In truth, I believe that the chief delight and advantage of
this kind of literature is not for any real information that it
supplies to untravelled people, but for reviving the recollections and
reawakening the emotions of persons already acquainted with the scenes
described. Thus I found an exquisite pleasure, the other day, in reading
Mr. Tuckerman's "Month in England,"--a fine example of the way in which
a refined and cultivated American looks at the Old Country, the things
that he naturally seeks there, and the modes of feeling and reflection
which they excite. Correct outlines avail little or nothing, though
truth of coloring may be somewhat more efficacious. Impressions,
however, states of mind produced by interesting and remarkable objects,
these, if truthfully and vividly recorded, may work a genuine effect,
and, though but the result of what we see, go farther towards
representing the actual scene than any direct effort to paint it. Give
the emotions that cluster about it, and, without being able to analyze
the spell by which it is summoned up, you get something like a
simulachre of the object in the midst of them. From some of the above
reflections I draw the comfortable inference, that, the longer and
better known a thing may be, so much the more eligible is it as the
subject of a descriptive sketch.

On a Sunday afternoon, I passed through a side--entrance in the
time-blackened wall of a place of worship, and found myself among a
congregation assembled in one of the transepts and the immediately
contiguous portion of the nave. It was a vast old edifice, spacious
enough, within the extent covered by its pillared roof and overspread by
its stone pavement, to accommodate the whole of church-going London, and
with a far wider and loftier concave than any human power of lungs could
fill with audible prayer. Oaken benches were arranged in the transept,
on one of which I seated myself, and joined, as well as I knew how, in
the sacred business that was going forward. But when it came to the
sermon, the voice of the preacher was puny, and so were his thoughts,
and both seemed impertinent at such a time and place, where he and all
of us were bodily included within a sublime act of religion which could
be seen above and around us and felt beneath our feet. The structure
itself was the worship of the devout men of long ago, miraculously
preserved in stone without losing an atom of its fragrance and fervor;
it was a kind of anthem-strain that they had sung and poured out of the
organ in centuries gone by; and being so grand and sweet, the Divine
benevolence had willed it to be prolonged for the behoof of auditors
unborn. I therefore came to the conclusion, that, in my individual case,
it would be better and more reverent to let my eyes wander about the
edifice than to fasten them and my thoughts on the evidently uninspired
mortal who was venturing--and felt it no venture at all--to speak here
above his breath.

The interior of Westminster Abbey (for the reader recognized it, no
doubt, the moment we entered) is built of rich brown stone; and the
whole of it--the lofty roof, the tall, clustered pillars, and the
pointed arches--appears to be in consummate repair. At all points where
decay has laid its finger, the structure is clamped with iron, or
otherwise carefully protected; and being thus watched over,--whether
as a place of ancient sanctity, a noble specimen of Gothic art, or an
object of national interest and pride,--it may reasonably be expected to
survive for as many ages as have passed over it already. It was sweet to
feel its venerable quietude, its long-enduring peace, and yet to observe
how kindly and even cheerfully it received the sunshine of to-day, which
fell from the great windows into the fretted aisles and arches that laid
aside somewhat of their aged gloom to welcome it. Sunshine always seems
friendly to old abbeys, churches, and castles, kissing them, as it were,
with a more affectionate, though still reverential familiarity, than it
accords to edifices of later date. A square of golden light lay on the
sombre pavement afar off, falling through the grand western entrance,
the folding leaves of which were wide open, and afforded glimpses
of people passing to and fro in the outer world, while we sat dimly
enveloped in the solemnity of antique devotion. In the south transept,
separated from us by the full breadth of the minster, there were painted
glass windows, of which the uppermost appeared to be a great orb of
many-colored radiance, being, indeed, a cluster of saints and angels
whose glorified bodies formed the rays of an aureole emanating from a
cross in the midst. These windows are modern, but combine softness with
wonderful brilliancy of effect. Through the pillars and arches, I saw
that the walls in that distant region of the edifice were almost wholly
incrusted with marble, now grown yellow with time, no blank, unlettered
slabs, but memorials of such men as their respective generations
deemed wisest and bravest. Some of them were commemorated merely by
inscriptions on mural tablets, others by sculptured bas-reliefs,
others (once famous, but now forgotten generals or admirals, these) by
ponderous tombs that aspired towards the roof of the aisle, or partly
curtained the immense arch of a window. These mountains of marble were
peopled with the sisterhood of Allegory, winged trumpeters, and classic
figures in full-bottomed wigs; but it was strange to observe how the old
Abbey melted all such absurdities into the breadth of its own grandeur,
even magnifying itself by what would elsewhere have been ridiculous.
Methinks it is the test of Gothic sublimity to overpower the ridiculous
without deigning to hide it; and these grotesque monuments of the last
century answer a similar purpose with the grinning faces which the old
architects scattered among their most solemn conceptions.

From these distant wanderings, (it was my first visit to Westminster
Abbey, and I would gladly have taken it all in at a glance,) my eyes
came back and began to investigate what was immediately about me in the
transept. Close at my elbow was the pedestal of Canning's statue. Next
beyond it was a massive tomb, on the spacious tablet of which reposed
the full-length figures of a marble lord and lady, whom an inscription
announced to be the Duke and Duchess of Newcastle,--the historic Duke of
Charles I.'s time, and the fantastic Duchess, traditionally remembered
by her poems and plays. She was of a family, as the record on her tomb
proudly informed us, of which all the brothers had been valiant and all
the sisters virtuous. A recent statue of Sir John Malcom, the new marble
as white as snow, held the next place; and near by was a mural monument
and bust of Sir Peter Warren. The round visage of this old British
admiral has a certain interest for a New-Englander, because it was by no
merit of his own, (though he took care to assume it as such,) but by the
valor and warlike enterprise of our colonial forefathers, especially the
stout men of Massachusetts, that he won rank and renown, and a tomb in
Westminster Abbey. Lord Mansfield, a huge mass of marble done into the
guise of a judicial gown and wig, with a stern face in the midst of
the latter, sat on the other side of the transept; and on the pedestal
beside him was a figure of Justice, holding forth, instead of the
customary grocer's scales, an actual pair of brass steelyards. It is an
ancient and classic instrument, undoubtedly; but I had supposed that
Portia (when Shylock's pound of flesh was to be weighed) was the only
judge that ever really called for it in a court of justice. Pitt and
Fox were in the same distinguished company; and John Kemble, in Roman
costume, stood not far off, but strangely shorn of the dignity that is
said to have enveloped him like a mantle in his lifetime. Perhaps the
evanescent majesty of the stage is incompatible with the long endurance
of marble and the solemn reality of the tomb; though, on the other hand,
almost every illustrious personage here represented has been invested
with more or less of stage-trickery by his sculptor. In truth, the
artist (unless there be a divine efficacy in his touch, making evident a
heretofore hidden dignity in the actual form) feels it an imperious law
to remove his subject as far from the aspect of ordinary life as may
be possible without sacrificing every trace of resemblance. The absurd
effect of the contrary course is very remarkable in the statue of Mr.
Wilberforce, whose actual self, save for the lack of color, I seemed to
behold, seated just across the aisle.

This excellent man appears to have sunk into himself in a sitting
posture, with a thin leg crossed over his knee, a book in one hand, and
a finger of the other under his chin, I believe, or applied to the side
of his nose, or to some equally familiar purpose; while his exceedingly
homely and wrinkled face, held a little on one side, twinkles at you
with the shrewdest complacency, as if he were looking right into your
eyes, and twigged something there which you had half a mind to conceal
from him. He keeps this look so pertinaciously that you feel it to be
insufferably impertinent, and bethink yourself what common ground there
may be between yourself and a stone image, enabling you to resent it. I
have no doubt that the statue is as like Mr. Wilberforce as one pea to
another, and you might fancy, that, at come ordinary moment, when he
least expected it, and before he had time to smooth away his knowing
complication of wrinkles, he had seen the Gorgon's head, and
whitened into marble,--not only his personal self, but his coat and
small-clothes, down to a button and the minutest crease of the cloth.
The ludicrous result marks the impropriety of bestowing the agelong
duration of marble upon small, characteristic individualities, such as
might come within the province of waxen imagery. The sculptor should
give permanence to the figure of a great man in his mood of broad and
grand composure, which would obliterate all mean peculiarities; for, if
the original were unaccustomed to such a mood, or if his features were
incapable of assuming the guise, it seems questionable whether he could
really have been entitled to a marble immortality. In point of fact,
however, the English face and form are seldom statuesque, however
illustrious the individual.

It ill becomes me, perhaps, to have lapsed into this mood of half-jocose
criticism in describing my first visit to Westminster Abbey, a spot
which I had dreamed about more reverentially, from my childhood upward,
than any other in the world, and which I then beheld, and now look back
upon, with profound gratitude to the men who built it, and a kindly
interest, I may add, in the humblest personage that has contributed his
little all to its impressiveness, by depositing his dust or his memory
there. But it is a characteristic of this grand edifice that it permits
you to smile as freely under the roof of its central nave as if you
stood beneath the yet grander canopy of heaven. Break into laughter, if
you feel inclined, provided the vergers do not hear it echoing among the
arches. In an ordinary church, you would keep your countenance for fear
of disturbing the sanctities or proprieties of the place; but you need
leave no honest and decorous portion of your human nature outside of
these benign and truly hospitable walls. Their mild awfulness will take
care of itself. Thus it does no harm to the general impression, when
you come to be sensible that many of the monuments are ridiculous, and
commemorate a mob of people who are mostly forgotten in their graves,
and few of whom ever deserved any better boon from posterity. You
acknowledge the force of Sir Godfrey Kneller's objection to being buried
in Westminster Abbey, because "they do bury fools there!" Nevertheless,
these grotesque carvings of marble, that break out in dingy-white
blotches on the old freestone of the interior walls, have come there by
as natural a process as might cause mosses and ivy to cluster about the
external edifice; for they are the historical and biographical record of
each successive age, written with its own hand, and all the truer for
the inevitable mistakes, and none the less solemn for the occasional
absurdity. Though you entered the Abbey expecting to see the tombs only
of the illustrious, you are content, at last, to read many names, both
in literature and history, that have now lost the reverence of mankind,
if, indeed, they ever really possessed it. Let these men rest in peace.
Even if you miss a name or two that you hoped to find there, they
may well be spared. It matters little a few more or less, or whether
Westminster Abbey contains or lacks any one man's grave, so long as the
Centuries, each with the crowd of personages that it deemed memorable,
have chosen it as their place of honored sepulture, and laid themselves
down under its pavement. The inscriptions and devices on the walls
are rich with evidences of the fluctuating tastes, fashions, manners,
opinions, prejudices, follies, wisdoms of the past, and thus they
combine into a more truthful memorial of their dead times than any
individual epitaph-maker ever meant to write.

When the services were over, many of the audience seemed inclined to
linger in the nave or wander away among the mysterious aisles; for there
is nothing in this world so fascinating as a Gothic minster, which
always invites you deeper and deeper into its heart both by vast
revelations and shadowy concealments. Through the open-work screen that
divides the nave from the chancel and choir, we could discern the gleam
of a marvellous window, but were debarred from entrance into that more
sacred precinct of the Abbey by the vergers. These vigilant officials
(doing their duty all the more strenuously because no fees could be
exacted from Sunday visitors) flourished their staves, and drove us
towards the grand entrance like a flock of sheep. Lingering through one
of the aisles, I happened to look down, and found my foot upon a stone
inscribed with this familiar exclamation, "_O rare Ben Jonson!_" and
remembered the story of stout old Ben's burial in that spot, standing
upright,--not, I presume, on account of any unseemly reluctance on his
part to lie down in the dust, like other men, but because standing-room
was all that could reasonably be demanded for a poet among the
slumberous notabilities of his age. It made me weary to think of
it!--such a prodigious length of time to keep one's feet!--apart from
the honor of the thing, it would certainly have been better for Ben
to stretch himself at ease in some country-churchyard. To this day,
however, I fancy that there is a contemptuous alloy mixed up with the
admiration which the higher classes of English society profess for their
literary men.

Another day--in truth, many other days--I sought out Poets' Corner, and
found a sign-board and pointed finger, directing the visitor to it, on
the corner house of a little lane leading towards the rear of the Abbey.
The entrance is at the southeastern end of the south transept, and it
is used, on ordinary occasions, as the only free mode of access to this
building. It is no spacious arch, but a small, lowly door, passing
through which, and pushing aside an inner screen that partly keeps out
an exceedingly chill wind, you find yourself in a dim nook of the Abbey,
with the busts of poets gazing at you from the otherwise bare stonework
of the walls. Great poets, too; for Ben Jonson is right behind the door,
and Spenser's tablet is next, and Butler's on the same side of the
transept, and Milton's (whose bust you know at once by its resemblance
to one of his portraits, though older, more wrinkled, and sadder than
that) is close by, and a profile-medallion of Gray beneath it. A
window high aloft sheds down a dusky daylight on these and many other
sculptured marbles, now as yellow as old parchment, that cover the three
walls of the nook up to an elevation of about twenty feet above the
pavement. It seemed to me that I had always been familiar with the spot.
Enjoying a humble intimacy--and how much of my life had else been a
dreary solitude!--with many of its inhabitants, I could not feel myself
a stranger there. It was delightful to be among them. There was a genial
awe, mingled with a sense of kind and friendly presences about me; and
I was glad, moreover, at finding so many of them there together in fit
companionship, mutually recognized and duly honored, all reconciled
now, whatever distant generations, whatever personal hostility or other
miserable impediment, had divided them far asunder while they lived. I
have never felt a similar interest in any other tombstones, nor have I
ever been deeply moved by the imaginary presence of other famous
dead people. A poet's ghost is the only one that survives for his
fellow-mortals, after his bones are in the dust,--and he not ghostly,
but cherishing many hearts with his own warmth in the chillest
atmosphere of life. What other fame is worth aspiring for? Or, let
me speak it more boldly, what other long-enduring fame can exist? We
neither remember nor care anything for the past, except as the poet has
made it intelligibly noble and sublime to our comprehension. The shades
of the mighty have no substance; they flit ineffectually about the
darkened stage where they performed their momentary parts, save when the
poet has thrown his own creative soul into them, and imparted a more
vivid life than ever they were able to manifest to mankind while they
dwelt in the body. And therefore--though he cunningly disguises himself
in their armor, their robes of state, or kingly purple--it is not the
statesman, the warrior, or the monarch that survives, but the despised
poet, whom they may have fed with their crumbs, and to whom they owe all
that they now are or have,--a name!

In the foregoing paragraph I seem to have been betrayed into a flight
above or beyond the customary level that best agrees with me; but it
represents fairly enough the emotions with which I passed from Poets'
Corner into the chapels, which contain the sepulchres of kings and great
people. They are magnificent even now, and must have been inconceivably
so when the marble slabs and pillars wore their new polish, and the
statues retained the brilliant colors with which they were originally
painted, and the shrines their rich gilding, of which the sunlight still
shows a glimmer or a streak, though the sunbeam itself looks tarnished
with antique dust. Yet this recondite portion of the Abbey presents few
memorials of personages whom we care to remember. The shrine of Edward
the Confessor has a certain interest, because it was so long held in
religious reverence, and because the very dust that settled upon it was
formerly worth gold. The helmet and war-saddle of Henry V., worn at
Agincourt, and now suspended above his tomb, are memorable objects, but
more for Shakspeare's sake than the victor's own. Rank has been the
general passport to admission here. Noble and regal dust is as cheap as
dirt under the pavement. I am glad to recollect, indeed, (and it is too
characteristic of the right English spirit not to be mentioned) one or
two gigantic statues of great mechanicians, who contributed largely to
the material welfare of England, sitting familiarly in their marble
chairs among forgotten kings and queens. Otherwise, the quaintness of
the earlier monuments, and the antique beauty of some of them, are what
chiefly gives them value. Nevertheless, Addison is buried among the men
of rank; not on the plea of his literary fame, however, but because he
was connected with nobility by marriage, and had been a Secretary
of State. His gravestone is inscribed with a resounding verse from
Tickell's lines to his memory, the only lines by which Tickell himself
is now remembered, and which (as I discovered a little while ago) he
mainly filched from an obscure versifier of somewhat earlier date.

Returning to Poets' Corner, I looked again at the walls, and wondered
how the requisite hospitality can be shown to poets of our own and the
succeeding ages. There is hardly a foot of space left, although room
has lately been found for a bust of Southey and a full-length statue of
Campbell. At best, only a little portion of the Abbey is dedicated
to poets, literary men, musical composers, and others of the gentle
artist-breed, and even into that small nook of sanctity men of other
pursuits have thought it decent to intrude themselves. Methinks the
tuneful throng, being at home here, should recollect how they were
treated in their lifetime, and turn the cold shoulder, looking askance
at nobles and official personages, however worthy of honorable interment
elsewhere. Yet it shows aptly and truly enough what portion of the
world's regard and honor has heretofore been awarded to literary
eminence in comparison with other modes of greatness,--this dimly
lighted corner (nor even that quietly to themselves) in the vast
minster, the walls of which are sheathed and hidden under marble that
has been wasted upon the illustrious obscure. Nevertheless, it may
not be worth while to quarrel with the world on this account; for, to
confess the very truth, their own little nook contains more than one
poet whose memory is kept alive by his monument, instead of imbuing the
senseless stone with a spiritual immortality,--men of whom you do not
ask, "Where is he?" but "Why is he here?" I estimate that all the
literary people who really make an essential part of one's inner life,
including the period since English literature first existed, might have
ample elbow-room to sit down and quaff their draughts of Castaly round
Chaucer's broad, horizontal tombstone. These divinest poets consecrate
the spot, and throw a reflected glory over the humblest of their
companions. And as for the latter, it is to be hoped that they may have
long outgrown the characteristic jealousies and morbid sensibilities
of their craft, and have found out the little value, (probably not
amounting to sixpence in immortal currency) of the posthumous renown
which they once aspired to win. It would be a poor compliment to a dead
poet to fancy him leaning out of the sky and snuffing up the impure
breath of earthly praise.

Yet we cannot easily rid ourselves of the notion that those who have
bequeathed us the inheritance of an undying song would fain be conscious
of its endless reverberations in the hearts of mankind, and would
delight, among sublimer enjoyments, to see their names emblazoned in
such a treasure-place of great memories as Westminster Abbey. There are
some men, at all events,--true and tender poets, moreover, and fully
deserving of the honor,--whose spirits, I feel certain, would linger a
little while about Poets' Corner for the sake of witnessing their own
apotheosis among their kindred. They have had a strong natural yearning,
not so much for applause as sympathy, which the cold fortune of their
lifetime did but scantily supply; so that this unsatisfied appetite may
make itself felt upon sensibilities at once so delicate and retentive,
even a step or two beyond the grave. Leigh Hunt, for example, would be
pleased, even now, if he could learn that his bust had been reposited in
the midst of the old poets whom he admired and loved; though there is
hardly a man among the authors of to-day and yesterday whom the judgment
of Englishmen would be less likely to place there. He deserves it,
however, if not for his verse, (the value of which I do not estimate,
never having been able to read it,) yet for his delightful prose, his
unmeasured poetry, the inscrutable happiness of his touch, working soft
miracles by a life-process like the growth of grass and flowers. As
with all such gentle writers, his page sometimes betrayed a vestige of
affectation, but, the next moment, a rich, natural luxuriance overgrew
and buried it out of sight. I knew him a little, and (since, Heaven
be praised, few English celebrities whom I chanced to meet have
enfranchised my pen by their decease, and as I assume no liberties with
living men) I will conclude this rambling article by sketching my first
interview with Leigh Hunt.

He was then at Hammersmith, occupying a very plain and shabby little
house, in a contiguous range of others like it, with no prospect but
that of an ugly village-street, and certainly nothing to gratify
his craving for a tasteful environment, inside or out. A slatternly
maid-servant opened the door for us, and he himself stood in the entry,
a beautiful and venerable old man, buttoned to the chin in a black
dress-coat, tall and slender, with a countenance quietly alive all over,
and the gentlest and most naturally courteous manner. He ushered us into
his little study, or parlor, or both,--a very forlorn room, with poor
paper-hangings and carpet, few books, no pictures that I remember, and
an awful lack of upholstery. I touch distinctly upon these external
blemishes and this nudity of adornment, not that they would be worth
mentioning in a sketch of other remarkable persons, but because Leigh
Hunt was born with such a faculty of enjoying all beautiful things that
it seemed as if Fortune did him as much wrong in not supplying them as
in withholding a sufficiency of vital breath from ordinary men. All
kinds of mild magnificence, tempered by his taste, would have become
him well; but he had not the grim dignity that assumes nakedness as the
better robe.

I have said that he was a beautiful old man. In truth, I never saw a
finer countenance, either as to the mould of features or the expression,
nor any that showed the play of feeling so perfectly without the
slightest theatrical emphasis. It was like a child's face in this
respect. At my first glimpse of him, when he met us in the entry, I
discerned that he was old, his long hair being white and his wrinkles
many; it was an aged visage, in short, such as I had not at all expected
to see, in spite of dates, because his books talk to the reader with the
tender vivacity of youth. But when he began to speak, and as he grew
more earnest in conversation, I ceased to be sensible of his age;
sometimes, indeed, its dusky shadow darkened through the gleam which his
sprightly thoughts diffused about his face, but then another flash of
youth came out of his eyes and made an illumination again. I never
witnessed such a wonderfully illusive transformation, before or since;
and, to this day, trusting only to my recollection, I should find it
difficult to decide which was his genuine and stable predicament,
--youth or age. I have met no Englishman whose manners seemed to me
so agreeable, soft, rather than polished, wholly unconventional, the
natural growth of a kindly and sensitive disposition without any
reference to rule, or else obedient to some rule so subtile that the
nicest observer could not detect the application of it.

His eyes were dark and very fine, and his delightful voice accompanied
their visible language like music. He appeared to be exceedingly
appreciative, of whatever was passing among those who surrounded him,
and especially of the vicissitudes in the consciousness of the person to
whom he happened to be addressing himself at the moment. I felt that no
effect upon my mind of what he uttered, no emotion, however transitory,
in myself, escaped his notice, though not from any positive vigilance on
his part, but because his faculty of observation was so penetrative
and delicate; and to say the truth, it a little confused me to discern
always a ripple on his mobile face, responsive to any slightest breeze
that passed over the inner reservoir of my sentiments, and seemed thence
to extend to a similar reservoir within himself. On matters of feeling,
and within a certain depth, you might spare yourself the trouble of
utterance, because he already knew what you wanted to say, and perhaps
a little more than you would have spoken. His figure was full of gentle
movement, though, somehow, without disturbing its quietude; and as he
talked, he kept folding his hands nervously, and betokened in many ways
a fine and immediate sensibility, quick to feel pleasure or pain, though
scarcely capable, I should imagine, of a passionate experience in either
direction. There was not an English trait in him from head to foot,
morally, intellectually, or physically. Beef, ale, or stout, brandy, or
port-wine, entered not at all into his composition. In his earlier life,
he appears to have given evidences of courage and sturdy principle, and
of a tendency to fling himself into the rough struggle of humanity on
the liberal side. It would be taking too much upon myself to affirm that
this was merely a projection of his fancy-world into the actual, and
that he never could have hit a downright blow, and was altogether an
unsuitable person to receive one. I beheld him not in his armor, but in
his peacefullest robes. Nevertheless, drawing my conclusion merely from
what I saw, it would have occurred to me that his main deficiency was
a lack of grit. Though anything but a timid man, the combative and
defensive elements were not prominently developed in his character, and
could have been made available only when he put an unnatural force upon
his instincts. It was on this account, and also because of the fineness
of his nature generally, that the English appreciated him no better, and
left this sweet and delicate poet poor, and with scanty laurels in his
declining age.

It was not, I think, from his American blood that Leigh Hunt derived
either his amiability or his peaceful inclinations; at least, I do
not see how we can reasonably claim the former quality as a national
characteristic, though the latter might have been fairly inherited from
his ancestors on the mother's side, who were Pennsylvania Quakers. But
the kind of excellence that distinguished him--his fineness, subtilty,
and grace--was that which the richest cultivation has heretofore tended
to develop in the happier examples of American genius, and which (though
I say it a little reluctantly) is perhaps what our future intellectual
advancement may make general among us. His person, at all events, was
thoroughly American, and of the best type, as were likewise his manners;
for we are the best-as well as the worst-mannered people in the world.

Leigh Hunt loved dearly to be praised. That is to say, he desired
sympathy as a flower seeks sunshine, and perhaps profited by it as
much in the richer depth of coloring that it imparted to his ideas. In
response to all that we ventured to express about his writings, (and,
for my part, I went quite to the extent of my conscience, which was a
long way, and there left the matter to a lady and a young girl, who
happily were with me,) his face shone, and he manifested great delight,
with a perfect, and yet delicate, frankness for which I loved him. He
could not tell us, he said, the happiness that such appreciation gave
him; it always took him by surprise, he remarked, for--perhaps because
he cleaned his own boots, and performed other little ordinary offices
for himself--he never had been conscious of anything wonderful in his
own person. And then he smiled, making himself and all the poor little
parlor about him beautiful thereby. It is usually the hardest thing
in the world to praise a man to his face; but Leigh Hunt received the
incense with such gracious satisfaction, (feeling it to be sympathy, not
vulgar praise,) that the only difficulty was to keep the enthusiasm of
the moment within the limit of permanent opinion. A storm had suddenly
come up while we were talking; the rain poured, the lightning flashed,
and the thunder broke; but I hope, and have great pleasure in believing,
that it was a sunny hour for Leigh Hunt. Nevertheless, it was not to
my voice that he most favorably inclined his ear, but to those of my
companions. Women are the fit ministers at such a shrine.

He must have suffered keenly in his lifetime, and enjoyed keenly,
keeping his emotions so much upon the surface as he seemed to do, and
convenient for everybody to play upon. Being of a cheerful temperament,
happiness had probably the upper hand. His was a light, mildly joyous
nature, gentle, grace-fill, yet seldom attaining to that deepest
grace which results from power; for beauty, like woman, its human
representative, dallies with the gentle, but yields its consummate
favor only to the strong. I imagine that Leigh Hunt may have been more
beautiful when I met him, both in person and character, than in his
earlier days. As a young man, I could conceive of his being finical in
certain moods, but not now, when the gravity of age shed a venerable
grace about him. I rejoiced to hear him say that he was favored with
most confident and cheering anticipations in respect to a future
life; and there were abundant proofs, throughout our interview, of an
unrepining spirit, resignation, quiet relinquishment of the worldly
benefits that were denied him, thankful enjoyment of whatever he had to
enjoy, and piety, and hope shining onward into the dusk,--all of which
gave a reverential cast to the feeling with which we parted from him.
I wish that he could have had one full draught of prosperity before he
died. As a matter of artistic propriety, it would have been delightful
to see him inhabiting a beautiful house of his own, in an Italian
climate, with all sorts of elaborate upholstery and minute elegancies
about him, and a succession of tender and lovely women to praise his
sweet poetry from morning to night. I hardly know whether it is my
fault, or the effect of a weakness in Leigh Hunt's character, that I
should be sensible of a regret of this nature, when, at the same time, I
sincerely believe that he has found an infinity of better things in the
world whither he has gone.

At our leave-taking, he grasped me warmly by both hands, and seemed as
much interested in our whole party as if he had known us for years. All
this was genuine feeling, a quick, luxuriant growth out of his heart,
which was a soil for flower-seeds of rich and rare varieties, not
acorns, but a true heart, nevertheless. Several years afterwards I met
him for the last time at a London dinner-party, looking sadly broken
down by infirmities; and my final recollection of the beautiful old man
presents him arm in arm with, nay, partly embraced and supported by, if
I mistake not, another beloved and honored poet, whose minstrel-name,
since he has a week-day one for his personal occasions, I will venture
to speak. It was Barry Cornwall, whose kind introduction had first made
me known to Leigh Hunt.

* * * * *

THE FERN FORESTS OF THE CARBONIFEROUS PERIOD.

Draw two lines on your map, the upper one running from the mouth of the
St. Lawrence westward nearly to St. Paul on the Mississippi, and the
lower one from the neighborhood of St. John's in Newfoundland running
southwesterly about to the point where the Wisconsin joins the
Mississippi, but jutting down to form an extensive peninsula comprising
part of the States of Indiana and Illinois, and you include between them
all of the United States which existed at the close of the Devonian
period. The upper line rests against the granite hills dividing the
Silurian and Devonian deposits of the British Possessions to the north
from those of the United States to the south, Canada itself consisting,
in great part, of the granite ridge.

How far the early deposits extended to the north of the Laurentian
Hills, as well as the outline of that portion of the continent in those
times, remains still very problematical; but the investigations thus far
undertaken in those regions would lead to the supposition that the same
granite upheaval which raised Canada stretched northward in a broad,
low ridge of land, widening in its upper part and extending to the
neighborhood of Bathurst Inlet and King William's Island, while on
either side of it to the east and west the Silurian and Devonian
deposits extended far toward the present outlines of the continent.

Indeed, our geological surveys, as well as the information otherwise
obtained concerning the primitive condition of North America and the
gradual accessions it has received in more recent periods, point to a
very early circumscription of the area which, in the course of time, was
to become the continent we now inhabit, with its modern features.[A]

[Footnote A: It would be impossible to encumber the pages of the
_Atlantic Monthly_ with references to all the authorities on which such
geological results rest. They are drawn from the various State Surveys,
including that of the mineral lands of Lake Superior, and other more
general works on American geology.]

Not only from the geology of America, but from that of Europe also, it
would seem that the position of the continents was sketched out very
early in the progressive development of the physical constitution of our
earth. It is true that in the present state of our knowledge such wide
generalizations must be taken with caution, and held in abeyance to the
additional facts which future investigations may develop. But thus far
the results certainly do not sustain the theories which have lately
found favor among geologists, of entire changes in the relative
distribution of land and sea and in the connection of continents with
one another; on the contrary, it would appear, that, in accordance with
the laws of all organic progress, arising from a fixed starting-point
and proceeding through regular changes toward a well-defined end, the
continents have grown steadily and consistently from the beginning,
through successive accessions in a definite direction, to their present
form and Organic correlations. If, indeed, there is any meaning in the
remarkably symmetrical combinations of the double twin continents in
the Eastern Hemisphere, so closely soldered in their northern half, as
contrasted with the single pair in the Western Hemisphere, isolated in
their position, but so strikingly similar in their Outlines, they must
be the result of a progressive and predetermined growth already hinted
at in the relative position and gradual increase of the first lands
raised above the level of the ocean.

However this may be, there can be no doubt that we now know with
tolerable accuracy the limits of the land raised above the water at that
period in the present United States. Let us see, then, what we inclose
between oar two lines. We have Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, the greater
part of New England, the whole of New York, a narrow strip along the
north of Ohio, a great part of Indiana and Illinois, and nearly the
whole of Michigan and Wisconsin.

Within this region lie all the Great Lakes. The origin of these large
troughs, holding such immense sheets of fresh water, remains still the
subject of discussion and investigation among geologists. It has been
supposed that in the primitive configuration of the globe, when the
formation of those depressions at the poles in which the Arctic seas are
accumulated gave rise to a corresponding protrusion at the equator, the
curve thus produced throughout the North Temperate Zone may have forced
up the Canada granite, and have caused, at the same time, those rents
in the earth's surface now filled by the Canada lakes; and this view
is sustained by the fact that there is a belt of lakes, among which,
however, the Canada lakes are far the largest, all around the world in
that latitude. The geological phenomena connected with all these lakes
have not, however, been investigated with sufficient accuracy and
detail, nor has there been any comparison of them extensive and
comprehensive enough to justify the adoption of any theory respecting
their origin. In an excursion to Lake Superior, some years since, I
satisfied myself that the position and outline of that particular lake
had their immediate cause in several distinct systems of dikes which
intersect its northern shore, and have probably cut up the whole tract
of rock over the space now filled by that wonderful sheet of fresh water
in such a way as to destroy its continuity, to produce depressions, and
gradually create the excavation which now forms the basin of the lake.
How far the same causes have been effectual in producing the other large
lakes I am unable to say, never having had the opportunity of studying
their formation with the same care.

The existence of the numerous smaller lakes running north and south in
the State of New York, as the Canandaigua, Seneca, Cayuga, etc., is more
easily accounted for. Slow and gradual as was the process by which
all that region was lifted above the ocean, it was, nevertheless,
accompanied by powerful dislocations of the stratified deposits, as we
shall see when we examine them with reference to the local phenomena
connected with them. To these dislocations of the strata we owe the
transverse cracks across the central part of New York, which needed
only the addition of the fresh water poured into them by the rains to
transform them into lakes.

I shall not attempt any account of the differences between the animals
of the Devonian period and those of the Silurian period, because they
consist of structural details difficult to present in a popular form and
uninteresting to all but the professional naturalist. Suffice it to say,
that, though the organic world had the same general character in these
two closely allied periods, yet its representatives in each were
specifically distinct, and their differences, however slight, are as
constant and as definitely marked as those between more widely separated
creations.

At the close of the Devonian period, several upheavals occurred of great
significance for the future history of America. One in Ohio raised the
elevated ground on which Cincinnati now stands; another hill lifted
its granite crest in Missouri, raising with it an extensive tract of
Silurian and Devonian deposits; while a smaller one, which does not
seem, however, to have disturbed the beds about it so powerfully, broke
through in Arkansas. At the same time, elevations took place toward the
East,--the first links, few and detached, in the great Alleghany chain
which now raises its rocky wall from New England to Alabama.

In the Ohio hill, the granite did not break through, though the force of
the upheaval was such as to rend asunder the Devonian deposits, for we
find them lying torn and broken about the base of the hill; while the
Silurian beds, which should underlie them in their natural position,
form its centre and summit. This accounts for the great profusion of
Silurian organic remains in that neighborhood. Indeed, there is no
locality which forces upon the observer more strongly the conviction of
the profusion and richness of the early creation; for one may actually
collect the remains of Silurian Shells and Crustacea by cart-loads
around the city of Cincinnati. A naturalist would find it difficult to
gather along any modern sea-shore, even on tropical coasts, where marine
life is more abundant than elsewhere, so rich a harvest, in the same
time, as he will bring home from an hour's ramble in the environs of
that city.

These elevations naturally gave rise to depressions between themselves
and the land on either side of them, and caused also so many
counter-slopes dipping toward the uniform southern slope already formed
at the north. Thus between the several new upheavals, as well as between
them all and the land to the north of them, wide basins or troughs were
formed, inclosed on the south, west, and east by low hills, (for these
more recent eruptions were, like all the early upheavals, insignificant
in height,) and bounded on the north by the more ancient shores of the
preceding ages.

These were the inland seas of the Carboniferous period. Here, again, we
must infer the successive stages of a history which we can read only
in its results. Shut out from the ocean, these shallow sea-basins were
gradually changed by the rains to fresh-water lakes; the lakes, in their
turn, underwent a transformation, becoming filled, in the course of
centuries, with the materials worn away from their shores, with the
_debris_ of the animals which lived and died in their waters, as well
as with the decaying matter from aquatic plants, till at last they were
changed to spreading marshes, and on these marshes arose the gigantic
fern-vegetation of which the first forests chiefly consisted. Such are
the separate chapters in the history of the coal-basins of Illinois,
Missouri, Pennsylvania, New England, and Nova Scotia. First inland seas,
then fresh-water lakes, then spreading marshes, then gigantic forests,
and lastly vast storehouses of coal for the human race.

Although coal-beds are by no means peculiar to the Carboniferous period,
since such deposits must be formed wherever the decay of vegetation is
going on extensively, yet it would seem that coal-making was the great
work in that age of the world's physical history. The atmospheric
conditions, so far as we can understand them, were then especially
favorable to this result. Though the existence of such an extensive
terrestrial vegetation shows conclusively that an atmosphere must have
been already established, with all the attendant phenomena of light,
heat, air, moisture, etc., yet it is probable that this atmosphere
differed from ours in being very largely charged with carbonic acid.

We should infer this from the nature of the animals characteristic of
the period; for, though land-animals were introduced, and the organic
world was no longer exclusively marine, there were as yet none of
the higher beings in whom respiration is an active process. In all
warm-blooded animals the breathing is quick, requiring a large
proportion of oxygen in the surrounding air, and indicating by its
rapidity the animation of the whole system; while the slow-breathing,
cold-blooded animals can live in an air that is heavily loaded with
carbon. It is well known, however, that, though carbon is so deadly to
higher animal life, plants require it in great quantities; and it would
seem that one of the chief offices of the early forests was to purify
the atmosphere of its undue proportion of carbonic acid, by absorbing
the carbon into their own substance, and eventually depositing it as
coal in the soil.

Another very important agent in the process of purifying the atmosphere,
and adapting it to the maintenance of a higher organic life, is found in
the deposits of lime. My readers will excuse me, if I introduce here a
very elementary chemical fact to explain this statement. Limestone is
carbonate of calcium. Calcium is a metal, fusible as such, and, forming
a part of the melted masses within the earth, it was thrown out with the
eruptions of Plutonic rocks. Brought to the air, it would appropriate
a certain amount of oxygen, and by that process would become oxide of
calcium, in which condition it combines very readily with carbonic acid.
Thus it becomes carbonate of lime; and all lime deposits played an
important part in establishing the atmospheric proportions essential to
the existence of the warm-blooded animals.

Such facts remind us how far more comprehensive the results of science
will become when the different branches of scientific investigation are
pursued in connection with each other. When chemists have brought their
knowledge out of their special laboratories into the laboratory of the
world, where chemical combinations are and have been through all time
going on in such vast proportions,--when physicists study the laws
of moisture, of clouds and storms, in past periods as well as in the
present,--when, in short, geologists and zoologists are chemists and
physicists, and _vice versa_,--then we shall learn more of the changes
the world has undergone than is possible now that they are separately
studied.

It may be asked, how any clue can be found to phenomena so evanescent as
those of clouds and moisture. But do we not trace in the old deposits
the rainstorms of past times? The heavy drops of a passing shower, the
thick, crowded tread of a splashing rain, or the small pinpricks of a
close and fine one,--all the story, in short, of the rising vapors,
the gathering clouds, the storms and showers of ancient days, we find
recorded for us in the fossil rain-drops; and when we add to this the
possibility of analyzing the chemical elements which have been absorbed
into the soil, but which once made part of the atmosphere, it is not too
much to hope that we shall learn something hereafter of the meteorology
even of the earliest geological ages.

The peculiar character of the vegetable tissue in the trees of the
Carboniferous period, containing, as it did, a large supply of
resin drawn from the surrounding elements, confirms the view of the
atmospheric conditions above stated; and this fact, as well as the damp,
soggy soil in which the first forests must have grown, accounts for the
formation of coal in greater quantity and more combustible in quality
than is found in the more recent deposits. But stately as were those
fern forests, where plants which creep low at our feet to-day, or are
known to us chiefly as underbrush, or as rushes and grasses in swampy
grounds, grew to the height of lofty trees, yet the vegetation was of an
inferior kind.

There has been a gradation in time for the vegetable as well as the
animal world. With the marine population of the more ancient geological
ages we find nothing but sea-weeds,--of great variety, it is true, and,
as it would seem, from some remains of the marine Cryptogams in early
times, of immense size, as compared with modern sea-weeds. But in the
Carboniferous period, the plants, though still requiring a soaked and
marshy soil, were aerial or atmospheric plants: they were covered with
leaves; they breathed; their fructification was like that which now
characterizes the ferns, the club-mosses, and the so-called "horse-tail
plants," (_Equisetaceae,_) those grasses of low, damp grounds remarkable
for the strongly marked articulations of the stem.

These were the lords of the forests all over the world in the
Carboniferous period. Wherever the Carboniferous deposits have been
traced, in the United States, in Canada, in England, France, Belgium,
Germany, in New Holland, at the Cape of Good Hope, and in South America,
the general aspect of the vegetation has been found to be the same,
though characterized in the different localities by specific
differences of the same nature as those by which the various floras are
distinguished now in different parts of the same zone. For instance, the
Temperate Zone throughout the world is characterized by certain families
of trees: by Oaks, Maples, Beeches, Birches, Pines, etc.; but the Oaks,
Maples, Beeches, Birches, and the like, of the American flora in that
latitude differ in species from the corresponding European flora. So
in the Carboniferous period, when more uniform climatic conditions
prevailed throughout the world, the character of the vegetation showed a
general unity of structure everywhere; but it was nevertheless broken up
into distinct botanical provinces by specific differences of the same
kind as those which now give such diversity of appearance to the
vegetation of the Temperate Zone in Europe as compared with that of
America, or to the forests of South America as compared with those of
Africa.

There can be no doubt as to the true nature of the Carboniferous
forests; for the structural character of the trees is as strongly marked
in their fossil remains as in any living plants of the same character.
We distinguish the Ferns not only by the peculiar form of their leaves,
often perfectly preserved, but also by the fructification on the lower
surface of the leaves, and by the distinct marks made on the stem at
their point of juncture with it. The leaf of the Fern, when falling,
leaves a scar on the stem varying in shape and size according to the
kind of Fern, so that the botanist readily distinguishes any particular
species of Fern by this means,--a birth-mark, as it were, by which he
detects the parentage of the individual. Another indication, equally
significant, is found in the tubular structure of the wood in Ferns. On
a vertical section of any well-preserved Fern-trunk from the old forests
the little tubes may be seen very distinctly running up its length; or,
if it be cut through transversely, they may be traced by the little
pores like dots on the surface. Trees of this description are found in
the Carboniferous marshes, standing erect and perfectly preserved, with
trunks a foot and a half in diameter, rising to a height of many feet.
Plants so strongly bituminous as the Ferns, when they equalled in size
many of our present forest-trees, naturally made coal deposits of the
most combustible quality. It is true that we find the anthracite coal of
the same period with comparatively little bituminous matter; but this is
where the bitumen has been destroyed by the action of the internal heat
of the earth.

Next to the Ferns, the Club-Mosses (_Lycopodiacae_) seem to have
contributed most largely to the marsh-forests. They were characterized,
then, as now, by the small size of the leaves growing close against the
stem, so that the stem itself, though covered with leaves, looks
almost naked, like the stem of the Cactus. Beside these, there are the
tree-like Equiseta, in which we find the articulations on the trunk
corresponding exactly to those now so characteristic of those
marsh-grasses which are the modern representatives of this family of
plants, with cone-like fructifications on the summit of the stem.

I would merely touch here upon a subject which does not belong to my own
branch of Natural History, but is of the greatest interest in botanical
research, namely, the gradation of plants in the geological ages, and
the combination of characters in some of the earlier vegetable forms,
corresponding to that already noticed in the ancient animal types. For
instance, in the Carboniferous period we have only Cryptogams, Ferns,
Lycopodiacae, and Equisetaceae. In the middle geological ages, Conifers
are introduced, the first flowering plant known on earth, but in which
the flower is very imperfect as compared with those of the higher
groups. The Coniferae were chiefly represented in the middle periods by
the Cycadae, that peculiar group of Coniferae, resembling Pines in their
structure, but recalling the Ferns by their external appearance. The
stem is round and short, its surface being covered with scars similar to
those of the Ferns; while on the summit are ten or more leaves, fan-like
and spreading when their growth is complete, but rolled up at first,
like Fern-leaves before they expand. Their fruit resembles somewhat the
Pine-Apple.

The mode of growth of the Coniferae recalls a feature of the
Equisetaceae also, in the tufts of little leaves which appear in whorls
at regular intervals along the length of the stem in proportion as
it elongates, reminding one of the articulations on the stem of the
Equisetaceae. The first cone also appears on the summit of the stem,
like the terminal cone in the Equisetaceae and the Club-Mosses. Thus
in certain types of the vegetable, as well as the animal creation of
earlier times, there was a continuation of features, afterwards divided
and presented in separate groups. In the present times, no one of
these families of plants overlaps the others, but each has a distinct
individual character of its own.

At the close of the middle geological ages and the opening of the
Tertiary periods, the Monocotyledons become abundant, the first plants
with flower and inclosed seed, though with no true floral envelope: but
not until the two last epochs of the Tertiary age do we find in any
number the Dicotyledonous plants, in which flower and fruit rise to
their highest perfection. Thus there has been a procession of plants
from their earliest introduction to the present day, corresponding to
their botanical rank as they now exist, so that the series of gradation
in the Vegetable Kingdom, as well as the Animal Kingdom, is the same,
whether founded upon succession in time or upon comparative structural
rank.

Some attempt has been made to reproduce under an artistic form the
aspect of the world in the different geological ages, and to present in
single connected pictures the animal and vegetable world of each period.
Professor F. Unger, of Vienna, has prepared a collection of fourteen
such sketches, entitled, "Tableaux Physionomiques de la Vegetation des
Diverses Periodes du Monde Primitif."

First, we have the Devonian shores, with spreading fields of sea-weed
and numbers of the club-shaped Algae of gigantic size. He has ventured,
also, to represent a few trees, with scanty foliage; but I believe their
existence at so early a period to be very problematical.

Next comes the Carboniferous forest, with still pools of water lying
between the Fern-trees, which, much as they affect damp, swampy grounds,
seem scarcely able to find foothold on the dripping earth. Their trunks,
as well as those of the Club-Moss trees which make the foreground of the
picture, stand up free from any branches for many feet above the ground,
giving one a glimpse between them into the dim recesses of this quiet,
watery wood, where the silence was unbroken by the song of birds or the
hum of insects. We shall find, it is true, when we give a glance at the
animals of this time, that certain insects made their appearance with
the first terrestrial vegetation; but they were few in number and of a
peculiar kind, such as thrive now in low, wet lands.

Upon this follow a number of sketches introducing us to the middle
periods, where the land is higher and more extensive, covered chiefly
with Pine forests, beneath which grows a thick carpet of underbrush,
consisting mostly of Grasses, Rushes, and Ferns. Here and there one of
the gigantic reptiles of the time may be seen sunning himself on
the shore. One of these sketches shows us such a creature hungrily
inspecting a pool where Crinoids, with their long stems, large,
closely-coiled Chambered Shells, and Brachiopods, the Oysters and
Clams of those days, offer him a tempting repast. Here and there a
Pterodactyl, the curious winged reptile of the later middle periods,
stretches its long neck from the water, and birds also begin to make
their appearance.

After these come the Tertiary periods: the Eocene first, where the
landscape is already broken up by hills and mountains, clothed with
a varied vegetation of comparatively modern character. Lily-pads are
floating on the stream which makes the central part of the picture;
large herds of the Palaeotherium, the ancient Pachyderm, reconstructed
with such accuracy by Cuvier, are feeding along its banks; and a tall
bird of the Heron or Pelican kind stands watching by the water's edge.
In the Miocene the vegetation looks still more familiar, though the
Elephants roaming about in regions of the Temperate Zone, and the huge
Salamanders crawling out of the water, remind us that we are still far
removed from present times. Lastly, we have the ice period, with the
glaciers coming down to the borders of a river where large troops of
Buffalo are drinking, while on the shore some Bears are feasting on the
remains of a huge carcass.

It is, however, with the Carboniferous age that we have to do at
present, and I will not anticipate the coming chapters of my story by
dwelling now on the aspect of the later periods. To return, then, to the
period of the coal, it would seem that extensive freshets frequently
overflowed the marshes, and that even after many successive forests
had sprung up and decayed upon their soil, they were still subject to
submergence by heavy floods. These freshets, at certain intervals,
are not difficult to understand, when we remember, that, beside the
occasional influx of violent rains, the earth was constantly undergoing
changes of level, and that a subsidence or upheaval in the neighborhood
would disturb the equilibrium of the waters, causing them to overflow
and pour over the surface of the country, thus inundating the marshes
anew.

That such was the case we can hardly doubt, after the facts revealed
by recent investigations of the Carboniferous deposits. In some of the
deeper coal-beds there is a regular alternation between layers of coal
and layers of sand or clay; in certain localities, as many as ten,
twelve, and even fifteen coal-beds have been found alternating with as
many deposits of clay or mud or sand; and in some instances, where the
trunks of the trees are hollow and have been left standing erect, they
are filled to the brim, or to the height of the next layer of deposits,
with the materials that have been swept over them. Upon this set of
deposits comes a new bed of coal with the remains of a new forest, and.
above this again a layer of materials left by a second freshet, and so
on through a number of alternate strata. It is evident from these facts
that there have been a succession of forests, one above another, but
that in the intervals of their growth great floods have poured over the
marshes, bringing with them all kinds of loose materials, such as sand,
pebbles, clay, mud, lime, etc., which, as the freshets subsided, settled
down over the coal, filling not only the spaces between such trees as
remained standing, but even the hollow trunks of the trees themselves.

Let us give a glance now at the animals which inhabited the waters of
this period. In the Radiates we shall not find great changes; the three
classes are continued, though with new representatives, and the Polyp
Corals are increasing, while the Acalephian Corals, the Kugosa and
Tabulata, are diminishing. The Crinoids were still the most prominent
representatives of the class of Echinoderms, though some resembling the
Ophiurans and Echinoids (Sea-Urchins) began to make their appearance.
The adjoining wood-cut represents a characteristic Crinoid of the
Carboniferous age.

[Illustration]

Among the Mollusks, Brachiopods are still prominent, one new genus among

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