Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
Bulls and Bears
Bundle of Old Letters, A
Calculus, The Differential and Integral
Charge with Prince Rupert
Charles Lamb and Sydney Smith
Coffee and Tea
Holbein and the Dance of Death
Illustrious Obscure, The
In a Cellar
In the Pines
Letter to a Dyspeptic, A
Lizzy Griswold's Thanksgiving
Men of the Sea
Minister's Wooing, The
New Life of Dante, The
Odds and Ends from the Old World
Olympus and Asgard
Ought Women to Learn the Alphabet?
Palfrey's and Arnold's Histories
Plea for the Fijians, A
Professor at the Breakfast-Table, The
Roba di Roma
Smollett, Some Unedited Memorials of
Stereoscope and Stereograph, The
Trip to Cuba, A
Utah Expedition, The
Why did the Governess Faint?
Winter Birds, The
Achmed and his Mare
Double-Headed Snake of Newbury, The
Hamlet at the Boston
Inscription for an Alms-Chest
Last Bird, The
Morning Street, The
Our Skater Belle
Palm and the Pine, The
Prayer for Life
Two Years After
Walker of the Snow, The
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
Allibone's Dictionary of Authors
Arabian Days' Entertainments
Bacon, The Works of
Bryant. Durand's Portrait, of
Bunsen's Gott in der Geschichte
Cotton's Illustrated Cabinet Atlas
Courtship of Miles Standish
Dexter's Street Thoughts
Duyckinck's Life of George Herbert
Emerson, Rowse's Portrait of
Furness's Thoughts on the Life and Character of Jesus
Hamilton's Lecture on Metaphysics
Hymns of the Ages
Index to Catalogue of Boston City Library
Lytton, R.B., (Owen Meredith,) Poems by
Mathematical Monthly, The
Morgan's, Lady, Autobiography
Mothers and Infants, Nurses and Nursing
Prescott's Philip II
Sawyer's New Testament
Seddon, Thomas. Memoir and Letters of
Sixty Years' Gleanings from Life's Harvest
Stratford Gallery, The
Symbols of the Capital
Truebner's Bibliographical Guide to American Literature
Whittier, Barry's Portrait of
Wilson's Conquest of Mexico
LIST OF BOOKS
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. III.--JANUARY, 1859.--NO. XV.
OLYMPUS AND ASGARD.
How remote from the nineteenth century of the Christian era lies the
old Homeric world! By the magic of the Ionian minstrel's verse that
world is still visible to the inner eye. Through the clouds and murk of
twenty centuries and more, it is still possible to catch clear glimpses
of it, as it lies there in the golden sunshine of the ancient days. A
thousand objects nearer in the waste of past time are far more muffled,
opaque, and impervious to vision. As you enter it through the gates of
the "Ilias" and "Odusseia," you bid a glad adieu to the progress of the
age, to railroads and telegraph-wires, to cotton-spinning, (there might
have been some of that done, however, in some Nilotic Manchester or
Lowell,) to the diffusion of knowledge and the rights of man and
societies for the improvement of our race, to humanitarianism and
philanthropy, to science and mechanics, to the printing-press and
gunpowder, to industrialism, clipper-ships, power-looms, metaphysics,
geology, observatories, light-houses, and a myriad other things too
numerous for specification,--and you pass into a sunny region of
glorious sensualism, where there are no obstinate questionings of
outward things, where there are no blank misgivings of a creature
moving about in worlds not realized, no morbid self-accusings of a
morbid methodistic conscience. All there in that old world, lit "by the
strong vertical light" of Homer's genius, is healthful,
sharply-defined, tangible, definite, and sensualistic. Even the divine
powers, the gods themselves, are almost visible to the eyes of their
worshippers, as they revel in their mountain-propped halls on the far
summits of many-peaked Olympus, or lean voluptuously from their
celestial balconies and belvederes, soothed by the Apollonian lyre, the
Heban nectar, and the fragrant incense, which reeks up in purple clouds
from the shrines of windy Ilion, hollow Lacedaemon, Argos, Mycenae,
Athens, and the cities of the old Greek isles, with their shrine-capped
headlands. The outlooks and watch-towers of the chief deities were all
visible from the far streets and dwellings of their earthly
worshippers, in that clear, shining, Grecian atmosphere. Uranography
was then far better understood than geography, and the personages
composing the heavenly synod were almost as definitely known to the
Homeric men as their mortal acquaintances. The architect of the
Olympian palaces was surnamed Amphigueeis, or the Halt. The Homeric
gods were men divinized with imperishable frames, glorious and immortal
sensualists, never visited by qualms of conscience, by headache, or
remorse, or debility, or wrinkles, or dyspepsia, however deep their
potations, however fiercely they indulged their appetites. Zeus, the
Grand Seignior or Sultan of Olympus and father of gods and men,
surpassed Turk and Mormon Elder in his uxoriousness and indiscriminate
concubinage. With Olympian goddess and lone terrestrial nymph and
deep-bosomed mortal lass of Hellas, the land of lovely women, as Homer
calls it, did he pursue his countless intrigues, which he sometimes had
the unblushing coolness and impudence to rehearse to his wedded wife,
Here. His _list_ would have thrown Don Giovanni's entirely into the
shade. Here, the queen of Olympus, called the Golden-Throned, the
Venerable, the Ox-Eyed, was a sort of celestial Queen Bess, the
undaunted she-Tudor, whose father, bluff Harry, was not a bad human
copy of Zeus himself, the Rejoicer in Thunder.
In that old Homeric heaven,--in those quiet seats of the gods of the
heroic world, which were never shaken by storm-wind, nor lashed by the
tempest that raved far below round the dwellings of wretched
mortals,--in those quiet abodes above the thunder, there was for the
most part nought but festal joy, music, choral dances, and emptying of
nectar-cups, interrupted now and then by descents into the low-lying
region of human life in quest of adventure, or on errands of divine
intervention in the affairs of men, for whom, on the whole, Zeus and
his court entertained sentiments of profound contempt. Once in a while
Zeus and all his courtiers went on a festal excursion to the land of
the blameless Ethiops, which lay somewhere over the ocean, where they
banqueted twelve days. Why such a special honor as this was shown to
these Ethiops is not explained. Within their borders were evidently the
summer resorts, Newport and Baden-Baden, frequented by the Olympians.
Only in great crises was the whole mythic host of the Grecian religion
summoned to meet in full forum on the heights of the immemorial
mountain. At such times, all the fountains, rivers, and groves of
Hellas were emptied of their guardian daemons, male and female, who
hastened to pay their homage to and receive their orders from the
Cloud-Gatherer, sitting on his throne, in his great skyey Capitolium,
and invested with all the pomp of mythic majesty, his ambrosial locks
smoothly combed and brushed by some Olympian _friseur_, his eagle
perched with ruffled plumes upon his fist, and everything else so
arranged as most forcibly to impress the country visitors and rural
incumbents with salutary awe for the occupant of their sky-Vatican.
Whether these last were compelled to salute the Jovine great toe with a
kiss is not recorded, there being no account extant of the ceremonial
and etiquette of Olympus. Whatever it was, doubtless it was rigidly
enforced; for the Thunderer, it would seem, had a Bastile, or lock-up,
with iron doors and a brazen threshold specially provided for
contumacious and disobedient gods.
Zeus, although he could claim supreme dominion under the law of
primogeniture, was originally only a coequal ruler with his two
brothers, Hades, king of the underworld, and Ennosigaeus, monarch of
the salt sea-foam. They were alike the sons and coequal heirs of
Kronos, or Time, and the Moerae, or Destinies, had parcelled out the
universe in three equal parts between them. But the position of Zeus in
his serene air-realm gave him the advantage over his two brothers,--as
the metropolitan situation of the Roman see in the capital of the world
gave its diocesan, who was originally nothing more than the peer of the
Bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage, and Constantinople, an
opportunity finally to assert and maintain a spiritual lordship. This
is a case exactly in point. It is certainly proper to illustrate a
theocratic usurpation by an hierarchic one. Zeus, with his eagle and
thunder and that earthquaking nod, was too strong for him of the
trident and him of the three-headed hound. The whole mythic host
regarded Jove's court as a place of final resort, of ultimate appeal.
He was recognized as the Supreme Father, Papa, or Pope, of the Greek
mythic realm. The nod of his immortal head was decisive. His azure
eyebrows and ambrosial hair were full of fate.
The wars of mortals in Hellas and Dardanland were matters of more
interest to the Olympian celestials than any other mere human
transactions. These occasioned partisanships, heartburnings, and
factions in the otherwise serene Olympian palaces. Even Father Zeus
himself acknowledged a bias for sacred Ilium and its king and people
over all the cities of terrestrial men beneath the sun and starry
heaven. In the ten-years' war at Troy, the Olympians were active
partisans upon both sides at times, now screening their favorites from
danger, and now even pitting themselves against combatants of more
vulnerable flesh and blood. But in the matter of vulnerability they
seem not to have enjoyed complete exemption, any more than did Milton's
angels. Although they ate not bread nor drank wine, still there was in
their veins a kind of ambrosial blood called _ichor_, which the prick
of a javelin or spear would cause to flow freely. Even Ares, the genius
of homicide and slaughter, was on one occasion at least wounded by a
mortal antagonist, and sent out of the melee badly punished, so that he
bellowed like a bull-calf, as he mounted on a dusty whirlwind to
Olympus. Over his misadventures while playing his own favorite game
certainly there were no tears to be shed; but when, prompted by
motherly tenderness, Aphrodite, the soft power of love,--she of the
Paphian boudoir, whose recesses were glowing with the breath of Sabaean
frankincense fumed by a hundred altars,--she at whose approach the
winds became hushed, and the clouds fled, and the daedal earth poured
forth sweet flowers,--when such a presence manifested herself on the
field of human strife on an errand of motherly affection, and attempted
to screen her bleeding son from the shafts of his foes with a fold of
her shining _peplum_, surely the audacious Grecian king should have
forborne, and, lowering his lance, should have turned his wrath
elsewhere. But no,--he pierced her skin with his spear, so that,
shrieking, she abandoned her child, and was driven, bleeding, to her
immortal homestead. The rash earth-born warrior knew not that he who
put his lance in rest against the immortals had but a short lease of
life to live, and that his bairns would never run to lisp their sire's
return, nor climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
Homer, in the first books of his "Ilias," permits us to glance into the
banqueting-hall of Olympus. The two regular pourers of nectar, to wit,
Hebe and Ganymede, are off duty. Hephaestus the Cripple has taken their
place; and as he halts about from guest to guest, inextinguishable
laughter arises among the gods at his awkward method of "passing the
rosy." His lameness was owing to that sunset fall on the isle of Lemnos
from the threshold of heaven. So, all day long, says the poet, they
revelled, Apollo and the Muses performing the part of a ballet-troop.
It is pleasing to learn that the Olympians kept early hours,
conforming, in this respect, to the rule of Poor Richard. Duly at set
of sun they betook themselves to their couches. Zeus himself slept, and
by his side Here of the Golden Throne.
Who would wish to have lived a pagan under that old Olympian
dispensation, even though, like the dark-eyed Greek of the Atreidean
age, his fancy could have "fetched from the blazing chariot of the Sun
a beardless youth who touched a golden lyre and filled the illumined
groves with ravishment"?--even though, like him, he might in
myrtle-grove and lonely mountain-glen have had favors granted him even
by Idalian Aphrodite the Beautiful, and felt her warm breath glowing
upon his forehead, or been counselled by the blue-eyed Athene, or been
elevated to ample rule by Here herself, Heaven's queen? That Greek
heaven was heartless, libidinous, and cold. It had no mild divinities
appointed to bind up the broken heart and assuage the grief of the
mourner. The weary and the heavy-laden had no celestial resource
amongst its immortal revellers and libertines, male and female. There
was no sympathy for mortal suffering amongst those divine sensualists.
They talked with contempt and unsympathizing ridicule of the woes of
the earthborn, of the brevity of mortal life, and of its miseries. A
boon, indeed, and a grateful exchange, was the Mother Mild of the Roman
Catholic Pantheon, the patroness of the broken-hearted, who inclines
her countenance graciously to the petitions of womanly anguish, for the
voluptuous Aphrodite, the haughty Juno, the Di-Vernonish Artemis, and
the lewd and wanton nymphs of forest, mountain, ocean, lake, and river.
Ceres alone, of the old female classic daemons, seemed to be endowed
with a truly womanly tenderness and regard for humankind. She, like the
Mater Dolorosa, is represented in the myths to have known bereavement
and sorrow, and she, therefore, could sympathize with the grief of
mothers sprung from Pyrrha's stem. Nay, she had envied them their
mortality, which enabled them to join their lost ones, who could not
come back to them, in the grave. Vainly she sought to descend into the
dark underworld to see her "young Persephone, transcendent queen of
shades." Not for her weary, wandering feet was a single one of the
thousand paths that lead downward to death. Her only consolation was in
the vernal flowers, which, springing from the dark earthly mould,
seemed to her to be
"heralds from the dreary deep,
Soft voices from the solemn streams,"
by whose shores, veiled in eternal twilight, wandered her sad child,
the queen of the realm of Dis, with its nine-fold river, gates of
adamant, and minarets of fire. The heartlessness of all the ethnic
deities, of whatever age or nation, is a noticeable feature, especially
when contrasted with the unfathomable pity of their Exterminator, who
wept over the chief city of his fatherland, and would have gathered it,
as a hen gathereth her chickens, under the wings of his love, though
its sons were seeking to compass his destruction. Those old ethnic
deities were cruel, inexorable, and relentless. They knew nothing of
mercy and forgiveness. They ministered no balm to human sorrow. The
daemons who wandered in human shape over the classic lands of old were
all fickle and malevolent. They oftentimes impelled their victims to
suicide. The ghouls that haunt the tombs and waste places of the
regions where they were once worshipped are their lineal descendants
and modern representatives. The vampires and pest-hags of the Levant
are their successors in malignity. The fair humanities of the old
religion were fair only in shape and exterior. The old pagan gods were
friendly only to kings, heroes, and grandees; they had no beatitude for
the poor and lowly. Human despair, under their dispensation, knew no
alleviation but a plunge from light and life into the underworld,
--rather than be monarch of which, the shade of Achilles avers,
in the "Odusseia," that it would prefer to be the hireling and
drudge of some poor earthly peasant. Elysium was only for a privileged
It has been said that the old ethnic creeds were the true religion
"growing wild,"--that the human soil was prepared by such kind of
spiritual crops and outgrowths, with their tares and weeds intermingled
with wheat, for the seed that was finally to be sown by the Divine
Sower,--that, erroneous as they were in a thousand respects, they were
genuine emanations of the religious nature in man, and as such not to
be stigmatized or harshly characterized,--that without them the human
soil could not have been made ready for the crop of unmixed truth. This
may be true of some of them, though surely not of the popular form of
the old Greek ethnic faith. Its deities were nothing better than the
passions of human nature projected upon ethereal heights, and
incarnated and made personal in undecaying demonic shapes,--not
conditioned and straitened like the bodies of man, but enjoying
perpetual youth and immunity from death in most cases, with permission
to take liberties with Space and Time greater even than are granted to
us by steam and telegraph-wires.
The vulgar Grecian polytheism was all material. It had no martyrs and
confessors. It was not worth dying for, as it was good for nothing to
live by. The religion of Hellas was the religion of sensualistic beauty
simply. It was just the worship for Pheidias and Praxiteles, for the
bard of Teos and the soft Catullus, for sensual poet, painter, and
sculptor. But "the blind old man of Scio's rocky isle," although we
gather most of our knowledge of Olympus and the Olympians from his
verse, was worthy of a loftier and purer heaven than the low one under
which he wandered from city to city, singing the tale of Troy divine,
and hymns and paeans to the gods. The good and the true were mere
metaphysical abstractions to the old Greek. What must he have been when
it would not have been safe for him to leave his wife alone with the
best and highest of his gods? The ancient Hellenes were morally most
vicious and depraved, even when compared with contemporary heathen
nations. The old Greek was large in brain, but not in heart. He had
created his gods in his own image, and they were--what they were. There
was no goodness in his religion, and we can tolerate it only as it is
developed in the Homeric rhapsodies, in the far-off fable-time of the
old world, and amongst men who were but partially self-conscious. In
that remote Homeric epoch it is tolerable, when cattle-stealing and war
were the chief employments of the ruling caste,--and we may add,
woman-stealing, into the bargain. "I did not come to fight against the
Trojans," says Achilles, "because I had suffered any grievance at their
hands. They never drove off my oxen and horses or stole my harvests in
rich-soiled Phthia, the nurse of heroes; for vale-darkening mountains
and a tumultuous sea separate us."
Into that old Homeric world we enter through the portals of the "Ilias"
and "Odusseia," and see the peaks of Olympus shining afar off in white
splendor like silvery clouds, not looking for or expecting either a
loftier or a purer heaven. Somewhere on the bounds of the dim
ocean-world we know that there is an exiled court, a faded sort of St.
Germain celestial dynasty, geologic gods, coevals of the old Silurian
strata,--to wit, Kronos, Rhea, Nox, _et al._ Here these old,
unsceptred, discrowned, and sky-fallen potentates "cogitate in their
watery ooze," and in "the shady sadness of vales,"--sometimes visited
by their successors for counsel or concealment, or for the purpose of
establishing harmony amongst them. The Sleep and Death of the Homeric
mythology were naturally gentle divinities,--sometimes lifting the
slain warrior from the field of his fame, and bearing him softly
through the air to his home and weeping kindred. This was a gracious
office. The saintly legends of the Roman Church have borrowed a hint
from this old Homeric fancy. One pleasant feature of the Homeric
battles is, that, when some blameless, great-souled champion falls, the
blind old bard interrupts the performances for a moment and takes his
reader with him away from the din and shouting of the battle,
following, as it were, the spirit of the fallen hero to his distant
abode, where sit his old father, his spouse, and children,--thus
throwing across the cloud of battle a sweet gleam of domestic, pastoral
life, to relieve its gloom. Homer, both in the "Ilias" and "Odusseia,"
gives his readers frequent glimpses into the halls of Olympus; for
messengers are continually flashing to and fro, like meteors, between
the throne of Zeus and the earth. Sometimes it is Hermes sandalled with
down; sometimes it is wind-footed Iris, who is winged with the emerald
plumes of the rainbow; and sometimes it is Oneiros, or a Dream, that
glides down to earth, hooded and veiled, through the shadow of night,
bearing the behests of Jove. But however often we are permitted to
return to the ambrosial homestead of the ever-living gods in the wake
of returning messengers, we always find it the same calm region, lifted
far up above the turbulence, the perturbations, the clouds and storms
"That low spot which men call earth,"
--a glorious aerial Sans-Souci and house of pleasaunce.
It is curious that the atheistic Lucretius has given us a most glowing
description of the Olympian mansions; but perhaps the Olympus of the
Epicurean poet and philosopher is somewhat higher up and more
sublimated and etherealized than the Olympus of Homer and of the
popular faith. In a flash of poetic inspiration, he says, "The walls of
the universe are cloven. I see through the void inane. The splendor
(_numen_) of the gods appears, and the quiet seats which are not shaken
by storm-winds nor aspersed by rain-clouds; nor does the whitely
falling snow-flake, with its hoar rime, violate _their summery warmth_,
but an ever-cloudless ether laughs above them with widespread
radiance." Lucretius had all these lineaments of his Epicurean heaven
from old Homer. They are scattered up and down the "Ilias" and
"Odusseia" in the shape of _disjecta membra_. For instance, the Olympus
which he beholds through a chasm in the walls of the universe, towering
into the pure empyrean, has some of the features of Homer's island
Elysiums, the blissful abodes of mortal heroes who have been divinized
or translated. The Celtic island-valley of Avalon, the abode of King
Arthur, "with its orchard-lawns and bowery hollows," so exquisitely
alluded to by Tennyson, is a kindred spot with the Homeric Elysian
plain. Emerson says, "The race of gods, or those we erring own, are
shadows floating up and down in the still abodes." This is exactly the
meaning of Lucretius also. They are all air-cities, these seats of the
celestials, whatever be the creed,--summery, ethereal climes, fanned
with spice-winds and zephyrs. Meru, Kaf, Olympus, Elboorz,--they are
all alike. The ethnic superior daemons were well termed the powers of
the air. Upward into the far blue gazes the weary and longing saint and
devotee of every faith. Beyond the azure curtains of the sky, upward
into the pure realm, over the rain-cloud and the thunder and the silver
bars of the scirrhus, he places his quiet seats, his mansions of rest.
The German poet, Schiller, who was a worshipper of Art and sensualistic
beauty, and who regarded the sciences as the mere handmaids of Art,
exalting the aesthetic above the moral nature in man, quite naturally
regretted that he had not lived in the palmy days of the
anthropomorphic creed of Hellas, before the dirge of Pan was chanted in
the Isle of Naxos. His "Gods of Greek Land" is as fine a piece of
heathenish longing as could well be written at so late a day. His heart
was evidently far away from the century in which he lived, and pulsated
under that distant Grecian sky of which he somewhere speaks. For
artistic purposes the myths of Greece formed a glorious faith. Grace
and symmetry of form were theirs, and they satiated the eye with
outward loveliness; but to the deep fountains of feeling and sentiment,
such as a higher faith has unsealed in the heart, they never
penetrated. What a poor, narrow little world was that myth-haunted one
of the Grecian poet and sculptor, and even philosopher, compared with
the actual world which modern science is revealing from year to year!
What a puny affair was that Grecian sun, with its coachman's apparatus
of reins, fire-breathing nags, and golden car, which Schiller looks
back to, in the spirit of Mr. Weller, Senior, when compared with the
vast empyreal sphere and light-fountain of modern science, with its
retinue of planets, ships of space, freighted with souls! Science the
handmaid of Art! Well might the mere artist and worshipper of
anthropomorphic beauty shrink appalled, and sigh for a lodge under some
low Grecian heaven and in the bosom of some old myth-peopled Nature, as
he trembled before the apocalypses of modern sidereal science, which
has dropped its plummet to unimaginable depths through the nebulous
abysses of space, shoaled with systems of worlds as the sea is with its
finny droves. The Nature and the Physical Universe of the old ethnic
Greek formed only a little niche and recess, on the walls of which the
puny human image was easily reflected in beautiful and picturesque and
grotesque shadows, which were mistaken for gods. But the Nature and
Universe revealed by modern Christian science are too vast and profound
to mirror anything short of the image of the Omnipotent himself.
Still there is a period in the life of every imaginative youth, when he
is a pagan and worships in the old Homeric pantheon,--where self-denial
and penance were unknown, and where in grove and glen favored mortal
lover might hear the tread of "Aphrodite's glowing sandal." The
youthful poet may exclaim with Schiller,--
"Art thou, fair world, no more?
Return, thou virgin-bloom on Nature's face!
Ah, only on the minstrel's magic shore
Can we the footstep of sweet Fable trace!
The meadows mourn for the old hallowing life;
Vainly we search the earth of gods bereft;
Where once the warm and living shapes were rife,
Shadows alone are left!
Cold, from the North, has gone
Over the flowers the blast that chilled their May;
And, to enrich the worship of the One,
A universe of gods must pass away!
Mourning, I search on yonder starry steeps,
But thee, no more, Selene, there I see!
And through the woods I call, and o'er the deeps,
And--Echo answers me." [Bulwer's Translation.]
The Elysian beauty and melancholy grace which Wordsworth throws over
the shade of Alcestis were gleams borrowed from a better world than the
mythic Elysium. Neither Olympus nor Erebus disdained the pleasures of
Shakspeare, in his "Midsummer-Night's Dream," has mingled the
mythologies of Hellas and Scandinavia, of the North and the South,
making of them a sort of mythic _olla podrida_. He represents the tiny
elves and fays of the Gothic fairyland, span-long creatures of dew and
moonshine, the lieges of King Oberon, and of Titania, his queen, as
making an irruption from their haunted hillocks, woods, meres, meadows,
and fountains, in the North, into the olive-groves of Ilissus, and
dancing their ringlets in the ray of the Grecian Selene, the chaste,
cold huntress, and running by the triple Hecate's team, following the
shadow of Night round the earth. Strangely must have sounded the horns
of the Northern Elfland, "faintly blowing" in the woods of Hellas, as
Oberon and his grotesque court glanced along, "with bit and bridle
ringing," to bless the nuptials of Theseus with the bouncing Amazon.
Strangely must have looked the elfin footprints in the Attic green.
Across this Shakspearean plank, laid between Olympus and Asgard, or
more strictly Alfheim, we gladly pass from the sunny realm of Zeus into
that of his Northern counterpart, Odin, who ought to be dearer and more
familiar to his descendants than the Grecian Jove, though he is not.
The forms which throng Asgard may not be so sculpturesquely beautiful,
so definite, and fit to be copied in marble and bronze as those of
Olympus. There may be more vagueness of outline in the Scandinavian
abode of the gods, as of far-off blue skyey shapes, but it is more
cheerful and homelike. Pleasantly wave the evergreen boughs of the
Life-Tree, Yggdrasil, the mythic ash-tree of the old North, whose
leaves are green with an unwithering bloom that shall defy even the
fires of the final conflagration. Iduna, or Spring, sits in those
boughs with her apples of rejuvenescence, restoring the wasted strength
of the gods. In the shade of its topmost branches stands Asgard, the
abode of the Asen, who are called the Rafters of the World,--to wit,
Odin, Thor, Freir, and the other higher powers, male and female, of the
old Teutonic religion. In Asgard is Valhalla, the hall of elect heroes.
The roots of this mundane ash reach as far downwards as its branches do
upwards. Its roots, trunk, and branches together thrid the universe,
shooting Hela, the kingdom of death, Midgard, the abode of men, and
Asgard, the dwelling of the gods, like so many concentric rings.
This ash was a psychological and ontological plant. All the lore of
Plato and Kant and Fichte and Cousin was audible in the sigh of its
branches. Three Norns, Urt, Urgand, and Skuld, dwelt beneath it, so
that it comprehended time past, present, and future. The gods held
their councils beneath it. By one of its stems murmured the Fountain of
Mimir, in Niflheim or Mistland, from whose urn welled up the ocean and
the rivers of the earth. Odin had his outlook in its top, where kept
watch and ward the All-seeing Eye. In its boughs frisked and gambolled
a squirrel called _Busybody_, which carried gossip from bough to root
and back. The warm Urdar Fountain of the South, in which swam the sun
and moon in the shape of two swans, flowed by its celestial stem in
Asgard. A tree so much extended as this ash of course had its parasites
and _rodentia_ clinging to it and gnawing it; but the brave old ash
defied them all, and is to wave its skywide umbrage even over the ruins
of the universe, after the _dies irae_ shall have passed. So sings the
Voluspa. This tree is a worthy type of the Teutonic race, so green, so
vigorous, so all-embracing. We should expect to find the chief object
in the Northern myth-world a tree. The forest was ever dear to the sons
of the North, and many ancient Northern tribes used to hold their
councils and parliaments under the branches of some wide-spreading oak
or ash. Like its type, Yggdrasil, the Teutonic race seems to be
threading the earth with the roots of universal dominion, and, true to
hereditary instincts, it is belting the globe with its colonies,
planting it, as it were, with slips from the great Mundane Ash, and
throwing Bifroest bridges across oceans, in the shape of
telegraph-cables and steamships.
Asgard is a more homelike place than Olympus. Home and fireside, in
their true sense, are Teutonic institutions. Valhalla, the hall of
elect heroes, was appropriately shingled with golden shields. Guzzlers
of ale and drinkers of _lagerbier_ will be pleased to learn that this
Northern Valhalla was a sort of celestial beer-saloon, thus showing
that it was a genuine Teutonic paradise; for ale would surely be found
in such a region. In the "Prose Edda," Hor replies to Gangler--who is
asking him about the board and lodgings of the heroes who had gone to
Odin in Valhalla, and whether they had anything but water to drink--in
huge disdain, inquiring of Gangler whether he supposed that the
Allfather would invite kings and jarls and other great men, and give
them nothing to drink but water. How do things divine and supernatural,
when conceived of by man and cast in an earthly, finite mould,
necessarily assume human attributes and characteristics! Strong drinks,
the passion of the Northern races in all ages, are of course found in
their old mythic heaven, in their fabled Hereafter,--and even boar's
flesh also. The ancient Teuton could not have endured a heaven with
mere airy, unsubstantial joys. There must be celestial roasts of strong
meat for him, and flagons of his ancestral ale. His descendants to this
day never celebrate a great occasion without a huge feed and
corporation dinners, thus establishing their legitimate descent from
Teutonic stock. The Teutonic man ever led a life of vigorous action;
hence his keen appetite, whetted by the cold blasts of his native
North. What wonder, then, at the presence of sodden boar's flesh in his
ancient Elysium, and of a celestial goat whose teats yielded a strong
beverage? The Teuton liked not fasting and humiliation either in
Midgard or Asgard. He was ever carnivorous and eupeptic. We New
Englanders are perhaps the leanest of his descendants, because we have
forsaken too much the old ways and habits of the race, and given
ourselves too much to abstractions and transcendentalism. The old
Teuton abhorred the abstract. He loved the concrete, the substantial.
The races of Southern Europe, what are now called the Latin races, were
more temperate than the Teutonic, but they were far less brave, honest,
and manly. Their sensuality might not be so boisterous, but it was more
bestial and foul. Strength and manliness, and a blithe, cheery spirit,
were ever the badges of the Teuton. But though originally gross and
rough, he was capable of a smoother polish, of a glossier enamel, than
a more superficial, trivial nature. He was ever deeply thoughtful, and
capable of profounder moods of meditation than the lightly-moved
children of the South. Sighs, as from the boughs of Yggdrasil, ever
breathed through his poetry from of old. He was a smith, an artificer,
and a delver in mines from the beginning. The old Teutonic Pan was far
more musical and awe-inspiring than his Grecian counterpart The
Noon-spirit of the North was more wild than that of the South. How all
the ancient North was alive in its Troll-haunted hillocks, where
clanged the anvil of the faery hill-smith, and danced and banqueted the
Gnome and Troll,--and in its streams and springs, musical with the
harps of moist-haired Elle-women and mermaids, who, ethnic daemons
though they were, yet cherished a hope of salvation! The myth-spirits
of the North were more homely and domestic than those of the South, and
had a broader humor and livelier fancies. The Northern Elf-folk were
true natives of the soil, grotesque in costume and shape.
The Teuton of to-day is the lineal descendant of the old worshipper of
Thor. Mioellnir, the hammer of Thor, still survives in the gigantic
mechanisms of Watt, Fulton, and Stephenson. Thor embodied more Teutonic
attributes than Odin. The feats which Thor performed in that strange
city of Utgard, as they are related in the old "Prose Edda," were
prophetic of the future achievements of the race, of which he was a
chief god. Thor once went on a journey to Joetunheim, or Giant-land,--a
primitive outlying country, full of the enemies of the Asgard dynasty,
or cosmical deities. In the course of the journey, he lodged one night
with his two companions in what he supposed to be a huge hall, but
which turned out to be the glove of a giant named Skrymir, who was
asleep and snoring as loud as an earthquake, near by. When the giant
awoke, he said to Thor, who stood near,--"My name is Skrymir, but I
need not ask thy name, for I know that thou art the god Thor. But what
hast thou done with my glove?" Sure enough, on looking, Thor found that
he had put up that night in Skrymir's handshoe, or glove. The giant and
Thor breakfasted amicably together and went on their way till night,
when Skrymir gave up his wallet of provisions to Thor and his two
companions, and bade them supply themselves,--he meanwhile composing
himself to sleep, snoring so loudly that the forest trembled. Thor
could not undo the giant's wallet, and in his wrath he smote the
somnolent lubber with his mallet, a crushing blow. Skrymir simply
awoke, and inquired whether a leaf had not fallen upon his head from
the oak-tree under which he was lying. Conceive the chagrin and shame
of Thor at this question! A second time Thor let fly at the giant with
his mallet. This time it sank into his skull up to the handle, but with
no more satisfactory result. The giant merely inquired whether an acorn
had not dropped on his head, and wanted to know how Thor found himself,
whether he slept well or not; to which queries Thor muttered an answer,
and went away, determined to make a third and final effort with his
mallet, which had never failed him until then. About daybreak, as
Skrymir was taking his last snooze, Thor uplifted his hammer, clutching
it so fiercely that his knuckles became white. Down it came, with
terrific emphasis, crushing through Skrymir's cheek, up to the handle.
Skrymir sat up and inquired if there were not birds perched on the tree
under which he had been lodging; he thought he felt something dropping
on his head,--some moss belike. Alas for Thor and his weapon! For once
he found himself worsted, and his mightiest efforts regarded as mere
flea-bites; for Skrymir's talk about leaves and acorns and moss was
merely a sly piece of humor, levelled at poor crestfallen Thor, as he
afterwards acknowledged. After this incident, Thor and his two
companions, the peasant's children, Thjalfi and Roeska, and Skrymir went
their ways, and came to the high-gated city of Utgard, which stood in
the middle of a plain, and was so lofty that Thor had to throw back his
head to see its pinnacles and domes. Now Thor was by no means small;
indeed, in Asgard, the city of the AEsir, he was regarded as a giant;
but here in Utgard Skrymir told him he had better not give himself any
airs, for the people of that city would not tolerate any assumption on
the part of such a mannikin!
Utgard-Loki, the king of the city, received Thor with the utmost
disdain, calling him a stripling, and asked him contemptuously what he
could do. Thor professed himself ready for a drinking-match. Whereupon
Utgard-Loki bade his cup-bearer bring the large horn which his
courtiers had to drain at a single draught, when they had broken any of
the established rules and regulations of his palace. Thor was thirsty,
and thought he could manage the horn without difficulty, although it
was somewhat of the largest. After a long, deep, and breathless pull
which he designed as a finisher, he set the horn down and found that
the liquor was not perceptibly lowered. Again he tried, with no better
result; and a third time, full of wrath and chagrin, he guzzled at its
contents, but found that the liquor still foamed near to the brim. He
gave back the horn in disgust. Then Utgard-Loki proposed to him the
childish exercise of lifting his cat. Thor put his hands under Tabby's
belly, and, lifting with all his might, could only raise one foot from
the floor. He was a very Gulliver in Brobdignag. As a last resort, he
proposed to retrieve his tarnished reputation by wrestling with some
Utgardian; whereupon the king turned into the ring his old nurse, Elli,
a poor toothless crone, who brought Thor to his knees, and would have
thrown him, had not the king interfered. Poor Thor! The next morning he
took breakfast in a sad state of mind, and owned himself a shamefully
used-up individual. The fact was, he had strayed unconsciously amongst
the old brute powers of primitive Nature, as he ought to have perceived
by the size of the kids they wore. He had done better than he was aware
of, however. The three blows of his hammer had fallen on nothing less
than a huge mountain, instead of a giant, and left three deep glens
dinted into its surface; the drinking-horn, which he had undertaken to
empty, was the sea itself, or an outlet of the sea, which he had
perceptibly lowered; while the cat was in reality the Midgard Serpent,
which enringed the world in its coils, and the toothless she-wrestler
was Old Age! What wonder that Thor was brought to his knees? On finding
himself thus made game of, Thor grew wroth, but had to go his ways, as
the city of Utgard had vanished into thin air, with its cloud-capped
towers and enormous citizens. Thor afterwards undertook to catch the
Midgard Serpent, using a bull's head for bait. The World-Snake took the
delicious morsel greedily, and, finding itself hooked, writhed and
struggled so that Thor thrust his feet through the bottom of his boat,
in his endeavors to land his prey.
There is a certain grotesque humor in Thor's adventures, which is
missed in his mythologic counterpart of the South, Hercules. It is the
old rich "world-humor" of the North, genial and broad, which still
lives in the creations of the later Teutonic Muse. The dints which Thor
made on the mountain-skull of Skrymir were types and forerunners of the
later feats of the Teutonic race, performed on the rough, shaggy,
wilderness face of this Western hemisphere, channelling it with watery
highways, tunnelling and levelling its mountains, and strewing its
surface with cities. The old Eddas and Voluspas of the North are full
of significant lore for the sons of the Northmen, wherever their lot is
cast. There they will find, that, in colonizing and humanizing the face
of the world, in zoning it with railroads and telegraph-wires, in
bridging its oceans with clipper-ships, and steamboats, and in weaving,
forging, and fabricating for it amid the clang of iron mechanisms, they
are only following out the original bent of the race, and travelling in
the wake of Thor the Hammerer.
While the Grecian and Roman myths are made familiar by our
school-books, it is to be regretted that the wild and glorious mythic
lore of our ancient kindred is neglected. To that you must go, if you
would learn whence came
"the German's inward sight,
And slow-sure Britain's secular might,"
and it may be added, the Anglo-American's unsurpassed practical energy,
skill, and invincible love of freedom. From the fountains of the
ash-tree Yggdrasil flowed these things. Some of the greatest of modern
Teutonic writers have gone back to these fountains, flowing in these
wild mythic wastes of the Past, and have drunk inspiration thence.
Percy, Scott, and Carlyle, by so doing, have infused new sap from the
old life-tree of their race into our modern English literature, which
had grown effete and stale from having had its veins injected with too
much cold, thin, watery Gallic fluid. Yes, Walter Scott heard the
innumerous leafy sigh of Yggdrasil's branches, and modulated his harp
thereby. Carlyle, too, has bathed in the three mystic fountains which
flow fast by its roots. In an especial manner has the German branch of
the Teuton kindred turned back to those old musical well-springs
bubbling up in the dim North, and they have been strengthened and
inspired by the pilgrimage. "Under the root, which stretches out
towards the Joetuns, there is Mimir's Well, in which Wisdom and Wit lie
hidden." Longfellow, too, has drunk of Mimir's Well, and hence the rare
charm and witchery of his "Evangeline," "Hiawatha," and "Golden
Legend." This well in the North is better than Castalian fount for the
children of the North.
How much more genial and lovable is Balder, the Northern Sun-god, than
his Grecian counterpart, the lord of the unerring bow, the Southern
genius of light, and poesy, and music! Balder dwelt in his palace of
Breidablick, or Broadview; and in the magical spring-time of the North,
when the fair maiden Iduna breathed into the blue air her genial
breath, he set imprisoned Nature free, and filled the sky with silvery
haze, and called home the stork and crane, summoning forth the tender
buds, and clothing the bare branches with delicate green. "Balder is
the mildest, the wisest, and the most eloquent of all the AEsir," says
the "Edda." A voice of wail went through the palaces of Asgard when
Balder was slain by the mistletoe dart. Hermod rode down to the kingdom
of Hela, or Death, to ransom the lost one. Meantime his body was set
adrift on a floating funeral pyre. Hermod would have succeeded in his
mission, had not Lok, the Spirit of Evil, interposed to thwart him. For
this, Lok was bound in prison, with cords made of the twisted
intestines of one of his own sons; and he will remain imprisoned until
the Twilight of the Gods, the consummation of all things.
On the shoulders of Odin, the supreme Scandinavian deity, sat two
ravens, whispering in his ears. These two ravens are called Hugin and
Munin, or Thought and Memory. These "stately ravens of the saintly days
of yore" flew, each day, all over the world, gathering "facts and
figures," doubtless for their August master. It is a beautiful fable,
and reminds one of Milton's "thoughts which wander through eternity."
The dove of the Ark, and the bird which perched on the shoulder of the
old Plutarchan hero Sertorius, are recalled by this Scandinavian
"Hugin and Munin
Each down take their flight
Earth's fields over."
Nobler birds, these dark ravens of the Northern Jove, than the
bolt-bearing eagle of his Grecian brother. So much deeper, more
significant, and musical are the myths of the stern, dark, and tender
North than those of the bright and fickle South!
Notwithstanding that Valhalla was full of invincible heroes, and that
the celestial city of Asgard was the abode of the chief gods, still it
had a watchman who dwelt in a tower at the end of the Bridge Bifroest.
Heimdall was his name, and he was endowed with the sharpest ear and eye
that ever warder possessed. He could hear grass and wool grow with the
utmost distinctness. The AEsir, notwithstanding their supreme position,
had need of such a warder, with his Gjallar-horn, mightier than the
Paladin Astolfo's, that could make the universe reecho to its blast.
The truth was, over even the high gods of Asgard hung a Doom which was
mightier than they. It was necessary for them to keep watch and ward,
therefore, for evil things were on their trail. There were vast,
mysterious, outlying regions beyond their sway: Niflheim or Mistland,
Muspellheim or Flameland, and Joetunheim, the abode of the old
earth-powers, matched with whom, even Thor, the strongest of the Asen,
was but a puny stripling. Over this old Scandinavian heaven, as over
all ethnic celestial abodes, the dark Destinies lorded it with
unquestioned sway. From the four corners of the world, at last, were to
fly the snow-flakes of the dread Fimbul, Winter, blotting the sun, and
moaning and drifting night and day. Three times was Winter to come and
go, bringing to men and gods "a storm-age, a wolf-age." Then cometh
Ragnaroek, the Twilight of the Gods! Odin mounts his war-steed. The vast
ash Yggdrasil begins to shiver through all its height. The beatified
heroes of Valhalla, who have ever been on the watch for this dread era,
issue forth full of the old dauntless spirit of the North to meet the
dread agents of darkness and doom. Garm, the Moonhound, breaks loose,
and bays. "High bloweth Heimdall his horn aloft. Odin counselleth
Mimir's head." The battle joins. In short, the fiery baptism prophesied
in the dark scrolls of Stoic sage and Hebrew and Scandinavian scald
alike wraps the universe. The dwarfs wail in their mountain-clefts. All
is uproar and hissing conflagration.
"Dimmed's now the sun;
In ocean earth sinks;
From the skies are cast
The sparkling stars;
Around Time's nurse,
And flickering flames
With heaven itself shall play."
By "Time's nurse," in the foregoing lines from the "Voluspa," is meant
the Mundane Tree Yggdrasil, which shall survive unscathed, and wave
mournfully over the universal wreck. But in the "Edda" Hor tells
Gangler that "another earth shall appear, most lovely and verdant, with
pleasant fields, where the grain shall grow unsown. Vidar and Vali
shall survive. They shall dwell on the Plain of Ida, where Asgard
formerly stood. Thither shall come the sons of Thor, bringing with them
their father's mallet. Baldur and Hoedur shall also repair thither from
the abode of Death. There shall they sit and converse together, and
call to mind their former knowledge and the perils they underwent."
Perhaps we might give the Eddaic Twilight of the Gods a more human and
strictly European interpretation. May it not also foreshadow the great
Armageddon struggle which is evidently impending between the Teutonic
races in Western Europe, with their Protestantism, free speech,
individual liberty, right of private judgment, and scorn of all
thraldom, both material and mental, on the one side, and the dark
powers of absolutism, repression, and irresponsible authority in church
and state, on the other? How Russia, the type of brute-force, presses
with crushing weight on intellectual Germany! Soon she will absorb the
old kingdoms of Scandinavia,--to wit, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. On
the shores of Norway the ruler of the Sclavonic race will hang over
Scotland and England, like a bird of prey about to swoop upon his
victim. All despots and absolutists will array themselves under his
banner or be his auxiliaries. The old hierarchies will be banded with
him to crush out Protestantism, which is a plant of Teutonic growth.
Old Asia, with her rancor and despotic traditions, recognizes in the
Russian imperial rule a congenial rallying-point against the
progressive and hated Anglo-Saxonism and Protestantism of the West. A
decisive struggle is surely impending between freedom and absolutism,
between the bigoted adherents of the old faiths and the nations that
have cut loose from them. Perhaps this struggle may be prefigured in
the old Northern myth of the Twilight of the Gods.
All the old mythic cosmogonies are strangely suggestive and full of
mystic import,--that of Northern Odinism more than any other. In that
dim Niflheim, for instance, with its well-springs of the waters of the
upper world confusedly bubbling, and its metallic ore-veins, and dusk,
vaporous atmosphere, whence issued the old Nibelungen heroes of the
great Teutonic epos, there is much that is suggestive. May not one
discover in this old cosmogonic myth a dim hint of the nebular
hypothesis of creation, as it is called? Certainly, Niflheim, the
Mistland, and Muspellheim, the Flameland, commingled together, would
produce that hot, seething, nebulous fire-mist, out of which, the
physicists say, was evolved, by agglomeration and centrifugal and
centripetal attraction, our fair, harmonious system of worlds bounded
by outermost Neptune, thus far the Ultima Thule of the solar system.
Perhaps Asgard, translated from mythic into scientific language, means
the Zodiacal Light, and the Bridge Bifroest, the Milky Way.
How curious, to trace in the grotesque mythic cosmogonies of India,
Greece, and Scandinavia, modern geology, botany, chemistry, etc.,--the
vast and brutal giants of the Eddas and other old mythic scriptures
being recognized as impersonations of the forces of Nature! The old
mythic cosmogonists and the modern geologists and astronomers do not
differ amongst themselves so much, after all. The mythic physicists had
personal agents at work, in place of our simple elemental ones; the
result is the same. Take the mythic cosmogonies of ancient Greece,
Scandinavia, and India, and the geologies and astronomies of the
present day, and compare their pages, changing things personal into
things impersonal. The expulsion and banishment of the old shapeless
mundane deities by a new and more beautiful race of gods, the cosmical
divinities, the powers and rulers of an ordered world, are intelligible
enough when translated into our modern geological nomenclature. The
leaves of the Stone Book, as the rocky layers of the earth have been
called, and the blue hieroglyphic page of heaven, also, are more
intelligibly read by the aid of the mythic glosses of old religion, of
Saga, Rune, and Voluspa. They spell the telluric records aright in
their own peculiar language. The assaults of the Typhons and Joetuns
upon the celestial dynasty, and their attempts to scale the fiery
citadels of the gods by making ladders of mountains, indicate clearly
enough the different revolutions read by geology in the various strata
and rocky layers piled upon the primitive granite of the globe, the
bursting through of eruptions from the central fire, extruding and
uplifting mountains, and the subsidence of the ocean from one
ripple-marked sea-beach to another lower down. In those dim geologic
epochs, where annals are written on Mica Slate, Clay Slate, and
Silurian Systems, on Old Red Sandstones and New, on Primary and
Secondary Rocks and Tertiary Chalk-beds, there were topsy-turvyings
amongst the hills and gambollings and skippings of mountains, to which
the piling of Pelion upon Ossa was a mere cobblestone feat. Alps and
Apennines then played at leap-frog. Vast basaltic masses were
oftentimes extruded into the astonished air from the very heart and
core of the world. In truth, the old mythic cosmogonies of the ancient
East, South, and North are not a whit too grotesque in their
descriptions of the embryo earth, when it lay weltering in a sort of
uterine film, assuming form and regular lineaments.
There is nothing more drear, monstrous, wild, dark, and lonely in the
descriptions of the mythologic than of the scientific page. What more
wild and drear is there, even in Indian cosmogonic fable, than that
strange carbonigenous era of the globe, whose deposits, in the shape of
petrified forests, now keep us warm and cook our food, and whose relics
and souvenirs are pressed between the stone leaves of the secondary
rock for preservation by the Omnipotent Herbalist? Land and water were
then distinguishable,--but as yet there was no terrestrial animal,
nothing organic but radiata and molluscs, holly-footed and head-footed,
and other aquatic monstrosities, mailed, plated, and buckler-headed,
casting the shovel-nosed shark of the present Cosmos entirely into the
shade, in point of horned, toothed, and serrated horrors. These
amorphous creatures glided about in the seas, and vast sea-worms, or
centipedal asps, the parents of modern krakens and sea-serpents,
doubtless, accompanied them. There stood that unfinished world reeking
with charcoal fumes, its soft, fungous, cryptogamic vegetation
efflorescing with fierce luxuriance in that ghastly carbonic
atmosphere. Rudimental palms and pines of mushroom growth stood there
motionless, sending forth no soft and soul-like murmurs into the lurid
reek; for as yet leaves and flowers and blue skies and pure breezes
were not,--nothing but whiffs of mephitic and lethal vapor ascending,
as from a vast charcoal brazier. No lark or linnet or redbreast or
mocking-bird could live, much less warble, in those carbonic times. The
world, like a Mississippi steamer, was coaling, with an eye to the
needs of its future biped passengers. The embryotic earth was then
truly a Niflheim, or Mistland,--a dun, fuming region. Those were the
days, perhaps, when Nox reigned, and the great mundane egg was hatching
in the oven-like heat, from which the winged boy Eros leaped forth,
"his back glittering with golden plumes, and swift as eddying air." We
have it on good authority, that the Adirondack Mountains of New York,
and the Grampian Hills of Scotland, where Norval was to feed his
flocks, had already upheaved their bare backs from the boiling caldrons
of the sea, thus stealing a march on the Alps and many other more
How opposite and remote from each other are the mythologic ages and the
nineteenth century! The critical and scientific spirit of the one is in
strange contrast with the credulous, blindly reverent spirit of the
other. Mythology delegated the government of the world to inferior
deities, the subjects of an omnipotent Fate or Necessity; while, to
show how extremes meet, mere science delegates it to chemical and
physiological agencies, and ends, like the mythic cosmogonies, in some
irrepressible spontaneous impulse of matter to develope itself in the
ever-changing forms of the visible universe. Myriads of gods were the
actors in "the rushing metamorphosis" of the old myth-haunted Nature;
while chemic and elemental forces perform the same parts in the
masquerade of the modern _Phasis_. Both mythology and science,
therefore, stick fast in secondary causes.
Myths are the religion of youth, and of primitive, unsophisticated
nations; while science may be called the religion of the mature man,
full of experience and immersed in the actual. The Positivism of Comte,
like the old myth-worship, sets up for its deity human nature
idealized, adorned with genius and virtue. The Positivist worships
virtuous human nature, conditioned and limited as it is; while the
Mythist worshipped it reflected on the outer world and endowed with
supernatural attributes, clothed with mist-caps and wishing-caps that
gave it dominion over space and time. The restless, glittering,
whimsical sprites of fairy mythology, that were believed of old to have
so large a share in shaping the course of Nature and of human life,
have vanished from the precincts of the schoolmaster at least. They
could not endure the clear eyebeam of Science, which has searched their
subterranean abodes, withering them up and metamorphosing them into
mere physiological forces. Reason and scientific investigation have no
patience with the things of faith and imagination. Our poets now have
to go back to the Past, to the standpoints of the old pagan bards.
Tennyson lives in the land of the Lotophagi, in the Arabian Nights of
the Bagdad of Caliph Haroun, and in the orchard lawns of King Arthur's
Avalon. So, too, Longfellow must inhale the golden legendary air of the
Past. The mere humanitarian bards, who try to make modern life trip to
the music of trochees, dactyles, and spondees, fail miserably.
Industrialism is not poetical. Our modern life expresses itself in
machines, in mathematical formulas, in statistics and with scientific
precision generally. Art and poetry are pursued in the spirit of past
ages, and concern themselves with the symbols, faiths, and ideal
creations of the Past.
It is true, however, that all past ages of the world are
contemporaneous in this age. For example, we have in this nineteenth
century the patriarchal age of the world still surviving in the desert
tents of the Arab,--while the mythic, anthropomorphic period is still
extant in Persia, China, and India, and even among the nations of the
West, in the rustic nooks and corners of the Roman Catholic countries
of Europe. But the existing nations, which still preserve that old
ethnic worship and the mediaeval superstitions, are mere lingerers and
camp-followers in the march of humankind. Under the ample skirts of the
Roman Church still cower and lurk the superstitions of the old ethnic
world, baptized to be sure, and called by new names. The Roman see has
ever had a lingering kindness for the fair humanities of old religion,
which live no longer in the faith of Protestant reason and free
inquiry. She compromised with them of old, and they have clung about
her waist ever since. She has put her uniform upon them, and made them
do service in her cause, and keep alive with their breath the fast
expiring embers of faith and imaginative credulity, which she so much
loves and commends. Like an equivocal and ambiguous nature, the old
Mother Church, as she is called, is upward fair and Christian, but
downward foul and ethnic. She attacks human nature on the side of the
heart, the senses, and those old instincts which Coleridge says bring
back the old names. Reason and intellection, sharpened by science, she
abhors; but so large a part of mankind still linger in the rear of the
vanguard nations, that she has yet a long lease of life to run, with
myriads of adherents to cling to her with fanatical tenacity,--nay,
with proselytes from amongst the poetical, the artistic, and
imaginative, who voluntarily prefer to the broad sunshine of science
the twilight gloom of her sanctuaries, in order there the better to woo
the old inspiration of art, superstitious faith, and poesy. The old
ethnic instincts of human nature are formidable auxiliaries of the
Mother Church. Puseyism would rehallow the saintly wells even of
Protestant, practical England, and send John Bull again on a pilgrimage
to the shrines of Canterbury and Walsingham. Compare a Yankee,
common-school-bred, and an Austrian peasant, if you would learn how the
twelfth and nineteenth centuries live together in the current year. The
one is self-reliant, helpful, and versatile, not freighted with any
old-world rubbish; while the other is abject, and blindly reverent, and
full of the old mythic imagination that is in strong contrast with the
keen common-sense of the Protestant, who dispels all twilight fantasies
with a laugh of utter incredulity. The one sees projected on the outer
world his own imaginings, now fair, now gloomy; while the other sees in
the world, land to be cut up into corner-lots for speculation, and
water for sawmills and cotton-mills, and to float clipper-ships and
steamers. The one is this-worldly; the other is other-worldly. The one
is armed and equipped at all points to deal with the Actual, to subdue
it and make the most of it; he aims for success and wealth, for
elegance, plenty, and comfort in his home;--while the other is
negligent, a frequenter of shrines, in all things too superstitious,
overlooking and slighting mere physical comfort, and content with
misery and dirt. The Romish peasant lives begirt by supernatural
beings, who demand a large share of his time and thoughts for their
service; while the thrifty Protestant artisan or agriculturist is a
practical naturalist, keeping his eye fixed on the main chance.
Brownson would have us believe that he is morally and spiritually the
inferior of the former. For this light of common day, which now shines
upon the world, the multiplication-table, and reading and writing, are
far better than amulet, rosary, and crucifix.
After all, this light of common day, which the bards and saints so much
condemn and disdain, when subjected to the microscopic and telescopic
ken of modern science, opens as large a field for wonder and for the
imagination to revel in as did the old marvels, fables, and fictions of
the Past. The True is beginning to be found as strange, nay, stranger
than the purely Imaginative and Mythic. The Beautiful and the Good will
yet be found to be as consistent with the strictly True and Actual,
with the plain Matter-of-Fact as it is called, as they have been, in
the heroic ages of human-achievement and endurance, with the glorious
cheats and delusions that nerved man to high emprise. The modern
scientific discoverer and inventor oftentimes finds himself engaged in
quests as strange as that of the Holy Grail of Round-Table fiction. To
the Past, with its mythic delusions, simplicity, and dense ignorance of
Nature, we can never return, any more than the mature man can shrink
into the fresh boy again. Nor is it to be regretted. The distant in
time, like the distant in space, wears a halo, a vague, blue
loveliness, which is all unreal. The tired wayfarer, who is weary with
the dust, the din, and stony footing of the Actual and the Present, may
sometimes fondly imagine, that, if he could return to the far Past, he
would find all smooth and golden there; but it is a pleasant delusion
of that glorious arch-cheat, the Imagination. Yet if we cannot go back
to the Past, we can march forward to a Future, which opens a deeper and
more wondrous and airier vista, with its magicians of the Actual
casting into shade the puny achievements of old necromancy and mythic
* * * * *
Yes! I had, indeed, a glorious revenge! Other people have had home,
love, happiness; they have had fond caresses, tender cares, the bright
faces of children shining round the board. I had none of these; my
revenge has stood to me in place of them all. And it has stood well.
Love may change; loved ones may die; the fair-faced children may grow
up hard-hearted and ungrateful. But my revenge will not deceive or
disappoint me; it cannot change or pass away; it will last through Time
I was left an orphan in early childhood. My father was an officer in
the American Navy; my mother a Spaniard. She was very beautiful, I
always heard; and her miniature, which my father's dying hand placed
about my neck, proclaimed her so. A pale, clear, olive tint, eyes of
thrilling blackness, long, lustrous hair, and a look of mingled
tenderness and melancholy made it, in my thought, the loveliest face
that mortal eyes could see.
My parents left me no fortune, and I fell to the care of my father's
only brother, a man of wealth and standing. I have no story to tell of
the bitterness of dependence,--of slights, and insult, and privation.
My uncle had married, somewhat late in life, a young and gentle woman;
when I was twelve years old she became the mother of twins,--two lovely
little girls. No one, unacquainted with the family history, could have
supposed that I was other than the elder sister of Florence and
Leonora. Every indulgence was granted me, every advantage of dress and
education bestowed upon me. So far as even I could see, my uncle and
aunt regarded me as their own child. Nor was I ungrateful, but repaid
them with a filial reverence and affection.
I did not inherit the fulness of my mother's beauty, but had yet some
traits of her,--the pale, clear skin, the large, black eyes, the glossy
and abundant hair. Here the resemblance ceased. I have heard my uncle
say,--how often!--"Your mother, Juanita, had the most perfect form I
ever saw, except in marble"; all Spanish women, indeed, he told me, had
a full, elastic roundness of shape and limb, rarely seen among our
spare and loose-built nation. I was American in form, at least,--slight
and stooping, with a certain awkwardness, partly to be imputed to my
rapid growth, partly to my shyness and reserve. I was insatiably fond
of reading, little attracted toward society. When my uncle's house, as
often happened, was full of gay company, I withdrew to my own room, and
read my favorite authors in its pleasant solitude. I was ill at ease
with lively, fashionable people,--very much at home with books. Thanks
to my uncle's care, I was well educated, even scholarly, for my age and
sex. My studious habits, far from being discouraged, were praised by
all the household, and I was looked upon as a prodigy of cleverness and
A widow lady, of the name of Haughton, came to live in the little
cottage near us when I was fifteen years old. She was well-born, but
poor, and had known many sorrows. My aunt, Mrs. Heywood, soon became
interested in her, and took pleasure in offering her those numerous
attentions which a wealthy neighbor can so easily bestow, and which are
so grateful to the recipient. Mrs. Haughton and her sons were frequent
guests at our house; and we, too, spent many pleasant hours in the
vine-covered porch of the cottage. I had few companions, and John and
William Haughton were very welcome to me. They were somewhat older than
I,--John twenty-two, and William two years younger; and I was thus just
able to escape regarding them with that profound contempt which the
girl of fifteen usually feels for "boys." After knowing them awhile I
felt how baseless such contempt would be; for they possessed a depth
and maturity of character rarely seen except in men of much experience.
John was grave and thoughtful; his livelier brother often said he had
come into the world some centuries too late,--that he was meant for an
Augustine or a Pascal, so studious was he, and so saintly. Do not fancy
that he was one of those stiff, bespectacled, pedantic youths who
cannot open their lips without a classic allusion or a Greek quotation;
nothing could be farther from the truth. He was quiet and retiring;
very few guessed how beneath that exterior, so unassuming, lay hid the
noblest aspirations, the most exalted thought. It was John I should
But it was William who won my heart, even without an effort. I, the
pale, serious girl, loved with a wild idolatry the gay and careless
youth. Never, from that day till now, have I seen a man so perfect in
all manly beauty. Strength and symmetry were united in his tall,
athletic figure; his features were large, but nobly formed; his hair,
of a sunny hue, fell in rich masses over a broad, white brow. So might
Apollo have looked in the flush of his immortal youth.
At first I gazed at him only with the enthusiasm which his extreme
beauty might well awaken in the heart of a romantic maiden; then I grew
to see in the princely type of that beauty a reflection of his mind.
Did ever any fond fool so dote upon her Ideal as I on mine? All
generous thoughts, all noble deeds, seemed only the fit expression of
his nature. Then I came to mingle a reverence with my admiration. We
were friends; he talked to me much of his plans in life,--of the future
that lay before him. What an ambitious spirit burned within him!--a
godlike ambition I thought it then. And how my weak, womanish heart
thrilled with sympathy to his! With what pride I listened to his words!
with what fervor I joined in his longings!
There came a time when I trembled before him. I could no longer walk
calmly arm-in-arm with him under the linden-trees, hearkening joyfully.
I dared not lift my eyes to his face; I turned pale with suppressed
feeling, if he but spoke my name--Juanita--or took my hand in his for
friendly greeting. What a hand it was!--so white, and soft, and
shapely, yet so powerful! It was the right hand for him,--a fair and
delicate seeming, a cruel, hidden strength. When he spoke of the future
my heart cried out against it; it was intolerable to me. In its bright
triumphs I could have no part; thereto I could follow him only with my
love and tears. The present alone was mine, and to that I passionately
clung. For I never dreamed, you see, that he could love me.
My manner toward him changed; I was fitful and capricious. I dreaded,
above all things, that he should suspect my feelings. Sometimes I met
him coldly; sometimes I received his confidences with an indifferent
and weary air. This could not last.
One night--it was a little time before he left us--he begged me to walk
with him once more under the lindens. I made many excuses, but he
overruled them all. We left the brilliantly-lighted rooms and stood
beneath the solemn shadow of the trees. It was a warm, soft night; the
harvest moon shone down upon us; a south wind moaned among the
branches. We walked silently on till we reached a rustic seat, formed
of gnarled boughs fantastically bound together; here he made me sit
down and placed himself beside me.
"Juanita," he said, in a tone so soft, so thrillingly musical, that I
shall never forget it, "what has come between us? Are you no longer my
I tried to answer him, and could not; love and grief choked my
"Look at me," he said.
I looked. The moon shone full on his face; his eyes were bent on mine.
What a serpent-charm lurked in their treacherous blue depths! If,
looking at me thus, he had bidden me kill myself at his feet, I must
have done it.
"Juanita," he said, with a smile of conscious power, "you love me! But
why should that destroy our happiness?"
He held out his arms; I threw myself on his bosom in an agony of shame
and joy. Oh, Heaven! could it be possible that he loved me at last?
Long, long, we sat there in the moonlight, his arms around me, my hand
clasped in his. Poor hand! even by that faint radiance how dark and
thin it looked beside his, so white and rounded! How gloriously
beautiful was he! what a poor, pale shadow I! And yet he loved me! He
did not talk much of it; he spoke more of the future,--_our_ future. It
all lay before him, a bright, enchanted land, wherein we two should
walk together. We had not quite reached it, but we surely should, and
that ere long.
The steps toward it were prosaic enough, save as his imagination
brightened them. An early friend of his dead father, a distinguished
lawyer, wishing to further William's advancement in life, gave him the
opportunity of studying his profession with him,--offering him, at the
same time, a home in his own family. From these slender materials
William's fancy built air-castles the most magnificent. He would study
assiduously; with such a prize in view, he fondly said, his patience
would never weary. He felt within himself the consciousness of talent;
and talent and industry _must_ succeed. A bright career was before
him,--fame, fortune; and all were to be laid at my feet; all would be
valueless, if not shared with me.
"Ah, William," I asked, with a moment's sorrowful doubt, "are you sure
of that? Are you certain that it is not fame you look forward so
eagerly to possess, instead of me?"
"How _dare_ you say such a thing?" he answered, sternly. I did not mind
the sternness; there was love behind it.
"And what am I to do while you are thus winning gold and glory?" I
asked, at length.
"I will tell you, Juanita. In the first place, you are _not_ to waste
your time and spirits in long, romantic reveries, and vain pining
because we cannot be together."
"Indeed, I will not!" was my quick reply, though I colored deeply. I
was ashamed that he thought me in danger of loving him too well. "I
know you think me foolish and sentimental; but I assure you I will try
to be different, since you wish it."
"That is my own dear girl! You must go out,--you must see people,--you
must enjoy yourself. You must study, too; don't let your mind rust
because you are engaged. It will be quite time enough for that when we
"You need not be afraid; I shall always wish to please you, William,
and so I shall always endeavor to improve."
"Good child!" he said, laughing. "But you will not always be such an
obedient infant, Juanita. You will find out your power over me, and
then you will want to exercise it, just for the pleasure of seeing me
submit. You will be despotic about the veriest trifles, only to show me
that my will must bow to yours."
"That will never be! I have no will of my own, where you are concerned,
William. I only ask to know your wishes, that I may perform them."
"Is that indeed so?" he said, with a new tenderness of manner. "I am
very glad; for, to tell the truth, my love, I fear I should have little
patience with womanish caprices. I have reasons always for what I do
and for what I require, and I could not long love any one who opposed
Again I assured him that he need feel no such dread. How happy we
were!--yes, I believe he loved me enough then to be happy, even as I
It was so late before we thought of going in, that a messenger was sent
to seek us, and many a fine jest we had to encounter when we reached
The next day, William spoke to my uncle, who seemed to regard the
matter in a light very different from ours. He said, we were a mere boy
and girl, that years must elapse before we could marry, and by that
time we should very probably have outgrown our liking for each other;
still, if we chose, we might consider ourselves engaged; he did not
know that he had any objection to make. This manner of treating the
subject was not a flattering one; however, we had his consent,--and
that was the main point, after all.
So we were troth-plight; and William went forth on his career of labor
and success, and I remained at home, loving him, living for him,
striving to make my every act what he would have it. I went into
company as he had bidden me; I studied and improved myself; I grew
handsomer, too. All who saw me noticed and approved the alteration in
my appearance. I was no longer awkward and stooping; my manner had
acquired something of ease and gracefulness; a faint bloom tinged my
cheek and made my dark eyes brighter. I was truly happy in the change;
it seemed to render me a little more suited to him, who was so proudly,
so splendidly handsome.
I remembered what he had said too well to spend much time in
love-dreams; but my happiest moments were when I was alone, and could
think of him, read his letters, look at his picture, and fancy the
joyfulness of his return.
His letters!--there the change first showed itself. At first they were
all, and more than all, I could wish. I blushed to read the ardent
words, as I did when he had spoken them. But by-and-by there was a
different tone: I could not describe it; there was nothing to complain
of; and yet I felt--so surely!--that something was wrong. I never
thought of blaming him; I dreaded lest I had in some way wounded his
affection or his pride. I asked no explanation; I thought to do so
might annoy or vex him, for his was a peculiar nature. I only wrote to
him the more fondly,--strove more and more to show him how my whole
heart was his. But the change grew plainer as months passed on; and
some weeks before the time appointed for his return, the letters ceased
This conduct grieved me, certainly, yet I was more perplexed than
unhappy. It never occurred to me to doubt his love; I thought there
must be some mistake, some offence unwittingly given, and I looked to
his coming to clear away all doubt and trouble. But I longed so for
that coming!--it seemed as if the weeks would never end. I knew he
loved me; but I needed to hear him say it once more,--to have every
shadow dispelled, and nothing between us but the warmest affection and
In such a mood I met him. The house was full of guests, and I could not
bear to see him for the first time before so many eyes. I had watched,
as may well be believed, for his arrival, and a little before dark had
seen him enter his mother's house. He would surely come over soon; I
ran down the long walk, and paced up and down beneath the trees,
awaiting him. As soon as he came in sight I hastened toward him; he met
me kindly, but the change that had been in his letters was plainer yet
in his manner. It struck a chill to my heart.
"I suppose you have a house full of company, as usual," he remarked
presently, glancing at the brilliant windows.
"Yes, we have a number of friends staying with us. Will you go in and
see them? There are several whom you know."
"Thank you,--not to-night; I am not in the mood. And I have a good deal
to say to you, Juanita, that deeply concerns us both."
"Very well," I replied; "you had better tell me at once."
We walked on to the old garden-chair, and sat down as we had done that
memorable night. We were both silent,--I from disappointment and
apprehension. He, I suppose, was collecting himself for what he had to
"Juanita," he spoke at last, taking my hand in his, "I do not know how
you will receive what I am about to tell you. But this I wish you to
promise me: that you will believe I speak for our best happiness,
--yours as well as mine."
"Go on," was all my reply.
"A year ago," he continued, "we sat here as we do now, and, spite of
doubts and misgivings and a broken resolution, I was happier than I
shall ever be again. I had loved you from the first moment I saw you,
with a passion such as I shall never feel for any other woman. But I
knew that we were both poor; I knew that marriage in our circumstances
could only be disastrous. It would wear out your youth in servile
cares; it would cripple my energies; it might even, after a time,
change our love to disgust and aversion. And so, though I believed
myself not indifferent to you, I resolved never to speak of my love,
but to struggle against it, and root it out of my heart. You know how
differently it happened. Your changed manner, your averted looks, gave
me much pain. I feared to have offended you, or in some way forfeited
your esteem. I brought you here to ask an explanation. I said,
'Juanita, are you no longer my friend?' You know what followed; the
violence of your emotion showed me all. You remember?"
Did I not?--and was it not generous of him to remind me then?
"I saw you loved me, and the great joy of that knowledge made me forget
prudence, reason, everything. Afterwards, when alone, I tried to
justify to myself what I had done, and partially succeeded. I argued
that we were young and could wait; I dreamed, too, that my ardor could
outrun time, and grasp in youth the rewards of mature life. In that
hope I left you.
"Since then my views have greatly changed. I have seen something--not
much, it is true--of men and of life, and have found that it is an easy
thing to dream of success, but a long and difficult task to achieve it.
That I have talent it would be affectation to deny; but many a poor and
struggling lawyer is my equal. The best I can hope for, Juanita, is a
youth of severe toil and griping penury, with, perhaps, late in
life,--almost too late to enjoy it,--competence and an honorable name.
And even that is by no means secure; the labor and the poverty may last
my life long.
"You have been reared in the enjoyment of every luxury which wealth can
command. How could you bear to suffer privations, to perform menial
labors, to be stinted in dress, deprived of congenial society, obliged
to refrain from every amusement, because you were unable to afford the
expense? How should you like to have a grinding economy continually
pressing upon you, in every arrangement of your household, every detail
of your daily life? to have your best days pass in petty cares and
sayings, all your intellect expended in the effort to make your paltry
means do the greatest possible service?"
It was not a pleasant picture, but, harshly drawn as it was, I felt in
the fulness of my love that I could do all that, and more, for him. Oh,
yes! for him and with him I would have accepted any servitude, any
suffering. Yet a secret something withheld me from saying so; and how
glad I soon was that I had kept silence!
"You make no reply, Juanita," he said. "Well, I might put on a pretence
of disinterestedness, and say that I was unwilling to bind you to such
a fate, and therefore released you from your engagement. It would not
be altogether a pretence, for nothing could be more painful to me than
to see the brightness of your youth fading away in the life I have
described. But I think of myself, too; comforts, luxuries, indulgences,
I value highly. Since my father's death I have tasted enough of poverty
to know something of its bitterness; and to be doomed to it for life is
appalling to me. The sordid cares of narrow means are so distasteful,
that I cannot contemplate them with any degree of patience. After a day
of exhausting mental effort, to return to a dingy, ill-furnished
home,--to relieve professional labors by calculations about the
gas-bill or the butcher's account,--I shrink from such a miserable
prospect! I love the elegant, the high-bred, the tasteful, in women; I
am afraid even my love for you would alter, Juanita, to see you day by
day in coarse or shabby clothing, performing such offices as are only
suited to servants,--whom we could not afford to keep.
"I have thought of it a great deal, and it seems to me that it is
useless and hopeless, that it would be the wildest folly, to continue
our engagement. With our tastes and habits, we must seek in marriage
the means of comfort, the appliances of luxury. Others may find in it
the bewildering bliss we might have known, had fortune been favorable
to us; but, as it is, I think the best, the wisest, the happiest thing
we can do is--to part!"
Oh, Heaven! this from him!
"Still, Juanita, if you think otherwise," he went on after a moment's
pause,--"if you prefer to hold me to our engagement, I am ready to
fulfil it when you wish."
It was like a man to say this, and then to feel that he had acted
uprightly and honorably!
I said nothing for a time; I could not speak. All hell woke in my
heart. I knew then what lost spirits might feel,--grief, and wounded
pride, and rage, hatred, despair! In the midst of all I made a vow; and
I kept it well!
How I had loved this man!--with what a self-forgetting, adoring love!
He had been my thought, day and night. I would have done
anything,--sacrificed, suffered anything,--yes, sinned even,--to please
his lightest fancy. And he cast me coldly off because I had no
fortune!--trampled my heart into the dust because I was poor!
"You make no answer, Juanita," he said, at length.
"I am thinking," I replied, looking up and laughing slightly, "how to
say that I quite agree with you, and have been planning all day how I
should manage to tell you the very same thing."
Miserable falsehood! But I spoke it so coolly, that he was thoroughly
deceived. He never suspected the truth,--my deep love, my outraged
"It is just as you have said, William. We have elegant tastes, and no
means of gratifying them. What should we do together? Only make each
other miserable. You need a rich wife, I a rich husband, who can supply
us with the indulgences we demand. To secure these we can well make the
sacrifice of a few romantic fancies."
"I am glad you think so," he replied, yet somewhat absently.
"You must wait awhile for Florence," I continued; "she is four years
old, and twelve years hence you will yet be quite a personable
individual. And Florence will have a fortune worth waiting for, I
assure you. Or perhaps you have somebody more eligible already in view.
Come, William, be frank,--tell me all about it."
"I did not expect this levity, Juanita," he answered, severely. "You
must know that I have never thought of such a thing. And believe me,"
he said, in a tenderer tone, "that, among all the beautiful women I
have seen,--and some have not disdained to show me favor,--none ever
touched my heart for a moment. Had we any reasonable prospect of
happiness, I could never give you up; I love you better a thousand
times than anything in the world."
"Except yourself," I said, mockingly; and I looked at him with a
mischievous smile, while a storm of passion raged in my heart and my
brain seemed on fire. "Be it so! I do not complain of such a splendid
rival. But really, William, I cannot boast of constancy like yours,
even; though I suppose most people would consider that rather a poor,
flawed specimen. It hurt my dignity very much when Uncle Heywood called
our attachment a boy-and-girl affair; but I soon found that he knew
best about it. For a time I kept my love very warm and glowing; but it
was not long ere the distractions you bade me seek in society proved
more potent than I wished. I found there were other things to be
enjoyed than dreams of you, and even--shall I confess it? I can now, I
suppose--other people to be admired as well as you!"
"Indeed!" he said, with ill-concealed annoyance. "You had a great
talent for concealment, then; your letters showed no trace of the
"I know they didn't," I answered, laughing. "I hated very much to admit
even to myself that I had altered; it seemed, you know, so capricious
and childish,--in short, so far from romantic. I kept up the illusion
as long as I could; used to go off alone to read your letters, look at
your picture, and fancy I felt just as at first. Then when I sat down
to write, and remembered how handsome you were, and all that had
happened, the old feelings would come back, and for the time you were
all I cared for. But I am very glad we have had this explanation, and
understand each other. We shall both be happier for it."
I had a little taste of vengeance, even then, when I saw how his vanity
was wounded. He tried to look relieved,--I dare say he tried to feel
so,--but I question very much whether he was pleased with himself that
he had been so cool and philosophical. He did not wish to make me
wretched; but he had expected I would be so, as a matter of course. To
find me so comfortable under the infliction perplexed and disconcerted
"This will not make any coldness between us, I hope?" he said, at last.
"We will be friends still, dear Juanita?"
"Yes," I replied, "we will be friends, dear William. We are a great
deal more in our true relations thus than as lovers."
"And your uncle's family," he inquired,--"shall we explain all to
"There is no need of that," I answered, carelessly. "Let things pass.
After a time they will perhaps notice that there is a change, and I can
tell them that we are both tired of the engagement. They will ask no
"Thank you," he said. "It will save me some embarrassment."
"Yes," I replied, looking at him steadily, "I think it would have been
a rather awkward topic for you to broach."
His eye fell before mine; through all the sophistry he had used, I
think some slight sense of the baseness of his conduct forced itself
upon his mind.
"Now I must return to the house," I said, rising; "will you not come
with me? My uncle and aunt will expect to see you, and Anna Gray is
here. You can make your first essay toward the rich match this
"Nonsense!" he said, impatiently, yet he accompanied me. I knew he did
not like to lose sight of me.
Never had I exerted myself so much to please any one, as I did that
night to charm and attract him;--not, indeed, by any marked attention;
that would have failed of its object. But I talked and danced; I
displayed for his benefit all that I had acquired of ease and manner
since he left. I saw his astonishment, that the pale, quiet girl who
was wont to sit in some corner, almost unnoticed, should now be the
life of that gay circle. I made him admire me most at the very moment
he had lost me forever,--and so far, all was well.
I went to my room that night a different creature. That place had been
a kind of sanctuary to me. By its vine-draped window I had loved to sit
and think of him, to read the books he liked, and fashion my mind to
what he could approve. But the spot which I had left, a hopeful and
loving girl, I returned to, a forsaken and revengeful woman. My whole
nature was wrought up to one purpose,--to repay him, to the last iota,
all he had made me suffer, all the humiliation, the despair. It was
strange how this purpose upbore and consoled me; for I needed
consolation. I hated him, yet I loved him fiercely, too; I despised
him, yet I knew no other man would ever touch my heart. He had been, he
always must be, everything to me,--the one object to which all my
thoughts tended, to which my every action was referred.
I took from a drawer his letters and his few love-gifts. The paper I
tore to fragments and threw into the empty fireplace. I lighted the
heap, and tossed the gifts, one after another, into the flame. Last of
all, I drew his portrait from my bosom. I gazed at it an instant,
pressed it to my lips. No,--I would not destroy this,--I would keep it
to remind me.
I remember thinking, as I watched the flickering flame, that this was
something like a witch's incantation. I smiled at the idea.
The next morning there was only a heap of light ashes left in the
grate. I pursued my purpose determinedly and with unflagging zeal. I
did not know exactly how it would be realized, but I felt sure I should
achieve it. My first care was to cultivate to the utmost every faculty
I possessed. My education had been hitherto of rather a substantial
order; I had few accomplishments. To these I turned my care. "What has
a woman," I thought, "to do with solid learning? It never tells in
society." I had observed the rapt attention with which William listened
to music. Hitherto I had been only a passable performer, such as any
girl of sixteen might be. But under the influence of this new motive I
studied diligently; the best masters were supplied me; and soon my
progress both astonished and delighted myself and all who heard me.
I have before said that a change for the better had taken place in my
person; this I strove by every means in my power to increase. I rode, I
walked, I plied the oars vigorously upon our little lake. My health
grew firm, my cheeks more blooming, my form fuller and majestic. I took
the greatest pains with my toilet. It was wonderful to see, day by day,
as I looked into the mirror, the alteration that care and taste could
effect in personal appearance. Could this erect, stately figure, with
its air of grace and distinction, be one with the thin, stooping form,
clad in careless, loose-fitting garb, which I so well remembered as
myself? Could that brilliant face, with its bands of shining hair, that
smile of easy self-confidence, belong to me? What, had become of the
pale, spiritless girl? My uncle sometimes asked the question, and,
looking at me with a fond, admiring glance, would say,--"You were made
for an empress, Juanita!" I knew then that I was beautiful, and
rejoiced in the knowledge; but no tinge of vanity mingled with the joy.
I cultivated my beauty, as I did my talents, for a purpose of which I
never lost sight.
It was now I learned for the first time that John Haughton loved me.
When it became generally understood that William and I were no longer
engaged, John came forward. I do not know what he, so good, so
high-minded, saw in me; but certainly he loved me with a true
affection. When he avowed it, a strange joy seized me; I felt that now
I held in my hand the key of William's destiny. Now I should not lose
my hold on him; we could not drift apart in the tide of life. As John's
bride, John's wife, there must always be an intimate connection between
us. So I yielded with well-feigned tenderness to my lover's suit,--only
stipulating, that, as some time must elapse before our marriage, no one
should know of our attachment,--not even William, or his mother,--nor,
on my part, any of my uncle's family. He made no objection; I believe
he even took a romantic pleasure in the concealment. He liked to see me
moving about in society, and to feel that there was a tie between us
that none dreamed of but ourselves. Poor John! he deserved better of
Fate than to be the tool of my revenge!
William came home, soon after our engagement, for his annual visit. He
was succeeding rather better than his dismal fancies had once
prognosticated. He was very often at our house,--very much my friend. I
saw through all that clearly enough; I knew he loved me a hundred-fold
more passionately than in our earlier days; and the knowledge was to me
as a cool draught to one who is perishing of thirst. I did all in my
power to enhance his love; I sang bewildering melodies to him; I talked
to him of the things he liked, and that roused his fine intellect to
the exercise of its powers. I rode with him, danced with him; nor did I
omit to let him see the admiration with which others of his sex
regarded me. I was well aware that a man values no jewel so highly as
that which in a brilliant setting calls forth the plaudits of the
crowd. I talked to him often of his prospects and hopes; his ambition,
all selfish as it was, fascinated me by its pride and daring. "Ah,
William!" I sometimes thought, "you made a deadly mistake when you cast
me off! You will never find another who can so enter, heart and soul,
into all your brilliant projects!"
He came to me, one morning, rather earlier than his wont. I was
reading, but laid aside my book to greet him.
"What have you there, Juanita? Some young-ladyish romance, I suppose."
"Not at all,--it is a very rational work; though I presume you will
laugh at it, because it contains a little sentiment,--you are grown so
hard and cold, of late."
"Do you think so?" he asked, with a look that belied the charge.
He took up the volume, and, glancing through it, read now and then a
"What say you to this, Juanita? 'If we are still able to love one who
has made us suffer, we love him more than ever.' Is that true to your
"No," I answered, for I liked at times to approach the topic which was
always uppermost in my mind, and to see his perfect unconsciousness of
it. "If any one had made me suffer, I should not stop to inquire
whether I were able to love him still or not; I should have but one
"How very fierce!" he said, laughing. "And your idea of revenge
is--what? To stab him with your own white hand?"
"No!" I said, scornfully. "To kill a person you hate is, to my mind,
the most pitiful idea of vengeance. What! put him out of the world at
once? Not so! He should live," I said, fixing my eyes upon him,--"and
live to suffer,--and to remember, in his anguish, why he suffered, and
to whose hand he owed it!"
It was a hateful speech, and would have repelled most men; for my life
I dared not have made it before John. But I knew to whom I was talking,
and that he had no objection to a slight spice of _diablerie_.
"What curious glimpses of character you open to me now and then," he
said, thoughtfully. "Not very womanly, however."
"Womanly!" I cried. "I wonder what a man's notion of woman is! Some
soft, pulpy thing that thrives all the better for abuse? a spaniel that
loves you more, the more you beat it? a worm that grows and grows in
new rings as often as you cut it asunder? I wonder history has never
taught you better. Look at Judith with Holofernes,--Jael with
Sisera,--or if you want profane examples, Catherine de Medicis,
Mademoiselle de Brinvilliers, Charlotte Corday. There are women who
have formed a purpose, and gone on steadily toward its accomplishment,
even though, like that Roman girl,--Tullia was her name?--they had to
drive over a father's corpse to do it."
"You have known such, perhaps," said Richard.
"Yes," I answered, with, a gentle smile, "I have. They wished no harm,
it might be, to any one, but people stood in their way. It is as if you
were going to the arbor after grapes, and there were a swarm of ants in
the path. You have no malice against the ants, but you want the
grapes,--so you walk on, and they are crushed."
I was thinking of John and of his love, but William did not know that.
"You are a strange being!" he said, looking at me with a mixture of
admiration and distrust.
"Ah! Well, you see my race is somewhat anomalous,--a blending of the
Spaniard and the Yankee. Come, I will be all Spanish for a time; bring
me the guitar. Now let me sing you a _romance_."
I struck the tinkling chords, and began a sweet love-ditty. Fixing my
eyes on his, I made every word speak to his heart from mine. I saw his
color change, his eyes melt;--when the song ended, he was at my feet.
I know not what he said; I only know it was passion, burning and
intense. Oh, but it was balm both to my love and hate to hear him! I
let him go on as long as he would,--then I said, gently caressing his
"You forget, dear William, all those lessons of prudence you taught me
not so very long ago."
He poured forth the most ardent protestations; he begged me to forget
all that cold and selfish reasoning. Long since he had wished to offer
me his hand, but feared lest I should repel him with scorn. Would I not
pardon his former ingratitude, and return his love?
"But you forget, my friend," I said, "that circumstances have not
altered, but only your way of viewing them; we must still be poor and
humble. Don't you remember all your eloquent picturings of the life we
should be obliged to lead? Don't you recollect the dull, dingy house,
the tired, worn-out wife in shabby clothing"----
"Oh, hush, Juanita! Do not recall those wretched follies! Besides,
circumstances have somewhat changed; I am not so very poor. My income,
though small, will be sufficient, if well-managed, to maintain us in
comfort and respectability."
"Comfort and respectability!" I exclaimed, with a shudder. "Oh,
William, can you imagine that such words apply to me? The indulgences
of wealth are necessary to me as the air I breathe. I suppose you would
be able to shield me from absolute suffering; but that is not enough.
Do not speak of this again, for both our sakes. And now, good friend,"
I added, in a lighter tone, "I advise you to get up as soon as may be;
we are liable to interruption at any time; and your position, though
admirable for a _tableau_, would be a trifle embarrassing for ordinary
He started to his feet, and would have left me in anger, but I recalled
him with a word. It was good to feel my power over this man who had
slighted and rejected me. Before we parted that day he had quite
forgiven me for refusing him and making him ridiculous; I thought a
little of the spaniel was transferred to him. I saw, too, he had a
hope, which I carefully forbore to contradict, that I preferred him to
any other, and would accept him, could he but win a fortune for me. And
so I sent him out into the world again, full of vain, feverish desires
after the impossible. I gave him all the pains of love without its
consolations. It was good, as far as it went.
John and I, meanwhile, got on very peacefully together. He was not
demonstrative, nor did he exact demonstration from me. I had promised
to marry him, and he trusted implicitly to my faith; while his love was
so reverent, his ideal of maiden delicacy so exalted, that I should
have suffered in his esteem, I verily believe, had my regard been shown
other than by a quiet tenderness of manner.
About this time my uncle's family went abroad. They wished me to
accompany them, but I steadily declined. When they pressed me for a
reason, I told them of my engagement to John, and that I was unwilling
to leave him for so long a time. The excuse was natural enough, and
they believed me; and it was arranged that during the period of their
absence I should remain with a sister of Mrs. Heywood.
The time passed on. I saw William frequently. Often he spoke to me of
his love, and I scarcely checked him; I liked to feed him with false
hopes, as once he had done to me. He did not speak again of marriage; I
knew his pride forbade it. I also knew that he believed I loved him,
and would wait for him.
I heard often from our travellers, and always in terms of kindness and
affection. At last their speedy return was announced; they were to sail
in the "Arctic," and we looked joyfully forward to the hour of their
arrival. Too soon came the news of the terrible disaster; a little
while of suspense, and the awful certainty became apparent. My kind,
indulgent uncle and all his family, whom I loved as I would my own
parents and sisters, were buried in the depths of the Atlantic.
I will not attempt to describe my grief; it has nothing to do with the
story that is written here. When, after a time, I came back to life and
its interests, a startling intelligence awaited me. My uncle had died
intestate; his wife and children had perished with him; as next of kin,
I was sole heir to his immense estate. When my mind fully took in the
meaning of all this I felt that a crisis was at hand. Day by day I
looked for William.
I had not long to wait, I was sitting by my window on a bright October
day, reading a book I loved well,--"Shirley," one of the three immortal
works of a genius fled too soon. As I read, I traced a likeness to my
own experience; Caroline was a curious study to me. I marvelled at her
meek, forgiving spirit; if I would not imitate, I did not condemn her.
Then I heard the gate-latch click; I looked out through the
vine-leaves, all scarlet with the glory of the season, and saw William
coming up the walk. I knew why he was there, and, still retaining the
volume in my hand, went down to meet him.
We walked out in the grounds; it was a perfect afternoon; all the
splendor of autumn, without a trace of its swift-coming decay. Gold,
crimson, and purple shone the forests through their softening haze; and
the royal hues were repeated on the mountain, reflected in the river.
The sky was cloudless and intensely blue; the sunlight fell, with red
glow, on the fading grass. A few late flowers of gorgeous hues yet
lingered in the beds and borders; and a sweet wind, that might have
come direct from paradise, sighed over all. William and I walked on,
At first we spoke of the terrible disaster and my loss; he could be
gentle when he chose, and now his tenderness and sympathy were like a
woman's. I almost forgot, in listening, what he was and had been to me.
I was reminded when he began to speak of ourselves; I recalled it
fully, when again, with all the power that passion and eloquence could
impart, he declared his love, and begged me to be his.
I looked at him; to my eye he seemed happy, hopeful, triumphant;
handsomer he could not be, and to me there was a strange fascination in
his lofty, masculine beauty. I felt then, what I had always known, that
I loved him even while I hated him, and for an instant I wavered. Life
with him! It looked above all things dear, desirable! But what! Show
such a weak, such a _womanish_ spirit? Give up my revenge at the very
moment that it was within my grasp,--the revenge I had lived for
through so many years? Never!--I recalled the night under the lindens,
and was myself again.
"Dear William," I said, gently, "you amaze and distress me. Such love
as a sister may give to an only brother you have long had from me. Why
ask for any other?"
"'A sister's love!'" he cried, impatiently. "I thought, Juanita, you
were above such paltry subterfuges! Is it as a brother I have loved you
all these long and weary years?"
"Perhaps not,--I cannot say. At any rate," I continued, gravely, "a
sisterly affection is all I can give you now."
"You are trifling with me, Juanita! Cease! It is unworthy of you."
He seized my hand, and clasped it to his breast. How wildly his heart
beat under my touch! I trembled from head to foot,--but I said, in a
cold voice, "You are a good actor, William!"
"You cannot look in my eyes and say you believe that charge," he
I essayed to do it,--but my glance fell before his, so ardent, so
tender. Spite of myself, my cheeks burned with blushes. Quietly I
withdrew my hand and said, "I am to be married to John in December."
Ah, but there was a change then! The flush and the triumph died out of
his face, as when a lamp is suddenly extinguished. Yet there was as
much indignation as grief in his voice when he said,--
"Heaven forgive you, Juanita! You have wilfully, cruelly deceived me!"
"Deceived you!" I replied, rising with dignity. "Make no accusation. If
deceived you were, you have simply your own vanity, your own folly, to
blame for whatever you may suffer."
"You have listened to my love, and encouraged me to hope"----
"Silence! I did love you once,--your cold heart can never guess how
well, how warmly. I would have loved on through trial and suffering
forever; no one could have made me believe anything against you;
nothing could have shaken my fidelity, or my faith in yours. It was
reserved for yourself to work my cure,--for your own lips to pronounce
the words that changed my love to cool contempt."
"Oh, Juanita," he cried, passionately, "will you always be so
vindictive? Will you forever remind me of that piece of insane folly?
Let it go,--it was a boy's whim, too silly to remember."
"You were no boy then," I answered. "You had a mature prudence,--a
careful thoughtfulness for self. Or if otherwise, in your case the
child was indeed father to the man."
"Your love is dead, then, I suppose?" he questioned, with a bitter
I handed him the book I had been reading. It was marked at these words:
"Love can excuse anything except meanness; but meanness kills love,
cripples even natural affection; without esteem, true love cannot
William raised his head with an air of proud defiance. "And in what
sense," he asked, "do such words apply to me?"
"You are strangely obtuse," I said. "You see no trace of yourself in
that passage--no trace of meanness in the man who cast off the
penniless orphan, with her whole heart full of love for him, yet pleads
so warmly with the rich heiress, when he knows she is pledged to
"You have said enough, Juanita," he replied, with concentrated passion.
"This is too much to bear, even from you, from whom I have already
endured so much. You _know_ you do not believe it."
"I _do_ believe it," was my firm reply. It was false, but what did I
care? It served my purpose.
"I might bid you remember," he said, "how I urged you to be mine when
my prospects had grown brighter, and you were poor as before. I might
appeal to the manner in which my suit has been urged for years, as a
proof of my innocence of this charge that you have brought against me.
But I disdain to plead my cause with so unwomanly a heart,--that
measures the baseness of others by what it knows of its own."
He went, and for a time I was left in doubt whether my victory had been
really achieved. Then I thought it all over, and was reassured. He