Part 4 out of 5
It is,--I said.--The great end of being is to harmonize man with the
order of things; and the church has been a good pitch-pipe, and may be
so still. But who shall tune the pitch-pipe? _Quis cus_----(On the
whole, as this quotation was not entirely new, and, being in a foreign
language, might not be familiar to all the boarders, I thought I would
not finish it.)
----Go to the Bible!--said a sharp voice from a sharp-faced,
sharp-eyed, sharp-elbowed, strenuous-looking woman in a black dress,
appearing as if it began as a piece of mourning and perpetuated itself
as a bit of economy.
You speak well, Madam,--I said;--yet there is room for a gloss or
commentary on what you say. "He who would bring back the wealth of the
Indies must carry out the wealth of the Indies." What you bring away
from the Bible depends to some extent on what you carry to it--Benjamin
Franklin! Be so good as to step up to my chamber and bring me down the
small uncovered pamphlet of twenty pages which you will find lying
under the "Cruden's Concordance." [The boy took a large bite, which
left a very perfect crescent in the slice of bread-and-butter he held,
and departed on his errand, with the portable fraction of his breakfast
to sustain him on the way.]
Here it is. "Go to the Bible. A Dissertation, etc., etc. By J.J.
Flournoy. Athens, Georgia. 1858."
Mr. Flournoy, Madam, has obeyed the precept which you have judiciously
delivered. You may be interested, Madam, to know what are the
conclusions at which Mr. J.J. Flournoy of Athens, Georgia, has arrived.
You shall hear, Madam. He has gone to the Bible, and he has come back
from the Bible, bringing a remedy for existing social evils, which, if
it is the real specific, as it professes to be, is of great interest to
humanity, and to the female part of humanity in particular. It is what
he calls _trigamy_, Madam, or the marrying of three wives, so that
"good old men" may be solaced at once by the companionship of the
wisdom of maturity, and of those less perfected but hardly less
engaging qualities which are found at an earlier period of life. He has
followed your precept, Madam; I hope you accept his conclusions.
The female boarder in black attire looked so puzzled, and, in fact,
"all abroad," after the delivery of this "counter" of mine, that I left
her to recover her wits, and went on with the conversation, which I was
beginning to get pretty well in hand.
But in the mean time I kept my eye on the female boarder to see what
effect I had produced. First, she was a little stunned at having her
argument knocked over. Secondly, she was a little shocked at the
tremendous character of the triple matrimonial suggestion. Thirdly.----
I don't like to say what I thought. Something seemed to have pleased
her fancy. Whether it was, that, if trigamy should come into fashion,
there would be three times as many chances to enjoy the luxury of
saying, "No!" is more than I can tell you. I may as well mention that
B.F. came to me after breakfast to borrow the pamphlet for "a
lady,"--one of the boarders, he said,--looking as if he had a secret he
wished to be relieved of.
----I continued.--If a human soul is necessarily to be trained up in
the faith of those from whom it inherits its body, why, there is the
end of all reason. If, sooner or later, every soul is to look for truth
with its own eyes, the first thing is to recognize that no presumption
in favor of any particular belief arises from the fact of our
inheriting it. Otherwise you would not give the Mahometan a fair chance
to become a convert to a better religion.
The second thing would be to depolarize every fixed religious idea in
the mind by changing the word which stands for it.----I don't know
what you mean by "depolarizing" an idea,--said the divinity-student.
I will tell you,--I said.--When a given symbol which represents a
thought has lain for a certain length of time in the mind, it undergoes
a change like that which rest in a certain position gives to iron. It
becomes magnetic in its relations,--it is traversed by strange forces
which did not belong to it. The word, and consequently the idea it
represents, is _polarized_.
The religious currency of mankind, in thought, in speech, and in print,
consists entirely of polarized words. Borrow one of these from another
language and religion, and you will find it leaves all its magnetism
behind it. Take that famous word, O'm, of the Hindoo mythology. Even a
priest cannot pronounce it without sin; and a holy Pundit would shut
his ears and run away from you in horror, if you should say it aloud.
What do you care for O'm? If you wanted to get the Pundit to look at
his religion fairly, you must first depolarize this and all similar
words for him. The argument for and against new translations of the
Bible really turns on this. Skepticism is afraid to trust its truths in
depolarized words, and so cries out against a new translation. I think,
myself, if every idea our Book contains could be shelled out of its old
symbol and put into a new, clean, unmagnetic word, we should have some
chance of reading it as philosophers, or wisdom-lovers, ought to read
it,--which we do not and cannot now, any more than a Hindoo can read
the "Gayatri" as a fair man and lover of truth should do. When society
has once fairly dissolved the New Testament, which it never has done
yet, it will perhaps crystallize it over again in new forms of
----I didn't know you was a settled minister over this parish,--said
the young fellow near me.
A sermon by a lay-preacher may be worth listening to,--I replied,
calmly.--It gives the _parallax_ of thought and feeling as they appear
to the observers from two very different points of view. If you wish to
get the distance of a heavenly body, you know that you must take two
observations from distant points of the earth's orbit,--in midsummer
and midwinter, for instance. To get the parallax of heavenly truths,
you must take an observation from the position of the laity as well as
of the clergy. Teachers and students of theology get a certain look,
certain conventional tones of voice, a clerical gait, a professional
neckcloth, and habits of mind as professional as their externals. They
are scholarly men and read Bacon, and know well enough what the "idols
of the tribe" are. Of course they have their false gods, as all men
that follow one exclusive calling are prone to do.--The clergy have
played the part of the fly-wheel in our modern civilization. They have
never suffered it to stop. They have often carried on its movement,
when other moving powers failed, by the momentum stored in their vast
body. Sometimes, too, they have kept it back by their _vis inertae_,
when its wheels were like to grind the bones of some old canonized
error into fertilizers for the soil that yields the bread of life. But
the mainspring of the world's onward religious movement is not in them,
nor in any one body of men, let me tell you. It is the people that
makes the clergy, and not the clergy that makes the people. Of course,
the profession reacts on its source with variable energy.--But there
never was a guild of dealers or a company of craftsmen that did not
need sharp looking after.
Our old friend, Dr. Holyoke, whom we gave the dinner to some time
since, must have known many people that saw the great bonfire in
Harvard College yard.
----Bonfire?--shrieked the little man.--The bonfire when Robert
Calef's book was burned?
The same,--I said,--when Robert Calef the Boston merchant's book was
burned in the yard of Harvard College, by order of Increase Mather,
President of the College and Minister of the Gospel. You remember the
old witchcraft revival of '92, and how stout Master Robert Calef,
trader, of Boston, had the pluck to tell the ministers and judges what
a set of fools and worse than fools they were--
Remember it?--said the little man.--I don't think I shall forget it, as
long as I can stretch this forefinger to point with, and see what it
wears.--There was a ring on it.
May I look at it?--I said.
Where it is,--said the little man;--it will never come off, till it
falls off from the bone in the darkness and in the dust.
He pushed the high chair on which he sat slightly back from the table,
and dropped himself, standing, to the floor,--his head being only a
little above the level of the table, as he stood. With pain and labor,
lifting one foot over the other, as a drummer handles his sticks, he
took a few steps from his place,--his motions and the dead beat of the
misshapen boots announcing to my practised eye and ear the malformation
which is called in learned language _talipes varus_, or inverted
Stop! stop!--I said,--let me come to you.
The little man hobbled back, and lifted himself by the left arm, with
an ease approaching to grace which surprised me, into his high chair. I
walked to his side, and he stretched out the forefinger of his right
hand, with the ring upon it. The ring had been put on long ago, and
could not pass the misshapen joint. It was one of those funeral rings
which used to be given to relatives and friends after the decease of
persons of any note or importance. Beneath a round bit of glass was a
death's head. Engraved on one side of this, "L.B. AEt. 22,"--on the
other, "Ob. 1692."
My grandmother's grandmother,--said the little man.--Hanged for a
witch. It doesn't seem a great while ago. I knew my grandmother, and
loved her. Her mother was daughter to the witch that Chief Justice
Sewall hanged and Cotton Mather delivered over to the Devil.--That was
Salem, though, and not Boston. No, not Boston. Robert Calef, the Boston
merchant, it was that blew them all to----
Never mind where he blew them to,--I said;--for the little man was
getting red in the face, and I didn't know what might come next.
This episode broke me up, as the jockeys say, out of my square
conversational trot; but I settled down to it again.
----A man that knows men, in the street, at their work, human nature in
its shirt-sleeves,--who makes bargains with deacons, instead of talking
over texts with them,--a man who has found out that there are plenty of
praying rogues and swearing saints in the world,--above all, who has
found out, by living into the pith and core of life, that all of thy
Deity which can be folded up between the sheets of any human book is to
the Deity of the firmament, of the strata, of the hot aortic flood of
throbbing human life, of this infinite, instantaneous consciousness in
which the soul's being consists,--an incandescent point in the filament
connecting the negative pole of a past eternity with the positive pole
of an eternity that is to come,--that all of the Deity which any human
book can hold is to this larger Deity of the working battery of the
universe only as the films in a book of gold-leaf are to the broad
seams and curdled lumps of ore that lie in unsunned mines and virgin
placers,----Oh!--I was saying that a man who lives out-of-doors, among
live people, gets some things into his head he might not find in the
index of his "Body of Divinity."
I tell you what,--the idea of the professions' digging a moat round
their close corporations, like that Japanese one at Jeddo, which you
could put Park-Street Church on the bottom of and look over the vane
from its side, and try to stretch another such spire across it without
spanning the chasm,--that idea, I say, is pretty nearly worn out. Now
when a civilization or a civilized custom falls into senile _dementia_,
there is commonly a judgment ripe for it, and it comes as plagues come,
from a breath,--as fires come, from a spark.
Here, look at medicine. Big wigs, gold-headed canes, Latin
prescriptions, shops full of abominations, recipes a yard long,
"curing" patients by drugging as sailors bring a wind by whistling,
selling lies at a guinea apiece,--a routine, in short, of giving
unfortunate sick people a mess of things either too odious to swallow
or too acrid to hold, or, if that were possible, both at once.
----You don't know what I mean, indignant and not unintelligent
country-practitioner? Then you don't know the history of medicine,--and
that is not my fault. But don't expose yourself in any outbreak of
eloquence; for, by the mortar in which Anaxagoras was pounded! I did
not bring home Schenckius and Forestus and Hildanus, and all the old
folios in calf and vellum I will show you, to be bullied by the
proprietor of a "Wood and Bache," and a shelf of peppered sheepskin
reprints by Philadelphia Editors. Besides, many of the profession and I
know a little something of each other, and you don't think I am such a
simpleton as to lose their good opinion by saying what the better heads
among them would condemn as unfair and untrue? Now mark how the great
plague came on the generation of drugging doctors, and in what, form it
A scheming drug-vendor, (inventive genius,) an utterly untrustworthy
and incompetent observer, (profound searcher of Nature,) a shallow
dabbler in erudition, (sagacious scholar,) started the monstrous
fiction (founded the immortal system) of Homeopathy. I am very fair,
you see,--you can help yourself to either of these sets of phrases.
All the reason in the world would not have had so rapid and general an
effect on the public mind to disabuse it of the idea that a drug is a
good thing in itself, instead of being, as it is, a bad thing, as was
produced by the trick (system) of this German charlatan (theorist). Not
that the wiser part of the profession needed him to teach them; but the
routinists and their employers, the "general practitioners," who lived
by selling pills and mixtures, and their drug-consuming customers had
to recognize that people could get well, unpoisoned. These dumb cattle
would not learn it of themselves, and so the murrain of Homeopathy fell
----You don't know what plague has fallen on the practitioners of
theology? I will tell you, then. It is SPIRITUALISM. While some are
crying out against it as a delusion of the Devil, and some are laughing
at it as an hysteric folly, and some are getting angry with it as a
mere trick of interested or mischievous persons, Spiritualism is
quietly undermining the traditional ideas of the future state which
have been and are still accepted,--not merely in those who believe in
it, but in the general sentiment of the community, to a larger extent
than most good people seem to be aware of. It needn't be true, to do
this, any more than Homeopathy need, to do its work. The Spiritualists
have some pretty strong instincts to pry over, which no doubt have been
roughly handled by theologians at different times. And the Nemesis of
the pulpit comes, in a shape it little thought of, beginning with the
snap of a toe-joint, and ending with such a crack of old beliefs that
the roar of it is heard in all the ministers' studies of Christendom!
Sir, you cannot have people of cultivation, of pure character, sensible
enough in common things, large-hearted women, grave judges, shrewd
business-men, men of science, professing to be in communication with
the spiritual world and keeping up constant intercourse with it,
without its gradually reacting on the whole conception of that other
life. It is the folly of the world, constantly, which confounds its
wisdom. Not only out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, but out of
the mouths of fools and cheats, we may often get our truest lessons.
For the fool's judgment is a dog-vane that turns with a breath, and the
cheat watches the clouds and sets his weathercock by them,--so that one
shall often see by their pointing which way the winds of heaven are
blowing, when the slow-wheeling arrows and feathers of what we call the
Temples of Wisdom are turning to all points of the compass.
----Amen!--said the young fellow called John.--Ten minutes by the
watch. Those that are unanimous will please to signify by holding up
their left foot!
I looked this young man steadily in the face for about thirty seconds.
His countenance was as calm as that of a reposing infant. I think it
was simplicity, rather than mischief, with perhaps a youthful
playfulness, that led him to this outbreak. I have often noticed that
even quiet horses, on a sharp November morning, when their coats are
just beginning to get the winter roughness, will give little sportive
demi-kicks, with slight sudden elevation of the subsequent region of
the body, and a sharp short whinny,--by no means intending to put their
heels through the dasher, or to address the driver rudely, but feeling,
to use a familiar word, frisky. This, I think, is the physiological
condition of the young person, John. I noticed, however, what I should
call a _palpebral spasm_, affecting the eyelid and muscles of one side,
which, if it were intended for the facial gesture called a wink, might
lead me to suspect a disposition to be satirical on his part.
----Resuming the conversation, I remarked,--I am, _ex officio_, as a
Professor, a conservative. For I don't know any fruit that clings to
its tree so faithfully, not even a "froze-'n'-thaw" winter-apple, as a
Professor to the bough of which his chair is made. You can't shake him
off, and it is as much as you can do to pull him off. Hence, by a chain
of induction I need not unwind, he tends to conservatism generally.
But then, you know, if you are sailing the Atlantic, and all at once
find yourself in a current and the sea covered with weeds, and drop
your Fahrenheit over the side and find it eight or ten degrees higher
than in the ocean generally, there is no use in flying in the face of
facts and swearing there is no such thing as a Gulf-Stream, when you
are in it.
You can't keep gas in a bladder, and you can't keep knowledge tight in
a profession. Hydrogen will leak out, and air will leak in, through
India-rubber; and special knowledge will leak out, and general
knowledge will leak in, though a profession were covered with twenty
thicknesses of sheepskin diplomas. By Jove, Sir, till common sense is
well mixed up with medicine, and common manhood with theology, and
common honesty with law, _We the people_, Sir, some of us with
nutcrackers, and some of us with trip-hammers, and some of us with
pile-drivers, and some of us coming with a whish! like air-stones out
of a lunar volcano, will crash down on the lumps of nonsense in all of
them till we have made powder of them like Aaron's calf!
If to be a conservative is to let all the drains of thought choke up
and keep all the soul's windows down,--to shut out the sun from the
east and the wind from the west,--to let the rats run free in the
cellar, and the moths feed their fill in the chambers, and the spiders
weave their lace before the mirrors, till the soul's typhus is bred out
of our neglect, and we begin to snore in its coma or rave in its
delirium,--I, Sir, am a _bonnet-rouge_, a red-cap of the barricades, my
friends, rather than a conservative.
----Were you born in Boston, Sir?--said the little man,--looking eager
I was not,--I replied.
It's a pity,--it's a pity,--said the little man;--it's the place to be
born in. But if you can't fix it so as to be born here, you can come
and live here. Old Ben Franklin, the father of American science and the
American Union, wasn't ashamed to be born here. Jim Otis, the father of
American Independence, bothered about in the Cape Cod marshes awhile,
but he came to Boston as soon as he got big enough. Joe Warren, the
first bloody ruffled-shirt of the Revolution, was as good as born here.
Parson Charming strolled along this way from Newport, and staid here.
Pity old Sam Hopkins hadn't come, too;--we'd have made a man of
him.--poor, dear, good old Christian heathen! There he lies, as
peaceful as a young baby, in the old burying-ground! I've stood on the
slab many a time. Meant well,--meant well. Juggernaut. Parson Charming
put a little oil on one linchpin, and slipped it out so softly, the
first thing they knew about it was the wheel of that side was down.
T'other fellow's at work now; but he makes more noise about it. When
the linchpin comes out on his side, there'll be a jerk, I tell you!
Some think it will spoil the old cart, and they pretend to say that
there are valuable things in it which may get hurt. Hope not,--hope
not. But this is the great Macadamizing place,--always cracking up
Cracking up Boston folks,--said the gentleman with the _diamond_-pin,
whom, for convenience' sake, I shall hereafter call the _Koh-i-noor_.
The little man turned round mechanically towards him, as Maelzel's Turk
used to turn, carrying his head slowly and horizontally, as if it went
by cogwheels.--Cracking up all sorts of things,--native and foreign
vermin included,--said the little man.
This remark was thought by some of us to have a hidden personal
application, and to afford a fair opening for a lively rejoinder, if
the Koh-i-noor had been so disposed. The little man uttered it with the
distinct wooden calmness with which the ingenious Turk used to exclaim,
_E-chec_! so that it _must_ have been heard. The party supposed to be
interested in the remark was, however, carrying a large
knife-blade-full of something to his mouth just then, which, no doubt,
interfered with the reply he would have made.
----My friend who used to board here was accustomed sometimes, in a
pleasant way, to call himself the _Autocrat_ of the table,--meaning, I
suppose, that he had it all his own way among the boarders. I think our
small boarder here is like to prove a refractory subject, if I
undertake to use the sceptre my friend meant to bequeathe me, too
magisterially. I won't deny that sometimes, on rare occasions, when I
have been in company with gentlemen who _preferred_ listening, I have
been guilty of the same kind of usurpation which my friend openly
justified. But I maintain, that I, the Professor, am a good listener.
If a man can tell me a fact which subtends an appreciable angle in the
horizon of thought, I am as receptive as the contribution-box in a
congregation of colored brethren. If, when I am exposing my
intellectual dry-goods, a man will begin a good story, I will have them
all in, and my shutters up, before he has got to the fifth "says he,"
and listen like a three-years' child, as the author of the "Old Sailor"
says. I had rather hear one of those grand elemental laughs from either
of our two Georges, (fictitious names, Sir or Madam,) or listen to one
of those old playbills of our College days, in which "Tom and Jerry"
("Thomas and Jeremiah," as the old Greek Professor was said to call it)
was announced to be brought on the stage with the whole force of the
Faculty, read by our Frederick, (no such person, of course,) than say
the best things I might by any chance find myself capable of saying. Of
course, if I come across a real thinker, a suggestive, acute,
illuminating, informing talker, I enjoy the luxury of sitting still for
a while as much as another.
Nobody talks much that doesn't say unwise things,--things he did not
mean to say; as no person plays much without striking a false note
sometimes. Talk, to me, is only spading up the ground for crops of
thought. I can't answer for what will turn up. If I could, it wouldn't
be talking, but "speaking my piece." Better, I think, the hearty
abandonment of one's self to the suggestions of the moment, at the risk
of an occasional slip of the tongue, perceived the instant it escapes,
but, just one syllable too late, than the royal reputation of never
saying a foolish thing.
----What shall I do with this little man?--There is only one thing to
do,--and that is, to let him talk when he will. The day of the
"Autocrat's" monologues is over.
----My friend,--said I to the young fellow whom, as I have said, the
boarders call "John,"--My friend,--I said, one morning, after
breakfast,--can you give me any information respecting the deformed
person who sits at the other end of the table?
What! the Sculpin?--said the young fellow.
The diminutive person, with angular curvature of the spine,--I
said,--and double _talipes varus_,--I beg your pardon,--with two
Is that long word what you call it when a fellah walks so?--said the
young man, making his fists revolve round an imaginary axis, as you may
have seen youth of tender age and limited pugilistic knowledge, when
they show how they would punish an adversary, themselves protected by
this rotating guard,--the middle knuckle, meantime, thumb-supported,
fiercely prominent, death-threatening.
It is,--said I.--But would you have the kindness to tell me if you know
anything about this deformed person?
About the Sculpin?--said the young fellow.
My good friend,--said I,--I am sure, by your countenance, you would not
hurt the feelings of one who has been hardly enough treated by Nature
to be spared by his fellows. Even in speaking of him to others, I could
wish that you might not employ a term which implies contempt for what
should inspire only pity.
A fellah's no business to be so----crooked,--said the young man called
Yes, yes,--I said, thoughtfully,--the strong hate the weak. It's all
right. The arrangement has reference to the race, and not to the
individual. Infirmity must be kicked out, or the stock run down.
Wholesale moral arrangements are so different from retail!--I
understand the instinct, my friend,--it is cosmic,--it is
planetary,--it is a conservative principle in creation.
The young fellow's face gradually lost its expression as I was
speaking, until it became as blank of vivid significance as the
countenance of a gingerbread rabbit with two currants in the place of
eyes. He had not taken my meaning.
Presently the intelligence came back with a snap that made him wink,
as he answered,--Jest so. All right. A 1. Put her through. That's the
way to talk. Did you speak to me, Sir?--Here the young man struck up
that well-known song which I think they used to sing at Masonic
festivals, beginning, "Aldiborontiphoscophornio, Where left you
I beg your pardon.--I said;--all I meant was, that men, as temporary
occupants of a permanent abode called human life, which is improved or
injured by occupancy, according to the style of tenant, have a natural
dislike to those who, if they live the life of the race as well as of
the individual, will leave lasting injurious effects upon the abode
spoken of, which is to be occupied by countless future generations.
This is the final cause of the underlying brute instinct which we have
in common with the herds.
----The gingerbread-rabbit expression was coming on so fast, that I
thought I must try again.--It's a pity that families are kept up, where
there are such hereditary infirmities. Still, let us treat this poor
man fairly, and not call him names. Do you know what his name is?
I know what the rest of 'em call him,--said the young fellow.--They
call him Little Boston. There's no harm in that, is there?
It is an honorable term,--I replied.--But why Little _Boston_, in a
place where most are Bostonians?
Because nobody else is quite so Boston all over as he is,--said the
"L.B. Ob. 1692."--Little Boston let him be, when we talk about him. The
ring he wears labels him well enough. There is stuff in the little man,
or he wouldn't stick so manfully by this crooked, crotchety old town.
Give him a chance.--You will drop the Sculpin, won't you?--I said to
the young fellow.
Drop him?--he answered,--I ha'n't took him up yet.
No, no,--the term,--I said,--the term. Don't call him so any more, if
you please. Call him Little Boston, if you like.
All right,--said the young fellow.--I wouldn't be hard on the poor
The word he used was objectionable in point of significance and of
grammar. It was a frequent termination of certain adjectives among the
Romans,--as of those designating a person following the sea, or given
to rural pursuits. It is classed by custom among the profane words;
why, it is hard to say,--but it is largely used in the street by those
who speak of their fellows in pity or in wrath.
I never heard the young fellow apply the name of the odious pretended
fish to the little man from that day forward.
----Here we are, then, at our boarding-house. First, myself, the
Professor, a little way from the head of the table, on the right,
looking down, where the Autocrat used to sit. At the further end site
the Landlady. At the head of the table, just now, the Koh-i-noor, or
the gentleman with the _diamond_. Opposite me is a Venerable Gentleman
with a bland countenance, who as yet has spoken little. The
Divinity-Student is my neighbor on the right,--and further down, that
Young Fellow of whom I have repeatedly spoken. The Landlady's Daughter
sits near the Koh-i-noor, as I said. The Poor Relation near the
Landlady. At the right upper corner is a fresh-looking youth of whose
name and history I have as yet learned nothing. Next the further
left-hand corner, looking down the table, sits the deformed person. The
chair at his side, occupying that corner, is empty. I need not
specially mention the other boarders, with the exception of Benjamin
Franklin, the landlady's son, who sits near his mother. We are a
tolerably assorted set,--difference enough and likeness enough; but
still it seems to me there is something wanting. The Landlady's
Daughter is the _prima donna_ in the way of feminine attractions. I am
not quite satisfied with this young lady. She wears more "jewelry," as
certain young ladies call their trinkets, than I care to see on a
person in her position. Her voice is strident, her laugh too much like
a giggle, and she has that foolish way of dancing and bobbing like a
quill-float with a "minnum" biting the hook below it, which one sees
and weeps over sometimes in persons of more pretensions. I can't help
hoping we shall put something into that empty chair yet which will add
the missing string to our social harp. I hear talk of a rare Miss who
is expected. Something in the school-girl way, I believe. We shall see.
----My friend who calls himself _The Autocrat_ has given me a caution
which I am going to repeat, with my comment upon it, for the benefit of
Professor,--said he, one day,--don't you think your brain will run dry
before a year's out, if you don't get the pump to help the cow? Let me
tell you what happened to me once. I put a little money into a bank,
and bought a checkbook, so that I might draw it as I wanted, in sums to
suit. Things went on nicely for a time; scratching with a pen was as
easy as rubbing Aladdin's Lamp; and my blank check-book seemed to be a
dictionary of possibilities, in which I could find all the synonymes of
happiness, and realize any one of them on the spot. A check came back
to me at last with these two words on it,--_No funds_. My checkbook was
a volume of waste-paper.
Now, Professor,--said he,--I have drawn something out of your bank, you
know; and just so sure as you keep drawing out your soul's currency
without making new deposits, the next thing will be, _No funds_,--and
then where will you be, my boy? These little bits of paper mean your
gold and your silver and your copper, Professor; and you will certainly
break up and go to pieces, if you don't hold on to your metallic basis.
There is something in that,--said I.--Only I rather think life can coin
thought somewhat faster than I can count it off in words. What if one
shall go round and dry up with soft napkins all the dew that falls of a
June evening on the leaves of his garden? Shall there be no more dew on
those leaves thereafter? Marry, yea,--many drops, large and round and
full of moonlight as those thou shalt have absterged!
Here am I, the Professor,--a man who has lived long enough to have
plucked the flowers of life and come to the berries,--which are not
always sad-colored, but sometimes golden-hued as the crocus of April,
or rosy-cheeked as the damask of June; a man who staggered against
books as a baby, and will totter against them, if he lives to
decrepitude; with a brain as full of tingling thoughts, such as they
are, as a limb which we call "asleep," because it is so particularly
awake, is of pricking points; presenting a key-board of nerve-pulps,
not as yet tanned or ossified, to the finger-touch of all outward
agencies; knowing something of the filmy threads of this web of life in
which we insects buzz awhile, waiting for the gray old spider to come
along; contented enough with daily realities, but twirling on his
finger the key of a private Bedlam of ideals; in knowledge feeding with
the fox oftener than with the stork,--loving better the breadth of a
fertilizing inundation than the depth of a narrow artesian well;
finding nothing too small for his contemplation in the markings of the
_grammatophora subtilissima_, and nothing too large in the movement of
the solar system towards the star Lambda of the constellation
Hercules;--and the question is, whether there is anything left for me,
the Professor, to suck out of creation, after my lively friend has had
his straw in the bunghole of the Universe!
A man's mental reactions with the atmosphere of life must go on,
whether he will or no, as between his blood and the air he breathes. As
to catching the residuum of the process, or what we call
_thought_,--the gaseous ashes of burned-out _thinking_,--the excretion
of mental respiration,--that will depend on many things, as, on having
a favorable intellectual temperature about one, and a fitting
receptacle.--I sow more thought-seeds in twenty-four hours' travel over
the desert-sand, along which my lonely consciousness paces day and
night, than I shall throw into soil where it will germinate, in a year.
All sorts of bodily and mental perturbations come between us and the
due projection of our thought. The pulse-like "fits of easy and
difficult transmission" seem to reach even the transparent medium
through which our souls are seen. We know our humanity by its often
intercepted rays, as we tell a revolving light from a star or meteor by
its constantly recurring obscuration.
An illustrious scholar once told me, that, in the first lecture he ever
delivered, he spoke but half his allotted time, and felt as if he had
told all he knew. Braham came forward once to sing one of his most
famous and familiar songs, and for his life could not recall the first
line of it;--he told his mishap to the audience, and they screamed it
at him in a chorus of a thousand voices. Milton could not write to suit
himself, except from the autumnal to the vernal equinox. One in the
clothing-business, who, there is reason to suspect, may have inherited,
by descent, the great poet's impressible temperament, let a customer
slip through his fingers one day without fitting him with a new garment
"Ah!" said he to a friend of mine, who was standing by, "if it hadn't
been for that confounded headache of mine this morning, I'd have had a
coat on that man, in spite of himself, before he left the store." A
passing throb, only,--but it deranged the nice mechanism required to
persuade the accidental human being, _x_, into a given piece of
We must take care not to confound this frequent difficulty of
transmission of our ideas with want of ideas. I suppose that a man's
mind does in time form a neutral salt with the elements in the universe
for which it has special elective affinities. In fact, I look upon a
library as a kind of mental chemist's shop, filled with the crystals of
all forms and hues which have come from the union of individual thought
with local circumstances or universal principles.
When a man has worked out his special affinities in this way, there is
an end of his genius as a real solvent. No more effervescence and
hissing tumult as he pours his sharp thought on the world's biting
alkaline unbeliefs! No more corrosion of the old monumental tablets
covered with lies! No more taking up of dull earths, and turning them,
first into clear solutions, and then into lustrous prisms!
I, the Professor, am very much like other men. I shall not find out
when I have used up my affinities. What a blessed thing it is, that
Nature, when she invented, manufactured, and patented her authors,
contrived to make critics out of the chips that were left! Painful as
the task is, they never fail to warn the author, in the most impressive
manner, of the probabilities of failure in what he has undertaken. Sad
as the necessity is to their delicate sensibilities, they never
hesitate to advertise him of the decline of his powers, and to press
upon him the propriety of retiring before he sinks into imbecility.
Trusting to their kind offices, I shall endeavor to fulfil----
_Bridget enters and begins clearing the table._
The following poem is my (the Professor's) only contribution to the
great department of Ocean-Cable literature. As all the poets of this
country will be engaged for the next six weeks in writing for the
premium offered by the Crystal-Palace Company for the Barns Centenary,
(so called, according to our Benjamin Franklin, because there will be
nary a cent for any of us,) poetry will be very scarce and dear.
Consumers may, consequently, be glad to take the present article,
which, by the aid of a Latin tutor and a Professor of Chemistry, will
be found intelligible to the educated classes.
AN ELECTRO-CHEMICAL ECLOGUE.
Tell me, O Provincial! speak, Ceruleo-Nasal!
Lives there one De Sauty extant now among you
Whispering Boanerges, son of silent thunder,
Holding talk with nations?
Is there a De Sauty ambulant on Tellus,
Bifid-cleft like mortals, dormient in nightcap,
Having sight, smell, hearing, food-receiving feature
Three times daily patent?
Breathes there such a being, O Ceruleo-Nasal?
Or is he a _mythus_,--ancient word for "humbug,"--
Such as Livy told about the wolf that wetnursed
Romulus and Remus?
Was he born of woman, this alleged De Sauty?
Or a living product of galvanic action,
Like the _acarus_ bred in Crosse's flint-solution?
Speak, thou Cyano-Rhinal!
Many things thou askest, jackknife-bearing stranger,
Much-conjecturing mortal, pork-and-treacle-waster!
Pretermit thy whittling, wheel thine ear-flap toward me,
Thou shalt hear them answered.
When the charge galvanic tingled through the cable,
At the polar focus of the wire electric
Suddenly appeared a white-faced man among us.
Called himself "DE SAUTY."
As the small opossum held in pouch maternal
Grasps the nutrient organ whence the term _mammalia_,
So the unknown stranger held the wire electric,
Sucking in the current.
When the current strengthened, bloomed the pale-faced stranger,--
Took no drink nor victual, yet grew fat and rosy,--
And from time to time, in sharp articulation,
Said, "_All right!_ DE SAUTY."
From the lonely station passed the utterance, spreading
Through the pines and hemlocks to the groves of steeples,
Till the land was filled with loud reverberations
Of "_All right_! DE SAUTY."
When the current slackened, drooped the mystic stranger,--
Faded, faded, faded, as the shocks grew weaker,--
Wasted to a shadow, with a hartshorn odor
Drops of deliquescence glistened on his forehead,
Whitened round his feet the dust of efflorescence,
Till one Monday morning, when the flow suspended,
There was no De Sauty.
Nothing but a cloud of elements organic,
C.O.H.N. Ferrum, Chor. Flu. Sil. Potassa,
Calc. Sod. Phosph. Mag. Sulphur, Mang.(?) Alumin.(?) Cuprum,(?)
Such as man is made of.
Born of stream galvanic, with it he had perished!
There is no De Sauty now there is no current!
Give us a new cable, then again we'll hear him
Cry, "_All right!_ DE SAUTY."
* * * * *
THE MINISTER'S WOOING.
At the call of her mother, Mary hurried into the "best room," with a
strange discomposure of spirit she had never felt before. From
childhood, her love for James had been so deep, equable, and intense,
that it had never disturbed her with thrills and yearnings; it had
grown up in sisterly calmness, and, quietly expanding, had taken
possession of her whole nature, without her once dreaming of its power.
But this last interview seemed to have struck some great nerve of her
being,--and calm as she usually was, from habit, principle, and good
health, she shivered and trembled, as she heard his retreating
footsteps, and saw the orchard-grass fly back from under his feet. It
was as if each step trod on a nerve,--as if the very sound of the
rustling grass was stirring something living and sensitive in her soul.
And, strangest of all, a vague impression of guilt hovered over her.
_Had_ she done anything wrong? She did not ask him there; she had not
spoken love to him; no, she had only talked to him of his soul, and how
she would give hers for his,--oh, so willingly!--and that was not love;
it was only what Dr. H. said Christians must always feel.
"Child, what _have_ you been doing?" said Aunt Katy, who sat in full
flowing chintz petticoat and spotless dimity shortgown, with her
company knitting-work in her hands; "your cheeks are as red as peonies.
Have you been crying? What's the matter?"
"There is the Deacon's wife, mother," said Mary, turning confusedly,
and darting to the entry-door.
Enter Mrs. Twitchel,--a soft, pillowy little elderly lady, whose whole
air and dress reminded one of a sack of feathers tied in the middle
with a string. A large, comfortable pocket, hung upon the side,
disclosed her knitting-work ready for operation; and she zealously
cleansed herself with a checked handkerchief from the dust which had
accumulated during her ride in the old "one-hoss shay," answering the
hospitable salutation of Katy Scudder in that plaintive, motherly voice
which belongs to certain nice old ladies, who appear to live in a state
of mild chronic compassion for the sins and sorrows of this mortal life
"Why, yes, Miss Scudder, I'm pretty tol'able. I keep goin', and goin'.
That's my way. I's a-tellin' the Deacon, this-mornin', I didn't see how
I _was_ to come here this afternoon; but then I _did_ want to see Miss
Scudder and talk a little about that precious sermon, Sunday. How is
the Doctor? blessed man! Well, his reward must be great in heaven, if
not on earth, as I was a-tellin' the Deacon; and he says to me, says
he, 'Polly, we mustn't be man-worshippers.' There, dear," (_to Mary_,)
"don't trouble yourself about my bonnet; it a'n't my Sunday one, but I
thought 'twould do. Says I to Cerinthy Ann, 'Miss Scudder won't mind,
'cause her heart's set on better things.' I always like to drop a word
in season to Cerinthy Ann, 'cause she's clean took up with vanity and
dress. Oh, dear! oh, dear me! so different from your blessed daughter,
Miss Scudder! Well, it's a great blessin' to be called in one's youth,
like Samuel and Timothy; but then we doesn't know the Lord's ways.
Sometimes I gets clean discouraged with my children,--but then ag'in I
don't know; none on us does. Cerinthy Ann is one of the most master
hands to turn off work; she takes hold and goes along like a woman, and
nobody never knows when that gal finds the time to do all she does do;
and I don't know nothin' what I _should_ do without her. Deacon was
saying, if ever she was called, she'd be a Martha, and not a Mary; but
then she's dreadful opposed to the doctrines. Oh, dear me! oh, dear me!
Somehow they seem to rile her all up; and she was a-tellin' me
yesterday, when she was a-hangin' out clothes, that she never should
get reconciled to Decrees and 'Lection, 'cause she can't see, if things
is certain, how folks is to help 'emselves. Says I, 'Cerinthy Ann,
folks a'n't to help 'emselves; they's to submit unconditional.' And she
jest slammed down the clothes-basket and went into the house."
When Mrs. Twitchel began to talk, it flowed a steady stream, as when
one turns a faucet, that never ceases running till some hand turns it
back again; and the occasion that cut the flood short at present was
the entrance of Mrs. Brown.
Mr. Simeon Brown was a thriving shipowner of Newport, who lived in a
large house, owned several negro-servants and a span of horses, and
affected some state and style in his worldly appearance. A passion for
metaphysical Orthodoxy had drawn Simeon to the congregation of Dr. H.,
and his wife of course stood by right in a high place there. She was a
tall, angular, somewhat hard-favored body, dressed in a style rather
above the simple habits of her neighbors, and her whole air spoke the
great woman, who in right of her thousands expected to have her say in
all that was going on in the world, whether she understood it or not.
On her entrance, mild little Mrs. Twitchel fled from the cushioned
rocking-chair, and stood with the quivering air of one who feels she
has no business to be anywhere in the world, until Mrs. Brown's bonnet
was taken and she was seated, when Mrs. Twitchel subsided into a corner
and rattled her knitting-needles to conceal her emotion.
New England has been called the land of equality; but what land upon
earth is wholly so? Even the mites in a bit of cheese, naturalists say,
have great tumblings and strivings about position and rank; he who has
ten pounds will always be a nobleman to him who has but one, let him
strive as manfully as he may; and therefore let us forgive meek little
Mrs. Twitchel for melting into nothing in her own eyes when Mrs. Brown
came in, and let us forgive Mrs. Brown that she sat down in the
rocking-chair with an easy grandeur, as one who thought it her duty to
be affable and meant to be. It was, however, rather difficult for Mrs.
Brown, with her money, house, negroes, and all, to patronize Mrs. Katy
Scudder, who was one of those women whose natures seem to sit on
thrones, and who dispense patronage and favor by an inborn right and
aptitude, whatever be their social advantages. It was one of Mrs.
Brown's trials of life, this secret, strange quality in her neighbor,
who stood apparently so far below her in worldly goods. Even the quiet,
positive style of Mrs. Katy's knitting made her nervous; it was an
implication of independence of her sway; and though on the present
occasion every customary courtesy was bestowed, she still felt, as she
always did when Mrs. Katy's guest, a secret uneasiness. She mentally
contrasted the neat little parlor, with its white sanded floor and
muslin curtains, with her own grand front-room, which boasted the then
uncommon luxuries of Turkey carpet and Persian rug, and wondered if
Mrs. Katy did really feel as cool and easy in receiving her as she
You must not understand that this was what Mrs. Brown _supposed_
herself to be thinking about; oh, no! by no means! All the little, mean
work of our nature is generally done in a small dark closet just a
little back of the subject we are talking about, on which subject we
suppose ourselves of course to be thinking;--of course we are thinking
of it; how else could we talk about it?
The subject in discussion, and what Mrs. Brown supposed to be in her
own thoughts, was the last Sunday's sermon on the doctrine of entire
Disinterested Benevolence, in which good Doctor H. had proclaimed to
the citizens of Newport their duty of being so wholly absorbed in the
general good of the universe as even to acquiesce in their own final
and eternal destruction, if the greater good of the whole might thereby
"Well, now, dear me!" said Mrs. Twitchel, while her knitting-needles
trotted contentedly to the mournful tone of her voice,--"I was tellin'
the Deacon, if we only could get there! Sometimes I think I get a
little way,--but then ag'in I don't know; but the Deacon he's quite
down,--he don't see no evidences in himself. Sometimes he says he don't
feel as if he ought to keep his place in the church,--but then ag'in he
don't know. He keeps a-turnin' and turnin' on't over in his mind, and
a-tryin' himself this way and that way; and he says he don't see
nothin' but what's selfish, no way.
"'Member one night last winter, after the Deacon got warm in bed, there
come a rap at the door; and who should it be but old Beulah Ward,
wantin' to see the Deacon?--'twas her boy she sent, and he said Beulah
was sick and hadn't no more wood nor candles. Now I know'd the Deacon
had carried that crittur half a cord of wood, if he had one stick,
since Thanksgivin', and I'd sent her two o' my best moulds of
candles,--nice ones that Cerinthy Ann run when we killed a crittur; but
nothin' would do but the Deacon must get right out his warm bed and
dress himself, and hitch up his team to carry over some wood to Beulah.
Says I, 'Father, you know you'll be down with the rheumatis for this;
besides, Beulah is real aggravatin'. I know she trades off what we send
her to the store for rum, and you never get no thanks. She 'xpects,
'cause we has done for her, we always must; and more we do, more we may
do.' And says he to me, says he, 'That's jest the way we sarves the
Lord, Polly; and what if He shouldn't hear us when we call on Him in
our troubles?' So I shet up; and the next day he was down with the
rheumatis. And Cerinthy Ann, says she, 'Well, father, _now_ I hope
you'll own you have got _some_ disinterested benevolence,' says she;
and the Deacon he thought it over a spell, and then he says, 'I'm
'fraid it's all selfish. I'm jest a-makin' a righteousness of it.' And
Cerinthy Ann she come out, declarin' that the best folks never had no
comfort in religion; and for her part she didn't mean to trouble her
head about it, but have jest as good a time as she could while she's
young, 'cause if she was 'lected to be saved she should be, and if she
wa'n't she couldn't help it, any how."
"Mr. Brown says he came onto Dr. H.'s ground years ago," said Mrs.
Brown, giving a nervous twitch to her yarn, and speaking in a sharp,
hard, didactic voice, which made little Mrs. Twitchel give a gentle
quiver, and look humble and apologetic. "Mr. Brown's a master thinker;
there's nothing pleases that man better than a hard doctrine; he says
you can't get 'em too hard for him. He don't find any difficulty in
bringing his mind up; he just reasons it out all plain; and he says,
people have no need to be in the dark; and that's _my_ opinion. 'If
folks know they ought to come up to anything, why _don't_ they?' he
says; and I say so too."
"Mr. Scudder used to say that it took great afflictions to bring his
mind to that place," said Mrs. Katy. "He used to say that an old
paper-maker told him once, that paper that was shaken only one way in
the making would tear across the other, and the best paper had to be
shaken every way; and so he said we couldn't tell, till we had been
turned and shaken and tried every way, where we should tear."
Mrs. Twitchel responded to this sentiment with a gentle series of
groans, such as were her general expression of approbation, swaying
herself backward and forward; while Mrs. Brown gave a sort of toss and
snort, and said that for her part she always thought people knew what
they did know,--but she guessed she was mistaken.
The conversation was here interrupted by the civilities attendant on
the reception of Mrs. Jones,--a broad, buxom, hearty soul, who had come
on horseback from a farm about three miles distant.
Smiling with rosy content, she presented Mrs. Katy a small pot of
golden butter,--the result of her forenoon's churning.
There are some people so evidently broadly and heartily of this world,
that their coming into a room always materializes the conversation. We
wish to be understood that we mean no disparaging reflection on such
persons;--they are as necessary to make up a world as cabbages to make
up a garden; the great healthy principles of cheerfulness and animal
life seem to exist in them in the gross; they are wedges and ingots of
solid, contented vitality. Certain kinds of virtues and Christian
graces thrive in such people as the first crop of corn does in the
bottom-lands of the Ohio. Mrs. Jones was a church-member, a regular
church-goer, and planted her comely person plump in front of Dr. H.
every Sunday, and listened to his searching and discriminating sermons
with broad, honest smiles of satisfaction. Those keen distinctions as
to motives, those awful warnings and urgent expostulations, which made
poor Deacon Twitchel weep, she listened to with great, round, satisfied
eyes, making to all, and after all, the same remark,--that it was good,
and she liked it, and the Doctor was a good man; and on the present
occasion, she announced her pot of butter as one fruit of her
reflections after the last discourse.
"You see," she said, "as I was a-settin' in the spring-house, this
mornin', a-workin' my butter, I says to Dinah,--'I'm goin' to carry a
pot of this down to Miss Scudder for the Doctor,--I got so much good
out of his Sunday's sermon. And Dinah she says to me, says she,--'Laws,
Miss Jones. I thought you was asleep, for sartin!' But I wasn't; only I
forgot to take any caraway-seed in the mornin', and so I kinder missed
it; you know it 'livens one up. But I never lost myself so but what I
kinder heerd him goin' on, on, sort o' like,--and it sounded _all_ sort
o' _good;_ and so I thought of the Doctor to-day."
"Well, I'm sure," said Aunt Katy, "this will be a treat; we all know
about your butter, Mrs. Jones. I sha'n't think of putting any of mine
on table to-night, I'm sure."
"Law, now don't!" said Mrs. Jones. "Why, you re'lly make me ashamed,
Miss Scudder. To be sure, folks does like our butter, and it always
fetches a pretty good price,--_he's_ very proud on't. I tell him he
oughtn't to be,--we oughtn't to be proud of anything."
And now Mrs. Katy, giving a look at the old clock, told Mary it was
time to set the tea-table; and forthwith there was a gentle movement of
expectancy. The little mahogany tea-table opened its brown wings, and
from a drawer came forth the snowy damask covering. It was etiquette,
on such occasions, to compliment every article of the establishment
successively, as it appeared; so the Deacon's wife began at the
"Well, I do declare, Miss Scudder beats us all in her table-cloths,"
she said, taking up a corner of the damask, admiringly; and Mrs. Jones
forthwith jumped up and seized the other corner.
"Why, this 'ere must have come from the Old Country. It's 'most the
beautiflest thing I ever did see."
"It's my own spinning," replied Mrs. Katy, with conscious dignity.
"There was an Irish weaver came to Newport the year before I was
married, who wove beautifully,--just the Old-Country patterns,--and I'd
been spinning some uncommonly fine flax then. I remember Mr. Scudder
used to read to me while I was spinning,"--and Aunt Katy looked afar,
as one whose thoughts are in the past, and dropped out the last words
with a little sigh, unconsciously, as to herself.
"Well, now, I must say," said Mrs. Jones, "this goes quite beyond me. I
thought I could spin some; but I sha'n't never dare to show mine."
"I'm sure, Mrs. Jones, your towels that you had out bleaching, this
spring, were wonderful," said Aunt Katy. "But I don't pretend to do
much now," she continued, straightening her trim figure. "I'm getting
old, you know; we must let the young folks take up these things. Mary
spins better now than I ever did. Mary, hand out those napkins."
And so Mary's napkins passed from hand to hand.
"Well, well," said Mrs. Twitchel to Mary, "it's easy to see that _your_
linen-chest will be pretty full by the time _he_ comes along; won't it,
Miss Jones?"--and Mrs. Twitchel looked pleasantly facetious, as elderly
ladies generally do, when suggesting such possibilities to younger
Mary was vexed to feel the blood boil up in her cheeks in a most
unexpected and provoking way at the suggestion; whereat Mrs. Twitchel
nodded knowingly at Mrs. Jones, and whispered something in a mysterious
aside, to which plump Mrs. Jones answered,--"Why, do tell! now I
"It's strange," said Mrs. Twitchel, taking up her parable again, in
such a plaintive tone that all knew something pathetic was coming,
"what mistakes some folks will make, a-fetchin' up girls. Now there's
your Mary, Miss Scudder,--why, there a'n't nothin' she can't do; but
law, I was down to Miss Skinner's, last week, a-watchin' with her, and
re'lly it 'most broke my heart to see her. Her mother was a most
amazin' smart woman; but she brought Suky up, for all the world, as if
she'd been a wax doll, to be kept in the drawer,--and sure enough, she
was a pretty cretur,--and now she's married, what is she? She ha'n't no
more idee how to take hold than nothin'. The poor child means well
enough, and she works so hard she most kills herself; but then she is
in the suds from mornin' till night,--she's one the sort whose work's
never done,--and poor George Skinner's clean discouraged."
"There's everything in _knowing how_," said Mrs. Katy. "Nobody ought to
be always working; it's a bad sign. I tell Mary,--'Always do up your
work in the forenoon.'--Girls must learn that. I never work afternoons,
after my dinner-dishes are got away; I never did and never would."
"Nor I, neither," chimed in Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Twitchel,--both anxious
to show themselves clear on this leading point of New England
"There's another thing I always tell Mary," said Mrs. Katy,
impressively. "'Never say there isn't time for a thing that ought to be
done. If a thing is _necessary_, why, life is long enough to find a
place for it. That's my doctrine. When anybody tells me they _can't
find_ time for this or that, I don't think much of 'em. I think they
don't know how to work,--that's all.'"
Here Mrs. Twitchel looked up from her knitting, with an apologetic
giggle, at Mrs. Brown.
"Law, now, there's Miss Brown, she don't know nothin' about it, 'cause
she's got her servants to every turn. I s'pose she thinks it queer to
hear us talkin' about our work. Miss Brown must have her time all to
herself. I was tellin' the Deacon the other day that she was a
"I'm sure, those that have servants find work enough following 'em
'round," said Mrs. Brown,--who, like all other human beings, resented
the implication of not having as many trials in life as her neighbors.
"As to getting the work done up in the forenoon, that's a thing I never
can teach 'em; they'd rather not. Chloe likes to keep her work 'round,
and do it by snacks, any time, day or night, when the notion takes
"And it was just for that reason I never would have one of those
creatures 'round," said Mrs. Katy. "Mr. Scudder was principled against
buying negroes,--but if he had _not_ been, I should not have wanted any
of _their_ work. I know what's to be done, and most help is no help to
me. I want people to stand out of my way and let me get done. I've
tried keeping a girl once or twice, and I never worked so hard in my
life. When Mary and I do all ourselves, we can calculate everything to
a minute; and we get our time to sew and read and spin and visit, and
live just as we want to."
Here, again, Mrs. Brown looked uneasy. To what use was it that she was
rich and owned servants, when this Mordecai in her gate utterly
despised her prosperity? In her secret heart she thought Mrs. Katy must
be envious, and rather comforted herself on this view of the
subject,--sweetly unconscious of any inconsistency in the feeling with
her views of utter self-abnegation just announced.
Meanwhile the tea-table had been silently gathering on its snowy
plateau the delicate china, the golden butter, the loaf of faultless
cake, a plate of crullers or wonders, as a sort of sweet fried cake was
commonly called,--tea-rusks, light as a puff, and shining on top with a
varnish of egg,--jellies of apple and quince quivering in amber
clearness,--whitest and purest honey in the comb,--in short, everything
that could go to the getting-up of a most faultless tea.
"I don't see," said Mrs. Jones, resuming the gentle paeans of the
occasion, "how Miss Scudder's loaf-cake always comes out jest so. It
don't rise neither to one side nor t'other, but jest even all 'round;
and it a'n't white one side and burnt the other, but jest a good brown
all over; and it don't have no heavy streak in it."
"Jest what Cerinthy Ann was sayin', the other day," said Mrs. Twitchel.
"She says she can't never be sure how hers is a-comin' out. Do what she
can, it will be either too much or too little; but Miss Scudder's is
always jest so. 'Law,' says I, 'Cerinthy Ann, it's _faculty_,--that's
it;--them that has it has it, and them that hasn't--why, they've got to
work hard, and not do half so well, neither.'"
Mrs. Katy took all these praises as matter of course. Since she was
thirteen years old, she had never put her hand to anything that she had
not been held to do better than other folks, and therefore she accepted
her praises with the quiet repose and serenity of assured reputation;
though, of course, she used the usual polite disclaimers of "Oh, it's
nothing, nothing at all; I'm sure I don't know how I do it, and was not
aware it was so good,"--and so on. All which things are proper for
gentlewomen to observe in like cases, in every walk of life.
"Do you think the Deacon will be along soon?" said Mrs. Katy, when
Mary, returning from the kitchen, announced the important fact, that
the tea-kettle was boiling.
"Why, yes," said Mrs. Twitchel. "I'm a-lookin' for him every minute. He
told me, that he and the men should be plantin' up to the eight-acre
lot, but he'd keep the colt up there to come down on; and so I laid him
out a clean shirt, and says, 'Now, Father, you be sure and be there by
five, so that Miss Scudder may know when to put her tea a-drawin'.'
--There he is, I believe," she added, as a horse's tramp was
heard without, and, after a few moments, the desired Deacon entered.
He was a gentle, soft-spoken man, low, sinewy, thin, with black hair
showing lines and patches of silver. His keen, thoughtful, dark eye
marked the nervous and melancholic temperament. A mild and pensive
humility of manner seemed to brood over him, like the shadow of a
cloud. Everything in his dress, air, and motions indicated punctilious
exactness and accuracy, at times rising to the point of nervous
Immediately after the bustle of his entrance had subsided, Mr. Simeon
Brown followed. He was a tall, lank individual, with high cheek-bones,
thin, sharp features, small, keen, hard eyes, and large hands and feet.
Simeon was, as we have before remarked, a keen theologian, and had the
scent of a hound for a metaphysical distinction. True, he was a man of
business, being a thriving trader to the coast of Africa, whence he
imported negroes for the American market; and no man was held to
understand that branch of traffic better,--he having, in his earlier
days, commanded ships in the business, and thus learned it from the
root. In his private life, Simeon was severe and dictatorial. He was
one of that class of people who, of a freezing day, will plant
themselves directly between you and the fire, and there stand and argue
to prove that selfishness is the root of all moral evil. Simeon said he
always had thought so; and his neighbors sometimes supposed that nobody
could enjoy better experimental advantages for understanding the
subject. He was one of those men who suppose themselves submissive to
the Divine will, to the uttermost extent demanded by the extreme
theology of that day, simply because they have no nerves to feel, no
imagination to conceive what endless happiness or suffering is, and who
deal therefore with the great question of the salvation or damnation of
myriads as a problem of theological algebra, to be worked out by their
inevitable _x, y, z_.
But we must not spend too much time with our analysis of character, for
matters at the tea-table are drawing to a crisis. Mrs. Jones has
announced that she does not think "_he_" can come this afternoon, by
which significant mode of expression she conveyed the dutiful idea that
there was for her but one male person in the world. And now Mrs. Katy
says, "Mary, dear, knock at the Doctor's door and tell him that tea is
The Doctor was sitting in his shady study, in the room on the other
side of the little entry. The windows were dark and fragrant with the
shade and perfume of blossoming lilacs, whose tremulous shadow, mingled
with spots of afternoon sunlight, danced on the scattered papers of a
great writing-table covered with pamphlets and heavily-bound volumes of
theology, where the Doctor was sitting.
A man of gigantic proportions, over six feet in height, and built every
way with an amplitude corresponding to his height, sitting bent over
his writing, so absorbed that he did not hear the gentle sound of
"Doctor," said the maiden, gently, "tea is ready."
No motion, no sound, except the quick racing of the pen over the paper.
"Doctor! Doctor!"--a little louder, and with another step into the
apartment,--"tea is ready."
The Doctor stretched his head forward to a paper which lay before him,
and responded in a low, murmuring voice, as reading something.
"Firstly,--if underived virtue be peculiar to the Deity, can it be the
duty of a creature to have it?"
Here a little waxen hand came with a very gentle tap on his huge
shoulder, and "Doctor, tea is ready," penetrated drowsily to the nerve
of his ear, as a sound heard in sleep. He rose suddenly with a start,
opened a pair of great blue eyes, which shone abstractedly under the
dome of a capacious and lofty forehead, and fixed them on the maiden,
who by this time was looking up rather archly, and yet with an attitude
of the most profound respect, while her venerated friend was assembling
together his earthly faculties.
"Tea is ready, if you please. Mother wished me to call you."
"Oh!--ah!--yes!--indeed!" he said, looking confusedly about, and
starting for the door, in his study-gown.
"If you please, Sir," said Mary, standing in his way, "would you not
like to put on your coat and wig?"
The Doctor gave a hurried glance at his study-gown, put his hand to his
head, which, in place of the ample curls of his full-bottomed wig, was
decked only with a very ordinary cap, and seemed to come at once to a
full comprehension. He smiled a kind of conscious, benignant smile,
which adorned his high cheek-bones and hard features as sunshine adorns
the side of a rock, and said, kindly, "Ah, well, child, I understand
now; I'll be out in a moment."
And Mary, sure that he was now on the right track, went back to the
tearoom with the announcement that the Doctor was coming.
In a few moments he entered, majestic and proper, in all the dignity of
full-bottomed, powdered wig, full, flowing coat, with ample cuffs,
silver knee- and shoe-buckles, as became the gravity and majesty of the
minister of those days.
He saluted all the company with a benignity which had a touch of the
majestic, and also of the rustic in it; for at heart the Doctor was a
bashful man,--that is, he had somewhere in his mental camp that
treacherous fellow whom John Bunyan anathematizes under the name of
Shame. The company rose on his entrance; the men bowed and the women
curtsied, and all remained standing while he addressed to each with
punctilious decorum those inquiries in regard to health and well-being
which preface a social interview. Then, at a dignified sign from Mrs.
Katy, he advanced to the table, and, all following his example, stood,
while, with one hand uplifted, he went through a devotional exercise
which, for length, more resembled a prayer than a grace,--after which
the company were seated.
"Well, Doctor," said Mr. Brown, who, as a householder of substance,
felt a conscious right to be first to open conversation with the
minister, "people are beginning to make a noise about your views. I was
talking with Deacon Timmins the other day down on the wharf, and he
said Dr. Stiles said that it was entirely new doctrine,--entirely
so,--and for his part he wanted the good old ways."
"They say so, do they?" said the Doctor, kindling up from an
abstraction into which he seemed to be gradually subsiding. "Well, let
them. I had rather publish _new_ divinity than any other, and the more
of it the better,--_if it be but true_. I should think it hardly worth
while to write, if I had nothing _new_ to say."
"Well," said Deacon Twitchel,--his meek face flushing with awe of his
minister,--"Doctor, there's all sorts of things said about you. Now the
other day I was at the mill with a load of corn, and while I was
a-waitin', Amariah Wadsworth came along with his'n; and so while we
were waitin', he says to me, 'Why, they say your minister is gettin' to
be an Armenian'; and he went on a-tellin' how old Ma'am Badger told him
that you interpreted some parts of Paul's Epistles clear on the
Armenian side. You know Ma'am Badger's a master-hand at doctrines, and
she's 'most an uncommon Calvinist."
"That does not frighten me at all," said the sturdy Doctor. "Supposing
I do interpret some texts like the Arminians. Can't Arminians have
anything right about them? Who wouldn't rather go with the Arminians
when they are _right_, than with the Calvinists when they are wrong?"
"That's it,--you've hit it, Doctor," said Simeon Brown. "That's what I
always say. I say, 'Don't he _prove_ it? and how are you going to
answer him?' That gravels 'em."
"Well," said Deacon Twitchel, "Brother Seth, you know Brother Seth,--he
says you deny depravity. He's all for imputation of Adam's sin, you
know; and I have long talks with Seth about it every time he comes to
see me; and he says, that, if we did not sin in Adam, it's givin' up
the whole ground altogether; and then he insists you're clean wrong
about the unregenerate doings."
"Not at all,--not in the least," said the Doctor, promptly.
"I wish Seth could talk with you sometime, Doctor. Along in the spring,
he was down helpin' me to lay stone fence,--it was when we was fencin'
off the south pastur' lot,--and we talked pretty nigh all day; and it
re'lly did seem to me that the longer we talked, the sotter Seth grew.
He's a master-hand at readin'; and when he heard that your remarks on
Dr. Mayhew had come out, Seth tackled up o' purpose and come up to
Newport to get them, and spent all his time, last winter, studyin' on
it and makin' his remarks; and I tell you, Sir, he's a tight fellow to
argue with. Why, that day, what with layin' stone wall and what with
arguin' with Seth, I come home quite beat out,--Miss Twitchel will
"That he was!" said his helpmeet. "I 'member, when he came home, says
I, 'Father, you seem clean used up'; and I stirred 'round lively like,
to get him his tea. But he jest went into the bedroom and laid down
afore supper; and I says to Cerinthy Ann, 'That's a thing I ha'n't seen
your father do since he was took with the typhus.' And Cerinthy Ann,
she said she knew 'twa'n't anything but them old doctrines,--that it
was always so when Uncle Seth come down. And after tea Father was
kinder chirked up a little, and he and Seth set by the fire, and was
a-beginnin' it ag'in, and I jest spoke out and said,--'Now, Seth, these
'ere things doesn't hurt you; but the Deacon is weakly, and if he gets
his mind riled after supper, he don't sleep none all night. So,' says
I, 'you'd better jest let matters stop where they be; 'cause,' says I,
''twon't make no difference, for to-night, which on ye's got the right
on't;--reckon the Lord 'll go on his own way without you; and we shall
find out, by'm-by, what that is.'"
"Mr. Scudder used to think a great deal on these points," said Mrs.
Katy, "and the last time he was home he wrote out his views. I haven't
ever shown them to you, Doctor; but I should be pleased to know what
you think of them."
"Mr. Scudder was a good man, with a clear head," said the Doctor; "and
I should be much pleased to see anything that he wrote."
A flush of gratified feeling passed over Mrs. Katy's face;--for one
flower laid on the shrine which we keep in our hearts for the dead is
worth more than any gift to our living selves.
We will not now pursue our party further, lest you, Reader, get more
theological tea than you can drink. We will not recount the numerous
nice points raised by Mr. Simeon Brown and adjusted by the Doctor,--and
how Simeon invariably declared, that that was the way in which he
disposed of them himself, and how he had thought it out ten years ago.
We will not relate, either, too minutely, how Mary changed color and
grew pale and red in quick succession, when Mr. Simeon Brown
incidentally remarked, that the "Monsoon" was going to set sail that
very afternoon, for her three-years' voyage. Nobody noticed it in the
busy amenities,--the sudden welling and ebbing of that one poor little
So we go,--so little knowing what we touch and what touches us as we
talk! We drop out a common piece of news,--"Mr. So-and-so is
dead,--Miss Such-a-one is married,--such a ship has sailed,"--and lo,
on our right hand or our left, some heart has sunk under the news
silently,--gone down in the great ocean of Fate, without even a bubble
rising to tell its drowning pang. And this--God help us!--is what we
Mary returned to the quietude of her room. The red of twilight had
faded, and the silver moon, round and fair, was rising behind the thick
boughs of the apple-trees. She sat down in the window, thoughtful and
sad, and listened to the crickets, whose ignorant jollity often sounds
as mournfully to us mortals as ours may to superior beings. There the
little hoarse, black wretches were scraping and creaking, as if life
and death were invented solely for their pleasure, and the world were
created only to give them a good time in it. Now and then a little wind
shivered among the boughs, and brought down a shower of white petals
which shimmered in the slant beams of the moonlight; and now a ray
touched some tall head of grass, and forthwith it blossomed into
silver, and stirred itself with a quiet joy, like a new-born saint just
awaking in paradise. And ever and anon came on the still air the soft
eternal pulsations of the distant sea, sound mournfulest, most
mysterious, of all the harpings of Nature. It was the sea,--the deep,
eternal sea,--the treacherous, soft, dreadful, inexplicable sea; and
_he_ was perhaps at this moment being borne away on it,--away,
away,--to what sorrows, to what temptations, to what dangers, she knew
not. She looked along the old, familiar, beaten path by which he came,
by which he went, and thought, "What if he never should come back?"
There was a little path through the orchard out to a small elevation in
the pasture-lot behind, whence the sea was distinctly visible, and Mary
had often used her low-silled window as a door when she wanted to pass
out thither; so now she stepped out, and, gathering her skirts back
from the dewy grass, walked thoughtfully along the path and gained the
hill. Newport harbor lay stretched out in the distance, with the rising
moon casting a long, wavering track of silver upon it; and vessels,
like silver-winged moths, were turning and shifting slowly to and fro
upon it, and one stately ship in full sail passing fairly out under her
white canvas, graceful as some grand, snowy bird. Mary's beating heart
told her that _there_ was passing away from her one who carried a
portion of her existence with him. She sat down under a lonely tree
that stood there, and, resting her elbow on her knee, followed the ship
with silent prayers, as it passed, like a graceful, cloudy dream, out
of her sight.
Then she thoughtfully retraced her way to her chamber; and as she was
entering, observed in the now clearer moonlight what she had not seen
before,--something white, like a letter, lying on the floor.
Immediately she struck a light, and there, sure enough, it was,--a
letter in James's handsome, dashing hand; and the little puss, before
she knew what she was about, actually kissed it, with a fervor which
would much have astonished the writer, could he at that moment have
been clairvoyant. But Mary felt as one who finds, in the emptiness
after a friend's death, an unexpected message or memento; and all alone
in the white, calm stillness of her little room her heart took sudden
possession of her. She opened the letter with trembling hands, and read
what of course we shall let you read. We got it out of a bundle of old,
smoky, yellow letters, years after all the parties concerned were gone
on the eternal journey beyond earth.
"MY DEAR MARY,--
"I cannot leave you so. I have about two hundred things to say to you,
and it's a shame I could not have had longer to see you; but blessed be
ink and paper! I am writing and seeing to fifty things besides; so you
mustn't wonder if my letter has rather a confused appearance.
"I have been thinking that perhaps I gave you a wrong impression of
myself, this afternoon. I am going to speak to you from my heart, as if
I were confessing on my death-bed. Well, then, I do not confess to
being what is commonly called a bad young man. I should be willing that
men of the world generally, even strict ones, should look my life
through and know all about it. It is only in your presence, Mary, that
I feel that I am bad and low and shallow and mean, because you
represent to me a sphere higher and holier than any in which I have
ever moved, and stir up a sort of sighing and longing in my heart to
come towards it. In all countries, in all temptations, Mary, your image
has stood between me and low, gross vice. When I have been with fellows
roaring drunken, beastly songs,--suddenly I have seemed to see you as
you used to sit beside me in the singing-school, and your voice has
been like an angel's in my ear, and I have got up and gone out sick and
disgusted. Your face has risen up calm and white and still, between the
faces of poor lost creatures who know no better way of life than to
tempt us to sin. And sometimes, Mary, when I have seen girls that, had
they been cared for by good pious mothers, might have been like you, I
have felt as if I could cry for them. Poor women are abused all the
world over; and it's no wonder they turn round and revenge themselves
"No, I have not been bad, Mary, as the world calls badness. I have been
kept by you. But do you remember you told me once, that, when the snow
first fell and lay so dazzling and pure and soft, all about, you always
felt as if the spreads and window-curtains that seemed white before
were dirty? Well, it's just like that with me. Your presence makes me
feel that I am not pure,--that I am low and unworthy,--not worthy to
touch the hem of your garment. Your good Dr. H. spent a whole half-day,
the other Sunday, trying to tell us about the beauty of holiness; and
he cut, and pared, and peeled, and sliced, and told us what it wasn't,
and what was _like_ it, and wasn't; and then he built up an exact
definition, and fortified and bricked it up all round; and I thought to
myself that he'd better tell 'em to look at Mary Scudder, and they'd
understand all about it. That was what I was thinking when you talked
to me for looking at you in church instead of looking towards the
pulpit. It really made me laugh in myself to see what a good little
ignorant, unconscious way you had of looking up at the Doctor, as if he
knew more about that than you did.
"And now as to your Doctor that you think so much of, I like him for
certain things, in certain ways. He is a great, grand, large pattern of
a man,--a man who isn't afraid to think, and to speak anything he does
think; but then I do believe, if he would take a voyage round the world
in the forecastle of a whaler, he would know more about what to say to
people than he does now; it would certainly give him several new points
to be considered. Much of his preaching about men is as like live men
as Chinese pictures of trees and rocks and gardens,--no nearer the
reality than that. All I can say is, 'It isn't so; and you'd know it,
Sir, if you knew men.' He has got what they call a _system_--just so
many bricks put together just so; but it is too narrow to take in all I
see in my wanderings round this world of ours. Nobody that has a soul,
and goes round the world as I do, can help feeling it at times, and
thinking, as he sees all the races of men and their ways, who made
them, and what they were made for. To doubt the existence of a God
seems to me like a want of common sense. There is a Maker and a Ruler,
doubtless; but then, Mary, all this invisible world of religion is
unreal to me. I can see we must be good, somehow,--that if we are not,
we shall not be happy here or hereafter. As to all the metaphysics of
your good Doctor, you can't tell how they tire me. I'm not the sort of
person that they can touch. I must have real things,--real people;
abstractions are nothing to me. Then I think that he systematically
contradicts on one Sunday what he preaches on another. One Sunday he
tells us that God is the immediate efficient Author of every act of
will; the next he tells us that we are entire free agents. I see no
sense in it, and can't take the trouble to put it together. But then he
and you have something in you that I call religion,--something that
makes you _good_. When I see a man working away on an entirely honest,
unworldly, disinterested pattern, as he does, and when I see you, Mary,
as I said before, I should like at least to _be_ as you are, whether I
could believe as you do or not.
"How could you so care for me, and waste on one so unworthy of you such
love? Oh, Mary, some better man must win you; I never shall and never
can;--but then you must not quite forget me; you must be my friend, my
saint. If, through your prayers, your Bible, your friendship, you can
bring me to your state, I am willing to be brought there,--nay,
desirous. God has put the key of my soul into your hands.
"So, dear Mary, good-bye! Pray still for your naughty, loving
Mary read this letter, and re-read it, with more pain than pleasure. To
feel the immortality of a beloved soul hanging upon us, to feel that
its only communications with Heaven must be through us, is the most
solemn and touching thought that can pervade a mind. It was without one
particle of gratified vanity, with even a throb of pain, that she read
such exalted praises of herself from one blind to the glories of a far
Yet was she at that moment, unknown to herself, one of the great
company scattered through earth who are priests unto God,--ministering
between the Divine One, who has unveiled himself unto them, and those
who as yet stand in the outer courts of the great sanctuary of truth
and holiness. Many a heart, wrung, pierced, bleeding with the sins and
sorrows of earth, longing to depart, stands in this mournful and
beautiful ministry, but stands unconscious of the glory of the work in
which it waits and suffers. God's kings and priests are crowned with
thorns, walking the earth with bleeding feet, and comprehending not the
work they are performing.
Mary took from a drawer a small pocket-book, from which dropped a lock
of black hair,--a glossy curl, which seemed to have a sort of wicked,
wilful life in every shining ring, just as she had often seen it shake
naughtily on the owner's head. She felt a strange tenderness towards
the little wilful thing, and, as she leaned over it, made in her heart
a thousand fond apologies for every fault and error.
She was standing thus when Mrs. Scudder entered the room to see if her
daughter had yet retired.
"What are you doing there, Mary?" she said, as her eye fell on the
letter. "What is it you are reading?"
Mary felt herself grow pale; it was the first time in her whole life
that her mother had asked her a question that she was not from the
heart ready to answer. Her loyalty to her only parent had gone on
even-handed with that she gave to her God; she felt, somehow, that the
revelations of that afternoon had opened a gulf between them, and the
consciousness overpowered her.
Mrs. Scudder was astonished at her evident embarrassment, her
trembling, and paleness. She was a woman of prompt, imperative
temperament, and the slightest hesitation in rendering to her a full,
outspoken confidence had never before occurred in their intercourse.
Her child was the core of her heart, the apple of her eye, and intense
love is always near neighbor to anger; there was, therefore, an
involuntary flash from her eye and a heightening of her color, as she
said,--"Mary, are you concealing anything from your mother?"
In that moment, Mary had grown calm again. The wonted serene, balanced
nature had found its habitual poise, and she looked up innocently,
though with tears in her large, blue eyes, and said,--"No, mother,--I
have nothing that I do not mean to tell you fully. This letter came
from James Marvyn; he came here to see me this afternoon."
"Here?--when? I did not see him."
"After dinner. I was sitting here in the window, and suddenly he came
up behind me through the orchard-path."
Mrs. Katy sat down with a flushed cheek and a discomposed air; but Mary
seemed actually to bear her down by the candid clearness of the large,
blue eye which she turned on her, as she stood perfectly collected,
with her deadly pale face and a brilliant spot burning on each cheek.
"James came to say good-bye. He complained that he had not had a chance
to see me alone since he came home."
"And what should he want to see you alone for?" said Mrs. Scudder, in a
dry, disturbed tone.
"Mother,--everybody has things at times which they would like to say to
some one person alone," said Mary.
"Well, tell me what he said."
"I will try. In the first place, he said that he always had been free,
all his life, to run in and out of our house, and to wait on me like a
"Hum!" said Mrs. Scudder; "but he isn't your brother, for all that."
"Well, then, he wanted to know why you were so cold to him, and why you
never let him walk with me from meetings or see me alone, as we often
used to. And I told him why,--that we were not children now, and that
you thought it was not best; and then I talked with him about religion,
and tried to persuade him to attend to the concerns of his soul; and I
never felt so much hope for him as I do now."
Aunt Katy looked skeptical, and remarked,--"If he really felt a
disposition for religious instruction, Dr. H. could guide him much
better than you could."
"Yes,--so I told him, and I tried to persuade him to talk with Dr. H.;
but he was very unwilling. He said, I could have more influence over
him than anybody else,--that nobody could do him any good but me."
"Yes, yes,--I understand all that," said Aunt Katy,--"I have heard
young men say _that_ before, and I know just what it amounts to."
"But, mother, I do think James was moved very much, this afternoon. I
never heard him speak so seriously; he seemed really in earnest, and he
asked me to give him my Bible."
"Couldn't he read any Bible but yours?"
"Why, naturally, you know, mother, he would like my Bible better,
because it would put him in mind of me. He promised faithfully to read
it all through."
"And then, it seems, he wrote you a letter."
Mary shrank from showing this letter, from the natural sense of honor
which makes us feel it indelicate to expose to an unsympathizing eye
the confidential outpourings of another heart; and then she felt quite
sure that there was no such intercessor for James in her mother's heart
as in her own. But over all this reluctance rose the determined force
of duty; and she handed the letter in silence to her mother.
Mrs. Scudder took it, laid it deliberately in her lap, and then began
searching in the pocket of her chintz petticoat for her spectacles.
These being found, she wiped them, accurately adjusted them, opened the
letter and spread it on her lap, brushing out its folds and
straightening it, that she might read with the greater ease. After this
she read it carefully and deliberately; and all this while there was
such a stillness, that the sound of the tall varnished clock in the
best room could be heard through the half-opened door.
After reading it with the most tiresome, torturing slowness, she rose,
and laying it on the table under Mary's eye, and pressing down her
finger on two lines in the letter, said, "Mary, have you told James
that you loved him?"
"Yes, mother, always. I always loved him, and he always knew it."
"But, Mary, this that he speaks of is something different. What has
"Why, mother, he was saying that we who were Christians drew to
ourselves and did not care for the salvation of our friends; and then I
told him how I had always prayed for him, and how I should be willing
even to give up my hopes in heaven, if he might be saved."
"Child,--what do you mean?"
"I mean, if only one of us two could go to heaven, I had rather it
should be him than me," said Mary.
"Oh, child! child!" said Mrs. Scudder, with a sort of groan,--"has it
gone with you so far as this? Poor child!--after all my care, you _are_
in love with this boy,--your heart is set on him."
"Mother, I am not. I never expect to see him much,--never expect to
marry him or anybody else;--only he seems to me to have so much more
life and soul and spirit than most people,--I think him so noble and
grand,--that is, that he _could_ be, if he were all he ought to
be,--that, somehow, I never think of myself in thinking of him, and his
salvation seems worth more than mine;--men can do so much more!--they
can live such splendid lives!--oh, a real noble man is so glorious!"
"And you would like to see him well married, would you not?" said Mrs.
Scudder, sending, with a true woman's aim, this keen arrow into the
midst of the cloud of enthusiasm which enveloped her daughter. "I
think," she added, "that Jane Spencer would make him an excellent
Mary was astonished at a strange, new pain that shot through her at
these words. She drew in her breath and turned herself uneasily, as one
who had literally felt a keen dividing blade piercing between soul and
spirit. Till this moment, she had never been conscious of herself; but
the shaft had torn the veil. She covered her face with her hands; the
hot blood flushed scarlet over neck and brow; at last, with a
beseeching look, she threw herself into her mother's arms.
"Oh, mother, mother, I am selfish, after all!"
Mrs. Scudder folded her silently to her heart, and said, "My daughter,
this is not at all what I wished it to be; I see how it is;--but then
you have been a good child; I don't blame you. We can't always help
ourselves. We don't always really know how we do feel. I didn't know,
for a long while, that I loved your father. I thought I was only
curious about him, because he had a strange way of treating me,
different from other men; but, one day, I remember, Julian Simons told
me that it was reported that his mother was making a match for him with
Susan Emery, and I was astonished to find how I felt. I saw him that
evening, and the moment he looked at me I saw it wasn't true; all at
once I knew something I never knew before,--and that was, that I should
be very unhappy, if he loved any one else better than me. But then, my
child, your father was a different man from James;--he was as much
better than I was as you are than James. I was a foolish, thoughtless
young thing then. I never should have been anything at all, but for
him. Somehow, when I loved him, I grew more serious, and then he always
guided and led me. Mary, your father was a wonderful man; he was one of
the sort that the world knows not of;--sometime I must show you his
letters. I always hoped, my daughter, that you would marry such a man."
"Don't speak of marrying, mother. I never shall marry."
"You certainly should not, unless you can marry in the Lord. Remember
the words, 'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For
what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what
communion hath light with darkness? and what concord hath Christ with
Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?'"
"Mother, James is not an infidel."
"He certainly is an _unbeliever_, Mary, by his own confession;--but
then God is a Sovereign and hath mercy on whom He will. You do right to
pray for him; but if he does not come out on the Lord's side, you must
not let your heart mislead you. He is going to be gone three years, and
you must try to think as little of him as possible;--put your mind upon
your duties, like a good girl, and God will bless you. Don't believe
too much in your power over him;--young men, when they in love, will
promise anything, and really think they mean it; but nothing is a
saving change, except what is wrought in them by sovereign grace."
"But, mother, does not God use the love we have to each other as a
means of doing us good? Did you not say that it was by your love to
father that you first were led to think seriously?"
"That is true, my child," said Mrs. Scudder, who, like many of the rest
of the world, was surprised to meet her own words walking out on a
track where she had not expected them, but was yet too true of soul to
cut their acquaintance because they were not going the way of her
wishes. "Yes, all that is true; but yet, Mary, when one has but one
little ewe lamb in the world, one is jealous of it. I would give all
the world, if you had never seen James. It is dreadful enough for a
woman to love anybody as you can, but it is more to love a man of
unsettled character and no religion. But then the Lord appoints all our
goings; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps;--I leave
you, my child, in His hands." And, with one solemn and long embrace,
the mother and daughter parted for the night.
It is impossible to write a story of New England life and manners for a
thoughtless, shallow-minded person. If we represent things as they are,
their intensity, their depth, their unworldly gravity and earnestness,
must inevitably repel lighter spirits, as the reverse pole of the
magnet drives off sticks and straws.
In no other country were the soul and the spiritual life ever such
intense realities, and everything contemplated so much (to use a
current New England phrase) "in reference to eternity." Mrs. Scudder
was a strong, clear-headed, practical woman. No one had a clearer
estimate of the material and outward life, or could more minutely
manage its smallest item; but then a tremendous, eternal future had so
weighed down and compacted the fibres of her very soul, that all
earthly things were but as dust in comparison to it. That her child
should be one elected to walk in white, to reign with Christ when earth
was a forgotten dream, was her one absorbing wish; and she looked on
all the events of life only with reference to this. The way of life was
narrow, the chances in favor of any child of Adam infinitely small; the
best, the most seemingly pure and fair, was by nature a child of wrath,
and could be saved only by a sovereign decree, by which it should be
plucked as a brand from the burning. Therefore it was, that, weighing
all things in one balance, there was the sincerity of her whole being
in the dread which she felt at the thought of her daughter's marriage
with an unbeliever.
Mrs. Scudder, after retiring to her room, took her Bible, in
preparation for her habitual nightly exercise of devotion, before going
to rest. She read and reread a chapter, scarce thinking what she was
reading,--aroused herself,--and then sat with the book in her hand in
deep thought. James Marvyn was her cousin's son, and she had a strong
feeling of respect and family attachment for his father. She had, too,
a real kindness for the young man, whom she regarded as a well-meaning,
wilful youngster; but that _he_ should touch her saint, her Mary, that
he should take from her the daughter who was her all, really embittered
her heart towards him.
"After all," she said to herself, "there are three years,--three years
in which there will be no letters, or perhaps only one or two,--and a
great deal may be done in three years, if one is wise";--and she felt
within herself an arousing of all the shrewd womanly and motherly tact
of her nature to meet this new emergency.
[To be continued.]
* * * * *
It may be doubted whether any language be rich enough to maintain more
than one truly great poet,--and whether there be more than one period,
and that very short, in the life of a language, when such a phenomenon
as a great poet is possible. It may be reckoned one of the rarest
pieces of good-luck that ever fell to the share of a race, that (as was
true of Shakspeare) its most rhythmic genius, its acutest intellect,
its profoundest imagination, and its healthiest understanding should
have been combined in one man, and that he should have arrived at the
full development of his powers at the moment when the material in which
he was to work--that wonderful composite called English, the best
result of the confusion of tongues--was in its freshest perfection. The
English-speaking nations should build a monument to the misguided
enthusiasts of the Plain of Shinar; for, as the mixture of many bloods
seems to have made them the most vigorous of modern races, so has the
mingling of divers speeches given them a language which is perhaps the
noblest vehicle of poetic thought that ever existed.
Had Shakspeare been born fifty years earlier, he would have been
cramped by a book-language, not yet flexible enough for the demands of
rhythmic emotion, not yet sufficiently popularized for the natural and
familiar expression of supreme thought, not yet so rich in metaphysical
phrase as to render possible that ideal representation of the great
passions which is the aim and end of Art, not yet subdued by practice
and general consent to a definiteness of accentuation essential to ease
and congruity of metrical arrangement. Had he been born fifty years
later, his ripened manhood would have found itself in an England
absorbed and angry with the solution of political and religious
problems, from which his whole nature was averse, instead of in that
Elizabethan social system, ordered and planetary in its functions and
degrees as the angelic hierarchy of the Areopagite, where his
contemplative eye could crowd itself with various and brilliant
picture, and whence his impartial brain--one lobe of which seems to
have been Normanly refined and the other Saxonly sagacious--could draw
its morals of courtly and worldly wisdom, its lessons of prudence and
magnanimity. In estimating Shakspeare, it should never be forgotten,
that, like Goethe, he was essentially observer and artist, and
incapable of partisanship. The passions, actions, sentiments, whose
character and results he delighted to watch and to reproduce, are those
of man in society as it existed; and it no more occurred to him to
question the right of that society to exist than to criticize the
divine ordination of the seasons. His business was with men as they
were, not with man as he ought to be,--with the human soul as it is
shaped or twisted into character by the complex experience of life, not
in its abstract essence, as something to be saved or lost. During the
first half of the seventeenth century, the centre of intellectual
interest was rather in the other world than in this, rather in the
region of thought and principle and conscience than in actual life. It
was a generation in which the poet was, and felt himself, out of place.
Sir Thomas Browne, our most imaginative mind since Shakspeare, found
breathing-room, for a time, among the "_O altitudines!_" of religious
speculation, but soon descended to occupy himself with the exactitudes
of science. Jeremy Taylor, who half a century earlier would have been
Fletcher's rival, compels his clipped fancy to the conventional
discipline of prose, (Maid Marian turned nun,) and waters his poetic
wine with doctrinal eloquence. Milton is saved from making total
shipwreck of his large-utteranced genius on the desolate Noman's Land
of a religious epic only by the lucky help of Satan and his colleagues,
with whom, as foiled rebels and republicans, he cannot conceal his
sympathy. As purely poet, Shakspeare would have come too late, had his
lot fallen in that generation. In mind and temperament too exoteric for
a mystic, his imagination could not have at once illustrated the
influence of his epoch and escaped from it, like that of Browne; the
equilibrium of his judgment, essential to him as an artist, but equally
removed from propagandism, whether as enthusiast or logician, would
have unfitted him for the pulpit; and his intellectual being was too
sensitive to the wonder and beauty of outward life and Nature to have
found satisfaction, as Milton's could, (and perhaps only by reason of
his blindness,) in a world peopled by purely imaginary figures. We
might fancy his becoming a great statesman, but he lacked the social
position which could have opened that career to him. What we mean, when
we say Shakspeare, is something inconceivable either during the reign
of Henry the Eighth or the Commonwealth, and which would have been
impossible after the Restoration.
All favorable stars seem to have been in conjunction at his nativity.
The Reformation had passed the period of its vinous fermentation, and
its clarified results remained as an element of intellectual impulse
and exhilaration; there were signs yet of the acetous and putrefactive
stages which were to follow in the victory and decline of Puritanism.
Old forms of belief and worship still lingered, all the more touching
to Fancy, perhaps, that they were homeless and attainted: the light of
skeptic day was baffled by depths of forest where superstitious shapes
still cowered, creatures of immemorial wonder, the raw material of
Imagination. The invention of printing, without yet vulgarizing
letters, had made the thought and history of the entire past
contemporaneous; while a crowd of translators put every man who could
read in inspiring contact with the select souls of all the centuries. A
new world was thus opened to intellectual adventure at the very time
when the keel of Columbus had turned the first daring furrow of
discovery in that unmeasured ocean which still girt the known earth
with a beckoning horizon of hope and conjecture, which was still fed by
rivers that flowed down out of primeval silences, and which still
washed the shores of Dreamland. Under a wise, cultivated, and
firm-handed monarch also, the national feeling of England grew rapidly
more homogeneous and intense, the rather as the womanhood of the
sovereign stimulated a more chivalric loyalty,--while the new religion,
of which she was the defender, helped to make England morally, as it
was geographically, insular to the continent of Europe.
If circumstances could ever make a great national poet, here were all
the elements mingled at melting-heat in the alembic, and the lucky
moment of projection was clearly come. If a great national poet could
ever avail himself of circumstances, this was the occasion,--and,
fortunately, Shakspeare was equal to it. Above all, we esteem it lucky
that he found words ready to his use, original and untarnished,--types
of thought whose sharp edges were unworn by repeated impressions. In
reading Hakluyt's Voyages, we are almost startled now and then to find
that even common sailors could not tell the story of their wanderings
without rising to an almost Odyssean strain, and habitually used a
diction that we should be glad to buy back from desuetude at any cost.
Those who look upon language only as anatomists of its structure, or
who regard it as only a means of conveying abstract truth from mind to
mind, as if it were so many algebraic formula, are apt to overlook the
fact that its being alive is all that gives it poetic value. We do not
mean what is technically called a living language,--the contrivance,
hollow as a speaking-trumpet, by which breathing and moving bipeds,
even now, sailing o'er life's solemn main, are enabled to hail each
other and make known their mutual shortness of mental stores,--but one
that is still hot from the hearts and brains of a people, not hardened
yet, but moltenly ductile to new shapes of sharp and clear relief in
the moulds of new thought. So soon as a language has become literary,
so soon as there is a gap between the speech of books and that of life,
the language becomes, so far as poetry is concerned, almost as dead as
Latin, and (as in writing Latin verses) a mind in itself essentially
original becomes in the use of such a medium of utterance unconsciously
reminiscential and reflective, lunar and not solar, in expression and
even in thought. For words and thoughts have a much more intimate and
genetic relation, one with the other, than most men have any notion of;
and it is one thing to use our mother-tongue as if it belonged to us,
and another to be the puppets of an overmastering vocabulary. "Ye know
not," says Ascham, "what hurt ye do to Learning, that care not for
Words, but for Matter, and so make a Divorce betwixt the Tongue and the
Heart." _Lingua Toscana in bocca Romana_ is the Italian proverb; and
that of poets should be, _The tongue of the people in the mouth of the
scholar_. We intend here no assent to the early theory, or, at any
rate, practice, of Wordsworth, who confounded plebeian modes of thought
with rustic forms of phrase, and then atoned for his blunder by
absconding into a diction more Latinized than that of any poet of his
Shakspeare was doubly fortunate. Saxon by the father and Norman by the
mother, he was a representative Englishman. A country-boy, he learned
first the rough and ready English of his rustic mates, who knew how to
make nice verbs and adjectives curtsy to their needs. Going up to
London, he acquired the _lingua aulica_ precisely at the happiest
moment, just as it was becoming, in the strictest sense of the word,
_modern_,--just as it had recruited itself, by fresh impressments from
the Latin and Latinized languages, with new words to express the new
ideas of an enlarging intelligence which printing and translation were
fast making cosmopolitan, words which, in proportion to their novelty,
and to the fact that the mother-tongue and the foreign had not yet
wholly mingled, must have been used with a more exact appreciation of
their meaning. It was in London, and chiefly by means of the stage,
that a thorough amalgamation of the Saxon, Norman, and scholarly
elements of English was brought about. Already, Puttenham, in his "Arte
of English Poesy," declares that the practice of the capital and the
country within sixty miles of it was the standard of correct diction,
the _jus et norma loquendi_. Already Spenser had almost recreated
English poetry,--and it is interesting to observe, that, scholar as he
was, the archaic words which he was at first over-fond of introducing
are often provincialisms of purely English original. Already Marlowe
had brought the English unrhymed pentameter (which had hitherto
justified but half its name, by being always blank and never verse) to
a perfection of melody, harmony, and variety which has never been
surpassed. Shakspeare, then, found a language already to a certain
extent _established_, but not yet fetlocked by dictionary--and
grammar-mongers,--a versification harmonized, but which had not yet
exhausted all its modulations, or been set in the stocks by critics who
deal judgment on refractory feet, that will dance to Orphean measures
of which their judges are insensible. That the language was established
is proved by its comparative uniformity as used by the dramatists, who
wrote for mixed audiences, as well as by Ben Jonson's satire upon
Marston's neologisms; that it at the same time admitted foreign words
to the rights of citizenship on easier terms than now is in good
measure equally true. What was of greater import, no arbitrary line had
been drawn between high words and low; vulgar then meant simply what
was common; poetry had not been aliened from the people by the
establishment of an Upper House of vocables, alone entitled to move in
the stately ceremonials of verse, and privileged from arrest while they
forever keep the promise of meaning to the ear and break it to the
sense. The hot conception of the poet had no time to cool while he was
debating the comparative respectability of this phrase or that; but he
snatched what word his instinct prompted, and saw no indiscretion in
making a king speak as his country-nurse might have taught him. It
was Waller who first learned in France that to talk in rhyme alone
comported with the state of royalty. In the time of Shakspeare, the
living tongue resembled that tree which Father Hue saw in Tartary,
whose leaves were languaged,--and every hidden root of thought, every
subtilest fibre of feeling, was mated by new shoots and leafage of
expression, fed from those unseen sources in the common earth of human
The Cabalists had a notion, that whoever found out the mystic word for
anything attained to absolute mastery over that thing. The reverse of
this is certainly true of poetic expression; for he who is thoroughly
possessed of his thought, who imaginatively conceives an idea or image,
becomes master of the word that shall most amply and fitly utter it.
Heminge and Condell tell us, accordingly, that there was scarce a blot
in the manuscripts they received from Shakspeare; and this is the
natural corollary from the fact that such an imagination as his is as
unparalleled as the force, variety, and beauty of the phrase in which
it embodied itself. We believe that Shakspeare, like all other great
poets, instinctively used the dialect which he found current, and that
his words are not more wrested from their ordinary meaning than
followed necessarily from the unwonted weight of thought or stress of
passion they were called on to support. He needed not to mask familiar
thoughts in the weeds of unfamiliar phraseology; for the life that was
in his mind could transfuse the language of every day with an
intelligent vivacity, that makes it seem lambent with fiery purpose,
and at each new reading a new creation. He could say with Dante, that
"no word had ever forced him to say what he would not, though he had
forced many a word to say what _it_ would not,"--but only in the sense,
that the mighty magic of his imagination had conjured out of it its
uttermost secret of power or pathos. He himself says, in one of his
"Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from alteration and quick change?
Why, with the time, do I not glance aside
To new-found methods and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed
That every word doth almost tell my name?"
When we say that Shakspeare used the current language of his day, we
mean only that he habitually employed such language as was universally
comprehensible,--that he was not run away with by the hobby of any
theory as to the fitness of this or that component of English for
expressing certain thoughts or feelings. That the artistic value of a