Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. III.--JUNE, 1859.--NO. XX.
"Yet must I not give Nature all; thy Art,
My gentle SHAKSPEARE, must enjoy a part.
For though the poet's matter Nature be,
His Art doth give the fashion."--Ben Jonson.
Whoever would learn to think naturally, clearly, logically, and to
express himself intelligibly and earnestly, let him give his days and
nights to WILLIAM SHAKSPEARE. His ear will thus accustom itself to forms
of phrase whose only mannerism is occasioned by the fulness of thought
and the directness of expression; and he will not easily, through the
habits which either his understanding or his ear will acquire, fall into
the fluent cadences of that sort of writing in which words are used
without discrimination of their nice meanings,--where the sentences are
only a smoothly-undulating current of common phrases, in which it takes
a page to say weakly what should be said forcibly in a few periods.
These are somewhat novel arguments for the study of one whom all the
world has so long reverenced as "the great poet of Nature." But they may
properly serve to introduce a consideration of the sense in which
that phrase should be understood,--an attempt, in short, to look
into Shakspeare's modes of creation, and define his relations, as an
_artist_, with Nature.
We shall perhaps be excused the suggestion, that a poet cannot be
natural in the same sense that a fool may be; he cannot be _a_
natural,--since, if he is, he is not a poet. For to be a poet implies
the ability to use ideas and forms of speech artistically, as well as to
have an eye in a fine frenzy rolling. This is a distinction which all
who write on poets or poetry should forever seek to keep clear by new
illustrations. The poet has poetic powers that are born with him; but he
must also have a power over language, skill in arrangement, a thousand,
yes, a myriad, of powers which he was born with only the ability to
acquire, and to use after their acquirement. In ranking Shakspeare the
great poet of Nature, it is meant that he had the purpose and the power
to think what was natural, and to select and follow it,--that, among his
thick-coming fancies, he could perceive what was too fine, what tinged
with personal vanity, what incongruous, unsuitable, feeble, strained, in
short, unnatural, and reject it. His vision was so strong that he saw
his characters and identified himself with them, yet preserving his cool
judgment above them, and subjecting all he felt through them to its
test, and developing it through this artificial process of writing. This
vision and high state of being he could assume and keep up and work out
through days and weeks, foreseeing the end from the beginning, retaining
himself, and determining long before how many acts his work should be,
what should be its plot, what the order of its scenes, what personages
he would introduce, and where the main passions of the work should be
developed. His fancy, which enabled him to see the stage and all its
characters,--almost to _be_ them,--was so under the control of his
imagination, that it did not, through any interruptions while he was at
his labor, beguile him with caprices. The _gradation_ or action of his
work, opens and grows under his creative hand; twenty or more characters
appear, (in some plays nearly forty, as in "Antony and Cleopatra" and
the "First Part of Henry the Sixth,") who are all distinguished, who
are all more or less necessary to the plot or the underplots, and who
preserve throughout an identity that is life itself; all this is done,
and the imagined state, the great power by which this evolution of
characters and scene and story be carried on, is always under the
control of the poet's will, and the direction of his taste or critical
judgment. He chooses to set his imagination upon a piece of work, he
selects his plot, conceives the action, the variety of characters, and
all their doings; as he goes on reflecting upon them, his imagination
warms, and excites his fancy; he sees and identifies himself with his
characters, lives a secondary life in his work, as one may in a dream
which he directs and yet believes in; his whole soul becomes more active
under this fervor of the imagination, the fancy, and all the powers of
suggestion,--yet, still, the presiding judgment remains calm above all,
guiding the whole; and above or behind that, the will which elects to do
all this, perchance for a very simple purpose,--namely, for filthy lucre,
the purchase-money of an estate in Stratford.
To say that he "followed Nature" is to mean that he permits his thoughts
to flow out in the order in which thoughts naturally come,--that he
makes his characters think as we all fancy we should think under the
circumstances in which he places them,--that it is the truth of his
thoughts which first impresses us. It is in this respect that he is
so universal; and it is by his universality that his naturalness is
confirmed. Not all his finer strokes of genius, but the general scope
and progress of his mind, are within the path all other minds travel;
his mind _answers_ to all other men's minds, and hence is like the voice
of Nature, which, apart from particular association, addresses all
alike. The cataracts, the mountains, the sea, the landscapes, the
changes of season and weather have each the same general meaning to
all mankind. So it is with Shakspeare, both in the conception and
development of his characters, and in the play of his reflections and
fancies. All the world recognizes his sanity, and the health and beauty
of his genius.
Not all the world, either. Nature's poet fares no better than Nature
herself. Half the world is out of the pale of knowledge; a good part
of the rest are stunted by cant in its Protean shapes, or by inherited
narrowness and prejudice, and innumerable soul-cankers. They neither
know nor think of Nature or Poetry. Just as there are hundreds in all
great cities who never leave their accustomed streets winter or summer,
until finally they lose all curiosity, and cease to feel the yearnings
of that love which all are born with for the sight of the land and
sea,--the dear face of our common mother. Or the creatures who compose
the numerical majority of the world are rather like the children of some
noble lady stolen away by gypsies, and taught to steal and cheat and
beg, and practised in low arts, till they utterly forget the lawns
whereon they once played; and if their mother ever discovers them, their
natures are so subdued that they neither recognize her nor wish to go
Without fearing that Shakspeare can ever lose his empire while the
language lasts, it is humiliating to be obliged to acknowledge one
great cause that is operating to keep him from thousands of our young
countrymen and women, namely, the wide-spread _mediocrity_ that is
created and sustained by the universal diffusion of our so-called
cheap literature;--dear enough it will prove by and by!--But this is
The very act of writing implies an art not born with the poet. This
process of forming letters and words with a pen is not natural, nor
will the poetic frenzy inspire us with the art to go through it. In
conceiving the language of passion, the _natural_ impulse is to imitate
the passion in gesture; there is something artificial in sitting quietly
at a table and hollaing, "Mortimer!" through a quill. If Hotspur's
language is in the highest degree natural, it is because the poet felt
the character, and words suggested themselves to him which he chose and
wrote down. The act of choice might have been almost spontaneous with
the feeling of the character and the situation, yet it was there,--the
conscious judgment was present; and if the poet wrote the first words
that came, (as no doubt he usually did,) it was because he was satisfied
with them at the time; there was no paroxysm of poetic inspiration,--the
workings of his mind were sane. His fertility was such that he was not
obliged to pause and compare every expression with all others he could
think of as appropriate;--judgment may decide swiftly and without
comparison, especially when it is supervising the suggestions of a vivid
fancy, and still be judgment, or taste, if we choose to call it by that
name. We know by the result whether it was present. The poet rapt into
unconsciousness would soon betray himself. Under the power of the
imagination, all his faculties waken to a higher life; his fancies are
more vivid and clear; all the suggestions that come to him are more
apt and congruous; and his faculties of selection, his perceptions of
fitness, beauty, and appropriateness of relation are more keen and
watchful. No lapse in what he writes at such times indicates aught
like dreaming or madness, or any condition of mind incompatible with
soundness and health,--with that perfect sanity in which all the mental
powers move in order and harmony under the control of the rightful
These observations are not intended to bear, except remotely, upon the
question, Which is the true Dramatic Art, the romantic or the ancient?
We shall not venture into that land of drought, where dry minds forever
wander. We can admit both schools. In fact, even the countrymen of
Racine have long since admitted both,--speculatively, at least,--though
practically their temperament will always confine them to artificial
models. We may consider the question as set at rest in these words of M.
Guizot:--"Everything which men acknowledge as beautiful in Art owes its
effect to certain combinations, of which our reason can always detect
the secret when our emotions have attested its power. The science--or
the employment of these combinations--constitutes what we call Art.
Shakspeare had his own. We must detect it in his works, and examine the
means he employs and the results he aims at." Although we should be
far from admitting so general a definition of Art as this, yet it is
sufficient as an answer to the admirers of the purely classic school.
But it has become necessary in this "spasmodic" day to vindicate
our great poet from the supposition of having written in a state of
somnambulism,--to show that he was even an _artist_, without reference
to schools. The scope of our observations is to exhibit him in that
light; we wish to insist that he was a man of forethought,--that, though
possessing creative genius, he did not dive recklessly into the sea of
his fancy without knowing its depth, and ready to grasp every pebble for
a pearl-shell; we wish to show that he was not what has been called, in
the cant of a class who mistake lawlessness for liberty, an "earnest
creature,"--that he was not "fancy's child" in any other sense than as
having in his power a beautifully suggestive fancy, and that he "warbled
his native wood-notes wild" in no other meaning than as Milton warbled
his organ-notes,--namely, through the exercise of conscious Art, of Art
that displayed itself not only in the broad outlines of his works, but
in their every character and shade of color. With this purpose we
have urged that he was "natural" from taste and choice,--artistically
natural. To illustrate the point, let us consider his Art alone in a few
We will suppose, preliminarily, however, that we are largely interested
in the Globe Theatre, and that, in order to keep it up and continue to
draw good houses, we must write a new piece,--that, last salary-day,
we fell short, and were obliged to borrow twenty pounds of my Lord
Southampton to pay our actors. Something must be done. We look into our
old books and endeavor to find a plot out of ancient story, in the same
manner that Sir Hugh Evans would hunt for a text for a sermon. At length
one occurs that pleases our fancy; we revolve it over and over in our
mind,--and at last, after some days' thought, elaborate from it the plot
of a play,--"TIMON OF ATHENS,"--which plot we make a memorandum of,
lest we should forget it. Meantime, we are busy at the theatre with
rehearsals, changes of performance, bill-printing, and a hundred
thousand similar matters that must be each day disposed of. But we keep
our newly-thought-of play in mind at odd intervals, good things occur to
us as we are walking in the street, and we begin to long to be at it.
The opening scenes we have quite clearly in our eye, and we almost know
the whole; or it may be, _vice versa_, that we work out the last scenes
first; at all events, we have them hewn out in the rough, so that we
work the first with an intention of making them conform to a something
which is to succeed; and we are so sure of our course that we have no
dread of the something after,--nothing to puzzle the will, or make us
think too precisely on the event. Such is the condition of mind in which
we finally begin our labor. Some Wednesday afternoon in a holiday-week,
when the theatres are closed, we find ourselves sitting at a desk before
a sea-coal fire in a quaintly panelled rush-strewn chamber, the pen in
our hand, nibbed with a "Rogers's" pen-knife, [A] and the blank page
[Footnote A: "A Shefeld thwitel bare he in his hose."--CHAUCER. _The
We desire the reader to close his eyes for a moment and endeavor to
fancy himself in the position of William Shakspeare about to write a
piece,--the play abovenamed. This may be attempted without presumption.
We wish to recall and make real the fact that our idol was a man,
subject to the usual circumstances of men living in his time, and to
those which affect all men at all times,--that he had the same round of
day and night to pass through, the same common household accidents which
render "no man a hero to his valet." The world was as real to him as it
is to us. The dreamy past, of two hundred and fifty years since, was to
him the present of one of the most stirring periods in history, when
wonders were born quite as frequently as they are now.
And having persuaded the reader to place himself in Shakspeare's
position, we will make one more very slight request, which is, that he
will occupy another chair in the same chamber and fancy that he sees the
immortal dramatist begin a work,--still keeping himself so far in his
position that he can observe the workings of his mind as he writes.
Shakspeare has fixed upon a name for his piece, and he writes it,--he
that the players told Ben Jonson "never blotted a line." It is the
TIMON OF ATHENS.
He will have it in five acts, as the best form; and he has fixed upon
his _dramatis personae_, at least the principal of them, for he names
them on the margin as he writes. He uses twelve in the first scene, some
of whom he has no occasion for but to bring forward the character of his
hero; but they are all individualized while he employs them. The scene
he has fixed upon; this is present to his mind's eye; and as he cannot
afterwards alter it without making his characters talk incongruously and
being compelled to rewrite the whole, he writes it down thus:--
SCENE I.--_A Hall in Timon's House._
Now he has reflected that his first object is to interest his audience
in the action and passion of the piece,--at the very outset, if
possible, to catch their fancies and draw them into the mimic life of
the play,--to beguile and attract them without their knowing it. He has
reflected upon this, we say,--for see how artfully he opens the scene,
and how soon the empty stage is peopled with life! He chooses to begin
by having two persons enter from opposite wings, whose qualities are
known at once to the reader of the play, but not to an audience. The
stage-direction informs us:--
[_Enter Poet, Painter, Jeweller, Merchant, and others, at several
We shall see how at the same time they introduce and unfold their own
characters and awaken an interest in the main action. In writing, we
are obliged to name them. They do not all enter quite at once. At first
_Poet._ Good day, Sir.
_Painter._ I am glad to see you well.
_Poet._ I have not seen you long; how goes the world?
_Painter._ It wears, Sir, as it grows.
This shows them to be acquaintances.--While the next reply is made, in
which the Poet begins to talk in character even before the audience know
him, two others enter from the same side, as having just met, and others
in the background.
_Poet._ Ay, that's well known:--
But what particular rarity? what strange,
That manifold record not matches? See,
And we fancy him waving his hand in an enthusiastic manner,--
Magic of bounty! all these spirits thy power
Hath conjured to attend.
Which manner is only a high-flowing habit, for he adds in the same
breath, dropping his figure suddenly,--
I know the merchant.
_Painter._ I know them both; t'other's a jeweller.
It is certainly natural that painters should know jewellers,--and,
perhaps, that poets should be able to recognize merchants, though the
converse might not hold. We now know who the next speakers are, and soon
_Merchant._ Oh, 'tis a worthy lord!
_Jeweller._ Nay, that's most fixed.
_Merchant._ A most incomparable man; breathed as it were
To an untirable and continuate goodness:
_Jeweller. _I have a jewel here.
The Jeweller being known, the Merchant is; and, it will be noticed that
the first speaks in a cautious manner.
_Merchant._ Oh, pray, let's see it! For the lord Timon, Sir?
_Jeweller. _If he will touch the estimate; but, for that----
We begin to suspect who is the "magic of bounty" and the "incomparable
man," and also to have an idea that all these people have come to his
house to see him.--While the Merchant examines the jewel, the first who
spoke, the high-flown individual, is pacing and talking to himself near
the one he met:--
_Poet. When we for recompense have praised the vile,
It stains the glory in that happy verse
Which aptly sings the good._
Perhaps he is thinking of himself. The Merchant and Jeweller do not hear
him;--they stand in twos at opposite sides of the stage.
_Merchant_. 'Tis a good form.
[_Looking at the jewel._
He observes only that the stone is well cut; but the Jeweller adds,--
_Jeweller_. And rich: here is a water, look you.
While they are interested in this and move backward, the two others come
nearer the front.
_Painter_. You are rapt, Sir, in some work, some dedication
To the great lord.
This is said, of course, with reference to the other's recent soliloquy.
And now we are going to know them.
_Poet_. A thing slipped idly from me.
Our poesy is as a gum, which oozes
From whence 'tis nourished. The fire i' the flint
Shows not till it be struck; our gentle flame
Provokes itself, and like the current files
Each bound it chafes.--What have you there?
We perceive that he is a poet, and a rather rhetorical than sincere one.
He has the art, but, as we shall see, not the heart.
_Painter_. A picture, Sir.--And when comes your book forth?
_Poet_. Upon the heels of my presentment, Sir--
Let's see your piece.
_Painter_. 'Tis a good piece.
We know that the Poet has come to make his presentment. The Painter,
the more modest of the two, wishes his work to be admired, but is
apprehensive, and would forestall the Poet's judgment. He means, it is a
_Poet_. So 'tis: this comes off well and excellent.
_Poet_. Admirable. How this grace
Speaks his own standing! What a mental power
This eye shoots forth! How big imagination
Moves in this lip! To the dumbness of the gesture
One might interpret.
He, at all events, means to flatter the Painter,--or he is so habituated
to ecstasies that he cannot speak without going into one. But with what
Shakspearean nicety of discrimination! The "grace that speaks his own
standing," the "power of the eye," the "imagination of the lip," are all
true; and so is the natural impulse, in one of so fertile a brain as a
poet from whom verse "oozes" to "interpret to the dumb gesture,"--to
invent an appropriate speech for the figure (Timon, of course) to be
uttering. And all this is but to preoccupy our minds with a conception
of the lord Timon!
_Painter_. It is a pretty mocking of the life.
Here's a touch; is't good?
_Poet_. I'll say of it
It tutors Nature: artificial strife
Lives in these touches livelier than life.
He has thought of too fine a phrase; but it is in character with all his
[_Enter certain Senators, and pass over._
_Painter_. How this lord's followed!
_Poet_. The senators of Athens: happy men!
This informs us who they are that pass over. The Poet also keeps up the
Ercles vein; while the Painter's eye is caught.
_Painter_. Look, more!
_Poet_. You see this confluence, this great flood of visitors.
I have, in this rough work, shaped out a man
Whom this beneath world doth embrace and hug
With amplest entertainment: my free drift
Halts not particularly, but moves itself
In a wide sea of wax: no levelled malice
Infects one comma in the course I hold:
But flies an eagle flight, bold, and forth on,
Leaving no tract behind.
This flight of rhetoric is intended to produce a sort of musical effect,
in preparing us by its lofty sound for readily apprehending the lord
Timon with "amplest entertainment." The same is true of all that
follows. The Poet and Painter do but sound a lordly note of preparation,
and move the curtain that is to be lifted before a scene of profusion.
Call it by what name we please, it surely was not accident or
unconscious inspiration,--a rapture or frenzy,--which led Shakspeare to
open this play in this manner. If we remember the old use of choruses,
which was to lift up and excite the fancy, we may well believe that he
intended this flourishing Poet to act as a chorus,--to be a "mighty
whiffler," going before, elevating "the flat unraised spirits" of his
auditory, and working on their "imaginary forces." He is a rhetorical
character, designed to rouse the attention of the house by the pomp
of his language, and to set their fancies in motion by his broad
conceptions. How well he does it! No wonder the Painter is a little
confused as he listens to him.
_Painter_. How shall I understand you?
_Poet_. I'll unbolt to you.
You see how all conditions, how all minds,
(As well of glib and slippery creatures, as
Of grave and austere quality,) tender down
Their services to Lord Timon; his large fortune,
Upon his good and gracious nature hanging,
Subdues and properties to his love and tendance
All sorts of hearts; yea, from the glass-faced flatterer
To Apemantus, that few things loves better
Than to abhor himself; even he drops down
The knee before him, and returns in peace,
Most rich in Timon's nod.
There was almost a necessity that the spectator should be made
acquainted with the character of Timon before his appearance; for his
profuseness could be illustrated, after being known, better than it
could make itself known in dialogue and action in which he should bear a
part. And of the hundreds of English plays opening with an explanation
or narrative of foregone matters, there is none where the formality is
concealed by a more ingenious artifice than is used in this scene. The
spectator is fore-possessed with Timon's character, and (in the outline
the Poet is proceeding to give) with a suspicion that he is going to see
him ruined in the course of the piece; and this is accomplished in
the description of a panegyric, incidentally, briefly, picturesquely,
artfully, with an art that tutors Nature, and which so well conceals
itself that it can scarcely be perceived except in this our microscopic
analysis. Here also we have Apemantus introduced beforehand. And with
all this, the Painter and Poet speak minutely and broadly in character;
the one sees scenes, the other plans an action (which is just what his
own creator had done) and talks in poetic language. It is no more
than the text warrants to remark that the next observation, primarily
intended to break the poet's speech, was also intended to be the natural
thought and words of a
_Painter_. I saw them speak together.
_Poet_. Sir, I have upon a high and pleasant hill
Feigned Fortune to be throned: the base of
Is ranked with all deserts, all kinds of natures
That labor on the bosom of this sphere
To propagate their states; amongst them all,
Whose eyes are on this sovereign lady fixed,
One do I personate of Lord Timon's frame,
Whom Fortune with her ivory hand wafts to her;
Whose present grace to present slaves and servants
Translates his rivals.
_Painter_. 'Tis conceived to scope.
This throne, this Fortune, and this hill, methinks,
With one man beckoned from the rest below,
Bowing his head against the steepy mount
To climb his happiness, would be well expressed
In our condition.
_Poet_. Nay, Sir, but hear me on.
The artifice is to secure the attention of the spectator. The
interruptions give naturalness and force to the narrative; and the
questions and entreaties, though addressed to each other by the
personages on the stage, have their effect in the front. The same
artifice is employed in the most obvious manner where Prospero (Tempest,
Act i. Sc. 2) narrates his and her previous history to Miranda. The Poet
All those which were his fellows but of late
(Some better than his value) on the moment
Follow his strides, his lobbies fill with tendance,
Rain sacrificial whisperings in his ear,
Make sacred even his stirrup, and through him
Drink the free air.
_Painter_. Ay, marry, what of these?
The Poet has half deserted his figure, and is losing himself in a new
description, from which the Painter impatiently recalls him. The text
is so artificially natural that it will bear the nicest natural
_Poet_. When Fortune, in her shift and
change of mood,
Spurns down her late beloved, all his dependants,
Which labored after him to the mountain's
Even on their knees and hands, let him slip
Not one accompanying his declining foot.
_Painter_. 'Tis common:
A thousand moral paintings I can show
That shall demonstrate these quick blows of
More pregnantly than words. Yet you do
To show Lord Timon that mean eyes have
The foot above the head.
[_Trumpets sound. Enter Timon, attended; the
servant of Ventidius talking with him_.
Thus far (and it is of no consequence if we have once or twice forgotten
it while pursuing our analysis) we have fancied ourselves present,
seeing Shakspeare write this, and looking into his mind. But although
divining his intentions, we have not made him intend any more than his
words show that he did intend. Let us presently fancy, that, before
introducing his principal character, he here turns back to see if he has
brought in everything that is necessary. It would have been easier to
plan this scene after the rest of the play had been done,--and, as
already remarked, it may have been so written; but when the whole
coheres, the artistic purpose is more or less evident in every part; and
the order in which each was put upon paper is of as little consequence
as the place or time of date or the state of the weather. Wordsworth has
been particular enough to let it be known, where he composed the last
verse of a poem first. With some artists the writing is a mere copying
from memory of what is completely elaborated in the whole or in long
passages: Milton wrote thus, through a habit made necessary by his
blindness; and so Mozart, whose incessant labors trained his genius in
the paths of musical learning, or brought learning to be its slave, till
his first conceptions were often, beyond the reach of elaboration, and
remained so clear in his own mind that he could venture to perform
in public concertos to which he had written only the orchestral or
accessory parts. Other artists work _seriatim_; some can work only when
the pen is in their hands; and the blotted page speaks eloquently
enough of the artistic processes of mind to which their most passionate
passages are subjected before they come to the reader's eye. Think of
the fac-simile of Byron's handwriting in "Childe Harold"! It shows a
soul rapt almost beyond the power of writing. But the blots and erasures
were not made by a "fine frenzy"; _they_ speak no less eloquently for an
artistic taste and skill excited and alert, and able to guide the frenzy
and give it a contagious power through the forms of verse,--this
taste and this skill and control being the very elements by which his
expressions become an echo of the poet's soul,--pleasing, or, in the
uncultivated, helping to form, a like taste in the hearer, and exciting
a like imagined condition of feeling and poetic vision.
Yet if it were made a question, to be decided from internal evidence,
whether the scene here analyzed was written before or after the rest of
the piece, a strong argument for its being written before might be found
in the peculiar impression it leaves upon the fancy. Let us suppose we
follow the author while he runs it over, which he does quite rapidly,
since there are no blotted lines, but only here and there a comma to
be inserted. He designed to open his tragedy. He finds he has set a
scene,--in his mind's eye the entrance-hall to an Athenian house, which
he thinks he has presently intimated plainly enough to be Timon's house.
Here he has brought forward four actors and made them speak as just
meeting; they come by twos from different ways, and the first two
immediately make it known that the other two are a merchant and
jeweller, and almost immediately that they themselves are, one a
painter, the other a poet. They have all brought gifts or goods for
the lord Timon. The Athenian Senators pass over, and, as becomes
their dignity, are at once received in an inner hall,--the first four
remaining on the stage. All is so far clear. He has also, by the
dialogue of the Painter and Poet, made in itself taking to the attention
through the picture and the flighty recitation, suggested and interested
us incidentally in the character of Timon, and conveyed a vague
misgiving of misfortune to come to him. And there is withal a swelling
pomp, three parts rhetorical and one part genuinely poetical, in the
Poet's style, which gives a tone, and prepares the fancy to enter
readily into the spirit of the tragedy. This effect the author wished to
produce; he felt that the piece required it; he was so preoccupied with
the Timon he conceived that he sets to work with a Timon-rich hue of
fancy and feeling; to this note he pitches himself, and begins his
measured march "bold and forth on." What he has assumed to feel he
wishes spectators to feel; and he leaves his style to be colored by his
feeling, because he knows that such is the way to make them feel it And
we do feel it, and know also that we are made thus to feel through an
art which we can perceive and admire. On the whole, this introduction
opens upon the tragedy with just such a display of high-sounding
phrases, such a fine appropriateness, such a vague presentiment, and
such a rapid, yet artful, rising from indifference to interest, that it
seems easiest to suppose the author to be writing while his conceptions
of what is to follow are freshest and as yet unwrought out. We cannot
ask him; even while we have overlooked him in his labor, his form has
faded, and we are again in this dull every-day Present.
We have seen him take up his pen and begin a tragedy; or, to drop the
fancy, we have made it real to ourselves in what manner Shakspeare's
writing evidences that he wrought as an _artist_,--one who has an idea
in his mind of an effect he desires to produce, and elaborates it with
careful skill, not in a trance or ecstasy, but "in clear dream and
solemn vision." The subtile tone of feeling to be struck is as much a
matter of art as the action or argument to be opened. And it is no less
proper to judge (as we have done) of the presence of art by its result
in this respect than in respect to what relates to the form or story.
An introduction is before us, a dramatic scene, in which characters are
brought forward and a dialogue is given, apparently concerning a picture
and poem that have been made, but having a more important reference to a
character yet to be unfolded. Along with this there is also expressed,
in the person of a professed panegyrist, a certain lofty and free
opinion of his own work, in a confident declamatory style of
"Sir, I have upon a high and pleasant hill
Feigned Fortune to be throned," etc.,--
that is levelled with exquisite tact just on the verge of bombast. This
is not done to make the hearer care for the thing described, which is
never heard of after, but to give a hint of Timon and what is to befall
him, and to create a _melodic effect_ upon the hearer's sense which
shall put him in a state to yield readily to the illusion of the piece.
It is not possible to conceive Shakspeare reviewing his lines and
thinking to himself, "That is well done; my genius has not deserted me;
I could not have written anything more to my liking, if I had set about
it deliberately!" But it is easy to see him running it over with a
sensation of "This will serve; my poet will open their eyes and ears;
and now for the hall and banquet scene."
The sense of fitness and relation operates among thoughts and feelings
as well as among fancies, and its results cannot be mistaken for
accident. Ariel and his harpies could not interrupt a scene with a more
discordant action than the phase of feeling or the poetic atmosphere
pervading it would be interrupted by, if a cloud of distraction came
across the poet and the faculties of his mind rioted out of his control.
For he not only feels, but sees his feeling; he takes it up as an object
and holds it before him,--a feeling to be conveyed. Just as a sculptor
holds in his mind a form and models it out of clay, undiverted by other
forms thronging into his vision, or by the accidental forms that the
plastic substance takes upon itself in the course of his work, till it
stands forth the image of his ideal,--so the poet works out his states
of poetic feeling. He grasps and holds and sustains them amidst the
multiplicity of upflying thoughts and thick-coming fancies;--no matter
how subtile or how aspiring they may be, he fastens them in the chamber
of his imagination until his distant purpose is accomplished, and he has
found a language for them which the world will understand. And this is
where Shakspeare's art is so noble,--in that he conquers the entire
universe of thought, sentiment, feeling, and passion,--goes into the
whole and takes up and portrays characters the most extreme and diverse,
passions the most wild, sentiment the most refined, feelings the most
delicate,--and does this by an art in which he must make his characters
appear real and we looking on, though he cannot use, to develop his
dramas, a hundred-thousandth part of the words that would be used in
real life,--that is, in Nature. He also always approaches us upon the
level of our common sense and experience, and never requires us to yield
it,--never breaks in or jars upon our judgment, or shocks or alarms any
natural sensibility. After enlarging our souls with the stir of whatever
can move us through poetry, he leaves us where he found us, refreshed by
new thoughts, new scenes, and new knowledge of ourselves and our kind,
more capable, and, if we choose to be so, more wise. His art is so great
that we almost forget its presence,--almost forget that the Macbeth and
Othello we have seen and heard were Shakspeare's, and that he MADE them;
we can scarce conceive how he could feign as if felt, and retain and
reproduce such a play of emotions and passions from the position of
spectator, his own soul remaining, with its sovereign reason, and all
its powers natural and acquired, far, far above all its creations,--a
spirit alone before its Maker.
The opening of "Timon" was selected on account of its artful preparation
for and relation to what it precedes. It shows the forethought and skill
of its author in the construction or opening out of his play, both
in respect to the story and the feeling; yet even here, in this
half-declamatory prologue, the poet's dramatic art is also evident. His
poet and painter are living men, and not mere utterers of so many words.
Was this from intuition?--or because he found it easy to make them
what he conceived them, and felt that it would add to the life of his
introduction, though he should scarcely bring them forward afterwards?
No doubt the mind's eye helps the mind in character-drawing, and that
appropriate language springs almost uncalled to the pen, especially of
a practised writer for the stage. But is his scene a dream which he can
direct, and which, though he knows it all proceeds from himself, yet
seems to keep just in advance of him,--his fancy shooting ahead and
astonishing him with novelties in dialogue and situation? There are
those who have experienced this condition in sickness, and who have
amused themselves with listening to a fancied conversation having
reference to subjects of their own choosing, yet in which they did not
seem to themselves to control the cause of the dialogue or originate the
particular things said, until they could actually hear the voices rising
from an indistinct whisper to plain speech. I knew an instance, (which
at least is not related in the very curious work of M. Boismont on the
"Natural History of Hallucinations,") where an invalid, recovering
from illness, could hear for half a night the debates and doings of an
imaginary association in the next chamber, the absurdity of which often
made him laugh so that he could with difficulty keep quiet enough to
listen; while occasionally extracts would be read from books written in
a style whose precision and eloquence excited his admiration, or whose
affecting solemnity moved him deeply, though he knew perfectly well that
the whole came from his own brain. This he could either cause or permit,
and could in an instant change the subject of the conversation or
command it into silence. He would sometimes throw his pillow against the
wall and say, "Be still! I'll hear no more till daybreak!" And this has
taken place when he was in calm health in mind, and, except weakness, in
body, and broad awake. What was singular, the voices would cease at his
bidding, and in one instance (which might have startled him, had he not
known how common it is for persons to wake at an hour they fix) they
awoke him at the time appointed. Their language would bear the ordinary
tests of sanity, and was like that we see in daily newspapers; but the
various knowledge brought in, the complicated scenes gone through, made
the whole resemble intricate concerted music, from the imperfect study
of which possibly came the power to fabricate them. That they were owing
to some physical cause was shown by their keeping a sort of cadence with
the pulse, and in the fact, that, though not disagreeable, they were
wearisome; especially as they always appeared to be got up with some
remote reference to the private faults and virtues of that tedious
individual who is always forcing his acquaintance upon us, avoid him
however we may,--one's self.
Shall we suppose that Shakspeare wrote in such an _opium dream_ as this?
Did his "wood-notes wild" come from him as tunes do from a barrel-organ,
where it is necessary only to set the machine and disturb the bowels of
it by turning? Was it sufficient for him to fore-plan the plots of his
plays, the story, acts, scenes, persons,--the general rough idea, or
argument,--and then to sit at his table, and, by some process analogous
to mesmeric manipulations, put himself into a condition in which his
_genius_ should elaborate and shape what he, by the aid of his poetic
taste and all other faculties, had been able to rough-hew? How far did
his consciousness desert him?--only partially, as in the instance just
given, so that he marvelled, while he wrote, at his own fertility,
power, and truth?--or wholly, as in a Pythonic inspiration, so that the
frenzy filled him to his fingers' ends, and he wrote, he knew not what,
until he re-read it in his ordinary state? In fine, was he the mere
conduit of a divinity within him?--or was he in his very self, in the
nobility and true greatness of his being and the infinitude of his
faculties, a living fountain,--he, he alone, in as plain and common a
sense as we mean when we say "a man," the divinity?
These are "questions not to be asked," or, at least, argued, any
more than the question, Whether the blessed sun of heaven shall eat
blackberries. The quality of Shakspeare's writing renders it impossible
to suppose that it was produced in any other state than one where all
the perceptions that make good sense, and not only good, but most
excellent sense, were present and alert. Howsoever "apprehensive, quick,
forgetive, full of nimble, fiery, and delectable shapes" his brain
may be, it never gambols from the superintendence of his reason and
understanding. In truth, it is the perfectness of the control, the
conscious assurance of soundness in himself, which leaves him so free
that the control is to so many eyes invisible; they perceive nothing but
luxuriant ease in the midst of intricate complexities of passion and
character, and they think he could have followed the path he took only
by a sort of necessity which they call Nature,--that he wrote himself
quite into his works, bodily, just as he was, every thought that came
and went, and every expression that flew to his pen,--leaving out only a
few for shortness. They are so thoroughly beguiled by the very quality
they do not see, that they are like spectators who mistake the scene on
the stage for reality; they cannot fancy that a man put it all there,
and that it is by the artistic and poetic power of him, this man, who is
now standing behind or at the wing, and counting the money in the house,
that they are beguiled of their tears or thrown into such ecstasies of
It exalts, and not degrades, the memory of Shakspeare to think of him in
this manner, as a man: for he _was_ a man; he had eyes, hands, organs,
dimensions, and so forth, the same that a Jew hath; a good many people
saw him alive. Had we lived in London between 1580 and 1610, we might
have seen him,--a man who came from his Maker's hand endowed with the
noblest powers and the most godlike reason,--who had the greatest
natural ability to become a great dramatic poet,--the native genius and
the aptness to acquire the art, and who did acquire the highest art
of his age, and went on far beyond it, exhibiting new ingenuities and
resources, and a breadth that has never been equalled, and which admits
at once and harmonizes the deepest tragedy and the broadest farce, and,
in language, the loftiest flights of measured rhetoric along with
the closest imitation of common talk;--and all this he _so used_, so
elaborated through it the poetic creations of his mind, in such glorious
union and perfection of high purpose and art and reach of soul, that he
was the greatest and most universal poet the world has known.
Rowe observes, in regard to Shakspeare,--"Art had so little and
Nature so large a share in what he did, that, for aught I know, the
performances of his youth, as they were the most vigorous, and had the
most fire and strength of imagination in them, were the best. I
would not be thought by this to mean that his fancy was so loose and
extravagant as to be independent on the rule and government of judgment;
but that what he thought was commonly so great, so justly and rightly
conceived in itself, that it wanted little or no correction, and was
immediately approved by an impartial judgment at the first sight."
The last sentence is true; but Mr. Rowe really means to say that he was
as great an artist as natural poet,--that his _creative_ and _executive_
powers wrought in almost perfect spontaneity and harmony,--the work
of the _making_ part of him being generally at once approved by the
_shaping_ part, and each and both being admirable. When a man creates
an Othello, feigns his story and his passion, assumes to be him and to
observe him at the same time, figures him so exactly that all the
world may realize him also, brings in Desdemona and Iago and the rest,
everything kept in propriety and with the minutest perfection of detail,
which does most, Art or Nature? How shall we distinguish? Where does one
leave off and the other begin? The truth of the passion, that is Nature;
but can we not perceive that the Art goes along with it? Do we not at
once acknowledge the Art when we say, "How natural!"? In such as Iago,
for example, it would seem as if the least reflective spectator must
derive a little critical satisfaction,--if he can only bring himself to
fancy that Iago is not alive, but that the great master painted him and
wrote every word he utters. As we read his words, can we not see how
boldly he is drawn, and how highly colored? There he is, right in the
foreground, prominent, strong, a most miraculous villain. Did Nature put
the words into his mouth, or Art? The question involves a consideration
of how far natural it is for men to make Iagos, and to make them
speaking naturally. Though it be natural, it is not common; and if its
naturalness is what must be most insisted on, it may be conceded, and we
may say, with Polixenes, "The Art itself is Nature."
There is a strong rapture that always attends the full exercise of our
highest faculties. The whole spirit is raised and quickened into a
secondary life. This was felt by Shakspeare,--felt, and at the same
time controlled and guided with the same strictness over all thoughts,
feelings, passions, fancies, that thronged his mind at such moments, as
he had over those in his dull every-day hours. When we are writing, how
difficult it is to avoid pleasing our own vanity! how hard not to step
aside a little, now and then, for a brilliant thought or a poetic fancy,
or any of the thousand illusions that throng upon us! Even for the sake
of a well-sounding phrase we are often tempted to turn. The language of
passion,--how hard it is to feign, to write it! how harder than all, to
keep the tone, serious, or whatever it may be, with which we begin, so
that no expressions occur to break it,--lapses of thought or speech,
that are like sudden stumbles or uneasy jolts! And if this is so in
ordinarily elevated prose, how much more must it be so in high dramatic
poetry, where the poet rides on the whirlwind and tempest of passion and
"directs the storm." There must go to the conception and execution of
this sort of work a resolved mind, strong fancies, thoughts high and
deep, in fine, a multitude of powers, all under the grand creative,
sustaining imagination. When completed, the work stands forth to all
time, a great work of Art, and bulwark of all that is high against all
that is low. It is a great poetic work, the work of a maker who gives
form and direction to the minds of men.
In a certain sense, it is not an extravagance to say that all who are
now living and speak English have views of life and Nature modified by
the influence of Shakspeare. We see the world through his eyes; he has
taught us how to think; the freedom of soul, the strong sense, the
grasp of thought,--above all, the honor, the faith, the love,--who has
imparted such noble ideas of these things as he? Not any one, though
there were giants in those days as well as he. Hence he has grown to
seem even more "natural" than he did in his own day, his judges being
mediately or immediately educated by him. The works are admired, but the
nobleness of soul in him that made them is not perceived, and his genius
and power are degraded into a blind faculty by unthinking minds, and by
vain ones that flatter themselves they have discovered the royal road to
poetry. What they seem to require for poetry is the flash of thought
or fancy that starts the sympathetic thrill,--the little jots,--the
striking, often-quoted lines or "gems." The rest is merely introduced to
build up a piece; these are the "pure Nature," and all that.
And it is not to be denied that they are pure Nature; for they are true
to Nature, and are spontaneous, beautiful, exquisite, deserving to be
called gems, and even diamonds.
"The sweet South,
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odor":--
thousands of such lines we keep in our memories' choicest cells; yet
they are but the exterior adornments of a great work of Art. They are
the delightful finishes and lesser beauties which the great work admits,
and, indeed, is never without, but which are not to be classed among its
essentials. Their beauty and fitness are not those of the grand columns
of the temple; they are the sculptures upon the frieze, the caryatides,
or the graceful interlacings of vines. They catch the fancy of those
whose field of vision is not large enough to take in the whole, and
upon whom all excellences that are not little are lost. Beautiful in
themselves, their own beauty is frequently all that is seen; the beauty
of their propriety, the grace and charm with which they come in, are
overlooked. Many people will have it that nothing is poetry or poetic
but these gems of poetry; and because the apparent spontaneousness of
them is what makes them so striking, these admirers are unwilling to see
that it is through an art that they are brought in so beautifully in
their spontaneousness and give such finish to larger effects. And
we have no end of writers who are forever trying to imitate them,
forgetting that the essence of their beauty is in their coming unsought
and in their proper places as unexpected felicities and fine touches
growing out of and contributing to some higher purpose. They are natural
in this way:--when the poet is engaged upon his work, these delicate
fancies and choice expressions throng into his mind; he instantly, by
his Art-sense, accepts some, and rejects more; and those he accepts are
such as he wants for his ulterior purpose, which will not admit the
appearance of art; hence he will have none that do not grow out of his
feeling and harmonize with it. All this passes in an instant, and the
apt simile or the happy epithet is created,--an immortal beauty, both in
itself and as it occurs in its place. It was put there by an art;
the poet knew that the way to make expressions come is to assume the
feeling; he knew that he
"But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit"
that his whole function would suit with expressions to his conceit.
He then withdrew his judgment from within, and cheated his fancy into
supposing he had given her the rein, letting the feigned state be as
real to him as it could, and writing from that primarily,--humoring
Nature by his art in leaving her to do what she alone could do. So that
the very gems we admire as natural are the offspring of Nature creating
under Art. To make streaked gillyflowers, we marry a gentler scion to
the wildest stock, and Nature does the rest. So in poetry, we cannot
get at the finest excellences by seeking for them directly, but we put
Nature in the way to suggest them. We do not strive to think whether
"the mobled queen" is good; we do not let our vanity keep such a
strict look-out upon Nature; she will not desert us, if we follow her
modes,--which we must do with all the art and fine tact we can acquire
and command, not only in order to gain the minute beauties, but to
compass the great whole.
The analogies that might be drawn from music would much assist in making
all this clear, if they could be used with a chance of being understood.
But, unfortunately, the ability to comprehend a great work, as a whole,
is even rarer in music than in poetry. The little taking bits of melody
are all that is thought of or perceived; the great _epos_ or rhapsody,
the form and meaning of the entire composition,--which is a work of Art
in no other sense than a poem is one, except that it uses, instead of
speech, musical forms, of greater variety and symmetry,--are not at all
understood. Nor is the subtile and irresistible coherence in successions
of clear sunny melody, in which Mozart so abounds, in any great degree
understood, even by some who call themselves artists. They think only
of the sudden flashes, the happinesses, and, if such a word may be used
once only, the smartnesses,--like children who care for nothing in their
cake but the frosting and the plums. But in continuing the study of the
art with such notions of its expression, the relish for it soon cloys,
the mind ceases to advance, the enthusiasm deadens, progress becomes
hopeless, and the little gained is soon lost; whereas, if the student is
familiarized with the most perfect forms of the art, and led on by them,
both by committing a few of them to memory, and by fully understanding
their structure, it will soon be evident that an intellectual study of
music, pursued with a true love of it, can, more than any other study,
strengthen the imaginative faculty.
The forms of poetry have only the rhythmic analogy, as forms, to those
of music; but in their foundation in the same Nature, and in their
manner of development, there is a closer resemblance. Both in music and
poetry, the older artists regarded with most strictness the carrying
through of the whole; they cared little for the taking tunes or the
striking passages; they looked with eyes single to their ultimate
purposes. Shakspeare came, and accomplished at once, for dramatic art,
what the fathers of modern music began for their art nearly a century
later. He made the strict form yield to and take new shape from natural
feeling. This feeling, whose expression is the musical element of
poetry, he brought up to its proper relation with all the other
qualities. Look at the terrific bombast which preceded him,--the mighty
efforts of mighty men to draw music or the power of sound into their
art; Hieronymo is like some portentous convulsion of Nature,--the
upheaval of a new geological era. The writers felt that there must be
style suited to passion, and that they must attain it,--but how? By
artificial pomp?--or by yielding with artful reserve to the natural
eloquence of passion?
Shakspeare has answered the question for all time; and he uses both,
each in its proper place. Nothing, even in music, ever showed an art
growing out of a nicer sensibility in sound than his variety and
appropriateness in style. For an art it is, and we cannot make a
definition of that word which shall include other forms of art and not
include it. If the passion and the feeling make the style, it is the
poet's art that leaves them free to do it; he superintends; he feigns
that which he leaves to make; he shares his art with "great creating
Nature." All is unreal; all comes out of him; and all that has to do
with the form and expression of his products is, of course, included
in the manifest when his ship of fancy gets its clearance at the
custom-house of his judgment. The style he assumes cannot but be present
to his consciousness in the progress of a long drama. He must perceive,
as he writes, if he has the common penetration of humanity, that the
flow and cadence of his "Henry the Eighth" are not like those of his
"Midsummer Night's Dream"; and he must preserve his tone, with, at
times, direct art, not leaving everything to the feeling. That he does
so is as evident as if he had chosen a form of verse more remote
from the language of Nature and obliged himself to conform to its
requirements. The terrible cursing of Margaret in "Richard III.," for
example, is not the remorseless, hollow monotony of it, while it so
heightens the passion, as evident to Shakspeare as to us; or had he no
ear for verse, and just let his words sound on as they would, looking
only at the meaning, and counting his iambics on his fingers,--not too
carefully either? If the last supposition is to be insisted on, we must
confine our notions of his perceptions and powers within very ordinary
bounds, and make dramatic art as unpoetic as the art of brickmaking.
The beauty of Shakspeare's art is in its comprehensiveness. It takes in
every quality of excellence. It looks at the great whole, and admits
the little charms and graces. It includes constructiveness in story,
character-drawing, picturesqueness, musicalness, naturalness,--in fine,
whatever art may combine with poetry or the soul of poetry admit in art.
To the young and unobservant, and all who are unable to consider the
poet's writing, as we have in this article endeavoured to study a single
passage of it, _from his position_, the art is not apparent; the mimic
scene is reality, or some supernatural inspiration or schoolboy-like
enthusiasm has produced the work. But there are others, created with
different faculties, who begin to perceive the art almost as soon as
they feel its power, and who love to study it and to live in the spirit
of poetry that breathes through it; these come gradually to think of the
man, as well as of his works,--to feel more and more the influence upon
them of his greatness and beauty of soul, and, as years pass by, to find
consolation and repose in the loftiness of his wisdom.
* * * * *
Young Mien-yaun had for two years been the shining centre of the
aristocratic circles of Pekin. Around him revolved the social system.
He was the vitalizing element in fashionable life,--the radiant sun,
diffusing conventional warmth of tone and brilliancy of polish. He
created modes. He regulated reputations.
His smile or his frown determined the worldly fate of thousands. His
ready assurance gave him preeminence with one sex, and his beauty made
him the admiration of the other. When he talked, Mandarins listened;
when he walked, maidens' eyes glistened. He was, in short, the
rage,--and he knew it, and meant to remain so. He was a wonderful
student, and understood politics like a second Confucius. With the
literature of all ages, from, the Shee-king, written four thousand
years ago, down to the latest achievements of the modern poets, he was
intimately acquainted. His accomplishments were rich and varied, and his
Tartar descent endowed him with a spirit and animation that enabled him
to exhibit them to every advantage. He sang like a veritable Orpheus,
and sensitive women had been known to faint under the excitement of his
Moo-lee-wha, or national song. He even danced,--a most rare faculty in
Pekin, as in all China,--but this was frowned upon, as immoral, by his
family. Comely indeed he was, especially on state occasions, when he
appeared in all the radiance of rosy health, overflowing spirits, and
the richest crapes and satins,--decorated with the high order of the
peacock's feather, the red button, and numberless glittering ornaments
of ivory and lapis-lazuli. Beloved or envied by all the men, and with
all the women dying for him, he was fully able to appreciate the
comforts of existence. Considering the homage universally accorded him,
he was as little of a dandy as could reasonably be expected.
His family connections were very exalted. All his relatives belonged to
the Tse,--the learned and governing class. His father had been one of
the Tootche-yuen, a censor of the highest board, and was still a member
of the council of ministerial Mandarins. His uncle was a personal noble,
a prince, higher in rank than the best of the Mandarins, and directed
the deliberations of the Ping-pu, the Council of War. Thus his station
gave him access to all the best society. His career was a path of roses.
He never knew a sorrow. All were friendly to him, even the jealous,
because it was the fashion. The doors of the mighty opened at his
approach, and the smiles of the noble greeted him. He lived in an
atmosphere of adulation, and yet resisted the more intoxicating
influences of his dangerous elevation. Young as he was, he had
penetrated the social surface, and, marking its many uncertainties,
had laid out for himself a system of diplomacy which he believed best
calculated to fortify him in his agreeable position of master of modes
and dictator of fashionable public opinion.
The course he adopted was thoroughly effective. His sway was never
disputed for a moment. He knew his personal charms, and determined to
enhance their value by displaying them sparingly. Accordingly, he began
by refusing forty-nine out of every fifty public invitations,--his
former habit having been to refuse but one in five. He appeared on the
promenade only twice in three weeks, but on these occasions he always
artfully contrived to throw the community into the wildest excitement.
One day, he appeared arrayed from head to foot in yellow Nankin, a
color always considered a special abomination in Pekin, but which was
nevertheless instantly adopted by all the gallants about town,--a
proceeding which caused so much scandal that an imperial edict had to
be issued, forbidding the practice in future. Another time, he came out
with an unparalleled twist to his tail, the construction of which had
occupied his mind for some days, and which occasioned the death by
suicide of three over-ambitious youths who found themselves unable to
survive the mortification of an unsuccessful attempt to imitate it.
Again, to the infinite horror of the Mandarins, he paraded himself one
afternoon with decacuminated finger-nails, and came very near producing
a riot by his unwillingness to permit them to grow again, besides
calling forth another imperial decree, threatening ignominious death to
all nobles throughout the empire who should encourage the practice.
All these eccentricities served only to add to the consequence of the
multipotent Mien-yaun. Then again, he was gifted with a bewitching
smile; but he steadily refrained from making any use of it oftener than
once a month, at which times the enthusiasm of his adherents knew no
bounds, and it might have been supposed that all Pekin had administered
unto itself a mild preparation of laughing-gas, so universal were the
grimaces. On very rare and distinguished occasions, Mien-yaun permitted
himself to be persuaded to sing; but as ladies sometimes swooned under
his melodious influence, the natural goodness of his heart prevented him
from frequent indulgence in the exercise of this accomplishment.
It may naturally be supposed that the popular and fascinating young
Chinese nobleman was the devoted object of much matrimonial speculation.
Managing mammas and aspiring daughters gave the whole of their minds to
him. To look forward to the possible hope of sharing through life his
fortunes and his fame was the continual employment of many a high-born
damsel. And they the more readily and unreservedly indulged these
fancies, as nothing in the laws of China could prevent Mien-yaun from
taking as many wives as he chose, provided he could support them all,
and supply all their natural wants. But our hero knew his value. He was
fully conscious that a member of the Tse, a son of an ex-censor of the
highest board, a nephew of a personal noble and the Secretary of War,
and, above all, the brightest ornament of aristocratic society, was by
no means the sort of person to throw himself lightly away upon any woman
or any set of women. He preferred to wait.
His family had high hopes of him. He was largely gifted with filial
piety, which is everything in China. Politics, religion, literature,
government, all rest upon the broad principle of filial piety. Being
very filially pious, of course Mien-yaun was eminent in all these varied
accomplishments. Consequently his family had a right to have high hopes
of him. The great statesman, Kei-ying,--who has very recently terminated
a life of devoted patriotism and heroic virtues by a sublime death on
the scaffold,--undertook his instruction in Chinese politics. One lesson
completed his education. "Lie, cheat, steal, and honor your parents,"
were the elementary principles which Kei-ying inculcated. The readiness
with which Mien-yaun mastered them inspired his tutor with a lively
confidence in the young man's future greatness. He was pronounced a
rising character. His popularity increased. His name was in everybody's
mouth. He shunned society more sedulously than ever, and assumed new and
loftier airs. He was seized with fits of ambition, each of which lasted
a day, and then gave place to some new aspiration. First, he would be a
poet; but, after a few hours' labor, he declared the exertion of hunting
up rhymes too great an exertion. Next, he would be a moral philosopher,
and commenced a work, to be completed in sixty volumes, on the Whole
Duty of Chinamen; but he never got beyond the elementary principles he
had imbibed from Kei-ying. Again, he would become a great painter; but,
having in an unguarded moment permitted the claims of perspective to be
recognized, he was discouraged from this attempt by a deputation of the
first artists of the empire, who waited upon him, and with great respect
laid before him the appalling effects that would inevitably follow any
public recognition of perspective in painting. Finally, he renounced
all ambition but that of ruling his fellow-creatures with a rod more
tyrannical than that of political authority, and more respected than the
sceptre of government itself.
Satiated with success, Mien-yaun at length became weary of the ceaseless
round of flattering triumphs, and began to lament that no higher step on
the social staircase remained for him to achieve. Alas that discontent
should so soon follow the realization of our brightest hopes! What, in
this world, is enough? More than we have! Mien-yaun felt all the pangs
of anxious aspiration, without knowing how to alleviate them. He was
only conscious of a deep desolation, for which none of the elementary
principles he had learned from Kei-ying afforded the slightest
consolation. He now avoided publicity from inclination, rather than from
any systematic plan of action. He dressed mostly in blue, a sufficient
sign of a perturbed spirit. He discarded the peacock's feather, as
an idle vanity, and always came forth among the world arrayed in
ultramarine gowns and cerulean petticoats. His stockings, especially,
were of the deepest, darkest, and most beautiful blue. The world of
fashion saw, and was amazed; but in less than, a week all Pekin had the
blues. Annoyed at what a few months before he would have delighted in as
another convincing proof of his influential position, Mien-yaun fled
the city, and sought relief in a cruise up and down the Peiho, in his
private junk. As he neared the Gulf of Pe-tche-lee, the sea-breeze
brought calm to his troubled spirit and imparted renewed vigor to his
wearied mind. A degree of resolution, to which he had heretofore been
a stranger, possessed him. His courage returned. He would go back to
Pekin. He would renounce those vain pursuits in which he had passed his
unworthy life. Henceforth he would strive for nobler aims. Something
great and wonderful he certainly would accomplish,--the exact nature of
which, however, he did not pause to consider.
As he reentered the city, he was obliged to pass through that quarter
which is inhabited by the Kung,--the working and manufacturing classes.
His attention was suddenly arrested by feminine cries of distress; and,
turning a corner, he came upon a domestic scene so common in China
that it would hardly have attracted his notice but for a peculiar
circumstance. A matron, well advanced in years, was violently beating
a young and beautiful girl with a bit of bamboo; and the peculiar
circumstance that enforced Mien-yaun's interest was, that, as the maiden
turned her fair face towards him, she smiled through her tears and
telegraphed him a fragrant kiss, by means of her fair fingers. Naturally
astounded, he paused, and gazed upon the pair. The younger female was
the loveliest maid he had ever looked upon. She had the smallest eyes in
the world, the most tempting, large, full, pouting lips, the blackest
and most abundant hair, exquisitely plaited, and feet no bigger than her
little finger. As these are the four characteristics of female beauty
dearest to a Chinaman's heart, it is no wonder that Mien-yaun thought
her a paragon. The old woman, on the contrary, was hideously ugly. Her
teeth were gone, and her eyes sought the comforting assistance of an
ill-fitting pair of crystal spectacles. She had no hair, and her feet
might have supported an elephant. As he rested his eyes wistfully upon
them, the young woman discharged a second rapturous salute. His heart
beat with singular turbulence, and he approached.
"What has the child done?" he asked.
Now the law of China is, that parents shall not be restrained from
beating and abusing their children as often and as soundly as is
convenient. The great principle of filial piety knows no reciprocity.
Should a child occasionally be killed, the payment of a small fine will
satisfy the accommodating spirit of the authorities. The ill-favored
mother was not, therefore, in any way bound to answer this somewhat
abrupt question; but, observing the appearance of high gentility, and
touched by the engaging manner of the interrogator, she answered, that
her appetite had of late been uncertain, and that she was endeavoring to
restore it by a little wholesome exercise.
So reasonable an explanation admitted of no reply; and Mien-yaun was
about to resume his way with a sigh, when the young lady insinuated a
third osculatory hint, more penetrating than either of the others,
and bestowed on him, besides, a most ravishing smile. He fluttered
internally, but succeeded in preserving his outward immobility. He
entered into conversation with the elderly female, observing that it was
a fine day, and that it promised to continue so, although destiny was
impenetrable, and clouds might overshadow the radiant face of Nature at
any unexpected moment. To these and other equally profound and original
remarks the old woman graciously assented, and finally invited the young
gentleman to partake of a cup of scau-tcheou. Now scau-tcheou, which is
the most ardent of Chinese spirits, was Mien-yaun's abomination; but he
concealed his disgust, and quietly observed that he should prefer a cup
The old woman was delighted, and ran off to prepare the desired
refreshment, so that Mien-yaun was at length rewarded by the opportunity
of a few private words with the daughter.
"Tell me, Miss," said he,--"why did the sweetest of lips perform their
most delicate office when the brightest of eyes first turned upon me?"
The young lady, confused and blushing, answered, that the brilliancy of
the jewel which Mien-yaun wore in his hat had dazzled her vision, and
that she mistook him for an intimate friend of her youth,--that was all.
He knew this was a lie; but as lying was in exact accordance with the
elementary principles laid down by the learned Kei-ying, he was rather
pleased by it. Moreover, it was a very pretty lie, worthy of so pretty a
girl; and Mien-yaun, whose wits were fast leaving him, removed the jewel
from his hat, and begged the maiden to accept it. She, declaring that
she never could think of such a thing, deposited it in her bosom.
Evidently the twain were on the brink of love; a gentle push only was
needed to submerge them.
Mien-yaun speedily learned that his fair friend's name was Ching-ki-pin;
that she was the daughter of a wealthy manufacturer, named Tching-whang,
who owned extensive porcelain-factories at the North, and was besides a
considerable tobacco-planter; that her father was very kind to her,
but that the old woman, who was not her own mother, treated her very
cruelly; that her father married this ancient virago for her wealth, and
now repented the rash step, but found it impossible to retrace it, as
the law of China allows no divorces excepting when the wife has parents
living to receive and shelter her; and the obnoxious woman being nearly
a hundred years old herself, this was out of the question. When he
had learned so much, they were interrupted by the reappearance of the
Antique, who brought with her the cup of tea, most carefully prepared.
In deep abstraction, Mien-yaun seized it, and, instead of drinking the
boiling beverage, poured it upon the old woman's back, scalding her to
such a degree that her shrieks resounded through the neighborhood. Then
dropping the cup upon the ground, he put his heel into it, and, with a
burning glance of love at Ching-ki-pin, strode, melancholy, away.
All that night, Mien-yaun's heart was troubled. The tranquillizing
finger of Sleep never touched his eyelids. At earliest dawn he arose,
and devoted some hours to the consideration of his costume. Never before
had he murmured at his wardrobe; now everything seemed unworthy of
the magnitude of the occasion. Finally, after many doubts and inward
struggles, and much bewilderment and desperation, the thing was done. He
issued forth in a blaze of splendor, preceded by two servants bearing
rare and costly presents. His raiment was a masterpiece of artistic
effect. He wore furs from Russia, and cotton from Bombay; his breast
sparkled with various orders of nobility; his slippers glistened with
gems; his hat was surmounted with the waving feather of the peacock.
Turning neither to the right nor to the left, he made his way to the
residence of Tching-whang. At the portal he paused, and sent in before
him his card,--a sheet of bright red paper,--with a list of the presents
he designed to offer the family whose acquaintance he desired to
As he had expected, his reception was most cordial. Though his person
was unknown, the magic of his name was not unfelt, even in the regions
of the Kung. A prince of the peacock's feather was no common visitor to
the home of a plebeian manufacturer; and when that prince was found
to be in addition the leader of the fashions and the idol of the
aristocracy, the marvel assumed a miraculous character. The guest was
ushered in with many low obeisances. How the too gay Ching-ki-pin
regretted those unlucky telegraphic kisses! What would he think of her?
She, too, had passed a most unquiet night, but had been able to relieve
her feelings to some extent at the sewing-circle, which had met at
her home, and at which she poured into the eager ears of her young
companions rapturous accounts of the beauty, elegance, dignity, and
tenderness of the enchanting stranger, and displayed before their
dazzled eyes the lustrous jewel he had presented to her. Having excited
a great deal of envy and jealousy, she was able to rest more in peace
than would otherwise have been possible. But she had never dreamed of
the real rank of her admirer. It came upon her like a lightning-flash,
and almost reduced her to a condition of temporary distraction. As for
the mother-in-law, she would infallibly have gone off into hysterics,
but for the pain in her back, which the barbers--who are also the
physicians in China--had not been able to allay. But the sight of a
peacock's feather under her roof was better than balm to her tortured
spine. Tching-whang lost his presence of mind altogether, and violated
the common decencies of life by receiving his visitor with his hat
off, and taking the proffered presents with one hand,--the other being
occupied in pulling his ear, to assure himself he was not dreaming.
Mien-yaun spoke. His voice fell like soft music on the ears of his
hosts, and went straight to the innermost core of Ching-ki-pin's heart.
He had come, he said, to give utterance to his deep grief at the mishap
of yesterday, the recollection of which had harrowed his soul. The
thought of that venerable blistered back had taken away his repose, and
seriously interfered with his appetite. At the same time he could not
forget his own great loss, occasioned by the unlucky spilling of the
precious cup. He was sure, that Madam, in the kindness of her heart,
would overlook his fault, and consent to bestow on him another cheering,
but not inebriating draught.
The Antique was overcome by so much condescension. She could not say
a word. Tching-whang, too, remained paralyzed. But the beauteous
Ching-ki-pin, who had recovered her composure, answered with the
sweetest air imaginable, and succeeded in winding another amorous chain
around the already sufficiently-enslaved heart of her lover.
Presently the ice of constraint was broken, and the Antique, having once
put her foot in it, plunged off into conversation with remarkable vigor.
She entertained Mien-yaun with a detailed account of her family trials,
so interminable, that, with all his politeness, the young noble could
not avoid gaping desperately. Tching-whang, observing his visitor's
"What the women have lost in their feet, they have added to their
tongues," said he, quoting a Chinese proverb of great popularity.
As the Antique persisted, her husband gently reminded her that excessive
talkativeness is an allowed ground for divorce in China, and, by
suggesting the idea that she might possibly become the dismembered
fragment of a shattered union, at length succeeded in shaming her into
This Tching-whang was a fine old fellow. He was not a bit fashionable,
and Mien-yaun liked him the better for it. He had been educated by the
bamboo, and not by masters in the arts of courtesy. But he was a shrewd,
cunning, jolly old Chinaman, and was evidently perfectly familiar with
the elementary principles according to Kei-ying. After an animated
discussion of some ten minutes, it would have been difficult to
determine which of the two gentlemen was most deeply imbued with a sense
of the righteousness of the elementary principles.
After a proper time had elapsed, Mien-yaun was permitted the luxury of
a private chat with his charmer. What sighs, what smiles, what pleasing
tremors, what soft murmurings, what pressings of the hand and throbbings
of the heart were there! The Antique, who watched the course of
proceedings through a contiguous keyhole, subsequently declared that she
had never in all her life witnessed so affecting a spectacle, and she
was prevented from giving way to her excessive agitation only by
the thought that the interruption might seriously endanger her
daughter-in-law's prospects. The lovers, unconscious of scrutiny, made
great progress. Some doubt appeared at one time to exist as to which
had first experienced the budding passion which had now blossomed so
profusely; but in due time it was settled that both had suffered love at
precisely the same moment, and that the first gleam of the other's eye
had kindled the flame in the bosom of each.
Towards evening, the Antique came in with a cup of tea worthy to excite
a poet's inspiration,--and poets in China have sung the delights of tea,
and written odes to teacups, too, before now. Mien-yaun sipped it with
an air of high-breeding that neither Ching-ki-pin nor her respectable
mother-in-law had ever seen before. Soon after, the enamored couple
parted, with many fond protestations of faith, avowed and betrothed
Mien-yaun went home in an amatory ecstasy, and immediately exploded four
bunches of crackers and blazed a Bengal light, as a slight token of his
All Pekin was in an uproar. That is to say, the three thousand eminent
individuals who composed the aristocracy had nearly lost their wits.
The million and a half of common people were, of course, of no account.
Mien-yaun had given out that he was about to be married; but to whom,
or to how many, remained a mystery. No further intelligence passed his
lips. Consequently, in less than twenty-four hours there were four
hundred and fifty persons who knew the lady's name, as many more who had
conversed with her upon the subject, twice as many who knew the day on
which the ceremony was to take place, at least one thousand who had been
invited to assist, and an infinitely greater number who simply shook
their heads. In two days the names of some hundreds of young and comely
damsels were popularly accepted as the chosen future partner of the
glass of fashion and the mould of form. Fifty different days and hours
were fixed as the appointed time. All the most noted bonzes in Pekin
were in turn declared to be the fortunate sacred instrument by which
the union was to be effected. In the course of a week, public feeling
reached such a height that business was neglected and property declined
in value. A panic was feared. Mien-yaun shut himself up, and did not
stir abroad for a month, lest he should be tracked, and his secret
discovered. He contrived, however, to maintain a constant correspondence
with the light of his soul.
He was a little disturbed to find that his much revered father, the
ex-censor of the highest board, took no notice of what was going on, and
never alluded to the subject in any manner. Mien-yaun was too deeply
impressed with a sense of filial obligation to intrude his humble
affairs upon the old gentleman's
[Transcriber's note: Page missing in original.]
There were lanterns--without number, and of the largest size; there were
the richest and most luxurious couches disposed about for the general
comfort; there were consultations of cooks, headed by a professor from
Ning-po, a city famed throughout China for its culinary perfection, with
a view to producing an unrivalled gastronomic sensation; there were
tailors who tortured their inventive brains to realize the ideal raiment
which Mien-yaun desired to appear in. The panic ceased as suddenly as it
had arisen. A little while ago, and there was a surplus of supply and no
demand; now, the demand far exceeded the supply. Artists in apparel were
driven frantic. In three days the entire fashionable world of Pekin had
to be new clad, and well clad, for the great occasion. One tailor,
in despair at his inability to execute more than the tenth of his
commissions, went and drowned himself in the Peiho River, a proceeding
which did not at all diminish the public distress. The loss of the
tailor was nothing, to be sure, but his death was a fatal blow to the
hopes of at least a hundred of the first families. As for the women,
they were beside themselves, and knew not which way to turn. It was
evident that nothing had occurred within a half-century to create
anything like the excitement that existed. Mien-yaun's prospects of
eternal potency never seemed so cheering.
All this time, our hero's father, the ex-censor of the highest board,
preserved a profound silence.
The three days passed so rapidly, that even Mien-yaun's anxiety, great
as it was, could hardly keep pace with the swift hours. The morning
of the New Year came. For the first time in his life, the dictator of
fashion lost his mind. His head whirled like a tee-to-tum, and his
pulses beat sharp and irregular as the detonations of a bundle of
crackers. He was obliged to resign himself to fate and his valet, and
felt compelled to have recourse to many cups of tea to calm his fevered
senses. At length it became necessary for him to descend to the gardens.
Nerving himself by a powerful effort, he advanced among his guests.
What a gorgeous array of rank and beauty was there! The customary calls
of the New Year had been forgotten. Curiosity had alike infected all,
and the traditionary commemoration of two thousand years was for the
first time neglected. Why this tremor at our hero's heart? Was he not
lord of all that he surveyed? Reigned he not yet with undisputed sway?
Or was it that, an undefined presentiment of dire misfortune had settled
upon him? He strove to banish his melancholy, but with slight success.
His troubled air did not escape the scrutinizing eyes of the company.
The women whispered; the men shook their heads. But all greeted him with
enthusiasm, and asked after his bride with eagerness.
A crash of gongs was heard. The gates of a pavilion flew open, and the
beauteous Ching-ki-pin stepped forth, glowing with loveliness and hope.
As she stood an instant timidly on the portal, she seemed almost a
divinity,--at least, Mien-yaun thought so. Her sweet face was surmounted
by a heavy coronet of black hair, plaited to perfection, and glistening
with gum. Her little eyes beamed lovingly on her betrothed, and a flush
of expectancy overspread her countenance. Her costume was in the best
Chinese taste. An embroidered tunic of silk fell from her neck almost to
her ankles, and just temptingly revealed the spangled trowsers and the
richly jewelled slippers. A murmur of admiration diffused itself around.
Then followed many anxious inquiries. Who was she? Whence came she? To
whom belonged she? Her face was strange to all that high-born throng. In
a minute, however, her father appeared, bearing on his arm the Antique,
who looked more hideous than ever. A flash of intelligence quivered
through the multitude. Many of the nobility purchased their porcelain
and tobacco of Tching-whang, and recognized him immediately. It is
astonishing how like lightning unpleasant facts do fly. In less than two
minutes, every soul in the gardens knew that Mien-yaun, the noble, the
princely, the loftily-descended, the genteel, was going to marry a
Now that the great secret was out, everybody had thought so. Some had
been sure of it. Others had told you so. It was the most natural thing
in the world. Where there was so much mystery, there must, of necessity,
be some peculiar reason for it. A great many had always thought him a
little crazy. In fact, the whole tide of public sentiment instantly
turned. Mien-yaun, without knowing it, was dethroned. Upstarts, who
that morning had trembled at his frown, and had very properly deemed
themselves unworthy to braid his tail, now swept by him with swaggering
insolence, as if to compensate in their new-found freedom for the years
of social enslavement they had been subjected to. Leers and shrugs and
spiteful whispers circulated extensively. But the enraptured Mien-yaun,
blind to everything except his own overwhelming happiness, saw and heard
Little time was afforded for these private expressions of amiable
feeling. The grand repast was declared ready, and the importance of this
announcement overweighed, for a short period, the claims of scandal and
ill-nature. The company quickly found their way to the tables, which, as
the "Pekin Gazette" of the next morning said, in describing the _fete_,
"literally groaned beneath the weight of the delicacies with which they
were loaded." The consultations of the Ning-po cook and his confederates
had produced great results. The guests seated themselves, and delicately
tasted the slices of goose and shell-fish, and the pickled berries, and
prawns, and preserves, which always compose the prefatory course of a
Chinese dinner of high degree. Then porcelain plates and spoons of the
finest quality, and ivory chopsticks tipped with pearl, were distributed
about, and the birds'-nest soup was brought on. After a sufficient
indulgence in this luxury, came sea-slugs, and shark stews, and crab
salad, all served with rich and gelatinous sauces, and cooked to a
charm. Ducks' tongues and deers' tendons, from Tartary, succeeded, with
stewed fruits and mucilaginous gravy. Every known and some unknown
luxuries were lavishly provided. The Ning-po cook had invented a
new dish expressly for the occasion,--"Baked ice _a la_
Ching-ki-pin,"--which was highly esteemed. The ice was enveloped in a
crust of fine pastry, and introduced into the oven; the paste being
baked before the ice--thus protected from the heat--had melted, the
astonished visitors had the satisfaction of biting through a burning
crust, and instantly cooling their palates with the grateful contents.
The Chinese never cook except on substantial principles; and it was the
principle of contrast which regulated this sublime _chef-d'oeuvre_ of
the Ning-po artist.
Of course, the rarest beverages were not wanting. A good dinner without
good wine is nought. Useless each without the other. Those whose fancy
rested upon medicated _liqueurs_ found them in every variety. Those who
placed a higher value upon plain light wines had no reason to complain
of the supply set before them. Those whose unconquerable instinct
impelled them to the more invigorating sam-shu had only to make known
their natural desires. As the feast progressed, and the spirits of
the company rose, the charms of music were added to the delights of
appetite. A band of singsong girls gently beat their tom-toms, and
carolled in soft and soothing strains. As they finished, a general
desire to hear Mien-yaun was expressed. Willing, indeed, he was, and,
after seven protestations that he could not think upon it, each fainter
than the other, he suffered himself to be prevailed over, and, casting
a fond look upon his betrothed, he rose, and sang the following verses
from the Shee-king,--a collection of odes four thousand years old, and,
consequently, of indisputable beauty:--
"The peach-tree, how graceful! how fair!
How blooming, how pleasant its leaves!
Such is a bride when she enters to share
The home of her bridegroom, and every care
Her family from her receives."[A]
[Footnote A: The following is Sir William Jones's less literal and more
poetic paraphrase of the same selection:--
"Gay child of Spring, the garden's queen,
Yon peach-tree charms the roving sight;
Its fragrant leaves how richly green!
Its blossoms how divinely bright!
"So softly smiles the blooming bride
By love and conscious virtue led
O'er her new mansion to preside,
And placid joys around her spread."]
The festivities were at their height, the sam-shu was spreading its
benign influences over the guests, the deep delight of satiated appetite
possessed their bosoms, when the entrance of a stern and fat old
gentleman arrested universal attention. It was the respected father of
Mien-yaun, the ex-censor of the highest board, and Councillor of the
Empire. The company rose to greet him; but he, with gracious suavity,
begged them not to discompose themselves. Approaching that part of the
table occupied by the bridal party, he laid his hand upon his heart, and
assured Tching-whang that he was unable to express the joy he felt at
seeing him and his family.
Mien-yaun's father was a perfect master of the elementary principles.
Turning then to his son, he pleasantly requested him to excuse himself
to the assemblage, and follow him for a few minutes to a private
As soon as they were alone, the adipose ex-censor of the highest board
said:--"My son, have you thought of wedding this maiden?"
"Nothing shall divert me from that purpose, O my father," confidently
"Nothing but my displeasure," said the ex-censor of the highest board.
"You will not marry her."
Mien-yaun was thunderstruck. "When he had said that nothing should
awe him from the career of his humor, he had never contemplated the
appalling contingency of the interposition of paternal authority. He
wept, he prayed, he raved, he gnashed his teeth, he tore out as much of
his hair as was consistent with appearances. He went through all the
various manifestations of despair, but without producing the slightest
effect upon the inexorable ex-censor of the highest board. That worthy
official briefly explained his objections to a union between his son,
the pride and joy of the Tse, and a daughter of one of the Kung, and
then, taking the grief-stricken lover by the hand, he led him back to
"Good friends," said he, "my son has just conveyed to me his lively
appreciation of the folly he was about to commit. He renounces all
connection with the black-haired daughter of the Kung, whom he now
wishes a very good evening."
And the ex-censor of the highest board gravely and gracefully bowed the
family of Tching-whang out of the premises. The moment they crossed the
threshold, Mien-yaun and Ching-ki-pin went into a simultaneous fit.
Mien-yaun now abandoned himself to grief. He laid away the peacock's
feather on a lofty shelf, and took to cotton breeches. Mien-yaun in
cotton breeches! What stronger confirmation could be needed of his utter
desolation? As he kept himself strictly secluded, he knew nothing of
the storm of ridicule that was sweeping his once illustrious name
disgracefully through the city. He knew not that a popular but
unscrupulous novelist had caught up the sad story and wrought it into
three thrilling volumes,--nor that an enterprising dramatist had
constructed a closely-written play in five acts, founded on the event,
and called "The Judgment of Taoli, or Vanity Rebuked," which had been
prepared, rehearsed, and put upon the stage by the second night after
the occurrence. He would gladly have abdicated the throne of fashion;
he cared nothing for that;--but it was well that he was spared the
humiliation of seeing his Ching-ki-pin's name held up to public scorn;
that would have destroyed the feeble remains of intellect which yet
inhabited his bewildered brain.
Occasionally he would address the most piteous entreaties to his
cruel parent, but always unavailingly. He had not the spirit to show
resentment, even if the elementary principles would have permitted
it. The reaction of his life had come. This first great sorrow had
completely overwhelmed him, and, like most young persons in the agony of
a primal disappointment, he believed that the world had now no charms
for him, and that in future his existence would be little better than
a long sad bore. He looked back upon his career of gaudy magnificence
without regret, and felt like a _blase_ butterfly, who would gladly
return to the sober obscurity of the chrysalis. He found that wealth and
station, though they might command the admiration of the world, could
not insure him happiness; and he thought how readily he would resign all
the gifts and glories which Fortune had showered on him for the joyous
hope, could he dare to indulge it, of a cottage on the banks of the
Grand Canal, with his darling Ching-ki-pin at his side.
Thus passed away some months. At last, one day, he ventured forth, in
hope of meeting some former friend, in whose confiding ear he might
whisper his many sorrows. He had not proceeded twenty paces before a
group of young gallants, who in earlier days had been the humblest
of his satellites, brushed rudely by him, without acknowledging his
courteous salutation. Thinking that anguish might have changed his
features beyond recognition, he walked on, and soon met one with whom
his intimacy had been unlimited. He paused, and accosted him.
The other stared coldly upon him, said he had a faint remembrance of
Mien-yaun, but Mien-yaun was _passe_ now, since that affair with old
Tching-whang's daughter, and he must really be excused from entering
into conversation with any one so excessively behind the fashionable
Mien-yaun seized the offender by the tail, whirled him violently to the
ground, and strode haughtily back to his home, whence he could not be
persuaded to stir, until after the occurrence of a very remarkable
When Mien-yaun had pined nearly half away, and was considering within
himself whether it was expedient to commence upon the other half, word
was brought to him, one day, that his father, whom he had not seen for
some weeks, had met with an accident. Further inquiry revealed the fact,
that the worthy ex-censor of the highest board had so far forgotten
himself as to sneeze in the presence of the Emperor; and as nothing in
the elementary principles could be found to justify so gross a breach
of etiquette, the ex-censor's head had been struck off by the public
executioner, and his property, which was immense, had been confiscated
to the state. Some of Mien-yaun's friends, who had sedulously shunned
him for six months, lost no time in hastening to him with the agreeable
intelligence that he was an orphan and a pauper. After kicking them out
of doors, he sat down and pondered upon the matter.
On the whole, he saw no great cause for grief. The Chinese law, which
is strict in the enforcement of all duties of a son to a living parent,
does not compel excessive lamentation for the dead. Mien-yaun could not
but perceive that the only obstacle to his union with Ching-ki-pin was
now removed. The sudden flood of joy which this thought gave rise
to came very near upsetting him again, and he had to resort to an
opium-pipe to quiet his nerves. He attended personally to the ceremonies
of interring the decollated deceased, and then shut himself up for a
week, to settle his mind.
At the expiration of this time, he started out, one early morning, alone
and in humble garb, to seek his lost love. He threaded the familiar
streets, and, with heart beating high in delightful expectation, he
stood before the door of Tching-whang's mansion. He entered, and found
the Antique alone.
Then followed a woful scene. The Antique began by informing him that
Mien-yaun rich and famous, and Mien-yaun poor and in disgrace, were two
very different persons. She went on to show that things were not now as
they used to be,--that, though her daughter-in-law had permitted his
addresses when he was in prosperity, she could not think of listening to
them under the present circumstances. _Pei_ was one thing, and _pin_ was
another. She concluded by recommending him, as he seemed in distress, to
take a dose of gin-seng and go to bed. After which she opened the door,
and gently eliminated him.
Deeper than ever plummet sounded was Mien-yaun's wretchedness now.
Desperation took possession of him. Nothing prevented him from severing
his carotid artery but the recollection that only the vulgar thus
disposed of themselves. He thought of poison, whose sale was present
death in Pekin, according to established law. Suicide by poison being a
forbidden luxury, it recommended itself nimbly unto Mien-yaun's senses.
He did remember an apothecary whose poverty, if not his will, would
consent to let him have a dram of poison. He was about acting on this
inspiration, when a message was brought to him from Tching-whang, that,
at his daughter's most earnest prayer, one solitary interview would be
permitted the lovers.
Like an arrow, Mien-yaun flew to the arms of Ching-ki-pin. She was,
then, true to him. She told him so; she swore it. Hope revived. He
thought no longer of the apothecary. Since Ching-ki-pin was faithful, he
asked no higher bliss.
A hundred plans were discussed, and all declared ineffectual to
accomplish their union. Still they suggested impracticabilities.
"Let us run away," said Mien-yaun.
"Think of my feet," said Ching-ki-pin, reproachfully;--"am I a Hong-Kong
woman, that I should run?"
It is only in Hong-Kong that the Chinese women permit their feet to
Mien-yaun was full of heroic resolutions. Hitherto, besides being born
great, he had had greatness thrust upon him. Now he would achieve
greatness. He would secure not only wealth, but also a more enduring
fame than he had before enjoyed. He saw many avenues to eminence opening
before him. He would establish a periodical devoted to pictorial
civilization. If civilization did not bring it success, he would
illustrate great crimes and deadly horrors, in the highest style of Art,
and thus command the attention of the world. Or he would establish a
rival theatre. Two playhouses already existed in Pekin, each controlled
by men of high integrity, great tact, and undenied claims to public
support. He would overturn all that. He would start without capital,
sink immense sums, pay nobody, ruin his company, and retire in triumph.
Or he would become a successful politician, which was easier than
all, for nothing was needed in this career but strong lungs and a
cyclopaedia. Many other methods of achieving renown did he rehearse, all
of which seemed feasible.
Ching-ki-pin, too, thought she might do something to acquire wealth. She
painted beautifully, with no sign of perspective to mar her artistic
productions. She warbled like a nightingale. She understood botany
better than the great Chin-nong, who discovered in one day no less than
seventy poisonous plants, and their seventy antidotes. Could she not
give lessons to select classes of young ladies in all these several
accomplishments? She was dying to do something to help defeat the
machinations of their evil Quei-shin, the mother-in-law.
Finally, without coming to any particular conclusion, and after
interchanging eternal vows, they parted much comforted, and looking
forward to a brighter future.
Mien-yaun went to his home,--no longer the splendid mansion of his early
days, but a poor cottage, in an obscure quarter of the city. As he threw
himself upon a bench, a sharp bright thought flashed across his mind.
His brain expanded with a sudden poetic ecstasy. He seized upon a fresh
white sheet, and quickly covered it with the mute symbols of his fancy.
Another sheet, and yet another. Faster than his hand could record them,
the burning thoughts crowded upon him. No hesitation now, as in his
former efforts to effect his rhymes. Experience had taught him how to
think, and much suffering had filled his bosom with emotions that longed
to be expressed. Still he wrote on. Towards midnight he kicked off his
shoes, and wrote on, throwing the pages over his shoulder as fast as
they were finished. Morning dawned, and found him still at his task. He
continued writing with desperate haste until noon, and then flung away
his last sheet; his poem was done.
He rose, and moistened his lips with a cup of fragrant Hyson, which,
according to the great Kian-lung, who was both a poet and an emperor,
and therefore undoubted authority on all subjects, drives away all the
five causes of disquietude which come to trouble us. Then he walked up
and down his narrow apartment many times, carefully avoiding the piles
of eloquence that lay scattered around. Then he sat down, and, gathering
up the disordered pages, resigned himself to the dire necessity--that
curse of authorship--of revising and correcting his verses. By
nightfall, this, too, was completed.
In the morning, he ran to the nearest publisher. His poem was
enthusiastically accepted. In a week, it was issued anonymously,
although the author's name was universally known the same day.
As Mien-yaun himself was afterwards accustomed to say,--after six months
of ignominious obscurity, he awoke one morning and found himself famous!
In two days the first edition was exhausted, and a second, with
illustrations, was called for. In two more, it became necessary to issue
a third, with a biography of the author, in which it was shown that
Mien-yaun was the worst-abused individual in the world, and that Pekin
had forever dishonored itself by ill-treating the greatest genius that
city had ever produced. In the fourth edition, which speedily followed,
the poet's portrait appeared.
It was soon found that Mien-yaun's poem was a versified narration of his
own experiences. There was the romantic youth, the beautiful maiden, the
obdurate papa, the villanous mother-in-law, and the shabby public. This
discovery augmented its popularity, and ten editions were disposed of in
At length the Emperor was induced to read it. He underwent a new
sensation, and, in the exuberance of his delight, summoned the author
to a grand feast. When the Antique heard of this, she swallowed her
chopsticks in a fit of rage and spite, and died of suffocation.
Mien-yaun was then satisfied. He went to the dinner. The noble and the
mighty again lavished their attentions upon him, but he turned from them
with disgust. He saw through the flimsy tissue of flattery they would
fain cast over his eyes. The most appetizing delicacies were set before
him, but, like a true poet, he refused to take anything but biscuits and
soda-water. As neither of these articles had been provided, he consented
to regale himself with a single duck's tongue. In short, he behaved so
singularly, and gave himself so many airs, that everybody present, from
the Emperor to the cook, was ready to bow down and worship him.
At the close of the repast, the Emperor begged to be informed in what
way he could be permitted to testify his appreciation of the towering
talents of his gifted subject.
"Son of Heaven," answered Mien-yaun, "grant me only the hand in marriage
of my beauteous Ching-ki-pin. No other ambition have I."
The Emperor was provoked at the modesty of the demand. In truth, he
would have been glad to see the young poet united to one of his own
daughters. But his imperial word was pledged,--and as Mien-yaun willed
it, so it was.
Their home is a little cottage on the bank of the Peiho; finery never
enters it, and neatness never leaves it. The singing of birds, the
rustling of the breeze, the murmuring of the waters are the only sounds
that they hear. Their windows will shut, and their door open,--but
to wise men only; the wicked shun it. Truth dwells in their hearts,
innocence guides their actions. Glory has no more charms for them than
wealth, and all the pleasures of the world cost them not a single wish.
The enjoyment of ease and solitude is their chief concern. Leisure
surrounds them, and discord shuns them. They contemplate the heavens and
are fortified. They look on the earth and are comforted. They remain in
the world without being of it. One day leads on another, and one year is
followed by another; the last will conduct them safe to their eternal
rest, and they will have lived for one another.[B]
[Footnote B: The concluding lines are from a modern Chinese poem.]
* * * * *
Oh, hark to the brown thrush! hear how he sings!
How he pours the dear pain of his gladness!
What a gush! and from, out what golden springs!
What a rage of how sweet madness!
And golden the buttercup blooms by the way,
A song of the joyous ground;
While the melody rained from yonder spray
Is a blossom in fields of sound.
How glisten the eyes of the happy leaves!
How whispers each blade, "I am blest!"
Rosy heaven his lips to flowered earth gives,
With the costliest bliss of his breast.
Pour, pour of the wine of thy heart, O Nature,
By cups of field and of sky,
By the brimming soul of every creature!--
Joy-mad, dear Mother, am I!
Tongues, tongues for my joy, for my joy! more tongues!--
Oh, thanks to the thrush on the tree,
To the sky, and to all earth's blooms and songs!
They utter the heart in me.
A TRIP TO CUBA.
THE HARBOR OF HAVANA.
As we have said, there were some official mysteries connected with the
arrival of our steamer in Nassau; but these did not compare with the
visitations experienced in Havana. As soon as we had dropped anchor, a
swarm of dark creatures came on board, with gloomy brows, mulish noses,
and suspicious eyes. This application of Spanish flies proves irritating
to the good-natured captain, and uncomfortable to all of us. All
possible documents are produced for their satisfaction,--bill of lading,
bill of health, and so on. Still they persevere in tormenting the whole
ship's crew, and regard us, when we pass, with all the hatred of race in
their rayless eyes. "Is it a crime," we are disposed to ask, "to have
a fair Saxon skin, blue eyes, and red blood?" Truly, one would seem to
think so; and the first glance at this historical race makes clear to us
the Inquisition, the Conquest of Granada, and the ancient butcheries of
Alva and Pizarro.
As Havana is an unco uncertain place for accommodations, we do not go on
shore, the first night, but, standing close beside the bulwarks, feel a
benevolent pleasure in seeing our late companions swallowed and carried
off like tidbits by the voracious boatmen below, who squabble first for
them and then with them, and so gradually disappear in the darkness. On
board the "Karnak" harmony reigns serene. The custom-house wretches are
gone, and we are, on the whole, glad we did not murder them. Our little
party enjoys tea and bread-and-butter together for the last time. After
so many mutual experiences of good and evil, the catguts about our tough
old hearts are loosened, and discourse the pleasant music of Friendship.
An hour later, I creep up to the higher deck, to have a look-out
forward, where the sailors are playing leap-frog and dancing
fore-and-afters. I have a genuine love of such common sights, and am
quite absorbed by the good fun before me, when a solemn voice sounds at
my left, and, looking round, I perceive Can Grande, who has come up to
explain to me the philosophy of the sailor's dances, and to unfold his
theory of amusements, as far as the narrow area of one little brain
(mine, not his) will permit. His monologue, and its interruptions, ran
very much as follows:--
_I_.--This is a pleasant sight, isn't it?
_Can Grande_.--It has a certain interest, as exhibiting the inborn ideal
tendency of the human race;--no tribe of people so wretched, so poor, or
so infamous as to dispense with amusement, in some form or other.
_Voice from below_.--Play up, Cook! That's but a slow jig ye're fluting
_Can Grande_.--I went once to the Five Points of New York, with a
police-officer and two philanthropists;--our object was to investigate
that lowest phase of social existence.----
Bang, whang, go the wrestlers below, with loud shouts and laughter. I
give them one eye and ear,--Can Grande has me by the other.
_Can Grande_.--I went into one of their miserable dance-saloons. I saw
there the vilest of men and the vilest of women, meeting with the worst
intentions; but even for this they had the fiddle, music and dancing.
Without this little crowning of something higher, their degradation
would have been intolerable to themselves and to each other.----
Here the man who gave the back in leap-frog suddenly went down in the
middle of the leap, bringing with him the other, who, rolling on the
deck, caught the traitor by the hair, and pommelled him to his heart's
content. I ventured to laugh, and exclaim, "Did you see that?"
_Can Grande_.--Yes; that is very common.--At that dance of death, every
wretched woman had such poor adornment as her circumstances allowed,--a
collar, a tawdry ribbon, a glaring false jewel, her very rags disposed
with the greater decency of the finer sex,--a little effort at beauty, a
sense of it. The good God puts it there;--He does not allow the poorest,
the lowest of his human children the thoughtless indifference of
And there was the beautiful tropical sky above, starry, soft, and