Part 2 out of 5
"What is it, Victor?"
"'The rest of us,' you say. What would _you_ have done in my place?"
"God knows. I pretend not to know anything more."
"But 'the rest of us,' you said. You think that you at least are with
"That was the truth you taught me, Victor. But--I have not yet been
"That is safe to say. What makes you speak so prudently, Jacqueline? Why
do you not declare, 'Though all men deny Thee, yet will I never deny
Thee'? Ah, you have not been tried! You are not yet in danger of the
"Do not speak so; you frighten me; it is not like you. How can I tell?
I do not know but in this retirement, in this thought you have been
compelled to, you have obtained more light than any one can have until
he comes to just such a place."
"Ah, Jacqueline, why not say to me what you are thinking? Have you lost
your courage? Say, 'Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.'"
"No,--oh, no! How could I say it, my poor Victor? How do you know?"
"Surely you cannot know, as you say. But from where you stand, that is
what you are thinking. Jacqueline, confess! If you should speak your
mind, it would be, 'Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God, poor
coward!' Oh, Jacqueline, Mazurier may deceive himself! I speak not for
him; but what will you do with your poor Victor, my poor Jacqueline?"
She did not linger in the answer,--she did not sob or tremble,--he was
by her side.
"Love him to the end. As He, when He loved His own."
"Your own, poor girl? No, no!"
"You gave yourself to me," she answered straightway, with resolute
firmness clinging to the all she had.
"I was a man then," he answered. "But I will never give a liar and a
coward to Jacqueline Gabrie. Everything but myself, Jacqueline! Take
the old words, and the old memory. But for this outcast, him you shall
forget. My God! thou hast not brought this brave girl from Domremy, and
lighted her heart with a coal from Thine altar, that she should turn
from Thee to me! If you love a liar and a coward, Jacqueline, you cannot
help yourself,--he will make you one, too. And what I loved you for was
your truth and purity and courage. I have given you a treasure which was
greater than I could keep.--Where is it that you live now, Jacqueline? I
am not yet such a poltroon that I am afraid to conduct you. I think that
I should have the courage to protect you to-night, if you were in any
immediate danger. Come, lead the way."
"No," said Jacqueline. "I am not going home. I could not sleep; and
a roof over my head--any save God's heaven--would suffocate me, I
"Go, then, as you will. But where?"
Jacqueline did not answer, but walked quietly on; and so they passed
beyond the city-borders to the river-bank,--far away into the country,
through the fields, under the light of stars and of the waning moon.
"If I had been true!" said Victor,--"if I had not listened to him! But
him I will not blame. For why should I blame him? Am I an idiot? And his
influence could not have prevailed, had I not so chosen, when I stood
before my judges and they questioned me. No,--I acquit Mazurier. Perhaps
what I have denied never appeared to him so glorious as it did once to
me; and so he was guiltless at least of knowing what it was I did. But I
knew. And I could not have been deceived for a moment. No,--I think it
impossible that for a moment I should have been deceived. They would
have made a notable example of me, Jacqueline. I am rich,--I am a
student.--Oh, yes! Jesus Christ may die for me, and I accept the
benefit; but when it comes to suffering for His sake,--you could not
have expected that of such a poltroon, Jacqueline! We may look for it in
brave men like Leclerc, whose very living depends on their ability to
earn their bread,--to earn it by daily sweat; but men who need not
toil, who have leisure and education,--of course you would not expect
such testimony to the truth of Jesus from them! Bishop Briconnet
recants,--and Martial Mazurier; and Victor Le Roy is no braver man, no
truer man than these!"
With bitter shame and self-scorning he spoke.--Poor Jacqueline had not
a word to say. She sat beside him. She would help him bear his cross.
Heavy-laden as he, she awaited the future, saying, in the silence of her
spirit's dismal solitude, "Oh, teach us! Oh, help us!" But she called
not on any name; her prayer went out in search of a God whom in that
hour she knew not. The dark cloud and shadow of Satan that overshadowed
him was also upon her.
"Mazurier is coming in the morning to take me with him, Jacqueline,"
said Victor. "We are to make a journey."
"What is it, Victor?" she asked, quietly.
There was nothing left for her but patience,--that she clearly
saw,--nothing but patience, and quiet enduring of the will of God.
"He is afraid of me,--or of himself,--or of both, I believe. He thinks
a change of scene would be good for both of us, poor lepers that we
"I must go with you, Victor Le Roy," said the resolute Jacqueline.
"Wherefore?" asked he.
"Because, when you were strong and happy, that was your desire, Victor;
and now that you are sick and sorrowing, I will not give you to another:
no! not to Mazurier, nor to any one that breathes, except myself, to
whom you belong."
"I must stay here in Meaux, then?"
"That depends upon yourself, Victor."
"We were to have been married. We were going to look after our estate,
now that the hard summer and the hard years of work are ended."
"Yes, Victor, it was so."
"But I will not wrong you. You were to be the wife of Victor Le Roy.
You are his widow, Jacqueline. For you do not think that he lives any
"He lives, and he is free! If he has sinned, like Peter even, he weeps
"Like Peter? Peter denied his Lord. But he did weep, as you
say,--bitterly. Peter confessed again."
"And none served the Master with truer heart or greater courage
afterward. Victor, you remember."
"Even so,--oh, Jacqueline!"
"Victor! Victor! it was only Judas who hanged himself."
She arose and went with him. At dawn they were married. Love did lead
and save them.
I see two youthful students studying one page. I see two loving spirits
walking through thick darkness. Along the horizon flicker the promises
of day. They say, "O Holy Ghost, hast thou forsaken thine own temples?"
Aloud they cry to God.
I see them wandering among Domremy woods and meadows,--around the castle
of Picardy,--talking of Joan. I see them resting by the graves they find
in two ancient villages. I see them walk in sunny places; they are not
called to toil; they may gather all the blossoms that delight their
eyes. Their love grows beyond childhood,--does not die before it comes
to love's best estate. Happy bride and bridegroom! But I see them as
through a cloud whose fair hues are transient.
From the meadow-lands and the vineyards and the dark forests of the
mountains, from study and from rest, I see them move with solemn faces
and calm steps. Brave lights are in their eyes, and flowers that are
immortal they carry in their hands. No distillation can exhaust the
fragrance of those blooms.
What dost thou here, Victor? What dost thou here, Jacqueline?
This is the place of prisons. Here they light again, as they have often
lighted, torch and fagot;--life must pay the cost! Angry crowds and
hooting multitudes love this dreary square. Oh, Jacqueline and Victor,
what is this I behold?
They come together from their prison, hand in hand. "The testimony
of Jesus!" Stand back, Mazurier! Retire, Briconnet! Here is not your
place,--this is not your hour! Yet here incendiaries fire the temples
of the Holy Ghost!
The judges do not now congratulate. Jacqueline waits not now at midnight
for the coming of Le Roy. Bride and bridegroom, there they stand; they
face the world to give their testimony.
And a woman's voice, almost I deem the voice of Elsie Meril, echoes the
mother's cry that followed John Leclerc when he fought the beasts at
"Blessed be Jesus Christ, and His witnesses."
So of the Truth were they borne up that day in a blazing chariot to meet
their Lord in the air, to be forever with their Lord.
* * * * *
ON A MAGNOLIA-FLOWER.
Memorial of my former days,
Magnolia, as I scent thy breath,
And on thy pallid beauty gaze,
I feel not far from death!
So much hath happened! and so much
The tomb hath claimed of what was mine!
Thy fragrance moves me with a touch
As from a hand divine:
So many dead! so many wed!
Since first, by this Magnolia's tree,
I pressed a gentle hand and said,
A word no more for me!
Lady, who sendest from the South
This frail, pale token of the past,
I press the petals to my mouth,
And sigh--as 'twere my last.
Oh, love, we live, but many fell!
The world's a wreck, but we survive!--
Say, rather, still on earth we dwell,
But gray at thirty-five!
SOME NOTES ON SHAKSPEARE.
In 1849, the discovery by Mr. Payne Collier of a copy of the Works
of Shakspeare, known as the folio of 1632, with manuscript notes and
emendations of the same or nearly the same date, created a great and
general interest in the world of letters.
The marginal notes were said to be in a handwriting not much later
than the period when the volume came from the press; and Shakspearian
scholars and students of Shakspeare, and the far more numerous class,
lovers of Shakspeare, learned and unlearned, received with respectful
eagerness a version of his text claiming a date so near to the lifetime
of the master that it was impossible to resist the impression that the
alterations came to the world with only less weight of authority than if
they had been undoubtedly his own.
The general satisfaction of the literary world in the treasure-trove was
but little alloyed by the occasional cautiously expressed doubts of
some caviller at the authenticity of the newly discovered "curiosity of
literature"; the daily newspapers made room in their crowded columns for
extracts from the volume; the weekly journals put forth more elaborate
articles on its history and contents; and the monthly and quarterly
reviews bestowed their longer and more careful criticism upon the new
readings of that text, to elucidate which has been the devout industry
of some of England's ripest scholars and profoundest thinkers; while
the actors, not to be behindhand in a study especially concerning their
vocation, adopted with more enthusiasm than discrimination some of the
new readings, and showed a laudable acquaintance with the improved
version, by exchanging undoubtedly the better for the worse, upon the
authority of Mr. Collier's folio, soon after the publication of which
I had the ill-fortune to hear a popular actress destroy the effect
and meaning of one of the most powerful passages in "Macbeth" by
substituting the new for the old reading of the line,--
"What beast was it, then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?"
The cutting antithesis of "What _beast_" in retort to her husband's
assertion, "I dare do all that may become a _man_," was tamely rendered
by the lady, in obedience to Mr. Collier's folio, "What _boast_ was
it, then,"--a change that any one possessed of poetical or dramatic
perception would have submitted to upon nothing short of the positive
demonstration of the author's having so written the passage.
Opinions were, indeed, divided as to the intrinsic merit of the
emendations or alterations. Some of the new readings were undoubted
improvements, some were unimportant, and others again were beyond all
controversy inferior to the established text of the passages; and it
seemed not a little difficult to reconcile the critical acumen and
poetical insight of many of the corrections with the feebleness and
prosaic triviality of others.
Again, it was observed by those conversant with the earlier editions,
especially with the little read or valued Oxford edition, that a vast
number of the passages given as emendations in Mr. Collier's folio were
precisely the same in Hanmer's text. Indeed, it seems not a little
remarkable that neither Mr. Collier nor his opponents have thought it
worth their while to state that nearly half, and that undoubtedly the
better half, of the so-called new readings are to be found in the finely
printed, but little esteemed, text of the Oxford Shakspeare. If, indeed,
these corrections now come to us with the authority of a critic but
little removed from Shakspeare's own time, it is remarkable that Sir
Thomas Hanmer's, or rather Mr. Theobald's, ingenuity should have
forestalled the _fiat_ of Mr. Collier's folio in so many instances. On
the other hand, it may have been judged by others besides a learned
editor of Shakspeare from whom I once heard the remark, that the fact of
the so-called new readings being many of them in Rowe and Hanmer, and
therefore well known to the subsequent editors of Shakspeare, who
nevertheless did not adopt them, proved that in their opinion they were
of little value and less authority. But, says Mr. Collier, inasmuch as
they are in the folio of 1632, which I now give to the world, they are
of authority paramount to any other suggestion or correction that has
hitherto been made on the text of Shakspeare.
Thus stood the question in 1853. How stands it in 1860? After a slow,
but gradual process of growth and extension of doubt and questionings,
more or less calculated to throw discredit on the authority of the
marginal notes in the folio,--the volume being subjected to the careful
and competent examination of certain officers of the library of the
British Museum,--the result seems to threaten a considerable reduction
in the supposed value of the authority which the public was called upon
to esteem so highly.
The ink in which the annotations are made has been subjected to chemical
analysis, and betrays, under the characters traced in it, others made in
pencil, which are pronounced by some persons of a more modern date than
the letters which have been traced over them.
Here at present the matter rests. Much angry debate has ensued between
the various gentlemen interested in the controversy,--Mr. Collier not
hesitating to suggest that pencil-marks in imitation of his handwriting
had been inserted in the volume, and a fly-leaf abstracted from it,
while in the custody of Messrs. Hamilton and Madden of the British
Museum; while the replies of these gentlemen would go towards
establishing that the corrections are forgeries, and insinuating that
they are forgeries for which Mr. Collier is himself responsible.
While the question of the antiquity and authority of these marginal
notes remains thus undecided, it may not be amiss to apply to them the
mere test of common sense in order to determine upon their intrinsic
value, to the adequate estimate of which all thoughtful readers of
Shakspeare must be to a certain degree competent.
The curious point, of whose they are, may test the science of
decipherers of palimpsest manuscripts; the more weighty one, of what
they are worth, remains, as it was from the first, a matter on which
every student of Shakspeare may arrive at some conclusion for himself.
And, indeed, to this ground of judgment Mr. Collier himself appeals, in
his preface to the "Notes and Emendations," in no less emphatic terms
than the following:--"As Shakspeare was especially the poet of common
life, so he was emphatically the poet of common sense; and to the
verdict of common sense I am willing to submit all the more material
alterations recommended on the authority before me."
I take "The Tempest," the first play in Mr. Collier's volume of "Notes
and Emendations," and, while bestowing my principal attention on the
inherent worth of the several new readings, shall point out where
they tally exactly with the text of the Oxford edition, because that
circumstance has excited little attention in the midst of the other
various elements of interest in the controversy, and also because I have
it in my power to give from a copy of that edition in my possession some
passages corrected by John and Charles Kemble, who brought to the study
of the text considerable knowledge of it and no inconsiderable ability
for poetical and dramatic criticism.
In the first scene of the first act of "The Tempest" Mr. Collier gives
"Good Boatswain, have care,"--
adding, "It may be just worth remark, that the colloquial expression is
_have a care_, and _a_ is inserted in the margin of the corrected folio,
1632, to indicate, probably, that the poet so wrote it, or, at all
events, that the actor so delivered it."
In the copy of Hanmer in my possession the _a_ is also inserted in the
margin, upon the authority of one of the eminent actors above mentioned.
"The sky. it seems, would pour down stinking pitch,
But that the sea, mounting to the welkin's cheek,
Dashes the fire out."
The manuscript corrector of the folio, 1632, has substituted _heat_
for "cheek," which appears to me an alteration of no value whatever.
Shakspeare was more likely to have written _cheek_ than _heat_; for
elsewhere he uses the expression, "Heaven's face," "the welkin's face,"
and, though irregular, the expression is poetical.
At Miranda's exclamation,--
"A brave vessel,
Who had no doubt some noble creature in her,
Dash'd all to pieces,"--
Mr. Collier does Theobald the justice to observe, that he, as well as
the corrector of the folio, 1632, adds the necessary letter _s_ to the
word "creature," making the plural substantive agree with her other
exclamation of, "Poor souls, they perished!"
Where Mr. Collier, upon the authority of his folio, substitutes
_pre_vision for "provision" in the lines of Prospero,--
"The direful spectacle of the wreck . . .
I have with such provision in mine art
So safely ordered," etc.,--
I do not agree to the value of the change. It is very true that
_pre_vision means the foresight that his art gave him, but _pro_vision
implies the exercise of that foresight or _pre_vision; it is therefore
better, because more comprehensive.
Mr. Collier's folio gives as an improvement upon Malone and Steevens's
reading of the passage,--
"And thy father
Was Duke of Milan; and his only heir
A princess; no worse issued,"--
"And thy father
Was Duke of Milan,--thou his only heir
And princess no worse issued."
Supposing the folio to be ingenious rather than authoritative, the
passage, as it stands in Hanmer, is decidedly better, because clearer:--
"And thy father
Was Duke of Milan,--thou, his only heir
A princess--no worse issued."
In the next passage, given as emended by the folio, we have what appears
to me one bad and one decidedly good alteration from the usual reading,
which, in all the editions given hitherto, has left the meaning barely
perceptible through the confusion and obscurity of the expression.
"He being thus _lorded_,
Not only with what my revenue yielded,
But what my power might else exact,--like one
Who having _unto truth_ by telling of it
Made such a sinner of his memory
To credit his own lie,--he did believe
He was indeed the Duke."
The folio says,--
"He being thus _loaded_."
And to this change I object: the meaning was obvious before; "lorded"
stands clearly enough here for made lord of or over, etc.; and though
the expression is unusual, it is less prosaic than the proposed word
_loaded_. But in the rest of the passage the critic of the folio does
immense service to the text, in reading
Who having _to untruth_ by telling of it
Made such a sinner of his memory
To credit his own lie,--he did believe
He was indeed the Duke."
This change carries its own authority in its manifest good sense.
Of the passage,--
A treacherous army levied, one midnight
Fated to the purpose, did Antonio open
The gates of Milan, and in the dead of darkness
The ministers for the purpose hurried thence
Me and thy crying self,"--
Mr. Collier says that the iteration of the word "purpose," in the fourth
line, after its employment in the second, is a blemish, which his folio
obviates by substituting the word _practice_ in the first line. I think
this a manifest improvement, though not an important one.
Mr. Collier gives Rowe the credit of having altered "butt" to _boat_,
and "have quit it" to _had quit it_, in the lines,--
"Where they prepar'd
A rotten carcase of a _butt_ not rigg'd,
Nor tackle, sail, nor mast,--the very rats
Instinctively _have quit it_."
Adding, that in both changes he is supported by the corrector of the
folio, 1632. Hanmer gives the passage exactly as the latter, and as Rowe
We now come to the stage-directions in the folio, to which Mr. Collier
gives, I think, a most exaggerated value. He says, that, where Prospero
"Lend thy hand
And pluck my magic garment from me,--so
Lie there, my art,"--
the words, "Lay it down," are written over against the passage. Now this
really seems a very unnecessary direction, inasmuch as the text very
clearly indicates that Prospero lays down as well as plucks off his
"magic garment,"--unless we are to suppose Miranda holding it over her
arm till he resumes it. But still less do I agree with Mr. Collier in
thinking the direction, "Put on robe again," at the passage beginning,
"Now I arise," any extraordinary accession to the business, as it is
technically called, of the scene: for I do not think that his resuming
his magical robe was in any way necessary to account for the slumber
which overcomes Miranda, "in spite of her interest in her father's
story," and which Mr. Collier says the commentators have endeavored to
account for in various ways; but putting "_because_ of her interest in
her father's story," instead of "_in spite_ of," I feel none of the
difficulty which beset the commentators, and which Mr. Collier conjures
by the stage-direction which makes Prospero resume his magic robe at
a certain moment in order to put his daughter to sleep. Worthy Dr.
Johnson, who was not among the puzzled commentators on this occasion,
suggests, very agreeably to common sense, that "Experience proves that
any violent agitation of the mind easily subsides in slumber." But Mr.
Collier says, the Doctor gives this very reasonable explanation of
Miranda's sleep only because he was not acquainted with the folio
stage-direction about Prospero's coat, and knew no better. Now we are
acquainted with this important addition to the text, and yet know no
better than to agree with Doctor Johnson, that Miranda's slumbers were
perfectly to be accounted for without the coat. Mr. Collier does not
seem to know that a deeper and heavier desire to sleep follows upon the
overstrained exercise of excited attention than on the weariness of a
dull and uninteresting appeal to it.
But let us consider Shakspeare's text, rather than the corrector's
additions, for a moment. Within reach of the wild wind and spray of
the tempest, though sheltered from their fury, Miranda had watched the
sinking ship struggling with the mad elements, and heard when "rose from
sea to sky the wild farewell." Amazement and pity had thrown her into a
paroxysm of grief, which is hardly allayed by her father's assurance,
that "there's no harm done." After this terrible excitement follows the
solemn exordium to her father's story,--
"The hour's now come;
The very minute bids thee ope thine ear.
Obey and be attentive."
The effort she calls upon her memory to make to recover the traces
of her earliest impressions of life,--the strangeness of the events
unfolded to her,--the duration of the recital itself, which is
considerable,--and, above all, the poignant personal interest of
its details, are quite sufficient to account for the sudden utter
prostration of her overstrained faculties and feelings, and the profound
sleep that falls on the young girl. Perhaps Shakspeare knew this, though
his commentators, old and new, seem not to have done so; and without a
professed faith, such as some of us moderns indulge in, in the mysteries
of magnetism, perhaps he believed enough in the magnetic force of the
superior physical as well as mental power of Prospero's nature over
the nervous, sensitive, irritable female organization of his child to
account for the "I know thou canst not choose" with which he concludes
his observation on her drowsiness, and his desire that she will not
resist it. The magic gown may, indeed, have been powerful,--but hardly
more so, we think, than the nervous exhaustion which, combined with
the authoritative will and eyes of her lord and father, bowed down the
child's drooping eyelids in profoundest sleep.
The strangest of all Mr. Collier's comments upon this passage, however,
is that where he represents Miranda as, up to a certain point of her
father's story, remaining "standing eagerly listening by his side." This
is not only gratuitous, but absolutely contrary to Shakspeare's text,--a
greater authority, I presume, than even that of the annotated folio.
Prospero's words to his daughter, when first he begins the recital of
their sea-sorrow, are,--
For thou must now know further."
Does Mr. Collier's folio reject this reading of the first line? or does
he suppose that Miranda remained standing, in spite of her father's
command? Moreover, when he interrupts his story with the words, "Now I
arise," he adds, to his daughter, "Sit still," which clearly indicates
both that she was seated and that she was about to rise (naturally
enough) when her father did. We say, "Sit _down_," to a person who is
standing; and, "Sit _still_," to a person seated who is about to rise;
and in all these minute particulars, the simple text of Shakspeare, if
attentively followed, gives every necessary indication of his intention
with regard to the attitudes and movements of the persons on the stage
in this scene; and the highly commended stage-directions of the folio
are here, therefore, perfectly superfluous.
The next alteration in the received text is a decided improvement. In
speaking of the royal fleet dispersed by the tempest, Ariel says,--
"They all have met again,
And are upon the Mediterranean _flote_
Bound sadly home for Naples";--
for which Mr. Collier's folio substitutes,--
"They all have met again,
And all upon the Mediterranean _float_,
Bound sadly back to Naples."
Mr. Collier notices, that the improvement of giving the lines,
"Which any print of goodness will not take,"
to Prospero, instead of Miranda, dates as far back as Dryden and
Davenant's alteration of "The Tempest," from which he says Theobald and
others copied it.
The corrected folio gives its authority to the lines of the song,--
"Foot it featly here and there,
And, sweet sprites, the burden bear,"--
which stands so in Hanmer, and, indeed is the usually received
arrangement of the song.
This is the last corrected passage in the first act, in the course of
which Mr. Collier gives us no fewer than sixteen, altered, emended, and
commented upon in his folio. Many of the emendations are to be found
_verbatim_ in the Oxford and subsequent editions, and three only appear
to us to be of any special value, tried by the standard of common sense,
to which we agreed, on Mr. Collier's invitation, to refer them.
The line in Prospero's threat to Caliban,--
"I'll rack thee with old cramps,
Fill all thy bones with _aches_, make thee roar,"--
occasioned one of Mr. John Kemble's characteristic differences with the
public, who objected, perhaps not without reason, to hearing the word
"aches" pronounced as a dissyllable, although the line imperatively
demands it; and Shakspeare shows that the word was not unusually so
pronounced, as he introduces it with the same quantity in the prose
dialogue of "Much Ado about Nothing," and makes it the vehicle of a pun
which certainly argues that it was familiar to the public ear as _ache_
and not _ake_. When Hero asks Beatrice, who complains that she is sick,
what she is sick for,--a hawk, a hound, or a husband,--Beatrice replies,
that she is sick for--or of--that which begins them all, an _ache_,--an
_H_. Indeed, much later than Shakspeare's day the word was so
pronounced; for Dean Swift, in the "City Shower," has the line,--
"Old _aches_ throb, your hollow tooth will
The opening of this play is connected with my earliest recollections. In
looking down the "dark backward and abysm of time," to the period when
I was but six years old, my memory conjures up a vision of a stately
drawing-room on the ground-floor of a house, doubtless long since swept
from the face of the earth by the encroaching tide of new houses
and streets that has submerged every trace of suburban beauty,
picturesqueness, or rural privacy in the neighborhood of London,
converting it all by a hideous process of assimilation into more London,
till London seems almost more than England can carry.
But in those years, "long enough ago," to which I refer,--somewhere
between Lea and Blackheath, stood in the midst of well-kept grounds a
goodly mansion, which held this pleasant room. It was always light and
cheerful and warm, for the three windows down to the broad gravel-walk
before it faced south; and though the lawn was darkened just in front of
them by two magnificent yew-trees, the atmosphere of the room itself,
in its silent, sunny loftiness, was at once gay and solemn to my small
imagination and senses,--much as the interior of Saint Peter's of Rome
has been since to them. Wonderful, large, tall jars of precious old
china stood in each window, and my nose was just on a level with the
wide necks, whence issued the mellowest smell of fragrant _pot-pourri_.
Into this room, with its great crimson curtains and deep crimson carpet,
in which my feet seemed to me buried, as in woodland moss, I used to be
brought for recompense of having been "very good," and there I used to
find a lovely-looking lady, who was to me the fitting divinity of this
shrine of pleasant awfulness. She bore a sweet Italian diminutive for
her Christian name, added to one of the noblest old ducal names of
Venice, which was that of her family.
I have since known that she was attached to the person of, and warmly
personally attached to, the unfortunate Caroline of Brunswick, Princess
of Wales,--then only unfortunate; so that I can now guess at the drift
of much sad and passionate talk with indignant lips and tearful eyes, of
which the meaning was then of course incomprehensible to me, but which I
can now partly interpret by the subsequent history of that ill-used and
The face of my friend with the great Venetian name was like one of
Giorgione's pictures,--of that soft and mellow colorlessness that
recalls the poet's line,--
"E smarrisce 'l bel volto in quel colore
Che non e pallidezza, ma candore,"--
or the Englishman's version of the same thought,--
"Her face,--oh, call it fair, not pale!"
It seemed to me, as I remember it, cream-colored; and her eyes, like
clear water over brown rocks, where the sun is shining. But though the
fair visage was like one of the great Venetian master's portraits, her
voice was purely English, low, distinct, full, and soft,--and in this
enchanting voice she used to tell me the story of the one large picture
which adorned the room.
Over and over again, at my importunate beseeching, she told
it,--sometimes standing before it, while I held her hand and listened
with upturned face, and eyes rounding with big tears of wonder and pity,
to a tale which shook my small soul with a sadness and strangeness
far surpassing the interest of my beloved tragedy, "The Babes in the
Wood,"--though at this period of my existence it has happened to me to
interrupt with frantic cries of distress, and utterly refuse to hear,
the end of that lamentable ballad.
But the picture.--In the midst of a stormy sea, on which night seemed
fast settling down, a helmless, mastless, sailless bark lay weltering
giddily, and in it sat a man in the full flower of vigorous manhood.
His attitude was one of miserable dejection, and, oh, how I did long to
remove the hand with which his eyes were covered, to see what manner of
look in them answered to the bitter sorrow which the speechless lips
expressed! His other hand rested on the fair curls of a girl-baby of
three years old, who clung to his knee, and, with wide, wondering blue
eyes and laughing lips, looked up into the half-hidden face of her
father.--"And that," said the sweet voice at my side, "was the good Duke
of Milan, Prospero,--and that was his little child, Miranda."
There was something about the face and figure of the Prospero that
suggested to me those of my father; and this, perhaps, added to the
poignancy with which the representation of his distress affected my
childish imagination. But the impression made by the picture, the story,
and the place where I heard the one and saw the other, is among the most
vivid that my memory retains. And never, even now, do I turn the magic
page that holds that marvellous history, without again seeing the lovely
lady, the picture full of sad dismay, and my own six-year-old self
listening to that earliest Shakspearian lore that my mind and heart ever
received. I suppose this is partly the secret of my love for this,
above all other of the poet's plays;--it was my first possession in the
kingdom of unbounded delight which he has since bestowed upon me.
* * * * *
THE GREAT ARM-CHAIR.
Shall I not to-day, Estelle, give you the history of this great
arm-chair, the only historical piece of furniture in our house? The
heavy oak frame was carved by an imprisoned poet. They took away his
pen, and in larger lines he carved this chair. Heavily moulded Sphinxes
form its arms; the strong legs and feet of some wild beast its support;
the crest, a winged figure with bandaged eyes,--a Fate or Fortune
we might call it,--that mild look not to be resisted in its gentle
strength. But blind Fortune could not so master him: his prison made for
him only a secure room, in which to study, to work out, the mysteries.
The rich covering was wrought long years ago, in some ancient convent,
by a saintly nun. Holy, pious tears dropped on it as she wrought. She
pricked out brave bright flowers with her needle, though her own life
was pale and sad. I cover this sacred work with housewifely care; but it
makes our rest there more hallowed.
This old chair we call our dreaming-chair,--to borrow a name, our
Sleepy-Hollow. It is so simple and grand in workmanship, it should be
the seat of honor in a king's palace; and yet it is in place in our
small parlor. Perhaps some day I may tell you of the ancient dames and
knights who once possessed it; but they have long since slept their last
sleep,--no summer-afternoon's nap, but a sleep so long to last, now
their long day's work is done.
Not quite finished is the old man's work who this afternoon sat in the
chair and quietly dreamed back his youth. I saw the hardened, withered
face soften, as the bright light of childhood played around it; the
meagre, hard old man forgot for a little the sharp want that pinched
him; when he waked, he still babbled of green fields.
"Did Robinson Crusoe ever come back to his father and mother?" he says
to me. "Poor boy! poor boy! I went to sea when I was young. Father and
mother didn't like it. Came back after a four-years' voyage, and off
again, soon as the ship had unloaded, on another trip up the Channel:
took all my money to fit out. Might have had the Custom-House, if there
had been anybody to speak for me; would have done my work well, and
maybe had kept it thirty or forty years. Should be glad to creep into a
hay-mow and pay somebody to feed me. Wish old Uncle Jack was good for
somethin' besides work, work,--nothin' but hard work! Wish he could talk
and say somethin'.
"Now that was good, sensible poetry you were reading, wasn't it? Good
stuff? Couldn't hear a word of it: poor old fellow can't hear much now.
Wish my father had lived longer; he would have told me things; he used
to be different to me. I could have been a sight of comfort to him in
mathematics." (His father died when the son was fifty years old; the
thirty years he had lived since seemed a long life to the old man.)
"Mayn't I look at the poetry?"
I found the place for him,--"New England."
"Yes, the farmer takes lots of comfort, walking on the road, foddering
cattle, cutting wood."
Uncle Jack believes heartily in New England corn, and in the planting
and hoeing of Indian corn he takes great delight: not to corn-laws, but
to Indian corn, the talk always drifts.
"I hear you are going to plant a couple of acres of corn, Sir. Glad of
it. This is an excellent dish of tea, Marm. This bread tastes like my
mother's bread; baked in a bake-kettle. These mangoes are nice,--such as
we used to have."
Turning to Aunt Sarah, he says,--
"Did you ever notice a difference in eggs, Marm?"
"Yes, Aunt thinks there is a difference between fresh and stale eggs."
"But I mean, Marm, that some are thin-shelled, some rough, some
round, some peaked: a hen lays 'em just so all her life. Ever see a
It is an open question.
Then turning to the master of the house,--
"Do you like choc'late, Sir? Well, how you going to fix it when you
haven't got any milk? Well, you just beat up an egg, and pour on the
choc'late, boiling hot, stirring all the time, and you won't want any
milk, Sir. That was what kept me alive aboard the Ranger."
Now comes the story of the Ranger. He was getting in years, he said, and
wanted a home for his old age; so he built him a boat. He put a little
open stove in it, because an open fire felt kind o' comfortable to his
toes. He named it the Ranger; because when he was a little boy he took a
long walk to the beach with his father, the little Iulus following with
unequal steps, and they saw a shipwrecked vessel, named the Ranger, and
he liked the name. He kept that name in his heart many years. When at
last, by dint of much saving and scraping together, much hoeing of
Indian corn, the old stocking-foot was at last filled, all the little
odd bits, poured out and counted up, came to enough to speak to the
ship-builder. Oh, the model! how the old man's brain worked over that!
Then the timber,--each was a chosen piece; oak, apple, cherry, pine,
each tree sent a stick. The home was builded, was launched, was
christened: The Ranger. Alas, it was an ill-omened name to him! Brave
and young was he in heart, and loved right well his tossing, rolling
home; and many a hard gale did he ride out in her alone, old as he was.
Too old was he to be trusted on the treacherous deep; and friends (?)
advised and counselled, and the home of his old age was sold. (He never
got the pay!) Now, with restless, wandering feet, he makes long tramps,
trying to collect old debts. Kind-hearted old man that he is, thinking
always he is hard on 'em when he gets a promise to pay! A wife has been
sick; perhaps he had better not ask for it now. His ox has died; maybe
he had better wait. Fumbling over old papers in his pocket-book,
muttering something about a pension: he was on the list, but was never
called out, or somebody took his place.
Poor old Uncle Jack, with his dream of a pension, his dream of an
office, his dream of a home in a boat! With him "many a dream has gone
down the stream."
May some friendly hand at last close his eyes to that last long sleep,
when his turn comes to heave down!
He is always finding Indian arrowheads and hatchets and pestles. He
picks full pails of the nicest-looking huckleberries. He is always
dressed in clean, tidy clothes, a little scant and well patched. He pats
me on the head and says, "Didn't know you were Evelyn's sister; thought
it was a little three-year old." About to tell me a sad story he had
read in the newspaper, he stops suddenly and says, "Believe I won't tell
you, dear!" "Did you hear the newspipe has broke?" when the Atlantic
Telegraph Cable parted. He had plans for shoving off the Leviathan when
Shall I not tell you he brings me a little bunch of eels of his own
spearing? that you must be careful at table he has enough to eat, he
takes such small pieces? that he is altogether a sparse man? has rows of
pins on his sleeve that he picks up?--an old-fashioned man, whose type
is fast fading out from these "fast," "steep" times. He tells a story of
a stream of black flies which came so thick and so fast pouring on, he
looked as long as he darst to. Yet he can tell a good, big story yet,
and when somebody was talking of turtles of good size, jumped up
suddenly, "Did you ever see a terrapin, Sir?" and then walked round the
long dining-table to tell how big he was and how high he stood on his
feet. "When I was in the West Indies, Sir----Wish I could creep into a
good English hay-mow and pay somebody to feed me!"
Do you remember, Estelle, the story we read together once, out of the
"Casket" or "Gem," one of those old annuals, where a certain princess
was sent to a desolate island, whose maids of honor were all old crones,
once distinguished by their wonderful beauty? Her task was to discover
each especial grace, long since buried by the rubbish which time and
folly had heaped upon it; in each old, yellow, wrinkled hag to find
the charm which had once adorned her: as she found the grace, it was
transferred to her own youthful person. Slowly and patiently she unwound
those wrapped-up mummies, and disclosed the gems hidden in those
burial-clothes; and returned to her father's court enriched with all
those long-buried graces, now revived to their former youthful beauty,
and with the added charm which wisdom and patience give.
My task is not so difficult,--as I seek virtues, not perishable stuffs.
We will learn the history of these thickly crossing wrinkles, that,
checkering, map out the face like the streets of a busy city. We will
read the story "that youth and observation copied there." Many sit in my
chair with weather-beaten looks, but time and want and necessity have
ploughed still deeper furrows.
It is not in vain, this brave encounter with the elements,--this battle
to keep the wolf Want outside the door,--the patient, laborious building
up of the small house, made almost a comfortable home by many years of
toil,--the sufficient meal snatched from Nature by the line or the gun,
or wrung from her by hard labor of the hands. Is the face too thin and
hard, the lips compressed? Would you turn away from so much patient
endurance of a hard lot? Turn again, and read the story the clear eye
tells; listen to the words of a deep religious experience which the
thin, cracked voice relates: how in visions of the night the Comforter
has come to them, and henceforth the way of duty is clear, and the
burden of life is lightened. Will you go with me, dear, into those
homely houses, sit with me by the firesides, and hear the simple story
of New England's farmers and farmers' wives? We cannot call those poor
who are so rich in all the manly virtues, and in the deep experiences of
a faithful life.
Uncle Jack stops on his way, going up to get the oxen, and passes the
night,--says, "Other people can't find enough to do; for his part, he
should like to lie down in the hay-mow and rest,--all worn out, used up.
Now Josiah, good, conversable man, knows about geography and the country
round. Well, when you've got that, got the best of him,--likes variety
too well,--goes off, leaves the homestead like a dismantled ship. Now,
if a man only gets three good days down cellar, that's something. Don't
believe 'Siah ever does it. So many notions in's head bothers him."
(Uncle Jack is quite right; 'tis not economical to have notions;
besides, they are revolutionary, they subvert the order of things.) "Got
a cunning little heifer used to have some manners. Lost some of our
lambs; read in a book, that, take what care you might, you would lose
some lambs at times."--To-day he has gone driving the oxen round by
"Had the rheumatism this winter,--guess Jack Frost pinched him."--Ah!
dear old man, an older than Jack Frost has got hold of your aged limbs!
Harder pinches old Time gives than any mortal man!
"Used to get a little bird, Harris and me, and roast it, and mother
would give us a little apple-sauce in a clam-shell, and we would go off
back the island and eat it. Harris was sent to school up to Perkins's;
couldn't stay; run away, and _borrowed_ a boat, and came home again;
afraid of his father, and hid in the barn. Dug a well in the hay,
and they used to lower him down things to eat, and water to drink in
scooped-out water-melon rinds."
* * * * *
THE SONG OF FATIMA.
On, sad are they who know not love,
But, far from passion's tears and smiles,
Drift down a moonless sea, and pass
The silver coasts of fairy isles!
And sadder they whose longing lips
Kiss empty air, and never touch
The dear warm mouth of those they love,
Waiting, wasting, suffering much!
But clear as amber, sweet as musk,
Is life to those whose lives unite:
They walk in Allah's smile by day,
And nestle in his heart by night!
SOMETHING ABOUT HISTORY.
There is no kind of writing which is undertaken so much from will and so
little from instinct as History. It seems the great resource of baffled
ambition, of leisure, of minds disciplined rather than inspired, of men
with pecuniary means and without professional obligations. Sympathy
with or opposition to an author prompts those thus situated to write
criticism; a dominant sentiment inspires poetical composition; and
usually an impressive experience suggests adventure in the field of
fiction: but we find educated men, in independent circumstances, not
remarkable for sensibility to Nature, acute critical perception, or
dramatic talent, whose literary aspirations are vague, and who desire
to be occupied eligibly, turn to History as the most available
vantage-ground, busy themselves with wars and councils that happened
ages ago,--with kings and soldiers, institutions and adventures,
politics and dynasties, so far removed from the associations and
interests of the hour, that only a scholar's enthusiasm or ambition
could sustain the research or keep alive the enterprise thus voluntarily
assumed. It is this objective method and motive that chiefly accounts
for the numberless inert and the few vital histories. Like any
intellectual task assumed without special fitness therefor or motive
thereto,--without a comprehensive grasp of mind that impels to
historic exploration,--without a patriotic zeal that warms to national
heroism,--without, especially, a love of some principle, a conviction
of some truth, an admiration of some national development, irresistibly
urging the cultivated and ardent mind to seek for the facts, to
celebrate the persons, to evolve the truth involved in and manifest
through public events,--the annals recorded are but dry chronology,--a
monotonous, more or less authentic, perhaps quite respectable, but far
from a very important or peculiarly interesting work. Thousands of
such cumber the shelves of libraries and fill the pages of
catalogues,--dusted once a year, perhaps, to verify a date, to
authenticate the details of a treaty, or fix the statistics of a war,
but never read consecutively and with zest, because there was no genuine
relation between the writer and his book. He undertook the latter in
the spirit of a mechanical job; industry and learning may be embodied
therein, but no moral life, no human charm; yet the work is cited with
respect, the author enrolled with honor;--whereas, had he sought
in poetry or philosophy, in a novel or a drama, thus to occupy and
celebrate himself with literature, the failure would have been signal,
the attempt ignominious. There is, indeed, no safer investment for
middling literary abilities than History; for, if it fail to yield any
large harvest of renown, it is comparatively secure from the assaults
of ridicule, such as make pretension in other spheres of writing
Even in what are considered the successful exemplars in this department
of literature, the errors incident to artificiality, the conventional
forms of writing, are patent. Only in passages do we recognize that
beauty or truth, that reality and genuineness, which so often wholly
pervade a poem, a story, a memoir, or even a disquisition: at some
point, the flow incident to wilful instead of soulful utterance becomes
apparent;--ambition, pride of opinion, love of display somewhere
manifest themselves. It has been said that the chief element of Hume's
mental power was skepticism; and, singular as it may appear, his doubts
about what are deemed the vital interests of humanity gave a charm to
his record of her political vicissitudes; while he made capital of
touching "situations," he displayed his own strength of intellect; but,
with all this, did not write complete and authentic history. And when
analyzed, what was the _animus_ of Gibbon's elaborate chronicle? He
"spent his time, his life, his energy," says a severe, but just critic,
"in putting a polished gloss on human tumult, a sneering gloss on human
piety." And who has not felt, in following Macaulay's animated periods
and thorough exposition and illustration of some event, trait, or
economy,--in itself of little importance and limited value,--how much
better it would have been to reserve his brilliant descriptive and keen
analytical powers for the grand episodes, the prolific crises, and the
leading characters of history, instead of indiscriminately devoting them
to a consecutive account of national incidents and persons, both great
and small, illustrious and insignificant?
A popular British author of our own day, in order to demonstrate the
law of compensation, as regards the literary vocation, cites its
inexpensiveness,--arguing, that, whereas the artist must invest capital,
however small, in colors, marble, canvas, and studio-hire, and the
professional man occupy a costly locality, the author needs but a quire
of foolscap and a pen and ink to set up in trade. While there is literal
truth in this comparison, the fact is not applicable to historical
writing, except in a very limited degree. The preparation of the most
successful works in this department, in modern times, has been attended
with an outlay impossible to the poor scholar. It has involved the
examination and reproduction of voluminous manuscript authorities,
distant travel, the purchase of rare books and family papers, and
sometimes years of busy reference, observation, and study, lucrative
only in prospect. The same amount of culture and facile vigor of
composition which less prosperous authors expend on a masterly review
would suffice to make them famous historians, if blessed with the
pecuniary means to seek foreign sources of information, or gather about
them scattered and rare materials wherewith to weave a chronicle of the
past. Hence, not only has History become the chosen field of writers
with no special gift for more individually inspired kinds of literature,
but of the educated sons of fortune. Accordingly, it is curious to
remark the contrast between the lives of historians and those of
poets; and in the average circumstances of the former there is some
justification for the title of an aristocratic guild in letters.
Compare Cowper's humble home at Olney with Gibbon's elegant library at
Lausanne,--the social environment of Hallam, Grote, or Macaulay with
the rustic isolation of Wordsworth, the economies of Shelley, or the
life-struggle of Jerrold. Of course, there can thence be inferred no
general rule; and the very differences in temperament between inventive
and reproductive writers suggest a consequent diversity of habits; but
the very idea of historical composition, on an extensive scale and as a
permanent occupation, implies the leisure which competency alone yields,
the means indispensable for gradual literary achievement, and more or
less of the luxury and social position which, when education obtains,
usually attend upon these advantages.
It results from these considerations that there is no sphere of
literature which is so often the refuge of wealthy scholars, idle men of
taste, baffled politicians of independent means, ambitious and well-read
but not specially gifted citizens who have inherited comfortable
estates. It is so dignified an employment, that it gratifies pride,--so
possible without trenchant opinions, that it does not alarm the
conservative,--so thoroughly respectable, safe, and capable of being
made illustrious, so comparatively easy to the fluent but unoriginal
mind, and practicable to follow, when methodically carried out, in
a stated, regular manner, that we can scarcely be astonished at
the alacrity with which such voluntary tasks are undertaken or the
steadiness with which they are followed; at the same time, it may be
because so few are able to command the means and opportunity, that
historical writing is so highly estimated. As a test of intellectual
power, a gauge of individual sentiment, an evidence of original genius,
it is immeasurably inferior to dramatic, philosophical, or any of the
more personal forms of literature, when inspired by deep convictions,
original ideas, or creative imagination. It requires more knowledge
than reflection, more patience than earnestness, more judgment than
sentiment; and those who have raised it to a vital significance and
profound beauty and interest have done so by virtue of endowments which,
otherwise directed, would have placed them high and firm on the roll of
genius: for it is possible to write history without this transcendent
gift,--possible to write it respectably without the slightest grandeur
or grace of mind,--by virtue of command of words, industry, care, and
good sense. We cannot imagine Shakspeare tracing out his conception
of Hamlet, or giving language to Lear or Miranda, without a soulful
experience as far above mere intellectual assiduity as humanity is above
mechanism; we cannot think of Milton elaborating his sublime epic,
without, in fancy, taking in the studious years, the Italian nights
of music, starlight, and high converse, the beautiful youth, the
self-sacrificing prime, the blind old age, the religious patriotism,
the pious loyalty, the learning and love, and the isolated meditation,
cheered by grand symphonies and hoarded wisdom, through and by which,
concentrated into melodious expression, the life of a noble mind thus
majestically expressed itself: but we can easily fancy cold and cultured
Gibbon returning from the Continent, full of classic lore, disgusted
with his failure in public life, not sympathetic enough to enjoy
heartily a career either of pleasure or of society, and so, in his
dreams of scholarship, seizing upon the idea of a long, laborious,
erudite, and elegant task; and we can also well imagine Hume, with his
love of speculation, turning gratefully to the records of the past for
subjects of reflection, analysis, and inference. In these and other
notable instances, we feel it is more an accident than an inspiration,
more from circumstances than from innate and absolute endowment and
impulse, that the historic Muse is wooed.
Within a brief period the grave has closed over one of the most
irreproachable and assiduous of American writers of History,--whose
career signally illustrates the blessing of such a resource to
unoccupied and cultivated leisure, and at the same time the fortuitous
circumstances which often originate and prolong this kind of literary
labor. In a letter to a friend abroad, written by Prescott soon after
he found himself thus congenially occupied, the case is most frankly
stated. "Ennui crept over me, when I found myself a perfectly idle man,
with nothing to do, and, what made it worse, with eyes so debilitated
that I had no power of doing anything with them. However, 'necessity is
the mother of invention,' and I resolved to turn author in spite of my
eyes; and it is a great satisfaction to me to think that the volumes I
have put together for my own amusement should have afforded some to my
countrymen, and, above all, to my friends."[A]
[Footnote A: Letter of W. H. Prescott to Miss Preble, dated Boston,
February 28, 1845. _Memoir of Harriet Preble_, by Professor R.H. LEE, p.
This modest and candid estimate of his vocation indicates how much more
a thing of volition and opportunity, and how much less a work of special
endowment and intuitive recognition is the literature of History than
that of Poetry, Psychology, or Philosophy, notwithstanding all these may
be fused therein. "Whatever may be the use of this sort of composition
in itself and abstractedly," observes a judicious critic,[B] "it is
certainly of great use relatively and to literary men. Consider the
position of a man of that species. He sits beside a library-fire, with
nice white paper, a good pen, a capital style, every means of saying
everything, but nothing to say. What, again, if something would happen,
and then one could describe it? Something has happened, and that
something is History." To feel fully the difference between a formal,
mechanical annalist and the revival of the past through poetic or
artistic sympathy, it is only requisite to turn from some dry chronicle
of political vicissitudes, duly registered by a dull, matter-of-fact,
conscientious antiquary, to the fresh classical or colonial romance, of
which such graceful and well-studied exemplars have been produced by
Lockhart, Bulwer, D'Azeglio, Kingsley, Ware, Longfellow, and other
bards and novelists. While the attempt, by intensity of description and
brilliant generalities, to impart to veritable history the charm we
accept in the historical romance, has caused many an old-school reader
to place Macaulay's fascinating volumes, called "The History of
England," on the same shelf with works of fiction,--Aytoun, Hugh
Miller, and William Penn's champions have given special meaning to
this principle or prejudice, whichever it may be, by challenging the
delightful author to the test of fact.
[Footnote B: Bagehot.]
In statesmen, or those who have excelled in political writing, the
ambition to write history, the desire to illustrate and record national
events, is not only a natural, but an auspicious feeling; and so it is
in educated poets in whom the sentiment of patriotism or the narrative
art gives scope and glow to such an enterprise. That Fox and Bacon,
Milton and Swift, Mackintosh, Schiller, and Lamartine, should have
partially adventured in this field seems but a legitimate result of
their endowments and experience, however fragmentary or inadequate may
have been some of the fruits of their historic studies.
When an enlightened and executive or speculative man is an obvious part
of the history of his own times, his chronicle must have a certain
significance and value. Raleigh, when he wrote the "History of the
World" in prison, gave hints by which subsequent and less obsolete
annalists have wisely profited. The scholar and the patriot coalesced in
the mind of Camden, prompting him to rescue and conserve the materials
of English history and note the fading traditions,--a purely antiquarian
service, which only those can appreciate who seek authentic data of
the far past. Such as cavil at the legal tone and crude arrangement
of Clarendon are none the less his debtors for specific memoirs, the
personal element of history; and while Burnet has been vigorously
repudiated by standard historians, he continues, and justly, to be a
prolific authority. It is conceded by all candid explorers, that, as far
as it goes, the account of England by Rapin is the best. Franklin's
old friend Ralph was commended and quoted by Fox. As the enterprise of
historical writers enlarged and their style became elaborate, these and
such as these lost in popularity what they gained in usefulness. The
charm of rhetorical elegance and broad generalizations gradually usurped
the place of simple narrative and detailed statement. In the very design
of Gibbon there is a certain poetical attraction; his work may aptly
be described as panoramic, unrolling a vast picture or succession of
pictures, too vague in outline and too monotonous in color for minute
impressions, yet, on this account, the more remarkable for general
effect. What Europe was in the Middle Ages we find more specifically in
Hallam; the Moors in Spain have been more vividly painted by subsequent
writers, whose aim was less comprehensive: but how the imperial sway of
Rome subsided into the Christian era, how a republican episode gleamed
athwart her waning power in the casual triumph of Rienzi, the
later emperors, and what occurred in their reign in Jerusalem and
Constantinople, pass emphatically before us in the stately pages which
once charmed readers of English as the model of historic eloquence, and
now excite the admiration of scholars as a monument of erudition and
elaborate but artificial writing. There was a new attraction in the
pleasing style of Robertson and the characterization of Hume; the
winsome language of the one and the transparent diction of the other
made historical reading not so much a task to cumber the memory as a
pastime to entertain the mind; in the one chronicle we followed events
gracefully unfolded, and in the other discussed persons with acuteness;
yet, when to either was subsequently applied the test of absolute
accuracy and sound deduction, large allowances were demanded for
inadequate research on the part of Robertson and partial inferences on
that of Hume. The theories of the latter indicate why and how, with
all his intellectual abilities, the sympathies of his readers were
inevitably limited; in his view of humanity we find the true cause
of all his deficiencies as an historian: "Human life," he somewhere
remarks, "is more governed by fortune than by reason, is to be regarded
more as a dull pastime than a serious occupation, and is more influenced
by particular humor than by general principles." Yet, in a philosophical
retrospect of English historians, we can trace a progressive development
from the purely antiquarian researches of Camden to the personal memoirs
of Clarendon and Burnet; thence to the comprehensive erudition and
majestic narrative of Gibbon; onward to the reasoning, lucid record of
Hume and the fascinating narrative of Robertson;--all of which qualities
of industry, characterization, broad knowledge, taste, emphasis,
and reflection blend, culminate, and intensify along the copious,
rhetorical, and vivid page of Macaulay.
The Italian historians prolong, in style at least, the method of their
classic predecessors: _"La Storia del Guicciardini e considerata come
opera classica,"_--we are told by one of the critics of that nation; who
adds, "His descriptions are always accurate, clear, and expressed with
eloquence; the causes of events and their consequences are enumerated
with rare acuteness; and his personages are delineated in their true
characters, the historian descending into the deepest penetralia of
their hearts: but the most eminent merit of this History consists in the
moral and political considerations with which it abounds; it is like
Tacitus." In like manner, Machiavelli is compared to Thucydides; while
Varchi's long periods, adulation of the Medici, and municipal details
are condemned by the same authority: yet one familiar with modern
literature in this department will, despite this general commendation of
native critics, be apt to ascribe the conservative charm of the Italian
historians to their style rather than their method or matter.
It is remarkable how late the French writers won laurels in the field
of historical composition, and how long France, with all her national
vanity, has lacked a complete and classical chronicle,--brilliant and
invaluable fragments whereof abound. According to the most esteemed
French critics, until this century the nation actually knew nothing
of its own history; and it is characteristic of their speculative
and methodical mind and taste, that History became popular and
philosophical, a novelty and a reform, simultaneously. Guizot, Thierry,
Sismondi, and others, created a new era in this branch of letters;
Thiers and Michelet enlarged its sphere and increased its charms; and
yet, while the graphic simplicity of Froissart, the critical insight and
ingenious generalizations of Guizot, and the poetical glow and richness
of Michelet have made the history of France both highly suggestive as
regards the development of civilization, and picturesque and dramatic as
a narrative, the greatest allowance for brilliant theorizing, political
sympathies, and an errant fancy are indispensable in order to attain to
a clear view of genuine facts and absolute principles. It has been said
that "leading ideas" are fatal to accuracy of statement; and these
dominate in the minds of French philosophical annalists; while the more
sympathetic class are fond of rhetorical display and fanciful episodes.
A recent critic, after bestowing merited encomiums on Michelet, gives
the following instance of his absurd generalizations, which occur in the
midst of grave historical statements and descriptions: "Wool and flesh
are the primitive foundations of England and the English race; ere
becoming the world's manufactory of hardware and tissues, England was a
victualling-shop; before they became a commercial, they were a breeding
and a pastoral people,--a race fatted on beef and mutton; hence their
freshness of tint, their beauty and strength: _their greatest man,
Shakspeare, was originally a butcher_."
Less prominent and more recent names on the roll of historic literature
are as distinctly associated with special excellences and defects. Thus,
Grote keeps attention more by the intelligence of his comments than by
the flow of his narration; he is far more political than picturesque;
and while he gives a masterly analysis of the Athenian system of
government, so as to place it in a new light even to the scholar's
apprehension, he discusses the arts and the literature so inspiring
to most cultivated minds, when describing Greece, with comparative
indifference. Those who would examine English annals unbiased by
Protestant zeal, and realize how the events and characters look to a
Roman Catholic vision, may gather from Lingard some views which may
not disadvantageously modify their interpretation of familiar men and
occurrences. Two English writers have hastily compiled her annals
during certain epochs; but while they are equally chargeable with
superficiality, the manner in which the work is done is by no means
similar. Smollet's continuation of Hume was confessedly a bookseller's
job: four octavo volumes in only ten times the number of months, even in
our days of locomotive celerity, would be thought rather a suspicious
piece of literary handiwork; and besides the indecent haste, so
incompatible with thoroughness, the misrepresentations of Smollet are
patent. Goldsmith, as unambitious in research as he was genial in
expression, made so agreeable a story, that, with all its imperfection,
his sketch still finds readers; while the rarely quoted work of Henry
most conveniently enumerates, at the end of each reign, details
economical and social which identify and illustrate both period and
progress in Anglo-Saxon civilization. As a copious and consecutive
record of the salient incidents in modern Continental history,--so
needful now for reference, and the diverse phases of which are so widely
chronicled in the memoirs, the journals, the diplomatic correspondence,
and what may be called the incidental history of the period,--the plan
of Alison's work might have achieved a triumph of industry and skill,
valuable as well as interesting to general readers and professional
writers: but the political opinions, with the partial feelings they
engender, continually distort the view and influence the estimate of
this positive yet pleasant historian; while his almost wilful blunders,
like the errors of Lord Mahon in regard to the American War, have
been repeatedly demonstrated. Mackintosh philosophized about events,
measures, and men, better than he described either. Sharon Turner nobly
illustrates the value of intrepid research and patient collation.
Mitford represents the aristocratic as Grote the democratic element in
Grecian history. Tytler wrote of the past in the life of nations with
the exclusive reliance on written proof that a conveyancer places upon
title-deeds, and beside the glowing and harmonious pictures of later
annalists such writing now appears obsolete. Napier describes battles
scientifically, and Carlyle revolutions melodramatically,--each with
original power, in their respective methods,--while Miss Strickland
brings to the record of queenly sorrows and duties a woman's sympathetic
Since those quaintly simple and emphatic statements which, under the
name of Froissart's Chronicles, seem to perpetuate the instinctive
notion of History, as an honest and earnest, but unadorned and
unelaborate narrative of military and political facts,--not only has
there been a continual refinement of style and enlargement of scope and
art, but a greater complexity and subdivision in the historian's labors.
Abstract political ideas, purely intellectual phenomena, have found
their annalists, as well as executive enterprise; events have been
analyzed, as well as described,--characters discussed, as well as
pictured,--the elements of society laid bare with as much zeal and
scrutiny as its development has been traced and delineated. European
historical students read anew the records of the past by the light
of philosophy; more subtile divisions than the geographer indicates
organize the record; events are narrated with reference to a dominant
idea; governments are chronicled through their ultimate results, and
not exclusively with regard to their locality; rulers are considered
in groups; a faith is made the nucleus of an historical development,
instead of a nation. Thus, we have Ranke's "Popes" and D'Aubigne's
"Reformation," Hallam's "Middle Ages" and "English Constitution"; De
Quincey treats of "The Caesars"; Vico demonstrates that History is a
science with positive laws; Gervinus illustrates it as a development of
certain inevitably progressive ideas; Niebuhr interprets it by fresh
tests and ordeals; Dr. Arnold teaches it by an original method; Humboldt
points out its naturalistic tendencies and origin; Herder and Hegel, De
Tocqueville and Guizot, the eminent writers on Civilization, on Art, on
Education, Political Economy, Literature, and Natural History, more
and more exhibit the facts of humanity and of time under such new
combinations, by so many parallel truths and principles, that it is
difficult to conceive that History, as now understood by the educated
and the reflective, is the same thing once crudely embodied in a ballad
or mystically conserved by an inscription. To multiply relations is the
destiny of our age, and to converge all that is discovered through the
laws of Science upon the records and relics of the past is a process now
habitual and pervasive.
And yet how little positive satisfaction does the lover of truth, the
aspirant for what is authentic and significant, find in current and even
popular histories! Certain general notions of the character of nations
we, indeed, distinctly and correctly attain: that Chinese civilization
is stationary, the French instinctively a military race, the Swiss
mercenary, and adventurous in engineering and religious reform,--that
modern German literature was as sudden as simultaneous in its
development,--that Holland redeemed her foundations from the sea,--that
Italy owes to art, and England to manufactures, her growth and grandeur.
These and such as these are problems which the history of the respective
countries, however inadequately told, reveals with authenticity; but
when we go beyond and below the patent facts of local civilization, to
the analysis of character, and, through it, of destiny, few and far
between are the satisfactory records whence we can draw legitimate
materials for inference and conjecture. The most attractive method
is apt to be that upon which least reliance can be placed. We seldom
consult Sir Walter's essays at serious history, while the novels he
created out of historic material are as familiar as they are endeared;
but their imaginative charm is in the inverse ratio of their
authenticity. With every new candidate for public favor in this sphere
of literature, there arises a "mooted question" whereon the historian
and his readers are irreconcilably divided. The character of Penn, of
Marlborough, and of the facts of the Massacre at Glencoe are still
vehemently discussed, whenever Macaulay's popular History is referred
to. Froude advances a new and plausible theory of the character of Henry
VIII.; few of Bancroft's American readers accept his estimate of John
Jay, Sam Adams, or Dr. Johnson, or of the political character of the
Virginia Colonists; and Palfrey and Arnold interpret quite diversely
the influence and career of Roger Williams. Nor are such discrepancies
surprising, when we remember how the history which transpires now and
here fails of harmonious report. Every battle, diplomatic arrangement,
political event, nay, each personal occurrence, which forms the staple
of to-day's journalism and talk, is regarded from so many different
points of view, and stated under so many modifying influences, that only
judicial minds have a prospect of reaching the exact truth. Hence the
true way to profit by History is eclectic.
Let the erudition of the German, the genial animation of the French,
the Saxon good sense, the Italian grace be enjoyed, and whatsoever of
glamour or of inadequacy these charms hide be duly estimated; reflection
and sympathy will often separate the gold of truth from the alloy of
prejudice or fantasy. Above all, let this eclectic test be applied
beyond nominal history,--to the geological data on the ancient
rock,--the handwriting of the ages upon race, costume, language,--the
incidental, but genuine history innate in all true literature, vivid
elements whereof live in passages of Milton's controversial writings, in
Petrarch's sonnets, De Foe's fictions, our Revolutionary correspondence,
South's sermons, Swift's diaries, Burke's speeches, French memoirs,
Walpole's letters, in the poems, plays, and epistles of the past, and
every fact and person which society and life offer to our cognizance or
"When we are much attached to our ideas, we endeavor to attach
everything to them," says Madame de Stael. "The secret of writing well,"
observes a Scotch professor, "is to write from a full mind." These
two maxims seem to us to illustrate the whole subject of historical
composition; an earnest votary thereof will instinctively find material
in every interest and influence that sways events or moulds character,
and from the assimilation of all these will educe a vital and harmonious
picture and philosophy. There is an historical as well as a judicial or
poetic type of mind; and to such there is no object too trifling, no
fact too remote, not directly or indirectly to minister to the unwritten
history which vaguely shapes itself to his intelligence. In his reading
and travel it is by no means to the ostensible monuments and trophies of
the past that his observation and inquiry are confined: the Letters of
Madame de Sevigne give him authentic hints for the social tendencies
of France and their influence upon politics, as the blood-stains at
Holyrood identify the place of Rizzio's murder; the "Edinburgh
Review" reveals the spirit of the Reform movement as clearly as the
Parliamentary records its letter; the South-Sea House and the Temple are
as suggestive as Whitehall and the Abbey,--for trade and jurisprudence,
in the retrospect, are as much a part of the by-gone life and present
character of a nation, as the fate and the fame of her dead kings; and a
Spanish ballad is as valuable an illustration as a Madrid state-paper;
while the life of Harry Vane vindicates the Puritan nature as clearly
as the letter of a Venetian ambassador exhibits the domestic life of a
The redeeming influence of strong personal sympathy and earnest
conviction, both in the choice of a subject and the method of its
treatment, has been signally illustrated by a countryman of our own.
The interest of the general reader and the approbation of historical
scholars were at once enlisted by Motley's "Rise and Fall of the Dutch
Republic." That work differs from and is superior to any American
historical composition by virtue of a certain fluent animation, a
certain decided and sustained tone, such as can be derived only from an
absolute relation between the author's mind and heart and his subject.
Accordingly his record not only seizes upon the attention, but wins the
sympathy of the reader, who recognizes a vital and genuine spirit in the
work, which gives it unity, completeness, and a living style, whereby
its incidents, characters, and philosophy are unfolded, not only with
art, but with nature, and so made real, attractive, and significant.
That we are right in ascribing these merits to the affinity between the
author and his work is amply evidenced by his own confession in a letter
called forth by the death of Prescott, in which he says,--
"It seems to me but as yesterday, though it must be now twelve years
ago, that I was talking with our ever-lamented friend Stackpole about my
intention of writing a history upon a subject to which I have since that
time been devoting myself. I had then made already some general studies
in reference to it, without being in the least aware that Prescott had
the intention of writing the history of Philip II. Stackpole had heard
the fact, and that large preparations had already been made for the
work, although 'Peru' had not yet been published. I felt, naturally,
much disappointed. I was conscious of the immense disadvantage to myself
of making my appearance, probably at the same time, before the public,
with a work not at all similar in plan to 'Philip II.,' but which must,
of necessity, traverse a portion of the same ground. My first thought
was, inevitably as it were, only of myself. It seemed to me that I had
nothing to do but to abandon at once a cherished dream, and probably to
renounce authorship. _For I had not first made up my mind to write a
history, and then cast about to take up a subject. My subject had taken
up me, drawn me on, and absorbed me into itself. It was necessary for
me, it seemed, to write the book I had been thinking much of,--even if
it were destined to fall dead from the press,--and I had no inclination
or interest to write any other_."
The same inspiration is partially obvious in those portions of every
history which come home to the writer's experience: as, for instance,
some of the military episodes in Colletta's "History of Naples," he
having been a soldier,--and the descriptive phases of Parkman's "History
of Pontiac," the author having been a Prairie traveller, and familiar
with the woods and the bivouac. In like manner, it is the idiosyncrasy
of historians which gives original value to their labors: Botta's
knowledge of American localities and civilization was meagre, but his
sympathy with the patriots of the Revolution was strong, and this gave
warmth and effect to his "Guerra Americana"; Niebuhr was specially
gifted to develop what has been called the law of investigation, and
hence he penetrates the Roman life, and lays bare much of its unapparent
meaning and spirit. So apt and patient are the Germans in research, that
they have been justly said to "quarry" out the past; while so native are
rhetoric, theorizing, and fancifulness to the French, that they make
history, as they do life and government, theatrical and picturesque,
rather than gravely real and practically suggestive.
A peculiar feature in the labors of modern historians is the research
expended upon what the elder annalists regarded as purely incidental
and extraneous. The collation of archives, official correspondence, and
state-papers is now but the rough basis of research; memoirs are equally
consulted,--localities minutely examined,--the art and literature of a
given era analyzed,--the geography, climate, and ethnology of the scene
made to illustrate the life and polity,--social phases, educational
facts estimated as not less valuable than statistics of armies and
judicial enactments. Michelet has some charming rural pictures and
female portraits in his History of France; Macaulay thinks no custom
or economy of a reign insignificant in the great historical aggregate.
Topography, botany, artistic knowledge are not less parts of the
chronicler's equipment than philology, rhetoric, and philosophy; a
newspaper is not beneath nor a traveller's gossip beyond his scope;
architecture reveals somewhat which diplomacy conceals; an inscription
is not more historical than the average temperature or the staple
productions. Whatever affects national character and destiny, whatever
accounts for national manners or confirms individual sway, is brought
into the record. Diaries, like those of Pepys and Evelyn, the tithe-book
of a county, the taste in portraiture, the costume and the play-bill
yield authentic hints not less than the census, the parliamentary
edicts, or the royal signatures; the popular poem, the social favorite,
the _cause celebre_, what pulpit, bar, peasant and beau, doctor and lady
_a la mode_ do, say, and are, then and there, must coalesce with
the battle, the legislation, and the treaty,--or these last are but
technical landmarks, instead of human interests.
Even our most generalized historical ideas are made emphatic only
through association and observation. How the vague sense of Roman
dominion is deepened as we trace the outline of a camp, the massive
ranges of a theatre, or the mouldy effigy on a coin, in some region
far distant from the Imperial centre,--as at Nismes or Chester! How
complete becomes the idea of mediaeval life, contemplated from the
ramparts of a castle, in the "dim, religious light" of an old monastic
chapel, or amid the obsolete trappings and weapons of an armory! What
a distinct and memorable revelation of ancient Greece is the Venus or
Apollo, a Parthenon frieze or a fateful drama! The best political essays
on the French Revolution are based on the economical and social facts
recorded in the Travels of Arthur Young. The equivocal action of
Massena, when he commanded Paris against the Allies, is explained in
the recently published letter of Joseph Bonaparte, wherein we learn his
deficiency of muskets. Humboldt accounted for the defects of Prescott's
"Conquest of Mexico" by the fact that the historian had never visited
that country. Napoleon gave a key to the misfortunes of Italy, when he
said, "It is a peninsula too long for its breadth." And the significance
of the Seven Years' War is expressed in a single phrase by Milton's last
biographer, when he defines it as the "consummation politically and the
attenuation spiritually of the movement begun in Europe by the Lutheran
Indeed, so intimate is the connection between private life and public
events, between political and social phenomena, that the historical mind
finds material in all literature, and the very attempt to keep to a high
strain and to bend facts to theory limits the authenticity of professed
annalists. What Macaulay says of an eminent party-leader is modified to
those who have studied the character through his memoirs or writings.
The charming narrative of Robertson, the characterization of Hume, the
stately periods of Gibbon, fail to win implicit confidence, when the
scene, the age, or the personages described are known to the reader
through original authorities. When Bancroft declares a treaty of
Colonial governors against Indian ravages the germ of democratic
government, we know that it is his attachment to a theory, and not the
actual circumstances, which leads to such an inference; for the very
authority he cites merely indicates a defensive alliance among rulers,
not a coalition of the ruled. And so when to an account of the Battle
of Lexington he appends a rhetorical argument connecting that event, so
meagre and simple in itself and so wonderful in its consequences, with
the progress of truth and humanity in political science and reformed
religion, we feel that the reasoning is forced and irrelevant,--more an
experiment in fine writing than an evolution of absolute truth.
Thus continually is the independent reader of history taught
eclecticism: he makes allowance for the want of careful research in this
writer, for the love of effect in that,--for the skepticism of one,
and the credulity of another,--for enthusiasm here, and fastidiousness
there,--and especially for the greater or less attachment to certain
opinions, and the absence or presence of strong convictions and genuine
sympathies. Hence, to read history aright, we must read human nature as
well; we must bring the light of philosophy and of faith, the calmness
of judgment and the insight of love, to the record; collateral
revelations drawn from our own experience, modified acceptance of both
statement and inference, superiority to the blandishments of style,
are as needful for the right interpretation of a chronicle as of a
scientific problem. Thus history is perpetually rewritten; fresh
knowledge opens new vistas in the past as well as the future; the
discovery of to-day may rectify, in important respects, the statement
which has been unchallenged for centuries; one new truth leavens a
thousand old formulas; and nothing is more gradual than the elucidation
of historical events and characters. Even our own brief annals suggest
how large must be the historian's faith in time: only within a year or
two has it been possible to demonstrate the justice of Washington's
estimate of Lee, and how completely the sagacious provision of Schuyler
secured the capture of Burgoyne. Since the American Revolution, one of
these men has been as much overrated as the other has failed of
just appreciation--because the documentary wisdom requisite for an
enlightened judgment has not until now been patent.[C]
[Footnote C: See Lossing's _Life and Correspondence of General
Schuyler_, and Professor Moore's paper on Charles Lee.]
With the imposing array of professed histories and historians in view,
it is curious to revert to the actual sources of our own historic
ideas,--those which are definite and pervasive. The vast number of
intelligent readers, who have made no special study of this kind
of literature, probably derive their most distinct and attractive
impressions of the past from poetry, travel, and the choicest works of
the novelist; local association and imaginative sympathy, rather than
formal chronicles, have enlightened and inspired them in regard to
Antiquity and the great events and characters of modern Europe. This
fact alone suggests how inadequate for popular effect have been the
average labors of historians; and so fixed is the opinion among scholars
that it is impossible for the annalist to be profound and interesting,
authentic and animated, at the same time, that a large class of the
learned repudiate as spurious the renown of Macaulay,--although his
research and his minuteness cannot be questioned, and only in a few
instances has his accuracy been successfully impugned. They distrust him
chiefly because he is agreeable, doubt his correctness for the reason
that his style fascinates, and deem admiration for him inconsistent with
their own self-respect, because he is such a favorite as no historian
ever was before, and his account of a parliament, a coinage, or a feud
as winsome as a portraiture of a woman. In one of his critical essays,
Macaulay himself gives a partial explanation of this protest of the
minority in his own case. "People," he remarks, "are very loath to admit
that the same man can unite very different kinds of excellence. It is
soothing to envy to believe that what is splendid cannot be solid and
what is clear cannot be profound." And it has been most justly said of
his own method of writing history, "He must make _everything_ clear and
bright, and bring it into the range of his analysis; his exaggeration
chiefly applies to individual characters, not to general facts"; and the
reason given for the decided preference manifested for his vivid record
is not less true than philosophical,--"We learn so much from him
_enjoyably_." It is precisely the lack of this pleasurable trait which
makes the greater part of the annals of the past a dead letter to the
world, and wins to romance, ballad, epic, fiction, relic, and poetry the
keen attention which facts coldly "set in a note-book" never enlisted.
How many of us unconsciously have adopted the portraits of the early
English kings as Shakspeare drew them! To what a host of living souls is
the history of Scotland what the author of "Waverley" makes it! Charles
I. haunts the fancy, not as drawn by Hume, but as painted by Vandyck.
The institutions of the Middle Ages are realized to every reflective
tourist through the architecture of Florence more than by the municipal
details of Hallam. Pyramids, obelisks, mummies have brought home
Egyptian civilization; the "old masters," that of Europe in the
fifteenth century; the ruins of the Colosseum, Roman art and barbarism,
as they never were by Livy or Gibbon. Lady Russell's letters tell us of
the Civil War in England,--Saint Mark's, at Venice, of Byzantine taste
and Oriental commerce,--the Escurial and the Alhambra, Versailles, a
castle on the Rhine, and a "modest mansion on the banks of the Potomac,"
of their respective eras and their characteristics, social, political,
religious,--more than the most elaborate register, muster-roll, or
judicial calendar. For around and within these memorials lingers the
life of Humanity; they speak to the eye as well as to memory,--to the
heart as well as the intelligence; they draw us by human associations
to the otherwise but technical statement; they lure us to repeople
solitudes and reanimate shadows; and having become intimate with the
scenes, the effigies, the monuments of the Past, we have, as it were, a
vantage-ground of actual experience an impulse from personal observation
and, perhaps, a sympathy born of local inspiration, whereby the phantoms
of departed ages are once more clothed with flesh, and their sorrows and
triumphs are renewed in the soul of enlightened contemplation.
* * * * *
MY NEIGHBOR, THE PROPHET.
The point of commencement for a story is altogether arbitrary. Some
writers stick to Nature and go back to the Creation; others take a few
dozen of the grandfatherly old centuries for granted; others seize Time
by the forelock and bounce into the middle of a narrative; but, as I
said before, the beginning is a mere matter of taste and convenience.
I choose to open my tale with the day on which I took possession of my
newly purchased country-house.
It was a pretty little cottage, wooden, old-fashioned, a story and a
half high, with a long veranda, a shady door-yard, and a sunny garden. I
bought it as it was, furniture included, of a gentleman who was about
to remove southward on account of his wife's health, or, to speak
more exactly, on account of her want of it. I laugh here to think
how surprised you will be when you learn that these matters have no
connection with my story. All the important events which I propose
to relate might have happened had this gentleman never sold nor I
purchased; and, as a proof of it, I can adduce the fact that they
actually did occur some years before we enjoyed the honor of each
other's acquaintance. But I could not resist the temptation of the
episode. I am as delighted at getting into my first house as was my
little son when he poked his chubby legs into his first trousers.
"Who is my nearest neighbor?" I asked of the former proprietor, when he
made his parting call.
"What, the occupant of the new house just below you? I can tell you very
little of him. I haven't made his acquaintance, and don't know his name.
We call him the Mormon."
"Mercy on us! You don't mean to hint at anything in the way of polygamy,
I hope. He doesn't keep an omnibus with seats for twenty, does he?"
"No, not so bad as that. In fact, I don't know much about him. I thought
you were aware of his--his style of living," stammered my friend. "Oh,
I dare say he is respectable enough. But then we noticed three or four
women about the house, and only one man; and so we clapped the title of
Mormon on him. Nicknaming is funny work, you know,--a short and easy way
to be witty. I believe, however, that he does pretend to be a prophet."
"The Pilgrim Fathers protect us! Why, he may attempt to proselytize us
by force. He may declare a religious war against us. It would be no
joke, if he should invade us with the sword in one hand, and the Koran,
or whatever he may call his revelation, in the other."
"Oh, don't be alarmed. He is quite harmless, and even unobtrusive. A
sad-faced, pale, feeble-looking, white-bearded old man. He won't attack
you, or probably even speak to you. I will tell you all I know of
him. The house was built under his direction about six months ago.
I understand that the women own it, and that they are not relatives
according to the flesh, but simply sisters in faith. They have some
queer sort of religion which I am shamefully ignorant of. At all events,
they believe this old gentleman to be a prophet, and consider it a duty
or a pleasure to support him. That is the extent of my knowledge. I hope
it doesn't disgust you with your neighborhood?"
"By no means. May you find as pleasant a one, wherever you settle!"
"Thank you. Well, it is nearly train-time, and I suppose I must leave
you and my old place. I wish you every happiness in it."
And so the old proprietor sighingly departed, leaving the new one
smiling on the doorstep. I was just thinking how nicely the world is
arranged, so that one man's trouble may turn out another man's blessing,
(the illness in this gentleman's family, for instance, being the cause
of my getting a neat country-house cheap,) when my attention was
arrested by the appearance of a thin, feeble-looking, white-bearded old
man, who passed down the street with head bent and hands joined behind
him. I stared at him till he got by; then I ran down to the gate and
looked after him earnestly; and at last I darted forward, hatless, in
eager pursuit. He heard my approaching steps, and put his snowy beard
against his right shoulder in the act of taking a glance rearward. I now
recognized the profile positively, and began conversation.
"Is it possible? My dear Doctor Potter, how are you? Don't you know me?
Your old friend Elderkin."
"Sir? Elderkin? Oh!--ah!--yes! How do you do, Mr. Elderkin?" he
stammered, seeming very awkward, and hardly responding at all to my
"I am delighted to see you again," I continued. "I have had no news of
you these five years. Do you live in this neighborhood?"
"I--I reside in the next house, Sir," he replied, not looking me in the
face, but glancing around uneasily, as if he wanted to run away.
"What! are you the prophet?" I blurted out before I could stop myself.
"I am, Mr. Elderkin," he said, blushing until I thought his white hair
would turn crimson.
We stared at each other in silence for ten seconds, each wishing himself
or his interlocutor at the antipodes.
"I congratulate you on your gift," I remarked, as soon as I could speak.
"I will see you again soon, and have a talk on the subject. We have
discussed similar matters before. Good day, Doctor."
"Good day, Mr. Elderkin," he replied, drawing himself up with a poor
pretence at self-respect.
He was greatly changed. Heterodoxy had not been so fattening to him as
Orthodoxy. When I knew him, six years before, as pastor of a flourishing
church, Doctor of Divinity, and staunch Calvinist, he had a plump and
rosy face, a portly form, and vigorous carriage. He was a great favorite
with the ladies, as clergymen are apt to be, and consequently never
lacked for delicate and appetizing sustenance. He was esteemed,
self-respectful, and happy; and all these things tend to good health and
good looks. I propose to make myself famous as the Gibbon of the decline
and fall of this reverend gentleman, once so honorably established on
the everlasting hills of Orthodoxy, and now so overthrown and trampled
under foot by the Alaric of Spiritualism. I do not expect, indeed, that
anybody will take warning by my friend's sad history; nor do I insist
that people in general would find it advantageous to learn much wisdom
from the experience of others; for it is very clear, that, if we
attempted only what our neighbors or our fathers had succeeded in doing,
we should kill all chance of variety or improvement. It would be a
stupidly wise world; there would be no sins, and, very possibly, no
virtues; instead of "Everything happens," it would be "Nothing happens."
Believing and hoping, therefore, that Dr. Potter's calamities will not
be the smallest check upon any person who shall feel disposed to follow
in his footsteps, I present the story to the public, not at all as a
lesson, but merely as an item of curious information.
Oddly enough, it was on that day of delusions, the first of April, that
I stumbled into the Doctor's revival of the age of miracles. I had been
engaged for three months on a geological survey in a Western Territory,
during which time I had received very brief and vague news from the
little city which was then my place of abode, and had not even had
a hint of the signs and wonders which there awaited my astonished
observation. Reaching home, I made it my first business to call on my
reverend friend; for the Doctor, it must be known, was one of my most
valued intimates, had baptized me, had counselled me, had travelled with
me in foreign lands; we had many interests, many sympathies in common,
and no differences except with regard to the extent of the Flood, the
date of the Creation, and other matters of small personal importance.
I found him in his study, surrounded by those seven hundred and odd
volumes, the learning and excellent spirit of which gave to his sermons
such a body of venerable divinity, such a bouquet of savory eloquence.
He was walking to and fro rapidly, studying a slip of manuscript with an
air of serious ecstasy. He did not look up until I had seized his hand,
and even then he stared at me as a man might be supposed to stare who
had been passing a fortnight with angels or other spiritual existences
and unexpectedly found himself among natural and reasonable beings
"Ah, my dear Elderkin," he said at last, "I am glad to see you. How are
you, and how have you been? Excuse me for not recognizing you at once. I
had just lost myself in the consideration of a mystery which I believe
to be of the sublimest importance. Oh, my dear friend, I hope you will
be brought to attend to these things! They are above and beyond all your
geologies; they preceded and will outlive them."
"Indeed!" I replied. "Nothing in the way of chaos, I hope?"
"Look here at this sheet of foolscap," he exclaimed, waving it
excitedly. "Do you remember the belief which I have often expressed to
you,--the belief that the dispensation of miracles has never yet ceased
from earth,--that we have still a right to expect signs, wonders,
instantaneous healings, and unknown tongues,--and that, but for our
wretched incredulity, these things would constantly happen among us? You
have disputed it and ridiculed it, but here I hold a proof of its truth.
A month ago this blessing was vouchsafed to me. It was at one of our
Wednesday-evening exercises. I had just been speaking of supernatural
gifts, and of the duty which we lie under of expecting and demanding
them. The moment I sat down, a stranger (a gentleman whom I had
previously noticed at church) rose up with a strangely beaming look and
broke out in a discourse of sounds that were wholly unintelligible. You
need not smile. It was a true language, I am confident; it flowed forth
with a moving warmth and fluency; and the gestures which accompanied it
were earnest and most expressive."
"That was fortunate," said I; "otherwise you must have been very little
edified. But isn't it rather odd that the man should use earthly
gestures with an unearthly language?"
The Doctor shook his head reprovingly, and continued,--
"Deacon Jones, the editor of the 'Patriot,' is a phonographer. He took
down the close of the stranger's address, and next day brought it to me
written out in the ordinary alphabet. Let me read it to you. As you are
acquainted with several modern languages, perhaps you can give me a key
to an interpretation."
"I don't profess to know the modern languages of the other world," said
I. "However, let us hear it."
"Isse ta sopon otatirem isais ka rabatar itos ma deok," began the
Doctor, with a gravity which almost made me think him stark mad. "De
noton irbila orgonos ban orgonos amartalannen fi dunial maran ta
calderak isais deluden homox berbussen carantar. Falla esoro anglas
emoden ebuntar ta diliglas martix yehudas sathan val caraman
mendelsonnen lamata yendos nix poliglor opos discobul vanitarok ken
laros ma dasta finomallo in salubren to mallomas. Isse on esto opos fi
And so he read on through more than a page and a half of closely written
manuscript, his eyes flashing brighter at each line, and his right hand
gesturing as impressively as if he understood every syllable.
"Bless you, it's nothing new," said I. "There's an institution at
Hartford where they cure people of talking that identical language."
"Just what I expected you to say," he replied, flushing up. "I know
you,--you scientific men,--you materialists. When you can't explain a
phenomenon, you call it nonsense, instead of throwing yourselves with
childlike faith into the arms of the supernatural. That is the sum and
finality of your so-called science. But, come, be rational now. Don't
you catch a single glimpse or suspicion of meaning in these remarkable
"I am thankful to say that I don't," declared I. "If ever I go mad, I
may change my mind."
"Well now, I _do_" he asseverated loudly. "There are words here that I
believe I understand, and I am not ashamed to own it. Why, look at it,
yourself," he added, pleadingly. "That word _sathan_, twice repeated,
can it be anything else than _Satan_? _Yehudas_, what is that but
_Jews?_ And then _homox_, how very near to the Latin _homo!_ I think,
too, that I have even got a notion of some of the grammatical forms of
the language. That termination of _en_, as in _deluden, salubren,_ seems
to me the sign of the present tense of the plural form of the verb. That
other termination of _tar_, as in _ebuntar, carantar_, I suppose to be
the sign of the infinitive. Depend upon it that this language is one
of absolute regularity, undeformed by the results of human folly and
sorrow, and as perfect as a crystal."
"But not as clear," I observed,--"at least, not to our apprehension.
Well, how was this extraordinary revelation received by the audience?"
"In dumb silence," said the Doctor. "Faith was at too low an ebb among
us to reach and encircle the amazing fact. I had to call out the
astonished brethren by name; and even then they responded briefly and
falteringly. But the leaven worked. I went round the next day and
talked to all my leading men. I found faith sprouting like a grain
of mustard-seed. I found my people waking up to the great idea of a
continuous, deathless, present miracle-demonstration. And these dim
suspicions, these far-off longings and fearful hopes, were, indeed,
precursors of such a movement of spirits, such a shower of supernatural
mercies, as the world has not perhaps seen for centuries. Yes, there
have been wonders wrought among us, and there are, I am persuaded,
greater wonders still to come. What do you think must be my feelings
when I see my worthiest parishioners rise in public and break out with
"I should suppose you would rather see them break out with the
small-pox," I answered.
"Ah, Professor! wait, wait, and soon you will not laugh," said the
"Perhaps not. I am a sincere friend of yours, and a tolerably
good-hearted sort of man, I hope. I shall probably feel more like
crying. But the world may laugh long and loud, Doctor. All who hate the
true revelation may laugh to see it mocked and caricatured by those who
profess and mean to honor it. Just consider, while it is yet time to
mend matters, how imprudent you are. Why, what do you know of the man
who has been your Columbus in this sea of wonders? Are you sure that he
is not a sharper, or an impostor, or a lunatic?"
"Impossible! He brought letters to three of our most respectable
families. His name is Riley, John M. Riley, of New York; and he is
son of the wealthy old merchant, James M. Riley, who has been such a
generous donor to all good works. As for his being a lunatic, you shall
hear his conversation."
"I should be a very poor judge of it, if he always speaks in his unknown
"English! English! he talks English as good as your own. A more
gentlemanly person, a more intelligent mind, a meeker and more believing
spirit, I have not met this many a day. He is still here, and he is my
right hand in the work. I shall soon have the pleasure of making you
acquainted with him."
"Thank you; I shall be delighted," said I. "Only be good enough to hint
to him that I like to understand what is said to me. If he comes at me
with unknown tongues, I shall wish him in unknown parts. I can't stand
mysteries. I am a geologist, and believe that there are rocks all the
way down, and that we had much better stand on them than wriggle in mere
chaotic space. Good morning, Doctor. I shall come again soon; I shall
keep a lookout on you."
"Good morning," he replied, kindly. "I hope to see you in a better frame
before many days."
I hurried back to my hotel, and questioned the landlord about this
revival of the age of miracles. He gave me a long account of the affair,
and then every neighbor who strolled in gave me another, until by
dinner-time I had heard wonders and absurdities enough to make a new
"Book of Mormon." The lunacies of this Riley had entered into Dr. Potter
and his parishioners, like the legion of devils into the herd of swine,
and driven them headlong into a sea of folly. There had been more
tongues spoken during the past month in this little Yankee city than
would have sufficed for our whole stellar system. Blockheads who were
not troubled with an idea once a fortnight, and who could neither write
nor speak their mother English decently, had undertaken to expound
things which never happened in dialects which nobody understood. People
who hitherto had been chiefly remarkable for their ignorance of the
past and the slowness of their comprehension of the present fell to
foretelling the future, with a glibness which made Isaiah and Ezekiel
appear like minor prophets, and a destructiveness which nothing would
satisfy out the immediate advent of the final conflagration. Gouty
brothers whose own toes were a burden to them, and dropsical sisters
with swelled legs, hobbled from street to street, laying would-be
miraculous hands on each other, on teething children, on the dumb and
blind, on foundered horses and mangy dogs even, or whatsoever other
sickly creature happened to get under their silly noses. The doctors
lost half their practice in consequence of the reliance of the people on
these spiritual methods of physicking. Children were taken out of school
in order that they might attend the prophesyings and get all knowledge
by supernatural intuition. Logic and other worldly methods of arriving
at truth were superseded by dreams, discernings of spirits, and similar
irrational processes. The public madness was immense, tempestuous, and
unequalled by anything of the kind since the "jerks" which appeared in
the early part of this century under the thundering ministrations of
Peter Cartwright. That nothing might be lacking to make the movement a
fact in history, it had acquired a name. As its disciples used the word
"dispensation" freely, the public called them Dispensationists, and
their faith Dispensationism, while their meetings received the whimsical
title of Dispensaries.
Amid this clamor of daft delusion, Dr. Potter congratulated his people
on the resurrection of the age of miracles, and preached in furtherance
of the work with a fervid sincerity and eloquence rarely surpassed by
men who support the claims of true religion and right reason. Had he
brought the same zeal to bear against mathematics, it seems to me he
might have shaken the popular faith in the multiplication-table. The
wonders transacting in his church being noised abroad, the town was soon
crowded with curious strangers, mostly laymen, but several clergymen,
some anxious to believe, others ready to sneer, but all resolute to see.
As might have been expected, the nature of the excitement alarmed the
wiser pastors of the vicinity for the cause of Orthodoxy. They saw that
several of the asserted miracles were simply hoaxes or delusions; they
suspected that the unknown tongues might be nothing but the senseless
bubbling of overheated brainpans; they perceived that the Doctor in
his enthusiastic flights was soaring clear into the murky clouds of
Spiritualism; and they dreaded lest the scoffing world should make a
weapon out of these absurdities for an attack upon the Christian faith.
They began to preach against the fanaticism; and, of course, my friend
denounced them as infidels. High war ensued among the principalities and
powers of theology in all that portion of Yankeedom.
The reaction roused by the unbelieving clergymen reached the Doctor's
congregation, and emboldened all the sensible members to combine into
an anti-miracle party. At a meeting of these persons a committee was
appointed to wait upon the pastor and respectfully request him to
dismiss Riley, to cease his efforts after the supernatural, and to
return to his former profitable manner of ministration. Dr. Potter was