Part 3 out of 5
amazed and indignant; he replied, that he should preach the truth as it
was revealed to himself; he scouted the dictation of the committee, and
fell back upon the solemn duty of his office; he ended by informing the
gentlemen that they were unbelievers and materialists. Naturally the
dissenters grew all the more fractious for this currying, and held
another meeting, in which the reaction kicked up higher than ever. Being
resolved now to proceed to extremities, and, if necessary, to form a new
congregation, they drew up the following recantation and sent it to Dr.
Potter,--not with any hope that he would put his name to it, but for the
purpose of ridiculing his infatuation, and driving him to resign his
"I, the undersigned, pastor of the First Church in Troubleton, having
been led far from the truth by the absurdities of modern miracleism
and spiritualism, and having seen the error of my ways, do penitently
subscribe to the accompanying articles.
"1st. I promise to cease all intercourse with a blasphemous blockhead
named John M. Riley, who has been the human cause of my downfall.
"2d. I promise to avoid in future all rhapsodies, ecstasies, frenzies,
and whimseys which throw ridicule on true religion by caricaturing its
"3d. I promise to regard with the profoundest contempt and indifference
both my own dreams or somnambulisms and those of other people.
"4th. I promise not to unveil the secret things of Infinity, nor to
encourage others to unveil them, but to mind my own finite business, and
to rest satisfied with the revelations that are contained in the Bible.
"5th. I promise not to speak unknown tongues as long as I can speak
English, and not to listen to other people who commit the like
absurdity, unless I know them to be Frenchmen or Dutchmen or other
foreigners of some human species.
"6th. I promise not to heal the sick by any unnatural and miraculous
means, but rather to call in for their aid properly educated physicians,
giving the preference to those of the allopathic persuasion.
"7th. I promise not to work signs in heaven nor wonders on earth, but
to let all things take the course allotted to them by a good and wise
Of course Dr. Potter looked upon this production as the height of
irreverence and irreligion, and proposed to excommunicate the authors
of it. Hence the dissenters declared themselves seceders, and took
immediate steps to form a new society.
It was at this stage of the excitement that I returned to Troubleton and
made my call upon the Doctor. I felt anxious to save my old friend and
worthy pastor. I saw, that, if he continued in his present courses,
he would strip himself, one after the other, of his influence, his
position, his religion, and his reason. That very evening, after the
usual conference-meeting was over, I called again on him, and found him
in a truly lyrical frame of spirit.
"Ah, my dear friend, there is no end to it!" exclaimed he. "The doors
are opening, one beyond another. Wonder shows forth after wonder,
miracle after miracle. Behind the veil! behind the veil!"
"Indeed!" said I, rather vexed. "You'll find yourself behind a grate
"There is now no question of the physical value as well as the spiritual
sublimity of these revelations," he continued, without observing my
sneer. "Life and death, the sparing of precious blood, the prevention of
crime, the punishment of the guilty,--you can appreciate these things, I
"When I am in my senses," returned I. "But what is the row? if I may use
that worldly expression. Has Mr. John M. Riley been brought to confess
any state-prison offences?"
"Ah, Elderkin!" sighed the Doctor, letting go my hand with a look of sad
reproach. "But no: you cannot remain forever in this skepticism; you
will be brought over to us before long. Let me tell you what has
happened. But, remember, you must keep the secret until to-morrow, as
you value precious lives. Mr. Riley has just left me. He has made me a
revelation, a prophecy, which will be proof to all men of the origin
of our present experiences. He has had a vision, thrice repeated. It
foretold that this very night a robbery and murder would be attempted in
the city of New Haven. The evil drama will open between two and three
o'clock. There will be three burglars. The house threatened is situated
in the suburbs, to the east of the city, and about a mile from the
"Is it? And what are you going to do about it?--telegraph?"
"No. We will be there in person. We will ourselves prevent the crime and
seize the criminals. I shall have a word in season for that family, Sir.
I wish to improve the occasion for its conversion to a full belief in
these sublime mysteries. Mr. Riley, with three of my people, will meet
me at the station. We shall be in New Haven by eleven, stay an hour or
two in some hotel, and at half past one go to the house."
"My dear Sir, I remonstrate," exclaimed I. "You will get laughed at. You
will get shot at. You will get into disgrace. You will get into jail.
For pity's sake, give up this quixotic expedition, and grant me an
absolution before the fact for kicking Riley out of doors."
The Doctor turned his face away from me and walked to a window. His air
of profound, yet uncomplaining grief, struck me with compunction, and,
following him, I held out my hand.
"Come, excuse me," said I. "Look here,--if this comes true, I'll quit
geology and go to working miracles to-morrow. I'll come over to your
faith, if I have to wade through my reason."
"Will you?" he responded, joyfully. "You will never repent it. There,
shake hands. I am not angry. Your unbelief is natural, though saddening.
To-morrow night, then, come and see me again and I will tell you the
whole adventure. I must be off to the train now. Excuse me for leaving
you. Would you like to sit here awhile and look at Humby's 'Modern
"No, thank you. Prefer to look at your miracles. I am going with you."
"Going with me? Are you? I'm delighted!" he cried, not in the least
startled or embarrassed by the proposition. "Now you shall see with your
"Yes, if it isn't too dark, I will,--word of a geologist. Well, shall we
"But won't you have a weapon? We go armed, of course, inasmuch as the
scoundrels may show fight when we come to arrest them."
"I don't want it," said I, gently pushing away a pocket-pistol, about as
dangerous as a squirt. "All the burglars you see to-night may shoot at
me, and welcome."
We walked to the station, and found our party waiting for the Boston
train. The Doctor introduced me, with much affectionate effusion and
many particulars concerning my family and early history, to the man of
unearthly lingoes. He was a tall, lean, flat-chested, cadaverous being,
of about forty, his sandy hair nicely sleeked, thin yellow whiskers
spattered on his hollow cheeks, his nose short and snub, his face
small, wilted, and so freckled that it could hardly be said to have
a complexion. In short, by its littleness, by its yellowness, by its
appearance of dusty dryness, this singular physiognomy reminded me so
strongly of a pinch of snuff, that I almost sneezed at sight of it. His
diminutive green eyes were fringed with ragged flaxen lashes, and seemed
to be very loose in their reddened lids, as if he could cry them out at
the shortest notice. I observed that he never looked his interlocutors
in the face, but stared chiefly at their feet, as if surmising whether
they would kick, or gazed into remote distance, as if trying to see
round the world and get a view of his own back. His dress was a full
suit of black, fine in texture, but bagging about him in a way that made
you wonder whether he had not lost a hundred-weight or so in training
for his spiritual battles. His manners were quiet, and would not have
been disagreeable, but for an air of uncomfortably stiff solemnity,
which draped him from head to foot like a robe of moral oilcloth, and
might almost be said to rustle audibly. Whether he was a practical
joker, a swindler, a fanatic, or a madman, my spiritual vision was not
keen enough to discover at first sight. Beside him and ourselves the
party consisted of a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick-maker,
all members of the Doctor's church and indefatigable workers of
miracles,--plain men and foolish, but respectable in standing and
sincere in their folly. Mr. Riley was so commonplace as to address me in
English, probably because he wanted an answer.
"Do you accompany us, Sir, on this blessed crusade against crime and
unbelief?" he asked.
"My friend, Dr. Potter, has granted me that inestimable privilege,"
"I hope--in fact, I firmly believe--that Providence will aid us," he
"I hope so, too," said I. "But wouldn't it be advisable to have a
"By no means! Certainly not!" he returned, with considerable excitement.
"All we want is a band of saints, of justified souls, of men fitted for
the martyr's crown."
"Oh, that's all, is it, Sir? Well, shall we get into the cars? There
The train was full, and our party had to scatter, but Mr. Riley and I
got seats together.
"I have not seen you at our meetings, Sir," he continued. "Allow me to
ask, are you a believer in Dispensationism?"
"Not so strong as I might be. However, I have been absent from
Troubleton for three months, and only returned yesterday."
"Ah! you have lost precious opportunities. You must lose no more. Life
"And uncertain," I added. "Especially in railroad travelling."
"My dear Sir, I hope this road is prudently conducted," he said, with a
look of some little anxiety.
"Not many accidents," I answered. "And then, you know, we are always
in the hands of Providence. No fear of slipping through the fingers
"No, Sir, certainly not," he remarked, wrapping his moral oilcloth about
him again. "Have you felt any extraordinary spiritual impressions since
"Nothing lasting, I think. Nothing that a night's sleep wouldn't take
off the edge of."
"No desire to lay hands on some sin-stricken wretch and cure him of the
evil that is in him?"
Now I did feel a strong desire to lay hands on this very Riley and pull
out his snub nose for him; but I forbore to say so, and simply shook my
"I know, that, if you would come to our Dispensaries and join in our
exercises, you would be sensible of a softening," he observed.
"Yes, in the brain," thought I; but I still remained silent.
"You should meditate upon the value of manifestations, unknown tongues,
the laying on of hands, visions, ecstasies, and such like matters," he
"So I have," said I.
"And with no result?"
"Nothing that particularly astonishes me. I think that I hate humbug
more than I did."
"That's a good sign," he replied, after a brief, sharp glance of inquiry
at me. "This vain world is a humbug, as you phrase it. Dead Orthodoxy is
a humbug. Human reason is a humbug. We are all humbugs, unless we are
made true by Dispensation. This age will be a humbug, unless it can
be wrought into an age of miracles. If you could be brought to hate
earnestly all these things, it would be a hopeful sign."
I was on the point of disputing the hypothesis, but prudently checked
myself. Suddenly he removed my hat and put his broad, hard palm upon my
organs with an impudent dexterity which made me doubt whether he had not
been a pickpocket or a phrenological lecturer.
"I lay my hand upon your head and desire you to note the effect," said
he. "Can no life come into these dry bones? Shall they not live?
Yea, they shall live! Do you feel no irrepressible emotion, Sir,--no
"Not a shake," replied I,--"unless it be from the bad grading."
"Evil is mighty, but the good must eventually prevail," he observed,
impertinently cocking his snub nose toward heaven.
"I believe you are quite right in both propositions," I admitted.
"Cardinal points of mine. But excuse me, Sir, if you could spare my hat,
I should like to put it on my head."
I had lost patience with the man, partly because it irks me to have
strangers take liberties with my person, and also because I had reached
the conclusion that he was simply a shallow dissembler and rascal. In
a minute more I had cause to reconsider my charge of hypocrisy, and to
question whether he might not lay claim to the nobler distinction of
lunacy. The conductor came down the car, picking out Troubletonians with
his undeceivable eye, and leaned toward us with outstretched fingers.
Mr. Riley rose to his whole gaunt height at a jerk, and laid his hand on
the official's arm with a fierce, bony gripe, which seemed to startle
him as if it were the clutch of a skeleton.
"There is my ticket," said he. "Where is yours? Have you one for the
Holy City? None? Then you are lost, lost, lost!"
The last words rose to a high, clear shriek, which pierced the heavy
rumble of the train and rang throughout the car. The conductor, in spite
of the coolness which becomes second nature to men of his profession,
turned slightly pale and shrank back before this wild apostrophe, with
a thrill of spiritual horror at the solemn meaning of the words, (I
thought,) and not because he considered the man a maniac. The fanaticism
of Troubleton had already flown far and cast a vague shadow of dread
over a large community.
Turning abruptly from the conductor, my companion flung out his long
arms toward the staring passengers, and continued in his strident,
startling tenor:--"I have warned him. I call you all to witness that I
have warned this man of his fearful peril. His blood be on his own head!
The blood of your souls will be upon your heads, unless you turn to
Dispensationism. I have said it. Amen!"
Before he had sat down again I was in the alley on my way to another
car, not anxious to become known as the intimate of this extraordinary
apostle. I found an empty seat by the Doctor, dropped into it, and told
"My dear friend, give the fellow up," I concluded. "He's as mad as he
can possibly be."
"So Festus thought of Paul," returned my poor comrade, with hopeless
"Festus be d----d!" said I, losing my temper, and swearing for the first
time since I graduated.
"I fear he was so," remarked the Doctor, severely. "Let me urge you to
take warning from his fate."
"I beg your pardon, and that of Festus," I apologized. "But when I see
you losing your reason, I can't keep my patience, and don't wish to."
"You will wonder at these feelings before many hours," he responded
gently. "To-morrow you will be a believer."
"That makes no difference with me now," said I. "I am just as skeptical
as if I hadn't a chance of conversion. Why, Doctor,--well, come
now,--I'll argue the case with you. In the first place, all Church
history is against you. There isn't a respectable author who upholds the
doctrine of modern miracles."
"Mistake!" he exclaimed. "I wish I had you in my library. I could face
you with writer on writer, fact on fact, all supporting my views. I can
prove that miracles have not ceased for eighteen centuries; that they
appeared abundantly in the days of the venerable Catholic fathers; that
a stream of prophecies and healings and tongues ran clear through the
Dark Ages down to the Reformation; that the superhuman influence flamed
in the dreams of Huss, the ecstasies of Xavier, and the marvels of Fox
and Usher. Look at the French Prophets, or Tremblers of the Cevennes,
who had prophesyings and healings and discoverings of spirits and
tongues and interpretations. Look at the ecstatic Jansenists, or
Convulsionists of St. Medard, who were blessed with the same holy gifts.
Look at the Quakers, from Fox downward, who have held it as a constant
principle to expect powers, revelations, discernings of spirits, and
instantaneous healings of diseases. Why, here we are in our own days;
here we are with our chain of miracles still unbroken; here we are in
the midst of this geological and unbelieving nineteenth century."
"Yes, here we are," said I; "and we must make the best of it. It's a bad
affair, of course, to live in scientific times; and it's a great pity
that we were not born in the Dark Ages; but it is too late to try to
"Ah! you answer with a sneer; you are materialistic and infidel."
"Stop, Doctor! Let me make a bargain with you. If you won't call me
names, I won't call you names. You are not in the pulpit now, and you
have no right to domineer over me."
"But what do you say to all these signs and wonders which I have
"What do you say to the Rochester knockings and the Stratford mysteries
and the Mormon miracles?"
"All deceptions, or works of the Devil," affirmed the Doctor, without a
"Excuse me for smiling," I replied "It is pleasant to observe what a
quick spirit you have for discerning the true wonders from the false."
"You will see, you will see," he answered, and relapsed into a grave
We reached New Haven and took rooms at the New Haven Hotel. I had
anticipated a little nap before going out on our expedition; but I had
not made allowance for the proselyting zeal of Dispensationists. My poor
bewildered friend Potter uttered something which he sincerely meant to
be a prayer, but which sounded to me painfully like blasphemy. Next they
sang a queer hymn of theirs in discordant chorus. After that, Mr. Riley
rolled up his sleeves and his eyes, flung his arms about, wept and
shrieked unknown tongues for twenty minutes. Then the butcher, the
baker, and candlestick-maker had a combined convulsion on the floor,
rolling over each other and upsetting furniture. By this time the hotel
was roused and the landlord made us a call.
"What the Old Harry are you about?" he demanded, angrily. "Don't you
know it's after midnight?"
"We are holding a Dispensary," said Mr. Riley, solemnly.
"Well, I'll dispense with your company, if you don't stop it," returned
mine host. "There's a nervous lady in the next room, and you've worried
her into fits."
"Let me see her," cried the Doctor, eagerly. "It may be that the power
of our faith is upon her. Which is her door?"
"You're drunk, Sir," returned the landlord, severely. "Keep quiet now,
or I'll have you put to bed by the porters."
So saying, he shut the door and went muttering down-stairs. This
untoward incident put an end to our exercises. A whispered palaver on
Dispensationism followed, during which I tilted my chair back against
the wall and stole a pleasant little nap.
It was about half past one when the Doctor shook me up and said, "It is
time." We slipped down-stairs in our stockinged feet, got the front-door
open without awakening the porter, shut it carefully after us, and put
on our boots outside. Mr. Riley immediately started up College Street,
which, as all the world is aware, runs northerly to the Canal Railroad,
where it changes to Prospect Street and goes off in a half-wild state up
country. At the end of College Street we left the city behind us, struck
the rail-track, forsook that presently for a desert sort of road known
as Canal Street, and kept on in a northwesterly direction for half a
mile farther. It was a dark, cool, and blustering night, such as the New
Englanders are very apt to have on the second of April. The wind blew
violently down the open country, shaking the scattered trees as if
it meant to wake them instantly out of their winter's slumber, and
screeching in the murky distances like a tomcat of the housetops, or
rather like a continent of tomcats. The Doctor lost his hat, chased it a
few rods, and then gave it up, lest he should miss his burglars. Once I
halted and watched, thinking that I saw two or three dark shapes dogging
us not far behind, but concluded that I had been deceived by the
black-art of magical Night, and hastened on after my crazy comrades.
Presently Riley stopped, pointed to a dark mass on our right which
seemed about large enough to be a story-and-a-half cottage, and
whispered, "Here we are, brethren."
"No doubt about that," said I. "But what the mischief is to come of it?"
"Oh! let's go back and call the police," urged the baker, in a tremulous
"Too late!" returned Riley. "It is given to me to see the burglars. They
are inside. They are taking the silver out of the closet. There will be
murder in five minutes."
"If there must be murder, why, of course we ought to have a hand in it,"
I suggested. "Our motives at least will be good."
"Right!" said Riley. "Come on, brethren! We must prove our faith by our
But the baker hung back in a most dough-faced fashion, while the butcher
and the candlestick-maker encouraged him in his cowardice. At last it
was agreed that this unheroic trio should wait in the yard as a reserve,
while Riley, the Doctor, and I went in to worry the burglars. Leaving
the weaker brethren in a clump of evergreen shrubbery, we, the
forlorn-hope, stole around the house to get at a back-door which Prophet
Riley had plainly seen in his dream, and which he foretold us we should
find unlocked. I was not much amazed to discover a back-door, inasmuch
as most houses have one, but I really was surprised to learn that it was
unfastened. My astonishment at this circumstance, however, was over-
balanced by my alarm at finding that the Doctor still persisted in his
intention of entering; for I had hoped that at the last moment his
faith would give way, and let him slide down from the elevation of his
ridiculous and reckless purpose.
"But you are not really going in?" I whispered, jerking at his
"Certainly," he replied. "The robbers are surely there. The door was
"Mere carelessness of the servants. Stop! Come back! Nonsense! Madness!
You'll get into a scrape. Respectable family. Good gracious, what a pack
While I was rapidly muttering these observations, he was pulling away
from me and stealing into the house after his prophet. Finding that
there was no stopping him, I followed, in obedience, perhaps, to that
great and no doubt beneficent, but as yet unexplained, instinct which
causes sheep to leap after their bellwether. We were in a basement, or
semi-subterranean story. I felt the walls of a narrow passage on
either side of me, and can swear to a kitchen near by, for I smelt its
cooking-range. I walked on the foremost end of my toes, and would have
paid five dollars for a pair of list slippers. Rather than take another
such little promenade as I had in that passage, I would submit to be
placed on the middle sleeper of a railroad-bridge, with an express-train
coming at me without a cowcatcher. Presently I overtook the Doctor's
coat-tails again, and found that they were ascending a staircase. At the
top of the stairs was a door, and on the other side of the door was a
room, the uses of which I won't undertake to swear to, for I never saw
it, although I was in it longer than I wanted to be. All I know is
that it seemed to be as full of chairs, and tables, and sofas, and
sideboards, and stoves, and crickets, as if it had been a shop for
second-hand furniture. I was just rubbing my shins after an encounter
with a remarkably solid object, nature uncertain, when somebody near me
fell over something with a crash and a groan. Immediately somebody else
seized me by the cravat and began to throttle me. Whoever it was, I
floored him with a right-hander, and sent him across the other person,
as I judged by the combined grunt, and the desperate, though dumb
struggle which followed. Now there were two of them down, and how many
standing I could not guess. An instant afterward, a muffled voice, like
that of a man only half awake, shouted from a room behind me, "Who's
there? Get out! I'm a-coming!" This seemed to encourage the individuals
who were having a rough-and-tumble on the carpet, for they commenced
roaring simultaneously, "Help! murder! thieves! fire!" without, however,
relaxing hostilities for a moment.
The next pleasant incident was a pistol-shot, the ball of which whizzed
so near my head that it made me dodge, although I have not the least
notion who fired it or whom it was aimed at. Female screams and
masculine shouts now sounded from various directions. Thinking that
I had done all the good in my power, I concluded to get out of this
confusion; but either the doorway by which we entered had suddenly
walled itself up, or else I had lost my reckoning; for, stumble where I
would, feel about as I would, I could not find it. I did, indeed, come
to an opening in the wall, but there was no staircase the other side of
it, and it simply introduced me to another invisible apartment. I had no
chance to reflect upon the matter and decide of my own free will whether
I would go in or not. A sudden rush of fighting, howling persons swept
me along, jammed me against a pillar, pushed me over a table, and forced
me to engage in a furious struggle, exceedingly awkward by reason of the
darkness and the extraordinary amount of furniture. A tremendous punch
in the side of the head upset me and made me lose my temper. Rising in a
rage, I grappled some man, tripped up his heels, got on his chest, and
never left off belaboring him until I felt pretty sure that he would
keep quiet during the rest of the _soiree_. I hope sincerely that this
suffering individual was Mr. John M. Riley; but, from the rotundity of
stomach which I bestrode, I very much fear that it was the Doctor.
All this while the house resounded with outcries of, "Who's there?"
"What's the matter?" "Father!" "Henry!" "Jenny!" "Maria!" "Thieves!"
"Murder!" "Police!" and so forth. Of course I did not feel disposed to
tell who was there; and in actual fact I could not have explained
what was the matter. Accordingly I left all these inquisitive people
unsatisfied, and busied myself solely with my fallen antagonist.
Quitting him at last in a state of quiescence, I knocked over a person
who had been attacking me in the rear, and then blundered into a
passage, which I suppose to have been the front-hall, just as a light
glimmered up in the rooms behind me. It gives one a very odd sensation
to tread on a prostrate body, not knowing whether it is dead or alive,
whether it is a man or a woman. I had that sensation in ascending a
stairway which seemed to be the only egress from the aforesaid passage.
The individual made no movement, and I did not stop to count his or her
pulses. Without feeling at all disposed to take my oath on the matter, I
rather suspect that a negro servant-girl had fainted away there in the
act of trying to run off in her nightgown. Upstairs I tumbled, resolved
to get upon the roof and slide down the lightning-rod, or else jump from
a window. Pushing open a door, which I fell against, I found myself in
a pretty little bedroom lighted by a single candle, articles of female
costume banging across chairs and scattered over dressing-tables, while
on the floor, just as she had swooned in her terror, lay a blonde girl
of nineteen or twenty, pale as marble, but beautiful. Right through my
alarm jarred a throb of mingled self-reproach and pity and admiration. I
tossed a pile of bedclothes over her, kissed the long light-brown hair
which rippled on the straw matting, daguerreotyped the face on my memory
with a glance, blew out the light, opened a window, and slipped out of
it. It is unpleasant to drop through darkness, not knowing how far you
will fall, nor whether you will not alight on iron pickets. Fortunately,
I came down in a fresh flower-bed, with no unpleasant result, except a
sensation of having nearly bitten my tongue off. I had scarcely steadied
myself on my feet, when a tall figure made a rush from some near
ambuscade and seized me by the collar. Supposing him to be one of our
reserve force, I quietly suffered him to lead me forward, and was on the
point of whispering my name, when my eye caught a glimmer of metal, and
I knew that I was in the hands of a policeman.
"Come in and help," said I. "The house is full of rascals."
Thinking me one of the family, he loosed his hold on my broadcloth and
hurried away to the back-door. Whoever reads this story has already
taken it for granted that I did not follow him, but that I did, on the
contrary, make for the city and never cease travelling until I had
reached the hotel. Let no man reproach me with forsaking my friend, the
Doctor, in his extremity. I was brought up to reverence the law and to
entertain a virtuous terror of policemen; and, besides, what could I
have effected in that horrible labyrinth of dark rooms and multitudinous
furniture? I rang up the porter, went to bed, and lay awake alt the rest
of the night, listening for the return of my companions. No one came:
no Doctor, no Riley, no butcher, no baker, no candlestick-maker. I was
apparently the sole survivor of our little army. In the morning I walked
over to the police-station, peeped cautiously through the grated door of
a long room where the night's gatherings are lodged, and discovered my
five friends, tattered and bruised, but holding a lively Dispensary in
one corner. From that moment I despaired of the Doctor and resolved to
let him manage his own monomania. I was still peeping when two of the
police and a sly-looking man in citizen's dress came up and stared
boldly at the prisoners.
"Well, Old Cock, do you see your game?" asked one of the "force."
"Thaht's him," returned the Old Cock, speaking with the soft drawl of
the New York cockney. "Tall fellah thah with thah black eye, thaht's
a-goin' it now. Thundah, what a roarah!"
"Well, what is he?" inquired the second of the New-Haveners.
"Joseph Hull, 'ligious lunatic," said the Old Cock. "Was in thah
Bloomingdale Asylum. Cut off one night about foah months ago and stole a
suit o' clothes that belonged to John M. Riley, with a lot o' money and
papahs and lettahs in thah pockets. How'd you get hold of him?"
"Broke into a house eout here last night," related the first
New-Havener. "He and them other fellers, and one more that we ha'n't
found. I was on my beat 'bout one o'clock, and see 'em puttin' up
College Street full chisel. I thought they looked kinder dangerous. So I
called Doolittle here, and Jarvis, and Jacobs, and we after 'em. Chased
'em 'bout a mild and treed 'em at Square Russoll's, way up Canal, eout
in the country. Three was in the yard and gin right up without doublin'
a fist, though they had their pockets chuck full o' little pistols. We
locked 'em into the cellar, and then, went upstairs, where there was a
devil of a yellin' and fightin'. Hanged if I know what they come there
for. They'd been pitchin' into one another and knockin' one another's
heads off, besides smashin' furnichy and chimbly crockery, but hadn't
stole a thing. The fat one and the long one--them two with white
chokers--was lyin' on the floor pootty much used up. There was another
that got up-stairs and jumped out a winder. Jarvis was outside and
collared him, but thought he was Russell's son-in-law,--ho, ho, ho!--and
let him off,--ho, ho, ho! Tell ye, Jarvis feels thunderin' small 'bout
it. Ha'n't been reound this mornin'."
"Well, I'll leave my warrant with your big-wigs, and come after my man
when they've got through with him," said the New York detective, turning
Fearing the return of the enlightened Jarvis, I now left, and,
taking the first train to Troubleton, informed some of the leading
Dispensationists concerning their pastor's calamity. By dint of heavy
bail and strong representations they saved him, together with the
butcher and baker and candlestick-maker, from the disgrace of prison and
the lunatic asylum. But the adventure was the ruin of Dispensationism.
Mr. Joseph Hull had to give up Mr. John M. Riley's valuables, and return
to his seclusion at Bloomingdale. Deprived of the apostle who had set
them on fire, and overwhelmed by public ridicule, the Dispensationists
lost their faith, got ashamed of their minister, and turned him adrift.
He disappeared in the great whirl of men and other circumstances which
fills this wonderful country. From time to time, during five years, I
had made inquiries concerning him of mineralogists, botanists, and
other vagrant characters, without getting the smallest hint as to his
whereabouts. At last he had turned up as the private prophet of three
"Jenny," said I to my wife, "do you remember the night I frightened you
so and kissed you as you lay in a fainting-fit?"
"You always say you kissed me, but I don't believe it," returned that
dear woman whom I love, honor, and cherish. "Yes, I remember the night
"Well, that poor Doctor Potter, who was my Mahomet on that occasion,
and led me to victory in your parlor, and was the indirect means of my
getting my houri,--I have heard from him. He is our next neighbor."
"Mercy on us, Frederic! I hope not! What mischief won't he do to people
who are so handy?"
"Don't be worried, my dear," said I. "I sha'n't go over to his religion
again,--unless, indeed, you should insist upon it. But here he is, and
still a supernaturalist. I am anxious to know just how mad he is. I
shall call on him in a day or two."
So I did. One of the three widows met me with a tearful countenance and
told me that Doctor Potter had disappeared. So he had. I think that he
was ashamed to meet me again, and therefore ran away. The widows thought
not. They came to the conclusion, that, like Enoch and Elijah before
him, he had been translated. They cried for him a good deal more than he
was worth, quarreled scandalously among themselves, sold their house at
a loss, and dispersed. I know nothing more of them. Neither do I know
anything further of my neighbor, the prophet.
* * * * *
THE PILOT'S STORY.
It was a story the pilot told, with his back to his hearers,--
Keeping his hand on the wheel and his eye on the globe of the jack-staff,
Holding the boat to the shore and out of the sweep of the current,
Lightly turning aside for the heavy logs of the drift-wood,
Widely shunning the snags that made us sardonic obeisance.
All the soft, damp air was full of delicate perfume
From the young willows in bloom on either bank of the river,--
Faint, delicious fragrance, trancing the indolent senses
In a luxurious dream of the river and land of the lotus.
Not yet out of the west the roses of sunset were withered;
In the deep blue above light clouds of gold and of crimson
Floated in slumber serene, and the restless river beneath them
Rushed away to the sea with a vision of rest in its bosom.
Far on the eastern shore lay dimly the swamps of the cypress;
Dimly before us the islands grew from the river's expanses,--
Beautiful, wood-grown isles,--with the gleam of the swart inundation
Seen through the swaying boughs and slender trunks of their willows;
And on the shore beside its the cotton-trees rose in the evening,
Phantom-like, yearningly, wearily, with the inscrutable sadness
Of the mute races of trees. While hoarsely the steam from her
Shouted, then whispered a moment, then shouted again to the silence,
Trembling through all her frame with the mighty pulse of her engines,
Slowly the boat ascended the swollen and broad Mississippi,
Bank-full, sweeping on, with nearing masses of drift-wood,
Daintily breathed about with hazes of silvery vapor,
Where in his arrowy flight the twittering swallow alighted,
And the belated blackbird paused on the way to its nestlings.
It was the pilot's story:--"They both came aboard there, at Cairo,
From a New Orleans boat, and took passage with us for Saint Louis.
She was a beautiful woman, with just enough blood from her mother,
Darkening her eyes and her hair, to make her race known to a trader:
You would have thought she was white. The man that was with her,--you
Weakly good-natured and kind, and weakly good-natured and vicious,
Slender of body and soul, fit neither for loving nor hating.
I was a youngster then, and only learning the river,--
Not over-fond of the wheel. I used to watch them at _monte_,
Down in the cabin at night, and learned to know all of the gamblers.
So when I saw this weak one staking his money against them,
Betting upon the turn of the cards, I knew what was coming:
_They_ never left their pigeons a single feather to fly with.
Next day I saw them together,--the stranger and one of the gamblers:
Picturesque rascal he was, with long black hair and moustaches,
Black slouch hat drawn down to his eyes from his villanous forehead:
On together they moved, still earnestly talking in whispers,
On toward the forecastle, where sat the woman alone by the gangway.
Roused by the fall of feet, she turned, and, beholding her master,
Greeted him with a smile that was more like a wife's than another's,
Rose to meet him fondly, and then, with the dread apprehension
Always haunting the slave, fell her eye on the face of the gambler,
Dark and lustful and fierce and full of merciless cunning.
Something was spoken so low that I could not hear what the words were;
Only the woman started, and looked from one to the other,
With imploring eyes, bewildered hands, and a tremor
All through her frame: I saw her from where I was standing, she shook so.
'Say! is it so?' she cried. On the weak, white lips of her master
Died a sickly smile, and he said,--'Louise, I have sold you.'
God is my judge! May I never see such a look of despairing,
Desolate anguish, as that which the woman cast on her master,
Griping her breast with her little hands, as if he had stabbed her,
Standing in silence a space, as fixed as the Indian woman,
Carved out of wood, on the pilot-house of the old Pocahontas!
Then, with a gurgling moan, like the sound in the throat of the dying,
Came back her voice, that, rising, fluttered, through wild incoherence,
Into a terrible shriek that stopped my heart while she answered:--
'Sold me? sold me? sold----And you promised to give me my freedom!--
Promised me, for the sake of our little boy in Saint Louis!
What will you say to our boy, when he cries for me there in Saint Louis?
What will you say to our God?--Ah, you have been joking! I see it!--
No? God! God! He shall hear it,--and all of the angels in heaven,--
Even the devils in hell!--and none will believe when they hear it!
Sold me!'--Fell her voice with a thrilling wail, and in silence
Down she sank on the deck, and covered her face with her fingers."
In his story a moment the pilot paused, while we listened
To the salute of a boat, that, rounding the point of an island,
Flamed toward us with fires that seemed to burn from the waters,--
Stately and vast and swift, and borne on the heart of the current.
Then, with the mighty voice of a giant challenged to battle,
Rose the responsive whistle, and all the echoes of island,
Swamp-land, glade, and brake replied with a myriad clamor,
Like wild birds that are suddenly startled from slumber at midnight;
Then were at peace once more, and we heard the harsh cries of the
Perched on a tree by a cabin-door, where the white-headed settler's
White-headed children stood to look at the boat as it passed them,
Passed them so near that we heard their happy talk and their laughter.
Softly the sunset had faded, and now on the eastern horizon
Hung, like a tear in the sky, the beautiful star of the evening.
Still with his back to us standing, the pilot went on with his story:--
"Instantly, all the people, with looks of reproach and compassion,
Flocked round the prostrate woman. The children cried, and their mothers
Hugged them tight to their breasts; but the gambler said to the
'Put me off there at the town that lies round the bend of the river.
Here, you! rise at once, and be ready now to go with me.'
Roughly he seized the woman's arm and strove to uplift her.
She--she seemed not to heed him, but rose like one that is dreaming,
Slid from his grasp, and fleetly mounted the steps of the gangway,
Up to the hurricane-deck, in silence, without lamentation.
Straight to the stern of the boat, where the wheel was, she ran, and
Followed her fast till she turned and stood at bay for a moment,
Looking them in the face, and in the face of the gambler.
Not one to save her,--not one of all the compassionate people!
Not one to save her, of all the pitying angels in heaven!
Not one bolt of God to strike him dead there before her!
Wildly she waved him back, we waiting in silence and horror.
Over the swarthy face of the gambler a pallor of passion
Passed, like a gleam of lightning over the west in the night-time.
White, she stood, and mute, till he put forth his hand to secure her;
Then she turned and leaped,--in mid air fluttered a moment,--
Down, there, whirling, fell, like a broken-winged bird from a tree-top,
Down on the cruel wheel, that caught her, and hurled her, and
And in the foaming water plunged her, and hid her forever."
Still with his back to us all the pilot stood, but we heard him
Swallowing hard, as he pulled the bell-rope to stop her. Then, turning,--
"This is the place where it happened," brokenly whispered the pilot.
"Somehow, I never like to go by here alone in the night-time."
Darkly the Mississippi flowed by the town that lay in the starlight,
Cheerful with lamps. Below we could hear them reversing the engines,
And the great boat glided up to the shore like a giant exhausted.
Heavily sighed her pipes. Broad over the swamps to the eastward
Shone the full moon, and turned our far-trembling wake into silver.
All was serene and calm, but the odorous breath of the willows
Smote like the subtile breath of an infinite sorrow upon us.
A DAY WITH THE DEAD.
"Good morning!" said the old custodian, as he stood in the door of the
lodge, brushing out with his knuckles the cobwebs of sleep entangled in
his eyelashes, and ventilating the apartments of his fleshly tabernacle
with prolonged oscitations. "You are on hand early _this_ time, a'n't
you? You're the first live man I've seen since I got up."
So saying, he vanished, and reappearing in a moment with a huge brass
key, entered the arch, unlocked the gate which closed the aperture
fronting the east like the cover of a porthole, and sent it with a heavy
push wide open.
Wading through the flood of sunlight which poured into the
passage-way----But stop! I was about,--who knows?--in imitation of
divers admired models, to tell the reader in choicest poetic diction how
the City of the Dead, with its magnificent streets, shining palaces, and
lofty monuments, burst upon my dazzled vision,--how I walked for half a
mile along a spacious avenue, beneath an arcade of giant elms hung with
wreaths of mist and vocal with singing, feathery fruit,--past marble
tombs whose yards were filled with bright and fragrant flowers,--
among waving grassy knolls spread with the silver nets of spiders and
sparkling dew,--through vales of cool twilight and ravines of sombre
dusk,--and so on for more than a page, until finally, step by step,
through laboriously elegant sentences, I worked my way up to the top
of a lofty hill, the view from which to be graphically described as a
picture and a poem dissolved together into mingled glory and mirage, and
inundating with a billowy sea of beauty the landscape below;--and then
further depicting to the delighted fancy of the reader, how on one
side was a most remarkable river,--such as was never heard of before,
probably,--in fact, a web of water framed between the hills, its rushing
warp-currents, as it rolled along, woven by smoking steam-shuttles with
a woof of foam,--how, at the entrance of a bay, flocks of snowy sails,
with black, shining beaks, and sleek, unruffled plumage, were swimming
out to sea,--how another river, not quite so unique as the last, was
also in sight, coiling among emerald steeps and crags and precipices
and forest,--while beyond, green woodlands, checkered fields, groves,
orchards, villages, hills, farms, and villas, all glowed in an
exceedingly charming manner in the morning sun;--and then, still
further, to say something as brilliant as possible about a certain
city, designated as the Great Metropolis,--how it resembled, perhaps,
a Cyclopean type-form, with blocks of buildings for letters, domes,
turrets, and towers for punctuation-points, church-spires for
interrogation and exclamation marks, and squares and avenues for
division-spaces between the paragraphs, set up and leaded with
streets into a vast editorial page of original matter on Commerce and
Manufactures, rolled every morning with the ink of toil, and printing
before night an edition of results circulated to the remotest quarters
of the globe. And the tall chimneys yonder were to be called--let me
see--oh, the smoking cathedral-towers of the Holy Catholic Church of
Labor, islanding the air with clouds of incense more grateful to the
Deity than the fume of priest-swung censers. All this, and much more of
a similar nature, including an eloquent address to the ocean hard by,
it is possible I was about to say. But, unwilling to smother the reader
beneath a mountain of rhetorical flowers,--which accident might happen,
should I resolve to be "equal to the occasion,"--I shall contain myself,
and state, in the way of a curt preface, in plain prose, and directly to
the point, that I entered a remarkably large and populous cemetery,
no matter where, very early one morning,--in fact, you have the
gate-keeper's word for it that I was the first person there,--that I
climbed to the summit of a high hill and enjoyed the view of a beautiful
landscape, just after sunrise; and with this finally said and done, let
As I stood listening to the music of the sea-breeze in the pine-forests
below, and watching the ships sinking into the ocean from view or
dropping through the sky into sight at the rim of the horizon, and the
clouds changing their picturesque sunrise-dress for a uniform of sober
white, forming into rank and file, marching and countermarching, sending
off scouts into the far distance and foraging-parties to scour the
yellow fields of air, pitching their tents and placing sentinels on
guard around the camp,--amusing myself with fashioning quaint, arabesque
fancies,--a sort of intellectual whittling-habit I have when idle,--I
was roused from my reverie by the creaking of an iron gate.
Descending a few steps into a cluster of trees, I saw through their
leafy lattice-work, in an inclosure ornamented with rose-bushes and
other flowering shrubs, a young woman, richly dressed in black, kneeling
by the side of a new-made grave. The mound, evidently covering a
full-grown person, was nicely laid at the top with carefully cut sods,
the dark edges of which projected a little over the lighter-colored
gravel that sloped gradually down to the greensward. I was not long in
becoming satisfied that the person I saw was a young widow at the grave
of her husband, now three or four weeks dead, hither on her accustomed
morning visit to display her love and affection for his memory.
Bowing her head, for a few moments she gave way to sobs and weeping, and
then, removing the cover from a little willow basket, which stood by her
side, she took from it handfuls of bright flowers, and began to adorn
the table of sods upon the top of the mound.
As I regard her thus employed, weaving the tokens of her affection into
garlands, chaplets, and fanciful devices, arranging their symbolic
characters into interpretable monograms and hieroglyphs, matching their
colors and blending their hues and shades with the skill of an artist,
she becomes more and more absorbed in her work, the tears disappear from
her eyes, and the morning light flushes her pale and beautiful face. Is
she thinking now, I wonder, of the dead husband, or of something else?
What has she found among the flowers so consoling? Do they suggest
pleasant fancies, or recall the memories of happy days? Have they,
perhaps, a double meaning,--souvenirs of felicity as well as symbols
of sorrow? Are they opiates obliterating actual suffering, or prophets
uttering hopeful predictions? Or is it none of these things, and does
she find her work pleasant only because duty makes its performance
cheerful labor? I cannot say _what_ it is, but _something_ has assuaged
her grief; for I see her smiling now, as she holds a rosebud in her
fingers, and gazes at it abstractedly; and her thoughts and feelings,
whatever they may be, are indubitably not of a mournful character;--in
fact, I am sure that she never was happier in her life than she is at
"Happy, do you say?"
Yes, I say happy.
The nature of woman, it is conceded by all men, is a curious,
interesting, and perplexing, if not, in respect of positive practical
results, a most unsatisfactory study. But nothing puzzles us so much
to comprehend as the fact just alluded to. The tenderest female
constitution will sustain a burden of grief which would crush a robust
and iron-nerved man, and drive him to despair and suicide. A woman
rarely succumbs to a calamity; however sudden and overwhelming the
initial shock may be, she revives and grows cheerful and happy under it
in a way and to a degree marvellous to behold. What singular secret is
there among the psychological mysteries of her nature which is able to
account for this phenomenon?--A gentle, timid girl of sixteen, whom the
sight of a spider or a live snake would have frightened into hysterics,
I had once an opportunity, on a tour through Italy, to observe, while
she took little or no notice of other works of art, would gaze, as if
fascinated, at the writhings of Laocooen and his sons in the folds and
fangs of the serpents, at the sculptured death of the Gladiator, and
even at the ghastly, repulsive pictures of martyrdoms and barbaric
mutilations and tortures,--the hideous monstrosities of a diseased and
degraded imagination found in the churches and convents of Rome, which
made others turn their backs with a shivering of the bones and a
creeping of the flesh. On expressing surprise at such a singular
exhibition of taste, I received this innocent, unpremeditated
reply:--"Why, I don't like them; the sight of them almost freezes my
blood; but--somehow I do like to look at them, _for I always feel better
after it_!" Now is there not involved in this artless answer a possible
explanation of the above-mentioned fact? Has not woman, hidden somewhere
among her other (of course angelic)--affections, a positive _love_ of
sickness, death, sorrow, and suffering, which man does not possess? Is
not the pain they cause, in her case, qualified by actual pleasure?
Do they not act as a stimulus upon her sensitive nervous system, and
produce, somehow, a _delightfully intoxicated state of the feelings_?
Would not this explain her otherwise unaccountable fondness for
witnessing the execution of murderers, for the horrible in novels
and the deaths and catastrophes in the newspapers, that she has a
constitutional relish for such horrid things, and that she enjoys them,
not because they are _in se_ productive of pleasure, but just, as is the
case with her "crying," _because she feels better after it_? And I think
it would be found, if an investigation of the subject were instituted,
that a foreknowledge of this inevitable result, derived from intuition
or experience, is the agent which breaks up the clouds of her sorrow:
so that, while the grief of a man stricken down by misfortune is an
equinoctial storm, dark and dismal, which lasts for weeks and months,
the grief of woman is a succession of refreshing April showers, each of
brief duration, and the spaces between them filled with sunshine and
But the sweets of that widow's present sorrow will be soon extracted.
How many weeks will she find it a pleasure to make morning visits here
and plait pretty flowers on the grave of her husband?--The grave in the
next inclosure furnishes an answer to the question. A few months ago,
it, too, was tended at sunrise by just such a tearful woman; but now the
wreaths of evergreen are yellow, and the weeds are springing up among
the withered garlands. The living partner has visited already the
"mitigated grief" department of the mourning store, and the severed
cords of her affections have been spliced and made almost as good as
new. Not that I would not have it so; not that I believe the grief of
woman to be less real and sincere than man's, though it _be_ enjoyed;
not that I would have her thrum a long mournful threnody on the
harpstrings of her heart, and waste on the dead, who need them not,
affections which, Heaven knows, the living need too much.
Retracing my steps, and descending the opposite slope of the hill, I
entered a beautiful vale covered with stately tombs and containing a
little lake, in the middle of which a fountain was springing high into
the air. In a spot so much frequented at a later hour of the day only a
single human being was in sight,--a young man, perhaps five-and-twenty
years of age, jauntily dressed, and his upper lip adorned with a long
moustache, who was leaning lazily upon a marble balustrade, and staring,
with a stupid, vacant look, at the massive monument it surrounded. As
nothing appeared at the moment more attractive to my eyes, I fixed them
upon him. No great skill in deciphering human character is required to
tell his past or foretell his future history, or even to read the few
poor spent thoughts that flicker in his brain. His father--some city
merchant--died last year, and left him a man of leisure, with a fortune
on his hands to spend in idleness and dissipation. This is the first
anniversary of the old gentleman's decease and departure to another and
better world, and the hopeful heir of his bank-stock and buildings has,
as a matter of etiquette, come out here from the city this morning to
pass an hour of solemn meditation--as he calls the sixty minutes in
which he does not smoke or swear--by the old man's grave. I observe him
every moment forming a firm resolution to fix his feeble thoughts upon
sober things and his latter end, and breaking it the second afterwards:
the effort is too much for the exhausted condition of his mind, and
results in a total failure. He is evidently well pleased that any
attention is directed towards him, and fancies that I regard him as a
very dutiful son, and his appearance here, so early in the morning
and long before breakfast, a remarkable example of posthumous filial
affection. To intensify, if possible, this sentiment in my breast, he
has just now pulled out a white cambric handkerchief and pretends to be
wiping tears from his eyes. Poor fellow! you have no natural talent for
the solemn parts in acting, or you would know that the expression
which your face now wears is not that of sorrow, solemnity, meekness,
gentleness, humility, or any other sober Christian grace or virtue. But
I leave you, for I see something more attractive now. Stand thy hour
out, young man! we shall meet again.
"In the other world?"
No: to-morrow evening, as I am taking my accustomed walk into the
country, I shall be wellnigh run over by a swiftly driven team; I shall
spring suddenly aside, when thou wilt pass, O bogus son of Jehu, with
thy dog-cart and two-forty span of bays, dashing down the road, thy
thoughts fixed on horse-flesh instead of eternity, and thy soul bounded,
north by thy cigar, east and west by the wheels thy vehicle, and south
by the dumb beasts that drag thee along.
But, not to introduce the reader to more solemn scenes of affliction and
sorrow which are witnessed here during the first vigil of the day, we
pass to a later hour. The mourners who come hither in the early morning
to decorate the graves of the recent dead, and to weep over them
undisturbed by visitors, have now departed. The sun is already high, the
dew has disappeared from the trees and the shrubs, and the paths and
walks and avenues begin to be thronged with loungers and sight-seers
from the city.
I had stopped at the forks of a lane and was hesitating which branch
to take and what to do with myself, when a tall and beautiful Willow,
standing upon a knoll a few rods distant, with thick drooping boughs
sweeping the ground on every side, beckoned to me. On approaching him,
he extended a branch, shook me cordially by the hand, and invited me
to accept the shelter and hospitality of his roof. The proposal so
generously made was at once accepted with profuse thanks, and, parting
the boughs, I entered the tent and threw myself upon the soft grass.
Do you ever talk with trees? It is a custom of mine, and I usually find
their conversation much more entertaining and profitable than that of
most men I know. "Good morning!" I say to an acquaintance. "Fine day,"
he replies; "how's business?" And so on for an hour, over themes of
every nature, the current of conversation rippled with trite truisms,
and whirling in the surface-eddies of Tupper's "Proverbial Philosophy."
But the tree takes the whole of the Tupperian philosophy for granted at
the start, and the truisms which most men utter, and takes _you_ for
granted likewise,--supposing neither half of your eyeballs blind,
and that you have a soul as well as a body,--and enters at once into
conversation upon the high table-land of science, reason, and poetry.
The entire talk of a fashionable tea-party, strained from its lees of
scandal, filtered through a sober reflection of the following morning,
is not equal in value to the quivering of a single leaf. A tree will
discourse with you upon botany, physiology, music, painting, philosophy,
and a dozen arts and sciences besides, none of which it simply chats
about, but all of which it _is_: and if you do not understand its
language and comprehend what it tells you about them, so much the worse
for you; it is not the fault of the tree.
I say, I talk with trees for this reason,--because their wisdom is so
much greater than that of my ordinary acquaintances,--and further,
(to put the major after the minor premise,) because they are virtually
living beings, endowed with instinct, feeling, reason, and display every
essential attribute of sentient creatures,--in fact, because they have
souls as well as men, only they are clothed in vegetable flesh.
"That is transcendental moonshine, and you don't believe a word of it!"
Well, my friend, allow me, then, to tell you, in all charity and with
bowels of compassion, that you hold dangerous and fatal views respecting
one of the cardinal doctrines of mythology,--yes, to be plain, you are a
Joveless infidel, and in fearful danger of being locked out of Elysium;
and I shall offer up a smoking sacrifice, the next time I get a sirloin,
and pour out a solemn libation, in the presence of my whole family
seated around the domestic altar early in the morning, for your speedy
Know, then, O obtuse, faithless, and perverse skeptic, that these
things are so: that ocular and auricular evidence, indubitable and
overwhelming, exists, that the arboreal and human natures are in
substance one. Know that once on a time, as Daphne, the lovely daughter
of Peneus, was amusing herself with a bow and arrows in a forest of
Thessaly, she was surprised by a rude musician named Phoebus. Timid and
bashful, as most young ladies are, she turned and fled as fast as her
[Greek: skelae] could carry her. After running, closely pursued by the
eager Delphian, for several miles, and becoming very much fatigued, she
felt inclined to yield: but wishing to faint in a reputable manner, she
lifted up her hands and asked the gods to help her. Her call was heard
in a jiffy, and quicker than you could say, "Presto: change!" she was a
Laurel-tree, which Phoebus married on the spot. This was the Eve of the
Laurel family, so that all these trees you meet in the world at present
must be rational beings, since they are the descendants of the beautiful
Greek maiden Daphne. And to satisfy you that this is no foolish legend,
but, on the contrary, a well-authenticated fact, clinched and riveted
in the boiler-head of historical truth, permit me to assure you,--for I
have seen it myself,--that in the Villa Borghese, near Rome in Italy,
is an exact representation of the wonderful incident, cut in Carrara
marble,--the bark of the Laurel growing over the vanishing girl, and her
hands and fingers sprouting into branches and leaves,--supposed to
have been copied from a photograph taken on the spot,--for there is a
photograph in existence exactly like the marble statue.
We know positively--for we have an equally minute account of the
transaction--that the Cypress originated in a similar way. And is it
not reasonable to infer, therefore, though we may not find the facts
stated in _every_ case, that all trees were created out of men and
women, their bodies being miraculously clothed in woody tissue? In the
time of Virgil this was certainly the established orthodox belief; for
he relates an anecdote, expressing no doubt whatever of its truth, of a
party of travellers who commenced one day in a forest the indiscriminate
destruction of some young trees, when their roots forthwith began
to bleed, and voices proceeded from them, begging to be spared from
laceration. And, in fact, hundreds of instances, similarly weighty as
evidence, from equally veracious and trustworthy classic authors, might
be cited to the point, did time and space permit. But we hasten to the
other proof of their essential humanity, which I set out with assuming
as an undoubted fact, and which is already foreshadowed in the adventure
of the Trojan wanderers just related,--namely, that they possess the
faculty of speech.
Tasso, the author of a well-known metrical history, states distinctly,
as you shall see in half a moment, that a tree upon one occasion
discoursed with Major General Tancred,--
"Pur tragge alfin la spada e con gran forza
Percuote l' alta pianta. Oh, maraviglia!
----quasi di tomba, uscir ne sente
Un indistinto gemito dolente,
Che poi _distinto in voci_."
And then it goes on to tell the General how it once rejoiced in
extensive hoops, wore a coal-scuttle on its head, and rubbed its face
with prepared chalk,--(w-w-w-hy! what _was_ I saying? such a mistake! I
should say)--was a woman by the name of Clorinda, and is still animated
and sentient both in trunk and limbs, and that he will presently be
guilty of murder, if he continues to hack her with his sword.
The celebrated explorer, Sir John Mandeville, relates in the history
of his discoveries that he heard whole groves of trees talking _to one
another_. And when we come down to the present day, R.W. Emerson, of
Concord, asseverates that trees have conversed with him,--that they
speak Italian, English, German, Basque, Castilian, and several other
"Mountain speech to Highlanders,
Ocean tongues to islanders,"--
and that he himself was on one occasion transformed into a Pine (_Pinus
rigida_) and talked quite a large volume of philosophy while in that
condition. Walter Whitman, Esq., author of "Leaves of Grass," relates
similar personal experience. Tennyson, (Alfred,) now the Laureate of
England, and upon whom the University of Oxford, a few years ago,
conferred the title of Doctor of Laws, gives us a long conversation he
once held with an Oak, reporting the exact words it said to him: they
are excellent English, and corroborate what I said above respecting the
wisdom of trees.
If all this evidence, and I might add much more equally conclusive, did
I think it necessary, does not, O skeptic, convince you of the humanity
of trees, why, let me say that you hold for true a hundred things not
based upon half so good testimony as this,--that I have seen juries
persuaded of facts, and bring in verdicts in accordance with them, not
nearly so well authenticated as these,--and that I have heard clergymen
preach sermons two hours long, constructed out of arguments which they
positively persisted you should regard as decisive, that were, to say
the least, no _better_ than those here advanced. And now, if these
things be so, in the words of the great Grecian, John P., _what are you
going to do about it_?
Trees, like animals, are righteously sacrificed only when required to
supply our wants. A man does not go out into the fields and mutilate or
destroy his horses and oxen: let him treat the oaks and the elms with
the same humanity. I would that enough of the old mythology to which I
have alluded, and which our fathers called religion, still lived among
us to awaken a virtuous indignation in our breasts when we witnessed the
wanton destruction of trees. I once remonstrated with a cruel wretch
whom I saw engaged in taking the life of some beautiful elms inhabiting
a piece of pasture-land. He replied, that in the hot days of summer the
cattle did nothing but lie under them and chew their cud, when they
should be at work feeding on the grass,--that his oxen did not get fat
fast enough, nor his cows give as much milk as they should give,--"and
so," said he, "I'm goin' to fix 'em,"--and down came every one of the
hospitable old trees. We are not half so humane in our conduct towards
the inferior races and tribes as the old Romans whom we calumniate with
the epithet of Pagans. The Roman Senate degraded one of its members for
putting to death a bird that had taken refuge in his bosom: would not
the Senate of the United States "look pretty," undertaking such a thing?
A complete Christian believes not only in the dogmas of the Bible, but
_also_ in the mythology, or religion of Nature, which teaches us, no
less than it taught our fathers, to regard wanton cruelty towards any
vegetable or animal creature which lives in the breath and smile of the
Creator, as a sin against Heaven.
Having in the above paragraph got into the parson's private preserve,
as I shall be liable anyhow to an action for trespass, I am tempted to
commit the additional transgression of poaching, and to give you a
few extracts from a _sermon_ a friend of mine once delivered. [It was
addressed to a small congregation of Monothelites in a village "out
West," just after the annual spring freshet, when half the inhabitants
of the place were down with the chills and fever. It was his maiden
effort,--he having just left the Seminary,--and did not "take" at
all, as he learned the next day, when Deacon Jenners (the pious
philanthropist of the place) called to tell him that his style of
preaching "would never do," that his thoughts were altogether of too
worldly a nature, and his language, decidedly unfit for the sacred
"desk." Besides,--though he would not assume the responsibility
of deciding that point before he had consulted with the Standing
Committee,--he did not think his sentiments exactly orthodox. My friend
was disgusted on the spot, and, being seized with a chill shortly
afterwards, concluded not to accept the "call," and, packing his
trunk, started in quest of a healthier locality and a more enlightened
"And here permit me to add a word or two for the purpose of correcting a
very prevalent error.
"Most men, I find, suppose that this earth belongs to them,--to the
human race alone. It does not,--no more than the United States belong to
Rhode Island. Human life is not a ten-thousand-millionth of the life on
the planet, nor the race of men more than an infinitesimal fraction of
the creatures which it nourishes. A swarm of summer flies on a field of
clover, or the grasshoppers in a patch of stubble, outnumber the men
that have lived since Adam. And yet we assume the dignity of lords and
masters of the globe! Is not this a flagrant delusion of self-conceit?
Let a pack of hungry wolves surround you here in the forest, and who is
master? Let a cloud of locusts descend upon a hundred square miles
of this territory, and what means do you possess to arrest their
"As a matter of _fact_, then, we do not own the world. And now let
me say, that, as a matter of _right_, we ought not: man was the last
created of creatures. When our race appeared on the earth, it had been
for millions of years in quiet, exclusive, undisputed possession of the
birds, beasts, fishes, and insects: it was _their_ world then, and we
were intruders and trespassers upon their domain....
"If, then, the other races have a right to exist on the planet as much
as we, what follows? Surely, that they have a right to their share and
proportion of the ground and its fruits, and the blessings of Heaven by
which life here is sustained: man has no right to expect a monopoly of
them. If we get a week of sunshine which supplies our wants, we have no
reason to complain of the succeeding week of rain which supplies the
wants of other races. If we raise a crop of wheat, and the insect
foragers take tithes of it, we have no right to find fault: a share of
it belongs to them. If you plant a field with corn, and the weeds spring
up also along with it, why do you complain? Have not the weeds as much
right there as the corn? If you encamp in one of the numberless swamps
which surround this settlement, and get assailed by countless millions
of robust mosquitoes, why do you rave and swear (as I know most of you
would do under such circumstances) and want to know 'what in the ----
mosquitoes were made for'? Why, to puncture the skin of blockheads and
blasphemers like you, and suck the last drop of blood from their veins.
Why, let me ask you, did you go out there? That place belonged to the
mosquitoes, not to you; and you knew you were trespassing upon their
land. The mosquitoes exist for themselves, and were created for the
enjoyment of their own mosquito-life. Why was _man_ created? The Bible
does not answer the question directly; the divines in the Catechism say,
'To glorify God.' Now I should like to know if a Westminster Catechism
of the mosquitoes would'nt make as good an answer for them?
"And here I am just in the act of annihilating with a logical stroke
a multitude of grumblers and croakers. If this world does not belong
exclusively to man, and the other races have as much right here as he,
and, consequently, a claim to their proportion of land, water, and sky,
and their share of food for the sustenance of life, what follows?
"A great many men, taking northeast storms, bleak winds,
thunder-showers, flies, mosquitoes, Canada thistles, hot sunshine, cold
snows, weeds, briers, thorns, wild beasts, snakes, alligators, and such
like things, which they don't happen to like, and putting them all
together, attempt to persuade you that this green earth is a complete
failure, a wreck and blasted ruin. Don't you believe that, for it's
wicked infidelity. I tell you the world is not all so bad as Indiana,
and especially that part of the State which you, unfortunately, inhabit.
I have seen, my friends, a large portion of the planet, and if there is
another spot anywhere quite so infernal as Wabashville, why, I solemnly
assure you I never found it.--And now for the point which shall prick
your conscience and penetrate your understanding! Do the bears and
wolves, the coons and foxes, the owls and wild-geese, find this region
unhealthy, and get the chills and fever, and go around grumbling and
cursing? Don't they find this climate especially salubrious and suited
exactly to their constitutions? Well, then, that's because they belong
here, _and you don't_. This region was never intended for the habitation
of man: it belongs exclusively to the wild beasts and the fowls of the
air, and you have no business here. [Manifest signs of disapprobation
on part of Deacon Taylor, an extensive owner of town-lots.] And if you
persist in remaining here, what moral right have you to complain of
"Remember, then, in conclusion, that, for millions of years before our
race existed, mosquitoes, weeds, briers, thorns, thistles, snow-storms,
and northeast winds prevailed upon this planet, and that during all this
time it was pronounced by the Deity himself to be '_very good_.' If,
then, the earth appears to be evil, is it not because 'thine eye is
evil'? We share this world, my friends, with other races, whose wants
are different from ours; and we are all of equal importance in the eyes
of our Maker, who distributes to each its share of blessings--man and
monster both alike--with impartial favor. Is not thus the fallacy of the
corruption of Nature exposed, and the lie against our Creator's wisdom,
love, and goodness dragged into noonday light?"
* * * * *
But it is time to recommence our rambles through the City of the Dead.
Right here I come across on a tombstone,--"All our children. Emma, aged
1 mo. 23 days. John, 3 years 5 days. Anna, aged 1 year 1 mo." As a
physiologist, I might make some very instructive comments upon this; but
And here, upon another, a few rods farther on, is an epitaph in verse:--
"Calm be her slumbers near kindred are sighing,
A husband deplores in deep anguish of heart,
Beneath the cold earth _unconsciously lying_,
No murmur can reach her, no tempest can start."
"Calm be her sleep as the silence of even
When hearts unto deep invocation give birth.
With a prayer she has _knelt at the portal of heaven_
And found the admission she hoped for on earth_."
Not to speak of the "poetry" just here, how charmingly consistent with
each other are the ideas contained in the passages I have italicized! In
the first verse, you observe, the inmate is sleeping unconscious beneath
the ground: in the second verse, she has ascended to heaven and
found admittance to mansions in the skies!--A similar confusion and
contradiction of ideas occur in most of the epitaphs I see. Does our
theology furnish us with no clear conception of the state of the soul
after death? The Catholic Church teaches that the spirit at death
descends into the interior of the earth to a place called Hades, where
it is detained until the day of judgment, when it is reunited with the
dust of the body, and ascends to a heaven in the sky. This doctrine
has the merit of being positive, clear, and comprehensible, and,
consequently, whenever expressed, it always means something exact and
well-defined. Has the Protestant Church equally definite notions on the
subject, or, in fact, any fixed opinions respecting it whatever? If not,
why, as a matter of good taste, for no weightier reason, in records
almost imperishable like these, leave the matter alone! Silence
is better than nonsense. Suppose a few thousand years hence our
civilization to have become extinct, and that some antiquary from the
antipodes should visit this desolate hill to excavate, like Layard at
Nineveh, for relics of the old Americans. Suppose, having collected a
ship-load of broken tombstones, he should forward them to the Polynesian
Museum, and set the _savans_ of the age at work deciphering their
inscriptions, what sense would be made out of these epitaphs? How would
they interpret our notions of a future state? Taking our own monuments,
cut with our own hands, inscribed with our own signs-manual, what would
they infer our system of religion to have been? If the Egyptians were as
vague and careless as we in this matter, our archaeologists must have
made some amusing blunders.
Here are two epitaphs which suggest something else:--
"I loved him in his beauty,
A _mother_ boy while here,
I knew he was an angel bright
Formed for another sphere."
"Farewell my wife and children dear
God calls you home to rest.
Still Angels _wisper_ in my ear
We'll meet in heavenly bliss."
I want to make two annotations upon these. In No. 1 you will notice that
a possessive _'s_ is wanting, and in No. 2 that the _h_ is omitted from
_whisper_. A marble-cutter told me once, that a Pennsylvania Dutchman
came to him one day to have an inscription cut upon a gravestone for his
daughter, whose name was Fanny. The father, upon learning that the price
of the inscription would be ten cents a letter, insisted that Fanny
should be spelt with one _n_, as he should thereby save a dime! The
marble-cutter, unable to overcome the obstinacy of the frugal Teuton,
and unwilling to set up such a monument of his ignorance of spelling,
compromised the matter by conforming to the current orthography, and
inserted the superfluous consonant for nothing. And my second annotation
shall consist of an inquiry: What is there in corrupt and diseased human
nature which makes persons prefer such execrable rhyme as that quoted
above, and that which I find upon two-thirds of the tombstones here, to
decent English prose, which one would suppose might have been produced
at a much less expenditure of intellectual effort? But since it is an
unquestionable fact that we are thus totally depraved in taste and
feeling, why don't some of our bards, to whom the Muse has not been
propitious in other departments of metrical composition, and who, to be
blunt, are good for nothing else, such as ----, or ----, and many
others you know, come out here among the marble-cutters and open an
_epitaph-shop_? Mournful stanzas might then be procured of every size
and pattern, composed with decent reverence for the rules of grammar,
respect for the feet and limbs of the linear members, and possibly some
regard for consistency in the ideas they might chance occasionally to
express. Genin the hatter, and Cockroach Lyon, each keeps a poet. Why
cannot the marble-cutters procure some of the Heliconian fraternity as
partners? Bards would thus serve the cause of education, benefit future
antiquaries, and earn more hard dimes ten times over than they do in
writing lines for the blank corners of newspapers and the waste spaces
between articles in magazines. I throw this hint out of the window of
the "Atlantic," in the fervent hope that it will be seen, picked up,
and pocketed by some reformer who is now out of business; and I would
earnestly urge such individual to agitate the question with all his
might, and wake up the community to the vital importance, by making use
of "poetic fire" and "inspired frenzy" now going to waste, or some other
instrumentality, of a reformation in epitaphic necrology.
Seriously, modern epitaphs are a burlesque upon religion, a caricature
of all things holy, divine, and beautiful, and an outrage upon the
common sense and culture of the community. A collection of comic
churchyard poetry might be made in this place which would eclipse the
productions of Mr. K.N. Pepper, and cause a greater "army of readers to
explode" than his "Noad to a Whealbarrer" or the "Grek Slaiv" has done.
* * * * *
During our rambles among the tombstones the sun has long since passed
the meridian, and the streets and avenues of the cemetery are crowded
with carriages and thronged with pedestrians, the tramping of horses'
feet, the rumbling of wheels, and the voices of men fill the air, and
the place which was so silent and deserted this morning is now as noisy
and bustling as the metropolis yonder. And soon begin to arrive thick
and fast the funeral trains. Many of the black-plumed hearses are
followed by only a single hired coach or omnibus, others by long trails
of splendid equipages. Upon the broad slope of a hill, whither the
greater number of the processions move, entirely destitute of trees
and flooded with sunshine, many thousand graves, mostly unmarked by
headstones, lie close together, resembling in appearance a corn-field
which has been permitted to run to grass unploughed. Standing upon an
elevated point near the summit, and looking down those acres of hillocks
to where the busy laborers are engaged in putting bodies into the
ground, covering them with earth, and rounding the soil over them, one
is perhaps struck for the first time with the full force, meaning,
and beauty of the language of Paul in his first letter to the
Corinthians:--"That which thou sowest is not that body which shall be,
but bare grain. It [the human body] is sown in corruption, is sown in
dishonor, is sown in weakness. It is sown a natural body; it is raised
[or springs up, to complete the figure] a spiritual body. Flesh
and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven."--I once heard a
distinguished botanist dispute the accuracy of this simile, inasmuch, he
said, as the seed, when it is sown in the ground, does not _die_, but in
fact then first begins to _live_ and to display the vital force which
was previously asleep in it; while the human body decays and is resolved
into its primitive gaseous, mineral, and vegetable elements, the
particles of which, disseminated everywhere, and transferred through
chemical affinities into other and new organisms, lose all traces of
their former connection.--In answer to such a finical criticism as this,
intended to invalidate the authority of the great Apostolic Theologian,
I replied, that Paul was not an inspired _botanist_,--in fact, that
he probably knew nothing whatever about botany as a science,--but an
inspired religious teacher, who employed the language of his people and
the measure of knowledge to which his age had attained, to expound to
his contemporaries the principles of his Master's religion. I am not
familiar with the nicer points of strict theological orthodoxy, but,
from modern sermons and commentaries, I should infer that few doctors
of even the most straitest school of divinity hold to the doctrine of
verbal inspiration. That the Prophets and Apostles were acquainted with
botany, chemistry, geology, or any other modern science, is a notion
as unfounded in truth as it is hostile and foreign to the object and
purpose of Revelation, which is strictly confined to religion and
ethics. Those persons, therefore, (and they are a numerous class,) who
resort to the Bible, assuming that it professes to be an inspired manual
of universal knowledge, and then, because they find in its figurative
Oriental phraseology, or in its metaphors and illustrations, some
inaccuracies of expression or misstatements of scientific facts, would
throw discredit upon the essential religious dogmas and doctrines which
it is its object to state and unfold, are, to say the least, extremely
disingenuous, if not deficient in understanding.
But a much more prolific source of injury to the character of the Bible
than that just mentioned is the injudicious and impertinent labors of
many who volunteer in its defence. "Oh, save me from my friends!" might
the Prophets and Apostles, each and all, too often exclaim of their
supporters.--It is said that all men are insane upon some point: so are
classes and communities. The popular monomania which at present prevails
among a class of persons whose zeal surpasses their prudence and
knowledge is a foolish fear and trembling lest the tendencies of science
should result in the overthrow of the Bible. They seem, somehow, to be
fully persuaded that the inspired word of God has no inherent power to
stand alone,--that it has fallen among thieves and robbers,--is being
pelted with fossil coprolites, suffocated with fire-mist and primitive
gases, or beaten over the head with the shank-bones of Silurian
monsters, and is bawling aloud for assistance. Therefore, not stopping
to dress, they dash out into the public notice without hat or coat, in
such unclothed intellectual condition as they happen to be in,--in their
shirt, or stark naked often,--and rush frantically to its aid.
The most melancholy case of this intellectual _delirium tremens_
that probably ever came under the notice of any reader is found in a
professed apology for the Scriptures, recently published, under
the pompous and bombastic title of "COSMOGONY, OR THE MYSTERIES OF
CREATION."--A volume of such puerile trash, such rubbish, twaddle,
balderdash, and crazy drivelling[A] as this, was never before vomited
from the press of any land, and beside it the "REVELATIONS" of Andrew
Jackson Davis, the "Poughkeepsie Seer," rises to the lofty grandeur of
the "Novum Organon,"--a sight that makes one who really respects the
Bible hang his head for shame.
[Footnote A: As the reader may never have seen this unique volume, and
will be amused by a specimen of its grammar, rhetoric, wisdom, and
learning, let him take a _morceau_ or two from the commencement of
a chapter entitled, "_Naturalists.--Their Classification of Man and
Beasts_."--"We look upon the animal in no different light from that of
a vegetable, a plant, or a rock-crystal, which forms under the Creative
hand, performs its part for the use of man, dissolves and reproduces by
its parts another comfort for him. The animal bears _no resemblance_ to
man, not even in his brain."--"One tree may bear apples, and another
acorns, but they are not to be compared, the one as bearing a relation
to the other, because they have each a body and limbs. They are distinct
trees, and one will always produce apples and the other acorns, as long
as they produce anything." (Indeed!)--"The usual classification of
animals, is that of Vertebrata, Articulata, Mollusca, and Radiata.
This is not only offensive to man,--_but is impiety towards God_."
(Why?)--"We are told by these naturalists that man belongs to the class
called 'Vertebrata.' So does the snake, the monkey, the lizard and
crocodile, and many other low and mean animals.--Have these creatures
the reasoning faculties of man? Do they walk erect like man? Have they
feet, hands, legs, arms, _hair upon their heads, or beards upon their
faces_? Do they speak languages and _congregate and worship at the
altar_?" (!!)--"Those who are ambitious of such relations, may plant
their heraldic coat-of-arms in the serpent, the lizard, the crocodile,
or the monkey, but we disclaim such relationship--we do not think it
_good taste or good morals_ to place the fair daughters of Eve on
a level with horrid and hideous animals, simply from some apparent
similarity, which we are certain never existed."]
The belligerent pundit who has flung in the face of peaceful geologists
this octavo _camouflet_ of his scientific lucubrations professes to
have scoured the surface and ravaged the bottom (in a suit of patent
sub-marine Scriptural armor) of a no less abysmal subject than the
cryptology of Genesis,--to have undermined with his sapping intellect
and blown up with his explosive wisdom the walled secrets of time and
eternity, carrying away with him in the shape of plunder a whole cargo
of the plans and purposes of the Omnipotent in the Creation. I have not
the least doubt, if he were respectfully approached and interrogated
upon the subject, he would answer with the greatest ease and accuracy
the famous question with which Dean Swift posed the theological tailor.
The man who can tell us all about the institution of the law of gravity,
how the inspired prophet thought and felt while writing his history, and
who knows everything respecting "affinity and attraction when they
were in Creation's womb," could not hesitate a moment to measure an
arch-angel for a pair of breeches.--But I was talking of _funerals_.
* * * * *
A friend once assured me that the heartiest laugh of which he was ever
guilty on a solemn occasion occurred at a funeral. A trusty Irish
servant, who had lived with him for many years, and for whom he had
great affection, died suddenly at his house. As he was attending the
funeral in the Catholic burial-place, and stood with his wife and
children listening to the service which the priest was reading, his
heart filled with grief and his eyes moist with tears, the inscription
on a gravestone just before him happened to attract his attention. It
was this_:--"Gloria in Excelsis Deo!_ Patrick Donahoe died July 12.
18--." Now the exclamation-point after _"Deo"_ and the statement of
the fact of Mr. D.'s demise following immediately thereafter made the
epitaph to read, "Glory to God in the highest! Patrick is dead." This,
which at another time would perhaps have caused no more than a smile,
struck him as irresistibly funny, and drove in a moment every trace
of sadness from his face and sorrow from his heart,--to give place to
violent emotions of another nature, which his utmost exertions could not
["I beg your pardon! I've been afloat," was the graceful parenthetical
apology which a distinguished naval officer used to make, when by
mistake he let drop one of "those big words which lie at the bottom of
the best man's vocabulary," in conversation with sensitive persons whose
ears he feared it might offend. I ought possibly, at the end of the
following anecdote, to make some such excuse to the scrupulous reader,
whose notions of propriety it will perhaps slightly infringe: "I beg
your pardon! I couldn't help telling it."]
An eminent divine once described to me a scene he witnessed at a
funeral, which he said nearly caused him to expire with--well, you shall
see. An intimate acquaintance of his, who belonged to a neighboring
parish, having died, he was naturally induced to assist at the
burial-service. The rector of this parish was a man who, though
sensitive in the extreme to the absurdities of others,--being, in fact,
a regular son of Momus,--was entirely unconscious of his own amusing
eccentricities. Among these, numerous and singular, he had the habit
of suddenly stopping in the middle of a sentence, while preaching, and
calling out to the sexton, across the church, "Dooke, turn on more gas!"
or "Dooke, shut that window!" or "Dooke, do"--something else which
was pretty sure to be wanting itself done during the delivery of his
discourse. Nearly every Sunday, strangers not acquainted with his ways
were startled out of their propriety by some such unexpected behavior.
On the occasion referred to, the funeral procession having entered the
churchyard, and my informant and the officiating clergyman having taken
their places at the head of the grave, the undertaker and his assistants
having removed the coffin from the hearse, and the mourners, of whom
there was a large crowd, having gathered into a circular audience, the
Reverend Doctor ---- began the service.
"'Man that is born of a woman'--Oh, stop those carriages! don't you see
where they are going to?" (he suddenly broke out, rushing from the place
where he stood, frantically, among the bystanders; and then returning to
his former position, continued,)--"'hath but a short time to live, and
is full of misery. He cometh up'--Oh, don't let that coffin down
yet! wait till I tell you to," (addressed to the undertaker, who was
anticipating the proper place in the service,)--"'and is cut down like a
flower; he fleeth as it were a shadow,'--Please to hold the umbrella
a little further over my head," (_sotto voce_ to the man who was
endeavoring to protect his head from the sun,)-"'and never continueth in
one stay.'--Hold the umbrella a little higher, will you?" (_sotto voce_
again to the man holding the umbrella.)--"'In the midst of life we are
in death.'--Stand down from there, boys, and be quiet!" (addressed to
some urchins who were crowding and pushing one another about the grave,
in their efforts to look at the coffin.) At length he had proceeded
without further interruptions as far as the sentence, "'We therefore
commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to
dust,'"--when Dooke, the sexton,--a queer, impetuous fellow,--who was
vainly endeavoring to keep the boys away from the edge of the grave,
seized suddenly the rope with which the coffin had just been lowered
down, and, stooping forward, laid it like a whip-lash, "cut!" across the
shins of a dozen youngsters, making them leap with "Oh! oh! oh!" a
foot from the ground, and scatter in short order,--"'looking for
the'"--(turning to my friend, as he witnessed the successful exploit of
his favorite sexton, and whispering in his ear,) "_Dooke made 'em hop
that time, didn't he!_--'general resurrection in the last day, and the
life of the world to come.'"
Dooke's mode of dispersing the boys, and the officiating clergyman's
comment upon it, parenthesized into the middle of the most solemn
sentence of the burial-service, were too much for the usual stern
gravity of my clerical friend, and, under pretence of shedding tears, he
buried his face in his handkerchief and his handkerchief in his hat and
shook with laughter.
Speaking of funerals reminds me of a congenial subject.--Nothing in New
York astonishes visitors from the country so much as the magnificent
coffin-shops, rivalling, in the ostentatious and tempting display of
their wares, the most elegant stores on Broadway. Model coffins, of the
latest style and pattern, are set up on end in long rows and protected
by splendid show-cases, with the lids removed to exhibit their rich
satin lining. Fancy coffins, decorated with glittering ornaments, are
placed seductively in bright plate-glass windows, and put out for
baiting advertisements upon the side-walks: as much as to say, "Walk in,
walk in, ladies and gentlemen! Now's your chance! here's your fine, nice
coffins!"--while in ornamental letters upon extensive placards hung
about the doors, "IRON COFFINS," "ROSEWOOD COFFINS," "AIR-TIGHT
COFFINS," "MAHOGANY COFFINS," "PATENT SARCOPHAGI," address the eyes
and appeal to the purses of the passers-by. And I saw in one of these
places, the other day, painted on glass and inclosed in an elegant gilt
frame, "ICE COFFINS," which struck me as queer enough. As though it were
not sufficiently cool to be dead!
It seems to me, that, in this matter, the undertakers, digging a little
too deep below the surface of the present age, have thrown out some of
the mystical and grotesque remains of a very antique religious faith,
which look as singular just now to the eyes of common people as would an
Egyptian temple with its sacred Apis in Broadway, or a Sphinx on Boston
Common. To the eyes of an old Egyptian, no object could be more grateful
than the sarcophagus in which he was to repose at death. He purchased it
as early in life as he could raise the means, and displayed it in his
parlor as an attractive and costly ornament. Indeed, I do not know but
it was useful as well, and the children kept their playthings in it, or
the young ladies their knitting-work and embroidery.
Are we not, in this class of our tastes and feelings, becoming rapidly
Egyptianized? Why, I expect in a year or two to see coffins introduced
into the parlors of the Fifth Avenue, and to find them, when their
owners fail or absquatulate, advertised for sale at auction, with the
rest of the household furniture, at a great sacrifice on the original
"--> ONE SUPERB COFFIN OF ELEGANT PATTERN AND SUPERIOR WORKMANSHIP, AS
GOOD AS NEW. TWO DITTO, SLIGHTLY DAMAGED."
And then the fashion will become popular with the less aristocratic
portion of the community, and you will see crowds of servant-girls and
street-loungers around the windows of our magnificent coffin-bazaars,
and hear from them such exclamations as these: "Oh! do look here,
Matilda! Wouldn't you like to have such a nice coffin as that?" or,
"What a dear, sweet sarcophagus that one is there!" or, "Faith, I should
like to own that air-tight!"
* * * * *
But the day is now far advanced. The funeral processions have ceased to
arrive, and the husbandmen, having sown the immortal seed furnished by
the metropolis, with shovels and empty dinner-pails, are on their way,
whistling and talking in groups, homeward. The number of loungers and
sight-seers is rapidly diminishing as the light in the more thickly
shaded walks becomes dim, and the clock at the gateway indicates the
near approach of the hour when the portals will be closed.
--Alone with the dead! Alone in the night among tombs and graves! How
many readers do not at the sight of these words feel an involuntary
_soupcon_ of a shudder? Would not the cause of this indefinable secret
dread of the darkness which covers a graveyard be a curious matter
of inquiry? Let one ever so cultivated and skeptical, familiar as a
physician or a soldier with the spectacle of death, ever so full of
mental and physical courage, passing alone late at night through a
graveyard, hear the least sound among the graves, or see a moving object
of any kind, especially a white one, and he will instantly feel an
_alloverishness_ foreign to ordinary experience, and I will not answer
for him that his hair does not stand on end and his flesh grow rough as
a nutmeg-grater. A company of three or four persons would feel far less
disturbed. This proves the emotion to be genuine _fear_. And with this
recognized as a fact, ask the question, Of what are you afraid? What
makes your feet stick to the ground so fast, or inspires you to take to
your legs and run for your life? "A ridiculous, foolish superstition,"
I do not intend by this to intimate that you, reader, bold and
courageous person that I know you to be, would not dare to go through a
graveyard at night. By no means. I only predicate the existence within
you of this ridiculous, foolish superstition, and maintain that you
would do so under _all_ circumstances with peculiar feelings which you
did not possess before you entered it and which you will not possess
as soon as you have left it, and under _certain_ circumstances with a
trembling of the nerves and a palpitation of the heart, and that the
occasion _might_ occur when you would be still _more_ strongly and
strangely affected. To illustrate the latter case I have an anecdote
A college class-mate, (Poor B----! the shadows of the Pyramids now fall
upon his early grave!) a young man easily agitated, to be sure, and
possibly timid, on his way home, late one autumn night, from the
house of a relative in the country, was hurrying past a dismal old
burying-yard in the midst of a gloomy wood, when he was suddenly
startled by a strange noise a short distance from the road. Turning
his head, alarmed, in the direction whence it proceeded, he was
horror-struck at seeing through the darkness a white object on the
ground, struggling as if in the grasp of some terrible monster.
Instantly the blood froze in his veins; he stood petrified,--the
howlings of the wind, clanking of chains, and groans of agony, filling
his ears,--with his eyes fixed in terror upon the white shape rolling
and plunging and writhing among the tombs. Attempting to run, his feet
refused to move, and he swooned and fell senseless in the road. A party
of travellers, happening shortly to pass, stumbled over his body.
Raising him upon his feet, they succeeded by vigorous shakes in
restoring him to a state of consciousness.
While explaining to them the cause of his fright, the noise was renewed.
The men, although somewhat alarmed, clubbed their individual courage,
climbed the wall, and found--nearly in the centre of the graveyard--_an
old white horse_ thrown down by his fetters and struggling violently to
regain his feet.
B---- assured me, the explanation of the spectacle instinctively
occurring to his mind at the moment as indubitable was that some
reprobate had just been buried there, and that the Devil, coming for
his body, was engaged in binding his unwilling limbs, preparatory to
carrying him away!
The reader may smile at the weakness and folly displayed in this case,
but the assertion may nevertheless be safely ventured, that there is not
one person in a hundred who would not under the same circumstances have
been greatly disturbed, or would have invented a much less frightfully
absurd solution of the phenomenon than poor B----'s.
I think the singular feelings associated with graveyard darkness, which
the wisest and bravest of men find slumbering beneath all their courage
and philosophy, would be found upon investigation to proceed principally
from two sources,--a constitutional inclination to religious
superstition, and an acquired educational belief in the reality of the
dreams and fancies of poets, mingled, of course, with some natural
The dryest and hardest men have more poetry in them than they or we
begin to suspect. Indeed, if we could take our individual or collective
culture to pieces and award to each separate influence its due and just
share of results, I should not be surprised at finding that the poet had
done more in the way of fashioning our education than the scientist
or any other teacher. Milton, to give but a single example, with his
speculations concerning the Fall,--its effects upon humanity, the brute
creation, and physical nature,--and his imaginary conflicts between
the hostile armies of heaven, and his celestial and Satanic
personifications, has had so much influence in Anglo-Saxon culture, that
nine-tenths of the people believe, without knowing it, as firmly in
"Paradise Lost" as in the text of the Bible. The Governor of Texas,
citing in his proclamation a familiar passage in Shakspeare as emanating
from the inspired pen of the Psalmist, is not to so great extent
an example of ignorance as an illustration of the lofty peerage
instinctively assigned the great dramatist in the ordinary associations
of our thoughts. This faith in the visionary world of poets is instilled
into us (and it is for this reason that Rousseau, in his masterly
work on education, the "Emile," reprobates the custom as promotive of
superstition) in early infancy by our parents and nurses with their
stories of nymphs, fairies, elves, dwarfs, giants, witches, hobgoblins,
and the like fabulous beings, and, as soon as we are able to read, by
the tales of genii, sorcerers, demons, ghouls, enchanted caves and
castles, and monsters and monstrosities of every name. The exceedingly
impressible and poetical nature of children (for all children are poets
and talk poetry as soon as they can lisp) appropriates and absorbs with
intense relish these fanciful myths, and for years they believe more
firmly in their truth than in the realities of the actual world. And I
more than suspect that this child-credulity rather slumbers in the grown
man, smothered beneath superimposed skepticisms and cognitions, than is
ever eradicated from his mind, and thus, upon the shock of an emergency
disturbing him suddenly to the foundation, is ready to burst up through
the crevices of his shattered practical experience and appear on the
surface of his judgment and understanding.
In addition, then, to an instinctive tendency to religious superstition,
(of which I shall here say nothing,) to the fairy mythology of the
nursery, and the phantom machinery invented by poets to clothe with the
semblance of reality their dreams and fancies, can be traced in a great
measure the existence in the mind of the _credulity_ which renders the
_fear_ in question possible, opening an introduction for it into the
heart excited by inexplicable phenomena or circumstanced where such
phenomena might, according to our superstitious beliefs, easily occur.
Without entering into an analysis of the _fear_ itself, beyond the
remark that any extraordinary sight or sound not immediately explicable
by the eye or ear to the understanding (as a steamboat to the Indians or
a comet to our ancestors) is a legitimate cause of the emotion, as well
as the _possibility_ of the occurrence of such sights and sounds,
for believing which we have seen man prepared, first by natural
superstitious inclination, and secondly by a peculiar education,--I will
only further add, for the purpose of a brief introduction to an anecdote
I wish to relate, that there is another fountain of knowledge, from
which we drink at a later period than childhood, as well as then, whose
waters are strongly impregnated with this superstitious, fear-provoking
credulity: I mean the stories of _ghosts_ which have been seen and heard
in all ages and countries, revealing important secrets, pointing out
the places where murder has been committed or treasure concealed,
foretelling deaths and calamities, and forewarning men of impending
dangers. Hundreds of books familiar to all have been written upon this
subject and form an extensive department of our literature, especially
of our older literature.
The philosopher attempts to account for such phenomena by referring them
to optical illusions or a disordered condition of the brain, making them
_subjective_ semblances instead of _objective_ realities. But one is
continually being puzzled and perplexed with evidence contradicting this
hypothesis, which, upon any other subject _a priori_ credible to the
reason and judgment, would be received as satisfactory and decisive
without a moment's hesitation. In truth, with all the light which
science is able to shed upon it, and all the resolute shutting of the
eyes at points which no elucidating theory is available to explain,
there are facts in this department of supernaturalism which stagger the
unbelief of the stoutest skeptic.
It is constantly urged, among other objections to the credibility
of supernatural apparitions, that the names of the witnesses have
singularly and suspiciously disappeared,--that you find them, upon
investigation, substantiated thus: A very worthy gentleman told another
very worthy gentleman, who told a very intelligent lady, who told
somebody else, who told the individual who finally communicated the
incident to the world. There are, however, as just intimated, instances
in which such ambiguity is altogether wanting. Among these is one so
well authenticated by well-known witnesses of undoubted veracity, that,
having never before been published, I venture to relate it here.
My informant was Professor Tholuck, of Halle University, the most
eminent living theologian in Germany, and the principal ecclesiarch of
the Prussian Church. He prefaced the account by assuring me that it
was received from the lips of De Wette himself, immediately after the
occurrence,--that De Wette was an intimate personal friend, a plain,
practical man, of remarkably clear and vigorous intellect, with no more
poetry and imagination in his nature than just sufficient to keep him
alive,--in a word, that he would rely upon his coolness of judgment
and accuracy of observation, under any possible combination of
circumstances, as confidently as upon those of any man in the world.
Dr. De Wette, the famous German Biblical critic, returning home one
evening between nine and ten o'clock, was surprised, upon arriving
opposite the house in which he resided, to see a bright light burning in
his study. In fact, he was rather more than surprised; for he distinctly
remembered to have extinguished the candles when he went out, an hour or
two previously, locked the door, and put the key in his pocket, which,
upon feeling for it, was still there. Pausing a moment to wonder by
what means and for what purpose any one could have entered the room, he
perceived the shadow of a person apparently occupied about something in
a remote corner. Supposing it to be a burglar employed in rifling his
trunk, he was upon the point of alarming the police, when the man
advanced to the window, into full view, as if for the purpose of looking
out into the street. _It was De Wette himself!_--the scholar, author,
professor,--his height, size, figure, stoop,--his head, his face, his
features, eyes, mouth, nose, chin, every one,--skullcap, study-gown,
neck-tie, all, everything: there was no mistaking him, no deception
whatever: there stood Dr. De Wette in his own library, and he out in
the street:--why, he must be _somebody else!_ The Doctor instinctively
grasped his body with his hands, and tried himself with the
psychological tests of self-consciousness and identity, doubtful, if
he could believe his senses and black were not white, that he longer
existed his former self, and stood, perplexed, bewildered, and
confounded, gazing at his other likeness looking out of the window. Upon
the person's retiring from the window, which occurred in a few moments,
De Wette resolved not to dispute the possession of his study with
the other Doctor before morning, and ringing at the door of a house
opposite, where an acquaintance resided, he asked permission to remain
The chamber occupied by him commanded a full view of the interior of
his library, and from the window he could see his other self engaged
in study and meditation, now walking up and down the room, immersed in
thought, now sitting down at the desk to write, now rising to search
for a volume among the book-shelves, and imitating in all respects
the peculiar habits of the great Doctor engaged at work and busy with
cogitations. At length, when the cathedral clock had finished striking
through first four and then eleven strokes, as German clocks are wont
to do an hour before twelve, De Wette Number Two manifested signs of
retiring to rest,--took out his watch, the identical large gold one the
other Doctor in the other chamber felt sure was at that moment safe
in his waistcoat-pocket, and wound it up, removed a portion of his
clothing, came to the window, closed the curtains, and in a few moments
the light disappeared. De Wette Number One, waiting a little time until
convinced that Number Two had disposed himself to sleep, retired also
his-self to bed, wondering very much what all this could mean.
Rising the next morning, he crossed the street, and passed up-stairs to
his library. The door was fastened; he applied the key, opened it, and
entered. No one was there; everything appeared in precisely the same
condition in which he had left it the evening before,--his pen lying
upon the paper as he had dropped it on going out, the candles on the
table and the mantel-piece evidently not having been lighted, the
window-curtains drawn aside as he had left them; in fine, there was not
a single trace of any person's having been in the room. "Had he been
insane the night before? He must have been. He was growing old;
something was the matter with his eyes or brain; anyhow, he had been
deceived, and it was very foolish of him to have remained away all
night." Endeavoring to satisfy his mind with some such reflections
as these, he remembered he had not yet examined his bed-room. Almost
ashamed to make the search, now convinced it was all an hallucination of
the senses, he crossed the narrow passageway and opened the door. He
was thunderstruck. The ceiling, a lofty, massive brick arch, had fallen
during the night, filling the room with rubbish and crushing his bed
into atoms. De Wette the Apparition had saved the life of the great
Tholuck, who was walking with me in the fields near Halle when relating
the anecdote, added, upon concluding, "I do not pretend to account
for the phenomenon; no knowledge, scientific or metaphysical, in my
possession, is adequate to explain it; but I have no more doubt it
actually, positively, literally did occur, than I have of the existence
of the sun _im Himmel da_."
The word of ambition at the present day is Culture. Whilst all the world
is in pursuit of power, and of wealth as a means of power, culture
corrects the theory of success. A man is the prisoner of his power. A
topical memory makes him an almanac; a talent for debate, a disputant;
skill to get money makes him a miser, that is, a beggar. Culture reduces
these inflammations by invoking the aid of other powers against the
dominant talent, and by appealing to the rank of powers. It watches
success. For performance Nature has no mercy, and sacrifices the
performer to get it done,--makes a dropsy or a tympany of him. If she
wants a thumb, she makes one at the cost of arms and legs, and any
excess of power in one part is usually paid for at once by some defect
in a contiguous part.
Our efficiency depends so much on our concentration, that Nature
usually, in the instances where a marked man is sent into the world,
overloads him with bias, sacrificing his symmetry to his working power.
It is said, no man can write but one book; and if a man have a defect,
it is apt to leave its impression on all his performances. If she create
a policeman like Fouche, he is made up of suspicions and of plots to
circumvent them. "The air," said Fouche, "is full of poniards." The
physician Sanctorius spent his life in a pair of scales, weighing his
food. Lord Coke valued Chaucer highly, because the Canon Yeman's Tale
illustrates the Statute _Hen. V. Chap. 4_, against Alchemy. I saw a man
who believed the principal mischiefs in the English state were derived
from the devotion to musical concerts. A freemason, not long since, set
out to explain to this country, that the principal cause of the success
of General Washington was the aid he derived from the freemasons.
But, worse than the harping on one string, Nature has secured
individualism by giving the private person a high conceit of his weight
in the system. The pest of society is egotists. There are dull and
bright, sacred and profane, coarse and fine egotists. 'Tis a disease
that, like influenza, falls on all constitutions. In the distemper
known to physicians as _chorea_, the patient sometimes turns round
and continues to spin slowly on one spot. Is egotism a metaphysical
varioloid of this malady? The man runs round a ring formed by his own
talent, falls into an admiration of it, and loses relation to the world.
It is a tendency in all minds. One of its annoying forms is a craving
for sympathy. The sufferers parade their miseries, tear the lint from
their bruises, reveal their indictable crimes, that you may pity them.
They like sickness, because physical pain will extort some show of
interest from the bystanders; as we have seen children, who, finding
themselves of no account when grown people come in, will cough till they
choke, to draw attention.
This distemper is the scourge of talent,--of artists, inventors, and
philosophers. Eminent spiritualists shall have an incapacity of putting
their act or word aloof from them, and seeing it bravely for the nothing
it is. Beware of the man who says, "I am on the eve of a revelation!" It
is speedily punished, inasmuch as this habit invites men to humor it,
and, by treating the patient tenderly, to shut him up in a narrower
selfism, and exclude him from the great world of God's cheerful fallible
men and women. Let us rather be insulted, whilst we are insultable.
Religious literature has eminent examples; and if we run over our
private list of poets, critics, philanthropists, and philosophers, we
shall find them infected with this dropsy and elephantiasis, which we