Part 1 out of 3
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PRUE AND I.
GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS.
"Knitters in the sun."
A WORD TO THE GENTLE READER.
An old book-keeper, who wears a white cravat and black trowsers in the
morning, who rarely goes to the opera, and never dines out, is clearly
a person of no fashion and of no superior sources of information. His
only journey is from his house to his office; his only satisfaction is
in doing his duty; his only happiness is in his Prue and his children.
What romance can such a life have? What stories can such a man tell?
Yet I think, sometimes, when I look up from the parquet at the opera,
and see Aurelia smiling in the boxes, and holding her court of love,
and youth, and beauty, that the historians have not told of a fairer
queen, nor the travellers seen devouter homage. And when I rememember
that it was in misty England that quaint old George Herbert Sang of
"Sweet day so cool, so calm, so bright--
The bridal of the earth and sky,"
I am sure that I see days as lovely in our clearer air, and do not
believe that Italian sunsets have a more gorgeous purple or a softer
So, as the circle of my little life revolves, I console myself with
believing, what I cannot help believing, that a man need not be a
vagabond to enjoy the sweetest charm of travel, but that all countries
and all times repeat themselves in his experience. This is an old
philosophy, I am told, and much favored by those who have travelled;
and I cannot but be glad that my faith has such a fine name and such
competent witnesses. I am assured, however, upon the other hand, that
such a faith is only imagination. But, if that be true, imagination is
as good as many voyages--and how much cheaper!--a consideration which
an old book-keeper can never afford to forget.
I have not found, in my experience, that travellers always bring back
with them the sunshine of Italy or the elegance of Greece. They tell
us that there are such things, and that they have seen them; but,
perhaps, they saw them, as the apples in the garden of the Hesperides
were sometimes seen--over the wall. I prefer the fruit which I can buy
in the market to that which a man tells me he saw in Sicily, but of
which there is no flavor in his story. Others, like Moses Primrose,
bring us a gross of such spectacles as we prefer not to see; so that I
begin to suspect a man must have Italy and Greece in his heart and
mind, if he would ever see them with his eyes.
I know that this may be only a device of that compassionate
imagination designed to comfort me, who shall never take but one other
journey than my daily beat. Yet there have been wise men who taught
that all scenes are but pictures upon the mind; and if I can see them
as I walk the street that leads to my office, or sit at the
office-window looking into the court, or take a little trip down the
bay or up the river, why are not my pictures as pleasant and as
profitable as those which men travel for years, at great cost of time,
and trouble, and money, to behold?
For my part, I do not believe that any man can see softer skies than I
see in Prue's eyes; nor hear sweeter music than I hear in Prue's
voice; nor find a more heaven-lighted temple than I know Prue's mind
to be. And when I wish to please myself with a lovely image of peace
and contentment, I do not think of the plain of Sharon, nor of the
valley of Enna, nor of Arcadia, nor of Claude's pictures; but, feeling
that the fairest fortune of my life is the right to be named with her,
I whisper gently, to myself, with a smile--for it seems as if my very
heart smiled within me, when I think of her--"Prue and I."
II. MY CHATEAUX
III. SEA FROM SHORE
IV. TITBOTTOM'S SPECTACLES
V. A CRUISE IN THE FLYING DUTCHMAN
VI. FAMILY PORTRAITS
VII. OUR COUSIN THE CURATE
"Within this hour it will be dinner-time;
I'll view the manners of the town,
Peruse the traders, gaze upon the buildings."
_Comedy of Errors_.
In the warm afternoons of the early summer, it is my pleasure to
stroll about Washington Square and along the Fifth Avenue, at the hour
when the diners-out are hurrying to the tables of the wealthy and
refined. I gaze with placid delight upon the cheerful expanse of white
waistcoat that illumes those streets at that hour, and mark the
variety of emotions that swell beneath all that purity. A man going
out to dine has a singular cheerfulness of aspect. Except for his
gloves, which fit so well, and which he has carefully buttoned, that
he may not make an awkward pause in the hall of his friend's house, I
am sure he would search his pocket for a cent to give the wan beggar
at the corner. It is impossible just now, my dear woman; but God bless
It is pleasant to consider that simple suit of black. If my man be
young and only lately cognizant of the rigors of the social law, he is
a little nervous at being seen in his dress suit--body coat and black
trowsers--before sunset. For in the last days of May the light lingers
long over the freshly leaved trees in the Square, and lies warm along
the Avenue. All winter the sun has not been permitted to see
dress-coats. They come out only with the stars, and fade with ghosts,
before the dawn. Except, haply, they be brought homeward before
breakfast in an early twilight of hackney-coach. Now, in the budding
and bursting summer, the sun takes his revenge, and looks aslant over
the tree-tops and the chimneys upon the most unimpeachable garments. A
cat may look upon a king.
I know my man at a distance. If I am chatting with the nursery maids
around the fountain, I see him upon the broad walk of Washington
Square, and detect him by the freshness of his movement his springy
gait. Then the white waistcoat flashes in the sun.
"Go on, happy youth," I exclaim aloud, to the great alarm of the
nursery maids, who suppose me to be an innocent insane person suffered
to go at large, unattended,--"go on, and be happy with fellow
waistcoats over fragrant wines."
It is hard to describe the pleasure in this amiable spectacle of a man
going out to dine. I, who am a quiet family man, and take a quiet
family cut at four o'clock; or, when I am detained down town by a
false quantity in my figures, who run into Delmonico's and seek
comfort in a cutlet, am rarely invited to dinner and have few white
waistcoats. Indeed, my dear Prue tells me that I have but one in the
world, and I often want to confront my eager young friends as they
bound along, and ask abruptly, "What do you think of a man whom one
white waistcoat suffices?"
By the time I have eaten my modest repast, it is the hour for the
diners-out to appear. If the day is unusually soft and sunny, I hurry
my simple meal a little, that I may not lose any of my favorite
spectacle. Then I saunter out. If you met me you would see that I am
also clad in black. But black is my natural color, so that it begets
no false theories concerning my intentions. Nobody, meeting me in full
black, supposes that I am going to dine out. That sombre hue is
professional with me. It belongs to book-keepers as to clergymen,
physicians, and undertakers. We wear it because we follow solemn
callings. Saving men's bodies and souls, or keeping the machinery of
business well wound, are such sad professions that it is becoming to
drape dolefully those who adopt them.
I wear a white cravat, too, but nobody supposes that it is in any
danger of being stained by Lafitte. It is a limp cravat with a craven
tie. It has none of the dazzling dash of the white that my young
friends sport, or, I should say, sported; for the white cravat is now
abandoned to the sombre professions of which I spoke. My young friends
suspect that the flunkeys of the British nobleman wear such ties, and
they have, therefore, discarded them. I am sorry to remark, also, an
uneasiness, if not downright skepticism, about the white waistcoat.
Will it extend to shirts, I ask myself with sorrow.
But there is something pleasanter to contemplate during these quiet
strolls of mine, than the men who are going to dine out, and that is,
the women. They roll in carriages to the happy houses which they shall
honor, and I strain my eyes in at the carriage window to see their
cheerful faces as they pass. I have already dined; upon beef and
cabbage, probably, if it is boiled day. I I am not expected at the
table to which Aurelia is hastening, yet no guest there shall enjoy
more than I enjoy,--nor so much, if he considers the meats the best
part of the dinner. The beauty of the beautiful Aurelia I see and
worship as she drives by. The vision of many beautiful Aurelias
driving to dinner, is the mirage of that pleasant journey of mine
along the avenue. I do not envy the Persian poets, on those
afternoons, nor long to be an Arabian traveller. For I can walk that
street, finer than any of which the Ispahan architects dreamed; and I
can see sultanas as splendid as the enthusiastic and exaggerating
But not only do I see and enjoy Aurelia's beauty I delight in her
exquisite attire. In these warm days she does not wear so much as the
lightest shawl. She is clad only in spring sunshine. It glitters in
the soft darkness of her hair. It touches the diamonds, the opals, the
pearls, that cling to her arms, and neck, and fingers. They flash back
again, and the gorgeous silks glisten, and the light laces flutter,
until the stately Aurelia seems to me, in tremulous radiance, swimming
I doubt whether you who are to have the inexpressible pleasure of
dining with her, and even of sitting by her side, will enjoy more than
I. For my pleasure is inexpressible, also. And it is in this greater
than yours, that I see all the beautiful ones who are to dine at
various tables, while you only see your own circle, although that, I
will not deny, is the most desirable of all.
Beside, although my person is not present at your dinner, my fancy
is. I see Aurelia's carriage stop, and behold white-gloved servants
opening wide doors. There is a brief glimpse of magnificence for the
dull eyes of the loiterers outside; then the door closes. But my fancy
went in with Aurelia. With her, it looks at the vast mirror, and
surveys her form at length in the Psyche-glass. It gives the final
shake to the skirt, the last flirt to the embroidered handkerchief,
carefully held, and adjusts the bouquet, complete as a tropic nestling
in orange leaves. It descends with her, and marks the faint blush upon
her cheek at the thought of her exceeding beauty; the consciousness of
the most beautiful woman, that the most beautiful woman is entering
the room. There is the momentary hush, the subdued greeting, the quick
glance of the Aurelias who have arrived earlier, and who perceive in a
moment the hopeless perfection of that attire; the courtly gaze of
gentlemen, who feel the serenity of that beauty. All this my fancy
surveys; my fancy, Aurelia's invisible cavalier.
You approach with hat in hand and the thumb of your left hand in your
waistcoat pocket. You are polished and cool, and have an
irreproachable repose of manner. There are no improper wrinkles in
your cravat; your shirt-bosom does not bulge; the trowsers are
accurate about your admirable boot. But you look very stiff and
brittle. You are a little bullied by your unexceptionable
shirt-collar, which interdicts perfect freedom of movement in your
head. You are elegant, undoubtedly, but it seems as if you might break
and fall to pieces, like a porcelain vase, if you were roughly shaken.
Now, here, I have the advantage of you. My fancy quietly surveying the
scene, is subject to none of these embarrassments. My fancy will not
utter commonplaces. That will not say to the superb lady, who stands
with her flowers, incarnate May, "What a beautiful day, Miss Aurelia."
That will not feel constrained to say something, when it has nothing
to say; nor will it be obliged to smother all the pleasant things that
occur, because they would be too flattering to express. My fancy
perpetually murmurs in Aurelia's ear, "Those flowers would not be fair
in your hand, if you yourself were not fairer. That diamond necklace
would be gaudy, if your eyes were not brighter. That queenly movement
would be awkward, if your soul were not queenlier."
You could not say such things to Aurelia, although, if you are worthy
to dine at her side, they are the very things you are longing to
say. What insufferable stuff you are talking about the weather, and
the opera, and Alboni's delicious voice, and Newport, and Saratoga!
They are all very pleasant subjects, but do you suppose Ixion talked
Thessalian politics when he was admitted to dine with Juno?
I almost begin to pity you, and to believe that a scarcity of white
waistcoats is true wisdom. For now dinner is announced, and you, O
rare felicity, are to hand down Aurelia. But you run the risk of
tumbling her expansive skirt, and you have to drop your hat upon a
chance chair, and wonder, _en passant_ who will wear it home,
which is annoying. My fancy runs no such risk; is not at all
solicitous about its hat, and glides by the side of Aurelia, stately
as she. There! you stumble on the stair, and are vexed at your own
awkwardness, and are sure you saw the ghost of a smile glimmer along
that superb face at your side. My fancy doesn't tumble down stairs,
and what kind of looks it sees upon Aurelia's face, are its own
Is it any better, now you are seated at table? Your companion eats
little because she wishes little. You eat little because you think it
is elegant to do so. It is a shabby, second-hand elegance, like your
brittle behavior. It is just as foolish for you to play with the
meats, when you ought to satisfy your healthy appetite generously, as
it is for you, in the drawing-room, to affect that cool indifference
when you have real and noble interests.
I grant you that fine manners, if you please, are a fine art. But is
not monotony the destruction of art? Your manners, O happy Ixion,
banqueting with Juno, are Egyptian. They have no perspective, no
variety. They have no color, no shading. They are all on a dead level;
they are flat. Now, for you are a man of sense, you are conscious that
those wonderful eyes of Aurelia see straight through all this net-work
of elegant manners in which you have entangled yourself, and that
consciousness is uncomfortable to you. It is another trick in the game
for me, because those eyes do not pry into my fancy. How can they,
since Aurelia does not know of my existence?
Unless, indeed, she should remember the first time I saw her. It was
only last year, in May. I had dined, somewhat hastily, in
consideration of the fine day, and of my confidence that many would be
wending dinnerwards that afternoon. I saw my Prue comfortably engaged
in seating the trowsers of Adoniram, our eldest boy--an economical
care to which my darling Prue is not unequal, even in these days and
in this town--and then hurried toward the avenue. It is never much
thronged at that hour. The moment is sacred to dinner. As I paused at
the corner of Twelfth Street, by the church, you remember, I saw an
apple-woman, from whose stores I determined to finish my dessert,
which had been imperfect at home. But, mindful of meritorious and
economical Prue, I was not the man to pay exorbitant prices for
apples, and while still haggling with the wrinkled Eve who had tempted
me, I became suddenly aware of a carriage approaching, and, indeed,
already close by. I raised my eyes, still munching an apple which I
held in one hand, while the other grasped my walking-stick (true to my
instincts of dinner guests, as young women to a passing wedding or old
ones to a funeral), and beheld Aurelia!
Old in this kind of observation as I am, there was something so
graciously alluring in the look that she cast upon me, as
unconsciously, indeed, as she would have cast it upon the church,
that, fumbling hastily for my spectacles to enjoy the boon more fully,
I thoughtlessly advanced upon the apple-stand, and, in some
indescribable manner, tripping, down we all fell into the street, old
woman, apples, baskets, stand, and I, in promiscuous confusion. As I
struggled there, somewhat bewildered, yet sufficiently self-possessed
to look after the carriage, I beheld that beautiful woman looking at
us through the back-window (you could not have done it; the integrity
of your shirt-collar would have interfered,) and smiling pleasantly,
so that her going around the corner was like a gentle sunset, so
seemed she to disappear in her own smiling; or--if you choose, in view
of the apple difficulties--like a rainbow after a storm.
If the beautiful Aurelia recalls that event, she may know of my
existence; not otherwise. And even then she knows me only as a funny
old gentleman, who, in his eagerness to look at her, tumbled over an
My fancy from that moment followed her. How grateful I was to the
wrinkled Eve's extortion, and to the untoward tumble, since it
procured me the sight of that smile. I took my sweet revenge from
that. For I knew that the beautiful Aurelia entered the house of her
host with beaming eyes, and my fancy heard her sparkling story. You
consider yourself happy because you are sitting by her and helping her
to a lady-finger, or a macaroon, for which she smiles. But I was her
theme for ten mortal minutes. She was my bard, my blithe historian.
She was the Homer of my luckless Trojan fall. She set my mishap to
music, in telling it. Think what it is to have inspired Urania; to
have called a brighter beam into the eyes of Miranda, and do not think
so much of passing Aurelia the mottoes, my dear young friend.
There was the advantage of not going to that dinner. Had I been
invited, as you were, I should have pestered Prue about the buttons on
my white waistcoat, instead of leaving her placidly piecing adolescent
trowsers. She would have been flustered, fearful of being too late, of
tumbling the garment, of soiling it, fearful of offending me in some
way, (admirable woman!) I, in my natural impatience, might have let
drop a thoughtless word, which would have been a pang in her heart and
a tear in her eye, for weeks afterward.
As I walked nervously up the avenue (for I am unaccustomed to prandial
recreations), I should not have had that solacing image of quiet Prue,
and the trowsers, as the back-ground in the pictures of the gay
figures I passed, making each, by contrast, fairer. I should have been
wondering what to say and do at the dinner. I should surely have been
very warm, and yet not have enjoyed the rich, waning sunlight. Need I
tell you that I should not have stopped for apples, but instead of
economically tumbling into the street with apples and apple-women,
whereby I merely rent my trowsers across the knee, in a manner that
Prue can readily, and at little cost, repair. I should, beyond
peradventure, have split a new dollar-pair of gloves in the effort of
straining my large hands into them, which would, also, have caused me
additional redness in the face, and renewed fluttering.
Above all, I should not have seen Aurelia passing in her carriage, nor
would she have smiled at me, nor charmed my memory with her radiance,
nor the circle at dinner with the sparkling Iliad of my woes. Then at
the table, I should not have sat by her. You would have had that
pleasure; I should have led out the maiden aunt from the country, and
have talked poultry, when I talked at all. Aurelia would not have
remarked me. Afterward, in describing the dinner to her virtuous
parents, she would have concluded, "and one old gentleman, whom I
No, my polished friend, whose elegant repose of manner I yet greatly
commend, I am content, if you are. How much better it was that I was
not invited to that dinner, but was permitted, by a kind fate, to
furnish a subject for Aurelia's wit.
There is one other advantage in sending your fancy to dinner, instead
of going yourself. It is, that then the occasion remains wholly fair
in your memory. You, who devote yourself to dining out, and who are to
be daily seen affably sitting down to such feasts, as I know mainly by
hearsay--by the report of waiters, guests, and others who were
present--you cannot escape the little things that spoil the picture,
and which the fancy does not see.
For instance, in handing you the _potage a la Bisque_, at the
very commencement of this dinner to-day, John, the waiter, who never
did such a thing before, did this time suffer the plate to tip, so
that a little of that rare soup dripped into your lap--just enough to
spoil those trowsers, which is nothing to you, because you can buy a
great many more trowsers, but which little event is inharmonious with
the fine porcelain dinner service, with the fragrant wines, the
glittering glass, the beautiful guests, and the mood of mind suggested
by all of these. There is, in fact, if you will pardon a free use of
the vernacular, there is a grease-spot upon your remembrance of this
Or, in the same way, and with the same kind of mental result, you can
easily imagine the meats a little tough; a suspicion of smoke
somewhere in the sauces; too much pepper, perhaps, or too little salt;
or there might be the graver dissonance of claret not properly
attempered, or a choice Rhenish below the average mark, or the
spilling of some of that Arethusa Madeira, marvellous for its
innumerable circumnavigations of the globe, and for being as dry as
the conversation of the host. These things are not up to the high
level of the dinner; for wherever Aurelia dines, all accessories
should be as perfect in their kind as she, the principal, is in hers.
That reminds me of a possible dissonance worse than all. Suppose that
soup had trickled down the unimaginable _berthe_ of Aurelia's
dress (since it might have done so), instead of wasting itself upon
your trowsers! Could even the irreproachable elegance of your manners
have contemplated, unmoved, a grease-spot upon your remembrance of the
You smile, of course, and remind me that that lady's manners are so
perfect that, if she drank poison, she would wipe her mouth after it
as gracefully as ever. How much more then, you say, in the case of
such a slight _contretemps_ as spotting her dress, would she
appear totally unmoved.
So she would, undoubtedly. She would be, and look, as pure as ever;
but, my young friend, her dress would not. Once, I dropped a pickled
oyster in the lap of my Prue, who wore, on the occasion, her sea-green
silk gown. I did not love my Prue the less; but there certainly was a
very unhandsome spot upon her dress. And although I know my Prue to be
spotless, yet, whenever I recall that day, I see her in a spotted
gown, and I would prefer never to have been obliged to think of her in
such a garment.
Can you not make the application to the case, very likely to happen,
of some disfigurement of that exquisite toilette of Aurelia's? In
going down stairs, for instance, why should not heavy old Mr
Carbuncle, who is coming close behind with Mrs. Peony, both very
eager for dinner, tread upon the hem of that garment which my lips
would grow pale to kiss? The august Aurelia, yielding to natural laws,
would be drawn suddenly backward--a very undignified movement--and the
dress would be dilapidated. There would be apologies, and smiles, and
forgiveness, and pinning up the pieces, nor would there be the
faintest feeling of awkwardness or vexation in Aurelia's mind. But to
you, looking on, and, beneath all that pure show of waistcoat, cursing
old Carbuncle's carelessness, this tearing of dresses and repair of
the toilette is by no means a poetic and cheerful spectacle. Nay, the
very impatience that it produces in your mind jars upon the harmony of
You will respond, with proper scorn, that you are not so absurdly
fastidious as to heed the little necessary drawbacks of social
meetings, and that you have not much regard for "the harmony of the
occasion" (which phrase I fear you will repeat in a sneering
tone). You will do very right in saying this; and it is a remark to
which I shall give all the hospitality of my mind, and I do so because
I heartily coincide in it. I hold a man to be very foolish who will
not eat a good dinner because the table-cloth is not clean, or who
cavils at the spots upon the sun. But still a man who does not apply
his eye to a telescope or some kind of prepared medium, does not see
those spots, while he has just as much light and heat as he who does.
So it is with me. I walk in the avenue, and eat all the delightful
dinners without seeing the spots upon the table-cloth, and behold all
the beautiful Aurelias without swearing at old Carbuncle. I am the
guest who, for the small price of invisibility, drinks only the best
wines, and talks only to the most agreeable people. That is something,
I can tell you, for you might be asked to lead out old Mrs. Peony. My
fancy slips in between you and Aurelia, sit you never so closely
together. It not only hears what she says, but it perceives what she
thinks and feels. It lies like a bee in her flowery thoughts, sucking
all their honey. If there are unhandsome or unfeeling guests at table,
it will not see them. It knows only the good and fair. As I stroll in
the fading light and observe the stately houses, my fancy believes the
host equal to his house, and the courtesy of his wife more agreeable
than her conservatory. It will not believe that the pictures on the
wall and the statues in the corners shame the guests. It will not
allow that they are less than noble. It hears them speak gently of
error, and warmly of worth. It knows that they commend heroism and
devotion, and reprobate insincerity. My fancy is convinced that the
guests are not only feasted upon the choicest fruits of every land and
season, but are refreshed by a consciousness of greater loveliness and
grace in human character. Now you, who actually go to the dinner, may
not entirely agree with the view my fancy takes of that
entertainment. Is it not, therefore, rather your loss? Or, to put it
in another way, ought I to envy you the discovery that the guests
_are_ shamed by the statues and pictures;--yes, and by the spoons
and forks also, if they should chance neither to be so genuine nor so
useful as those instruments? And, worse than this, when your fancy
wishes to enjoy the picture which mine forms of that feast, it cannot
do so, because you have foolishly interpolated the fact between the
dinner and your fancy.
Of course, by this time it is late twilight, and the spectacle I
enjoyed is almost over. But not quite, for as I return slowly along
the streets, the windows are open, and only a thin haze of lace or
muslin separates me from the Paradise within.
I see the graceful cluster of girls hovering over the piano, and the
quiet groups of the elders in easy chairs, around little tables. I
cannot hear what is said, nor plainly see the faces. But some hoyden
evening wind, more daring than I, abruptly parts the cloud to look in,
and out comes a gush of light, music, and fragrance, so that I shrink
away into the dark, that I may not seem, even by chance, to have
invaded that privacy.
Suddenly there is singing. It is Aurelia, who does not cope with the
Italian Prima Donna, nor sing indifferently to-night, what was sung,
superbly last evening at the opera. She has a strange, low, sweet
voice, as if she only sang in the twilight. It is the ballad of "Allan
Percy" that she sings. There is no dainty applause of kid gloves,
when it is ended, but silence follows the singing, like a tear.
Then you, my young friend, ascend into the drawing-room, and, after a
little graceful gossip, retire; or you wait, possibly, to hand Aurelia
into her carriage, and to arrange a waltz for to-morrow evening. She
smiles, you bow, and it is over. But it is not yet over with me. My
fancy still follows her, and, like a prophetic dream, rehearses her
destiny. For, as the carriage rolls away into the darkness and I
return homewards, how can my fancy help rolling away also, into the
dim future, watching her go down the years?
Upon my way home I see her in a thousand new situations. My fancy says
to me, "The beauty of this beautiful woman is heaven's stamp upon
virtue. She will be equal to every chance that shall befall her, and
she is so radiant and charming in the circle of prosperity, only
because she has that irresistible simplicity and fidelity of
character, which can also pluck the sting from adversity. Do you not
see, you wan old book-keeper in faded cravat, that in a poor man's
house this superb Aurelia would be more stately than sculpture, more
beautiful than painting, and more graceful than the famous
vases. Would her husband regret the opera if she sang 'Allan Percy' to
him in the twilight? Would he not feel richer than the Poets, when his
eyes rose from their jewelled pages, to fall again dazzled by the
splendor of his wife's beauty?"
At this point in my reflections I sometimes run, rather violently,
against a lamp-post, and then proceed along the street more sedately.
It is yet early when I reach home, where my Prue awaits me. The
children are asleep, and the trowsers mended. The admirable woman is
patient of my idiosyncrasies, and asks me if I have had a pleasant
walk, and if there were many fine dinners to-day, as if I had been
expected at a dozen tables. She even asks me if I have seen the
beautiful Aurelia (for there is always some Aurelia,) and inquires
what dress she wore. I respond, and dilate upon what I have seen. Prue
listens, as the children listen to her fairy tales. We discuss the
little stories that penetrate our retirement, of the great people who
actually dine out. Prue, with fine womanly instinct, declares it is a
shame that Aurelia should smile for a moment upon ----, yes, even upon
you, my friend of the irreproachable manners!
"I know him," says my simple Prue; "I have watched his cold courtesy,
his insincere devotion. I have seen him acting in the boxes at the
opera, much more adroitly than the singers upon the stage. I have
read his determination to marry Aurelia; and I shall not be
surprised," concludes my tender wife, sadly, "if he wins her at last,
by tiring her out, or, by secluding her by his constant devotion from
the homage of other men, convinces her that she had better marry him,
since it is so dismal to live on unmarried."
And so, my friend, at the moment when the bouquet you ordered is
arriving at Aurelia's house, and she is sitting before the glass while
her maid arranges the last flower in her hair, my darling Prue, whom
you will never hear of, is shedding warm tears over your probable
union, and I am sitting by, adjusting my cravat and incontinently
clearing my throat.
It is rather a ridiculous business, I allow; yet you will smile at it
tenderly, rather than scornfully, if you remember that it shows how
closely linked we human creatures are, without knowing it, and that
more hearts than we dream of enjoy our happiness and share our sorrow.
Thus, I dine at great tables uninvited, and, unknown, converse with
the famous beauties. If Aurelia is at last engaged, (but who is
worthy?) she will, with even greater care, arrange that wondrous
toilette, will teach that lace a fall more alluring, those gems a
sweeter light. But even then, as she rolls to dinner in her carriage,
glad that she is fair, not for her own sake nor for the world's, but
for that of a single youth (who, I hope, has not been smoking at the
club all the morning), I, sauntering upon the sidewalk, see her pass,
I pay homage to her beauty, and her lover can do no more; and if,
perchance, my garments--which must seem quaint to her, with their
shining knees and carefully brushed elbows; my white cravat, careless,
yet prim; my meditative movement, as I put my stick under my arm to
pare an apple, and not, I hope, this time to fall into the
street,--should remind her, in her spring of youth, and beauty, and
love, that there are age, and care, and poverty, also; then, perhaps,
the good fortune of the meeting is not wholly mine.
For, O beautiful Aurelia, two of these things, at least, must come
even to you. There will be a time when you will no longer go out to
dinner, or only very quietly, in the family. I shall be gone then: but
other old book-keepers in white cravats will inherit my tastes, and
saunter, on summer afternoons, to see what I loved to see.
They will not pause, I fear, in buying apples, to look at the old lady
in venerable cap, who is rolling by in the carriage. They will worship
another Aurelia. You will not wear diamonds or opals any more, only
one pearl upon your blue-veined finger--your engagement ring. Grave
clergymen and antiquated beaux will hand you down to dinner, and the
group of polished youth, who gather around the yet unborn Aurelia of
that day, will look at you, sitting quietly upon the sofa, and say,
softly, "She must have been very handsome in her time."
All this must be: for consider how few years since it was your
grandmother who was the belle, by whose side the handsome, young men
longed to sit and pass expressive mottoes. Your grandmother was the
Aurelia of a half-century ago, although you cannot fancy her
young. She is indissolubly associated in your mind with caps and dark
dresses. You can believe Mary Queen of Scots, or Nell Gwyn or
Cleopatra, to have been young and blooming, although they belong to
old and dead centuries, but not your grandmother. Think of those who
shall believe the same of you--you, who to-day are the very flower of
Might I plead with you, Aurelia--I, who would be too happy to receive
one of those graciously beaming bows that I see you bestow upon young
men, in passing,--I would ask you to bear that thought with you,
always, not to sadden your sunny smile, but to give it a more subtle
grace. Wear in your summer garland this little leaf of rue. It will
not be the skull at the feast, it will rather be the tender
thoughtfulness in the face of the young Madonna.
For the years pass like summer clouds, Aurelia, and the children of
yesterday are the wives and mothers of to-day. Even I do sometimes
discover the mild eyes of my Prue fixed pensively upon my face, as if
searching for the bloom which she remembers there in the days, long
ago, when we were young. She will never see it there again, any more
than the flowers she held in her hand, in our old spring rambles. Yet
the tear that slowly gathers as she gazes, is not grief that the bloom
has faded from my cheek, but the sweet consciousness that it can never
fade from my heart; and as her eyes fall upon her work again, or the
children climb her lap to hear the old fairy tales they already know
by heart, my wife Prue is dearer to me than the sweetheart of those
days long ago.
"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree."
I am the owner of great estates. Many of them lie in the West; but the
greater part are in Spain. You may see my western possessions any
evening at sunset when their spires and battlements flash against the
It gives me a feeling of pardonable importance, as a proprietor, that
they are visible, to my eyes at least, from any part of the world in
which I chance to be. In my long voyage around the Cape of Good Hope
to India (the only voyage I ever made, when I was a boy and a
supercargo), if I fell home-sick, or sank into a reverie of all the
pleasant homes I had left behind, I had but to wait until sunset, and
then looking toward the west, I beheld my clustering pinnacles and
towers brightly burnished as if to salute and welcome me.
So, in the city, if I get vexed and wearied, and cannot find my wonted
solace in sallying forth at dinner-time to contemplate the gay world
of youth and beauty hurrying to the congress of fashion,--or if I
observe that years are deepening their tracks around the eyes of my
wife, Prue, I go quietly up to the housetop, toward evening, and
refresh myself with a distant prospect of my estates. It is as dear to
me as that of Eton to the poet Gray; and, if I sometimes wonder at
such moments whether I shall find those realms as fair as they appear,
I am suddenly reminded that the night air may be noxious, and
descending, I enter the little parlor where Prue sits stitching, and
surprise that precious woman by exclaiming with the poet's pensive
"Thought would destroy their Paradise,
No more;--where ignorance is bliss,
'Tis folly to be wise."
Columbus, also, had possessions in the West; and as I read aloud the
romantic story of his life, my voice quivers when I come to the point
in which it is related that sweet odors of the land mingled with the
sea-air, as the admiral's fleet approached the shores; that tropical
birds flew out and fluttered around the ships, glittering in the sun,
the gorgeous promises of the new country; that boughs, perhaps with
blossoms not all decayed, floated out to welcome the strange wood from
which the craft were hollowed. Then I cannot restrain myself, I think
of the gorgeous visions I have seen before I have even undertaken the
journey to the West, and I cry aloud to Prue:
"What sun-bright birds, and gorgeous blossoms, and celestial odors
will float out to us, my Prue, as we approach our western
The placid Prue raises her eyes to mine with a reproof so delicate
that it could not be trusted to words; and, after a moment, she
resumes her knitting and I proceed.
These are my western estates, but my finest castles are in Spain. It
is a country famously romantic, and my castles are all of perfect
proportions, and appropriately set in the most picturesque situations.
I have never been to Spain myself, but I have naturally conversed much
with travellers to that country; although, I must allow, without
deriving from them much substantial information about my property
there. The wisest of them told me that there were more holders of real
estate in Spain than in any other region he had ever heard of, and
they are all great proprietors. Every one of them possesses a
multitude of the stateliest castles. From conversation with them you
easily gather that each one considers his own castles much the largest
and in the loveliest positions. And, after I had heard this said, I
verified it, by discovering that all my immediate neighbors in the
city were great Spanish proprietors.
One day as I raised my head from entering some long and tedious
accounts in my books, and began to reflect that the quarter was
expiring, and that I must begin to prepare the balance-sheet, I
observed my subordinate, in office but not in years, (for poor old
Titbottom will never see sixty again!) leaning on his hand, and much
"Are you not well, Titbottom!" asked I.
"Perfectly, but I was just building a castle in Spain," said he.
I looked at his rusty coat, his faded hands, his sad eye, and white
hair, for a moment, in great surprise, and then inquired,
"Is it possible that you own property there too?"
He shook his head silently; and still leaning on his hand, and with an
expression in his eye, as if he were looking upon the most fertile
estate of Andalusia, he went on making his plans; laying out his
gardens, I suppose, building terraces for the vines, determining a
library with a southern exposure, and resolving which should be the
"What a singular whim," thought I, as I watched Titbottom and filled
up a cheque for four hundred dollars, my quarterly salary, "that a man
who owns castles in Spain should be deputy book-keeper at nine hundred
dollars a year!"
When I went home I ate my dinner silently, and afterward sat for a
long time upon the roof of the house, looking at my western property,
and thinking of Titbottom.
It is remarkable that none of the proprietors have ever been to Spain
to take possession and report to the rest of us the state of our
property there. I, of course, cannot go, I am too much engaged. So is
Titbottom. And I find it is the case with all the proprietors. We
have so much to detain us at home that we cannot get away. But it is
always so with rich men. Prue sighed once as she sat at the window
and saw Bourne, the millionaire, the President of innumerable
companies, and manager and director of all the charitable societies in
town, going by with wrinkled brow and hurried step. I asked her why
"Because I was remembering that my mother used to tell me not to
desire great riches, for they occasioned great cares," said she.
"They do indeed," answered I, with emphasis, remembering Titbottom,
and the impossibility of looking after my Spanish estates.
Prue turned and looked at me with mild surprise; but I saw that her
mind had gone down the street with Bourne. I could never discover if
he held much Spanish stock. But I think he does. All the Spanish
proprietors have a certain expression. Bourne has it to a remarkable
degree. It is a kind of look, as if, in fact, a man's mind were in
Spain. Bourne was an old lover of Prue's, and he is not married,
which is strange for a man in his position.
It is not easy for me to say how I know so much, as I certainly do,
about my castles in Spain. The sun always shines upon them. They stand
lofty and fair in a luminous, golden atmosphere, a little hazy and
dreamy, perhaps, like the Indian summer, but in which no gales blow
and there are no tempests. All the sublime mountains, and beautiful
valleys, and soft landscape, that I have not yet seen, are to be found
in the grounds. They command a noble view of the Alps; so fine,
indeed, that I should be quite content with the prospect of them from
the highest tower of my castle, and not care to go to Switzerland.
The neighboring ruins, too, are as picturesque as those of Italy, and
my desire of standing in the Coliseum, and of seeing the shattered
arches of the Aqueducts stretching along the Campagna and melting into
the Alban Mount, is entirely quenched. The rich gloom of my orange
groves is gilded by fruit as brilliant of complexion and exquisite of
flavor as any that ever dark-eyed Sorrento girls, looking over the
high plastered walls of southern Italy, hand to the youthful
travellers, climbing on donkeys up the narrow lane beneath.
The Nile flows through my grounds. The Desert lies upon their edge,
and Damascus stands in my garden. I am given to understand, also, that
the Parthenon has been removed to my Spanish possessions. The
Golden-Horn is my fish-preserve; my flocks of golden fleece are
pastured on the plain of Marathon, and the honey of Hymettus is
distilled from the flowers that grow in the vale of Enna--all in my
From the windows of those castles look the beautiful women whom I have
never seen, whose portraits the poets have painted. They wait for me
there, and chiefly the fair-haired child, lost to my eyes so long ago,
now bloomed into an impossible beauty. The lights that never shone,
glance at evening in the vaulted halls, upon banquets that were never
spread. The bands I have never collected, play all night long, and
enchant the brilliant company, that was never assembled, into silence.
In the long summer mornings the children that I never had, play in the
gardens that I never planted. I hear their sweet voices sounding low
and far away, calling, "Father! Father!" I see the lost fair-haired
girl, grown now into a woman, descending the stately stairs of my
castle in Spain, stepping out upon the lawn, and playing with those
children. They bound away together down the garden; but those voices
linger, this time airily calling, "Mother! mother!"
But there is a stranger magic than this in my Spanish estates. The
lawny slopes on which, when a child, I played, in my father's old
country place, which was sold when he failed, are all there, and not a
flower faded, nor a blade of grass sere. The green leaves have not
fallen from the spring woods of half a century ago, and a gorgeous
autumn has blazed undimmed for fifty years, among the trees I
Chestnuts are not especially sweet to my palate now, but those with
which I used to prick my fingers when gathering them in New Hampshire
woods are exquisite as ever to my taste, when I think of eating them
in Spain. I never ride horseback now at home; but in Spain, when I
think of it, I bound over all the fences in the country, barebacked
upon the wildest horses. Sermons I am apt to find a little soporific
in this country; but in Spain I should listen as reverently as ever,
for proprietors must set a good example on their estates.
Plays are insufferable to me here--Prue and I never go. Prue, indeed,
is not quite sure it is moral; but the theatres in my Spanish castles
are of a prodigious splendor, and when I think of going there, Prue
sits in a front box with me--a kind of royal box--the good woman,
attired in such wise as I have never seen her here, while I wear my
white waistcoat, which in Spain has no appearance of mending, but
dazzles with immortal newness, and is a miraculous fit.
Yes, and in those castles in Spain, Prue is not the placid,
breeches-patching helpmate, with whom you are acquainted, but her face
has a bloom which we both remember, and her movement a grace which my
Spanish swans emulate, and her voice a music sweeter than those that
orchestras discourse. She is always there what she seemed to me when
I fell in love with her, many and many years ago. The neighbors
called her then a nice, capable girl; and certainly she did knit and
darn with a zeal and success to which my feet and my legs have
testified for nearly half a century. But she could spin a finer web
than ever came from cotton, and in its subtle meshes my heart was
entangled, and there has reposed softly and happily ever since. The
neighbors declared she could make pudding and cake better than any
girl of her age; but stale bread from Prue's hand was ambrosia to my
"She who makes every thing well, even to making neighbors speak well
of her, will surely make a good wife," said I to myself when I knew
her; and the echo of a half century answers, "a good wife."
So, when I meditate my Spanish castles, I see Prue in them as my heart
saw her standing by her father's door. "Age cannot wither her." There
is a magic in the Spanish air that paralyzes Time. He glides by,
unnoticed and unnoticing. I greatly admire the Alps, which I see so
distinctly from my Spanish windows; I delight in the taste of the
southern fruit that ripens upon my terraces; I enjoy the pensive shade
of the Italian ruins in my gardens; I like to shoot crocodiles, and
talk with the Sphinx upon the shores of the Nile, flowing through my
domain; I am glad to drink sherbet in Damascus, and fleece my flocks
on the plains of Marathon; but I would resign all these for ever
rather than part with that Spanish portrait of Prue for a day. Nay,
have I not resigned them all for ever, to live with that portrait's
I have often wondered how I should reach my castles. The desire of
going comes over me very strongly sometimes, and I endeavor to see how
I can arrange my affairs, so as to get away. To tell the truth, I am
not quite sure of the route,--I mean, to that particular part of Spain
in which my estates lie. I have inquired very particularly, but nobody
seems to know precisely. One morning I met young Aspen, trembling with
"What's the matter?" asked I with interest, for I knew that he held a
great deal of Spanish stock.
"Oh!" said he, "I'm going out to take possession. I have found the
way to my castles in Spain."
"Dear me!" I answered, with the blood streaming into my face; and,
heedless of Prue, pulling my glove until it ripped--"what is it?"
"The direct route is through California," answered he.
"But then you have the sea to cross afterward," said I, remembering
"Not at all," answered Aspen, "the road runs along the shore of the
He darted away from me, and I did not meet him again. I was very
curious to know if he arrived safely in Spain, and was expecting every
day to hear news from him of my property there, when, one evening, I
bought an extra, full of California news, and the first thing upon
which my eye fell was this: "Died, in San Francisco, Edward Aspen,
Esq., aged 35." There is a large body of the Spanish stockholders who
believe with Aspen, and sail for California every week. I have not yet
heard of their arrival out at their castles, but I suppose they are so
busy with their own affairs there, that they have no time to write to
the rest of us about the condition of our property.
There was my wife's cousin, too, Jonathan Bud, who is a good, honest,
youth from the country, and, after a few weeks' absence, he burst into
the office one day, just as I was balancing my books, and whispered to
"I've found my castle in Spain."
I put the blotting-paper in the leaf deliberately, for I was wiser now
than when Aspen had excited me, and looked at my wife's cousin,
Jonathan Bud, inquiringly.
"Polly Bacon," whispered he, winking.
I continued the interrogative glance.
"She's going to marry me, and she'll show me the way to Spain," said
Jonathan Bud, hilariously.
"She'll make you walk Spanish, Jonathan Bud," said I.
And so she does. He makes no more hilarious remarks. He never bursts
into a room. He does not ask us to dinner. He says that Mrs. Bud does
not like smoking. Mrs. Bud has nerves and babies. She has a way of
saying, "Mr. Bud!" which destroys conversation, and casts a gloom upon
It occurred to me that Bourne, the millionaire, must have ascertained
the safest and most expeditious route to Spain; so I stole a few
minutes one afternoon, and went into his office. He was sitting at his
desk, writing rapidly, and surrounded by files of papers and patterns,
specimens, boxes, everything that covers the tables of a great
merchant. In the outer rooms clerks were writing. Upon high shelves
over their heads, were huge chests, covered with dust, dingy with age,
many of them, and all marked with the name of the firm, in large black
letters--"Bourne & Dye." They were all numbered also with the proper
year; some of them with a single capital B, and dates extending back
into the last century, when old Bourne made the great fortune, before
he went into partnership with Dye. Everything was indicative of
immense and increasing prosperity.
There were several gentlemen in waiting to converse with Bourne (we
all call him so, familiarly, down town), and I waited until they went
out. But others came in. There was no pause in the rush. All kinds of
inquiries were made and answered. At length I stepped up.
"A moment, please, Mr. Bourne."
He looked up hastily, wished me good morning which he had done to none
of the others, and which courtesy I attributed to Spanish sympathy.
"What is it, sir?" he asked, blandly, but with wrinkled brow.
"Mr. Bourne, have you any castles in Spain?" said I, without preface.
He looked at me for a few moments without speaking, and without
seeming to see me. His brow gradually smoothed, and his eyes,
apparently looking into the street, were really, I have no doubt,
feasting upon the Spanish landscape.
"Too many, too many," said he at length, musingly, shaking his head,
and without addressing me.
I suppose he felt himself too much extended--as we say in Wall
Street. He feared, I thought, that he had too much impracticable
property elsewhere, to own so much in Spain; so I asked,
"Will you tell me what you consider the shortest and safest route
thither, Mr. Bourne? for, of course, a man who drives such an immense
trade with all parts of the world, will know all that I have come to
"My dear sir," answered he wearily, "I have been trying all my life to
discover it; but none of my ships have ever been there--none of my
captains have any report to make. They bring me, as they brought my
father, gold dust from Guinea; ivory, pearls, and precious stones,
from every part of the earth; but not a fruit, not a solitary flower,
from one of my castles in Spain. I have sent clerks, agents, and
travellers of all kinds, philosophers, pleasure-hunters, and invalids,
in all sorts of ships, to all sorts of places, but none of them ever
saw or heard of my castles, except one young poet, and he died in a
"Mr. Bourne, will you take five thousand at ninety-seven?" hastily
demanded a man, whom, as he entered, I recognized as a broker. "We'll
make a splendid thing of it."
Bourne nodded assent, and the broker disappeared.
"Happy man!" muttered the merchant, as the broker went out; "he has no
castles in Spain."
"I am sorry to have troubled you, Mr. Bourne," said I, retiring.
"I am glad you came," returned he; "but I assure you, had I known the
route you hoped to ascertain from me, I should have sailed years and
years ago. People sail for the North-west Passage, which is nothing
when you have found it. Why don't the English Admiralty fit out
expeditions to discover all our castles in Spain?"
He sat lost in thought.
"It's nearly post-time, sir," said the clerk.
Mr. Bourne did not heed him. He was still musing; and I turned to go,
wishing him good morning. When I had nearly reached the door, he
called me back, saying, as if continuing his remarks--
"It is strange that you, of all men, should come to ask me this
question. If I envy any man, it is you, for I sincerely assure you
that I supposed you lived altogether upon your Spanish estates. I once
thought I knew the way to mine. I gave directions for furnishing them,
and ordered bridal bouquets, which were never used, but I suppose they
are there still."
He paused a moment, then said slowly--"How is your wife?"
I told him that Prue was well--that she was always remarkably
well. Mr. Bourne shook me warmly by the hand.
"Thank you," said he. "Good morning."
I knew why he thanked me; I knew why he thought that I lived
altogether upon my Spanish estates; I knew a little bit about those
bridal bouquets. Mr. Bourne, the millionaire, was an old lover of
Prue's. There is something very odd about these Spanish castles. When
I think of them, I somehow see the fair-haired girl whom I knew when I
was not out of short jackets. When Bourne meditates them, he sees Prue
and me quietly at home in their best chambers. It is a very singular
thing that my wife should live in another man's castle in Spain.
At length I resolved to ask Titbottom if he had ever heard of the best
route to our estates. He said that he owned castles, and sometimes
there was an expression in his face, as if he saw them. I hope he
did. I should long ago have asked him if he had ever observed the
turrets of my possessions in the West, without alluding to Spain, if I
had not feared he would suppose I was mocking his poverty. I hope his
poverty has not turned his head, for he is very forlorn.
One Sunday I went with him a few miles into the country. It was a
soft, bright day, the fields and hills lay turned to the sky, as if
every leaf and blade of grass were nerves, bared to the touch of the
sun. I almost felt the ground warm under my feet. The meadows waved
and glittered, the lights and shadows were exquisite, and the distant
hills seemed only to remove the horizon farther away. As we strolled
along, picking wild flowers, for it was in summer, I was thinking what
a fine day it was for a trip to Spain, when Titbottom suddenly
"Thank God! I own this landscape."
"You," returned I.
"Certainly," said he.
"Why," I answered, "I thought this was part of Bourne's property?"
"Does Bourne own the sun and sky? Does Bourne own that sailing shadow
yonder? Does Bourne own the golden lustre of the grain, or the motion
of the wood, or those ghosts of hills, that glide pallid along the
horizon? Bourne owns the dirt and fences; I own the beauty that makes
the landscape, or otherwise how could I own castles in Spain?"
That was very true. I respected Titbottom more than ever.
"Do you know," said he, after a long pause, "that I fancy my castles
lie just beyond those distant hills. At all events, I can see them
distinctly from their summits."
He smiled quietly as he spoke, and it was then I asked:
"But, Titbottom, have you never discovered the way to them?"
"Dear me! yes," answered he, "I know the way well enough; but it would
do no good to follow it. I should give out before I arrived. It is a
long and difficult journey for a man of my years and habits--and
income," he added slowly.
As he spoke he seated himself upon the ground; and while he pulled
long blades of grass, and, putting them between his thumbs, whistled
shrilly, he said:
"I have never known but two men who reached their estates in Spain."
"Indeed!" said I, "how did they go?"
"One went over the side of a ship, and the other out of a third story
window," said Titbottom, fitting a broad blade between his thumbs and
blowing a demoniacal blast.
"And I know one proprietor who resides upon his estates constantly,"
"Who is that?"
"Our old friend Slug, whom you may see any day at the asylum, just
coming in from the hunt, or going to call upon his friend the Grand
Lama, or dressing for the wedding of the Man in the Moon, or receiving
an ambassador from Timbuctoo. Whenever I go to see him, Slug insists
that I am the Pope, disguised as a journeyman carpenter, and he
entertains me in the most distinguished manner. He always insists
upon kissing my foot, and I bestow upon him, kneeling, the apostolic
benediction. This is the only Spanish proprietor in possession, with
whom I am acquainted."
And, so saying, Titbottom lay back upon the ground, and making a
spy-glass of his hand, surveyed the landscape through it. This was a
marvellous book-keeper of more than sixty!
"I know another man who lived in his Spanish castle for two months,
and then was tumbled out head first. That was young Stunning who
married old Buhl's daughter. She was all smiles, and mamma was all
sugar, and Stunning was all bliss, for two months. He carried his head
in the clouds, and felicity absolutely foamed at his eyes. He was
drowned in love; seeing, as usual, not what really was, but what he
fancied. He lived so exclusively in his castle, that he forgot the
office down town, and one morning there came a fall, and Stunning was
Titbottom arose, and stooping over, contemplated the landscape, with
his head down between his legs.
"It's quite a new effect, so," said the nimble book-keeper.
"Well," said I, "Stunning failed?"
"Oh yes, smashed all up, and the castle in Spain came down about his
ears with a tremendous crash. The family sugar was all dissolved into
the original cane in a moment. Fairy-times are over, are they?
Heigh-ho! the falling stones of Stunning's castle have left their
marks all over his face. I call them his Spanish scars."
"But, my dear Titbottom," said I, "what is the matter with you this
morning, your usual sedateness is quite gone?"
"It's only the exhilarating air of Spain," he answered. "My castles
are so beautiful that I can never think of them, nor speak of them,
without excitement; when I was younger I desired to reach them even
more ardently than now, because I heard that the philosopher's stone
was in the vault of one of them."
"Indeed," said I, yielding to sympathy, "and I have good reason to
believe that the fountain of eternal youth flows through the garden of
one of mine. Do you know whether there are any children upon your
"'The children of Alice call Bartrum father!'" replied Titbottom,
solemnly, and in a low voice, as he folded his faded hands before him,
and stood erect, looking wistfully over the landscape. The light wind
played with his thin white hair, and his sober, black suit was almost
sombre in the sunshine. The half bitter expression, which I had
remarked upon his face during part of our conversation, had passed
away, and the old sadness had returned to his eye. He stood, in the
pleasant morning, the very image of a great proprietor of castles in
"There is wonderful music there," he said: "sometimes I awake at
night, and hear it. It is full of the sweetness of youth, and love,
and a new world. I lie and listen, and I seem to arrive at the great
gates of my estates. They swing open upon noiseless hinges, and the
tropic of my dreams receives me. Up the broad steps, whose marble
pavement mingled light and shadow print with shifting mosaic, beneath
the boughs of lustrous oleanders, and palms, and trees of unimaginable
fragrance, I pass into the vestibule, warm with summer odors, and into
the presence-chamber beyond, where my wife awaits me. But castle, and
wife, and odorous woods, and pictures, and statues, and all the bright
substance of my household, seem to reel and glimmer in the splendor,
as the music fails.
"But when it swells again, I clasp the wife to my heart, and we move
on with a fair society, beautiful women, noble men, before whom the
tropical luxuriance of that world bends and bows in homage; and,
through endless days and nights of eternal summer, the stately revel
of our life proceeds. Then, suddenly, the music stops. I hear my
watch ticking under the pillow. I see dimly the outline of my little
upper room. Then I fall asleep, and in the morning some one of the
boarders at the breakfast-table says:
"'Did you hear the serenade last night, Mr. Titbottom.'"
I doubted no longer that Titbottom was a very extensive
proprietor. The truth is, that he was so constantly engaged in
planning and arranging his castles, that he conversed very little at
the office, and I had misinterpreted his silence. As we walked
homeward, that day, he was more than ever tender and gentle. "We must
all have something to do in this world," said he, "and I, who have so
much leisure--for you know I have no wife nor children to work
for--know not what I should do, if I had not my castles in Spain to
When I reached home, my darling Prue was sitting in the small parlor,
reading. I felt a little guilty for having been so long away, and upon
my only holiday, too. So I began to say that Titbottom invited me to
go to walk, and that I had no idea we had gone so far, and that----
"Don't excuse yourself," said Prue, smiling as she laid down her book;
"I am glad you have enjoyed yourself. You ought to go out sometimes,
and breathe the fresh air, and run about the fields, which I am not
strong enough to do. Why did you not bring home Mr. Titbottom to tea?
He is so lonely, and looks so sad. I am sure he has very little
comfort in this life," said my thoughtful Prue, as she called Jane to
set the tea-table.
"But he has a good deal of comfort in Spain, Prue," answered I.
"When was Mr. Titbottom in Spain," inquired my wife.
"Why, he is there more than half the time," I replied.
Prue looked quietly at me and smiled. "I see it has done you good to
breathe the country air," said she. "Jane, get some of the blackberry
jam, and call Adoniram and the children."
So we went in to tea. We eat in the back parlor, for our little house
and limited means do not allow us to have things upon the Spanish
scale. It is better than a sermon to hear my wife Prue talk to the
children; and when she speaks to me it seems sweeter than psalm
singing; at least, such as we have in our church. I am very happy.
Yet I dream my dreams, and attend to my castles in Spain. I have so
much property there, that I could not, in conscience, neglect it. All
the years of my youth, and the hopes of my manhood, are stored away,
like precious stones, in the vaults; and I know that I shall find
everything convenient, elegant, and beautiful, when I come into
As the years go by, I am not conscious that my interest diminishes. If
I see that age is subtly sifting his snow in the dark hair of my Prue,
I smile, contented, for her hair, dark and heavy as when I first saw
it, is all carefully treasured in my castles in Spain. If I feel her
arm more heavily leaning upon mine, as we walk around the squares, I
press it closely to my side, for I know that the easy grace of her
youth's motion will be restored by the elixir of that Spanish air. If
her voice sometimes falls less clearly from her lips, it is no less
sweet to me for the music of her voice's prime fills, freshly as ever,
those Spanish halls. If the light I love fades a little from her eyes,
I know that the glances she gave me, in our youth, are the eternal
sunshine of my castles in Spain.
I defy time and change. Each year laid upon our heads, is a hand of
blessing. I have no doubt that I shall find the shortest route to my
possessions as soon as need be. Perhaps, when Adoniram is married, we
shall all go out to one of my castles to pass the honey-moon.
Ah! if the true history of Spain could be written what a book were
there! The most purely romantic ruin in the world is the Alhambra. But
of the Spanish castles, more spacious and splendid than any possible
Alhambra, and for ever unruined, no towers are visible, no pictures
have been painted, and only a few ecstatic songs have been sung. The
pleasure-dome of Kubla Khan, which Coleridge saw in Xanadu (a province
with which I am not familiar), and a fine Castle of Indolence
belonging to Thomson, and the Palace of art which Tennyson built as a
"lordly pleasure-house" for his soul, are among the best statistical
accounts of those Spanish estates. Turner, too, has done for them
much the same service that Owen Jones has done for the Alhambra. In
the vignette to Moore's Epicurean you will find represented one of the
most extensive castles in Spain; and there are several exquisite
studies from others, by the same artists, published in Rogers's Italy.
But I confess I do not recognize any of these as mine, and that fact
makes me prouder of my own castles, for, if there be such boundless
variety of magnificence in their aspect and exterior, imagine the life
that is led there, a life not unworthy such a setting.
If Adoniram should be married within a reasonable time, and we should
make up that little family party to go out, I have considered already
what society I should ask to meet the bride. Jephthah's daughter and
the Chevalier Bayard, I should say--and fair Rosamond with Dean
Swift--King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba would come over, I think,
from his famous castle--Shakespeare and his friend the Marquis of
Southampton might come in a galley with Cleopatra; and, if any guest
were offended by her presence, he should devote himself to the Fair
One with Golden Locks. Mephistophiles is not personally disagreeable,
and is exceedingly well-bred in society, I am told; and he should come
_tete-a-tete_ with Mrs. Rawdon Crawley. Spenser should escort his
Faerie Queen, who would preside at the tea-table.
Mr. Samuel Weller I should ask as Lord of Misrule, and Dr. Johnson as
the Abbot of Unreason. I would suggest to Major Dobbin to accompany
Mrs. Fry; Alcibiades would bring Homer and Plato in his purple-sailed
galley; and I would have Aspasia, Ninon de l'Enclos, and Mrs. Battle,
to make up a table of whist with Queen Elizabeth. I shall order a seat
placed in the oratory for Lady Jane Grey and Joan of Arc. I shall
invite General Washington to bring some of the choicest cigars from
his plantation for Sir Walter Raleigh; and Chaucer, Browning, and
Walter Savage Landor, should talk with Goethe, who is to bring Tasso
on one arm and Iphigenia on the other.
Dante and Mr. Carlyle would prefer, I suppose, to go down into the
dark vaults under the castle. The Man in the Moon, the Old Harry, and
William of the Wisp would be valuable additions, and the Laureate
Tennyson might compose an official ode upon the occasion: or I would
ask "They" to say all about it.
Of course there are many other guests whose names I do not at the
moment recall. But I should invite, first of all, Miles Coverdale, who
knows every thing about these places and this society, for he was at
Blithedale, and he has described "a select party" which he attended at
a castle in the air.
Prue has not yet looked over the list. In fact I am not quite sure
that she knows my intention. For I wish to surprise her, and I think
it would be generous to ask Bourne to lead her out in the bridal
quadrille. I think that I shall try the first waltz with the girl I
sometimes seem to see in my fairest castle, but whom I very vaguely
remember. Titbottom will come with old Burton and Jaques. But I have
not prepared half my invitations. Do you not guess it, seeing that I
did not name, first of all, Elia, who assisted at the "Rejoicings upon
the new year's coming of age"?
And yet, if Adoniram should never marry?--or if we could not get to
Spain?--or if the company would not come?
What then? Shall I betray a secret? I have already entertained this
party in my humble little parlor at home; and Prue presided as
serenely as Semiramis over her court. Have I not said that I defy
time, and shall space hope to daunt me? I keep books by day, but by
night books keep me. They leave me to dreams and reveries. Shall I
confess, that sometimes when I have been sitting, reading to my Prue,
Cymbeline, perhaps, or a Canterbury tale, I have seemed to see clearly
before me the broad highway to my castles in Spain; and as she looked
up from her work, and smiled in sympathy, I have even fancied that I
was already there.
SEA FROM SHORE
"Come unto these yellow sands."
"Argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales."
In the month of June, Prue and I like to walk upon the Battery toward
sunset, and watch the steamers, crowded with passengers, bound for the
pleasant places along the coast where people pass the hot months.
Sea-side lodgings are not very comfortable, I am told; but who would
not be a little pinched in his chamber, if his windows looked upon the
In such praises of the ocean do I indulge at such times, and so
respectfully do I regard the sailors who may chance to pass, that Prue
often says, with her shrewd smiles, that my mind is a kind of
Greenwich Hospital, full of abortive marine hopes and wishes,
broken-legged intentions, blind regrets, and desires, whose hands have
been shot away in some hard battle of experience, so that they cannot
grasp the results towards which they reach.
She is right, as usual. Such hopes and intentions do lie, ruined and
hopeless now, strewn about the placid contentment of my mental life,
as the old pensioners sit about the grounds at Greenwich, maimed and
musing in the quiet morning sunshine. Many a one among them thinks
what a Nelson he would have been if both his legs had not been
prematurely carried away; or in what a Trafalgar of triumph he would
have ended, if, unfortunately, he had not happened to have been blown
blind by the explosion of that unlucky magazine.
So I dream, sometimes, of a straight scarlet collar, stiff with gold
lace, around my neck, instead of this limp white cravat; and I have
even brandished my quill at the office so cutlass-wise, that Titbottom
has paused in his additions and looked at me as if he doubted whether
I should come out quite square in my petty cash. Yet he understands
it. Titbottom was born in Nantucket.
That is the secret of my fondness for the sea; I was born by it. Not
more surely do Savoyards pine for the mountains, or Cockneys for the
sound of Bow bells, than those who are born within sight and sound of
the ocean to return to it and renew their fealty. In dreams the
children of the sea hear its voice.
I have read in some book of travels that certain tribes of Arabs have
no name for the ocean, and that when they came to the shore for the
first time, they asked with eager sadness, as if penetrated by the
conviction of a superior beauty, "what is that desert of water more
beautiful than the land?" And in the translations of German stories
which Adoniram and the other children read, and into which I
occasionally look in the evening when they are gone to bed--for I like
to know what interests my children--I find that the Germans, who do
not live near the sea, love the fairy lore of water, and tell the
sweet stories of Undine and Melusina, as if they had especial charm
for them, because their country is inland.
We who know the sea have less fairy feeling about it, but our
realities are romance. My earliest remembrances are of a long range of
old, half dilapidated stores; red brick stores with steep wooden
roofs, and stone window-frames and door-frames, which stood upon docks
built as if for immense trade with all quarters of the globe.
Generally there were only a few sloops moored to the tremendous posts,
which I fancied could easily hold fast a Spanish Armada in a tropical
hurricane. But sometimes a great ship, an East Indiaman, with rusty,
seamed, blistered sides, and dingy sails, came slowly moving up the
harbor, with an air of indolent self-importance and consciousness of
superiority, which inspired me with profound respect. If the ship had
ever chanced to run down a row-boat, or a sloop, or any specimen of
smaller craft, I should only have wondered at the temerity of any
floating thing in crossing the path of such supreme majesty. The ship
was leisurely chained and cabled to the old dock, and then came the
How the stately monster had been fattening upon foreign spoils! How it
had gorged itself (such galleons did never seem to me of the feminine
gender) with the luscious treasures of the tropics! It had lain its
lazy length along the shores of China, and sucked in whole flowery
harvests of tea. The Brazilian sun flashed through the strong wicker
prisons, bursting with bananas and nectarean fruits that eschew the
temperate zone. Steams of camphor, of sandal wood, arose from the
hold. Sailors chanting cabalistic strains, that had to my ear a shrill
and monotonous pathos, like the uniform rising and falling of an
autumn wind, turned cranks that lifted the bales, and boxes, and
crates, and swung them ashore.
But to my mind, the spell of their singing raised the fragrant
freight, and not the crank. Madagascar and Ceylon appeared at the
mystic bidding of the song. The placid sunshine of the docks was
perfumed with India. The universal calm of southern seas poured from
the bosom of the ship over the quiet, decaying old northern port.
Long after the confusion of unloading was over, and the ship lay as if
all voyages were ended, I dared to creep timorously along the edge of
the dock, and at great risk of falling in the black water of its huge
shadow, I placed my hand upon the hot hulk, and so established a
mystic and exquisite connection with Pacific islands, with palm groves
and all the passionate beauties they embower; with jungles, Bengal
tigers, pepper, and the crushed feet of Chinese fairies. I touched
Asia, the Cape of Good Hope and the Happy Islands. I would not believe
that the heat I felt was of our northern sun; to my finer sympathy it
burned with equatorial fervors.
The freight was piled in the old stores. I believe that many of them
remain, but they have lost their character. When I knew them, not only
was I younger, but partial decay had overtaken the town; at least the
bulk of its India trade had shifted to New York and Boston. But the
appliances remained. There was no throng of busy traffickers, and
after school, in the afternoon, I strolled by and gazed into the
Silence reigned within,--silence, dimness, and piles of foreign
treasure. Vast coils of cable, like tame boa-constrictors, served as
seats for men with large stomachs, and heavy watch-seals, and nankeen
trowsers, who sat looking out of the door toward the ships, with
little other sign of life than an occasional low talking, as if in
their sleep. Huge hogsheads perspiring brown sugar and oozing slow
molasses, as if nothing tropical could keep within bounds, but must
continually expand, and exude, and overflow, stood against the walls,
and had an architectural significance, for they darkly reminded me of
Egyptian prints, and in the duskiness of the low vaulted store seemed
cyclopean columns incomplete. Strange festoons and heaps of bags,
square piles of square boxes cased in mats, bales of airy summer
stuffs, which, even in winter, scoffed at cold, and shamed it by
audacious assumption of eternal sun, little specimen boxes of precious
dyes that even now shine through my memory, like old Venetian schools
unpainted,--these were all there in rich confusion.
The stores had a twilight of dimness, the air was spicy with mingled
odors. I liked to look suddenly in from the glare of sunlight outside,
and then the cool sweet dimness was like the palpable breath of the
far off island-groves; and if only some parrot or macaw hung within,
would flaunt with glistening plumage in his cage, and as the gay hue
flashed in a chance sunbeam, call in his hard, shrill voice, as if
thrusting sharp sounds upon a glistening wire from out that grateful
gloom, then the enchantment was complete, and without moving, I was
circumnavigating the globe.
From the old stores and the docks slowly crumbling, touched, I know
not why or how, by the pensive air of past prosperity, I rambled out
of town on those well remembered afternoons, to the fields that lay
upon hillsides over the harbor, and there sat, looking out to sea,
fancying some distant sail proceeding to the glorious ends of the
earth, to be my type and image, who would so sail, stately and
successful, to all the glorious ports of the Future. Going home, I
returned by the stores, which black porters were closing. But I stood
long looking in, saturating my imagination, and as it appeared, my
clothes, with the spicy suggestion. For when I reached home my
thrifty mother--another Prue--came snuffing and smelling about me.
"Why! my son, (_snuff, snuff,_) where have you been? (_snuff,
snuff._) Has the baker been making (_snuff_) ginger-bread? You
smell as if you'd been in (_snuff, snuff,_) a bag of cinnamon."
"I've only been on the wharves, mother."
"Well, my dear, I hope you haven't stuck up your clothes with
molasses. Wharves are dirty places, and dangerous. You must take care
of yourself, my son. Really this smell is (_snuff, snuff_,) very
But I departed from the maternal presence, proud and happy. I was
aromatic. I bore about me the true foreign air. Whoever smelt me smelt
distant countries. I had nutmeg, spices, cinnamon, and cloves, without
the jolly red-nose. I pleased myself with being the representative of
the Indies. I was in good odor with myself and all the world.
I do not know how it is, but surely Nature makes kindly provision. An
imagination so easily excited as mine could not have escaped
disappointment if it had had ample opportunity and experience of the
lands it so longed to see. Therefore, although I made the India
voyage, I have never been a traveller, and saving the little time I
was ashore in India, I did not lose the sense of novelty and romance,
which the first sight of foreign lands inspires.
That little time was all my foreign travel. I am glad of it. I see now
that I should never have found the country from which the East
Indiaman of my early days arrived. The palm groves do not grow with
which that hand laid upon the ship placed me in magic conception. As
for the lovely Indian maid whom the palmy arches bowered, she has long
since clasped some native lover to her bosom, and, ripened into mild
maternity, how should I know her now?
"You would find her quite as easily now as then," says my Prue, when I
speak of it. She is right again, as usual, that precious woman; and
it is therefore I feel that if the chances of life have moored me fast
to a book-keeper's desk, they have left all the lands I longed to see
fairer and fresher in my mind than they could ever be in my
memory. Upon my only voyage I used to climb into the top and search
the horizon for the shore. But now in a moment of calm thought I see
a more Indian India than ever mariner discerned, and do not envy the
youths who go there and make fortunes, who wear grass-cloth jackets,
drink iced beer, and eat curry; whose minds fall asleep, and whose
bodies have liver complaints.
Unseen by me for ever, nor ever regretted, shall wave the Egyptian
palms and the Italian pines. Untrodden by me, the Forum shall still
echo with the footfall of imperial Rome, and the Parthenon unrifled of
its marbles, look, perfect, across the Egean blue.
My young friends return from their foreign tours elate with the smiles
of a nameless Italian, or Parisian belle. I know not such cheap
delights; I am a suitor of Vittoria Colonna; I walk with Tasso along
the terraced garden of the Villa d'Este, and look to see Beatrice
smiling down the rich gloom of the cypress shade. You staid at the
_Hotel Europa_ in Venice, at _Danielli's_ or the _Leone
bianco_; I am the guest of Marino Faliero, and I whisper to his
wife as we climb the giant staircase in the summer moonlight,
"Ah! senza amaro
Andare sul mare,
Col sposo del mare,
Non puo consolare."
It is for the same reason that I did not care to dine with you and
Aurelia, that I am content not to stand in St. Peter's. Alas! if I
could see the end of it, it would not be St. Peter's. For those of us
whom Nature means to keep at home, she provides entertainment. One man
goes four thousand miles to Italy, and does not see it, he is so
short-sighted. Another is so far-sighted that he stays in his room and
sees more than Italy.
But for this very reason that it washes the shores of my possible
Europe and Asia, the sea draws me constantly to itself. Before I came
to New York, while I was still a clerk in Boston, courting Prue, and
living out of town, I never knew of a ship sailing for India or even
for England and France, but I went up to the State House cupola or to
the observatory on some friend's house in Roxbury, where I could not
be interrupted, and there watched the departure.
The sails hung ready; the ship lay in the stream; busy little boats
and puffing steamers darted about it, clung to its sides, paddled away
from it, or led the way to sea, as minnows might pilot a whale. The
anchor was slowly swung at the bow; I could not hear the sailors'
song, but I knew they were singing. I could not see the parting
friends, but I knew farewells were spoken. I did not share the
confusion, although I knew what bustle there was, what hurry, what
shouting, what creaking, what fall of ropes and iron, what sharp
oaths, low laughs, whispers, sobs. But I was cool, high, separate. To
me it was
"A painted ship
Upon a painted ocean."
The sails were shaken out, and the ship began to move. It was a fair
breeze, perhaps, and no steamer was needed to tow her away. She
receded down the bay. Friends turned back--I could not see them--and
waved their hands, and wiped their eyes, and went home to dinner.
Farther and farther from the ships at anchor, the lessening vessel
became single and solitary upon the water. The sun sank in the west;
but I watched her still. Every flash of her sails, as she tacked and
turned, thrilled my heart.
Yet Prue was not on board. I had never seen one of the passengers or
the crew. I did not know the consignees, nor the name of the vessel. I
had shipped no adventure, nor risked any insurance, nor made any bet,
but my eyes clung to her as Ariadne's to the fading sail of
Theseus. The ship was freighted with more than appeared upon her
papers, yet she was not a smuggler. She bore all there was of that
nameless lading, yet the next ship would carry as much. She was
freighted with fancy. My hopes, and wishes, and vague desires, were
all on board. It seemed to me a treasure not less rich than that which
filled the East Indiaman at the old dock in my boyhood.
When, at length, the ship was a sparkle upon the horizon, I waved my
hand in last farewell, I strained my eyes for a last glimpse. My mind
had gone to sea, and had left noise behind. But now I heard again the
multitudinous murmur of the city, and went down rapidly, and threaded
the short, narrow, streets to the office. Yet, believe it, every dream
of that day, as I watched the vessel, was written at night to
Prue. She knew my heart had not sailed away.
Those days are long past now, but still I walk upon the Battery and
look towards the Narrows and know that beyond them, separated only by
the sea, are many of whom I would so gladly know, and so rarely
hear. The sea rolls between us like the lapse of dusky ages. They
trusted themselves to it, and it bore them away far and far as if into
the past. Last night I read of Antony, but I have not heard from
Christopher these many months, and by so much farther away is he, so
much older and more remote, than Antony. As for William, he is as
vague as any of the shepherd kings of ante-Pharaonic dynasties.
It is the sea that has done it, it has carried them off and put them
away upon its other side. It is fortunate the sea did not put them
upon its underside. Are they hale and happy still? Is their hair
gray, and have they mustachios? Or have they taken to wigs and
crutches? Are they popes or cardinals yet? Do they feast with Lucrezia
Borgia, or preach red republicanism to the Council of Ten? Do they
sing, _Behold how brightly breaks the morning_ with Masaniello?
Do they laugh at Ulysses and skip ashore to the Syrens? Has Mesrour,
chief of the Eunuchs, caught them with Zobeide in the Caliph's garden,
or have they made cheese cakes without pepper? Friends of my youth,
where in your wanderings have you tasted the blissful Lotus, that you
neither come nor send us tidings?
Across the sea also came idle rumors, as false reports steal into
history and defile fair fames. Was it longer ago than yesterday that
I walked with my cousin, then recently a widow, and talked with her of
the countries to which she meant to sail? She was young, and
dark-eyed, and wore great hoops of gold, barbaric gold, in her ears.
The hope of Italy, the thought of living there, had risen like a dawn
in the darkness of her mind. I talked and listened by rapid turns.
Was it longer ago than yesterday that she told me of her splendid
plans, how palaces tapestried with gorgeous paintings should be
cheaply hired, and the best of teachers lead her children to the
completest and most various knowledge; how,--and with her slender
pittance!--she should have a box at the opera, and a carriage, and
liveried servants, and in perfect health and youth, lead a perfect
life in a perfect climate?
And now what do I hear? Why does a tear sometimes drop so audibly upon
my paper, that Titbottom looks across with a sort of mild rebuking
glance of inquiry, whether it is kind to let even a single tear fall,
when an ocean of tears is pent up in hearts that would burst and
overflow if but one drop should force its way out? Why across the sea
came faint gusty stories, like low voices in the wind, of a cloistered
garden and sunny seclusion--and a life of unknown and unexplained
luxury. What is this picture of a pale face showered with streaming
black hair, and large sad eyes looking upon lovely and noble children
playing in the sunshine--and a brow pained with thought straining into
their destiny? Who is this figure, a man tall and comely, with melting
eyes and graceful motion, who comes and goes at pleasure, who is not a
husband, yet has the key of the cloistered garden?
I do not know. They are secrets of the sea. The pictures pass before
my mind suddenly and unawares, and I feel the tears rising that I
would gladly repress. Titbottom looks at me, then stands by the window
of the office and leans his brow against the cold iron bars, and looks
down into the little square paved court. I take my hat and steal out
of the office for a few minutes, and slowly pace the hurrying
streets. Meek-eyed Alice! magnificent Maud! sweet baby Lilian! why
does the sea imprison you so far away, when will you return, where do
you linger? The water laps idly about docks,--lies calm, or gaily
heaves. Why does it bring me doubts and fears now, that brought such
bounty of beauty in the days long gone?
I remember that the day when my dark haired cousin, with hoops of
barbaric gold in her ears, sailed for Italy, was quarter-day, and we
balanced the books at the office. It was nearly noon, and in my
impatience to be away, I had not added my columns with sufficient
care. The inexorable hand of the office clock pointed sternly towards
twelve, and the remorseless pendulum ticked solemnly to noon.
To a man whose pleasures are not many, and rather small, the loss of
such an event as saying farewell and wishing God-speed to a friend
going to Europe, is a great loss. It was so to me, especially, because
there was always more to me, in every departure, than the parting and
the farewell. I was gradually renouncing this pleasure, as I saw
small prospect of ending before noon, when Titbottom, after looking at
me a moment, came to my side of the desk, and said:
"I should like to finish that for you."
I looked at him: poor Titbottom! he had no friends to wish God-speed
upon any journey. I quietly wiped my pen, took down my hat, and went
out. It was in the days of sail packets and less regularity, when
going to Europe was more of an epoch in life. How gaily my cousin
stood upon the deck and detailed to me her plan! How merrily the
children shouted and sang! How long I held my cousin's little hand in
mine, and gazed into her great eyes, remembering that they would see
and touch the things that were invisible to me for ever, but all the
more precious and fair! She kissed me--I was younger then--there were
tears, I remember, and prayers, and promises, a waving handkerchief,--a
It was only the other day that I saw another parting of the same
kind. I was not a principal, only a spectator; but so fond am I of
sharing, afar off, as it were, and unseen, the sympathies of human
beings, that I cannot avoid often going to the dock upon steamer-days
and giving myself to that pleasant and melancholy observation. There
is always a crowd, but this day it was almost impossible to advance
through the masses of people. The eager faces hurried by; a constant
stream poured up the gangway into the steamer, and the upper deck, to
which I gradually made my way, was crowded with the passengers and
There was one group upon which my eyes first fell, and upon which my
memory lingers. A glance, brilliant as daybreak--a voice,
"Her voice's music,--call it the well's bubbling, the bird's
a goddess girdled with flowers, and smiling farewell upon a circle of
worshippers, to each one of whom that gracious calmness made the smile
sweeter, and the farewell more sad--other figures, other flowers, an
angel face--all these I saw in that group as I was swayed up and down
the deck by the eager swarm of people. The hour came, and I went on
shore with the rest. The plank was drawn away--the captain raised his
hand--the huge steamer slowly moved--a cannon was fired--the ship was
The sun sparkled upon the water as they sailed away. In five minutes
the steamer was as much separated from the shore as if it had been at
sea a thousand years.
I leaned against a post upon the dock and looked around. Ranged upon
the edge of the wharf stood that band of worshippers, waving
handkerchiefs and straining their eyes to see the last smile of
farewell--did any eager selfish eye hope to see a tear? They to whom
the handkerchiefs were waved stood high upon the stern, holding
flowers. Over them hung the great flag, raised by the gentle wind into
the graceful folds of a canopy,--say rather a gorgeous gonfalon waved
over the triumphant departure, over that supreme youth, and bloom, and
beauty, going out across the mystic ocean to carry a finer charm and
more human splendor into those realms of my imagination beyond the
"You will return, O youth and beauty!" I said to my dreaming and
foolish self, as I contemplated those fair figures, "richer than
Alexander with Indian spoils. All that historic association, that
copious civilization, those grandeurs and graces of art, that variety
and picturesqueness of life, will mellow and deepen your experience
even as time silently touches those old pictures into a more
persuasive and pathetic beauty, and as this increasing summer sheds
ever softer lustre upon the landscape. You will return conquerors and
not conquered. You will bring Europe, even as Aurelian brought
Zenobia captive, to deck your homeward triumph. I do not wonder that
these clouds break away, I do not wonder that the sun presses out and
floods all the air, and land, and water, with light that graces with
happy omens your stately farewell."
But if my faded face looked after them with such earnest and longing
emotion,--I, a solitary old man, unknown to those fair beings, and
standing apart from that band of lovers, yet in that moment bound more
closely to them than they knew,--how was it with those whose hearts
sailed away with that youth and beauty? I watched them closely from
behind my post. I knew that life had paused with them; that the world
stood still. I knew that the long, long summer would be only a
yearning regret. I knew that each asked himself the mournful question,
"Is this parting typical--this slow, sad, sweet recession?" And I knew
that they did not care to ask whether they should meet again, nor dare
to contemplate the chances of the sea.
The steamer swept on, she was near Staten Island, and a final gun
boomed far and low across the water. The crowd was dispersing, but the
little group remained. Was it not all Hood had sung?
"I saw thee, lovely Inez,
Descend along the shore
With bands of noble gentlemen,
And banners waved before;
And gentle youths and maidens gay,
And snowy plumes they wore;--
It would have been a beauteous dream,
If it had been no more!"
"O youth!" I said to them without speaking, "be it gently said, as it
is solemnly thought, should they return no more, yet in your memories
the high hour of their loveliness is for ever enshrined. Should they
come no more they never will be old, nor changed, to you. You will wax
and wane, you will suffer, and struggle, and grow old; but this summer
vision will smile, immortal, upon your lives, and those fair faces
shall shed, for ever, from under that slowly waving flag, hope and
It is so elsewhere; it is the tenderness of Nature. Long, long ago we
lost our first-born, Prue and I. Since then, we have grown older and
our children with us. Change comes, and grief, perhaps, and decay. We
are happy, our children are obedient and gay. But should Prue live
until she has lost us all, and laid us, gray and weary, in our graves,
she will have always one babe in her heart. Every mother who has lost
an infant, has gained a child of immortal youth. Can you find comfort
here, lovers, whose mistress has sailed away?
I did not ask the question aloud, I thought it only, as I watched the
youths, and turned away while they still stood gazing. One, I
observed, climbed a post and waved his black hat before the
white-washed side of the shed over the dock, whence I supposed he
would tumble into the water. Another had tied a handkerchief to the
end of a somewhat baggy umbrella, and in the eagerness of gazing, had
forgotten to wave it, so that it hung mournfully down, as if
overpowered with grief it could not express. The entranced youth
still held the umbrella aloft. It seemed to me as if he had struck his
flag; or as if one of my cravats were airing in that sunlight. A
negro carter was joking with an apple-woman at the entrance of the
dock. The steamer was out of sight.
I found that I was belated and hurried back to my desk. Alas! poor
lovers; I wonder if they are watching still? Has he fallen exhausted
from the post into the water? Is that handkerchief, bleached and rent,
still pendant upon that somewhat baggy umbrella?
"Youth and beauty went to Europe to-day," said I to Prue, as I stirred
my tea at evening. As I spoke, our youngest daughter brought me the
sugar. She is just eighteen, and her name should be Hebe. I took a
lump of sugar and looked at her. She had never seemed so lovely, and
as I dropped the lump in my cup, I kissed her. I glanced at Prue as I
did so. The dear woman smiled, but did not answer my exclamation.
Thus, without travelling, I travel, and share the emotions of those I
do not know. But sometimes the old longing comes over me as in the
days when I timidly touched the huge East Indiaman, and magnetically
sailed around the world.
It was but a few days after the lovers and I waved farewell to the
steamer, and while the lovely figures standing under the great
gonfalon were as vivid in my mind as ever, that a day of premature
sunny sadness, like those of the Indian summer, drew me away from the
office early in the afternoon: for fortunately it is our dull season
now, and even Titbottom sometimes leaves the office by five o'clock.
Although why he should leave it, or where he goes, or what he does, I
do not well know. Before I knew him, I used sometimes to meet him with
a man whom I was afterwards told was Bartleby, the scrivener. Even
then it seemed to me that they rather clubbed their loneliness than
made society for each other. Recently I have not seen Bartleby; but
Titbottom seems no more solitary because he is alone.
I strolled into the Battery as I sauntered about. Staten Island
looked so alluring, tender-hued with summer and melting in the haze,
that I resolved to indulge myself in a pleasure-trip. It was a little
selfish, perhaps, to go alone, but I looked at my watch, and saw that
if I should hurry home for Prue the trip would be lost; then I should
be disappointed, and she would be grieved.
Ought I not rather (I like to begin questions, which I am going to
answer affirmatively, with _ought_,) to take the trip and recount
my adventures to Prue upon, my return, whereby I should actually enjoy
the excursion and the pleasure of telling her; while she would enjoy
my story and be glad that I was pleased? Ought I wilfully to deprive
us both of this various enjoyment by aiming at a higher, which, in
losing, we should lose all?
Unfortunaely, just as I was triumphantly answering "Certainly not!"
another question marched into my mind, escorted by a very defiant
"Ought I to go when I have such a debate about it?"
But while I was perplexed, and scoffing at my own scruples, the
ferry-bell suddenly rang, and answered all my questions. Involuntarily
I hurried on board. The boat slipped from the dock. I went up on deck
to enjoy the view of the city from the bay, but just as I sat down,
and meant to have said "how beautiful!" I found myself asking:
"Ought I to have come?"
Lost in perplexing debate, I saw little of the scenery of the bay; but
the remembrance of Prue and the gentle influence of the day plunged me
into a mood of pensive reverie which nothing tended to destroy, until
we suddenly arrived at the landing.
As I was stepping ashore, I was greeted by Mr. Bourne, who passes the
summer on the island, and who hospitably asked if I were going his
way. His way was toward the southern end of the island, and I said
yes. His pockets were full of papers and his brow of wrinkles; so when
we reached the point where he should turn off, I asked him to let me
alight, although he was very anxious to carry me wherever I was going.
"I am only strolling about," I answered, as I clambered carefully out
of the wagon.
"Strolling about?" asked he, in a bewildered manner; "'do people
stroll about, now-a-days?"
"Sometimes," I answered, smiling, as I pulled my trowsers down over my
boots, for they had dragged up, as I stepped out of the wagon, "and
beside, what can an old book-keeper do better in the dull season than
stroll about this pleasant island, and watch the ships at sea?"
Bourne looked at me with his weary eyes.
"I'd give five thousand dollars a year for a dull season," said he,
"but as for strolling, I've forgotten how."
As he spoke, his eyes wandered dreamily across the fields and woods,
and were fastened upon the distant sails.
"It is pleasant," he said musingly, and fell into silence. But I had
no time to spare, so I wished him good afternoon.
"I hope your wife is well," said Bourne to me, as I turned away. Poor
Bourne! He drove on alone in his wagon.
But I made haste to the most solitary point upon the southern shore,
and there sat, glad to be so near the sea. There was that warm,
sympathetic silence in the air, that gives to Indian-summer days
almost a human tenderness of feeling. A delicate haze, that seemed
only the kindly air made visible, hung over the sea. The water lapped
languidly among the rocks, and the voices of children in a boat
beyond, rang musically, and gradually receded, until they were lost in
It was some time before I was aware of the outline of a large ship,
drawn vaguely upon the mist, which I supposed, at first, to be only a
kind of mirage. But the more steadfastly I gazed, the more distinct it
became, and I could no longer doubt that I saw a stately ship lying at
anchor, not more than half a mile from the land.
"It is an extraordinary place to anchor," I said to myself, "or can
she be ashore?"
There were no signs of distress; the sails were carefully clewed up,
and there were no sailors in the tops, nor upon the shrouds. A flag,
of which I could not see the device or the nation, hung heavily at the
stern, and looked as if it had fallen asleep. My curiosity began to
be singularly excited. The form of the vessel seemed not to be
permanent; but within a quarter of an hour, I was sure that I had seen
half a dozen different ships. As I gazed, I saw no more sails nor
masts, but a long range of oars, flashing like a golden fringe, or
straight and stiff, like the legs of a sea-monster.
"It is some bloated crab, or lobster, magnified by the mist," I said
to myself, complacently. But, at the same moment, there was a
concentrated flashing and blazing in one spot among the rigging, and
it was as if I saw a beatified ram, or, more truly, a sheep-skin,
splendid as the hair of Berenice.
"Is that the golden fleece?" I thought. "But, surely, Jason and the
Argonauts have gone home long since. Do people go on gold-fleecing
expeditions now?" I asked myself, in perplexity. "Can this be a
How could I have thought it a steamer? Did I not see those sails,
"thin and sere?" Did I not feel the melancholy of that solitary bark?
It had a mystic aura; a boreal brilliancy shimmered in its wake, for
it was drifting seaward. A strange fear curdled along my veins. That
summer sun shone cool. The weary, battered ship was gashed, as if
gnawed by ice. There was terror in the air, as a "skinny hand so
brown" waved to me from the deck. I lay as one bewitched. The hand of
the ancient mariner seemed to be reaching for me, like the hand of
Death? Why, as I was inly praying Prue's forgiveness for my solitary
ramble and consequent demise, a glance like the fulness of summer
splendor gushed over me; the odor of flowers and of eastern gums made
all the atmosphere. I breathed the orient, and lay drunk with balm,
while that strange ship, a golden galley now, with glittering
draperies festooned with flowers, paced to the measured beat of oars
along the calm, and Cleopatra smiled alluringly from the great
Was this a barge for summer waters, this peculiar ship I saw? It had a
ruined dignity, a cumbrous grandeur, although its masts were
shattered, and its sails rent. It hung preternaturally still upon the
sea, as if tormented and exhausted by long driving and drifting. I saw
no sailors, but a great Spanish ensign floated over, and waved, a
funereal plume. I knew it then. The armada was long since scattered;
but, floating far
"on desolate rainy seas,"
lost for centuries, and again restored to sight, here lay one of the
fated ships of Spain. The huge galleon seemed to fill all the air,
built up against the sky, like the gilded ships of Claude Lorraine
against the sunset.
But it fled, for now a black flag fluttered at the mast-head--a long
low vessel darted swiftly where the vast ship lay; there came a shrill
piping whistle, the clash of cutlasses, fierce ringing oaths, sharp
pistol cracks, the thunder of command, and over all the gusty yell of
a demoniac chorus,
"My name was Robert Kidd, when I sailed."
--There were no clouds longer, but under a serene sky I saw a bark
moving with festal pomp, thronged with grave senators in flowing
robes, and one with ducal bonnet in the midst, holding a ring. The
smooth bark swam upon a sea like that of southern latitudes. I saw the
Bucentoro and the nuptials of Venice and the Adriatic.
Who where those coming over the side? Who crowded the boats, and
sprang into the water, men in old Spanish armor, with plumes and
swords, and bearing a glittering cross? Who was he standing upon the
deck with folded arms and gazing towards the shore, as lovers on their
mistresses and martyrs upon heaven? Over what distant and tumultuous
seas had this small craft escaped from other centuries and distant
shores? What sounds of foreign hymns, forgotten now, were these, and