Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. II.--JULY, 1858.--NO. IX.
THE CATACOMBS OF ROME.
Supponato capiti lapidem, Curistoque quiescam.
PAULINUS OF NOLL
Et factus est in pace locus ejus et halitatio in Sion.
Ps. LXXV. 2
Rome is preeminently the city of monuments and inscriptions, and the
lapidary style is the one most familiar to her. The Republic, the Empire,
the Papacy, the Heathens, and the Christians have written their record
upon marble. But gravestones are proverbially dull reading, and
inscriptions are often as cold as the stone upon which they are engraved.
The long gallery of the Vatican, through which one passes to enter the
famous library, and which leads to the collection of statues, is lined on
one side with heathen inscriptions, of miscellaneous character, on the
other with Christian inscriptions, derived chiefly from the catacombs, but
arranged with little order. The comparison thus exhibited to the eye is an
impressive one. The contrast of one class with the other is visible even
in external characteristics. The old Roman lines are cut with precision
and evenness; the letters are well formed, the words are rightly spelt,
the construction of the sentences is grammatical. But the Christian
inscriptions bear for the most part the marks of ignorance, poverty, and
want of skill. Their lines are uneven, the letters of various sizes, the
words ill-spelt, the syntax often incorrect. Not seldom a mixture of Greek
and Latin in the same sentence betrays the corrupt speech of the lower
classes, and the Latin itself is that of the common people. But defects of
style and faults of engraving are insufficient to hide the feeling that
Besides this great collection of the Vatican, there is another collection
now being formed in the _loggia_ of the Lateran Palace, in immediate
connection with the Christian Museum. Arranged as the inscriptions will
here be in historic sequence and with careful classification, it will be
chiefly to this collection that the student of Christian antiquity will
hereafter resort. It in in the charge of the Cavaliere de Rossi, who is
engaged in editing the Christian inscriptions of the first six centuries,
and whose extraordinary learning and marvellous sagacity in deciphering
and determining the slightest remains of ancient stone-cutting give him
unexampled fitness for the work. Of these inscriptions, about eleven
thousand are now known, and of late some forty or fifty have been added
each year to the number previously recorded. But a very small proportion
of the eleven thousand remain _in situ_ in the catacombs, and besides the
great collections of the Vatican and the Lateran, there are many smaller
ones in Rome and in other Italian cities, and many inscriptions originally
found in the subterranean cemeteries are now scattered in the porticos or
on the pavements of churches in Rome, Ravenna, Milan, and elsewhere. From
the first period of the desecration of the catacombs, the engraved tablets
that had closed the graves were almost as much an object of the greed of
pious or superstitious marauders as the more immediate relics of the
saints. Hence came their dispersion through Italy, and hence, too, it has
happened that many very important and interesting inscriptions belonging
to Rome are now found scattered through the Continent.
It has been, indeed, sometimes the custom of the Roman Church to enhance
the value of a gift of relics by adding to it the gift of the inscription
on the grave from which they were taken. A curious instance of this kind,
connected with the making of a very popular saint, occurred not many years
since. In the year 1802 a grave was found in the Cemetery of St.
Priscilla, by which were the remains of a glass vase that had held blood,
the indication of the burial-place of a martyr. The grave was closed by
three tiles, on which were the following words painted in red letters:
LVMENA PAXTE CVMFL. There were also rudely painted on the tiles two
anchors, three darts, a torch, and a palm-branch. The bones found within
the grave, together with the tiles bearing the inscription, were placed in
the Treasury of Relics at the Lateran.
On the return of Pius VII., one of the deputation of Neapolitan clergy
sent to congratulate him sought and received from the Pope these relics
and the tiles as a gift for his church. The inscription had been read by
placing the first tile after the two others, thus,--PAX TECUM FILUMENA,
_Peace be with thee, Filumena_; and Filumena was adopted as a new saint in
the long list of those to whom the Roman Church has given this title. It
was supposed, that, in the haste of closing the grave, the tiles had been
Very soon after the gift, a priest, who desired not to be named _on
account of his great humility_, had a vision at noonday, in which the
beautiful virgin with the beautiful name appeared to him and revealed to
him that she had suffered death rather than yield her chastity to the will
of the Emperor, who desired to make her his wife. Thereupon a young
artist, whose name is also suppressed, likewise had a vision of St.
Filomena, who told him that the emperor was Diocletian; but as history
stands somewhat opposed to this statement, it has been suggested that the
artist mistook the name, and that the Saint said Maximian. However this
may be, the day of her martyrdom was fixed on the 10th of August, 303. Her
relics were carried to Naples with great reverence; they were inclosed,
after the Neapolitan fashion, in a wooden doll of the size of life,
dressed in a white satin skirt and a red tunic, with a garland of flowers
on its head, and a lily and a dart in its hand. This doll, with the red-
lettered tiles, was soon transferred to its place in the church of
Mugnano, a small town not far from Naples. Many miracles were wrought on
the way, and many have since been wrought in the church itself. The fame
of the virgin spread through Italy, and chapels were dedicated to her
honor in many distant churches; from Italy it reached Germany and France,
and it has even crossed the Atlantic to America. Thus a new saint, a new
story, and a new exhibition of credulity had their rise not long ago from
a grave and three words in the catacombs.
One of the first differences which are obvious, in comparing the Christian
with the heathen mortuary inscriptions, is the introduction in the former
of some new words, expressive of the new ideas that prevailed among them.
Thus, in place of the old formula which had been in most common use upon
gravestones, D.M., or, in Greek, [Greek: TH.K.], standing for _Dis
Manibus_, or [Greek: _Theois karachthoniois_], a dedication of the stone
to the gods of death, we find constantly the words _In pace_. The exact
meaning of these words varies on different inscriptions, but their general
significance is simple and clear. When standing alone, they seem to mean
that the dead rests in the peace of God; sometimes they are preceded by
_Requiescat_, "May he rest in peace"; sometimes there is the affirmation,
_Dormit in pace_, "He sleeps in peace"; sometimes a person is said
_recessisse in pace_, "to have departed in peace." Still other forms are
found, as, for instance, _Vivas in pace_, "Live in peace," or _Suscipiatur
in pace_, "May he be received into peace,"--all being only variations of
the expression of the Psalmist's trust, "I will lay me down in peace and
sleep, for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety." It is a curious
fact, however, that on some of the Christian tablets the same letters
which were used by the heathens have been found. One inscription exists
beginning with the words _Dis Manibus_, and ending with the words _in
pace_. But there is no need of finding a difficulty in this fact, or of
seeking far for an explanation of it. As we have before remarked, in
speaking of works of Art, the presence of some heathen imagery and ideas
in the multitude of the paintings and inscriptions in the catacombs is not
so strange as the comparatively entire absence of them. Many professing
Christians must have had during the early ages but an imperfect conception
of the truth, and can have separated themselves only partially from their
previous opinions, and from the conceptions that prevailed around them in
the world. To some the letters of the heathen gravestones, and the words
which they stood for, probably appeared little more than a form expressive
of the fact of death, and, with the imperfect understanding natural to
uneducated minds, they used them with little thought of their absolute
[Footnote 1: It is probable that most of the gravestones upon which this
heathen formula is found are not of an earlier date than the middle of the
fourth century. At this time Christianity became the formal religion of
many who were still heathen in character and thought, and cared little
about the expression of a faith which they had adopted more from the
influence of external motives than from principle or conviction.]
Another difference in words which is very noticeable, running through the
inscriptions, is that of _depositus_, used by the Christians to signify
the _laying away_ in the grave, in place of the heathen words _situs,
positus, sepultus, conditus_. The very name of _coemeterium_, adopted by
the Christians for their burial-places, a name unknown to the ancient
Romans, bore a reference to the great doctrine of the Resurrection. Their
burial-ground was a _cemetery_, that is, a _sleeping-place_; they regarded
the dead as put there to await the awakening; the body was _depositus_,
that is, _intrusted to_ the grave, while the heathen was _situs_ or
_sepultus, interred_ or _buried_,--the words implying a final and
definitive position. And as the Christian _dormit_ or _quiescit, sleeps_
or _rests_ in death, so the heathen is described as _abreptus_, or
_defunctus, snatched away_ or _departed_ from life.
Again, the contrast between the inscriptions is marked, and in a sadder
way, by the difference of the expressions of mourning and grief. No one
who has read many of the ancient gravestones but remembers the bitter
words that are often found on them,--words of indignation against the
gods, of weariness of life, of despair and unconsoled melancholy. Here is
one out of many:--
PROCOPE MANVS LEBO CONTRA
DEVM QVI ME INNOCENTEM SVS
TVLIT QVAE VIXI ANNOS XX.
I, Procope, who lived twenty years, lift up
my hands against God, who took me away innocent.
Proclus set up this.
But among the Christian inscriptions of the first centuries there is not
one of this sort. Most of them contain no reference to grief; they are the
very short and simple words of love, remembrance, and faith,--as in the
following from the Lateran:--
ADEODATE DIGNAE ET MERITAE VIRGINI
ETQVIESCE HIC IN PACE IVBENTE XPO EJUS
To Adeodata, a worthy and deserving Virgin,
and rests here in peace, her Christ commanding.
On a few the word _dolens_ is found, simply telling of grief. On one to
the memory of a sweetest daughter the word _irreparable_ is used, _Filiae
dulcissimae inreparabili_. Another is, "To Dalmatius, sweetest son, whom
his _unhappy_ father was not permitted to enjoy for even seven years."
Another inscription, in which something of the feeling that was unchecked
among the heathens finds expression in Christian words, is this: "Sweet
soul. To the incomparable child, who lived seventeen years, and
_undeserving_ [of death] gave up life in the peace of the Lord." Neither
the name of the child nor of the parents is on the stone, and the word
_immeritus_, which is used here, and which is common in heathen use, is
found, we believe, on only one other Christian grave. One inscription,
which has been interpreted as being an expression of unresigned sorrow, is
open to a very different signification. It is this:--
JOVIANO QVI VIXIT ANN. VII
ET MENSES VI NON MERENTES
THEOCTISTVS ET THALLVSA PARENTES
To their sweetest boy Jovian, of the most
innocent age, who lived seven years and six
months, his undeserving [or unlamenting] parents
Theoctistus and Thallusa.
Here, without forcing the meaning, _non merentes_ might be supposed to
refer to the parents' not esteeming themselves worthy to be left in
possession of such a treasure; but the probability is that _merentes_ is
only a misspelling of _maerentes_ for otherwise _immerentes_ would have
been the natural word.
But it is thus that the Christian inscriptions must be sifted, to find
expressions at variance with their usual tenor, their general composure
and trust. The simplicity and brevity of the greater number of them are,
indeed, striking evidence of the condition of feeling among those who set
them upon the graves. Their recollections of the dead feared no fading,
and Christ, whose coming was so near at hand, would know and reunite his
own. Continually we read only a name with _in pace_, without date, age, or
title, but often with some symbol of love or faith hastily carved or
painted on the stone or tiles. Such inscriptions as the following are
FELICISSIMVS DVLCIS,--GAVDENTIA IN PACE,
--SEVERA IN DEO VIVAS,--
or, with a little more fulness of expression,--
DVLCISSIMO FILIO ENDELECIO
BENEMERENTI QVI VIXIT
ANNOS II MENSE VNV
DIES XX IN PACE
To the sweetest son Endelechius, the well-
deserving, who lived two years, one month,
twenty days. In peace.
The word _benemerenti_ is of constant recurrence. It is used both of the
young and the old; and it seems to have been employed, with comprehensive
meaning, as an expression of affectionate and grateful remembrance.
Here is another short and beautiful epitaph. The two words with which it
begins are often found.
ANIMA DVLCIS AVFENIA VIRGO
BENEDICTA QVE VIXIT ANN: XXX
DORMIT IN PACE
Sweet Soul. The Blessed Virgin Aufenia,
who lived thirty years. She sleeps in peace.
But the force and tenderness of such epitaphs as these is hardly to be
recognized in single examples. There is a cumulative pathos in them, as
one reads, one after another, such as these that follow:--
ANGELICE BENE IN PACE
To Angelica well in peace.
CVRRENTIO SERVO DEI DEP. D. XVI. KAL
To Currentius, the servant of God, laid in
the grave on the sixteenth of the Kalends of
MAXIMINVS QVI VIXIT ANNOS XXIII
Maximin, who lived twenty-three years, the
friend of all.
IN PACE QUE BICSIT MECV
ANNOS XVII. DORMIT IN PACE
Septimus to Marciana in peace. Who lived
with me seventeen years. She sleeps in peace.
SPIRITVS ANNORVM II
Gaudentia rests. Sweet spirit of two years
and three months.
Here is a gravestone with the single word VIATOR; here one that tells only
that Mary placed it for her daughter; here one that tells of the light of
the house,--[Greek: To phos thaes Oikias].
Nor is it only in these domestic and intimate inscriptions that the
habitual temper and feeling of the Christians is shown, but even still
more in those that were placed over the graves of such members of the
household of faith as had made public profession of their belief, and
shared in the sufferings of their Lord. There is no parade of words on the
gravestones of the martyrs. Their death needed no other record than the
little jar of blood placed in the mortar, and the fewest words were enough
where this was present. Here is an inscription in the rudest letters from
a martyr's grave:--
SABATIVS BENEMERENTI QVI VIXIT ANNOS XL
To the well-deserving Sabatias, who lived
And here another:--
PROSPERO INNOCENTI ANIMAE IN PACE.
To Prosperus, innocent soul, in peace.
And here a third, to a child who had died as one of the Innocents:--
MIRAE INNOCENTIAE ANIMA DULCIS AEMILEANVS
QVI VIXIT ANNO VNO, MENS. VIII D. XXVIII
DORMIT IN PACE
Aemilian, sweet soul of marvellous innocence,
who lived one year, eight months, twenty-eight
days. He sleeps in peace.
At this grave was found the vase of blood, and on the gravestone was the
figure of a dove.
Another inscription, which preserves the name of one of those who suffered
in the most severe persecution to which the ancient Church was exposed,
and which, if genuine, is, so far as known, the only monument of the kind,
is marked by the same simplicity of style:--
LANNVS XPI MA
RTIR HC*[Hic?] REQVIESC
IT SVR [E-P-S] DIOCLITI ANO PASSVS
Lannus Martyr of Christ here rests. He
suffered under Diocletian.
The three letters EPS have been interpreted as standing for the words _et
posteris suis_, and as meaning that the grave was also for his successors.
Not yet, then, had future saints begun to sanctify their graves, and to
claim the exclusive possession of them.
But there is another point of contrast between the inscriptions of the un-
Christianized and the Christian Romans, which illustrates forcibly the
difference in the regard which they paid to the dead. To the one the dead
were still of this world, and the greatness of life, the distinctions of
class, the titles of honor still clung to them; to the other the past life
was as nothing to that which had now begun. The heathen epitaphs are
loaded with titles of honor, and with the names of the offices which the
dead had borne, and, like the modern Christian (?) epitaphs whose style
has been borrowed from them, the vanity of this world holds its place
above the grave. But among the early Christian inscriptions of Rome
nothing of this kind is known. Scarcely a title of rank or a name of
office is to be found among them. A military title, or the name of priest
or deacon, or of some other officer in the Church, now and then is met
with; but even these, for the most part, would seem to belong to the
fourth century, and never contain any expression of boastfulness or
FL. OLIVS PATERNVS
CENTVRIO CHOR. X VRB.
QVI VIXIT AH XXVII
Flavius Olius Paternus, Centurion of the
Tenth Urban Cohort, who lived twenty-seven
years. In peace.
It is true, no doubt, that among the first Christians there were very few
of the rich and great. The words of St. Paul to the Corinthians were as
true of the Romans as of those to whom they were specially addressed: "For
ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh,
not many mighty, not many noble are called." Still there is evidence
enough that even in the first two centuries some of the mighty and some of
the noble at Rome were among those called, but that evidence is not to be
gathered from the gravestones of the catacombs. We have seen, in a former
article, that even the grave of one of the early bishops,--the highest
officer of the Church,--and one who had borne witness to the truth in his
death, was marked by the words,
The Martyr Cornelius, Bishop.
Compare this with the epitaphs of the later popes, as they are found on
their monuments in St. Peter's,--"flattering, false insculptions on a
tomb, and in men's hearts reproach,"--epitaphs overweighted with
superlatives, ridiculous, were it not for their impiety, and full of the
lies and vanities of man in the very house of God.
With this absence of boastfulness and of titles of rank on the early
Christian graves two other characteristics of the inscriptions are closely
connected, which bear even yet more intimate and expressive relation to
the change wrought by Christianity in the very centre of the heathen
"One cannot study a dozen monuments of pagan Rome," says Mr. Northcote, in
his little volume on the catacombs, "without reading something of _servus_
or _libertus, libertis libertabusque posterisque eorum;_ and I believe the
proportion in which they are found is about three out of every four. Yet,
in a number of Christian inscriptions exceeding eleven thousand, and all
belonging to the first six centuries of our era, scarcely six have been
found containing any allusion whatever--and even two or three of these are
doubtful--to this fundamental division of ancient Roman society.
"No one, we think, will be rash enough to maintain, either that this
omission is the result of mere accident, or that no individual slave or
freedman was ever buried in the catacombs. Rather, these two cognate
facts, the absence from ancient Christian epitaphs of all titles of rank
and honor on the one hand, or of disgrace and servitude on the other, can
only be adequately explained by an appeal to the religion of those who
made them. The children of the primitive Church did not record upon their
monuments titles of earthly dignity, because they knew that with the God
whom they served 'there was no respect of persons'; neither did they care
to mention the fact of their bondage, or of their deliverance from
bondage, to some earthly master, because they thought only of that higher
and more perfect liberty wherewith Christ had set them free; remembering
that 'he that was called, being a bondman, was yet the freeman of the
Lord, and likewise he that was called, being free, was still the bondman
"And this conclusion is still further confirmed by another remarkable fact
which should be mentioned, namely, that there are not wanting in the
catacombs numerous examples of another class of persons, sometimes ranked
among slaves, but the mention of whose servitude, such as it was, served
rather to record an act of Christian charity than any social degradation;
I allude to the alumni, or foundlings, as they may be called. The laws of
pagan Rome assigned these victims of their parents' crimes or poverty to
be the absolute property of any one who would take charge of them. As
nothing, however, but compassion could move a man to do this, children
thus acquired were not called _servi_, as though they were slaves who had
been bought with money, nor _vernae_, as though they had been the children
of slaves born in the house, but _alumni_, a name simply implying that
they had been brought up (_ab alendo_) by their owners. Now it is a very
singular fact, that there are actually more instances of _alumni_ among
the sepulchral inscriptions of Christians than among the infinitely more
numerous inscriptions of pagans, showing clearly that this was an act of
charity to which the early Christians were much addicted; and the
_alumni_, when their foster-parents died, very properly and naturally
recorded upon their tombs this act of charity, to which they were
themselves so deeply indebted."
So far Mr. Northcote. It is still further to be noted, as an expression of
the Christian temper, as displayed in this kind of charity, that it never
appears in the inscriptions as furnishing a claim for praise, or as being
regarded as a peculiar merit. There is no departure from the usual
simplicity of the gravestones in those of this class.
TOS EN THEO]
Peter, sweetest foster-child, in God.
And a dove is engraved at either side of
this short epitaph.
VITALIANO ALVMNO KARO
Eutropius made this for the dear foster-child
ANTONIVS DISCOLIVS FILIVS ET BIBIVS
FELLICISSIMVS ALVMNVS VALERIE CRESTENI
MATRI BIDVE ANORVM XVIII INTET SANCTOS
Antonius Discolius her son, and Bibius Felicissimus
her foster-child, to Valeria Crestina
their mother, a widow for eighteen years.
[Her grave is] among the holy.
[Footnote 2: This inscription is not of earlier date than the fourth
century, as is shown by the words, _Inter sancios_,--referring, as we
heretofore stated, to the grave being made near that of some person
esteemed a saint.]
These inscriptions lead us by a natural transition to such as contain some
reference to the habits of life or to the domestic occupations and
feelings of the early Christians. Unfortunately for the gratification of
the desire to learn of these things, this class of inscriptions is far
from numerous,--and the common conciseness is rarely, in the first
centuries, amplified by details. But here is one that tells a little story
INNOCENTISSINAE ET DVLCISSIMAE COIVGI
QVAE VIXIT ANN XVI M. IIII ET FVIT
IMARITATA ANN. DVOBVS M. IIII D. VIIII
CVM QVA SON LICVIT FVISSE PROPTER
NISI MENEIE VI
QVO TEMPORE VT EGO SENSI ET EXHBVI
NVLLI SV ALII SIC DILEXERVNT
DEPOSIT XV KAL. IVN.
To Domnina, my most innocent and sweetest
wife; who lived sixteen years and four
months, and was married two years, four
months, and nine days; with whom, on account
of my journeys, I was permitted to be
only six months; in which time, as I felt, so
I showed my love. No others have so loved
one another. Placed in the grave the 15th
of the Kalends of June.
Who was this husband whose far-off journeys had so separated him from his
lately married wife? Who were they who so loved as no others had loved?
The tombstone gives only the name of Domnina. But in naming her, and in
the expression of her husband's love, it gives evidence, which is
confirmed by many other tokens in the catacombs, of the change introduced
by Christianity in the position of women, and in the regard paid to them.
Marriage was invested with a sanctity which redeemed it from sensuality,
and Christianity became the means of uniting man and woman in the bonds of
an immortal love.
Here is an inscription which, spite of the rudeness of its style,
preserves the pleasant memory of a Roman child:--
ISPIRITO SANTO BONO
FLORENTIO QVI VIXIT ANIS XIII
QVAM SI FILIVM SVVM ET COTDEVS
MATER FILIO BENEMERETI FECERVNT.
To the good and holy spirit Florentius, who
lived thirteen years, Coritus, his master, who
loved him more than if he were his own son,
and Cotdeus, his mother, have made this for
her well-deserving son.
[Footnote 3: Compare an inscription from a heathen tomb:--
C. JVLIVS MAXIMVS
ANN. II. M. V.
ATROX O FORTVNA TRVCI QVAE FVNERR GAVDES
QVID MIHI TAM SVBITO MAXIMVS ERIPITVR
QVI MODO JVCVNDVS GREMIO SVPERESSE SOLEBAT
HIC LAPIS TN TVMVLO NVNC JACET ECCE MATER
C. Julius Maximus,
Two years, five months old.
Harsh Fortune, that in cruel death finds't joy,
Why is my Maximus thus sudden reft,
So late the pleasant burden of my breast?
Now in the grave this stone lies: lo, his mother!]
And Coritus, his master, and Cotdeus, his mother, might have rejoiced in
knowing that their poor, rough tablet would keep the memory of her boy
alive for so many centuries; and that long after they had gone to the
grave, the good spirit of Florentius should still, through these few
words, remain to work good upon the earth.--Note in this inscription (as
in many others) the Italianizing of the old Latin,--the _ispirito_, and
the _santo_; note also the mother's strange name, reminding one of Puritan
appellations,--Cotdeus being the abbreviation of _Quod vult Deus_, "What
[Footnote 4: Other names of this kind were _Deogratias_, _Habetdeum_, and
Here is an inscription set up by a husband to his wife, Dignitas, who was
a woman of great goodness and entire purity of life:--
QUE SINE LESIONE ANIMI MEI VIXI MECVM
ANNOS XV FILIOS AVTEM PROCREAVIT VII
EX QVIBVS SECV ABET AD DOMINVM IIII
Who, without ever wounding my soul, lived
with me for fifteen years, and bore seven
children, four of whom she has with her in
We have already referred to the inscriptions which bear the name of some
officer of the early Church; but there is still another class, which
exhibits in clear letters others of the designations and customs familiar
to the first Christians. Thus, those who had not yet been baptized and
received into the fold, but were being instructed in Christian doctrine
for that end, were called _catechumens_; those who were recently baptized
were called _neophytes_; and baptism itself appears sometimes to have
been designated by the word _illuminatio_. Of the use of these names the
inscriptions give not infrequent examples. It was the custom also among
the Christians to afford support to the poor and to the widows of their
body. Thus we read such inscriptions as the following:--
RIGINE VENEMEREMTI FILIA SVA FECIT
VENERIGINE MATRI VIDVAE QVE SE
DIT VIDVA ANNOS LX ET ECLESA
VIXIT ANNOS LXXX MESIS V
Her daughter Reneregina made this for her
well-deserving mother Regina, a widow, who
sat a widow sixty years, and never burdened
the church, the wife of one husband, who lived
eighty years, five months, twenty-six days.
The words of this inscription recall to mind those of St. Paul, in his
First Epistle to Timothy, (v. 3-16,) and especially the verse, "If any man
or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not
the church be charged."
Some of the inscriptions preserve a record of the occupation or trade of
the dead, sometimes in words, more often by the representation of the
implements of labor. Here, for instance, is one which seems like the
advertisement of a surviving partner:--
POLLECLA QVE ORDEV BENDET DE
From New Street. Pollecla, who sold barley
on New Street.
Others often bear a figure which refers to the name of the deceased, an
_armoirie parlante_ as it were, which might be read by those too ignorant
to read the letters on the stone. Thus, a lion is scratched on the grave
of a man named Leo; a little pig on the grave of the little child
Porcella, who had lived not quite four years; on the tomb of Dracontius is
a dragon; and by the side of the following charming Inscription is found
the figure of a ship:--
NABIRA IN PACE ANIMA DULCIS
QVI BIXIT ANOS XVI M V
APARENTES SIGNVM NABE
Navira in peace. Sweet soul, who lived sixteen
years, five months. Soul honey-sweet.
This inscription made by her parents. The
sign a ship.
The figures that are most frequent upon the sepulchral slabs are, however,
not such as bear relation to a name or profession, but the commonly
adopted symbols of the faith, similar in design and character to those
exhibited in the paintings of the catacombs. The Good Shepherd is thus
often rudely represented; the figure of Jonah is naturally, from its
reference to the Resurrection, also frequently found; and the figure of a
man or woman with arms outstretched, in the attitude of prayer, occurs on
many of the sepulchral slabs. The anchor, the palm, the crown, and the
dove, as being simpler in character and more easily represented, are still
more frequently found. The varying use of symbols at different periods has
been one of the means which have assisted in determining approximate dates
for the inscriptions upon which they are met with. It is a matter of
importance, in many instances, to fix a date to an inscription. Historical
and theological controversies hang on such trifles. Most of the early
gravestones bear no date; and it was not till the fourth century, that,
with many other changes, the custom of carving a date upon them became
general. The century to which an inscription belongs may generally be
determined with some confidence, either by the style of expression and the
nature of the language, or by the engraved character, or some other
external indications. Among these latter are the symbols. It has, for
instance, been recently satisfactorily proved by the Cavaliere de Rossi
that the use of the emblem of the fish in the catacombs extended only to
the fourth century, so that the monuments upon which it is found may, with
scarcely an exception, be referred to the preceding period. As this emblem
went out of use, owing perhaps to the fact that the Christians were no
longer forced to seek concealment for their name and profession, the
famous monogram of Christ, [Symbol] the hieroglyphic, not only of his
name, but of his cross, succeeded to it, and came, indeed, into far more
general use than that which the fish had ever attained. The monogram is
hardly to be found before the time of Constantine, and, as it is very
frequently met with in the inscriptions from the catacombs, it affords an
easy means, in the absence of a more specific date, for determining a
period earlier than which any special inscription bearing it cannot have
originated. Its use spread rapidly during the fourth century. It "became,"
says Gibbon, with one of his amusing sneers, "extremely fashionable in the
Christian world." The story of the vision of Constantine was connected
with it, and the Labarum displayed its form in the front of the imperial
army. It was thus not merely the emblem of Christ, but that also of the
conversion of the Emperor and of the fatal victory of the Church.
It is a remarkable fact, and one which none of the recent Romanist
authorities attempt to controvert, that the undoubted earlier inscriptions
afford no evidence of any of the peculiar doctrines of the Roman Church.
There is no reference to the doctrine of the Trinity to be found among
them; nothing is to be derived from them in support of the worship of the
Virgin; her name even is not met with on any monument of the first three
centuries; and none of the inscriptions of this period give any sign of
the prevalence of the worship of saints. There is no support of the claim
of the Roman Church to supremacy, and no reference to the claim of the
Popes to be the Vicars of Christ. As the third century advances to its
close, we find the simple and crude beginning of that change in Christian
faith which developed afterward into the broad idea of the intercessory
power of the saints. Among the earlier inscriptions prayers to God or to
Christ are sometimes met with, generally in short exclamatory expressions
concerning the dead. Thus we find at first such words as these:--
Amerimnus to his dearest wife Rufina well-
deserving. May God refresh thy spirit!
And, in still further development,--
[Greek: AUR. AIANOS PAPHLAGON THEOU
EKOIMNON EN EIPNIN MINSON
O THEOS EIS TOUS AIONAS]
Aurelius Aelianus, a Paphlagonian, faithful
servant of God. He sleeps in peace. Remember
him, O God, forever!
Again, two sons ask for their mother,--
DOMINE NE QVANDO
O Lord, let not the spirit of Venus be shadowed
at any time!
From such petitions as these we come by a natural transition to such as
are addressed to the dead themselves, as being members of the same
communion with the living, and uniting in prayers with those they had left
on earth and for their sake.
VIBAS IN PACE ET PETE PRO NOBIS
Mayst thou live in peace and ask for us!
Or, as in another instance,--
PETE PRO PARENTES TVOS
QVE VIXIT AN. I. DI. LII.
Pray for thy parents, Matronata Matrona!
Who lived one year, fifty-two days.
And as we have seen how in the fourth century the desire arose of being
buried near the graves of those reputed holy, so by a similar process we
find this simple and affectionate petition to the dead passing into a
prayer for the dead to those under whose protection it was hoped that they
might be. In the multitude of epitaphs, however, these form but a small
number. Here is one that begins with a heathen formula:--
AVRELIVS GEMELLVS QVI BIXIT AN--
ET MESES VIII DIES XVIII MATER FILIO
CARISSIMO BENAEMERENTI FECIT IN PA--
[C]ONMANDO BASSILA INNOCENTIA GEMELLI
In Eternal Sleep. Aurelius Gemellus, who
lived --- years, and eight months, eighteen
days. His mother made this for her dearest
well-deserving son in peace. I commend to
Basilla the innocence of Gemellus.
Basilla was one of the famous martyrs of the time of Valerian and
Here again is another inscription of a curious character, as interposing a
saint between the dead and his Saviour. The monogram marks its date.
RVTA OMNIBVS SVBDITA ET ATFABI
LIS BIBET IN NOMINE PETRI
Ruta, subject and affable to all, shall live in
the name of Peter, in the peace of Christ.
But it would seem from other inscriptions as if the new practice of
calling upon the saints were not adopted without protest. Thus we read, in
contrast to the last epitaph, this simple one:--
ZOSIME VIVAS IN NOMINE XTI
O Zosimus, mayst thou live in the name of Christ!
And again, in the strongest and most direct words:--
SOLVS DEVS ANIMAM TVAM
May God alone protect thy spirit, Alexander!
One more inscription and we have done; it well closes the long list:-
QVI LEGERIT VIVAT IN CHRISTO
Whoever shall read this, may he live in Christ!
As the fourth century advanced, the character of the inscriptions
underwent great change. They become less simple; they exhibit less faith,
and more worldliness; superlatives abound in them; and the want of feeling
displays itself in the abundance of words.
We end here our examinations of the testimony of the catacombs regarding
the doctrine, the faith, and the lives of the Christians of Rome in the
first three centuries. The evidence is harmonious and complete. It leaves
no room for skepticism or doubt. There are no contradictions in it. From
every point of view, theologic, historic, artistic, the results coincide
and afford mutual support. The construction of the catacombs, the works of
painting found within them, the inscriptions on the graves, all unite in
bearing witness to the simplicity of the faith, the purity of the
doctrine, the strength of the feeling, the change in the lives of the vast
mass of the members of the early church of Christ. A light had come into
the world, and the dark passages of the underground cemeteries were
illuminated by it, and manifest its brightness. Wherever it reached, the
world was humanized and purified. To the merely outward eye it might at
first have seemed faint and dim, but "the kingdom of God cometh not with
THREE OF US.
Such a spring day as it was!--the sky all one mild blue, hazy on the
hills, warm with sunshine overhead; a soft south-wind, expressive, and
full of new impulses, blowing up from the sea, and spreading the news of
life all over our brown pastures and leaf-strewn woods. The crocuses in
Friend Allis's garden-bed shot up cups of gold and sapphire from the dark
mould; slight long buds nestled under the yellow-green leafage of the
violet-patch; white and sturdy points bristled on the corner that in May
was thick with lilies-of-the-valley, crisp, cool, and fragrant; and in a
knotty old apricot-tree two bluebirds and a robin did heralds' duty,
singing of summer's procession to come; and we made ready to receive it
both in our hearts and garments.
Josephine Boyle, Letty Allis, and I, Sarah Anderson, three cousins as we
were, sat at the long window of Friend Allis's parlor, pretending to sew,
really talking. Mr. Stepel, a German artist, had just left us; and a
little trait of Miss Josephine's, that had occurred during his call,
brought out this observation from Cousin Letty:--
"Jo, how could thee let down thy hair so before that man?"
Jo laughed. "Thee is a little innocent, Letty, with your pretty dialect!
Why did I let my hair down? For Mr. Stepel to see it, of course."
"That is very evident," interposed I; "but Letty is not so innocent or so
wise as to have done wondering at your caprices, Jo; expound, if you
please, for her edification."
"I do not pretend to be wise or simple, Sarah; but I didn't think Cousin
Josephine had so much vanity."
"You certainly shall have a preacher-bonnet, Letty. How do you know it was
vanity, my dear? I saw you show Mr. Stepel your embroidery with the
serenest satisfaction; now you made your crewel cherries, and I didn't
make my hair; which was vain?"
Letty was astounded. "Thee has a gift of speech, certainly, Jo."
"I have a gift of honesty, you mean. My hair is very handsome, and I knew
Mr. Stepel would admire it with real pleasure, for it is a rare color. I
took down those curls with quite as simple an intention as you brought him
that little picture of Cole's to see."
Josephine was right,--partly, at least. Her hair was perfect; its tint the
exact hue of a new chestnut-skin, with golden lights, and shadows of deep
brown; not a tinge of red libelled it as auburn; and the light broke on
its glittering waves as it does on the sea, tipping the undulations with
sunshine, and scattering rays of gold through the long, loose curls, and
across the curve of the massive coil, that seemed almost too heavy for her
proud and delicate head to bear. Mr. Stepel was excusably enthusiastic
about its beauty, and Jo as cool as if it had been a wig. Sometimes I
thought this peculiar hair was an expression of her own peculiar
Letty said truly that Jo had a gift of speech; and she, having said her
say about the hair, dismissed the matter, with no uneasy recurring to it,
and took up a book from the table, declaring she was tired of her seam;--
she always was tired of sewing! Presently she laughed.
"What is it, Jo?" said I.
"Why, it is 'Jane Eyre,' with Letty Allis's name on the blank leaf. That
is what I call an anachronism, spiritually. What do you think about the
book, Letty?" said she, turning her lithe figure round in the great chair
toward the little Quakeress, whose pretty red head and apple-blossom of a
face bloomed out of her gray attire and prim collar with a certain
"I think it has a very good moral tendency, Cousin Jo."
The clear, hazel eyes flashed a most amused comment at me.
"Well, what do you call the moral, Letty?"
"Why,--I should think,--I do not quite know that the moral is stated,
Josephine,--but I think thee will allow it was a great triumph of
principle for Jane Eyre to leave Mr. Rochester when she discovered that he
Jo flung herself back impatiently in the chair, and began an harangue.
"That is a true world's judgment! And you, you innocent little Quaker
girl! think it is the height of virtue not to elope with a married man,
who has entirely and deliberately deceived you, and adds to the wrong of
deceit the insult of proposing an elopement! Triumph of principle! I
should call it the result of common decency, rather,--a thing that the
instinct of any woman would compel her to do. My only wonder is how Jane
Eyre could continue to love him."
"My dear young friend," said I, rather grimly, "when a woman loves a man,
it is apt, I regret to say, to become a fact, not a theory; and facts are
stubborn things, you know. It is not easy to set aside a real affection."
"I know that, ma'am," retorted Jo, in a slightly sarcastic tone; "it is a
painful truth; still, I do think a deliberate deceit practised on me by
any man would decapitate any love I had for him, quite inevitably."
"So it might, in your case," replied I; "for you never will love a man,
only your idea of one. You will go on enjoying your mighty theories and
dreams till suddenly the juice of that 'little western flower' drips on
your eyelids, and then I shall have the pleasure of seeing you caress 'the
fair large ears' of some donkey, and hang rapturously upon its bray, till
you perhaps discover that he has pretended, on your account solely, to
like roses, when he has a natural proclivity to thistles; and then,
pitiable child! you will discover what you have been caressing, and--I
spare you conclusions; only, for my part, I pity the animal! Now Jane Eyre
was a highly practical person; she knew the man she loved was only a man,
and rather a bad specimen at that; she was properly indignant at this
further development of his nature, but reflecting in cool blood,
afterward, that it was only his nature, and finding it proper and legal to
marry him, she did so, to the great satisfaction of herself and the
public. _You_ would have made a new ideal of St. John Rivers, who was
infinitely the best material of the two, and possibly gone on to your
dying day in the belief that his cold and hard soul was only the adamant
of the seraph, encouraged in that belief by his real and high principle,--
a thing that went for sounding brass with that worldly-wise little
philosopher, Jane, because it did not act more practically on his inborn
"Bah!" said Josephine, "when did you turn gypsy, Sally? You ought to sell
_dukkeripen_, and make your fortune. Why don't you unfold Letty's fate?"
"No," said I, laughing. "Don't you know that the afflatus always exhausts
the priestess? You may tell Letty's fortune, or mine, if you will; but my
power is gone."
"I can tell yours easily, O Sibyl!" replied she. "You will never marry,
neither for real nor ideal. You should have fallen in love in the orthodox
way, when you were seventeen. You are adaptive enough to have moulded
yourself into any nature that you loved, and constant enough to have clung
to it through good and evil. You would have been a model wife, and a
blessed mother. But now--you are too old, my dear; you have seen too
much; you have not hardened yourself, but you have learned to see too
keenly into other people. You don't respect men, 'except exceptions'; and
you have seen so much matrimony that is harsh and unlovable, that you
dread it; and yet--Don't look at me that way, Sarah! I shall cry!--My
dear! my darling! I did not mean to hurt you.--I am a perfect fool!--Do
please look at me with your old sweet eyes again!--How could I!"----
"Look at Letty," said I, succeeding at last in a laugh. And really Letty
was comical to look at; she was regarding Josephine and me with her eyes
wide open like two blue larkspur flowers, her little red lips apart, and
her whole pretty surface face quite full of astonishment.
"Wasn't that a nice little tableau, Letty?" said Josephine, with
preternatural coolness. "You looked so sleepy, I thought I'd wake you up
with a bit of a scene from 'Lara Aboukir, the Pirate Chief'; you know we
have a great deal of private theatricals at Baltimore; you should see me
in that play as Flashmoria, the Bandit's Bride."
Letty rubbed her left eye a little, as if to see whether she was sleepy or
not, and looked grave; for me, the laugh came easily enough now. Jo saw
she had not quite succeeded, so she turned the current another way.
"Shall I tell your fortune now, Letty? Are you quite waked up?" said she.
"No, thee needn't, Cousin Jo; thee don't tell very good ones, I think."
"No, Letty, she shall not vex your head with nonsense. I think your fate
is patent; you will grow on a little longer like a pink china-aster, safe
in the garden, and in due time marry some good Friend,--Thomas Dugdale,
very possibly,--and live a tranquil life here in Slepington till you
arrive at a preacher-bonnet, and speak in meeting, as dear Aunt Allis did
Letty turned pale with rage. I did not think her blonde temperament held
"I won't! I won't! I never will!" she cried out. "I hate Thomas Dugdale,
Sarah! Thee ought to know better about me! thee knows I cannot endure him,
the old thing!"
This climax was too much for Jo. With raised brows and a round mouth, she
had been on the point of whistling ever since Letty began; it was an old,
naughty trick of hers; but now she laughed outright.
"No sort of inspiration left, Sally! I must patch up Letty's fate myself.
Flatter not yourself that she is going to be a good girl and marry in
meeting; not she! If there's a wild, scatter-brained, handsome,
dissipated, godless youth in all Slepington, it is on him that testy
little heart will fix,--and think him not only a hero, but a prodigy of
genius. Friend Allis will break her heart over Letty; but I'd bet you a
pack of gloves, that in three years you'll see that juvenile Quakeress in
a scarlet satin hat and feather, with a blue shawl, and green dress, on
the arm of a fast young man with black hair, and a cigar in his mouth."
"Why! where _did_ thee ever see him, Josey?" exclaimed Letty, now rosy
with quick blushes.
The question was irresistible. Jo and I burst into a peal of laughter that
woke Friend Allis from her nap, and, bringing her into the parlor, forced
us to recover our gravity; and presently Jo and I took leave.
Letty was an orphan, and lived with her cousin, Friend Allis. I, too, was
alone; but I kept a tiny house in Slepington, part of which I rented, and
Jo was visiting me.
As we walked home, along the quiet street overhung with willows and
sycamores, I said to her, "Jo, how came you to know Letty's secret?"
"My dear, I did not know it any more than you; but I drew the inference of
her tastes from her character. She is excitable,--even passionate; but her
formal training has allowed no scope for either trait, and suppression has
but concentrated them. She really pines for some excitement;--what, then,
could be more natural than that her fancy should light upon some person
utterly diverse from what she is used to see? That is simple enough. I hit
upon the black hair on the same principle, 'like in difference.' The cigar
seemed wonderful to the half-frightened, all-amazed child; but who ever
sees a fast young man without a cigar?"
"I am afraid it is Henry Malden," said I, meditatively; "he is all you
describe, but he is also radically bad; besides, having been in the
Mexican war, he will have the prestige of a hero to Letty. How can the
poor girl be undeceived before it is quite too late?"
"What do you want to undeceive her for, Sally? Do you suppose that will
prevent her marrying Mr. Malden?"
"I should think so, most certainly!"
"Not in the least. If you want Letty to marry him, just judiciously oppose
it. Go to her, and say you come as a friend to tell her Mr. Malden's
faults, and the result will be, she will hate you, and be deeper in love
with him than ever."
"You don't give her credit for common sense, Jo."
"Just as much as any girl of her age has in love. Did you ever know a
woman who gave up a man she loved because she was warned against him?--or
even if she knew his character well, herself? I don't know but there are
women who could do it, from sheer religious principle. I believe you
might, Sarah. It would be a hard struggle, and wear you to a shadow in
mind and body; but you have a conscience, and, for a woman with a heart as
soft as pudding, the most thoroughly rigid streak of duty in you; none of
which Letty has to depend on. No; if you want to save her, take her away
from Slepington; take her to Saratoga, to Newport, to Washington; turn her
small head with gayety: she is pretty enough to have a dozen lovers at any
watering-place; it is only propinquity that favors Mr. Malden here."
"I can't do that, Josephine. I have not the means, and Miss Allis would
not have the will, even if she believed in your prescription."
"Then Letty must stay here and bide her time. You believe in a special
Providence, Sarah, don't you?"
"Yes, of course I do."
"Then cannot you leave her to that care? Circumstances do not work for
you. Perhaps it is best that she should marry him, suffer, live, love, and
be refined by fire."
My heart sunk at the prospect of these possibilities. Josephine put her
arm round me. "Sally," said she, in her softest tone, "I grieved you,
dear, this afternoon. I did not mean to. I grieved myself most. Please
"I haven't anything to forgive, Jo," said I. "What you said to me was
true, painfully true,--and, being so, for a moment pained me. I should
have been much happier to be married, I know; but now I daren't think of
it. I have lost a great deal. I have
"--'lost _my_ place,
_My_ sweet, safe corner by the household fire,
Behind the heads of children';
"and yet I do not know that I have not gained a little. It is something,
Jo, to know that I am not in the power of a bad, or even an ill-tempered
man. I can sit by my fire and know that no one will come home to fret at
me,--that I shall encounter no cold looks, no sneers, no bursts of anger,
no snarl of stinginess, no contempt of my opinion and advice. I know that
now men treat me with respect and attention, such as their wives rarely,
if ever, receive from them. Sensitive and fastidious as I am, I do not
know whether my gain is not, to me, greater than my loss. I know it ought
not to be so,--that it argues a vicious, an unchristian, almost an
uncivilized state of society; but that does not affect the facts."
"You frighten me, Sarah. I cannot believe this is always true of men and
"Neither is it. Some men are good and kind and gentle, gentle-men, even in
their families; and every woman believes the man she is to marry is that
exception. Jo,--bend your ear down closer,--I thought once I knew such a
man,--and,--dear,--I loved him."
"My darling!--but, Sarah, why"--
"Because, as you said, Josey, I was too old; I had seen too much; I would
not give way to an impulse. I bent my soul to know him; I rang the metal
on more than one stone, and every time it rang false. I knew, if I married
him, I should live and die a wretched woman. Was it not better to live
"But, Sarah,--if he loved you?"
"He did not,--not enough to hurt himself; he could not love anything so
much better than his ease as to suffer, Josey: he was safe. He thought, or
said, he loved me; but he was mistaken."
"Safe, indeed! He ought to have been shot!"
There was a long pause. It was as when you lift a wreck from the tranquil
sea and let it fall again to the depths, useless to wave or shore; the
black and ghastly hulk is covered; it is seen no more; but the water
palpitates with circling rings, trembles above the grave, dashes quick and
apprehensive billows upon the sand, and is long in regaining its quiet
"I wonder if there ever was a perfect man," said Jo, at length, drawing a
"You an American girl, Jo, and don't think at once of Washington?"
"My dear, I am bored to death with Washington _a l' Americain_. A man!--
how dare you call him a man?--don't you know he is a myth, an abstraction,
a plaster-of-Paris cast? Did you ever hear any human trait of his noticed?
Weren't you brought up to regard him as a species of special seraph, a
sublime and stainless figure, inseparable from a grand manner and a
scroll? Did you ever dare suppose he ate, or drank, or kissed his wife?
You started then at the idea: I saw you!"
"You are absurd, Jo. It is true that he is exactly, among us, what
demigods were to the Greeks,--only less human than they. But when I once
get my neck out of the school-yoke, I do not start at such suggestions as
yours; I believe he did comport himself as a man of like passions with
others, and was as far from being a hero to his _valet-de-chambre_ as
By this time we were at home, and Jo flung her parasol on the bench in the
porch, and sat down beside it with a gesture of weariness and disgust
"Why will you, of all people, Sarah, quote that tinkling, superficial
trash of a proverb, so palpably French, when the true reason why a man is
not a hero to his lackey is only because he is seen with a lackey's eyes,
--the sight of a low, convention-ridden, narrow, uneducated mind, unable
to take a broad enough view to see that a man is a hero because he is a
man, because he overleaps the level of his life, and is greater than his
race, being one of them? If he were of the heroic race, what virtue in
being heroic? it is the assertion of his trivial life that makes his
speciality evident,--the shadow that throws out the bas-relief. We chatter
endlessly about the immense good of Washington's example: I believe its
good would be more than doubled, could we be made, nationally, to see him
as a human being, living on 'human nature's daily food,' having mortal and
natural wants, tastes, and infirmities, but building with and over all, by
the help of God and a good will, the noble and lofty edifice of a patriot
manhood, a pure life of duty and devotion, sublime for its very strength
and simpleness, heroic because manly and human."
The day had waned, and the sunset lit Josephine's excited eyes with fire:
she was not beautiful, but now, if ever, beauty visited her with a
transient caress. She looked up and met my eyes fixed on her.
"What is it, Sally?--what do I look like?"
"Very pretty, just now, Jo; your eyes are bright and your cheek flushed:
the sunshine suits you. I admire you tonight."
"I am glad," said she, naively. "I often wish to be pretty."
"A waste wish, Jo!--and yet I have entertained it myself."
"It's not so much matter for you, Sarah; for people love you. And besides,
you have a certain kind of beauty: your eyes are beautiful,--rather too
sad, perhaps, but fine in shape and tint; and you have a good head, and a
delicately outlined face. Moreover, you are picturesque: people look at
you, and then look again,--and, any way, love you, don't they?"
"People are very good to me, Jo."
"Oh, yes! we all know that people as a mass are kindly, considerate, and
unselfish; that they are given to loving and admiring disagreeable and
ugly people; in short, that the millennium has come. Sally, my dear, you
are a small hypocrite,--or else--But I think we won't establish a mutual-
admiration society to-night, as there are only two of us; besides, I am
hungry: let us have tea."
The next day, Josephine left me. As we walked together toward the landing
of the steamer, Letty Allis emerged from a green lane to say good-bye, and
down its vista I discerned the handsome, lazy person of Henry Maiden, but
I did not inform Letty of my discovery.
A year passed away,--to me with the old monotonous routine; full of work,
not wanting in solace; barren, indeed, of household enjoyments and
vicissitudes; solitary, sometimes desolate, yet peaceful even in monotony.
But this new spring had not come with such serene neglect to the other two
of us three. Against advice, remonstrance, and entreaty from her good
friends, Letty Allis had married Henry Maiden, and, in attire more
tasteful, but quite as far from Quakerism as Josephine had predicted,
beamed upon the inhabitants of Slepington from the bow-window, or open
door, of a cottage very _ornee_ indeed; while the odor of a tolerable
cigar served as Mr. Maiden's exponent, wherever he abode. And to Josephine
had come a loss no annual resurrection should repair: her mother was dead;
she, too, was orphaned,--for she had never known her father; her only
sister was married far away; and I kept an old promise in going to her for
a year's stay at least.
Aunt Boyle's property had consisted chiefly in large cotton mills owned by
herself and her twin brother,--who, dying before her, left her all his own
share in them. These mills were on a noisy little river in the western
part of Massachusetts,--in a valley, narrow, but picturesque, and so far
above the level of the sea that the air was keen and pure as among
mountains. Mrs. Boyle had removed here from Baltimore, a few years before
her own death, that she might be with her brother through his long and
fatal illness; and, finding her health improved by change of air, had
occupied his house ever since, until one of those typhoid fevers that
infest such river-gorges at certain seasons of the year entered the
village about the mills, when, in visiting the sick, she took the epidemic
herself and died. Josephine still retained the house endeared to her by
sad and glad recollections; and it was there I found her, when, after
renting the whole of my little tenement at Slepington, I betook myself to
Valley Mills at her request.
The cottage where she lived was capacious enough for her wants, and though
plain, even to an air of superciliousness, without, was most luxurious
within,--made to use and live in; for Mr. Brown, her uncle, was an
Englishman, and had never arrived at that height of Transatlantic _ton_
which consists in shrouding and darkening all the pleasant rooms in the
house, and skulking through life in the basement and attic. Sunshine,
cushions, and flowers were Mr. Brown's personal tastes; and plenty of
these characterized the cottage. A green terrace between hill and river
spread out before the door for lawn and garden, and a tiny conservatory
abutted upon the brink of the terrace slope, from a bay-window in the
library, that opened sidewise into this winter-garden.
I found Jo more changed than I had expected: this last year of country
life had given strength and elasticity to the tall and slender figure; a
steady rose of health burned on either cheek; and sorrow had subdued and
calmed her quick spirits.
I was at home directly, and a sweeter summer never glowed and blushed over
earth than that which installed me in the Nook Cottage. Out of doors the
whole country was beautiful, and attainable; within, I had continual
resources in my usual work and in Jo's society: for she was one of those
persons who never are uninteresting, never fatiguing; a certain salient
charm pervaded her conversation, and a simplicity quite original startled
you continually in her manner and ways. I liked to watch her about the
house; dainty and fastidious in the extreme about some things, utterly
careless about others, you never knew where or when either trait would
show itself next. She was scrupulous as to the serving of meals, for
instance,--almost to a fault; no carelessness, no slight neglect, was
admitted here, and always on the spotless damask laid with quaint china
stood a tapered vase of white Venice glass, with one, or two, or three
blossoms, sometimes a cluster of leaves, the spray of a wild vine, or the
tasselled branch of a larch-tree jewelled with rose-red cones, arranged
therein with an artist's taste and skill: but perhaps, while she sharply
rebuked the maid for a dim spot on her chocolate-pitcher or a grain of
sugar spilt on the salver, her white India shawl lay trailed over the
divan half upon the floor, and her gloves fluttered on the doorstep till
the wind carried them off to find her parasol hanging in the honeysuckle
But, happily, it is not one's duty to make other people uncomfortable by
perpetually tinkering at that trait in them which most offends our own
nature; and I thought it more for my good and hers to learn patience
myself than undertake to beat her into order; the result of which was
peace and good-will that vindicated my wisdom to myself; and I found her,
faults and all, sufficiently fascinating and lovable.
A year passed away serenely; and when spring came again, Josephine refused
to let me leave her. Our life was quiet enough, but, with such beautiful
Nature, and plenty to do, we were not lonely,--less so because Jo's hands
were as open as her heart, and to her all the sick and poor looked, not
only for help, but for the rarer consolations of living sympathy and
counsel. Her shrewd common sense, her practical capacity, her kindly,
cheerful face, her power of appreciating a position of want and perplexity
and seeing the best way out of it, and, above all, her deep and fervent
religious feeling, made her an invaluable friend to just that class who
most needed her.
In the course of this spring we gained an addition to our society, in the
person of Mr. Waring, the son of the gentleman who had bought the mills at
Mrs. Boyle's death, but who had hitherto conducted them by an overseer. He
had recently bought a little island in the middle of the river, just below
the dam, and proposed erecting a new mill upon it; but as the Tunxis (the
Indian name of our river) was liable to rapid and destructive freshets,
the mill required a deep and secure foundation and a lower story of stone.
This implied some skilful engineering, and Mr. Arthur Waring, having
studied this subject fully abroad, came on from Boston, and took up his
abode in Valley Mills village. Of course, we being his only hope of
society in the place, he made our acquaintance early. I rather liked him;
his manner was good, his perceptions acute, his tastes refined, and he had
a certain strength of will that gave force to a character otherwise
common-place. Josephine liked him at once; she laid his shyness and
_brusquerie_, which were only the expression of a dominant self-
consciousness, to genuine modesty. He was depressed and moody, because he
was bored for want of acquaintance, and missed the adulation and caresses
that he received at home as an only child; but Jo's swift imagination
painted this as the trait of a reflective and melancholy nature disgusted
with the world, and pitied him accordingly; a mild way of misanthropic
speech, that is apt to infest young men, added to this delusion; and, with
all the energy of her sweet, earnest disposition, Josephine undertook his
education,--undertook to teach him faith and hope and charity, to set
right his wayward soul, to renovate his bitter opinions, to make him a
better and a happier man.
It is a well-known fact in the philosophy of the human mind, that it is
apt to gain more by imparting than by receiving; and since philosophy,
where it becomes fact, does not mercifully adjust its results to
circumstance, but rushes on in implacable grooves, and clears its own
track of whatever lies thereon by the summary process of crushing it to
dust, it did not pause now for the pure intentions and tender heart which,
in teaching another love to men, taught herself love to a man, and learnt
far better than her pupil.
Mr. Waring was but a man; he did not love Josephine,--he admired her; he
loved nothing but himself, his quiet, his pleasure; and while she
ministered to either, he regarded her with a species of affection that put
on the mask of a diviner passion and used its language. A thousand little
things showed the man fully to me, a cool spectator; but she who needed
most the discerning eye regarded this gay bubble as if it had been a
Perhaps I blame him too severely, for it was against the very heart of my
heart that he sinned; possibly I do not allow for the temptation it was to
a young man, quite alone in a country village, without resources, and
accustomed to the flattery and caresses of a devoted mother, to find
himself agreeable in the eyes of a noble and lovable woman. Possibly, in
his place, a better man might have sought her society, drawn her out of
her reserve for his own delectation, confided in her, worked upon her
pity, claimed her care, played on her simplicity and ignorance of the
world, crept into her heart and won its strength of emotion and its
generous affection,--in short, made love to her, without saying so,
honestly and openly. Yet there are some men who would not have done it;
and even yet, while I try to regard Arthur Waring with Christian charity,
I feel that I cannot trust him, that I do not respect him,--that, if I
dared despise anything God has made, my first contempt would light on him.
In the autumn, while all this was going on, I received a painful and
wretched letter from Letty Maiden, begging me to come to her. I could not
resist such an appeal; and one of Josephine's little nieces having come to
spend the winter with her, I hurried to Slepington,--not, I am sure, in
the least regretted by Mr. Waring, who had begun to look at me with uneasy
and sometimes defiant eyes.
I found a miserable household here. Mr. Maiden had in no way reformed.
When did marriage ever reform a bad man? On the contrary, he was more
dissipated than ever; and whenever he came home, the welcome that waited
for him was one little calculated to make home pleasant; for Letty's quick
temper blazed up in reproach and reviling that drew out worse
recrimination; and even the little, wailing, feeble baby, that filled
Letty's arms and consoled her in his absence, was only further cause of
strife between her and her husband. Often, as I came down the street and
saw the pretty outside of the cottage, waving with creepers, and hedged
about with thorns, whose gay berries decked it as if for a festival, I
thought of what a good old preacher among the Friends once said to me:
"Sarah, thee will live to find shows are often seems; thee sees many a
quiet house, with gay windows, that is hell inside."
I soon found that I must stay all winter at Slepington. I had a hard task
before me,--to try and teach Letty that she had no right to neglect her
own duties because her husband ignored his. But six months of continual
dropping seemed to wear a tiny channel of perception; and my presence, as
well as the efforts we made together to preserve order, if not serenity,
in the house, restored a certain dim hope to Letty's mind, and I began to
see that the "purification by fire" was doing its work, in slow pain, but
to a sure end.
Selfish as it was, I cannot say that I felt sorry to return to Jo, who
wrote for me in April, urging me to come as soon as I could, for Mr.
Waring had fallen from the mill-wall and broken his leg, and the workmen,
in their confusion, had carried him to her house, and she wanted me to
help her. I learned, on reaching Valley Mills, that the new building on
the island had not been completed far enough to resist a heavy freshet,
that had swept away part of the first story, where the mortar was not yet
hardened; and it was in traversing these wet stones to ascertain the
extent of the damage that Mr. Waring had slipped, and, unable to recover
his footing, fallen on a heap of stones and received his injury.
My first question to Josephine was, "Where is Mr. Waring's mother?"
"He would not send for her, Sally," said she, "because she is not well,
and he feared to startle her."
"H'm!" said I, very curtly.
Josephine looked at me with innocent, grave eyes,--dear, simple child!--
and yet, for anybody but herself she would have been sufficiently
discerning. This love seemed to have remodelled her nature, to have taken
from her all the serpent's wisdom, to have destroyed her common sense, and
distorted her view of everything in which Arthur Waring was concerned. She
had certainly got on very fast in my absence. I had returned too late.
I had little to do with the care of the invalid; that devolved on Jo; my
offers of service were kindly received, but always declined. Nobody could
read to him so well as Miss Boyle. Nobody else understood his moods, his
humors, his whims; she knew his tastes with ominous exactness. It was she
who arranged his meals on the salver with such care and grace, nay, even
cooked them at times; for Jo believed, like a rational woman, that
intellect and cultivation increase one's capacity for every office,--that
a woman of intelligence should be able to excel an ignorant servant in
every household duty, by just so much as she excels her in mind. In fact,
this was a pleasant life to two persons, but harassing enough for me. Had
I been confident of Arthur Waring's integrity, I should have regarded him
with friendly and cordial interest; but I had every reason to distrust
him. I perceived he had so far insinuated himself into Jo's confidence,
that his whole artillery of expressive looks, broken sentences, even
caresses, were received by her with entire good faith; but when I asked
her seriously if I was to regard Mr. Waring as her lover, she burst into
indignant denial, colored scarlet, and was half inclined to be angry with
me,--though a certain tremulous key, into which her usually sweet and
steady voice broke while she declared he had never spoken to her of love,
it was only friendship, witnessed against her that she was apprehensive,
sad, perhaps visited with a tinge of that causeless shame which even in a
pure and good woman conventionality constrains, when she has loved a man
before he says in plain English, "I love you," though every act and look
and tone of his may have carried that significance unmistakably for years.
Thank God, there is a day of sure judgment coming, when conventions and
shields of usage will save no man from the due vengeance of truth upon
falsehood, justice upon smooth and plausible duplicity!
In due time Mr. Waring recovered. If there was any change in his manner to
Jo, it was too slight to be seen, though it was felt, and was, after all,
the carelessness of a person certain of his foothold in her good graces,
rather than the evident withdrawal of attention,--which I could have
pardoned even then, had it been the result of honest regret for past
carelessness, and stern resolution to repair that past. Whatever it was,
Jo perceived that her ideal man was become a real man; but, with a
tenacity of nature, for which in my fate-telling I had not given her
credit, she was as constant to the substance as she had been to the dream;
and while she lost both health and spirits in the contemplation of Arthur
Waring's fitful and heedless manner toward her, and was evidently pained
by the discovery of his selfish and politic traits,--to call them by no
harsher name,--it was inexpressibly touching to hear the excuses she made
for him, to see the all-shielding love with which she veiled his faults,
and kept him as a mother would keep her graceless, yet dearest child from
animadversion and reproach.
In the mean time I heard often from Letty,--no good news of her husband,
but that her child grew more and more a comfort, that her friends were
very kind, and always in a tiny postscript some such phrase as this: "I
try to be patient, Sarah," or "I don't scold Harry so much as I did,
dear." I hoped for Letty, for she persevered.
That summer we saw less than ever of Mr. Waring; he was very busy at the
mill in order that it might be far enough advanced to resist the
inevitable spring freshets; and besides, we were absent from the Valley
some weeks, endeavoring to recruit Jo's failing health at the sea-side.
But this was a vain endeavor; that which sapped the springs of her life
was past outward cure. She inherited her father's delicate and unreliable
constitution, and a nervous organization, whose worst disease is ever the
preying of doubt, anxiety, or regret. As winter drew on, she grew no
better; a dim, dreamy abstraction brooded over her. She said to me often,
with a vague alarm, "Sally, how far off you seem! Do come nearer!" She
ceased to talk when we were alone, her step grew languid, her eye deeper,
--and its bright expression, when you roused her, was longer in shooting
back into the clouded sphere than ever before. She sat for hours by the
window, her lovely head resting on its casement, looking out, always out
and away, beyond the hills, into the deep spaces of blue air, past cloud
and vapor, to the stars. Sudden noises startled her to an extreme degree;
a quick step flushed her cheek with fire and fluttered her breath. How I
longed for spring! I hoped all from the delicate ministrations of Nature;
though the physician we called gave me no hope of her final recovery. Mr.
Waring himself seemed struck with her aspect, and many little signs of
friendly interest came from him. As often as he could, he returned to his
old haunts; and while the pleasure of his presence and the excitement of
his undisguised anxiety wrought on her, Jo became almost her old self for
the moment, gay, cheerful, blooming,--alas! with the bloom of feverishness
and vain hope.
So spring drew near. The mill was nearly finished. One day in March a warm
south-wind "quieted the earth" after a long rain, the river began to stir,
its mail of ice to crack and heave under the sun's rays. I persuaded Jo to
take a little drive, and once in the carriage the air reanimated her; she
rested against me and talked more than I had known her for weeks.
"What a lovely day!" said she; "how balmy the air is! there is such an
expression of rest without despair, such calm expectation! I always think
of heaven such days, Sally!--they are like the long sob with which a child
finishes weeping. Only to think of never more knowing tears!--that is life
A keen pang pierced me at the vibration of her voice as she spoke. I
thought to soothe her a little, and said, "Heaven can be no more than
love, Jo, and we have a great deal of that on earth."
"Do we?" answered she, in a tone of grief just tipped with irony,--and
then went on: "I believe you love me, Sally. I would trust you with--my
heart, if need were. I think you love me better than any one on earth
"I love you enough, dear," said I; more words would have choked me in the
Soon we turned homeward.
"Tell John to drive down by the river," said Josephine,--"I want to see
the new mill."
"But you cannot see it from the road, Jo; the hemlocks stand between."
"Never mind, Sally; I shall just walk through them; don't deny me! I want
to see it all again; and perhaps the arbutus is in bloom."
"Not yet, Jo."
"I can get some buds, then; I want to have some just once."
We left the carriage, and on my arm Jo strolled through the little thicket
of hemlock-trees, green and fragrant. She seemed unusually strong. I began
to hope. After much searching, we found the budded flowers; she loved most
of all wild blossoms; no scent breathed from the closed petals; they were
not yet kissed by the odor-giving south-wind into life and expression; but
Jo looked at them with sad, far-reaching eyes. I think she silently said
good-bye to them.
Presently we came out on the steep bank of the river, directly opposite
the mill. A heavy timber was thrown across from the shore to the island,
on which the workmen from the west side had passed and repassed; it was
firm enough for its purpose, but now, wet with the morning's rain, and
high above the grinding ice, it seemed a hazardous bridge. As we stood
looking over at the new mill, listening to the slight stir within it,
apparently the setting to rights by some lingering workman of such odds
and ends as remain after finishing the great whole of such a building,
suddenly the cool wind, which had shifted to the north, brought on its
waft a most portentous roar. We stood still to listen. Nearer and nearer
it swelled, crashing and hissing as it approached. Josephine grasped my
arm with convulsive energy, and at that instant we perceived Mr. Waring's
plaid cap pass an open casement. She turned upon me like a wild creature
driven to bay. I looked up-stream;--the ice had gathered in one high
barrier mixed with flood-wood and timber, and, bearing above all the
uprooted trunk of a huge sycamore, was coming down upon the dam like a
battering-ram. Jo gasped. "The river is broken up and Arthur is on the
island," said she, in a fearfully suppressed tone, and, swifter than I
could think or guess her meaning, she had reached the timber, she was on
it,--and with light, untrembling steps half across, when both she and I
simultaneously caught sight of Mr. Waring running for dear life to the
other and stronger bridge. Jo turned to come back; but the excitement was
past that had sustained her; she trembled, she tottered. I ran to meet and
aid her. Just then the roots of the great sycamore thundered against the
dam; the already heavily pressed structure gave way; with the freed roar
of a hurricane, the barrier, the dam, the foot-bridge swept down toward
us. She had all but reached the end of the timber,--I stood there to grasp
her hand,--when the old tree, whirled down by the torrent, struck the
other end of the beam and threw Josephine forward to the bank, dashing her
throbbing, panting breast, with all the force of her fall, against the
hard ground. I lifted her in my arms. She was white with pain. Presently
she opened her eyes and looked up, a flush of rapture glowed all over her
face, and then the awful mist of death, gray and rigid, veiled it. Her
head dropped on my shoulder; a sharp cry and a rush of scarlet blood
passed her lips together; the head lay more heavily,--she was dead. But
Arthur Waring never knew how or for what she died!
Five years have passed since that day. Still I live at Nook Cottage; but
not alone. Of us three, Josephine is in heaven. Letty is still troubled
upon earth; her husband tests her patience and her temper every hour, but
both temper and patience are in good training; and if ever Henry Maiden is
reclaimed, as I begin to see reasons to hope he will be, he will owe it to
the continual example and gentle goodness of his wife, who has grown from
a petulant, thoughtless girl into a lovely, unselfish, religious woman, a
devoted mother and wife, "refined by fire." For me, the last,--whenever
now I say, as I used to say, "Three of us," I mean a new three,--Paul,
baby, and me; for Jo was not a prophet. Four years ago, while my heart-
ache for her was fresh and torturing, a new pastor came to the little
village church of Valley Mills. Mr. Lyman was very good; I have seen other
men with as fine natural traits, but I have never seen a man or woman so
entirely good. He came to me to console me; for he, too, had just lost a
sister, and in listening to his story I for a moment forgot my own, as he
meant I should. But I did not love him,--no, not till I discovered, months
afterward, that he suffered incessantly from ill-health, and was all alone
in the world. I was too much a woman to resist such a plea. I pitied him;
I tried to take care of him; and when he asked me if I liked the office of
sick-nurse, I told him I liked it well enough to wish it were for life;
and now, when he wants to light my eyes out of that dreamy expression that
tells him I am re-living the past, and thinking of the dead, he tells me,
for the sake of the flash that follows, that I offered myself to him!
Perhaps I did. But he is well now; the air of the Tunxis hills, and the
rest of a quiet life, partly, I hope, good care also, have restored to him
his lost health. And I am what Jo said I should have been,--a blessed
mother, as well as a happy wife. The baby that lies across my lap has
traits that endear her to me doubly,--traits of each of us three cousins:
Josephine's hair on her little nestling head, Letty's apple-blossom
complexion, and my eyes, except that they are serene when they are not
smiling. I ask only of the love that has given me all this unexpected joy,
that my little Jo may have one better trait,--her father's heart; a
stronger, tenderer, and purer heart than belonged to any one among "Three
WHAT A WRETCHED WOMAN SAID TO ME.
All the broad East was laced with tender rings
Of widening light; the Daybreak shone afar;
Deep in the hollow, 'twixt her fiery wings,
Fluttered the morning star.
A cloud, that through the time of darkness went
With wanton winds, now, heavy-hearted, came
And fell upon the sunshine, penitent,
And burning up with shame.
The grass was wet with dew; the sheep-fields lay
Lapping together far as eye could see;
And the great harvest hung the golden way
Of Nature's charity.
My house was full of comfort; I was propped
With life's delights, all sweet as they could be,
When at my door a wretched, woman stopped,
And, weeping, said to me,--
"Its rose-root in youth's seasonable hours
Love in thy bosom set, so blest wert thou;
Hence all the pretty little red-mouthed flowers
That climb and kiss thee now!
"_I_ loved, but _I_ must stifle Nature's cries
With old dry blood, else perish, I was told;
Hence the young light shrunk up within my eyes,
And left them blank and bold.
"I take my deeds, all, bad as they have been,--
The way was dark, the awful pitfall bare;--
In my weak hands, up through the fires of sin,
I hold them for my prayer."
"The thick, tough husk of evil grows about
Each soul that lives," I mused, "but doth it kill?
When the tree rots, the imprisoned wedge falls out,
Rusted, but iron still.
"Shall He who to the daisy has access,
Reaching it down its little lamp of dew
To light it up through earth, do any less,
Last and best work, for you?"
SONGS OF THE SEA.
Not Dibdin's; not Barry Cornwall's; not Tom Campbell's; not any of the
"Pirate's Serenades" and "I'm afloats!" which appear in the music-shop-
windows, illustrated by lithographic vignettes of impossible ships in
impracticable positions. These are sung by landsmen yachting in still
waters and in sight of green fields, by romantic young ladies in
comfortable and unmoving drawing-rooms to the tinkling of Chickering's
pianos. What are the songs the sailor sings to the accompaniment of the
thrilling shrouds, the booming double-bass of the hollow topsails, and the
multitudinous chorus of Ocean? What does the coaster, in his brief walk
"three steps and overboard," hum to himself, as he tramps up and down his
little deck through the swathing mists of a Bank fog? What sings the cook
at the galley-fire in doleful unison with the bubble of his coppers?
Surely not songs that exult in the life of the sea. Certainly not, my
amateur friend, anything that breathes of mastery over the elements. The
sea is a real thing to him. He never is familiar with it, or thinks of it
or speaks of it as his slave. It is "a steed that knows his rider," and,
like many another steed which the men of the forecastle have mounted,
knows that it can throw its rider at pleasure, and the riders know it too.
Now and then a sailor will utter some fierce imprecation upon wind or sea,
but it is in the impotence of despair, and not in the conscious, boastful
mastery which the land-songs attribute to him. What, then, does the sailor
sing?--and does he sing at all?
Certainly the sailor sings. Did you ever walk through Ann Street, Boston,
or haunt the purlieus of the Fulton Market? and when there did you never
espy a huckster's board covered with little slips of printed paper of the
size and shape of the bills-of-fare at the Commonwealth Hotel? They are
printed on much coarser paper, and are by no means as typographically
exact as the aforesaid _carte_, or as this page of the "Atlantic Monthly,"
but they are what the sailor sings. I know they are there, for I once
spent a long summer's day in the former place, searching those files for a
copy of the delightful ballad sung (or attempted to be sung) by Dick
Fletcher in Scott's "Pirate,"--the ballad beginning
"It was a ship, and a ship of fame,
Launched off the stocks, bound for the main."
I did not find my ballad, and to this day remain in ignorance of what fate
befell the "hundred and fifty brisk young men" therein commemorated. But I
found what the sailor does sing. It was a miscellaneous collection of
sentimental songs, the worn-out rags of the stage and the parlor, or
ditties of highwaymen, or ballad narratives of young women who ran away
from a rich "parient" with "silvier and gold" to follow the sea. The truth
of the story was generally established by the expedient of putting the
damsel's name in the last verse,--delicately suppressing all but the
initial and final letters. The only sea-songs that I remember were other
ballads descriptive of piracies, of murders by cruel captains, and of
mutinies, with a sprinkling of sea-fights dating from the last war with
The point of remark is, that all of these depend for their interest upon a
human association. Not one of them professes any concern with the sea or
ships for their own sake. The sea is a sad, solemn reality, the theatre
upon which the seaman acts his life's tragedy. It has no more of
enchantment to him than the "magic fairy palace" of the ballet has to a
But other songs the sailor sings. The Mediterranean sailor is popularly
supposed to chant snatches of opera over his fishing-nets; but, after all,
his is only a larger sort of lake, with water of a questionable saltness.
It can furnish dangerous enough storms upon occasion, and, far worse than
storms, the terrible white-squall which lies ambushed under sunny skies,
and leaps unawares upon the doomed--vessel. But the Mediterranean is not
the deep sea, nor has it produced the best and boldest navigators.
Therefore, although we still seek the sources of our maritime law amid the
rock-poised huts (once palaces) of Amalfi, we must go elsewhere for our
The sailor does not lack for singing. He sings at certain parts of his
work;--indeed, he must sing, if he would work. On vessels of war, the drum
and fife or boatswain's whistle furnish the necessary movement-regulator.
There, where the strength of one or two hundred men can be applied to one
and the same effort, the labor is not intermittent, but continuous. The
men form on either side of the rope to be hauled, and walk away with it
like firemen marching with their engine. When the headmost pair bring up
at the stern or bow, they part, and the two streams flow back to the
starting-point, outside the following files. Thus in this perpetual
"follow-my-leader" way the work is done, with more precision and
steadiness than in the merchant-service. Merchant-men are invariably
manned with the least possible number, and often go to sea shorthanded,
even according to the parsimonious calculations of their owners. The only
way the heavier work can be done at all is by each man doing his utmost at
the same moment. This is regulated by the song. And here is the true
singing of the deep sea. It is not recreation; it is an essential part of
the work. It mastheads the topsail-yards, on making sail; it starts the
anchor from the domestic or foreign mud; it "rides down the main tack with
a will"; it breaks out and takes on board cargo; it keeps the pumps (the
ship's,--not the sailor's) going. A good voice and a new and stirring
chorus are worth an extra man. And there is plenty of need of both.
I remember well one black night in the mid-Atlantic, when we were beating
up against a stiff breeze, coming on deck near midnight, just as the ship
was put about When a ship is tacking, the tacks and sheets (ropes which
confine the clews or lower corners of the sails) are let run, in order
that the yards may be swung round to meet the altered position of the
ship. They must then be hauled taut again, and belayed, or secured, in
order to keep the sails in their place and to prevent them from shaking.
When the ship's head comes up in the wind, the sail is for a moment or two
edgewise to it, and then is the nice moment, as soon as the head-sails
fairly fill, when the main-yard and the yards above it can be swung
readily, and the tacks and sheets hauled in. If the crew are too few in
number, or too slow at their work, and the sails get fairly filled on the
new tack, it is a fatiguing piece of work enough to "board" the tacks and
sheets, as it is called. You are pulling at one end of the rope, but the
gale is tugging at the other. The advantages of lungs are all against you,
and perhaps the only thing to be done is to put the helm down a little,
and set the sails shaking again before they can be trimmed properly.--It
was just at such a time that I came on deck, as above mentioned. Being
near eight bells, the watch on deck had been not over spry; and the
consequence was that our big main-course was slatting and flying out
overhead with a might that shook the ship from stem to stern. The flaps of
the mad canvas were like successive thumps of a giant's fist upon a mighty
drum. The sheets were jerking at the belaying-pins, the blocks rattling in
sharp snappings like castanets. You could hear the hiss and seething of
the sea alongside, and see it flash by in sudden white patches of
phosphorescent foam, while all overhead was black with the flying scud.
The English second-mate was stamping with vexation, and, with all his
ills misplaced, storming at the men:--"'An'somely the weather main-
brace,--'an'somely, I tell you!--'Alf a dozen of you clap on to the main
sheet here,--down with 'im!--D'y'see 'ere's hall like a midshipman's
bag,--heverythink huppermost and nothing 'andy.--'Aul 'im in, Hi say!"
--But the sail wouldn't come, though. All the most forcible expressions of
the Commination-Service were liberally bestowed on the watch. "Give us
the song, men!" sang out the mate, at last,--"pull with a will!
--together, men!--haltogether now!"--And then a cracked, melancholy voice
struck up this chant:
"Oh, the bowline, bully bully bowline,
Oh, the bowline, bowline, HAUL!"
At the last word every man threw his whole strength into the pull,--all
singing it in chorus, with a quick, explosive sound. And so, jump by jump,
the sheet was at last hauled taut.--I dare say this will seem very much
spun out to a seafarer, but landsmen like to hear of the sea and its ways;
and as more landsmen than seamen, probably, read the "Atlantic Monthly," I
have told them of one genuine sea-song, and its time and place.
Then there are pumping-songs. "The dismal sound of the pumps is heard,"
says Mr. Webster's Plymouth-Rock Oration; but being a part of the daily
morning duty of a well-disciplined merchant-vessel,--just a few minutes'
spell to keep the vessel free and cargo unharmed by bilge-water,--it is
not a dismal sound at all, but rather a lively one. It was a favorite
amusement with us passengers on board the ---- to go forward about
pumping-time to the break of the deck and listen. Any quick tune to which
you might work a fire-engine will serve for the music, and the words were
varied with every fancy. "Pay me the money down," was one favorite chorus,
and the verse ran thus:--
_Solo._ Your money, young man, is no object to me.
_Chorus._ Pay me the money down!
_Solo._ Half a crown's no great amount.
_Chorus._ Pay me the money down!
_Solo and Chorus. (Bis)_ Money down, money down, pay me the money down!
Not much sense in all this, but it served to man and move the brakes
merrily. Then there were other choruses, which were heard from time to
time,--"And the young gals goes a-weepin',"--"O long storm, storm along
stormy"; but the favorite tune was "Money down," at least with our crew.
They were not an avaricious set, either; for their parting ceremony, on
embarking, was to pitch the last half-dollars of their advance on to the
wharf, to be scrambled for by the land-sharks. But "Money down" was the
standing chorus. I once heard, though not on board that ship, the lively
chorus of "Off she goes, and off she must go,"--
"Highland day and off she goes,
Off she goes with a flying fore-topsail,
Highland day and off she goes."
It is one of the most spirited things imaginable, when well sung, and,
when applied to the topsail-halyards, brings the yards up in grand style.
These are some of the working-songs of the sea. They are not chosen for
their sense, but for their sound. They must contain good mouth-filling
words, with the vowels in the right place, and the rhythmic ictus at
proper distances for chest and hand to keep true time. And this is why the
seaman beats the wind in a trial of strength. The wind may whistle, but it
cannot sing. The sailor does not whistle, on shipboard at least, but does
Besides the working-day songs, there are others for the forecastle and
dog-watches, which have been already described. But they are seldom of the
parlor pattern. I remember one lovely moonlight evening, off the Irish
coast, when our ship was slipping along before a light westerly air,--just
enough of it for everything to draw, and the ship as steady as Ailsa Crag,
so that everybody got on deck, even the chronically sea-sick passengers of
the steerage. There was a boy on board, a steerage passenger, who had been
back and forth several times on this Liverpool line of packets. He was set
to singing, and his sweet, clear voice rang out with song after song,--
almost all of them sad ones. At last one of the crew called on him for a
song which he made some demur at singing. I remember the refrain well (for
he _did_ sing it at last); it ran thus:--
"My crew are tried, my bark's my pride,
I'm the Pirate of the Isles."
It was no rose-water piracy that the boy sang of; it was the genuine
pirate of the Isle of Pines,--the gentleman who before the days of
California and steamers was the terror of the Spanish Main. He was
depicted as falling in deadly combat with a naval cruiser, after many
desperate deeds. What was most striking to us of the cabin was, that the
sympathy of the song, and evidently of the hearers, was all on the side of
the defier of law and order. There was no nonsense in it about "islands on
the face of the deep where the winds never blow and the skies never weep,"
which to the parlor pirate arc the indications of a capital station for
wood and water, and for spending his honeymoon. It was downright cutting
of throats and scuttling of ships that our youngster sang of, and the grim
faces looked and listened approvingly, as you might fancy Ulysses's
veterans hearkening to a tale of Troy.
There is another class of songs, half of the sea, half of the shore, which
the fishermen and coasters croon in their lonely watches. Such is the
rhyme of "Uncle Peleg," or "Pillick," as it is pronounced,--probably an
historical ballad concerning some departed worthy of the Folger family of
Nantucket. It begins--
"Old Uncle Pillick he built him a boat
On the ba-a-ck side of Nantucket P'int;
He rolled up his trowsers and set her afloat
From the ba-a-ck side of Nantucket P'int."
Like "Christabel," this remains a fragment. Not so the legend of "Captain
Cottington," (or Coddington,) which perhaps is still traditionally known
to the young gentlemen at Harvard. It is marked by a bold and ingenious
"Captain Cottington he went to sea,
Captain Cottington he went to sea,
Captain Cottington he went to sea-e-e,
Captain Cottington he went to sea."
The third verse of the next stanza announces that he didn't go to sea in a
schoo-oo-ooner,--of the next that he went to sea in a bri-i-ig,--and so
on. We learn that he got wrecked on the "Ba-ha-ha-hamys," that he swam
ashore with the papers in his hat, and, I believe, entered his protest at
the nearest "Counsel's" (_Anglice_. Consul's) dwelling.
For the amateur of genuine ballad verse, here is a field quite as fertile
as that which was reaped by Scott and Ritson amid the border peels and
farmhouses of Liddesdale. It is not unlikely that some treasures may thus
be brought to light. The genuine expression of popular feeling is always
forcible, not seldom poetic. And at any rate, these wild bits of verse are
redolent of the freshness of the sea-breeze, the damps of the clinging
fog, the strange odors of the caboose-cookery, of the curing of cod, and
of many another "ancient and fish-like smell." Who will tell us of these
songs, not indeed of the deep sea, but of soundings? What were the stanzas
which Luckie Mucklebackit sang along the Portanferry Sands? What is the
dredging-song which the oyster "come of a gentle kind" is said to love?
These random thoughts may serve to indicate to the true seeker new and
unworked mines of rhythmic ore. We are crying continually, that we have no
national literature, that we are a nation of imitators and plagiarists.
Why will not some one take the trouble to learn what we have? This does
not mean that amateurs should endeavor to write such ballad fragments and
popular songs,--because that cannot be done; such things grow,--they are
not made. If the sea wants songs, it will have them. It is only suggested
here that we look about us and ascertain of what lyric blessings we may
now be the unconscious possessors. Can it be that oars have risen and
fallen, sails flapped, waves broken in thunder upon our shores in vain?
that no whistle of the winds, or moan of the storm-foreboding seas has
waked a responsive chord in the heart of pilot or fisherman? If we are so
poor, let us know our poverty.
And now to bring these desultory remarks to a practical conclusion. I have
written these seemingly trifling fragments with a serious purpose. It is
to show that the seaman has little or no art or part in the poetry of the
seas. I have put down facts, have given what experience I have had of some
of the idiosyncrasies of the forecastle. The poetry of the sea has been
written on shore and by landsmen. Falconer's "Shipwreck" is a clever
nautical tract, written in verse,--or if it be anything more, it is but
the solitary exception which proves and enforces the rule. Midshipmen have
written ambitious verses about the sea; but by the time the young
gentlemen were promoted to the ward-room they have dropped the habit or
found other themes for their stanzas. In truth, the stern manliness of his
calling forbids the seaman to write poetry. He acts it. His is a
profession which leaves no room for any assumed feeling or for any
reflective tendencies. His instincts are developed, rather than his
reason. He has no time to speculate. He must be prepared to lay his hand
on the right rope, let the night be the darkest that ever came down upon
the waves. He obeys orders, heedless of consequences; he issues commands
amid the uproar and tumult of pressing emergencies. There is no chance for
quackery in his work. The wind and the wave are infallible tests of all
his knots and splices. He cannot cheat them. The gale and the lee-shore
are not pictures, but fierce realities, with which he has to grapple for
life or death. The soldier and the fireman may pass for heroes upon an
assumed stock of courage; but the seaman must be a brave man in his
calling, or Nature steps in and brands him coward. Therefore he cares
little about the romance of his duties. If you would win his interest and
regard, it must be on the side of his personal and human sensibilities.
Cut off during his whole active life from any but the most partial
sympathy with his kind, he yearns for the life of the shore, its social
pleasures and its friendly greetings. Captains, whose vessels have been
made hells-afloat by their tyranny, have found abundant testimony in the
courts of law to their gentle and humane deportment on land. Therefore,
when you would address seamen effectively, either in acts or words, let it
be by no shallow mimicry of what you fancy to be their life afloat. It
will be at best but "shop" to them, and we all know how distasteful that
is in the mouth of a stranger to our pursuits. They laugh at your clumsy
imitations, or are puzzled by your strange misconceptions. It is painful
to see the forlorn attempts which are made to raise the condition of this
noble race of men, to read the sad nonsense that is perpetrated for their
benefit. If you wish really to benefit them, it must be by raising their
characters as men; and to do this, you must address them as such,
irrespectively of the technicalities of their calling.
THE KINLOCH ESTATE, AND HOW IT WAS SETTLED.
"Mildred, my daughter, I am faint. Run and get me a glass of cordial from
The girl looked at her father as he sat in his bamboo chair on the piazza,
his pipe just let fall on the floor, and his face covered with a deadly
pallor. She ran for the cordial, and poured it but with a trembling hand.