Part 1 out of 5
E-text prepared by Charles Aldarondo, Tiffany Vergon, William Craig, Charles
Franks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
THE CRAYON PAPERS
by GEOFFREY CRAYON, GENT.
MOUNTJOY: or Some Passages out of the Life of a Castle-Builder
THE GREAT MISSISSIPPI BUBBLE--"A Time of Unexampled Prosperity"
DON JUAN: A Spectral Research
BROEK: or the Dutch Paradise
SKETCHES IN PARIS IN 1825--From the Traveling Note-Book of Geoffrey Crayon,
My French Neighbor The Englishman at Paris English and French Character The
Tuileries and Windsor Castle The Field of Waterloo Paris at the Restoration
AMERICAN RESEARCHES IN ITALY--Life of Tasso: Recovery of a Lost Portrait of
THE TAKING OF THE VEIL The Charming Letorieres
THE EARLY EXPERIENCES OF RALPH RINGWOOD--Noted Down from his Conversations
ORIGIN OF THE WHITE, THE RED, AND THE BLACK MEN--A Seminole Tradition
THE CONSPIRACY OF NEAMATHLA--An Authentic Sketch
LETTER FROM GRANADA
ABDERAHMAN: Founder of the Dynasty of the Ommiades in Spain
THE WIDOW'S ORDEAL: or a Judicial Trial by Combat
THE CREOLE VILLAGE: A Sketch from a Steamboat
A CONTENTED MAN
* * * * *
OR SOME PASSAGES OUT OF THE LIFE OF A CASTLE-BUILDER
I was born among romantic scenery, in one of the wildest parts of the
Hudson, which at that time was not so thickly settled as at present. My
father was descended from one of the old Huguenot families that came over
to this country on the revocation of the edict of Nantz. He lived in a
style of easy, rural independence, on a patrimonial estate that had been
for two or three generations in the family. He was an indolent,
good-natured man, who took the world as it went, and had a kind of laughing
philosophy, that parried all rubs and mishaps, and served him in the place
of wisdom. This was the part of his character least to my taste; for I was
of an enthusiastic, excitable temperament, prone to kindle up with new
schemes and projects, and he was apt to dash my sallying enthusiasm by some
unlucky joke; so that whenever I was in a glow with any sudden excitement,
I stood in mortal dread of his good-humor.
Yet he indulged me in every vagary; for I was an only son, and of course a
personage of importance in the household. I had two sisters older than
myself, and one younger. The former were educated at New York, under the
eye of a maiden aunt; the latter remained at home, and was my cherished
playmate, the companion of my thoughts. We were two imaginative little
beings, of quick susceptibility, and prone to see wonders and mysteries in
everything around us. Scarce had we learned to read, when our mother made
us holiday presents of all the nursery literature of the day; which at that
time consisted of little books covered with gilt paper, adorned with
"cuts," and filled with tales of fairies, giants, and enchanters. What
draughts of delightful fiction did we then inhale! My sister Sophy was of a
soft and tender nature. She would weep over the woes of the Children in the
Wood, or quake at the dark romance of Blue-Beard, and the terrible
mysteries of the blue chamber. But I was all for enterprise and adventure.
I burned to emulate the deeds of that heroic prince who delivered the white
cat from her enchantment; or he of no less royal blood, and doughty
enterprise, who broke the charmed slumber of the Beauty in the Wood!
The house in which we lived was just the kind of place to foster such
propensities. It was a venerable mansion, half villa, half farmhouse. The
oldest part was of stone, with loop-holes for musketry, having served as a
family fortress in the time of the Indians. To this there had been made
various additions, some of brick, some of wood, according to the exigencies
of the moment; so that it was full of nooks and crooks, and chambers of all
sorts and sizes. It was buried among willows, elms, and cherry trees, and
surrounded with roses and hollyhocks, with honeysuckle and sweetbrier
clambering about every window. A brood of hereditary pigeons sunned
themselves upon the roof; hereditary swallows and martins built about the
eaves and chimneys; and hereditary bees hummed about the flower-beds.
Under the influence of our story-books every object around us now assumed a
new character, and a charmed interest. The wild flowers were no longer the
mere ornaments of the fields, or the resorts of the toilful bee; they were
the lurking-places of fairies. We would watch the humming-bird, as it
hovered around the trumpet creeper at our porch, and the butterfly as it
flitted up into the blue air, above the sunny tree-tops, and fancy them
some of the tiny beings from fairyland. I would call to mind all that I had
read of Robin Goodfellow and his power of transformation. Oh, how I envied
him that power! How I longed to be able to compress my form into utter
littleness; to ride the bold dragonfly; swing on the tall bearded grass;
follow the ant into his subterraneous habitation, or dive into the
cavernous depths of the honeysuckle!
While I was yet a mere child I was sent to a daily school, about two miles
distant. The schoolhouse was on the edge of a wood, close by a brook
overhung with birches, alders, and dwarf willows. We of the school who
lived at some distance came with our dinners put up in little baskets. In
the intervals of school hours we would gather round a spring, under a tuft
of hazel-bushes, and have a kind of picnic; interchanging the rustic
dainties with which our provident mothers had fitted us out. Then, when our
joyous repast was over, and my companions were disposed for play, I would
draw forth one of my cherished story-books, stretch myself on the green
sward, and soon lose myself in its bewitching contents.
I became an oracle among my schoolmates on account of my superior
erudition, and soon imparted to them the contagion of my infected fancy.
Often in the evening, after school hours, we would sit on the trunk of some
fallen tree in the woods, and vie with each other in telling extravagant
stories, until the whip-poor-will began his nightly moaning, and the
fireflies sparkled in the gloom. Then came the perilous journey homeward.
What delight we would take in getting up wanton panics in some dusky part
of the wood; scampering like frightened deer; pausing to take breath;
renewing the panic, and scampering off again, wild with fictitious terror!
Our greatest trial was to pass a dark, lonely pool, covered with
pond-lilies, peopled with bullfrogs and water snakes, and haunted by two
white cranes. Oh! the terrors of that pond! How our little hearts would
beat as we approached it; what fearful glances we would throw around! And
if by chance a plash of a wild duck, or the guttural twang of a bullfrog,
struck our ears, as we stole quietly by--away we sped, nor paused until
completely out of the woods. Then, when I reached home, what a world of
adventures and imaginary terrors would I have to relate to my sister Sophy!
As I advanced in years, this turn of mind increased upon me, and became
more confirmed. I abandoned myself to the impulses of a romantic
imagination, which controlled my studies, and gave a bias to all my habits.
My father observed me continually with a book in my hand, and satisfied
himself that I was a profound student; but what were my studies? Works of
fiction; tales of chivalry; voyages of discovery; travels in the East;
everything, in short, that partook of adventure and romance. I well
remember with what zest I entered upon that part of my studies which
treated of the heathen mythology, and particularly of the sylvan deities.
Then indeed my school books became dear to me. The neighborhood was well
calculated to foster the reveries of a mind like mine. It abounded with
solitary retreats, wild streams, solemn forests, and silent valleys. I
would ramble about for a whole day with a volume of Ovid's Metamorphoses in
my pocket, and work myself into a kind of self-delusion, so as to identify
the surrounding scenes with those of which I had just been reading. I would
loiter about a brook that glided through the shadowy depths of the forest,
picturing it to myself the haunt of Naiads. I would steal round some bushy
copse that opened upon a glade, as if I expected to come suddenly upon
Diana and her nymphs, or to behold Pan and his satyrs bounding, with whoop
and halloo, through the woodland. I would throw myself, during the panting
heats of a summer noon, under the shade of some wide-spreading tree, and
muse and dream away the hours, in a state of mental intoxication. I drank
in the very light of day, as nectar, and my soul seemed to bathe with
ecstasy in the deep blue of a summer sky.
In these wanderings nothing occurred to jar my feelings, or bring me back
to the realities of life. There is a repose in our mighty forests that
gives full scope to the imagination. Now and then I would hear the distant
sound of the woodcutter's ax, or the crash of some tree which he had laid
low; but these noises, echoing along the quiet landscape, could easily be
wrought by fancy into harmony with its illusions. In general, however, the
woody recesses of the neighborhood were peculiarly wild and unfrequented. I
could ramble for a whole day, without coming upon any traces of
cultivation. The partridge of the wood scarcely seemed to shun my path, and
the squirrel, from his nut-tree, would gaze at me for an instant, with
sparkling eye, as if wondering at the unwonted intrusion.
I cannot help dwelling on this delicious period of my life; when as yet I
had known no sorrow, nor experienced any worldly care. I have since studied
much, both of books and men, and of course have grown too wise to be so
easily pleased; yet with all my wisdom, I must confess I look back with a
secret feeling of regret to the days of happy ignorance before I had begun
to be a philosopher.
* * * * *
It must be evident that I was in a hopeful training for one who was to
descend into the arena of life, and wrestle with the world. The tutor,
also, who superintended my studies in the more advanced stage of my
education, was just fitted to complete the _fata morgana_ which was
forming in my mind. His name was Glencoe. He was a pale, melancholy-looking
man, about forty years of age; a native of Scotland, liberally educated,
and who had devoted himself to the instruction of youth from taste rather
than necessity; for, as he said, he loved the human heart, and delighted to
study it in its earlier impulses. My two elder sisters, having returned
home from a city boarding-school, were likewise placed under his care, to
direct their reading in history and belles-lettres.
We all soon became attached to Glencoe. It is true, we were at first
somewhat prepossessed against him. His meager, pallid countenance, his
broad pronunciation, his inattention to the little forms of society, and an
awkward and embarrassed manner, on first acquaintance, were much against
him; but we soon discovered that under this unpromising exterior existed
the kindest urbanity of temper; the warmest sympathies; the most
enthusiastic benevolence. His mind was ingenious and acute. His reading had
been various, but more abstruse than profound; his memory was stored, on
all subjects, with facts, theories, and quotations, and crowded with crude
materials for thinking. These, in a moment of excitement, would be, as it
were, melted down, and poured forth in the lava of a heated imagination. At
such moments, the change in the whole man was wonderful. His meager form
would acquire a dignity and grace; his long, pale visage would flash with a
hectic glow; his eyes would beam with intense speculation; and there would
be pathetic tones and deep modulations in his voice, that delighted the
ear, and spoke movingly to the heart.
But what most endeared him to us was the kindness and sympathy with which
he entered into all our interests and wishes. Instead of curbing and
checking our young imaginations with the reins of sober reason, he was a
little too apt to catch the impulse and be hurried away with us. He could
not withstand the excitement of any sally of feeling or fancy, and was
prone to lend heightening tints to the illusive coloring of youthful
Under his guidance my sisters and myself soon entered upon a more extended
range of studies; but while they wandered, with delighted minds, through
the wide field of history and belles-lettres, a nobler walk was opened to
my superior intellect.
The mind of Glencoe presented a singular mixture of philosophy and poetry.
He was fond of metaphysics and prone to indulge in abstract speculations,
though his metaphysics were somewhat fine spun and fanciful, and his
speculations were apt to partake of what my father most irreverently termed
"humbug." For my part, I delighted in them, and the more especially because
they set my father to sleep and completely confounded my sisters. I entered
with my accustomed eagerness into this new branch of study. Metaphysics
were now my passion. My sisters attempted to accompany me, but they soon
faltered, and gave out before they had got half way through Smith's Theory
of the Moral Sentiments. I, however, went on, exulting in my strength.
Glencoe supplied me with books, and I devoured them with appetite, if not
digestion. We walked and talked together under the trees before the house,
or sat apart, like Milton's angels, and held high converse upon themes
beyond the grasp of ordinary intellects. Glencoe possessed a kind of
philosophic chivalry, in imitation of the old peripatetic sages, and was
continually dreaming of romantic enterprises in morals, and splendid
systems for the improvement of society. He had a fanciful mode of
illustrating abstract subjects, peculiarly to my taste; clothing them with
the language of poetry, and throwing round them almost the magic hues of
fiction. "How charming," thought I, "is divine philosophy;" not harsh and
crabbed, as dull fools suppose,
"But a perpetual feast of nectar'd sweets,
Where no crude surfeit reigns."
I felt a wonderful self-complacency at being on such excellent terms with a
man whom I considered on a parallel with the sages of antiquity, and looked
down with a sentiment of pity on the feebler intellects of my sisters, who
could comprehend nothing of metaphysics. It is true, when I attempted to
study them by myself, I was apt to get in a fog; but when Glencoe came to
my aid, everything was soon as clear to me as day. My ear drank in the
beauty of his words; my imagination was dazzled with the splendor of his
illustrations. It caught up the sparkling sands of poetry that glittered
through his speculations, and mistook them for the golden ore of wisdom.
Struck with the facility with which I seemed to imbibe and relish the most
abstract doctrines, I conceived a still higher opinion of my mental powers,
and was convinced that I also was a philosopher.
* * * * *
I was now verging toward man's estate, and though my education had been
extremely irregular--following the caprices of my humor, which I mistook
for the impulses of my genius--yet I was regarded with wonder and delight
by my mother and sisters, who considered me almost as wise and infallible
as I considered myself. This high opinion of me was strengthened by a
declamatory habit, which made me an oracle and orator at the domestic
board. The time was now at hand, however, that was to put my philosophy to
We had passed through a long winter, and the spring at length opened upon
us with unusual sweetness. The soft serenity of the weather; the beauty of
the surrounding country; the joyous notes of the birds; the balmy breath of
flower and blossom, all combined to fill my bosom with indistinct
sensations, and nameless wishes. Amid the soft seductions of the season, I
lapsed into a state of utter indolence, both of body and mind.
Philosophy had lost its charms for me. Metaphysics--faugh! I tried to
study; took down volume after volume, ran my eye vacantly over a few pages,
and threw them by with distaste. I loitered about the house, with my hands
in my pockets, and an air of complete vacancy. Something was necessary to
make me happy; but what was that something? I sauntered to the apartments
of my sisters, hoping their conversation might amuse me. They had walked
out, and the room was vacant. On the table lay a volume which they had been
reading. It was a novel. I had never read a novel, having conceived a
contempt for works of the kind, from hearing them universally condemned. It
is true, I had remarked that they were as universally read; but I
considered them beneath the attention of a philosopher, and never would
venture to read them, lest I should lessen my mental superiority in the
eyes of my sisters. Nay, I had taken up a work of the kind now and then,
when I knew my sisters were observing me, looked into it for a moment, and
then laid it down, with a slight supercilious smile. On the present
occasion, out of mere listlessness, I took up the volume and turned over a
few of the first pages. I thought I heard some one coming, and laid it
down. I was mistaken; no one was near, and what I had read tempted my
curiosity to read a little further. I leaned against a window-frame, and in
a few minutes was completely lost in the story. How long I stood there
reading I know not, but I believe for nearly two hours. Suddenly I heard my
sisters on the stairs, when I thrust the book into my bosom, and the two
other volumes which lay near into my pockets, and hurried out of the house
to my beloved woods. Here I remained all day beneath the trees, bewildered,
bewitched, devouring the contents of these delicious volumes, and only
returned to the house when it was too dark to peruse their pages.
This novel finished, I replaced it in my sisters' apartment, and looked for
others. Their stock was ample, for they had brought home all that were
current in the city; but my appetite demanded an immense supply. All this
course of reading was carried on clandestinely, for I was a little ashamed
of it, and fearful that my wisdom might be called in question; but this
very privacy gave it additional zest. It was "bread eaten in secret"; it
had the charm of a private amour.
But think what must have been the effect of such a course of reading on a
youth of my temperament and turn of mind; indulged, too, amid romantic
scenery and in the romantic season of the year. It seemed as if I had
entered upon a new scene of existence. A train of combustible feelings were
lighted up in me, and my soul was all tenderness and passion. Never was
youth more completely love-sick, though as yet it was a mere general
sentiment, and wanted a definite object. Unfortunately, our neighborhood
was particularly deficient in female society, and I languished in vain for
some divinity to whom I might offer up this most uneasy burden of
affections. I was at one time seriously enamored of a lady whom I saw
occasionally in my rides, reading at the window of a country-seat; and
actually serenaded her with my flute; when, to my confusion, I discovered
that she was old enough to be my mother. It was a sad damper to my romance;
especially as my father heard of it, and made it the subject of one of
those household jokes which he was apt to serve up at every meal-time.
I soon recovered from this check, however, but it was only to relapse into
a state of amorous excitement. I passed whole days in the fields, and along
the brooks; for there is something in the tender passion that makes us
alive to the beauties of nature. A soft sunshiny morning infused a sort of
rapture into my breast. I flung open my arms, like the Grecian youth in
Ovid, as if I would take in and embrace the balmy atmosphere. [Footnote:
Ovid's Metamorphoses, Book vii] The song of the birds melted me to
tenderness. I would lie by the side of some rivulet for hours, and form
garlands of the flowers on its banks, and muse on ideal beauties, and sigh
from the crowd of undefined emotions that swelled my bosom.
In this state of amorous delirium, I was strolling one morning along a
beautiful wild brook, which I had discovered in a glen. There was one place
where a small waterfall, leaping from among rocks into a natural basin,
made a scene such as a poet might have chosen as the haunt of some shy
Naiad. It was here I usually retired to banquet on my novels. In visiting
the place this morning I traced distinctly, on the margin of the basin,
which was of fine clear sand, the prints of a female foot of the most
slender and delicate proportions. This was sufficient for an imagination
like mine. Robinson Crusoe himself, when he discovered the print of a
savage foot on the beach of his lonely island, could not have been more
suddenly assailed with thick-coming fancies.
I endeavored to track the steps, but they only passed for a few paces along
the fine sand, and then were lost among the herbage. I remained gazing in
reverie upon this passing trace of loveliness. It evidently was not made by
any of my sisters, for they knew nothing of this haunt; besides, the foot
was smaller than theirs; it was remarkable for its beautiful delicacy.
My eye accidentally caught two or three half-withered wild flowers lying on
the ground. The unknown nymph had doubtless dropped them from her bosom!
Here was a new document of taste and sentiment. I treasured them up as
invaluable relics. The place, too, where I found them, was remarkably
picturesque, and the most beautiful part of the brook. It was overhung with
a fine elm, entwined with grapevines. She who could select such a spot, who
could delight in wild brooks, and wild flowers, and silent solitudes, must
have fancy, and feeling, and tenderness; and with all these qualities, she
must be beautiful!
But who could be this Unknown, that had thus passed by, as in a morning
dream, leaving merely flowers and fairy footsteps to tell of her
loveliness? There was a mystery in it that bewildered me. It was so vague
and disembodied, like those "airy tongues that syllable men's names" in
solitude. Every attempt to solve the mystery was vain. I could hear of no
being in the neighborhood to whom this trace could be ascribed. I haunted
the spot, and became daily more and more enamored. Never, surely, was
passion more pure and spiritual, and never lover in more dubious situation.
My case could be compared only to that of the amorous prince in the fairy
tale of Cinderella; but he had a glass slipper on which to lavish his
tenderness. I, alas! was in love with a footstep!
The imagination is alternately a cheat and a dupe; nay, more, it is the
most subtle of cheats, for it cheats itself and becomes the dupe of its own
delusions. It conjures up "airy nothings," gives to them a "local
habitation and a name," and then bows to their control as implicitly as
though they were realities. Such was now my case. The good Numa could not
more thoroughly have persuaded himself that the nymph Egeria hovered about
her sacred fountain and communed with him in spirit than I had deceived
myself into a kind of visionary intercourse with the airy phantom
fabricated in my brain. I constructed a rustic seat at the foot of the tree
where I had discovered the footsteps. I made a kind of bower there, where I
used to pass my mornings reading poetry and romances. I carved hearts and
darts on the tree, and hung it with garlands. My heart was full to
overflowing, and wanted some faithful bosom into which it might relieve
itself. What is a lover without a confidante? I thought at once of my
sister Sophy, my early playmate, the sister of my affections. She was so
reasonable, too, and of such correct feelings, always listening to my words
as oracular sayings, and admiring my scraps of poetry as the very
inspirations of the muse. From such a devoted, such a rational being, what
secrets could I have?
I accordingly took her one morning to my favorite retreat. She looked
around, with delighted surprise, upon the rustic seat, the bower, the tree
carved with emblems of the tender passion. She turned her eyes upon me to
inquire the meaning.
"Oh, Sophy," exclaimed I, clasping both her hands in mine, and looking
earnestly in her face, "I am in love."
She started with surprise.
"Sit down," said I, "and I will tell you all."
She seated herself upon the rustic bench, and I went into a full history of
the footstep, with all the associations of idea that had been conjured up
by my imagination.
Sophy was enchanted; it was like a fairy tale; she had read of such
mysterious visitations in books, and the loves thus conceived were always
for beings of superior order, and were always happy. She caught the
illusion in all its force; her cheek glowed; her eye brightened.
"I daresay she's pretty," said Sophy.
"Pretty!" echoed I, "she is beautiful." I went through all the reasoning by
which I had logically proved the fact to my own satisfaction. I dwelt upon
the evidences of her taste, her sensibility to the beauties of nature; her
soft meditative habit that delighted in solitude. "Oh," said I, clasping my
hands, "to have such a companion to wander through these scenes; to sit
with her by this murmuring stream; to wreathe garlands round her brows; to
hear the music of her voice mingling with the whisperings of these groves;
"Delightful! delightful!" cried Sophy; "what a sweet creature she must be!
She is just the friend I want. How I shall dote upon her! Oh, my dear
brother! you must not keep her all to yourself. You must let _me_ have
some share of her!"
I caught her to my bosom: "You shall--you shall!" cried I, "my dear Sophy;
we will all live for each other!"
* * * * *
The conversation with Sophy heightened the illusions of my mind; and the
manner in which she had treated my daydream identified it with facts and
persons and gave it still more the stamp of reality. I walked about as one
in a trance, heedless of the world around and lapped in an elysium of the
In this mood I met one morning with Glencoe. He accosted me with his usual
smile, and was proceeding with some general observations, but paused and
fixed on me an inquiring eye.
"What is the matter with you?" said he, "you seem agitated; has anything in
"Nothing," said I, hesitating; "at least nothing worth communicating to
"Nay, my dear young friend," said he, "whatever is of sufficient importance
to agitate you is worthy of being communicated to me."
"Well; but my thoughts are running on what you would think a frivolous
"No subject is frivolous that has the power to awaken strong feelings."
"What think you," said I, hesitating, "what think you of love?"
Glencoe almost started at the question. "Do you call that a frivolous
subject?" replied he. "Believe me, there is none fraught with such deep,
such vital interest. If you talk, indeed, of the capricious inclination
awakened by the mere charm of perishable beauty, I grant it to be idle in
the extreme; but that love which springs from the concordant sympathies of
virtuous hearts; that love which is awakened by the perception of moral
excellence, and fed by meditation on intellectual as well as personal
beauty; that is a passion which refines and ennobles the human heart. Oh,
where is there a sight more nearly approaching to the intercourse of
angels, than that of two young beings, free from the sins and follies of
the world, mingling pure thoughts, and looks, and feelings, and becoming,
as it were, soul of one soul and heart of one heart! How exquisite the
silent converse that they hold; the soft devotion of the eye, that needs no
words to make it eloquent! Yes, my friend, if there be anything in this
weary world worthy of heaven, it is the pure bliss of such a mutual
The words of my worthy tutor overcame all further reserve. "Mr. Glencoe,"
cried I, blushing still deeper, "I am in love."
"And is that what you were ashamed to tell me? Oh, never seek to conceal
from your friend so important a secret. If your passion be unworthy, it is
for the steady hand of friendship to pluck it forth; if honorable, none but
an enemy would seek to stifle it. On nothing does the character and
happiness so much depend as on the first affection of the heart. Were you
caught by some fleeting and superficial charm--a bright eye, a blooming
cheek, a soft voice, or a voluptuous form--I would warn you to beware; I
would tell you that beauty is but a passing gleam of the morning, a
perishable flower; that accident may becloud and blight it, and that at
best it must soon pass away. But were you in love with such a one as I
could describe; young in years, but still younger in feelings; lovely in
person, but as a type of the mind's beauty; soft in voice, in token of
gentleness of spirit; blooming in countenance, like the rosy tints of
morning kindling with the promise of a genial day; an eye beaming with the
benignity of a happy heart; a cheerful temper, alive to all kind impulses,
and frankly diffusing its own felicity; a self-poised mind, that needs not
lean on others for support; an elegant taste, that can embellish solitude,
and furnish out its own enjoyments--"
"My dear sir," cried I, for I could contain myself no longer, "you have
described the very person!"
"Why, then, my dear young friend," said he, affectionately pressing my
hand, "in God's name, love on!"
* * * * *
For the remainder of the day I was in some such state of dreamy beatitude
as a Turk is said to enjoy when under the influence of opium. It must be
already manifest how prone I was to bewilder myself with picturings of the
fancy, so as to confound them with existing realities. In the present
instance, Sophy and Glencoe had contributed to promote the transient
delusion. Sophy, dear girl, had as usual joined with me in my
castle-building, and indulged in the same train of imaginings, while
Glencoe, duped by my enthusiasm, firmly believed that I spoke of a being I
had seen and known. By their sympathy with my feelings they in a manner
became associated with the Unknown in my mind, and thus linked her with the
circle of my intimacy.
In the evening, our family party was assembled in the hall, to enjoy the
refreshing breeze. Sophy was playing some favorite Scotch airs on the
piano, while Glencoe, seated apart, with his forehead resting on his hand,
was buried in one of those pensive reveries that made him so interesting to
"What a fortunate being I am!" thought I, "blessed with such a sister and
such a friend! I have only to find out this amiable Unknown, to wed her,
and be happy! What a paradise will be my home, graced with a partner of
such exquisite refinement! It will be a perfect fairy bower, buried among
sweets and roses. Sophy shall live with us, and be the companion of all our
enjoyments. Glencoe, too, shall no more be the solitary being that he now
appears. He shall have a home with us. He shall have his study, where, when
he pleases, he may shut himself up from the world, and bury himself in his
own reflections. His retreat shall be sacred; no one shall intrude there;
no one but myself, who will visit him now and then, in his seclusion, where
we will devise grand schemes together for the improvement of mankind. How
delightfully our days will pass, in a round of rational pleasures and
elegant employments! Sometimes we will have music; sometimes we will read;
sometimes we will wander through the flower garden, when I will smile with
complacency on every flower my wife has planted; while in the long winter
evenings the ladies will sit at their work, and listen with hushed
attention to Glencoe and myself, as we discuss the abstruse doctrines of
From this delectable reverie, I was startled by my father's slapping me on
the shoulder. "What possesses the lad?" cried he; "here have I been
speaking to you half a dozen times, without receiving an answer."
"Pardon me, sir," replied I; "I was so completely lost in thought, that I
did not hear you."
"Lost in thought! And pray what were you thinking of? Some of your
philosophy, I suppose."
"Upon my word," said my sister Charlotte, with an arch laugh, "I suspect
Harry's in love again."
"And if were in love, Charlotte," said I, somewhat nettled, and
recollecting Glencoe's enthusiastic eulogy of the passion, "if I were in
love, is that a matter of jest and laughter? Is the tenderest and most
fervid affection that can animate the human breast to be made a matter of
My sister colored. "Certainly not, brother!--nor did I mean to make it so,
or to say anything that should wound your feelings. Had I really suspected
you had formed some genuine attachment, it would have been sacred in my
eyes; but--but," said she, smiling, as if at some whimsical recollection,
"I thought that you--you might be indulging in another little freak of the
"Ill wager any money," cried my father, "he has fallen in love again with
some old lady at a window!"
"Oh, no!" cried my dear sister Sophy, with the most gracious warmth; "she
is young and beautiful."
"From what I understand," said Glencoe, rousing himself, "she must be
lovely in mind as in person."
I found my friends were getting me into a fine scrape. I began to perspire
at every pore, and felt my ears tingle.
"Well, but," cried my father, "who is she?--what is she? Let us hear
something about her."
This was no time to explain so delicate a matter. I caught up my hat, and
vanished out of the house.
The moment I was in the open air, and alone, my heart upbraided me. Was
this respectful treatment to my father--to _such_ a father, too--who
had always regarded me as the pride of his age--the staff of his hopes? It
is true, he was apt sometimes to laugh at my enthusiastic flights, and did
not treat my philosophy with due respect; but when had he ever thwarted a
wish of my heart? Was I then to act with reserve toward him, in a matter
which might affect the whole current of my future life? "I have done
wrong," thought I; "but it is not too late to remedy it. I will hasten back
and open my whole heart to my father!"
I returned accordingly, and was just on the point of entering the house,
with my heart full of filial piety and a contrite speech upon my lips, when
I heard a burst of obstreperous laughter from my father, and a loud titter
from my two elder sisters.
"A footstep!" shouted he, as soon as he could recover himself; "in love
with a footstep! Why, this beats the old lady at the window!" And then
there was another appalling burst of laughter. Had it been a clap of
thunder, it could hardly have astounded me more completely. Sophy, in the
simplicity of her heart, had told all, and had set my father's risible
propensities in full action.
Never was poor mortal so thoroughly crestfallen as myself. The whole
delusion was at an end. I drew off silently from the house, shrinking
smaller and smaller at every fresh peal of laughter; and, wandering about
until the family had retired, stole quietly to my bed. Scarce any sleep,
however, visited my eyes that night! I lay overwhelmed with mortification,
and meditating how I might meet the family in the morning. The idea of
ridicule was always intolerable to me; but to endure it on a subject by
which my feelings had been so much excited seemed worse than death. I
almost determined, at one time, to get up, saddle my horse, and ride off, I
knew not whither.
At length I came to a resolution. Before going down to breakfast, I sent
for Sophy, and employed her as embassador to treat formally in the matter.
I insisted that the subject should be buried in oblivion; otherwise I would
not show my face at table. It was readily agreed to; for not one of the
family would have given me pain for the world. They faithfully kept their
promise. Not a word was said of the matter; but there were wry faces, and
suppressed titters, that went to my soul; and whenever my father looked me
in the face, it was with such a tragi-comical leer--such an attempt to pull
down a serious brow upon a whimsical mouth--that I had a thousand times
rather he had laughed outright.
* * * * *
For a day or two after the mortifying occurrence just related, I kept as
much as possible out of the way of the family, and wandered about the
fields and woods by myself. I was sadly out of tune; my feelings were all
jarred and unstrung. The birds sang from every grove, but I took no
pleasure in their melody; and the flowers of the field bloomed unheeded
around me. To be crossed in love is bad enough; but then one can fly to
poetry for relief, and turn one's woes to account in soul-subduing stanzas.
But to have one's whole passion, object and all, annihilated, dispelled,
proved to be such stuff as dreams are made of--or, worse than all, to be
turned into a proverb and a jest--what consolation is there in such a case?
I avoided the fatal brook where I had seen the footstep. My favorite resort
was now the banks of the Hudson, where I sat upon the rocks and mused upon
the current that dimpled by, or the waves that laved the shore; or watched
the bright mutations of the clouds, and the shifting lights and shadows of
the distant mountain. By degrees a returning serenity stole over my
feelings; and a sigh now and then, gentle and easy, and unattended by pain,
showed that my heart was recovering its susceptibility.
As I was sitting in this musing mood my eye became gradually fixed upon an
object that was borne along by the tide. It proved to be a little pinnace,
beautifully modeled, and gayly painted and decorated. It was an unusual
sight in this neighborhood, which was rather lonely; indeed, it was rare to
see any pleasure-barks in this part of the river. As it drew nearer, I
perceived that there was no one on board; it had apparently drifted from
its anchorage. There was not a breath of air; the little bark came floating
along on the glassy stream, wheeling about with the eddies. At length it
ran aground, almost at the foot of the rock on which I was seated. I
descended to the margin of the river, and drawing the bark to shore,
admired its light and elegant proportions and the taste with which it was
fitted up. The benches were covered with cushions, and its long streamer
was of silk. On one of the cushion's lay a lady's glove, of delicate size
and shape, with beautifully tapered fingers. I instantly seized it and
thrust it in my bosom; it seemed a match for the fairy footstep that had so
In a moment all the romance of my bosom was again in a glow. Here was one
of the very incidents of fairy tale; a bark sent by some invisible power,
some good genius, or benevolent fairy, to waft me to some delectable
adventure. I recollected something of an enchanted bark, drawn by white
swans, that conveyed a knight down the current of the Rhine, on some
enterprise connected with love and beauty. The glove, too, showed that
there was a lady fair concerned in the present adventure. It might be a
gauntlet of defiance, to dare me to the enterprise.
In the spirit of romance and the whim of the moment, I sprang on board,
hoisted the light sail, and pushed from shore. As if breathed by some
presiding power, a light breeze at that moment sprang up, swelled out the
sail, and dallied with the silken streamer. For a time I glided along under
steep umbrageous banks, or across deep sequestered bays; and then stood out
over a wide expansion of the river toward a high rocky promontory. It was a
lovely evening; the sun was setting in a congregation of clouds that threw
the whole heavens in a glow, and were reflected in the river. I delighted
myself with all kinds of fantastic fancies, as to what enchanted island, or
mystic bower, or necromantic palace, I was to be conveyed by the fairy
In the revel of my fancy I had not noticed that the gorgeous congregation
of clouds which had so much delighted me was in fact a gathering thunder
gust. I perceived the truth too late. The clouds came hurrying on,
darkening as they advanced. The whole face of nature was suddenly changed,
and assumed that baleful and livid tint, predictive of a storm. I tried to
gain the shore, but before I could reach it a blast of wind struck the
water and lashed it at once into foam. The next moment it overtook the
boat. Alas! I was nothing of a sailor; and my protecting fairy forsook me
in the moment of peril. I endeavored to lower the sail; but in so doing I
had to quit the helm; the bark was overturned in an instant, and I was
thrown into the water. I endeavored to cling to the wreck, but missed my
hold; being a poor swimmer I soon found myself sinking, but grasped a light
oar that was floating by me. It was not sufficient for my support; I again
sank beneath the surface; there was a rushing and bubbling sound in my
ears, and all sense forsook me.
How long I remained insensible, I know not. I had a confused notion of
being moved and tossed about, and of hearing strange beings and strange
voices around me; but all this was like a hideous dream. When I at length
recovered full consciousness and perception, I found myself in bed in a
spacious chamber, furnished with more taste than I had been accustomed to.
The bright rays of a morning sun were intercepted by curtains of a delicate
rose color, that gave a soft, voluptuous tinge to every object. Not far
from my bed, on a classic tripod, was a basket of beautiful exotic flowers,
breathing the sweetest fragrance.
"Where am I? How came I here?"
I tasked my mind to catch at some previous event, from which I might trace
up the thread of existence to the present moment. By degrees I called to
mind the fairy pinnace, my daring embarkation, my adventurous voyage, and
my disastrous shipwreck. Beyond that, all was chaos. How came I here? What
unknown region had I landed upon? The people that inhabited it must be
gentle and amiable, and of elegant tastes, for they loved downy beds,
fragrant flowers, and rose-colored curtains.
While I lay thus musing, the tones of a harp reached my ear. Presently they
were accompanied by a female voice. It came from the room below; but in the
profound stillness of my chamber not a modulation was lost. My sisters were
all considered good musicians, and sang very tolerably; but I had never
heard a voice like this. There was no attempt at difficult execution, or
striking effect; but there were exquisite inflections, and tender turns,
which art could not reach. Nothing but feeling and sentiment could produce
them. It was soul breathed forth in sound. I was always alive to the
influence of music; indeed, I was susceptible of voluptuous influences of
every kind--sounds, colors, shapes, and fragrant odors. I was the very
slave of sensation.
I lay mute and breathless, and drank in every note of this siren strain. It
thrilled through my whole frame, and filled my soul with melody and love. I
pictured to myself, with curious logic, the form of the unseen musician.
Such melodious sounds and exquisite inflections could only be produced by
organs of the most delicate flexibility. Such organs do not belong to
coarse, vulgar forms; they are the harmonious results of fair proportions,
and admirable symmetry. A being so organized must be lovely.
Again my busy imagination was at work. I called to mind the Arabian story
of a prince, borne away during sleep by a good genius, to the distant abode
of a princess of ravishing beauty. I do not pretend to say that I believed
in having experienced a similar transportation; but it was my inveterate
habit to cheat myself with fancies of the kind, and to give the tinge of
illusion to surrounding realities.
The witching sound had ceased, but its vibrations still played round my
heart, and filled it with a tumult of soft emotions. At this moment, a
self-upbraiding pang shot through my bosom. "Ah, recreant!" a voice seemed
to exclaim, "is this the stability of thine affections? What! hast thou so
soon forgotten the nymph of the fountain? Has one song, idly piped in thine
ear, been sufficient to charm away the cherished tenderness of a whole
The wise may smile--but I am in a confiding mood, and must confess my
weakness. I felt a degree of compunction at this sudden infidelity, yet I
could not resist the power of present fascination. My peace of mind was
destroyed by conflicting claims. The nymph of the fountain came over my
memory, with all the associations of fairy footsteps, shady groves, soft
echoes, and wild streamlets; but this new passion was produced by a strain
of soul-subduing melody, still lingering in my ear, aided by a downy bed,
fragrant flowers, and rose-colored curtains. "Unhappy youth!" sighed I to
myself, "distracted by such rival passions, and the empire of thy heart
thus violently contested by the sound of a voice, and the print of a
* * * * *
I had not remained long in this mood, when I heard the door of the room
gently opened. I turned my head to see what inhabitant of this enchanted
palace should appear; whether page in green, a hideous dwarf, or haggard
fairy. It was my own man Scipio. He advanced with cautious step, and was
delighted, as he said, to find me so much myself again. My first questions
were as to where I was and how I came there? Scipio told me a long story of
his having been fishing in a canoe at the time of my hare-brained cruise;
of his noticing the gathering squall, and my impending danger; of his
hastening to join me, but arriving just in time to snatch me from a watery
grave; of the great difficulty in restoring me to animation; and of my
being subsequently conveyed, in a state of insensibility, to this mansion.
"But where am I?" was the reiterated demand.
"In the house of Mr. Somerville."
"Somerville--Somerville!" I recollected to have heard that a gentleman of
that name had recently taken up his residence at some distance from my
father's abode, on the opposite side of the Hudson. He was commonly known
by the name of "French Somerville," from having passed part of his early
life in France, and from his exhibiting traces of French taste in his mode
of living, and the arrangements of his house. In fact, it was in his
pleasure-boat, which had got adrift, that I had made my fanciful and
disastrous cruise. All this was simple, straightforward matter of fact, and
threatened to demolish all the cobweb romance I had been spinning, when
fortunately I again heard the tinkling of a harp. I raised myself in bed
"Scipio," said I, with some little hesitation, "I heard some one singing
just now. Who was it?"
"Oh, that was Miss Julia."
"Julia! Julia! Delightful! what a name! And, Scipio--is she--is she
Scipio grinned from ear to ear. "Except Miss Sophy, she was the most
beautiful young lady he had ever seen."
I should observe, that my sister Sophia was considered by all the servants
a paragon of perfection.
Scipio now offered to remove the basket of flowers; he was afraid their
odor might be too powerful; but Miss Julia had given them that morning to
be placed in my room.
These flowers, then, had been gathered by the fairy fingers of my unseen
beauty; that sweet breath which had filled my ear with melody had passed
over them. I made Scipio hand them to me, culled several of the most
delicate, and laid them on my bosom.
Mr. Somerville paid me a visit not long afterward. He was an interesting
study for me, for he was the father of my unseen beauty, and probably
resembled her. I scanned him closely. He was a tall and elegant man, with
an open, affable manner, and an erect and graceful carriage. His eyes were
bluish-gray, and, though not dark, yet at times were sparkling and
expressive. His hair was dressed and powdered, and being lightly combed up
from his forehead, added to the loftiness of his aspect. He was fluent in
discourse, but his conversation had the quiet tone of polished society,
without any of those bold flights of thought, and picturings of fancy,
which I so much admired.
My imagination was a little puzzled, at first, to make out of this
assemblage of personal and mental qualities a picture that should harmonize
with my previous idea of the fair unseen. By dint, however, of selecting
what it liked, and giving a touch here and a touch there, it soon furnished
out a satisfactory portrait.
"Julia must be tall," thought I, "and of exquisite grace and dignity. She
is not quite so courtly as her father, for she has been brought up in the
retirement of the country. Neither is she of such vivacious deportment; for
the tones of her voice are soft and plaintive, and she loves pathetic
music. She is rather pensive--yet not too pensive; just what is called
interesting. Her eyes are like her father's, except that they are of a
purer blue, and more tender and languishing. She has light hair--not
exactly flaxen, for I do not like flaxen hair, but between that and auburn.
In a word, she is a tall, elegant, imposing, languishing blue-eyed,
romantic-looking beauty." And having thus finished her picture, I felt ten
times more in love with her than ever.
* * * * *
I felt so much recovered that I would at once have left my room, but Mr.
Somerville objected to it. He had sent early word to my family of my
safety; and my father arrived in the course of the morning. He was shocked
at learning the risk I had run, but rejoiced to find me so much restored,
and was warm in his thanks to Mr. Somerville for his kindness. The other
only required, in return, that I might remain two or three days as his
guest, to give time for my recovery, and for our forming a closer
acquaintance; a request which my father readily granted. Scipio accordingly
accompanied my father home, and returned with a supply of clothes, and with
affectionate letters from my mother and sisters.
The next morning, aided by Scipio, I made my toilet with rather more care
than usual, and descended the stairs with some trepidation, eager to see
the original of the portrait which had been so completely pictured in my
On entering the parlor, I found it deserted. Like the rest of the house, it
was furnished in a foreign style. The curtains were of French silk; there
were Grecian couches, marble tables, pier-glasses, and chandeliers. What
chiefly attracted my eye, were documents of female taste that I saw around
me; a piano, with an ample stock of Italian music: a book of poetry lying
on the sofa; a vase of fresh flowers on a table, and a portfolio open with
a skillful and half-finished sketch of them. In the window was a canary
bird, in a gilt cage, and near by, the harp that had been in Julia's arms.
Happy harp! But where was the being that reigned in this little empire of
delicacies?--that breathed poetry and song, and dwelt among birds and
flowers, and rose-colored curtains?
Suddenly I heard the hall door fly open, the quick pattering of light
steps, a wild, capricious strain of music, and the shrill barking of a dog.
A light, frolic nymph of fifteen came tripping into the room, playing on a
flageolet, with a little spaniel romping after her. Her gypsy hat had
fallen back upon her shoulders; a profusion of glossy brown hair was blown
in rich ringlets about her face, which beamed through them with the
brightness of smiles and dimples.
At sight of me she stopped short, in the most beautiful confusion,
stammered out a word or two about looking for her father, glided out of the
door, and I heard her bounding up the staircase, like a frightened fawn,
with the little dog barking after her.
When Miss Somerville returned to the parlor, she was quite a different
being. She entered, stealing along by her mother's side with noiseless
step, and sweet timidity; her hair was prettily adjusted, and a soft blush
mantled on her damask cheek. Mr. Somerville accompanied the ladies, and
introduced me regularly to them. There were many kind inquiries and much
sympathy expressed, on the subject of my nautical accident, and some
remarks upon the wild scenery of the neighborhood, with which the ladies
seemed perfectly acquainted.
"You must know," said Mr. Somerville, "that we are great navigators, and
delight in exploring every nook and corner of the river. My daughter, too,
is a great hunter of the picturesque, and transfers every rock and glen to
her portfolio. By the way, my dear, show Mr. Mountjoy that pretty scene you
have lately sketched." Julia complied, blushing, and drew from her
portfolio a colored sketch. I almost started at the sight. It was my
favorite brook. A sudden thought darted across my mind. I glanced down my
eye, and beheld the divinest little foot in the world. Oh, blissful
conviction! The struggle of my affections was at an end. The voice and the
footstep were no longer at variance. Julia Somerville was the nymph of the
* * * * *
What conversation passed during breakfast I do not recollect, and hardly
was conscious of at the time, for my thoughts were in complete confusion. I
wished to gaze on Miss Somerville, but did not dare. Once, indeed, I
ventured a glance. She was at that moment darting a similar one from under
a covert of ringlets. Our eyes seemed shocked by the rencontre, and fell;
hers through the natural modesty of her sex, mine through a bashfulness
produced by the previous workings of my imagination. That glance, however,
went like a sunbeam to my heart.
A convenient mirror favored my diffidence, and gave me the reflection of
Miss Somerville's form. It is true it only presented the back of her head,
but she had the merit of an ancient statue; contemplate her from any point
of view, she was beautiful. And yet she was totally different from
everything I had before conceived of beauty. She was not the serene,
meditative maid that I had pictured the nymph of the fountain; nor the
tall, soft, languishing, blue-eyed, dignified being that I had fancied the
minstrel of the harp. There was nothing of dignity about her: she was
girlish in her appearance, and scarcely of the middle size; but then there
was the tenderness of budding youth; the sweetness of the half-blown rose,
when not a tint of perfume has been withered or exhaled; there were smiles
and dimples, and all the soft witcheries of ever-varying expression. I
wondered that I could ever have admired any other style of beauty.
After breakfast, Mr. Somerville departed to attend to the concerns of his
estate, and gave me in charge of the ladies. Mrs. Somerville also was
called away by her household cares, and I was left alone with Julia! Here,
then, was the situation which of all others I had most coveted. I was in
the presence of the lovely being that had so long been the desire of my
heart. We were alone; propitious opportunity for a lover! Did I seize upon
it? Did I break out in one of my accustomed rhapsodies? No such thing!
Never was being more awkwardly embarrassed.
"What can be the cause of this?" thought I. "Surely, I cannot stand in awe
of this young girl. I am of course her superior in intellect, and am never
embarrassed in company with my tutor, notwithstanding all his wisdom."
It was passing strange. I felt that if she were an old woman, I should be
quite at my ease; if she were even an ugly woman, I should make out very
well: it was her beauty that overpowered me. How little do lovely women
know what awful beings they are, in the eyes of inexperienced youth! Young
men brought up in the fashionable circles of our cities will smile at all
this. Accustomed to mingle incessantly in female society, and to have the
romance of the heart deadened by a thousand frivolous flirtations, women
are nothing but women in their eyes; but to a susceptible youth like
myself, brought up in the country, they are perfect divinities.
Miss Somerville was at first a little embarrassed herself; but, somehow or
other, women have a natural adroitness in recovering their self-possession;
they are more alert in their minds, and graceful in their manners. Besides,
I was but an ordinary personage in Miss Somerville's eyes; she was not
under Hie influence of such a singular course of imaginings as had
surrounded her, in my eyes, with the illusions of romance. Perhaps, too,
she saw the confusion in the opposite camp and gained courage from the
discovery. At any rate she was the first to take the field.
Her conversation, however, was only on commonplace topics, and in an easy,
well-bred style. I endeavored to respond in the same manner; but I was
strangely incompetent to the task. My ideas were frozen up; even words
seemed to fail me. I was excessively vexed at myself, for I wished to be
uncommonly elegant. I tried two or three times to turn a pretty thought, or
to utter a fine sentiment; but it would come forth so trite, so forced, so
mawkish, that I was ashamed of it. My very voice sounded discordantly,
though I sought to modulate it into the softest tones. "The truth is,"
thought I to myself, "I cannot bring my mind down to the small talk
necessary for young girls; it is too masculine and robust for the mincing
measure of parlor gossip. I am a philosopher--and that accounts for it."
The entrance of Mrs. Somerville at length gave me relief. I at once
breathed freely, and felt a vast deal of confidence come over me. "This is
strange," thought I, "that the appearance of another woman should revive my
courage; that I should be a better match for two women than one. However,
since it is so, I will take advantage of the circumstance, and let this
young lady see that I am not so great a simpleton as she probably thinks
I accordingly took up the book of poetry which lay upon the sofa. It was
Milton's Paradise Lost. Nothing could have been more fortunate; it afforded
a fine scope for my favorite vein of grandiloquence. I went largely into a
discussion of its merits, or rather an enthusiastic eulogy of them. My
observations were addressed to Mrs. Somerville, for I found I could talk to
her with more ease than to her daughter. She appeared alive to the beauties
of the poet and disposed to meet me in the discussion; but it was not my
object to hear her talk; it was to talk myself. I anticipated all she had
to say, overpowered her with the copiousness of my ideas, and supported and
illustrated them by long citations from the author.
While thus holding forth, I cast a side glance to see how Miss Somerville
was affected. She had some embroidery stretched on a frame before her, but
had paused in her labor, and was looking down as if lost in mute attention.
I felt a glow of self-satisfaction, but I recollected, at the same time,
with a kind of pique, the advantage she had enjoyed over me in our
tete-a-tete. I determined to push my triumph, and accordingly kept on with
redoubled ardor, until I had fairly exhausted my subject, or rather my
I had scarce come to a full stop, when Miss Somerville raised her eyes from
the work on which they had been fixed, and turning to her mother, observed:
"I have been considering, mamma, whether to work these flowers plain, or in
Had an ice-bolt shot to my heart, it could not have chilled me more
effectually. "What a fool," thought I, "have I been making
myself--squandering away fine thoughts, and fine language, upon a light
mind and an ignorant ear! This girl knows nothing of poetry. She has no
soul, I fear, for its beauties. Can any one have real sensibility of heart,
and not be alive to poetry? However, she is young; this part of her
education has been neglected; there is time enough to remedy it. I will be
her preceptor. I will kindle in her mind the sacred flame, and lead her
through the fairy land of song. But after all, it is rather unfortunate
that I should have fallen in love with a woman who knows nothing of
* * * * *
I passed a day not altogether satisfactory. I was a little disappointed
that Miss Somerville did not show more poetical feeling. "I am afraid,
after all," said I to myself, "she is light and girlish, and more fitted to
pluck wild flowers, play on the flageolet, and romp with little dogs than
to converse with a man of my turn."
I believe, however, to tell the truth, I was more out of humor with myself.
I thought I had made the worst first appearance that ever hero made, either
in novel or fairy tale. I was out of all patience, when I called to mind my
awkward attempts at ease and elegance, in the tete-a-tete. And then my
intolerable long lecture about poetry to catch the applause of a heedless
auditor! But there I was not to blame. I had certainly been eloquent: it
was her fault that the eloquence was wasted. To meditate upon the
embroidery of a flower, when I was expatiating on the beauties of Milton!
She might at least have admired the poetry, if she did not relish the
manner in which it was delivered: though that was not despicable, for I had
recited passages in my best style, which my mother and sisters had always
considered equal to a play. "Oh, it is evident," thought I, "Miss
Somerville has very little soul!"
Such were my fancies and cogitations during the day, the greater part of
which was spent in my chamber, for I was still languid. My evening was
passed in the drawing-room, where I overlooked Miss Somerville's portfolio
of sketches. They were executed with great taste, and showed a nice
observation of the peculiarities of nature. They were all her own, and free
from those cunning tints and touches of the drawing-master, by which young
ladies' drawings, like their heads, are dressed up for company. There was
no garish and vulgar trick of colors, either; all was executed with
singular truth and simplicity.
"And yet," thought I, "this little being, who has so pure an eye to take
in, as in a limpid brook, all the graceful forms and magic tints of nature,
has no soul for poetry!"
Mr. Somerville, toward the latter part of the evening, observing my eye to
wander occasionally to the harp, interpreted and met my wishes with his
"Julia, my dear," said he, "Mr. Mountjoy would like to hear a little music
from your harp; let us hear, too, the sound of your voice."
Julia immediately complied, without any of that hesitation and difficulty,
by which young ladies are apt to make company pay dear for bad music. She
sang a sprightly strain, in a brilliant style, that came trilling playfully
over the ear; and the bright eye and dimpling smile showed that her little
heart danced with the song. Her pet canary bird, who hung close by, was
awakened by the music, and burst forth into an emulating strain. Julia
smiled with a pretty air of defiance, and played louder.
After some time the music changed, and ran into a plaintive strain, in a
minor key. Then it was that all the former witchery of her voice came over
me; then it was that she seemed to sing from the heart and to the heart.
Her fingers moved about the chords as if they scarcely touched them. Her
whole manner and appearance changed; her eyes beamed with the softest
expression; her countenance, her frame, all seemed subdued into tenderness.
She rose from the harp, leaving it still vibrating with sweet sounds, and
moved toward her father, to bid him good-night.
His eyes had been fixed on her intently during her performance. As she came
before him he parted her shining ringlets with both his hands, and looked
down with the fondness of a father on her innocent face. The music seemed
still lingering in its lineaments, and the action of her father brought a
moist gleam in her eye. He kissed her fair forehead, after the French mode
of parental caressing: "Goodnight, and God bless you," said he, "my good
Julia tripped away, with a tear in her eye, a dimple in her cheek, and a
light heart in her bosom. I thought it the prettiest picture of paternal
and filial affection I had ever seen.
When I retired to bed, a new train of thoughts crowded into my brain.
"After all," said I to myself, "it is clear this girl has a soul, though
she was not moved by my eloquence. She has all the outward signs and
evidences of poetic feeling. She paints well, and has an eye for nature.
She is a fine musician, and enters into the very soul of song. What a pity
that she knows nothing of poetry! But we will see what is to be done? I am
irretrievably in love with her; what then am I to do? Come down to the
level of her mind, or endeavor to raise her to some kind of intellectual
equality with myself? That is the most generous course. She will look up to
me as a benefactor. I shall become associated in her mind with the lofty
thoughts and harmonious graces of poetry. She is apparently docile: besides
the difference of our ages will give me an ascendency over her. She cannot
be above sixteen years of age, and I am full turned to twenty." So, having
built this most delectable of air castles, I fell asleep.
* * * * *
The next morning I was quite a different being. I no longer felt fearful of
stealing a glance at Julia; on the contrary, I contemplated her steadily,
with the benignant eye of a benefactor. Shortly after breakfast I found
myself alone with her, as I had on the preceding morning; but I felt
nothing of the awkwardness of our previous tete-a-tete. I was elevated by
the consciousness of my intellectual superiority and should almost have
felt a sentiment of pity for the ignorance of the lovely little being, if I
had not felt also the assurance that I should be able to dispel it. "But it
is time," thought I, "to open school."
Julia was occupied in arranging some music on her piano. I looked over two
or three songs; they were Moore's Irish melodies.
"These are pretty things!" said I, flirting the leaves over lightly, and
giving a slight shrug, by way of qualifying the opinion.
"Oh, I love them of all things," said Julia, "they're so touching!"
"Then you like them for the poetry," said I, with an encouraging smile.
"Oh, yes; she thought them charmingly written."
Now was my time. "Poetry," said I, assuming a didactic attitude and air,
"poetry is one of the most pleasing studies that can occupy a youthful
mind. It renders us susceptible of the gentle impulses of humanity, and
cherishes a delicate perception of all that is virtuous and elevated in
morals, and graceful and beautiful in physics. It--"
I was going on in a style that would have graced a professor of rhetoric,
when I saw a light smile playing about Miss Somerville's mouth, and that
she began to turn over the leaves of a music-book. I recollected her
inattention to my discourse of the preceding morning. "There is no fixing
her light mind," thought I, "by abstract theory; we will proceed
practically." As it happened, the identical volume of Milton's Paradise
Lost was lying at hand.
"Let me recommend to you, my young friend," said I, in one of those tones
of persuasive admonition, which I had so often loved in Glencoe, "let me
recommend to you this admirable poem; you will find in it sources of
intellectual enjoyment far superior to those songs which have delighted
you." Julia looked at the book, and then at me, with a whimsically dubious
air. "Milton's Paradise Lost?" said she; "oh, I know the greater part of
that by heart."
I had not expected to find my pupil so far advanced; however, the Paradise
Lost is a kind of school book, and its finest passages are given to young
ladies as tasks.
"I find," said I to myself, "I must not treat her as so complete a novice;
her inattention yesterday could not have proceeded from absolute ignorance,
but merely from a want of poetic feeling. I'll try her again."
I now determined to dazzle her with my own erudition, and launched into a
harangue that would have done honor to an institute. Pope, Spenser,
Chaucer, and the old dramatic writers were all dipped into, with the
excursive flight of a swallow. I did not confine myself to English poets,
but gave a glance at the French and Italian schools; I passed over Ariosto
in full wing, but paused on Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered. I dwelt on the
character of Clorinda: "There's a character," said I, "that you will find
well worthy a woman's study. It shows to what exalted heights of heroism
the sex can rise, how gloriously they may share even in the stern concerns
"For my part," said Julia, gently taking advantage of a pause, "for my
part, I prefer the character of Sophronia."
I was thunderstruck. She then had read Tasso! This girl that I had been
treating as an ignoramus in poetry! She proceeded with a slight glow of the
cheek, summoned up perhaps by a casual glow of feeling:
"I do not admire those masculine heroines," said she, "who aim at the bold
qualities of the opposite sex. Now Sophronia only exhibits the real
qualities of a woman, wrought up to their highest excitement. She is
modest, gentle, and retiring, as it becomes a woman to be; but she has all
the strength of affection proper to a woman. She cannot fight for her
people as Clorinda does, but she can offer herself up, and die to serve
them. You may admire Clorinda, but you surely would be more apt to love
Sophronia; at least," added she, suddenly appearing to recollect herself,
and blushing at having launched into such a discussion, "at least that is
what papa observed when we read the poem together."
"Indeed," said I, dryly, for I felt disconcerted and nettled at being
unexpectedly lectured by my pupil; "indeed, I do not exactly recollect the
"Oh," said Julia, "I can repeat it to you;" and she immediately gave it in
Heavens and earth!--here was a situation! I knew no more of Italian than I
did of the language of Psalmanazar. What a dilemma for a would-be-wise man
to be placed in! I saw Julia waited for my opinion.
"In fact," said I, hesitating, "I--I do not exactly understand Italian."
"Oh," said Julia, with the utmost naivete, "I have no doubt it is very
beautiful in the translation."
I was glad to break up school, and get back to my chamber, full of the
mortification which a wise man in love experiences on finding his mistress
wiser than himself. "Translation! translation!" muttered I to myself, as I
jerked the door shut behind me: "I am surprised my father has never had me
instructed in the modern languages. They are all important. What is the
use of Latin and Greek? No one speaks them; but here, the moment I make my
appearance in the world, a little girl slaps Italian in my face. However,
thank heaven, a language is easily learned. The moment I return home, I'll
set about studying Italian; and to prevent future surprise, I will study
Spanish and German at the same time; and if any young lady attempts to
quote Italian upon me again, I'll bury her under a heap of High Dutch
* * * * *
I felt now like some mighty chieftain, who has carried the war into a weak
country, with full confidence of success, and been repulsed and obliged to
draw off his forces from before some inconsiderable fortress.
"However," thought I, "I have as yet brought only my light artillery into
action; we shall see what is to be done with my heavy ordnance. Julia is
evidently well versed in poetry; but it is natural she should be so; it is
allied to painting and music, and is congenial to the light graces of the
female character. We will try her on graver themes."
I felt all my pride awakened; it even for a time swelled higher than my
love. I was determined completely to establish my mental superiority, and
subdue the intellect of this little being; it would then be time to sway
the scepter of gentle empire, and win the affections of her heart.
Accordingly, at dinner I again took the field, _en potence._ I now
addressed myself to Mr. Somerville, for I was about to enter upon topics in
which a young girl like her could not be well versed. I led, or rather
forced, the conversation into a vein of historical erudition, discussing
several of the most prominent facts of ancient history, and accompanying
them with sound, indisputable apothegms.
Mr. Somerville listened to me with the air of a man receiving information.
I was encouraged, and went on gloriously from theme to theme of school
declamation. I sat with Marius on the ruins of Carthage; I defended the
bridge with Horatius Cocles; thrust my hand into the flame with Martius
Scaevola, and plunged with Curtius into the yawning gulf; I fought side by
side with Leonidas, at the straits of Thermopylae; and was going full drive
into the battle of Plataea, when my memory, which is the worst in the
world, failed me, just as I wanted the name of the Lacedemonian commander.
"Julia, my dear," said Mr. Somerville, "perhaps you may recollect the name
of which Mr. Mountjoy is in quest?"
Julia colored slightly. "I believe," said she, in a low voice, "I believe
it was Pausanius."
This unexpected sally, instead of re-enforcing me, threw my whole scheme of
battle into confusion, and the Athenians remained unmolested in the field.
I am half inclined, since, to think Mr. Somerville meant this as a sly hit
at my schoolboy pedantry; but he was too well bred not to seek to relieve
me from my mortification. "Oh!" said he, "Julia is our family book of
reference for names, dates, and distances, and has an excellent memory for
history and geography."
I now became desperate; as a last resource I turned to metaphysics. "If she
is a philosopher in petticoats," thought I, "it is all over with me." Here,
however, I had the field to myself. I gave chapter and verse of my tutor's
lectures, heightened by all his poetical illustrations; I even went further
than he had ever ventured, and plunged into such depths of metaphysics that
I was in danger of sticking in the mire at the bottom. Fortunately, I had
auditors who apparently could not detect my flounderings. Neither Mr.
Somerville nor his daughter offered the least interruption.
When the ladies had retired, Mr. Somerville sat some time with me; and as I
was no longer anxious to astonish, I permitted myself to listen, and found
that he was really agreeable. He was quite communicative, and from his
conversation I was enabled to form a juster idea of his daughter's
character, and the mode in which she had been brought up. Mr. Somerville
had mingled much with the world, and with what is termed fashionable
society. He had experienced its cold elegances and gay insincerities; its
dissipation of the spirits and squanderings of the heart. Like many men of
the world, though he had wandered too far from nature ever to return to it,
yet he had the good taste and good feeling to look back fondly to its
simple delights, and to determine that his child, if possible, should never
leave them. He had superintended her education with scrupulous care,
storing her mind with the graces of polite literature, and with such
knowledge as would enable it to furnish its own amusement and occupation,
and giving her all the accomplishments that sweeten and enliven the circle
of domestic life. He had been particularly sedulous to exclude all
fashionable affectations; all false sentiment, false sensibility, and false
romance. "Whatever advantages she may possess," said he, "she is quite
unconscious of them. She is a capricious little being, in everything but
her affections; she is, however, free from art; simple, ingenuous, amiable,
and, I thank God! happy."
Such was the eulogy of a fond father, delivered with a tenderness that
touched me. I could not help making a casual inquiry, whether, among the
graces of polite literature, he had included a slight tincture of
metaphysics. He smiled, and told me he had not.
On the whole, when, as usual, that night, I summed up the day's
observations on my pillow, I was not altogether dissatisfied. "Miss
Somerville," said I, "loves poetry, and I like her the better for it. She
has the advantage of me in Italian; agreed; what is it to know a variety of
languages, but merely to have a variety of sounds to express the same idea?
Original thought is the ore of the mind; language is but the accidental
stamp and coinage by which it is put into circulation. If I can furnish an
original idea, what care I how many languages she can translate it into?
She may be able also to quote names and dates and latitudes better than I;
but that is a mere effort of the memory. I admit she is more accurate in
history and geography than I; but then she knows nothing of metaphysics."
I had now sufficiently recovered to return home; yet I could not think of
leaving Mr. Somerville's without having a little further conversation with
him on the subject of his daughter's education.
"This Mr. Somerville," thought I, "is a very accomplished, elegant man; he
has seen a good deal of the world, and, upon the whole, has profited by
what he has seen. He is not without information, and, as far as he thinks,
appears to think correctly; but, after all, he is rather superficial, and
does not think profoundly. He seems to take no delight in those
metaphysical abstractions that are the proper aliment of masculine minds. I
called to mind various occasions in which I had indulged largely in
metaphysical discussions, but could recollect no instance where I had been
able to draw him out. He had listened, it is true, with attention, and
smiled as if in acquiescence, but had always appeared to avoid reply.
Besides, I had made several sad blunders in the glow of eloquent
declamation; but he had never interrupted me, to notice and correct them,
as he would have done had he been versed in the theme.
"Now, it is really a great pity," resumed I, "that he should have the
entire management of Miss Somerville's education. What a vast advantage it
would be if she could be put for a little time under the superintendence of
Glencoe. He would throw some deeper shades of thought into her mind, which
at present is all sunshine; not but that Mr. Somerville has done very well,
as far as he has gone; but then he has merely prepared the soil for the
strong plants of useful knowledge. She is well versed in the leading facts
of history, and the general course of belles-lettres," said I; "a little
more philosophy would do wonders."
I accordingly took occasion to ask Mr. Somerville for a few moments'
conversation in his study, the morning I was to depart. When we were alone
I opened the matter fully to him. I commenced with the warmest eulogium of
Glencoe's powers of mind and vast acquirements, and ascribed to him all my
proficiency in the higher branches of knowledge. I begged, therefore, to
recommend him as a friend calculated to direct the studies of Miss
Somerville; to lead her mind, by degrees, to the contemplation of abstract
principles, and to produce habits of philosophical analysis; "which," added
I, gently smiling, "are not often cultivated by young ladies." I ventured
to hint, in addition, that he would find Mr. Glencoe a most valuable and
interesting acquaintance for himself; one who would stimulate and evolve
the powers of his mind; and who might open to him tracts of inquiry and
speculation to which perhaps he had hitherto been a stranger.
Mr. Somerville listened with grave attention. When I had finished, he
thanked me in the politest manner for the interest I took in the welfare of
his daughter and himself. He observed that, as it regarded himself, he was
afraid he was too old to benefit by the instruction of Mr. Glencoe, and
that as to his daughter, he was afraid her mind was but little fitted for
the study of metaphysics. "I do not wish," continued he, "to strain her
intellects with subjects they cannot grasp, but to make her familiarly
acquainted with those that are within the limits of her capacity. I do not
pretend to prescribe the boundaries of female genius, and am far from
indulging the vulgar opinion that women are unfitted by nature for the
highest intellectual pursuits. I speak only with reference to my daughter's
tastes and talents. She will never make a learned woman; nor, in truth, do
I desire it; for such is the jealousy of our sex, as to mental as well as
physical ascendency, that a learned woman is not always the happiest. I do
not wish my daughter to excite envy, or to battle with the prejudices of
the world; but to glide peaceably through life, on the good will and kind
opinions of her friends. She has ample employment for her little head, in
the course I have marked out for her; and is busy at present with some
branches of natural history, calculated to awaken her perceptions to the
beauties and wonders of nature, and to the inexhaustible volume of wisdom
constantly spread open before her eyes. I consider that woman most likely
to make an agreeable companion, who can draw topics of pleasing remark from
every natural object; and most likely to be cheerful and contented, who is
continually sensible of the order, the harmony, and the invariable
beneficence that reign throughout the beautiful world we inhabit."
"But," added he, smiling, "I am betraying myself into a lecture, instead of
merely giving a reply to your kind offer. Permit me to take the liberty, in
return, of inquiring a little about your own pursuits. You speak of having
finished your education; but of course you have a line of private study and
mental occupation marked out; for you must know the importance, both in
point of interest and happiness, of keeping the mind employed. May I ask
what system you observe in your intellectual exercises?"
"Oh, as to system," I observed, "I could never bring myself into anything
of the kind. I thought it best to let my genius take it own course, as it
always acted the most vigorously when stimulated by inclination."
Mr. Somerville shook his head. "This same genius," said he, "is a wild
quality that runs away with our most promising young men. It has become so
much the fashion, too, to give it the reins that it is now thought an
animal of too noble and generous a nature to be brought to harness. But it
is all a mistake. Nature never designed these high endowments to run riot
through society, and throw the whole system into confusion. No, my dear
sir, genius, unless it acts upon system, is very apt to be a useless
quality to society; sometimes an injurious, and certainly a very
uncomfortable one, to its possessor. I have had many opportunities of
seeing the progress through life of young men who were accounted geniuses,
and have found it too often end in early exhaustion and bitter
disappointment; and have as often noticed that these effects might be
traced to a total want of system. There were no habits of business, of
steady purpose, and regular application, superinduced upon the mind;
everything was left to chance and impulse, and native luxuriance, and
everything of course ran to waste and wild entanglement. Excuse me if I am
tedious on this point, for I feel solicitous to impress it upon you, being
an error extremely prevalent in our country and one into which too many of
our youth have fallen. I am happy, however, to observe the zeal which still
appears to actuate you for the acquisition of knowledge, and augur every
good from the elevated bent of your ambition. May I ask what has been your
course of study for the last six months?"
Never was question more unluckily timed. For the last six months I had been
absolutely buried in novels and romances.
Mr. Somerville perceived that the question was embarrassing, and, with his
invariable good breeding, immediately resumed the conversation, without
waiting for a reply. He took care, however, to turn it in such a way as to
draw from me an account of the whole manner in which I had been educated,
and the various currents of reading into which my mind had run. He then
went on to discuss, briefly but impressively, the different branches of
knowledge most important to a young man in my situation; and to my surprise
I found him a complete master of those studies on which I had supposed him
ignorant, and on which I had been descanting so confidently.
He complimented me, however, very graciously, upon the progress I had made,
but advised me for the present to turn my attention to the physical rather
than the moral sciences. "These studies," said he, "store a man's mind with
valuable facts, and at the same time repress self-confidence, by letting
him know how boundless are the realms of knowledge, and how little we can
possibly know. Whereas metaphysical studies, though of an ingenious order
of intellectual employment, are apt to bewilder some minds with vague
speculations. They never know how far they have advanced, or what may be
the correctness of their favorite theory. They render many of our young men
verbose and declamatory, and prone to mistake the aberrations of their
fancy for the inspirations of divine philosophy."
I could not but interrupt him, to assent to the truth of these remarks, and
to say that it had been my lot, in the course of my limited experience, to
encounter young men of the kind, who had overwhelmed me by their verbosity.
Mr. Somerville smiled. "I trust," said he, kindly, "that you will guard
against these errors. Avoid the eagerness with which a young man is apt to
hurry into conversation, and to utter the crude and ill-digested notions
which he has picked up in his recent studies. Be assured that extensive and
accurate knowledge is the slow acquisition of a studious lifetime; that a
young man, however pregnant his wit, and prompt his talent, can have
mastered but the rudiments of learning, and, in a manner, attained the
implements of study. Whatever may have been your past assiduity, you must
be sensible that as yet you have but reached the threshold of true
knowledge; but at the same time you have the advantage that you are still
very young, and have ample time to learn."
Here our conference ended. I walked out of the study a very different being
from what I was on entering it. I had gone in with the air of a professor
about to deliver a lecture; I came out like a student who had failed in his
examination, and been degraded in his class.
"Very young," and "on the threshold of knowledge!" This was extremely
flattering to one who had considererd himself an accomplished scholar and a
"It is singular," thought I; "there seems to have been a spell upon my
faculties, ever since I have been in this house. I certainly have not been
able to do myself justice. Whenever I have undertaken to advise, I have had
the tables turned upon me. It must be that I am strange and diffident among
people I am not accustomed to. I wish they could hear me talk at home!"
"After all," added I, on further reflection, "after all there is a great
deal of force in what Mr. Somerville has said. Somehow or other, these men
of the world do now and then hit upon remarks that would do credit to a
philosopher. Some of his general observations came so home that I almost
thought they were meant for myself. His advice about adopting a system of
study is very judicious. I will immediately put it hi practice. My mind
shall operate henceforward with the regularity of clock-work."
How far I succeeded in adopting this plan, how I fared in the further
pursuit of knowledge, and how I succeeded in my suit to Julia Somerville,
may afford matter for a further communication to the public, if this simple
record of my early life is fortunate enough to excite any curiosity.
THE GREAT MISSISSIPPI BUBBLE
"A TIME OF UNEXAMPLED PROSPERITY"
In the course of a voyage from England, I once fell in with a convoy of
merchant ships bound for the West Indies. The weather was uncommonly bland;
and the ships vied with each other in spreading sail to catch a light,
favoring breeze, until their hulls were almost hidden beneath a cloud of
canvas. The breeze went down with the sun, and his last yellow rays shone
upon a thousand sails, idly flapping against the masts.
I exulted in the beauty of the scene, and augured a prosperous voyage; but
the veteran master of the ship shook his head, and pronounced this halcyon
calm a "weather-breeder." And so it proved. A storm burst forth in the
night; the sea roared and raged; and when the day broke, I beheld the late
gallant convoy scattered in every direction; some dismasted, others
scudding under bare poles, and many firing signals of distress.
I have since been occasionally reminded of this scene, by those calm, sunny
seasons in the commercial world, which are known by the name of "times of
unexampled prosperity." They are the sure weather-breeders of traffic.
Every now and then the world is visited by one of these delusive seasons,
when "the credit system," as it is called, expands to full luxuriance,
everybody trusts everybody; a bad debt is a thing unheard of; the broad way
to certain and sudden wealth lies plain and open; and men are tempted to
dash forward boldly, from the facility of borrowing.
Promissory notes, interchanged between scheming individuals, are liberally
discounted at the banks, which become so many mints to coin words into
cash; and as the supply of words is inexhaustible, it may readily be
supposed what a vast amount of promissory capital is soon in circulation.
Every one now talks in thousands; nothing is heard but gigantic operations
in trade; great purchases and sales of real property, and immense sums made
at every transfer. All, to be sure, as yet exists in promise; but the
believer in promises calculates the aggregate as solid capital, and falls
back in amazement at the amount of public wealth, the "unexampled state of
Now is the time for speculative and dreaming or designing men. They relate
their dreams and projects to the ignorant and credulous, dazzle them with
golden visions, and set them madding after shadows. The example of one
stimulates another; speculation rises on speculation; bubble rises on
bubble; every one helps with his breath to swell the windy superstructure,
and admires and wonders at the magnitude of the inflation he has
contributed to produce.
Speculation is the romance of trade, and casts contempt upon all its sober
realities. It renders the stock-jobber a magician, and the exchange a
region of enchantment. It elevates the merchant into a kind of
knight-errant, or rather a commercial Quixote. The slow but sure gains of
snug percentage become despicable in his eyes; no "operation" is thought
worthy of attention that does not double or treble the investment. No
business is worth following that does not promise an immediate fortune. As
he sits musing over his ledger, with pen behind his ear, he is like La
Mancha's hero in his study, dreaming over his books of chivalry. His dusty
counting-house fades before his eyes, or changes into a Spanish mine; he
gropes after diamonds, or dives after pearls. The subterranean garden of
Aladdin is nothing to the realms of wealth that break upon his imagination.
Could this delusion always last, the life of a merchant would indeed be a
golden dream; but it is as short as it is brilliant. Let but a doubt enter,
and the "season of unexampled prosperity" is at end. The coinage of words
is suddenly curtailed; the promissory capital begins to vanish into smoke;
a panic succeeds, and the whole superstructure, built upon credit and
reared by speculation, crumbles to the ground, leaving scarce a wreck
"It is such stuff as dreams are made of."
When a man of business, therefore, hears on every side rumors of fortunes
suddenly acquired; when he finds banks liberal, and brokers busy; when he
sees adventurers flush of paper capital, and full of scheme and enterprise;
when he perceives a greater disposition to buy than to sell; when trade
overflows its accustomed channels and deluges the country; when he hears of
new regions of commercial adventure; of distant marts and distant mines,
swallowing merchandise and disgorging gold; when he finds joint-stock
companies of all kinds forming; railroads, canals, and locomotive engines,
springing up on every side; when idlers suddenly become men of business,
and dash into the game of commerce as they would into the hazards of the
faro table; when he beholds the streets glittering with new equipages,
palaces conjured up by the magic of speculation; tradesmen flushed with
sudden success, and vying with each other in ostentatious expense; in a
word, when he hears the whole community joining in the theme of "unexampled
prosperity," let him look upon the whole as a "weather-breeder," and
prepare for the impending storm.
The foregoing remarks are intended merely as a prelude to a narrative I am
about to lay before the public, of one of the most memorable instances of
the infatuation of gain to be found in the whole history of commerce. I
allude to the famous Mississippi Bubble. It is a matter that has passed
into a proverb, and become a phrase in every one's mouth, yet of which not
one merchant in ten has probably a distinct idea. I have therefore thought
that an authentic account of it would be interesting and salutary, at the
present moment, when we are suffering under the effects of a severe access
of the credit system, and just recovering from one of its ruinous
Before entering into the story of this famous chimera, it is proper to give
a few particulars concerning the individual who engendered it. John Law was
born in Edinburgh in 1671. His father, William Law, was a rich goldsmith,
and left his son an estate of considerable value, called Lauriston,
situated about four miles from Edinburgh. Goldsmiths, in those days, acted
occasionally as bankers, and his father's operations, under this character,
may have originally turned the thoughts of the youth to the science of
calculation, in which he became an adept; so that at an early age he
excelled in playing at all games of combination.
In 1694 he appeared in London, where a handsome person, and an easy and
insinuating address, gained him currency in the first circles and the
nickname of "Beau Law." The same personal advantages gave him success in
the world of gallantry, until he became involved in a quarrel with Beau
Wilson, his rival in fashion, whom he killed in a duel, and then fled to
France, to avoid prosecution.
He returned to Edinburgh in 1700, and remained there several years; during
which time he first broached his great credit system, offering to supply
the deficiency of coin by the establishment of a bank, which, according to
his views, might emit a paper currency equivalent to the whole landed
estate of the kingdom.
His scheme excited great astonishment in Edinburgh; but, though the
government was not sufficiently advanced in financial knowledge to detect
the fallacies upon which it was founded, Scottish caution and suspicion
served in the place of wisdom, and the project was rejected. Law met with
no better success with the English Parliament; and the fatal affair of the
death of Wilson still hanging over him, for which he had never been able to
procure a pardon, he again went to France.
The financial affairs of France were at this time in a deplorable
condition. The wars, the pomp and profusion, of Louis XIV., and his
religious persecutions of whole classes of the most industrious of his
subjects, had exhausted his treasury, and overwhelmed the nation with debt.
The old monarch clung to his selfish magnificence, and could not be induced
to diminish his enormous expenditure; and his minister of finance was
driven to his wits' end to devise all kinds of disastrous expedients to
keep up the royal state, and to extricate the nation from its
In this state of things, Law ventured to bring forward his financial
project. It was founded on the plan of the Bank of England, which had
already been in successful operation several years. He met with immediate
patronage, and a congenial spirit, in the Duke of Orleans, who had married
a natural daughter of the king. The duke had been astonished at the
facility with which England had supported the burden of a public debt,
created by the wars of Anne and William, and which exceeded in amount that
under which France was groaning. The whole matter was soon explained by Law
to his satisfaction. The latter maintained that England had stopped at the
mere threshold of an art capable of creating unlimited sources of national
wealth. The duke was dazzled with his splendid views and specious
reasonings, and thought he clearly comprehended his system. Demarets, the
Comptroller-General of Finance, was not so easily deceived. He pronounced
the plan of Law more pernicious than any of the disastrous expedients that
the government had yet been driven to. The old king also, Louis XIV.,
detested all innovations, especially those which came from a rival nation;
the project of a bank, therefore, was utterly rejected.
Law remained for a while in Paris, leading a gay and affluent existence,
owing to his handsome person, easy manners, flexible temper, and a
faro-bank which he had set up. His agreeable career was interrupted by a
message from D'Argenson, Lieutenant-General of Police, ordering him to quit
Paris, alleging that he was "_rather too skillful at the game which he
For several succeeding years he shifted his residence from state to state
of Italy and Germany; offering his scheme of finance to every court that he
visited, but without success. The Duke of Savoy, Victor Amadeus, afterward
king of Sardinia, was much struck with his project; but after considering
it for a time, replied, _"I am not sufficiently powerful to ruin
The shifting, adventurous life of Law, and the equivocal means by which he
appeared to live, playing high, and always with great success, threw a
cloud of suspicion over him wherever he went, and caused him to be expelled
by the magistracy from the semi-commercial, semi-aristocratical cities of
Venice and Genoa.
The events of 1715 brought Law back again to Paris. Louis XIV. was dead.
Louis XV. was a mere child, and during his minority the Duke of Orleans
held the reins of government as Regent. Law had at length found his man.
The Duke of Orleans has been differently represented by different
contemporaries. He appears to have had excellent natural qualities,
perverted by a bad education. He was of the middle size, easy and graceful,
with an agreeable countenance, and open, affable demeanor. His mind was
quick and sagacious, rather than profound; and his quickness of intellect,
and excellence of memory, supplied the lack of studious application. His
wit was prompt and pungent; he expressed himself with vivacity and
precision; his imagination was vivid, his temperament sanguine and joyous;
his courage daring. His mother, the Duchess of Orleans, expressed his
character in a jeu d'esprit. "The fairies," said she, "were invited to be
present at his birth, and each one conferring a talent on my son, he
possesses them all. Unfortunately, we had forgotten to invite an old fairy,
who, arriving after all the others, exclaimed, 'He shall have all the
talents, excepting that to make a good use of them.'"
Under proper tuition, the duke might have risen to real greatness; but in
his early years he was put under the tutelage of the Abbe Dubois, one of
the subtlest and basest spirits that ever intrigued its way into eminent
place and power. The abbe was of low origin and despicable exterior,
totally destitute of morals, and perfidious in the extreme; but with a
supple, insinuating address, and an accommodating spirit, tolerant of all
kinds of profligacy in others. Conscious of his own inherent baseness, he
sought to secure an influence over his pupil, by corrupting his principles
and fostering his vices; he debased him, to keep himself from being
despised. Unfortunately he succeeded. To the early precepts of this
infamous pander have been attributed those excesses that disgraced the
manhood of the regent, and gave a licentious character to his whole course
of government. His love of pleasure, quickened and indulged by those who
should have restrained it, led him into all kinds of sensual indulgence. He
had been taught to think lightly of the most serious duties and sacred
ties; to turn virtue into a jest, and consider religion mere hypocrisy. He
was a gay misanthrope, that had a sovereign but sportive contempt for
mankind; believed that his most devoted servant would be his enemy, if
interest prompted; and maintained that an honest man was he who had the art
to conceal that he was the contrary.
He surrounded himself with a set of dissolute men like himself; who, let
loose from the restraint under which they had been held, during the latter
hypocritical days of Louis XIV., now gave way to every kind of debauchery.
With these men the regent used to shut himself up, after the hours of
business, and excluding all graver persons and graver concerns, celebrate
the most drunken and disgusting orgies; where obscenity and blasphemy
formed the seasoning of conversation. For the profligate companions of
these revels, he invented the appellation of his _roues_, the literal
meaning of which is men broken on the wheel; intended, no doubt, to express
their broken-down characters and dislocated fortunes; although a
contemporary asserts that it designated the punishment that most of them
merited. Madame de Labran, who was present at one of the regent's suppers,
was disgusted by the conduct and conversation of the host and his guests,
and observed, at table, that God, after he had created man, took the refuse
clay that was left, and made of it the souls of lackeys and princes.
Such was the man that now ruled the destinies of France. Law found him full
of perplexities, from the disastrous state of the finances. He had already
tampered with the coinage, calling in the coin of the nation, restamping
it, and issuing it at a nominal increase of one-fifth; thus defrauding the
nation out of twenty per cent of its capital. He was not likely, therefore,
to be scrupulous about any means likely to relieve him from financial
difficulties; he had even been led to listen to the cruel alternative of a
Under these circumstances, Law confidently brought forward his scheme of a
bank, that was to pay off the national debt, increase the revenue, and at
the same time diminish the taxes. The following is stated as the theory by
which he recommended his system to the regent. The credit enjoyed by a
banker or a merchant, he observed, increases his capital tenfold; that is
to say, he who has a capital of one thousand livres, may, if he possess
sufficient credit, extend his operations to a million, and reap profits to
that amount. In like manner, a state that can collect into a bank all the
current coin of the kingdom, would be as powerful as if its capital were
increased tenfold. The specie must be drawn into the bank, not by way of
loan, or by taxations, but in the way of deposit. This might be effected in
different modes, either by inspiring confidence or by exerting authority.
One mode, he observed, had already been in use. Each time that a state
makes a recoinage, it becomes momentarily the depositary of all the money
called in, belonging to the subjects of that state. His bank was to effect
the same purpose; that is to say, to receive in deposit all the coin of the
kingdom, but to give in exchange its bills, which, being of an invariable
value, bearing an interest, and being payable on demand, would not only
supply the place of coin, but prove a better and more profitable currency.
The regent caught with avidity at the scheme. It suited his bold, reckless
spirit, and his grasping extravagance. Not that he was altogether the dupe
of Law's specious projects; still he was apt, like many other men,
unskilled in the arcana of finance, to mistake the multiplication of money
for the multiplication of wealth; not understanding that it was a mere
agent or instrument in the interchange of traffic, to represent the value
of the various productions of industry; and that an increased circulation
of coin or bank bills, in the shape of currency, only adds a proportionably
increased and fictitious value to such productions. Law enlisted the vanity
of the regent in his cause. He persuaded him that he saw more clearly than
others into sublime theories of finance, which were quite above the
ordinary apprehension. He used to declare that, excepting the regent and
the Duke of Savoy, no one had thoroughly comprehended his system.
It is certain that it met with strong opposition from the regent's
ministers, the Duke de Noailles and the Chancellor d'Anguesseau; and it was
no less strenuously opposed by the Parliament of Paris. Law, however, had a
potent though secret coadjutor in the Abbe Dubois, now rising, during the
regency, into great political power, and who retained a baneful influence
over the mind of the regent. This wily priest, as avaricious as he was
ambitious, drew large sums from Law as subsidies, and aided him greatly in
many of his most pernicious operations. He aided him, in the present
instance, to fortify the mind of the regent against all the remonstrances
of his ministers and the parliament.
Accordingly, on the 2d of May, 1716, letters patent were granted to Law, to
establish a bank of deposit, discount, and circulation, under the firm of
"Law & Company," to continue for twenty years. The capital was fixed at six
millions of livres, divided into shares of five hundred livres each, which
were to be sold for twenty-five per cent of the regent's debased coin, and
seventy-five per cent of the public securities; which were then at a great
reduction from their nominal value, and which then amounted to nineteen
hundred millions. The ostensible object of the bank, as set forth in the
patent, was to encourage the commerce and manufactures of France. The louis
d'ors and crowns of the bank were always to retain the same standard of
value, and its bills to be payable in them on demand.
At the outset, while the bank was limited in its operations, and while its
paper really represented the specie in its vaults, it seemed to realize all
that had been promised from it. It rapidly acquired public confidence, and
an extended circulation, and produced an activity in commerce unknown under
the baneful government of Louis XIV. As the bills of the bank bore an
interest, and as it was stipulated they would be of invariable value, and
as hints had been artfully circulated that the coin would experience
successive diminution, everybody hastened to the bank to exchange gold and
silver for paper. So great became the throng of depositors, and so intense
their eagerness, that there was quite a press and struggle at the bank
door, and a ludicrous panic was awakened, as if there was danger of their
not being admitted. An anecdote of the time relates that one of the clerks,
with an ominous smile, called out to the struggling multitude, "Have a
little patience, my friends; we mean to take all your money;" an assertion
disastrously verified in the sequel.
Thus, by the simple establishment of a bank, Law and the regent obtained
pledges of confidence for the consummation of further and more complicated
schemes, as yet hidden from the public. In a little while, the bank shares
rose enormously, and the amount of its notes in circulation exceeded one
hundred and ten millions of livres. A subtle stroke of policy had rendered
it popular with the aristocracy. Louis XIV. had several years previously
imposed an income tax of a tenth, giving his royal word that it should
cease in 1717. This tax had been exceedingly irksome to the privileged
orders; and in the present disastrous times they had dreaded an
augmentation of it. In consequence of the successful operation of Law's
scheme, however, the tax was abolished, and now nothing was to be heard
among the nobility and clergy but praises of the regent and the bank.
Hitherto all had gone well, and all might have continued to go well, had
not the paper system been further expanded. But Law had yet the grandest
part of his scheme to develop. He had to open his ideal world of
speculation, his El Dorado of unbounded wealth. The English had brought the
vast imaginary commerce of the South Seas in aid of their banking
operations. Law sought to bring, as an immense auxiliary of his bank, the
whole trade of the Mississippi. Under this name was included not merely the
river so called, but the vast region known as Louisiana, extending from
north latitude 29 deg. up to Canada in north latitude 40 deg.. This country had
been granted by Louis XIV. to the Sieur Crozat, but he had been induced to
resign his patent. In conformity to the plea of Mr. Law, letters patent
were granted in August, 1717, for the creation of a commercial company,
which was to have the colonizing of this country, and the monopoly of its
trade and resources, and of the beaver or fur trade with Canada. It was
called the Western, but became better known as the Mississippi Company. The
capital was fixed at one hundred millions of livres, divided into shares,
bearing an Interest of four per cent, which were subscribed for in the
public securities. As the bank was to co-operate with the company, the
regent ordered that its bills should be received the same as coin, in all
payments of the public revenue. Law was appointed chief director of this
company, which was an exact copy of the Earl of Oxford's South Sea Company,
set on foot in 1711, and which distracted all England with the frenzy of
speculation. In like manner with the delusive picturings given in that
memorable scheme of the sources of rich trade to be opened in the South Sea
countries, Law held forth magnificent prospects of the fortunes to be made
in colonizing Louisiana, which was represented as a veritable land of
promise, capable of yielding every variety of the most precious produce.
Reports, too, were artfully circulated, with great mystery, as if to the
"chosen few," of mines of gold and silver recently discovered in Louisiana,
and which would insure instant wealth to the early purchasers. These
confidential whispers of course soon became public; and were confirmed by
travelers fresh from the Mississippi, and doubtless bribed, who had seen
the mines in question, and declared them superior in richness to those of
Mexico and Peru. Nay, more, ocular proof was furnished to public credulity,
in ingots of gold conveyed to the mint, as if just brought from the mines
Extraordinary measures were adopted to force a colonization. An edict was
issued to collect and transport settlers to the Mississippi. The police
lent its aid. The streets and prisons of Paris, and of the provincial
cities, were swept of mendicants and vagabonds of all kinds, who were
conveyed to Havre de Grace. About six thousand were crowded into ships,
where no precautions had been taken for their health or accommodation.
Instruments of all kinds proper for the working of mines were
ostentatiously paraded in public, and put on board the vessels; and the
whole set sail for this fabled El Dorado, which was to prove the grave of
the greater part of its wretched colonists.
D'Anguesseau, the chancellor, a man of probity and integrity, still lifted
his voice against the paper system of Law, and his project of colonization,
and was eloquent and prophetic in picturing the evils they were calculated
to produce; the private distress and public degradation; the corruption of
morals and manners; the triumph of knaves and schemers; the ruin of
fortunes, and downfall of families. He was incited more and more to this
opposition by the Duke de Noailles, the Minister of Finance, who was
jealous of the growing ascendency of Law over the mind of the regent, but
was less honest than the chancellor in his opposition. The regent was
excessively annoyed by the difficulties they conjured up in the way of his
darling schemes of finance, and the countenance they gave to the opposition
of parliament; which body, disgusted more and more with the abuses of the
regency, and the system of Law, had gone so far as to carry its
remonstrances to the very foot of the throne.
He determined to relieve himself from these two ministers, who, either
through honesty or policy, interfered with all his plans. Accordingly, on
the 28th of January, 1718, he dismissed the chancellor from office, and
exiled him to his estate in the country; and shortly afterward removed the
Duke de Noailles from the administration of the finances.
The opposition of parliament to the regent and his measures was carried on
with increasing violence. That body aspired to an equal authority with the
regent in the administration of affairs, and pretended, by its decree, to
suspend an edict of the regency, ordering a new coinage and altering the
value of the currency. But its chief hostility was leveled against Law, a
foreigner and a heretic, and one who was considered by a majority of the
members in the light of a malefactor. In fact, so far was this hostility
carried, that secret measures were taken to investigate his malversations,
and to collect evidence against him; and it was resolved in parliament
that, should the testimony collected justify their suspicions, they would
have him seized and brought before them; would give him a brief trial, and,
if convicted, would hang him in the courtyard of the palace, and throw open
the gates after the execution, that the public might behold his corpse!
Law received intimation of the danger hanging over him, and was in terrible
trepidation. He took refuge in the Palais Royal, the residence of the
regent, and implored his protection. The regent himself was embarrassed by
the sturdy opposition of parliament, which contemplated nothing less than a
decree reversing most of his public measures, especially those of finance.
His indecision kept Law for a time in an agony of terror and suspense.
Finally, by assembling a board of justice, and bringing to his aid the
absolute authority of the king, he triumphed over parliament and relieved
Law from his dread of being hanged.
The system now went on with flowing sail. The Western or Mississippi
Company, being identified with the bank, rapidly increased in power and
privileges. One monopoly after another was granted to it; the trade of the
Indian seas; the slave trade with Senegal and Guinea; the farming of
tobacco; the national coinage, etc. Each new privilege was made a pretext
for issuing more bills, and caused an immense advance in the price of
stock. At length, on the 4th of December, 1718, the regent gave the
establishment the imposing title of "The Royal Bank," and proclaimed that
he had effected the purchase of all the shares, the proceeds of which he
had added to its capital This measure seemed to shock the public feeling
more than any other connected with the system, and roused the indignation
of parliament. The French nation had been so accustomed to attach an idea
of everything noble, lofty, and magnificent to the royal name and person,
especially during the stately and sumptuous reign of Louis XIV., that they
could not at first tolerate the idea of royalty being in any degree mingled
with matters of traffic and finance, and the king being in a manner a
banker. It was one of the downward steps, however, by which royalty lost
its illusive splendor in France, and became gradually cheapened in the
Arbitrary measures now began to be taken to force the bills of the bank
into artificial currency. On the 27th of December appeared an order in
council, forbidding, under severe penalties, the payment of any sum above
six hundred livres in gold or silver. This decree rendered bank bills
necessary in all transactions of purchase and sale, and called for a new
emission. The prohibition was occasionally evaded or opposed; confiscations
were the consequence; informers were rewarded, and spies and traitors began
to spring up in all the domestic walks of life.
The worst effect of this illusive system was the mania for gain, or rather
for gambling in stocks, that now seized upon the whole nation. Under the
exciting effects of lying reports, and the forcing effects of government
decrees, the shares of the company went on rising in value until they
reached thirteen hundred per cent. Nothing was now spoken of but the price
of shares, and the immense fortunes suddenly made by lucky speculators.
Those whom Law had deluded used every means to delude others. The most
extravagant dreams were indulged, concerning the wealth to flow in upon the
company from its colonies, its trade, and its various monopolies. It is
true nothing as yet had been realized, nor could in some time be realized,
from these distant sources, even if productive; but the imaginations of
speculators are ever in the advance, and their conjectures are immediately
converted into facts. Lying reports now flew from mouth to month, of sure
avenues to fortune suddenly thrown open. The more extravagant the fable,
the more readily was it believed. To doubt was to awaken anger, or incur
ridicule. In a time of public infatuation, it requires no small exercise of
courage to doubt a popular fallacy.
Paris now became the center of attraction for the adventurous and the