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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. I.–MAY, 1858.–NO. VII.
The results of the past ten or fifteen years in historical investigation are exceedingly mortifying to any one who has been proud to call himself a student of History. We had thought, perhaps, that we knew something of the origin of human events and the gradual development from the past into the world of to-day. We had read Herodotus, and Gibbon, and Gillies, and done manful duty with Rollin. There were certain comfortable, definite facts in antiquity. Romulus and Remus were our friends; the transmission of the alphabet by the Phoenicians was a resting-spot; the destruction of Babylon and the date of the Flood were fixed stations in the wilderness. In more modern periods, we had a refuge in the date of the discovery of America; and if we were forced back into the wilds and uncertainties of American History, Mr. Prescott soon restored to us the buried empires, and led us easily back through a few plain centuries.
Beyond these dates, indeed, there was a shadowy land, through whose changing mists could be seen sometimes the grand outlines of abandoned cities, or the faint forms of temples, or the graceful column or massive tomb, which marked the distant path of the advancing race: but these were scarcely more than visions for a moment, before darkness again covered the view. Our mythology and philosophy of the past were almost equally misty and vague. History was to us a succession of facts; empire succeeding empire, and one form of civilization another, with scarcely more connection than in the scenes of a theatre;–the great isolated fact of all being the existence of the Jews. All cosmic myths and noble conceptions of Deity and pure religious beliefs were only offshoots of Hebrew tradition.
This, we are pained to say, is all changed now. Our beloved dates, our easy explanation, and popular narrative are half dissolved under the touch of modern investigation. Roman History abandons poor Romulus and Remus; the Flood sinks into a local inundation, and is pushed back nobody knows how many thousands of years; an Egyptian antiquity arises of which Herodotus never knew; and Josephus is proved ignorant of his own subject. Nothing is found separate from the current of the world’s history,–neither Hebrew law and religion, nor Phoenician commerce, nor Hindoo mythology, nor Grecian art. On the shadowy Past, over the deserted battle-fields, the burial-mounds, the mausolea, the temples, the altars, and the habitations of perished nations, new rays of light are cast. Peoples not heard of before, empires forgotten, conquests not recorded, arts unknown in their place at this day, and civilizations of which all has perished but the language, appear again. The world wakes to find itself much older than it thought. History is hardly the same study that it once was. Even more than the investigations of hieroglyphs and bass-reliefs and sculptures, during the past few years, have the researches in one especial direction changed the face of the ancient world.
LANGUAGE is found to be itself the best record of a nation’s origin, development, and relation to other races. Each vocabulary and grammar of a dead nation is a Nineveh, rich in pictures, inscriptions, and historical records, uncovering to the patient investigator not merely the external life and actions of the people, but their deepest internal life, and their connection with other peoples and times. The little defaced word, the cast-away root, the antique construction, picked up by the student among the vestiges of a language, may be a relic fresher from the past and older than a stone from the Pyramids, or the sculpture of the Assyrian temple.
In American history, this work of investigation till recently had not been thoroughly entered upon. Within the last quarter of a century, Kingsborough and Gallatin and Prescott and Davis and Squier and Schoolcraft and Mueller have each thrown some light over the mysterious antiquity of our own continent. But of all, a French Abbe, an ethnologist and a careful investigator,–M. BRASSEUR DE BOURBOURG,–has, in a history recently published, done the best service to this cause. It is entitled “Histoire des Nations Civilisees du Mexique et de l’Amerique Centrale.” (Paris, 1857.) M. de Bourbourg spent many years in Central America, studying the face of the country and the languages of the Indian tribes, and investigating the ancient picture-writing and the remains of the wonderful ruins of that region. Probably no stranger has ever enjoyed better opportunities of reading the ancient manuscripts and studying the dialects of the Central American races. With these helps he has prepared a groundwork for the history of the early civilized peoples of our American continent,–a history, it should be remembered, ending where Prescott’s begins,–reaching back, possibly, as far as the earliest invasions of the Huns, and one of whose fixed dates is at the time of the Antonines. He has ventured to lift, at length, the veil from our mysterious and confused American antiquity. It is an especial merit of M. de Bourbourg, in this stage of the investigation, that he has attempted to do no more. He has collected and collated facts, but has sought to give us very few theories. The stable philosophical conclusions he leaves for later research, when time shall have been afforded for fuller comparison.
There is an incredible fascination to many minds in these investigations into the traditions and beliefs of antiquity. We feel in their presence that they are the oldest things; the most ancient books, or buildings, or sculptures are modern by their side. They represent the childish instincts of the human mind,–its _gropings_ after Truth,–its dim ideals and shadowings forth of what it hopes will be. They are the earliest answers of man to the great questions, WHENCE and WHITHER?
* * * * *
The most ancient people of Central America, according to M. de Bourbourg,–a people referred to in all the oldest traditions, but of whom everything except the memory has passed away,–are the Quinames. Their rule extended over Mexico and Guatemala, and there is reason to suppose that they attained to a considerable height of civilization. The only accounts of their origin are the oral traditions repeated to the Spaniards by the Indians of Yucatan,–traditions relating that the fathers of this great nation came from the East, and that God had delivered them from the pursuit of their enemies and had opened to them a way over the sea. Other traditions reveal to us the Quinames as delivered up to the most unnatural vices of ancient society. Whether the Cyclopean ruins scattered over the continent,–vast masses of stone placed one upon another without cement, which existed before the splendid cities whose ruins are yet seen in Central America,–whether these are the work of this race, or of one still older, is entirely uncertain.
The most ancient language of Central America, the ground on which all the succeeding languages have been planted, is the Maya. Even the Indian languages of to-day are only combinations of their own idioms with this ancient tongue. Its daughter, the Tzendale, transmits many of the oldest and most interesting religious beliefs of the Indian tribes.
All the traditions, whether in the Quiche, the Mexican, or the Tzendale, unite in one somewhat remarkable belief,–in the reverent mention of an ancient Deliverer or Benefactor; a personage so enveloped in the halo of religious sentiment and the mist of remote antiquity, that it is difficult to distinguish his real form. With the Tzendale his name is Votan;[A] among the many other names in other languages, Quetzalcohuatl is the one most distinctive. Sometimes he appears as a wise and dignified legislator, arrived suddenly among an ignorant people from on unknown country, to instruct them in agriculture, the arts, and even in religion. He bears suffering in their behalf, patiently labors for them, and, when at length he has done his work, departs alone from amid the weeping crowd to the country of his birth. Sometimes he is the mediator between Deity and men; then again, a personification of the Divine wisdom and glory; and still again, the noble features seem to be transmuted in the confused tradition into the countenance of Divinity. Whether this mysterious person is only the American embodiment of the Hope of all Nations, or whether he was truly a wise and noble legislator, driven by some accident to these shores from a foreign country, and afterwards glorified by the gratitude of his people, is uncertain, though our author inclines naturally to the latter supposition. The expression of the Tzendale tradition, “Votan is the first man whom God sent to divide and distribute these lands of America,” (Vol. I. p. 42,) indicates that he found the continent inhabited, and either originated the distribution of property or became a conqueror of the country. The evidence of tradition would clearly prove that at the arrival of Votan the great proportion of the inhabitants, from the Isthmus of Panama to the territories of California, were in a savage condition. The builders of the Cyclopean ruins were the only exception.
[Footnote A: The resemblance of this name to the Teutonic Wuotan or Odin is certainly striking and will afford a new argument to the enthusiastic Rafn, and other advocates of a Scandinavian colonization of America.–Edd.]
The various traditions agree that this elevated being, the father of American civilization, inculcated first of all a belief in a Supreme Creator, Lord of Heaven and Earth. It is a singular fact, that the ancient Quiche tradition represents the Deity as a Triad, or Trinity, with the deified heroes arranged in orders below,–a representation not improbably connected with the Hindoo conception. The belief in a Supreme Being seems to have been generally diffused among the Central American and Mexican tribes, even as late as the arrival of the Spaniards. The Mexicans adored Him under the name of Ipalnemoaloni, or “Him in whom and by whom we are and live.” This “God of all purity,” as he is addressed in a Mexican prayer, was too elevated for vulgar thought or representation. No altars or temples were erected to him; and it was only under one of the later kings of the Aztec monarchy that a temple was built to the “Unknown God.”–Vol. I. p. 46.
The founders of the early American civilization bear various titles: they are called “The Master of the Mountain,” “The Heart of the Lake,” “The Master of the Azure Surface,” and the like. Even in the native traditions, the questions are often asked: “Whence came these men?” “Under what climate were they born?” One authority answers thus mysteriously: “They have clearly come from the other shore of the sea,–from the place which is called ‘Camuhifal,’–_The place where is shadow.”_ Why may not this singular expression refer to a Northern country,–a place where is a long shadow, a winter-night?
A singular characteristic of the ancient Indian legends is the mingling of two separate courses of tradition. In their poetic conceptions, and perhaps under the hands of their priests, the old myths of the Creation are constantly confused with the accounts of the first periods of their civilization.
The following is the most ancient legend of the Creation, from the MSS. of Chichicastenango, in the Quiche text: “When all that was necessary to be created in heaven and on earth was finished, the heaven being formed, its angles measured and lined, its limits fixed, the lines and parallels put in their place in heaven and on earth, heaven found itself created, and Heaven it was called by the Creator and Maker, the Father and Mother of Life and Existence, … the Mother of Thought and Wisdom, the excellence of all that is in heaven and on earth, in the lakes or the sea. It is thus that he called himself, when all was tranquil and calm, when all was peaceable and silent, when nothing had movement in the void of the heavens.”–Vol. I. p. 48.
In the narrative of the succeeding work of creation, says M. de Bourbourg, there is always a double sense. Creation and life are civilization; the silence and calm of Nature before the existence of animated beings are the calm and tranquillity of Ocean, over which a sail is flying towards an unknown shore; and the first aspect of the shores of America, with its mighty mountains and great rivers, is confounded with the first appearance of the earth from the chaos of waters.
“This is the first word,” says the Quiche text. “There were neither men, nor animals, nor birds, nor fishes, nor wood, nor stones, nor valleys, nor herbs, nor forests. There was only the heaven. The image of the earth did not yet show itself. There was only the sea, on all sides surrounded by the heaven … Nothing had motion, and not the least sigh agitated the air … In the midst of this calm and this tranquillity, was only the Father and the Maker, in the obscurity of the night; there were only the Fathers and Generators on the whitening water, and they were clad in azure raiment… And it is on account of them that heaven exists, and exists equally the Heart of Heaven, which is the name of God.”–Vol. I. p. 51. [B]
[Footnote B: Compare the Hindoo conception, translated from one of the old Vedic legends, in Bunsen’s _Philosophy of History_:–
“Nor Aught nor Nought existed; yon bright sky
Was not, nor heaven’s broad roof outstretched above.
What covered all? What sheltered? What concealed?
Was it the waters’ fathomless abyss? There was not death,–yet was there nought immortal.
There was no confine betwixt day and night. The only One breathed breathless by itself;– Other than it there nothing since has been. Darkness there was, and all at first was veiled In gloom profound,–an ocean without light. The germ that still lay covered in the husk Burst forth, one nature, from the fervent heat.”]
The legend then pictures a council between these “Fathers” and the Supreme Creator; after which, the word is spoken, and the earth bursts forth from the darkness, with its great mountains and forests and animals and birds, as they might to a voyager approaching the shore. An episode occurs, describing a deluge, but still bearing in it the traces of the double tradition,–the one referring to some primeval catastrophe, and the other to a local inundation, which had perhaps surprised the first legislators in the midst of their efforts. The Mexican tradition (Codex Chimalpopoca) shows more distinctly the united action of the Mediator (Quetzalcohuatl) and the Deity:–“From ashes had God created man and animated him, and they say it is Quetzalcohuatl who hath perfected him who had been made, and hath _breathed into him, on the seventh day, the breath of life_.”
Another legend, after describing the creation of men of wood, and women of _cibak_, (the marrow of the corn-flag,) tells us that “the fathers and the children, from want of intelligence, did not use the language which they had received to praise the benefaction of their creation, and never thought of raising their eyes to praise Hurakan. Then were they destroyed in an inundation. There descended from heaven a rain of bitumen and resin… And on account of them, the earth was obscured; and it rained night and day. And men went and came, out of themselves, as if struck with madness. They wished to mount upon the roofs, and the houses fell beneath them; when they took refuge in the caves and the grottoes, these closed over them. This was their punishment and destruction.”–Vol. I. p. 55.
In the Mexican tradition, instead of the rain we find a violent eruption of the volcanoes, and men are changed into fishes, and again into _chicime_,–which may designate the barbarian tribes that invaded Central America.
In still another tradition, the Deity and his associates are more plainly men of superior intelligence, laboring to civilize savage races; and finally, when they cannot inspire two essential elements of civilization,–a taste for labor, and the religious idea,–a sudden inundation delivers them from the indocile people. Then–so far as the mysterious language of the legend can be interpreted–they appear to have withdrawn themselves to a more teachable race. But with these the difficulty for the new law-givers is that they find nothing corresponding to the productions of the country from which they had come. Fruits are in abundance, but there is no grain which requires culture, and which would give origin to a continued industry. The legend relates, somewhat naively, the hunger and distress of these elevated beings, until at length they discover the maize, and other nutritious fruits and grains in the county of Paxil and Cayala.
Our author places these latter in the state of Chiapas, and the countries watered by the Usumasinta. The provinces of Mexico and the Atlantic border of Central America he supposes to be those where the first legislators of America landed, and where was the cradle of the first American civilization. In these regions, the great city attributed to Votan,–Palenque,–the ruins of whose magnificent temples and palaces even yet astonish the traveller, was one of the first products of this civilization.
With regard to the much-vexed question of the origin of the Indian races, M. de Bourbourg offers no theory. In his view, the evidence from language establishes no certain connection between the Indian tribes and any other race whatever; though, as he justly remarks, the knowledge of the languages of the Northeast of Asia and of the interior of America is yet very limited, and more complete investigations must be waited for before any very satisfactory conclusions can be attained. The similarity of the Indian languages points without doubt to a common origin, while their variety and immense number are indications of a high antiquity; for who can estimate the succession of years necessary to subdivide a common tongue into so many languages, and to give birth out of a savage or nomadic life to a civilization like that of the Aztecs?
In the passage of man from one hemisphere to another he sees no difficulty; as, without considering Behring’s Strait, the voyage, from Mantchooria, or Japan, following the chain of the Koorile and the Aleutian Isles, even to the Peninsula of Alaska, would be an enterprise of no great hazard.
The traditions of the Indian tribes, as well as their monumental inscriptions, point to an Eastern origin. From whatever direction the particular tribe may have emigrated, they always speak of their fathers as having come from the rising of the sun. The Quiche, as well as the Chippeway traditions, allude to the voyages of their fathers from the East, from a cold and icy region, through a cloudy and wintry sea, to countries as cold and gloomy, from which they again turned towards the South.
Without committing himself to a theory, M. de Bourbourg supposes that one race–the Quiche–has passed through the whole North American continent, erecting at different stages of its civilization those gigantic and mysterious pyramids, the _tumuli_ of the Mississippi Valley,–of whose origin the present Northern Indian tribes have preserved no trace, and for whose erection no single American tribe now would have the wealth or the superfluous labor. This race was continually driven towards the South by more savage tribes, and it at length reached its favorite seats and the height of its civilization in Central America. In comparing the similar monuments of Southern Siberia, and the dates of the immigration to the Aztec plateau, with those of the first movements of the Huns and the great revolutions in Asia, an indication is given, worthy of being followed up by the ethnologist, of the Asiatic origin of the Central American tribes. The traditions, monuments, customs, mythology, and astronomic systems all point to a similar source.
The thorough study of the aboriginal races reveals the fact, that the whole continent, from the Arctic regions to the Southern Pole, was divided irregularly between two distinct families;–one nomadic and savage, the other agricultural and semi-civilized; one with no institutions or polity or organized religion, the other with regular forms of government and hierarchical and religious systems. Though differing so widely, and little associated with each other, they possessed an analogous physical constitution, analogous customs, idioms, and grammatical forms, many of which were entirely different from those of the Old World.
At the period of the discovery of America, not a single tribe west of the Rocky Mountains possessed the least agricultural skill. Whether the superiority of the Central American and Mexican tribes was due to more favorable circumstances and a more genial climate, or to the instructions of foreign legislators, as their traditions relate, our author does not decide. In his view, American agriculture originated in Central America, and was not one of the sciences brought over by the tribes who first emigrated from Asia.
Of the architectural ruins found in Central America M. de Bourbourg says: “Among the edifices forgotten by Time in the forests of Mexico and Central America are found architectural characteristics so different from one another, that it is as impossible to attribute their construction to one and the same people, as it is to suppose that they were built at the same epoch…. The ruins that are the most ancient and that have the most resemblance to one another are those which have been discovered in the country of the Lacandous, the foundations of the city of Mayapan, some buildings of Tulha, and the greater part of those of Palenque; it is probable that they belong to the first period of American civilization.”–Vol. I. p. 85.
The truly historical records of Central America go back to a period but little before the Christian era. Beyond that epoch, we behold through the mists of legends, and in the defaced pictures and sculptures, a hierarchical despotism sustained by the successors of the mysterious Votan. The empire of the Votanides is at length ruined by its own vices and by the attacks of a vigorous race, whose records and language have come down even to our day,–the only race on the American continent whose name has been preserved in the memory of the peoples after the ruin of its power, the only one whose institutions have survived its own existence,–the Xahoa, or Toltec.
Of all the American languages, the Nahuatl holds the highest place, for its richness of expression and its sonorous tone,–adapting itself with equal flexibility to the most sublime and analytic terms of metaphysics, and to the uses of ordinary life, so that even at this day the Englishman and the Spaniard employ its vocabulary for natural objects.
The traditions of the Nahoas describe their life in the distant Oriental country from which they came:–“There they multiplied to a considerable degree, and lived without civilization. They had not then acquired the habit of separating themselves from the places which had seen them born; they paid no tributes; and all spoke a single language. They worshipped neither wood nor stone; they contented themselves with raising their eyes to heaven and observing the law of the Creator. They waited with respect for the rising of the sun, saluting with their invocations the morning star.”
This is their prayer, handed down in Indian tradition,–the oldest piece extant of American liturgy:–“Hail, Creator and Former! Regard us! Listen to us! Heart of Heaven! Heart of the Earth! do not leave us! Do not abandon us, God of Heaven and Earth!… Grant us repose, a glorious repose, peace and prosperity! the perfection of life and of our being grant to us, O Hurakan!”
What country and what sun nourished this worship and gave origin to this great people is as uncertain as all other facts of the early American history. They came from the East, the tradition says; they landed, it seems certain, at Panuco, near the present port of Tampico, from seven barks or ships. Other traditions represent them as accompanied by sages with venerable beards and flowing robes. They finally settled somewhere on the coast between Campeachy and the river Tabasco, and founded the ancient city of Xicalanco. Their chief, who in the reverent affection of the nation became afterwards their Deity, was Quetzalcohuatl. The myths which surround his name reveal to us a wise legislator and noble benefactor. He is seen instructing them in the arts, in religion, and finally in agriculture, by introducing the cultivation of maize and other cereals.
Whether he had become the object of envy among the people, or whether he felt that his work was done, it appears, so far as the vague traditions can be understood, that he at length determined to return to the unknown country whence he had come. He gathered his brethren around him and thus addressed them:–“Know,” said he, “that the Lord your God commands you to dwell in these lands which he hath subjected to you this day. For him, he returns whence he has come. But he goes only to return later; for he will visit you again, when the time shall have arrived in which the world shall have come to an end.[C] In the mean while wait, ye others, in these countries, with the hope of seeing him again!…Thus farewell, while we depart with our God!”
[Footnote C: This is the expression of the legend, and certainly points to the ideas of the Eastern hemisphere. The coincidence with the legends of Hiawatha and the Finnish Wainamoinen will be remarked.–EDD.]
We will not follow the interesting narrative of the destruction of the ancient empire of the Votanides by the Nahoas or Toltecs; nor the account of the dispersion of these latter over Guatemala, Yucatan, and even among the mountains of California. This last revolution presents the first precise date which scholars have yet been able to assign to early American history; it probably occurred A.D. 174.
With the account of the invasion of the Aztec plateau by the Chichemees, a barbarian tribe of the Toltec family, in the middle of the seventh century, or of the establishment of the Toltec monarchy in Anahuac, we will not delay our readers, as these events bring us down to the period of authentic history, on which we have information from other sources.
“From the moment,” says M. de Bourbourg, “in which we see the supremacy of the cities of Culhuacan and Tollan rise over the cities of the Aztec plateau dates the true history of this country; but this history is, to speak the truth, only a grand episode in the annals of this powerful race [the Toltec]. In the course of a wandering of seven or eight centuries, it overturns and destroys everything in order to build on the ruins of ancient kingdoms its own civilization, science, and arts; it traverses all the provinces of Mexico and Central America, leaving everywhere traces of its superstitions, its culture, and its laws, sowing on its passage kingdoms and cities, whose names are forgotten to-day, but whose mysterious memorials are found again in the monuments scattered under the forest vegetation of ages and in the different languages of all the peoples of these countries.”–Vol. I. p. 209.
M. de Bourbourg fitly closes his interesting volumes–from which we have here given a resume of only the opening chapters–with a remarkable prophecy, made in the court of Yucatan by the high-priest of Mani. According to the tradition, this pontiff, inspired by a supernatural vision, betook himself to Mayapan and thus addressed the king:–“At the end of the Third Period, [A.D. 1518-1542,] a nation, white and bearded, shall come from the side where the sun rises, bearing with it a sign, [the cross,] which shall make all the Gods to flee and fall. This nation shall rule all the earth, giving peace to those who shall receive it in peace and who will abandon vain images to adore an only God, whom these bearded men adore.” (Vol. II. p. 594.) M. de Bourbourg does not vouch for the pure origin of the tradition, but suggests that the wise men of the Quiche empire already saw that it contained in itself the elements of destruction, and had already heard rumors of the wonderful white race which was soon to sweep away the last vestiges of the Central American governments.
[NOTE.–We cannot but think that our correspondent receives the traditions reported by M. de Bourbourg with too undoubting faith. Some of them seem to us to bear plain marks of an origin subsequent to the Spanish Conquest, and we suspect that others have been considerably modified in passing through the lively fancy of the Abbe. Even Ixtlilxochitl, who, as a native and of royal race, must have had access to all sources of information, and who had the advantage of writing more than three centuries ago, seems to have looked on the native traditions as extremely untrustworthy. See Prescott’s _History of the, Conquest of Mexico_, Vol. I. p. 12, note.–EDD.]
* * * * *
The Man With Two Shadows.
“There is ever a black spot in our sunshine.” Carlyle.
The sky is gray with unfallen sleet; the wind howls bitterly about the house; relentless in its desperate speed, it whirls by green crosses from the fir-boughs in the wood,–dry russet oak-leaves,–tiny cones from the larch, that were once rose-red with the blood of Spring, but now rattle on the leafless branches, black and bare as they. No leaf remains on any bough of the forest, no scarlet streamer of brier flaunts from the steadfast rocks that underlie all verdure, and now stand out, bleak and barren, the truths and foundations of life, when its ornate glories are fled away. The river flows past, a languid stream of lead; a single crow, screaming for its mate, flaps heavily against the north-east gale, that enters here also and lifts the carpet in long waves across the floor, whiffles light eddies of ashes In the chimney-corner, and vainly presses on door and window, like a houseless spirit shrieking and pining for a shelter from its bodiless and helpless unrest in the elements.
The whole air,–although, within, my fire crackles and leaps with steady cheer, and the red rose on my window is warm and sanguine with bloom,–yet this whole air is full of tiny sparks of chill to my sensitive and morbid nature; it is at once electric and cold, the very atmosphere of spirits.–What a shadow passed that pane! Roger, was it you?–The storm bursts, in one fierce rush of sleet and roaring wind; the little spaniel crouched at my feet whimpers and nestles closer; the house is silent,–silent as my thoughts,–silent as he is who walked these rooms once, with a face likest to the sky that darkens them now, and lonelier, lonelier than I, though at his side forever trod a companion.
This valley of the Moosic is narrow and thinly settled. Here and there the mad river, leaping from some wooded gorge to rest among the hemlock-covered islands that break its smoother path between the soft meadows, is crossed by a strong dam; and a white village, with its church and graveyard, clusters against the hill-side, sweeping upward from the huge mills that stand along the shore just below the bridge. Here and there, too, out of sight of mill or village, a quiet farmer’s house, trimly painted, with barns and hay-stacks and wood-piles drawn up in goodly array, stands in its old orchard, and offers the front of a fortress against want and misery. Idle aspect! fortress of vain front! there are intangible foes that no man may conquer! In such a stronghold was born Roger Pierce, the Man with two Shadows.
He was the son of good and upright parents. Before he came into their arms, three tiny shapes had lain there, one after another, for a few brief weeks, smiled, moaned, and fallen asleep,–to sleep, forever children, under the daisies and golden-rods. For this reason they cling to little Roger with passionate apprehension; they fought with the Angel of Death, and overcame; and, as it ever is to the blind nature of man, the conquest was greater to them than any gift.
The boy grew up into childhood as other children grow, a daily miracle to see. Only for him incessant care watched and waited; unwearied as the angel that looked from him to the face of God, so to gather ever fresh strength and guidance for the wayward child, his mother’s tender eyes overlooked him all day, followed his tottering steps from room to room, kept far away from him all fear and pain, shone upon him in the depths of night, woke and wept for him always. Never could he know the hardy self-reliance of those whom life casts upon their own strength and care; the wisdom and the love that lived for him lived in him, and he grew to be a boy as the tropic blossom of a hot-house grows, without thought or toil.
It was not until his age brought him in contact with others, that there seemed to be any difference between his nature and the common race of children. Always, however, some touch of sullenness lurked in his temperament; and whatever thwarted his will or fancy darkened the light of his clear eyes, and drew a dull pallor over his blooming cheek, till his mother used to tell him at such times that he stood between her and the sunshine.
But as he grew older, and shared in the sports of his companions, a strange thing came to pass. Beside the shadow that follows us all in the light, another, like that, but something deeper, began to go with Roger Pierce,–not falling with the other, a dial-mark to show the light that cast it, but capriciously to right or left; on whomever or whatever was nearest him at the moment, there that Shadow lay; and as time crept on, the Shadow pertinaciously crept with it, till it was forever hanging about him, ready to chill with vague terror, or harden as with a frost, either his fellows or himself.
One peculiar trait this Shadow had: the more the restless child thought of his visitant, the deeper it grew,–shrinking in size, but becoming more intensely dark, till it seemed like part of a heavy thunder-cloud, only that no lightning ever played across its blank gloom.
The first time that the Shadow ever stood before him as an actual presence was when, a mere child, he was busied one day in the warm May sunshine making a garden by the school-house, in a line with other little squares, tracked and moulded by childish fingers, and set with branches of sallow silvered with downy catkins, half-opened dandelions, twigs of red-flowered maple, mighty reservoirs of water in sunken clam-shells, and paths adorned with borders of broken china and glittering bits of glass. Next to Roger’s garden-bed was one that belonged to two little boys who were sworn friends, and one of these was busy weaving a fence for his garden, of yellow willow-twigs, which the other cut and sharpened.
Roger looked on with longing eyes.
“Will you help me, Jimmy?” said he.
“I can’t,” answered the quiet, timid child.
“No!” shouted Jacob,–the frank, fearless voice bringing a tint of color into his comrade’s cheek. “Jim shan’t help you, Roger Pierce! Do you ever help anybody?”
Then the Shadow fell beside Roger, as he stood with anger and shame swelling in his throat; it fell across the blue violets he had taken from Jacob to dress his own garden, and they drooped and withered; it crossed the path of shining pebbles that he had forced the younger children to gather for him, and they grew dull as common stones; it reached over into Jacob’s positive, honest face, and darkened it, and Jimmy, looking up, with fear in his mild eyes, whispered, softly,–“Come away! it’s going to rain;–don’t you see that dark cloud?”
Roger started, for the Shadow was darkening about himself; and as he moodily returned home, it seemed to grow deeper and deeper, till his mother drew his head upon her knee, and by the singing fire told him tales of her own childhood, and from the loving brightness of her tender eyes the Shadow slunk away and left the boy to sleep, unhaunted.
As day by day went by, in patient monotony, Roger became daily more aware of this ghostly attendant. He was not always alone, for he had friends who loved him in spite of the Shadow, and grew used to its appearing;–but he liked to be by himself; for, out of constant companionship and daily use, this Shadow made for itself a strange affinity with him, and following his daily rambles over the sharp hills, tracing to their source the noisy brooks, or setting snares for the wild creatures whose innocent timid eyes peered at their little enemy curiously from nook and crevice, he grew to have a moody pleasure in the knowledge that nothing else disturbed his path or shared his amusements.
But a time came when he must mix more with the outer world; for he was sent away from home to school, and there, amid a host of strange faces, he singled out the only one that had a thought of his past life and home in it, as his special companion,–the same quiet boy who had unconsciously feared the Shadow in their earlier school-days.
So good and gentle was he, that he did not feel the cloud of Roger’s hateful Double as every one else did; and he even won the boy himself to except him only from a certain suspicion that had lately sprung from, his own consciousness of his burden,–a suspicion gradually growing into a belief that all the world had such a Shadow as his own.
Now this was not a strange result of so painful a reality. Seeing, as Roger Pierce did, in every action of others toward himself the dark atmosphere of the Shallow that was peculiarly his own, he watched also their mutual actions, and, throwing from his own obscurity a shade over all human deeds, he became possessed of the monomania, a practical belief that every mortal man, except it might be Jimmy Doane, was followed and overlooked by this terrible Second Shadow.
In proportion as the gloom of this black Presence seemed to be lightened over any one was his esteem for him; but by daily looking so steadily and with such a will to see only darkness in the hearts of men, he discovered traces of the Shadow even in Jimmy Doane,–and the darkness shut down, like night at sea, over all the world then.
Now Roger was miserable enough, knowing well that he could escape, if he would; for there had come with his increasing sense of his tyrant, a knowledge that every time he thought of the Shadow it darkened more deeply than ever, and that in forgetting it lay his only hope of escape from its power. But withal there was a morbid pleasure, the reflex influence of habit and indolence, that mingled curiously with his longing desire to forget his Double, but rendered it impossible to do so without a greater effort than he cared to make, or some help from another hand; and soon that help seemed to come.
When Roger left his home for school, he left in the quaint oak cradle a little baby-sister, too young to have a place in his thought as a definite existence; but after an absence of two years he came back to find in her a new phase of life, into which the Shadow could not yet enter.
The child’s name her own childish tongue had softened into “Sunny,” a name that was the natural expression of her sunshiny traits, the clear gay voice, the tranquil azure eyes, the golden curls, the loving looks, that made Sunny the darling of the house,–the stray sunbeam that glanced through the doors, flitted by the heavy wainscots, and danced up the dusky stairways of that old and solitary dwelling.
When Roger returned, fresh from the rough companionship of school, Sunny seemed to him a creature of some better race than his own. The Shadow vanished, for he forgot it in his new devotion to Sunny. Nothing did he leave undone to please her wayward fancies. In those hot summer-days, he carried her to a little brook that rippled across the meadow, and, sitting with her in his arms on the large smooth stones that divided those shallow waters, held her carefully while she splashed her tiny dimpled feet in the cool ripples, or grasped vainly at the blue-winged dragon-flies sailing past, on languid, airy pinions, just beyond her reach. Or he gathered heaps of daisies for the child to toss into the shining stream, and see the pale star-like blossoms float smoothly down till some eddy caught them in its sparkling whirl, and, drenching the frail, helpless leaves, cast them on the farther shore and went its careless way. Or he told her, in the afternoons, under some wide apple-tree, wonderful stories of giants and naughty boys, till she fell asleep on the sweet hay, where the curious grasshoppers peered at her with round horny eyes, and velvet-bodied spiders scurried across her fair curls with six-legged speed, and the robin eyed her from a bough above with wistful glances, till Roger must needs carry her tenderly out of their neighborhood to his mother’s gentle care.
All this guard and guidance Sunny repaid with her only treasure, love. She left her pet kitten in its gayest antics to sit on Roger’s knee; she went to sleep at night nestled against his arm; every little dainty that she gathered from garden or field was shared with him; and no pleasure that did not include Roger could tempt Sunny to be pleased.
For a while the unconscious charm endured; absorbed in his darling, Roger forgot the Shadow, or remembered it only at rare intervals; and in that brief time every one seemed to grow better and lovelier. He did not see in this the coloring of his own more kindly thoughts.
But when, at length, the novelty of Sunny’s presence wore off, her claims grew tiresome. In the faith of her child’s heart, she came as frankly to Roger for help or comfort as she had ever done; and he found his own plans for study or pleasure constantly interrupted by her requests or caresses, till the Shadow darkened again beside him, and, looking over his shoulder, fell so close to Sunny, that his old belief drew its veil across his eyes for a moment, and he started at the sight of what he dreaded,–a Shadow haunting Sunny.
Then,–though this first dread passed away,–slowly, but creeping on with unfailing certainty, the Shadow returned. It fell like a brooding storm over the fireside of home; he fancied a like shadow following his mother’s steps, darkening his baby-sister’s smile; and as if in revenge for so long an absence, the Shadow forced itself upon him more strenuously than ever, till poor Roger Pierce was like a bruised and beaten child,–too sore to have peace or rest, too sensitive to bear any remedy for his ailment, and too petulant to receive or expect sympathy from any other and more gentle nature than his own.
It was long before the Shadow made itself felt by Sunny. She never saw it as others did. If its chill passed over her warm rosy face, she stole up softly to her brother, and, with a look of pure childish love, put her hand in his, and said softly, “Poor Roger!” or, with a keener sense of the Presence, forbore to touch him, but played off her kitten’s merriest tricks before him, or rolled her tiny hoop with shouts of laughter across the old house-dog as he slept on the grass, looking vainly for the smile Roger had always given to her baby plays before.
So by degrees she went back to her own pleasures, full of tender thought for every living thing, and a loving consciousness of their wants and ways. Her lisping voice chattered brook-like to birds and bees; her lip curled grievously over the broken wing of a painted moth, or the struggles of a drowning fly; in Nature’s company she played as with an infant ever divine; and no darkness assailed the never-weary child.
But Roger grew daily closer to his Shadow, and gave himself up to its dominion, till his mother saw the bondage, and tried, mourning, every art and device to win him away from the evil spirit, but tried in vain. So they lived till Sunny was four years old, when suddenly, one bright day in June, she left the roses in her garden with broken stems, but ungathered, and, tottering into the house, fell across the threshold, flushed and sleepy,–as they who lifted her saw at once, in the first stage of a fever.
This unexpected blow once more severed Roger from his Shadow. He watched his little sister with a heart full of anxious regret, yet so fully wrapt in her wants and danger, that the gloomy Shadow, which looked afar off at his self-accusations, dared not once intrude.
At length that day of crisis came, the pause of fever and delirium, desired, yet dreaded, by every trembling, fearful heart that hung over the child’s pillow. If she slept, the physician said, her fate hung on the waking; life or death would seal her when sleep resigned its claim. It was early morning when this sentence was given; in an hour’s time the fever had subsided, the flush passed from Sunny’s cheek, and she slept, watched breathlessly by Roger and his mother. The curtains of the room were half drawn to give the little creature air, and there rustled lightly through them a low south wind, bearing the delicate perfume of blossoms, and the lulling murmur of bees singing at their sweet toil.
Roger was weary with watching; the chiming sounds of Summer, the low ticking of the old clock on the stairs, and the utter quiet within, soothed him to slumber; his head bent forward and rested on the bedside; he fell asleep, and in his sleep he dreamed.
Over Sunny’s pillow (for in this dream he seemed to himself waking and watching) he saw a hovering spirit, the incarnate shape of Light, gazing at the sleeping child with ineffable tenderness; but its keen eyes caught the aspect of Roger’s Shadow; the pure lineaments glowed with something more divinely awful than anger, and with levelled lance it assailed that evil Presence and bore it to the ground; but the Shadow slipped aside from the spear, and cowered into distance; the angelic face saddened, and, stooping downward, folded Sunny in its arms as if to bear her away.
Roger woke with his own vain attempt to grasp and detain the child. The setting sun streamed in at the window, and his mother stood at his side, brought by some inarticulate sound from Sunny’s lips.
She sent the boy to call his father, and when they came in together, the child’s wide blue eyes were open, full of supernatural calm; her parched lips parted with a faint smile; and the loose golden curls pushed off her forehead, where the blue veins crept, like vivid stains of violet, under the clear skin.
“Dear mother!” she said, raising her arms slowly, to be lifted on the pillow; but the low, hoarse voice had lost its music.
Then she turned to her father with that strange bright smile, and again to Roger, uttering faintly,–
“Stand away, Roger; Sunny wants the light.”
They drew all the curtain opposite her bed away, and, as she stretched her hands eagerly toward the window, the last rays of sunshine glowed on her pale illuminated face, till it was even as an angel’s, and Roger caught a sudden gleam of wings-across the air; but a cold pain struck him as he gazed, for Sunny fell backward on her pillow. She had gone with the sunshine.
It seemed now for a time as if the phantasm that haunted Roger Pierce were banished at last. His moody reserve disappeared; he addressed himself with quiet, constant effort to console his mother,–to aid his father,–to fill, so far as he could, the vacant place; and his heart longed with an incessant thirst for the bright Spirit that hovered in his dream over Sunny;–he seemed almost to have begun a natural and healthy life.
But year after year passed away, and the light of Sunny’s influence faded with her fading memory. Green turf grew over her short grave, and the long slant shadow of its headstone no longer lay on a foot-worn track. Roger’s pilgrimages to that spot were over; his heart had ceased to remember. The Shadow had reassumed its power, and reigned.
Still through its obscurity he kept one gleam of light,–an admiration undiminished for those who seemed to have no such attendance; but daily the number of these grew less.
At length, after the studies of his youth were over, and he had returned to his old home for life, there came over the settled and brooding darkness of his soul a warm ray of dawn. In some way, as naturally as one meets a fresh wind full of vernal odor and life, yet never marks the moment of its first caress, so naturally, so unmarkedly, he renewed a childish acquaintance with Violet Channing, a dweller in the same quiet valley with himself, though for long years the fine threads of circumstance had parted them.
Not a stone, and the frail green moss that clings to it, are more essentially different than were Roger Pierce and Violet Channing. Without a trace of the Shadow in herself, Violet disbelieved its existence in others. She had heard a rumor of Roger’s phantom, but thought it some strange delusion, or want of perception, in those who told her,–being rather softened toward him with pity that he should be so little understood.
In the first days of their acquaintance, it seemed as if the light of the girl’s face would have dispelled forever the darkness of her companion’s Shadow, it was so mild and quiet a shining,–not the mere outer lustre of beauty, but the deep informing expression of that Spirit which had companioned Sunny heavenward.
With Violet, soothed by the timid sweetness of her manner, aroused by her sudden flashes of mirth and vivid enthusiasm, Roger seemed to forget his hateful companion, or remembered it only to be consoled by her tender eyes that beamed with pity and affection.
Month after month this intimacy went on, brightening daily in Roger’s mind the ideal picture of his new friend, but creating in her only a deeper sympathy and a more devout compassion for his wretched and oppressed life. But as years instead of months went by, the sole influence, no longer rested with the girl, drawing Roger Pierce upward, as she longed and strove to do, into her own sunshine. Their mutual relation had only lightened his darkness in part, while it had drawn over her the faint twilight of a Shadow like his own. But as the chief characteristic of this unearthly Thing was that it grew by notice, as some strange Eastern plants live on air, it throve but slowly near to Violet Channing, whose thoughts were bent on curing the heart-evil of Roger Pierce, and were so absorbed in that patient care that they had little chance to turn upon herself; though, when patience almost failed, and, weary with fruitless labor and unanswered yearning, her heart sunk, she was conscious of a vague influence that made the sunbeams fall coldly, and the songs of Summer mournful.
Hour after hour she lavished all the treasure she knew, and much that she knew not consciously, to beguile the darkness from Roger’s brow; or recalled again and again her own deeds and words, to review them with strict judgment, lost they might have set provocation in his path; till at length her loving thoughts grew restless and painful, her face paled, her frame wasted away, and over her deep melancholy eyes the Shadow hung like a black tempest reflected in some clear lake.
Roger was not blind to this change; he did not see who had cast the first veil of darkness over the pure light that had shone so freely for him; and while he silently regretted what he deemed the desecration of the spotless image he had loved, nothing whispered that it was his own Shadow brooding above the true heart that had toiled so faithfully and long for his enlightening.
The most painful result of all to Violet was the new coldness of Roger’s manner to her. Shadowed as he was, he did not perceive this change in himself; but Violet, in the silence of night, or in the solitary hours she spent in wood and field beside her growing Shadow, felt it with unmingled pain. Vainly did the Spirit of Light within her counsel her to persevere, looking only at the end she would achieve; subtler and more penetrative to her untuned ear were the words of the fiend at her side.
One day she had brooded long and drearily on the carelessness and coldness of her dear, her disregardful friend, and in her worn and weary soul revolved whatever sweetness of the past had now fled, and what pangs of love repulsed and devotion scorned lay before her in the miserable future; and as she held her throbbing head upon her hands, wasted with fiery pulses, it seemed to her as if the Shadow, inclining to her ear, whispered, almost audibly,–
“Think what you have given this man!–your hope and peace; the breath of your life and the beatings of your heart. All your soul is lavished on him, and see how he repays you!”
The weak and disheartened girl shivered; the time was past when she could have despised the voice of this dread companion, when the Shadow dared not have spoken thus; and with bitter tears swelling into her eyes she and the Shadow walked forth together to a haunt on the mountain-side where she had been used to meet Roger.
It was a bare rock, just below the summit of a peak crowned with a few old cedars, from whose laborious growth of dull, dark foliage long streamers of gray moss waved in the wind. There were scattered crags about their roots, against whose lichen-covered sides the autumn sun shone fruitlessly; and from the leafless forests in the deep valley beneath rose a whispering sound, as if they shuddered, and were stirred by some foreboding horror.
Violet made her way to this height as eagerly as her lessened strength and panting heart allowed; but as she lifted her eyes from the narrow path she had tracked upward, they rested on the fast face she wished to meet, the gloomy visage of Roger Pierce. The girl hesitated, and would have drawn back, but Roger bade her come near.
“There is no need of your going, Violet,” said he; and she crouched quietly on the rock at his feet, silently, but with fixed eyes, regarding the double nature before her, the Man and his Shadow.
Still upward from the valley crept that low shiver of dread; the pale sun shed its listless light on the gray rocks and dusky cedars; the silent unexpectant earth seemed to have paused; all things were wrapt in vague awe and dim apprehension; some inexpressible fatality seemed to oppress life and breath.
A sudden impulse of escape, desperate in its strength, possessed Violet; perhaps to name that Thing that clung so closely to Roger might shake its power,–and with a trembling, vibrating voice she spoke:–
“Roger,–you are thinking of the Shadow?”
He did not move, nor at once speak; no new expression stirred his dark face; at length he answered, in a voice that seemed to come from some lips far away, in an unechoing distance:–
“The Shadow?–Yes. I see it in all faces. It lies on the valley yonder; in the air; on every mortal brow and lip it gathers deeper yet. Violet, you, too, share the Shadow!”
Slowly, as if his words froze her, Violet rose and turned toward him; a light shone from her eyes that melted their dark depths into the radiance of high noon; and she spoke with a thrilled, yet unfaltering tone:–
“Yes, I share it, it is true. I feel and see the gloom; but if the Shadow haunts me, Roger Pierce, ask your own heart who cast it there! When we were first friends, I knew nothing of that darkness. I tried with all purity and compassion to draw you upward into light; and for reward, you have wrapped your own blackness round me, and hate your own doing. My work is over,–is in vain! It remains only that I free myself from this Shadow, and leave you to the mercy of a Power with whom no such Presence can cope,–in whom no darkness nor shadow may abide.”
She turned to leave him with these words, but cast back a look of such love and tender pity, that she seemed to Roger the very Spirit that had borne Sunny away.
Bewildered and pained to the heart, he groped his way homeward, and night lapsed into morning, and returned and went again more than once, ere sleep returned to his eyes.
Violet kept no vigils; she wept herself asleep as a child against its mother’s bosom, and loving eyes guarded that childlike rest. But Roger’s waking was haunted with remorse and fearful expectation; and as days crept by, and Memory, like one who fastens the galley-slave to his oar, still pressed on his thoughts the constant patience, toil, and affection of Violet Channing, he felt how truly she had spoken of him, and from his soul abhorred the Shadow of his life.
Here he vanishes. Whether with successful conflict he fought with the evil and prevailed, and showed himself a man,–or whether the Thing renewed its dominion, and he drew to himself another nature, not for the good power of its pure contact, but for the further increase of that darkness, and the blinding of another soul, is never yet to be known.
Of Violet Channing he saw no more; with her his sole earthly redemption had fled; she went her way, free henceforward from the Shadow, and guarded in the arms of the shining Spirit.
The wind yet howls and dashes without; the rain, rushing in gusts on roof and casement, keeps no time nor tune; the fire is dead in the ashes; the red rose, in the lessening light, turns gray;–but far away to the south the cloud begins to scatter; faint amber steals along the crest of the distant hills; after all evils, hope remains,–even for a Man with two Shadows. Let us, perhaps his kindred after the spirit, not despair.
AMOURS DE VOYAGE.
Eastward, or Northward, or West? I wander, and ask as I wander, Weary, yet eager and sure, where shall I come to my love? Whitherward hasten to seek her? Ye daughters of Italy, tell me, Graceful and tender and dark, is she consorting with you? Thou that out-climbest the torrent, that tendest thy goats to the summit, Call to me, child of the Alp, has she been seen on the heights? Italy, farewell I bid thee! for, whither she leads me, I follow. Farewell the vineyard! for I, where I but guess her, must go. Weariness welcome, and labor, wherever it be, if at last it Bring me in mountain or plain into the sight of my love.
I.–Claude to Eustace,–_from Florence_.
Gone from Florence; indeed; and that is truly provoking;– Gone to Milan, it seems; then I go also to Milan. Five days now departed; but they can travel but slowly;– I quicker far; and I know, as it happens, the house they will go to.– Why, what else should I do? Stay here and look at the pictures, Statues, and churches? Alack, I am sick of the statues and pictures!– No, to Bologna, Parma, Piacenza, Lodi, and Milan, Off go we to-night,–and the Venus go to the Devil!
II.–Claude to Eustace,–_from Bellaggio_.
Gone to Como, they said; and I have posted to Como. There was a letter left, but the _cameriere_ had lost it. Could it have been for me? They came, however, to Como, And from Como went by the boat,–perhaps to the Spluegen,– Or to the Stelvio, say, and the Tyrol; also it might be By Porlezza across to Lugano, and so to the Simplon Possibly, or the St. Gothard, or possibly, too, to Baveno, Orta, Turin, and elsewhere. Indeed, I am greatly bewildered.
III.–Claude to Eustace,–_from Bellaggio_.
I have been up the Spluegen, and on the Stelvio also: Neither of these can I find they have followed; in no one inn, and This would be odd, have they written their names. I have been to Porlezza.
There they have not been seen, and therefore not at Lugano. What shall I do? Go on through the Tyrol, Switzerland, Deutschland, Seeking, an inverse Saul, a kingdom, to find only asses? There is a tide, at least in the _love_ affairs of mortals, Which, when taken at flood, leads on to the happiest fortune,– Leads to the marriage-morn and the orange-flowers and the altar, And the long lawful line of crowned joys to crowned joys succeeding.– Ah, it has ebbed with me! Ye gods, and when it was flowing, Pitiful fool that I was, to stand fiddle-faddling in that way!
IV.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE,–_from Bellaggio._
I have returned and found their names in the book at Como. Certain it is I was right, and yet I am also in error. Added in feminine hand, I read, _By the boat to Bellaggio._– So to Bellaggio again, with the words of her writing, to aid me. Yet at Bellaggio I find no trace, no sort of remembrance. So I am here, and wait, and know every hour will remove them.
V.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE,–_from Belaggio._
I have but one chance left,–and that is, going to Florence. But it is cruel to turn. The mountains seem to demand me,– Peak and valley from far to beckon and motion me onward. Somewhere amid their folds she passes whom fain I would follow; Somewhere among those heights she haply calls me to seek her. Ah, could I hear her call! could I catch the glimpse of her raiment! Turn, however, I must, though it seem I turn to desert her; For the sense of the thing is simply to hurry to Florence, Where the certainty yet may be learnt, I suppose, from the Ropers.
VI.–MARY TREVELLYN, _from Lucerne_, TO MISS ROPER, _at Florence_.
Dear Miss Roper,–By this you are safely away, we are hoping, Many a league from Rome; ere long we trust we shall see you. How have you travelled? I wonder;–was Mr. Claude your companion? As for ourselves, we went from Como straight to Lugano; So by the Mount St. Gothard;–we meant to go by Porlezza, Taking the steamer, and stopping, as you had advised, at Bellaggio; Two or three days or more; but this was suddenly altered, After we left the hotel, on the very way to the steamer. So we have seen, I fear, not one of the lakes in perfection. Well, he is not come; and now, I suppose, he will not come. What will you think, meantime?–and yet I must really confess it;– What will you say? I wrote him a note. We left in a hurry, Went from Milan to Como three days before we expected. But I thought, if he came all the way to Milan, he really Ought not to be disappointed; and so I wrote three lines to Say I had heard he was coming, desirous of joining our party;– If so, then I said, we had started for Como, and meant to Cross the St. Gothard, and stay, we believed, at Lucerne, for the summer.
Was it wrong? and why, if it was, has it failed to bring him? Did he not think it worth while to come to Milan? He knew (you Told him) the house we should go to. Or may it, perhaps, have miscarried?
Any way, now, I repent, and am heartily vexed that I wrote it There is a home on the shore of the Alpine sea, that upswelling High up the mountain-sides spreads in the hollow between; Wilderness, mountain, and snow from the land of the olive conceal it; Under Pilatus’s hill low by its river it lies: Italy, utter one word, and the olive and vine will allure not,– Wilderness, forest, and snow will not the passage impede; Italy, unto thy cities receding, the clue to recover, Hither, recovered the clue, shall not the traveller haste?
There is a city, upbuilt on the quays of the turbulent Arno, Under Fiesole’s heights,–thither are we to return? There is a city that fringes the curve of the inflowing waters, Under the perilous hill fringes the beautiful bay,– Parthenope do they call thee?–the Siren, Neapolis, seated Under Vesevus’s hill,–thither are we to proceed?– Sicily, Greece, will invite, and the Orient;–or are we to turn to England, which may after all be for its children the best?
I.–MARY TREVELLYN, _at Lucerne_, TO MISS ROPER, _at Florence_.
So you are really free, and living in quiet at Florence; That is delightful news;–you travelled slowly and safely; Mr. Claude got you out; took rooms at Florence before you; Wrote from Milan to say so; had left directly for Milan, Hoping to find us soon;–_if he could, he would, you are certain._–
Dear Miss Roper, your letter has made me exceedingly happy. You are quite sure, you say, he asked you about our intentions; You had not heard of Lucerne as yet, but told him of Como.– Well, perhaps he will come;–however, I will not expect it. Though you say you are sure,–if he can, he will, _you are certain._
O my dear, many thanks from your ever affectionate Mary.
II.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.
_Action will furnish belief,_–but will that belief be the true one?
This is the point, you know. However, it doesn’t much matter What one wants, I suppose, is to predetermine the action, So as to make it entail, not a chance-belief, but the true one. _Out of the question,_ you say, _if a thing isn’t wrong, we may do it._
Ah! but this wrong, you see;–but I do not know that it matters. Eustace, the Ropers are gone, and no one can tell me about them.
Pisa, they say they think; and so I follow to Pisa, Hither and thither inquiring. I weary of making inquiries; I am ashamed, I declare, of asking people about it.– Who are your friends? You said you had friends who would certainly know them.
But it is idle, moping, and thinking, and trying to fix her Image more and more in, to write the old perfect inscription Over and over again upon every page of remembrance. I have settled to stay at Florence to wait for your answer. Who are your friends? Write quickly and tell me. I wait for your answer.
III.–MARY TREVELLYN TO MISS ROPER, _at Lucca Baths_.
You are at Lucca Baths, you tell me, to stay for the summer; Florence was quite too hot; you can’t move further at present. Will you not come, do you think, before the summer is over? Mr. C. got you out with very considerable trouble; And he was useful and kind, and seemed so happy to serve you; Didn’t stay with you long, but talked very openly to you; Made you almost his confessor, without appearing to know it,– What about?–and you say you didn’t need his confessions. O my dear Miss Roper, I dare not trust what you tell me! Will he come, do you think? I am really so sorry for him! They didn’t give him my letter at Milan, I feel pretty certain. You had told him Bellaggio. We didn’t go to Bellaggio; So he would miss our track, and perhaps never come to Lugano, Where we were written in full, _To Lucerne, across the St. Gothard._
But he could write to you;–you would tell him where you were going.
IV.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.
Let me, then, bear to forget her. I will not cling to her falsely; Nothing factitious or forced shall impair the old happy relation. I will let myself go, forget, not try to remember; I will walk on my way, accept the chances that meet me, Freely encounter the world, imbibe these alien airs, and Never ask if new feelings and thoughts are of her or of others. Is she not changing, herself?–the old image would only delude me. I will be bold, too, and change,–if it must be. Yet if in all things, Yet if I do but aspire evermore to the Absolute only, I shall be doing, I think, somehow, what she will be doing;– I shall be thine, O my child, some way, though I know not in what way. Let me submit to forget her; I must; I already forget her.
V.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.
Utterly vain is, alas, this attempt at the Absolute,–wholly! I, who believed not in her, because I would fain believe nothing, Have to believe as I may, with a wilful, unmeaning acceptance. I, who refused to enfasten the roots of my floating existence In the rich earth, cling now to the hard, naked rock that is left me.– Ah! she was worthy, Eustace,–and that, indeed, is my comfort,– Worthy a nobler heart than a fool such as I could have given.
VI.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.
Yes, it relieves me to write, though I do not send; and the chance that
Takes may destroy my fragments. But as men pray, without asking Whether One really exist to hear or do anything for them,– Simply impelled by the need of the moment to turn to a Being In a conception of whom there is freedom from all limitation,– So in your image I turn to an _ens rationis_ of friendship. Even to write in your name I know not to whom nor in what wise.
VII.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.
There was a time, methought it was but lately departed, When, if a thing was denied me, I felt I was bound to attempt it; Choice alone should take, and choice alone should surrender. There was a time, indeed, when I had not retired thus early, Languidly thus, from pursuit of a purpose I once had adopted. But it is over, all that! I have slunk from the perilous field in Whose wild struggle of forces the prizes of life are contested. It is over, all that! I am a coward, and know it. Courage in me could be only factitious, unnatural, useless.
VIII.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.
Rome is fallen, I hear, the gallant Medici taken, Noble Manara slain, and Garibaldi has lost _il Moro_;– Rome is fallen; and fallen, or falling, heroical Venice. I, meanwhile, for the loss of a single small chit of a girl, sit Moping and mourning here,–for her, and myself much smaller. Whither depart the souls of the brave that die in the battle, Die in the lost, lost fight, for the cause that perishes with them? Are they upborne from the field on the slumberous pinions of angels Unto a far-off home, where the weary rest from their labor, And the deep wounds are healed, and the bitter and burning moisture Wiped from the generous eyes? or do they linger, unhappy, Pining, and haunting the grave of their by-gone hope and endeavor? All declamation, alas! though I talk, I care not for Rome, nor Italy; feebly and faintly, and but with the lips, can lament the Wreck of the Lombard youth and the victory of the oppressor. Whither depart the brave?–God knows; I certainly do not.
IX.–MARY TREVELLYN TO MISS ROPER.
He has not come as yet; and now I must not expect it. You have written, you say, to friends at Florence, to see him, If he perhaps should return;–but that is surely unlikely. Has he not written to you?–he did not know your direction. Oh, how strange never once to have told him where you were going! Yet if he only wrote to Florence, that would have reached you. If what you say he said was true, why has he not done so? Is he gone back to Rome, do you think, to his Vatican marbles?– O my dear Miss Roper, forgive me! do not be angry!– You have written to Florence;–your friends would certainly find him. Might you not write to him?–but yet it is so little likely! I shall expect nothing more.–Ever yours, your affectionate Mary.
X.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.
I cannot stay at Florence, not even to wait for a letter. Galleries only oppress me. Remembrance of hope I had cherished (Almost more than as hope, when I passed through Florence the first time)
Lies like a sword in my soul. I am more a coward than ever, Chicken-hearted, past thought. The _caffes_ and waiters distress me.
All is unkind, and, alas, I am ready for any one’s kindness. Oh, I knew it of old, and knew it, I thought, to perfection, If there is any one thing in the world to preclude all kindness, It is the need of it,–it is this sad self-defeating dependence. Why is this, Eustace? Myself, were I stronger, I think I could tell you.
But it is odd when it comes. So plumb I the deeps of depression, Daily in deeper, and find no support, no will, no purpose. All my old strengths are gone. And yet I shall have to do something. Ah, the key of our life, that passes all wards, opens all locks, Is not _I will_, but _I must_. I must,–I must,–and I do it.
XI–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.
At the last moment I have your letter, for which I was waiting. I have taken my place, and see no good in inquiries. Do nothing more, good Eustace, I pray you. It only will vex me. Take no measures. Indeed, should we meet, I could not be certain; All might be changed, you know. Or perhaps there was nothing to be changed.
It is a curious history, this; and yet I foresaw it; I could have told it before. The Fates, it is clear, are against us; For it is certain enough that I met with the people you mention; They were at Florence the day I returned there, and spoke to me even; Staid a week, saw me often; departed, and whither I know not. Great is Fate, and is best. I believe in Providence, partly. What is ordained is right, and all that happens is ordered. Ah, no, that isn’t it. But yet I retain my conclusion: I will go where I am led, and will not dictate to the chances. Do nothing more, I beg. If you love me, forbear interfering.
XII.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE.
Shall we come out of it all, some day, as one does from a tunnel? Will it be all at once, without our doing or asking, We shall behold clear day, the trees and meadows about us, And the faces of friends, and the eyes we loved looking at us? Who knows? Who can say? It will not do to suppose it.
XIII.–CLAUDE TO EUSTACE,–_from Rome_.
Rome will not suit me, Eustace; the priests and soldiers possess it; Priests and soldiers;–and, ah! which is worst, the priest or the soldier?
Politics farewell, however! For what could I do? with inquiring, Talking, collating the journals, go fever my brain about things o’er Which I can have no control. No, happen whatever may happen, Time, I suppose, will subsist; the earth will revolve on its axis; People will travel; the stranger will wander as now in the city; Rome will be here, and the Pope the _custode_ of Vatican marbles. I have no heart, however, for any marble or fresco; I have essayed it in vain; ’tis vain as yet to essay it: But I may haply resume some day my studies in this kind. Not as the Scripture says, is, I think, the fact. Ere our death-day, Faith, I think, does pass, and Love; but Knowledge abideth. Let us seek Knowledge;–the rest must come and go as it happens. Knowledge is hard to seek, and harder yet to adhere to. Knowledge is painful often; and yet when we know, we are happy. Seek it, and leave mere Faith and Love to come with the chances. As for Hope,–to-morrow I hope to be starting for Naples. Rome will not do, I see; for many very good reasons. Eastward, then, I suppose, with the coming of winter, to Egypt.
XIV.–Mary Trevellyn to Miss Roper.
You have heard nothing; of course, I know you can have heard nothing. Ah, well, more than once I have broken my purpose, and sometimes, Only too often, have looked for the little lake-steamer to bring him. But it is only fancy,–I do not really expect it. Oh, and you see I know so exactly how he would take it: Finding the chances prevail against meeting again, he would banish Forthwith every thought of the poor little possible hope, which I myself could not help, perhaps, thinking only too much of; He would resign himself, and go. I see it exactly. So I also submit, although in a different manner. Can you not really come? We go very shortly to England.
* * * * *
So go forth to the world, to the good report and the evil! Go, little book! thy tale, is it not evil and good? Go, and if strangers revile, pass quietly by without answer. Go, and if curious friends ask of thy rearing and age, Say, _I am flitting about many years from brain unto brain of Feeble and restless youths born to inglorious days_; _But_, so finish the word, _I was writ in a Roman chamber, When from Janiculan heights thundered the cannon of France_.
The desire, the duty, the necessity of the age in which we live is education, or that culture which developes, enlarges, and enriches each individual intelligence, according to the measure of its capacity, by familiarizing it with the facts and laws of nature and human life. But, in this rage for information, we too often overlook the mental constitution of the being we would inform,–detaching the apprehensive from the active powers, weakening character by overloading memory, and reaping a harvest of imbeciles after we may have flattered ourselves we had sown a crop of geniuses. No person can be called educated, until he has organized his knowledge into faculty, and wields it as a weapon. We purpose, therefore, to invite the attention of our readers to some remarks on Intellectual Character, the last and highest result of intellectual education, and the indispensable condition of intellectual success.
It is evident, that, when a young man leaves his school or college to take his place in the world, it is indispensable that he be something as well as know something; and it will require but little experience to demonstrate to him that what he really knows is little more than what he really is, and that his progress in intellectual manhood is not more determined by the information he retains, than by that portion which, by a benign provision of Providence, he is enabled to forget. Youth, to be sure, is his,–youth, in virtue of which he is free of the universe,–youth, with its elastic vigor, its far-darting hopes, its generous impatience of prudent meanness, its grand denial of Instituted falsehood, its beautiful contempt of accredited baseness,–but youth which must now concentrate its wayward energies, which must discourse with facts and grapple with men, and through strife and struggle, and the sad wisdom of experience, must pass from the vague delights of generous impulses to the assured joy of manly principles. The moment he comes in contact with the stern and stubborn realities which frown on his entrance into practical life, he will find that power is the soul of knowledge, and character the condition of intelligence. He will discover that intellectual success depends primarily on qualities which are not strictly intellectual, but personal and constitutional. The test of success is influence,–that is, the power of shaping events by informing, guiding, animating, controlling other minds. Whether this influence be exerted directly in the world of practical affairs, or indirectly in the world of ideas, its fundamental condition is still force of individual being, and the amount of influence is the measure of the degree of force, just as an effect measures a cause. The characteristic of intellect is insight,–insight into things and their relations; but then this insight is intense or languid, clear or confused, comprehensive or narrow, exactly in proportion to the weight and power of the individual who sees and combines. It is not so much the intellect that makes the man, as the man the intellect; in every act of earnest thinking, the reach of the thought depends on the pressure of the will; and we would therefore emphasize and enforce, as the primitive requirement of intellectual success, that discipline of the individual which developes dim tendencies into positive sentiments, sentiments into ideas, and ideas into abilities,–that discipline by which intellect is penetrated through and through with the qualities of manhood, and endowed with arms as well as eyes. This is Intellectual Character.
Now it should be thundered in the ears of every young man who has passed through that course of instruction ironically styled education, “What do you intend to be, and what do you intend to do? Do you purpose to play at living, or do you purpose to live?–to be a memory, a word-cistern, a feeble prater on illustrious themes, one of the world’s thousand chatterers, or a will, a power, a man?” No varnish and veneer of scholarship, no command of the tricks of logic and rhetoric, can ever make you a positive force in the world. Look around you in the community of educated men, and see how many, who started on their career with minds as bright and eager and hearts as hopeful as yours, have been mysteriously arrested in their growth,–have lost all the kindling sentiments which glorified their youthful studies, and dwindled into complacent echoes of surrounding mediocrity,–have begun, indeed, to die on the very threshold of manhood, and stand in society as tombs rather than temples of immortal souls. See, too, the wide disconnection between knowledge and life;–heaps of information piled upon little heads; everybody speaking,–few who have earned the right to speak; maxims enough to regenerate a universe,–a woful lack of great hearts, in which reason, right, and truth, regal and militant, are fortified and encamped! Now this disposition to skulk the austere requirements of intellectual growth in an indolent surrender of the mind’s power of self-direction must be overcome at the outset, or, in spite of your grand generalities, you will be at the mercy of every bullying lie, and strike your colors to every mean truism, and shape your life in accordance with every low motive, which the strength of genuine wickedness or genuine stupidity can bring to bear upon you. There is no escape from slavery, or the mere pretence of freedom, but in radical individual power; and all solid intellectual culture is simply the right development of individuality into its true intellectual form.
And first, at the risk of being considered metaphysical,–though we fear no metaphysician would indorse the charge,–let us define what we mean by individuality; for the word is commonly made to signify some peculiarity or eccentricity, some unreasonable twist, of mind or disposition. An individual, then, in the sense in which we use the term, is a causative spiritual force, whose root and being are in eternity, but who lives, grows, and builds up his nature in time. All the objects of sense and thought, all facts and ideas, all things, are external to his essential personality. But he has bound up in his personal being sympathies and capacities which ally him with external objects, and enable him to transmute their inner spirit and substance into his own personal life. The process of his growth, therefore, is a development of power from within to assimilate objects from without, the power increasing with every vital exercise of it. The result of this assimilation is character. Character is the spiritual body of the person, and represents the individualization of vital experience, the conversion of unconscious things into self-conscious men. Sir Thomas Browne, in quaint reference to the building up of our physical frame through the food we eat, declares that we have all been on our own trenchers; and so, on the same principle, our spiritual faculties can be analyzed into impersonal facts and ideas, whose life and substance we have converted into personal reason, imagination, and passion. The fundamental characteristic of man is spiritual hunger; the universe of thought and matter is spiritual food. He feeds on Nature; he feeds on ideas; he feeds, through art, science, literature, and history, on the acts and thoughts of other minds; and could we take the mightiest intellect that ever awed and controlled the world, and unravel his powers, and return their constituent particles to the multitudinous objects whence they were derived, the last probe of our analysis, after we had stripped him of all his faculties, would touch that unquenchable fiery atom of personality which had organized round itself such a colossal body of mind, and which, in its simple naked energy, would still be capable of rehabilitating itself in the powers and passions of which it had been shorn.
It results from this doctrine of the mind’s growth, that success in all the departments of life over which intellect holds dominion depends, not merely on an outside knowledge of the facts and laws connected with each department, but on the assimilation of that knowledge into instinctive intelligence and active power. Take the good farmer, and you will find that ideas in him are endowed with will, and can work. Take the good general, and you will find that the principles of his profession are inwrought into the substance of his nature, and act with the velocity of instincts. Take the good judge, and in him jurisprudence seems impersonated, and his opinions are authorities. Take the good merchant, and you will find that commerce, in its facts and laws, seems in him embodied, and that his sagacity appears identical with the objects on which it is exercised. Take the great statesman, take Webster, and note how, by thoroughly individualizing his comprehensive experience, he seems to carry a nation in his brain; how, in all that relates to the matter in hand, he has in him as _faculty_ what is out of him in _fact_; how between the man and the thing there occurs that subtile freemasonry of recognition which we call the mind’s intuitive glance; and how conflicting principles and statements, mixed and mingling in fierce confusion and with deafening war-cries, fall into order and relation, and move in the direction of one inexorable controlling idea, the moment they are grasped by an intellect which is in the secret of their combination:–
“Confusion hears his voice, and the wild uproar stills.”
Mark, too, how, in the productions of his mind, the presence and pressure of his whole nature, in each intellectual act, keeps his opinions on the level of his character, and stamps every weighty paragraph with “Daniel Webster, his mark.” The characteristic, of all his great speeches is, that the statements, arguments, and images have what we should call a positive being of their own,–stand out as plainly to the sight as a ledge of rocks or chain of hills,–and, like the works of Nature herself, need no other justification of their right to exist than the fact of their existence. We may detest their object, but we cannot deny their solidity of organization. This power of giving a substantial body, an undeniable external shape and form, to his thoughts and perceptions, so that the toiling mind does not so much seem to pass from one sentence to another, unfolding its leading idea, as to make each sentence a solid work in a Torres-Vedras line of fortifications,–this prodigious constructive faculty, wielded with the strength of a huge Samson-like artificer in the material of mind, and welding together the substances it might not be able to fuse, puzzled all opponents who understood it not, and baffled the efforts of all who understood it well. He rarely took a position on any political question, which did not draw down upon him a whole battalion of adversaries, with ingenious array of argument and infinite noise of declamation; but after the smoke and dust and clamor of the combat were over, the speech loomed up, perfect and whole, a permanent thing in history or literature, while the loud thunders of opposition had too often died away into low mutterings, audible only to the adventurous antiquary who gropes in the “still air” of stale “Congressional Debates.” The rhetoric of sentences however melodious, of aphorisms however pointed, of abstractions however true, cannot stand in the storm of affairs against this true rhetoric, in which thought is consubstantiated with things.
Now in men of this stamp, who have so organized knowledge into faculty that they have attained the power of giving Thought the character of Fact, we notice no distinction between power of intellect and power of will, but an indissoluble union and fusion of force and insight. Facts and laws are so blended with their personal being, that we can hardly decide whether it is thought that wills or will that thinks. Their actions display the intensest intelligence; their thoughts come from them clothed in the thews and sinews of energetic volition. Their force, being proportioned to their intelligence, never issues in that wild and anarchical impulse, or that tough, obstinate, narrow wilfulness, which many take to be the characteristic of individualized power. They may, in fact, exhibit no striking individual traits which stand impertinently out, and yet from this very cause be all the more potent and influential individualities. Indeed, in the highest efforts of ecstatic action, when the person is mightiest, and amazes us by the giant leaps of his intuition, the mere peculiarities of his personality are unseen and unfelt. This is the case with Homer, Shakspeare, and Goethe, in poetry,–with Plato and Bacon, in philosophy,–with Newton, in science,–with Caesar, in war. Such men doubtless had peculiarities and caprices, but they were “burnt and purged away” by the fire of their genius, when its action was intensest. Then their whole natures were melted down into pure force and insight, and the impression they leave upon the mind is the impression of marvellous force and weight and reach of thought.
If it be objected, that these high examples are fitted to provoke despair rather than stimulate emulation, the answer is, that they contain, exemplify, and emphasize the principles, and flash subtile hints of the processes, of all mental growth and production. How comes it that these men’s thoughts radiate from them as acts, endowed not only with an illuminating, but a penetrating and animating power? The answer to this is a statement of the genesis, not merely of genius, but of every form of intellectual manhood; for such thoughts do not leap, _a la_ Minerva, full-grown from the head, but are struck off in those moments when the whole nature of the thinker is alive and aglow with an inspiration kindled long before in remote recesses of consciousness from one spark of immortal fire, and unweariedly burning, burning, burning, until it lit up the whole inert mass of surrounding mind in flame.
To show, indeed, how little there is of the _extempore_, the hap-hazard, the hit-or-miss, in the character of creative thought, and how completely the gladdest inspiration is earned, let us glance at the psychological history of one of those imperial ideas which measure the power, test the quality, and convey the life, of the minds that conceive them. The progress of such an idea is from film to form. It has its origin in an atmosphere of feeling; for the first vital movement of the mind is emotional, and is expressed in a dim tendency, a feeble feeling after the object, or the class of objects, related to the peculiar constitution and latent affinities of its individual being. This tendency gradually condenses and deepens into a sentiment, pervading the man with a love of those objects,–by a sweet compulsion ordering his energies in their direction,–and by slow degrees investing them, through a process of imagination, with the attribute of beauty, and, through a process of reason, investing the purpose with which he pursues them with the attribute of intelligence. The object dilates as the mind assimilates and the nature moves, so that every step in this advance from mere emotion to vivid insight is a building up of the faculties which each onward movement evokes and exercises,–sentiment, imagination, reason increasing their power and enlarging their scope with each impetus that speeds them on to their bright and beckoning goal. Then, when the individual has reached his full mental stature, and come in direct contact with the object, then, only then, does he “pluck out the heart of its mystery” in one of those lightning-like _acts_ of thought which we call combination, invention, discovery.
There is no luck, no accident, in all this. Nature does not capriciously scatter her secrets as golden gifts to lazy pets and luxurious darlings, but imposes tasks when she presents opportunities, and uplifts him whom she would inform. The apple that she drops at the feet of Newton is but a coy invitation to follow her to the stars.
Now this living process of developing manhood and building up mind, while the person is on the trail of a definite object of intelligence, is in continual danger of being devitalized into a formal process of mere acquisition, which, though it may make great memories of students, will be sure to leave them little men. Their thoughts will be the _attaches_, not the offspring, of their minds. They will have a bowing acquaintance with many truths, without being admitted to the familiarity of embracing or shaking hands with one. If they have native stamina of animal constitution, they may become men of passions and opinions, but they never will become men of sentiments and ideas; they may know the truth as it is _about_ a thing, and support it with acrid and wrangling dogmatism, but they never will know the truth as it is in the thing, and support it with faith and insight And the moment they come into collision with a really live man, they will find their souls inwardly wither, and their boasted acquisitions fall away, before one glance of his irradiating intelligence and one stroke of his smiting will. If, on the contrary, they are guided by good or great sentiments, which are the souls of good or great ideas, these sentiments will be sure to organize all the capacity there is in them into positive intellectual character; but let them once divorce love from their occupations in life, and they will find that labor will degenerate into drudgery, and drudgery will weaken the power to labor, and weakness, as a last resort, will intrench itself in pretence and deception. If they are in the learned professions, they will become tricksters in law, quacks in medicine, formalists in divinity, though _regular_ practitioners in all; and clients will be cheated, and patients will be poisoned, and parishioners will be–we dare not say what!–though all the colleges in the universe had showered on them their diplomas. “To be weak is miserable”: Milton wrested that secret from the Devil himself!–but what shall we say of those whose weakness has subsided from misery into complacency, and who feel all the moral might of their being hourly rust and decay, with the most amiable indifference and lazy content with dissolution?
Now this weakness is a mental and moral sickness, pointing the way to mental and moral death. It has its source in a violation of that law which makes the health of the mind depend on its activity being directed to an object. When directed on itself, it becomes fitful and moody; and moodiness generates morbidness, and morbidness misanthropy, and misanthropy self-contempt, and self-contempt begins the work of self-dissolution. Why, every sensible man will despise himself, if he concentrates his attention on that important personage! The joy and confidence of activity come from its being fixed and fastened on things external to itself. “The human heart,” says Luther,–and we can apply the remark as well, to the human mind,–“is like a millstone in a mill; when you put wheat under it, it turns, and grinds, and bruises the wheat into flour; if you put no wheat in, it still grinds on, but then it is itself it grinds, and slowly wears away.” Now activity for an object, which is an activity that constantly increases the power of acting, and keeps the mind glad, fresh, vigorous, and young, has three deadly enemies,–intellectual indolence, intellectual conceit, and intellectual fear. We will say a few words on the operation of this triad of malignants.
Montaigne relates, that, while once walking in the fields, he was accosted by a beggar of Herculean frame, who solicited alms. “Are you not ashamed to beg?” said the philosopher, with a frown,–“you who are so palpably able to work?” “Oh, Sir,” was the sturdy knave’s drawling rejoinder, “if you only knew how lazy I am!” Herein is the whole philosophy of idleness; and we are afraid that many a student of good natural capacity slips and slides from thought into reverie, and from reverie into apathy, and from apathy into incurable indisposition to think, with as much sweet unconsciousness of degradation as Montaigne’s mendicant evinced; and at last hides from himself the fact of his imbecility of action, somewhat as Sir James Herring accounted for the fact that he could not rise early in the morning: he could, he said, make up his mind to it, but could not make up his body.
“He who eats with the Devil,” says the proverb, “has need of a long spoon”; and he who domesticates this pleasant vice of indolence, and allows it to nestle near his will, has need of a long head. Ordinary minds may well be watchful of its insidious approaches when great ones have mourned over its enfeebling effects; and the subtle indolence that stole over the powers of Mackintosh, and gradually impaired the productiveness even of Goethe, may well scare intellects of less natural grasp and imaginations of less instinctive creativeness. Every step, indeed, of the student’s progress calls for energy and effort, and every step is beset by some soft temptation to abandon the task of developing power for the delight of following impulse. The appetites, for example, instead of being bitted, and bridled, and trained into passions, and sent through the intellect to quicken, sharpen, and intensify its activity, are allowed to take their way unmolested to their own objects of sense, and drag the mind down to their own sensual level. Sentiment decays, the vision fades, faith in principles departs, the moment that appetite rules. On the closing doors of that “sensual stye,” as over the gate of Dante’s hell, be it written: “Let those who enter here leave hope behind.”
But a more refined operation of this pestilent indolence is its way of infusing into the mind the delusive belief that it can attain the objects of activity without its exercise. Under this illusion, men expect to grow wise, as men who gamble in stocks expect to grow rich, by chance, and not by work. They invest in mediocrity in the confident hope that it will go many hundred per cent. above par; and so shocking has been the inflation of the intellectual currency of late years, that this speculation of indolence sometimes partially succeeds. But a revulsion comes,–and then brass has to make a break-neck descent to reach its proper level below gold. There are others whom indolence deludes by some trash about “fits” of inspiration, for whose Heaven-sent spasms they are humbly to wait. There is, it seems, a lucky thought somewhere in the abyss of possibility, which is somehow, at some time, to step out of essence into substance, and take up its abode in their capacious minds,–dutifully kept unoccupied in order that the expected celestial visitor may not be crowded for room. Chance is to make them king, and chance to crown them, without their stir! There are others still, who, while sloth is sapping the primitive energy of their natures, expect to scale the fortresses of knowledge by leaps and not by ladders, and who count on success in such perilous gymnastics, not by the discipline of the athlete, but by the dissipation of the idler. Indolence, indeed, is never at a loss for a smooth lie or delicious sophism to justify inaction, and, in our day, has rationalized it into a philosophy of the mind, and idealized it into a school of poetry, and organized it into a “hospital of incapables.” It promises you the still ecstasy of a divine repose, while it lures you surely down into the vacant dulness of inglorious sloth. It provides a primrose path to stagnant pools, to an Arcadia of thistles, and a Paradise of mud.
But in a mind of any primitive power, intellectual indolence is sure to generate intellectual conceit,–a little Jack Horner, that ensconces itself in lazy heads, and, while it dwarfs every power to the level of its own littleness, keeps vociferating, “What a great man am I!” It is the essential vice of this glib imp of the mind, even when it infests large intellects, that it puts Nature in the possessive case,–labels all its inventions and discoveries “My truth,”–and moves about the realms of art, science, and letters in a constant fear of having its pockets picked. Think of a man’s having vouchsafed to him one of those awful glimpses into the mysteries of creation which should be received with a shudder of prayerful joy, and taking the gracious boon with a smirk of all-satisfied conceit! One page in what Shakspeare calls “Nature’s infinite book of secrecy” flies a moment open to his eager gaze, and he hears the rustling of the myriad leaves as they close and clasp, only to make his spirit more abject, his vanity more ravenous, his hatred of rivals more rancorous and mean. That grand unselfish love of truth, and joy in its discovery, by whomsoever made, which characterize the true seeker and seer of science and creative art, alone can keep the mind alive and alert, alone can make the possession of truth a means of elevating and purifying the man.
But if this conceit, in powerful natures, tends to belittle character, and eat into and consume the very faculties whose successful exercise creates it, its slyly insinuated venom works swifter and deadlier on youth and inexperience. The ordinary forms of conceit, it is true, cannot well flourish in any assemblage of young men, whose plain interest it is to undeceive all self-deception and quell every insurrection of individual vanity, and who soon understand the art of burning the nonsense out of an offending brother by caustic ridicule and slow-roasting sarcasm. But there is danger of mutual deception, springing from a common belief in a false, but attractive principle of culture. The mischief of intellectual conceit in our day consists in its arresting mental growth at the start by stuffing the mind with the husks of pretentious generalities, which, while they impart no vital power and convey no real information, give seeming enlargement to thought, and represent a seeming opulence of knowledge. The deluded student, who picks up these ideas in masquerade at the rag-fairs and old-clothes’ shops of philosophy, thinks he has the key to all secrets and the solvent of all problems, when he really has no experimental knowledge of anything, and dwindles all the more for every juiceless, unnutritious abstraction he devours. Though famished for the lack of a morsel of the true mental food of facts and ideas, he still swaggeringly despises all relative information in his ambition to clutch at absolute truth, and accordingly goes directly to ultimates by the short cuts of cheap generalities. Why, to be sure, should he, who can. Napoleon-like, march straight on to the interior capital, submit, Marlborough-like, to the drudgery of besieging the frontier fortresses? Why should he, who can throw a girdle of generalization round the universe in less than forty minutes, stoop to master details? And this easy and sprightly amplitude of understanding, which consists not in including, but in excluding all relative facts and principles, he calls comprehensiveness; the mental decrepitude it occasions he dignifies with the appellation of repose; and, on the strength of comprehensiveness and repose, is of course qualified to take his seat beside Shakspeare, and chat cosily with Bacon, and wink knowingly at Goethe, and startle Leibnitz with a slap on the shoulder,–the true Red-Republican sign of liberty in manners, equality in power, and fraternity in ideas! These men, to be sure, have a way of saying things which he has not yet caught; but then their wide-reaching thoughts are his as well as theirs. Imitating the condescension of some contemporary philosophers of the Infinite, he graciously accepts Christianity and patronizes the idea of Deity, though he gives you to understand that he could easily pitch a generalization outside of both. And thus, mistaking his slab-sidedness for many-sidedness, and forgetting that there is no insight without force to back it,–bedizened in conceit and magnificent in littleness,–he is thrown on society, walking in a vain show of knowledge, and doomed to be upset and trampled on by the first brawny concrete Fact he stumbles against. A true method of culture makes drudgery beautiful by presenting a vision of the object to which it leads;–beware of the conceit that dispenses with it! How much better it is to delve for a little solid knowledge, and be sure of that, than to be a proper target for such a sarcasm as a great statesman once shot at a glib advocate, who was saying nothing with great fluency and at great length! “Who,” he asked, “is this self-sufficient, all-sufficient, insufficient man?”
Idleness and Conceit, however, are not more opposed to that out-springing, reverential activity which makes the person forgot himself in devotion to his objects, than Fear. A bold heart in a sound head,–that is the condition of energetic thinking, of the thought that thinks round things and into things and through things; but fear freezes activity at its inmost fountains. “There is nothing,” says Montaigne, “that I fear so much as fear.” Indeed, an educated man, who creeps along with an apologetic air, cringing to this name and ducking to that opinion, and hoping that it is not too presumptuous in him to beg the right to exist,–why, it is a spectacle piteous to gods and hateful to men! Yet think of the many knots of monitory truisms in which activity is likely to be caught and entangled at the outset,–knots which a brave purpose will not waste time to untie, but instantly cuts. First, there is the nonsense of students killing themselves by over-study,–some few instances of which, not traceable to over-eating, have shielded the short-comings of a million idlers. Next, there is the fear that the intellect may be developed at the expense of the moral nature,–one of those truths in the abstract which are made to do the office of lies in the application, and which are calculated not so much to make good men as _goodies_,–persons rejoicing in an equal mediocrity of morals and mind, and pertinent examples of the necessity of personal force to convert moral maxims into moral might. The truth would seem to be, that half the crimes and sufferings which history records and observation furnishes are directly traceable to want of thought rather than to bad intention; and in regard to the other half, which may be referred to the remorseless selfishness of unsanctified intelligence, has that selfishness ever had more valuable allies and tools than the mental torpor that cannot think and the conscientious stupidity that will not? Moral laws, indeed, are intellectual facts, to be investigated as well as obeyed; and it is not a blind or blear-eyed conscience, but a conscience blended with intelligence and consolidated with character, that can both see and act.
But curtly dismissing the fallacy, that the moral and spiritual faculties are likely to find a sound basis in a cowed and craven reason, we come to a form of fear that practically paralyzes independent thought more than any other, while it is incompatible with manliness and self-respect. This fear is compounded of self-distrust and that mode of vanity which cowers beneath the invective of men whose applause it neither courts nor values. If you examine critically the two raging parties of conservatism and radicalism, you will find that a goodly number of their partisans are men who have not chosen their position, but have been bullied into it,–men who see clearly enough that both parties are based on principles almost equally true in themselves, almost equally false by being detached from their mutual relations. But then each party keeps its professors of intimidation and stainers of character, whose business it is to deprive men of the luxury of large thinking, and to drive all neutrals into their respective ranks. The missiles hurled from one side are disorganizer, infidel, disunionist, despiser of law, and other trumpery of that sort; from the other side, the no less effective ones of murderer, dumb dog, traitor to humanity, and other trumpery of that sort; and the young and sensitive student finds it difficult to keep the poise of his nature amid the cross-fire of this logic of fury and rhetoric of execration, and too often ends in joining one party from fear, or the other from the fear of being thought afraid. The probability is, that the least danger to his mental independence will proceed from any apprehension he may entertain of what are irreverently styled the “old fogies”; for if Young America goes on at its present headlong rate, there is little doubt that the old fogy will have to descend from his eminence of place, become an object of pathos rather than terror, and be compelled to make the inquiring appeal to his brisk hunters, so often made to himself in vain, “Am I not a man and a brother?” But with whatever association, political or moral, the thinker may connect himself, let him go in,–and not be dragged in or scared in. He certainly can do no good to himself, his country, or his race, by being the slave and echo of the heads of a clique. Besides, as most organizations are constituted on the principles of a sort of literary socialism, and each member lives and trades on a common capital of phrases, there is danger that these phrases may decline from signs into substitutes of thought, and both intellect and character evaporate in words. Thus, a man may be a Union man and a National man, or an Anti-Slavery man and a Temperance man and a Woman’s-Rights’ man, and still be very little of a man. There is, indeed, no more ludicrous sight than to see Mediocrity, perched on one of these resounding adjectives, strut and bluster, and give itself braggadocio airs, and dictate to all quiet men its maxims of patriotism or morality, and all the while be but a living illustration through what grandeurs of opinion essential meanness and poverty of soul will peer and peep and be disclosed. To be a statesman or reformer requires a courage that dares defy dictation from any quarter, and a mind which has come in direct contact with the great inspiring ideas of country and humanity. All the rest is spite, and spleen; and cant, and conceit, and words.
It is plain, of course, that every man of large and living thought will naturally sympathize with those great social movements, informing and reforming, which are the glory of the age; but it must always be remembered that the grand and generous sentiments that underlie those movements demand in their fervid disciple a corresponding grandeur and generosity of soul. There is no reason why his philanthropy should be malignant because other men’s conservatism may be stupid; and the vulgar insensibility to the rights of the oppressed, and the vulgar scorn of the claims of the wretched, which men calling themselves respectable and educated may oppose to his own warmer feelings and nobler principles, should be met, not with that invective which may be as vulgar as the narrowness it denounces, nor always with that indignation which is righteous as well as wrathful, but with that awful contempt with which Magnanimity shames meanness, simply by the irony of her lofty example and the sarcasm of her terrible silence.
In these remarks, which we trust our readers have at least been kind enough to consider worthy of an effort of patience, we have attempted to connect all genuine intellectual success with manliness of character; have endeavored to show that force of individual being is its primary condition; that this force is augmented and enriched, or weakened and impoverished, according as it is or is not directed to appropriate objects; that indolence, conceit, and fear present continual checks to this going out of the mind into glad and invigorating communion with facts and laws; and that as a man is not a mere bundle of faculties, but a vital person, whose unity pervades, vivifies, and creates all the varieties of his manifestation, the same vices which enfeeble and deprave character tend to enfeeble and deprave intellect. But perhaps we have not sufficiently indicated a diseased state of consciousness, from which most intellectual men have suffered, many have died, and all should be warned,–the disease, namely, of mental disgust, the sign and the result of mental debility. Mental disgust “sicklies o’er” all the objects of thought, extinguishes faith in exertion, communicates a dull wretchedness to indolence in the very process by which it makes activity impossible, and drags into its own slough of despond, and discolors with its own morbid reveries, the objects which it should ardently seek and genially assimilate. It sees things neither as they are, nor as they are glorified and transfigured by hope and health and faith; but, in the apathy of that idling introspection which betrays a genius for misery, it pronounces effort to be vanity, and despairingly dismisses knowledge as delusion. “Despair,” says Donne, “is the damp of hell; rejoicing is the serenity of heaven.”
Now contrast this mental disgust, which proceeds from mental debility, with the sunny and soul-lifting exhilaration radiated from mental vigor,–a vigor which comes from the mind’s secret consciousness that it is in contact with moral and spiritual verities, and is partaking of the rapture of their immortal life. A spirit earnest, hopeful, energetic, inquisitive, making its mistakes minister to wisdom, and converting the obstacles it vanquishes into power,–a spirit inspired by a love of the excellency and beauty of knowledge, which will not let it sleep,–such a spirit soon learns that the soul of joy is hid in the austere form of