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Among My Books by James Russell Lowell

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him the Arch Bp: of Canterberye, in regard to his adtendance by ministers
& gentlemen, & it passed very well." Considering certain charges brought
against Peter, (though he is said, when under sentence of death, to have
denied the truth of them,) Coddington's statement that he liked to have
"gentlewomen waite of him" in his lodgings has not a pleasant look. One
last report of him we get (September, 1659) in a letter of John
Davenport,--"that Mr Hugh Peters is distracted & under sore horrors of
conscience, crying out of himselfe as damned & confessing haynous

Occasionally these letters give us interesting glimpses of persons and
things in England. In the letter of Williams just cited, there is a
lesson for all parties raised to power by exceptional causes. "Surely,
Sir, youre Father & all the people of God in England ... are now in the
sadle & at the helme, so high that _non datus descensus nisi cadendo_:
Some cheere up their spirits with the impossibilitie of another fall or
turne, so doth Major G. Harrison ... a very gallant most deserving
heavenly man, but most highflowne for the Kingdom of the Saints & the 5th
Monarchie now risen & their sun never to set againe &c. Others, as, to my
knowledge, the Protector ... are not so full of that faith of miracles,
but still imagine changes & persecutions & the very slaughter of the
witnesses before that glorious morning so much desired of a worldly
Kingdome, if ever such a Kingdome (as literally it is by so many
expounded) be to arise in this present world & dispensation." Poor
General Harrison lived to be one of the witnesses so slaughtered. The
practical good sense of Cromwell is worth noting, the English
understanding struggling against Judaic trammels. Williams gives us
another peep through the keyhole of the past: "It pleased the Lord to
call me for some time & with some persons to practice the Hebrew, the
Greeke, Latine, French & Dutch. The secretarie of the Councell (Mr
Milton) for my Dutch I read him, read me many more languages. Grammar
rules begin to be esteemed a Tyrannie. I taught 2 young Gentlemen, a
Parliament man's sons, as we teach our children English, by words,
phrazes, & constant talke, &c." It is plain that Milton had talked over
with Williams the theory put forth in his tract on Education, and made a
convert of him. We could wish that the good Baptist had gone a little
more into particulars. But which of us knows among the men he meets whom
time will dignify by curtailing him of the "Mr.," and reducing him to a
bare patronymic, as being a kind by himself? We have a glance or two at
Oliver, who is always interesting. "The late renowned Oliver confest to
me in close discourse about the Protestants aifaires &c that he yet feard
great persecutions to the protestants from the Romanists before the
downfall of the Papacie," writes Williams in 1660. This "close discourse"
must have been six years before, when Williams was in England. Within a
year after, Oliver interfered to some purpose in behalf of the
Protestants of Piedmont, and Mr. Milton wrote his famous sonnet. Of the
war with Spain, Williams reports from his letters out of England in 1656:
"This diversion against the Spaniard hath turnd the face & thoughts of
many English, so that the saying now is, Crowne the Protector with
gould,[138] though the sullen yet cry, Crowne him with thornes."

Again in 1654: "I know the Protector had strong thoughts of Hispaniola &
Cuba. Mr Cotton's interpreting of Euphrates to be the West Indies, the
supply of gold (to take off taxes), & the provision of a warmer
_diverticulum & receptaculum_ then N. England is, will make a footing
into those parts very precious, & if it shall please God to vouchsafe
successe to this fleete, I looke to hear of an invitation at least to
these parts for removall from his Highnes who lookes on N. E. only with
an eye of pitie, as poore, cold & useless." The mixture of Euphrates and
taxes, of the transcendental and practical, prophecy taking precedence of
thrift, is characteristic, and recalls Cromwell's famous rule, of fearing
God _and_ keeping your powder dry. In one of the Protector's
speeches,[139] he insists much on his wish to retire to a private life.
There is a curious confirmation of his sincerity in a letter of William
Hooke, then belonging to his household, dated the 13th of April, 1657.
The question of the kingly title was then under debate, and Hooke's
account of the matter helps to a clearer understanding of the reasons for
Cromwell's refusing the title: "The protector is urged _utrinque_ & (I am
ready to think) willing enough to betake himself to a private life, if it
might be. He is a godly man, much in prayer & good discourses, delighting
in good men & good ministers, self-denying & ready to promote any good
work for Christ."[140] On the 5th of February, 1654, Captain John Mason,
of Pequot memory, writes "a word or twoe of newes as it comes from Mr
Eaton, viz: that the Parliament sate in September last; they chose their
old Speaker & Clarke. The Protectour told them they were a free
Parliament, & soe left them that day. They, considering where the
legislative power resided, concluded to vote it on the morrow, & to take
charge of the militia. The Protectour hereing of it, sent for some
numbers of horse, went to the Parliament House, nayld up the doores, sent
for them to the Painted Chamber, told them they should attend the lawes
established, & that he would wallow in his blood before he would part
with what was conferd upon him, tendering them an oath: 140 engaged." Now
it is curious that Mr. Eaton himself, from whom Mason got his news,
wrote, only two days before, an account, differing, in some particulars,
and especially in tone, from Mason's. Of the speech he says, that it
"gave such satisfaction that about 200 have since ingaged to owne the
present Government." Yet Carlyle gives the same number of signers (140)
as Mason, and there is a sentence in Cromwell's speech, as reported by
Carlyle, of precisely the same purport as that quoted by Mason. To me,
that "wallow in my blood" has rather more of the Cromwellian ring in it,
more of the quality of spontaneous speech, than the "rolled into my grave
and buried with infamy" of the official reporter. John Haynes (24th July,
1653) reports "newes from England of astonishing nature," concerning the
dissolution of the Rump. We quote his story both as a contemporaneous
version of the event, and as containing some particulars that explain the
causes that led to it. It differs, in some respects, from Carlyle, and is
hardly less vivid as a picture: "The Parliament of England & Councell of
State are both dissolved, by whom & the manner this: The Lord Cromwell,
Generall, went to the house & asked the Speaker & Bradshaw by what power
they sate ther. They answered by the same power that he woare his sword.
Hee replied they should know they did not, & said they should sitt noe
longer, demanding an account of the vast sommes of money they had
received of the Commons. They said the matter was of great consequence &
they would give him accompt in tenn dayes. He said, Noe, they had sate
too long already (& might now take their ease,) for ther inriching
themselves & impoverishing the Commons, & then seazed uppon all the
Records. Immediatly Lambert, Livetenant Generall, & Hareson Maior
Generall (for they two were with him), tooke the Speaker Lenthall by the
hands, lift him out of the Chaire, & ledd him out of the house, &
commanded the rest to depart, which fortwith was obeied, & the Generall
tooke the keyes & locked the doore." He then goes on to give the reasons
assigned by different persons for the act. Some said that the General
"scented their purpose" to declare themselves perpetual, and to get rid
of him by ordering him to Scotland. "Others say this, that the cries of
the oppressed proveiled much with him.... & hastned the declaracion of
that ould principle, _Salus populi suprema lex_ &c." The General, in the
heat of his wrath, himself snatching the keys and locking the door, has a
look of being drawn from the life. Cromwell, in a letter to General
Fortescue (November,1655), speaks sharply of the disorders and
debauchedness, profaneness and wickedness, commonly practised amongst the
army sent out to the West Indies. Major Mason gives us a specimen: "It is
here reported that some of the soldiers belonging to the ffleet at Boston
ffell upon the watch: after some bickering they comanded them to goe
before the Governour; they retorned that they were Cromwell's boyes."
Have we not, in these days, heard of "Sherman's boys"?

Belonging properly to the "Winthrop Papers," but printed in an earlier
volume (Third Series, Vol. I. pp. 185-198), is a letter of John
Maidstone, which contains the best summary of the Civil War that I ever
read. Indeed, it gives a clearer insight into its causes, and a better
view of the vicissitudes of the Commonwealth and Protectorate, than any
one of the more elaborate histories. There is a singular equity and
absence of party passion in it which gives us faith in the author's
judgment. He was Oliver's Steward of the Household, and his portrait of
him, as that of an eminently fair-minded man who knew him well, is of
great value. Carlyle has not copied it, and, as many of my readers may
never have seen it, I reproduce it here: "Before I pass further, pardon
me in troubling you with the character of his person, which, by reason of
my nearness to him, I had opportunity well to observe. His body was well
compact and strong; his stature under six feet, (I believe about two
inches;) his head so shaped as you might see it a store-house and shop
both, of a vast treasury of natural parts. His temper exceeding fiery, as
I have known, but the flame of it kept down for the most part or soon
allayed with those moral endowments he had. He was naturally
compassionate towards objects in distress, even to an effeminate measure;
though God had made him a heart wherein was left little room for any fear
but what was due to himself, of which there was a large proportion, yet
did he exceed in tenderness toward sufferers. A larger soul, I think,
hath seldom dwelt in a house of clay than his was. I do believe, if his
story were impartially transmitted, and the unprejudiced world well
possessed with it, she would add him to her nine worthies and make that
number a _decemviri_. He lived and died in comfortable communion with
God, as judicious persons near him well observed. He was that Mordecai
that sought the welfare of his people and spake peace to his seed. Yet
were his temptations such, as it appeared frequently that he that hath
grace enough for many men may have too little for himself, the treasure
he had being but in an earthen vessel and that equally defiled with
original sin as any other man's nature is." There are phrases here that
may be matched with the choicest in the life of Agricola; and, indeed,
the whole letter, superior to Tacitus in judicial fairness of tone, goes
abreast of his best writing in condensation, nay, surpasses it in this,
that, while in Tacitus the intensity is of temper, here it is the clear
residuum left by the ferment and settling of thought. Just before,
speaking of the dissolution of Oliver's last Parliament, Maidstone says:
"That was the last which sat during his life, he being compelled to
wrestle with the difficulties of his place so well as he could without
parliamentary assistance, and in it met with so great a burthen as (I
doubt not to say) it drank up his spirits, of which his natural
constitution yielded a vast stock, and brought him to his grave, his
interment being the seed-time of his glory and England's calamity."
Hooke, in a letter of April 16, 1658, has a passage worth quoting: "The
dissolucion of the last Parliament puts the supreme powers upon
difficulties, though the trueth is the Nacion is so ill spirited that
little good is to be expected from these Generall Assemblies. They [the
supreme powers, to wit, Cromwell] have been much in Counsell since this
disappointment, & God hath been sought by them in the effectuall sense of
the need of help from heaven & of the extreme danger impendent on a
miscarriage of their advises. But our expences are so vast that I know
not how they can avoyde a recurrence to another Session & to make a
further tryall.... The land is full of discontents, & the Cavaleerish
party doth still expect a day & nourish hopes of a Revolucion. The
Quakers do still proceed & are not yet come to their period. The
Presbyterians do abound, I thinke, more than ever, & are very bold &
confident because some of their masterpieces lye unanswered, particularly
theire _Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici_ which I have sent to Mr.
Davenporte. It hath been extant without answer these many years [only
four, brother Hooke, if we may trust the title-page]. The Anabaptists
abound likewise, & Mr Tombes hath pretended to have answered all the
bookes extant against his opinion. I saw him presenting it to the
Protectour of late. The Episcopall men ply the Common-Prayer booke with
much more boldness then ever since these turnes of things, even in the
open face of the City in severall places. I have spoken of it to the
Protectour but as yet nothing is done in order to their being
suppressed." It should teach us to distrust the apparent size of objects,
which is a mere cheat of their nearness to us, that we are so often
reminded of how small account things seem to one generation for which
another was ready to die. A copy of the _Jus Divinum_ held too close to
the eyes could shut out the universe with its infinite chances and
changes, its splendid indifference to our ephemeral fates. Cromwell, we
should gather, had found out the secret of this historical perspective,
to distinguish between the blaze of a burning tar-barrel and the final
conflagration of all things. He had learned tolerance by the possession
of power,--a proof of his capacity for rule. In 1652 Haynes writes: "Ther
was a Catechise lately in print ther, that denied the divinity of Christ,
yett ther was motions in the house by some, to have it lycenced by
authority. Cromwell mainly oposed, & at last it was voted to bee burnt
which causes much discontent of somme." Six years had made Cromwell

One more extract from a letter of Hooke's (30th March, 1659) is worth
giving. After speaking of Oliver's death, he goes on to say: "Many
prayers were put up solemnly for his life, & some, of great & good note,
were too confident that he would not die.... I suppose himselfe had
thoughts that he should have outlived this sickness till near his
dissolution, perhaps a day or two before; which I collect partly by some
words which he was said to speak ... & partly from his delaying, almost
to the last, to nominate his successor, to the wonderment of many who
began sooner to despair of his life.... His eldest son succeedeth him,
being chosen by the Council, the day following his father's death,
whereof he had no expectation. I have heard him say he had thought to
have lived as a country gentleman, & that his father had not employed him
in such a way as to prepare him for such employment; which, he thought,
he did designedly. I suppose his meaning was lest it should have been
apprehended ha had prepared & appointed him for such a place, the burthen
whereof I have several times heard him complaining under since his coming
to the Government, the weighty occasions whereof with continuall
oppressing cares had drunk up his father's spirits, in whose body very
little blood was found when he was opened: the greatest defect visible
was in his heart, which was flaccid & shrunk together. Yet he was one
that could bear much without complaining, as one of a strong constitution
of brain (as appeared when he was dissected) & likewise of body. His son
seemeth to be of another frame, soft & tender, & penetrable with easier
cares by much, yet he is of a sweete countenance, vivacious & candid, as
is the whole frame of his spirit, only naturally inclined to choler. His
reception of multitudes of addresses from towns, cities, & counties doth
declare, among several other indiciums, more of ability in him than
could, ordinarily, have been expected from him. He spake also with
general acceptation & applause when he made his speech before the
Parliament, even far beyond the Lord Fynes....[141] If this Assembly
miss it, we are like to be in an ill condition. The old ways & customs of
England, as to worshipe, are in the hearts of the most, who long to see
the days again which once they saw.... The hearts of very many are for
the house of the Stewarts, & there is a speech as if they would attempt
to call the late King's judges into question.... The city, I hear is full
of Cavaliers." Poor Richard appears to have inherited little of his
father but the inclination to choler. That he could speak far beyond the
Lord Fynes seems to have been not much to the purpose. Rhetoric was not
precisely the medicine for such a case as he had to deal with. Such were
the glimpses which the New England had of the Old. Ishmael must ere-long
learn to shift for himself.

The temperance question agitated the fathers very much as it still does
the children. We have never seen the anti-prohibition argument stated
more cogently than in a letter of Thomas Shepard, minister of Cambridge,
to Winthrop, in 1639: "This also I doe humbly intreat, that there may be
no sin made of _drinking in any case one to another_, for I am confident
he that stands here will fall & be beat from his grounds by his own
arguments; as also that the consequences will be very sad, and the thing
provoking to God & man to make more sins than (as yet is seene) God
himself hath made." A principle as wise now as it was then. Our ancestors
were also harassed as much as we by the difficulties of domestic service.
In a country where land might be had for the asking, it was not easy to
keep hold of servants brought over from England. Emanuel Downing, always
the hard, practical man, would find a remedy in negro slavery. "A warr
with the Narraganset," he writes to Winthrop in 1645, "is verie
considerable to this plantation, ffor I doubt whither it be not synne in
us, having power in our hands, to suffer them to maynteyne the worship of
the devill which their pawwawes often doe; 2lie, If upon a just warre the
Lord should deliver them into our hands, wee might easily have men,
woemen, & children enough to exchange for Moores, which wilbe more
gaynefull pilladge for us than wee conceive, for I doe not see how wee
can thrive untill wee gett into a stock of slaves sufficient to doe all
our buisenes, for our childrens children will hardly see this great
Continent filled with people, soe that our servants will still desire
freedome to plant for them selves, & not stay but for verie great wages.
And I suppose you know verie well how wee shall maynteyne 20 Moores
cheaper than one Englishe servant." The doubt whether it be not sin in us
longer to tolerate their devil-worship, considering how much need we have
of them as merchandise, is delicious. The way in which Hugh Peter grades
the sharp descent from the apostolic to the practical with an _et
cetera_, in the following extract, has the same charm: "Sir, Mr Endecot &
myself salute you in the Lord Jesus &c. Wee have heard of a dividence of
women & children in the bay & would bee glad of a share viz: a young
woman or girle & a boy if you thinke good." Peter seems to have got what
he asked for, and to have been worse off than before; for we find him
writing two years later: "My wife desires my daughter to send to Hanna
that was her mayd, now at Charltowne, to know if shee would dwell with
us, for truly wee are so destitute (having now but an Indian) that wee
know not what to doe." Let any housewife of our day, who does not find
the Keltic element in domestic life so refreshing as to Mr. Arnold in
literature, imagine a household with one wild Pequot woman, communicated
with by signs, for its maid of all work, and take courage. Those were
serious times indeed, when your cook might give warning by taking your
scalp, or _chignon_, as the case might be, and making off with it into
the woods. The fewness and dearness of servants made it necessary to call
in temporary assistance for extraordinary occasions, and hence arose the
common use of the word _help_. As the great majority kept no servants at
all, and yet were liable to need them for work to which the family did
not suffice, as, for instance, in harvest, the use of the word was
naturally extended to all kinds of service. That it did not have its
origin in any false shame at the condition itself, induced by democratic
habits, is plain from the fact that it came into use while the word
_servant_ had a much wider application than now, and certainly implied no
social stigma. Downing and Hooke, each at different times, one of them so
late as 1667, wished to place a son as "servant" with one of the
Winthrops. Roger Williams writes of his daughter, that "she desires to
spend some time in service & liked much Mrs Brenton, who wanted." This
was, no doubt, in order to be well drilled in housekeeping, an example
which might be followed still to advantage. John Tinker, himself the
"servant" or steward of the second Winthrop, makes use of _help_ in both
the senses we have mentioned, and shows the transition of the word from
its restricted to its more general application. "We have fallen a pretty
deal of timber & drawn some by Goodman Rogers's team, but unless your
worship have a good team of your own & a man to go with them, I shall be
much distracted for _help_ ... & when our business is most in haste we
shall be most to seek." Again, writing at harvest, as appears both by the
date and by an elaborate pun,--"I received the _sithes_ you sent but in
that there came not also yourself, it maketh me to _sigth_,"--he says:
"_Help_ is scarce and hard to get, difficult to please, uncertain, &c.
Means runneth out & wages on & I cannot make choice of my _help_."

It may be some consolation to know that the complaint of a decline in the
quality of servants is no modern thing. Shakespeare makes Orlando say to

"O, good old man, how well in thee appears
The constant service of the antique world,
When service sweat for duty, not for meed!
Thou art not of the fashion of these times,
When none will sweat but for promotion."

When the faithful old servant is brought upon the stage, we may be sure
he was getting rare. A century later, we have explicit testimony that
things were as bad in this respect as they are now. Don Manuel Gonzales,
who travelled in England in 1730, says of London servants: "As to common
menial servants, they have great wages, are well kept and cloathed, but
are notwithstanding the plague of almost every house in town. They form
themselves into societies or rather confederacies, contributing to the
maintenance of each other when out of place, and if any of them cannot
manage the family where they are entertained, as they please, immediately
they give notice they will be gone. There is no speaking to them, they
are above correction, and if a master should attempt it, he may expect to
be handsomely drubbed by the creature he feeds and harbors, or perhaps an
action brought against him for it. It is become a common saying, _If my
servant ben't a thief, if he be but honest, I can bear with other
things._ And indeed it is very rare in London to meet with an honest
servant."[142] Southey writes to his daughter Edith, in 1824, "All the
maids eloped because I had turned a man out of the kitchen at eleven
o'clock on the preceding night." Nay, Hugh Rhodes, in his _Boke of
Nurture_(1577), speaks of servants "ofte fleeting," i.e. leaving one
master for another.

One of the most curious things revealed to us in these volumes is the
fact that John Winthrop, Jr., was seeking the philosopher's stone, that
universal elixir which could transmute all things to its own substance.
This is plain from the correspondence of Edward Howes. Howes goes to a
certain doctor, professedly to consult him about the method of making a
cement for earthen vessels, no doubt crucibles. His account of him is
amusing, and reminds one of Ben Jonson's Subtle. This was one of the many
quacks who gulled men during that twilight through which alchemy was
passing into chemistry. "This Dr, for a Dr he is, brags that if he have
but the hint or notice of any useful thing not yet invented, he will
undertake to find it out, except some few which he hath vowed not to
meddle with as _vitrum maliabile, perpet. motus, via proxima ad Indos &
lapis philosi_: all, or anything else he will undertake, but for his
private gain, to make a monopoly thereof & to sell the use or knowledge
thereof at too high rates." This breed of pedlers in science is not yet
extinct. The exceptions made by the Doctor show a becoming modesty.
Again: "I have been 2 or 3 times with the Dr & can get but small
satisfaction about your queries.... Yet I must confess he seemed very
free to me, only in the main he was mystical. This he said, that when the
will of God is you shall know what you desire, it will come with such a
light that it will make a harmony among all your authors, causing them
sweetly to agree, & put you forever out of doubt & question." In another
letter: "I cannot discover into _terram incognitam_, but I have had a ken
of it showed unto me. The way to it is, for the most part, horrible &
fearful, the dangers none worse, to them that are _destinati filii_:
sometimes I am travelling that way.... I think I have spoken with some
that have been there."

Howes writes very cautiously: "Dear friend, I desire with all my heart
that I might write plainer to you, but in discovering the mystery, I may
diminish its majesty & give occasion to the profane to abuse it, if it
should fall into unworthy hands." By and by he begins to think his first
doctor a humbug, but he finds a better. Howes was evidently a man of
imaginative temper, fit to be captivated by the alchemistic theory of the
unity of composition in nature, which was so attractive to Goethe.
Perhaps the great poet was himself led to it by his Rosicrucian studies
when writing the first part of Faust. Howes tells his friend that "there
is all good to be found in unity, & all evil in duality & multiplicity.
_Phoenix illa admiranda sola semper existit_, therefore while a man & she
is two, he shall never see her,"--a truth of very wide application, and
too often lost sight of or never seen at all. "The Arabian Philos. I writ
to you of, he was styled among us Dr Lyon, the best of all the
Rosicrucians[143] that ever I met withal, far beyond Dr Ewer: they that
are of his strain are knowing men; they pretend [i.e. claim] to live in
free light, they honor God & do good to the people among whom they live,
& I conceive you are in the right that they had their learning from

Howes is a very interesting person, a mystic of the purest kind, and that
while learning to be an attorney with Emanuel Downing. How little that
perfunctory person dreamed of what was going on under his nose,--as
little as of the spiritual wonders that lay beyond the tip of it! Howes
was a Swedenborgian before Swedenborg. Take this, for example: "But to
our sympathetical business whereby we may communicate our minds one to
another though the diameter of the earth interpose. _Diana non est
centrum omnium_. I would have you so good a geometrician as to know your
own centre. Did you ever yet measure your everlasting self, the length of
your life, the breadth of your love, the depth of your wisdom & the
height of your light? Let Truth be your centre, & you may do it,
otherways not. I could wish you would now begin to leave off being
altogether an outward man; this is but _casa Regentis_; the Ruler can
draw you straight lines from your centre to the confines of an infinite
circumference, by which you may pass from any part of the circumference
to another without obstacle of earth or secation of lines, if you observe
& keep but one & the true & only centre, to pass by it, from it, & to it.
Methinks I now see you _intus et extra_ & talk to you, but you mind me
not because you are from home, you are not within, you look as if you
were careless of yourself; your hand & your voice differ; 'tis my
friend's hand, I know it well; but the voice is your enemy's. O, my
friend, if you love me, get you home, get you in! You have a friend as
well as an enemy. Know them by their voices. The one is still driving or
enticing you out; the other would have you stay within. Be within and
keep within, & all that are within & keep within shall you see know &
communicate with to the full, & shall not need to strain your outward
senses to see & hear that which is like themselves uncertain & too-too
often false, but, abiding forever within, in the centre of Truth, from
thence you may behold & understand the innumerable divers emanations
within the circumference, & still within; for without are falsities,
lies, untruths, dogs &c." Howes was tolerant also, not from want of
faith, but from depth of it. "The relation of your fight with the Indians
I have read in print, but of the fight among yourselves, _bellum
linguarum_ the strife of tongues, I have heard much, but little to the
purpose. I wonder your people, that pretend to know so much, doe not know
that love is the fulfilling of the law, & that against love there is no
law." Howes forgot that what might cause only a ripple in London might
overwhelm the tiny Colony in Boston. Two years later, he writes more
philosophically, and perhaps with a gentle irony, concerning "two
monstrous births & a general earthquake." He hints that the people of the
Bay might perhaps as well take these signs to themselves as lay them at
the door of Mrs. Hutchinson and what not. "Where is there such another
people then [as] in New England, that labors might & main to have Christ
formed in them, yet would give or appoint him his shape & clothe him too?
It cannot be denied that we have conceived many monstrous imaginations of
Christ Jesus: the one imagination says, _Lo, here he is_; the other says,
_Lo, there he is_; multiplicity of conceptions, but is there any one true
shape of Him? And if one of many produce a shape, it is not the shape of
the Son of God, but an ugly horrid metamorphosis. Neither is it a living
shape, but a dead one, yet a crow thinks her own bird the fairest, & most
prefer their own wisdom before God's, Antichrist before Christ." Howes
had certainly arrived at that "centre" of which he speaks and was before
his time, as a man of speculation, never a man of action, may sometimes
be. He was fitter for Plotinus's colony than Winthrop's. He never came to
New England, yet there was always a leaven of his style of thinkers here.

Howes was the true adept, seeking what spiritual ore there might be among
the dross of the hermetic philosophy. What he says sincerely and inwardly
was the cant of those outward professors of the doctrine who were content
to dwell in the material part of it forever. In Jonathan Brewster, we
have a specimen of these Wagners. Is it not curious, that there should
have been a _balneum Mariae_ at New London two hundred years ago? that
_la recherche de l'Absolu_ should have been going on there in a log-hut,
under constant fear that the Indians would put out, not merely the flame
of one little life, but, far worse, the fire of our furnace, and so rob
the world of this divine secret, just on the point of revealing itself?
Alas! poor Brewster's secret was one that many have striven after before
and since, who did not call themselves alchemists,--the secret of getting
gold without earning it,--a chase that brings some men to a four-in-hand
on Shoddy Avenue, and some to the penitentiary, in both cases advertising
its utter vanity. Brewster is a capital specimen of his class, who are
better than the average, because they _do_ mix a little imagination with
their sordidness, and who have also their representatives among us, in
those who expect the Jennings and other ideal estates in England. If
Hawthorne had but known of him! And yet how perfectly did his genius
divine that ideal element in our early New England life, conceiving what
must have been without asking proof of what actually was!

An extract or two will sufficiently exhibit Brewster in his lunes.
Sending back some alchemistic book to Winthrop, he tells him that if his
name be kept secret, "I will write as clear a light, as far as I dare to,
in finding the first ingredience.... The first figure in Flamonell doth
plainly resemble the first ingredience, what it is, & from whence it
comes, & how gotten, as there you may plainly see set forth by 2
resemblances held in a man's hand; for the confections there named is a
delusion, for they are but the operations of the work after some time
set, as the scum of the Red Sea, which is the Virgin's Milk upon the top
of the vessel, white. Red Sea is the sun & moon calcinated & brought &
reduced into water mineral which in some time, & most of the whole time,
is red. 2ndly, the fat of mercurial wind, that is the fat or quintessence
of sun & moon, earth & water, drawn out from them both, & flies aloft &
bore up by the operation of our mercury, that is our fire which is our
air or wind." This is as satisfactory as Lepidus's account of the
generation of the crocodile: "Your serpent of Egypt is bred now of your
mud by the operation of your sun: so is your crocodile." After describing
the three kinds of fire, that of the lamp, that of ashes, and that
against nature, which last "is the fire of fire, that is the secret fire
drawn up, being the quintessence of the sun & moon, with the other
mercurial water joined with & together, which is fire elemental," he
tells us that "these fires are & doth contain the whole mystery of the
work." The reader, perhaps, thinks that he has nothing to do but
forthwith to turn all the lead he can lay his hands on into gold. But no:
"If you had the first ingredience & the proportion of each, yet all were
nothing if you had not the certain times & seasons of the planets &
signs, when to give more or less of this fire, namely a hot & dry, a cold
& moist fire which you must use in the mercurial water before it comes to
black & after into white & then red, which is only done by these fires,
which when you practise you will easily see & perceive, that you shall
stand amazed, & admire at the great & admirable wisdom of God, that can
produce such a wonderful, efficacious, powerful thing as this is to
convert all metallic bodies to its own nature, which may be well called a
first essence. I say by such weak simple means of so little value & so
little & easy labor & skill, that I may say with Artephus, 200 page, it
is of a worke so easy & short, fitter for women & young children than
sage & grave men.... I thank the Lord, I understand the matter perfectly
in the said book, yet I could desire to have it again 12 months hence,
for about that time I shall have occasion to peruse, whenas I come to the
second working which is most difficult, which will be some three or [4]
months before the perfect white, & afterwards, as Artephus saith, I may
burn my books, for he saith it is one regiment as well for the red as for
the white. The Lord in mercy give me life to see the end of it!"--an
exclamation I more than once made in the course of some of Brewster's

Again, under pledge of profound secrecy, he sends Winthrop a manuscript,
which he may communicate to the owner of the volume formerly lent,
because "it gave me such light in the second work as I should not readily
have found out by study, also & especially how to work the elixir fit for
medicine & healing all maladies which is clean another way of working
than we held formerly. Also a light given how to dissolve any hard
substance into the elixir, which is also another work. And many other
things which in Ribley [Ripley?] I could not find out. More works of the
same I would gladly see ... for, Sir, so it is that any book of this
subject, I can understand it, though never so darkly written, having both
knowledge & experience of the world,[144] that now easily I may
understand their envious carriages to hide it.... You may marvel why I
should give any light to others in this thing before I have perfected my
own. This know, that my work being true thus far by all their writings,
it cannot fail ... for if &c &c you cannot miss if you would, except you
break your glass." He confesses he is mistaken as to the time required,
which he now, as well as I can make out, reckons at about ten years. "I
fear I shall not live to see it finished, in regard partly of the
Indians, who, I fear, will raise wars, as also I have a conceit that God
sees me not worthy of such a blessing, by reason of my manifold
miscarriages." Therefore he "will shortly write all the whole work in few
words plainly which may be done in 20 lines from the first to the last &
seal it up in a little box & subscribe it to yourself ... & will so write
it that neither wife nor children shall know thereof." If Winthrop should
succeed in bringing the work to perfection, Brewster begs him to remember
his wife and children. "I mean if this my work should miscarry by wars of
the Indians, for I may not remove it till it be perfected, otherwise I
should so unsettle the body by removing sun & moon out of their settled
places, that there would then be no other afterworking." Once more he
inculcates secrecy, and for a most comical reason: "For it is such a
secret as is not fit for every one either for secrecy or for parts to use
it, as God's secret for his glory, to do good there with, or else they
may do a great deal of hurt, spending & employing it to satisfy sinful
lusts. Therefore, I intreat you, sir, spare to use my name, & let my
letters I send either be safely kept or burned that I write about it, for
indeed, sir, I am more than before sensible of the evil effects that will
arise by the publishing of it. I should never be at quiet, neither at
home nor abroad, for one or other that would be enquiring & seeking after
knowledge thereof, that I should be tired out & forced to leave the
place: nay, it would be blazed abroad into Europe." How much more comic
is nature than any comedy! _Mutato nomine de te_. Take heart, ambitious
youth, the sun and moon will be no more disconcerted by any effort of
yours than by the pots and pans of Jonathan Brewster. It is a curious
proof of the duality so common (yet so often overlooked) in human
character, that Brewster was all this while manager of the Plymouth
trading-post, near what is now New London. The only professors of the
transmutation of metals who still impose on mankind are to be found in
what is styled the critical department of literature. Their _materia
prima_, or universal solvent, serves equally for the lead of Tupper or
the brass of Swinburne.

In a letter of Sir Kenelm Digby to J. Winthrop, Jr., we find some odd
prescriptions. "For all sorts of agues, I have of late tried the
following magnetical experiment with infallible success. Pare the
patient's nails when the fit is coming on, & put the parings into a
little bag of fine linen or sarsenet, & tie that about a live eel's neck
in a tub of water. The eel will die & the patient will recover. And if a
dog or hog eat that eel, they will also die."

"The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died!"

"I have known one that cured all deliriums & frenzies whatsoever, & at
once taking, with an elixir made of dew, nothing but dew purified &
nipped up in a glass & digested 15 months till all of it was become a
gray powder, not one drop of humidity remaining. This I know to be true,
& that first it was as black as ink, then green then gray, & at 22
months' end it was as white & lustrous as any oriental pearl. But it
cured manias at 15 months' end." Poor Brewster would have been the better
for a dose of it, as well as some in our day, who expect to cure men of
being men by act of Congress. In the same letter Digby boasts of having
made known the properties of _quinquina_, and also of the sympathetic
powder, with which latter he wrought a "famous cure" of pleasant James
Howell, author of the "Letters." I do not recollect that Howell anywhere
alludes to it. In the same letter, Digby speaks of the books he had sent
to Harvard College, and promises to send more. In all Paris he cannot
find a copy of Blaise Viginere _Des Chiffres_. "I had it in my library in
England, but at the plundering of my house I lost it with many other good
books. I have _laid out_ in all places for it." The words we have
underscored would be called a Yankeeism now. The house was Gatehurst, a
fine Elizabethan dwelling, still, or lately, standing. Digby made his
peace with Cromwell, and professes his readiness to spend his blood for
him. He kept well with both sides, and we are not surprised to find Hooke
saying that he hears no good of him from any.

The early colonists found it needful to bring over a few trained
soldiers, both as drillmasters and engineers. Underhill, Patrick, and
Gardner had served in the Low Countries, probably also Mason. As Paris
has been said to be not precisely the place for a deacon, so the camp of
the Prince of Orange could hardly have been the best training-school for
Puritans in practice, however it may have been for masters of casuistic
theology. The position of these rough warriors among a people like those
of the first emigration must have been a droll one. That of Captain
Underhill certainly was. In all our early history, there is no figure so
comic. Full of the pedantry of his profession and fond of noble phrases,
he is a kind of cross between Dugald Dalgetty and Ancient Pistol, with a
slight relish of the _miles gloriosus_. Underhill had taken side with Mr.
Wheelwright in his heretical opinions, and there is every reason why he
should have maintained, with all the ardor of personal interest, the
efficiency of a covenant of grace without reference to the works of the
subject of it. Coming back from a visit to England in 1638, he "was
questioned for some speeches uttered by him in the ship, viz: that they
at Boston were zealous as the scribes and pharisees were and as Paul was
before his conversion, which he denying, they were proved to his face by
a sober woman whom he had seduced in the ship and drawn to his opinion;
but she was afterwards better informed in the truth. Among other
passages, he told her how he came by his assurance, saying that, having
long lain under a spirit of bondage, and continued in a legal way near
five years, he could get no assurance, till at length, as he was taking a
pipe of the good creature tobacco, the spirit fell home upon his heart,
an absolute promise of free grace, with such assurance and joy, as he
never doubted since of his good estate, neither should he, whatsoever sin
he should fall into,--a good preparative for such motions as he
familiarly used to make to some of that sex.... The next day he was
called again and banished. The Lord's day after, he made a speech in the
assembly, showing that as the Lord was pleased to convert Paul as he was
persecuting &c, so he might manifest himself to him as he was making
moderate use of the good creature called tobacco." A week later "he was
privately dealt with upon suspicion of incontinency ... but his excuse
was that the woman was in great trouble of mind, and some temptations,
and that he resorted to her to comfort her." He went to the Eastward,
and, having run himself out there, thought it best to come back to Boston
and reinstate himself by eating his leek. "He came in his worst clothes
(being accustomed to take great pride in his bravery and neatness)
without a band, in a foul linen cap pulled close to his eyes, and,
standing upon a form, he did, with many deep sighs and abundance of
tears, lay open his wicked course, his adultery, his hypocrisy &c. He
spake well, save that his blubbering &c. interrupted him." We hope he was
a sincere penitent, but men of his complexion are apt to be pleased with
such a tragi-comedy of self-abasement, if only they can be chief actors
and conspicuous enough therein. In the correspondence before us Underhill
appears in full turkey-cock proportions. Not having been advanced
according to his own opinion of his merits, he writes to Governor
Winthrop, with an oblique threat that must have amused him somewhat: "I
profess, sir, till I know the cause, I shall not be satisfied, but I hope
God will subdue me to his will; yet this I say that such handling of
officers in foreign parts hath so far subverted some of them as to cause
them turn public rebels against their state & kingdom, which God forbid
should ever be found once so much as to appear in my breast." Why, then
the world's mine oyster, which I with sword will open! Next we hear him
on a point of military discipline at Salem. "It is this: how they have of
their own appointment made them a captain, lieutenant & ensign, & after
such a manner as was never heard of in any school of war, nor in no
kingdom under heaven.... For my part, if there should not be a
reformation in this disordered practise, I would not acknowledge such
officers. If officers should be of no better esteem than for constables
to place them, & martial discipline to proceed disorderly, I would rather
lay down my command than to shame so noble a prince from whom we came."
Again: "Whereas it is somewhat questionable whether the three months I
was absent, as well in the service of the country as of other particular
persons, my request therefore is that this honored Court would be pleased
to decide this controversy, myself alleging it to be the custom of
Nations that, if a Commander be lent to another State, by that State to
whom he is a servant, both his place & means is not detained from him, so
long as he doth not refuse the call of his own State to which he is a
servant, in case they shall call him home." Then bringing up again his
"ancient suit" for a grant of land, he throws in a neat touch of piety:
"& if the honored Court shall vouchsafe to make some addition, that which
hath not been deserved, by the same power of God, may be in due season."
In a postscript, he gives a fine philosophical reason for this desired
addition which will go to the hearts of many in these days of high prices
and wasteful taxation. "The time was when a little went far; then much
was not known nor desired; the reason of the difference lieth only in the
error of judgment, for nature requires no more to uphold it now than when
it was satisfied with less." The valiant Captain interprets the law of
nations, as sovereign powers are wont to do, to suit his advantage in the
special case. We find a parallel case in a letter of Bryan Rosseter to
John Winthrop, Jr., pleading for a remission of taxes. "The lawes of
nations exempt allowed phisitians from personall services, & their
estates from rates & assessments." In the Declaration of the town of
Southampton on Long Island (1673), the dignity of constable is valued at
a juster rate than Underhill was inclined to put upon it. The Dutch, it
seems, demanded of them "to deliver up to them the badge of Civil &
Military power; namely, the Constable's staffe & the Colonel's." Mayor
Munroe of New Orleans did not more effectually magnify his office when he
surrendered the city to General Butler.

Underhill's style is always of the finest. His spelling was under the
purest covenant of grace. I must give a single specimen of it from a
letter whose high moral tone is all the more diverting that it was
written while he was under excommunication for the sin which he
afterwards confessed. It is addressed to Winthrop and Dudley. "Honnored
in the Lord. Youer silenc one more admirse me. I youse chrischan
playnnes. I know you love it. Silenc can not reduce the hart of youer
love'g brother: I would the rightchous would smite me, espeschali youer
slfe & the honnored Depoti to whom I also dereckt this letter together
with youer honnored slfe. Jesos Christ did wayt; & God his Father did dig
and telfe bout the barren figtre before he would cast it of: I would to
God you would tender my soule so as to youse playnnes with me." (As if
anything could be plainer than excommunication and banishment!) "I wrot
to you both, but now [no] answer; & here I am dayli abused by malischous
tongse: John Baker I here hath rot to the honnored depoti how as I was
dronck & like to be cild, & both falc, upon okachon I delt with Wanuerton
for intrushon, & findding them resolutli bent to rout out all gud a mong
us & advanc there superstischous waye, & by boystrous words indeferd to
fritten men to acomplish his end, & he abusing me to my face, dru upon
him with intent to corb his insolent and dasterdli sperrite, but now [no]
danger of my life, although it might hafe bin just with God to hafe
giffen me in the hanse of youer enemise & mine, for they hat the wayse of
the Lord & them that profes them, & therfore layes trapes to cachte the
pore into there deboyst corses, as ister daye on Pickeren their Chorch
Warden caim up to us with intent to mak some of ourse dronc, as is
sospeckted, but the Lord soferd him so to misdemen himslfe as he is likli
to li by the hielse this too month.... My hombel request is that you will
be charitabel of me.... Let justies and merci be goyned.... You may plese
to soggest youer will to this barrer, you will find him tracktabel." The
concluding phrase seems admirably chosen, when we consider the means of
making people "tractable" which the magistrates of the Bay had in their
hands, and were not slow to exercise, as Underhill himself had

I cannot deny myself the pleasure of giving one more specimen of the
Captain's "grand-delinquent" style, as I once heard such fine writing
called by a person who little dreamed what a hit he had made. So far as I
have observed, our public defaulters, and others who have nothing to say
for themselves, always rise in style as they sink in self-respect. He is
speaking of one Scott, who had laid claim to certain lands, and had been
called on to show his title. "If he break the comand of the Asembli &
bring not in the counterfit portreture of the King imprest in yello waxe,
anext to his false perpetuiti of 20 mile square, where by he did chet the
Town of Brouckhaven, he is to induer the sentance of the Court of
Asisies." Pistol would have been charmed with that splendid amplification
of the Great Seal. We have seen nothing like it in our day, except in a
speech made to Mr. George Peabody at Danvers, if I recollect, while that
gentleman was so elaborately concealing from his left hand what his right
had been doing. As examples of Captain Underhill's adroitness in phonetic
spelling, I offer _fafarabel_ and _poseschonse_, and reluctantly leave

Another very entertaining fellow for those who are willing to work
through a pretty thick husk of tiresomeness for a genuine kernel of humor
underneath is Coddington. The elder Winthrop endured many trials, but I
doubt if any were sharper than those which his son had to undergo in the
correspondence of this excellently tiresome man. _Tantae molis Romanam
condere gentem!_ The dulness of Coddington, always that of no ordinary
man, became irritable and aggressive after being stung by the gadfly of
Quakerism. Running counter to its proper nature, it made him morbidly
uneasy. Already an Anabaptist, his brain does not seem to have been large
enough to lodge two maggots at once with any comfort to himself. Fancy
John Winthrop, Jr., with all the affairs of the Connecticut Colony on his
back, expected to prescribe alike for the spiritual and bodily ailments
of all the hypochondriacs in his government, and with Philip's war
impending,--fancy him exposed also to perpetual trials like this: "G.F.
[George Fox] hath sent thee a book of his by Jere: Bull, & two more now
which thou mayest communicate to thy Council & officers. Also I remember
before thy last being in England, I sent thee a book written by Francis
Howgall against persecution, by Joseph Nicallson which book thou lovingly
accepted and communicated to the Commissioners of the United Colonies (as
I desired) also J.N. thou entertained with a loving respect which
encouraged me" (fatal hospitality!)--"As a token of that ancient love
that for this 42 years I have had for thee, I have sent thee three
Manuscripts, one of 5 queries, other is of 15, about the love of Jesus
&c. The 3d is why we cannot come to the worship which was not set up by
Christ Jesus, which I desire thee to communicate to the priests to answer
in thy jurisdiction, the Massachusetts, New Plymouth, or elsewhere, &
send their answer in writing to me. Also two printed papers to set up in
thy house. It's reported in Barbadoes that thy brother Sammuell shall be
sent Governour to Antego." What a mere dust of sugar in the last sentence
for such a portentous pill! In his next letter he has other writings of
G. F., "not yet copied, which if thou desireth, when I hear from thee, I
may convey them unto thee. Also sence G. Ffox departure William Edmondson
is arrived at this Island, who having given out a paper to all in
authority, which, my wife having copied, I have here inclosed presented
thee therewith." Books and manuscripts were not all. Coddington was also
glad to bestow on Winthrop any wandering tediousness in the flesh that
came to hand. "I now understand of John Stubbs freedom to visit thee
(with the said Jo: B.) he is a larned man, as witness the battle
door[145] on 35 languages,"--a terrible man this, capable of inflicting
himself on three dozen different kindreds of men. It will be observed
that Coddington, with his "thou desireths," is not quite so well up in
the grammar of his thee-and-thouing as my Lord Coke. Indeed, it is rather
pleasant to see that in his alarm about "the enemy," in 1673, he
backslides into the second person plural. If Winthrop ever looked over
his father's correspondence, he would have read in a letter of Henry
Jacie the following dreadful example of retribution: "The last news we
heard was that the Bores in Bavaria slew about 300 of the Swedish forces
& took about 200 prisoners, of which they put out the eyes of some & cut
out the tonges of others & so sent them to the King of Sweden, which
caused him to lament bytterly for an hour. Then he sent an army &
destroyed those Bores, about 200 or 300 of their towns. Thus we hear."
Think of that, Master Coddington! Could the sinful heart of man always
suppress the wish that a Gustavus might arise to do judgment on the Bores
of Rhode Island? The unkindest part of it was that, on Coddington's own
statement, Winthrop had never persecuted the Quakers, and had even
endeavored to save Robinson and Stevenson in 1659.

Speaking of the execution of these two martyrs to the bee in their
bonnets, John Davenport gives us a capital example of the way in which
Divine "judgments" may be made to work both ways at the pleasure of the
interpreter. As the crowd was going home from the hanging, a drawbridge
gave way, and some lives were lost. The Quakers, of course, made the most
of this lesson to the _pontifices_ in the bearing power of timber,
claiming it as a proof of God's wrath against the persecutors. This was
rather hard, since none of the magistrates perished, and the popular
feeling was strongly in favor of the victims of their severity. But
Davenport gallantly captures these Quaker guns, and turns them against
the enemy himself. "Sir, the hurt that befell so many, by their own
rashness, at the Draw Bridge in Boston, being on the day that the Quakers
were executed, was not without God's special providence in judgment &
wrath, I fear, against the Quakers & their abettors, who will be much
hardened thereby." This is admirable, especially as his parenthesis about
"their own rashness" assumes that the whole thing was owing to natural
causes. The pity for the Quakers, too, implied in the "I fear," is a nice
touch. It is always noticeable how much more liberal those who deal in
God's command without his power are of his wrath than of his mercy. But
we should never understand the Puritans if we did not bear in mind that
they were still prisoners in that religion of Fear which casts out Love.
The nearness of God was oftener a terror than a comfort to them. Yet
perhaps in them was the last apparition of Faith as a wonder-worker in
human affairs. Take away from them what you will, you cannot deny them
_that_, and its constant presence made them great in a way and measure of
which this generation, it is to be feared, can have but a very inadequate
conception. If men now-a-days find their tone antipathetic, it would be
modest at least to consider whether the fault be wholly theirs,--whether
it was they who lacked, or we who have lost. Whether they were right or
wrong in their dealing with the Quakers is not a question to be decided
glibly after two centuries' struggle toward a conception of toleration
very imperfect even yet, perhaps impossible to human nature. If they did
not choose what seems to us the wisest way of keeping the Devil out of
their household, they certainly had a very honest will to keep him out,
which we might emulate with advantage. However it be in other cases,
historic toleration must include intolerance among things to be

The false notion which the first settlers had of the savages by whom the
continent was beflead rather than inhabited, arose in part from what they
had heard of Mexico and Peru, in part from the splendid exaggerations of
the early travellers, who could give their readers an El Dorado at the
cheap cost of a good lie. Hence the kings, dukes, and earls who were so
plenty among the red men. Pride of descent takes many odd shapes, none
odder than when it hugs itself in an ancestry of filthy barbarians, who
daubed themselves for ornament with a mixture of bear's-grease and soot,
or colored clay, and were called emperors by Captain John Smith and his
compeers. The droll contrast between this imaginary royalty and the
squalid reality is nowhere exposed with more ludicrous unconsciousness
than in the following passage of a letter from Fitz-John Winthrop to his
father, November, 1674: "The bearer hereof, Mr. Danyell, one of the Royal
Indian blood ... does desire me to give an account to yourself of the
late unhappy accident which has happened to him. A little time since, a
careless girl playing with fire at the door, it immediately took hold of
the mats, & in an instant consumed it to ashes, with all the common as
well as his lady's chamber furniture, & his own wardrobe & armory, Indian
plate, & money to the value (as is credibly reported in his estimation)
of more than an hundred pounds Indian.... The Indians have handsomely
already built him a good house & brought him in several necessaries for
his present supply, but that which takes deepest melancholy impression
upon him is the loss of an excellent Masathuset cloth cloak & hat, which
was only seen upon holy days & their general sessions. His journey at
this time is only to intreat your favor & the gentlemen there for a kind
relief in his necessity, having no kind of garment but a short jerkin
which was charitably given him by one of his Common-Councilmen. He
principally aims at a cloak & hat."

"King Stephen was a worthy peer,
His breeches cost him but a crown."

But it will be observed that there is no allusion to any such article of
dress in the costume of this prince of Pequot. Some light is perhaps
thrown on this deficiency by a line or two in one of Williams's letters,
where he says: "I have long had scruples of selling the Natives ought but
what may tend or bring to civilizing: I therefore neither brought nor
shall sell them loose coats nor breeches." Precisely the opposite course
was deemed effectual with the Highland Scotch, between whom and our
Indians there was a very close analogy. They were compelled by law to
adopt the usages of _Gallia Braccata_, and sansculottism made a penal
offence. What impediment to civilization Williams had discovered in the
offending garment it is hard to say. It is a question for Herr
Teufelsdroeck. Royalty, at any rate, in our day, is dependent for much of
its success on the tailor. Williams's opportunities of studying the
Indian character were perhaps greater than those of any other man of his
time. He was always an advocate for justice toward them. But he seems to
have had no better opinion of them than Mr. Parkman,[146] calling them
shortly and sharply, "wolves endowed with men's brains." The same change
of feeling has followed the same causes in their case as in that of the
Highlanders,--they have become romantic in proportion as they ceased to
be dangerous.

As exhibitions of the writer's character, no letters in the collection
have interested us more than those of John Tinker, who for many years was
a kind of steward for John Winthrop and his son. They show him to have
been a thoroughly faithful, grateful, and unselfish servant. He does not
seem to have prospered except in winning respect, for when he died his
funeral charges were paid by the public. We learn from one of his letters
that John Winthrop, Jr., had a negro (presumably a slave) at Paquanet,
for he says that a mad cow there "had almost spoiled the neger & made him
ferfull to tend the rest of the cattell." That such slaves must have been
rare, however, is plain from his constant complaints about the difficulty
of procuring "help," some of which we have already quoted. His spelling
of the word "ferfull" shows that the New England pronunciation of that
word had been brought from the old country. He also uses the word
"creatures" for kine, and the like, precisely as our farmers do now.
There is one very comical passage in a letter of the 2nd of August, 1660,
where he says: "There hath been a motion by some, the chief of the town,
(New London) for my keeping an ordinary, or rather under the notion of a
tavern which, _though it suits not with my genius_, yet am almost
persuaded to accept for some good grounds." Tinker's modesty is most
creditable to him, and we wish it were more common now. No people on the
face of the earth suffer so much as we from impostors who keep
inconveniences, "under the notion of a tavern," without any call of
natural genius thereto; none endure with such unexemplary patience the
superb indifference of inn-keepers, and the condescending inattention of
their gentlemanly deputies. We are the thralls of our railroads and
hotels, and we deserve it.

Richard Saltonstall writes to John Winthrop, Jr., in 1636: "The best
thing that I have to beg your thoughts for at this present is a motto or
two that Mr. Prynne hath writ upon his chamber walls in the Tower." We
copy a few phrases, chiefly for the contrast they make with Lovelace's
famous verses to Althea. Nothing could mark more sharply the different
habits of mind in Puritan and Cavalier. Lovelace is very charming, but he

"The sweetness, mercy, majesty,
And glories of _his_ King,"

to wit, Charles I. To him "stone walls do not a prison make," so long as
he has "freedom in his love, and in his soul is free." Prynne's King was
of another and higher kind: "_Carcer excludit mundum, includit Deum. Deus
est turris etiam in turre: turris libertatis in turre angustiae: Turris
quietis in turre molestice.... Arctari non potest qui in ipsa Dei
infinitate incarceratus spatiatur.... Nil crus sentit in nervo si animus
sit in coelo: nil corpus patitur in ergastulo, si anima sit in Christo_."
If Lovelace has the advantage in fancy, Prynne has it as clearly in depth
of sentiment. There could be little doubt which of the parties
represented by these men would have the better if it came to a

There is curiously little sentiment in these volumes. Most of the
letters, except where some point of doctrine is concerned, are those of
shrewd, practical men, busy about the affairs of this world, and earnest
to build their New Jerusalem on something more solid than cloud. The
truth is, that men anxious about their souls have not been by any means
the least skilful in providing for the wants of the body. It was far less
the enthusiasm than the common sense of the Puritans which made them what
they were in politics and religion. That a great change should be wrought
in the settlers by the circumstances of their position was inevitable;
that this change should have had some disillusion in it, that it should
have weaned them from the ideal and wonted them to the actual, was
equally so. In 1664, not much more than a generation after the
settlement, Williams prophesies: "When we that have been the eldest are
rotting (to-morrow or next day) a generation will act, I fear, far unlike
the first Winthrops and their models of love. I fear that the common
trinity of the world (profit, preferment, pleasure) will here be the
_tria omnia_ as in all the world beside, that Prelacy and Papacy too will
in this wilderness predominate, that god Land will be (as now it is) as
great a god with us English as god Gold was with the Spaniards. While we
are here, noble sir, let us _viriliter hoc agere, rem agere humanam,
divinam, Christianam_, which, I believe, is all of a most public genius,"
or, as we should now say, true patriotism. If Williams means no play on
the word _humanam_ and _divinam_, the order of precedence in which he
marshals them is noticeable. A generation later, what Williams had
predicted was in a great measure verified. But what made New England
Puritanism narrow was what made Scotch Cameronianism narrow,--its being
secluded from the great movement of the nation. Till 1660 the colony was
ruled and mostly inhabited by Englishmen closely connected with the party
dominant in the mother country, and with their minds broadened by having
to deal with questions of state and European policy. After that time they
sank rapidly into provincials, narrow in thought, in culture, in creed.
Such a pedantic portent as Cotton Mather would have been impossible in
the first generation; he was the natural growth of the third,--the
manifest judgment of God on a generation who thought Words a saving
substitute for Things. Perhaps some injustice has been done to men like
the second Governor Dudley, and it should be counted to them rather as a
merit than a fault, that they wished to bring New England back within
reach of the invigorating influence of national sympathies, and to rescue
it from a tradition which had become empty formalism. Puritanism was
dead, and its profession had become a wearisome cant before the
Revolution of 1688 gave it that vital force in politics which it had lost
in religion.

I have gleaned all I could of what is morally picturesque or
characteristic from these volumes, but New England history has rather a
gregarious than a personal interest. Here, by inherent necessity rather
than design, was made the first experiment in practical democracy, and
accordingly hence began that reaction of the New World upon the Old whose
result can hardly yet be estimated. There is here no temptation to make a
hero, who shall sum up in his own individuality and carry forward by his
own will that purpose of which we seem to catch such bewitching glances
in history, which reveals itself more clearly and constantly, perhaps, in
the annals of New England than elsewhere, and which yet, at best, is but
tentative, doubtful of itself, turned this way and that by chance, made
up of instinct, and modified by circumstance quite as much as it is
directed by deliberate forethought. Such a purpose, or natural craving,
or result of temporary influences, may be misguided by a powerful
character to his own ends, or, if he be strongly in sympathy with it, may
be hastened toward its own fulfilment; but there is no such heroic
element in our drama, and what is remarkable is, that, under whatever
government, democracy grew with the growth of the New England Colonies,
and was at last potent enough to wrench them, and the better part of the
continent with them, from the mother country. It is true that Jefferson
embodied in the Declaration of Independence the speculative theories he
had learned in France, but the impulse to separation came from New
England; and those theories had been long since embodied there in the
practice of the people, if they had never been formulated in distinct

I have little sympathy with declaimers about the Pilgrim Fathers, who
look upon them all as men of grand conceptions and superhuman foresight.
An entire ship's company of Columbuses is what the world never saw. It is
not wise to form any theory and fit our facts to it, as a man in a hurry
is apt to cram his travelling-bag, with a total disregard of shape or
texture. But perhaps it may be found that the facts will only fit
comfortably together on a single plan, namely, that the fathers did have
a conception (which those will call grand who regard simplicity as a
necessary element of grandeur) of founding here a commonwealth on those
two eternal bases of Faith and Work; that they had, indeed, no
revolutionary ideas of universal liberty, but yet, what answered the
purpose quite as well, an abiding faith in the brotherhood of man and the
fatherhood of God; and that they did not so much propose to make all
things new, as to develop the latent possibilities of English law and
English character, by clearing away the fences by which the abuse of the
one was gradually discommoning the other from the broad fields of natural
right. They were not in advance of their age, as it is called, for no one
who is so can ever work profitably in it; but they were alive to the
highest and most earnest thinking of their time.


[135] Written in December, 1864.

[136] It is curious, that, when Cromwell proposed to transfer a
colony from New England to Ireland, one of the conditions insisted on
in Massachusetts was that a college should be established.

[137] State Trials, II. 409. One would not reckon too closely with a
man on trial for his life, but there is something pitiful in Peter's
representing himself as coming back to England "out of the West
Indias," in order to evade any complicity with suspected New England.

[138] Waller put this into verse:--

"Let the rich ore forthwith be melted down
And the state fixed by making him a crown."

[139] The _third_ in Carlyle, 1654.

[140] Collections, Third Series, Vol I. p. 183.

[141] This speech may be found in the Annual Register of 1762.

[142] Collection of Voyages, &c., from the Library of the Earl of
Oxford, Vol. I. p. 151.

[143] Howes writes the word symbolically.

[144] "World" here should clearly be "work."

[145] The title-page of which our learned Marsh has cited for the
etymology of the word.

[146] In his Jesuits in North America.


When Burns's humor gave its last pathetic flicker in his "John, don't let
the awkward squad fire over me," was he thinking of actual
brother-volunteers, or of possible biographers? Did his words betray only
the rhythmic sensitiveness of poetic nerves, or were they a foreboding of
that helpless future, when the poet lies at the mercy of the plodder,--of
that bi-voluminous shape in which dulness overtakes and revenges itself
on genius at last? Certainly Burns has suffered as much as most
large-natured creatures from well-meaning efforts to account for him, to
explain him away, to bring him into harmony with those well-regulated
minds which, during a good part of the last century, found out a way,
through rhyme, to snatch a prosiness beyond the reach of prose. Nay, he
has been wronged also by that other want of true appreciation, which
deals in panegyric, and would put asunder those two things which God has
joined,--the poet and the man,--as if it were not the same rash
improvidence that was the happiness of the verse and the misfortune of
the gauger. But his death-bed was at least not haunted by the
unappeasable apprehension of a German for his biographer; and that the
fame of Lessing should have four times survived this cunningest assault
of oblivion is proof enough that its base is broad and deep-set.

There seems to be, in the average German mind, an inability or a
disinclination to see a thing as it really is, unless it be a matter of
science. It finds its keenest pleasure in divining a profound
significance in the most trifling things, and the number of mare's-nests
that have been stared into by the German _Gelehrter_ through his
spectacles passes calculation. They are the one object of contemplation
that makes that singular being perfectly happy, and they seem to be as
common as those of the stork. In the dark forest of aesthetics,
particularly, he finds them at every turn,--"fanno tutto il loco varo."
If the greater part of our English criticism is apt only to skim the
surface, the German, by way of being profound, too often burrows in
delighted darkness quite beneath its subject, till the reader feels the
ground hollow beneath him, and is fearful of caving into unknown depths
of stagnant metaphysic air at every step. The Commentary on Shakespeare
of Gervinus, a really superior man, reminds one of the Roman Campagna,
penetrated underground in all directions by strange winding caverns, the
work of human borers in search of we know not what. Above are the divine
poet's larks and daisies, his incommunicable skies, his broad prospects
of life and nature; and meanwhile our Teutonic _teredo_ worms his way
below, and offers to be our guide into an obscurity of his own
contriving. The reaction of language upon style, and even upon thought,
by its limitations on the one hand, and its suggestions on the other, is
so apparent to any one who has made even a slight study of comparative
literature, that we have sometimes thought the German tongue at least an
accessory before the fact, if nothing more, in the offences of German
literature. The language has such a fatal genius for going
stern-foremost, for yawing, and for not minding the helm without some ten
minutes' notice in advance, that he must be a great sailor indeed who can
safely make it the vehicle for anything but imperishable commodities.
Vischer's _Aesthetik_, the best treatise on the subject, ancient or
modern, is such a book as none but a German could write, and it is
written as none but a German could have written it. The abstracts of its
sections are sometimes nearly as long as the sections themselves, and it
is as hard to make out which head belongs to which tail, as in a knot of
snakes thawing themselves into sluggish individuality under a spring sun.
The average German professor spends his life in making lanterns fit to
guide us through the obscurest passages of all the _ologies_ and _ysics_,
and there are none in the world of such honest workmanship. They are
durable, they have intensifying glasses, reflectors of the most
scientific make, capital sockets in which to set a light, and a handsome
lump of potentially illuminating tallow is thrown in. But, in order to
_see_ by them, the explorer must make his own candle, supply his own
cohesive wick of common-sense, and light it himself. And yet the
admirable thoroughness of the German intellect! We should be ungrateful
indeed if we did not acknowledge that it has supplied the raw material in
almost every branch of science for the defter wits of other nations to
work on; yet we have a suspicion that there are certain lighter
departments of literature in which it may be misapplied, and turn into
something very like clumsiness. Delightful as Jean Paul's humor is, how
much more so would it be if he only knew when to stop! Ethereally deep as
is his sentiment, should we not feel it more if he sometimes gave us a
little less of it,--if he would only not always deal out his wine by
beer-measure? So thorough is the German mind, that might it not seem now
and then to work quite through its subject, and expatiate in cheerful
unconsciousness on the other side thereof?

With all its merits of a higher and deeper kind, it yet seems to us that
German literature has not quite satisfactorily answered that so
long-standing question of the French Abbe about _esprit_. Hard as it is
for a German to be clear, still harder to be light, he is more than ever
awkward in his attempts to produce that quality of style, so peculiarly
French, which is neither wit nor liveliness taken singly, but a mixture
of the two that must be drunk while the effervescence lasts, and will not
bear exportation into any other language. German criticism, excellent in
other respects, and immeasurably superior to that of any other nation in
its constructive faculty, in its instinct for getting at whatever
principle of life lies at the heart of a work of genius, is seldom lucid,
almost never entertaining. It may turn its light, if we have patience,
into every obscurest cranny of its subject, one after another, but it
never flashes light _out_ of the subject itself, as Sainte-Beuve, for
example, so often does, and with such unexpected charm. We should be
inclined to put Julian Schmidt at the head of living critics in all the
more essential elements of his outfit; but with him is not one conscious
at too frequent intervals of the professorial grind,--of that German
tendency to bear on too heavily, where a French critic would touch and go
with such exquisite measure? The Great Nation, as it cheerfully calls
itself, is in nothing greater than its talent for saying little things
agreeably, which is perhaps the very top of mere culture, and in
literature is the next best thing to the power of saying great things as
easily as if they were little German learning, like the elephants of
Pyrrhus, is always in danger of turning upon what it was intended to
adorn and reinforce, and trampling it ponderously to death. And yet what
do we not owe it? Mastering all languages, all records of intellectual
man, it has been able, or has enabled others, to strip away the husks of
nationality and conventionalism from the literatures of many races, and
to disengage that kernel of human truth which is the germinating
principle of them all. Nay, it has taught us to recognize also a certain
value in those very husks, whether as shelter for the unripe or food for
the fallen seed.

That the general want of style in German authors is not wholly the fault
of the language is shown by Heine (a man of mixed blood), who can be
daintily light in German; that it is not altogether a matter of race, is
clear from the graceful airiness of Erasmus and Reuchlin in Latin, and of
Grimm in French. The sense of heaviness which creeps over the reader from
so many German books is mainly due, we suspect to the language, which
seems wellnigh incapable of that aerial perspective so delightful in
first-rate French, and even English, writing. But there must also be in
the national character an insensibility to proportion, a want of that
instinctive discretion which we call tact. Nothing short of this will
account for the perpetual groping of German imaginative literature after
some foreign mould in which to cast its thought or feeling, now trying a
Louis Quatorze pattern, then something supposed to be Shakespearian, and
at last going back to ancient Greece, or even Persia. Goethe himself,
limpidly perfect as are many of his shorter poems, often fails in giving
artistic coherence to his longer works. Leaving deeper qualities wholly
out of the question, Wilhelm Meister seems a mere aggregation of episodes
if compared with such a masterpiece as Paul and Virginia, or even with a
happy improvisation like the Vicar of Wakefield. The second part of
Faust, too, is rather a reflection of Goethe's own changed view of life
and man's relation to it, than an harmonious completion of the original
conception. Full of placid wisdom and exquisite poetry it certainly is;
but if we look at it as a poem, it seems more as if the author had
striven to get in all he could, than to leave out all he might. We cannot
help asking what business have paper money and political economy and
geognosy here? We confess that Thales and the Homunculus weary us not a
little, unless, indeed, a poem be nothing, after all, but a prolonged
conundrum. Many of Schiller's lyrical poems--though the best of them find
no match in modern verse for rapid energy, the very axles of language
kindling with swiftness--seem disproportionately long in parts, and the
thought too often has the life wellnigh squeezed out of it in the
sevenfold coils of diction, dappled though it be with splendid imagery.

In German sentiment, which runs over so easily into sentimentalism, a
foreigner cannot help being struck with a certain incongruousness. What
can be odder, for example, than the mixture of sensibility and sausages
in some of Goethe's earlier notes to Frau von Stein, unless, to be sure,
the publishing them? It would appear that Germans were less sensible to
the ludicrous--and we are far from saying that this may not have its
compensatory advantages--than either the English or the French. And what
is the source of this sensibility, if it be not an instinctive perception
of the incongruous and disproportionate? Among all races, the English has
ever shown itself most keenly alive to the fear of making itself
ridiculous; and among all, none has produced so many humorists, only one
of them, indeed, so profound as Cervantes, yet all masters in their
several ways. What English-speaking man, except Boswell, could have
arrived at Weimar, as Goethe did, in that absurd _Werthermontirung_? And
where, out of Germany, could he have found a reigning Grand Duke to put
his whole court into the same sentimental livery of blue and yellow,
leather breeches, boots, and all, excepting only Herder, and that not on
account of his clerical profession, but of his age? To be sure, it might
be asked also where else in Europe was a prince to be met with capable of
manly friendship with a man whose only decoration was his genius? But the
comicality of the other fact no less remains. Certainly the German
character is in no way so little remarkable as for its humor. If we were
to trust the evidence of Herr Hub's dreary _Deutsche komische und
humoristische Dichtung_, we should believe that no German had even so
much as a suspicion of what humor meant, unless the book itself, as we
are half inclined to suspect, be a joke in three volumes, the _want_ of
fun being the real point thereof. If German patriotism can be induced to
find a grave delight in it, we congratulate Herr Hub's publishers, and
for ourselves advise any sober-minded man who may hereafter "be merry,"
not to "sing psalms," but to read Hub as the more serious amusement of
the two. There are epigrams there that make life more solemn, and, if
taken in sufficient doses, would make it more precarious. Even Jean Paul,
the greatest of German humorous authors, and never surpassed in comic
conception or in the pathetic quality of humor, is not to be named with
his master, Sterne, as a creative humorist. What are Siebenkaes, Fixlein,
Schmelzle, and Fibel, (a single lay-figure to be draped at will with
whimsical sentiment and reflection, and put in various attitudes,)
compared with the living reality of Walter Shandy and his brother Toby,
characters which we do not see merely as puppets in the author's mind,
but poetically projected from it in an independent being of their own?
Heine himself, the most graceful, sometimes the most touching, of modern
poets, and clearly the most easy of German humorists, seems to me wanting
in a refined perception of that inward propriety which is only another
name for poetic proportion, and shocks us sometimes with an
_Unflaethigkeit_, as at the end of his _Deutschland_, which, if it make
Germans laugh, as we should be sorry to believe, makes other people hold
their noses. Such things have not been possible in English since Swift,
and the _persifleur_ Heine cannot offer the same excuse of savage
cynicism that might be pleaded for the Irishman.

I have hinted that Herr Stahr's Life of Lessing is not precisely the kind
of biography that would have been most pleasing to the man who could not
conceive that an author should be satisfied with anything more than truth
in praise, or anything less in criticism. My respect for what Lessing
was, and for what he did, is profound. In the history of literature it
would be hard to find a man so stalwart, so kindly, so sincere,[148] so
capable of great ideas, whether in their influence on the intellect or
the life, so unswervingly true to the truth, so free from the common
weaknesses of his class. Since Luther, Germany has given birth to no such
intellectual athlete,--to no son so German to the core. Greater poets she
has had, but no greater writer; no nature more finely tempered. Nay, may
we not say that great character is as rare a thing as great genius, if it
be not even a nobler form of it? For surely it is easier to embody fine
thinking, or delicate sentiment, or lofty aspiration, in a book than in a
life. The written leaf, if it be, as some few are, a safe-keeper and
conductor of celestial fire, is secure. Poverty cannot pinch, passion
swerve, or trial shake it. But the man Lessing, harassed and striving
life-long, always poor and always hopeful, with no patron but his own
right-hand, the very shuttlecock of fortune, who saw ruin's ploughshare
drive through the hearth on which his first home-fire was hardly kindled,
and who, through all, was faithful to himself, to his friend, to his
duty, and to his ideal, is something more inspiring for us than the most
glorious utterance of merely intellectual power. The figure of Goethe is
grand, it is rightfully pre-eminent, it has something of the calm, and
something of the coldness, of the immortals; but the Valhalla of German
letters can show one form, in its simple manhood, statelier even than

Manliness and simplicity, if they are not necessary coefficients in
producing character of the purest tone, were certainly leading elements
in the Lessing who is still so noteworthy and lovable to us when
eighty-six years have passed since his bodily presence vanished from
among men. He loved clearness, he hated exaggeration in all its forms. He
was the first German who had any conception of style, and who could be
full without spilling over on all sides. Herr Stahr, we think, is not
just the biographer he would have chosen for himself. His book is rather
a panegyric than a biography. There is sometimes an almost comic
disproportion between the matter and the manner, especially in the epic
details of Lessing's onslaughts on the nameless herd of German authors.
It is as if Sophocles should have given a strophe to every bullock slain
by Ajax in his mad foray upon the Grecian commissary stores. He is too
fond of striking an attitude, and his tone rises unpleasantly near a
scream, as he calls the personal attention of heaven and earth to
something which Lessing himself would have thought a very
matter-of-course affair. He who lays it down as an axiom, that "genius
loves simplicity," would hardly have been pleased to hear the "Letters on
Literature" called the "burning thunderbolts of his annihilating
criticism," or the Anti-Goetze pamphlets, "the hurtling arrows that sped
from the bow of the immortal hero." Nor would he with whom accuracy was a
matter of conscience have heard patiently that the Letters "appeared in a
period distinguished for its lofty tone of mind, and in their own
towering boldness they are a true picture of the intrepid character of
the age."[149] If the age was what Herr Stahr represents it to have been,
where is the great merit of Lessing? He would have smiled, we suspect, a
little contemptuously, at Herr Stahr's repeatedly quoting a certificate
from the "historian of the proud Britons," that he was "the first critic
in Europe." Whether we admit or not Lord Macaulay's competence in the
matter, we are sure that Lessing would not have thanked his biographer
for this soup-ticket to a ladleful of fame. If ever a man stood firmly on
his own feet, and asked help of none, that man was Gotthold Ephraim

Herr Stahr's desire to _make_ a hero of his subject, and his love for
sonorous sentences like those we have quoted above, are apt to stand
somewhat in the way of our chance at taking a fair measure of the man,
and seeing in what his heroism really lay. He furnishes little material
for a comparative estimate of Lessing, or for judging of the foreign
influences which helped from time to time in making him what he was.
Nothing is harder than to worry out a date from Herr Stahr's haystacks of
praise and quotation. Yet dates are of special value in tracing the
progress of an intellect like Lessing's, which, little actuated by an
inward creative energy, was commonly stirred to motion by the impulse of
other minds, and struck out its brightest flashes by collision with them.
He himself tells us that a critic should "first seek out some one with
whom he can contend," and quotes in justification from one of Aristotle's
commentators, _Solet Aristoteles quaerere pugnam in suis libris_. This
Lessing was always wont to do. He could only feel his own strength, and
make others feel it,--could only call it into full play in an
intellectual wrestling-bout. He was always anointed and ready for the
ring, but with this distinction, that he was no mere prize-fighter, or
bully for the side that would pay him best, nor even a contender for mere
sentiment, but a self-forgetful champion for the truth as he saw it. Nor
is this true of him only as a critic. His more purely imaginative
works--his Minna, his Emilia, his Nathan--were all written, not to
satisfy the craving of a poetic instinct, nor to rid head and heart of
troublous guests by building them a lodging outside himself, as Goethe
used to do, but to prove some thesis of criticism or morals by which
Truth could be served. His zeal for her was perfectly unselfish. "Does
one write, then, for the sake of being always in the right? I think I
have been as serviceable to Truth," he says, "when I miss her, and my
failure is the occasion of another's discovering her, as if I had
discovered her myself."[150] One would almost be inclined to think, from
Herr Stahr's account of the matter, that Lessing had been an
autochthonous birth of the German soil, without intellectual ancestry or
helpful kindred. That this is the sufficient natural history of no
original mind we need hardly say, since originality consists quite as
much in the power of using to purpose what it finds ready to its hand, as
in that of producing what is absolutely new. Perhaps we might say that it
was nothing more than the faculty of combining the separate, and
therefore ineffectual, conceptions of others, and making them into living
thought by the breath of its own organizing spirit. A great man without a
past, if he be not an impossibility, will certainly have no future. He
would be like those conjectural Miltons and Cromwells of Gray's imaginary
Hamlet. The only privilege of the original man is, that, like other
sovereign princes, he has the right to call in the current coin and
reissue it stamped with his own image, as was the practice of Lessing.

Herr Stahr's over-intensity of phrase is less offensive than amusing when
applied to Lessing's early efforts in criticism. Speaking of poor old
Gottsched, he says: "Lessing assailed him sometimes with cutting
criticism, and again with exquisite humor. In the notice of Gottsched's
poems, he says, among other things, 'The exterior of the volume is so
handsome that it will do great credit to the bookstores, and it is to be
hoped that it will continue to do so for a long time. But to give a
satisfactory idea of the interior surpasses our powers.' And in
conclusion he adds, 'These poems cost two thalers and four groschen. The
two thalers pay for the ridiculous, and the four groschen pretty much for
the useful.'" Again, he tells us that Lessing concludes his notice of
Klopstock's Ode to God "with these inimitably roguish words: 'What
presumption to beg thus earnestly for a woman!' Does not a whole book of
criticism lie in these nine words?" For a young man of twenty-two,
Lessing's criticisms show a great deal of independence and maturity of
thought; but humor he never had, and his wit was always of the
bluntest,--crushing rather than cutting. The mace, and not the scymitar,
was his weapon. Let Herr Stahr put all Lessing's "inimitably roguish
words" together, and compare them with these few intranslatable lines
from Voltaire's letter to Rousseau, thanking him for his _Discours sur
l'Inegalite_: "On n'a jamais employe tant d'esprit a vouloir nous rendre
betes; il prend enviede marcher a quatre pattes quand on lit votre
ouvrage." Lessing from the first was something far better than a wit.
Force was always much more characteristic of him than cleverness.
Sometimes Herr Stahr's hero-worship leads him into positive misstatement.
For example, speaking of Lessing's Preface to the "Contributions to the
History and Reform of the Theatre," he tells us that "his eye was
directed chiefly to the English theatre and Shakespeare." Lessing at that
time (1749) was only twenty, and knew little more than the names of any
foreign dramatists except the French. In this very Preface his English
list skips from Shakespeare to Dryden, and in the Spanish he omits
Calderon, Tirso de Molina, and Alarcon. Accordingly, we suspect that the
date is wrongly assigned to Lessing's translation of _Toda la Vida es
Sueno_. His mind was hardly yet ready to feel the strange charm of this
most imaginative of Calderon's dramas.

Even where Herr Stahr undertakes to give us light on the _sources_ of
Lessing, it is something of the dimmest. He attributes "Miss Sara
Sampson" to the influence of the "Merchant of London," as Mr. Evans
translates it literally from the German, meaning our old friend, "George
Barnwell." But we are strongly inclined to suspect from internal evidence
that Moore's more recent "Gamester" gave the prevailing impulse. And if
Herr Stahr must needs tell us anything of the Tragedy of Middle-Class
Life, he ought to have known that on the English stage it preceded Lillo
by more than a century,--witness the "Yorkshire Tragedy,"--and that
something very like it was even much older in France. We are inclined to
complain, also, that he does not bring out more clearly how much Lessing
owed to Diderot both as dramatist and critic, nor give us so much as a
hint of what already existing English criticism did for him in the way of
suggestion and guidance. But though we feel it to be our duty to say so
much of Herr Stahr's positive faults and negative short-comings, yet we
leave him in very good humor. While he is altogether too full upon
certain points of merely transitory importance,--such as the quarrel with
Klotz,--yet we are bound to thank him both for the abundance of his
extracts from Lessing, and for the judgment he has shown in the choice of
them. Any one not familiar with his writings will be able to get a very
good notion of the quality of his mind, and the amount of his literary
performance, from these volumes; and that, after all, is the chief
matter. As to the absolute merit of his works other than critical, Herr
Stahr's judgment is too much at the mercy of his partiality to be of
great value.

Of Mr. Evans's translation we can speak for the most part with high
commendation. There are great difficulties in translating German prose;
and whatever other good things Herr Stahr may have learned from Lessing,
terseness and clearness are not among them. We have seldom seen a
translation which read more easily, or was generally more faithful. That
Mr. Evans should nod now and then we do not wonder, nor that he should
sometimes choose the wrong word. We have only compared him with the
original where we saw reason for suspecting a slip; but, though we have
not found much to complain of, we have found enough to satisfy us that
his book will gain by a careful revision. We select a few oversights,
mainly from the first volume, as examples. On page 34, comparing Lessing
with Goethe on arriving at the University, Mr. Evans, we think, obscures,
if he does not wholly lose the meaning, when he translates _Leben_ by
"social relations," and is altogether wrong in rendering _Patrizier_ by
"aristocrat." At the top of the next page, too, "suspicious" is not the
word for _bedenklich_. Had he been writing English, he would surely have
said "questionable." On page 47, "overtrodden shoes" is hardly so good as
the idiomatic "down at the heel." On page 104, "A very humorous
representation" is oddly made to "confirm the documentary evidence." The
reverse is meant. On page 115, the sentence beginning "the tendency in
both" needs revising. On page 138, Mr. Evans speaks of the "Poetical
Village-younker of Destouches." This, we think, is hardly the English of
_Le Poete Campagnard_, and almost recalls Lieberkuehn's theory of
translation, toward which Lessing was so unrelenting,--"When I do not
understand a passage, why, I translate it word for word." On page 149,
"Miss Sara Sampson" is called "the first social tragedy of the German
Drama." All tragedies surely are _social_, except the "Prometheus."
_Buergerliche Tragoedie_ means a tragedy in which the protagonist is taken
from common life, and perhaps cannot be translated clearly into English
except by "tragedy of middle-class life." So on page 170 we find Emilia
Galotti called a "Virginia _bourgeoise_," and on page 172 a hospital
becomes a _lazaretto_. On page 190 we have a sentence ending in this
strange fashion: "in an episode of the English original, which Wieland
omitted entirely, one of its characters nevertheless appeared in the
German tragedy." On page 205 we have the Seven Years' War called "a
bloody _process_." This is mere carelessness, for Mr. Evans, in the
second volume, translates it rightly "_lawsuit_." What English reader
would know what "You are intriguing me" means, on page 228? On page 264,
Vol. II., we find a passage inaccurately rendered, which we consider of
more consequence, because it is a quotation from Lessing. "O, out upon
the man who claims, Almighty God, to be a preacher of Thy word, and yet
so impudently asserts that, in order to attain Thy purposes, there was
only one way in which it pleased _Thee_ to make _Thyself_ known to him!"
This is very far from _nur den einzigen Weg gehabt den Du Dir gefallen
lassen ihm kund zu machen!_ The _ihm_ is scornfully emphatic. We hope
Professor Evans will go over his version for a second edition much more
carefully than we have had any occasion to do. He has done an excellent
service to our literature, for which we heartily thank him, in choosing a
book of this kind to translate, and translating it so well. We would not
look such a gift horse too narrowly in the mouth.

Let us now endeavor to sum up the result of Lessing's life and labor with
what success we may.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was born (January 22, 1729) at Camenz, in Upper
Lusatia, the second child and eldest son of John Gottfried Lessing, a
Lutheran clergyman. Those who believe in the persistent qualities of
race, or the cumulative property of culture, will find something to their
purpose in his Saxon blood and his clerical and juristic ancestry. It is
worth mentioning, that his grandfather, in the thesis for his doctor's
degree, defended the right to entire freedom of religious belief. The
name first comes to the surface in Parson Clement Lessigk, nearly three
centuries ago, and survives to the present day in a painter of some
distinction. It has almost passed into a proverb, that the mothers of
remarkable children have been something beyond the common. If there be
any truth in the theory, the case of Lessing was an exception, as might
have been inferred, perhaps, from the peculiarly masculine type of his
character and intellect. His mother was in no wise superior, but his
father seems to have been a man somewhat above the pedantic average of
the provincial clergymen of his day, and to have been a scholar in the
ampler meaning of the word. Besides the classics, he had possessed
himself of French and English, and was somewhat versed in the Oriental
languages. The temper of his theology may be guessed from his having
been, as his son tells us with some pride, one of "the earliest
translators of Tillotson." We can only conjecture him from the letters
which Lessing wrote to him, from which we should fancy him as on the
whole a decided and even choleric old gentleman, in whom the wig, though
not a predominant, was yet a notable feature, and who was, like many
other fathers, permanently astonished at the fruit of his loins. He would
have preferred one of the so-called learned professions for his
son,--theology above all,--and would seem to have never quite reconciled
himself to his son's distinction, as being in none of the three careers
which alone were legitimate. Lessing's bearing towards him, always
independent, is really beautiful in its union of respectful tenderness
with unswerving self-assertion. When he wished to evade the maternal eye,
Gotthold used in his letters to set up a screen of Latin between himself
and her; and we conjecture the worthy Pastor Primarius playing over again
in his study at Camenz, with some scruples of conscience, the old trick
of Chaucer's fox:--

"Mulier est hominis confusio;
Madam, the sentence of this Latin is.
Woman is mannes joy and mannes bliss."

He appears to have snatched a fearful and but ill-concealed joy from the
sight of the first collected edition of his son's works, unlike Tillotson
as they certainly were. Ah, had they only been _Opera_! Yet were they not
volumes, after all, and able to stand on their own edges beside the
immortals, if nothing more?

After grinding with private-tutor Mylius the requisite time, Lessing
entered the school of Camenz, and in his thirteenth year was sent to the
higher institution at Meissen. We learn little of his career there,
except that Theophrastus, Plautus, and Terence were already his favorite
authors, that he once characteristically distinguished himself by a
courageous truthfulness, and that he wrote a Latin poem on the valor of
the Saxon soldiers, which his father very sensibly advised him to
shorten. In 1750, four years after leaving the school, he writes to his
father: "I believed even when I was at Meissen that one must learn much
there which he cannot make the least use of in real life (_der Welt_),
and I now [after trying Leipzig and Wittenberg] see it all the more
clearly,"--a melancholy observation which many other young men have made
under similar circumstances. Sent to Leipzig in his seventeenth year, he
finds himself an awkward, ungainly lad, and sets diligently to perfecting
himself in the somewhat unscholastic accomplishments of riding, dancing,
and fencing. He also sedulously frequents the theatre, and wrote a play,
"The Young Scholar," which attained the honor of representation.
Meanwhile his most intimate companion was a younger brother of his
old tutor Mylius, a young man of more than questionable morals,
and who had even written a satire on the elders of Camenz, for
which--over-confidently trusting himself in the outraged city--he had
been fined and imprisoned; so little could the German Muse, celebrated by
Klopstock for her swiftness of foot, protect her son. With this
scandalous person and with play-actors, more than probably of both sexes,
did the young Lessing share a Christmas cake sent him by his mother. Such
news was not long in reaching Camenz, and we can easily fancy how tragic
it seemed in the little parsonage there, to what cabinet councils it gave
rise in the paternal study, to what ominous shaking of the clerical wig
in that domestic Olympus. A pious fraud is practised on the boy, who
hurries home thinly clad through the winter weather, his ill-eaten
Christmas cake wringing him with remorseful indigestion, to receive the
last blessing, if such a prodigal might hope for it, of a broken-hearted
mother. He finds the good dame in excellent health, and softened toward
him by a cold he has taken on his pious journey. He remains at home
several months, now writing Anacreontics of such warmth that his sister
(as volunteer representative of the common hangman) burns them in the
family stove; now composing sermons to convince his mother that "he could
be a preacher any day,"--a theory of that sacred office unhappily not yet
extinct. At Easter, 1747, he gets back to Leipzig again, with some scant
supply of money in his pocket, but is obliged to make his escape thence
between two days somewhere toward the middle of the next year, leaving
behind him some histrionic debts (chiefly, we fear, of a certain
Mademoiselle Lorenz) for which he had confidingly made himself security.
Stranded, by want of floating or other capital, at Wittenberg, he enters
himself, with help from home, as a student there, but soon migrates again
to Berlin, which had been his goal when making his hegira from Leipzig.
In Berlin he remained three years, applying himself to his chosen calling
of author at all work, by doing whatever honest job offered
itself,--verse, criticism, or translation,--and profitably studious in a
very wide range of languages and their literature. Above all, he learned
the great secret, which his stalwart English contemporary, Johnson, also
acquired, of being able to "dine heartily" for threepence.

Meanwhile he continues in a kind of colonial dependence on the parsonage
at Camenz, the bonds gradually slackening, sometimes shaken a little
rudely, and always giving alarming hints of approaching and inevitable
autonomy. From the few home letters of Lessing which remain, (covering
the period before 1753, there are only eight in all,) we are able to
surmise that a pretty constant maternal cluck and shrill paternal warning
were kept up from the home coop. We find Lessing defending the morality
of the stage and his own private morals against charges and suspicions of
his parents, and even making the awful confession that he does not
consider the Christian religion itself as a thing "to be taken on trust,"
nor a Christian by mere tradition so valuable a member of society as "one
who has _prudently_ doubted, and by the way of examination has arrived at
conviction, or at least striven to arrive." Boyish scepticism of the
superficial sort is a common phenomenon enough, but the Lessing variety
of it seems to us sufficiently rare in a youth of twenty. What strikes us
mainly in the letters of these years is not merely the maturity they
show, though that is remarkable, but the tone. We see already in them the
cheerful and never overweening self-confidence which always so pleasantly
distinguished Lessing, and that strength of tackle, so seldom found in
literary men, which brings the mind well home to its anchor, enabling it
to find holding ground and secure riding in any sea. "What care I to live
in plenty," he asks gayly, "if I only live?" Indeed, Lessing learned
early, and never forgot, that whoever would be life's master, and not its
drudge, must make it a means, and never allow it to become an end. He
could say more truly than Goethe, _Mein Acker ist die Zeit_, since he not
only sowed in it the seed of thought for other men and other times, but
cropped it for his daily bread. Above all, we find Lessing even thus
early endowed with the power of keeping his eyes wide open to what he was
after, to what would help or hinder him,--a much more singular gift than
is commonly supposed. Among other jobs of this first Berlin period, he
had undertaken to arrange the library of a certain Herr Ruediger, getting
therefor his meals and "other receipts," whatever they may have been. His
father seems to have heard with anxiety that this arrangement had ceased,
and Lessing writes to him: "I never wished to have anything to do with
this old man longer than _until I had made myself thoroughly acquainted
with his great library_. This is now accomplished, and we have
accordingly parted." This was in his twenty-first year, and we have no
doubt, from the _range_ of scholarship which Lessing had at command so
young, that it was perfectly true. All through his life he was thoroughly
German in this respect also, that he never _quite_ smelted his knowledge
clear from some slag of learning.

In the early part of the first Berlin residence, Pastor Primarius
Lessing, hearing that his son meditated a movement on Vienna, was much
exercised with fears of the temptation to Popery he would be exposed to
in that capital. We suspect that the attraction thitherward had its
source in a perhaps equally catholic, but less theological magnet,--the
Mademoiselle Lorenz above mentioned. Let us remember the perfectly
innocent passion of Mozart for an actress, and be comforted. There is not
the slightest evidence that Lessing's life at this time, or any other,
though careless, was in any way debauched. No scandal was ever coupled
with his name, nor is any biographic chemistry needed to bleach spots out
of his reputation. What cannot be said of Wieland, of Goethe, of
Schiller, of Jean Paul, may be safely affirmed of this busy and
single-minded man. The parental fear of Popery brought him a seasonable
supply of money from home, which enabled him to clothe himself decently
enough to push his literary fortunes, and put on a bold front with
publishers. Poor enough he often was, but never in so shabby a pass that
he was forced to write behind a screen, like Johnson.

It was during this first stay in Berlin that Lessing was brought into
personal relations with Voltaire. Through an acquaintance with the great
man's secretary, Richier, he was employed as translator in the scandalous
Hirschel lawsuit, so dramatically set forth by Carlyle in his Life of
Frederick, though Lessing's share in it seems to have been unknown to
him. The service could hardly have been other than distasteful to him;
but it must have been with some thrill of the _anche io!_ kind that the
poor youth, just fleshing his maiden pen in criticism, stood face to face
with the famous author, with whose name all Europe rang from side to
side. This was in February, 1751. Young as he was, we fancy those cool
eyes of his making some strange discoveries as to the real nature of that
lean nightmare of Jesuits and dunces. Afterwards the same secretary lent
him the manuscript of the _Siecle de Louis XIV._, and Lessing
thoughtlessly taking it into the country with him, it was not forthcoming
when called for by the author. Voltaire naturally enough danced with
rage, screamed all manner of unpleasant things about robbery and the
like, cashiered the secretary, and was, we see no reason to doubt, really
afraid of a pirated edition. _This_ time his cry of wolf must have had a
quaver of sincerity in it. Herr Stahr, who can never keep separate the
Lessing as he then was and the Lessing as he afterwards became, takes
fire at what he chooses to consider an unworthy suspicion of the
Frenchman, and treats himself to some rather cheap indignation on the
subject. For ourselves, we think Voltaire altogether in the right, and we
respect Lessing's honesty too much to suppose, with his biographer, that
it was this which led him, years afterwards, to do such severe justice to
_Merope_, and other tragedies of the same author. The affair happened in
December, 1751, and a year later Lessing calls Voltaire a "great man,"
and says of his _Amalie_, that "it has not only beautiful passages, it is
beautiful throughout, and the tears of a reader of feeling will justify
our judgment." Surely there is no resentment here. Our only wonder would
be at its being written after the Hirschel business. At any rate, we
cannot allow Herr Stahr to shake our faith in the sincerity of Lessing's
motives in criticism,--he could not in the soundness of the criticism
itself,--by tracing it up to a spring at once so petty and so personal.

During a part of 1752,[151] Lessing was at Wittenberg again as student of
medicine, the parental notion of a strictly professional career of some
kind not having yet been abandoned. We must give his father the credit of
having done his best, in a well-meaning paternal fashion, to make his son
over again in his own image, and to thwart the design of nature by
coaxing or driving him into the pinfold of a prosperous obscurity. But
Gotthold, with all his gifts, had no talent whatever for contented
routine. His was a mind always in solution, which the divine order of
things, as it is called, could not precipitate into any of the
traditional forms of crystallization, and in which the time to come was
already fermenting. The principle of growth was in the young literary
hack, and he must obey it or die. His was to the last a _natura
naturans_, never a _naturata_. Lessing seems to have done what he could
to be a dutiful failure. But there was something in him stronger and more
sacred than even filial piety; and the good old pastor is remembered now
only as the father of a son who would have shared the benign oblivion of
his own theological works, if he could only have had his wise way with
him. Even after never so many biographies and review articles, genius
continues to be a marvellous and inspiring thing. At the same time,
considering the then condition of what was pleasantly called literature
in Germany, there was not a little to be said on the paternal side of the
question, though it may not seem now a very heavy mulct to give up one
son out of ten to immortality,--at least the Fates seldom decimate in
_this_ way. Lessing had now, if we accept the common standard in such
matters, "completed his education," and the result may be summed up in
his own words to Michaelis, 16th October, 1754: "I have studied at the
Fuerstenschule at Meissen, and after that at Leipzig and Wittenberg. But I
should be greatly embarrassed if I were asked to tell _what_." As early
as his twentieth year he had arrived at some singular notions as to the
uses of learning. On the 20th of January, 1749, he writes to his mother:
"I found out that books, indeed, would make me learned, _but never make
me a man_." Like most men of great knowledge, as distinguished from mere
scholars, he seems to have been always a rather indiscriminate reader,
and to have been fond, as Johnson was, of "browsing" in libraries.
Johnson neither in amplitude of literature nor exactness of scholarship
could be deemed a match for Lessing; but they were alike in the power of
readily applying whatever they had learned, whether for purposes of
illustration or argument. They resemble each other, also, in a kind of
absolute common-sense, and in the force with which they could plant a
direct blow with the whole weight both of their training and their
temperament behind it. As a critic, Johnson ends where Lessing begins.
The one is happy in the lower region of the understanding: the other can
breathe freely in the ampler air of reason alone. Johnson acquired
learning, and stopped short from indolence at a certain point. Lessing
assimilated it, and accordingly his education ceased only with his life.
Both had something of the intellectual sluggishness that is apt to go
with great strength; and both had to be baited by the antagonism of
circumstances or opinions, not only into the exhibition, but into the
possession of their entire force. Both may be more properly called
original men than, in the highest sense, original writers.

From 1752 to 1760, with an interval of something over two years spent in
Leipzig to be near a good theatre, Lessing was settled in Berlin, and
gave himself wholly and earnestly to the life of a man of letters. A
thoroughly healthy, cheerful nature he most surely had, with something at
first of the careless light-heartedness of youth. Healthy he was not
always to be, not always cheerful, often very far from light-hearted, but
manly from first to last he eminently was. Downcast he could never be,
for his strongest instinct, invaluable to him also as a critic, was to
see things as they really are. And this not in the sense of a cynic, but
of one who measures himself as well as his circumstances,--who loves
truth as the most beautiful of all things and the only permanent
possession, as being of one substance with the soul. In a man like
Lessing, whose character is even more interesting than his works, the
tone and turn of thought are what we like to get glimpses of. And for
this his letters are more helpful than those of most authors, as might be
expected of one who said of himself, that, in his more serious work, "he
must profit by his first heat to accomplish anything." He began, we say,
light-heartedly. He did not believe that "one should thank God only for
good things." "He who is only in good health, and is willing to work, has
nothing to fear in the world." "What another man would call want, I call
comfort." "Must not one often act thoughtlessly, if one would provoke
Fortune to do something for him?" In his first inexperience, the life of
"the sparrow on the house-top" (which we find oddly translated "roof")
was the one he would choose for himself. Later in life, when he wished to
marry, he was of another mind, and perhaps discovered that there was
something in the old father's notion of a fixed position. "The life of
the sparrow on the house-top is only right good if one need not expect
any end to it. If it cannot always last, every day it lasts too
long,"--he writes to Ebert in 1770. Yet even then he takes the manly
view. "Everything in the world has its time, everything may be overlived
and overlooked, if one only have health." Nor let any one suppose that
Lessing, full of courage as he was, found professional authorship a
garden of Alcinoues. From creative literature he continually sought
refuge, and even repose, in the driest drudgery of mere scholarship. On
the 26th of April, 1768, he writes to his brother with something of his
old gayety: "Thank God, the time will soon come when I cannot call a
penny in the world my own but I must first earn it. I am unhappy if it
must be by writing." And again in May, 1771: "Among all the wretched, I
think him the most wretched who must work with his head, even if he is
not conscious of having one. But what is the good of complaining?"
Lessing's life, if it is a noble example, so far as it concerned himself
alone, is also a warning when another is to be asked to share it. He too
would have profited had he earlier learned and more constantly borne in
mind the profound wisdom of that old saying, _Si sit prudentia_. Let the
young poet, however he may believe of his art that "all other pleasures
are not worth its pains," consider well what it is to call down fire from
heaven to keep the pot boiling, before he commit himself to a life of
authorship as something fine and easy. That fire will not condescend to
such office, though it come without asking on ceremonial days to the free
service of the altar.

Lessing, however, never would, even if he could, have so desecrated his
better powers. For a bare livelihood, he always went sturdily to the
market of hack-work, where his learning would fetch him a price. But it
was only in extremest need that he would claim that benefit of clergy. "I
am worried," he writes to his brother Karl, 8th April, 1773, "and work
because working is the only means to cease being so. But you and Vess are
very much mistaken if you think that it could ever be indifferent to me,
under such circumstances, on what I work. Nothing less true, whether as
respects the work itself or the principal object wherefor I work. I have
been in my life before now in very wretched circumstances, yet never in
such that I would have written for bread in the true meaning of the word.
I have begun my 'Contributions' because this work helps me ... to live
from one day to another." It is plain that he does not call this kind of
thing in any high sense writing. Of that he had far other notions; for
though he honestly disclaimed the title, yet his dream was always to be a
poet. But he _was_ willing to work, as he claimed to be, because he had
one ideal higher than that of being a poet, namely, to be thoroughly a
man. To Nicolai he writes in 1758: "All ways of earning his bread are
alike becoming to an honest man, whether to split wood or to sit at the
helm of state. It does not concern his conscience how useful he is, but
how useful he would be." Goethe's poetic sense was the Minotaur to which
he sacrificed everything. To make a study, he would soil the maiden
petals of a woman's soul; to get the delicious sensation of a reflex
sorrow, he would wring a heart. All that saves his egoism from being
hateful is, that, with its immense reaches, it cheats the sense into a
feeling of something like sublimity. A patch of sand is unpleasing; a
desert has all the awe of ocean. Lessing also felt the duty of
self-culture; but it was not so much for the sake of feeding fat this or
that faculty as of strengthening character,--the only soil in which real
mental power can root itself and find sustenance. His advice to his
brother Karl, who was beginning to write for the stage, is two parts
moral to one literary. "Study ethics diligently, learn to express
yourself well and correctly, and cultivate your own character. Without
that I cannot conceive a good dramatic author." Marvellous counsel this
will seem to those who think that wisdom is only to be found in the
fool's paradise of Bohemia!

We said that Lessing's dream was to be a poet. In comparison with success
as a dramatist, he looked on all other achievement as inferior in kind.
In. 1767 he writes to Gleim (speaking of his call to Hamburg): "Such
circumstances were needed to rekindle in me an almost extinguished love
for the theatre. I was just beginning to lose myself in other studies
which would have made me unfit for any work of genius. My _Laocoon_ is
now a secondary labor." And yet he never fell into the mistake of
overvaluing what he valued so highly. His unflinching common-sense would
have saved him from that, as it afterwards enabled him to see that
something was wanting in him which must enter into the making of true
poetry, whose distinction from prose is an inward one of nature, and not
an outward one of form. While yet under thirty, he assures Mendelssohn
that he was quite right in neglecting poetry for philosophy, because
"only a part of our youth should be given up to the arts of the
beautiful. We must practise ourselves in weightier things before we die.
An old man, who lifelong has done nothing but rhyme, and an old man who
lifelong has done nothing but pass his breath through a stick with holes
in it,--I doubt much whether such an old man has arrived at what he was
meant for."

This period of Lessing's life was a productive one, though none of its
printed results can be counted of permanent value, except his share in
the "Letters on German Literature." And even these must be reckoned as
belonging to the years of his apprenticeship and training for the
master-workman he afterwards became. The small fry of authors and
translators were hardly fitted to call out his full strength, but his
vivisection of them taught him the value of certain structural
principles. "To one dissection of the fore quarter of an ass," says
Haydon in his diary, "I owe my information." Yet even in his earliest
criticisms we are struck with the same penetration and steadiness of
judgment, the same firm grasp of the essential and permanent, that were
afterwards to make his opinions law in the courts of taste. For example,
he says of Thomson, that, "as a dramatic poet, he had the fault of never
knowing when to leave off; he lets every character talk so long as
anything can be said; accordingly, during these prolonged conversations,
the action stands still, and the story becomes tedious." Of "Roderick
Random," he says that "its author is neither a Richardson nor a Fielding;
he is one of those writers of whom there are plenty among the Germans and
French." We cite these merely because their firmness of tone seems to us
uncommon in a youth of twenty-four. In the "Letters," the range is much
wider, and the application of principles more consequent. He had already
secured for himself a position among the literary men of that day, and
was beginning to be feared for the inexorable justice of his criticisms.
His "Fables" and his "Miss Sara Sampson" had been translated into French,
and had attracted the attention of Grimm, who says of them (December,
1754): "These Fables commonly contain in a few lines a new and profound
moral meaning. M. Lessing has much wit, genius, and invention; the
dissertations which follow the Fables prove moreover that he is an
excellent critic." In Berlin, Lessing made friendships, especially with
Mendelssohn, Von Kleist, Nicolai, Gleim, and Ramler. For Mendelssohn and
Von Kleist he seems to have felt a real love; for the others at most a
liking, as the best material that could be had. It certainly was not of
the juiciest. He seems to have worked hard and played hard, equally at
home in his study and Baumann's wine-cellar. He was busy, poor, and

But he was restless. We suspect that the necessity of forever picking up
crumbs, and their occasional scarcity, made the life of the sparrow on
the house-top less agreeable than he had expected. The imagined freedom
was not quite so free after all, for necessity is as short a tether as
dependence, or official duty, or what not, and the regular occupation of
grub-hunting is as tame and wearisome as another. Moreover, Lessing had
probably by this time sucked his friends dry of any intellectual stimulus
they could yield him; and when friendship reaches that pass, it is apt to
be anything but inspiring. Except Mendelssohn and Von Kleist, they were
not men capable of rating him at his true value; and Lessing was one of
those who always burn up the fuel of life at a fearful rate. Admirably
dry as the supplies of Ramler and the rest no doubt were, they had not
substance enough to keep his mind at the high temperature it needed, and
he would soon be driven to the cutting of green stuff from his own
wood-lot, more rich in smoke than fire. Besides this, he could hardly
have been at ease among intimates most of whom could not even conceive of
that intellectual honesty, that total disregard of all personal interests
where truth was concerned, which was an innate quality of Lessing's mind.
Their theory of criticism was, Truth, or even worse if possible, for all
who do not belong to our set; for us, that delicious falsehood which is
no doubt a slow poison, but then so _very_ slow. Their nerves were
unbraced by that fierce democracy of thought, trampling on all
prescription, all tradition, in which Lessing loved to shoulder his way
and advance his insupportable foot. "What is called a heretic," he says
in his Preface to _Berengarius_, "has a very good side. It is a man who
at least _wishes_ to see with his own eyes." And again, "I know not if it
be a duty to offer up fortune and life to the truth; ... but I know it
_is_ a duty, if one undertake to teach the truth, to teach the whole of
it, or none at all." Such men as Gleim and Ramler were mere _dilettanti_,
and could have no notion how sacred his convictions are to a militant
thinker like Lessing. His creed as to the rights of friendship in
criticism might be put in the words of Selden, the firm tread of whose
mind was like his own: "Opinion and affection extremely differ. Opinion
is something wherein I go about to give reason why all the world should
think as I think. Affection is a thing wherein I look after the pleasing
of myself." How little his friends were capable of appreciating this view
of the matter is plain from a letter of Ramler to Gleim, cited by Herr
Stahr. Lessing had shown up the weaknesses of a certain work by the Abbe
Batteux (long ago gathered to his literary fathers as conclusively as
poor old Ramler himself), without regard to the important fact that the
Abbe's book had been translated by a friend. Horrible to think of at
best, thrice horrible when the friend's name was Ramler! The impression
thereby made on the friendly heart may be conceived. A ray of light
penetrated the rather opaque substance of Herr Ramler's mind, and
revealed to him the dangerous character of Lessing. "I know well," he
says, "that Herr Lessing means to speak his own opinion, and"--what is
the dreadful inference?--"and, by suppressing others, to gain air, and
make room for himself. This disposition is not to be overcome."[152]
Fortunately not, for Lessing's opinion always meant something, and was
worth having. Gleim no doubt sympathized deeply with the sufferer by this
treason, for he too had been shocked at some disrespect for La Fontaine,
as a disciple of whom he had announced himself.

Berlin was hardly the place for Lessing, if he could not take a step in
any direction without risk of treading on somebody's gouty foot. This was
not the last time that he was to have experience of the fact that the
critic's pen, the more it has of truth's celestial temper, the more it is
apt to reverse the miracle of the archangel's spear, and to bring out
whatever is toadlike in the nature of him it touches. We can well
understand the sadness with which he said,

"Der Blick des Forscher's fand
Nicht selten mehr als er zu finden wuenschte."

Here, better than anywhere, we may cite something which he wrote of
himself to a friend of Klotz. Lessing, it will be remembered, had
literally "suppressed" Klotz. "What do you apprehend, then, from me? The
more faults and errors you point out to me, so much the more I shall
learn of you; the more I learn of you, the more thankful shall I be....I
wish you knew me more thoroughly. If the opinion you have of my learning
and genius (_Geist_) should perhaps suffer thereby, yet I am sure the
idea I would like you to form of my character would gain. I am not the
insufferable, unmannerly, proud, slanderous man Herr Klotz proclaims me.
It cost me a great deal of trouble and compulsion to be a little bitter
against him."[153] Ramler and the rest had contrived a nice little
society for mutual admiration, much like that described by Goldsmith, if,
indeed, he did not convey it from the French, as was not uncommon with
him. "'What, have you never heard of the admirable Brandellius or the
ingenious Mogusius, one the eye and the other the heart of our
University, known all over the world?' 'Never,' cried the traveller; 'but
pray inform me what Brandellius is particularly remarkable for.' 'You
must be little acquainted with the republic of letters,' said the other,
'to ask such a question. Brandellius has written a most sublime panegyric
on Mogusius.' 'And, prithee, what has Mogusius done to deserve so great a
favor?' 'He has written an excellent poem in praise of Brandellius.'"
Lessing was not the man who could narrow himself to the proportions of a
clique; lifelong he was the terror of the Brandellii and Mogusii, and, at
the signal given by him,

"They, but now who seemed
In bigness to surpass Earth's giant sons,
Now less than smallest dwarfs in narrow room
Throng numberless."

Besides whatever other reasons Leasing may have had for leaving Berlin,
we fancy that his having exhausted whatever means it had of helping his
spiritual growth was the chief. Nine years later, he gave as a reason for
not wishing to stay long in Brunswick, "Not that I do not like Brunswick,
but because nothing comes of being long in a place which one likes."[154]
Whatever the reason, Leasing, in 1760, left Berlin for Breslau, where the

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