Mosses from an
Old Manse, V2 by Nathaniel Hawthorne
THE NEW ADAM
EGOTISM; OR, THE
THE ARTIST OF
THE NEW ADAM AND EVE.
We, who are born into the world's artificial system, can never
adequately know how little in our present state and circumstances is
natural, and how much is merely the interpolation of the perverted mind
and heart of man. Art has become a second and stronger Nature; she is a
step-mother, whose crafty tenderness has taught us to despise the
bountiful and wholesome ministrations of our true parent. It is only
through the medium of the imagination that we can lessen those iron
fetters, which we call truth and reality, and make ourselves even
partially sensible what prisoners we are. For instance, let us conceive
good Father Miller's interpretation of the prophecies to have proved
true. The Day of Doom has burst upon the globe, and swept away the
whole rece of men. From cities and fields, sea-shore, and mid-land
mountain region, vast continents, and even the remotest islands of the
ocean—each living thing is gone. No breath of a created being
disturbs this earthly atmosphere. But the abodes of man, and all that
he has accomplished, the foot-prints of his wanderings, and the results
of his toil, the visible symbols of his intellectual cultivation, and
moral progress—in short, everything physical that can give evidence
of his present position—shall remain untouched by the hand of
destiny. Then, to inherit and repeople this waste and deserted earth,
we will suppose a new Adam and a new Eve to have been created, in the
full development of mind and heart, but with no knowledge of their
predecessors, nor of the diseased circumstances that had become
encrusted around them. Such a pair would at once distinguish between
art and nature. Their instincts and intuitions would immediately
recognize the wisdom and simplicity of the latter, while the former,
with its elaborate perversities, would offer them a continual
succession of puzzles.
Let us attempt, in a mood half-sportive and half-thoughtful, to
track these imaginary heirs of our mortality through their first day's
experience. No longer ago than yesterday, the flame of human life was
extinguished; there has been a breathless night; and now another morn
approaches, expecting to find the earth no less desolate than at
It is dawn. The east puts on its immemorial blush, although no human
eye is gazing at it; for all the phenomena of the natural world renew
themselves, in spite of the solitude that now broods around the globe.
There is still beauty of earth, sea, and sky, for beauty's sake. But
soon there are to be spectators. Just when the earliest sunshine gilds
earth's mountain tops, two beings have come into life, not in such an
Eden as bloomed to welcome our first parents, but in the heart of a
modern city. They find themselves in existence, and gazing into one
another's eyes. Their emotion is not astonishment; nor do they perplex
themselves with efforts to discover what, and whence, and why they are.
Each is satisfied to be, because the other exists likewise; and their
first consciousness is of calm and mutual enjoyment, which seems not to
have been the birth of that very moment, but prolonged from a past
eternity. Thus content with an inner sphere which they inhabit
together, it is not immediately that the outward world can obtrude
itself upon their notice.
Soon, however, they feel the invincible necessity of this earthly
life, and begin to make acquaintance with the objects and
circumstances that surround them. Perhaps no other stride so vast
remains to be taken, as when they first turn from the reality of their
mutual glance, to the dreams and shadows that perplex them everywhere
"Sweetest Eve, where are we?" exclaims the new Adam,— for speech,
or some equivalent mode of expression, is born with them, and comes
just as natural as breath;—"Methinks I do not recognize this place."
"Nor I, dear Adam," replies the new Eve. "And what a strange place
too! Let me come closer to thy side, and behold thee only; for all
other sights trouble and perplex my spirit."
"Nay, Eve," replies Adam, who appears to have the stronger tendency
towards the material world; "it were well that we gain some insight
into these matters. We are in an odd situation here! Let us look about
Assuredly, there are sights enough to throw the new inheritors of
earth into a state of hopeless perplexity. The long lines of edifices,
their windows glittering in the yellow sunrise, and the narrow street
between, with its barren pavement, tracked and battered by wheels that
have now rattled into an irrevocable past! The signs, with their
unintelligible hieroglyphics! The squareness and ugliness, and regular
or irregular deformity, of everything that meets the eye! The marks of
wear and tear, and unrenewed decay, which distinguish the works of man
from the growth of nature! What is there in all this, capable of the
slightest significance to minds that know nothing of the artificial
system which is implied in every lamp-post and each brick of the
houses? Moreover, the utter loneliness and silence, in a scene that
originally grew out of noise and bustle, must needs impress a feeling
of desolation even upon Adam and Eve, unsuspicious as they are of the
recent extinction of human existence. In a forest, solitude would be
life; in the city, it is death.
The new Eve looks round with a sensation of doubt and distrust, such
as a city dame, the daughter of numberless generations of citizens,
might experience, if suddenly transported to the garden of Eden. At
length, her downcast eye discovers a small tuft of grass, just
beginning to sprout among the stones of the pavement; she eagerly
grasps it, and is sensible that this little herb awakens some response
within her heart. Nature finds nothing else to offer her. Adam, after
staring up and down the street, without detecting a single object that
his comprehension can lay hold of, finally turns his forehead to the
sky. There, indeed, is something which the soul within him recognizes.
"Look up yonder, mine own Eve!" he cries; "surely we ought to dwell
among those gold-tinged clouds, or in the blue depths beyond them. I
know not how nor when, but evidently we have strayed away from our
home; for I see nothing hereabouts that seems to belong to us."
"Can we not ascend thither?" inquires Eve.
"Why not?" answers Adam, hopefully. "But no! Something drags us down
in spite of our best efforts. Perchance we may find a path hereafter."
In the energy of new life, it appears no such impracticable feat to
climb into the sky! But they have already received a woful lesson,
which may finally go far towards reducing them to the level of the
departed race, when they acknowledge the necessity of keeping the
beaten track of earth. They now set forth on a ramble through the city,
in the hope of making their escape from this uncongenial sphere.
Already, in the fresh elasticity of their spirits they have found the
idea of weariness. We will watch them as they enter some of the shops,
and public or private edifices; for every door, whether of alderman or
beggar, church or hall of state, has been flung wide open by the same
agency that swept away the inmates.
It so happens—and not unluckily for an Adam and Eve who are still
in the costume that might better have befitted Eden—it so happens,
that their first visit is to a fashionable dry-good store. No courteous
and importunate attendants hasten to receive their orders; no throng of
ladies are tossing over the rich Parisian fabrics. All is deserted;
trade is at a stand-still; and not even an echo of the national
watchword—"Go ahead!"—disturbs the quiet of the new customers. But
specimens of the latest earthly fashions, silks of every shade, and
whatever is most delicate or splendid for the decoration of the human
form, lie scattered around, profusely as bright autumnal leaves in a
forest. Adam looks at a few of the articles, but throws them carelessly
aside, with whatever exclamation may correspond to "Pish!" or "Pshaw!"
in the new vocabulary of nature. Eve, however,— be it said without
offence to her native modesty,—examines these treasures of her sex
with somewhat livelier interest. A pair of corsets chance to lie upon
the counter; she inspects them curiously, but knows not what to make of
them. Then she handles a fashionable silk with dim yearnings—thoughts
that wander hither and thither—instincts groping in the dark.
"On the whole, I do not like it," she observes, laying the glossy
fabric upon the counter. "But, Adam, it is very strange! What can these
things mean? Surely I ought to know—yet they put me in a perfect
"Pooh! my dear Eve, why trouble thy little head about such
nonsense?" cries Adam, in a fit of impatience. "Let us go somewhere
else. But stay! How very beautiful! My loveliest Eve, what a charm you
have imparted to that robe, by merely throwing it over your shoulders!"
For Eve, with the taste that nature moulded into her composition,
has taken a remnant of exquisite silver gauze and drawn it around her
form, with an effect that gives Adam his first idea of the witchery of
dress. He beholds his spouse in a new light and with renewed
admiration, yet is hardly reconciled to any other attire than her own
golden locks. However, emulating Eve's example, he makes free with a
mantle of blue velvet, and puts it on so picturesquely, that it might
seem to have fallen from Heaven upon his stately figure. Thus garbed,
they go in search of new discoveries.
They next wander into a Church, not to make a display of their fine
clothes, but attracted by its spire, pointing upwards to the sky,
whither they have already yearned to climb. As they enter the portal, a
clock, which it was the last earthly act of the sexton to wind up,
repeats the hour in deep and reverberating tones; for Time has survived
his former progeny, and, with the iron tongue that man gave him, is now
speaking to his two grandchildren. They listen, but understand him not.
Nature would measure time by the succession of thoughts and acts which
constitute real life, and not by hours of emptiness. They pass up the
church aisle, and raise their eyes to the ceiling. Had our Adam and Eve
become mortal in some European city, and strayed into the vastness and
sublimity of an old cathedral, they might have recognized the purpose
for which the deep-souled founders reared it. Like the dim awfulness of
an ancient forest, its very atmosphere would have incited them to
prayer. Within the snug walls of a metropolitan church there can be no
Yet some odor of religion is still lingering here, the bequest of
pious souls, who had grace to enjoy a foretaste of immortal life.
Perchance, they breathe a prophecy of a better world to their
successors, who have become obnoxious to all their own cares and
calamities in the present one.
"Eve, something impels me to look upward," says Adam. "But it
troubles me to see this roof between us and the sky. Let us go forth,
and perhaps we shall discern a Great Face looking down upon us."
"Yes; a Great Face, with a beam of love brightening over it, like
sunshine," responds Eve. "Surely, we have seen such a countenance
They go out of the church, and kneeling at its threshold give way to
the spirit's natural instinct of adoration to a beneficent Father. But,
in truth, their life thus far has been a continual prayer. Purity and
simplicity hold converse, at every moment, with their Creator.
We now observe them entering a Court of Justice. But what remotest
conception can they attain of the purposes of such an edifice? How
should the idea occur to them, that human brethren, of like nature with
themselves, and originally included in the same law of love which is
their only rule of life, should ever need an outward enforcement of the
true voice within their souls? And what, save a woful experience, the
dark result of many centuries, could teach them the sad mysteries of
crime? Oh, Judgment Seat, not by the pure in heart wast thou
established, nor in the simplicity of nature; but by hard and wrinkled
men, and upon the accumulated heap of earthly wrong! Thou art the very
symbol of man's perverted state.
On as fruitless an errand our wanderers next visit a Hall of
Legislature, where Adam places Eve in the Speaker's chair, unconscious
of the moral which he thus exemplifies. Man's intellect, moderated by
Woman's tenderness and moral sense! Were such the legislation of the
world, there would be no need of State Houses, Capitols, Halls of
Parliament, nor even of those little assemblages of patriarchs beneath
the shadowy trees, by whom freedom was first interpreted to mankind on
our native shores.
Whither go they next? A perverse destiny seems to perplex them with
one after another of the riddles which mankind put forth to the
wandering universe, and left unsolved in their own destruction. They
enter an edifice of stern grey stone, standing insulated in the midst
of others, and gloomy even in the sunshine, which it barely suffers to
penetrate through its iron-grated windows. It is a Prison. The jailer
has left his post at the summons of a stronger authority than the
sheriff's. But the prisoners? Did the messenger of fate, when he shook
open all the doors, respect the magistrate's warrant and the judge's
sentence, and leave the inmates of the dungeons to be delivered by due
course of earthly law? No; a new trial has been granted, in a higher
court, which may set judge, jury, and prisoner at its bar all in a row,
and perhaps find one no less guilty than another. The jail, like the
whole earth, is now a solitude, and has thereby lost something of its
dismal gloom. But here are the narrow cells, like tombs, only drearier
and deadlier, because in these the immortal spirit was buried with the
body. Inscriptions appear on the walls, scribbled with a pencil, or
scratched with a rusty nail; brief words of agony, perhaps, or guilt's
desperate defiance to the world, or merely a record of a date, by which
the writer strove to keep up with the march of life. There is not a
living eye that could now decipher these memorials.
Nor is it while so fresh from their Creator's hand, that the new
denizens of earth—no, nor their descendants for a thousand years—
could discover that this edifice was a hospital for the direst disease
which could afflict their predecessors. Its patients bore the outward
marks of that leprosy with which all were more or less infected. They
were sick—and so were the purest of their brethren—with the plague
of sin. A deadly sickness, indeed! Feeling its symptoms within the
breast, men concealed it with fear and shame, and were only the more
cruel to those unfortunates whose pestiferous sores were flagrant to
the common eye. Nothing, save a rich garment, could ever hide the
plague-spot. In the course of the world's lifetime, every remedy was
tried for its cure and extirpation, except the single one, the flower
that grew in Heaven, and was sovereign for all the miseries of earth.
Man never had attempted to cure sin by Love! Had he but once made the
effort, it might well have happened, that there would have been no
more need of the dark lazar-house into which Adam and Eve have
wandered. Hasten forth, with your native innocence, lest the damps of
these still conscious walls infect you likewise, and thus another
fallen race be propagated!
Passing from the interior of the prison into the space within its
outward wall, Adam pauses beneath a structure of the simplest
contrivance, yet altogether unaccountable to him. It consists merely of
two upright posts, supporting a transverse beam, from which dangles a
"Eve, Eve!" cries Adam, shuddering with a nameless horror. "What can
this thing be?"
"I know not," answers Eve; "but, Adam, my heart is sick! There seems
to be no more sky!—no more sunshine!"
Well might Adam shudder, and poor Eve be sick at heart; for this
mysterious object was the type of mankind's whole system, in regard to
the great difficulties which God had given to be solved—a system of
fear and vengeance, never successful, yet followed to the last. Here,
on the morning when the final summons came, a criminal—one criminal,
where none were guiltless— had died upon the gallows. Had the world
heard the foot-fall of its own approaching doom, it would have been no
inappropriate act, thus to close the record of its deeds by one so
The two pilgrims now hurry from the prison. Had they known how the
former inhabitants of earth were shut up in artificial error, and
cramped and chained by their perversions, they might have compared the
whole moral world to a prison-house, and have deemed the removal of the
race a general jail-delivery.
They next enter, unannounced—but they might have rung at the door
in vain—a private mansion, one of the stateliest in Beacon street. A
wild and plaintive strain of music is quivering through the house, now
rising like a solemn organ peal, and now dying into the faintest
murmur; as if some spirit, that had felt an interest in the departed
family, were bemoaning itself in the solitude of hall and chamber.
Perhaps, a virgin, the purest of mortal race, has been left behind, to
perform a requiem for the whole kindred of humanity? Not so! These are
the tones of an Æolian harp, through which Nature pours the harmony
that lies concealed in her every breath, whether of summer breeze or
tempest. Adam and Eve are lost in rapture, unmingled with surprise. The
passing wind, that stirred the harp-strings, has been hushed, before
they can think of examining the splendid furniture, the gorgeous
carpets, and the architecture of the rooms. These things amuse their
unpractised eyes, but appeal to nothing within their hearts. Even the
pictures upon the walls scarcely excite a deeper interest; for there is
something radically artificial and deceptive in painting, with which
minds in the primal simplicity cannot sympathize. The unbidden guests
examine a row of family portraits, but are too dull to recognize them
as men and women, beneath the disguise of a preposterous garb, and with
features and expression debased, because inherited through ages of
moral and physical decay.
Chance, however, presents them with pictures of human beauty, fresh
from the hand of Nature. As they enter a magnificent apartment, they
are astonished, but not affrighted, to perceive two figures advancing
to meet them. Is it not awful to imagine that any life, save their own,
should remain in the wide world?
"How is this?" exclaims Adam. "My beautiful Eve, are you in two
places at once?"
"And you, Adam!" answers Eve, doubtful, yet delighted. "Surely that
noble and lovely form is yours. Yet here you are by my side! I am
content with one—methinks there should not be two!"
This miracle is wrought by a tall looking-glass, the mystery of
which they soon fathom, because Nature creates a mirror for the human
face in every pool of water, and for her own great features in
waveless lakes. Pleased and satisfied with gazing at themselves, they
now discover the marble statue of a child in a corner of the room, so
exquisitely idealized, that it is almost worthy to be the prophetic
likeness of their first-born. Sculpture, in its highest excellence, is
more genuine than painting, and might seem to be evolved from a natural
germ, by the same law as a leaf or flower. The statue of the child
impresses the solitary pair as if it were a companion; it likewise
hints at secrets both of the past and future.
"My husband!" whispers Eve.
"What would you say, dearest Eve?" inquires Adam.
"I wonder if we are alone in the world," she continues, with a sense
of something like fear at the thought of other inhabitants. "This
lovely little form! Did it ever breathe? Or is it only the shadow of
something real, like our pictures in the mirror?"
"It is strange!" replies Adam, pressing his hand to his brow. "There
are mysteries all around us. An idea flits continually before
me—would that I could seize it! Eve, Eve, are we treading in the
footsteps of beings that bore a likeness to ourselves? If so, whither
are they gone?—and why is their world so unfit for our
"Our great Father only knows," answers Eve. "But something tells me
that we shall not always be alone. And how sweet if other beings were
to visit us in the shape of this fair image!"
Then they wander through the house, and everywhere find tokens of
human life, which now, with the idea recently suggested, excite a
deeper curiosity in their bosoms. Woman has here left traces of her
delicacy and refinement, and of her gentle labors. Eve ransacks a
work-basket, and instinctively thrusts the rosy tip of her finger into
a thimble. She takes up a piece of embroidery, glowing with mimic
flowers, in one of which a fair damsel of the departed race has left
her needle. Pity that the Day of Doom should have anticipated the
completion of such a useful task! Eve feels almost conscious of the
skill to finish it. A piano-forte has been left open. She flings her
hand carelessly over the keys, and strikes out a sudden melody, no less
natural than the strains of the Æolian harp, but joyous with the dance
of her yet unburthened life. Passing through a dark entry, they find a
broom behind the door; and Eve, who comprises the whole nature of
womanhood, has a dim idea that it is an instrument proper for her hand.
In another apartment they behold a canopied bed, and all the appliances
of luxurious repose. A heap of forest-leaves would be more to the
purpose. They enter the nursery, and are perplexed with the sight of
little gowns and caps, tiny shoes, and a cradle; amid the drapery of
which is still to be seen the impress of a baby's form. Adam slightly
notices these trifles; but Eve becomes involved in a fit of mute
reflection, from which it is hardly possible to rouse her.
By a most unlucky arrangement, there was to have been a grand
dinner-party in this mansion on the very day when the whole human
family, including the invited guests, were summoned to the unknown
regions of illimitable space. At the moment of fate, the table was
actually spread, and the company on the point of sitting down. Adam and
Eve came unbidden to the banquet; it has now been some time cold, but
otherwise furnishes them with highly favorable specimens of the
gastronomy of their predecessors. But it is difficult to imagine the
perplexity of the unperverted couple, in endeavoring to find proper
food for their first meal, at a table where the cultivated appetites of
a fashionable party were to have been gratified. Will Nature teach them
the mystery of a plate of turtle soup? Will she embolden them to attack
a haunch of venison? Will she initiate them into the merits of a
Parisian pasty, imported by the last steamer that ever crossed the
Atlantic? Will she not, rather, bid them turn with disgust from fish,
fowl, and flesh, which, to their pure nostrils, steam with a loathsome
odor of death and corruption?— Food? The bill of fare contains
nothing which they recognize as such.
Fortunately, however, the dessert is ready upon a neighboring table.
Adam, whose appetite and animal instincts are quicker than those of
Eve, discovers this fitting banquet.
"Here, dearest Eve," he exclaims, "here is food."
"Well," answered she, with the germ of a housewife stirring within
her, "we have been so busy to-day, that a picked-up dinner must serve."
So Eve comes to the table, and receives a red-cheeked apple from her
husband's hand, in requital of her predecessor's fatal gift to our
common grandfather. She eats it without sin, and, let us hope, with no
disastrous consequences to her future progeny. They make a plentiful,
yet temperate meal of fruit, which, though not gathered in Paradise, is
legitimately derived from the seeds that were planted there. Their
primal appetite is satisfied.
"What shall we drink, Eve?" inquires Adam.
Eve peeps among some bottles and decanters, which, as they contain
fluids, she naturally conceives must be proper to quench thirst. But
never before did claret, hock, and madeira, of rich and rare perfume,
excite such disgust as now.
"Pah!" she exclaims, after smelling at various wines. "What stuff is
here? The beings who have gone before us could not have possessed the
same nature that we do; for neither their hunger nor thirst were like
"Pray hand me yonder bottle," says Adam. "If it be drinkable by any
manner of mortal, I must moisten my throat with it."
After some remonstrances, she takes up a champagne bottle, but is
frightened by the sudden explosion of the cork, and drops it upon the
floor. There the untasted liquor effervesces. Had they quaffed it, they
would have experienced that brief delirium, whereby, whether excited by
moral or physical causes, man sought to recompense himself for the
calm, life-long joys which he had lost by his revolt from nature. At
length, in a refrigerator, Eve finds a glass pitcher of water, pure,
cold, and bright, as ever gushed from a fountain among the hills. Both
drink; and such refreshment does it bestow, that they question one
another of this precious liquid be not identical with the stream of
life within them.
"And now," observes Adam, "we must again try to discover what sort
of a world this is, and why we have been sent hither."
"Why?—To love one another!" cries Eve. "Is not that employment
"Truly is it," answers Adam, kissing her; "but still—I know
not—something tells us there is labor to be done. Perhaps our
allotted task is no other than to climb into the sky, which is so much
more beautiful than earth."
"Then would we were there now," murmurs Eve, "that no task or duty
might come between us!"
They leave the hospitable mansion; and we next see them passing down
State street. The clock on the old State House points to high noon,
when the Exchange should be in its glory, and present the liveliest
emblem of what was the sole business of life, as regarded a multitude
of the fore-gone worldlings. It is over now. The Sabbath of eternity
has shed its stillness along the street. Not even a news-boy assails
the two solitary passers-by, with an extra penny-paper from the office
of the Times or Mail, containing a full account of yesterday's terrible
catastrophe. Of all the dull times that merchants and speculators have
known, this is the very worst; for, so far as they were concerned,
creation itself has taken the benefit of the bankrupt-act. After all,
it is a pity. Those mighty capitalists, who had just attained the
wished-for wealth! Those shrewd men of traffic, who had devoted so many
years to the most intricate and artificial of sciences, and had barely
mastered it, when the universal bankruptcy was announced by peal of
trumpet! Can they have been so incautious as to provide no currency of
the country whither they have gone, nor any bills of exchange, or
letters of credit, from the needy on earth to the cash-keepers of
Adam and Eve enter a Bank. Start not, ye whose funds are treasured
there! You will never need them now. Call not for the police! The
stones of the street and the coin of the vaults are of equal value to
this simple pair. Strange sight! They take up the bright gold in
handfuls, and throw it sportively into the air, for the sake of seeing
the glittering worthlessness descend again in a shower. They know not
that each of those small yellow circles was once a magic spell, potent
to sway men's hearts, and mystify their moral sense. Here let them
pause in the investigation of the past. They have discovered the
main-spring, the life, the very essence, of the system that had wrought
itself into the vitals of mankind, and choked their original nature in
its deadly gripe. Yet how powerless over these young inheritors of
earth's hoarded wealth! And here, too, are huge packages of bank-notes,
those talismanic slips of paper, which once had the efficacy to build
up enchanted palaces, like exhalations, and work all kinds of perilous
wonders, yet were themselves but the ghosts of money, the shadows of a
shade. How like is this vault to a magician's cave, when the
all-powerful wand is broken, and the visionary splendor vanished, and
the floor strewn with fragments of shattered spells, and lifeless
shapes once animated by demons!
"Everywhere, my dear Eve," observes Adam, "we find heaps of rubbish
of one kind or another. Somebody, I am convinced, has taken pains to
collect them—but for what purpose? Perhaps, hereafter, we shall be
moved to do the like. Can that be our business in the world?"
"Oh, no, no, Adam!" answers Eve. "It would be better to sit down
quietly and look upward to the sky."
They leave the Bank, and in good time; for had they tarried later,
they would probably have encountered some gouty old goblin of a
capitalist, whose soul could not long be anywhere, save in the vault
with his treasure.
Next, they drop into a jeweller's shop. They are pleased with the
glow of gems; and Adam twines a string of beautiful pearls around the
head of Eve, and fastens his own mantle with a magnificent diamond
brooch. Eve thanks him, and views herself with delight in the nearest
looking-glass. Shortly afterward, observing a boquet of roses and other
brilliant flowers in a vase of water, she flings away the inestimable
pearls, and adorns herself with these lovelier gems of nature. They
charm her with sentiment as well as beauty.
"Surely they are living beings," she remarks to Adam.
"I think so," replies Adam, "and they seem to be as little at home
in the world as ourselves."
We must not attempt to follow every footstep of these investigators
whom their Creator has commissioned to pass unconscious judgment upon
the works and ways of the vanished race. By this time, being endowed
with quick and accurate perceptions, they begin to understand the
purpose of the many things around them. They conjecture, for instance,
that the edifices of the city were erected, not by the immediate hand
that made the world, but by beings somewhat similar to themselves, for
shelter and convenience. But how will they explain the magnificence of
one habitation, as compared with the squalid misery of another? Through
what medium can the idea of servitude enter their minds? When will they
comprehend the great and miserable fact,—the evidences of which
appeal to their senses everywhere,— that one portion of earth's lost
inhabitants was rolling in luxury, while the multitude was toiling for
scanty food? A wretched change, indeed, must be wrought in their own
hearts, ere they can conceive the primal decree of Love to have been so
completely abrogated, that a brother should ever want what his brother
had. When their intelligence shall have reached so far, Earth's new
progeny will have little reason to exult over her old rejected one.
Their wanderings have now brought them into the suburbs of the city.
They stand on a grassy brow of a hill, at the foot of a granite
obelisk, which points its great finger upwards, as if the human family
had agreed, by a visible symbol of age-long endurance, to offer some
high sacrifice of thanksgiving or supplication. The solemn height of
the monument, its deep simplicity, and the absence of any vulgar and
practical use, all strengthen its effect upon Adam and Eve, and lead
them to interpret it by a purer sentiment than the builders thought of
"Eve, it is a visible prayer," observed Adam.
"And we will pray, too," she replies.
Let us pardon these poor children of neither father nor mother, for
so absurdly mistaking the purport of the memorial, which man founded
and woman finished, on far-famed Bunker Hill. The idea of war is not
native to their souls. Nor have they sympathies for the brave defenders
of liberty, since oppression is one of their unconjectural mysteries.
Could they guess that the green sward on which they stand so
peacefully, was once strewn with human corpses and purple with their
blood, it would equally amaze them, that one generation of men should
perpetrate such carnage, and that a subsequent generation should
triumphantly commemorate it.
With a sense of delight, they now stroll across green fields and
along the margin of a quiet river. Not to track them too closely, we
next find the wanderers entering a Gothic edifice of grey stone, where
the by-gone world has left whatever it deemed worthy of record, in the
rich library of Harvard University.
No student ever yet enjoyed such solitude and silence as now broods
within its deep alcoves. Little do the present visitors understand what
opportunities are thrown away upon them. Yet Adam looks anxiously at
the long rows of volumes, those storied heights of human lore,
ascending one above another from floor to ceiling. He takes up a bulky
folio. It opens in his hands, as if spontaneously to impart the spirit
of its author to the yet unworn and untainted intellect of the
fresh-created mortal. He stands poring over the regular columns of
mystic characters, seemingly in studious mood; for the unintelligible
thought upon the page has a mysterious relation to his mind, and makes
itself felt, as it were a burthen flung upon him. He is even painfully
perplexed, and grasps vainly at he knows not what. Oh, Adam, it is too
soon, too soon by at least five thousand years, to put on spectacles,
and busy yourself in the alcoves of a library!
"What can this be?" he murmurs at last. "Eve, methinks nothing is so
desirable as to find out the mystery of this big and heavy object with
its thousand thin divisions. See! it stares me in the face, as if it
were about to speak!"
Eve, by a feminine instinct, is dipping into a volume of fashionable
poetry, the production of certainly the most fortunate of earthly
bards, since his lay continues in vogue when all the great masters of
the lyre have passed into oblivion. But let not his ghost be too
exultant! The world's one lady tosses the book upon the floor, and
laughs merrily at her husband's abstracted mien.
"My dear Adam," cries she, "you look pensive and dismal! Do fling
down that stupid thing; for even if it should speak, it would not be
worth attending to. Let us talk with one another, and with the sky, and
the green earth, and its trees and flowers. They will teach us better
knowledge than we can find here."
"Well, Eve, perhaps you are right," replies Adam, with a sort of
sigh. "Still, I cannot help thinking that the interpretation of the
riddles amid which we have been wandering all day long might here be
"It may be better not to seek the interpretation," persists Eve.
"For my part, the air of this place does not suit me. If you love me,
She prevails, and rescues him from the mysterious perils of the
library. Happy influence of woman! Had he lingered there long enough to
obtain a clue to its treasures,—as was not impossible, his intellect
being of human structure, indeed, but with an untransmitted vigor and
acuteness,—had he then and there become a student, the annalist of
our poor world would soon have recorded the downfall of a second Adam.
The fatal apple of another Tree of Knowledge would have been eaten. All
the perversions and sophistries, and false wisdom so aptly mimicking
the true; all the narrow truth, so partial that it becomes more
deceptive than falsehood; all the wrong principles and worse practice,
the pernicious examples and mistaken rules of life; all the specious
theories, which turn earth into cloud-land, and men into shadows; all
the sad experience, which it took mankind so many ages to accumulate,
and from which they never drew a moral for their future guidance—the
whole heap of this disastrous lore would have tumbled at once upon
Adam's head. There would have been nothing left for him, but to take up
the already abortive experiment of life, where we had dropped it, and
toil onward with it a little further.
But, blessed in his ignorance, he may still enjoy a new world in our
worn-out one. Should he fall short of good, even as far as we did, he
has at least the freedom—no worthless one—to make errors for
himself. And his literature, when the progress of centuries shall
create it, will be no interminably repeated echo of our own poetry, and
reproduction of the images that were moulded by our great fathers of
song and fiction, but a melody never yet heard on earth, and
intellectual forms unbreathed upon by our conceptions. Therefore let
the dust of ages gather upon the volumes of the library, and in due
season, the roof of the edifice crumble down upon the whole. When the
second Adam's descendants shall have collected as much rubbish of their
own, it will be time enough to dig into our ruins, and compare the
literary advancement of two independent races.
But we are looking forward too far. It seems to be the vice of those
who have a long past behind them. We will return to the new Adam and
Eve, who, having no reminiscences, save dim and fleeting visions of a
pre-existence, are content to live and be happy in the present.
The day is near its close, when these pilgrims, who derive their
being from no dead progenitors, reach the cemetery of Mount Auburn.
With light hearts—for earth and sky now gladden each other with
beauty—they tread along the winding paths, among marble pillars,
mimic temples, urns, obelisks, and sarcophagi, sometimes pausing to
contemplate these fantasies of human growth, and sometimes to admire
the flowers wherewith kind Nature converts decay to loveliness. Can
death, in the midst of his old triumphs, make them sensible that they
have taken up the heavy burthen of mortality, which a whole species had
thrown down? Dust kindred to their own has never lain in the grave.
Will they then recognize, and so soon, that Time and the elements have
an indefeasible claim upon their bodies? Not improbably, they may.
There must have been shadows enough, even amid the primal sunshine of
their existence, to suggest the thought of the soul's incongruity with
its circumstances. They have already learned that something is to be
thrown aside. The idea of Death is in them, or not far off. But were
they to choose a symbol for him, it would be the Butterfly soaring
upward, or the bright Angel beckoning them aloft, or the Child asleep,
with soft dreams visible through her transparent purity.
Such a Child, in whitest marble, they have found among the monuments
of Mount Auburn.
"Sweetest Eve," observes Adam, while hand in hand they contemplate
this beautiful object, "yonder sun has left us, and the whole world is
fading from our sight. Let us sleep, as this lovely little figure is
sleeping. Our Father only knows, whether what outward things we have
possessed to-day are to be snatched from us for ever. But should our
earthly life be leaving us with the departing light, we need not doubt
that another morn will find us somewhere beneath the smile of God. I
feel that he has imparted the boon of existence, never to be resumed."
"And no matter where we exist," replies Eve, "for we shall always be
EGOTISM; OR, THE BOSOM SERPENT. FROM
THE UNPUBLISHED "ALLEGORIES OF THE HEART."
"Here he comes!" shouted the boys along the street. "Here comes the
man with a snake in his bosom!"
This outcry, saluting Herkimer's ears, as he was about to enter the
iron gate of the Elliston mansion, made him pause. It was not without a
shudder that he found himself on the point of meeting his former
acquaintance, whom he had known in the glory of youth, and whom now,
after an interval of five years, he was to find the victim either of a
diseased fancy, or a horrible physical misfortune.
"A snake in his bosom!" repeated the young sculptor to himself. "It
must be he. No second man on earth has such a bosom-friend! And now, my
poor Rosina, Heaven grant me wisdom to discharge my errand aright!
Woman's faith must be strong indeed, since thine has not yet failed."
Thus musing, he took his stand at the entrance of the gate, and
waited until the personage, so singularly announced, should make his
appearance. After an instant or two, he beheld the figure of a lean
man, of unwholesome look, with glittering eyes and long black hair, who
seemed to imitate the motion of a snake; for, instead of walking
straight forward with open front, he undulated along the pavement in a
curved line. It may be too fanciful to say, that something, either in
his moral or material aspect, suggested the idea that a miracle had
been wrought, by transforming a serpent into a man; but so imperfectly,
that the snaky nature was yet hidden, and scarcely hidden, under the
mere outward guise of humanity. Herkimer remarked that his complexion
had a greenish tinge over its sickly white, reminding him of a species
of marble out of which he had once wrought a head of Envy, with her
The wretched being approached the gate, but, instead of entering,
stopt short, and fixed the glitter of his eye full upon the
compassionate, yet steady countenance of the sculptor.
"It gnaws me! It gnaws me!" he exclaimed.
And then there was an audible hiss, but whether it came from the
apparent lunatic's own lips, or was the real hiss of a serpent, might
admit of discussion. At all events, it made Herkimer shudder to his
"Do you know me, George Herkimer?" asked the snake-possessed.
Herkimer did know him. But it demanded all the intimate and
practical acquaintance with the human face, acquired by modelling
actual likenesses in clay, to recognize the features of Roderick
Elliston in the visage that now met the sculptor's gaze. Yet it was he.
It added nothing to the wonder, to reflect that the once brilliant
young man had undergone this odious and fearful change, during the no
more than five brief years of Herkimer's abode at Florence. The
possibility of such a transformation being granted, it was as easy to
conceive it effected in a moment as in an age. Inexpressibly shocked
and startled, it was still the keenest pang, when Herkimer remembered
that the fate of his cousin Rosina, the ideal of gentle womanhood, was
indissolubly interwoven with that of a being whom Providence seemed to
"Elliston! Roderick!" cried he, "I had heard of this; but my
conception came far short of the truth. What has befallen you? Why do I
find you thus?"
"Oh, 'tis a mere nothing! A snake! A snake! The commonest thing in
the world. A snake in the bosom—that's all," answered Roderick
Elliston. "But how is your own breast?" continued he, looking the
sculptor in the eye, with the most acute and penetrating glance that it
had ever been his fortune to encounter. "All pure and wholesome? No
reptile there? By my faith and conscience, and by the devil within me,
here is a wonder! A man without a serpent in his bosom!"
"Be calm, Elliston," whispered George Herkimer, laying his hand upon
the shoulder of the snake-possessed. "I have crossed the ocean to meet
you. Listen!—let us be private—I bring a message from
Rosina!—from your wife!"
"It gnaws me! It gnaws me!" muttered Roderick.
With this exclamation, the most frequent in his mouth, the
unfortunate man clutched both hands upon his breast, as if an
intolerable sting or torture impelled him to rend it open, and let out
the living mischief, even where it intertwined with his own life. He
then freed himself from Herkimer's grasp, by a subtle motion, and
gliding through the gate, took refuge in his antiquated family
residence. The sculptor did not pursue him. He saw that no available
intercourse could be expected at such a moment, and was desirous,
before another meeting, to inquire closely into the nature of
Roderick's disease, and the circumstances that had reduced him to so
lamentable a condition. He succeeded in obtaining the necessary
information from an eminent medical gentleman.
Shortly after Elliston's separation from his wife—now nearly four
years ago—his associates had observed a singular gloom spreading over
his daily life, like those chill, grey mists that sometimes steal away
the sunshine from a summer's morning. The symptoms caused them endless
perplexity. They knew not whether ill health were robbing his spirits
of elasticity; or whether a canker of the mind was gradually eating, as
such cankers do, from his moral system into the physical frame, which
is but the shadow of the former. They looked for the root of this
trouble in his shattered schemes of domestic bliss—wilfully shattered
by himself—but could not be satisfied of its existence there. Some
thought that their once brilliant friend was in an incipient stage of
insanity, of which his passionate impulses had perhaps been the
forerunners; others prognosticated a general blight and gradual
decline. From Roderick's own lips, they could learn nothing. More than
once, it is true, he had been heard to say, clutching his hands
convulsively upon his breast— "It gnaws me! It gnaws me!"—but, by
different auditors, a great diversity of explanation was assigned to
this ominous expression. What could it be, that gnawed the breast of
Roderick Elliston? Was it sorrow? Was it merely the tooth of physical
disease? Or, in his reckless course, often verging upon profligacy, if
not plunging into its depths, had he been guilty of some deed, which
made his bosom a prey to the deadlier fangs of remorse? There was
plausible ground for each of these conjectures; but it must not be
concealed that more than one elderly gentleman, the victim of good
cheer and slothful habits, magisterially pronounced the secret of the
whole matter to be Dyspepsia!
Meanwhile, Roderick seemed aware how generally he had become the
subject of curiosity and conjecture, and, with a morbid repugnance to
such notice, or to any notice whatsoever, estranged himself from all
companionship. Not merely the eye of man was a horror to him; not
merely the light of a friend's countenance; but even the blessed
sunshine, likewise, which, in its universal beneficence, typifies the
radiance of the Creator's face, expressing his love for all the
creatures of his hand. The dusky twilight was now too transparent for
Roderick Elliston; the blackest midnight was his chosen hour to steal
abroad; and if ever he were seen, it was when the watchman's lantern
gleamed upon his figure, gliding along the street, with his hands
clutched upon his bosom, still muttering:—"It gnaws me! It gnaws me!"
What could it be that gnawed him?
After a time, it became known that Elliston was in the habit of
resorting to all the noted quacks that infested the city, or whom money
would tempt to journey thither from a distance. By one of these
persons, in the exultation of a supposed cure, it was proclaimed far
and wide, by dint of hand-bills and little pamphlets on dingy paper,
that a distinguished gentleman, Roderick Elliston, Esq., had been
relieved of a Snake in his stomach! So here was the monstrous secret,
ejected from its lurking-place into public view, in all its horrible
deformity. The mystery was out; but not so the bosom serpent. He, if it
were anything but a delusion, still lay coiled in his living den. The
empiric's cure had been a sham, the effect, it was supposed, of some
stupefying drug, which more nearly caused the death of the patient than
of the odious reptile that possessed him. When Roderick Elliston
regained entire sensibility, it was to find his misfortune the town
talk—the more than nine days' wonder and horror—while, at his
bosom, he felt the sickening motion of a thing alive, and the gnawing
of that restless fang, which seemed to gratify at once a physical
appetite and a fiendish spite.
He summoned the old black servant, who had been bred up in his
father's house, and was a middle-aged man while Roderick lay in his
"Scipio!" he began; and then paused, with his arms folded over his
heart.—"What do people say of me, Scipio?"
"Sir! my poor master! that you had a serpent in your bosom,"
answered the servant, with hesitation.
"And what else?" asked Roderick, with a ghastly look at the man.
"Nothing else, dear master," replied Scipio;—"only that the
Doctor gave you a powder, and that the snake leapt out upon the floor."
"No, no!" muttered Roderick to himself, as he shook his head, and
pressed his hands with a more convulsive force upon his breast,—"I
feel him still. It gnaws me! It gnaws me!"
From this time, the miserable sufferer ceased to shun the world, but
rather solicited and forced himself upon the notice of acquaintances
and strangers. It was partly the result of desperation, on finding that
the cavern of his own bosom had not proved deep and dark enough to hide
the secret, even while it was so secure a fortress for the loathsome
fiend that had crept into it. But still more, this craving for
notoriety was a symptom of the intense morbidness which now pervaded
his nature. All persons, chronically diseased, are egotists, whether
the disease be of the mind or body; whether sin, sorrow, or merely the
more tolerable calamity of some endless pain, or mischief among the
cords of mortal life. Such individuals are made acutely conscious of a
self, by the torture in which it dwells. Self, therefore, grows to be
so prominent an object with them, that they cannot but present it to
the face of every casual passer-by. There is a pleasure— perhaps the
greatest of which the sufferer is susceptible—in displaying the
wasted or ulcerated limb, or the cancer in the breast; and the fouler
the crime, with so much the more difficulty does the perpetrator
prevent it from thrusting up its snake-like head to frighten the world;
for it is that cancer, or that crime, which constitutes their
respective individuality. Roderick Elliston, who, a little while
before, had held himself so scornfully above the common lot of men, now
paid full allegiance to this humiliating law. The snake in his bosom
seemed the symbol of a monstrous egotism, to which everything was
referred, and which he pampered, night and day, with a continual and
exclusive sacrifice of devil-worship.
He soon exhibited what most people considered indubitable tokens of
insanity. In some of his moods, strange to say, he prided and gloried
himself on being marked out from the ordinary experience of mankind, by
the possession of a double nature, and a life within a life. He
appeared to imagine that the snake was a divinity—not celestial, it
is true, but darkly infernal—and that he thence derived an eminence
and a sanctity, horrid, indeed, yet more desirable than whatever
ambition aims at. Thus he drew his misery around him like a regal
mantle, and looked down triumphantly upon those whose vitals nourished
no deadly monster. Oftener, however, his human nature asserted its
empire over him, in the shape of a yearning for fellowship. It grew to
be his custom to spend the whole day in wandering about the streets,
aimlessly, unless it might be called an aim to establish a species of
brotherhood between himself and the world. With cankered ingenuity, he
sought out his own disease in every breast. Whether insane or not, he
showed so keen a perception of frailty, error, and vice, that many
persons gave him credit for being possessed not merely with a serpent,
but with an actual fiend, who imparted this evil faculty of recognizing
whatever was ugliest in man's heart.
For instance, he met an individual, who, for thirty years, had
cherished a hatred against his own brother. Roderick, amidst the throng
of the street, laid his hand on this man's chest, and looking full into
his forbidding face,
"How is the snake to-day?"—he inquired, with a mock expression of
"The snake!" exclaimed the brother-hater—"What do you mean?"
"The snake! The snake! Does he gnaw you?" persisted Roderick. "Did
you take counsel with him this morning, when you should have been
saying your prayers? Did he sting, when you thought of your brother's
health, wealth, and good repute? Did he caper for joy, when you
remembered the profligacy of his only son? And whether he stung, or
whether he frolicked, did you feel his poison throughout your body and
soul, converting everything to sourness and bitterness? That is the way
of such serpents. I have learned the whole nature of them from my own!"
"Where is the police?" roared the object of Roderick's persecution,
at the same time giving an instinctive clutch to his breast. "Why is
this lunatic allowed to go at large?"
"Ha, ha!" chuckled Roderick, releasing his grasp of the man.— "His
bosom serpent has stung him then!"
Often, it pleased the unfortunate young man to vex people with a
lighter satire, yet still characterized by somewhat of snake-like
virulence. One day he encountered an ambitious statesman, and gravely
inquired after the welfare of his boa-constrictor; for of that species,
Roderick affirmed, this gentleman's serpent must needs be, since its
appetite was enormous enough to devour the whole country and
constitution. At another time, he stopped a close-fisted old fellow, of
great wealth, but who skulked about the city in the guise of a
scare-crow, with a patched blue surtout, brown hat, and mouldy boots,
scraping pence together, and picking up rusty nails. Pretending to look
earnestly at this respectable person's stomach, Roderick assured him
that his snake was a copper-head, and had been generated by the immense
quantities of that base metal, with which he daily defiled his fingers.
Again, he assaulted a man of rubicund visage, and told him that few
bosom serpents had more of the devil in them, than those that breed in
the vats of a distillery. The next whom Roderick honored with his
attention was a distinguished clergymen, who happened just then to be
engaged in a theological controversy, where human wrath was more
perceptible than divine inspiration.
"You have swallowed a snake, in a cup of sacramental wine," quoth he.
"Profane wretch!" exclaimed the divine; but, nevertheless, his hand
stole to his breast.
He met a person of sickly sensibility, who, on some early
disappointment, had retired from the world, and thereafter held no
intercourse with his fellow-men, but brooded sullenly or passionately
over the irrevocable past. This man's very heart, if Roderick might be
believed, had been changed into a serpent, which would finally torment
both him and itself to death. Observing a married couple, whose
domestic troubles were matter of notoriety, he condoled with both on
having mutually taken a house-adder to their bosoms. To an envious
author, who deprecated works which he could never equal, he said that
his snake was the slimiest and filthiest of all the reptile tribe, but
was fortunately without a sting. A man of impure life, and a brazen
face, asking Roderick if there were any serpent in his breast, he told
him that there was, and of the same species that once tortured Don
Rodrigo, the Goth. He took a fair young girl by the hand, and gazing
sadly into her eyes, warned her that she cherished a serpent of the
deadliest kind within her gentle breast; and the world found the truth
of those ominous words, when, a few months afterwards, the poor girl
died of love and shame. Two ladies, rivals in fashionable life, who
tormented one another with a thousand little stings of womanish spite,
were given to understand, that each of their hearts was a nest of
diminutive snakes, which did quite as much mischief as one great one.
But nothing seemed to please Roderick better than to lay hold of a
person infected with jealousy, which he represented as an enormous
green reptile, with an ice-cold length of body, and the sharpest sting
of any snake save one.
"And what one is that?" asked a bystander, overhearing him.
It was a dark-browed man, who put the question; he had an evasive
eye, which, in the course of a dozen years, had looked no mortal
directly in the face. There was an ambiguity about this person's
character—a stain upon his reputation—yet none could tell precisely
of what nature; although the city gossips, male and female, whispered
the most atrocious surmises. Until a recent period he had followed the
sea, and was, in fact, the very ship-master whom George Herkimer had
encountered, under such singular circumstances, in the Grecian
"What bosom-serpent has the sharpest sting?" repeated this man: but
he put the question as if by a reluctant necessity, and grew pale while
he was uttering it.
"Why need you ask?" replied Roderick, with a look of dark
intelligence. "Look into your own breast! Hark, my serpent bestirs
himself! He acknowledges the presence of a master-fiend!"
And then, as the bystanders afterwards affirmed, a hissing sound was
heard, apparently in Roderick Elliston's breast. It was said, too, that
an answering hiss came from the vitals of the shipmaster, as if a snake
were actually lurking there, and had been aroused by the call of its
brother-reptile. If there were in fact any such sound, it might have
been caused by a malicious exercise of ventriloquism, on the part of
Thus, making his own actual serpent—if a serpent there actually
was in his bosom—the type of each man's fatal error, or hoarded sin,
or unquiet conscience, and striking his sting so unremorsefully into
the sorest spot, we may well imagine that Roderick became the pest of
the city. Nobody could elude him; none could withstand him. He grappled
with the ugliest truth that he could lay his hand on, and compelled his
adversary to do the same. Strange spectacle in human life, where it is
the instinctive effort of one and all to hide those sad realities, and
leave them undisturbed beneath a heap of superficial topics, which
constitute the materials of intercourse between man and man! It was not
to be tolerated that Roderick Elliston should break through the tacit
compact, by which the world has done its best to secure repose, without
relinquishing evil. The victims of his malicious remarks, it is true,
had brothers enough to keep them in countenance; for, by Roderick's
theory, every mortal bosom harbored either a brood of small serpents,
or one overgrown monster, that had devoured all the rest. Still, the
city could not bear this new apostle. It was demanded by nearly all,
and particularly by the most respectable inhabitants, that Roderick
should no longer be permitted to violate the received rules of decorum,
by obtruding his own bosom-serpent to the public gaze, and dragging
those of decent people from their lurking-places.
Accordingly, his relatives interfered, and placed him in a private
asylum for the insane. When the news was noised abroad, it was observed
that many persons walked the streets with freer countenances, and
covered their breasts less carefully with their hands.
His confinement, however, although it contributed not a little to
the peace of the town, operated unfavorably upon Roderick himself. In
solitude, his melancholy grew more black and sullen. He spent whole
days—indeed, it was his sole occupation—in communing with the
serpent. A conversation was sustained, in which, as it seemed, the
hidden monster bore a part, though unintelligibly to the listeners, and
inaudible, except in a hiss. Singular as it may appear, the sufferer
had now contracted a sort of affection for his tormentor; mingled,
however, with the intensest loathing and horror. Nor were such
discordant emotions incompatible; each, on the contrary, imparted
strength and poignancy to its opposite. Horrible love—horrible
antipathy— embracing one another in his bosom, and both concentrating
themselves upon a being that had crept into his vitals, or been
engendered there, and which was nourished with his food, and lived upon
his life, and was as intimate with him as his own heart, and yet was
the foulest of all created things! But not the less was it the true
type of a morbid nature.
Sometimes, in his moments of rage and bitter hatred against the
snake and himself, Roderick determined to be the death of him, even at
the expense of his own life. Once he attempted it by starvation. But,
while the wretched man was on the point of famishing, the monster
seemed to feed upon his heart, and to thrive and wax gamesome, as if it
were his sweetest and most congenial diet. Then he privily took a dose
of active poison, imagining that it would not fail to kill either
himself, or the devil that possessed him, or both together. Another
mistake; for if Roderick had not yet been destroyed by his own poisoned
heart, nor the snake by gnawing it, they had little to fear from
arsenic or corrosive sublimate. Indeed, the venomous pest appeared to
operate as an antidote against all other poisons. The physicians tried
to suffocate the fiend with tobacco-smoke. He breathed it as freely as
if it were his native atmosphere. Again, they drugged their patient
with opium, and drenched him with intoxicating liquors, hoping that the
snake might thus be reduced to stupor, and perhaps be ejected from the
stomach. They succeeded in rendering Roderick insensible; but, placing
their hands upon his breast, they were inexpressibly horror-stricken to
feel the monster wriggling, twining, and darting to and fro, within his
narrow limits, evidently enlivened by the opium or alcohol, and incited
to unusual feats of activity. Thenceforth, they gave up all attempts at
cure or palliation. The doomed sufferer submitted to his fate, resumed
his former loathsome affection for the bosom-fined, and spent whole
miserable days before a looking-glass, with his mouth wide open,
watching, in hope and horror, to catch a glimpse of the snake's head,
far down within his throat. It is supposed that he succeeded; for the
attendants once heard a frenzied shout, and rushing into the room,
found Roderick lifeless upon the floor.
He was kept but little longer under restraint. After minute
investigation, the medical directors of the asylum decided that his
mental disease did not amount to insanity, nor would warrant his
confinement; especially as its influence upon his spirits was
unfavorable, and might produce the evil which it was meant to remedy.
His eccentricities were doubtless great—he had habitually violated
many of the customs and prejudices of society; but the world was not,
without surer ground, entitled to treat him as a madman. On this
decision of such competent authority, Roderick was released, and had
returned to his native city, the very day before his encounter with
As soon as possible after learning these particulars, the sculptor,
together with a sad and tremulous companion, sought Elliston at his own
house. It was a large, sombre edifice of wood, with pilasters and a
balcony, and was divided from one of the principal streets by a terrace
of three elevations, which was ascended by successive flights of stone
steps. Some immense old elms almost concealed the front of the mansion.
This spacious and once magnificent family-residence was built by a
grandee of the race, early in the past century; at which epoch, land
being of small comparative value, the garden and other grounds had
formed quite an extensive domain. Although a portion of the ancestral
heritage had been alienated, there was still a shadowy enclosure in the
rear of the mansion, where a student, or a dreamer, or a man of
stricken heart, might lie all day upon the grass, amid the solitude of
murmuring boughs, and forget that a city had grown up around him.
Into this retirement, the sculptor and his companion were ushered by
Scipio, the old black servant, whose wrinkled visage grew almost sunny
with intelligence and joy, as he paid his humble greetings to one of
the two visitors.
"Remain in the arbor," whispered the sculptor to the figure that
leaned upon his arm, "you will know whether, and when, to make your
"God will teach me," was the reply. "May he support me too!"
Roderick was reclining on the margin of a fountain, which gushed
into the fleckered sunshine with the same clear sparkle, and the same
voice of airy quietude, as when trees of primeval growth flung their
shadows across its bosom. How strange is the life of a fountain, born
at every moment, yet of an age coeval with the rocks, and far
surpassing the venerable antiquity of a forest!
"You are come! I have expected you," said Elliston, when he became
aware of the sculptor's presence.
His manner was very different from that of the preceding day—
quiet, courteous, and, as Herkimer thought, watchful both over his
guest and himself. This unnatural restraint was almost the only trait
that betokened anything amiss. He had just thrown a book upon the
grass, where it lay half-opened, thus disclosing itself to be a natural
history of the serpent-tribe, illustrated by life-like plates. Near it
lay that bulky volume, the Ductor Dubitantium of Jeremy Taylor, full of
cases of conscience, and in which most men, possessed of a conscience,
may find something applicable to their purpose.
"You see," observed Elliston, pointing to the book of serpents,
while a smile gleamed upon his lips, "I am making an effort to become
better acquainted with my bosom-friend. But I find nothing satisfactory
in this volume. If I mistake not, he will prove to be sui generis,
and akin to no other reptile in creation."
"Whence came this strange calamity?" inquired the sculptor.
"My sable friend, Scipio, has a story," replied Roderick, "of a
snake that had lurked in this fountain—pure and innocent as it
looks—ever since it was known to the first settlers. This insinuating
personage once crept into the vitals of my great-grandfather, and dwelt
there many years, tormenting the old gentleman beyond mortal endurance.
In short, it is a family peculiarity. But, to tell you the truth, I
have no faith in this idea of the snake's being an heir-loom. He is my
own snake, and no man's else."
"But what was his origin?" demanded Herkimer.
"Oh! there is poisonous stuff in any man's heart, sufficient to
generate a brood of serpents," said Elliston, with a hollow laugh.
"You should have heard my homilies to the good townspeople. Positively,
I deem myself fortunate in having bred but a single serpent. You,
however, have none in your bosom, and therefore cannot sympathize with
the rest of the world. It gnaws me! It gnaws me!"
With this exclamation, Roderick lost his self-control and threw
himself upon the grass, testifying his agony by intricate writhings, in
which Herkimer could not but fancy a resemblance to the motions of a
snake. Then, likewise, was heard that frightful hiss, which often ran
through the sufferer's speech, and crept between the words and
syllables, without interrupting their succession.
"This is awful indeed!" exclaimed the sculptor—"an awful
infliction, whether it be actual or imaginary! Tell me, Roderick
Elliston, is there any remedy for this loathsome evil?"
"Yes, but an impossible one," muttered Roderick, as he lay wallowing
with his face in the grass. "Could I, for one instant, forget myself,
the serpent might not abide within me. It is my diseased
self-contemplation that has engendered and nourished him!"
"Then forget yourself, my husband," said a gentle voice above
him—"forget yourself in the idea of another!"
Rosina had emerged from the arbor, and was bending over him, with
the shadow of his anguish reflected in her countenance, yet so mingled
with hope and unselfish love, that all anguish seemed but an earthly
shadow and a dream. She touched Roderick with her hand. A tremor
shivered through his frame. At that moment, if report be trustworthy,
the sculptor beheld a waving motion through the grass, and heard a
tinkling sound, as if something had plunged into the fountain. Be the
truth as it might, it is certain that Roderick Elliston sat up, like a
man renewed, restored to his right mind, and rescued from the fiend,
which had so miserably overcome him in the battle-field of his own
"Rosina!" cried he, in broken and passionate tones, but with nothing
of the wild wail that had haunted his voice so long. "Forgive! Forgive!"
Her happy tears bedewed his face.
"The punishment has been severe," observed the sculptor. "Even
Justice might now forgive—how much more a woman's tenderness!
Roderick Elliston, whether the serpent was a physical reptile, or
whether the morbidness of your nature suggested that symbol to your
fancy, the moral of the story is not the less true and strong. A
tremendous Egotism—manifesting itself, in your case, in the form of
jealousy—is as fearful a fiend as ever stole into the human heart.
Can a breast, where it has dwelt so long, be purified?"
"Oh, yes!" said Rosina, with a heavenly smile. "The serpent was but
a dark fantasy, and what it typified was as shadowy as itself. The
past, dismal as it seems, shall fling no gloom upon the future. To give
it its due importance, we must think of it but as an anecdote in our
1. The physical fact, to which it is here attempted to give a moral
signification, has been known to occur in more than one instance.
THE CHRISTMAS BANQUET. FROM THE
UNPUBLISHED "ALLEGORIES OF THE HEART."
"I have here attempted," said Roderick, unfolding a few sheets of
manuscript, as he sat with Rosina and the sculptor in the
summer-house—"I have attempted to seize hold of a personage who
glides past me, occasionally, in my walk through life. My former sad
experience, as you know, has gifted me with some degree of insight into
the gloomy mysteries of the human heart, through which I have wandered
like one astray in a dark cavern, with his torch fast flickering to
extinction. But this man—this class of men—is a hopeless puzzle."
"Well, but propound him," said the sculptor. "Let us have an idea of
him, to begin with."
"Why, indeed," replied Roderick, "he is such a being as I could
conceive you to carve out of marble, and some yet unrealized perfection
of human science to endow with an exquisite mockery of intellect; but
still there lacks the last inestimable touch of a divine Creator. He
looks like a man, and, perchance, like a better specimen of man than
you ordinarily meet. You might esteem him wise—he is capable of
cultivation and refinement, and has at least an external
conscience—but the demands that spirit makes upon spirit, are
precisely those to which he cannot respond. When, at last, you come
close to him, you find him chill and unsubstantial—a mere vapor."
"I believe," said Rosina, "I have a glimmering idea of what you
"Then be thankful," answered her husband, smiling; "but do not
anticipate any further illumination from what I am about to read. I
have here imagined such a man to be—what, probably, he never
is—conscious of the deficiency in his spiritual organization.
Methinks the result would be a sense of cold unreality, wherewith he
would go shivering through the world, longing to exchange his load of
ice for any burthen of real grief that fate could fling upon a human
Contenting himself with this preface, Roderick began to read.
In a certain old gentleman's last will and testament, there appeared
a bequest, which, as his final thought and deed, was singularly in
keeping with a long life of melancholy eccentricity. He devised a
considerable sum for establishing a fund, the interest of which was to
be expanded, annually for ever, in preparing a Christmas Banquet for
ten of the most miserable persons that could be found. It seemed not to
be the testator's purpose to make these half-a-score of sad hearts
merry, but to provide that the stern or fierce expression of human
discontent should not be drowned, even for that one holy and joyful
day, amid the acclamations of festal gratitude which all Christendom
sends up. And he desired, likewise, to perpetuate his own remonstrance
against the earthly course of Providence, and his sad and sour dissent
from those systems of religion or philosophy which either find sunshine
in the world, or draw it down from heaven.
The task of inviting the guests, or of selecting among such as might
advance their claims to partake of this dismal hospitality, was
confided to the two trustees or stewards of the fund. These gentlemen,
like their deceased friend, were sombre humorists, who made it their
principal occupation to number the sable threads in the web of human
life, and drop all the golden ones out of the reckoning. They
performed their present office with integrity and judgment. The aspect
of the assembled company, on the day of the first festival, might not,
it is true, have satisfied every beholder that these were especially
the individuals, chosen forth from all the world, whose griefs were
worthy to stand as indicators of the mass of human suffering. Yet,
after due consideration, it could not be disputed that here was a
variety of hopeless discomfort, which, if it sometimes arose from
causes apparently inadequate, was thereby only the shrewder imputation
against the nature and mechanism of life.
The arrangements and decorations of the banquet were probably
intended to signify that death-in-life which had been the testator's
definition of existence. The hall, illuminated by torches, was hung
round with curtains of deep and dusky purple, and adorned with branches
of cypress and wreaths of artificial flowers, imitative of such as used
to be strewn over the dead. A sprig of parsley was laid by every plate.
The main reservoir of wine was a sepulchral urn of silver, whence the
liquor was distributed around the table in small vases, accurately
copied from those that held the tears of ancient mourners. Neither had
the stewards— if it were their taste that arranged these
details—forgotten the fantasy of the old Egyptians, who seated a
skeleton at every festive board, and mocked their own merriment with
the imperturbable grin of a death's-head. Such a fearful guest,
shrouded in a black mantle, sat now at the head of the table. It was
whispered, I know not with what truth, that the testator himself had
once walked the visible world with the machinery of that same skeleton,
and that it was one of the stipulations of his will, that he should
thus be permitted to sit, from year to year, at the banquet which he
had instituted. If so, it was perhaps covertly implied that he had
cherished no hopes of bliss beyond the grave, to compensate for the
evils which he felt or imagined here. And if, in their bewildered
conjectures as to the purpose of earthly existence, the banqueters
should throw aside the veil, and cast an inquiring glance at this
figure of death, as seeking thence the solution otherwise unattainable,
the only reply would be a stare of the vacant eye-caverns, and a grin
of the skeleton-jaws. Such was the response that the dead man had
fancied himself to receive, when he asked of Death to solve the riddle
of his life; and it was his desire to repeat it, when the guests of his
dismal hospitality should find themselves perplexed with the same
"What means that wreath?" asked several of the company, while
viewing the decorations of the table.
They alluded to a wreath of cypress, which was held on high by a
skeleton-arm, protruding from within the black mantle.
"It is a crown," said one of the stewards, "not for the worthiest,
but for the wofullest, when he shall prove his claim to it."
The guest earliest bidden to the festival, was a man of soft and
gentle character, who had not energy to struggle against the heavy
despondency to which his temperament rendered him liable; and therefore
with nothing outwardly to excuse him from happiness, he had spent a
life of quiet misery, that made his blood torpid, and weighed upon his
breath, and sat like a ponderous night-fiend upon every throb of his
unresisting heart. His wretchedness seemed as deep as his original
nature, if not identical with it. It was the misfortune of a second
guest to cherish within his bosom a diseased heart, which had become so
wretchedly sore, that the continual and unavoidable rubs of the world,
the blow of an enemy, the careless jostle of a stranger, and even the
faithful and loving touch of a friend, alike made ulcers in it. As is
the habit of people thus afflicted, he found his chief employment in
exhibiting these miserable sores to any who would give themselves the
pain of viewing them. A third guest was a hypochondriac, whose
imagination wrought necromancy in his outward and inward world, and
caused him to see monstrous faces in the household fire, and dragons in
the clouds of sun-set, and fiends in the guise of beautiful women, and
something ugly or wicked beneath all the pleasant surfaces of nature.
His neighbor at table was one who, in his early youth, had trusted
mankind too much, and hoped too highly in their behalf, and, meeting
with many disappointments, had become desperately soured. For several
years back, this misanthrope had employed himself in accumulating
motives for hating and despising his race—such as murder, lust,
treachery, ingratitude, faithfulness of trusted friends, instinctive
vices of children, impurity of women, hidden guilt in men of saintlike
aspect—and, in short, all manner of black realities that sought to
decorate themselves with outward grace or glory. But, at every
atrocious fact that was added to his catalogue—at every increase of
the sad knowledge which he spent his life to collect— the native
impulses of the poor man's loving and confiding heart made him groan
with anguish. Next, with his heavy brow bent downward, there stole into
the hall a man naturally earnest and impassioned, who, from his
immemorial infancy, had felt the consciousness of a high message to the
world, but, essaying to deliver it, had found either no voice or form
of speech, or else no ears to listen. Therefore his whole life was a
bitter questioning of himself— "Why have not men acknowledged my
mission? Am I not a self-deluding fool? What business have I on earth?
Where is my grave?" Throughout the festival, he quaffed frequent
draughts from the sepulchral urn of wine, hoping thus to quench the
celestial fire that tortured his own breast, and could not benefit his
Then there entered—having flung away a ticket for a ball—a gay
gallant of yesterday, who had found four or five wrinkles in his brow,
and more grey hairs than he could well number, on his head. Endowed
with sense and feeling, he had nevertheless spent his youth in folly,
but had reached at last that dreary point in life, where Folly quits us
of her own accord, leaving us to make friends with Wisdom if we can.
Thus, cold and desolate, he had come to seek Wisdom at the banquet,
and wondered if the skeleton were she. To eke out the company, the
stewards had invited a distressed poet from his home in the alms-house,
and a melancholy idiot from the street corner. The latter had just the
glimmering of sense that was sufficient to make him conscious of a
vacancy, which the poor fellow, all his life long, had mistily sought
to fill up with intelligence, wandering up and down the streets, and
groaning miserably, because his attempts were ineffectual. The only
lady in the hall was one who had fallen short of absolute and perfect
beauty, merely by the trifling defect of a slight cast in her left eye.
But this blemish, minute as it was, so shocked the pure ideal of her
soul, rather than her vanity, that she passed her life in solitude, and
veiled her countenance even from her own gaze. So the skeleton sat
shrouded at one end of the table, and this poor lady at the other.
One other guest remains to be described. He was a young man of
smooth brow, fair cheek, and fashionable mien. So far as his exterior
development him, he might much more suitably have found a place at some
merry Christmas table, than have been numbered among the blighted,
fate-stricken, fancy-tortured set of ill-starred banqueters. Murmurs
arose among the guests, as they noted the glance of general scrutiny
which the intruder threw over his companions. What had he to do among
them? Why did not the skeleton of the dead founder of the feast unbend
its rattling joints, arise, and motion the unwelcome stranger from the
"Shameful!" said the morbid man, while a new ulcer broke out in his
heart. "He comes to mock us!—we shall be the jest of his tavern
friends!—he will make a farce of our miseries, and bring it out upon
"Oh, never mind him!" said the hypochondriac, smiling sourly. "He
shall feast from yonder tureen of viper soup; and if there is a
fricassee of scorpions on the table, pray let him have his share of
it. For the desert, he shall taste the apples of Sodom. Then, if he
like our Christmas fare, let him return again next year!"
"Trouble him not," murmured the melancholy man, with gentleness.
"What matters it whether the consciousness of misery come a few years
sooner or later? If this youth deem himself happy now, yet let him sit
with us, for the sake of the wretchedness to come."
The poor idiot approached the young man, with that mournful aspect
of vacant inquiry which his face continually wore, and which caused
people to say that he was always in search of his missing wits. After
no little examination, he touched the stranger's hand, but immediately
drew back his own, shaking his head and shivering.
"Cold, cold, cold!" muttered the idiot.
The young man shivered too—and smiled.
"Gentlemen—and you, madam,"—said one of the stewards of the
festival, "do not conceive so ill, either of our caution or judgment,
as to imagine that we have admitted this young stranger— Gervayse
Hastings by name—without a full investigation and thoughtful balance
of his claims. Trust me, not a guest at the table is better entitled to
The steward's guarantee was perforce satisfactory. The company,
therefore, took their places, and addressed themselves to the serious
business of the feast, but were soon disturbed by the hypochondriac,
who thrust back his chair, complaining that a dish of stewed toads and
vipers was set before him, and that there was green ditch-water in his
cup of wine. This mistake being amended, he quietly resumed his seat.
The wine, as it flowed freely from the sepulchral urn, seemed to come
imbued with all gloomy inspirations; so that its influence was not to
cheer, but either to sink the revellers into a deeper melancholy, or
elevate their spirits to an enthusiasm of wretchedness. The
conversation was various. They told sad stories about people who might
have been worthy guests at such a festival as the present. They talked
of grisly incidents in human history; of strange crimes, which, if
truly considered, were but convulsions of agony; of some lives that had
been altogether wretched, and of others, which, wearing a general
semblance of happiness, had yet been deformed, sooner or later, by
misfortune, as by the intrusion of a grim face at a banquet; of
death-bed scenes, and what dark intimations might be gathered from the
words of dying men; of suicide, and whether the more eligible mode were
by halter, knife, poison, drowning, gradual starvation, or the fumes of
charcoal. The majority of the guests, as is the custom with people
thoroughly and profoundly sick at heart, were anxious to make their own
woes the theme of discussion, and prove themselves most excellent in
anguish. The misanthropist went deep into the philosophy of evil, and
wandered about in the darkness, with now and then a gleam of discolored
light hovering on ghastly shapes and horrid scenery. Many a miserable
thought, such as men have stumbled upon from age to age, did he now
rake up again, and gloat over it as an inestimable gem, a diamond, a
treasure far preferable to those bright, spiritual revelations of a
better world, which are like precious stones from heaven's pavement.
And then, amid his lore of wretchedness, he hid his face and wept.
It was a festival at which the woful man of Uz might suitably have
been a guest, together with all, in each succeeding age, who have
tasted deepest of the bitterness of life. And be it said, too, that
every son or daughter of woman, however favored with happy fortune,
might, at one sad moment or another, have claimed the privilege of a
stricken heart, to sit down at this table. But, throughout the feast,
it was remarked that the young stranger, Gervayse Hastings, was
unsuccessful in his attempts to catch its pervading spirit. At any
deep, strong thought that found utterance, and which was torn out, as
it were, from the saddest recesses of human consciousness, he looked
mystified and bewildered; even more than the poor idiot, who seemed to
grasp at such things with his earnest heart, and thus occasionally to
comprehend them. The young man's conversation was of a colder and
lighter kind, often brilliant, but lacking the powerful characteristics
of a nature that had been developed by suffering.
"Sir," said the misanthropist, bluntly, in reply to some observation
by Gervayse Hastings, "pray do not address me again. We have no right
to talk together. Our minds have nothing in common. By what claim you
appear at this banquet, I cannot guess; but methinks, to a man who
could say what you have just now said, my companions and myself must
seem no more than shadows, flickering on the wall. And precisely such a
shadow are you to us!"
The young man smiled and bowed, but drawing himself back in his
chair, he buttoned his coat over his breast, as if the banquetting-hall
were growing chill. Again the idiot fixed his melancholy stare upon the
youth, and murmured—"cold! cold! cold!"
The banquet drew to its conclusion, and the guests departed.
Scarcely had they stepped across the threshold of the hall, when the
scene that had there passed seemed like the vision of a sick fancy, or
an exhalation from a stagnant heart. Now and then, however, during the
year that ensued, these melancholy people caught glimpses of one
another, transient, indeed, but enough to prove that they walked the
earth with the ordinary allotment of reality. Sometimes, a pair of them
came face to face, while stealing through the evening twilight,
enveloped in their sable cloaks. Sometimes, they casually met in
church-yards. Once, also, it happened, that two of the dismal
banquetters mutually started, at recognizing each other in the noon-day
sunshine of a crowded street, stalking there like ghosts astray.
Doubtless, they wondered why the skeleton did not come abroad at
But, whenever the necessity of their affairs compelled these
Christmas guests into the bustling world, they were sure to encounter
the young man, who had so unaccountably been admitted to the festival.
They saw him among the gay and fortunate; they caught the sunny sparkle
of his eye; they heard the light and careless tones of his voice—and
muttered to themselves, with such indignation as only the aristocracy
of wretchedness could kindle:—"The traitor! The vile impostor!
Providence, in its own good time, may give him a right to feast among
us!" But the young man's unabashed eye dwelt upon their gloomy figures,
as they passed him, seeming to say, perchance with somewhat of a
sneer—"First, know my secret!—then, measure your claims with mine!"
The step of Time stole onward, and soon brought merry Christmas
round again, with glad and solemn worship in the churches, and sports,
games, festivals, and everywhere the bright face of Joy beside the
household fire. Again, likewise, the hall, with its curtains of dusky
purple, was illuminated by the death-torches, gleaming on the
sepulchral decorations of the banquet. The veiled skeleton sat in
state, lifting the cypress-wreath above its head, as the guerdon of
some guest, illustrious in the qualifications which there claimed
precedence. As the stewards deemed the world inexhaustible in misery,
and were desirous of recognizing it in all its forms, they had not seen
fit to re-assemble the company of the former year. New faces now threw
their gloom across the table.
There was a man of nice conscience, who bore a blood-stain in his
heart—the death of a fellow-creature—which, for his more exquisite
torture, had chanced with such a peculiarity of circumstances, that he
could not absolutely determine whether his will had entered into the
deed or not. Therefore, his whole life was spent in the agony of an
inward trial for murder, with a continual sifting of the details of his
terrible calamity, until his mind had no longer any thought, nor his
soul any emotion, disconnected with it. There was a mother, too—a
mother once, but a desolation now—who, many years before, had gone
out on a pleasure-party, and, returning, found her infant smothered in
its little bed. And ever since she has been tortured with the fantasy,
that her buried baby lay smothering in its coffin. Then there was an
aged lady, who had lived from time immemorial with a constant tremor
quivering through her frame. It was terrible to discern her dark shadow
tremulous upon the wall; her lips, likewise, were tremulous; and the
expression of her eye seemed to indicate that her soul was trembling
too. Owing to the bewilderment and confusion which made almost a chaos
of her intellect, it was impossible to discover what dire misfortune
had thus shaken her nature to its depths; so that the stewards had
admitted her to the table, not from any acquaintance with her history,
but on the safe testimony of her miserable aspect. Some surprise was
expressed at the presence of a bluff, red-faced gentleman, a certain
Mr. Smith, who had evidently the fat of many a rich feast within him,
and the habitual twinkle of whose eye betrayed a disposition to break
forth into uproarious laughter, for little cause or none. It turned
out, however, that, with the best possible flow of spirits, our poor
friend was afflicted with a physical disease of the heart, which
threatened instant death on the slightest cachinnatory indulgence, or
even that titillation of the bodily frame, produced by merry thoughts.
In this dilemma, he had sought admittance to the banquet, on the
ostensible plea of his irksome and miserable state, but, in reality,
with the hope of imbibing a life-preserving melancholy.
A married couple had been invited, from a motive of bitter humor; it
being well understood, that they rendered each other unutterably
miserable whenever they chanced to meet, and therefore must necessarily
be fit associates at the festival. In contrast with these, was another
couple, still unmarried, who had interchanged their hearts in early
life, but had been divided by circumstances as impalpable as morning
mist, and kept apart so long, that their spirits now found it
impossible to meet. Therefore, yearning for communion, yet shrinking
from one another, and choosing none beside, they felt themselves
companionless in life, and looked upon eternity as a boundless desert.
Next to the skeleton sat a mere son of earth—a hunter of the
Exchange—a gatherer of shining dust—a man whose life's record was
in his ledger, and whose soul's prison-house, the vaults of the bank
where he kept his deposits. This person had been greatly perplexed at
his invitation, deeming himself one of the most fortunate men in the
city; but the stewards persisted in demanding his presence, assuring
him that he had no conception how miserable he was.
And now appeared a figure, which we must acknowledge as our
acquaintance of the former festival. It was Gervayse Hastings, whose
presence had then caused so much question and criticism, and who now
took his place with the composure of one whose claims were satisfactory
to himself, and must needs be allowed by others. Yet his easy and
unruffled face betrayed no sorrow. The well-skilled beholders gazed a
moment into his eyes, and shook their heads, to miss the unuttered
sympathy—the countersign, never to be falsified—of those whose
hearts are cavern-mouths, through which they descend into a region of
illimitable woe, and recognize other wanderers there.
"Who is this youth?" asked the man with a blood-stain on his
conscience. "Surely he has never gone down into the depths! I know all
the aspects of those who have passed through the dark valley. By what
right is he among us?"
"Ah, it is a sinful thing to come hither without a sorrow," murmured
the aged lady, in accents that partook of the eternal tremor which
pervaded her whole being. "Depart, young man! Your soul has never been
shaken; and therefore I tremble so much the more to look at you."
"His soul shaken! No; I'll answer for it," said bluff Mr. Smith,
pressing his hand upon his heart, and making himself as melancholy as
he could, for fear of a fatal explosion of laughter. "I know the lad
well; he has as fair prospects as any young man about town, and has no
more right among us, miserable creatures, than the child unborn. He
never was miserable, and probably never will be!"
"Our honored guests," interposed the stewards, "pray have patience
with us, and believe, at least, that our deep veneration for the
sacredness of this solemnity would preclude any wilful violation of it.
Receive this young man to your table. It may not be too much to say,
that no guest here would exchange his own heart for the one that beats
within that youthful bosom!"
"I'd call it a bargain, and gladly too," muttered Mr. Smith, with a
perplexing mixture of sadness and mirthful conceit. "A plague upon
their nonsense! My own heart is the only really miserable one in the
company—it will certainly be the death of me at last!"
Nevertheless, as on the former occasion, the judgment of the
stewards being without appeal, the company sat down. The obnoxious
guest made no more attempt to obtrude his conversation on those about
him, but appeared to listen to the table-talk with peculiar assiduity,
as if some inestimable secret, otherwise beyond his reach, might be
conveyed in a casual word. And, in truth, to those who could understand
and value it, there was rich matter in the upgushings and outpourings
of these initiated souls, to whom sorrow had been a talisman, admitting
them into spiritual depths which no other spell can open. Sometimes,
out of the midst of densest gloom, there flashed a momentary radiance,
pure as crystal, bright as the flame of stars, and shedding such a glow
upon the mysteries of life, that the guests were ready to exclaim;
"Surely the riddle is on the point of being solved!" At such
illuminated intervals, the saddest mourners felt it to be revealed,
that mortal griefs are but shadowy and external; no more than the
sable robes, voluminously shrouding a certain divine reality, and thus
indicating what might otherwise be altogether invisible to mortal eye.
"Just now," remarked the trembling old woman, "I seemed to see
beyond the outside. And then my everlasting tremor passed away!"
"Would that I could dwell always in these momentary gleams of
light!" said the man of stricken conscience. "Then the blood-stain in
my heart would be washed clean away."
This strain of conversation appeared so unintelligibly absurd to
good Mr. Smith, that he burst into precisely the fit of laughter which
his physicians had warned him against, as likely to prove
instantaneously fatal. In effect, he fell back in his chair, a corpse
with a broad grin upon his face; while his ghost, perchance, remained
beside it, bewildered at its unpremeditated exit. This catastrophe, of
course, broke up the festival.
"How is this? You do not tremble?" observed the tremulous old woman
to Gervayse Hastings, who was gazing at the dead man with singular
intentness. "Is it not awful to see him so suddenly vanish out of the
midst of life—this man of flesh and blood, whose earthly nature was
so warm and strong? There is a never-ending tremor in my soul; but it
trembles afresh at this! And you are calm!"
"Would that he could teach me somewhat!" said Gervayse Hastings,
drawing a long breath. "Men pass before me like shadows on the
wall—their actions, passions, feelings, are flickerings of the
light—and then they vanish! Neither the corpse, nor yonder skeleton,
nor this old woman's everlasting tremor, can give me what I seek."
And then the company departed.
We cannot linger to narrate, in such detail, more circumstances of
these singular festivals, which, in accordance with the founder's
will, continued to be kept with the regularity of an established
institution. In process of time, the stewards adopted the custom of
inviting, from far and near, those individuals whose misfortunes were
prominent above other men's, and whose mental and moral development
might, therefore, be supposed to possess a corresponding interest. The
exiled noble of the French Revolution, and the broken soldier of the
Empire, were alike represented at the table. Fallen monarchs, wandering
about the earth, have found places at that forlorn and miserable feast.
The statesman, when his party flung him off, might, if he chose it, be
once more a great man for the space of a single banquet. Aaron Burr's
name appears on the record, at a period when his ruin— the
profoundest and most striking, with more of moral circumstance in it
than that of almost any other man—was complete, in his lonely age.
Stephen Girard, when his wealth weighed upon him like a mountain, once
sought admittance of his own accord. It is not probable, however, that
these men had any lesson to teach in the lore of discontent and misery,
which might not equally well have been studied in the common walks of
life. Illustrious unfortunates attract a wider sympathy, not because
their griefs are more intense, but because, being set on lofty
pedestals, they the better serve mankind as instances and by-words of
It concerns our present purpose to say that, at each successive
festival, Gervayse Hastings showed his face, gradually changing from
the smooth beauty of his youth to the thoughtful comeliness of manhood,
and thence to the bald, impressive dignity of age. He was the only
individual invariably present. Yet, on every occasion, there were
murmurs, both from those who knew his character and position, and from
them whose hearts shrank back, as denying his companionship in their
"Who is this impassive man?" had been asked a hundred times. "Has he
suffered? Has he sinned? There are no traces of either. Then wherefore
is he here?"
"You must inquire of the stewards, or of himself," was the constant
reply. "We seem to know him well, here in our city, and know nothing of
him but what is creditable and fortunate. Yet hither he comes, year
after year, to this gloomy banquet, and sits among the guests like a
marble statue. Ask yonder skeleton— perhaps that may solve the
It was, in truth, a wonder. The life of Gervayse Hastings, was not
merely a prosperous, but a brilliant one. Everything had gone well with
him. He was wealthy, far beyond the expenditure that was required by
habits of magnificence, a taste of rare purity and cultivation, a love
of travel, a scholar's instinct to collect a splendid library, and,
moreover, what seemed a munificent liberality to the distressed. He had
sought domestic happiness, and not vainly, if a lovely and tender wife,
and children of fair promise, could insure it. He had, besides,
ascended above the limit which separates the obscure from the
distinguished, and had won a stainless reputation in affairs of the
widest public importance. Not that he was a popular character, or had
within him the mysterious attributes which are essential to that
species of success. To the public, he was a cold abstraction, wholly
destitute of those rich hues of personality, that living warmth, and
the peculiar faculty of stamping his own heart's impression on a
multitude of hearts, by which the people recognize their favorites. And
it must be owned that, after his most intimate associates had done
their best to know him thoroughly, and love him warmly, they were
startled to find how little hold he had upon their affections. They
approved—they admired—but still, in those moments when the human
spirit most craves reality, they shrank back from Gervayse hastings, as
powerless to give them what they sought. It was the feeling of
distrustful regret, with which we should draw back the hand, after
extending it, in an illusive twilight, to grasp the hand of a shadow
upon the wall.
As the superficial fervency of youth decayed, this peculiar effect
of Gervayse Hastings' character grew more perceptible. His children,
when he extended his arms, came coldly to his knees, but never climbed
them of their own accord. His wife wept secretly, and almost adjudged
herself a criminal, because she shivered in the chill of his bosom. He,
too, occasionally appeared not unconscious of the chillness of his
moral atmosphere, and willing, if it might be so, to warm himself at a
kindly fire. But age stole onward, and benumbed him more and more. As
the hoar-frost began to gather on him, his wife went to her grave, and
was doubtless warmer there; his children either died, or were scattered
to different homes of their own; and old Gervayse Hastings, unscathed
by grief—alone, but needing no companionship— continued his steady
walk through life, and still, on every Christmas-day, attended at the
dismal banquet. His privilege as a guest had become prescriptive now.
Had he claimed the head of the table, even the skeleton would have been
ejected from its seat.
Finally, at the merry Christmas-tide, when he had numbered
four-score years complete, this pale, high-browed, marble-featured old
man once more entered the long-frequented hall, with the same impassive
aspect that had called forth so much dissatisfied remark at his first
attendance. Time, except in matters merely external, had done nothing
for him, either of good or evil. As he took his place he threw a calm,
inquiring glance around the table, as if to ascertain whether any guest
had yet appeared, after so many unsuccessful banquets, who might impart
to him the mystery—the deep, warm secret—the life within the
life—which, whether manifested in joy or sorrow, is what gives
substance to a world of shadows.
"My friends," said Gervayse Hastings, assuming a position which his
long conversance with the festival caused to appear natural, "you are
welcome! I drink to you all in this cup of sepulchral wine."
The guests replied courteously, but still in a manner that proved
them unable to receive the old man as a member of their sad
fraternity. It may be well to give the reader an idea of the present
company at the banquet.
One was formerly a clergyman, enthusiastic in his profession, and
apparently of the genuine dynasty of those old puritan divines, whose
faith in their calling, and stern exercise of it, had placed them among
the mighty of the earth. But yielding to the speculative tendency of
the age, he had gone astray from the firm foundation of an ancient
faith, and wandered into a cloud region, where everything was misty and
deceptive, ever mocking him with a semblance of reality, but still
dissolving when he flung himself upon it for support and rest. His
instinct and early training demanded something steadfast; but, looking
forward, he beheld vapors piled on vapors, and behind him, an
impassable gulf between the man of yesterday and to-day; on the borders
of which he paced to and fro, sometimes wringing his hands in agony,
and often making his own woe a theme of scornful merriment. This surely
was a miserable man. Next, there was a theorist— one of a numerous
tribe, although he deemed himself unique since the creation—a
theorist, who had conceived a plan by which all the wretchedness of
earth, moral and physical, might be done away, and the bliss of the
millenium at once accomplished. But, the incredulity of mankind
debarring him from action, he was smitten with as much grief as if the
whole mass of woe which he was denied the opportunity to remedy, were
crowded into his own bosom. A plain old man in black attracted much of
the company's notice, on the supposition that he was no other than
Father Miller, who, it seemed, had given himself up to despair at the
tedious delay of the final conflagration. Then there was a man
distinguished for native pride and obstinacy, who, a little while
before, had possessed immense wealth, and held the control of a vast
moneyed interest, which he had wielded in the same spirit as a despotic
monarch would wield the power of his empire, carrying on a tremendous
moral warfare, the roar and tremor of which was felt at every fireside
in the land. At length came a crushing ruin—a total overthrow of
fortune, power, and character— the effect of which on his imperious,
and, in many respects, noble and lofty nature, might have entitled him
to a place, not merely at our festival, but among the peers of
There was a modern philanthropist, who had become so deeply sensible
of the calamities of thousands and millions of his fellow creatures,
and of the impracticableness of any general measures for their relief,
that he had no heart to do what little good lay immediately within his
power, but contented himself with being miserable for sympathy. Near
him sat a gentleman in a predicament hitherto unprecedented, but of
which the present epoch, probably, affords numerous examples. Ever
since he was of capacity to read a newspaper, this person had prided
himself on his consistent adherence to one political party, but, in the
confusion of these latter days, had got bewildered, and knew not
whereabouts his party was. This wretched condition, so morally desolate
and disheartening to a man who has long accustomed himself to merge his
individuality in the mass of a great body, can only be conceived by
such as have experienced it. His next companion was a popular orator
who had lost his voice, and—as it was pretty much all that he had to
lose—had fallen into a state of hopeless melancholy. The table was
likewise graced by two of the gentler sex—one, a half-starved,
consumptive seamstress, the representative of thousands just as
wretched; the other, a woman of unemployed energy, who found herself in
the world with nothing to achieve, nothing to enjoy, and nothing even
to suffer. She had, therefore, driven herself to the verge of madness
by dark broodings over the wrongs of her sex, and its exclusion from a
proper field of action. The roll of guests being thus complete, a
side-table had been set for three or four disappointed office-seekers,
with hearts as sick as death, whom the stewards had admitted, partly
because their calamities really entitled them to entrance here, and
partly that they were in especial need of a good dinner. There was
likewise a homeless dog, with his tail between his legs, licking up the
crumbs and gnawing the fragments of the feast—such a melancholy cur
as one sometimes sees about the streets, without a master, and willing
to follow the first that will accept his service.
In their own way, these were as wretched a set of people as ever had
assembled at the festival. There they sat, with the veiled skeleton of
the founder, holding aloft the cypress wreath, at one end of the table;
and at the other, wrapt in furs, the withered figure of Gervayse
Hastings, stately, calm and cold, impressing the company with awe, yet
so little interesting their sympathy, that he might have vanished into
thin air, without their once exclaiming—"Whither is he gone?"
"Sir," said the philanthropist, addressing the old man, "you have
been so long a guest at this annual festival, and have thus been
conversant with so many varieties of human affliction, that, not
improbably, you have thence derived some great and important lessons.
How blessed were your lot, could you reveal a secret by which all this
mass of woe might be removed!"
"I know of but one misfortune," answered Gervayse Hastings, quietly,
"and that is my own."
"Your own!" rejoined the philanthropist. "And, looking back on your
serene and prosperous life, how can you claim to be the sole
unfortunate of the human race?"
"You will not understand it," replied Gervayse Hastings feebly, and
with a singular inefficiency of pronunciation, and sometimes putting
one word for another. "None have understood it—not even those who
experience the like. It is a chilliness—a want of earnestness—a
feeling as if what should be my heart were a thing of vapor—a
haunting perception of unreality! Thus seeming to possess all that
other men have—all that men aim at—I have really possessed
nothing, neither joy nor griefs. All things— all persons—as was
truly said to me at this table long and long ago—have been like
shadows flickering on the wall. It was so with my wife and
children—with those who seemed my friends: it is so with yourselves,
whom I see now before me. Neither have I myself any real existence, but
am a shadow like the rest!"
"And how is it with your views of a future life?" inquired the
"Worse than with you," said the old man, in a hollow and feeble
tone; "for I cannot conceive it earnestly enough to feel either hope or
fear. Mine—mine is the wretchedness! This cold heart—this unreal
life! Ah! it grows colder still."
It so chanced, that at this juncture the decayed ligaments of the
skeleton gave way, and the dry bones fell together in a heap, thus
causing the dusty wreath of cypress to drop upon the table. The
attention of the company being thus diverted, for a single instant,
from Gervayse Hastings, they perceived, on turning again towards him,
that the old man had undergone a change. His shadow had ceased to
flicker on the wall.
"Well, Rosina, what is your criticism?" asked Roderick, as he rolled
up the manuscript.
"Frankly, your success is by no means complete," replied she. "It is
true, I have an idea of the character you endeavor to describe; but it
is rather by dint of my own thought than your expression."
"That is unavoidable," observed the sculptor, "because the
characteristics are all negative. If Gervayse Hastings could have
imbibed one human grief at the gloomy banquet, the task of describing
him would have been infinitely easier. Of such persons— and we do
meet with these moral monsters now and then— it is difficult to
conceive how they came to exist here, or what there is in them capable
of existence hereafter. They seem to be on the outside of everything;
and nothing wearies the soul more than an attempt to comprehend them
within its grasp.
DROWNE'S WOODEN IMAGE.
One sunshiny morning, in the good old times of the town of Boston, a
young carver in wood, well known by the name of Drowne, stood
contemplating a large oaken log, which it was his purpose to convert
into the figure-head of a vessel. And while he discussed within his own
mind what sort of shape or similitude it were well to bestow upon this
excellent piece of timber, there came into Drowne's workshop a certain
Captain Hunnewell, owner and commander of the good brig called the
Cynosure, which had just returned from her first voyage to Fayal.
"Ah! that will do, Drowne, that will do!" cried the jolly captain,
tapping the log with his rattan. "I bespeak this very piece of oak for
the figure-head of the Cynosure. She has shown herself the sweetest
craft that ever floated, and I mean to decorate her prow with the
handsomest image that the skill of man can cut out of timber. And,
Drowne, you are the fellow to execute it."
"You give me more credit than I deserve, Captain Hunnewell," said
the carver, modestly, yet as one conscious of eminence in his art.
"But, for the sake of the good brig, I stand ready to do my best. And
which of these designs do you prefer? Here"— pointing to a staring,
half length figure, in a white wig and scarlet coat—"here is an
excellent model, the likeness of our gracious king. Here is the valiant
Admiral Vernon. Or, if you prefer a female figure, what say you to
Britannia with the trident?"
"All very fine, Drowne; all very fine," answered the mariner. "But
as nothing like the brig ever swam the ocean, so I am determined she
shall have such a figure-head as old Neptune never saw in his life. And
what is more, as there is a secret in the matter, you must pledge your
credit not to betray it."
"Certainly," said Drowne, marvelling, however, what possible mystery
there could be in reference to an affair so open, of necessity, to the
inspection of all the world, as the figure-head of a vessel. "You may
depend, captain, on my being as secret as the nature of the case will
Captain Hunnewell then took Drowne by the button, and communicated
his wishes in so low a tone, that it would be unmannerly to repeat what
was evidently intended for the carver's private ear. We shall,
therefore, take the opportunity to give the reader a few desirable
particulars about Drowne himself.
He was the first American who is known to have attempted,— in a
very humble line, it is true,—that art in which we can now reckon so
many names already distinguished, or rising to distinction. From his
earliest boyhood, he had exhibited a knack—for it would be too proud
a word to call it genius—a knack, therefore, for the imitation of the
human figure, in whatever material came most readily to hand. The snows
of a New England winter had often supplied him with a species of marble
as dazzlingly white, at least, as the Parian or the Carrara, and if
less durable, yet sufficiently so to correspond with any claims to
permanent existence possessed by the boy's frozen statues. Yet they won
admiration from maturer judges than his schoolfellows, and were,
indeed, remarkably clever, though destitute of the native warmth that
might have made the snow melt beneath his hand. As he advanced in life,
the young man adopted pine and oak as eligible materials for the
display of his skill, which now began to bring him a return of solid
silver, as well as the empty praise that had been an apt reward enough
for his productions of evanescent snow. He became noted for carving
ornamental pumpheads, and wooden urns for gate-posts, and decorations,
more grotesque than fanciful, for mantel-pieces. No apothecary would
have deemed himself in the way of obtaining custom, without setting up
a gilded mortar, if not a head of Galen or Hippocrates, from the
skilful hand of Drowne. But the great scope of his business lay in the
manufacture of figure-heads for vessels. Whether it were the monarch
himself, or some famous British admiral or general, or the governor of
the province, or perchance the favorite daughter of the ship-owner,
there the image stood above the prow, decked out in gorgeous colors,
magnificently gilded, and staring the whole world out of countenance,
as if from an innate consciousness of its own superiority. These
specimens of native sculpture had crossed the sea in all directions,
and been not ignobly noticed among the crowded shipping of the Thames,
and wherever else the hardy mariners of New England had pushed their
adventures. It must be confessed, that a family likeness pervaded these
respectable progeny of Drowne's skill—that the benign countenance of
the king resembled those of his subjects, and that Miss Peggy Hobart,
the merchant's daughter, bore a remarkable similitude to Britannia,
Victory, and other ladies of the allegoric sisterhood; and, finally,
that they all had a kind of wooden aspect, which proved an intimate
relationship with the unshaped blocks of timber in the carver's
workshop. But, at least, there was no inconsiderable skill of hand, nor
a deficiency of any attribute to render them really works of art,
except that deep quality, be it of soul or intellect, which bestows
life upon the lifeless, and warmth upon the cold, and which, had it
been present, would have made Drowne's wooden image instinct with
The captain of the Cynosure had now finished his instructions.
"And Drowne," said he, impressively, "you must lay aside all other
business, and set about this forthwith. And as to the price, only do
the job in first rate style, and you shall settle that point yourself."
"Very well, captain," answered the carver, who looked grave and
somewhat perplexed, yet had a sort of smile upon his visage. "Depend
upon it, I'll do my utmost to satisfy you."
From that moment, the men of taste about Long Wharf and the Town
Dock, who were wont to show their love for the arts, by frequent visits
to Drowne's workshop, and admiration of his wooden images, began to be
sensible of a mystery in the carver's conduct. Often he was absent in
the day-time. Sometimes, as might be judged by gleams of light from the
shop windows, he was at work until a late hour of the evening; although
neither knock nor voice, on such occasions, could gain admittance for a
visitor, or elicit any word of response. Nothing remarkable, however,
was observed in the shop at those hours when it was thrown open. A fine
piece of timber, indeed, which Drowne was known to have reserved for
some work of especial dignity, was seen to be gradually assuming shape.
What shape it was destined ultimately to take, was a problem to his
friends, and a point on which the carver himself preserved a rigid
silence. But day after day, though Drowne was seldom noticed in the act
of working upon it, this rude from began to be developed, until it
became evident to all observers, that a female figure was growing into
mimic life. At each new visit they beheld a larger pile of wooden
chips, and a nearer approximation to something beautiful. It seemed as
if the hamadryad of the oak had sheltered herself from the
unimaginative world within the heart of her native tree, and that it
was only necessary to remove the strange shapelessness that had
encrusted her, and reveal the grace and loveliness of a divinity.
Imperfect as the design, the attitude, the costume, and especially the
face of the image, still remained, there was already an effect that
drew the eye from the wooden cleverness of Drowne's earlier
productions, and fixed it upon the tantalizing mystery of this new
Copley, the celebrated painter, then a young man, and a resident of
Boston, came one day to visit Drowne; for he had recognized so much of
moderate ability in the carver, as to induce him, in the dearth of any
professional sympathy, to cultivate his acquaintance. On entering the
shop, the artist glanced at the inflexible image of king, commander,
dame, and allegory, that stood around; on the best of which might have
been bestowed the questionable praise, that it looked as if a living
man had here been changed to wood, and that not only the physical, but
the intellectual and spiritual part, partook of the stolid
transformation. But in not a single instance did it seem as if the wood
were imbibing the ethereal essence of humanity. What a wide distinction
is here, and how far would the slightest portion of the latter merit
have outvalued the utmost degree of the former!
"My friend Drowne," said Copley, smiling to himself, but alluding to
the mechanical and wooden cleverness that so invariably distinguished
the images, "you are really a remarkable person! I have seldom met with
a man, in your line of business, that could do so much, for one other
touch might make this figure of General Wolfe, for instance, a
breathing and intelligent human creature."
"You would have me think that you are praising me highly, Mr.
Copley," answered Drowne, turning his back upon Wolfe's image in
apparent disgust. "But there has come a light into my mind. I know,
what you know as well, that the one touch, which you speak of as
deficient, is the only one that would be truly valuable, and that,
without it, these works of mine are no better than worthless abortions.
There is the same difference between them and the works of an inspired
artist, as between a sign-post daub and one of your best pictures."
"This is strange!" cried Copley, looking him in the face, which
now, as the painter fancied, had a singular depth of intelligence,
though, hitherto, it had not given him greatly the advantage over his
own family of wooden images. "What has come over you? How is it that,
possessing the idea which you have now uttered, you should produce only
such works as these?"
The carver smiled, but made no reply. Copley turned again to the
images, conceiving that the sense of deficiency, so rare in a merely
mechanical character, must surely imply a genius, the tokens of which
had been overlooked. But no; there was not a trace of it. He was about
to withdraw, when his eyes chanced to fall upon a half-developed figure
which lay in a corner of the workshop, surrounded by scattered chips of
oak. It arrested him at once.
"What is here? Who has done this?" he broke out, after contemplating
it in speechless astonishment for an instant. "Here is the divine, the
life-giving touch! What inspired hand is beckoning this wood to arise
and live? Whose work is this?"
"No man's work," replied Drowne. "The figure lies within that block
of oak, and it is my business to find it."
"Drowne," said the true artist, grasping the carver fervently by the
hand, "you are a man of genius!"
As Copley departed, happening to glance backward from the threshold,
he beheld Drowne bending over the half created shape, and stretching
forth his arms as if he would have embraced and drawn it to his heart;
while, had such a miracle been possible, his countenance expressed
passion enough to communicate warmth and sensibility to the lifeless
"Strange enough!" said the artist to himself. "Who would have looked
for a modern Pygmalion in the person of a Yankee mechanic!"
As yet, the image was but vague in its outward presentment; so
that, as in the cloud-shapes around the western sun, the observer
rather felt, or was led to imagine, than really saw what was intended
by it. Day by day, however, the work assumed greater precision, and
settled its irregular and misty outline into distincter grace and
beauty. The general design was now obvious to the common eye. It was a
female figure, in what appeared to be a foreign dress; the gown being
laced over the bosom, and opening in front, so as to disclose a skirt
or petticoat, the folds and inequalities of which were admirably
represented in the oaken substance. She wore a hat of singular
gracefulness, and abundantly laden with flowers, such as never grew in
the rude soil of New England, but which, with all their fanciful
luxuriance, had a natural truth that it seemed impossible for the most
fertile imagination to have attained without copying from real
prototypes. There were several little appendages to this dress, such as
a fan, a pair of ear-rings, a chain about the neck a watch in the
bosom, and a ring upon the finger, all of which would have been deemed
beneath the dignity of sculpture. They were put on, however, with as
much taste as a lovely woman might have shown in her attire, and could
therefore have shocked none but a judgment spoiled by artistic rules.
The face was still imperfect; but, gradually, by a magic touch,
intelligence and sensibility brightened through the features, with all
the effect of light gleaming forth from within the solid oak. The face
became alive. It was a beautiful, though not precisely regular, and
somewhat haughty aspect, but with a certain piquancy about the eyes and
mouth which, of all expressions, would have seemed the most impossible
to throw over a wooden countenance. And now, so far as carving went,
this wonderful production was complete.
"Drowne," said Copley, who had hardly missed a single day in his
visits to the carver's workshop, "if this work were in marble, it would
make you famous at once; nay, I would almost affirm that it would make
an era in the art. It is as ideal as an antique statue, yet as real as
any lovely woman whom one meets at a fireside or in the street. But I
trust you do not mean to desecrate this exquisite creature with paint,
like those staring kings and admirals yonder?"
"Not paint her?" exclaimed Captain Hunnewell, who stood by; "not
paint the figure-head of the Cynosure! And what sort of a figure should
I cut in a foreign port, with such an unpainted oaken stick as this
over my prow? She must, and she shall, be painted to the life, from the
topmost flower in her hat down to the silver spangles on her slippers."
"Mr. Copley," said Drowne, quietly, "I know nothing of marble
statuary, and nothing of the sculptor's rules of art. But of this
wooden image—this work of my hands—this creature of my heart"—and
here his voice faltered and choked, in a very singular manner—"of
this—of her—I may say that I know something. A well-spring of
inward wisdom gushed within me, as I wrought upon the oak with my whole
strength, and soul, and faith. Let others do what they may with marble,
and adopt what rules they choose. If I can produce my desired effect by
painted wood, those rules are not for me, and I have a right to
"The very spirit of genius!" muttered Copley to himself. "How
otherwise should this carver feel himself entitled to transcend all
rules, and make me ashamed of quoting them!"
He looked earnestly at Drowne, and again saw that expression of
human love which, in a spiritual sense, as the artist could not help
imagining, was the secret of the life that had been breathed into this
block of wood.
The carver, still in the same secresy that marked all his operations
upon this mysterious image, proceeded to paint the habiliments in their
proper colors, and the countenance with nature's red and white. When
all was finished, he threw open his workshop, and admitted the
townspeople to behold what he had done. Most persons, at their first
entrance, felt impelled to remove their hats, and pay such reverence as
was due to the richly dressed and beautiful young lady, who seemed to
stand in a corner of the room, with oaken chips and shavings scattered
at her feet. Then came a sensation of fear; as if, not being actually
human, yet so like humanity, she must therefore be something
preternatural. There was, in truth, an indefinable air and expression
that might reasonably induce the query—who and from what sphere this
daughter of the oak should be. The strange rich flowers of Eden on her
head; the complexion, so much deeper and more brilliant than those of
our native beauties; the foreign, as it seemed, and fantastic garb, yet
not too fantastic to be worn decorously in the street; the delicately
wrought embroidery of the skirt; the broad gold chain about her neck;
the curious ring upon her finger; the fan, so exquisitely sculptured in
open work, and painted to resemble pearl and ebony;—where could
Drowne, in his sober walk of life, have beheld the vision here so
matchlessly embodied! And then her face! In the dark eyes, and around
the voluptuous mouth, there played a look made up of pride, coquetry,
and a gleam of mirthfulness, which impressed Copley with the idea that
the image was secretly enjoying the perplexing admiration of himself
and other beholders.
"And will you," said he to the carver, "permit this master-piece to
become the figure-head of a vessel? Give the honest captain yonder
figure of Britannia—it will answer his purpose far better,—and send
this fairy queen to England, where, for aught I know, it may bring you
a thousand pounds."
"I have not wrought it for money," said Drowne.
"What sort of a fellow is this!" thought Copley. "A Yankee, and
throw away the chance of making his fortune! He has gone mad; and
thence has come this gleam of genius."
There was still further proof of Drowne's lunacy, if credit were
due to the rumor that he had been seen kneeling at the feet of the
oaken lady, and gazing with a lover's passionate ardor into the face
that his own hands had created. The bigots of the day hinted that it
would be no matter of surprise if an evil spirit were allowed to enter
this beautiful form, and seduce the carver to destruction.
The fame of the image spread far and wide. The inhabitants visited
it so universally, that, after a few days of exhibition, there was
hardly an old man or a child who had not become minutely familiar with
its aspect. Had the story of Drowne's wooden image ended here, its
celebrity might have been prolonged for many years, by the
reminiscences of those who looked upon it in their childhood, and saw
nothing else so beautiful in after life. But the town was now astounded
by an event, the narrative of which has formed itself into one of the
most singular legends that are yet to be met with in the traditionary
chimney-corners of the New England metropolis, where old men and women
sit dreaming of the past, and wag their heads at the dreamers of the
present and the future.
One fine morning, just before the departure of the Cynosure on her
second voyage to Fayal, the commander of that gallant vessel was seen
to issue from his residence in Hanover street. He was stylishly dressed
in a blue broadcloth coat, with gold lace at the seams and
button-holes, an embroidered scarlet waistcoat, a triangular hat, with
a loop and broad binding of gold, and wore a silver-hilted hanger at
his side. But the good captain might have been arrayed in the robes of
a prince or the rags of a beggar, without in either case attracting
notice, while obscured by such a companion as now leaned on his arm.
The people in the street started, rubbed their eyes, and either leaped
aside from their path, or stood as if transfixed to wood or marble in
"Do you see it?—do you see it?" cried one, with tremulous
eagerness. "It is the very same!"
"The same?" answered another, who had arrived in town only the night
before. "Who do you mean? I see only a sea-captain in his shore-going
clothes, and a young lady in a foreign habit, with a bunch of beautiful
flowers in her hat. On my word, she is as fair and bright a damsel as
my eyes have looked on this many a day!"
"Yes; the same!—the very same!" repeated the other. "Drowne's
wooden image has come to life!"
Here was a miracle indeed! Yet, illuminated by the sunshine, or
darkened by the alternate shade of the houses, and with its garments
fluttering lightly in the morning breeze, there passed the image along
the street. It was exactly and minutely the shape, the garb, and the
face, which the townspeople had so recently thronged to see and admire.
Not a rich flower upon her head, not a single leaf, but had had its
prototype in Drowne's wooden workmanship, although now their fragile
grace had become flexible, and was shaken by every footstep that the
wearer made. The broad gold chain upon the neck was identical with the
one represented on the image, and glistened with the motion imparted by
the rise and fall of the bosom which it decorated. A real diamond
sparkled on her finger. In her right hand she bore a pearl and ebony
fan, which she flourished with a fantastic and bewitching coquetry,
that was likewise expressed in all her movements, as well as in the
style of her beauty and the attire that so well harmonized with it. The
face, with its brilliant depth of complexion, had the same piquancy of
mirthful mischief that was fixed upon the countenance of the image, but
which was here varied and continually shifting, yet always essentially
the same, like the sunny gleam upon a bubbling fountain. On the whole,
there was something so airy and yet so real in the figure, and withal
so perfectly did it represent Drowne's image, that people knew not
whether to suppose the magic wood etherealized into a spirit, or warmed
and softened into an actual woman.
"One thing is certain," muttered a Puritan of the old stamp. "Drowne
has sold himself to the devil; and doubtless this gay Captain Hunnewell
is a party to the bargain."
"And I," said a young man who overheard him, "would almost consent
to be the third victim, for the liberty of saluting those lovely lips."
"And so would I," said Copley, the painter, "for the privilege of
taking her picture."
The image, or the apparition, whichever it might be, still escorted
by the bold captain, proceeded from Hanover street through some of the
cross-lanes that make this portion of the town so intricate, to Ann
street, thence into Dock-square, and so downward to Drowne's shop,
which stood just on the water's edge. The crowd still followed,
gathering volume as it rolled along. Never had a modern miracle
occurred in such broad daylight, nor in the presence of such a
multitude of witnesses. The airy image, as if conscious that she was
the object of the murmurs and disturbance that swelled behind her,
appeared slightly vexed and flustered, yet still in a manner consistent
with the light vivacity and sportive mischief that were written in her
countenance. She was observed to flutter her fan with such vehement
rapidity, that the elaborate delicacy of its workmanship gave way, and
it remained broken in her hand.
Arriving at Drowne's door, while the captain threw it open, the
marvellous apparition paused an instant on the threshold, assuming the
very attitude of the image, and casting over the crowd that glance of
sunny coquetry which all remembered on the face of the oaken lady. She
and her cavalier then disappeared.
"Ah!" murmured the crowd, drawing a deep breath, as with one vast
pair of lungs.
"The world looks darker, now that she has vanished," said some of
the young men.
But the aged, whose recollections dated as far back as witch-times,
shook their heads, and hinted that our forefathers would have thought
it a pious deed to burn the daughter of the oak with fire.
"If she be other than a bubble of the elements," exclaimed Copley,
"I must look upon her face again!"
He accordingly entered the shop; and there, in her usual corner,
stood the image, gazing at him, as it might seem, with the very same
expression of mirthful mischief that had been the farewell look of the
apparition when, but a moment before, she turned her face towards the
crowd. The carver stood beside his creation, mending the beautiful fan,
which by some accident was broken in her hand. But there was no longer
any motion in the life-like image, nor any real woman in the workshop,
nor even the witch-craft of a sunny shadow, that might have deluded
people's eyes as it flitted along the street. Captain Hunnewell, too,
had vanished. His hoarse, sea-breezy tones, however, were audible on
the other side of a door that opened upon the water.
"Sit down in the stern sheets, my lady," said the gallant captain.
"Come, bear a hand, you lubbers, and set us on board in the turning of
And then was heard the stroke of oars.
"Drowne," said Copley, with a smile of intelligence, "you have been
a truly fortunate man. What painter or statuary ever had such a
subject! No wonder that she inspired a genius into you, and first
created the artist who afterwards created her image."
Drowne looked at him with a visage that bore the traces of tears,
but from which the light of imagination and sensibility, so recently
illuminating it, had departed. He was again the mechanical carver that
he had been known to be all his lifetime.
"I hardly understand what you mean, Mr. Copley," said he, putting
his hand to his brow. "This image! Can it have been my work? Well—I
have wrought it in a kind of dream; and now that I am broad awake, I
must set about finishing yonder figure of Admiral Vernon."
And forthwith he employed himself on the stolid countenance of one
of his wooden progeny, and completed it in his own mechanical style,
from which he was never known afterwards to deviate. He followed his
business industriously for many years, acquired a competence, and, in
the latter part of his life, attained to a dignified station in the
church, being remembered in records and traditions as Deacon Drowne,
the carver. One of his productions, an Indian chief, gilded all over,
stood during the better part of a century on the cupola of the Province
House, bedazzling the eyes of those who looked upward, like an angel of
the sun. Another work of the good deacon's hand—a reduced likeness of
friend Captain Hunnewell, holding a telescope and quadrant— may be
seen, to this day, at the corner of Broad and State streets, serving in
the useful capacity of sign to the shop of a nautical instrument maker.
We know not how to account for the inferiority of this quaint old
figure, as compared with the recorded excellence of the Oaken Lady,
unless on the supposition, that in every human spirit there is
imagination, sensibility, creative power, genius, which, according to
circumstances, may either be developed in this world, or shrouded in a
mask of dulness until another state of being. To our friend Drowne,
there came a brief season of excitement, kindled by love. It rendered
him a genius for that one occasion, but, quenched in disappointment,
left him again the mechanical carver in wood, without the power even of
appreciating the work that his own hands had wrought. Yet who can
doubt, that the very highest state to which a human spirit can attain,
in its loftiest aspirations, is its truest and most natural state, and
that Drowne was more consistent with himself when he wrought the
admirable figure of the mysterious lady, than when he perpetrated a
whole progeny of blockheads?
There was a rumor in Boston, about this period, that a young
Portuguese lady of rank, on some occasion of political or domestic
disquietude, had fled from her home in Fayal, and put herself under the
protection of Captain Hunnewell, on board of whose vessel, and at whose
residence, she was sheltered until a change of affairs. This fair
stranger must have been the original of Drowne's Wooden Image.
THE INTELLIGENCE OFFICE.
A grave figure, with a pair of mysterious spectacles on his nose and
a pen behind his ear, was seated at a desk, in the corner of a
metropolitan office. The apartment was fitted up with a counter, and
furnished with an oaken cabinet and a chair or two, in simple and
business-like style. Around the walls were stuck advertisements of
articles lost, or articles wanted, or articles to be disposed of; in
one or another of which classes were comprehended nearly all the
conveniences, or otherwise, that the imagination of man has contrived.
The interior of the room was thrown into shadow, partly by the tall
edifices that rose on the opposite side of the street, and partly by
the immense show-bills of blue and crimson paper, that were expanded
over each of the three windows. Undisturbed by the tramp of feet, the
rattle of wheels, the hum of voices, the shout of the city-crier, the
scream of the news-boys, and other tokens of the multitudinous life
that surged along in front of the office, the figure at the desk pored
diligently over a folio volume, of ledger-like size and aspect. He
looked like the spirit of a record—the soul of his own great
volume—made visible in mortal shape.
But scarcely an instant elapsed without the appearance at the door
of some individual from the busy population whose vicinity was
manifested by so much buzz, and clatter, and outcry. Now, it was a
thriving mechanic, in quest of a tenement that should come within his
moderate means of rent; now, a ruddy Irish girl from the banks of
Killarney, wandering from kitchen to kitchen of our land, while her
heart still hung in the peat-smoke of her native cottage; now, a single
gentleman, looking out for economical board; and now—for this
establishment offered an epitome of worldly pursuits—it was a faded
beauty inquiring for her lost bloom; or Peter Schlemihl for his lost
shadow; or an author, of ten years' standing, for his vanished
reputation; or a moody man for yesterday's sunshine.
At the next lifting of the latch there entered a person with his hat
awry upon his head, his clothes perversely ill-suited to his form, his
eyes staring in directions opposite to their intelligence, and a
certain odd unsuitableness pervading his whole figure. Wherever he
might chance to be, whether in palace or cottage, church or market, on
land or sea, or even at his own fireside, he must have worn the
characteristic expression of a man out of his right place.
"This," inquired he, putting his question in the form of an
assertion, "this is the Central Intelligence Office?"
"Even so," answered the figure at the desk, turning another leaf of
his volume; he then looked the applicant in the face, and said
"I want," said the latter, with tremulous earnestness, "a place!"
"A place!—and of what nature?" asked the Intelligencer. "There are
many vacant, or soon to be so, some of which will probably suit, since
they range from that of a footman up to a seat at the council-board, or
in the cabinet, or a throne, or a presidential chair."
The stranger stood pondering before the desk, with an unquiet,
dissatisfied air—a dull, vague pain of heart, expressed by a slight
contortion of the brow—an earnestness of glance, that asked and
expected, yet continually wavered, as if distrusting. In short, he
evidently wanted, not in a physical or intellectual sense, but with an
urgent moral necessity that is the hardest of all things to satisfy,
since it knows not its own object.
"Ah, you mistake me!" said he at length, with a gesture of nervous
impatience. "Either of the places you mention, indeed, might answer my
purpose—or, more probably, none of them. I want my place!—my own
place!—my true place in the world!— my proper sphere!—my thing to
do, which nature intended me to perform when she fashioned me thus
awry, and which I have vainly sought, all my lifetime! Whether it be a
footman's duty, or a king's, is of little consequence, so it be
naturally mine. Can you help me here?"
"I will enter your application," answered the Intelligencer, at the
same time writing a few lines in his volume. "But to undertake such a
business, I tell you frankly, is quite apart from the ground covered by
my official duties. Ask for something specific, and it may doubtless be
negotiated for you, on your compliance with the conditions. But were I
to go further, I should have the whole population of the city upon my
shoulders; since far the greater proportion of them are, more or less,
in your predicament."
The applicant sank into a fit of despondency, and passed out of the
door without again lifting his eyes; and, if he died of the
disappointment, he was probably buried in the wrong tomb; inasmuch as
the fatality of such people never deserts them, and, whether alive or
dead, they are invariably out of place.
Almost immediately, another foot was heard on the threshold. A youth
entered hastily, and threw a glance around the office to ascertain
whether the man of intelligence was alone. He then approached close to
the desk, blushed like a maiden, and seemed at a loss how to broach his
"You come upon an affair of the heart," said the official personage,
looking into him through his mysterious spectacles. "State it in as few
words as may be."
"You are right," replied the youth. "I have a heart to dispose of."
"You seek an exchange?" said the Intelligencer. "Foolish youth, why
not be contented with your own?"
"Because," exclaimed the young man, losing his embarrassment in a
passionate glow,—"because my heart burns me with an intolerable fire;
it tortures me all day long with yearnings for I know not what, and
feverish throbbings, and the pangs of a vague sorrow; and it awakens me
in the night-time with a quake, when there is nothing to be feared! I
cannot endure it any longer. It were wiser to throw away such a heart,
even if it brings me nothing in return!"
"Oh, very well," said the man of office, making an entry in his
volume. "Your affair will be easily transacted. This species of
brokerage makes no inconsiderable part of my business; and there is
always a large assortment of the article to select from. Here, if I
mistake not, comes a pretty fair sample."
Even as he spoke, the door was gently and slowly thrust ajar,
affording a glimpse of the slender figure of a young girl, who, as she
timidly entered, seemed to bring the light and cheerfulness of the
outer atmosphere into the somewhat gloomy apartment. We know not her
errand there; nor can we reveal whether the young man gave up his heart
into her custody. If so, the arrangement was neither better nor worse
than in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, where the parallel
sensibilities of a similar age, importunate affections, and the easy
satisfaction of characters not deeply conscious of themselves, supply
the place of any profounder sympathy.
Not always, however, was the agency of the passions and affections
an office of so little trouble. It happened—rarely, indeed, in
proportion to the cases that came under an ordinary rule, but still it
did happen—that a heart was occasionally brought hither, of such
exquisite material, so delicately attempered, and so curiously
wrought, that no other heart could be found to match it. It might
almost be considered a misfortune, in a worldly point of view, to be
the possessor of such a diamond of the purest water; since in any
reasonable probability, it could only be exchanged for an ordinary
pebble, or a bit of cunningly manufactured glass, or, at least, for a
jewel of native richness, but ill-set, or with some fatal flaw, or an
earthy vein running through its central lustre. To choose another
figure, it is sad that hearts which have their well-spring in the
infinite, and contain inexhaustible sympathies, should ever be doomed
to pour themselves into shallow vessels, and thus lavish their rich
affections on the ground. Strange, that the finer and deeper nature,
whether in man or woman, while possessed of every other delicate
instinct, should so often lack that most invaluable one, of preserving
itself from contamination with what is of a baser kind! Sometimes, it
is true, the spiritual fountain is kept pure by a wisdom within itself,
and sparkles into the light of heaven, without a stain from the earthy
strata through which it had gushed upward. And sometimes, even here on
earth, the pure mingles with the pure, and the inexhaustible is
recompensed with the infinite. But these miracles, though he should
claim the credit of them, are far beyond the scope of such a
superficial agent in human affairs, as the figure in the mysterious
Again the door was opened, admitting the bustle of the city with a
fresher reverberation into the Intelligence Office. Now entered a man
of wo-begone and downcast look; it was such an aspect as if he had lost
the very soul out of his body, and had traversed all the world over,
searching in the dust of the highways, and along the shady footpaths,
and beneath the leaves of the forest, and among the sands of the
sea-shore, in hopes to recover it again. He had bent an anxious glance
along the pavement of the street, as he came hitherward; he looked,
also, in the angle of the door-step, and upon the floor of the room;
and, finally, coming up to the Man of Intelligence, he gazed through
the inscrutable spectacles which the latter wore, as if the lost
treasure might be hidden within his eyes.
"I have lost—" he began; and then he paused.
"Yes," said the Intelligencer, "I see that you have lost—but what?"
"I have lost a precious jewel!" replied the unfortunate person, "the
like of which is not to be found among any prince's treasures. While I
possessed it, the contemplation of it was my sole and sufficient
happiness. No price should have purchased it of me; but it has fallen
from my bosom, where I wore it, in my careless wanderings about the
After causing the stranger to describe the marks of his lost jewel,
the Intelligencer opened a drawer of the oaken cabinet, which has been
mentioned as forming a part of the furniture of the room. Here were
deposited whatever articles had been picked up in the streets, until
the right owners should claim them. It was a strange and heterogeneous
collection. Not the least remarkable part of it was a great number of
wedding-rings, each one of which had been riveted upon the finger with
holy vows, and all the mystic potency that the most solemn rites could
attain, but had, nevertheless, proved too slippery for the wearer's
vigilance. The gold of some was worn thin, betokening the attrition of
years of wedlock: others, glittering from the jeweller's shop, must
have been lost within the honey-moon. There were ivory tablets, the
leaves scribbled over with sentiments that had been the deepest truths
of the writer's earlier years, but which were now quite obliterated
from his memory. So scrupulously were articles preserved in this
depository, that not even withered flowers were rejected; white roses,
and blush roses, and moss-rosses, fit emblems of virgin purity and
shamefacedness, which had been lost or flung away, and trampled into
the pollution of the streets; locks of hair—the golden, and the
glossy dark—the long tresses of woman and the crisp curls of
man—signified that lovers were now and then so heedless of the faith
entrusted to them, as to drop its symbol from the treasure-place of the
bosom. Many of these things were imbued with perfumes; and perhaps a
sweet scent had departed from the lives of their former possessors,
ever since they had so wilfully or negligently lost them. Here were
gold pencil-cases, little ruby hearts with golden arrows through them,
bosompins, pieces of coin, and small articles of every description,
comprising nearly all that have been lost, since a long while ago. Most
of them, doubtless, had a history and a meaning, if there were time to
search it out and room to tell it. Whoever has missed anything
valuable, whether out of his heart, mind, or pocket, would do well to
make inquiry at the Central Intelligence Office.
And, in the corner of one of the drawers of the oaken cabinet, after
considerable research, was found a great pearl, looking like the soul
of celestial purity, congealed and polished.
"There is my jewel! my very pearl!" cried the stranger, almost
beside himself with rapture. "It is mine! Give it me— this
moment!—or I shall perish!"
"I perceive," said the Man of Intelligence, examining it more
closely, "that this is the Pearl of Great Price."
"The very same," answered the stranger. "Judge, then, of my misery
at losing it out of my bosom! Restore it to me! I must not live without
it an instant longer."
"Pardon me," rejoined the Intelligencer, calmly. "You ask what is
beyond my duty. This pearl, as you well know, is held upon a peculiar
tenure; and having once let it escape from your keeping, you have no
greater claim to it—nay, not so great—as any other person. I cannot
give it back."
Nor could the entreaties of the miserable man—who saw before his
eyes the jewel of his life, without the power to reclaim it— soften
the heart of this stern being, impassive to human sympathy, though
exercising such an apparent influence over human fortunes. Finally the
loser of the inestimable pearl clutched his hands among his hair, and
ran madly forth into the world, which was affrighted at his desperate
looks. There passed him on the door-step a fashionable young gentleman,
whose business was to inquire for a damask rose-bud, the gift of his
lady love, which he had lost out of his button-hole within an hour
after receiving it. So various were the errands of those who visited
this Central Office, where all human wishes seemed to be made known,
and, so far as destiny would allow, negotiated to their fulfilment.
The next that entered was a man beyond the middle age, bearing the
look of one who knew the world and his own course in it. He had just
alighted from a handsome private carriage, which had orders to wait in
the street while its owner transacted his business. This person came up
to the desk with a quick, determined step, and looked the Intelligencer
in the face with a resolute eye; though, at the same time, some secret
trouble gleamed from it in red and dusky light.
"I have an estate to dispose of," said he, with a brevity that
"Describe it," said the Intelligencer.
The applicant proceeded to give the boundaries of his property, its
nature, comprising tillage, pasture, woodland, and pleasure-grounds, in
ample circuit; together with a mansion-house, in the construction of
which it had been his object to realize a castle in the air, hardening
its shadowy walls into granite, and rendering its visionary splendor
perceptible to the awakened eye. Judging from his description, it was
beautiful enough to vanish like a dream, yet substantial enough to
endure for centuries. He spoke, too, of the gorgeous furniture, the
refinements of upholstery, and all the luxurious artifices that
combined to render this a residence where life might flow onward in a
stream of golden days, undisturbed by the ruggedness which fate loves
to fling into it.
"I am a man of strong will," said he, in conclusion; "and at my
first setting out in life, as a poor, unfriended youth, I resolved to
make myself the possessor of such a mansion and estate as this,
together with the abundant revenue necessary to uphold it. I have
succeeded to the extent of my utmost wish. And this is the estate which
I have now concluded to dispose of."
"And your terms?" asked the Intelligencer, after taking down the
particulars with which the stranger had supplied him.
"Easy—abundantly easy!" answered the successful man, smiling, but
with a stern and almost frightful contraction of the brow, as if to
quell an inward pang. "I have been engaged in various sorts of
business—a distiller, a trader to Africa, an East India merchant, a
speculator in the stocks—and, in the course of these affairs, have
contracted an incumbrance of a certain nature. The purchaser of the
estate shall merely be required to assume this burden to himself."
"I understand you," said the Man of Intelligence, putting his pen
behind his ear. "I fear that no bargain can be negotiated on these
conditions. Very probably, the next possessor may acquire the estate
with a similar incumbrance, but it will be of his own contracting, and
will not lighten your burden in the least."
"And am I to live on," fiercely exclaimed the stranger, "with the
dirt of these accursed acres, and the granite of this infernal mansion,
crushing down my soul? How, if I should turn the edifice into an
almshouse or a hospital, or tear it down and build a church?"
"You can at least make the experiment," said the Intelligencer; "but
the whole matter is one which you must settle for yourself."
The man of deplorable success withdrew, and got into his coach,
which rattled off lightly over the wooden pavements, though laden with
the weight of much land, a stately house, and ponderous heaps of gold,
all compressed into an evil conscience.
There now appeared many applicants for places; among the most
note-worthy of whom was a small, smoke-dried figure, who gave himself
out to be one of the bad spirits that had waited upon Doctor Faustus in
his laboratory. He pretended to show a certificate of character. which,
he averred, had been given him by that famous necromancer, and
countersigned by several masters whom he had subsequently served.
"I am afraid, my good friend," observed the Intelligencer, "that
your chance of getting a service is but poor. Now-a-days, men act the
evil spirit for themselves and for their neighbors, and play the part
more effectually than ninety-nine out of a hundred of your fraternity."
But, just as the poor friend was assuming a vaporous consistency,
being about to vanis through the floor in sad disappointment and
chagrin, the editor of a political newspaper chanced to enter the
office, in quest of a scribbler of party paragraphs. The former servant
of Doctor Faustus, with some misgivings as to his sufficiency of venom,
was allowed to try his hand in this capacity. Next appeared, likewise
seeking a service, the mysterious Man in Red, who had aided Buonaparte
in his ascent to imperial power. He was examined as to his
qualifications by an aspiring politician, but finally rejected, as
lacking familiarity with the cunning tactics of the present day.
People continued to succeed each other, with as much briskness as if
everybody turned aside, out of the roar and tumult of the city, to
record here some want, or superfluity, or desire. Some had goods or
possessions, of which they wished to negotiate the sale. A China
merchant had lost his health by a long residence in that wasting
climate; he very liberally offered his disease, and his wealth along
with it, to any physician who would rid him of both together. A soldier
offered his wreath of laurels for as good a leg as that which it had
cost him, on the battle-field. One poor weary wretch desired nothing
but to be accommodated with any creditable method of laying down his
life; for misfortune and pecuniary troubles had so subdued his
spirits, that he could no longer conceive the possibility of happiness,
nor had the heart to try for it. Nevertheless, happening to overhear
some conversation in the Intelligence Office, respecting wealth to be
rapidly accumulated by a certain mode of speculation, he resolved to
live out this one other experiment of better fortune. Many persons
desired to exchange their youthful vices for others better suited to
the gravity of advancing age; a few, we are glad to say, made earnest
efforts to exchange vice for virtue, and, hard as the bargain was,
succeeded in effecting it. But it was remarkable, that what all were
the least willing to give up, even on the most advantageous terms, were
the habits, the oddities, the characteristic traits, the little
ridiculous indulgences, somewhere between faults and follies, of which
nobody but themselves could understand the fascination.
The great folio, in which the Man of Intelligence recorded all these
freaks of idle hearts, and aspirations of deep hearts, and desperate
longings of miserable hearts, and evil prayers of perverted hearts,
would be curious reading, were it possible to obtain it for
publication. Human character in its individual developments— human
nature in the mass—may best be studied in its wishes; and this was
the record of them all. There was an endless diversity of mode and
circumstance, yet withal such a similarity in the real ground-work,
that any one page of the volume—whether written in the days before
the Flood, or the yesterday that is just gone by, or to be written on
the morrow that is close at hand, or a thousand ages hence—might
serve as a specimen of the whole. Not but that there were wild sallies
of fantasy that could scarcely occur to more than one man's brain,
whether reasonable or lunatic. The strangest wishes—yet most incident
to men who had gone deep into scientific pursuits, and attained a high
intellectual stage, though not the loftiest—were, to contend with
Nature, and wrest from her some secret, or some power, which she had
seen fit to withhold from mortal grasp. She loves to delude her
aspiring students, and mock them with mysteries that seem but just
beyond their utmost reach. To concoct new minerals—to produce new
forms of vegetable life—to create an insect, if nothing higher in the
living scale—is a sort of wish that has often revelled in the breast
of a man of science. An astronomer, who lived far more among the
distant worlds of space than in this lower sphere, recorded a wish to
behold the opposite side of the moon, which, unless the system of the
firmament be reversed, she can never turn towards the earth. On the
same page of the volume, was written the wish of a little child, to
have the stars for playthings.
The most ordinary wish, that was written down with wearisome
recurrence, was, of course, for wealth, wealth, wealth, in sums from a
few shillings up to unreckonable thousands. But, in reality, this often
repeated expression covered as many different desires. Wealth is the
golden essence of the outward world, embodying almost everything that
exists beyond the limits of the soul; and therefore it is the natural
yearning for the life in the midst of which we find ourselves, and of
which gold is the condition of enjoyment, that men abridge into this
general wish. Here and there, it is true, the volume testified to some
heart so perverted as to desire gold for its own sake. Many wished for
power; a strange desire, indeed, since it is but another form of
slavery. Old people wished for the delights of youth; a fop, for a
fashionable coat; an idle reader, for a new novel; a versifier, for a
rhyme to some stubborn word; a painter, for Titian's secret of
coloring; a prince, for a cottage; a republican, for a kingdom and a
palace; a libertine, for his neighbor's wife; a man of palate, for
green peas; and a poor man, for a crust of bread. The ambitious desires
of public men, elsewhere so craftily concealed, were here expressed
openly and boldly, side by side with the unselfish wishes of the
philanthropist for the welfare of the race, so beautiful, so
comforting, in contrast with the egotism that continually weighed self
against the world. Into the darker secrets of the Book of Wishes, we
will not penetrate.
It would be an instructive employment for a student of mankind,
perusing this volume carefully, and comparing its records with men's
perfected designs, as expressed in their deeds and daily life, to
ascertain how far the one accorded with the other. Undoubtedly, in most
cases, the correspondence would be found remote. The holy and generous
wish, that rises like incense from a pure heart towards heaven, often
lavishes its sweet perfume on the blast of evil times. The foul,
selfish, murderous wish, that steams forth from a corrupted heart,
often passes into the spiritual atmosphere, without being concreted
into an earthly deed. Yet this volume is probably truer, as a
representation of the human heart, than is the living drama of action,
as it evolves around us. There is more of good and more of evil in it;
more redeeming points of the bad, and more errors of the virtuous;
higher up-soarings, and baser degradation of the soul; in short, a more
perplexing amalgamation of vice and virtue, than we witness in the
outward world. Decency, and external conscience, often produce a far
fairer outside, than is warranted by the stains within. And be it
owned, on the other hand, that a man seldom repeats to his nearest
friend, any more than he realizes in act, the purest wishes, which, at
some blessed time or other, have arisen from the depths of his nature,
and witnessed for him in this volume. Yet there is enough, on every
leaf, to make the good man shudder for his own wild and idle wishes, as
well as for the sinner, whose whole life is the incarnation of a wicked
But again the door is opened; and we hear the tumultuous stir of the
world—a deep and awful sound, expressing in another form some portion
of what is written in the volume that lies before the Man of
Intelligence. A grandfatherly personage tottered hastily into the
office, with such an earnestness in his infirm alacrity that his white
hair floated backward, as he hurried up to the desk; while his dim eyes
caught a momentary lustre from his vehemence of purpose. This venerable
figure explained that he was in search of To-morrow.
"I have spent all my life in pursuit of it," added the sage old
gentleman, "being assured that To-morrow has some vast benefit or other
in store for me. But I am now getting a little in years, and must make
haste; for unless I overtake To-morrow soon, I begin to be afraid it
will finally escape me."
"This fugitive To-morrow, my venerable friend," said the Man of
Intelligence, "is a stray child of Time, and is flying from his father
into the region of the infinite. Continue your pursuit, and you will
doubtless come up with him; but as to the earthly gifts which you
expect, he has scattered them all among a throng of Yesterdays."
Obliged to content himself with this enigmatical response, the
grandsire hastened forth, with a quick clatter of his staff upon the
floor; and as he disappeared, a little boy scampered through the door
in chase of a butterfly, which had got astray amid the barren sunshine
of the city. Had the old gentleman been shrewder, he might have
detected To-morrow under the semblance of that gaudy insect. The golden
butterfly glistened through the shadowy apartment, and brushed its
wings against the Book of Wishes, and fluttered forth again, with the
child still in pursuit.
A man now entered, in neglected attire, with the aspect of a
thinker, but somewhat too rough-hewn and brawny for a scholar. His face
was full of sturdy vigor, with some finer and keener attribute beneath;
though harsh at first, it was tempered with the glow of a large, warm
heart, which had force enough to heat his powerful intellect through
and through. He advanced to the Intelligencer, and looked at him with a
glance of such stern sincerity, that perhaps few secrets were beyond
"I seek for Truth," said he.
"It is precisely the most rare pursuit that has ever come under my
cognizance," replied the Intelligencer, as he made the new inscription
in his volume. "Most men seek to impose some cunning falsehood upon
themselves for truth. But I can lend no help to your researches. You
must achieve the miracle for yourself. At some fortunate moment, you
may find Truth at your side— or, perhaps, she may be mistily
discerned, far in advance—or, possibly, behind you."
"Not behind me," said the seeker, "for I have left nothing on my
track without a thorough investigation. She flits before me, passing
now through a naked solitude, and now mingling with the throng of a
popular assembly, and now writing with the pen of a French philosopher,
and now standing at the altar of an old cathedral, in the guise of a
Catholic priest, performing the high mass. Oh weary search! But I must
not falter; and surely my heart-deep quest of Truth shall avail at
He paused, and fixed his eyes upon the Intelligencer, with a depth
of investigation that seemed to hold commerce with the inner nature of
this being, wholly regardless of his external development.
"And what are you?" said he. "It will not satisfy me to point to
this fantastic show of an Intelligence Office, and this mockery of
business. Tell me what is beneath it, and what your real agency in
life, and your influence upon mankind?"
"Yours is a mind," answered the Man of Intelligence, "before which
the forms and fantasies that conceal the inner idea from the multitude,
vanish at once, and leave the naked reality beneath. Know, then, the
secret. My agency in worldly action— my connection with the press,
and tumult, and intermingling, and development of human affairs—is
merely delusive. The desire of man's heart does for him whatever I seem
to do. I am no minister of action, but the Recording Spirit!"
What further secrets were then spoken, remains a mystery; inasmuch
as the roar of the city, the bustle of human business, the outcry of
the jostling masses, the rush and tumult of man's life, in its noisy
and brief career, arose so high that it drowned the words of these two
talkers. And whether they stood talking in the Moon, or in Vanity Fair,
or in a city of this actual world, is more than I can say.
ROGER MALVIN'S BURIAL.
One of the few incidents of Indian warfare, naturally susceptible of
the moonlight of romance, was that expedition, undertaken for the
defence of the frontiers in the year 1725, which resulted in the
well-remembered "Lovell's Fight." Imagination, by casting certain
circumstances judiciously into the shade, may see much to admire in the
heroism of a little band, who gave battle to twice their number in the
heart of the enemy's country. The open bravery displayed by both
parties was in accordance with civilized ideas of valor, and chivalry
itself might not blush to record the deeds of one or two individuals.
The battle, though so fatal to those who fought, was not unfortunate in
its consequences to the country; for it broke the strength of a tribe,
and conduced to the peace which subsisted during several ensuing years.
History and tradition are unusually minute in their memorials of this
affair; and the captain of a scouting party of frontier-men has
acquired as actual a military renown, as many a victorious leader of
thousands. Some of the incidents contained in the following pages will
be recognized, notwithstanding the substitution of fictitious names, by
such as have heard, from old men's lips, the fate of the few combatants
who were in a condition to retreat after "Lovell's Fight."
The early sunbeams hovered cheerfully upon the tree-tops, beneath
which two weary and wounded men had stretched their limbs the night
before. Their bed of withered oak-leaves was strewn upon the small
level space, at the foot of a rock, situated near the summit of one of
the gentle swells, by which the face of the country is there
diversified. The mass of granite, rearing its smooth, flat surface,
fifteen or twenty feet above their heads, was not unlike a gigantic
grave-stone, upon which the veins seemed to form an inscription in
forgotten characters. On a tract of several acres around this rock,
oaks and other hard-wood trees had supplied the place of the pines,
which were the usual growth of the land; and a young and vigorous
sapling stood close beside the travellers.
The severe wound of the elder man had probably deprived him of
sleep; for, so soon as the first ray of sunshine rested on the top of
the highest tree, he reared himself painfully from his recumbent
posture and sat erect. The deep lines of his countanance, and the
scattered grey of his hair, marked him as past the middle age; but his
muscular frame would, but for the effects of his wound, have been as
capable of sustaining fatigue, as in the early vigor of life. Languor
and exhaustion now sat upon his haggard features, and the despairing
glance which he sent forward through the depths of the forest, proved
his own conviction that his pilgrimage was at an end. He next turned
his eyes to the companion who reclined by his side. The youth, for he
had scarcely attained the years of manhood, lay, with his head upon his
arm, in the embrace of an unquiet sleep, which a thrill of pain from
his wounds seemed each moment on the point of breaking. His right hand
grasped a musket, and to judge from the violent action of his features,
his slumbers were bringing back a vision of the conflict, of which he
was one of the few survivors. A shout,— deep and loud in his dreaming
fancy,—found its way in an imperfect murmur to his lips, and,
starting even at the slight sound of his own voice, he suddenly awoke.
The first act of reviving recollection was to make anxious inquiries
respecting the condition of his wounded fellow-traveller. The latter
shook his head.
"Reuben, my boy," said he, "this rock, beneath which we sit, will
serve for an old hunter's grave-stone. There is many and many a long
mile of howling wilderness before us yet; nor would it avail me
anything, if the smoke of my own chimney were but on the other side of
that swell of land. The Indian bullet was deadlier than I thought."
"You are weary with our three days' travel," replied the youth, "and
a little longer rest will recruit you. Sit you here, while I search the
woods for the herbs and roots that must be our sustenance; and having
eaten, you shall lean on me, and we will turn our faces homeward. I
doubt not, that, with my help, you can attain to some one of the
"There is not two days' life in me, Reuben," said the other, calmly,
"and I will no longer burthen you with my useless body, when you can
scarcely support your own. Your wounds are deep, and your strength is
failing fast; yet, if you hasten onward alone, you may be preserved.
For me there is no hope; and I will await death here."
"If it must be so, I will remain and watch by you," said Reuben,
"No, my son, no," rejoined his companion. "Let the wish of a dying
man have weight with you; give me one grasp of your hand, and get you
hence. Think you that my last moments will be eased by the thought,
that I leave you to die a more lingering death? I have loved you like a
father, Reuben, and at a time like this, I should have something of a
father's authority. I charge you to be gone, that I may die in peace."
"And because you have been a father to me, should I therefore leave
you to perish, and to lie unburied in the wilderness?" exclaimed the
youth. "No; if your end be in truth approaching, I will watch by you,
and receive your parting words. I will dig a grave here by the rock,
in which, if my weakness overcome me, we will rest together; or, if
Heaven gives me strength, I will seek my way home."
"In the cities, and wherever men dwell," replied the other, "they
bury their dead in the earth; they hide them from the sight of the
living; but here, where no step may pass, perhaps for a hundred years,
wherefore should I not rest beneath the open sky, covered only by the
oak-leaves, when the autumn winds shall strew them? And for a monument,
here is this grey rock, on which my dying hand shall carve the name of
Roger Malvin; and the traveller in days to come will know, that here
sleeps a hunter and a warrior. Tarry not, then, for a folly like this,
but hasten away, if not for your own sake, for hers who will else be
Malvin spoke the last few words in a faltering voice, and their
effect upon his companion was strongly visible. They reminded him that
there were other, and less questionable duties, than that of sharing
the fate of a man whom his death could not benefit. Nor can it be
affirmed that no selfish feeling strove to enter Reuben's heart, though
the consciousness made him more earnestly resist his companion's
"How terrible, to wait the slow approach of death in this solitude!"
exclaimed he. "A brave man does not shrink in the battle, and, when
friends stand round the bed, even women may die composedly; but here"—
"I shall not shrink, even here, Reuben Bourne," interrupted Malvin:
"I am a man of no weak heart; and, if I were, there is a surer support
than that of earthly friends. You are young, and life is dear to you.
Your last moments will need comfort far more than mine; and when you
have laid me in the earth, and are alone, and night is settling on the
forest, you will feel all the bitterness of the death that may now be
escaped. But I will urge no selfish motive to your generous nature.
Leave me for my sake; that, having said a prayer for your safety, I
may have space to settle my account, undisturbed by worldly sorrows."
"And your daughter! How shall I dare to meet her eye!" exclaimed
Reuben. "She will ask the fate of her father, whose life I vowed to
defend with my own. Must I tell her, that he travelled three days'
march with me from the field of battle, and that then I left him to
perish in the wilderness? Were it not better to lie down and die by
your side, than to return safe, and say this to Dorcas?"
"Tell my daughter," said Roger Malvin, "that, though yourself sore
wounded, and weak, and weary, you led my tottering footsteps many a
mile, and left me only at my earnest entreaty, because I would not have
your blood upon my soul. Tell her, that through pain and danger you
were faithful, and that, if your life-blood could have saved me, it
would have flowed to its last drop. And tell her, that you will be
something dearer than a father, and that my blessing is with you both,
and that my dying eyes can see a long and pleasant path, in which you
will journey together."
As Malvin spoke, he almost raised himself from the ground, and the
energy of his concluding words seemed to fill the wild and lonely
forest with a vision of happiness. But when he sank exhausted upon his
bed of oak-leaves, the light, which had kindled in Reuben's eye, was
quenched. He felt as if it were both sin and folly to think of
happiness at such a moment. His companion watched his changing
countenance, and sought, with generous art, to wile him to his own good.
"Perhaps I deceive myself in regard to the time I have to live," he
resumed. "It may be, that, with speedy assistance, I might recover of
my wound. The former fugitives must, ere this, have carried tidings of
our fatal battle to the frontiers, and parties will be out to succor
those in like condition with ourselves. Should you meet one of these,
and guide them hither, who can tell but that I may sit by my own
A mournful smile strayed across the features of the dying man, as he
insinuated that unfounded hope; which, however, was not without its
effect on Reuben. No merely selfish motive, nor even the desolate
condition of Dorcas, could have induced him to desert his companion, at
such a moment. But his wishes seized upon the thought, that Malvin's
life might be preserved, and his sanguine nature heightened, almost to
certainty, the remote possibility of procuring human aid.
"Surely there is reason, weighty reason, to hope that friends are
not far distant;" he said, half aloud. "There fled one coward,
unwounded, in the beginning of the fight, and most probably he made
good speed. Every true man on the frontier would shoulder his musket,
at the news; and though no party may range so far into the woods as
this, I shall perhaps encounter them in one day's march. Counsel me
faithfully," he added, turning to Malvin, in distrust of his own
motives. "Were your situation mine, would you desert me while life
"It is now twenty years," replied Roger Malvin, sighing, however, as
he secretly acknowledged the wide dissimilarity between the two
cases,—"it is now twenty years, since I escaped, with one dear
friend, from Indian captivity, near Montreal. We journeyed many days
through the woods, till at length, overcome with hunger and weariness,
my friend lay down, and besought me to leave him; for he knew that, if
I remained, we both must perish. And, with but little hope of obtaining
succor, I heaped a pillow of dry leaves beneath his head, and hastened
"And did you return in time to save him?" asked Reuben, hanging on
Malvin's words, as if they were to be prophetic of his own success.
"I did," answered the other, "I came upon the camp of a
hunting-party, before sunset of the same day. I guided them to the
spot where my comrade was expecting death; and he is now a hale and
hearty man, upon his own farm, far within the frontiers, while I lie
wounded here, in the depths of the wilderness."
This example, powerful in effecting Reuben's decision, was aided,
unconsciously to himself, by the hidden strength of many another
motive. Roger Malvin perceived that the victory was nearly won.
"Now go, my son, and Heaven prosper you!" he said. "Turn not back
with your friends, when you meet them, lest your wounds and weariness
overcome you; but send hitherward two or three, that may be spared, to
search for me. And believe me, Reuben, my heart will be lighter with
every step you take towards home." Yet there was perhaps a change, both
in his countenance and voice, as he spoke thus; for, after all, it was
a ghastly fate, to be left expiring in the wilderness.
Reuben Bourne, but half convinced that he was acting rightly, at
length raised himself from the ground, and prepared for his departure.
And first, though contrary to Malvin's wishes, he collected a stock of
roots and herbs, which had been their only food during the last two
days. This useless supply he placed within reach of the dying man, for
whom, also, he swept together a fresh bed of dry oak-leaves. Then
climbing to the summit of the rock, which on one side was rough and
broken, he bent the oak-sapling downward, and bound his handkerchief to
the topmost branch. This precaution was not unnecessary, to direct any
who might come in search of Malvin; for every part of the rock, except
its broad smooth front, was concealed, at a little distance, by the
dense undergrowth of the forest. The handkerchief had been the bandage
of a wound upon Reuben's arm; and, as he bound it to the tree, he
vowed, by the blood that stained it, that he would return, either to
save his companion's life, or to lay his body in the grave. He then
descended, and stood, with downcast eyes, to receive Roger Malvin's
The experience of the latter suggested much and minute advice,
respecting the youth's journey through the trackless forest. Upon this
subject he spoke with calm earnestness, as if he were sending Reuben to
the battle or the chase, while he himself remained secure at home; and
not as if the human countenance that was about to leave him, were the
last he would ever behold. But his firmness was shaken before he
"Carry my blessing to Dorcas, and say that my last prayer shall be
for her and you. Bid her to have no hard thoughts because you left me
here"—Reuben's heart smote him—"for that your life would not have
weighed with you, if its sacrifice could have done me good. She will
marry you, after she has mourned a little while for her father; and
Heaven grant you long and happy days! and may your children's children
stand round your death-bed! And, Reuben," added he, as the weakness of
mortality made its way at last, "return, when your wounds are healed
and your weariness refreshed, return to this wild rock, and lay my
bones in the grave, and say a prayer over them."
An almost superstitious regard, arising perhaps from the customs of
the Indians, whose war was with the dead, as well as the living, was
paid by the frontier inhabitants to the rites of sepulture; and there
are many instances of the sacrifice of life, in the attempt to bury
those who had fallen by the "sword of the wilderness." Reuben,
therefore, felt the full importance of the promise, which he most
solemnly made, to return, and perform Roger Malvin's obsequies. It was
remarkable, that the latter, speaking his whole heart in his parting
words, no longer endeavored to persuade the youth, that even the
speediest succor might avail to the preservation of his life. Reuben
was internally convinced that he should see Malvin's living face no
more. His generous nature would fain have delayed him, at whatever
risk, till the dying scene were past; but the desire of existence and
the hope of happiness had strengthened in his heart, and he was unable
to resist them.
"It is enough," said Roger Malvin, having listened to Reuben's
promise. "Go, and God speed you!"
The youth pressed his hand in silence, turned, and was departing.
His slow and faltering steps, however, had borne him but a little way,
before Malvin's voice recalled him.
"Reuben, Reuben," said he, faintly; and Reuben returned and knelt
down by the dying man.
"Raise me, and let me lean against the rock," was his last request.
"My face will be turned towards home, and I shall see you a moment
longer, as you pass among the trees."
Reuben, having made the desired alteration in his companion's
posture, again began his solitary pilgrimage. He walked more hastily at
first than was consistent with his strength; for a sort of guilty
feeling, which sometimes torments men in their most justifiable acts,
caused him to seek concealment from Malvin's eyes. But, after he had
trodden far upon the rustling forest-leaves, he crept back, impelled by
a wild and painful curiosity, and, sheltered by the earthy roots of an
uptorn tree, gazed earnestly at the desolate man. The morning sun was
unclouded, and the trees and shrubs imbibed the sweet air of the month
of May; yet there seemed a gloom on Nature's face, as if she
sympathized with mortal pain and sorrow. Roger Malvin's hands were
uplifted in a fervent prayer, some of the words of which stole through
the stillness of the woods, and entered Reuben's heart, torturing it
with an unutterable pang. They were the broken accents of a petition
for his own happiness and that of Dorcas; and, as the youth listened,
conscience, something in its similitude, pleaded strongly with him to
return, and lie down again by the rock. He felt how hard was the doom
of the kind and generous being whom he had deserted in his extremity.
Death would come, like the slow approach of a corpse, stealing
gradually towards him through the forest, and showing its ghastly and
motionless features from behind a nearer, and yet a nearer tree. But
such must have been Reuben's own fate, had he tarried another sunset;
and who shall impute blame to him, if he shrink from so useless a
sacrifice? As he gave a parting look, a breeze waved the little banner
upon the sapling-oak, and reminded Reuben of his vow.
* * * * * * *
Many circumstances contributed to retard the wounded traveller in
his way to the frontiers. On the second day, the clouds, gathering
densely over the sky, precluded the possibility of regulating his
course by the position of the sun; and he knew not but that every
effort of his almost exhausted strength was removing him farther from
the home he sought. His scanty sustenance was supplied by the berries,
and other spontaneous products of the forest. Herds of deer, it is
true, sometimes bounded past him, and partridges frequently whirred up
before his foot-steps; but his ammunition had been expended in the
fight, and he had no means of slaying them. His wounds, irritated by
the constant exertion in which lay the only hope of life, wore away his
strength, and at intervals confused his reason. But, even in the
wanderings of intellect, Reuben's young heart clung strongly to
existence, and it was only through absolute incapacity of motion, that
he last sank down beneath a tree, compelled there to await death.
In this situation he was discovered by a party, who, upon the first
intelligence of the fight, had been despatched to the relief of the
survivors. They conveyed him to the nearest settlement, which chanced
to be that of his own residence.
Dorcas, in the simplicity of the olden time, watched by the bed-side
of her wounded lover, and administered all those comforts that are in
the sole gift of woman's heart and hand. During several days, Reuben's
recollection strayed drowsily among the perils and hardships through
which he had passed, and he was incapable of returning definite answers
to the inquiries, with which many were eager to harass him. No
authentic particulars of the battle had yet been circulated; nor could
mothers, wives, and children tell, whether their loved ones were
detained by captivity, or by the stronger chain of death. Dorcas
nourished her apprehensions in silence, till one afternoon, when Reuben
awoke from an unquiet sleep, and seemed to recognize her more perfectly
than at any previous time. She saw that his intellect had become
composed, and she could no longer restrain her filial anxiety.
"My father, Reuben?" she began; but the change in her lover's
countenance made her pause.
The youth shrank, as if with a bitter pain, and the blood gushed
vividly into his wan and hollow cheeks. His first impulse was to cover
his face; but, apparently with a desperate effort, he half raised
himself, and spoke vehemently, defending himself against an imaginary
"Your father was sore wounded in the battle, Dorcas, and he bade me
not burthen myself with him, but only to lead him to the lake-side,
that he might quench his thirst and die. But I would not desert the old
man in his extremity, and, though bleeding myself, I supported him; I
gave him half my strength, and led him away with me. For three days we
journeyed on together, and your father was sustained beyond my hopes;
but, awaking at sunrise on the fourth day, I found him faint and
exhausted,—he was unable to proceed,—his life had ebbed away
"He died!" exclaimed Dorcas, faintly.
Reuben felt it impossible to acknowledge that his selfish love of
life had hurried him away, before her father's fate was decided. He
spoke not; he only bowed his head; and, between shame and exhaustion,
sank back and hid his face in the pillow. Dorcas wept, when her fears
were thus confirmed; but the shock, as it had been long anticipated,
was on that account the less violent.
"You dug a grave for my poor father in the wilderness, tendrils
over the hidden entrance, he stood beneath his own window, in the open
area of Doctor Rappaccini's garden.
How often is it the case, that, when impossibilities have come to
pass, and dreams have condensed their misty substance into tangible
realities, we find ourselves calm, and even coldly self-possessed, amid
circumstances which it would have been a delirium of joy or agony to
anticipate! Fate delights to thwart us thus. Passion will choose his
own time to rush upon the scene, and lingers sluggishly behind, when an
appropriate adjustment of events would seem to summon his appearance.
So was it now with Giovanni. Day after day, his pulses had throbbed
with feverish blood, at the improbable idea of an interview with
Beatrice, and of standing with her, face to face, in this very garden,
basking in the oriental sunshine of her beauty, and snatching from her
full gaze the mystery which he deemed the riddle of his own existence.
But now there was a singular and untimely equanimity within his breast.
He threw a glance around the garden to discover if Beatrice or her
father were present, and perceiving that he was alone, began a critical
observation of the plants.
The aspect of one and all of them dissatisfied him; their
gorgeousness seemed fierce, passionate, and even unnatural. There was
hardly an individual shrub which a wanderer, straying by himself
through a forest, would not have been startled to find growing wild, as
if an unearthly face had glared at him out of the thicket. Several,
also, would have shocked a delicate instinct by an appearance of
artificialness, indicating that there had been such commixture, and, as
it were, adultery of various vegetable species, that the production was
no longer of God's making, but the monstrous offspring of man's
depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty. They were
probably the result of experiment, which, in one or two cases, had
succeeded in mingling plants individually lovely into a compound -
Blank Leaf. ] her husband master of a farm, under older cultivation,
larger, and better stocked than most of the frontier establishments.
Reuben Bourne, however, was a neglectful husbandman; and while the
lands of the other settlers beeame annually more fruitful, his
deteriorated in the same proportion. The discouragements to agriculture
were greatly lessened by the cessation of Indian war, during which men
held the plough in one hand, and the musket in the other; and were
fortunate if the products of their dangerous labor were not destroyed,
either in the field or in the barn, by the savage enemy. But Reuben did
not profit by the altered condition of the country; nor can it be
denied, that his intervals of industrious attention to his affairs were
but scantily rewarded with success. The irritability, by which he had
recently become distinguished, was another cause of his declining
prosperity, as it occasioned frequent quarrels, in his unavoidable
intercourse with the neighboring settlers. The results of these were
innumerable lawsuits; for the people of New England, in the earliest
stages and wildest circumstances of the country, adopted, whenever
attainable, the legal mode of deciding their differences. To be brief,
the world did not go well with Reuben Bourne, and, though not till many
years after his marriage, he was finally a ruined man, with but one
remaining expedient against the evil fate that had pursued him. He was
to throw sunlight into some deep recess of the forest, and seek
subsistence from the virgin bosom of the wilderness.
The only child of Reuben and Dorcas was a son, now arrived at the
age of fifteen years, beautiful in youth, and giving promise of a
glorious manhood. He was peculiarly qualified for, and already began to
excel in, the wild accomplishments of frontier life. His foot was
fleet, his aim true, his apprehension quick, his heart glad and high;
and all, who anticipated the return of Indian war, spoke of Cyrus
Bourne as a future leader in the land. The boy was loved by his father
with a deep and silent strength, as if whatever was good and happy in
his own nature had been transferred to his child, carrying his
affections with it. Even Dorcas, though loving and beloved, was far
less dear to him; for Reuben's secret thoughts and insulated emotions
had gradually made him a selfish man; and he could no longer love
deeply, except where he saw, or imagined, some reflection or likeness
of his own mind. In Cyrus he recognized what he had himself been in
other days; and at intervals he seemed to partake of the boy's spirit,
and to be revived with a fresh and happy life. Reuben was accompanied
by his son in the expedition, for the purpose of selecting a tract of
land, and felling and burning the timber, which necessarily preceded
the removal of the household gods. Two months of autumn were thus
occupied; after which Reuben Bourne and his young hunter returned, to
spend their last winter in the settlements.
* * * * * * *
It was early in the month of May, that the little family snapped
asunder whatever tendrils of affections had clung to inanimate objects,
and bade farewell to the few, who, in the blight of fortune, called
themselves their friends. The sadness of the parting moment had, to
each of the pilgrims, its peculiar alleviations. Reuben, a moody man,
and misanthropic because unhappy, strode onward, with his usual stern
brow and downcast eye, feeling few regrets, and disdaining to
acknowledge any. Dorcas, while she wept abundantly over the broken ties
by which her simple and affectionate nature had bound itself to
everything, felt that the inhabitants of her inmost heart moved on with
her, and that all else would be supplied wherever she might go. And the
boy dashed one tear-drop from his eye, and thought of the adventurous
pleasures of the untrodden forest. Oh! who, in the enthusiasm of a
day-dream, has not wished that he were a wanderer in a world of summer
wilderness, with one fair and gentle being hanging lightly on his arm?
In youth, his free and exulting step would know no barrier but the
rolling ocean or the snow-topt mountains; calmer manhood would choose a
home, where Nature had strewn a double wealth, in the vale of some
transparent stream; and when hoary age, after long, long years of that
pure life, stole on and found him there, it would find him the father
of a race, the patriarch of a people, the founder of a mighty nation
yet to be. When death, like the sweet sleep which we welcome after a
day of happiness, came over him, his far descendants would mourn over
the venerated dust. Enveloped by tradition in mysterious attributes,
the men of future generations would call him godlike; and remote
posterity would see him standing, dimly glorious, far up the valley of
a hundred centuries!
The tangled and gloomy forest, through which the personages of my
tale were wandering, differed widely from the dreamer's Land of
Fantasie; yet there was something in their way of life that Nature
asserted as her own; and the gnawing cares, which went with them from
the world, were all that now obstructed their happiness. One stout and
shaggy steed, the bearer of all their wealth, did not shrink from the
added weight of Dorcas; although her hardy breeding sustained her,
during the larger part of each day's journey, by her husband's side.
Reuben and his son, their muskets on their shoulders, and their axes
slung behind them, kept an unwearied pace, each watching with a
hunter's eye for the game that supplied their food. When hunger bade,
they halted and prepared their meal on the bank of some unpolluted
forest-brook, which, as they knelt down with thirsty lips to drink,
murmured a sweet unwillingness, like a maiden at love's first kiss.
They slept beneath a hut of branches, and awoke at peep of light,
refreshed for the toils of another day. Dorcas and the boy went on
joyously, and even Reuben's spirit shone at intervals with an outward
gladness; but inwardly there was a cold, cold sorrow, which he compared
to the snow-drifts, lying deep in the glens and hollows of the
rivulets, while the leaves were brightly green above.
Cyrus Bourne was sufficiently skilled in the travel of the woods, to
observe that his father did not adhere to the course they had pursued
in their expedition of the preceding autumn. They were now keeping
farther to the north, striking out more directly from the settlements,
and into a region, of which savage beasts and savage men were as yet
the sole possessors. The boy sometimes hinted his opinious upon the
subject, and Reuben listened attentively, and once or twice altered the
direction of their march in accordance with his son's counsel. But
having so done, he seemed ill at ease. His quick and wandering glances
were sent forward, apparently in search of enemies lurking behind the
tree-trunks; and seeing nothing there, he would cast his eyes
backwards, as if in fear of some pursuer. Cyrus, perceiving that his
father gradually resumed the old direction, forbore to interfere; nor,
though something began to weigh upon his heart, did his adventurous
nature permit him to regret the increased length and the mystery of
On the afternoon of the fifth day, they halted and made their simple
encampment nearly an hour before sunset. The face of the country, for
the last few miles, had been diversified by swells of land, resembling
huge waves of a petrified sea; and in one of the corresponding hollows,
a wild and romantic spot, had the family reared their hut, and kindled
their fire. There is something chilling, and yet heart-warming, in the
thought of three, united by strong bands of love, and insulated from
all that breathe beside. The dark and gloomy pines looked down upon
them, and, as the wind swept through their tops, a pitying sound was
heard in the forest; or did those old trees groan, in fear that men
were come to lay the axe to their roots at last? Reuben and his son,
while Dorcas made ready their meal, proposed to wander out in search of
game, of which that day's march had afforded no supply. The boy,
promising not to quit the vicinity of the encampment, bounded off with
a step as light and elastic as that of the deer he hoped to slay; while
his father, feeling a transient happiness as he gazed after him, was
about to pursue an opposite direction. Dorcas, in the meanwhile, had
seated herself near their fire of fallen branches, upon the moss-grown
and mouldering trunk of a tree, uprooted years before. Her employment,
diversified by an occasional glance at the pot, now beginning to simmer
over the blaze, was the perusal of the current year's Massachusetts'
Almanac, which, with the exception of an old black-letter Bible,
comprised all the literary wealth of the family. None pay a greater
regard to arbitrary divisions of time, than those who are excluded from
society; and Dorcas mentioned, as if the information were of
importance, that it was now the twelfth of May. Her husband started.
"The twelfth of May! I should remember it well," muttered he, while
many thoughts occasioned a momentary confusion in his mind. "Where am
I? Whither am I wandering? Where did I leave him?"
Dorcas, too well accustomed to her husband's wayward moods to note
any peculiarity of demeanor, now laid aside the Almanac, and addressed
him in that mournful tone, which the tender-hearted appropriate to
griefs long cold and dead.
"It was near this time of the month, eighteen years ago, that my
poor father left this world for a better. He had a kind arm to hold his
head, and a kind voice to cheer him, Reuben, in his last moments; and
the thought of the faithful care you took of him, has comforted me many
a time since. Oh! death would have been awful to a solitary man, in a
wild place like this!"
"Pray Heaven, Dorcas," said Reuben, in a broken voice, "pray Heaven,
that neither of us three dies solitary, and lies unburied, in this
howling wilderness!" And he hastened away, leaving her to watch the
fire, beneath the gloomy pines.
Reuben Bourne's rapid pace gradually slackened, as the pang,
unintentionally inflicted by the words of Dorcas, became less acute.
Many strange reflections, however, thronged upon him; and, straying
onward, rather like a sleep-walker than a hunter, it was attributable
to no care of his own, that his devious course kept him in the vicinity
of the encampment. His steps were imperceptibly led almost in a circle,
nor did he observe that he was on the verge of a tract of land heavily
timbered, but not with pine trees. The place of the latter was here
supplied by oaks, and other of the harder woods; and around their roots
clustered a dense and bushy undergrowth, leaving, however, barren
spaces between the trees, thick-strewn with withered leaves. Whenever
the rustling of the branches, or the creaking of the trunks, made a
sound, as if the forest were waking from slumber, Reuben instinctively
raised the musket that rested on his arm, and cast a quick, sharp
glance on every side; but, convinced by a partial observation that no
animal was near, he would again give himself up to his thoughts. He was
musing on the strange influence that had led him away from his
premeditated course, and so far into the depths of the wilderness.
Unable to penetrate to the secret place of his soul, where his motives
lay hidden, he believed that a supernatural voice had called him
onward, and that a supernatural power had obstructed his retreat. He
trusted that it was Heaven's intent to afford him an opportunity of
expiating his sin; he hoped that he might find the bones, so long
unburied; and that, having laid the earth over them, peace would throw
its sunlight into the sepulchre of his heart. From these thoughts he
was aroused by a rustling in the forest, at some distance from the spot
to which he had wandered. Perceiving the motion of some object behind a
thick veil of undergrowth, he fired, with the instinct of a hunter, and
the aim of a practised marksman. A low moan, which told his success,
and by which even animals can express their dying agony, was unheeded
by Reuben Bourne. What were the recollections now breaking upon him?
The thicket into which Reuben had fired, was near the summit of a
swell of land, and was clustered around the base of a rock, which, in
the shape and smoothness of one of its surfaces, was not unlike a
gigantic grave-stone. As if reflected in a mirror, its likeness was in
Reuben's memory. He even recognized the veins which seemed to form an
inscription in forgotten characters; everything remained the same,
except that a thick covert of bushes shrouded the lower part of the
rock, and would have hidden Roger Malvin, had he still been sitting
there. Yet, in the next moment, Reuben's eye was caught by another
change, that time had effected since he last stood, where he was now
standing again, behind the earthy roots of the uptorn tree. The
sapling, to which he had bound the blood-stained symbol of his vow, had
increased and strengthened into an oak, far indeed from its maturity,
but with no mean spread of shadowy branches. There was one singularity
observable in this tree, which made Reuben tremble. The middle and
lower branches were in luxuriant life, and an excess of vegetation had
fringed the trunk, almost to the ground; but a blight had apparently
stricken the upper part of the oak, and the very topmost bough was
withered, sapless, and utterly dead. Reuben remembered how the little
banner had fluttered on that topmost bough, when it was green and
lovely, eighteen years before. Whose guilt had blasted it?
* * * * *
Dorcas, after the departure of the two hunters, continued her
preparations for their evening repast. Her sylvan table was the
moss-covered trunk of a large fallen tree, on the broadest part of
which she had spread a snow-white cloth, and arranged what were left of
the bright pewter vessels that had been her pride in the settlements.
It had a strange aspect—that one little spot of homely comfort, in
the desolate heart of Nature. The sunshine yet lingered upon the
higher branches of the trees that grew on rising ground; but the
shadows of evening had deepened into the hollow, where the encampment
was made; and the fire-light began to redden as it gleamed up the tall
trunks of the pines, or hovered on the dense and obscure mass of
foliage that circled round the spot. The heart of Dorcas was not sad;
for she felt it was better to journey in the wilderness, with two whom
she loved, than to be a lonely woman in a crowd that cared not for her.
As she busied herself in arranging seats of mouldering wood, covered
with leaves, for Reuben and her son, her voice danced through the
gloomy forest, in the measure of a song that she had learned in youth.
The rude melody, the production of a bard who won no name, was
descriptive of a winter evening in a frontier cottage, when, secured
from savage inroad by the highpiled snow-drifts, the family rejoiced by
their own fire-side. The whole song possessed that nameless charm,
peculiar to unborrowed thought; but four continually-recurring lines
shone out from the rest, like the blaze of the hearth whose joys they
celebrated. Into them, working magic with a few simple words, the poet
had instilled the very essence of domestic love and household
happiness, and they were poetry and picture joined in one. As Dorcas
sang, the walls of her forsaken home seemed to encircle her; she no
longer saw the gloomy pines; nor heard the wind, which still, as she
began each verse, sent a heavy breath through the branches, and died
away in a hollow moan, from the burthen of the song. She was aroused by
the report of a gun, in the vicinity of the encampment; and either the
sudden sound, or her loneliness by the glowing fire, caused her to
tremble violently. The next moment, she laughed in the pride of a
"My beautiful young hunter! my boy has slain a deer!" she exclaimed,
recollecting that, in the direction whence the shot proceeded, Cyrus
had gone to the chase.
She waited a reasonable time, to hear her son's light step bounding
over the rustling leaves, to tell of his success. But he did not
immediately appear, and she sent her cheerful voice among the trees in
search of him.
His coming was still delayed, and she determined, as the report of
the gun had apparently been very near, to seek for him in person. Her
assistance, also, might be necessary in bringing home the venison,
which she flattered herself he had obtained. She therefore set forward,
directing her steps by the long-past sound, and singing as she went, in
order that the boy might be aware of her approach, and run to meet her.
From behind the trunk of every tree, and from every hiding place in the
thick foliage of the undergrowth, she hoped to discover the countenance
of her son, laughing with the sportive mischief that is born of
affection. The sun was now beneath the horizon, and the light that came
down among the trees was sufficiently dim to create many illusions in
her expecting fancy. Several times she seemed indistinctly to see his
face gazing out from among the leaves; and once she imagined that he
stood beckoning to her, at the base of a craggy rock. Keeping her eyes
on this object, however, it proved to be no more than the trunk of an
oak, fringed to the very ground with little branches, one of which,
thrust out farther than the rest, was shaken by the breeze. Making her
way round the foot of the rock, she suddenly found herself close to her
husband, who had approached in another direction. Leaning upon the butt
of his gun, the muzzle of which rested upon the withered leaves, he was
apparently absorbed in the contemplation of some object at his feet.
"How is this, Reuben? Have you slain the deer, and fallen asleep
over him?" exclaimed Dorcas, laughing cheerfully, on her first slight
observation of his posture and appearance.
He stirred not, neither did he turn his eyes towards her; and a
cold, shuddering fear, indefinite in its source and object, began to
creep into her blood. She now perceived that her husband's face was
ghastly pale, and his features were rigid, as if incapable of assuming
any other expression than the strong despair which had hardened upon
them. He gave not the slightest evidence that he was aware of her
"For the love of Heaven, Reuben, speak to me!" cried Dorcas, and the
strange sound of her own voice affrighted her even more than the dead
Her husband started, stared into her face; drew her to the front of
the rock, and pointed with his finger.
Oh! there lay the boy, asleep, but dreamless, upon the fallen
forest-leaves! his cheek rested upon his arm, his curled locks were
thrown back from his brow, his limbs were slightly relaxed. Had a
sudden weariness overcome the youthful hunter? Would his mother's voice
arouse him? She knew that it was death.
"This broad rock is the grave-stone of your near kindred, Dorcas,"
said her husband. "Your tears will fall at once over your father and
She heard him not. With one wild shriek that seemed to force its way
from the sufferer's inmost soul, she sank insensible by the side of her
dead boy. At that moment the withered topmost bow of the oak loosened
itself in the stilly air, and fell in soft, light fragments upon the
rock, upon the leaves, upon Reuben, upon his wife and child, and upon
Roger Malvin's bones. Then Reuben's heart was stricken, and the tears
gushed out like water from a rock. The vow that the wounded youth had
made, the blighted man had come to redeem. His sin was expiated, the
curse was gone from him; and in the hour when he had shed blood dearer
to him than his own, a prayer, the first for years, went up to Heaven
from the lips of Reuben Bourne.
My unfortunate friend P. has lost the thread of his life by the
interposition of long intervals of partially disordered reason. The
past and present are jumbled together in his mind, in a manner often
productive of curious results; and which will be better understood
after the perusal of the following letter, than from any description
that I could give. The poor fellow, without once stirring from the
little white-washed, iron-grated room, to which he alludes in his first
paragraph, is nevertheless a great traveller. and meets, in his
wanderings, a variety of personages, who have long ceased to be visible
to any eye save his own. In my opinion, all this is not so much a
delusion as a partly wilful and partly involuntary sport of the
imagination, to which his disease has imparted such morbid energy that
he beholds these spectral scenes and characters with no less
distinctness than a play upon the stage, and with somewhat more of
illusive credence. Many of his letters are in my possession, some based
upon the same vagary as the present one, and others upon hypotheses not
a whit short of it in absurdity. The whole form a series of
correspondence, which, should fate seasonably remove my poor friend
from what is to him a world of moonshine, I promise myself a pious
pleasure in editing for the public eye. P. had always a hankering after
literary reputation, and has made more than one unsuccessful effort to
achieve it. It would not be a little odd, if, after missing his object
while seeking it by the light of reason, he should prove to have
stumbled upon it in his misty excursions beyond the limits of sanity.
London,February 25, 1845.
My dear friend:
Old associations cling to the mind with astonishing tenacity. Daily
custom grows up about us like a stone-wall, and consolidates itself
into almost as material an entity as mankind's strongest architecture.
It is sometimes a serious question with me, whether ideas be not really
visible and tangible, and endowed with all the other qualities of
matter. Sitting as I do, at this moment, in my hired apartment, writing
beside the hearth, over which hangs a print of Queen
Victoria—listening to the muffled roar of the world's metropolis, and
with a window at but five paces distant, through which, whenever I
please, I can gaze out on actual London—with all this positive
certainty as to my whereabouts, what kind of notion, do you think, is
just now perplexing my brain? Why—would you believe it?—that, all
this time, I am still an inhabitant of that wearisome little
chamber,— that white-washed little chamber,—that little chamber
with its one small window, across which, from some inscrutable reason
of taste or convenience, my landlord had placed a row of iron bars—
that same little chamber, in short, whither your kindness has so often
brought you to visit me! Will no length of time, or breadth of space,
enfranchise me from that unlovely abode? I travel, but it seems to be
like the snail, with my house upon my head. Ah, well! I am verging, I
suppose, on that period of life when present scenes and events make but
feeble impressions, in comparison with those of yore; so that I must
reconcile myself to be more and more the prisoner of memory, who merely
lets me hop about a little, with her chain around my leg.
My letters of introduction have been of the utmost service, enabling
me to make the acquaintance of several distinguished characters, who,
until now, have seemed as remote from the sphere of my personal
intercourse as the wits of Queen Anne's time, or Ben Jonson's
compotators at the Mermaid. One of the first of which I availed myself,
was the letter to Lord Byron. I found his lordship looking much older
than I had anticipated; although—considering his former
irregularities of life, and the various wear and tear of his
constitution—not older than a man on the verge of sixty reasonably
may look. But I had invested his earthly frame, in my imagination, with
the poet's spiritual immortality. He wears a brown wig, very
luxuriantly curled, and extending down over his forehead. The
expression of his eyes is concealed by spectacles. His early tendency
to obesity having increased, Lord Byron is now enormously fat; so fat
as to give the impression of a person quite overladen with his own
flesh, and without sufficient vigor to diffuse his personal life
through the great mass of corporeal substance, which weighs upon him so
cruelly. You gaze at the mortal heap; and, while it fills your eye with
what purports to be Byron, you murmur within yourself— "For Heaven's
sake, where is he?" Were I disposed to be cautic, I might consider this
mass of earthly matter as the symbol, in a material shape, of those
evil habits and carnal vices which unspiritualize man's nature, and
clog up his avenues of communication with the better life. But this
would be too harsh; and besides, Lord Byron's morals have been
improving, while his outward man has swollen to such unconscionable
circumference. Would that he were leaner; for, though he did me the
honor to present his hand, yet it was so puffed out with alien
substance, that I could not feel as if I had touched the hand that
wrote Childe Harold.
On my entrance, his lordship had apologised for not rising to
receive me, on the sufficient plea that the gout, for several years
past, had taken up its constant residence in his right foot; which,
accordingly, was swathed in many rolls of flannel, and deposited upon
a cushion. The other foot was hidden in the drapery of his chair. Do
you recollect whether Byron's right or left foot was the deformed one?
The noble poet's reconciliation with Lady Byron is now, as you are
aware, of ten years' standing; nor does it exhibit, I am assured, any
symptom of breach or fracture. They are said to be, if not a happy, at
least a contented, or, at all events, a quiet couple, descending the
slope of life with that tolerable degree of mutual support, which will
enable them to come easily and comfortably to the bottom. It is
pleasant to reflect how entirely the poet has redeemed his youthful
errors, in this particular. Her ladyship's influence, it rejoices me to
add, has been productive of the happiest results upon Lord Byron in a
religious point of view. He now combines the most rigid tenets of
methodism with the ultra doctrines of the Puseyites: the former being
perhaps due to the convictions wrought upon his mind by his noble
consort; while the latter are the embroidery and picturesque
illumination, demanded by his imaginative character. Much of whatever
expenditure his increasing habits of thrift continue to allow him, is
bestowed in the reparation or beautifying of places of worship; and
this nobleman, whose name was once considered a synonym of the foul
fiend, is now all but canonized as a saint in many pulpits of the
metropolis and elsewhere. In politics, Lord Byron is an uncompromising
conservative, and loses no opportunity, whether in the House of Lords
or in private circles, of denouncing and repudiating the mischievous
and anarchical notions of his earlier day. Nor does he fail to visit
similar sins, in other people, with the sincerest vengeance which his
somewhat blunted pen is capable of inflicting. Southey and he are on
the most intimate terms. You are aware that some little time before the
death of Moore, Byron caused that brilliant but reprehensible man to be
ejected from his house. Moore took the insult so much to heart, that it
is said to have been one great cause of the fit of illness which
brought him to the grave. Others pretend that the Lyrist died in a very
happy state of mind, singing one of his own sacred melodies, and
expressing his belief that it would be heard within the gate of
paradise, and gain him instant and honorable admittance. I wish he may
have found it so.
I failed not, as you may suppose, in the course of conversation with
Lord Byron, to pay the meed of homage due to a mighty poet, by
allusions to passages in Childe Harold, and Manfred, and Don Juan,
which have made so large a portion of the music of my life. My words,
whether apt or otherwise, were at least warm with the enthusiasm of one
worthy to discourse of immortal poesy. It was evident, however, that
they did not go precisely to the right spot. I could perceive that
there was some mistake or other, and was not a little angry with
myself, and ashamed of my abortive attempt to throw back, from my own
heart to the gifted author's ear, the echo of those strains that have
resounded throughout the world. But, by and by, the secret peeped
quietly out. Byron—I have the information from his own lips, so that
you need not hesitate to repeat it in literary circles—Byron is
preparing a new edition of his complete works, carefully corrected,
expurgated and amended, in accordance with his present creed of taste,
morals, politics and religion. It so happened, that the very passages
of highest inspiration, to which I had alluded, were among the
condemned and rejected rubbish, which it is his purpose to cast into
the gulf of oblivion. To whisper you the truth, it appears to me that
his passions having burnt out, the extinction of their vivid and
riotous flame has deprived Lord Byron of the illumination by which he
not merely wrote, but was enabled to feel and comprehend what he had
written. Positively, he no longer understands his own poetry.
This became very apparent on his favoring me so far as to read a few
specimens of Don Juan in the moralized version. Whatever is
licentious—whatever disrespectful to the sacred mysteries of our
faith—whatever morbidly melancholic, or splenetically
sportive—whatever assails settled constitutions of government, or
systems of society—whatever could wound the sensibility of any
mortal, except a pagan, a republican, or a dissenter— has been
unrelentingly blotted out, and its place supplied by unexceptionable
verses, in his lordship's later style. You may judge how much of the
poem remains as hitherto published. The result is not so good as might
be wished; in plain terms, it is a very sad affair indeed; for though
the torches kindled in Tophet have been extinguished, they leave an
abominably ill odor, and are succeeded by no glimpses of hallowed fire.
It is to be hoped, nevertheless, that this attempt, on Lord Byron's
part, to atone for his youthful errors, will at length induce the Dean
of Westminster, or whatever churchman is concerned, to allow
Thorwaldsen's statue of the poet its due niche in the grand old Abbey.
His bones, you know, when brought from Greece, were denied sepulture
among those of his tuneful brethren there.
What a vile slip of the pen was that! How absurd in me to talk about
burying the bones of Byron, whom I have just seen alive, and encased in
a big, round bulk of flesh! But, to say the truth, a prodigiously fat
man always impresses me as a kind of hobgoblin; in the very
extravagance of his mortal system, I find something akin to the
immateriality of a ghost. And then that ridiculous old story darted
into my mind, how that Byron died of fever at Missolonghi, above twenty
years ago. More and more I recognize that we dwell in a world of
shadows; and, for my part, I hold it hardly worth the trouble to
attempt a distinction between shadows in the mind and shadows out of
it. If there be any difference, the former are rather the more
Only think of my good fortune! The venerable Robert Burns—now, if
I mistake not, in his eighty-seventh-year—happens to be making a
visit to London, as if on purpose to afford me an opportunity of
grasping him by the hand. For upwards of twenty years past he has
hardly left his quiet cottage in Ayrshire for a single night, and has
only been drawn hither now by the irresistible persuasions of all the
distinguished men in England. They wish to celebrate the patriarch's
birthday by a festival. It will be the greatest literary triumph on
record. Pray Heaven the little spirit of life within the aged bard's
bosom may not be extinguished in the lustre of that hour! I have
already had the honor of an introduction to him, at the British Museum,
where he was examining a collection of his own unpublished letters,
interspersed with songs, which have escaped the notice of all his
Poh! Nonsense! What am I thinking of! How should Burns have been
embalmed in biography when he is still a hearty old man!
The figure of the bard is tall, and in the highest degree reverend;
nor the less so, that it is much bent by the burthen of time. His white
hair floats like a snow-drift around his face, in which are seen the
furrows of intellect and passion, like the channels of headlong
torrents that have foamed themselves away. The old gentleman is in
excellent preservation, considering his time of life. He has that
cricketty sort of liveliness—I mean the cricket's humor of chirping
for any cause or none—which is perhaps the most favorable mood that
can befall extreme old age. Our pride forbids us to desire it for
ourselves, although we perceive it to be a beneficence of nature in the
case of others. I was surprised to find it in Burns. It seems as if his
ardent heart and brilliant imagination had both burnt down to the last
embers, leaving only a little flickering flame in one corner, which
keeps dancing upward and laughing all by itself. He is no longer
capable of pathos. At the request of Allan Cunningham, he attempted to
sing his own song to Mary in Heaven; but it was evident that the
feeling of those verses, so profoundly true, and so simply expressed,
was entirely beyond the scope of his present sensibilities; and when a
touch of it did partially awaken him, the tears immediately gushed into
his eyes, and his voice broke into a tremulous cackle. And yet he but
indistinctly knew wherefore he was weeping. Ah! he must not think again
of Mary in Heaven, until he shake off the dull impediment of time, and
ascend to meet her there.
Burns then began to repeat Tam O'Shanter, but was so tickled with
its wit and humor—of which, however, I did suspect he had but a
traditionary sense—that he soon burst into a fit of chirruping
laughter, succeeded by a cough, which brought this not very agreeable
exhibition to a close. On the whole, I would rather not have witnessed
it. It is a satisfactory idea, however, that the last forty years of
the peasant-poet's life have been passed in competence and perfect
comfort. Having been cured of his bardic improvidence for many a day
past, and grown as attentive to the main chance as a canny Scotsman
should be, he is now considered to be quite well off, as to pecuniary
circumstances. This, I suppose, is worth having lived so long for.
I took occasion to inquire of some of the countrymen of Burns in
regard to the health of Sir Walter Scott. His condition, I am sorry to
say, remains the same as for ten years past; it is that of a hopeless
paralytic, palsied not more in body than in those nobler attributes of
which the body is the instrument. And thus he vegetates from day to
day, and from year to year, at that splendid fantasy of Abbotsford,
which grew out of his brain, and became a symbol of the great
romancer's tastes, feelings, studies, prejudices, and modes of
intellect. Whether in verse, prose, or architecture, he could achieve
but one thing, although that one in infinite variety. There he
reclines, on a couch in his library, and is said to spend whole hours
of every day in dictating tales to an amanuensis. To an imaginary
amanuensis; for it is not deemed worth any one's trouble, now, to take
down what flows from that once brilliant fancy, every image of which
was formerly worth gold, and capable of being coined. Yet, Cunningham,
who has lately seen him, assures me that there is now and then a touch
of the genius; a striking combination of incident, or a picturesque
trait of character, such as no other man alive could have hit off; a
glimmer from that ruined mind, as if the sun had suddenly flashed on a
half-rusted helmet in the gloom of an ancient hall. But the plots of
these romances become inextricably confused; the characters melt into
one another; and the tale loses itself like the course of a stream
flowing through muddy and marshy ground.
For my part, I can hardly regret that Sir Walter Scott had lost his
consciousness of outward things, before his works went out of vogue. It
was good that he should forget his fame, rather than that fame should
first have forgotten him. Were he still a writer, and as brilliant a
one as ever, he could no longer maintain anything like the same
position in literature. The world, now-a-days, requires a more earnest
purpose, a deeper moral, and a closer and homelier truth, than he was
qualified to supply it with. Yet who can be, to the present generation,
even what Scott has been to the past? Bulwer nauseates me; he is the
very pimple of the age's humbug. There is no hope of the public, so
long as he retains an admirer, a reader, or a publisher. I had
expectations from a young man—one Dickens—who published a few
magazine articles, very rich in humor, and not without symptoms of
genuine pathos; but the poor fellow died, shortly after commencing an
odd series of sketches, entitled, I think, the Pickwick Papers. Not
impossibly, the world has lost more than it dreams of, by the untimely
death of this Mr. Dickens.
Whom do you think I met in Pall Mall, the other day? You would not
hit it in ten guesses. Why, no less a man than Napoleon
Bonaparte!—or all that is now left of him—that is to say, the skin,
bones, and corporeal substance, little cocked hat, green coat, white
breeches and small sword, which are still known by his redoubtable
name. He was attended only by two policemen, who walked quietly behind
the phantasm of the old ex-Emperor, appearing to have no duty in regard
to him, except to see that none of the light-fingered gentry should
possess themselves of the star of the Legion of Honor. Nobody, save
myself, so much as turned to look after him; nor, it grieves me to
confess, could even I contrive to muster up any tolerable interest,
even by all that the warlike spirit, formerly manifested within that
now decrepit shape, had wrought upon our globe. There is no surer
method of annihilating the magic influence of a great renown, than by
exhibiting the possessor of it in the decline, the overthrow, the utter
degradation of his powers—buried beneath his own mortality— and
lacking even the qualities of sense, that enable the most ordinary men
to bear themselves decently in the eye of the world. This is the state
to which disease, aggravated by long endurance of a tropical climate,
and assisted by old age—for he is now above seventy—has reduced
Bonaparte. The British government has acted shrewdly, in
re-transporting him from St. Helena to England. They should now restore
him to Paris, and there let him once again review the relics of his
armies. His eye is dull and rheumy; his nether lip hung down upon his
chin. While I was observing him, there chanced to be a little extra
bustle in the street; and he, the brother of Cæsar and Hannibal—the
Great Captain, who had veiled the world in battle smoke, and tracked it
round with bloody footsteps—was seized with a nervous trembling, and
claimed the protection of the two policemen by a cracked and dolorous
cry. The fellows winked at one another, laughed aside, and patting
Napoleon on the back, took each an arm and led him away.
Death and fury! Ha, villain, how came you hither? Avaunt! —or I
fling my inkstand at your head. Tush, tush; it is all a mistake. Pray,
my dear friend, pardon this little outbreak. The fact is, the mention
of those two policemen, and their custody of Bonaparte, had called up
the idea of that odious wretch—you remember him well—who was
pleased to take such gratuitous and impertinent care of my person,
before I quitted New England. Forthwith, uprose before my mind's eye
that same little whitewashed room, with the iron-grated
window—strange, that it should have been iron-grated—where, in too
easy compliance with the absurd wishes of my relatives, I have wasted
several good years of my life. Positively, it seemed to me that I was
still sitting there, and that the keeper—not that he ever was my
keeper neither, but only a kind of intrusive devil of a
body-servant—had just peeped in at the door. The rascal! I owe him an
old grudge, and will find a time to pay it yet! Fie, fie! The mere
thought of him has exceedingly discomposed me. Even now, that hateful
chamber—that iron-grated window, which blasted the blessed sunshine
as it fell through the dusty panes, and made it poison to my
soul—looks more distinct to my view than does this, my comfortable
apartment in the heart of London. The reality—that which I know to be
such—hangs like remnants of tattered scenery over the intolerably
prominent illusion. Let us think of it no more.
You will be anxious to hear of Shelley. I need not say, what is
known to all the world, that this celebrated poet has, for many years
past, been reconciled to the Church of England. In his more recent
works, he has applied his fine powers to the vindication of the
Christian faith, with an especial view to that particular development.
Latterly—as you may not have heard—he has taken orders, and been
inducted to a small country living, in the gift of the Lord Chancellor.
Just now, luckily for me, he has come to the metropolis to superintend
the publication of a volume of discourses, treating of the
poetico-philosophical proofs of Christianity, on the basis of the
Thirty-nine Articles. On my first introduction, I felt no little
embarrassment as to the mode of combining what I had to say to the
author of Queen Mab, the Revolt of Islam, and Prometheus Unbound, with
such acknowledgments as might be acceptable to a Christian minister,
and zealous upholder of the Established Church. But Shelley soon placed
me at my ease. Standing where he now does, and reviewing all his
successive productions from a higher point, he assures me that there is
a harmony, an order, a regular procession, which enables him to lay his
hand upon any one of the earlier poems, and say, "This is my work!"
with precisely the same complacency of conscience, wherewithal he
contemplates the volume of discourses above-mentioned. They are like
the successive steps of a staircase, the lowest of which, in the depth
of chaos, is as essential to the support of the whole, as the highest
and final one, resting upon the threshold of the heavens. I felt half
inclined to ask him, what would have been his fate, had he perished on
the lower steps of his staircase, instead of building his way aloft
into the celestial brightness.
How all this may be, I neither pretend to understand nor greatly
care, so long as Shelley has really climbed, as it seems he has, from a
lower region to a loftier one. Without touching upon their religious
merits, I consider the productions of his maturity superior, as poems,
to those of his youth. They are warmer with human love, which has
served as an interpreter between his mind and the multitude. The author
has learned to dip his pen oftener into his heart, and has thereby
avoided the faults into which a too exclusive use of fancy and
intellect are wont to betray him. Formerly, his page was often little
other than a concrete arrangement of crystallizations, or even of
icicles, as cold as they were brilliant. Now, you take it to your
heart, and are conscious of a heart-warmth responsive to your own. In
his private character, Shelley can hardly have grown more gentle, kind
and affectionate than his friends always represented him to be, up to
that disastrous night when he was drowned in the Mediterranean.
Nonsense, again!—sheer nonsense! What am I babbling about? I was
thinking of that old figment of his being lost in the Bay of Spezia,
and washed ashore near Via Reggio, and burned to ashes on a funeral
pyre, with wine and spices and frankincense; while Byron stood on the
beach, and beheld a flame of marvellous beauty rise heavenward from the
dead poet's heart; and that his fire-purified relics were finally
buried near his child, in Roman earth. If all this happened
three-and-twenty years ago, how could I have met the drowned, and
burned, and buried man, here in London, only yesterday?
Before quitting the subject, I may mention that Dr. Reginald Heber,
heretofore Bishop of Calcutta, but recently translated to a see in
England, called on Shelley while I was with him. They appeared to be on
terms of very cordial intimacy, and are said to have a joint poem in
contemplation. What a strange, incongruous dream is the life of man!
Coleridge has at last finished his poem of Christabel; it will be
issued entire by old John Murray, in the course of the present
publishing season. The poet, I hear, is visited with a troublesome
affection of the tongue, which has put a period, or some lesser stop,
to the life-long discourse that has hitherto been flowing from his
lips. He will not survive it above a month, unless his accumulation of
ideas be sluiced off in some other way. Wordsworth died only a week or
two ago. Heaven rest his soul, and grant that he may not have completed
the Excursion! Methinks I am sick of everything he wrote, except his
Laodamia. It is very sad— this inconstancy of the mind to the poets
whom it once worshipped. Southey is as hale as ever, and writes with
his usual diligence. Old Gifford is still alive, in the extremity of
age, and with most pitiable decay of what little sharp and narrow
intellect the devil had gifted him withal. One hates to allow such a
man the privilege of growing old and infirm. It takes away our
speculative license of kicking him.
Keats? No; I have not seen him, except across a crowded street, with
coaches, drays, horsemen, cabs, omnibuses, foot-passengers, and divers
other sensual obstructions, intervening betwixt his small and slender
figure and my eager glance. I would fain have met him on the
sea-shore—or beneath a natural arch of forest trees—or the Gothic
arch of an old cathedral—or among Grecian ruins—or at a glimmering
fireside on the verge of evening— or at the twilight entrance of a
cave, into the dreamy depths of which he would have led me by the hand;
anywhere, in short, save at Temple Bar, where his presence was blotted
out by the porter-swollen bulks of these gross Englishmen. I stood and
watched him, fading away, fading away, along the pavement, and could
hardly tell whether he were an actual man, or a thought that had
slipped out of my own mind, and clothed itself in human form and
habiliments, merely to beguile me. At one moment he put his
handkerchief to his lips, and withdrew it, I am almost certain, stained
with blood. You never saw anything so fragile as his person. The truth
is, Keats has all his life felt the effects of that terrible bleeding
at the lungs, caused by the article on his Endymion, in the Quarterly
Review, and which so nearly brought him to the grave. Ever since, he
has glided about the world like a ghost, sighing a melancholy tone in
the ear of here and there a friend, but never sending forth his voice
to greet the multitude. I can hardly think him a great poet. The
burthen of a mighty genius would not have been imposed upon shoulders
so physically frail, and a spirit so infirmly sensitive. Great poets
should have iron sinews.
Yet Keats, though for so many years he has given nothing to the
world, is understood to have devoted himself to the composition of an
epic poem. Some passages of it have been communicated to the inner
circle of his admirers, and impressed them as the loftiest strains
that have been audible on earth since Milton's days. If I can obtain
copies of these specimens, I will ask you to present them to James
Russell Lowell, who seems to be one of the poet's most fervent and
worthiest worshippers. The information took me by surprise. I had
supposed that all Keats's poetic incense, without being embodied in
human language, floated up to heaven, and mingled with the songs of the
immortal choristers, who perhaps were conscious of an unknown voice
among them, and thought their melody the sweeter for it. But it is not
so; he has positively written a poem on the subject of Paradise
Regained, though in another sense than that which presented itself to
the mind of Milton. In compliance, it may be imagined, with the dogma
of those who pretend that all epic possibilities, in the past history
of the world, are exhausted, Keats has thrown his poem forward into an
indefinitely remote futurity. He pictures mankind amid the closing
circumstances of the time-long warfare between Good and Evil. Our race
is on the eve of its final triumph. Man is within the last stride of
perfection; Woman, redeemed from the thraldom against which our Sybil
uplifts so powerful and so sad a remonstrance, stands equal by his
side, or communes for herself with angels; the Earth, sympathizing with
her children's happier state, has clothed herself in such luxuriant and
loving beauty as no eye ever witnessed since our first parents saw the
sunrise over dewy Eden. Nor then, indeed; for this is the fulfilment of
what was then but a golden promise. But the picture has its shadows.
There remains to mankind another peril; a last encounter with the Evil
Principle. Should the battle go against us, we sink back into the slime
and misery of ages. If we triumph!—but it demands a poet's eye to
contemplate the splendor of such a consummation, and not to be dazzled.
To this great work Keats is said to have brought so deep and tender
a spirit of humanity, that the poem has all the sweet and warm
interest of a village tale, no less than the grandeur which befits so
high a theme. Such, at least, is the perhaps partial representation of
his friends; for I have not read or heard even a single line of the
performance in question. Keats, I am told, withholds it from the press,
under an idea that the age has not enough of spiritual insight to
receive it worthily. I do not like this distrust; it makes me distrust
the poet. The Universe is waiting to respond to the highest word that
the best child of time and immortality can utter. If it refuse to
listen, it is because he mumbles and stammers, or discourses things
unseasonable and foreign to the purpose.
I visited the House of Lords, the other day, to hear Canning, who,
you know, is now a peer, with I forget what title. He disappointed me.
Time blunts both point and edge, and does great mischief to men of his
order of intellect. Then I stept into the Lower House, and listened to
a few words from Cobbett, who looked as earthy as a real clodhopper,
or, rather, as if he had lain a dozen years beneath the clods. The men,
whom I meet now-a-days, often impress me thus; probably because my
spirits are not very good, and lead me to think much about graves, with
the long grass upon them, and weather-worn epitaphs, and dry bones of
people who made noise enough in their day, but now can only clatter,
clatter, clatter, when the sexton's spade disturbs them. Were it only
possible to find out who are alive, and who dead, it would contribute
infinitely to my peace of mind. Every day of my life, somebody comes
and stares me in the face, whom I had quietly blotted out of the tablet
of living men, and trusted never more to be pestered with the sight or
sound of him. For instance, going to Drury-Lane Theatre, a few evenings
since, up rose before me, in the ghost of Hamlet's father, the bodily
presence of the elder Kean, who did die or ought to have died, in some
drunken fit or other, so long ago that his fame is scarcely
traditionary now. His powers are quite gone; he was rather the ghost
of himself than the ghost of the Danish king.
In the stage box sat several elderly and decrepit people, and among
them a stately ruin of a woman on a very large scale, with a
profile—for I did not see her front face—that stamped itself into
my brain, as a seal impresses hot wax. By the tragic gesture with which
she took a pinch of snuff, I was sure it must be Mrs. Siddons. Her
brother, John Kemble, sat behind, a broken-down figure, but still with
a kingly majesty about him. In lieu of all former achievements, nature
enables him to look the part of Lear far better than in the meridian of
his genius. Charles Matthews was likewise there; but a paralytic
affection has distorted his once mobile countenance into a most
disagreeable one-sidedness, from which he could no more wrench it into
proper form than he could re-arrange the face of the great globe
itself. It looks as if, for the joke's sake, the poor man had twisted
his features into an expression at once the most ludicrous and horrible
that he could contrive; and at that very moment, as a judgment for
making himself so hideous, an avenging providence had seen fit to
petrify him. Since it is out of his own power, I would gladly assist
him to change countenance; for his ugly visage haunts me both at
noontide and night-time. Some other players of the past generation were
present, but none that greatly interested me. It behoves actors, more
than all other men of publicity, to vanish from the scene betimes.
Being, at best, but painted shadows flickering on the wall, and empty
sounds that echo another's thought, it is a sad disenchantment when the
colors begin to fade, and the voice to croak with age.
What is there new, in the literary way, on your side of the water?
Nothing of the kind has come under my inspection, except a volume of
poems, published above a year ago, by Dr. Channing. I did not before
know that this eminent writer is a poet; nor does the volume alluded to
exhibit any of the characteristics of the author's mind, as displayed
in his prose works; although some of the poems have a richness that is
not merely of the surface, but glows still the brighter, the deeper and
more faithfully you look into them. They seem carelessly wrought,
however, like those rings and ornaments of the very purest gold, but of
rude, native manufacture, which are found among the gold dust from
Africa. I doubt whether the American public will accept them; it looks
less to the assay of metal than to the neat and cunning manufacture.
How slowly our literature grows up! Most of our writers of promise have
come to untimely ends. There was that wild fellow, John Neal, who
almost turned my boyish brain with his romances; he surely has long
been dead, else he never could keep himself so quiet. Bryant has gone
to his last sleep, with the Thanatopsis gleaming over him like a
sculptured marble sepulchre by moonlight. Halleck, who used to write
queer verses in the newspapers, and published a Don Juanic poem called
Fanny, is defunct as a poet, though averred to be exemplifying the
metempsychosis as a man of business. Somewhat later there was Whittier,
a fiery Quaker youth, to whom the muse had perversely assigned a
battle-trumpet, and who got himself lynched, ten years agone, in South
Carolina. I remember, too, a lad just from college, Longfellow by name,
who scattered some delicate verses to the winds, and went to Germany,
and perished, I think, of intense application, at the University of
Gottingen. Willis—what a pity!—was lost, if I recollect rightly, in
1833, on his voyage to Europe, whither he was going, to give us
sketches of the world's sunny face. If these had lived, they might, one
or all of them, have grown to be famous men.
And yet there is no telling—it may be as well that they have died.
I was myself a young man of promise. Oh, shattered brain!—oh! broken
spirit!—where is the fulfilment of that promise? The sad truth is,
that when fate would gently disappoint the world, it takes away the
hopefullest mortals in their youth;— when it would laugh the world's
hopes to scorn, it lets them live. Let me die upon this apophthegm, for
I shall never make a truer one!
What a strange substance is the human brain! Oh rather— for there
is no need of generalizing the remark—what an odd brain is mine!
Would you believe it? Daily and nightly there come scraps of poetry
humming in my intellectual ear—some as airy as bird-notes, and some
as delicately neat as parlor-music, and a few as grand as
organ-peals—that seem just such verses as those departed poets would
have written, had not an inexorable destiny snatched them from their
inkstands. They visit me in spirit, perhaps desiring to engage my
services as the amanuensis of their posthumous productions, and thus
secure the endless renown that they have forfeited by going hence too
early. But I have my own business to attend to; and, besides, a medical
gentleman, who interests himself in some little ailment; of mine,
advises me not to make too free use of pen and ink. There are clerks
enough out of employment who would be glad of such a job.
Good bye! are you alive or dead? And what are you about? Still
scribbling for the Democratic? And do those internal compositors and
proof-readers misprint your unfortunate productions as vilely as ever?
It is too bad. Let every man manufacture his own nonsense, say I!
Expect me home soon, and—to whisper you a secret—in company with
the poet Campbell, who purposes to visit Wyoming, and enjoy the shadow
of the laurels that he planted there. Campbell is now an old man. He
calls himself well, better than ever in his life, but looks strangely
pale, and so shadow-like, that one might almost poke a finger through
his densest material. I tell him, by way of joke, that he is as dim and
forlorn as Memory, though as unsubstantial as Hope.
Your true friend, P.
P.S. Pray present my most respectful regards to our venerable and
revered friend, Mr. Brockden Brown. It gratifies me to learn that a
complete edition of his works, in a double columned octavo volume, is
shortly to issue from the press, at Philadelphia. Tell him that no
American writer enjoys a more classic reputation on this side of the
water. Is old Joel Barlow yet alive? Unconscionable man! Why, he
must have nearly fulfilled his century! And does he meditate an
epic on the war between Mexico and Texas, with machinery contrived on
the principle of the steam-engine, as being the nearest to celestial
agency that our epoch can boast? How can he expect ever to rise again,
if, while just sinking into his grave, he persists in burthening
himself with such a ponderosity of leaden verses?
Once upon a time—but whether in the time past or time to come, is
a matter of little or no moment—this wide world had become so
overburthened with an accumulation of worn-out trumpery, that the
inhabitants determined to rid themselves of it by a general bonfire.
The site fixed upon, at the representation of the insurance companies,
and as being as central a spot as any other on the globe, was one of
the broadest prairies of the West, where no human habitation would be
endangered by the flames, and where a vast assemblage of spectators
might commodiously admire the show. Having a taste for sights of this
kind, and imagining, likewise, that the illumination of the bonfire
might reveal some profundity or moral truth, heretofore hidden in mist
or darkness, I made it convenient to journey thither and be present. At
my arrival, although the heap of condemned rubbish was as yet
comparatively small, the torch had already been applied. Amid that
boundless plain, in the dusk of the evening, like a far-off star alone
in the firmament, there was merely visible one tremulous gleam, whence
none could have anticipated so fierce a blaze as was destined to ensue.
With every moment, however, there came foot-travellers, women holding
up their aprons, men on horseback, wheelbarrows, lumbering baggage
wagons, and other vehicles, great and small, and from far and near,
laden with articles that were judged fit for nothing but to be burnt.
"What materials have been used to kindle the flame?" inquired I of a
bystander, for I was desirous of knowing the whole process of the
affair from beginning to end.
The person whom I addressed was a grave man, fifty years old, or
thereabout, who had evidently come thither as a looker-on; he struck me
immediately as having weighed for himself the true value of life and
its circumstances, and therefore as feeling little personal interest in
whatever judgment the world might form of them. Before answering my
question, he looked me in the face, by the kindling light of the fire.
"Oh some very dry combustibles," replied he, "and extremely suitable
to the purpose—no other, in fact, than yesterday's newspapers, last
month's magazines, and last year's withered leaves. Here, now, comes
some antiquated trash, that will take fire like a handful of shavings."
As he spoke, some rough-looking men advanced to the verge of the
bonfire, and threw in, as it appeared, all the rubbish of the Herald's
office; the blazonry of coat-armor, the crests and devices of
illustrious families; pedigrees that extended back, like lines of
light, into the mist of the dark ages, together with stars, garters,
and embroidered collars, each of which, as paltry a bauble as it might
appear to the uninstructed eye, had once possessed vast significance,
and was still, in truth, reckoned among the most precious of moral or
material facts, by the worshippers of the gorgeous past. Mingled with
this confused heap, which was tossed into the flames by armfuls at
once, were innumerable badges of knighthood, comprising those of all
the European sovereignties, and Napoleon's decoration of the Legion of
Honor, the ribands of which were entangled with those of the ancient
order of St. Louis. There, too, were the medals of our own society of
Cincinnati, by means of which, as history tells us, an order of
hereditary knights came near being constituted out of the king-quellers
of the Revolution. And besides, there were the patents of nobility of
German counts and barons, Spanish grandees, and English peers, from the
worm-eaten instruments signed by William the Conqueror, down to the
bran-new parchment of the latest lord who has received his honors from
the fair hand of Victoria.
At sight of these dense volumes of smoke, mingled with vivid jets of
flame that gushed and eddied forth from this immense pile of earthly
distinctions, the multitude of plebeian spectators set up a joyous
shout, and clapt their hands with an emphasis that made the welkin
echo. That was their moment of triumph, achieved, after long ages, over
creatures of the same clay and the same spiritual infirmities, who had
dared to assume the privileges due only to Heaven's better workmanship.
But now there rushed towards the blazing heap a grey-haired man, of
stately presence, wearing a coat from the breast of which a star, or
other badge of rank, seemed to have been forcibly wrenched away. He had
not the tokens of intellectual power in his face; but still there was
the demeanor—the habitual, and almost native dignity—of one who had
been born to the idea of his own social superiority, and had never felt
it questioned till that moment.
"People," cried he, gazing at the ruin of what was dearest to his
eyes with grief and wonder, but nevertheless, with a degree of
stateliness; "people, what have you done! This fire is consuming all
that marked your advance from barbarism, or that could have prevented
your relapse thither. We—the men of the privileged orders—were
those who kept alive, from age to age, the old chivalrous spirit; the
gentle and generous thought; the higher, the purer, the more refined
and delicate life! With the nobles, too, you cast off the poet, the
painter, the sculptor—all the beautiful arts; for we were their
patrons, and created the atmosphere in which they flourish. In
abolishing the majestic distinctions of rank, society loses not only
its grace, but its steadfastness—"
More he would doubtless have spoken, but here there arose an outcry,
sportive, contemptuous, and indignant, that altogether drowned the
appeal of the fallen nobleman, insomuch that, casting one look of
despair at his own half-burnt pedigree, he shrunk back into the crowd,
glad to shelter himself under his new-found insignificance.
"Let him thank his stars that we have not flung him into the same
fire!" shouted a rude figure, spurning the embers with his foot. "And,
henceforth, let no man dare to show a piece of musty parchment as his
warrant for lording it over his fellows! If he have strength of arm,
well and good; it is one species of superiority. If he have wit,
wisdom, courage, force of character, let these attributes do for him
what they may. But, from this day forward, no mortal must hope for
place and consideration by reckoning up the mouldy bones of his
ancestors! That nonsense is done away."
"And in good time," remarked the grave observer by my side, in a low
voice, however—"if no worse nonsense comes in its place. But, at all
events, this species of nonsense has fairly lived out its life."
There was little space to muse or moralize over the embers of this
time-honored rubbish; for, before it was half burnt out, there came
another multitude from beyond the sea, bearing the purple robes of
royalty, and the crowns, globes, and sceptres of emperors and kings.
All these had been condemned as useless baubles, playthings, at best,
fit only for the infancy of the world, or rods to govern and chastise
it in its nonage; but with which universal manhood, at its full-grown
stature, could no longer brook to be insulted. Into such contempt had
these regal insignia now fallen, that the gilded crown and tinseled
robes of the player-king, from Drury-Lane Theatre, had been thrown in
among the rest, doubtless as a mockery of his brother-monarchs on the
great stage of the world. It was a strange sight to discern the
crown-jewels of England, glowing and flashing in the midst of the fire.
Some of them had been delivered down from the time of the Saxon
princes; others were purchased with vast revenues, or, perchance,
ravished from the dead brows of the native potentates of Hindostan;
and the whole now blazed with a dazzling lustre, as if a star had
fallen in that spot, and been shattered into fragments. The splendor of
the ruined monarchy had no reflection, save in those inestimable
precious stones. But enough on this subject. It were but tedious to
describe how the Emperor of Austria's mantle was converted to tinder,
and how the posts and pillars of the French throne became a heap of
coals, which it was impossible to distinguish from those of any other
wood. Let me add, however, that I noticed one of the exiled Poles
stirring up the bonfire with the Czar of Russia's sceptre, which he
afterwards flung into the flames.
"The smell of singed garments is quite intolerable here," observed
my new acquaintance, as the breeze enveloped us in the smoke of a royal
wardrobe. "Let us get to windward, and see what they are doing on the
other side of the bonfire."
We accordingly passed around, and were just in time to witness the
arrival of a vast procession of Washingtonians—as the votaries of
temperance call themselves now-a-days—accompanied by thousands of the
Irish disciples of Father Mathew, with that great apostle at their
head. They brought a rich contribution to the bonfire; being nothing
less than all the hogsheads and barrels of liquor in the world, which
they rolled before them across the prairie.
"Now, my children," cried Father Mathew, when they reached the verge
of the fire—"one shove more, and the work is done! And now let us
stand off and see Satan deal with his own liquor!"
Accordingly, having placed their wooden vessels within reach of the
flames, the procession stood off at a safe distance, and soon beheld
them burst into a blaze that reached the clouds, and threatened to set
the sky itself on fire. And well it might. For here was the whole
world's stock of spirituous liquors, which, instead of kindling a
frenzied light in the eyes of individual topers, as of yore, soared
upwards with a bewildering gleam that startled all mankind. It was the
aggregate of that fierce fire which would otherwise have scorched the
hearts of millions. Meantime, numberless bottles of precious wine were
flung into the blaze, which lapped up the contents as if it loved them,
and grew, like other drunkards, the merrier and fiercer for what it
quaffed. Never again will the insatiable thirst of the fire-fiend be so
pampered! Here were the treasures of famous bon-vivants— liquors that
had been tossed on ocean, and mellowed in the sun, and hoarded long in
the recesses of the earth—the pale, the gold, the ruddy juice of
whatever vineyards were most delicate—the entire vintage of
Tokay—all mingling in one stream with the vile fluids of the common
pot-house, and contributing to heighten the self-same blaze. And while
it rose in a gigantic spire, that seemed to wave against the arch of
the firmament, and combine itself with the light of stars, the
multitude gave a shout, as if the broad earth were exulting in its
deliverance from the curse of ages.
But the joy was not universal. Many deemed that human life would be
gloomier than ever, when that brief illumination should sink down.
While the reformers were at work, I overheard muttered expostulations
from several respectable gentlemen with red noses, and wearing gouty
shoes; and a ragged worthy, whose face looked like a hearth where the
fire is burnt out, now expressed his discontent more openly and boldly.
"What is this world good for," said the last toper, "now that we can
never be jolly any more? What is to comfort the poor man in sorrow and
perplexity?—how is he to keep his heart warm against the cold winds
of this cheerless earth?—and what do you propose to give him in
exchange for the solace that you take away? How are old friends to sit
together by the fireside, without a cheerful glass between them? A
plague upon your reformation! It is a sad world, a cold world, a
selfish world, a low world, not worth an honest fellow's living in,
now that good fellowship is gone for ever!"
This harangue excited great mirth among the bystanders. But,
preposterous as was the sentiment, I could not help commiserating the
forlorn condition of the last toper, whose boon-companions had dwindled
away from his side, leaving the poor fellow without a soul to
countenance him in sipping his liquor, nor indeed any liquor to sip.
Not that this was quite the true state of the case; for I had observed
him, at a critical moment, filch a bottle of fourth-proof brandy that
fell beside the bonfire, and hide it in his pocket.
The spirituous and fermented liquors being thus disposed of, the
zeal of the reformers next induced them to replenish the fire with all
the boxes of tea and bags of coffee in the world. And now came the
planters of Virginia, bringing their crops of tobacco. These, being
cast upon the heap of inutility, aggregated it to the size of a
mountain, and incensed the atmosphere with such potent fragrance that
methought we should never draw pure breath again. The present sacrifice
seemed to startle the lovers of the weed more than any that they had
"Well, they've put my pipe out," said an old gentleman, flinging it
into the flames in a pet. "What is this world coming to? Everything
rich and racy,—all the spice of life—is to be condemned as useless.
Now that they have kindled the bonfire, if these nonsensical reformers
would fling themselves into it, all would be well enough!"
"Be patient," responded a staunch conservative; "it will come to
that in the end. They will first fling us in, and finally themselves."
From the general and systematic measures of reform, I now turned to
consider the individual contributions to this memorable bonfire. In
many instances these were of a very amusing character. One poor fellow
threw in his empty purse, and another a bundle of counterfeit or
insolvable bank notes. Fashionable ladies threw in their last season's
bonnets, together with heaps of ribbons, yellow lace, and much other
half-worn milliner's ware; all of which proved even more evanescent in
the fire than it had been in the fashion. A multitude of lovers of both
sexes—discarded maids or bachelors, and couples mutually weary of one
another—tossed in bundles of perfumed letters and enamored sonnets. A
hack politician, being deprived of bread by the loss of office, threw
in his teeth, which happened to be false ones. The Rev. Sidney
Smith,—having voyaged across the Atlantic for that sole
purpose—came up to the bonfire with a bitter grin, and threw in
certain repudiated bonds, fortified though they were with the broad
seal of a sovereign state. A little boy of five years old, in the
premature manliness of the present epoch, threw in his playthings; a
college graduate, his diploma; an apothecary, ruined by the spread of
homoeopathy, his whole stock of drugs and medicines; a physician, his
library; a parson, his old sermons; and a fine gentleman of the old
school, his code of manners, which he had formerly written down for the
benefit of the next generation. A widow, resolving on a second
marriage, slily threw in her dead husband's miniature. A young man,
jilted by his mistress, would willingly have flung his own desperate
heart into the flames, but could find no means to wrench it out of his
bosom. An American author, whose works were neglected by the public,
threw his pen and paper into the bonfire, and betook himself to some
less discouraging occupation. It somewhat startled me to overhear a
number of ladies, highly respectable in appearance, proposing to fling
their gowns and petticoats into the flames, and assume the garb,
together with the manners, duties, offices, and responsibilities, of
the opposite sex.
What favor was accorded to this scheme, I am unable to say; my
attention being suddenly drawn to a poor, deceived, and half-delirious
girl, who, exclaiming that she was the most worthless thing alive or
dead, attempted to cast herself into the fire, amid all that wrecked
and broken trumpery of the world. A good man, however, ran to her
"Patience, my poor girl!" said he, as he drew here back from the
fierce embrace of the destroying angel. "Be patient, and abide Heaven's
will. So long as you possess a living soul, all may be restored to its
first freshness. These things of matter, and creations of human
fantasy, are fit for nothing but to be burnt, when once they have had
their day. But your day is eternity!"
"Yes," said the wretched girl, whose frenzy seemed now to have sunk
down into deep despondency; "yes, and the sunshine is blotted out of
It was now rumored among the spectators that all the weapons and
munitions of war were to be thrown into the bonfire, with the exception
of the world's stock of gunpower, which, as the safest mode of
disposing of it, had already been drowned in the sea. This intelligence
seemed to awaken great diversity of opinion. The hopeful philanthropist
esteemed it a token that the millenium was already come; while persons
of another stamp, in whose view mankind was a breed of bull-dogs,
prophesied that all the old stoutness, fervor, nobleness, generosity,
and magnanimity of the race would disappear; these qualities, as they
affirmed, requiring blood for their nourishment. They comforted
themselves, however, in the belief that the proposed abolition of war
was impracticable, for any length of time together.
Be that as it might, numberless great guns, whose thunder had long
been the voice of battle—the artillery of the Armada, the
battering-trains of Marlborough, and the adverse cannon of Napoleon and
Wellington—were trundled into the midst of the fire. By the continual
addition of dry combustibles, it had now waxed so intense that neither
brass nor iron could withstand it. It was wonderful to behold how these
terrible instruments of slaughter melted away like playthings of wax.
Then the armies of the earth wheeled around the might furnace, with
their military music playing triumphant marches, and flung in their
muskets and swords. The standard-bearers, likewise, cast one look
upward at their banners, all tattered with shot-holes, and inscribed
with the names of victorious fields, and, giving them a last flourish
on the breeze, they lowered them into the flame, which snatched them
upward in its rush toward the clouds. This ceremony being over, the
world was left without a single weapon in its hands, except, possibly,
a few old king's arms and rusty swords, and other trophies of the
Revolution, in some of our state armories. And now the drums were
beaten and the trumpets brayed all together, as a prelude to the
proclamation of universal and eternal peace, and the announcement that
glory was no longer to be won by blood; but that it would henceforth be
the contention of the human race to work out the greatest mutual good,
and that beneficence, in the future annals of the earth, would claim
the praise of valor. The blessed tidings were accordingly promulgated,
and caused infinite rejoicings among those who had stood aghast at the
horror and absurdity of war.
But I saw a grim smile pass over the seared visage of a stately old
commander—by his war-worn figure and rich military dress, he might
have been one of Napoleon's famous marshals—who, with the rest of the
world's soldiery, had just flung away the sword that had been familiar
to his right hand for half a century.
"Aye, aye!" grumbled he. "Let them proclaim what they please; but,
in the end, we shall find that all this foolery has only made more work
for the armorers and cannon-founders."
"Why, sir," exclaimed I, in astonishment, "do you imagine that the
human race will ever so far return on the steps of its past madness as
to weld another sword, or cast another cannon?"
"There will be no need," observed, with a sneer, one who neither
felt benevolence, nor had faith in it. "When Cain wished to slay his
brother, he was at no loss for a weapon."
"We shall see," replied the veteran commander. "If I am mistaken, so
much the better; but in my opinion—without pretending to philosophize
about the matter—the necessity of war lies far deeper than these
honest gentlemen suppose. What! Is there a field for all the petty
disputes of individuals, and shall there be no great law-court for the
settlement of national difficulties? The battle-field is the only court
where such suits can be tried!"
"You forget, general," rejoined I, "that, in this advanced stage of
civilisation, Reason and Philanthropy combined will constitute just
such a tribunal as is requisite."
"Ah, I had forgotten that, indeed!" said the old warrior, as he
The fire was now to be replenished with materials that had hitherto
been considered of even greater importance to the well-being of
society, than the warlike munitions which we had already seen consumed.
A body of reformers had travelled all over the earth, in quest of the
machinery by which the different nations were accustomed to inflict the
punishment of death. A shudder passed through the mulititude, as these
ghastly emblems were dragged forward. Even the flames seemed at first
to shrink away, displaying the shape and murderous contrivance of each
in a full blaze of light, which, of itself, was sufficient to convince
mankind of the long and deadly error of human law. Those old implements
of cruelty—those horrible monsters of mechanism— those inventions
which it seemed to demand something worse than man's natural heart to
contrive, and which had lurked in the dusky nooks of ancient prisons,
the suject of terror-stricken legend—were now brought forth to view.
Headsmen's axes, with the rust of noble and royal blood upon them, and
a vast collection of halters that had choked the breath of plebeian
victims, were thrown in together. A shout greeted the arrival of the
guillotine, which was thrust forward on the same wheels that had borne
it from one to another of the blood-stained streets of Paris. But the
loudest roar of applause went up, telling the distant sky of the
triumph of the earth's redemption, when the gallows made its
appearance. An ill-looking fellow, however, rushed forward, and,
putting himself in the path of the reformers, bellowed hoarsely, and
fought with brute fury to stay their progress.
It was little matter of surprise, perhaps, that the executioner
should thus do his best to vindicate and uphold the machinery by which
he himself had his livelihood, and worthier individuals their death.
But it deserved special note, that men of a far different
sphere,—even of that class in whose guardianship the world is apt to
trust its benevolence—were found to take the hangman's view of the
"Stay, my brethren!" cried one of them. "You are misled by a false
philanthropy!—you know not what you do. The gallows is a
Heaven-ordained instrument! Bear it back, then, reverently, and set it
up in its old place; else the world will fall to speedy ruin and
"Onward, onward!" shouted a leader in the reform. "Into the flames
with the accursed instrument of man's bloody policy. How can human law
inculcate benevolence and love, while it persists in setting up the
gallows as its chief symbol? One heave more, good friends, and the
world will be redeemed from its greatest error!"
A thousand hands, that nevertheless, loathed the touch, now lent
their assistance, and thrust the ominous burthen far, far, into the
centre of the raging furnace. There its fatal and abhorred image was
beheld, first black, then a red coal, then ashes.
"That was well done!" exclaimed I.
"Yes, it was well done," replied—but with less enthusiasm than I
expected—the thoughtful observer who was still at my side; "well
done, if the world be good enough for the measure. Death, however, is
an idea that cannot easily be dispensed with, in any condition between
the primal innocence and that other purity and perfection, which,
perchance, we are destined to attain, after travelling round the full
circle. But, at all events, it is well that the experiment should now
"Too cold! too cold!" impatiently exclaimed the young and ardent
leader in this triumph. "Let the heart have its voice here, as well as
the intellect. And as for ripeness—and as for progress—let mankind
always do the highest, kindest, noblest thing that, at any given
period, it has attained the perception of; and surely that thing cannot
be wrong, nor wrongly timed."
I know not whether it were the excitement of the scene, or whether
the good people around the bonfire were really growing more enlightened
every instant; but they now proceeded to measures, in the full length
of which I was hardly prepared to keep them company. For instance, some
threw their marriage certificates into the flames, and declared
themselves candidates for a higher, holier, and more comprehensive
union than that which had subsisted from the birth of time, under the
form of of theconnubial tie. Others hastened to the vaults of banks,
and to the coffers of the rich—all of which were open to the first
comer, on this fated occasion—and brought entire bales of paper-money
to enliven the blaze, and tons of coin to be melted down by its
intensity. Henceforth, they said, universal benevolence, uncoined and
exhaustless, was to be the golden currency of the world. At this
intelligence, the bankers, and speculators in the stocks, grew pale;
and a pickpocket, who had reaped a rich harvest among the crowd, fell
down in a deadly fainting-fit. A few men of business burnt their
day-books and ledgers, the notes and obligations of their creditors,
and all other evidences of debts due to themselves; while perhaps a
somewhat larger number satisfied their zeal for reform with the
sacrifice of any uncomfortable recollection of their own indebtment.
There was then a cry, that the period was arrived when the title-deeds
of landed property should be given to the flames, and the whole soil of
the earth revert to the public, from whom it had been wrongfully
abstracted, and most unequally distributed among individuals. Another
party demanded that all written constitutions, set forms of government,
legislative acts, statute-books, and everything else on which human
invention had endeavored to stamp its arbitrary laws, should at once be
destroyed, leaving the consummated world as free as the man first
Whether any ultimate action was taken with regard to these
propositions, is beyond my knowledge; for, just then, some matters were
in progress that concerned my sympathies more nearly.
"See!—see!—what heaps of books and pamphlets!" cried a fellow,
who did not seem to be a lover of literature. "Now we shall have a
"That's just the thing," said a modern philosopher. "Now we shall
get rid of the weight of dead men's thought, which has hitherto pressed
so heavily on the living intellect that it has been incompetent to any
effectual self-exertion. Well done, my lads! Into the fire with them!
Now you are enlightening the world, indeed?"
"But what is to become of the Trade?" cried a frantic bookseller.
"Oh, by all means, let them accompany their merchandise," cooly
observed an author. "It will be a noble funeral pile!"
The truth was, that the human race had now reached a stage of
progress so far beyond what the wisest and wittiest men of former ages
had ever dreamed of, that it would have been a manifest absurdity to
allow the earth to be any longer encumbered with their poor
achievements in the literary line. Accordingly, a thorough and
searching investigation had swept the booksellers' shops, hawkers'
stands, public and private libraries, and even the little book-shelf by
the country fireside, and had brought the world's entire mass of
printed paper, bound or in sheets, to swell the already mountain-bulk
of our illustrious bonfire. Thick, heavy folios, containing the labors
of lexicographers, commentators, and encyclopedists, were flung in,
and, falling among the embers with a leaden thump, smouldered away to
ashes, like rotten wood. The small, richly gilt French tomes of the
last age, with the hundred volumes of Voltaire among them, went off in
a brilliant shower of sparkles, and little jets of flame; while the
current literature of the same nation burnt red and blue, and threw an
infernal light over the visages of the spectators, converting them all
to the aspect of parti-colored fiends. A collection of German stories
emitted a scent of brimstone. The English standard authors made
excellent fuel, generally exhibiting the properties of sound oak logs.
Milton's works, in particular, sent up a powerful blaze, gradually
reddening into a coal, which promised to endure longer than almost any
other material of the pile. From Shakspeare there gushed a flame of
such marvellous splendor that men shaded their eyes as against the
sun's meridian glory; nor even when the works of his own elucidators
were flung upon him did he cease to flash forth a dazzling radiance
from beneath the ponderous heap. It is my belief that he is still
blazing as fervidly as ever.
"Could a poet but light a lamp at that glorious flame," remarked I,
"he might then consume the midnight oil to some good purpose."
"That is the very thing which modern poets have been too apt to do,
or at least to attempt," answered a critic. "The chief benefit to be
expected from this conflagration of past literature undoubtedly is,
that writers will henceforth be compelled to light their lamps at the
sun or stars."
"If they can reach so high," said I. "But that task requires a
giant, who may afterward distribute the light among inferior men. It
is not every one that can steal the fire from heaven, like Prometheus;
but when once he had done the deed, a thousand hearths were kindled by
It amazed me much to observe how indefinite was the proportion
between the physical mass of any given author, and the property of
brilliant and long-continued combustion. For instance, there was not a
quarto volume of the last century—nor, indeed, of the present—that
could compete, in that particular, with a child's little gilt-covered
book, containing Mother Goose's Melodies. The Life and Death of Tom
Thumb outlasted the biography of Marlborough. An epic—indeed, a dozen
of them—was converted to white ashes, before the single sheet of an
old ballad was half consumed. In more than one case, too, when volumes
of applauded verse proved incapable of anything better than a stifling
smoke, an unregarded ditty of some nameless bard—perchance in the
corner of a newspaper—soared up among the stars, with a flame as
brilliant as their own. Speaking of the properties of flame, methought
Shelley's poetry emitted a purer light than almost any other
productions of his day; contrasting beautifully with the fitful and
lurid gleams, and gushes of black vapor, that flashed and eddied from
the volumes of Lord Byron. As for Tom Moore, some of his songs diffused
an odor like a burning pastille.
I felt particular interest in watching the combustion of American
authors, and scrupulously noted, by my watch, the precise number of
moments that changed most of them from shabbily printed books to
indistinguishable ashes. It would be invidious, however, if not
perilous, to betray these awful secrets; so that I shall content myself
with observing, that it was not invariably the writer most frequent in
the public mouth that made the most splendid appearance in the bonfire.
I especially remember, that a great deal of excellent inflammability
was exhibited in a thin volume of poems by Ellery Channing; although,
to speak the truth, there were certain portions that hissed and
spluttered in a very disagreeable fashion. A curious phenomenon
occurred in reference to several writers, native as well as foreign.
Their books, though of highly respectable figure, instead of bursting
into a blaze, or even smouldering out their substance in smoke,
suddenly melted away, in a manner that proved them to be ice.
If it be no lack of modesty to mention my own works, it must here be
confessed, that I looked for them with fatherly interest, but in vain.
Too probably, they were changed to vapor by the first action of the
heat; at best, I can only hope that, in their quiet way, they
contributed a glimmering spark or two to the splendor of the evening.
"Alas! and woe is me!" thus bemoaned himself a heavy-looking
gentelman in green spectacles. "The world is utterly ruined, and there
is nothing to live for any longer! The business of my life is snatched
from me. Not a volume to be had for love or money!"
"This," remarked the sedate observer beside me, "is a bookworm—
one of those men who are born to gnaw dead thoughts. His clothes, you
see, are covered with the dust of libraries. He has no inward fountain
of ideas; and, in good earnest, now that the old stock is abolished, I
do not see what is to become of the poor fellow. Have you no word of
comfort for him?"
"My dear sir," said I, to the desperate book-worm, "is not Nature
better than a book?—is not the human heart deeper than any system of
philosophy?—is not life replete with more instruction than past
observers have found it possible to write down in maxims? Be of good
cheer! The great book of Time is still spread wide open before us; and,
if we read it aright, it will be to us a volume of eternal Truth."
"Oh, my books, my books, my precious, printed books!" reiterated the
forlorn book-worm. "My only reality was a bound volume; and now they
will not leave me even a shadowy pamphlet!"
In fact, the last remnant of the literature of all the ages was now
descending upon the blazing heap, in the shape of a cloud of pamphlets
from the press of the New World. These, likewise, were consumed in the
twinkling of an eye, leaving the earth, for the first time since the
days of Cadmus, free from the plague of letters—an enviable field for
the authors of the next generation!
"Well!—and does anything remain to be done?" inquired I, somewhat
anxiously. "Unless we set fire to the earth itself, and then leap
boldly off into infinite space, I know now that we can carry reform to
any further point."
"You are vastly mistaken, my good friend," said the observer.
"Believe me, the fire will not be allowed to settle down without the
addition of fuel that will startle many persons, who have lent a
willing hand thus far."
Nevertheless, there appeared to be a relaxation of effort, for a
little time, during which, probably, the leaders of the movement were
considering what should be done next. In the interval, a philosopher
threw his theory into the flames; a sacrifice which, by those who knew
how to estimate it, was pronounced the most remarkable that had yet
been made. The combustion, however, was by no means brilliant. Some
indefatigable people, scorning to take a moment's ease, now employed
themselves in collecting all the withered leaves and fallen boughs of
the forest, and thereby recruited the bonfire to a greater height than
ever. But this was mere by-play.
"Here comes the fresh fuel that I spoke of," said my companion.
To my astonishment, the persons who now advanced into the vacant
space around the mountain fire, bore surplices and other priestly
garments, mitres, crosiers, and a confusion of Popish and Protestant
emblems, with which it seemed their purpose to consummate the great Act
of Faith. Crosses, from the spires of old cathedrals, were cast upon
the heap with as little remorse as if the reverence of centuries,
passing in long array beneath the lofty towers, had not looked up to
them as the holiest of symbols. The font, in which infants were
consecrated to God; the sacramental vessels, whence Piety received the
hallowed draught; were given to the same destruction. Perhaps it most
nearly touched my heart to see, among these devoted relics, fragments
of the humble communion-tables and undecorated pulpits, which I
recognized as having been torn from the meeting-houses of New England.
Those simple edifices might have been permitted to retain all of sacred
embellishments that their Puritan founders had bestowed, even though
the mighty structure of St. Peter's had sent its spoils to the fire of
this terrible sacrifice. Yet I felt that these were but the externals
of religion, and might most safely be relinquished by spirits that best
knew their deep significance.
"All is well," said I cheerfully. "The wood-paths shall be the
aisles of our cathedral—the firmament itself shall be its ceiling!
What needs an earthly roof between the Deity and his worshippers? Our
faith can well afford to lose all the drapery that even the holiest men
have thrown around it, and be only the more sublime in its simplicity."
"True," said my companion. "But will they pause here?"
The doubt implied in his question was well founded. In the general
destruction of books already described, a holy volume— that stood
apart from the catalogue of human literature, and yet, in one sense,
was at its head—had been spared. But the Titan of innovation—angel
or fiend, double in his nature, and capable of deeds befitting both
characters—at first shaking down only the old and rotten shapes of
things, had now, as it appeared, laid his terrible hand upon the main
pillars which supported the whole edifice of our moral and spiritual
state. The inhabitants of the earth had grown too enlightened to
define their faith within a form or words, or to limit the spiritual by
any analogy to our material existence. Truths, which the heavens
trembled at, were now but a fable of the world's infancy. Therefore, as
the final sacrifice of human error, what else remained to be thrown
upon the embers of that awful pile, except the Book, which, though a
celestial revelation to past ages, was but a voice from a lower sphere,
as regarded the present race of man? It was done! Upon the blazing heap
of falsehood and worn out truth—things that the earth had never
needed, or had ceased to need, or had grown childishly weary of—fell
the ponderous church Bible, the great old volume, that had lain so long
on the cushion of the pulpit, and whence the pastor's solemn voice had
given hold utterance on so many a Sabbath day. There, likewise, fell
the family Bible, which the long-buried patriarch had read to his
children—in prosperity or sorrow, by the fireside and in the summer
shade of trees— and had bequeathed downward, as the heir-loom of
generations. There fell the bosom Bible, the little volume that had
been the soul's friend of some sorely tried child of dust, who thence
took courage, whether his trial were for life or death, steadfastly
confronting both in the strong assurance of immortality.
All these were flung into the fierce and riotous blaze; and then a
mighty wind came roaring across the plain, with a desolate howl, as if
it were the angry lamentations of the Earth for the loss of Heaven's
sunshine, and it shook the gigantic pyramid of flame, and scattered the
cinders of half-consumed abominations around upon the spectators.
"This is terrible!" said I, feeling that my cheek grew pale, and
seeing a like change in the visage about me.
"Be of good courage yet," answered the man with whom I had so often
spoken. He continued to gaze steadily at the spectacle, with a singular
calmness, as if it concerned him merely as an observer. "Be of good
courage—nor yet exult too much; for there is far less both of good
and evil, in the effect of this bonfire, than the world might be
willing to believe."
"How can that be?" exclaimed I impatiently. "Has it not consumed
everything? Has it not swallowed up, or melted down, every human or
divine appendage of our mortal state that had substance enough to be
acted on by fire? Will there be anything left us to-morrow morning,
better or worse than a heap of embers and ashes?"
"Assuredly there will,"said my grave friend. "Come hither to-morrow
morning—or whenever the combustible portion of the pile shall be
quite burnt out—and you will find among the ashes everything really
valuable that you have seen cast into the flames. Trust me, the world
of to-morrow will again enrich itself with the gold and diamonds which
have been cast off by the world of to-day. Not a truth is
destroyed—nor buried so deep among the ashes, but it will be raked up
This was a strange assurance. Yet I felt inclined to credit it; the
more especially as I beheld among the wallowing flames a copy of the
Holy Scriptures, the pages of which, instead of being blackened into
tinder, only assumed a more dazzling whiteness as the finger-marks of
human imperfection were purified away. Certain marginal notes and
commentaries, it is true, yielded to the intensity of the fiery test,
but without detriment to the smallest syllable that had flamed from the
pen of inspiration.
"Yes—there is the proof of what you say." answered I, turning to
the observer. "But if only what is evil can feel the action of the
fire, then, surely, the conflagration has been of inestimable utility.
Yet if I understand aright, you intimate a doubt whether the world's
expectation of benefit would be realized by it."
"Listen to the talk of these worthies," said he, pointing to a group
in front of the blazing pile. "Possibly they may teach you something
useful, without intending it."
The persons whom he indicated consisted of that brutal and most
earthy figure who had stood forth so furiously in defence of the
gallows—the hangman, in short—together with the last thief and the
last murderer; all three of whom were clustered about the last toper.
The latter was liberally passing the brandy bottle, which he had
rescued from the general destruction of wines and spirits. This little
convivial party seemed at the lowest pitch of despondency; as
considering that the purified world must needs be utterly unlike the
sphere that they had hitherto known, and therefore but a strange and
desolate abode for gentlemen of their kidney.
"The best counsel for all of us is," remarked the hangman,
"that—as soon as we have finished the last drop of liquor—I help
you, my three friends, to a comfortable end upon the nearest tree, and
then hang myself on the same bough. This is no world for us any longer."
"Poh, poh, my good fellows!" said a dark-complexioned personage, who
now joined the group—his complexion was indeed fearfully dark, and
his eyes glowed with a redder light than that of the bonfire—"Be not
so cast down, my dear friends; you shall see good days yet. There is
one thing that these wiseacres have forgotten to throw into the fire,
and without which all the rest of the conflagration is just nothing at
all; yes—though they had burnt the earth itself to a cinder?"
"And what may that be?" eagerly demanded the last murderer.
"What but the human heart itself!" said the dark visaged stranger,
with a portentous grin. "And unless they hit upon some method of
purifying that foul cavern, forth from it will reissue all the shapes
of wrong and misery—the same old shapes, or worse ones—which they
have taken such a vast deal of trouble to consume to ashes. I have
stood by, this live-long night, and laughed in my sleeve at the whole
business. Oh, take my word for it, it will be the old world yet!"
This brief conversation supplied me with a theme for lengthened
thought. How sad a truth—if true it were—that Man's age-long
endeavor for perfection had served only to render him the mockery of
the Evil Principle, from the fatal circumstance of an error at the very
root of the matter! The heart—the heart— there was the little yet
boundless sphere, wherein existed the original wrong, of which the
crime and misery of this outward world were merely types. Purify that
inward sphere; and the many shapes of evil that haunt the outward, and
which now seem almost our only realities, will turn to shadowy
phantoms, and vanish of their own accord. But if we go no deeper than
the Intellect, and strive, with merely that feeble instrument, to
discern and rectify what is wrong, our whole accomplishment will be a
dream; so unsubstantial, that it matters little whether the bonfire,
which I have so faithfully described, were what we chose to call a real
event, and a flame that would scorch the finger—or only a phosphoric
radiance, and a parable of my own brain!
THE OLD APPLE-DEALER.
The lover of the moral picturesque may sometimes find what he seeks
in a character, which is, nevertheless, of too negative a description
to be seized upon, and represented to the imaginative vision by
word-painting. As an instance, I remember an old man who carries on a
little trade of gingerbread and apples, at the depot of one of our
railroads. While awaiting the departure of the cars, my observation,
flitting to and fro among the livelier characteristics of the scene,
has often settled insensibly upon this almost hueless object. Thus,
unconsciously to myself, and unsuspected by him, I have studied the old
apple-dealer, until he has become a naturalized citizen of my inner
world. How little would he imagine—many a beautiful face—has
flitted before me, and vanished like a shadow. It is a strange
witchcraft, whereby this faded and featureless old apple-dealer has
gained a settlement in my memory!
He is a small man, with grey hair and grey stubble beard, and is
invariably clad in a shabby surtout of snuff-color, closely buttoned,
and half-concealing a pair of grey pantaloons; the whole dress, though
clean and entire, being evidently flimsy with much wear. His face,
thin, withered, furrowed, and with features which even age has failed
to render impressive, has a frost-bitten aspect. It is a moral frost,
which no physical warmth or comfortableness could counteract. The
summer sunshine may fling its white heat upon him, or the good fire of
the depot-room may make him hte focus of its blaze, on a winter's day;
but all in vain; for still the old man looks as if he were in a frosty
atmosphere, with scarcely warmth enough to keep life in the region
about his heart. It is a patient, long-suffering, quiet, hopeless,
shivering aspect. He is not desperate—that, though its etymology
implies no more, would be too positive an expression—but merely
devoid of hope. As all his past life, probably, offers no spots of
brightness to his memory, so he takes his present poverty and
discomfort as entirely a matter of course; he thinks it the definition
of existence, so far as himself is concerned, to be poor, cold, and
uncomfortable. It may be added, that time has not thrown dignity, as a
mantle, over the old man's figure; there is nothing venerable about
him; you pity him without a scruple.
He sits on a bench in the depot-room; an before him, on the floor,
are deposited two baskets, of a capacity to contain his whole stock in
trade. Across, from one basket to the other, extends a board, on which
is displayed a plate of cakes and gingerbread, some russet and red
checked apples, and a box containing variegated sticks of candy;
together with that delectable condiment, known by children as Gibraltar
rock, neatly done up in white paper. There is likewise a half-peck
measure of cracked walnuts, and two or three tin half-pints or gills,
filled with the nut kernels, ready for purchasers. Such are the small
commodities with which our old friend comes daily before the world,
ministering to its petty needs and little freaks of appetite, and
seeking thence the solid subsistence—so far as he may subsist—of
A slight observer would speak of the old man's quietude. But, on
closer scrutiny, you discover there there is a continual unrest within
him, which somewhat resembles the fluttering action of the nerves, in
a corpse from which life has recently departed. Though he never
exhibits any violent action, and, indeed, might appear to be sitting
quite still, yet you perceive, when his minuter peculiarities begin to
be detected, that he is always making some little movement or other. He
looks anxiously at his plate of cakes, or pyramid of apples, and
slightly alters their arrangement, with an evident idea that a great
deal depends on their being disposed exactly thus and so. Then, for a
moment, he gazes out of the window; then he shivers, quietly, and folds
his arms across his breast, as if to draw himself closer within
himself, and thus keep a flicker of warmth in his lonesome heart. Now
he turns again to his merchandise of cakes, apples, and candy, and
discovers that this cake or that apple, or yonder stick of red and
white candy, has, somehow, got out of its proper position. And is there
not a walnut-kernel too many, or too few, in one of those small tin
measures? Again, the whole arrangement appears to be settled to his
mind; but, in the course of a minute or two, there will assuredly be
something to set right. At times, by an indescribable shadow upon his
features—too quiet, however, to be noticed, until you are familiar
with his ordinary aspect—the expression of frost-bitten, patient
despondency becomes very touching. It seems as if, just at that
instant, the suspicion occurred to him, that, in his chill decline of
life, earning scanty bread by selling cakes, apples, and candy, he is a
very miserable old fellow.
But, if he think so, it is a mistake. He can never suffer the
extreme of misery, because the tone of his whole being is too much
subdued for him to feel anything acutely.
Occasionally, one of the passengers, to while away a tedious
interval, approaches the old man, inspects the articles upon his board,
and even peeps curiously into the two baskets. Another, striding to and
fro along the room, throws a look at the apples and gingerbread, at
every turn. A third, it may be, of a more sensitive and delicate
texture of being, glances shily thitherward, cautious not to excite
expectations of a purchaser, while yet undetermined whether to buy. But
there appears to be no need of such a scrupulous regard to our old
friend's feelings. True, he is conscious of the remote possibility of
selling a cake or an apple, but innumerable disappointments have
rendered him so far a philosopher, that, even if the purchased article
should be returned, he will consider it altogether in the ordinary
train of events. He speaks to none, and makes no sign of offering his
wares to the public; not that he is deterred by pride, but by the
certain conviction that such demonstrations would not increase his
custom. Besides, this activity in business would require an energy that
never could have been a characteristic of his almost passive
disposition, even in youth. Whenever an actual customer appears, the
old man looks up with a patient eye; if the price and the article are
approved, he is ready to make change; otherwise, his eyelids droop
again, sadly enough, but with no heavier despondency than before. He
shivers, perhaps, folds his lean arms around his lean body, and resumes
the life-long, frozen patience, in which consists his strength. Once in
a while, a schoolboy comes hastily up, places a cent or two upon the
board, and takes up a cake or stick of candy, or a measure of walnuts,
or an apple as red cheeked as himself. There are no words as to price,
that being as well known to the buyer as to the seller. The old
apple-dealer never speaks an unnecessary word; not that he is sullen
and morose; but there is none of the cheeriness and briskness in him,
that stirs up people to talk.
Not seldom, he is greeted by some old neighbor, a man well-to-do in
the world, who makes a civil, patronizing observation about the
weather; and then, by way of performing a charitable deed, begins to
chaffer for an apple. Our friend presumes not on any past acquaintance;
he makes the briefest possible response to all general remarks, and
shrinks quietly into himself again. After every diminution of his
stock, he takes care to produce from the basket another cake, another
stick of candy, another apple, or another measure of walnuts, to supply
the place of the article sold. Two or three attempts—or, perchance,
half a dozen—are requisite, before the board can be re-arranged to
his satisfaction. If he have received a silver coin, he waits till the
purchaser is out of sight, then examines it closely, and tries to bend
it with his finger and thumb; finally, he puts it into his waistcoat
pocket, with seemingly a gentle sigh. This sigh, so faint as to be
hardly perceptible, and not expressive of any definite emotion, is the
accompaniment and conclusion of all his actions. It is the symbol of
the chillness and torpid melancholy of his old age, which only make
themselves felt sensibly, when his repose is slightly disturbed.
Our man of gingerbread and apples is not a specimen of the "needy
man who has seen better days." Doubtless, there have been better and
brighter days in the far-off time of his youth; but none with so much
sunshine of prosperity in them, that the chill, the depression, the
narrowness of means, in his declining years, can have come upon him by
surprise. His life has all been of a piece. His subdued and nerveless
boyhood prefigured his abortive prime, which, likewise, contained
within itself the prophecy and image of his lean and torpid age. He was
perhaps a mechanic, who never came to be a master in his craft, or a
petty tradesman, rubbing onward between passably-to-do and poverty.
Possibly, he may look back to some brilliant epoch of his career, when
there were a hundred or two of dollars to his credit, in the Savings
Bank. Such must have been the extent of his better fortune—his little
measure of this world's triumphs—all that he has known of success. A
meek, downcast, humble, uncomplaining creature, he probably has never
felt himself entitled to more than so much of the gifts of Providence.
Is it not still something, that he has never held out his hand for
charity, nor has yet been driven to that sad home and household of
Earth's forlorn and broken-spirited children, the alms-house? He
cherishes no quarrel, therefore, with his destiny, nor with the Author
of it. All is as it should be.
If, indeed, he have been bereaved of a son—a bold, energetic,
vigorous young man, on whom the father's feeble nature leaned, as on a
staff of strength—in that case, he may have felt a bitterness that
could not otherwise have been generated in his heart. But methinks, the
joy of possessing such a son, and the agony of losing him, would have
developed the old man's moral and intellectual nature to a much greater
degree than we now find it. Intense grief appears to be as much out of
keeping with his life, as fervid happiness.
To confess the truth, it is not the easies matter in the world to
define and individualize a character like this which we are now
handling. The portrait must be so generally negative, that the most
delicate pencil is likely to spoil it by introducing some too positive
tint. Every touch must be kept down, or else you destroy the subdued
tone, which is absolutely essential to the whole effect. Perhaps more
may be done by contrast, than by direct description. For this purpose,
I make use of another cake-and-candy merchant, who likewise infests the
railroad depot. This latter worthy is a very smart and well-dressed
boy, of ten years old or thereabouts, who skips briskly hither and
thither, addressing the passengers in a pert voice, yet with somewhat
of good breeding in his tone and pronunciation. Now he has caught my
eye, and skips across the room with a pretty pertness, which I should
like to correct with a box on the ear. "Any cake, sir?— any candy?"
No; none for me, my lad. I did but glance at your brisk figure, in
order to catch a reflected light, and throw it upon your old rival
Again, in order to invest my conception of the old man with a more
decided sense of reality, I look at him in the very moment of intensest
bustle, on the arrival of the cars. The shriek of the engine, as it
rushes into the car-house, is the utterance of the steam-fiend, whom
man has subdued by magic spells, and compels to serve as a beast of
burden. He has skimmed rivers in his headlong rush, dashed through
forests, plunged into the hearts of mountains, and glanced from the
city to the desert-place, and again to a far-off city, with a meteoric
progress, seen, and out of sight, while his reverberating roar still
fills the ear. The travellers swarm forth from the cars. All are full
of the momentum which they have caught from their mode of conveyance.
It seems as if the whole world, both morally and physically, were
detached from its old standfasts, and set in rapid motion. And, in the
midst of this terrible activity, there sits the old man of
ginger-bread, so subdued, so hopeless, so without a stake in life, and
yet not positively miserable—there he sits, the forlorn old creature,
one chill and sombre day after another, gathering scanty coppers for
his cakes, apples and candy—there sits the old apple-dealer, in his
threadbare suit of snuff-color and grey, and his grisly stubble-beard.
See! he folds his lean arms around his lean figure, with that quiet
sigh, and that scarcely perceptible shiver, which are the tokens of his
inward state. I have him now. He and the steam-fiend are each other's
antipodes; the latter is the type of all that go ahead—and the old
man, the representative of that melancholy class who, by some sad
witchcraft, are doomed never to share in the world's exulting progress.
Thus the contrast between mankind and this desolate brother becomes
picturesque, and even sublime.
And now farewell, old friend! Little do you suspect that a student
of human life has made your character the theme of more than one
solitary and thoughtful hour. Many would say, that you have hardly
individuality enough to be the object of your own self-love. How, then,
can a stranger's eye detect anything in your mind and heart, to study
and to wonder at? Yet could I read but a tithe of what is written
there, it would be a volume of deeper and more comprehensive import
than all that the wisest mortals have given to the world; for the
soundless depths of the human sould, and of eternity, have an opening
through your breast. God be praised, were it only for your sake, that
the present shapes of human existence are not cast in iron, nor hewn in
everlasting adamant, but moulded of the vapors that vanish away while
the essence flits upward to the infinite. There is a spiritual essence
in this grey and lean old shape that shall flit upward too. Yes;
doubtless there is a region, where the life-long shiver will pass away
from his being, and that quiet sigh, which it has taken him so many
years to breathe, will be brought to a close for good and all.
THE ARTIST OF THE BEAUTIFUL.
An elderly man, with his pretty daughter on his arm, was passing
along the street, and emerged from the gloom of the cloudy evening into
the light that fell across the pavement from the window of a small
shop. It was a projecting window; and on the inside were suspended a
variety of watches,—pinchbeck, silver, and one or two of gold,—all
with their faces turned from the street, as if churlishly disinclined
to inform the wayfarers what o'clock it was. Seated within the shop,
sidelong to the window, with his pale face bent earnestly over some
delicate piece of mechanism, on which was thrown the concentrated
lustre of a shade-lamp, appeared a young man.
"What can Owen Warland be about?" muttered old Peter
Hovenden,—himself a retired watch-maker, and the former master of
this same young man, whose occupation he was now wondering at. "What
can the fellow be about? These six months past, I have never come by
his shop without seeing him just as steadily at work as now. It would
be a flight beyond his usual foolery to seek for the Perpetual Motion.
And yet I know enough of my old business to be certain, that what he is
now so busy with is no part of the machinery of a watch."
"Perhaps, father," said Annie, without showing much interest in the
question, "Owen is inventing a new kind of time-keeper. I am sure he
has ingenuity enough."
"Pooh, child! he has not the sort of ingenuity to invent anything
better than a Dutch toy," answered her father, who had formerly been
put to much vexation by Owen Warland's irregular genius. "A plague on
such ingenuity! All the effect that ever I know of it was, to spoil the
accuracy of some of the best watches in my shop. He would turn the sun
out of its orbit, and derange the whole course of time, if, as I said
before, his ingenuity could grasp anything bigger than a child's toy!"
"Hush, father! he hears you," whispered Annie, pressing the old
man's arm. "His ears are as delicate as his feelings and you know how
easily disturbed they are. Do let us move on."
So Peter Hovenden and his daughter Annie plodded on, without further
conversation, until, in a by-street of the town, they found themselves
passing the open door of a blacksmith's shop. Within was seen the
forge, now blazing up, and illuminating the high and dusky roof, and
now confining its lustre to a narrow precinct of the coal-strewn floor,
according as the breath of the bellows was puffed forth, or again
inhaled into its vast leathern lungs. In the intervals of brightness,
it was easy to distinguish objects in remote corners of the shop, and
the horse-shoes that hung upon the wall; in the momentary gloom, the
fire seemed to be glimmering amidst the vagueness of unenclosed space.
Moving about in this red glare and alternate dusk, was the figure of
the blacksmith, well worthy to be viewed in so picturesque an aspect of
light and shade, where the bright blaze struggled with the black night,
as if each would have snatched his comely strength from the other.
Anon, he drew a white-hot bar of iron from the coals, laid it on the
anvil, uplifted his arm of might, and was seen enveloped in the myriads
of sparks which the strokes of his hammer scattered into the
"Now, that is a pleasant sight," said the old watchmaker, "I know
what it is to work in gold, but give me the worker in iron, after all
is said and done. He spends his labor upon a reality. What say you,
"Pray don't speak so loud, father," whispered Annie. "Robert
Danforth will hear you."
"And what if he should hear me?" said Peter Hovenden; "I say again,
it is a good and a wholesome thing to depend upon main strength and
reality, and to earn one's bread with the bare and brawny arm of a
blacksmith. A watchmaker gets his brain puzzled by his wheels within a
wheel, or loses his health or the nicety of his eyesight, as was my
case; and finds himself, at middle age, or a little after, past labor
at his own trade, and fit for nothing else, yet too poor to live at his
ease. So, I say once again, give me main strength for my money. And
then, how it takes the nonsense out of a man! Did you ever hear of a
blacksmith being such a fool as Owen Warland, yonder?"
"Well said, uncle Hovenden!" shouted Robert Danforth, from the
forge, in a full, deep, merry voice, that made the roof re-echo. "And
what says Miss Annie to that doctrine? She, I suppose, will think it a
genteeler business to tinker up a lady's watch than to forge a
horse-shoe or make a gridiron!"
Annie drew her father onward, without giving him time for reply.
But we must return to Owen Warland's shop, and spend more meditation
upon his history and character than either Peter Hovenden, or probably
his daughter Annie, or Owen's old schoolfellow, Robert Danforth, would
have thought due to so slight a subject. From the time that his little
fingers could grasp a penknife, Owen had been remarkable for a delicate
ingenuity, which sometimes produced pretty shapes in wood, principally
figures of flowers and birds, and sometimes seemed to aim at the hidden
mysteries of mechanism. But it was always for purposes of grace, and
never with any mockery of the useful. He did not, like the crowd of
school-boy artizans, construct little windmills on the angle of a barn,
or watermills across the neighboring brook. Those who discovered such
peculiarity in the boy, as to think it worth their while to observe
him closely, sometimes saw reason to suppose that he was attempting to
imitate the beautiful movements of nature, as exemplified in the flight
of birds or the activity of little animals. It seemed, in fact, a new
development of the love of the Beautiful, such as might have made him a
poet, a painter, or a sculptor, and which was as completely refined
from all utilitarian coarseness, as it could have been in either of the
fine arts. He looked with singular distate at the stiff and regular
processes of ordinary machinery. Being once carried to see a
steam-engine, in the expectation that his intuitive comprehension of
mechanical principles would be gratified, he turned pale, and grew
sick, as if something monstrous and un- natural had been presented to
him. This horror was partly owing to the size and terrible energy of
the Iron Laborer; for the character of Owen's mind was microscopic, and
tended naturally to the minute, in accordance with his diminutive
frame, and the marvellous smallness and delicate power of his fingers.
Not that his sense of beauty was thereby diminished into a sense of
prettiness. The beautiful Idea has no relation to size, and may be as
perfectly developed in a space too minute for any but microscopic
investigation, as within the ample verge that is measured by the arc of
the rainbow. But, at all events, this characteristic minuteness in his
objects and accomplishments made the world even more incapable than it
might otherwise have been, of appreciating Owen Warland's genius. The
boy's relatives saw nothing better to be done—as perhaps there was
not—than to bind him apprentice to a watchmaker, hoping that his
strange ingenuity might thus be regulated, and put to utilitarian
Peter Hovenden's opinion of his apprentice has already been
expressed. He could make nothing of the lad. Owen's apprehension of the
professional mysteries, it is true, was inconceivably quick. But he
altogether forgot or despised the grand object of a watchmaker's
business, and cared no more for the measurement of time than if it had
been merged into eternity. So long, however, as he remained under his
old master's care, Owen's lack of sturdiness made it possible, by
strict injunctions and sharp oversight, to restrain his creative
eccentricity within bounds. But when his apprenticeship was served out,
and he had taken the little shop which Peter Hovenden's failing
eye-sight compelled him to relinquish, then did people recognize how
unfit a person was Owen Warland to lead old blind Father Time along his
daily course. One of his most rational projects was, to connect a
musical operation with the machinery of his watches, so that all the
harsh dissonances of life might be rendered tuneful, and each flitting
moment fall into the abyss of the Past in golden drops of harmony. If a
family-clock was entrusted to him for repair— one of those tall,
ancient clocks that have grown nearly allied to human nature, by
measuring out the lifetime of many generations— he would take upon
himself to arrange a dance or funeral procession of figures across its
venerable face, representing twelve mirthful or melancholy hours.
Several freaks of this kind quite destroyed the young watchmaker's
credit with that steady and matter-of-fact class of people, who hold
the opinion that time is not to be trifled with, whether considered as
the medium of advancement and prosperity in this world, or preparation
for the next. His custom rapidly diminished—a misfortune, however,
that was probably reckoned among his better accidents by Owen Warland,
who was becoming more and more absorbed in a secret occupation, which
drew all his science and manual dexterity into itself, and likewise
gave full employment to the characteristic tendencies of his genius.
This pursuit had already consumed many months.
After the old watchmaker and his pretty daughter had gazed at him,
out of the obscurity of the street, Owen Warland was seized with a
fluttering of the nerves, which made his hand tremble too violently to
proceed with such delicate labor as he was now engaged upon.
"It was Annie herself!" murmured he. "I should have known by this
throbbing of my heart, before I heard her father's voice. Ah, how it
throbs! I shall scarcely be able to work again on this exquisite
mechanism to-night. Annie—dearest Annie— thou shouldst give
firmness to my heart and hand, and not shake them thus; for if I strive
to put the very spirit of Beauty into form, and give it motion, it is
for thy sake alone. Oh throbbing heart, be quiet! If my labor be thus
thwarted, there will come vague and unsatisfied dreams, which will
leave me spiritless tomorrow."
As he was endeavoring to settle himself again to his task, the
shop-door opened, and gave admittance to no other than the stalwart
figure which Peter Hovenden had paused to admire, as seen amid the
light and shadow of the blacksmith's shop. Robert Danforth had brought
a little anvil of his own manufacture, and peculiarly constructed,
which the young artist had recently bespoken. Owen examined the
article, and pronounced it fashioned according to his wish.
"Why, yes," said Robert Danforth, his strong voice filling the shop
as with the sound of a bass-viol, "I consider myself equal to anything
in the way of my own trade; though I should have made but a poor figure
at yours, with such a fist as this,"—added he, laughing, as he laid
his vast hand beside the delicate one of Owen. "But what then? I put
more main strength into one blow of my sledge-hammer, than all that you
have expended since you were a 'prentice. Is not that the truth?"
"Very probably," answered the low and slender voice of Owen.
"Strength is an earthly monster. I make no preten- sions to it. My
force, whatever there may be of it, is altogether spiritual."
"Wll, but, Owen, what are you about?" asked his old schoolfellow,
still in such a hearty volume of tone that it made the artist shrink;
especially as the question related to a subject so sacred as the
absorbing dream of his imagination. "Folks do say, that you are trying
to discover the Perpetual Motion."
"The Perpetual Motion?—nonsense!" replied Owen Warland, with a
movement of disgust; for he was full of little petulances. "It never
can be discovered! It is a dream that may delude men whose brains are
mystified with matter, but not me. Besides, if such a discovery were
possible, it would not be worth my while to make it, only to have the
secret turned to such purposes as are now effected by steam and
water-power. I am not ambitious to be honored with the paternity of a
new kind of cottonmachine."
"That would be droll enough!" cried the blacksmith, breaking out
into such an uproar of laughter, that Owen himself, and the
bell-glasses on his work-board, quivered in unison. "No, no, Owen! No
child of yours will have iron joints and sinews. Well, I wont hinder
you any more. Good night, Owen, and success; and if you need any
assistance, so far as a downright blow of hammer upon anvil will answer
the purpose, I'm your man!"
And with another laugh, the man of main strength left the shop.
"How strange it is," whispered Owen Warland to himself, leaning his
head upon his hand, "that all my musings, my purposes, my passion for
the Beautiful, my consciousness of power to create it—a finer, more
ethereal power, of which this earthly giant can have no
conception—all, all, look so vain and idle, whenever my path is
crossed by Robert Danforth! He would drive me mad, were I to meet him
often. His hard, brute force darkens and confuses the spiritual element
within me. But I, too, will be strong in my own way. I will not yield
He took from beneath a glass, a piece of minute machinery, which he
set in the condensed light of his lamp, and, looking intently at it
through a magnifying glass, proceeded to operate with a delicate
instrument of steel. In an instant, however, he fell back in his chair,
and clasped his hands, with a look of horror on his face, that made its
small features as impressive as those of a giant would have been.
"Heaven! What have I done!" exclaimed he. "The vapor!— the
influence of that brute force!—it has bewildered me, and obscured my
perception. I have made the very stroke—the fatal stroke—that I
have dreaded from the first! It is all over—the toil of months—the
object of my life! I am ruined!"
And there he sat, in strange despair, until his lamp flickered in
the socket, and left the Artist of the Beautiful in darkness.
Thus it is, that ideas which grow up within the imagination, and
appear so lovely to it, and of a value beyond whatever men call
valuable, are exposed to be shattered and annihilated bycontact with
the Practical. It is requisite for the ideal artist to possess a force
of character that seems hardly compatible with its delicacy; he must
keep his faith in himself, while the incredulous world assails him with
its utter disbelief; he must stand up against mankind and be his own
sole disciple, both as respects his genius, and the objects to which it
For a time, Owen Warland succumbed to this severe, but inevitable
test. He spent a few sluggish weeks, with his head so continually
resting in his hands, that the townspeople had scarcely an opportunity
to see his countenance. When, at last, it was again uplifted to the
light of day, a cold, dull, nameless change was perceptible upon it.
In the opinion of Peter Hovenden, however, and that order of sagacious
understandings who think that life should be regulated, like
clock-work, with leaden weights, the alteration was entirely for the
better. Owen now, indeed, applied himself to business with dogged
industry. It was marvellous to witness the obtuse gravity with which
he would inspect the wheels of a great, old silver watch; thereby
delighting the owner, in whose fob it had been worn till he deemed it a
portion of his own life, and was accordingly jealous of its treatment.
In consequence of the good report thus acquired, Owen Warland was
invited by the proper authorities to regulate the clock in the
church-steeple. He succeeded so admirably in this matter of public
interest, that the merchants gruffly acknowledged his merits on
'Change; the nurse whispered his praises, as she gave the potion in the
sick-chamber; the lover blessed him at the hour of appointed interview;
and the town in general thanked Owen for the punctuality of
dinner-time. In a word, the heavy weight upon his spirits kept
everything in order, not merely within his own system, but wheresoever
the iron accents of the church-clock were audible. It was a
circumstance, though minute, yet characteristic of his present state,
that, when employed to engrave names or initials on silver spoons, he
now wrote the requisite letters in the plainest possible style;
omitting a variety of fanciful flourishes, that had heretofore
distinguished his work in this kind.
One day, during the era of this happy transformation, old Peter
Hovenden came to visit his former apprentice.
"Well, Owen," said he, "I am glad to hear such good accounts of you
from all quarters; and especially from the town-clock yonder, which
speaks in your commendation every hour of the twenty-four. Only get rid
altogether of your nonsensical trash about the Beautiful—which I, nor
nobody else, nor yourself to boot, could ever understand—only free
yourself of that, and your success in life is as sure as daylight. Why,
if you go on in this way, I should even venture to let you doctor this
precious old watch of mine; though, except my daughter Annie, I have
nothing else so valuable in the world."
"I should hardly dare touch it, sir," replied Owen in a depressed
tone; for he was weighed down by his old master's presence.
"In time," said the latter, "in time, you will be capable of it."
The old watchmaker, with the freedom naturally consequent on his
former authority, went on inspecting the work which Owen had in hand at
the moment, together with other matters that were in progress. The
artist, meanwhile, could scarcely lift his head. There was nothing so
antipodal to his nature as this man's cold, unimaginative sagacity, by
contact with which everything was converted into a dream, except the
densest matter of the physical world. Owen groaned in spirit, and
prayed fervently to be delivered from him.
"But what is this?" cried Peter Hovenden abruptly, taking up a dusty
bell-glass, beneath which appeared a mechanical something, as delicate
and minute as the system of a butterfly's anatomy. "What have we here!
Owen, Owen! there is witchcraft in these little chains, and wheels, and
paddles! See! with one pinch of my finger and thumb, I am going to
deliver you from all future peril."
"For Heaven's sake," screamed Owen Warland, springing up with
wonderful energy, "as you would not drive me mad—do not touch it! The
slightest pressure of your finger would ruin me for ever."
"Aha, young man! And is it so?" said the old watchmaker, looking at
him with just enough of penetration to torture Owen's soul with the
bitterness of worldly criticism. "Well; take your own course. But I
warn you again, that in this small piece of mechanism lives your evil
spirit. Shall I exorcise him?"
"You are my Evil Spirit," answered Owen, much excited— "you, and
the hard, coarse world! The leaden thoughts and the despondency that
you fling upon me are my clogs. Else, I should long ago have achieved
the task that I was created for."
Peter Hovenden shook his head, with the mixture of contempt and
indignation which mankind, of whom he was partly a representative, deem
themselves entitled to feel towards all simpletons who seek other
prizes than the dusty one along the highway. He then took his leave
with an uplifted finger, and a sneer upon his face, that haunted the
artist's dreams for many a night afterwards. At the time of his old
master's visit, Owen was probably on the point of taking up the
relinquished task; but, by this sinister event, he was thrown back into
the state whence he had been slowly emerging.
But the innate tendency of his soul had only been accumulating fresh
vigor, during its apparent sluggishness. As the summer advanced, he
almost totally relinquished his business, and permitted Father Time, so
far as the old gentleman was represented by the clocks and watches
under his control, to stray at random through human life, making
infinite confusion among the train of bewildered hours. He wasted the
sunshine, as people said, in wandering through the woods and fields,
and along the banks of streams. There, like a child, he found amusement
in chasing butterflies, or watching the motions of water-insects. There
was something truly mysterious in the intentness with which he
contemplated these living playthings, as they sported on the breeze; or
examined the structure of an imperial insect whom he had imprisoned.
The chase of butterflies was an apt emblem of the ideal pursuit in
which he had spent so many golden hours. But, would the Beautiful Idea
ever be yielded to his hand, like the butterfly that symbolized it?
Sweet, doubtless, were these days, and congenial to the artist's soul.
They were full of bright conceptions, which gleamed through his
intellectual world, as the butterflies gleamed through the outward
atmosphere, and were real to him for the instant, without the toil, and
perplexity, and many disappointments, of attempting to make them
visible to the sensual eye. Alas, that the artist, whether in poetry or
whatever other material, may not content himself with the inward
enjoyment of the Beautiful, but must chase the flitting mystery beyond
the verge of his ethereal domain, and crush its frail being in seizing
it with a material grasp! Owen Warland felt the impulse to give
external reality to his ideas, as irresistibly as any of the poets or
painters, who have arrayed the world in a dimmer and fainter beauty,
imperfectly copied from the richness of their visions
The night was now his time for the slow progress of recreating the
one Idea, to which all his intellectual activity referred itself.
Always at the approach of dusk, he stole into the town, locked himself
within his shop, and wrought with patient delicacy of touch, for many
hours. Sometimes he was startled by the rap of the watchman, who, when
all the world should be asleep, had caught the gleam of lamplight
through the crevices of Owen Warland's shutters. Daylight, to the
morbid sensibility of his mind, seemed to have an intrusiveness that
interfered with his pursuits. On cloudy and inclement days, therefore,
he sat with his head upon his hands, muffling, as it were, his
sensitive brain in a mist of indefinite musings; for it was a relief to
escape from the sharp distinctness with which he was compelled to shape
out his thoughts, during his nightly toil.
From one of these fits of torpor, he was aroused by the entrance of
Annie Hovenden, who came into the shop with the freedom of a customer,
and also with something of the familiarity of a childish friend. She
had worn a hold through her silver thimble, and wanted Owen to repair
"But I don't know whether you will condescend to such a task," said
she, laughing, "now that you are so taken up with the notion of putting
spirit into machinery."
"Where did you get that idea, Annie?" said Owen, starting in
"Oh, out of my own head," answered she, "and from something that I
heard you say, long ago, when you were but a boy, and I a little child.
But, come! will you mend this poor thimble of mine?"
"Anything for your sake, Annie," said Owen Warland— "anything;
even were it to work at Robert Danforth's forge."
"And that would be a pretty sight!" retorted Annie, glancing with
imperceptible slightness at the artist's small and slender frame.
"Well; here is the thimble."
"But that is a strange idea of yours," said Owen, "about the
spiritualization of matter!"
And then the thought stole into his mind, that this young girl
possessed the gift to comprehend him, better than all the world beside.
And what a help and strength would it be to him, in his lonely toil, if
he could gain the sympathy of the only being whom he loved! To persons
whose pursuits are insulated from the common business of life—who are
either in advance of mankind, or apart from it—there often comes a
sensation of moral cold, that makes the spirit shiver, as if it had
reached the frozen solitudes around the pole. What the prophet, the
poet, the reformer, the criminal, or any other man, with human
yearnings, but separated from the multitude by a peculiar lot, might
feel, poor Owen Warland felt.
"Annie," cried he, growing pale as death at the thought, "how gladly
would I tell you the secret of my pursuit! You, methinks, would
estimate it rightly. You, I know, would hear it with a reverence that I
must not expect from the harsh, material world."
"Would I not! to be sure I would!" replied Annie Hovenden, lightly
laughing. "Come; explain to me quickly what is the meaning of this
little whirligig, so delicately wrought that it might be a plaything
for Queen Mab. See; I will put it in motion."
"Hold," exclaimed Owen, "hold!"
Annie had but given the slightest possible touch, with the point of
a needle, to the same minute portion of complicated machinery which has
been more than once mentioned, when the artist seized her by the wrist
with a force that made her scream aloud. She was affrighted at the
convulsion of intense rage and anguish that writhed across his
features. The next instant he let his head sink upon his hands.
"Go, Annie," murmured he, "I have deceived myself, and must suffer
for it. I yearned for sympathy—and thought—and fancied—and
dreamed—that you might give it me. But you lack the talisman, Annie,
that should admit you into my secrets. That touch has undone the toil
of months, and the thought of a lifetime! It was not your fault,
Annie—but you have ruined me!"
Poor Owen Warland! He had indeed erred, yet pardonably; for if any
human spirit could have sufficiently reverenced the processes so sacred
in his eyes, it must have been a woman's. Even Annie Hovenden,
possibly, might not have disappointed him, had she been enlightened by
the deep intelligence of love.
The artist spent the ensuing winter in a way that satisfied any
persons, who had hitherto retained a hopeful opinion of him, that he
was, in truth, irrevocably doomed to inutility as regarded the world,
and to an evil destiny on his own part. The decease of a relative had
put him in possession of a small inheritance. Thus freed from the
necessity of toil, and having lost the steadfast influence of a great
purpose—great, at least, to him—he abandoned himself to habits from
which, it might have been supposed, the mere delicacy of his
organization would have availed to secure him. But when the ethereal
portion of a man of genius is obscured, the earthly part assumes an
influence the more uncontrollable, because the character is now thrown
off the balance to which Providence had so nicely adjusted it, and
which, in coarser natures, is adjusted by some other method. Owen
Warland made proof of whatever show of bliss may be found in riot. He
looked at the world through the golden medium of wine, and contemplated
the visions that bubble up so gaily around the brim of the glass, and
that people the air with shapes of pleasant madness, which so soon grow
ghostly and forlorn. Even when this dismal and inevitable change had
taken place, the young man might still have continued to quaff the cup
of enchantments, though its vapor did but shroud life in gloom, and
fill the gloom with spectres that mocked at him. There was a certain
irksomeness of spirit, which, being real, and the deepest sensation of
which the artist was now conscious, was more intolerable than any
fantastic miseries and horrors that the abuse of wine could summon up.
In the latter case, he could remember, even out of the midst of his
trouble, that all was but a delusion; in the former, the heavy anguish
was his actual life.
From this perilous state, he was redeemed by an incident which more
than one person witnessed, but of which the shrewdest could not explain
nor conjecture the operation on Owen Warland's mind. It was very
simple. On a warm afternoon of Spring, as the artist sat among his
riotous companions, with a glass of wine before him, a splendid
butterfly flew in at the open window, and fluttered about his head.
"Ah!" exclaimed Owen, who had drank freely, "Are you alive again,
child of the sun, and playmate of the summer breeze, after your dismal
winter's nap! Then it is time for me to be at work!"
And leaving his unemptied glass upon the table, he departed, and was
never known to sip another drop of wine.
And now, again, he resumed his wanderings in the woods and fields.
It might be fancied that the bright butterfly, which had come so
spiritlike into the window, as Owen sat with the rude revellers, was
indeed a spirit, commissioned to recall him to the pure, ideal life
that had so etherealised him among men. It might be fancied, that he
went forth to seek this spirit, in its sunny haunts; for still, as in
the summer-time gone by, he was seen to steal gently up, wherever a
butterfly had alighted, and lose himself in contemplation of it. When
it took flight, his eyes followed the winged vision, as if its airy
track would show the path to heaven. But what could be the purpose of
the unseasonable toil, which was again resumed, as the watchman knew
by the lines of lamp-light through the crevices of Owen Warland's
shutters? The townspeople had one comprehensive explanation of all
these singularities. Owen Warland had gone mad! How universally
efficacious—how satisfactory, too, and soothing to the injured
sensibility of narrowness and dullness—is this easy method of
accounting for whatever lies beyond the world's most ordinary scope!
From Saint Paul's days, down to our poor little Artist of the
Beautiful, the same talisman had been applied to the elucidation of all
mysteries in the words or deeds of men, who spoke or acted too wisely
or too well. In Owen Warland's case, the judgment of his townspeople
may have been correct. Perhaps he was mad. The lack of
sympathy—that contrast between himself and his neighbors, which took
away the restraint of example—was enough to make him so. Or,
possibly, he had caught just so much ethereal radiance as served to
bewilder him, in an earthly sense, by its intermixture with the common
One evening, when the artist had returned from a customary ramble,
and had just thrown the lustre of his lamp on the delicate piece of
work, so often interrupted, but still taken up again, as if his fate
were embodied in its mechanism, he was surprised by the entrance of old
Peter Hovenden. Owen never met this man without a shrinking of the
heart. Of all the world, he was most terrible, by reason of a keen
understanding, which saw so distinctly what it did see, and disbelieved
so uncompromisingly in what it could not see. On this occasion, the
old watchmaker had merely a gracious word or two to say.
"Owen, my lad," said he, "we must see you at my house tomorrow
The artist began to mutter some excuse.
"Oh, but it must be so," quoth Peter Hovendon, "for the sake of the
days when you were one of the household. What, my boy, don't you know
that my daughter Annie is engaged to Robert Danforth? We are making an
entertainment, in our humble way, to celebrate the event."
"Ah!" said Owen.
That little monosyllable was all he uttered; its tone seemed cold
and unconcerned, to an ear like Peter Hovenden's; and yet there was in
it the stifled outcry of the poor artist's heart, which he compressed
within him like a man holding down an evil spirit. One slight outbreak,
however, imperceptible to the old watch-maker, he allowed himself.
Raising the instrument with which he was about to begin his work, he
let it fall upon the little system of machinery that had, anew, cost
him months of thought and toil. It was shattered by the stroke!
Owen Warland's story would have been no tolerable representation of
the troubled life of those who strive to create the Beautiful, if, amid
all other thwarting influences, love had not interposed to steal the
cunning from his hand. Outwardly he had been no ardent or enterprising
lover; the career of his passion had confined its tumults and
vicissitudes so entirely within the artist's imagination, that Annie
herself had scarcely more than a woman's intuitive perception of it.
But, in Owen's view, it covered the whole field of his life. Forgetful
of the time when she had shown herself incapable of any deep response,
he had persisted in connecting all his dreams of artistical success
with Annie's image; she was the visible shape in which the spiritual
power that he worshipped, and on whose altar he hoped to lay a not
unworthy offering, was made manifest to him. Of course he had deceived
himself; there were no such attributes in Annie Hovenden as his
imagination had endowed her with. She, in the aspect which she wore to
his inward vision, was as much a creation of his own, as the mysterious
piece of mechanism would be were it ever realized. Had he become
convinced of his mistake through the medium of successful love; had he
won Annie to his bosom, and there beheld her fade from angel into
ordinary woman, the disappointment might have driven him back, with
concentrated energy, upon his sole remaining object. On the other
hand, had he found Annie what he fancied, his lot would have been so
rich in beauty, that out of its mere redundancy he might have wrought
the Beautiful into many a worthier type than he had toiled for. But
the guise in which his sorrow came to him, the sense that the angel
ofhis life had been snatched away and given to a rude man of earth and
iron, who could neither need nor appreciate her ministrations; this was
the very perversity of fate, that makes human existence appear too
absurd and contradictory to be the scene of one other hope or one other
fear. There was nothing left for Owen Warland but to sit down like a
man that had been stunned.
He went through a fit of illness. After his recovery, his small and
slender frame assumed an obtuser garniture of flesh than it had ever
before worn. His thin cheeks became round; his delicate little hand,
so spiritually fashioned to achieve fairy taskwork, grew plumper than
the hand of a thriving infant. His aspect had a childishness, such as
might have induced a stranger to pat him on the head—pausing,
however, in the act, to wonder what manner of child was here. It was
as if the spirit had gone out of him, leaving the body to flourish in a
sort of vegetable existence. Not that Owen Warland was idiotic. He
could talk, and not irrationally. Somewhat of a babbler, indeed, did
people begin to think him; for he was apt to discourse at wearisome
length, of marvels of mechanism that he had read about in books, but
which he had learned to consider as absolutely fabulous. Among them he
enumerated the Man of Brass, constructed by Albert Magnus, and the
Brazen Head of Friar Bacon; and, coming down to later times, the
automata of a little coach and horses, which, it was pretended, had
been manufactured for the Dauphin of France; together with an insect
that buzzed about the ear like a living fly, and yet was but a
contrivance of minute steel springs. There was a story, too, of a duck
that waddled, and quacked, and ate; though, had any honest citizen
purchased it for dinner, he would have found himself cheated with the
mere mechanical apparition of a duck.
"But all these accounts," said Owen Warland, "I am now satisfied,
are mere impositions."
Then, in a mysterious way, he would confess that he once thought
differently. In his idle and dreamy days he had considered it possible,
in a certain sense, to spiritualize machinery; and to combine with the
new species of life and motion, thus produced, a beauty that should
attain to the ideal, which Nature has proposed to herself, in all her
creatures, but has never taken pains to realize. He seemed, however, to
retain no very distinct perception either of the process of achieving
this object, or of the design itself.
"I have thrown it all aside now," he would say. "It was a dream,
such as young men are always mystifying themselves with. Now that I
have acquired a little common sense, it makes me laugh to think of it."
Poor, poor, and fallen Owen Warland! These were the symptoms that he
had ceased to be an inhabitant of the better sphere that lies unseen
around us. He had lost his faith in the invisible, and now prided
himself, as such unfortunates invariably do, in the wisdom which
rejected much that even his eye could see, and trusted confidently in
nothing but what his hand could touch. This is the calamity of men
whose spiritual part dies out of them, and leaves the grosser
understanding to assimilate them more and more to the things of which
alone it can take cognizance. But, in Owen Warland, the spirit was not
dead, nor past away; it only slept.
How it awoke again, is not recorded. Perhaps, the torpid slumber was
broken by a convulsive pain. Perhaps, as in a former instance, the
butterfly came and hovered about his head, and reinspired him—as,
indeed, this creature of the sunshine had always a mysterious mission
for the artist—reinspired him with the former purpose of his life.
Whether it were pain or happiness that thrilled through his veins, his
first impulse was to thank Heaven for rendering him again the being of
thought, imagina tion, and keenest sensibility, that he had long ceased
"Now for my task," said he. "Never did I feel such strength for it
Yet, strong as he felt himself, he was incited to toil the more
diligently, by an anxiety lest death should surprise him in the midst
of his labors. This anxiety, perhaps, is common to all men who set
their hearts upon anything so high, in their own view of it, that life
becomes of importance only as conditional to its accomplishment. So
long as we love life for itself, we seldom dread the losing it. When we
desire life for the attainment of an object, we recognize the frailty
of its texture. But, side by side with this sense of insecurity, there
is a vital faith in our invulnerability to the shaft of death, while
engaged in any task that seems assigned by Providence as our proper
thing to do, and which the world would have cause to mourn for, should
we leave it unaccomplished. Can the philosopher, big with the
inspiration of an idea that is to reform mankind, believe that he is to
be beckoned from this sensible existence, at the very instant when he
is mustering his breath to speak the word of light? Should he perish
so, the weary ages may pass away—the world's whole life-sand may
fall, drop by drop—before another intellect is prepared to develope
the truth that might have been uttered then. But history affords many
an example, where the most precious spirit, at any particular epoch
manifested in human shape, has gone hence untimely, without space
allowed him, so far as mortal judgment could discern, to perform his
mission on the earth. The prophet dies; and the man of torpid heart and
sluggish brain lives on. The poet leaves his song half sung, or
finishes it, beyond the scope of mortal ears, in a celestial choir. The
painter— as Allston did—leaves half his conception on the canvas,
to sadden us with its imperfect beauty, and goes to picture forth the
whole, if it be no irreverence to say so, in the hues of Heaven. But,
rather, such incomplete designs of this life will be perfected nowhere.
This so frequent abortion of man's dearest projects must be taken as a
proof, that the deeds of earth, however etherealized by piety or
genius, are without value, except as exercises and manifestations of
the spirit. In Heaven, all ordinary thought is higher and more
melodious than Milton's song. Then, would he add another verse to any
strain that he had left unfinished here?
But to return to Owen Warland. It was his fortune, good or ill, to
achieve the purpose of his life. Pass we over a long space of intense
thought, yearning effort, minute toil, and wasting anxiety, succeeded
by an instant of solitary triumph; let all this be imagined; and then
behold the artist, on a winter evening, seeking admittance to Robert
Danforth's fireside circle. There he found the Man of Iron, with his
massive substance, thoroughly warmed and attempered by domestic
influences. And there was Annie, too, now transformed into a matron,
with much of her husband's plain and sturdy nature, but imbued, as Owen
Warland still believed, with a finer grace, that might enable her to be
the interpreter between Strength and Beauty. It happened, likewise,
that old Peter Hovenden was a guest, this evening, at his daughter's
fireside; and it was his well-remembered expression of keen, cold
criticism, that first encountered the artist's glance.
"My old friend Owen!" cried Robert Danforth, starting up, and
compressing the artist's delicate fingers within a hand that was
accustomed to gripe bars of iron. "This is kind and neighborly, to come
to us at last! I was afraid your Perpetual Motion had bewitched you out
of the remembrance of old times."
"We are glad to see you!" said Annie, while a blush reddened her
matronly cheek. "It was not like a friend to stay from us so long."
"Well, Owen," inquired the old watchmaker, as his first greeting,
"how comes on the Beautiful? Have you created it at last?"
The artist did not immediately reply, being startled by the
apparition of a young child of strength, that was tumbling about on the
carpet; a little personage who had come mysteriously out of the
infinite, but with something so sturdy and real in his composition that
he seemed moulded out of the densest substance which earth could
supply. This hopeful infant crawled towards the new comer, and setting
himself on end—as Robert Danforth expressed the posture—stared at
Owen with a look of such sagacious observation, that the mother could
not help exchanging a proud glance with her husband. But the artist was
disturbed by the child's look, as imagining a resemblance between it
and Peter Hovenden's habitual expression. He could have fancied that
the old watchmaker was compressed into this baby-shape, and looking out
of those baby-eyes, and repeating—as he now did—the malicious
"The Beautiful, Owen! How comes on the Beautiful? Have you succeeded
in creating the Beautiful?"
"I have succeeded," replied the artist, with a momentary light of
triumph in his eyes, and a smile of sunshine, yet steeped in such depth
of thought, that it was almost sadness. "Yes, my friends, it is the
truth. I have succeeded!"
"Indeed!" cried Annie, a look of maiden mirthfulness peeping out of
her face again. "And is it lawful, now, to inquire what the secret is?"
"Surely; it is to disclose it, that I have come," answered Owen
Warland. "You shall know, and see, and touch, and possess the secret!
For, Annie—if by that name I may still address the friend of my
boyish years—Annie, it is for your bridal gift that I have wrought
this spiritualized mechanism, this harmony of motion, this Mystery of
Beauty! It comes late, indeed; but it is as we go onward in life, when
objects begin to lose their freshness of hue, and our souls their
delicacy of perception, that the spirit of Beauty is most needed.
If—forgive me, Annie—if you know how to value this gift, it can
never come too late!"
He produced, as he spoke, what seemed a jewel-box. It was carved
richly out of ebony by his own hand, and inlaid with a fanciful tracery
of pearl, representing a boy in pursuit of a butterfly, which,
elsewhere, had become a winged spirit, and was flying heavenward; while
the boy, or youth, had found such efficacy in his strong desire, that
he ascended from earth to cloud, and from cloud to celestial
atmosphere, to win the Beautiful. This case of ebony the artist opened,
and bade Annie place her finger on its edge. She did so, but almost
screamed, as a butterfly fluttered forth, and, alighting on her
finger's tip, sat waving the ample magnificence of its purple and
gold-speckled wings, as if in prelude to a flight. It is impossible to
express by words the glory, the splendor, the delicate gorgeousness,
which were softened into the beauty of this object. Nature's ideal
butterfly was here realized in all its perfection; not in the pattern
of such faded insects as flit among earthly flowers, but of those which
hover across the meads of Paradise, for child-angels and the spirits of
departed infants to disport themselves with. The rich down was visible
upon its wings; the lustre of its eyes seemed instinct with spirit. The
firelight glimmered around this wonder—the candles gleamed upon
it—but it glistened apparently by its own radiance, and illuminated
the finger and outstretched hand on which it rested, with a white gleam
like that of precious stones. In its perfect beauty, the consideration
of size was entirely lost. Had its wings overreached the firmament, the
mind could not have been more filled or satisfied.
"Beautiful! Beautiful!" exclaimed Annie. "Is it alive? Is it alive?"
"Alive? To be sure it is," answered her husband. "Do you suppose any
mortal has skill enough to make a butterfly,—or would put himself to
the trouble of making one, when any child may catch a score of them in
a summer's afternoon? Alive? certainly! But this pretty box is
undoubtedly of our friend Owen's manufacture; and really it does him
At this moment, the butterfly waved its wings anew, with a motion so
absolutely lifelike that Annie was startled, and even awe-stricken;
for, in spite of her husband's opinion, she could not satisfy herself
whether it was indeed a living creature, or a piece of wondrous
"Is it alive?" she repeated, more earnestly than before.
"Judge for yourself," said Owen Warland, who stood gazing in her
face with fixed attention.
The butterfly now flung itself upon the air, fluttered round Annie's
head, and soared into a distant region of the parlor, still making
itself perceptible to sight by the starry gleam in which the motion of
its wings enveloped it. The infant, on the floor, followed its course
with his sagacious little eyes. After flying about the room, it
returned, in a spiral curve, and settled again on Annie's finger.
"But is it alive?" exclaimed she again; and the finger, on which the
gorgeous mystery had alighted, was so tremulous that the butterfly was
forced to balance himself with his wings. "Tell me if it be alive, or
whether you created it?"
"Wherefore ask who created it, so it be beautiful?" replied Owen
Warland. "Alive? Yes, Annie; it may well be said to possess life, for
it has absorbed my own being into itself; and in the secret of that
butterfly, and in its beauty—which is not merely outward, but deep as
its whole system—is represented the intellect, the imagination, the
sensibility, the soul, of an Artist of the Beautiful! Yes, I created
it. But"—and here his countenance somewhat changed—"this butterfly
is not now to me what it was when I beheld it afar off, in the
day-dreams of my youth."
"Be it what it may, it is a pretty plaything," said the blacksmith,
grinning with childlike delight. "I wonder whether it would condescend
to alight on such a great clumsy finger as mine? Hold it hither, Annie!"
By the artist's direction, Annie touched her finger's tip to that of
her husband; and, after a momentary delay, the butterfly fluttered from
one to the other. It preluded a second flight by a similar, yet not
precisely the same waving of wings, as in the first experiment. Then
ascending from the blacksmith's stalwart finger, it rose in a gradually
enlarging curve to the ceiling, made one wide sweep around the room,
and returned with an undulating movement to the point whence it had
"Well, that does beat all nature!" cried Robert Danforth, bestowing
the heartiest praise that he could find expression for; and, indeed,
had he paused there, a man of finer words and nicer perception could
not easily have said more. "That goes beyond me, I confess! But what
then? There is more real use in one downright blow of my sledge-hammer,
than in the whole five years' labor that our friend Owen has wasted on
Here the child clapped his hands, and made a great babble of
indistinct utterance, apparently demanding that the butterfly should be
given him for a plaything.
Owen Warland, meanwhile, glanced sidelong at Annie, to discover
whether she sympathized in her husband's estimate of the comparative
value of the Beautiful and the Practical. There was, amid all her
kindness towards himself, amid all the wonder and admiration with which
she contemplated the marvellous work of his hands, and incarnation of
his idea, a secret scorn; too secret, perhaps, for her own
consciousness, and perceptible only to such intuitive discernment as
that of the artist. But Owen, in the latter stages of his pursuit, had
risen out of the region in which such a discovery might have been
torture. He knew that the world, and Annie as the representative of the
world, whatever praise might be bestowed, could never say the fitting
word, nor feel the fitting sentiment which should be the perfect
recompense of an artist who, symbolizing a lofty moral by a material
trifle—converting what was earthly to spiritual gold—had won the
Beautiful into his handiwork. Not at this latest moment was he to learn
that the reward of all high performance must be sought within itself,
or sought in vain. There was, however, a view of the matter, which
Annie, and her husband, and even Peter Hovenden, might fully have
understood, and which would have satisfied them that the toil of years
had here been worthily bestowed. Owen Warland might have told them,
that this butterfly, this plaything, this bridal-gift of a poor
watchmaker to a blacksmith's wife, was, in truth, a gem of art that a
monarch would have purchased with honors and abundant wealth, and have
treasured it among the jewels of his kingdom, as the most unique and
wondrous of them all! But the artist smiled and kept the secret to
"Father," said Annie, thinking that a word of praise from the old
watchmaker might gratify his former apprentice, "do come and admire
this pretty butterfly!"
"Let us see," said Peter Hovenden, rising from his chair, with a
sneer upon his face that always made people doubt, as he himself did,
in everything but a material existence. "Here is my finger for it to
alight upon. I shall understand it better when once I have touched it."
But, to the increased astonishment of Annie, when the tip of her
father's finger was pressed against that of her husband, on which the
butterfly still rested, the insect drooped its wings, and seemed on the
point of falling to the floor. Even the bright spots of gold upon its
wings and body, unless her eyes deceived her, grew dim, and the glowing
purple took a dusky hue, and the starry lustre that gleamed around the
blacksmith's hand became faint, and vanished.
"It is dying! it is dying!" cried Annie, in alarm.
"It has been delicately wrought," said the artist, calmly. "As I
told you, it has imbibed a spiritual essence—call it magnetism, or
what you will. In an atmosphere of doubt and mockery, its exquisite
susceptibility suffers torture, as does the soul of him who instilled
his own life into it. It has already lost its beauty; in a few moments
more, its mechanism would be irreparably injured."
"Take away your hand, father!" entreated Annie, turning pale. "Here
is my child; let it rest on his innocent hand. There, perhaps, its life
will revive, and its colors grow brighter than ever."
Her father, with an acrid smile, withdrew his finger. The butterfly
then appeared to recover the power of voluntary motion; while its hues
assumed much of their original lustre, and the gleam of starlight,
which was its most ethereal attribute, again formed a halo round about
it. At first, when transferred from Robert Danforth's hand to the small
finger of the child, this radiance grew so powerful that it positively
threw the little fellow's shadow back against the wall. He, meanwhile,
extended his plump hand as he had seen his father and mother do, and
watched the waving of the insect's wings with infantine delight.
Nevertheless, there was a certain odd expression of sagacity, that made
Owen Warland feel as if here were old Peter Hovenden, partially, and
but partially, redeemed from his hard scepticism into childish faith.
"How wise the little monkey looks!" whispered Robert Danforth to his
"I never saw such a look on a child's face," answered Annie,
admiring her own infant, and with good reason, far more than the
artistic butterfly. "The darling knows more of the mystery than we do."
As if the butterfly, like the artist, were conscious of something
not entirely congenial in the child's nature, it alternately sparkled
and grew dim. At length, it arose from the small hand of the infant
with an airy motion, that seemed to bear it upward without an effort;
as if the ethereal instincts, with which its master's spirit had
endowed it, impelled this fair vision involuntarily to a higher sphere.
Had there been no obstruction, it might have soared into the sky, and
grown immortal. But its lustre gleamed upon the ceiling; the exquisite
texture of its wings brushed against that earthly medium; and a sparkle
or two, as if stardust, floated downward and lay glimmering on the
carpet. Then the butterfly came fluttering down, and, instead of
returning to the infant, was apparently attracted towards the artist's
"Not so, not so!" murmured Owen Warland, as if his handiwork could
have understood him. "Thou hast gone forth out of thy master's heart.
There is no return for thee!"
With a wavering movement, and emitting a tremulous radiance, the
butterfly struggled, as it were, towards the infant, and was about to
alight upon his finger. But, while it still hovered in the air, the
little Child of Strength, with his grandsire's sharp and shrewd
expression in his face, made a snatch at the marvellous insect, and
compressed it in his hand. Annie screamed! Old Peter Hovenden burst
into a cold and scornful laugh. The blacksmith, by main force, unclosed
the infant's hand, and found within the palm a small heap of glittering
fragments, whence the Mystery of Beauty had fled for ever. And as for
Owen Warland, he looked placidly at what seemed the ruin of his life's
labor, and which yet was no ruin. He had caught a far other butterfly
than this. When the artist rose high enough to achieve the Beautiful,
the symbol by which he made it perceptible to mortal senses became of
little value in his eyes, while his spirit possessed itself in the
enjoyment of the reality.
A VIRTUOSO'S COLLECTION.
The other day, having a leisure hour at my disposal, I stept into a
new museum, to which my notice was casually drawn by a small and
unobtrusive sign: "To be seen here, a Virtuoso's Collection." Such was
the simple, yet not altogether unpromising announcement, that turned my
steps aside, for a little while, from the sunny sidewalk of our
principal thoroughfare. Mounting a sombre stair-case, I pushed open a
door at its summit, and found myself in the presence of a person, who
mentioned the moderate sum that would entitle me to admittance:
"Three shillings, Massachusetts tenor," said he; "no, I mean half a
dollar, as you reckon in these days."
While searching my pocket for the coin, I glanced at the
door-keeper, the marked character and individuality of whose aspect
encouraged me to expect something not quite in the ordinary way. He
wore an old-fashioned great coat, much faded, within which his meagre
person was so completely enveloped that the rest of his attire was
undistinguishable. But his visage was remarkably wind-flushed,
sun-burnt, and weather-worn, and had a most unquiet, nervous, and
apprehensive expression. It seemed as if this man had some
all-important object in view, some point of deepest interest to be
decided, some momentous question to ask, might he but hope for a reply.
As it was evident, however, that I could have nothing to do with his
private affairs, I passed through an open doorway, which admitted me
into the extensive hall of the Museum.
Directly in front of the portal was the bronze statue of a youth
with winged feet. He was represented in the act of flitting away from
earth, yet wore such a look of earnest invitation that it impressed me
like a summons to enter the hall.
"It is the original statue of Opportunity, by the ancient sculptor
Lysippus," said a gentleman who now approached me; "I place it at the
entrance of my Museum, because it is not at all times that one can gain
admittance to such a collection."
The speaker was a middle-aged person, of whom it was not easy to
determine whether he had spent his life as a scholar, or as a man of
action; in truth, all outward and obvious peculiarities had been worn
away by an extensive and promiscuous intercourse with the world. There
was no mark about him of profession, individual habits, or scarcely of
country; although his dark complexion and high features made me
conjecture that he was a native of some southern clime of Europe. At
all events, he was evidently the Virtuoso in person.
"With your permission," said he, "as we have no descriptive
catalogue, I will accompany you through the Museum, and point out
whatever may be most worthy of attention. In the first place, here is a
choice collection of stuffed animals."
Nearest the door stood the outward semblance of a wolf, exquisitely
prepared, it is true, and showing a very wolfish fierceness in the
large glass eyes, which were inserted into its wild and crafty head.
Still it was merely the skin of a wolf, with nothing to distinguish it
from other individuals of that unlovely breed.
"How does this animal deserve a place in your collection?" inquired
"It is the wolf that devoured Little Red Riding-Hood," answered the
Virtuoso; "and by his side,—with a milder and more matronly look, as
you perceive,—stands the she-wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus."
"Ah, indeed!" exclaimed I. "And what lovely lamb is this, with the
snow-white fleece, which seems to be of as delicate a texture as
"Methinks you have but carelessly read Spenser," replied my guide,
"or you would at once recognize the `milk-white lamb' which Una led.
But I set no great value upon the lamb. The next specimen is better
worth our notice."
"What!" cried I, "this strange animal, with the black head of an ox
upon the body of a white horse? Were it possible to suppose it, I
should say that this was Alexander's steed Bucephalus."
"The same," said the Virtuoso. "And can you likewise give a name to
the famous charger that stands beside him?
Next to the renowned Bucephalus stood the mere skeleton of a horse,
with the white bones peeping through his ill-conditioned hide. But, if
my heart had not warmed towards that pitiful anatomy, I might as well
have quitted the Museum at once. Its rarities had not been collected
with pain and toil from the four quarters of the earth, and from the
depths of the sea, and from the palaces and sepulchres of ages, for
those who could mistake this illustrious steed.
"It is Rosinante!" exclaimed I, with enthusiasm.
And so it proved! My admiration for the noble and gallant horse
caused me to glance with less interest at the other animals, although
many of them might have deserved the notice of Cuvier himself. There
was the donkey which Peter Bell cudgelled so soundly; and a brother of
the same species, who had suffered a similar infliction from the
ancient prophet Balaam. Some doubts were entertained, however, as to
the authenticity of the latter beast. My guide pointed out the
venerable Argus, that faithful dog of Ulysses, and also another dog
(for so the skin bespoke it), which, though imperfectly preserved,
seemed once to have had three heads. It was Cerberus. I was
considerably amused at detecting, in an obscure corner, the fox that
became so famous by the loss of his tail. There were several stuffed
cats, which, as a dear lover of that comfortable beast, attracted my
affectionate regards. One was Dr. Johnson's cat Hodge; and in the same
row stood the favorite cats of Mahomet, Gray, and Walter Scott,
together with Puss in Boots, and a cat of very noble aspect who had
once been a deity of ancient Egypt. Byron's tame bear came next. I must
not forget to mention the Erymanthean boar, the skin of St. George's
Dragon, and that of the serpent Python; and another skin, with
beautifully variegated hues, supposed to have been the garment of the
"spirited Sly Snake," which tempted Eve. Against the walls were
suspended the horns of a stag that Shakspeare shot; and on the floor
lay the ponderous shell of the tortoise which fell upon the head of
Æschylus. In one row, as natural as life, stood the sacred bull Apis,
the "cow with the crumpled horn," and a very wild looking young heifer,
which I guessed to be the cow that jumped over the moon. She was
probably killed by the rapidity of her descent. As I turned away, my
eyes fell upon an indescribable monster, which proved to be a griffin.
"I look in vain," observed I, "for the skin of an animal which might
well deserve the closest study of a naturalist,—the winged horse
"He is not yet dead," replied the Virtuoso, "but he is so hard
ridden by many young gentlemen of the day, that I hope soon to add his
skin and skeleton to my collection."
We now passed to the next alcove of the hall, in which was a
multitude of stuffed birds. They were very prettily arranged, some upon
the branches of trees, others brooding upon nests, and others suspended
by wires so artificially that they seemed in the very act of flight.
Among them was a white dove, with a withered branch of olive leaves in
"Can this be the very dove," inquired I, "that brought the message
of peace and hope to the tempest-beaten passengers of the ark?"
"Even so," said my companion.
"And this raven, I suppose," continued I, "is the same that fed
Elijah in the wilderness."
"The raven?—no," said the Virtuoso, "it is a bird of modern date.
He belonged to one Barnaby Rudge; and many people fancied that the
devil himself was disguised under his sable plumage. But poor Grip has
drawn his last cork, and has been forced to `say die' at last. This
other raven, hardly less curious, is that in which the soul of King
George the First revisited his lady love, the Duchess of Kendall."
My guide next pointed out Minerva's owl, and the vulture that preyed
upon the liver of Prometheus. There was likewise the sacred Ibis of
Egypt, and one of the Stymphalides, which Hercules shot in his sixth
labor. Shelley's sky-lark, Bryant's water-fowl, and a pigeon from the
belfry of the Old South Church, preserved by N. P. Willis, were placed
on the same perch. I could not but shudder on beholding Coleridge's
albatross, transfixed with the Ancient Mariner's crossbow shaft. Beside
this bird of awful poesy stood a grey goose of very ordinary aspect.
"Stuffed goose is no such rarity," observed I. "Why do you preserve
such a specimen in your Museum?"
"It is one of the flock whose cackling saved the Roman Capitol,"
answered the Virtuoso. "Many geese have cackled and hissed, both before
and since; but none, like those, have clamored themselves into
There seemed to be little else that demanded notice in this
department of the Museum, unless we except Robinson Crusoe's parrot, a
live phoenix, a footless bird of Paradise, and a splendid peacock,
supposed to be the same that once contained the soul of Pythagoras. I
therefore passed to the next alcove, the shelves of which were covered
with a miscellaneous collection of curiosities, such as are usually
found in similar establishments. One of the first things that took my
eye was a strange looking cap, woven of some substance that appeared
to be neither woollen, cotton, nor linen.
"Is this a magician's cap?" I asked.
"No," replied the Virtuoso, "it is merely Dr. Franklin's cap of
asbestos. But here is one which, perhaps, may suit you better. It is
the wishing-cap of Fortunatus. Will you try it on?"
"By no means," answered I, putting it aside with my hand. "The day
of wild wishes is past with me. I desire nothing that may not come in
the ordinary course of Providence."
"Then, probably," returned the Virtuoso, "you will not be tempted to
rub this lamp?"
While speaking, he took from the shelf an antique brass lamp,
curiously wrought with embossed figures, but so covered with verdigris
that the sculpture was almost eaten away.
"It is a thousand years," said he, "since the genius of this lamp
constructed Aladdin's palace in a single night. But he still retains
his power; and the man who rubs Aladdin's lamp, has but to desire
either a palace or a cottage."
"I might desire a cottage," replied I, "but I would have it founded
on sure and stable truth, not on dreams and fantasies. I have learned
to look for the real and the true."
My guide next showed me Prospero's magic wand, broken into three
fragments by the hand of its mighty master. On the same shelf lay the
gold ring of ancient Gyges, which enabled the wearer to walk invisible.
On the other side of the alcove was a tall looking-glass in a frame of
ebony, but veiled with a curtain of purple silk, through the rents of
which the gleam of the mirror was perceptible.
"This is Cornelius Agrippa's magic glass," observed the Virtuoso.
"Draw aside the curtain, and picture any human form within your mind,
and it will be reflected in the mirror."
"It is enough if I can picture it within my mind," answered I. "Why
should I wish it to be repeated in the mirror? But, indeed, these
works of magic have grown wearisome to me. There are so many greater
wonders in the world, to those who keep their eyes open, and their
sight undimmed by custom, that all the delusions of the old sorcerers
seem flat and stale. Unless you can show me something really curious, I
care not to look further into your Museum."
"Ah, well, then," said the Virtuoso, composedly, "perhaps you may
deem some of my antiquarian rarities deserving of a glance."
He pointed out the Iron Mask, now corroded with rust; and my heart
grew sick at the sight of this dreadful relic, which had shut out a
human being from sympathy with his race. There was nothing half so
terrible in the axe that beheaded King Charles, nor in the dagger that
slew Henry of Navarre, nor in the arrow that pierced the heart of
William Rufus,—all of which were shown to me. Many of the articles
derived their interest, such as it was, from having been formerly in
the possession of royalty. For instance, here was Charlemagne's
sheepskin cloak, the flowing wig of Louis Quatorze, the spinning-wheel
of Sardanapalus, and King Stephen's famous breeches, which cost him but
a crown. The heart of the Bloody Mary, with the word "Calais" worn into
its diseased substance, was preserved in a bottle of spirits; and near
it lay the golden case in which the queen of Gustavus Adolphus
treasured up that hero's heart. Among these relics and heirlooms of
kings, I must not forget the long, hairy ears of Midas, and a piece of
bread, which had been changed to gold by the touch of that unlucky
monarch. And as Grecian Helen was a queen, it may here be mentioned,
that I was permitted to take into my hand a lock of her golden hair,
and the bowl which a sculptor modelled from the curve of her perfect
breast. Here, likewise, was the robe that smothered Agamemnon, Nero's
fiddle, the Czar Peter's brandy-bottle, the crown of Semiramis, and
Canute's sceptre, which he extended over the sea. That my own land may
not deem itself neglected, let me add, that I was favored with a sight
of the skull of King Philip, the famous Indian chief, whose head the
Puritans smote off and exhibited upon a pole.
"Show me something else," said I to the Virtuoso. "Kings are in such
an artificial position, that people in the ordinary walks of life
cannot feel an interest in their relics. If you could show me the straw
hat of sweet little Nell, I would far rather see it than a king's
"There it is," said my guide, pointing carelessly with his staff to
the straw hat in question. "But, indeed, you are hard to please. Here
are the seven-league boots. Will you try them on?"
"Our modern railroads have superseded their use," answered I; "and
as to these cow-hide boots, I could show you quite as curious a pair at
the transcendental community in Roxbury."
We next examined a collection of swords and other weapons, belonging
to different epochs, but thrown together without much attempt at
arrangement. Here was Arthur's sword Excalibar, and that of the Cid
Campeodor, and the sword of Brutus rusted with Cæsar's blood and his
own, and the sword of Joan of Arc, and that of Horatius, and that with
which Virginius slew his daughter, and the one which Dionysius
suspended over the head of Damocles. Here, also, was Arria's sword,
which she plunged into her own breast, in order to taste of death
before her husband. The crooked blade of Saladin's scimetar next
attracted my notice. I know not by what chance, but so it happened,
that the sword of one of our own militia generals was suspended between
Don Quixote's lance and the brown blade of Hudibras. My heart throbbed
high at the sight of the helmet of Miltiades, and the spear that was
broken in the breast of Epaminondas. I recognized the shield of
Achilles by its resemblance to the admirable cast in the possession of
Professor Felton. Nothing in this apartment interested me more than
Major Pitcairn's pistol, the discharge of which, at Lexington, began
the war of the revolution, and was reverberated in thunder around the
land for seven long years. The bow of Ulysses, though unstrung for
ages, was placed against the wall, together with a sheaf of Robin
Hood's arrows, and the rifle of Daniel Boon.
"Enough of weapons," said I, at length; "although I would gladly
have seen the sacred shield which fell from Heaven in the time of Numa.
And surely you should obtain the sword which Washington unsheathed at
Cambridge. But the collection does you much credit. Let up pass on."
In the next alcove we saw the golden thigh of Pythagoras, which had
so divine a meaning; and, by one of the queer analogies to which the
Virtuoso seemed to be addicted, this ancient emblem lay on the same
shelf with Peter Stuyvesant's wooden leg, that was fabled to be of
silver. Here was a remnant of the Golden Fleece; and a sprig of yellow
leaves that resembled the foliage of a frost-bitten elm, but was duly
authenticated as a portion of the golden branch by which Æneas gained
admittance to the realm of Pluto. Atalanta's golden apple, and one of
the apples of discord, were wrapt in the napkin of gold which
Rampsinitus brought from Hades; and the whole were deposited in the
golden vase of Bias, with its inscription: "To the wisest."
"And how did you obtain this vase?" said I to the Virtuoso
"It was given me long ago," replied he, with a scornful expression
in his eye, "because I had learned to despise all things"
It had not escaped me that, though the Virtuoso was evidently a man
of high cultivation, yet he seemed to lack sympathy with the spiritual,
the sublime, and the tender. Apart from the whim that had led him to
devote so much time, pains, and expense to the collection of this
Museum, he impressed me as one of the hardest and coldest men of the
world whom I had ever met.
"To despise all things!" repeated I. "This, at best, is the wisdom
of the understanding. It is the creed of a man whose soul,—whose
better and diviner part,—has never been awakened, or has died out of
"I did not think that you were still so young," said the Virtuoso.
"Should you live to my years, you will acknowledge that the vase of
Bias was not ill bestowed."
Without farther discussion of the point, he directed my attention to
other curiosities. I examined Cinderella's little glass slipper, and
compared it with one of Diana's sandals, and with Fanny Elssler's shoe,
which bore testimony to the muscular character of her illustrious foot.
On the same shelf were Thomas the Rhymer's green velvet shoes, and the
brazen shoe of Empedocles, which was thrown out of Mount Ætna.
Anacreon's drinking-cup was placed in apt juxtaposition with one of Tom
Moore's wine-glasses and Circe's magic bowl. These were symbols of
luxury and riot; but near them stood the cup whence Socrates drank his
hemlock; and that which Sir Philip Sydney put from his death-parched
lips to bestow the draught upon a dying soldier. Next appeared a
cluster of tobacco pipes, consisting of Sir Walter Raleigh's, the
earliest on record, Dr. Parr's, Charles Lamb's, and the first calumet
of peace which was ever smoked between a European and an Indian. Among
other musical instruments, I noticed the lyre of Orpheus, and those of
Homer and Sappho, Dr. Franklin's famous whistle, the trumpet of Anthony
Van Corlear, and the flute which Goldsmith played upon in his rambles
through the French provinces. The staff of Peter the Hermit stood in a
corner, with that of good old Bishop Jewel, and one of ivory, which had
belonged to Papirius, the Roman Senator. The ponderous club of Hercules
was close at hand. The Virtuoso showed me the chisel of Phidias,
Claude's palette, and the brush of Apelles, observing that he intended
to bestow the former either on Greenough, Crawford, or Powers, and the
two latter upon Washington Allston. There was a small vase of oracular
gas from Delphos, which, I trust, will be submitted to the scientific
analysis of Professor Silliman. I was deeply moved on beholding a phial
of the tears into which Niobe was dissolved; nor less so on learning
that a shapeless fragment of salt was a relic of that victim of
despondency and sinful regrets, Lot's wife. My companion appeared to
set great value upon some Egyptian darkness in a blacking jug. Several
of the shelves were covered by a collection of coins; among which,
however, I remember none but the Splendid Shilling, celebrated by
Phillips, and a dollar's worth of the iron money of Lycurgus, weighing
about fifty pounds.
Walking carelessly onward, I had nearly fallen over a huge bundle,
like a pedlar's pack, done up in sackcloth, and very securely strapped
"It is Christian's burthen of sin," said the Virtuoso.
"Oh, pray let us open it!" cried I. "For many a year I have longed
to know its contents."
"Look into your own consciousness and memory," replied the Virtuoso.
"You will there find a list of whatever it contains."
As this was an undeniable truth, I threw a melancholy look at the
burthen, and passed on. A collection of old garments, hanging on pegs,
was worthy of some attention, especially the shirt of Nessus, Cæsar's
mantle, Joseph's coat of many colors, the Vicar of Bray's cassock,
Goldsmith's peach-bloom suit, a pair of President Jefferson's scarlet
breeches, John Randolph's red baize hunting-shirt, the drab small
clothes of the Stout Gentleman, and the rags of the "man all tattered
and torn." George Fox's hat impressed me with deep reverence, as a
relic of perhaps the truest apostle that has appeared on earth for
these eighteen hundred years. My eye was next attracted by an old pair
of shears, which I should have taken for a memorial of some famous
tailor, only that the Virtuoso pledged his veracity that they were the
identical scissors of Atropos. He also showed me a broken hour-glass,
which had been thrown aside by Father Time, together with the old
gentleman's grey forelock, tastefully braided into a brooch. In the
hour-glass was the handful of sand, the grains of which had numbered
the years of the Cumæan Sibyl. I think it was in this alcove that I saw
the inkstand which Luther threw at the Devil, and the ring which Essex,
while under sentence of death, sent to Queen Elizabeth. And here was
the blood-encrusted pen of steel with which Faust signed away his
The Virtuoso now opened the door of a closet, and showed me a lamp
burning, while three others stood unlighted by its side. One of the
three was the lamp of Diogenes, another that of Guy Faux, and the third
that which Hero set forth to the midnight breeze in the high tower of
"See!" said the Virtuoso, blowing with all his force at the lighted
The flame quivered and shrank away from his breath, but clung to the
wick, and resumed its brilliancy as soon as the blast was exhausted.
"It is an undying lamp from the tomb of Charlemagne," observed my
guide. "That flame was kindled a thousand years ago."
"How ridiculous, to kindle an unnatural light in tombs!" exclaimed
I. "We should seek to behold the dead in the light of heaven. But what
is the meaning of this chafing-dish of glowing coals?"
"That," answered the Virtuoso, "is the original fire which
Prometheus stole from Heaven. Look steadfastly into it, and you will
discern another curiosity."
I gazed into that fire,—which, symbolically, was the origin of all
that was bright and glorious in the soul of man,—and in the midst of
it, behold! a little reptile, sporting with evident enjoyment of the
fervid heat. It was a salamander.
"What a sacrilege!" cried I, with inexpressible disgust. "Can you
find no better use for this ethereal fire than to cherish a loathsome
reptile in it? Yet there are men who abuse the sacred fire of their own
souls to as foul and guilty a purpose."
The Virtuoso made no answer, except by a dry laugh, and an assurance
that the salamander was the very same which Benvenuto Cellini had seen
in his father's household fire. He then proceeded to show me other
rarities; for this closet appeared to be the receptacle of what he
considered most valuable in his collection.
"There," said he, "is the great carbuncle of the White Mountains."
I gazed with no little interest at this mighty gem, which it had
been one of the wild projects of my youth to discover. Possibly it
might have looked brighter to me in those days than now; at all events,
it had not such brilliancy as to detain me long from the other articles
of the Museum. The Virtuoso pointed to me a crystalline stone, which
hung by a gold chain against the wall.
"That is the Philosopher's Stone," said he.
"And have you the Elixir Vitæ, which generally accompanies it?"
"Even so—this urn is filled with it," he replied. "A draught would
refresh you. Here is Hebe's cup,—will you quaff a health from it?"
My heart thrilled within me at the idea of such a reviving draught;
for methought I had great need of it, after travelling so far on the
dusty road of life. But I know not whether it were a peculiar glance in
the Virtuoso's eye, or the circumstance that this most precious liquid
was contained in an antique sepulchral urn, that made me pause. Then
came many a thought, with which, in the calmer and better hours of
life, I had strengthened myself to feel that Death is the very friend
whom, in his due season, even the happiest mortal should be willing to
"No, I desire not an earthly immortality," said I. "Were man to live
longer on the earth, the spiritual would die out of him. The spark of
ethereal fire would be choked by the material, the sensual. There is a
celestial something within us that requires, after a certain time, the
atmosphere of Heaven to preserve it from decay and ruin. I will have
none of this liquid. You do well to keep it in a sepulchral urn; for it
would produce death, while bestowing the shadow of life."
"All this is unintelligible to me," responded my guide, with
indifference. "Life,—earthly life,—is the only good. But you refuse
the draught? Well, it is not likely to be offered twice within one
man's experience. Probably you have griefs which you seek to forget in
death. I can enable you to forget them in life. Will you take a draught
As he spoke the Virtuoso took from the shelf a crystal vase
containing a sable liquor, which caught no reflected image from the
"Not for the world!" exclaimed I, shrinking back. "I can spare none
of my recollections,—not even those of error or sorrow. They are all
alike the food of my spirit. As well never to have lived, as to lose
Without further parley we passed to the next alcove, the shelves of
which were burthened with ancient volumes, and with those rolls of
papyrus, in which was treasured up the eldest wisdom of the earth.
Perhaps the most valuable work in the collection, to a bibliomaniac,
was the Book of Hermes. For my part, however, I would have given a
higher price for those six of the Sibyl's books which Tarquin refused
to purchase, and which the Virtuoso informed me he had himself found in
the cave of Trophonius. Doubtless these old volumes contain prophecies
of the fate of Rome, both as respects the decline and fall of her
temporal empire, and the rise of her spiritual one. Not without value,
likewise, was the work of Anaxagoras on Nature, hitherto supposed to be
irrecoverably lost; and the missing treatises of Longinus, by which
modern criticism might profit; and those books of Livy, for which the
classic student has so long sorrowed without hope. Among these precious
tomes I observed the original manuscript of the Koran, and also that of
the Mormon Bible, in Joe Smith's authentic autograph. Alexander's copy
of the Iliad was also there, enclosed in the jewelled casket of Darius,
still fragrant of the perfumes which the Persian kept in it.
Opening an iron-clasped volume, bound in black leather, I discovered
it to be Cornelius Agrippa's book of magic; and it was rendered still
more interesting by the fact that many flowers, ancient and modern,
were pressed between its leaves. Here was a rose from Eve's bridal
bower, and all those red and white roses which were plucked in the
garden of the Temple, by the partizans of York and Lancaster. Here was
Halleck's Wild Rose of Alloway. Cowper had contributed a Sensitive
Plant, and Wordsworth an Eglantine, and Burns a Mountain Daisy, and
Kirke White a Star of Bethlehem, and Longfellow a Sprig of Fennel, with
its yellow flowers. James Russell Lowell had given a Pressed Flower,
but fragrant still, which had been shadowed in the Rhine. There was
also a sprig from Southey's Holly-Tree. One of the most beautiful
specimens was a Fringed Gentian, which had been plucked and preserved
for immortality by Bryant. From Jones Very,—a poet whose voice is
scarcely heard among us, by reason of its depth,—there was a Wind
Flower and a Columbine.
As I closed Cornelius Agrippa's magic volume, an old, mildewed
letter fell upon the floor; it proved to be an autograph from the
Flying Dutchman to his wife. I could linger no longer among books, for
the afternoon was waning, and there was yet much to see. The bare
mention of a few more curiosities must suffice. The immense skull of
Polyphemus was recognizable by the cavernous hollow in the centre of
the forehead, where once had blazed the giant's single eye. The tub of
Diogenes, Medea's cauldron, and Psyché's vase of beauty, were placed
one within another. Pandora's box, without the lid, stood next,
containing nothing but the girdle of Venus, which had been carelessly
flung into it. A bundle of birch rods, which had been used by
Shenstone's schoolmistress, were tied up with the Countess of
Salisbury's garter. I knew not which to value most, a Roc's egg, as big
as an ordinary hogshead, or the shell of the egg which Columbus set
upon its end. Perhaps the most delicate article in the whole Museum was
Queen Mab's chariot, which, to guard it from the touch of meddlesome
fingers, was placed under a glass tumbler.
Several of the shelves were occupied by specimens of entomology.
Feeling but little interest in the science, I noticed only Anacreon's
Grasshopper, and an Humble-Bee, which had been presented to the
Virtuoso by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In the part of the hall which we had now reached, I observed a
curtain that descended from the ceiling to the floor in voluminous
folds, of a depth, richness, and magnificence which I had never seen
equalled. It was not to be doubted that this splendid, though dark and
solemn veil, concealed a portion of the Museum even richer in wonders
than that through which I had already passed. But, on my attempting to
grasp the edge of the curtain and draw it aside, it proved to be an
"You need not blush," remarked the Virtuoso, "for that same curtain
deceived Zeuxis. It is the celebrated painting of Parrhasius."
In a range with the curtain, there were a number of other choice
pictures, by artists of ancient days. Here was the famous Cluster of
Grapes by Zeuxis, so admirably depicted that it seemed as if the ripe
juice were bursting forth. As to the picture of the Old Woman, by the
same illustrious painter, and which was so ludicrous that he himself
died with laughing at it, I cannot say that it particularly moved my
risibility. Ancient humor seems to have little power over modern
muscles. Here, also, was the Horse, painted by Apelles, which living
horses neighed at; his first portrait of Alexander the Great, and his
last unfinished picture of Venus Asleep. Each of these works of art,
together with others by Parrhasius, Timanthes, Polygnotus, Apollodorus,
Pausias, and Pamphilus, required more time and study than I could
bestow, for the adequate perception of their merits. I shall therefore
leave them undescribed and uncriticised, nor attempt to settle the
question of superiority between ancient and modern art.
For the same reason I shall pass lightly over the specimens of
antique sculpture, which this indefatigable and fortunate Virtuoso had
dug out of the dust of fallen empires. Here was Æ\tion's cedar statue
of Æsculapius, much decayed, and Alcon's iron statue of Hercules,
lamentably rusted. Here was the statue of Victory, six feet high, which
the Jupiter Olympus of Phidias had held in his hand. Here was a
fore-finger of the Colossus of Rhodes, seven feet in length. Here was
the Venus Urania of Phidias, and other images of male and female beauty
or grandeur, wrought by sculptors who appear never to have debased
their souls by the sight of any meaner forms than those of gods, or
godlike mortals. But the deep simplicity of these great works was not
to be comprehended by a mind excited and disturbed, as mine was, by the
various objects that had recently been presented to it. I therefore
turned away, with merely a passing glance, resolving, on some future
occasion, to brood over each individual statue and picture, until my
inmost spirit should feel their excellence. In this department, again,
I noticed the tendency to whimsical combinations and ludicrous
analogies, which seemed to influence many of the arrangements of the
Museum. The wooden statue, so well known as the Palladium of Troy, was
placed in close apposition with the wooden head of General Jackson,
which was stolen a few years since from the bows of the Constitution.
We had now completed the circuit of the spacious hall, and found
ourselves again near the door. Feeling somewhat wearied with the survey
of so many novelties and antiquities, I sat down upon Cowper's sofa,
while the Virtuoso threw himself carelessly into Rabelais's easy-chair.
Casting my eyes upon the opposite wall, I was surprised to perceive the
shadow of a man, flickering unsteadily across the wainscot, and looking
as if it were stirred by some breath of air that found its way through
the door or windows. No substantial figure was visible, from which this
shadow might be thrown; nor, had there been such, was there any
sunshine that would have caused it to darken upon the wall.
"It is Peter Schlemihl's shadow," observed the Virtuoso, "and one of
the most valuable articles in my collection."
"Methinks a shadow would have made a fitting door-keeper to such a
Museum," said I, "although, indeed, yonder figure has something strange
and fantastic about him, which suits well enough with many of the
impressions which I have received here. Pray, who is he?"
While speaking, I gazed more scrutinizingly than before at the
antiquated presence of the person who had admitted me, and who still
sat on his bench, with the same restless aspect, and dim, confused,
questioning anxiety, that I had noticed on my first entrance. At this
moment he looked eagerly towards us, and half-starting from his seat,
"I beseech you, kind sir," said he, in a cracked, melancholy tone,
"have pity on the most unfortunate man in the world! For heaven's sake
answer me a single question! Is this the town of Boston?"
"You have recognized him now," said the Virtuoso. "It is Peter Rugg,
the Missing Man. I chanced to meet him, the other day, still in search
of Boston, and conducted him hither; and, as he could not succeed in
finding his friends, I have taken him into my service as door-keeper.
He is somewhat too apt to ramble, but otherwise a man of trust and
"And—might I venture to ask," continued I, "to whom am I indebted
for this afternoon's gratification?"
The Virtuoso, before replying, laid his hand upon an antique dart of
juvelin, the rusty steel head of which seemed to have been blunted, as
if it had encountered the resistance of a tempered shield or
"My name has not been without its distinction in the world, for a
longer period than that of any other man alive," answered he. "Yet many
doubt of my existence,—perhaps you will do so, to-morrow. This dart,
which I had in my hand, was once grim Death's own weapon. It served him
well for the space of four thousand years. But it fell blunted, as you
see, when he directed it against my breast."
These words were spoken with the calm and cold courtesy of manner
that had characterized this singular personage throughout our
interview. I fancied, it is true, that there was a bitterness
indefinably mingled with his tone, as of one cut off from natural
sympathies, and blasted with a doom that had been inflicted on no other
human being, and by the results of which he had ceased to be human.
Yet, withal, it seemed one of the most terrible consequences of that
doom, that the victim no longer regarded it as a calamity, but had
finally accepted it as the greatest good that could have befallen him.
"You are the Wandering Jew!" exclaimed I.
The Virtuoso bowed, without emotion of any kind; for, by centuries
of custom, he had almost lost the sense of strangeness in his fate, and
was but imperfectly conscious of the astonishment and awe with which it
affected such as are capable of death.
"Your doom is indeed a fearful one" said I. with irrepressible
feeling, and a frankness that afterwards startled me; "yet perhaps the
ethereal spirit is not entirely extinct, under all this corrupted or
frozen mass of earthly life. Perhaps the immortal spark may yet be
rekindled by a breath of heaven. Perhaps you may yet be permitted to
die, before it is too late to live eternally. You have my prayers for
such a consummation. Farewell."
"Your prayers will be in vain," replied he, with a smile of cold
triumph. "My destiny is linked with the realities of earth. You are
welcome to your visions and shadows of a future state; but give me what
I can see, and touch, and understand, and I ask no more."
"It is indeed too late," thought I. "The soul is dead within him!"
Struggling between pity and horror, I extended my hand, to which the
Virtuoso gave his own, still with the habitual courtesy of a man of the
world, but without a single heart-throb of human brotherhood. The touch
seemed like ice, yet I know not whether morally or physically. As I
departed, he bade me observe that the inner door of the hall was
constructed with the ivory leaves of the gateway through which Æneas
and the Sibyl had been dismissed from Hades.