Richard Clay & Sons, Limited,
London & Bungay.
|THE ENGLISH IN CHINA.||7|
|SHAKSPERE'S TEXT.—SUETONIUS UNRAVELLED.||37|
|HOW TO WRITE ENGLISH.||55|
|THE CASUISTRY OF DUELLING.||65|
|LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT.—THE HOUSE OF WEEPING.||160|
|THE HOUSEHOLD WRECK.||173|
|MR. SCHNACKENBERGER; OR, TWO MASTERS FOR ONE DOG.||279|
This Paper, originally written for me in 1857, and published in Titan for July of that year, has not appeared in any collective edition of the author's works, British or American. It was his closing contribution to a series of three articles concerning Chinese affairs; prepared when our troubles with that Empire seemed to render war imminent. The first two were given in Titan for February and April, 1857, and then issued with additions in the form of a pamphlet which is now very scarce. It consisted of 152 pages thus arranged:—(1) Preliminary Note, i-iv; (2) Preface, pp. 3-68; (3) China (the two Titan papers), pp. 69-149; (4) Postscript, pp. 149-152.
In the posthumous supplementary volume (XVI.) of the collected works the third section was reprinted, but all the other matter was discarded—with a rather imperfect appreciation of the labour which the author had bestowed upon it, and his own estimate of the value of what he had condensed in this Series—as frequently expressed to me during its progress.
In the twelfth volume of the 'Riverside' Edition of De Quincey's works, published by Houghton, Mifflin & Co., Boston, U.S.A., the whole of the 152 pp. of [Pg 8]the expanded China reprint are given, but not the final section here reproduced from Titan.
The Chinese questions stirred De Quincey profoundly, and roused all the 'John Bullism' of his nature. Two passages from the 'Preliminary Note' will show his object in throwing so much energy into this subject:—
'Its purpose is to diffuse amongst those of the middle classes, whose daily occupations leave them small leisure for direct personal inquiries, some sufficient materials for appreciating the justice of our British pretensions and attitude in our coming war with China. It is a question frequently raised amongst public journalists, whether we British are entitled to that exalted distinction which sometimes we claim for ourselves, and which sometimes is claimed on our behalf, by neutral observers on the national practice of morality. There is no call in this place for so large a discussion; but, most undoubtedly, in one feature of so grand a distinction, in one reasonable presumption for inferring a profounder national conscientiousness, as diffused among the British people, stands upon record, in the pages of history, this memorable fact, that always at the opening (and at intervals throughout the progress) of any war, there has been much and angry discussion amongst us British as to the equity of its origin, and the moral reasonableness of its objects. Whereas, on the Continent, no man ever heard of a question being raised, or a faction being embattled, upon any [Pg 9]demur (great or small) as to the moral grounds of a war. To be able to face the trials of a war—that was its justification; and to win victories—that was its ratification for the conscience.'
'The dispute at Shanghai, in 1848, equally as regards the origin of that dispute, and as regards the Chinese mode of conducting it, will give the reader a key to the Chinese character and the Chinese policy. To begin by making the most arrogant resistance to the simplest demands of justice, to end by cringing in the lowliest fashion before the guns of a little war-brig, there we have, in a representative abstract, the Chinese system of law and gospel. The equities of the present war are briefly summed up in this one question: What is it that our brutal enemy wants from us? Is it some concession in a point of international law, or of commercial rights, or of local privilege, or of traditional usage, that the Chinese would exact? Nothing of the kind. It is simply a license, guaranteed by ourselves, to call us in all proclamations by scurrilous names; and secondly, with our own consent, to inflict upon us, in the face of universal China, one signal humiliation.... Us—the freemen of the earth by emphatic precedency—us, the leaders of civilisation, would this putrescent tribe of hole-and-corner assassins take upon themselves, not to force into entering by an ignoble gate [the reference here is to a previous passage concerning the low door by which Spanish [Pg 10]fanaticism ordained that the Cagots (lepers) of the Pyrenees should enter the churches in a stooping attitude], but to exclude from it altogether, and for ever. Briefly, then, for this licensed scurrility, in the first place; and, in the second, for this foul indignity of a spiteful exclusion from a right four times secured by treaty, it is that the Chinese are facing the unhappy issues of war.'
The position and outcome of matters in those critical years may be recalled by a few lines from the annual summaries of The Times on the New Years' days of 1858 and 1859. These indicate that De Quincey was here a pretty fair exponent of the growing wrath of the English people.
[January 1, 1858.]
'The presence of the China force on the Indian Seas was especially fortunate. The demand for reinforcements at Calcutta (caused by the Indian Mutiny) was obviously more urgent than the necessity for punishing the insolence at Canton. At a more convenient season the necessary operations in China will be resumed, and in the meantime the blockading squadron has kept the offending population from despising the resentment of England. The interval which has elapsed has served to remove all reasonable doubt of the necessity of enforcing redress. Public opinion has not during the last twelvemonth become more tolerant of barbarian outrages. There is no reason to believe that the punishment of the provincial authorities will involve the cessation of [Pg 11]intercourse with the remainder of the Chinese Empire.'
[January 1, 1859.]
'The working of our treaties with China and Japan will be watched with curiosity both in and out of doors, and we can only hope that nothing will be done to blunt the edge of that masterly decision by which these two giants of Eastern tale have been felled to the earth, and reduced to the level and bearing of common humanity.'
The titles which follow are those which were given by De Quincey himself to the three Sections.—H.
Said before the opening of July, that same warning remark may happen to have a prophetic rank, and practically, a prophetic value, which two months later would tell for mere history, and history paid for by a painful experience.
The war which is now approaching wears in some respects the strangest features that have yet been heard of in old romance, or in prosaic history, for we are at war with the southernmost province of China—namely, Quantung, and pre-eminently with its chief city of Canton, but not with the other four commercial ports of China, nor; in fact, at present with China in general; and, again, we are at war with Yeh, the poisoning Governor of Canton, but (which is strangest [Pg 12]of all) not with Yeh's master—the Tartar Emperor—locked up in a far-distant Peking.
Another strange feature in this war is—the footing upon which our alliances stand. For allies, it seems, we are to have; nominal, as regards the costs of war, but real and virtual as regards its profits. The French, the Americans, and I believe the Belgians, have pushed forward (absolutely in post-haste advance of ourselves) their several diplomatic representatives, who are instructed duly to lodge their claims for equal shares of the benefits reaped by our British [Pg 13]fighting, but with no power to contribute a single file towards the bloodshed of this war, nor a single guinea towards its money costs. Napoleon I., in a craze of childish spite towards this country, pleased himself with denying the modern heraldic bearings of Great Britain, and resuscitating the obsolete shield of our Plantagenets; he insisted that our true armorial ensigns were the leopards. But really the Third Napoleon is putting life and significance into his uncle's hint, and using us, as in Hindostan they use the cheeta or hunting-leopard, for rousing and running down his oriental game. It is true, that in certain desperate circumstances, when no opening remains for pacific negotiation, these French and American agents are empowered to send home for military succours. A worshipful prospect, when we throw back our eyes upon our own share in these warlike preparations, with all the advantages of an unparalleled marine. Six months have slipped away since Lord Clarendon, our Foreign Secretary, received, in Downing Street, Sir J. Bowring's and Admiral Seymour's reports of Yeh's atrocities. Six calendar months, not less, but more, by some days, have run past us since then; and though some considerable part of our large reinforcements must have reached their ground in April, and even the commander-in-chief (Sir John Ashburnham) by the middle of May, yet, I believe, that many of the gun-boats, on which mainly will rest the pursuit of Yeh's junks, if any remain unabsconded northwards, have actually not yet left our own shores. The war should naturally have run its course in one campaign. Assuredly it will, if confined within the limits of Yeh's command, [Pg 14]even supposing that command to comprehend the two Quangs. Practically, then, it is a fantastic impossibility that any reversionary service to our British expedition, which is held out in prophetic vision as consecrating our French and American friends from all taint of mercenary selfishness, ever can be realised. I am not going to pursue this subject. But a brief application of it to a question at this moment (June 16) urgently appealing to public favour is natural and fair. Canvassers are now everywhere moving on behalf of a ship canal across the Isthmus of Suez. This canal proposes to call upon the subscribers for £9,000,000 sterling; the general belief is, that first and last it will call for £12,000,000 to £15,000,000. But at that price, or at any price, it is cheap; and ultimate failure is impossible. Why do I mention it? Everywhere there is a rumour that 'a narrow jealousy' in London is the bar which obstructs this canal speculation. There is, indeed, and already before the canal proposal there was, a plan in motion for a railway across the isthmus, which seems far enough from meeting the vast and growing necessities of the case. But be that as it may, with what right does any man in Europe, or America, impute narrowness of spirit, local jealousy, or selfishness, to England, when he calls to mind what sacrifices she is at this moment making for those very oriental interests which give to the ship canal its sole value—the men, the ships, the money spent, or to be spent, upon the Canton war, and then in fairness connects that expense (or the similar expense made by her in 1840-42) with the operative use to which, in those years, she applied all the diplomatic concessions extorted by [Pg 15]her arms. The first word—a memorable word—which she uttered on proposing her terms in 1842, was, What I demand for myself, that let all Christendom enjoy. And since that era (i. e., for upwards of fourteen years) all Christendom, that did not fail in the requisite energy for improving the opportunities then first laid open, has enjoyed the very same advantages in Chinese ports as Great Britain; secondly, without having contributed anything whatever to the winning or the securing of these advantages; thirdly, on the pure volunteer intercession made by Britain on their behalf. The world has seen enough of violence and cruelties, the most bloody in the service of commercial jealousies, and nowhere more than in these oriental regions: witness the abominable acts of the Dutch at Amboyna, in Japan, and in Java, &c.; witness the bigoted oppressions, where and when soever they had power, of the colonising Portuguese and Spaniards. Tyranny and merciless severities for the ruin of commercial rivals have been no rarities for the last three and a half centuries in any region of the East. But first of all, from Great Britain in 1842 was heard the free, spontaneous proclamation—this was a rarity—unlimited access, with advantages the very same as her own, to a commerce which it was always imagined that she laboured to hedge round with repulsions, making it sacred to her own privileged use. A royal gift was this; but a gift which has not been received by Christendom in a corresponding spirit of liberal appreciation. One proof of that may be read in the invidious statement, supported by no facts or names, which I have just cited. Were this even true, a [Pg 16]London merchant is not therefore a Londoner, or even a Briton. Germans, Swiss, Frenchmen, &c., are settled there as merchants, in crowds. No nation, however, is compromised by any act of her citizens acting as separate and uncountenanced individuals. So that, even if better established as a fact, this idle story would still be a calumny; and as a calumny it would merit little notice. Nevertheless, I have felt it prudent to give it a prominent station, as fitted peculiarly, by the dark shadows of its malice, pointed at our whole nation collectively, to call into more vivid relief the unexampled lustre of that royal munificence in England, which, by one article of a treaty, dictated at the point of her bayonets, threw open in an hour, to all nations, that Chinese commerce, never previously unsealed through countless generations of man.
Next, then, having endeavoured to place these preliminary points in their true light, I will anticipate the course by which the campaign would naturally be likely to travel, supposing no alien and mischievous disturbance at work for deranging it. Simply to want fighting allies would be no very menacing evil. We managed to do without them in our pretty extensive plan of warfare fifteen years ago; and there is no reason why we should find our difficulties now more intractable than then. I should imagine that the American Congress and the French Executive would look on uneasily, and with a sense of shame, at the prospect of sharing largely in commercial benefits which they had not earned, whilst the burdens of the day were falling exclusively upon the troops of our nation; but that is a consideration for their [Pg 17]own feelings, and may happen to corrode their hearts and their sense of honour most profoundly at some future time, when it may have ceased to be remediable. If that were all, for us there would be no arrears of mortified sensibilities to apprehend. But what is ominous even in relation to ourselves from these professedly inert associates, these sleeping partners in our Chinese dealings, is, that their presence with no active functions argues a faith lurking somewhere in the possibility of talking the Chinese into reason. Such a chimera, still surviving the multiform experience we have had, augurs ruin to the total enterprise. It is not absolutely impossible that even Yeh, or any imbecile governor armed with the same obstinacy and brutal arrogance, might, under the terrors of an armament such as he will have to face, simulate a submission that was far from his thoughts. We ourselves found in the year 1846, when in fidelity to our engagements we gave back the important island of Chusan, which we had retained for four years, in fact until all the instalments of the ransom money had been paid, that a more negligent ear was turned to our complaints and remonstrances. The vile mob of Canton, long kept and indulged as so many trained bull-dogs, for the purpose of venting that insolence to Europeans which the mandarins could no longer utter personally without coming into collision with the treaty, became gradually unmanageable even by their masters. In 1847 Lord Palmerston, then Foreign Secretary, was reduced to the necessity of fulminating this passage against the executive government of the murdering city—'You' (Lord Palmerston was addressing Sir John Davis, at that time H. M. [Pg 18]Plenipotentiary in China) 'will inform the Chinese authorities, in plain and distinct terms, that the British Government will not tolerate that a Chinese mob shall with impunity maltreat British subjects in China, whenever they get them into their power; and that if the Chinese authorities will not punish and prevent such outrages, the British Government will be obliged to take the matter into their own hands; and it will not be their fault if, in such case, the innocent are involved in the punishment sought to be inflicted on the guilty.'
This commanding tone was worthy of Lord Palmerston, and in harmony with his public acts in all cases where he has understood the ground which he occupied. Unhappily he did not understand the case of Canton. The British were admitted by each successive treaty, their right of entry was solemnly acknowledged by the emperor. Satisfied with this, Lord Palmerston said, 'Enough: the principle is secured; the mere details, locally intelligible no doubt, I do not pretend to understand. But all this will come in time. In time you will be admitted into Canton. And for the present rest satisfied with having your right admitted, if not as yet your persons.' Ay, but unfortunately nothing short of plenary admission to British flesh and blood ever will satisfy the organised ruffians of Canton, that they have not achieved a triumph over the British; which triumph, as a point still open to doubt amongst mischief-makers, they seek to strengthen by savage renewal as often as they find a British subject unprotected by armed guardians within their streets. In those streets murder walks undisguised. And the only measure for grappling [Pg 19]with it is summarily to introduce the British resident, to prostrate all resistance, and to punish it by the gallows where it proceeds to acts of murder. It is sad consideration for those, either in England or China, who were nearly or indirectly connected with Canton (amongst whom must be counted the British Government), that beyond a doubt the murders of our countrymen, which occurred in that city, would have been intercepted by such a mastery over the local ruffians as could not be effected so long as the Treaty of Nanking was not carried into effect with respect to free entrance and residence of British subjects. As things stood, all that Sir J. Davis could do, in obedience to the directions from the Home Government, was to order a combined naval and military attack upon all the Chinese forts which belt the approaches to Canton. These were all captured; and the immense number of eight hundred and twenty-seven heavy guns were in a few hours made unserviceable, either by knocking off their trunnions, or by spiking them, or in both ways. The Imperial Commissioner, Keying, previously known so favourably to the English by his good sense and discretion, had on this occasion thought it his best policy to ignore Lord Palmerston's letter: a copy had been communicated to him; but he took not the least notice of it. If this were intended for insolence, it was signally punished within a few hours. [Pg 20]It happened that on our English list of grievances there remained a shocking outrage offered to Colonel Chesney, a distinguished officer of the engineers, and which to a certainty would have terminated in his murder, but for the coming up at the critical moment of a Chinese in high authority. The villains concerned in this outrage were known, were arrested, and (according to an agreement with our plenipotentiary) were to be punished in our presence. But in contempt of all his engagements, and out of pure sycophantic concession to the Canton mob, Keying notified that we the injured party were to be excluded. In that case no punishment at all would have been inflicted. Luckily, our troops and our shipping had not yet dispersed. Sir J. Davis, therefore, wrote to Keying, openly taxing him with his breach of honour. 'I was going' [these were Sir John's words] 'to Hong-Kong to-morrow; but since you behave with evasion and bad faith, in not punishing the offenders in the presence of deputed officers, I shall keep the troops at Canton, and proceed to-morrow in the steamer to Foshan, where, if I meet with insult, I will burn the town.' Foshan is a town in the neighbourhood of Canton, and happened to be the scene of Colonel Chesney's ill usage. Now, upon this vigorous step, what followed? Hear Sir John:—'Towards midnight a satisfactory reply was received, and at five o'clock next morning three offenders were brought to the guard-house—a mandarin of high rank being present on the part of the Chinese, and deputed officers on[Pg 21] the part of the British. The men were bambooed in succession by the Chinese officers of justice;' and at the close of the scene, the mandarin (upon a requisition from our side) explained to the mob who crowded about the barriers why the men were punished, and warned them that similar chastisement for similar offences awaited themselves. In one point only the example made was unsatisfactory: the men punished were not identified as the same who had assaulted Colonel Chesney. They might be criminals awaiting punishment for some other offence. With so shuffling a government as the Chinese, always moving through darkness, and on the principles of a crooked policy, no perfect satisfaction must ever be looked for. But still, what a bright contrast between this energy of men acquainted with the Chinese character, and the foolish imbecility of our own government in Downing Street, who are always attempting the plan of soothing and propitiating by concession those ignoble Orientals, in whose eyes all concession, great or small, through the whole scale of graduation, is interpreted as a distinct confession of weakness. Thus did all our governments: thus, above all others, did the East India Company for generations deal with the Chinese; and the first act of ours that ever won respect from China was Anson's broadsides, and the second was our refusal of the ko-tou. Thus did our Indian Government, in the early stages of their intercourse, deal with the Burmese. Thus did our government deal with the Japanese—an exaggerated copy of the Chinese. What they wanted with Japan was simply to do her a very kind and courteous service—namely, to return safe and sound to their native land seven [Pg 22]Japanese who had been driven by hurricanes in continued succession into the Pacific, and had ultimately been saved from death by British sailors. Our wise government at home were well aware of the atrocious inhospitality practised systematically by these cruel islanders; and what course did they take to propitiate them? Good sense would have prescribed the course of arming the British vessel in so conspicuous a fashion as to inspire the wholesome respect of fear. Instead of which, our government actually drew the teeth of the particular vessel selected, by carefully withdrawing each individual gun. The Japanese cautiously sailed round her, ascertained her powerless condition, and instantly proceeded to force her away by every mode of insult; nor were the unfortunate Japanese ever restored to their country. Now, contrast with this endless tissue of imbecilities, practised through many generations by our blind and obstinate government (for such it really is in its modes of dealing with Asiatics), the instantaneous success of 'sharp practice' and resolute appeals to fear on the part of Sir John Davis. By midnight of the same day on which the British remonstrance had been lodged an answer is received; and this answer, in a perfect rapture of panic, concedes everything demanded; and by sunrise the next morning the whole affair has been finished. Two centuries, on our old East Indian system of negotiating with China, would not have arrived at the same point. Later in the very same year occurred another and more atrocious explosion of Canton ruffianism; and the instantaneous retribution which followed to the leading criminals, showed at once how great an advance [Pg 23]had been made in winning respect for ourselves, and in extorting our rights, by this energetic mode of action. On Sunday, the 5th of December, six British subjects had gone out into the country on a pleasure excursion, some of whom unhappily carried pocket-pistols. They were attacked by a mob of the usual Canton character; one Chinese was killed and one wounded by pistol-shots; but of the six British, encompassed by a countless crowd, not one escaped: all six were murdered, and then thrown into the river. Immediately, and before the British had time to take any steps, the Chinese authorities were all in motion. The resolute conduct of Sir John Davis had put an end to the Chinese policy of shuffling, by making it no longer hopeful. It lost much more than it gained. And accordingly it was agreed, after a few days' debate, that the emperor's pleasure should not be taken, except upon the more doubtful cases. Four, about whose guilt no doubts existed, were immediately beheaded; and the others, after communicating with Peking, were punished in varying degrees—one or two capitally.
Such is the condition of that guilty town, nearest of all Chinese towns to Hong-Kong, and indissolubly connected with ourselves. From this town it is that the insults to our flag, and the attempts at poisoning, wholesale and retail, have collectively emanated; and all under the original impulse of Yeh. Surely, in speculating on the conduct of the war, either as probable or as reasonable, the old oracular sentence of [Pg 24]Cato the Elder and of the Roman senate (Delenda est Carthago) begins to murmur in our ears—not in this stern form, but in some modification, better suited to a merciful religion and to our western civilization. It is a great neglect on the part of somebody, that we have no account of the baker's trial at Hong-Kong. He was acquitted, it seems; but upon what ground? Some journals told us that he represented Yeh as coercing him into this vile attempt, through his natural affection for his family, alleged to be in Yeh's power at Canton. Such a fact, if true, would furnish some doubtful palliation of the baker's crime, and might have weight allowed in the sentence; but surely it would place a most dangerous power in the hands of Chinese grandees, if, through the leverage of families within their grasp, and by official connivance on our part, they could reach and govern a set of agents in Hong-Kong. No sympathy with our horror of secret murders by poison, under the shelter of household opportunities, must be counted on from the emperor, for he has himself largely encouraged, rewarded, and decorated these claims on his public bounty. The more necessary that such nests of crime as Canton, and such suggestors of crime as Yeh, should be thoroughly disarmed. This could be done, as regards the city, by three changes:—First, by utterly destroying the walls and gates; secondly, by admitting the British to the freest access, and placing their residence in a special quarter, upon the securest footing; thirdly, and as one chief means in that direction, by establishing a police on an English plan, and to some extent English in its composition. As to the cost, it is evident enough that the colonial [Pg 25]head-quarters at Hong-Kong must in future keep up a permanent military establishment; and since any danger threatening this colony must be kindled and fed chiefly in Canton, why not make this large city, sole focus as it is of all mischief to us, and not a hundred miles distant from the little island, the main barrack of the armed force?
Upon this world's tariff of international connections, what is China in relation to Great Britain? Free is she, or not—free to dissolve her connection with us? Secondly, what is Great Britain, when commercially appraised, in relation to China? Is she of great value or slight value to China? First, then, concerning China, viewed in its connection with ourselves, this vast (but perhaps not proportionably populous) country offers by accident the same unique advantage for meeting a social hiatus in our British system that is offered by certain southern regions in the American United States for meeting another hiatus within the same British system. Without tea, without cotton, Great Britain, no longer great, would collapse into a very anomalous sort of second-rate power. Without cotton, the main bulwark of our export commerce would depart. And without tea, our daily life would, generally speaking, be as effectually-ruined as bees without a Flora. In both of these cases it happens that the benefit which we receive is unique; that is, not merely ranking foremost upon a scale of similar benefits reaped from other lands—a largest contribution where others might still be large—but standing alone, and in a solitude that we have always reason to regard as alarming. So that, if Georgia, &c., withdrew from Liverpool and [Pg 26]Manchester her myriads of cotton bales, palsied would be our commercial supremacy; and, if childish China should refuse her tea (for as to her silk, that is of secondary importance), we must all go supperless to bed: seriously speaking, the social life of England would receive a deadly wound. It is certainly a phenomenon without a parallel in the history of social man—that a great nation, numbering twenty-five millions, after making an allowance on account of those amongst the very poorest of the Irish who do not use tea, should within one hundred years have found themselves able so absolutely to revolutionise their diet, as to substitute for the gross stimulation of ale and wine the most refined, elegant, and intellectual mode of stimulation that human research has succeeded in discovering. But the material basis of this stimulation unhappily we draw from the soil of one sole nation—and that nation (are we ever allowed to forget?) capricious and silly beyond all that human experience could else have suggested as possible. In these circumstances, it was not to be supposed that we should neglect any opening that offered for making ourselves independent of a nation which at all times we had so much reason to distrust as the Chinese. Might not the tea-plant be made to prosper in some district of our Indian Empire? Forty years ago we began to put forth organised botanical efforts for settling that question. Forty years ago, and even earlier, according to my remembrance, Dr Roxburgh[Pg 27]—in those days the paramount authority upon oriental botany—threw some energy into this experiment for creating our own nurseries of the tea-plant. But not until our Burmese victories, some thirty years since, and our consequent treaties had put the province of Assam into our power, was, I believe, any serious progress made in this important effort. Mr Fortune has since applied the benefits of his scientific knowledge, and the results of his own great personal exertions in the tea districts of China, to the service of this most important speculation; with what success, I am not able to report. Meantime, it is natural to fear that the very possibility of doubts hanging over the results in an experiment so vitally national, carries with it desponding auguries as to the ultimate issue. Were the prospects in any degree cheerful, it would be felt as a patriotic duty to report at short intervals all solid symptoms of progress made in this enterprise; for it is an enterprise aiming at a triumph far more than scientific—a triumph over a secret purpose of the Chinese, full of anti-social malice and insolence against Great Britain. Of late years, as often as we have accomplished a victory over any insult to our national honour offered or meditated by the Chinese, they have recurred to some old historical tradition (perhaps fabulous, perhaps not), of an emperor, Tartar or Chinese, who, rather than submit to terms of equitable reciprocity in commercial dealings with a foreign nation, or to terms implying an original equality of the two peoples, caused the whole establishments and machinery connected with the particular traffic to be destroyed, and all its living agents to be banished or beheaded. It is certain that, in the [Pg 28]contemplation of special contingencies likely to occur between themselves and the British, the high mandarins dallied at intervals with this ancient precedent, and forbore to act upon it, partly under the salutary military panic which has for years been gathering gloomily over their heads, but more imperatively, perhaps, from absolute inability to dispense with the weekly proceeds from the customs, so eminently dependent upon the British shipping. Money, mere weight of dollars, the lovely lunar radiance of silver, this was the spell that moonstruck their mercenary hearts, and kept them for ever see-sawing—
'Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike.'
Now, upon this—a state of things suspected at times, or perhaps known, but not so established as that it could have been afterwards pleaded in evidence—a very grave question arose, but a question easily settled: had the Chinese a right, under the law of nations, to act upon their malicious caprice? No man, under any way of viewing the case, hesitated in replying, 'No.' China, it was argued, had possessed from the first a clear, undoubted right to dismiss us with our business unaccomplished, re infectâ, if that business were the establishment of a reciprocal traffic. In the initial stage of the relations between the two powers, the field was open to any possible movement in either party; but, according to the course which might be severally pursued on either side, it was possible that one or both should so act as, in the second stage of their dealings, wilfully to forfeit this original liberty of action. Suppose, for instance, that [Pg 29]China peremptorily declined all commercial intercourse with Britain, undeniably, it was said, she had the right to do so. But, if she once renounced this right, no matter whether explicitly in words, or silently and implicitly in acts (as if, for example, she looked on tranquilly whilst Great Britain erected elaborate buildings for the safe housing of goods)—in any such case, China wilfully divested herself of all that original right to withdraw from commercial intercourse. She might say Go, or she might say, Come; but she could not first say, Come; and then, revoking this invitation, capriciously say, Go.
To this doctrine, thus limited, no man could reasonably demur. But to some people it has seemed that the limitations themselves are the only unsound part of the argument. It is denied that this original right of refusing a commercial intercourse has any true foundation in the relations of things or persons. Vainly, if any such natural right existed, would that broad basis have been laid providentially for insuring intercourse among nations, which, in fact, we find everywhere dispersed. Such a narrow and selfish distribution of natural gifts, all to one man, or all to one place, has in a first stage of human inter-relations been established, only that men might be hurried forward into a second stage where this false sequestration might be unlocked and dispersed. Concentrated masses, impropriations gathered into a few hands, useless alike to the possessor and to the world, why is it that, by primary arrangements of nature, they have been frozen into vast, inert insulation? Only that the agencies of commerce may thus the more loudly be invoked for thawing and setting them [Pg 30]free to the world's use. Whereas, by a diffusive scattering, all motives to large social intercourse would have been neutralised.
It seems clear that the practical liberation and distribution throughout the world of all good gifts meant for the whole household of man, has been confided to the secret sense of a right existing in man for claiming such a distribution as part of his natural inheritance. Many articles of almost inestimable value to man, in relation to his physical well-being (at any rate bearing such a value when substitutional remedies were as yet unknown) such as mercury, Jesuit's bark, through a long period the sole remedy for intermitting fevers, opium, mineral waters, &c., were at one time locally concentred. In such cases, it might often happen, that the medicinal relief to an hospital, to an encampment, to a nation, might depend entirely upon the right to force a commercial intercourse.
Now, on the other hand, having thus noticed the question, what commercial value has China irrevocably for England, next in the reverse question—namely, what commercial value does England bear to China?—I would wish to place this in a new light, by bringing it for the first time into relation to the doctrine of rent. Multitudes in past days, when political economy was a more favoured study, have spoken and written upon the modern doctrine of rent, without apparently perceiving how immediately it bears upon China, and how summarily it shatters an objection constantly made to the value of our annual dealing with that country. First, let me sketch, in the very briefest way, an outline of this modern [Pg 31]doctrine. Two men, without communication, and almost simultaneously, in the year 1815, discovered the law of rent. Suddenly it struck them that all manufactured products of human industry must necessarily obey one law; whilst the products of land obey another and opposite law. Let us for a moment consider arable land as a natural machine for manufacturing bread. Now, in all manufactures depending upon machinery of human invention, the natural progress is from the worse machines to the better. No man lays aside a glove-making machine for a worse, but only for one that possesses the old powers at a less cost, or possesses greater powers, let us suppose, at an equal cost. But, in the natural progress of the bread-making machines, nature herself compels him to pursue the opposite course: he travels from the best machines to the worse. The best land is brought into cultivation first. As population expands, it becomes necessary to take up a second quality of land; then a third quality; and so on for ever. Left to the action of this one law, bread would be constantly growing dearer through a long succession of centuries. Its tendency lies in this direction even now; but this tendency is constantly met, thwarted, and retarded, by a counter-tendency in the general practice of agriculture, which is always slowly improving its own powers—that is, obtaining the same result at a cost slowly decreasing. It follows as a consequence, when closely pursued, that, whilst the products of pure human skill and human machines are constantly, by tendency, growing cheaper, on the other hand, by a counter-tendency, the products of natural machines (as the land, mines, rivers, &c.) are [Pg 32]constantly on the ascent. Another consequence is, that the worst of these natural machines gives the price for the whole; whereas, in a conflict between human machines, all the products of the worse would be beaten out of the field by those of the better. It is in dependency upon this law that all those innumerable proposals for cultivating waste-lands, as in the Scottish Highlands, in the Irish bogs, &c., are radically vicious; and, instead of creating plenty, would by their very success impoverish us. For suppose these lands, which inevitably must have been the lowest in the scale (or else why so long neglected?) to be brought into tillage—what follows? Inevitably this: that their products enter the market as the very lowest on the graduated tariff—i. e., as lower than any already cultured. And these it is—namely, the very lowest by the supposition—that must give the price for the whole; so that every number on the scale will rise at once to the level fixed by these lowest soils, so ruinously (though benevolently) taken up into active and efficient life. If you add 20,000 quarters of wheat to the amount already in the market, you seem to have done a service; but, if these 20,000 have been gained at an extra cost of half-a-crown on each quarter, and if these it is that, being from the poorest machines, rule the price, then you have added half-a-crown to every quarter previously in the market.
Meantime, returning to China, it is important to draw attention upon this point. A new demand for any product of land may happen to be not very large, and thus may seem not much to affect the markets, or the interests of those who produce it. But, since [Pg 33]the rent doctrine has been developed, it has become clear that a new demand may affect the producers in two separate modes: first, in the ordinary known mode; secondly, by happening to call into activity a lower quality of soil. A very moderate demand, nay, a very small one, added to that previously existing, if it happens not to fall within the powers of those numbers already in culture (as, suppose, 1, 2, 3, 4), must necessarily call out No. 5; and so on.
Now, our case, as regards Chinese land in the tea districts, is far beyond this. Not only has it been large enough to benefit the landholder enormously, by calling out lower qualities of land, which process again has stimulated the counteracting agencies in the more careful and scientific culture of the plant; but also it has been in a positive sense enormous. It might have been large relatively to the power of calling out lower qualities of soil, and yet in itself have been small; but our demand, running up at present to 100,000,000 pounds weight annually, is in all senses enormous. The poorer class of Chinese tea-drinkers use the leaves three times over—i. e., as the basis of three separate tea-makings. Consequently, even upon that single deduction, 60,000,000 of Chinese tea-drinkers count only as 20,000,000 of ours. But I conclude, by repeating that the greatest of the impressions made by ourselves in the China tea districts, has been derived from this—that, whilst the native demand has probably been stationary, ours, moving by continual starts forward, must have stimulated the tea interest by continual descents upon inferior soils.[Pg 34]
There is no doubt that the Emperor and all his arrogant courtiers have decupled their incomes from the British stimulation applied to inferior soils, that but for us never would have been called into culture. Not a man amongst them is aware of the advantages which he owes to England. But he soon would be aware of them, if for five years this exotic demand were withdrawn, and the tea-districts resigned to native patronage. Upon reviewing what I have said, not the ignorant and unteachable Chinese only, but some even amongst our own well-informed and reflecting people, will see that they have prodigiously underrated the commercial value of England to China; since, when an Englishman calls for a hundred tons of tea, he does not (as is usually supposed) benefit the Chinese merchant only by giving him the ordinary profit on a ton, repeated for a hundred times, but also infallibly either calls into profitable activity lands lying altogether fallow, or else, under the action of the rent laws, gives a new and secondary value to land already under culture.
Other and greater topics connected with this coming Chinese campaign clamorously call for notice: especially these three:—
First, the pretended literature and meagre civilisation of China—what they are, and with what real effects such masquerading phantoms operate upon the generation with which accidents of commerce have brought us connected.
Secondly, what is the true mode of facing that warfare of kidnapping, garotting, and poisoning, avowed as legitimate subjects of patronage in the [Pg 35]practice and in the edicts of the Tartar Government? Two things may be said with painful certainty upon this subject: first, the British Government has signally neglected its duties in this field through a period of about ninety years, and apparently is not aware of any responsibility attaching in such a case to those who wield the functions of supreme power. Hyder Ali, the tiger, and his more ferocious son Tippoo, practised, in the face of all India, the atrocities of Virgil's Mezentius upon their British captives. These men filled the stage of martial history, through nearly forty years of the eighteenth century, with the tortures of the most gallant soldiers on earth, and were never questioned or threatened upon the subject. In this nineteenth century, again, we have seen a Spanish queen and her uncle sharing between them the infamy of putting to death (unjudged and unaccused) British soldiers on the idlest of pretences. Was it then in the power of the British Government to have made a vigorous and effectual intercession? It was; and in various ways they have the same power over the Chinese sovereign (still more over his agents) at present. The other thing which occurs to say is this: that, if we do not interfere, some morning we shall probably all be convulsed with unavailing wrath at a repetition of Mr Stead's tragic end, on a larger scale, and exemplified in persons of more distinguished position.
Finally, it would have remained to notice the vast approaching revolution for the total East that will be quickened by this war, and will be ratified by the broad access to the Orient, soon to be laid open on [Pg 36]one plan or other. Then will Christendom first begin to act commensurately on the East: Asia will begin to rise from her ancient prostration, and, without exaggeration, the beginnings of a new earth and new heavens will dawn.
To the Editor of 'Titan'.
Dear Sir,—A year or two ago, I received as a present from a distinguished and literary family in Boston (United States), a small pamphlet (twin sister of that published by Mr Payne Collier) on the text of Shakspere. Somewhere in the United States, as here in England, some unknown critic, at some unknown time, had, from some unknown source, collected and recorded on the margin of one amongst the Folio reprints of Shakspere by Heminge & Condell, such new readings as either his own sagacity had summarily prompted, or calm reflection had recommended, or possibly local tradition in some instances, and histrionic tradition in others, might have preserved amongst the habitués of a particular theatre. In Mr P. Collier's case, if I recollect rightly, it was the First Folio (i. e., by much the best); in this American case, I think it is the Third Folio (about the worst) which had received the corrections. But, however this may be, there are two literary collaborateurs concerned in each of these parallel cases—namely, first, the original collector (possibly author) of the various readings, who lived[Pg 38] and died probably within the seventeenth century; and, secondly, the modern editor, who stations himself as a repeating frigate that he may report and pass onwards these marginal variations to us of the nineteenth century.
Cor. for Corrector, is the shorthand designation by which I have distinguished the first; Rep. for Reporter designates the other. My wish and purpose is to extract all such variations of the text as seem to have any claim to preservation, or even, to a momentary consideration. But in justice to myself, and in apology for the hurried way in which the several parts of this little memorandum are brought into any mimicry of order and succession, I think it right to say that my documents are all dispersed into alien and distant quarters; so that I am reduced into dependence upon my own unassisted memory.
[The Tempest. Act I. Scene 1.
'Not a soul
But felt a fever of the mad, and play'd
Some tricks of desperation.'
Cor. here substitutes, 'But felt a fever of the mind:' which substitution strikes me as entirely for the worse; 'a fever of the mad' is such a fever as customarily attacks the delirious, and all who have lost the control of their reasoning faculties.
'O dear father,
Make not too rash a trial of him; for
He's gentle, and not fearful.'
Upon this the Reporter's remark is, that 'If we take fearful in its common acceptation of timorous, the proposed change renders the passage clearer;' but that, [Pg 39]if we take the word fearful in its rarer signification of that which excites terror, 'no alteration is needed.' Certainly: none is needed; for the mistake (as I regard it) of Rep. lies simply in supposing the passive sense of fearful—namely, that which suffers fear—to be the ordinary sense; which now, in the nineteenth century, it is; but was not in the age of Shakspere.
[Macbeth. Scene 7.
'Thus even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips.'
Cor. proposes, Returns the ingredients of, &c.; and, after the word returns is placed a comma; which, however, I suppose to be a press oversight, and no element in the correction. Meantime, I see no call for any change whatever. The ordinary use of the word commend, in any advantageous introduction of a stranger by letters, seems here to maintain itself—namely, placing him in such a train towards winning favour as may give a favourable bias to his opportunities. The opportunities are not left to their own casual or neutral action, but are armed and pointed towards a special result by the influence of the recommender. So, also, it is here supposed that amongst several chalices, which might else all have an equal power to conciliate notice, one specially—namely, that which contains the poison—is armed by Providence with a power to bias the choice, and commend itself to the poisoner's favour.
'His two chamberlains
Will I with wine and wassail so convince.'
Cor. is not happy at this point in his suggestion: [Pg 40]tinkers are accused (often calumniously, for tinkers have enemies as well as other people) of insidiously enlarging holes, making simple into compound fractures, and sometimes of planting two holes where they find one. But I have it on the best authority—namely, the authority of three tinkers who were unanimous—that, if sometimes there is a little treachery of this kind amongst the profession, it is no more than would be pronounced 'in reason' by all candid men. And certainly, said one of the three, you wouldn't look for perfection in a tinker? Undoubtedly a seraphic tinker would be an unreasonable postulate; though, perhaps, the man in all England that came nearest to the seraphic character in one century was a tinker—namely, John Bunyan. But, as my triad of tinkers urged, men of all professions do cheat at uncertain times, are traitors in a small proportion, must be perfidious, unless they make an odious hypocritical pretension to the character of angels. That tinkers are not alone in their practice of multiplying the blemishes on which their healing art is invoked, seems broadly illustrated by the practice of verbal critics. Those who have applied themselves to the ancient classics, are notorious for their corrupt dealings in this way. And Coleridge founded an argument against the whole body upon the confessedly dreadful failure of Bentley, prince of all the order, when applied to a case where most of us could appreciate the result—namely, to the Paradise Lost. If, said Coleridge, this Bentley could err so extravagantly in a case of mother-English, what must we presume him often to have done in Greek? Here we may see to this day that practice carried to a ruinous extent, [Pg 41]which, when charged upon tinkers, I have seen cause to restrict. In the present case from Macbeth, I fear that Cor. is slightly indulging in this tinkering practice. As I view the case, there really is no hole to mend. The old meaning of the word convince is well brought out in the celebrated couplet—
'He, that's convinc'd against his will,
Is of the same opinion still.
How can that be? I have often heard objectors say. Being convinced by his opponent—i. e., convinced that his opponent's view is the right one—how can he retain his own original opinion, which by the supposition is in polar opposition. But this argument rests on a false notion of the sense attached originally to the word convinced. That word was used in the sense of refuted; redargued, the alternative word, was felt to be pedantic. The case supposed was that of a man who is reduced to an absurdity; he cannot deny that, from his own view, an absurdity seems to follow; and, until he has shown that this absurdity is only apparent, he is bound to hold himself provisionally answered. Yet that does not reconcile him to his adversary's opinion; he retains his own, and is satisfied that somewhere an answer to it exists, if only he could discover it.
Here the meaning is, 'I will convince his chamberlains with wine'—i. e., will refute by means of the confusion belonging to the tragedy itself, when aided by intoxication, all the arguments (otherwise plausible) which they might urge in self-defence.
['Thrice and once the hedge-pig whined:'—
This our friend Cor. alters to twice; but for the [Pg 42]very reason which should have checked him—namely, on Theobald's suggestion that 'odd numbers are used in enchantments and magical operations;' and here he fancies himself to obtain an odd number by the arithmetical summation—twice added to once makes thrice. Meantime the odd number is already secured by viewing the whines separately, and not as a sum. The hedge-pig whined thrice—that was an odd number. Again he whined, and this time only once—this also was an odd number. Otherwise Cor. is perfectly right in his general doctrine, that
'Numero Deus impare gaudet.'
Nobody ever heard of even numbers in any case of divination. A dog, for instance, howling under a sick person's window, is traditionally ominous of evil—but not if he howls twice, or four times.
['I pull in resolution.'—Act V. Scene 5.
Cor. had very probably not seen Dr Johnson's edition of Shakspere, but in common with the Doctor, under the simple coercion of good sense, he proposes 'I pall;' a restitution which is so self-attested, that it ought fearlessly to be introduced into the text of all editions whatever, let them be as superstitiously scrupulous as in all reason they ought to be.
[Hamlet. Act II. Scene in the Speech of Polonius.
'Good sir, or so, or friend, or gentleman,'
is altered by Cor., and in this case with an effect of solemn humour which justifies itself, into
'Good sir, or sir, or friend, or gentleman;'
meaning good sir, or sir simply without the epithet [Pg 43]good, which implies something of familiarity. Polonius, in his superstitious respect for ranks and degrees, provides four forms of address applying to four separate cases: such is the ponderous casuistry which the solemn courtier brings to bear upon the most trivial of cases.
At this point, all at once, we find our sheaf of arrows exhausted: trivial as are the new resources offered for deciphering the hidden meanings of Shakspere, their quality is even less a ground of complaint than their limitation in quantity. In an able paper published by this journal, during the autumn of 1855, upon the new readings offered by Mr Collier's work, I find the writer expressing generally a satisfaction with the condition of Shakspere's text. I feel sorry that I cannot agree with him. To me the text, though improved, and gradually moving round to a higher and more hopeful state of promise, is yet far indeed from the settled state which is desirable. I wish, therefore, as bearing upon all such hopes and prospects, to mention a singular and interesting case of sudden conquest over a difficulty that once had seemed insuperable. For a period of three centuries there had existed an enigma, dark and insoluble as that of the Sphinx, in the text of Suetonius. Isaac Casaubon had vainly besieged it; then, in a mood of revolting arrogance, Joseph Scaliger; Ernesti; Gronovius; many others; and all without a gleam of success.
The passage in Suetonius which so excruciatingly (but so unprofitably) has tormented the wits of such scholars as have sat in judgment upon it through a period of three hundred and fifty years, arises in the [Pg 44]tenth section of his Domitian. That prince, it seems, had displayed in his outset considerable promise of moral excellence: in particular, neither rapacity nor cruelty was apparently any feature in his character. Both qualities, however, found a pretty early development in his advancing career, but cruelty the earliest. By way of illustration, Suetonius rehearses a list of distinguished men, clothed with senatorian or even consular rank, whom he had put to death upon allegations the most frivolous: amongst them Aelius Lamia, a nobleman whose wife he had torn from him by open and insulting violence. It may be as well to cite the exact words of Suetonius: 'Aelium Lamiam (interemit) ob suspiciosos quidem, verum et veteres et innoxios jocos; quòd post abductam uxorem laudanti vocem suam—dixerat, Heu taceo; quòdque Tito hortanti se ad alterum matrimonium, responderat μη και συ γαμησαι θελεις;'—that is, Aelius Lamia he put to death on account of certain jests; jests liable to some jealousy, but, on the other hand, of old standing, and that had in fact proved harmless as regarded practical consequences—namely, that to one who praised his voice as a singer he had replied, Heu taceo; and that on another occasion, in reply to the Emperor Titus, when urging him to a second marriage, he had said, 'What now, I suppose you are looking out for a wife?'
The latter jest is intelligible enough, stinging, and witty. As if the young men of the Flavian family could fancy no wives but such as they had won by violence from other men, he affects in a bitter sarcasm to take for granted that Titus, as the first step towards marrying, counselled his friends to marry as the natural means for creating a fund of eligible wives. [Pg 45]The primal qualification of any lady as a consort being, in their eyes, that she had been torn away violently from a friend, it became evident that the preliminary step towards a Flavian wedding was, to persuade some incautious friend into marrying, and thus putting himself into a capacity of being robbed. How many ladies that it was infamous for this family to appropriate as wives, so many ladies that in their estimate were eligible in that character. Such, at least in the stinging jest of Lamia, was the Flavian rule of conduct. And his friend Titus, therefore, simply as the brother of Domitian, simply as a Flavian, he affected to regard as indirectly providing a wife, when he urged his friend by marrying to enrol himself as a pillagee elect.
The latter jest, therefore, when once apprehended, speaks broadly and bitingly for itself. But the other—what can it possibly mean? For centuries has that question been reiterated; and hitherto without advancing by one step nearer to solution. Isaac Casaubon, who about 230 years since was the leading oracle in this field of literature, writing an elaborate and continuous commentary upon Suetonius, found himself unable to suggest any real aids for dispersing the thick darkness overhanging the passage. What he says is this:—'Parum satisfaciunt mihi interpretes in explicatione hujus Lamiæ dicti. Nam quod putant Heu taceo suspirium esse ejus—indicem doloris ob abductam uxorem magni sed latentis, nobis non ita videtur; sed notatam potius fuisse tyrannidem principis, qui omnia in suo genere pulchra et excellentia possessoribus eriperet, unde necessitas incumbebat sua bona dissimulandi celandique.' Not at all satisfactory [Pg 46]to me are the commentators in the explanation of the dictum (which is here equivalent to dicterium) of Lamia. For, whereas they imagine Heu taceo to be a sigh of his—the record and indication of a sorrow, great though concealed, on behalf of the wife that had been violently torn away from him—me, I confess, that the case does not strike in that light; but rather that a satiric blow was aimed at the despotism of the sovereign prince, who tore away from their possessors all objects whatsoever marked by beauty or distinguished merit in their own peculiar class: whence arose a pressure of necessity for dissembling and hiding their own advantages. 'Sic esse exponendum,' that such is the true interpretation (continues Casaubon), 'docent illa verba [LAUDANTI VOCEM SUAM],' (we are instructed by those words), [to one who praised his singing voice, &c.].
This commentary was obscure enough, and did no honour to the native good sense of Isaac Casaubon, usually so conspicuous. For, whilst proclaiming a settlement, in reality it settled nothing. Naturally, it made but a feeble impression upon the scholars of the day; and not long after the publication of the book, Casaubon received from Joseph Scaliger a friendly but gasconading letter, in which that great scholar brought forward a new reading—namely, ευτακτω, to which he assigned a profound technical value as a musical term. No person even affected to understand Scaliger. Casaubon himself, while treating so celebrated a man with kind and considerate deference, yet frankly owned that, in all his vast reading, he had never met with this strange Greek word. But, without entering into any dispute upon that verbal [Pg 47]question, and conceding to Scaliger the word and his own interpretation of the word, no man could understand in what way this new resource was meant to affect the ultimate question at issue—namely, the extrication of the passage from that thick darkness which overshadowed it.
'As you were' (to speak in the phraseology of military drill), was in effect the word of command. All things reverted to their original condition. And two centuries of darkness again enveloped this famous perplexity of Roman literature. The darkness had for a few moments seemed to be unsettling itself in preparation for flight: but immediately it rolled back again; and through seven generations of men this darkness was heavier, because less hopeful than before.
Now then, I believe, all things are ready for the explosion of the catastrophe; 'which catastrophe,' I hear some malicious reader whispering, 'is doubtless destined to glorify himself' (meaning the unworthy writer of this little paper). I cannot deny it. A truth is a truth. And, since no medal, nor riband, nor cross, of any known order, is disposable for the most brilliant successes in dealing with desperate (or what may be called condemned) passages in Pagan literature, mere sloughs of despond that yawn across the pages of many a heathen dog, poet and orator, that I could mention, the more reasonable it is that a large allowance should be served out of boasting and self-glorification to all those whose merits upon this field national governments have neglected to proclaim. The Scaligers, both father and son, I believe, acted upon this doctrine; and drew largely by anticipation upon that reversionary bank which they conceived to be answerable [Pg 48]for such drafts. Joseph Scaliger, it strikes me, was drunk when he wrote his letter on the present occasion, and in that way failed to see (what Casaubon saw clearly enough) that he had commenced shouting before he was out of the wood. For my own part, if I go so far as to say that the result promises, in the Frenchman's phrase, to 'cover me with glory,' I beg the reader to remember that the idea of 'covering' is of most variable extent: the glory may envelope one in a voluminous robe—a princely mantle that may require a long suite of train-bearers, or may pinch and vice one's arms into that succinct garment (now superannuated) which some eighty years ago drew its name from the distinguished Whig family in England of Spencer. Anticipating, therefore, that I shall—nay, insisting, and mutinously, if needful, that I will—be covered with glory by the approaching result, I do not contemplate anything beyond that truncated tunic, once known as a 'spencer,' and which is understood to cover only the shoulders and the chest.
Now, then, all being ready, and the arena being cleared of competitors (for I suppose it is fully understood that everybody but myself has retired from the contest), thrice, in fact, has the trumpet sounded, 'Do you give it up?' Some preparations there are to be made in all cases of contest. Meantime, let it be clearly understood what it is that the contest turns upon. Supposing that one had been called, like Œdipus of old, to a turn-up with that venerable girl the Sphinx, most essential it would have been that the clerk of the course (or however you designate the judge, the umpire, &c.) should have read the riddle propounded to Greece: how else judge of the solution? [Pg 49]At present the elements of the case to be decided stand thus:—
A Roman noble, a man, in fact, of senatorial rank, has been robbed, robbed with violence, and with cruel scorn, of a lovely young wife, to whom he was most tenderly attached. But by whom? the indignant reader demands. By a younger son of the Roman emperor Vespasian.
For some years the wrong has been borne in silence: the sufferer knew himself to be powerless as against such an oppressor; and that to show symptoms of impotent hatred was but to call down thunderbolts upon his own head. Generally, therefore, prudence had guided him. Patience had been the word; silence, and below all the deep, deep word—wait; and if by accident he were a Christian, not only that same word wait would have been heard, but this beside, look under the altars for others that also wait. But poor suffering patience, sense of indignity that is hopeless, [Pg 50]must (in order to endure) have saintly resources. Infinite might be the endurance, if sustained only by a finite hope. But the black despairing darkness that revealed a tossing sea self-tormented and fighting with chaos, showing neither torch that glimmered in the foreground, nor star that kept alive a promise in the distance, violently refused to be comforted. It is beside an awful aggravation of such afflictions, that the lady herself might have co-operated in the later stages of the tragedy with the purposes of the imperial ruffian. Lamia had been suffered to live, because as a living man he yielded up into the hands of his tormentor his whole capacity of suffering; no part of it escaped the hellish range of his enemy's eye. But this advantage for the torturer had also its weak and doubtful side. Use and monotony might secretly be wearing away the edge of the organs on and through which the corrosion of the inner heart proceeded. On the whole, therefore, putting together the facts of the case, it seems to have been resolved that he should die. But previously that he should drink off a final cup of anguish, the bitterest that had yet been offered. The lady herself, again—that wife so known historically, so notorious, yet so total a stranger to man and his generations—had she also suffered in sympathy with her martyred husband? That must have been known to a certainty in the outset of the case, by him that knew too profoundly on what terms of love they had lived. But at length, seeking for crowning torments, it may have been that the dreadful Cæsar might have found the 'raw' in his poor victim, that offered its fellowship in exalting the furnace of misery. The lady herself—may we not suppose her at the last to [Pg 51]have given way before the strengthening storm. Possibly to resist indefinitely might have menaced herself with ruin, whilst offering no benefit to her husband. And, again, though killing to the natural interests which accompany such a case, might not the lady herself be worn out, if no otherwise, by the killing nature of the contest? There is besides this dreadful fact, placed ten thousand times on record, that the very goodness of the human heart in such a case ministers fuel to the moral degradation of a female combatant. Any woman, and exactly in proportion to the moral sensibility of her nature, finds it painful to live in the same house with a man not odiously repulsive in manners or in person on terms of eternal hostility. In a community so nobly released as was Rome from all base Oriental bondage of women, this followed—that compliances of a nature oftentimes to belie the native nobility of woman become painfully liable to misinterpretation. Possibly under the blinding delusion of secret promises, unknown, nay, inaccessible, to those outside (all contemporaries being as ridiculously impotent to penetrate within the curtain as all posterity), the wife of Lamia, once so pure, may have been over-persuaded to make such public manifestations of affection for Domitian as had hitherto, upon one motive or another, been loftily withheld. Things, that to a lover carry along with them irreversible ruin, carry with them final desolation of heart, are to the vast current of ordinary men, who regard society exclusively from a political centre, less than nothing. Do they deny the existence of other and nobler agencies in human affairs? Not at all. Readily they confess these agencies: but, as movements obeying [Pg 52]laws not known, or imperfectly known to them, these they ignore. What it was circumstantially that passed, long since has been overtaken and swallowed up by the vast oblivions of time. This only survives—namely, that what he said gave signal offence in the highest quarter, and that his death followed. But what was it that he did say? That is precisely the question, and the whole question which we have to answer. At present we know, and we do not know, what it was that he said. We have bequeathed to us by history two words—involving eight letters—which in their present form, with submission to certain grandees of classic literature, mean exactly nothing. These two words must be regarded as the raw material upon which we have to work: and out of these we are required to turn out a rational saying for Aelius Lamia, under the following five conditions:—First, it must allude to his wife, as one that is lost to him irrecoverably; secondly, it must glance at a gloomy tyrant who bars him from rejoining her; thirdly, it must reply to the compliment which had been paid to the sweetness of his own voice; fourthly, it should in strictness contain some allusion calculated not only to irritate, but even to alarm or threaten his jealous and vigilant enemy; fifthly, doing all these things, it ought also to absorb, as its own main elements, the eight letters contained in the present senseless words—'Heu taceo.'
Here is a monstrous quantity of work to throw upon any two words in any possible language. Even Shakspere's clown, when challenged to furnish a catholic answer applicable to all conceivable occasions, cannot [Pg 53]do it in less than nine letters—namely, Oh lord, sir. I, for my part, satisfied that the existing form of Heu taceo was mere indictable and punishable nonsense, but yet that this nonsense must enter as chief element into the stinging sense of Lamia, gazed for I cannot tell how many weeks at these impregnable letters, viewing them sometimes as a fortress that I was called upon to escalade, sometimes as an anagram that I was called upon to re-organise into the life which it had lost through some dislocation of arrangement. Finally the result in which I landed, and which fulfilled all the conditions laid down was this:—Let me premise, however, what at any rate the existing darkness attests, that some disturbance of the text must in some way have arisen; whether from the gnawing of a rat, or the spilling of some obliterating fluid at this point of some critical or unique MS. It is sufficient for us that the vital word has survived. I suppose, therefore, that Lamia had replied to the friend who praised the sweetness of his voice, 'Sweet is it? Ah, would to Heaven it might prove Orpheutic.' Ominous in this case would be the word Orpheutic to the ears of Domitian: for every school-boy knows that this means a wife-revoking voice. But first let me remark that there is such a legitimate word as Orpheutaceam: and in that case the Latin repartee of Lamia would stand thus—Suavem dixisti? Quam vellem et Orpheutaceam. But, perhaps, reader, you fail to recognise in this form our old friend Heu taceo. But here he is to a certainty, in spite of the rat: and in a different form of letters the compositor will show him, up to you as—vellem et Orp. [HEU TACEAM]. Possibly, being in good humour, you will be disposed [Pg 54]to wink at the seemingly surreptitious AM, though believing the real word to be taceo. Let me say, therefore, that one reading, I believe, gives taceam. Here, then, shines out at once—(1) Eurydice the lovely wife; (2) detained by the gloomy tyrant Pluto; (3) who, however, is forced into surrendering her to her husband, whose voice (the sweetest ever known) drew stocks and stones to follow him, and finally his wife; (4) the word Orpheutic involves an alarming threat, showing that the hope of recovering the lady still survived; (5) we have involved in the restoration all the eight, or perhaps nine, letters of the erroneous form.
Among world-wide objects of speculation, objects rising to the dignity of a mundane or cosmopolitish value, which challenge at this time more than ever a growing intellectual interest, is the English language. Why particularly at this time? Simply, because the interest in that language rests upon two separate foundations: there are two separate principles concerned in its pretensions; and by accident in part, but in part also through the silent and inevitable march of human progress, there has been steadily gathering for many years an interest of something like sceptical and hostile curiosity about each of these principles, considered as problems open to variable solutions, as problems already viewed from different national centres, and as problems also that press forward to some solution or other with more and more of a clamorous emphasis, in proportion as they tend to consequences no longer merely speculative and scholastic, but which more and more reveal features largely practical and political. The two principles upon which the English language rests the burden of [Pg 56]its paramount interest, are these:—first, its powers, the range of its endowments; secondly, its apparent destiny. Some subtle judges in this field of criticism are of opinion, and ever had that opinion, that amongst the modern languages which originally had compass enough of strength and opulence in their structure, or had received culture sufficient to qualify them plausibly for entering the arena of such a competition, the English had certain peculiar and inappreciable aptitudes for the highest offices of interpretation. Twenty-five centuries ago, this beautiful little planet on which we live might be said to have assembled and opened her first parliament for representing the grandeur of the human intellect. That particular assembly, I mean, for celebrating the Olympic Games about four centuries and a half before the era of Christ, when Herodotus opened the gates of morning for the undying career of history, by reading to the congregated children of Hellas, to the whole representative family of civilisation, that loveliest of earthly narratives, which, in nine musical cantos, unfolded the whole luxury of human romance as at the bar of some austere historic Areopagus, and, inversely again, which crowded the total abstract of human records, sealed as with the seal of Delphi in the luxurious pavilions of human romance.
That most memorable of Panhellenic festivals it was, which first made known to each other the two [Pg 58]houses of Grecian blood that typified its ultimate and polar capacities, the most and the least of ex[Pg 59]orbitations, the utmost that were possible from its equatorial centre; viz., on the one side, the Asiatic Ionian, who spoke the sweet musical dialect of Homer, and, on the other side, the austere Dorian, whom ten centuries could not teach that human life brought with it any pleasure, or any business, or any holiness of duty, other or loftier than that of war. If it were possible that, under the amenities of a Grecian sky, too fierce a memento could whisper itself of torrid zones, under the stern discipline of the Doric Spartan it was that you looked for it; or, on the other hand, if the lute might, at intervals, be heard or fancied warbling too effeminately for the martial European key of the Grecian muses, amidst the sweet blandishments it was of Ionian groves that you arrested the initial elements of such a relaxing modulation. Twenty-five centuries ago, when Europe and Asia met for brotherly participation in the noblest, perhaps, of all recorded solemnities, viz., the inauguration of History in its very earliest and prelusive page, the coronation (as with propriety we may call it) of the earliest (perhaps even yet the greatest?) historic artist, what was the language employed as the instrument of so great a federal act? It was that divine Grecian language to which, on the model of the old differential compromise in favour of Themistocles, all rival languages would cordially have conceded the second honour. If now, which is not impossible, any occasion should arise for a modern congress of the leading nations that represent civilisation, not probably in[Pg 60] the Isthmus of Corinth, but on that of Darien, it would be a matter of mere necessity, and so far hardly implying any expression of homage, that the English language should take the station formerly accorded to the Grecian. But I come back to the thesis which I announced, viz., to the twofold onus which the English language is called upon to sustain:—first, to the responsibility attached to its powers; secondly, to the responsibility and weight of expectation attached to its destiny. To the questions growing out of the first, I will presently return. But for the moment, I will address myself to the nature of that Destiny, which is often assigned to the English language: what is it? and how far is it in a fair way of fulfilling this destiny?
As early as the middle of the last century, and by people with as little enthusiasm as David Hume, it had become the subject of plain prudential speculations, in forecasting the choice of a subject, or of the language in which it should reasonably be treated, that the area of expectation for an English writer was prodigiously expanding under the development of our national grandeur, by whatever names of 'colonial' or 'national' it might be varied or disguised. The issue of the American War, and the sudden expansion of the American Union into a mighty nation on a scale corresponding to that of the four great European potentates—Russia, Austria, England, and France—was not in those days suspected. But the tendencies could not be mistaken. And the same issue was fully anticipated, though undoubtedly through the steps of a very much slower process. Whilst disputing about the items on the [Pg 61]tess apettiele, the disputed facts were overtaking us, and flying past us, on the most gigantic scale. All things were changing: and the very terms of the problem were themselves changing, and putting on new aspects, in the process and at the moment of enunciation. For instance, it had been sufficiently seen that another Christendom, far more colossal than the old Christendom of Europe, might, and undoubtedly would, form itself rapidly in America. Against the tens of millions in Europe would rise up, like the earth-born children of Deucalion and Pyrrha (or of the Theban Cadmus and Hermione) American millions counted by hundreds. But from what radix? Originally, it would have been regarded as madness to take Ireland, in her Celtic element, as counting for anything. But of late—whether rationally, however, I will inquire for a brief moment or so—the counters have all changed in these estimates. The late Mr O'Connell was the parent of these hyperbolical anticipations. To count his ridiculous 'monster-meetings' by hundreds of thousands, and then at last by millions, cost nobody so much as a blush; and considering the open laughter and merriment with which all O'Connell estimates were accepted and looked at, I must think that the London Standard was more deeply to blame than any other political party, in giving currency and acceptation to the nursery exaggerations of Mr O'Connell. Meantime those follies came to an end. Mr O'Connell died; all was finished: and a new form of mendacity was transferred to America. There has always existed in the United States one remarkable phenomenon of Irish politics applied to the deception of both English, Americans, and Irish. [Pg 62]All people who have given any attention to partisanship and American politics, are aware of a rancorous malice burning sullenly amongst a small knot of Irishmen, and applying itself chiefly to the feeding of an interminable feud against England and all things English. This, as it chiefly expresses itself in American journals, naturally passes for the product of American violence; which in reality it is not. And hence it happens, and for many years it has happened, that both Englishmen and Americans are perplexed at intervals by a malice and an acharnement of hatred to England, which reads very much like that atrocious and viperous malignity imputed to the father of Hannibal against the Romans. It is noticeable, both as keeping open a peculiar exasperation of Irish patriotism absurdly directed against England; as doing a very serious injustice to Americans, who are thus misrepresented as the organs of this violence, so exclusively Irish; and, finally, as the origin of the monstrous delusion which I now go on to mention. The pretence of late put forward is, that the preponderant element in the American population is indeed derived from the British Islands, but by a vast overbalance from Ireland, and from the Celtic part of the Irish population. This monstrous delusion has recently received an extravagant sanction from the London Quarterly Review. Half a dozen other concurrent papers, in journals political and literary, hold the same language. And the upshot of the whole is—that, whilst the whole English element (including the earliest colonisation of the New England states at the beginning of the seventeenth century, and including the whole stream of British emigration [Pg 63]since the French Revolution) is accredited for no more than three and a half millions out of pretty nearly twenty millions of white American citizens, on the other hand, against this English element, is set up an Irish (meaning a purely Hiberno-Celtic) element, amounting—oh, genius of blushing, whither hast thou fled?—to a total of eight millions. Anglo-Saxon blood, it seems, is in a miserable minority in the United States; whilst the German blood composes, we are told, a respectable nation of five millions; and the Irish-Celtic young noblemen, though somewhat at a loss for shoes, already count as high as eight millions!
Now, if there were any semblance of truth in all this, we should have very good reason indeed to tremble for the future prospects of the English language throughout the Union. Eight millions struggling with three and a half should already have produced some effect on the very composition of Congress. Meantime, against these audacious falsehoods I observe a reasonable paper in the Times (August 23, 1852), rating the Celtic contribution from Ireland—that is, exclusively of all the Ulster contribution—at about two millions; which, however, I view as already an exaggeration, considering the number that have always by preference resorted to the Canadas. Two millions, whom poverty, levity, and utter want of all social or political consideration, have reduced to ciphers the most absolute—two millions, in the very lowest and most abject point of political depression, cannot do much to disturb the weight of the English language: which, accordingly, [Pg 64]on another occasion, I will proceed to consider, with and without the aid of the learned Dr Gordon Latham, and sometimes (if he will excuse me) in defiance of that gentleman, though far enough from defiance in any hostile or unfriendly sense.
This mention of Allan Cunningham recalls to my recollection an affair which retains one part of its interest to this day, arising out of the very important casuistical question which it involves. We Protestant nations are in the habit of treating casuistry as a field of speculation, false and baseless per se; nay, we regard it not so much in the light of a visionary and idle speculation, as one positively erroneous in its principles, and mischievous for its practical results. This is due in part to the disproportionate importance which the Church of Rome has always attached to casuistry; making, in fact, this supplementary section of ethics take precedency of its elementary doctrines in their catholic simplicity: as though the plain and broad highway of morality were scarcely ever the safe road, but that every case of human conduct were to be treated as an exception, and never as lying within the universal rule: and thus forcing the simple, honest-minded Christian to travel upon a[Pg 66] tortuous by-road, in which he could not advance a step in security without a spiritual guide at his elbow: and, in fact, whenever the hair-splitting casuistry is brought, with all its elaborate machinery, to bear upon the simplicities of household life, and upon the daily intercourse of the world, there it has the effect (and is expressly cherished by the Romish Church with a view to the effect) of raising the spiritual pastor into a sort of importance which corresponds to that of an attorney. The consulting casuist is, in fact, to all intents and purposes, a moral attorney. For, as the plainest man, with the most direct purposes, is yet reasonably afraid to trust himself to his own guidance in any affair connected with questions of law; so also, when taught to believe that an upright intention and good sense are equally insufficient in morals, as they are in law, to keep him from stumbling or from missing his road, he comes to regard a conscience-keeper as being no less indispensable for his daily life and conversation, than his legal agent, or his professional 'man of business,' for the safe management of his property, and for his guidance amongst the innumerable niceties which beset the real and inevitable intricacies of rights and duties, as they grow out of human enactments and a complex condition of society. Fortunately for the happiness of human nature and its dignity, those holier rights and duties which grow out of laws heavenly and divine, written by the finger of God upon the heart of every rational creature, are beset by no such intricacies, and require, therefore, no such vicarious agency for their practical assertion. The primal duties of life, like the primal charities, are placed high above [Pg 67]us—legible to every eye, and shining like the stars, with a splendour that is read in every clime, and translates itself into every language at once. Such is the imagery of Wordsworth. But this is otherwise estimated in the policy of papal Rome: and casuistry usurps a place in her spiritual economy, to which our Protestant feelings demur. So far, however, the question between us and Rome is a question of degrees. They push casuistry into a general and unlimited application; we, if at all, into a very narrow one. But another difference there is between us even more important; for it regards no mere excess in the quantity of range allowed to casuistry, but in the quality of its speculations: and which it is (more than any other cause) that has degraded the office of casuistical learning amongst us. Questions are raised, problems are entertained, by the Romish casuistry, which too often offend against all purity and manliness of thinking. And that objection occurs forcibly here, which Southey (either in The Quarterly Review or in his Life of Wesley) has urged and expanded with regard to the Romish and also the Methodist practice of auricular confession—viz., that, as it is practically managed, not leaving the person engaged in this act to confess according to the light of his own conscience, but at every moment interfering, on the part of the confessor, to suggest leading questions (as lawyers call them), and to throw the light of confession upon parts of the experience which native modesty would leave in darkness,—so managed, the practice of confession is undoubtedly the most demoralising practice known to any Christian society. Innocent young persons, whose thoughts [Pg 68]would never have wandered out upon any impure images or suggestions, have their ingenuity and their curiosity sent roving upon unlawful quests: they are instructed to watch what else would pass undetained in the mind, and would pass unblameably, on the Miltonic principle: ('Evil into the mind of God or man may come unblamed,' &c.) Nay, which is worst of all, unconscious or semi-conscious thoughts and feelings or natural impulses, rising, like a breath of wind under some motion of nature, and again dying away, because not made the subject of artificial review and interpretation, are now brought powerfully under the focal light of the consciousness: and whatsoever is once made the subject of consciousness, can never again have the privilege of gay, careless thoughtlessness—the privilege by which the mind, like the lamps of a mail-coach, moving rapidly through the midnight woods, illuminate, for one instant, the foliage or sleeping umbrage of the thickets; and, in the next instant, have quitted them, to carry their radiance forward upon endless successions of objects. This happy privilege is forfeited for ever, when the pointed significancy of the confessor's questions, and the direct knowledge which he plants in the mind, have awakened a guilty familiarity with every form of impurity and unhallowed sensuality.
Here, then, are objections sound and deep, to casuistry, as managed in the Romish church. Every possible objection ever made to auricular confession applies with equal strength to casuistry; and some objections, besides these, are peculiar to itself. And yet, after all, these are but objections to casuistry as treated by a particular church. Casuistry in itself[Pg 69]—casuistry as a possible, as a most useful, and a most interesting speculation—remains unaffected by any one of these objections; for none applies to the essence of the case, but only to its accidents, or separable adjuncts. Neither is this any curious or subtle observation of little practical value. The fact is as far otherwise as can be imagined—the defect to which I am here pointing, is one of the most clamorous importance. Of what value, let me ask, is Paley's Moral Philosophy? What is its imagined use? Is it that in substance it reveals any new duties, or banishes as false any old ones? No; but because the known and admitted duties—duties recognised in every system of ethics—are here placed (successfully or not) upon new foundations, or brought into relation with new principles not previously perceived to be in any relation whatever. This, in fact, is the very meaning of a theory or contemplation, [Θεωρια,] [Pg 70]when A, B, C, old and undisputed facts have their relations to each other developed. It is not, therefore, for any practical benefit in action, so much as for the satisfaction of the understanding, when reflecting on a man's own actions, the wish to see what his conscience or his heart prompts reconciled to general laws of thinking—this is the particular service performed by Paley's Moral Philosophy. It does not so much profess to tell what you are to do, as the why and the wherefore; and, in particular, to show how one rule of action may be reconciled to some other rule of equal authority, but which, apparently, is in hostility to the first. Such, then, is the utmost and highest aim of the Paleyian or the Ciceronian ethics, as they exist. Meantime, the grievous defect to which I have adverted above—a defect equally found in all systems of morality, from the Nichomachéan ethics of Aristotle downwards—is the want of a casuistry, by way of supplement to the main system, and governed by the spirit of the very same laws, which the writer has previously employed in the main body of his work. And the immense superiority of this supplementary section, to the main body of the systems, would appear in this, that the latter I have just been saying, aspires only to guide the reflecting judgment in harmonising the different parts of his own conduct, so as to bring them under the same law; whereas the casuistical section, in the supplement, would seriously undertake to guide the conduct, in many doubtful cases, of action—cases which are so [Pg 71]regarded by all thinking persons. Take, for example, the case which so often arises between master and servant, and in so many varieties of form—a case which requires you to decide between some violation of your conscience, on the one hand, as to veracity, by saying something that is not strictly true, as well as by evading (and that is often done) all answer to inquiries which you are unable to meet satisfactorily—a violation of your conscience to this extent, and in this way; or, on the other hand, a still more painful violation of your conscience in consigning deliberately some young woman—faulty, no doubt, and erring, but yet likely to derive a lesson from her own errors, and the risk to which they have exposed her—consigning her, I say, to ruin, by refusing her a character, and thus shutting the door upon all the paths by which she might retrace her steps. This I state as one amongst the many cases of conscience daily occurring in the common business of the world. It would surprise any reader to find how many they are; in fact, a very large volume might be easily collected of such cases as are of ordinary occurrence. Casuistry, the very word casuistry expresses the science which deals with such cases: for as a case, in the declension of a noun, means a falling away, or a deflection from the upright nominative (rectus), so a case in ethics implies some falling off, or deflection from the high road of catholic morality. Now, of all such cases, one, perhaps the most difficult to manage, the most intractable, whether for consistency of thinking as to the theory of morals, or for consistency of action as to the practice of morals, is the case of DUELLING.
As an introduction, I will state my story—the case [Pg 72]for the casuist; and then say one word on the reason of the case.
First, let me report the case of a friend—a distinguished lawyer at the English bar. I had the circumstances from himself, which lie in a very small compass; and, as my friend is known, to a proverb almost, for his literal accuracy in all statements of fact, there need be no fear of any mistake as to the main points of the case. He was one day engaged in pleading before the Commissioners of Bankruptcy; a court then, newly appointed, and differently constituted, I believe, in some respects, from its present form. That particular commissioner, as it happened, who presided at the moment when the case occurred, had been recently appointed, and did not know the faces of those who chiefly practised in the court. All things, indeed, concurred to favour his mistake: for the case itself came on in a shape or in a stage which was liable to misinterpretation, from the partial view which it allowed of the facts, under the hurry of the procedure; and my friend, also, unluckily, had neglected to assume his barrister's costume, so that he passed, in the commissioner's appreciation, as an attorney. 'What if he had been an attorney?' it may be said: 'was he, therefore, less entitled to courtesy or justice?' Certainly not; nor is it my business to apologise for the commissioner. But it may easily be imagined, and (making allowances for the confusion of hurry and imperfect knowledge of the case) it does offer something in palliation of the judge's rashness, that, amongst a large heap of 'Old Bailey' attorneys, who notoriously attended this court for the express purpose of whitewashing their [Pg 73]clients, and who were in bad odour as tricksters, he could hardly have been expected to make a special exception in favour of one particular man, who had not protected himself by the insignia of his order. His main error, however, lay in misapprehending the case: misapprehension lent strength to the assumption that my friend was an 'Old Bailey' (i. e., a sharking) attorney; whilst, on the other hand, that assumption lent strength to his misapprehension of the case. Angry interruptions began: these, being retorted or resented with just indignation, produced an irritation and ill temper, which, of themselves, were quite sufficient to raise a cloud of perplexity over any law process, and to obscure it for any understanding. The commissioner grew warmer and warmer; and, at length, he had the presumption to say:—'Sir, you are a disgrace to your profession.' When such sugar-plums, as Captain M'Turk the peacemaker observes, were flying between them, there could be no room for further parley. That same night the commissioner was waited on by a friend of the barrister's, who cleared up his own misconceptions to the disconcerted judge; placed him, even to his own judgment, thoroughly in the wrong; and then most courteously troubled him for a reference to some gentleman, who would arrange the terms of a meeting for the next day. The commissioner was too just and grave a man to be satisfied with himself, on a cool review of his own conduct. Here was a quarrel ripened into a mortal feud, likely enough to terminate in wounds, or, possibly, in death to one of the parties, which, on his side, carried with it no palliations from any provocation [Pg 74]received, or from wrong and insult, in any form, sustained: these, in an aggravated shape, could be pleaded by my friend, but with no opening for retaliatory pleas on the part of the magistrate. That name, again, of magistrate, increased his offence and pointed its moral: he, a conservator of the laws—he, a dispenser of equity, sitting even at the very moment on the judgment seat—he to have commenced a brawl, nay to have fastened a quarrel upon a man even then of some consideration and of high promise; a quarrel which finally tended to this result—shoot or be shot. That commissioner's situation and state of mind, for the succeeding night, were certainly not enviable: like Southey's erring painter, who had yielded to the temptation of the subtle fiend,
With repentance his only companion he lay;
And a dismal companion is she.
Meantime, my friend—what was his condition; and how did he pass the interval? I have heard him feelingly describe the misery, the blank anguish of this memorable night. Sometimes it happens that a man's conscience is wounded; but this very wound is the means, perhaps, by which his feelings are spared for the present: sometimes his feelings are lacerated; but this very laceration makes the ransom for his conscience. Here, on the contrary, his feelings and his happiness were dimmed by the very same cause which offered pain and outrage to his conscience. He was, upon principle, a hater of duelling. Under any circumstances, he would have condemned the man who could, for a light cause, or almost for the weightiest, have so much as accepted a challenge. Yet, here he was positively offering a challenge; and [Pg 75]to whom? To a man whom he scarcely knew by sight; whom he had never spoken to until this unfortunate afternoon; and towards whom (now that the momentary excitement of anger had passed away) he felt no atom of passion or resentment whatsoever. As a free 'unhoused' young man, therefore, had he been such, without ties or obligations in life, he would have felt the profoundest compunction at the anticipation of any serious injury inflicted upon another man's hopes or happiness, or upon his own. But what was his real situation? He was a married man, married to the woman of his choice within a very few years: he was also a father, having one most promising son, somewhere about three years old. His young wife and his son composed his family; and both were dependent, in the most absolute sense, for all they possessed or they expected—for all they had or ever could have—upon his own exertions. Abandoned by him, losing him, they forfeited, in one hour, every chance of comfort, respectability, or security from scorn and humiliation. The mother, a woman of strong understanding and most excellent judgment—good and upright herself—liable, therefore, to no habit of suspicion, and constitutionally cheerful, went to bed with her young son, thinking no evil. Midnight came, one, two o'clock; mother and child had long been asleep; nor did either of them dream of that danger which even now was yawning under their feet. The barrister had spent the hours from ten to two in drawing up his will, and in writing such letters as might have the best chance, in case of fatal issue to himself, for obtaining some aid to the desolate condition of those two beings whom he would [Pg 76]leave behind, unprotected and without provision. Oftentimes he stole into the bedroom, and gazed with anguish upon the innocent objects of his love; and, as his conscience now told him, of his bitterest perfidy. 'Will you then leave us? Are you really going to betray us? Will you deliberately consign us to life-long poverty, and scorn, and grief?' These affecting apostrophes he seemed, in the silence of the night, to hear almost with bodily ears. Silent reproaches seemed written upon their sleeping features; and once, when his wife suddenly awakened under the glare of the lamp which he carried, he felt the strongest impulse to fly from the room; but he faltered, and stood rooted to the spot. She looked at him smilingly, and asked why he was so long in coming to bed. He pleaded an excuse, which she easily admitted, of some law case to study against the morning, or some law paper to draw. She was satisfied; and fell asleep again. He, however, fearing, above all things, that he might miss the time for his appointment, resolutely abided by his plan of not going to bed; for the meeting was to take place at Chalk Farm, and by half-past five in the morning: that is, about one hour after sunrise. One hour and a half before this time, in the gray dawn, just when the silence of Nature and of mighty London was most absolute, he crept stealthily, and like a guilty thing, to the bedside of his sleeping wife and child; took, what he believed might be his final look of them: kissed them softly; and, according to his own quotation from Coleridge's Remorse,
In agony that could not be remembered;
and a conflict with himself that defied all rehearsal, [Pg 77]he quitted his peaceful cottage at Chelsea in order to seek for the friend who had undertaken to act as his second. He had good reason, from what he had heard on the night before, to believe his antagonist an excellent shot; and, having no sort of expectation that any interruption could offer to the regular progress of the duel, he, as the challenger, would have to stand the first fire; at any rate, conceiving this to be the fair privilege of the party challenged, he did not mean to avail himself of any proposal for drawing lots upon the occasion, even if such a proposal should happen to be made. Thus far the affair had travelled through the regular stages of expectation and suspense; but the interest of the case as a story was marred and brought to an abrupt conclusion by the conduct of the commissioner. He was a man of known courage, but he also, was a man of conscientious scruples; and, amongst other instances of courage, had the courage to own himself in the wrong. He felt that his conduct hitherto had not been wise or temperate, and that he would be sadly aggravating his original error by persisting in aiming at a man's life, upon which life hung also the happiness of others, merely because he had offered to that man a most unwarranted insult. Feeling this, he thought fit, at first coming upon the ground, to declare that, having learned, since the scene in court, the real character of his antagonist, and the extent of his own mistake, he was resolved to brave all appearances and ill-natured judgments, by making an ample apology; which, accordingly, he did; and so the affair terminated. I have thought it right, however, to report the circumstances, both because [Pg 78]they were really true in every particular, but, much more, because they place in strong relief one feature, which is often found in these cases, and which is allowed far too little weight in distributing the blame between the parties: to this I wish to solicit the reader's attention. During the hours of this never-to-be-forgotten night of wretchedness and anxiety, my friend's reflection was naturally forced upon the causes which had produced it. In the world's judgment, he was aware that he himself, as the one charged with the most weighty responsibility, (those who depended upon him being the most entirely helpless,) would have to sustain by much the heaviest censure: and yet what was the real proportion of blame between the parties? He, when provoked and publicly insulted, had retorted angrily: that was almost irresistible under the constitution of human feelings; the meekest of men could scarcely do less. But surely the true onus of wrong and moral responsibility for all which might follow, rested upon that party who, giving way to mixed impulses of rash judgment and of morose temper, had allowed himself to make a most unprovoked assault upon the character of one whom he did not know; well aware that such words, uttered publicly by a person in authority, must, by some course or other, be washed out and cancelled; or, if not, that the party submitting to such defamatory insults, would at once exile himself from the society and countenance of his professional brethren. Now, then, in all justice, it should be so ordered that the weight of public indignation might descend upon him, whoever he might be, (and, of course, the more heavily, according to the authority of his station and [Pg 79]his power of inflicting wrong,) who should thus wantonly abuse his means of influence, to the dishonour or injury of an unoffending party. We clothe a public officer with power, we arm him with influential authority over public opinion; not that he may apply these authentic sanctions to the backing of his own malice, and giving weight to his private caprices: and, wherever such abuse takes place, then it should be so contrived that some reaction in behalf of the injured person might receive a sanction equally public. And, upon this point, I shall say a word or two more, after first stating my own case; a case where the outrage was far more insufferable, more deliberate, and more malicious; but, on the other hand, in this respect less effectual for injury, that it carried with it no sanction from any official station or repute in the unknown parties who offered the wrong. The circumstances were these:—In 1824, I had come up to London upon an errand in itself sufficiently vexatious—of fighting against pecuniary embarrassments, by literary labours; but, as had always happened hitherto, with very imperfect success, from the miserable thwartings I incurred through the deranged state of the liver. My zeal was great, and my application was unintermitting; but spirits radically vitiated, chiefly through the direct mechanical depression caused by one important organ deranged; and, secondly, by a reflex effect of depression through my own thoughts, in estimating my prospects; together with the aggravation of my case, by the inevitable exile from my own mountain home,—all this reduced the value of my exertions in a deplorable way. It was rare indeed that I could [Pg 80]satisfy my own judgment, even tolerably, with the quality of any literary article I produced; and my power to make sustained exertions, drooped, in a way I could not control, every other hour of the day: insomuch, that what with parts to be cancelled, and what with whole days of torpor and pure defect of power to produce anything at all, very often it turned out that all my labours were barely sufficient (some times not sufficient) to meet the current expenses of my residence in London. Three months' literary toil terminated, at times, in a result = 0; the whole plus being just equal to the minus, created by two separate establishments, and one of them in the most expensive city of the world. Gloomy, indeed, was my state of mind at that period: for, though I made prodigious efforts to recover my health, (sensible that all other efforts depended for their result upon this elementary effort, which was the conditio sine qua non for the rest), yet all availed me not; and a curse seemed to settle upon whatever I then undertook. Such was my frame of mind on reaching London: in fact it never varied. One canopy of murky clouds (a copy of that dun atmosphere which settles so often upon London) brooded for ever upon my spirits, which were in one uniformly low key of cheerless despondency; and, on this particular morning, my depression had been deeper than usual, from the effects of a long, continuous journey of 300 miles, and of exhaustion from want of sleep. I had reached London, about six o'clock in the morning, by one of the northern mails; and, resigning myself as usual in such cases, to the chance destination of the coach, after delivering our bags in Lombard Street, I was [Pg 81]driven down to a great city hotel. Here there were hot baths; and, somewhat restored by this luxurious refreshment, about eight o'clock I was seated at a breakfast table; upon which, in a few minutes, as an appendage not less essential than the tea-service, one of the waiters laid that morning's Times, just reeking from the press. The Times, by the way, is notoriously the leading journal of Europe anywhere; but, in London, and more peculiarly in the city quarter of London, it enjoys a pre-eminence scarcely understood elsewhere. Here it is not a morning paper, but the morning paper: no other is known, no other is cited as authority in matters of fact. Strolling with my eye indolently over the vast Babylonian confusion of the enormous columns, naturally as one of the corps littéraire, I found my attention drawn to those regions of the paper which announced forthcoming publications. Amongst them was a notice of a satirical journal, very low priced, and already advanced to its third or fourth number. My heart palpitated a little on seeing myself announced as the principal theme for the malice of the current number. The reader must not suppose that I was left in any doubt as to the quality of the notice with which I had been honoured; and that, by possibility, I was solacing my vanity with some anticipation of honeyed compliments. That, I can assure him, was made altogether impossible, by the kind of language which flourished in the very foreground of the programme, and even of the running title. The exposure and depluming (to borrow a good word from the fine old rhetorician, Fuller,) of the leading 'humbugs' of the age—that was announced as the regular business of [Pg 82]the journal: and the only question which remained to be settled was, the more or less of the degree; and also one other question, even more interesting still, viz.—whether personal abuse were intermingled with literary. Happiness, as I have experienced in other periods of my life, deep domestic happiness, makes a man comparatively careless of ridicule, of sarcasm, or of abuse. But calamity—the degradation, in the world's eye, of every man who is fighting with pecuniary difficulties—exasperates beyond all that can be imagined, a man's sensibility to insult. He is even apprehensive of insult—tremulously fantastically apprehensive, where none is intended; and like Wordsworth's shepherd, with his very understanding consciously abused and depraved by his misfortunes is ready to say, at all hours—
And every man I met or faced,
Methought he knew some ill of me.
Some notice, perhaps, the newspaper had taken of this new satirical journal, or some extracts might have been made from it; at all events, I had ascertained its character so well that, in this respect, I had nothing to learn. It now remained to get the number which professed to be seasoned with my particular case; and it may be supposed that I did not loiter over my breakfast after this discovery. Something which I saw or suspected amongst the significant hints of a paragraph or advertisement, made me fear that there might possibly be insinuations or downright assertion in the libel requiring instant public notice; and, therefore, on a motive of prudence, had I even otherwise felt that indifference for slander which now I do feel, but which, in those [Pg 83]years, morbid irritability of temperament forbade me to affect, I should still have thought it right to look after the work; which now I did: and, by nine o'clock in the morning—an hour at which few people had seen me for years—I was on my road to Smithfield. Smithfield? Yes; even so. All known and respectable publishers having declined any connexion with the work, the writers had facetiously resorted to this aceldama, or slaughtering quarter of London—to these vast shambles, as typical, I suppose, of their own slaughtering spirit. On my road to Smithfield, I could not but pause for one moment to reflect on the pure defecated malice which must have prompted an attack upon myself. Retaliation or retort it could not pretend to be. To most literary men, scattering their written reviews, or their opinions, by word of mouth, to the right and the left with all possible carelessness, it never can be matter of surprise, or altogether of complaint, (unless as a question of degrees,) that angry notices, or malicious notices, should be taken of themselves. Few, indeed, of literary men can pretend to any absolute innocence from offence, and from such even as may have seemed deliberate. But I, for my part, could. Knowing the rapidity with which all remarks of literary men upon literary men are apt to circulate, I had studiously and resolutely forborne to say anything, whether of a writer or a book, unless where it happened that I could say something that would be felt as complimentary. And as to written reviews, so much did I dislike the assumption of judicial functions and authority over the works of my own brother authors and contemporaries, that I have, in my whole life, [Pg 84]written only two; at that time only one; and that one, though a review of an English novel, was substantially a review of a German book, taking little notice, or none, of the English translator; for, although he, a good German scholar now, was a very imperfect one at that time, and was, therefore, every way open to criticism, I had evaded this invidious office applied to a novice in literature, and (after pointing out one or two slight blemishes of trivial importance) all that I said of a general nature was a compliment to him upon the felicity of his verses. Upon the German author I was, indeed, severe, but hardly as much as he deserved. The other review was a tissue of merriment and fun; and though, it is true, I did hear that the fair authoress was offended at one jest, I may safely leave it for any reader to judge between us. She, or her brother, amongst other Latin epigrams had one addressed to a young lady upon the loss of her keys. This, the substance of the lines showed to have been the intention; but (by a very venial error in one who was writing Latin from early remembrance of it, and not in the character of a professing scholar) the title was written De clavis instead of De clavibus amissis; upon which I observed that the writer had selected a singular topic for condolence with a young lady,—viz., 'on the loss of her cudgels;' (clavis, as an ablative, coming clearly from clava). This (but I can hardly believe it) was said to have offended Miss H.; and, at all events, this was the extent of my personalities. Many kind things I had said; much honour; much admiration, I had professed at that period of my life in occasional papers or private letters, towards many of [Pg 85]my contemporaries, but never anything censorious or harsh; and simply on a principle of courteous forbearance which I have felt to be due towards those who are brothers of the same liberal profession with one's self. I could not feel, when reviewing my whole life, that in any one instance, by act, by word, or by intention, I had offered any unkindness, far less any wrong or insult, towards a brother author. I was at a loss, therefore, to decipher the impulse under which the malignant libeller could have written, in making (as I suspected already) my private history the subject of his calumnies. Jealousy, I have since understood, jealousy, was the foundation of the whole. A little book of mine had made its way into drawing-rooms where some book of his had not been heard of. On reaching Smithfield, I found the publisher to be a medical bookseller, and, to my surprise, having every appearance of being a grave, respectable man; notwithstanding this undeniable fact, that the libellous journal, to which he thought proper to affix his sanction, trespassed on decency, not only by its slander, but, in some instances, by downright obscenity; and, worse than that, by prurient solicitations to the libidinous imagination, through blanks, seasonably interspersed. I said nothing to him in the way of inquiry; for I easily guessed that the knot of writers who were here clubbing their virus, had not so ill combined their plans as to leave them open to detection by a question from any chance stranger. Having, therefore, purchased a set of the journal, then amounting to three or four numbers, I went out; and in the elegant promenades of Smithfield, I read the lucubrations of my libeller. Fit academy [Pg 86]for such amenities of literature! Fourteen years have gone by since then; and, possibly, the unknown hound who yelled, on that occasion, among this kennel of curs, may, long since, have buried himself and his malice in the grave. Suffice it here to say, that, calm as I am now, and careless on recalling the remembrance of this brutal libel, at that time I was convulsed with wrath. As respected myself, there was a depth of malignity in the article which struck me as perfectly mysterious. How could any man have made an enemy so profound, and not even have suspected it? That puzzled me. For, with respect to the other objects of attack, such as Sir Humphrey Davy, &c., it was clear that the malice was assumed; that, at most, it was the gay impertinence of some man upon town, armed with triple Irish brass from original defect of feeling, and willing to raise an income by running amuck at any person just then occupying enough of public interest to make the abuse saleable. But, in my case, the man flew like a bull-dog at the throat, with a pertinacity and acharnement of malice that would have caused me to laugh immoderately, had it not been for one intolerable wound to my feelings. These mercenary libellers, whose stiletto is in the market, and at any man's service for a fixed price, callous and insensible as they are, yet retain enough of the principles common to human nature, under every modification, to know where to plant their wounds. Like savage hackney coachmen, they know where there is a raw. And the instincts of human nature teach them that every man is vulnerable through his female connexions. There lies his honour; there his strength; there his [Pg 87]weakness. In their keeping is the heaven of his happiness; in them and through them the earthy of its fragility. Many there are who do not feel the maternal relation to be one in which any excessive freight of honour or sensibility is embarked. Neither is the name of sister, though tender in early years, and impressive to the fireside sensibilities, universally and through life the same magical sound. A sister is a creature whose very property and tendency (qua sister) is to alienate herself, not to gather round your centre. But the names of wife and daughter these are the supreme and starry charities of life: and he who, under a mask, fighting in darkness, attacks you there, that coward has you at disadvantage. I stood in those hideous shambles of Smithfield: upwards I looked to the clouds, downwards to the earth, for vengeance. I trembled with excessive wrath—such was my infirmity of feeling at that time, and in that condition of health; and had I possessed forty thousand lives, all, and every one individually, I would have sacrificed in vindication of her that was thus cruelly libelled. Shall I give currency to his malice, shall I aid and promote it by repeating it? No. And yet why not? Why should I scruple, as if afraid to challenge his falsehoods?—why should I scruple to cite them? He, this libeller, asserted—But faugh!
This slander seemed to have been built upon some special knowledge of me; for I had often spoken with horror of those who could marry persons in a condition which obliged them to obedience—a case which had happened repeatedly within my own knowledge; and I had spoken on this ground, that the authority [Pg 88]of a master might be supposed to have been interposed, whether it really were so or not in favour of his designs; and thus a presumption, however false it might be, always remained that his wooing had been, perhaps, not the wooing of perfect freedom, so essential to the dignity of woman, and, therefore, essential to his own dignity; but that perhaps, it had been favoured by circumstances, and by opportunities created, if it had not even been favoured, by express exertions of authority. The libeller, therefore, did seem to have some knowledge of my peculiar opinions: yet, in other points, either from sincere ignorance or from affectation, and by way of turning aside suspicion, he certainly manifested a non-acquaintance with facts relating to me that must have been familiar enough to all within my circle.
Let me pursue the case to its last stage. The reader will say, perhaps, why complain of a paltry journal that assuredly never made any noise; for I, the reader, never heard of it till now. No, that is very possible; for the truth is, and odd enough it seems, this malicious journal prospered so little, that, positively, at the seventh No. it stopped. Laugh I did, and laugh I could not help but do, at this picture of baffled malice: writers willing and ready to fire with poisoned bullets, and yet perfectly unable to get an effective aim, from sheer want of co-operation on the part of the public.
However, the case as it respected me, went farther than it did with respect to the public. Would it be believed that human malice, with respect to a man not even known by sight to his assailants, as was clear from one part of their personalities, finally[Pg 89]—that is to say, months afterwards—adopted the following course:—The journal had sunk under public scorn and neglect; neglect at first, but, perhaps, scorn at the last; for, when the writers found that mere malice availed not to draw public attention, they adopted the plan of baiting their hooks with obscenity; and they published a paper, professing to be written by Lord Byron, called, 'My Wedding Night;' and very possible, from internal evidence, to have been really written by him; and yet the combined forces of Byron and obscenity failed to save them,—which is rather remarkable. Having sunk, one might suppose the journal was at an end, for good and evil; and, especially, that all, who had been molested by it, or held up to ridicule, might now calculate on rest. By no means: First of all they made inquiries about the localities of my residence, and the town nearest to my own family. Nothing was effected unless they carried the insult, addressed to my family, into the knowledge of that family and its circle. My cottage in Grasmere was just 280 miles from London, and eighteen miles from any town whatsoever. The nearest was Kendal; a place of perhaps 16,000 inhabitants; and the nearest therefore, at which there were any newspapers printed. There were two: one denominated The Gazette; the other The Chronicle. The first was Tory and Conservative; had been so from its foundation; and was, besides, generous in its treatment of private character. My own contributions to it I will mention hereafter. The Chronicle, on the other hand, was a violent reforming journal, and conducted in a partisan spirit. To this newspaper the article was addressed; by this [Pg 90]newspaper it was published; and by this it was carried into my own 'next-door' neighbourhood. Next-door neighbourhood? But that surely must be the very best direction these libellers could give to their malice; for there, at least, the falsehood of their malice must be notorious. Why, yes: and in that which was my neighbourhood, according to the most literal interpretation of the term, a greater favour could not have been done me, nor a more laughable humiliation for my unprovoked enemies. Commentary or refutation there needed none; the utter falsehood of the main allegations were so obvious to every man, woman, and child, that, of necessity, it discredited even those parts which might, for any thing known to my neighbours, have been true. Nay, it was the means of procuring for me a generous expression of sympathy, that would else have been wanting; for some gentlemen of the neighbourhood, who were but slightly known to me, put the malignant journal into the fire at a public reading-room. So far was well; but, on the other hand, in Kendal, a town nearly twenty miles distant, of necessity I was but imperfectly known; and though there was a pretty general expression of disgust at the character of the publication, and the wanton malignity which it bore upon its front, since, true or not true, no shadow of a reason was pleaded for thus bringing forward statements expressly to injure me, or to make me unhappy; yet there must have been many, in so large a place, who had too little interest in the question, or too limited means of inquiry, for ever ascertaining the truth. Consequently, in their minds, to this hour, my name, as one previously known to [Pg 91]them, and repeatedly before the town in connexion with political or literary articles in their Conservative journal, must have suffered.
But the main purpose, for which I have reported the circumstances of these two cases, relates to the casuistry of duelling. Casuistry, as I have already said, is the moral philosophy of cases—that is, of anomalous combinations of circumstances—that, for any reason whatsoever, do not fall, or do not seem to fall, under the general rules of morality. As a general rule, it must, doubtless, be unlawful to attempt another man's life, or to hazard your own. Very special circumstances must concur to make out any case of exception; and even then it is evident, that one of the parties must always be deeply in the wrong. But it does strike me, that the present casuistry of society upon the question of duelling, is profoundly wrong, and wrong by manifest injustice. Very little distinction is ever made, in practice, by those who apply their judgments to such cases, between the man who, upon principle, practises the most cautious self-restraint and moderation in his daily demeanour, never under any circumstance offering an insult, or any just occasion of quarrel, and resorting to duel only under the most insufferable provocation, between this man, on the one side, and the most wanton ruffian, on the other, who makes a common practice of playing upon other men's feelings, whether in reliance upon superior bodily strength, or upon the pacific disposition of conscientious men, and fathers of families. Yet, surely, the difference between them goes the whole extent of the interval between wrong and right. Even the question, 'Who gave the challenge?' [Pg 92]which is sometimes put, often merges virtually in the transcendant question, 'Who gave the provocation?' For it is important to observe, in both the cases which I have reported, that the onus of offering the challenge was thrown upon the unoffending party; and thus, in a legal sense, that party is made to give the provocation who, in a moral sense, received it. But surely, if even the law makes allowances for human infirmity, when provoked beyond what it can endure,—we, in our brotherly judgments upon each other, ought, a fortiori, to take into the equity of our considerations the amount and quality of the offence. It will be objected that the law, so far from allowing for, expressly refuses to allow for, sudden sallies of anger or explosions of vindictive fury, unless in so far as they are extempore, and before the reflecting judgment has had time to recover itself. Any indication that the party had leisure for calm review, or for a cool selection of means and contrivances in executing his vindictive purposes, will be fatal to a claim of that nature. This is true; but the nature of a printed libel is, continually to renew itself as an insult. The subject of it reads this libel, perhaps, in solitude; and, by a great exertion of self-command, resolves to bear it with fortitude and in silence. Some days after, in a public room, he sees strangers reading it also: he hears them scoffing and laughing loudly: in the midst of all this, he sees himself pointed out to their notice by some one of the party who happens to be acquainted with his person; and, possibly, if the libel take that particular shape which excessive malice is most likely to select, he will hear the name of some female relative, dearer, it may be [Pg 93]to him, and more sacred in his ears, than all this world beside, bandied about with scorn and mockery by those who have not the poor excuse of the original libellers, but are, in fact, adopting the second-hand malignity of others. Such cases, with respect to libels that are quickened into popularity by interesting circumstances, or by a personal interest attached to any of the parties, or by wit, or by extraordinary malice, or by scenical circumstances, or by circumstances unusually ludicrous, are but too likely to occur; and, with every fresh repetition, the keenness of the original provocation is renewed, and in an accelerated ratio. Again, with reference to my own case, or to any case resembling that, let it be granted that I was immoderately and unreasonably transported by anger at the moment;—I thought so myself, after a time, when the journal which published the libel sank under the public neglect; but this was an after consideration; and, at the moment, how heavy an aggravation was given to the stings of the malice, by the deep dejection, from embarrassed circumstances and from disordered health, which then possessed me; aggravations, perhaps, known to the libellers as encouragements for proceeding at the time, and often enough likely to exist in other men's cases. Now, in the case as it actually occurred, it so happened that the malicious writers had, by the libel, dishonoured themselves too deeply in the public opinion, to venture upon coming forward, in their own persons, to avow their own work; but suppose them to have done so (as, in fact, even in this case, they might have done, had they not published their intention of driving a regular trade in libel and in [Pg 94]slander); suppose them insolently to beard you in public haunts; to cross your path continually when in company with the very female relative upon whom they had done their best to point the finger of public scorn; and suppose them further, by the whole artillery of contemptuous looks, words, gestures, and unrepressed laughter, to republish, as it were, ratify, and publicly to apply, personally, their own original libel, as often as chance or as opportunity (eagerly improved) should throw you together in places of general resort; and suppose, finally, that the central figure—nay, in their account, the very butt throughout this entire drama of malice—should chance to be an innocent, gentle-hearted, dejected, suffering woman, utterly unknown to her persecutors, and selected as their martyr merely for her relationship to yourself—suppose her, in short, to be your wife—a lovely young woman sustained by womanly dignity, or else ready to sink into the earth with shame, under the cruel and unmanly insults heaped upon her, and having no protector upon earth but yourself: lay all this together, and then say whether, in such a case, the most philosophic or the most Christian patience might not excusably give way; whether flesh and blood could do otherwise than give way, and seek redress for the past, but, at all events, security for the future, in what, perhaps, might be the sole course open to you—an appeal to arms. Let it not be said that the case here proposed, by way of hypothesis, is an extreme one: for the very argument has contemplated extreme cases: since, whilst conceding that duelling is an unlawful and useless remedy for cases of ordinary wrong, where there is no malice to resist [Pg 95]a more conciliatory mode of settlement, and where it is difficult to imagine any deliberate insult except such as is palliated by intoxication—conceding this, I have yet supposed it possible that cases may arise, with circumstances of contumely and outrage, growing out of deep inexorable malice, which cannot be redressed, as things now are, without an appeal to the voye de fait. 'But this is so barbarous an expedient in days of high civilisation.' Why, yes, it labours with the semi-barbarism of chivalry: yet, on the other hand, this mention of chivalry reminds me to say, that if this practice of duelling share the blame of chivalry, one memorable praise there is, which also it may claim as common to them both. It is a praise which I have often insisted on; and the very sublime of prejudice I would challenge to deny it. Burke, in his well-known apology for chivalry, thus expresses his sense of the immeasurable benefits which it conferred upon society, as a supplementary code of law, reaching those cases which the weakness of municipal law was then unavailing to meet, and at a price so trivial in bloodshed or violence—he calls it 'the cheap defence of nations.' Yes, undoubtedly; and surely the same praise belongs incontestably to the law of duelling. For one duel in esse, there are ten thousand, every day of our lives, amid populous cities, in posse: one challenge is given, a myriad are feared: one life (and usually the most worthless, by any actual good rendered to society) is sacrificed, suppose triennially, from a nation; every life is endangered by certain modes of behaviour. Hence, then, and at a cost inconceivably trifling, the peace of society is maintained in cases which no law, no severity of [Pg 96]police, ever could effectually reach. Brutal strength would reign paramount in the walks of public life; brutal intoxication would follow out its lawless impulses, were it not for the fear which now is always in the rear—the fear of being summoned to a strict summary account, liable to the most perilous consequences. This is not open to denial: the actual basis upon which reposes the security of us all, the peace of our wives and our daughters, and our own immunity from the vilest degradations under their eyes, is the necessity, known to every gentleman, of answering for his outrages in a way which strips him of all unfair advantages, except one (which is not often possessed), which places the weak upon a level with the strong, and the quiet citizen upon a level with the military adventurer, or the ruffian of the gambling-house. The fact, I say, cannot be denied; neither can the low price be denied at which this vast result is obtained. And it is evident that, on the principle of expediency, adopted as the basis of morality by Paley, the justification of duelling is complete: for the greatest sum of immediate happiness is produced at the least possible sacrifice. But[Pg 97] there are many men of high moral principle, and yet not professing to rest upon Christianity, who reject this prudential basis of ethics as the death of all morality. And these men hold, that the social recognition of any one out of the three following dangerous and immoral principles, viz.—1st, That a man may lawfully sport with his own life; 2dly, That he may lawfully sport with the life of another; 3dly, That he may lawfully seek his redress for a social wrong, by any other channel than the law tribunals of the land: that the recognition of these, or any of them, by the jurisprudence of a nation, is a mortal wound to the very key-stone upon which the whole vast arch of morality reposes. Well, in candour, I must admit that, by justifying, in courts of judicature, through the verdicts of juries, that mode of personal redress and self-vindication, to heal and prevent which was one of the original motives for gathering into social communities, and setting up an empire of public law as paramount to all private exercise of power, a fatal wound is given to the sanctity of moral right, of the public conscience, and[Pg 98] of law in its elementary field. So much I admit; but I say also, that the case arises out of a great dilemma, with difficulties on both sides; and that, in all practical applications of philosophy, amongst materials so imperfect as men, just as in all attempts to realize the rigour of mathematical laws amongst earthly mechanics, inevitably there will arise such dilemmas and cases of opprobrium to the reflecting intellect. However, in conclusion, I shall say four things, which I request my opponent, whoever he may be, to consider; for they are things which certainly ought to have weight; and some important errors have arisen by neglecting them.
First, then, let him remember that it is the principle at stake—viz., the recognition by a legal tribunal, as lawful or innocent of any attempt to violate the laws, or to take the law into our own hands: this it is and the mortal taint which is thus introduced into the public morality of a Christian land, thus authentically introduced; thus sealed and countersigned by judicial authority; the majesty of law actually interfering to justify, with the solemnities of trial, a flagrant violation of law; this it is, this only, and not the amount of injury sustained by society, which gives value to the question. For, as to the injury, I have already remarked, that a very trivial annual loss—one life, perhaps, upon ten millions, and that life often as little practically valuable as any amongst us—that pays our fine or ransom in that account. And, in reality, there is one popular error made upon this subject, when the question is raised about the institution of some Court of Honour, or Court of Appeal in cases of injury to the feelings, under the [Pg 99]sanction of parliament, which satisfactorily demonstrates the trivial amount of injury sustained: it is said on such occasions that de minimis non curat lex—that the mischief, in fact, is too narrow and limited for the regard of the legislature. And we may be assured that, if the evil were ever to become an extensive one, the notice of Parliament soon would be attracted to the subject; and hence we may derive a hint for an amended view of the policy adopted in past ages. Princes not distinguished for their religious scruples, made it, in different ages and places, a capital offence to engage in a duel: whence it is inferred, falsely, that, in former times, a more public homage was paid to Christian principle. But the fact is, that not the anti-Christian character of the offence so much as its greater frequency, and the consequent extension of a civil mischief was the ruling consideration with the lawgiver. Among other causes for this greater prevalence of duels, was the composition of armies, more often brought together upon mercenary principles from a large variety of different nations, whose peculiar usages, points of traditional honour, and even the oddness of their several languages to the ear, formed a perpetual occasion of insult and quarrel. Fluellen's affair with Pistol, we may be sure, was no rare but a representative case.
Secondly, In confirmation of what I have said about duelling, as the great conductor for carrying off the excess of angry irritation in society, I will repeat what was said to me by a man of great ability and distinguished powers, as well as opportunities for observation, in reference to a provincial English [Pg 100]town, and the cabals which prevailed there. These cabals—some political, arising out of past electioneering contests; some municipal, arising out of the corporation disputes; some personal, arising out of family rivalships, or old traditionary disputes—had led to various feuds that vexed the peace of the town in a degree very considerably beyond the common experience of towns reaching the same magnitude. How was this accounted for? The word tradesman is, more than even the term middle class, liable to great ambiguity of meaning; for it includes a range so large as to take in some who tread on the heels even of the highest aristocracy, and some at the other end, who rank not at all higher than day-labourers or handicraftsmen. Now, those who ranked with gentlemen, took the ordinary course of gentlemen in righting themselves under personal insults; and the result was, that, amongst them or their families, no feuds were subsisting of ancient standing. No ill blood was nursed; no calumnies or conspicuous want of charity prevailed. Not that they often fought duels: on the contrary, a duel was a very rare event amongst the indigenous gentry of the place; but it was sufficient to secure all the effects of duelling, that it was known, with respect to this class, that, in the last resort, they were ready to fight. Now, on the other hand, the lowest order of tradesmen had their method of terminating quarrels—the old English method of their fathers—viz., by pugilistic contests. And they also cherished no malice against each other or amongst their families. 'But,' said my informant, 'some of those who occupied the intermediate stations in this hierarchy of trade, found themselves most [Pg 101]awkwardly situated. So far they shared in the refinements of modern society, that they disdained the coarse mode of settling quarrels by their fists. On the other hand, there was a special and peculiar reason pressing upon this class, which restrained them from aspiring to the more aristocratic modes of fighting. They were sensible of a ridicule, which everywhere attaches to many of the less elevated or liberal modes of exercising trade in going out to fight with sword and pistol. This ridicule was sharpened and made more effectual, in their case, from the circumstance of the Royal Family and the court making this particular town a frequent place of residence. Besides that apart from the ridicule, many of them depended for a livelihood upon the patronage of royalty or of the nobility, attached to their suite; and most of these patrons would have resented their intrusion upon the privileged ground of the aristocracy in conducting disputes of honour. What was the consequence? These persons, having no natural outlet for their wounded sensibilities, being absolutely debarred from any mode of settling their disputes, cherished inextinguishable feuds: their quarrels in fact had no natural terminations; and the result was, a spirit of malice and most unchristian want of charity, which could not hope for any final repose, except in death.' Such was the report of my observing friend: the particular town may be easily guessed at; and I have little doubt that its condition continues as of old.
Thirdly, It is a very common allegation against duelling, that the ancient Romans and Grecians never practised this mode of settling disputes; and the [Pg 102]inference is, of course, unfavourable, not to Christianity, but to us as inconsistent disciples of our own religion; and a second inference is, that the principle of personal honour, well understood, cannot require this satisfaction for its wounds. For the present I shall say nothing on the former head, but not for want of something to say. With respect to the latter, it is a profound mistake, founded on inacquaintance with the manners and the spirit of manners prevalent amongst these imperfectly civilised nations. Honour was a sense not developed in many of its modifications amongst either Greeks or Romans. Cudgelling was at one time used as the remedy in cases of outrageous libel and pasquinade. But it is a point very little to the praise of either people, that no vindictive notice was taken of any possible personalities, simply because the most hideous license had been established for centuries in tongue license and unmanly Billingsgate. This had been promoted by the example hourly ringing in their ears of vernile scurrility. Verna—that is, the slave born in the family—had each from the other one universal and proverbial character of foul-mouthed eloquence, which heard from infancy, could not but furnish a model almost unconsciously to those who had occasion publicly to practise vituperative rhetoric. What they remembered of this vernile licentiousness, constituted the staple of their talk in such situations. And the horrible illustrations left even by the most accomplished and literary of the Roman orators, of their shameless and womanly fluency in this dialect of unlicensed abuse, are evidences, not to be resisted, of such obtuseness, such coarseness of feeling, so utter a defect of all the [Pg 103]gentlemanly sensibilities, that no man, alive to the real state of things amongst them, would ever think of pleading their example in any other view than as an object of unmitigated disgust. At all events, the long-established custom of deluging each other in the Forum, or even in the Senate, with the foulest abuse, the precedent traditionally delivered through centuries before the time of Cæsar and Cicero, had so robbed it of its sting, that, as a subject for patient endurance, or an occasion for self conquest in mastering the feelings, it had no merit at all. Anger, prompting an appeal to the cudgel, there might be, but sense of wounded honour, requiring a reparation by appeal to arms, or a washing away by blood, no such feeling could have been subdued or overcome by a Roman, for none such existed. The feelings of wounded honour on such occasions, it will be allowed, are mere reflections (through sympathetic agencies) of feelings and opinions already existing, and generally dispersed through society. Now, in Roman society, the case was a mere subject for laughter; for there were no feelings or opinions pointing to honour, personal honour as a principle of action, nor, consequently, to wounded honour as a subject of complaint. The Romans were not above duelling, but simply not up to that level of civilisation.
Finally, with respect to the suggestion of a Court of Honour, much might be said that my limits will not allow; but two suggestions I will make. First, Recurring to a thing I have already said, I must repeat that no justice would be shown unless (in a spirit very different from that which usually prevails in society) the weight of public indignation and [Pg 104]the displeasure of the court were made to settle conspicuously upon the AGGRESSOR; not upon the challenger, who is often the party suffering under insufferable provocation (provocation which even the sternness of penal law and the holiness of Christian faith allow for), but upon the author of the original offence. Secondly, A much more searching investigation must be made into the conduct of the SECONDS than is usual in the unprofessional and careless inquisitions of the public into such affairs. Often enough, the seconds hold the fate of their principals entirely in their hands; and instances are not a few, within even my limited knowledge, of cases where murder has been really committed, not by the party who fired the fatal bullet, but by him who (having it in his power to interfere without loss of honour to any party) has cruelly thought fit—[and, in some instances, apparently for no purpose but that of decorating himself with the name of an energetic man, and of producing a public 'sensation,' as it is called—a sanguinary affair]—to goad on the tremulous sensibility of a mind distracted between the sense of honour on the one hand, and the agonising claims of a family on the other, into fatal extremities that might, by a slight concession, have been avoided. I could mention several instances; but, in some of these, I know the circumstances only by report. In one, however, I had my information from parties who were personally connected with the unhappy subject of the affair. The case was this:—A man of distinguished merit, whom I shall not describe more particularly, because it is no part of my purpose to recall old buried feuds, or to insinuate any personal [Pg 105]blame whatsoever (my business being not with this or that man, but with a system and its principles); this man, by a step well-meant but injudicious, and liable to a very obvious misinterpretation, as though taken in a view of self-interest, had entangled himself in a quarrel. That quarrel would have been settled amicably, or, if not amicably, at least without bloodshed, had it not been for an unlucky accident combined with a very unwise advice. One morning, after the main dispute had been pretty well adjusted, he was standing at the fireside after breakfast, talking over the affair so far as it had already travelled, when it suddenly and most unhappily came into his head to put this general question—'Pray, does it strike you that people will be apt, on a review of this whole dispute, to think that there has been too much talking and too little doing?' His evil genius so ordered it, that the man to whom he put this question, was one who, having no military character to rest on, could not (or thought he could not) recommend those pacific counsels which a truly brave man is ever ready to suggest—I put the most friendly construction upon his conduct—and his answer was this—'Why, if you insist upon my giving a faithful reply, if you will require me to be sincere (though I really wish you would not), in that case my duty is to tell you, that the world has been too free in its remarks—that it has, with its usual injustice, been sneering at literary men and paper pellets, as the ammunition in which they trade; in short, my dear friend, the world has presumed to say that not you only, but that both parties, have shown a little of'——'Yes; I know what you are going to say,' interrupted the [Pg 106]other, 'of the white feather. Is it not so?'—'Exactly; you have hit the mark—that is what they say. But how unjust it is; for, says I, but yesterday, to Mr. L. M., who was going on making himself merry with the affair in a way that was perfectly scandalous—"Sir," says I,'——but this says I never reached the ears of the unhappy man: he had heard enough; and, as a secondary dispute was still going on that had grown out of the first, he seized the very first opening which offered itself for provoking the issue of a quarrel. The other party was not backward or slack in answering the appeal; and thus, in one morning, the prospect was overcast—peace was no longer possible; and a hostile meeting was arranged. Even at this meeting much still remained in the power of the seconds: there was an absolute certainty that all fatal consequences might have been evaded, with perfect consideration for the honour of both parties. The principals must unquestionably have felt that; but if the seconds would not move in that direction, of course their lips were sealed. A more cruel situation could not be imagined: two persons, who never, perhaps, felt more than that fiction of enmity which belonged to the situation, that is to say, assumed the enmity which society presumes rationally incident to a certain position—assumed it as a point of honour, but did not heartily feel it; and even for the slight shade of animosity which, for half an hour, they might have really felt, had thoroughly quelled it before the meeting, these two persons—under no impulses whatever, good or bad, from within, but purely in a hateful necessity of servile obedience to a command from without—prepared to perpetrate what [Pg 107]must, in that frame of dispassionate temper have appeared to each, a purpose of murder, as regarded his antagonist—a purpose of suicide, as regarded himself. Simply a word, barely a syllable, was needed from the 'Friends' (such Friends!) of the parties, to have delivered them, with honour, from this dreadful necessity: that word was not spoken; and because a breath, a motion of the lips, was wanting—because, in fact, the seconds were thoughtless and without feeling, one of the parties has long slept in a premature grave—his early blossoms scattered to the wind—his golden promise of fruit blasted; and the other has since lived that kind of life, that, in my mind, he was happier who died. Something of the same kind happened in the duel between Lord Camelford and his friend, Mr. Best; something of the same kind in that between Colonel Montgomery and Captain Macnamara. In the former case, the quarrel was, at least, for a noble subject; it concerned a woman. But in the latter, a dog, and a thoughtless lash applied to his troublesome gambols, was the sole subject of dispute. The colonel, as is well known, a very elegant and generous young man, fell; and Captain Macnamara had thenceforwards a worm at his heart whose gnawings never died. He was a post-captain; and my brother afterwards sailed with him in quality of midshipman. From him I have often heard affecting instances of the degree in which the pangs of remorse had availed, to make one of the bravest men in the service a mere panic-haunted, and, in a moral sense, almost a paralytic wreck. He that, whilst his hand was unstained with blood, would have faced an army of fiends in discharge of his duty, [Pg 108]now fancied danger in every common rocking of a boat: he made himself at times, the subject of laughter at the messes of the junior and more thoughtless officers: and his hand, whenever he had occasion to handle a spy-glass, shook, (to use the common image,) or, rather, shivered, like an aspen tree. Now, if a regular tribunal, authenticated, by Parliament, as the fountain of law, and, by the Sovereign, as the fountain of honour, were, under the very narrowest constitution, to apply itself merely to a review of the whole conduct pursued by the seconds, even under this restriction such a tribunal would operate with great advantage. It is needless to direct any severity to the conduct of the principals, unless when that conduct has been outrageous or wanton in provocation: supposing anything tolerably reasonable and natural in the growth of the quarrel, after the quarrel is once 'constituted,' (to borrow a term of Scotch law,) the principals, as they are called with relation to the subject of dispute, are neither principals nor even secondaries for the subsequent management of the dispute: they are delivered up, bound hand and foot, into the hands of their technical 'friends'; passive to the law of social usage as regards the general necessity of pursuing the dispute; passive to the directions of their seconds as regards the particular mode of pursuing it. It is, therefore, the seconds who are the proper objects of notice for courts of honour; and the error has been, in framing the project of such a court, to imagine the inquiry too much directed upon the behaviour of those who cease to be free agents from the very moment that they become liable to any legal investigation what[Pg 109]ever: simply as quarrellers, the parties are no objects of question; they are not within the field of any police review; and the very first act which brings them within that field, translates the responsibility (because the free agency) from themselves to their seconds. The whole questio vexata, therefore, reduces itself to these logical moments, (to speak the language of mathematics:) the two parties mainly concerned in the case of duelling, are Society and the Seconds. The first, by authorising such a mode of redress; the latter, by conducting it. Now, I presume, it will be thought hopeless to arraign Society at the bar of any earthly court, or apply any censure or any investigation to its mode of thinking. To the principals, for[Pg 110] the reasons given, it would be unjust to apply them; and the inference is, that the seconds are the parties to whom their main agency should be directed—as the parties in whose hands lies the practical control of the whole affair, and the whole machinery of opportunities, (so easily improved by a wise humanity)—for sparing bloodshed, for promoting reconciliation, for making those overtures of accommodation and generous apology which the brave are so ready to agree to, in atonement for hasty words, or rash movements of passion, but which it is impossible for them to originate. In short, for impressing the utmost possible spirit of humanising charity and forbearance upon a practice which, after all, must for ever remain somewhat of an opprobrium to a Christian people; but which, tried by the law of worldly wisdom, is the finest bequest of chivalry; the most economic safety-valve for man's malice that man's wit could devise; the most absolute safe-guard of the weak against the brutal; and, finally, (once more to borrow the words of Burke,) in a sense the fullest and most practical, 'the cheap defence of nations;' not indeed against the hostility which besieges from without, but against the far more operative nuisance of bad passions that vex and molest the social intercourse of men by ineradicable impulses from within.
I may illustrate the value of one amongst the suggestions I have made, by looking back and applying it to part of my last anecdote: the case of that promising person who was cut off so prematurely for himself, and so ruinously for the happiness of the surviving antagonist. I may mention, (as a fact known to me on the very best authority,) that the Duke of Wellington was consulted by a person of distinction, who had been interested in the original dispute, with a view to his opinion upon the total merits of the affair, on its validity, as a 'fighting' quarrel, and on the behaviour of the parties to it. Upon the last question, the opinion of his Grace was satisfactory. His bias, undoubtedly, if he has any, is likely to lie towards the wisdom of the peacemaker; and possibly, like many an old soldier, he may be apt to regard the right of pursuing quarrels by arms as a privilege not hastily to be extended beyond the military body. But, on the other question, as to the nature of the quarrel, the duke denied that it required a duel; or that a duel was its natural solution. And had the duke been the mediator, it is highly probable that the unfortunate gentleman would now have been living. Certainly, the second quarrel involved far less of irritating materials than the first. It grew out of a hasty word, and nothing more; such as drops from parliamentary debaters every night of any interesting discussion—drops hastily, is as hastily recalled, or excused, perhaps, as a venial sally of passion, either by the good sense or the magnanimity of the party interested in the wrong. Indeed, by the unanimous consent of all who took notice of the affair, the seconds, or one of [Pg 112]them at least, in this case, must be regarded as deeply responsible for the tragical issue; nor did I hear of one person who held them blameless, except that one who, of all others, might the most excusably have held them wrong in any result. But now, from such a case brought under the review of a court, such as I have supposed, and improved in the way I have suggested, a lesson so memorable might have been given to the seconds, by a two-years' imprisonment—punishment light enough for the wreck of happiness which they caused—that soon, from this single case, raised into a memorable precedent, there would have radiated an effect upon future duels for half a century to come. And no man can easily persuade me that he is in earnest about the extinction of duelling, who does not lend his countenance to a suggestion which would, at least, mitigate the worst evils of the practice, and would, by placing the main agents in responsibility to the court, bring the duel itself immediately under the direct control of that court; would make a legal tribunal not reviewers subsequently, but, in a manner, spectators of the scene; and would carry judicial moderation and skill into the very centre of angry passions; not, as now they act, inefficiently to review, and, by implication, sometimes to approve their most angry ebullitions, but practically to control and repress them.
Emilius was sitting in deep thought at his table, awaiting his friend Roderick. The light was burning before him; the winter evening was cold; and to-day he wished for the presence of his fellow-traveller, though at other times wont rather to avoid his society: for on this evening he was about to disclose a secret to him, and beg for his advice. The timid, shy Emilius found in every business and accident of life so many difficulties, such insurmountable hindrances, that it might seem to have been an ironical whim of his destiny which brought him and Roderick together, Roderick being in everything the reverse of his friend. Inconstant, flighty, always determined by the first impression, and kindling in an instant, he engaged in everything, had a plan for every occasion; no undertaking was too arduous for him, no obstacle could deter him. But in the midst of the pursuit he slackened and wearied just as suddenly as at first he had caught fire and sprung forward. Whatever then opposed him, was for him not a spur to urge him onward, but only led him to abandon[Pg 114] what he had so hotly rushed into; so that Roderick was every day thoughtlessly beginning something new, and with no better cause relinquishing and idly forgetting what he had begun the day before. Hence, never a day passed but the friends got into a quarrel, which seemed to threaten the death of their friendship; and yet what to all appearance thus severed them, was perhaps the very thing that most closely bound them together; each loved the other heartily; but each found passing satisfaction in being able to discharge the most justly deserved reproaches upon his friend.
Emilius, a rich young man, of a susceptible and melancholy temperament, on the death of his parents had become master of his fortune. He had set out on a journey in order thereby to complete his education, but had now already spent several months in a large town, for the sake of enjoying the pleasures of the carnival, about which he never gave himself the least trouble, and of making certain arrangements of importance about his fortune with some relations, to whom as yet he had scarcely paid a visit. On the road he had fallen in with the restless, ever-shifting and veering Roderick, who was living at variance with his guardians, and who, to free himself wholly from them and their burdensome admonitions, eagerly grasped at the opportunity held out to him by his new friend of becoming his companion on his travels. During their journey they had often been on the point of separating; but each after every dispute had only felt the more clearly that he could not live without the other. Scarce had they left their carriage in any town, when Roderick had already seen every[Pg 115]thing remarkable in it, to forget it all again on the morrow; while Emilius took a week to acquire a thorough knowledge of the place from his books, lest he should omit seeing anything that was to be seen; and after all, from indolence and indifference thought there was hardly anything worth his while to go and look at. Roderick had immediately made a thousand acquaintances, and visited every public place of entertainment; often too he brought his new-made friends to the lonely chamber of Emilius, and would then leave him alone with them, as soon as they began to tire him. At other times he would confound the modest Emilius by extravagantly praising his merits and his acquirements before intelligent and learned men, and by giving them to understand how much they might learn from his friend about languages, or antiquities, or the fine arts, although he himself could never find time for listening to him on such subjects, when the conversation happened to turn on them. But if Emilius ever chanced to be in a more active mood, he might almost make sure of his truant friend having caught cold the night before at a ball or a sledge-party, and being forced to keep his bed; so that, with the liveliest, most restless, and most communicative of men for his companion, Emilius lived in the greatest solitude.
To-day he confidently expected him; for Roderick had been forced to give him a solemn promise of spending the evening with him, in order to learn what it was that for weeks had been depressing and agitating his thoughtful friend. Meanwhile Emilius wrote down the following lines:[Pg 116]
'Tis sweet when spring its choir assembles,
And every nightingale is steeping
The trees in his melodious weeping,
Till leaf and bloom with rapture trembles.
Fair is the net which moonlight weaves;
Fair are the breezes' gambolings,
As with lime-odours on their wings
They chase each other through the leaves.
Bright is the glory of the rose,
When Love's rich magic decks the earth,
From countless roses Love looks forth,
Those stars wherewith Love's heaven glows.
But sweeter, fairer, brighter far
To me that little lamp's pale gleaming,
When through the narrow casement streaming,
It bids me hail my evening star;
As from their braids her locks she flings,
Then twines them in a flowery band,
While at each motion of her hand
The white robe to her fair form clings;
Or when she breaks her lute's deep slumbers,
And as at morning's touch up-darting,
The notes, beneath her fingers starting,
Dance o'er the strings in playful numbers.
To stop their flight her voice she pours
Full after them; they laugh and fly,
And to my heart for refuge hie;
Her voice pursues them through its doors.
Leave me, ye fierce ones! hence remove!
They bar themselves within, and say,
'Till this be broken, here we stay,
That thou mayst know what 'tis to love.'
Emilius arose fretfully. It grew darker, and Roderick came not, and he was wishing to tell him of his love for an unknown fair one, who dwelt in the opposite house, and who kept him all day long at [Pg 117]home, and waking through many a night. At length footsteps sounded up the stairs; the door opened without anybody knocking at it, and in walked two gay masks with ugly visages, one a Turk, dressed in red and blue silk, the other a Spaniard in pale yellow and pink with many waving feathers on his hat. As Emilius was becoming impatient, Roderick took off his mask, showed his well-known laughing countenance, and said: 'Heyday, my good friend, what a drowned puppy of a face! Is this the way to look in carnival time? I and our dear young officer are come to fetch you away. There is a grand ball to-night at the masquerade rooms; and as I know you have forsworn ever going out in any other suit than that which you always wear, of the devil's own colour, come with us as black as you are, for it is already somewhat late.'
Emilius felt angry, and said: 'You have, it seems, according to custom, altogether forgotten our agreement. I am extremely sorry,' he continued, turning to the stranger, 'that I cannot possibly accompany you; my friend has been over-hasty in promising for me; indeed I cannot go out at all, having something of importance to talk to him about.'
The stranger, who was well-bred, and saw what Emilius meant, withdrew; but Roderick, with the utmost indifference, put on his mask again, placed himself before the glass, and said: 'Verily I am a hideous figure, am I not? To say the truth, it is a tasteless, worthless, disgusting device.'
'That there can be no question about,' answered Emilius, in high indignation. 'Making a caricature of yourself, and making a fool of yourself, are among [Pg 118]the pleasures you are always driving after at full gallop.'
'Because you do not like dancing yourself,' said the other, 'and look upon dancing as a mischievous invention, not a soul in the world must wear a merry face. How tiresome it is, when a person is made up of nothing but whims!'
'Doubtless!' replied his angry friend, 'and you give me ample opportunity for finding that it is so. I thought after our agreement you would have given me this evening; but——'
'But it is the carnival, you know,' pursued the other, 'and all my acquaintances and certain fair ladies are expecting me at the grand ball to-night. Assure yourself, my good friend, it is mere disease in you that makes you so unreasonable against all such matters.'
'Which of us has the fairest claim to disease,' said Emilius, 'I will not examine. At least your inconceivable frivolousness, your hunger and thirst after stop-gaps for every hour you are awake, your wild-goose chase after pleasures that leave the heart empty, seem not to me altogether the healthiest state of the soul. In certain things, at all events, you might make a little allowance for my weakness, if it must once for all pass for such: and there is nothing in the world that so jars through and through me as a ball with its frightful music. Somebody once said, that to a deaf person who cannot hear the music, a set of dancers must look like so many patients for a mad-house; but, in my opinion, this dreadful music itself, this twirling and whirling and pirouetting of half a dozen notes, each treading on its own heels, [Pg 119]in those accursed tunes which ram themselves into our memories, yea, I might say, mix themselves up with our very blood, so that one cannot get rid of their taint for many a miserable day after—this to me is the very trance of madness; and if I could ever bring myself to think dancing endurable, it must be dancing to the tune of silence.'
'Well done, signor Paradox-monger!' exclaimed the mask. 'Why, you are so far gone, that you think the most natural, most innocent, and merriest thing in the world unnatural, ay, and shocking.'
'I cannot change my feelings,' said his grave friend. 'From my very childhood these tunes have made me wretched, and have often well-nigh driven me out of my senses. They are to me the ghosts and spectres and furies in the world of sound, and come thus and buzz round my head, and grin at me with horrid laughter.'
'All nervous irritability!' returned the other; 'just like your extravagant abhorrence of spiders and many other harmless insects.'
'Harmless you call them,' cried Emilius, now quite untuned, 'because you have no repugnance toward them. To one, however, who feels the same disgust and loathing, the same nameless horror, that I feel, rise up in his soul and shoot through his whole being at the sight of them, these miscreate deformities, such as toads, spiders, or that most loathsome of nature's excrements, the bat, are not indifferent or insignificant: their very existence is directly at enmity and wages war with his. In truth, one might smile at the unbelievers whose imagination is too barren for ghosts and fearful spectres, and those [Pg 120]births of night which we see in sickness, to take root therein, or who stare and marvel at Dante's descriptions, when the commonest every-day life brings before our eyes such frightful distorted master-pieces among the works of horror. Yet, can we really and faithfully love the beautiful, without being stricken with pain at the sight of such monstrosities?'
'Wherefore stricken with pain?' asked Roderick. 'Why should the great realm of the waters and the seas present us with nothing but those terrors which you have accustomed yourself to find there? Why not rather look on such creatures as strange, entertaining, and ludicrous mummers, and on the whole region in the light of a great masked ball-room? But your whims go still further; for as you love roses with a kind of idolatry, there are many flowers for which you have a no less vehement hatred: yet what harm has the dear good tulip ever done you, or all the other dutiful children of summer that you persecute? So again you have an aversion to many colours, to many scents, and to many thoughts; and you take no pains to harden yourself against these weaknesses, but yield to them and sink down into them as into a luxurious feather-bed; and I often fear I shall lose you altogether some day, and find nothing but a patchwork of whims and prejudices sitting at that table instead of my Emilius.'
Emilius was wrath to the bottom of his heart, and answered not a word. He had long given up all design of making his intended confession; nor did the thoughtless Roderick show the least wish to hear the secret which his melancholy friend had announced to him with such an air of solemnity. He sat care[Pg 121]lessly in the arm-chair, playing with his mask, when he suddenly cried: 'Be so kind, Emilius, as to lend me your large cloak.'
'What for?' asked the other.
'I hear music in the church on the opposite side of the street,' answered Roderick, 'and this hour has hitherto escaped me every evening since we have been here. To-day it comes just as if called for. I can hide my dress under your cloak, which will also cover my mask and turban, and when it is over I can go straight to the ball.'
Emilius muttered between his teeth as he looked in the wardrobe for his cloak, then constraining himself to an ironical smile, gave it to Roderick, who was already on his legs. 'There is my Turkish dagger which I bought yesterday,' said the mask, as he wrapped himself up; 'put it by for me; it is a bad habit carrying about toys of cold steel: one can never tell what ill use may be made of them, should a quarrel arise, or any other knot which it is easier to cut than to untie. We meet again to-morrow; farewell; a pleasant evening to you.' He waited for no reply, but hastened down-stairs.
When Emilius was alone, he tried to forget his anger, and to fix his attention on the laughable side of his friend's behaviour. After a while his eyes rested upon the shining, finely-wrought dagger, and he said: 'What must be the feelings of a man who could thrust this sharp iron into the breast of an enemy! but oh, what must be those of one who could hurt a beloved object with it! He locked it up, then gently folded back the shutters of his window, and looked across the narrow street. But no light was [Pg 122]there; all was dark in the opposite house; the dear form that dwelt in it, and that used about this time to show herself at her household occupations, seemed to be absent. 'Perhaps she is at the ball,' thought Emilius, little as it suited her retired way of life.
Suddenly, however, a light entered; the little girl whom his beloved unknown had about her, and with whom, during the day and evening, she busied herself in various ways, carried a candle through the room, and closed the window-shutters. An opening remained light, large enough for over-looking a part of the little chamber from the spot where Emilius stood; and there the happy youth would often bide till after midnight, fixed as though he had been charmed there. He was full of gladness when he saw her teaching the child to read, or instructing her in sewing and knitting. Upon inquiry he had learnt that the little girl was a poor orphan whom his fair maiden had charitably taken into the house to educate her. Emilius's friends could not conceive why he lived in this narrow street, in this comfortless lodging, why he was so little to be seen in society, or how he employed himself. Without employment, in solitude he was happy: only he felt angry with himself and his own timidity and shyness, which kept him from venturing to seek a nearer acquaintance with this fair being, notwithstanding the friendliness with which on many occasions she had greeted and thanked him. He knew not that she would often bend over him eyes no less love-sick than his own; nor boded what wishes were forming in her heart, of what an effort, of what [Pg 123]a sacrifice she felt herself capable, so she might but attain to the possession of his love.
After walking a few times up and down the room, when the light had departed with the child, he suddenly resolved upon going to the ball, though it was so against his inclination and his nature; for it struck him that his Unknown might have made an exception to her quiet mode of life, in order for once to enjoy the world, and its gaieties. The streets were brilliantly lighted up, the snow crackled under his feet, carriages rolled by, and masks in every variety of dress whistled and chirped as they passed him. From many a house there sounded the dancing-music he so abhorred, and he could not bring himself to go the nearest way towards the ball-room, whither people from every direction were streaming and thronging. He walked round the old church, gazed at its lofty tower rising solemnly into the dark sky, and felt gladdened by the stillness and loneliness of the remote square. Within the recess of a large door-way, the varied sculptures of which he had always contemplated with pleasure, recollecting, while so engaged, the olden times and the arts which adorned them, he now again paused, to give himself up for a few moments to his thoughts. He had not stood long, before a figure drew his attention, which kept restlessly walking to and fro, and seemed to be waiting for somebody. By the light of a lamp that was burning before an image of the Virgin, he clearly distinguished its features as well as its strange garb. It was an old woman of the uttermost hideousness, which struck the eye the more from being brought out by its extravagant contrast with a scarlet bodice [Pg 124]embroidered with gold; the gown she wore was dark, and the cap on her head shone likewise with gold. Emilius fancied at first it must be some tasteless mask that had strayed there by mistake; but he was soon convinced by the clear light that the old, brown, wrinkled face was one of Nature's ploughing, and no mimic exaggeration. Many minutes had not passed when there appeared two men, wrapped up in cloaks, who seemed to approach the spot with cautions footsteps, often looking about them, as if to observe whether anybody was following. The old woman walked up to them. 'Have you got the candles?' asked she hastily, and with a gruff voice. 'Here they are,' said one of the men; 'you know the price; let the matter be settled forthwith.' The old woman seemed to be giving him money, which he counted over beneath his cloak. 'I rely upon you,' she again began, 'that they are made exactly according to the prescription, at the right time and place, so that the work cannot fail.' 'Feel safe as to that,' returned the man, and walked rapidly away. The other, who remained behind, was a youth: he took the old woman by the hand, and said: 'Can it then be, Alexia, that such rites and forms of words, as those old stories, in which I never could put faith, tell us, can fetter the free will of man, and make love and hatred grow in the heart?' 'So it is,' answered the scarlet woman; 'but one and one must make two, and many a one must be added thereto, before such things come to pass. It is not these candles alone, moulded beneath the midnight darkness of the new moon, and drenched with human blood, it is not the muttering magical words and invocations alone, that [Pg 125]can give you the mastery over the soul of another; much more than this belongs to such works; but it is all known to the initiated.' 'I rely on you then,' said the stranger. 'To-morrow after midnight I am at your service,' returned the old woman. 'You shall not be the first person that ever was dissatisfied with the tidings I brought him. To-night, as you have heard, I have some one else in hand, one whose senses and understanding our art shall twist about whichever way we choose, as easily as I twist this hair out of my head.' These last words she uttered with a half grin: they now separated, and withdrew in different directions.
Emilius came from the dark niche shuddering, and raised his looks upon the image of the Virgin with the Child. 'Before thine eyes, thou mild and blessed one,' said he, half aloud, 'are these miscreants daring to hold their market, and trafficking in their hellish drugs. But as thou embracest thy Child with thy love, even so doth the unseen Love hold us all in its protecting arms, and we feel their touch, and our poor hearts beat in joy and in trembling toward a greater heart that will never forsake us.'
Clouds were wandering along over the pinnacles of the tower and the steep roof of the church; the everlasting stars looked down from amongst them, sparkling with mild serenity; and Emilius turned his thoughts resolutely away from these nightly horrors, and thought upon the beauty of his Unknown. He again entered the living streets, and bent his steps toward the brightly illuminated ball-room, whence voices, and the rattling of carriages, and now and [Pg 126]then, between the pauses, the clamorous music came sounding to his ears.
In the hall he was instantly lost amid the streaming throng; dancers sprang round him, masks shot by him to and fro, kettle-drums and trumpets deafened his ears, and it was unto him as though human life were nothing but a dream. He walked along the lines; his eye alone was watchful, seeking for those beloved eyes and that fair head with its brown locks, for the sight of which he yearned to-day even more intensely than at other times; and yet he inwardly reproached the adored being for enduring to plunge into and lose itself in such a stormy sea of confusion and folly. 'No,' said he to himself, 'no heart that loves can lay itself open to this waste hubbub of noise, in which every longing and every tear of love is scoffed and mocked at by the pealing laughter of wild trumpets. The whispering of trees, the murmuring of fountains, harp-tones, and gentle song gushing forth from an overflowing bosom, are the sounds in which love abides. But this is the very thundering and shouting of hell in the trance of its despair.'
He found not what he was seeking; for the belief that her beloved face might perchance be lying hid behind some odious mask was what he could not possibly bring himself to. Thrice already had he ranged up and down the hall, and had vainly passed in array every sitting and unmasked female, when the Spaniard joined him and said: 'I am glad that after all you are come. You seem to be looking for your friend.'
Emilius had quite forgotten him: he said, however, [Pg 127]in some confusion: 'Indeed I wonder at not having met him here; his mask is easily known.'
'Can you guess what the strange fellow is about?' answered the young officer. 'He did not dance, or even remain half an hour in the ball-room; for he soon met with his friend Anderson, who is just come from the country. Their conversation fell upon literature. As Anderson had not yet seen the new poem, Roderick would not rest till they had opened one of the back rooms for him; and there he now is, sitting with his companion beside a solitary taper, and declaiming the whole poem to him, beginning with the invocation to the Muse.'
'It is just like him,' said Emilius; 'he is always the child of the moment. I have done all in my power, not even shunning some amicable quarrels, to break him of this habit of always living extempore, and playing away his whole being in impromptus, card after card, as it happens to turn up, without once looking through his hand. But these follies have taken such deep root in his heart, he would sooner part with his best friend than with them. That very same poem, of which he is so fond that he always carries a copy of it in his pocket, he was desirous of reading to me, and I had even urgently entreated him to do so; but we were scarcely over the first description of the moon, when, just as I was resigning myself to an enjoyment of its beauties, he suddenly jumped up, ran off, came back with the cook's apron round his waist, tore down the bell-rope in ringing to have the fire lighted, and insisted on dressing me some beef-steaks, for which I had not the least appetite, and of which he fancies himself the best cook [Pg 128]in Europe, though, if he is lucky, he spoils them only nine times out of ten.'
The Spaniard laughed, and asked: 'Has he never been in love?'
'In his way,' replied Emilius very gravely; 'as if he were making game both of love and of himself, with a dozen women at a time, and, if you would believe his words, raving after every one of them; but ere a week passes over his head they are all sponged out of it together, and not even a blot of them remains.'
They parted in the crowd, and Emilius walked toward the remote apartment, whence already from afar he heard his friend's loud recitative. 'Ah, so you are here too,' cried Roderick, as he entered; 'that is just what it should be. I have got to the very passage at which we broke down the other day; seat yourself, and you may listen to the rest.'
'I am not in a humour for it now,' said Emilius; 'besides, the room and the hour do not seem to me altogether fitted for such an employment.'
'And why not?' answered Roderick. 'Time and place are made for us, and not we for time and place. Is not good poetry as good at one place as at another? Or would you prefer dancing? there is scarcity of men; and with the help of nothing more than a few hours' jumping and a pair of tired legs, you may lay strong siege to the hearts of as many grateful beauties as you please.'
'Good-bye!' cried the other, already in the door-way; 'I am going home.'
Roderick called after him: 'Only one word! I set off with this gentleman at daybreak to-morrow, to spend a few days in the country, but will look in [Pg 129]upon you to take leave before we start. Should you be asleep, as is most likely, do not take the trouble of waking; for in a couple of days I shall be with you again.—The strangest being on earth!' he continued, turning to his new friend, 'so moping and fretful and gloomy, that he turns all his pleasures sour; or rather there is no such thing as pleasure for him. Instead of walking about with his fellow-creatures in broad daylight and enjoying himself, he gets down to the bottom of the well of his thoughts, for the sake of now and then having a glimpse of a star. Everything must be in the superlative for him; everything must be pure and noble and celestial; his heart must be always heaving and throbbing, even when he is standing before a puppet-show. He never laughs or cries, but can only smile and weep; and there is mighty little difference between his weeping and his smiling. When anything, be it what you will, falls short of his anticipations and preconceptions, which are always flying up out of reach and sight, he puts on a tragical face, and complains that it is a base and soulless world. At this moment, I doubt not, he is exacting, that under the masks of a Pantaloon and a Pulcinello there should be a heart glowing with unearthly desires and ideal aspirations, and that Harlequin should out moralise Hamlet upon the nothingness of sublunary things; and should it not be so, the dew will rise into his eyes, and he will turn his back on the whole scene with desponding contempt.'
'He must be melancholic then?' asked his hearer.
'Not that exactly,' answered Roderick. 'He has only been spoilt by his over-fond parents, and by himself. He has accustomed himself to let his heart [Pg 130]ebb and flow as regularly as the sea, and if this motion ever chances to intermit, he cries out miracle! and would offer a prize to the genius that can satisfactorily explain so marvellous a phenomenon. He is the best fellow under the sun; but all my painstaking to break him of this perverseness is utterly vain and thrown away; and if I would not earn sorry thanks for my good intentions, I must even let him follow his own course.'
'He seems to need a physician,' remarked Anderson.
'It is one of his whims,' said Roderick, 'to entertain a supreme contempt for the whole medical art. He will have it that every disease is something different and distinct in every patient, that it can be brought under no class, and that it is absurd to think of healing it, either by attention to ancient practice or by what is called theory. Indeed he would much rather apply to an old woman, and make use of sympathetic cures. On the same principle, he despises all foresight, on whatever occasion, as well as everything like regularity, moderation, and common sense. The last above all he holds in especial abhorrence, as the antipodes and arch-enemy of all enthusiasm. From his very childhood he framed for himself an ideal of a noble character; and his highest aim is to render himself what he considers such, that is, a being who shows his superiority to all things earthy by his contempt for gold. Merely in order that he may not be suspected of being parsimonious, or giving unwillingly, or ever talking about money, he tosses it about him right and left by handfuls; with all his large income is for ever poor and distressed, and becomes the fool of everybody not endowed with pre[Pg 131]cisely the same kind of magnanimity, which for himself he is determined that he will have. To be his friend is the undertaking of all undertakings; for he is so irritable, one need only cough or eat with one's knife, or even pick one's teeth, to offend him mortally.'
'Was he never in love?' asked his country friend.
'Whom should he love? whom could he love?' answered Roderick. 'He scorns all the daughters of earth; and were he ever to suspect that his beloved had not an angelical contempt for dress, or liked dancing as well as star-gazing, it would break his heart; still more appalling would it be, if she were ever so unfortunate as to sneeze.'
Meanwhile Emilius was again standing amid the throng; but suddenly there came over him that uneasiness, that shivering, which had already so often seized his heart when among a crowd in a state of similar excitement; it chased him out of the ball-room and house, down along the deserted streets; nor, till he reached his lonely chamber, did he recover himself and the quiet possession of his senses. The night-light was already kindled; he sent his servant to bed; everything in the opposite house was silent and dark; and he sat down to pour forth in verse the feelings which had been aroused by the ball.
Within the heart 'tis still;
Sleep each wild thought encages;
Now stirs a wicked will,
Would see how madness rages.
And cries, Wild Spirit, awake!
Loud cymbals catch the cry
And back its echoes shake;
And shouting peals of laughter,
[Pg 132]The trumpet rushes after,
And cries, Wild Spirit, awake!
Amidst them flute tones fly,
Like arrows keen and numberless;
And with bloodhound yell
Pipes the onset swell;
And violins and violoncellos,
Shrieking and shattering;
And horns whence thunder bellows;
To leave the victim slumberless,
And drag forth prisoned madness,
And cruelly murder all quiet and innocent gladness.
What will be the end of this commotion?
Where the shore to this turmoiling ocean?
What seeks the tossing throng,
As it wheels and whirls along?
On! on! the lustres
Like hell-stars bicker:
Let us twine in closer clusters.
On! on! ever thicker and quicker!
How the silly things throb, throb amain!
Hence, all quiet!
Peal more proudly,
Squeal more loudly,
Ye cymbals, ye trumpets! Be-dull all pain,
Till it laugh again.
Thou becomest to me, beauty's daughter;
Smiles ripple over thy lips,
And o'er thine eyes blue water;
O let me breathe on thee,
Ere parted hence we flee.
Ere aught that light eclipse.
I know that beauty's flowers soon wither;
Those lips within whose rosy cells
Thy spirit warbles its sweet spells,
Death's clammy kiss ere long will press together.
I know, that face so fair and full
[Pg 133]Is but a masquerading skull;
But hail to thee, skull so fair and so fresh!
Why should I weep and whine and wail,
That what blooms now must soon grow pale,
That worms must feed on that sweet flesh?
Let me laugh but to-day and to-morrow,
And I care not for sorrow,
While thus on the waves of the dance by each other we sail!
Now thou art mine
And I am thine:
And what though pain and sorrow wait
To seize thee at the gate,
And sob and tear and groan and sigh
Stand ranged in state
On thee to fly;
Blithely let us look and cheerily
On death, that grins so drearily.
What would grief with us, or anguish?
They are foes that we know how to vanquish.
I press thine answering fingers,
Thy look upon me lingers,
Or the fringe of thy garment will waft me a kiss:
Thou rollest on in light;
I fall back into night;
Even despair is bliss.
From this delight,
From this wild laughter's surge,
Perchance there may emerge
Foul jealousy and scorn and spite.
But this our glory! and pride!
When thee I despise,
I turn but mine eyes,
And the fair one beside thee will welcome my gaze;
And she is my bride;
Oh, happy, happy days!
Or shall it be her neighbour,
Whose eyes like a sabre
Flash and pierce,
Their glance is so fierce?
Thus capering and prancing,
[Pg 134]All together go dancing
Adown life's giddy cave;
Nor living nor loving,
But dizzily roving
Through dreams to a grave.
There below 'tis yet worse;
Its flowers and its clay
Roof a gloomier day,
Hide a still deeper curse.
Ring then, ye cymbals, enliven this dream!
Ye horns, shout a fiercer, more vulture-like scream!
And jump, caper, leap, prance, dance yourselves out of breath!
For your life is all art;
Love has given you no heart:
Therefore shout till ye plunge into bottomless death.
He had ended and was standing at the window. Then came she into the opposite chamber, lovely, as he had never yet seen her; her brown hair floated freely and played in wanton ringlets about the whitest of necks; she was but lightly clad, and it seemed as though she was about to finish some household task at this late hour of the night before going to bed; for she placed two lights in two corners of the room, set to rights the green baize on the table, and again retired. Emilius was still sunk in his sweet dreams, and gazing on the image which his beloved had left on his mind, when to his horror the fearful, the scarlet old woman walked through the chamber; the gold on her head and breast glared ghastlily as it threw back the light. She had vanished again. Was he to believe his eyes? Was it not some blinding deception of the night, some spectre that his own feverish imagination had conjured up before him? But no! she returned still more hideous than before, with a long gray-and-black mane flying wildly and ruggedly about her breast and [Pg 135]back. The fair maiden followed her, pale, frozen up; her lovely bosom was without a covering; but the whole form was like a marble statue. Betwixt them they led the little sweet child, weeping and clinging entreatingly to the fair maiden, who looked not down upon it. The child clasped and lifted up its little beseeching hands, and stroked the pale neck and cheeks of the marble beauty. But she held it fast by the hair, and in the other hand a silver basin. Then the old woman gave a growl, and pulled out a long knife, and drew it across the white neck of the child. Here something wound forth from behind them, which they seemed not to perceive; or it must have produced in them the same deep horror as in Emilius. The ghastly neck of a serpent curled forth, scale after scale, lengthening and ever lengthening out of the darkness, and stooped down between them over the child, whose lifeless limbs hung from the old woman's arms; its black tongue licked up the spirting red blood, and a green sparkling eye shot over into Emilius's eye, and brain, and heart, so that he fell at the same instant to the ground.
He was senseless when found by Roderick some hours after.
A party of friends was sitting, on the brightest summer morning, in a green arbour, assembled round an excellent breakfast. Laughter and jests passed round, and many a time did the glasses kiss with a merry health to the youthful couple, and a wish that they might be the happiest of the happy. The bride and bridegroom were not present; the fair one being still busied about her dress, while the young husband [Pg 136]was sauntering alone in a distant avenue, musing upon his happiness.
'What a pity,' said Anderson, 'that we are to have no music. All our ladies are beclouded at the thought, and never in their whole lives longed for a dance so much as to-day, when to have one is quite out of the question. It is far too painful to his feelings.'
'I can tell you a secret though,' said a young officer; 'which is, that we are to have a dance after all, and a rare madcap and riotous one it will he. Everything is already arranged; the musicians are come secretly, and quartered out of sight. Roderick has managed it all; for he says, one ought not to let him have his own way, or to humour his strange prejudices over-much, especially on such a day as this. Besides, he is already grown far more like a human being, and is much more sociable than he used to be; so that I think even he will not dislike this alteration. Indeed, the whole wedding has been brought about all of a sudden, in a way that nobody could have expected.'
'His whole life,' said Anderson, 'is no less singular than his character. You must all remember how, being engaged on his travels, he arrived last autumn in our city, fixed himself there for the winter, lived like a melancholy man, scarcely ever leaving his room, and never gave himself the least trouble about our theatre or any other amusement. He almost quarrelled with Roderick, his most intimate friend, for trying to divert him, and not pampering him in all his moping humours. In fact, this exaggerated irritability and moodiness must have been a disease that was gather[Pg 137]ing in his body; for, as you know, he was seized four months since with a most violent nervous fever, so that we were all forced to give him up for lost. After his fancies had raved themselves out, on returning to his senses, he had almost entirely lost his memory; his childhood, indeed, and his early youth were still present to his mind, but he could not recollect anything that had occurred during his travels, or immediately before his illness. He was forced to begin anew his acquaintance with all his friends, even with Roderick; and only by little and little has it grown lighter with him; but slowly has the past with all that had befallen him come again, though still in dim colours, over his memory. He had been removed into his uncle's house, that the better care might be taken of him, and he was like a child, letting them do with him whatever they chose. The first time he went out to enjoy the warmth of spring in the park, he saw a girl sitting thoughtfully by the road-side. She looked up; her eye met his; and, as it were seized with an unaccountable yearning, he bade the carriage stop, got out, sat down by her, took hold of her hands, and poured himself forth in a full stream of tears. His friends were again alarmed for his understanding; but he grew tranquil, lively and conversable, got introduced to the girl's parents, and at the very first besought her hand; which, as her parents did not refuse their consent, she granted him. Thenceforward he was happy, and a new life sprang up within him; every day he became healthier and more cheerful. A week ago he visited me at this country-seat of mine, and was above measure delighted with it; indeed so much so that he would not rest till he had made me [Pg 138]sell it to him. I might easily have turned his passionate wish to my own good account, and to his injury; for, whenever he sets his heart on a thing, he will have it, and that forthwith. He immediately made his arrangements, and had furniture brought hither that he may spend the summer months here; and in this way it has come to pass that we are all now assembled together to celebrate our friend's marriage at this villa, which a few days since belonged to me.'
The house was large, and situated in a very lovely country. One side looked down upon a river, and beyond it upon pleasant hills, clad and girt round with shrubs and trees of various kinds; immediately before it lay a beautiful flower-garden. Here the orange and lemon trees were ranged in a large open hall, from which small doors led to the store-rooms and cellars, and pantries. On the other side spread the green plain of a meadow, which was immediately bordered by a large park; here the two long wings of the house formed a spacious court; and three broad, open galleries, supported by rows of pillars standing above each other, connected all the apartments in the building, which gave it on this side an interesting and singular character; for figures were continually moving along these arcades in the discharge of their various household tasks; new forms kept stepping forth between the pillars and out of every room, which reappeared soon after above or below, to be lost behind some other doors; the company too would often assemble there for tea or for play; and thus, when seen from below, the whole had the look of a theatre, before which everybody would gladly pause awhile, expecting, as his fancies wandered, that some[Pg 139]thing strange or pleasing would soon be taking place above.
The party of young people were just rising, when the full-dressed bride came through the garden and walked up to them. She was clad in violet-coloured velvet; a sparkling necklace lay cradled on her white neck; the costly lace just allowed her swelling bosom to glimmer through; her brown hair was tinged yet more beautifully by its wreath of myrtles and white roses. She addressed each in turn with a kind greeting, and the young men were astonished at her surpassing beauty. She had been gathering flowers in the garden, and was now returning into the house, to see after the preparations for the dinner. The tables had been placed in the lower open gallery, and shone dazzlingly with their white coverings and their load of sparkling crystal; rich clusters of many-coloured flowers rose from the graceful necks of alabaster vases; green garlands, starred with white blossoms, twined round the columns; and it was a lovely sight to behold the bride gliding along with gentle motion between the tables and the pillars, amid the light of the flowers, overlooking the whole with a searching glance, then vanishing, and re-appearing a moment afterwards higher up to pass into her chamber.
'She is the loveliest and most enchanting creature I ever saw,' cried Anderson; 'our friend is indeed the happiest of men.'
'Even her paleness,' said the officer, taking up the word, 'heightens her beauty. Her brown eyes sparkle only more intensely above those white cheeks, and beneath those dark locks; and the singular, [Pg 140]almost burning, redness of her lips gives a truly magical appearance to her face.'
'The air of silent melancholy that surrounds her,' said Anderson, 'sheds a lofty majesty over her whole form.'
The bridegroom joined them, and inquired after Roderick. They had all missed him some time since, and could not conceive where he could be tarrying; and they all set out in search of him. 'He is below in the hall,' said at length a young man whom they happened to ask, 'in the midst of the coachmen, footmen, and grooms, showing off tricks at cards, which they cannot grow tired of staring at.' They went in, and interrupted the noisy admiration of the servants, without, however, disturbing Roderick, who quietly pursued his conjuring exhibition. When he had finished, he walked with the others into the garden, and said, 'I do it only to strengthen the fellows in their faith: for these puzzles give a hard blow to their groomships' free-thinking inclinations, and help to make them true believers.'
'I see,' said the bridegroom, 'my all-sufficing friend, among his other talents, does not think that of a mountebank beneath his cultivation.'
'We live in a strange time,' replied the other. 'Who knows whether mountebanks may not come to rule the roost in their turn. One ought to despise nothing nowadays: the veriest straw of talent may be that which is to break the camel's back.'
When the two friends found themselves alone, Emilius again turned down the dark avenue, and said, 'Why am I in such a gloomy mood on this the happiest day of my life? But I assure you, Roderick, [Pg 141]little as you will believe it, I am not made for this moving about among such a mob of human beings; for this keeping my attention on the qui vive for every letter of the alphabet, so that neither A nor Z may go without all fitting respect; for this making a bow to her tenth, and shaking hands with my twentieth; for this rendering of formal homage to her parents; for this handing a flower from my nosegay of compliments to every lady that crosses my eye; for this waiting to receive the tide of newcomers as wave after wave rushes over me, and then turning to give orders that their servants and horses may have each a full trough and pail set before them.'
'That is a watch that goes of its own accord,' answered Roderick. 'Only look at your house, it was just built for such an occasion; and your head-butler, with his right hand taking up at the same time that his left is setting down, and one leg running north while the other seems to be making for south, was begotten and born for no other end than to put confusion in order. He would even set my brains to rights if he could get at them; were the whole city here he would find room for all; and he will make your hospitality the proverb of fifty miles round. Leave all such things to him and to your lovely bride; and where will you find so sweet a lightener of this world's cares?'
'This morning before sunrise,' said Emilius, 'I was walking through the wood; my thoughts were solemnly tuned, and I felt to the bottom of my soul that my life was now receiving its determinate character, that it was become a serious thing, and that this passion had created for me a home and a [Pg 142]calling. I passed along by that arbour there, and heard sounds: it was my beloved in close conversation. "Has it not turned out now as I told you?" said a strange voice; "just as I knew it must turn out. You have got your wish, so cheer up and be merry." I would not go near them; afterwards I walked toward the arbour, but they had both already left it. Since then I keep thinking and thinking, what can these words mean?'
Roderick answered: 'Perhaps she may have been in love with you for some time without your knowing it; you are only so much the happier.'
A late nightingale here upraised her song, and seemed to be wishing the lover health and bliss. Emilius became more thoughtful. 'Come down with me, to cheer up your spirits,' said Roderick, 'down to the village, where you will find another couple; for you must not fancy that yours is the only wedding on which to-day's sun is to shine. A young clown, finding his time wear heavily in the house with an ugly old maid, for want of something better to do, did what makes the booby now think himself bound in honour to transform her into his wife. By this time they must both be already dressed, so let us not miss the sight; for doubtless, it will be a most interesting wedding.'
The melancholy man let himself be dragged along by his lively chattering friend, and they soon came to the cottage. The procession was just sallying forth, to go to the church. The young countryman was in his usual linen frock; all his finery consisted in a pair of leather breeches, which he had polished till they shone like a field of dandelions; he was of simple [Pg 143]mien, and appeared somewhat confused. The bride was sun-burnt, with but a few farewell leaves of youth still hanging about her; she was coarsely and poorly, but cleanly dressed; some red and blue silk ribbons, already a good deal faded; but what chiefly disfigured her was, that her hair, stiffened with lard, flour, and pins, had been swept back from her forehead, and piled up at the top of her head in a mound, on the summit of which lay the bridal chaplet. She smiled and seemed glad at heart, but was shamefaced and downcast. Next came the aged parents; the father too was only a servant about the farm, and the hovel, the furniture, and the clothing, all bore witness that their poverty was extreme. A dirty, squinting musician followed the train, who kept grinning and screaming, and scratching his fiddle, which was patched together of wood and pasteboard, and instead of strings had three bits of pack-thread. The procession halted when his honour, their new master, came up to them. Some mischief-loving servants, young lads and girls, tittered and laughed, and jeered the bridal couple, especially the ladies' maids, who thought themselves far handsomer, and saw themselves infinitely better clad, and wondered how people could be so vulgar. A shuddering came over Emilius; he looked round for Roderick, but the latter had already run away from him again. An impertinent coxcomb, with a head pilloried in his high starched neck-cloth, a servant to one of the visitors, eager to show his wit, pressed up to Emilius, giggling, and cried: 'Now, your honour, what says your honour to this grand couple? They can neither of them guess where they are to find bread for to-morrow, and yet [Pg 144]they mean to give a ball this afternoon, and that famous performer there is already engaged.' 'No bread!' said Emilius; 'can such things be?' 'Their wretchedness,' continued the chatterbox, 'is known to the whole neighbourhood; but the fellow says he bears the creature the same good-will, although she is such a sorry bit of clay. Ay, verily, as the song says, love can make black white! The couple of baggages have not even a bed, and must pass their wedding night on the straw. They have just been round to every house begging a pint of small beer, with which they mean to get drunk; a royal treat for a wedding day, your honour!' Everybody round about laughed loudly, and the unhappy, despised pair cast down their eyes. Emilius indignantly pushed the chatterer away. 'Here, take this!' he cried, and threw a hundred ducats, which he had received that morning, into the hands of the amazed bridegroom. The betrothed couple and their parents wept aloud, threw themselves clumsily on their knees, and kissed his hands and the skirts of his coat. He tried to make his escape. 'Let that keep hunger out of your doors as long as it lasts!' he exclaimed, quite stunned by his feelings. 'Oh!' they all screamed, 'oh, your honour! we shall be rich and happy till the day of our deaths, and longer too, if we live longer.'
He knew not how he got away from them; but he found himself alone, and hastened with unsteady steps into the wood. Here he sought out the thickest, loneliest spot, and threw himself down on a grassy knoll, no longer keeping back the bursting stream of his tears. 'I am sick of life,' he sobbed; 'I cannot be glad and happy, I will not. Make haste [Pg 145]and receive me, thou dear kind earth, and hide me in thy cool, refreshing arms from the wild beasts that tread over thee and call themselves men. Oh, God in heaven! how have I deserved that I should rest upon down and wear silk, that the grape should pour forth her most precious blood for me, and that all should throng around me and offer me their homage and love? This poor wretch is better and worthier than I, and misery is his nurse, and mockery and venomous scorn are the only sounds that hail his wedding. Every delicacy that is placed before me, every draught out of my costly goblets, my lying on soft beds, my wearing gold and rich garments, will be unto me like so many sins, now that I have beheld how the world hunts down many thousand thousand wretches, who are hungering after the dry bread that I throw away, and who never know what a good meal is. Oh, now I can fully understand your feelings, ye holy pious, whom the world despises and scorns and scoffs at, who scatter abroad your all, even unto the raiment of your poverty, and did gird sack-cloth about your loins, and did resolve as beggars to endure the gibes and the kicks wherewith brutal insolence and swilling voluptuousness drive away misery from their tables, that by so doing ye might thoroughly purge yourselves from the foul sin of wealth.'
The world, with all its forms of being, hung in a mist before his eyes; he determined to look upon the destitute as his brethren, and to depart far away from the communion of the happy. They had already been waiting for him a long time in the hall, to perform the ceremony; the bride had become uneasy; her parents had gone in search of him through the garden [Pg 146]and park; at length he returned, lighter for having wept away his cares, and the solemn knot was tied.
The company then walked from the lower hall toward the open gallery, to seat themselves at table. The bride and bridegroom led the way, and the rest followed in their train. Roderick offered his arm to a young girl who was gay and talkative. 'Why does a bride always cry, and look so sad and serious during the ceremony,' said she, as they mounted the steps.
'Because it is the first moment in which she feels intensely all the weight and meaning and mystery of life,' answered Roderick.
'But our bride,' continued the girl, 'far surpasses in gravity all I have ever yet seen. Indeed, she almost always looks melancholy, and one can never catch her in a downright hearty laugh.'
'This does more honour to her heart,' answered Roderick, himself, contrary to custom, feeling somewhat seriously disposed. 'You know not, perhaps, that the bride a few years ago took a lovely little orphan girl into the house, to educate her. All her time was devoted to the child, and the love of this gentle being was her sweetest reward. The girl was become seven years old, when she was lost during a walk through the town, and in spite of all the means that have been employed, nobody could ever find out what became of her. Our noble-minded hostess has taken this misfortune so much to heart that she has been preyed upon ever since by a silent melancholy, nor can anything win her away from her longing after her little play-fellow.'
'A most interesting adventure, indeed,' said the [Pg 147]lady. 'One might see a whole romance in three volumes grow out of this seed. It will be a strange sight, and it will not be for nothing, when this lost star reappears. What a pretty poem it would make! Don't you think so, sir?'
The party arranged themselves at table. The bride and bridegroom sat in the centre, and looked out upon the gay landscape. They talked and drank healths, and the most cheerful humour reigned; the bride's parents were quite happy; the bridegroom alone was reserved and thoughtful, eat but little, and took no part in the conversation. He started when some musical sounds rolled down from above, but grew calm again on finding it was nothing but the soft notes of a bugle, which wandered along with a pleasant murmur over the shrubs and through the park, till they died away on the distant hills. Roderick had stationed the musicians in the gallery overhead, and Emilius was satisfied with this arrangement. Toward the end of the dinner he called his butler, and turning to his bride, said, 'My love, let poverty also have a share of our superfluities.' He then ordered him to send several bottles of wine, some pastry, and other dishes in abundant portions, to the poor couple, so that with them also this day might be a day of rejoicing, unto which in after-times they might look back with delight. 'See, my friend,' cried Roderick, 'how beautifully all things in this world hang together. My idle trick of busying myself about other people's concerns, and my chattering, though you are for ever finding fault with them, have after all been the occasion of this good deed.' Several persons began making pretty speeches to [Pg 148]their host on his compassion and kind heart, and the young lady next to Roderick lisped about romantic feelings and sentimental magnanimity. 'O, hold your tongues,' cried Emilius indignantly. 'This is no good action; it is no action at all; it is nothing. When swallows and linnets feed themselves with the crumbs that are thrown away from the waste of this meal, and carry them to their young ones in their nests, shall not I remember a poor brother who needs my help? If I durst follow my heart, ye would laugh and jeer at me, just as ye have laughed and jeered at many others who have gone forth into the wilderness, that they might hear no more of this world and its generosity.'
Everybody was silent, and Roderick, perceiving the most vehement displeasure in his friend's glowing eyes, feared he might forget himself still more in his present ungracious mood, and tried to give the conversation a sudden turn upon other subjects. But Emilius was becoming restless and absent; his eyes were continually wandering toward the upper gallery, where the servants who lived in the top story had many things to do.
'Who is that ugly old woman,' he at length asked, 'that is so busy there, going backwards and forwards, in her gray cloak?' 'She is one of my attendants,' said his bride; 'she is to overlook and manage my waiting-maids and the other girls.' 'How can you bear to have anything so hideous always at your elbow?' replied Emilius. 'Let her alone,' answered the young lady; 'God meant the ugly to live as well as the handsome: and she is such a good, honest creature, she may be of great use to us.'[Pg 149]
On rising from table, everybody pressed round the new husband, again wished him joy, and urgently begged that he would consent to their having a ball. The bride too said, breathing a gentle kiss on his forehead: 'You will not deny your wife's first request, my beloved; we have all been looking forward with delight to this moment. It is so long since I danced last, and you have never yet seen me dance. Have you no curiosity how I shall acquit myself in this new character? My mother tells me I look better than at any other time.'
'I never saw you thus cheerful,' said Emilius; 'I will be no disturber of your joys: do just what you please; only let me bargain for nobody asking me to make myself ridiculous by any clumsy capers.'
'Oh, if you are a bad dancer,' she answered, laughing, 'you may feel quite safe; everybody will readily consent to your sitting still.' The bride then retired to put on her ball-dress.
'She does not know,' said Emilius to Roderick, with whom he withdrew, 'that I can pass from the next room into hers through a secret door; I will surprise her while she is dressing.'
When Emilius had left them, and many of the ladies were also gone to make such changes in their attire as were necessary for the ball, Roderick took the young men aside, and led the way to his own room. 'It is wearing toward evening,' said he, 'and will soon be dark; so make haste, every one of you, and mask yourselves, that we may render this night glorious in the annals of merriment and madness. Give your fancies free range in choosing your characters: the wilder and uglier the better. Try every [Pg 150]combination of shaggy mane, and squinting eye, and mouth like a gaping volcano; build mountains upon your shoulders, or fatten yourselves into Falstaffs; and as a whet to your inventions, I hereby promise a kiss from the bride to the figure that would be the likeliest to make her miscarry. A wedding is such a strange event in one's life; the bride and bridegroom are so suddenly plunged, as it were by magic, head over heels into a new, unaccustomed element, that it is impossible to infuse too much of madness and folly into this feast, in order to keep pace with the whirlpool that is bearing a brace of human beings from the state in which they were two, into the state in which they become one, and to let all things round about them be fit accompaniments for the dizzy dream on the wings of which they are floating toward a new life. So let us rave away the night, making all sail before the breeze; and a fig for such as look twice on the grave sour faces that would have you behave rationally.'
'Don't be afraid,' said the young officer; 'we have brought from town with us a large chest full of masks and mad carnival dresses, such as would make even you stare.'
'But see here,' returned Roderick, 'what a gem I have got from my tailor, who was just going to cut up this peerless robe into strips. He bought it of an old crone, who must doubtless have worn it on gala days when she went to Lucifer's drawing-room on the Blocksberg. Look at this scarlet bodice, with its gold tassels and fringe, at this cap besmeared with the last fee the hag got from Beelzebub or his imps: it will give me a right worshipful air. To match such [Pg 151]jewels, there is this green velvet petticoat with its saffron-coloured trimming, and this mask would melt even Medusa to a grin. Thus accoutred I mean to lead the chorus of Graces, myself their mother-queen, toward the bed-chamber. Make all the haste you can; and we will then go in procession to fetch the bride.'
The bugles were still playing; the company were walking about the garden, or sitting before the house. The sun had gone down behind thick, murky clouds, and the country was lying in the gray dusk, when a parting gleam suddenly burst forth athwart the cloudy veil, and flooded every spot around, but especially the building, and its galleries, and pillars, and wreaths of flowers, as it were with red blood. At this moment the parents of the bride and the other spectators beheld a train of the wildest appearances move toward the upper corridor. Roderick led the way as the scarlet old woman, and was followed by hump-backs, mountain-paunches, massy wigs, clowns, punches, skeleton-like pantaloons, female figures embanked by enormous hoops and over-canopied with three feet of horsehair, powder and pomatum, and by every disgusting shape that can be conceived, as though a nightmare were unrolling her stores. They jumped, and twirled, and tottered, and stumbled, and straddled, and strutted, and swaggered along the gallery, and then vanished behind one of the doors. But few of the beholders had been able to laugh: so utterly were they amazed by the strange sight. Suddenly a piercing shriek burst from one of the rooms, and there rushed forth into the blood-red glow of the sunset the pale bride, in a short white frock, round which wreaths [Pg 152]of flowers were waving, with her lovely bosom all uncovered, and her rich locks streaming through the air. As though mad, with rolling eyes and distorted face, she darted along the gallery, and, blinded by terror, could find neither door nor staircase; and immediately after rushed Emilius in chase of her, with the sparkling Turkish dagger in his high, upraised hand. Now she was at the end of the passage; she could go no further; he reached her. His masked friends and the gray old woman were running after him. But he had already furiously pierced her bosom, and cut through her white neck; her blood spouted forth into the radiance of the setting sun. The old woman had clasped round him to tear him back; he struggled with her, and hurled himself together with her over the railing, and they both fell, almost lifeless, down at the feet of the relations who had been staring in dumb horror at the bloody scene. Above and below, or hastening down the stairs and along the galleries, were seen the hideous masks, standing or running about in various clusters, like fiends of hell.
Roderick took his dying friend in his arms. He had found him in his wife's room playing with the dagger. She was almost dressed when he entered. At the sight of the hated red bodice his memory had rekindled; the horrible vision of the night had risen upon his mind; and gnashing his teeth he had sprung after his trembling flying bride, to avenge that murder and all those devilish doings. The old woman, ere she expired, confessed the crime that had been wrought; and the gladness and mirth of the whole house were suddenly changed into sorrow and lamentation and dismay.
The author of the foregoing tale, Ludwig Tieck, has lately been introduced to the English reader by an admirable translation of his two exquisite little novels, The Pictures and The Betrothing. He is one among the great German writers who made their appearance during the last ten years of the eighteenth century; a period—whether from any extraordinary productiveness in the power that regulates the seed-time and the harvests of the human race, or from the mighty excitements and stimulants wherewith the world was then teeming—among the richest in the blossoming of genius. For not to mention the great military talents first developed in those days, among the holders of which were he who conquered all the continent of Europe, and he before whom that conqueror fell; turning away from the many rank but luxuriant weeds that sprang up in France, after all its plains had been manured with blood; and fixing the eye solely upon literary excellence, we find in our own country, that the chief part of those men by whom we may hope that the memory of our days will be transmitted to posterity as a thing precious and to be held in honour, that Wordsworth, and Coleridge, [Pg 154]and Southey, and Lamb, and Landor, and Scott, put forth during those ten years the first-fruits of their minds; while in Germany, the same period was rendered illustrious by Fichte and John Paul Richter at its commencement, and subsequently by Schelling, and Hegel, and Steffens, Schleiermacher, and the Schlegels, and Novalis, and Tieck. Of this noble brotherhood, who all, I believe, studied at the same university, that of Jena, and who were all bound together by friendship, by affinity of genius, and by unity of aim, the two latter, Novalis and Tieck, were the poets: for though there are several things of great poetical beauty in the works of the Schlegels, their fame, upon the whole, rests on a different basis. The lovely dreamy mind of Novalis was cut off in the full promise of its spring; it only just awoke from the blissful visions of its childhood, to breathe forth a few lyrical murmurs about the mysteries it had been brooding over, and then fell asleep again. Upon Tieck, therefore, the character of German poetry in the age following those of Goethe and Schiller will mainly depend: and never did Norwegian or Icelandic spring burst forth more suddenly than the youth of Ludwig Tieck. I know not in the whole history of literature, any poet who can count up so many and so great exploits achieved on his first descent into the arena: in number and variety even Goethe must yield the precedence, though his youthful triumphs were Goetz of Berlichingen and Werther. There was in Tieck's early works the promise, and far more than the promise, of the greatest dramatic poet whom Europe had seen since the days of Calderon; there was a rich, elastic, buoyant, comic [Pg 155]spirit, not like the analytical reflection, keen biting wit of Molière and Congreve, and other comic writers of the satirical school, but like the living merriment, the uncontrollable, exuberant joyousness, the humour arising from good humour, not, as it often does, from ill humour, the incarnation, so to say, of the principle of mirth, in Shakespeare, and Cervantes, and Aristophanes; and as a wreath of flowers to crown the whole, there was the heavenly purity and starlike loveliness of his Genoveva. Had the rest of Tieck's life kept pace with the fertility of the six years from 1798 to 1804, he must have been beyond all rivalry the second of German poets; and as Eschylus in the Frogs shares his supremacy with Sophocles, so would Goethe have invited Tieck to sit beside him on his throne. Unfortunately for those who would have feasted upon his fruits, the poet, during the last twenty years, has been so weighed down by almost unintermitting ill health, that he has published but little. There was a short interval indeed that seemed to bid fairer, about the year 1812, when he began to collect his tales and lesser dramas, on a plan something like that of the Decameron, in the Phantasm, but it has not yet been carried beyond the second reign, out of seven through which it was designed to extend. Of that collection the chief part had been known to the world ten or twelve years before: some things, however, appeared then for the first time, and among them, I believe, was the tale of The Love-Charm. Latterly, Tieck's genius has taken a new spring, in a somewhat different direction from that of his youth. He has written half a dozen novels, in the manner of the couple recently translated; nor [Pg 156]are the others of less excellence than those two; a beautiful tale of magic has also been just published; and the speedy appearance of several other things that have employed him during the long period of seeming inactivity, is promised; wherein he has been engaged more or less for above a quarter of a century, and to gather materials for which he some years since visited England. Of this work the highest expectations may justly be formed: not many people, even, in this country, possess a more extensive and accurate acquaintance with our ancient drama than Tieck; no one has entered more fully into the spirit of its great poets, than Tieck has shown himself to have done in the prefaces to his Old English Theatre and his Shakespeare's Vorschule; few have ever bestowed such attention on the history of the stage in all countries, or have so studied the principles of dramatic composition and the nature of dramatic effect; hardly any one, I may say no one, ever learnt so much from Shakespeare: no one, therefore, can have more to teach us about him; and to judge from the remarks on some of the plays which have already been printed in the Abendzeitung, no one was ever so able to trace out the most secret workings of the great master's mind, or to retain his full, calm self-possession when following him on his highest flights; no one ever united in such perfection the great critic with the great poet. One may look forward, therefore, with confidence to the greatest work in æsthetical criticism that even Germany will ever have produced.
Of the foregoing tale itself little need be said. If the translator has failed so grievously that an English reader cannot see its merits, he would hardly help [Pg 157]himself out of the scrape by talking about the effect he ought to have produced. And grievously he must have failed, if any reader with a feeling for poetry does not perceive and enjoy the beauty of the descriptions, especially of the two eventful scenes, the power and passion of the wild dithyramb, the admirable delineation of the characters in proportion to their relative importance, and the poetical harmony and perfect keeping of the whole. Nothing can be more delicate than the way of softening the horror that might be felt for the bride: she has not even a name, that there may be no distinct object for our disgust to fasten on; she is only spoken of under titles of a pleasurable meaning; her beauty, like Helen's on the walls of Troy, is manifested by its effect: the young men are astonished at it; her air of deep melancholy impresses even the gayest and most thoughtless, and is thus more powerful than if pages had been employed in giving utterance to her remorse; besides which, had the latter course been adopted, the main object would have been the wicked heart, not the wicked deed, the sin, not the crime; and sin is always loathsome, whereas a crime may often be looked upon with pity. The poet has therefore wisely kept all his power of characteristic delineation for the two chief persons in the tale; and rarely have any characters been brought out so distinctly within a work of such dimensions; the contrast between them runs through every feature, yet each is the necessary complement to the other; the abuse which they vent in the ball-room each against his dearest friend, and in the ears of almost a stranger, is in the true style of our frail affections, veering before the slightest puff of [Pg 158]self-will; nor is there a circumstance mentioned about either, which tends not to complete the picture, and is not all but indispensable. On some occasions a whole life and character are revealed by a single touch; as for instance when Emilius exclaims, No bread! Can such things be? No other man could have been so ignorant of what goes on in the world, as to marvel at such a common occurrence; yet Emilius, it is quite certain, would be surprised, when awaked from his dreams, to behold the face of real life; so that this exclamation is, as it were, a great toe from which to construct one who is anything rather than a Hercules. Indeed the whole scene of the peasant's marriage, which at first sight may appear like a somewhat idle digression, brought in for no better reason than amusement, is absolutely necessary to the tale as a work of art: it not only shows the character of Emilius in a fresh and important point of view, not only supplies him with fuel, so that he is ready to burn at the approach of the first spark, as for the former scene he had been prepared by the arousal of his feelings in the ball-room; which, besides, cast a mysterious haze over the scene, and leave it half doubtful how much of the crime was actually perpetrated: the peasant's wedding is necessary as a contrast, as a complement, and as a relief to the other marriage; nor can that calm and masterly irony, which is among the first elements in the mind of a great poet, be more clearly manifested, than it is here, where the pomp and rejoicing of the great and wealthy are suddenly turned 'into sorrow and lamentation and dismay;' while the poor and the abashed and the despised are enabled to pass their days in what to [Pg 159]them is comfort, and to obtain the enjoyment of a day 'unto which in after-times they may look back with delight.'
Everything about the one marriage seems happy; everything about the other seems wretched; but neither is what it seems: they who seem happy are a prey to extravagant and sinful desires; those who seem wretched have moderate wishes, and, though they have offended, have not done it wantonly or in malice; they are making what seems to them the only atonement in their power, and 'the fellow bears the creature the same good-will, though she is such a sorry bit of clay'; therefore the end of each marriage is according, not unto the outward show and promise, but unto that which lies within the heart. It is thus that poetical justice endeavours, so far as it may, to anticipate the sentence of Omniscient justice.
Since the day when the town of Haslau first became the seat of a Court, no man could remember that any one event in its annals (always excepting the birth of the hereditary prince) had been looked for with so anxious a curiosity as the opening of the last will and testament left by Van der Kabel. This Van der Kabel may be styled the Haslau Crœsus; and his whole life might be termed, according to the pleasure of the wits, one long festival of god-sends, or a daily washing of golden sands nightly impregnated by golden showers of Danæ. Seven distant surviving relatives of seven distant relatives deceased of the said Van der Kabel, entertained some little hopes of a place amongst his legatees, grounded upon an assurance which he had made, 'that upon his oath he would not fail to remember them in his will.' These hopes, however, were but faint and weakly; for they could not repose any extraordinary confidence in his good faith—not only because in all cases he conducted his affairs in a disinterested spirit, and with a perverse obstinacy of moral principle, whereas his [Pg 161]seven relatives were mere novices, and young beginners in the trade of morality,—but also because, in all these moral extravagances of his (so distressing to the feelings of the sincere rascal), he thought proper to be very satirical, and had his heart so full of odd caprices, tricks, and snares for unsuspicious scoundrels, that (as they all said) no man who was but raw in the art of virtue could deal with him, or place any reliance upon his intentions. Indeed the covert laughter which played about his temples, and the falsetto tones of his sneering voice, somewhat weakened the advantageous impression which was made by the noble composition of his face, and by a pair of large hands, from which were daily dropping favours little and great—benefit nights, Christmas-boxes and New-Year's gifts; for this reason it was that, by the whole flock of birds who sought shelter in his boughs, and who fed and built their nests on him, as on any wild service-tree, he was, notwithstanding, reputed a secret magazine of springes; and they were scarce able to find eyes for the visible berries which fed them, in their scrutiny after the supposed gossamer snares.
In the interval between two apoplectic fits he had drawn up his will, and had deposited it with the magistrate. When he was just at the point of death he transferred to the seven presumptive heirs the certificate of this deposit; and even then said, in his old tone—how far it was from his expectation, that by any such anticipation of his approaching decease, he could at all depress the spirits of men so steady and sedate, whom, for his own part, he would much rather regard in the light of laughing than of weeping heirs; to which remark one only of the whole number, [Pg 162]namely, Mr. Harprecht, inspector of police, replied as a cool ironist to a bitter one—'that the total amount of concern and of interest, which might severally belong to them in such a loss, was not (they were sincerely sorry it was not) in their power to determine.'
At length the time is come when the seven heirs have made their appearance at the town-hall, with their certificate—of deposit; videlicet, the ecclesiastical councillor Glantz; Harprecht, the inspector of police; Neupeter, the court-agent; the court-fiscal, Knoll; Pasvogel, the bookseller; the reader of the morning lecture, Flacks; and Monsieur Flitte, from Alsace. Solemnly, and in due form, they demanded of the magistrate the schedule of effects consigned to him by the late Kabel, and the opening of his will. The principal executor of this will was Mr Mayor himself; the sub-executors were the rest of the town-council. Thereupon, without delay, the schedule and the will were fetched from the register office of the council to the council chamber: both were exhibited in rotation to the members of the council and the heirs, in order that they might see the privy seal of the town impressed upon them: the registry of consignment, indorsed upon the schedule, was read aloud to the seven heirs by the town-clerk: and by that registry it was notified to them, that the deceased had actually consigned the schedule to the magistrate, and entrusted it to the corporation-chest; and that on the day of consignment he was still of sound mind: finally, the seven seals, which he had himself affixed to the instrument, were found unbroken. These preliminaries gone through, it was now (but not [Pg 163]until a brief registry of all these forms had been drawn up by the town-clerk) lawful, in God's name, that the will should be opened and read aloud by Mr Mayor, word for word as follows:—
'I, Van der Kabel, on this 7th day of May, 179-, being in my house at Haslau, situate in Dog-street, deliver and make known this for my last will; and without many millions of words, notwithstanding I have been both a German notary and a Dutch schoolmaster. Howsoever I may disgrace my old professions by this parsimony of words, I believe myself to be so far at home in the art and calling of a notary, that I am competent to act for myself as a testator in due form, and as a regular devisor of property.
'It is a custom of testators to premise the moving causes of their wills. These, in my case, as in most others, are regard for my happy departure, and for the disposal of the succession to my property—which, by the way, is the object of a tender passion in various quarters. To say anything about my funeral, and all that, would be absurd and stupid. This, and what shape my remains shall take, let the eternal sun settle above, not in any gloomy winter, but in some of his most verdant springs.
'As to those charitable foundations and memorial institutions of benevolence, about which notaries are so much occupied, in my case I appoint as follows: to three thousand of my poor townsmen of every class, I assign just the same number of florins, which sum I will that, on the anniversary of my death, they shall spend in feasting upon the town common, where they are previously to pitch their camp, unless the military camp of his Serene Highness shall be already [Pg 164]pitched there, in preparation for the reviews; and when the gala is ended, I would have them cut up the tents into clothes. Item, to all the school-masters in our locality I bequeath one golden augustus. Item, to the Jews of this place I bequeath my pew in the high church.—As I would wish that my will should be divided into clauses, this is considered to be the first.
'Amongst the important offices of a will, it is universally agreed to be one, that from amongst the presumptive and presumptuous expectants, it should name those who are, and those who are not, to succeed to the inheritance; that it should create heirs and destroy them. In conformity to this notion, I give and bequeath to Mr Glantz, the councillor for ecclesiastical affairs, as also to Mr Knoll, the exchequer officer; likewise to Mr Peter Neupeter, the court-agent; item to Mr Harprecht, director of police; furthermore to Mr Flacks, the morning lecturer; in like manner to the court-bookseller, Mr Pasvogel; and finally to Monsieur Flitte,—nothing; not so much because they have no just claims upon me—standing, as they do, in the remotest possible degree of consanguinity; nor again, because they are for the most part themselves rich enough to leave handsome inheritances; as because I am assured, indeed I have it from their own lips, that they entertain a far stronger regard for my insignificant person than for my splendid property; my body, [Pg 165]therefore, or as large a portion of it as they can get, I bequeath to them.'
At this point seven faces, like those of the Seven Sleepers, gradually elongated into preternatural extent. The ecclesiastical councillor, a young man, but already famous throughout Germany for his sermons printed or preached, was especially aggrieved by such offensive personality; Monsieur Flitte rapped out a curse that rattled even in the ears of magistracy; the chin of Flacks the morning lecturer gravitated downwards into the dimensions of a patriarchal beard; and the town-council could distinguish an assortment of audible reproaches to the memory of Mr Kabel, such as prig, rascal, profane wretch, &c. But the Mayor motioned with his hand, and immediately the fiscal and the bookseller recomposed their features and set their faces like so many traps with springs, and triggers, at full cock, that they might catch every syllable; and then with a gravity that cost him some efforts:—
'Excepting always, and be it excepted, my present house in Dog-street: which house by virtue of this third clause is to descend and to pass in full property just as it now stands, to that one of my seven relatives above-mentioned, who shall, within the space of one half-hour (to be computed from the reciting of this clause), shed, to the memory of me his departed kinsman, sooner than the other six competitors, one, or, if [Pg 166]possible, a couple of tears, in the presence of a respectable magistrate, who is to make a protocol thereof. Should, however, all remain dry, in that case, the house must lapse to the heir-general—whom I shall proceed to name.'
Here Mr Mayor closed the will: doubtless, he observed, the condition annexed to the bequest was an unusual one, but yet, in no respect contrary to law: to him that wept the first the court was bound to adjudge the house: and then placing his watch on the session table, the pointers of which indicated that it was now just half-past eleven, he calmly sat down—that he might duly witness in his official character of executor, assisted by the whole court of aldermen, who should be the first to produce the requisite tear or tears on behalf of the testator.
That since the terraqueous globe has moved or existed, there can ever have met a more lugubrious congress, or one more out of temper and enraged than this of Seven United Provinces, as it were, all dry and all confederated for the purpose of weeping,—I suppose no impartial judge will believe. At first some invaluable minutes were lost in pure confusion of mind, in astonishment, in peals of laughter: the congress found itself too suddenly translated into the condition of the dog to which, in the very moment of his keenest assault upon some object of his appetite, the fiend cried out—Halt! Whereupon, standing up as he was, on his hind legs, his teeth grinning, and snarling with the fury of desire, he halted and remained petrified:—from the graspings of hope, however distant, to the necessity of weeping for a wager, the congress found the transition too abrupt and harsh.[Pg 167]
One thing was evident to all—that for a shower that was to come down at such a full gallop, for a baptism of the eyes to be performed at such a hunting pace, it was vain to think of any pure water of grief: no hydraulics could effect this: yet in twenty-six minutes (four unfortunately were already gone), in one way or other, perhaps, some business might be done.
'Was there ever such a cursed act,' said the merchant Neupeter, 'such a price of buffoonery enjoined by any man of sense and discretion? For my part, I can't understand what the d——l it means.' However, he understood this much, that a house was by possibility floating in his purse upon a tear: and that was enough to cause a violent irritation in his lachrymal glands.
Knoll, the fiscal, was screwing up, twisting, and distorting his features pretty much in the style of a poor artisan on Saturday night, whom some fellow-workman is barberously razoring and scraping by the light of a cobbler's candle: furious was his wrath at this abuse and profanation of the title Last Will and Testament: and at one time, poor soul! he was near enough to tears—of vexation.
The wily bookseller, Pasvogel, without loss of time, sate down quietly to business: he ran through a cursory retrospect of all the works any ways moving or affecting that he had himself either published or sold on commission;—took a flying survey of the pathetic in general: and in this way of going to work, he had fair expectations that in the end he should brew something or other: as yet, however, he looked very much like a dog who is slowly licking off an emetic which the Parisian surgeon Demet has administered [Pg 168]by smearing it on his nose: time—gentlemen, time was required for the operation.
Monsieur Flitte, from Alsace, fairly danced up and down the sessions chamber; with bursts of laughter he surveyed the rueful faces around him: he confessed that he was not the richest among them, but for the whole city of Strasburg, and Alsace to boot, he was not the man that could or would weep on such a merry occasion. He went on with his unseasonable laughter and indecent mirth, until Harprecht, the police inspector, looked at him very significantly, and said—that perhaps Monsieur flattered himself that he might by means of laughter squeeze or express the tears required from the well-known meibomian glands, the caruncula, &c., and might thus piratically provide himself with surreptitious rain; but in that case, he must remind him that he would no more win the day with any such secretions than he could carry to account a course of sneezes or wilfully blowing his nose; a channel into which it was well known that very many tears, far more than were now wanted, flowed out of the eyes through the nasal duct; more indeed by a good deal than were ever known to flow downwards to the bottom of most pews at a funeral sermon. Monsieur Flitte of Alsace, however, protested that he was laughing out of pure fun, for his own amusement; and, upon his honour, with no ulterior views.
The inspector on his side, being pretty well acquainted with the hopeless condition of his own dephlegmatised heart, endeavoured to force into his eyes something that might meet the occasion by staring with them wide open and in a state of rigid expansion.
The morning-lecturer, Flacks, looked like a Jew beggar mounted on a stallion which is running away with him: meantime, what by domestic tribulations, what by those he witnessed at his own lecture, his heart was furnished with such a promising bank of heavy-laden clouds, that he could easily have delivered upon the spot the main quantity of water required had it not been for the house which floated on the top of the storm; and which, just as all was ready, came driving in with the tide, too gay and gladsome a spectacle not to banish his gloom, and thus fairly dammed up the waters.
The ecclesiastical councillor—who had become acquainted with his own nature by long experience in preaching funeral sermons, and sermons on the New Year, and knew full well that he was himself always the first person and frequently the last, to be affected by the pathos of his own eloquence—now rose with dignified solemnity, on seeing himself and the others hanging so long by the dry rope, and addressed the chamber:—No man, he said, who had read his printed works, could fail to know that he carried a heart about him as well as other people; and a heart, he would add, that had occasion to repress such holy testimonies of its tenderness as tears, lest he should thereby draw too heavily on the sympathies and the purses of his fellow-men, rather than elaborately to [Pg 170]provoke them by stimulants for any secondary views, or to serve an indirect purpose of his own: 'This heart,' said he, 'has already shed tears (but they were already shed secretly), for Kabel was my friend;' and, so saying, he paused for a moment and looked about him.
With pleasure he observed that all were sitting as dry as corks: indeed, at this particular moment, when he himself, by interrupting their several water-works, had made them furiously angry, it might as well have been expected that crocodiles, fallow-deer, elephants, witches, or ravens should weep for Van der Kabel, as his presumptive heirs. Among them all, Flacks was the only one who continued to make way: he kept steadily before his mind the following little extempore assortment of objects:—Van der Kabel's good and beneficent acts; the old petticoats so worn and tattered, and the gray hair of his female congregation at morning service; Lazarus with his dogs; his own long coffin; innumerable decapitations; the Sorrows of Werther; a miniature field of battle; and finally, himself and his own melancholy condition at this moment, itself enough to melt any heart, condemned as he was in the bloom of youth by the second clause of Van der Kabel's will to tribulation, and tears, and struggles:—Well done, Flacks! Three strokes more with the pump-handle, and the water is pumped up and the house along with it.
Meantime Glantz, the ecclesiastical councillor, proceeded in his pathetic harangue—'Oh, Kabel, my Kabel!' he ejaculated, and almost wept with joy at the near approach of his tears, 'the time shall come that by the side of thy loving breast, covered with earth, [Pg 171]mine also shall lie mouldering and in cor——' ruption he would have said; but Flacks, starting up in trouble, and with eyes overflowing, threw a hasty glance around him, and said, 'With submission, gentlemen, to the best of my belief I am weeping.' Then sitting down, with great satisfaction he allowed the tears to stream down his face; that done, he soon recovered his cheerfulness and his aridity. Glantz the councillor thus saw the prize fished away before his eyes—those very eyes which he had already brought into an Accessit, or inchoate state of humidity; this vexed him: and his mortification was the greater on thinking of his own pathetic exertions, and the abortive appetite for the prize which he had thus uttered in words as ineffectual as his own sermons; and at this moment he was ready to weep for spite—and 'to weep the more because he wept in vain.' As to Flacks, a protocol was immediately drawn up of his watery compliance with the will of Van der Kabel: and the messuage in Dog-street was knocked down to him for ever. The Mayor adjudged it to the poor devil with all his heart: indeed, this was the first occasion ever known in Haslau, on which the tears of a schoolmaster and a curate had converted themselves—not into mere amber that incloses only a worthless insect, like the tears of Heliodes, but like those of the goddess Freia, into heavy gold. Glantz congratulated Flacks very warmly; and observed with a[Pg 172] smiling air, that possibly he had himself lent him a helping hand by his pathetic address. As to the others, the separation between them and Flacks was too palpable, in the mortifying distinction of wet and dry, to allow of any cordiality between them; and they stood aloof therefore: but they stayed to hear the rest of the will, which they now awaited in a state of anxious agitation.
'To be weak,' we need not the great archangel's voice to tell us, 'is to be miserable.' All weakness is suffering and humiliation, no matter for its mode or its subject. Beyond all other weakness, therefore, and by a sad prerogative, as more miserable than what is most miserable in all, that capital weakness of man which regards the tenure of his enjoyments and his power to protect, even for a moment, the crown of flowers—flowers, at the best, how frail and few!—which sometimes settles upon his haughty brow. There is no end, there never will be an end, of the lamentations which ascend from earth and the rebellious heart of her children, upon this huge opprobrium of human pride—the everlasting mutabilities of all which man can grasp by his power or by his aspirations, the fragility of all which he inherits, and the hollowness visible amid the very raptures of enjoyment to every eye which looks for a moment underneath the draperies of the shadowy present—the hollowness—the blank treachery of hollowness, upon which all the pomps and vanities of life ultimately repose. This trite but unwearying theme, this impassioned commonplace of humanity, is the subject [Pg 174]in every age of variation without end, from the Poet, the Rhetorician, the Fabulist, the Moralist, the Divine, and the Philosopher. All, amidst the sad vanity of their sighs and groans, labour to put on record and to establish this monotonous complaint, which needs not other record or evidence than those very sighs and groans. What is life? Darkness and formless vacancy for a beginning, or something beyond all beginning—then next a dim lotos of human consciousness, finding itself afloat upon the bosom of waters without a shore—then a few sunny smiles and many tears—a little love and infinite strife—whisperings from paradise and fierce mockeries from the anarchy of chaos—dust and ashes—and once more darkness circling round, as if from the beginning, and in this way rounding or making an island of our fantastic existence,—that is human life; that the inevitable amount of man's laughter and his tears—of what he suffers and he does—of his motions this way and that way—to the right or to the left—backwards or forwards—of all his seeming realities and all his absolute negations—his shadowy pomps and his pompous shadows—of whatsoever he thinks, finds, makes or mars, creates or animates, loves, hates, or in dread hope anticipates;—so it is, so it has been, so it will be, for ever and ever.
Yet in the lowest deep there still yawns a lower deep; and in the vast halls of man's frailty there are separate and more gloomy chambers of a frailty more exquisite and consummate. We account it frailty that threescore years and ten make the upshot of man's pleasurable existence, and that, far before that time is reached, his beauty and his power have fallen [Pg 175]among weeds and forgetfulness. But there is a frailty, by comparison with which this ordinary flux of the human race seems to have a vast duration. Cases there are, and those not rare, in which a single week—a day—an hour sweeps away all vestiges and landmarks of a memorable felicity; in which the ruin travels faster than the flying showers upon the mountain-side, faster 'than a musician scatters sounds;' in which 'it was' and 'it is not' are words of the self-same tongue, in the self-same minute; in which the sun that at noon beheld all sound and prosperous, long before its setting hour looks out upon a total wreck, and sometimes upon the total abolition of any fugitive memorial that there ever had been a vessel to be wrecked, or a wreck to be obliterated.
These cases, though here spoken of rhetorically, are of daily occurrence; and, though they may seem few by comparison with the infinite millions of the species, they are many indeed, if they be reckoned absolutely for themselves; and throughout the limits of a whole nation, not a day passes over us but many families are robbed of their heads, or even swallowed up in ruin themselves, or their course turned out of the sunny beams into a dark wilderness. Shipwrecks and nightly conflagrations are sometimes, and especially among some nations, wholesale calamities; battles yet more so; earthquakes, the famine, the pestilence, though rarer, are visitations yet wider in their desolation. Sickness and commercial ill-luck, if narrower, are more frequent scourges. And most of all, or with most darkness in its train, comes the sickness of the brain—lunacy—which, visiting nearly one thousand [Pg 176]in every million, must, in every populous nation, make many ruins in each particular day. 'Babylon in ruins,' says a great author, 'is not so sad a sight as a human soul overthrown by lunacy.' But there is a sadder even than that,—the sight of a family-ruin wrought by crime is even more appalling. Forgery, breaches of trust, embezzlement, of private or public funds—(a crime sadly on the increase since the example of Fauntleroy, and the suggestion of its great feasibility first made by him)—these enormities, followed too often, and countersigned for their final result to the future happiness of families, by the appalling catastrophe of suicide, must naturally, in every wealthy nation, or wherever property and the modes of property are much developed, constitute the vast majority of all that come under the review of public justice. Any of these is sufficient to make shipwreck of all peace and comfort for a family; and often, indeed, it happens that the desolation is accomplished within the course of one revolving sun; often the whole dire catastrophe, together with its total consequences, is both accomplished and made known to those whom it chiefly concerns within one and the same hour. The mighty Juggernaut of social life, moving onwards with its everlasting thunders, pauses not for a moment to spare—to pity—to look aside, but rushes forward for ever, impassive as the marble in the quarry—caring not for whom it destroys, for the how many, or for the results, direct and indirect, whether many or few. The increasing grandeur and magnitude of the social system, the more it multiplies and extends its victims, the more it conceals them; and for the very same reason: just as in the Roman [Pg 177]amphitheatres, when they grew to the magnitude of mighty cities (in some instances accommodating 400,000 spectators, in many a fifth part of that amount), births and deaths became ordinary events, which, in a small modern theatre, are rare and memorable; and exactly as these prodigious accidents multiplied, pari passu, they were disregarded and easily concealed: for curiosity was no longer excited; the sensation attached to them was little or none.
From these terrific tragedies, which, like monsoons or tornadoes, accomplish the work of years in an hour, not merely an impressive lesson is derived, sometimes, perhaps, a warning, but also (and this is of universal application) some consolation. Whatever may have been the misfortunes or the sorrows of a man's life, he is still privileged to regard himself and his friends as amongst the fortunate by comparison, in so far as he has escaped these wholesale storms, either as an actor in producing them, or a contributor to their violence—or even more innocently (though oftentimes not less miserably)—as a participator in the instant ruin, or in the long arrears of suffering which they entail.
The following story falls within the class of hasty tragedies, and sudden desolations here described. The reader is assured that every incident is strictly true: nothing, in that respect, has been altered; nor, indeed, anywhere except in the conversations, of which, though the results and general outline are known, the separate details have necessarily been lost under the agitating circumstances which produced them. It has been judged right and delicate to conceal the [Pg 178]name of the great city, and therefore of the nation in which these events occurred, chiefly out of consideration for the descendants of one person concerned in the narrative: otherwise, it might not have been requisite: for it is proper to mention, that every person directly a party to the case has been long laid in the grave: all of them, with one solitary exception, upwards of fifty years.
It was early spring in the year 17—; the day was the 6th of April; and the weather, which had been of a wintry fierceness for the preceding six or seven weeks—cold indeed beyond anything known for many years, gloomy for ever, and broken by continual storms—was now by a Swedish transformation all at once bright—genial—heavenly. So sudden and so early a prelusion of summer, it was generally feared, could not last. But that only made everybody the more eager to lose no hour of an enjoyment that might prove so fleeting. It seemed as if the whole population of the place, a population among the most numerous in Christendom, had been composed of hybernating animals suddenly awakened by the balmy sunshine from their long winter's torpor. Through every hour of the golden morning the streets were resonant with female parties of young and old, the timid and the bold, nay even of the most delicate valetudinarians, now first tempted to lay aside their wintry clothing together with their fireside habits, whilst the whole rural environs of our vast city, the woodlands, and the interminable meadows began daily to re-echo the glad voices of the young and jovial awaking once again, like the birds and the flowers, [Pg 179]and universal nature, to the luxurious happiness of this most delightful season.
Happiness do I say? Yes, happiness; happiness to me above all others. For I also in those days was among the young and the gay; I was healthy; I was strong; I was prosperous in a worldly sense! I owed no man a shilling; feared no man's face; shunned no man's presence. I held a respectable station in society; I was myself, let me venture to say it, respected generally for my personal qualities, apart from any advantages I might draw from fortune or inheritance; I had reason to think myself popular amongst the very slender circle of my acquaintance; and finally, which perhaps was the crowning grace to all these elements of happiness, I suffered not from the presence of ennui; nor ever feared to suffer: for my temperament was constitutionally ardent; I had a powerful animal sensibility; and I knew the one great secret for maintaining its equipoise, viz. by powerful daily exercise; and thus I lived in the light and presence, or (if I should not be suspected of seeking rhetorical expressions, I would say)—in one eternal solstice, of unclouded hope.
These, you will say, were blessings; these were golden elements of felicity. They were so; and yet, with the single exception of my healthy frame and firm animal organisation, I feel that I have mentioned hitherto nothing but what by comparison might be thought of a vulgar quality. All the other advantages that I have enumerated, had they been yet wanting, might have been acquired; had they been forfeited, might have been reconquered; had they been even irretrievably lost, might, by a philosophic [Pg 180]effort, have been dispensed with; compensations might have been found for any of them, many equivalents, or if not, consolations at least, for their absence. But now it remains to speak of other blessings too mighty to be valued, not merely as transcending in rank and dignity all other constituents of happiness, but for a reason far sadder than that—because, once lost, they were incapable of restoration, and because not to be dispensed with; blessings in which 'either we must live or have no life:' lights to the darkness of our paths and to the infirmity of our steps—which, once extinguished, never more on this side the gates of Paradise can any man hope to see re-illumined for himself. Amongst these I may mention an intellect, whether powerful or not in itself, at any rate most elaborately cultivated; and, to say the truth, I had little other business before me in this life than to pursue this lofty and delightful task. I may add, as a blessing, not in the same positive sense as that which I have just mentioned, because not of a nature to contribute so hourly to the employment of the thoughts, but yet in this sense equal, that the absence of either would have been an equal affliction,—namely, a conscience void of all offence. It was little indeed that I, drawn by no necessities of situation into temptations of that nature, had done no injury to any man. That was fortunate; but I could not much value myself upon what was so much an accident of my situation. Something, however, I might pretend to beyond this negative merit; for I had originally a benign nature; and, as I advanced in years and thoughtfulness, the gratitude which possessed me for my own exceeding [Pg 181]happiness led me to do that by principle and system which I had already done upon blind impulse; and thus upon a double argument I was incapable of turning away from the prayer of the afflicted, whatever had been the sacrifice to myself. Hardly, perhaps, could it have been said in a sufficient sense at that time that I was a religious man: yet undoubtedly I had all the foundations within me upon which religion might hereafter have grown. My heart overflowed with thankfulness to Providence: I had a natural tone of unaffected piety; and thus far at least I might have been called a religious man, that in the simplicity of truth I could have exclaimed,
'O, Abner, I fear God, and I fear none beside.'
But wherefore seek to delay ascending by a natural climax to that final consummation and perfect crown of my felicity—that almighty blessing which ratified their value to all the rest? Wherefore, oh! wherefore do I shrink in miserable weakness from——what? Is it from reviving, from calling up again into fierce and insufferable light the images and features of a long-buried happiness? That would be a natural shrinking and a reasonable weakness. But how escape from reviving, whether I give it utterance or not, that which is for ever vividly before me? What need to call into artificial light that which, whether sleeping or waking—by night or by day—for eight-and-thirty years has seemed by its miserable splendour to scorch my brain? Wherefore shrink from giving language, simple vocal utterance, to that burden of anguish which by so long an endurance has lost no atom of its weight, nor can gain any most [Pg 182]surely by the loudest publication? Need there can be none, after this, to say that the priceless blessing, which I have left to the final place in this ascending review, was the companion of my life—my darling and youthful wife. Oh! dovelike woman! fated in an hour the most defenceless to meet with the ravening vulture,—lamb fallen amongst wolves,—trembling—fluttering fawn, whose path was inevitably to be crossed by the bloody tiger;—angel, whose most innocent heart fitted thee for too early a flight from this impure planet; if indeed it were a necessity that thou shouldst find no rest for thy footing except amidst thy native heavens, if indeed to leave what was not worthy of thee were a destiny not to be evaded—a summons not to be put by,—yet why, why, again and again I demand—why was it also necessary that this thy departure, so full of wo to me, should also to thyself be heralded by the pangs of martyrdom? Sainted love, if, like the ancient children of the Hebrews, like Meshech and Abednego, thou wert called by divine command, whilst yet almost a child, to walk, and to walk alone, through the fiery furnace,—wherefore then couldst not thou, like that Meshech and that Abednego, walk unsinged by the dreadful torment, and come forth unharmed? Why, if the sacrifice were to be total, was it necessary to reach it by so dire a struggle? and if the cup, the bitter cup, of final separation from those that were the light of thy eyes and the pulse of thy heart might not be put aside,—yet wherefore was it that thou mightst not drink it up in the natural peace which belongs to a sinless heart?
But these are murmurings, you will say, rebellious [Pg 183]murmurings against the proclamations of God. Not so: I have long since submitted myself, resigned myself, nay even reconciled myself, perhaps, to the great wreck of my life, in so far as it was the will of God, and according to the weakness of my imperfect nature. But my wrath still rises, like a towering flame, against all the earthly instruments of this ruin; I am still at times as unresigned as ever to this tragedy, in so far as it was the work of human malice. Vengeance, as a mission for me, as a task for my hands in particular, is no longer possible; the thunder-bolts of retribution have been long since launched by other hands; and yet still it happens that at times I do—I must—I shall perhaps to the hour of death, rise in maniac fury, and seek, in the very impotence of vindictive madness, groping as it were in blindness of heart, for that tiger from hell-gates that tore away my darling from my heart. Let me pause, and interrupt this painful strain, to say a word or two upon what she was—and how far worthy of a love more honourable to her (that was possible) and deeper (but that was not possible) than mine. When first I saw her, she—my Agnes—was merely a child, not much (if anything) above sixteen. But, as in perfect womanhood she retained a most childlike expression of countenance, so even then in absolute childhood she put forward the blossoms and the dignity of a woman. Never yet did my eye light upon creature that was born of woman, nor could it enter my heart to conceive one, possessing a figure more matchless in its proportions, more statuesque, and more deliberately and advisedly to be characterised by no adequate word but the word magnificent (a word too often and lightly abused). In [Pg 184]reality, speaking of women, I have seen many beautiful figures, but hardly one except Agnes that could without hyperbole be styled truly and memorably magnificent. Though in the first order of tall women, yet, being full in person, and with a symmetry that was absolutely faultless, she seemed to the random sight as little above the ordinary height. Possibly from the dignity of her person, assisted by the dignity of her movements, a stranger would have been disposed to call her at a distance a woman of commanding presence; but never after he had approached near enough to behold her face. Every thought of artifice—of practised effect—or of haughty pretension, fled before the childlike innocence—the sweet feminine timidity—and the more than cherub loveliness of that countenance, which yet in its lineaments was noble, whilst its expression was purely gentle and confiding. A shade of pensiveness there was about her; but that was in her manners, scarcely ever in her features; and the exquisite fairness of her complexion, enriched by the very sweetest and most delicate bloom that ever I have beheld, should rather have allied it to a tone of cheerfulness. Looking at this noble creature, as I first looked at her, when yet upon the early threshold of womanhood—
'With household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin liberty'—
you might have supposed her some Hebe or young Aurora of the dawn. When you saw only her superb figure, and its promise of womanly development, with the measured dignity of her step, you might for a moment have fancied her some imperial [Pg 185]Medea of the Athenian stage—some Volumnia from Rome,
'Or ruling bandit's wife amidst the Grecian isles.'
But catch one glance from her angelic countenance—and then combining the face and the person, you would have dismissed all such fancies, and have pronounced her a Pandora or an Eve, expressly accomplished and held forth by nature as an exemplary model or ideal pattern for the future female sex:
'A perfect woman, nobly plann'd,
To warn, to comfort, to command:
And yet a spirit too, and bright
With something of an angel light.'
To this superb young woman, such as I have here sketched her, I surrendered my heart for ever, almost from my first opportunity of seeing her: for so natural and without disguise was her character, and so winning the simplicity of her manners, due in part to her own native dignity of mind, and in part to the deep solitude in which she had been reared, that little penetration was required to put me in possession of all her thoughts; and to win her love, not very much more than to let her see, as see she could not avoid, in connection with that chivalrous homage which at any rate was due to her sex and her sexual perfections, a love for herself on my part, which was in its nature as exalted a passion and as profoundly rooted as any merely human affection can ever yet have been.
On the seventeenth birthday of Agnes we were married. Oh! calendar of everlasting months—months that, like the mighty rivers, shall flow on for [Pg 186]ever, immortal as thou, Nile, or Danube, Euphrates, or St. Lawrence! and ye, summer and winter, day and night, wherefore do you bring round continually your signs, and seasons, and revolving hours, that still point and barb the anguish of local recollections, telling me of this and that celestial morning that never shall return, and of too blessed expectations, travelling like yourselves through a heavenly zodiac of changes, till at once and for ever they sank into the grave! Often do I think of seeking for some quiet cell either in the Tropics or in Arctic latitudes, where the changes of the year, and the external signs corresponding to them, express themselves by no features like those in which the same seasons are invested under our temperate climes: so that, if knowing, we cannot at least feel the identity of their revolutions. We were married, I have said, on the birthday—the seventeenth birthday—of Agnes; and pretty nearly on her eighteenth it was that she placed me at the summit of my happiness, whilst for herself she thus completed the circle of her relations to this life's duties, by presenting me with a son. Of this child, knowing how wearisome to strangers is the fond exultation of parents, I shall simply say, that he inherited his mother's beauty; the same touching loveliness and innocence of expression, the same chiselled nose—mouth—and chin, the same exquisite auburn hair. In many other features, not of person merely, but also of mind and manners, as they gradually began to open before me, this child deepened my love to him by recalling the image of his mother; and what other image was there that I so much wished to keep before me, whether waking or asleep? At the [Pg 187]time to which I am now coming but too rapidly, this child, still our only one, and unusually premature, was within four months of completing his third year; consequently Agnes was at that time in her twenty-first year; and I may here add, with respect to myself, that I was in my twenty-sixth.
But before I come to that period of wo, let me say one word on the temper of mind which so fluent and serene a current of prosperity may be thought to have generated. Too common a course I know it is, when the stream of life flows with absolute tranquillity, and ruffled by no menace of a breeze—the azure overhead never dimmed by a passing cloud, that in such circumstances the blood stagnates: life, from excess and plethora of sweets, becomes insipid: the spirit of action droops: and it is oftentimes found at such seasons that slight annoyances and molestations, or even misfortunes in a lower key, are not wholly undesirable, as means of stimulating the lazy energies, and disturbing a slumber which is, or soon will be, morbid in its character. I have known myself cases not a few, where, by the very nicest gradations, and by steps too silent and insensible for daily notice, the utmost harmony and reciprocal love had shaded down into fretfulness and petulance, purely from too easy a life, and because all nobler agitations that might have ruffled the sensations occasionally, and all distresses even on the narrowest scale that might have reawakened the solicitudes of love, by opening necessities for sympathy—for counsel—or for mutual aid, had been shut out by foresight too elaborate, or by prosperity too cloying. But all this, had it otherwise been possible with my particular mind, and at my [Pg 188]early age, was utterly precluded by one remarkable peculiarity in my temper. Whether it were that I derived from nature some jealousy and suspicion of all happiness which seems too perfect and unalloyed—[a spirit of restless distrust which in ancient times often led men to throw valuable gems into the sea, in the hope of thus propitiating the dire deity of misfortune, by voluntarily breaking the fearful chain of prosperity, and led some of them to weep and groan when the gems thus sacrificed were afterwards brought back to their hands by simple fishermen, who had recovered them in the intestines of fishes—a portentous omen, which was interpreted into a sorrowful indication that the Deity thus answered the propitiatory appeal, and made solemn proclamation that he had rejected it]—whether, I say, it were this spirit of jealousy awaked in me by too steady and too profound a felicity—or whether it were that great overthrows and calamities have some mysterious power to send forward a dim misgiving of their advancing footsteps, and really and indeed
'That in to-day already walks to-morrow;'—
or whether it were partly, as I have already put the case in my first supposition, a natural instinct of distrust, but irritated and enlivened by a particular shock of superstitious alarm; which, or whether any of these causes it were that kept me apprehensive, and on the watch for disastrous change, I will not here undertake to determine. Too certain it is that I was so. I never ridded myself of an over-mastering and brooding sense, shadowy and vague, a dim abiding feeling (that sometimes was and sometimes was not [Pg 189]exalted into a conscious presentiment) of some great calamity travelling towards me; not perhaps immediately impending—perhaps even at a great distance; but already—dating from some secret hour—already in motion upon some remote line of approach. This feeling I could not assuage by sharing it with Agnes. No motive could be strong enough for persuading me to communicate so gloomy a thought with one who, considering her extreme healthiness, was but too remarkably prone to pensive, if not to sorrowful contemplations. And thus the obligation which I felt to silence and reserve, strengthened the morbid impression I had received; whilst the remarkable incident I have adverted to served powerfully to rivet the superstitious chain which was continually gathering round me. The incident was this—and before I repeat it, let me pledge my word of honour, that I report to you the bare facts of the case, without exaggeration, and in the simplicity of truth:—There was at that time resident in the great city which is the scene of my narrative a woman, from some part of Hungary, who pretended to the gift of looking into futurity. She had made herself known advantageously in several of the greatest cities of Europe under the designation of the Hungarian Prophetess; and very extraordinary instances were cited amongst the highest circles of her success in the art which she professed. So ample were the pecuniary tributes which she levied upon the hopes and the fears, or the simple curiosity of the aristocracy, that she was thus able to display not unfrequently a disinterestedness and a generosity, which seemed native to her disposition, amongst the humbler classes of her appli[Pg 190]cants; for she rejected no addresses that were made to her, provided only they were not expressed in levity or scorn, but with sincerity, and in a spirit of confiding respect. It happened, on one occasion, when a nursery-servant of ours was waiting in her anteroom for the purpose of taking her turn in consulting the prophetess professionally, that she had witnessed a scene of consternation and unaffected maternal grief in this Hungarian lady upon the sudden seizure of her son, a child of four or five years old, by a spasmodic inflammation of the throat (since called croup), peculiar to children, and in those days not very well understood by medical men. The poor Hungarian, who had lived chiefly in warm, or at least not damp climates, and had never so much as heard of this complaint, was almost wild with alarm at the rapid increase of the symptoms which attend the paroxysms, and especially of that loud and distressing sound which marks the impeded respiration. Great, therefore, was her joy and gratitude on finding from our servant that she had herself been in attendance more than once upon cases of the same nature, but very much more violent,—and that, consequently, she was well qualified to suggest and to superintend all the measures of instant necessity, such as the hot-bath, the peculiar medicines, &c., which are almost sure of success when applied in an early stage. Staying to give her assistance until a considerable improvement had taken place in the child, our servant then hurried home to her mistress. Agnes, it may be imagined, despatched her back with such further and more precise directions as in a very short time availed to re-establish the child in convalescence. [Pg 191]These practical services, and the messages of maternal sympathy repeatedly conveyed from Agnes, had completely won the heart of the grateful Hungarian, and she announced her intention of calling with her little boy, to make her personal acknowledgments for the kindness which had been shown to her. She did so, and we were as much impressed by the sultana-like style of her Oriental beauty, as she, on her part, was touched and captivated by the youthful loveliness of my angelic wife. After sitting for above an hour, during which time she talked with a simplicity and good feeling that struck us as remarkable in a person professing an art usually connected with so much of conscious fraud, she rose to take her leave. I must mention that she had previously had our little boy sitting on her knee, and had at intervals thrown a hasty glance upon the palms of his hands. On parting, Agnes, with her usual frankness, held out her hand. The Hungarian took it with an air of sad solemnity, pressed it fervently, and said,—'Lady, it is my part in this life to look behind the curtain of fate; and oftentimes I see such sights in futurity—some near, some far off—as willingly I would not see. For you, young and charming lady, looking like that angel which you are, no destiny can be equal to your deserts. Yet sometimes, true it is, God sees not as man sees; and He ordains, after His unfathomable counsels, to the heavenly-minded a portion in heaven, and to the children whom He loves a rest and a haven not built with hands. Something that I have seen dimly warns me to look no farther. Yet, if you desire it, I will do my office, and I will read for you with truth the lines of fate as they are written upon [Pg 192]your hands.' Agnes was a little startled, or even shocked, by this solemn address; but, in a minute or so, a mixed feeling—one half of which was curiosity, and the other half a light-hearted mockery of her own mysterious awe in the presence of what she had been taught to view as either fraud or insanity—prompted her playfully to insist upon the fullest application of the Hungarian's art to her own case; nay, she would have the hands of our little Francis read and interpreted as well as her own, and she desired to hear the full professional judgment delivered without suppression or softening of its harshest awards. She laughed whilst she said all this; but she also trembled a little. The Hungarian first took the hand of our young child, and perused it with a long and steady scrutiny. She said nothing, but sighed heavily as she resigned it. She then took the hand of Agnes—looked bewildered and aghast—then gazed piteously from Agnes to her child—and at last, bursting into tears, began to move steadily out of the room. I followed her hastily, and remonstrated upon this conduct, by pointing her attention to the obvious truth—that these mysterious suppressions and insinuations, which left all shadowy and indistinct, were far more alarming than the most definite denunciations. Her answer yet rings in my ear:—'Why should I make myself odious to you and to your innocent wife? Messenger of evil I am, and have been to many; but evil I will not prophesy to her. Watch and pray! Much may be done by effectual prayer. Human means, fleshly arms, are vain. There is an enemy in the house of life' [here she quitted her palmistry for the language of [Pg 193]astrology]; 'there is a frightful danger at hand, both for your wife and your child. Already on that dark ocean, over which we are all sailing, I can see dimly the point at which the enemy's course shall cross your wife's. There is but little interval remaining—not many hours. All is finished; all is accomplished; and already he is almost up with the darlings of your heart. Be vigilant, be vigilant, and yet look not to yourself, but to heaven, for deliverance.'
This woman was not an impostor: she spoke and uttered her oracles under a wild sense of possession by some superior being, and of mystic compulsion to say what she would have willingly left unsaid; and never yet, before or since, have I seen the light of sadness settle with so solemn an expression into human eyes as when she dropped my wife's hand, and refused to deliver that burden of prophetic wo with which she believed herself to be inspired.
The prophetess departed; and what mood of mind did she leave behind her in Agnes and myself? Naturally there was a little drooping of spirits at first; the solemnity and the heart-felt sincerity of fear and grief which marked her demeanour, made it impossible, at the moment when we were just fresh from their natural influences, that we should recoil into our ordinary spirits. But with the inevitable elasticity of youth and youthful gaiety we soon did so; we could not attempt to persuade ourselves that there had been any conscious fraud or any attempt at scenical effect in the Hungarian's conduct. She had no motive for deceiving us; she had refused all offerings of money, and her whole visit had evidently been made under an overflow of the most grateful feelings [Pg 194]for the attentions shown to her child. We acquitted her, therefore, of sinister intentions; and with our feelings of jealousy, feelings in which we had been educated, towards everything that tended to superstition, we soon agreed to think her some gentle maniac or sad enthusiast, suffering under some form of morbid melancholy. Forty-eight hours, with two nights' sleep, sufficed to restore the wonted equilibrium of our spirits; and that interval brought us onwards to the 6th of April—the day on which, as I have already said, my story properly commences.
On that day, on that lovely 6th of April, such as I have described it, that 6th of April, about nine o'clock in the morning, we were seated at breakfast near the open window—we, that is Agnes, myself, and little Francis; the freshness of morning spirits rested upon us; the golden light of the morning sun illuminated the room; incense was floating through the air from the gorgeous flowers within and without the house; there in youthful happiness we sat gathered together, a family of love, and there we never sat again. Never again were we three gathered together, nor ever shall be, so long as the sun and its golden light—the morning and the evening—the earth and its flowers endure.
Often have I occupied myself in recalling every circumstance the most trivial of this the final morning of what merits to be called my life. Eleven o'clock, I remember, was striking when Agnes came into my study, and said that she would go into the city (for we lived in a quite rural suburb), that she would execute some trifling commissions which she had received from a friend in the country, and would [Pg 195]be at home again between one and two for a stroll which we had agreed to take in the neighbouring meadows. About twenty minutes after this she again came into my study dressed for going abroad; for such was my admiration of her, that I had a fancy—fancy it must have been, and yet still I felt it to be real—that under every change she looked best; if she put on a shawl, then a shawl became the most feminine of ornaments; if she laid aside her shawl and her bonnet, then how nymph-like she seemed in her undisguised and unadorned beauty! Full-dress seemed for the time to be best, as bringing forward into relief the splendour of her person, and allowing the exposure of her arms; a simple morning-dress, again, seemed better still, as fitted to call out the childlike innocence of her face, by confining the attention to that. But all these are feelings of fond and blind affection, hanging with rapture over the object of something too like idolatry. God knows, if that be a sin, I was but too profound a sinner; yet sin it never was, sin it could not be, to adore a beauty such as thine, my Agnes. Neither was it her beauty by itself, and that only, which I sought at such times to admire; there was a peculiar sort of double relation in which she stood at moments of pleasurable expectation and excitement, since our little Francis had become of an age to join our party, which made some aspects of her character trebly interesting. She was a wife—and wife to one whom she looked up to as her superior in understanding and in knowledge of the world, whom, therefore, she leaned to for protection. On the other hand, she was also a mother. Whilst, therefore, to her child she supported the [Pg 196]matronly part of guide, and the air of an experienced person; to me she wore, ingenuously and without disguise, the part of a child herself, with all the giddy hopes and unchastised imaginings of that buoyant age. This double character, one aspect of which looks towards her husband and one to her children, sits most gracefully upon many a young wife whose heart is pure and innocent; and the collision between the two separate parts imposed by duty on the one hand, by extreme youth on the other, the one telling her that she is a responsible head of a family and the depository of her husband's honour in its tenderest and most vital interests, the other telling her, through the liveliest language of animal sensibility, and through the very pulses of her blood, that she is herself a child; this collision gives an inexpressible charm to the whole demeanour of many a young married woman, making her other fascinations more touching to her husband, and deepening the admiration she excites; and the more so, as it is a collision which cannot exist except among the very innocent. Years, at any rate, will irresistibly remove this peculiar charm, and gradually replace it by the graces of the matronly character. But in Agnes this change had not yet been effected, partly from nature, and partly from the extreme seclusion of her life. Hitherto she still retained the unaffected expression of her childlike nature; and so lovely in my eyes was this perfect exhibition of natural feminine character, that she rarely or never went out alone upon any little errand to town which might require her to rely upon her own good sense and courage, that she did not previously come to [Pg 197]exhibit herself before me. Partly this was desired by me in that lover-like feeling of admiration already explained, which leads one to court the sight of a beloved object under every change of dress, and under all effects of novelty. Partly it was the interest I took in that exhibition of sweet timidity, and almost childish apprehensiveness, half disguised or imperfectly acknowledged by herself, which (in the way I have just explained) so touchingly contrasted with (and for that very reason so touchingly drew forth) her matronly character. But I hear some objector say at this point, ought not this very timidity, founded (as in part at least it was) upon inexperience and conscious inability to face the dangers of the world, to have suggested reasons for not leaving her to her own protection? And does it not argue on my part, an arrogant or too blind a confidence in the durability of my happiness, as though charmed against assaults, and liable to no shocks of sudden revolution? I reply that, from the very constitution of society, and the tone of manners in the city which we inhabited, there seemed to be a moral impossibility that any dangers of consequence should meet her in the course of those brief absences from my protection, which only were possible; that even to herself any dangers, of a nature to be anticipated under the known circumstances of the case, seemed almost imaginary; that even she acknowledged a propriety in being trained, by slight and brief separations from my guardianship, to face more boldly those cases of longer separation and of more absolute consignment to her own resources which circumstances might arise to create necessarily, and perhaps [Pg 198]abruptly. And it is evident that, had she been the wife of any man engaged in the duties of a profession, she might have been summoned from the very first, and without the possibility of any such gradual training, to the necessity of relying almost singly upon her own courage and discretion. For the other question, whether I did not depend too blindly and presumptuously upon my good luck in not at least affording her my protection so long as nothing occurred to make it impossible? I may reply most truly that all my feelings ran naturally in the very opposite channel. So far from confiding too much in my luck, in the present instance I was engaged in the task of writing upon some points of business which could not admit of further delay; but now, and at all times, I had a secret aversion to seeing so gentle a creature thrown even for an hour upon her own resources, though in situations which scarcely seemed to admit of any occasion for taxing those resources; and often I have felt anger towards myself for what appeared to be an irrational or effeminate timidity, and have struggled with my own mind upon occasions like the present, when I knew that I could not have acknowledged my tremors to a friend without something like shame, and a fear to excite his ridicule. No; if in anything I ran into excess, it was in this very point of anxiety as to all that regarded my wife's security. Her good sense, her prudence, her courage (for courage she had in the midst of her timidity), her dignity of manner, the more impressive from the childlike character of her countenance, all should have combined to reassure me, and yet they did not. I was still anxious for her safety to an irrational [Pg 199]extent; and to sum up the whole in a most weighty line of Shakspeare, I lived under the constant presence of a feeling which only that great observer of human nature (so far as I am aware) has ever noticed, viz., that merely the excess of my happiness made me jealous of its ability to last, and in that extent less capable of enjoying it; that in fact the prelibation of my tears, as a homage to its fragility, was drawn forth by my very sense that my felicity was too exquisite; or, in the words of the great master—
'I wept to have' [absolutely, by anticipation, shed tears in possessing] 'what I so feared to lose.'
Thus end my explanations, and I now pursue my narrative: Agnes, as I have said, came into my room again before leaving the house—we conversed for five minutes—we parted—she went out—her last words being that she would return at half-past one o'clock; and not long after that time, if ever mimic bells—bells of rejoicing, or bells of mourning, are heard in desert spaces of the air, and (as some have said), in unreal worlds, that mock our own, and repeat, for ridicule, the vain and unprofitable motions of man, then too surely, about this hour, began to toll the funeral knell of my earthly happiness—its final hour had sounded.
One o'clock had arrived; fifteen minutes after, I strolled into the garden, and began to look over the little garden-gate in expectation of every moment descrying Agnes in the distance. Half an hour passed, and for ten minutes more I was tolerably quiet. From this time till half-past two I became [Pg 200]constantly more agitated—agitated, perhaps, is too strong a word—but I was restless and anxious beyond what I should have chosen to acknowledge. Still I kept arguing, What is half an hour?—what is an hour? A thousand things might have occurred to cause that delay, without needing to suppose any accident; or, if an accident, why not a very trifling one? She may have slightly hurt her foot—she may have slightly sprained her ankle. 'Oh, doubtless,' I exclaimed to myself, 'it will be a mere trifle, or perhaps nothing at all.' But I remember that, even whilst I was saying this, I took my hat and walked with nervous haste into the little quiet lane upon which our garden-gate opened. The lane led by a few turnings, and after a course of about five hundred yards, into a broad high-road, which even at that day had begun to assume the character of a street, and allowed an unobstructed range of view in the direction of the city for at least a mile. Here I stationed myself, for the air was so clear that I could distinguish dress and figure to a much greater distance than usual. Even on such a day, however, the remote distance was hazy and indistinct, and at any other season I should have been diverted with the various mistakes I made. From occasional combinations of colour, modified by light and shade, and of course powerfully assisted by the creative state of the eye under this nervous apprehensiveness, I continued to shape into images of Agnes forms without end, that upon nearer approach presented the most grotesque contrasts to her impressive appearance. But I had ceased even to comprehend the ludicrous; my agitation was now so overruling and engrossing [Pg 201]that I lost even my intellectual sense of it; and now first I understood practically and feelingly the anguish of hope alternating with disappointment, as it may be supposed to act upon the poor shipwrecked seaman, alone and upon a desolate coast, straining his sight for ever to the fickle element which has betrayed him, but which only can deliver him, and with his eyes still tracing in the far distance
'Ships, dim-discover'd, dropping from the clouds,'—
which a brief interval of suspense still for ever disperses into hollow pageants of air or vapour. One deception melted away only to be succeeded by another; still I fancied that at last to a certainty I could descry the tall figure of Agnes, her gipsy hat, and even the peculiar elegance of her walk. Often I went so far as to laugh at myself, and even to tax my recent fears with unmanliness and effeminacy, on recollecting the audible throbbings of my heart, and the nervous palpitations which had besieged me; but these symptoms, whether effeminate or not, began to come back tumultuously under the gloomy doubts that succeeded almost before I had uttered this self-reproach. Still I found myself mocked and deluded with false hopes; yet still I renewed my quick walk, and the intensity of my watch for that radiant form that was fated never more to be seen returning from the cruel city.
It was nearly half-past three, and therefore close upon two hours beyond the time fixed by Agnes for her return, when I became absolutely incapable of supporting the further torture of suspense, and I suddenly took the resolution of returning home and concerting with my female servants some energetic [Pg 202]measures, though what I could hardly say, on behalf of their mistress. On entering the garden-gate I met our little child Francis, who unconsciously inflicted a pang upon me which he neither could have meditated nor have understood. I passed him at his play, perhaps even unaware of his presence, but he recalled me to that perception by crying aloud that he had just seen his mamma.
'When—where?' I asked convulsively.
'Up-stairs in her bedroom,' was his instantaneous answer.
His manner was such as forbade me to suppose that he could be joking; and, as it was barely possible (though, for reasons well-known to me, in the highest degree improbable), that Agnes might have returned by a by-path, which, leading through a dangerous and disreputable suburb, would not have coincided at any one point with the public road where I had been keeping my station. I sprang forward into the house, up-stairs, and in rapid succession into every room where it was likely that she might be found; but everywhere there was a dead silence, disturbed only by myself, for, in my growing confusion of thought, I believe that I rang the bell violently in every room I entered. No such summons, however, was needed, for the servants, two of whom at the least were most faithful creatures, and devotedly attached to their young mistress, stood ready of themselves to come and make inquiries of me as soon as they became aware of the alarming fact that I had returned without her.
Until this moment, though having some private reasons for surprise that she should have failed to [Pg 203]come into the house for a minute or two at the hour prefixed, in order to make some promised domestic arrangements for the day, they had taken it for granted that she must have met with me at some distance from home—and that either the extreme beauty of the day had beguiled her of all petty household recollections, or (as a conjecture more in harmony with past experiences) that my impatience and solicitations had persuaded her to lay aside her own plans for the moment at the risk of some little domestic inconvenience. Now, however, in a single instant vanished every mode of accounting for their mistress's absence; and the consternation of our looks communicated contagiously, by the most unerring of all languages, from each to the other what thoughts were uppermost in our panic-stricken hearts. If to any person it should seem that our alarm was disproportioned to the occasion, and not justified at least by anything as yet made known to us, let that person consider the weight due to the two following facts—first, that from the recency of our settlement in this neighbourhood, and from the extreme seclusion of my wife's previous life at a vast distance from the metropolis, she had positively no friends on her list of visitors who resided in this great capital; secondly, and far above all beside, let him remember the awful denunciations, so unexpectedly tallying with this alarming and mysterious absence, of the Hungarian prophetess; these had been slighted—almost dismissed from our thoughts; but now in sudden reaction they came back upon us with a frightful power to lacerate and to sting—the shadowy outline of a spiritual agency, such as that which could at all predict the [Pg 204]events, combining in one mysterious effect, with the shadowy outline of those very predictions. The power, that could have predicted, was as dim and as hard to grasp as was the precise nature of the evil that had been predicted.
An icy terror froze my blood at this moment when I looked at the significant glances, too easily understood by me, that were exchanged between the servants. My mouth had been for the last two hours growing more and more parched, so that at present, from mere want of moisture, I could not separate my lips to speak. One of the women saw the vain efforts I was making, and hastily brought me a glass of water. With the first recovery of speech, I asked them what little Francis had meant by saying that he had seen his mother in her bedroom. Their reply was—that they were as much at a loss to discover his meaning as I was; that he had made the same assertion to them, and with so much earnestness, that they had, all in succession, gone up-stairs to look for her, and with the fullest expectation of finding her. This was a mystery which remained such to the very last; there was no doubt whatsoever that the child believed himself to have seen his mother; that he could not have seen her in her human bodily presence, there is as little doubt as there is, alas! that in this world he never did see her again. The poor child constantly adhered to his story, and with a circumstantiality far beyond all power of invention that could be presumed in an artless infant. Every attempt at puzzling him or entangling him in contradictions by means of cross-examination was but labour thrown away; though, indeed, it is true [Pg 205]enough that for those attempts, as will soon be seen, there was but a brief interval allowed.
Not dwelling upon this subject at present, I turned to Hannah—a woman who held the nominal office of cook in our little establishment, but whose real duties had been much more about her mistress's person—and with a searching look of appeal I asked her whether, in this moment of trial, when (as she might see) I was not so perfectly master of myself as perhaps always to depend upon seeing what was best to be done, she would consent to accompany me into the city, and take upon herself those obvious considerations of policy or prudence which might but too easily escape my mind, darkened, and likely to be darkened, as to its power of discernment by the hurricane of affliction now too probably at hand. She answered my appeal with the fervour I expected from what I had already known of her character. She was a woman of a strong, fiery, perhaps I might say of heroic mind, supported by a courage that was absolutely indomitable, and by a strength of bodily frame very unusual in a woman, and beyond the promise even of her person. She had suffered as deep a wrench in her own affections as a human being can suffer; she had lost her one sole child, a fair-haired boy of most striking beauty and interesting disposition, at the age of seventeen, and by the worst of all possible fates; he lived (as we did at that time) in a large commercial city overflowing with profligacy, and with temptations of every order; he had been led astray; culpable he had been, but by very much the least culpable of the set into which accident had thrown him, as regarded acts and probable intentions; [Pg 206]and as regarded palliations from childish years, from total inexperience, or any other alleviating circumstances that could be urged, having everything to plead—and of all his accomplices the only one who had anything to plead. Interest, however, he had little or none; and whilst some hoary villains of the party, who happened to be more powerfully befriended, were finally allowed to escape with a punishment little more than nominal, he and two others were selected as sacrifices to the offended laws. They suffered capitally. All three behaved well; but the poor boy in particular, with a courage, a resignation, and a meekness, so distinguished and beyond his years as to attract the admiration and the liveliest sympathy of the public universally. If strangers could feel in that way, if the mere hardened executioner could be melted at the final scene,—it may be judged to what a fierce and terrific height would ascend the affliction of a doating mother, constitutionally too fervid in her affections. I have heard an official person declare, that the spectacle of her desolation and frantic anguish was the most frightful thing he had ever witnessed, and so harrowing to the feelings, that all who could by their rank venture upon such an irregularity, absented themselves during the critical period from the office which corresponded with the government; for, as I have said, the affair took place in a large provincial city, at a great distance from the capital. All who knew this woman, or who were witnesses to the alteration which one fortnight had wrought in her person as well as her demeanour, fancied it impossible that she could continue to live; or that, if she did, it must be [Pg 207]through the giving way of her reason. They proved, however, to be mistaken; or, at least, if (as some thought) her reason did suffer in some degree, this result showed itself in the inequality of her temper, in moody fits of abstraction, and the morbid energy of her manner at times under the absence of all adequate external excitement, rather than in any positive and apparent hallucinations of thought. The charm which had mainly carried off the instant danger to her faculties, was doubtless the intense sympathy which she met with. And in these offices of consolation my wife stood foremost. For, and that was fortunate, she had found herself able, without violence to her own sincerest opinions in the case, to offer precisely that form of sympathy which was most soothing to the angry irritation of the poor mother; not only had she shown a direct interest in the boy, and not a mere interest of reflection from that which she took in the mother, and had expressed it by visits to his dungeon, and by every sort of attention to his comforts which his case called for, or the prison regulations allowed; not only had she wept with the distracted woman as if for a brother of her own; but, which went farther than all the rest in softening the mother's heart, she had loudly and indignantly proclaimed her belief in the boy's innocence, and in the same tone her sense of the crying injustice committed as to the selection of the victims, and the proportion of the punishment awarded. Others, in the language of a great poet,
'Had pitied her and not her grief;'
they had either not been able to see, or, from carelessness, had neglected to see, any peculiar wrong done [Pg 208]to her in the matter which occasioned her grief,—but had simply felt compassion for her as for one summoned, in a regular course of providential and human dispensation, to face an affliction, heavy in itself, but not heavy from any special defect of equity. Consequently their very sympathy, being so much built upon the assumption that an only child had offended to the extent implied in his sentence, oftentimes clothed itself in expressions which she felt to be not consolations but insults, and, in fact, so many justifications of those whom it relieved her overcharged heart to regard as the very worst of enemies. Agnes, on the other hand, took the very same view of the case as herself; and, though otherwise the gentlest of all gentle creatures, yet here, from the generous fervour of her reverence for justice, and her abhorrence of oppression, she gave herself no trouble to moderate the energy of her language: nor did I, on my part, feeling that substantially she was in the right, think it of importance to dispute about the exact degrees of the wrong done or the indignation due to it. In this way it happened naturally enough that at one and the same time, though little contemplating either of these results, Agnes had done a prodigious service to the poor desolate mother by breaking the force of her misery, as well as by arming the active agencies of indignation against the depressing ones of solitary grief, and for herself had won a most grateful and devoted friend, who would have gone through fire and water to serve her, and was thenceforwards most anxious for some opportunity to testify how deep had been her sense of the goodness shown to her by her benign young mistress, [Pg 209]and how incapable of suffering abatement by time. It remains to add, which I have slightly noticed before, that this woman was of unusual personal strength: her bodily frame matched with her intellectual: and I notice this now with the more emphasis, because I am coming rapidly upon ground where it will be seen that this one qualification was of more summary importance to us—did us more 'yeoman's service' at a crisis the most awful—than other qualities of greater name and pretension. Hannah was this woman's Christian name; and her name and her memory are to me amongst the most hallowed of my earthly recollections.
One of her two fellow-servants, known technically amongst us as the 'parlour-maid,' was also, but not equally, attached to her mistress; and merely because her nature, less powerfully formed and endowed, did not allow her to entertain or to comprehend any service equally fervid of passion or of impassioned action. She, however, was good, affectionate, and worthy to be trusted. But a third there was, a nursery-maid, and therefore more naturally and more immediately standing within the confidence of her mistress—her I could not trust: her I suspected. But of that hereafter. Meantime, Hannah—she upon whom I leaned as upon a staff in all which respected her mistress, ran up-stairs, after I had spoken and received her answer, in order hastily to dress and prepare herself for going out along with me to the city. I did not ask her to be quick in her movements: I knew there was no need: and, whilst she was absent, I took up, in one of my fretful movements of nervousness, a book which was lying upon a side [Pg 210]table: the book fell open of itself at a particular page; and in that, perhaps, there was nothing extraordinary; for it was a little portable edition of Paradise Lost; and the page was one which I must naturally have turned to many a time: for to Agnes I had read all the great masters of literature, especially those of modern times; so that few people knew the high classics more familiarly: and as to the passage in question, from its divine beauty I had read it aloud to her, perhaps, on fifty separate occasions. All this I mention to take away any appearance of a vulgar attempt to create omens; but still, in the very act of confessing the simple truth, and thus weakening the marvellous character of the anecdote, I must notice it as a strange instance of the 'Sortes Miltonianæ'—that precisely at such a moment as this I should find thrown in my way, should feel tempted to take up, and should open, a volume containing such a passage as the following: and observe, moreover, that although the volume, once being taken up, would naturally open where it had been most frequently read, there were, however, many passages which had been read as frequently—or more so. The particular passage upon which I opened at this moment was that most beautiful one in which the fatal morning separation is described between Adam and his bride—that separation so pregnant with wo, which eventually proved the occasion of the mortal transgression—the last scene between our first parents at which both were innocent and both were happy—although the superior intellect already felt, and, in the slight altercation preceding this separation, had already expressed a dim misgiving [Pg 211]of some coming change: these are the words, and in depth of pathos they have rarely been approached:—
'Oft he to her his charge of quick return
Repeated; she to him as oft engag'd
To be returned by noon amid the bow'r,
And all things in best order to invite
Noon-tide repast, or afternoon's repose.
Oh much deceived, much failing, hapless Eve!
Of thy presumed return, event perverse!
Thou never from that hour in Paradise
Found'st either sweet repast, or sound repose.'
'My Eve!' I exclaimed, 'partner in my paradise, where art thou? Much failing thou wilt not be found, nor much deceived; innocent in any case thou art; but, alas! too surely by this time hapless, and the victim of some diabolic wickedness.' Thus I murmured to myself; thus I ejaculated; thus I apostrophised my Agnes; then again came a stormier mood. I could not sit still; I could not stand in quiet; I threw the book from me with violence against the wall; I began to hurry backwards and forwards in a short uneasy walk, when suddenly a sound, a step; it was the sound of the garden-gate opening, followed by a hasty tread. Whose tread! Not for a moment could it be fancied the oread step which belonged to that daughter of the hills—my wife, my Agnes; no, it was the dull massy tread of a man: and immediately there came a loud blow upon the door, and in the next moment, the bell having been found, a furious peal of ringing. Oh coward heart! not for a lease of immortality could I have gone forwards myself. My breath failed me; an interval came in which respiration seemed to be stifled—the blood to halt in its current; and then and there I recognised in myself [Pg 212]the force and living truth of that Scriptural description of a heart consciously beset by evil without escape: 'Susannah sighed.' Yes, a long long sigh—a deep deep sigh—that is the natural language by which the overcharged heart utters forth the wo that else would break it. I sighed—oh how profoundly! But that did not give me power to move. Who will go to the door? I whispered audibly. Who is at the door? was the inaudible whisper of my heart. Then might be seen the characteristic differences of the three women. That one, whom I suspected, I heard raising an upper window to look out and reconnoitre. The affectionate Rachael, on the other hand, ran eagerly down-stairs; but Hannah, half dressed, even her bosom exposed, passed her like a storm; and before I heard any sound of opening a door, I saw from the spot where I stood the door already wide open, and a man in the costume of a policeman. All that he said I could not hear; but this I heard—that I was wanted at the police office, and had better come off without delay. He seemed then to get a glimpse of me, and to make an effort towards coming nearer; but I slunk away, and left to Hannah the task of drawing from him any circumstances which he might know. But apparently there was not much to tell, or rather, said I, there is too much, the much absorbs the many; some one mighty evil transcends and quells all particulars. At length the door was closed, and the man was gone. Hannah crept slowly along the passage, and looked in hesitatingly. Her very movements and stealthy pace testified that she had heard nothing which, even by comparison, she could think good news. 'Tell me [Pg 213]not now, Hannah,' I said; 'wait till we are in the open air.' She went up-stairs again. How short seemed the time till she descended!—how I longed for further respite! 'Hannah!' I said at length when we were fairly moving upon the road, 'Hannah! I am too sure you have nothing good to tell. But now tell me the worst, and let that be in the fewest words possible.'
'Sir,' she said, 'we had better wait until we reach the office; for really I could not understand the man. He says that my mistress is detained upon some charge; but what, I could not at all make out. He was a man that knew something of you, sir, I believe, and he wished to be civil, and kept saying, "Oh! I dare say it will turn out nothing at all, many such charges are made idly and carelessly, and some maliciously." "But what charges?" I cried, and then he wanted to speak privately to you. But I told him that of all persons he must not speak to you, if he had anything painful to tell; for that you were too much disturbed already, and had been for some hours, out of anxiety and terror about my mistress, to bear much more. So, when he heard that, he was less willing to speak freely than before. He might prove wrong, he said; he might give offence; things might turn out far otherwise than according to first appearances; for his part, he could not believe anything amiss of so sweet a lady. And alter all it would be better to wait till we reached the office.'
Thus much then was clear—Agnes was under some accusation. This was already worse than the worst I had anticipated. 'And then,' said I, thinking [Pg 214]aloud to Hannah, 'one of two things is apparent to me; either the accusation is one of pure hellish malice, without a colour of probability or the shadow of a foundation, and that way, alas! I am driven in my fears by that Hungarian woman's prophecy; or, which but for my desponding heart I should be more inclined to think, the charge has grown out of my poor wife's rustic ignorance as to the usages then recently established by law with regard to the kind of money that could be legally tendered. This, however, was a suggestion that did not tend to alleviate my anxiety; and my nervousness had mounted to a painful, almost to a disabling degree, by the time we reached the office. Already on our road thither some parties had passed us who were conversing with eagerness upon the case: so much we collected from the many and ardent expressions about 'the lady's beauty,' though the rest of such words as we could catch were ill calculated to relieve my suspense. This, then, at least, was certain—that my poor timid Agnes had already been exhibited before a tumultuous crowd; that her name and reputation had gone forth as a subject of discussion for the public; and that the domestic seclusion and privacy within which it was her matronly privilege to move had already undergone a rude violation.
The office, and all the purlieus of the office, were occupied by a dense crowd. That, perhaps, was always the case, more or less, at this time of day; but at present the crowd was manifestly possessed by a more than ordinary interest; and there was a unity in this possessing interest; all were talking on the same subject, the case in which Agnes had so re[Pg 215]cently appeared in some character or other; and by this time it became but too certain in the character of an accused person. Pity was the prevailing sentiment amongst the mob; but the opinions varied much as to the probable criminality of the prisoner. I made my way into the office. The presiding magistrates had all retired for the afternoon, and would not reassemble until eight o'clock in the evening. Some clerks only or officers of the court remained, who were too much harassed by applications for various forms and papers connected with the routine of public business, and by other official duties which required signatures or attestations, to find much leisure for answering individual questions. Some, however, listened with a marked air of attention to my earnest request for the circumstantial details of the case, but finally referred me to a vast folio volume, in which were entered all the charges, of whatever nature, involving any serious tendency—in fact, all that exceeded a misdemeanour—in the regular chronological succession according to which they came before the magistrate. Here, in this vast calendar of guilt and misery, amidst the aliases or cant designations of ruffians—prostitutes—felons, stood the description, at full length, Christian and surnames all properly registered, of my Agnes—of her whose very name had always sounded to my ears like the very echo of mountain innocence, purity, and pastoral simplicity. Here in another column stood the name and residence of her accuser. I shall call him Barratt, for that was amongst his names, and a name by which he had at one period of his infamous life been known to the public, though not his [Pg 216]principal name, or the one which he had thought fit to assume at this era. James Barratt, then, as I shall here call him, was a haberdasher—keeping a large and conspicuous shop in a very crowded and what was then considered a fashionable part of the city. The charge was plain and short. Did I live to read it? It accused Agnes M—— of having on that morning secreted in her muff, and feloniously carried away, a valuable piece of Mechlin lace, the property of James Barratt. And the result of the first examination was thus communicated in a separate column, written in red ink—'Remanded to the second day after to-morrow for final examination.' Everything in this sin-polluted register was in manuscript; but at night the records of each day were regularly transferred to a printed journal, enlarged by comments and explanatory descriptions from some one of the clerks, whose province it was to furnish this intelligence to the public journals. On that same night, therefore, would go forth to the world such an account of the case, and such a description of my wife's person, as would inevitably summon to the next exhibition of her misery, as by special invitation and advertisement, the whole world of this vast metropolis—the idle, the curious, the brutal, the hardened amateur in spectacles of wo, and the benign philanthropist who frequents such scenes with the purpose of carrying alleviation to their afflictions. All alike, whatever might be their motives or the spirit of their actions, would rush (as to some grand festival of curiosity and sentimental luxury) to this public martyrdom of my innocent wife.
Meantime, what was the first thing to be done? [Pg 217]Manifestly, to see Agnes: her account of the affair might suggest the steps to be taken. Prudence, therefore, at any rate, prescribed this course; and my heart would not have tolerated any other. I applied, therefore, at once, for information as to the proper mode of effecting this purpose without delay. What was my horror at learning that, by a recent regulation of all the police offices, under the direction of the public minister who presided over that department of the national administration, no person could be admitted to an interview with any accused party during the progress of the official examinations—or, in fact, until the final committal of the prisoner for trial. This rule was supposed to be attended by great public advantages, and had rarely been relaxed—never, indeed, without a special interposition of the police minister authorising its suspension. But was the exclusion absolute and universal? Might not, at least, a female servant, simply as the bearer of such articles as were indispensable to female delicacy and comfort, have access to her mistress? No; the exclusion was total and unconditional. To argue the point was manifestly idle; the subordinate officers had no discretion in the matter; nor, in fact, had any other official person, whatever were his rank, except the supreme one; and to him I neither had any obvious means of introduction, nor (in case of obtaining such an introduction) any chance of success; for the spirit of the rule, I foresaw it would be answered, applied with especial force to cases like the present.
Mere human feelings of pity, sympathy with my too visible agitation, superadded to something of [Pg 218]perhaps reverence for the blighting misery that was now opening its artillery upon me—for misery has a privilege, and everywhere is felt to be a holy thing—had combined to procure for me some attention and some indulgence hitherto. Answers had been given with precision, explanations made at length, and anxiety shown to satisfy my inquiries. But this could not last; the inexorable necessities of public business coming back in a torrent upon the official people after this momentary interruption, forbade them to indulge any further consideration for an individual case, and I saw that I must not stay any longer. I was rapidly coming to be regarded as a hindrance to the movement of public affairs; and the recollection that I might again have occasion for some appeal to these men in their official characters, admonished me not to abuse my privilege of the moment. After returning thanks, therefore, for the disposition shown to oblige me, I retired.
Slowly did I and Hannah retrace our steps. Hannah sustained, in the tone of her spirits, by the extremity of her anger, a mood of feeling which I did not share. Indignation was to her in the stead of consolation and hope. I, for my part, could not seek even a momentary shelter from my tempestuous affliction in that temper of mind. The man who could accuse my Agnes, and accuse her of such a crime, I felt to be a monster; and in my thoughts he was already doomed to a bloody atonement (atonement! alas! what atonement!) whenever the time arrived that her cause would not be prejudiced, or the current of public feeling made to turn in his favour by investing him with the semblance of an [Pg 219]injured or suffering person. So much was settled in my thoughts with the stern serenity of a decree issuing from a judgment-seat. But that gave no relief, no shadow of relief, to the misery which was now consuming me. Here was an end, in one hour, to the happiness of a life. In one hour it had given way, root and branch—had melted like so much frost-work, or a pageant of vapoury exhalations. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, and yet for ever and ever, I comprehended the total ruin of my situation. The case, as others might think, was yet in suspense; and there was room enough for very rational hopes, especially where there was an absolute certainty of innocence. Total freedom from all doubt on that point seemed to justify almost more than hopes. This might be said, and most people would have been more or less consoled by it. I was not. I felt as certain, as irredeemably, as hopelessly certain of the final results as though I had seen the record in the books of heaven. 'Hope nothing,' I said to myself; 'think not of hope in this world, but think only how best to walk steadily, and not to reel like a creature wanting discourse of reason, or incapable of religious hopes under the burden which it has pleased God to impose, and which in this life cannot be shaken off. The countenance of man is made to look upward and to the skies. Thither also point henceforwards your heart and your thoughts. Never again let your thoughts travel earthwards. Settle them on the heavens, to which your Agnes is already summoned. The call is clear, and not to be mistaken. Little in her fate now depends upon you, or upon anything that man can do. Look, therefore, to [Pg 220]yourself; see that you make not shipwreck of your heavenly freight because your earthly freight is lost; and miss not, by any acts of wild and presumptuous despair, that final reunion with your Agnes, which can only be descried through vistas that open through the heavens.'
Such were the thoughts, thoughts often made audible, which came spontaneously like oracles from afar, as I strode homewards with Hannah by my side. Her, meantime, I seemed to hear; for at times I seemed and I intended to answer her. But answer her I did not; for not ten words of all that she said did I really and consciously hear. How I went through that night is more entirely a blank in my memory, more entirely a chapter of chaos and the confusion of chaos, than any other passage the most impressive in my life. If I even slumbered for a moment, as at intervals I did sometimes, though never sitting down, but standing or pacing about throughout the night, and if in this way I attained a momentary respite from self-consciousness, no sooner had I reached this enviable state of oblivion, than some internal sting of irritation as rapidly dispersed the whole fickle fabric of sleep; and as if the momentary trance—this fugitive beguilement of my wo—had been conceded by a demon's subtle malice only with the purpose of barbing the pang, by thus forcing it into a stronger relief through the insidious peace preceding it. It is a well-known and most familiar experience to all the sons and daughters of affliction, that under no circumstances is the piercing, lancinating torment of a recent calamity felt so keenly as in the first moments of awaking in the morning from [Pg 221]the night's slumbers. Just at the very instant when the clouds of sleep, and the whole fantastic illusions of dreaminess are dispersing, just as the realities of life are re-assuming their steadfast forms—re-shaping themselves—and settling anew into those fixed relations which they are to preserve throughout the waking hours; in that particular crisis of transition from the unreal to the real, the wo which besieges the brain and the life-springs at the heart rushes in afresh amongst the other crowd of realities, and has at the moment of restoration literally the force and liveliness of a new birth—the very same pang, and no whit feebler, as that which belonged to it when it was first made known. From the total hush of oblivion which had buried it and sealed it up, as it were, during the sleeping hours, it starts into sudden life on our first awaking, and is to all intents and purposes a new and not an old affliction—one which brings with it the old original shock which attended its first annunciation.
That night—that first night of separation from my wife—how it passed, I know not; I know only that it passed, I being in our common bedchamber, that holiest of all temples that are consecrated to human attachments whenever the heart is pure of man and woman and the love is strong—I being in that bedchamber, once the temple now the sepulchre of our happiness,—I there, and my wife—my innocent wife—in a dungeon. As the morning light began to break, somebody knocked at the door; it was Hannah; she took my hand—misery levels all feeble distinctions of station, sex, age—she noticed my excessive feverishness, and gravely remonstrated with [Pg 222]me upon the necessity there was that I should maintain as much health as possible for the sake of 'others,' if not for myself. She then brought me some tea, which refreshed me greatly; for I had tasted nothing at all beyond a little water since the preceding morning's breakfast. This refreshment seemed to relax and thaw the stiff frozen state of cheerless, rayless despair in which I had passed the night; I became susceptible of consolation—that consolation which lies involved in kindness and gentleness of manner—if not susceptible more than before of any positive hope. I sat down; and, having no witnesses to my weakness but this kind and faithful woman, I wept, and I found a relief in tears; and she, with the ready sympathy of woman, wept along with me. All at once she ventured upon the circumstances (so far as she had been able to collect them from the reports of those who had been present at the examination) of our calamity. There was little indeed either to excite or to gratify any interest or curiosity separate from the personal interest inevitably connected with a case to which there were two such parties as a brutal, sensual, degraded ruffian, on one side in character of accuser, and on the other as defendant, a meek angel of a woman, timid and fainting from the horrors of her situation, and under the licentious gaze of the crowd—yet, at the same time, bold in conscious innocence, and in the very teeth of the suspicions which beset her, winning the good opinion, as well as the good wishes of all who saw her. There had been at this first examination little for her to say beyond the assigning her name, age, and place of abode; and here it was fortunate that [Pg 223]her own excellent good sense concurred with her perfect integrity and intuitive hatred of all indirect or crooked courses in prompting her to an undisguised statement of the simple truth, without a momentary hesitation or attempt either at evasion or suppression. With equally good intentions in similar situations many a woman has seriously injured her cause by slight evasions of the entire truth, where nevertheless her only purpose has been the natural and ingenuous one of seeking to save the reputation untainted of a name which she felt to have been confided to her keeping. The purpose was an honourable one, but erroneously pursued. Agnes fell into no such error. She answered calmly, simply, and truly, to every question put by the magistrates; and beyond that there was little opportunity for her to speak; the whole business of this preliminary examination being confined to the deposition of the accuser as to the circumstances under which he alleged the act of felonious appropriation to have taken place. These circumstances were perfectly uninteresting, considered in themselves; but amongst them was one which to us had the most shocking interest, from the absolute proof thus furnished of a deep-laid plot against Agnes. But for this one circumstance there would have been a possibility that the whole had originated in error—error growing out of and acting upon a nature originally suspicious, and confirmed perhaps by an unfortunate experience. And in proportion as that was possible, the chances increased that the accuser might, as the examinations advanced, and the winning character of the accused party began to develop itself, begin to see his error, and to retract his own [Pg 224]over-hasty suspicions. But now we saw at a glance that for this hope there was no countenance whatever, since one solitary circumstance sufficed to establish a conspiracy. The deposition bore—that the lace had been secreted and afterwards detected in a muff; now it was a fact as well-known to both of us as the fact of Agnes having gone out at all—that she had laid aside her winter's dress for the first time on this genial sunny day. Muff she had not at the time, nor could have had appropriately from the style of her costume in other respects. What was the effect upon us of this remarkable discovery! Of course there died at once the hope of any abandonment by the prosecutor of his purpose; because here was proof of a predetermined plot. This hope died at once; but then, as it was one which never had presented itself to my mind, I lost nothing by which I had ever been solaced. On the other hand, it will be obvious that a new hope at the same time arose to take its place, viz., the reasonable one that by this single detection, if once established, we might raise a strong presumption of conspiracy, and moreover that, as a leading fact or clue, it might serve to guide us in detecting others. Hannah was sanguine in this expectation; and for a moment her hopes were contagiously exciting to mine. But the hideous despondency which in my mind had settled upon the whole affair from the very first, the superstitious presentiment I had of a total blight brooding over the entire harvest of my life and its promises (tracing itself originally, I am almost ashamed to own, up to that prediction of the Hungarian woman)—denied me steady light, anything—all in short but a wandering [Pg 225]ray of hope. It was right, of course, nay, indispensable, that the circumstance of the muff should be strongly insisted upon at the next examination, pressed against the prosecutor, and sifted to the uttermost. An able lawyer would turn this to a triumphant account; and it would be admirable as a means of pre-engaging the good opinion as well as the sympathies of the public in behalf of the prisoner. But, for its final effect—my conviction remained, not to be shaken, that all would be useless; that our doom had gone forth, and was irrevocable.
Let me not linger too much over those sad times. Morning came on as usual; for it is strange, but true, that to the very wretched it seems wonderful that times and seasons should keep their appointed courses in the midst of such mighty overthrows and such interruption to the courses of their own wonted happiness and their habitual expectations. Why should morning and night, why should all movements in the natural world be so regular, whilst in the moral world all is so irregular and anomalous? Yet the sun and the moon rise and set as usual upon the mightiest revolutions of empire and of worldly fortune that this planet ever beholds; and it is sometimes even a comfort to know that this will be the case. A great criminal, sentenced to an agonising punishment, has derived a fortitude and a consolation from recollecting that the day would run its inevitable course—that a day after all was but a day—that the mighty wheel of alternate light and darkness must and would revolve—and that the evening star would rise as usual, and shine with its untroubled lustre upon the dust and ashes of what had indeed [Pg 226]suffered, and so recently, the most bitter pangs, but would then have ceased to suffer. 'La Journée,' said Damien,
'La journée sera dure, mais elle se passera.'
'——Se passera:' yes, that is true, I whispered to myself; my day also, my season of trial will be hard to bear; but that also will have an end; that also 'se passera.' Thus I talked or thought so long as I thought at all; for the hour was now rapidly approaching when thinking in any shape would for some time be at an end for me.
That day, as the morning advanced, I went again, accompanied by Hannah, to the police court and to the prison—a vast, ancient, in parts ruinous, and most gloomy pile of building. In those days the administration of justice was, if not more corrupt, certainly in its inferior departments by far more careless than it is at present, and liable to thousands of interruptions and mal-practices, supporting themselves upon old traditionary usages which required at least half a century, and the shattering everywhere given to old systems by the French Revolution, together with the universal energy of mind applied to those subjects over the whole length and breadth of Christendom, to approach with any effectual reforms. Knowing this, and having myself had direct personal cognizance of various cases in which bribery had been applied with success, I was not without considerable hope that perhaps Hannah and myself might avail ourselves of this irregular passport through the gates of the prison. And, had the new regulation been of somewhat longer standing, there is little doubt that [Pg 227]I should have been found right; unfortunately, as yet it had all the freshness of new-born vigour, and kept itself in remembrance by the singular irritation it excited. Besides this, it was a pet novelty of one particular minister new to the possession of power, anxious to distinguish himself, proud of his creative functions within the range of his office, and very sensitively jealous on the point of opposition to his mandates. Vain, therefore, on this day were all my efforts to corrupt the jailers; and, in fact, anticipating a time when I might have occasion to corrupt some of them for a more important purpose and on a larger scale, I did not think it prudent to proclaim my character beforehand as one who tampered with such means, and thus to arm against myself those jealousies in official people which it was so peculiarly important that I should keep asleep.
All that day, however, I lingered about the avenues and vast courts in the precincts of the prison, and near one particular wing of the building, which had been pointed out to me by a jailer as the section allotted to those who were in the situation of Agnes; that is, waiting their final commitment for trial. The building generally he could indicate with certainty, but he professed himself unable to indicate the particular part of it which 'the young woman brought in on the day previous' would be likely to occupy; consequently he could not point out the window from which her cell (her 'cell!' what a word!) would be lighted. 'But, master,' he went on to say, 'I would advise nobody to try that game.' He looked with an air so significant, and at the same time used a gesture so indicative of private understanding, that [Pg 228]I at once apprehended his meaning, and assured him that he had altogether misconstrued my drift; that, as to attempts at escape, or at any mode of communicating with the prisoner from the outside, I trusted all that was perfectly needless; and that at any rate in my eyes it was perfectly hopeless. 'Well, master,' he replied, 'that's neither here nor there. You've come down handsomely, that I will say; and where a gentleman acts like a gentleman, and behaves himself as such, I'm not the man to go and split upon him for a word. To be sure it's quite nat'ral that a gentleman—put case that a young woman is his fancy woman—it's nothing but nat'ral that he should want to get her out of such an old rat-hole as this, where many's the fine-timbered creature, both he and she, that has lain to rot, and has never got out of the old trap at all, first or last'——'How so?' I interrupted him; 'surely they don't detain the corpses of prisoners?' 'Ay, but mind you—put case that he or that she should die in this rat-trap before sentence is past, why then the prison counts them as its own children, and buries them in its own chapel—that old stack of pigeon-holes that you see up yonder to the right hand.' So, then, after all, thought I, if my poor Agnes should, in her desolation and solitary confinement to these wretched walls, find her frail strength give way—should the moral horrors of her situation work their natural effect upon her health, and she should chance to die within this dungeon, here within this same dungeon will she lie to the resurrection, and in that case her prison-doors have already closed upon her for ever. The man, who perhaps had some rough kindness in his nature, [Pg 229]though tainted by the mercenary feelings too inevitably belonging to his situation, seemed to guess at the character of my ruminations by the change in my countenance, for he expressed some pity for my being 'in so much trouble'; and it seemed to increase his respect for me that this trouble should be directed to the case of a woman, for he appeared to have a manly sense of the peculiar appeal made to the honour and gallantry of man, by the mere general fact of the feebleness and the dependence of woman. I looked at him more attentively in consequence of the feeling tone in which he now spoke, and was surprised that I had not more particularly noticed him before; he was a fine-looking, youngish man, with a bold Robin-hood style of figure and appearance; and, morally speaking, he was absolutely transfigured to my eyes by the effect worked upon him for the moment, through the simple calling up of his better nature. However, he recurred to his cautions about the peril in a legal sense of tampering with the windows, bolts, and bars of the old decaying prison; which, in fact, precisely according to the degree in which its absolute power over its prisoners was annually growing less and less, grew more and more jealous of its own reputation, and punished the attempts to break loose with the more severity, in exact proportion as they were the more tempting by the chances of success. I persisted in disowning any schemes of the sort, and especially upon the ground of their hopelessness. But this, on the other hand, was a ground that in his inner thoughts he treated with scorn; and I could easily see that, with a little skilful management of opportunity, I might, upon occasion, draw from him [Pg 230]all the secrets he knew as to the special points of infirmity in this old ruinous building. For the present, and until it should certainly appear that there was some use to be derived from this species of knowledge, I forbore to raise superfluous suspicions by availing myself further of his communicative disposition. Taking, however, the precaution of securing his name, together with his particular office and designation in the prison, I parted from him as if to go home, but in fact to resume my sad roamings up and down the precincts of the jail.
What made these precincts much larger than otherwise they would have been, was the circumstance that, by a usage derived from older days, both criminal prisoners and those who were prisoners for debt, equally fell under the custody of this huge caravanserai for the indifferent reception of crime, of misdemeanour, and of misfortune. And those who came under the two first titles were lodged here through all stages of their connection with public justice; alike when mere objects of vague suspicion to the police, when under examination upon a specific charge, when fully committed for trial, when convicted and under sentence, awaiting the execution of that sentence, and, in a large proportion of cases, even through their final stage of punishment, when it happened to be of any nature compatible with indoor confinement. Hence it arose that the number of those who haunted the prison gates with or without a title to admission was enormous; all the relatives, or more properly the acquaintances and connections of the criminal population within the prison, being swelled by all the families of needy debtors who came [Pg 231]daily either to offer the consolation of their society, or to diminish their common expenditure by uniting their slender establishments. One of the rules applied to the management of this vast multitude that were every day candidates for admission was, that to save the endless trouble as well as risk, perhaps, of opening and shutting the main gates to every successive arrival, periodic intervals were fixed for the admission by wholesale: and as these periods came round every two hours, it would happen at many parts of the day that vast crowds accumulated waiting for the next opening of the gate. These crowds were assembled in two or three large outer courts, in which also were many stalls and booths, kept there upon some local privilege of ancient inheritance, or upon some other plea made good by gifts or bribes—some by Jews and others by Christians, perhaps equally Jewish. Superadded to these stationary elements of this miscellaneous population, were others, drawn thither by pure motives of curiosity, so that altogether an almost permanent mob was gathered together in these courts; and amid this mob it was,—from I know not what definite motive, partly because I thought it probable that amongst these people I should hear the case of Agnes peculiarly the subject of conversation; and so, in fact, it did really happen,—but partly, and even more, I believe, because I now awfully began to shrink from solitude. Tumult I must have, and distraction of thought. Amid this mob, I say, it was that I passed two days. Feverish I had been from the first,—and from bad to worse, in such a case, was, at any rate, a natural progress; but, perhaps, also amongst this [Pg 232]crowd of the poor, the abjectly wretched, the ill-fed, the desponding, and the dissolute, there might be very naturally a larger body of contagion lurking than accorded to their mere numerical expectations. There was at that season a very extensive depopulation going on in some quarters of this great metropolis, and in other cities of the same empire, by means of a very malignant typhus. This fever is supposed to be the peculiar product of jails; and though it had not as yet been felt as a scourge and devastator of this particular jail, or at least the consequent mortality had been hitherto kept down to a moderate amount, yet it was highly probable that a certain quantity of contagion, much beyond the proportion of other popular assemblages less uniformly wretched in their composition, was here to be found all day long; and doubtless my excited state, and irritable habit of body, had offered a peculiar predisposition that favoured the rapid development of this contagion. However this might be, the result was, that on the evening of the second day which I spent in haunting the purlieus of the prison (consequently the night preceding the second public examination of Agnes), I was attacked by ardent fever in such unmitigated fury, that before morning I had lost all command of my intellectual faculties. For some weeks I became a pitiable maniac, and in every sense the wreck of my former self; and seven entire weeks, together with the better half of an eighth week, had passed over my head whilst I lay unconscious of time and its dreadful freight of events, excepting in so far as my disordered brain, by its fantastic coinages, created endless mimicries and mockeries of these events—less [Pg 233]substantial, but oftentimes less afflicting, or less agitating. It would have been well for me had my destiny decided that I was not to be recalled to this world of wo. But I had no such happiness in store. I recovered, and through twenty and eight years my groans have recorded the sorrow I feel that I did.
I shall not rehearse circumstantially, and point by point, the sad unfolding, as it proceeded through successive revelations to me, of all which had happened during my state of physical incapacity. When I first became aware that my wandering senses had returned to me, and knew, by the cessation of all throbbings, and the unutterable pains that had so long possessed my brain, that I was now returning from the gates of death, a sad confusion assailed me as to some indefinite cloud of evil that had been hovering over me at the time when I first fell into a state of insensibility. For a time I struggled vainly to recover the lost connection of my thoughts, and I endeavoured ineffectually to address myself to sleep. I opened my eyes, but found the glare of light painful beyond measure. Strength, however, it seemed to me that I had, and more than enough, to raise myself out of bed. I made the attempt, but fell back, almost giddy with the effort. At the sound of the disturbance which I had thus made, a woman whom I did not know came from behind a curtain, and spoke to me. Shrinking from any communication with a stranger, especially one whose discretion I could not estimate in making discoveries to me with the requisite caution, I asked her simply what o'clock it was.[Pg 234]
'Eleven in the forenoon,' she replied.
'And what day of the month?'
'The second,' was her brief answer.
I felt almost a sense of shame in adding—'The second! but of what month?'
'Of June,' was the startling rejoinder.
On the 8th of April I had fallen ill, and it was now actually the 2nd of June. Oh! sickening calculation! revolting register of hours! for in that same moment which brought back this one recollection, perhaps by steadying my brain, rushed back in a torrent all the other dreadful remembrances of the period, and now the more so, because, though the event was still uncertain as regarded my knowledge, it must have become dreadfully certain as regarded the facts of the case, and the happiness of all who were concerned. Alas! one little circumstance too painfully assured me that this event had not been a happy one. Had Agnes been restored to her liberty and her home, where would she have been found but watching at my bedside? That too certainly I knew, and the inference was too bitter to support.
On this same day, some hours afterwards, upon Hannah's return from the city, I received from her, and heard with perfect calmness, the whole sum of evil which awaited me. Little Francis—she took up her tale at that point—'was with God:' so she expressed herself. He had died of the same fever which had attacked me—had died and been buried nearly five weeks before. Too probably he had caught the infection from me. Almost—such are the caprices of human feeling—almost I could have [Pg 235]rejoiced that this young memorial of my vanished happiness had vanished also. It gave me a pang, nevertheless, that the grave should thus have closed upon him before I had seen his fair little face again. But I steeled my heart to hear worse things than this. Next she went on to inform me that already, on the first or second day of our calamity, she had taken upon herself, without waiting for authority, on observing the rapid approaches of illness in me, and arguing the state of helplessness which would follow, to write off at once a summons in the most urgent terms to the brother of my wife. This gentleman, whom I shall call Pierpoint, was a high-spirited, generous young man as I have ever known. When I say that he was a sportsman, that at one season of the year he did little else than pursue his darling amusement of fox-hunting, for which indeed he had almost a maniacal passion—saying this, I shall already have prejudged him in the opinions of many, who fancy all such persons the slaves of corporal enjoyments. But, with submission, the truth lies the other way. According to my experience, people of these habits have their bodies more than usually under their command, as being subdued by severe exercise; and their minds, neither better nor worse on an average than those of their neighbours, are more available from being so much more rarely clogged by morbid habits in that uneasy yoke-fellow of the intellectual part—the body. He at all events was a man to justify in his own person this way of thinking; for he was a man not only of sound, but even of bold and energetic intellect, and in all moral respects one whom any man might feel proud to call [Pg 236]his friend. This young man, Pierpoint, without delay obeyed the summons; and on being made acquainted with what had already passed, the first step he took was to call upon Barratt, and without further question than what might ascertain his identity, he proceeded to inflict upon him a severe horsewhipping. A worse step on his sister's account he could not have taken. Previously to this the popular feeling had run strongly against Barratt, but now its unity was broken. A new element was introduced into the question: Democratic feelings were armed against this outrage; gentlemen and nobles, it was said, thought themselves not amenable to justice; and again, the majesty of the law was offended at this intrusion upon an affair already under solemn course of adjudication. Everything, however, passes away under the healing hand of time, and this also faded from the public mind. People remembered also that he was a brother, and in that character, at any rate, had a right to some allowances for his intemperance; and what quickened the oblivion of the affair was, which in itself was sufficiently strange, that Barratt did not revive the case in the public mind by seeking legal reparation for his injuries. It was, however, still matter of regret that Pierpoint should have indulged himself in this movement of passion, since undoubtedly it broke and disturbed the else uniform stream of public indignation by investing the original aggressor with something like the character of an injured person; and therefore with some set-off to plead against his own wantonness of malice: his malice might now assume the nobler aspect of revenge.[Pg 237]
Thus far, in reporting the circumstances, Hannah had dallied—thus far I had rejoiced that she dallied, with the main burden of the wo; but now there remained nothing to dally with any longer—and she rushed along in her narrative, hurrying to tell—I hurrying to hear. A second, a third examination had ensued, then a final committal—all this within a week. By that time all the world was agitated with the case; literally not the city only, vast as that city was, but the nation was convulsed and divided into parties upon the question, Whether the prosecution were one of mere malice or not? The very government of the land was reported to be equally interested, and almost equally divided in opinion. In this state of public feeling came the trial. Image to yourself, oh reader, whosoever you are, the intensity of the excitement which by that time had arisen in all people to be spectators of the scene—then image to yourself the effect of all this, a perfect consciousness that in herself as a centre was settled the whole mighty interest of the exhibition—that interest again of so dubious and mixed a character—sympathy in some with mere misfortune—sympathy in others with female frailty and guilt, not perhaps founded upon an absolute unwavering belief in her innocence even amongst those who were most loud and positive as partisans in affirming it,—and then remember that all this hideous scenical display and notoriety settled upon one whose very nature, constitutionally timid, recoiled with the triple agony of womanly shame—of matronly dignity—of insulted innocence, from every mode and shape of public display. Combine all these circumstances and elements of the case, and you may faintly enter [Pg 238]into the situation of my poor Agnes. Perhaps the best way to express it at once is by recurring to the case of a young female Christian martyr, in the early ages of Christianity, exposed in the bloody amphitheatre of Rome or Verona to 'fight with wild beasts,' as it was expressed in mockery—she to fight! the lamb to fight with lions! But in reality the young martyr had a fight to maintain, and a fight (in contempt of that cruel mockery) fiercer than the fiercest of her persecutors could have faced perhaps—the combat with the instincts of her own shrinking, trembling, fainting nature. Such a fight had my Agnes to maintain; and at that time there was a large party of gentlemen in whom the gentlemanly instinct was predominant, and who felt so powerfully the cruel indignities of her situation, that they made a public appeal in her behalf. One thing, and a strong one, which they said, was this:—'We all talk and move in this case as if, because the question appears doubtful to some people, and the accused party to some people wears a doubtful character, it would follow that she therefore had in reality a mixed character composed in joint proportions of the best and the worst that is imputed to her. But let us not forget that this mixed character belongs not to her, but to the infirmity of our human judgments—they are mixed—they are dubious—but she is not—she is, or she is not, guilty—there is no middle case—and let us consider for a single moment, that if this young lady (as many among us heartily believe) is innocent, then and upon that supposition let us consider how cruel we should all think the public exposure which aggravates the other injuries (as in that [Pg 239]case they must be thought) to which her situation exposes her.' They went on to make some suggestions for the officers of the court in preparing the arrangements for the trial, and some also for the guidance of the audience, which showed the same generous anxiety for sparing the feelings of the prisoner. If these did not wholly succeed in repressing the open avowal of coarse and brutal curiosity amongst the intensely vulgar, at least they availed to diffuse amongst the neutral and indifferent part of the public a sentiment of respect and forbearance which, emanating from high quarters, had a very extensive influence upon most of what met the eye or the ear of my poor wife. She, on the day of trial, was supported by her brother; and by that time she needed support indeed. I was reported to be dying; her little son was dead; neither had she been allowed to see him. Perhaps these things, by weaning her from all further care about life, might have found their natural effect in making her indifferent to the course of the trial, or even to its issue. And so, perhaps, in the main, they did. But at times some lingering sense of outraged dignity, some fitful gleams of old sympathies, 'the hectic of a moment,' came back upon her, and prevailed over the deadening stupor of her grief. Then she shone for a moment into a starry light—sweet and woful to remember. Then——but why linger? I hurry to the close: she was pronounced guilty; whether by a jury or a bench of judges, I do not say—having determined, from the beginning, to give no hint of the land in which all these events happened; neither is that of the slightest consequence. Guilty she was [Pg 240]pronounced: but sentence at that time was deferred. Ask me not, I beseech you, about the muff or other circumstances inconsistent with the hostile evidence. These circumstances had the testimony, you will observe, of my own servants only; nay, as it turned out, of one servant exclusively: that naturally diminished their value. And, on the other side, evidence was arrayed, perjury was suborned, that would have wrecked a wilderness of simple truth trusting to its own unaided forces. What followed? Did this judgment of the court settle the opinion of the public? Opinion of the public! Did it settle the winds? Did it settle the motion of the Atlantic? Wilder, fiercer, and louder grew the cry against the wretched accuser: mighty had been the power over the vast audience of the dignity, the affliction, the perfect simplicity, and the Madonna beauty of the prisoner. That beauty so childlike, and at the same time so saintly, made, besides, so touching in its pathos by means of the abandonment—the careless abandonment and the infinite desolation of her air and manner—would of itself, and without further aid, have made many converts. Much more was done by the simplicity of her statements, and the indifference with which she neglected to improve any strong points in her own favour—the indifference, as every heart perceived, of despairing grief. Then came the manners on the hostile side—the haggard consciousness of guilt, the drooping tone, the bravado and fierce strut which sought to dissemble all this. Not one amongst all the witnesses, assembled on that side, had (by all agreement) the bold natural tone of conscious uprightness. Hence it could not be sur[Pg 241]prising that the storm of popular opinion made itself heard with a louder and a louder sound. The government itself began to be disturbed; the ministers of the sovereign were agitated; and, had no menaces been thrown out, it was generally understood that they would have given way to the popular voice, now continually more distinct and clamorous. In the midst of all this tumult obscure murmurs began to arise that Barratt had practised the same or similar villainies in former instances. One case in particular was beginning to be whispered about, which at once threw a light upon the whole affair: it was the case of a young and very beautiful married woman, who had been on the very brink of a catastrophe such as had befallen my own wife, when some seasonable interference, of what nature was not known, had critically delivered her. This case arose 'like a little cloud no bigger than a man's hand,' then spread and threatened to burst in tempest upon the public mind, when all at once, more suddenly even than it had arisen, it was hushed up, or in some way disappeared. But a trifling circumstance made it possible to trace this case:—in after times, when means offered, but unfortunately no particular purpose of good, nor any purpose, in fact, beyond that of curiosity, it was traced: and enough was soon ascertained to have blown to fragments any possible conspiracy emanating from this Barratt, had that been of any further importance. However, in spite of all that money or art could effect, a sullen growl continued to be heard amongst the populace of villainies many and profound that had been effected or attempted by this Barratt; and accordingly, much in the same way as was many [Pg 242]years afterwards practised in London, when a hosier had caused several young people to be prosecuted to death for passing forged bank-notes, the wrath of the people showed itself in marking the shop for vengeance upon any favourable occasion offering through fire or riots, and in the meantime in deserting it. These things had been going on for some time when I awoke from my long delirium; but the effect they had produced upon a weak and obstinate and haughty government, or at least upon the weak and obstinate and haughty member of the government who presided in the police administration, was, to confirm and rivet the line of conduct which had been made the object of popular denunciation. More energetically, more scornfully, to express that determination of flying in the face of public opinion and censure, four days before my awakening, Agnes had been brought up to receive her sentence. On that same day (nay, it was said in that same hour), petitions, very numerously signed, and various petitions from different ranks, different ages, different sexes, were carried up to the throne, praying, upon manifold grounds, but all noticing the extreme doubtfulness of the case, for an unconditional pardon. By whose advice or influence, it was guessed easily, though never exactly ascertained, these petitions were unanimously, almost contemptuously, rejected. And to express the contempt of public opinion as powerfully as possible, Agnes was sentenced by the court, reassembled in full pomp, order, and ceremonial costume, to a punishment the severest that the laws allowed—viz. hard labour for ten years. The people raged more than ever; threats public and private were conveyed to the ears of the [Pg 243]minister chiefly concerned in the responsibility, and who had indeed, by empty and ostentatious talking, assumed that responsibility to himself in a way that was perfectly needless.
Thus stood matters when I awoke to consciousness: and this was the fatal journal of the interval—interval so long as measured by my fierce calendar of delirium—so brief measured by the huge circuit of events which it embraced, and their mightiness for evil. Wrath, wrath immeasurable, unimaginable, unmitigable, burned at my heart like a cancer. The worst had come. And the thing which kills a man for action—the living in two climates at once—a torrid and a frigid zone—of hope and fear—that was past. Weak—suppose I were for the moment: I felt that a day or two might bring back my strength. No miserable tremors of hope now shook my nerves: if they shook from that inevitable rocking of the waters that follows a storm, so much might be pardoned to the infirmity of a nature that could not lay aside its fleshly necessities, nor altogether forego its homage to 'these frail elements,' but which by inspiration already lived within a region where no voices were heard but the spiritual voices of transcendant passions—of
'Wrongs unrevenged, and insults unredress'd.'
Six days from that time I was well—well and strong. I rose from bed; I bathed; I dressed: dressed as if I were a bridegroom. And that was in fact a great day in my life. I was to see Agnes. Oh! yes: permission had been obtained from the lordly minister that I should see my wife. Is it [Pg 244]possible? Can such condescensions exist? Yes: solicitations from ladies, eloquent notes wet with ducal tears, these had won from the thrice radiant secretary, redolent of roseate attar, a countersign to some order or other, by which I—yes I—under license of a fop, and supervision of a jailer—was to see and for a time to converse with my own wife.
The hour appointed for the first day's interview was eight o'clock in the evening. On the outside of the jail all was summer light and animation. The sports of children in the streets of mighty cities are but sad, and too painfully recall the circumstances of freedom and breezy nature that are not there. But still the pomp of glorious summer, and the presence, 'not to be put by,' of the everlasting light, that is either always present, or always dawning—these potent elements impregnate the very city life, and the dim reflex of nature which is found at the bottom of well-like streets, with more solemn powers to move and to soothe in summer. I struck upon the prison gates, the first among multitudes waiting to strike. Not because we struck, but because the hour had sounded, suddenly the gate opened; and in we streamed. I, as a visitor for the first time, was immediately distinguished by the jailers, whose glance of eye is fatally unerring. 'Who was it that I wanted?' At the name a stir of emotion was manifest, even there: the dry bones stirred and moved: the passions outside had long ago passed to the interior of this gloomy prison: and not a man but had his hypothesis on the case; not a man but had almost fought with some comrade (many had [Pg 245]literally fought) about the merits of their several opinions.
If any man had expected a scene at this reunion, he would have been disappointed. Exhaustion, and the ravages of sorrow, had left to dear Agnes so little power of animation or of action, that her emotions were rather to be guessed at, both for kind and for degree, than directly to have been perceived. She was in fact a sick patient, far gone in an illness that should properly have confined her to bed; and was as much past the power of replying to my frenzied exclamations, as a dying victim of fever of entering upon a strife of argument. In bed, however, she was not. When the door opened she was discovered sitting at a table placed against the opposite wall, her head pillowed upon her arms, and these resting upon the table. Her beautiful long auburn hair had escaped from its confinement, and was floating over the table and her own person. She took no notice of the disturbance made by our entrance, did not turn, did not raise her head, nor make an effort to do so, nor by any sign whatever intimate that she was conscious of our presence, until the turnkey in a respectful tone announced me. Upon that a low groan, or rather a feeble moan, showed that she had become aware of my presence, and relieved me from all apprehension of causing too sudden a shock by taking her in my arms. The turnkey had now retired; we were alone. I knelt by her side, threw my arms about her, and pressed her to my heart. She drooped her head upon my shoulder, and lay for some time like one who slumbered; but, alas! not as she had used to slumber. [Pg 246]Her breathing, which had been like that of sinless infancy, was now frightfully short and quick; she seemed not properly to breathe, but to gasp. This, thought I, may be sudden agitation, and in that case she will gradually recover; half an hour will restore her. Wo is me! she did not recover; and internally I said—she never will recover. The arrows have gone too deep for a frame so exquisite in its sensibility, and already her hours are numbered.
At this first visit I said nothing to her about the past; that, and the whole extent to which our communications should go, I left rather to her own choice. At the second visit, however, upon some word or other arising which furnished an occasion for touching on this hateful topic, I pressed her, contrary to my own previous intention, for as full an account of the fatal event as she could without a distressing effort communicate. To my surprise she was silent—gloomily—almost it might have seemed obstinately silent. A horrid thought came into my mind; could it, might it have been possible that my noble-minded wife, such she had ever seemed to me, was open to temptations of this nature? Could it have been that in some moment of infirmity, when her better angel was away from her side, she had yielded to a sudden impulse of frailty, such as a second moment for consideration would have resisted, but which unhappily had been followed by no such opportunity of retrieval? I had heard of such things. Cases there were in our own times (and not confined to one nation), when irregular impulses of this sort were known to have haunted and besieged [Pg 247]natures not otherwise ignoble or base. I ran over some of the names amongst those which were taxed with this propensity. More than one were the names of people in a technical sense held noble. That, nor any other consideration, abated my horror. Better, I said, better (because more compatible with elevation of mind) better to have committed some bloody act—some murderous act. Dreadful was the panic I underwent. God pardon the wrong I did; and even now I pray to him—as though the past thing were a future thing and capable of change—that he would forbid her for ever to know what was the derogatory thought I had admitted. I sometimes think, by recollecting a momentary blush that suffused her marble countenance,—I think—I fear that she might have read what was fighting in my mind. Yet that would admit of another explanation. If she did read the very worst, meek saint! she suffered no complaint or sense of that injury to escape her. It might, however, be that perception, or it might be that fear which roused her to an effort that otherwise had seemed too revolting to undertake. She now rehearsed the whole steps of the affair from first to last; but the only material addition, which her narrative made to that which the trial itself had involved, was the following:—On two separate occasions previous to the last and fatal one, when she had happened to walk unaccompanied by me in the city, the monster Barratt had met her in the street. He had probably,—and this was, indeed, subsequently ascertained,—at first, and for some time afterwards, mistaken her rank, and had addressed some proposals to her, which, from the suppressed tone of his speaking, [Pg 248]or from her own terror and surprise, she had not clearly understood; but enough had reached her alarmed ear to satisfy her that they were of a nature in the last degree licentious and insulting. Terrified and shocked rather than indignant, for she too easily presumed the man to be a maniac, she hurried homewards; and was rejoiced, on first venturing to look round when close to her own gate, to perceive that the man was not following. There, however, she was mistaken; for either on this occasion, or on some other, he had traced her homewards. The last of these rencontres had occurred just three months before the fatal 6th of April; and if, in any one instance, Agnes had departed from the strict line of her duty as a wife, or had shown a defect of judgment, it was at this point—in not having frankly and fully reported the circumstances to me. On the last of these occasions I had met her at the garden-gate, and had particularly remarked that she seemed agitated; and now, at recalling these incidents, Agnes reminded me that I had noticed that circumstance to herself, and that she had answered me faithfully as to the main fact. It was true she had done so; for she had said that she had just met a lunatic who had alarmed her by fixing his attention upon herself, and speaking to her in a ruffian manner; and it was also true that she did sincerely regard him in that light. This led me at the time to construe the whole affair into a casual collision with some poor maniac escaping from his keepers, and of no future moment, having passed by without present consequences. But had she, instead of thus reporting her own erroneous impression, reported the entire circumstances of the [Pg 249]case, I should have given them a very different interpretation. Affection for me, and fear to throw me needlessly into a quarrel with a man of apparently brutal and violent nature—these considerations, as too often they do with the most upright wives, had operated to check Agnes in the perfect sincerity of her communications. She had told nothing but the truth—only, and fatally it turned out for us both, she had not told the whole truth. The very suppression, to which she had reconciled herself under the belief that thus she was providing for my safety and her own consequent happiness, had been the indirect occasion of ruin to both. It was impossible to show displeasure under such circumstances, or under any circumstances, to one whose self-reproaches were at any rate too bitter; but certainly, as a general rule, every conscientious woman should resolve to consider her husband's honour in the first case, and far before all other regards whatsoever; to make this the first, the second, the third law of her conduct, and his personal safety but the fourth or fifth. Yet women, and especially when the interests of children are at stake upon their husband's safety, rarely indeed are able to take this Roman view of their duties.
To return to the narrative.—Agnes had not, nor could have, the most remote suspicion of this Barratt's connection with the shop which she had not accidentally entered; and the sudden appearance of this wretch it was, at the very moment of finding herself charged with so vile and degrading an offence, that contributed most of all to rob her of her natural firmness, by suddenly revealing to her terrified heart [Pg 250]the depth of the conspiracy which thus yawned like a gulf below her. And not only had this sudden horror, upon discovering a guilty design in what before had seemed accident, and links uniting remote incidents which else seemed casual and disconnected, greatly disturbed and confused her manner, which confusion again had become more intense upon her own consciousness that she was confused, and that her manner was greatly to her disadvantage; but—which was the worst effect of all, because the rest could not operate against her, except upon those who were present to witness it, whereas this was noted down and recorded—so utterly did her confusion strip her of all presence of mind, that she did not consciously notice (and consequently could not protest against at the moment when it was most important to do so, and most natural) the important circumstance of the muff. This capital objection, therefore, though dwelt upon and improved to the utmost at the trial, was looked upon by the judges as an after-thought; and merely because it had not been seized upon by herself, and urged in the first moments of her almost incapacitating terror on finding this amongst the circumstances of the charge against her—as if an ingenuous nature, in the very act of recoiling with horror from a criminal charge the most degrading, and in the very instant of discovering, with a perfect rapture of alarm, the too plausible appearance of probability amongst the circumstances, would be likely to pause, and with attorney-like dexterity, to pick out the particular circumstance that might admit of being proved to be false, when the conscience proclaimed, though in despondence for the result, that all [Pg 251]the circumstances were, as to the use made of them, one tissue of falsehoods. Agnes, who had made a powerful effort in speaking of the case at all, found her calmness increase as she advanced; and she now told me, that in reality there were two discoveries which she made in the same instant, and not one only, which had disarmed her firmness and ordinary presence of mind. One I have mentioned—the fact of Barratt, the proprietor of the shop, being the same person who had in former instances persecuted her in the street; but the other was even more alarming—it has been said already that it was not a pure matter of accident that she had visited this particular shop. In reality, that nursery-maid, of whom some mention has been made above, and in terms expressing the suspicion with which even then I regarded her, had persuaded her into going thither by some representations which Agnes had already ascertained to be altogether unwarranted. Other presumptions against this girl's fidelity crowded dimly upon my wife's mind at the very moment of finding her eyes thus suddenly opened. And it was not five minutes after her first examination, and in fact five minutes after it had ceased to be of use to her, that she remembered another circumstance which now, when combined with the sequel, told its own tale;—the muff had been missed some little time before the 6th of April. Search had been made for it; but, the particular occasion which required it having passed off, this search was laid aside for the present, in the expectation that it would soon reappear in some corner of the house before it was wanted: then came the sunny day, which made it no longer useful, and would [Pg 252]perhaps have dismissed it entirely from the recollection of all parties, until it was now brought back in this memorable way. The name of my wife was embroidered within, upon the lining, and it thus became a serviceable link to the hellish cabal against her. Upon reviewing the circumstances from first to last, upon recalling the manner of the girl at the time when the muff was missed, and upon combining the whole with her recent deception, by which she had misled her poor mistress into visiting this shop, Agnes began to see the entire truth as to this servant's wicked collusion with Barratt, though, perhaps, it might be too much to suppose her aware of the unhappy result to which her collusion tended. All this she saw at a glance when it was too late, for her first examination was over. This girl, I must add, had left our house during my illness, and she had afterwards a melancholy end.
One thing surprised me in all this, Barratt's purpose must manifestly have been to create merely a terror in my poor wife's mind, and to stop short of any legal consequences, in order to profit of that panic and confusion for extorting compliances with his hideous pretensions. It perplexed me, therefore, that he did not appear to have pursued this manifestly his primary purpose, the other being merely a mask to conceal his true ends, and also (as he fancied) a means for effecting them. In this, however, I had soon occasion to find that I was deceived. He had, but without the knowledge of Agnes, taken such steps as were then open to him, for making overtures to her with regard to the terms upon which he would agree to defeat the charge against her by failing to [Pg 253]appear. But the law had travelled too fast for him and too determinately; so that, by the time he supposed terror to have operated sufficiently in favour of his views, it had already become unsafe to venture upon such explicit proposals as he would otherwise have tried. His own safety was now at stake, and would have been compromised by any open or written avowal of the motives on which he had been all along acting. In fact, at this time he was foiled by the agent in whom he confided; but much more he had been confounded upon another point—the prodigious interest manifested by the public. Thus it seems—that, whilst he meditated only a snare for my poor Agnes, he had prepared one for himself; and finally, to evade the suspicions which began to arise powerfully as to his true motives, and thus to stave off his own ruin, had found himself in a manner obliged to go forward and consummate the ruin of another.
The state of Agnes, as to health and bodily strength, was now becoming such that I was forcibly warned—whatsoever I meditated doing, to do quickly. There was this urgent reason for alarm: once conveyed into that region of the prison in which sentences like hers were executed, it became hopeless that I could communicate with her again. All intercourse whatsoever, and with whomsoever, was then placed under the most rigorous interdict; and the alarming circumstance was, that this transfer was governed by no settled rules, but might take place at any hour, and would certainly be precipitated by the slightest violence on my part, the slightest [Pg 254]indiscretion, or the slightest argument for suspicion. Hard indeed was the part I had to play, for it was indispensable that I should appear calm and tranquil, in order to disarm suspicions around me, whilst continually contemplating the possibility that I myself might be summoned to extremities which I could not so much as trust myself to name or distinctly to conceive. But thus stood the case; the Government, it was understood, angered by the public opposition, resolute for the triumph of what they called 'principle,' had settled finally that the sentence should be carried into execution. Now that she, that my Agnes, being the frail wreck that she had become, could have stood one week of this sentence practically and literally enforced—was a mere chimera. A few hours probably of the experiment would have settled that question by dismissing her to the death she longed for; but because the suffering would be short, was I to stand by and to witness the degradation—the pollution—attempted to be fastened upon her. What! to know that her beautiful tresses would be shorn ignominiously—a felon's dress forced upon her—a vile taskmaster with authority to——; blistered be the tongue that could go on to utter, in connection with her innocent name, the vile dishonours which were to settle upon her person! I, however, and her brother had taken such resolutions that this result was one barely possible; and yet I sickened (yes, literally I many times experienced the effect of physical sickness) at contemplating our own utter childish helplessness, and recollecting that every night during our seclusion from the prison the last irreversible step might be taken—and in the morning [Pg 255]we might find a solitary cell, and the angel form that had illuminated it gone where we could not follow, and leaving behind her the certainty that we should see her no more. Every night, at the hour of locking up, she, at least, manifestly had a fear that she saw us for the last time; she put her arms feebly about my neck, sobbed convulsively, and, I believe, guessed—but, if really so, did not much reprove or quarrel with the desperate purposes which I struggled with in regard t o her own life. One thing was quite evident—that to the peace of her latter days, now hurrying to their close, it was indispensable that she should pass them undivided from me; and possibly, as was afterwards alleged, when it became easy to allege anything, some relenting did take place in high quarters at this time; for upon some medical reports made just now, a most seasonable indulgence was granted, viz. that Hannah was permitted to attend her mistress constantly; and it was also felt as a great alleviation of the horrors belonging to this prison, that candles were now allowed throughout the nights. But I was warned privately that these indulgences were with no consent from the police minister; and that circumstances might soon withdraw the momentary intercession by which we profited. With this knowledge we could not linger in our preparations; we had resolved upon accomplishing an escape for Agnes, at whatever risk or price; the main difficulty was her own extreme feebleness, which might forbid her to co-operate with us in any degree at the critical moment; and the main danger was—delay. We pushed forward, therefore, in our attempts with prodigious energy, [Pg 256]and I for my part with an energy like that of insanity.
The first attempt we made was upon the fidelity to his trust of the chief jailer. He was a coarse vulgar man, brutal in his manners, but with vestiges of generosity in his character—though damaged a good deal by his daily associates. Him we invited to a meeting at a tavern in the neighbourhood of the prison, disguising our names as too certain to betray our objects, and baiting our invitation with some hints which we had ascertained were likely to prove temptations under his immediate circumstances. He had a graceless young son whom he was most anxious to wean from his dissolute connections, and to steady, by placing him in some office of no great responsibility. Upon this knowledge we framed the terms of our invitation.
These proved to be effectual, as regarded our immediate object of obtaining an interview of persuasion. The night was wet; and at seven o'clock, the hour fixed for the interview, we were seated in readiness, much perplexed to know whether he would take any notice of our invitation. We had waited three quarters of an hour, when we heard a heavy lumbering step ascending the stair. The door was thrown open to its widest extent, and in the centre of the door-way stood a short, stout-built man, and the very broadest I ever beheld—staring at us with bold enquiring eyes. His salutation was something to this effect.
'What the hell do you gay fellows want with me? What the blazes is this humbugging letter about? [Pg 257]My son, and be hanged! what do you know of my son?'
Upon this overture we ventured to request that he would come in and suffer us to shut the door, which we also locked. Next we produced the official paper nominating his son to a small place in the customs,—not yielding much, it was true, in the way of salary, but fortunately, and in accordance with the known wishes of the father, unburdened with any dangerous trust.
'Well, I suppose I must say thank ye: but what comes next? What am I to do to pay the damages?' We informed him that for this particular little service we asked no return.
'No, no,' said he, 'that'll not go down: that cat'll not jump. I'm not green enough for that. So, say away—what's the damage?' We then explained that we had certainly a favour and a great one to ask: ['Ay, I'll be bound you have,' was his parenthesis:] but that for this we were prepared to offer a separate remuneration; repeating that with respect to the little place procured for his son, it had not cost us anything, and therefore we did really and sincerely decline to receive anything in return; satisfied that, by this little offering, we had procured the opportunity of this present interview. At this point we withdrew a covering from a table upon which we had previously arranged a heap of gold coins, amounting in value to twelve hundred English guineas: this being the entire sum which circumstances allowed us to raise on so sudden a warning: for some landed property that we both had was so settled and limited, that we could not convert it into money either by [Pg 258]way of sale, loan, or mortgage. This sum, stating to him its exact amount, we offered to his acceptance, upon the single condition that he would look aside, or wink hard, or (in whatever way he chose to express it) would make, or suffer to be made, such facilities for our liberating a female prisoner as we would point out. He mused: full five minutes he sat deliberating without opening his lips; At length he shocked us by saying, in a firm decisive tone that left us little hope of altering his resolution,—'No: gentlemen, it's a very fair offer, and a good deal of money for a single prisoner. I think I can guess at the person. It's a fair offer—fair enough. But, bless your heart! if I were to do the thing you want——why perhaps another case might be overlooked: but this prisoner, no: there's too much depending. No, they would turn me out of my place. Now the place is worth more to me in the long run than what you offer; though you bid fair enough, if it were only for my time in it. But look here: in case I can get my son to come into harness, I'm expecting to get the office for him after I've retired. So I can't do it. But I'll tell you what: you've been kind to my son: and therefore I'll not say a word about it. You're safe for me. And so good-night to you.' Saying which, and standing no further question, he walked resolutely out of the room and down-stairs.
Two days we mourned over this failure, and scarcely knew which way to turn for another ray of hope;—on the third morning we received intelligence that this very jailer had been attacked by the fever, which, after long desolating the city, had at [Pg 259]length made its way into the prison. In a very few days the jailer was lying without hope of recovery: and of necessity another person was appointed to fill his station for the present. This person I had seen, and I liked him less by much than the one he succeeded: he had an Italian appearance, and he wore an air of Italian subtlety and dissimulation. I was surprised to find, on proposing the same service to him, and on the same terms, that he made no objection whatever, but closed instantly with my offers. In prudence, however, I had made this change in the articles: a sum equal to two hundred English guineas, or one-sixth part of the whole money, he was to receive beforehand as a retaining fee; but the remainder was to be paid only to himself, or to anybody of his appointing, at the very moment of our finding the prison gates thrown open to us. He spoke fairly enough, and seemed to meditate no treachery; nor was there any obvious or known interest to serve by treachery; and yet I doubted him grievously.
The night came: it was chosen as a gala night, one of two nights throughout the year in which the prisoners were allowed to celebrate a great national event: and in those days of relaxed prison management the utmost license was allowed to the rejoicing. This indulgence was extended to prisoners of all classes, though, of course, under more restrictions with regard to the criminal class. Ten o'clock came—the hour at which we had been instructed to hold ourselves in readiness. We had been long prepared. Agnes had been dressed by Hannah in such a costume externally (a man's hat and cloak, &c.) that, [Pg 260]from her height, she might easily have passed amongst a mob of masquerading figures in the debtors' halls and galleries for a young stripling. Pierpoint and myself were also to a certain degree disguised; so far at least, that we should not have been recognised at any hurried glance by those of the prison officers who had become acquainted with our persons. We were all more or less disguised about the face; and in that age when masks were commonly used at all hours by people of a certain rank, there would have been nothing suspicious in any possible costume of the kind in a night like this, if we could succeed in passing for friends of debtors.
I am impatient of these details, and I hasten over the ground. One entire hour passed away, and no jailer appeared. We began to despond heavily; and Agnes, poor thing! was now the most agitated of us all. At length eleven struck in the harsh tones of the prison-clock. A few minutes after, we heard the sound of bolts drawing, and bars unfastening. The jailer entered—drunk, and much disposed to be insolent. I thought it advisable to give him another bribe, and he resumed the fawning insinuation of his manner. He now directed us, by passages which he pointed out, to gain the other side of the prison. There we were to mix with the debtors and their mob of friends, and to await his joining us, which in that crowd he could do without much suspicion. He wished us to traverse the passages separately; but this was impossible, for it was necessary that one of us should support Agnes on each side. I previously persuaded her to take a small quantity of brandy, [Pg 261]which we rejoiced to see had given her, at this moment of starting, a most seasonable strength and animation. The gloomy passages were more than usually empty, for all the turnkeys were employed in a vigilant custody of the gates, and examination of the parties going out. So the jailer had told us, and the news alarmed us. We came at length to a turning which brought us in sight of a strong iron gate, that divided the two main quarters of the prison. For this we had not been prepared. The man, however, opened the gate without a word spoken, only putting out his hand for a fee; and in my joy, perhaps, I gave him one imprudently large. After passing this gate, the distant uproar of the debtors guided us to the scene of their merriment; and when there, such was the tumult and the vast multitude assembled, that we now hoped in good earnest to accomplish our purpose without accident. Just at this moment the jailer appeared in the distance; he seemed looking towards us, and at length one of our party could distinguish that he was beckoning to us. We went forward, and found him in some agitation, real or counterfeit. He muttered a word or two quite unintelligible about the man at the wicket, told us we must wait a while, and he would then see what could be done for us. We were beginning to demur, and to express the suspicions which now too seriously arose, when he, seeing, or affecting to see some object of alarm, pushed us with a hurried movement into a cell opening upon the part of the gallery at which we were now standing. Not knowing whether we really might not be retreating from some danger, we could do no otherwise than comply with [Pg 262]his signals; but we were troubled at finding ourselves immediately locked in from the outside, and thus apparently all our motions had only sufficed to exchange one prison for another.
We were now completely in the dark, and found, by a hard breathing from one corner of the little dormitory, that it was not unoccupied. Having taken care to provide ourselves separately with means for striking a light, we soon had more than one torch burning. The brilliant light falling upon the eyes of a man who lay stretched on the iron bedstead, woke him. It proved to be my friend the under-jailer, Ratcliffe, but no longer holding any office in the prison. He sprang up, and a rapid explanation took place. He had become a prisoner for debt; and on this evening, after having caroused through the day with some friends from the country, had retired at an early hour to sleep away his intoxication. I on my part thought it prudent to entrust him unreservedly with our situation and purposes, not omitting our gloomy suspicions. Ratcliffe looked, with a pity that won my love, upon the poor wasted Agnes. He had seen her on her first entrance into the prison, had spoken to her, and therefore knew from what she had fallen, to what. Even then he had felt for her; how much more at this time, when he beheld, by the fierce light of the torches, her wo-worn features!
'Who was it,' he asked eagerly, 'you made the bargain with? Manasseh?'
'Then I can tell you this—not a greater villain walks the earth. He is a Jew from Portugal; he [Pg 263]has betrayed many a man, and will many another, unless he gets his own neck stretched, which might happen, if I told all I know.'
'But what was it probable that this man meditated? Or how could it profit him to betray us?'
'That's more than I can tell. He wants to get your money, and that he doesn't know how to bring about without doing his part. But that's what he never will do, take my word for it. That would cut him out of all chance for the head-jailer's place.' He mused a little, and then told us that he could himself put us outside the prison-walls, and would do it without fee or reward. 'But we must be quiet, or that devil will bethink him of me. I'll wager something he thought that I was out merry-making like the rest; and if he should chance to light upon the truth, he'll be back in no time.' Ratcliffe then removed an old fire-grate, at the back of which was an iron plate, that swung round into a similar fireplace in the contiguous cell. From that, by a removal of a few slight obstacles, we passed, by a long avenue, into the chapel. Then he left us, whilst he went out alone to reconnoitre his ground. Agnes was now in so pitiable a condition of weakness, as we stood on the very brink of our final effort, that we placed her in a pew, where she could rest as upon a sofa. Previously we had stood upon graves, and with monuments more or less conspicuous all around us: some raised by friends to the memory of friends—some by subscriptions in the prison—some by children, who had risen into prosperity, to the memory of a father, brother, or other relative, who had died in captivity. I was grieved that these sad [Pg 264]memorials should meet the eye of my wife at this moment of awe and terrific anxiety. Pierpoint and I were well armed, and all of us determined not to suffer a recapture, now that we were free of the crowds that made resistance hopeless. This Agnes easily perceived; and that, by suggesting a bloody arbitration, did not lessen her agitation. I hoped therefore that, by placing her in the pew, I might at least liberate her for the moment from the besetting memorials of sorrow and calamity. But, as if in the very teeth of my purpose, one of the large columns which supported the roof of the chapel had its basis and lower part of the shaft in this very pew. On the side of it, and just facing her as she lay reclining on the cushions, appeared a mural tablet, with a bas-relief in white marble, to the memory of two children, twins, who had lived and died at the same time, and in this prison—children who had never breathed another air than that of captivity, their parents having passed many years within these walls, under confinement for debt. The sculptures were not remarkable, being a trite, but not the less affecting, representation of angels descending to receive the infants; but the hallowed words of the inscription, distinct and legible—'Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God'—met her eye, and, by the thoughts they awakened, made me fear that she would become unequal to the exertions which yet awaited her. At this moment Ratcliffe returned, and informed us that all was right; and that, from the ruinous state of all the buildings which surrounded the chapel, no difficulty remained for us, who were, in fact, beyond [Pg 265]the strong part of the prison, excepting at a single door, which we should be obliged to break down. But had we any means arranged for pursuing our flight, and turning this escape to account when out of confinement? All that, I assured him, was provided for long ago. We proceeded, and soon reached the door. We had one crow-bar amongst us, but beyond that had no better weapons than the loose stones found about some new-made graves in the chapel. Ratcliffe and Pierpoint, both powerful men, applied themselves by turns to the door, whilst Hannah and I supported Agnes. The door did not yield, being of enormous strength; but the wall did, and a large mass of stone-work fell outwards, twisting the door aside; so that, by afterwards working with our hands, we removed stones many enough to admit of our egress. Unfortunately this aperture was high above the ground, and it was necessary to climb over a huge heap of loose rubbish in order to profit by it. My brother-in-law passed first in order to receive my wife, quite helpless at surmounting the obstacle by her own efforts, out of my arms. He had gone through the opening, and, turning, round so as to face me, he naturally could see something that I did not see. 'Look behind!' he called out rapidly. I did so, and saw the murderous villain Manasseh with his arm uplifted and in the act of cutting at my wife, nearly insensible as she was, with a cutlass. The blow was not for me, but for her, as the fugitive prisoner; and the law would have borne him out in the act. I saw, I comprehended the whole. I groped, as far as I could without letting my wife drop, for my pistols; but all that I could do would [Pg 266]have been unavailing, and too late—she would have been murdered in my arms. But—and that was what none of us saw—neither I, nor Pierpoint, nor the hound Manasseh—one person stood back in the shade; one person had seen, but had not uttered a word on seeing Manasseh advancing through the shades; one person only had forecast the exact succession of all that was coming; me she saw embarrassed and my hands preoccupied—Pierpoint and Ratcliffe useless by position—and the gleam of the dog's eye directed her to his aim. The crow-bar was leaning against the shattered wall. This she had silently seized. One blow knocked up the sword; a second laid the villain prostrate. At this moment appeared another of the turnkeys advancing from the rear, for the noise of our assault upon the door had drawn attention in the interior of the prison, from which, however, no great number of assistants could on this dangerous night venture to absent themselves. What followed for the next few minutes hurried onwards, incident crowding upon incident, like the motions of a dream:—Manasseh, lying on the ground, yelled out 'The bell! the bell!' to him who followed. The man understood, and made for the belfry-door attached to the chapel; upon which Pierpoint drew a pistol, and sent the bullet whizzing past his ear so truly, that fear made the man obedient to the counter-orders of Pierpoint for the moment. He paused and awaited the issue.—In a moment had all cleared the wall, traversed the waste ground beyond it, lifted Agnes over the low railing, shaken hands with our benefactor Ratcliffe and pushed onwards as rapidly as we were able to the little dark lane, a [Pg 267]quarter of a mile distant, where had stood waiting for the last two hours a chaise-and-four.
[Ratcliffe, before my story closes, I will pursue to the last of my acquaintance with him, according to the just claims of his services. He had privately whispered to me, as we went along, that he could speak to the innocence of that lady, pointing to my wife, better than anybody. He was the person whom (as then holding an office in the prison) Barratt had attempted to employ as agent in conveying any messages that he found it safe to send—obscurely hinting the terms on which he would desist from prosecution. Ratcliffe had at first undertaken the negotiation from mere levity of character. But when the story and the public interest spread, and after himself becoming deeply struck by the prisoner's affliction, beauty, and reputed innocence, he had pursued it only as a means of entrapping Barratt into such written communications and such private confessions of the truth as might have served Agnes effectually. He wanted the art, however, to disguise his purposes: Barratt came to suspect him violently, and feared his evidence so far, even for those imperfect and merely oral overtures which he had really sent through Ratcliffe—that on the very day of the trial he, as was believed, though by another nominally, contrived that Ratcliffe should be arrested for debt; and, after harassing him with intricate forms of business, had finally caused him to be conveyed to prison. Ratcliffe was thus involved in his own troubles at the time; and afterwards supposed that, without written documents to support his evidence, he could not be of much service to the [Pg 268]re-establishment of my wife's reputation. Six months after his services in the night-escape from the prison, I saw him, and pressed him to take the money so justly forfeited to him by Manasseh's perfidy. He would, however, be persuaded to take no more than paid his debts. A second and a third time his debts were paid by myself and Pierpoint. But the same habits of intemperance and dissolute pleasure which led him into these debts, finally ruined his constitution; and he died, though otherwise of a fine generous manly nature, a martyr to dissipation at the early age of twenty-nine. With respect to his prison confinement, it was so frequently recurring in his life, and was alleviated by so many indulgences, that he scarcely viewed it as a hardship: having once been an officer of the prison, and having thus formed connections with the whole official establishment, and done services to many of them, and being of so convivial a turn, he was, even as a prisoner, treated with distinction, and considered as a privileged son of the house.]
It was just striking twelve o'clock as we entered the lane where the carriage was drawn up. Rain, about the profoundest I had ever witnessed, was falling. Though near to midsummer, the night had been unusually dark to begin with, and from the increasing rain had become much more so. We could see nothing; and at first we feared that some mistake had occurred as to the station of the carriage—in which case we might have sought for it vainly through the intricate labyrinth of the streets in that quarter. I first descried it by the light of a torch, reflected powerfully from the large eyes of the [Pg 269]leaders. All was ready. Horse-keepers were at the horses' heads. The postilions were mounted; each door had the steps let down: Agnes was lifted in: Hannah and I followed: Pierpoint mounted his horse; and at the word—Oh! how strange a word!—'All's right,' the horses sprang off like leopards, a manner ill suited to the slippery pavement of a narrow street. At that moment, but we valued it little indeed, we heard the prison-bell ringing out loud and clear. Thrice within the first three minutes we had to pull up suddenly, on the brink of formidable accidents, from the dangerous speed we maintained, and which, nevertheless, the driver had orders to maintain, as essential to our plan. All the stoppages and hinderances of every kind along the road had been anticipated previously, and met by contrivance, of one kind or other; and Pierpoint was constantly a little ahead of us to attend to anything that had been neglected. The consequence of these arrangements was—- that no person along the road could possibly have assisted to trace us by anything in our appearance: for we passed all objects at too flying a pace, and through darkness too profound, to allow of any one feature in our equipage being distinctly noticed. Ten miles out of town, a space which we traversed in forty-four minutes, a second relay of horses was ready; but we carried on the same postilions throughout. Six miles a-head of this distance we had a second relay; and with this set of horses, after pushing two miles further along the road, we crossed by a miserable lane five miles long, scarcely even a bridge road, into another of the great roads from the capital; and by thus crossing the country, we came back upon the [Pg 270]city at a point far distant from that at which we left it. We had performed a distance of forty-two miles in three hours, and lost a fourth hour upon the wretched five miles of cross-road. It was therefore four o'clock, and broad daylight, when we drew near the suburbs of the city; but a most happy accident now favoured us; a fog the most intense now prevailed; nobody could see an object six feet distant; we alighted in an uninhabited new-built street, plunged into the fog, thus confounding our traces to any observer. We then stepped into a hackney-coach which had been stationed at a little distance. Thence, according to our plan, we drove to a miserable quarter of the town, whither the poor only and the wretched resorted; mounted a gloomy dirty staircase, and, befriended by the fog, still growing thicker and thicker, and by the early hour of the morning, reached a house previously hired, which, if shocking to the eye and the imagination from its squalid appearance and its gloom, still was a home—a sanctuary—an asylum from treachery, from captivity, from persecution. Here Pierpoint for the present quitted us: and once more Agnes, Hannah, and I, the shattered members of a shattered family, were thus gathered together in a house of our own.
Yes: once again, daughter of the hills, thou sleptst as heretofore in my encircling arms; but not again in that peace which crowned thy innocence in those days, and should have crowned it now. Through the whole of our flying journey, in some circumstances at its outset strikingly recalling to me that blessed one which followed our marriage, Agnes slept away unconscious of our movements. She slept through all [Pg 271]that day and the following night; and I watched over her with as much jealousy of all that might disturb her, as a mother watches over her new-born baby; for I hoped, I fancied, that a long—long rest, a rest, a halcyon calm, a deep, deep Sabbath of security, might prove healing and medicinal. I thought wrong; her breathing became more disturbed, and sleep was now haunted by dreams; all of us, indeed, were agitated by dreams; the past pursued me, and the present, for high rewards had been advertised by Government to those who traced us; and though for the moment we were secure, because we never went abroad, and could not have been naturally sought in such a neighbourhood, still that very circumstance would eventually operate against us. At length, every night I dreamed of our insecurity under a thousand forms; but more often by far my dreams turned upon our wrongs; wrath moved me rather than fear. Every night, for the greater part, I lay painfully and elaborately involved, by deep sense of wrong,
'——in long orations, which I pleaded
Before unjust tribunals.'
And for poor Agnes, her also did the remembrance of[Pg 272] mighty wrongs occupy through vast worlds of sleep in the same way—though coloured by that tenderness which belonged to her gentler nature. One dream in particular—a dream of sublime circumstances—she repeated to me so movingly, with a pathos so thrilling, that by some profound sympathy it transplanted itself to my own sleep, settled itself there, and is to this hour a part of the fixed dream-scenery which revolves at intervals through my sleeping life. This it was:—She would hear a trumpet sound—though perhaps as having been the prelude to the solemn entry of the judges at a town which she had once visited in her childhood; other preparations would follow, and at last all the solemnities of a great trial would shape themselves and fall into settled images. The audience was assembled, the judges were arrayed, the court was set. The prisoner was cited. Inquest was made, witnesses were called; and false witnesses came tumultuously to the bar. Then again a trumpet was heard, but the trumpet of a mighty archangel; and then would roll away thick clouds and vapours. Again the audience, but another audience, was assembled; again the tribunal was established; again the court was set; but a tribunal and a court—how different to her! That had been composed of men seeking indeed for truth, but themselves erring and fallible creatures; the witnesses had been full of lies, the judges of darkness. But here was a court composed of heavenly witnesses—here was a righteous tribunal—and then at last a judge that could not be deceived. The judge smote with his eye a person who sought to hide himself in the crowd; the guilty man stepped forward; the poor prisoner was called [Pg 273]up to the presence of the mighty judge; suddenly the voice of a little child was heard ascending before her. Then the trumpet sounded once again; and then there were new heavens and a new earth; and her tears and her agitation (for she had seen her little Francis) awoke the poor palpitating dreamer.
Two months passed on: nothing could possibly be done materially to raise the standard of those wretched accommodations which the house offered. The dilapidated walls, the mouldering plaster, the blackened mantel-pieces, the stained and polluted wainscots—what could be attempted to hide or to repair all this by those who durst not venture abroad? Yet whatever could be done, Hannah did, and, in the meantime, very soon indeed my Agnes ceased to see or to be offended by these objects. First of all her sight went from her; and nothing which appealed to that sense could ever more offend her. It is to me the one only consolation I have, that my presence and that of Hannah, with such innocent frauds as we concerted together, made her latter days pass in a heavenly calm, by persuading her that our security was absolute, and that all search after us had ceased, under a belief on the part of Government that we had gained the shelter of a foreign land. All this was a delusion; but it was a delusion—blessed be Heaven!—which lasted exactly as long as her life, and was just commensurate with its necessity. I hurry over the final circumstances.
There was fortunately now, even for me, no fear that the hand of any policeman or emissary of justice could effectually disturb the latter days of my wife; [Pg 274]for, besides pistols always lying loaded in an inner room, there happened to be a long narrow passage on entering the house, which, by means of a blunderbuss, I could have swept effectually, and cleared many times over; and I know what to do in a last extremity. Just two months it was, to a day, since we had entered the house; and it happened that the medical attendant upon Agnes, who awakened no suspicion by his visits, had prescribed some opiate or anodyne which had not come; being dark early, for it was now September, I had ventured out to fetch it. In this I conceived there could be no danger. On my return I saw a man examining the fastenings of the door. He made no opposition to my entrance, nor seemed much to observe it—but I was disturbed. Two hours after, both Hannah and I heard a noise about the door, and voices in low conversation. It is remarkable that Agnes heard this also—so quick had grown her hearing. She was agitated, but was easily calmed; and at ten o'clock we were all in bed. The hand of Agnes was in mine; so only she felt herself in security. She had been restless for an hour, and talking at intervals in sleep. Once she certainly wakened, for she pressed her lips to mine. Two minutes after, I heard something in her breathing which did not please me. I rose hastily—brought a light—raised her head—two long, long gentle sighs, that scarcely moved the lips, were all that could be perceived. At that moment, at that very moment, Hannah called out to me that the door was surrounded. 'Open it!' I said; six men entered; Agnes it was they sought; I pointed to the bed; they advanced, gazed, and walked away in silence.[Pg 275]
After this I wandered about, caring little for life or its affairs, and roused only at times to think of vengeance upon all who had contributed to lay waste my happiness. In this pursuit, however, I was confounded as much by my own thoughts as by the difficulties of accomplishing my purpose. To assault and murder either of the two principal agents in this tragedy, what would it be, what other effect could it have, than to invest them with the character of injured and suffering people, and thus to attract a pity or a forgiveness at least to their persons which never otherwise could have illustrated their deaths? I remembered, indeed, the words of a sea-captain who had taken such vengeance as had offered at the moment upon his bitter enemy and persecutor (a young passenger on board his ship), who had informed against him at the Custom-house on his arrival in port, and had thus effected the confiscation of his ship, and the ruin of the captain's family. The vengeance, and it was all that circumstances allowed, consisted in coming behind the young man clandestinely and pushing him into the deep waters of the dock, when, being unable to swim, he perished by drowning. 'And the like,' said the captain, when musing on his trivial vengeance, 'and the like happens to many an honest sailor.' Yes, thought I, the captain was right. The momentary shock of a pistol-bullet—what is it? Perhaps it may save the wretch after all from the pangs of some lingering disease; and then again I shall have the character of a murderer, if known to have shot him; he will with many people have no such character, but at worst the character of a man too harsh (they will say), and [Pg 276]possibly mistaken in protecting his property. And then, if not known as the man who shot him, where is the shadow even of vengeance? Strange, it seemed to me, and passing strange, that I should be the person to urge arguments in behalf of letting this man escape. For at one time I had as certainly, as inexorably, doomed him as ever I took any resolution in my life. But the fact is, and I began to see it upon closer view, it is not easy by any means to take an adequate vengeance for any injury beyond a very trivial standard; and that with common magnanimity one does not care to avenge. Whilst I was in this mood of mind, still debating with myself whether I should or should not contaminate my hands with the blood of this monster, and still unable to shut my eyes upon one fact, viz. that my buried Agnes could above all things have urged me to abstain from such acts of violence, too evidently useless, listlessly and scarcely knowing what I was in quest of, I strayed by accident into a church where a venerable old man was preaching at the very moment I entered; he was either delivering as a text, or repeating in the course of his sermon, these words—'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.' By some accident also he fixed his eyes upon me at the moment; and this concurrence with the subject then occupying my thoughts so much impressed me, that I determined very seriously to review my half-formed purposes of revenge; and well it was that I did so: for in that same week an explosion of popular fury brought the life of this wretched Barratt to a shocking termination, pretty much resembling the fate of the De Witts in Holland. And the consequences to me were [Pg 277]such, and so full of all the consolation and indemnification which this world could give me, that I have often shuddered since then at the narrow escape I had had from myself intercepting this remarkable retribution. The villain had again been attempting to play off the same hellish scheme with a beautiful young rustic which had succeeded in the case of my ill-fated Agnes. But the young woman in this instance had a high, and, in fact, termagant spirit. Rustic as she was, she had been warned of the character of the man; everybody, in fact, was familiar with the recent tragedy. Either her lover or her brother happened to be waiting for her outside the window. He saw in part the very tricks in the act of perpetration by which some article or other, meant to be claimed as stolen property, was conveyed into a parcel she had incautiously laid down. He heard the charge against her made by Barratt, and seconded by his creatures—heard her appeal—sprang to her aid—dragged the ruffian into the street, when in less time than the tale could be told, and before the police (though tolerably alert) could effectually interpose for his rescue, the mob had so used or so abused the opportunity they had long wished for, that he remained the mere disfigured wreck of what had once been a man, rather than a creature with any resemblance to humanity. I myself heard the uproar at a distance, and the shouts and yells of savage exultation; they were sounds I shall never forget, though I did not at that time know them for what they were, or understood their meaning. The result, however, to me was something beyond this, and worthy to have been purchased with my heart's [Pg 278]blood. Barratt still breathed; spite of his mutilations he could speak; he was rational. One only thing he demanded—it was that his dying confession might be taken. Two magistrates and a clergyman attended. He gave a list of those whom he had trepanned, and had failed to trepan, by his artifices and threats, into the sacrifice of their honour. He expired before the record was closed, but not before he had placed my wife's name in the latter list as the one whose injuries in his dying moments most appalled him. This confession on the following day went into the hands of the hostile minister, and my revenge was perfect.
The sun had just set, and all the invalids at the baths of B—— had retired to their lodgings, when the harsh tones of welcome from the steeple announced the arrival of a new guest. Forthwith all the windows were garrisoned with young faces and old faces, pretty faces and ugly faces; and scarce one but was overspread with instantaneous merriment—a feu-de-joie of laughter, that travelled up the street in company with the very extraordinary object that now advanced from the city gates. Upon a little, meagre, scare-crow of a horse, sate a tall, broad-shouldered young fellow, in a great-coat of bright pea-green, whose variegated lights and shades, from soaking rains and partial dryings, bore sullen testimony to the changeable state of the weather for the last week. Out of [Pg 280]this great-coat shot up, to a monstrous height, a head surmounted by a huge cocked hat, one end of which hung over the stem, the other over the stern of the horse: the legs belonging to this head were sheathed in a pair of monstrous boots, technically called 'field-pieces,' which, descending rather too low, were well plaistered with flesh-coloured mud. More, perhaps, in compliance with the established rule, than for any visible use, a switch was in the rider's hand; for to attribute to such a horse, under such a load, any power to have quitted a pace that must have satisfied the most rigorous police in Poland, was obviously too romantic. Depending from his side, and almost touching the ground, rattled an enormous back-sword, which suggested to the thinking mind a salutary hint to allow free passage, without let or unseasonable jesting, to Mr. Jeremiah Schnackenberger, student at the University of X——. He, that might be disposed to overlook this hint, would certainly pay attention to a second, which crept close behind the other in the shape of a monstrous dog, somewhat bigger than the horse, and presenting on every side a double tier of most respectable teeth. Observing the general muster of the natives, which his appearance had called to the windows, the rider had unslung and mounted a pipe, under whose moving canopy of clouds and vapours he might advance in greater tranquillity: and during this operation, his very thoughtful and serious horse had struck up a by-street—and made a dead stop, before his rider was aware, at the sign of the Golden Sow.
Although the gold had long since vanished from the stone beast, and, to say the truth, every part of [Pg 281]the house seemed to sympathise admirably with the unclean habits of its patron image, nevertheless, Mr. Jeremiah thought proper to comply with the instincts of his horse; and, as nobody in the street, or in the yard, came forward to answer his call, he gave himself no further trouble, but rode on through the open door right forwards into the bar.
'The Lord, and his angels, protect us!—As I live, here comes the late governor!' ejaculated the hostess, Mrs. Bridget Sweetbread; suddenly startled out of her afternoon's nap by the horse's hoofs—and seeing right before her what she took for the apparition of Don Juan; whom, as it afterwards appeared, she had seen in a pantomime the night before.
'Thunder and lightning! my good woman,' said the student laughing, 'would you dispute the reality of my flesh and blood?'
Mrs. Bridget, however, on perceiving her mistake, cared neither for the sword nor for the dog, but exclaimed, 'Why then, let me tell you, Sir, it's not the custom in this country to ride into parlours, and disturb honest folks when they're taking their rest. Innkeeping's not the trade it has been to me, God he knows: but, for all that, I'll not put up with such work from nobody.'
'Good, my dear creature; what you say is good—very good: but let me tell you, it's not good that I [Pg 282]must be kept waiting in the street, and no soul in attendance to take my horse and feed him.'
'Oh, that base villain of a hostler!' said the landlady, immediately begging pardon, and taking hold of the bridle, whilst Mr. Schnackenberger dismounted.
'That's a good creature,' said he; 'I love you for this: and I don't care if I take up my quarters here, which at first was not my intention. Have you room for me?'
'Room!' answered Mrs. Sweetbread; 'ah! now there's just the whole Golden Sow at your service; the more's the pity.'
On Mr. Jeremiah's asking the reason for this superfluity of room, she poured out a torrent of abuse against the landlord of The Double-barrelled Gun, who—not content with having at all times done justice to his sign—had latterly succeeded, with the help of vicious coachmen and unprincipled postilions, in drawing away her whole business, and had at length utterly ruined the once famous inn of The Golden Sow. And true it was that the apartment, into which she now introduced her guest, showed some vestiges of ancient splendour, in the pictures of six gigantic sows. The late landlord had been a butcher, and had christened his inn from his practice of slaughtering a pig every week; and the six swine, as large as life, and each bearing a separate name, were designed to record his eminent skill in the art of fattening.
His widow, who was still in mourning for him, must certainly have understood Mr. Schnackenberger's words, 'I love you for this,' in a sense very little intended by the student. For she brought up supper herself; and, with her own hand, unarmed with spoon [Pg 283]or other implement, dived after and secured a little insect which was floundering about in the soup. So much the greater was her surprise on observing, that, after such flattering proofs of attention, her guest left the soup untouched; and made no particular application to the other dishes—so well harmonising with the general character of the Golden Sow. At last, however, she explained his want of appetite into the excess of his passion for herself; and, on that consideration, failed not to lay before him a statement of her flourishing circumstances, and placed in a proper light the benefits of a marriage with a woman somewhat older than himself.
Mr. Schnackenberger, whose good-nature was infinite, occasionally interrupted his own conversation with Juno, the great dog, who meantime was dispatching the supper without any of her master's scruples, to throw in a 'Yes,' or a 'No,'—a, 'Well,' or a 'So, so.' But at length his patience gave way, and he started up—saying, 'Well: Sufficit: Now—march, old witch!' This harmless expression she took in such ill part, that, for mere peace' sake, he was obliged to lead her to the door and shut her out: and then, undressing himself, he stepped into bed; and, in defiance of the straw which everywhere stuck out, and a quilt of a hundred-weight, he sunk into a deep slumber under the agreeable serenade of those clamorous outcries which Mrs. Sweetbread still kept up on the outside of the door.
'Fire and furies!' exclaimed Mr. Schnackenberger, as Juno broke out into uproarious barking about midnight: the door was opened from the outside; and in stepped the landlady, arrayed in a night-dress that improved her charms into a rivalry with those of her sign at the street-door; accompanied by a fellow, who, by way of salutation, cracked an immense hunting-whip.
'So it's here that I'm to get my own again?' cried the fellow: and forthwith Mr. Jeremiah stepped out of bed, and hauled him up to the light of the lamp which the landlady carried.
'Yes, Sir,' said, the rough-rider, 'it's I, sure enough;' and, to judge by the countenance of his female conductor, every accent of his anger was music of the spheres to her unquenchable wrath: 'I'm the man, sure enough, whose horse you rode away with; and that you'll find to be a true bill.'
'Rode away with!' cried Mr. Jeremiah: 'Now, may the sweetest of all thunderbolts——But, rascal, this instant what's to pay? then take thy carrion out of the stable, and be off.' So saying, Mr. Schnackenberger strode to the bed for his well-filled purse.
On these signs of solvency, however, the horse-dealer turned up the gentle phasis of his character, and said, 'Nay, nay; since things are so, why it's all right; and, in the Lord's name, keep the horse as long as you want him.'
'Dog! in the first place, and firstly, tell me what's your demand? in the second place, and secondly, go to the d——l.'
But whilst the rough-rider continued with low bows to decline the first offer, being satisfied, as it seemed, with the second, the choleric Mr. Schnackenberger cried out, 'Seize him, Juno!' And straightway Juno leaped upon him, and executed the arrest so punctually—that the trembling equestrian, without further regard to ceremony, made out his charge.
Forthwith Mr. Jeremiah paid down the demand upon the table, throwing in something extra, with the words, 'That for the fright.' The dealer in horse-flesh returned him a thousand thanks; hoped for his honour's further patronage; and then, upon being civilly assured by Mr. Jeremiah, that if he did not in one instant walk down the stairs, he would, to his certain knowledge, have to fly down them; the rough-rider, in company with the landlady, took a rapid and polite leave of Mr. Schnackenberger; who was too much irritated by the affront to compose himself again to sleep.
Day was beginning to dawn, when a smoke, which forced its way through the door, and which grew every instant thicker and more oppressive, a second [Pg 286]time summoned Mr. Schnackenberger from his bed. As he threw open the door, such a volume of flames rolled in from the staircase—which was already on fire from top to bottom—that he saw there was no time to be lost: so he took his pipe, loaded it as quickly as possible, lighted it from the flames of the staircase, began smoking, and then, drawing on his pea-green coat and buckling on his sword, he put his head out of the window to see if there were any means of escape. To leap right down upon the pavement seemed too hazardous; and the most judicious course, it struck him, would be to let himself down upon the Golden Sow, which was at no great depth below his window, and from this station to give the alarm. Even this, however, could not be reached without a leap: Mr. Schnackenberger attempted it; and, by means of his great talents for equilibristic exercises, he hit the mark so well, that he planted himself in the very saddle, as it were, upon the back of this respectable brute. Unluckily, however, there was no house opposite; and Mrs. Sweetbread with her people slept at the back. Hence it was, that for a very considerable space of time he was obliged to continue riding the sign of the Golden Sow; whilst Juno, for whom he could not possibly make room behind him, looked out of the window, and accompanied her master's text of occasional clamours for assistance, with a very appropriate commentary of howls.
Some Poles at length passed by: but, not understanding one word of German—and seeing a man thus betimes in the morning mounted on the golden sow, smoking very leisurely, and occasionally hallooing, as if for his private amusement, they naturally took Mr. [Pg 287]Schnackenberger for a maniac: until, at length, the universal language of fire, which now began to burst out of the window, threw some light upon the darkness of their Polish understandings. Immediately they ran for assistance, which about the same moment the alarm-bells began to summon.
However, the fire-engines arrived on the ground before the ladders: these last were the particular objects of Mr. Jeremiah's wishes: meantime, in default of those, and as the second best thing that could happen, the engines played with such a well-directed stream of water upon the window—upon the Golden Sow—and upon Mr. Jeremiah Schnackenberger, that for one while they were severally rendered tolerably fire-proof. When at length the ladders arrived, and the people were on the point of applying them to the Golden Sow, he earnestly begged that they would, first of all, attend to a case of more urgent necessity: for himself, he was well mounted—as they saw; could assure them that he was by no means in a combustible state; and, if they would be so good as to be a little more parsimonious with their water, he didn't care if he continued to pursue his morning's ride a little longer. On the other hand, Juno at the window to the right was reduced every moment to greater extremities, as was pretty plainly indicated by the increasing violence of her howling.
But the people took it ill that they should be desired to rescue a four-legged animal; and peremptorily refused.
'My good lads,' said the man upon the sow, 'for heaven's sake don't delay any longer: one heaven, as Pfeffel observes, is over all good creatures that are [Pg 288]pilgrims on this earth—let their travelling coat (which by the way is none of their own choosing) be what it may;—smooth like yours and mine, or shaggy like Juno's.'
But all to no purpose: not Pfeffel himself in propriâ personâ could have converted them from the belief that to take any trouble about such a brute was derogatory to the honour of the very respectable citizens of B——.
However, when Mr. Jeremiah drew his purse-strings, and offered a golden ducat to him that would render this service to his dog, instantly so many were the competitors for the honour of delivering the excellent pilgrim in the shaggy coat, that none of them would resign a ladder to any of the rest: and thus, in this too violent zeal for her safety, possibly Juno would have perished—but for a huge Brunswick sausage, which, happening to go past in the mouth of a spaniel, violently irritated the appetite of Juno, and gave her courage for the salto mortale down to the pavement.
'God bless my soul,' said Mr. Schnackenberger, to the men who stood mourning over the golden soap-bubble that had just burst before their eyes, 'what's to be done now?' and, without delay, he offered the ducat to him that would instantly give chase to Juno, who had already given chase to the sausage round the street corner, and would restore her to him upon the spot. And such was the agitation of Mr. Schnackenberger's mind, that for a few moments he seemed as if rising in his stirrups—and on the point of clapping spurs to the Golden Sow for the purpose of joining in the chase.[Pg 289]
Mr. Schnackenberger's consternation was, in fact, not without very rational grounds. The case was this. Juno was an English bitch—infamous for her voracious appetite in all the villages, far and wide, about the university—and, indeed, in all respects, without a peer throughout the whole country. Of course, Mr. Schnackenberger was much envied on her account by a multitude of fellow students; and very large offers were made him for the dog. To all such overtures, however, the young man had turned a deaf ear for a long time, and even under the heaviest pecuniary distresses; though he could not but acknowledge to himself that Juno brought him nothing but trouble and vexation. For not only did this brute (generally called the monster) make a practice of visiting other people's kitchens, and appropriating all unguarded dainties—but she went even to the length of disputing the title to their own property with he-cooks and she-cooks, butchers, and butchers' wives, &c.; and whosoever had once made acquaintance with the fore-paws of this ravenous lady, allowed her thenceforwards, without resistance, to carry off all sausages or hams which she might choose to sequestrate, and directly presented a bill to her master; in which bill it commonly happened that indemnification for the fright, if not expressly charged as one of the [Pg 290]items, had a blank space, however, left for its consideration beneath the sum total. At length, matters came to that pass, that the reimbursement of Juno's annual outrages amounted to a far larger sum than Mr. Schnackenberger's own—not very frugal expenditure. On a day, therefore, when Juno had made an entire clearance of the larder appropriated to a whole establishment of day-labourers—and Mr. Schnackenberger had, in consequence, been brought into great trouble in the university courts, in his first moments of irritation he asked his friend Mr. Fabian Sebastian, who had previously made him a large offer for the dog, whether he were still disposed to take her on those terms. 'Undoubtedly,' said Mr. Sebastian—promising, at the same time, to lay down the purchase money on that day se'nnight, upon delivery of the article.
Delivery of the article would, no question, have been made upon the spot, had not the vendor repented of his bargain the next moment after it was concluded: on that account he still kept the dog in his own possession, and endeavoured, during the week's respite, to dispose his friend's mind to the cancelling of the contract. He, however, insisted on the punctual fulfilment of the treaty—letter and spirit. Never had Mr. Schnackenberger been so much disturbed in mind as at this period. Simply with the view of chasing away the nervous horrors which possessed his spirits, he had mounted his scare-crow and ridden abroad into the country. A remittance, which he had lately received from home, was still in his purse; and, said he to himself, suppose I were just to ride [Pg 291]off to the baths at B—— about fifteen miles distant! Nobody would know me there; and I might at any rate keep Juno a fortnight longer! And exactly in this way it had happened that Mr. Schnackenberger had come to B——.
At this instant, he was indebted to a lucky accident for a momentary diversion of his thoughts from the danger which threatened him in regard to Juno. Amongst other visitors to the baths, who were passing by at this early hour, happened to be the Princess of * *. Her carriage drew up at the very moment when Mr. Jeremiah, having dismounted from the sow, was descending the ladder: with her usual gracious manner, she congratulated the student upon his happy deliverance; and, finding that he was a countryman of her own, she invited him to a ball which she gave on the evening of that day, in honour of the King's birthday.
Now it must be acknowledged that a ball-room was not exactly the stage on which Mr. Schnackenberger's habits of life had qualified him for shining: however, the pleasure of a nearer acquaintance with the interesting princess—held out too flattering a prospect to allow of his declining her invitation. Just at this moment Juno returned.
Meantime the fire (occasioned probably by a spark falling from the landlady's lamp amongst the straw under the staircase) had been extinguished: and Mrs. Sweetbread, who had at length been roused at the back, now made her appearance; and with many expressions of regret for what had happened to Mr. Schnackenberger, who had entirely re-established himself in her esteem by his gold-laden purse, and also by what she called his 'very handsome behaviour' [Pg 292]to the horse-dealer, she requested that he would be pleased to step into one of her back rooms; at the same time, offering to reinstate his clothes in wearable condition by drying them as rapidly as possible: a necessity which was too clamorously urgent for immediate attention—to allow of the dripping student's rejecting her offer.
As Mr. Jeremiah stood looking out of the window for the purpose of whiling away a tedious forenoon, it first struck his mind—upon the sight of a number of men dressed very differently from himself—that his wardrobe would scarcely match with the festal splendour of the fête at which he was to be present in the evening. Even if it had been possible to overlook the tarnished lustre of his coat, not much embellished by its late watery trials upon the golden sow, yet he could not possibly make his appearance in a surtout. He sent therefore to one tailor after another: but all assured him that they had their hands much too full of business to undertake the conversion of his surtout into a dress coat against the evening; still less could they undertake to make a new one. Just as vainly did he look about for shoes: many were on sale; but none of them with premises spacious enough to accommodate his very respectable feet.[Pg 293]
All this put him into no little perplexity. True it was, that Mrs. Sweetbread had spontaneously thrown open to his inspection the wardrobe of her deceased husband. But even he had contrived to go through this world in shoes of considerably smaller dimensions than Mr. Jeremiah demanded. And from a pretty large choice of coats there was not one which he could turn to account. For, to say nothing of their being one and all too short by a good half ell, even in the very best of them he looked precisely as that man looks who has lately slaughtered a hog, or as that man looks who designs to slaughter a hog.
Now, then, when all his plans for meeting the exigencies of his case had turned out abortive, suddenly a bold idea struck him. In a sort of inspiration he seized a pair of scissors, for the purpose of converting with his own untutored hand of genius his pea-green surtout into a pea-green frock. This operation having, in his own judgment, succeeded to a marvel, he no longer hesitated to cut out a pair of ball shoes from his neat's-leather 'field-pieces.' Whatever equipments were still wanting could be had for money, with the exception of a shirt; and, as to that, the wedding shirt of the late Mr. Sweetbread would answer the purpose very passably.
What provoked our hero most of all were the new patent shoe-buckles, the fine points of which would not take firm hold of the coarse leather shoes, but on every bold step burst asunder—so that he was obliged to keep his eye warily upon them, and in consideration of their tender condition, to set his feet down to the ground very gently.
The hostess had just sunk pretty deep into her [Pg 294]customary failing of intoxication, when he went to her and asked how he looked in his gala dress.
'Look!' said she; 'why, like a king baked in gingerbread. Ah! now, such a man as you is the man for my money:—stout, and resolute, and active, and a man that——'
'Basta! sufficit, my dear.'
'To be sure, for his professional merit, I mustn't say anything against the late Mr. Sweetbread: No, nobody must say anything against that: he was the man for slaughtering of swine; Oh! he slaughtered them, that it was beautiful to see! pigs in particular, and pigs in general, were what he understood. Ah! lord! to my dying day I shall never forget the great sow that he presented to our gracious princess when she was at the baths, two years come Michaelmas. Says her Highness to him, says she,—"Master," says she, "one may see by your look that you understand how to fatten: anybody," says she, "may see it in his face: a child may see it by the very look on him. Ah!" says her Highness, "he's the man for swine: he was born to converse with hogs: he's a heaven-born curer of bacon."—Lord! Mr. Schnackenberger, you'll not believe how these gracious words revived my very heart! The tears came into my eyes, and I couldn't speak for joy. But, when all's said and done, what's fame? what's glory? say I. A man like you is the man for me: but for such another lazy old night-cap as the late Mr. Sweetbread——'
'Bah! sufficit, sweetheart;' at the same time squeezing her hand, which she took as an intimation that she ought not to trouble herself with the past, but rather look forward to a joyous futurity.[Pg 295]
As the hour drew near for presenting himself in the circle of the princess, Mr. Jeremiah recommended to her the most vigilant care of Juno, from whom he very unwillingly separated himself in these last days of their connection—and not until he had satisfied himself that it was absolutely impossible to take her with him to the ball. Another favourite, namely, his pipe, ought also, he feared, in strict propriety to be left behind. But in the first place, 'who knows,' thought he, 'but there may be one room reserved for such ladies and gentlemen as choose to smoke?' And, secondly, let that be as it might, he considered that the great meerschaum head of his pipe—over which he watched as over the apple of his eye—could nowhere be so safely preserved as in his own pocket: as to any protuberance that it might occasion, that he valued not at a rush. Just as little did he care for the grotesque appearance of the mouth-piece, which in true journeyman's fashion stuck out from the opening of his capacious pocket to a considerable distance.
'And now don't you go and forget some people in the midst of all this show of powdered puppies,' cried the landlady after him.
'Ah! my darling!' said he, laughing, 'just mind Juno: have an eye to Juno, my darling;' and for Juno's sake he suppressed the 'old witch,' that his lips were itching a second time to be delivered of.
At the hotel of the princess, all the resources of good taste and hospitality were called forth to give éclat to the fête, and do honour to the day; and by ten o'clock, a very numerous and brilliant company had already assembled.
So much the more astounding must have been the entry of Mr. Jeremiah Schnackenberger; who, by the way, was already familiar to the eyes of many, from his very public entrance into the city on the preceding evening, and to others from his morning's exhibition on the golden sow. His eyes and his thoughts being occupied by the single image of the fascinating hostess, of course it no more occurred to him to remark that his self-constructed coat was detaching itself at every step from its linings, whilst the pockets of the ci-devant surtout still displayed their original enormity of outline—than in general it would ever have occurred to him that the tout ensemble of his costume was likely to make, and had, in fact, made a very great sensation.
This very general attention to Mr. Schnackenberger, and the total unconsciousness of this honour on the part of Mr. Schnackenberger himself, did not escape the notice of the princess; and, at the first opportunity, she dispatched a gentleman to draw his attention to the indecorum of his dress—and to put [Pg 297]him in the way of making the proper alterations. Laughter and vexation struggled in Mr. Schnackenberger's mind, when he became aware of the condition of his equipments: and he very gladly accompanied the ambassador of his hostess into a private room, where clothes and shoes were furnished him, in which he looked like any other reasonable man. On his return to the ball-room, he lost no time in making his acknowledgments to the princess, and explaining the cause of his unbecoming attire. The princess, with a natural goodness of heart and true hospitality, was anxious to do what she could to restore her strange guest to satisfaction with himself, and to establish him in some credit with the company: she had besides discovered with pleasure that amidst all his absurdities, Mr. Schnackenberger was really a man of some ability: on these several considerations, therefore, she exerted herself to maintain a pretty long conversation with him; which honour Mr. Jeremiah so far misinterpreted, as to ascribe it to an interest of a very tender character. To Mr. Schnackenberger, who had taken up the very extraordinary conceit that his large person had some attractions about it, there could naturally be nothing very surprising in all this: and he felt himself called upon not to be wanting to himself, but to push his good fortune. Accordingly, he kept constantly about the person of the princess: let her move in what direction she would, there was Mr. Jeremiah Schnackenberger at hand ready to bewitch her with his conversation; and, having discovered that she was an amateur of botany, and purposed visiting a botanical garden on the following day, he besieged [Pg 298]her with offers of his services in the capacity of guide.
'Possibly, when the time comes,' said the princess, aloud, 'I shall avail myself of your goodness;' and the visible displeasure, with which she withdrew herself from his worrying importunities, so obviously disposed all the bystanders to smile—that Mr. Schnackenberger himself became alive to his own bétise, and a blush of shame and vexation suffused his countenance. What served at the moment greatly to exasperate these feelings, was the behaviour of a certain Mr. Von Pilsen—who had from the first paid uncommon attention to the very extraordinary phenomenon presented by Mr. Schnackenberger's person—had watched the whole course of the persecutions with which he had distressed the princess—and at this moment seemed quite unable to set any bounds to his laughter. In extreme dudgeon, Mr. Schnackenberger hastened into one of the most remote apartments, and flung himself back upon a sofa. Covering his, eyes with his hands, he saw none of the numbers who passed by him. But the first time that he looked up, behold! a paper was lying upon his breast. He examined it attentively; and found the following, words written in pencil, to all appearance by a female hand: 'We are too narrowly watched in this place. To-morrow morning about nine o'clock! The beautiful botanic gardens will secure us a fortunate rendezvous.'
'Aye,' said Mr. Jeremiah, 'sure enough it's from her!' He read the note again and again: and the more unhappy he had just now been, so much the more was he now intoxicated with his dawning felicities.[Pg 299]
The rattling of a chain through crashing glass and porcelain, which spread alarm through the ball-room, would hardly have drawn Mr. Schnackenberger's attention in his present condition of rapturous elevation, had not the well-known voice of Juno reached his ears at the same moment. He hurried after the sound—shocked, and to be shocked. The fact was simply this: Juno had very early in the evening withdrawn herself from the surveillance of the Golden Sow, and had followed her master's steps. Often ejected from the mansion of the princess, she had as often returned; so that at last it was thought best to chain her up in the garden. Unfortunately, a kitten belonging to a young female attendant of the princess had suddenly run past; Juno made a rush after it; the chain broke away from the woodwork of the kennel; the panic-struck kitten retreated into the house—taking the first road which presented: close upon the rear of the kitten pressed Juno and her chain; close upon the rear of Juno pressed the young woman in anguish for her kitten's life, and armed with a fly-flapper; and, the road happening to lead into the ball-room, the whole train—pursuers and pursued—helter-skelter fell into the quarters of the waltzers. The kitten attempted to take up a position behind a plateau on one of the side-boards: but from this she was immediately dislodged by Juno; and the retreat commencing afresh right across the side-boards [Pg 300]which were loaded with refreshments, all went to wreck—glasses and china, all was afloat—sherbet and lemonade, raspberry-vinegar and orgeat: and at the very moment when Mr. Jeremiah returned, the belligerent powers dripping with celestial nectar—having just charged up a column of dancers—were wheeling through the door by which he had entered: and the first check to the wrath of Juno was the seasonable arrest of her master's voice.
That the displeasure of the dancers, who had been discomposed and besprinkled by Juno, fell entirely upon her master, was pretty evident from their faces. Of all the parties concerned, however, none was more irritated than the young woman; she was standing upon the stairs, caressing and fondling her kitten, as Mr. Schnackenberger went down, leading Juno in his pocket-handkerchief; and she let drop some such very audible hints upon the ill-breeding and boorishness of certain pretended gentlemen, that Mr. Schnackenberger would, without doubt, have given her a very severe reprimand—if he had not thought it more dignified to affect to overlook her.
'Now, my dears,' said Mr. Von Pilsen to a party who were helping him to laugh at the departed Mr. Schnackenberger, 'as soon as the fellow returns, we must get him into our party at supper.'[Pg 301]
'Returns?' exclaimed another; 'why I should fancy he had had enough of birthday fêtes for one life.'
'You think so?' said Von Pilsen: 'so do not I. No, no, my good creature; I flatter myself that I go upon pretty sure grounds: I saw those eyes which he turned upon the princess on making his exit: and mind what I say, he takes his beast home, and——comes back again. Therefore, be sure, and get him amongst us at supper, and set the barrel abroach. I wouldn't for all the world the monster should go away untapped.'
The words were scarce uttered, when, sure enough, the body, or 'barrel,' of Mr. Schnackenberger did roll into the room for a second time. Forthwith Von Pilsen and his party made up to him; and Pilsen having first with much art laboured to efface any suspicions which might have possessed the student's mind in consequence of his former laughter, proceeded to thank him for the very extraordinary sport which his dog had furnished; and protested that he must be better acquainted with him.
'Why, as to that,' said Mr. Schnackenberger, 'a better acquaintance must naturally be very agreeable to me. But, in respect to the dog, and what you call the sport, I'm quite of another opinion; and would give all I'm worth that it had not happened.'
'Oh! no,' they all declared; 'the fête would have wanted its most brilliant features if Mr. Schnackenberger or his dog had been absent. No, no: without flattery he must allow them to call him the richest fund of amusement—the brightest attraction of the evening.' But Schnackenberger shook his head [Pg 302]incredulously; said he wished he could think so: but with a deep sigh he persisted in his own opinion; in which he was the more confirmed, when he perceived that the princess, who was now passing him to the supper-room, turned away her eyes the moment she perceived him.
In this state of mind Mr. Jeremiah naturally, but unconsciously, lent himself to the designs of his new acquaintances. Every glass that the devil of mischief and of merry malice poured out, did the devil of Schnackenberger's despair drink off; until at last the latter devil was tolerably well drowned in wine.
About this time enter Juno again—being her second (and positively last) appearance upon these boards. Mr. Jeremiah's new friends paid so much homage to the promising appearance of her jaws, that they made room for her very respectfully as she pressed up to her master. He, whose recent excesses in wine had re-established Juno in the plenitude of her favour, saw with approving calmness his female friend lay both her fore-paws on the table—and appropriate all that remained on his plate, to the extreme astonishment of all present.
'My friend,' said Mr. Jeremiah, to a footman who was on the point of pulling away the unbidden guest, 'don't you, for God's sake, get into any trouble. My Juno understands no jesting on these occasions: and it might so happen that she would leave a mark of her remembrance with you, that you would not forget so long as you lived.'
'But I suppose, Sir, you won't expect that a dog can be allowed to sup with her Highness's company!'
'Oh! faith, Sir, credit me—the dog is a more [Pg 303]respectable member of society than yourself, and many a one here present: so just leave me and my Juno unmolested. Else I may, perhaps, take the trouble to make an example of you.'
The princess, whose attention was now drawn, made a sign to the servant to retire; and Von Pilsen and his friends could scarcely keep down their laughter to a well-bred key, when Mr. Schnackenberger drew his pipe from his pocket—loaded it—lit it at one of the chandeliers over the supper-table—and, in one minute, wrapped the whole neighbourhood in a voluminous cloud of smoke.
As some little damper to their merriment, however, Mr. Schnackenberger addressed a few words to them from time to time:—'You laugh, gentlemen,' said he; 'and, doubtless, there's something or other very amusing,—no doubt, infinitely amusing, if one could but find it out. However, I could make your appetites for laughing vanish—aye, vanish in one moment. For, understand me now, one word—one little word from me to Juno, and, in two minutes, the whole room shall be as empty as if it had been swept out with a broom. Just the first that I look at, no matter whom, she catches by the breast—aye, just you, Sir, or you, Sir, or you, Mr. Von Pilsen,' (fixing his eye upon him) 'if I do but say—seize him, Juno!' The word had fled: and in the twinkling of an eye, Juno's fore-paws, not over clean, were fixed in the elegant white silk waistcoat of Mr. Von Pilsen.
This scene was the signal for universal uproar and alarm. Even Mr. Jeremiah, on remarking the general rising of the company, though totally unaware that his harmless sport had occasioned it, rose [Pg 304]also; called the dog off: and comforted Von Pilsen, who was half dead with fright, by assuring him that had he but said—'Bite him, Juno!'—matters would have ended far worse.
On Mr. Schnackenberger's standing up, his bodily equilibrium was manifestly so much endangered, that one of the company, out of mere humanity, offered his servant to see him safe home. A slight consciousness of his own condition induced our hero to accept of this offer: through some misunderstanding, however, the servant led him, not to the Golden Sow, but to the Double-barrelled Gun.
Mr. Schnackenberger, on being asked for his number, said 'No. 5;' that being the number of his room at the Golden Sow. He was accordingly shown up to No. 5: and, finding a bed under an alcove, he got into it dressed as he was; and, in one moment, had sunk into a profound slumber.
Half an hour after came the true claimant; who, being also drunk, went right up-stairs without troubling the waiter; and forthwith getting into bed, laid himself right upon Mr. Jeremiah Schnackenberger.
'D——n this heavy quilt,' said the student, waking up and recollecting the hundred-pounder of [Pg 305]the preceding night; and, without further ceremony, he kicked the supposed quilt into the middle of the room.
Now began war: for the 'quilt' rose up without delay; and Mr. Schnackenberger, who had been somewhat worse handled than his opponent by the devil of drunkenness, would doubtless have come by the worst, had he not in his extremity ejaculated 'Juno!' whereupon she, putting aside all selfish considerations, which at the moment had fastened her to a leg of mutton in the kitchen, rushed up on the summons of duty, and carried a reinforcement that speedily turned the scale of victory. The alarm, which this hubbub created, soon brought to the field of battle the whole population of the inn, in a very picturesque variety of night-dresses; and the intruding guest would in all likelihood have been kicked back to the Golden Sow; but that the word of command to the irritated Juno, which obviously trembled on his lips, was deemed worthy of very particular attention and respect.
At half-past ten on the following morning, at which time Mr. Schnackenberger first unclosed his eyes, behold! at the foot of his bed was sitting my hostess of the Golden Sow. 'Aye,' said she, 'I think it's time, Sir: and it's time, I think, to let you [Pg 306]know what it is to affront a creditable body before all the world.'
'Nay, for God's sake, old one, what's the matter?' said Mr. Schnackenberger, laughing and sitting bolt upright in bed.
'Old? Well, if I have a few more years on my head, I've a little more thought in it: but, perhaps, you're not altogether so thoughtless as I've been fancying in your actings towards me poor unfortunate widow: if that's the case, you are a base wicked man; and you deserve—'
'Why, woman, how now? Has a tarantula bit you; or what is it? Speak.'
'Speak! Aye, I'll speak; and all the world shall hear me. First of all come you riding into my bar like a crazy man: and I, good easy creature, let myself be wheedled, carry you meat—drink—everything—with my own hands; sit by your side; keep you in talk the whole evening, for fear you should be tired; and, what was my reward? "March," says you, "old witch." Well, that passed on. At midnight I am called out of my bed—for your sake: and the end of that job is, that along of you the Sow is half burned down. But for all that, I say never an ill word to you. I open the late Mr. Sweetbread's clothes-presses to you: his poor innocent wedding-shirt you don over your great shameless body; go off; leave me behind with a masterful dog, that takes a roast leg of mutton from off the spit; and, when he should have been beat for it, runs off with it into the street. You come back with the beast. Not to offend you, I say never a word of what he has done. Off you go again: well: scarce is your [Pg 307]back turned, when the filthy carrion begins running my rabbits up and down the yard; eats up all that he can catch; and never a one would have been left to tell the tale, if the great giantical hostler (him as blacked your shoes) hadn't ha' cudgelled him off. And after all this, there are you hopping away at the ball wi' some painted doll—looking babies in her eyes—quite forgetting me that has to sit up for you at home pining and grieving: and all isn't enough, but at last you must trot off to another inn.'
'What then,' said Mr. Schnackenberger, 'is it fact that I'm not at the Golden Sow?'
'Charming!' said Mrs. Sweetbread; 'and so you would make believe you don't know it; but I shall match you, or find them as will: rest you sure of that.'
'Children!' said Mr. Schnackenberger to the waiter and boots, who were listening in astonishment with the door half-open; 'of all loves, rid me of this monster.'
'Aye, what!' said she in a voice of wrath; and put herself on the defensive. But a word or two of abuse against the landlord of the Double-barrelled Gun, which escaped her in her heat, irritated the men to that degree, that in a few moments afterwards Mrs. Sweetbread was venting her wrath in the street—to the wonder of all passers-by, who looked after her until she vanished into the house of a well-known attorney.
Meantime, Mr. Schnackenberger, having on inquiry learned from the waiter in what manner he had come to the inn—and the night-scene which had followed, was apologizing to the owner of No. 5,—when, to his [Pg 308]great alarm the church clock struck eleven. 'Nine,' he remembered, was the hour fixed by the billet: and the more offence he might have given to the princess by his absurdities over-night, of which he had some obscure recollection, so much the more necessary was it that he should keep the appointment. The botanic garden was two miles off: so, shutting up Juno, he ordered a horse: and in default of boots, which, alas! existed no longer in that shape, he mounted in silk stockings and pumps; and rode off at a hand gallop.
The student was a good way advanced on his road, when he descried the princess, attended by another lady and a gentleman approaching in an open carriage. As soon, however, as he was near enough to be recognised by the party in the carriage, the princess turned away her head with manifest signs of displeasure—purely, as it appeared, to avoid noticing Mr. Jeremiah. Scarcely, however, was the carriage past him, together with Mr. Von Pilsen, who galloped by him in a tumult of laughter, when the ill-fate of our hero so ordered it, that all eyes which would not notice him for his honour should be reverted upon his disgrace. The white turnpike gate so frightened our rider's horse, that he positively refused to pass it: neither whip nor spur would bring him to reason. [Pg 309]Meantime, up comes an old butterwoman. At the very moment when she was passing, the horse in his panic steps back and deposits one of his hind legs in the basket of the butterwoman: down comes the basket with all its eggs, rotten and sound; and down comes the old woman, squash, into the midst of them. "Murder! Murder!" shouted the butterwoman; and forthwith every individual thing that could command a pair or two pair of legs ran out of the turnpike-house; the carriage of the princess drew up, to give the ladies a distant view of Mr. Schnackenberger engaged with the butterwoman; and Mr. Von Pilsen wheeled his horse round into a favourable station for seeing anything the ladies might overlook. Rage gave the old butterwoman strength; she jumped up nimbly, and seized Mr. Schnackenberger so stoutly by the laps of his coat, that he vainly endeavoured to extricate himself from her grasp. At this crisis, up came Juno, and took her usual side in such disputes. But to do this with effect, Juno found it necessary first of all to tear off the coat lap; for, the old woman keeping such firm hold of it, how else could Juno lay her down on her back—set her paws upon her breast—and then look up to her master, as if asking for a certificate of having acquitted herself to his satisfaction?
To rid himself of spectators, Mr. Jeremiah willingly paid the old woman the full amount of her demand, and then returned to the city. It disturbed him greatly, however, that the princess should thus again[Pg 310] have seen him under circumstances of disgrace. Anxious desire to lay open his heart before her—and to place himself in a more advantageous light, if not as to his body, yet at all events as to his intellect—determined him to use his utmost interest with her to obtain a private audience; 'at which,' thought he, 'I can easily beg her pardon for having overslept the appointed hour.'
The good luck seemed to have anticipated Mr. Schnackenberger's nearest wishes. For on reaching the Double-barrelled Gun, whither he arrived without further disturbance than that of the general gazing to which he was exposed by the fragment of a coat which survived from the late engagement, a billet was put into his hands of the following tenor: 'Come and explain this evening, if you can explain, your astonishing neglect of this morning's appointment. I shall be at the theatre; and shall do what I can to dismiss my attendants.'
But bad luck came also—in the person of a lawyer. The lawyer stated that he called on the part of the landlady of the Golden Sow, to put the question for the last time in civil terms, 'whether Mr. Schnackenberger were prepared to fulfil those just expectations which he had raised in her heart; or whether she [Pg 311]must be compelled to pursue her claims by due course of law.'
Mr. Schnackenberger was beginning to launch out with great fury upon the shameless and barefaced impudence of such expectations: but the attorney interrupted him; and observed with provoking coolness, 'that there was no occasion for any warmth—no occasion in the world; that certainly Mrs. Sweetbread could not have framed these expectations wholly out of the air: something (and he grinned sarcastically), something, it must be supposed, had passed: now, for instance, this wedding-shirt of the late Mr. Sweetbread—she would hardly, I think, have resigned this to your use, Mr. Schnackenberger, unless some engagements had preceded either in the shape of words or of actions. However, said he, this is no part of my business: what remains for me to do on this occasion is to present her account; and let me add, that I am instructed to say that, if you come to a proper understanding with her on the first point, no further notice will be taken of this last part of my client's demand.
The unfortunate Mr. Schnackenberger considered the case most ruefully and in awful perturbation. He perspired exceedingly. However, at length—'Come, I don't care,' said he, 'I know what I'll do:' and then sitting down, he drew up a paper, which he presented to Mr. Attorney; at the same time, explaining to him that, rather than be exposed in a court of justice as a supposed lover of Mrs. Sweetbread's, he was content to pay the monstrous charges of her bill without applying to a magistrate for his revision: but upon this condition only, that Mrs. [Pg 312]Sweetbread should for herself, heirs, and assigns, execute a general release with regard to Mr. Jeremiah Schnackenberger's body, according to the form here drawn up by himself, and should engage on no pretence whatever to set up any claim to him in times to come.
The attorney took his leave for the purpose of laying this release before his client: but the landlord of the Double-barrelled Gun, to whom in confidence Mr. Jeremiah disclosed his perilous situation, shook his head, and said, that if the other party signed the release on the conditions offered, it would be fortunate: as in that case, Mr. Schnackenberger would come off on much easier terms than twenty-three other gentlemen had done, who had all turned into the Golden Sow on different occasions, but not one of whom had ever got clear of the Golden Sow without an expensive contest at law. 'God bless my soul!' said Mr. Schnackenberger, who now 'funked' enormously; 'if that's the case, she might well have so much spare room to offer me: twenty-three gentlemen! God bless my soul!'
At this instant, a servant brought back the shoes and clothes of Mr. Schnackenberger's own manufacture, which had been pulled off and left at the hotel of the princess. The student gave up the pumps and the borrowed coat to the astonished servant, with an assurance that he would wait on her Highness and make his personal excuses to her, on account of 'a [Pg 313]little accident' which had that morning befallen the coat. He then dispatched his own coat to a quarter where something or other might be done to fit it for this sublunary world.
The play-hour was arrived; and yet no coat was forthcoming from the tailor: on the contrary, the tailor himself was gone to the play. The landlord of the Double-barrelled Gun, who would readily have lent one, was off upon a rural excursion, and not expected at home before the next morning; and the waiter, whose assistance would not have been disdained in such a pressing emergency, was of so spare and meagre a habit, that, in spite of furious exertions on the part of Mr. Schnackenberger, John's coat would not let itself be entered upon by this new tenant. In this exigency, John bethought him of an old clothesman in the neighbourhood. There he made inquiries. But he, alas! was out on his summer rounds with his whole magazine of clothes; no one article being left with his wife, except a great box-coat, such as is technically called a 'dreadnought,' for which it was presumed that no demand could possibly arise at this season of the year.
On this report being made, to the great astonishment of the waiter, Mr. Jeremiah said, 'Well, then, [Pg 314]let us have the dreadnought. If the Fates ordain that I should go to the play in the dog-days apparelled in a dreadnought, let not me vainly think of resisting their decrees.'
'But,' said the waiter, shrugging his shoulders, 'the people——'
'The what?' said Mr. Schnackenberger: 'the people—was it you said; the people? Pray how many people do you reckon to a man? No, Sir, do as I bid you; just bring me the dreadnought and a round hat.'
The waiter obeyed: and, although the dreadnought was by one good ell too short, yet Mr. Jeremiah exulted in his strange apparel, because he flattered himself that in such a disguise he could preserve a strict incognito; with a view to which he also left Juno behind, recommending her to the vigilant attentions of the waiter.
All the world was astonished, when from the door of the Double-barrelled Gun a man stepped forth on the hottest day in August, arrayed as for a Siberian winter in a dreadnought, guarded with furs, and a hat pressed down, so as almost to cover his face. The train of curious persons who attended his motions naturally grew larger at every step.
Whosoever had hitherto doubted whether this man [Pg 315]were mad—doubted no longer when he was seen to enter the theatre; where in the lightest summer-clothing the heat was scarcely supportable.
Within the theatre, the attention of all people was directed so undividedly upon himself, that even Mr. Schnackenberger began to opine that he had undertaken something extraordinary: so much the more, thought he, will it be prudent to hide my face, that I may not again compromise my dignity in the presence of her Highness. But this concealment of his face raised the strongest suspicions against him. Throughout the whole house—pit—boxes—and galleries—there was but one subject of conversation, viz. the man in the dreadnought; and, whilst in all other parts the house was crowded to excess, upon his bench no soul would sit: and he created as much superfluity of room as he had found at the Golden Sow. At length the manager waited upon him, and requested that he would either retire from the theatre, or that he would explain what could have induced him to make his appearance in a costume which had spread alarm and anxiety through the public mind; and which was likely to do a serious injury to the receipts of the night.
At this moment several children began to cry—taking him for black Robert. The consequence was, that, as they could not be pacified, the first scene was mere dumb show to the audience; and some giddy[Pg 316] young people set up a loud 'off, off, Dreadnought!' which cry was instantly seconded by the public. Nevertheless, as the princess at that instant entered her box, Mr. Schnackenberger, however hard pressed, thought it became him to maintain his post to the last extremity. This extremity forthwith appeared in the shape of three armed soldiers, who, on behalf of the police, took him into custody. Possibly Mr. Jeremiah might have shown himself less tractable to the requests of these superannuated antiquities—but for two considerations; first, that an opportunity might thus offer of exchanging his dreadnought for a less impressive costume; and, secondly, that in case of his declining to accompany them, he saw signs abroad that a generous and enlightened public did very probably purpose to kick him out; a conjecture which was considerably strengthened by the universal applause which attended his exit at quick time.
Mr. Schnackenberger was escorted by an immense retinue of old street-padders and youthful mud-larks to the city gaol. His own view of the case was, that the public had been guilty of a row, and ought to be arrested. But the old Mayor, who was half-deaf, comprehended not a syllable of what he said: all his remonstrances about 'pressing business' went for nothing: and, when he made a show of escaping upon seeing the gloomy hole into which he was now handed, his worship threatened him with drawing out the city guard.
From one of this respectable body, who brought him straw to lie upon, and the wretched prison allowance of food, he learned that his examination could not take place that day nor even the next; for [Pg 317]the next was a holiday, on which Mr. Mayor never did any business. On receiving this dolorous information, Mr. Schnackenberger's first impulse was to knock down his informant and run away: but a moment's consideration satisfied him—that, though he might by this means escape from his cell, he could have no chance of forcing the prison gates.
A most beautiful moonlight began at this juncture to throw its beams in the prison, when Mr. Schnackenberger, starting up from his sleepless couch, for pure rage, seized upon the iron bars of his window, and shook them with a fervent prayer, that instead of bars it had pleased God to put Mr. Mayor within his grasp. To his infinite astonishment, the bars were more obedient to his wrath than could have been expected. One shake more, and like a row of carious teeth they were all in Mr. Schnackenberger's hand.
It may be supposed that Mr. Schnackenberger lost no time in using his good fortune; indeed, a very slight jump would suffice to place him at liberty. Accordingly, when the sentinel had retired to a little distance, he flung his dreadnought out of the window—leaped upon it—and stood without injury on the outside of the prison.
'Who goes there?' cried the alarmed sentinel, [Pg 318]coyly approaching the spot from which the noise issued.
'Nobody,' said the fugitive: and by way of answer to the challenge—'Speak, or I must fire'—which tremulously issued from the lips of the city hero, Mr. Schnackenberger, gathering up his dreadnought to his breast, said in a hollow voice, 'Fellow, thou art a dead man.'
Straightway the armed man fell upon his knees before him, and cried out—'ah! gracious Sir! have mercy upon me. I am a poor wig-maker; and a bad trade it is; and I petitioned his worship, and have done for this many a year, to be taken into the city guard; and yesterday I passed—'
'Passed my examination, your honour:—his worship put me through the manual exercise: and I was 'triculated into the corps. It would be a sad thing, your honour, to lose my life the very next day after I was 'triculated.'
'Well,' said Mr. Jeremiah, who with much ado forbore laughing immoderately, 'for this once I shall spare your life: but then remember—not a word, no sound or syllable.'
'Not one, your honour, I vow to heaven.'
'And down upon the spot deliver me your coat, side arms, and hat.'
But the martial wig-maker protested that, being already ill of a cold, he should, without all doubt, perish if he were to keep guard in his shirt-sleeves.
'Well, in that case, this dreadnought will be a capital article: allow me to prescribe it—it's an excellent sudorific.'[Pg 319]
Necessity has no law: and so, to save his life, the city hero, after some little struggle, submitted to this unusual exchange.
'Very good!' said Mr. Schnackenberger, as the warrior in the dreadnought, after mounting his round hat, again shouldered his musket:—'Now, good-night;' and so saying, he hastened off to the residence of the Mayor.
'Saints in heaven! is this the messenger of the last day?' screamed out a female voice, as the doorbell rang out a furious alarum—peal upon peal—under that able performer, Mr. Jeremiah Schnackenberger. She hastened to open the door; but, when she beheld a soldier in the state uniform, she assured him it was all over with him; for his worship was gone to bed; and, when that was the case, he never allowed of any disturbance without making an example.
'Aye, but I come upon state business.'
'No matter,' said the old woman, 'it's all one: when his worship sleeps, business must sleep: that's the law, I'll assure you, and has been any time since I can think on. He always commits, at the least.'
'Very likely; but I must speak to him.'
'Well, then, take the consequences on yourself,' said she: 'recollect, you're a state soldier; you'll be brought to a court-martial; you'll be shot.'[Pg 320]
'Ah! well: that's my concern.'
'Mighty well,' said the old woman: 'one may as well speak to the wind. However, I'll get out the way: I'll not come near the hurricane. And don't you say, I didn't warn you.'
So saying, she let him up to her master's bed-room door, and then trotted off as fast and as far as she could.
At this moment Mr. Mayor, already wakened and discomposed by the violent tintinnabulation, rushed out: 'What!' said he, 'am I awake? Is it a guardsman that has this audacity?'
'No guardsman, Mr. Mayor,' said our hero; in whose face his worship was vainly poring with the lamp to spell out the features of some one amongst the twelve members of the state-guard; 'no guardsman, but a gentleman that was apprehended last night at the theatre.'
'Ah!' said the Mayor, trembling in every limb, 'a prisoner, and escaped? And perhaps has murdered the guard?—What would you have of me—me, a poor, helpless, unfortunate man?'
And, at every word he spoke, he continued to step back towards a bell that lay upon the table.
'Basta,' said Mr. Schnackenberger, taking the bell out of his hands. 'Mr. Mayor, I'm just the man in the dreadnought. And I've a question to ask you, Mr. Mayor; and I thought it was rather long to wait until morning; so I took the liberty of coming for an answer to-night; and I'd think myself particularly obliged to you for it now:—Upon what authority do you conceive yourself entitled to commit me, an innocent man, and without a hearing, to an abomin[Pg 321]able hole of a dungeon? I have not murdered the guard, Mr. Mayor: but I troubled him for his regimental coat, that I might gain admittance to your worship: and I left him the dreadnought in exchange.'
'The dreadnought?' said the Mayor. 'Aye: now this very dreadnought it was, Sir, that compelled me (making a low bow) to issue my warrant for your apprehension.' And it then came out, that in a list of stolen goods recently lodged with the magistrates, a dreadnought was particularly noticed: and Mr. Mayor having seen a man enter the theatre in an article answering to the description, and easily identified by a black cross embroidered upon the back, was obliged by his duty to have him arrested; more especially as the wearer had increased the suspicion against himself by concealing his face.
This explanation naturally reconciled Mr. Schnackenberger to the arrest: and as to the filthy dungeon, that admitted of a still simpler apology, as it seemed that the town afforded no better.
'Why then, Mr. Mayor,—as things stand, it seems to me that in the point of honour I ought to be satisfied: and in that case I still consider myself your prisoner, and shall take up my quarters for this night in your respectable mansion.'
'But no!' thought Mr. Mayor: 'better let a rogue escape, than keep a man within my doors that may commit a murder on my body.' So he assured Mr. Schnackenberger—that he had accounted in the most satisfactory manner for being found in possession of the dreadnought; took down the name of the old clothesman from whom it was hired; and lighting [Pg 322]down his now discharged prisoner, he declared, with a rueful attempt at smiling, that it gave him the liveliest gratification on so disagreeable an occasion to have made so very agreeable an acquaintance.
When Mr. Schnackenberger returned home from his persecutions, he found the door of the Double-barrelled Gun standing wide open: and, as he had observed a light in his own room, he walked right up-stairs without disturbing the sleeping waiter. But to his great astonishment, two gigantic fellows were posted outside the door; who, upon his affirming that he must be allowed to enter his own room, seemed in some foreign and unintelligible language to support the negative of that proposition. Without further scruple or regard to their menacing gestures, he pressed forwards to the chamber door; but immediately after felt himself laid hold of by the two fellows—one at his legs, the other at his head—and, spite of his most indignant protests, carried down-stairs into the yard. There he was tumbled into a little dépôt for certain four-footed animals—with whose golden representative he had so recently formed an acquaintance no less intimate;—and, the height of the building not allowing of his standing upright, he was disposed to look back with sorrow to the paradise [Pg 323]lost of his station upon the back of the quiet animal whom he had ridden on the preceding day. Even the dungeon appeared an elysium in comparison with his present lodgings, where he felt the truth of the proverb brought home to him—that it is better to be alone than in bad company.
Unfortunately, the door being fastened on the outside, there remained nothing else for him to do than to draw people to the spot by a vehement howling. But the swine being disturbed by this unusual outcry, and a general uproar taking place among the inhabitants of the stye, Mr. Schnackenberger's single voice, suffocated by rage, was over-powered by the swinish accompaniment. Some little attention was, however, drawn to the noise amongst those who slept near to the yard: but on the waiter's assuring them that it was 'only a great pig who would soon be quiet,' that the key could not be found, and no locksmith was in the way at that time of night, the remonstrants were obliged to betake themselves to the same remedy of patience, which by this time seemed to Mr. Jeremiah also the sole remedy left to himself.
Mr. Schnackenberger's howling had (as the waiter predicted) gradually died away, and he was grimly meditating on his own miseries, to which he had now lost all hope of seeing an end before daylight, when [Pg 324]the sudden rattling of a key at the yard door awakened flattering hopes in his breast. It proved to be the waiter, who came to make a gaol delivery—and on letting him out said, 'I am commissioned by the gentlemen to secure your silence;' at the same time putting into his hand a piece of gold.
'The d——l take your gold!' said Mr. Schnackenberger: 'is this the practice at your house—first to abuse your guests, and then have the audacity to offer them money?'
'Lord, protect us!' said the waiter, now examining his face, 'is it you? but who would ever have looked for you in such a dress as this? The gentlemen took you for one of the police. Lord! to think what a trouble you'll have had!'
And it now came out, that a party of foreigners had pitched upon Mr. Jeremiah's room as a convenient one for playing at hazard and some other forbidden games; and to prevent all disturbance from the police, had posted their servants, who spoke not a word of German, as sentinels at the door.
'But how came you to let my room for such a purpose?'
'Because we never expected to see you to-night; we had heard that the gentleman in the dreadnought had been taken up at the theatre, and committed. But the gentlemen are all gone now; and the room's quite at your service.'
Mr. Schnackenberger, however, who had lost the first part of the night's sleep from suffering, was destined to lose the second from pleasure: for the waiter now put into his hands the following billet: 'No doubt you must have waited for me to no [Pg 325]purpose in the passages of the theatre: but alas! our firmest resolutions we have it not always in our power to execute; and on this occasion, I found it quite impossible consistently with decorum to separate myself from my attendants. Will you therefore attend the hunt to-morrow morning? there I hope a better opportunity will offer.'
It added to his happiness on this occasion that the princess had manifestly not detected him as the man in the dreadnought.
Next morning, when the Provost-marshal came to fetch back the appointments of the military wig-maker, it struck our good-natured student that he had very probably brought the poor fellow into an unpleasant scrape. He felt, therefore, called upon as a gentleman, to wait upon the Mayor, and do his best to beg him off. In fact, he arrived just in time: for all the arrangements were complete for demonstrating to the poor wig-maker, by an à posteriori line of argument, the importance of valour in his new employment.
Mr. Schnackenberger entreated the Mayor to be lenient: courage, he said, was not every man's business: as a wig-maker, the prisoner could have had little practice in that virtue: the best of wigs were [Pg 326]often made by cowards: 'and even as a soldier,' said he, 'it's odds if there should be such another alarm for the next hundred years.' But all in vain: his judge was too much incensed: 'Such a scandalous dereliction of duty!' said he; 'No, no: I must make an example of him.'
Hereupon, Mr. Jeremiah observed, that wig-makers were not the only people who sometimes failed in the point of courage: 'Nay,' said he, 'I have known even mayors who by no means shone in that department of duty: and in particular, I am acquainted with some who would look exceedingly blue, aye d——lish blue indeed, if a student whom I have the honour to know should take it into his head to bring before the public a little incident in which they figured, embellished with wood-cuts, representing a retreat by forced marches towards a bell in the background.'
Mr. Mayor changed colour; and pausing a little to think, at length he said—'Sir, you are in the right; every man has his weak moments. But it would be unhandsome to expose them to the scoffs of the public.'
'Why, yes, upon certain conditions.'
'Which conditions I comply with,' said his worship; and forthwith he commuted the punishment for a reprimand and a short confinement.
On these terms Mr. Schnackenberger assured him of his entire silence with respect to all that had passed.[Pg 327]
'Beg your pardon, Sir, are you Mr. Schnackenberger?' said a young man to our hero, as he was riding out of the city gate.
'Yes, Sir, I'm the man; what would you have with me?' and, at the same time looking earnestly at him, he remembered his face amongst the footmen on the birth-night.
'At the Forester's house—about eleven o'clock,' whispered the man mysteriously.
'Very good,' said Mr. Schnackenberger, nodding significantly; and forthwith, upon the wings of rapturous anticipation, he flew to the place of rendezvous.
On riding into the Forester's court-yard, among several other open carriages, he observed one lined with celestial blue, which, with a strange grossness of taste, exhibited upon the cushions a medley of hams, sausages, &c. On entering the house, he was at no loss to discover the owner of the carriage; for in a window-seat of the bar sate the landlady of the Golden Sow, no longer in widow's weeds, but arrayed in colours brighter than a bed of tulips.
Mr. Schnackenberger was congratulating himself on his quarrel with her, which he flattered himself must preclude all amicable intercourse, when she saw him, and to his horror approached with a smiling countenance. Some overtures towards reconciliation he saw were in the wind: but, as these could not be [Pg 328]listened to except on one condition, he determined to meet her with a test question: accordingly, as she drew near, simpering and languishing,
'Have you executed?' said he abruptly, 'Have you executed?'
'Have I what?' said Mrs. Sweetbread.
'Executed? Have you executed the release?'
'Oh! you bad man! But come now: I know——'
At this moment, however, up came some acquaintances of Mrs. Sweetbread's, who had ridden out to see the hunt; and, whilst her attention was for one moment drawn off to them, Mr. Schnackenberger slipped unobserved into a parlour: it was now half-past ten by the Forester's clock; and he resolved to wait here until the time fixed by the princess. Whilst sitting in this situation, he heard in an adjoining room (separated only by a slight partition) his own name often repeated: the voice was that of Mr. Von Pilsen; loud laughter followed every sentence; and on attending more closely, Mr. Schnackenberger perceived that he was just terminating an account of his own adventures at the Golden Sow, and of his consequent embroilment with the amorous landlady. All this, however, our student would have borne with equanimity. But next followed a disclosure which mortified his vanity in the uttermost degree. A few words sufficed to unfold to him that Mr. Von Pilsen, in concert with the waiter of the Double-barrelled Gun and that young female attendant of the princess, whose kitten had been persecuted by Juno, had framed the whole plot, and had written the letters which Mr. Schnackenberger had ascribed to her Highness. He had scarce [Pg 329]patience to hear out the remainder. In some way or other, Von Pilsen had so far mistaken our hero, as to pronounce him 'chicken-hearted:' and upon this ground, he invited his whole audience to an evening party at the public rooms of the Double-barrelled Gun—where he promised to play off Mr. Schnackenberger as a glorious exhibition for this night only.
Furious with wrath, and moreover anxious to escape before Von Pilsen and his party should see him, and know that this last forgery no less than the others had succeeded in duping him into a punctual observance of the appointment, Mr. Schnackenberger rushed out of the room, seized his horse's bridle—and was just on the point of mounting, when up came his female tormentor, Mrs. Sweetbread.
'Come, come, now,' said she, smiling in her most amiable manner; 'we were both under a mistake yesterday morning: and both of us were too hasty. The booby of a lad took you to the Gun, when you wanted nothing but the Sow: you were a little "fresh," and didn't know it; and I thought you did it on purpose. But I know better now. And here I am to fetch you back to the Sow: so come along: and we'll forget and forgive on both sides.'
So saying, she would have taken his arm most lovingly: but Mr. Schnackenberger stoutly refused. He had nothing to do with her but to pay his bill; he wanted nothing of her but his back-sword, which he had left at the Sow; and he made a motion towards his stirrup. But Mrs. Sweetbread laid her hand upon his arm, and asked him tenderly—if her person were then so utterly disgusting to him that, upon thus [Pg 330]meeting him again by his own appointment, he had at once forgotten all his proposals?
'Proposals! what proposals?' shrieked the persecuted student; 'Appointment! what appointment?'
'Oh, you base, low-lived villain! don't you go for to deny it, now: didn't you offer to be reconciled? didn't you bid me to come here, that we might settle all quietly in the forest? Aye, and we will settle it: and nothing shall ever part us more; nothing in the world; for what God has joined——'
'Drunken old witch!' interrupted Mr. Jeremiah, now sufficiently admonished by the brandy fumes which assailed him as to the proximate cause of Mrs. Sweetbread's boldness; 'seek lovers elsewhere.' And hastily turning round to shake her off, he perceived to his horror that an immense crowd had by this time assembled behind them. In the rear, and standing upon the steps of the Forester's house, stood Von Pilsen and his party, convulsed with laughter; immediately below them was the whole body of the hunters, who had called here for refreshment—upon whose faces struggled a mixed expression of merriment and wonder: and at the head of the whole company stood a party of butchers and butchers' boys returning from the hunt, whose fierce looks and gestures made it evident that they sympathized with the wrongs of Mrs. Sweetbread, the relict of a man who had done honour to their body—and were prepared to avenge them in any way she might choose. She, meantime, whose whole mighty love was converted into mighty hatred by the opprobrious words and fierce repulse of Mr. Schnackenberger, called heaven and earth, and all present, to witness her wrongs; protested that he [Pg 331]had himself appointed the meeting at the Forest-house; and in confirmation drew forth a letter.
At sight of the letter, a rattling peal of laughter from Mr. Von Pilsen left no room to doubt, in our student's mind, from whose witty manufactory it issued; and a rattling peal of wrath from the butchers' boys left no room to doubt in anybody's mind what would be its consequences. The letter was, in fact, pretty much what Mrs. Sweetbread alleged: it contained a large and unlimited offer of Mr. Schnackenberger's large and unlimited person; professed an ardour of passion which could brook no delay; and entreated her to grant him an interview for the final arrangement of all preliminaries at the Forest-house.
Whilst this letter was reading, Mr. Schnackenberger perceived that there was no time to be lost: no Juno, unfortunately, was present, no 'deus ex machinâ' to turn the scale of battle, which would obviously be too unequal, and in any result (considering the quality of the assailants) not very glorious. So, watching his opportunity, he vaulted into his saddle, and shot off like an arrow. Up went the roar of laughter from Von Pilsen and the hunters: up went the roar of fury from the butchers and their boys: in the twinkling of an eye all were giving chase; showers of stones sang through the trees; threats of vengeance were in his ears; butchers' dogs were at his horse's heels; butchers' curses were on the wind; a widow's cries hung upon his flight. The hunters joined in the pursuit; a second chase was before them; Mr. Pilsen had furnished them a second game. Again did Mr. Schnackenberger perspire [Pg 332]exceedingly; once again did Mr. Schnackenberger 'funk' enormously; yet, once again did Mr. Schnackenberger shiver at the remembrance of the Golden Sow, and groan at the name of Sweetbread. He retained, however, presence of mind enough to work away at his spurs incessantly; nor ever once turned his head until he reached the city gates, which he entered at the pas de charge, thanking heaven that he was better mounted than on his first arrival at B——.
Rapidly as Mr. Schnackenberger drove through the gates, he was arrested by the voice of the warder, who cited him to instant attendance at the town-hall. Within the memory of man, this was the first time that any business had been transacted on a holiday; an extraordinary sitting was now being held; and the prisoner under examination was——Juno. 'Oh! heaven and its mercies! when will my afflictions cease?' said the exhausted student; 'when shall I have a respite?' Respite there could be none at present; for the case was urgent; and, unless Juno could find good bail, she was certain of being committed on three very serious charges of 1. trespass; 2. assault and battery; 3. stealing in a dwelling-house. The case was briefly this: Juno had opened so detestable an overture of howling on her master's departure for the forest, that the people at the Double-barrelled Gun, out of mere consideration for [Pg 333]the city of B——, had found it necessary to set her at liberty; whereupon, as if the devil drove her, forthwith the brute had gone off in search of her old young enemy the kitten, at the hotel of the princess. She beat up the kitten's quarters again; and again she drove in the enemy pell-mell into her camp in the kitchen. The young mistress of the kitten, out of her wits at seeing her darling's danger, had set down a pail of milk, in which she was washing a Brussels' veil and a quantity of Mechlin lace belonging to the princess—and hurried her kitten into a closet. In a moment she returned, and found—milk, Brussels' veil, Mechlin lace, vanished—evaporated into Juno's throat, 'abiit—evasit—excessit—erupit!' only the milk-pail, upon some punctilio of delicacy in Juno, was still there; and Juno herself stood by, complacently licking her milky lips, and expressing a lively satisfaction with the texture of Flanders' manufactures. The princess, vexed at these outrages on her establishment, sent a message to the town-council, desiring that banishment for life might be inflicted on a dog of such revolutionary principles, whose presence (as she understood) had raised a general consternation throughout the city of B——.
Mr. Mayor, however, had not forgotten the threatened report of a certain retreat to a bell, illustrated by wood-cuts; and therefore, after assuring her Highness of his readiness to serve her, he added, that measures would be adopted to prevent similar aggressions—but that unhappily, from peculiar circumstances connected with this case, no further severities could be inflicted. Meantime, while this note was writing, Juno had contrived to liberate herself from arrest.[Pg 334]
Scarce had she been absent three minutes, when in rushed to the town-council the eternal enemy of the Mayor—Mr. Deputy Recorder. The large goose's liver, the largest, perhaps, that for some centuries had been bred and born in B——, and which was destined this very night to have solemnised the anniversary of Mrs. Deputy Recorder's birth; this liver, and no other, had been piratically attacked, boarded, and captured, in the very sanctuary of the kitchen, 'by that flibustier (said he) that buccaneer—that Paul Jones of a Juno.' Dashing the tears from his eyes, Mr. Deputy Recorder went on to perorate; 'I ask,' said he, 'whether such a Kentucky marauder ought not to be outlawed by all nations, and put to the ban of civilised Europe? If not'—and then Mr. Deputy paused for effect, and struck the table with his fist—'if not, and such principles of Jacobinism and French philosophy are to be tolerated; then, I say, there is an end to social order and religion: Sansculotterie, Septemberising, and red night-caps, will flourish over once happy Europe; and the last and best of kings, and our most shining lights, will follow into the same bottomless abyss, which has already swallowed up (and his voice faltered)—my liver.'
'Lights and liver!' said Mr. Schnackenberger; 'I suppose you mean liver and lights; but, lord! Mr. Recorder, what a bilious view you take of the case! Your liver weighs too much in this matter; and where that happens, a man's judgment is sure to be jaundiced.'
However, the council thought otherwise: Mr. Deputy's speech had produced a deep impression; and, upon his motion, they adjudged that, in twelve [Pg 335]hours, Juno should be conducted to the frontiers of the city lands, and there solemnly outlawed: after which it should be free to all citizens of B—— to pursue her with fire and sword; and even before that period, if she were met without a responsible guide. Mr. Schnackenberger pleaded earnestly for an extension of the armistice; but then arose, for the second time, with Catonic severity of aspect, Mr. Deputy Recorder; he urged so powerfully the necessity of uncompromising principle in these dangerous times, insisted so cogently on the false humanity of misplaced lenity, and wound up the whole by such a pathetic array of the crimes committed by Juno—of the sausages she had robbed, the rabbits she had strangled, the porcelain she had fractured, the raspberry-vinegar she had spilt, the mutton she had devoted to chops ('her own "chops," remember,' said Mr. Schnackenberger), the Brussels' veil, and the Mechlin lace, which she had swallowed, the domestic harmony which she had disturbed, the laws of the land which she had insulted and outraged, the peace of mind which she had invaded, and, finally, (said he) 'as if all this were not enough, the liver—the goose's liver—my liver—my unoffending liver'—('and lights,' said Mr. Schnackenberger) 'which she has burglariously and inhumanly immolated to her brutal propensities:' on all this Mr. Deputy executed such a bravura, and the sins of Juno chased each other so rapidly, and assumed so scarlet a hue, that the council instantly negatived her master's proposition; the single dissentient voice being that of Mr. Mayor, who, with tears in his eyes, conjured Mr. Schnackenberger not to confound the innocent with the guilty.[Pg 336]
Exhausted by the misfortunes of the day, towards evening Mr. Jeremiah was reposing at his length, and smoking in the window-seat of his room. Solemn clouds of smoke expressed the gloomy vapours which rested on his brain. The hours of Juno's life, it seemed to him, were numbered; every soul in B—— was her sworn foe—bipeds and quadrupeds, men, women, dogs, cats, children, kittens, deputy-recorders, rabbits, cooks, legs-of-mutton, to say nothing of goose-livers, sausages, haunches of venison, and 'quilts.'—If he were to take country-lodgings for her, and to send her out of B——, what awaited her there? Whither could she go, but some butcher—some butterwoman—some rough-rider or other had a private account to settle with her?—'Unhappy creature!' ejaculated the student, 'torment of my life!'
At this moment Mr. Schnackenberger's anxious ruminations were further enforced by the appearance of the town-crier under his window: inert as the town-council were in giving effect to their own resolutions, on this occasion it was clear that they viewed the matter as no joke; and were bent on rigorously following up their sentence. For the crier proclaimed the decree by beat of drum; explained the provisos of the twelve hours' truce, and enjoined all good citizens, and worthy patriots, at the expiration of that period, to put the public enemy to the sword, [Pg 337]wherever she should be found, and even to rise en masse, if that should be necessary, for the extermination of the national robber—as they valued their own private welfare, or the honour and dignity of the state.
'English fiend!' said Mr. Schnackenberger, 'will nothing reclaim thee? Now that I am rid of my German plague, must I be martyred by my English plague?' For be it mentioned that, on our hero's return from the council, he had received some little comfort in his afflictions from hearing that Mrs. Sweetbread had, upon her return to B——, testified her satisfaction with the zealous leader of the butchers' boys, by forthwith bestowing upon him her widowed hand and heart, together with the Sow and its appurtenances. 'English fiend!' resumed Mr. Schnackenberger, 'most edacious and audacious of quadrupeds! can nothing be done for thee? Is it impossible to save thy life?' And again he stopped to ruminate. For her metaphysics it was hopeless to cure; but could nothing be done for her physics? At the university of X—— she had lived two years next door neighbour to the Professor of Moral Philosophy, and had besides attended many of his lectures without any sort of benefit to her morals, which still continued of the very worst description. 'But could no course of medical treatment,' thought her master, 'correct her inextinguishable voracity? Could not her pulse be lowered? Might not her appetite, or her courage, be tamed? Would a course of tonics be of service to her? Suppose I were to take her to England to try the effect of her native air; would any of the great English surgeons or physicians be able to prescribe [Pg 338]for her effectually? Would opium cure her? Yet there was a case of bulimy at Toulouse, where the French surgeons caught the patient and saturated him with opium; but it was of no use; for he ate as many children after it as before. Would Mr. Abernethy, with his blue pill and his Rufus pill, be of any service to her? Or the acid bath—or the sulphate of zinc—or the white oxide of bismuth?—or soda-water? For, perhaps, her liver may be affected. But, lord! what talk I of her liver? Her liver's as sound as mine. It's her disposition that's in fault; it's her moral principles that are relaxed; and something must be done to brace them. Let me consider.'
At this moment a cry of 'murder, murder!' drew the student's eyes to the street below him; and there, to afflict his heart, stood his graceless Juno, having just upset the servant of a cook's shop, in the very act of rifling her basket; the sound of the drum was yet ringing through the streets; the crowd collected to hear it had not yet withdrawn from the spot; and in this way was Juno expressing her reverence for the proclamation of the town-council of B——.
'Fiend of perdition!' said Mr. Schnackenberger, flinging his darling pipe at her head, in the anguish [Pg 339]of his wrath, and hastening down to seize her. On arriving below, however, there lay his beautiful sea-foam pipe in fragments upon the stones; but Juno had vanished—to reappear no more in B——.
The first thing Mr. Schnackenberger did was to draw his purse-strings, and indemnify the cook-maid. The next thing Mr. Schnackenberger did was to go into the public-room of the Gun, call for a common pipe, and seat himself growling in a corner.—Of all possible privileges conferred by the laws, the very least desirable is that of being created game: Juno was now invested with that 'painful pre-eminence;' she was solemnly proclaimed game: and all qualified persons, i. e. every man, woman, and child, were legally authorised to sink—burn—or destroy her. 'Now then,' said Mr. Schnackenberger to himself, 'if such an event should happen—if any kind soul should blow out the frail light of Juno's life, in what way am I to answer the matter to her purchaser, Mr. Fabian Sebastian?' Such were the thoughts which fumed away from the anxious mind of Mr. Schnackenberger in surging volumes of smoke.
Together with the usual evening visitors of the public-rooms at the Gun, were present also Mr. Von Pilsen, and his party. Inflamed with wine and insolence, Mr. Von Pilsen began by advancing the following proposition: That in this sublunary world [Pg 340]there are marvellous fools. 'Upon this hint' he spake: and 'improving' his text into a large commentary, he passed in review various sketches from the life of Mr. Schnackenberger in B——, not forgetting the hunting scene; and everywhere threw in such rich embellishments and artist-like touches, that at last the room rang with laughter.
Mr. Jeremiah alone sat moodily in his corner, and moved no muscle of his face; so that even those, who were previously unacquainted with the circumstances, easily divined at whose expense Mr. Von Pilsen's witty performance proceeded.
At length Von Pilsen rose and said, 'Gentlemen, you think, perhaps, that I am this day in the best of all possible humours. Quite the contrary, I assure you: pure fiction—mere counterfeit mirth—put on to disguise my private vexation; for vexed I am, and will be, that I can find nobody on whom to exercise my right arm. Ah! what a heavenly fate were mine, if any man would take it into his head to affront me; or if any other man would take it into his head to think that I had affronted him, and would come hither to demand satisfaction!' So saying, he planted himself in a chair in the very middle of the saloon; and ever and anon leered at Mr. Schnackenberger in so singular a manner, that no one could fail to see at whom his shafts were pointed.
Still it seemed as if our hero had neither ears nor eyes. For he continued doggedly to work away at his 'cloud-compelling' pipe (νεφεληγερετα Σχνακενβεργερ), without ever looking at his challenger.
When at length he rose, everybody supposed that probably he had had badgering enough by this time, [Pg 341]and meant to decamp quietly. All present were making wry faces, in order to check their bursting laughter, until Mr. Schnackenberger were clear of the room; that done, each prepared to give free vent to his mirth and high compliments to Mr. Von Pilsen, upon the fine style in which he had 'done execution upon Cawdor.' Decamping, however, entered not into Mr. Schnackenberger's military plans; he rather meant to encamp over against Von Pilsen's position: calmly, therefore, with a leisurely motion, and gradu militari, did he advance towards his witty antagonist. The latter looked somewhat paler than usual: but, as this was no time for retreating, and he saw the necessity of conducting the play with spirit to its dénouement,—he started up, and exclaimed: 'Ah! here is the very man I was wishing for! framed after my very heart's longing. Come, dear friend, embrace me: let us have a fraternal hug.'
'Basta!' cried Mr. Jeremiah, attaching his shoulder, and squeezing him, with a right hand of 'high pressure,' down into his chair—'This is a very good story, Mr. Von Pilsen, that you have told us: and pity it were that so good a story should want a proper termination. In future, therefore, my Pilsen,
When you shall these unhappy deeds relate,
be sure you do not forget the little sequel which I shall furnish: tell it to the end, my Pilsen:
And set you down that in Aleppo once—'
Here the whole company began to quake with the laughter of anticipation—
'And set you down that in Aleppo once—
when a fribble—a coxcomb—a puppy dared to traduce a student from the university of X——
I took the circumcised dog by the nose, And smote him thus——'
at the same time breaking his pipe calmly on the very prominent nose of Mr. Von Pilsen.
Inextinguishable laughter followed from all present: Mr. Von Pilsen quitted the room forthwith: and next morning was sought for in vain in B——.
Scarcely had Mr. Schnackenberger withdrawn to his apartment, when a pair of 'field-pieces' were heard clattering up-stairs—such and so mighty as, among all people that on earth do dwell, no mortal wore, himself only except, and the student, Mr. Fabian Sebastian. Little had he thought under his evening canopy of smoke, that Nemesis was treading so closely upon his heels.
'Sir, my brother,' began Mr. Student Fabian, 'the time is up: and here am I, to claim my rights. Where is the dog? The money is ready: deliver the article: and payment shall be made.'
Mr. Schnackenberger shrugged his shoulders.
'Nay, my brother, no jesting (if you please) on such serious occasions: I demand my article.'
'What, if the article have vanished?'
'Vanished!' said Mr. Fabian; 'why then we [Pg 343]must fight, until it comes back again.—Sir, my brother, you have acted nefariously enough in absconding with goods that you had sold: would you proceed to yet greater depths in nefariousness, by now withholding from me my own article?'
So saying, Mr. Fabian paid down the purchase money in hard gold upon the table. 'Come, now, be easy,' said Mr. Schnackenberger, 'and hear me.'
'Be easy, do you say? That will I not: but hear I will, and with all my heart, provided it be nothing unhearable—nor anything in question of my right to the article: else, you know, come knocks.' 'Knocks!' said Jeremiah: 'and since when, I should be glad to know, has the Schnackenberger been in the habit of taking knocks without knocking again, and paying a pretty large per centage?'
'Ah! very likely. That's your concern. As to me, I speak only for myself and for my article.' Hereupon Mr. Schnackenberger made him acquainted with the circumstances, which were so unpalatable to the purchaser of 'the article,' that he challenged Mr. Schnackenberger to single combat there and then.
'Come,' said Mr. Fabian; 'but first put up the purchase money: for I, at least, will practise nothing that is nefarious.'
Mr. Schnackenberger did so; redeemed his sword from Mrs. Sweetbread by settling her bill; buckled it on; and attended Mr. Fabian to the neighbouring forest.
Being arrived at a spot suitable to their purpose, and their swords drawn, Mr. Schnackenberger said—'Upon my word it's a shocking thing that we must [Pg 344]fight upon this argument: not but it's just what I have long expected. Junonian quarrels I have had, in my time, 747; and a Junonian duel is nothing more than I have foreseen for this last week. Yet, after all, brother, I give you my honour that the brute is not worth a duel: for, fools as we have been in our rivalship about her, between ourselves she is a mere agent of the fiend, and minister of perdition, to him who is so unhappy as to call her his.'
'Like enough, my brother; haven't a doubt you're in the right, for you know her best: still it would be nefarious in a high degree if our blades were to part without crossing each other. We must tilt a bit: Sir, my brother, we must tilt. So lunge away at me; and never fear but I'll lunge as fast as you.'
So said—so done: but scarce had Mr. Sebastian pushed his first 'carte over the arm,' which was well parried by his antagonist, when, with a loud outcry, in rushed Juno; and, without troubling herself about the drawn swords, she drove right at the pit of Mr. Sebastian's stomach, knocked the breath out of his body, the sword out of his hand, and himself upon his back.
'Ah! my goddess, my Juno!' cried Mr. Schnackenberger; 'Nec vox hominem sonat, oh Dea certe!'
'Nec vox hominem sonat?' said Mr. Fabian, rising: 'Faith, you're right there; for I never heard a voice more like a brute's in my life.'
'Down then, down, Juno,' said Mr. Schnackenberger, as Juno was preparing for a second campaign against Mr. Fabian's stomach: Mr. Fabian, on his part, held out his hand to his brother student—saying, 'all quarrels are now ended.' Mr. Jeremiah accepted [Pg 345]his hand cordially. Mr. Fabian offered to resign 'the article,' however agitating to his feelings. Mr. Jeremiah, though no less agitated, protested he should not. 'I will, by all that's magnanimous,' said Mr. Fabian. 'By the memory of Curtius, or whatever else is most sacred in self-sacrifice, you shall not,' said Mr. Jeremiah. 'Hear me, thou light of day,' said Mr. Fabian kneeling. 'Hear me,' interrupted Mr. Jeremiah, kneeling also: yes, the Schnackenberger knelt, but carefully and by circumstantial degree; for he was big and heavy as a rhinoceros, and afraid of capsizing, and perspired freely. Mr. Fabian kneeled like a dactyle: Mr. Jeremiah kneeled like a spondee, or rather like a molossus. Juno, meantime, whose feelings were less affected, did not kneel at all; but, like a tribrach, amused herself with chasing a hare which just then crossed one of the forest ridings. A moment after was heard the report of a fowling-piece. Bitter presentiment of the truth caused the kneeling duelists to turn their heads at the same instant. Alas! the subject of their high-wrought contest was no more: English Juno lay stretched in her blood! Up started the 'dactyle;' up started the 'spondee;' out flew their swords; curses, dactylic and spondaic, began to roll; and the gemini of the university of X, side by side, strode after the Junonicide, who proved to be a forester. The forester wisely retreated, before the storm, into his cottage; from an upper window of which he read to the two coroners, in this inquest after blood, a section of the forest-laws, which so fully justified what he had done—that, like the reading of the English riot act, it dispersed the gemini, both dactylic [Pg 346]and spondaic, who now held it advisable to pursue the matter no further.
'Sir, my brother,' said Mr. Fabian, embracing his friend over the corpse of Juno, 'see what comes of our imitating Kotzebue's plays! Nothing but our nefarious magnanimity was the cause of Juno's untimely end. For had we, instead of kneeling (which by the way seemed to "punish" you a good deal), had we, I say, vested the property in one or other of us, she, instead of diverting her ennui by hunting, would have been trotting home by the side of her master—and the article would have been still living.'
'Now then,' said Mr. Schnackenberger, entering the Double-barrelled Gun with his friend,—'Now, waiter, let us have Rhenish and Champagne, and all other good things with which your Gun is charged: fire off both barrels upon us: Come, you dog, make ready—present; for we solemnise a funeral to-day:' and, at the same time, he flung down the purchase-money of Juno upon the table. The waiter hastened to obey his orders.
The longer the two masters of Juno drank together, the more did they convince themselves that her death was a real blessing to herself, who had thus obviously escaped a life of severe cudgelling, which her voracity would have entailed upon her: 'yes,' they both ex[Pg 347]claimed; 'a blessing to herself—to her friends in particular—and to the public in general.'
To conclude, the price of Juno was honourably drunk up to the last farthing, in celebration of her obsequies at this one sitting.
Ὡς ὁι γ' αμφιεπον ταφον Ἑκτορος ἱπποδαμοιο.
The German dictionaries, compiled for the use of Englishmen studying that language, are all bad enough, I doubt not, even in this year 1823; but those of a century back are the most ludicrous books that ever mortal read: read, I say, for they are well worth reading, being often as good as a jest book. In some instances, I am convinced that the compilers (Germans living in Germany) had a downright hoax put upon them by some facetious Briton whom they had consulted; what is given as the English equivalent for the German word being not seldom a pure coinage that never had any existence out of Germany. Other instances there are, in which the words, though not of foreign manufacture, are almost as useless to the English student as if they were; slang-words, I mean, from the slang vocabulary, current about the latter end of the seventeenth century. These must have been laboriously culled from the works of Tom Brown, Sir Roger L'Estrange, Echard, Jeremy Collier, and others, from 1660 to 1700, who were the great masters of this vernacular English (as it might emphatically be called, with a reference to the primary meaning[Pg 349] of the word vernacular): and I verily believe, that, if any part of this slang has become, or ever should become a dead language to the English critic, his best guide to the recovery of its true meaning will be the German dictionaries of Bailey, Arnold, &c. in their earliest editions. By one of these, the word Potztausend (a common German oath) is translated, to the best of my remembrance, thus:—'Udzooks, Udswiggers, Udswoggers, Bublikins, Boblikins, Splitterkins,' &c. and so on, with a large choice of other elegant varieties. Here, I take it, our friend the hoaxer had been at work: but the drollest example I have met with of their slang is in the following story told to me by Mr. Coleridge. About the year 1794, a German, recently imported into Bristol, had happened to hear of Mrs. X., a wealthy widow. He thought it would be a good speculation to offer himself to the lady's notice as well qualified to 'succeed' to the late Mr. X.; and accordingly waited on the lady with that intention. Having no great familiarity with English, he provided himself with a copy of one of the dictionaries I have mentioned; and, on being announced to the lady, he determined to open his proposal with this introductory sentence—Madam, having heard that Mr. X., late your husband, is dead: but coming to the last word 'gestorben' (dead), he was at a loss for the English equivalent; so, hastily pulling out his[Pg 350] dictionary (a huge 8vo.), he turned to the word 'sterben,' (to die),—and there found——; but what he found will be best collected from the dialogue which followed, as reported by the lady:—
German. Madam, hahfing heard that Mein Herr X., late your man, is——(these words he kept chiming over as if to himself, until he arrived at No. 1 of the interpretations of 'sterben,'—when he roared out, in high glee at his discovery)——is, dat is—has, kicked de bucket.
Widow. (With astonishment.)—'Kicked the bucket,' Sir!—what—
German. Ah! mein Gott!—Alway Ich make mistake: I vou'd have said—(beginning again with the same solemnity of tone)—since dat Mein Herr X., late your man, hav—hopped de twig—(which words he screamed out with delight, certain that he had now hit the nail upon the head).
Widow. Upon my word, Sir, I am at a loss to understand you: 'Kicked the bucket,' and 'hopped the twig——!'
German. (Perspiring with panic.) Ah, Madam! von—two—tree—ten tousand pardon: vat sad, wicket dictionary I haaf, dat alway bring me in trouble: but now you shall hear—(and then, recomposing himself solemnly for a third effort, he began as before)—Madam, since I did hear, or wash hearing, dat Mein Herr X., late your man, haaf—(with a triumphant shout) haaf, I say, gone to Davy's locker——
Further he would have gone; but the widow could stand no more: this nautical phrase, familiar to the streets of Bristol, allowed her no longer to misunderstand his meaning; and she quitted the room in a [Pg 351]tumult of laughter, sending a servant to show her unfortunate suitor out of the house, with his false friend the dictionary; whose help he might, perhaps, invoke for the last time, on making his exit, in the curses—'Udswoggers, Boblikins, Bublikins, Splitterkins!'
N.B. As test words for trying a modern German dictionary, I will advise the student to look for the words—Beschwichtigen Kulisse, and Mansarde. The last is originally French, but the first is a true German word; and, on a question arising about its etymology, at the house of a gentleman in Edinburgh, could not be found in any one, out of five or six modern Anglo-German dictionaries.
Richard Clay & Sons, Limited,
London & Bungay.
 That is—the publication of the pamphlet.—H.
 Putrescent. See the recorded opinions of Lord Amherst's suite upon the personal cleanliness of the Chinese.
 'America:'—For America in particular there is an American defence offered in a Washington paper (the Weekly Union, for May 28, 1857), which, for cool ignoring of facts, exceeds anything that I remember. It begins thus:—'Since our treaty with China in 1844' (and that, be it remembered, was possible only in consequence of our war and its close in 1842), 'the most amicable relations have existed between the United States and China—China is our friend, and we are hers.' Indeed! as a brief commentary upon that statement, I recommend to the reader's attention our Blue-books on China of last winter. The American commander certainly wound up his quarrel with Yeh in a mysterious way, that drew some sneers from the various nationalities then moving in that neighbourhood, but no less certainly he had, during the October of 1856, a smart exchange of cannon-shots with Yeh, which lasted for some days (three, at least, according to my remembrance), and ended in the capture of numerous Chinese forts. The American apologist says in effect, that the United States will not fight, because they have no quarrel. But that is not the sole question. Does the United States mean to take none of the benefits that may be won by our arms? He speaks of the French as more belligerently inclined than the United States. Would that this were really so. No good will come of schisms between the nations of Christendom. There is a posthumous work of Commissioner Lin, in twelve quartos, printed at Peking, urgently pressing the necessity for China of building upon such schisms the one sole policy that can save her from ruin.
 'By the gallows:'—Or much rather by decapitation. Accordingly, we read of a Ming (i. e., native Chinese) emperor, who (upon finding himself in a dreadfully small minority) retired into his garden with his daughter, and there hanged both himself and the lady. On no account would he have decapitated either; since in that case the corpses, being headless, would in Chinese estimation have been imperfect.
 'Colonel Chesney:'—The same, I believe, whose name was at one time so honourably known in connection with the Euphrates and its steam navigation.
 Down to George I. there could have been no breakfast in England for a gentleman or lady—there is none even yet in most parts of the Continent—without wine of some class or other.
 Written in 1856. H.
 But holding what rank, and what precise station, at the time of the outrage? At this point I acknowledge a difficulty. The criminal was in this case Domitian, the younger son of Vespasian, the tenth Cæsar, younger Brother of Titus, the eleventh Cæsar, and himself, under the name of Domitian, the twelfth of the Cæsars, consequently the closing prince in that series of the initial twelve Cæsars whom Suetonius had undertaken to record. Now the difficulty lies here, which yet I have never seen noticed in any book: was this violence perpetrated before or after Domitian's assumption of the purple? If after, how, then, could the injured husband have received that advice from Titus (as to repairing his loss by a second marriage), which forms part of an anecdote and a bon-mot between Titus and Lamia? Yet again, if not after but before, how was it Lamia had not invoked the protection of Vespasian, or of Titus—the latter of whom enjoyed a theatrically fine reputation for equity and moderation?
 In All's Well that Ends Well.
 This fragment appeared in The Instructor for July, 1853. The subject was not continued in any form.—H.
 'Sealed,' &c.:—I do not believe that, in the sense of holy conscientious loyalty to his own innermost convictions, any writer of history in any period of time can have surpassed Herodotus. And the reader must remember (or, if unlearned, he must be informed) that this judgment has now become the unanimous judgment of all the most competent authorities—that is, of all those who, having first of all the requisite erudition as to Greek, as to classical archæology, &c., then subsequently applied this appropriate learning to the searching investigation of the several narratives authorised by Herodotus. In the middle of the last century, nothing could rank lower than the historic credibility of this writer. And to parody his title to be regarded as the 'Father of History,' by calling him the 'Father of Lies,' was an unworthy insult offered to his admirable simplicity and candour by more critics than one. But two points startle the honourable reader, who is loathe to believe of any laborious provider for a great intellectual interest that he can deliberately have meant to deceive: the first point, and, separately by itself, an all-sufficient demur, is this—that, not in proportion to the learning and profundity brought to bear upon Herodotus, did the doubts and scruples upon his fidelity strengthen or multiply. Precisely in the opposite current was the movement of human opinion, as it applied itself to this patriarch of history. Exactly as critics and investigators arose like Larcher—just, reasonable, thoughtful, patient, and combining—or geographers as comprehensive and as accurate as Major Rennel, regularly in that ratio did the reports and the judgments of Herodotus command more and more respect. The other point is this; and, when it is closely considered, it furnishes a most reasonable ground of demur to the ordinary criticisms upon Herodotus. These criticisms build the principle of their objection generally upon the marvellous or romantic element which intermingles with the current of the narrative. But when a writer treats (as to Herodotus it happened that repeatedly he treated) tracts of history far removed in space and in time from the domestic interests of his native land, naturally he misses as any available guide the ordinary utilitarian relations which would else connect persons and events with great outstanding interests of his own contemporary system. The very abstraction which has silently been performed by the mere effect of vast distances, wildernesses that swallow up armies, and mighty rivers that are unbridged, together with the indefinite chronological remoteness, do already of themselves translate such sequestered and insulated chambers of history into the character of moral apologues, where the sole surviving interest lies in the quality of the particular moral illustrated, or in the sudden and tragic change of fortune recorded. Such changes, it is urged, are of rare occurrence; and, recurring too often, they impress a character of suspicious accuracy upon the narrative. Doubtless they do so, and reasonably, where the writer is pursuing the torpid current of circumstantial domestic annals. But, in the rapid abstract of Herodotus, where a century yields but a page or two, and considering that two slender octavos, on the particular scale adopted by Herodotus, embody the total records of the human race down to his own epoch, really it would furnish no legitimate ground of scruple or jealousy, though every paragraph should present us with a character that seems exaggerated, or with an incident approaching to the marvellous, or a catastrophe that is revolting. A writer is bound—he has created it into a duty, having once assumed the office of a national historiographer—to select from the rolls of a nation such events as are the most striking. And a selection conducted on this principle through several centuries, or pursuing the fortunes of a dynasty reigning over vast populations, must end in accumulating a harvest of results such as would startle the sobriety of ordinary historic faith. If a medical writer should elect for himself, of his own free choice, to record such cases only in his hospital experience as terminated fatally, it would be absurd to object the gloomy tenor of his reports as an argument for suspecting their accuracy, since he himself, by introducing this as a condition into the very terms of his original undertaking with the public, has created against himself the painful necessity of continually distressing the sensibilities of his reader. To complain of Herodotus, or any public historian, as drawing too continually upon his reader's profounder sensibilities, is, in reality, to forget that this belongs as an original element to the very task which he has undertaken. To undertake the exhibition of human life under those aspects which confessedly bring it into unusual conflict with chance and change, is, by a mere self-created necessity, to prepare beforehand the summons to a continued series of agitations: it is to seek the tragic and the wondrous wilfully, and then to complain of it as violating the laws of probability founded on life within the ordinary conditions of experience.
 Perhaps, seriously, the most of a cosmopolitical act that has ever been attempted. Next to it, in point of dignity, I should feel disposed to class the inauguration of the Crusades.
 This appeared in Tait's Magazine for February, 1841. Although practically an independent paper, it was included in the series entitled 'Sketches of Life and Manners; from the Autobiography of an English Opium-Eater.' The reference to Allan Cunningham occurs in the previous chapter of these 'Sketches.'—H.
 No terms of art are used so arbitrarily, and with such perfect levity, as the terms hypothesis, theory, system. Most writers use one or other with the same indifference that they use in constructing the title of a novel, or, suppose, of a pamphlet, where the phrase thoughts, or strictures, or considerations, upon so and so, are used ad libitum. Meantime, the distinctions are essential. That is properly an hypothesis where the question is about a cause: certain phenomena are known and given: the object is to place below these phenomena a basis [α ὑποθοσις] capable of supporting them, and accounting for them. Thus, if you were to assign a cause sufficient to account for the aurora borealis, that would be an hypothesis. But a theory, on the other hand, takes a multitude of facts all disjointed, or, at most, suspected, of some inter-dependency: these it takes and places under strict laws of relation to each other. But here there is no question of a cause. Finally, a system is the synthesis of a theory and an hypothesis: it states the relations as amongst an undigested mass, rudis indigestaque moles, of known phenomena; and it assigns a basis for the whole, as in an hypothesis. These distinctions would become vivid and convincing by the help of proper illustrations.
 Neither would it be open to Paley to plead that the final or remotest consequences must be taken into the calculation; and that one of these would be the weakening of all moral sanctions, and thus, indirectly, an injury to morality, which might more than compensate the immediate benefit to social peace and security; for this mode of arguing the case would bring us back to the very principle which his own implicitly, or by involution, rejects: since it would tell us to obey the principle itself without reference to the apparent consequences. By the bye, Paley has an express section of his work against the law of honour as a valid rule of action; but, as Cicero says of Epicurus, it matters little what he says; the question for us is quam sibi convenienter, how far consistently with himself. Now, as Sir James Mackintosh justly remarks, all that Paley says in refutation of the principle of worldly honour is hollow and unmeaning. In fact, it is merely one of the commonplaces adopted by satire, and no philosophy at all. Honour, for instance, allows you, upon paying gambling debts, to neglect or evade all others: honour, again, allows you to seduce a married woman: and he would secretly insinuate that honour enjoins all this; but it is evident that honour simply forbears to forbid all this: in other words, it is a very limited rule of action, not applying to one case of conduct in fifty. It might as well be said, that Ecclesiastical Courts sanction murder, because that crime lies out of their jurisdiction.
 If it be asked by what title I represent Society as authorising (nay, as necessitating) duels, I answer, that I do not allude to any floating opinions of influential circles in society; for these are in continual conflict, and it may be difficult even to guess in which direction the preponderance would lie. I build upon two undeniable results, to be anticipated in any regular case of duel, and supported by one uniform course of precedent:—First, That, in a civil adjudication of any such case, assuming only that it has been fairly conducted, and agreeably to the old received usages of England, no other verdict is ever given by a jury than one of acquittal. Secondly, That, before military tribunals, the result is still stronger; for the party liable to a challenge is not merely acquitted, as a matter of course, if he accepts it with any issue whatsoever, but is positively dishonoured and degraded (nay, even dismissed the service, virtually under colour of a request that he will sell out) if he does not. These precedents form the current law for English society, as existing amongst gentlemen. Duels, pushed à l'outrance, and on the savage principles adopted by a few gambling ruffians on the Continent, (of which a good description is given in the novel of The most unfortunate Man in the World,) or by old buccaneering soldiers of Napoleon, at war with all the world, and in the desperation of cowardice, demanding to fight in a saw-pit or across a table,—this sort of duels is as little recognised by the indulgence of English law, as, in the other extreme, the mock duels of German Burschen are recognised by the gallantry of English society. Duels of the latter sort would be deemed beneath the dignity of judicial inquiry: duels of the other sort, beyond its indulgence. But all other duels, fairly managed in the circumstances, are undeniably privileged amongst non-military persons, and commanded to those who are military.[Pg 111]
 See the remarks in Prefatory Note, vol. i.
 In the original, the word is Fenster schweiss, window-sweat, i. e. (as the translator understands the passage) Monsieur Flitte was suspected of a design to swindle the company by exhibiting his two windows streaming with spurious moisture, such as hoar frost produces on the windows when melted by the heat of the room, rather than with the genuine and unadulterated rain which Mr Kabel demanded.[Pg 169]
 To the English reader it may be necessary to explain, that in the continental universities, etc., when a succession of prizes is offered, graduated according to the degrees of merit, the illiptical formula of 'Accessit' denotes the second prize; and hence, where only a single prize is offered, the second degree of merit may properly be expressed by the term here used.
 From a MS. poem of a great living Poet. [Written in January
1838. The lines occur in Wordsworth's Prelude, Book Tenth, line 410. The
passage stands thus:—
—————'the unbroken dream entangled me
In long orations, which I strove to plead
Before unjust tribunals,—with a voice
Labouring, a brain confounded, and a sense,
Death-like, of treacherous desertion, felt
In the last place of refuge—my own soul.'—H.]
 The custom in North Germany is to sleep under a bed as well as upon one; consequently, when this happens to be a cheap one, it cannot be stuffed with feathers, down, &c., but with some heavier material.[Pg 284]
 'Meerschaum:' I believe a particular kind of clay, called 'sea-spray,' from its fineness and lightness, from which the boles of pipes are made in Turkey—often at enormous prices, and much imported into Germany, where they are in great request. Such is the extent of my knowledge on the subject; or perhaps of my ignorance. But, in fact, I know nothing about it.
 In the original—'eine marketenderin,' a female sutler: but I have altered it, to save an explanation of what the old sutler was after.
 If any reader should happen not to be acquainted with this word, which, however, is fine old English, and classical at Eton, &c.—the nearest synonym which I remember at this moment is Expavesco.
 In the original Knecht Rupert. The allusion is to an old Christmas usage of North Germany: a person comes in disguise, in the character of an ambassador from heaven, with presents for all the young children who are reported to him as good and obedient: but those who are naughty he threatens and admonishes. See Coleridge's Friend, vol. ii. p. 322.
 This man, whose case I have read in some French Medical Memoirs, was a desperate fellow: he cared no more for an ounce of opium, than for a stone of beef, or half a bushel of potatoes: all three would not have made him a breakfast. As to children, he denied in the most tranquil manner that he ate them. ''Pon my honour,' he sometimes said, 'between ourselves, I never do eat children.' However, it was generally agreed, that he was pædophagous, or infantivorous. Some said that he first drowned them; whence I sometimes called him the pædobaptist. Certain it is, that wherever he appeared, a sudden scarcity of children prevailed.—Note of the Translator.
 What I mean is this. Vernacular (from verna, a slave born in his master's house). 1. The homely idiomatic language in opposition to any mixed jargon, or lingua franca, spoken by an imported slave:—2. Hence, generally, the pure mother-tongue as opposed to the same tongue corrupted by false refinement. By vernacular English, therefore, in the primary sense, and I mean, such homely English as is banished from books and polite conversation to Billingsgate and Wapping.