THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. X—SEPTEMBER, 1862.—NO. LIX.
Was ihr den Geist der Zeiten heisst, Das ist im Grund der Herren eigner Geist.—FAUST
What kind of sword, do you think, was that which old Christian had in that famous fight of his with Apollyon, long ago? He cut the fiend to the marrow with it, you remember, at last; though the battle went hardly with him, too, for a time. Some of his blood, Banyan says, is on the stones of the valley to this day. That is a vague record of the combat between the man and the dragon in that strange little valley, with its perpetual evening twilight and calm, its meadows crusted with lilies, its herd-boy with his quiet song, close upon the precincts of hell. It fades back, the valley and the battle, dim enough, from the sober freshness of this summer morning. Look out of the window here, at the hubbub of the early streets, the freckled children racing past to school, the dewy shimmer of yonder willows in the sunlight, like drifts of pale green vapor. Where is Apollyon? does he put himself into flesh and blood, as then, nowadays? And the sword which Christian used, like a man, in his deed of derring-do?
Reading the quaint history, just now, I have a mind to tell you a modern story. It is not long: only how, a few months ago, a poor itinerant, and a young girl, (like these going by with baskets on their arms,) who lived up in these Virginia hills, met Evil in their lives, and how it fared with them: how they thought that they were in the Valley of Humiliation, that they were Christian, and Rebellion and Infidelity Apollyon; the different ways they chose to combat him; the weapons they used. I can tell you that; but you do not know—do you?—what kind of sword old Christian used, or where it is, or whether its edge is rusted.
I must not stop to ask more, for these war-days are short, and the story might be cold before you heard it.
* * * * *
A brick house, burrowed into the side of a hill, with red gleams of light winking out of the windows in a jolly way into the winter's night: wishing, one might fancy, to cheer up the hearts of the freezing stables and barn and hen-house that snuggled about the square yard, trying to keep warm. The broad-backed old hill (Scofield's Hill, a famous place for papaws in summer) guards them tolerably well; but then, house and barn and hill lie up among the snowy peaks of the Virginian Alleghanies, and you know how they would chill and awe the air. People away down yonder in the river-bottoms see these peaks dim and far-shining, as though they cut through thick night; but we, up among them here, find the night wide, filled with a pale starlight that has softened for itself out of the darkness overhead a great space up towards heaven.
The snow lay deep, on this night of which I tell you,—a night somewhere near the first of January in this year. Two old men, a white and a black, who were rooting about the farm-yard from stable to fodder-rack, waded through deep drifts of it.
"Tell yer, Mars' Joe," said the negro, banging the stable-door, "dat hoss ort n't ter risk um's bones dis night. Ef yer go ter de Yankee meetin', Coly kern't tote yer."
"Well, well, Uncle Bone, that's enough," said old Scofield testily, looking through the stall-window at the horse, with a face anxious enough to show that the dangers of foundering for Coly and for the Union were of about equal importance in his mind.
A heavily built old fellow, big-jointed, dull-eyed, with a short, black pipe in his mouth, going about peering into sheds and out-houses,—the same routine he and Bone had gone through every night for thirty years,—joking, snarling, cursing, alternately. The cramped old routine, dogged, if you choose to call it so, was enough for him: you could tell that by a glance at his earnest, stolid face; you could see that it need not take Prospero's Ariel forty minutes to put a girdle about this man's world: ten would do it, tie up the farm, and the dead and live Scofields, and the Democratic party, with an ideal reverence for "Firginya" under all. As for the Otherwhere, outside of Virginia, he heeded it as much as a Hindoo does the turtle on which the earth rests. For which you shall not sneer at Joe Scofield, or the Pagan. How wide is your own "sacred soil"?—the creed, government, bit of truth, other human heart, self, perhaps, to which your soul roots itself vitally,—like a cuttle-fish sucking to an inch of rock,—and drifts out palsied feelers of recognition into the ocean of God's universe, just as languid as the aforesaid Hindoo's hold upon the Kalpas of emptiness underneath the turtle?
Joe Scofield sowed the fields and truck-patch,—sold the crops down in Wheeling; every year he got some little, hardly earned snugness for the house (he and Bone had been born in it, their grandfathers had lived there together). Bone was his slave; of course, they thought, how should it be otherwise? The old man's daughter was Dode Scofield; his negro was Bone Scofield, in degree. Joe went to the Methodist church on Sundays; he hurrahed for the Democratic candidate: it was a necessity for Whigs to be defeated; it was a necessity for Papists to go to hell. He had a tight grip on these truths, which were born, one might say, with his blood; his life grew out of them. So much of the world was certain,—but outside? It was rather vague there: Yankeedom was a mean-soiled country, whence came clocks, teachers, peddlers, and infidelity; and the English,—it was an American's birthright to jeer at the English.
We call this a narrow life, prate in the North of our sympathy with the universal man, don't we? And so we extend a stomachic greeting to our Spanish brother that sends us wine, and a bow from our organ of ideality to Italy for beauty incarnate in Art,—see the Georgian slaveholder only through the eyes of the cowed negro at his feet, and give a dime on Sunday to send the gospel to the heathen, who will burn forever, we think, if it never is preached to them. What of your sympathy with the universal man, when I tell you Scofield was a Rebel?
His syllogisms on this point were clear, to himself. For slavery to exist in a country where free government was put on trial was a tangible lie, that had worked a moral divorce between North and South. Slavery was the vital breath of the South; if she chose to go out and keep it, had not freemen the right to choose their own government? To bring her back by carnage was simply the old game of regal tyranny on republican cards. So his head settled it: as for his heart,—his neighbors' houses were in ashes, burned by the Yankees; his son lay dead at Manassas. He died to keep them back, didn't he? "Geordy boy," he used to call him,—worth a dozen puling girls: since he died, the old man had never named his name. Scofield was a Rebel in every bitter drop of his heart's blood.
He hurried to the house to prepare to go to the Union meeting. He had a reason for going. The Federal troops held Romney then, a neighboring village, and he knew many of the officers would be at this meeting. There was a party of Confederates in Blue's Gap, a mountain-fastness near by, and Scofield had heard a rumor that the Unionists would attack them to-morrow morning: he meant to try and find out the truth of it, so as to give the boys warning to be ready, and, maybe, lend them a helping hand. Only for Dode's sake, he would have been in the army long ago.
He stopped on the porch to clean his shoes, for the floor was newly scrubbed, and Miss Scofield was a tidy housekeeper, and had, besides, a temper as hot and ready to light as her father's pipe. The old man stopped now, half chuckling, peeping in at the window to see if all was clear within. But you must not think for this that Dode's temper was the bugbear of the house,—though the girl herself thought it was, and shed some of the bitterest tears of her life over it. Just a feverish blaze in the blood, caught from some old dead grandfather, that burst out now and then.
Dode, not being a genius, could not christen it morbid sensibility; but as she had a childish fashion of tracing things to commonplace causes, whenever she felt her face grow hot easily, or her throat choke up as men's do when they swear, she concluded that her liver was inactive, and her soul was tired of sitting at her Master's feet, like Mary. So she used to take longer walks before breakfast, and cry sharply, incessantly, in her heart, as the man did who was tainted with leprosy, "Lord, help me!" And the Lord always did help her.
My story is of Dode; so I must tell you that these passion-fits were the only events of her life. For the rest, she washed and sewed and ironed. If her heart and brain needed more than this, she was cheerful in spite of their hunger. Almost all of God's favorites among women, before their life-work is given them, pass through such hunger,—seasons of dull, hot inaction, fierce struggles to tame and bind to some unfitting work the power within. Generally, they are tried thus in their youth,—just as the old aspirants for knighthood were condemned to a night of solitude and prayer before the day of action. This girl was going through her probation with manly-souled bravery.
She came out on the porch now, to help her father on with his coat, and to tie his spatterdashes. You could not see her in the dark, of course; but you would not wonder, if you felt her hand, or heard her speak, that the old man liked to touch her, as everybody did,—spoke to her gently: her own voice, did I say? was so earnest and rich,—hinted at unsounded depths of love and comfort, such as utter themselves in some unfashionable women's voices and eyes. Theodora, or -dosia, or some such heavy name, had been hung on her when she was born,—nobody remembered what: people always called her Dode, so as to bring her closer, as it were, and to fancy themselves akin to her.
Bone, going in, had left the door ajar, and the red firelight shone out brightly on her, where she was stooping. Nature had given her a body white, strong, and womanly,—broad, soft shoulders, for instance, hands slight and nervous, dark, slow eyes. The Devil never would have had the courage to tempt Eve, if she had looked at him with eyes as tender and honest as Dode Scofield's.
Yet, although she had so many friends, she impressed you as being a shy home-woman. That was the reason her father did not offer to take her to the meeting, though half the women in the neighborhood would be there.
"She a'n't smart, my Dode," he used to say,—"'s got no public sperrit."
He said as much to young Gaunt, the Methodist preacher, that very day, knowing that he thought of the girl as a wife, and wishing to be honest as to her weaknesses and heresies. For Dode, being the only creature in the United States who thought she came into the world to learn and not to teach, had an odd habit of trying to pick the good lesson out of everybody: the Yankees, the Rebels, the Devil himself, she thought, must have some purpose of good, if she could only get at it. God's creatures alike. She durst not bring against the foul fiend himself a "railing accusation," being as timid in judging evil as were her Master and the archangel Michael. An old-fashioned timidity, of course: people thought Dode a time-server, or "a bit daft."
"She don't take sides sharp in this war," her father said to Gaunt, "my little girl; 'n fact, she isn't keen till put her soul intill anythin' but lovin'. She's a pore Democrat, David, an' not a strong Methody,—allays got somethin' till say fur t' other side, Papishers an' all. An' she gets religion quiet. But it's the real thing,"—watching his hearer's face with an angry suspicion. "It's out of a clean well, David, I say!"
"I hope so, Brother Scofield,"—doubtfully, shaking his head.
The conversation had taken place just after dinner. Scofield looked upon Gaunt as one of the saints upon earth, but he "danged him" after that once or twice to himself for doubting the girl; and when Bone, who had heard it, "guessed Mist' Dode 'd never fling herself away on sich whinin' pore-white trash," his master said nothing in reproof.
He rumpled her hair fondly, as she stood by him now on the porch.
"David Gaunt was in the house,—he had been there all the evening," she said,—a worried heat on her face. "Should not she call him to go to the meeting?"
"Jest as you please, Dode; jest as you please."
She should not be vexed. And yet—What if Gaunt did not quite appreciate his girl, see how deep-hearted she was, how heartsome a thing to look at even when she was asleep? He loved her, David did, as well as so holy a man could love anything carnal. And it would be better, if Dode were married; a chance shot might take him off any day, and then—what? She didn't know enough to teach; the farm was mortgaged; and she had no other lovers. She was cold-blooded in that sort of liking,—did not attract the men: thinking, with the scorn coarse-grained men have for reticent-hearted women, what a contrast she was to her mother. She was the right sort,—full-lipped, and a cooing voice for everybody, and such winning blue eyes! But, after all, Dode was the kind of woman to anchor to; it was "Get out of my way!" with her mother, as with all milky, blue-eyed women.
The old man fidgeted, lingered, stuffing "old Lynchburg" into his pipe, (his face was dyed saffron, and smelt of tobacco,) glad to feel, when Dode tied his fur cap, how quick and loving for him her fingers were, and that he always had deserved they should be so. He wished the child had some other protector to turn to than he, these war-times,—thinking uneasily of the probable fight at Blue's Gap, though of course he knew he never was born to be killed by a Yankee bullet. He wished she could fancy Gaunt; but if she didn't,—that was enough.
Just then Gaunt came out of the room on to the porch, and began loitering, in an uncertain way, up and down. A lean figure, with an irresolute step: the baggy clothes hung on his lank limbs were butternut-dyed, and patched besides: a Methodist itinerant in the mountains,—you know all that means? There was nothing irresolute or shabby in Gaunt's voice, however, as he greeted the old man,—clear, thin, nervous. Scofield looked at him wistfully.
"Dunnot drive David off, Dody," he whispered; "I think he's summat on his mind. What d'ye think's his last whimsey? Told me he's goin' off in the mornin',—Lord knows where, nor for how long. Dody, d'ye think?—he'll be wantin' till come back for company, belike? Well, he's one o' th' Lord's own, ef he is a bit cranky."
An odd tenderness came into the man's jaded old face. Whatever trust in God had got into his narrow heart among its bigotry, gross likings and dislikings, had come there through the agency of this David Gaunt. He felt as if he only had come into the secret place where his Maker and himself stood face to face; thought of him, therefore, with a reverence whose roots dug deep down below his coarseness, into his uncouth gropings after God. Outside of this,—Gaunt had come to the mountains years before, penniless, untaught, ragged, intent only on the gospel, which he preached with a keen, breathless fervor. Scofield had given him a home, clothed him, felt for him after that the condescending, curious affection which a rough barn-yard hen might feel for its adopted poult, not yet sure if it will turn out an eagle or a silly gull. It was a strange affinity between the lank-limbed, cloudy-brained enthusiast at one end of the porch and the shallow-eyed, tobacco-chewing old Scofield at the other,—but a real affinity, striking something deeper in their natures than blood-kinship. Whether Dode shared in it was doubtful; she echoed the "Poor David" in just the voice with which high-blooded women pity a weak man. Her father saw it. He had better not tell her his fancy to-night about Gaunt wishing her to be his wife.
He hallooed to him, bidding him "hap up an' come along till see what the Yankees were about.—Go in, Dode,—you sha'n't be worrit, child."
Gaunt came closer, fastening his thin coat. A lean face, sharpened by other conflicts than disease,—poetic, lonesome eyes, not manly.
"I am going," he said, looking at the girl. All the pain and struggle of years came up in that look. She knew where he was going: did she care? he thought She knew,—he had told her, not an hour since, that he meant to lay down the Bible, and bring the kingdom of Jesus nearer in another fashion: he was going to enlist in the Federal army. It was God's cause, holy: through its success the golden year of the world would begin on earth. Gaunt took up his sword, with his eye looking awe-struck straight to God. The pillar of cloud, he thought, moved, as in the old time, before the army of freedom. She knew that when he did this, for truth's sake, he put a gulf between himself and her forever. Did she care? Did she? Would she let him go, and make no sign?
"Be quick, Gaunt," said Scofield, impatiently. "Bone hearn tell that Dougl's Palmer was in Romney to-night. He'll be down at Blue's Gap, I reckon. He's captain now in the Lincolnite army,—one of the hottest of the hell-hounds,—he is! Ef he comes to the house here, as he'll likely do, I don't want till meet him."
Gaunt stood silent.
"He was Geordy's friend, father," said the girl, gulping back something in her throat.
"Geordy? Yes. I know. It's that that hurts me," he muttered, uncertainly. "Him an' Dougl's was like brothers once, they was!"
He coughed, lit his pipe, looking in the girl's face for a long time, anxiously, as if to find a likeness in it to some other face he never should see again. He often had done this lately. At last, stooping, he kissed her mouth passionately, and shuffled down the hill, trying to whistle as be went. Kissing, through her, the boy who lay dead at Manassas: she knew that. She leaned on the railing, looking after him until a bend in the road took him out of sight. Then she turned into the house, with no thought to spare for the man watching her all this while with hungry eyes. The moon, drifting from behind a cloud, threw a sharp light on her figure, as she stood in the door-way.
"Dode!" he said. "Good bye, Dode!"
She shook hands, saying nothing,—then went in, and shut the door.
Gaunt turned away, and hurried down the hill, his heart throbbing and aching against his bony side with the breathless pain which women, and such men as he, know. Her hand was cold, as she gave it to him; some pain had chilled her blood: was it because she bade him good-bye forever, then? Was it? He knew it was not: his instincts were keen as those of the old Pythoness, who read the hearts of men and nations by surface-trifles. Gaunt joined the old man, and began talking loosely and vaguely, as was his wont,—of the bad road, and the snow-water oozing through his boots,—not knowing what he said. She did not care; he would not cheat himself: when he told her to-night what he meant to do, she heard it with a cold, passive disapproval,—with that steely look in her dark eyes that shut him out from her. "You are sincere, I see; but you are not true to yourself or to God": that was all she said. She would have said the same, if he had gone with her brother. It was a sudden stab, but he forgave her: how could she know that God Himself had laid this blood-work on him, or the deathly fight his soul had waged against it? She did not know,—nor care. Who did?
The man plodded doggedly through the melting snow, with a keener sense of the cold biting through his threadbare waistcoat, of the solitude and wrong that life had given him,—his childish eyes turning to the gray depth of night, almost fierce in their questioning,—thinking what a failure his life had been. Thirty-five years of struggle with poverty and temptation! Ever since that day in the blacksmith's shop in Norfolk, when he had heard the call of the Lord to go and preach His word, had he not striven to choke down his carnal nature,—to shut his eyes to all beauty and love,—to unmake himself, by self-denial, voluntary pain? Of what use was it? To-night his whole nature rebelled against this carnage before him,—his duty; scorned it as brutal; cried out for a life as peaceful and meek as that of Jesus, (as if that were not an absurdity in a time like this,) for happiness, for this woman's love; demanded it, as though these things were its right!
The man had a genial, childish temperament, given to woo and bind him, in a thousand simple, silly ways, into a likeness of that Love that holds the world, and that gave man no higher hero-model than a trustful, happy child. It was the birthright of this haggard wretch going down the hill, to receive quick messages from God through every voice of the world,—to understand them, as few men did, by his poet's soul,—through love, or color, or music, or keen healthy pain. Very many openings for him to know God through the mask of matter. He had shut them; being a Calvinist, and a dyspeptic, (Dyspepsia is twin-tempter with Satan, you know,) sold his God-given birthright, like Esau, for a hungry, bitter mess of man's doctrine. He came to loathe the world, the abode of sin; loathed himself, the chief of sinners; mapped out a heaven in some corner of the universe, where he and the souls of his persuasion, panting with the terror of being scarcely saved, should find refuge. The God he made out of his own bigoted and sour idea, and foisted on himself and his hearers as Jesus, would not be as merciful in the Judgment as Gaunt himself would like to be,—far from it. So He did not satisfy him. Sometimes, thinking of the pure instincts thwarted in every heart,—of the noble traits in damned souls, sent hellwards by birth or barred into temptation by society, a vision flashed before him of some scheme of the universe where all matter and mind were rising, slowly, through the ages, to eternal life. "Even so in Christ should all be made alive." All matter, all mind, rising in degrees towards the Good? made order, infused by God? And God was Love. Why not trust this Love to underlie even these social riddles, then? He thrust out the Devil's whisper, barred the elect into their narrow heaven, and tried to be content.
Douglas Palmer used to say that all Gaunt needed to make him a sound Christian was education and fresh meat. Gaunt forgave it as a worldly scoff. And Palmer, just always, thought, that, if Christ was just, He would remember it was not altogether Gaunt's fault, nor that of other bigots, if they had not education nor spiritual fresh meat. Creeds are not always "good providers."
The two men had a two-miles' walk before them. They talked little, as they went. Gaunt had not told the old man that he was going into the Northern army: how could he? George's dead face was between them, whenever he thought of it. Still, Scofield was suspicious as to Gaunt's politics: he never talked to him on the subject, therefore, and to-night did not tell him of his intention to go over to Blue's Gap to warn the boys, and, if they were outnumbered, to stay and take his luck with them. He nor Dode never told Gaunt a secret: the man's brain was as leaky as a sponge.
"He don't take enough account o' honor, an' the like, but it's for tryin' till keep his soul right," he used to say, excusingly, to Dode. "That's it! He minds me o' th' man that lived up on th' pillar, prayin'."
"The Lord never made people to live on pillars," Dode said.
The old man looked askance at Gaunt's worn face, as he trotted along beside him, thinking how pure it was. What had he to do with this foul slough, we were all mired in? What if the Yankees did come, like incarnate devils, to thieve and burn and kill? This man would say "that ye resist not evil." He lived back there, pure and meek, with Jesus, in the old time. He would not dare to tell him he meant to fight with the boys in the Gap before morning. He wished he stood as near to Christ as this young man had got; he wished to God this revenge and bloodthirstiness were out of him; sometimes he felt as if a devil possessed him, since George died. The old fellow choked down a groan in the whiffs of his pipe.
Was the young man back there, in the old time, following the Nazarene? The work of blood Scofield was taking up for the moment, he took up, grappled with, tried to put his strength into. Doing this, his true life lay drained, loathsome, and bare. For the rest, he wished Dode had cared,—only a little. If one lay stabbed on some of these hills, it would be hard to think nobody cared: thinking of the old mother he had buried, years before. Yet Dode suffered: the man was generous to his heart's core,—forgot his own want in pity for her. What could it have been that pained her, as he came away? Her father had spoken of Palmer. That? His ruled heart leaped with a savage, healthy throb of jealousy.
Something he saw that moment made him stop short. The road led straight through the snow-covered hills to the church where the meeting was to be held. Only one man was in sight, coming towards them, on horseback. A sudden gleam of light showed him to them clearly. A small, middle-aged man, lithe, muscular, with fair hair, dressed in some shaggy dark uniform and a felt hat. Scofield stopped.
"It's Palmer!" he said, with an oath that sounded like a cry.
The sight of the man brought George before him, living enough to wring his heart He knocked a log off the worm-fence, and stepped over into the field.
"I'm goin', David. To think o' him turnin' traitor to Old Virginia! I'll not bide here till meet him."
"Brother!" said Gaunt, reprovingly.
"Don't hold me, Gaunt! Do you want me till curse my boy's old chum?"—his voice hoarse, choking.
"He is George's friend still"—
"I know, Gaunt, I know. God forgi' me! But—let me go, I say!"
He broke away, and went across the field.
Gaunt waited, watching the man coming slowly towards him. Could it be he whom Dode loved,—this Palmer? A doubter? an infidel? He had told her this to-day. A mere flesh-and-brain machine, made for the world, and no uses in him for heaven!
Poor Gaunt! no wonder he eyed the man with a spiteful hatred, as he waited for him, leaning against the fence. With his subtle Gallic brain, his physical spasms of languor and energy, his keen instincts that uttered themselves to the last syllable always, heedless of all decencies of custom, no wonder that the man with every feminine, unable nerve in his body rebelled against this Palmer. It was as natural as for a delicate animal to rebel against and hate and submit to man. Palmer's very horse, he thought, had caught the spirit of its master, and put down its hoofs with calm assurance of power.
Coming up at last, Gaunt listened sullenly, while the other spoke in a quiet, hearty fashion.
"They tell me you are to be one of us to-night," Palmer said, cordially. "Dyke showed me your name on the enlistment-roll: your motto after it, was it? 'For God and my right.' That's the gist of the whole matter, David, I think, eh?"
"Yes, I'm right. I think I am. God knows I do!"—his vague eyes wandering off, playing with the horse's mane uncertainly.
Palmer read his face keenly.
"Of course you are," he said, speaking gently as he would to a woman. "I'll find a place and work for you before morning."
"So soon, Palmer?"
"Don't look at the blood and foulness of the war, boy! Keep the cause in view, every moment. We secure the right of self-government for all ages: think of that! 'God,'—His cause, you know?—and 'your right,' Haven't you warrant to take life to defend your right—from the Christ you believe in? Eh?"
"No. But I know"—Gaunt held his hand to his forehead as if it ached—"we have to come to brute force at last to conquer the right. Christianity is not enough. I've reasoned it over, and"—
"Yet you look troubled. Well, we'll talk it over again. You've worked your brain too hard to be clear about anything just now,"—looking down on him with the questioning pity of a surgeon examining a cancer. "I must go on now, David. I'll meet you at the church in an hour."
"You are going to the house, Palmer?"
"Yes. Good night."
Gaunt drew back his hand, glancing at the cold, tranquil face, the mild blue eyes.
"Good night,"—following him with his eyes as he rode away.
An Anglo-Saxon, with every birthmark of that slow, inflexible race. He would make love philosophically, Gaunt sneered. A made man. His thoughts and soul, inscrutable as they were, were as much the accretion of generations of culture and reserve as was the chalk in his bones or the glowless courage in his slow blood. It was like coming in contact with summer water to talk to him; but underneath was—what? Did Dode know? Had he taken her in, and showed her his unread heart? Dode?
How stinging cold it was!—looking up drearily into the drifting heaps of gray. What a wretched, paltry balk the world was! What a noble part he played in it!—taking out his pistol. Well, he could pull a trigger, and let out some other sinner's life; that was all the work God thought he was fit for. Thinking of Dode all the time. He knew her! He could have summered her in love, if she would but have been passive and happy! He asked no more of her than that. Poor, silent, passionate Dode! No one knew her as he knew her! What were that man's cold blue eyes telling her now at the house? It mattered nothing to him.
He went across the cornfield to the church, his thin coat flapping in the wind, looking at his rusty pistol with a shudder.
* * * * *
Dode shut the door. Outside lay the winter's night, snow, death, the war. She shivered, shut them out. None of her nerves enjoyed pain, as some women's do. Inside,—you call it cheap and mean, this room? Yet her father called it Dode's snuggery; he thought no little nest in the world was so clean and warm. He never forgot to leave his pipe outside, (though she coaxed him not to do it,) for fear of "silin' the air." Every evening he came in after he had put on his green dressing-gown and slippers, and she read the paper to him. It was quite a different hour of the day from all of the rest: sitting, looking stealthily around while she read, delighted to see how cozy he had made his little girl,—how pure the pearl-stained walls were, how white the matting. He never went down to Wheeling with the crops without bringing something back for the room, stinting himself to do it. Her brother had had the habit, too, since he was a boy, of bringing everything pretty or pleasant he found to his sister; he had a fancy that he was making her life bigger and more heartsome by it, and would have it all right after a while. So it ended, you see, that everything in the room had a meaning for the girl,—so many mile-stones in her father and Geordy's lives. Besides, though Dode was no artist, had not what you call taste, other than in being clean, yet every common thing the girl touched seemed to catch her strong, soft vitality, and grow alive. Bone had bestowed upon her the antlers of a deer which he had killed,—the one great trophy of his life; (she put them over the mantel-shelf, where he could rejoice his soul over them every time he brought wood to the fire;) last fall she had hung wreaths of forest-leaves about them, and now they glowed and flashed back the snow-light, in indignant life, purple and scarlet and flame, with no thought of dying; the very water in the vases on the table turned into the silver roots of hyacinths that made the common air poetic with perfume; the rough wire-baskets filled with mould, which she hung in the windows, grew living, and welled up, and ran over into showers of moss, and trailing wreaths of ivy and cypress-vine, and a brood of the merest flakes of roses, which held the hot crimson of so many summers gone that they could laugh in the teeth of the winter outside, and did do it, until it seemed like a perfect sham and a jest.
The wood-fire was clear, just now, when Dode came in; the little room was fairly alive, palpitated crimson; in the dark corners, under the tables and chairs, the shadows tried not to be black, and glowed into a soft maroon; even the pale walls flushed, cordial and friendly. Dode was glad of it; she hated dead, ungrateful colors: grays and browns belonged to thin, stingy duty-lives, to people who are patient under life, as a perpetual imposition, and, as Bone says, "gets into heben by the skin o' their teeth." Dode's color was dark blue: you know that means in an earthly life stern truth, and a tenderness as true: she wore it to-night, as she generally did, to tell God she was alive, and thanked Him for being alive. Surely the girl was made for to-day; she never missed the work or joy of a moment here in dreaming of a yet ungiven life, as sham, lazy women do. You would think that, if you had seen her standing there in the still light, motionless, yet with latent life in every limb. There was not a dead atom in her body: something within, awake, immortal, waited, eager to speak every moment in the coming color on her cheek, the quiver of her lip, the flashing words or languor of her eye. Her auburn hair, even, at times, lightened and darkened.
She stood, now, leaning her head on the window, waiting. Was she keeping, like the fire-glow, a still, warm welcome for somebody? It was a very homely work she had been about, you will think. She had made a panful of white cream-crackers, and piled them on a gold-rimmed China plate, (the only one she had,) and brought down from the cupboard a bottle of her raspberry-cordial. Douglas Palmer and George used to like those cakes better than anything else she made: she remembered, when they were starting out to hunt, how Geordy would put his curly head over the gate and call out, "Sis! are you in a good-humor? Have some of your famous cakes for supper, that's a good girl!" Douglas Palmer was coming to-night, and she had baked them, as usual,—stopping to cry now and then, thinking of George. She could not help it, when she was alone. Her father never knew it. She had to be cheerful for herself and him too, when he was there.
Perhaps Douglas would not remember about the crackers, after all?—with the blood heating and chilling in her face, as she looked out of the window, and then at the clock,—her nervous fingers shaking, as she arranged them on the plate. She wished she had some other way of making him welcome; but what could poor Dode do? She could not talk to him, had read nothing but the Bible and Jay's "Meditations"; she could not show glimpses of herself, as most American women can, in natural, dramatic words. Palmer sang for her,—sometimes, Schubert's ballads, Mendelssohn: she could not understand the words, of course; she only knew that his soul seemed to escape through the music, and come to her own. She had a strange comprehension of music, inherited from the old grandfather who left her his temper,—that supernatural gift, belonging to but few souls among those who love harmony, to understand and accept its meaning. She could not play or sing; she looked often in the dog's eyes, wondering if its soul felt as dumb and full as hers; but she could not sing. If she could, what a story she would have told in a wordless way to this man who was coming! All she could do to show that he was welcome was to make crackers. Cooking is a sensual, grovelling utterance of feeling, you think? Yet, considering the drift of most women's lives, one fancies that as pure and deep love syllables itself every day in beefsteaks as once in Sapphic odes. It is a natural expression for our sex, too, somehow. Your wife may keep step with you in keen sympathy, in brain and soul; but if she does not know whether you like muffins or toast best for breakfast, her love is not the kind for this world, nor the best kind for any.
She waited, looking out at the gray road. He would not come so late?—her head beginning to ache. The room was too hot. She went into her chamber, and began to comb her hair back; it fell in rings down her pale cheeks,—her lips were crimson,—her brown eyes shone soft, expectant; she leaned her head down, smiling, thanking God for her beauty, with all her heart. Was that a step?—hurrying back. Only Coly stamping in the stable. It was eight o'clock. The woman's heart kept time to the slow ticking of the clock, with a sick thudding, growing heavier every moment. He had been in the mountains but once since the war began. It was only George he came to see? She brought out her work and began to sew. He would not come: only George was fit to be his friend. Why should he heed her poor old father, or her?—with the undefinable awe of an unbred mind for his power and wealth of culture. And yet—something within her at the moment rose up royal—his equal. He knew her, as she might be! Between them there was something deeper than the shallow kind greeting they gave the world,—recognition. She stood nearest to him,—she only! If sometimes she had grown meanly jealous of the thorough-bred, made women, down in the town yonder, his friends, in her secret soul she knew she was his peer,—she only! And he knew it. Not that she was not weak in mind or will beside him, but she loved him, as a man can be loved but once. She loved him,—that was all!
She hardly knew if he cared for her. He told her once that he loved her; there was a half-betrothal; but that was long ago. She sat, her work fallen on her lap, going over, as women will, for the thousandth time, the simple story, what he said, and how he looked, finding in every hackneyed phrase some new, divine meaning. The same story; yet Betsey finds it new by your kitchen-fire to-night, as Gretchen read it in those wondrous pearls of Faust's!
Surely he loved her that day! though the words were surprised, half-accident: she was young, and he was poor, so there must be no more of it then. The troubles began just after, and he went into the army. She had seen him but once since, and he said nothing then, looked nothing. It is true they had not been alone, and he thought perhaps she knew all: a word once uttered for him was fixed in fate. She would not have thought the story old or certain, if he told it to her forever. But he was coming to-night!
Dode was one of those women subject to sudden revulsions of feeling. She remembered now, what in the hurry and glow of preparing his welcome she had crushed out of sight, that it was better he should not come,—that, if he did come, loyal and true, she must put him back, show him the great gulf that lay between them. She had strengthened herself for months to do it. It must be done to-night. It was not the division the war made, nor her father's anger, that made the bar between them. Her love would have borne that down. There was something it could not bear down. Palmer was a doubter, an infidel. What this meant to the girl, we cannot tell; her religion was not ours. People build their faith on Christ, as a rock,—a factitious aid. She found Him in her life, long ago, when she was a child, and her soul grew out from Him. He was a living Jesus to her, not a dead one. That was why she had a healthy soul. Pain was keener to her than to us; the filth, injustice, bafflings in the world,—they hurt her; she never glossed them over as "necessity," or shirked them as we do: she cried hot, weak tears, for instance, over the wrongs of the slaves about her, her old father's ignorance, her own cramped life; but she never said for these things, "Does God still live?" She saw, close to the earth, the atmosphere of the completed work, the next step upward,—the kingdom of that Jesus; the world lay in it, swathed in bands of pain and wrong and effort, growing, unconscious, to perfected humanity. She had faith in the Recompense, she thought faith would bring it right down into earth, and she tried to do it in a practical way. She did do it: a curious fact for your theology, which I go out of the way of the story to give you,—a peculiar power belonging to this hot-tempered girl,—an anomaly in psychology, but you will find it in the lives of Jung Stilling and St. John. This was it: she and the people about her needed many things, temporal and spiritual: her Christ being alive, and not a dead sacrifice and example alone, whatever was needed she asked for, and it was always given her. Always. I say it in the full strength of meaning. I wish every human soul could understand the lesson; not many preachers would dare to teach it to them. It was a commonplace matter with her.
Now do you see what it cost her to know that Palmer was an infidel? Could she marry him? Was it a sin to love him? And yet, could she enter heaven, he left out? The soul of the girl that God claimed, and the Devil was scheming for, had taken up this fiery trial, and fought with it savagely. She thought she had determined; she would give him up. But—he was coming! he was coming! Why, she forgot everything in that, as if it were delirium. She hid her face in her hands. It seemed as if the world, the war, faded back, leaving this one human soul alone with herself. She sat silent, the fire charring lower into glooming red shadow. You shall not look into the passion of a woman's heart.
She rose at last, with the truth, as Gaunt had taught it to her, full before her, that it would be crime to make compact with sin or a sinner. She went out on the porch, looking no longer to the road, but up to the uncertain sky. Poor, simple Dode! So long she had hid the thought of this man in her woman's breast, clung to it for all strength, all tenderness! It stood up now before her,—Evil. Gaunt told her to-night that to love him was to turn her back on the cross, to be traitor to that blood on Calvary. Was it? She found no answer in the deadened sky, or in her own heart. She would give him up, then? She looked up, her face slowly whitening. "I love him," she said, as one who had a right to speak to God. That was all. So, in old times, a soul from out of the darkness of His judgments faced the Almighty, secure in its own right: "Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me."
Yet Dode was a weak woman; the trial went home to the very marrow. She stood by the wooden railing, gathering the snow off of it, putting it to her hot forehead, not knowing what she did. Her brain was dull, worn-out, she thought; it ached. She wished she could sleep, with a vacant glance at the thick snow-clouds, and turning to go in. There was a sudden step on the path,—he was coming! She would see him once more,—once! God could not deny her that! her very blood leaping into hot life.
"Theodora!" (He never called her the familiar "Dode," as the others did.) "Why, what ails you, child?"—in his quiet, cordial fashion, "Is this the welcome you give me? The very blood shivers in your hand! Your lips are blue!"—opening the door for her to go in, and watching her.
His eye was more that of a physician than a lover, she felt, and cowered down into a chair he put before the fire for her,—sheltering her face with her hands, that he might not see how white it was, and despise her. Palmer stood beside her, looking at her quietly; she had exhausted herself by some excitement, in her old fashion; he was used to these spasms of bodily languor,—a something he pitied, but could not comprehend. It was an odd symptom of the thoroughness with which her life was welded into his, that he alone knew her as weak, hysteric, needing help at times. Gaunt or her father would have told you her nerves were as strong as a ploughman's.
"Have you been in a passion, my child?"
She chafed her hands, loathing herself that she could not deaden down their shiver or the stinging pain in her head. What were these things at a time like this? Her physician was taking a different diagnosis of her disease from his first. He leaned over her, his face flushing, his voice lower, hurried.
"Were you disappointed? Did you watch—for me?"
"I watched for you, Douglas,"—trying to rise.
He took her hand and helped her up, then let it fall: he never held Dode's hand, or touched her hair, as Gaunt did.
"I watched for you,—I have something to say to you,"—steadying her voice.
"Not to-night," with a tenderness that startled one, coming from lips so thin and critical. "You are not well. You have some hard pain there, and you want to make it real. Let it sleep. You were watching for me. Let me have just that silly thought to take with me. Look up, Theodora. I want the hot color on your cheek again, and the look in your eye I saw there once,—only once. Do you remember?"
"I remember,"—her face crimson, her eyes flashing with tears. "Douglas, Douglas, never speak of that to me! I dare not think of it. Let me tell you what I want to say. It will soon be over."
"I will not, Theodora," he said, coolly. "See now, child! You are not your healthy self to-night. You have been too much alone. This solitude down there in your heart is eating itself out in some morbid whim. I saw it in your eye. Better it had forced itself into anger, as usual."
She did not speak. He took her hand and seated her beside him, talked to her in the same careless, gentle way, watching her keenly.
"Did you ever know the meaning of your name? I think of it often,—The gift of God,—Theodora. Surely, if there be such an all-embracing Good, He has no more helpful gift than a woman such as you might be."
She looked up, smiling.
"Might be? That is not"——
"Lover-like? No. Yet, Dode, I think sometimes Eve might have been such a one as you,—the germ of all life. Think how you loathe death, inaction, pain; the very stem you thrust into earth catches vitality from your fingers, and grows, as for no one else."
She knew, through all, that, though his light words were spoken to soothe her, they masked a strength of feeling that she dared not palter with, a something that would die out of his nature when his faith in her died, never to live again.
"Eve fell," she said.
"So would you, alone. You are falling now, morbid, irritable. Wait until you come into the sunshine. Why, Theodora, you will not know yourself, the broad, warm, unopened nature."
His voice faltered; he stooped nearer to her, drew her hand into his own.
"There will be some June days in our lives, little one, for you and me,"—his tone husky, broken,—"when this blood-work is off my hand, when I can take you. My years have been hard, bare. You know, child. You know how my body and brain have been worn out for others. I am free now. When the war is over, I will conquer a new world for you and me."
She tried to draw away from him.
"I need no more. I am contented. For the future,—God has it, Douglas."
"But my hand is on it!" he said, his eye growing hard. "And you are mine, Theodora!"
He put his hand on her head: he never had touched her before this evening: he stroked back her hair with an unsteady touch, but as if it and she belonged to him, inalienable, secure. The hot blood flushed into her cheeks, resentful. He smiled quietly.
"You will bring life to me," he whispered. "And I will bleach out this anger, these morbid shadows of the lonesome days,—sun them out with—love."
There was a sudden silence. Gaunt felt the intangible calm that hung about this man: this woman saw beneath it flashes of some depth of passion, shown reluctant even to her, the slow heat of the gloomy soul below. It frightened her, but she yielded: her will, her purpose slept, died into its languor. She loved, and she was loved,—was not that enough to know? She cared to know no more. Did Gaunt wonder what the "cold blue eyes" of this man told to the woman to-night? Nothing which his warped soul would have understood in a thousand years. The room heated, glowless, crimson: outside, the wind surged slow against the windows, like the surf of an eternal sea: she only felt that her head rested on his breast,—that his hand shook, as it traced the blue veins on her forehead: with a faint pleasure that the face was fair, for his sake, which his eyes read with a meaning hers could not bear; with a quick throb of love to her Master for this moment He had given her. Her Master! Her blood chilled. Was she denying Him? Was she setting her foot on the outskirts of hell? It mattered not. She shut her eyes wearily, closed her fingers as for life upon the hand that held hers. All strength, health for her, lay in its grasp: her own life lay weak, flaccid, morbid on his. She had chosen: she would hold to her choice.
Yet, below all, the words of Gaunt stung her incessantly. They would take effect at last. Palmer, watching her face, saw, as the slow minutes passed, the color fade back, leaving it damp and livid, her lips grow rigid, her chest heave like some tortured animal. There was some pain here deeper than her ordinary heats. It would be better to let it have way. When she raised herself, and looked at him, therefore, he made no effort to restrain her, but waited, attentive.
"I must speak, Douglas," she said. "I cannot live and bear this doubt."
"Go on," he said, gravely, facing her.
"Yes. Do not treat me as a child. It is no play for me,"—pushing her hair back from her forehead, calling fiercely in her secret soul for God to help her to go through with this bitter work He had imposed on her. "It is for life and death, Douglas."
"Go on,"—watching her.
She looked at him. A keen, practical, continent face, with small mercy for whims and shallow reasons. Whatever feeling or gloom lay beneath, a blunt man, a truth-speaker, bewildered by feints or shams. She must give a reason for what she did. The word she spoke would be written in his memory, ineffaceable. He waited. She could not speak; she looked at the small vigilant figure: it meant all that the world held for her of good.
"You must go, Douglas, and never come again."
He was silent,—his eye contracted, keen, piercing.
"There is a great gulf between us, Douglas Palmer. I dare not cross it."
"You mean—the war?—your father?"
She shook her head; the words balked in her throat. Why did not God help her? Was not she right? She put her hand upon his sleeve,—her face, from which all joy and color seemed to have fallen forever, upturned to his.
"Douglas, you do not believe—as I do."
He noted her look curiously, as she said it, with an odd remembrance of once when she was a child, and they had shown her for the first time a dead body, that she had turned to the sky the same look of horror and reproach she gave him now.
"I have prayed, and prayed,"—an appealing cry in every low breath. "It is of no use,—no use! God never denied me a prayer but that,—only that!"
"I do not understand. You prayed—for me?"
Her eyes, turning to his own, gave answer enough.
"I see! You prayed for me, poor child? that I could find a God in the world?"—patting the hand resting on his arm pitifully. "And it was of no use, you think? no use?"—dreamily, his eye fixed on the solemn night without.
There was a slow silence. She looked awe-struck in his face: he had forgotten her.
"I have not found Him in the world?"—the words dropping slowly from his lips, as though he questioned with the great Unknown.
She thought she saw in his face hints that his soul had once waged a direr battle than any she had known,—to know, to be. What was the end? God, and Life, and Death, what were they to him now?
He looked at her at last, recalled to her. She thought he stifled a sigh. But he put aside his account with God for another day: now it was with her.
"You think it right to leave me for this, Theodora? You think it a sin to love an unbeliever?"
"Yes, Douglas,"—but she caught his hand tighter, as she said it.
"The gulf between us is to be the difference between heaven and hell? Is that true?"
"Is it true?" she cried suddenly. "It is for you to say. Douglas, it is you that must choose."
"No man can force belief," he said, dryly. "You will give me up? Poor child! You cannot, Theodora!"—smoothing her head with an unutterable pity.
"I will give you up, Douglas!"
"Think how dear I have been to you, how far-off you are from everybody in the world but me. Why, I know no woman so alone or weak as you, if I should leave you!"
"I know it,"—sobbing silently.
"You will stay with me, Theodora! Is the dull heaven Gaunt prates of, with its psalms and crowns, better than my love? Will you be happier there than here?"—holding her close, that she might feel the strong throb of his heart against her own.
She drew away; stood alone.
"Is it better?"—sharply.
She clutched her hands tightly, then she stood calm. She would not lie.
"It is not better," she said, steadily. "If I know my own heart, nothing in the coming heaven is so dear as what I lose. But I cannot be your wife, Douglas Palmer."
His face flashed strangely.
"It is simple selfishness, then? You fear to lose your reward? What is my poor love to the eternity of happiness you trade it for?"
A proud heat flushed her face.
"You know you do not speak truly. I do not deserve the taunt."
The same curious smile glimmered over his mouth. He was silent for a moment.
"I overrate your sacrifice: it costs you little to say, like the old Pharisee, 'Stand by, I am holier than thou!' You never loved me, Theodora. Let me go down—to the land where you think all things are forgotten. What is it to you? In hell I can lift up my eyes"—
She cried out sharply, as with pain.
"I will not forsake my Master," she said. "He is real, more dear than you. I give you up."
Palmer caught her hand; there was a vague deadness in her eye that terrified him; he had not thought the girl suffered so deeply.
"See, now," she gasped quickly, looking up, as if some actual Presence stood near. "I have given up all for you! Let me die! Put my soul out! What do I care for heaven?"
Palmer bathed her face, put cordial to her lips, muttering some words to himself. "Her sins, which are many, should be forgiven; she loves much." When, long after, she sat on the low settle, quiet, he stood before her.
"I have something to say to you, Theodora. Do you understand me?"
"I am going. It is better I should not stay. I want you to thank God your love for your Master stood firm. I do. I believe in you: some day, through you, I may believe in Him. Do you hear me?"
She bent her head, worn-out.
"Theodora, I want to leave you one thought to take on your knees with you. Your Christ has been painted in false colors to you in this matter. I am glad that as you understand Him you are true to Him; but you are wrong."
She wrung her hands.
"If I could see that, Douglas!"
"You will see it. The selfish care of your own soul which Gaunt has taught you is a lie; his narrow heaven is a lie: my God inspires other love, other aims. What is the old tale of Jesus?—that He put His man's hands on the vilest before He blessed them? So let Him come to me,—through loving hands. Do you want to preach the gospel, as some women do, to the Thugs? I think your field is here. You shall preach it to the heart that loves you."
She shook her head drearily. He looked at her a moment, and then turned away.
"You are right. There is a great gulf between you and me, Theodora. When you are ready to cross it, come to me."
And so left her.
The stranger in Paris, exploring its southern suburbs along the Fontainebleau road, comes upon an ancient pile, extended and renovated by modern hands, whose simple, unpretending architecture would scarcely claim a second look. Yet it was once the scene of an experiment of such momentous consequences that it will ever possess a peculiar interest both to the philanthropist and the philosopher. It was there, in that receptacle of the insane, while the storm of the great Revolution was raging around him, that a physician, learned, ardent, and bold, but scarcely known beyond the little circle of his friends and patients, conceived and executed the idea, then no less wonderful than that of propelling a ship by steam, of striking off the chains of the maniac and opening the door of his cell. Within a few days, says the record, fifty-three persons were restored to light and comparative liberty. In that experiment at the Bictre, whose triumphant success won the admiration even of those ferocious demagogues who had risen to power, was inaugurated the modern management of the insane, as strongly marked by kindness and confidence as the old was by severity and distrust. It was a noble work, whose benefits, reaching down to all future generations, are beyond the power of estimation; but its remote and indirect results are scarcely less important than those more immediate and visible. Here began the true study of mental disease. To the mind of Pinel, his experiment opened a track of inquiry leading to results which, like those of the famous discoveries in physical science, will never cease to be felt. A few collections of cases had been published, medical scholars, in the midst of their books, had composed elaborate treatises to show the various ways in which men might possibly become insane, but no profound, original observer of mental disease had yet appeared. Trained in that school of exact and laborious inquirers who at that period were changing the whole face of physical science, he was well prepared for the work which seemed to be reserved for him, of laying the foundations of this department of the healing art.
Without following him in the successive stages of his work, it is sufficient here to say, that the first step—that of showing that the insane are not necessarily under the dominion of brute instinct, incapable even of appreciating the arts of kindness and of using a restricted freedom—was soon succeeded by another of no less importance considered in its relations to humanity and psychology. Pinel, who began his investigations at the Bictre in the old belief that insanity implies disorder of the reasoning faculty, discovered, to his surprise, that many of his patients evinced no intellectual impairment whatever. They reasoned on all subjects clearly and forcibly; neither hallucination nor delusion perverted their judgments; and some even recognized and deplored the impulses and desires which they could not control. The fact was too common to be misunderstood, and having been confirmed by subsequent observers, it has taken its place among the well-settled truths of modern science. Not very cordially welcomed as yet into the current beliefs of the time, it is steadily making its way against the opposition of pride, prejudice, ignorance, and self-conceit.
The magnitude of this advance in psychological knowledge can be duly estimated only by considering how imperfect were the prevalent notions concerning mental disease. For the most part, our ancestors thought no man insane, whatever his conduct or conversation, who was not actually raving. If the person were quiet, taciturn, apathetic, he was supposed to be melancholy or hypochondriacal. If he were elated and restless, ready for all sorts of undertakings and projects, his condition was attributed to a great flow of spirits. If, while talking very sensibly on many subjects and doing many proper things, he manifested a propensity to wanton mischief, why, then he was possessed with a devil and consigned to chains and straw,—unless he had committed some senseless act of crime, in which case he received from the law the usual doom of felons.
One of the first fruits of the new method of study introduced by Pinel was a more philosophical notion of the nature of disease. The various diseases that afflict mankind had been regarded as so many different entities that could almost be handled, and many attempts to define and measure them exactly are on record. They came to be regarded somewhat as personal foes, to be combated and overcome by the superior prowess of the physician. It was not until such views were abandoned, and insanity, as well as every other disease, was considered as an abnormal action or condition, that true progress could be expected. One of the results of inquiry into the nature of insanity, starting from this point, has been a growing conviction that it implies defect and imperfection, as well as casual disorder. Attention is now directed less to occasional and exoteric incidents, and more to conditions which inhere in the original economy of the brain. We are sometimes required to look beyond the individual, and beyond the nervous system even, if we would discover the primordial movement which, having passed through one or two generations, finally culminates in actual disease. We say, in popular phrase, that the cause of insanity in this person was disappointed love, or reverse of fortune, and in that, a fever, or a translation of disease; the popular voice finds an echo in the records of the profession, and it all passes for very good philosophy. Now, the more we learn, the more reason have we to believe that the amount of truth in the common statistics respecting the causes of insanity bears but a very small proportion to the amount of error. That such things as those just mentioned are often deeply concerned in the production of insanity cannot be doubted, but their agency is small in comparison with those which exist in the original constitution of the patient, and are derived, in greater or less degree, from progenitors. We would not say that insanity has never occurred in a person whose brain was not vitiated by hereditary morbid tendencies, but we do say that the proportion of such cases is exceedingly small. All the seeming efficiency of the so-called "causes of insanity" requires that preparation which is produced by the deteriorating influences of progenitors, and without which they would be utterly powerless. Let us consider this matter a little more closely by the light which modern inquiry sheds upon it.
All the conditions of the bodily organs that determine the character of the function are not known, but all analogy shows that what in popular phrase is called quality is one of them. Exactly what this is nobody knows, nor is it necessary for our present purpose that we should know; but when we talk of the good or bad quality of an organ, we certainly do not talk without meaning. We have an intelligible idea of the difference between that constitution, of an organ which insures the highest measure of excellence in the function and that which admits of only the lowest. In the brain, as in other organs, size is to some extent a measure of power. The largest intellectual and moral endowments no one expects to see in connection with the smallest brain, and vice vers, setting aside those instances of large size which are the effect of disease. The relative size of the different parts of the brain may have something to do with the character of the function, but this is a contested point. Education increases the mental efficiency, no doubt, but it is too late in the day to attribute everything to that. So that we are obliged to resort to that indescribable condition called quality, as the chief source and origin of the differences of mental power observed among men.
It is easier to say what this condition is not than what it is. It is not manifested to the senses by weight or color, dryness or moisture, hardness or softness. In these particulars all brains are pretty nearly alike. When the cerebral action stops and the man dies, we may find lesions visible enough to the sense,—vessels preternaturally engorged with blood, effusions of lymph, thickening of the membranes, changes of color and consistency,—but no one imagines these to be the cause and origin of the disturbance. Behind and beyond all this, in that intimate constitution of the organic molecules which no instrument of sense can bring to light, lies the source of mental activity, both healthy and morbid. There lies the source of all cerebral dynamics. Of this we are sure, unable, as we are, to demonstrate the fact to the senses.
Scientific observation has made us acquainted with some of the agencies which vitiate the quality of the brain, and it is our duty to profit by its results. The principal of them is morbid action in the brain itself, producing, more or less directly, disorder and weakness. But its deteriorating influence does not cease with the individual. In a large proportion of cases it is transmitted to the offspring; and though it may not appear in precisely the same form, yet the tokens of its existence are too obvious to be overlooked.—Another agency scarcely less efficient is that of neuropathies, to use the medical term,—meaning the various forms of disorder which have their origin in the brain, and comprising not only epilepsy, hysteria, chorea, and other convulsive affections, but that habit of body and mind which makes a person nervous. While they may abridge the mental efficiency of the patient comparatively little or not at all, they may exert this effect, and often do, in the highest degree, on his offspring. The amount of insanity in the world attributable to insanity in the progenitors, and therefore called, par minence, hereditary, is scarcely greater than that which originates in this manner, and of which the essential condition is no less hereditary.—Another agency, acting on a large scale in some localities, is exerted by those diseases which are attributed to some disorder of the lymphatic system, as scrofula and rickets. Though not entirely unknown to the affluent classes, yet it is chiefly in the dwellings of the poor that these diseases find their victims. Cold, moisture, bad air, deficient nourishment,—too frequent accompaniments of poverty,—are peculiarly favorable to their production. The physical depravation thus induced is frequently transmitted to the brain in the next generation, and appears in the shape of mental disorder.—Again, it is now well known that the qualities of the race are depreciated by the intermarrying of relatives. The disastrous influence of such unions is exerted on the nervous system more than any other, and is a prolific source of deaf-mutism, blindness, idiocy, and insanity. Not, certainly, in all cases do we see these results, for the legitimate consequences of this violation of an organic law are often avoided by the help of more controlling influences, but they are frequent enough to remove any doubt as to their true cause. And the chances of exemption are greatly lessened where the marriage of consanguinity is repeated in the next generation. The manner in which the evil is effected may be conjectured with some approach to correctness, but to speculate upon it here would lead us astray from our present purpose. The amount of the evil may be thought to be comparatively small, but they who have a professional acquaintance with the subject would hardly undertake to measure the dimensions of all the physical and mental suffering which it involves. In one State, at least, in the Union, it has seemed formidable enough to require an act of the legislature forbidding the marriage of cousins.—The last we shall mention, among the agencies concerned in vitiating the quality of the brain, is that of excessive or long-continued intemperance; and for many years it has been a most fruitful source of mental deterioration: not, however, in the way which is generally imagined; for, though it may add some effect to a popular harangue to attribute a very large proportion of the existing cases of insanity directly to intemperance, yet, as a matter of fact, very few, probably, can be fairly traced to this cause solely. And yet, at the present time, it is unquestionably responsible for a very large share of the mental infirmities which afflict the race. The germ of the evil requires a second, perhaps a third, generation to bring it to maturity. And then it may appear in the form of mania, or idiocy, or intemperance. As a cause of idiocy, its potency has been placed beyond a doubt. Dr. S.G. Howe, whose thorough investigations entitle his conclusions to great weight, says, that, "directly or indirectly, alcohol is productive of a great proportion of the idiocy which now burdens the Commonwealth." There is this curious feature of its deteriorating influence, that the primary effect is not always persistent, but may be removed by removing the cause. In the Report of the Hospital at Columbus, Ohio, for 1861, the physician, Dr. Hills, says of one of his patients, that his father, in the first part of his married life, was strictly temperate, "and had four children, all yet remaining healthy and sound. From reverses of fortune, he became discouraged and intemperate for some years, having in this period four children, two of whom we had now received into the asylum; a third one was idiotic, and the fourth epileptic. He then reformed in habits, had three more children, all now grown to maturity, and to this period remaining sound and healthy." Another similar case follows. An intemperate parent had four children, two of whom became insane, one was an idiot, and the fourth died young, in "fits." Four children born previous to the period of intemperance, and two after the parent's reformation, are all sound and healthy. Often, it is well known, intemperance in the child is the hereditary sequel of intemperance in the parent. The irresistible craving, without the preliminary gradual indulgence, and in spite of judicious education, generally distinguishes it from intemperance resulting from other causes.
All these agencies have this trait in common, that their damaging effect is often felt by the offspring as well as the parent, and, in most cases, in a far higher degree. The common doctrine of hereditary disease implies the actual transmission of a specific form of disease fully developed,—or, at least, of a tendency to it that may or may not be developed. The range within which it operates is supposed to be the narrow limits covered by a single specific affection. Daily experience, however, shows that the deviation from the primitive type is limited only by some conditions of structure. Any pathological result may be expected, not incompatible with the structure of the organ. And thus it is that the cerebral affection which fell upon the parent is represented in one child by insanity, in another by idiocy, in another by epilepsy, in another by gross eccentricity, in another by moral perversities, in another by ill-balanced intellect,—each and all implying a brain more or less vitiated by the parental infirmity. There is nothing strange in all this diversity of result. In the healthy state, organic action proceeds with wonderful regularity and uniformity; but when controlled by the pathological element, all this is changed, although the change has its limits. This diversity in the results of hereditary transmission is as strictly according to law as the similarity of features exhibited by parent and child. No presumption against the fact can be derived from this quarter, and therefore, if well-authenticated, it must be admitted. Many a man, however, who admits the general fact, refuses to make the application where it has not been usually made. When mania occurs in two or three successive generations, nobody overlooks the hereditary element; but when the mania of the parent is followed by great inequalities of character, or strange impulses to criminal acts, then the effects of disease are straightway ignored, and we think only of moral liberty and free-will. It may be difficult, sometimes, to make the proper distinction between the effects of hereditary physical vitiation and those of bad education and strong temptations; but the difficulty is of the kind which stands in the way of all successful inquiry, to be overcome by patient and profound study.
Some light may be thrown on this deviation from the original type by considering the forces that are concerned in the hereditary act. The statement that like produces like is the expression of an obvious law. But we must bear in mind that the law is only so far observed as is necessary to maintain the characters of the species. Within that range there is every possible variety, and for a very obvious reason. Every individual represents immediately two others, and, indirectly, an indefinite number. This is done by uniting in himself qualities and features drawn from each parent, without any obvious principle or law of selection and combination. One parent may be, apparently, more fully represented than the other; the defects of the parent may be transmitted, rather than the excellences; the tendencies to health and strength may be outnumbered and overborne by the tendencies to disease. No individual, of course, can receive, entirely and completely, the features and attributes of both parents, for that would be a sort of practical absurdity; but in the process of selecting and combining, Nature exhibits the same inexhaustible variety that appears in all her operations. Even in the offspring of the same parents, however numerous, uniformity in this respect is seldom so obvious as diversity. This cerebral deterioration is subject to the same laws of descent as other traits, with a few exceptions without much bearing on the present question. We might as reasonably expect to see the nose or the eyes, the figure or the motions of either parent transmitted with the exactest likeness to all the offspring, as to suppose that an hereditary disease must necessarily be transmitted fully formed, with all the incidents and conditions which it possessed in the parent. And yet, in the case of mental disease, the current philosophy can recognize the evidence of transmission in no shape less demonstrative than delusion or raving. Contrary to all analogy, and contrary to all fact, it supposes that the hereditary affection must appear in the offspring in precisely the same degree of intensity which it had in the parent. If the son is stricken down with raving mania, like his father before him, then the relation of cause and effect is obvious enough; but if, on the contrary, the former exhibits only extraordinary outbreaks of passion, remarkable inequalities of spirit and disposition, irrelevant and inappropriate conduct, strange and unaccountable impulses, nothing of this kind is charged practically to the parental infirmity.
The cerebral defect once established, the modes in which it may be manifested in subsequent generations present no uniformity whatever. Insanity in a parent may be followed by any possible form of mental irregularity in the descendant,—insanity, idiocy, epilepsy, drunkenness, criminal impulses, eccentricity. And so, too, eccentricity, even of the least prominent kind, may be followed by grosser eccentricity, or even overt insanity, in the descendant. The cerebral defect is not necessarily manifested in an uninterrupted series of generations, for it often skips over one, and appears with redoubled energy in the next; and thus, in looking for proof of hereditary disease or defect, we are not to stop at the next preceding generation. We are too little acquainted with the laws of hereditary transmission to explain these things. We know this, however, that, side by side with that law which decrees the transmission of defects as well as excellences, there exists another law which restrains deviations from the normal type, which extinguishes the errant traits, and reestablishes the primitive characters of the organism. The combined and alternate action of these two laws may produce some of the inscrutable phenomena of hereditary transmission.
The transmission of the cerebral defect is often manifested in a manner exceedingly embarrassing to all who hold to the prevalent notions respecting sanity and insanity. It is sometimes confined to a very circumscribed range, beyond which the mind presents no material impairment. The sound and the unsound coexist, not in a state of fusion, but side by side, each independent of the other, and both derived from a common source. And the fact is no more anomalous than that often witnessed, of some striking feature of one parent associated in the child with one equally striking of the other. It is not the case exactly of partial insanity, or any mental defect, super-induced upon a mind otherwise sound,—for such defect is, in some degree, an accident, and may disappear; but here is a congenital conjunction of sanity and insanity, which no medical or moral appliances will ever remove. These persons may get on very well in their allotted part, and even achieve distinction, while the insane element is often cropping out in the shape of extravagances or irregularities in thought or action, which, according to the stand-point they are viewed from, are regarded either as gross eccentricity, or undisciplined powers, or downright insanity. For every manifestation of this kind they may show no lack of plausible reasons, calculated to mislead the superficial observer; but still the fact remains, that these traits, which are never witnessed in persons of well-balanced minds, are a part of their habitual character. When people of this description possess a high order of intellectual endowments, the unhealthy element seems to impart force and piquancy to their mental manifestations, and thus increase the embarrassment touching the true character of their mental constitution. When the defect appears in the reflective powers, it is often regarded as insanity, though not more correctly than if it were confined to the emotions and feelings. The man who goes through life creditably performing his part, but feeling, all the while, that everybody with whom he has any relations is endeavoring to oppose and annoy him, strays as clearly from the track of a healthy mind as if he believed in imaginary plots and conspiracies against his property or person. In neither case is he completely overcome by the force of the strange impression, but passes along, to all appearance, much like other men. Insane, in the popular acceptation, he certainly is not; but it is equally certain that his mind is not in a healthy condition. Lord Byron was one of this class, and the fact gives us a clew to the anomalies of his character. His mother was subject to violent outbreaks of passion, not unlike those often witnessed in the insane. On the paternal side his case was scarcely better. The loose principles, the wild and reckless conduct of his father procured for him the nickname of "Mad Jack Byron"; and his grand-uncle, who killed his neighbor in a duel, exhibited traits not very characteristic of a healthy mind. With such antecedents, it is not strange that he was subject to wild impulses, violent passions, baseless prejudices, uncompromising selfishness, irregular mental activity. The morbid element in his nervous system was also witnessed in the form of epilepsy, from which he suffered, more or less, during his whole life. The "vile melancholy" which Dr. Johnson inherited from his father, and which, to use his own expression, "made him mad all his life, at least not sober," never perverted nor hampered the exercise of his intellectual powers. He heard the voice of his distant mother calling "Sam"; he was bound to touch every post he passed in the streets; he astonished people by his extraordinary singularities, and much of his time was spent in the depths of mental distress; yet the march of his intellect, steady, uniform, and measured, gave no token of confusion or weakness.
In common life, among an order of men unknown beyond the circle of their neighborhood, this sort of mental dualism witnessed with remarkable frequency, though generally regarded as anomalous and unaccountable, rather than the result of an organic law. In some, the morbid element, without affecting the keenness of the intellect, is more active, intruding itself on all occasions, characterizing the ways and manners, the demeanor and deportment. Under the influence of peculiarly adverse circumstances, they are liable to lose occasionally the unsteady balance between the antagonistic forces of their mental nature, to conduct as if unquestionably insane, and to be treated accordingly. Of such the remark is always made by the world, which sees no nice distinctions, "If he is insane now, he was always insane." According as the one or the other phasis of their mind is exclusively regarded, they are accounted by some as always crazy, by others as uncommonly shrewd and capable. The hereditary origin of this mental defect in some form of nervous affection will always be discovered, where the means of information are afforded.
In some persons the morbid element appears in the shape of insensibility to nice moral distinctions. Their perception of them at all seems to be the result of imitation rather than instinct. With them, circumstances determine everything as to the moral complexion of their career in life. Whether they leave behind them a reputation for flagrant selfishness, meanness, and dishonesty, or for a commendable prudence and judicious regard for self,—whether they always keep within the precincts of a decent respectability, or run into disreputable courses,—depends mostly on chance and fortune. This intimate association of the saint and the sinner in the same individual, common as it is, is a stumbling-block to moralists and legislators. The abnormal element is entirely overlooked, or rather is confounded with that kind of moral depravity which comes from vicious training And, certainly, the distinction is not always very easily made; for, though sufficient light on this point may often be derived from the antecedents of the individual, yet it is impossible, occasionally, to remove the obscurity in which it is involved. However this may be, it is a warrantable inference from the results of modern inquiry, that the class of cases is not a small one, where the person commits a criminal act, or falls into vicious habits, with a full knowledge of the nature and consequences of his conduct, and prompted, perhaps, by the ordinary inducements to vice, who, nevertheless, would have been a shining example of virtue, had the morbid element in his cerebral organism been left out. In our rough estimates of responsibility this goes for nothing, like the untoward influences of education; and it could not well be otherwise, though it cannot be denied that one element of moral responsibility, namely, the wish and the power to pursue the right and avoid the wrong, is greatly defective.
There is another phasis of cerebral defect not very unlike the last, which of late years has been occurring with increasing frequency, embarrassing our courts, confounding the wise and the simple, and overwhelming respectable families with shame and sorrow. With an intellect unwarped by the slightest excitement or delusion, and with many moral traits, it may be, calculated to please and to charm, its subjects are irresistibly impelled to some particular form of crime. With more or less effort they strive against it, and when they yield at last, their conduct is as much a mystery to themselves as to others. Ordinary criminals excite some touch of pity, on the score of bad education or untamed passions; but if, in the common estimation of the world, there is one criminal more reprehensible than another, it is he who sins against great light and under the smallest temptations,—and, of course, the hottest wrath of an incensed community is kindled against him.
At the bar of yonder courtroom stands a youth with an aspect and manner indicative of culture and refinement far above those of the common herd of criminals. He was detected in the very act of committing a grave criminal offence. He has been educated under good moral influences, and possessed a patrimony that supplied every reasonable want. No looseness of living, no violent passion is alleged against him, and no adequate motive appears for the act. For a year or two past he has been unusually restless by day and by night, has slept poorly, and his countenance has worn an expression of distraction and anxiety. Various little details of conduct are related of him, which, though not morally censurable, were offensive to good taste and opposed to the ordinary observances of society. His friends are sure he is not the man he once was, but no expert ventures to pronounce him insane. Looking behind the scene, the mystery clears up, and we behold only a simple operation of cerebral dynamics. A glance at the family-history shows us a great-grandfather, an aunt, two second-cousins, and a brother unequivocally insane, the father and many other members widely noted for eccentricities and irregularities of a kind scarcely compatible with the idea of sanity. Considering that the brain does not spring out of the ground, but is the final product of all the influences which for generations have been working in the cerebral organism, it is not strange that the quality of his brain became so vitiated as to be incapable of some of its highest functions.—Looking a little farther back in our forensic experience, we behold a youth scarcely arrived at the age of legal majority, with a simple, verdant look, arraigned for trial on the charge of murder. He was the servant of a farmer, and his victim was an adopted daughter of the family, and some years younger than himself. One day they were left together to take care of the house, a little girl in the neighborhood having come in to keep them company. While engaged in the domestic services, quietly and pleasantly, he invited his companion to go with him into another room where he had something to show her, and there, within a few minutes, he cut her throat from ear to ear. He soon came down, told what he had done, and made no attempt to escape. They had always been on good terms; no provocation, no motive whatever for the act was shown or suspected. When questioned, he replied only,—"I loved her, no one could tell how much I loved her." He had been drinking cider during the morning, but his cool and collected manner, both before and after the act, showed that he was not intoxicated. His employers testified that they had always found him good-natured and correct, but considered his intellect somewhat below the average grade. A few months subsequently he died in jail of consumption. Regarded from the ordinary moral stand-points, this was a strange, an unaccountable, a monstrous act, and we are unable to take the first step towards a solution of the mystery. Looking, however, at the material conditions of his affections, his propensities, his impulses,—his cerebral dynamics,—we get a clew, at least, to the secret. His father was an habitual drunkard, and a frequent inmate of the poor-house. He had two children,—one an idiot, and the other the prisoner; and the mental deficiency of the former, and the senseless impulses to crime manifested by the latter, were equally legitimate effects of the father's vice.—Here, again, is one who might justly be regarded as a favored son of fortune. Fine talents, a college-education, high social position, an honorable and lucrative business in prospect were all his; but before leaving college he had made considerable proficiency in lying, drinking, forgery, and hypocrisy, besides evincing a remarkable ingenuity in concealing these traits. His vices only increased with years, notwithstanding the various parental expedients to effect reform,—a voyage to sea, establishment in business, confinement in a hospital for the insane, a residence in the country, a settlement in a new territory. All this time his intellect was cool and clear, except when under the influence of drink, and he was always ready with the most plausible explanations of his conduct. At last, however, delusions began to appear, and unquestionable and incurable insanity was established. The philosophy of our times utterly fails to account for a phenomenon like this. Had the hand of the law been laid upon him for his offences, he would have been regarded as one of those examples of depravity which deserve the severest possible punishment; and when the true nature of his case appeared at last, doctors only wondered how so much mental disorder could happen to one whose progenitors were singularly free from mental infirmities. In noticing the agencies calculated to vitiate the quality of the brain, we mentioned the neuropathies as among the most efficient, though their effect is chiefly witnessed in subsequent generations, and the present case is an illustration of the fact. His mother was a highly nervous woman, and for many years a confirmed invalid.