THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
Bulls and Bears Bundle of Old Letters, A
Calculus, The Differential and Integral Charge with Prince Rupert Charles Lamb and Sydney Smith Coffee and Tea
Holbein and the Dance of Death
Illustrious Obscure, The In a Cellar In the Pines
Letter to a Dyspeptic, A Lizzy Griswold's Thanksgiving
Men of the Sea Mien-yaun Minister's Wooing, The
New Life of Dante, The
Odds and Ends from the Old World Olympus and Asgard Ought Women to Learn the Alphabet?
Palfrey's and Arnold's Histories Plea for the Fijians, A Professor at the Breakfast-Table, The
Roba di Roma
Shakespeare's Art Smollett, Some Unedited Memorials of Stereoscope and Stereograph, The
Trip to Cuba, A Two Sniffs
Utah Expedition, The
White's Shakspeare Why did the Governess Faint? Winter Birds, The
Achmed and his Mare At Sea
Double-Headed Snake of Newbury, The Drifting
Hamlet at the Boston
Inscription for an Alms-Chest
Last Bird, The Left Behind
Morning Street, The
Our Skater Belle
Palm and the Pine, The Philter, The Prayer for Life
Sphinx, The Spring
Two Years After
Walker of the Snow, The Waterfall, The
REVIEWS AND LITERARY NOTICES.
Allibone's Dictionary of Authors Arabian Days' Entertainments Avenger, The
Bacon, The Works of Bitter-Sweet Bryant, Durand's Portrait of Bunsen's Gott in der Geschichte
Cotton's Illustrated Cabinet Atlas Courtship of Miles Standish
Dexter's Street Thoughts Duyckinck's Life of George Herbert
Emerson, Rowse's Portrait of Ernest Carroll
Furness's Thoughts on the Life and Character of Jesus
Hamilton's Lecture on Metaphysics Hymns of the Ages
Index to Catalogue of Boston City Library
Lytton, R.B., (Owen Meredith,) Poems by
Mathematical Monthly, The Morgan's, Lady, Autobiography Mothers and Infants, Nurses and Nursing Mustee, The
Prescott's Philip II
Sawyer's New Testament Seddon, Thomas, Memoir and Letters of Sixty Years' Gleanings from Life's Harvest Stratford Gallery, The Symbols of the Capital
Truebner's Bibliographical Guide to American Literature
Whittier, Barry's Portrait of Wilson's Conquest of Mexico
LIST OF BOOKS
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. III.—JANUARY, 1859.—NO. XV.
OLYMPUS AND ASGARD.
How remote from the nineteenth century of the Christian era lies the old Homeric world! By the magic of the Ionian minstrel's verse that world is still visible to the inner eye. Through the clouds and murk of twenty centuries and more, it is still possible to catch clear glimpses of it, as it lies there in the golden sunshine of the ancient days. A thousand objects nearer in the waste of past time are far more muffled, opaque, and impervious to vision. As you enter it through the gates of the "Ilias" and "Odusseia," you bid a glad adieu to the progress of the age, to railroads and telegraph-wires, to cotton-spinning, (there might have been some of that done, however, in some Nilotic Manchester or Lowell,) to the diffusion of knowledge and the rights of man and societies for the improvement of our race, to humanitarianism and philanthropy, to science and mechanics, to the printing-press and gunpowder, to industrialism, clipper-ships, power-looms, metaphysics, geology, observatories, light-houses, and a myriad other things too numerous for specification,—and you pass into a sunny region of glorious sensualism, where there are no obstinate questionings of outward things, where there are no blank misgivings of a creature moving about in worlds not realized, no morbid self-accusings of a morbid methodistic conscience. All there in that old world, lit "by the strong vertical light" of Homer's genius, is healthful, sharply-defined, tangible, definite, and sensualistic. Even the divine powers, the gods themselves, are almost visible to the eyes of their worshippers, as they revel in their mountain-propped halls on the far summits of many-peaked Olympus, or lean voluptuously from their celestial balconies and belvederes, soothed by the Apollonian lyre, the Heban nectar, and the fragrant incense, which reeks up in purple clouds from the shrines of windy Ilion, hollow Lacedaemon, Argos, Mycenae, Athens, and the cities of the old Greek isles, with their shrine-capped headlands. The outlooks and watch-towers of the chief deities were all visible from the far streets and dwellings of their earthly worshippers, in that clear, shining, Grecian atmosphere. Uranography was then far better understood than geography, and the personages composing the heavenly synod were almost as definitely known to the Homeric men as their mortal acquaintances. The architect of the Olympian palaces was surnamed Amphigueeis, or the Halt. The Homeric gods were men divinized with imperishable frames, glorious and immortal sensualists, never visited by qualms of conscience, by headache, or remorse, or debility, or wrinkles, or dyspepsia, however deep their potations, however fiercely they indulged their appetites. Zeus, the Grand Seignior or Sultan of Olympus and father of gods and men, surpassed Turk and Mormon Elder in his uxoriousness and indiscriminate concubinage. With Olympian goddess and lone terrestrial nymph and deep-bosomed mortal lass of Hellas, the land of lovely women, as Homer calls it, did he pursue his countless intrigues, which he sometimes had the unblushing coolness and impudence to rehearse to his wedded wife, Here. His list would have thrown Don Giovanni's entirely into the shade. Here, the queen of Olympus, called the Golden-Throned, the Venerable, the Ox-Eyed, was a sort of celestial Queen Bess, the undaunted she-Tudor, whose father, bluff Harry, was not a bad human copy of Zeus himself, the Rejoicer in Thunder.
In that old Homeric heaven,—in those quiet seats of the gods of the heroic world, which were never shaken by storm-wind, nor lashed by the tempest that raved far below round the dwellings of wretched mortals,—in those quiet abodes above the thunder, there was for the most part nought but festal joy, music, choral dances, and emptying of nectar-cups, interrupted now and then by descents into the low-lying region of human life in quest of adventure, or on errands of divine intervention in the affairs of men, for whom, on the whole, Zeus and his court entertained sentiments of profound contempt. Once in a while Zeus and all his courtiers went on a festal excursion to the land of the blameless Ethiops, which lay somewhere over the ocean, where they banqueted twelve days. Why such a special honor as this was shown to these Ethiops is not explained. Within their borders were evidently the summer resorts, Newport and Baden-Baden, frequented by the Olympians. Only in great crises was the whole mythic host of the Grecian religion summoned to meet in full forum on the heights of the immemorial mountain. At such times, all the fountains, rivers, and groves of Hellas were emptied of their guardian daemons, male and female, who hastened to pay their homage to and receive their orders from the Cloud-Gatherer, sitting on his throne, in his great skyey Capitolium, and invested with all the pomp of mythic majesty, his ambrosial locks smoothly combed and brushed by some Olympian friseur, his eagle perched with ruffled plumes upon his fist, and everything else so arranged as most forcibly to impress the country visitors and rural incumbents with salutary awe for the occupant of their sky-Vatican. Whether these last were compelled to salute the Jovine great toe with a kiss is not recorded, there being no account extant of the ceremonial and etiquette of Olympus. Whatever it was, doubtless it was rigidly enforced; for the Thunderer, it would seem, had a Bastile, or lock-up, with iron doors and a brazen threshold specially provided for contumacious and disobedient gods.
Zeus, although he could claim supreme dominion under the law of primogeniture, was originally only a coequal ruler with his two brothers, Hades, king of the underworld, and Ennosigaeus, monarch of the salt sea-foam. They were alike the sons and coequal heirs of Kronos, or Time, and the Moerae, or Destinies, had parcelled out the universe in three equal parts between them. But the position of Zeus in his serene air-realm gave him the advantage over his two brothers,—as the metropolitan situation of the Roman see in the capital of the world gave its diocesan, who was originally nothing more than the peer of the Bishops of Antioch, Alexandria, Carthage, and Constantinople, an opportunity finally to assert and maintain a spiritual lordship. This is a case exactly in point. It is certainly proper to illustrate a theocratic usurpation by an hierarchic one. Zeus, with his eagle and thunder and that earthquaking nod, was too strong for him of the trident and him of the three-headed hound. The whole mythic host regarded Jove's court as a place of final resort, of ultimate appeal. He was recognized as the Supreme Father, Papa, or Pope, of the Greek mythic realm. The nod of his immortal head was decisive. His azure eyebrows and ambrosial hair were full of fate.
The wars of mortals in Hellas and Dardanland were matters of more interest to the Olympian celestials than any other mere human transactions. These occasioned partisanships, heartburnings, and factions in the otherwise serene Olympian palaces. Even Father Zeus himself acknowledged a bias for sacred Ilium and its king and people over all the cities of terrestrial men beneath the sun and starry heaven. In the ten-years' war at Troy, the Olympians were active partisans upon both sides at times, now screening their favorites from danger, and now even pitting themselves against combatants of more vulnerable flesh and blood. But in the matter of vulnerability they seem not to have enjoyed complete exemption, any more than did Milton's angels. Although they ate not bread nor drank wine, still there was in their veins a kind of ambrosial blood called ichor, which the prick of a javelin or spear would cause to flow freely. Even Ares, the genius of homicide and slaughter, was on one occasion at least wounded by a mortal antagonist, and sent out of the melee badly punished, so that he bellowed like a bull-calf, as he mounted on a dusty whirlwind to Olympus. Over his misadventures while playing his own favorite game certainly there were no tears to be shed; but when, prompted by motherly tenderness, Aphrodite, the soft power of love,—she of the Paphian boudoir, whose recesses were glowing with the breath of Sabaean frankincense fumed by a hundred altars,—she at whose approach the winds became hushed, and the clouds fled, and the daedal earth poured forth sweet flowers,—when such a presence manifested herself on the field of human strife on an errand of motherly affection, and attempted to screen her bleeding son from the shafts of his foes with a fold of her shining peplum, surely the audacious Grecian king should have forborne, and, lowering his lance, should have turned his wrath elsewhere. But no,—he pierced her skin with his spear, so that, shrieking, she abandoned her child, and was driven, bleeding, to her immortal homestead. The rash earth-born warrior knew not that he who put his lance in rest against the immortals had but a short lease of life to live, and that his bairns would never run to lisp their sire's return, nor climb his knees the envied kiss to share.
Homer, in the first books of his "Ilias," permits us to glance into the banqueting-hall of Olympus. The two regular pourers of nectar, to wit, Hebe and Ganymede, are off duty. Hephaestus the Cripple has taken their place; and as he halts about from guest to guest, inextinguishable laughter arises among the gods at his awkward method of "passing the rosy." His lameness was owing to that sunset fall on the isle of Lemnos from the threshold of heaven. So, all day long, says the poet, they revelled, Apollo and the Muses performing the part of a ballet-troop. It is pleasing to learn that the Olympians kept early hours, conforming, in this respect, to the rule of Poor Richard. Duly at set of sun they betook themselves to their couches. Zeus himself slept, and by his side Here of the Golden Throne.
Who would wish to have lived a pagan under that old Olympian dispensation, even though, like the dark-eyed Greek of the Atreidean age, his fancy could have "fetched from the blazing chariot of the Sun a beardless youth who touched a golden lyre and filled the illumined groves with ravishment"?—even though, like him, he might in myrtle-grove and lonely mountain-glen have had favors granted him even by Idalian Aphrodite the Beautiful, and felt her warm breath glowing upon his forehead, or been counselled by the blue-eyed Athene, or been elevated to ample rule by Here herself, Heaven's queen? That Greek heaven was heartless, libidinous, and cold. It had no mild divinities appointed to bind up the broken heart and assuage the grief of the mourner. The weary and the heavy-laden had no celestial resource amongst its immortal revellers and libertines, male and female. There was no sympathy for mortal suffering amongst those divine sensualists. They talked with contempt and unsympathizing ridicule of the woes of the earthborn, of the brevity of mortal life, and of its miseries. A boon, indeed, and a grateful exchange, was the Mother Mild of the Roman Catholic Pantheon, the patroness of the broken-hearted, who inclines her countenance graciously to the petitions of womanly anguish, for the voluptuous Aphrodite, the haughty Juno, the Di-Vernonish Artemis, and the lewd and wanton nymphs of forest, mountain, ocean, lake, and river. Ceres alone, of the old female classic daemons, seemed to be endowed with a truly womanly tenderness and regard for humankind. She, like the Mater Dolorosa, is represented in the myths to have known bereavement and sorrow, and she, therefore, could sympathize with the grief of mothers sprung from Pyrrha's stem. Nay, she had envied them their mortality, which enabled them to join their lost ones, who could not come back to them, in the grave. Vainly she sought to descend into the dark underworld to see her "young Persephone, transcendent queen of shades." Not for her weary, wandering feet was a single one of the thousand paths that lead downward to death. Her only consolation was in the vernal flowers, which, springing from the dark earthly mould, seemed to her to be
"heralds from the dreary deep, Soft voices from the solemn streams,"
by whose shores, veiled in eternal twilight, wandered her sad child, the queen of the realm of Dis, with its nine-fold river, gates of adamant, and minarets of fire. The heartlessness of all the ethnic deities, of whatever age or nation, is a noticeable feature, especially when contrasted with the unfathomable pity of their Exterminator, who wept over the chief city of his fatherland, and would have gathered it, as a hen gathereth her chickens, under the wings of his love, though its sons were seeking to compass his destruction. Those old ethnic deities were cruel, inexorable, and relentless. They knew nothing of mercy and forgiveness. They ministered no balm to human sorrow. The daemons who wandered in human shape over the classic lands of old were all fickle and malevolent. They oftentimes impelled their victims to suicide. The ghouls that haunt the tombs and waste places of the regions where they were once worshipped are their lineal descendants and modern representatives. The vampires and pest-hags of the Levant are their successors in malignity. The fair humanities of the old religion were fair only in shape and exterior. The old pagan gods were friendly only to kings, heroes, and grandees; they had no beatitude for the poor and lowly. Human despair, under their dispensation, knew no alleviation but a plunge from light and life into the underworld, —rather than be monarch of which, the shade of Achilles avers, in the "Odusseia," that it would prefer to be the hireling and drudge of some poor earthly peasant. Elysium was only for a privileged few.
It has been said that the old ethnic creeds were the true religion "growing wild,"—that the human soil was prepared by such kind of spiritual crops and outgrowths, with their tares and weeds intermingled with wheat, for the seed that was finally to be sown by the Divine Sower,—that, erroneous as they were in a thousand respects, they were genuine emanations of the religious nature in man, and as such not to be stigmatized or harshly characterized,—that without them the human soil could not have been made ready for the crop of unmixed truth. This may be true of some of them, though surely not of the popular form of the old Greek ethnic faith. Its deities were nothing better than the passions of human nature projected upon ethereal heights, and incarnated and made personal in undecaying demonic shapes,—not conditioned and straitened like the bodies of man, but enjoying perpetual youth and immunity from death in most cases, with permission to take liberties with Space and Time greater even than are granted to us by steam and telegraph-wires.
The vulgar Grecian polytheism was all material. It had no martyrs and confessors. It was not worth dying for, as it was good for nothing to live by. The religion of Hellas was the religion of sensualistic beauty simply. It was just the worship for Pheidias and Praxiteles, for the bard of Teos and the soft Catullus, for sensual poet, painter, and sculptor. But "the blind old man of Scio's rocky isle," although we gather most of our knowledge of Olympus and the Olympians from his verse, was worthy of a loftier and purer heaven than the low one under which he wandered from city to city, singing the tale of Troy divine, and hymns and paeans to the gods. The good and the true were mere metaphysical abstractions to the old Greek. What must he have been when it would not have been safe for him to leave his wife alone with the best and highest of his gods? The ancient Hellenes were morally most vicious and depraved, even when compared with contemporary heathen nations. The old Greek was large in brain, but not in heart. He had created his gods in his own image, and they were—what they were. There was no goodness in his religion, and we can tolerate it only as it is developed in the Homeric rhapsodies, in the far-off fable-time of the old world, and amongst men who were but partially self-conscious. In that remote Homeric epoch it is tolerable, when cattle-stealing and war were the chief employments of the ruling caste,—and we may add, woman-stealing, into the bargain. "I did not come to fight against the Trojans," says Achilles, "because I had suffered any grievance at their hands. They never drove off my oxen and horses or stole my harvests in rich-soiled Phthia, the nurse of heroes; for vale-darkening mountains and a tumultuous sea separate us."
Into that old Homeric world we enter through the portals of the "Ilias" and "Odusseia," and see the peaks of Olympus shining afar off in white splendor like silvery clouds, not looking for or expecting either a loftier or a purer heaven. Somewhere on the bounds of the dim ocean-world we know that there is an exiled court, a faded sort of St. Germain celestial dynasty, geologic gods, coevals of the old Silurian strata,—to wit, Kronos, Rhea, Nox, et al. Here these old, unsceptred, discrowned, and sky-fallen potentates "cogitate in their watery ooze," and in "the shady sadness of vales,"—sometimes visited by their successors for counsel or concealment, or for the purpose of establishing harmony amongst them. The Sleep and Death of the Homeric mythology were naturally gentle divinities,—sometimes lifting the slain warrior from the field of his fame, and bearing him softly through the air to his home and weeping kindred. This was a gracious office. The saintly legends of the Roman Church have borrowed a hint from this old Homeric fancy. One pleasant feature of the Homeric battles is, that, when some blameless, great-souled champion falls, the blind old bard interrupts the performances for a moment and takes his reader with him away from the din and shouting of the battle, following, as it were, the spirit of the fallen hero to his distant abode, where sit his old father, his spouse, and children,—thus throwing across the cloud of battle a sweet gleam of domestic, pastoral life, to relieve its gloom. Homer, both in the "Ilias" and "Odusseia," gives his readers frequent glimpses into the halls of Olympus; for messengers are continually flashing to and fro, like meteors, between the throne of Zeus and the earth. Sometimes it is Hermes sandalled with down; sometimes it is wind-footed Iris, who is winged with the emerald plumes of the rainbow; and sometimes it is Oneiros, or a Dream, that glides down to earth, hooded and veiled, through the shadow of night, bearing the behests of Jove. But however often we are permitted to return to the ambrosial homestead of the ever-living gods in the wake of returning messengers, we always find it the same calm region, lifted far up above the turbulence, the perturbations, the clouds and storms of
"That low spot which men call earth,"
—a glorious aerial Sans-Souci and house of pleasaunce.
It is curious that the atheistic Lucretius has given us a most glowing description of the Olympian mansions; but perhaps the Olympus of the Epicurean poet and philosopher is somewhat higher up and more sublimated and etherealized than the Olympus of Homer and of the popular faith. In a flash of poetic inspiration, he says, "The walls of the universe are cloven. I see through the void inane. The splendor (numen) of the gods appears, and the quiet seats which are not shaken by storm-winds nor aspersed by rain-clouds; nor does the whitely falling snow-flake, with its hoar rime, violate their summery warmth, but an ever-cloudless ether laughs above them with widespread radiance." Lucretius had all these lineaments of his Epicurean heaven from old Homer. They are scattered up and down the "Ilias" and "Odusseia" in the shape of disjecta membra. For instance, the Olympus which he beholds through a chasm in the walls of the universe, towering into the pure empyrean, has some of the features of Homer's island Elysiums, the blissful abodes of mortal heroes who have been divinized or translated. The Celtic island-valley of Avalon, the abode of King Arthur, "with its orchard-lawns and bowery hollows," so exquisitely alluded to by Tennyson, is a kindred spot with the Homeric Elysian plain. Emerson says, "The race of gods, or those we erring own, are shadows floating up and down in the still abodes." This is exactly the meaning of Lucretius also. They are all air-cities, these seats of the celestials, whatever be the creed,—summery, ethereal climes, fanned with spice-winds and zephyrs. Meru, Kaf, Olympus, Elboorz,—they are all alike. The ethnic superior daemons were well termed the powers of the air. Upward into the far blue gazes the weary and longing saint and devotee of every faith. Beyond the azure curtains of the sky, upward into the pure realm, over the rain-cloud and the thunder and the silver bars of the scirrhus, he places his quiet seats, his mansions of rest.
The German poet, Schiller, who was a worshipper of Art and sensualistic beauty, and who regarded the sciences as the mere handmaids of Art, exalting the aesthetic above the moral nature in man, quite naturally regretted that he had not lived in the palmy days of the anthropomorphic creed of Hellas, before the dirge of Pan was chanted in the Isle of Naxos. His "Gods of Greek Land" is as fine a piece of heathenish longing as could well be written at so late a day. His heart was evidently far away from the century in which he lived, and pulsated under that distant Grecian sky of which he somewhere speaks. For artistic purposes the myths of Greece formed a glorious faith. Grace and symmetry of form were theirs, and they satiated the eye with outward loveliness; but to the deep fountains of feeling and sentiment, such as a higher faith has unsealed in the heart, they never penetrated. What a poor, narrow little world was that myth-haunted one of the Grecian poet and sculptor, and even philosopher, compared with the actual world which modern science is revealing from year to year! What a puny affair was that Grecian sun, with its coachman's apparatus of reins, fire-breathing nags, and golden car, which Schiller looks back to, in the spirit of Mr. Weller, Senior, when compared with the vast empyreal sphere and light-fountain of modern science, with its retinue of planets, ships of space, freighted with souls! Science the handmaid of Art! Well might the mere artist and worshipper of anthropomorphic beauty shrink appalled, and sigh for a lodge under some low Grecian heaven and in the bosom of some old myth-peopled Nature, as he trembled before the apocalypses of modern sidereal science, which has dropped its plummet to unimaginable depths through the nebulous abysses of space, shoaled with systems of worlds as the sea is with its finny droves. The Nature and the Physical Universe of the old ethnic Greek formed only a little niche and recess, on the walls of which the puny human image was easily reflected in beautiful and picturesque and grotesque shadows, which were mistaken for gods. But the Nature and Universe revealed by modern Christian science are too vast and profound to mirror anything short of the image of the Omnipotent himself.
Still there is a period in the life of every imaginative youth, when he is a pagan and worships in the old Homeric pantheon,—where self-denial and penance were unknown, and where in grove and glen favored mortal lover might hear the tread of "Aphrodite's glowing sandal." The youthful poet may exclaim with Schiller,—
"Art thou, fair world, no more? Return, thou virgin-bloom on Nature's face! Ah, only on the minstrel's magic shore Can we the footstep of sweet Fable trace! The meadows mourn for the old hallowing life; Vainly we search the earth of gods bereft; Where once the warm and living shapes were rife, Shadows alone are left! Cold, from the North, has gone Over the flowers the blast that chilled their May; And, to enrich the worship of the One, A universe of gods must pass away! Mourning, I search on yonder starry steeps, But thee, no more, Selene, there I see! And through the woods I call, and o'er the deeps, And—Echo answers me." [Bulwer's Translation.]
The Elysian beauty and melancholy grace which Wordsworth throws over the shade of Alcestis were gleams borrowed from a better world than the mythic Elysium. Neither Olympus nor Erebus disdained the pleasures of sense.
Shakspeare, in his "Midsummer-Night's Dream," has mingled the mythologies of Hellas and Scandinavia, of the North and the South, making of them a sort of mythic olla podrida. He represents the tiny elves and fays of the Gothic fairyland, span-long creatures of dew and moonshine, the lieges of King Oberon, and of Titania, his queen, as making an irruption from their haunted hillocks, woods, meres, meadows, and fountains, in the North, into the olive-groves of Ilissus, and dancing their ringlets in the ray of the Grecian Selene, the chaste, cold huntress, and running by the triple Hecate's team, following the shadow of Night round the earth. Strangely must have sounded the horns of the Northern Elfland, "faintly blowing" in the woods of Hellas, as Oberon and his grotesque court glanced along, "with bit and bridle ringing," to bless the nuptials of Theseus with the bouncing Amazon. Strangely must have looked the elfin footprints in the Attic green. Across this Shakspearean plank, laid between Olympus and Asgard, or more strictly Alfheim, we gladly pass from the sunny realm of Zeus into that of his Northern counterpart, Odin, who ought to be dearer and more familiar to his descendants than the Grecian Jove, though he is not. The forms which throng Asgard may not be so sculpturesquely beautiful, so definite, and fit to be copied in marble and bronze as those of Olympus. There may be more vagueness of outline in the Scandinavian abode of the gods, as of far-off blue skyey shapes, but it is more cheerful and homelike. Pleasantly wave the evergreen boughs of the Life-Tree, Yggdrasil, the mythic ash-tree of the old North, whose leaves are green with an unwithering bloom that shall defy even the fires of the final conflagration. Iduna, or Spring, sits in those boughs with her apples of rejuvenescence, restoring the wasted strength of the gods. In the shade of its topmost branches stands Asgard, the abode of the Asen, who are called the Rafters of the World,—to wit, Odin, Thor, Freir, and the other higher powers, male and female, of the old Teutonic religion. In Asgard is Valhalla, the hall of elect heroes. The roots of this mundane ash reach as far downwards as its branches do upwards. Its roots, trunk, and branches together thrid the universe, shooting Hela, the kingdom of death, Midgard, the abode of men, and Asgard, the dwelling of the gods, like so many concentric rings.
This ash was a psychological and ontological plant. All the lore of Plato and Kant and Fichte and Cousin was audible in the sigh of its branches. Three Norns, Urt, Urgand, and Skuld, dwelt beneath it, so that it comprehended time past, present, and future. The gods held their councils beneath it. By one of its stems murmured the Fountain of Mimir, in Niflheim or Mistland, from whose urn welled up the ocean and the rivers of the earth. Odin had his outlook in its top, where kept watch and ward the All-seeing Eye. In its boughs frisked and gambolled a squirrel called Busybody, which carried gossip from bough to root and back. The warm Urdar Fountain of the South, in which swam the sun and moon in the shape of two swans, flowed by its celestial stem in Asgard. A tree so much extended as this ash of course had its parasites and rodentia clinging to it and gnawing it; but the brave old ash defied them all, and is to wave its skywide umbrage even over the ruins of the universe, after the dies irae shall have passed. So sings the Voluspa. This tree is a worthy type of the Teutonic race, so green, so vigorous, so all-embracing. We should expect to find the chief object in the Northern myth-world a tree. The forest was ever dear to the sons of the North, and many ancient Northern tribes used to hold their councils and parliaments under the branches of some wide-spreading oak or ash. Like its type, Yggdrasil, the Teutonic race seems to be threading the earth with the roots of universal dominion, and, true to hereditary instincts, it is belting the globe with its colonies, planting it, as it were, with slips from the great Mundane Ash, and throwing Bifroest bridges across oceans, in the shape of telegraph-cables and steamships.
Asgard is a more homelike place than Olympus. Home and fireside, in their true sense, are Teutonic institutions. Valhalla, the hall of elect heroes, was appropriately shingled with golden shields. Guzzlers of ale and drinkers of lagerbier will be pleased to learn that this Northern Valhalla was a sort of celestial beer-saloon, thus showing that it was a genuine Teutonic paradise; for ale would surely be found in such a region. In the "Prose Edda," Hor replies to Gangler—who is asking him about the board and lodgings of the heroes who had gone to Odin in Valhalla, and whether they had anything but water to drink—in huge disdain, inquiring of Gangler whether he supposed that the Allfather would invite kings and jarls and other great men, and give them nothing to drink but water. How do things divine and supernatural, when conceived of by man and cast in an earthly, finite mould, necessarily assume human attributes and characteristics! Strong drinks, the passion of the Northern races in all ages, are of course found in their old mythic heaven, in their fabled Hereafter,—and even boar's flesh also. The ancient Teuton could not have endured a heaven with mere airy, unsubstantial joys. There must be celestial roasts of strong meat for him, and flagons of his ancestral ale. His descendants to this day never celebrate a great occasion without a huge feed and corporation dinners, thus establishing their legitimate descent from Teutonic stock. The Teutonic man ever led a life of vigorous action; hence his keen appetite, whetted by the cold blasts of his native North. What wonder, then, at the presence of sodden boar's flesh in his ancient Elysium, and of a celestial goat whose teats yielded a strong beverage? The Teuton liked not fasting and humiliation either in Midgard or Asgard. He was ever carnivorous and eupeptic. We New Englanders are perhaps the leanest of his descendants, because we have forsaken too much the old ways and habits of the race, and given ourselves too much to abstractions and transcendentalism. The old Teuton abhorred the abstract. He loved the concrete, the substantial. The races of Southern Europe, what are now called the Latin races, were more temperate than the Teutonic, but they were far less brave, honest, and manly. Their sensuality might not be so boisterous, but it was more bestial and foul. Strength and manliness, and a blithe, cheery spirit, were ever the badges of the Teuton. But though originally gross and rough, he was capable of a smoother polish, of a glossier enamel, than a more superficial, trivial nature. He was ever deeply thoughtful, and capable of profounder moods of meditation than the lightly-moved children of the South. Sighs, as from the boughs of Yggdrasil, ever breathed through his poetry from of old. He was a smith, an artificer, and a delver in mines from the beginning. The old Teutonic Pan was far more musical and awe-inspiring than his Grecian counterpart The Noon-spirit of the North was more wild than that of the South. How all the ancient North was alive in its Troll-haunted hillocks, where clanged the anvil of the faery hill-smith, and danced and banqueted the Gnome and Troll,—and in its streams and springs, musical with the harps of moist-haired Elle-women and mermaids, who, ethnic daemons though they were, yet cherished a hope of salvation! The myth-spirits of the North were more homely and domestic than those of the South, and had a broader humor and livelier fancies. The Northern Elf-folk were true natives of the soil, grotesque in costume and shape.
The Teuton of to-day is the lineal descendant of the old worshipper of Thor. Mioellnir, the hammer of Thor, still survives in the gigantic mechanisms of Watt, Fulton, and Stephenson. Thor embodied more Teutonic attributes than Odin. The feats which Thor performed in that strange city of Utgard, as they are related in the old "Prose Edda," were prophetic of the future achievements of the race, of which he was a chief god. Thor once went on a journey to Joetunheim, or Giant-land,—a primitive outlying country, full of the enemies of the Asgard dynasty, or cosmical deities. In the course of the journey, he lodged one night with his two companions in what he supposed to be a huge hall, but which turned out to be the glove of a giant named Skrymir, who was asleep and snoring as loud as an earthquake, near by. When the giant awoke, he said to Thor, who stood near,—"My name is Skrymir, but I need not ask thy name, for I know that thou art the god Thor. But what hast thou done with my glove?" Sure enough, on looking, Thor found that he had put up that night in Skrymir's handshoe, or glove. The giant and Thor breakfasted amicably together and went on their way till night, when Skrymir gave up his wallet of provisions to Thor and his two companions, and bade them supply themselves,—he meanwhile composing himself to sleep, snoring so loudly that the forest trembled. Thor could not undo the giant's wallet, and in his wrath he smote the somnolent lubber with his mallet, a crushing blow. Skrymir simply awoke, and inquired whether a leaf had not fallen upon his head from the oak-tree under which he was lying. Conceive the chagrin and shame of Thor at this question! A second time Thor let fly at the giant with his mallet. This time it sank into his skull up to the handle, but with no more satisfactory result. The giant merely inquired whether an acorn had not dropped on his head, and wanted to know how Thor found himself, whether he slept well or not; to which queries Thor muttered an answer, and went away, determined to make a third and final effort with his mallet, which had never failed him until then. About daybreak, as Skrymir was taking his last snooze, Thor uplifted his hammer, clutching it so fiercely that his knuckles became white. Down it came, with terrific emphasis, crushing through Skrymir's cheek, up to the handle. Skrymir sat up and inquired if there were not birds perched on the tree under which he had been lodging; he thought he felt something dropping on his head,—some moss belike. Alas for Thor and his weapon! For once he found himself worsted, and his mightiest efforts regarded as mere flea-bites; for Skrymir's talk about leaves and acorns and moss was merely a sly piece of humor, levelled at poor crestfallen Thor, as he afterwards acknowledged. After this incident, Thor and his two companions, the peasant's children, Thjalfi and Roeska, and Skrymir went their ways, and came to the high-gated city of Utgard, which stood in the middle of a plain, and was so lofty that Thor had to throw back his head to see its pinnacles and domes. Now Thor was by no means small; indeed, in Asgard, the city of the AEsir, he was regarded as a giant; but here in Utgard Skrymir told him he had better not give himself any airs, for the people of that city would not tolerate any assumption on the part of such a mannikin!
Utgard-Loki, the king of the city, received Thor with the utmost disdain, calling him a stripling, and asked him contemptuously what he could do. Thor professed himself ready for a drinking-match. Whereupon Utgard-Loki bade his cup-bearer bring the large horn which his courtiers had to drain at a single draught, when they had broken any of the established rules and regulations of his palace. Thor was thirsty, and thought he could manage the horn without difficulty, although it was somewhat of the largest. After a long, deep, and breathless pull which he designed as a finisher, he set the horn down and found that the liquor was not perceptibly lowered. Again he tried, with no better result; and a third time, full of wrath and chagrin, he guzzled at its contents, but found that the liquor still foamed near to the brim. He gave back the horn in disgust. Then Utgard-Loki proposed to him the childish exercise of lifting his cat. Thor put his hands under Tabby's belly, and, lifting with all his might, could only raise one foot from the floor. He was a very Gulliver in Brobdignag. As a last resort, he proposed to retrieve his tarnished reputation by wrestling with some Utgardian; whereupon the king turned into the ring his old nurse, Elli, a poor toothless crone, who brought Thor to his knees, and would have thrown him, had not the king interfered. Poor Thor! The next morning he took breakfast in a sad state of mind, and owned himself a shamefully used-up individual. The fact was, he had strayed unconsciously amongst the old brute powers of primitive Nature, as he ought to have perceived by the size of the kids they wore. He had done better than he was aware of, however. The three blows of his hammer had fallen on nothing less than a huge mountain, instead of a giant, and left three deep glens dinted into its surface; the drinking-horn, which he had undertaken to empty, was the sea itself, or an outlet of the sea, which he had perceptibly lowered; while the cat was in reality the Midgard Serpent, which enringed the world in its coils, and the toothless she-wrestler was Old Age! What wonder that Thor was brought to his knees? On finding himself thus made game of, Thor grew wroth, but had to go his ways, as the city of Utgard had vanished into thin air, with its cloud-capped towers and enormous citizens. Thor afterwards undertook to catch the Midgard Serpent, using a bull's head for bait. The World-Snake took the delicious morsel greedily, and, finding itself hooked, writhed and struggled so that Thor thrust his feet through the bottom of his boat, in his endeavors to land his prey.
There is a certain grotesque humor in Thor's adventures, which is missed in his mythologic counterpart of the South, Hercules. It is the old rich "world-humor" of the North, genial and broad, which still lives in the creations of the later Teutonic Muse. The dints which Thor made on the mountain-skull of Skrymir were types and forerunners of the later feats of the Teutonic race, performed on the rough, shaggy, wilderness face of this Western hemisphere, channelling it with watery highways, tunnelling and levelling its mountains, and strewing its surface with cities. The old Eddas and Voluspas of the North are full of significant lore for the sons of the Northmen, wherever their lot is cast. There they will find, that, in colonizing and humanizing the face of the world, in zoning it with railroads and telegraph-wires, in bridging its oceans with clipper-ships, and steamboats, and in weaving, forging, and fabricating for it amid the clang of iron mechanisms, they are only following out the original bent of the race, and travelling in the wake of Thor the Hammerer.
While the Grecian and Roman myths are made familiar by our school-books, it is to be regretted that the wild and glorious mythic lore of our ancient kindred is neglected. To that you must go, if you would learn whence came
"the German's inward sight, And slow-sure Britain's secular might,"
and it may be added, the Anglo-American's unsurpassed practical energy, skill, and invincible love of freedom. From the fountains of the ash-tree Yggdrasil flowed these things. Some of the greatest of modern Teutonic writers have gone back to these fountains, flowing in these wild mythic wastes of the Past, and have drunk inspiration thence. Percy, Scott, and Carlyle, by so doing, have infused new sap from the old life-tree of their race into our modern English literature, which had grown effete and stale from having had its veins injected with too much cold, thin, watery Gallic fluid. Yes, Walter Scott heard the innumerous leafy sigh of Yggdrasil's branches, and modulated his harp thereby. Carlyle, too, has bathed in the three mystic fountains which flow fast by its roots. In an especial manner has the German branch of the Teuton kindred turned back to those old musical well-springs bubbling up in the dim North, and they have been strengthened and inspired by the pilgrimage. "Under the root, which stretches out towards the Joetuns, there is Mimir's Well, in which Wisdom and Wit lie hidden." Longfellow, too, has drunk of Mimir's Well, and hence the rare charm and witchery of his "Evangeline," "Hiawatha," and "Golden Legend." This well in the North is better than Castalian fount for the children of the North.
How much more genial and lovable is Balder, the Northern Sun-god, than his Grecian counterpart, the lord of the unerring bow, the Southern genius of light, and poesy, and music! Balder dwelt in his palace of Breidablick, or Broadview; and in the magical spring-time of the North, when the fair maiden Iduna breathed into the blue air her genial breath, he set imprisoned Nature free, and filled the sky with silvery haze, and called home the stork and crane, summoning forth the tender buds, and clothing the bare branches with delicate green. "Balder is the mildest, the wisest, and the most eloquent of all the AEsir," says the "Edda." A voice of wail went through the palaces of Asgard when Balder was slain by the mistletoe dart. Hermod rode down to the kingdom of Hela, or Death, to ransom the lost one. Meantime his body was set adrift on a floating funeral pyre. Hermod would have succeeded in his mission, had not Lok, the Spirit of Evil, interposed to thwart him. For this, Lok was bound in prison, with cords made of the twisted intestines of one of his own sons; and he will remain imprisoned until the Twilight of the Gods, the consummation of all things.
On the shoulders of Odin, the supreme Scandinavian deity, sat two ravens, whispering in his ears. These two ravens are called Hugin and Munin, or Thought and Memory. These "stately ravens of the saintly days of yore" flew, each day, all over the world, gathering "facts and figures," doubtless for their August master. It is a beautiful fable, and reminds one of Milton's "thoughts which wander through eternity." The dove of the Ark, and the bird which perched on the shoulder of the old Plutarchan hero Sertorius, are recalled by this Scandinavian legend:—
"Hugin and Munin Each down take their flight Earth's fields over."
Nobler birds, these dark ravens of the Northern Jove, than the bolt-bearing eagle of his Grecian brother. So much deeper, more significant, and musical are the myths of the stern, dark, and tender North than those of the bright and fickle South!
Notwithstanding that Valhalla was full of invincible heroes, and that the celestial city of Asgard was the abode of the chief gods, still it had a watchman who dwelt in a tower at the end of the Bridge Bifroest. Heimdall was his name, and he was endowed with the sharpest ear and eye that ever warder possessed. He could hear grass and wool grow with the utmost distinctness. The AEsir, notwithstanding their supreme position, had need of such a warder, with his Gjallar-horn, mightier than the Paladin Astolfo's, that could make the universe reecho to its blast. The truth was, over even the high gods of Asgard hung a Doom which was mightier than they. It was necessary for them to keep watch and ward, therefore, for evil things were on their trail. There were vast, mysterious, outlying regions beyond their sway: Niflheim or Mistland, Muspellheim or Flameland, and Joetunheim, the abode of the old earth-powers, matched with whom, even Thor, the strongest of the Asen, was but a puny stripling. Over this old Scandinavian heaven, as over all ethnic celestial abodes, the dark Destinies lorded it with unquestioned sway. From the four corners of the world, at last, were to fly the snow-flakes of the dread Fimbul, Winter, blotting the sun, and moaning and drifting night and day. Three times was Winter to come and go, bringing to men and gods "a storm-age, a wolf-age." Then cometh Ragnaroek, the Twilight of the Gods! Odin mounts his war-steed. The vast ash Yggdrasil begins to shiver through all its height. The beatified heroes of Valhalla, who have ever been on the watch for this dread era, issue forth full of the old dauntless spirit of the North to meet the dread agents of darkness and doom. Garm, the Moonhound, breaks loose, and bays. "High bloweth Heimdall his horn aloft. Odin counselleth Mimir's head." The battle joins. In short, the fiery baptism prophesied in the dark scrolls of Stoic sage and Hebrew and Scandinavian scald alike wraps the universe. The dwarfs wail in their mountain-clefts. All is uproar and hissing conflagration.
"Dimmed's now the sun; In ocean earth sinks; From the skies are cast The sparkling stars; Fire-reek rageth Around Time's nurse, And flickering flames With heaven itself shall play."
By "Time's nurse," in the foregoing lines from the "Voluspa," is meant the Mundane Tree Yggdrasil, which shall survive unscathed, and wave mournfully over the universal wreck. But in the "Edda" Hor tells Gangler that "another earth shall appear, most lovely and verdant, with pleasant fields, where the grain shall grow unsown. Vidar and Vali shall survive. They shall dwell on the Plain of Ida, where Asgard formerly stood. Thither shall come the sons of Thor, bringing with them their father's mallet. Baldur and Hoedur shall also repair thither from the abode of Death. There shall they sit and converse together, and call to mind their former knowledge and the perils they underwent."
Perhaps we might give the Eddaic Twilight of the Gods a more human and strictly European interpretation. May it not also foreshadow the great Armageddon struggle which is evidently impending between the Teutonic races in Western Europe, with their Protestantism, free speech, individual liberty, right of private judgment, and scorn of all thraldom, both material and mental, on the one side, and the dark powers of absolutism, repression, and irresponsible authority in church and state, on the other? How Russia, the type of brute-force, presses with crushing weight on intellectual Germany! Soon she will absorb the old kingdoms of Scandinavia,—to wit, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. On the shores of Norway the ruler of the Sclavonic race will hang over Scotland and England, like a bird of prey about to swoop upon his victim. All despots and absolutists will array themselves under his banner or be his auxiliaries. The old hierarchies will be banded with him to crush out Protestantism, which is a plant of Teutonic growth. Old Asia, with her rancor and despotic traditions, recognizes in the Russian imperial rule a congenial rallying-point against the progressive and hated Anglo-Saxonism and Protestantism of the West. A decisive struggle is surely impending between freedom and absolutism, between the bigoted adherents of the old faiths and the nations that have cut loose from them. Perhaps this struggle may be prefigured in the old Northern myth of the Twilight of the Gods.
All the old mythic cosmogonies are strangely suggestive and full of mystic import,—that of Northern Odinism more than any other. In that dim Niflheim, for instance, with its well-springs of the waters of the upper world confusedly bubbling, and its metallic ore-veins, and dusk, vaporous atmosphere, whence issued the old Nibelungen heroes of the great Teutonic epos, there is much that is suggestive. May not one discover in this old cosmogonic myth a dim hint of the nebular hypothesis of creation, as it is called? Certainly, Niflheim, the Mistland, and Muspellheim, the Flameland, commingled together, would produce that hot, seething, nebulous fire-mist, out of which, the physicists say, was evolved, by agglomeration and centrifugal and centripetal attraction, our fair, harmonious system of worlds bounded by outermost Neptune, thus far the Ultima Thule of the solar system. Perhaps Asgard, translated from mythic into scientific language, means the Zodiacal Light, and the Bridge Bifroest, the Milky Way.
How curious, to trace in the grotesque mythic cosmogonies of India, Greece, and Scandinavia, modern geology, botany, chemistry, etc.,—the vast and brutal giants of the Eddas and other old mythic scriptures being recognized as impersonations of the forces of Nature! The old mythic cosmogonists and the modern geologists and astronomers do not differ amongst themselves so much, after all. The mythic physicists had personal agents at work, in place of our simple elemental ones; the result is the same. Take the mythic cosmogonies of ancient Greece, Scandinavia, and India, and the geologies and astronomies of the present day, and compare their pages, changing things personal into things impersonal. The expulsion and banishment of the old shapeless mundane deities by a new and more beautiful race of gods, the cosmical divinities, the powers and rulers of an ordered world, are intelligible enough when translated into our modern geological nomenclature. The leaves of the Stone Book, as the rocky layers of the earth have been called, and the blue hieroglyphic page of heaven, also, are more intelligibly read by the aid of the mythic glosses of old religion, of Saga, Rune, and Voluspa. They spell the telluric records aright in their own peculiar language. The assaults of the Typhons and Joetuns upon the celestial dynasty, and their attempts to scale the fiery citadels of the gods by making ladders of mountains, indicate clearly enough the different revolutions read by geology in the various strata and rocky layers piled upon the primitive granite of the globe, the bursting through of eruptions from the central fire, extruding and uplifting mountains, and the subsidence of the ocean from one ripple-marked sea-beach to another lower down. In those dim geologic epochs, where annals are written on Mica Slate, Clay Slate, and Silurian Systems, on Old Red Sandstones and New, on Primary and Secondary Rocks and Tertiary Chalk-beds, there were topsy-turvyings amongst the hills and gambollings and skippings of mountains, to which the piling of Pelion upon Ossa was a mere cobblestone feat. Alps and Apennines then played at leap-frog. Vast basaltic masses were oftentimes extruded into the astonished air from the very heart and core of the world. In truth, the old mythic cosmogonies of the ancient East, South, and North are not a whit too grotesque in their descriptions of the embryo earth, when it lay weltering in a sort of uterine film, assuming form and regular lineaments.
There is nothing more drear, monstrous, wild, dark, and lonely in the descriptions of the mythologic than of the scientific page. What more wild and drear is there, even in Indian cosmogonic fable, than that strange carbonigenous era of the globe, whose deposits, in the shape of petrified forests, now keep us warm and cook our food, and whose relics and souvenirs are pressed between the stone leaves of the secondary rock for preservation by the Omnipotent Herbalist? Land and water were then distinguishable,—but as yet there was no terrestrial animal, nothing organic but radiata and molluscs, holly-footed and head-footed, and other aquatic monstrosities, mailed, plated, and buckler-headed, casting the shovel-nosed shark of the present Cosmos entirely into the shade, in point of horned, toothed, and serrated horrors. These amorphous creatures glided about in the seas, and vast sea-worms, or centipedal asps, the parents of modern krakens and sea-serpents, doubtless, accompanied them. There stood that unfinished world reeking with charcoal fumes, its soft, fungous, cryptogamic vegetation efflorescing with fierce luxuriance in that ghastly carbonic atmosphere. Rudimental palms and pines of mushroom growth stood there motionless, sending forth no soft and soul-like murmurs into the lurid reek; for as yet leaves and flowers and blue skies and pure breezes were not,—nothing but whiffs of mephitic and lethal vapor ascending, as from a vast charcoal brazier. No lark or linnet or redbreast or mocking-bird could live, much less warble, in those carbonic times. The world, like a Mississippi steamer, was coaling, with an eye to the needs of its future biped passengers. The embryotic earth was then truly a Niflheim, or Mistland,—a dun, fuming region. Those were the days, perhaps, when Nox reigned, and the great mundane egg was hatching in the oven-like heat, from which the winged boy Eros leaped forth, "his back glittering with golden plumes, and swift as eddying air." We have it on good authority, that the Adirondack Mountains of New York, and the Grampian Hills of Scotland, where Norval was to feed his flocks, had already upheaved their bare backs from the boiling caldrons of the sea, thus stealing a march on the Alps and many other more famous mountains.
How opposite and remote from each other are the mythologic ages and the nineteenth century! The critical and scientific spirit of the one is in strange contrast with the credulous, blindly reverent spirit of the other. Mythology delegated the government of the world to inferior deities, the subjects of an omnipotent Fate or Necessity; while, to show how extremes meet, mere science delegates it to chemical and physiological agencies, and ends, like the mythic cosmogonies, in some irrepressible spontaneous impulse of matter to develope itself in the ever-changing forms of the visible universe. Myriads of gods were the actors in "the rushing metamorphosis" of the old myth-haunted Nature; while chemic and elemental forces perform the same parts in the masquerade of the modern Phasis. Both mythology and science, therefore, stick fast in secondary causes.
Myths are the religion of youth, and of primitive, unsophisticated nations; while science may be called the religion of the mature man, full of experience and immersed in the actual. The Positivism of Comte, like the old myth-worship, sets up for its deity human nature idealized, adorned with genius and virtue. The Positivist worships virtuous human nature, conditioned and limited as it is; while the Mythist worshipped it reflected on the outer world and endowed with supernatural attributes, clothed with mist-caps and wishing-caps that gave it dominion over space and time. The restless, glittering, whimsical sprites of fairy mythology, that were believed of old to have so large a share in shaping the course of Nature and of human life, have vanished from the precincts of the schoolmaster at least. They could not endure the clear eyebeam of Science, which has searched their subterranean abodes, withering them up and metamorphosing them into mere physiological forces. Reason and scientific investigation have no patience with the things of faith and imagination. Our poets now have to go back to the Past, to the standpoints of the old pagan bards. Tennyson lives in the land of the Lotophagi, in the Arabian Nights of the Bagdad of Caliph Haroun, and in the orchard lawns of King Arthur's Avalon. So, too, Longfellow must inhale the golden legendary air of the Past. The mere humanitarian bards, who try to make modern life trip to the music of trochees, dactyles, and spondees, fail miserably. Industrialism is not poetical. Our modern life expresses itself in machines, in mathematical formulas, in statistics and with scientific precision generally. Art and poetry are pursued in the spirit of past ages, and concern themselves with the symbols, faiths, and ideal creations of the Past.
It is true, however, that all past ages of the world are contemporaneous in this age. For example, we have in this nineteenth century the patriarchal age of the world still surviving in the desert tents of the Arab,—while the mythic, anthropomorphic period is still extant in Persia, China, and India, and even among the nations of the West, in the rustic nooks and corners of the Roman Catholic countries of Europe. But the existing nations, which still preserve that old ethnic worship and the mediaeval superstitions, are mere lingerers and camp-followers in the march of humankind. Under the ample skirts of the Roman Church still cower and lurk the superstitions of the old ethnic world, baptized to be sure, and called by new names. The Roman see has ever had a lingering kindness for the fair humanities of old religion, which live no longer in the faith of Protestant reason and free inquiry. She compromised with them of old, and they have clung about her waist ever since. She has put her uniform upon them, and made them do service in her cause, and keep alive with their breath the fast expiring embers of faith and imaginative credulity, which she so much loves and commends. Like an equivocal and ambiguous nature, the old Mother Church, as she is called, is upward fair and Christian, but downward foul and ethnic. She attacks human nature on the side of the heart, the senses, and those old instincts which Coleridge says bring back the old names. Reason and intellection, sharpened by science, she abhors; but so large a part of mankind still linger in the rear of the vanguard nations, that she has yet a long lease of life to run, with myriads of adherents to cling to her with fanatical tenacity,—nay, with proselytes from amongst the poetical, the artistic, and imaginative, who voluntarily prefer to the broad sunshine of science the twilight gloom of her sanctuaries, in order there the better to woo the old inspiration of art, superstitious faith, and poesy. The old ethnic instincts of human nature are formidable auxiliaries of the Mother Church. Puseyism would rehallow the saintly wells even of Protestant, practical England, and send John Bull again on a pilgrimage to the shrines of Canterbury and Walsingham. Compare a Yankee, common-school-bred, and an Austrian peasant, if you would learn how the twelfth and nineteenth centuries live together in the current year. The one is self-reliant, helpful, and versatile, not freighted with any old-world rubbish; while the other is abject, and blindly reverent, and full of the old mythic imagination that is in strong contrast with the keen common-sense of the Protestant, who dispels all twilight fantasies with a laugh of utter incredulity. The one sees projected on the outer world his own imaginings, now fair, now gloomy; while the other sees in the world, land to be cut up into corner-lots for speculation, and water for sawmills and cotton-mills, and to float clipper-ships and steamers. The one is this-worldly; the other is other-worldly. The one is armed and equipped at all points to deal with the Actual, to subdue it and make the most of it; he aims for success and wealth, for elegance, plenty, and comfort in his home;—while the other is negligent, a frequenter of shrines, in all things too superstitious, overlooking and slighting mere physical comfort, and content with misery and dirt. The Romish peasant lives begirt by supernatural beings, who demand a large share of his time and thoughts for their service; while the thrifty Protestant artisan or agriculturist is a practical naturalist, keeping his eye fixed on the main chance. Brownson would have us believe that he is morally and spiritually the inferior of the former. For this light of common day, which now shines upon the world, the multiplication-table, and reading and writing, are far better than amulet, rosary, and crucifix.
After all, this light of common day, which the bards and saints so much condemn and disdain, when subjected to the microscopic and telescopic ken of modern science, opens as large a field for wonder and for the imagination to revel in as did the old marvels, fables, and fictions of the Past. The True is beginning to be found as strange, nay, stranger than the purely Imaginative and Mythic. The Beautiful and the Good will yet be found to be as consistent with the strictly True and Actual, with the plain Matter-of-Fact as it is called, as they have been, in the heroic ages of human-achievement and endurance, with the glorious cheats and delusions that nerved man to high emprise. The modern scientific discoverer and inventor oftentimes finds himself engaged in quests as strange as that of the Holy Grail of Round-Table fiction. To the Past, with its mythic delusions, simplicity, and dense ignorance of Nature, we can never return, any more than the mature man can shrink into the fresh boy again. Nor is it to be regretted. The distant in time, like the distant in space, wears a halo, a vague, blue loveliness, which is all unreal. The tired wayfarer, who is weary with the dust, the din, and stony footing of the Actual and the Present, may sometimes fondly imagine, that, if he could return to the far Past, he would find all smooth and golden there; but it is a pleasant delusion of that glorious arch-cheat, the Imagination. Yet if we cannot go back to the Past, we can march forward to a Future, which opens a deeper and more wondrous and airier vista, with its magicians of the Actual casting into shade the puny achievements of old necromancy and mythic agencies.
* * * * *
Yes! I had, indeed, a glorious revenge! Other people have had home, love, happiness; they have had fond caresses, tender cares, the bright faces of children shining round the board. I had none of these; my revenge has stood to me in place of them all. And it has stood well.
Love may change; loved ones may die; the fair-faced children may grow up hard-hearted and ungrateful. But my revenge will not deceive or disappoint me; it cannot change or pass away; it will last through Time into Eternity.
I was left an orphan in early childhood. My father was an officer in the American Navy; my mother a Spaniard. She was very beautiful, I always heard; and her miniature, which my father's dying hand placed about my neck, proclaimed her so. A pale, clear, olive tint, eyes of thrilling blackness, long, lustrous hair, and a look of mingled tenderness and melancholy made it, in my thought, the loveliest face that mortal eyes could see.
My parents left me no fortune, and I fell to the care of my father's only brother, a man of wealth and standing. I have no story to tell of the bitterness of dependence,—of slights, and insult, and privation. My uncle had married, somewhat late in life, a young and gentle woman; when I was twelve years old she became the mother of twins,—two lovely little girls. No one, unacquainted with the family history, could have supposed that I was other than the elder sister of Florence and Leonora. Every indulgence was granted me, every advantage of dress and education bestowed upon me. So far as even I could see, my uncle and aunt regarded me as their own child. Nor was I ungrateful, but repaid them with a filial reverence and affection.
I did not inherit the fulness of my mother's beauty, but had yet some traits of her,—the pale, clear skin, the large, black eyes, the glossy and abundant hair. Here the resemblance ceased. I have heard my uncle say,—how often!—"Your mother, Juanita, had the most perfect form I ever saw, except in marble"; all Spanish women, indeed, he told me, had a full, elastic roundness of shape and limb, rarely seen among our spare and loose-built nation. I was American in form, at least,—slight and stooping, with a certain awkwardness, partly to be imputed to my rapid growth, partly to my shyness and reserve. I was insatiably fond of reading, little attracted toward society. When my uncle's house, as often happened, was full of gay company, I withdrew to my own room, and read my favorite authors in its pleasant solitude. I was ill at ease with lively, fashionable people,—very much at home with books. Thanks to my uncle's care, I was well educated, even scholarly, for my age and sex. My studious habits, far from being discouraged, were praised by all the household, and I was looked upon as a prodigy of cleverness and industry.
A widow lady, of the name of Haughton, came to live in the little cottage near us when I was fifteen years old. She was well-born, but poor, and had known many sorrows. My aunt, Mrs. Heywood, soon became interested in her, and took pleasure in offering her those numerous attentions which a wealthy neighbor can so easily bestow, and which are so grateful to the recipient. Mrs. Haughton and her sons were frequent guests at our house; and we, too, spent many pleasant hours in the vine-covered porch of the cottage. I had few companions, and John and William Haughton were very welcome to me. They were somewhat older than I,—John twenty-two, and William two years younger; and I was thus just able to escape regarding them with that profound contempt which the girl of fifteen usually feels for "boys." After knowing them awhile I felt how baseless such contempt would be; for they possessed a depth and maturity of character rarely seen except in men of much experience. John was grave and thoughtful; his livelier brother often said he had come into the world some centuries too late,—that he was meant for an Augustine or a Pascal, so studious was he, and so saintly. Do not fancy that he was one of those stiff, bespectacled, pedantic youths who cannot open their lips without a classic allusion or a Greek quotation; nothing could be farther from the truth. He was quiet and retiring; very few guessed how beneath that exterior, so unassuming, lay hid the noblest aspirations, the most exalted thought. It was John I should have loved.
But it was William who won my heart, even without an effort. I, the pale, serious girl, loved with a wild idolatry the gay and careless youth. Never, from that day till now, have I seen a man so perfect in all manly beauty. Strength and symmetry were united in his tall, athletic figure; his features were large, but nobly formed; his hair, of a sunny hue, fell in rich masses over a broad, white brow. So might Apollo have looked in the flush of his immortal youth.
At first I gazed at him only with the enthusiasm which his extreme beauty might well awaken in the heart of a romantic maiden; then I grew to see in the princely type of that beauty a reflection of his mind. Did ever any fond fool so dote upon her Ideal as I on mine? All generous thoughts, all noble deeds, seemed only the fit expression of his nature. Then I came to mingle a reverence with my admiration. We were friends; he talked to me much of his plans in life,—of the future that lay before him. What an ambitious spirit burned within him!—a godlike ambition I thought it then. And how my weak, womanish heart thrilled with sympathy to his! With what pride I listened to his words! with what fervor I joined in his longings!
There came a time when I trembled before him. I could no longer walk calmly arm-in-arm with him under the linden-trees, hearkening joyfully. I dared not lift my eyes to his face; I turned pale with suppressed feeling, if he but spoke my name—Juanita—or took my hand in his for friendly greeting. What a hand it was!—so white, and soft, and shapely, yet so powerful! It was the right hand for him,—a fair and delicate seeming, a cruel, hidden strength. When he spoke of the future my heart cried out against it; it was intolerable to me. In its bright triumphs I could have no part; thereto I could follow him only with my love and tears. The present alone was mine, and to that I passionately clung. For I never dreamed, you see, that he could love me.
My manner toward him changed; I was fitful and capricious. I dreaded, above all things, that he should suspect my feelings. Sometimes I met him coldly; sometimes I received his confidences with an indifferent and weary air. This could not last.
One night—it was a little time before he left us—he begged me to walk with him once more under the lindens. I made many excuses, but he overruled them all. We left the brilliantly-lighted rooms and stood beneath the solemn shadow of the trees. It was a warm, soft night; the harvest moon shone down upon us; a south wind moaned among the branches. We walked silently on till we reached a rustic seat, formed of gnarled boughs fantastically bound together; here he made me sit down and placed himself beside me.
"Juanita," he said, in a tone so soft, so thrillingly musical, that I shall never forget it, "what has come between us? Are you no longer my friend?"
I tried to answer him, and could not; love and grief choked my utterance.
"Look at me," he said.
I looked. The moon shone full on his face; his eyes were bent on mine. What a serpent-charm lurked in their treacherous blue depths! If, looking at me thus, he had bidden me kill myself at his feet, I must have done it.
"Juanita," he said, with a smile of conscious power, "you love me! But why should that destroy our happiness?"
He held out his arms; I threw myself on his bosom in an agony of shame and joy. Oh, Heaven! could it be possible that he loved me at last?
Long, long, we sat there in the moonlight, his arms around me, my hand clasped in his. Poor hand! even by that faint radiance how dark and thin it looked beside his, so white and rounded! How gloriously beautiful was he! what a poor, pale shadow I! And yet he loved me! He did not talk much of it; he spoke more of the future,—our future. It all lay before him, a bright, enchanted land, wherein we two should walk together. We had not quite reached it, but we surely should, and that ere long.
The steps toward it were prosaic enough, save as his imagination brightened them. An early friend of his dead father, a distinguished lawyer, wishing to further William's advancement in life, gave him the opportunity of studying his profession with him,—offering him, at the same time, a home in his own family. From these slender materials William's fancy built air-castles the most magnificent. He would study assiduously; with such a prize in view, he fondly said, his patience would never weary. He felt within himself the consciousness of talent; and talent and industry must succeed. A bright career was before him,—fame, fortune; and all were to be laid at my feet; all would be valueless, if not shared with me.
"Ah, William," I asked, with a moment's sorrowful doubt, "are you sure of that? Are you certain that it is not fame you look forward so eagerly to possess, instead of me?"
"How dare you say such a thing?" he answered, sternly. I did not mind the sternness; there was love behind it.
"And what am I to do while you are thus winning gold and glory?" I asked, at length.
"I will tell you, Juanita. In the first place, you are not to waste your time and spirits in long, romantic reveries, and vain pining because we cannot be together."
"Indeed, I will not!" was my quick reply, though I colored deeply. I was ashamed that he thought me in danger of loving him too well. "I know you think me foolish and sentimental; but I assure you I will try to be different, since you wish it."
"That is my own dear girl! You must go out,—you must see people,—you must enjoy yourself. You must study, too; don't let your mind rust because you are engaged. It will be quite time enough for that when we are married."
"You need not be afraid; I shall always wish to please you, William, and so I shall always endeavor to improve."
"Good child!" he said, laughing. "But you will not always be such an obedient infant, Juanita. You will find out your power over me, and then you will want to exercise it, just for the pleasure of seeing me submit. You will be despotic about the veriest trifles, only to show me that my will must bow to yours."
"That will never be! I have no will of my own, where you are concerned, William. I only ask to know your wishes, that I may perform them."
"Is that indeed so?" he said, with a new tenderness of manner. "I am very glad; for, to tell the truth, my love, I fear I should have little patience with womanish caprices. I have reasons always for what I do and for what I require, and I could not long love any one who opposed them."
Again I assured him that he need feel no such dread. How happy we were!—yes, I believe he loved me enough then to be happy, even as I was.
It was so late before we thought of going in, that a messenger was sent to seek us, and many a fine jest we had to encounter when we reached the drawing-room.
The next day, William spoke to my uncle, who seemed to regard the matter in a light very different from ours. He said, we were a mere boy and girl, that years must elapse before we could marry, and by that time we should very probably have outgrown our liking for each other; still, if we chose, we might consider ourselves engaged; he did not know that he had any objection to make. This manner of treating the subject was not a flattering one; however, we had his consent,—and that was the main point, after all.
So we were troth-plight; and William went forth on his career of labor and success, and I remained at home, loving him, living for him, striving to make my every act what he would have it. I went into company as he had bidden me; I studied and improved myself; I grew handsomer, too. All who saw me noticed and approved the alteration in my appearance. I was no longer awkward and stooping; my manner had acquired something of ease and gracefulness; a faint bloom tinged my cheek and made my dark eyes brighter. I was truly happy in the change; it seemed to render me a little more suited to him, who was so proudly, so splendidly handsome.
I remembered what he had said too well to spend much time in love-dreams; but my happiest moments were when I was alone, and could think of him, read his letters, look at his picture, and fancy the joyfulness of his return.
His letters!—there the change first showed itself. At first they were all, and more than all, I could wish. I blushed to read the ardent words, as I did when he had spoken them. But by-and-by there was a different tone: I could not describe it; there was nothing to complain of; and yet I felt—so surely!—that something was wrong. I never thought of blaming him; I dreaded lest I had in some way wounded his affection or his pride. I asked no explanation; I thought to do so might annoy or vex him, for his was a peculiar nature. I only wrote to him the more fondly,—strove more and more to show him how my whole heart was his. But the change grew plainer as months passed on; and some weeks before the time appointed for his return, the letters ceased altogether.
This conduct grieved me, certainly, yet I was more perplexed than unhappy. It never occurred to me to doubt his love; I thought there must be some mistake, some offence unwittingly given, and I looked to his coming to clear away all doubt and trouble. But I longed so for that coming!—it seemed as if the weeks would never end. I knew he loved me; but I needed to hear him say it once more,—to have every shadow dispelled, and nothing between us but the warmest affection and fullest confidence.
In such a mood I met him. The house was full of guests, and I could not bear to see him for the first time before so many eyes. I had watched, as may well be believed, for his arrival, and a little before dark had seen him enter his mother's house. He would surely come over soon; I ran down the long walk, and paced up and down beneath the trees, awaiting him. As soon as he came in sight I hastened toward him; he met me kindly, but the change that had been in his letters was plainer yet in his manner. It struck a chill to my heart.
"I suppose you have a house full of company, as usual," he remarked presently, glancing at the brilliant windows.
"Yes, we have a number of friends staying with us. Will you go in and see them? There are several whom you know."
"Thank you,—not to-night; I am not in the mood. And I have a good deal to say to you, Juanita, that deeply concerns us both."
"Very well," I replied; "you had better tell me at once."
We walked on to the old garden-chair, and sat down as we had done that memorable night. We were both silent,—I from disappointment and apprehension. He, I suppose, was collecting himself for what he had to say.
"Juanita," he spoke at last, taking my hand in his, "I do not know how you will receive what I am about to tell you. But this I wish you to promise me: that you will believe I speak for our best happiness, —yours as well as mine."
"Go on," was all my reply.
"A year ago," he continued, "we sat here as we do now, and, spite of doubts and misgivings and a broken resolution, I was happier than I shall ever be again. I had loved you from the first moment I saw you, with a passion such as I shall never feel for any other woman. But I knew that we were both poor; I knew that marriage in our circumstances could only be disastrous. It would wear out your youth in servile cares; it would cripple my energies; it might even, after a time, change our love to disgust and aversion. And so, though I believed myself not indifferent to you, I resolved never to speak of my love, but to struggle against it, and root it out of my heart. You know how differently it happened. Your changed manner, your averted looks, gave me much pain. I feared to have offended you, or in some way forfeited your esteem. I brought you here to ask an explanation. I said, 'Juanita, are you no longer my friend?' You know what followed; the violence of your emotion showed me all. You remember?"
Did I not?—and was it not generous of him to remind me then?
"I saw you loved me, and the great joy of that knowledge made me forget prudence, reason, everything. Afterwards, when alone, I tried to justify to myself what I had done, and partially succeeded. I argued that we were young and could wait; I dreamed, too, that my ardor could outrun time, and grasp in youth the rewards of mature life. In that hope I left you.
"Since then my views have greatly changed. I have seen something—not much, it is true—of men and of life, and have found that it is an easy thing to dream of success, but a long and difficult task to achieve it. That I have talent it would be affectation to deny; but many a poor and struggling lawyer is my equal. The best I can hope for, Juanita, is a youth of severe toil and griping penury, with, perhaps, late in life,—almost too late to enjoy it,—competence and an honorable name. And even that is by no means secure; the labor and the poverty may last my life long.
"You have been reared in the enjoyment of every luxury which wealth can command. How could you bear to suffer privations, to perform menial labors, to be stinted in dress, deprived of congenial society, obliged to refrain from every amusement, because you were unable to afford the expense? How should you like to have a grinding economy continually pressing upon you, in every arrangement of your household, every detail of your daily life? to have your best days pass in petty cares and sayings, all your intellect expended in the effort to make your paltry means do the greatest possible service?"
It was not a pleasant picture, but, harshly drawn as it was, I felt in the fulness of my love that I could do all that, and more, for him. Oh, yes! for him and with him I would have accepted any servitude, any suffering. Yet a secret something withheld me from saying so; and how glad I soon was that I had kept silence!
"You make no reply, Juanita," he said. "Well, I might put on a pretence of disinterestedness, and say that I was unwilling to bind you to such a fate, and therefore released you from your engagement. It would not be altogether a pretence, for nothing could be more painful to me than to see the brightness of your youth fading away in the life I have described. But I think of myself, too; comforts, luxuries, indulgences, I value highly. Since my father's death I have tasted enough of poverty to know something of its bitterness; and to be doomed to it for life is appalling to me. The sordid cares of narrow means are so distasteful, that I cannot contemplate them with any degree of patience. After a day of exhausting mental effort, to return to a dingy, ill-furnished home,—to relieve professional labors by calculations about the gas-bill or the butcher's account,—I shrink from such a miserable prospect! I love the elegant, the high-bred, the tasteful, in women; I am afraid even my love for you would alter, Juanita, to see you day by day in coarse or shabby clothing, performing such offices as are only suited to servants,—whom we could not afford to keep.
"I have thought of it a great deal, and it seems to me that it is useless and hopeless, that it would be the wildest folly, to continue our engagement. With our tastes and habits, we must seek in marriage the means of comfort, the appliances of luxury. Others may find in it the bewildering bliss we might have known, had fortune been favorable to us; but, as it is, I think the best, the wisest, the happiest thing we can do is—to part!"
Oh, Heaven! this from him!
"Still, Juanita, if you think otherwise," he went on after a moment's pause,—"if you prefer to hold me to our engagement, I am ready to fulfil it when you wish."
It was like a man to say this, and then to feel that he had acted uprightly and honorably!
I said nothing for a time; I could not speak. All hell woke in my heart. I knew then what lost spirits might feel,—grief, and wounded pride, and rage, hatred, despair! In the midst of all I made a vow; and I kept it well!
How I had loved this man!—with what a self-forgetting, adoring love! He had been my thought, day and night. I would have done anything,—sacrificed, suffered anything,—yes, sinned even,—to please his lightest fancy. And he cast me coldly off because I had no fortune!—trampled my heart into the dust because I was poor!
"You make no answer, Juanita," he said, at length.
"I am thinking," I replied, looking up and laughing slightly, "how to say that I quite agree with you, and have been planning all day how I should manage to tell you the very same thing."
Miserable falsehood! But I spoke it so coolly, that he was thoroughly deceived. He never suspected the truth,—my deep love, my outraged pride.
"It is just as you have said, William. We have elegant tastes, and no means of gratifying them. What should we do together? Only make each other miserable. You need a rich wife, I a rich husband, who can supply us with the indulgences we demand. To secure these we can well make the sacrifice of a few romantic fancies."
"I am glad you think so," he replied, yet somewhat absently.
"You must wait awhile for Florence," I continued; "she is four years old, and twelve years hence you will yet be quite a personable individual. And Florence will have a fortune worth waiting for, I assure you. Or perhaps you have somebody more eligible already in view. Come, William, be frank,—tell me all about it."
"I did not expect this levity, Juanita," he answered, severely. "You must know that I have never thought of such a thing. And believe me," he said, in a tenderer tone, "that, among all the beautiful women I have seen,—and some have not disdained to show me favor,—none ever touched my heart for a moment. Had we any reasonable prospect of happiness, I could never give you up; I love you better a thousand times than anything in the world."
"Except yourself," I said, mockingly; and I looked at him with a mischievous smile, while a storm of passion raged in my heart and my brain seemed on fire. "Be it so! I do not complain of such a splendid rival. But really, William, I cannot boast of constancy like yours, even; though I suppose most people would consider that rather a poor, flawed specimen. It hurt my dignity very much when Uncle Heywood called our attachment a boy-and-girl affair; but I soon found that he knew best about it. For a time I kept my love very warm and glowing; but it was not long ere the distractions you bade me seek in society proved more potent than I wished. I found there were other things to be enjoyed than dreams of you, and even—shall I confess it? I can now, I suppose—other people to be admired as well as you!"
"Indeed!" he said, with ill-concealed annoyance. "You had a great talent for concealment, then; your letters showed no trace of the change."