A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. II.—DECEMBER, 1858.—NO. XIV.
THE IDEAL TENDENCY.
We are all interested in Art; yet few of us have taken pains to justify the delight we feel in it. No philosophy can win us away from Shakspeare, Plato, Angelo, Beethoven, Goethe, Phidias,—from the masters of sculpture, painting, music, and metaphor. Their truth is larger than any other,—too large to be stated directly and lodged in systems, theories, definitions, or formulas. They suggest and assure to us what cannot be spoken. They communicate life, because they do not endeavor to measure life. Philosophy will present the definite; Art refers always to the vast,—to that which cannot be comprehended, but only enjoyed and adored. Art is the largest expression. It is not, like Science, a basket in which meat and drink may be carried, but a hand which points toward the sky. Our eyes follow its direction, and our souls follow our eyes. Man needs only to be shown an open space. He will rise into it with instant expansion. We are made partakers of that illimitable energy. Only poetry can give account of poetry, only Art can justify Art; and we cannot hope to speak finally of this elastic Truth, to draw a circle around that which is vital, because it has in it something of infinity,—but we may hope to remove a doubt growing out of the very largeness which exalts and refreshes us. Art is not practical. It offers no precept, but lies abroad like Nature, not to be grasped and exhausted. Neither is it anxious about its own reception, as though any man could long escape the benefit which it brings. Every principle of science, every deduction of philosophy, is a tool. Our very religion, as we dare to name it, is a key which opens the heavens to admit myself and family. Art offers only life; but perhaps that will appear worth taking without looking beyond. Can we look beyond? Life is an end in itself, and so better than any tool.
What is that which underlies all arts as their essence, the thing to be expressed and celebrated? What is poetry, the creation from which the artist is named? We shall answer boldly: it is no shaping of forms, but a making of man. Nature is a plenum, is finished, and the Divine account with her is closed; but man is only yet a chick in the egg. With him it is still the first day of creation, and he has not received the benediction of a completed work. And yet the completion is involved and promised in our daily experience. Man is a perpetual seeker. He sees always just before him his own power, which he must hasten to overtake. He weighs himself often in thought; yet it is not his present, but a presumptive value, of which he is taking account. We are continually entering into our future, and it is so near us, we are already in every hour so full of it, that we draw without fraud on the credit of to-morrow. The student who has bought his first law-book is already a great counsellor. With the Commentaries he carries home consideration and the judicial habit. Some wisdom he imbibes through his pores and those of the sheepskin cover. Now he is grave and prudent, a man of the world and of authority; but if he had chosen differently, and brought home the first book of Theology, his day would have been tinted with other colors. For every choice carries a future involved in itself, and we begin to taste that when we take our course toward it. The habit of leaning forward and living in advance of himself has made its mark upon every man. We look not at the history or performance of the stranger, but at his pretensions. These are written in his dress, his air and attitude, his tone and occupation. The past is already nothing, the present is sliding away; to know any man, we must keep our eyes out in advance on the road he is following. For man is an involuntary, if not a willing traveller. Time does not roll from under his feet, but he is carried along with the current, and can never again be where or what he was. Nothing in his experience can ever be quite repeated. If you see the same trees and hills, they do not appear the same from year to year. Yesterday they were new and strange; you and they were young together. To-day they are familiar and disregarded. Soon they will be old friends, prattling to gray hairs of the brown locks and bounding breath of youth.
The pioneer of our growth is Imagination. Desire and Hope go on before into the wilderness of the unknown; they open paths; they make a clearing; they build and settle firmly before we ourselves in will and power arrive at this opening, but they never await our coming. They are the "Fore-runners," off again deeper into the vast possibility of being. The boy walks in a dream of to-morrow. Two bushels of hickory-nuts in his bag are no nuts to him, but silver shillings; yet neither are the shillings shillings, but shining skates, into which they will presently be transmuted. Already he is on the great pond by the roaring fire, or ringing away into distant starry darkness with a sparkling brand. Already, before his first skates are bought, before he has seen the coin that buys them, he is dashing and wheeling with his fellows, a leader of the flying train.
That early fore-reaching is a picture of our entire activity. "Care is taken," said Goethe, "that the trees do not grow into the sky"; but man is that tree which must outgrow the sky and lift its top into finer air and sunshine. The essential seed is Growth; not shell and bark, nor kernel, but a germ which pierces the soil and lifts the stone. Spirit is such a germ, and perpetual reinforcement is its quality; so that the great Being is known to us as a becoming Creator, adding himself to himself, and life to life, in perpetual emanation.
The boy's thought never stops short of some personal prowess. It is ability that charms him. To be a man, as he understands manliness, is to have the whole planet for a gymnasium and play-ground. He would like to have been on the other side of Hydaspes when Alexander came to that stream. But he soon discovers that wit is the sword of sharpness,—that he is the ruler who can reach the deepest desire of man and satisfy that. If there is power in him, he becomes a careful student, examines everything, examines his own enthusiasm, examines his last examination, tries every estimate again and again. He distrusts his tools, and then distrusts his own distrust, lifting himself by the very boot-straps in his metaphysics, to get at some foundation which will not move. He will know what he is about and what is great. He puts Caesar, Milton, and Whitfield into his crucible; but that which went in Caesar comes out a part of himself. The bold yet modest young chemist is egotistical. He cannot be anybody else but John Smith. Why should he? Who knows yet what it is to be John Smith? Napoleon and Washington are only playing his own game for him, since he so easily understands and accepts their play. A boy reads history as girls cut flowers from old embroidery to sew them on a new foundation. They are interested in the new, and in the old only for what they can make of it. So he sucks the blood of kings and captains to help him fight his own battles. He reads of Bunker's Hill and the Declaration of Independence with constant reference to the part he shall take in the politics of the world. His motto is, Sic semper tyrannis! Benjamin Franklin, and after him John Smith,—perhaps a better man than he. We live on that perhaps. Every great man departed has played out his last card, has taken all his chances. We are glad to see his power limited and scaled up. Shakspeare, we say, did not know everything; and here am I alone with the universe, nothing but a little sleepiness between me and all that Shakspeare and Plato knew or did not know. If I should be jostled out of my drowsiness, who can tell what may be given me to see, to say, or to do? Let us make ready and get upon some high ground from which we may overlook the work of the world; for the secret of all mastery is dormant, yet breathing and stirring in you and me.
Out of such material as we can gather we make a world in which we walk continually up and down. In it we find friends and enemies, we love and are loved, we travel and build. In it we are kings; we ordain and arrange everything, and never come away worsted from any encounter. For this sphere arises in answer to the practical question, What can I be and do? It is an embodiment of the force that is in me. Every dreamer, therefore, goes on to see himself among men and things which he can understand and master, with which he can deal securely. The stable-boy has hid an old volume among the straw, and he walks with Portia and Desdemona while he grooms the horses. Already in his smock-frock he is a companion for princes and queens. But the rich man's son, well born, as we say, in the great house yonder, has one only ambition in life,—to turn stable-boy, to own a fast team and a trotting-wagon, to vie with gamesters upon the road. That is an activity to which he is equal, in which his value will appear. Both boys, and all boys, are looking upward, only from widely different levels and to different heights.
The young blasphemer does not love blasphemy, but to have his head and be let alone by Old Aunty, who combs his hair as if he were a girl. So always there is some ideal aim in the mixed motive. Out of six gay young men who drive and drink together, only one cares for the meat and the bottle. With the rest this feasting gallantly on the best, regardless of expense, is part of a system. It is in good style, is convivial. For these green-horns of society to live together, to be convivae, is not to think and labor together, as wise men use, but to laugh and be drunken in company.
Into the lowest courses there enters something to keep the filth from overwhelming self-respect. The advocates of slavery have not, as it appears, lost all pretence of honor and honesty. Thieves are sustained by a sense of the injustice of society. They do but right an old wrong, taking bravely what was accumulated by cautious cunning. They cultivate many virtues, and, like the best of us, make much of these, identify themselves with these. If a man is harsh and tyrannical, he regrets that he has too much force of character. And it is not safe to accuse a harlot of stealing and lying. She has her ideal also, and strives to keep the ulcer of sin within bounds,—to save a sweet side from corruption.
Is this stooping very low to look for the Ideal Tendency? The greater gain, if we find it prevailing in these depths. We may doubt whether thieves and harlots are subject to the same law which irresistibly lifts us, for we know that our own sin is not quite like other sin. But I must not offer all the cheerful hope I feel for the worst offenders, because too much faith passes for levity or impiety; and men thank God only for deliverance from great dangers, not for preservation from all danger. For gratitude we must not escape too easily and clean, but with some smell of fire upon us.
Yet in our own experience this planning what we shall do and become is constant, and always we escape from the present into larger air. The boy will not be content with that skill in skating which occupies his mind to-day. That belongs to the day and place, but next year he goes to the academy and fresh exploits engage him. He works gallantly in this new field and harness, because his thought has gone forward again, and he sees through these studies the man of thought. Already as a student he is a philosopher, a poet, a servant of the Muse. Bacon and Milton look kindly on him in invitation, he is walking to their company and in their company. The young hero-worshipper cannot remain satisfied with mere physical or warlike prowess. He soon sees the superiority of mental and moral mastery, of creation of good counsel. He will reverence the valiant reformer who brings justice in his train, the saint in whom goodness is enamored of goodness, the gentleman whose heart-beat is courtesy, the prophet in whom a religion is born, all who have been inspired with liberal, not dragged by sordid aims.
How beautiful to him is the society of poets! He reads with idolatry the letters and anecdotes of Coleridge and Wordsworth, Goethe and Schiller, Beethoven and Raphael. Look at the private thought of these men in familiar intercourse: no plotting for lucre, but a conspiracy to reach the best in life. The saints are even more ardent in aspiration, for their tender hearts were pressed and saddened by fear. They are now set on fire by a sense of great redemption. They are prisoners pardoned.
For scholars the world is peopled only with saints, philosophers, and poets, and the studious boy seeks his own amid their large activity. So much of it meets his want, yet the whole does not meet all his want. He must combine and balance and embrace conflicting qualities. Every day his view enlarges. What was noble last year will now by no means content his conscience. Duty and beauty have risen.
The Ideal Tendency characterizes man, affords the only definition of him; and it is a perpetual, irresistible expansion. No matter on what it fastens, it will not stay, but spreads and soars like light in the morning sky.
To-day we are charmed with our partners, and think we can never tire of Alfred and Emily. To-morrow we discover without shame, after all our protestations and engagements, that their future seems incommensurate with our own. To our surprise, they also feel their paths diverging from ours. We part with a show of regret, but real joy to be free.
Both parties have gained from their intercourse a certainty of power and promise of greater power. Silly people fill the world with lamentation over human inconstancy; but if we follow love, we cannot cling to the beloved. We must love onward, and only when our friends go before us can we be true both to friendship and to them.
How eager and tremulous his excitement when at last the youth encounters all beauty in a maiden! Now he is on his trial. Can he move her? for he must be to her nothing or all. How stately and far-removed she seems in her crystal sphere! All her relations are fair and poetic. Her book is not like another book. Her soft and fragrant attire, can it be woven of ribbons and silk? She, too, has dreamed of the coming man, heroic, lyrical, impassioned; the beat of his blood a paean and triumphal march; a man able to cut paths for her and lead her to all that is worthiest in life. Her day is an expectation; her demand looks out of proud eyes. Can he move this stately creature, pure and high above him as the clear moon yonder, never turning from her course,—this Diana, who will love upward and stoop to no Endymion? Now it will appear whether he can pass with another for all he is to himself. This will be the victory for which he was born, or blackest defeat. If she could love him! If he should, after all, be to her only such another as her cousin Thomas, who comes and goes with all his pretensions as unregarded as Rover the house-dog! Between these ifs he vacillates, swung like a ship on stormy waters, touching heaven and hell.
Meanwhile the maiden dares hardly look toward this generous new-comer, whose destiny lies broad open in his courage and desire. Others she could conciliate and gently allure, but she will not play with the lion. She will throw no web around his strength to tear her heart away, if it does not hold him. For the first time she guards her fancy. She will not think of the career that awaits him, of the help there is in him for men, and the honor that will follow him from them,—of the high studies, tasks, and companionship to which he is hastening. What avails this avoidance, this turning-away of the head? A fancy that must be kept is already lost. She read his quality in the first glance of deep-meaning eyes. When at last he speaks, she sees suddenly how beyond all recovery he had carried away her soul in that glance. They marry each the expectation of the other. It was a promise in either that shone so fair. Happy lovers, if only as wife and husband they can go on to fulfil the promise! For love cannot be repeated; every day it must have fresh food in a new object; and unless character is renewed, love must leave it behind and wander on.
If the wife is still aspiring,—if she lays growing demands on her hero,—if her thought enlarges and she stands true to it, separate from him in integrity as he saw her first, following not his, but her own native estimate,—she will always be his mistress. She will still have that charm of remoteness which belongs only to those who do not lean and borrow, to natures centred for themselves in the deep. There is something incalculable in such independence. It is full of surprise for the most intimate. In one breast the true wife prepares for her husband a course of loves. Every day she offers a new heart to be won. Every day the woman he could reach is gone, and there again before him is the inaccessible maiden who will not accept to-day the behavior of yesterday. This withdrawal and advancement from height to height is true virginity, which never lies down with love but keeps him always on foot and girded for fresh pursuit. Noble lovers rely on no pledges, point to no past engagements, but prefer to renew their relation from hour to hour. The heroic woman will command, and not solicit love. Let him go, when I cease to be all to him, when I can no longer fill the horizon of his imagination and satisfy his heart. But if there is less ascension in a woman, she is no mate for an advancing man. He must leave her; he walks by her side alone. So we pass many dear companions, outgrowing alike our loves and our fears.
Once or twice in youth we meet a man of sounding reputation or real wisdom, whose secret is hid above our discovery. His manners are formidable while we do not understand them. In his presence our tongues are tied, our limbs are paralyzed. Thought dies out before him, the will is unseated and vacillates, we are cowed like Antony beside Caesar. In solitude we are ashamed of this cowardice and resolve to put it away; but when the great man returns, our knees knock and we are as weak as before. It is suicide to fly from such mortification. A brave boy faces it as well as he can. By-and-by the dazzle abates, he sees some flaw, some coarseness or softness, in this shining piece of metal; he begins to fathom the motives and measure the orbit of this tyrannous benefactor. They are the true friends who daunt and overpower us, to whom for a little we yield more than their due.
This rule is universal, that no man can admire downward. All enthusiasm rises and lifts the subject of it. That which seems to you so base an activity is lifted above low natures. What matter, then, where the standard floats at this moment, since it cannot remain fixed?
Perfection retreats, as the horizon withdraws before a traveller, and lures us on and on. It even travels faster than our best endeavors can follow, and so beckons to us from farther and farther away. We may give ourselves to the ideal, or we may turn aside to appetite and sleep; but in every moment of returning sanity we are again on our feet and again upon an endless ascending road.
When a man has tasted power, when he sees the supply there is so near in Nature for all need, he hungers for reinforcement. That desire is prayer. It opens its own doors and takes supplies from God's hand. No wise man can grudge the necessary use of the mind to serve the body with shelter and food, for we go merrily to Nature, and with our milk we drink order, justice, beauty, and benignity. We cannot take the husks on which our bodies are fed, without expressing these juices also, which circulate as sap and blood through the sphere. We cannot touch any object but some spark of vital electricity is shot through us. Every creature is a battery, charged not with mere vegetable or animal, but with moral life. Our metaphysical being is fed from something hidden in rocks and woods, in streams and skies, in fire, water, earth, and air. While we dig roots, and gather nuts, and hunt and roast our meat, our blood is quickened not in the heart alone. Deeper currents are swelled. The springs of our humanity are opened in Nature; for that which streams through the landscape, and comes in at the eye and ear, is plainly the same fluid which enters as consciousness, and is the life by which we live. While we enjoy this spiritual refreshment and keep ourselves open to it, we may dig without degradation; but if our minds fasten on the thing to be done, on commodity and safety, on getting and having, those avenues seem to close by which the soul was fed. Then we forget our incalculable chances and certainties; we go mad, and make the mind a muck-rake. If a man will direct his faculties to any limited and not to illimitable ends, he cripples his faculties. No matter whether he is deluded by a fortune or a reputation or position, if he does not give himself wholly to grow and be a man, regardless of minor advantages, he has lost his way in the world. "Be true," said Schiller, "to the dream of thy youth." That dream was generous, not sordid. We must be surrendered to the perfection which claims us, and suffer no narrow aim to postpone that insatiable demand.
But the potency of life will bring back every wanderer, as he well knows. Every sinner keeps his trunk packed, ready to return to the good. The poor traders really mean to buy love with their gold. Feeling the hold of a chain which binds us even when we do not cling to it, we grow prodigal of time and power. The essence of life, as we enjoy it, is a sense of the inextinguishable ascending tendency in life; and this gives courage when there is yet no reverence or devotion.
In development of character is involved great change of circumstances. We cannot grow or work in a corner. It is not for greed alone or mainly that men make war and build cities and found governments, but to try what they can do and become, to justify themselves to themselves and to their fellows. We desire to please and help,—but still more, at first, to be sure that we can please and help. If he hears any man speak effectually in public, the ambitious boy will never rest till he can also speak, or do some other deed as difficult and as well worth doing. For the trial of faculty we must go out into the world of institutions, range ourselves beside the workers, take up their tools and strike stroke for stroke with them. Every new situation and employment dazzles till we find out the trick of it. The boy longs to escape from a farm to college, from college to the city and practical life. Then he looks up from his desk, or from the pit in the theatre, to the gay world of fashion,—harder to conquer than even the world of thought. At last he makes his way upward into the sacred circle, and finds there a little original power and a great deal of routine. These fine parts are like those of players, learned by heart. The men who invented them, with whom they were spontaneous, seem to have died out and left their manners with their wardrobes to narrow-breasted children, whom neither clothes nor courtesies will fit. So in every department we find the snail freezing in an oyster-shell. The judges do not know the meaning of justice. The preacher thinks religion is a spasm of desire and fear. A young man soon loses all respect for titles, wigs, and gowns, and looks for a muscular master-mind. Somebody wrote the laws, and set the example of noble behavior, and founded every religion. Only a man capable of originating can understand, sustain, or use any institution. The Church, the State, the Social System come tumbling ruinous over the heads of bunglers, who cannot uphold, because they never could have built them, and the rubbish obstructs every path in life. An honest, vigorous thinker will clear away these ruins and begin anew at the earth. When the boy has broken loose from home, and fairly entered the world that allured him, he finds it not fit to live in without revolutions. He is as much cramped in it as he was in the ways of the old homestead. Feeding the pigs and picking up chips did not seem work for a man, but he finds that almost all the activity of the race amounts to nothing more; no more thought or purpose goes into it. Men find Church and State and Custom ready-made, and they fall into the procession, ask no searching questions, but take things for granted without reason; and their imitation is as easy as picking up chips. It is no doing, but merely sliding down hill. The way of the world will not suit a valiant boy. To make elbow-room and get breathing-space, he becomes a reformer; and when now he can find no new worlds to conquer, he will make a world, laying in truth and justice every stone. The same seeker, who was so fired by the sight of his eyes, looking out from a mill-yard or a shoe-shop on the many-colored activity of his kind, who ran such a round of arts and sciences, pursuing the very secret of his being in each new enterprise, is now discontented with all that has been done. He begins again to look forward,—he becomes a prophet, instead of the historian he was. He easily sees that a true manhood would disuse our ways of teaching and worshipping, would unbuild and rebuild every town and house, would tear away the jails and abolish pauperism as well as slavery. He sees the power of government lying unused and unsuspected in spelling-books and Bibles. Now he has found a work, not for one finger, but for fighting Hercules and singing Apollo, worthy of Minerva and of Jove. He will try what man can do for man.
The history of every brave girl is parallel with that of her play-fellow and yoke-fellow. She sighs for sympathy, for a gallant company of youths and maidens worthy of all desire. Her music, drawing, and Italian are only doors which she hopes to open upon such a company. She longs for society to make the hours lyrical, for tasks to make them epic and heroic. The attitudes and actions of imaginative young persons are exalted every moment by the invisible presence of lovers, poets, inspired and inspiring companions. Such as they are we also shall be; when we walk among them and with them, we shall wash our hands of all injustice, meanness, and pretension. Women are as tired as men of our silly civilization, its compliments, restraints, and compromises. They feel the burden of routine as heavily, and keep their elasticity under it as long as we. What they cannot hope to do, a great-hearted man, some lover of theirs, shall do for them; and they will sustain him with appreciation, anticipating the tardy justice of mankind. Every generous girl shares with her sex that new development of feminine consciousness, which the vulgar have named, in derision, a movement for woman's rights. She will seek to be more truly woman, to assert her special power and privilege, to approach from her own side the common ideal, offering a pure soprano to match the manly bass.
We all look for a future, not only better than our won past, but better than any past. Humanity is our inheritance, but not historical humanity. Man seems to be broken and scattered all abroad. The great lives are only eminent examples of a single virtue, and by admiration of every hero we have been crippled on some one side. If he is free, he is also coarse; if delicate, he is overlaid by the gross world; saints are timid and feverish, afraid of being spattered in the first puddle; heroes are profane. We must melt up all the old metal to make a new man and carry forward the common consciousness. Every failure was part of the final success. We go over a causeway in which every timber is some soldier fallen in this enterprise. Who doubts the result doubts God. We say, regretfully "If I could only continue at my best!" and we ach with the little ebb, between wave and wave, of an advancing tide. But this tide is Omnipotence. It rises surely, if it were only an inch in a thousand years. The changes in society are like the geologic upheaval and sinking of continents; yet man is morally as far removed from the savage as he is physically superior to the saurian. We do not see the corn grow or the world revolve; yet if motion be given as the primal essence, we must look for inconceivable results. Wisdom will take care of wisdom, and extend. Consider the growth of intellect in the history of your own parish for twenty years. See how old views have died out of New England and new ones come in. Every man is fortified in his opinions, yet no man can hold his opinions. The closer they are hugged, the faster in any community they change. The ideas of such men as Swedenborg, Goethe, Emerson, float in the air like spores, and wherever they light they thrive. The crabbedest dogmatist cannot escape; for, if he open his eyes to seek his meet, some sunshine will creep in. We have combustibles stored in the stupidest of us, and a spark of truth kindles our slumbering suspicion. Since the great reality is organized in man, and waits to be revealed in him, it is of no avail to shut out the same reality from our ears. Thinkers have held to be dangerous, and excluded from the desks of public instruction; but the boys were already occupied with the same thoughts. They would hear nothing new at the lecture, and they are more encouraged by the terror of the elders than by any word the wise man could speak. In pursuit of truth, the difficulty is to ask a question; for in the ability to ask is involved ability to reach an answer. The serious student is occupied with problems which the doctors have never been able to entertain, and he knows that their discourse is not addressed to him. If you have not wit to understand what I seek, you may croak with the frogs: you are left out of my game.
And the old people, unhappily, suspect that this boy, whose theory they do not comprehend, is master of their theory. They are puzzled and panic-stricken; they strike in the dark. In all controversy, the strong man's position is unassailed. His adversary does not see where he is, but attacks a man of straw, some figment of his own, to the amusement of intelligent spectators. Always our combatant is talking quite wide of the whole question. So the wise man can never have an opponent; for whoever is able to face and find him has already gone over to his side. By material defences, we shut our light for a little, by going where only our own views are repeated, and so boxing ourselves from all danger of conviction; but if a strong thinker could gain the mere brute advantage of having an audience confined in their seats to hear him out, he would carry them all inevitably to his conclusion. They know it and run away. But the press has made our whole world of civilization one great lecture-room, from which no reading man can escape, and the only defence against progress is stolid preoccupation with trade or trifles. Yet this persistency is holding the breath, and can no more be continued in the mind than that in the body. Blundering and falsehood become intolerable to the blunderers; they must return to thought, and that is proper in a single direction, is approached by ten thousand avenues toward the One. It is religious, not ignorance or dogma. We cannot think without exploration of the divine order and recognition of its divinity, without finding ourselves carried away by it to service and adoration. All good is assured to us in Truth, and Truth follows us hard, drives us into many a corner, and will have us at last. So Love surprises all, and every virtue has a pass-key to every heart. Out of conflicting experience, amid barbarism and dogmatism, from feathers that float and stones that fall, we deduce the great law of moral gravitation, which binds spirit to spirit, and all souls to the best. Recognition of that law is worship. We rejoice in it without a taint of selfishness. We adore it with entire satisfaction. Worship is neither belief nor hope, but this certainty of repose upon Perfection. We explore over our heads and under our feet a harmony that is only enriched by dissolving discords. The drag of time, the cramp of organization, are only false fifths. It is blasphemy to deny the dominant. We cannot escape our good; we shall be purified. When our destiny is thus assured to us, we become impatient of sleep and sin, and redouble exertion. We devote ourselves to this certainty, and our allegiance is religion. There is nothing in man omitted from the uplift of Ideality. That is a central and total expansion of him, is an inmost entering into his inmost, is more himself than he is himself. All reverence is directed toward this Creator revealed in flesh, though not compassed. We adore him in others, while yet we despise him in ourselves. Every other motion of man has an external centre, is some hunger or passion, acts on us from its seat in Nature or the body, and we can face it, deny and repudiate it with the body; but this is the man flowing down from his source.
We must not be tempted to call things by too fine names, lest we should disguise them. All that is great is plain and familiar. The Ideal Tendency is simple love of life, felt first as desire and then as satisfaction. The men who represent it are not seekers, but finders, who go on to find more and more; for in the poet desire has fulfilled itself. Enjoyment makes the artist. He has gone on before us, reaching into the abyss of possibility; but he has reached more mightily. He begins to know what is promised in the universal attraction, in this eager turning of all faces toward our future. There is a centre from which no eye can be diverted, for it is the beam of sight. Look which way you will, that centre is everywhere. The universe is flooded with a ray from it, and the light of common day on every object is a refraction or reflection of that brightness.
Shallow men think of Ideality as another appetite, to be fed with pretty baubles, as the body is satisfied with meat and sleep; but the representative of that august impulse feels in it his immortality, and by all his lovely allegories, mythologies, fables, pictures, statues, manners, songs, and symphonies, he seeks to communicate his own feeling, that by specific gravity man must rise. It is no wonder, then, that we love Art while it offers us reinforcement of being, and despise the pretenders, for whom it is pastime, not prophecy.
For, in spite of all discouragement from the materialists, men stultified by trade or tradition, we have trusted the high desire and followed it thus far. We felt the sacredness of life even in ourselves, and there was always reverence in our admiration. We could not be made to doubt the divinity of that which walked with us in the wood or looked on us in the morning. The grasses and pebbles, the waters and rocks, clouds and showers, snow and wind, were too brother-like to be denied. They sang the same song which fills the breast, and our love for them was pure. The men and women we sought, were they not worthy of honor? The artist comes to bid us trust the Ideal Tendency, and not dishonor him who moves therein. He is no trifler, then, to be thrust aside by the doctors with their sciences, or the economists with production and use. He offers manhood to man and womanhood to woman.
We have named Ideality a love of life. Nay, what is it but life itself,—and that loving but true living? What word can have any value for us, unless it is a record of inevitable expansions in character. The universe is pledged to every heart, and the artist represents its promise. He sings, because he sees the manchild advancing, by blind paths it may be, but under sure guidance, propelled by inextinguishable desires toward the largest experience. He is no longer afraid of old bugbears. He feels for one, that nothing in the universe, call it by what ugly name you will, can crush or limit the lift of that leaven which works in the breast. Out of all eyes there looks on him the same expectation, and what for others is a great perhaps for him has become unavoidable certainty.
THE HOUR BEFORE DAWN.
"The mind of man is first led to adore the forces of Nature, and certain objects of the material world; at a later period, it yields to religious impulses of a higher and purely spiritual character."
Alpheus and Eleusa, Thessalian Greeks, travelled in their old age, to escape poverty and misfortune, which had surely taken joint lease with themselves of a certain hut among the hills, and managed both household and flock.
The Halcyon builds its nest upon a floating weed; so to the drifting fortunes of these wanderers clung a friendless child, innocent and beautiful Evadne.
Some secret voice, the country-people say, lured the shepherd from his home, to embark on the AEgean Sea, and lead the little one away, together with his aged wife, to look for a new home in exile. Mariners bound for Troas received them into their vessel, and the voyage began.
The Greeks lamented when they beheld the shores of Asia. Heavy clouds and the coming night concealed the landmarks which should have guided their approach, and, buffeted by the uncertain winds, they waited for the morning. By the light of dawn, they saw before them an unknown harbor, and the dwellings of men; and here the mariners determined to be rid of their passengers, who vexed them by their fears; while to these three any port seemed desirable, and they readily consented to put off towards the shore. At the hour when the winds rise, at early dawn, they gladly parted from the seamen and the tossing ship, and took the way before them to the little town.
No fisherman, shadowless, trod the sands; no pious hand lighted the fire of sacrifice in the vanishing twilight; even the herds failed to cry out for the coming day. Strange fears began to chill the hearts of the Thessalians. They walked upon a trackless way, and when they entered the dwellings they found them untenanted. Over the doorways hung vines dropping their grapes, and birds flew out at the open windows. They climbed a hill behind the town, and saw how the sea surrounded them. The land on which they stood was no promontory, but an island, separated by a foaming interval of water from the shore, which they now saw, not distant, but inaccessible.
Then these miserable ones clung to each other on the summit of the rock, gazing, until they were fully persuaded of their misfortune. The winds waved and fluttered their garments, the waters uttered a voice breaking on the rocky shore, and rose mute upon the farther coast. The rain now began to fall from a morning cloud, and the travellers, for the first time, found shelter under a foreign roof.
All day they watched the sails approaching the headlands, or veering widely away and beating towards unseen harbors, as when a bird driven by fear abandons its nest, but drawn by love returns and hovers around it. Four days and nights had passed before the troubled waves ceased to hinder the craft of the fisherman. The Greeks saw with joy that their signals were answered, and a boat approached, so that they could hear a man's voice crying to them,—
"What are you who dwell on the island of the profane, and gather fruits sacred to Apollo?"
"If I may be said to dwell here," replied the old man, "it is contrary to my own will. I am a Greek of Thessaly. Apollo himself should not have forbidden me to gather the wild grapes of this island, since I and this child and Eleusa, my wife, have not during many days found other food."
"It is indeed true," exclaimed the boatman, "that madness presently falls upon those who eat of these grapes, since you speak impious words against the god. Behold, yonder is woody Tenedos, where his altar stands; it is now many years, since, filled with wrath against the dwellers here, he seized this rock, and hurled it into the sea; the very hills melted in the waves. I myself, a child then, beheld the waters violently urged upon the land. Moved without winds, they rose, climbing upon the very roofs of the houses. When the sea became calm, a gulf lay between this and the coast, and what had been a promontory was left forever an island. Nor has any man dared to dwell upon it, nor to gather its accursed fruits. Many men have I known who saw gods walking upon this shore, visible sometimes on the high cliffs inaccessible to human feet. Therefore, if you, being a stranger, have ignorantly trespassed on this garden, which the divinities reserve, perhaps for their own pleasure, strive to escape their resentment and offer sacrifices on the altar of Tenedos."
"Give me a passage in your boat to the land yonder, and I will depart out of your coasts," replied the Greek.
The fisherman, hitherto so friendly, remained silent, and words were wanting to him wherewith to instruct the stranger. When he again spoke, he said,—
"Why, old man, not having the vigor or the carelessness of youth, have you quitted your home, leading this woman into strange lands, and this child, whose eyes are tearful for the playmates she has left? I call a little maid daughter, who is like unto her, and she remains guarded at home by her mother, until we shall give her in marriage to one of her own nation and language."
"Waste no more words," answered the old man, "I will narrate my story as we row towards your harbor."
"It were better for you," said the boatman, "that they who brought you hither should take you into their ship again. Enter our town, if you will, but be not amazed at what shall befall you. It is a custom with us to make slaves of those who approach us unsolicited, in order to protect ourselves against the pirates and their spies, who have formerly lodged themselves among us in the guise of wayfaring men, and so robbed us of our possessions. Therefore it is our law, that those who land on our coast shall, during a year, serve us in bondage."
Anger flamed in the eye of the stranger.
"You do well," he cried, "to ask of me why I left the land which bore me. Never did I there learn to suspect vile and inhospitable customs. If you have pity for the aged and the unfortunate, and would not gladly see them cast into slavery, bring hither some means of life to this rock, which cowards have abandoned for me. Meanwhile, I will watch for some friendly sail, which, approaching, may bear me to any harbor, where worse reception can hardly await me.—Know that I fear not the anger of your gods; many years have I lived, and I have never yet beheld a god. My father has told me, that, in all his wanderings, among lonely hills, at the hour of dawn, or by night, or, again, in populous places, he has never seen one whom he believed to be a god. Moreover, in Athens itself are those who doubt their existence. Leave me to gather the grapes of Apollo!"
So saying, he turned away from the shore, not deigning to ask more from the stranger.
When the golden crescent moon, no sooner visible than ready to vanish in the rosy western sky, was smiling on the exiles with the old familiar look she wore above the groves of Thessaly, the sad-hearted ones were roused again by the voice of their unknown friend.
"Come down to the shore," he cried; "I have returned to you with gifts; my heart yearns to the child; she is gentle, and her eyes are like those of the stag when the hunters surround him. Take my flasks of oil and wine, and these cakes of barley and wheat. I bring you nets, and cords also, which we fishermen know how to use. May the gods, whom you despise, protect you!"
Late into the night the Greeks remained upon the border of the sea, wondering at their strange fate. To the idle the day is never sufficiently long,—the night also is wasted in words.
The days which the exiles passed in solitude were not unhappy. The child Evadne pruned the large-leaved vines, and gave the rugged cheeks of certain melons to the sun. The continual hope of departure rendered all privations supportable.
Was it hope, or was it fear, that stirred their bosoms when at last a sail appeared not distant? They hoped that its white wings might turn seaward!
"Mother," cried the shepherd, "no seaman willingly approaches this shore, for the white waves warn him how the rocks He beneath the water. Even walls and roofs of houses are seen, or guessed at, ingulfed formerly by the sea; and the tale of that disaster, as told us by the fisherman, is doubtless known to mariners, who, fearing Apollo, dare not land upon this island. While, on the other hand, we have heard how pirates, and even poor wayfaring folk, are so ill-received in the bay, that from them, though they be not far off, we yet look for no assistance. Let us, then, be content, and cease to seek after our fate, which doubtless is never at rest from seeking after us. And let us not be in haste to enter again into a ship, (so fearful and unnatural a thing for those born to walk upon the land,) nor yet to beg our way along painful and unknown roads, in search of men of a new religion and a different language from that of Greeks. Neither, dear wife, if we must suffer it, let us dread slavery too much. Life is long enough for those who die young, and too long for the aged. One year let us patiently give, more especially if it be unavoidable to give it. Vex me with no more lamentations; some unforeseen accident may relieve us from our misfortunes."
Eleusa, the good old wife, ever obedient to the husband of her youth, talked no more of departure, nor yet complained of their miserable lodgings in the ruined huts, on which her housewifely care grieved to expend itself in vain.
Evadne would not be restrained from wandering. She penetrated alone the wildest thickets; the nests of timid birds were known to her; and she traced the bee to his hidden city. Deep in the woods she discovered a wide chasm, in which the water of the sea palpitated with the beating of the great heart of Ocean from which it flowed. Trees were still erect, clasped by the salt waves, but quite dead; and all around their base were hung fringes of marine growth, touched with prismatic tints when seen through the glittering water, but brown and hideous when gathered, as the trophy remaining in the hand which has dared to seize old Proteus by the locks. All around this avenue, into which the sea sometimes rushed like an invading host of armed men, the laurels and the delicate trees that love to bend over the sources of the forest-streams hung half-uprooted and perilously a-tiptoe over the brink of shattered rocks, and withered here and there by the touch of the salt foam, towards which they seemed nevertheless fain to droop, asking tidings of the watery world beyond.
The skeleton-arms of the destroyed ones were feeble to guard the passage of the ravine. Evadne broke a way over fallen trees and stepping-stones imbedded in sea-sand, and gained the opposite bank. The solitude in which she found herself appeared deeper, more awful, than before the chasm lay between the greater island and the less. She listened motionless to the soft, but continual murmur of the wood, the music of leaves and waves and unseen wings, by which all seeming silence of Nature is made as rich to the ear as her fabrics to the eye, so that, in comparison, the garments of a king are mean, though richly dyed, embroidered on every border, and hung with jewels.
While the little wood-ranger stood and waited, as it were, for what the grove might utter, her eye fell upon the traces of a pathway, concealed, and elsewhere again disclosed, overgrown by sturdy plants, but yet threading the shady labyrinth. She followed the often reappearing line upon the hillside, and as she climbed higher, with her rose the mountains and the sea. The shore, the sands, the rocky walls, showed every hue of sunbeams fixed in stone. The leafy sides of Tenedos had caught up the clear, green-tinted blue of the sea, and wore it in a noonday dream under the slumberous light that rested on earth and sea and sky. Above the horizon, far away, the very clouds were motionless; and where the sunbeams marked a tranquil sail, it seemed, with wave and cloud, to express only Eternal Repose. But the eager child pressed onward, for the crown of the hill seemed almost reached, and she longed for a wider, wider view of the beautiful AEgean.
Suddenly she arrived where a sculptured stone lay in the pathway. Some patient and skilful hand had wrought there the emblem of a rose, and among the chiselled petals stood drops of rain, collected as in a cup. On the border a pure white bird had just alighted, and Evadne watched how it bent and rose and seemed to caress the flower of stone, while it drank of the dew around and within it. Her eyes filled with tears as she mused on the vanished hand of Art, whose work Nature now reclaimed for this humble, but grateful use. The dove took wing, and the child proceeding came to a level turf where a temple of white marble stood. Eight slender columns upheld a marble canopy, beneath which stood the image of a god. One raised hand seemed to implore silence, while the other showed clasping fingers, but they closed upon nothing. Around the statue's base lay scattered stones. Evadne gathered them, and reunited they formed the lyre of Apollo. She replaced, for an instant, in the cold and constant grasp a fragment of the ruined harp. Then the aspect of the god became regretful, sad, as of one who desires a voice from the lips of the dead. Hastily she flung the charm away, and gentle grace returned to the listening boy, from whom, sleeping, some nymph might have stolen his lyre, whose complaining chords now vibrated to his ear and called their master to the pursuit. Evadne reposed on the steps of the temple, and fixedly gazed upon the god. Her fancy endowed the firm hand with an unbent bow; then the figure seemed to pause in the chase, and listen for the baying of the hounds. Then she imaged a shepherd's staff, and the shepherd-god waited tenderly for the voice of a lost lamb.
"So stood Apollo in Thessaly," she softly said, "when he carried the shepherd's staff. Oh that I were the lost Thessalian lamb for whom he waits, that he might descend and I die for joy on his breast!"
Then, half afraid that the lips might break their marble stillness in reply, she asked the protection of the deity, whom she was fain to adore, but whom her adopted parents dared to despise.
Sole worshipper at a deserted shrine, she had no offering to place there, but of flowers. She wove a crown and laid it at his feet, and, while she bent by the pedestal, to hang a garland there, oh, terror! a voice cried, "Evadne! Evadne!" A tide of fear rushed to her heart. The god stood motionless yet. Who could have uttered her name? A falling branch, a swift zephyr, may have seemed for an instant articulate, and yet it was surely a human voice which had called her. Her reverie was broken now, like a cataract brought to its downfall. A moment since, all was peace and joyfulness; now she remembered, with alarm, how long she had left her foster-parents alone, and the way by which she had come was unknown, as if she had never traced it. She crossed the floor of the temple, and, as she turned to whisper, "Farewell! beautiful god!" the form gently inclined itself, and the uplifted hand stirred lightly. Evadne darted forward and looked no more behind. She bounded over chasms in the pathway, and broke the tender branches before her with impatient hands, so that her descent from the temple was one mad flight.
When Evadne returned to Alpheus and to her foster-mother, she was silent concerning her discovery, and it seemed the more sweet to her for being secret. Her thoughts made pilgrimages to the temple hidden by the laurels once set to adorn it, and the deserted God of Youth and Immortal Beauty drew from her an untaught and voiceless worship. How tedious now appeared the labors of their half-savage life!—for the ensnaring of fish and the gathering of fruits for the little household gave the child no leisure to climb the hill a second time, to seek the lost temple, now all her own. Two weary days had passed, and on the morning of the third Evadne performed all her labors, such as they were, of field or of the house.
Eleusa was absorbed in the art, new to her, of repairing a broken net, when the child abruptly fled away into the forest, crying out, "I go to seek wild grapes." She would not hear the voices calling her back. She gained rapidly the path, already familiar, and wherein every bough and every leaf seemed expectant of her coming footsteps.
Hamadryads veiled themselves, each in her conscious tree, eluding human approach. She steals more gently along, that she may haply surprise a vision. The little grassy plain appears beyond the wavering oak-branches. It is reached at last, and there,—surely it is no delusion,—there rests a sleeping youth! Another step, and she bent aside the boughs. He stands erect, listening.
"It is the god!" she cries; and, falling back, would have been precipitated from the rock, had not the youth rapidly bounded forward and grasped her hand.
"Little one, beautiful child," he cried, "do not fear me! I have indeed played the god formerly, to scare from my hunting-ground the poor fools who dread the anger of Apollo. Tell me, who are you, thus wandering in the awful garden of the gods? Who brought you hither, and what name has been given you?"
Trembling still, and not knowing how to relate it, Evadne stammered forth some words of her history. Her senses were bewildered by the beauty of the hunter-boy, who now appeared how different from the marble god! Bold, and as if ever victorious, with an undaunted brow, like Bacchus seen through the tears of sad Ariadne awakened. Strong and swift were his limbs, as those of a panther. His cheek was ruddy, and his half-naked form was brown, as those appear who dwell not under a roof, but in the uncertain shade of the forest. His locks were black and wildly disordered, and his eyes were most like to a dark stream lighted with golden flashes; but the laughing beauty of his lip no emblem could convey.
Soon, seated on the turf, the story of each child was related.
"I am nobly born," said the boy, "but I love the life of a hunter. My father has left me alone, and when I am a man, I, too, shall follow him to Rome. But liberty is sweeter than honor or power. I escape often from my tutor, who suspects not where I hide myself, and range all the forests. Embarking by night, in former years, I often visited this island. I know where to gather fruits and seek vineyards among the ruined huts of the village beneath us. By night I descend and gather them, for my free wanderings by day caused the fishermen to relate that a god walked upon the shore. When some, more curious or bold, turned their prows hitherward, to observe what form moved upon the hill, I rolled great rocks down, with a thundering noise, into the sea, and have terrified all men from the spot."
"We now call the vineyards and gardens ours," said Evadne, "but it appears they truly belong to you. Descend to the shore and we will share with you, not only the ripest clusters of the vines, but wine and loaves which the fisherman brings us."
"Bring me hither the wine, and I will gladly drink of it, nor waste one drop in oblation; but I must not descend to the shore, and you must be silent concerning me, for my tutor offers large rewards to any one who will disclose where I hide myself. The slaves on the coast here are ready to betray me. I have watched them sailing near the island, lured by the promise of a handful of gold, but not daring to land upon it, lest they should behold, against his will, a divine being."
"Then I will climb up hither and bring you the fruits," said Evadne.
"Nay, my bird," answered the boy, "lay them only on the altar, below, and when it is safe to descend, call me."
"If I call softly, you cannot hear me; and I cannot call loudly enough to reach you upon this hill."
"The secrets of the island are not known to you," her companion said, and arose quickly; "follow me,—I will teach you. You know not why Apollo is listening? It is for the good of the worshippers, who care not to mount the hill to adore him. Above the town stands an altar; voices uttered there are brought up hither by an echo. There the pious repaired once, and laid their gifts, and songs and the music of flutes sounded in honor of the deity, who was held too sacred to be approached. Hold me not too sacred, little one!—you shall approach without fear; but give me your voice at this altar, when your foster-father sleeps."
"But what shall I call you?" cried the laughing Evadne.
"Call Hylas. Echo has often repeated, the name, they say, in the country of Mysia, and these groves shall learn it of you! Now follow me over the floor of the temple,—but lightly! lightly! See how the god would warn us away! He nods on his pedestal; even the loud thunder may some day cause his fall; already he is half shaken down from his shrine by earthquakes."
Then, firmly, bold Hylas held trembling Evadne, who glanced for an instant down the leafy passage of echoes.
When the day was over, Alpheus called to him his foster-child.
"You have willingly followed us into our exile," he said, "nor have you ever inquired whither we lead you. Listen to me; I shall confide to you a secret, so that, if evil befall us, you may go on and fulfil your journey.
"In Asia stands a city, called Thyatira, and there dwell men of a new religion, called Christians. Of this faith I know as yet but little. But, dear Evadne, your father is yet living, and has sent, praying me to conduct you to him, that you may be taught among Christians. I have labored to fulfil his wish, for in our youth we were dear to each other. The moon saw us nightly upon the hills, guarding our flocks, and by day we practised the labors and the sports of Greeks."
"What is the religion of my father?" asked the child.
"I cannot tell it to you; I know only that the Christians worship one god."
"Apollo, then, is my choice."
"Not so, child. The god of Christians is not known to us; but he shall overthrow the idols of the whole world. The bow of Diana, the lyre of Apollo, are already broken."
The child started. Was the temple known to Alpheus, too? Had he seen there the fragments of a shattered harp?
The old man continued his discourse, but Evadne's thoughts had flown away towards the lost temple.
"There alone will I worship," she murmured to herself. She dreamed of adoring the deity of stone, but Hylas haunted all her thoughts. Yes, Evadne! one god is sufficient for you!
Under cover of the darkness, the friendly boatman drew near, and the islanders heard the unaccustomed sound of the boat drawn up the beach by the youth, whose superstitious fears began to vanish as he observed that no calamity fell upon these dwellers on the sacred spot.
"I come," he said, "with gifts truly, but also with good tidings. Have patience yet awhile. Your retreat is still unknown, and, after a few days, I may find you the means of escape."
Evadne alone was silent, and her tears flowed secretly.
The sun was already set, on the following day, before she stole away to meet the hunter-boy. In his hand, as he advanced joyously to greet her, he bore a white dove, which his arrow had pierced.
"I struck it," he said, while he pointed to its broken wing and bleeding breast, "when it alighted on the edge of a stone fallen from the temple."
Evadne concealed her ready tears and uttered no reproach against her hero; but she pressed the dead bird to her bosom.
"Tell me, Hylas," she asked, "do you worship this god before us, or that of the Christians?"
The boy laughed gayly.
"I worship this strong right arm," he said, "and my own bold will, which has conquered and shall conquer again! The stories of the gods are but fables. To us who are brave nothing can be forbidden; it is the weak who are unfortunate, and no god is able either to assist or to destroy us. As to the Christians, they are a despised people, a race of madmen, who, pretending to love poverty and martyrdom, are followed by the rude and ignorant. As for us, we are gods, both to them and to ourselves."
Evadne knew that she herself must be counted among the rude and ignorant; she dared not raise her eyes to the young noble, who watched her quivering lip, and but dimly guessed how he had wounded her.
"Leave caressing the dead bird," he said, at last, "and I will tell you tales of Rome and its glories."
And he charmed back again her innocent smiles, with noble traditions of kings, of gods, and of heroes, till the round moon stood above Gargarus, cold, in a rose-tinted heaven.
But again at sunrise the child sought the spot to bring a basket, heavy with gifts, for Hylas. He came at the call of Evadne, fresh, glowing, beautiful as a child rocked on the breast of Aurora, and upheld by her cool, fanning wings. His cheek wore the kiss of the Sun, and his closely curling locks were wet by the scattered fountain, cold in the shaded grove. He broke the early silence of the air with song and story, and named for the admiring child the towns, the headlands, and the hills, over which the eye delighted to wander.
"Now is the hour," he said, "when mariners far away behold for a little while the dome of this temple. They believe that the gods have rendered it invisible except at the rising day; but, in truth, the oaks, the laurels, and the unpruned ivy conceal it from view, at all times, except when the rays from the east strike upward. I have delighted to teach the people fables concerning this island and the lost temple; for as long as they fear to tread upon this spot, I have a retreat for myself, where I range unmolested.
"See yonder, so white among the dark cypress-trees, my father's villa! It has gardens and shady groves, but I love best the wild branching oaks which give their shade to Evadne! Far away in the purple distance stands the Mount of Ida. There dwelt Paris, content with the love of Oenone, until he knew himself to be the son of a king, for whom Argive Helen alone was found worthy; for his eyes had rested once upon immortal charms, of which the green eternal pines of Ida are still whispering the story. See how the people of this village of Athos flock together! Some festival occupies them. I see them going forth from the gates in hurrying crowds; and now a band of men approaches. Some one is about to enter their town, to whom they wish to do honor, and doubtless they bear green branches to strew in the way. I know not what festival they celebrate, for the altars are all deserted."
"I see a boat put off from the shore," said Evadne, "and it seems to turn its prow hitherward."
But it soon was concealed by the woody hill-top, although its course was seen to be directed towards the ruined huts upon the shore. Not long after, the children heard the name of "Evadne," brought faintly by the echoes, like the words of unseen ghosts who strive to awaken some beloved sleeper unconscious of their presence.
Evadne feared to return, and dared not stay. For the first time, the voice of her foster-father failed to bring her obedient footsteps; for her fluttering heart suspected something strange and unwelcome awaiting her. She wept at parting from Hylas, and the boy detained her. He also seemed troubled.
"Dear little one," he said, "betray me not! These men of Athos have seen me, and have authority to bring me bound before some ruler who has entered their town. They come to look for me now. I fly to my hiding-place, and you will deny that you saw any one in this forest."
He was gone down the face of the cliff, with winged feet, light of tread as Jove's messenger. More slowly, Evadne retraced the downward path, and lingered on the banks of the ravine, where the bitter waters were sobbing among the rocks. She lay down upon the ground, and dreamed, while yet waking, of her home in Thessaly, of her unknown father in the Christian city of Thyatira, and of Hylas, ever Hylas, and the pain of parting. How long she hid herself she guessed not, until the sun at the zenith sent down his brightest beam to discover the lost Thessalian lamb. Then, subdued and despairing, she travelled on to meet the reproaches that could not fail to await her.
At midnight the sleepless girl stole from her couch, and laid on the altar beyond the village heavy clusters of grapes and the richest fruits from her store of dainties. "Hylas!" she softly cried, and the sleepless echo repeated the name; but though she watched long, no form emerged from the forest. Timidly she flitted back to her dwelling, and waited for an eastern gleam. At last the veil of night was lifted a little, a wind ruffled the waves, and the swaying oaks repeated to the hills the message of coming splendors from the Orient. Evadne gladly saw that the stars were fewer and paler in the sky, and she walked forth again, brushing cold dews from the vines and the branches. A foreboding fear led her first to look at the altar where she had left her offering. It was untouched. Then she entered the still benighted wood, and passed the cold gray waters. Arrived at the temple, she felt a hateful stillness in the place.
"Hylas!" she loudly called, "come to me! For you there is no danger; but for me, they will take me away at sunrise. The Christians will come to-day and carry me hence. Oh, Hylas! where do you hide yourself?"
But only a strong and angry wind disturbed the laurels around the temple, and all was still. Then the song of the birds began all around her, and a silver gleam shot across the eastern horizon. Suddenly rosy-tinged signals stood among the sad-colored torn clouds above her head. The hour for her departure was approaching. She gazed intently down among the pines, where Hylas had disappeared, and painfully and slowly began to descend. The wild-eyed hares glanced at her and shrank into concealment again. The birds uttered cries of alarm, and the motionless lizards lay close to her feet. Her heart beat anxiously when she heard the sudden stroke of a bird's wing, scared from its nest, and she paused often to listen, but no human voice was heard.
She penetrated slowly thus to that shore of the island which she had never yet visited. She reached a border of white sand, and studied its surface. She found a record there,—traces of footsteps, and the long trail of a boat, drawn from a thicket of laurels to the shore, and down to the water's edge. She stood many minutes contemplating these signs. She imaged to herself the retreat by night, by the late rising light of the waning moon. She seemed to see the youth, his manly arm urging the boat from its hiding-place. In this spot his foot pressed the sand. There he walked before and drew the little craft behind him. He launched it here, and, had not the winds urged the water up the shore, his last footstep might have remained for Evadne to gaze at.
He is surely gone! To return for the smiles of Evadne? She knows not if he will return; but she glances upward at the sky, and feels that she soon will have quitted the island, this happy island, forever!
Upward through the wood again she toils to take a last look at the temple. The spot seemed already to have forgotten her. And yet here lies a withered crown she wove once for Hylas; and here she finds at last the dart she lost for him, when she drew his bow in play. Now she sees on the shore at Athos an assembly of the people, and the men push off their boats. The village is already alive, and awake. The rising of the sun is looked for, and the clouds are like a golden fleece. Slowly above the tree-tops the swans are waving their great pinions, to seek the stream of Cayster. All creatures recognize the day, and only one weeps to see the light.
Evadne knew that on yonder shore waited the dreaded messengers who would gather the homeless into the Christian fold. She stayed to utter one farewell to the cold, the cruel marble, with its unvaried smile.
"Be my god!" she cried, aloud. "In whatever strange land, to whatever unknown religion I may be led, the god of this forgotten temple shall have the worship of my heart!"
She crossed the marble pavement. She clasped with her white cold arms the knees of Apollo—Hold! the form totters!—it is too late!—it must fall! She rises to flee away, but the very floor is receding from her tread. And slowly, with a majesty even in destruction, the god bows himself, and drops from his pedestal.
The crashing fall is over. The foundations of the shrine, parted long ago by earthquakes, and undermined by torrents, have slipped from their place. Stones slide gradually to the brink of the rock, and some have fallen near the sculptured rose; and yet some portions of the graceful temple stand, and will support the dome yet, until some boisterous storm shakes roughly the remaining columns.
But the god is dethroned, shivered, ruined. Evadne should arise and go. The daylight overflows the sky, and she is quite, quite still, where the hand of Apollo has laid her. Her forehead was but touched by fingers that once held the lyre; and a crimson stream flows through the locks upon her brow. A smile like that which the god wore is fixed and changeless now upon her lip. Why does she smile? Because, in the dawn of life, of grief, of love, she found peace.
The sun was up, and there was no more silence or repose along the coast. Vigor and toil gave signs of their awakening. Sails were unfurled upon the wavering masts, and showed white gleams, as the sunlight struck each as it broadened out and swayed above its bright reflection below. Oars were dipped in the smooth sea, and an eager crowd stood waiting to visit the exiles on the once dreaded island. Evadne was already missed. Again and again voices called upon her, the echoes repeated the sound, and the groves had but one voice,—"Evadne!" She stirred not at the sound, but her smile grew sweeter, and her brow paler, and cold as the marble hand that pressed it.
Oh, Alpheus! oh, Eleusa! chide not! you will be weeping soon! She has, indeed, angered you of late. She left her foster-parents alone, and threaded the forest. She hid herself when you called, and, when the fisher's boat was waiting to convey her with you to the shore, where friends were ready to receive her and lead her to her father, then she was wandering!
Eleusa is querulous. No wonder! for the child is sadly changed. They will see her soon; a Christian prophet comes to break the heathen spell of the island. The men of yonder village consent to abjure the worship of Apollo. They come with the teacher of a new religion to consecrate the spot anew. The busy crowd, as on a day of festival, embark to claim again the once deserted spot.
Alpheus and Eleusa wait sadly for their approach, for trouble possesses their hearts. They pine for their once gentle, submissive child. But the teacher comes, and hails them in words of a new benediction. The Great Name is uttered also in their hearing. Calmness returns to them, in the presence of the holy man. It is not Paul, mighty to reprove, and learned as bold,—it is that "one whom Jesus loved." He has rested on his bosom, and looked on him pierced on the cross. The look from his dying eyes and the tones of his tender love are ever present in the soul of this beloved disciple. The awful revelations of Patmos had not yet illumined his eyes. His locks were white as the first blossoms of the spring, but his heart was not withered by time, and men believed of him that he should never see death. Those who beheld him loved him, and listened because they loved. What he desired was accomplished as if a king had commanded it, and what he taught was gathered in among the treasures of the heart.
The first care of the Apostle was to seek the lost child, and the youths of his company went on, and scaled the hill. Meanwhile, not far from the altar, on which an unregarded offering lay, the people gathered round their master, while to Alpheus and Eleusa he related the immortal story of Judea.
Before mid-day the villagers had returned to their dwellings. With John, their friend and consoler, two mourners departed from the island, where fabled Apollo no longer possessed a shrine. His altar was torn away; a newly-made grave was marked by a cross roughly built of its broken stones.
"I will return here," said the fisherman of Athos, "when you are far away in some Christian city of Asia. I will return and carve here the name of 'Evadne.'"
The skater lightly laughs and glides, Unknowing that beneath the ice Whereon he carves his fair device A stiffened corpse in silence slides.
It glareth upward at his play; Its cold, blue, rigid fingers steal Beneath the trendings of his heel; It floats along and floats away.
He has not seen its horror pass; His heart is blithe; the village hears His distant laughter; he careers In festive waltz athwart the glass.—
We are the skaters, we who skim The surface of Life's solemn flood, And drive, with gladness in our blood, A daring dance from brim to brim.
Our feet are swift, our faces burn, Our hopes aspire like soaring birds; The world takes courage from our words, And sees the golden time return.
But ever near us, silent, cold, Float those who bounded from the bank With eager hearts, like us, and sank Because their feet were overbold.
They sank through breathing-holes of vice, Through treacherous sheens of unbelief; They know not their despair and grief: Their hearts and minds are turned to ice.
Mr. Jefferson returned from France in the autumn of 1789, and the following spring took office as Secretary of State. He was unwilling to abandon his post abroad, but the solicitations of Washington controlled him. He plainly was the most suitable person for the place. Franklin, the father of American diplomacy, was rapidly approaching the close of his long and busy life, and John Adams, the only other statesman whose diplomatic experience could be compared with that of Thomas Jefferson, was Vice President.
It would be a tedious task to enter into a detail of the disputes which arose in Washington's Cabinet, nor is it necessary to do so. Most candid persons, who have examined the subject, are convinced that the differences were unavoidable, that they were produced by exigencies in affairs upon which men naturally would disagree, by conflicting social elements, and by the dissimilar characters, purposes, and political doctrines of Jefferson and Hamilton. Jefferson's course was in accordance with the general principles of government which from his youth he had entertained.
As to the accusation, so often made, that he opposed an administration of which he was a member and which by the plainest party-rules he was bound to support, it is completely answered by the statement, that his conduct was understood by Washington, that he repeatedly offered to resign, and that when he retired it was in opposition to the President's wish. It is not worth while for us to apply a higher standard of party loyalty to Washington's ministers than he himself applied.
One great difficulty encountered by the politicians of that day seems to have been purely fanciful. Strictly speaking, the government did not have a policy. It went into operation with the impression that it would be persistently resisted, that its success was doubtful, and that any considerable popular disaffection would be fatal to it. These fears proved to be unfounded. The day Washington took the oath, the government was as stable as it now is. Disturbing elements undoubtedly existed, but they were controlled by great and overruling necessities, recognized by all men. Thus the final purpose of the administration was accomplished at the outset. The labor which it was expected would task the patriotism and exercise the skill of the most generous and experienced was performed without an effort,—as it were, by a mere pulsation of the popular heart. The question was not, How shall the government be preserved? but, How shall it be administered? This is evident now, but was not seen then. The statesmen of the time believed that the Union was constantly in danger, and that their best efforts were needed to protect it. In this spirit they approached every question which presented itself. Thinking that every measure directly affected the safety of the republic, a difference of opinion could not be a mere disagreement upon a matter of policy. In proportion to the intensity of each man's patriotism was his conviction that in his way alone could the government be preserved, and he naturally thought that his opponents must be either culpably neglecting or deliberately plotting against the interests of the country. Real difficulties were increased by imaginary ones. Opposition became treason. Parties called themselves Republicans and Federalists;—they called each other monarchists and anarchists. This delusion has always characterized our politics; noisy politicians of the present day stigmatize their adversaries as disunionists; but during the first twenty years it was universal, and explains the fierce party-spirit which possessed the statesmen of that period, and likewise accounts for many of their errors.
Among these errors must be placed the belief which Jefferson had, that there was a party of monarchists in the country. Sir. Randall makes a long argument in support of this opinion, and closes with an intimation that those who refuse to believe now cannot be reached by reason. He may rank us with these perverse skeptics; for, in our opinion, his argument not only fails to establish his propositions, but is strong against them. Let it be understood;—the assertion is not, that there were some who would have preferred a monarchy to a republic, but that, after the government was established, Ames, Sedgwick, Hamilton, and other Federal leaders, were plotting to overturn it and create a monarchy. Upon this we have no hesitation in taking issue. The real state of the case, and the circumstances which deceived Mr. Jefferson, may be briefly set forth.
Jefferson left France shortly after the taking of the Bastile. He saw the most auspicious period of the Revolution. During the session of the Estates General, the evils which afflicted France were admitted by all, but the remedies proposed were, as yet, purely speculative. The roseate theories of poets and enthusiasts had filled every mind with vague expectations of some great good in the future. Nothing had occurred to disturb these pleasing anticipations. There was no sign of the fearful disasters then impending. The delirium of possession had not seized upon the nation,—her statesmen had not learned how much easier it is to plan than to achieve,—nor had the voice of Burke carried terror throughout Europe. Even now, it is impossible to read the first acts of that drama without being moved to sympathetic enthusiasm. What emotions must it not have excited while the awful catastrophe was yet concealed! Tried by any received test, France, for centuries, had been the chief state in Europe,—inferior to none in the arts of war, superior to any in the arts of peace. Fashion and letters had given her an empire more permanent than that which the enterprise of Columbus and the fortune of Charles gave to Spain, more extended than that which Trafalgar and Waterloo have since given to England. Though her armies were resisted, her wit and grace were irresistible; every European prince was her subject, every European court a theatre for the display of her address. The peculiar spirit of her genius is not more distinctly to be seen in the verse of Boileau than in that of Pope,—in the sounding periods of Bossuet than in Addison's easy phrase. The spectacle of a nation so distinguished, which had carried tyranny to a perfection and invested it with a splendor never before seen, becoming the coryphaeus of freedom, might easily have fascinated a mind less impressible by nature, and less disposed by education for favorable impressions, than that of Jefferson. He shared the feeling of the hour. His advice was asked, and respectfully listened to. This experience, while, as he says, it strengthened his preconceived convictions, must have prevented him from carefully observing, certainly from being affected by, the influences which had been at work in his own country. He came home more assured in republicanism, and expecting to find that America had kept pace with him.
But many things had occurred in America to excite doubts of the efficiency of republican institutions. The government of the Confederation was of little value. During the war, common interests and dangers had bound the Colonies together; with peace came commercial rivalries, boundary disputes, relations with other countries, the burdens of a large debt,—and the scanty powers with which Congress had been clothed were inadequate to the public exigencies. The Congress was a mere convention, in which each State had but one vote. To the most important enactments the consent of nine States was necessary. The concurrence of the several legislatures was required to levy a tax, raise an army, or ratify a treaty. The executive power was lodged in a committee, which was useless either for deliberation or action. The government fell into contempt; it could not protect itself from insult; and the doors of Congress were once besieged by a mob of mutinous soldiery. The States sometimes openly resisted the central government, and to the most necessary laws, those for the maintenance of the national credit, they gave but a partial obedience. They quarrelled with each other. New York sent troops into the field to enforce her claims upon her New England neighbors. The inhabitants of the Territories rebelled. Kentucky, Vermont, and Tennessee, under another name, declared themselves independent, and demanded admission into the Union. In New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, insurrections took place. In Massachusetts, a rebellion was set on foot, which, for a time, interrupted the sessions of the courts. An Indian war, attended by the usual barbarities, raged along the northern frontier. Foreign states declined to negotiate with a government which could not enforce its decrees within its own borders. England haughtily refused to withdraw her troops from our soil; Spain closed the Mississippi to the commerce and encroached upon the territory of the Confederation. Every consideration of safety and advantage demanded a government with strength enough to secure quiet at home and respect abroad. It is not to be denied that many thoughtful and experienced men were discouraged by the failure of the Confederation, and thought that nothing but a monarchy could accomplish the desired purpose.
There were also certain social elements tending in the same direction, and these were strongest in the city of New York, where Jefferson first observed them. That city had been the centre of the largest and most powerful Tory community in the Colonies. The gentry were nearly all Tories, and, during the long occupation of the town, the tradespeople, thriving upon British patronage, had become attached to the British cause. There, and, indeed, in all the cities, there were aristocratic circles. Jefferson was of course introduced into them. In these circles were the persons who gave dinners, and at whose tables he heard the opinions expressed which astonished and alarmed him.
What is described as polite society has never been much felt in American politics; it was not more influential then. Besides, in many cases, these opinions were more likely to have been the expression of affectation than of settled conviction. Nothing is more common than a certain insincerity which leads men to profess and seemingly believe sentiments which they do not and cannot act upon. The stout squire who prides himself upon his obstinacy, and whose pretty daughter manages him as easily as she manages her poodle, is a favorite character in English comedy. Every one knows some truculent gentleman who loudly proclaims that one half of mankind are knaves and the other half would be if they dared, but who would go mad with despair if he really believed the atrocious principles he loves to announce. Jefferson was not so constituted as to make the proper allowance for this kind of insincerity. Though undemonstrative, he was thoroughly in earnest. In fact, he was something of a precisian in politics. He spoke of kings and nobles as if they were personal foes, and disliked Scott's novels because they give too pleasing a representation of the institution of chivalry. He probably looked upon a man who spoke covetously of titles much as a Salem elder a century before would have looked upon a hard-swearing Virginia planter. In the purse-proud citizens, who, after dinner, used to talk grandly about the British Constitution, he saw a set of malignant conspirators, when in fact not one in ten had ever thought seriously upon the subject, or had enough force of character to attempt to carry out his opinions, whatever they might have been.
The political discontents were hardly more formidable. We have admitted that some influential persons were in favor of a monarchy; but no one took a decided step in that direction. In all the published correspondence there is not a particle of evidence of such a movement. Even Hamilton, in his boldest advances towards a centralization of power, did not propose a monarchy. Those who were most doubtful about the success of a republic recognized the necessity of making the experiment, and were the most active in establishing the present one. The sparsity of the population, the extent of the country, and its poverty, made a royal establishment impossible. The people were dissatisfied with the Confederation, not with republicanism. The breath of ridicule would have upset the throne. The King, the Dukes of Massachusetts and Virginia, the Marquises of Connecticut and Mohawk, Earl Susquehanna and Lord Livingston, would have been laughed at by every ragamuffin. The sentiment which makes the appendages of royalty, its titles and honors, respectable, is the result of long education, and has never existed in America. Washington was the only person mentioned in connection with the crown; but had he attempted to reach it, he would have lost his power over the people. He was strong because he had convinced his country that he held personal objects subservient to public ones,—that, with him, "the path of duty was the way to glory." He had none of the magnetism which lulls the senses and leads captive the hearts of men. Had he clothed himself in the vulgar robes of royalty,—had he taken advantage of the confidence reposed in him for a purpose of self-aggrandizement, and that of so petty and commonplace a kind,—he would have sunk to a level with the melodramatic heroes of history, and that colossal reputation, which rose, a fair exhalation from the hearts of grateful millions, and covered all the land, would have vanished like a mist.