LITERATURE AND NATIONAL POLICY.
VOL. IV.—AUGUST, 1863.—No. II.
In these exciting times, when our country is enduring the throes of political convulsion, and every time-honored institution, every well-regulated law of society seems tottering from the broad foundation of the past, how few are there who ask themselves the question, What is to be our future? For the past two years we have lived in a state of extraordinary and unnatural excitement, beside which the jog-trot existence of the former days, with all its periodical excitements, its hebdomadal heavings of the waves of society, pales into insignificance. Like the grave, with its eternal 'Give! give!' our appetites, stimulated to a morbid degree by their daily food of marvels, cry constantly for more; and a lull of but a few brief months in the storm whose angry pinions are constantly bringing new wonders to our view, begets an almost insupportable ennui in the public mind, and a restlessness among the masses, such as our history has never before shown. Nor will the craving be satiated so long as the war shall last; for the stirring events, following so closely upon each other, and filling every hour of our national life, will keep up the unnatural excitement, even as the stimulating effect of alcoholic drinks is prolonged by repeated draughts. Only when the source is entirely cut off will the stimulus pass away; and then, when peace is established, and we drop again into the ruts and grooves of the olden days, the reaction will set in, and happy shall we be if it is not followed by a political delirium tremens.
To-day we are living in and for the present alone. Men's minds are so completely absorbed in the wonderful events that are constantly passing around them, in the startling denouements that each day brings forth, that their attention is entirely distracted from that future to which we are inevitably tending. And this not because that future is of little importance, but because nearer and more vital interests are staring us in the face, in which it is involved, and upon which it depends—a nearer and more portentous future, which we must ourselves control and shape, else the farther state will be utterly beyond our influence, fixed in the channel of a malignant and ever-grovelling fate. The great question now is, how soonest to end the war prosperously to ourselves; and until this problem, involving our very existence, is solved, the future, with all its prospects, good or bad, is left to take care of itself, and rightly, too; for in the event of our present success, our future will be in our own hands, while, if we fail, it will be fixed and irrevocable, without the slightest reference to our interests or our exertions. And yet, natural as this fact may seem, it is a little singular that, while thousands of minds are eagerly searching for light upon the question of the future of the American negro, few are found to inquire what is to be our own. Strange that one exciting topic should so fill men's minds and monopolize their sympathies as to entirely exclude other questions of greater importance, and bearing more directly upon our present and vital interests. Yet so it is, and so it has been in all ages of the world, though, happily, the hallucination does not last for any very extended period; for there is a compensation in human as well as in inanimate nature, which, in its own good time, brings mind to its proper balance by the harsh remedy of severe and present necessity, and so retrieves the errors of a blind past.
Yet, absorbed as is the popular mind in the stirring events of the war, and dull as all other themes may seem in comparison, it may not be without interest to examine, in connection with our future, some of those facts which are now floating about at random on the surface of society, waiting for some hand to gather and arrange them in the treasure house of prophecy. And in so doing, let it be premised that we proceed entirely upon the hypothesis—which to every truly loyal mind is already an established truth—of the ultimate success and complete triumph of the North in the present contest. For in any other event all these facts are dumb, and the inferences to be drawn from them vague and unsatisfactory, absolutely no better than mere random conjecture. And as the war has now become the great fact in our history, and its effects must modify our whole social life for many years to come, its results must not be neglected in an investigation of this kind, but, on the contrary, claim our first attention.
First and foremost, then, among the lasting results of the war, will be the arousing of our nationality. To the majority of readers it will seem the climax of heresy to assert that hitherto we have not known a pure and lofty nationality. What! you will ask, did not our ancestors, by their sufferings and strivings in that war which first made our land famous throughout the civilized world, bestow upon us a separate, true, and noble national existence? Have we not twice humbled the pride of the most powerful nation upon earth? Have we not covered the seas with our commerce, and brought all nations to pay tribute to our great staples? Have we not taken the lead in all adventurous and eminently practical enterprises, and is not our land the home of invention and the foster mother of the useful arts? Has not the whole world gazed with admiring wonder at our miraculous advancement in the scale of national existence? In a word, have we not long since become a great, established fact, as well in physical history as in the sublime record of that intellectual progress whereby humanity draws constantly nearer to the divine? And as for patriotic feeling, do we not yearly burn tons of powder on the all-glorious Fourth of July, and crack our throats with huzzas for the 'star-spangled banner' and the American eagle? And a caviller might perhaps go farther, and ask the significant question, Are we not known all over the world as a race of arrant braggarts?
Grant all these things, and we are yet as far from that true, firm, self-relying, high-toned nationality which alone is worthy of the name, as when the Pilgrims landed upon Plymouth rock. Our patriotism has hitherto been too utterly heartless—too much a thing of sounding words and meaningless phrases—too much of the 'sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.' We have built too much upon the exploits of our ancestors, reposed too long upon their laurels, forgetting that their efforts were but the initiatory step in the great contest that was to be carried on by succeeding generations; forgetting that we have still a destiny to work out for ourselves, a niche to secure in the great temple of humanity, obstacles to surmount, difficulties to overcome, bitter and deadly foes to vanquish. And how totally devoid of heart have been even our celebrations of our great national birthday and holiday! While we have amused ourselves with the explosion of crackers and blowing off of our neighbors' arms by premature discharges of rusty cannon, while we have rent the air with squibs, shouts, and exclamations, and listened to the periodical and hackneyed outbursts of oratorical gas, how few of us have remembered the deep significance of the day, and felt our hearts swell with genuine patriotic emotion! How few of us have realized that we were celebrating not merely the establishing of a form of government, the severing of galling bonds which bound us to the servitude of the old world, not merely the birthday of independence and of a nation, but the birthday of an immortal principle, whose beneficent effects were not more for us than for the generations of all succeeding time! The masses saw in that day but an universal fete, a day of national relaxation and enjoyment, and neither thought or cared much about its deep meaning; while to the few, the thinking men alone, appeared the principle which underlay all this festivity and vociferation. Henceforth this will not be so. We have lived so long and so undisturbed in the enjoyment of our political blessings, that we have not appreciated our favored lot; but now, when for the first time in our history treason has boldly lifted its head, and traitors have endeavored to deprive us of all our most cherished blessings—to strike at the very root of all that is good and pure in our political system—now for the first time do we see those blessings in their true light, and realize their inestimable value. Now that the prestige of our greatness threatens to depart from us, do we first see the glorious destiny which the great God of nature has marked out for us. Now for the first time do we realize that we have a purpose in life—that we are the exponents of one of the great truths of the universe itself, and appreciate the awful responsibility that rests upon us in the development of our great principle, as well as in protecting it from the inroads of error and corruption. And herein lies the great secret of all true national life. For no nation was ever yet truly great that had not constantly before it some lofty and ennobling object to direct all its strivings, some great central truths at its very core, continually working outward through all the great arterial ramifications of society, keeping up a brisk and healthy circulation by the force of its own eternal energy. Lack of a noble purpose, in nations as well as individuals, begets a vacillating policy, which is inevitably followed by degeneration and corruption. The soldier, who has passed many a weary month in the monotony of the camp, enduring all the hardships of rigorous winters and scorching summers, of fatigue and privation, and who has shed his blood upon many a hard-fought field, will learn to appreciate as he never has before the true value of that Government for which he has suffered so much, and, with the return of our armies to their homes, this sentiment will be diffused among the masses, and the lessons they have learned will be taught to their fellows: and this, together with the recognition of our true end and aim in existence—of the part which our country is destined to play in the great drama of life, will beget a noble, self-relying national pride, the very opposite pole to that senseless, loud-mouthed self-laudation which has too much characterized us in the days gone by. The boaster betrays the consciousness of the very weakness he wishes to conceal; while 'still waters run deep,' and the man of true courage and strength is the man of few words and great deeds. So that arrant bragging which has hitherto been our besetting sin, and which, so long as our real importance in the affairs of the world was unacknowledged, was somewhat excusable, and perhaps even necessary to sustain a yet unestablished cause, will be necessary no longer when we have proved ourselves worthy of the position we claim, and will, with the newborn consciousness of our power and strength, pass away forever, and we shall work steadily on in our appointed course, leaving it to others to recognize and proclaim our worth, to sound the trumpet which we have so long been industriously blowing for ourselves, content to let our reputation bide its time and rest upon sterling deeds rather than upon pompous declamations and empty oratorical phrases. The deeds of our ancestors were great indeed, and their patriotism and self-sacrificing devotion to a noble cause beyond a parallel: but even those will pale beside the present struggle of a full-grown nation at the very crisis of its fate; and the results which followed their efforts will be as nothing to those which shall flow from our battle of to-day. For while it was theirs to initiate, it is ours to develop and firmly establish; theirs to deliver the nation from the womb of centuries, ours to educate, to guard from danger through childhood and youth, to nurse through disease, to tone down the crudities of national hobble-de-hoy-dom, to fix and strengthen by judicious training the iron constitution, both mental and physical, which shall resist the ravages of disease and error for all time to come. How much more important, then, appears our mission than theirs! how much greater the responsibility which rests upon us to faithfully fulfil that mission! And this will be the feeling of every true American. This will be the knowledge, gained by the bitterest experience, which will give us that nationality we have so long lacked.
And not a little conducive to the development of that new-found nationality will be the respect and admiration, not to say applause, which the display of our latent power and resources, the prosperous conduct and successful close of this the most gigantic struggle of history, will win for us from the nations of the Old World. And this brings me to the second beneficial effect of this war upon our future, namely, the establishment of our position among the great powers of the earth, and our relief from all future aggressions, encroachments, and annoyances of the mother country. From the day when our independence was declared, America has been an eyesore to all the leading Governments of Europe—the object of detraction and bitter hostility, of envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness. And though these feelings have been partially concealed under the cloak of studied politeness and false, hollow-hearted friendship, occasions enough have been given for them to break forth in sufficient intensity to establish beyond a question the fact of their existence. The apostles of despotic power have suffered no opportunity to escape of dealing a blow at our national existence: even the low and disreputable weapon of slander has been brought to bear against us, and we have been held up to mankind as a race of visionaries, of fanatical reformers, whose efforts have ever been to destroy all the honored landmarks of the past, and lead humanity back over the track of ages to the socialism of primitive existence. And it was but natural for us to expect little sympathy from their hands, for in our success lay the triumph of a principle which was deadly to all their cherished institutions—a principle which, once firmly established, must in time inevitably spread beyond the waters, to the utter and eternal downfall of aristocracies and dynasties, since it is founded in one of the very first truths of universal human nature—in the recognition of the rights of the individual, and of the total dependence of the governing upon the governed. And yet they could not withhold their admiration of the indomitable energy and perseverance of the American race, and their wonder at our miraculous growth in enlightenment and power. Taught wisdom by the past, they dared not combine to crush us by brute force, and so they have waited and hoped for the downfall which they sincerely believed would, sooner or later, overtake us. England and France have ever hung about us like hungry wolves around the dying buffalo, waiting patiently for the hour when they might safely step in and claim the lion's share of the spoil. The crisis of our fate which they have so long awaited, they now fondly believe to be upon us; and old England, false, treacherous, cowardly, piratical England, fearful lest our native resources may enable us to weather the storm, has at last dropped the mask of a century, and openly encourages and abets the rebels and traitors who are desperately striving for our dismemberment, even furnishing them with the very bone and sinews of war, that they may compass their unholy ends, and effect the ruin which will give to her another fat colonial province. While the more wily French emperor, looking to our possible success, and anxious for a subterfuge beneath which he may skulk in that event, and so escape the retribution which will assuredly fall upon his head, has really outwitted his island rival, in his Mexican expedition, whereby he hoped to 'kill two birds with one stone,' securing, in either event, the richest portion of the American continent, and thereby establishing a foothold, that, in case of our ruin, he may be first 'in at the death,' and carry off the larger share of the booty. And what will be the result? Checked, defeated, disgraced on the very threshold of his undertaking, his chosen and hitherto invincible legions, furnished with all the appliances of warlike invention, and perfected in the boasted French skill and discipline, baffled and routed by the half-civilized Mexicans, to whose very capital our own raw volunteers marched in a single season, he will be by no means anxious to measure his strength with ours when we shall have emerged from a war in which the lessons of military science, learned by hard experience, have been widely diffused among our hitherto peaceful people, and when we shall have nearly a million of trained troops ready to spring to arms at an hour's call; troops who will fight a foreign foe with double the courage and desperation which has characterized the present war. If he cannot subdue the rude Mexicans, can he conquer us?
The development of those latent resources of which even ourselves were ignorant, the display of wealth and power at which we are astonished no less than foreign nations, the energetic prosecution of more than two years of war on such a magnificently extended and expensive scale, without even feeling the drain upon either our population or treasure, have taught Great Britain a lesson which she will not soon forget, and of which she will not fail to avail herself. What nation ever before, without even the nucleus of a standing army, raised, equipped, and put into the field, within a brief six months, an army of half a million of men, and supported it for such a length of time, at the cost of a million dollars per day, while scarcely increasing the burden of taxation upon the people? And yet this was done by a portion only of our country—the Northern States; and that, too, by a people totally of and hitherto unaccustomed to warlike pursuits. If such are our strength and resources when divided, what will they be united and against a foreign foe? England cannot fail to see the question in this light, and in the future she will find her interest in courting our friendship and alliance, rather than in continual encroachment and exasperation. We shall hear no more of Bay Islands or northwestern boundaries, of San Juan or rights of search; and the Monroe doctrine will perforce receive from her a recognition which she has never yet accorded to it. She will recognize as the fiat of destiny our supremacy on the western hemisphere. Foreign nations have respected us in the past; they must fear us in the future. And while they will have no cause to dread our interference with the affairs of the Old World, they will be cautious of tampering with a power which has proved itself one of the first, if not the very first, on the face of the earth.
For—and this is another effect of the war which may be noticed in this connection—for many years to come we shall be a military nation. The necessity of guarding against a similar outbreak in the future will prompt the increase of our standing army; while the same cause, as well as the taste for military pursuits which our people will have acquired during this war, will keep the great mass of the people prepared to respond to the first call in the hour of danger. The militia laws will be revived, revised, and established on a firmer basis than ever before, and the antiquated militia musters and 'June trainings' will again become our most cherished holidays. Independent military organizations will spring up and flourish all over the land, and he who aforetime wore his gorgeous uniform at the heavy cost of running the gauntlet of his neighbors' sneers and gibes as a holiday soldier, will now be honored in enrolling his name among the 'Independent Rifles' of his native village. The youth will labor to acquire the elements of military knowledge and reduce them to practice, not with a view to holiday parades, but with an eye to the possible exigencies of the future, knowing that when the hour of trial shall come, the post of honor and of fame will be open to all, and that he who has most cultivated the military art in time of peace will bid fair to win in the race for preferment. Military schools will derive a new importance in our country; they will be patronized by high and low, and most of our institutions of learning will, ere many years, have a military as well as a scientific and classical department. And thus will the knowledge of the art of war become so universally diffused among the people, that in the event of another great struggle, we shall not be left, as heretofore, to depend upon raw and undisciplined volunteers, but an army of well-trained troops will spring like magic to the field, ready to march at once to victory, without the necessity of 'camps of instruction' and twelve months' delays. And when that day does come, woe to that potentate who shall have the temerity to provoke a war with our race of soldiers: his legions will be swept away like chaff before the whirlwind, and only defeat and disgrace will settle upon his banners.
Again, the stimulus which this contest has applied to warlike invention has already placed us in that respect far ahead of the most warlike nation on earth. France has hitherto been known as the great originator in all military science: probably she will yet, for many years, retain the palm in the province of tactics and executive skill. But as an originator and perfecter of the engines and defences of war, America has already robbed her of her crown, and stands to-day unsurpassed. No greater proof is needed of our superiority in this respect than the fact that in two short years of civil strife we have revolutionized the whole art of war as it has existed for ages, rendering absurd the maxims and useless the experience of the olden days, while filling their places with systems and theories whose practical results are so clear as to overwhelmingly sustain the new order of things, and compel not only the admiration but the support and adoption of the onlooking world. The antiquated weapons of warfare are harmless to-day, and their places are supplied by new and more destructive engines, which Europe must perforce adopt in self-defence, and thus bow to the genius of American invention, whereby the old is so entirely and radically supplanted by the new, that the Napoleons and Wellingtons of a past age would be but tyros in our battles of to-day. The lesson of the Monitors is not the only one Europe has learned from us within the last two years. And we have more to teach her yet, more marvels yet to be evolved from that inexhaustible mine of invention—the Yankee brain. For as long as the war shall last, furnishing not only a promise of a golden harvest in the future, but a present and substantial support to inventive genius, at the same time that a new stimulus is being constantly supplied by the events and experience of each succeeding day, the work will go on, and weapon after weapon, engine after engine, will be thrown into the world's great market, constantly approaching nearer to the perfection of destructive power. And as there is no poison without its antidote, so the originating faculties of the American mind will be as fully exerted in the creation of defences against those very engines of destruction. Armed thus at all points, and containing within ourselves not only a source of future supply, but even the very fount of originating faculty in this speciality, we shall be a power with which it is dangerous to trifle—a power with which others will not care to come in collision in any other form than that of an overwhelming combination, which, thank God! has become in these days one of the impossibilities of political manoeuvring. Nor will they be anxious, on any slight provocation, to again arouse that inventive faculty which furnishes us with material of war far in advance of the rest of the world. We have within ourselves every element of strength, every quality necessary to inspire and compel respect from all nations. In our own God-given faculties lie both the 'Procul, procul, este profani!' and the 'Tread not on me, or I bite,' which in all ages have constituted so-called national honor and pride, and which will be to us the broad aegis of protection when the storm-cloud of war darkens the horizon of the world. If this fail, the fault will be our own; we shall be unworthy custodians of the treasure; our downfall will be merited as it is sudden and sure, and few will be found to mourn over us.
As the effervescence of new wine brings all impurities to the surface, casting off those noxious superfluities whose presence is pollution to the liquid and disease and death to the partaker, so the present war is but the effervescence of our as yet new and unpurified political system, whereby all errors and impurities are thrown to the surface of society, ready to be skimmed off by the hand of the people, who are themselves the vintners and the rectifiers. No system of government is without radical defects, and it was not to be expected that our own would be free from error, founded as it is upon a principle new to the world, or only known as having totally failed in the past through the clumsiness of its originators and subsequent custodians—a system which had little aid from the experiences of the past, and must necessarily grope in the darkness which surrounds all new experiments of this kind, lighted only by the few, meagre, a priori truths of deductive reasoning. Our ancestors, hampered as they were by the lack of this great experience of social life, legislated for the men and circumstances of their time; and though they had ever an eye to the future, yet, conscious of the fallibility of human wisdom and foresight, they themselves did not expect their work to stand unchanged for all time. New circumstances would arise—the people themselves would change with time, and with them must necessarily change the laws that govern their actions. Law and government must keep pace with the progress of humanity, else the nation itself becomes effete, superannuated, deteriorated. Many errors there doubtless are in our system, taking their rise as well in the very commencement of our existence as from the fluctuations of society. Of these, some have hitherto lain inert and concealed, from the very lack of circumstances to induce their development, and from the lack of a field of action. Others have worked so slowly and insidiously as to have remained totally concealed from our view, as well from the fact of their never having as yet been productive of any decided and palpable evil effect, as from our becoming gradually accustomed to them and their workings, and from the preoccupation of the public mind with more exciting questions. But in all times of popular excitement and tumult, of revolutionary ideas and attempted violent reform, errors spring forth in dazzling brightness from the darkness of the past, like Minerva from the brain of Jove, armed with the full panoply of destructive war, clothed in the garb of maturity, and endowed with gigantic strength. Such has been the case in our day. As the early spring sun, warming the long-frozen soil and heating the foul moistures of the earth, brings to life and to the surface of the ground swarming myriads of noxious insects and reptiles, who, during the long winter months, have slept silent and torpid far down within the oozy depths, and hatches the thrice-told myriads of eggs deposited in seasons passed away, and which have long waited for his life-giving influence to pour forth their swarming millions to the upper air; even so this war has hatched the eggs of error, and brought forth the torpid defects of long gone-by decades, affording them a broad field of operation in their work of destruction; while it has at the same time torn away the veil which has hitherto blinded our eyes, and shown us, in the disasters of to-day, the culmination of the evil effects of causes which have for long years been working secretly at the very core of the body politic. But not alone has it brought forth error and corruption; for the same harsh influence has also revivified the seeds of virtue and awakened the sleeping lion of justice, uprightness, and national honor, which shall act as healthful counterbalances to all the evil, and supplant the monsters of destructive error.
For in the [Greek: gnothi seauton] of the Greek philosopher lies the secret of all reform. To know one's faults is already one half the battle to correct them. He who becomes conscious that health of body and mind are steadily yielding to the inroads of an insidious foe, is worse than a fool if he do not at once apply the knife to the seat of disease, however painful may be the operation. And though to-day we hear but little of reform, and all parties seem striving which shall display the most devotion to the cause of the past, the most affection for the unchanged and unchangeable status quo ante bellum in all things, yet is the popular mind not the less earnestly though silently working. To-day we have a task which occupies all our attention, absorbs all our powers and resources, and there is no time for reform: the all-absorbing and vital question being the establishing of things upon the old footing. But, peace restored, and the deathblow given to treason, the work of reform will commence. Then will become manifest the workings of the great mind of the nation during all this trying and bloody war. To acknowledge our defects and miscomings now, is but to give a handle to the enemies of our cause: but, this danger removed, the axe will at once be laid at the root of those evils which have come nigh to working our destruction; all the unsightly excrescences which have for years been accumulating upon the trunk of our goodly tree will be carefully pruned away, and the result will be a healthier and more abundant fruit in the days to come. And these reforms will be brought about quietly, yet with a firm and vigorous hand, and in a manner that will show to the world our determination henceforth to leave no loophole for the entrance of the destroyer.
No race of thinkers can ever be enslaved. Hitherto we have been too unreflecting, too much governed by momentary impulses, too much carried away by party cries and unhealthy enthusiasm, and hence completely beneath the sway of designing demagogues. We have left the politicians to do our thinking for us, and accepted too unhesitatingly their interested dicta as our rules of political action. The press has hitherto led the people, and so mighty an engine of political power has been eagerly seized and controlled by party leaders as a means of accomplishing their ends. All this will be done away with. We shall do our thinking for ourselves, and those who shall hereafter be put forward as the prominent actors upon the great stage of politics will become, what they have never before been save in name, the servants of the people. The press of America, like that of England, must hereafter follow, not lead, the sentiments of the nation. And while true 'freedom of the press' will be religiously conserved, that unrestrained license which has always too much characterized it will be restrained and brought within its true limits, not by statutes or brute force, but by the much more powerful agency of public opinion—by the danger of tampering with the cherished and elevated sentiments of the reading masses.
And as a result of this newborn faculty of thought, we shall see the disappearance of extreme views and the birth of charity in our midst. Men will give due weight to the opinions and respect more the natural prejudices of their fellows. While ultra conservatism is the rust which eats away the nation's life, radicalism is the oxygen in which it consumes itself too rapidly away. Or perhaps, a better simile would be found in the components of atmospheric air—nitrogen and oxygen; the one a non-supporter of combustion, the other giving it a too dazzling brilliancy at the expense of the material upon which it feeds; yet both, properly combined, so as in a measure to neutralize each other, supporting the steady and enduring flame which gives forth a mild and cheering light and heat, neither dazzling nor scorching. So conservatism and radicalism, properly intermingled and exercising a restraining influence upon each other, are the very life of a great and free people. And never, in the history of the world, have these principles been more thoroughly demonstrated, more clearly manifested to the eyes of even the unlearned and humble, than in the present war, in which one or the other of these two great mental phases has been the originator of every great movement, to make no mention of the palpable effect, now appearing upon the face of society, of their action in the past. And hence, in the future, we shall see in a noble, far-reaching, broadly spreading, heaven-aspiring conservative radicalism the prevailing characteristic of American life and progress.
Hitherto the very prime principle of self-government, an intelligent cognizance of public affairs and a reflective insight into the fundamental principles of liberty, has been totally neglected in our land. And if the events of these years shall really teach our people to think—I care not how erroneously at first, for the very exercise of the God-given faculty will soon teach us to discriminate between true and false deductions, and restore Thought to her native empire,—then the blood and treasure we have so lavishly poured out, the trembling and the mourning, the trials, the toils, and the privations we have suffered, even the mighty shock which the society of the whole civilized world has received, will be but a small price to pay for the blessing we shall have gained, and our future prosperity will have been easily purchased even at so tremendous a cost. God grant it may be so.
There is no land on earth where treason may work with such impunity as in our own. And this is owing as well to the greater latitude conceded to political speculations by the very nature of our system, as to the fact that our ancestors, having, as they thought, effectually destroyed all those incentives to treason which exist in more despotic lands, and little anticipating the new motives which might with changing men and times spring up in our midst, neglected to ordain the preventives and remedies for a disease which they imagined could never flourish in our healthy atmosphere. And while they imposed an inadequate penalty, they at the same time made so difficult the proof of this the greatest of crimes, that when at last the monster reared its head and stalked boldly through the land, there was no power to check or destroy it. It will be ours to see, in the future, that this impunity is taken away from this worse than parricide, and that, while a more awful penalty is affixed to the crime, the plotter shall be as amenable to the law and as easy to be convicted as he who takes the murderous weapon in his hands.
And for the accomplishment of this and similar ends, doubtless greater power will be conceded by the States to the Federal Government. The day has gone by when the people were frightened at the bare idea of giving to the central Government the necessary power to maintain its own integrity. The pernicious doctrine of State sovereignty as paramount to the national, has in this war received its deathblow at the hands of those who have always been its most zealous supporters. The South, starting out upon the very basis of this greatest political heresy of our age, had no sooner taken the initiatory step in severing completely all the ties and bonds which held them to the Union, than they discarded the very doctrine which had been their strongest weapon in forcing their people to revolt: well knowing that no government founded upon such a basis could stand for a single year; that the upholding of such a principle was neither more nor less than political suicide. And though at the commencement of our struggle there were many at the North in whose minds the dogma had taken deep root, few are found to-day to uphold the pernicious doctrine, and those few men of more than questionable loyalty. And not this principle only, but every other which is inconsistent with republican ideas, antagonistic to the growth of the giant plant of human freedom, has come to its death at the hands of the god of war. Great commotions are the test of great ideas, and that principle either of government or of human action which can withstand the shock of such an upheaving as the present, and come unharmed through the war of such conflicting elements, may well claim our support as founded in eternal truth. The penetrating glance of human intellect, sharpened by the perilous exigencies of the times, and by the quick succession of startling events, even as the inventive faculties are said to be rendered more acute by the presence of danger, at such times sees clearly the fallacies which perhaps have blinded mankind for years, and recognizes, with unerring certainty, the misfortunes and disasters of to-day as the evil effects of theories which aforetime were only considered capable of good.
And with these theories must inevitably fall their supporters and promulgators. The men who have persistently misled the public mind and falsified the experience of the past as well as the deductions of abstract reasoning, and who, consequently, if not the originators, are at least the aggravators, of all our misfortunes, need expect no mercy at the hands of the people. They must share the fate of their doctrines, and consent to be quietly shelved, buried beyond the hope of a resurrection: and it is to be hoped that their places will be filled by good, earnest, and true men, who have proved themselves devoted to the cause of our country's advancement rather than to that of personal preferment. In this war, the men of the future must make their record, and whenever they shall come before the people for the posts of honor and distinction, they will be judged according as they have to-day sacrificed personal prejudices and partisan feeling upon the altar of unity and freedom. For years to come the first question concerning a candidate will be, Was he loyal in the troublous times? was he earnest and true? There will be no distinction between the truly loyal Democrat and the earnest Republican. Those who have to-day stood shoulder to shoulder in the common cause will, whatever may be their difference in shades of opinion, be sworn friends in the future; while he who has in these times been only noted for a carping, cavilling spirit, for activity in endeavors to hamper and thwart the constituted authorities in their efforts to restore and maintain the integrity of the Government, will to their dying day wear the damning mark of Cain upon their brows: their record will bear a stain which no subsequent effort can wipe away. And though in the days to come other exciting questions will arise to divide the people into strongly opposing parties, which, indeed, are necessary to all true national life, preserving the balance of political power, acting as a check upon injudicious and interested legislation, and, above all, evolving truths by the very attrition of conflicting ideas, yet the intimate association of the past, bringing about a thorough acquaintance with the virtues and patriotism of the great mass of those who profess radically different ideas and opinions, as well as the wearing off of the sharp corners of those ideas themselves by a closer and more impartial observation, will tend to smooth away the asperities of partisan conflict, and beget greater charity and more respect for the opposing opinions of others, based upon a knowledge of the purity of intention and loftiness of purpose of political opponents. The evils of sectional feeling and sectional legislation, so clearly manifested in present events, will be avoided in the future, as the Maelstrom current which sucks in the stoutest bark to inevitable destruction: and while we shall still retain that natural love of home which binds us most closely to the place of our abode, the principle will be recognized that the well-being of the whole can only lie in the soundness and prosperity of each particular part, and we shall know no dividing lines in our love of country, but all become members of one great brotherhood, citizens of one common and united country. The experience of the past will teach us to religiously avoid the snares and pitfalls that beset our path, the hidden rocks and shoals upon which our bark had wellnigh stranded; and the science of politics will henceforward have a broader sweep, a loftier appreciation of national responsibility, a purer benevolence, a sublimer philanthropy.
Among the influences which will greatly modify the future of American politics, not the least is the lately enacted banking law. Hitherto we have been divided in our finances as no nation ever was before. Every individual State has had not only its own system of banking, but its own separate and distinct currency; a currency oftentimes based upon an insufficient security, and possessing only a local par value. The traveller who would journey from one portion of the country to another was driven to the alternative of converting his funds into bills of exchange, or of shopping from broker to broker to procure the currency of the particular localities which he proposed to visit. Not to mention the inconvenience of such a state of things, it is productive of many dire evils, which it is not my purpose to enumerate, since they are already familiar to the majority of my readers. Suffice it to say that such a diversity in a point so vital to all enlightened nations, is antagonistic to the very spirit of our institutions, under a government whose existence depends upon the principle of unity, in a land whose prosperity depends upon the consolidation of all its constituent parts into one homogeneous whole. Not only is this diversity in the money market forever destroyed by the establishment of a uniform currency, but from the peculiar nature of the law, the stability of the Government is made a matter of direct self-interest to every individual citizen, than which no surer or more enduring bond of union can be devised. For self-interest, the Archimedean lever that moves the world, loses no jot of its influence when even honor and patriotism have withered away. Every dollar of the security upon which the currency is based must be deposited in the treasury vaults: in other words, the wealth of every individual citizen is under Government lock and key. Should, then, in the future, any misguided portion of our people see fit to withdraw from our communion, irretrievable ruin not only stares them in the face, but is actually upon them from the moment the bond is severed. On the one side is devotion to the country, and a firm, secure currency, which at any moment will bring its full value in gold; on the other, secession, with the inevitable attendant of a circulation, not depreciated, but utterly worthless, and that, too, with no other to fill its place, since the operation of the law must soon drive out of existence every dollar of the present local bank circulation: patriotism and prosperity arrayed against rebellion and ruin. The business men all see this, and in the event of any threatened disruption, they, the most influential part of community, because controlling that which is the representative of all value, will be found firm and unwavering on the side of the duly constituted authority. Thus we shall have all the benefits of a funded national debt, with none of its attendant evils. And what a bond of union is this!—a bond which involves our very meat and drink, a bond which there can be no possible motive to sever so powerful as the incentive to union and mutual cooperation.
Again, the financial crises with which our country has been afflicted at regular periods of her existence, lowering thousands at one moment from a condition of ease and comfort to one of the most pinching want, changing merchant princes to beggars, and spreading ruin far and wide, have owed their origin, not to a wild spirit of speculation, but to the over inflation of bank issues, which is itself the cause of that reckless speculation. This evil, too, will be done away with in the future, for the issue must and will be regulated by the demands of the community. The Government, in whose hands are the securities, and who furnish the circulation based thereon, will control this matter and restrain the issue to its proper bounds. And even if it should run beyond that point, there will be less danger, since there can be no spurious basis, every dollar being secured by a tangible deposit in the Government vaults. The only escape from this view is in open and barefaced fraud, which will be easy of conviction, and no more to be feared than the ordinary operations of counterfeiters, and which will be effectually provided against. So carefully drawn are the provisions of the bill that no loophole is left for speculation; and he who shall hereafter succeed in flooding the country with a 'wildcat' currency, will be a shrewder financier and a more accomplished villain than the world has yet seen. The people, too, will repose such a confidence in the banks as they have never done before. We shall hear little hereafter of 'runs upon the banks;' for the currency holders, well knowing that the Government holds in its hands the wherewithal to redeem the greater portion of the circulation of every bank in the land in the event of the closing of its doors, the only 'runs' will be upon the deposits, and this only in cases of the grossest and most patent fraud and mismanagement on the part of the banks themselves. Hence, in times of financial peril we shall see the people combining to sustain the banks of their own locality, rather than, as is the case to-day, hastening to accelerate the ruin of perfectly solvent institutions which, but for their ill-timed fright, might weather the storm. Again I say, there could be no greater element of union and strength than this, which has grown out of our necessities and tribulations. In spite of all the confusion and ruin and bloodshed, in spite of all the mourning, and suffering, and sundering of ties, and upheaving of the very foundations and apparent total disruption of American society, no greater blessing could have befallen us than this same war, which has roused us to a new life, to the consciousness of defects and determination of reform, thereby planting us firmly on the true road to prosperity and happiness and power.
The wonderful display of our power and resources has given a reputation—call it notoriety, if you will—among the middle and lower classes of the old world, which in long years of peace we could not have attained. And our success in withstanding the terrible tempest which has assailed us, in maintaining the integrity of our political system, will spread that reputation far and wide, and give us a prestige whose effect will be seen in the increased tide of immigration that will flow in upon us upon the reestablishment of peace. The teeming soil and salubrious climate of the far West, together with the prospect it affords, not only of wealth, but of social advancement, both of which are forever denied them in their own country, and extremely difficult of attainment even in our own Eastern States, where the population is dense and every branch of industry crowded to repletion, will allure the hardy laborers of Europe by thousands and tens of thousands to the prairie land. In the immense unsettled tracts west of the Mississippi there is room for the action of men inured to toil, and promise of quick and abundant returns for their labor. There they will be free from the disastrous competition of their superiors in education and enlightenment, and have opportunities such as no other portion of the earth presents, for the founding of communities of their own, and the practical realization of their own ideas of social progress. Comparatively few years will pass after the restoration of peace before the West will be peopled by the very bone and sinew of all civilized nations. And these men will come to our shores imbued with the bitterest hatred of monarchical institutions, and an unbounded admiration and love of our own. Hence the new country will be intensely republican in its tendencies, and this will be another strong bond of union—another mighty element of strength and perpetuity to republicanism. For, as the movement goes steadily on, in time the balance of political power will rest with them. And it will be ours to see that the strong bias in favor of antiquated customs, laws, and usages, the result of centuries of unopposed tyranny, is eradicated from the minds of these men. They must be properly instructed in the principles of true liberty and self-government. They must be familiarized with the workings of free institutions and put to school in the experience of our century of experiment. Our very safety requires it; for so great is the field and so quickly will it be filled, that if we are not alive to the work, a mighty nation will soon have sprung up on our borders, and almost in our midst, which will be entirely beyond our control, and threaten the very existence of our race, and of the principles we most cherish. For the danger is that, suddenly released from all the restrictions of their own feudal climes, they will fly to the other extreme, and become lawless, reckless, and turbulent. For many years to come all legislation must have an eye to the possible and probable capacities and immense importance of the yet unsettled West, and to the exigencies arising from causes which at present we know not of save by conjecture. We have a future before us such as the past has never known, and an incentive, nay, rather a necessity, for more vigorous action than we have yet been called upon to display, and for a deeper and more far-sighted wisdom than has ever yet pervaded our councils.
The religious future of this portion of our country is veiled in the deepest obscurity. Here we shall have the free-thinking German, the bigoted Roman Catholic, the atheistic Frenchman, and the latitudinarian Yankee, in one grand heterogeneous conglomeration of nations and ideas such as the world has never seen. Whether these diverse peculiarities will by close contact and mutual attrition, by the advancing light of education and refinement as well as by the progress of intellect, be in time softened down, assimilated, and fused into a pure, elevating religion, or aggravated till they result in a godless, materialistic race, God only knows. For no man was ever yet able to prognosticate of religion, or prophecy with the remotest degree of its future action. For it is a thing of God, under his exclusive care, and subject to none of the influences of human action. In His hands we must leave it, in the earnest hope and belief that He will not suffer His divine purposes to be thwarted, and this people, to whom He has intrusted the task of the world's regeneration, to forget and deny their God, who has led them on to power and prosperity and happiness, to go back upon the scale of the soul's eternal progress, and become a race of wicked, corrupt, and God-defying sensualists.
Yet there is no maxim more true than that 'the gods help those who help themselves,' and in this great work of religious advancement we have nevertheless a part to act, a duty to perform. And the day is not far distant when the work of the missionary in our own land will overshadow that of the teacher in African climes. Here will be an ample field for all our exertions, all our contributions; and if we do our duty by our own people, we shall be forced, for a time at least, to leave the task of instructing the heathen of foreign lands to the Christian nations of the Old World. Our greatest responsibility is here, and it behooves us to look well to the religious culture of our own rapidly increasing population, that in after times they may be fitted for the task of Christianizing the world.
Every nation has its crisis, when its existence trembles in the balance, and through which it must safely pass before it can be firmly established as a great fact in history, a tangible landmark of progress, a controlling influence in the affairs of humanity. Nor is this crisis ever a mere fortuitous circumstance, but the necessary consequence of conflicting ideas and of untried systems. It is that point in the great process of assimilation when different and hitherto almost discordant elements tremble on the verge either of a harmonious blending for all time, or of flying off into eternal divergence and hostility. Hence it was not to be imagined that we could escape the common lot: our crisis was to be expected, and now that it has come upon us it is to be manfully met, and so controlled by an iron will, a loftiness of determination, and a purity of aim, that it leave us not stranded among the breakers of disunion and political death. And if we shall succeed in so controlling the mighty current of affairs, we may rest assured that we shall be purified by the trial, and shall have established a position on earth that no subsequent events can shake, until God, in His own good time, shall bid us give way to some higher development of mankind, if such shall be His will. With a noble and worthy nationality; with an incontestable position of strength and political influence, a widely diffused skill and experience in military affairs, a fund of warlike invention, and unbounded physical resources, which shall free us from all annoyances and intermeddlings at the hands of foreign nations; with a purification from the errors of the past, and a deeper insight into the capabilities as well as the exigencies of the present and the future; with a regenerated and higher-toned press; with an anathema maranatha for treason, in whatever shape it may assume; with a purer charity for the opinions of others, and a more graceful yielding of the obnoxious characteristics of our own; with a firmly established and health-giving system of finance; with a rapidly increasing population, bringing with it an increase of responsibility, and furnishing a broader field for the development of our energies and resources; with a glorious past behind and a golden future before us, we shall sweep majestically on upon the waves of time, an object of admiration to the world and of justifiable pride to ourselves—a great, and glorious, and, above all, a free, happy, united, and prosperous people. God grant it may be so! God grant that we may be true to the trust reposed in us, and that the glorious cause of human liberty—the cause in which are bound up the hopes of the whole world—may not again fall to the earth through the blindness and weakness and incompetence of us, who are to-day its only exponents. May we of this day and generation live to see the crowning of all these hopes; and when our sun goes down in the shadows of eternity, may we be able to look back and thank God for the trials and sufferings and losses and mournings of to-day, as the refining fire through which we have come strong and bright, the sharp knife whereby the gnawing worms of error, and corruption and inevitable death have been cut from the heart of our goodly tree.
FROM AN UNWRITTEN POEM.
God struck the heavens' holy Harp, While sang the grand celestial choir. Earth heard the awful sound, and saw The trembling of the golden wire. 'Twas thunder to the stranger ear, And to the eye the lightning's fire.
'O Heaven! were man But constant, he were perfect; that one error Fills him with faults, makes him run through all sins.'
Two Gentlemen of Verona
Are they truly dying, All the summer leaves? Will the blasts of autumn Strip the happy trees? Bright the glowing foliage Paints the misty air— Crimson, purple, golden— Must they die—so fair?
Where has flown the sunshine Wooed them to their birth, Tempting them to flutter Far above the earth? Ruthless did it leave them In their hour of bloom, Let the chill blasts whisper Tales of death and doom?
Rapidly they robed them In each varied hue, Hoping thus the sunshine To attract anew; But the fickle glitter Looked in anger down, Freezing up the life-pulse With an icy frown.
Then the happy radiance Sinks to rise no more; Leaves of gold and crimson Strew earth's gloomy floor. Gone their summer glory, Lifeless, lost, they lie; Wilted, withered, drifting As winds will, they fly.
Thus in woman's bosom Love wakes bud and bloom, 'Neath his glowing sunshine Thinking not of doom; Covering soft life's desert Spread the branches green, Hope's bright birds sing through them— Close the leafy screen.
Through the quivering foliage Falls a sudden fear! Leaves are rustling, trembling— Feel change drawing near! Brighter then they robe them, Call on every hue, Color every fibre— Love to win anew.
Summon gold and crimson, Bright as dyed in blood; Hectic fever flushes Pour in anguished flood! Gone the healthful quiet Of the summer green; Hope-birds turn to ravens, Sighs the leafy screen.
Love looks down in anger On the wildering show; Freezing follows change-frost— Love heaps ice and snow! Then the fevered radiance Fades from life's doomed tree; Wilted, withered, drifting, Bud, bloom, leaves we see.
Love looks down upon them, Wonders how it came— Thinks through all his changing They should bloom the same: Did not know his change-frost Had the power to kill; Did not deem his frowning Life's quick pulse could still!
Gone the fickle sunshine! Gone the rosy hours! Gone love's early wooing! Gone the healthful powers! Come and cool the hectic, Chill the fevered glow, Pale the crimson flushing, Death, beneath thy snow!
ACROSS MAINE IN MID-WINTER.
A journey by stage coach in these days, when railroads are fast penetrating to the remotest corners of our country, has already become a somewhat novel experience. In the course of comparatively few years, even the 'air line' will have given place to an international railway, connecting us immediately with New Brunswick, and the stage coaches of this region will be among the reminiscences of the past.
The circumstances under which this journey of mine was performed were most painful. Still, through that remarkable power of the human mind, which seems to act independently of volition, that mysterious duality of being which observes, discriminates, and remembers, while at the same time preoccupied by an overwhelming grief, I was enabled to note each little incident with more than usual intensity.
Was it that they stood out in bolder, more sharply cut relief, because of the dark background of emotion behind?
There had been little, if any, snow on the island all the winter, and the morning of the 26th of January was bright and mild as April. Indeed, it was difficult to imagine it winter.
'Come, Fred,' said I to my second little boy, 'We must take a walk to the batteries this fine morning.'
As I stood upon the height, while the little fellow frisked about among the rocks, I stretched my eyes westward toward the hills and forests of the mainland, and thought of my father and mother, and of the letter which I almost knew was on its way to me then. Ah! little did I dream that at that very moment the gaunt sentinels of the telegraph were tossing from one to another, with lightning speed, a message of woe for me. Its long journey of four hundred miles was accomplished in less time than my short walk. I had just returned when it arrived.
I saw by my husband's countenance as he read it, and by his extreme tenderness of manner toward me, that a great misfortune had befallen me. I sank down on the floor beside him, trembling with apprehension, yet longing to know the worst. 'Is it mother?' I gasped. He handed me the telegram, which was directed to him:
'Your father-in-law died this morning. Can Elsie come to the funeral? If so, what day? Telegraph immediately.'
And this was all. My father was dead! How long he had been ill, or what was his disease, I knew not. 'Why did they not send for me sooner, that I might have seen him alive once more?' I asked, in the first unreasoning agony of grief. But he was dead. All I could do for him now was to yield him my last tribute of reverence and affection.
'Can Elsie come to the funeral?' Yes, I could go. It was all I could do for my father now; I knew that. My family would be well cared for in my absence. My husband did not oppose me, though he could not approve. But he exerted himself in every way to further my plans.
There were difficulties at the outset. The regular morning stage had already left. The 'air line,' as it is called, was the only route remaining to me. Now this 'air line' started from a point thirty miles north of us, and lay through ninety miles of wilderness. I had heard of it before I ever came to the island, and had been told a wild story about a stage coach having been chased by a pack of wolves for several miles on this route a few years before. The innkeeper, too, spoke very dubiously about it to my husband. But what were the hundred and twenty miles between me and the cars—the four hundred between me and my father, then! Should these few miles of earth detain me? No! It was possible for me to go, and go I must.
My preparations were soon made; but I found, to my dismay, on applying for a passage in the stage to C——(where the journey proper would begin) that all the seats were taken. The innkeeper sent me word, however, that he would furnish me a private conveyance, if I must go. So at two o'clock, P.M., an open, low-backed buggy appeared at my gate. I kissed my little ones, who gathered wonderingly around to 'see mamma go away,' and wrapping my old plaided cloak about me (the cloak I wore when a child), I seated myself beside the buffalo-bundled driver, and was soon whirling out of town.
The air was soft and mild, and no snow was to be seen except a little here and there by the roadside as we advanced northward. The sky had become overcast, and showed signs of an approaching storm. The scenery was generally bare and uninteresting. We followed the St. Croix river in its course. Opposite St. Andrews it widens into a broad bay. It was then near sunset, and the clouds broke away a little and gave a cheery, rosy flush to the calm water.
Night soon settled down upon us. It was dark when we arrived at the —— Hotel, after a drive of five hours. I had never been in C——, and this was my first experience in hotel life alone.
I was ushered into a large, lonesome room, in total darkness except for the light from the hall burner, which streamed dismally into its depths. A tall, black shadow soon announced himself as the landlord, to whom I made known my wants. His wife, a kind-hearted, energetic woman, took compassion on me, and showed me into her own private parlor to get warmed, for I was very chilly. Here the good lady's curiosity was piqued somewhat to find that the young man who accompanied me was not my husband, and that I proposed to go on the next morning to Bangor alone. I shuddered when she told me the journey was usually made in an open conveyance. Think of riding all day and all night on a board slung across an open wagon! And what if it should rain!
I bethought myself of two friends of mine who were visiting in C——, and to them I despatched my cards. After tea, when I was seated quietly in my room, Aunt Carter came. She is one of those good, kind souls who are always aunts to everybody. She came to me with hearty sympathy. The evening passed pleasantly away, for her simple words of faith and hope cheered and consoled me.
I slept but little that night. I lay thinking of my father, and of the morrow's journey, and listening to every sound. I fancied I heard it raining. At last I was almost sure of it. When I peeped out of the window in the gray of the dawn, the ground was white, and it was snowing fast.
Soon after breakfast my kind friends appeared, and the good clergyman also, who went down to make some inquiries about the stage coach for me, and, returning soon, announced with a very grave countenance that it had not connected with the cars at Bangor for nearly a week. In fact, that it was unusual for it to do so at this season.
'It seems to have set in for a storm,' said he. 'All our storms this winter have terminated in rain. There is a uniformity in storms,' he added, lugubriously, 'and if this should turn to rain, you cannot possibly get through.'
For a few moments my purpose was shaken. If I did not succeed in reaching the cars the next morning, I would be too late for my father's funeral, and my journey would be all but in vain. There was my mother, to be sure, but my whole heart turned to my father now. Could I, ought I to run this risk?
But, on the other hand, how could I relinquish my object when thus far on the way to it?
Blessings on Aunt Carter! She came to the rescue.
'Now,' said she, 'I have found that a good Providence always took care of me, and I believe He will take care of you. You've begun your journey and got thus far safely, and I believe you'll get through to Bangor in time. At any rate, if you don't, you will have the satisfaction of comforting your mother. I've been about the world considerable,' she continued, 'and I've always found a man to take care of me. Now you shall have my man to take care of you.'
Reassured by her hopeful words, I exclaimed:
'Enough, I will go! If there be any power in will, or any speed in horses, I will get there!'
The minister sighed, but I commenced putting on my cloak. Just then, the young man who had driven me up from the island the day before, came to take my parting commands.
'Tell Mr. K.,' said I, 'that I start under favorable auspices. Is any one going through?'
'Two passengers, but no ladies,' he replied.
'Who are they?' I inquired.
'They are both strangers, from the 'other side''—(the Maine cognomen for the neighboring British provinces).
'What do they look like?'
'Well, they look like gentlemen, and we hope they are so,' he replied, with dubious emphasis.
And these were my favorable auspices! A doubtful snowstorm and two doubtful gentlemen! Nevertheless I spoke the truth.
At length I was all ready, and the landlady, who was quite interested in me by that time, took me once more into her parlor with my friends, while waiting for the stage. Again the thought of my travelling companions occurred to me. I inquired if the landlady knew aught of them.
'Nothing but their names,' said she. 'Neither of them was ever here before. They look a little rough, but you cannot always tell about these province people, they dress so differently from our folks. I dare say they are real gentlemen.'
It was decided, with the concurrence of my friends, to request an introduction to one of them through the landlord, as I was travelling alone, and might need some aid. If they were as it was 'hoped,' this would be an advantage; and if they were not, the formality might be some protection.
I confess I was not strongly prepossessed in their favor when I confronted them at the door of the hotel; the one a short, fat figure in a coarse blue coat, with a hood of the same, lined with scarlet; a flat cloth cap, and long heavy boots, reaching above the knee. An ugly red-and-green woollen scarf tied around the waist enhanced the oddity of his appearance. The other was taller and more slenderly built. His complexion was decidedly 'sandy,' with short, curling hair and a prodigious mustache. His countenance, like his dress, was grave, the latter being an iron-gray travelling suit.
With a low bow the landlord presented me to the former. It was a kindly voice that said, 'Excuse my mitten,' as, instinctively drawing off my own, my hand rested a moment in his big, shaggy palm. There was good-nature in the face too, from the roguish dark eyes to the genial, laughter-loving mouth.
I trembled, though, as, bidding farewell to my friends, I stepped into the coach.
'Take good care of this lady, driver,' said Aunt Carter, 'for she's a precious charge.'
My good friend the clergyman was the last one to bid me good-by. He reached into the coach and shook hands with me, wishing me a prosperous journey.
At last we were off. The snow fell thick and fast and moist. What if it should turn to rain? But it was not cold, and I at least was uncomfortably warm, for my kind friends had provided me with a well-heated plank for my feet, and a brick for my hands. It was heavy sleighing, and we dragged along at the rate of four miles an hour for the first twelve or fifteen miles. Occasionally the object of my journey and the novelty of my situation would come over me like a dream; but I resolutely buried my grief away down in my heart, and lived on the surface.
I entered into conversation with my travelling companions, whom I scrutinized narrowly.
We had not gone very far before the Englishman unbuttoned his overcoat and produced what is technically called a 'pocket pistol.' It was a flat flask of generous proportions, encased in leather, fitting into a silver drinking cup below, and with a stopper of the same screwing on the top. At any rate, however questionable its contents might be, its appearance outwardly was highly respectable.
'By your permission, madam,' said he, pouring a portion into the cup.
'Certainly,' said I, significantly, 'within reasonable limits.'
'Of course,' said he, pleasantly, as he offered it to the other gentleman, since I declined it. I learned to bless them both, and the brandy flask into the bargain, before I got to the end of my journey. But I will not anticipate.
They were intelligent and well-educated. Occasionally the conversation took a solemn and earnest tone. We touched on many topics. We discussed the Queen and royal family; the Prince of Wales; his visit to this country; his intended marriage, &c.; the prospect of Prince Alfred becoming King of Greece; the condition of these United States; the rebellion, &c., &c.
I was sorry to find that the young Englishman was strongly tinctured with the prejudices now so prevalent in the provinces against emancipation. He frankly acknowledged that at the time of the 'Trent affair' his sympathies turned toward the South, but that since he had read more and thought more on the subject, he had become decidedly in favor of the North.
The other gentleman was a Scotchman, born and brought up near Gretna Green. His recollections of the renowned blacksmith and the runaway couples he had often seen riding posthaste to the smithy, with pursuers close behind perhaps, were very interesting. He was recently from New Orleans, where he had resided for several years. He was there through the blockade, and served in the city troops several months, though, being a foreigner, he could not be impressed into the regular army on either side. He was reserved, of course, concerning his opinions, but it was easy to see that he regarded General Butler, whom I lauded highly, with no friendly eye.
At one o'clock we stopped at a dingy little cottage to dine. Here the Englishman took me under his special charge, assisting me into the house, while the Scotchman followed after with my plank and brick, which were duly set up before the blazing open fire to warm for the next stage. Here I first saw the Frenchman, who had ridden outside in order to enjoy his pipe. He was sitting by the fire wringing the moisture from his long black hair, and wondering if he could get any 'rum.' On seeing the lady he courteously made way, and, after, laying aside my wrappings, I seated myself before the fire, while waiting for dinner. It was a dim little room, uncarpeted, and poorly furnished with a looking glass, a map, and a few wooden chairs, and ornamented by a 'mourning piece,' which hung over the mantel, representing a bareheaded lady with a handkerchief at her eyes, standing beside a monument under a weeping willow.
But the open fire was a sight worth seeing in those days. How it roared and blazed and crackled and hissed and diffused its hospitable warmth and ruddy glow all over the little brown room! How cheerfully it contrasted with the storm without!
Dinner was soon announced, and as Mr. K.'s last injunction had been to 'be sure to eat, whether I wished to or not,' I prepared to pass through the first ordeal of eating against my inclination. There was little to excite appetite. The room was browner and dimmer than the one we had just left; the table was spread with a coarse brown cloth; the bread was brown, not honest 'rye and Indian,' but tawny-colored wheat, and sour at that; the thick uncomely slices of corned beef were brown too, and the dishes and plates were all brown. The Englishman looked despondingly on the repast, and ventured to inquire if the landlady, a quiet body in a brown dress, had any eggs.
'Yes,' she replied, with a strong nasal twang, 'but they ain't very fresh. I shud be 'fraid to resk b'ilin' 'em. I could fry some, ef yer liked.'
'It's of no consequence, madam,' said the Englishman; but the good woman, bent on being accommodating, and observing, ''Twouldn't take but a minute to do 'em,' disappeared into the kitchen, and returned in an incredibly short space of time with a plate of eggs swimming in grease. I did the best I could to obey my husband's orders, but with poor success.
We were soon on our way again. At every solitary house along the road we stopped to leave a mailbag. Whom could the letters be for? we wondered.
At one place a pretty girl ran out bareheaded through the snow to take the mail. She was neatly dressed, and wore a pretty, bright-colored 'Sontag' over her shoulders, but she spoiled her good looks by chewing vigorously a mouthful of spruce gum, a custom which prevails in this region, probably borrowed from the Indians.
Here we met the 'return stage' from Bangor—a rough, uncovered sleigh. There were two or three province men in it, whom the Englishman recognized.
'I say,' cried he, 'if you see any of my people, tell them you saw me about three days out from Bangor.'
We passed on, and met nothing more the rest of the journey. The snow shut off the distant views from us, but, clinging to every twig and rock and stump, gave a fairy-like beauty to the otherwise dreary scene. The alder bushes were particularly beautiful, filled as they were with balls of snow, resembling large bunches of white flowers.
The forest was mostly small second growth. Much of the country was partially cleared, and long logs lay by the roadside, some of which we were several minutes in passing. The stumps had been left three or four feet high. These, blackened by fire or storms, and crowned with snow, inclined their square heads forward, as if seeking to catch a glimpse of us as we passed.
The way grew more lonesome and dreary every mile, and the snow more fine and moist. Would it turn to rain? There were no bells on the horses, and the driver, a surly, silent fellow, had not even an encouraging 'chirrup' for them, while the muffled crunching of the soft snow by the runners seemed to have a somnolent influence upon them, judging from our progress. Occasionally the gentlemen would get out and run up the hills, and once the Englishman fell full length, and jumped in again, his blue coat and peaked hood well frosted with snow, looking, were it not for his youthful face, the very impersonation of Santa Claus. He had a powerful physique, and was full of vitality. These runs in the snow seemed to refresh him greatly, while they exhausted the more delicate Scotchman.
In vain we looked for the wolves. We half wished they might appear, that the horses might quicken their paces. Not a sign of life was anywhere to be seen, except one flock of snow-birds on the top of a hill.
Conversation still went on, but the intervals of silence were longer and more frequent, and the burden of my sudden grief would press upon me heavily at times. My anxiety and excitement, too, lest I should not make the connection with the cars, increased as the day advanced. At last the monotonous motion of the stage coach, added to the agitated state of my nerves, began to affect me like the rolling of the sea. The trees of the forest seemed to waltz around me in mazy circles. Faster and faster they whirled, till my sight grew dim and I could scarcely distinguish them at all. My senses were winding up. I felt them slipping from me in spite of the strongest effort of my will to hold them. A confused sound filled my ears; my strength failed me; I drooped heavily; but Aunt Carter's 'man' was by me, sure enough. His protecting arm supported me, and his calm and steady voice penetrated even my deadened hearing, as he asked my permission to apply some snow to my forehead. I uttered an almost inarticulate assent. There was one blank moment, and then the refreshing coolness on my brow and on my hands revived me. I apologized for the trouble I had given. 'We all have mothers and sisters,' he replied, quietly, as he poured a draught from his travelling flask for me. My distrust of him and his 'pocket pistol,' too, had vanished.
The Scotchman also was unwearied in his attention to my comfort. Did the snow blow in upon me? He would lower the curtain. Did I wish more air? he would raise it again. Were my feet becoming chilled? He would tuck in the buffalo. Between the two I fared certainly as comfortably as circumstances would permit.
The weather was still mild, though colder than before. As the day wore on, the wind began to rise, and I observed frequent eddies and whirlwinds of snow and ominous grooves around every wayside stone. Would the storm increase and drift? In that case my chance of getting to Bangor in time was doubtful enough.
We reached our next stopping place at half past four, P.M. It was a weather-stained house, which we must have entered by the back door, for we passed into the kitchen at once, where were a stout, pleasant-faced woman, with two stout, pleasant-faced daughters, and a big fat yellow dog, who sat up in a chair beside them at the window, as though he were indeed a part of the family. We were ushered into a small room beyond, which rejoiced in another glorious wood fire, before which the Englishman duly planted me, and the Scotchman my plank and brick. Over the mantel was another version of the sepulchral monument with the weeping woman and willow, in whimsical contrast with the jolly, rollicking fire beneath, which gave us such a hearty welcome.
As we sat luxuriating in the warmth, the two fat girls in the kitchen began to vocalize with low sweet voices that harmonized pleasantly, 'Do, re, mi, si, la, si, do.' Evidently there had been a singing school in the neighborhood. Presently they struck into 'Marching Along,' which they sang with considerable spirit.
In the mean time, an overgrown youth, apparently belonging to the house, who sat in one corner, tilting his chair, said, addressing all of us at once, 'Wal, you've got the wust half the road before yer now. Thur's a hill a mile an' a half long, jest out here a little ways. You'll have to break yer own roads, I reckon; there's nothin' else goin' along to-day. Storm's gittin' wuss.'
We looked dubiously at each other, and he, probably observing my anxious countenance, endeavored to reassure us by saying, in an uncertain tone, 'But I rayther guess you'll git through.'
We were soon off again on the next stage, which was to be twenty-four miles, without any stopping-place or village between. We ascended many hills, in fact there seemed to be no going down to any of them; but when the horses came to a dead halt, and the coach began to slip backward, and the driver called out, 'I guess, gentlemen, you'll hev to git out here for a spell,' we knew we had come to the hill 'a mile an' a half long.' I kept my place, for my weight was too inconsiderable to make much difference. The Englishman, taking hold of the coach, helped the horses to start again with a vigorous push, and then the three passengers went plunging through the snow till the driver stopped and took them in again, quite out of breath.
We were now in the depths of the forest, many miles from any house. Occasionally we passed a deserted lumberman's hut by the wayside, and discussed the liability of a breakdown or an overturn in that wild region.
The white-headed, square-faced stumps which abounded in the partially cleared tracts, peered in upon us for mile after mile with haunting repetition.
The trees were heavily laden with snow, which they shook down upon us as we brushed along beneath their low-bending branches. In the dim twilight they assumed every variety of fanciful form. There were gaunt old trees, with gnarled and twisted branches, outstretched like arms in deadly Laocoon-like struggle with the writhing winds and storms; there were delicate birches, each slender twig bearing its feathery burden; and there were spruces and hemlocks, regal in snowy splendor. It lay upon them in heavy masses, and gave their bending boughs a still more graceful dip. There was something which harmonized with my grief in the silent snow and the drooping trees. They sank beneath the snow as the human heart sinks beneath its burden of sorrow. Yet it fell gently and beautifully upon them, as affliction falls from the hand of our Father, 'who chasteneth whom he loveth.' One tree, which bent completely over in a perfect abandonment of grief, particularly impressed me. There was something in the sweep of the branches which suggested the utter prostration of the heart beneath the first shock of a great affliction.
How still it was! It was not dark, for the moon had risen, and the clouds were thin. The snow, too, made it lighter.
It was at this solemn, awe-inspiring hour that my companions first learned the object of my journey. The sympathy with which they met me did honor to human nature.
'I thought,' said the Englishman, 'that the urgency of my own journey was great, but it is nothing compared to yours.'
He apologized for any light or careless conversation in which they had indulged, not knowing the circumstances of my journey, and entered fully into the sentiment which had prompted me to undertake it. He assured me that he would see that I got through in time for the cars the next morning, and begged me to feel no further uneasiness about it.
From that moment, both my companions were more assiduously devoted to my comfort than ever. Their interest was increased on finding that my father was the son of a well-known inventor.
His history was soon told. He had inherited his father's business (now passed out of the family) with something of his mechanical talent. Of a confiding disposition, he had been wronged by those whom he had intrusted most extensively, and, property gone and strength failing, his misfortunes, which he had at all times borne with exemplary patience and fortitude, had culminated in the loss of his old home, the home of his father before him, by the hand of the incendiary. He had left me a precious legacy in his memory, to which my present journey was an inadequate tribute.
The hours wore on. It did not grow much darker, but oh, it was so still! You could hear the stillness when the coach stopped, as occasionally it did.
It was there, in the depths of this remote wilderness, that our subdued voices mingled in those grand old chorals which belong to the church universal, and in which, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Unitarian as we were, we could all heartily join: 'Old Hundred,' so full of worship; 'Dundee,' with its plaintive melody; and 'America,' breathing the soul of loyalty, whether sung to 'God save the Queen,' or 'Our country, 'tis of thee.'
My voice was feeble, and soon gave out. I had come near fainting repeatedly, and had only been resuscitated by the snow and the Englishman's brandy. I was now nearly exhausted.
'You had better make use of my shoulder as a pillow,' he said, perceiving my condition.
'You had better, by all means,' chimed in the Scotchman.
I hesitated a moment. What would Mrs. Grundy say—and my husband? I was too tired to care for the former, and the latter, I knew, would be only grateful to my compassionate friends.
'Circumstances must dispense with ceremony,' I observed, suiting the action to the word.
'Madam,' rejoined the Englishman, with warmth, 'I hope you will find, before you get to the end of your journey, that you are in honorable company.'
'I have found it out already,' I murmured, and then, committing myself to the care and keeping of the Good Father, my last shadow of distrust vanished.
I was too weary to hold my eyelids open, and too much excited to sleep. At length I was aroused by a sudden stop. The 'whippletree' had broken. In a few minutes we proceeded, the 'leader' being still driven loosely, as before.
Again we came to a pause—this time to water the horses at a wayside spring. While the others were refreshing themselves, the 'leader' quietly walked off, to the great indignation of the driver, who began to swear as he chased him through the snow. He was captured at last, and we continued on our way.
The poor Frenchman had by this time become so chilled that he was glad to come inside, though by so doing he felt obliged to give up the luxury of his pipe.
All at once the striking difference in our nationalities occurred to me, and I exclaimed, on the impulse of the moment:
'See, do we not represent the four leading nations of the earth—England, France, Scotland, and America?'
'Yes,' replied the Englishman, with some hesitation in his manner; 'England is surely one of the leading nations; so is France;'—(here the Frenchman broke in with some inarticulate jargon to the glory of France)—'but Scotland—I don't know about that being a 'leading nation.''
This roused the Scotchman. 'Scotland has been a glorious nation! She has proud memories for her sons!' he cried, with a fire of enthusiasm, not without pathos, in its unavoidable admission that the glory of his country as an individual power in the world was past.
'That is right,' said I, admiring his sudden warmth; 'cling to your own country before all others, come what may.'
The Englishman then reverted to the present lamentable condition of these United States, and with characteristic complacency pointed to the stability and grandeur of his own Government.
It was in vain that I spoke of the future of our country, and represented our present troubles to be, as I firmly believe, the means of our regeneration into a nobler and truer national existence. His English prejudices were not to be shaken. England was, and would remain the leading nation of the earth.
How much longer the discussion would have continued I know not, had we not caught sight of lights, and driven up to a more pretentious mansion than we had yet seen on our way.
Scarcely able to stand, I alighted, and the landlord, seeing the lady, ushered us into the parlor, which showed signs of approaching civilization in the large-figured Kiddermister carpet and the 'air-tight' stove.
A fine-looking young man, whom they called 'Doctor,' in a gray suit with deep fur cuffs, sat at a table, looking over a volume of house plans with a pretty young lady. Apparently the occupation had been of absorbing interest, for the fire was nearly out, and the room was quite cold, and the look with which they greeted our entrance betokened surprise rather than pleasure.
The Englishman made himself at home, and, not waiting to call a servant, procured three or four sticks of wood from some unknown quarter, and began piling them into the stove. They burned feebly, for the fire was very low indeed, and I still shivered; so, catching up the rocking chair, he ran off with it into the other room.
'There's a good open fire out here,' said he; 'it doesn't look quite as tidy, perhaps, but I guess you'll get warm.'
That was the main thing, to be sure; so I followed on. Here the fire was not so good as it might have been, but by dint of a little bluster, a quantity of 'light-stuff' and more solid fuel was soon forthcoming, and we shortly had a blaze almost strong enough to set the chimney and my inevitable plank on fire. Here we wound our watches. After a little delay supper was announced—fried beefsteaks, potatoes, and doughnuts.
This was the place where we were to exchange drivers, and where a delay of several hours frequently occurred.
When we were about half through supper, which my travelling companions discussed with enviable zeal, a short, stoutly built, sharp-visaged man appeared in the doorway, and cried out, 'All ready!'
'Well, I'm not,' said the Englishman, looking up good-humoredly. With a muttered threat about going on and leaving us, the new driver turned away, and we thought the prospect of getting to Bangor in time had decidedly improved. Still, there were more than forty miles between.
'I will take one of your doughnuts, madam,' said I, putting it into my pocket, for I had been able to eat but little.
'Certainly,' said the landlady; 'take as many as you wish.'
There was something in her kindly tone that did me good. It cheered and helped me more than she could know.
We were to pay our passage here to the returning driver. I had secured a 'through ticket' at C——, but my companions, having only English gold with them, had not done so, having been assured by this same man that they could just as well pay at Bangor, where they would obtain a higher premium on their money. Now, however, he demanded his pay, and at first was not disposed to allow any premium for the gold. This, of course, excited their indignation, and some high words passed. However, the matter was compromised by the driver giving them twenty per cent., when gold was at that moment worth fifty at Bangor.
I had stolen from the room, and was hastily putting on my numerous wrappings, when the Englishman came to me with what he called a 'dose, which he thought would do me good.'
I took part of it, and then hesitated, for it contained strong reminiscences of the 'pocket pistol.'
'Would you really advise me to take the rest?' said I gravely.
'I certainly would,' he replied, with conclusive solemnity. So I took it, and I think it did 'do me good.'
'This is a hard journey for you,' said the landlady, compassionately regarding my diminutive stature and frail aspect.
The driver was very impatient. She half apologized for him, saying, 'He is very anxious to get through to-night. He doesn't like to go through in the night always, for there are many dangerous places along the road; but it is sleighing to-night, and not very dark, so he thinks he can do very well.'
The urgency of my case, which the Englishman had represented to him, with what other inducements I can only imagine, occasioned his unwonted haste.
When we entered the coach once more for the long night ride, one of the buffaloes was missing.
'It's over to the other stable,' said the driver, carelessly; 'twas left over there by mistake. You shall have it when we get there.'
You would have thought, from his manner of speaking, that the 'other stable' was just across the road, instead of being twenty miles away. As we drove away, I observed, 'I have a doughnut in my pocket; the first one hungry shall have it.'
The curtains were now buttoned closely down for the first time, and we were in total darkness. We rode in silence for some time, each resolutely trying to go to sleep. The Frenchman succeeded best. He had served as a soldier on the Continent, and was evidently accustomed to hardship. He slept as soundly as though he were on a down bed, instead of riding backward in a stage coach.
Again insensibility threatened me. I could not speak, but my labored breathing aroused my companions just in time to save me from entire unconsciousness. The faithful Scotchman had raised the curtain, and the air rushed in freshly upon me. It was very chilly, and much colder than it had been. It had ceased snowing, and the moon was shining feebly through the breaking clouds. We were going at a goodly rate of speed. By and by I thought of my doughnut, and inquired who was hungry. The Scotchman was not; the Englishman was not; the Frenchman still slept.
'Give it to me, if you please,' said the Englishman, a sudden idea seeming to strike him.
'Here,' said he, making a thrust at the Frenchman; 'wake up! here's a doughnut for you.' The old soldier muttered something drowsily. He was not hungry. 'Won't you take it for the lady?' said the former, with a dash of sentiment.
'I only eat for the satisfacti-on of mine appetit!' he exclaimed, sulkily, settling himself back again to sleep.
The night wore on, interrupted only by frequent stoppages, when the driver dismounted to apply the 'drags' in going down the hills. Before this, we had seemed to be going up all the hills; now there seemed to be a continual descent.
I was too weary to sleep. Let me change my position as I might, I could not be comfortable. My mind was constantly busy, and, since outward objects could no longer engage my attention, I could no longer escape my thoughts. At one time I would think of my husband and my five little ones at home, all sleeping quietly in their beds. I wondered if they had all said their prayers to their father, and if he had tucked them all up warmly. Then I would think of my mother. Was she expecting me? I wondered. My poor mother! what a sad meeting that would be! And then my dead father would come to mind. How sad, how strange it would seem, to receive no warm greeting from him!
It was about two o'clock in the morning, when we stopped for our last change of horses. The house stood black and sombre as a tomb in the dim moonlight. The family had evidently retired to rest. At length we were admitted into a dimly lighted room, where a table was spread with substantial food. The old gentleman, whose slumbers we had so ruthlessly disturbed, fumbled among a pile of letters and papers, which he distributed in three monstrous mailbags, that flapped about on the floor like so many whales out of water. His toilet had evidently been hastily made, and he shuffled the letters and papers about with the manner of a person half asleep. His hair, which was white and very abundant, stood erect all over his head, and contrasted queerly with his nut-brown face, which was strongly marked and deeply wrinkled.