Some Unappreciated Characters
INJUSTICE is the law of the world, and men delight in being the law’s supporters. There is never exhibited a ready disposition to admit the claims of merit; and whenever those claims are allowed, it is because right and might happen to be jostled on to the same side, much to the wonder of both. The world has been beaten into improvement, as boys used to be beaten into learning at school, before it was discovered that the boy is really father of the man, and that to whip him is to do violence to a parent, — a being whom we are called upon to honor and to obey. Men never would have got beyond wolfskin breeches, — if, indeed, they would ever have got into them, — if they had in whom individuality is strongly developed, and who have chosen to live according to their own sense of enjoyment, and not to take their rules of life from those outside barbarians who fill the census returns, and constitute “ the masses ” ? Special injustice has been done all through the ages to a number of eminent personages, who have had as many stones thrown at them as if they had slept in cairns. It is not creditable to our time, when even Benedict Arnold has found something like an apologist, that the personages referred to should have no one to attempt to place their virtues before an unadmiring world. Books and articles have been written to show that Catiline, and Iscariot, and Tiberius, and Catherine de' Medici, and Henry VIII., and Claverhouse, and Robespierre, and others whose names are in humanity’s black lists, were not half so bad as their reputations, — were, in some instances, eminently worthy creatures, who had been singularly misapprehended by mankind. But these are all first-class characters,
— your first-rates, of whom one is naturally disposed to think well because they are first-rates,—-and incapable of doing wrong, because they do it on so magnificent a scale. Catiline was a patriot, and only sought to anticipate Cæsar, but failed, poor man ! Tiberius was a great statesman, who protected the Roman provincials, and did so by disposing of the aristocrats in Italy,
— holding a wolf by the ears, as he phrased it, — a wolf that would have devoured the flock, and torn the imperial. shepherd, — that model Pastor Fido, — had he for a moment slackened his hold. Catherine do’ Medici was a fine politician, a balancer of partiment of loyalty. Robespierre was strictly and sternly honest, and, though he cut off people’s heads, he never picked their pockets. And so on, to the end of the chapter of tyranny and crime. But there are other unappreciated characters, who, while they are often mentioned, cannot be called great, and whom the world treats as if they were all bad, and constantly holds up as warnings and examples. In behalf of these characters there is something to be said, and the attempt to reconcile them with humanity may not be entirely unprofitable, even if they are not so fortunate as to have perpetrated many murders.
One of the oldest of these characters, who has been doing service for almost thirty centuries, — though nothing could be more out of character than that he should do anything,— is the Sluggard of Solomon. In the Book of Proverbs, the royal Hebrew, who, like the Turkish Solyman, was the greatest of his line, apostrophizes the unhappy Sluggard, in good set terms, and. after recommending to him the example of that fussy little creature, the ant, which wasteth the summer time, and even that of autumn, in laboriously providing for a future that never may come, exclaims,— " How long wilt thou sleep, O Sluggard ? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep.” And has not the garden of the Sluggard, though for a very different reason, become as famous as the Garden of Eden, or that in which Diocletian cultivated cabbages for the market of Salona ? Its broken walls, its crop of weeds, the cattle of the neighbors devouring the nothing which it raises, — are they not familiar to us all from our youth upward, through the teachings of those who throw clouds over the hopes of childhood by enforcing upon the minds of boys and girls that they are doomed to work as long as they live? To a right-minded man there must occur much in favor of the Sluggard which he was too consistent a character to urge in his own defence. He was a sensible fellow, who was making the best of a wicked world. He was of the belief of those Oriental religionists, who hold that man approaches nearest to perfection in exact proportion to the profundity of his self-absorption and repose. He minded his own business, which is the surest way to make a fortune, and to avoid making mischief. All the great evil in the world is the consequence of the meddling propensities of active creatures, from Alexander the Great fool to the lowest village gossip. Take the recent history of our own country, — with its big battles, bigger debts, and biggest taxes, — to what is all our suffering due, but to the detestable activity of men who were nursed on the notion that they must be ever busy, and who learnt their lesson so well that they set a couple of millions of human beings flying at one another’s throats, and called into, existence an army of most industrious tax-gatherers ? W . the Sece.-.sion war? Some four or five hundred men, who thought, with Hercules, that the earth was created only as a place for the master-spirits of the world to bustle in. They would have been blessings to their country, had they profited from the example of the Sluggard, and folded their hands to sleep. Had Mr. Davis, and Mr. Rhett, and Mr. Yancey, and Mr. Toombs, and other Southern leaders, been as lazy as they were industrious, our Eden never would have been disturbed, and we should have remained blissfully ignorant of much costly knowledge. But they scorned the Sluggard’s course, and deemed it their duty to be most disastrously industrious. They would not give themselves up to slumber, and so they sent a half-million of their countrymen into that slumber which can be broken only by the archangel’s trump. It is ever thus. It is only busy men, men of whom Byron was thinking when he said that “quiet to quick bosoms is a bell,” who make all that disturbance which costs so much, and for which quiet people have to pay, whether they will or not. No such charge can be advanced against men who model themselves on the Sluggard, and who are sublimely indifferent to all the ordinary and extraordinary objects of ambition. Lazy men, it must be admitted, do not accomplish much —they accomplish nothing — in behalf of what is called “ the progress of the species ” ; but, on the other hand, they do not keep the world in hot water. They allow things to take their course. And it is by men of another sort endeavoring to do something for the race, — and a great deal for them elves,—that the earth is made to merit its title of a tomb. There is no counting the graves that active men have dug. They are the sexton’
Had the Sluggard seen fit, for a moment, to depart from his character, he might have given Solomon some tolerably cogent reasons for his devotion to his bed and his love of slumber. But he was a wise man, and therefore he would not contend against the wisest of men, who was a king to boot. He might have argued, that to get up and go to work would be to afford evidence that he was a wicked man, and was, in punishment for his sins, undergoing the common sentence. When our race fell through Adam’s fall, the offended Creator passed upon it the sentence of hard labor for life, the world being the prison, and having, as Hamlet says, many wards. “ Cursed is the ground for thy sake,” are the words of that awful doom; ‘‘in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee ; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground.” All work, therefore, is evidence of demerit, and the less work a man does, the more meritorious he must be. This is the philosophy of the eight-hour movement. The lazier a man is, the better he is. His sentence is a light one. Hence the Sluggard was a man of exemplary goodness. He did nothing, and was as useless as if he had been born the master of a thousand slaves. A conservative in principle, he adhered with strict fidelity to the faith in which he had been brought up, and was a true fainéant, and doubtless had locks as long (and uncombed) as those of any Merovingian king that ever allowed crown to fall from his head, and sceptre to drop from his hand, rather than make exertion to keep one or both. He did not even “ daff the world aside, and bid it pass,” for to do that would have required exertion. He “ let it slide.”
As to the ant. to which Solomon referred the Sluggard, it might have been replied to his Majesty, that that active insect often has its labor for its pains, and nothing more ; and that in a moment it often loses the fruits of long months, if not years, of energetic industry. The hoofs of beasts and the feet of men crush thousands of ant-hills daily, — a plain proof that industry does not always prosper, and leading irresistibly to the conclusion that, though it is allowed, it is not enjoined. In countries where ants transact a Large business, they often encounter most disastrous failures, like other speculators. In Southern Africa they build what are called edifices, and which are more deserving of the name than are many of the abodes of men, for they are so large and so strong that they will bear the weight of many men on their summit. And what follows from all this outlay of labor ? Why, that the Aard Vark, or earth-hog, tears a hole in the side of one of these hills, ••breaking up the stony walls with perfect ease.” says Mr. Wood, “and scattering dismay among the inmates. As the ants run hither and thither, in consternation, their dwelling falling like a city shaken by an earthquake, the author of all this misery flings its slimy tongue among them, and sweeps them into its mouth by hundreds. Perhaps the ants have no conception of their great enemy as a fellow-creature, but look upon the Aard Vark as we look upon the earthquake, the plague, or any other disturbance of the usual routine of nature. Be this as it may, the Aard Vark tears to pieces many a goodly edifice, and depopulates many a swarming colony, leaving a mere shell of irregular stony wall in the place of the complicated and marvellous structure which had sheltered so vast a population.” 1 Such is the reward of the ant’s industry when most skilfully and wonderfully exerted ; and as Solomon knew everything, it is strange that he should have had the face to fling the ant’s action imo the face of the Sluggard, who, had he not been restrained by indolence and good breeding, could easily have put down the royal argument. The ant is the type of most hard-working men, who accumulate largely, and go on swimmingly, making much of Mammon’s muck, when along comes some Aard Vark in the shape of a cunning speculator, who sweeps it all away. The Sluggard has nothing of the kind to fear, for he has nothing to lose. With him, time is money, but in a very different sense from that of the proverb. He spends his time as he goes, or, we should say, as he is carried along, for he is too wise to indulge in locomotion. So it was with the Sluggard of Solomon, who did not live to declare that all is vanity. He enjoyed the passing hour, and set a noble example to the sons of men, not one of whom would work if he could exist without having resort to the curse, — a curse as old as the expulsion from Eden. The Sluggard knew the bliss of repose, and might have cited Psalms against Proverbs, — “ He giveth his beloved sleep,” — had he deemed the matter one worthy of words, and of the exertion implied in quotation. But he said nothing, calmly maintaining his principles by a speaking silence, and concentrating all his energies on nothing. Like all genuinely lazy men, he was as incapable of thought as of envy; but if he could have thought about anything, the story of the Seven Sleepers would have filled his mind; and could he have envied anybody, it would have been that one of those sleepers who had the highest capacity for sleeping without dreams, and who therefore, in the Sluggard’s estimation, had a better claim to be considered a wise man than could have been advanced even by Solomon himself.
Speaking of the Seven Sleepers, I am afraid that we do not always “realize ” the full force of the old legend in which those gentlemen figure, or repose, and which has always been a favorite with me, because of the long, unbroken, delicious, dreamless slumber that is associated with it. Almost seventy thousand nights, and as many days of sleep, with no getting up in the morning, no beds to make, no servants to tell you to turn out, no bills to pay for lodging! It is too much for the human mind calmly to contemplate in all its details and all its force, and hence the vagueness with which the story and similar stories are generally mentioned. Past time is no time to us; and we lump together the ages that are gone as if they were necessarily closely associated. Now, the Seven Sleepers’ snooze lasted through one hundred and eighty-seven years ; but their long night was so long ago that we do not understand how very long it lasted, or how very meritorious were those seven Ephesian youths who made themselves friends of darkness when the Pagan tyrant Decius had them walled up. We can form a better idea of the length of their slumber, and therefore the better appreciate the sublimity of their laziness, by supposing something of the kind to have happened here, and that the Seven Sleepers had just dropped in upon us. Let us suppose that in the year 1680,—just after the termination of Philip’s War, and when the pious population of the Bay Colony were reposing in the arms of victory, and comfortably reflecting that little Phil (bloody heathen that he was!) had been sold into tropical slavery, — a sudden alarm came upon seven youths who were laboring in a maize-field, and that they, all unarmed, or panic-stricken, fled into some cave, under the belief that the impious Indians, whose lands they had helped to seize, were upon them. Away go Zebedee, Zachariah, Zadock, Zephaniah, Zimri, Zaccheus, and Zebulon, until they find a cave, in which, exhausted by their race, they drop asleep ; and so profound is their rest, that it is not broken till the year 1867. Imagine their feelings when, having been roused by the shriek of a passing railway train, they rub their eyes, get up, and proceed to make their way to their homes ! They would be as much astonished as if they had suddenly fallen upon a new planet. Between the Massachusetts of 1680 and the Massachusetts of 1867, the difference is so great that no mind can fairly grasp it; and the young Puritans, who would now be well advanced in their third century, would come to the conclusion that they had waked up in the other world, — but in which part of it they would be terribly perplexed to say, when seeking to decide a question bearing so stronglyon their everlasting welfare. Going to sleep when the Colony was scarcely more than a wilderness, they would wake up when it had become one of the most advanced and enlightened communities on the globe. Leaving a poor settlement, with its few thousand inhabitants scattered among a few small towns, placed in or on the verge of woods, they would return to an opulent State, containing more than three hundred towns, not a few of which have populations much larger than were to be found in any British town, London alone excepted, in 1680. Flying from Indians, they would come back to a land in which an Indian is as much a curiosity as he is in Liverpool or Manchester. Running away when men believed in witchcraft, they would walk back when men believe determinedly in — nothing. Falling asleep when the journey from Boston to Cambridge was a long one, and not lightly to be undertaken, they would wake up when a journey from Boston to Springfield is scarcely a morning’s jaunt. Hiding when to hear from England required three months of time, they would leave their place of refuge when it is possible to hear from England—“home,” as they would call it — in three hours, slow time. Not a solitary point of resemblance would be visible between the Bay Colony and the Bay State, and the dreamers would be less at home here than in the English villages whence came their fathers. And the people among whom they would find themselves would be as much astonished as if they really had come from beyond the grave, instead of having cheated it of a portion of its prey for much more than a hundred years.
There would be a wide difference between our Seven Sleepers and the original Seven Sleepers, for the latter “ came back,” as men say of ghosts, to a fastdeclining world. When the young Ephesians retired from business, the Roman Empire had got well advanced toward its fall, and during their retirement it had “ progressed backward ” in a material sense much faster than it had advanced spiritually through its adoption of Christianity. Evidences of this decline would have been abundant to Maximian and his associates, when they looked about them, and compared things as they were under Theodosius the Younger with things as they had been under Decius. Not so with our Seven Sleepers, who, on waking, would encounter nothing but proofs of increase on every hand. But that would not make them feel any the more at home, and they would astonish the people, in these times of suspension of cash payments, by offering pine-tree shillings in exchange for bed and board ; and some sharp fellows would make a good thing out of them by selling them goods for good silver at paper prices. Perhaps some of the younger class of the old settlers are sleeping away the time, as here suggested. If so, and they should be discovered, we hope the discoverer will have the sense and humanity not to disturb them, merely that they might learn the difference between the Massachusetts that Governor Leverett ruled and the Massachusetts that rules Governor Bullock. Never break any one’s sleep, for every moment of sleep is so much gained by the sleeper. I have always admired and loved that Duke of Brunswick who, when, like a thoughtful and provident man and husband, he had a grave prepared for himself and his wife in the vault of the Blasius-Dom, was informed by the gentlemen who were building for him till Doomsday, that they had come to a flat stone, and asked him whether it should be taken up. “ Not for worlds,” answered he. “It covers, doubtless, some dead man, who had himself buried so deep in the earth, in order that he might never be dug up ; leave him quiet.” And he further directed, that, when his own turn for burial should come, “his coffin should be very gently let down upon this stone, and then covered over with earth. Take care, let it be gently done, — it might wake him!”2 This was doing as one would be done by; and if the ashes of German dukes should ever be disturbed after the fashion that befell those of French kings, sincerely must it be hoped that an exception will be made in behalf of the dust of Duke Rudolph Augustus, who. in 1690. showed so much consideration for a nameless dead man. The measure he meted to others should be meted to him again. The only occasion when it is proper to rouse a sleeper is when it is his business to “get up and be hanged,” for law’s hests must be obeyed, though Master Barnadine would not listen to the order. It is told of Condé and of Alexander that they had to be wakened on the mornings of their greatest victories ; but to rouse them was inexcusable, for who would not prefer the good of sleep to the glories of Rocroy and of Arbela?3
Another of these unappreciated characters, and one who has suffered from the libels of his murderer, is the Old Man of the Sea, of whom we know nothing save what that murderer himself has told us ; but so excellent -was that Old Man, so blameless were his life, walk (when he did walk), and conversation, that not even Sinbad’s “cooked” narrative can wholly obscure his virtues. They shine through the clouds of calumny which the lying sailor contributed to the columns of some Bagdad journal, or Arabic Gentleman’s Magazine. That Sinbad lied confoundedly, is, I believe, admitted on all hands ; and in no one of the accounts of his seven voyages is he more untruthful than in that of the fifth, in which, the Old Man of the Sea is introduced. Observe that here occurs his statement that bis ship was sunk by two rocs, which threw rocks upon its deck,— an absurd story, which it is impossible to believe for one moment, and which was probably invented to defraud the underwriters, the Bassorah Lloyds. All that is certain is, that the vessel was lost, and that Sinbad alone was saved of all her crew and passengers. With that wonderful luck which was always his, he got to a lovely island, into which, as Satan into Paradise, he brought sin and misery. Hardened sinner that he was, and with no more conscience than a newsmonger or politician of modern days, he seems to have been struck with the excellence of the island. “It seemed to be a delicious garden,” he says. “Wherever I turned my eyes, I saw beautiful trees, some loaded with green, others with ripe fruits, and transparent streams meandering between them. I ate of the fruits, which I found to be excellent, and quenched my thirst at the inviting brooks.” These softening influences had no effect on the old buccaneer, who had the true AngloSaxon faculty of thinking himself superior to everybody he met, and who could find no land so good as that which he was so constantly leaving. Walking into the island, he found, on the banks of a romantic stream, an ancient man, who he at first supposed was, like himself, a shipwrecked mariner, as he appeared to be “ much broken down.” He saluted the stranger, but received no other reply than a slight nod, the old gentleman evidently resenting intrusion upon his property. As to his broken - down appearance, that is accounted for by supposing that he was of an eccentric turn of mind, and believed that one of the advantages of wealth is that it allows its possessor to wear out his old clothes, which always are easy, and fit well, though they may not be fit to be worn in the opinion of poor men, who must pay regard to appearances. Sinbad asked his new (old) acquaintance what he was doing, to which piece of impertinence that acquaintance replied by making signs which the sailor interpreted to mean that he wished to be taken across the rivulet, there to gather fruit. With the simplicity of a greenhorn, a part quite unbecoming in one who had made his fifth voyage, Sinbad took the dumb gentleman on his shoulders, and transferred him to the other side of the stream, and asked him to dismount; but this was a request not to be complied with. The sailor had intruded himself upon the property of another, and that other was determined to give him a great moral lesson, and to teach him that no one but an ass would go rambling about the earth, after having received so many hints that it would be better for him to stay at home. It was an intimation to him that, if the pupil was abroad, so was the schoolmaster. The roving blade was converted into a beast of burden, and was made to know how horses feel when they are whipped and spurred by the superior animal, it was as if General Wade Hampton or Mr. Barnwell Rhett had been sold to the black owner of some plantation on which white slavery existed because of the radical inferiority of the lightskinned race. It shows the low nature of Sinbad’s soul, that his trouble caused him to take to drinking. While trotting about, he chanced upon some gourds, one of which he filled with the juice of those grapes which were so abundant in the happy isle. This juice, having fermented, became a very agreeable tipple, drinking which the unlucky Mussulman was put in good spirits, and bore himself with such gayety, singing and dancing, that his conduct attracted the attention of the Old Man, who, being moved by a philosophic fondness for experimental inquiry, proceeded to test the value of the medicine which had produced so happy an effect on his bearer. He signed for the gourd, got it, and swallowed all its contents. Unaccustomed to such intemperance. and having all his life been a member of a total-abstinence society, he soon became so drunk as to lose his seat, and was thrown by his beast while in a most beastly condition. Taking advantage of his unhappy state, — the consequence of a solitary departure from the course of a virtuous life,— Sinbad did then and there beat out the brains of the Old Man, and thus afford another warning against the evil that comes from an indulgence in strong drink.
The story is Sinbad’s own, and he has done the best for himself; but were it possible to bring the Old Man into court, questionless we should have a very different reading of it. Enough of light, however, shines through the mist of the narrative to show that the Old Man, though he may have behaved somewhat discourteously toward Sinbad, — being like the old Romans, who considered every stranger an enemy,— was a marked character, and deserving of a better fate than that of having his head punched because he took too much punch, like a fine old Irish gentleman of the times of the Galway code. He was a person of taste, as we see from the beauty of his island home, in this respect reminding one of Lambro, who felt the “ Ionian elegance” mentioned by his poetical biographer : —
Its power unconsciously full many a time, A taste seen in the choice of his abode,
A love of music and of scenes sublime, A pleasure in the gentle stream that flowed
Past him in crystal, and a joy in flowers,
Bedewed his spirit in his calmer hours.’
Do not these lines describe the life of the Old Man, and his refined tastes, according to Sinbad’s tale ? Leaving aside music, — which he may have regarded as a sensual thing, and therefore not to be encouraged, — the Old Man had all the points that characterized the Greek Lambro, — and the Greeks are the first of races. His abode, according to his murderer, resembled a delicious garden, in which he could look in no direction without beholding some natural beauty. In that “delicious garden ” the Old Man had long lived, and without having harmed any one, so far as trustworthy evidence goes ; for the assertions as to his homicidal propensities made by certain nameless fellows with whom Sinbad fell in, must go tor nothing, as they were never submitted to cross-examination. It is a likely story that he would have strangled his own bearers ! We should as soon believe a slaveholder would maltreat his “ people,” who are his chattels personal, and in whose welfare he has a proprietor’s interest. The strangling story was an afterthought, and was meant to meet any ugly inquiries as to Sinbad’s conduct that the authorities of Bagdad might have thought proper to make in the interest of commerce, had the affair been pushed to legal adjudication, The Old Man was happy because he was virtuous, and he might have been living to this day had Sinbad never landed on his island, and there carried civilization and all its woes. Like other marine adventurers, the sailor introduced liquor and drunkenness where such things never before had been known. He conquered the Old Man, as the Indians have been conquered, by the use of the fire-water ; and that venerable personage, who had been as exemplary and secluded a character as Parnell’s Hermit, was lost from the moment that he came in contact with the Saracen, then the foremost man of all the world, and much given, like all foremost folk, to raising the very deuce in all countries into which he could push himself, — and he pushed himself everywhere, and when he got to the Atlantic shore of Africa he rode into the waves, and grumbled because there were no more countries to be reaped by his sword. The Old Man of the Sea was doubly unfortunate: it was his misfortune, in the first instance, to fall in with the Norman of the Orient, and, secondly, it was a yet greater misfortune that the intruder alone should have written his history. What murdered man would have a decent character, were his murderer to become his biographer, and the only authority as to his history ? The Old Man stands with Guatimozin and Atahualpa, whose stories are told by their executioners, and by them alone.
There is an unappreciated character of the better sex, in whose behalt very little has been said, and whose name is synonymous with vixen, scold, shrew, and all else that is bad in the every-day woman. I refer to that Athenian matron who had for her husband, in a land renowned for the beauty of its men, one who is spoken of as
With the wide nostrils and Silenus aspect,
The splay feet and low stature,” —
but also as
And personification of all virtue, ' —
even to Xanthippe, wife (for her sins) of Socrates, son of Sophroniscus. The wife is as immortal as the husband, but hers is an “ immortality of ill.” Had she married any other man than Socrates, — and it is difficult to suppose she could not have made a better match, — the world never would have heard of her, and she would have been all the happier. For something like twenty - three centuries she has been the type of all that is repulsive in her sex, and she lives in our minds as no other Grecian woman there can live. She and Aspasia were contemporaries ; but how shadowy is our conception of the latter, compared with the vivid idea we have of the wife of Socrates ! So to say, she was photographed long ages before man had learned to make the sunlight one of the slaves to his vanity. It is not a very pleasing reflection, that what is evil should take so firm a hold of the mind, while the good perishes like the flower that blooms and blushes by the wayside. For whether Xanthippe’s portrait be correct or a caricature, certain it is that she is so “freshly remembered ” only because of her real or reputed bad qualities, while all the amiable and mild-tongued dames of Athens of the Periclean time, of her rank and condition, are as utterly unknown as those antediluvian housekeepers whose ill-luck it was to fall upon the most comprehensive of all washing-days. She yet “walks,” and is reproduced in thousands of families every day of our mortal lives ; and many a man thinks himself a Socrates because he has a scolding, peevish, quarrelsome wife, with a thousand-tongue power of annoyance.
Yet there is evidence which would seem to show that Xanthippe was not the vicious creature she is so commonly painted. In the Memorabilia of Xenophon, to which we owe much of our knowledge of Socrates, the philosopher is represented (II. 2) as administering a severe rebuke to his eldest son, Lamprocles, — after having put him through the usual course of cross-examination, and made him admit himself to be an ass, -—because he was enraged with his mother. It is in vain that the young fellow declares that his mother utters such things as no one can bear from anybody ; his father comes down upon him with all the power of his logic, to show that he owes a great duty to his mother, and calls him “ wretch ” when he admits that he seeks to gain the good-will of others, and yet supposes he is to do nothing for a mother, whose love for him so far exceeded that of any other. The picture which he draws of the maternal relation, and of the filial duty that follows therefrom, is one of the finest things in classical literature, and is not often exceeded by similar writing in the works of Christian teachers. Now it is not very probable that Socrates would have been under so grave concern on this point, had his wife been destitute of good qualities ; nor would he have omitted all mention of her evil qualities, had they been so prominent as we are required to believe. It would have been in entire harmony with his ethical teachings to place great stress on the son’s duty to bear with his mother because she was harsh and violent, had she been noted for harshness and violence. But of this he says nothing. On the contrary, the impression which his words leave is that the poor woman was rather a model character than otherwise, who might have been tempted into a display of ill-temper by the misconduct of her eldest son, but whose ordinary life was not marred by constant exhibitions of the most unamiable peculiarities. Lamprocles, who belonged to the “ Young Athens ” party, we may suppose, would have been tempted to laugh in the paternal face when listening to such “ noble sentiments,” had Xanthippe been the nuisance as a wife that she is popularly supposed to have been. He would have supposed “ the governor ” was “ chaffing,” and would have turned off the matter as a capital joke. Quite the reverse of this was his conduct. He took the fatherly flogging with meekness, and probably he was all the better for such an exhibition of wholesome discipline. Xenophon does not intimate that there was anything incongruous in his teacher’s conduct, but treats it as if it were quite in the regular order of things, — which we should not have expected of him, had the lady been so very bad ; for, as his work is the merest eulogy of his “guide, philosopher, and friend,” it would have been natural in him to enlarge on the moral excellence of Socrates as illustrated by his insistance on the duty of the son to love and reverence his mother, supposing Xanthippe’s constant conduct was so wonderfully calculated to make her children forget their duty to her, and also was so likely to create feelings the reverse of reverential.4
But suppose we assume that the popular view of Xanthippe’s daily course is the correct one, and that she would have been more than a match for that immortal shrew-tamer, Petruchio, — does it follow that nothing can be said in palliation of her doings ? By no means. Take her at her worst, as women mostly are taken when men paint them, there is something to be said in her behalf. The charitable, and we believe the reasonable, view of her life is this, — that she was driven half mad by the foolish action of her wise husband. When they were married, she was, it is inferable, as sweet and fair a virgin as could have been picked out of the entire feminine population of the city of the Violet Crown, — for Socrates was the very ugliest of ugly dogs, and your ugly dog, through the workings of some inscrutable Providence, is always sure to have a handsome wife. She entered on “ a union of hearts and housekeeping ” with the usual high hopes that animate all young women under circumstances so interesting to them, but which are disappointed in most cases ; and she meant to do her duty, and expected that her husband would be an example of industry and diligence. To be sure, she had made “ no great catch,” for Socrates was anything but rich, and his social position, though respectable, was not high. But he was a skilful master of his father’s calling, which was that of a sculptor, and a group of Graces carved by his hand was in existence at Athens five or six centuries after his death ; whence it follows that he was clever at his art, and that he was capable of supporting his family in easy circumstances, as sculptors were in high favor with the Athenians in those days. But he did not choose to devote himself to productive pursuits. He took it into his head that he had a “ mission,” and that it was his duty to convince his fellow-citizens, who had a very high opinion of themselves, — as they well might have in the two generations following the Persian war,— that they were a collection of self-conceited noodles. “ At what time Socrates relinquished his profession as a statuary,” says Mr. Grote, “ we do not know ; but it is certain that all the middle and later part of his life, at least, was devoted exclusively to the self-imposed task of teaching ; excluding all other business, public or private, and to the neglect of all means of fortune. We can hardly avoid speaking of him as a teacher, though he himself disclaimed the appellation: his practice was to talk or converse, — or to prattle without end, if we translate the derisory word by which the enemies of philosophy described dialectic conversation. Early in the morning he frequented the public walks, the gymnasia for bodily training, and the schools where youths were receiving instruction ; he was to be seen in the market-place at the hour when it was most crowded, among the booths and tables where goods were exposed for sale ; his whole day was usually spent in this public manner. He talked with any one, young or old, rich or poor, who sought to address him, and in the hearing of all who chose to stand by. Not only he never either asked or received any reward, but he made no distinction of persons, never withheld his conversation from any one, and talked upon the same general topics to all. He conversed with politicians, sophists, military men, artisans, ambitious or studious youths, &c. He visited all persons of interest in the city, male or female. His friendship with Aspasia is well known, and one of the most interesting chapters of Xenophon’s Memorabilia recounts his visit to, and dialogue with, Theodote, — a beautiful hetœra, or female companion. Nothing could be more public, perpetual, and indiscriminate as to persons than his conversation.”5
In this lively picture of the ex-statuary’s manner of life we have the probable cause, and the certain excuse, of Xanthippe’s hot temper and warm words ; and there are few Christian women who would not have gone as far as she went — taking her at the worst representation — in resenting such marital neglect, and in striving to punish a husband who had given up the honest task of supporting his family, and had devoted himself to the thriftless pursuit of imparting knowledge under difficulties. Had he taken pay for his teaching, the good woman, who had to think of rent and taxes, of food and clothes, of doctors’ demands and milliners’ bills, might have cared little for her husband’s eccentric mode of getting an income. But he took no pay. He was content to be poor, which would have been laudable in him had he been a bachelor, but which was his disgrace, and justifies the treatment he finally received from the Athenians, when we note that he had a wife and three children, who looked to him for support, but who found his conduct insupportable. The house-mother probably bore with his scandalous neglect of his duties as long as any of her husband’s money was left, and she could manage to get along ; but when the last obolus had been drawn out of the savings’ bank, and there was a dearth of cash, and a plentiful supply of care by way of keeping the balance even, she could no longer keep silence, tightly reined as were Athenian matrons, and proceeded to give Socrates a piece of her mind,— the only gift that, thanks to his shiftlessness, she had it in her power to make to any one.
And who can blame her? There were neither pease nor pulse, figs nor olives, corn nor wine, in her larder or cellar, places which once it had been her pride to know were well filled. Her last gown had been turned, and turned again, till it could be turned no more, save to be turned into the rag-bag, — if, indeed, there were such a thing as a rag-bag in the philosopher’s mansion. She had not had a new hoop for years, and had been unable to purchase the last specimen of crinoline, — that which tilts, like the old knights of departed days. Her shoes were down at heel, and were on their last legs, as well as on hers. Her cap was of that Parisian mode which had been obsolete for a lustrum. Her furs had become ragged, and would not have pawned for a week’s house-rent. A new bonnet was to her but an old idea. Not a cloak or a cap had she that was not of as old a date as the battle of Delium. Her boys were sights to behold, with their stockings all holes, their toes out at the toes of their shoes, their crownless hats, their outgrown and worn-out jackets and trousers, and their thin cheeks and lanky bodies, nourished on food as thin and windy as their father’s philosophy. The butcher never called at the house, having long called in vain for the amount of his last bill. The fishmonger would not have sent in a damaged pollock. The coal-dealer had declined her last application even for Rhode Island coal, warranted not to burn in this world or the next. The grocer had barred her claim to a bar of soap, and the children of the greatest of teachers were in danger of perishing from cholera, —the immortal plague of Athens was nothing but cholera, — because they could not be well washed. A “tyrannical turncock” had cut off the supply of Cochituate, and washing-day had become a tradition, which was the less matter, because there was as little to wash as there was to wash with. From attic to cellar there was nothing to be taken, or it would have been taken on execution. The rats had long left the house, and the cat had followed them ; while the domestic dog, the very incarnation of fidelity, had, in pure disgust with his master’s philosophy thus practically expounded, gone off and joined the Cynic school in the Cynosarges.
It made matters all the worse, that Socrates might have had as much money as even his wife wanted. “ Teaching ” might have been to him a much more profitable pursuit than ever he had found “ sculpting,” as Mr. Artemus Ward would designate the philosopher’s original calling. Had he followed the course of Prodicus, and Protagoras, and Gorgias, and others of the most renowned sophists of his day, he could have maintained his family in affluence, and kept it in the best circles. — a star of the “upper ten” of Athens, — and had a good account at his bank. A woman may marry a man for his talents and his fame, but when she finds that his talents are barren as the east wind, and that, instead of being a source of gain to him, they have led him to poverty, she may be excused for concluding that she has made a fool of herself, — a conclusion that never yet Sweetened human temper, but which has soured many a temper that nature had made sweet, — and for acting in character. Seeing that he had it in his power to make money, but that he would not make it, Xanthippe sought to convert him from the error of his ways, or, failing that, to punish him. She did not effect his conversion, — that’s certain, for he continued to go about Athens talking for nothing and finding himself, till his loving countrymen put him out of the way. How far she punished him for his shortcomings as a husband and a father in refusing to provide for his family,— which made him worse than an infidel, — we can only guess. He took her scolding with great coolness, according to the reports of his friends ; but we know that he had as fiery a temper, from nature, as his wife had acquired from the ill-treatment she experienced at his hands ; and the efforts he had to make to keep his temper under her attacks probably were so severe as wellnigh to compensate for her sufferings. It would be satisfactory to have this point clearly made out, for justice demanded that he should not escape the proper consequences of his neglect of duty, — as he would had his temper been naturally equable, for then he would have shed Xanthippe’s scoldings as wax-cloth sheds the rain.
There was yet another aggravation of the evil that flowed from the want of industry and attention to business of which Socrates was so heinously guilty, and one, too, that bore with peculiar force on the sensitive feminine mind. No woman can bear to see her husband made ridiculous. Even wives who have not been famous as conjugal models have been quick to feel the ridicule of which their husbands have been the objects. Now Socrates was made eminently ridiculous by one of the greatest wits of all time, who wrote for one of the sharpest communities that ever keenly enjoyed a capital display of the ludicrous. We, who know that he was a great teacher, are not much affected by the blackguardly attacks to which he was subjected. He is to the modern world one of the greatest of moral lights, and of all merely mundane characters of ancient days he stands highest in the estimation of Christendom. But the Athenians did not look at him with our eyes. To us, he is one of “ the dead who grow visible from the shades of time,” and we see him in the grand proportions assigned him by Xenophon and Plato. To the Athenians he was an ever-present character, and to many of them, including the most eminent members of the respectable classes, he was a perfect burr, sticking to them, and irritating them beyond endurance. Hence, when “The Clouds” of Aristophanes came out, and was performed before thousands of natives and foreigners, the ridiculous part assigned in it to Socrates must have been highly enjoyed by most of the upper ten, while the multitude laughed over it in the mere wantonness of mirth, as they would have laughed at Aristophanes had Socrates been able to make him act absurdly. The philosopher took this scurrilous attack, as he took every manifestation of sentiment, friendly or unfriendly, with edifying equanimity, witnessing the performance and explaining it for the benefit of strangers. Probably he cared very little about it, for the man who looks upon praise with contempt is not likely to be disturbed by censure so coarse that it corrects itself. But it was not so with Xanthippe. She was no philosopher. She was thin-skinned, and it was a great aggravation of her other woes that her husband, and by consequence herself, was furnishing fun — the public laughing at him, not with him — for all Athens. Her female acquaintances sympathized with her after the usual fashion, which is a great deal more aggravating than the coarsest of masculine attacks. Her self-love must have been bitterly wounded, when she found that, in addition to being poor, she must be an object of laughter. It is an old saying, that the worst evil of poverty is that it makes people ridiculous, and Madam Xanthippe felt its full force in a sense that was far more cutting than it is ordinarily known to the poor. Unlike Job’s wife, there was nothing lofty or dignified in the cause of her distress. She was not simply ridiculous because she was poor,— she was poor and ridiculous. It is not very difficult to imagine the first curtain lecture that Socrates underwent after “The Clouds" was performed. The worst of Mr. Caudle’s inflictions in the same line was a blessing by comparison.
Considering all that Xanthippe suffered, —considering her disappointment through her husband’s neglect of a lucrative business,—considering the provocation she had in her husband’s refusal to take pay for his teachings, when the ordinary rate of interest in Athens was one per cent a month, and there were most eligible investments for all savings, — considering the enmity he incurred for his family through his offensive conduct toward the most influential citizens, and the ridicule of which he was the object, — and considering the fact that he would be off feasting with Alcibiades, and Critias, and other big-bugs, while there was not a stick of wood or a handful of wheat in his house, — considering all these things, she had good reason for making the philosopher’s house too hot to hold him, that being the only way in which its cold atmosphere could be warmed. Against his treatment she protested in the only way that was left to her ; and she should be looked upon, not as a shrew, who spoke out of the abundance of her heart, but as a woman asserting the rights of her sex, and denouncing a gross breach of the obligation that husband enters into with wife when they decide to make the journey of life together. As such she is entitled to the grateful remembrance of all women, as the originator of that movement which has for its end the equalization of women with men. She was a lady of the pattern of Roxana, no doubt, or she never could have had resort to conduct so extreme as war with her husband. There was nothing of the Statira about her,— nothing of the shy, silent, submissive sufferer, such as " the tyrant man” is supposed peculiarly to affect, because it is an article easily expended, or otherwise dealt with. It is not difficult to imagine her portrait: a tall, fair-haired, blue-eyed, somewhat freckled girl on the day of her marriage, — but thin, bony, and angular in later days, her looks declining with the fortunes of Athens, and as a consequence of constant domestic troubles. What became of her after the death of her husband ? History is silent on the subject. Judging from the usual course, she must have finished her days in the almshouse, a not illogical conclusion to an improvident marriage. Her husband’s friends could not have held her in much esteem, and, even had they been inclined to help her, had not the power to do much for her support, being involved in the catastrophe that brought a cup of hemlock to Socrates, and Socrates to his end. Her lot is one of the saddest in history : to be miserable in life, and, because thus miserable, to be libelled in death.
Blue-Beard belongs to our gallery. He should have been one of Xanthippe’s contemporaries ; and had he been so, they might have made a match, in which event he would have met his match. She was not a person to have been marched off to the Blue Chamber, there to be quartered, and to await the coming of her successor, as a defunct French king of the old monarchy used to wait at St. Denis the coming of his successor. She would have given him as hard a bout as Tom Walker’s wife gave the Devil. If Blue-Beard did make such summary work with his wives, he must have had the sense to choose only Statiras for the companions of his softer hours. But did he kill them, and cut them up. and place their precious limbs in a room of his own house? The tale is full of contradictions, and ought not to be lightly accepted. Is it probable — nay, is it possible —that he
would have been able to provide himself with so rapid a succession of wives, all selected from the first families too, had there been anything mysterious in the sudden deaths of the ladies at periods so brief after their nuptials had been celebrated ? Would not the parents of any young lady whose hand he sought have felt it to be their duty to hint something about the extraordinary fatality that waited on the occupants of one half his couch ? Some of them would have gone even further, and have spoken right out on the subject, and flatly have refused to entertain proposals for the hand of Fatima, or Shireen, or Zuleika, or Amina, until the Blue Chamber should have been fully opened to public inspection. Surely all parents are not so ready to marry their daughters as to wed them to certain and sudden death ? Nor can it be supposed that all young ladies are prepared to marry a man who not only has the usual skeleton in his house, but a houseful ot skeletons. It is impossible to believe that, if Blue-Beard did divorce himself from his wives so truculently, he would have kept their remains in the place where he lived, and to which he was in the habit of bringing a new wife almost as often as Scheherezade’s Sultan of the Indies took one. He would have refrained from preserving on the premises the evidence of extraordinary crime, and would have given the ladies Christian burial,—privately, to be sure, but decently, and with due regard for his own safety. He must have known that some one of the ladies would stumble upon the Blue Chamber, even if she never had heard of it, —and then there would have been no such thing as keeping the matter out of the newspapers. It would have been in the Levant Herald in a week, and the Turkish police would have been on his track, and he would have come to grief, to the joy of all good citizens. Nor is it possible to believe that, on leaving home, he should have given the keys of all his rooms to his wife at the time, with the express permission to make use of them all but one; for he had been married too often not to have learned that all sense of the grace involved in the permission would have been lost in the thought of the prohibition, and that the Blue Chamber Was as good as opened from the instant he had morally sealed it against the lady’s visits. No; he would have sent the mysterious key to some mercantile friend, with the request that it might be placed in his iron safe, under one of Hobbs’s best locks. An honorable man, he would have scorned to place temptation so pointedly before the wife to whom he was so fondly attached; and a prudent man, he would have avoided all mention even of the existence of the key, so that, when Mrs. Blue-Beard was reminded of its existence by its absence, she would have comprehended the delicacy of her lord’s conduct, and appreciated it. They would have lived happily ever afterward, and a sad story would have been lost to the annals of romance. Without being too sanguine, we think BlueBeard’s married life was a far better one than appears in the popular ac~ counts. He was an admirer of the sex, and he was in search of the ideal woman,— a sort of Oriental Cœlebs, who would be content with nothing short of perfection ; and how was he to know, save through comparison, who the perfect woman was ? And how could he compare ladies, or proceed inductively toward the establishment of his end, without making many experiments ? He was a practical philosopher, and applied the Baconian procedure, as it is generally called, to the grand matter of matrimony. Circumstances favored him, and out of these came all the scandal that has ever since clung to his name, and made him the very impersonation of a wife-killer, — so much so, that Henry VIII. is known, and in spite of Mr. Froude’s labors ever will be known, as “the royal Blue-Beard,” to the serious injury of the fame of the unlucky Mussulman. As to that last affair of “the magnificent three-tailed bashaw,” which closed so tragically for him, and brought his course of experimental philosophy to so sudden an end, it has been grossly misrepresented ; and the misrepresentation has endured because be was not alive to tell his own tale. His version of the business is wanting ; but we are able, from various hints that floated in society, to piece out something like the truth. Blue-Beard was the victim of a plot formed against his life, honor, and property by Fatima, his wife, and her sister Anne, to which the brothers of those ladies and the first lover of Fatima — whom she had jilted to marry the rich Turk — were parties. Sister Anne was angry with him because he had preferred Fatima to herself. He was murdered in broad day, as a consequence of this domestic conspiracy ; and Fatima, in whose favor he had made a will, came into possession of all his estates and personals, and married Ismael, or whatever the gentleman’s name may have been. Proceedings so bloody required some explanation, and lienee the Blue Chamber and its horrors, which the authorities believed to be a true bill, or affected so to believe ; and with so much property in possession, and having afforded evidence that they did not stand upon ceremony with their enemies, the conspirators were strong enough to maintain their social position. The East is the land of violence ; and if governments there were to take up and prosecute to completion every outrage that is perpetrated, they would have no time to commit outrages for their own benefit. The ample means which Fatima was mistress of made it easy for her to bribe the Grand Vizier, and so the transaction was hushed up, and the guilty parties lived most correctly, and Blue - Beard lay in his bloody tomb, sleeping with his wives,—all but one of them, — the victim of misplaced confidence.
A singularly misunderstood character, whose solid worth seems to be almost entirely unappreciated, is Gallio, Proconsul of Achaia. By Christians this excellent Roman is almost invariably spoken of as if he were one of the worst of men, — a cold-blooded fellow, indifferent to all important things, and looking with especial contempt on the new faith that Paul preached. To them he is the very model of the pococurante, and therefore actually worse than the most zealous of persecutors, — for indifference is the worst of errors in the eyes of zeal. Yet Gallio was “ none of those things” that he is commonly supposed to have been, but a man of great theoretical goodness, and of corresponding conduct. He was, as we said, Proconsul of Achaia, and lived at Corinth when St. Paul arrived at that city from Athens, and had newly taken office. There was a great Jewish population at Corinth, who hated the new dispensation, and who had a special dislike for Paul, whom they regarded as a renegade of the worst description, because he was doing Old Jewry immense damage by his mighty labors. They got up a charge against the Apostle of the Gentiles, accusing him of having violated their religious law, he being a Jew. They supposed that Gallio was, as most public men are, a popularityhunter, and that, at the beginning of his proconsulate, he would be anxious to please the large body of Hebrews settled as a separate community at Corinth.
But Gallio “ cared for none of those things ” that are of so much moment in the eyes of ordinary politicians, and was so far gone in heathen morality, so indifferent to a good report of his doings from Corinth to Rome, that actually he preferred justice to cruelty, and mercy to rigor, — which, to judge from the treatment he has since received at Christian hands, constituted an offence second only to that involved in Nero’s persecutions. He listened to the charge against Paul, as advanced by Sosthenes and others, with the utmost patience; but when they had ceased, and Paul was about to enter on his defence, Gallio “shut down” on the whole business, as one with which a Roman ruler had no concern. It was in his estimation, and in fact, a Jewish squabble, and therefore unworthy the attention of the masters of the world. The Jews, he saw, really had no case, and could not be allowed to take up the time of the court. It was, he said, a question of words and names, and of the Jewish law, and they must look to it, for he would be no judge of such matters : “ and he drave them from the judgment-seat.” The Jews at Corinth meant to use him as Jews of Jerusalem had used Pilate, and as yet other Jews at home, at a later day, used Festus and Felix; but they found him a very different man from Pilate, — one whom they could neither use nor abuse. Pilate disregarded law and morality, in his desire to appease the respectable rabble of Jerusalem, when they demanded the blood of Jesus, which he emphatically declared was innocent blood, and of which he vainly washed his hands, for the stain will not “out.” Had Gallio been a moral coward, like Pilate, he would have so proceeded as to put an end to Paul’s mission, either by imprisoning him, or putting him to death, or sending him to Rome on an appeal to Csar. He would have “gagged” Paul for the benefit of the “ old law,” and at the suggestion of its supporters. This he would not do. He stood upon the Roman law. which Paul had not violated, and therefore was not allowed to speak in his own defence, as he had been guilty of no offence even according to the showing of his prosecutors, who were in reality nothing but persecutors. The Jews might deal with Paul,— if they could, — as his offence was against their superstition, as all Romans regarded it. They might excommunicate him, — a punishment of about as much weight as the excommunication of Victor Emanuel II. has proved in our time. The Greeks who watched the course of the proconsular tribunal no sooner saw the Jews ruled out of court, than they rushed upon Sosthenes, and gave him a regular “lamming” right before Gallio’s face,-—a specimen of Lynch law that is quite unrivalled, and which had the additional zest of being administered in the very presence of the regular tribunal, “before the judgment-seat.” It was the doings of these Lynching Greeks for which Gallio cared nothing. The common notion is, that he was indifferent to Paul’s doctrine, and to the points in dispute between Paul and his accusers; but this is wrong, for the Proconsul of Achaia never heard a word of Paul’s doctrine, and he knew he had no legal right to take up the Jewish charge against the preacher, no matter how well it was founded. He was indifferent to the licking which the Greeks gave the Hebrew chief of the synagogue. He cared for none of their violent proceedings. To suppose that Gallio expressed any hostility or indifference to Christianity, is as absurd as it would be to suppose the Greeks who beat Sosthenes were animated by a love of Paul’s principles. The Greeks hated the Jews, and the two peoples were always murdering one another in the cities around the Mediterranean, whenever they could do so; and the assault on Paul’s accuser was only an incident in a bitter quarrel of religion and of race. As to Gallio, he gave the matter as much thought — that is, none at all — as an English governor of New Zealand would give to the squabbles of a few of his subject savages, who should have fallen out about the possession of a dried skull, the original proprietor of which they had eaten so long ago that they had forgotten how he tasted, and whether he was tender or tough.
Gallio, from all that we know of him, was a man of much more than average claims to respect, on the score of talents, sense, and conduct. Annæus Novatus was his original name, and it was by his adoption into the family of the celebrated Junius Gallio that he came by that name which has so strange a place in the general estimation. He was a brother of the philosopher Annæus Seneca. “ As regards the personal character of Gallio,”say the English biographers of St. Paul, “the inference we should naturally draw from the words of St. Luke closely corresponds with what we are told by Seneca. His brother speaks of him with singular affection, not only as a man of integrity and honesty, but as one who won universal regard by his amiable temper and popular manners. His conduct on the occasion of the tumult of Corinth is quite in harmony with a character so described. He did not allow himself, like Pilate, to be led into injustice by the clamor of the jews ; and yet he overlooked, with easy indifference, an outbreak of violence which a sterner and more imperious governor would at once have arrested.” 6 Gallio was one of the victims of Nero.
Caliban (who must have been a descendant of the Old Man of the Sea) is a character against whom a very strong feeling exists, and not without some reason ; for he, not being put on his guard to say nothing which would criminate himself, does admit to have been guilty of certain indelicate attentions toward Miss Miranda, that bear considerable resemblance to that raptus mulierum which has been the chief failing of “salvage men ” time out of mind. Yet his case is not altogether a bad one. He asserts, and his master does not question the correctness of his assertion, that, when first Prospero came to the enchanted island, the two were on the best of terms, and were mutually gainers by their intercourse. Prospero told Caliban the names of the sun and the moon, and made much of him, and gave him to drink of a certain tipple which seems to have been very grateful to the uncouth creature’s unsophisticated palate, — “water with berries in ’t.” Coffee, perhaps, or cherry rum. In return, Caliban showed to his visitor, whom he hospitably received,
The fresh springs, brine pits, barren place, and fertile.”
That so “fair a fellowship” should have been broken must be matter for regret, though, if we accept Prospero’s statement, supported by Caliban’s admission, Caliban was the blamable party ; but may not Caliban have been tempted beyond his strength ? So keen a critic as the late Mr. Thackeray gives it as his opinion that Miranda coquetted with Caliban ; and if his view is right, the first offence came from the visitors, not from the host. The lady’s fondness for flirtation was no excuse for the extreme measure to which Caliban was about to have resort ; but it ought to be remembered that his education had been shamefully neglected, that he knew nothing of the usages of good society, and that the enchanted island formed no part of the Pays du Tendre. Gravely brought up, that specimen of the Lords of the Isles was ever disposed to take things au sérieux, and probably he misinterpreted the innocent demonstrations of Miranda, — demonstrations excusable as the only means of passing away the amount of time she had on her hands, and of keeping her hand in for the day when she should be restored with her father to court life. She must have been horribly bored on the island, which, in spite of its being enchanted, was anything but enchanting to her. Had Caliban had a clear understanding of matters, he might have pleaded Miranda?s flirting propensities by way of excuse for his very demonstrative reply thereto; but he was too raw to have anything like a just perception of his rights, either moral or legal, or he would not have admitted his guilt, or have failed to advance whatever of mitigating circumstances could have been found in the young woman’s conduct.
Prospero was naturally indignant when he learned what had passed, and, though he magnanimously spared the offender’s life, he took out the difference in scolding. His language to his slave is not a whit more refined than that of the slave to his master. The position of Caliban is not unlike that of a black slave in those days when slavery was a stable institution ; and Prospero makes a very fair likeness of a “haughty Southron.” Caliban might have said that he did not go to Prospero, but that Prospero came to him; and that with respect to that little matter about Miranda, taking the darkest view of it, he was only exercising one of his droits de seigneur. His guests had been thrown on his island, and who knows but that he was a wrecker, and had rights of flotsam and jetsam of his own invention ? He may have thought, with Sir Artegal, that
And plucked quite from all possessors’ hands,”
was at the disposition of whoever could seize it and keep it ; and that, by coming upon his island, father and daughter were good prize, according to the freeand-easy interpretation of the law of the strongest, by the strong, from which no appeal lies. If thus he thought, he thought viciously, not so much in a moral sense as in a material sense ; for it happened that Prospero was the stronger party, and soon brought Prince Caliban to his bearings. The superior intelligence of Prospero put it in his power to subdue the island’s owner, and to seize his domain. The Italian gentleman did what so many Christians were doing in Shakespeare’s time,— he helped himself to the home of an inferior race. He had resort to squatter sovereignty, and in exercise of his right to decide under what institutions he would live, he established slavery, with Ariel and Caliban as his slaves. Ariel was as much a slave as Caliban, though on time, and devoted to higher employments. Caliban was made a domestic drudge, Ariel an assistant-magician. Yet Prospero gave Ariel hard words, words not much softer than those bestowed on t’ other nigger. He calls him “malignant thing,” tells him he lies, and taunts him with the service he had rendered him in freeing him from the cloven pine, — which last proceeding was peculiarly ungenerous and ungentlemanly, seeing that the deliverer had made a slave of the delivered. Had Ariel so far imitated Caliban as to seek the favors of Miranda? Probably not, or he might have been successful where that “freckled whelp, hag-born,” (these are some of Prospero’s choice compliments to the poor devil,) failed so signally, making the greatest shipwreck that occurs in “The Tempest.” For Ariel had one of those faces which “limners love to paint, and ladies to look upon.” The want of society on the island would have been Miranda’s excuse had she allowed Ariel to hope, and it is extremely improbable that he would have courted her after the fashion of Caliban. But the delicate spirit seems not to have been struck by the delicate maid, or Prospero, who had no patience with passion, would not have made a distinction between the two slaves, the one of his body, and the other of his mind. The manner in which these slaves bore themselves after the shipwreck is in exact keeping with their respective prospects. To Ariel, Prospero promises his freedom in two days; and hence Ariel, so sure of becoming a freedman, and with the hope of becoming a voter, labors zealously in his master’s cause. Caliban lias no such promise, and therefore he becomes the slave of Stephano, to whom he looks for vengeance on his oppressor. That he should have wished Prospero to be knocked in the head, was as natural as that a black slave under our old régime should have desired the same thing for his master; and until we are prepared to condemn the slaves who joined our armies in the late war, we ought not to denounce Caliban for wishing to ascertain whether the roof of his owner’s head was more vengeance-proof than that of the castle of Mazeppa’s Polish Palatine. Prospero virtually admits the justice of Caliban’s course, by forgiving him, which he would not have done had he not been conscious of having wronged him. And if the master could pardon the slave who would have squeezed his gullet ad deliquium, and then have cut off his head, assuredly a people who have just liberated almost four million slaves — regarded as ranging with Caliban by their lords, who are no longer their masters — ought to look with charity on the enslaved owner of the enchanted isle.
- Homes without Hands, pp. 65, 66, —a delightful book for all who are fond of natural history.↩
- Germania, by the Baroness Blaze de Bury, Vol. I. pp. 149, 150.↩
- The best of all these sleeping stories is that which has Frederick Barbarossa, according to Mr. Carlyle the greatest of all the German Cæsars, for its central figure. Barbarossa died when absent on the third Crusade, A. D. 1190 ; but, according to tradition, " he is not yet dead, but only sleeping till the bad world reach its worst, when he will reappear.” His sleeping-place is a stone cavern, in the hill near Salzburg. A peasant once entered the cavern, and saw him, and, in answer to the imperial question, told him what it was o'clock ; whereupon old Redbeard said, “ Net vet time, but it will be soon !” One wnuld think the thunder of Sadowa, considering its significance for Germany, ought to have, brought him out of his cave, —-but it did not. He has been sleeping six hundred and seventy-six years ! Even the slumber of the Seven Sleepers seems but a nap, a southern siesta, compared with Frederick’s long night ; but then his night seems to be disturbed by dreams, and his sleep is interrupted by moments of wakefulness. The idea of getting rid of the world’s care through a long sleep, is well pul by Mr. Hawthorne, in "The Old Manse.” “Were I to adopt a pet idea, as so many people do, and fondle it in my embraces to the exclusion of all others,” he says, “ it would be, that the great want which mankind labors under, at this present period, is—sleep ! The world should recline its vast head on the first convenient pillow, and take an age-long nap. It has gone distracted, through a morbid activity, and, while preternaturally wide awake, is nevertheless tormented by visions that seem, real to it now, but would assume their true aspect and character, were all things once set right by an interval of sound repose. This is the only method of getting rid of old delusions, and avoiding new ones, — of regenerating our race, so that it might in due time awake, as an infant out of dewy slumber, — of restoring to us the simple perception of what is right, and the single-hearted desire to achieve it; both of which have long been lost, in consequence of this weary activity of brain, and torpor or passion of the heart, that now afflict the universe. Stimulants, the only mode of treatment hitherto attempted, cannot quell the disease ; they do but heighten the delirium.” If this was true in 1846, — and Heaven knows it was the literal truth, —how true it is in 1867, with French Revolutions, Russian wars, Sepoy wars, Italian wars, Secession wars, Paraguayan wars, and German wars added to the sum total of weariness !—But what a thought it is, that Barliarossa should have become the Sluggard of Solomon !↩
- According to some accounts of the closing scenes in the life of Socrates, when his friends came to see him, very early on the morning of his last day, they found Xanthippe sitting by him, with a child in her arms, — which child could scarcely have been theirs, as both were stricken in years, Socrates being close upon threescore and ten. Probably it was a grandchild. When the visitors entered, Xanthippe burst into tears, and said, “ O Socrates, this is the last time your friends will ever speak to you, or you to them !” — her tears and her words being quite unlike what might have been expected of her, if she was the odious creature that is brought to mind whenever her name is mentioned. After her exclamation, he sent her home, in order that he might not he disturbed by ber lamentations; and it is added, that she left the prison with the most frantic expressions of grief, which would have been strange had she hated him.↩
- History of Greece, Vol. VIII. pp. 550-552.↩
- The Life and Epistles of St. Paul, by the Rev. W. S. Conybeare and the Rev. J. S. Howson, Vol. I. p. 418.↩