On a Pair of Spectacles
I HAVE a great and growing fondness for attending auctions. I love to examine the hoarded trumpery, the useful and useless lumber, of an old family mansion, and take a melancholy pleasure in seeing the furniture and household utensils of some deceased village magnate or city potentate exposed to public view beneath the baleful banner of the auctioneer.
I come of an auction-loving race. My ancestors for several generations were noted followers of the red flag. My great-grandfather had a Toodleslike propensity for buying all the trash and trumpery that came under the auction hammer, and left at his death (it was about all be did leave) a large, curious, and very remarkable collection of old coffee-mills, worn-out clocks, broken lanterns, rusty tin-kitchens, gap-toothed saws, wheelless wheelbarrows, toothless rakes, superannuated spinning-wheels, and the other nameless and numberless worthless spoils and prizes of half a hundred auctions.
Thackeray — that bitter cynic, that merciless satirist — cried, ’t is said, at the sale of Lady Blessington’s household effects. And ’t is no wonder his eyes were moistened, his heart touched, by fond memories and pleasant associations of dear departed days as he stood there, among the thoughtless, heartless crowd, in the old familiar room, and listened to the “roaring auctioneer. ’ What a subject for satires and sermons is an auction at the late home of a deceased Dives or a bankrupt Timon ! But of all the sad sights in this sad world, perhaps the saddest is the vendition of the house and furniture of the last member of an old and once proud and opulent family. When the old chairs in which so many of the old extinct family have sat away so many hours of their earthly lives, — when the old dining-tables, off which so many good dinners have been eaten, — when the old mirrors in whose “gleaming depths ” beautiful women have proudlylooked, day by day, year by year, till, like their “ ghostly sisters ” in the glass, they became shadows themselves,— when these things, and others as hallowed by long use and holy associations, are offered to the chattering crowd that follow the auction flag, methinks many an old grassy grave, and many an old moss-covered tomb would be tenantless, and dead and long-forgotten members of the family would come hurrying to the house to lament and condole over the sacrilege of their hearth and home.
At such an auction as the one just described or alluded to I bought a pair of old silver-bowed spectacles. I believe in spectacles, and think the inventor of them deserves the same hearty encomium that honest Sancho Panza bestows upon the man who invented sleep.
Who of all the millions that use spectacles can tell me the story of Spina’s life ? O ungrateful and ungenerous mortals ! You write the biographies and cherish the memories of “ the plotters and disturbers of the world,” but know nothing of, and care nothing for, the best and truest benefactors of the race.
This Pisan monk — this Alexander de Spina — must have been (I maintain) a loving and lovable person, and a favorite with all in the Abbey, from the mighty abbot to the humble porter. Although he devoutly said his “ holy things” each morn and eventide, he evidently believed that the best way to make himself acceptable to the Lord was to do something to benefit his fellow-men. Methinks I behold him painfully and thoughtfully observing the vain and futile attempts a venerable old monk is making to see the letters of THE BOOK.
Is there not, he wonders, something in God’s wonderful world which will help the impaired vision or brighten the blurred and misty page ? At last, after years of study and prayer and experiment,—just as his own sight is growing dim and poor, — Spina produces the first pair of spectacles ever seen in this world.
Spina’s invention was regarded as a veritable godsend. It was described and commended in the pulpit. At its success Saint Clare hung his head in shame, and from that day to this has had but few worshippers or believers.
The invention of spectacles removed one of the greatest terrors of old age. It opened many a sadly closed book, and set many an idle pen in motion. It put needles into old willing hands, and therewith happiness into old hearts.
It hardly seems possible, and yet it is undoubtedly the fact, that mankind had to do without spectacles till near the end of the thirteenth century. How Paul would have prized a pair of spectacles! How did Methuselah get along without glasses during the last two or three hundred years of his life ? Eve herself, in her old age, must have felt the want of spectacles. De Quincey somewhere says that the ancients went to bed early, because their mother earth could not afford to give them candles. I dare say the young folks of antiquity would have appreciated “ long sixes.” But to the elderly people whose sight was poor they would have been a cruel aggravation. The old gentleman could not have read his book, nor the old lady have plied her needle, by the candle’s “ mild light.” No candles! no novels ! no newspapers ! no spectacles ! Ah, that antique world of which poets fable so finely may have been a glorious world, but
Spectacles were a new thing in Chaucer’s day, and I love to believe that the old poet used them when writing the Canterbury Tales. Shakespeare could have said, with his own Benedick, “ I can see yet without spectacles.” But if he had lived to a ripe old age, he would probably have written new Hamlets and Macbeths by their help. Good old Bishop Hall wore glasses, and wrote a pious meditation on them. Swift foolishly vowed never to use spectacles. Rough old Johnson, though he did not wear them, mentioned the name of their inventor with reverence as one of the greatest benefactors to society. Burke rarely appeared in public without glasses. In Gillray’s caricatures, you see this mighty rhetorician with spectacles on nose, and arms uplifted, hurling a thunderbolt of eloquence at the members of the opposition. If Spina, or somebody else, had not invented spectacles, Disraeli could not have written “ The Curiosities of Literature.” Wordsworth, in his later years, was greatly beholden to glasses. When Emerson saw him, in 1833, he was disfigured with green goggles. ’T was through a pair of spectacles that Thackeray looked upon life, and saw and noted the sins and sorrows of “ Vanity Fair.” Franklin’s spectacles, as some biographer or other has remarked, were the spectacles of a philosopher. They were not such spectacles as were sold by the opticians of London and Paris, but were made expressly for him, according to a theory of his own. In travelling, he carried two pairs of glasses ; “ one for reading, the other for surveying distant objects.” Franklin could have written eloquently and appreciatively of spectacles. They were the best and most trusted friends of his vigorous and beautiful old age. He evidently took pride in them, and loved to appear in the gay salons of Paris with “ the spectacles of wisdom on his nose.”
My old silver-bowed spectacles have, I think, a remarkable resemblance to the famous round-eyed “specs ” through which Franklin stares at you so archly in the familiar portrait of him at the age of seventy-one. But it was not for that I bought the old glasses and paid an outrageously high price for them. ’T is always my luck. If I buy anything at auction, I have to pay a great deal more for it than it is worth. If Mrs. Gumbleton would stay at home, and attend to her housewifely duties, I might get a good bargain occasionally. But that, I fear, she will never do. O, she is at home at an auction, and looks as if she were monarch of all she surveys ! She is very familiar with the auctioneer, and bids freely and loudly. If you happen to take a fancy for some article or other, Mrs. Gumbleton is sure to fall in love with it too. And she will have it, or make you pay roundly for it. I know. I have had experience.
The glasses had belonged to a dear old lady whom I knew and revered, and I wished to possess them as a memento of her friendship for me. As they were old-fashioned spectacles, such as our grandfathers and grandmothers wore, I expected to get them for a trifle. Surely, thought I, none of the fine and fashionable folk at this auction will want these clumsy old glasses ; even Mrs. Gumbleton herself will not dare to bid upon them, for fear they might be knocked down to her. But I was mistaken, as you shall hear. It seems that this woman, this — what shall I call her? — this auction-haunting Mrs. Gumbleton, had tried the spectacles before the sale (she loves to go early to auctions), and, finding that they were “just the right age ” for her, looked upon them as her own.
The glasses were “put up.” I bid. Mrs. Gumbleton bid. I bid again. She bid again. The crowd smiled ; the auctioneer was pleased. We kept on bidding. We grew excited. Still we went on bidding. The crowd laughed ; the auctioneer was the very picture ot good-nature. But we stopped not in our bidding. We grew angry, but continued to bid. I don't know but that we should have gone on bidding to this day had not Mr. Gumbleton, who had a moment before entered the room, bawled out, “ Stop, Jerusha ! Don't you bid another cent!” Mrs. Gumbleton was so angry with her husband for his interference that she forgot all about the spectacles, which were knocked down to me for — no matter how much.
I should not like to have seen Madam Beach’s old glasses on Mrs. Gumbleton’s noseMadam and Mrs. Gumbleton were not friends. How could they have been ? Mrs. Gumbleton is — I hope I do her no injustice — a vain, thoughtless, ignorant old woman, who prides herself on being the greatest gossip and gad-about in Seaport. She is very fond of dress, and, like Goldsmith’s old maid, often appears in public “ tossed out ” in all the gayety of sixteen. ’T was of such a “ nugiperous gentle dame ” as Mrs. Gumbleton that the “Simple Cobler of Aggawam ” thus wrote: “ I look at her as the gizzard of a trifle, the product of a quarter of a cypher, the epitome of nothing ; fitter to be kickt, if she is of a kickable substance, than either honour'd or humour'd.”
Madam Beach was the very antipodes of Mrs. Gumbleton.
Anthony Stover, Madam Beach’s father, was a great merchant in his day. His ships made successful voyages. His merchandise found a ready market. Fortune favored him. Wealth accumulated. He was at one time the richest man in a town full of rich men. He was not satisfied. Avarice cried, “ More.” Mammon said, “ Keep on.” So he planned new enterprises, and sent his ships on new voyages. But the tide of his success had turned. One morning he received intelligence that his new ship “ Washington ” had foundered in the Bay of Biscay. A few days after, in a fierce December storm, his favorite ship, “ Dromo,” was wrecked, and went to pieces, almost in sight of his counting-house windows. And suddenly, while he was brooding over the loss of these vessels, the commercial skies were darkened, and a great financial panic swept over the land. His huge “ mountain pile of wealth ” was reduced to a contemptible little hillock. The ruined, broken-down old merchant left the dreary old countingroom in which he had passed the best days of his life in painfully poring over ponderous day-books and ledgers, and spent his few sad remaining years at home. He there passed most of his time at a chamber window, looking out upon the harbor, anxiously watching the outward and inward bound vessels. Sometimes he would walk down upon the busy wharves (deserted and shipless now), and ask the lumpers if the “ Dromo ” and the “ Washington” had arrived.
One night, after passing the whole long June day at his window, he came in to supper greatly pleased and excited, saying as he sat down to the table, “ The ‘ Dromo ’ is outside ! She ’ll be up to the wharf in the morning ! ” He went to bed that night as happy as a boy on the eve of the Fourth of July. But in the morning he neither asked nor cared whether the “ Dromo ” had arrived or not.
At the time of her father’s misfortune, Madam Beach was a bright and beautiful girl of eighteen, — a Beatrix Esmond with a heart. Old Captain Beach, ex-master of the “ Dromo,” who had travelled in Europe, and seen “ the female women of Paris,” swore she was the handsomest girl he ever laid eyes on. “ A devilish lucky dog, Jack,” said that worthy, when his son informed him of his engagement with rich old Stover’s daughter.
The definition of the word “beau,” as given in the list of definitions at the end of the old spelling-book out of which Hannah Merrill taught me my letters, is a brief but very accurate description of young Jack Beach, who was in truth “ a gay fellow.” He was handsome and accomplished, in manners and appearance a perfect gentleman. He had a kind heart, and a generous disposition. But — ah! that terrible “but” — he was too fond of fine clothes and high living, of his wine and his brandy, and was., with all his graces and accomplishments, little better than a scapegrace. Fond mothers of poor unmarried sons of immaculate character sadly shook their heads, and declared’t was a pity Annie Stover should marry such a person as jack Beach. Perhaps he might love her, they said, but he evidently loved her father’s gold better. But do not pretty women generally let your model young men die bachelors, and fall in love with some wild, dashing, whole-souled fellow with a spice of wickedness in him ? However that may be, the best and handsomest girl in Seaport had given her heart (a precious boon !) to that madcap, Jack Beach. Somebody told old Captain Beach that the busybodies said Jack would not marry Miss Stover now she was a poor man’s daughter.
“ If he don’t,” replied the fiery old man, “ I ’ll disown him ! ”
The Captain informed his son of what the gossips were saying about him.
“’T is a lie, sir,” said Jack, who had just returned from the Stover mansion, “ I’d marry her to-day, if she would let me. But she won’t. She says her father is heart-broken by misfortune, and needs all her care and attention, and she can’t think of being married at present: if I can wait. The noble girl ! Of course I shall wait till she’s ready to marry me. The girl is pure gold, and worth a thousand fortunes ! ” He did wait. Soon after the death of Anthony Stover, which occurred in about four years after his failure, jack and Annie were married. Parson Miltimore said they were the handsomest couple he ever united. In Mrs. Beach, Fuller’s character of a “ Good Wife ” found a living and lovely illustration. In her were exampled the beauty and holiness of marriage. And, during the first few years of his wedded life, Jack Beach was in all and every sense of the words a good husband. He discarded his old pleasure-loving associates, and consorted with none but men of severe morality and unimpeachable character, — long-faced church-members, practical, matter-of-fact men of business, and sober, industrious fathers of families. He went into business with his father, and became a shrewd, brisk, enterprising merchant. His business tact and talent were apparent to all who had dealings with the firm of John Beach and Son, importers of coffee, sugar, and molasses. People said that Jack Beach had sown his wild oats, and settled down into a steady, diligent man of affairs. And so it seemed. But — (there is that fatal “ but ” again !) — his follies and vices were not dead : they were only dormant.
’T is sad to think that the first fatal step in Jack Beach’s downward course was taken in consequence of that which gave him and his wife so much joy,— the birth of a son. Jack was so elated by the event, that he “got beastly intoxicated” in drinking the child’s health. That night’s debauch revived his old love of drink, and he could not or did not resist it. He neglected his business. He “whistled back” his jolly companions of former days. And many a game of “ High Jinks ” did he and they have at that famous rendezvous of bucks and bullies, the “ Seaport Inn.” Nay, he often invited these “toping Capulets ” to his own house, where they caroused till near the peep of day. At these bacchanalian parties Jack was in his glory, and made a merry, mad lord of misrule. Sometimes he would walk right over the supper-table, smashing the plates, glasses, &c. Jack had a glorious voice, and could, ’t is said, sing his drunken and noisy company into silence and sobriety. Passers-by, pausing beneath the window to hear his rich, deep, mellow voice, on catching the words of the song, would flee with fear and disgust.
Dreary and ghastly sounded the drunken revelry of her husband’s midnight carousals to Mrs. Beach, sitting sad and lonely in her chamber, watching the sweet slumber of her darling babe, and waiting for the dispersion of the crew of inebriates that had turned her quiet and peaceful home into a noisy and turbulent bouse of riot. Madam Beach often said that, had it not been for the comfort and consolation she found in her baby-boy, her husband’s bad conduct would have killed or crazed her. Notwithstanding his wife’s prayers and expostulations, notwithstanding his own sworn promises of reformation, Jack Beach was now in the inner circles of the maelstrom of intemperance, and rapidly approaching its fatal vortex. If I were writing the biography of Jack Beach, and not inditing a little essay “ On a Pair of Spectacles,” I should give a full and circumstantial account of jovial Jack’s doleful end. I should have to relate how, after the failure of the firm of John Beach and Son (the elder Beach died a poor man), Jack,—his money all gone, even to the beggarly last doit, and stern necessity compelling him to do something for a livelihood,—remembering that when in Paris he had taken lessons in painting, and used to be considered quite a hand at a likeness, took up the business of portraitpainting.
Portrait-painting, in that prephotograph world in which Jack Beach lived, was a profitable profession. Occasionally a peripatetic Dick Tinto would set up bis easel in Seaport, and reap quite a golden harvest with his brush. But after Captain, or Count Kent, as he was generally called, because of his pride, his politeness, and a certain, something in his look and manner that suggested the nobleman, hung up in his grand old parlor the beautiful half-length of himself, painted in London by Copley, the beet-red cheeks and fiercely staring eyes of poor Tinto’s copies of the “ human face divine ” were not considered to be quite the thing by the connoisseurs of Seaport. When Jack hung out his sign, the beauty, wealth, and aristocracy of the place flocked to his studio, eager to give him a sitting. “ Mr. Beach,” said Madam Ellery, the queen of Seaport society, — “ Mr. Beach, with all his failings and misfortunes, is a gentleman, and knows what’s what. The travelling fellows will do well enough for the commonalty, but Mr. Beach learnt the art in Paris, and knows how to paint people of gentility. I must give him another sitting to-morrow. If he flatters me with his brush as he does with his tongue, ’t will be an admirable likeness.”
I have seen two or three of Jack Beach’s portraits. They are not, it must be confessed, remarkable specimens of the art. They lack expression. There is no speculation in their eyes. They have no souls. Their merits are merely mechanical. They may be very good likenesses, — “ as like as they can stare,” — but they are very poor portraits. It is impossible, however, to convince some of the old people in Seaport, especially those who own one of his pictures, that Jack Beach was not as great a painter as either Copley or Malbone. Jack was evidently thought to be no ordinary artist in his day, and his portraits seem to have pleased those for whom they were painted. Indeed, it got to be the fashion in Seaport to have your portrait painted by Jack Beach. O, but it irked him to paint — for money! What! he, a gentleman, and the son of a gentleman, to demean himself by putting on canvas the faces of upstart merchants and shipowners! (Jack, like Sir Jeoffrey Notch, called every thriving man an upstart.) If the painter had been sober and industrious, he would have made a deal of money with his brush. Jack was never actually drunk, only a “ little mellow,” in the painting-room, but he would only work about three or four hours a day. After the labors of the studio were over, he used to take a midday walk, which generally terminated at the tavern. There half or two thirds of all that he had earned in the morning with his pencil would be spent in drinking the healths of the great personages of the day, and in treating the thirsty souls who cheered the men whom he delighted to honor. Jackson was one of Jack Beach’s heroes. At the news of the victory at New Orleans, Jack swore that “ Old Hickory ” was the greatest general in the world, and affirmed, with a mighty oath, that he could drink the sea dry in his honor. Jack did not quite perform that prodigious bacchanalian feat, but he drank himself into a fatal fever that night, and died on the very day the bells were ringing for peace between England and the United States.
“ D—n him ! ” said fierce old Captain Foster, at Jack’s funeral, to a gentleman who was lauding Jackson, — “ d—n him ! why could n’t he have put off the battle of New Orleans for a few weeks ? then Jack Beach would have finished my portrait.”
At the time of Jack Beach’s death, Count Kent was a hale and handsome gentleman of fifty. Though a proud, haughty, heartless aristocrat, he was the most popular man in Seaport, and probably for the same cause that the Duke of Alva was the most popular man in Spain, — he touched his hat to every one in the street. The women, to whom he was as chivalrous as Louis XIV. himself, said he was a dangerously fascinating man. The Count had been a wild fellow in his day, and had heard the chimes at midnight in many a foreign city. He married old, eccentric Dr. Stay’s beautiful daughter, Laodice. ’T was a very unhappy match. Mrs. Kent was an angelic devil. Her husband ran away to Europe to get out of the sight of her bright black eyes, and out of the sound of her loud, sharp voice. Madam vowed she would follow him, and she would undoubtedly have gone in the next ship that sailed for England, had her health permitted. She never was well enough to go, and some three or four months after the Count’s departure she died in giving birth to a daughter. Upon the reception of the news of his wife’s death and his daughter’s birth the Count returned home. To his daughter, whom he called, after her mother, Laodice, he became tenderly attached. She was the comfort and solace of his life. She had all of her mother’s beauty, but none of her mother’s fiery temper. At seventeen she was the belle of the county, and had all the young bachelors in Seaport sighing at her feet. There were I know not how many manly hearts broken, when (a year or two later) she eloped with the dashing Colonel Sever.
It had been generally understood by the match-makers, that Count Kent would remain a widower as long as he had Laodice to do the honors of his house. But now that she had flown, prim, aristocratic old maids, stout, comely widows of wealthy shipowners and shipmasters, and even pretty young girls, took a strange and remarkable interest in him and his affairs, and bashfully hinted that he had better take a wife. He gave them not the least hope or encouragement. Indeed, the only lady to whom he paid any marked attention was Mrs. Jack Beach. He frequented Jack’s studio, and praised Jack’s pictures, He petted Jack’s little boy, and passed hours in conversing with Jack’s lovely and sensible wife. ’T is said that, when told of Jack’s death, a gleam of insuppressible delight lit up the Count’s large, handsome gray eyes. If there were ever a happy man at a funeral, it was Count Kent at the funeral of Jack Beach.
A few days after the funeral the Count called on Mrs. Beach, and did his best to cure her of her grief for poor Jack’s death. He followed Montaigne’s method of consolation, and endeavored to lead her from her sorrow by pleasant and diverting conversation. He talked (of pleasing words the Count had store) in his polite, gentlemanly way of this and of that. Of course he spoke of the weather, and praised Mrs. Beach’s pretty boy. He related amusing incidents of his European travels, and gave a lively picture of Paris as it was in the winter of 1787. (The Parliament of Paris was then in session. Did the Count, I wonder, look in upon the Notables ?)
With his graphic personal reminiscences of some of the great English actors, — especially with his recollections of Mrs. Siddons and John Kemble, whom he saw act together in Othello, — Mrs. Beach was, despite her sorrow, greatly diverted. So much so, indeed, that she told the Count that she hoped he would call again, and entertain her with more of his theatrical gossip. He did call again, and pretty often too. In fact, he could not pass the house without going in ; and some how or other he had to pass the Stover mansion nearly every day in the week. His housekeeper said that the Widow Beach had bewitched Count Kent. The gossips and busybodies (fie on them ! their tongues are always wagging about somebody or other) were sure it would be a match. And so it would have been if Mrs. Beach had only said “yes” on that memorable June afternoon in the year of peace, when the Count (a gallant of the old school) went down on his aristocratic old knees, and offered her his hand and heart.
The Count was greatly surprised and offended at Mrs. Beach’s refusal. He bade her a sarcastically polite goodafternoon, and left the house, banging the doors after him as he went. He informed his housekeeper, he informed everybody, that he had offered himself to Jack Beach’s penniless widow, and she had dared to refuse him. “Yes, Mrs. Ferson, she refused me,— me a gentleman of wealth and position, — a member of one of the first families in New England ! I would have dressed her like a duchess. I would have been a father to her boy. He should have been my pet, — perhaps my heir. She says (how can such a sensible woman talk such nonsense !) that it would be showing disrespect to her late husband’s memory to think of marrying so soon after his death. She says she never will marry again. Nonsense ! She ’ll throw herself away upon some contemptible nobody, some swash-buckler like Jack Beach. She’s a fine woman, Mrs. Ferson, and would make a grand appearance in my parlor. She would be in keeping with my fine old furniture. She’s a fool not to have me. But I will think no more about her, I will forget that there is such a woman in existence as Mistress Beach. She is almost as handsome as that consummate coquette, Madame Récamier (I think that was her name) with whom everybody in Paris was in love when I was there with Laodice, in 1809. — Mrs. Ferson, I contemplate passing the summer in the country; be pleased to make all the necessary preparations for my departure, as soon as possible.”
Count Kent did pass the summer in the country, and returned home in the autumn with a wife, — a fair, frail young thing.
Although poor, and sometimes sorely pinched with poverty, during the first four or five years of her widowhood, Mrs. Beach never for a moment repented having refused to marry Count Kent. By many a shrewd device and cunning expedient she kept the grim wolf at bay. Mrs. Beach had a splendid wardrobe (’t was rich in rare old silks) ; and whenever she lacked the money to buy the necessaries of life, she employed Nabby Allen to sell one of her fine brocades. This Nabby Allen was a grim and gaunt old woman of sixty, with a sepulchral voice, and small, piercing gray eyes. If you wished to dispose of your beautiful set of china, or your Russia-fur muff, or your mother’s grand old India shawl, or your own elegant wedding-dress, she would for a consideration, hawk it round from house to house till she found a purchaser for it. Nabby was as shrewd as a Yankee deacon, and as close as the grave itself. You could neither coax her nor bribe her to give the name of the owner of the article that she was trying to persuade you to purchase. She was missed when she died. She had no successor. She was a better person to have dealings with than your pawnbroker. She was as honest and trustworthy as truth itself.
That was Mrs. Beach’s method of raising money. One of the ways she took to save it was — going out to “spend the day.” You remember the delightful picture Steele gives in the “ Tatler,” of a visit he made to an old friend and former schoolfellow, who came to London, with his family, for the winter. Well, just such a hearty welcome as Mr. Bickerstaff received at his friend’s house always awaited Mrs. Beach and her boy wherever and whenever they went to pass the day. She brought sunshine with her. Her good-humor and good sense were as oil upon the troubled waters of a large and noisy family. She had stories for the children and stories for the elders. She tended the baby. She dressed the little girls’ dolls, and made trainer-caps for the little boys. She sewed for the mother, and played backgammon with the father.
But when Mrs. Beach took Mr. Josey Allman to board, she ceased to gladden her friends with these daylong visits. Allman was a bachelor of five-and-forty, and for the last twenty years of his life had resided with his friend Dr. Coffman, (what a fine wit! what a true gentleman was he!) but at the Doctor’s death Mrs. Coffman gave up housekeeping, and Cœlebs was without a home. The world was all before him where to choose a boarding-place; and Providence, in the form of golden-hearted Parson Miltimore, guided him to Mrs. Beach’s door. ’T was a lucky day for Mrs. Beach when this kind and generous old bachelor crossed her threshold. He brightened the gloomy old house with his genial wit and joyous laughter. He scattered his gold so freely about (Josey Allman was rich), that poverty and want, and all the many cares, troubles, and vexations which follow in their train, fled the dwelling, and have never been seen there from that day to this. In brief, he treated Mrs. Beach with the kindness and generosity of a father. He caressed and petted her boy as I have seen fond old grandfathers caress and pet their favorite daughter’s darling children. Although gratitude is said to be the mother of love, I don’t think that Mrs. Beach would have accepted Mr. Allman if he had proposed to her. But he never did propose. He evidently liked her, however, and possibly would have made love to her if he had lived longer ; and he would no doubt have lived to a good old age but for the brutality of a fierce political partisan. Political warfare raged furiously in 1824. There Were six candidates for the Presidency, among whom were Clay, Jackson, and John Quincy Adams. Mr. Allman advocated the election of Mr. Adams. One day, in the early autumn of 1824, Mr. Allman met Captain Knipp in one of the principal streets of Seaport, in company with three or four of his political friends. Knipp, who was a loud, brawling, passionate man, and a bitter hater of everybody who opposed the election of General Jackson, gruffly accosted Mr. Allman, and began to abuse Mr. Adams foully. Allman replied by saying that none but a traitor could speak thus of a member of President Madison’s Cabinet. “ Traitor ! No man shall call me traitor and live ! ” yelled the Captain, springing upon Mr. Allman, and knocking him down, and stamping upon him. Mr. Allman was taken up senseless. He was badly hurt, and died in a few months in consequence of his internal injuries. Captain Knipp was (I have been told) indicted by the grandjury for manslaughter, but through the influence of powerful political friends he was never brought to trial. When Mr. Allman’s will was opened, it was found that he had left most of his property to Mrs. Beach.
All mankind worship thee, O Mammon ! and for thy golden favors would sell their very souls, and barter away their heavenly birthright. We not only love money itself, but we humble and humiliate ourselves to obtain the notice of moneyed people. “ Riches gather many friends.” The very persons that shunned and avoided Mrs. Beach in the days of her poverty and adversity, now that she was in possession of poor Mr. Allman’s wealth wearied her with their civilities, and disgusted her with their professions of friendship. In less than six months after Allman’s decease, Mrs., or, as she was now called, Madam Beach, received five offers of marriage, and gave five emphatic refusals. She did not wish to marry. She had no love to give a new husband. She lavished it all upon her boy, whom she fairly worshipped.
Master Beach was a favorite of Parson Miltimore, who used to say that he hoped he should live to see the youth a minister of the Gospel. 0, my good, simple old parson, did you not observe that the boy was fonder of sailing his boats than of reading his books ? By Mr. Miltimore’s advice, young Beach was, at the age of fourteen, sent to Dummer Academy. He was undoubtedly a lad of parts, but did not take to his studies with the avidity of one destined to be a shining light in the Calvinistic church. In fact he hated study, and, near the end of his second year at Dummer, ran away to sea. He soon passed from the forecastle to the cabin. At twenty-four he was master of the finest ship that sailed out of Seaport. O, was not Madam Beach proud of the handsome young sailor ! She chose the best and prettiest girl in Seaport — Madam Ellery’s little black-eyed granddaughter— for his wife. When the Captain was at home the old Stover mansion was a blithe place, — all alive with company, noisy with merriment, gay with youth and beauty. O joyous young bachelors, O bright and blooming maidens, who used to foot it so featly there, where are ye now ? And the noble, manly Captain Beach, where, too, is he ? His glorious laugh is heard in the old house no more. His stately form is never seen in the Seaport streets. His mother is gone. Parson Miltimore is gone. The Captain is forgotten by all, — all save a sad-faced, black-eyed little old woman who has been faithfully waiting these thirty years for him to come home and marry her. He will never come, O loving and loyal heart! The sea has him : —
I like old houses, and have such a reverence for them that I feel inclined to lift my hat whenever I pass one. To you the venerable Stover mansion would appear but an ordinary, old-fashioned, gambrel-roofed house. But to me it is an object of great and peculiar interest, and is endeared to me by dear memories and pleasant associations. Among the crowd of shadows that people its silent and deserted rooms is the ghost of my childhood. Ah, how I loved as a child to wander about the melancholy old house and its fine old garden ! I took a fearful pleasure in sitting in one of the grand old uncomfortable chairs, in the grave, dusky old parlor, out-staring the grim old portraits that hung upon the walls; in entering the gloomy and ghostly old chambers ; in peeping into dark old closets and mysterious old cupboards ; and in exploring that limbo of superannuated furniture and obsolete household implements, — that museum of the relics and remains of bygone years, pleasures, vanities, and fashions, — the dismal old garret.
I liked the meek and motherly old serving-woman, Naomi Miltimore, — Parson Miltimore’s eldest daughter, — and loved to sit in the long, large old kitchen, with its huge fireplace, and shelves full of bright pewter dishes, and hear her prattle of the old times and old people commemorated in this paper. Naomi was nearly as old as Madam Beach, and had been in Madam’s service ever since Mr. Allman’s death. She was a jewel of a servant. She hated dust, dirt, and flies. She showed them no mercy, she gave them no quarter. For neatness and cleanliness the housewives of Broek were but types of her. She was an excellent cook withal. Such bread as she made I never expect to taste again. Her buns were lighter and better than the famous “ Hot Crossbuns ” of “The Cries of London.”
Naomi loved housework, and yearned for the dear old days when the house was full of company, and she was a wonderfully busy and a wonderfully happy woman, and used to sing fragments of old hymns and bits of sweet old songs as she kneaded the bread and rolled out the pie-crust. “ I feel like crying,” she once said to me, “whenever I go into the ‘crockeryroom,’ and look at the piles and piles of unused dishes. Ah, my dear child, this lonesome old house was a lively place in the poor dear Captain’s day ! ”
Although Madam Beach received the news of her son’s loss at sea with great outward composure (evidently believing, with Montaigne, that weeping and lamenting are offensive to the living and vain to the dead), she ever after lived in seclusion and retirement. She gave no parties, and received no company save a few old friends and intimate acquaintances. Pretty, demure, sorrowstricken Nonie N., (ah, pity her !) poor Captain Beach’s betrothed bride, passed the better part of her time with Madam Beach, who called her daughter, and loved her with a mother’s love. In comforting and consoling this poor wounded dove, I think that Madam Beach comforted and consoled herself, and was thus enabled to bear her own terrible bereavement so calmly and heroically. Another welcome visitor was the Widow Sever, — Laodice Kent that was. She was again the mistress of her father’s house. The Count was as polite and as proud as ever; but his little last wife was dead ; she died, poor thing! in the second year of her marriage. You may say what you please of your Kembles and Vandenhoffs, but I don’t believe that it is possible for anybody to read Shakespeare better than Laodice Sever did. Many an afternoon in my boyhood have I sat on the little oval cricket before the bright, blazing fire in Madam Beach’s cosey and comfortable old sitting-room, and heard with charmed attention Laodice Sever read Lear, and Macbeth, and other of the masterpieces of the immortal playwright.
Madam Beach was a great novelreader. In her old age she reperused all of Richardson’s voluminous works. She admired Miss Austen and Charlotte Smith. (Who reads Miss Austen and Charlotte Smith now ?) She appreciated the Waverley Novels, and was excessively fond of the romances of Mr. G. P. R. James. She loved the “ Vicar of Wakefield,” and was always quoting the sly, shrewd, sensible remarks and observations of the good Dr. Primrose. But she did not like Dickens. She said that the “ Pickwick Papers ” was a low, silly book !
Madam Beach was also a great talker, and loved to pour into the willing ears of her auditors countless stories and anecdotes of the old, aristocratic Seaport families. She was loyal to the past, and, like Sir Thomas Overbury’s “ Olde Man,” praised the “good old times ” as vehemently as if she would sell them. As she grew older, her wit grew brighter and keener, and I fear that, although her heart was full of kindness and good-humor, she was apt to be rather too sharp and satirical in her remarks upon the persons and characters of her townsmen and townswomen.
But if Madam laughed at the vanities and follies of the grown-up folk, she petted, admired, and loved the children. She read to them beautiful stories from her large-printed old Bible, and told them delightful tales of “ fairies, genii, giants, and monsters.” Every New Year’s morning, for a good many years, a crowd of children of all ages, from the master and miss of twelve down to the chubby rogue of four, would march up to the front door of Madam Beach’s house, and give a thundering rap with the big bright brass knocker.
Naomi would answer the knock, and, knowing the object of their call, would conduct the “ little women and men ” into Madam Beach’s sitting-room. As soon as they were fairly in the room, and before the amused and delighted old lady could possibly have time to speak a word, they would all cry out simultaneously, “ Wish you a happy New Year, Mrs. Beach ! ” She used to say a few kind, pleasant words to her well-wishers, and give them each a bright silver quarter of a dollar. The children returned home happy and contented, thinking that Madam Beach was the best and nicest old lady in the world.
I think that as a child I was an especial favorite of Madam Beach, and indeed, during all the long years that she knew me, from the time I made my first visit to her house with my mother (I was a very little boy then) to the end of her life, she always treated me with great courtesy and kindness. I loved her when a child ; I admired and respected her when a man, and considered her one of the best and truest friends I ever had in this world. But she is gone, and all I have to remember her by are a few old books and a pair of old silver-bowed spectacles. Ah, the old spectacles are a wonderful remembrancer ! All that I have gossiped about so idly in this paper, and much else that I should like to have gossiped about, was suggested by these old glasses. Whenever I take the dear old “specs” out of their old, faded morocco case, I seem to see Madam Beach before me. Sometimes I see her sitting before the fire, — the pleasant, cheerful wood fire,—with Mr. Allman’s little brass tongs in her hand, and something that looks like tears in her eyes. (H. R., you know the story of these old tongs, and should tell it in your sweet and subtile verse.) Sometimes I see her standing before the mirror, gazing wistfully at her fine old face, and sighing, perhaps, as she thinks of the brilliant and blooming girl she used to behold in that very glass years ago. And sometimes I see her seated in her capacious old easy-chair, a volume of her great folio Bible open in her lap, reading a favorite chapter in the New Testament.
Think of what these old spectacles must have seen in their day, — of all the sad and all the pleasant scenes they have beheld, — of all the books they have read,— of all the people they have looked in the face !
These glasses saw sad changes in Seaport society. They saw the commerce of the old town dwindle year by year, till the wharves were deserted and the streets grass-grown. They saw the lumbering old stage-coach give place to the rushing locomotive. They saw new faces at the windows of old houses, and new mounds in the old graveyard. They were often moistened by the death and misfortune of friends and acquaintances. They gazed long and sadly, yet hopefully and proudly too. upon young Captain Beach as he bade his friends a merry good by before he went aboard his ship and sailed away to his ocean-grave.