The Contributors' Club
HARDLY any man who reads it, if he gives his own unbiased opinion, will approve of the book called Hetty’s Strange History. If he is one sort of man he will call it wicked; if another, morbid. In any case he will object to it.
Hetty Gunn, the heroine, is represented as a healthy, determined, fine-looking girl, with a curious lack of the clinging, dependent qualities which we sometimes note in a woman, — a lack which seems to keep lovers at a distance more than any other. One wonders why; but it does. I have known even a little habit of choosing her own seat quickly in a railroad car, instead of waiting for her escort to do it for her, brought up against a woman as insupportable. Hetty Gunn has the gift of taking charge of things; strong and independent, she manages her farm herself, and does it well. Of a resolute, unselfish nature, she is above minding her real position, which is that of an unloved woman, accepting it calmly as part of her lot in life; the outside sting, however, is removed by the fact that everybody in the neighborhood believes that she has as many suitors as she cares to have. But in truth, she lias never had one. She lives on in this manner, busy and prosperous, and, having no idealizing tendencies, no imaginative romance, she does not go out of her way to fall in love with somebody, anybody, as many women do, but keeps steadily along by herself. At thirtyseven years of age she has a brusque, honest, but somewhat dictatorial manner, a strong, healthy beauty of the impersonal sort which, attracts no more than that of the goddess of liberty, a kindly, half-comic expression, and a merry laugh. It is a well-drawn picture; we have all seen such women. And now across the stage comes the lover.
To abridge matters and afford him a chance with Hetty, the author, has sagaciously made him a physician, giving him illness in the house, with all its unlimited opportunities and situations, as a background. Doctor Eben is a finelooking man, sensible and honest; meeting with Hetty during night-watchings, dawn-meetings, and long sea-side days, he at length falls in love with her, and asks her to marry him. It is the first time a word of love has ever been spoken in her ear. She is startled; she goes through doubts and fears; she is irresolute; she begins to dream. At last, laying down her arms forever, this stronghearted, mannish, old-young girl commences loving in earnest reality, and loves with all her soul, all her being. The strength of her nature, hitherto diffused in various directions, is now concentrated upon one person. They are married; he is thirty-four years of age, she thirty-seven.
Their wedded life opens happily. Her every thought is devoted to him, and he, in return, loves her sincerely; but, manlike, he. expects her to take his love for granted. He is sure of it; therefore she should be. Time passes. Hetty is now forty-five, and Doctor Eben forty-one. But Hetty looks old. There are little wrinkles at the corners of her eyes, her hair has turned gray, her fair skin is weather-beaten; on the other hand Doctor Eben is younger and handsomer than ever. The wife is painfully conscious of this change; the husband scarcely notices it. He is a practical, busy man, absorbed more and more in his profession. She watches him, and notes all he says and does with morbid intentness. He, without the least comprehension of the direction her thought is taking, marches on as naturally and carelessly as a boy brushing through tall grass; but every bent stalk is a fibre of Hetty’s heart. And now upon the scene comes the usual, cause of trouble in cases of this kind, namely, a young girl. In this story she is a fair child, smitten down by spinal disease, and Doctor Eben becomes her physician; he takes a great interest in her, of course, and Hetty has to hear it all. Remarkable skill is now shown by the author in relating the little occurrences which follow each other and torture the wife, — for it is always little things that do it. No one but a woman could have written the following extracts, and perhaps no one but a woman can appreciate them. The sick girl, Rachel, has a fancy that she possesses clairvoyant powers; she divines that the doctor’s wife is unhappy, and tells her so. Hetty relates the incident to her husband. “And was it true, Hetty? ” he asked. “ Were you thinking of something in yourself which troubled you? ” “ Yes, I was,” said Hetty,
in a low voice. She fears he may question her; one can imagine that she half hopes he will. But no; his interest is all in Rachel. “ Extraordinary! ” he replies. “I’d give my right hand to cure that girl.” Later he adds: “ You might as well try to make yourself Rachel’s age, as to ” do so-and-so. Again, while they are by Rachel’s bedside one day, he lifts the sick girl’s little white hand, and says, “ Look at that hand. It couldn’t do much work, could it?” Involuntarily Hetty places her own near it. “ Oh, take it away, Hetty. It looks like a man’s hand by the side of Rachel’s,” is his comment. One morning he tells his wife that he has an imperative engagement in another direction; but Hetty, going to visit Rachel, and happening to sit where she cannot be seen from the door, has the pleasure of witnessing her husband’s entrance, “with a look of gladness on his face,” and hears him say “ in tones of great tenderness,” “How are you to-day, precious child? ” The next instant he sees his wife, and his glad look changes to one of surprise. Doctor Eben is guilty of no falsehood; his coming was an accident, and so it is explained. But Hetty has seen the look and heard the tone! In time, owing to his skill, Rachel begins to improve; at last she walks, and Doctor Eben bursts into his wife’s room, his face flushed with excitement, exclaiming, “ Hetty, Hetty, Rachel has walked several rods alone! ” And Hetty remembers mutely that it is the anniversary of their wedding-day. A vivid touch is added when Hetty, alluding to the possibility that now Rachel can marry, is met by the reply that “no man is worthy to kiss the child’s feet.” There it is, — worthy! Why is a young girl always exalted over the wife, who has given and gives daily, perhaps, her whole life, with unselfish, often heroic devotion? Hetty muses long and earnestly. The tragedy of the story now follows. She leaves her home, carefully arranging evidence that she has been accidentally drowned in a lake near by, and flees to Canada. The tie that holds down many unhappy wives — the children — does not hold her; she has no children. She reasons that she is old and faded; once out. of the way, her husband, to whom she has left all her property, can marry Rachel and be happy. So run her thoughts. If they are perverted, they are at least unselfish. Imagine a man leaving a beautiful wife whom he loved dearly, in order that she might be happier with some one else! Hetty devotes herself to charitable work in Canada with a stout determination; at home she is mourned as dead.
And now the author sweeps round, and brings in what seems to me the improbable part of the story. Ten years pass; and Doctor Eben does not marry Rachel or anybody else, but is represented as constantly sorrowing for his dead wife. Now of course he would have sorrowed for her, because he really loved her. But was he the kind of man to make a funeral monument, of himself? Funeral monuments are, too, extremely rare; made, I mean, of the pure metal. The good husbands are the first to marry again; the very qualities that make them good husbands push them to it. In this case, if the doctor did not marry Rachel, who, “ a very beautiful woman,” openly reveals that she loves him, he would, ten to one, have married somebody else. His meeting with Hetty at the last, and their reunion, are dramatic, and of course satisfactory to those readers who demand “ a good ending.” But f think a good many of us would lay a heavy wager that, in real life at least, the termination would have been another one. To sum up: it seems to me that the author has been thoroughly successful in portraying Hetty, her thoughts and her troubles; and in making her run away she simply allows her to do what other women only think. Hetty Gunn is not, to my mind, at all an extraordinary person. If I were required to write out the moral of the story, it would read as follows: Wives who look older than their husbands are, if they really love them, miserably unhappy half the time; and even when there is no other cause. This may be pooh-poohed, and called unreasonable. Very well, — it is unreasonable. But it is true.
— In the case of Kirtland v. Hotchkiss, commented upon by Mr. Wells in a recent number of this magazine, Mr. Kirtland, of Connecticut, loaned money to a man in Illinois, and took as security a mortgage payable in Illinois. Mr. Kirtland resisted the payment, of a tax imposed by the town of Woodbury on this mortgage, and his ease now awaits the consideration of the supreme court in Washington. Mr. Wells calls attention to the importance of the questions involved, in an article entitled Are Credits and Debts Property ? He contends that they are not, and ought not to be taxed. A contributor to the Club of November criticises these views, and insists that debts are property, and ought to be taxed.
Let us follow this latter proposition to its legitimate conclusion. A has one thousand dollars in gold, B has one thousand dollars in land, and the property of these two persons is justly valued at two thousand dollars; and two thousand dollars’ worth is all the property there is. But A loans his gold to B; B acknowledges that, he has this property, and promises to return it, and secures the performance of that promise by a mortgage on his land. A tax is then levied as follows: B, land and gold,.two thousand dollars; A, mortgage debt, one thousand dollars; total actual property, three thousand dollars. Yet there is still only two thousand dollars’ worth of actual property; and there cannot be included in this three pieces of property worth one thousand dollars each; one is unreal, fictitious. If the debt is really property, as your contributor, a Southern lawyer, contends, then we are forced to the conclusion that either the land or the gold is the piece of property which does not exist! Is it not clear that some one is doubly taxed for a thousand dollars merely because one of the parties was too poor to pay in cash?
Your contributor thinks Mr. Kirtland “ is not injured by any Illinois tax that is not levied on him.” Will this reasoning conduct him to a just conclusion? Suppose Mr. Kirtland owns shares in the C. B. & Q. Railroad, and pays taxes on it in Connecticut, while the State of Illinois, though it levies no taxes on him, requires one quarter part of the profits from the railroad as taxes; is Mr. Kirtland uninjured? Suppose the State of Illinois levies a tax of one hundred per cent., as it may do, not on Mr. Kirtland, but on all the property and franchises of the C. B. & Q. Railroad; is Mr. Kirtland still uninjured? Mr. Wells asks, Shall the twenty thousand dollars be taxed as cash in the hands of the mortgagee in Illinois, and as a mortgage lien in Connecticut? Southern lawyers reply, It is a sufficient answer to say, it is not the business of Connecticut to determine on what property Illinois shall lay her taxes. Mr. Kirtland is a citizen not only of Connecticut but of the United States. He is a citizen, too, not only of Woodbury, which really takes care of him, and therefore levies, substantially, all the taxes he has to pay, but of Connecticut. And precisely the same arguments which are advanced as to the relation between Connecticut and Illinois must apply to the relation between Wood bury and the adjoining town of West Woodbury. Upon these very arguments it would be just for Woodbury to tax Mr. Kirtland’s deed of a farm in West Woodbury, and Woodbury might as justly say as Connecticut does in the case discussed, “ It is not our business to determine what property West Woodbury shall tax! ”
If the law of Illinois allows the twenty thousand dollars mortgage debt to be deducted from the value of the land mortgaged, as Mr. Wells’s critic asserts and we, lacking precise information, doubt, that law differs in that respect from the law in nine tenths of the Northern States, and we fancy in most of the Southern ones. We believe that almost all, if not literally all, the States tax land without deduction of debts for which it is mortgaged.
Such laws, especially when applied to stocks in foreign corporations, are neither more nor less than penalties upon investing money without the State, and if the State of Connecticut has a right to impose a penalty of one per cent. , it has a right to impose a penalty of fifty, aye, of a hundred per cent.
I understand Mr. Wells’s theory to be that the State is bound to protect persons and property; that every person and all property is bound to contribute for this protection. That every person is equal before the law, and be he high or low, rich or poor, is entitled to the same personal protection, to precisely the same personal liberty and security, privileges and immunities. That no difference in the amount of protection given is made or acknowledged by the law or in fact. That there is an equal measure of protection for all, and an equal measure of contribution due from every man, — a personal contribution, and if need be his services and his life. That the protection of the person is one thing, the protection of property another. That if all property is equally taxed for its own protection, every person necessarily pays taxes according to the amount of that property which he uses, for no man can avoid paying taxes on the price of everything that he uses or exclusively appropriates. Southern lawyers believe, on the contrary, that every man is bound to pay in the first place for the protection of all his property, and also for the protection of his person in proportion to the amount of his property.
I leave your readers to judge between the two, merely adding that we fear Mr. Wells’s critic would not be acknowledged by all the Southern bar as their authorized mouth-piece. In fact I have heard several of them express very different views.
— Of late years we have had a number of capital dialect poems. Hut there is one field to which I should like to direct the attention of some competent balladist. Mr. Bret Harte is credited with the statement that the South offers special advantages to the novelist. He might truly have added, to the poet also. Society there is less tightly held in the strait-jacket of uniformity than at the North, and more dashed with romance and adventure. Yet it is far more polished and cultured than in the rough regions of the border; and the absence of money-getting (until very recently) from the controlling interests of life fostered a certain chivalrous feeling which, even if sometimes running into extravagance, cannot reasonably be laughed at. The knight of the nineteenth century outside of fiction is very likely to be found below Mason and Dixon’s line. Daring exploits and generous acts in any part of the past century can be readily found.
The dialect, if I may call it so, which I have in mind is not the rude speech of the “ foresters,” but the latinized language commonly used by educated planters, taught by Johnson and Pope to their forefathers, which slavery and a Southern clime fostered, as they did all that was grandiose, — with much, too, that was really grand. This speech calls a debt a pecuniary embarrassment, and never says that a man is poor when he is in exceedingly restricted circumstances, nor charges him with lacking brains when he is of very limited intellectual capacity. I don’t propose these as poetical terms, but as instances of the terminology which should be studied as a preliminary to the undertaking. One general rule can be given: Say very little in Saxon that can be said in Latin, and make your periods rotund.
I know the task is not light. Little words fit easily into any metre. But when syllable after syllable comes rolling out, the case is reversed; the rhythm must conform to the words. Still, the thing is not beyond possibility, and if well done the effect would be quite new. — At a period of about forty years ago, there resided in the county of Hancock, in the State of Georgia, a greater number of large men, perhaps, than has ever been found in so limited a territory and so sparse a population. Of course we except “ those days ” of the giants. I well remember that when I was a very small child I had a notion that a fullgrown man could not be otherwise than very large. My own father weighed two hundred and fifty pounds; his only brother, Uncle Jack, as much; their most intimate friends, the Lucases, yet more. The Battles, most of them, ranged from one hundred and seventy to three hundred. These fat men used to have their jokes about such as Bonnet Hilsman and Benjamin Jones, as if the latter did not get enough to eat at home, although the wives of both were famous for setting good tables three times a day.
Yet these were the last, the giving out, as we used to say in Georgia, of the big men of Hancock. The race had dwindled, somehow, to these comparatively small figures. There was a tradition, universally believed to be true, that on one occasion, in the early settlement of the county, when a company of one hundred volunteer militia was raised in order to go forth to meet some sudden threatenings of danger from the Indians who occupied the country west of the Oconee River, not a man of it weighed less than two hundred pounds.
But. leaving tradition, I proceed to mention a fact well known to persons yet living, who remember some of those who were members of the jury so celebrated in the history of the county. It so happened, during one of the terms of the superior court of the northern circuit, sitting in Hancock, an unusual number of these immense men had been drawn as grand jurors. In those times appeal cases and cases in equity were tried by what was called a special jury. The manner of impaneling this jury was by furnishing a list of the grand jurors to the litigants, from which they made alternate strikes, until the list (which could never be less than eighteen nor more than twenty-three) was reduced to twelve. One day, in an equity case, an adjustment had been effected between the parties at issue, and a jury was needed only for the purpose of signing the decree that had been agreed upon. For this purpose any twelve among them would have been satisfactory. As it was, the solicitors, for amusement, selected all the largest men. Yet two of rather small stature had to be added in order to complete the panel of twelve. As the full jury came down from the grand-jury room and slowly filed into the box, many a pleasant remark was made among the bar and other attendants of the court. After the decree was rendered the jurors consented to be weighed. Their aggregate weight was found to be three thousand six hundred pounds.
What is yet more remarkable about these men, they were for the most part not only very healthy, but energetic in business, fond of out-door sports and exercises, and some were quite pugnacious. A duel was near being fought between two of the largest among them. The friends of each combatant foresaw, of course, that if fire-arms were used there would be no chance for either to be missed. They seem to have concluded that each could afford to lose, without serious detriment, almost any amount of flesh, for the terms finally arranged for them were these: they were to appear upon the field in close-fitting pantaloons and round jackets, and light with bowieknives. However, the difficulties were accommodated without a meeting.
I happened to be on a visit in the year 1875 at Sparta, the county seat of Hancock. where I met Mr. James B. Edwards, a bachelor of eighty, who is yet proud of the memory of the good men of the old times. Alluding to these, I playfully remarked that I had told about the big men of Hancock, and the noted special jury in particular, at my new home in Maryland, and that I was satisfied with having got off no worse than by being laughed at for my credulity; and further, that such as him and a few more of his sort, yet living I must hold responsible for having imposed upon me such a monstrous story, and subjected me to the ridicule of my new neighbors. The old gentleman, who has been distinguished in all the generations among whom he has lived for his integrity and veracity, regarded me with seriousness and even with some indignation.
“ Well, blast ’em, they may believe it. It ’s so. If Andas [the old clerk, recently deceased] was alive, we could find the list in ten minutes. He kept in his mind the page and the book of the minutes. It’s there somewhere. Why, there were two of the Abercrombies: one weighed three hundred and the other three hundred and fifteen. There was Martin; he weighed three hundred and twenty. There was one of the Latimers; he weighed three hundred and fifty. There was Billy Springer; he weighed three hundred and seventy-five. There was Sam Devereaux; he weighed four hundred. And there was old Garey; I don't remember what he weighed, but he was the biggest of 'em all.”
The old man brought down his cane with a big thump. He then walked to the court-house, and with the new clerk, a young man, searched for the list. The names of nearly all whom he mentioned were found in the panels of several terms, though having no clew to that special case they gave up the hunt. But no fact in the history of the county is better established.
— A good way to further the simplification of spelling would be for a few friends to agree upon certain changes that they would be willing to make, and then to put the plan into operation in their correspondence. Several principles seem to me important to be insisted upon: (1.) As little divergence as possible from the present spelling should be allowed. (2.) Every letter and combination of letters should be used with the sound most common in the present spelling. (3.) In cases of diverse or uncertain pronunciation, the preference should be given to that indicated by the present spelling.
We are all notional and touchy in regard to the spelling of certain words, and we must humor each other and expect to be very conservative at every step. One will be ready to spell “ fantom,” but will shrink from following the example of Wiclif in “fantum.” Another will follow Chaucer in “ fredom,” but will stick at his “ hisy,” or “ gilty,” or “ blis.” The most radical reformer would be surprised to find how many of the “ new ” forms are already antiquated, having been used by good authors long before the boys in the early printing-offices began to fix the orthography of literary men. From my examination of old books I am led to believe that the journeymen of early times often found themselves short of “spaces,” and “justified” their lines by doubling suitable consonants and by adding as many of that already overworked letter, “e,” as the circumstances made convenient. This applies to prose only, of course. In order to help those who may need precedent for a more sensible orthography than that I am now using (alas for the inconsistency of reformers!), 1 have looked over the works of some old English authors, and have culled a few of their simpler forms, as follows: —
Orm, before 1250: Lif = life, thin = thine, is = ice.
William of Shoreham, before 1327: Licour, cristning.
Richard Rolle, 1340 (?): Thre, til.
Mandeville, 1336: Deth, flok, peple, ile, egle.
Authorof Piers Plowman, 1362: Lesun, feld = field, plese, gle, giltles = guiltless, wel, thin = thine, tel, leches = leaches, fere = fear, wil.
Wiclif’s Bible, 1380: Redy, litil, herd = heard, hous, teche, spak — spake, feel, don =done, cuntre, saaf, saf, maad, fle, tre, peeple = people, Egipt, whos = whose, al, etc — cat, cite = city, se, hil, fantum, toe = took, feld = field, erth, chaf = chafe, vois, gilte.
Chaucer, 1400: Bifel, fredom, al, fel, hisy, mariage, cristned, argumentz, litel, fors = force, shal, begile, hethen, kiste = kissed, blisful, blis, wo = woe, vois, bar = bare, peple, til, plese, gilt, gilty, deth, swor, ben.
Reginald Pecock, 1449: Maist = mayest, cry, tunge, esier, sider, plese, nede, feble, red — didread, agen.
Sir Thomas More, 1528: Wei, gloses == glosses, tong = tongue, rede, red = did read, faccion, lern, hole = whole, foly, wer, reken, litle, writen, medle, teche, al, sadnes, spred, douted, wil.
Sir Thomas Elyot, 1531: Manors, helthe, echo, sene, lern, ther = there, ben, bely, reder, hole = whole, litle, clene, al, fete, tethe.
Lord Surrey, 1540: Rered, brest, eche, wepon, wast = waist, blod, dred, roring, pearse, armd, disperst, opprest, costes = coasts, slepe, fal, crepes, chere, rere, cal, els, yong, seke, rufull, foming, pillers = pillars, yeld = yield, sute, se, sene.
Sir Thomas Wiatt, 1540: Sory, fode, drest, rost — roast, ferde = feared, wisht, welth, delite, fle, eloke, ech, savry = savory, fede.
Thomas Sackville, 1563: Spred, prest, al, come, cum, lyms = limbs, wun, glas. rolde, lothly, choakt, carkas, corps, thred, drery, dum, ful, wurthy, fol, grisly, thre, hel, spred, ruful, weping.
Roger Ascham, 1570: Som, mesure, cum, els, folow, nie = nigh, corage, cumlinesse, hed, forse, goodness, compas.
Edmund Spenser, 1579: Yerely, cal, hel, tunl = tuned, sped = speed, eche, tode — toad-
This list might be extended almost without limit. I have purposely included repetitions of the same form from different writers to give an impression of the frequency with which they have been used. Many of them are well worthy of adoption now, but the list shows that some principles, must be decided upon before anything else is done by the spelling reformer. After the three that I mentioned at first will come naturally (4): Each letter and digraph must represent but one sound. This brings up the vexed question, How shall the forty English sounds be represented? It is a rock upon which many elaborate systems have gone to pieces. I set my face as a flint against the introduction of new letters and any phonic refinements that would add to the intricacy of the subject under pretense of making a “scientific” alphabet. What we want is something reasonable, easily understood, and not difficult in use. The above list shows that our present spelling is the reverse of all this, being unreasonable, not easily mastered, and exceedingly difficult to use.
— Here is something that happened on a railway train somewhere in New England last summer. A woman clad in deep mourning entered the ears at a way station. She took a seat just in front of an inquisitive - looking, sharpfaced female. The woman in black had not been seated long before she felt a slight tap on the shoulder, and heard her neighbor ask, in a low, sympathetic tone: “ Lost anybody? ” A silent nod was the response. A slight pause and then a second question: “Child?” A slow shake of the head in the negative. “Parent?” A similar reply. “ Husband ? ” This time the slight nod again. “Life insured ? ” A nod. “ Experienced religion?” A nod. Then: “Well, well, cheer up! Life insured and experienced religion; you ’re all right, and so ’s he! ”
— It has lately been my fortune to encounter a very old literary acquaintance, who ought by all the rules to have been dead long ago, but who turns up so fresh and bland and trim, so entirely unscathed by those ravages of time which have nearly done for all the rest of us, that he is invested with a fictitious interest and becomes the object of a kind of thrilling curiosity. This personage is none other than the highly accomplished, actively pious, and insufferably overbearing hero of the Wide, Wide World, Queechy, etc. Twenty-five years ago, when those who are now mothers in Israel were in their nurseries, and so on through the blissful years of innocency, when four apples and a book were all that heart could desire on a “ lecture ” afternoon, — and it made no sensible difference in one’s delight whether that book were Queechy or Rob Roy (!), — this extraordinary and, let us still hope, impossible type of manhood was incessantly presented, under different aliases, for the admiration and acceptance of the maiden imagination, He was always immeasurably more cultivated than the people among whom he deigned to live. These people were, in fact, nothing but “ folks,” and they talked the most unpleasant and improbable variety of that preposterous language, the Yankee dialect of books. Our friend, therefore, who had obligingly descended from the highest walk of life for the purpose of amazing and, indirectly, of convening the rustics, found it a little hard so to shape his own polished utterance as to be understood by them; so he made frequent use of parables and the double entendre, and uttered his dark savings with a compassionate twinkle of his fine, unfathomable eyes. He never told the answers to his own conundrums, — possibly he did not know them himself; but they were mostly of a serious order, and there was always a pill of personal exhortation hidden somewhere in the sweet abundance of his (allow me!) “sass.” He had always an immense range of accomplishments. He could sing and draw and fence and embroider and make capital coffee. He was equally good at writing sonnets and sermons, at breaking horses and saving souls. But most wonderful of all was the method which he pursued with the village beauty, — the lovely little wild flower that he proposed to gather for his bride. Sometimes she was a very meek little beauty in the beginning, and sometimes she had a spice of spirit in her; but the way in which he followed and patronized and instructed and encouraged and elevated her was certain, erelong, to reduce her to a state of passive obedience. He hunted her innocent little soul as if it had been a partridge, increasing her trepidation from time to time by the dreadful threat, “ Until I have saved you (technically), you cannot have me.” At the scene of final capitulation and arrangement, the sacred Scriptures always played an unusually large and edifying part. He never swore he loved her without laying his hand on the Bible. He never kissed her without first kissing the book. On one occasion he handed back to her a Testament, which she, as a forward little Sunday-school scholar, had given him in his unregenerate days, and this is what he said (substantially): “ Here, take your Testament. I don’t want it back until I can have you too.” Only, of course, he put it in his own polished and enigmatical way. At another time, when she had given him rather more trouble than usual, and valuable moments before his train was to leave had been consumed in a squabble over her sun-bonnet, which she had wanted to retain to hide her happy blushes, while he would have it off, and finally removed it vi et armis, all he could do was to tear away “ ’cross lots,” having first marked for her meditation sundry passages of Scripture, beginning with “ Little children, keep yourselves from idols!”
But time would fail me to tell of my gentleman’s protean shapes and cunning missionary devices. He “ had his day,” this admirable and evangelical Crichton, — he had his day, and apparently “ceased to be.” Musing on that surprising production, the girl of the period, on her independent ways, her cheerful secularity, her critical and rationalistic turn, her lack of sentiment, her royal indifference to all but “ good ” men, and her frank aversion for these, it has occurred to me more than once to wonder how many of her peculiarities have been generated, or at least enhanced, by her inevitable revolt from the mild bondage of yon overbearing saint. And even while I speculate thus idly, a shadow falls athwart me; I look up. “ Arrestaeque horrore comae et vox faucibus haesit,” for’t is he, come back! He is alive. The light lifting of his tall hat and the exasperating touch of his long fingers make that plain. He never died at all, but only “ harmonized with the environment; ” the good ladies to whom we owe our introduction (for oddly enough there are two sisters whose hero he has equally and continuously been) must have grown older in his eclipse, but never a one of his many hairs is gray. In his last, but assuredly not latest appearance, he bears the appropriate name of Masters, while the country maiden whom he woos and worsts is called Diana. There is the same charmingly truthful agricultural scenery which we knew of old, and a deal more of genuine passion. Also, there is in the construction of the story a slight but unmistakable concession to the bad taste of this naughty day. The new book is no less pious than its ancestors, but it is not quite so moral as they. When Diana accepts and marries Masters, she is very much in love with another man, and she is not quite frank with the Rev. M, about it. When the former lover reappears, she has a great and quite powerfully depicted struggle, and very properly it results in her resolving to remain true to her husband. Quite naturally, too, she comes to believe, after a while, that she had no struggle at all, and never loved anybody but Masters. But why, if it was so valiant a piece of self-conquest in her to overcome her early attachment, was it weak in her military and far more agreeable lover (who had the additional advantage of never deceiving anybody) to take to himself a bride in due time? Masters says it was, but Masters was naturally prejudiced, and as usual does not make himself quite clear. For further particulars, see Diana, a tale recently published by Messrs, G. P. Putnam and Sons; also, by the same author and her sister, Wych Hazel and The Gold of Chickaree.
— In dealing with poetry we need a more enlarged critical vocabulary than we have now. This is specially true of terms relating to aptness, — the correpondenee of the form of utterance with the thing to be expressed. “ Word-painting ” designates properly only one kind of such correspondence, though frequently loosely used in a wider sense. “ The sound should be an echo,” etc., is a good formula for another kind. But these do not exhaust the list.
Words in poetry may appeal to the inner eye or to the inner ear. In the latter ease they may be merely imitative of external sounds; or, without such imitation, they may have in the quality of their music an assoeiational value, which makes them the subtle agents of expression. There are thus at least three distinctly marked ways of uttering beautiful thought, and many of those who are most successful in one line either rarely attempt, or else fail in, the others.
In treating such a topic one must illustrate by instances, or he will seem to be vague to some readers. The first or visional class (to which alone the term word - painting can be accurately applied) is very common. We find it in Campbell, when he speaks of the “ red artillery ” of Hohenlinden; in Shelley’s “white electric rain;” in the “dull bulk” of Mr. Fawcett’s toad, the warder of the seraglio; in the “keen Gallic eyes ” which Brownell’s imagination saw “dilate and glare” over howling Robespierre; in Gray’s “ glimmering landscape; ” in Milton’s “ wizard stream; ” in Mr. Lowell’s line. “ The fire-flies on the meadow in pulses come and go.” A book might readily be filled with instances in which a single happy epithet or uncommon application of language has the power to picture a scene on one’s mental vision with all the vividness of a storm-flash at midnight.
Of the second class, above alluded to, there are many good instances, yet not so many as of the first. Perhaps there is none better than Campbell’s echo: —
As winds that mourn at night forlorn
Along the rocks of Fion. Gall.”
Tennyson’s bugle song is another case in point, and Poe’s writings are full of such. The weird mimicry is obvious enough in
Rustling of each purple curtain,”
and it predominates over all other elements in The Bells.
But there is yet a third kind, rarer and finer than either of the others. It penetrates beyond both the outer and the inner senses, and appeals directly to the sympathies and memories of the Veiled One within. For its perfection, I must turn to Poe again:
Time, long ago.”
What is imitated by that long reach of soft vowels and lingering consonants? No sound, surely, and no sight. But it bears a better burden than a picture or a song.
We have it again, more sombrely and with more alloy, in Kingsley’s balladdirge of the Three Fishers: —
For there ‘s few to earn and many to keep,
Though the harbor bar be moaning. ”
The struggling “r’s ” go into the labor part of the lines, and the long “ m’s ” and “ r’s ” and “ e’s ” mainly into the lamentation part.
But this form of expression is not confined to doleful subjects. Even in The Haunted Palace we find “ that bright day.” The brisk “t’s” are especially serviceable for such purposes. Milton uses them freely in the now trite lines,
On the light fantastic toe,”
where the quick and elastic consonants spring like an Eastern dancing-girl. The last three words, of course, also illustrate the first form of expression above mentioned, as Kingsley’s “ moaning ” does the second. In truth, the third is seldom to be found quite unalloyed, as in the citations from Poe’s Haunted Palace. But there can be no doubt of its distinctiveness.
It is the fashion just now to underrate Edgar A. Poe. Well, he was not a teacher, nor a prophet, nor a great artist in word-painting; but who will ever surpass his symphonies? Swinburne certainly is wonderfully melodious, and handles a swarm of rhythms and metres; but how much of his singing is music without meaning! Take, for instance,
Is half assuaged for Itylus,
For the Thracian ships and the foreign faces,
The tongueless vigil and all the pain.”
Now, there is a very pleasant quaver on “ assuaged.” For the life of me I can’t keep it out, so it surely belongs there. But what is it there for? Mere novelty is hardly a permanent recommendation. It does not represent the singing of the bird, — or Heaven help him! It has no visible nor audible relation to the act of assuaging. I am forced to the conclusion that if means nothing whatever except Mr. Swinburne’s tendency to turn somersaults in his verse. One grows aweary, sooner or later, of mere “ sound and fury signifying nothing.” This is not Poe’s method of dealing with his art.