THIS confession differs from that of most criminals who are classed under the same head ; for whereas housebreakers usually break into houses, I broke out. It was not a difficult exit, for there was no glass to be broken, or any occasion for a burglar’s tool-box. The truth is that one night, lately, I could not sleep, and when the eastern sky began to show a tinge of light I seated myself by the window; and by the time the clocks and bells of the neighborhood struck three, I became possessed by a desire to go out-of-doors to watch the coming of the June morning, and to see the world before the sun himself, and to hear the matins of the birds from beginning to end, because I had been at best an unpunctual worshiper at this service. An occasional early waking or late falling asleep had given me a fragment of the music; but it was much like the way a foreign tourist saunters idly in at the door of a cathedral while mass is being performed.
So after I had leaned out of my eastern window for a few minutes longer, and I had heard one sleepy note from the top of an elm not far away, I dressed myself hurriedly, and took my boots in my hand, and prepared to escape. It was no easy matter, for I belong to a household of light sleepers, who are quick to hear an untimely footfall. I stole carefully by the open doors and down the stairs, remembering fearfully that one was apt to creak, and I hardly took a long breath until I found myself out in the garden.
It was startlingly dark under the trees, and the alarmed shadows appeared to be hovering there as if to discuss the next move, and to find shelter meanwhile. A bat went by me suddenly, and at that I stood still. I had not thought of bats, and of all creatures they seem most frightful and unearthly, — like the flutter of a ghost’s mantle, or even the wave and touch of its hand. A bat by daylight is a harmless, crumpled bit of stupidity; but by night it becomes a creature of mystery and horror, an attendant of the powers of darkness. The white light in the sky grew whiter still, and under the thin foliage of a great willow it seemed less solemn. A bright little waning moon looked down through the slender twigs and fine leaves, — it might have been a new moon watching me through an olive-tree ; but I caught the fragrance of the flowers, and went on to the garden. I went back and forth along the walks, and I can never tell any one how beautiful it was. The roses were all in bloom, and presently I could detect the different colors. They were wet with dew, and hung heavy with their weight of perfume ; they appeared to be sound asleep yet, and turned their faces away after I had touched them.
Some of the flowers were wide awake, however. One never knows the grace and beauty of white petunias until they have been seen at night, or, like this, early in the morning. It is when the dew has fallen that this delicate flower and mignonette also give out their best fragrance; and if one is lucky enough to be able to add the old-fashioned honey-suckle his garden is odorous indeed. Roses need the sunshine to bring out their full beauties, though when I held my face close to the great wet clusters it seemed to me that I had taken all their store of perfume for the coming day in one long, delicious breath. The white flowers looked whiter still in the pale light, and the taller bushes were like draped figures ; and suddenly I was reminded, nobody knows why, of a long walk with some friends through the damp avenues of Versailles, when the leaves were beginning to fall, and the garden of the Little Trianon was gay with blossoms. I remembered most vividly how warm the sunshine was upon the terraces ; how empty and silent the pathetic holiday rooms; how we strained our eyes to catch sight of the ghosts who must be flitting before us, and trying to keep out of sight, lest one of us might be a seer of spirits, and might intrude upon their peaceful existence. If there were a little noise in the court-yard, I thought it was the merry servants of a hundred years ago, busy with their every-day duties. 'The scent of the petunias and geraniums and mignonette was filling all the air. We were only stealing in while the tenants of the house were sleeping, or were away in Paris; we had not even a fear or suspicion of the sorry end. It was a strange jumble of reminiscences, personal and historical, that flitted through my mind, as I went walking slowly up and down my own New England garden, among the roses, in the middle of the night.
I could not say it was the middle of the night, or still less the dead of night, and have any respect for myself as a truth-teller. It had suddenly become morning. I sat down on one of the garden benches, and watched and listened. A pewee began his solo somewhat despairingly and without enthusiasm, and the song-sparrows tried to cheer him, or at least to make him hurry a little. The bobolinks tuned up, and the golden robins; and presently the solos were over, and the grand chorus began. One joyful robin, who had posted himself on the corner of a roof where I could see him, seemed to have constituted himself leader of the choir, and sang and sang, until I feared for his dear life ; one would have thought he had reached birdheaven before his time. It must have been the dawn of a long-looked-for day with him, at any rate, he was so glad to have it come at last. I remembered the young English soldier whom Howells saw at daybreak in Venice, and like him I hoped that I should know in another world how my robin liked the day’s pleasure, after all.
I became very neighborly with a sober-minded toad, that gave an eager scramble from among the flower-deluces, and then sat still on the gravel walk, blinking and looking at me, as if he had made plans for sitting on the garden bench, and I was giving him great inconvenience, He was a philosopher, that fellow ; he sat and thought about it, and made his theories about me and about the uncertainty of temporal things. I dare say he comes out every morning, and looks up at the bench, and considers his ambitions and the adverse powers that thwart them, in common with many of his fellow creatures.
The colors of the world grew brighter and brighter. The outline of the trees, and of some distant fields even, became distinct; yet it was a strange, almost uncanny light, — it was more like looking through clear water, — and I still expected something out of the ordinary course to happen. I was not continuing my thoughts and plans of the day before, though abruptly I became conscious that one of my friends was awake, and an understanding between us sprang up suddenly, like a flame on the altar to Friendship, in my heart. It was pleasant, after all, to have human companionship, and it was difficult to persuade myself that the mysterious telegraph that was between my friend and me measured so many miles. I thought of one and another acquaintance after this, but only the first was awake and watching at that strange hour ; the rest slept soundly, and with something approaching clairvoyance I could see their sleeping faces and their unconsciousness, as I looked into one shaded room after another. How wonderful the courage is which lets us lie down to sleep unquestioningly, night after night, and even wait and wish for it! We have a horror of the drugs that simulate its effect; we think we are violating and tampering with the laws of nature, and make the false sleep a last resource in illness or a sinful self-indulgence. But in the real sleep, what comes to us ? What change and restoration and growth to the mind and soul matches the physical zest which does us good and makes us strong? He giveth to his beloved while sleeping, is the true rendering from the Psalms.
No wonder that in the early days a thousand follies and fables and legends were based on the dreams and mysteries of sleep. No wonder that we gain confidence to approach the last sleep of all, since we find ourselves alive again morning by morning. And as for the bewildered state into which some of us fall in our later year’s, is not that like a long darkness and drowsiness, from which the enfeebled mind and body cannot rouse themselves until the brightest of all mornings dawns ?
The ranks of flowers in my garden took on a great splendor of bloom, as the light grew clearer. After having watched them fade in the grayness of many an evening twilight, it was most lovely to see how the veil was lifted again at daybreak. It seemed as if the quiet June morning ushered in some grand festival day, there were such preparations being made. After the roses, the London pride was most gorgeous to behold, with its brilliant red and its tall, straight stalks. It had a soldierly appearance, as if the flower were out early to keep guard. Twice as many birds as one ever sees in the day-time were scurrying through the air, as though t hey were late to breakfast, at any rate, and had a crowd of duties to attend to afterward. The grand chorus was over with, though a number of songsters of various kinds kept on with their parts, as it they stayed to practice a while after service, though the rest of the choristers had thrown off their surplices and hurried away.
I had a desire to go out farther into the world, and I went some distance up the street, past my neighbors’ houses; feeling a sense of guilt and secrecy that could hardly be matched. It had been one thing to walk about my own garden, and even to cross the field at the foot of it to say good-morning to a row of elm-trees and the robins in their tops, of which incident I forgot to speak in its proper place. But if any one had suddenly hailed me from a window I should have been inclined to run home as fast as my feet could carry me. In such fashion are we bound to the conventionalities of existence !
But it seemed most wonderful to be awake while everybody slept, and to have the machinery of life apparently set in motion for my benefit alone. The toad had been a comfort, and the thought of my friend even more, if one will believe it; and besides these, I had become very intimate with a poppy, which had made every arrangement to bloom as soon as the sun rose. As I walked farther and farther from home I felt more and more astray, and as if I were taking an unfair advantage of the rest of humanity. In one house I saw a lamp burning, the light of it paling gradually, and my glimpse of the room gave me a feeling of sadness. It was piteous that no one should know that the night was over, and it was day again. It was like the flicker of the lamp at a shrine, — an undying flame that can lighten the darkness neither of death nor of life ; a feeble protest against the inevitable night, and the shadows that no man can sweep away.
A little child cries drearily in a chamber where the blinds are shut, — a tired wail, as if the night had been one of illness, and the morning brought no relief. A great dog lies sleeping soundly in the yard, as if he would not waken these three hours yet. I know him well, good fellow, and .I have a temptation to speak to him, to see his surprise ; and yet I have not a good excuse. He would simply wonder what made the day so long afterward ; and I turn towards home again, lest some other housebreaker might go in where I have come out. A belated pewee, who appears to have overslept himself, sets up his morning song all by himself, and the pigeons, who are famous sleepy-heads, begin to coo and croon, as if they are trying to get themselves asleep again. The cocks crow again once or twice apiece all over town, and it is time to go home. The spell of the dawn is lifted ; and though I cannot resist leaping the front fence instead of opening the gate for myself, I am a little dismayed afterward at such singular conduct, and take pains to look up and down the street, to make sure there are no startled passers-by.
The house is still dark, and it seems hot after the dew and freshness of the out-of-door air; but I draw the bolts carefully, and take off my shoes and steal up-stairs. The east is gorgeous with yellow clouds; the belated pewee is trying to make up for lost time. I hear somebody in the next room give a long sigh, as if of great comfort, and I shut out the dazzling light of the sun, and go to bed again. Presently I hear the mill-bells up and down the river ring out their early call to the tired housekeepers, and I think it is a reluctant rather than a merry peal; and then I say to myself something about tomorrow — no, it is to-day —yes — but this was daylight that was neither tomorrow’s nor yesterday’s. And so I fall asleep, like all the rest of the world, to wake again some hours later, as much delighted and puzzled with my morning ramble as if it had been a dream.
— I have been considering the relations of the apologizer and the apologizee (if this strange verbal coinage will pass), and I find that my sympathies go out decidedly towards the latter. I do not envy him his momentary ground of vantage, though he certainly has an opportunity of displaying the rarest tact. It depends very greatly upon him whether the effort at reparation of which he is the involuntary object shall result in graceful accomplishment or in ungraceful contretemps. If the apologizer hesitate, or become involved in his emotions, it seems to be expected that the apologizee will haste to the rescue, and save the dignity of the occasion. His attitude should never be merely passive and receptive ; it should be graciously adjusted between gentle remonstrance and reluctant assent. He should not remain silent; h♦e should not appear to recall with circumstantial accuracy the matter of offense; nor should he seem to have forgotten it wholly, as to do so places the apologist under the painful necessity of re-stating the case. It will not do for the apologizee to take high stoical ground, and affirm that where no injury is felt no injury exists ; for what is this but arrogating a calm and invulnerable self - superiority ? He should show himself to have been sufficiently hurt to find comfort in the apologizer' s kindly offices ; and it will be the height of generous art if he contrive to make the apologizer feel that it is himself who has acted with the utmost magnanimity,— himself who now deserves a handsome acknowledgment. Should I ever meet the genius who wrote the Book of Etiquette, I shall suggest his inserting in the next edition some remarks designed to illustrate the duties and responsibilities resting upon the apologizee. I confess I would be rejoiced to see the apology dropping into desuetude. In most cases, its use is but an aggravation of the original injury,— is, in a measure, “adding insult to injury.” It undoubtedly affords considerable relief to the offender to anticipate judgment, to plead guilty, and pronounce sentence for himself ; but this is a species of selfishness. If one be heartily sorry for having given offense, surely there will be enough vitality in his persistence to hit upon some terser form of expression than that to be found in words. By the exercise of a little patience and watchfulness, he will at length make his conduct speak intelligible and perfect amende. There is something — perhaps we ought to respect it — which, when we would make verbal acknowledgment of our fault, and crave pardon therefor, goes against the grain of nature. It is a curious fact that I never indulge in apology without straightway feeling the need of apologizing for my apology.
— Some months ago a contributor gave an account of the sensitive plant, its nature and habits; but as this account did not include directions as to treatment, it may not be amiss to offer a few suggestions on this head. In our experience, — and we have had several species under observation at different times, — we have found the tenderness of the plant to be directly increased by any access of tenderness in the care bestowed upon it ; on the other hand, we have seen plants rendered wonderfully hardy through a little salutary neglect on the part of the gardener. What, indeed, can you expect of a tenderling, that is kept sheltered as much as possible from all vexing contact, — that the noon sun and stormy elements are not allowed to reach? Perceiving that you expect it to shrink at your touch, while you cry out with admiration of its extreme delicacy, the plant determines never to disappoint your expectation. If its phenomena were uniformly passed by unremarked, such treatment, we believe, would go far towards modifying its unhappy nature. This is one of the instances in which clemency is cruelty ; since to humor your sensitive friend is to help confirm him in the error of his ways. If you follow our advice, when the plant exhibits signs of agitation you will not protest that you spoke or acted with the best intention in the world; you will not dwell upon the fact of your continued esteem and affection for the injured one, nor will you denounce yourself for a miserable blunderer. On the contrary, if you can bring yourself to the point of behaving with crispness, — nay, even with some barbarity,— do so, and deserve credit for your courage and candid benevolence.
Tell your friend that he is not a sensitive plant, but a nettle, whose irritable papillæ both wound and are wounded, whoever ventures near. If your patient has a right constitution, he will1 thrive under this heroic treatment, and be grateful, by and by, for the rigor practiced by his physician. The man who labored under the delusion that he was glass, on being restored to sanity, ought not to grumble over the contusions given him in order to dispel his vitreous theory.
— I believe that I am not without the sympathy of many friends when I say that there should be a reform in the custom of making calls. The pleasant fashion of paying an afternoon visit, or spending half an hour of the morning with some friend whom one really wishes to see and to be with, has fallen into sad disgrace. In nine cases out of ten, the people who come to see us do it simply out of ceremony. We wait until our conscience cannot longer bear the thought of the length of the list of society debts, and then start out to strike as many names as possible from the list ; feeling that fortune has favored us when we discover that our acquaintances have also chosen that afternoon for being abroad, and that, instead of having comfortable little talks with three or four friends, we have been able to leave our cards at a dozen or fifteen doors.
It is a pity that we do not make this custom a wholly ceremonious one, and conduct it by means of cards. Even with the appointment of one day in a week we find ourselves little helped, though that is much the most sensible way of avoiding the evil of having one’s time broken in upon ruthlessly and needlessly every afternoon in the week. A most wise and sympathetic woman was once heard to cry out in despair that she thought nobody had a right to steal her time any more than her money ; and that people should no longer come without excuse to stay with her for an hour or two, and with excuse there should be some sort of permission given or appointment made.
If a lady goes much into society, and does her part in receiving guests in her turn, there will inevitably occur some opportunity or other, in the course of the season, when she will meet, either in her own house or in the drawing-rooms of her friends, most of her acquaintances. Those who are not met in this way will either be invalids or busy souls who can spare but little time to pleasure. There is one other class, — those who are never met except in the exchange of ceremonious visits. Now this seems quite idle, — that we should feel bound to carry on the time - squandering fashion of a mock friendship. We either know people, or we do not; we are either associated and linked with them in some useful and purposeful way, or we are simply feigning it.
The present writer would be the last person to overlook the delights and satisfactions of intercourse with friends, even of stray interviews with our fellow creatures, which give us an opportunity to see the workings and the inner trials and purposes of their lives. Such talks are most helpful and delightful, and may give us a chance of helping and pleasing in our turn. Country life is the better for seeing everything one can of the outside world and of one’s associates and neighbors ; else it becomes narrowed and selfish. City life should be as much sheltered and keep as much privacy as it can ; else it becomes broken and purposeless and unsatisfactory, and at the mercy of idlers and of the thousand demands of every-day life which of necessity assail it. A great deal of our fancied duty to our neighbor and our recognition of her existence can be done by cards, at any rate. There is exactly time enough for those things which are really our duty. We ought to be quick-witted enough to know them as they come, and sensible enough not to fret at the occupations which must be pushed aside.
— It is on a day like this that a poet should come into the world. To be born under such a sky, to open the eyes to such a light, and to draw in with the first breath an air like this, it seems, should be enough to gift and consecrate a soul for the poet’s lifelong dream of beauty and of love. It is almost enough to make poets of us who have had no short experience of the rude prose of earthly existence. The memory of the burden and heat borne through sad and toilsome days is charmed away, and we feel ourselves new born, as it were, into some happier sphere, and rebaptized with a spirit of fresh delight. It cannot but be believed that one source of the joy of the divine life must lie in the exercise of the creative energy that has made and is forever making the beauty of the earth. We human beings have intimations of the same, — poets and painters, I mean, and all who live to express, even imperfectly, what they see and feel of the natural beauty surrounding them, and their imaginative conceptions of the beauty we call ideal. Biographers tell us that poets and painters are no happier than the rest of mankind ; that some, indeed, have been far less blessed than commoner men. Surely it was not in virtue of their artistic endowment that they were unhappy, but in spite of it. No doubt a finer sensibility is a twoedged sword, opening opposite ways to pleasures and to pains. The same thing is true of all men according to the measure of their susceptibility; yet what but this capacity for receiving impressions of supersensuous things makes the life of the civilized man more worth having than that of the savage ? To have desires after the higher joys, though often ungratified, is better than to exist as the beasts. For a like reason, it is not altogether a pain to feel on such a day as this the stirrings of soul which for the real poet are the prelude to a burst of song, but which for the great majority of the ungifted mean nothing more than to let us know that we are of kin, though far off, with him. The longing to express ourselves, to utter our thoughts, our feelings,— it may be it is not always the restless movement of vanity ; who knows but it is the sign of an inner struggle toward the light of an embryonic sense or faculty yet to be developed somewhere, at some time ?
The reason why one would be grateful for the gift of artistic utterance on a day like this is the sense of its beauty as a fleeting thing, that one longs somehow to hold and keep for one’s self and others. Summer will be a joy forever to man while the earth endures, but each beautiful day of it is short-lived. The serene blue of the sky, made lovelier by quiet clouds of silver and faint gray ; the clear, sweet light and mellow shades ; the big bright bees, — it is easy to catalogue these things, but that is not to make them seen and felt. A landscape painter who had the skill to put into his picture the true atmospheric quality of the scene could reproduce a part of it, but he could not give the shifting of the shadows on the hill slopes and the river, nor the passing into one another of the luminous grays and pearly whites of the cloud-heaps. A poet could describe it better; a musician could fill us with the sentiment of the whole. I remember a bit of music of Schumann’s, “Mai, lieber Mai,” a haunting little melody, which at any moment will bring up all the sweet, half-melancholy longing of early spring. And there are lines, or even single epithets, of the poets that take us out-of-doors at once, and make us feel the air and sunshine, and give us definite vision of place, season, and hour. Here are two clear pictures in half a dozen of Browning’s lines: —
Miles and miles,
On the solitary pastures where the sheep,
Tinkle homeward thro’ the twilight.”
And a yellow half-moon, large and low.”
There is a beautiful series of such word pictures in Tennyson’s Palace of Art; his verse, indeed, is everywhere full of them.
The birds, their flights and their singing, are a part of to-day’s deliciousness.
I think that hardly even Shelley has sung a bird-flight as it ought to be sung. Is there anything more fascinating than to watch that free, swift taking of the whole wide air ? I positively envy the little creatures, though it is likely their enjoyment of the actual sensation no more than equals our imagination of it.
I would like to be a sea-gull, or an eagle, or any bird that visits the high places of the earth, where the barriers and bounds of space seem to be done away with. In reading the poets I like to come on passages that give broad outlooks and large suggestions ; they are rarer than pictures of detail. Browning, greatest of modern masters, has them both. If he were a smaller poet, — to utter a commonplace, — he would appear larger in the eyes of many ; but when his constant readers note what he can do in certain directions, they understand that if he does no more on those ways it is only because he does not choose; he cares for so many more things than mere picture-making. Others can paint as well as he, but who better than be does sometimes ? Take the little song in Paracelsus, beginning,
Its gentle way thro’ strangling rushes.”
That is one manner ; in another and larger one is the passage of the same poem,
Day, like a mighty river, is flowing in ; ”
and this from Two on the Campagna:
Of feathery grasses everywhere!
Silence and passion, joy and peace,
An everlasting wash of air, —
Rome’s ghost since her decease.”
There is no lack of companions for our out-of-door excursions, and we may choose them to suit our taste. There is Chaucer, cheerful as the sunshine, ready to enliven the way with tale-telling ; Cowper for those who like his wild society ; and Wordsworth for those who do not object to his sermonizing tendency. There are our own hearty Lowell and Emerson and Whittier, who can tell us secrets of out-door nature as well as of the nature of humankind. It is said of Rossetti by his friend Mr. Watts that he had no genuine affection for the natural world,—a strange want in a poet who nevertheless has sometimes noted natural effects with a keen perception and a fine and firm reproductive touch. Mr. Watts, it seems to me, must be right in ascribing to this defect in Rossetti’s nature some part of his morbid melancholy.* It is a rather curious affiliation that some have found between this poet and Keats, who loved Nature, though with small opportunity for knowing her. To digress a little, I lately read an essay on The Grand Style in poetry, in which notably fine examples of this style were given from Milton, Matthew Arnold, — whose verse, by the way, has at times a fine out-door quality,—and others. Rossetti might have furnished the writer with one or two noteworthy instances, as in the little poem of The Sea Limits and the sonnet called Retro me, Sathana. It seemed strange that Browning, too, should not have been cited in this connection, since his poetry assuredly contains passages which would have illustrated the writer’s theme.
Browning’s manner is often wanting in the composure which is one of the marks of the style called “ the grand,” but for the reason that he is commonly speaking not out of his own personality, but dramatically, through that of a fictitious character. The writer denied to Shelley the possession of a grand style, except in one or two instances, such as the closing lines of Alastor. However that may be, Shelley, too, is an out-of-door poet, in his own peculiar fashion, He spent much of his time, we know, among woods and waters, .that often furnished the direct inspiration of his verse. His poetry would seem to show that he had more affinity with the elements of the natural world than with humanity ; not that his love for his kind was not both genuine and deep, but in his verse human nature is treated always in the large, and more in the abstract than the concrete. As he writes in one of the letters lately collected in a volume of the Parchment Library, “ As to real flesh and blood, you know I don’t deal in those articles; you might as well go to a gin-shop for a leg of mutton as expect anything human or earthly from me.” He is speaking here in reference to his Episychidion, but what he says applies more generally. To go abroad with Shelley is somewhat like getting into a balloon for an excursion in mid-air, or being invited to climb with him to some tremendous elevation, whence he will show us all the kingdoms of the world, ancient and new. Since he will probably begin straightway to declaim against these and pour shame on all their glory, some of us may not care to undertake these more formidable expeditions in his company; in winch case, we can suggest his leading us instead to the hidden abode of the beautiful Witch of Atlas, or taking us with him in his boat for a sail upon the Serchio.
— It promised to be a hot day, when, having waked half breathless at a very early hour, I looked out at the sky. A still, noontide heat (painted dark) pervaded the air. Those old associates of the long winter nights, the Pleiades, Taurus, and Orion, seemed strangely astray in that sultry heaven. Not a frosty shaft or piercing eye-glance from any of the troop ; instead, I thought of hot coals dully glowing through ashes, or of “seeds of fire” sown in smoke. There was little heralding of the morning on the part of the birds; only a faint voice here and there, listlessly protesting at the prospect of heat. The trees were as motionless in all their branches as though an enchanter’s wand were held over them. The sun came up so fiercely thirsty that all the dew scarcely availed to slake his very earliest beams. But before long, more than one flower had drooped its devoted head, like another Hyacinth wounded by the golden quoit. Even the brave and hardy grass appeared to lose vital color, and to shrink under the steady glare.
On such a day the birds are silent, yet there is no lack of musicians to fill up the rests. Chief among these substitutes is the harvest-fly (often called locust).
I should not wonder, indeed, if this be the very insect which Anacreon hailed as “ happy ; ” it is certainly " fleshless ” and “ bloodless,” and has its habitation in a tree, in which particulars it corresponds with the subject of the ancient ode. Just at the climax of its harsh roundelay, the harvest-fly throws in a few notes imitating the chirp of the smallest and shrillest of the sparrow tribe. I could fancy the fervid, incessant sound had a heating effect upon the atmosphere; that, as the insect mounts his scales, the thermometric current rises accordingly. The tremolo to the ear is repeated to the eye in the constant quivering seen above distant fields, the air seeming to be pierced through and through with keen stilettos of sound.
Insect life asks only for a sunshine holiday ; no hour so hotly shining that it cannot be improved. From my place in the shade, I watch with lazy interest the career of a large butterfly, — a rich Ethiopian, with gorgeous decorations. In the parched and discouraged garden, only one flower offers him any attraction : this is a poor, stunted, crimson verbena, about which Sir Butterfly hovers for an instant, and then is off on a zigzag tour of the garden. Wherever he goes, he always returns to keep tryst with the flattered verbena, as who should say, “ I find nothing so sweet as you ; you are indeed my none-such.” Also, as I sit under my favorite tree, and look up at its goodly canopy, studying its scalloped and pointed border, I become curiously interested in the company of flies hovering under the branches. These insects appear to be ranged along an imaginary barrier, and to be beaten back whenever they attempt to cross it; or one might suppose they are each held by an invisible string, which pulls them in check when they have gone its full length. I would like much to know the purpose of these mysterious hove rings, which the observer finds after a while to be exceedingly sleep-inducing.
At noon, when our tent of shadows has contracted to the utmost, and when all nature seems to be patiently enduring, how still is the world about us, or through what a somnolent medium all sounds reach us ! The cicada chorus has become pleasantly droning and confused ; “ that flying harp, the honeybee,” passes us with a lulling air; as in a grotesque dream, we find ourselves listening to the conversational tones of the poultry, and discovering a wonderful likeness to human parley in the sotto voce remarks exchanged by chanticleer and partlet over their noonday meal. Or perhaps in the distance we hear the moaning of a threshing-machine ; a sound which is like the wind breathing through a crevice, a first forerunner of autumn, a good accompaniment for a Lityerses or Linus song, or other lament at the passing of the season. It is a still world to the eye, also, no wind stirring grass or foliage; any moving object far away in the fields being quickly remarked. The whisking of tails, where the cows are fighting flies in yonder pasture, is rather absurdly conspicuous, in the utter quiet of the landscape.
Ninety in the shade ! The birds ought long ago to have retired to the densest woodlands they know of, the fish to the deepest root-roofed recesses of the creek, and the crab to the very bottom of his damp cellar. Are they all under shelter ? It is well; there was no time to lose.
Thus sings the poet of all serenity. I may some time have questioned crudely the fitness of the storm figure, but do so no longer; for I am convinced the dynamic marks were well put in.
— In this country, where traveling is not always interesting, especially in the Western country, where the day’s journeys are like reading one page of a book over and over, it is a good plan to consider a comfortable method of spending one’s time. Reading is the first and best way of occupying the mind ; but many persons cannot read in the fastmoving and jarring railway train without serious damage to their eyesight. Everybody does not find games with cards agreeable. I for one hold that nothing can possibly be duller. I always get thinking of something else, and have to be reminded when it is my turn to play.
Sometimes I take it upon myself to name all my fellow travelers, and this is no such trifling undertaking as one might suppose it to be. There is always a certain correspondence between a man and his name. He grows to resemble it more and more. It is not that one learns to associate the two; for it is sometimes possible to guess what the name is, after a careful survey and consideration of the person’s appearance. Whether christening is a greater responsibility than has been believed, and a name is a sort of rudder which steers us through life, is, to say the least, an unsettled question. It is very good fun to try to recall some former journey, and follow one’s self through its successive stages ; but many persons only find amusement in looking out of the windows, and idly taking note of the scenery and inhabitants. Some one once invented a railway game at which two can play together, or several persons can take sides. It is certainly a good way to beguile a weary hour for impatient children. One chooses one side of the railway, and one the other, and counts two for a red cow, two for a spotted one, three for a horse, and four for a dog, and so on, with high numbers attached to improbable beasts or birds. It is needless to say that it is an excellent sum in addition, and that the one who gets the highest number in an hour wins the game. It really grows exciting toward the last, for the one who is ahead may be hindered by an unpopulated waste of water, alongside the track, and during the passing of it his opponent catches up triumphantly.
My own favorite diversion is trying to see a freight car marked with a certain number. I have never succeeded in finding it, after several years of search. I do not know why I chose 4711, which is the well-known number of a brand of cologne water; but having once done so,
I shall never spend even a half hour on the railroad without hoping to see it. Once, in London, I saw the mystic figures on a hansom cab, and it gave me great satisfaction. I think all the 4711 freight cars have found me out, and have escaped together to Texas, or some far corner of the country, where I am not likely to go.
— Not long ago, after reading Kit Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to his Love, I turned to The Nymph’s Reply, by the Philosophic Muse of Raleigh, and read that also. While meditating the two, I became aware that a third voice, light, inconsequent, and yet not without its note of sincere regret, had joined the musical dialogue. The voice and the mood it uttered ; the troublous self-consciousness ; the desire yet inability to return to first principles; the wistful regard toward Arcadia, crossed by a humorous sense of having outgrown the prime conditions of Arcadian life, — all seemed strangely familiar, and I have since concluded that what I heard must have been
THE REPLY OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY TO THE PASSIONATE SHEPHERD.
I hearr thy song, O shepherd dear!
Thy suit I hear, and sigh, alas,
That words so sweet must vainly pass.
I cannot. come and live with thee,—
Shepherd, thy love I cannot be:
For thou art constant, plain, and true;
I, fond of all that’s strange and new, —
Exotic gardens, gems of price,
And trappings rich and skilled device,
And speed that vies with wingèd winds,
Yet runs too slow for vanward minds!
Soon would I drain thy promised joys,
Soon would despise thy country toys;
In each thy gifts would find some flaw:
A posied cap, a belt of straw,
A lamb’s-wool gown, a kirtle flne,
Not long would please such heart as mine.
Thy trilling birds would soon become
So irksome I should wish them dumb,
And in the tinkling waterfall
I’d hear but vexèd spirits call.
With Gorgon looks I’d turn to rocks
Thy merry fellows and their flocks.
Shouldst thou a bed with roses strew,
And line it with the poppy, too,
Thy tenderest care would never do, —
Some hateful thorn would still prick through!
In riddles I would ever speak,
And puzzle thee with whim and freak.
I am distrustful, veering, sad;
With subtle tongue I’d drive thee mad:
And so, for very love of thee,
Shepherd, thy love I will not be !
— While the veteran reader of newspapers scans with satisfaction the bristling column of telegraphic news, does be ever reflect that, since his paper was issued, other dispatches, some of them quite contradictory to previous ones, have been arriving ; and that even as these were being communicated by the wires decisive events were “ transpiring,” soon to be reduced to telegraphic terms, and startle the world with their novelty and unexpectedness? ’Tis not probable that the reader of newspapers troubles himself with any such absurd speculation, making the printed sheet stale while still damp from the press. Yet the thoughtful subscriber to the Times and the Eternities habitually reads with this cautious reservation ; interpreting relatively, not absolutely, the engaging caption “ latest dispatches.”
“ Every hour adds unto the current arithmetic, which scarce stands a moment.” Every hour brings fresh intelligence, compared with which the bulletins of an hour ago seem trivial and irrelevant. The commissioner may make a faithful but not an exhaustive report on any given subject; one comes after him who has made more recent investigation, or whose eye was opened to see what he could not see. Later advices are always arriving. Our after-thoughts are an infinite series. Just as we think we have made a complete inventory of our cogitations, and are about to submit the list, comes up something pat and close related, which we cannot afford to count out. It is a lame result that gives a remainder greater than the divisor. I suppose that the writer of an elaborate volume might subscribe FINIS with as haunting a sense of the incompleteness of his work as he might have who had treated the same subject in a
single brief essay. These later advices are very insistent. The naturalist cannot write the biography of a flower, a bird, or an insect, but the next day some of the creature’s neighbors will be dropping in with bits of interesting gossip about the biographee; or, worse yet, with denials of certain statements contained in the history. Long after he had finished the poem, the poet heard the muses singing “ complemental verses,” which, to have heard before in their proper sequence, he would have given all his laureate hire. Condense as we may, there are always some volatile and delicate atoms of philosophy or of fancy that escape the condensing process. Sublimated in some mysterious way, they afterwards fall in clear crystalline grains, but too late to serve our special purpose. It Scarcely becomes us to treat contemptuously half-truths, when we get all our truths in fractional remittances at uncertain intervals.