The Deathless Diary
FOUR ways there are of telling a curious world that endless story of the past which it is never tired of hearing. History, memoir, biography, and the diary run back like four smooth roads, connecting our century, our land, our life, with other centuries and lands and lives that have all served in turn to make us what we are. Of these four roads, I like the narrowest best. History is both partial and prejudiced, sinning through lack of sympathy as well as through lack of truth. Memoirs are too often false and malicious. Biographies are misleading in their flattery : there is but one Boswell. Diaries tell their little tales with a directness, a candor, conscious or unconscious, a closeness of outlook, which gratifies our sense of security. Reading them is like gazing through a small clear pane of glass. We may not see far and wide, but we see very distinctly that which comes within our field of vision.
In those happy days when leisure was held to be no sin, men and women wrote journals whose copiousness both delights and dismays us. Neither “eternal youth ” nor “ nothing else to do " seems an adequate foundation for such structures. They were considered then a profitable waste of time, and children were encouraged to write down in little books the little experiences of their little lives. Thus we have the few priceless pages which tell “pet Marjorie’舡 story; the incomparable description of Hélène Massalski’s schooldays at the Abbaye de Notre Dame aux Bois; the demure vivacity of Anna Green Winslow ; the lively, petulant records of Louisa and Richenda Gurney ; the amusing experiences of that remarkable and delightful urchin, Richard Doyle. These youthful diaries, whether brief or protracted, have a twofold charm, revealing as they do both childlife and the child itself. It is pleasant to think that one of the little Gurneys, who were all destined to grow into such relentlessly pious women that their adult letters exclude the human element absolutely in favor of spiritual admonitions, was capable, when she was young, of such a defiant sentiment as this : “I read half a Quaker’s book through with my father before meeting. I am quite sorry to see him grow so Quakerly.舡 Or, worse and worse: “We went on the highway this afternoon for the purpose of being rude to the folks that passed. I do think being rude is most pleasant sometimes.
Of course she did, poor little overtrained, over-disciplined Richenda, and her open confession of iniquity contrasts agreeably with the anxious assurance given by Anna Winslow to her mother that there had been “ no rudeness, mamma, I assure you,” at her evening party. Naturally, a diary written by a little girl for the scrutiny and approbation of her parents is a very different thing from a diary written by a little girl for her own solace and diversion. The New England child is always sedate and prim, mindful that she is twelve years old, and that she is expected to live up to a rather rigorous standard of propriety. She would no more dream of going into the highway “for the purpose of being rude to the folks that passed ” than she would dream of romping with boys in those decorous Boston streets where, as Mr. Birrell pleasantly puts it, “ respectability stalked unchecked.” Neither does she consider her diary a vent for naughty humors. She fills it with a faithful account of her daily occupations and amusements, and we learn from her how much wine and punch little New England girls were allowed to drink, a hundred years ago ; how they danced five hours on an unsustaining supper of cakes and raisins ; how they sewed more than they studied, and studied more than they played ; and what wondrous clothes they wore when they were permitted to be seen in company.
“ I was dressed in my yelloe coat black bib and apron,” writes Anna in an unpunctuated transport of pride, “ black feathers on my head, my paste comb and all my paste garnet marquasett and jet pins, together with my silver plume, my locket, rings, black collar round my neck, black mitts and yards of blue ribbon (black and blue is high taste) striped tucker and ruffles (not my best) and my silk shoes completed my dress.”
And none too soon, thinks the astonished reader, who fancied in his ignorance that little girls were plainly clad in those fine old days of simplicity. Neither Marie Bashkirtseff nor Hélène Massalski cared more about her frippery than did this small Puritan maid. Indeed, Hélène, after one passionate outburst, resigned herself with great good humor to the convent uniform, and turned her alert young mind to other interests and pastimes. If the authenticity of her childish copybooks can be placed beyond dispute, no youthful record rivals them in vivacity and grace. It was the fashion among the older pensionnaires of Notre Dame aux Bois to keep elaborate journals, and the little Polish princess, though she tells us that she wrote so badly as to be in perpetual penance for her disgraceful “ tops and tails,”scribbled away page after page with reckless sincerity and spirit. She is so frank and gay, so utterly free from pretense of any kind, that English leaders, or at least English reviewers, appear to have been somewhat scandalized by her candor; and these innocent revelations have been made the subject of serious diatribes against convent schools, which, it need hardly be said, have altered radically in the past century, and were, at their worst, better than any home training possible in Hélène Massalski’s day. And what fervor and charm in her affectionate description of that wise and witty, that kind and good nun, Madame de Rochechouart! What freedom throughout from the morbid and unchildish vanity of Marie Bashkirtseff, whose diary is simply a vent for her own exhaustless egotism! There must always be some moments in life when it becomes impossible for us, however self-centred, to intrude our personalities further upon our rebellious families and friends. There must come a time when nobody will think of us, nor look at us, nor listen to us another minute. Then how welcome is the poor little journal which cannot refuse our confidences ! What Rousseau did on a large scale Marie Bashkirtseff copied on a smaller one. Both made the world their father confessor, and the world has listened with a good deal of attention to their tales, partly from an unquenchable interest in unhealthy souls, and partly from sheer self-complacency and pride. There is nothing more gratifying to human nature than the opportunity of contrasting our own mental and spiritual soundness with the disease which cries aloud to us for scrutiny.
If the best diaries known in literature have been written by men, the greater number have been the work of women. Even little girls, as we have seen, have taken kindly enough to the daily task of translating themselves into pages of pen and ink ; but little boys have been wont to consider this a lamentable waste of time. It is true we have such painful and precocious records as that of young Nathaniel Mather, who happily died before reaching manhood, but not before he had scaled the heights of selfesteem and sounded the depths of despair. When a boy, a real human boy, laments and bewails in his journal that he whittled a stick upon the Sabbath Day, “ and, for fear of being seen, did it behind the door, — a great reproach of God, and a specimen of that atheism I brought into the world with me,” — we recognize the fearful possibilities of untempered sanctimony. Boyhood, thank Heaven, does not lend itself easily to introspection, and seldom finds leisure for remorse. As a rule, a lad commits himself to a diary, as to any other piece of work, only because it has been forced upon him by the voice of authority. It was the parental mandate, thinly disguised under parental counsel, which started young Dick Doyle on that delightful journal in which spirited sketches alternate with unregenerate adventures and mishaps. He begins it with palpable reluctance the first day of January, 1840 ; fears modestly that it “ will turn out a hash; ” hopes he may be “ skinned alive by wildcats" if he fails to persevere with it; draws an animated picture of himself in a torn tunic running away from seven of these malignant animals that pursue him over tables and chairs; and finally settles down soberly and cheerfully to work. The entries grow longer and longer, the drawings more and more elaborate, as the diary proceeds. A great deal happened in 1840, and every event is chronicled with fidelity. The queen is married in the beginning of the year ; a princess royal is born before its close. “Hurra! Hurra!” cries loyal Dick. Prince Louis Napoleon makes his famous descent upon Boulogne, and Dick sketches him sailing dismally away on a life-buoy. Above all, the young artist scores his first success, and the glory of having one of his drawings actually lithographed and sold is more than he can bear with sobriety. “ Just imagine,” he writes, “ if I was walking coolly along, and came upon the Tournament in a shop window. Oh, cricky ! it would be enough to turn me inside out.”
He survives this joyous ordeal, however, and toils gayly on until the year is almost up and the appointed task is completed. On the 3d of December a serious-minded uncle invites him to go to Exeter Hall, an entertainment which the other children flatly and wisely decline. What he heard in that abode of dismal oratory we shall never know, for, stopping abruptly in the middle of a sentence, — “ Uncle was going somewhere else first, and had started,” — Richard Doyle’s diary comes to an untimely end.
And this is the fate of all those personal records which have most deeply interested and charmed us. It is so easy to begin a journal, so difficult to continue it, so impossible to persevere with it to the end. Bacon says that the only time a man finds leisure for such an engrossing occupation is when he is on a sea voyage and naturally has nothing to write about. Perhaps the reason why diaries are ever short-lived may be found in the undue ardor with which they are set a-going. Man is sadly diffuse and lamentably unstable. He ends by saying nothing because he begins by leaving nothing unsaid. “ Le secret d’ennuyer est de tout dire.”Haydon, the painter, it is true, filled twenty-seven volumes with the melancholy record of his high hopes and bitter disappointments ; but then he did everything and failed in everything on the same gigantic scale. The early diary of Frances Burney is monumental. Its young writer finds life so full of enjoyment that nothing seems to her too insignificant to be narrated. Long and by no means lively conversations, that must have taken whole hours to write, are minutely and faithfully transcribed. She reads The Vicar of Wakefield, and at once sits down and tells us all she thinks about it. Her praise is guarded and somewhat patronizing, as befits the author of Evelina. She is sorely scandalized by Dr. Primrose’s verdict that murder should be the sole crime punishable by death, and proceeds to show, at great length and with pious indignation, how “ this doctrine might be contradicted from the very essence of our religion,”— quoting Exodus in defense of her orthodoxy. She is charmingly frank and outspoken, and these youthful pages show no trace of that curious, half-conscious pleading with which she strives, in later days, to make posterity her confidant; to pour into the ears of future partisans like Macaulay her side of the court story, with all its indignities and honors, its hours of painful ennui, its minutes of rapturous delight.
That Macaulay should have worked himself up into a frenzy of indignation over Miss Burney’s five years at court is an amusing instance of his unalterable point of view. The sacred and exalted profession of letters had in him its true believer and devotee. That kings and queens and princesses should fail to share this deference, that they should arrogantly assume the privileges of their rank when brought into contact with a successful novelist, was to him an incredible example of barbaric stupidity. The spectacle of Queen Charlotte placidly permitting the authoress of Cecilia to assist at the royal toilet filled him with grief and anger. It is but too apparent that no sense of intellectual unworthiness troubled her Majesty for a moment, and this shameless serenity of spirit was more than the great Whig historian could endure. To less ardent minds it would seem that five years of honorable and well-paid service were amply rewarded by a pension for life; and that Miss Burney, however hard-worked and overdriven, must have had long, long hours of leisure in which to write the endless pages of her journal. Indeed, a woman who had time to listen to Fox speaking “ with violence ” for five hours had time, one would imagine, for anything. Then what delicious excitation to sit blushing and smiling in the royal box, and hear Miss Farren recite these intoxicating lines !
Whose every passion yields to nature’s laws.”
And as if this were not enough, the king, the queen, the royal princesses, all turn their heads and gaze at her for one distracting moment. “To describe my embarrassment,” she falters, “ would be impossible. I shrunk back, so astonished, and so ashamed of my public situation, that I was almost ready to take to my heels and run away.”
Well, well, the days for such delights are over. We may say what we please about the rewards of modern novel-writing ; but what, after all, is the cold praise of reviewers compared with this open glory and exaltation ? It is moderately impressive to be told over and over again by Marie Corelli’s American publishers that the queen of England thinks The Soul of Lilith and The Sorrows of Satan are good novels ; but this mere announcement, however reassuring, — and it is a point on which we require a good deal of reassurance, — does not thrill us with the enthusiasm we should feel if her Majesty, and the Prince of Wales, and the Duke of York, and the British public united in a flattering ovation. The incidents which mark the irresistible and unwelcome changes forced upon the world by each successive generation which inhabits it are the incidents we love to read about, and which are generally considered too insignificant for narration. In a single page Addison tells us more concerning the frivolous, idle, half torpid, wholly contented life of an eighteenth-century citizen than we could learn from a dozen histories. His diaries, meant to be purely satiric, have now become instructive. They show us, as in a mirror, the early hours, the scanty ablutions, — “ washed hands, but not face,” — the comfortable eating and drinking, the refreshing absence of books, the delightful vagueness and uncertainty of foreign news. A man could interest himself for days in the reported strangling of the Grand Vizier, when no intrusive cablegram came speeding over the wires to silence and refute the pleasant voice of rumor.
It is this wholesome and universal love of detail which lends to a veracious diary its indestructible charm. Charlotte Burney has less to tell us than her famous sister ; but it is to her, after all, that we owe our knowledge of Dr. Johnson’s worsted wig, — a present, it seems, from Mr. Thrale, and especially valued for its tendency to stay in curl however roughly used. “ The doctor generally diverts himself with lying down just after he has got a fresh wig on,” writes Charlotte gayly; and this habit, it must be admitted, is death and destruction to less enduring perukes. Swift’s Journal to Stella — a true diary, though cast in the form of correspondence — not only shows us the playful, tender, and caressing moods of the most savage of English cynics, but also enlightens us amazingly as to his daily habits and economies. We learn from his own pen how he bought his fuel by the half-bushel, and would have been glad to buy it by the pound ; how his servant. “ that extravagant whelp Peter,” insisted on making a fire for him, and necessitated his picking off all the coal before going to bed ; how he drank brandy every morning, and took his pill as regularly as Mrs. Pullet every night; and how Stella’s mother sent him as gifts “ a parcel of wax candles and a bandbox full of small plum-cakes,” which plum-cakes — oh, miracle of sound digestion! — he eat instead of bread at breakfast for a fortnight.
Now, the spectacle of Dr. Swift breakfasting serenely and successfully upon plum-cakes is like the spectacle of Mr. Pepys dining with far less inward satisfaction at his cousin’s table, where “ the venison pasty was palpable beef.” The most remarkable diary in the world is rich in the insignificance of its details. It is the sole confidant of a man who, as Mr. Lang admirably says, was his own Boswell, and its ruthless sincerity throws the truth-telling of the great biographer into the shade. Were it not for this strange cipher record, ten years long, the world — or that small portion of it which reads history unabridged — would know Mr. Samuel Pepys, secretary to the Admiralty, as an excellent public servant, loyal, capable, and discreet. The bigger, lazier world, to which he is now a figure so familiar, would never have heard of him at all, thereby losing the most vivid bit of human portraiture ever given for our disedification and delight.
We can understand how Mr. Pepys found time to write his diary when we remember that he was commonly in his office by four o’clock in the morning. We can appreciate its wonderful candor when we realize how safe he thought it from investigation. With the reproaches of his own conscience he was probably familiar, and the crowning cowardice of self-told lies offered no temptation to him. “Why should we seek to be deceived ? ” asks Bishop Butler, and Mr. Pepys might have answered truthfully that he did n’t. The romantic shading, the flimsy and false excuses, with which we are wont to color our inmost thoughts have no place in this extraordinary chronicle. Its writer neither deludes himself, like Bunyan, nor bolsters up his soul, like Rousseau, with swelling and insidious pretenses. It is a true Human Document, full of meanness and kindness, of palpable virtues and substantial misdemeanors. Mr. Pepys is unkind to his wife, yet he loves her. He is selfish and ostentatious, yet he denies himself the coveted glory of a coach and pair to give a marriage portion to his sister. He seeks openly his own profit and gratification, yet he is never without an active interest in the lives and needs of other people. Indeed, so keen and so sensible are his solutions of social problems, or what passed for such in that easy age, that had philanthropy and its rewards been invented in the reign of Charles II. we should doubtless see standing now in London streets a statue of Mr. Samuel Pepys, prison reformer, and founder of benevolent institutions for improving and harrowing the poor.
If the principal interest of this famous diary lies in its unflinching revelation of character, a charm no less enduring may be found in all the daily incidents it narrates. We like to know how a citizen of London lived two hundred years ago : what clothes he wore, what food he ate, what books he read, what plays he heard, what work and pleasure filled his waking hours. And I would gently suggest to those who hunger and thirst after the glories of the printed page that if they will only consent to write for posterity, — not as the poets say they do, and do not, but as the diarist really and truly does, — posterity will take them to its heart and cherish them. They may have nothing to say which anybody wants to listen to now; but let them jot down truthfully the petty occurrences, the pleasant details of town or country life, and, as surely as the world lasts, they will one day have a hearing. We live in a strange period of transitions. Never before has the old order changed as rapidly as it is changing now. O writers of dull verse and duller prose, quit the well-worked field of fiction, the arid waste of sonnets and sad poems, and chronicle in little leathercovered books the incidents which tell their wondrous tale of resistless and inevitable change. Write of electric motors, of bicycles, of peace societies, of hospitals for pussy cats, of women’s clubs and colleges, of the price of food and house rent, of hotel bills, of new fashions in dress and furniture, of gay dinners, of extension lectures, of municipal corruption and reform, of robberies unpunished, of murders unavenged. These things do not interest us profoundly now, being part of our daily surroundings ; but the generations that are to come will read of them with mingled envy and derision : envy because we have done so little, derision because we think that we have done so much.
If, then, it is as natural for mankind to peer into the past as to speculate upon the future, where shall we find such windows for our observation as in the diaries which show us day by day the shifting current of what once was life? We can learn from histories all we want to know about the great fire of London, but to realize just how people felt and behaved in that terrible emergency we should watch the alert and alarmed Mr. Pepys burying not only his money and plate, but his wine and Parmesan cheese. We have been taught at school much more than we ever wanted to know about Cromwell and the Protectorate and Puritan England; yet to breathe again that dismal and decorous air we must go to church with John Evelyn, and see, instead of the expected rector, a sour-faced tradesman mount the pulpit, and preach for an hour on the inspiriting text, “ And Benaiah . . . went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow.” The pious and accomplished Mr. Evelyn does not fancy this strange innovation. Like other conservative English gentlemen, he has little leaning to “ novices and novelties ” in the house of God ; and he is even less pleased when all the churches are closed on Christmas Day, and a Puritan magistrate speaks, in his hearing, 舠 spiteful things of our Lord’s Nativity.” His horror at King Charles’s execution is never mitigated by any of the successive changes that followed that dark deed. He is repelled in turn by the tyranny of Cromwell, the dissoluteness of Charles II., the Catholicity of James, and the heartlessness of Queen Mary, “ who came to Whitehall jolly and laughing as to a wedding,” without even a decent pretense of pity for her exiled father. He firmly believes in witchcraft, — as did many other learned and pious men, — and he persists in upsetting all our notions of galley slaves and the tragic horror of their lot by affirming the miserable creatures at Marseilles to be “ cheerful and full of knavery,” and hardly ever without some trifling occupation at which they toiled in free moments, and by which they made a little money for the luxuries and comforts that they craved.
In fact, an air of sincere and inevitable truthfulness robs John Evelyn’s diary of all that is romantic and sentimental. We see in it the life of a highly cultivated and deeply religious man, whose fate it was to witness all those tremendous and sovereign changes which swept over England like successive tidal waves between the execution of the Earl of Strafford and the accession of Queen Anne. Sharp strife ; the bitter contention of creeds ; England’s one plunge into republicanism, and her abrupt withdrawal from its grim embraces ; the plague ; the great fire, with 舠ten thousand houses all in one flame;” the depth of national corruption under the last Stuarts ; the obnoxious and unpalatable remedy administered by the house of Orange ; the dawning of fresh prosperity and of a new literature, — all these things Mr. Evelyn saw, and noted with many comments in his diary. And from all we turn with something like relief to read about the fire - eater, Richardson, who delighted London by cooking an oyster on a redhot coal in his mouth, or drinking molten glass as though it had been ale, and who would have made the fortune of any modern museum. Or perhaps we pause to pity the sorrows of landlords, always an ill-used and persecuted race; for Sayes Court, the home of the Evelyns, with its famous old trees and beautiful gardens, was rented for several years to Admiral Benbow, who sublet it in the summer of 1698 to Peter the Great, and the royal tenant so trampled down and destroyed the flower-beds that no vestige of their loveliness survived his ruthless tenancy. The Tsar, like Queen Elizabeth, was magnificent when viewed from a distance, but a most disturbing element to introduce beneath a subject’s humble roof.
If Defoe, that master of narrative, had written fewer political and religious tracts, and had kept a journal of his eventful career, what welcome and admirable reading it would have made ! If Lord Hervey had been content to tell us less about government measures, and more about court and country life, his thick volumes would now be the solace of many an idle hour. So keen a wit, so powerful and graphic a touch, have never been wasted upon matters of evanescent interest. History always holds its share of the world’s attention. The charm of personal gossip has never been known to fail. But political issues, once dead, make dull reading for all but students of political economy ; and they, browsing by choice amid arid pastures, scorn nothing so much as the recreative. Yet Lord Hervey’s epigrammatic definition of the two great parties, patriots and courtiers, as “ Whigs out of place and Whigs in place,” shows how vital and long-lived is humor; and the trenchant cynicism of his unkind pleasantries is more easily disparaged than forgotten.
On the other hand, we can never be sufficiently grateful that Gouverneur Morris, instead of writing industrious pamphlets on the causes that led to the French Revolution, has left us his delightful diary, with its vivid picture of social life and of the great storm-cloud darkening over France. In his pages we can breathe freely, unchoked by that lurid and sulphuric atmosphere so popular with historians and novelists rehearsing “ on the safe side of prophecy.” His courage is of the unsentimental order, his perceptions are pitiless, his common sense is invulnerable. He has the purest contempt for the effusive oath-taking of July 14, the purest detestation for the crimes and cruelties that followed. He persistently treads the earth, and is in no way dazzled by the mad flights into ether which were so hopelessly characteristic of the time. Not even Sir Walter Scott — a man as unlike Morris as day is unlike night — could be more absolutely free from the unwholesome influences which threatened the sanity of the world, and of Scott’s journal it is difficult to speak with self-possession. Our thanks are due primarily to Lord Byron, whose Ravenna diary first started Sir Walter on this daily task, — a task which grew heavier when the sad years came, but which shows us now, as no word from other lips or other pen could ever show us, the splendid courage, the boundless charity, the simple unconscious goodness of the man whom we may approach closer and closer, and only love and reverence the more. Were it not for this journal, we should never have known Scott, — never have known how sad he was sometimes, how tired, how discouraged, how clearly aware of his own fast-failing powers. We should never have valued at its real worth his unquenchable gayety of heart, his broad, genial, reasonable outlook on the world. His letters, even in the midst of trouble, are always cheerful, as the letters of a brave man should be. His diary alone tells us how much he suffered at the downfall of hopes and ambitions that had grown deeper and stronger with every year of life. “ I feel my dogs’ feet on my knees. I hear them whining and seeking me everywhere,” he writes pathetically, when the thought of Abbotsford closed and desolate seems more than he can bear ; and then, obedient to those unselfish instincts which had always ruled his nature, he adds with nobler sorrow, “ Poor Will Laidlaw ! poor Tom Purdie ! This will be news to wring your hearts and many an honest fellow’s besides, to whom my prosperity was daily bread.”
Of all the journals bequeathed to the world, and which the wise world has guarded with jealous care, Sir Walter’s makes the strongest appeal to honest human nature, which never goes so far afield in its search after strange gods as to lose its love for what is simply and sanely good. We hear a great deal about the nobler standards of modernity, and about virtues so fine and rare that our grandfathers knew them not; but courage and gayety, a pure mind and a kind heart, still give us the assurance of a man. The pleasant duty of admonishing the rich, the holy joy of preaching a crusade against other people’s pleasures, are daily gaining favor with the elect; but to the unregenerate there is a wholesome flavor in cheerful enjoyment no less than in open-handed generosity. The one real drawback to a veracious diary is that — life being but a cloudy thing at best — the pages which tell the story make often melancholy reading. Mr. Pepys has, perhaps, the lightest heart of the fraternity, and we cannot help feeling now and then that a little more regret on his part would not be wholly unbecoming. However, his was not a day when people moped in corners over their own or their neighbors’ shortcomings; and there is no more curious contrast offered by the wide world of bookland than the life reflected so faithfully in Pepys’s diary and in the sombre journal of Judge Sewall. New England is as visible in the one book as is Old England in the other, — New England under the bleak sky of an austere, inexorable, uncompromising Puritanism which dominated every incident of life. If Mr. Pepys went to see a man hanged at Tyburn, the occasion was one of some jollity, alike for crowd and for criminal; an open-air entertainment, in which the leading actor was recompensed in some measure for the severity of his part by the excitement and admiration he aroused. But when Judge Sewall attended the execution of James Morgan, the unfortunate prisoner was first carried into church and prayed over lengthily by Cotton Mather for the edification of the congregation, who came in such numbers and pressed in such unruly fashion around the pulpit that a riot took place within the holy walls, and Morgan was near dying of suffocation in the dullest possible manner without the gallows-tree.
It is not of hangings only and such direful solemnities that we read in Sewall’s diary. Every ordinary duty — I cannot say pastime — of life is faithfully portrayed. We know the faults — sins they were considered — of his fourteen children; how they played at prayertime and began their meals before grace was said, and were duly whipped for such transgressions. We know how the judge went courting when past middle age ; how he gave the elderly Mrs. Winthrop China oranges, sugared almonds, and “ gingerbread wrapped in a clean sheet of paper,” and how he ingratiated himself into her esteem by hearing her grandchildren recite their catechism. He has a businesslike method of putting down the precise cost of the gifts he offered during the progress of his various wooings ; for, in his own serious fashion, this gray-headed Puritan was one of the most amorous of men. A pair of shoebuckles presented to one fair widow came to no less than five shillings threepence ; and “ Dr. Mather’s sermons, neatly bound,” was a still more extravagant cadeau. He was also a mighty expounder of the Scriptures, and prayed and wrestled with the sick until they were fain to implore him to desist. There is one pathetic history of a dying neighbor to whose bedside he hastened with two other austere friends, and who was so sorely harried by their prolonged exhortations that, with his last breath, he sobbed out, “ Let me alone ! my spirits are gone! ” — to the terrible distress and scandal of his wife.
On the whole, Judge Sewall’s diary is not cheerful reading ; but the grayness of its atmosphere is mainly due to the unlovely aspect of colonial life, to the rigors of an inclement climate not yet subdued by the forces of a luxurious civilization, and by a too constant consideration of the probabilities of being eternally damned. There is nowhere in its sedate and troubled pages that piercing sadness, that cry of enigmatic, inexplicable pain which shakes the very centre of our souls when we read the beautiful, short journal of Maurice de Guérin. These few pages, written with no definite purpose by a young man whose life was uneventful and whose genius never flowered into maturity, have a positive as well as a relative value. They are not merely interesting for what they have to tell ; they are admirable for the manner of the telling, and the world of letters would be distinctly poorer for their loss. Eugénie de Guérin’s journal is charming, but its merits are of a different order. No finer, truer picture than hers has ever been given us of that strange, simple, patriarchal life which we can so little understand, a life full of delicate thinking and homely household duties. At Le Cayla, the lonely Languedoc château, where “ one could pass days without seeing any living thing but the sheep, without hearing any living thing but the birds,” the young Frenchwoman found in her diary companionship and mental stimulus, a link to bind her day by day to her absent brother for whom she wrote, and a weapon with which to fight the unconquerable disquiet of her heart. Her finely balanced nature, which resisted sorrow and ennui to the end, forced her to adopt that precision of phrase which is the triumph of French prose. There is a tender grace in her descriptions, a restraint in her sweet, sudden confidences, a wistfulness in her joy, and always a nobility of thought which make even her gentleness seem austere.
But Maurice de Guérin had in him a power of enjoyment and of suffering which filled his life with profound emotions, and these emotions break like waves at our feet when we read the brief pages of his diary. There is the record of a single day at Le Val, so brimming with blessedness and beauty that it illustrates the lasting nature of pure earthly happiness ; for such days are counted out like fairy gold, and we are richer all our lives for having grasped them once. There are passages of power and subtlety which show that nature took to her heart this trembling seeker after felicity, cast from him the chains of care and thought, and bade him taste for one keen hour “ the noble voluptuousness of freedom.” Then, breaking swiftly in amid vain dreams of joy, comes the bitter moment of awakening, and the sad voice of humanity sounds wailing in his ears.
“ My God, how I suffer from life ! Not from its accidents, — a little philosophy suffices for them, —but from itself, from its substance, from all its phenomena.”
And ever wearing away his heart is the restlessness of a nature which craved beauty for its daily food, which longed passionately for whatever was fairest in the world, for the lands and the seas he was destined never to behold. Eugénie, in her solitude at Le Cayla, trained herself to echo with gentle stoicism the words of A Kempis : “ What canst thou see anywhere that thou seest not here ? Behold the heavens and the earth and all the elements ! For out of these are all things made.” Her horizon was bounded by the walls of home. She worked, she prayed, she read her few books, she taught the peasant children the little it behooved them to know; she played with the gray cat, and with the three dogs, Lion, Wolf, and little Trilby, whom she loved best of all, and from whom, rather than from a stupid fairytale, it may be that Du Maurier stole his heroine’s name. She won peace, if not contentment, by the fulfillment of near duties ; but in her brother the unquenchable desire of travel burned like a smouldering fire. In dreams he wandered far amid ancient and sunlit lands whose mighty monuments are part of the mysterious legends of humanity. “ The road of the wayfarer is a joyous one!" he cries. “ Ah ! who shall set me adrift upon the Nile ! ” And with these words the journal of Maurice de Guérin comes to a sudden end. A river deeper than the Nile was opening before his passionate, tired young eyes. Remoter lands than Egypt lay before his feet.