SOUTHERN California has a wonderful climate. Day after day the sun rises, makes his diurnal course, and sets in the same cloudless serenity; day after day a royal blue covers the sky from mountain rim to the ocean’s horizon; night after night the stars shine with the joy and freshness of new created things. This immobility of splendor, this monotony of glory, begins at last to chafe one’s spirit. Northern inconstancy cannot endure this sameness. The law of the North is eternal flux, — sequence of seasons, sunshine and showers, June and December, clouds and transparency. We of the North are but aliens here, temporary sojourners; we cannot become liegemen to the South. To this sensation of estrangement upon our part California exhibits absolute indifference. The royal shapes of this kingdom: the proud modulation of the earth from the flat borders of the placid ocean to the steep sides of the gray-green Sierras, the rising slopes, the swelling mounds, the languorous curves and hollows of the foothills, proclaim haughtily, “California farà da se,”
— “ California is sufficient unto herself; stay or go as you please.” In her hospitality, which seemed to the newcomer so prodigal, she opened her lovely arms but not her heart. We are admitted to her gardens, to her outer courts, welcomed to her fruits and flowers, the glistening oak leaf and silvery shining olive, to the music of the palm branches and the silken fringe of the eucalyptus acorns, with all the stately Spanish courtesy of this teeming land; but the central intimacy — the inner content, the complete appreciation
— is reserved for the native-born, California’s privacy is her own, and the stranger cannot enter. It might be guessed, with what justice I cannot tell, that this last barrier is mere illusion, or that we ourselves erect it. Perhaps the reserve that we impute to California is after all merely our own deficiency; for, in spite of this royal reception, this queenly hospitality, the sojourner from the North becomes homesick.
California was created by nature in the full flood of a High Renaissance; Genii of the earth —a Bonifazio, a Paul Veronese — have been at work, with their gaudy beauty, their extravagance of color, their prodigal portion of gorgeousness. There is too much; the thinner northern nature shrinks into itself, it cannot rest easy before this superb abundance, and hangs back like a shy child when fetched to a banquet. The inward eye turns to other scenes, to a lower scale of color, a meaner standard of beauty, a narrower range of sensation. This very richness keeps reminding us that we are exiles.
There is something wantonly capricious in humanity. At home we are impatient with tameness and familiarity; ennui — subtlest of creeping things — crawls up on its belly: “Why not eat of the rich fruit of the South?” We eat; and exile is our punishment. The stern officer of retribution, Homesickness, holds up a picture of what we have left. Not Veronese in all his splendor can paint as Homesickness paints. The old familiar scenes, refined, etherealized, transfused with light, quiver in an “intenser day: ” — the little library, its time-stained, finger-spotted books, the broad windows, the narrow sward, the great elm, the slope down to the brook, the hill beyond, where the winter sun sets as if on the edge of Paradise. We hear the wind whistling through the hemlocks, the dogs jumping and barking, Tom’s boots creaking as he bears logs into the hall, all sweet as Christmas carols. Household figures come like bringers of a gospel. Neighbors pass, — the parson, the schoolmaster, the doctor, the grocer’s man. the tinsmith’s boy, the schoolgirl with her red muffler, the old lady across the way, the elderly cousin twice removed, — all Shakespearean characters; what life, what humanity, what diversity, what subtlety, what range and compass of affection and interest! How could we be blind to all this? What hung a curtain before our eyes ? What put poison into familiarity? Why can we not perceive the worth of all our common things without its being necessary that the genius of life should take pain or sin “to stab our spirits broad awake?” Is this numbness, this blank stupidity, the work of the heart or of the head? is it egotism, fed on idleness and vulgarity, or is it the darkness of unimagination ? Sometimes we do not open our eyes to the beauty of home until death has cut into it and marred it forever; no man can be too grateful to the genius of life that she wakes him up by the gentler stab of exile. Yet exile though beneficent is stern; it makes its lessons effective. The vision of beauty left behind brings inseparably with it the conscious pain of absence. The exile cannot forget his maim.
But all exiles are not to blame. Some are banished by the tyrant, ill health; some by that other tyrant, poverty; and in old days some were banished by a tyrant king or demagogue. It is an ill wind that blows nobody good; and readers have got much good from that institution of exile. Some of the most touching pages of poetry are due to it. At times one grasps at the idea of banishing all our poets to see what would come of it. What is more loaded with feeling than Dante’s lines: —
Thou slialt prove how salt the taste
Of another man’s bread, how hard a path it is
To go up aud down another man’s stairs.
In those days exile was a serious matter. The exile lost his means of livelihood, and must earn his salt bread as best he might; and the very narrowness of his country, a few acres within encircling walls and a few square miles round about, gave love of it an intensity that such men as we, whose country is a continent, cannot understand. His fellow citizens were all individuals; he knew all the members of his guild, all the prosperous merchants, all the great families, the Uberti. the Donati, the Cavalcanti, the Guidi, the Lamberti, their fortresses, their men-atarms, their varlets, their link-bearers, the iron-work on their gates, the machicolations on their turrets, their incomes, their spendings, their animosities, and affections. One thinks with a chill of that winter day on which Dante was banished from Florence, when he left wife and children, the familiar walls, the oft-trodden streets, the well-known fields, the olive orchards, the color-loving waters of the Arno, when he looked for the last time on the sweep of hills that half girdle Florence from San Miniato to Fiesole. From his grief and anger, better than from all the historians, we learn what Florence was, with her well-beloved baptistery, her churches, her towers, her pride in herself, and her children’s pride in her.
He would not go back unless he should receive the poet’s crown in all honor from his self-humbling fellow citizens; and the Florentines displayed no tendency toward self-humiliation.
Loneliness is the most poignant of sorrows, and the exile in California longs for sympathy and the company of other exiles as lonely as he. I betook myself to my one source of comfort, my landlord’s library, and looked over the shelves to find some companion for my mood; but except for Dante and a few lines in Shakespeare I found little. There was Edward Everett Hale’s story of The Man without a Country, but that did not square with my humor. At last I found, tucked away on a tower shelf with sundry Latin school-books, an Ovid. The words “Allen & Greenough” were a talisman to evoke long-slumbering memories. At Harvard College, in a time midway between nearness and real remoteness, there used to be a course in Latin, known as Latin II; twice a week a lot of boys struggled with the colloquies between Davos and Geta, as those two slaves for their part struggled to unravel the snarl in which their gay young masters, Romanized Greeks swaggering in Athens, had tangled their sweethearts, their fathers, and themselves. Terence’s cribbed plots and borrowed characters, the old jokes and simulations of merriment, were a very lugubrious business between lectures; but when the boys had trooped in and ranged themselves noisily on the benches, had rotated like little dogs preparing to lie down, had kicked their nearest neighbors, had gazed about to see who was cutting and who had his trot beneath his desk; when the preliminary five minutes for adjustment of mind and body were up, a pleasant voice from the professor’s desk asked Mr. X if he would render in English such and such a scene. Mr. X mumbled a few words, fumbled for his trot, tried to catch a whisper from behind, and flunked. At this the professor, in his pleasant voice, as if it were his turn to take up a thread most satisfactorily left by Mr. X, began to read in capital vernacular the old Roman dialogue, blending slang and colloquial phrases very much as certain notable dramatis persona, of Harvard at that time used to do, — Connors the dogfancier, Horace the Expressman, Billy the Postman, — and threw a glow of humor from his genial face over all the scene, untd the poor old Latin mummies rose up, limbered out, and walked. It was indeed a miracle; and in this care-dispelling, kindly way Professor Greenough went through life.
The reminiscences suggested by the words “Allen & Greenough” seemed to bring Ovid nearer, and yet what had I to do with the old Roman rhymester, with his hexameters and pentameters, his Metamorphoses and Ars Amatoria? However, as I met no other exile, I picked him up, Publius Ovidius Naso. He told his own story. He was a fashionable poet in Rome “under the good Augustus.” His father, a gentleman of birth, brought his two sons to Rome to be educated. Both were intended for political careers, and both studied accordingly; but Publius dawdled over verses. The paternal warning was in vain. “Studium quid inutile temptas ? Why waste your time over that stuff ? Even Homer did not leave a penny.’ But Publius “lisped in numbers for the numbers came,” and when his brother died he could afford temptare inutile studium. He frequented the older poets. He had the honor to read Macer’s verses in manuscript. Propertius and he belonged to the same club; Ponticus, famous for his epic, and Bassus, for his iambics, were his chums. There is great autumnal pathos in this casual reference to forgotten names, like that when looking at urns discovered in a catacomb; the pleasure of affection, the pride of intimacy, the joy of youth and poetry, all obliterated two thousand years ago, and none but a few students (studiosi comati) to read even their names. Ovid saw the great Virgil — Vergilium vidi tantum — and listened to Horace recite his odes. Tibullus, to his regret, had died before his day. And as Ovid grew in distinction the younger poets frequented him in their turn.
It was a careless time. The riches of the world flowed into Rome, — taxes, tribute, slaves, merchants, officials, proselytizing priests, appellants, country gentlemen, provincial aristocrats, foreign princes, remote ambassadors; in this hothouse of peace and conquest, palaces, temples, forums, arches, sprang up like mushrooms. The flash and flare of newly acquired riches, the push of social life, the fever of Cæsarian fortune, the dash - ing naughtiness of the Princess Julia, made fashion very gay. Many a time the young poets watched the rising sun gild the roof of the Capitol. Ovid was in the thick of amusement. He wrote his Amores, besides other amatory verse which in soberer moments he concluded to burn; he made songs in honor of Corinna (was she the Princess Julia?) that were sung throughout the town. His heart, he says, was very susceptible. To induce him to settle down, his parents got him a “worthless, useless wife.”That union was brief; his second wife, though blameless, was also transitory; but the third was a true and loyal companion. At fifty he was a prosperous gentleman, a grandfather; his house was near the Capitol; his poems were famous throughout the Roman world, familiar to all the city; he himself was the centre of literary society; suddenly the god, Cæsar Augustus, hurled his thunderbolt, and Ovid was banished for life to the borders of the Black Sea.
The cause of his banishment — “folly, error, not willful wrong-doing” — was, he says, known to everybody, but discretion keeps him from mentioning it. It could not have been political, for no one profited by political stability more than Ovid; it could hardly have been making love to Princess Julia, for she was now forty-six years old, had been married successively to the three heirs to the throne, Marcellus, Agrippa, and Tiberius, had grown-up children, and had herself been banished eleven years before. Perhaps he knew too much about Princess Julia the younger, and her reckless doings. The blow was wholly unexpected. “When the memory of that most wretched night, my last in the City, comes to me, even now tears drop from my eyes. The day was close at hand on which Caesar commanded me to leave the furthest bounds of Italy; my mind was not ready, nor had I time, to prepare what was needed. I was not able to think of choosing servants or an attendant; I had no clothes nor belongings fit for exile. I was paralyzed, like a man struck by lightning. When at last grief cleared my mind and I had fully come to my senses, I bade a last good-by to my sorrowing friends, of whom (the many a little while ago) were left but two. My wife clung to me and wept more bitterly than I; tears rained down her cheeks. My daughter was far away in Africa, and did not know my fate. All over the house was wailing and sobbing; it was like a death scene, every corner of the house was wet with tears. The sounds of men and dogs (voices of the day) died away; the moon drove her chariot on high; by her light I saw the Capitol close by my house (bootless proximity) and said, ’Ye Gods whose house is next to mine, ye Temples that I shall never see again, ye Gods of Great Rome, whom I must leave, farewell forever.’ I prayed a prayer to the Gods; my wife prayed many, interrupting them with sobs. Stretched by our hearth, her hair all down, she kissed the dead embers with tremulous lips and prayed the household gods futile prayers for her lost husband Then precipitate night cut short my dallying. . . . How often did I say when they bade me hurry, ‘Why urge me, think whither I go, think what I go from.’ . . . Three times I reached the door, three times turned back, . . . I, living, must leave forever my living wife, my home, my kind and loyal household, my friends whom I have loved like a brother, hearts linked to mine by a heroic faith. One more embrace while it is possible. . . . I went as if I left my body; she, weighed down by grief, fell fainting in the house.”
Poor fellow; luxury, flattery, good cheer, a house in town, a villa in the country, trained servants, jolly companions, fellow poets, amatory verses, had not stored up any two-o’clock-in-themorning courage. The voyage through the Ægean Sea and the Hellespont, and along the coast of the Black Sea, was terrifying in itself; and Tomi, a little town on the edge of the world, was peopled by Barbarian fishermen, Greek traders, Thracian peasants, Sarmatian boors. The Danube froze in winter, and Ovid constantly expected hostile tribes to make forays across the ice. In fact, Torui was somewhat like Detroit in Pontiac’s time. “Here, although my neighbors’ weapons ring in my ears, I lighten my hard lot as much as I can by poetry. For though there is no one to hear it, yet even so I cheat and pass the time. That I am alive and can bear these hardships I must thank you, Goddess of Poetry; you comfort me; you are my ease from care; you are medicine to my blood; you are my guide and friend; you snatch me from the Danube and give me a place in the middle of Helicon.”
One can imagine the luckless Roman, shivering in rough, bearskin coat, only his face out, his breath frozen on his beard, as he shuffled through the mud and snow, with images of Rome engraven on his heart, — the gold-topped Capitol on its high eminence, the Forum Romanum, the Temple of Julius, the triumphal arch of Augustus, the Shrine of Vesta, the Sacra Via still echoing to Horace’s feet, the stately palace of the Emperor on the Palatine. Every day and night he thought of his faithful wife; and he composed an epitaph for her to put on his tomb, if his ashes should have the fortune to be taken home: —
Ovid, who died from fault of his own wit.
Forbear not, Passer-by, if thou hast loved,
To say, ’Soft rest his bones.’
Ovid was no hero. Cato or Marcus Brutus would not have found the Black Sea border so barren. “The mind is its own place; ” their Lares and Penates would have gone with them. But his exile is a mere allegory to teach us patience.
Exile is the course of life, — so wills the Omnipotent, — only for most of us it is a gradual process. Life is one long series of bans. First we are banished from babyhood, that wonderful time in which every minute brings its miracle, in which a ministering angel, with those slender, delicate, flowerlike implements of love, that men call hands, is our constant slave; in the morning she begins, undoes the robes in which it has been our pleasure to while away the night, and plunges us into a glorious pond, placidly transparent on its milk-white bed, in which is the most marvelous playfellow, soft, clear, and friendly; this playfellow waits till we give the signal for the game, then splashes, dashes, giggles, rollicks, and, when we pound it and slap it, throws back into our faces little glittering, rainbow-hued diamonds, soft and fresh as kisses. To all this we bid farewell forever. Next we are banished from our youth, from the nimbleness, the merriment, the infinity, the nobleness of boyhood. That was the great Patria, a very Rome, filled with heroic figures. Who does not remember when he first went to school, standing on the edge of the football field and watching the godlike heroes play ? There Hector, head down, all splashed with mud, his cheeks scarlet, his nose scratched, his jersey torn, dashed towards the Grecian goal; there mighty Achilles tackled and threw him; there Diomede, Ajax, and Menelaus charged the Trojan squad, while crafty Ulysses punted from behind, and Agamemnon yelled his angry orders. Never again will the world be so full of demigods. From these heroic scenes the luckless boy was banished. His next exile was from the glorious kingdom of romance; there on the edge of the sacred grove, his breath held in, his heart beating hard, he saw — miracle of miracles — creatures, seemingly human and yet not boys, surely divine, Diana and her nymphs. He built an altar on the spot and offered up his soul. Then came the stern decree; and so life makes its stages. We bid farewell to the sunkissed top of Jupiter Capitolinus, shining triumphantly over a world of gayety and joy, shining indifferent to our departure; we kiss the dying embers of our sacred hearths; we eat the salt bread and climb the steep, steep stairs of exile. Is there no help ? Has Caesar Augustus power over all things? Can he banish us from “everything most dearly loved ” ?
At the very time that poor Ovid was eating out his heart on the shore of the Black Sea, there was a little boy teaching in the Temple at Jerusalem; and the fruit of his teaching was the abolition of exile, for he conceived the idea that the Kingdom of God is within us. It is an idea born of love; and for the children of the spirit of God, it is truth. But we, children of the dust of the earth, have no such kingdom within us. Within is emptiness; and so, without, we are slaves to inconstancy. We proceed from change to change seeking peace; but place brings no comfort, time brings no consolation. We have lost and flung away our beliefs, but we cannot pluck from our hearts the seeds that consciousness of mortality has planted there; we are haunted by a voice, — Omnia Vanitas prater amare Deum et illi solo servire, (Is Christ or Death the God whom we ignorantly worship ?) For those who hear that voice there is no ease in restlessness, no calm in change. Wherever they go, they feel that they are strangers and pilgrims.
The pagans enjoyed a cheerful, careless, animal content; they did not kneel, they stood on their feet erect, they were playmates of the gods and shared the Olympian disregard of morbid perplexities, sympathies, and aspirations. Ovid had no sickly perturbations, no uncertain hopes; his one desire was as clear and definite as Caesar’s head on a freshlyminted coin. Rome was his heaven.
California is pagan, too. When the sun sets and the dying day shakes its departing glories from sea to beach, from beach to field, from field to mountain, the Franciscan monks (poor exiles from the past) creep out of their Missions and sing Ave Maria ; but California laughs. The Sierras, the foothills, the flowering slopes, the blossoming orchards, the budding gardens laugh to the blue waters, and the sparkling waves laugh back. The oranges laugh in their orchards, the lemons in their dark green leaves, the olives in their silvery gray, the guava and the plum tree, the passion-flower, tire honeysuckle, the white rose, the violet, and the lily. They have no compassion, no longings for the impossible, no fears of the unknown; they live in the full glow of the radiant present, and laugh. They do not worship the Virgin; they claim no kinship with Christ. Their mother is the foam-born goddess of passion: —
Her deep hair heavily laden with odor and color of flowers,
White rose of the rose-white water, a silver splendor, a flame,
Bent down unto us that besought her, and earth grew sweet with her name.
For thine came weeping, a slave among slaves, and rejected ; but she
Came flushed from the full-flushed wave, and imperial, her foot on the sea.
And the wonderful waters knew her, the winds and the viewless ways,
And the roses grew rosier, and bluer the seablue stream of the bays.
But tbe thin-blooded exile from the North, as he hears this exultant cry of passionate life, shrinks within himself, bows his head, and murmurs with his lips, Ave Maria! Blessed art thou among women, for thy Son had compassion on the exile and gave him the promise, the hope — the illusion ? —of a home.