Henry Cabot Lodge.

The Best of the World's Classics, Restricted to Prose, Vol. X (of X) - America - II, Index online

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"The Montresors," I replied, "were a great and numerous family."

"I forget your arms."

"A huge human foot d'or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent
rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel."

"And the motto?"

_"Nemo me impune lacessit."_

"Good!" he said.

The wine sparkled in his eyes and the bells jingled. My own fancy grew
warm with the Medoc. We had passed through walls of piled bones, with
casks and puncheons intermingling, into the inmost recesses of the
catacombs. I paused again, and this time I made bold to seize
Fortunato by an arm above the elbow.

"The niter!" I said; "see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the
vaults. We are below the river's bed. The drops of moisture trickle
among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your
cough - "

"It is nothing," he said; "let us go on. But first, another draft of
the Medoc."

I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grave. He emptied it at a
breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the
bottle upward with a gesticulation I did not understand.

I looked at him in surprize. He repeated the movement - a grotesque
one.

"You do not comprehend!" he said.

"Not I," I replied.

"Then you are not of the brotherhood."

"How?"

"You are not of the masons."

"Yes, yes," I said, "yes, yes."

"You? Impossible! A mason?"

"A mason," I replied.

"A sign," he said.

"It is this," I answered, producing a trowel from beneath the folds of
my _roquelaure_.

"You jest," he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. "But let us proceed
to the Amontillado."

"Be it so," I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak, and again
offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route
in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches,
descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt,
in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow
than flame.

At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less
spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the
vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris. Three
sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this manner.
From the fourth the bones had been thrown down, and lay promiscuously
upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some size. Within the
walls thus exposed by the displacing of the bones, we perceived a
still interior recess, in depth about four feet, in width three, in
height six or seven. It seemed to have been constructed for no special
use within itself, but formed merely the interval between two of the
colossal supports of the roof of the catacombs, and was backed by one
of their circumscribing walls of solid granite.

It was in vain that Fortunato, uplifting his dull torch, endeavored to
pry into the depth of the recess. Its termination the feeble light did
not enable us to see.

"Proceed," I said, "herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchesi - "

"He is an ignoramus," interrupted my friend, as he stept unsteadily
forward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In an instant he
had reached the extremity of the niche, and finding his progress
arrested by the rock, stood stupidly bewildered. A moment more and I
had fettered him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples,
distant from each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of
these depended a short chain, from the other a padlock. Throwing the
links about his waist, it was but the work of a few seconds to secure
it. He was too much astounded to resist. Withdrawing the key I stept
back from the recess.

"Pass your hand," I said, "over the wall; you can not help feeling the
niter. Indeed it is very damp. Once more let me implore you to return.
No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first render you all
the little attentions in my power."

"The Amontillado!" ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from his
astonishment.

"True," I replied; "the Amontillado."

As I said these words I busied myself among the pile of bones of which
I have before spoken. Throwing them aside, I soon uncovered a quantity
of building stone and mortar. With these materials and with the aid of
my trowel, I began vigorously to wall up the entrance of the niche.

I had scarcely laid the first tier of the masonry when I discovered
that the intoxication of Fortunato had in a great measure worn off.
The earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning cry from the
depth of the recess. It was _not_ the cry of a drunken man. There was
then a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, and the
third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations of the
chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I
might harken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labors and
sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed
the trowel, and finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth,
and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my
breast. I again paused, and holding the flambeaux over the mason-work,
threw a few feeble rays upon the figure within.

A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from the
throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back. For a
brief moment I hesitated - I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I began
to grope with it about the recess; but the thought of an instant
reassured me. I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs,
and felt satisfied. I reapproached the wall. I replied to the yells of
him who clamored. I reechoed - I aided - I surpassed them in volume and
in strength. I did this, and the clamorer grew still.

It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had
completed the eighth, the ninth, and the tenth tier. I had finished a
portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single
stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I
placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came from
out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It was
succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognizing as
that of the noble Fortunato. The voice said:

"Ha! ha! ha! - he! he! - a very good joke - indeed - an excellent jest. We
will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo - he! he! he! - over
our wine - he! he! he!"

"The Amontillado!" I said.

"He! he! he! - he! he! he! - yes, the Amontillado. But is it not getting
late? Will they not be awaiting us at the palazzo, the Lady Fortunato
and the rest? Let us be gone."

"Yes," I said, "let us be gone."

"For the love of God, Montresor!"

"Yes," I said, "for the love of God!"

But to these words I harkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I
called aloud: "Fortunato!"

No answer. I called again: "Fortunato!"

No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and
let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the
bells. My heart grew sick - on account of the dampness of the
catacombs. I hastened to make an end of my labor. I forced the last
stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new masonry I
reerected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a century no
mortal has disturbed them. _In pace requiescat!_




II

OF HAWTHORNE AND THE SHORT STORY[3]


The reputation of the author of "Twice-Told Tales" has been confined,
until very lately, to literary society; and I have not been wrong,
perhaps, in citing him as the example, par excellence, in this
country, of the privately admired and publicly-unappreciated man of
genius. Within the last year or two, it is true, an occasional critic
has been urged, by honest indignation, into very warm approval. Mr.
Webber,[4] for instance (than whom no one has a keener relish for that
kind of writing which Mr. Hawthorne has best illustrated), gave us, in
a late number of _The American Review_, a cordial and certainly a full
tribute to his talents; and since the issue of the "Mosses from an Old
Manse" criticisms of similar tone have been by no means infrequent in
our more authoritative journals. I can call to mind few reviews of
Hawthorne published before the "Mosses." One I remember in _Arcturus_
(edited by Matthews and Duyckinck[5]) for May, 1841; another in the
_American Monthly_ (edited by Hoffman[6] and Herbert) for March, 1838;
a third in the ninety-sixth number of _The North American Review_.
These criticisms, however, seemed to have little effect on the popular
taste - at least, if we are to form any idea of the popular taste by
reference to its expression in the newspapers, or by the sale of the
author's book. It was never the fashion (until lately) to speak of
him in any summary of our best authors....

[Footnote 3: From a review of Hawthorne's "Twice Told Tales" and
"Mosses from an Old Manse," published in _Godey's Magazine_ in 1846.
Except for an earlier notice by Longfellow in _The North American
Review_, this was the first notable recognition Hawthorne's stories
received from a contemporary critic.]

[Footnote 4: Charles Wilkens Webber, magazine writer and author of a
dozen books now forgotten, was a native of Kentucky who settled in New
York. In 1855 he joined William Walker in his filibustering expedition
to Central America, and was killed in the battle of Rivas.]

[Footnote 5: Evert A. Duyckinck, joint editor with his brother of the
"Cyclopedia of American Literature."]

[Footnote 6: Charles Fenno Hoffman, poet, novelist, and critic, was
related to Mathilda Hoffman, the sweetheart of Washington Irving.]

Beyond doubt, this inappreciation of him on the part of the public
arose chiefly from the two causes to which I have referred - from the
facts that he is neither a man of wealth nor a quack; but these are
insufficient to account for the whole effect. No small portion of it
is attributable to the very marked idiosyncrasy of Mr. Hawthorne
himself. In one sense, and in great measure, to be peculiar is to be
original, and than the true originality there is no higher literary
virtue. This true or commendable originality, however, implies not the
uniform, but the continuous peculiarity - a peculiarity springing from
ever-active vigor of fancy - better still if from ever-present force of
imagination, giving its own hue, its own character to everything it
touches, and, especially, self-impelled to touch everything....

The pieces in the volumes entitled "Twice-Told Tales" are now in their
third republication, and, of course, are thrice-told. Moreover, they
are by no means all tales, either in the ordinary or in the legitimate
understanding of the term. Many of them are pure essays. Of the Essays
I must be content to speak in brief. They are each and all beautiful,
without being characterized by the polish and adaptation so visible in
the tales proper. A painter would at once note their leading or
predominant feature, and style it repose. There is no attempt at
effect. All is quiet, thoughtful, subdued. Yet this repose may exist
simultaneously with high originality of thought; and Mr. Hawthorne has
demonstrated the fact. At every turn we meet with novel combinations;
yet these combinations never surpass the limits of the quiet. We are
soothed as we read; and withal is a calm astonishment that ideas so
apparently obvious have never occurred or been presented to us before.
Herein our author differs materially from Lamb or Hunt or
Hazlitt - who, with vivid originality of manner and expression, have
less of the true novelty of thought than is generally supposed, and
whose originality, at best, has an uneasy and meretricious quaintness,
replete with startling effects unfounded in nature, and inducing
trains of reflection which lead to no satisfactory result. The essays
of Hawthorne have much of the character of Irving, with more of
originality, and less of finish; while, compared with the _Spectator_,
they have a vast superiority at all points. The Spectator, Mr. Irving
and Hawthorne have in common that tranquil and subdued manner which I
have chosen to denominate repose; but, in the ease of the two former,
this repose is attained rather by the absence of novel combination, or
of originality, than otherwise, and consists chiefly in the calm,
quiet, unostentatious expression of commonplace thoughts, in an
unambitious, unadulterated Saxon. In them, by strong effort, we are
made to conceive the absence of all. In the essays before me the
absence of effort is too obvious to be mistaken, and a strong
undercurrent of suggestion runs continuously beneath the upper stream
of the tranquil thesis. In short, these effusions of Mr. Hawthorne are
the product of a truly imaginative intellect, restrained, and in some
measure represt by fastidiousness of taste, by constitutional
melancholy, and by indolence.

But it is of his tales that I desire principally to speak. The tale
proper, in my opinion, affords unquestionably the fairest field for
the exercise of the loftiest talent which can be afforded by the wide
domains of mere prose. Were I bidden to say how the highest genius
could be most advantageously employed for the best display of its own
powers, I should answer, without hesitation - in the composition of a
rimed poem, not to exceed in length what might be perused in an hour.
Within this limit alone can the highest order of true poetry exist. I
need only here say, upon this topic, that, in almost all classes of
composition, the unity of effect or impression is a point of the
greatest importance. It is clear, moreover, that this unity can not be
thoroughly preserved in productions whose perusal can not be completed
at one sitting. We may continue the reading of a prose composition,
from the very nature of prose itself, much longer than we can
persevere, to any good purpose, in the perusal of a poem. This latter,
if truly fulfilling the demands of the poetic sentiment, induces an
exaltation of the soul which can not be long sustained. All high
excitements are necessarily transient. Thus a long poem is a paradox.
And, without unity of impression, the deepest effects can not be
brought about. Epics were the offspring of an imperfect sense of art,
and their reign is no more. A poem too brief may produce a vivid, but
never an intense or enduring impression. Without a certain continuity
of effort - without a certain duration or repetition of purpose - the
soul is never deeply moved. There must be the dropping of the water
upon the rock. De BĂ©ranger has wrought brilliant things - pungent and
spirit-stirring - but, like all impassive bodies, they lack momentum,
and thus fail to satisfy the poetic sentiment. They sparkle and
excite, but, from want of continuity, fail deeply to impress. Extreme
brevity will degenerate into epigrammatism; but the sin of extreme
length is even more unpardonable. _In medio tutissimus ibis._ Were I
called upon, however, to designate that class of composition which,
next to such a poem as I have suggested, should best fulfil the
demands of high genius - should offer it the most advantageous field of
exertion - I should unhesitatingly speak of the prose tale, as Mr.
Hawthorne has here exemplified it. I allude to the short prose
narrative, requiring from a half-hour to one or two hours in its
perusal.

Of Mr. Hawthorne's "Tales" we would say, emphatically that they belong
to the highest region of art - an art subservient to genius of a very
lofty order.... We know of few compositions which the critic can more
honestly commend than these "Twice-Told Tales." As Americans, we feel
proud of the book.

Mr. Hawthorne's distinctive trait is invention, creation, imagination,
originality - a trait which, in the literature of fiction, is
positively worth all the rest. But the nature of the originality, so
far as regards its manifestation in letters, is but imperfectly
understood. The inventive or original mind as frequently displays
itself in novelty of tone as in novelty of matter. Mr. Hawthorne is
original in all points. It would be a matter of some difficulty to
designate the best of these tales; we repeat that, without exception,
they are beautiful.

He has the purest style, the finest taste, the most available
scholarship, the most delicate humor, the most touching pathos, the
most radiant imagination, the most consummate ingenuity; and with
these varied good qualities he has done well as a mystic. But is there
any one of these qualities which should prevent his doing doubly as
well in a career of honest, upright, sensible, prehensible and
comprehensible things? Let him mend his pen, get a bottle of visible
ink, come out from the "Old Manse," cut Mr. Alcott, hang (if possible)
the editor of The Dial, and throw out of the window to the pigs all
his odd numbers of _The North American Review_.




III

OF WILLIS, BRYANT, HALLECK, AND MACAULAY[7]


Whatever may be thought of Mr. Willis's talents, there can be no doubt
about the fact that, both as an author and as a man, he has made a
good deal of noise in the world - at least for an American. His
literary life, in especial, has been one continual emeute; but then
his literary character is modified or impelled in a very remarkable
degree by his personal one. His success (for in point of fame, if of
nothing else, he has certainly been successful) is to be attributed
one-third to his mental ability and two-thirds to his physical
temperament - the latter goading him into the accomplishment of what
the former merely gave him the means of accomplishing.... At a very
early age, Mr. Willis seems to have arrived at an understanding that,
in a republic such as ours, the mere man of letters must ever be a
cipher, and endeavored, accordingly, to unite the eclat of the
litterateur with that of the man of fashion or of society. He "pushed
himself," went much into the world, made friends with the gentler sex,
"delivered" poetical addresses, wrote "scriptural" poems, traveled,
sought the intimacy of noted women, and got into quarrels with
notorious men. All these things served his purpose - if, indeed, I am
right in supposing that he had any purpose at all. It is quite
probable that, as before hinted, he acted only in accordance with his
physical temperament; but, be this as it may, his personal greatly
advanced, if it did not altogether establish his literary fame. I have
often carefully considered whether, without the physique of which I
speak, there is that in the absolute morale of Mr. Willis which would
have earned him reputation as a man of letters, and my conclusion is
that he could not have failed to become noted in some degree under
almost any circumstances, but that about two-thirds (as above stated)
of his appreciation by the public should be attributed to those
adventures which grew immediately out of his animal constitution.

[Footnote 7: Passages selected from articles now printed in Volume II
of the "Works of Poe," as published in New York in 1876.]

Mr. Bryant's position in the poetical world is, perhaps, better
settled than that of any American. There is less difference of opinion
about his rank; but, as usual, the agreement is more decided in
private literary circles than in what appears to be the public
expression of sentiment as gleaned from the press. I may as well
observe here, too, that this coincidence of opinion in private circles
is in all cases very noticeable when compared with the discrepancy of
the apparent public opinion. In private it is quite a rare thing to
find any strongly-marked disagreement - I mean, of course, about mere
authorial merit.... It will never do to claim for Bryant a genius of
the loftiest order, but there has been latterly, since the days of Mr.
Longfellow and Mr. Lowell, a growing disposition to deny him genius in
any respect. He is now commonly spoken of as "a man of high poetical
talent, very 'correct,' with a warm appreciation of the beauty of
nature and great descriptive powers, but rather too much of the
old-school manner of Cowper, Goldsmith and Young." This is the truth,
but not the whole truth. Mr. Bryant has genius, and that of a marked
character, but it has been overlooked by modern schools, because
deficient in those externals which have become in a measure symbolical
of those schools.

The name of Halleck is at least as well established in the poetical
world as that of any American. Our principal poets are, perhaps, most
frequently named in this order - Bryant, Halleck, Dana, Sprague,[8]
Longfellow, Willis, and so on - Halleck coming second in the series,
but holding, in fact, a rank in the public opinion quite equal to that
of Bryant. The accuracy of the arrangement as above made may, indeed,
be questioned. For my own part, I should have it thus - Longfellow,
Bryant, Halleck, Willis, Sprague, Dana; and, estimating rather the
poetic capacity than the poems actually accomplished, there are three
or four comparatively unknown writers whom I would place in the series
between Bryant and Halleck, while there are about a dozen whom I
should assign a position between Willis and Sprague. Two dozen at
least might find room between Sprague and Dana - this latter, I fear,
owing a very large portion of his reputation to his quondam editorial
connection with _The North American Review_. One or two poets, now in
my mind's eye, I should have no hesitation in posting above even Mr.
Longfellow - still not intending this as very extravagant praise....
Mr. Halleck, in the apparent public estimate, maintains a somewhat
better position than that to which, on absolute grounds, he is
entitled. There is something, too, in the bonhomie of certain of his
compositions - something altogether distinct from poetic merit - which
has aided to establish him; and much also must be admitted on the
score of his personal popularity, which is deservedly great. With all
these allowances, however, there will still be found a large amount of
poetical fame to which he is fairly entitled.... Personally he is a
man to be admired, respected, but more especially beloved. His address
has all the captivating bonhomie which is the leading feature of his
poetry, and, indeed, of his whole moral nature. With his friends he
is all ardor, enthusiasm and cordiality, but to the world at large he
is reserved, shunning society, into which he is seduced only with
difficulty, and upon rare occasions. The love of solitude seems to
have become with him a passion.

[Footnote 8: Charles Sprague, born in Boston in 1791, was known in his
own day as "the American Pope."]

Macaulay has obtained a reputation which, altho deservedly great, is
yet in a remarkable measure undeserved. The few who regard him merely
as a terse, forcible and logical writer, full of thought, and
abounding in original views, often sagacious and never otherwise than
admirably exprest - appear to us precisely in the right. The many who
look upon him as not only all this, but as a comprehensive and
profound thinker, little prone to error, err essentially themselves.
The source of the general mistake lies in a very singular
consideration - yet in one upon which we do not remember ever to have
heard a word of comment. We allude to a tendency in the public mind
toward logic for logic's sake - a liability to confound the vehicle
with the conveyed - an aptitude to be so dazzled by the luminousness
with which an idea is set forth as to mistake it for the luminousness
of the idea itself. The error is one exactly analogous with that which
leads the immature poet to think himself sublime wherever he is
obscure, because obscurity is a source of the sublime - thus
confounding obscurity of expression with the expression of obscurity.
In the case of Macaulay - and we may say, _en passant_, of our own
Channing - we assent to what he says too often because we so very
clearly understand what it is that he intends to say. Comprehending
vividly the points and the sequence of his argument, we fancy that we
are concurring in the argument itself. It is not every mind which is
at once able to analyze the satisfaction it receives from such essays
as we see here. If it were merely beauty of style for which they were
distinguished - if they were remarkable only for rhetorical
flourishes - we would not be apt to estimate these flourishes at more
than their due value. We would not agree with the doctrines of the
essayist on account of the elegance with which they were urged. On the
contrary, we would be inclined to disbelief. But when all ornament
save that of simplicity is disclaimed - when we are attacked by
precision of language, by perfect accuracy of expression, by
directness and singleness of thought, and above all by a logic the


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Online LibraryHenry Cabot LodgeThe Best of the World's Classics, Restricted to Prose, Vol. X (of X) - America - II, Index → online text (page 2 of 17)