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u And I myself will teach to him,

I myself, lying so,
The songs I sing here ; which his voice

Shall pause in, hushed and slow,
And find some knowledge at each pause,

Or some new thing to know."

(Ah sweet ! Just now, in that bird's song,

Strove not her accents there
Fain to be hearkened ? When those bell*

Possessed the midday air,
"Was she not stepping to my side

Down all the trembling stair ? )

** We two," she said, " will seek the groves

Where the Lady Mary is,
With her five handmaidens, whose names

Are five sweet symphonies,
Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,

Margaret, and Rosalys.

" Circlewise sit they, with bound locks

And foreheads garlanded ;
Into the fine cloth white like flame

Weaving the golden thread,
To fashion the birth-robes for them

Who are just born, being dead.

" He shall tear, haply, and be dumb ;

Then I will lay my cheek
To his, and tell about our love,

Not once abashed or weak ;
And the dear Mother will approve

My pride, and let me speak.


" Herself shall bring us, hand in hand,
To Him round whom all souls

Kneel, the unnumbered ransomed heada
Bowed with their aureoles :

And angels meeting us shall sing
To their citherns and citoles.

"There will I ask of Christ the Lord
Thus much for him and me :

Only to live as once on earth
At peace, only to be,

As then awhile, forever now
Together, I and he."

She gazed, and listened, and then said,
Less sad of speech than mild,

" All this is when he comes." She ceased.
The light thrilled past her,

Filled with angels in strong level lapse.
Her eyes prayed, and she smiled.

(I saw her smile.) But soon their flight
Was vague in distant spheres ;

And then she laid her arms along
The golden barriers,

And laid her face between her hands,
And wept. (I heard her tears.)



JTVILL begin with winter, and I will suppose it to be
Christmas. The priest, whom we shall imagine to be a
German, and summoned from the southern climate of Ger-
many upon presentation to the church of a Swedish hamlet
lying in a high polar latitude, rises in cheerfulness about
seven o'clock in the morning; and till half past nine he
burns his lamp. At nine o'clock the stars are still shining,
and the unclouded moon even yet longer. This prolonga-
tion of starlight into the forenoon is to him delightful ; for
he is a German, and has a sense of something marvellous in
a starry forenoon. Methinks I behold the priest and his
flock moving towards the church with lanterns : the lights
dispersed amongst the crowd connect the congregation into
the appearance of some domestic group or larger household,
and carry the priest back to his childish years during the
winter season and Christmas matins, when every hand bore
its candle. Arrived at the pulpit, he declares to his audi-
ence the plain truth, word for word, as it stands in the
Gospel : in the presence of God, all intellectual pretension?
are called upon to be silent ; the very reason ceases to be
reasonable ; nor is anything reasonable in the sight of God

but a sincere and upright heart.

Just as he and his flock are issuing from the church, the


bright Christmas sun ascends above the horizon, and shoots
his beams upon their faces. The old men, who are numer-
ous in Sweden, are all tinged with the colors of youth by
the rosy morning-lustre ; and the priest, as he looks away
from them to mother earth lying in the sleep of winter, and
to the churchyard, where the flowers and the men are all
in their graves together, might secretly exclaim with the
poet : " Upon the dead mother, in peace and utter gloom,
are reposing the dead children. After a time, uprises the
everlasting sun ; and the mother starts up at the summons
of the heavenly dawn with a resurrection of her ancient
gloom : And her children ? Yes : but they must wait

At home he is awaited by a warm study, and a " long-
levelled rule " of sunlight upon the book-clad wall.

The afternoon he spends delightfully ; for, having before
him such a perfect flower-stand of pleasures, he scarcely
knows where he should settle. Supposing it to be Christ-
mas day, he preaches again : he preaches on a subject which
calls up images of the beauteous Eastern land, or of eter-
nity. By this time, twilight and gloom prevail through the
church : only a couple of wax lights upon the altar throw
wondrous and mighty shadows through the aisles : the angel
that hangs down from the roof above the baptismal font is
awoke into a solemn life by the shadows and the rays
and seems almost in the act of ascension : through the
windows, the stars or the moon are beginning to peer:
aloft, in the pulpit, which is now hid in gloom, the priest is
inflamed and possessed by the sacred burden of glad tidings
which he is announcing: he is lost and insensible to all
besides; and from amidst the darkness which surrounds
him he pours down his thunders, with tears and agitation,
reasoning of future worlds, and of the heaven of heavens,
and 'whatsoever else can most powerfully shake the heart
and the affections.


Descending from his pulpit in these holy fervors, he now,
perhaps, takes a walk : it is about four o'clock : and he walks
beneath a sky lit up by the shifting northern lights, that to
his eye appear but an Aurora striking upwards from the
eternal morning of the south, or as a forest composed of
saintly thickets, like the fiery bushes of Moses, that are
round the throne of God.

Thus, if it be the afternoon of Christmas day : but if it
be any other afternoon, visitors, perhaps, come and bring
their well-bred grown-up daughters; like the fashionable
world in London, he dines at sunset ; that is to say, like the
Mw-fashionable world of London, he dines at two o'clock ;
and he drinks coffee by moonlight ; and the parsonage-house
becomes an % en chanted palace of pleasure, gleaming with
twilight, starlight, and moonlight. Or, perhaps, he goes
over to the schoolmaster, who is teaching his afternoon
school : there, by the candlelight, he gathers round his knees
all the scholars, as if being the children of his spiritual
children they must therefore be his own grandchildren ;
and with delightful words he wins their attention, and pours
knowledge into their docile hearts.

All these pleasures failing, he may pace up and down in
his library, already, by three o'clock, gloomy with twilight,
but fitfully onlivened by a glowing fire, and steadily by the
bright moonlight ; and he needs do no more than taste at
every turn of his walk a little orange marmalade, to call
up images of beautiful Italy, and its gardens and orange
groves, before all his five senses, and, as it were, to the very
tip of his tongue. Looking at the moon, he will not fail to
recollect that the very same silver disk hangs at the very
eame moment between the branches of the laurels in Italy.
It will delight him to consider that the JEolian harp and
the lark, and indeed music of all kinds, and the stars and
children, are just the same in hot climates and in cold.
And when the post-boy, that rides in with news from Italy,


winds Ms horn through the hamlet, and with a few simple
notes raises up on the frozen window of his study a vision
of flowery realms ; and when he plays with treasured leaves
of roses and of lilies from some departed summer, or with
plumes of a bird of Paradise, the memorial of some distant
friend ; when further, his heart is moved by the magnificent
sounds of Lady-day, Salad-season, Cherry-time, Trinity-
Sundays, the rose of June, &c., how can he fail to forget
that he is in Sweden by the time that his lamp is brought
in ? and then, indeed, he will be somewhat disconcerted to
recognize his study in what had now shaped itself to his
fancy as a room in some foreign land. However, if he
would pursue this airy creation, he need but light at his
lamp a wax-candle-end, to gain a glimpse through the
whole evening into that world of fashion and splendor from
which he purchased the said wax-candle-end. For I
should suppose, that at the court of Stockholm, as else-
where, there must be candle-ends to be bought of the

But now, after the lapse of half a year, all at once there
strikes upon his heart something more beautiful than Italy,
where the sun sets so much earlier in summer-time than it
does at our Swedish hamlet : and what is that ? It is the
longest day, with the rich freight that it carries in its bosom,
and leading by the hand the early dawn, blushing with rosy
light and melodious with the carolling of larks at one
o'clock in the morning. Before two, that is, at sunrise,
the elegant party that we mentioned last winter arrive in
gay clothing at the parsonage; for they are bound on a
little excursion of pleasure in company with the priest. At
two o'clock they are in motion ; at which time all the flowers
are glittering, and the forests are gleaming with the mighty
light. The warm sun threatens them with no storm nor
thunder-showers ; for both are rare in Sweden. The priest,
in common with the rest of the company, is attired in the


costume of Sweden ; he wears his short jacket with a broad
scarf, his short cloak above that, his round hat with floating
plumes, and shoes tied with bright ribbons : like the rest
of the men, he resembles a Spanish knight, or a prove^al,
or other man of the South ; more especially when he and
his gay company are seen flying through the lofty foliage
luxuriant with blossom, that within so short a period of
weeks has shot forth from the garden-plots and the naked

That a longest day like this, bearing such a cornucopia
of sunshine, of cloudless ether, of buds and bells, of blossoms
and of leisure, should pass away more rapidly than the
shortest, is not difficult to suppose. As early as eight
o'clock in the,evening the party breaks up ; the sun is now
burning more gently over the half-closed, sleepy flowers :
about nine he lias mitigated his rays, and is beheld bathing,
as it were, naked in the blue depths of heaven : about ten,
at which hour the company reassemble at the parsonage,
the priest is deeply moved, for throughout the hamlet,
though the tepid sun, now sunk to the horizon, is still shed-
ding a sullen glow upon the cottages and the window-panes,
everything reposes in profoundest silence and sleep : the
birds even are all slumbering in the golden summits of the
woods : and at last, the solitary sun himself sets, like a moon,
amidst the universal quiet of nature. To our priest, walk-
ing in his romantic dress, it seems as though rosy-colored
realms were laid open, in which fairies and spirits range ;
and he would scarcely feel an emotion of wonder, if, in this
hour of golden vision, his brother, who ran away in child-
hood, should suddenly present himself as one alighting from
some blooming heaven of enchantment.

The priest will not allow his company to depart: he
detains them in the parsonage garden, where, says he,
every one that chooses may slumber away in beautiful
bowers the brief, warm hours until the reappearance of


the sun. This proposal is generally adopted ; and the gar-
den is occupied : many a lovely pair are making believe to
sleep, but, in fact, are holding each other by the hand.
The happy priest walks up and down through the parterres.
Coolness comes, and a few stars. His nigl it- violets and
gillyflowers open and breathe out their powerful odors. To
the north, from the eternal morning of the pole, exhales as
it were a golden dawn. The priest thinks of the village of
his childhood far away in Germany ; he thinks of the life of
man, his hopes, and his aspirations : and he is calm and at
peace with himself. Then all at once starts up the morning
sun in his freshness. Some there are in the garden who
would fain confound it with the evening sun, and close their
eyes again: but the larks betray all, and awaken every
sleeper from bower to bower.

Then again begin pleasure and morning in their pomp of
radiance ; and almost I could persuade myself to delineate
the course of this day also, though it differs from its pre-
decessor hard]y by so much as the leaf of a rose-bud.



WITH fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread,

Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt ;

And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the " Song of the Shirt ! "

"Work! work! work!

While the cock is crowing aloof !
And work work work

Till the stars shine through the roof !
It 's, O, to be a slave

Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,

If this is Christian work !

" Work work work !

. Till the brain begins to swim !
Work work work

Till the eyes are heavy and dim !
Seam, and gusset, and band,

Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,

And sew them on in a dream !


" O men with sisters dear !

O men with mothers and wives !
It is not linen you 're wearing out,

But human creatures' lives !
Stitch stitch stitch,

Tn poverty, hunger, and dirt,
Sewing at once, with a double thread,

A shroud as well as a shirt !

" But why do I talk of death,

That phantom of grisly bone ?
I hardly fear his terrible shape,

It seems so like my own,

It seems so like my own

Because of the fasts I keep ;
God ! that bread should be so dear,

And flesh and blood so cheap !

" "Work work work !

My labor never flags ;
And what are its wages ? A bed of straw,

A crust of bread and rags,
That shattered roof ^and this naked floor

A table a broken chair
And a wall so blank my shadow I thank

For sometimes falling there !

" Work work work !

From weary chime to chime !
Work work work

As prisoners work for crime !
Band, and gusset, and seam,

Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick and the brain benumbed,

As well as the weary hand.


" "Work work work !

In the dull December light !
And work work work

When the weather is warm and bright !
While underneath the eaves

The brooding swallows cling,
As if to show me their sunny backs,

And twit me with the Spring.

" O but to breathe the breath

Of the cowslip and primrose sweet,
With the sky above my head,

And the grass beneath my feet !
Foronly one short hour

To feel as I used to feel,
Before I knew the woes of want

And the walk that costs a meal !

" O but for one short hour,

A respite, however brief !
No blessed leisure for love or hope,

But only time for grief ! -
A little weeping would ease my heart ;

But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop

Hinders needle and thread ! "

With fingers weary and worn,

With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat, in unwomanly rags,

Plying her needle and thread,
Stitch! stitch! stitch!

In poverty, hunger, and dirt ;
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
Would that its tone could reach the rich !

She sang this " Song of the Shirt ! "



JOHN FLAXMAN was a true genius, one of the
greatest artists England has yet produced. He was be-
sides a person of beautiful character, his life furnishing many
salutary lessons for men of all ranks. Flaxman was the son
of a humble seller of plaster-casts in New Street, Covent
Garden; and when a child, he was so constant an inva-
lid that it was his custom to sit behind the shop counter
propped by pillows, amusing himself with drawing and read-
ing. A benevolent clergyman, named Matthews, one day
calling at the shop, found the boy trying to read a book,
and on inquiring what it was, found it was a Cornelius Nepos,
which his father had picked up for a few pence at a bookstall.
The gentleman, after some conversation with the boy, said
that was not the proper book for him to read, but that he
would bring him a right one on the morrow ; and the kind
man was as good as his word. The Rev. Mr. Matthews
used afterwards to say, that from that casual interview with
the cripple little invalid behind the plaster-cast seller's shop-
counter, began an acquaintance which ripened into one of
the best friendships of his life. He brought several books
to the boy, amongst which were Homer and " Don Quix-
ote," in both of which Flaxman then and ever after took
immense delight. His mind was soon full of the heroism
which breathed through the pages of the former work, and,


with the stucco Ajaxes and Achilleses about him, looming
along the shop shelves, the ambition thus early took posses-
sion of him, that lie too would design and embody in poetic
forms those majestic heroes.. His black chalk was at once
in his hand, and the enthusiastic boy labored in a divine
despair to body forth in visible shapes the actions of the
Greeks and Trojans.

Like all youthful efforts, his first designs were crude.
The proud father one day showed them to Roubilliac, the
sculptor, who turned from them with a contemptuous
" Pshaw ! " But the boy had the right stuff in him ; he had
industry and patience ; and he continued to labor incessantly
at his books and drawings. He then tried his young powers
in modelling figures in plaster of Paris, wax, and clay;
some of these early works are still preserved, not because
of their merit, but because they are curious as the first
healthy efforts of patient genius. The boy was long before
he could walk, and he only learned to do so by hobbling
along upon crutches. Hence he could not accompany his
father to see the procession at the coronation of George HI.,
but he entreated his father to bring him back one of the
coronation medals which were to be distributed amongst the
crowd. The pressure was too great to enable the father to
obtain one in the scramble, but, not to disappoint the little
invalid, he obtained a plated button bearing the stamp of a
horse and jockey, which he presented to his son as the
coronation medal. His practice at this time was to make
impressions of all seals and medals that pleased him ; and it
was for this that he so much coveted the medal.

His physical health improving, the little Flaxman then
threw away his crutches. The kind Mr. Matthews invited
him to his house, where his wife explained Homer and
Milton to him. They helped him also in his self-culture,
giving him lessons in Greek and Latin, the study of which
he prosecuted at home. When under Mrs. Matthews, he


also attempted with his bit of charcoal to embody in outline
on paper such passages as struck his fancy. His drawings
could not, however, have been very extraordinary, for when
he showed a drawing of an eye which he had made to Mor-
timer, the artist, that gentleman, with affected surprise,
exclaimed, " Is it an oyster ? " The sensitive boy was
much hurt, and for a time took care to avoid showing his
drawings to artists, who, though a thin-skinned race, are
sometimes disposed to be very savage in their criticisms on
others. At length, by dint of perseverance and study, Ins
drawing improved so much that Mrs. Matthews obtained a
commission for him from a lady, to draw six original draw-
ings in black chalk of subjects in Homer. His first commis-
sion ! A great event that in the boy's life. A surgeon's
first fee, a lawyer's first retainer, a legislator's first speech,
a singer's first appearance behind the footlights, an author's
first book, are not any of them mpre full of interest to the
individual than the artist's first commission. The boy duly
executed the order, and was both well praised and well paid
for his work.

At fifteen Flaxman entered a student at the Royal
Academy. He might then be seen principally in the com-
pany of Blake and Stothard, young men of kindred tastes
and genius, gentle and amiable, yet ardent in their love
of art. Notwithstanding his retiring disposition, Flaxman
soon became known among the students, and great things
were expected of him. Nor were their expectations dis-
appointed : in his fifteenth year he gained the silver prize,
and next year he became a candidate for the gold one.
Everybody prophesied that he would carry off the medal,
for there was none who surpassed him in ability and in-
dustry. The youth did his best, and in his after-life
honestly affirmed that he deserved the prize, but he lost it,
and the gold medal was adjudged to Engleheart, who was not
afterwards heard of. This failure on the part of the youth


was really of service to him ; for defeats do not long cast
down the resolute-hearted, but only serve to call forth their
real powers. " Give me time," said he to his father, " and
I will yet produce works that the Academy will be proud
to recognize." He redoubled his efforts, spared no pains,
designed and modelled incessantly, and consequently made
steady if not rapid progress. But meanwhile poverty
threatened his father's household: the plaster-cast trade
yielded a verj bare living; and young Flaxman, with
resolute self-denial ? curtailed his hours of study, and devoted
himself to helping his father in the humble details of his
business. He laid aside his Homer to take up the plaster-
trowel. He was willing to work in the humblest depart-
ment of tire trade so that his father's family might be
supported, and the wolf kept from the door. To this
drudgery of his art he served a long apprenticeship ; but it
did him good. It familiarized him with steady work, and
cultivated in Mm the spirit of patience. The discipline may
have been rough, but it was wholesome.

Happily young Flaxman's skill in design had reached the
knowledge of Mr. Wedgwood, who sought him out for the
purpose of employing him in designing improved patterns
of china and earthenware to be produced at his manufactory.
It may seem a humble department of art for Flaxman to
have labored in ; but it really was not so. An artist may
be laboring truly in his vocation while designing even so
common an article as a teapot or a water-jug; articles
which are in daily i's-3 amongst the people, and are befcre
their eyes .at every meal, may be made the vehicles of
art-education to all. and minister to their highest culture^
The most ambitious artist nmy thus confer a greater prac-
tical benefit on his countrymen than by executing an elab-
orate work which he may seU frr thousands of pounds, to
be placed in some weHhv map's galle^r, where it is hid-
den away from public sight. Before "Wedgwood's time the


designs which figured upon our china and stoneware were
hideous both in drawing and execution, and he determined
to improve both. Finding out Flaxman, he said to him
" Well, my lad, I have heard that you are a good draughts-
man and clever designer. I 'm a manufacturer of pots,
name Wedgwood. Now, I want you to design some models
for me, nothing fantastic, but simple, tasteful, and correct
in drawing. I '11 pay you well. You don't think the work
beneath you ? " " By no means, sir," replied Flaxman,
" indeed, the work is quite to my taste. Give me a few
days, call again, and you will see what I can do."
" That 's right, work away. Mind, I am in want of them
now. They are for pots of all kinds, teapots, jugs, tea-
cups and saucers. But especially I want designs for a
table-service. Begin with that. I mean to supply one for
the royal table. Now, think of that, young man. What
you design is meant for the eyes of royalty ! " "I will do
my best, sir, I assure you." And the kind gentleman
bustled out of the shop as he had come in.

Flaxman did his best. By the time that Mr. Wedgwood
next called upon him, he had a numerous series of models
prepared for various pieces of earthenware. They con-
sisted chiefly of small groups in very low relief, the
subjects taken from ancient verse and history. Many of
them are still in existence, and some are equal in beauty
and simplicity to his after-designs for marble. The cele-
brated Etruscan vases, many of which were to be found in
public museums and in the cabinets of the curious, furnished
him with the best examples of form, and these he embel-
lished with liis own elegant devices. " Stuart's Athens,"
then recently published, also furnished him with specimens
of the purest-shaped Greek utensils, and he was not slow to
adopt the best of them, and work them up into new and
wondrous shapes of elegance and beauty. Flaxman then
saw that he was laboring in a great work, no less than

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 33 of 66)