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purer air. We do not sigh for impossibilities; we cry

" Bring these anew, and set me once again

In the delusion of life's infancy ;
I was not happy, but I knew not then

That happy I was never doomed to be."

We know that we are not happy. We know that life
perhaps was not given us to be continuously comfortable
and happy. We have been behind the scenes, and know
all the illusions ; but when we are old we are far too wise to
throw life away for mere ennui. With Dandolo, refusing a
crown at ninety-six, winning battles at ninety -four; with
Wellington, planning and superintending fortifications at
eighty; with Bacon and Humboldt, students to the last
gasp ; with wise old Montaigne, shrewd in his gray-beard
wisdom and loving life, even in the midst of his fits of gout
and colic, Age knows far too much to act like a sulky
child. It knows too well the results and the value of
things to care about them ; that the ache will subside, the
pain be lulled, the estate we coveted be worth little ; the
titles, ribbons, gewgaws, honors, be all more or less worth-
less. " Who has honor ? Pie that died o' Wednesday ! '
Such a one passed us in the race, and gained it but to fall.
We are still up and doing ; we may be frosty and shrewd,
but kindly. We can wish all men well ; like them, too, so


far as they may be liked, and smile at the fuss, bother, hurry,
and turmoil, which they make about matters which to us are
worthless dross. The greatest prize in the whole market
in any and in every market success, is to the old man
nothing. He little cares who is up and who is down ; the
present he lives in and delights in. Thus, in one of those
admirable comedies in which Robson acted, we find the son
a wanderer, the mother's heart nearly broken, the father
torn and broken by a suspicion of his son's dishonesty, but
the grandfather all the while concerned only about his gruel
and his handkerchief. Even the pains and troubles incident
to his state visit the old man lightly. Because Southey sat
for months in his library, unable to read or touch the books
he loved, we are not to infer that he was unhappy. If the
stage darkens as the curtain falls, certain it also is that the
senses grow duller and more blunted. " Don't cry for me,
my dear," said an old lady undergoing an operation ; " I do
not feel it."

It seems to us, therefore, that a great deal of unnecessary
pity has been thrown away upon old age. We begin at
school reading Cicero's treatise, hearing him talk with Scipio
and Lcelius ; we hear much about poor old men ; we are
taught to admire the vigor, quickness, and capacity of youth
and manhood. We lose sight of the wisdom which age
brings even to the most foolish. We think that a circum-
scribed sphere must necessarily be an unhappy one. It is
not always so. What one abandons in growing old is per-
haps after all not worth having. The chief part of youth is
but excitement; often both unwise and unhealthy. The
same pen which has written, with a morbid feeling, that
" there is a class of beings who do grow old in their youth
and die ere middle age," tells us ako that " the best of life is
but intoxication." That passes away. The man who has
grown old does not care about it. The author at that period
has no feverish excitement about seeing himself in print;


he does not hunt newspapers for reviews and notices. He
is content to wait; he knows what fame is worth. The
ohscure man of science, who has been wishing to make the
world better and wiser ; the struggling curate, the poor and
hard-tried man of God ; the enthusiastic reformer, who has
watched the sadly slow dawning of progress and liberty ;
the artist, whose dream of beauty slowly fades before his
dim eyes all lay down their feverish wishes as they
advance in life, forget the bright ideal which they cannot
reach, and embrace the more imperfect real. We speak not
here of the assured Christian. He, from the noblest pinna-
cle of faith, beholds a promised land, and is eager to reach
it ; he prays " to be delivered from the body of this death " ;
but we write of those humbler, perhaps more human souls,
with whom increasing age each day treads down an illu-
sion. All feverish wishes, raw and inconclusive de-ires,
have died clown, and a calm beauty and peace survive ;
passions are dead, temptations weakened or conquered ;
experience has been won ; selfish interests are widened
into universal ones ; vain, idle hopes, have merged into a
firmer faith or a complete knowledge ; and more light
has broken in upon the soul's dark cottage, battered and
decayed, " through chinks which Time has made."

Again, old men are valuable, not only as relics of the
past, but as guides and prophets for the future. They know
the pattern of every turn of life's kaleidoscope. The colors
merely fall into new shapes ; the groundwork is just the
same. The good which a calm, kind, and cheerful old man
can do is incalculable. And whilst he does good to others,
he enjoys himself. He looks not unnaturally to that which
should accompany old age honor, love, obedience, troops
of friends ; and he plays his part in the comedy or tragedy
of life with as much gusto as any one else. Old Montague
or Capulet, and old Polonius, that wise maxim-man, enjoy
themselves quite as well as the moody Hamlet, the perturbed


Laertes, or even gallant Mercutio or love-sick Romeo.
Friar Lawrence, who is a good old man, is perhaps the
happiest of all in the dramatis persona, unless we take
the gossiping, garrulous old nurse, with her sunny recollec-
tions of maturity and youth. The great thing is to have
the mind well employed, to work whilst it is yet day. The
precise Duke of Wellington, answering every letter with
" F. M. presents his compliments "; the wondrous worker
Humboldt, with his orders of knighthood, stars, and ribbons,
lying dusty in his drawer, still contemplating Cosmos, and
answering his thirty letters a day, were both men in ex-
ceedingly enviable, happy positions ; they had reached the
top of the hill, and could look back quietly over the rough
road which they had travelled. We are not all Humboldts
or Wellingtons ; but we can all be busy and good. Experi-
ence must teach us all a great deal ; and if it only teaches
us not to fear the future, not to cast a maundering regret
over the past, we can be as happy in old age ay, and far
more so than we were in youth. We are no longer the
fools of time and error. We are leaving by slow degrees
the old world; we stand upon the threshold of the new;
not without hope, but without fear, in an exceedingly natu-
ral position, with nothing strange or dreadful about it ; with
our domain drawn within a narrow circle, but equal to our
power. Muscular strength, organic instincts, are all gone ;
but what then ? We do not want them ; we are getting
ready for the great change, one which is just as necessary
as it was to be born ; and to a little child perhaps one is not
a whit more painful, perhaps not so painful as the other.
The wheels of Time have brought us to the goal ; we are
about to rest while others labor, to stay at home while
others wander. We touch at last the mysterious door,
are we to be pitied or to be envied ?



YOU shall not be over-bold
When you deal with arctic cold,
As late I found ray lukewarm blood
Chilled wading in the snow-choked wood.
How should I fight ? ray foeman fine
Has million arms to one of mine.
East, west, for aid I looked in vain ;
East, west, north, south, are his domain.
Miles off, three dangerous miles, is home ;
Must borrow his winds who there would comet
Up and away for life ! be fleet !
The frost-king ties my fumbling feet,
Sings in my ears, my hands are stones,
Curdles the blood to the marble bones,
Tugs at the heartstrings, numbs the sense,
Hems in the life with narrowing fence.

Well, in this broad bed lie and sleep,

The punctual stars will vigil keep,

pnbalmed by purifying cold,

The winds shall sing their dead-march old,

The snow is no ignoble shroud,

Che moon thy mourner, and the cloud.

Softly, but this way fate was pointing,
'T was coming fast to such anointing,


When piped a tiny voice hard by,
Gay and polite, a cheerful cry,
" Chic-chic-a-dee-dee!" saucy note,
Out of sound heart and merry throat,
As if it said, " Good day, good sir I
Fine afternoon, old passenger !
Happy to meet you in these places,
Where January brings few men's faces."

This poet, though he live apart,

Moved by a hospitable heart,

Sped, when I passed his sylvan fort,

To do the honors of his court,

As fits a feathered lord of land,

Flew near, with soft wing grazed my hand,

Hopped on the bough, then, darting low,

Prints his small impress on the snow,

Shows feats of his gymnastic play,

Head downward, clinging to the spray.

Here was this atom in full breath

Hurling defiance at vast death,

This scrap of valor just for play

Fronts the north-wind in waistcoat gray,

As if to shame my weak behavior.

I greeted loud my little saviour :

" Thou pet ! what dost here ? and what for?

In these woods, thy small Labrador

At this pinch, wee San Salvador !

What fire burns in that little chest,

So frolic, stout, and self-possest ?

Didst steal the glow that lights the West ?

Henceforth I wear no stripe but thine :

Ashes and black all hues outshine.

Why are not diamonds black and gray,

To ape thy dare-devil array ?


And I affirm the spacious North
Exists to draw thy virtue forth.
I think no virtue goes with size :
The reason of all cowardice
Is, that men are overgrown,
And, to be valiant, must come down
To the titmouse dimension."

'T is good-will makes intelligence,

And I began to catch the sense

Of my bird's song : " Live out of doors,

In the great woods, and prairie floors.

I dine in the sun ; when he sinks in the sea,

I, too, have a hole in a hollow tree.

And I like less when summer beats

With stifling beams on these retreats

Than noontide twilight which snow makes

With tempest of the blinding flakes :

For well the soul, if stout within,

Can arm irnpregnably the skin ;

And polar frost my frame defied,

Made of the air that blows outside."

With glad remembrance of my debt,
I homeward turn. Farewell, my pet !
When here again thy pilgrim comes,
He shall bring store of seeds and crumbs.
Henceforth I prize thy wiry chant
O'er all that mass and minster vaunt :
For men mishear thy call in spring,
As 't would accost some frivolous wing,
Crying out of the hazel copse, " Phe be ! "
And in winter " Chic-a-dee-dee ! "
I think old Crcsar must have heard
In Northern Gaul my dauntless bird,


And, echoed in some frosty wold,
Borrowed thy battle-numbers bold.
And I shall write our annals new,
And thank thee for a better clew :
I, who dreamed not, when I came here.
To find the antidote of fear,
Now hear thee say in Roman key,
"Paan! Ve-ni, Vi-di, Vi-ci."



DOCTOR DOLLIVER, a worthy personage of ex-
treme antiquity, was aroused rather prematurely, one
summer morning, by the shouts of the child Pansie, in an
adjoining chamber, summoning Old Martha (who performed
the duties of nurse, housekeeper, and kitchen-maid, in the
Doctor's establishment) to take up her little ladyship and
dress her. The old gentleman woke with more than his cus-
tomary alacrity, and, after taking a moment to gather his
wits about him, pulled aside the faded moreen curtains of
his ancient bed, and thurst his head into a beam of sunshine
that caused him to wink and withdraw it again. This tran-
sitory glimpse of good Dr. Dolliver showed a flannel night-
cap, fringed round with stray locks of silvery white hair,
and surmounting a meagre and duskily yellow visage, which
was crossed and criss-crossed with a record of his long life
in wrinkles, faithfully written, no doubt, but with such
cramped chirography of Father Time that the purport was
illegible. It seemed hardly worth while for the patriarch
to get out of bed any more, and bring his forlorn shadow
into the summer day that was made for younger folks. The
Doctor, however, was by no means of that opinion, being con-
siderably encouraged towards the toil of living twenty-four
hours longer by the comparative ease with which he found


himself going through the usually painful process of bestirring
bis rusty joints, (stiffened by the very rest and sleep that
should have made them pliable,) and putting them in a
condition to bear his weight upon the floor. Nor was he
absolutely disheartened by the idea of those tonsorial, ablu-
tionary. and personally decorative labors which are apt to
become so intolerably irksome to an old gentleman, after
performing them daily and daily for fifty, sixty, or seventy
years, and finding them still as immitigably recurrent as at
first. Dr. Dolliver could nowise account for this happy
condition of his spirits and physical energies, until he
remembered taking an experimental sip of a certain cordial
which was long ago prepared by his grandson and carefully
sealed up in a bottle, and had been reposited in a dark closet
among a parcel of effete medicines ever since that gifted
young man's death.

" It may have wrought effect upon me," thought the Doc-
tor, shaking his head as he lifted it again from the pillow.
" It may be so ; for poor Cornelius oftentimes instilled a
strange efficacy into his perilous drugs. But I will rather
believe it to be the operation of God's mercy, which may
have temporarily invigorated my feeble age for little Pan-
sie's sake."

A twinge of his familiar rheumatism, as he put his foot
out of. bed, taught him that he must not reckon too confi-
dently upon even a day's respite from the intrusive family
of aches and infirmities which, with their proverbial fidelity
to attachments once formed, had long been the closest ac-
quaintances that the poor old gentleman had in the world.
Nevertheless, he fancied the twinge a little less poignant
than those of yesterday ; and, moreover, after stinging him
pretty smartly, it passed gradually off with a thrill, which,
in its latter stages, grew to be almost agreeable. Pain is
but pleasure too strongly emphasized. With cautious move-
ments, aiid only a groan or two, the good Doctor transferred

13 8


himself from the bed to the floor, where he stood awhile
gazing from one piece of quaint furniture to another, (such
as stiff-backed Mayflower chairs, an oaken chest-of-drawers
carved cunningly with shapes of animals and wreaths of
foliage, a table with multitudinous legs, a family -record in
faded embroidery, a shelf of black-bound books, a dirty
heap of gallipots and phials in a dim corner,) gazing at
these things and steadying himself by the bedpost, while
his inert brain, still partially benumbed with sleep, came
slowly into accordance with the realities about him. The
object which most helped to bring Dr. Dolliver completely
to his waking perceptions was one that common observers
might suppose to have been snatched bodily out of his
dreams. The same sunbeam that had dazzled the Doctor
between the bed-curtains gleamed on the weather-beaten
gilding which had once adorned this mysterious symbol, and
showed it to be an enormous serpent, twining round a wood-
en post, and reaching quite from the floor of the chamber to
its ceiling.

It was evidently a thing that could boast of considerable
antiquity, the dry-rot having eaten out its eyes and gnawed
away the tip of its tail ; and it must have stood long ex-
posed to the atmosphere, for a kind of gray moss had par-
tially overspread its tarnished gilt surface, and a swallow, or
other familiar little bird, in some by-gone summer, seemed
to have built its. nest in the yawning and exaggerated
mouth. It looked like a kind of Manichean idol, which
might have been elevated on a pedestal for a century or so,
enjoying the worship of its votaries in the open air. until
the impious sect perished from among men, all save old
Dr. Dolliver, who had set up the monster in his bedchamber
for the convenience of private devotion. But we are un-
pardonable in suggesting such a fantasy to the prejudice of
our venerable friend, knowing him to have been as pious
and upright a Christian, and with as little of the serpent in


his character, as ever came of Puritan lineage. Not to
make a further mystery about a very simple matter, this
bedimmcd and rotten reptile was once the medical emhlem
or apothecary's sign of the famous Dr. Swinnerton, who
practised physic in the earlier days of New England, when a
head of ^sculapius or Hippocrates would have vexed the
souls of the righteous as .savoring of heathendom. The
ancient dispenser of drugs had therefore set up an image of
the Brazen Serpent, and followed his business for many
years, with great credit under this Scriptural device; and
Dr. Dolliver, being the apprentice, pupil, and humble friend
of the learned Swinnerton's old age, had inherited the sym-
bolic snake, and much other valuable property, by his be-

While the patriarch was putting on his small-clothes, he
took care to stand in the parallelogram of bright sunshine
that fell upon the uncarpeted floor. The summer warmth
was very genial to his system, and yet made him shiver ;
his wintry veins rejoiced at it, though the reviving blood
tingled through them with a half painful and only half
pleasurable titillation. For the first few moments after
creeping out of bed, he kept his back to the sunny window
and seemed mysteriously shy of glancing thitherward ; but
as the June fervor pervaded him more and more thoroughly,
he turned bravely about, and looked forth at a burial-ground
on the corner of which he dwelt. There lay many an old
acquaintance, who had gone to sleep with the flavor of Dr.
Dolliver's tinctures and powders upon his tongue ; it was
the patient's final bitter taste of this world, and perhaps
doomed to be a recollected nauseousness in the next. Ye.>-
terday, in the chill of his forlorn old age, the Doctor expect-
ed r-oon to stretch out his weary bones among that quiet
community, and might scarcely have shrunk from the pros-
pect on his own account, except, indeed, that he dreamily
mixed up the infirmities of his present condition with the


repose of the approaching one, being haunted by a notion
that the damp earth, under the grass and dandelions, must
needs be pernicious for his cough and his rheumatism. But,
this morning, the cheerful sunbeams, or the mere taste of
his grandson's cordial that he had taken at bedtime, or the
fitful vigor that often sports irreverently with aged people,
had caused an unfrozen drop of youthfulness, somewhere
within him, to expand.

" Hem ! ahem ! " quoth the Doctor, hoping with one effort
to clear his throat of the dregs of a ten years' cough.
"Matters are not so far gone with rne as I thought. I
have known mighty sensible men, when only a little age-
stricken or otherwise out of sorts, to die of mere faintheart-
edness, a great deal sooner than they need."

He shook his silvery head at his own image in the look-
ing-glass, as if to impress the apophthegm on that shadowy
representative of himself; and for his part, he determined
to pluck up a spirit and live as long as he possibly could, if
it were only for the sake of little Pansie, who stood as close
to one extremity o f human life as her great-grandfather tc
the other. This child of three years old occupied all the
unfossilized portion of good Dr. Dolliver's heart. Every
other interest that he formerly had, and the entire confra-
ternity of persons whom he once loved, had long ago
departed, and the poor Doctor could not follow them, be-
cause the grasp of Pansie's baby-fingers held him back.

So he crammed a great silver watch into his fob, and
drew on a patchwork morning-gown of an ancient fashion.
Its original material was said to have been the embroidered
front of his own wedding-waistcoat and the silken skirt of
his wife's bridal attire, which his eldest granddaughter had
taken from the carved chest-of-drawers, after poor Bessie,
the beloved of his youth, had been half a century in the
grave. Throughout many of the intervening years, as the
garment got ragged, the spinsters of the old man's family


had quilted their duty and affection into it in the shape of
patches upon patches, rose-color, crimson, blue, violet; and
green, and then (as their hopes faded, and their life kept
growing shadier, and their attire took a sombre hue) sober
pray and great fragments of funereal black, until the Doctor
could revive the memory of most things that had befallen
him by looking at his patchwork-gown, as it hung upon a
.chair. And now it was ragged again, and all the fingers
that should have mended it were cold. It had an Eastern
fragrance, too, a smell of drugs, strong-scented herbs, and
spicy gums, gathered from the many potent infusions that
had from time to time been spilt over it ; so that, snuffing
him afar off, you might have taken Dr. Dolliver for a mum-
my, and could hardly have been undeceived by his shrunken
and torpid aspect, as he crept nearer.

Wrapt in his odorous and many-colored robe, he took
staff in hand and moved pretty vigorously to the head of
the staircase. As it was somewhat steep, and but dimly
lighted, he began cautiously to descend, putting his left hand
on the banister, and poking down his long stick to assist him
in making sure of the successive steps ; and thus he became
a living illustration of the accuracy of Scripture, where it
describes the aged as being " afraid of that which is high,"
a truth that is often found to have a sadder purport than
its external one. Half-way to the bottom, however, the
Doctor heard the impatient and authoritative tones of little
Pansie, Queen Pansie, as she might fairly have been
styled, in reference to her position in the' household, call-
ing amain for grandpapa and breakfast. He was startled
into such perilous activity by the summons, that his heels
slid on the stairs, the slippers were shuffled off his feet, and
he saved himself from a tumble only by quickening his
pace, and coming down at almost u run.

" Mercy on my poor old bones ! " mentally exclaimed the
Doctor, fancying himself fractured in fifty places. " Some


of them are broken, surely, and metliinks my heart has
leaped out of my mouth ! What ! all right ? Well, well !
but Providence is kinder to me than I deserve, prancing
down this steep staircase like a kid of three months old ! "

He bent stiffly to gather up his slippers and fallen staff;
and meanwhile Pansie had heard the tumult of her great-
grandfather's descent, and was pounding against the door
of the breakfast-room in her haste to come at him. The
Doctor opened it, and there she stood, a rather pale and
large-eyed little thing, quaint in her aspect, as might well
be the case with a motherless child, dwelling in an uncheer-
ful house, with no other playmates than a decrepit old man
and a kitten, and no better atmosphere within-doors than
the odor of decayed apothecary's stuff, nor gayer neighbor-
hood than that of the adjacent burial-ground, where all her
relatives, from her great-grandmother downward, lay calling
to her, " Pansie, Pansie, it is bedtime ! " even in the prime of
the summer morning. For those dead women-folk, especi-
ally her mother and the whole row of maiden aunts and
grand-aunts, could not but be anxious about the child, know-
ing that little Pansie would be far safer under a tuft of
dandelions than if left alone, as she soon must be, in this
difficult and deceitful world.

Yet, in spite of the lack of damask roses in her cheeks,
she seemed a healthy child, and certainly showed great ca-
pacity of energetic movement in the impulsive capers with
which she welcomed her venerable progenitor. She shouted
out her satisfaction, moreover, (as her custom was, having
never had any over-sensitive auditors about her to tame
down her voice,) till even the Doctor's dull ears were full
of the clamor.

" Pansie, darling," said Dr. Dolliver cheerily, patting her
brown hair with his tremulous fingers, " thou hast put some
of thine own friskiness into poor old grandfather, this fine
morning ! Dost know, child, that he came near breaking his


necK down-stairs at the sound of thy voice? What wouldst
thou have done then, little Pansie ? "

Online Libraryi00bostFavorite authors in prose and poetry → online text (page 63 of 66)