George Hooker Colton.

The American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 14) online

. (page 61 of 89)
Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 14) → online text (page 61 of 89)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


or Clelia of Fabius Pictor: they are all
equally distinct or indistinct. Scott's King-
Richard singing of the " Jolly Brown Bowl,"
and exchanging a buffet with the Clerk of
Copmanhirst, seems as firm on the canvas
and as true as Alfred burning the cakes in
the hovel, or Knute rebuking his flatterers
from a chair upon the strand of the channel.
And even as regards the more modern
and authentic annals of history, we scarcely
think they have paid much more respect to
the actual facts of the world. Sir Robert
Walpole used to say to his friends, " Don't
read history ; that nnist be fiilse." And Sir
Walter Raleigh, looking from the window
of his prison in the Tower of London, and
witnessing a quarrel in the court-yard, and
the after-testimony of the by-standers con-
cerning it, was tempted, it is said, to throw
his History of the World into the fire, in
despair of ever being able to gather any
thing like truth from conflictins: authori-
ties. And, certainly, the differences of
writers of history, their doubts concerning
motives, and their disagreements concerning
facts, tend to give us very unsettled ideas
of history in general. Historians have sent



Col. Kirke down to us from James the
Second's reign with a black and bloody re-
nown. But he was not half so black as he
was painted by the angry Whigs of that
and the succeeding times. The story of the
poor girl whose husband he hanged before
her eyes, after she had too dearly purchased
his life, on Kirke's own terms, is said by
Ritson to be an impudent, bare-faced lie.
Richard the Third enjoys a very bad char-
acter, though it is not unlikely the young
princes Avere not murdered in the Tower,
and that Perkin Warbeck was the true
prince after all. The historians of those
Tudor times underlie the strongest sus-
picions for a crowd of falsehoods calci;lated
to secure Henry VH. and his family on the
throne. Then there are Jack Cade and
Wat Tyler : they have been receiving
cruel wrong at the hands of the historians.
They dared, in an age when the rights of
the people were but imperfectly understood,
and the influence of the feudal system still
in its strength, tatake up arms and go to
war with their king and his nobles, for lib-
erty ! Their sufferings and provocations
were undeniable, and their spirit was cer-
tainly heroic — kindred to that which ani-
mated Melcthal, Furst and Stauffacher, at
the Brunnens of Grutli. (Pray Heaven we
may have put these immortal consonants to-
gether correctly !) The Swiss peasants were
successful, and are therefore held in ever-
lasting honor. But the Englishmen failed,
and are hung up as scarecrows and ludihria
on the field of history ! Wat Tyler and
Jack Cade were incited by the same blood
which boiled in the face of tyrants at Nase-
by, Marston, Dunbar, Worcester and else-
where, which warmed the hearts of the first
colonists on Plymouth Rock, and flowed so
freely at Lexington and Bunker Hill. We
should begin to honor these poor English
heroes, in spite of history and — alas ! that
we should say it — in spite of Shakspeare !
It is remarkable to find this myriad-minded
man, so full of the finer humanities of our
nature, yet incapable of sympathizing with
the cause and feelings of the mass of the
lower classes : we do not say people^ because
there was no such thing in his days. But
Shakspeare was, after all, a man of his era ;
and as little dreamed of the democi'atic
evangels of our times as he did of the Da-
guerreotype and the Electric Telegraph.
Then, no man can be sure of the lesser



1851.



Imagination and Fact.



397



details of the annals, thoiigli lie may put
faith in some of the great facts. We are
not indisposed to admit, on oath, if neces-
sary, that there was such a man as Julius
Ca3sar ; though whether he ever said,
" Quid times ? vehis Ccesarem /" to the
boatman; or '■^ Ut tii, Brute?'''' when the re-
publicans set upon him in the Capitol, is a
matter on which our behefs are not so de-
cided. Most of these picturesque proper-
ties of character and of fact — so to speak —
are generally furnished by the flincies and
after-thoughts of the narrators for effect, or
fabricated wilfully for a purpose. We need
not go very far back in history to discover
the truth of this. In the great naval en-
gagement, when the French fleet was beaten
by that under Lord Howe, the historians of
the time set forth that the ship " Vengeur"
being terribly shattered by the cannonade,
and sinking, her flag still flew, and her de-
fenders went down with her, crying, " Vive
la Republique !" to the last. The French
writers did their best to glorify this instance
of devoted patriotism ; and it was thus trans-
mitted. Carlyle, in his History of the
French Revolution, makes quite a cartoon
of it with his own vigorous and picturesque
pencil. But lo ! an English naval officer
who was in the battle, seeing one of his own
country's writers taking the story, came out
in the Times, just after Carlyle's book, and
showed that the poor devils who manned
tlie " Vengeur," instead of dying with
" Long live the Republic" in their mouths,
.eaped overboard and tried to save their
lives as well as they could — small blame to
them ! — and that some hundreds of them
were saved in the British boats. The mes-
sage carried from the dying Desaix to Bona-
parte at Marengo, was a fabrication of the
latter. The story of the Duke of Welling-
ton lying in the hollow-square of the Guards
at Waterloo, and jumping up with, "Up,
Guards, and at them !" is another of the
heroic figments — to be classed with those
wonderfully fine sayings of the great men
of antiquity on grand and critical occasions.
And we are concerned to be under the im-
pression that " A little more grape, Capt.
Bragg," must be ranked in the same cate-

All history, in fact, is more or less fiction.
Hume, in one of his letters to Robertson,
alluding to the publiction of Murdin's State
Papers, which showed several of Hume's



published facts in a new light, says, with
a great deal of candor : " We are all in the
wrong." Indeed, Hume is among those to
whom we are indebted for the imaginative
coloring of history. He brought a host of
Tory prejudices to his task, and a cordial
dislike of the tone and tendencies of Whig-
gery. In this respect our philosophic his-
torian bore a reseinblance to Sir Walter
Scott — the Tory of a latter generation. It
would be needless to go on and give more
instances of the discoloration or falsifying of
historic focts which the annalists are guilty
of. Like the poets,

-" they are such liars,



And take all colors, like the hands of dyers ;"

as any body who has read history with Vol-
taire, or tvitnessed it, like Raleigh or Wal-
pole, can testify for himself.

Imagination, after all, seems to be the
complement of the creation, of facts and
things — whenever the mind busies itself
with these last — the strictly mathematical
excepted. If we contemplate nature, it en-
hances whatever we behold. The moun-
tains, rivers, forests, and the elements that
surround them, would be but blank condi-
tions of matter if the mind did not fling its
own divinity over them. Nature was thus
endowed from the beginning, when men
heard voices in the winds, and saw super-
natural inhabitants in the uncertain shades
of the hills and forests. Beings of an ethe-
real nature walked the earth —

" Meeting on hill, in dale, forest or mead,
By paved fountain or by rushy brook.
Or on the beached margent of the ocean ;"

or were of the number of those who, with
Poseidon,

" Took in, by lot, 'twixt high and nether Jove,
Imperial rule of all the sea-girt isles."

And the modern lovers of nature, though
they no longer recognize the mythologic
people of the ancient beliefs in her pictu-
resque wildernesses, clothe her manifestations
with the attributes of a great supernal
power ; and in the towering of her peaks,
the murmur of her forests and seas, the roar
of her storms, the singing of her nightly
stars, find revelations or prophecies of an-
other condition of existence above and be-
yond this. In this respect the modern
poetry of nature has a nobler scope and



39S



Imagination and Fact.



November,



purer inspiration than the ancient. The
imaginations with which the elements about
us are clothed upon are far profounder than
those of the world's elder families. Shelley,
•Wordsworth and Byron speculate on the
various aspects of nature with a more lofty
philosophy and feeling than do Virgil, The-
oci'itus or Lucretius.

In a lower sense the imagination mate-
rially imposes upon facts. In contemplating
cities, works of art, or even scenes of nature,
we almost always appreciate them for the
associations that belong to them — the im-
aginations they excite ; at least we seem to
do so the more cordially for that considera-
tion. Let us look at a gray, bleak sort of
j^lateau between hills at one side, and the
blue sea at the other, and we see nothing,
perhaps, to admire. But let somebody
come and say, " That is Marathou !" In a
moment, while the blood thrills at the word,
a glory seems to be lightning over the im-
mortal ground ; the air is thick with phan-
toms ;

" to the hearer's eye appear

The camp, the host, the fight, the conqueror's
career ;

" The flying Metle, his shaftless broken bow ;
The fiiery Greek, his red pursuing spear ;
Mountains above, earth's, oceans plain below ;
Death in the front, destruction in the rear !''

It is this quality of the imagination which
gives all old or storied countries that supe-
rior charm which they possess beyond new
and comparatively unhistoric soils. At
sight of battle-fields, religious houses, cathe-
drals, castles, either in ruins or otherwise, we
are gratified in calling up a crowd of
shadows from the dust, and finding a sort
of itiysterious companionship with them,
during those passing reveries in which, as
Campbell truly says,

" 'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view ;"

and it is generally true of the human
mind that it regards the x>ast with a feeling
of tenderness. The philosophers or sans
culottes of the world may say what they
please, but people will have a curious sort
of leaning and looking to these same " old
times." There is a certain charm in Time,
who is the dominator of us all ; and the
ruins and remnants of any thing seem to
speak a solemn warning of our own evanes-
cent fate. That belief in the good old times
is an instinct, so to speak, which has some



soul of good in it. It can be very easily
demonstrated that these good old times
were very rude, ignorant, and, in fact, bad
old times ; but the innate imaginativeness
of our nature will not be reasoned with,
and, in spite of ourselves, we are disposed to
admit, with the poet, that

" Not rough or barren are the winding ways
Of hoar antiquity, but strewn with flowers."

Any thing old and histoi'ic is appreciated
mostly in proportion as it gives scope to the
imagination " to point a moral or adorn a
tale " concerning it. We gaze on the wild
hill, the vale, the stream, or the forest of a
new country with none of those feehngs
which fill us in beholding similar objects in
an old land with the past history of which
we are familiar. The former may be as fair
or even fairer to see ; but as

" A primrose by the river's brim
A yellow primrose was to him "

of whom Wordsworth speaks, so this object
without association is merely what it stands
for, and no more. But the other is not so
much a place or object as a memory, a
romance, a voice of tradition. In that
valley is the legendary well, and close by
is the inviolable fairy ring ; by -the stream is
the ruined fortalice of some historic, high-
handed name, and not very far from it is the
old abbey of the Templars, now dwindled to
a few ivied walls, three carved arches, and a
broken oriel ; on that moor was fought a
bloody battle in which a king fell fighting
with his sword in his hand ; on the slope of
yonder hill are Druid stones in a circle set
up there, certainlj^, in the remote times of
those giants who descended from Thor, and

" Lived in the olde days of King Artour."

It is greatly to the disadvantage of our
scenery that it has not any of these old
associations of history or romance. To be
sure we have some of the noblest memories
in the world entwined with some of our
localities ; but these are too much in the
foreground ; they are teri'ibly authentic ;
they have none of that indistinctness which
the imagination loves to live in ; they could
be sworn to, and are too closely connected
with the matter-of-fact condition of things
about us. Sometimes we find ourselves
regretting, foolishly enough, that we have
no fairies on this continent — no fairy mytho-
logy. " The fairies of America" is a term



1851.



Imagination and jt'act.



399



that sounds as hnpossihhj as " Emperor of
America," or as if one were to say, " The
Duke of Massachusetts," or something of
that kind. To be sure, in the latter case,
we are ready to thank God for the impossi-
bihty. But, in the other, we should not be
sorry to have a crowd of fairy traditions
scattered over the flood and held of our
republic. However, we must only try and
be content with universal suftVage and this
system of public school education ; though
we are poetically convinced that the other
state of things would help a good deal to
spiritualize the aspects of nature here, and
tend to foster the imaginative faculties, now
so subservient to the hard, commercial
philosophy of the day. Our forests are,
undoubtedly, noble objects, whether the
breeze steals through their glades and
shakes the upper boughs iu sport, or the
whole distracted army reels struggling and
howling under the great bufl:etiug of the
tempest,

"And oaks come down with all their thousraid
winters."

But these aspects appeal to our higher
jierceptions of things — to our rarer and
more abstract sense of what is great or beau-
tiful. AVe admire and take to them, as it
were, with eflbrt. We cannot feel cordially
towards them. Give us, in preference, a
sight and sound of what remains of the New
Forest, where William the Second

" By his loved huntsman's arrow bled ;"

or of the forest of Arden, where Rosalind
wandered in her boy's dress, and the melan-
choly Jacques met the motley fool. Chim-
borazo and the Mountains of the Moon are
magnificent objects. We prefer the Alps ;
and so would most people, for the same
reason : because they are the AljJS, the
familiar Alps ; they are covered with asso-
ciations as Avell as snow :

"A thousand years their cloudy wings expand
Around them."

The shadows of Theseus, Hannibal, Alaric,
Attila, Charlemagne, Napoleon pass through
the gorges and under the peaks ; the coun-
try of Tell lies on one side of this famous
Oberlaud, and the immortal peninsula of the



Scipios and the Caesars on the other ; and
then the poetry of Byron, Shelley and others
is so linked with these lofty localities ! Lake
Leman, for similar reasons, is preferable to
Lake Superior, and the ^gean. dearer to the
imagination than the Atlantic. After all,
we have an idea that the human associations
form the most attractive elements of the
sublime and beautiful of objects ; just as
Thomson's poetry is a greater favorite with
human nature than Shelley's. The farther
you remove a thing from the human asso-
ciations, the less the human imagination
takes to it, the less it likes it, and the sel-
domer it recurs to it. We could here ex-
patiate a little into metaphysics, and show
the soundness of our opinions, from the na-
ture of our moral perceptions. But we shall
take some other time for this. We are not
going to turn short upon the good-natured
and unsuspecting reader in that manner.

In fine, this faculty of the fancy is mixed
up with what we consider most real in the
world. The preacher calls the world a vain
shadow ; and the Berkeleyan philosopher
calls it a huge delusion of the senses ; aud
Shakspeare says :

" the world is of such stuff



As dreams are made of, and our little life
Is rounded by a sleep ;"

also, that " nothing is but thinking makes it
so." The practical philosophers, therefore,
— the makers of railways, the managers of
stocks and the owners of the telegraph or
telegraphs, — cannot be considered to have
the matter all to themselves. The poet and
the dreamer will have as much of " the thick
rotundity of the world" as they, aud cer-
tainly the most enchanting portion, Schiller
gives us, in an admired lyric, the idea that
the imaginative being was forgotten iu the
distribution of the properties of the earth by
Jupiter, but received, as a com])ensation, a
general invitation to the court of the divin-
ities. This nether "maker" or "finder"
does still, of course, go up to the windy plat-
form of supernals whenever he has a mind,
but not as a matter of necessity. He has
vindicated a pretty share in sublunary things,
and has got a great many chateaux en JSs-
pagne^ which he lets out to a multitude of
tenants, very profitably. w. d.



400



The Trenchard Property.



November,



THE TRENCHARD PROPERTY.

[continued.]



CHAPTER IV.

A FEW days after, Stephen Randolph
sauntered to the mansion house, and find-
ing the Colonel standing on the back piazza,
giving directions to a servant, turned away
to the cheerful little sitting-room in which
he was most likely to find Lucy Mont-
gomery. She was not there at the instant,
and to while away the time, he picked up a
book that lay upon the table. It was an
album, and he opened instinctively at the
page which contained the vigorous lines
written by himself, at the request of the fair
owner. These having been read over with
great satisfaction, he turned to the succeed-
ing effusion — a doleful ditty, whose chi-
rography exhibited the professional skill of
its author, the master of the village school.
It began :

" One sin, alas ! I'm fain to confess —
Bitter envy, I mean, of this Book,
"Which lovely Lucy deigns to possess,
Greeting it with so kindly a look."

Randolph smiled complacently, as he
compared this poetry with his own. On the
next leaf came some really fine and expres-
sive, as well as appropriate verses. He rec-
ognized the handwriting of his hated rival,
and was chagrined at the excellence of the
contribution. At the bottom he read :

" Selected by Charles Middleton."

"Oh! selected. Pshaw!"

Some stanzas followed, which were origi-
nal, with the signature " F. H.," unques-
tionably standing for Francis Herbert. They
flowed off smoothl}^, and wei-e by no means
destitute of poetic merit ; yet they were per-
vaded by a sadly plaintive tone, and testified
but too clearly to the morbid sensitiveness
of the writer.

Lucy entered unobserved, and glanced
over his arm as he read them.

" You see my album is filling up rapidly,
Mr. Randolph."

" It is, indeed ; and if the pieces were all



as sentimental as this last one, you would
have, I think, an unique collection."

" Poor Frank deserves sympathy and en-
couragement," she gently answered. "He
has many admirable qualities, and if they
were only supported by self-reliance and
vigor of purpose, he could not fail to have
a noble career."

Randolph's lip curled with a slight sneer
as he said : " 'Tis a pity, as you say, that not
being a man, he wants sufficient sense even
to pretend to be one. But don't let us talk
about him any more; for if he were to
know it, he would die of his blushes before
he could again gasp out the ' Hovk^ do you
do V which already nearly suffocates him in
the utterance."

She laid the volume away without reply,
and taking her sewing, assumed her wonted
seat by the fire. Stephen drew his chair
close to hers, and after some indifferent re-
marks had been interchanged, started a new
topic.

" Cousin Lucy" — for, since the Colonel
insisted upon his claim to receive the title
of uncle from her, the nephew argued that
the relationship must be shared by himself —
" Cousin Lucy, the old gentleman has been
scolding sharply, and tells me to reform.
What must I do ?"

" Obey him dutifully,to be sure."

"But he finds most fault with me for a
matter of necessity ; that is, mingling in the
society of Delviton. Now there is but one
way of escape from this calamity, and my
uncle's consequent displeasure. Have you
any further advice ?"

" Since you know the proper course, all I
can say is, adopt it."

" But, Cousin Lucy, though this is a
matter in which it is very easy and pleasant
for me to resolve, it unfortunately happens
that the cooperation of another person is
necessary."

" Well, sir, I trust your proposed colleague
is not unreasonable."



1851.



The Trenchard Property.



401



" Far from tliis being tlie case, I refer to
the most kind and amiable person in the
world — the most considerate and self-sacri-
ficing that you can imagine ; yet I have
cause for doubt and fear."

Lucy made no observation, and he con-
tinued : " Were my now cheerless dwelling
but enlivened by the presence of another,
whose home it might be for the reason that
it was my home ; one who would guide my
wayward fancy by gentle counsel ; who, by
the daily exhibition of true loveliness of
character, would teach me gradually in some
degree to imitate what I could not but ad-
mire ; who would be to me a friend closer
than a brother, my companion never to be
parted from; one to be loved, cherished,
adored ! Can you, dear Lucy, be such a
one r

" Mr. Randolph, I cannot."

His impassioned glance was turned full
upon hers, which timidly sank beneath it.

" Lucy ! think that this is to me a sub-
ject vitally real and earnest. The time has
passed when I could treat it with gayety or
trifling; now I leave jesting to others. I
throw my whole soul at your feet. You
will not, you cannot cast it back to bitter-
ness and despair. You will not withdraw
the hand which I seize as my hope of sal-
vation !"

He clasped her fair palm in his, so as to
require some degree of force to extricate it.
That force was exerted, however, and the
hand withdrawn.

Instantly he stood upon his feet ; his
frame shook with ungovernable passion ;
every vein of his countenance was swollen,
and his flashing eye added intensity to the
cruelty of the words which burst from his
hps :

" Stay then as you are, a sneaking, pen-
niless dependent ; yes ! a sneaking, merce-
nary, hypocritical, fortune-hunting depend-
ent ! Stay where you are : rob me of my
inheritance, and share it with your base
confederate !"

He rushed from the room and from the
house, strode down the lawn, and then along
the road to the village, at a rate which few
could have equalled without absolutely run-
ning. It was not till he had reached the
side of the tavern that he became sensible of
the singularity of his motion, and to recover
composure, relaxed into a very slow Avalk.
Around the corner, and in front of the



tavern, was quite a throng, composed of in-
habitants of the village and others. They
had been discussing the late remarkable
night occurrences at Colonel Trenchard's.
One of them observed :

" I don't somehow believe that Ji7n can
have done it. What's your mind. Jack ?"

Our old acquaintance. Chapman, the in-
dividual addressed, merely answered: "I
don't know what to say about it."

"For my part," remarked Skinner, the
overseer, "I'm inclined to think that old
Ichabod was nearer right than wiser folks,
after all, and that the Colonel Jmng himself,
when out of his head. Indeed, he talks
wild about the business even yet. What do
you think, Mr. Leach ? He sa s you had a
hand in it ; that he heard your voice through
the window."

" That's queer enough," rephed Sandy.
" I know that I have a rough voice, but I
should hardly think it would reach 'way
from Davy Chapman's parlor to the house
on the hill. If the old man's mind wanders
in this way, I really must agree with you,
Skinner, that he did the deed himself in a
temporary fit of insanity. They say, too,
that he was greatly vexed about the injury
of his big tobacco crop."

"But did the footprints on the roof and
through the corn-field only exist in imagi-
nation ?" This question was addressed to
Skinner by a young man in a green frock-
coat, whose fowling-piece and brace of
pheasants showed that he had just re-
turned from a hunting excursion. His
chestnut hair curled about a face of almost
feminine beauty, and his form, though ex-
ceedingly graceful, was slight, and had
hardly attained the ordinary stature.

•' I saw them with my own eyes," said



Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 14) → online text (page 61 of 89)