Various.

The Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 45, July, 1861 online

. (page 12 of 21)
Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 45, July, 1861 → online text (page 12 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


"But," said I, "this thing had a beginning. Why did you visit him in the
first place, when, perhaps, you might have prevented it?"

"I am afraid that was my sin," she replied, "and this is the punishment.
When father and mother died, and I was layin' sick and weak, with
nothin' to do but think of _him_, and me all alone in the world, and not
knowin' how to live without him, because I had nobody left, - that's when
it begun. When the deadly kind o' sleeps came on - they used to think I
was dead, or faintin', at first - and I could go where my heart drawed
me, and look at him away off where he lived, 't was consolin', and I
didn't try to stop it. I used to long for the night, so I could go and
be near him for an hour or two. I don't know how I went: it seemed to
come of itself. After a while I felt I was troublin' him and doin' no
good to myself, but the sleeps came just the same as ever, and then I
couldn't help myself. They're only a sorrow to me now, but I s'pose I
shall have 'em till I'm laid in my grave."

This was all the explanation she could give. It was evidently one of
those mysterious cases of spiritual disease which completely baffle our
reason. Although compelled to accept her statement, I felt incapable of
suggesting any remedy. I could only hope that the abnormal condition
into which she had fallen might speedily wear out her vital energies,
already seriously shattered. She informed me, further, that each attack
was succeeded by great exhaustion, and that she felt herself growing
feebler, from year to year. The immediate result, I suspected, was a
disease of the heart, which might give her the blessing of death sooner
than she hoped. Before taking leave of her, I succeeded in procuring
from her a promise that she would write to Eber Nicholson, giving him
that free forgiveness which would at least ease his conscience, and make
his burden somewhat lighter to bear. Then, feeling that it was not in my
power to do more, I rose to depart. Taking her hand, which lay cold and
passive in mine, - so much like a dead hand that it required a strong
effort in me to repress a nervous shudder, - I said, "Farewell, Rachel
Emmons, and remember that they who seek peace in the right spirit will
always find it at last."

"It won't be many years before I find it", she replied, calmly; and the
weird, supernatural light of her eyes shone upon me for the last time.

I reached New York in due time, and did not fail, sitting around the
broiled oysters and celery, with my partners, to repeat the story of the
Haunted Shanty. I knew, beforehand, how they would receive it; but the
circumstances had taken such hold of my mind, - so _burned_ me, like a
boy's money, to keep buttoned up in the pocket, - that I could no more
help telling the tale than the man I remember reading about, a great
while ago, in a poem called "The Ancient Mariner". Beeson, who, I
suspect, don't believe much of anything, is always apt to carry
his raillery too far; and thenceforth, whenever the drum of a
target-company, marching down Broadway, passed the head of our street,
he would whisper to me, "There comes Rachel Emmons!" until I finally
became angry, and insisted that the subject should never again be
mentioned.

But I none the less recalled it to my mind, from time to time, with
a singular interest. It was the one supernatural, or, at least,
inexplicable experience of my life, and I continued to feel a profound
curiosity with regard to the two principal characters. My slight
endeavor to assist them by such counsel as had suggested itself to me
was actuated by the purest human sympathy, and upon further reflection
I could discover no other means of help. A spiritual disease could be
cured only by spiritual medicine, - unless, indeed, the secret of Rachel
Emmons's mysterious condition lay in some permanent dislocation of the
relation between soul and body, which could terminate only with their
final separation.

With the extension of our business, and the increasing calls upon my
time during my Western journeys, it was three years before I again found
myself in Toledo, with sufficient leisure to repeat my visit. I had
some difficulty in finding the little frame house; for, although it
was unaltered in every respect, a number of stately brick "villas" had
sprung up around it and quite disguised the locality. The door was
opened by the same little black-eyed woman, with the addition of four
artificial teeth, which were altogether too large and loose. They were
attached by plated hooks to her eye-teeth, and moved up and down when
she spoke.

"Is Rachel Emmons at home?" I asked.

The woman stared at me in evident surprise.

"She's dead," said she, at last, and then added, - "let's see, - ain't you
the gentleman that called here, some three or four years ago?"

"Yes", said I, entering the room; "I should like to hear about her
death."

"Well, - _'twas_ rather queer. She was failin' when you was here. After
that she got softer and weaker-like, an' didn't have her deathlike
wearin' sleeps so often, but she went just as fast for all that. The
doctor said 'twas heart-disease, and the nerves was gone, too; so he
only giv' her morphy, and sometimes pills, but he knowed she'd no chance
from the first. 'Twas a year ago last May when she died. She'd been
confined to her bed about a week, but I'd no thought of her goin' so
soon. I was settin' up with her, and 'twas a little past midnight,
maybe. She'd been layin' like dead awhile, an' I was thinkin' I could
snatch a nap before she woke. All't onst she riz right up in bed, with
her eyes wide open, an' her face lookin' real happy, an' called out,
loud and strong, - 'Farewell, Eber Nicholson! farewell! I've come for the
last time! There's peace for me in heaven, an' peace for you on earth!
Farewell! farewell!' Then she dropped back on the piller, stone-dead.
She'd expected it, 't seems, and got the doctor to write her will. She
left me this house and lot, - I'm her second cousin on the mother's
side, - but all her money in the Savin's Bank, six hundred and
seventy-nine dollars and a half, to Eber Nicholson. The doctor writ
out to Illinois, an' found he'd gone to Kansas, a year before. So the
money's in bank yit; but I s'pose he'll git it, some time or other."

As I returned to the hotel, conscious of a melancholy pleasure at the
news of her death, I could not help wondering, - "Did he hear that last
farewell, far away in his Kansas cabin? Did he hear it, and fall asleep
with thanksgiving in his heart, and arise in the morning to a liberated
life?" I have never visited Kansas, nor have I ever heard from him
since; but I know that the _living ghost_ which haunted him is laid
forever.

Reader, you will not believe my story: BUT IT IS TRUE.

* * * * *


RHOTRUDA.


In the golden reign of Charlemaign the king,
The three-and-thirtieth year, or thereabout,
Young Eginardus, bred about the court,
(Left mother-naked at a postern-door,)
Had thence by slow degrees ascended up, -
First page, then pensioner, lastly the king's knight
And secretary; yet held these steps for nought,
Save as they led him to the Princess' feet,
Eldest and loveliest of the regal three,
Most gracious, too, and liable to love:
For Bertha was betrothed; and she, the third,
Giselia, would not look upon a man.
So, bending his whole heart unto this end,
He watched and waited, trusting to stir to fire
The indolent interest in those large eyes,
And feel the languid hands beat in his own,
Ere the new spring. And well he played his part, -
Slipping no chance to bribe or brush aside
All that would stand between him and the light:
Making fast foes in sooth, but feeble friends.
But what cared he, who had read of ladies' love,
And how young Launcelot gained his Guenovere, -
A foundling, too, or of uncertain strain?
And when one morning, coming from the bath,
He crossed the Princess on the palace-stair,
And kissed her there in her sweet disarray,
Nor met the death he dreamed of in her eyes,
He knew himself a hero of old romance, -
Not seconding, but surpassing, what had been.

And so they loved; if that tumultuous pain
Be love, - disquietude of deep delight,
And sharpest sadness: nor, though he knew her heart
His very own, - gained on the instant, too,
And like a waterfall that at one leap
Plunges from pines to palms, shattered at once
To wreaths of mist and broken spray-bows bright, -
He loved not less, nor wearied of her smile;
But through the daytime held aloof and strange
His walk; mingling with knightly mirth and game;
Solicitous but to avoid alone
Aught that might make against him in her mind;
Yet strong in this, - that, let the world have end,
He had pledged his own, and held Rhotruda's troth.

But Love, who had led these lovers thus along,
Played them a trick one windy night and cold:
For Eginardus, as his wont had been,
Crossing the quadrangle, and under dark, -
No faint moonshine, nor sign of any star, -
Seeking the Princess' door, such welcome found,
The knight forgot his prudence in his love;
For lying at her feet, her hands in his,
And telling tales of knightship and emprise
And ringing war, while up the smooth white arm
His fingers slid insatiable of touch,
The night grew old: still of the hero-deeds
That he had seen he spoke, and bitter blows
Where all the land seemed driven into dust,
Beneath fair Pavia's wall, where Loup beat down
The Longobard, and Charlemaign laid on,
Cleaving horse and rider; then, for dusty drought
Of the fierce tale, he drew her lips to his,
And silence locked the lovers fast and long,
Till the great bell crashed One into their dream.

The castle-bell! and Eginard not away!
With tremulous haste she led him to the door,
When, lo! the courtyard white with fallen snow,
While clear the night hung over it with stars!
A dozen steps, scarce that, to his own door:
A dozen steps? a gulf impassable!
What to be done? Their secret must not lie
Bare to the sneering eye with the first light;
She could not have his footsteps at her door!
Discovery and destruction were at hand:
And, with the thought, they kissed, and kissed again;
When suddenly the lady, bending, drew
Her lover towards her half-unwillingly,
And on her shoulders fairly took him there, -
Who held his breath to lighten all his weight, -
And lightly carried him the courtyard's length
To his own door; then, like a frightened hare,
Fled back in her own tracks unto her bower,
To pant awhile, and rest that all was safe.

But Charlemaign the king, who had risen by night
To look upon memorials, or at ease
To read and sign an ordinance of the realm, -
The Fanolehen or Cunigosteura
For tithing corn, so to confirm the same
And stamp it with the pommel of his sword, -
Hearing their voices in the court below,
Looked from his window, and beheld the pair.

Angry the king, - yet laughing-half to view
The strangeness and vagary of the feat:
Laughing indeed! with twenty minds to call
From his inner bed-chamber the Forty forth,
Who watched all night beside their monarch's bed,
With naked swords and torches in their hands,
And test this lover's-knot with steel and fire;
But with a thought, "To-morrow yet will serve
To greet these mummers," softly the window closed,
And so went back to his corn-tax again.

But, with the morn, the king a meeting called
Of all his lords, courtiers and kindred too,
And squire and dame, - in the great Audience Hall
Gathered; where sat the king, with the high crown
Upon his brow, beneath a drapery
That fell around him like a cataract,
With flecks of color crossed and cancellate;
And over this, like trees about a stream,
Rich carven-work, heavy with wreath and rose,
Palm and palmirah, fruit and frondage, hung.

And more the high hall held of rare and strange:
For on the king's right hand Leoena bowed
In cloudlike marble, and beside her crouched
The tongueless lioness; on the other side,
And poising this, the second Sappho stood, -
Young Erexcéa, with her head discrowned,
The anadema on the horn of her lyre:
And by the walls there hung in sequence long
Merlin himself, and Uterpendragon,
With all their mighty deeds, down to the day
When all the world seemed lost in wreck and rout,
A wrath of crashing steeds and men; and, in
The broken battle fighting hopelessly,
King Arthur, with the ten wounds on his head.

But not to gaze on these appeared the peers.
Stern looked the king, and, when the court was met, -
The lady and her lover in the midst, -
Spoke to his lords, demanding them of this:
"What merits he, the servant of the king,
Forgetful of his place, his trust, his oath,
Who, for his own bad end, to hide his fault,
Makes use of her, a Princess of the realm,
As of a mule, - a beast of burden! - borne
Upon her shoulders through the winter's night
And wind and snow?" "Death!" said the angry lords;
And knight and squire and minion murmured, "Death!"
Not one discordant voice. But Charlemaign -
Though to his foes a circulating sword,
Yet, as a king, mild, gracious, exorable,
Blest in his children too, with but one born
To vex his flesh like an ingrowing nail -
Looked kindly on the trembling pair, and said:
"Yes, Eginardus, well hast thou deserved
Death for this thing; for, hadst thou loved her so,
Thou shouldst have sought her Father's will in this, -
Protector and disposer of his child, -
And asked her hand of him, her lord and thine.
Thy life is forfeit here; but take it, thou! -
Take even two lives for this forfeit one;
And thy fair portress - wed her; honor God,
Love one another, and obey the king."

Thus far the legend; but of Rhotrude's smile,
Or of the lords' applause, as truly they
Would have applauded their first judgment too,
We nothing learn: yet still the story lives,
Shines like a light across those dark old days,
Wonderful glimpse of woman's wit and love,
And worthy to be chronicled with hers
Who to her lover dear threw down her hair,
When all the garden glanced with angry blades;
Or like a picture framed in battle-pikes
And bristling swords, it hangs before our view, -
The palace-court white with the fallen snow,
The good king leaning out into the night,
And Rhotrude bearing Eginard on her back.




GREEK LINES.


[Concluded.]


"As when a ship, by skilful steersman wrought
Nigh river's mouth or foreland, where the
wind
Veers oft, as oft so steers, and shifts her sail, -
So varied he, and of his tortuous train
Curl'd many a wanton wreath in sight of
Eve
To lure her eye."

And Eve, alas! yielded to the blandishments of the wily serpent, as we
moderns, in our Art, have yielded to the licentious, specious life-curve
of Hogarth. When I say Art, I mean that spirit of Art which has made us
rather imitative than creative, has made us hold a too faithful mirror
up to Nature, and has been content to let the great Ideal remain
petrified in the marbles of Greece.

I have endeavored to show how this Ideal may be concentrated in a
certain abstract line, not only of sensuous, but of intellectual
Beauty, - a line which, while it is as wise and subtle as the serpent, is
as harmless and loving as the sacred dove of Venus. I have endeavored
to prove how this line, the gesture of Attic eloquence, expresses the
civilization of Pericles and Plato, of Euripides and Apelles. It is now
proposed briefly to relate how this line was lost, when the politeness
and philosophy, the literature and the Art of Greece were chained to the
triumphal cars of Roman conquerors, - and how it seems to have been found
again in our own day, after slumbering so long in ruined temples, broken
statues, and cinerary urns.

The scholar who studies the aesthetical anatomy of Greek Art has
a melancholy pleasure, like a surgeon, in watching its slow, but
inevitable atrophy under the incubus of Rome. The wise, but childlike
serenity and cheerfulness of soul, so tenderly pictured in the white
stones from the quarries of Pentelicus, had, it is true, a certain
sickly, exoteric life in Magna Graecia, as Pompeii and Herculaneum have
proved to us. But the brutal manhood of Rome overshadowed and tainted
the gentle exotic like a Upas-tree. Where, as in these places,
the imported Greek could have some freedom, it grew up into a dim
resemblance of its ancient purity under other skies. It had, I think,
an elegiac plaintiveness in it, like a song of old liberty sung in
captivity. Yet there was added to it a certain fungus-growth, never
permitted by that far-off Ideal whose seeds were indigenous in the
Peloponnesus, but rather springing from the rank ostentation of Rome. In
its more monumental developments, under these new influences, the true
line of Beauty became gradually vulgarized, and, by degrees, less
intellectual and pure, till its spirit of fine and elegant reserve was
quite lost in a coarse splendor. It must be admitted, however, that the
Greek colonies of Italy expressed not a little of the old refinement
in the lamps and candelabra and vases and _bijouterie_ which we have
exhumed from the ashes of Vesuvius.

But, turning to Rome herself, the most casual examination will impress
us with the fact that there the lovely Greek lines were seized by rude
conquerors, and at once were bent to answer base and brutal uses. To
narrow a broad subject down to an illustration, let us look at a single
feature, the _Cymatium_, as it was understood in Greece and Rome. This
is a moulding of very frequent occurrence in classic entablatures, a
curved surface with a double flexure. Perhaps the type of Greek lines,
as represented in the previous paper on this subject, may be safely
accepted as a fair example of the Greek interpretation of this feature.
The Romans, on the other hand, not being able to understand and
appreciate the delicacy and deep propriety of this line, seized their
compasses, and, without thought or love, mechanically produced a gross
likeness to it by the union of two quarter-circles thus: -

[Illustration:

Greek.

Roman.]

Look upon this picture, and on this! - the one, refined, delicate,
sensitive, fastidious, severe, never repeated; the other, thoughtless,
vulgar, mathematical, common-sense, sensuous, reappearing ever with a
stolid monotony. And such is the sentiment pervading all Roman Art.
The conquerors took the _letter_ from the Greeks, but never had the
slightest feeling for its Ideal. But even this _letter_, when they
transcribed it, writhed and was choked beneath hands which knew better
the iron caestus of the gladiator than the subtile and spiritual touch
of the artist.

We can have no stronger and more convincing proof that Architecture is
the truest record of the various phases of civilization than we find in
this. There was Greek Art, living and beautiful, full of inductive power
and capacities of new expressions; and there were the boundless wealth
and power of Rome. But Rome had her own ideas to enunciate; and so
possessed was she with the impulse to give form to these ideas, to
her ostentatious brutality, her barbarous pride, her licentious
magnificence, that she could not pause to learn calm and serious lessons
from the Greeks who walked her very forums, but, seizing their fair
sanctuaries, she stretched them out to fit her standard; she took the
pure Greek orders to decorate her arches, she piled these orders one
above the other, she bent them around her gigantic circuses, till at
last they had become acclimated and lost all their peculiar refinement,
all their intellectual and dignified humanity. Every moulding, every
capital, every detail was changed. The Romans had neither time nor
inclination to bestow any love or thought on the expressiveness and
tender meaning of subordinate parts. But out of the suggestions and
reminiscences of Greek lines they made a rigid and inflexible grammar of
their own, - a grammar to suit the mailed clang of Roman speech, which,
in its cruel martial strength, sought no refinements, no delicate
inflections from a distant Acropolis. The result was the coarse splendor
of the Empire. How utterly the still Greek Ideal was forgotten in this
noisy splendor, how entirely the chaste spirituality of the Greek line
was lost in the round and lusty curves which are the _inevitable_
footprints of Sensual Life, scarcely needs further amplification. I
have referred to the Ionic capital of the Erechtheum as containing a
microcosm of Attic Art, as presenting a fair epitome of the thought and
love which Hellenic artists offered in the worship of their gods. Turn
now to the Roman Ionic, as developed in any one of the most familiar
examples of it, in the Temple of Concord, near the Via Sacra, in the
Theatre of Marcellus, or the Colosseum. What a contrast! How formal,
mechanical, pattern-like it has become! The grace of its freedom, the
intellectual reserve of its strength, the secret humanity that thrilled
through all its lines, the divine Art which obtained such sweet repose
there, - all these are gone. Quality has yielded to quantity, and nothing
is left save those external characteristics which he who runs may read,
and he who pauses to study finds cold, vacant, and unsatisfactory. What
the Ionic capital of Rome wants, and what all Roman Art wants, is _the
inward life_, the living soul, which gives a peculiar expressiveness
to every individual work, and raises it infinitely above the dangerous
academic formalism of the schools.

In view of our own architecture, that which touches our own experience
and is of us and out of us, the danger of this academic formalism
cannot be too emphatically spoken of. When one carefully examines the
transition from Greek to Roman Art, he cannot but be impressed with the
fact, that the spirit which worked in this transition was the spirit of
a vulgar and greedy conqueror. To illustrate his rude magnificence
and to give a finer glory to his triumph, by right of conquest he
appropriated the Greek orders. But the living soul which was in those
orders, and gave them an infinity of meaning, an ever-varying poetry of
expression, could not be enslaved; nor could the worshipful Love which
created them find a home under the helmet of the soldier. So they became
lifeless; they were at once formally systematized and classified,
subjected to strict proportions and rules, and cast, as it were, in
moulds. This arrangement enabled the conqueror, without waste of time in
that long contemplative stillness out of which alone the beauty of the
true Ideal arises, out of which alone man can create like a god, to
avail himself at once of the Greek orders, not as a sensitive and
delicate means of fine aesthetic expression, but as a mechanical
language of contrasts of form to be used according to the exigencies of
design. The service of Greek Art was perfect freedom; enslaved at Rome,
it became academic. Thus systematized, it is true, it awes us by the
superb redundancy and sumptuousness of its use in the temples and forums
reared by that omnipresent power from Britannia to Baalbec. But the Art
which is systematized is degraded. Emerson somewhere remarks that man
descends to meet his fellows, - meaning, I suppose, that he has to
sacrifice some of the higher instincts of his individuality when he
desires to become social, and to meet his fellows on that low level of
society, which, made up as it is of many individualities, has none of
those secret aspirations which arise out of his own isolation. Society
is a systematic aggregation for the benefit of the multitude, but great
men lift themselves above it into a purer atmosphere. As Longfellow
says, "They rise like towers in the city of God." So with Art, - when we
systematize it for the indiscriminate use of thoughtless and unloving
men, we degrade it. And a singular proof of this is found in the fact
that the Roman academical orders never have anything in them reserved
from the common ken. They are superficial. They say all that they have
to say and express all that they have to express at once, and disturb
the mind with no doubt about any hidden meaning. They are at once
understood. All their intention and purpose are patent to the most
casual observer. He does not pause to inquire what motives actuated the
architect in the composition of any Corinthian capital, because he feels
that it is made according to the dictates of a rigid school created for


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryVariousThe Atlantic Monthly, Volume 08, No. 45, July, 1861 → online text (page 12 of 21)