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“I said if there's peace to be found in the world, The heart that is humble might hope for it here;”
but it was because sometime Dovenest gave shelter and repose to Felicia Hemans, at a time when hard events seemed to be rechristening her Infelicia. I know that it has long been out of fashion to admire Mrs. Hemans, or even to read her poems; and one must admit that it is before a higher literary canon that her writings have declined in value. But there are regions of experience where literary taste blends with memories of past emotion. No criticism can demonstrate out of existence the facts of human nature. I have heard a learned symphony that left me critical, approving, cold; then heard a child singing with reedy voice some little song familiar in early days, which quickened the pulse and started tears to the eyes: green fields were in it, and the sweet playmates, and the long-lost realm of childhood's sunshine. What can art do better than to raise the happiest emotions : What can I read on the page of Goethe, of Wordsworth, or Tennyson, which can set all these birds and flowers and laden bees around Dovenest singing the songs that evoke from the shadowy past sweet loving faces of those who sang them to me in life's rosy morning: time !
“But what awak'st thou in the heart, O spring—
“Too much, oh, there too much We know not
well Wherefore it should be thus; but, roused by thee, What fond strange yearnings from the soul's deep cell
Gush for the faces we no more shall see How are we haunted in the wind's low tone By voices that are gone !
“Looks of familiar love that never more,
So sang she: and now she is blended with the spring-tide breath which has called up around Dovenest the “fairy-peopled world of flowers,” which here made for her the fairest days of her life. It was just such a beautiful summer
evening as this, fifty years ago, as we write these words, that the lovely lady, still a girl after thirty-six summers (more brief, alas ! than the winters), stepped into the door at Rydal Mount, and received her cordial greeting from the great poet whose power she was among the first to recognize. “My nervous fear at the idea of presenting myself alone to Mr. Wordsworth grew upon me so rapidly that it was more than seven before I took courage to leave the inn. I had, indeed, little cause for such trepidation. I was driven to a lovely cottage - like building, almost hidden by a profusion of roses and ivy; and a most benignant old man greeted me in the porch; this was Mr. Wordsworth himself; and when I tell you that, having rather a large party of visitors in the house, he led me to a room apart from them, and brought in his family by degrees, I am sure that little trait will give you an idea of the considerate kindness which you will both like and appreciate. In half an hour I felt myself as much at ease with him as I had been with Sir Walter in half a day. I laughed to find myself saying, on the occasion of some little domestic occurrence, ‘Mr. Wordsworth, how could you be so giddy ?" He has undeniably a lurking love of mischief, and would not, I think, be half so safely trusted with the tied-up bag of winds as Mr. — insisted that Dr. Channing might be. There is an almost patriarchal simplicity, an absence of all pretension, about him, which I know you would like; all is free, unstudied— the river winding at its own sweet will'; in his manner and conversation there is more of impulse about them than I had expected, but in other respects I see much that I should have looked for in the poet of meditative life; frequently his head droops, his eyes half close, and he seems buried in quiet depths of thought. I have passed a delightful morning to-day in walking with him about his own richly shaded grounds, and hearing him speak of the old English writers, particularly Spenser, whom he loves, as he himself expresses it, for his “earnestness and devotedness.’ ” A few days later she is established as a guest at Wordsworth's house, and finds that the poet’s “gentle and affectionate playfulness in the intercourse with all the members of his family would of itself sufficiently refute Moore's theory in the Life
of Byron with regard to the unfitness of genius for domestic happiness.” It was to her that Wordsworth warmly repudiated the said theory. “It is not,” he said, “ because they possess genius that they make unhappy homes, but because they do not possess genius enough: a higher order of mind would enable them to see and feel all the beauty of domestic ties.” Poor lady she was then parted from her husband forever, but assuredly not through her inability to make and enjoy a beautiful home. Some of the glimpses which Mrs. Hemans has enabled us to take into Rydal Mount in those days are charming enough. “Imagine, my dear, a bridal present made by Mr. Wordsworth to a young lady in whom he is much interested—a poet's daughter too ! You will be thinking of a brooch in the shape of a lyre, or a butterfly-shaped aigrette, or a forget-me-not ring, or some such small gear: nothing of the sort, but a good, handsome, substantial, useful-looking pair of scales to hang up in her store-room ‘For you must be aware, my dear Mrs. Hemans,” said he to me, very gravely, “how necessary it is occasionally for every lady to
see things weighed herself.” Poveretta me / I looked as good as I could, and happily for me the poetic eyes are not very clear-sighted, so that I believe no suspicion derogatory to my notability of character has yet flashed upon the master's mind; indeed, I told him that I looked upon the scales as particularly graceful things, and had great thoughts of having my picture taken with a pair in my hand.” She tried to get Wordsworth to like Goethe ; but he said “Goethe's writings can not live, because they are not holy.” “I found that he had unfortunately adopted this opinion from an attempt to read Wilhelm Meister, which had inspired him with irrepressible disgust. However, I shall try to bring him into a better way of thinking, if only out of my own deep love for what has been to me a source of intellectual joy, so cheering and elevated.”
* The attempt was unsuccessful. Three years later Emerson found Wordsworth still abusing Wil. helm Meister. “He had never gone farther than the first part; so disgusted was he that he threw the book across the room.” Emerson pleaded for the better parts of the book, “and he courteously promised to look at it again.”
“Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close Upon the growing boy; But he beholds the light, and whence it flows, He sees it in his joy. The youth who daily farther from the East Must travel, still is Nature's priest, And by the vision splendid Is on his way attended ; At length the man perceives it die away, And fade into the light of common day.” —Wordswort.i. “It is but little we can do for each other. We accompany the youth with sympathy and manifold old sayings of the wise to the gate of the arena, but it is certain that not by strength of ours, or by the old sayings, but only on strength of his own, unknown to us or to any, he must stand or fall.”—EMH.RSON.
* * OES it look well, father ?” “What, child o' “Does this look well ?” William Douglas stopped playing for a moment, and turned his head toward the speaker, who, standing on a ladder, bent herself to one side, in order that he might see the wreath of evergreen, studded with cones, which she had hung on the wall over one of the small arched windows. “It is too compact, Anne, too heavy. There should be sprays falling from it here and there, like a real vine. The greenery, dear, should be either growing naturally upward or twining; large branches standing in the corners like trees, or climbing vines. Stars, stiff circles, and set shapes should be avoided. That wreath looks as though it had been planed by a carpenter.” “Miss Lois made it.” “Ah,” said William Douglas, something which made you think of a smile, although no smile was there, passing over his face, “it looks like her work; it will last a long time. And there will be no need to remove it for Ash-Wednesday, Anne; there is nothing joyous about it.” “I did not notice that it was ugly,” said the girl, trying in her bent posture to look at the wreath, and bringing one eye and a portion of anxious forehead to bear upon it. “That is because Miss Lois made it,” replied William Douglas, returning to his Illusic. Anne, standing straight again, surveyed the garland in silence. Then she changed its position once or twice, studying the effect. Her figure, poised on the round of
the ladder, high in the air, was, although unsupported, firm. With her arms raised above her head in a position which few women could have endured for more than a moment, she appeared as unconcerned, and strong, and sure of her footing, as though she had been standing on the floor. There was vigor about her and elasticity, combined unexpectedly with the soft curves and dimples of a child. Viewed from the floor, this was a young Diana, or a Greek maiden, as we imagine Greek maidens to have been. The rounded arms, visible through the close sleeves of the dark woollen dress, the finely moulded wrists below the heavy wreath, the lithe, natural waist, all belonged to a young goddess. But when Anne Douglas came down from her height, and turned toward you, the idea vanished. Here was no goddess, no Greek; only an American girl, with a skin like a peach. Anne Douglas's eyes were violet-blue, wide open, and frank. She had not yet learned that there was any reason why she should not look at everything with the calm directness of childhood. Equally like a child was the unconsciousness of her mouth, but the full lips were exquisitely curved. Her brown hair was braided in a heavy knot at the back of her head; but little rings and roughened curly ends stood up around her forehead and on her temples, as though defying restraint. This unwritten face, with its direct gaze, so far neutralized the effect of the Diana-like form that the girl missed beauty on both sides. The usual ideal of pretty, slender, unformed maidenhood was not realized, and yet Anne Douglas's face was more like what is called a baby face than that of any other girl on the island. The adjective generally applied to her was “big.” This big, soft-cheeked girl now stood irresolutely looking at the condemned wreath. The sun was setting, and poured a flood of clear yellow light through the little west windows; the man at the organ was playing a sober, steadfast German choral, without exultation, yet full of a resolute purpose which defied even death and the grave. Out through the eastern windows stretched the frozen straits, the snow-covered islands, and below rang out the bugle. “It will be dark in a few moments,” said Anne to herself; “I will do it anyway.”
She moved the ladder across to the chancel, mounted to its top again, and placed the wreath directly over the altar, connecting it deftly with the numerous long lines of delicate wreathing woven on thread-like green lace-work which hung there, waiting for their key-stone—a place of honor which the condemned wreath was to fill. It now crowned the whole. The little house of God was but an upper chamber, roughly finished and barren; its only treasure was a small organ, a gift from a father whose daughter, a stranger from the South, had died upon the island, requesting that her memorial might be music rather than a cold stone. William Douglas had superintended the unpacking and placing of this gift, and loved it almost as though it had been his own child. Indeed, it was a child, a musical child—one who comprehended his varying moods when no one else did, not even Anne. “It makes no difference now,” said Anne, aloud, carrying the ladder toward the door; “it is done and ended. Here is the ladder, Jones, and please keep up the fires all night, unless you wish to see us frozen stiff to-morrow.” A man in common soldier's uniform touched his cap and took the ladder. Anne went back. “Now for one final look, father,” she said, “and then we must go home; the children will be waiting.” William Douglas played a few more soft strains, and turned around. “Well, child,” he said, stroking his thin gray beard with an irresolute motion habitual with him, and looking at the small perspective of the chapel with critical gaze, “so you have put Miss Lois's wreath up there 2" “Yes; it is the only thing she had time to make, and she took so much pains with it I could not bear to have her disappointed. It will not be much noticed.” “Yes, it will.” “I am sorry, then: but it can not be moved. And to tell the truth, father, although I suppose you will laugh at me, I think it looks well.” “It looks better than anything else in the room, and crowns the whole,” said Douglas, rising and standing by his daughter's side. “It was a stroke of genius to place it there, Anne.” “Was it f" said the girl, her face flushing with pleasure. “But I was thinking only of Miss Lois.”
“I am afraid you were,” said Douglas, with his shadowy smile. The rough walls and beams of the chapel were decorated with fine spray-like lines of evergreen, all pointing toward the chancel; there was not a solid spot upon which the eye could rest, no upright branches in the corners, no massed bunches over the windows, no stars of Bethlehem, anchors, or nondescript Greek letters; the whole chapel was simply outlined in light feathery lines of green, which reached the chancel, entered it, played about its walls, and finally came together under the one massive wreath whose even circle and thick foliage held them all firmly in place, and ended their wanderings in a restful quiet strength. While the two stood gazing, the lemon-colored light faded, and almost immediately it was night; the red glow shining out under the doors of the large stoves alone illuminated the room, which grew into a shadowy place, the aromatic fragrance of the evergreens filling the warm air pungently, more perceptible, as fragrance always is, in the darkness. William Douglas turned to the organ again, and began playing the music of an old vigil. “The bugle sounded long ago, father,” said Anne. “It is quite dark now, and very cold; I know by the crackling noise the men's feet make across the paradeground.” But the father played on. “Come here, daughter,” he said: “ listen to this waiting, watching, praying music. Do you not see the old monks in the cloisters telling the hours through the long night, waiting for the dawn, the dawn of Christmas 2 Look around you ; see this dim chapel, the air filled with fragrance like incense. These far-off chords, now ; might they not be the angels, singing over the parapet of heaven o' Anne stood by her father's side, and listened. “Yes,” she said, “I can imagine it. And yet I could imagine it a great deal better if I did not know where every bench was, and every darn in the chancel carpet, and every mended pane in the windows. I am sorry I am so dull, father.” “Not dull, but unawakened.” “And when shall I waken f" pursued the girl, accustomed to carrying on long conversations with this dreaming father, whom she loved devotedly. “God knows! May He be with you at your wakening!”
“I would rather have you, father; that is, if it is not wicked to say so. But I am very often wicked, I think,” she added, remorsefully. William Douglas smiled, closed the organ, and, throwing his arm around his tall young daughter, walked with her down the aisle toward the door. “But you have forgotten your cloak,” said Anne, running back to get it. She clasped it carefully around his throat, drew the peaked hood over his head, and fastened it with straps of deer's hide. Her own fur cloak and cap were already on, and thus enveloped, the two descended the dark stairs, crossed the inner paradeground, passed under the iron arch, and made their way down the long sloping path, cut in the cliff-side, which led from the little fort on the height to the village below. The thermometer outside the commandant’s door showed a temperature several degrees below zero; the dry old snow that covered the ground was hardened into ice on the top, so that boys walked on its crust above the fences. Overhead the stars glittered keenly, like the sharp edges of Damascus blades, and the white expanse of the ice-fields below gave out a strange pallid light which was neither like that of sun or of moon, of dawn or of twilight. The little village showed but few signs of life as they turned into its main street ; the piers were sheets of ice. Nothing wintered there ; the summer fleets were laid up in the rivers farther south, where the large towns stood on the lower lakes. The shutters of the few shops had been tightly closed at sunset, when all the inhabited houses are tightly closed also ; inside there were curtains, sometimes a double set, woollen cloth, blankets, or skins, according to the wealth of the occupants. Thus housed, with great fires burning in their dark stoves, and one small lamp, the store-keepers waited for custom until nine o'clock, after which hardly any one stirred abroad, unless it was some warm-blooded youth, who defied the elements with the only power which can make us forget them. At times, early in the evening, the door of one of these stores opened, and a figure entered through a narrow crack: for no islander opened a door widely—it was giving too much advantage to the foe of his life, the weather. This figure, enveloped in furs or a blanket, came toward the
stove and warmed its hands with deliberation, the merchant meanwhile remaining calmly seated: then, after some moments, it threw back its hood, and disclosed the face of perhaps an Indian, perhaps a French fisherman, perhaps an Irish soldier from the barracks. The customer now mentioned his errand, and the merchant, rising in his turn, stretched himself like a shaggy dog loath to leave the fire, took his little lamp, and prepared to go in quest of the article desired, which lay, perhaps, beyond the circle of heat, somewhere in the outer darkness of the dim store. It was an understood rule that no one should ask for nails or any kind of ironware in the evening; it was labor enough for the merchant to find and handle his lighter goods when the cold was so intense. There was not much bargaining in the winter; people kept their breath in their mouths. The merchants could have made money if they had had more customers or more energy; as it was, however, the small population and the cold kept them lethargically honest. Anne and her father turned northward. The southern half of the little village had two streets, one behind the other, and both were clogged and overshadowed by the irregular old buildings of the once-powerful fur company. These ancient frames, empty and desolate, rose above the low
cottages of the islanders, sometimes three
and four stories in height, with the old pulleys and hoisting apparatus still in place under their peaked roofs, like gallows ready for the old traders to hang themselves upon, if they came back and saw the degeneracy of the furless times. No one used these warehouses now, no one propped them up, no one pulled them down; there they stood, closed and empty, their owners being but so many discouraged bones under the sod; for the Company had dissolved to the four winds of heaven, leaving only far-off doubtful and quarrelling heirs. The little island could not have the buildings : neither could it pull them down. They were dogs in the manger, therefore, if the people had looked upon them with progressive American eyes; but they did not. They were not progressive : they were hardly American. If they had any glory, it was of that very past, the days when those buildings were full of life. There was scarcely a family on the island that did not cherish its tradition of the