Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

If Taste and Morality were dependent upon one another, we should expect to find the highest state of moral culture where the sense of Beauty is most developed. The Esthetic sense reaches its culmination in the city, but does morality find its culmination there? God made the country-man made the town. I cannot reconcile the city with the idea of the millenium. Yet if the world lives long enough, it will, of course, become one great city, and how the voice of the turtle is to be heard amid all that rattle is a mystery to me. In the city we see man among the palaces which he has made. In the country we see him in the shadow of God's own mountains. Cultivated society is the charm of the city, but the meanest part of the country is the people. In the city, we see man as the great weaver at this worldrushing loom of commerce; the builder of warehouses, churches, and orphan asylums, the painter of pictures and the carver of images. In the country, he is a much less interesting creature than the cows and sheep he is tending.

There is also this difference between country-religion and cityreligion. The man in the country has the Esthetic elements of his religion always about him, while the city man has not. The cultivated New Yorker attends his church twice on Sunday. Its windows are of stained glass, through which the shadows, grouped about pillars, and hiding beneath arches, are drenched in streams of gold and violet and crimson. A preacher "with a liberal mouth of gold” discourses from the desk. From the choir pour floods of music, rich and glorious as the showers of transfigured light, and mingling with the dyes of sunset by some such divine alchemy, that one cannot tell which is color, or which is music. Here he has at one end an eloquent preacher, and a rich basso and a soaring soprano at the other; and so, between these two opposite oars of Rhetoric and Music, he is to be rowed across the stream that separates Time from Eternity. Whether the stern Ferryman will recognize the establishment as legitimate, I cannot say ; but it certainly does not lack that admirable characteristic of most Boston inventions, comfortableness. It is, beyond doubt, a very nice thing to sit in church while the organ is playing, to see beautiful women in lace and rustling silks float in under the carved doorways—to hear mellow music pouring in sweet sensation through every avenue of the soul-to hear Melody, like a snow-white dove, scatter, from wings dipt in fountains of inspiration, the crystal dew-drops on every browall these are beautiful. It is so nice to feel that the God-ward side of them touches you, and that your bope in humanity is as young as ever, and you chuckle inwardly when you say to yourself that, after all, if Heaven is any such place as this, it must be a very desirable locality. This is eminently comfortable. Tennyson says,

“Comfort, comfort scorned of devils,” and I think that men show their sense superior to that of devils in not following their example. But, nevertheless, it must not be forgotten, that music and eloquence are not always about the cultivated New Yorker. Will the tones of the organ, or the rich cadences of the preacher's voice, penetrate the walls of his counting room? What will become of all these “pure emotions” where the “ dim religious light” is exchanged for the mottled sunshine of "Down Town ?" On Monday morning be walks back into the world as from moonlight into sunlight. How much of moonlight will remain after six days of sunlight ? Six parts of wine in the goblet will easily overcome one part of water. The moonlight nothing which flowered so beautifully on Sunday will fade and die when brought into the atmosphere where thrive the hardier plants of the week; for he cannot transact bis business under the cathedral arches. An organ will not always be thundering at his heels.

But this is not so with the countryman. He has the Esthetic elements of bis religion ever with him. He drives bis cattle along the fragrant roads in June, sauntering under deep canopies of beech and chestnut. He stops in the middle of the country stream, that the thirsty horses may plunge their noses deep into the rippling water. That feeling of intense solitude which one has by the banks of noisy streams—that essence of stillness, of which sound itself seems to be an element, is his. The translucent air, the delicate contrast between the emerald softness of the new-mown meadows and the darker green of the trees, the world of enchanted verdure dancing everywhere,—these are always with him.

But you may say that countrymen are very often stupid people, and do not feel Nature as do we, whom Keats has taught to love it. I doubt that. Peter Bell I believe to be a fiction. Wordsworth wanted to find his own exact contradictory, when he wrote of this man. There is a species of self-pluming about it--a good deal of “Lord, I thank thee that I am not as other men,” a prayer very common among us, and one which, in many cases, is very justifiable.

“ See,” he says, “this Peter Bell, to whom a primrose by the river's brim' was nothing more than "yellow primrose,' while it is far more to me, Mr. Wordsworth. See this man who never felt the witchery of the soft blue sky,' while I, Mr. Wordsworth, do." There is many an honest rustic who feels a far deeper sympathy with the beauty of the July harvest than the conceited prig who sneers at his insensibility, albeit the one calls it “waving gold,” while the other calls it “

crops.”

[ocr errors]

6

a

The yellow harvest, river, vale, and wood, are always about the countryman, while music, eloquence, painting, arches, and domes, are not always around and above the man of the city.

Not long ago a young man went to a party in a great city, and there he met Saffronia, who told him that he must sit in her pew next Sunday at the church, and hear her “magnificent Mr. Ellerton.” He went, but did not get there until Mr. Ellerton was about to begin. After a nod and a reproachful glance from Saffronia, be seated himself to listen to the sermon. A large and cultivated audience had assembled to see the clergyman raise the ecclesiastical kite, which he immediately proceeded to do.

The frame-work of the kite consisted of three exquisitely carved cross-sticks, delicately fitted into one another. Over the whole was drawn a sheet of beautifully tinted and variegated tissue-paper. He tied the string to some verse of Scripture, and after that passing tribute of respect, the Bible was treated with distant veneration, as if, apparently, the maxim, “ familiarity breeds contempt," applied to that as well as other things. The kite rose slowly and grandly before the eyes of the congregation, until she was fully “up,” and then, oh, how she did soar ! Don't understand me to say that it was tawdry or watery or vulgarly spread-eagle. The severe taste of the cultivated Saffronia could never have been attracted by that. To me, indeed, the sermon was a decided relief. In our orthodox churches the majority of the ministers read the pamphlets, sermons, commentaries, etc., that are floating up and down the country, until their minds become theological sponges, thoroughly saturated by long series of soakings in Biblical fountains. This sponge the orthodox minister squeezes twice on Sunday, and, though it sometimes trickles rather feebly, he can generally coax out enough to slake the thirst of his flock. This was a sort of preaching to which I had never been used. It was not the Pilgrim's Progress style, which, after laying down the head, begins each division of the sermon with “ See tbat young man.” It was not the exhaustive style, which argues a selfevident proposition, until people begin to doubt its truth. He did not say, “ Like the mist before the morning sun," nor “ around which cluster so many delightful associations." When an ordinary orthodox minister can get through a sermon without using either of these expressions, I honor that man's heroism above all the hierarchy, living and dead. Mr. Ellerton said none of these things.

The main idea of the sermon was, that as God is the perfection of Wisdom and Goodness, so is he the perfection of Joy. The preacher

42

VOL. XVIII.

said that no one could enjoy a work of art so much as its author, because no one could conceive so completely what was meant by it, and that Imagination was just as necessary to the reading, as to the writing, of a poem ; to the understanding of a painting as to its conception. He who would understand and enjoy Paradise Lost completely, must be the complete equal of Milton. He must not only make his own the conceptions which Milton had given him, but he must go beyond that, and must feel and see what Milton felt and saw, but could not, if he would, disclose to the common eye. He must see that those things which Milton says are but the mountain peaks of a land rich with lovely valleys, are but the outsides of caverns, within glittering with stalactites of gold and diamonds and rubies and precious gems unheard of. He must feel that they are but islands in the midst of seas stormy with fierce sensation. Is the joy of us who see but the outside comparable with theirs who have beheld the inner glories, and have lived ? Is the blessedness of those believers who have hung about the outer courts to be mentioned with the joy of those High Priests of Nature who have seen her inner secret--those who have

“Gazed on Nature's naked loveliness,"

and have not fled affrighted ? Aye, there is where Painting has the advantage of Poetry and Music. The painter has his background, wbile the poet must leave to the power of the reader to paint a background for himself. Think you, that the ladies of Vienna, when the music that rushed from Mozart's soul through his fingers, caught and held them as the glittering eye of the Ancient mariner held the wedding guest, saw and felt what Mozart felt in those painfully rapturous moments ? Keats has told us that the “ nightingale sings far up on the topmost bough,

And ne'er conceives
How tiptoe Night holds back her dark-gray hood,"

and Mozart was far away, bovering over the source of that mighty Nile, wbich there had overflowed the souls of the high-born listeners. If Milton's blessedness was great when he fashioned Paradise, if Mozart had been borne away to other realms on the wings of music, what must be the happiness of him who had written his poem in characters of mountain, vale and river, what must be the joy of that divine composer, who felt forever flowing up through a universe of Thought and Flower and Star the swellings of his symphony !

Thus did Mr. Ellerton discourse for half an hour or more. And when he closed his manuscript a universal breath of admiration rose like incense in the preacher's nostrils. The general impression which Mr. Ellerton and the choir and the stained glass seemed to convey to the congregation was, that the devil was a defunct institution, and, like witchcraft and other abominations, a relic of superstitious ages. At any rate, if he did happen to make his appearance, all one had to do was to point at him this wand of mingled music, eloquence, and color, whereat he would instantly scamper away, never to return again. The congregation, in turn, seemed to be very thankful to Mr. Ellerton, the choir, and the stained glass, for the impression.

As the rapt Saffronia emerged from the pew into the aisle, she exclaimed, “Is he not magnificent," whereupon her attendant went through the usual ritual of delight quite creditably; but as he left the lady at her carriage door, and turned away, he could not but recall Sandy Makaye's mutterings over bis fire, after hearing Mr. Windrush's lecture.

“An' sae the deevil's dead,” said Sandy. “Gone at last, puir fallow !-an' he sae little appreciated, too. Every gawk laying his ain sins on Nickie's back. Puir Nickie ! The warld 'll seem quite unco without his auld-farrant phizog on the streets. Aweel, aweel-aiblins he's but shammin'

When pleasant Spring came on apace,

And showers began to fa',
John Barleycorn got up again,

And sore surprised them a'.

At ony rate, I'll no bury him till he begin to smell a wee strong, like. It's a grewsome thing, is premature interment, Alton, laddie!”

E. S. N.

The Class of 1863.

a

It seems after a heartless fashion to write an obituary notice before the subject is quite done for, but for the satisfaction of the relatives and friends of the deceased, we submit the following particulars.

The class of Sixty-Three entered with an unprecedented number of members, and graduates with but one superior in point of size. The age of its members, too, is worthy of notice, being as it is greater by

« IndietroContinua »