« PreviousContinue »
torments him. He is haunted by an umbrella. He explores the region of art but in the sunny landscapes of Claude, in the mighty shadows of Rembrandt, he can find but one figure, one hue. The very dome of St. Paul's begets in him only an enlarged idea of an umbrella; he contemplates the oak, and fancies that umbrellas grow. He flies to the Alps-the phantom flies with him the magnificent forms about him, the face of nature, sun, moon, and stars, are all obscured in a circle of green silk. Years roll on thus; he returns home; picks out a John Smith; pays for the unreturned umbrella of days that are goneand is as free as air.
Our philosopher would next trace the whereabout of the umbrella itself; wonder whether it was worn out or made over to the new umbrella-lending company; wish that Mr. Wordsworth would write a ballad upon its history; and finally shed, in imagination, a shower of sympathetic tears over an object, whose fate it is to be cast aside, and forgotten in the sunshine, and only made use of in the season of gloom and calamity. Here would be matériel for a sonnet.
This may be called trifling-building palaces of cards; and we may be censured for supposing, even "in jest," that a man of genius would waste the brilliant light of his imagination upon so blank and barren a theme. In celebrating our fanciful revels, however, we sometimes stumble accidentally upon some subtile truth that had previously escaped our search. It was only by laying down straws that the renowned hero of our early veneration caught his giants.
How would our story bear the analytical attack of another order of intellect? We will consider it as it stands, divested of that glow of coloring and grace of drapery which at once adorn and disguise it. Let us contemplate the subject for itself. An umbrella is lost-we will not stay to consider the heedlessless of
human nature-but state simply that it was lost. All hope of recovering it had passed away, all remembrance of it had ceased. It had dissolved, like a cloud-capt tower or a gorgeous palace. No vestige of it remained for the moralist to muse upon, and say, "this was once an umbrella!" Its bones were re-united in dust to the whale that supplied them; not a trace of its existence could be found; and the amount of the reward offered for it, if any, had ceased to have a place in the memory of man. It had been swallowed up as by an earthquake. It was an umbrella formed upon Bishop Berkeley's system-it was nothing. It was like the air-drawn dagger of Shakspeare - an umbrella of the mind. Thus far all is common-place. But after a lapse of many years, when the unsuspecting world lies wrapped in the shadows of evening, and the chill shower descends, a being suddenly appears, whose mind, regardless of the thousand expanded umbrellas around him, is occupied by one only-the identical one that had disappeared like a dream so long before. Weary and wet, but firm of purpose, he finds out its owner, enters upon an explanation, insists upon paying for it, and vanishes as mysteriously as the object of his interest had done before him. This is briefly the case; and here, we think, a rich field is thrown open for moral research. If the tale begins with the superficial, it terminates with the profound. It will slip through your fingers, perhaps, at first, but you will find the Gordian knot at the end.
Man is a mistaking animal; the loss is therefore easily accounted for. To take, is human ; to return, is hard. He is, also, a forgetting creature-the victim of a short memory. His mind is not a memorandum-book. His faculties are not calculated for accounts; his desires are not regulated by dates. He has something else to do than-to travel through life, taking notes and copying inscriptions. His ambition
is an eagle, not a tortoise. He cannot stop to ponder upon a mushroom when he is destined to climb mountains. Hope, envy, love, jealousy, and fear, are crowding into his mind perhaps at the same moment; there is no room, amidst the conflict, for an umbrella. The weakest, according to the proverb, goes to the wall. Was Milton stopped in his sublime course by the recollection of a milk-score? or did Sir Joshua Reynolds, in the Vatican, while contemplating the glorious achievements of art, dream that he was catching cold and losing his hearing? He had no prophetic glance of the trumpet which he afterwards" shifted," when they talked of "their Correggios and stuff." Our existence is too active, too hurried, to pause for trifles. It resembles one of Napoleon's marches-close, sudden, rapid, and resistless. Moscow is before us-not a mole-hill. Our feelings, thoughts, prejudices, travel en masse; we have no room for details.
It is clear, then, that an umbrella, borrowed, or mistaken for another, can never be restored. The constitution of the human mind, and the state of society, forbid its return. Like woman, if it once goes astray, it is lost forever. And yet, while we have proved that it ought to be forgotten, we have related an incident that looks very like an exception to our rule. It is true, the umbrella was not returned; but the value of it was-and after a lapse of time sufficient to wrap a prime minister in oblivion. This is the
pivot upon which our astonishment turns. We do hope that a great man's memory may outlive his life half a century, without building churches. If certain pieces of silk can thus "look green in thought, and survive the wreck of years, the paths to immortality will be thronged with passengers. Strange, indeed, that a recollection of such materials should have triumphed over the tooth of time and the bolts of sorrow! Persons have been known to forget the nature of their crime before the term of their imprisonment has expired; but here the remembrance of a mere trifle becomes a part of the mind itself. We cannot but think that, if the money had been enclosed, or an anonymous umbrella forwarded to the loser in place of his own, the effect would have been better; but, after all, it would have been less dramatic, and the moral might not have come out so pointed and palpable. Again, while we admire the conscientious delicacy that prompted payment at the eleventh hour, we must not conceal from ourselves that these extraordinary memories may be productive of considerable inconvenience. Unhappy should we be if the individual, whose visit we have above recorded, owed us a grudge! It would certainly be paid-in the year 1850. We offend him at school, and he calls us out when we can scarcely hobble on crutches. A dip in Lethe is sometimes the best remedy that can be prescribed for the unhealthy passions of mankind.
THE MAIDEN OF THE SLITTERICK.-A SKETCH.
"AND farewell, pastoral Slitterick, to song, except in the Doric lays of my natal stream-though unknown thy own simple swains; if I ever
forget thy green hills, thy natural
was the low-murmured apostrophe of a tall handsome youth, as, emerging from a thick dark grove of trees nearly concealing from view an old-fashioned, and somewhat dilapidated dwelling, he gazed with a melancholy expression of countenance over the surrounding scenery.
The approach of a lad leading a couple of horses aroused him from the painful reverie to which a farewell view of his native hills had given rise, and desiring him to proceed and await his coming at the Netherford, he slowly descended a narrow, serpentine path, and held on his way along the margin of the Slitterick. After walking nearly three miles, the pedestrian once more paused on catching a glimpse of an antique-turreted mansion situated on the top of a steep bank, overlooking one of the green valleys which adorn this pastoral district.
With sparkling eyes, and the elastic bounding step of joyous expectation, he began to ascend the steep, and leaping a wimpling burn that intersected his path, soon reached the table land in front of the dwelling of Mr. Halliburton.
But a sudden revulsion shook the manly frame of the youth, as the closed shutters, and the ominous silence which reigned within and without the house, proclaimed the absence of its inmates. As he gazed, the hue of death overspread his countenance, which was quickly superseded by the deep hectic flush of indignation, as with a firm and haughty step he retrod the rugged pathway he had so joyously ascended.
"To leave home," he ejaculated, as an intervening knoll hid the turrets of the Grange from his view, "and that, too, on the very eve of my departure to encounter the hard
ships of the tented field-perchance to find a soldier's grave amidst the sunny plains or olive-clad mountains of Iberia, was unkind, was cruel. It required not this marked neglect to remind me of my fallen fortunes; for though dear as light and life to my soul be my gentle Margaret, yet never, beggared as I am, would I woo her to become the partaker of my poverty."
A tear fell from the eyes of the youth at the recollection of his blighted hopes; but, dashing away the unwelcome intruder, he hurried forward without farther delay. But after regaining the beaten track, the forlorn pedestrian was overtaken by one of the Grange domestics, who, espying him from a height as he was proceeding to Drycleugh with a letter, galloped back and placed it in his hand.
Alive only to the extatic delight of being still kindly regarded by his worshiped Margaret, the eyes of the lover wandered over the well known and dearly prized characters, without at first clearly comprehending what the letter contained. when, on a second perusal, he learned that a hasty summons, late on the foregoing evening, had called the father and daughter to attend the death-bed of an aged relative, his heart smote him for the ungenerous surmise which the first moments of bitter feeling had wrung from his overcharged bosom.
At the inn, where he was to await the passing of the mail, he retired to his couch at an early hour, in order to obtain a short repose before pursuing his journey. But sleep came not at his bidding; phantoms of glory floated before his mental vision; he thought of the heroes of classic story, of the glorious deeds of warlike renown in more modern days, and impatiently longed to imitate the courage and daring of such bright examples, that he might be remembered in time to come. The evils attendant on warfare-the sacking and pillaging of peaceful cities and villages-the
Gideon Scott was the only son of the late Laird of Drycleugh, who, having foolishly entered into some extensive and hazardous agricultural speculations, became the dupe of the needy adventurers with whom he had connected himself. Day after day his embarrassments increased, and day after day he was induced to sacrifice additional sums in the hope of retrieving those he had already advanced, till the whole of his ready money was engulphed in the ruinous concern.
From the beginning his best friends had predicted this result, and pride now prevented him from acknowledging his error and claiming their aid to extricate him from the effects of his rash credulity.
In a neighboring town resided at this time a man who, by cunning and base chicanery, had raised himself from the lowest dregs of society, and now acted in the two-fold capacity of writer and banker. To this man, in an evil hour, the unsuspicious Laird applied, and sum after sum was advanced on heritable bonds, road-sets, fens, and every genus, species, and variety of security which could enhance the charges of the lender. The money thus obtained was disbursed with injudicious profusion, but the golden return so sanguinely anticipated seemed at as great a distance as ever; in vain his wedded partner begged him, with tears in her eyes, to get rid of the concern at whatever present loss-in vain represented to him the ruin which he would 6 ATHENEUM, VOL. 5, 3d series.
draw on himself and his innocent offspring. He was deaf to the voice of the charmer, though she charmed so wisely. At length the source from whence he drew his supplies began to run dry; and the heretofore obsequious banker assumed at once the character of the hard-griping money-lender; he even coolly taunted his unfortunate dupe with the improvidence he himself had mainly tended to foster, and by which he had so largely profited.
This was too much. The irascible spirit of the Laird burst all control, and springing on the trembling writer, he raised his weighty riding whip, and would in all probability have quickly rid the community of a pest, had not his uplifted arm been arrested as by an invisible power.
The crouching and terrified wretch recovered his voice on finding the nervous grasp of his assailant suddenly relax; and his outcries soon brought assistance; but the unfortunate Laird, having in his rage burst a blood vessel, had ceased to breathe.
It was market day, and the fatal news having spread with the rapidity of lightning through the village, the door of the banker was quickly surrounded by a dense crowd. Mr. Scott was a universal favorite among his neighbors, high and low; and curses deep, though not loud, were called down on the head of the writer; loud they would have been, but the man of wealth held the credit of many an honest farmer and trader in the balance, and prudence shifted, though it could not overcome, the generous feeling of detestation which his character elicited.
In a few moments Mr. Halliburton arrived with the aged Esculapius of the village. Their stay within doors was brief; and "it is all over with our poor friend," was their equally brief reply to the anxious questions by which they were assailed on again issuing forth.
Mounting their horses, the gen
tlemen proceeded to Drycleugh; but the melancholy news had outstripped their speed, and they found the widow stretched on a couch in the first deep agony of a bereaved heart; on the floor knelt her daughter, with her face concealed in her mother's lap, vainly endeavoring to stifle the sobs which burst from her young bosom, while Gideon hung over them the mute image of despair.
No sooner was the Laird of Drycleugh consigned to the last resting place of his ancestors, than Mr. Halliburton and the brother of Mr. Scott prepared to investigate his affairs, which were found in a more deranged state than their worst fears had anticipated; for after every claim was settled, the farm given up, and arrangements entered into for the liquidation of the securities held by the banker, the family were left without other resource than what arose from the very moderate jointure secured to Mrs. Scott by her marriage contract.
No choice was therefore left to the young Laird, as Gideon was usually termed, but either to enter the establishment of the aforesaid writer-banker, ostentatiously offered for his acceptance by the great man— to become a tackman under Mr. Halliburton-or to seek fame and fortune in the service of his country. To become the dependent of the vampire who had inflicted the vital stab which precipitated his confiding parent to a premature grave, was abhorrent to every feeling of his generous nature; his pride revolted against the friendly suggestion of the father of his Margaret; and joyfully he accepted an offered ensigncy in the regiment of foot; and set forth, as related in the opening of our tale, for the dépôt of his corps, then in the Isle of Wight.
ly cemented and perpetuated by the union of their children; nor had the altered circumstances of Gideon produced the least alteration in the mind of the survivor, except, perhaps, by imparting a more paternal character to the regard he had ever cherished for the son of his departed friend.
Fain would the good old man have cheered the heart of the youth by an unreserved disclosure of his unchanged intention; but Gideon was young, and his own Margaret still younger; he therefore deemed it prudent that they should undergo the ordeal of absence, and an extended intercourse with the world, unshackled by engagements, which, though honor induced them to hold inviolate, might nevertheless prove destructive to their future peace.
With the sorrowing relict of his late friend he had, however, no reserves, and the hopes then imparted to her desolate bosom robbed the parting with her son of half its bit
Gideon Scott, without accident or unnecessary delay, reached the Isle of Wight; and having reported himself to the commandant, was installed into a barrack-room, and introduced to the mess. The novelty of all around for awhile diverted his mind from the thoughts of home, and the loved friends and relatives he had left behind. But, as he became familiarized with the pomp and glare of military parade, he reverted with saddened feelings to the calm joys of his early happy days.
From the reckless, boisterous mirth of some of his associates, and the inanity and exquisitism of others, Gideon sought refuge in those studies connected with his new profession, or in exploring the romantic scenery around the barracks. these excursions he was often joined by one of the lieutenants of his regiment, who, possessing a mild and imaginative disposition, preferred wooing nature in her solitary haunts to the excitation of the wine-cup or the dice-board.