Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

magic material. "In spinning and weaving," says he, “the ideal that we pursue is the hair of a woman. How far are the softest wools, the finest cottons, from reaching it! At what an enormous distance from this hair all our progress leaves us, and will forever leave us! We drag behind and watch with envy this supreme perfection that every day Nature realizes in her play. This hair, fine, strong, resistant, vibrant in light sonority, and, with all that, soft, warm, luminous, and electric, it is the flower of the human flower. There are idle disputes concerning the merit of its color. What matter? The lustrous black contains and promises the flame. The blond displays it with the splendors of the Fleece of Gold. The brown, chatoyant in the sun, appropriates the sun itself, mingles it with its mirages, floats, undulates, varies ceaselessly in its brook-like reflections, by moments smiles in the light or glooms in the shade, deceives always, and, whatever you say of it, gives you the lie charmingly. The chief effort of human industry has combined all methods in order to exalt cotton. Rare accord of capital, machinery, arts of design, and finally chemical science, has produced those beautiful results to which England herself renders homage in buying them. Alas! all that cannot disguise the original poverty of the ungrateful tissue which has been so much adorned. If woman, who clothes herself with it in vanity, and believes herself more beautiful because of it, would but let her hair fall and unroll its waves over the indigent richness of our most brilliant cloths, what must become of them! how humiliated would the vestment be! It is necessary to confess that one thing alone sustains itself beside a woman's hair. A single fabricator can strive there. This fabricator is an insect, the modest silkworm."

[ocr errors]

"A particular charm surrounds the works in silk," our author then goes on to say. "It ennobles all about it. In traversing our rudest districts, the

valleys of the Ardèche, where all is rock, where the mulberry, the chestnut, seem to dispense with earth, to live on air and flint, where low houses of unmortared stone sadden the eyes with their gray tint, everywhere I saw at the door, under a kind of arcade, two or three charming girls, with brown skin, with white teeth, who smiled at the passer-by and spun gold. The passer-by, whirled on by the coach, said to them under his breath: 'What a pity, innocent fays, that this gold may not be for you! Instead of disguising it with a useless color, instead of disfiguring it by art, what would it not gain by remaining itself and upon these beautiful spinners! How much better than any grand dames would this royal tissue become yourselves!'"

Perhaps it was the dowry of one of these very maidens that Belinda wears; and all this would only go to show that to every meanest thing the past can lend a halo. When one person showed another the "entire costume of a Nubian woman, purchased as she wore it," a necklace of red beads, and two brass ear-rings simply, hanging on a nail, how it brought up the whole scene, the wondrous ruins, the Nile, the lotos, and the palmbranch, the splendid sky soaring over all, the bronze-skinned creature shining in the sun! What a past the little glass bits had at their command, and what a more magnificent past hung yet behind them! Who would value a diamond, the product of any laboratory, were such a possibility, so much as that one which, by its own unknown and inscrutable process, defying philosopher and jeweller, has imprisoned the sunshine that moss or leaf or flower sucked in, ages since, and set its crystals in the darkness of the earth,- a drop of dew eternalized? What tree of swift and sudden springing, that grows like a gourd in the night to never so stately a height, could equal in our eyes the gnarled and may be stunted trunk that has thrown the flickering shadows of its leaves over the dying pillows alike of

father, child, and grandchild? The ring upon the finger is crusted thick with memories, and, looking at it, far more than in the present do you live in the past. Perhaps it is for this that we are so jealous of events: we fear to have our memories impinged upon by pain. The woman whose lover has deserted her mourns not the man she must despise, but the love that has dropped out of her past, proving hollow and worthless. But she to whom he remains faithful borrows perpetually store of old love to enrich the daily feast; she gilds and glorifies the blest to-day with the light of that love transfigured in the past. And so, in other shapes and experiences, it is with all of us indeed; since into this fairy-land all can fly for refuge, can pick again their roses and ignore their thorns, can

"Change

Torment with ease, and soonest recompense
Dole with delight."

Nor is this living in the past entirely the voluntary affair of pleasure and of memory. In another and more spiritual way it masters us. Never quite losing the vitality that once it had, with an elastic springiness it constantly rebounds, and the deed of yesterday reacts upon the deed of today. There is something solemn in the thought that thus the blemish or the grace of a day that long ago disappeared passes on with awfully increasing undulations into the demesne of the everlasting. And though the Judge of all may not cast each deed of other days and weigh them in the balance for us or against, yet what those deeds have made us, that we shall stand before him when,

"Mid the dark, a gleam
Of yet another morning breaks;
And, like the hand which ends a dream,
Death, with the might of his sunbeam,
Touches the flesh, and the soul awakes!"

Yesterday, in truth, looking though it may like a shadow and the phantom of itself, is the only substance that we possess, the one immutable fact. To

day is but the asymptote of to-morrow, that curve perpetually drawing near, but never reaching the straight line flying into infinity. To-morrow, the great future, belongs to the heaven where it tends. Were it otherwise, seeing the indestructible elements, and the two great central forces forever at their work, we might fancy ourselves, in one form or another, continual here on the round world. For when Laplace, through the acceleration of the moon, dropping her ten seconds a hundred years towards us, discovered the change in the earth's orbit,-swinging as it does from ellipse to circle and back again to ellipse, vibrating like a mighty pendulum, the "horologe of eternity” itself, with tremendous oscillations, through the depths of space, he taught us that the earth endures; and so that the clay with which we are clothed still makes a part of the great revolution. Yet, since the future is no possession of our own, but a dole does not endure for us, but that when and pittance, we know that the earth we shall have submitted to the conditions of eternal spirit, yesterday, toceased to exist, must have vanished morrow, and to-day must alike have like illusions; for eternity can be no mere duration of time, but rather some state of being past all our power of cognition.

And though we are to inherit eternity, yet have authority now only over the period that we have passed, with what wealth then are the aged furnished! Sweet must it be to sit with

folded hands and dream life over once again. How rich we are, how happy!

How dear is the old hand in ours! Years have added up the sum of all the felicity that we have known together, and carried it over to to-day. Those that have left our arms and gone out into other homes are still our own; but little sunny heads besides cluster round the knees as once before they did. Not only have we age and wisdom, but youth and gayety as well. On what light and jocund scenes we look! on what deep and dearer bliss!

We see the meaning of our sorrows now, and bless them that they came. With such firm feet we have walked in the lighted way that we gaze back upon, how can we fear the Valley of the Shadow? Ah! none but they, indeed, who have threescore years and ten hived away in the past, can see the high design of Heaven in their lives, and from the wrong side of the pattern picture out the right.

"So at the last shall come old age,

Decrepit, as befits that stage.

How else wouldst thou retire apart
With the hoarded memories of thy heart,
And gather all to the very least

Of the fragments of life's earlier feast,
Let fall through eagerness to find
The crowning dainties yet behind?
Ponder on the entire past,
Laid together thus at last,
When the twilight helps to fuse
The first fresh with the faded hues,
And the outline of the whole,

As round Eve's shades their framework roll,
Grandly fronts for once thy soul !"

THE

THE JOHNSON PARTY.

HE President of the United States has so singular a combination of defects for the office of a constitutional magistrate, that he could have obtained the opportunity to misrule the nation only by a visitation of Providence. Insincere as well as stubborn, cunning as well as unreasonable, vain as well as ill-tempered, greedy of popularity as well as arbitrary in disposition, veering in his mind as well as fixed in his will, he unites in his character the seemingly opposite qualities of demagogue and autocrat, and converts the Presidential chair into a stump or a throne, according as the impulse seizes him to cajole or to command. Doubtless much of the evil developed in him is due to his misfortune in having been lifted by events to a position which he lacked the elevation and breadth of intelligence adequately to fill. He was cursed with the possession of a power and authority which no man of narrow mind, bitter prejudices, and inordinate selfestimation can exercise without depraving himself as well as injuring the nation. Egotistic to the point of mental disease, he resented the direct and manly opposition of statesmen to his opinions and moods as a personal affront, and descended to the last degree of littleness in a political leader, — that of betraying his party, in order to

gratify his spite. He of course became the prey of intriguers and sycophants,— of persons who understand the art of managing minds which are at once arbitrary and weak, by allowing them to retain unity of will amid the most palpable inconsistencies of opinion, so that inconstancy to principle shall not weaken force of purpose, nor the emphasis be at all abated with which they may bless to-day what yesterday they cursed. Thus the abhorrer of traitors has now become their tool. Thus the denouncer of Copperheads has now sunk into dependence on their support. Thus the imposer of conditions of reconstruction has now become the foremost friend of the unconditioned return of the Rebel States. Thus the furious Union Republican, whose harangues against his political opponents almost scared his political friends by their violence, has now become the shameless betrayer of the people who trusted him. And in all these changes of base he has appeared supremely conscious, in his own mind, of playing an independent, a consistent, and especially a conscientious part.

Indeed, Mr. Johnson's character would be imperfectly described if some attention were not paid to his conscience, the purity of which is a favorite subject of his own discourse,

and the perversity of which is the wonder of the rest of mankind. As a public man, his real position is similar to that of a commander of an army, who should pass over to the ranks of the enemy he was commissioned to fight, and then plead his individual convictions of duty as a justification of his treachery. In truth, Mr. Johnson's conscience is, like his understanding, a mere form or expression of his will. The will of ordinary men is addressed through their understanding and conscience. Mr. Johnson's understanding and conscience can be addressed only through his will. He puts intellectual principles and the moral law in the possessive case, thinks he pays them a compliment and adds to their authority when he makes them the adjuncts of his petted pronoun "my"; and things to him are reasonable and right, not from any quality inherent in themselves, but because they are made so by his determinations. Indeed, he sees hardly anything as it is, but almost everything as colored by his own dominant egotism. Thus he is never weary of asserting that the people are on his side; yet his method of learning the wishes of the people is to scrutinize his own, and, when acting out his own passionate impulses, he ever insists that he is obeying public sentiment. Of all the wilful men who, by strange chance, have found themselves at the head of a constitutional government, he most resembles the last Stuart king of England, James II.; and the likeness is increased from the circumstance that the American James has, in his supple and plausible Secretary of State, one fully competent to play the part of Sunderland.

The party which, under the ironical designation of the National Union Party, now proposes to take the policy and character of Mr. Johnson under its charge, is composed chiefly of Democrats defeated at the polls, and Democrats defeated on the field of battle The few apostate Republicans, who have joined its ranks while seeming to lead its organization, are of small account. Its great strength is in its

Southern supporters, and, if it comes into power, it must obey a Rebel direction. By the treachery of the President, it will have the executive patronage on its side,- for Mr. Johnson's "conscience" is of that peculiar kind which finds satisfaction in arraying the interest of others against their convictions; and having thus the power to purchase support, it will not fail of those means of dividing the North which come from corrupting it. The party under which the war for the Union was conducted is to be denounced and proscribed as the party of disunion, and we are to be edified by addresses on the indissoluble unity of the nation by Secessionists, who have hardly yet had time to wash from their hands the stains of Union blood. The leading proposition on which this conspiracy against the country is to be conducted is the monstrous absurdity, that the Rebel States have an inherent, "continuous," unconditioned, constitutional right to form a part of the Federal government, when they have once acknowledged the fact of the defeat of their inhabitants in an armed attempt to overthrow and subvert it, a proposition which implies that victory paralyzes the powers of the victors, that ruin begins when success is assured, that the only effect of beating a Southern Rebel in the field is to exalt him into a maker of laws for his antagonist.

In the minority Report of the Congressional Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which is designed to supply the new party with constitutional law, this theory of State Rights is most elaborately presented. The ground is taken, that during the Rebellion the States in which it prevailed were as "completely competent States of the United States as they were before the Rebellion, and were bound by all the obligations which the Constitution imposed, and entitled to all its privileges"; and that the Rebellion consisted merely in a series of "illegal acts of the citizens of such States." On this theory it is difficult to find where the guilt of rebellion lies. The States are innocent because the

Rebellion was a rising of individuals ; the individuals cannot be very criminal, for it is on their votes that the committee chiefly rely to build up the National Union Party. Again, we are informed that, in respect to the admission of representatives from "such States," Congress has no right or power to ask more than two questions. These are: "Have these States organized governments? Are these governments republican in form?” The commit tee proceed to say: "How they were formed, under what auspices they were formed, are inquiries with which Congress has no concern. The right of the people to form a government for themselves has never been questioned." On this principle, President Johnson's labors in organizing State governments' were works of supererogation. At the close of active hostilities the Rebel States had organized, though disloyal, governments, as republican in form as they were before the war broke out. The only thing, therefore, they were required to do was to send their Senators and Representatives to Washington. Congress could not have rightfully refused to receive them, because all questions as to their being loyal or disloyal, and as to the changes which the war had wrought in the relations of the States they represented to the Union, were inquiries with which Congress had no concern! And here again we have the ever-recurring difficulty respecting the "individuals" who were alone guilty of the acts of rebellion. "The right of the people," we are assured, "to form a government for themselves, has never been questioned." But it happens that "the people" here indicated are the very individuals who were before pointed out as alone responsible for the Rebellion. In the exercise of their right "to form a government for themselves," they rebelled ; and now, it seems, by the exercise of the same right, they can unconditionally return. There is no wrong anywhere it is all "right." The people are first made criminals, in order to exculpate the States, and then the innocence

of the States is used to exculpate the people. When we see such outrages on common sense gravely perpetrated by so eminent a lawyer as the one who drew up the committee's Report, one is almost inclined to define minds as of two kinds, the legal mind and the human mind, and to doubt if there is any possible connection in reason between the two. To the human mind it appears that the Federal government has spent thirty-five hundred millions of dollars, and sacrificed three hundred thousand lives, in a contest which the legal mind dissolves into a mere mist of unsubstantial phrases; and by skill in the trick of substituting words for things, and definitions for events, the legal mind proceeds to show that these words and definitions, though scrupulously shielded from any contact with realities, are sufficient to prevent the nation from taking ordinary precautions against the recurrence of calamities fresh in its bitter experience. The phrase "State Rights," translated from legal into human language, is found to mean, the power to commit wrongs on individuals whom States may desire to oppress, or the power to protect the inhabitants of States from the consequences of their own crimes. The minority of the committee, indeed, seem to have forgotten that there has been any real war, and bring to mind the converted Australian savage, whom the missionary could not make penitent for a murder committed the day before, because the trifling occurrence had altogether passed from his recollection.

In fact, all attempts to discriminate between Rebels and Rebel States, to the advantage of the latter, are done in defiance of notorious facts. If the Rebellion had been merely a rising of individual citizens of States, it would have been an insurrection against the States, as well as against the Federal government, and might have been easily put down. In that case, there would have been no withdrawal of Southern Senators and Representatives from Congress, and therefore no question as to their inherent right to return. In Missouri

« EdellinenJatka »