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heaven of stars. We were married the next winter, on a bright December morning ; not as I could have wished, in the Seven Bells, but in a dingy little church in a distant city. I never pass that church without a thrill at my heart. Only last Sunday I made a pilgrimage to it in the rain. It stands in a narrow and crooked street, in a poor neighborhood — a plain, low edifice of
common gray stone. When we reached the church, the minister was waiting for us. He slipped on his robe and band as we entered, and led us to the altar. We followed him up the aisle,
, wrapped in solemn thought. I dared not look at Elma, my heart was so full
. I saw the minister reading the marriage service; I heard the words as they came from his lips. I responded, I believe, in the right place; but my brain whirled, my heart beat, and the blood left my cheeks. It was over at last. The ring was on her finger: she was mine—mine! I gave her my arm, and led her down the aisle, and into the street. Neither spoke. We parted at the door, as we had agreed; and she went home alone
- to weep, perhaps to pray! I wandered about the city till noon, drunk with the wine of love. She was mine — mine! Elma was my wife !
Not long after our marriage, we moved from the city to a cottage on the sea-shore. We were just far enough from the city to be out of its distractions, and yet near enough to it to feel its influence on our lives. The best and happiest life, I have always thought, should alternate between town and country. Our cottage stood in a curve of a little bay. It was built on a narrow neck of land, with the sea on one side of it, and a belt of woods on the other. It was spring when we moved there, and the trees had just begun to leaf: a delicate greenness was visible in their dark entanglement of boughs. Tender blades of grass were shooting up in the fields, and a few early birds twittered along the roadside.
Elma's chamber looked out on the woods and the sea; but mine looked only on the village. I could never write well in sight of a noble landscape, because I could never sufficiently abstract myself from it. Unlike the painter, whose genius needs the form and color on which his eyes feed, the poet works best when he communes with his soul alone. I was a poet, and I gave myself up to my art. I loved it better than any thing in the world, except my sweet Elma. It was she who made me a poet. She taught me to read my nature, its desires and powers, and showed me that I was set apart for song. I was inspired by her. I saw with her eyes ;
I sang to the music of her voice. For a long time I had but one theme — Love. It was the spirit of all my songs, the bloom and aroma of my thoughts. It moulded itself in a thousand different forms, seizing upon
every fresh creation of my mind. I lived, moved, and had my being in an atmosphere of love. I could not write in the room with Elma, or where I could see her, so allabsorbing was my passion; but when I locked myself up in my own room, and let my impassioned memory have its way, I wrote with ease the most perfect poems. I had only to remember
what I felt, and the rhyme and the rhythm came. I read my poems to Elma as I wrote them: she rewarded me with smiles and praises. Sometimes, however, she chided me.
'Your poems are sweet,' she would say, “but limited in their range. Your walk is too narrow. You must see more of the world and life.'
• You are my life and my world, Elma; I desire no other.' ' I know you love me now; but hereafter, who can say
you will not change? I mean not that you should love me less, but , that you should love others more. The poet must not isolate himself from the world. He must have a warm, large heart, and quick sympathies, and must suffer and rejoice with mankind. Not otherwise can he know them, and help them.'
“But I do not wish to know them, I would answer: “it is enough for me to know myself, and you.'
The great defect of my nature has always been a feeling of self. I feel my own personality too strongly. I am not so much selfish, as tenacious of my individuality. I will not sacrifice myself. It was years before I learned that this was my bosom sin; for I used to think I was a martyr to others. Elma undeceived me on that point before our marriage. With all her love, she saw me as I was, not as I imagined myself to be, and she was courageous enough to tell me of my faults. I acknowledged them, and promised, by her help, to purify my nature. How could I refuse her any thing ? She was the soul of sweetness and goodness
a pure and perfect woman. I realized in her my idea of an angel. She was religious; but she was good, also, else I had not loved her. Her religion was an accident, the result of circumstances; her goodness was herself. She was a member of the Seven Bells, where we met, and she practised the forms and ceremonials of the Episcopal Church. Their solemnity and beauty impressed her. The simple grandeur of the Episcopal prayers, the finest specimens of our good old Saxon tongue out of Holy Writ: the grave
reading of the service; the music of the chants; the voices of the singers blending with the roll of the organ; the heavy pillars ; the stained windows; the broad aisles; the dark fretted roof; all these things are powerful to a young and imaginative mind. I am no longer young or imaginative: but I feel them still.
The window of my study gave me a view of the village. Looking westward along a little curve of the bay, I saw a score of cottages, new and old, some standing out sharply and boldly, offending the eye with their glaring white fronts and green blinds; while others, that were old and weather-stained, were scarcely to be distinguished from their dusk back-ground of woods. A lane led from our cottage to the road. The road ran along the shore a short distance, till it made a turn, and was lost in the village. On its hither side was a blacksmith's forge and a carpenter's shop; farther on were two ship-yards, in one of which a ship was being built: the sky shone through its mammoth ribs. Here and there were glimpses of orchard-trees. Beyond, in the heart of the vil
lage, stood a little church with a square belfry, whose corners were crowned with towers. In this unpicturesque place Elma and I buried ourselves after our honey-moon.
We were never tired of walking in the woods, and listening to the wind among the leaves. When the wind was still, we heard the dash of the waves. Near the edge of the wood there was a tall rock, on whose top we used to sit and watch the sea. I loved the sea on sunny days, when its dancing surface dazzled my eyes : but Elma liked it best when the sky was clouded over.
“Give me,' she would say, 'the dark green water : it rests me, and makes me strong.'
In the distance we saw the sea-gulls swooping from their airy heights, and skimming the foam; and, now and then, the white gleam of a sail
, flitting into dimness. The open horizon enlarged my mind : the sea lent its freedom to my songs.
We brought with us from the city a goodly collection of books, among which were translations of Plato, and the French philosophers. My favorite reading was the great masters of song: but Elma gave herself up to philosophy. It was her passion. She had a divine thirst for knowledge, which nothing could quench or satisfy. No science was too abstruse for her, no speculation too mystical. I wanted something that I could see and grasp.: sensuousness, and the picturesque in poetry, and the practical in philosophy. Elma yearned for the abstract: for ideal beauty and truth. She understood me much better than I understood her. I felt that, even when our pursuits separated us most. Sometimes when Í was satiated with poetry, I would ask her to read to me; and she would open Plato, and strive to illuminate my darkness. I acknowledged the beauty of the writing; but I could not understand the thought with which it was freighted. She tried to make it clear by simile and illustration; but I could not follow her : she spoke an unknown tongue. I was of the earth, earthy: she, of the heavens, heavenly.
We attended the village-church every Sabbath : Elma, through a sincere spirit of piety; I, rather from habit than devotion. The minister was a good man; but he was dull and common-place. He taught me nothing new: he tired me. I remembered the intellectual discourses which I had heard at the Seven Bells, and shrugged my shoulders. I missed the impressive reading of the Episcopal service, the solemn music of the organ. I drew unfavorable comparisons: was exacting, contemptuous, witty. Instead of being humbled by Religion, I was exalted by Intellect. Not so Elma. She humbled her intellect, and exalted her religion. Though I had ceased to share her religious raptures, I did not cease to respect them : they were genuine and noble in her. I never loved her more than when I saw her at prayer: the whisper of her silent lips, and the droop of her serious eyes, touched me like mournful music. And when her ecstatic soul lit
her pallid cheeks, and the tears gushed from her eyes, I could have fallen down and kissed her feet.
In our conversations, Elma and I discussed the problem of man's life.
• Why was he sent on earth ?' I would ask. "To glorify his MAKER,' she answered.
• But he does not glorify Him, Elma, and will not, while the earth stands. He comes of a bad stock. The centuries may turn him from the evil Past; but an evil Future is before him. He travels in a circle. If he glorifies God, it is through ignorance, or under compulsion. It is wrested from him. He lives his little day, like a May-fly in the sun, buzzing and glancing about till evening, when he dies. He works in the earth, like the blind mole that he is, digging his own grave. Look on mankind to-day: picture to yourself all the kingdoms of the earth, the continents, and the islands of the sea, peopled with human beings : mark their daily lives, the nothings that they pursue; their thirst for gold and power; their petty loves and hates; their ungovernable lusts and sins: are they worthy of the world in which they live ? - worthy of God their Maker ? They are not worthy of themselves. They are below even their own standard, which is low enough, God knows. We are knaves, fools, all of us, and there's an end of it.'
My bitterness saddened Elma: she shook her head, and was silent. I felt that she could have answered me had she chosen to, and I was angry with her because she did not.
Little by little I began to neglect my wife : slightly and unconsciously at first, but wilfully and persistently afterward. I ceased to notice her closely. I forgot the way she wore her hair; her favorite colors and flowers; her little likes and dislikes. No longer the aroma of my thoughts, she passed out of my mind for hours at a time. She came into the room where I sat without my seeing her, and departed as she came. When I did see her, it was
. saw a portrait, not a person. My eyes were hard and cold: she made no impression on me. There was a lack of sympathy between us. It was my fault, I know, but I insisted that it was hers.
• You do not love me,' I said.
'I do,” she answered, sadly : 'but you do not love me. You love yourself.
She was right: I loved myself alone.
I hugged my personality to my heart, like the most precious thing in the world. I withdrew into myself, and shut the gates against mankind. I gave up poetry for a season, and devoted my days to philosophy, plunging head-long into the sea of speculation. Turn whichever way I would, the mystery of life faced me. I could not shut it out.
Why am I here?' I asked Elma one day.
I suppose so,' I replied testily; 'but to live how? What must
as if I
the moral code, and wrong no man. I pay my debts : am neither a thief nor a liar. I do not commit adultery or murder: still I am not happy.
You are too proud,' she said. 'I did not expect that from you, Elma; from you, who, I fancied, knew me so well
. But grant me proud, as you say, have I not reason to be so? I am not like common men, made of the clay of the earth, but a Poet, a Thinker, an Intelligence. There is one law for the lesser, and another for the greater : their orbits are not the same. I cannot revolve happily in the sphere of my inferiors: their pleasures are pains to me; their goodness evil. I must have a broader and larger life: my enjoyments must be less limited, my knowledge more profound. My senses are keen, my passions eager: I will follow them. To know life, is the mission of the poet. But to know it, he must drain it to the dregs : he must taste the bitter as well as the sweet. I know what you would say,' I continued, for I saw she was about to speak: “There is sin in this:' but
you are wrong. There is no such thing as sin. It is not our actions which are good, or bad, but their consequences. The consequences may affect ourselves, but they cannot affect our MAKER. HE sits enthroned on the inaccessible heights of the universe, and the world revolves before Him. He hears the thunder of cannon from battle-fields, and the roll of organs from cathedrals: the prayers of those who worship -- the curses of those who fight. They disturb not His eternal calm :
- Fill the can and fill the cup !
All the windy ways of men
And is lightly laid again.''
I saw by Elma's looks that she was shocked beyond measure. To her pure and simple nature, my skeptical sophistries were blasphemy. She sighed deeply, and left me. I heard her go to
I her own room and pray. I smiled, and commenced a poem !
The life that we had led in the city, in the first flush of our happiness; the fervor of our impassioned hearts, and the earnestness and depth of our religion, were too much for one so delicate as Elma. She began to droop and fade. The spring, however, revived her: and what with our calmer thoughts and feelings, and our walks by the wood and sea, her eye recovered its brightness, and her cheek its bloom. But now she began to fade again. Her cheek grew pale and thin, and her eyes shone with an unnatural brilliancy: the lids drooped heavily, as if they ached with weeping. Ån indescribable languor oppressed her. She would sit for hours with her hands folded, and her eyes closed, seemingly in a dream lost to every thing around her. Then she would start suddenly, as if something had touched her, open her mournful eyes, and heave a profound sigh. I pushed from my heart the feelings of pity which she awakened: I shut remorse from my thoughts. She is nervous and whimsical,” I said, and not over