Page images
PDF
EPUB

name, it would be useless for me to add, that its poor mother would be justly proud of such a god-father. On the contrary, should it be frowned at for venturing so far from home, among strangers, the returning of this sheet will be a sufficient hint for the darne to keep her 'bairns' at home for the future, to make the most of the solitudes of their nativity. The present state of my purse debars me from many a literary feast, such as the KNICKERBOCKER would afford me; and your humble servant is not hypocrite enough to become a 'patron,' only in the sound of the word itself.'

[blocks in formation]

Those who know any thing of Indian metaphor, will be struck with the exquisite simile in the last stanza of the foregoing poem, not less than with the happy allusions to nature which pervade the whole. Verily, Maga shall go 'sans charge to the writer, for many a long year; and although we are compelled, from the use we have made of his letter, to suppress his name, it will yet be made widely known to the American public, through these pages, or we are no literary seer. We grasp our distant poet's hand, and assure him of an ever-cordial welcome to the offspring of his heart and fancy.

HERE is a zoological article. Burns had his louse and his mouse, Coleridge bis jackass, and Southey paid his addresses to John Poulter's old mare. Why then should our correspondent's subject be considered an infelicitous theme? By'r Lady, no! It is a fruitful topic, and treated in a Lamb-like vein. The writer derived his hint from Mr. BUCKINGHAM, who speaks in the highest terms of the oriental jackass. He describes him as a noble animal, full of energy and spirit, beauty and majesty, as depicted by Job, of Uz. "When a person meets a friend,' says the distinguished traveller, ' with an unusal degree of cheerfulness in his countenance, he usually addresses him : 'How now? What goods news have you heard this morning? You look as brisk as an ass !'' We plunge into our correspondent's ms., in medias res, asking absolution for the sin of occasional episodical curtailment. "What is written,' however, "remains,' for 't is too clever to be lost, and may speak, in effective fragments hereafter, with voice potential, from our drawer.

[blocks in formation]

• Prithee, shepherd, who keeps all these jackasses ? Heaven be their comforter! What ! Are they never curried? Are they never taken in, in the winter ? Bray on; the world is deeply your debtor. Louder still — that's nothing. In good sooth, you are ill used. Were l a jackass, I solemnly declare, I would bray in G-SOL-RE-UT, from morning, even unto night. TRISTAM Shandy.

READER, I would commune with you, here in my own little study. 'Tis a chill, dark November evening; the wind howls and whistles round the corner, and the sharp rain pelts against the window; but sit you down. We will first close the shutters, and stir up our cheerful fire; so,

• The storm without may roar and rustle,

We will not mind the storm a whistle.'

- OF ASSES.

[ocr errors]

Now, from my comfortable elbow chair, ex-cathedra, I will discourse to you, in my loose, rambling way

Ah! my friends, consider - - are we not all asses, to a degree? And as soon as we are able to bear, are harnessed with our panniers, and have all our heavy burthens to carry, our weary, toilsome journeys to take ; what strength there is in us, tasked to the uttermost; and must patiently bow our heads to the vile blows and buffets of our cruel task-master, the world; receiving no gratitude for our labors – only a niggardly provender of thistles! nay, too often turned out to die upon the first moor, when no longer fit for service. With the ass we are alike, even though unlike. Let us find content and resignation in the example of our four-footed brother. Let us widen our sympathies, too much contracted by our own selfish pursuits, interests, and gratifications, that they may embrace him, with all the other inferior creatures, (for such we deem them) of the earth, in their circle. Consider how mysteriously we are linked with the humblest living creature, and are bound up with all nature in one wonderful, inseparable whole. Is not the ass, too, aniniate, living, and life-giving- God-created ?

The subtle Frenchman, who defined speech to be the cloak of thought,' could not have expressed himself more enigmatically, than we, in thus addressing some poor ass: 'Alas, my brother! thou art beaten with stripes, even as I am. Thy life, like mine, is one bitier struggle with necessity; I pity thee, even as I am to be pitied. I weep for thee, as I weer for myself. I would lighter thy heavy burden; I would soften thy rugged condition, I would stretch forth my hand and help thee, did not my own hard task require both my hands to help myself. As it is, I can only commiserate thee – and my sympathy is thine.' I venture to predict, that not one in a thousand will get at my meaning..

When Yorick Sterne was communing, in his amiable way, with the honest jackass, which had turned into the court-yard, to collect eleemosynary turnip-tops and cabbage leaves, the ill-starred animal was the innocent cause of the strangest disaster to his friend's unmentionables : but it provoked not one unkind word from the benevolent sufferer — only the equivocal interjection, 'Out upon it! The 'dead ass' of the 'Sentimental Journey,' and the lamentation of honest Sancho over his faithful four-footed friend and companion, were never excelled for heart-touching pathos; delightfully tinged with that quaini, playful humor, which ever accompanies true sensibility. Read them, if you have not, and then say if you longer remain cold and impassive to my theme.

Hardly-entreated brother! Despite the 'odd quirks and remnants of wit' that may be broken on me, I will speak one kindly word for thee, though none else will. Paper-pellets of the brain' shall not awe me from my humor. Calm, humble, forbearing, cheerful — most emphatic of teachers! Creature of many sorrows! Victim of thy many virtues ! for thee, this troublous life is but a prolonged purgatory. Thy tender years -alas! to thee no childhood only a state of painful transition to the time when thou art able to bear the burtben. The spring-time of existence thou scarcely knowest, for thy rough, rugged journey is ever before thee. No gamesome infancy, no hopeful, joyous youth; hul life is a troubled, fast-hurrying stream, which

[ocr errors]

beareth thee on, weary laden, to its ocean of storms and tempests. A cloud seems to overshadow thee from thy very birth. Thy pensive head declines sadly to the earth, as if prophetic of thy life of sorrow. Who could look, unmoved, upon thy little ungainly form, devoid of that soft, infantile grace, peculiar to childhood? Thy rugged coat, thy little pendulous tail, stumpy and barren; thy long, misshapen head, surmounted with its curious steeples; thy little round eyes, sad, perhaps dull, yet cast in innocent, halftrustful, half-timorous glances, upon ihe stranger biped ; sparkling with a brief ray of intelligence, when wooed to eat of a crust from his hand? And when thou hast grown to more mature donkeyhood, that depreciating look of patient submission, writien so touchingly in thy countenance, seeming to say, 'Do n't thrash me! but if you will, you may! Alas, poor beast! Thy patience is called dullness; thy meekness, stupidiiy ; thy more than Roman firmness, obstinacy. 'Oh monstrous world !'

Thus are we all, my friends, libelled and traduced. We are befooled by custom, and be-mystified by names. See! one is not a reed to be shaken by every wind; his constancy is deemed stubbornness! Another is not a powder wain, to take fire and explode at every spark; his calmness is misnamed stolidity! Another is patient under wrongs, and meek and forbearing amidst insult; he is pusillanimous! Another may be of an enduring honesty; then he is simply fool!

In such manner has our poor four-footed brother been misinterpreted by a slanderous world. Custom has taught us to scorn those qualities in him, which, if rightly understood, we should deem virtues, until his very name has become a term of reproach. Apply it to the petulant little being of humanity, and lo! he strait takes fire ; repels with fiercest invective the injurious appellation; and does hot battle with his accuser, for the name; when, if he was not the very dotard of custom, the name of ass' would be to him a title of honor. Did not a partial ray of the truth flash upon that man, who, moralizing over the skeleton of a jackass, exclaimed, with impressive solemnity, • We are all fearfully and wonderfully made!'

Exemplary animal! what sins can be laid at thy door? Nay, let us examine this thing; what sins before man or God? Pride? Alas! thou art all humility. Covetousness? A thistle will content thee. Gluttony? Though thou has spent no prodigal's portion, yet the very husks were dainty to thy frugal tastes. Anger ? Thy serene composure amidst insults and injuries, is almost sublime. Ingratitude? The marble-hearted fiend' has no place in thy breast. Thou art willing to lay down thy life in the service of thy master. Though he often overloads thee, conducts thee along with blows, insults thee with unnecessary stripes, and, at best, rewards thy faithful labors with a meagre subsistence of weeds, that the more fastidious horse would scorn, thy affection for him is remarkable; coming at his call; marking him out amidst a crowd; scenting him at a distance; welcoming him with touching fondness and docility. When didst thou, like the pampered courser, repay thy master's care, by burling him over thy ears, to the peril of his neck? When, through perversity and impatience, didst thou dash to pieces with thy heels his newly-painted trundle-car, or respectability-gig? And when, pressed by the sharp pangs of hunger, thou hast ventured to crop a forbidden cabbage leaf from his kitchen-garden, was that a crime so atrocious as to merit the cruel cudgelling thou receivedst from his too liberal hand ?

Ungainly thou art, I must allow. In the graces, nature has been to thee a niggard. Yet she has made it up to thee. Thou hast 'many nameless virtues ;' and those that are not nameless -- sagacity, hardihood, sure-foutedness. What were man, with all his boasted reason, in the wild, intricate passes of the Cordilleras, but for thee? How had the silver of Potosi found its way to the sea-board, but for thy agency? Art thou dull? We forget the solemn wisdom of thy rebuke to Baalam! True, thou wert then inspired; but what other animal was ever inspired as thou wert? Devils took possession of swine; but thou wert possessed of a God! Art thou called dull, then, because thou art not a horse?

The horse is the only favorite, and all care and expense on him are lavished. He is luxuriously fed, warmly stabled, carefully tended; whilst thou art abandoned to neglect; the property of the poor or the vicious; the sport of dogs and children. Yet were there no horses, thou wouldst be esteemed first of quadrupeds. Thou art only second, and for that, art despised and neglected. We know thou hast not the courser's grace, bearing, fire. Thou wouldst make but a sorry charger in war. Thou couldst not well be the Bucephalus to any mad Alexander. No Napoleon bestrode thee at Austerlitz- no Wellington at Waterloo. Such were not thy vocation. Thy destiny is a more humble one; but dost thou not fulfil it as well? Thou hast less activity than the courser, but thy passivity' could not be excelled. Thy great virtue lies in endurance. Thy cousin-german proudly prances beneath the gorgeous weight of princes and warriors; more humbly thou trottest soberly along, under honester men. Thy peasant masters could not often afford to exchange thee for the showier but less useful animal. Nay, didst thou not once bear upon thy back that wonderous peasant of Nazareth, before whom princes and potentates were but the gilded ephemera of an hour ?

"Tell ye the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy King cometh, meek, and sitting upon an ass !' went forth in thunder-words to all the earth. Not like the vainly-expected Messiais, in pomp, and triumph, and worldly glory; heralded with trumpets and with shawms; followed by glittering hosts of armed men, with earth-shaking steeds, and rustling banners; not thus came to the astonished Jews their Lord and King; for his kingdom was not of this world. But lo! a marvel! The divine Saviour of mankiud came in the garb of blessed peace -- in meekness and humility — scared upon an ass! Be thou for ever venerable, above all other quadrupeds, for none were ever honored like unto thee. To benighted man thou borest the light of truth — the ambassador of God. Divinest mission from heaven! Messenger of infinite love! of infinite hope! * * Be thou forever venerable; for that sublime spectacle, when, borne on ihee, the lowly Jesus entered the favored city, taught to man how poor are all ihe pomps and outward shows of this vain world. Thou, 100, wert then apostolic; a teacher, and an exemplar before mankind; chosen as the type and symbol of the greatest of Christian virtues – humility,

I have said I love an ass. Would I could tell you, thougbtful reader, how much I reverence an ass. Would I could speak of the asses I have known, in my day; with whom I have associated; I as a kind master, they as humble and faithful servants and companions. In the vegas of Spain, on the mountains of Peru, among the rocks of Calabria, amid the sands of Africa, fe'w friends have been to me kinder, faithfuller, or even more intelligent. In all these, my ass cheerfully encountered with me untold hardships ; shared all my privations, faithfully bore my weary limbs - patiently the up, braidings of my vexed spirit; picked out for me the safest paths, found me the road which my own perversity or blindness had lost; sought me with perseverance, when I had become separated from him; and even evinced a woman's love, a dog's fidelity, a Christian's faith, and more than human sagacity.

Your jack ass hath, indeed, a gentle and a loving spirit; a heart that yearneth in sympathy and affection toward all created things, from man to the humblest animal. His affection for his own kind is intense. Observe his ardor for his female, his love for his offspring. But this is not all. Mark his frequent friendships for the most dissimilar animals, such as the dog – even, it is recorded, with a goose ; or, as I once remarked, with a mon, key. This was on ship-board. I will tell you ihe story. 'We were approaching our rugged coast, in the icy month of December. Our monkey, as mischievous an inip as ever bore the monkey form, lost all his vivacity, and became very disconsolate, at the sudden sen. sation of cold, to which he had before been a stranger. The warmest place in the ship was of course at the cook's galley; but cooks have always been sworn enemies to all the inferior race - cats, dogs, mokeys, et id genus omne- and had no bowels of compassion for poor Joco, whom they accused of taking sundry liberties with their sweetmeats and sauces. So they drave him forth, like Hagar's offspring, to the wilderness of the sea-washed deck. The searching cold brought him to his wits, and his wits were not long in discovering how warm a back had the donkey, who calmly munched his daily, provender between two guns, without seeming to care whether the climate was cold or warm. Old Jack's meditations, however, were at first too rudely disturbed at the monkey's familiarity in making use of his long tail to ascend, not to show some symptoms of displeasure; but though his heels flew up with marvellous vigor, it was quite in vain to dislodge the pertinacious intruder; and Joco, finding the vital warmth of the back vastly agreeable, did not fail to repeat, daily, his unceremonious visit. At last, the donkey became accustomed to the thing, and seemed to expecı it, as a matter of course. With imperturbable gravity, he would quietly allow the liule imp to climb up his tail, and when he found him settled to his own satisfaction, would droop his long ears, and doze away the time, or silently chew the cud of patient reflection, until Joco saw fit to dismount. Sometimes he would look around, with a benevolent expression, upon his shivering visiter, as if 10 say: 'Well, stay there, unhappy monkey! thou hast a hard time of it, poor fellow ! coming from thy own sunny clime into this cold country. For myself, I do not mind it, as I am not so thin-skinned ; and sufferance is the badge of all my tribe. But if my warm back can be of any comfori io thee take it, and welcome!

Thus Joco and Jack became great friends. Spread out at full leng!h, Joco would nestle there all day long, and fearful would be his outcries, when any mischief-loving sailor attempted to dispiace him. The kindness of his sturdy friend he would repay by solemnly scratching his long ears, and chattering to him in hiš vivacious language. Old Jack was the best of listeners; and not Bottom himself more delighted in being scratched. Sometimes, when his little friend was talking to him, he would give a Lord Burleigh nod, as if in approval; or, occasionally, lift up his mighly voice in a brief recitative, soon again relapsing into silence. At such times, Joco, who evidenily preferred, like most talkative persons, having all the conversation to himself, would listen, either in fear or from deference, to his friend's brief oration, but would chaiter still more vociferously when it ceased; and then never failed to evince some of his natural propensity to teaze; all of which old Jack bore with the most stoical composure.

At last, little Joco was lost overboard, and poor Jack became inconsolable. Full many a rueful look did he cast around for his friend, who came no more. It was a sad bereavement. None but an ass could tell how sad. He had lost his sprightly companion. Who now would scratch those ample ears, which seemed, since Joco's death, more attenuated than ever ? Who now would play with that pendulous tail, which now

*

*

hung down listless and dispirited? His sonorous trumpet was heard less often, and seemed attuned to a lugubrious note, as if it pealed poor Joco's requiem. A mournful gloom rested upon his countenance. The lines of his face became deeper, sadder. He tookless pleasure in his food, and visibly lost in flesh. A heavy grief was at his heart. 'T was said he often sighed; and some of the more tender-hearted and imaginative sailors even told of tears that coursed adown his innocent nose, in piteous chase. He continued to pine away, and before the end of the cruize, yielded up his weary life; dying, doubtless, of a broken heart. Was not this love?

We men may say more, swear more, but indeed,
Our shows are more than will : for still we prove

Much in our vows, but little in our love.' It is consoling to know, however, that poor Jack had every respect paid to his memory; He was buried with all the honors of war. And when the funeral service was read, and the words, 'We commit our brother to the deep,' were spoken, there was not a dry eye in the ship.

Gentle reader ! you who have listened to me to the end, will you not henceforth have a kindlier feeling for asses? 'Tis good for us thus to commune together; but it will be the better for us, if what I have said should increase your respect for the ass. When next you meet him, pass him not by with indifference, nor contempl; stay him awhile. By the mass, you may stay him, if his master be willing; otherwise, do not, lest it get him a thrashing; stay him, and gossip a - bile together. My word for it, you will quit him with a higher respect for his intelligence, and admiration for his good nature. The mute eloquence of his look is worth a world of lip oratory. Perhaps you have not yet Jearned what eloquence there may be in a look, unless you have been in love, when you could not have failed to have noted it. But look at an ass ! It may not often be your good fortune to meet with one; for asses, in our infant society, are not yet common; but when you do, just stop him long enough to inquire after his health ; pity his weary look; sympathize kindly with his trials; and at parting, bid him good speed; and if you do not feel your 'bosom's lord' sit more lightly on his throne, for doing this good action, I shall think the worse of you.

Such profound respect I have for asses, that, when I reflect upon their estimable qualities, and their deplorable condition, I am often led to doubt the right which we two-legged humans have, to hold our poor four-footed brother as property. It is a monstrous usurpation; and at times I am tempted to get up a Donkey-abolition Society; or at least, enter a claim for his representation. Our biped beasts of burthen are represented, why not our quadrupeds ? And if, waiving all proxy, we allowed him to be represented in kind, who can doubt that his speeches would be quite as intelligible ? But I am touching a delicate subject. How the dome of that hall would reverberate to his mighty eloquence! Solitary and alone, what a notable ass he would become!

Who has not read of the daring invaders of the new world? - children of the sun; mounted on wondrous four-footed things, that seemed, to the astonished Indians, winged with might, majesty, and terror! But had those adventurous Spaniards been mounted on asses! Curious, though less imposing! Can we not imagine a whole army of such, in extended line, trotting sedately down to charge an enemy? Their riders' heels nearly touching the ground. Ears of the longest, rigidly erect above the solemn-looking head. And those trumpet notes! His sympathy with all his kind is so infectious, that had but one among them lifted up his voice, what a blast were there! Sounding their own charge, with thai trombone note! What enemy had withstood it? The walls of Jericho fell with a sound: curious if America had been conquered by the braying of asses !

We as yet dream not of the wisdom there is in the dumb brule. Nay, we as yet know not where to place him truly in the scale of creation. Each created ihing has a symbolic and spiritual signification, so philosophers tell us, beside its mere material - and which we have yet to learn. Your Buffons, your Cuviers, should have abandoned their vain studies of material qualities and manifestations, and inquired into the higher and spiritual attributes of animated nature. Is there no Kant, no Cousin, to spiritualize the study of asses? Consider what a work yet remains for the metaphysician! The mental philosophy of asses ! say what wondrous visions visit him, even in dreams? Visions of what? Of the warm stable, kind grooms, fields of clover, stacks of grain ? - or are they purely iranscendental — vision-airy? Is there poetry in that stolid-looking head? It may well be, when we find so many poets asses, an ass should sometimes be a poet. His life, we see, is wretchedly unpoetical; but is not the immortal mind distinct from and beyond life'? But could he teach us, in prose or verse, preceptially, and find a publisher for what is in him, would he do more than he does now by his example ?

*

*

*

*

Who can

&

THERE breathes, in the note accompanying the annexed lines, written in 'Kosciusko's Garden,' at West Point, the true American spirit; and we join with the author

« PreviousContinue »