« PreviousContinue »
Day Dreams. How little will make a kingdom! Even if men do claim private rights on certain portions of this earth of ours, they leave behind them many a noble domain owned by every one, and yet possessed in peculiar claim by each. Why, just to-night, as the sun went down, I had completed a great castle out in the West. It was just such an one as Reginald Front de Boeuf defended against the most worshipful knight Le Noir Faneant; and while I was doubting whether to fashion a certain golden line of clouds into a gallant cavalcade of full-armed nobles passing from its moated walls, behold a breath of envious wind scattered my castle, turret over battlement, into space. What became of the procession of knights I could not discover, except that he whom I had made the leader went careering off to the northward, accompanied by another form, which I at once discovered to be the fayre ladye' of the pageant, on a white palfrey. And when all were gone, I leaned back from the window and wondered if the next evening would bring them again to rebuild the shattered towers, and to hold high festival in the golden West.
Aye,—the golden West. And then what visions of those old adventurers, who passed full of hope into the broad ocean, steering through weedy sea and by dreaded sandbars, to the land over which hangs Hesperus, calm and pale, as in the days of olden time. Their dreams
were of the wealth of the Incas, of the untold richness of Manoa, “the golden city," and of the hoards of the captive Montezumas. And then came the English, under such men as Hawkins and Drake, and the covetous Spaniard had many a hard fight for his darling gold. Those were the days when Las Casas, in order to lighten the Indians' toil, brought into employment the stronger arms of the negroes, and introduced that slavery the curse of which bas hung on our footsteps like an insatiable Nemesis ever since.
And yet in the very thickest of all this grasping for gain, there is one spark at least of the truest and most romantic daring. When Ponce de Leon set forth from Jamaica in his two caravels, for that new island of flowers, the Florida,' he sought not for gold, nor slaves, nor conquest. All his hope was centered in the discovery of the Fountain of Youth, whose waters he longed to drink and be young again. Hardy old soldier that he was, skilled in a thousand battles, and well aware of all Indian wiles, he left his bones in the green savannas, happily ignorant that his fabled stream was to be found only in a land which is not of the earth. And as I sit here and look out on the fast fading tints of the sky, I cannot but think that it was better to die as he did, than to fall with Cortes' bravest on the broken causeway in the Mexican lake.
Such stories have always been the fittest themes for song and legend. Chivalrous devotion to a cause never fails of throwing around and over all imperfections the vail of poetry. And any noble nature, if rightly portrayed, moves us up to higher things, happy if the impression be strong enough to outlast the wear of years. We learn best by example, and therein consists the true strength of the novelist. No one can read such books as · Adam Bede,' Kingsley's · Amyas Leigh,' or De la Motte Fouque's Thiodolph,' without a yearning to be more like those characters. As for • Thiodolph,' that has been so little known when compared with ·Undine' and “Sintram,' that I must crave pardon for having named it with the others, and yet no book is more worthy so to be named.
It is one of a man's frequent day dreams to imagine himself in positions of honor or power, and to fancy how he would conduct himself therein. His acts are all satisfactory to him, and everything goes smoothly, till perhaps the dream is broken by some such catastrophe as befell the glass merchant in the Arabian story, and his fancied riches turn into the sober reality of broken wares. But in spite of all, we keep to the old custom still, and wake ever and anon to the truth, merely to doze away again into some other vision of what may