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Page 111

20. XX.

Meanwhile, things had gone on very quietly
and monotonously in Mr. Churchill's family.
Only one event, and that a mysterious one, had
disturbed its serenity. It was the sudden disappearance
of Lucy, the pretty orphan girl; and as
the booted centipede, who had so much excited
Mr. Churchill's curiosity, disappeared at the same
time, there was little doubt that they had gone
away together. But whither gone, and where-fore,
remained a mystery.

Mr. Churchill, also, had had his profile, and
those of his wife and children, taken, in a very
humble style, by Mr. Bantam, whose advertisement
he had noticed on his way to school nearly
a year before. His own was considered the best,
as a work of art. The face was cut out entirely;
the collar of the coat velvet; the shirt-collar


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very high and white; and the top of his head
ornamented with a crest of hair turning up in
front, though his own turned down,—which
slight deviation from nature was explained and
justified by the painter as a license allowable
in art.

One evening, as he was sitting down to
begin for at least the hundredth time the great
Romance,—subject of so many resolves and so
much remorse, so often determined upon but
never begun,—a loud knock at the street-door,
which stood wide open, announced a visitor.
Unluckily, the study-door was likewise open;
and consequently, being in full view, he found
it impossible to refuse himself; nor, in fact,
would he have done so, had all the doors
been shut and bolted,—the art of refusing
one's self being at that time but imperfectly
understood in Fairmeadow. Accordingly, the
visitor was shown in.

He announced himself as Mr. Hathaway.
Passing through the village, he could not deny
himself the pleasure of calling on Mr. Churchill,
whom he knew by his writings in the periodicals,
though not personally. He wished, moreover, to
secure the coöperation of one already so favorably


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known to the literary world, in a new Magazine
he was about to establish, in order to raise
the character of American literature, which, in
his opinion, the existing reviews and magazines
had entirely failed to accomplish. A daily increasing
want of something better was felt by the
public; and the time had come for the establishment
of such a periodical as he proposed. After
explaining in rather a florid and exuberant manner
his plan and prospects, he entered more at large
into the subject of American literature, which it
was his design to foster and patronize.

“I think, Mr. Churchill,” said he, “that we
want a national literature commensurate with
our mountains and rivers,—commensurate with
Niagara, and the Alleghanies, and the Great


“We want a national epic that shall correspond
to the size of the country; that shall be
to all other epics what Banvard's Panorama of
the Mississippi is to all other paintings,—the
largest in the world!”


“We want a national drama in which scope
enough shall be given to our gigantic ideas, and


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to the unparalleled activity and progress of our

“Of course.”

“In a word, we want a national literature
altogether shaggy and unshorn, that shall shake
the earth, like a herd of buffaloes thundering
over the prairies!”

“Precisely,” interrupted Mr. Churchill; “but
excuse me!—are you not confounding things
that have no analogy? Great has a very different
meaning when applied to a river, and when
applied to a literature. Large and shallow may
perhaps be applied to both. Literature is rather
an image of the spiritual world, than of the physical,
is it not?—of the internal, rather than the
external. Mountains, lakes, and rivers are, after
all, only its scenery and decorations, not its substance
and essence. A man will not necessarily
be a great poet because he lives near a great
mountain. Nor, being a poet, will he necessarily
write better poems than another, because he lives
nearer Niagara.”

“But, Mr. Churchill, you do not certainly
mean to deny the influence of scenery on the

“No, only to deny that it can create genius.


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At best, it can only develop it. Switzerland has
produced no extraordinary poet; nor, as far as
I know, have the Andes, or the Himalaya mountains,
or the Mountains of the Moon in Africa.”

“But, at all events,” urged Mr. Hathaway,
“let us have our literature national. If it is not
national, it is nothing.”

“On the contrary, it may be a great deal.
Nationality is a good thing to a certain extent, but
universality is better. All that is best in the great
poets of all countries is not what is national in
them, but what is universal. Their roots are in
their native soil; but their branches wave in the
unpatriotic air, that speaks the same language unto
all men, and their leaves shine with the illimitable
light that pervades all lands. Let us throw all
the windows open; let us admit the light and air
on all sides; that we may look towards the four
corners of the heavens, and not always in the
same direction.”

“But you admit nationality to be a good

“Yes, if not carried too far; still, I confess, it
rather limits one's views of truth. I prefer what
is natural. Mere nationality is often ridiculous.
Every one smiles when he hears the Icelandic


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proverb, `Iceland is the best land the sun shines
upon.' Let us be natural, and we shall be national
enough. Besides, our literature can be strictly
national only so far as our character and modes
of thought differ from those of other nations.
Now, as we are very like the English,—are, in
fact, English under a different sky,—I do not see
how our literature can be very different from
theirs. Westward from hand to hand we pass
the lighted torch, but it was lighted at the old
domestic fireside of England.”

“Then you think our literature is never to be
any thing but an imitation of the English?”

“Not at all. It is not an imitation, but, as
some one has said, a continuation.”

“It seems to me that you take a very narrow
view of the subject.”

“On the contrary, a very broad one. No
literature is complete until the language in which
it is written is dead. We may well be proud of
our task and of our position. Let us see if we
can build in any way worthy of our forefathers.”

“But I insist upon originality.”

“Yes; but without spasms and convulsions.
Authors must not, like Chinese soldiers, expect
to win victories by turning somersets in the air.”


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“Well, really, the prospect from your point
of view is not very brilliant. Pray, what do you
think of our national literature?”

“Simply, that a national literature is not the
growth of a day. Centuries must contribute their
dew and sunshine to it. Our own is growing
slowly but surely, striking its roots downward,
and its branches upward, as is natural; and I do
not wish, for the sake of what some people call
originality, to invert it, and try to make it grow
with its roots in the air. And as for having it so
savage and wild as you want it, I have only to
say, that all literature, as well as all art, is the
result of culture and intellectual refinement.”

“Ah! we do not want art and refinement; we
want genius,—untutored, wild, original, free.”

“But, if this genius is to find any expression,
it must employ art; for art is the external expression
of our thoughts. Many have genius, but,
wanting art, are for ever dumb. The two must
go together to form the great poet, painter, or

“In that sense, very well.”

“I was about to say also that I thought our
literature would finally not be wanting in a kind
of universality.


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“As the blood of all nations is mingling with
our own, so will their thoughts and feelings
finally mingle in our literature. We shall draw
from the Germans tenderness; from the Spaniards,
passion; from the French, vivacity, to
mingle more and more with our English solid
sense. And this will give us universality, so
much to be desired.”

“If that is your way of thinking,” interrupted
the visitor, “you will like the work I am now
engaged upon.”

“What is it?”

“A great national drama, the scene of which
is laid in New Mexico. It is entitled Don
Serafin, or the Marquis of the Seven Churches.
The principal characters are Don Serafin, an
old Spanish hidalgo; his daughter Deseada; and
Fra Serapion, the Curate. The play opens
with Fra Serapion at breakfast; on the table a
game-cock, tied by the leg, sharing his master's
meal. Then follows a scene at the cock-pit,
where the Marquis stakes the remnant of his
fortune—his herds and hacienda—on a favorite
cock, and loses.”

“But what do you know about cock-fighting?”


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demanded, rather than asked, the astonished and
half-laughing school-master.

“I am not very well informed on that subject,
and I was going to ask you if you could not
recommend some work.”

“The only work I am acquainted with,” replied
Mr. Churchill, “is the Reverend Mr.
Pegge's Essay on Cock-fighting among the Ancients;
and I hardly see how you could apply
that to the Mexicans.”

“Why, they are a kind of ancients, you
know. I certainly will hunt up the essay you
mention, and see what I can do with it.”

“And all I know about the matter itself,”
continued Mr. Churchill, “is, that Mark Antony
was a patron of the pit, and that his cocks
were always beaten by Cæsar's; and that, when
Themistocles the Athenian general was marching
against the Persians, he halted his army to
see a cock-fight, and made a speech to his soldiery,
to the effect, that those animals fought not
for the gods of their country, nor for the monuments
of their ancestors, nor for glory, nor for
freedom, nor for their children, but only for
the sake of victory. On his return to Athens,


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he established cock-fights in that capital. But
how this is to help you in Mexico I do not
see, unless you introduce Santa Anna, and
compare him to Cæsar and Themistocles.”

“That is it; I will do so. It will give
historic interest to the play. I thank you for
the suggestion.”

“The subject is certainly very original; but
it does not strike me as particularly national.”

“Prospective, you see!” said Mr. Hathaway,
with a penetrating look.

“Ah, yes; I perceive you fish with a heavy
sinker,—down, far down in the future,—among
posterity, as it were.”

“You have seized the idea. Besides, I obviate
your objection, by introducing an American
circus company from the United States, which
enables me to bring horses on the stage and
produce great scenic effect.”

“That is a bold design. The critics will
be out upon you without fail.”

“Never fear that. I know the critics root
and branch,—out and out,—have summered
them and wintered them,—in fact, am one of
them myself. Very good fellows are the critics;
are they not?”


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“O, yes; only they have such a pleasant
way of talking down upon authors.”

“If they did not talk down upon them, they
would show no superiority; and, of course, that
would never do.”

“Nor is it to be wondered at, that authors
are sometimes a little irritable. I often recall
the poet in the Spanish fable, whose manuscripts
were devoured by mice, till at length
he put some corrosive sublimate into his ink,
and was never troubled again.”

“Why don't you try it yourself?” said Mr.
Hathaway, rather sharply.

“O,” answered Mr. Churchill, with a smile
of humility, “I and my writings are too insignificant.
They may gnaw and welcome. I
do not like to have poison about, even for such

“By the way, Mr. Churchill,” said the visitor,
adroitly changing the subject, “do you know

“No, I do not. Who is he?”

“Honeywell the poet, I mean.”

“No, I never even heard of him. There
are so many poets now-a-days!”

“That is very strange indeed! Why, I consider


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Honeywell one of the finest writers in
the country,—quite in the front rank of American
authors. He is a real poet, and no mistake.
Nature made him with her shirt-sleeves rolled

“What has he published?”

“He has not published any thing yet, except
in the newspapers. But, this Autumn, he is
going to bring out a volume of poems. I could
not help having my joke with him about it. I
told him he had better print it on cartridge-paper.”

“Why so?”

“Why, to make it go off better; don't you

“O, yes; now that you explain it. Very

“Honeywell is going to write for the Magazine;
he is to furnish a poem for every number;
and as he succeeds equally well in the plaintive
and didactic style of Wordsworth, and the more
vehement and impassioned style of Byron, I
think we shall do very well.”

“And what do you mean to call the new
Magazine?” inquired Mr. Churchill.

“We think of calling it The Niagara.”


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“Why, that is the name of our fire-engine!
Why not call it The Extinguisher?”

“That is also a good name; but I prefer
The Niagara, as more national. And I hope,
Mr. Churchill, you will let us count upon you.
We should like to have an article from your
pen for every number.”

“Do you mean to pay your contributors?”

“Not the first year, I am sorry to say. But
after that, if the work succeeds, we shall pay
handsomely. And, of course, it will succeed,
for we mean it shall; and we never say fail.
There is no such word in our dictionary. Before
the year is out, we mean to print fifty
thousand copies; and fifty thousand copies will
give us, at least, one hundred and fifty thousand
readers; and, with such an audience, any author
might be satisfied.”

He had touched at length the right strings in
Mr. Churchill's bosom; and they vibrated to
the touch with pleasant harmonies. Literary
vanity!—literary ambition! The editor perceived
it; and so cunningly did he play upon
these chords, that, before he departed, Mr.
Churchill had promised to write for him a series
of papers on Obscure Martyrs,—a kind of


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tragic history of the unrecorded and life-long
sufferings of women, which hitherto had found
no historian, save now and then a novelist.

Notwithstanding the certainty of success,—
notwithstanding the fifty thousand subscribers and
the one hundred and fifty thousand readers,—
the Magazine never went into operation. Still
the dream was enough to occupy Mr. Churchill's
thoughts, and to withdraw them entirely from his
Romance for many weeks together.