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Page 179

30. XXX.

Kavanagh continued his walk in the direction
of Mr. Churchill's residence. This, at least,
was unchanged,—quite unchanged. The same
white front; the same brass knocker; the same
old wooden gate, with its chain and ball; the same
damask roses under the windows; the same sunshine
without and within. The outer door and
study door were both open, as usual in the warm
weather; and at the table sat Mr. Churchill,
writing. Over each ear was a black and inky
stump of a pen, which, like the two ravens
perched on Odin's shoulders, seemed to whisper
to him all that passed in heaven and on earth.
On this occasion, their revelations were of the
earth. He was correcting school exercises.

The joyful welcome of Mr. Churchill, as
Kavanagh entered, and the cheerful sound of


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their voices, soon brought Mrs. Churchill to the
study,—her eyes bluer than ever, her cheeks
fairer, her form more round and full. The
children came in also,—Alfred grown to boy's
estate and exalted into a jacket; and the baby
that was, less than two years behind him, and
catching all his falling mantles, and all his tricks
and maladies.

Kavanagh found Mr. Churchill precisely where
he left him. He had not advanced one step,—
not one. The same dreams, the same longings,
the same aspirations, the same indecision. A
thousand things had been planned, and none completed.
His imagination seemed still to exhaust
itself in running, before it tried to leap the ditch.
While he mused, the fire burned in other brains.
Other hands wrote the books he dreamed about.
He freely used his good ideas in conversation,
and in letters; and they were straightway wrought
into the texture of other men's books, and so
lost to him for ever. His work on Obscure
Martyrs was anticipated by Mr. Hathaway, who,
catching the idea from him, wrote and published
a series of papers on Unknown Saints, before
Mr. Churchill had fairly arranged his materials.
Before he had written a chapter of his great Romance,


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another friend and novelist had published
one on the same subject.

Poor Mr. Churchill! So far as fame and external
success were concerned, his life certainly
was a failure. He was, perhaps, too deeply
freighted, too much laden by the head, to ride
the waves gracefully. Every sea broke over
him,—he was half the time under water!

All his defects and mortifications he attributed
to the outward circumstances of his life, the exigencies
of his profession, the accidents of chance.
But, in reality, they lay much deeper than this.
They were within himself. He wanted the all-controlling,
all-subduing will. He wanted the
fixed purpose that sways and bends all circumstances
to its uses, as the wind bends the reeds
and rushes beneath it.

In a few minutes, and in that broad style of
handling, in which nothing is distinctly defined, but
every thing clearly suggested, Kavanagh sketched
to his friends his three years' life in Italy and the
East. And then, turning to Mr. Churchill, he

“And you, my friend,—what have you been
doing all this while? You have written to me
so rarely that I have hardly kept pace with you.


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But I have thought of you constantly. In all the
old cathedrals; in all the lovely landscapes;
among the Alps and Apennines; in looking down
on Duomo d'Ossola; at the Inn of Baveno; at
Gaeta; at Naples; in old and mouldy Rome;
in older Egypt; in the Holy Land; in all galleries
and churches and ruins; in our rural retirement
at Fiesoli;—whenever I have seen any
thing beautiful, I have thought of you, and of
how much you would have enjoyed it!”

Mr. Churchill sighed; and then, as if, with a
touch as masterly, he would draw a picture that
should define nothing, but suggest every thing,
he said,—

“You have no children, Kavanagh; we have

“Ah, so many already!” exclaimed Kavanagh.
“A living Pentateuch! A beautiful Pentapylon,
or five-gated temple of Life! A charming

“Yes,” answered Mr. Churchill; “a beautiful
number; Juno's own; the wedding of the first
even and first uneven numbers; the number
sacred to marriage, but having no reference,
direct or indirect, to the Pythagorean novitiate
of five years of silence.”


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“No; it certainly is not the vocation of children
to be silent,” said Kavanagh, laughing.
“That would be out of nature; saving always
the children of the brain, which do not often make
so much noise in the world as we desire. I hope
a still larger family of these has grown up around
you during my absence.”

“Quite otherwise,” answered the school-master,
sadly. “My brain has been almost barren
of songs. I have only been trifling; and I am
afraid, that, if I play any longer with Apollo, the
untoward winds will blow the discus of the god
against my forehead, and strike me dead with it,
as they did Hyacinth of old.”

“And your Romance,—have you been more
successful with that? I hope it is finished, or
nearly finished?”

“Not yet begun,” said Mr. Churchill. “The
plan and characters still remain vague and indefinite
in my mind. I have not even found a name
for it.”

“That you can determine after the book is
written,” suggested Kavanagh. “You can name
it, for instance, as the old Heimskringla was
named, from the initial word of the first chapter.”

“Ah! that was very well in the olden time,


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and in Iceland, when there were no quarterly
reviews. It would be called affectation now.”

“I see you still stand a little in awe of opinion.
Never fear that. The strength of criticism lies
only in the weakness of the thing criticized.”

“That is the truth, Kavanagh; and I am
more afraid of deserving criticism than of receiving
it. I stand in awe of my own opinion. The
secret demerits of which we alone, perhaps, are
conscious, are often more difficult to bear than
those which have been publicly censured in us,
and thus in some degree atoned for.”

“I will not say,” replied Kavanagh, “that
humility is the only road to excellence, but I am
sure that it is one road.”

“Yes, humility; but not humiliation,” sighed
Mr. Churchill, despondingly. “As for excellence,
I can only desire it, and dream of it; I
cannot attain to it; it lies too far from me; I
cannot reach it. These very books about me
here, that once stimulated me to action, have
now become my accusers. They are my Eumenides,
and drive me to despair.”

“My friend,” said Kavanagh, after a short
pause, during which he had taken note of Mr.
Churchill's sadness, “that is not always excellent


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which lies far away from us. What is remote
and difficult of access we are apt to overrate;
what is really best for us lies always within
our reach, though often overlooked. To speak
frankly, I am afraid this is the case with your
Romance. You are evidently grasping at something
which lies beyond the confines of your own
experience, and which, consequently, is only a
play of shadows in the realm of fancy. The
figures have no vitality; they are only outward
shows, wanting inward life. We can give to
others only what we have.”

“And if we have nothing worth giving?” interrupted
Mr. Churchill.

“No man is so poor as that. As well might
the mountain streamlets say they have nothing
worth giving to the sea, because they are not
rivers. Give what you have. To some one, it
may be better than you dare to think. If you
had looked nearer for the materials of your
Romance, and had set about it in earnest, it
would now have been finished.”

“And burned, perhaps,” interposed Mr.
Churchill; “or sunk with the books of Simon
Magus to the bottom of the Dead Sea.”

“At all events, you would have had the pleasure


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of writing it. I remember one of the old
traditions of Art, from which you may perhaps
draw a moral. When Raphael desired to paint
his Holy Family, for a long time he strove in
vain to express the idea that filled and possessed
his soul. One morning, as he walked beyond the
city gates, meditating the sacred theme, he beheld,
sitting beneath a vine at her cottage door, a
peasant woman, holding a boy in her arms, while
another leaned upon her knee, and gazed at the
approaching stranger. The painter found here, in
real life, what he had so long sought for in vain in
the realms of his imagination; and quickly, with
his chalk pencil, he sketched, upon the head of a
wine-cask that stood near them, the lovely group,
which afterwards, when brought into full perfection,
became the transcendent Madonna della

“All this is true,” replied Mr. Churchill,
“but it gives me no consolation. I now despair
of writing any thing excellent. I have no time to
devote to meditation and study. My life is given
to others, and to this destiny I submit without a
murmur; for I have the satisfaction of having
labored faithfully in my calling, and of having
perhaps trained and incited others to do what I


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shall never do. Life is still precious to me for
its many uses, of which the writing of books is
but one. I do not complain, but accept this
destiny, and say, with that pleasant author,
Marcus Antoninus, `Whatever is agreeable to
thee shall be agreeable to me, O graceful Universe!
nothing shall be to me too early or too
late, which is seasonable to thee! Whatever thy
seasons bear shall be joyful fruit to me, O
Nature! from thee are all things; in thee they
subsist; to thee they return. Could one say,
Thou dearly beloved city of Cecrops? and wilt
thou not say, Thou dearly beloved city of

“Amen!” said Kavanagh. “And, to follow
your quotation with another, `The gale that
blows from God we must endure, toiling but not

Here Mrs. Churchill, who had something of
Martha in her, as well as of Mary, and had left
the room when the conversation took a literary
turn, came back to announce that dinner was
ready, and Kavanagh, though warmly urged to
stay, took his leave, having first obtained from the
Churchills the promise of a visit to Cecilia during
the evening.


Page 188

“Nothing done! nothing done!” exclaimed
he, as he wended his way homeward, musing and
meditating. “And shall all these lofty aspirations
end in nothing? Shall the arms be thus
stretched forth to encircle the universe, and come
back empty against a bleeding, aching breast?”

And the words of the poet came into his
mind, and he thought them worthy to be written
in letters of gold, and placed above every door in
every house, as a warning, a suggestion, an incitement:—

“Stay, stay the present instant!
Imprint the marks of wisdom on its wings!
O, let it not elude thy grasp, but like
The good old patriarch upon record,
Hold the fleet angel fast until he bless thee!”


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