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“The love of nature seems to have led Thomson to a cheerful religion; and
a gloomy religion to have led Cowper to a love of nature. The one would
carry his fellow-men along with him into nature; the other flies to nature from
his fellow-men.”

S. T. Coleridge.

“Nevertheless, that great epoch cannot fail to arrive when the whole family
of mankind, by a grand universal resolve, will snatch themselves from this
sorrowful condition, from this frightful imprisonment; and by a voluntary
abdication of their terrestial abode, redeem their race from this anguish, and
seek refuge in a happier world with their Ancient Father.

A class of Nature-philosophers refuted by Novalis.

That day at Thalberg, when dinner was over, the
sun had only a half-hour for this side of earth, having
an appointment with the Antipodes at half-past six.

“Gentlemen,” said John Sterling to Flemington and
his two friends, as they rose from table, “you saw
the silver side of my valley when you were riding over
this morning. Come with me, and I 'll show you and
these ladies the golden side; for it is like the old shield
in the story, only I don't know that any foolish knights
ever quarrelled over it. Phil, have chairs brought out
on the balcony. Shall we lead the way?” He offered
his arm to Ottilie.

In laughing procession they filed out, and established
themselves upon a fair broad balcony that looked westward
and overhung the slope which swept down with
all its trees and boulders to the river.


Page 107

“Our womankind are all used to cigar-smoke, Flem,”
said Philip, handing them round. You don 't object to
it?” addressing Ottilie.

“O, what a question, — to a German! At home,” —
ah, my God! Home? What a word is this for me to
speak! thought Ottilie — “the house was always full
of smoke from a half-dozen pipes of as many German
kinsmen of mine. I made a virtue of necessity and
liked it in self-defense.”

Who grumbles that such a dinner should end in nothing
but — smoke? You 're a dyspeptic; it was n't
smoking hurt you, sir; it was the want of exercise, which
if you had taken, you might have smoked as much as
you pleased!

Be still about this Thalberg smoke. It ascended towards
heaven; and drew their thoughts buoyantly upward.

The Thalbergers began to discourse upon high topics.

“How easy is it,” — observed Philip, “when one
looks on a scene like this, to answer the arguments of
those wild disputants in Von Hardenberg's book? `Intercourse
with the powers of Nature,' says one party,
`with plants, animals, rocks, storms and waves, must
necessarily assimilate men to these objects. This assimilation,'
they go on to say, `this metamorphosis and dissolution
of the divine and the human into ungovernable
forces, is even the spirit of Nature, that frightfully voracious
power. Is not all,' — they ask with an earnestness
which only makes one smile, here; `is not all that
we see even now a prey from heaven, a great ruin of
former glories, the remains of a terrific repast?”'

“I don't feel,” said Flemington, with a long-drawn


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luxurious puff, “as if I were relapsing into barbarism,
just at this particular moment. Though, sure enough,
it must have been in some wild hurly-burly of Nature's
youth, when she piled up these huge hills so high, and
tossed them about so carelessly.”

“Yes,” said Rübetsahl, “but look! she 's sorry she
did it! She 's done her best to smooth it over! She
has covered these same mountain-evidences of folly with
picturesque rocks and loving mosses; with stately trees
and saintly flowers; with glittering springs that invite
people to drink, and with hospitable ferns that allure
people to rest. She has converted the boisterous sins
of her youth into the enchanting virtues of her age.
Her wild oats have blossomed into mountain-roses and

“That 's true,” chimed Aubrey; “whereas Nature
was an earthquake, now she is a flower. Let men
tremble with a sublime terror at her old destructions;
they can thrill with a sublimer love at her later creations.”

“And yet,” interposed John Sterling meditatively, “if
one attempt to fly from his sins into Nature, expecting to
drown the memory and sting of his transgression in her
terrors and her beauties, one fails unless he remembers
this: that Nature is nothing as an end; that Nature is
everything as a means. Nature is finite in herself; she
is infinite in her suggestions. We must not fly to her,
but to the great Christ she helps us see. Perhaps the
mysterious idea of Divinity is like a sentence written
backward; we make it out easiest by reflecting it in a
mirror. As such a mirror, Nature is a glorious revealer
to the sorrowful soul; an infinite-tongued


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preacher of the Son who is our Father. I do not know
the metaphysics; but as a practical man, hunting something
to live by through day and night, Sundays and all,
I do not want other proof of Christ and his purifying
faculty through love, than that fair pageantry out yonder,”
he concluded, pointing to the brilliant west.

Ottilie looked at the far, glowing mountains with
wistful eyes. With wistful tone, “What you say, sir,”
said she, “is charming. But, alas, does not every one
carry into Nature an eye either bleared, or long-sighted,
or short-sighted, or somewise defective? Is not this
vast mirror to some a concave one; to some a convex
one; to some a cracked one, distorting, all ways, the
sentence one wishes to read? Does not each heart interpret
Nature its own way, so that to the sad heart this
great dew-drop glitters like a tear, while to the joyful
heart it seems a diamond at a feast? One of your own
poets calls the moon Queen of Heaven, blessing all lovers;
another swears the moon is the Eye of Hell recording
the crimes of men!”

“Young lady,” replied old John solemnly, “these
vagaries of trembling human hearts only exhibit more
clearly the sympathy, the sun-pathos, the feeling-with,
of Nature. The mirror will correct itself and mend
itself for any persistent and serious eye. I think,
through all phases of wavering distortion, the heart
will find behind Nature love as well as terror, and
will spring to the most powerful of these, which is

“And so,” cried Philip, “who can believe all this
humbug of Macaulay, that the advance of imagination
is inverse to the advance of reason, and that poetry


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must decline as science flourishes? It is true Homer
was at one end, and Newton at the other, of a time. But
how long a time intervened between Humboldt and
Goethe; how long between Agassiz and Tennyson?
Moreover and what is more, one can scarcely tell
whether Humboldt and Agassiz were not as good poets
as Goethe and Tennyson were certainly good philosophers!
And nothing surprised me more than that even
fine Jamie Hogg must needs fall into this folly and say,
`Let philosophers ken causes, poets effecks'; but” —

“Hold on, Phil!” interrupted John Briggs, “Honest
Hogg, when he said that, had just come in out o' the
cold to a warm fire; the poor fellow was sleepy. He
did n't mean it. I hardly think, now, you ought to bring
that up against Jeems!”

“Well, I won't. But I feel mighty savage against
Macaulay!” replied Philip, rolling up his coat-cuffs.

“Your 're right, Phil,” said Flemington. “One can
trace, through the whole literary development of our
day, the astonishing effect of the stimulus which has
been given to investigations into material nature by the
rise of geology and the prosperity of chemistry. To-day's
science bears not only fruit, but flowers also!
Poems, as well as steam-engines, crown its growth in
these times.”

“So!” said John Sterling, “the nineteenth century
has taken a stroll into the woods and fields, and good is
come of it. For every time has its mythology of Nature.
The Gheber found, or rather placed, a God in
the sun; a strange God, nor human nor divine. The
Greek put fauns and hamadryads in the woods, not
divine, and yet not human, for they did not suffer; they


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had no human hearts. Our poets, God bless 'em!
have given to all natural forms that they shall suffer
and love as we suffer and love. They have not conquered
and made slaves of the rocks and trees; but
they have won them over to be friends, neighbors, and
citizens; which culminated when Robert Browning declared
of a stone church in Italy, that it —

`Held up its face for the sun to shave!'

The earth, through our poets, is no longer dead matter.
She has a soul, and it dreams of God, and one
can see this dream in any lake!”

“Hurrah for matter,” quoth Briggs, “mysterious,
spirit-hiding matter! I move that the freedom of the
city of the universe be presented to this new citizen by
a committee consisting of humanity at large!”

“What you say has occurred in poetry has also taken
place, I think, in music,” said Felix Sterling. “Why do
they talk of pre-Raphaelitism, and not also of pre-Beethovenism
and pre-Miltonism? These all mean surely
nothing more than the close, loving, broad-minded study
of Nature; and meaning this, they mean just what
Raphael and Milton and Beethoven must have done.
The beauty of our time is, that science has enabled us
to do so better than they could! Beethoven is to
Chopin as a wild mountain is to a flower growing on
it; as the sombre booming of the sea in a cave is to
the heavenly murmur of a rivulet in a glen. So Milton
to Tennyson and all the sweet house-hold poets of our
day; so Angelo to Bierstadt. Those were grand, but
these are beautiful; those were magnificent, these are
tender; those were powerful, these are human!”

“Wherefore,” said John Sterling, “matter is not so


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bad, after all. Verily it is true that matter does imprison
our souls; and it is absolutely impossible that
these souls can communicate directly with each other.
We may talk, sing, write, paint, carve and build; we
express our soul, so; but we must use matter each time.
We may even, to adopt the most intangible method,
gaze into the eye of our beloved, speaking many things
silently; yet this requires still an eye, which is matter.
Each soul is prisoner in his cell. Yet we can paint on
the wall, and it will remain! We can use that mysterious
cypher we call language, and the wall will send
it along! We can sing, and the wall will convey the
song to our brother in the next cell! And so, albeit
there is for souls no `kissing through the bars' of matter,
yet matter is a good jailer, and conveys our messages
to our fellow-prisoners, and even suggests better
messages than we could frame without!”

“And will never cease!” broke in Philip. “Poetry
will never fail, nor science, nor the poetry of science.
Till the end of time will deep call unto deep, and day
utter speech unto day, and poets listen, with eavesdropping
ears, to catch and sing to men some melodies from
that sounding song-rhetoric of the lights and the

Philip disappeared, as if to hide a blush. Presently
a prodigious rumbling was heard.

“Is that thunder?” said John Sterling. “Surely
those clouds over yonder are too far for that!”

The rumbling increased, like an approaching earthquake.

It burst upon the wondering Thalbergers.

“Easy there, Ned. So! Now lift, boys, all, and get


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it over the threshold. Roll it along out there, so he can
sit with his face to the west. There!”

It was the piano, which four stout negroes had rolled
from the music-room out on the balcony.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Philip, distributing
manuscript parts of music, “profiting by a suggestion
of my wise sister there, I have arranged a glorious thing
of Chopin's here, not for an orchestra, as she wished,
but for voices. We 'll have a vocal orchestra. Sister
Felie, here 's the contralto part. I know you sing,” — to
Ottilie, — “for I heard your soprano swelling up to-day
from somewhere in the house. You and Felie will do
splendidly in that duet there that commences the piece.
To it there 's a four-voiced accompaniment: Flem, you
take the bass and Briggs the tenor — here 's your part;
and mother 'll sing one part while I play the other on
my flute. Pity you and I don 't sing, Aubrey! Mr.
Rübetsahl, will you preside, as the show-bills say, at the
piano; just throb that bass along, you know, where it 's
too low for the voice; and play a full accompaniment
for this second air, here. Stand up, everybody! All
ready? Now; one, two, three, four, five, six;” and
they started, everybody infected by the music-full soul
that sparkled in his eye and fired his quick movements.

The duet rose and fell, rose and fell again, continually
reaching up and continually falling down, like a human
soul with its high aspirings and its terrible rebuffs. So
rise we, so sink we; one moment gods, another moment

Then, with a startling modulation, and a short pause
during which the singers scarcely dared to breathe,
they commenced a full-chorded chorus, sung in strict


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time, with little rallentando or crescendo, a solemn,
pathetic movement, full of sweet invitation and calm
urging, repeating itself in a dozen keys, approached by
new, yet simple modulations: it was like religion, importuning
men every day. Now came two strains which
were utterly indescribable, save by their effect. They
were full of majesty and simple sweetness. They bore
to you soft breaths from sunshiny woods, mingled with
hum of purling waters of life and murmur of angel-talk;
yet, in the midst of all, hinting by wild suggestions
of a mystery that cannot be solved and a love
that cannot be measured. The whole piece was like
life and its end. It started with human yearnings and
human failures; the second part brought religion, and
the third part spoke of heaven.

And so, the last notes floated out over the rocks, over
the river, over the twilight, to the west. The echoes
liked the music, and long after it was over, kept humming
little snatches of it, calling to each other to
admire, and answering with tiny bravos.

A breeze came like a courier and told all the trees
and the river that the great Night would shortly pass
that way; whereat the leaves did stir a moment, and
the waters ruffled, as making ready for the King.

Who came, and sat, and administered his tranquil
reign over quiet mountain and quiet valley; and over
Thalberg House, not quiet, being full of young and
passionate hearts of men and women, some sleeping,
some waking, all dreaming.