University of Virginia Library


[Excuse me, dear reader, while with two epistles I build a
bridge over which you can cross a chasm of a month in my story.]

“Sir: I am intrusted with a delicate commission, which I
know not how to broach to you, except by simple proposal.
Will you forgive my abrupt brevity, if I inform you, without further
preface, that the Countess Nyschriem, a Polish lady of high


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birth and ample fortune, does you the honor to propose for your
hand. If you are disengaged, and your affections are not irrevocably
given to another, I can conceive no sufficient obstacle to
your acceptance of this brilliant connexion. The countess is
twenty-two, and not beautiful, it must in fairness be said; but
she has high qualities of head and heart, and is worthy of any
man's respect and affection. She has seen you, of course, and
conceived a passion for you, of which this is the result. I am
directed to add, that should you consent, the following conditions
are imposed—that you marry her within four days, making no
inquiry except as to her age, rank, and property, and that, without
previous interview, she come veiled to the altar.

“An answer is requested in the course of to-morrow, addressed
to `The Count Hanswald, minister of his majesty the king of

“I have the honor, &c., &c.


McDonald's answer was as follows:—

“You will pardon me that I have taken two days to consider
the extraordinary proposition made me in your letter. The subject,
since it is to be entertained a moment, requires, perhaps,
still further reflection—but my reply shall be definite, and as
prompt as I can bring myself to be, in a matter so important.

“My first impulse was to return your letter, declining the honor
you would do me, and thanking the lady for the compliment of
her choice. My first reflection was the relief and happiness which
an independence would bring to a mother and two sisters dependent,
now, on the precarious profits of my pencil. And I first
consented to ponder the matter with this view, and I now consent


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to marry (frankly) for this advantage. But still I have a condition
to propose.

“In the studies I have had the opportunity to make of the
happiness of imaginative men in matrimony, I have observed that
their two worlds of fact and fancy were seldom under the control
of one mistress. It must be a very extraordinary woman of
course, who, with the sweet domestic qualities needful for common
life, possesses at the same time the elevation and spirituality
requisite for the ideal of the poet and painter. And I am not
certain, in any case, whether the romance of some secret passion,
fed and pursued in the imagination only, be not the inseparable
necessity of a poetical nature. For the imagination is incapable
of being chained, and it is at once disenchanted and set roaming
by the very possession and certainty, which are the charms of
matrimony. Whether exclusive devotion of all the faculties of
mind and body be the fidelity exacted in marriage, is a question
every woman should consider before making a husband of an imaginative
man. As I have not seen the countess, I can generalize
on the subject without giving offence, and she is the best
judge whether she can chain my fancy as well as my affections, or
yield to an imaginative mistress the devotion of so predominant a
quality of my nature. I can only promise her the constancy of
a husband.

“Still—if this were taken for only vague speculation—she
might be deceived. I must declare, frankly, that I am at present,
completely possessed with an imaginative passion. The
object of it is probably as poor as I, and I could never marry her
were I to continue free. Probably, too, the high-born countess
would be but little jealous of her rival, for she has no pretensions
to beauty, and is an humble artist. But, in painting this lady's


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portrait—(a chance experiment, to try whether so plain a face
could be made lovely)—I have penetrated to so beautiful an
inner countenance (so to speak)—I have found charms of impression
so subtly masked to the common eye—I have traced such
exquisite lineament of soul and feeling, visible, for the present, I
believe, to my eye only—that, while I live, I shall do irresistible
homage to her as the embodiment of my fancy's want, the very
spirit and essence suitable to rule over my unseen world of imagination.
Marry whom I will, and be true to her as I shall,
this lady will (perhaps unknown to herself) be my mistress in
dream-land and revery.

“This inevitable license allowed—my ideal world and its devotions,
that is to say, left entirely to myself—I am ready to
accept the honor of the countess's hand. If, at the altar, she
should hear me murmur another name with her own—(for the
bride of my fancy must be present when I wed, and I shall link
the vows to both in one ceremony)—let her not fear for my constancy
to herself, but let her remember that it is not to offend
her hereafter, if the name of the other come to my lip in dreams.

“Your excellency may command my time and presence.
With high consideration, &c.,

Graeme McDonald.

Rather agitated than surprised seemed Mademoiselle Folie,
when, the next day, as she arranged her brushes upon the shelf
of her easel, her handsome neighbor commenced, in the most
fluent Italian he could command, to invite her to his wedding.
Very much surprised was McDonald when she interrupted him in
English, and begged him to use his native tongue, as madame,
her attendant, would not then understand him. He went on


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delightedly in his own honest language, and explained to her his
imaginative admiration, though he felt compunctious, somewhat,
that so unreal a sentiment should bring the blood into her cheek.
She thanked him—drew the cloth from the upper part of her
own picture, and showed him an admirable portrait of his handsome
features, substituted for the masculine head of Judith in the
original from which she copied—and promised to be at his wedding,
and to listen sharply for her murmured name in his vow at
the altar. He chanced to wear at the moment a ring of red cornelian,
and he agreed with her that she should stand where he
could see her, and, at the moment of his putting the marriage
ring upon the bride's fingers, that she should put on this, and forever
after wear it, as a token of having received his spiritual vows
of devotion.

The day came, and the splendid equipage of the countess
dashed into the square of Santa Maria, with a veiled bride and a
cold bridegroom, and deposited them at the steps of the church.
And they were followed by other coroneted equipages, and gayly
dressed from each—the mother and sisters of the bridegroom
gayly dressed, among them, but looking pale with incertitude and

The veiled bride was small, but she moved gracefully up the
aisle, and met her future husband at the altar with a low courtesy,
and made a sign to the priest to proceed with the ceremony.
McDonald was colorless, but firm, and indeed showed little
interest, except by an anxious look now and then among the
crowd of spectators at the sides of the altar. He pronounced
with a steady voice, but when the ring was to be put on, he looked
around for an instant, and then suddenly, and to the great
scandal of the church, clasped his bride with a passionate ejaculation


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to his bosom. The cornelian ring was on her finger—and
the Countess Nyschriem and Mademoiselle Folie—his bride and
his fancy queen—were one.

This curious event happened in Florence some eight years
since—as all people then there will remember—and it was prophesied
of the countess that she would have but a short lease of
her handsome and gay husband. But time does not say so. A
more constant husband than McDonald to his plain and titled
wife, and one more continuously in love, does not travel and buy
pictures, and patronize artists—though few except yourself and
I, dear reader, know the philosophy of it!