There is no word in the English language more unceremoniously and indefinitely kicked and cuffed about, by what are called sensible people, than the word romance. When Mr. Smith or Mr. Stubbs has brought every wheel of life into such range and order that it is one steady, daily grind,—when they themselves have come into the habits and attitudes of the patient donkey, who steps round and round the endlessly turning wheel of some machinery—then they fancy that they have gotten ‘the victory that overcometh the world.’

All but this dead grind, and the dollars that come through the mill, is by them thrown into one waste ‘catch-all’ and labelled romance. Perhaps there was a time in Mr. Smith’s youth,—he remembers it now,—when he read poetry, when his cheek was wet with strange tears, when a little song, ground out by an organ-grinder in the street, had power to set his heart beating and bring a mist before his eyes. Ah, in those days he had a vision!—a pair of soft eyes stirred him strangely; a little weak hand was laid on his manhood, and it shook and trembled; and then came all the humility, the aspiration, the fear, the hope, the high desire, the troubling of the waters by the descending angel of love,—and a little more and Mr. Smith might have become a man, instead of a banker! He thinks of it now, sometimes, as he looks across the fireplace after dinner and sees Mrs. Smith asleep, innocently shaking the bouquet of pink bows and Brussels lace that waves over her placid red countenance.

Mrs. Smith wasn’t his first love, nor, indeed, any love at all; but they agreed reasonably well. And as for poor Nellie,—well, she is dead and buried,—all that was stuff and romance. Mrs. Smith’s money set him up in business, and Mrs. Smith is a capital manager, and he thanks God that he isn’t romantic, and tells Smith Junior not to read poetry or novels, and to stick to realities.

‘This is the victory that overcometh the world,’—to learn to be fat and tranquil, to have warm fires and good dinners, to hang your hat on the same peg at the same hour every day, to sleep soundly all night, and never to trouble your head with a thought or imagining beyond.

But there are many people besides Mr. Smith who have gained this victory,—who have strangled their higher nature and buried it, and built over its grave the structure of their life, the better to keep it down.

The fascinating Mrs. T., whose life is a whirl between ball and opera, point-lace, diamonds, and schemings of admiration for herself, and of establishments for her daughters,—there was a time, if you will believe me, when that proud, worldly woman was so humbled, under the touch of some mighty power, that she actually thought herself capable of being a poor man’s wife. She thought she could live in a little, mean house, on no-matter-what-street, with one servant, and make her own bonnets, and mend her own clothes, and sweep the house Mondays, while Betty washed,—all for what? All because she thought that there was a man so noble, so true, so good, so high-minded, that to live with him in poverty, to be guided by him in adversity, to lean on him in every rough place of life, was a something nobler, better, purer, more satisfying, than French laces, opera-boxes, and even Madame Roget’s best gowns.

Unfortunately, this was all romance,—there was no such man. There was, indeed, a person of very common, self-interested aims and worldly nature, whom she had credited at sight with an unlimited draft on all her better nature; and when the hour of discovery came, she awoke from her dream with a start and a laugh, and ever since has despised aspiration, and been busy with the realities of life, and feeds poor little Mary Jane, who sits by her in the opera-box there, with all the fruit which she has picked from the bitter tree of knowledge. There is no end of the epigrams and witticisms which she can throw out, this elegant Mrs. T., on people who marry for love, lead prosy, worky lives, and put on their best cap with pink ribbons for Sunday. ‘Mary Jane shall never make a fool of herself;’ but, even as she speaks, poor Mary Jane’s heart is dying within her at the vanishing of a pair of whiskers from an opposite box, which whiskers the poor little fool has credited with a résumé drawn from her own imaginings of all that is grandest and most heroic, most worshipful in man. By-and-by, when Mrs. T. finds the glamour has fallen on her daughter, she wonders; she has ‘tried to keep novels out of the girl’s way,—where did she get these notions?’

All prosaic, and all bitter, disenchanted people talk as if poets and novelists made romance. They do—just as much as craters make volcanoes,—no more. What is romance? whence comes it? Plato spoke to the subject wisely, in his quaint way, some two thousand years ago, when he said, ‘Man’s soul, in a former state, was winged and soared among the gods; and so it comes to pass, that, in this life, when the soul, by the power of music or poetry, or the sight of beauty, hath her remembrance quickened, forthwith there is a struggling and a pricking pain as of wings trying to come forth,—even as children in teething.’ And if an old heathen, two thousand years ago, discoursed thus gravely of the romantic part of our nature, whence comes it that in Christian lands we think in so pagan a way of it, and turn the whole care of it to ballad-makers, romancers, and opera-singers?

Let us look up in fear and reverence, and say, ‘God is the great maker of romance. He, from whose hand came man and woman,—He, who strung the great harp of Existence with all its wild and wonderful and manifold chords, and attuned them to one another,—He is the great Poet of life.’ Every impulse of beauty, of heroism, and every craving for purer love, fairer perfection, nobler type and style of being than that which closes like a prison-house around us, in the dim, daily walk of life, is God’s breath, God’s impulse, God’s reminder to the soul that there is something higher, sweeter, purer, yet to be attained.

Therefore, man or woman, when thy ideal is shattered—as shattered a thousand times it must be; when the vision fades, the rapture burns out, turn not away in scepticism and bitterness, saying, ‘There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink,’ but rather cherish the revelations of those hours as prophecies and fore-shadowings of something real and possible, yet to be attained in the manhood of immortality. The scoffing spirit that laughs at romance, is an apple of the Devil’s own handing from the bitter tree of knowledge;—it opens the eyes only to see eternal nakedness.

If ever you have had a romantic, uncalculating friendship—a boundless worship and belief in some hero of your soul; if ever you have so loved, that all cold prudence, all selfish worldly considerations, have gone down like drift-wood before a river flooded with new rain from heaven, so that you even forgot yourself, and were ready to cast your whole being into the chasm of existence, as an offering before the feet of another, and all for nothing,—if you awoke bitterly betrayed and deceived, still give thanks to God that you have had one glimpse of heaven. The door now shut will open again. Rejoice that the noblest capability of your eternal inheritance has been made known to you; treasure it, as the highest honour of your being, that ever you could so feel,—that so divine a guest ever possessed your soul.

By such experiences are we taught the pathos, the sacredness of life; and if we use them wisely, our eyes will ever after be anointed to see what poems, what romances, what sublime tragedies lie around us in the daily walk of life, ‘written not with ink, but in fleshly tables of the heart.’ The dullest street of the most prosaic town has matter in it for more smiles, more tears, more intense excitement, than ever were written in story or sung in poem; the reality is there, of which the romancer is the second-hand recorder.

So much of a plea we put in boldly, because we foresee grave heads beginning to shake over our history, and doubts rising in reverend and discreet minds whether this history is going to prove anything but a love-story, after all.

We do assure you, right reverend Sir, and you, most discreet Madam, that it is not going to prove anything else; and you will find, if you will follow us, that there is as much romance burning under the snow-banks of cold Puritan preciseness as if Dr. H. had been brought up to attend operas instead of metaphysical preaching; and Mary had been nourished on Byron’s poetry instead of ‘Edwards on the Affections.’

The innocent credulities, the subtle deceptions, that were quietly at work under the grave, white curls of the Doctor’s wig, were exactly of the kind which have beguiled man in all ages, when near the sovereign presence of her who is born for his destiny;—and as for Mary, what did it avail her that she could say the Assembly’s Catechism from end to end without tripping, and that every habit of her life beat time to practical realities, steadily as the parlour clock? The wildest Italian singer or dancer, nursed on nothing but excitement from her cradle, never was more thoroughly possessed by the awful and solemn mystery of woman’s life, than this Puritan girl.

It is quite true, that, the next morning after James’s departure, she rose as usual in the dim gray, and was to be seen opening the kitchen-door just at the moment when the birds were giving the first little drowsy stir and chirp,—and that she went on setting the breakfast-table for the two hired men, who were bound to the fields with the oxen,—and that then she went on skimming cream for the butter, and getting ready to churn, and making up biscuit for the Doctor’s breakfast, when he and they should sit down together at a somewhat later hour; and as she moved about, doing all these things, she sung various scraps of old psalm-tunes; and the good Doctor, who was then busy with his early exercises of devotion, listened, as he heard the voice, now here, now there, and thought about angels and the Millennium. Solemnly and tenderly there floated in at his open study-window, through the breezy lilacs, mixed with low of kine, and bleat of sheep, and hum of early wakening life, the little silvery ripples of that singing, somewhat mournful in its cadence, as if a gentle soul were striving to hush itself to rest. The words were those of the rough old version of the psalms then in use:—

‘Truly my waiting soul relies

In silence God upon:

Because from him there doth arise

All my salvation.’

And then came the busy patter of the little footsteps without, the moving of chairs, the clink of plates, as busy hands were arranging the table; and then again there was a pause, and he thought she seemed to come near to the open window of the adjoining room, for the voice floated in clearer and sadder:—

‘O God, to me be merciful,

Be merciful to me!

Because my soul for shelter safe,

Betakes itself to thee.

‘Yea, in the shadow of thy wings

My refuge have I placed,

Until these sore calamities

Shall quite be overpast.’

The tone of life in New England, so habitually earnest and solemn, breathed itself in the grave and plaintive melodies of the tunes then sung in the churches; and so these words, though in the saddest minor key, did not suggest to the listening ear of the auditor anything more than that pensive religious calm in which he delighted to repose. A contrast indeed they were, in their melancholy earnestness, to the exuberant carollings of a robin, who, apparently attracted by them, perched himself hard by in the lilacs, and struck up such a merry roulade as quite diverted the attention of the fair singer; in fact, the intoxication breathed in the strain of this little messenger, whom God had feathered and winged and filled to the throat with ignorant joy, came in singular contrast with the sadder notes breathed by that creature of so much higher mould and fairer clay,—that creature born for an immortal life.

But the good Doctor was inly pleased when she sung; and when she stopped, looked up from his Bible wistfully, as missing something, he knew not what; for he scarce thought how pleasant the little voice was, or knew he had been listening to it,—and yet he was in a manner enchanted by it, so thankful and happy that he exclaimed with fervour, ‘The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.’

So went the world with him, full of joy and praise, because the voice and the presence wherein lay his unsuspected life, were securely near,—so certainly and constantly a part of his daily walk, that he had not even the trouble to wish for them. But in that other heart how was it?—how with the sweet saint that was talking to herself in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs?

The good child had remembered her mother’s parting words the night before,—‘Put your mind upon your duties,’—and had begun her first conscious exercise of thought with a prayer that grace might be given her to do it. But even as she spoke, mingling and interweaving with that golden thread of prayer was another consciousness, a life in another soul, as she prayed that the grace of God might overshadow him, shield him from temptation, and lead him up to heaven; and this prayer so got the start of the other, that, ere she was aware, she had quite forgotten self, and was feeling, living, thinking in that other life.

The first discovery she made, when she looked out into the fragrant orchard, whose perfumes steamed in at her window, and listened to the first chirping of birds among the old apple-trees, was one that has astonished many a person before her;—it was this: she found that all that had made life interesting to her was suddenly gone. She herself had not known that, for the month past, since James came from sea, she had been living in an enchanted land; that Newport harbour, and every rock and stone, and every mat of yellow seaweed on the shore, that the two-mile road between the cottage and the white house of Zebedee Marvyn, every mullein-stalk, every juniper-tree, had all had a light and a charm which were suddenly gone. There had not been an hour in the day for the last four weeks that had not had its unsuspected interest,—because he was at the White House; because, possibly, he might be going by, or coming in: nay, even in church, when she stood up to sing, and thought she was thinking only of God, had she not been conscious of that tenor voice that poured itself out by her side? and though afraid to turn her head that way, had she not felt that he was there every moment?—heard every word of the sermon and prayer for him? The very vigilant care which her mother had taken to prevent private interviews had only served to increase the interest by throwing over it the veil of constraint and mystery. Silent looks, involuntary starts, things indicated, not expressed—these are the most dangerous, the most seductive aliment of thought to a delicate and sensitive nature. If things were said out, they might not be said wisely,—they might repel by their freedom, or disturb by their unfitness; but what is only looked is sent into the soul through the imagination, which makes of it all that the ideal faculties desire.

In a refined and exalted nature it is very seldom that the feeling of love, when once thoroughly aroused, bears any sort of relation to the reality of the object. It is commonly an enkindling of the whole power of the soul’s love for whatever she considers highest and fairest; it is, in fact, the love of something divine and unearthly, which, by a sort of illusion, connects itself with a personality. Properly speaking, there is but One true, eternal Object of all that the mind conceives in this trance of its exaltation. Disenchantment must come, of course; and in a love which terminates in happy marriage there is a tender and gracious process, by which, without shock or violence, the ideal is gradually sunk in the real, which, though found faulty and earthly, is still ever tenderly remembered as it seemed under the morning light of that enchantment.

What Mary loved so passionately, that which came between her and God in every prayer, was not the gay, young, dashing sailor,—sudden in anger, imprudent of speech, and, though generous in heart, yet worldly in plans and schemings,—but her own ideal of a grand and noble man, such a man as she thought he might become. He stood glorified before her—an image of the strength that overcomes things physical; of the power of command which controls men and circumstances; of the courage which disdains fear; of the honour which cannot lie; of constancy which knows no shadow of turning; of tenderness which protects the weak; and, lastly, of religious loyalty, which should lay the golden crown of its perfected manhood at the feet of a Sovereign Lord and Redeemer. This was the man she loved; and with this regal mantle of glories she invested the person called James Marvyn: and all that she saw and felt to be wanting, she prayed for with the faith of a believing woman.

Nor was she wrong; for, as to every leaf and every flower there is an ideal to which the growth of the plant is constantly urging, so is there an ideal to every human being,—a perfect form in which it might appear, were every defect removed and every characteristic excellence stimulated to the highest point. Once, in an age, God sends to some of us a friend who loves in us, not a false imagining, an unreal character, but, looking through all the rubbish of our imperfections, loves in us the divine ideal of our nature,—loves, not the man that we are, but the angel that we may be. Such friends seem inspired by a divine gift of prophecy,—like the mother of St. Augustine, who, in the midst of the wayward, reckless youth of her son, beheld him in a vision, standing, clothed in white, a ministering priest at the right hand of God—as he has stood for long ages since. Could a mysterious foresight unveil to us this resurrection form of the friends with whom we daily walk, compassed about with mortal infirmity, we should follow them with faith and reverence through all the disguises of human faults and weaknesses, ‘waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God.’

But these wonderful soul-friends, to whom God grants such perception, are the exceptions in life; yet, sometimes are we blessed with one who sees through us, as Michel Angelo saw through a block of marble when he attacked it in a divine fervour, declaring that an angel was imprisoned within it: and it is often the resolute and delicate hand of such a friend that sets the angel free.

There be soul-artists, who go through this world, looking among their fellows with reverence, as one looks amid the dust and rubbish of old shops for hidden works of Titian and Leonardo; and, finding them, however cracked or torn, or painted over with tawdry daubs of pretenders, immediately recognise the divine original, and set themselves to cleanse and restore. Such be God’s real priests, whose ordination and anointing are from the Holy Spirit; and he who hath not this enthusiasm is not ordained of God, though whole synods of bishops laid hands on him.

Many such priests there be among women; for to this silent ministry their nature calls them, endowed, as it is, with fineness of fibre and a subtile keenness of perception outrunning slow-footed reason,—and she of whom we write was one of these.

At this very moment, while the crimson wings of morning were casting delicate reflections on tree, and bush, and rock, they were also reddening innumerable waves round a ship that sailed alone, with a wide horizon stretching like an eternity around it; and in the advancing morning stood a young man, thoughtfully looking off into the ocean, with a book in his hand—James Marvyn,—as truly and heartily a creature of this material world as Mary was of the invisible and heavenly.

There are some who seem made to live,—life is such a joy to them; their senses are so fully en rapport with all outward things; the world is so keenly appreciable, so much a part of themselves; they are so conscious of power and victory in the government and control of material things, that the moral and invisible life often seems to hang tremulous and unreal in their minds, like the pale, faded moon in the light of a gorgeous sunrise. When brought face to face with the great truths of the invisible world, they stand related to the higher wisdom much like the gorgeous, gay Alcibiades to the divine Socrates, or like the young man in Holy Writ to Him for whose appearing Socrates longed;—they gaze, imperfectly comprehending, and at the call of ambition or riches turn away sorrowing.

So it was with James: in full tide of worldly energy and ambition there had been forming over his mind that hard crust—that scepticism of the spiritual and exalted which men of the world delight to call practical sense. He had been suddenly arrested and humbled by the revelation of a nature so much nobler than his own that he seemed worthless in his own eyes: he had asked for love; but when such love unveiled itself, he felt like the disciple of old in the view of a diviner tenderness,—‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.’

But it is not often that all the current of a life is reversed in one hour: and now, as James stood on the ship’s deck, with life passing around him, and everything drawing upon the strings of old habits, Mary and her religion recurred to his mind, as some fair, sweet, inexplicable vision. Where she stood he saw; but how he was ever to get there seemed as incomprehensible as how a mortal man should pillow his form on sunset clouds.

He held the little Bible in his hand as if it were some amulet charmed by the touch of a superior being; but when he strove to read it, his thoughts wandered, and he shut it, troubled and unsatisfied. Yet there were within him yearnings and cravings, wants never felt before, the beginning of that trouble which must ever precede the soul’s rise to a higher plan of being.

There we leave him. We have shown you now our three different characters, each one in its separate sphere, feeling the force of that strongest and holiest power with which it has pleased our great Author to glorify this mortal life.

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