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PERHAPS the reader — whom I cannot help considering as my guest in the Old Manse, and entitled to all courtesy, in the way of sight-showing- perhaps he will choose to take a nearer view of the memorable spot.* We stand now on the river's brink. It may well be called the Concord, — the river of
peace and quietness, – for it is certainly the most unexcitable and şluggish stream that ever loitered, imperceptibly, towards its eternity, the sea. Positively, I had lived three weeks beside it, before it grew quite clear to my perception which way the current flowed. It never has a vivacious aspect, except when a north-western breeze is vexing its surface, on a sunshiny day. From the incurable indolence of its nature, the stream is happily incapable of becoming the slave of human ingenuity, as is the fate of so many a wild, free mountain torrent. While all things else are compelled to subserve some useful purpose, it idles its sluggish life away in lazy liberty, without turning a solitary spindle, or affording even water power enough to grind the corn that grows upon its banks. The torpor of its movement allows it nowhere a bright, pebbly shore, nor so much as a narrow strip of glistening sand, in any part of its course. It slumbers between broad prairies, kissing the long meadow grass, and bathes the overhanging boughs of elder bushes and willows, or the roots of elm and ash trees, and clumps of maples. Flags and rushes grow along its plashy shore; the yellow water-lily spreads its broad, flat leaves on the margin ; and the fragrant, white pond lily abounds, generally selecting a position just so far from the river's brink that it cannot be grasped, save at the hazard of plunging in.
It is a marvel whence this perfect flower derives its loveliness and perfume, springing, as it does, from the black mud over which the river sleeps, and where lurk the slimy eel, and speckled frog, and the mud turtle, whom continual washing cannot cleanse. It is the very same black mud out of which
• The Manse was near the scene of the Concord fight, in April, 1776.
the yellow lily sucks its rank life and noisome odor. Thus we see, too, in the world, that some persons assimilate only what is ugly and evil from the same moral circumstances which supply good and beautified results — the fragrance of celestial flowers — to the daily life of others.
The reader must not, from any testimony of mine, contract a dislike towards our slumberous stream. In the light of a calm and golden sunset, it becomes lovely beyond expression; the more lovely for the quietude that so well accords with the hour, when even the wind, after blustering all day long, usually hushes itself to rest. Each tree and rock, and every blade of grass, is distinctly imaged, and, however unsightly in reality, assumes ideal beauty in the reflection. The minutest things of earth, and the broad aspect of the firmament, are pictured equally without effort, and with the same felicity of success. All the sky glows downward at our feet; the rich clouds float through the unruffled bosom of the stream, like heavenly thoughts through a peaceful heart. We will not, then, malign our river as gross and impure, while it can glorify itself with so adequate a picture of the heaven that broods above it; or, if we remember its tawny hue and the muddiness of its bed, let it be a symbol that the earthliest human soul has an infinite spiritual capacity, and may contain the better world within its depths. But, indeed, the same lesson might be drawn out of any mud puddle in the streets of a city — and, being taught us every where, it must be true.
The Old Manse! - - we had almost forgotten it, but will return thither through the orchard. This was set out by the last clergyman, in the decline of his life, when the neighbors laughed at the hoary-headed man for planting trees, from which he could have no prospect of gathering fruit. Even had that been the case, there was only so much the better motive for planting them, in the pure and unselfish hope of benefiting his successors an end so seldom achieved by more ambitious efforts. But the old minister, before reaching his patriarchal age of ninety, ate the apples from this orchard
during many years, and added silver and gold to his annual stipend, by disposing of the superfluity. It is pleasant to think of him, walking among the trees in the quiet afternoons of early autumn, and picking up here and there a windfall while he observes how heavily the branches are weighed down, and computes the number of em pty flour barrels that will be filled by their burden. He loved each tree, doubtless, as if it had been his own child. An orchard has a relation to mankind, and readily connects itself with matters of the heart. The trees possess a domestic character; they have lost the wild nature of their forest kindred, and have grown humanized by receiving the care of man, as well as by contributing to his wants.
I have met with no other such pleasant trouble in the world, as that of finding myself, with only the two or three mouths which it was my privilege to feed, the sole inheritor of the old clergyman's wealth of fruits. Throughout the summer there were cherries and currants; and then came autumn, with his immense burden of apples, dropping them continually from his overladen shoulders, as he trudged along. In the stillest afternoon, if I listened, the thump of a great apple was audible, falling without a breath of wind, from the mere necessity of perfect ripeness. And, besides, there were pear trees, that flung down bushels upon bushels of heavy pears; and peach trees, which, in a good year, tormented me with peaches, neither to be eaten nor kept, nor, without labor and perplexity, to be given away. The idea of an infinite generosity and inexhaustible bounty, on the part of our mother Nature, was well worth obtaining through such cares as these. That feeling can be enjoyed in perfection only by the natives of summer islands, where the bread-fruit, the cocoa, the palm, and the orange grow spontaneously, and hold forth the ever-ready meal; but, likewise, almost as well, by a man long habituated to city life, who plunges into such a solitude as that of the Old Manse, where he plucks the fruit of trees that he did not plant; and which, therefore, to my heterodox taste, bear the closer resemblance to those that grew in Eden.
Not that it can be disputed that the light toil, requisite to cultivate a moderately-sized garden, imparts such zest to kitchen vegetables as is never found in those of the market gardener. Childless men, if they would know something of the bliss of paternity, should plant a seed - be it squash, bean, Indian corn, or perhaps a mere flower, or worthle33 weed should plant it with their own hands, and nurse it from infancy to maturity, altogether by their own care. If there be not too many of them, each individual plant becomes an object of separate interest. My garden, that skirted the avenue of the Manse, was of precisely the right extent. An hour or two of morning labor was all that it required. But I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny, with a love that nobody could share or conceive of, who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a row of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green. Later in the season, the humming birds were attracted by the blossoms of a peculiar variety of bean ; and they were a joy to me, those little spiritual visitants, for deigning to sip any food out of my nectar cups. Multitudes of bees used to bury themselves in the yellow blossoms of the summer squashes. This, too, was a deep satisfaction ; although, when they had laden themselves with sweets, they flew away to some unknown hive, which would give back nothing in requital of what my garden had contributed. But I was glad thus to fling a benefaction upon the passing breeze, with the certainty that somebody must profit by it, and that there would be a little more honey in the world, to allay the sourness and bitterness which mankind is always complaining of. Yes, indeed ; my life was the sweeter for that honey.
CXXXV. - ITALIAN BEAR DANCERS.
[This extract is from a little book published in London, in 1846, called Popular Cus toms, Sports, and Recollections of the South of Italy, by CHARLES MACFARLANE. It consists of a series of papers which originally appeared in the Penny Magazine. Mr. Mac. Farlane, who was one of the authors of the Pictorial History of England, has also writtan A Glance at Revolutionized Italy, The Romance of Travel, Lives and Exploits of Banditti and Robbers, and Turkey and its Destinies. He lived many years in Italy, and is well acquainted with the country and its inhabitants.]
THE bears that danced in London in the time of my childhood were discreet, well-tutored, well-mannered bears; and their leaders were mostly black-eyed, black-haired, picturesque Italians, from the ridges of the Apennines, or gentle Savoyards from the declivities of the Alps.
They made their bears dance to pleasant and pastoral music — to the pipe and tabor; and it seems to me that I have never heard in England the true, legitimate tabor, since the days when I saw a huge, brown bear dancing to it in the City Road. In Italy, at a much more recent period, I have heard the sounds produced by that happy combination of stick and sheepskin; but even there it was in conjunction with an interesting member of the hirsute bear family, who was cutting capers in the Forum of ancient Rome, which — so fleets the glory of the world — is now little else than a cattle market.
For all that I know to the contrary, dancing bears may have become as rare a sight in the streets of Rome as they are in the streets of London. But when I first knew the Eternal City, it was not so. One or two dancing bears were then to be seen every common working day of the week, and more on Sundays and saints' days, and other high festivals. Punch, too, at that time, flourished amazingly in the city of the Cæsars. You could not walk from the Piazza di Spagna to St. Peter's, or the Vatican, or the Coliseum, or the Capitol, without hearing his shrill, crowing voice.
* Pronounced Peeatza de Sparn-ya.