LES morts n'écrivent point," said Madame de Maintenon, who lived in a day of tranquil finalities. If men's passions and vanities were admittedly strong until the hour of dissolution, the finger of death obliterated all traces of them; and the supreme dignity of this obliteration sustained noble minds and solaced the souls that believed. An age which produced the Oraisons Funèbres had an unquenchable reverence for the grave.
Echoes of Madame de Maintenon's soothing conviction ring pleasantly through the intervening centuries. Book-making, which she knew only in its smiling infancy, had grown to ominous proportions when the Hon. Augustine Birrell, brooding over the fatality which had dipped the world in ink, comforted himself—and us—with the vision of an authorless future. "There were no books in Eden," he said meditatively, "and there will be none in Heaven; but between times it is otherwise."
For an Englishman more or less conversant with ghosts, Mr. Birrell showed little foreknowledge of their dawning ambitions. If we may judge by the recent and determined intrusion of spirits into authorship. Heaven bids fair to be stacked with printing-presses. One of their number, indeed, the "Living Dead Man," whose amanuensis is Elsa Barker, and whose publishers have unhesitatingly revealed (or, I might perhaps say, announced) his identity, gives high praise to a ghostly library, well catalogued, and containing millions of books and records. Miss Lilian Whiting assures us that every piece of work done in life has its ethereal counterpart. "The artist creates in the astral before he creates in the material, and the creation in the astral is the permanent embodiment." Consequently, when an author dies, he finds awaiting him an "imperishable record" of all he has ever written. Miss Whiting does not tell us how she comes to know this. Neither does she say how good a book has to be to live forever in the astral, or if a very bad book is never suffered to die a natural and kindly death as in our natural and kindly world. Perhaps it is the ease with which astral immortality is achieved, or rather the impossibility of escaping it, which prompts ambitious and exclusive spirits to force an entrance into our congested literary life, and compete with mortal scribblers who ask their little day.
The suddenness of the attack, and its unprecedented character, daunt and bewilder us. It is true that the apparitions that lend vivacity to the ordinary spiritualistic séance have from time to time written short themes, or dropped into friendly verse. Readers of that engaging volume, "Report of the Seybert Commission for Investigating Modern Spiritualism," published in 1887, will remember that "Belle," who claimed to be the original proprietor of Yorick's skull (long a "property" of the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia, but at that time in the library of Dr. Horace Howard Furness), voiced her pretensions, and told her story, in ten carefully rhymed stanzas.
"My form was sold to doctors three,
So you have all that's left of me;
I come to greet you in white mull,
You that prizes my lonely skull."
But these effusions were desultory and amateurish. They were designed as personal communications, and were betrayed into publicity by their recipients. We cannot regard their authors—painstaking but simple-hearted ghosts—as advance guards of the army of occupation which is now storming the citadel of print.
It is passing strange that the dead who seek to communicate with the living should cling so closely to the alphabet as a connecting link. Dying is a primitive thing. Men died, and were wept and forgotten, for many, many ages before Cadmus sowed the dragon's teeth. But letters are artificial and complicated. They belong to fettered humanity which is perpetually devising ways and means. Shelley, whose impatient soul fretted against barriers, cried out despairingly that inspiration wanes when composition begins. We strive to follow Madame de Sévigné's counsel, "Laissez trotter la plume"; but we know well how the little instrument halts and stumbles; and if a pen is too clumsy for the transmission of thought, what must be the effort to pick out letters on a ouija board, or with a tilting table? The spirit that invented table-rapping (which combines every possible disadvantage as a means of communication with every absurdity that can offend a fastidious taste) deserves to be penalized by its fellow spirits. Even Sir Oliver Lodge admits that the substitution of tables for pen and ink "has difficulties of its own."
Yet nothing can overcome the infatuation of ghostly visitors for this particular piece of furniture. They cannot keep their spectral fingers off one, and they will come any distance, and take any pains, for the pleasure of such handling. Maeterlinck relates with enviable gravity the details of an evening call paid by a monk who had lain in the cloisters of the Abbaye de Saint Wandrille since 1693, and who broke a sleep of two centuries that he might spin a table on one leg for the diversion of the poet's guests. Their host, while profoundly indifferent to the entertainment, accepted it with a tolerant shrug. If it amused both mortals and the monk, why cavil at its infantile simplicity?
The frolicsome moods of the Lodge table must have been disconcerting even to such a receptive and sympathetic circle. It performed little tricks like lying down, or holding two feet in the air, apparently for its own innocent delight. It emulated Æsop's affectionate ass, and "seemed to wish to get into Lady Lodge's lap, and made caressing movements to and fro, as if it could not get close enough to her." It jocularly thumped piano-players on the back; and when a cushion was held up to protect them, it banged a hole in the cover. What wonder that several tables were broken "during the more exuberant period of these domestic sittings, before the power was under control"; and that the family was compelled to provide a strong and heavy article which could stand the "skylarking" (Sir Oliver's word) of supernatural visitors.
The ouija board, though an improvement on the table, is mechanical and cumbersome. It has long been the chosen medium of that most prolific of spirit writers, Patience Worth; and a sympathetic disciple once ventured to ask her if there were no less laborious method by which she could compose her stories. To which Patience, who then used a language called by her editor "archaic," and who preferred to "dock the smaller parts-o'-speech," replied formidably,—
"The hand o' her do I to put be the hand o' her, and 't is ascribe that setteth the one awither by eyes-fulls she taketh in."
The disciple's mind being thus set at rest, he inquired how Patience discovered this avenue of approach, and was told,—
"I did to seek at crannies for to put; ay, an't wer the her o' her who tireth past the her o' her, and slippeth to a naught o' putting; and 't wer the me o' me at seek, aye, and find. Aye, and 't wer so."
The casual and inexpert reader is not always sure what Patience means to say; but to the initiated her cryptic and monosyllabic speech offers no difficulties. When asked if she were acquainted with the spirit of the late Dr. William James, she said darkly,—
"I telled a one o' the brothers and the neighbours o' thy day, and he doth know."
"This," comments Mr. Yost, "was considered as an affirmative reply," and with it her questioners were content.
All fields of literature are open to Patience Worth, and she disports herself by turns in prose and verse, fiction and philosophy. Other spirits have their specialties. They write, as a rule, letters, sermons, didactic essays, vers libre, and an occasional story. But Patience writes six-act dramas which, we are assured, could, "with a little alteration," be produced upon the stage, short comedies "rich in humour," country tales, mystical tales, parables, aphorisms, volumes of verse, and historical novels. In three years and a half she dictated to Mrs. Curran, her patient ouija-board amanuensis, 900,000 words. It is my belief that she represents a spirit syndicate, and lends her name to a large coterie of literary wraiths. The most discouraging feature of her performance is the possibility of its indefinite extension. She is what Mr. Yost calls "a continuing phenomenon." Being dead already, she cannot die, and the beneficent limit which is set to mortal endeavour does not exist for her. "The larger literature is to come," says Mr. Yost ominously; and we fear he speaks the truth.
Now what do we gain by this lamentable intrusion of ghostly aspirants into the serried ranks of authorship? What is the value of their work, and what is its ethical significance? Perhaps because literary distinction is a rare quality, the editors and publishers of these revelations lay stress upon the spiritual insight, the finer wisdom, which may accrue to us from direct contact with liberated souls. They even hint at some great moral law which may be thus revealed for our betterment. But the law of Christ is as pure and lofty as any code our human intelligence can grasp. We do not live by it, because it makes no concession to the sickly qualities which cement our earthly natures; but we hold fast to it as an incomparable ideal. It is not law or light we need. It is the power of effort and resistance. "Toutes les bonnes maximes sont dans le monde; on ne manque que de les appliquer."
The didacticism of spirit authors is, so far, their most striking characteristic. As Mr. Henry James would put it, they are "awkward writers, but yearning moralists." Free from any shadow of diffidence, they proffer a deal of counsel, but it is mostly of the kind which our next-door neighbour has at our command.
In the volume called "Letters from Harry and Helen," the dead children exhort their relatives continuously; and their exhortations, albeit of a somewhat intimate character, have been passed on to the public as "an inspiration to the life of brotherhood." Helen, for example, bids her mother and sister give away the clothes they do not need. "You had better send the pink dress to B. You won't wear it. Lace and a few good bits of jewelry you can use, and these won't hurt your progress." She also warns them not to take long motor rides with large parties. The car holds four comfortably; but if her sister will go all afternoon with five people packed into it, she is sure to be ill. This is sensible advice, but can it be needful that the dead should revisit earth to give it?
Harry, a hardy and boisterous spirit, with a fine contempt for precautions, favours a motor trip across the continent, gallantly assures his family that the project is "perfectly feasible," tells his sister to "shoot some genuine food" at her sick husband, who appears to have been kept on a low diet, and observes with pleasure that his mother is overcoming her aversion to tobacco. "Mamma is learning," he comments patronizingly. "Some day she will arrive at the point where a smoker will fail to arouse a spark of criticism, or even of interest. When that day comes, she will have learned what she is living for this time."
Here was a chance for a ghostly son to get even with the parent who had disparaged the harmless pleasures of his youth. Harry is not the kind of a spirit to miss such an opportunity. He finds a great deal to correct in his family, a great deal to blame in the world, and some things to criticize in the universe. "I suppose the Creator knows his own business best," he observes grudgingly; "but there have been moments when I felt I could suggest improvements. For instance, had I been running affairs, I should have been a little more open about this reincarnation plan of elevating the individual. Why let a soul boggle along blindly for numberless lives, when just a friendly tip would have illuminated the whole situation, and enabled him to plan with far less waste?"
"O eloquent, just and mighty death!" Have we professed to break thy barriers, to force thy pregnant silence into speech, only to make of thy majesty a vulgar farce, and, of thy consolations, folly and self-righteousness?
The "Living Dead Man" has also a course of instruction, in fact several courses of instruction, to offer. His counsels are all of the simplest. He bids us drink plenty of water, because water feeds our astral bodies; to take plenty of sleep, because sleep fits us for work; and on no account to lose our tempers. He is a gentle, garrulous ghost, and his first volume is filled with little anecdotes about his new—and very dull—surroundings, and mild little stories of adventure. He calls himself an "astral Scheherazade," but no sultan would ever have listened to him for a thousand and one nights. He chants vers libre of a singularly uninspired order, and is particular about his quotations. "If you print these letters," he tells his medium, "I wish you would insert here fragments from that wonderful poem of Wordsworth, 'Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.'" Then follow nineteen lines of this fairly familiar masterpiece. There is something rather droll in having our own printed poets quoted to us lengthily by cultivated and appreciative spirits.
The "War Letters" dictated by the "Living Dead Man" in the spring and summer of 1915 are more animated and highly coloured. Some long-past episodes, notably the entrance of the German soldiers into Brussels, are well described, though not so vividly as by the living Richard Harding Davis. We are told in the preface that on the fourth of February, 1915, the spirit wrote: "When I come back" (he was touring to a distant star), "and tell you the story of this war, as seen from the other side, you will know more than all the Chancelleries of the nations." This promises well; but in the three hundred pages that follow there is not one word to indicate that the "Living Dead Man" had any acquaintance with real happenings which were not published in our newspapers; or that he was aware of these happenings before the newspapers published them. He is always on the safe side of prophecy. In a letter dictated on the seventh of May, the date of the sinking of the Lusitania, he makes no mention of the crime; but the following morning, after the ghastly news was known to the world, he writes that he could have told it twenty-four hours earlier had he not feared to shock Mrs. Barker's sensibilities.
It was a mistaken kindness. Nothing could save mankind from a knowledge of that terrible deed; but four words spoken on the seventh of May would have revolutionized the world of thought. They would have compelled belief in phenomena which we are now intellectually free to reject.
The events narrated by the "Living Dead Man" are of a kind which the Chancelleries of the nations had no need to know. He tells us that he and twenty other spirits stood for hours in the palace of Potsdam, trying with lamentable lack of success to reduce by the pressure of their will the greater pressure of the war-will surging through the German nation. He has a dramatic meeting with the spirit of the murdered Archduke, Franz Ferdinand, and a long interview with the spirit of Nietzsche, whom he commands—authoritatively—to go back to earth and teach humility. He rests and refreshes the jaded spirit of a British officer, killed in action, by showing him a dance of sylphs; and he meets an old acquaintance, the sylph Meriline (friend and familiar of a French magician), doing scout duty in the German trenches. Finally he assures us that Serbia is doomed to disaster, because a Serbian magician, who died many years ago, left her as a legacy a host of "astral monsters" that infest the land, awakening from slumber at the first hint of strife, and revelling in bloodshed and misery.
It is hard lines on Serbia, and it sounds a good deal like the fairy tales of our happy infancy. The "Living Dead Man" is careful to let us know that he has assisted at the war councils of Berlin, being enabled by an especial hardening of the astral ears to hear all that is spoken on earth. No secrets of state are hidden from him; but, on such weighty matters, discretion compels silence. Moreover, the vastness of his knowledge is out of accord with the puniness of our intelligence. It cannot be communicated, because there is no avenue of approach. "The attempt to tell the world what I know now is like trying to play Beethoven on a penny whistle. I feel as a mathematician would feel should he set himself down to teach addition to small children. I dare not tell you more than I do, for you could not contain it."
And so we are told nothing.
In the little book entitled, "Thy Son Liveth," which is said to have been dictated by an American soldier, killed in Flanders, to his mother, we have a cheerful picture of active young spirits "carrying on" the business of war, relieving the wounded, soothing the dying, working up wireless communications ("The German operators cannot see us when we are around"), and occasionally playing the part of the gods before the walls of Troy.
"I told you that we were not given any power over bullets, that we can comfort, but not save from what you call death. That is not quite the case, I find. Jack Wells directed me to stand by a junior lieutenant to-day, and impel him this way and that to avoid danger. I discovered that my perceptions are much more sensitive than they were before I came out. I can estimate the speed, and determine the course, of shells. I stood by this fellow, nudged him here and there, and kept him from being hurt. I asked Wells if that was an answer to prayer. Wells said, 'No, the young chap is an inventor, and has a job ahead of him that's of importance to the world.'"
It is an interesting episode; but intervention, as we learn from Homer, is an open game. Perhaps some German lieutenant had a job ahead of him, and scientifically-minded German ghosts saved him from Allied shells. When the dead American soldier writes that he is going to "get in touch with Edison," and work on devices to combat German machines, we ask ourselves whether dead German soldiers got in touch with Dr. Haber, and helped him make the poison gas and the flame-throwers which won the Nobel prize.
That the son should proffer much good advice to his mother seems inevitable, because it is the passion of all communicative spirits to advise. He is also happy to correct certain false impressions which she has derived from the Evangelists.
"I got your wire calling my attention to the scriptural statement that in Heaven there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, and I do not know what to say. It seemed (until you gave me this jolt) that the Bible bears out everything that I have been able to tell you. Perhaps the chronicler got balled up in this particular quotation. For love and marriage are certainly in bud and flower here. I can see this fact with my own eyes."
He can do more than see it with his own eyes. He can feel it with his own heart. A few pages later comes this naïve confession:
"Jack Wells and I are very close friends. His sister's name is Alice, and she has grown up in the country beyond, where his folks live. It seems all reach or return to maturity. Youth blossoms and flowers, but does not decay. I can call up her vision at any time. But I want her near."
A simple and guileless little book, preposterous only in the assumption that the human race has waited for centuries to receive its revelations.
We have been told that the Great War stands responsible for our mental disturbance, for the repeated assaults upon taste and credulity before which the walls of our minds are giving way. Mr. Howells, observing rather sympathetically the ghostly stir and thrill which pervades literature, asked if it were due to the overwhelming numbers of the dead, if it came to us straight from sunken ships, and from the battle-fields of Europe.
What answer can we make save that natural laws work independently of circumstance? A single dead man and a million of dead men stand in the same relation to the living. If ever there was a time when it was needful to hold on to our sanity with all our might, that time is now. Our thoughts turn, and will long turn, to the men who laid down their lives for our safety. How could it be otherwise? There is, and there has always been, a sense of comradeship with the departed. It is a noble and a still comradeship, untarnished by illusions, unvulgarized by extravagant details. Newman has portrayed it in "A Voice from Afar"; and Mr. Rowland Thirlmere has made it the theme of some very simple and touching verses called "Jimmy Doane." The elderly Englishman who has lost his friend, a young American aviator, "generous, clever, and confident," and who sits alone, with his heart cold and sore, feels suddenly the welcome nearness of the dead. No table heaves its heavy legs to announce that silent presence. No alphabet is needed for his message. But the living man says simply to his friend, "My house is always open to you," and hopes that they may sit quietly together when the dreams of both are realized, and the hour of deliverance comes.
The attitude of spirit authors to the war varies from the serene detachment of Raymond, who had been a soldier, to the passionate partisanship of the "Living Dead Man," who had been a civilian; but who, like the anonymous "Son," cannot refrain from playing a lively part in the struggle. "Many a time have I clutched with my too-tenuous hands a German soldier who was about to disgrace himself." Harry and Helen express some calm regret that the lack of unselfish love should make war possible, and report that "Hughey"—their brother-in-law's brother—"has gone to throw all he possesses of light into the dark struggle." Apparently his beams failed signally to illuminate the gloom, which is not surprising when we learn that "a selfish or ill-natured thought" (say from a Bulgarian or a Turk) "lowers the rate of vibration throughout the entire universe." They also join the "White Cross" nurses, and are gratified that their knowledge of French enables them to receive and encourage the rapidly arriving French soldiers. Helen, being the better scholar of the two, is able to give first aid, while Harry brushes up his verbs. In the absence of French caretakers, who seem to have all gone elsewhere, the two young Americans are in much demand.
Remote from such crass absurdities (which have their confiding readers) is the quiet, if somewhat perfunctory, counsel given by "The Invisible Guide" to Mr. C. Lewis Hind, and by him transmitted to the public. There is nothing offensive or distasteful in this little volume which has some charming chapters, and which purports to be an answer to the often asked question, "How may I enter into communion with the departed?" If the admonitions of the dead soldier, who is the "Guide," lack pith and marrow, they do not lack it more perceptibly than do the admonitions of living counsellors, and he is always commendably brief. What depresses us is the quality of his pacifism expressed at a time which warranted the natural and noble anger awakened by injustice.
It is the peculiarity of all pacifists that wrongdoing disturbs them less than does the hostility it provokes. The "Guide" has not a sigh to waste over Belgium and Serbia. Air-raids and submarines fail to disturb his serenity. But he cannot endure a picture called Mitrailleuse, which represents four French soldiers firing a machine gun. When his friend, the author, so far forgets himself as to be angry at the insolence of some Germans, the "Guide," pained by such intolerance, refuses any communication; and when, in more cheerful mood, the author ventures to be a bit enthusiastic over the gallant feats of a young aviator, the "Guide" murmurs faintly and reproachfully, "It is the mothers that suffer."
One is forced to doubt if guidance such as this would ever have led to victory.
Raymond, though he has been thrust before the public without pity and without reserve, has shown no disposition to enter the arena of authorship. He has been content to prattle to his own family about the conditions that surround him, about the brick house he lives in, the laboratories he visits, where "all sorts of things" are manufactured out of "essences and ether and gases,"—rather like German war products, and the lectures that he attends. The subjects of these lectures are spirituality, concentration, and—alas!—"the projection of uplifting and helpful thoughts to those on the earth plane." Such scraps of wisdom as are vouchsafed him he passes dutifully on to his parents. He tells his mother that, on the spiritual plane, "Rank doesn't count as a virtue. High rank comes by being virtuous."
"Kind hearts are more than coronets."
Also that "It isn't always the parsons that go highest first," and that "It isn't what you've professed; it's what you've done." Something of this kind we have long suspected. Something of this kind has long been hinted from the plain pulpits of the world.
I fear it is the impatience of the human mind, the hardness of the human heart, which make us restless under too much preaching. Volume after volume of "messages" have been sent to us by spirits during the last few years. There is no fault to be found with any of them, and that sad word, "uplifting," may well apply to all. Is it possible that, when we die, we shall preach to one another; or is it the elusiveness of ghostly audiences which drives determined preachers to the ouija board? The somewhat presumptuous title, "To Walk With God," which Mrs. Lane and Mrs. Beale have given to their volume of revelations, was, we are told, commanded by the spirit who dictated it. "Stephen," the dead soldier who stands responsible for the diffuse philosophy of "Our Unseen Guest," dedicates the book to the "wistful" questioners who seek enlightenment at his hands. "Anne Simon," a transcendental spirit with a strong bias for hyphenated words, sends her modest "Message," dictated through her husband, to "world-mortals for their regeneration."
How lightly that tremendous word, "regeneration," is bandied about by our ghostly preceptors. Mr. Basil King, in "The Abolishing of Death," reports the spirit of Henry Talbot, the distinguished Boston chemist, assaying, "My especial mission is to regenerate the world." It is a large order. The ungrateful but always curious mortal who would like a few practical hints about chemistry, is told instead that "grief is unrhythmical," which proves that Mr. Talbot never read "In Memoriam"; or finds himself beset by figurative phrases. "Literature is the sun, music is the water, sculpture is the earth, dancing is life, and painting is the soul. These in their purity can never be evil. I have spread a table in your sight. Whatever is on it is for your use. Take freely, and give it to others. They hunger for the food."
For what do we hunger? For any word which will help us on our hard but interesting way, any word which is wise, or practically useful, or beautiful. It has been revealed to Mr. King that poets as splendid as Homer and Shakespeare bloom in the spirit world. Why, in the general assault by dead authors, are they the silent ones? Could they not give us one good play, one good lyric, one good sonnet, just to show a glint of their splendour? What is wrong with psychic currents that they bear nothing of value? "Stephen," the "Unseen Guest," assures us that many a man we call a genius "simply puts into words the thoughts of some greater mentality in the other life." But this is not adding to our store. It is trying to take away from us the merit of what we have. "Anne Simon" reads the riddle thus: "In earth-proximity the spirit leaves behind him his efficacy, for the time, of Heaven-emanation; so it is better to open the heart, and wish the larger beneficence than to visualize the spirit-form. For the spirit-form without its spirit-treasure does not bring the mortal to the higher places."
Which, though not wholly intelligible, is doubtless true.
If we do not get what we hunger for, what is it we receive? Professor Hyslop once assured me that the authorship of "Jap Herron" was "proved beyond question." This contented him, but dismayed me. The eclipse of the "merry star" which danced above Mark Twain's cradle, and which shone on him fitfully through life, suggests direful possibilities in the future. It is whispered that O. Henry is busily dictating allegories and tracts; that Dickens may yet reveal "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"; that Washington Irving has loomed on the horizon of an aspiring medium. The publication of "Shakespeare's Revelations, by Shakespeare's Spirit: A Soul's Record of Defeat," adds a touch of fantastic horror to the situation. The taste of the world, like the sanity of the world, has seemingly crashed into impotence.
Patience Worth is fortunate in so far that she has no earlier reputation at stake. In fact, we are informed that three of her stories are told in "a dialect which, taken as a whole, was probably never spoken, and certainly never written. Each seems to be a composite of dialect words and idioms of different periods and different localities." It is Mr. Yost's opinion, however, that her long historical novel, "The Sorry Tale," is composed "in a literary tongue somewhat resembling the language of the King James version of the Bible in form and style, but with the unmistakable verbal peculiarities of Patience Worth." "What bringeth thee asearch?" and "Who hath the trod of the antelope?" are doubtless verbal peculiarities; but for any resemblance to the noble and vigorous lucidity of the English Bible we may search in vain through the six hundred and forty closely printed pages of this confused, wandering, sensuous, and wholly unreadable narrative, which purports to tell the life-history of the penitent thief. I quote a single paragraph, snatched at random from the text, which may serve as a sample of the whole:
"And within, upon the skins'-pack, sat Samuel, who listed him, and lo, the jaws of him hung ope. And Jacob wailed, and the Jew's tongue of him sounded as the chatter of fowls, and he spake of the fool that plucked of his ass that he save of down. Yea, and walked him at the sea's edge, and yet sought o' pools. And he held aloft unto the men who hung them o'er the bin's place handsful of brass and shammed precious stuffs, and cried him out."
Six hundred and forty pages of this kind of writing defy a patient world. And we are threatened with "the larger literature to come"!
"Hope Trueblood," Patience Worth's last novel, is written in intelligible English, as is also the greater part of her verse. The story deals with the doubtful legitimacy of a little girl in an English village which has lived its life along such straight lines that the mere existence of a bastard child, or a child thought to be a bastard, rocks it to its foundations, and furnishes sufficient matter for violent and heart-wounding scenes from the first chapter to the last. It is difficult to follow the fortunes of this child (who might have been the great original devil baby of Hull House for the pother she creates) because of the confusion of the narrative, and because of the cruelly high pitch at which all emotions are sustained; but we gather that the marriage lines are at last triumphantly produced, and that the village is suffered to relapse into the virtuous somnolence of earlier days.
Mr. Yost, who has edited all of Patience Worth's books, and who is perhaps a partial critic, praises her poems for their rare individuality. We may search in vain, he says, through literature for anything resembling them. "They are alike in the essential features of all poetry, and yet they are unalike. There is something in them that is not in other poetry. In the profusion of their metaphor there is an etherealness that more closely resembles Shelley, perhaps, than any other poet; but the beauty of Shelley's poems is almost wholly in their diction; there is in him no profundity of thought. In these poems there is both beauty and depth,—and something else."
Whatever this "something else" may be, it is certainly not rhyme or rhythm. The verses brook no bondage, but run loosely on with the perilous ease of enfranchisement. For the most part they are of the kind which used to be classified by compilers as "Poems of Nature," and "Poems of Sentiment and Reflection." Spring, summer, autumn, and winter are as inspirational for the dead as for the living.
"'T is season's parting.
Yea, and earth doth weep. The Winter cometh,
And he bears her jewels for the decking
Of his bride. A glittered crown
Shall fall 'pon earth, and sparkled drop
Shall stand like gem that flasheth
'Pon a nobled brow. Yea, the tears
Of earth shall freeze and drop
As pearls, the necklace o' the earth.
'T is season's parting. Yea,
The earth doth weep.
'T is Fall."
Byron has recorded in a letter to Hoppner the profound impression made upon him by two concise epitaphs in the cemetery of Bologna.
Implora eterna quiete.
It seemed to the poet—himself in need of peace—that all the weariness of life, and all the gentle humility of the tired but trusting soul, were compressed into those lines. There is nothing calamitous in death.
"The patrimony of a little mould,
And entail of four planks,"
is the common heritage of mankind, and we accept it reverently. A belief in the immortality of the soul has been fairly familiar to Christendom before the spiritualists adopted it as their exclusive slogan. But to escape from time, only to enter upon an eternity shorn of everything which could make eternity endurable, to pass through the narrow door which opens on the highways of God, only to find ourselves dictating dull books, and delivering platitudinous lectures,—which of us has courage to face such possibilities!
We are told that once, when Patience Worth was spelling out the endless pages of "The Sorry Tale," she came to a sudden stop, then wrote, "This be nuff," and knocked off for the night. A blessed phrase, and, of a certainty, her finest inspiration. Would that all dead authors would adopt it as their motto; and with ouija boards, and table-legs, and automatic pencils, write as their farewell message to the world those three short, comely words, "This be nuff."