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Narrative and legendary poems

The Vaudois teacher.

This poem was suggested by the account given of the manner in which the Waldenses disseminated their principles among the Catholic gentry. They gained access to the house through their occupation as peddlers of silks, jewels, and trinkets. ‘Having disposed of some of their goods,’ it is said by a writer who quotes the inquisitor Rainerus Sacco, ‘they cautiously intimated that they had commodities far more valuable than these, inestimable jewels, which they would show if they could be protected from the clergy. They would then give their purchasers a Bible or Testament; and thereby many were deluded into heresy.’

The poem, under the title Le Colporteur Vaudois, was translated into French by Professor G. de Felice, of Montauban, and further naturalized by Professor Alexandre Rodolphe Vinet, who quoted it in his lectures on French literature, afterwards published. It became familiar in this form to the Waldenses, who adopted it as a household poem. An American clergyman, J. C. Fletcher, frequently heard it when he was a student, about the year 1850, in the theological seminary at Geneva, Switzerland, but the authorship of the poem was unknown to those who used it. Twenty-five years later, Mr. Fletcher, learning the name of the author, wrote to the moderator of the Waldensian synod at La Tour, giving the information. At the banquet which closed the meeting of the synod, the moderator announced the fact, and was instructed in the name of the Waldensian church to write to me a letter of thanks. My letter, written in reply, was translated into Italian and printed throughout Italy.

“O Lady fair, these silks of mine are beautiful and rare,—
The richest web of the Indian loom, which beauty's queen might wear; [18]
And my pearls are pure as thy own fair neck, with whose radiant light they vie;
I have brought them with me a weary way,—will my gentle lady buy?”

The lady smiled on the worn old man through the dark and clustering curls
Which veiled her brow, as she bent to view his silks and glittering pearls;
And she placed their price in the old man's hand and lightly turned away,
But she paused at the wanderer's earnest call,— ”My gentle lady, stay!

O lady fair, I have yet a gem which a purer lustre flings,
Than the diamond flash of the jewelled crown on the lofty brow of kings;
A wonderful pearl of exceeding price, whose virtue shall not decay,
Whose light shall be as a spell to thee and a blessing on thy way!“

The lady glanced at the mirroring steel where her form of grace was seen,
Where her eye shone clear, and her dark locks waved their clasping pearls between;
“Bring forth thy pearl of exceeding worth, thou traveller gray and old,
And name the price of thy precious gem, and my page shall count thy gold.”

The cloud went off from the pilgrim's brow, as a small and meagre book, [19]
Unchased with gold or gem of cost, from his folding robe he took!
“Here, lady fair, is the pearl of price, may it prove as such to thee!
Nay, keep thy gold—I ask it not, for the word of God is free!”

The hoary traveller went his way, but the gift he left behind
Hath had its pure and perfect work on that highborn maiden's mind,
And she hath turned from the pride of sin to the lowliness of truth,
And given her human heart to God in its beautiful hour of youth!

And she hath left the gray old halls, where an evil faith had power,
The courtly knights of her father's train, and the maidens of her bower;
And she hath gone to the Vaudois vales by lordly feet untrod,
Where the poor and needy of earth are rich in the perfect love of God!


The Female martyr.

Mary G——, aged eighteen, a ‘Sister of Charity,’ died in one of our Atlantic cities, during the prevalence of the Indian cholera, while in voluntary attendance upon the sick.

“bring out your dead!” The midnight street
     Heard and gave back the hoarse, low call; [20]
Harsh fell the tread of hasty feet,
     Glanced through the dark the coarse white sheet,
Her coffin and her pall.
     ‘What—only one!’ the brutal hack-man said,
As, with an oath, he spurned away the dead.

How sunk the inmost hearts of all,
     As rolled that dead-cart slowly by,
With creaking wheel and harsh hoof-fall!
     The dying turned him to the wall,
To hear it and to die!
     Onward it rolled; while oft its driver stayed,
And hoarsely clamored, “Ho! bring out your dead.”

It paused beside the burial-place;
     ‘Toss in your load!’ and it was done.
With quick hand and averted face,
     Hastily to the grave's embrace
They cast them, one by one,
     Stranger and friend, the evil and the just,
Together trodden in the churchyard dust!

And thou, young martyr! thou wast there;
     No white-robed sisters round thee trod,
Nor holy hymn, nor funeral prayer
     Rose through the damp and noisome air,
Giving thee to thy God;
     Nor flower, nor cross, nor hallowed taper gave
Grace to the dead, and beauty to the grave!

Yet, gentle sufferer! there shall be,
     In every heart of kindly feeling, [21]
A rite as holy paid to thee
     As if beneath the convent-tree
Thy sisterhood were kneeling,
     At vesper hours, like sorrowing angels, keeping
Their tearful watch around thy place of sleeping.

For thou wast one in whom the light
     Of Heaven's own love was kindled well;
Enduring with a martyr's might,
     Through weary day and wakeful night,
Far more than words may tell:
     Gentle, and meek, and lowly, and unknown,
Thy mercies measured by thy God alone!

Where manly hearts were failing, where
     The throngful street grew foul with death,
O high-souled martyr! thou wast there,
     Inhaling, from the loathsome air,
Poison with every breath.
     Yet shrinking not from offices of dread
For the wrung dying, and the unconscious dead.

And, where the sickly taper shed
     Its light through vapors, damp, confined,
Hushed as a seraph's fell thy tread,
     A new Electra by the bed
Of suffering human-kind!
     Pointing the spirit, in its dark dismay,
To that pure hope which fadeth not away.

Innocent teacher of the high
     And holy mysteries of Heaven!
How turned to thee each glazing eye, [22]
     In mute and awful sympathy,
As thy low prayers were given;
     And the o'er-hovering Spoiler wore, the while,
An angel's features, a deliverer's smile!

A blessed task! and worthy one
     Who, turning from the world, as thou,
Before life's pathway had begun
     To leave its spring-time flower and sun,
Had sealed her early vow;
     Giving to God her beauty and her youth,
Her pure affections and her guileless truth.

Earth may not claim thee. Nothing here
     Could be for thee a meet reward;
Thine is a treasure far more dear;
     Eye hath not seen it, nor the ear
Of living mortal heard
     The joys prepared, the promised bliss above,
The holy presence of Eternal Love!

Sleep on in peace. The earth has not
     A nobler name than thine shall be.
The deeds by martial manhood wrought,
     The lofty energies of thought,
The fire of poesy,
     These have but frail and fading honors; thine
Shall Time unto Eternity consign.

Yea, and when thrones shall crumble down,
     And human pride and grandeur fall,
The herald's line of long renown,
     The mitre and the kingly crown,—
Perishing glories all! [23]
     The pure devotion of thy generous heart
Shall live in Heaven, of which it was a part.


Extract from ‘a New England legend.’

Originally a part of the author's 2 Mol Pitcher.

How has New England's romance fled,
     Even as a vision of the morning!
Its rites foredone, its guardians dead,
     Its priestesses, bereft of dread,
Waking the veriest urchin's scorning!
     Gone like the Indian wizard's yell
And fire-dance round the magic rock,
     Forgotten like the Druid's spell
At moonrise by his holy oak!
     No more along the shadowy glen
Glide the dim ghosts of murdered men;
     No more the unquiet churchyard dead
Glimpse upward from their turfy bed,
     Startling the traveller, late and lone;
As, on some night of starless weather,
     They silently commune together,
Each sitting on his own head-stone!
     The roofless house, decayed, deserted,
Its living tenants all departed,
     No longer rings with midnight revel
Of witch, or ghost, or goblin evil;
     No pale blue flame sends out its flashes
Through creviced roof and shattered sashes!
     The witch-grass round the hazel spring
May sharply to the night-air sing, [24]
     But there no more shall withered hags
Refresh at ease their broomstick nags,
     Or taste those hazel-shadowed waters
As beverage meet for Satan's daughters;
     No more their mimic tones be heard,
The mew of cat, the chirp of bird,
     Shrill blending with the hoarser laughter
Of the fell demon following after!
     The cautious goodman nails no more
A horseshoe on his outer door,
     Lest some unseemly hag should fit
To his own mouth her bridle-bit;
     The goodwife's churn no more refuses
Its wonted culinary uses
     Until, with heated needle burned,
The witch has to her place returned!
     Our witches are no longer old
And wrinkled beldames, Satan-sold,
     But young and gay and laughing creatures,
With the heart's sunshine on their features;
     Their sorcery—the light which dances
Where the raised lid unveils its glances;
     Or that low-breathed and gentle tone,
The music of Love's twilight hours,
     Soft, dream-like, as a fairy's moan
Above her nightly closing flowers,
     Sweeter than that which sighed of yore
Along the charmed Ausonian shore!
     Even she, our own weird heroine,
Sole Pythoness of ancient Lynn,1
     Sleeps calmly where the living laid her;
And the wide realm of sorcery,
     Left by its latest mistress free,
Hath found no gray and skilled invader. [25]
     So perished Albion's ‘glammarye,’
With him in Melrose Abbey sleeping,
     His charmed torch beside his knee,
That even the dead himself might see
     The magic scroll within his keeping.
And now our modern Yankee sees
     Nor omens, spells, nor mysteries;
And naught above, below, around,
     Of life or death, of sight or sound,
Whate'er its nature, form, or look,
     Excites his terror or surprise,—
All seeming to his knowing eyes
     Familiar as his ‘catechise,’
Or ‘Webster's Spelling-Book.’


The demon of the study.

the Brownie sits in the Scotchman's room,
     And eats his meat and drinks his ale,
And beats the maid with her unused broom,
     And the lazy lout with his idle flail;
But he sweeps the floor and threshes the corn,
     And hies him away ere the break of dawn.

The shade of Denmark fled from the sun,
     And the Cocklane ghost from the barn-loft cheer,
The fiena of Faust was a faithful one,
     Agrippa's demon wrought in fear,
And the devil of Martin Luther sat
     By the stout monk's side in social chat.

[26] The Old Man of the Sea, on the neck of him
     Who seven times crossed the deep,
Twined closely each lean and withered limb,
     Like the nightmare in one's sleep.
But he drank of the wine, and Sindbad cast
     The evil weight from his back at last.

But the demon that cometh day by day
     To my quiet room and fireside nook,
Where the casement light falls dim and gray
     On faded painting and ancient book,
Is a sorrier one than any whose names
     Are chronicled well by good King James.

No bearer of burdens like Caliban,
     No runner of errands like Ariel,
He comes in the shape of a fat old man,
     Without rap of knuckle or pull of bell;
And whence he comes, or whither he goes,
     I know as I do of the wind which blows.

A stout old man with a greasy hat
     Slouched heavily down to his dark, red nose,
And two gray eyes enveloped in fat,
     Looking through glasses with iron bows.
Read ye, and heed ye, and ye who can,
     Guard well your doors from that old man!

He comes with a careless ‘How d'ye do?’
     And seats himself in my elbow-chair;
And my morning paper and pamphlet new
     Fall forthwith under his special care,
And he wipes his glasses and clears his throat,
     And, button by button, unfolds his coat.

[27] And then he reads from paper and book,
     In a low and husky asthmatic tone,
With the stolid sameness of posture and look
     Of one who reads to himself alone;
And hour after hour on my senses come
     That husky wheeze and that dolorous hum.

The price of stocks, the auction sales,
     The poet's song and the lover's glee,
The horrible murders, the seaboard gales,
     The marriage list, and thejeu d'esprit,
All reach my ear in the self-same tone,—
     I shudder at each, but the fiend reads on!

Oh, sweet as the lapse of water at noon
     O'er the mossy roots of some forest tree,
The sigh of the wind in the woods of June,
     Or sound of flutes o'er a moonlight sea,
Or the low soft music, perchance, which seems
     To float through the slumbering singer's dreams,

So sweet, so dear is the silvery tone,
     Of her in whose features I sometimes look,
As I sit at eve by her side alone,
     And we read by turns, from the self-same book,
Some tale perhaps of the olden time,
     Some lover's romance or quaint old rhyme.

Then when the story is one of woe,—
     Some prisoner's plaint through his dungeon-bar,
Her blue eye glistens with tears, and low
     Her voice sinks down like a moan afar;
And I seem to hear that prisoner's wail,
     And his face looks on me worn and pale.

[28] And when she reads some merrier song,
     Her voice is glad as an April bird's,
And when the tale is of war and wrong,
     A trumpet's summons is in her words,
And the rush of the hosts I seem to hear,
     And see the tossing of plume and spear!

Oh, pity me then, when, day by day,
     The stout fiend darkens my parlor door;
And reads me perchance the self-same lay
     Which melted in music, the night before,
From lips as the lips of Hylas sweet,
     And moved like twin roses which zephyrs meet!

I cross my floor with a nervous tread,
     I whistle and laugh and sing and shout,
I flourish my cane above his head,
     And stir up the fire to roast him out;
I topple the chairs, and drum on the pane,
     And press my hands on my ears, in vain!

I've studied Glanville and James the wise,
     And wizard black-letter tomes which treat
Of demons of every name and size
     Which a Christian man is presumed to meet,
But never a hint and never a line.
     Can I find of a reading fiend like mine.

I've crossed the Psalter with Brady and Tate,
     And laid the Primer above them all,
I've nailed a horseshoe over the grate,
     And hung a wig to my parlor wall
Once worn by a learned Judge, they say,
     At Salem court in the witchcraft day!

[29] “Coijuro te, sceleratissime,
     Abire ad tuum locum” —still
Like a visible nightmare he sits by me,—
     The exorcism has lost its skill;

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