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There had been Jezebels and Lady Macbeths enough; the memory of David still smelt of blood; the Roman eagles were gorging their beaks on human flesh; and the Samaritan everywhere felt the gnawing, shuddering sense of hatred and scorn. No chorus appears answering to chorus, praising the god of battles, or exulting in the achievements of arms; but the sympathies of Him who was touched with the feeling of our infirmities answer to the wants and woes of the race, and every thoughtful mind ecstatically encores. The inexorable Fate of the Greeks does not appear, but a good Providence interferes, and Heaven smiles graciously upon the scene. There is passion, indeed, grief and sorrow, sin and suffering,-but the tempest-stiller is here, who breathes tranquillity upon the waters, and pours serenity into the turbid deep. The Niobe of humanity, stiff and speechless, with her enmarbled children, that used sometimes to be introduced on the Athenian stage for purposes of terror or pity, is here restored to life, and she renders thanks for her deliverance and participates in the general joy to which the piece gives birth. No murderers of the prophets are hewn in pieces before the Lord; but from the agonies of the cross and the depths of a preternatural darkness, the tender cry is heard, on behalf of the murderers of the Son of God, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" No Alcestis is exhibited, doomed to destruction to save the life of her husband, but One appears, moving cheerfully, voluntarily, forwards, to what may be termed the funeral pile of the world, from which, phonix-like, he rises, and gloriously ascends, drawing after him the hearts, the love, the worship of millions of spectators. The key of the whole piece is Redemption, the spirit that actuates is Love. The chief actors, indeed, are Christ and Man; but innumerable subsidiary personages are the Charities. The elements of a spiritualized existence act their part. Humanity is not changed in its substance, but in its tendencies; the sensibilities exist, but under a divine culture. Stephen is as heroic
as Agamemnon, Mary as energetic as Medea. Little children are no longer
dashed in pieces, they are embraced and blessed.
But let us select for attention, and for a conclusion to these remarks, a particular scene. It shall be from Luke. This evangelist has been fabled a painter, and in the apotheosis of the old Church he was made the tutelar patron of that class of artists. If the individuality of his conceptions, the skill of his groupings, and the graphicness gave rise to such an idea, it would seem to have its foundation as well in Nature as in superstition. Matthew has more detail, more thought; Luke is more picturesque, more descriptive. John has more deep feeling; Luke more action, more life. The Annunciation, the Widow of Nain, the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the incident to which we shall presently advert, are found in Luke alone.
The incident in question is the dining of Christ at the house of Simon the Pharisee, and, while they were reclining at meat, the entrance of a woman which was a sinner, who bathes the feet of Jesus with tears, and wipes them with the hair of her head. The place is the city of Nain; the hour noon. The dramatis personce are three,-Jesus, Simon, and the Woman, and, if we choose to add them, the other guests, who are silent spectators of what transpires.
Let us consider, first, the Woman. She "was a sinner." This is all, in fact, that we know of her; but this is enough. The term "sinner," in this instance, as in many others, does not refer to the general apostasy in Adam; it is distinctive of race and habit. She was probably of heathen extraction, as she was certainly of a dissolute life. The poetry of sin and shame calls her the Magdalen, and there may be a convenience in permitting this name to stand. The depth of her depravity Christ clearly intimates in his allusion to the debtor who owed five hundred pence, and the language of Simon teaches that the infamy of her life was well
understood among the inhabitants of the city. If a foreigner, she had probably been brought into the country by the Roman soldiers and deserted. If a native, she had fallen beneath the ban of respectability, and was an outcast alike from hope and from good society. She was condemned to wear a dress different from that of other people; she was liable at any moment to be stoned for her conduct; she was one whom it was a ritual impurity to touch. She was wretched beyond measure; but while so corrupt, she was not utterly hardened. Incapable of virtue, she was not incapable of gratitude. Weltering in grossness, she could still be touched by the sight of purity. Plunged into extremest vice, she retained the damning horror of her situation. If she had ever striven to recover her lost position, there were none to assist her; the bigotry of patriotism rejected her for her birth,—the scrupulousness of modesty, for her history. The night, that consecrated so many homes and gathered together so many families in innocence and repose, was to her blacker than its own blackness in misery and turpitude; the morning, that radiated gladness over the face of the world, revealed the extent and exaggerated the sense of her own degradation. But the vision of Jesus had alighted upon her; she had seen him speeding on his errands of mercy; she hung about the crowd that followed his steps; his tender look of pity may have sometimes gleamed into her soul. Stricken, smitten, confounded, her yearnings for peace gush forth afresh. It was as if Hell, moved by contrition, had given up its prey,—as if Remorse, tired of its gnawing, felt within itself the stimulus of hope. But how shall she see Jesus? Wherewithal shall she approach him? She has nothing to pay." She has tears enough, and sorrows enough,—but these are derided by the vain, and suspected by the wise. She has an alabaster box of ointment, which, shut out as she is from honorable gain, must be the product and the concomitant of her guilt. But with these she must go. We see her
threading her lonely way through the streets, learning by hints, since she would not dare to learn by questions, where Jesus is, and stops before the vestibule of the elegant mansion of Simon the Pharisee.
Who is Simon the Pharisee? Not necessarily a bad man. We associate whatever is odious in hypocrisy or base in craft with the name Pharisee, while really it was the most distinguished title among the Jews. Many of the Pharisees were hypocrites; not all of them. The name is significant of profession, not of character. He could not have been an unprincipled, villanous man, or he would never have tendered to Jesus the hospitalities of his house. Indeed, Christ allows him, in the sense of moral indebtedness, to owe but fifty pence. He was probably a rich man, which might appear from the generous entertainment he made. He was a respectable man. The sect to which he belonged was the most celebrated and influential among the Jews; and when not debased by positive crime, a Pharisee was always esteemed for his learning and his piety. He had some interest in Christ, either in his mission or his character,—an interest beyond mere curiosity, or he would not have invited him to dine with him. He betrays a sincere friendliness, also, in his apprehension lest Christ should suffer any religious contamination.
The third person in the scene is Christ, who, to speak of him not as theology has interpreted him to us, but as he appeared to the eyes of his contemporaries, was the reputed son of Joseph and Mary, the Bethlehemites; who by his words and deeds had attracted much attention and made some converts; now accused of breaking the Jewish Sabbath, now of plotting against the Roman sovereignty; one who in his own person had felt the full power of temptation, and who had been raised to the grandeur of a transfiguration; so tender he would not bruise the broken reed, so gentle his yoke was rest; raying out with compassion and love wherever he went; healing alike the pangs of
grief and the languor of disease; whom some believed to be the Messiah, and others thought a prophet; whom the masses followed, and the priests feared;-this is the third member of the company.
The two last, with the other guests, are engaged at their meal, and in conversation. The door is darkened by a strange figure; all eyes are riveted on the apparition; the Magdalen enters, faded, distressed, with long dishevelled hair. She has no introduction; she says nothing; indeed, in all this remarkable scene she never speaks; her silence is as significant as it is profound. She goes behind the couch where Jesus, according to Oriental custom, is reclined. She drops at his feet; there her tears stream; there the speechless agony of her soul bursts. Observe the workings of the moment. See how those people are affected. Surprise on the part of Simon and his friends turns to scorn, and this shades into indignation. Jesus is calm, collected, and intently thoughtful. The woman is overwhelmed by her situation. The lip of Simon curls, his eye flashes with fire of outraged virtue. Jesus meets his gaze with equal fire, but it is all of pure heavenly feeling. Simon moves to have the vagabond expelled; Christ interrupts the attempt. But the honor of the house is insulted. Yes, but the undying interests of the soul are at stake. But the breath of the woman is ritual poison, and her touch will bring down the curses of the law. But the look of Christ indicates that depth of spirituality before which the institutions of Moses flee away as chaff before the wind. Simon has some esteem for Jesus, and in this juncture his sensations take a turn of pity, spiced, perhaps, with a little contempt, and he says with himself,—
"Sir, say on," is the reply of the Pharisee, who is awed by this appeal into an humble listener.
Whereupon Jesus relates the story of the two debtors, and, with irresistible strength of illustration and delicacy of application, breaks the prejudice and wins the composure of the Jew. "If, then," he continues, "he loves much to whom much is forgiven, what shall we say of one who loves so much?”
"See," he goes on, pointing to the woman, "See this woman,-this wretch. I entered thy house; thou gavest me no water for my feet; but she has washed my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. She kisses my feet; she anoints them with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much."
This scene, however inadequately it may be set forth, contains all that is sublime in tragedy, terrible in guilt, or intense in pathos. The woman represents humanity, or the soul of human nature; Simon, the world, or worldly wisdom; Christ, divinity, or the divine purposes of good to us ward. Simon is an incarnation of what St. Paul calls the beggarly elements; Christ, of spirituality; the woman, of sin. It is not the woman alone, --but in her there cluster upon the stage all want and woe, all calamity and disappointment, all shame and guilt. In Christ there come forward to meet her, love, hope, truth, light, salvation. In Simon are acted out doting conservatism, mean expediency, purblind calculation, carnal insensibility. Generosity in this scene is confronted with meanness, in the attempt to shelter misfortune. The woman is a tragedy herself, such as Eschylus never dreamed of. The scourging Furies, dread Fate, and burning Hell unite in her, and, borne on by the new impulse of the new dispensation, they come towards the light, they ask for peace, they throng to the heaven that opens in Jesus. Simon embodies that vast array of influences that stand between humanity and its redemption. He is a very excellent, a very estimable man,-but he is not shock
ed at intemperance, he would not have slavery disturbed, he sees a necessity for war. Does Christ know who and what sort of a woman it is that touches him? Will he defile himself by such a contact? Can he expect to accomplish anything by familiarity with such matters? Why is he not satisfied with a good dinner? "Simon!" "Simon!"
The silence of the woman is wonderful, it is awful. What is most profound, most agitating, most intense cannot speak; words are too little for the greatness of feeling. So Job sat himself upon the ground seven days and seven nights, speechless. Not in this case, as is said of Schiller's Robbers, did the pent volcano find vent in power-words; not in strong and terrible accents was uttered the hoarded wrath of long centuries of misrule and oppression. The volcano, raging, aching, threw itself in silence into the arms of one who could soothe and allay it. The thunder is noisy and harmless. The lightning is silent,—and the lightning splits, kills, consumes. Humanity had muttered its thunder for ages. Its lightning, the condensed, fiery, fatal force of things, leaped from the blackness of sin, threaded with terrific glare the vision of man, and, in the person of the woman, fell hot and blasting at the feet of Jesus, who quenched its fire, and of that destructive bolt made a trophy of grace and a fair image of hope. She could not speak, and so she wept,—like the raw, chilling, hard atmosphere, which is relieved only by a shower of snow. How could she speak, guilty, remorseful wretch, without excuse, without extenuation? In the presence of divine virtue, at the tribunal of judgment, she could on
ly weep, she could only love. But, blessed be Jesus, he could forgive her, he can forgive all. The woman departs in peace; Simon is satisfied; Jesus triumphs; we almost hear the applauses with which the ages and generations of earth greet the closing scene. From the serene celestial immensity that opens above the spot we can distinguish a voice, saying, "This is my beloved Son; hear ye him!”
We speak of these things dramatically, but, after all, they are the only great realities. Everything else is mimetic, phantasmal, tinkling. Deeply do the masters of the drama move us; but the Gospel cleaves, inworks, regenerates. In the theatre, the leading characters go off in death and despair, or with empty conceits and a forced frivolity; in the Gospel, tranquilly, grandly, they are dismissed to a serener life and a nobler probation. Who has not pitied the ravings of Lear and the agonies of Othello? The Gospel pities, but, by a magnificence of plot altogether its own, by preserving, if we may so say, the unities of heaven and earth, it also saves.
Of all common tragedy, we may exclaim, in the words of the old play,—
"How like a silent stream shaded with night, And gliding softly, with our windy sighs, Moves the whole frame of this solemnity!"
The Gospel moves by, as a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, from the throne of God and the Lamb; on its surface play the sunbeams of hope; in its valleys rise the trees of life, beneath the shadows of which the weary years of human passion repose, and from the leaves of the branches of which is exhaled to the passing breeze healing for the nations.
THE RING FETTER.
A NEW ENGLAND TRAGEDY.
THERE are long stretches in the course of the Connecticut River, where its tranquil current assumes the aspect of a lake, its sudden bends cut off the lovely reach of water, and its heavily wooded banks lie silent and green, undisturbed, except by the shriek of the passing steamer, casting golden-green reflections into the stream at twilight, and shadows of deepest blackness, star-pierced, at remoter depths of night. Here, now and then, a stray gull from the sea sends a flying throb of white light across the mirror below, or the sweeping wings of a hawk paint their moth-like image on the blue surface, or a little flaw of wind shudders across the water in a black ripple; but except for these casual stirs of Nature, all is still, oppressive, and beautiful, as earth seems to the trance-sleeper on the brink of his grave.
In one of these reaches, though on either side the heavy woods sweep down to the shore and hang over it as if deliberating whether to plunge in, on the eastern bank there is a tiny meadow just behind the tree-fringe of the river, completely hedged in by the deep woods, and altogether hidden from any inland road; nor would the traveller on the river discover it, except for the chimney of a house that peers above the yellow willows and seems in that desolate seclusion as startling as a daylight ghost. But this dwelling was built and deserted and weather-beaten long before the date of our story. It had been erected and inhabited during the Revolution, by an old Tory, who, foreseeing the result of the war better than some of his contemporaries, and being unwilling to expose his person to the chances of battle or his effects to confiscation, maintained a strict neutrality, and a secret trade with both parties; thereby welcoming peace and independence, fully stocked with the dislike and
suspicion of his neighbors, and a large quantity of Continental "fairy-money." So, when Abner Dimock died, all he had to leave to his only son was the red house "Dimock's Meadow," and a ten-acre lot of woodland behind and around the green plateau where the house stood. These possessions he strictly entailed on his heirs forever, and nobody being sufficiently interested in its alienation to inquire into the State laws concerning the validity of such an entail, the house remained in the possession of the direct line, and in the year 18— belonged to another Abner Dimock, who kept tavern in Greenfield, a town of Western Massachusetts, and, like his father and grandfather before him, had one only son. In the mean time, the old house in Haddam township had fallen into a ruinous condition, and, as the farm was very small, and unprofitable chestnut-woodland at that, the whole was leased to an old negro and his wife, who lived there in the most utter solitude, scratching the soil for a few beans and potatoes, and in the autumn gathering nuts, or in the spring roots for beer, with which Old Jake paddled up to Middletown, to bring home a return freight of salt pork and rum.
The town of Greenfield, small though it was, and at the very top of a high hill, was yet the county town, subject to annual incursions of lawyers, and such "thrilling incidents" as arise from the location of a jail and a court-room within the limits of any village. The scenery had a certain summer charm of utter quiet that did it good service with some healthy people of well-regulated and insensitive tastes. From Greenfield Hill one looked away over a wide stretch of rolling country; low hills, in long, desolate waves of pasturage and grain, relieved here and there by a mass of black woodland, or a red farm-house and barns