« AnkstesnisTęsti »
was generally esteemed for the elevation of my sentiments, my generosity, and nice sense of honor. I was liberal, and despised every thing approaching littleness of mind or narrowness of soul. Yet this old man knows and means what he
His are not the lips to utter falsehood, nor his the heart to harbour malice. After all, is he not right? Am I not really what he calls me? I half suspect it ; and yet I know not what better I could have done than I have done, or how I could have been really superior to what I am ? All things, all men and women, even in their best estate, are vanity. “Vanitas vanitatum," saith the wise man,
s vanitas vanitatum, et omnia vanitas. Quid habet amplius homo de universo labore suo quo laborat sub sole ? ” We
e are mere children of an hour, mere bubbles floating on the ocean, reflecting for a moment the sun's ray, then bursting and giving place to a new succession, as frail and as brief. What is good or evil for such short-lived and transitory nothings ? All is a vain show. Pleasure itself is not worth seeking, nor its loss worth a regret. And yet is there nothing wiser or better under the sun, than to seize the fleeting pleasure as it flies past us, and hold it as long as we may. The only way to be wise and good is to please thyself. I please myself. I am then wise and good. He that is wise and good is not mean and contemptible. Old man, thou art, therefore, wrong, and I will
, not let thy words disturb me.
And yet, logical as was my conclusion, I was not altogether satisfied with it. The old man, rough as was his address, I felt was not likely to be mistaken, and I could not get rid of the suspicion that his words contained quite too much truth. I became thoughtful, sad, almost perturbed. I lost somewhat of my relish for my accustomed pursuits, sports, and luxuries. The simple fact that all things seemed to me to be nothing but vanity arrested my thoughts, and I asked, if this feeling of the emptiness of all things did not come from a secret conviction that I had that in me which was superior to them all, and therefore not itself altogether vanity. Why is it that nothing really satisfies me, and that, with pleasures for every one of my senses, I am ill at ease, and, in spite of myself, feel a craving for something superior to them all? This life of mine seems the wisest and best to my reason, and yet I have thoughts which stray beyond it, aspirations which rise above it, a thirst for I know not what which comes not within its scope. Would not this indicate that I am myself superior to these things which I have gathered around me, and therefore capable of tasting a higher good than that which they provide me?
And yet, what is better than this life I lead? You talk of knowledge. I have tried it. My curiosity is satisfied. I have learned enough to know that it is useless to seek knowledge unless one can apply it to some end ; and to what end shall I apply it? To know for the mere sake of knowing may satisfy us in early youth, but not when we have learned that knowledge in itself considered is as vain as any other acquisition. I may, indeed, enter into the political world, suffer myself to be drawn into the whirlpool of party strife, turn demagogue, court the dear people, beg their sweet voices, and, perhaps, reach the presidential chair. But to what end ? What pleasure can a wise man receive from the bribed shouts and suffrages of the mob? What is power ? A gilded slavery. Fame? A word, born and dying in the sound that makes it ? “But you may use power for the good of your fellowbeings.” Nonsense! Who knows what is for their good or their evil ? The more power one attains, the more complete his slavery. Power is sought only for private ends, and I have no private ends, not better and more easily satisfied without it than with it. No, Dr. Martin Luther, thou art right in thy famous chorus,
“ Wer nicht liebt Wein, Weiber, und Gesang,
Der bleibt ein Narr sein Lebenlang."
Shall be a fool all his life long." Still, my debate with myself continued. One day, when more than usually perplexed, the strange old man suddenly entered my room, and, with a more friendly expression of countenance than formerly, addressed me.
“ Well, Edward, I see you have not forgotten what I told you. You are half inclined to believe that I spoke the truth. I have watched you since, and I believe I can be of some service to you.'
“ But tell me, father,” said I, “ why you spoke to me in such rude and uncivil terms.'
“Because you deserved them ; you are surrounded by miserable flatterers, who study to say only what they imagine will please you. I came to tell you the truth, and to let you see yourself as you are.”
“But were you not afraid that I should be offended and offer you
violence ?" “ No. I have long since learned to fear no man, especially a rich voluptuary. Besides, I knew you despised the herd
around you, and I believed you had good sense enough left to distinguish the voice of truth from that of mere sycophancy.”
“ But could you not have told me the same truth in a gentler tone ?"
“No! Had I spoken in a softer tone, in milder terms, you would have thought me an old fool come to admonish you, and you would have forgotten my words as soon as I had departed."
“ But why do you take an interest in me? I am a stranger to you, at least you are a stranger to me. I know not why you should care for me. I live for myself, and trouble not myself about others, and do not wish others to trouble themselves about me.”
“Young man, — for you are still young, - you say rightly that I am a stranger to you ; but you are no stranger to me; I have watched near you
many years. Wherefore, I need not tell you. We may yet become friends, but whether so or not is of no consequence to me. You marvel who I am, and why I concern myself about you. Who I am I will tell you soon, but, before I do, be assured that I ask nothing of you. You have nothing I want, nothing I envy, nothing I do not despise. I care
I for you,
for you seem lone and friendless in the world ; and I pity you, and am here from sheer compassion, solely because you need me, and know it not.
“ But tell me who you are ?”
“ I have no name ; I had a name, but it has been lost for many years, and I am in the world without being of it. My early life is the counterpart of your own. I, too, once possessed youth, health, wealth, and lived a round of vain pleasures, in a circle of vainer admirers. Here,” taking a beautiful miniature from his pocket and banding it to me.
"You have seen this before, I believe. You start! Do you know where is the
original ? "
I did start surely enough, for it was a miniature of Katharine Howard. " Where is she ? ” I exclaimed. “Do you know? Tell me, tell me, instantly ? "
“ Be patient, my young friend. Ask yourself where you think she is, and where you sought to drive her ? " 66 You are cruel! In God's name, answer me,
“ I see you are not quite lost. She is beyond your power, and safe from all harm you can do her!”
“ Does she live? Say but she lives, or, old dotard, I will break your head."
" Ah ! who is rude now? Where is my fine gentleman ? my polished man of the world, my soft sybarite ? Really, you have some life left, and will not die of the wrinkle of a roseleaf."
“ No more! Tell me where you obtained this picture ?”
“ Near the artificial lake on which you love to row in the still summer evening.'
“ Alas! she is dead! She has destroyed herself. Fool, monster, that I am
! “Yes, fool and monster both, no doubt of that.” “Do not reproach me, old man.”
” “ There is no need of that, you spare me that task ; but I said not that she was dead. So much innocence and virtue, such angelic loveliness, cannot die. She is safe. She lives.''
"In the flesh ?"
“Why ask you that ? Believe you in other life than that in the flesh ?"
“ You mock me. Say that Katharine Howard is still in this world, and then do by me as you will.”
“She is safe, and beyond your reach.” " In this world ? "
“ Are not your servants trusty ? Did they ever fail to do your bidding " Leave me,
man, leave me. I am a wretch, and would be alone.”
" “No, I leave you not now. I know what is on your mind. I know the order you whispered. I know how faithfully it was executed; I see you writhe, it is well. You have a conscience after all. But where is your philosophy ?"
“ Old man, prate not to me of philosophy. You know I am damned, — that I suffer the tortures of hell-fire."
“ But you are a wise and learned man ; you have read and studied much ; you know all the sciences ; you are said to be a great philosopher. Surely your philosopy must serve you now; it must be able to quench these fires of hell, soothe your conscience, and give peace to your soul.”
" Alas! alas ! what a wretch I am ! O, I bowed to the earth; I roll in dust and ashes.” And, throwing myself down, I beat the floor, I beat my head, I was a madman.
“Come, come,” said the old man, “ this is childish. I thought it was a precept of your philosophy never to regret the past nor to apprehend the future.
“ But I loved her. O God, how I loved her!” " Well, love will play strange pranks with philosophy, it
must be owned. But will one who loves -" Here he whispered a word in my ear, which sent a cold thrill through
“Well,” continued he, “I see you have some human feeling left; I have some hope of you ; once you have failed in your purpose, and it is not quite so bad as you fear. Katharine Howard, the daughter of my old friend and benefactor, is still alive, unharmed; but no thanks to you.
“God be thanked, do with me as you will.”
“Sit up, then, and be a man ; dare look your own past life in the face, and read the lesson it teaches ? It is useless to ask you to listen to my tale to-day ; calm yourself, betake yourself to your philosophy, and when that has consoled you, and you are free from perturbation, I will see you again.”
So saying, he left me. But alas for my philosophy and my boasted life-plan! I was humbled in the dust. Katharine Howard was a sweet girl of eighteen, an orphan, left in part to my care.
I had provided her with the best instructers, and had secured her the very best education to be obtained. She had grown up into a tall, dignified, and graceful lady. I can say no more of her, except that her virtue surpassed her beauty, and the firmness of her principles was superior even to her accomplishments. I believed she loved me; I forgot my trust as guardian, and, defeated in my purpose, had attempted to conceal my mortification by an act which must be nameless. I had tried to drive all thoughts of her from my mind ; her picture, which had been taken for me, brought her fresh before me, and the whole enormity of my conduct rushed upon me in an instant. The old man's assurance that she yet lived, while it reassured me a little, did not reconcile me to myself at all, and that night I bent my knees in prayer, and vowed repentance and a holy life.
The next morning, a little calmed by the resolution I had taken the previous night, I sent early for the clergyman on whose ministrations I sometimes attended, and who was the successor of my father. He was an amiable, companionable man; well-bred, gentlemanly, somewhat studious in his habits, and had made himself familiar with the lighter literature of most nations and ages. He was sprightly, often brilliant in conversation, and was one of my few acquaintances that was least intolerable. He came at my request, met me with a pleasant