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FIELDS, OSGOOD, & CO., Boston.
A Magazine of Literature, Science, Art, and Politics.
VOL. XXVI.-JULY, 1870. - NO. CLIII.
THE ALARM-BELL OF ATRI.
T Atri in Abruzzo, a small town
Of ancient Roman date, but scant renown,—
How happily the days in Atri sped,
What wrongs were righted, need not here be said.
Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1870, by FIELds, Osgood, & Co., in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts. -NO. 153.
By chance it happened that in Atri dwelt
He sold his horses, sold his hawks and hounds,
At length he said: "What is the use or need
So the old steed was turned into the heat
One afternoon, as in that sultry clime
Where the great bell upon its cross-beam swung,
Reiterating with persistent tongue,
In half-articulate jargon, the old song:
"Some one hath done a wrong, hath done a wrong!"
But ere he reached the belfry's light arcade,
Meanwhile from street and lane a noisy crowd
And set at naught the Syndic and the rest,
And thereupon the Syndic gravely read
The Knight withdrew abashed; the people all
Henry W. Longfellow.
SHALL always remember one winter evening, a little before Christmas-time, when I took a long, solitary walk in the outskirts of the town. The cold sunset had left a trail of orange light along the horizon, the dry snow tinkled beneath my feet, and the early stars had a keen, clear lustre that matched well with the sharp sound and the frosty sensation. For some time I had walked toward the gleam of a distant window, and as I approached, the light showed more and more clearly through the white curtains of a little cottage by the road. I stopped, on reaching it, to enjoy the suggestion of domestic cheerfulness in contrast with the dark outside. I could not see the inmates, nor they me; but something of human sympathy came from that steadfast ray.
As I looked, a film of shade kept appearing and disappearing with rhythmic regularity in a corner of the window, as if some one might perhaps be sitting in a low rocking-chair beside it. Presently the motion ceased, and suddenly across the curtain came the shadow of a woman. She raised in her arms the shadow of a baby, and kissed it; the both disappeared, and I walked
What are Raphael's Madonnas but the shadow of a mother's love, fixed in permanent outline forever? Here the group actually moved upon the canvas. The curtains which hid it revealed it. The ecstasy of human love passed in brief, intangible panorama before me. It was something seen, yet unseen; airy, yet solid; a type, yet a reality; fugitive, yet destined to last in my memory while I live. It said more to me than would any Madonna of Raphael's, for his mother never kisses her child. I believe I have never passed over that road since then, never seen the house, never heard the names of its occupants. Their character, their
history, their fate, are all unknown. But these two will always stand for me as disembodied types of humanity, the Mother and the Child, they seem nearer to me than my immediate neighbors, yet they are as ideal and impersonal as the goddesses of Greece or as Plato's archetypal man.
I know not the parentage of that child, whether black or white, native or foreign, rich or poor. It makes no difference. The presence of a baby equalizes all social conditions. On the floor of some Southern hut, scarcely so comfortable as a dog-kennel, I have seen a dusky woman look down upon her infant with such an expression of delight as painter never drew. No social culture can make a mother's face more than a mother's, as no wealth can make a nursery more than a place where children dwell. Lavish thousands of dollars on your baby-clothes, and after all the child is prettiest when every garment is laid aside. That becoming nakedness, at least, may adorn the chubby darling of the poorest home.
I know not what triumph or despair may have come and gone through that wayside house since then, what jubilant guests may have entered, what lifeless form passed out. What anguish or what sin may have come between that woman and that child; through what worlds they now wander, and whether separate or in each other's arms, - this is all unknown. Fancy can picture other joys to which the first happiness was but the prelude, and, on the other hand, how easy to imagine some special heritage of human woe and call it theirs!
"I thought of times when Pain might be thy guest, Lord of thy house and hospitality;
And Grief, uneasy lover, might not rest
Save when he sat within the touch of thee."
Nay, the foretaste of that changed fortune may have been present, even in the kiss. Who knows what absorbing