Abbildungen der Seite

In gathering heaps on heaps of gold,

Of which no use he made ?
The usurer, with ready tongue,

To him right promptly said :
* The very same, my poble lord,

As you in carrying a sword!' Many and various were the uses to which the epigram was put. Sometimes it was employed merely to show off a ready wit; sometimes as a vehicle for playful raillery; sometimes as a vent for keen and biting sarcasm ; and often, very often, as a weapon of offence and defence. And a powerful weapon it was; keen and cutting as a Damascus blade, it struck remorselessly into the weakest part of him whom it assailed, and held him as it were impaled before the delighted eyes of a merry multitude, composed of the unhappy victim's most esteemed and intimate friends, until such time as he, possessing himself of the same redoubtable weapon, launched it back upon his adversary with skill and energy so much superior, that the * world's dread laugh' was drawn off from himself, and turned with redoubled exuitation on his discomfitted assailant. Many a brilliant encounter of this kind took place at the courts of the thirteenth and fourteenth Louises, affording delight and amusement to the gay world, similar to that which tilts and tournaments were wort to give to the high knights and dames of old; a proof that destructiveness, whether of life or character, is an inherent principle of human na. ture. 'T is true, 't is pity; pity 't is, 't is true.

But perhaps the most remarkable of all the epigrams was the Epigrammatic Epitaph, or epitaphic epigram, call it which you please ; a species which, however well it may accord with the natural levity of the French character, is by no means peculiar to France. Witness the well-known epitaph on the famous architect, Sir Christopher Wren:

LIE heavy on him, Earth, for he
Laid many a heavy load on thee.'

And that on an equally famous, though it would seem less useful character :

* Here lieth Sir John GUISE,
No one laughs, and no one cries;
Where he's gone, or how he fares,
No one knows, and no one cares.'

I could cite others in our own language; but it is of French poetry we are treating. A favorable specimen of this class is the following epitaph on a miser :

"BENEATH this snow-white marble lies a man,
The greatest miser in the town of Rennes;
He died exactly on the year's last day,
For fear that New Year's Gifts he'd have to pay!'

In order to see the full point of this, the reader must bear in mind that in many parts of France it is customary for the whole community to exchange presents on New-Year's day. Beside those wbich pass between friend and friend, the butcher sends some tit-bit to bis customers, the baker sends a cake, the postman brings an almanac or a calender, for which he expects a small • pour boire ;' and so on

through the different grades. So universal is the custom, and so binding are its obligations, that not even a miser could escape the etrennes, but by dying, according to this waggish writer.

The subjoined epitaph on a man who had been hanged, and afterward huug in chains, according to the barbarous custom of the period, is not bad :

HERE my cousin finds repose

Every time that no wind blows.'

On an old tomb-stone in the cemetery of St. Medard, in Paris, there was to be seen a few years ago this striking epitaph on a goldbeater:

*HERE lies a man whose trade in life
Was beating gold - and his own wife.'

Scarron, who wrote a great number of epigrams, was once applied to by a lady, who desired him to write her epitaph. The author of the 'Roman Comique,' with characteristic drollery, made her lie down behind the door, and then wrote:

• HERE behind a door is laid
A woman wbo— who is not dead !

These are all harmless jeux-d'esprits; but a great proportion of those witty epitaphs, though exceedingly pungent, and greatly admired by the French themselves, are of a character so grossly irreverent, not to say blasphemous, as to grievously offend our nicer moral sense.

This is much to be regretted, for many sess, like Signior Benedick, ' a fine little wit.' To this species of poetry belongs the celebrated epitaph on Maximilian Robespierre, in which,' says Scott, ' his life is represented as incompatible with the existence of the human race :'

of them pos

'Passer! weep not o'er his head,
For, if he lived, thou wouldst be dead!'

Such and similar were the epigrams that delighted the citizens of every grade throughout · La belle France.' But the empire of the epigram, like the mighty kingdoms of the earth, has now passed away. Alike in the mansions of the great and the cabins of the poor, its laugh inspiring voice has ceased : the drawing-room of the duchess and the cabaret of the fauxbourg have alike discarded the brilliant rally, the pungent repartee, the gay and lively raillery, and the biting satire, that were wont to charm the society of their respective grades in by-gone days. And what is the reason of this ? “The reason,' says M. Halevy, 'is very simple. The press and the theatres are open; newspapers and couplets de vaudeville now supply all; the epigram has taken refuge there, and there it reigns supreme.'

Politics have likewise had much to do in the downfall of the epigram. People now-a-days are too much occupied in watching the motions of their rulers and representatives, to care for the light and airy jeux-d'esprits to which their ancestors attached so much im. portance.

With a sigh for the glories of other days, I will conclude this chapter on epigrams with the following epigrammatic sermon, which an unknown poet affixed to the gate of a village cemetery :

Tout tes pas sont faux pas, tu ne fais pas de
Que tes pas, pas a pas, ne mene au trepas.'



[merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]
[ocr errors]

Home, home again ! - O mother dear, | But slowly from her fevered cheek
Our rural pastime o'er,

Hope faded with its flowers,
How gladly to your own fond arms And colder grew each little hand
We've hied us back once more !

So fondly clasped in ours ;
Tho' Berkshire's bills were green and gay, We called her all endearing names,
And Einwood's kindred dear,

And 0 the fixed despair
We could not mid their charms forget

With which we watched her filmy gaze, That dearer still were here.

And read no answer there !



But, mother, where's the darling one

Whose blue eye's starry beams
Have been the light, whose merry voice

The music of our dreams?
From nursery to garden's end

We've hunted high and low
Ah tell us where our PeachchEEK' is,

We long to kiss her so !

The soft winds came with song of birds,

And shouts of childish glee;
And, wandering near, the minstrel-boy

Sang blithe as blithe can be ;
And O how hard it seemed to us,

How like a mocking sin,
That all should be so gay abroad,

And we so sad within !



Then burst the mother's stifled sigh- | At last upon the waiting sky
O pang of mortal pain !

One conscious look she cast,
To mark your eager search the while, And with a smile most angel-like
And know that it was vain ;

Her sinless spirit passed ; For never more in these sad balls, Passed as the calm bright summer day Nor mid the garden bowers,

Sauk gently to his rest, Shall Peachcheek's rosy smiles be press'd And evening's earliest star shone out, To these fond lips of ours !

To light her to the blest.



We saw that she was summoned hence,

Yet low on bended knee
Your father and your mother prayed,

In voiceless sympathy;
Prayed that the sinless might be spared,

We could not let her go;
Heaven had so many such above,

And earth so few below!

To Housatonic's greenest vale

We bore our sacred trust,
And laid it down, with many tears,

To sleep with kindred dust:
Yet comes there balm in this sweet thought

Like healing from on high,
That our lorn, lowly home bas given

An angel to the sky!

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Nero-York, November 18, 1847. My Dear Tom: While waiting for buyers of my famous new patented machine, I have endeavored to occupy myself with sightseeing, as I have already written you ; and last week, (November the tentb,) I went to the Tabernacle to hear the ‘American Musical Institute' perform the Oratorio of Elijah,' by the great Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy. You know I have had the reputation of being a sort of musical genius myself, and have obtained some notoriety in our parish choir for playing the bass-viol and leading the singers in the First Congregational singing-seats, before I entered college ; and I therefore promised myself a great treat. I too bad been myself the basso, as they here call the leader of the bass singers, in our Thanksgiving anthems; so I felt certain that I was pretty well qualified to sit as a critic of low degree upon the performances, and even of the oratorio of Mendelssohn.

On going into the Tabernacle I purchased a book containing the words and the finger-post remarks of Mr. Henry C. Watson, which helps the unlearned and unmusical to know when they are to be astonished and what they are to admire. You may be surprised that in a musical city like this that such guide-posts should be deemed necessary, and it so seemed to me; but at the Institute I found this very necessary. The Tabernacle is a circle, and holds seated two thousand five hundred spectators and five hundred performers. The seats of the singers rise from a platform and extend on both sides of the organ, which is one of the largest in the city. It is here all the great concerts are given.

About seven o'clock the performers and singers began to muster, and pile up, row above row, to the outer circle; the ladies, as was fitting and proper, being placed on seats in front of the platform, the instruments filling the seats in front of the organ; and there was no lack of these. There were dozens of fiddles, half a dozen double bass-viols, and trombones and French-horns, and all other instruments, too many to be counted; and last, not least, two tremendous kettle-drums, and a man of muscle and resolution to manage them. Such were the notes of dreadful preparation. All was expectation; the like of which Milton has described, when Death and Satan were about to begin their fearful fight.

But here I must lay down my pen, and give up the task I have assumed. I fear, first, my own powers of description, and then, dear Tom, of your powers of comprehension. You, who have never heard any thing more intertwisted than the good old harmonies of Billings and Holden, wbat can you know of an oratorio by the most magnificent imagination of the musical world, whose theme was

Elijah the Prophet; the scenes in whose life are here narrated by musical symbols ? But to give you a glimpse of the work Mendelssohn has achieved, I will tell you, in the fewest words possible, the outline of this great oratorio. It opens by Elijah's denunciation, that for three years neither dew nor rain should descend upon Israel.' An overture follows, descriptive of the passions of the people in rebellion against God and His prophet; then the cries of the people, caused by the drought, and Elijah is driven by the chorus, who personate the people, into the desert. Elijah reäppears at the Brook of Cherith, and then to the widow at Shunem, who receives him with fear, and whose dead son Elijah restores. Then opens the scene on Mount Carmel, with the worshippers of Baal, whose cries to their false gods are reëchoed by the chorus of idolaters. They grow fierce and frantic under the mocking recitatives of Elijah. Then comes a choral of the true believers, and Elijah in a recitative calls on God for fire from Heaven. It descends; the false prophets are slain. Elijah then ascends the Mount, and there is a beautiful duelt between him and his messenger, as to the signs of the coming rain. So ends Part First. In the Second Act Jezebel comes forward to avenge her priests. Obadiah delivers his warning message to Elijah, who retires to the desert, is fed by ravens, and the angel, in a recitative, directs him to eat and go to Horeb. Then opens the scene of Elijah at the mouth of the cave, when God made his manifestations in the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the still small voice,' all which you must recollect is painted to the ear by sounds, and the oratorio closes with the choruses and recitatives expressing the grandeur of Elijah's character and the promises of the coming Messiah. Such was the music to be rehearsed.

When I tell you that the performances of the evening in no degree realized all this, you will not be surprised. The performers, though so numerous to my inexperienced eyes and ears, were too few. The piece required as many thousands as there were hundreds, and was written for so vast a number of musicians and singers. The Institute were therefore compelled to submit to the incongruities of having the recitatives of the angel and of Jezebel sung by the same lady, and the chorus of Baal and of God's people by the same voices. Then the instruments were not well blended in their tones, and there was a man with a trombone of vast size, and a pair of lungs which would have helped out Æolus in a storm, blowing out despair and death in tones which overwhelmed the whole body of performers.

But, dear Tom, you who have never heard any thing more complicated than an anthem, cannot understand all this ; but your sweet cousin, whose clear silver tones go to the very heart's core, will better catch the ideas I would present. Ah, Tom ! I would not give one of her songs for all I heard last evening! As I listened, my heart went back to your father's parlor. I saw her sitting at her piano, so quiet and self-possessed, her beautiful shoulders covered by her rich ringlets; and once more I lived over the hours when,

« ZurückWeiter »