Jacksonian Miscellanies, #53

March 17, 1998

Reveries of a Bachelor - Excerpt 2

Copyright by the editor, Hal Morris, Secaucus, NJ 1997. Permission is granted to copy, but not for sale, nor in multiple copies, except by permission.

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Here is the conclusion of the section of Reveries of a Bachelor, or A Book of the Heart, completing the part given in JM#51. It written in 1850 by "Ik Marvel" - pseudonm for Donald G. Mitchell.

Here he spins a sentimental fantasy of marriage, to "a sweet-faced girl, with a pretty little foot lying out upon the hearth-a bit of lace running round the swelling throat", with "ears not tired with listening, because it is you who whisper--ears ever indulgent because eager to praise".

Then he starts killing off loved ones in his imagination - first a friend, then:

then dear sweet mother -- but, despite loss of mother,

and finally, imagines his own sweet death, as:

All this under the heading of "BLAZE-SIGNIFYING CHEER"!

You probably can't wait to read the next section: ASHES-SIGNIFYING DESOLATION.

Next he flirts with poverty, as you "find her parting the poor treasure of food you have stolen for her, with begging, foodless children?" but lo, "Wealth again; flowers again; patrimonial acres again; brightness again."

Ah, but now "your little Bessie, your favorite child is pining." He's not kidding this time. Poor Bessie dies, leaving the consolation:

Alas, to no avail:

And now, the ultimate trial (or manipulation of our emotions):

In the course of her decline,

At the end:

Later, he sends away the undertaker, whose presence is cloying, but has to admit

He roams the empty house where




I PUSHED My chair back; drew up another; stretched out my feet cozily upon it, rested my elbows on the chair arms, leaned my head on one hand, and looked straight into the leaping, and dancing flame.

--Love is a flame--ruminated I; and (glancing round the room) how a flame brightens up a man's habitation.

"Carlo,", said I, calling up my dog into the light, "good fellow, Carlo!" and I patted him kindly, and he wagged his tail, and laid his nose across my knee, and looked wistfully up in my face; then strode away--turned to look again, and lay down to sleep.

Pho, the brute!" said I, it is not enough after all, to like a dog."

--If now in that chair yonder, not the one your feet lie upon, but the other, beside you--closer yet-- were seated a sweet-faced girl, with a pretty little foot lying out upon the hearth-a bit of lace running round the swelling throat the hair parted to a charm over a forehead fair as any of your dreams; and if you could reach an arm around that chair back, without fear of giving offense, and suffer your fingers to play idly with those curls that escape down the neck; and if you could clasp with your other hand those little white, taper fingers of hers, which lie so temptingly within reach--and so, talk softly and low in presence of the blaze, while the hours slip without knowledge, and the winter winds whistle uncared for; if, in short, you were no bachelor, but the husband of some such sweet image (dream, call it rather), would it not be far pleasanter than this cold single night-sitting--counting the sticks-reckoning the length of the blaze, and the height of the falling snow?

And if, some or all of those wild vagaries that grow on your fancy at such an hour, you could whisper into listening, because loving ears -- ears not tired with listening, because it is you who whisper--ears ever indulgent because eager to praise; and if your darkest fancies were lit up, not merely with bright wood fire, but with a ringing laugh of that sweet face turned up in fond rebuke-how far better, than to be waxing black and sour, over pestilential humors--alone-- your very dog asleep.

And if when a glowing thought comes into your brain, quick and sudden, you could tell it over as to a second self, to that sweet creature, who is not away, because she loves to be there; and if you could watch the thought catching that girlish mind, illuming that fair brow, sparkling in those pleasantest of eyes-how far better than to feel it slumbering,and going out, heavy, lifeless, and dead, in your own selfish fancy. And if a generous emotion steals over you--coming, you know not whither, would there not be a richer charm in lavishing it in caress, or endearing word, upon that fondest, and most dear one, than in patting your glossy-coated dog, or sinking lonely to smiling slumbers?

How would not benevolence ripen with such monitor to task it! How would not selfishness grow faint and dull, leaning ever to that second self, which is the loved one! How would not guile shiver, and grow weak, before that girl--brow, and eye of innocence! How would not all that boyhood prized of enthusiasm, and quick blood, and life, renew itself in such presence!

The fire was getting hotter, and I moved into the middle of the room. The shadows the flames made, were playing like, fairy forms over floor, and wall, and ceiling.

My fancy would surely quicken, thought I, if such being were in attendance. Surely imagination would be stronger, and purer, if it could have the playful fancies of dawning womanhood to delight it. All toil would be torn from mind-labor, if but another heart grew into this present soul, quickening it, warming it, cheering it, bidding it ever--God speed!

Her face would make a halo, rich as a rainbow, atop of all such noisome things, as we lonely souls call trouble. Her smile would illumine the blackest of crowding cares; and darkness that now seats you despondent, in your solitary chair for days together, weaving bitter fancies, dreaming bitter dreams, would grow light and thin, and spread, and float away-- chased by that beloved smile.

Your friend--poor fellow! dies: never mind, that gentle clasp of her fingers, as she steals behind you, telling you not to, weep-it is, worth ten friends!

Your sister, sweet one, is dead--buried. The worms are busy with all her fairness. How it makes you think earth, nothing but a spot to dig graves upon!

--It is more: she, she says, will be a, sister; and the waving curls as she leans upon your shoulder, touch your cheek, and your wet eyes turn to meet those other eyes -- God has sent his angel, surely!

Your mother, alas for it, she is gone! Is there any bitterness to a youth, alone, and homeless, like this!

But you are not homeless; you are not alone; she is there--her tears softening yours, her smile lighting yours, her grief killing yours; and you live again, to assuage that kind sorrow of hers.

Then--those children, rosy, fair-haired; no, they do not disturb you with their prattle now--they are yours! Toss away there on the greensward --never mind the hyacinths, the snowdrops, the violets, if so be any are there ; the perfume of their healthful lips is worth all the flowers of the world. No need now to gather wild boquets to love, and cherish: flower, tree, gun, are all dead things; things livelier hold your soul.

And she, the mother, sweetest and fairest of all, watching, tending, caressing loving, till your own heart grows pained with tenderest jealousy, and cures itself with loving.

You have no need now of any cold lecture to teach thankfulness; your heart is full of it. No need now, as once, of bursting blossoms, of trees taking leaf, and greenness, to turn thought kindly, and thankfully; for, ever beside you, there is bloom, and ever beside you there is fruit--for which eye, heart, and soul are full of unknown, and unspoken, because unspeakable, thank-offering.

And if sickness catches you, binds you, lays you down-- no lonely moanings, and wicked curses at careless stepping nurses. The step is noiseless, and yet distinct beside you. The white curtains are drawn, or withdrawn by the magic of that other presence; and the soft, cool hand is upon your brow.

No cold comfortings of friend-watchers, merely come in to steal a word away from that outer world which is pulling at their skirts; but, ever the sad, shaded brow of her, whose lightest sorrow for your sake is your greatest grief-- if it were not a greater joy.

The blaze, was leaping light and high, and the wood falling under the growing heat.

--So, continued I, this heart would be at length itself-- striving, with everything gross, even now as it clings to grossness. Love would make its strength native and progressive. Earth's cares would fly. Joys would double. Susceptibilities be quickened; love master self; and having made the mastery, stretch onward, and upward toward Infinitude.

And if the end came, and sickness brought that follower--Great Follower--which sooner or later is sure to come after, then the heart, and the hand of love, ever near, are giving to your tired soul, daily and hourly, lessons of that love which consoles, which triumphs, which circleth all, and centereth in all--love infinite and divine!

Kind hands--none but hers--will smooth the hair upon your brow as the chill grows damp, and heavy on it ; and her fingers--none but hers--will lie in yours as the wasted flesh stiffens, and hardens for the ground. Her tears--you could feel no others, if oceans fell--will warm your drooping features once more to life; once more your eye lighted in joyous triumph, kindle in her smile, and then --

The fire fell upon the hearth; the blaze gave a last leap--a flicker--then another--caught a little remaining twig-blazed up-wavered-went out.

There was nothing but a bed of glowing embers, over which the white ashes gathered fast. I was alone, with only my dog for company.



AFTER all, thought I, ashes follow blaze inevitably as death follows life. Misery treads on the heels of joy, anguish rides swift after pleasure.

"Come to me again, Carlo," said I to my dog; and I patted him fondly once more, but now only by the light of the dying embers.

It is very little pleasure one takes in fondling brute favorites; but it is a pleasure that when it passes, leaves no void. It is only a little alleviating redundance in your solitary heart-life, which if lost, another can be supplied.

But if your heart, not solitary--not quieting its humors with mere love of chase, or dog--not repressing year after year, its earnest yearnings after something better, and more spiritual -- has fairly linked itself by bonds strong as life, to another heart -- the casting off easy then?

Is it then only a little heart-redundancy cut off, which the next bright sunset will fill up?

And my fancy, as it had painted doubt under the smoke, and cheer under warmth of the blaze, so now it began under the faint light of the smoldering embers, to picture heart-desolation.

What kind, congratulatory letters, hosts of them, coming from old and half-forgotten friends, now that your happiness is a year, or two years old!


-- Ay, to be sure, beautiful!


--Pho, the dawdler! how little he knows of heart-treasure, who speaks of wealth to a man who loves his wife, as a wife only should be loved!

Young indeed; guileless as infancy; charming as the morning.

Ah, these letters bear a sting: they bring to mind, with new and newer freshness, if it be possible, the value of that, which you tremble lest you lose.

How anxiously you watch that step--if it lose not its bouyancy. How you study the dolor on that cheek, if it grow not fainter. How you tremble at the luster in those eyes, if it be not the luster of death. How you totter under the weight of that muslin sleeve--a phantom weight! How you fear to do it, and yet press forward, to note if that breathing be quickened, as you ascend the home-heights, to look off on the sunset lighting the plain.

Is your sleep, quiet sleep, after that she has whispered to you her fears, and in the same breath--soft as a sigh, sharp as an arrow--bid you bear it bravely?

Perhaps--the embers were now glowing fresher, a little kindling, before the ashes--she triumphs over disease.

But, Poverty, the world's almoner, has come to you with ready, spare hand.

Alone, with your dog living on bones, and you, on hope-- kindling each morning, dying slowly each night--this could be borne. Philosophy would bring home its stores to the lone rnan. Money is not in his hand, but knowledge is in his brain! and from that brain he draws out faster, as he draws slower from his pocket. He remembers; and on remembrance he can live for days, and weeks. The garret, if a garret covers him, is rich in fancies. The rain if it pelts, pelts only him used to rain-peltings And his dog crouches not in dread, but in companionship. His crust he divides with him, and laughs. He crowns himself with glorious memories of Cervantes though he begs: if he nights it under the stars, he dreams heaven-sent dreams of the prisoned, and homeless Galileo.

He hums old sonnets, and snatches of poor Jonson's plays. He chants Dryden's odes, and dwells on Otway's rhyme. He reasons with Bolingbroke or Diogenes, as the humor takes him; and laughs at the world, for the world, thank Heaven, has left him alone!

Keep your money, old misers, and your palaces, Old princes--the world is mine !

But--if not alone?

If she is clinging to you for support, for consolation, for home, for life--she, reared in luxury perhaps, is faint for bread?

Then, the iron enters the soul; then the nights darken under any sky light. Then the days grow long, even in the solstice of winter.

She may not complain; what then?

Will your heart grow strong, if the strength of her love can dam up the fountains of tears, and the tied tongue not tell of bereavement? Will it solace you to find her parting the poor treasure of food you have stolen for her, with begging, foodless children?

But this ill, strong hands, and Heaven's help, will put down. Wealth again; flowers again; patrimonial acres again; brightness again. But your little Bessie, your favorite child is pining.

Would to God! you say in agony, that wealth could bring fullness again into that blanched cheek, or round those little, thin lips once more; but it cannot. Thinner and thinner they grow; plaintive and more plaintive her sweet voice.

"Dear Bessie"-and your tones tremble; you feel that she is on the edge of the grave ? Can you pluck her back? Can endearments stay her? Business is heavy, away from the loved child;home, you go, to fondle while yet time is left -- but this time you 're too late. She is gone. She cannot hear you, she cannot thank you for the violets you put within her stiff white hand.

And then--the grassy mound--the cold shadow of head-stone!

The wind, growing with the night, is rattling at the window panes, and whistles dismally. I wipe a tear, and in the interval of my reverie, thank God, that I am no such mourner.

But gayety, snail-footed, creeps back to the household. All is bright again:

Her lip is rich and full; her cheek delicate as a flower. Her frailty doubles your love.

And the little one she clasps--frail too--too frail: the boy you had set your hopes and heart on. You have watched him growing, ever prettier, ever winning more and more upon your soul. The love you bore to him when he first lisped names--your name and hers--has doubled in strength now that he asks innocently to be taught of this, of that, and promises you by that quick curiosity that flashes in his eye, a mind full of intelligence.

And some hair-breadth escape by sea, or flood, that he perhaps may have had--which unstrung your soul to such tears, as you pray God may be spared you again--has endeared the little fellow to your heart, a thousandfold.

And, now with his pale sister in the grave, all that love has come away from the mound, where worms feast, and centers on the boy.

How you watch the storms lest they harm him! How often you steal to his bed late at night, and lay your hand lightly upon the brow, where the curls cluster thick, rising and falling with the throbbing temples, and watch, for minutes together, the little lips half parted, and listen--your ear close to them--if the breathing be regular and sweet!

But the day comes--the night rather--when you can catch no breathing.

Aye, put your hair away--compose yourself--listen again.

No, there is nothing!

Put your hand now to his brow--damp indeed --but not with healthful night sleep: it is not your hand, no, do not deceive yourself--it is your loved boy's forehead that is so cold; and your loved boy will never speak to you again-- never play again--he is dead!

Oh, the tears--the tears: what blessed things are tears! Never fear now to let them fall on his forehead, or his lip, lest you waken him! Clasp him--clasp him harder--you cannot hurt, you cannot waken him! Lay him down, gently or not, it is the same; he is stiff ; he is stark and cold.

But courage is elastic; it is our pride. It recovers itself easier, thought I, than these embers will get into blaze again.

But courage, and patience, faith, and hope have their limit. Blessed be the man who escapes such trial as will determine limit!

To a lone man it comes not near; for how can trial take hold where there is nothing by which to try?

A funeral? You reason with philosophy. A graveyard? You read Hervey and muse upon the wall. A friend dies? You sigh, you pat your dog--it is over. Losses? You retrench--you light your pipe--it is forgotten. Calumny? You laugh -- you sleep.

But with that childless wife clinging to you in love and sorrow-what then?

Can you take down Seneca now, and coolly blow the dust from the leaf-tops? Can you crimp your lip with Voltaire? Can you smoke idly, your feet dangling with the ivies, your thoughts all waving fancies upon a church- yard wall -- a wall that borders the grave of your boy!

Can you amuse yourself by turning stinging Martial into rhyme? Can you pat your dog, and seeing him wakeful and kind, say, "It is enough?" Can you sneer at Calumny, and sit by your fire dozing?

Blessed, thought I again, is the man who escapes such trial as will measure the limit of patience and the limit of courage!

But the trial comes--colder and colder were growing the embers.

That wife, over whom your love broods, is fading. Not beauty fading--that, now that your heart is wrapped in her being, would be nothing.

She sees with quick eye your dawning apprehension, and she tries hard to make that step of hers elastic.

Your trials and your loves together have centered your affections. They are not now as when you were a lone man, wide-spread and superficial. They have caught from domestic attachments a finer tone and touch. They cannot shoot out tendrils into barren world-soil and suck up thence strengthening nutriment. They have grown under the forcing-glass of home-roof, they will not now bear exposure.

You do not now look men in the face as if a heart-bond was linking you--as if a community of feeling lay between. There is a heart-bond that absorbs all others; there is a community that monopolizes your feeling. When the heart lay wide open, before it had grown upon, and closed around particular objects, it could take strength and cheer from a hundred connections that now seem colder than ice.

And now those particular objects--alas for you! --are failing.

What anxiety pursues you! How you struggle to fancy-- there is no danger; how she struggles to persuade you-- there is no danger!

How it grates now on your ear--the toil and turmoil of the city! It was music when you were alone; it was pleasant even, when from the din you were elaborating comforts for the cherished objects--when you had such sweet escape as evening drew on.

Now it maddens you to see the world careless while you are steeped in care. They hustle you in the street; they smile at you across the table; they bow carelessly over the way; they do not know what canker is at your heart.

The undertaker comes with his bill for the dead boy's funeral. He knows your grief; he is respectful. You bless him, in your soul. You wish the laughing street-goers were all undertakers.

Your eye follows the physician as be leaves your house: is he wise, you ask yourself; is he prudent? is he the best? Did he never fail--is he never forgetful?

And now the hand that touches yours, is it no thinner-- no whiter than yesterday? Sunny days come when she revives; color comes back; she breathes freer; she picks flowers; she meets you with a smile. Hope lives again.

But the next day of storm she is fallen. She cannot talk even; she presses your hand.

You hurry away from business before your time. What matter for clients--who is to reap the rewards? What matter for fame--whose eye will it brighten? What matter for riches--whose is the inheritance?

You find her propped with pillows; she is looking over a little picture-book bethumbed by the dear boy she has lost. She hides it in her chair; she has pity on you.

Another day of revival, when the spring sun shines, and flowers open out of doors; she leans on your arm, and strolls into the garden where the first birds are singing. Listen to them with her--what memories are in bird-songs! You need not shudder at her tears--they are tears of thanksgiving. Press the hand that lies light upon your arm, and you, too, thank God, while yet you may!

You are early home--mid-afternoon. Your step is not light; it is heavy, terrible.

They have sent for you.

She is lying down; her eyes half closed; her breathing long and interrupted.

She hears you; her eye opens; you put your hand in hers; yours trembles--hers does not. Her lips move; it is your name.

"Be strong," she says, "God will help you!"

She presses harder your hand: "Adieu!"

A long breath--another; you are alone again. No tears now; poor man! You cannot find them!

--Again home early. There is a smell of varnish in your house. A coffin is there; they have clothed the body in decent grave clothes, and the undertaker is screwing down the lid, slipping round on tip-toe. Does he fear to waken her?

He asks you a simple question about the inscription upon the plate, rubbing it with his coat cuff. You look him straight in the eye; you motion to the door; you dare not speak.

He takes up his hat and glides out stealthful as a cat.

The man has done his work well for all. It is a nice coffin--a very nice coffin! Pass your hand over it-- how smooth!

Some sprigs of mignionette are lying carelessly in a little gilt-edged saucer. She loved mignonette.

It is a good stanch table the coffin rests on; it is your table; you are a housekeeper--a man of family!

Ay, of family! keep down outcry, or the nurse will be in. Look over at the pinched features; is this all that is left of her? And where is your heart now? No, don't thrust your nails into your hands, nor mangle your lip, nor grate your teeth together. If you could only weep!

--Another day. The coffin is gone out. The stupid mourners have wept--what idle tears! She with your crushed heart, has gone out!

Will you have pleasant evenings at your home now?

Go into your parlor that your prim housekeeper has made comfortable with clean hearth and blaze of sticks.

Sit down in your chair; there is another velvet-cushioned one, over against yours--empty. You press your fingers on your eye-balls, as if you would press out something that hurt the brain; but you cannot. Your head leans upon your hand; your eye rests upon the flashing blaze.

Ashes always come after blaze.

Go now into the room where she was sick--softly, lest the prim housekeeper come after.

They have put new dimity upon her chair; they have hung new curtains over the bed. They have removed from the stand its vials, and silver bell; they have put a little vase of flowers in their place; the perfume will not offend the sick sense now. They have half opened the window, that the room so long closed may have air. It will not be too cold.

She is not there.

Oh, God! thou who dost temper the wind to the shorn lamb--be kind!

The embers were dark; I stirred them; there was no sign of life. My dog was asleep. The clock in my tenant's chamber had struck one.

I dashed a tear or two from my eyes; how they came there I know not. I half ejaculated a prayer of thanks, that such desolation had not yet come nigh me; and a prayer of hope--that it might never come.

In a half hour more, I was sleeping soundly. My reverie was ended.

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