Page images
PDF
EPUB

present his situation in another point of view. The feeling of his nothingness will not forsake him.

The second stroke that came upon him, wounded deeper, bowed still more. It was the marriage of his mother. The faithful, tender son had yet a mother when his father passed away. He hoped in the company of his noble-minded parent to reverence the heroic form of the departed; but his mother, too, he loses, and it is something worse than death that robs him of her. The trustful image which a good child loves to form of his parent is gone. With the dead there is no help, on the living no hold. She is also a woman, and her name is Frailty,-like that of her sex. Now first does he feel himself completely bent and orphaned ; and no happiness of life can repay what he has lost. Not reflective or sorrowful by nature, reflection and sorrow have become for him a heavy obligation. It is thus that we see him first enter on the scene.

Figure to yourselves this youth, this son of princes; conceive him vividly, bring his state before your eyes, and then observe him when he learns that his father's spirit walks ; stand by him in the terrors of the night, when the venerable ghost itself appears before him. A horrid shudder passes over him; he speaks to this mysterious form; he sees it beckon him; he follows it, and hears. The fearful accusation of his uncle rings in his ears; the summons to revenge, and the piercing, oft-repeated prayer, “Remember me!” And when the ghost had vanished, who is it that stands before us ? A young hero, panting for vengeance? A prince by birth rejoicing to be called to punish the usurper of his crown? No! Trouble and astonishment take hold of the solitary young man; he grows bitter against smiling villain, swears that he will not forget the spirit, and concludes with the expressive,

The time is out of joint; oh, cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

In these words, I imagine, will be found the key to Hamlet's whole procedure. To me it is clear that Shakespeare meant in the present case to represent the effect of a great action laid upon a soul unfit for the performance of it. In this view the whole piece seems to me to be composed.

There is an oak tree, planted in a costly jar, which should have

borne only pleasant flowers in its bosom ;—the roots expand—the jar is shivered.

A lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear, and must not cast away. All duties are holy for him, — the present is too hard. Impossibilities have been required of him,—not of themselves impossibilities, but for such as he.

He winds and turns, and torments himself; he advances and recoils; is ever put in mind,-ever puts himself in mind; at last does all but lose his purpose from his thoughts, yet still without recovering his peace of mind.

I believe there was never a grander play invented. Nay, it is not invented, it is real. It pleases us, it flatters us, to see a hero acting on his own strength, loving and hating as his heart directs him ; undertaking and completing ; casting every obstacle aside ; and at length attaining some great object which he aimed at. Poets and historians would willingly persuade us that so proud a lot may fall upon

him. In Hamlet we are taught another lesson ;—the hero is without a plan, but the piece is full of plan. Here we have no villain punished on some self-conceived and rigidly accomplished scheme of vengeance. A horrid deed occurs; it rolls itself along with all its consequences, dragging guiltless persons also in its course. The perpetrator seems as if he would evade the abyss which is made ready for him ; yet he plunges in at the very point by which he thinks he shall escape and happily complete his course.

For it is the property of crime to extend its mischief over innocence, as it is of virtue to extend its blessings over many that deserve them not, while frequently the author of one or the other is not punished or rewarded at all.

Here in this play of ours—how strange !—the pit of darkness sends its spirit and demands revenge: in vain! All circumstances tend one way, and hurry to revenge: in vain! Neither earthly nor infernal things may bring about what is reserved for Fate alone. The hour of judgment comes,—the wicked fall with the good.

Wittiam Mustela

RIZPAH.

“Then King David took the two sons of Rizpah, whom she bare unto Saul, and hanged them on a tree, in the hill before the Lord.

“And Rizpah took sack-cloth and spread it for her upon the rock,

" And suffered neither the birds of the air by day, nor the beasts of the field by night, to rest on them."

Rizpah! her poor gray tresses all unbound,
Each nerve and muscle held by mighty will,
Tearless in all her

agony

of love,
Guarding her precious dead against the vultures,
Tossing her thin, bare arms with gestures wild
To fright them as they wheel and circle low,
With flapping wings and harsh, discordant cries,
Eager to taste the horrid taste of death.
Hark! how her frenzied voice disturbs the night!
And, look! how grief and dread have marked her face
With awful lines of passionate despair!

“ Back! back! Ye shall not touch one shining hair,
Or fan the poor dead cheeks with poisoning wings;
Go, find your prey amid unholier things ;-
Back ! let your sickening greed be elsewhere fed-
A mother watches o'er her precious dead.

“Mine own! mine only! Why, alas! do I,
I, in whose sluggish veins the life moves slow,
Still cumber earth's fair ways, while

ye

must die,
In all the strength of manhood's lusty glow ?
Why might not I for broken vows atone,
And give this life for thine, mine own! mine own!
Heavens ! how their senseless bodies in the breeze
Float ever to and fro, and to and fro,
Swaying in silence, through the trembling trees,
Like pendulums, to count my hours of woe!
Hours crowding up from horror's dark abyss,-
Oh, patient God ! was ever sight like this?
My sons !
my sons !

are those the love-lit eyes
Whose merry glances warmed my heart like wine ?

Are those the cheeks once bright with life's rich dyes ?
Those the red lips whose sweetness clung to mine ?
Is it a dream ? or shall I wake erewhile ?
Wake to their living glance, and touch, and smile?
They were my babies once! They use to lie
With soft lips murmuring at my love-warm breast,
Cooing sweet answers to the lullaby
I

sang to put them to their cradled rest.
Listen! upon the night winds clear and low,
Come fragments of that song of long ago.
'T was this I sung,-a simple, foolish strain,
Yet babes and mothers love such music well ;
E’en now its cadence soothes my restless brain ;
I think the angels sing it,—who can tell ?
My children loved it in the twilight gray,-
'Tis twilight now, alas ! and where are they?
Listen!

[blocks in formation]

Thus, night and day, her wild, sad watch went on,
And none could win her from her loving task.
At length, the barley sheaves were gathered home,
And once again the dry skies rained soft tears,
As if in sorrow for her tearless woe!
And pitying Heaven made man more pitiful:
King David's heart grew tender at the sight,
And, filled with wonder at her mighty love,
He took her precious dead, with reverent hands,
Enfolded them in costly cerements,
Wet with the baptism of her grateful tears,
More fragrant than all balms and spices fine,
And gave them sepulchre with kindred dust.
Then Rizpal's work was finished ;-she arose,
Folded her sack-cloth tent, and went her

way,

Down thro’ the valley to her childless homë.
Poor waiting Rizpah! After many days
Death came to her. (How slowly does he come
When hearts are breaking, and are glad to break,
As if he grudged the comfort of a grave !)

’T was twilight in the harvest-time again :
She seemed to slumber when she clasped her arms
As if she held a baby on her breast,
And sang this fragment of her cradle song:

“Sleep, baby, sleep!
The shadows softly creep;
Thy mother shakes the dreamland tree-
A little dream comes down to thee:
Sleep, baby, sleep."

- Lucy Blynn.

CARTWHEELS.

as

Poor little boy-only nine years old, motherless, fatherless, no home but the market by day and the street by night, and no friends in the wide, wide world.

“ Dan,” his mother used to call him; but she died one stormy night of cold and hunger, and since then he had been known only

“Cartwheels," a nickname given him because he could turn more cartwheels than any other boy. Nobody cared for him, and he cared for nobody.

For Dan, besides being errand-boy and beggar, was a thief. And yet he did n't look like a thief: he had beautiful, large, honest gray eyes, and a sweet, bright smile. And if he had been a happy child in a happy home, I know he would not have been one.

But it was hard, when faint with hunger, to have the basement doors slammed in his face, with “I've got nothing for you." But Christmas Day little Cartwheels, turned into the streets,

had wandered about all day, and at night found himself with just one cent left of the ten he had earned the day before. He looked at

windows, and listened to the merriment that came from

up

the light

« PreviousContinue »