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The advancing billow, till its tossing crest
Lo, wider grows the stream ; a sea-like flood
I pause and turn my eyes, and, looking back,
I look, and the quick tears are in my eyes,
Of human surrow, telling of dear ties
Sadly I turn, and look before, where yet
Further on A belt of darkness seems to bar the way, Long, low and distant, where the Life that Is Touches the Life to come. The Flood of Years Rolls toward it, nearer and nearer. It must pass That dismal barrier. What is there beyond ? Hear what the wise and good have said Beyond That belt of darkness still the years roll on More gently, but with not less mighty sweep. They gather up again and softly bear All the sweet lives that late were overwhelmed And lost to sight—all that in them was good, Noble, and truly great and worthy of loveThe lives of infants and ingenuous youths, Sages and saintly women who have made Their households happy--all are raised and borne By that great current on its onward sweep, Wandering and rippling with caressing waves Around green islands, fragrant with the breath Of flowers that never wither. So they pass, From stage to stage, along the shining course Of that fair river broadening like a sea. As its smooth eddies curl along their way, They bring old friends together ; hands are clasped In joy unspeakable ; the mother's arms Again are folded round the child she loved And lost. Old sorrows are forgotten now, Or but remembered to make sweet the hour That overpays them ; wounded hearts that bled Or broke are healed forever. In the room Of this grief-shadowed Present there shall be A Present in whose reign no grief shall gnaw The heart, and never shall a tender tie Be broken-in whose reign the eternal Change That waits on growth and action shall proceed With everlasting Concord hand in hand.”
A gentleman who had been recently bereaved was so struck by the unquestioning faith in immortality expressed in the concluding lines of this poem that he wrote to the poet, asking if they represented his own belief. Mr. Bryant answered him in the following note, dated Cummington, August 10th, 1876 : “ Certainly I believe all that is said in the lines you have quoted. If I had not, I could not have written them. I believe in the everlasting life of the soul ; and it seems to me that immortality would be but an imperfect gift without the recognition in the life to come of those who are dear to us here.'
If the harmony of the poet's career was sustained in his writings and his love of art, it was further manifested in the taste and affection which governed him in the selection of his homes. Like the historian Prescott, Bryant had three residences a town-house and two country homes. One of these is near the picturesque village of Roslyn, Long Island, and commands a view which in its varied aspect takes in a mingled scene of outspreading land and water. The mansion, embosomed in trees and vines, an ample dwelling-place situated at the top of the hills, was built by Richard Kirk in 1781. Mr. Bryant, who was ever mindful of the injunction given by the dying Scotch laird to his son, “Be aye sticking in a tree, Jock : it will be growing while ye are sleeping," alternated recreations of tree planting and pruning and other rural occupations with his literary labor. Not extensive, but excellent in wide and judicious selections, was his library of several thousand volumes. The poet's knowledge of ancient and living languages enabled him to add with advantage to his collection of books the works of the best French, German, Italian, and Spanish authors. Among his poems may be found admirable translations from these various languages as well as from the Greek and Latin.
The poet's country-seat at Roslyn, called “ Cedarmere,” has been the resort of many distinguished men of art and literature, of travelers and statesmen, gone thither to pay their respects to the sage, philosopher, and author. They were always welcomed, and enjoyed the purity of taste and simplicity of manner which presided over the mansion. Here the venerable host continued to the last to enjoy the society of his friends; and here much of his best literary work has been done since his purchase of the place in 1845. He was accustomed to spend most of the time there from May to the end of November of each year, excepting the months of August and September, which were given to the old Homestead at Cummington, Mass.
Cedarmere is an extensive estate, and rich in a great variety of trees. walking on a sunny October afternoon with the poet through his loved domain, he pointed out a Spanish chestnut-tree laden with fruit, and, springing lithely on a fence despite his seventy-six summers, caught an open burr hanging from one of the lower branches, opened it, and, jumping down with the agility of a youth, handed to his city guest the contents, consisting of two as large chestnuts as I ever saw in Spain. The Madeira and Pecan nuts were also successfully cultivated by him at Cedarmere. During another walk, Mr. Bryant gave a jump and caught the branch of a tree with his hands, and, after swinging backward and forward several times with his feet raised, he swung himself over a fence without touching it.
As I was
About a quarter of a mile from the mansion, he pointed out a black-walnut tree, which was planted by Adam Smith, and first made its appearance above ground in 1713. It had attained a girth of twenty-five feet and an immense breadth of branches. It was the comfortable home of a small army of squirrels, and every year strewed the ground around its gigantic stem with an abundance of “heavy fruit.' The tree is alluded to in one of Mr. Bryant's poems :
“ On my cornice linger the ripe black grapes ungathered ;
Children fill the groves with the echoes of their glee,
Drops the heavy fruit of the tall black-walnut tree.”
The taste displayed by the poet in the selection and adornment of his residence at Roslyn was more than equaled by the affection and veneration which fourteen years ago prompted him to purchase the old Bryant Homestead and estate at Cummington, which had some thirty years previous passed out of the family into other hands. The mansion is situated among the Hampshire hills, and is a spot that nature has surrounded with scenes calculated to awaken the early dreams of the poet, and to fill his soul with purest inspiration. In the midst of such scenes the young singer received his earliest impressions, and descriptive of them he has embodied some of his most cherished and home-endearing poetry. To a friend who requested information about the home of his boyhood, Mr. Bryant in 1872 wrote as follows:
“I am afraid that I can not say much that will interest you or any body else. A hundrer! years since this broad highland region lying between the Housatonic and the Connecticut was principally forest, and bore the name of Pontoosuc. In a few places settlers had cleared away woodlands and cultivated the cleared spots. Bears, catamounts, and deer were not uncommon here. Wolves were sometimes seen, and the woods were dense and dark, without any natural openings or meadows. My grandfather on the mother's side came up from Plymouth County, in Masachusetts, when a young man, in the year 1773, and chose a farm on a commanding site overlooking an extensive prospect, cut down the trees on a part of it, and built a house of square logs with a chimney as large as some kitchens, within which I remember to have sat on a bench in my childhood. About ten years afterward he purchased, of an original settler, the contiguous farm, now called the Bryant Homestead, and having built beside a little brook, not very far from a spring from which water was to be drawn in pipes, the house which is now mine, he removed to it with his family. The soil of this region was then exceedingly fertile, all the settlers prospered, and my grandfather among the rest. My father, a physician and surgeon, married his daughter, and after a while came to live with him on the homestead. He made some enlargements of the house, in one part of which he had his office, and in this, during my boyhood, were generally two or three students of medicine, who sometimes accompanied my father in his visits to his patients, always on horseback, which was the mode of traveling at that time. To this place my father brought me in my early childhood, and I have scarce an early recollection which does not relate to it.
“ On the farm beside the little brook, and at a short distance from the house, stood the district school-house, of which nothing now remains but a little hollow where was once a cellar. Here I received my earliest lessons in learning, except such as were given me by my mother, and here, when ten years old, I declaimed a copy of verses composed by me as a description of a district school. The little brook which runs by the house, on the site of the
old district school-house, was in after years made the subject of a little poem, entitled 'The Rivulet.' To the south of the house is a wood of tall trees clothing a declivity, and touching with its outermost boughs the grass of a moist meadow at the foot of the hill, which suggested the poem entitled ' An Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood.'
“ In the year 1835 the place passed out of the family ; and at the end of thirty years I repurchased it, and made various repairs of the house and additions to its size. A part of the building which my father had added, and which contained his office, had, in the mean time, been detached from it, and moved off down a steep hill to the side of the Westfield River. I supplied its place by a new wing with the same external form, though of less size, in which is now my library.
The site of the house is uncommonly beautiful. Before it, to the east, the ground descends, first gradually, and then rapidly, to the Westfield River, flowing in a deep and narrow valley, from which is heard, after a copious rain, the roar of its swollen current, itself
In the spring-time, when the frost-bound waters are loosened by a warm rain, the roar and crash are remarkably loud as the icy crust of the stream is broken, and the masses of ice are swept along by the flood over the stones with which the bed of the river is paved. Beyond the narrow valley of the Westfield the surface of the country rises again gradually, carrying the eye over a region of vast extent, interspersed with farm-houses, pasturegrounds, and wooded heights, where on a showery day you sometimes see two or three different showers, each watering its own separate district ; and in winter time two or three different snow-storms dimly moving from place to place.”
“The soil of the whole of this highland region is disintegrated mica slate, for the most part. It has its peculiar growth of trees, shrubs, and wild flowers, differing considerably from those of the eastern part of the State. In autumn, the woods are peculiarly beautiful with their brightness and variety of hues. The higher farms of this region lie nearly two thousand feet above tide-water. The air is pure and healthful ; the summer temperature is most agreeable ; but the spring is coy in her approaches, and winter often comes before he is bidden. No venomous reptile inhabits any part of this region, as I think there is no tradition of a rattlesnake or copperhead having been seen here."
The serenity and dignity so manifest in Bryant's writings were notable also in his person. The poet was often depicted with pencil and pen. The phrenologists exhausted their skill upon his noble head, and the painters and engravers their art upon his face. The former believed him to approach the ideal of Spurzheim in his phrenological developments, and tủe latter deemed him to possess the fine artistic features of Titian and the Greek poet whom he translated. It is a consolation to age, when protected by a wise and orderly regulated life, that its inherent dignity supplies the want, if not the place, of youth, and that the veneration and serenity which surround it more than compensate for the passions which turbulence renders dangerous. To such an honored age as this Bryant attained ; calm, circumspect, and sedate, he passed the perilous portals of Parnassus with his crown of laurel untarnished and unwithered by the baser breath that sometimes lurks like a poison within its leaves. To my conception, he more resembled Dante in the calm dignity of his nature, though happily not in the violent and oppressive affliction of his life, than any other poet in history.
Having passed, by more than three winters, what the Psalmist calls “ the days of our years," and escaped the " labor and sorrow" that are foreboded to the strength that attains fourscore, Bryant continued to perform his daily editorial duties, to