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In chains by the hand of each other are dying, | A health, then, to those who our cause are deStill flourish immortal both Freedom and
Ar that time of night when darkness, fading into dawn, begins to press less heavily upon the soul, Imagination wakes, while the slumbers of his sterner brother are unbroken; and, holding for an hour the sceptre of shadow-land, summons Fancy to entertain his brief regency with impossible devices. Out of her dreamwardrobe and limbo of forms she dresses out monstrous puppets. Ink-blots swell into dragons, hairs into serpents; eyes become windows of enchanted palaces. Then is the soul capable of both infinitudes, expanding to a universe where all floats in spheral harmony, contracting to an atom of intensity where the time of a breath is fuller than an age of years.
Sometimes these dreamy devices of the shadow-king and his cunning minister take on, by fits, the exterior of an entire world, in pageantries as like as they are unlike reality. Funerals of impassive corpses glide after coffins that contain the living; the dead rise and rebuke the living; the living have no fear of the dead, but are tormented with inexplicable distresses, objectless cares, regular confusion, silent turmoil, swiftness without progress, rage without force, fear without caution; these are the delights of the shadow-king and his parti-colored slave.
* * * *
I saw an ocean, heaving in immense unbroken undulations, under the gray haze of morning. Eastward, a broad, leaden cloud lay upon the sea, concealing the sharp peaks of an island. The cloud rolled away, in part, to the north and south, leaving a chasm through which glimmered the roofs and white walls of a great city, built upon the shore, where the sea broke, throwing up a surf against walls and turrets. But, for a time, there was no sound. Now, the city lay neither near nor far, but as if the fantastic power were itself the thing that it had shaped; for all became visible within the walls, not only by the lights and shadows of parts presented to the eye, but, as it were, en
sphered in imagination. A countless population moved through the broad and regular streets; all seemed to be informed with a common life, and all were human; there was no secrecy, no privacy; each was what his neighbor was; knew what he thought, or seemed to know it; but each seemed to feel himself an illusion, pretending to no other than a spectral existence; nor did any communicate to his fellow, by word or sign, the common feeling of the whole. Among the throngs of variously-habited figures that hurried along thoroughfares, none stumbled or struck against another, so perfect was their unanimity of existence.
The faces of all were strangely pale and haggard, as though subdued by a perpetual dread of annihilation; nevertheless, every countenance had the ghastly semblance of a smile; though none smiled inwardly, the souls of the whole city being at once vacant and severe with a kind of dry seriousness. From all the multitude came up a stifled murmur, like the sough of wind in a forest, but mixed with a cackling noise of laughter, that reminded of the vacant smile it accompanied. I heard a thousand other sounds mingled with the uproar, as of mills, the rush of engines, the crashing of a thousand wheels and rollers; and the intuition shaped itself into the infinite industry of operatives toiling at their various work, but still qualified and mixed with the horrible cackling, and the moan of vacant woe. The sooty artisan grinned spectrally under his paper cap, and cackled to his companion, who, in turn, cackled to him; and none heard the still cry of sorrow that the one universal spectral world sent out, but all glared upon each other, grinned, and laughed in suppressed, dismal echo. In secret dens and hiding-places, the chambers of the myriad houses, the shadow-king shaped himself into infinite shapes of spectral beings of all ages, likened to embryos, children, sexes, in every act and
posture, living all manner of lives, dying all manner of deaths, but all impressed with vacant woe, sending up the universal moan. Only the grin and cackling laughter marked all that moved about, and saw, spoke, and were among the living. Those who slept, and embryos, were serious; but these, too, were vacant, and all living sent up the wailing, murmuring cry. Over the city hung a vast, dense cloud, smoky and sulphurous, that shut out the dawning splendor of the morning, that lighted up the azure heavens and scattered a flood of golden purple over the whole east. Over this cloud and in it, so that both were mysteriously incorporate, brooded a shapeless form, that even the impassive king of dreams conceived with a kind of horror. The dragon wings of the cloud-demon dipped down, and shut in the city on ali sides; and his misty bulk swelled and heaved in billows, as the wailing cry rose and sank fitfully, as though swayed by a wind-but no wind breathed in streets; and from the entire body of the cloud-demon an invisible, deadly dew distilled, ceaselessly, covering the whole city and the streets with a moist rime, so that in all there was no dust. And all the living forms breathed it, and it passed into and deranged their frames, but filled all with intoxicative fumes, so that the shadow-king knew then why the pallor and ghastly vacancy, but of the cackling laughter he conceived no cause.
In the middle of the city rose a great dome over a hall of council, where a concourse of the living were assembled before an elevated pedestal, on which stood, high above the crowd, a shadowy figure of humanity. The figure, tall, but stooping, wore a gray, coarse robe, wrapped nervously about the body, showing the angle of the long, lean arms; and in front tapered the fingers of a black hand, tipped with talons, sticking clenched in the folds of the tightened robe, that showed perfectly the broad, sharp shoulders. The face of the figure was like that of a man, but with eyes red and small, overwhelmed with sooty eyebrows; on the head a skull-cap, of dingy metal, concealed, all but a few straggling locks of wiry black hair. The nose seemed aquiline, but the whole face was strangely like that of a rat.
A foot, escaping from the robe beneath, showed talons like those of a dog, the toes cramped in, callous, large, and filthy. Of the vast assemblage that stood about the pedestal all seemed men, chiefly artisans, and stood agape with their eyes fixed upon the figure, who moved as if to speak. And as it slowly stretched out the bony right arm, keeping the talons clenched in a fold of the robe, the breast appeared like that of a corpse sunk between the ribs, and defaced with greenish blotches of decay. Then the vast assemblage swayed to and fro like a sea about to sink in a chasm, and strange, rattling, cachinatory shouts rang under the empty dome, swaying a rag of dingy cloud that hung like the shirt of night over him that stood upon the pedestal. He turned his red ferret eyes slowly from side to side, and lifted the rattish countenance; and, though he stooped all the more, his gaunt, corpse-like figure stretched up, and seemed to rise to meet the cloud that descended over it. "Ye have chosen me," he began in shrill, elevated tones, elevated tones, "ye have chosen me to be your master! you have chosen me in your hearts." Then the cachinatory shouts grew louder as the speaker touched his breast significantly: "Yes, in your hearts; your sincere voices, rising in joyful acclamations, confirm the choice. Ye know, dear subjects, under what woes we lived ere the blessed protecting cloud-god came over us; ye know with what sorrow, day after day, for long years, we felt the hot light smite our eyes; and the cold dews of night dropped from the afflicting stars; ye know that I, by my power, studying for ages in the bosom of earth the sacred incantations, have drawn over you the beneficent shadow, whose soft, misty haze, like a perpetual gray dawn, mitigates your day, and protects you from the heavy glooms of night. All this in your sincere hearts you know, and, with a gratitude that would make itself eternal, have erected this temple to the benignant influence, and under its propitious cope have set me up to be your sovereign lord." Then again the vast assemblage swayed and billowed, sending up louder and louder cachinatory acclamations; and the sound spread along the city streets as the moaning sound of a
wind spreads and traverses the glades of a forest. Then the figure lifted with its hand the metal skull-cap from its own head, and disclosed a circlet of glowing, gold-like fire bound about the bristling head; and this crown was set regally with flames of blue electric light instead of stars; and the tips of the large flap ears were tucked under the circlet, and held up by it; and the whole head was that of a vampire, with a face half human, half rattish.
"Know, then," he continued, "that I have not won your homage without worth on my part; since this crown that ye see upon me, though ye deem it golden and regal, is indeed of ethereal fire, and burns into me with unalleviable torment. Once I tell you these things, and now I replace this cap, that you shall not be too constantly reminded of my glory, or my worth, and thus forget that high awe that is the due of kings. I decree that once every year ye assemble in this my temple, that I may give you now this proof that by endurance I am able, and by honor given by the gods am worthy, to be your supreme lord and master. Give me for this time the devout homage of your hearts, for the god waits, and I must descend."
Then the whole assembly bent themselves to the earth, and when they had made obeisance, the king continued: "I must now leave you, descending into Hades, whence I arose. But beware lest, not seeing a visible being always present to command and determine things, and govern by the word, ye forget your
sworn homage, and fall under the anger of the cloud-god, who, if his mercies are what you feel in yourselves, how terrible must be his anger! And for me, though your eyes behold me not, I shall be present where you least imagine; and in every shape vigilant and terrible, though unseen, shall know and punish every action not agreeable to my law. These things lay to your hearts, and as ye remember the vision of the burning crown, remember also the words and the majesty of him who wore it." Then again the awestricken people bowed their heads, and shouted as before. "First," said the king, "I decree that, as worship is the foundation of the state, and the preservative of all law and discipline, ye shall venerate the cloud-king with morning and evening rites; in these ye are instructed by your priests. Life is tedious, and a weary burden; it is not desirable to live long; therefore look forward with joy to the final day when, saturated by the merciful dews, ye depart out of this death in life into that abyss that has neither place nor limit; think, that as I have been to you a glorious and awful king, victorious over the fire and light in this life, I will not fail you in that extremity; for in me, as ye are now legally and sensibly, so shall ye be then spiritually incorporate." Here a confused murmur arose, the whole assembly testifying in that way the love they bore their great monarch, who would not even in that extremity desert them. And with the sound of their acclamations I awoke.
NUMEROUS and dissimilar are the works that from time to time have taken the lead in this class of literature. The creations of the widely-differing genius of a Bulwer, a Maturin, Marryatt, Bremer, Dickens, Eugene Sue, and a host of others have had, in turn, their admirers and their followers; and with that happy mingling of pliancy and energy characterizing the tendencies and tastes of the lovers and producers of light reading, one fountain is no sooner exhausted than another is sought and supplied.
Follies and vices exemplified in the progress of a well-written novel bear a better defined and a more repulsive aspect than when glossed over by the etiquette and disguised in the sophistries of life. Thus presented, they awaken a stronger disgust than the most forcible argument could produce, and point a moral which would be unread and unnoticed in the ever-open page of experience.
Fielding was so highly impressed with the importance of novel literature, that he placed it in rank with the epic; and in his own "Tom Jones" illustrated and gave force to the opinion. There is certainly no kind of light literature which finds such immediate circulation, and becomes so popular in despite of prejudice; none that affects society more widely, that affords a larger field of pleasant, general discussion, that operates more powerfully on the heart, or more diversely on the mind. A novel is either weak or strong; in either case its effect is decided; if weak, the effect is to weaken: says Johnson, "They who drink small beer will think small beer;" if of a powerful character, it contaminates like "The Mysteries of Paris," or it elevates like "The Citizen of Prague."
A novel that can stand the test of criticism is of rare occurrence; among such cannot be ranked the "Tale of Passion" before us, the very title of which, by the
way, is in bad taste; "Retribution" sounds well, but "The Vale of Shadows" is weakly mysterious. It is, nevertheless, not a book to be dismissed without farther comment than is given to the common run of entertaining fiction. It is, perhaps, not entitled to be called a novel, for it has no plot, no comic action, and the characters are few, and placed in circumstances of not uncommon occurrence. In the great drama of life similar events and characters are enacted; like passions are covertly at work; like weakness and strength, reliance and treachery. Not, truly, do we meet such in the daily routine of domestic life, but they are known to exist, and the point of distance taken, shows more distinctly and strikingly the golden-threaded moral running evenly throughout the fabric. The sufferings and penalties are greater, perhaps, than the average sufferings and penalties of humanity; but they illustrate as fully; and after all, who shall say how often the great features of the tragedy have been acted, and still are, beneath the approving smile of the world, ignorant of the hidden springs of motion? who shall say, beneath the surface of life, what tide of feelings and passions may be flowing? who shall say how many a Hester has died, and how many a husband and friend triumphed under the "inky cloak" of seeming sorrow? The moral of this tale is not only forcible in itself,—it is well-timed.
"Retribution" has literary deficiencies enough to satisfy the desire of any carping critic; but we have no especial "itching to deride," and in the power of the story to
"affect our hearts,
Forget the exactness of peculiar parts.”
It is based on a sound principle, and sustains itself thereon; a fine, serious thoughtfulness, significant of an elevated mind
* Retribution, or the "Vale of Shadows." By Emma D. E. Nevitt, Southworth. New York, Harper & Brothers. 1849.