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KAVANAGH continued his walk in the direction of Mr. Churchill's residence. This at least was unchanged, — quite unchanged. The same white front; the same brass knocker; the same old wooden gate, with its chain and ball; the same damask roses under the windows; the same sunshine without and within. The outer door and study door were both open, as usual in the warm weather; and at the table sat Mr. Churchill, writing. Over each ear was a black and inky stump of a pen, which, like the two ravens perched on Odin's shoulders, seemed to whisper to him all that passed in heaven and on earth. On this occasion, their revelations were of the earth. He was correcting school exercises.
The joyful welcome of Mr. Churchill, as Kavanagh entered, and the cheerful sound of their voices, soon brought Mrs. Churchill to the study, — her eyes bluer than ever, her cheeks fairer, her form more round and full. The children came in also, - Alfred grown to boy's estate and exalted into a jacket; and the baby that was, less than two years behind him, and catching all his fallen mantles, and all his tricks and maladies.
Kavanagh found Mr. Churchill precisely where he left him. He had not advanced one step, not one. The same dreams, the same longings, the same aspirations, the same indecision. A thousand things had been planned, and none completed. His imagination seemed still to exhaust itself in running, before it tried to leap the ditch. While he mused, the fire burned in other brains. Other hands wrote the books he dreamed about. He freely used his good ideas in conversation, and in letters; and they were straightway wrought into the texture of other men's books, and so lost to him forever. His work on Obscure Martyrs was anticipated by Mr. Hathaway, who, catching the idea from him, wrote and published a series of papers on Unknown Saints, before Mr. Churchill had fairly arranged his materials. Before he had written a chapter of his great Romance, another friend and novelist had pub
on the same subject. Poor Mr. Churchill! So far as fame and external success were concerned, his life certainly was a failure. He was, perhaps, too deeply freighted, too much laden by the head, to ride the waves gracefully. Every sea broke over him, - he was half the time under water! All his defects and mortifications he attributed to the outward circumstances of his life, the exigencies of his profession, the accidents of chance. But, in reality, they lay much deeper than this. They were within himself. He wanted the allcontrolling all-subduing will. He wanted the fixed purpose that sways and bends all circumstances to its uses, as the wind bends the reeds and rushes beneath it.
In a few minutes, and in that broad style of handling, in which nothing is distinctly defined, but everything clearly suggested, Kavanagh sketched to his friends his three years' life in Italy and the East. And then, turning to Mr. Churchill, he said,
" * And you, my friend, — what have you been doing all this while ? You have written to me so rarely that I have hardly kept pace with you. But I have thought of you constantly. In all the old cathedrals; in all the lovely landscapes, among the Alps and Apennines; in looking down on Duomo d'Ossola ; at the Inn of Baveno; at Gaeta; at Naples ; in old and mouldy Rome; in older Egypt; in the Holy Land; in all galleries and churches and ruins; in our rural retirement at Fiesoli; whenever I have seen anything beautiful, I have thought of you, and of how much you would have enjoyed it !”
Mr. Churchill sighed; and then, as if, with a touch as masterly, he would draw a picture that should define nothing, but suggest everything, he said,
“You have no children, Kavanagh ; we have five."
• Ah, so many already!” exclaimed Kavanagh. “A living Pentateuch! A beautiful Pentapylon, or five-gated temple of Life! A charming number!”
“Yes," answered Mr. Churchill ; " a beautiful number; Juno's own; the wedding of the first even and first uneven numbers ; the number sacred to marriage, but having no reference, direct or indirect, to the Pythagorean novitiate of five years of silence."
“ No ; it certainly is not the vocation of children to be silent,” said Kavanagh, laughing. " That would be out of nature; saving always the children of the brain, which do not often make so much noise in the world as we desire. I hope a still larger family of these has grown up around you during my absence."
* Quite otherwise," answered the schoolmaster, sadly. “ My brain has been almost barren of songs. I have only been trifling; and I am afraid, that, if I play any longer with Apollo, the untoward winds will blow the discus of the god against my forehead, and strike me dead with it as they did Hyacinth of old.”
“And your Romance, - have you been more successful with that? I hope it is finished, or nearly finished ? ”
“Not yet begum," said Mr. Churchill. “The plan and characters still remain vague and indefinite in my mind. I have not even found a name for it."
“ That you can determine after the book is written," suggested Kavanagh.
- You can name it, for instance, as the old Heimskringla was named, from the initial word of the first chapter.”
“Ah! that was very well in the olden time, and in Iceland, when there were no quarterly reviews. It would be called affectation now.”
“ I see you still stand a little in awe of opinion. Never fear that. The strength of criticism lies only in the weakness of the thing criticised."
" That is the truth, Kavanagh ; and I am more afraid of deserving criticism than of receiving it. I stand in awe of my own opinion. The secret demerits of which we alone, perhaps, are conscious, are often more difficult to bear than those which have been publicly censured in us, and thus in some degree atoned for."
“I will not say," replied Kavanagh, “ that humility is the only road to excellence, but I am sure that it is one road."
“Yes, humility; but not humiliation,” sighed
Mr. Churchill, despondingly. “As for excellence, I can only desire it and dream of it; I cannot attain to it; it lies too far from me; I cannot reach it. These
books about me here, that once stimulated me to action, have now become my accusers. They are my Eumenides, and drive me to despair.”
“My friend," said Kavanagh, after a short pause, during which he had taken note of Mr. Churchill's sadness, “that is not always excellent which lies far away from us. What is remote and difficult of access we are apt to overrate ; what is really best for us lies always within our reach, though often overlooked. To speak frankly, I am afraid this is the case with
You are evidently grasping at something which lies beyond the confines of your own experience, and which, consequently, is only a play of shadows in the realm of fancy. The figures have no vitality; they are only outward shows, wanting inward life. We can give to others only what we have.”
· And if we have nothing worth giving ?” interrupted Mr. Churchill.
“No man is so poor as that. As well might the mountain streamlets say they have nothing worth giving to the sea, because they are not rivers. Give what
have. To some one, it may be better than you dare to think. If you had looked nearer for the materials of your Romance, and had set about it in earnest, it would now have been finished.”
“And burned, perhaps,” interposed Mr. Churchill; “or sunk with the books of Simon Magus to the bottom of the Dead Sea.”
" At all events you would have had the pleasure of writing it. I remember one of the old traditions of Art, from which you may perhaps draw a moral. When Raphael desired to paint his Holy Family, for a long time he strove in vain to express the idea that filled and possessed his soul. One morning, as he walked beyond the city gates, meditating the sacred theme, he beheld, sitting beneath a vine at her cottage door, a peasant woman, holding a boy in her arms, while another leaned upon her knee, and gazed at the approaching stranger. The painter found here, in real life, what he had so long sought for in vain in the realms of his imagination ; and quickly, with his chalk pen
cil, he sketched, upon the head of a wine-cask that stood near them, the lovely group, which afterwards, when brought into full perfection, became the transcendent Madonna della Seggiola.”
“ All this is true,” replied Mr. Churchill, “but it gives me no consolation. I now despair of writing anything excellent. I have no time to devote to meditation and study. My life is given to others, and to this destiny I submit without a murmur; for I have the satisfaction of having labored faithfully in my calling, and of having perhaps trained and incited others to do what I shall never do. Life is still precious to me for its many uses, of which the writing of books is but one. I do not complain, but accept this destiny, and say, with that pleasant author, Marcus Antoninus, • Whatever is agreeable to thee shall be agreeable to me, O graceful Universe! nothing shall be to me too early or too late, which is seasonable to thee! Whatever thy seasons bear shall be joyful fruit to me, 0 Nature ! from thee are all things ; in thee they subsist; to thee they return. Could one say, Thou dearly beloved city of Cecrops ? and wilt thou not say, Thou dearly beloved city of God?'"
“ Amen!” said Kavanagh. “And, to fol
low your quotation with another, “The gale that blows from God we must endure, toiling but not repining.'
Here Mrs. Churchill, who had something of Martha in her, as well as of Mary, and had left the room when the conversation took a literary turn, came back to announce that dinner was ready, and Kavanagh, though warmly urged to stay, took his leave, having first obtained from the Churchills the promise of a visit to Cecilia during the evening.
“ Nothing done! nothing done !” exclaimed he, as he wended his way homeward, musing and meditating. “ And shall all these lofty aspirations end in nothing ? Shall the arms be thus stretched forth to encircle the universe, and come back empty against a bleeding, aching breast ?”
And the words of the poet came into his mind, and he thought them worthy to be written in letters of gold, and placed above every door in every house, as a warning, a suggestion, an incitement:
"Stay, stay the present instant!
Imprint the marks of wisdom on its wings!