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Life's disappointments, agonies and stings,
So, in the cell, where stern afflictions' prey, The prisoner weeps his lingering nights away; Through the dark grate, whose iron chords so fast, Have been the lyre to many a midnight blast; Through that dark grate, the evening sun may shine, And gild his walls with crimson light divine; Some mournful melody may soothe his pain; Some radiant beam may sparkle round his chain; Some wandering wind in mercy may repair, And waft the spirit of the blossoms there.
Oh! then the longest Summer's day
Too exquisite to last. Of joys departed,
GREAT and manifold is the grief, which I have been compelled to feel, O candid reader, in being obliged to spend so much time in talking on paper concerning myself and family. How distressing this must be to a modest man, thou canst better conceive than I describe. It is an act of self-denial to which I have submitted for thy advantage. Pride, I abjure; egotism, I detest; and the very sin I have committed, I have been witness against and lament. And thus, having used no less than seven great I's in this very paragraph, and groaned over my own sin with a hearty sorrow; like other offenders, I now return to it again, and proceed to tell thee more about my family and myself.
My uncle Gideon was a little spindle-shanked man, whom the wind might have blown away. In his early youth, he was supposed to be in a consumption, and spent most of his time in visits to a certain botanical doctor, in a town about ten miles off, who kept him along between wind and water, never permitting him to be well, and never to die, until my grandfather's purse, as well as patience, was almost exhausted; for he held that neither to kill or cure was the great reproach of medicine. Some of the prescriptions of this famous doctor, I remember; and will here record them for the benefit of all my readers, who happen to be in a consumption. They are such as these:-the last strippings of a red cow's milk, taken morning and night, (the cow must be red ;) the root of elecampane, coddled in sugar-baker's molasses, to be taken at night whenever you wake up and cough; ground-ivy tea, sweetened with loaf-sugar, to be drank any time whenever your imagination is thirsty, (much better than brandy;) and a conserve made of red roses, very healing to the stomach, when overloaded with repletion; especially if accompanied with fasting. These prescriptions I have heard my uncle Gideon praise so much, that I thought it my duty to preserve them; and who knows, but my book may be famous for medicine, as well as morality; sothat if I fail in one object, I may succeed in another. No man need to starve in New England, who has abilities enough to become a botanical doctor.
These diseases and medicine kept my uncle from active life; so that he grew up a home-bred youth, with a powerful imagination, a decent mind, but as ignorant of the ways of the world, as an oyster in his shell. He was a great reader, a great eater, a great physic-taker; but not a great man, for I before told you he was a very little one. I can seem to see him now, a mannikin about four feet two inches high; his hat cocked on his head; his crooked elbows swinging as he walked, until they almost touched behind his back, his blue serge small clothes, fastened by oval knee-buckles, his double-breasted waistcoat and his long chocolate-colored coat, three quarters as long as himself, and reaching down to the place where the calves of his legs should have been, if he had had any. Such was the man whose life was one long dream; and who sometimes infused his visions with my youthful brains.
In my grandfather's house, my uncle kept a room somewhat between a study and shop, where he used to read his books, and sometimes pursue such handicrafts as his leisure or health were supposed to admit of. He had a lapstone, and could mend a pair of shoes; he was sometimes seen repairing an old saddle, putting in a rake handle, or puttying the glass of a broken window. He was one of those people, who are always busy, and never bring much to pass. On the negative side he shone immensely; never doing intentional harm to a single creature; no, not
even to the musquito, who tried in vain to suck his blood.
Thus secluded from the world, and left a prey to his own thoughts, it is not wonderful, if in the absence of other interests, my uncle should be deeply in love. Some fair face was forever setting his heart on fire; and even when sober fifty began to shed its discreet snows among the black locks of his little head, his brain and his heart were as susceptible as ever-perpetually lighted up by the fire caught from the malicious eye of some nymph of sixteen. His affections were always wandering to some false loon of a lass; to whom for age he might have been a grandfather; and though he was a religious man, he seldom came from meeting on the Sabbath, but his language and looks expressed the influence of other faces than those, which glow in souls divine. In short, the poor man's heart was tender, and Bundleborough meeting-house was a magazine of sparks.
It is dangerous to live with a valetudinary man. I had heard so much in my youth about coughs and consumption, of suitable and unsuitable diet, of things healing to the stomach, of ground-ivy tea, red cow's milk, and elecampane, that I, in my turn, began to be sick too; and as I was blessed with a will, and was generally allowed to gratify it, I became too feeble to go to school. The deficiency of public instruction was supplied by what I could learn in my uncle Gideon's chamber.