Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
Sturm und Drang
By Richard Burleigh Kimball (18161892)
[Born in Lebanon. N. H., 1816. Died, 1892. St. Leger, or, The Threads of Life. A Romance. 1850.]
I BELIEVE! Those words were full of meaning; and in every situation, under every trial, in the midst of scenes the most exciting, I have remembered them. Strange to say, the first lesson which I learned in Germany, the land of mystical philosophy, of wild theories, and of wilder doubts, was BELIEF; and that, too, from the most remarkable individual, every way considered, of whom Germany could boast. But did Goethe believe? I will not vouch for it; I am only confident of his assertion that he did; and I will not think that he was a man to palter. But for my purpose it was of no consequence, so long as the exclamation was evidence of his opinion. And had I wandered so far to learn the simple lesson from him? Yes. And now, just as the German is ascending to his zenith. I, so many years his juniorI, who have had the same glowing energy, the same healthful, hopeful ambition, the same unchanging, determined aspirationsI must stop short when I have scarce entered the lists. I see the door closed upon me just as I essay to cross the threshold. The pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel is broken at the cistern, before a draught of the refreshing waters is conveyed to me; and when the reward of past struggles and of present exertions appears to be close at hand, I am called away, to be here no more. GOD forgive me for this momentary murmur! I know that his purposes are true, and none can question them. Come then to my aid, O sacred Faith, in this moment of my weakness, and give me strength. Teach me that although we work here, and know comparatively nothing, yet we live always; that knowledge is and ever has been progressive; that the soul of man is as capacious as his aspirations are boundless, and that he has before him duration infinite, in which to labor and to know.
Those are halcyon days,continued Hegewisch, after a pause,the days of the first wish of love; the days when the object is found, and the wish becomes a sensation; the days when as yet no words are spoken, but when in their place is that indescribable something in the look, the manner, the conduct of each toward the other, which is perfectly appreciated, yet not quite understood; which leaves room for delicious doubts, and exquisite half-formed hopes, and gentle fears, and sweet questionings of the heart .
The Florentine was in the right when he wrote those lines. No, there is no greater anguish; but there is a point beyond thatyes!where no anguish, nor sorrow, nor torment comes; because there is nothing within by which to feel them any more, where all is dead. Dead! what more horrible conception! what so dreadful a reality! Vitality, but no life; mind, thought, memory, but no hope, no apprehension, no joy, no pang! Why did not the Ghibelline put that into his Divine Comedy?
Life! shall I tell you what it is? Ah, would it were what so many make it: a pumping of air in and out of the lungs; a covering of the nakedness, to the prevention of shame; eating lest the body fall away; sleeping o nights, from wearisomeness of the flesh!then were man indeed somewhat better than a beast. But to have pining wants which, gnaw the soul, and for which no provision has been made; to love, and feel that love lasts only so long as life; to labor, and know that the grave closes upon all results of toil; to enjoy, and be conscious that time withers up the sources of our bliss; to be miserable, and feel that death may not release us; to undergo all the mad pleasures of earth, and all the remorse which their indulgence brings; to feel in prosperity that nothing can secure against change, and to recognize in adversity no hopeHa! ha! thatthat is life! What a precious boon to that poor praying beggar, man! But in me the god of this world and the God of the other world are both baffled, for I am DEAD!
If ever captive felt lightness of heart when his chains were struck off and he set at liberty, after breathing the noisome atmosphere of a dungeon; if ever convalescent was cheered by the pleasant sunlight and the refreshing breeze, after the confinement of a long and dangerous sickness; if ever mariner, tempest-tossed for months, hailed with transport the sight of the green earth: then did I feel lightness of heart, then was I cheered, transported, at the prospect of this change of life. How the blood went galloping through my veins! I will pack to-day, and will set off to-morrow. Now for life! Pleasure, I will grasp you yet! Change, novelty, new scenes, new actions, freedomay, freedom! freedom for anythingby Heaven, I will shut out all but this purpose! I will live a while without the interference of that surly weight that hangs like lead about my heart. Up and out into life! Already is my appetite sharpened for adventure; already a thousand tumultuous thoughts crowd upon me.
Italy! I shall see thy soft skies; I shall revel in thy classic groves, delightful Tuscany; I shall wander through thy ruins, Eternal City. Spain! how sweet the anticipation of thy beauties! Already I see thy sunny plains and stately palm-groves, thy orange-walks, and thy delicious gardens. I hear the soft music of the evening guitar; and now, the tinkling of the muleteers bell greets my ear. Tis evening; the maidens of Andalusia are on the balconies listening to the impassioned serenade. I come! I will soon see this birth-place of passionthis home of love!
What if the heart become cold?what if the cheek wrinkle and the eye grow dim? Youth! let me but enjoy youth! Give me but the experience of joy, passion, love, jealousy, hate; let me see beauty, and call it mine; let me clutch what looks so glittering; baubles they may be, but let me have them in my hand! Let me see, and know, and feel, instead of taking upon trust, what doth and what doth not perish with the using. Then approach, ye ministers of fate, and do your worst with me!