« AnteriorContinuar »
Essex Porter, not this Esses. As an' artillery officer, who had seen service in the West, Nolan knew more about fortifications, embrasures, ravelins, stockades, and all that, than any of them did; and he worked with a right good will in fixing that battery all right. I have always thought it was a pity Porter did not leave him in command there with Gamble. That would have settled all the question about his punishment. We should have kept the islands, and at this moment we should have had one station in the Pacific Ocean. Our French friends, too, when they wanted this little watering-place, would have found it was preoccupied. But Madison and the Virginians of course flung all that away.
All that was near fifty years ago. If Nolan was thirty then, he must have been near eighty when he died. He looked sixty when he was forty. But he never seemed to me to have changed a hair afterwards. As I imagine his life, from what I have seen and heard of it, he must have been in every sea, and yet almost never on land. He must have known in a formal way more officers in our service than any man living knows. He told me once, with a grave smile, that no man in the world lived so methodical a life as he. "You know the boys say I am the Iron Mask, and you know how busy he was." He said it did not do for any one to try to read all the time, more than to do anything else all the time; but that he read just five hours a day. "Then," he said, "1 keep up my note-books, writing in them at such and such hours from what I have been reading; and I include in these my scrap-books." These were very curious indeed. He had six or eight, of different subjects. There was one of History, one of Natural Science, one which he called "Odds and Ends." But they were not merely books of extracts from newspapers; they had bits of plants and ribbons, shells tied on, and carved scraps of bone and wood, which he had taught the men to cut for him, and they were beautifully illustrated. He drew admirably. He had some of the funniest drawings there, and some of the most pathetic, that I have ever seen in my life. I wonder who will have Nolan's scrap-books.
Well, he said his reading and his notes were his profession, and that they took five hours and two hours respectively of each day. "Then," said he, " every man should have a diversion as well as a profession. My natural history is my diversion." That took two hours a day more. The men used to bring him birds and fish; but on a long cruise he had to satisfy himself with centipedes and cockroaches, and such small game. He was the only naturalist I ever met who knew anything about the habits of the house-fly and the mosquito. All those people can tell you their scientific names; but as for telling how you can get rid of them, or how they get away from you when you strike them, why Linnaeus knew as little of that as John Foy the idiot did. These
nine hours made Nolan's regular daily " occupation ;" the rest of the time he talked or walked. Till he grew very old, he went aloft a great deal. He always kept up his exercise, and I never heard that he was ill. If any other man was ill, he was the kindest nurse in the world; and be knew more than half the surgeons do. Then if anybody was sick or died, or if the captain wanted him on any other occasion, he was always ready to read prayers. I have remarked that he read beautifully.
My own acquaintance with Philip Nolan began six or eight years after the war, on my first voyage after I was appointed a midshipman. It was in the first days after our slave-trade treaty, while the reigning house, which was still the House of Virginia, had a sort of sentimentalism about the suppression of the horrors of the Middle Passage, and something was sometimes done that way. We were in the South Atlantic on that business. From the time I joined, I believe I thought Nolan was a sort of lay chaplain—a chaplain with a blue coat. I never asked about him. Everything in the ship was strange to me. I knew it was green to ask questions, and I suppose I thought there was a "Plain-Buttons" on every ship. We had bim to dine in our mess once a week, and the caution was given that on that day nothing was to be said about home. But if they had told us not to say anything about the planet Mars or the Book of Deuteronomy, I should not have asked why; there were a great many things which seemed to me to have as little reason. I first came to understand anything about "the man. without a country" one day when we overhauled a dirty little schooner which had slaves on board. An officer was sent to take charge of her, and, after a few minutes, he sent back his boat to ask that some one might be sent him who could speak Portuguese. We were all looking over the rail when the message came, and we all wished we could interpret, when the captain asked who spoke Portuguese. But none of the officers did; and just as the captain was sending forward to ask if any of the people could, Nolan stepped out and said he should be glad to interpret, if the captain wished, as he understood the language. The captain thanked him, fitted out another boat with him, and in this boat it was my luck to go.
When we got there, it was such a scene as you seldom see, and never want to. Nastiness beyond account, and chaos run loose in the midst of the nastiness. There were not a great many of the negroes; but by way of making what there were understand that they were free, Vaughan had had their handcuffs and anklecuffs knocked off, and, for convenience sake, was putting them upon the rascals of the schooner's crew. The negroes were, most of them, out of the hold, and swarming all round the dirty deck, with a central throng surrounding Vaughan, and addressing him in every dialect and patois of a dialect, from the Zulu click up to the Parisian of Beledeljereed.
As we came on deck, Vaughan looked down from a hogshead, on which he had mounted in desperation, and said—
"For God's love, is there anybody who can make these wretches understand something? The men gave them rum, and that did not quiet them. I knocked that big fellow down twice, and that did not soothe him; and then I talked Choctaw to all of them together, and I'll be hanged if they understood that as well as they understood the English."
Nolan said he could speak Portuguese, and one or two fine-looking Kroomen were dragged ont, who, as it had been found already, bad worked for the Portuguese on the coast at Fernando Po.
"Tell them they are free," said Vaughan; "and tell them that these rascals are to be hanged as soon as we can get rope enough."
Nolan "put that into Spanish"*—that is, he explained it in such Portuguese as the Kroomen could understand, and they in turn to such of the negroes as could understand them. Then there was such a yell of delight, clinching of fists, leaping and dancing, kissing of Nolan's feet, and a general rush made to the hogshead by way of spontaneous worship of Vaughan, as the Deus ex machind of the occasion.
"Tell them," said Vaughan, well pleased, "that I will take them all to Cape Palmas."
This did not answer so well. Cape Palmas was practically as far from the homes of most of them as New Orleans or Rio Janeiro was—that is, they would be eternally separated from home there; and their interpreters, as we could understand, instantly said, "Ah! non Palmas," and began to propose infinite other expedients in most voluble language. Vaughan was rather disappointed at this result of his liberality, and asked Nolan eagerly what they said. The drops stood on poor Nolan's white forehead, as he hushed the men down, and said—
"He says, 'Not Palmas.' He says, 'Take us home; take us to our own country; take us to our own house; take us to our pickaninnies and our own women.' He says he has an old father and mother, who will die if they do not see him. And this one says he left his people all sick, and paddled down to Fernando to beg the white doctor to come and help them, and these devils caught him in the bay, just in sight of home, and that he has never seen anybody from home since then. And this one says," choked out Nolan, "that he has not heard a
* The phrase is General Taylor's. When Santa Ana brought up his immense army at Buena Vista, lie sent a flag of trace to invite Taylor to surrender. "Tell him to go to hell," 9aid old Rough-and-Ready. "Bliss, put that into Spanish." "Perfect Bliss," as this accomplished officer, too early lost, was called, interpreted liberally, replying to the flag, in exquisite Castilian, "Say to General Santa Afia, that if he wants us, he must come and take us." And this is the answer which has gone into history.
word from his home in six months, while he has been locked up in an infernal barracoon."
Vaughan always said he grew grey himself while Nolan struggled through this interpretation. I, who did not understand anything of the passion involved in it, saw that the very elements were melting with fervent heat, and that something was to pay somewhere. Even the negroes themselves stopped howling as they saw Nolan's agony, and Vaughan's almost equal agony of sympathy. As quick as he could get the words, he said—
"Tell them Yes, yes, yes! Tell them they shall go to the Mountains of the Moon, if they will. If I sail the schooner through the Great White Desert, they shall go home I"
And after some fashion, Nolan said so; and then they all fell to kissing him again, and wanted to rub his nose with theirs.
But he could not stand it long; and getting Vaughan to say he might go back, he beckoned me down into our boat. As we lay back in the stem-sheets, and the men gave way, he said to me: "Youngster, let that show you what it is to be without a family, without a home, without a country. And if you are ever tempted to say a word or to do a thing that shall put a bar between you and your family, your home, and your country, pray God in His mercy to take you that instant to His own heaven. Stick by your family, boy; forget you have a self, while you do everything for them. Think of- your home, boy; write and send, and talk about it. Let it be nearer and nearer to your thought, the farther you have to travel from it; and rush back to it when you are free, as that poor black slave is doing now. And for your country, boy," and the words rattled in his throat, " and for that flag," and he pointed to the ship, "never dream a dream but of serving her as she bids you, though the service carry you through a thousand hells. No matter what happens to you, no matter who flatters you or who abuses you, never look at another flag, never let a night pass but you pray God to bless that flag. Remember, boy, that behind all these men you have to do with, behind officers, and government, and people even, there is the country herself—your country, and that you belong to her as you belong to your own mother. Stand by her, boy, as you would stand by your mother if those devils there had got hold of her to-day!"
I was frightened to death by his calm hard passion, but I blundered out that I would, by all that was holy, and that I had never thought of doing anything else. He hardly seemed lo hear me; but he did, almost in a whisper, say: "Oh, if anybody had said so to me when I was of your age 1"
I think it was this half-confidence of his, which I never abused, for I never told this story till now, which afterwards made us great friends. He was very kind to me. Often he sat up, or even got up, at night to walk the deck with me when it was my watch. He explained to me a great deal of my mathematics, and I owe to him my taste for mathematics. He lent me books, and helped me about my reading. He never alluded so directly to his story again; but from one and another officer I have learned, in thirty years, what I am telling. When we parted from him in St. Thomas harbour, at the end of our cruise, I was more sorry than I can tell. I was very glad to meet him again in 1830; and later in life, when I thought I had some influence in Washington, I moved heaven and earth to have him discharged. But it was like getting a ghost out of prison. They pretended there was no such man, and never was such a man; they will say so at the Department now! Perhaps they do not know; it will not be the first thing in the service of which the Department appears to know nothing!
There is a story that Nolan met Burr once on one of our vessels, when a party of Americans came on board in the Mediterranean. But this I believe to be a lie; or rather, it is a myth, ben trovato, iuvolving a tremendous blowing-up with which he sunk Burr, asking him how he liked to be "without a country." But it is clear, from Burr's life, that nothing of the sort could have happened; and I mention this only as an illustration of the stories which get agoing where there is the least mystery at bottom.
So poor Philip Nolan had his wish fulfilled. I know but one fate more dreadful: it is the fate reserved for those men who shall have one day to exile themselves from their country because they have attempted her ruin, and shall have at the same time to see the prosperity and honour to which she rises when she has rid herself of them and their iniquities. The wish of poor Nolan, as we all learned to call him, not because his punishment was too great, but because his repentance was so clear, was precisely the wish of every one who broke a I soldier's oath two years ago, and of every < one who broke a sailor's. I do not | know how often they have repented. I do know that they have done all that in them lay that they might have no country—that all the honours, associations, memories, and hopes | which belong to "country" might be broken up into little shreds and distributed to the winds. I know, too, that their punishment, as they vegetate through what is left of life to them in wretched Boulognes and Leicester Squares, where they are destined to upbraid each other till they die, will have all the agony of Nolan's, . with the added pang that everyone who sees them, will see them to despise and to execrate them. They will have their wish, like him.
For him, poor fellow! he repented of his folly, and then, like a man, submitted to the fate he had asked for. He never intentionally added to the difficulty or delicacy of the charge of those who bad him in hold. Accidents would happen; but they never happened from his fault. Lieutenant Truxton told me that when Texas was annexed there was a careful discussion among the officers whether they should get hold of Nolan's handsome set of maps, and cut Texas out — from the map of the world and the map of Mexico, The United States had been
cut out when the atlas was bought for him ; but it was voted, rightly enough, that to do this would be virtually to reveal to him what had happened; or, as Harry Cole said, to make him think Old Burr had succeeded: So it was from no fault of Nolan's that a great botch happened at my own table, when for a short time I was in command of the George Washington corvette, on the South-American station. We were lying in the La Plata, and some of the officers, who had been on shore, and had just joined again, were entertaining us with accounts of their misadventures in riding the half-wild horses of Buenos Ayres. Nolan was at table, and was in an unusually bright and talkative mood. Some story of a tumble reminded him of an adventure of his own, when he was catching wild horses in Texas with his brother Stephen, at a time when he must have been quite a boy. He told the story with a good deal of spirit—so much so that the silence which often follows a good story hung over the table for an instant, to be broken by Nolan himself, for he asked, perfectly unconsciously—
"Pray, what has become of Texas? After the Mexicans got their independence, I thought that province of Texas would come forward very fast. It is really one of the finest regions on earth—it is the Italy of this continent. But I have not seen or heard a word of Texas for near twenty years."
There were two Texan officers at the table. The reason he had never heard of Texas was that Texas and her affairs had been painfully cut out of his newspapers since Austin began his settlements; so that while he read of Honduras and Tamaulipas, and till quite lately of California, this virgin province, in which his brother had travelled so far, and, I believe, had died, had ceased to be to him. Waters and Williams, the two Texas men, looked grimly at each other, and tried not to laugh. Edward Morris bad his attention attracted by the third link in the chain of the captain's chandelier. Waters was seized with a convulsion of sneezing. Nolan himself saw that something was to pay, he did not know what; and I, as master of the feast, had to say—
"Texas is not on the map, Mr. Nolan. Have you seen Captain Back's curious account of Sir Thomas Roe's Welcome i"
After that cruise I never saw Nolan again. I wrote to him at least twice a year, for in that voyage we became even confidentially intimate; but he never wrote to me. The other men tell me that in those fifteen years he aged very fast, as well he might indeed, but that he was still the same gentle, uncomplaining, silent sufferer that he ever was, bearing as best he could his self-appointed punishment; rather less social, perhaps, with new men whom he did not know, but more anxious apparently than ever to serve and befriend and teach the boys, some of whom fairly seemed to worship him. And now it seems the dear old fellow is dead. He has found a home at last, and a country.
Since writing this, and while considering; whether or no I should print it, as a warning to the young Nolans and Vallandighams and Tatrialls of to-day of what it is to throw away a country, I have received from Danforth, who is on board the Levant, a letter which gives an account of Nolan's last hours. It removes all my doubts about telling this story. Here is the letter :—
"Levant, 2° 2' S., 131° W.
"Deab Fbed,—I try to find heart and life to tell you that it is all over with dear old Nolan. I have been with him on this voyage more than I ever was, and I can understand wholly now the way in which yon used to speak of the dear old fellow. I could see that he was not strong, but I had no idea the end was so near. The doctor had been watching him very carefully, and yesterday morning came to me and told me that Nolan was not"so well, and had not left his state-room, a thing I never remember before. He had let the doctor come and see him as he lay there— the first time the doctor had been in the state-room— and he said he should like to sec me. Oh dear! do you remember the mysteries we boys used to invent about his room, in the old Intrepid days? Well, I went in, and there, to be sure, the poor fellow lay in his berth, smiling pleasantly as he gave me his hand, but looking very frail. I could not help a glance round, which showed me what a little shrine he had made of the box he was lying in. The stars and stripes were triced up above and around a picture of Washington, and he had painted a majestic eagle, with lightnings blazing from his beak, and his foot just clasping the whole globe, which his wings overshadowed. The dear old boy saw my glance, and said, with a sad smile, 'Here, you see, I have a country!' And then he pointed to the foot of his bed, where I had not seen before a great map of the United States, as he had drawn it from memory, and which he had there to look upon as he lay. Quaint, queer old names were on it, in large letters: 'Indiana Territory,' 'Mississippi Territory,' and 'Louisiana Territory,' as I suppose our fathers learned such things; but the old fellow had patched iu Texas too; he had carried his western boundary all the way to the Pacific, but on that shore he had defined nothing.
"' Oh, Danforth,' he said, 'I know I am dying. I cannot get home. Surely you will tell me something new? Stop, stop! Do not speak till I say what I am sure you know—that there is not in this ship, that there is not in America (God bless her !), a more loyal man than I. There cannot be a man who loves the old flag as I do, or prays for it as I do, or hopes for it as 1 do. There are thirty-four stars in it now, Danforth. I thank God for that, though I do not know what their names arc. There has never been one taken away: I thank God for that. I know by that that there has never been any successful Burr. Oh, Danforth, Danforth,' he sighed out, 'how like a wretched night's dream a boy's idea of personal fame or of separate sovereignty seems, when one looks back on it after such as a life as mine! But tell me, tell me something, telljmc everything, Danforth, before I die!'
"Ingham, I swear to you that I felt like a monster that I had not told him everything before. Danger or no danger, delicacy or no delicacy, who was I, that I should have been acting the tyrant all this time over this dear, sainted old man, who had years ago expiated, in his whole manhood's life, the madness of a boy's treason? 'Mr. Nolan,' said I, 'I will tell you everything you ask about. Only, where shall J begin?'
"Oh, the blessed smile that crept over his white
face! and he pressed my hand and said, 'God bless yon I Tell me their names,' he said, and pointed to the stars on the flag. 'The last I know is Ohio. My father lived in Kentucky. But I have guessed Michigan and Indiana and Mississippi; that was where Fort Adam is; they make twenty. But where are your other fourteen? You have not cut up any of the old ones, I hope?'
"How I wished it had been somebody who knew something! But I did as well as I could. I told him of the English war. I told him about Fulton and the steamboat beginning. I told him about old Scott, and Jackson; told him all I could think about the Mississippi, and New Orleans, and Texas, and his own old Kentucky.
"I tell you, fngham, it was a hard thing to condense the history of half a centurv into that talk with a sick man. And I do not now know what I told him —of emigration, and the means of it—of steamboats and railroads and telegraphs—of inventions and books and literature—of the colleges and West Point and the Naval School—but with the queerest interruptions that ever you heard. You see it was Robinson Crusoe asking all the accumulated questions of fifty-six years.
"And he drank it in, and enjoyed it as I cannot tell you. Ho grew more and more silent, yet I never thought he was tired or faint. I gave him a glass of water, but he jnst wet his lips, and told me not to go away. Then he asked me to bring the Presbyterian 'Book of Public Prayer,' which lay there, and said, with a smile, that it would open at the right place • and so it did. There was his double red mark down the page; and I knelt down and read, and he repeated with me: 'For ourselves and our country, 0 gracious God, we thank Thee that, notwithstanding our manifold trangressions of Thy holy laws, Thou hast continued to us Thy marvellous kindness ;' and so to the end of that thanksgiving. Then he turned to the end of the same book, and I read the words more familiar to me: 'Most heartily we beseech Thee with Thy favour to behold and bless Thy servant, the President of the United States, and all others in authority,' and the rest of the Episcopal collect. 'Danforth,' said he, 'I have repeated those prayers night and morning, it is now fifty-five years.' And then he said he would go to sleep. He bent me down over him and kissed me; and he said, 'Look in my Bible, Danforth, when I am gone.' And I went away.
"But I had no thought it was the end. I thought he was tired and would sleep. I knew he was happy, and I wanted him to be alone.
"But in an hour, when the doctor went in gently, he found Nolan had breathed his life away with a smile. He had something pressed close to his lips; it was his father's badge of the Order of Cincinnati.
"We looked in his Bible, and there was a slip of paper, at the place where he had marked the text:
They desire a country, even a heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.'
"On this slip of paper he had written:
Bury me in the sea; it has been my home, and I love it. But will not some one set up a stone for my memory at Fort Adam or at Orleans, that my disgrace may not be more than I ought to bear. Say on it:—
"'In Memory of
"' Lieutenant in the Army of the United States.
"' He loved his country as no other man has loved her; but no man deserved less at her hands.'"
RAMBLES AND REVERIES OF A MODERN MORALIST.
No. II.—IN A PICTURE-GALLERY.
I have been a rambler ever since I could run alone. Without bearing more than my share of the sentence passed on fallen humanity I have yet been a kind of vagabond all my life; a vagrant, yet of a kind fortunately not within the meaning of the Act " in that case made and provided." I do not mean to affirm that I am possessed with the attributes belonging to that especially unpleasant person the "Wandering Jew," but still I am a rambler, a wanderer, one who, like the old woman in the Nursery Rhyme, "can never be quiet." My rambling, however, is not all physical by any means, perhaps my locomotive excursions are rather limited in area, but my mind wanders over a vast amount of time and space, much farther than I could travel in the flesh, even were I possessed of the "seven-leagued boots" and the " flying carpet" of "The Arabian Nights." I trust I have no mental aberration, in the common and Colney Hatch acceptation of the term, but my meaning is, that a slight thing, a coincidence, a picture, will send my thoughts wandering through I know not what pleasant vistas of dream-land, conjuring up a phantasmagoria far too bright and pleasant to be anything else than fancy portraits and imaginary situations. It is what Byron has thus expressed—
"It may be a sound— A tone of music—summer's breath or spring's—
A flower—a leaf—the ocean which may wound, Striking the electric chain wherewith we are darkly bound."
I know not how far I am justified in inflicting my wandering thoughts and impressions of men and things on my readers; perchance there will be some who knowing that " there is no new thing under the sun," will not look for originality here, but will be content to find a few simple thoughts and descriptions which may recall some pleasant visions of their own, some oasis in the great Sahara of • life, some joys known only to those who are given to day-dreams, and are not ashamed of it.
I have said that all my rambles are not in the body; sometimes indeed "I take my walks abroad," not as the old ballad says, " some pastime for to see," but to pick up waifs and strays of thought and reflection with the aid of no better Asmodeus than Fancy, who unroofs a house for me in a trice, and shows me the penetralia of many quiet homes.
My present ramble, kind reader, is through a picture-gallery. Start not I I am not going to torture you with readings from a guide-book, or
moralize in the Royal Academy, or the Kensington Museum, though 1 have seen worse places for a revery. This ramble is one of the sedentary kind, where " I take mine ease in mine inn," and bid my thoughts " go packing;" I cannot help their vagrancy, I have not even the excuse of honest Sir Andrew Aguecheek, who says "I am a great eater of beef, and I believe that does harm to my wit."
As I sit now with the red fire-light making weird shadows on the wall, and listen to the eternal sobbing of the waves I can look along a shadowy gallery well hung with pictures, and of each I can say, "thereby hangs a tale." Yet I wot full well that there are not enough pictures on my wall to provide me, were they sold, with " a suit of sables" wherewith to attend the funeral of my last buried hope. But what matters it? If the Marchioness found orange-peel and water equal to wine by "making believe very much," why should not I be as happy in a gallery of pictures painted by that notable artist Fancy, as though I possessed the treasures of the Louvre, or were Sir Edwin Landseer himself? But soft! Let me inspect my pictures. Ay, there is that grim old ancestor of mine, who they say was killed at Naseby, fighting, I regret to say, on the side of the Parliament. I saw the actual portrait once, and it is quite fresh in my memory. A respectable man enough in his way, I have no doubt, that ancestor of mine, still I could wish that his face were a little less like the gnarled trunk of a tree, and that his hat and collar were a thought more becoming. On the whole I am rather glad that I did not know my ancestor personally; though it was hard upon Mr. Prynne to cut off his ears for writing on "The unlovelinesB of love-locks," yet, certes, I should have worn love-locks myself in those days sooner than the cropped pole of my worthy ancestor yonder. There is another portrait coming into view, much pleasanter to look on than my Puritan "fore-bear." It belongs to one of the gallery of " lost loves" which most of us keep somewhere in our minds. I, a crusty old bachelor, may maunder a little about what used to be, and what might have been, without being called vain or egotistical. Yes, sure enough, those are Alice's blue eyes, and that is Alice's blue sash—the tie of the bow is done to perfection by my artist.
Let me think. I was a man of the world on the wrong side of eight when I first met Alice at a juvenile party, and felt that my future course of life depended upon her. She was two years my senior, and thought little enough of me, I remember. But we met again—" we met, 'twas