Nicole Gleyzer, Abby Levitsky, Jake Devereaux, Maggie Korn, Kendra Fortmeyer
Three Scenes in the South: Revealed
By Nicole Gleyzer
When Professor Plotz assigned a group project requiring each team to dig up an obscure or forgotten short story written before 1860 and “re-publish” it, I have to admit I was a little apprehensive. How would we choose an interesting story? From when and where should this story originate? Could we find compelling information about its author and the circumstances of its publication? How would we present this work in a way that befits its original form? How will people access it? The answer to these questions and more will be revealed in this behind the scenes look at the republishing of “Three Scenes in the South,” by C. B. Parsons.
We began our project by meeting in the Goldfarb library at Brandeis University; As a group we perused the multitudes of physical archives that reside there. As we walked through the stacks and flipped through the giant volumes, we quickly realized that we may have started our search for the perfect story too broadly. Everyone in the group had vague notions of what they thought could be interesting an interesting topic, with no one quite sure of the exact specifics of what they wanted, therefore we made the decision to divide and conquer. Each of us would find a story that we would nominate as a possible candidate for further investigation, then as a group we would make a final decision.
I set out to find this story by first narrowing down the incredibly expansive domain of possibilities I had before me. I based my criteria on my personal interests as well as common themes that had been explored in class. In our curriculum for class to that point we had not read a great deal of stories originating in America. Having grown up in the South, I knew that there was a fertile history of southern writers dating back to the era in question that I could draw on. I also considered the fact that many of the stories that had inspired the most discussion and enthusiasm in class were those that contained salacious or gruesome subject matters. The last piece of the search came from my interest in finding some female authors, which ultimately lead me to this story although it was written by a man. Based on these assumptions I searched the prose section of the Literature Online Fulltext database with the following criteria: keyword-murderer, female authors, 1840-1860, in the American Romantic Period. As I began browsing through I came across a collection of stories edited by Alice Carey called The Adopted Daughter: and Other Tales which contained a story entitled Three Scenes in the South. The story itself had many hits for the word “murderer”; however what finally led us to choose it over the other possibilities was that it was an extremely obscure, entertaining, and heavy-handed form of the traditional moral tales we had been studying in class. Its obscurity may have been caused by it originally being published in a “Keepsake”-esque volume, therefore by republishing it as an individual piece we would be expanding on the story’s impact and fleshing out its context.
Once the subject of our republishing effort was chosen the real work began. Decisions had to be made on the format and shape our republished work would take. Using the paperbacks we read weekly in class as the inspiration, we decided that we wanted a physically-bound book that could be made available to students through the library or distributed by professors. It was not until after the project was complete that we endeavored to make its availability global by publishing our work on the World Wide Web. Having decided to make a hard copy, we divided the elements of republishing this work amongst ourselves. Each group member received one of the following tasks: I was given the introduction, Abby Levitsky the note on the text, Kendra Fortmayer the literary criticism, Jake Devereaux a glossary of unfamiliar terms, and Maggie Korn the illustrations. Once a section was complete it was submitted to me; I formatted the document, as well as annotated the actual text of the story, to create a streamline style that could be bound using a report cover that matched the cover page’s color scheme. The beautiful artwork was placed in the volume at the appropriate points within the story, and was also used as the front and back cover art as well. The finished product had looked something like a magazine, with the content of republished classic text.
The Final Product
The creation of these sections was not without its trials and tribulations. I was assigned the Introduction in which I explored the identity of the author as well as the context through which he wrote and published his work. I began my process of writing this mini-biography with thorough research, research that had a very difficult start. C. B. Parsons, as it turned out, seemed to have lived several lives. And in each life he lived he went by a different version of his name. This proved most problematic when searching for information via internet sources, as search engines are not sophisticated enough to process “C.B. Parsons and all incarnations thereof” as a term. My first goal was to discover what C.B. signified. I did a Google search of the name in quotations, and one of the results was a Google Book published in 1859 called The Methodist Pulpit in which a “C.B. Parsons D.D.” had published an essay on “The Divinity of the Church.” The first piece of the puzzle was found, he was a Methodist minister in the Revival movement just before the civil war. However this text did not deliver his full name, so I ran another search with added “D.D.” and found a website detailing information about his life and death entitled, “Genealogical Abstracts from Reported Deaths: The Nashville Christian Advocate,” in which it stated he was born in Enfield, CT. These new search criteria led me to several biographical sources that gave me the missing details to complete my research on a “Charles Booth Parsons.” This full name allowed me to find many sources detailing the exploits of a traveling stage actor, a born-again revivalist reverend, and even a well-off benefactor to his several children.
Discovering the details of this man’s fascinating life truly helped to illuminate the circumstances and context through which this otherwise bizarre story was written. Although I did not find another work of literature by the author, reading his essays on the church and nature of man definitely allowed for me to better understand who this man was and what his story was conveying. Republishing this story was a valuable exercise from both a literary and historical standpoint. By placing the story in complete context we also allow the reader to gain more enrichment from reading it than if they simply stumbled across it while perusing an archive. By having the whole story of the story, so to speak, readers can take away from this work more than just the message that seeking something “a bit stronger” leads to ruin, but also a in-depth understanding of how people of that time obtained literature, what types of stories were popular, and why these tales were written and by who.
This new incarnation of an old work of literature allows the piece not to be lost forever in the passing of time. By making this story accessible and expanding on its context through research and analysis, we are not only drawing attention to this specific story but the genre and time period in general. Future readers of this project may be intrigued by the form of the moral tale, the idea of a “Keepsake” volume that was passed through generations, or the culture of Revivalism in the South and therefore seek out further information on those topics.
To that end, this project also stands as a testament to the modern availability of information to those who seek it. The republication of Three Scenes in the South could not have been possible without the at times seemingly infinite resources of the internet. Access to the hard work of other researchers and archivists across the country makes in-depth research of a man and story from a century and a half ago not only possible, but fruitful. For that reason it is important that this research continue to develop and thrive, so that future generations have quality access to their past.
By republishing this project on the internet, via this blog, it is now available to be linked and viewed by educational centers across the world. In the original hard-copy format of our republication a limited number of eyes would have had access to the work; however, through this website it will be available to every person with internet access. Making this story available beyond our small classroom may one day allow future students or short story enthusiasts to Google “C.B. Parsons,”“Revivalist literature,” or “moral tales” and be taken directly to this information. By republishing well researched pieces of literature in this manner we are helping to bridge the gap between knowledge and knowledge seekers.
Charles Booth “C.B.” Parsons was born in Enfield, Connecticut on July 23, 1805, the oldest of four children. At the age of fifteen, his father’s death prompted him to move to Albany, New York in order to begin earning a living on his own and to help support his family. In Albany he worked as a “store boy” until he found his first real passion, acting. He spent fifteen years of his life acting on the Albany stages, as well as with performance troops that traveled across the South. The qualities of his performances were subject to mixed reviews. One reviewer called him a “very bad actor, who sometimes played tragedy” and even went on to scathingly write:
The actor was playing an engagement at the Louisville theatre, and if we may believe the report of the affair, the building was crowded to excess, to witness his performance of Othello. (If Parsons drew crowded houses, Louisvillains could not have been very particular about their tragedy.) (Phelps)
However there are also several biographic sources that cite him as “an actor of the highest reputation” or claimed that “all agreed that he was a great actor; many thought him a ‘star.’” Regardless of his acting prowess, while working on a production of Othello in Louisville, Kentucky (at the height of his acting career) he underwent a psychological and spiritual change that transformed his life. At a meeting of the Methodist Episcopal Church, under Rev. John Newland Maffit he felt a divine presence and converted, further renouncing his former profession and not even finishing his commitment at the time to Othello. He gave his first sermon that very day, to those hoping to persuade him to return to the stage that night. Skeptics of his experience said that he only did this to make money; however his net worth at the time was near “$70,000 or $80,000, and he only aspired to be a local preacher, to which office no salary is attached.”
After only returning to the stage for a brief two year stint, for which he was contractually obligated, he spent a year preaching during a probationary period until on September 15, 1841 he was admitted on trial to the traveling connection, an organization of traveling evangelical revivalists. Soon after he was ordained a deacon and then an elder in the Methodist Church, and eventually was given a Doctor of Divinity by the board of curators of St. Charles College, Missouri. He did several two year stints at churches across the Midwest and the South, notably in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Tennessee, and Missouri. However he was best received on the road, working with the revival movement. Upon the breakout of the Civil War and his support of the Confederate effort, he returned to his mother Methodist Church in Kentucky.
It was said of him, “[He] pierced the highest heaven of oratory possible to him; and brethren who came with high opinions left with religious admiration; brethren who came to be cool spectators left all aglow with enthusiasm; brethren who came to criticize saw the icy rules which they had set up thawed down by warm tears; and, what is not worst of all, some who came to give twenty-five cents, sooth to say, gave about twenty-five dollars.” (Young) His personality, presence and emotions carried over to his writings. The majority of his published works were sermons he had given and then put to paper. “Man’s Re-creation, God’s Idea” published in a collection of sermons enititled Unity by the Unity School of Christianity, and “The Divinity of the Church” published in The Methodist Pulpit were among his most famous. He also acted as an associate editor of one of the church newspapers for several years. This rare short story embodies all that he was purported to be,
In him were combined all the requisites of the true orator-great emotion, passion, a correct judgment of human nature, genius, fancy, imagination, gesture, attitude, intonation, and countenance, with a commanding presence, all united in blended strength to accomplish the mighty purpose which moved his heart. He earnestly spoke the truth of God's holy word, relying on the divine arm for help. He preached as a dying man to dying men, as in the presence of God and the judgment-seat. He fearlessly pronounced the threatening of the law, probed with a bold hand the sinner's heart, and in much assurance and with the power of the Holy Ghost declared the whole message of God. (Redford)
At the time of this story’s publication he was made presiding elder of East Louisville District, comprising several churches and circuits, and also named regular pastor of the Walnut Street Church. “It may be observed that this church was erected under the administration of Dr. Parsons, and that he was at different times its pastor, greatly beloved by the people” (Perrin). His dealings with the ongoings of small town life may have further inspired him to write this piece.
Dr. C.B. Parsons D.D. married Emily C. Oldham of Jefferson County, KY. They had seven children, although tragically only five survived to adulthood, the grief from which could have inspired some of his sermons and writings. He died December 8, 1871 upon returning home from the dedication of a church in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania of heart disease.
(1904). The Kentucky Law Reporter. Frankfort, KY, Geo A. Lewis Publisher. 25-Part II.
Davenport, F. G. (1939). "Culture Versus Frontier in Tennessee 1825-1850." The Journal of Southern History 5(1): 18-33.
Parsons, C. B. (1859). “Three Scenes in the South.” The Adopted Daughter: and Other Tales. A. Cary. Philadelphia, J.B. Smith & Co.
Parsons, C. B. (1926). “Man's Re-creation, God's Idea.” Unity, Unity School of Christianity. 64.
Perrin, Battle, et al. (1888). Kentucky: A History of the State, Jefferson Co. 8th ed.
Phelps, H. P. (1880). Players of the Century: A Record of the Albany Stage. Including Notices of Prominent Actors who have appeared in America Albany, Joseph McDonough.
Redford D.D., A. H. (1876). Western Cavaliers: Embracing the history of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Kentucky from 1832 to 1844. Nashville, TN, Southern Methodist Publishing House.
Rev. Charles F. Deems, D. D. (1856). Annals of Sothern Methodism for 1855. New York, J.A. Gray's Fire-proof Printing Office.
Risso “Charles Booth Parsons as Caius Silius.” University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection.
Smith, J. K. T. (2003). "Genealogical Abstracts from Reported Deaths the Southwestern Christian Advocate 1838-1846." Retrieved 3/26/08, from http://www.tngenweb.org/records/davidson/obits/swca/swca-09.htm.
Smithson, W. T. (1859). The Methodist Pulpit. Washington, D.C., Methodist Episcopal Church South.Young, R. A. (1855). “The Converted Actor”. Celebrities and Less (European and American). Nashville, TN, Publishing House of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South
Note on the Text
Three Scenes in the South originally appeared in an anthology of short stories entitled The Adopted Daughter, by Alice Carey, and Other Tales. The volume contains over fifty stories by various authors. Most of these authors are women, like Alice and her sister, Phoebe Carey. The Carey sisters each have multiple stories included in this anthology. The volume seems meant for a female audience, featuring titles referencing daughters, sisters, and even one that reads “Female Pioneers of the West.” In the copy that we have worked with in our re-publishing, the original owner scrawled the name “Emma Forbes” in pencil on the inside cover, and beneath it, the addition “Emma Forbes, now Mrs. Emma Foster.” This book may have been a wedding gift, or perhaps a book cherished throughout many stages of this woman’s life. In any case, it seems clear that this is the sort of lifetime use that The Adopted Daughter and Other Tales was meant for.
Our republishing of Three Scenes of the South takes C. B. Parsons’ story out of the context of its original printing. We have reprinted it in its own volume, and included a close reading of its text. This allows the reader to focus more carefully on how this story relates in a wider context without the connection to its original audience.
The table of contents of The Adopted Daughter and Other Tales exhibits many stories with clearly moralizing titles. Many address the dangers of intemperance regarding alcohol, as in Three Scenes in the South, as well as other forms of hedonism. The heading of the last page carries the words “Women and Temperance,” which I think sums up the message of the entire compilation. C. B. Parsons only contributed one story to this anthology, but it fits quite well with the theme. On the last page of the book, the final tale concludes with the question “And now […] I have to ask you, if the temperance men are to be laughed at as fanatics, for the great exertions which they have made to remove the terrible sin of intemperance, as a general evil from the land?” (368) The answer offered by The Adopted Daughter and Other Tales is a clear, a resounding no. The book leaves little doubt as to how admirable the “temperance men” are and how crucial they are to the salvation of others from the evils of excess.
To elaborate on the moral in Three Scenes of the South, we have written a new preface that expounds on the life of the author. C. B. Parsons was a Methodist evangelist minister, so his own life and beliefs must have influenced his writing. The other things that we have added to this new edition of Three Scenes of the South are a glossary of terms that have become archaic since the story’s original printing, and new illustrations. This story did not originally contain illustrations; however, many anthologies of short stories from the nineteenth century did. We have decided to illustrate Three Scenes of the South in this style. This new publishing will make many elements of Parsons’ story more clear to the contemporary reader, and will make a beautiful addition to anyone’s library.
The Unsubtle Sermon: Moral Force in
“Three Scenes From the South”
It is hard to argue that C.B. Parsons’ tale “Three Scenes in the South” is much more than a sermon on the evils of intemperance. Published in 1859, the story follows the life of a family wrenched apart by “the hideous demon of the Still” (The Adopted Daughter and Other Tales, 93). Like the sermons that won Parsons, an evangelist minister from Kentucky, his fame, “Three Scenes in the South” strives principally to hammer home a moral point, with small and scattered windows of sermonizing dotting the storied landscape.
The story arc of the “Three Scenes” is as follows: after learning the backstory of the main character, Wilton, the narrator and a friend approach his home and make the acquaintance of Wilton, his wife and his infant child. A hint of Wilton’s fondness for liquor at the end of the first scene, “The Cottage,” sets up the second, “The Contrast.” This scene, which takes place seven years later, details the narrator’s return to the village after a long absence during which he learns of Wilton’s extreme transformation under the influence of alcohol. The final scene, fittingly titled “The Catastrophe,” consists of a neighbor’s account of Wilton’s brutal murder of his child, and accidental suicide. The woeful tale concludes with Wilton’s funeral, when Wilton’s disapproving father-in-law appears and Wilton’s widow dies (presumably of shock, though a cause is never explicitly named).
This descent into sin is mirrored in the setting of Parsons’ tale, a theme made explicit by the movement from North to South in the opening scene. “The Cottage” begins: “Much has been written and said, and deservedly too, of the beauty and gracefulness of New-England towns and villages” (87). From there, the narrator expounds on the particular brand of beauty espoused by the “land of the Pilgrims” (87): New England is described as “clean” (87), “nice” (87), a land of “moral thrift” (87) which is “worthy of praise” (87). The imagery feels strongly connected to the Puritans: very “prim and precise” (87) and “exclusive” (87); Wilton later describes the North as “sterile” (91). From this rigid world of morals and moderation the reader is transported to the South. Parsons’ South is “unrestricted” (87), “gorgeous and grand” (87), is a land of heat and excess and, on some level, deviance: even the plants “embrace” (88), their scents “sweetly intermingle” (88), and the shade they cast is “delicious” (88). Parsons is quick to reference Heaven in his description, but the Garden of Eden seems more appropriate to the sensual setting of Wilton’s fall.
This fall is never far from the author’s mind; as a sermonizer, Parsons is loathe to let the reader forget the protagonist’s impending doom. Wilton and his downfall are introduced nearly in the same breath: the first mention of him, a “highly educated young man, of many noble virtues” (88) is followed in the very next sentence by an allusion to how the “beginning of circumstances was made, which ultimately involved much misery and more crime” (89). The reader is scarcely given a chance to believe in Wilton as a character before learning he is the vehicle for an unhappy moral. More extreme yet is Parsons’ treatment of Wilton’s daughter, whose death is actually announced before the girl herself even exists: “an envious fate stood ready, to cast the life-drops of a daughter slain in the moment of triumph” (89). Little Alice is virtually dead on arrival, reduced to a symbol of piteousness. Later, Wilton’s wife is just as casually disposed of in service of the tragic plot. It is clear that the characters themselves are less important than their fates. And why not? It is the latter that enforces Parsons’ pro-temperance moral.
The story thunders towards its dreadful conclusion, dotted with frequent enough repetitions of Wilton’s ominous preference for “something a little stronger” (92) (the full phrase is repeated six times in twelve pages) that the sentiment cannot possibly slip the reader’s mind. In light of this, and the announcement of the little daughter’s death, the narrator’s reference to “dim fore-shadowings of the future” (94) seems almost humorous: very little of the story’s foreshadowing can be called “dim.”
Though Parsons’ method is hardly subtle, it is effective: the whole world of the story takes on an incredibly evil tint as the tale draws to a close. The Southern landscape, so luscious in the introduction, is transformed from a gorgeous Garden of Eden to a Hell: on the dawn of the day of the narrator’s discovery of Wilton’s crime, “the sun rose murky and red, and as with swollen face, he peeped forth from the chambers of the east,---looked more like a drunken sluggard” (94). The whole world reflects and reinforces what is to come: the cottage, soon to be the site of a gory murder, is described as a “tomb ruin” (96), and the magnolia trees around it had been felled by the axe which will slay Wilton’s child. Under the light of this red sky, the horrific transformation of Wilton from a kind young man to a “frenzied soul” (102) who murders his offspring and attempts to kill his wife seems, if not wholly believable, then at least terrifying.
And so, hardly surprisingly, the characters fall: little Alice’s murder appropriately demonstrates the base evils of alcohol, and Wilton’s own death serves as his punishment. The tale swells to a roaring moral conclusion, even killing off Wilton’s wife to round out the tragedy (the appearance of the long-absent and disapproving father figure is likely a reference to the Christian God). The sermonizing tale seems absolutely final and absolutely bleak—or does it? Parsons offers his reader a few hints of how to avoid poor Wilton’s fate.
The first and most glaringly obvious is temperance: though Wilton claims the very idea of enforced temperance “is humiliating, and unworthy the dignity of intelligent manhood” (92), his fate makes it all too clear that his is a path best not followed. But the minister drops other hints of salvation along the way: though he never specifically advocates the Puritanism of the North, Parsons seems keen on the idea of moderation. “How strange a world is this, where the quality of joys and sorrows are so assorted to
each other. Little joys are modified with little griefs, but great transports must be rebuked by great suffering” (89) the narrator reflects early in the tale. The message is clear: to avoid great suffering, one must avoid partaking overmuch in joys (such as, one must think, the false joy in drink). And if that fails, one can always turn to God: “…we had sought the retirement of our chamber and communion with God. ‘He is our refuge,’ and always ‘a present help in trouble’” (99).
Countless such lessons and mini-lectures are scattered throughout the tale: “How truly it is said, that ‘virtue does not always meet its just reward in this bad world,’" (93) the narrator comments, and of course, there is the omnipresent "And all this misery… is the fruit of that one error,---the liking of `something a little stronger" (96). But in the end, the story works more than hard enough to reinforce its own moral without additional sermonizing, as death and foreboding drip from nearly every sentence. Few readers, it may be imagined, would reach so sanguinely for the brandy after reading about Wilton’s “bloated face and blood-shot eyes” (97), or the horrifying triple demise that haunts the story’s end. Parsons’ moral agenda is easily fulfilled and, given the strict moral structure of the tale, the allegorical nature of his characters, and the frequent interludes of mini-sermons, it seems unlikely he had any other in writing “Three Scenes From the South.”
Three Scenes in the South
By C.B. Parsons
Scene I. The Cottage
Much has been written and said, and deservedly too, of the beauty and gracefulness of New- England towns and villages. The uniform white painted walls of their houses, their regular
walks and avenues, with their clean fields and nice "home lots," all indicative in no small degree, of intellectual training and moral thrift, are sure to attract the attention of the traveler, and are worthy of all praise. But this state of things is not confined alone to the land of the Pilgrims,---the soil of chivalry, also boasts of the beautiful and picturesque. The villas and verandahs of the South, interspersed as they are with orange groves and magnolia forests, though not so prim1 and precise, are more gorgeous and grand; and, compared with the North, show as the unrestricted expanse of the magnificent sun-flower, to the trim-built and exclusive little buttercup. We remember a cottage scene of the South; and though years have passed since the events transpired, which we are about to record, there are those living, in the green of whose memories they will ever remain---so strong is the impress of woe upon the tables of the mind.
In the lovely village of H---, where it was our good fortune to be some time resident, in the year 184---, and just at the turn of the Big Road, which stretches down the Bay on towards the Gulf, stood a beautiful cottage, built after the style of the Peninsula, in the age of Cervantes. A venerable grove of magnolias, more gorgeous than Acedemus ever dreamed of, spread their arms to each other above, and embracing together, canopied the place. The broad white blossom in summer, and the perpetual green of winter, of these monarchs of the woods, not only filled the surrounding atmosphere with the most delicious odors, while they closed in the whole area above with umbrageous2 and unbroken shade, but furnished the beholder, at every elevation of the eye, a fadeless remembrance and emblem, of the imperishable life of hope---that hope, which as
a heavenly cynosure3, leads the Christian to the contemplation of things beyond this suffering vale. In the midst of this gorgeous clump of evergreens, and in happy contrast, rose the white walls of the "Spanish Cottage." It was a lovely scene to look upon. Without, and in splendid profusion, festoonings4 of running rose, eglantine5 and honeysuckle, sweetly intermingling
together, entwined the pillars and draped the porches; while within, the richer elegance of intellectual culture and moral worth, adorned the place. The fields were carpeted with flowers of every hue, and the air rung merrily, with the songs of birds. It was such a picture as hateaubriand describes, as peculiar to the great valley of the South. This was the residence of old Mr. Wilton, who had now been dead about two years, leaving his son William, who was his only child, the sole heir and possessor of his sufficient fortune. The estate had formerly belonged to the Spanish agent, Sir William Dunbar, a noble gentleman, who was an intimate friend of Mr. Wilton, and in
honor of whom William was named. Young Wilton was a highly educated young man, of many noble virtues---generous, charitable and brave, and seemed to emulate the distinguished qualities of heart and mind, of both his father and his patron. He had been, during the years of his novitiate6, a student at one of the eastern universities, where he had graduated with the first honors of his class; and where, as the sequel will show the beginning of circumstances was made, which ultimately involved much misery and more crime. In the same hour of his high college honors, and ere he had descended from the platform of his achievements, a letter bearing the impress of a black seal, was handed him by the janitor. The superscription was in a strange hand. Tremblingly, and with fearful foreboding, he broke the envelope, and read,---his brain reeled with the shock,---his father was dead! How strange a world is this, where the quality of joys and sorrows are so assorted to each other. Little joys are modified with little griefs, but great
transports must be rebuked by great suffering. Into the cup of ecstacy, just about to be quaffed by the Roman Father, an envious fate stood ready, to cast the life-drops of a daughter slain in the moment of triumph, by a victorious brother's hand.
With a saddened heart, young Wilton, turned his footsteps towards his home in the South, where now his presence was imperiously7 demanded. A warm welcome from the two old domestics greeted his arrival, but a father's smile of approbation8, that boon which he had so calculated upon, and for which he had toiled, had been stricken away. All that was now left, was to pay the tribute of a tear at his father's grave, and look about himself for his future course. This he speedily adjusted, and having given a few brief orders, was soon on his way again for the North---gossip said to select a partner for life's mazy dance, with whom to share the joys and sorrows of his cottage home. In this instance the old dame of many tongues told the truth; for he soon returned again, and bearing with him his beautiful and accomplished bride, the elegant daughter of the honorable Mr. B---. Rumor says the match was a rash one--- on the lady's part---that her parents were bitterly opposed to it, on the score of prejudice against the South, and that to accomplish their purpose the young couple were compelled to elope9. Be that as it may, it was now near two years since their settlement in the cottage, and by common consent they were the happiest people in all this region, especially among the poorer classes, they have been idolized; with whom the lady is an angel of mercy, and the gentleman a benefactor of his race.
"But come," said our friend, "as we are so near the cottage, let us extend our walk little, and pay them a morning call. It will be pleasant to make the acquaintance of this interesting family. This is the place."
"Good morning, Mr. Wilton; a pleasant morning, sir;" said we.
"Good morning,---good morning, sirs," was his reply.
"Yes, sirs, a delightful Southern morning. Come, sirs, sans ceremonie, walk in and rest you a bit; I am glad to see you both, and feel no little honored by this early visit. Your drowsy, after-dinner visiations, may do for loungers, who, overcome with spiritual ennui10 , study more sedulously how to kill time, than ever Archimedes did to solve his great problem; but for me, there is more music in the notes of the lark than in the song of the cricket."
"You are right, sir," said we; "and your taste, in this regard, well accord with our own. But there's another to be consulted in this matter, I think; perhaps the madam might not fancy to see company at this early hour."
"O, yes,' said he, smiling, "my wife is myself in that respect; and indeed, in almost every other. Our love-path, it is true, was not as smooth, perhaps, as it might have been, but when it widened into wedlock, it was equal to the famous `shell-road' When we married, we two `were no longer
twain11 but one flesh.' She would consider the hour a little out of season perhaps, if she was, at her father's, in the far `downeast' country, but with us here, in the sunny South, we shake off many of those arbitrary notions of upper-crust-dom, (which, by the way, are sometimes a little `done brown,' by our baking,) and in place thereof we have untrammeled12 intercourse and enjoyment with our friends at all hours. Isn't it so, wife? I beg pardon, Alice, this is our friend, Mr. P--- from
Kentucky, with Mr. --- from the village; this is Mrs. Wilton, gentlemen."
We bowed, and he went on.
"I often thought," said he, "while resident in the North, in the family of Dr. Birch and Professor Hickory, that compared with the sans-souci and wreathy ease of our Southern homes, the image of their manners was like a figure of snow, with icicle trimmings."
"Come, come," said we, "you must not be too severe upon the manners and customs of the cold land, because you are so snug and warm here in the South; recollect, you gathered
the loveliest flower you ever saw, in that sterile clime."
"Thank you, sir," said the lady, slightly coloring.
"I acknowledge the compliment," said he, bowing, and casting a glace of unmingled affection upon his gentle wife; "but you see, even that blossom, so perfect and so good, had to be transplanted to a southern soil before it could mature into fruitfulness; don't you see," said he, laughing, "the richness and beauty of our southern production;" and he pointed to a lovely babe of near a year old, who was quietly sleeping upon its mother's lap.
"You must not mind Mr. Wilton," said she, recovering a little from the confusion which the last remark had occasioned, "he don't mean half he says about the coldness of the North, for he knows full well that some of his happiest hours were spent there."
"That's true, Alice," said he; "and I will never forget them: no---never."
"O, I don't mind him," said I, "nor will my friend here. We rejoice to see you so delightfully situated and so happy. May no blighting spirit ever cross your threshold to mar your felicity.13"
"God grant it," said Wilton; while a respondent tear glistened in the eye of the wife, and told the deep interest she felt in the subject.
"But come," said Wilton, "before you go you must take a glass of wine, or brandy if you prefer it, and pledge our young and promising household. I suppose the Temperance folk have not got hold of you yet?" They tried a little after me once---it was some time since, when I was at Cincinnati--- but they soon discovered it was no go to follow that trail. That man Gough, though, did come mighty near hooking me, at one time, and Genl. Garey at another, but I shook them off. By the way, these Temperance associations seem to me, to be, not only unnecessary and unreasonable, but they strike at the most manly prerogative of human constituency---liberty. I cannot think with complacency, even upon the invitation, to sign away my freedom, much less upon the act itself. As if a man needed a conservator to keep his moral machinery checked and balanced, lest it should run wild. The very thought is humiliating, and unworthy the dignity of intelligent manhood. But come, what shall it be---wine, water, brandy? What you will; take your choice; but for my part, I like something a little stronger."
Water was the beverage of our pledge, of course, but he drank brandy. We said farewell, and turned away from that beautiful cottage and happy family; but for days and weeks, that "something a little stronger," haunted our mind, and seemed to predict, that it would one day prove the "strong man armed," that would destroy their peace for ever. Poor Wilton!
Scene II. The Contrast
How truly it is said, that "virtue does not always meet its just reward in this bad world," where the honest, the excellent and the noble, are as likely to be made the quarry of an insidious and subtle foe, as the base, the worthless and the vile. Nature's universal characteristic, is mutation; change, is written upon all things. It is a common duty therefore, dictated as well by safety, as by happiness, to watch with exceeding carefulness, in order that moral progress may lead from good to better,---else, through carelessness and temptation, its tendencies may be, in an opposite direction. About seven years after the period of the previous chapter, it was our fortune, again to visit the sunny land, where
“The notes of the wild Thrush, ring through the brake, And the Nightingale sings in the grove"
Just as the sun was sinking to rest, wrapt and pillowed by one of those red and portentous14 hazes, peculiar to the south in the vernal15 season of the year, we found ourselves once more entering the pleasant village of H---.
We had almost forgotten the happy family of the Wiltons, whom we knew on our first pilgrimage south,---but as we had several acquaintances in the village and some among them remembered our former visit to the cottage,---especially the friend who accompanied us on that memorable morning, it was not long before their name was introduced. We were anxious to hear of their welfare, and yet we knew not why, we felt a sad foreboding that all was not right there. That "something a little stronger," came back again with the name, and assumed, in the mirror of the mind, the hideous demon of the Still---glancing and gloating upon his victims. To-morrow morning, said our friend, we will resume again our early walk, of seven years ago, in the direction of what was then the beautiful Spanish Cottage; but strange changes have been rung upon the bells of life, from that day to this. Poor Wilton!---but I will not anticipate---you shall see and judge for yourself. "Do you remember your remark then, about the strong man armed?" "Yes," said we, perfectly; the vision has been with us a hundred times. "Well," said he, significantly, he has been there, sure enough. How strange is the philosophy of life. Moments, sometimes, make impressions upon the mind which years of oblivion can never efface16 or obliterate. By the dim fore-shadowings of the future, such seemed to be the character of events, which the coming day was to evolve.
The next morning, the sun rose murky and red, and as with swollen face, he peeped forth from the chambers of the east,--- looked more like a drunken sluggard, forced forth from his rest to his task, than the coming up of a cheerful bride-groom, or as "a strong man, rejoicing to run a race." We were soon on our way towards the cottage. "Come said we, tell us of the ruin which has befallen the---what's that?"
"O nothing," said he "but the distant croaking of a family of Ravens, which have singularly enough taken up their abode among the magnolias at the cottage. Their hoarse notes have filled the air of late, to the no little annoyance of the neighbors; many of whom are superstitious enough to think it ominous of evil. They say the croaking of the raven, indicates the shedding of blood; but I have no belief for such things."
"You remember the time when Wilton made us drink with him, and pledge his family, when we drank water, and he "liked something a little stronger?"
"Yes; I remember it as a thing of yesterday."
"Well, that `liking' never left him, but grew upon him, without abatement17, until, as with bands of iron, it bound him an abject slave, and it is Forever. He soon became a confirmed drunkard; though for a year or two, while his fortune held up his wild-orgies, his debauches18 and his abuses were chiefly confined to his own cottage, where, as far as possible, they were concealed by his amiable wife from the public view. But as his means became scant, his vice grew bold; every sense of shame was at length banished, and the once elegant and accomplished William Wilton was lost. He has for years been the common tavern-loafer, and pot-house sot19. One circumstance, however, in his miserable career, more than anything else, removed from him the last vestige of sympathy, and fixed him in the eye of the community as a loathsome and repulsive moral offence. There were two aged servants, whom you may remember, that were left by his father as a part of his estate, a male and female; whether they were man and wife, or not, I do not remember. The woman---and probably the very nurse of his infancy---he sold to a trader for a barrel of whiskey (she was redeemed, however, by one of the neighbors who would not see the horrid sacrilege, but He knew nothing of it) and the other, an old man, he tied up and beat, in a drunken fit, for some imaginary insult, so severely, that he soon died of his wounds. It was with great difficulty that the public was restrained from taking popular vengeance on him for these acts; but on account of his family they spared him, and partly in the hope also, I suppose, that he would finish himself with his barrel of whiskey (so they said). But in this last they were disappointed; like a monster, as he is, he lived through it, and he still lives on."
From the accomplished gentleman you knew him, he has become an incarnate20 fiend, and to such an extent does he demonstrate his nature, that the neighbors often tremble for the safety of his wife and child. The little girl, you remember, was an infant when you were here; she is now near eight years old, and a most intelligent and interesting child. Poor Mrs. Wilton, she bears it all with meek patience, and much submission, but every one can see that she is a broken-hearted woman.
"And all this misery," said we, "is the fruit of that one error,---the liking of `something a little stronger."'
"Well, here we are, in sight of the place," said our friend. Mark the contrast of seven years. One thing you will note, and that is, a strict harmony has been preserved betwixt21 the moral and the physical of the scene; the outer change is as great as that of the inner man."
"Yes, and all this," said we, "is the work of the bottle. Where, now, is the `dignity of intelligent manhood'---the `freedom,' of which he spoke so eloquently? The dog at his vomit; the sow in the wallow; or the man with his bottle; which of these three hath most of the beast?"
There stood the shattered and decayed cottage, it is true,--- like a tomb ruin---a gloomy remembrance of other days; and there, too, what remained of the splendid Magnolia grove---
time and abuse had done their work on both. The axe had leveled most of the beautiful trees for firewood, while those that remained, seemed to stand silent and sad in their dark fol22 age, as if sensible of the dishonor that had befallen them. The largest and noblest of the grove had been ruined by the lightning, during a severe thunder-storm, and hung in halves, sustained by the adjacent trees, which seemed in this, as dutiful children, amidst the desolation, holding up a stricken sire. The very thunderer had spoken in threatening and in wrath. The grounds had been let go to waste; briars23 had usurped the fence corners, and thistles covered the fields. Since the murder of the old servant man there was no one left to till the soil, which, like the moral waste of Wilton's mind, seemed as if a simoom24 had passed over it; and was not such the fact? More blasting than the "Zamiel," is the fire breath of the Still. With the cottage itself, the contrast was greater, if possible, than with the grove. Doorless openings, and sashless windows, with furniture broken and destroyed, told of times of violence. Desolation and misery, had been lighted to their possession of the beautiful cottage, by the spirit-lamp of hell, where now, hand
in hand, they stalked and ruled supreme. A Satan, in the Garden of Eden, is that "something a little stronger," in the house of the happy.
Some one comes; it is the little daughter, and followed to the door by her ruffian father, who, with threatening and abuse is sending her upon some errand. He seems even now, at this early time in the day, to be under the influence of the demon. See, he is standing and staggering in the door-way still, and with bloated face and blood-shot eyes, is muttering something betwixt his teeth, in reference to that little girl. Alas, for the fate of a drunkard's daughter!
"And is that man Wilton? The man we knew? the gentleman and the scholar? Merciful heaven, what a metamorphosis!"
"Did you observe," said our friend, "that the little girl had a jug in her hand as she left the house? He is still under the maddening influence of the last night's drunken brawl, and has doubtless sent his child to the grocery in the village for more whiskey to cool off upon. Woe betide that little innocent if she fail in her degrading mission."
"Come," said we, "let us go; we have seen enough. O it harrows up the very soul. What talents; what usefulness; what respectability; what everything, indeed, might have been his; but all---all, are sacrificed to that prince of evils, strong drink. Why don't Mrs. Wilton take her little daughter and return to her father's house? he would receive her kindly, we doubt not."
"Well, that has been spoken of," said he, "but when Wilton is sober, as he sometimes is, his former good nature returns again; he is kind then, and promises amendment. And though every body else has lost all confidence in his pledges, his wife has not, but hopes still. A woman's heart is slow to give up the object of its early affections; a woman's love never forsakes. Besides, the match at first, was consummated by an elopement, and a sense of pride, perhaps, forbids the idea of such an event as her return. I think, however, that some of the friends (unknown to her) have written to the old gentleman, and if I mistake not, he is expected here about this time."
"I am glad of it, may God speed his journey. I would he was here now; for O I fear---I fear! Let us return to our mind which I cannot shake off. If I was superstitious, I should think there was some fearful calamity at hand. Poor Wilton, what a terrible contrast has the progress of seven years drawn upon the tables of his life, and how fearfully has his own hand guided the pencil. Is there hope? O God! is there hope? let us think."
Scene III. The Catastrophe
An hour, it may be, had elapsed, after the morning ramble of the last scene, during the interview of which we had sought the retirement of our chamber and communion with God. " He is our refuge," and always "a present help in trouble." Such was our condition and though we had no adequate conception of what the cause should be, a trouble seemed ready to settle down upon our mind. From this we sought relief, only where relief can be found for an oppressed spirit, at the throne of grace. Suddenly a busy hum in the street below, fell upon our ear. On approaching the window to ascertain the cause, we observed a crowd about the door and a fainting female just
being borne within the house. Almost immediately, as if moved by a common impulse, the whole village---men, women, and children---were seen hurriedly crossing the lawn, in the direction of the cottage.
"What has happened? Some dire event has transpired to cause this rush of excitement. We will follow, also, and learn the cause."
Just then our door opened, and our friend of the morning, pale and agitated, entered the room.
"What is the matter?" said we. "What has occurred? For heaven's sake, speak!"
"I am come," said he, "to ask you, once more, to accompany me to the cottage. The dreadful drama is near the close, the bloody denouement of which is terrible to behold."
"Bloody! do you say? What has happened?"
"Murder has happened," said he. "Murder, not only most `foul and unnatural,' but of circumstances so horrible that the mind trembles to know and think upon them."
"Who is murdered?" said we; "and who is the murderer?"
"They have just borne the fainting form of Mrs. Wilton into the house below, but little Alice and the wretched father--- come put on your hat, and let us visit the scene; I came for you on purpose, because I saw you were so interested in the welfare of the family. As we go, I will tell you what has come to pass."
We immediately started for the cottage.
"The state of the case appears to be about this," said he, "as near as we could ascertain, from the incoherent and anguished speech of poor Mrs. Wilton: the fiend of a father, as we learn, who was still under the influence of last night's drunkenness, had sent the little girl to the grocery for more
whiskey; just as we supposed was the case, when we saw her pass us with the jug in her hand."
"Where," said one, "could he have gotten the means to purchase the poison? would they trust him?"
"O no," said he. "It appears that on yesterday, while the miserable drunkard, and more wretched husband and father was absent at his tavern orgies, Mrs. Wilton, driven to her last extremity, in order to purchase food for herself and daughter, sold to a pedlar who passed through the Village, her wedding ring. This was the last article of any value that remained, and even this brought but a trifle. Still, it would buy a little bread--- and though she had clung to it, as a remembrance of faded joys, and wept upon it as a witness of untold sorrows,---the pressing demands of hunger were not to be resisted, and the ring, which was placed upon her finger with solemn oaths, now
left it, midst bitter sighs. This transaction, by some means Wilton found out, and demanded the money. This she refused. With threats and imprecations, he persisted, and even went so far as to fetch the axe from the yard, and raise it menacingly over her head, threatening her life if she continued to refuse.
Alarmed for her safety, at length she yielded, and gave him the money. Immediately the scanty product of the sacrifice, which was intended to purchase bread to sustain life, was on the way to the Grocery, for " more whiskey, " to produce death. On her return, it seems, the little girl stumbled against some obstacle in the path, and unfortunately fell. In her fall, the jug was broken, and the whiskey spilled. Sensible of the extent of her misfortune, and the violent wrath which awaited her, little Alice, gathered up the fragments of the broken jug, in token of her mishap, and weeping bitterly, made her way, fearful and trembling, into the presence of her unnatural parent. In a moment he saw the truth, and maddened into a paroxysm25 of rage, at his disappointment, he bounded like a tiger from his seat, and scizing the axe, with a savage yell swore instant vengeance. Against the child, his first fury was levelled, who fled out at the back door, pursued by her father, while the mother, who was equally the object of his hellish design, escaped through the front of the house. It is likely the fleetness of little Alice would have baffled the pursuit of the monster father which she had often done before, had not her feet become entangled in some brushwood about the door, which had been placed there for purposes
of fuel. This proved fatal to her life---the murderous axe came down, and poor little Alice was dead.---A single horrid scream from the child, reached the fleeing mother's ear, who with a
groan, sank senseless by the road side;---whence she was borne to the house we left. One stroke of the axe did the deed, and almost cleft the child in twain. The descending blow struck
her, in a falling condition as it would seem, just at the back of the head, and passed quite through the neck and breast, dividing them entirely asunder26. Poor child, it was a sight horrible to behold.
No sooner had this fiend in human shape accomplished this part of his design, than he rushed back into the house again, to finish his work upon his abused and devoted wife,--- Fortunately she was not there. Disappointed of the chosen subject of his vengeance, his next purpose seemed to be to select some object, animate or inanimate, upon which to wreak his fury. A portrait of Mrs. Wilton, painted by Inman---a beautiful picture, hung upon the wall of the apartment,---against this he now launched his wildest and most frantic madness. It is said that the frenzied soul, which under the influence of alcoholic madness steeps itself in murder, knows neither mercy nor remorse. One broad cut appeared in the face of the portrait, but in the effort to inflict a second blow, the head of the axe struck the ceiling of the room,---being lifted too high,---and glancing struck deep into the side of his own head and neck, severing the main artery, and producing instant death.
"This is the apartment," said our friend,---"and there you see he lies, in the centre of the floor weltering in his blood,--- with the fatal axe still in his grasp;---and just over him the indentation
in the ceiling.---And there too they have laid the body of little Alice.---Great God, what a sight is here?--This also is the work of the bottle,---the legitimate fruits of `something a little stronger. '"
Let us turn aside from this place of terrors. Horrors thicken fast,---they rise like the whelming tide, and mock at rest.--- The very currents of the heart curdle and chill, and the pulses pause in fear, among scenes like these. And this is the end of that beginning, which was so bright and joyful, and so full of promise. Like the coiled adder at the bottom of a lucid fountain, poisoning its sweet waters with the virus of death, is the spirit of the still, midst the springs of life. Who would have said seven years ago, that this would be the end of William Wilton,---the accomplished, the generous and the just.---But so it is---the tempter was busy---and the fire streams were full,--- they roll unresisted, and have borne to hell their victim.
It were idle to attempt a description of the scene, which communicated to the bereaved and distracted wife, the terrible events that had taken place. Scream answered to swoon,---and swoon succeeded scream,---following close upon each other, and in such rapid succession, that fears were entertained that her reason would perish, if her life was not also added to the list. But kind heaven directed otherwise,--- her time was not yet. The next day at an early hour, was the appointed time for the funeral, which was to take place near the cottage, where the grave had been already prepared.---Sorrow and gloom held vigil together that night, in the village of H---.
"John;" said a voice to a servant man, as he was hurrying through the hall of the Hotel early in the morning,---"who was that tall old gentleman, that came in the stage last night?"
"I don't know, sir," said John, "he is the strangest old man that I ever saw, that's certain. He seems almost like he was a lunatic."
"Why so, John?"
"Why sir," said the servant, "though he had been riding in the stage for two days without rest or sleep, he did not he down nor ask for a bed at all, but wandered about the village all night like a ghost. He asked about the murder down at the cottage, and while they told him the story, he
shook and groaned as if he had been in an ague fit.---Two or three times he started off to go down there, and then turned suddenly back again, afraid I reckon, that he would see the spirit of Wilton."
"It is certainly he ," said the voice, and the door closed." He ," said John, looking for a moment at the closed door,--- yes, it is HE,---and a singular HE he is. I think he is mad.
The assembled village stood round the grave. A large plain coffin had been provided, which contained the bodies of both father and daughter---the murderer and the murdered. This, it
is likely would not have been the arrangement, but a sympathetic commisseration, had suddenly sprung up in the popular mind on behalf of the wretched murderer, ascribing the horrid deed
rather to madness, than to premeditation. This, without doubt, was a right view of the subject. It was madness, and of the worst and most fatal type. A madness, full of horrors, and fit exponant of the condition of the damned,---the madness of the Still.
Upon the coffin, in gorey state, lay the fatal axe. The instrument of the murder, was to be buried with the murderer and the murdered. A strange "hatchment," truly, but in strict keeping with the nature of the scene. The services were short, solemn and impressive, and as the coffin was lowered to its last resting-place, the widow sunk upon her knees, and remained in that situation until the friends had filled the grave. The tall grey-headed stranger stood unnoticed by her side. As the crowd was about to disperse, he turned to the mourner, and with tremulous emotion said, " Alice. " It was like the shock of a Galvanic27 battery. She threw back her veil at the sound
of his voice; started to her feet, and with a long, piercing, unearthly shriek, fell senseless into his arms.A moment more, and the story was told;--- he was her father, She was dead!
Glossary of Unfamiliar Terms
1. Prim- Formally precise of proper; as persons of behavior, stiffly neat. To draw up the mouth in an affectedly nice or precise way.
2. Umbrageous- Creating or providing shade; shady. Apt to take offense
3. Cynosure-Something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance, interest. Something serving for guidance or direction.
4. Festoon-A string or chain of flowers, foliage, ribbon, etc., suspended in a curve between two points.
5. Eglantine-A Eurasian rose (Rosa eglanteria) having prickly stems, fragrant leaves, bright pink flowers, and scarlet hips. Also called Sweet Briar.
6. Novitiate-The state or period of being a novice of a religious order or congregation. The quarters occupied by religious novices during probation. A novice.
7. Imperiously- Domineering in a haughty manner; dictatorial; overbearing: an imperious manner; an imperious person. Urgent; imperative: imperious need.
8. Approbation- Approval; commendation. Official approval or sanction. Obsolete. Conclusive proof.
9. Elope- To run off secretly to be married, usually without the consent or knowledge of one's parents. To run away with a lover. To leave without permission or notification; escape.
10. Ennui- A feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom: The endless lecture produced an unbearable ennui.
11. Twain- Split in two
12. Untrammeled- Not limited or restricted; unrestrained.
13. Felicity- The state of being happy, esp. in a high degree; bliss: marital felicity. An instance of this. A source of happiness. A skillful faculty: felicity of expression. An instance or display of this: the many felicities of the poem. Archaic. Good fortune.
14. Portentous- Of the nature of a portent; momentous. Ominously significant or indicative: a portentous defeat. Marvelous; amazing; prodigious.
15. Vernal- Of or pertaining to spring: vernal sunshine. Appearing or occurring in spring: Vernal migratory movements. Appropriate to or suggesting spring; spring like: vernal greenery. Belonging to or characteristic of youth: vernal longings.
16. Efface- To wipe out; do away with; expunge: To efface one's unhappy memories. To rub out, erase, or obliterate (outlines, traces, inscriptions, etc.). to make (oneself) inconspicuous; withdraw (oneself) modestly or shyly.
17. Abatement- The act or state of abating or the state of being abated; reduction; decrease; alleviation; mitigation. Suppression or termination: abatement of a nuisance; noise abatement.
18. Debauches- To corrupt morally. To lead away from excellence or virtue. To reduce the value, quality, or excellence of; debase. To cause to forsake allegiance.
19. Sot- A drunkard
20. Incarnate- Embodied in flesh; given a bodily, esp. a human, form: a devil incarnate.
21. Betwixt-Neither the one nor the other; in a middle or unresolved position:
22. Fol- foliage, when the leaves turn color.
23. Briars- A Mediterranean shrub or small tree (Erica arborea) whose hard, woody roots are used to make tobacco pipes. A pipe made from the root of this plant or from a similar wood.
24. Simoom- A strong, hot, sand-laden wind of the Sahara and Arabian deserts:
25. Paroxysm- Any sudden, violent outburst; a fit of violent action or emotion. Pathology. A severe attack or a sudden increase in intensity of a disease, usually recurring periodically.
26. Asunder- Into separate parts; In or into pieces apart or widely separated
27. Galvanic- Pertaining to or produced by galvanism; Producing or caused by an electric current. Affecting or affected as if by galvanism; startling; shocking stimulating; energizing
All illustrations and essays used with permission of artist and creator.