The Literary Maiden

A compendium of obscure 19th century writing.

Tag: prose

“Life: An Allegory” by James Gates Percival

Here we have a sampling of Percival’s prose work! Feel free to comment below if you have thoughts on what his allegory might be. Mum’s the word on my own analysis. I’ll just leave it here for your pleasure and contemplation.

Life: An Allegory
James Gates Percival
From the Knickerbocker, Volume 7, January, 1836, pg. 48.

IT is now morning. Still and glassy lies the lake, within its green and dew-sprent shores. Light mist hangs around, like a skiëy veil, and only reveals the uncertain outlines of woods and hills. The warm vernal air is just stirring in the valleys, but has not yet ruffled the water’s mirror. Turns the eye upward, the misty vault opens into the calm, clear heavens, over which there seems suffused a genial spirit’s breath. Far distant on the horizon flash out the gilded and reddening peaks, and from yonder crown of snow, a sudden radiance announces the risen sun. Now in the east stream the golden rays through the soft blue vapor. The breeze freshens, and comes loaded with fragrance from the woods. A faint, dark curl sweeps over the water; the mist rolls up, lifts itself above meadow and hill, and in gathered folds hangs light around the mountains. Away on the level lake, till it meets the sky, silvery gleams the sheeted wave, sprinkled with changeful stars, as the ever-rising breeze breaks it in ripples. Now the pennon, that hung loose around the mast, rises and fitfully floats. We spread the sail, and casting off from the shore, glide out with cheerful hearts on our voyage. Before us widens the lake; rock after rock receding back on either hand, and opening between, still bays, hung round with sparkling woods, or leading through green meadow vistas to blue sunny hills.


IT is now noon. In the middle lake speeds the bark over light glancing waves. Dark opens down the clear depth. White toss the crests of foam, and as the sail stoops to the steady wind, swift flies the parted water round the prow, and rushing pours behind the stern. The distant shores glow bright in the sun, that alone in the heaven looks unveiled with vivifying goodness over the earth. How high and broad swells the sky! The agitated lake tosses like a wide field of snowy blossoms. Sweep after sweep of the long-retiring shores; hill gleaming over hill, up to the shadowy mountains; and over these, Alpine needles, shooting pearly white into the boundless azure—all lie still and happy under the ever-smiling sun.


AND now it is evening. The sun is sinking behind the dark mountains, and clouds scattered far in the east, float soft in rosy light. The sun is now hidden, and strong and wide sweeps up its golden flame, like the holy blaze of a funeral pile. The breeze slackens, the waves subside in slumber, and slowly the bark steers into its sheltering bay. Long shadows stretch from hill to valley, fall like dark curtains on the lake, and a solemn, subdued serenity broods, like a protecting spirit, over the hushed and quiet earth. Only the far summits yet retain their brightness. Faint blushes stain the eternal snows, recalling the first dawning roses, like the memory of early joys in the tranquil moments of departing age. These, too, fade; but the evening star looks bright from the blue infinite, and like the herald of a better world, leads us softly to our haven.

“A Child’s Ghost Story” by Bret Harte

I am indebted to Mr. Velella for introducing this poignant story to us in his article, “Harte: goblins and ghosts,” on his website, the American Literary Blog (which I cannot recommend enough).

A Child’s Ghost Story
By Bret Harte
From Stories and Poems and Other Uncollected Writings by Bret Harte, pp. 33-36.

There was once a child whom people thought odd and queer. He was a puny little fellow. The only thing big about him was his head, and that was so disproportioned to the rest of the body, that some people laughed when they saw him. And to complete his grotesqueness, his parents, who were very learned people—and foolish as very learned people sometimes are—gave him a strange, queer name, “Poeta,” which meant a great deal, so they said; but his old nurse and his little sister called him “Etty,” which meant only that they loved him, and which I think was a great deal more pleasant, if not as sensible.
Not but that his parents were very proud of his peculiarities and queer ways. But they were very severe and strict with him. He deserved it, for he was fretful, peevish, and impatient. He imagined continually that people did n’t love him as he would like them to, which was partly the case; and he was moody and querulous sometimes; and instead of trying to find out why, and what could be done to help it, he would lie down in his little crib and hate everybody. And then his big head, which was always bothering him, would ache dreadfully.
But when he strayed into the green fields with his little sister, who could tell better than “Etty” what the birds said to each other, what the leaves of the big elms were always whispering, and the strange stories that the brook babbled to the stones as it ran away to the distant sea? And although he was not strong enough to play like larger boys with these things, he was fond of lying under the big elm, with his little sister supporting his head on her lap, watching all this, and telling her about it and many other wonderful things.
But I am sorry to say that he would sometimes tell very queer and strange stories; he would tell of goblins as high as the elm, and of ghosts that haunted the little churchyard where their grandmother slept; and he would continue to repeat them, getting more and more terrifying in intensity, until his little “Gracie” would open her big blue eyes in pretty terror, and catch his gesticulating hand.
“There now, Etty, dear,” she once said, “I don’t believe there are any ghosts.”
“Is n’t there,” said Etty, in deep scorn.
“No! Did you ever see any, Etty?”
(This was another sort of thing, you know, and poor Etty could n’t say that he had, but he was confident that other people had seen them.)
“Well,” said Gracie, “I don’t believe there are any. I know that dead people lie in their graves and make the grass grow; but if I die, I’ll come back to you and be a ghost.”
And so to these little children, the seasons were told over in flowers and fruits and different games; and it was kite time, and the lilacs were in blossom when a great hush and quiet fell upon their home. People walked about whispering to each other, and Etty was kept alone in a room until he was frightened and his head ached. But then Gracie did not come to him to console him. And when he could not stand it any longer he crept into a little bedroom, from which an awe seemed to spread over the whole house, and there was a smell of mignonette, and something white lying on the bed, and on top of that again a pinched little white face that he knew. And Etty cried.
His sister had died in early spring, and now it was the season when the rosy-cheeked apples are piled away in the barn, and the red leaves in the corners of the lane, and the nights were getting chilly, and Etty, whose health was poor, was lying in his crib watching the bright fire, thinking of the flowers that had passed away, when something soft and cool stole over his face and rested upon his forehead. It was a little hand—Gracie’s, and Gracie stood beside him.
He remembered what she had told him, and knew it was Gracie’s ghost and he was not frightened. But he whispered to her, and she soothed his aching head, and told him that when he was weary, and his head ached, she would come to him again, and that she was permitted to visit him only that she might soothe him when in trouble and keep him from harm. This and much more she whispered to him in the quiet little nursery, and at last holding her hand in his, he fell asleep.
He did not dare to tell his father or mother, or the people about him, of Gracie’s ghost. He knew they would look upon it as one of his peculiarities and he dreaded their disbelief. He did not dare to tell it to the Reverend Calvin Choakumchild, who gave him a great many very nice tracts, and talked to him a good deal about the “Holy Ghost.” He did not dare to tell it to Betsy, his nurse, who had frightened him often with hobgoblins and spectres. So he laid away his little secret in a quiet shelf in his memory, just as her toys had been put away in a corner of the great cupboard.
But Etty grew up a man and strong and well proportioned. His head no longer seemed to him so large, and people did not laugh at him. His old name gave place to Mr. So-and-So. But when he would get weary, his head would ache as it did when he was a boy, and the doctors, many of whom had D.D. written to their name, could do him no good. How welcome, then, was Gracie’s ghost, and her cool, soft touch, and her whispered words.
But he fell into wicked courses and among wicked men. And when his head would ache, as it often did from dissipation and excesses, he did not dare to invoke in such company Gracie’s ghost. So he fell sick and grew worse, and at last the doctors gave him up.
At the close of a bright spring day when he lay tossing upon his bed, she came and placed her hand upon his head; the dull throbbing and feverish heat passed away. He heard the whispering of the leaves of the old elm again, and the birds talking to each other, and even the foolish talk of the brook. It was saying, “He is coming.” And then with his hand holding one of Gracie’s, and her other upon his forehead, he floated out with the brook toward the distant, distant sea.
Children, have you ever seen “Gracie’s ghost”?

“Autumn! thou art with us…” by James B. Marshall, found in the New-York Mirror of 1837

The following article is transcribed from the New-York Mirror of  October 28, 1837, pg. 139. I had recently erroneously misattributed the article to the editors of the New-York Mirror; however, Netherlands scholar Ton F— kindly directed me towards the author and provided the following statement, which I feel is beneficial to the article in its own right,

The real author was James B. Marshall from Louisville KY, at the time editor of the Western Weekly Magazine in Ohio. The piece first appeared in the Louisville City Gazette of Sept 1, 1837, but was written one year earlier. It was called ‘September’, and renamed several times (for instance as Autumn: a Morceau) in many reprints. Marshall wrote the following polite introduction to his piece:
“The season of fruits and falling leaves is here; and seasonably is it ushered in. We have a bright, fresh and balmy day – and a breeze slightly spiced, braced and invigorating, after the heat of summer. One year ago we scribbled a short invocation to autumn. Is it less worthy than it was then? It was but the outpouring of feelings long and still cherished. Some of our cotemporaries flattered its naturalness and made mention of it in complimentary terms. May we be pardoned for repeating this brief evocation?”

-Ann Neilson

Autumn! thou art with us. Already we feel the prickles in the morning air; and the stars shine out with a peculiar lustre. Shortly we shall see the rich tints which thou flingest on the woodlands, and then thy russet livery. And if thou art now bright, and gay, and beautiful, thou art not less lovely when thy hazy atmosphere spreads a voluptuous softness over nature; when the sun himself is shorn of his beams, and, like a pale planet, wanders through the sky. Autumn! with its fields of ripening corn, and its trees laden with fruit, and its vines with the clustering grapes,

“Reeling to earth, purple and gushing;”

and clear, sparkling streams, and salmon-fishing, and field sports is here. Out in the autumn woods! The broad leaf of the sycamore hath fallen upon the streamlet, and hath passed on with its tumbling waters, or disports them where it has rested against some obstruction. The buckeye is bare; the maple is golden-leaved, save where is spread on a field of orange, the hectick [sic] flush which marks approaching decay, or where the sap is yet faintly coursing and a delicate green remains. The oak is of a deep crimson, and the gum even yet of a bloodier hue. Far off on the tall cliff is the spiral pine and cedar, in their eternal green. Out in the autumn woods! when leaves are falling like the flakes in the snow-storm. It is a time for reflection; it is a time for lofty contemplation. The soul is full, if it have the capacity to feel, and it gushes forth, though the tongue speak not. And yet it is irresistible to roam the autumn woods, and listen to the thousand whispering tongues which fill the air. The fulness [sic] of feeling must be relieved by the merry shout and loud halloo. We welcome thee, Autumn! Thou art the dearest to us of the seasons—save the flower-month. We hail thy coming now, not as has been our wont. Since thou were last here, we have lost friends; and in thy wailing winds, and out beneath thy sky, and roaming through thy varied gorgeous liveried wood, our thoughts shall be turned to their memories.

A Fragment-By William Henry Leonard Poe


Well! I have determined–lightly it may be–but when there is nothing to live for–nothing that the heart craves anxiously and devotedly, life is but a kind of prison house from which we would be freed.

I feel even at this moment a something of impatience to know what death is–and although I am now writing the very last words this band will ever trace–yet even the outward show–the trifles of the world beguile me–

The ink is not good–I have stirred it–’tis better now, and I have mended my pen–’tis disagreeable, even if it is our very last letter, to write with a band pen–a blot!–I must erase it–this when an hour will finish my existence!–an existence of wretchedness–one of weary, bitter disappointment.

I feel as if hungry, and suddenly a sumptuous feast before me–surfeiting myself–revelling in my thoughts–indulging in what I have been afraid to think of–I have but a short hour to live, and the ticking of the clock before me, seems a laughing spectator of my death–I wish it had life–it would not then be so gay–nay, it might be a partner of my melancholy.

Pshaw! this pen–surely my hand must have trembled when I made it–I have held it up to the light–Heavens’ my hand does tremble–No! tis only the flickering of the lamp.

It will–at least it may be asked, why I have done this–they ay say I was insane–the body which is earthed cannot feel their taunts, and the soul cares not.

I have a strange wish even at this time–it is that some maiden would plant flowers on my grave–which my mortality would add life to.

When there is no hope–no cheering prospect to brighten, no land to mark the bewildered scaman’s way–why not try death?

“And come it slow or come it fast,
It is but death that comes at last.”

There are many who would rather linger in a life of wretchedness, disappointment–and other causes which blight many a youthful heart, and make ruin and desolation in the warmest feelings–yes! even the lip must smile and the eye be gay–although whne night brings us to our couch we unconsciously wish it was for the last time.

Such is man–such is mankind!–I have still one half hour to live–one half hour!–yet I look around me as if it was the journey of a day, and not an eternal adieu!–Why should I live? Delighting in one object, and she

“The fairest flow’r that glittered on a stem
To wither at my grasp.”

No more–the pistol–I have loaded it–the balls are new–quite bright–they will soon be in my heart–Incomprehensible death–what art thou?

I have put the pistol to my bosom–it snapped–I had forgotten to prime it–I must do it–

In the act of doing so it went off, and I awoke and found myself rolling on the floor, having fallen from my bed in the agitation of a most strange and singular dream.

W. H. P.

(*Transcribed while watching Plain Jane. Thought you all might like to know. This was posted, as requested, for a dear friend of mine. I quite liked this piece.)