Page images
PDF
EPUB

THE MIDNIGHT SUN.

BAYARD TAYLOR was born at Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, Jan. 11, 1825. Two darling wishes of his childhood were to travel extensively and to become a poet. Both were admirably realized. His first printed verse appeared when he was fifteen years old. In 1814 he published a volume. When he had scarcely come to manhood, he started, with very little cash, to visit Europe, and there he remained nearly two years, moving about mostly on foot, meantime writing letters to the New York Tribune, and for these he received some money.

In 1848 he became an editor of that journal. He afterward visited many countries and wrote of them. He is the author of many books of travel, many noble poems, and a translation of the “Faust” of Goethe. In 1878 he was appointed United States minister to Germany. In that country he died, Dec. 19, 1878. This extract from “ Northern Travel " is used by courtesy of G. P. Putnam's Sons.

[graphic]

It was now eleven o'clock, and the cliff of Sværholt glowed in fiery bronze luster as we rounded it, the eddies of returning birds gleaming golden in the nocturnal sun, like drifts of beech leaves in the October air.

Far to the north, the sun lay in a bed of saffron light over the clear horizon of the Arctic Ocean. A few bars of dazzling orange cloud floated above him, and still higher in the sky, where the saffron melted through delicate rose-color into blue, hung light wreaths of vapor, touched with pearly, opaline flushes of pink and golden gray.

The sea was a web of pale slate-color, shot through and through with threads of orange and saffron, from the dance of a myriad shifting and twinkling ripples. The air was filled and permeated with the soft, mysterious glow, and even the very azure of the southern sky seemed to shine through a net of golden haze.

The headlands of the deeply indented coast lay around us, in different degrees of distance, but all with foreheads touched with supernatural glory. Far to the northeast was Nordkyn, the most northern point of the mainland of Europe, gleaming rosily and faint in the full beams of the sun ; and just as our watches denoted midnight the North Cape appeared to the westward — a long line of purple bluff, presenting a vertical front of nine hundred feet in height to the Polar Sea.

Midway between those two magnificent headlands stood the Midnight Sun, shining on us with subdued fires, and with the gorgeous coloring of an hour for which we have no name, since it is neither sunset nor sunrise, but the blended loveliness of both — but shining at the same moment, in the heat and splendor of noonday, on the Pacific Isles. This was the midnight sun as I had dreamed it — as I had hoped to

see it.

Within fifteen minutes after midnight, there was a perceptible increase of altitude, and in less than half an hour the whole tone of the sky had changed, the yellow brightening into orange, and the saffron melting into the pale vermilion of dawn.

Yet it was neither the colors, nor the same character of light, as we had had half an hour before midnight.

The difference was so slight as scarcely to be described; but it was the difference between evening and morning. The faintest transfusion of one prevailing tint into another had changed the whole expression of heaven and earth, and so imperceptibly and miraculously that a new day was present to our consciousness.

Our view of the wild cliffs of Sværholt, less than two hours before, belonged to yesterday, though we had stood on deck, in full sunshine, during all the intervening time. Had the sensation of a night slipped through our brains in the momentary winking of the eyes? Or was the old routine of consciousness so firmly stereotyped in our natures, that the view of a morning was sufficient proof to them of the preexistence of a night ?

Let those explain the phenomenon who can — but I found my physical senses utterly at war with those mental perceptions wherewith they should harmonize. The eye saw but one unending day; the mind notched the twenty-four hours on its calendar as before.

BAYARD TAYLOR.

LEIGH HUNT AT HOME.

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE was born at Salem, Massachusetts, July 4, 1804. At the age of twenty-one he graduated at Bowdoin College, and soon afterward began the writing of fiction. His first considerable success did not come till 1837, when his “ Twice-Told Tales was published.

In 1846 appeared “Mosses from an Old Manse.” In 1850 “ The Scarlet Letter” gave him a high position among writers of fiction. Later came " The House of the Seven Gables," 66 The Blithedale Romance," 6. The Marble Faun," and other books, several of which relate to

England and Italy. His style is clear, strong, and beautiful, and his place is assured among the very foremost of American prose writers.

He died at Plymouth, New Hampshire, May 18, 1864.

[graphic]

Leigh Hunt was a beautiful old man. In truth, I never saw a finer countenance, either as to the mold of the features or the expression, nor any that showed

, the play of feeling so perfectly without the slightest theatrical emphasis. It was like a child's in this respect. At my first glimpse of him, when he met us in the entry, I discerned that he was old, his long hair being white and his wrinkles many; it was an aged visage, in short, such as I had not at all expected to see, in spite of dates, because his books talk to the reader with the tender vivacity of youth.

But when he began to speak, and as he grew more earnest in conversation, I ceased to be sensible of his age; sometimes, indeed, its dusky shadow darkened through the gleam which his sprightly thoughts diffused about his face, but then another flash of youth came out of his eyes and made an illumination again. I have never witnessed such a wonderfully illusive transformation, before or since; and to this day, trusting only to my recollection, I should find it difficult to decide which was his genuine predicament — youth or age.

I have met no Englishman whose manners seemed to me so agreeable; soft, rather than polished, wholly unconventional, the natural growth of a kindly and sensitive disposition without any reference to rule, or else obedient to some rule so subtile that the nicest observer could not detect the application of it.

His eyes were dark and very fine, and his voice accompanied their visible language like music. He appeared to be exceedingly appreciative of whatever was passing among those that surrounded him, and especially of the vicissitudes in the consciousness of the person to whom he happened to be addressing himself at the moment.

I felt that no effect upon my mind of what he uttered, no emotion, however transitory, in myself, escaped his notice; not from any positive vigilance on his part, but because his faculty of observation was so penetrative and delicate; and, to say the truth, it a little confused me to discern always a ripple on his mobile face, responsive to any

a

« PreviousContinue »