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Familiar with the cries of drowning men,
Gardner. Ah, I have never known a wreck like yours !
Do not speak of that.
Gardner. Why would you die who have so much to live for? -
You cannot say the word.
Confess and live.
Gardner. It is an awful death.
'Tis but to drown, And have the weight of all the seas upon you.
Gardner. Say something; say enough to fend off death
I will not plead.
Gardner (aside). Ah, what a noble character is this!
Corey. I pray you do not urge me to do that
Were not the truth; nay, if it did but swerve
Gardner (aside). How mean I seem beside a man like this!
Corey. As for my wife, my Martha and my martyr,-
Sheriff (without). Giles Corey! Come! The hour has struck!
H. W. LONGFELLOW.
XLVIII.-LEARNING BY HEART.
VILL he has fairly tried it, I suspect a reader does not
know how much he would gain from committing to memory passages of real excellence; precisely because he does not know how much he overlooks in merely reading. Learn one true poem by heart, and see if you do not find
Beauty after beauty will reveal itself, in chosen phrase, or happy music, or noble suggestion otherwise undreamed of. It is like looking at one of Nature's wonders through a microscope.
2. Again, how much in such a poem that you really did feel admirable and lovely on a first reading, passes away, if you do not give it a further and much better reading !passes away utterly, like a sweet sound, or an image on the lake, which the first breath of wind dispels. If you could only fix that image, as the photographers do theirs, sci beautifully, so perfectly! And you can do so! Learn it by heart, and it is yours forever!
3. Poems and noble extracts, whether of verse or prose, once so reduced into possession and rendered truly our own, may be to us a daily pieasure;-better far than a whole library unused. They may come to us in our dull moments, to refresh us as with spring flowers; in our selfish musings, to win us by pure delight from the tyranny of foolish castle-building, self-congratulations, and mean anxieties. They may be with us in the workshop, in the crowded streets, by the fireside; sometimes, perhaps, on pleasant hill-sides, or by sounding shores ;-noble friends and companions-our own! never intrusive, ever at hand, coming at our call!
4. Shakspeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Tennyson, — the words of such men do not stale upon us, they do not grow old or cold. Further, though you are young now. some day you will be old. Some day you may reach that time when a man lives in greater part for memory and by memory. I can imagine a chance renewal, chance visitation of the words long remembered, long garnered in the heart, and I think I see a gleam of rare joy in the eyes of the old man.
5. For those, in particular, whose leisure time is short, and precious as scant rations to beleaguered men, I believe there could not be a better expenditure of time than deliberately giving an occasional hour-it requires no more --to committing to memory chosen passages from great authors. If the mind were thus daily nourished with a few choice words of the best English poets and writers; if the habit of learning by heart were to become so general, that, as a matter of course, any person presuming to be educated amongst us might be expected to be equipped with a few good pieces, I believe it would lead, far more chan the mere sound of it suggests, to the diffusion of the best kind of literature, and the right appreciation of it, and men would not long rest satisfied with having a few stock pieces.
6. The only objection I can conceive to what I have been saying is, that it may be said that a relish for higher literature belongs only to the few; that it is the result of cultiva
tion; and that there is no use in trying to create what must be in general only a fictitious interest. But I do not admit that literature, even the higher literature, must belong to the few. Poetry is, in the main, essentially catholic--addressed to all men; and though some poetry requires particular knowledge and superior culture, much, and that the noblest, needs only natural feeling and the light of common experience. Such poetry, taken in moderation, followed with genuine good-will, shared in common, will be intelligible and delightful to most men who will take the trouble to be students at all, and ever more and more so.
7. Perhaps, also, there may be a fragment of truth in what Charles Lamb has said,—that any spouting“ withers and blows upon a fine passage;" that there is no enjoying it after it has been “pawed about by declamatory boys and men." But surely there is a reasonable habit of recitation as well as an unreasonable one; there is no need of declamatory pawing. To abandon all recitation, is to give up a custom which has given delight and instruction to all the races of articulately-speaking men. If our faces are set against vain display, and set towards rational enjoyment of one another, each freely giving his best, and freely receiving what his neighbor offers, we need not fear that our social evenings will be marred by an occasional recitation, or that the fine passages will wither. And, moreover, it is not for reciting's sake that I chiefly recommend this most faithful form of reading-learning by heart.
8. I come back, therefore, to this, that learning by heart is a good thing, and is neglected amongst us. Why is it neglected ? Partly because of our indolence, but partly, I take it, because we do not sufficiently consider that it is a good thing, and needs to be taken in hand. We need to be reminded of it: I here remind you. Like a town-crier, ringing my bell, I would say to you, “O-yes, o-yes! Lost, stolen, or strayed, a good ancient practice—the good ancient practice of learning by heart. Every finder should be handsomely rewarded.”
9. If any ask, “What shall I learn ?” the answer is, Do as you do with tunes-begin with what you sincerely like best, what you would most wish to remember, what you would most enjoy saying to yourself or repeating to another. You will soon find the list inexhaustible. Then“ keeping up” is easy. Every one has spare ten minutes; one of the problems of life is how to employ them usefully. You may well spend some in looking after and securing this goce property you have won.
XLIX.—THE SONG OF THE RAIN.
0! the long, slender spears, how they quiver and fash
Rank and file by the million the rain-lancers dash
Over mountain and river and town:
0, the rain, the plentiful rain!
The pastures lie baked, and the furrow is bare,
The wells they yawn empty and dry;
And a rainbow leaps out in the sky.
O, the rain, the plentiful rain!
See, the weaver throws wide his own swinging pane,
The kind drops dance in on the floor;
On the step by her half-open door;
O, the rain, the plentiful rain!