We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths; In feelings, not in figures on a dial. We should count time by heart-throbs. He most lives Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best. And he whose heart beats quickest lives the longest: Lives in one hour more than in years do some Whose fat blood sleeps as it slips along their veins. Life’s but a means unto an end; that end, Beginning, mean, and end to all things—God. The dead have all the glory of the world. Philip James Bailey **Painting: Anna Pavlova by Sir John Lavery
The Village Blacksmith
Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.
His hair is crisp, and black, and long,
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.
Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.
And children coming home from school
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from a threshing-floor.
He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach,
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.
It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.
Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.
Meet Horace Wells, a fine young Aquarian dentist (we share a birthday). The studious and altruistic Wells volunteered (at a circus) to test the effects of nitrous oxide. He felt positively nothing and was the first patient in America to be operated under ether. Shortly thereafter he began using the stuff on his happy patients, but never considered having the painkiller patented believing such a wonder drug should remain as free as air to humankind.
Horace kindly gave a demonstration to Boston medical students but the ether was improperly administered and the patient was none too thrilled. The students and society in general cried humbug! Horace left with a heavy heart in disgrace. He gave up dentistry and became a canary salesman. Birds are cheerful little creatures.
At some point while experimenting with chloroform for a few weeks he became addicted and demented. Wells ran into the street and poured sulfuric acid over a couple of prostitutes. When Wells came to his senses he found himself in prison. He asked the guards to escort him to his house to pick up a few things–including his shaving kit.
Horace quickly administered a dose of chloroform to himself before slitting open an artery in his leg. And then he died.
AND ON A HAPPIER NOTE, A GOODREADS GIVEAWAY!
The computer is over there. The dogs are over here. It’s raining. Need I say more?
“Quartering the topmost branches of one of the tall trees, an invisible bird was striving to make the day seem shorter, exploring with a long-drawn note the solitude that pressed it on every side, but it received at once so unanimous an answer, so powerful a repercussion of silence and of immobility, that one felt it had arrested for all eternity the moment which it had been trying to make pass more quickly.” Marcel Proust,
A Confederate officer stood alone at a crossroad goading his horse to move on in the aftermath of the Union retreat at BULL RUN. Sensing danger he glanced over his shoulder. A Yankee raced over the field tramping the freshly cut hay. As the Yankee drew closer he struggled to pull something from behind his back. The Confederate, with heart thumping through his uniform, pulled out his revolver and took aim.
The Yankee waved a white flag, stopping abruptly at some distance. He wavered there for a few minutes until the Confederate swore he would do him no harm. Looking to his left and then right, the Yankee weighed his options and moved forward.
The Confederate noted the man’s flushed cheeks and face not yet ready to be shaved. The boy could not be more than twenty yet he was a lieutenant from a New York regiment.
“I give my word to you, sir. If you let me go I’ll never pick up a gun again. I’ll leave at once for my father’s farm,” the boy begged.
The Confederate kept silent and the boy on his horse soon followed, resigned to his fate.
The Confederate and the Yankee may not have realized at this early stage of the war that to be a prisoner was as deadly as fighting on the battlefield, but something in the young man’s cowardice already worked on the Confederate’s conscience. We don’t know if this Confederate officer cursed the angel on his shoulder as the two men walked ten yards.
“Go back to your friends, boy,” the Confederate ordered. “One more prisoner will hardly make a difference.”
When the Confederate met his own scouts they asked what had happened. When they set off in search of the “escaped” prisoner, the Confederate officer refused to join them.*
I wonder about the young New York lieutenant. The other night I happened upon our cat devouring the skin and fat of a just killed chipmunk and was surprised to see the organs still in movement. What moving things did this young man see at Bull Run? Was he a shy boy having trouble fitting in? No. There was something of a leader in him to be made lieutenant. Did he run all the way home or just to his friends?
A Confederate officer stuck on a stubborn horse gave the New York lieutenant his life back. Like a fish released from a net there was no time for gratitude. The currents of war and blood and peace move men along with hardly a moment to consider a chance meeting at a crossroad.
Why did boys on both sides enlist? CIVIL WAR SOLDIERS Their Expectations and Experiences by REID MITCHELL presents the uplifting and awful traits that make us human. Mitchell shares the forgotten stories of individual men. Each one of them (unlike fish unable to escape mere instinct) left marks on others they encountered only briefly and never met again.
How did that New York lieutenant live and die? His fear, his youth, his innocence touched a Confederate soldier once. The man was never the same.
*A re-telling of one of the many poignant stories written about in Civil War Soldiers.
**Image courtesy CIVIL WAR TALK
A birdie with a yellow bill
Hopped upon my window sill,
Cocked his shining eye and said:
“Ain’t you ‘shamed, you sleepy-head!”
We now believe Chip is a girl . . . any ideas for a name? Somehow she’s discovered my second story bedroom window and talks to me each morning (impatiently begging for treats). In the evenings she hovers above my head as I feed the sheep (it’s kinda weird being stalked by a duck!).