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POWER OF FICTION.
where some one spoke favorably of “moral fictions.” The person who did so was a stranger to the Deacon, and knew nothing of his family history.
“ Moral falsehood, you had better say," was half-rudely uttered by the Deacon.
No,” said the person to whom this was addressed, “moral fictions; or rather, imaginary histories, in which we see, as it were, the hidden impulses of the heart imbodied in living action; and thence are able more truly to understand and sympathize with our fellow-men.”
“Sheer nonsense !" replied the Deacon. “No wire-drawn apologies like that will do. They cannot make a lie the truth. It is lying, sir, lying ! and you can make nothing else out of it."
“ What is a lie ?" was asked.
“ Then, a fictitious history, written with intelligent skill, and a regard to just principles, is not a lie, for it is a true picture of human nature, and seeks not to deceive any one. The end in view is to do good, and the means employed injure no one, nor violate a single law in the Decalogue.”
“ Is not lying a violation of the Decalogue ?” said the Deacon.
“ In what commandment is it forbidden ?"
“ Thou shall not bear false wilness against thy neighbor."
" Very well. Now, I wish to illustrate a moral truth, and bring it directly home to the minds of the people. I know that principles only have power when they influence our actions; and that when seen in their ultimate effects, their quality is more fully understood. But I have no pertinent example to hold up to the people; or, if I have, the doing so, by drag. ging forth persons, or families, and directing toward them the public eye, would result in far more harm than good. I, therefore, imagine a series of acts, from causes in the mind, introducing actors, of course, and carrying them on through a variety of scenes, all legitimately resulting from the principles that govern them. Now, if, in doing this, I am careful to show the difference between good and evil, and as carefully refrain from presenting vice in any attractive form, but rather make it repulsive as it really is, am I guilty of bearing false witness against my neighbor ? Am I guilty of a moral
what is not true ; and you can't make anything else out of it, argue as you will,” replied Deacon Prescott, dogmatically.
“Pardon me for disagreeing with you,” said the person. “If I have presented false views of life ; if I have made my story unnatural and improbable, and given it, at the same time, a power to mislead the mind and deceive it in regard to the legitimate tendency of either true or false principles, then I have been guilty of uttering what is untrue; but not otherwise. There is no attempt to deceive on my part. No one doubts that my history of a life, or my representation of a passage in life, is a composed history, and not a literal detail of what has actually taken place.”
“ Very ingenious, but mere sophistry," returned the Deacon. “And as to the good these things do, I always had my doubts on that head; while the harm stares us in the face at every turn. Reading of this kind enervates the mind, and makes it unfit for sober reflection, or active duties."
“ To that I will by no means assent, as a general principle,” was answered to this declaration. “A bad novel or tale will do more harm in the world than a bad book of philosophy; and, on the other hand, a good novel or tale will accomplish more good than a grave, moral disquisition, I care not how true may be its teachings.”
“ Preposterous! Such a position is an insult to the human reason,” said Deacon Prescott.
“Oh, no. Not by any means. The moral essay is a cold enunciation of truths, but the fictitious history not only declares the same principles, but shows us their power in action. It takes hold of our sympathies—it makes our understandings clear by warming our affections."
“Precious few such histories are there !" said the Deacon.
“I think I have something," said the stranger, resuming, “that will illustrate what I have said. I met with a touching little story to-day, and as I, fortunately, have it with me, I will, with the permission of the company, read it. It will take but a very few minutes."
All asked for the story but the Deacon, and he did not object to its being read. The story was brief, but earnest. Singularly enough, for the individual who read it knew nothing, as we have already intimated, of the family affairs of Deacon Prescott, it was the history of a pa
“ You are guilty of having given utterance to
THE POWER OF FICTION.
rent's estrangement from his child, in consequence of her marrying in direct opposition to his wishes. The struggles in the father's mind between pride and affection, between the stern reasonings with which he sustained himself, and the tender appeals that his heart made for his child, were finely portrayed ; and the Deacon was startled at the picture of himself so suddenly and unexpectedly conjured up before him. He sat and listened with the most intense interest. To him it was no fiction, but a veritable history, for he recognized its truth in every line.
From a description of the father's unbending spirit, the writer next turned to the loving child he had thrown from him with so rude a hand that she had fallen to the earth. He opened the door of her heart, and showed the father's image still there. He pictured her as she really was, true to her husband, yet sad for the loss of a parent's love, and yearning to lie again upon the bosom where her head had rested in confiding love since the early dawn of childhood. He took the reader into the chamber where she sat alone, blotting with tears the paper upon which she was writing an earnest appeal to her father to be taken back into his affections; and then he showed him the unrelenting and unforgiving old man, as he spurned the tear-stained missive, and sent it back unopened.
But the writer's end in composing this history, was to fill the heart with the blessed spirit of forgiveness, and in the conclusion of his story, he introduced a fitting combination of circumstances to produce the effect desired—that is, a reconciliation of the father and daughter.
Now," said the individual who had read the finely told story, addressing Deacon Prescott, “ do you not see that a picture like this would have double the power over the heart of a father, who stood in such a relation to his child, than any appeals to his reason that cold didactics could make ? Do you not-"
The speaker suddenly became silent, and looked wonderingly at the individual he was addressing. The picture had come home Deacon Prescott with a power that he could
not withstand. Fiction had done what reason had failed to accomplish-it had softened his heart toward his child, and set free the long pent-up streams of affection. He started up quickly, and to hide the emotion he felt, hurried away from the company, most of whom understood what was passing in his mind.
Mary, or rather, Mrs. Baldwin, was sitting alone, with a sleeping babe on her lap, her thoughts tracing in the delicate features of her babe's face a likeness to her father, when there came a tap at the door.
Come in.” The door opened, and a form, the last expected, came in hurriedly.
“ Father !" she exclaimed.
“ Mary! my child !" was responded in a quivering voice.
A moment more, and the father and child were in each other's arms.
Since that happy hour, the old man has less to say against works of fiction. He is not their advocate, for old prejudices are still strong, and old habits of thinking confirmed. The fact of their not being true is the stumbling-block with him. He cannot clearly discriminate between writing a story and telling a lie. “ They are not true,” is the mental position he takes. And yet they are true, in the sense that the image in a mirror is true—they are true reflections of what occur in real life. Deacon Prescott saw and knew himself in a story, and, perceiving what manner of man he was, put off the evil that had so long clung to him, and made both himself and others unhappy for years. Hundreds and thousands in this world are benefited in like manner. There is no calculating the amount of good that a well-wrought fiction, based upon true principles, may effect in the world.
Those who, from a narrow prejudice, would blot this form of writing from the page of literature, are about as wise as a man would be if he dashed a mirror to pieces because it merely reflected what was around it, instead of containing the real things within itself that it pictured to the eye.
It was a terrible blow, which fell upon Marion Lee, on the third anniversary of her marriage. It was also the second anniversary of the birthday of her boy, who was born just one year after her marriage. But I must introduce her formally to my readers, and for this purpose let me take them to her father's house. Will you let me choose the time? Then let it be in May, one month before she was married.
The house is a large, antique-looking building, near the centre of the village of few miles out of New York. Ample grounds surround it, and a fine green lawn spreads out before the door. In many places large forest trees stand in thick clumps, planted by the hand of man to be sure, years before, yet not in symmetrical rows, but as near like nature as they could be scattered. Here and there a bunch of evergreens cluster together with their sombre shadow, and two or three ancient pines whistle their doleful music in the gentle wind. Old ivy has crept up one end of the house, and covered it completely, and around and over the old-fashioned portico is a dense and tangled growth of climbing plants that almost inclose it. The lawn is sprinkled here and there with flower beds cut into the neat and close shaven sod. Over all the place there is an air of age, and a display of taste and luxury. The present possessor is the third in the line from the original owner, and he would not alter its appearance on any account. Let us enter the house. This is the sitting
I take it, reader, you are something of a clairvoyant, and can see as I do. That stern and haughty looking man of about fifty years, is Mr. Anderson-James Anderson-an incorruptible republican by profession, but at heart as sturdy and uncompromising a despot as ever breathed. His very look, his eye, his position, every movement speaks an indomitable pride, and speaks the truth. He is proud of his an
cestry—a thing in his case worth being proud of, if it is in any; of his rich old grandfather, who built these old walls, and left exhaustless riches to his descendants; of his father, who had done deeds to make his descendants glory in his memory; and he is proud of his wealth
haughty old arisiocrat, seeking to disguise his true heart under the title of a republican. But in this he is honest. He thinks he is one, though he would willingly crush with his heel any man in the village who aspires to be his equal. See—his stern dark eye is fixed upon us as we enter the door, as if he would drive us back. Shall we venture in ?
Certainly we will. We are republicans too, and have sterling blood running in our veins-} blood that came down to us from the Pilgrims, who faced sterner frowns than man's. Who has better? Besides, I promised to introduce you to Marion. She rises to welcome us. She has her mother's look—the same mild blue eye and auburn hair—the same graceful form and the same gentle heart. Her mother has been dead for some years, but she lived long enough to leave, when she died, a holy influence on the mind of her daughter. Did I say her heart was her mother's ? So it is, but there is in it a strength of determination and firmness of purpose that came from the father's side ; and though she is gentle, and affectionate, and kind, yet to follow the dictates of her trustful woman's love, she is ready this moment to sacrifice father, home, wealth, all, to be the wife of Harry Lee. Her father fears this, and hates him with all his heart, and rather than see Marion his wife, he would see her in her grave. Sweet Marion ! I love her as a sister in spite of her stern old father and his aristocratic pride. Now let us go.
“ Marion,” said her father.
She calmly turned her face towards him, as she laid her work in her lap to listen to him.
“ Marion, do you still continue to receive this Harry Lee with favor ?” “ Father, you know"
Nay, answer me. Would you stoop so low as to marry this beggar ?"
“ He is no beggar, father,” she said firmly; and he saw his own spirit rising in his daugh
“ Yet would I have you give your sanction to what is for my happiness.”
Never, never. Sooner would I see you dead, than disgracing your family by such an alliance."
They were unfortunate words to speak to a girl with Marion's spirit, and Marion's love, and most unfortunate just at that time, for they were hardly spoken before the subject of them entered. He was met at his entrance by a torrent of wrath. Marion interposed, but all in vain. The young man was driven from the house with curses.
He was no beggar. A few years before, his father had been a man of immense wealth, and a friend of Mr. Anderson's. It was under such circumstances that their children first knew each other, and had affairs continued to stand as then, there would have been no hindrance in the way of their union. Indeed, the highest wish of the proud man would have been gratified. But by a series of misfortunes, Mr. Lee saw a large part of his wealth swept away, and under the accumulating sorrow consequent upon it, he sunk and died. The remaining property divided amongst the children made but a small portion for each. Harry had already commenced business as a lawyer, and in a distant part of the State, stimulated by his reduced circumstances, was pressing on to eminence. A strong love, in the mean time, had grown up in his heart for Marion, and he knew that she returned it. But with her father there was a great difference between Harry Lee the son of a rich man, and Harry Lee the poor lawyer, a distinction which resulted as we have already seen.
Marion did not weep. She returned to her seat, and calmly resumed her work. That night, when she retired to her room, a letter lay on the floor. She opened it and read:
“ To-night, Marion dearest, at 12 o'clock, meet me at this window. Then if you will be mine-if you are still the same I have ever known you—I shall be ready. If you know the depth of love that burns in my heart, you will not hesitate. Yet why do I say so? Consider all-count the whole cost-wealth in your
father's house, or boundless and faithful love in mine, and then decide. I will be there.”
She did not hesitate. She count the cost ! Had she not counted it over and over, and long ago made up her mind to be his wife, come what would ? It required but a few minutes to make all the preparation she required, and then she sat down by the open window to wait the hour. Her heart did not even beat out of its natural course. She was calm and resolute. True to the time, he was there, and in one moment she stood by his side. The next morning, the happy wife of Harry Lee, she was with him on their way to her new home.
Disappointed affection, the betrayed confidence of kind and affectionate parents, may break the heart. But the disappointed pride of such a father as Mr. Anderson sustains its own defeat; and when that same morning it was announced to him that Marion was not in her room and had not probably been there through the night, he understood at once all that had taken place, and though a torrent of fury rolled in his heart, and almost rose to his lip, he subdued it, and sat down to his solitary breakfast as if nothing had happened. And from that time, for years, the name of Marion was never on his tongue. Yet can I not believe, that, proud, and stern, and unforgiving as he was, that name was not often-always—in his heart, and dearer than it had ever been before ; for pride cannot quell the voice of conscience, and he knew he had done wrong. A month after she went away, she wrote to him, and told him she was happy, though sorry she had to find happiness in filial disobedience; and a long time after, that letter was seen worn and faded, as if it had been read over and over. But he made no reply to it. Yet let us believe, that had he ever known that she was suffering from want or the treachery of him she had trusted, he would have called her hastily back to his house and his heart. I do believe it, though he never had reason for doing so.
I would not seem to be the apologist of clandestine marriages, for I believe they generally turn out badly. But it was not so in this case. Marion was happy in her new and comparatively humble home-far happier than she had been in her father's house, for now she was united to the man she loved, and all his care was to make her so. He was respected in the place where they lived, and she found herself received with great joy and kindness by his