Fragments from a Writing Desk No. 1
FRAGMENTS FROM A WRITING DESK
MY DEAR M—-, I can imagine you seated on that dear, delightful, old-fashioned sofa; your head supported by its luxurious padding, and with feet perched aloft on the aspiring back of that straight limbed, stiff-necked, quaint old chair, which, as our facetious W—- assured me, was the identical seat in which old Burton composed his Anatomy of Melancholy. I see you reluctantly raise your optics from the huge-clasped quarto which encumbers your lap, to receive the package which the servant hands you, and can almost imagine that I see those beloved features illumined for a moment with an expression of joy, as you read the superscription of your gentle protégé. Lay down I beseech you that odious black-lettered volume and let not its musty and withered leaves sully the virgin purity and whiteness of the sheet which is the vehicle of so much good sense, sterling thought, and chaste and elegant sentiment.
You remember how you used to rate me for my hang-dog modesty, my mauvaise honte, as my Lord Chesterfield would style it. Well! I have determined that hereafter you shall not have occasion to inflict upon me those flattering appellations of “Fool!” “Dolt!” “Sheep!” which in your indignation you used to shower upon me, with a vigour and a facility which excited my wonder, while it provoked my resentment.
And how do you imagine that I rid myself of this annoying hindrance? Why, truly, by coming to the conclusion that in this pretty corpus of mine was lodged every manly grace; that my limbs were modelled in the symmetry of the Phidian Jupiter; my countenance radiant with the beams of wit and intelligence, the envy of the beaux, the idol of the
women and the admiration of the tailor. And then my mind! why, sir, I have discovered it to be endowed with the most rare and extraordinary powers, stored with universal knowledge, and embellished with every polite accomplishment.
Pollux! what a comfortable thing is a good opinion of one’s self when I walk the Broadway of our village with a certain air, that puts me down at once in the estimation of any intelligent stranger who may chance to meet me, as a distingué of the purest water, a blade of the true temper, a blood of the first quality! Lord! how I despise the little sneaking vermin who dodge along the street as though they were so many footmen or errand boys; who have never learned to carry the head erect in conscious importance, but hang that noblest of the human members as though it had been boxed by some virago of an Amazon; who shuffle along the walk with a quick uneasy step, a hasty clownish motion, which by the magnitude of the contrast, set off to advantage my own slow and magisterial gait, which I can at pleasure vary to an easy, abandoned sort of carriage, or to the more engaging alert and lively walk, to suit the varieties of time, occasion, and company.
And in society, too—how often have I commiserated the poor wretches who stood aloof, in a corner, like a flock of scared sheep; while myself, beautiful as Apollo, dressed in a style which would extort admiration from a Brummel, and belted round with self-esteem as with a girdle, sallied up to the ladies—complimenting one, exchanging a repartee with another; tapping this one under the chin, and clasping this one round the waist; and finally, winding up the operation by kissing round the whole circle to the great edification of the fair, and to the unbounded horror, amazement and ill-suppressed chagrin of the aforesaid sheepish multitude; who with eyes wide open and mouths distended, afforded good subjects on whom to exercise my polished wit, which like the glittering edge of a Damascus sabre “dazzled all it shone upon.”
And then, when the folding doors are thrown open, as the lacquey announces supper to be ready, how often have I stepped forward and with a profound obeisance to the ladies, vowing by the bow of Cupid, and appealing to Venus for my sincerity, when I wished I had an hundred arms at their service, escorted them right gallantly and merrily to the banquet; while those poor bashful creatures, like a drove of dumb cattle, strayed into the apartment, stumbling, blushing, stammering and alone.
Verily! by my elegant accomplishments and superior parts; by my graceful address, and above all by my easy self-possession, I have unwittingly provoked to an irreconcilable degree, the resentment of half a score of these village beaux; whom, although I had rather have their esteem, I value too little to dread their malice.
By my halidome ! sir, This same village of Lansingburgh contains within its pretty limits as fair a set of blushing damsels as one would wish to look upon on a dreamy summer day!–When I traverse the broad pavements of my own metropolis, my eyes are arrested by beautiful forms flitting hither and thither; and I pause to admire the elegance of their attire, the taste displayed in their embellishments; the rich mass of the material; and sometimes, it may be, at the loveliness of the features, which no art can heighten and no negligence conceal.
But here, sir, here–where woman seems to have erected her throne, and established her empire; here, where all feel and acknowledge her sway, she blooms in unborrowed charms; and the eye undazzled by the profusion of extraneous ornament, settles at once upon the loveliest faces which our clayey natures can assume. The poet has sung:
“When first the Rhodian’s mimic art arrayed
The queen of Beauty in her Cyprian shade,
he happy master mingled on his piece
Each look that charm’d him in the fair of Greece.
To faultless nature true, he stole a grace
From every finer form and sweeter face;
And as he sojourned on the Aegean isles.
Woo’d all their love, and treasured all their smiles;
Then glowed the tints, pure, precious, and refined,
And mortal charms seemed heavenly when combined.”
Now, had this same Appeles flourished in our own enlightened day, and more particularly, had he taken up his domicile in this goodly village, I could with ease have presented him with many a Hebe, in whom were united all the requisite graces which make up the beau idieal of female loveliness. Nor, my dear M., does there reign in all this bright display, that same monotony of feature, form, complexion, which elsewhere is beheld; no, here are all varieties, all the orders of Beauty’s architecture; the Doric, the Ionic, the Corinthian, all are here.
I have in “my mind’s eye, Horatio,” three (the number of the Graces, you remember) who may stand, each at the head of their respective orders. The one, were she arrayed in sylvian garb, and did she in her hand carry her bow, might with equal justice and propriety stand the picture of Diana herself. Her figure is bold, her stature erect and tall, her presence queenly and commanding, and her complexion is clear and fair as the face of Heaven on a May day, through which sparkles an eye of that indefinable hue, which is beyond comparison the most striking that can garnish the human countenance. The vermillion in her cheeks perpetually wears that rudy healthful tint, which one is accustomed to behold illumine, but for a moment alas! the face of a city belle when she takes her annual ramble in the country, to revel for a period in the retreats of rustic life.
If to these qualities you superadd, that majesty of carriage, and dignity of mien, which we would fancy the royal mistress of Antony to have possessed; together together with that heroic and Grecian cast of countenance which the imagination unconsciously ascribes to the Jewess, Rebecca, when resisting the vile arts of the Templar,—you have in my poor opinion the portraiture of ————.
When I venture to describe the second of this beautiful trinity, I feel my powers of delineation inadequate to the task; but nevertheless I will try my hand at the matter, although like an unskilful limner, I am fearful I shall but scandalise the charms I endeavour to copy.
Come to my aid, ye guardian spirits of the Fair! Guide my awkward hand, and preserve from mutilation the features ye hover over and protect! Pour down whole floods of sparkling champagne, my dear M—-, until your brain grows giddy with emotion; con over the latter portion of the first Canto of Childe Harold, and ransack your intellectual repository for the loveliest visions of the Fairy Land, and you will be in a measure prepared to relish the epicurean banquet I shall spread.
The stature of this beautiful mortal (if she be indeed of earth) is of that perfect height which, while it is freed from the charge of being low, cannot with propriety be denominated tall. Her figure is slender almost to fragility but strikingly modelled in spiritual elegance, and is the only form I ever saw which could bear the trial of a rigid criticism.
Every man who is gifted with the least particle of imagination, must in some of his reveries have conjured up from the realms of fancy, a being bright and beautiful beyond everything he had ever before apprehended, whose main and distinguishing attribute invariably proves to be a form the indescribable loveliness of which seems to
“–Sail in liquid light,
And float on seas of bliss.”
The realisation of these seraphic visions is seldom permitted us; but I can truly say that when my eyes for the first time fell upon this lovely creature, I thought myself transported to the land of Dreams, where lay embodied, the most brilliant conceptions of the wildest fancy. Indeed, could the Promethean spark throw life and animation into the Venus de Medici, it would but present the counterpart of —-.
Her complexion has the delicate tinge of the Brunett, with a little of the roseate hue of the Circassian; and one would swear that none but the sunny skies of Spain had shone upon the infancy of the being, who looks so like her own “dark-glancing daughters.”
The outline of her head, together with the profile of her countenance are sketched in classick purity, and while the one indicates refined and elegant sentiment; the other is not more chaste and regular than the mind which beams from every feature of the face. Her hair is black as the wing of raven, and is parted a la’ Madona over a forehead where sits, girt round with her sister graces the very genius of poetic beauty, hope and love.
And then her eyes! they open their dark, rich orbs upon you like the full moon of heaven, and blaze into your very soul the fires of day! Like the offerings laid upon the sacrificial altars of the Hebrew, when in an instant the divine spark falling from the propitiated God kindled them in flames; so, a single glance from that Oriental eye as quickly fires your soul, and leaves your bosom in a perfect conflagration! Odds Cupids and Darts! with one broad sweep of vision in a crowded ball-room, that splendid creature would lay around her like the two-handed sword of Minotti, hearts on hearts, piled round in semi-circles! But it is well for the more rugged sex that this glorious being can vary her proud dominion, and give to the expression of her eye a melting tenderness which dissolves the most frigid heart and heals the wounds she gave before.
If the devout and exemplary Mussulman who dying fast in the faith of his Prophet anticipates reclining on beds of roses, gloriously drunk through all the ages of eternity, is to be waited on by Houris such as these: waft me ye gentle gales beyond this lower world and
“Lap me in soft Lydian airs!”
But I am falling into I know not what extravagances, so I will briefly give you a portrait of the last of these three divinities, and will then terminate my tiresome lucubrations.
This last is a Lilliputian beauty; diminutive in stature, fair haired, and with a foot for which Cinderella’s slipper would be too large; a countenance weet and interesting and in her manners eminently refined and engaging. The cast of her physiognomy is singularly mild and amiable, and her whole person is replete with every feminine grace. Her eyes,
“Effuse the mildness of their azure beam;” and to her, above all her sex, are applicable the lines of our gentle Coleridge:
“Maid of my Love, sweet ——————
In beauty’s light you glide along :
Your eye is like the star of eve,
And sweet your voice as seraph’s song.
Yet not your heavenly beauty gives
This heart with passion soft to glow :
Within your soul a voice there lives !
It bids you hear the tale of woe.
When sinking low the sufferer wan
Beholds no hand outstretched to save,
Fair as the bosom of the swan
That rises graceful o’er the wave,
I’ve seen your breast with pity heave,
And therefore love I you, sweet ———————— ”
Here, my dear M—-, closes this catalogue of the Graces, this chapter of Beauties, and I should implore your pardon for trespassing so long on your attention. If you, yourself, in whose breast may possibly be extinguished the amatory flame, should not feel an interest in these three “counterfeit presentments,” do not fail to show them to —- and solicit her opinion as to their respective merits.
Tender my best acknowledgments to the Major for his prompt attention to my request, and, for yourself, accept the assurance of my undiminished regard; and hoping that the smiles of heaven may continue to illumine your way,
I remain, ever yours,
L. A. V.
Democratic Press and Lansingburgh Advertiser. May 4, 1839: 1.