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Oldport Days Thomas Wentworth Higginson

An Artist's Creation

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As we were once thus employed in the studio, I asked Kenmure, abruptly, if he never shrank from the publicity he was thus giving Laura. "Madame Recamier was not quite pleased," I said, "that Canova had modelled her bust, even from imagination. Do you never shrink from permitting irreverent eyes to look on Laura's beauty? Think of men as you know them. Would you give each of them her miniature, perhaps to go with them into scenes of riot and shame?"

"Would to Heaven I could!" said he, passionately. "What else could save them, if that did not? God lets his sun shine on the evil and on the good, but the evil need it most."

There was a pause; and then I ventured to ask him a question that had been many times upon my lips unspoken.

"Does it never occur to you," I said, "that Laura cannot live on earth forever?"

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"You cannot disturb me about that," he answered, not sadly, but with a set, stern look, as if fencing for the hundredth time against an antagonist who was foredoomed to be his master in the end. "Laura will outlive me; she must outlive me. I am so sure of it that, every time I come near her, I pray that I may not be paralyzed, and die outside her arms. Yet, in any event, what can I do but what I am doing,--devote my whole soul to the perpetuation of her beauty? It is my only dream,--to re-create her through art. What else is worth doing? It is for this I have tried-through sculpture, through painting, through verse--to depict her as she is. Thus far I have failed. Why have I failed? Is it because I have not lived a life sufficiently absorbed in her? or is it that there is no permitted way by which, after God has reclaimed her, the tradition of her perfect loveliness may be retained on earth?"

The blinds of the piazza doorway opened, the sweet sea-air came in, the low and level rays of yellow sunset entered as softly as if the breeze were their chariot; and softer and stiller and sweeter than light or air, little Marian stood on the threshold. She had been in the fields with Janet, who had woven for her breeze-blown hair a wreath of the wild gerardia blossoms, whose purple beauty had reminded the good Scotchwoman of her own native heather. In her arms the child bore, like a little gleaner, a great sheaf of graceful golden-rod, as large as her grasp could bear. In all the artist's visions he had seen nothing so aerial, so lovely; in all his passionate portraitures of his idol, he had delineated nothing so like to her. Marian's cheeks mantled with rich and wine-like tints, her hair took a halo from the sunbeams, her lips parted over the little, milk-white teeth; she looked at us with her mother's eyes. I turned to Kenmure to see if he could resist the influence.

He scarcely gave her a glance. "Go, Marian," he said, not impatiently,--for he was too thoroughly courteous ever to be ungracious, even to a child,--but with a steady indifference that cut me with more pain than if he had struck her.

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Oldport Days
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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