The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Elizabeth Bogart/Arthur Mowbray

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It was years after that period, that Arthur Mowbray came to my father’s house, a travelled and polished gentleman. The rusticity of country manners was entirely obliterated. Not a word or action betrayed his early habits, and those who knew him not would never have suspected his humble parentage. The grace and ease of his behaviour made an impression on my childish fancy; and though then incapable of judging of character or talent, I listened to his fluent and fascinating conversation with wonder and delight. He was indeed a young man of most astonishing powers. His Proteus mind assumed a thousand different shapes, from its inexhaustible store of knowledge, observation, and uncommon originality. The current of his ideas never ceased to flow for an instant; and what was more remarkable, they passed over nothing in their course without adding a new touch of brilliancy, beauty, or vigour. No subject escaped his attention, nor was beyond his mastery. His giant intellect grasped the whole range of literature and science, and held them as nothing in its strength: and while others were seeking with weary labour their hidden treasures, he drew forth the pearls from their unfathomed depths, and cast them around him with an unsparing hand. His face and figure were eminently handsome; but the expression of his eyes I have never forgotten. It was wily, dark, and unstable. His sudden glance was like the lightning flash, which carries with it an involuntary thrill of fear. It told that the heart was not right. The seeds of vice had fallen promiscuously on its prolific soil, and choked, in their wild luxuriance, the early growth of virtue. * * * * *

[This character is justified by his after-course in life. He is convicted of forgery, and sentenced to the State Prison, from which “durance vile” he is released after three years, by a pardon from the Governor.] It was a bright and beautiful morning, when the bars were removed, and the bolts withdrawn from his prison doors; and he came forth from the gloomy and frowning edifice, a solitary being in the midst of a gay and populous city. The clear heavens, and the bright earth, and the varied objects which met his eager gaze, yielded him no thought of pleasure;

“For bitter shame had spoiled the sweet world’s taste.”

He knew that he could have no communion with those whom he had once known: and as he wandered on among the multitude of busy and happy faces, he experienced a feeling of hatred to mankind, mingled with a sense of desolation more withering to his heart than even the dreary and hopeless solitude of his prison cell. In the bitterness of his soul he cursed himself and his destiny. True, he was again free to walk the earth, and look upon his fellow-men; but Cain-like, he was cast out as a fugitive and vagabond from among them. The mark of disgrace was set upon him. The stain of guilt and ignominy could never more be wiped from his name; and he saw himself cut off from that part of society which nature and education had fitted him to enjoy. His former visions of greatness could return to him no more; and with the terrible consciousness of his irretrievable fall, his heart became hardened, and his conscience callous to the stings of reproach.

[He was subsequently convicted of a similar crime in another State, and fated to die at last in a prison. A fragment of his history is given, as having been written by himself in his cell, in which he says,] “I know no dates for time. The days, and weeks, and months, are all alike to me. There is but one thought in my bosom continually, from the rising to the setting of the sun; and it gnaws with ceaseless and corroding power on my heart. The tormenting thought that I am always in one place—that I cannot move beyond a certain limit, and that here I must remain until death closes my disgraceful career. My glass is nearly run, and I rejoice at it; although I ought now to have been in the very prime of manhood: but my constitution has given way to the midnight revel, and the unnatural excitement of the gaming table. The inebriating bottle has mingled its deadly poison in my blood; gray hairs have scattered an untimely frost upon my head; and the life of man already appears to me like a little speck in the ocean of eternity. Eternity! No—there is no eternity! I believe it not! I am a renegade from the faith of my fathers! I have laughed at all religion, and derided the idle terrors of a hell, as the mere bugbear of canting hypocrites. Why, then, did I speak of eternity? We die, are laid in the grave, and are as if we had never been . . . . . .Even now, my brain is on fire. Reason totters. Philosophy trembles—and I sink—am lost.” * * *