a do-it-yourself MiSTing
The incidents of our story will here produce a pause.
David: We’ve just had one, thanks.
The fanciful part of our readers may cast it aside—
Hugh [1804 text]: May be ready to cast it aside.
Meredith: So we’ve got to intercept them, quick.
in chagrin and disappointment. “Such an event,” may they say, “we were not prepared to expect.—After so many, and such various trials of heart; after innumerable difficulties surmounted; almost invincible objects overcome, and insuperable barriers removed—after attending the hero and heroine of your tale through the diversified scenes of anxiety, suspense, hope, disappointment, expectation, joy, sorrow, anticipated bliss, sudden and disastrous woe—after elevating them to the threshold of happiness, by the premature death of one,
Linda: I don’t think he meant that the way it came out.
to plunge the other, instantaneously, in deep and irretrievable despair, must not, cannot be right.—Your story will hereafter become languid and spiritless; the subject will be uninteresting, the theme unengaging, since the genius—
Hugh [sulkily]: It was supposed to be geni.
Linda: The kind in a bottle?
David: This book would drive anyone to the bottle.
Meredith [sings]: I dream of Geni with the light brown . . .
Lucy: No, that’s Melissa. He said she has brown hair.
which animated and enlivened it is gone for ever.”
Reader of sensibility, stop.
Meredith: Oh, I’m sure they all have, long before they got to this point.
Are we not detailing facts?
David: That was a rhetorical question, wasn’t it.
Shall we gloss them over with false colouring? Shall we describe things as they are, or as they are not?
Linda: I vote “are not”. You’ll sell more copies.
Shall we draw with the pencil of nature, or of art? Do we indeed paint life as it is, or as it is not? Cast thine eyes, reader, over the ephemeral circle of passing and fortuitous events; view the change of contingencies; mark well the varied and shifting scenery in the great drama of time;—seriously contemplate nature in her operations;
David: So long as Nature’s operations are limited to sunsets and thunderstorms, we’re all set.
minutely examine the entrance, the action, and the exit of characters on the stage of existence—then say, if disappointment, distress, misery and calamitous woe, are not the inalienable portion of the susceptible bosom. Say, if the possession of refined feeling is enviable—the lot of Nature’s children covetable—whether to such, through life, the sprinklings of comfort are sufficient to give a zest to the bitter banquets of adversity—whether, indeed, sorrow, sighing, and tears, are not the inseparable attendants of all those whose hearts are the repositories of tender affections and pathetic sympathies.
But what says the moralist?—“Portray life as it is. Delude not the senses by deceptive appearances. Arouse your hero?
Linda: Are you asking us or telling us?
Hugh: It was fine when I set the type. Arouse your hero, full stop.
Call to his aid stern philosophy and sober reason. They will dissipate the rainbow-glories of unreal pleasure, and banish the glittering meteors of unsubstantial happiness. Or if these fail, lead him to the holy fane of religion: she will regulate the fires of fancy, and assuage the tempest of the passions: she will illuminate the dark wilderness, and smooth the thorny paths of life: she will point him to joys beyond the tomb—to another and a better world; and pour the balm of consolation and serenity over his wounded soul.”
Shall we indeed arouse Alonzo? Alas! to what paths of—
Hugh [1804 text]: To what pathos of. Honestly, sometimes I think you guys aren’t even reading the text.
David: Full points for observation.
grief and wretchedness shall we arouse him! To a world to him void and cheerless—
Alonzo revived. “Why am I,” he exclaimed, “recalled to this dungeon of torment?
Linda: I wonder that every time I sit down and open the book.
Why was not my spirit permitted to take its flight to regions where my guardian angel is gone?
Meredith: Because if the reader has to suffer, so do you, Al.
Why am I cursed with memory? O that I might be blessed with forgetfulness! But why do I talk of blessings?—Heaven never had one in store for me. Where are fled my anticipated joys? To the bosom, the dark bosom of the oblivious tomb! There lie all the graces worthy of love in life—all the virtues worthy of lamentation in death! There lies perfection; perfection has here been found. Was she not all that even Heaven could demand?—Fair, lovely, holy and virtuous.
Linda: Not much in the brains department, but you can’t have everything.
Her tender solicitudes, her enrapturing endearments, her soul-inspiring blandishments,—gone, gone for ever? That heavenly form, that discriminate mind—all lovely as light, all pure as a seraph’s—a prey to worms—mingled with incorporeal shadows, regardless of former inquietudes or delights, regardless of the keen anguish which now wrings tears of blood from—
Lucy: That isn’t blood, it’s just porph— Oh, sorry. Forgot where I was.
my despairing heart!
“Eternal Disposer of events! if virtue be thy special care, why is the fairest flower in the garden of innocence and purity blasted like a noxious weed? Why is the bright gem of excellence trampled in the dust like a worthless pebble?—Why is Melissa hurried to the tomb?”
Thus raved Alonzo. It was evident that delirium had partially seized his brain.
Meredith: So many possible comments, so little time . . .
He arose and flung himself on the bed in unspeakable agony. “And what, Alas!” he again exclaimed, “now remains for me? Existence and unparalleled misery. The consolation even of death is denied me. But Melissa! she—ah, where is she! Oh, reflection insupportable! insufferable consideration! Must that heavenly frame putrify, moulder, and crumble into dust? Must the loathsome spider nestle on her lily bosom? the odious reptile riot on her delicate limbs? the worm revel amid the roses of her cheek, fatten on her temples, and bask in the lustre of her eyes?
Linda: Well, yeah, it must. But that doesn’t mean you have to dwell on it with such loving detail.
Alas! the lustre has become dimmed in death; the rose and the lily are withered; the harmony of her voice has ceased; the graces, the elegancies of form, the innumerable delicacies of air, all are gone, and I am left in a state of misery which defies mitigation or comparison.”
Exhausted by excess of grief, he now lay in a stupifying anguish,
David: He’s repeating himself.
Lucy: No, that was Alida. She tacked this line onto the end of the Death Notices part.
until the servant summoned him to breakfast. He told the servant he was indisposed and requested he might not be disturbed. Mr. Wyllis and his lady came up, anxious to yield him any assistance in their power, and advised him to call a physician. He thanked them, but told them it was unnecessary; he only wanted rest. His extreme distress of mind brought on a relapse of fever, from which he had but imperfectly recovered. For several days he lay in a very dangerous and doubtful state. A physician was called, contrary to his choice or knowledge, as for the most part of the time his mind was delirious and sensation imperfect. This was, probably, the cause of baffling the disorder. He was in a measure insensible to his woes. He did not oppose the prescriptions of the physician.
Hugh: Being unconscious at the time.
The fever abated; nature triumphed over disease of body, and he slowly recovered, but the malady of his mind was not removed.
He contemplated on the past. “I fear,” said he, “I have murmured against the wisdom of Providence. Forgive, O merciful Creator! Forgive the frenzies of distraction!” He now recollected that Melissa once told him that she had an uncle who resided near Charleston in South Carolina;
Meredith: Footnote, See page 39. [Turning pages.] “. . . when Melissa had fixed the day, she mentioned that she had an uncle who lived near Charleston, in South Carolina, whose daughter was to pass the summer with Melissa, and was expected to arrive before the appointed day.”
Meredith: But the day never came, so Alonzo never got to meet the cousin.
David: Now, is this the same cousin that he saw in New London and almost mistook for Melissa, or is there another cousin—and do they all look alike?
Linda [singing]: They’re cousins, identical cousins.
thither he supposed she had been sent by her father, when she was removed from the old mansion, in order to prevent his having access to her, and with a view to compel her to marry Beauman. Her appearance had indicated a deep decline when he last saw her. “There,” said he, “far removed from friends and acquaintance, there did she languish, there did she die—a victim to excessive grief, and cruel parental persecution.”
Meredith: Or possibly tuberculosis, but grief and persecution sounds better.
As soon as he was able to leave his room, he walked out one evening, and in deep contemplation roved, he knew not where. The moon shone brilliantly from her lofty throne; the chill, heavy dews of autumn glittered on the decaying verdure. The cadeat* croaked hoarsely among the trees; the dircle* sung mournfully on the grass.
* Local names given to certain American insects, from their sound. They are well known in various parts of the United States; generally make their appearance about the latter end of August, and continue until destroyed by the frost. The notes of the first are hoarse, sprightly, and discordant; of the last, solemn and mournfully pleasing.
Hugh [as Isaac Mitchell]: Someone reach into the bin and grab me half a dozen adjectives.
Alonzo heard them not; he was insensible to all external objects, until he had imperceptibly wandered to the rock—
David: He has to sneak up on it quietly so it doesn’t turn around and sink its teeth into him.
on the point of the beach, verging the Sound, to which he had attended Melissa the first time he saw her at her cousin’s.*
* See page 8. See also allusions to this scene in several subsequent parts of the story.
Meredith: The author is deathly afraid that someone will say the earlier scene never happened and he’s just making it up retroactively.
Had the whole artillery of Heaven burst, in sheeted flame, from the skies—had raging winds mingled the roaring waves with the mountains—had an instantaneous earthquake burst beneath his feet, his frame would not have been so shocked, his soul so agitated!
Linda: The rock was gone!!!
Sudden as the blaze darts from the electric cloud was he aroused to a lively sense of blessings entombed! The memory of departed joys passed with rapidity over his imagination; his first meeting with Melissa; the evening he had attended her to that place; her frequent allusions to the scenery there displayed, when they had traversed the fields, or reclined in the bower on her favourite hill; in fine, all the vicissitudes through which they had passed, were recalled to his mind. His fancy saw her—felt her gently leaning on his arm, while he tremblingly pressed her hand.—Again he saw smiling health crimsoning the lilies of her cheek; again he saw the bright soul of sympathetic feelings sparkling in her eye; the air of ease; the graces of attitude; her brown locks circling the borders of her snowy robe.
David: She cut off her hair and used it to trim her dress?
Again was he enraptured by the melody of her voice.—Once more would he have been happy, had not fancy changed the scene. But, alas! she shifted the curtain. He saw Melissa stretched on the sable hearse, wrapped in the dreary vestments of the grave; the roses withered; the lilies faded; motionless; the graces fled; her eyes fixed, and sealed in the glaze of death!
Lucy: Today’s morticians use a specially designed contact lens to make sure the eyes don’t reopen.
Spontaneously he fell upon his knees, and thus poured forth the overcharged burden of his anguished bosom.
“Infinite Ruler of all events! Great Sovereign of this ever changing world! Omnipotent Controler of vicissitudes! Omniscient dipenser of destinies!
Hugh: Omniscient what?
David [1851 text]: Oh, oops. Omniscient dispenser. He misspelled “Controller” too. Obviously losing his grip.
Linda: Same here, but it didn’t seem worth mentioning.
The beginning, the progression, the end is thine. Unsearchable are thy purposes! mysterious thy movements! inscrutable thy operations! An atom of thy creation, wildered in the mazes of ignorance and woe, would bow to thy decrees. Surrounded with impenetrable gloom, unable to scrutinize the past, incompetent to explore the future—fain would he say, THY WILL BE DONE! And Oh, that it might be consistent with that HIGH WILL to call this atom from a dungeon of wretchedness, to worlds of light and glory, where his only CONSOLATION is gone.”
Meredith [as God]: Shut up, Alonzo.
Thus prayed the heart-broken Alonzo. It was indeed a worldly prayer; but perhaps as pure and as acceptable as many of our modern professors would have made on a similar occasion. He arose and repaired to his lodgings. One determination only he had now fallen upon—to bury himself—
Lucy: We hear about people being buried alive, but Alonzo is the first to consider its possibilities as a means of suicide.
and his griefs from all with whom he had formerly been acquainted. Why should he return to the scenes of his former bliss and anxiety, where every door would be—
David: You left out a line. It’s “where every countenance would tend to renew his mourning; where every door” et cetera.
Linda: You ought to know by now that starting two consecutive phrases with the same words is asking for trouble.
Hugh [as Mitchell, stiffly]: I am sorry that I neglected to give adequate consideration to the needs of literary pirates.
inscribed with a memento mori, and where every object would he shrouded—
Meredith: “. . . he shrouded”?
David: ’Fraid so.
Hugh, Meredith and Linda [in unison]: Another jeebie! Now you’ve got a matched set.
Meredith [reaching for eraser]: Must . . . resist . . . temptation . . . to remove “e”.
He therefore turned his attention to the army; but the army was far distant, and he was too feeble to prosecute a journey of such an extent.
There were at that time preparations for fitting out a convoy, at private expense, from various parts of the United States, for the protection of our European trade; they were to rendezvous at a certain station, and thence proceed with the merchantmen under their care to the ports of France and Holland, where our trade principally centered, and return as convoy to some other mercantile fleet.
One of these ships of war was then nearly fitted out at New London. Alonzo offered himself to the captain, who, pleased with his appearance, gave him the station of commander of marines.
Linda [as recruiting officer]: Too feeble for the Army? Don’t you worry, my boy— the Marines will be happy to have you.
Alonzo prepared himself with all speed for the voyage. He sought, he wished no acquaintance. His only place of resort, except to his lodgings and the ship, was to Melissa’s favourite rock: there he bowed as to the shrine of her spirit, and there he consecrated his devotions.
David: The financial collapse was only a smokescreen. The real problem is that Melissa’s father had serious doubts about Alonzo’s religious orthodoxy.
As he was one day passing through the town, a gentleman stepped out of an adjoining house and accosted him. Alonzo immediately recognized him to be the cousin of Melissa, at whose house he had first seen her. He was dressed in full mourning, which was a sufficient indication that he was apprised of her death.
Meredith: Apprised of someone’s death, anyway. We’ve already been told that Alonzo is completely out of touch with the folks back home.
He invited Alonzo to his house, and he could not complaisantly refuse the invitation. He therefore accepted it, and passed an hour with him, from whom he learnt that Melissa had been sent to her uncle’s at Charleston, for the recovery of her health, where she died.
Linda: Thanks to his congenital memory problem, Alonzo has forgotten that this is exactly what the newspaper said.
Hugh: Newspaper editors work on the premise that nobody remembers what they read in the previous issue, let alone several weeks back.
“Her premature death,” said her cousin, “has borne so heavily upon her aged father, that it is feared he will not long survive.”—“Well may it wring his bosom,” thought Alonzo;—“his conscience can never be at peace.” Whether Melissa’s cousin had been informed of the particulars of Alonzo’s unfortunate attachment, was not known, as he instituted no conversation on the subject. Neither did he—
David and Lucy [in unison]: Whoops! “Oeither did he . . .”
Lucy: At least you’ve got an excuse. The bins for capital letters are in alphabetical order and the typesetter was in a hurry. My only excuse is that the editor of the reprint was an idiot.
enquire into Alonzo’s prospects; he only invited him to call again. Alonzo thanked him, but replied it would be doubtful, as he should shortly leave town. He made no one acquainted with his intentions.
Linda: It seemed best to keep a low profile, in case the colonists ended up losing the war.
The day at length arrived when the ship was to sail, and Alonzo to leave the shores of America. They spread their canvas to propitious gales; the breezes rushed from their woody coverts,
Hugh: The breezes rustled.
Meredith: Normally I’d back you up, but I like the picture of breezes racing out to get the ship underway.
and majestically wafted them from the harbour.
Linda: The breeze stops, catches its breath, and sends the ship on its way with a regal gesture.
Slowly the land receded; fields, forests, hills, mountains, towns and villages leisurely withdrew, until they were mingled in one common mass. The ocean opening, expanded and widened, presenting to the astonished eyes of the untried mariner its wilderness of waters.
Hugh: The wilderness of its waters.
Near sunset, Alonzo ascended the mast
Linda [as captain]: Will someone get that idiot down from the crow’s nest before he falls and makes a mess of the rigging.
to take a last view of a country once so dear, but whose charms were now lost forever. The land still appeared like a semicircular border of dark green velvet on the edge of a convex mirror.
David: This is some sort of fortune-telling device he’s describing?
The sun sunk in fleecy golden vapors behind it. It now dwindled to discoloured and irregular spots,
Meredith: Someone should have told the author not to look directly at the sun.
which appeared like objects floating, amidst the blue mists of distance, on the verge of the main, and immediately all was lost beneath the spherical, watery surface.
David: Alonzo discovers that the earth is round.
Linda: Either that, or the ship just sank without a trace.
Alonzo had fixed his eyes, as near as his judgment could direct, towards Melissa’s favourite rock, till nothing but sea was discoverable. With a heart-parting sigh he then descended. They had now launched into the illimitable world of billows, and the sable wings of night brooded over the boundless deep.
Alonzo had understood from
Melissa, that John’s hut . . .
A new scene was now
opened to Alonzo . . .