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The Sphinx's Children

The Sphinx's Children and Other People (New York: Tickner, 1886)

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relentless, cruel as jealousy; an anomalous woman, were she not a stone-born child of the Sphinx! Or a great General, before whose iron will horse and horseman quailed and fled, like dry stubble before flame; who wielded the sword of Gideon. and cut off the armies of his kindred people and his anointed king as a mower fells the glittering grass on a summer dawn, heedless that he, too, shall be cut down from his flourishing. On his track fire and blood spread their banners, and the raven scented his trophies afar off; age and youth alike were crashed under the tread of his war-horse; honor, and valor, and life's best prime, opposed him as summer opposes the Arctic hail-fury, and lay beaten into mire at his feet. Hated, feared, followed to the death ; victorious or vanquished, the same strong, imperturbable, sullen nature; persistent rather than patient in effort, vigorously direct in action; a minister of unconscious good, of half-conscious evil; stern and gloomy to the sacrilegious climax of his well- battled life, even in the regicidal act going as one driven to his deeds by Fate that forgot God ; — was he to be wondered at, whose life, in ages far gone, began among the stony Sphinx children? or alone in these great landmarks of their dwelling have the Sphinx's children haunted Earth. Poets have sung them under myriad names; History has chronicled them in groups; Painting and Sculpture have handed down their aspect to a gazing world, From them sprung the Eumenides, pursuers and destroyers of men. They wore the garb of Roman legionaries, when Hannah wept for her children dashed against the walls of the Holy City, and not one stone stood upon another in Zion. They crowded the offices of the In- quisition, and tested the endurance of its victims, with steady finger on the flickering pulse, and calm eye on the death-sweating brow and bitten lip. They put on the Druid's robe and wreath, and held the human sacri- fice closer to its altar. In the Asiatic jungle, lurking behind the palm-trunk, they waited, lithe and swarthy Thugs, treacherously to slay whatever victim passed by alone; or in the fair Pacific Islands kept horrid jubilee above their feasts of human flesh, and streaked themselves with kindred blood in their carousals. Hol- land tells its fearful story of their Spanish rule. Russian serfs record their despotism, cowering at the memory of the knout. France cringes yet at the names of the black few who guided her roaring Revolution as one might guide the ravages of a tiger with curb of adamant and rein of linked steel. Africa stretches out her hands to testify of their presence. Too well those golden shores recall the wail of women and the yelling curses of men, driven, beast-fashion, to their pen, and floated from home to hell, or-—happier fate'. —dragged up, in terror of pursuit, and thrown overboard, a brief agony for a long one. They know them, too, whose continual cry of separation, starvation, insult, agony, and death rises from the heart of freedom like the steam of a great pestilence. Pity them, hearts of flesh! pity also the captors, —the Sphinx children, the flint-hearts! pity those who cannot feel, far beyond those who can, — though it be but to suffer! New England knew them, in band and steeple-hat, hanging and pressing to death helpless women, be- witched with witchcraft. Acadia knew them, when its depopulated shores lay barren before the sun, and its homes sent up no smoke to heaven. Greece quivers at the phantasm of their Turkish

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