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The Story of the Mountain
Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary

Mary E. Meline & Edward F.X. McSween

Published by the Emmitsburg Chronicle, 1911

Chapter 55 | Chapter Index

Chapter 56: 1872

George H. Miles, the gentle Mountain singer, passed from this life July 23, of this year. A writer in the Mountaineer for February, 1902, thus tells of "The Poet of the Mountain:"

"One Sunday afternoon last December a couple of us strolled along the historic pike that forty years ago, less two, re-echoed to the tread of the Confederate troops advancing to Gettysburg and, as they dreamed, to the conquest of the North.

George H. Mile, '43

"It is a day of half-warm sun and misty air; the cattle lie down in the barnyard, the sheep are enclosed as if observing a Puritanical Sabbath; no laborers in the fields, which now are entered on their annual rest; no rollickers on the roads, no loiterers along the fences; only occasionally a ' Columbus buggy ' carrying the yet unmarried farmer and his intended on their usual weekly ride; all others are at home, reposing after their Sunday dinner, while we collegians and our four-footed friends take our customary walk.

"About a mile and a half south of the college you turn eastward into the woods, and going another quarter or so come to a house, an unpretending but still imposing and substantial structure of two stories surrounded by oaks and chestnuts and fronted by a grove of evergreens. This is the place known to three or four generations of students (four years makes 'a generation' at college) as the haunted house. Every neighborhood has its haunted house. For twelve or fifteen years after its owner's death this one remained tenant-less, its doors open to wind and rain, the paper peeling off its walls, its floors beginning to decay, and the bees and bats nesting in its foundation stones.

"What a symbol of life and death is this house! There was a time not so long ago when beauty and chivalry met in that bleak deserted ballroom; when learning, eloquence and art conversed in that dreary library; when youth and age and childhood made merry in that chill dining-room; when gentle black-robed professors and empurpled prelates offered up the Divine Sacrifice in that lonely oratory. Alas! the banquet hall deserted! Its lights all fled, its garlands dead, and all but us departed,' us, that is the half-fearful, all-carious college boys that peer through the passages, climbing the broken stairs, explore the kitchen where ' Old Mammy ' Heater cooked her famous gumbo soup, and meditate a moment on the site of the family altar where Cardinal McCloskey, Archbishop Bayley, Dr. McCaffrey, Father McMurdie and many another illustrious ecclesiastic, while a guest of the hospitable owner, said his morning Mass.

"This mansion is known as ' the poet's house.' and old Mountaineers will be glad to learn that it survived the neglect of so many winters nor yielded to decay, but is now restored again to human uses, and is occupied by a family that causes it to fill in a certain sense, in the summer time, its ancient hospitable purpose.

"This is the poet's house, the home of George Henry Miles, the pupil-poet-professor of Mount St. Mary's. Here he lived and talked with his literary friends. In these woods he strolled 'in pensive thought.' On this Catoctin spur of the Blue Ridge he roamed of a holiday with his favorite companions. That graceful formation in the hills, from its fancied resemblance to a classic object, he called ' Achilles' Bow.' Here he dreamt those exquisite dreams that delight our fancies now, as they did those of his yet scarcely appreciative pupils, as they will many and many a generation of Mountaineers hereafter.

"The land about is sweet with rural charm and holy association. Scarce half a mile away towards the College is the ancient graveyard where the ancestors of Archbishop Elder, '37, began to be laid a century and a half or more ago, and close by it a cairn marks the site of the domestic altar, the only place of Catholic worship then allowed by the ungrateful guests of the Land of Sanctuary, and the sea-shell by which, as bells were forbidden, the faithful were called to Mass, rests, idle now, but interesting and treasured as a holy relic, in the College cabinet.

"Not forty rods from Thornbrook, the name of the poet's house, is San Marino on its fair eminence; half a mile up the slope is Norman-like Clairvaux; in sight are Hayland, Pleasant Level, Rosario ; beyond is Inglewood, the home of George Miles' versatile and beloved successor; along the road are Hillside, La Salette, Andorra, Loretto, Mt. Carmel, San Jose, Santa Maria, Tanglewood. Almost every cottage eloquent of the taste and piety of the builders of the Mount, who breathed the spirit that thus baptized them. Loretto especially is classic, for the poet wrote a charming idyl with this title, and its locale (the cottage is no more) offers to visitors a glimpse of Round Top on Gettysburg battlefield, as well as a panorama of the hills, the fields, the village and the convent, that of an autumn evening cannot be matched at once for historic interest, quiet beauty and holy memories.

"But to come to the poet. I recall with the greatest pleasure the address of the late Father Martin Xavier Fallen, '65, at the alumni banquet five years ago, when he told the birth of the song, ' Said the Rose.' The boys came into the classroom and found ' Mr. Miles' seated easily in his chair, but turned towards the window, a sheet of paper and a pencil in his hand. 'Good morning,' said he quietly, but without rising. 'What do you think of this '

'I am weary of the garden, Said the rose; For the winter winds are sighing, And my playmates round me dying, And my leaves will soon be lying 'Neath the snows.'

"'What did we think of it?' continued the venerable priest. What could we think of it? The average boy scarcely appreciates poetry, anyhow; but if he does not utterly disregard it, he at least considers himself no judge at all. So it was with us. What could we say except, mechanically, very good.'

"The rose is the queen of flowers and her birth is a revelation of innocence and beauty. Dear reader, I know not if in all literature you will find a poem about the rose so sweet, so touching, so full of gentle love, as the song that sprang that day new born from the heart and brain of the Mountain poet:

'But I hear my mistress coming, Said the rose; She will take me to her chamber, Where the honeysuckles clamber, And I'll bloom there all December, Spite the snows.'

"She plucked the flowers:

'And she fixed me in her bosom Like a star; And I flashed there all the morning, Jasmine, honeysuckle scorning, Parasites forever fawning, That they are.'

"Next morning the creature's beauty had departed, and the mistress flung the favorite back into the garden:

'How the jealous garden gloried In my fall! How the honeysuckles chid me, How the sneering jasmines bid me Light the long grey grass that hid me Like a pall.'

"The storm winds are coming, and the dying rose beseeches them:

'So I pray them in their mercy Just to take From my heart of heart or near it The last living leaf, and bear it To her feet, and bid her wear it For my sake.'

"A later pupil and professor of the dear old Mountain, Father Cox, '86 of Chicago, has gathered up some scattered flowers of composition that owe their being to the ' Mountain poet,' making them a pretty nosegay hound in blue and gold, and offering them to the Catholics and non-Catholics of our beloved country. Let us hope that his labor of love will be appreciated as it deserves, and that under the creative touch of the Maryland singer 'out of many hearts thoughts may be revealed' thoughts of truth, thoughts of beauty, thoughts of love, of which they were before unconscious, nor would ever know, perhaps, but for the touch of his magic wand.

'Speak low, none of us know Half we forego in the gallant dead. Plant flowers, not where April showers But tears like ours shall make them bloom, And their breath impart To each kindred heart, In the crypt of which Lies the poet's tomb.'

"What is mortal of our poet lies buried in the old Mountain graveyard 'neath the shadow of the entowered Madonna of the Church that saw his baptism, when at the age of twelve he entered the saving pale; that welcomed him on festivals, that saw him kneel under the pontiff's annointing hand; that witnessed his marriage vows ; that thrilled in sympathy with the Mass of his Requiem. In the book before us his own pen pictures the spot at the present season:

'High in the bending trees the north wind sings, The shining chestnuts at my feet are rolled; The shivering mountains bare as bankrupt kings Sit beggared of their purple and their gold; The naked plain below Sighs to the clouds, impatient of its robe of snow.'

"There, where the ' rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep,' there also lie in solemn row other priestly and lay instructors of the College beneath, with many, too, of the youthful pilgrims of learning who had come from distant climes to drink at the spring of the American Parnassus, but left their earthly covering on its breast. There, too, amongst other patriots that had taken either side in the bloody conflict of '61, sleep three Southern boys who like many others dropped their books to seize the sword in those tragic, but pure and chivalric days. No epitaph yet marks the poet's tomb, but he penned one for the woman whose motherly hand gathered into one grave the dust of three natives of her own Gulf shores, and raised amid the cedars a reminding shaft. The teacher's spirit will be glad that the names and the memories of his pupils are grouped and enshrined with his own in the pages of the Mountaineer:

"Maurice Byrne, Ex-'66, born at Milliken's Bend, Louisiana; killed at Clearspring, Pa., July 26, 1864;

"Jules Freret, born in New Orleans; killed at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863;

"James Norton Ex-,63, born in Mobile; killed at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863.

'Here, side by side, far from the forfeit home, For which they vainly bled, three soldiers rest, In sight of the round peak, whose bannered dome Crowns the denies, wherein the fiery crest, Of a dead nation paled Before the height where erst the great Virginian failed.' "

"God give the disembodied spirits rest, and peace to us who hope to meet them all again!" George Henry Miles, of whom the writer has treated, was born in Baltimore July 31, 1824, eldest child of William Miles, whose name appears often in this history. George's sister Elizabeth married Prof. Daniel Beltzhoover. George became a Catholic at the Mountain, his eldest sister at St. Joseph's Convent and the rest of the family later. George graduated in 1843, and studied law for a while, but his natural bent was literature. He wrote " Michael di Lando," "The Florentine Rebel," "The Truce of God," "Loretto," etc., etc. In 1847 the Catholic Mirror of Baltimore offered a prize of fifty dollars for the best Catholic serial. Miles won it with "The Governess." In 1848 Edwin Forrest, the American actor, offered one thousand dollars for a tragedy in five acts. Miles's " Mohammed " won the prize from a hundred competitors. In 1853 he issued a play called " Senor Vali-ente," which ran for some time, and was followed by other dramas. In 1858 he began teaching English literature at the Mountain. His father, William Miles, built the large brick mansion on one of the Elder farms, which George called Hayland, the very place where Dubois first started the little school that developed into Mt. St. Mary's College, and was many a time and oft the scene of hospitality shown professors and their visitors. George married the daughter of Edward Tiers, ex-'43, who had bought San Marino, and the latter built for the young couple the fine house, christened Thornbrook by the poet. Here the Mountain Bishops, Cardinal McCloskey, Archbishop Bayley and many others visited him, and Father McMurdie also used to say Mass frequently in the domestic chapel; here also he composed " Christine" and completed "Said the Rose." In 1866 the Ave Maria offered a prize of one hundred dollars for a poem on the Blessed Virgin, and Professor Miles won it. Most of his works were composed during his connection with Mount St. Mary's. During the controversy caused in 1869 by Harriet Beecher Stowe's book,

"The True Story of Byron's Life," Mr. Miles wrote a poem entitled "Byron," which was a defence of the poet against Mrs. Stowe's attack. Of this poem Dr. A. T. Bledsoe, the editor of the Southern Quarterly Review, says:

"We were contemplating an article on the character of Lord Byron and had partly prepared it for publication, when a poem on Byron by George H. Miles was handed to us, which, we think, will better accomplish our object."

The poem, which first appeared in the Baltimore Sun in September, 1869, was republished in the October number of the Review. After Mohammed his next best work is "Christine, a Troubadour Song"; then followed a number of minor poems "Raphael Sanzio," "San Sisto," "Marcella" and "Inkermann," a spirited poem full of martial vigor.

An inquiry by a London journal as to the authorship of " Said the Rose," and a well-timed article written by the late Rev. John McCloskey '94 of Harrisburg, Pa., establishing its authorship and published in Current Literature of January, 1898, were among the first efforts, outside of Catholic publications, to call the merits of the sweet and true Maryland singer to public notice. Mr. Miles published for the semi-centennial of Mount St. Mary's in 1858 "Aladdin's Palace," a satirical poem : his Alma Mater is the palace in which " Aladdin's genie left one window bare."

Mr. Miles was also the writer of the successful plays "Abou Hassan," "Senor Valiente," "Mary's Birthday," besides "De Soto" and " Cromwell," tragedies in manuscript. He was too a critic of eminence. His criticism of " Hamlet," published in the Southern Quarterly Review in 1870, is said by Brother Azarias to be " the most searching study of' Hamlet' ever made on this continent." Speaking of his criticism of " Macbeth," Dr. Bledsoe said: "There is a noble piece of Shakespearean criticism buried out of sight simply because it is not better known. The other works of the same author are no less neglected."

Orestes Brownson thus speaks of "Mohammed": "We have no hesitation in pronouncing it the best poem of the kind ever written and published in America."

Eugene Didier, the Baltimore litterateur, who had access to Mr. Miles's unpublished works of a dramatic character, says : "In the literary field in which Shakespeare won immortality and Sheridan carried off his brightest laurels, George H. Miles has earned a high, if not the highest, place in the dramatic literature of America."

Mr. Miles wrote three novels: "Loretto; or, The Choice," "The Governess," and " The Truce of God," all well received at the time of publication.

Criticisms of Mr. Miles's works appear in the Catholic World, 1866; Brownson's Review, 1850 ; Catholic World, 1881 ; Catholic Quarterly, 1881 ; The New York Times, Jan. 13, 1881.

George Miles was of agreeable countenance, voice and manner. He was an interesting teacher, an excellent reader, and the students considered it a treat to attend his class. He was five feet eight inches tall, and athletic. He always came to the High Mass and sang in the choir the hymns composed by Rev. Dr. McCaffrey and Dr. Dielman.

Before parting with our singer we give his interpretation of the gaze of the child and of his mother in Raphael's painting known as "San Sisto":

"Three hundred years the world has looked at it Unwearied it at Heaven; and here it hangs In Dresden, making it a Holy City!

"But let the picture tell its story take Your stand in this far corner. Falls the light As you would have it? That Saint Barbara, Observe her inclination and the finger Of Sixtus; both are pointing where? Now look Below, those grand-boy angels I watch their eyes Fastened on whom? What! not yet catch my meaning? Step closer, half a step no, nearer. Mark The Babe's fixed glance of calm equality. Observe that wondering, rapt, dilated gaze, The Mother's superhuman joy and fear, That hushed, that startled adoration! Watch Those circled cherubs swarming into light, Wreathing their splendid arch, their golden ring Around the unveiled vision. Look above it the drawn curtain! Ah! we do not see God's self, but they do: they are face to face With the Eternal Father!"

"With the strains of an 'Ave Maria' lingering in my ears I crossed from the church to the famous picture gallery with one thought uppermost; I was to see the Sistine Madonna. Of the large group of persons, tourists, who preceded me through the gallery, not one paused on the way, though Rembrandts, Titiaus and Van Dykes hung on every side, so eager were they to feast their eyes upon Raphael's masterpiece. The famous picture has a room to itself, and while throughout the gallery might be heard voices in discussion before favorite pictures, here all were silent. Everyone stood in hushed admiration before the girlish mother with the Child, through whose baby eyes looked forth a God. The colors are so beautiful and distinct it seems incredible they were laid hundreds of years ago. And there is no effort made to protect them, a strong light being allowed to pour across the picture in order that people may fully enjoy its every line and color." Thus does a traveler describe the great painting.

We take occasion of Miles's passing to name some other children of the Mountain who enjoyed the gift of song. Here are a few of her jewels: John McCaffrey, John Hughes, Charles Constantine Pise, Patrick L. Duffy, John Connolly, amongst the clergy; George Hay Ringgold (who was, like Miles, baptized here and whose daughter became Miles's wife); Thomas W. Kenny, John Jerome Rooney, Dennis A. Behen, Edward Kenna, Thomas Roach, Francis P. Guilfoile among the laity.

They were a happy family at and around the College in those days. Then eloquence, taste and refinement combined with religion and learning to make an ideal social atmosphere, and remoteness from the "madding crowd " compelled each and all to seek in each other's company and in the exquisite beauty of nature, that solace and recreation which in later days is sought alas, how often vainly! in the whirl and distraction of the too accessible city. Amongst others who added to the enjoyment of life on the Mountain and in the valley was Dr. Shorb of Clairvaux, the "beloved physician," an enthusiastic follower of the hounds. This gentleman and his wife occupied Clairvaux and, so great was the attraction at Commencement time, that they tell how up to one hundred persons would then put up at the house, content to sleep on the floor if only they could stay in this delightful place. Horsemanship was as common in these days as it is rare now, and the beauty of the stock and the skill and grace of the riders added vastly to the charm of life, at a time when there were not, as now, frequent excursion trains to carry pleasure seekers to Baltimore ; when no farmer's wife or daughter came to church unless in a hood or sun-bonnet, and when the pure pleasure of "Sweet Auburn" filled hearts that find but a hollow and false substitute in the occasional taste of city life and manners.

In 1909, Fred. B. Miles, brother of the poet, brought out through the publishing house of Longmans, Green & Co., a 3 vol. edition of the poems and other works of George H. Miles.

On the 4th of May, 1873, Michael A. Corrigan, '59, became Bishop of his native Newark, X. J. Charles Augustus Leloup, A. M., entered the Faculty this year, there being one hundred and thirty-four boys, thirty-two seminarians and eight graduates. John B. Head took the honors among the graduates of the '73 class. The other honors went to Francis P. Ward, Patrick L. Duffy, John L. McDermott, William F. Marshall (afterwards President of Seton Hall), William T. Henry, J. A. Someillan. James S. Fealy was valedictorian.

Father Jacob Stillinger, ordained in 1830, was a grand American missionary, a friend and co-laborer of Prince Gallitzin, and one of the glories of the Mountain. He died at Blairsville, Pa., on Friday, September 18, 1873, while in the sacristy making his thanksgiving after Mass. He always used to pray to die on Friday. Bishop Watterson, in whom he took special interest, was one of his spiritual children.

Commencement was held June 24, 1874, and four were graduated out of one hundred and eighty-one boys and thirty-four seminarians. The honor men were: Francis P. Ward, Isaac H. Stauffer, Austin Lynch, William Lemonnier, Edward P. Alien (future President), J. A. Someillan, Martin J. McShane. Joseph G. Stewart was valedictorian.

Bishop Whelan, of Wheeling, '31, the brilliant and pleasant "Dick" of other days, died July 7, 1874. Thomas W. Kenny, '65, A. M., M. D., joined the Faculty this year.

In August, 1874, as the President wrote to Dr. McCaffrey, collecting was begun to repair the old Church on the Hill, the one started in 1857 being for the time abandoned, and a turret enshrining a beautiful statue of the Blessed Virgin, now opposite the gymnasium, was added to the former.

Chapter 57 | Chapter Index

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